Chapter Three – Dreams and Other forms of Deja Vu
Something stirred in the room and Brandi turned her head to follow it. Her eyes opened. And with a ragged breath, she exhaled.
“It’s okay, honey. Mommy’s right here,” a voice nearby coaxed, as arms embraced her shoulders. Chest. Brandi struggled to sit up as the bedside lamp flickered on; and then she met familiar brown eyes and a mop of matching auburn hair.
Tears threatened to fall and she shut her eyes, hoping that it was all a dream.
“You’re safe now,” Brandi’s mother said. Her expression warm but steely. “Where did you get the pendant?”
Brandi’s voice croaked, as she observed her mother cautiously and tried to find something to say. But when their eyes met, she was overcome by a throbbing sensation and she became mute. It was real, she thought, as her fingers traveled under the covers to stroke a square bandage. She had been injured. Shifting slowly, she wondered how they had removed the arrow, before a muffled groan escaped her lips. And in the shadowy area near the window, she heard movement, and her head turned again.
At her side now, her mother pulled away and offered Brandi something that looked like a bemused expression. “It’s only Nicholas,” she said, caressing her daughter’s palms. “He wanted to ensure that you were safe.”
Brandi yanked her hand back and pawed the covers. Frowning at the strangeness of her mother’s touch. They had never been close. Nicholas? she asked herself, looking up. Did she know a Nicholas? she pondered as an angular head jutted out from behind the darkness to scrutinize her. With upturned lips, she decided to do the same, starting with his clothes. A pair of flannel trousers and a grey overcoat that seemed doused with splotches of red. She shook her head. Had he been there? Was he the one who had saved her? Her eyelids fluttered. Open. Close. Open.
Coming up to the bed, he bowed at her, the way that Jenson had become accustomed to. She frowned, knowing that they were nothing like the British and French aristocrats that she had read about in history class.
“Please take a rest, you’ll be needing all your strength soon,” he commanded; his grey eyes surveying her face for something that she presumed to be pain. “We have already given you enough medicine.”
Brandi bit her lip, wondering if it was pertinent for her to thank him now, since she had already bled all over him and he had carried her to safety. But looking over at her mother, she decided against it, because her mother seemed more relaxed than she would have expected her to be. Pulling back the covers, in an attempt to check for blood, Brandi winced. Her fingers tightening around the folds of sheet as her features contorted. She counted to ten and then released her grip. Her downcast eyes following the display of flying daffodils that seemed to move across the sheet. But besides her mismatched pajama bottoms, nothing appeared to be amiss and she let out a relaxed sigh. They had done a good job of stitching her up, she thought, as her index finger passed lightly over the tape. She eased back down into the bed and tried to dismiss the thought of a needle going through her skin.
Watching Nicholas, she could see his mouth move but she couldn’t hear anything because her mind was processing everything that had happened to her since she had entered the diner. And little by little thoughts floated around her. She remembered entering the diner and the man who had gone in after her and then the confusing command to get down, before the first arrow had taken down her water glass and then how he had steered her towards the dumpster. She sighed, taking in the long black hair that reminded her of a roadie and the leather seats that could barely keep her down. Yes, Nicholas, she thought, remembering how his face had hovered above hers. He was a friend of her mother.
Lifting a hand up towards her neck, she tried to grab hold of the pendant but found only air. “What have you done with it?” she asked, lunging towards Nicholas.
“Brandi, relax,” Mrs. Daniels hissed, pointing towards the bureau. “It’s over there.” Almost incredulously, she watched as her daughter went in search of it, her movement frantic and jerky. At the bureau, Brandi braced herself by holding onto a drawer with her left hand, and passed her right over the countertop. Taking either giant summersaults or leaps of death lipsticks, eye pencils and earrings fell to the floor.
With quick feet, Nicholas approached and snatched the pendant away from her. “You need to tell us who gave this to you,” he said. His voice edged with something that Brandi couldn’t quite place. Perhaps, it was concern, she thought watching as his eyebrows arched. “The forces that you are meddling with, won’t let you go so easily.”
Brandi gazed at her mother, wondering what they were doing together, as her mother’s hand stopped over her heart. She held her breath, knowing the sign of disapproval all too well and swooned.
Nicholas put out a hand to catch her and with daft fingers Brandi retrieved the pendant and then tried to grasp the note.
But Nicholas stopped her, placing his fingers around her wrist.
She squirmed, releasing the note because she presumed that the pendant was the far greater prize. Shuffling back towards the bed, she paused and placed it into her pocket. “It was a birthday present from my father,” she said, looking absentmindedly at the space between them. “A man with red cap at school gave it to me.”
Nicholas’ mouth formed into an o. Before he turned to her mother and said, “Lucien.”
Brandi nodded, even though the man hadn’t given her a name. “He claimed to be a friend of my father,” she said, as Nicholas perused the note and then handed it over to her mother. “I thought I could trust him.”
Mrs. Daniels hung her head in disbelief because she thought she had warned Brandi enough times not to take things from strangers, but reading the note, she could tell that her daughter had been curious. Tempted even to want to know more. Her lips quivered. She would have to curb that, her eyes on Nicholas. Had it been her fault?
“No,” he assured her, moving forward to rub her shoulders. “You did what you thought was best.”
Brandi coughed, wondering why this was the first time she was meeting Nicholas as she observed their hands brush tentatively against each other. Were they really just friends? she mused, noticing a slight change in his features, because he appeared older.
Nicholas cleared his throat. Pulling away. But not before catching Brandi’s feint expression.
While Mrs. Daniels drew back the covers and ushered Brandi in.
She wanted to protest. Watching her mother. But instead she lowered her head and wrapped her fingers around the pendant, as if it was the last vestige of her independence. Then she closed her eyes and tried to imagine what her next mission would be, as her feet brushed against the side of the bed. Obediently, she dove under the covers and flexed her muscles as if readying herself for battle.
Her mother pulled up the covers and kissed her forehead. “Despite what you may think, you are still too young to handle that sort of power,” she said, shaking her head, “…and if Nicholas hadn’t been there to rescue you, I’m afraid about what would have happened.”
Brandi bit her lip and turned her head away. Watching the wall, she observed the shadows that their bodies created as the light flickered off and fought the urge to remind her mother that she was no longer ten. Certain that she could handle things. And too besides, Nicholas had been the one who had sent her aiming for the dumpster, she fumed. Buttoning and unbuttoning the top of her night shirt, her face deflected as her mother got up and strode towards the door.
At her mother’s side, Nicholas watched her supine figure and cleared his throat. “You thought, you were helping me,” he said, taking a step towards her bed. “But instead, you were putting yourself in danger and becoming a more visible mark.” His voice faltered as he stared at her, and she wondered if he was remembering something because his eyes had squeezed shut. He turned away then and his hands stopped at his hips.
When Brandi’s eyes fell upon him, she raised a hand to her lips to suppress a giggle and he cocked his head to one side and gave her a glassy stare.
She nodded sheepishly, thinking that he had grown obtuse, while her mother tore up the note and dumped it into the trash. Folding and unfolding the covers, Brandi wondered if he was interested in learning more, as her mother shoved the string with the instructions into a drawer.
Mrs. Daniels stretched out her hand to receive the pendant. But Brandi dove under the covers and licked her lips. She had no intention of giving it up. Her neck stiffened as she glanced at her mother and pleaded.
“I didn’t fall into a trap. That isn’t who I am or what I do.”
Her mother nodded and backed away.
“Have a good night,” she whispered, rubbing her sweaty palms into a soiled apron. “We’ll finish this discussion in the morning.”
The hinges on the door creaked and Brandi’s hands fell away from the pendant. Looking up, she saw that the door had been left ajar, and she could hear her mother and Nicholas as they continued along the landing, and down the stairs. Shifting her gaze, Brandi chose instead to focus on the image of the two dragons that were projected into her room from the Chinese restaurant across the street.
In the back of her mind, she wondered if there were things that they weren’t telling her, because as her mother had said, she was still too young. But she knew that maturity didn’t always come with age. She remembered how her cousin, Avery, who was now fifteen, had been forced to wise up a few years earlier when her father had been told that he had contracted AIDS. And Brandi hadn’t shied away from uncle Ken, the way that people did in movies. Or in real life when they discovered something that was foreign to them. She, meanwhile, had embraced him and they had gone Christmas tree-hunting and made bad egg-nog jokes that riled aunty Pam.
Lying there, she also thought of the boy who always sat next to her. Roger Barnes. And she wondered if any of the school’s gossip was true, that his parents had gone missing. How he was living with an aunt who didn’t seem to care enough to attend PTA meetings. Or see to it that he did all of his assignments. Yet, she knew that unlike her, he had never fooled around when it came to world English. Or baseball.
And it didn’t matter to her that he was two years older, and had been kept down because remedial students weren’t always the ones at fault. Sometimes it also mattered, how the teacher taught. She closed her eyes, wondering how she could have gotten so metaphorical all of a sudden. Maybe it had something to do with the drugs that Nicholas had said that they had given her, probably to ease the pain. Or maybe on some level, she cared, because in the eyes of the world, she also didn’t have a father.
But in her dreams, she would try to piece together the type of man that she assumed he would be. Someone who liked kids. Enjoyed going on adventures and was brave. Someone she could look up to and feel proud of because he would willingly give his life for the people he loved, as he had done with his home. Some part of her knew that it was cliched. A type of fantasy. But she indulged the thought anyway because without it, the idea of a superhero would have been lost on her.
In fact, her grandmother, Rose was the one who had seen to it that she had been filled with tales. Stories. Seeing as she was the only other woman, who had cared for Brandi, while they had lived in New York. But then she had gotten Alzheimer’s and had been placed into a home. Brandi closed her eyes, wanting to remember only the good times. The ones with them taking long walks in Central Park. Or at the movies. She touched the wound, knowing that somehow her grandmother would have understood, because she had always cradled different parts of her own head; as if trying to figure out which part was feeding her the wrong memories, and letting others escape.
And as the shadow fell lower down on her bedroom wall, she imagined herself in the hallway. Outside her room, she planted her feet on the top stairs as she heard the sound of her mother and Nicholas pacing downstairs in the study. Cautiously, she crept down the stairs. From the door, the scent of bourbon burned her nostrils and she wiped her nose in her sleeve, in an attempt to reduce the overpowering odor. Behind the door, her mother’s voice raised, for what appeared to be the end of an impassioned speech.
“They can’t ask me to give up another member of my family,” her mother said, slamming the glass down on the table. “After Van…”
“I know,” Nicholas said, moving to comfort her covered her eyes. “Nobody stands up to the foundation. We do what is asked and are happy to live.” She could hear the crack in her mother’s as she inhaled and debated whether or not to turn back as the sound of footsteps on the carpet halted and she was forced to look.
Nicholas cleared his throat and appraised her mother. “Besides which, they’re bigger than the both of us,” he said, gulping down the warm liquid. “And the fact that he gave her the pendant means that she’s his rightful heir.” From somewhere nearby, her mother sniffled.
“Even though, she’s more mine than his,” she said, choking back a sob.
Brandi heard the sound of clothes rustling and pushed the door open, just a crack. Looking up, she saw her mother wrapped up in Nicholas’s arms and she gasped, pulling away from the doorway, as they kissed. And she leaned back against the doorjamb, her breath erratic.
“She has to find her guardian,” he said, cradling her head.
Brandi frowned, as she heard them pull apart. Separate. Her eyes intent on Nicholas as he unwound a band from his arm and handed it to her mother. “She’s nothing like me,” he said, offering her a weak smile. “She can’t live her life in seclusion.”
In the room, the curtains rustled and Brandi felt herself being pulled backwards. And after a few minutes, she wasn’t downstairs anymore. Instead, she was fast asleep in her own bed.