Chapter Two – Little Brown Box

Before now, Brandi hadn’t taken the time to examine the box, because a cold wind was biting at her fingers. It also sent her hair flying to-and-fro. Pulling her jacket tighter around her broad shoulders, she made her way home by cutting through the park. At an intersection, she darted around the corner and bypassed the new Chinese restaurant that was owned by Mr. Chen. A stocky man who looked nothing like her austere grandfather. Nevertheless, she was comforted by the thought that at least Mr. Chen always offered them free fortune cookies and at nights when the restaurant’s neon sign and dragons blazed through her window, she would think about her life.

Brandi and her mother lived in a place called Forest Drive. It was a place where most of the people were either middle class or slightly wealthy. In an even lower income bracket, Brandi and her mother managed, mainly because her father had already paid off the mortgage. And even though Brandi liked a good challenge, she still hadn’t found a way to connect with the other kids, who unlike Teresa had remained aloof. So she was grateful for soccer tryouts at camp the previous summer, where they had been on the lookout for something to put her mother at ease. To show her that in school at least, she was being successful. But three games and six own goals later, Teresa and Brandi had to admit defeat, because even though the coach had wanted fresh players, Mrs. McGuire refused to lose any more of her reputation as the team’s stats plummeted. So Brandi used the rest of the summer to familiarize herself with their new home and her community.

They lived in an off-white townhouse whose furniture was outdated and stiff. Whenever Brandi and her mother had guests over they gravitated towards either the patio or the kitchen. The only two places that were homey. And even though Brandi’s blue and gray boom-box made their living room seem more contemporary, it wasn’t enough to encourage Brandi to stay for any length of time. It had been a gift from her mother who had hated sharing an ipod.

She handled the box with delicate fingers, as if she was trying to assure herself that it was real. She rubbed her palms together in a futile attempt to stay warm. But without gloves, she had to settle for a scarf and a ratty old hat.

“Jenson I’m home,” she yelled, slamming the front door before racing up the stairs to her room. But when nobody materialized, she remembered that he had chosen to retire early because her father’s parents had stopped paying his salary. Brandi dropped her bag on the floor, reminding herself that they were also entitled to a little happiness.

In her room, she extracted the box and laid it down on the bureau, near the only picture of her parents together that she possessed. Somehow over the years, her father had morphed into a guardian angel while her mother seemed too controlling.

But she had no idea about what had happened between them, because the one thing her mother had revealed was that it hadn’t worked out. And yet, when they had moved there a year ago – she couldn’t understand how any of it had been possible. How a guy with a strict family upbringing could leave a house – his family’s home – for a woman who was not yet his wife and child, if it hadn’t worked out. There had to be something there. She shrugged, trying to dismiss its implications, as her thoughts returned to the box.

And with her left hand, she picked it up, untied the string that contained the instructions. Using a magnifying glass, she perused them. In all, there were three rules. To the Seer of the Future it read, your future and your past are entwined. But these rules must never be broken. Firstly, you can see into the future but you can never go back. Secondly, the one who wears this pendant has powers that will be magnified. And thirdly, do not try to find out why you were chosen.

Taking her mind off the rules, she dropped the lid on the counter and observed the crest. A small note fell out. Opening it, she felt a tinge of apprehension as goosebumps prickled her arm. For my daughter on her fourteenth birthday, it read, may she accomplish more than I ever could, Elder van Hansen. Brandi smiled, remembering how strange that name had sounded to her when she had first encountered it, among the family portraits that littered the house.

Reading the inscription she had been fascinated by the genealogy that seemed to go back for centuries. Now, she imagined that it also brought luck and chance. Her father was here, she thought, pushing her to fulfill her destiny. She pulled the pendant to her chest and stroked the strange crest. There was a small bird, three ships and some palm trees. Had she seen them before? she wondered, a puzzled expression clouding her face. Maybe. But she couldn’t be certain. All she knew was that she had wanted an adventure; and now one was beginning.

And she couldn’t wait. She removed the pendant, placed it around her neck and let it fell on top of her blue shirt. They complimented each other. Brandi smiled. And then, shrieked. As a scene flashed before her eyes. There was a guy with a brown jacket seated at a diner whom Brandi was almost certain was about to be shot. She didn’t know how she knew; but she felt compelled to save him. Watching the scene, she saw an arrow pass through an open window and pierce his heart. She gasped, as though she was the one who had been shot, and the man’s body slumped forward. She had seen similar scenes on television, but this one seemed more real.

She grabbed her tweed jacket and raced for the door, because although everything that she wanted was happening, she still felt slightly apprehensive. At the bottom of the stairs, she fingered the pendant, wondering if it was all real. And as the scene played again, she held her breath as if understanding what her powers entailed.

Now though, the scenes came in flashes. Chief’s diner. That was the sign above the door. And she looked around for more distinguishable features and closed her eyes. Wanting to get the full picture. Bailey’s and 45th Street. She could see the blue signposts reflecting on the wall. She nodded, grabbing her keys and then locked the door. Her bicycle lay on the front stoop. She picked it up, taking a moment to get her bearings. Before jumping on, because someone else’s life depended on it.

She remembered those streets from one of her many forays into the city. It was at least ten blocks away. At the intersection, she peddled across the street and remembered a number. 7:15. That was the time, he would be shot. She took a deep breath and stopped, glancing down at her watch. It was 7:03. If she hurried, she told herself, maybe then she could arrive on time. Turning left, she barreled down the sidewalk for five tedious blocks. Almost crashing into an elderly woman, who was struggling with two huge grocery bags and a mammoth-looking purse.

Brandi rang her bell. Hoping that the woman would move. But instead, she turned to appraise her. When Brandi swerved, the tail end of her bike hit the woman’s left knee and the bag in her left hand fell. Carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes tumbled out of the bag. Along with cookie dough, eggs and a tub of ice cream. The woman lifted her arm in protest and Brandi yelled a hasty, ‘sorry’ and then sped off. In her wake, she saw a group of middle schoolers rush across the street to offer the woman some assistance.

She was about to smile, amazed at their fortitude when she remembered the man in the diner who needed her help. So she turned right on Bailey, hoping to capture the strained glass exterior, that reminded her of a church. On her arm, her wristwatch beeped, alerting her to the time. It was already 7:10. She had five minutes. She pumped her legs, already feeling tired. Weary. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, and cursed herself for not taking anything to drink. She could do with a tall glass of water, she thought, seeing the 47th Street sign up ahead. She took another deep breath. She was almost there.

The restaurant was only a few paces away. She coasted to the door and jumped off her bike, wondering if it had an AC because she could also do with some warmth. Then the image came again. Of a figure slumped over on a counter. Brandi burst through the door and motioned to the waiter.

“Water, please.”

He nodded and moved on, while she surveyed the interior. First looking for the jacket. But there was no one there with a brown jacket. Or at least anyone that she could see. Brandi fumed under her breath, trying to remember the guy’s features as her watch beeped again. The waiter motioned her over to the counter to collect her drink.

“Thanks,” Brandi said, her body leaning against the jade counter, as a nondescript guy hustled through the door behind her.

She fingered the pendant, wondering if what she had seen was wrong. As the air grew hot and thick. She swallowed the water, as the scene played yet again. This time though, she was the one at the counter as the arrow raced for her heart.

Brandi shrieked. Dropping the glass of water. The guy near the entrance yelled for her to get down. She turned and saw the arrow’s tail jut out of the wall above her seat. She had been wrong. Her feet buckled and she felt a pair of hands rope around her waist.

“So I guess you don’t mind dying. Or just have shitty luck,” the man said. His face becoming more familiar and his features a little more pronounced, especially his dark bushy eyebrows.

Brandi shook her head.

“Follow me,” he commanded, yanking at her arm.

Brandi proceeded. Her body in a crouched position, as some of the other patrons screamed and rushed out of the diner. Was she there to save him? Or was it the other way around? she wondered, looking down at her jacket, that in the faint light now appeared brown. Brandi gasped. Wondering how she could have been so stupid.

A few arrows whisked past her, above her head. She stooped over. Thinking only of a place to escape. Then the door ahead of them, that led into the alleyway, banged open. She eyeballed the guy who had just saved her as he beckoned for her to come closer. Why was he so determined? she mused, as something in her chest clenched. She was overcome by a nervous anxiety. She was the one being targeted. The one who was in danger.

She scooted closer.

“Try to see if you can make it to the dumpster,” he said, sticking his head out and veering right and then left. Nothing she presumed, as he indicated that it was okay for her to go. “It’s at the other end of the alleyway but I I need you to get to it.” He looked at her, his features gravely serious. “My car’s parked near the curb.”

“Alright,” Brandi said, as if she had done it a million times before. As if it was easy. The water in her mouth evaporated. She had wanted a mission and here it was, she thought, taking a deep breath. She counted from one to ten, and then darted from the safety of the door to the dumpster.

Midway, her feet caught and something knocked the wind from inside her chest. Looking down, her eyes connected with another arrow. This time though, it was sticking out of her abdomen.

She muttered something under her breath, that resembled a curse, and then looked back at the guy who had come to save her. She motioned towards the arrow. His eyes widened.

“Wait there. I’m coming,” he said, struggling to get her to her feet after he had crawled closer. He gave her a rag. Pressed it to her wound and told her to bite down on the collar of her jacket. Then he helped her to his car.

“Do I know you?” she asked, her knuckles against his chest, as she fought to hide the pain. “What’s your name?”

“Nicholas,” he said, unclenching her fingers, as he touched her arm. “I went to school with your mother. And now, I’m taking you home.” He gave her hand a light squeeze, before depositing her on the back seat and shutting the door.

Only then, did Brandi close her eyes, wondering how in her haste she could have forgotten about her own jacket. Her mind crowded with thoughts of some man she had been certain needed to be rescued, as she shoved the pendant below her vest. And blacked out. The idea of a savior nothing more than a dream, she had dreamt so many times before.

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