Chapter 15: Kinship

Maybe if Roger had been more forthcoming and truthful, he would have told Brandi that, at some point or other, he had met her father. That once, they had even been friends. But revealing that he unlike her, could travel the bounds of space and time, he presumed might have seemed unfair since she was only now just getting the hang of it.

Retreating down the driveway, he tried to think of another reason for Nicholas being there, besides his apparent need to protect Mrs. Daniels. He had after all done a shoddy job of rescuing Brandi, making sure that she was safe. Yet, it wasn’t like Roger’s intervention had gone any better. The bracelet snatching had only been an after-thought, like Lucien’s play on time.

He looked up at the clock, wondering if he should tell her about his father. How he had failed at his job. And now Roger had to save not one but two Daniels. He shook his head, thinking that things were coming to a head too quickly and if they didn’t make some type of plan soon – to help her a avoid the past – the future would be doomed to repeat itself.

At the corner of the street, one of the lights flickered on and Roger looked up at the sky, thinking that the nameless had been right to save him. To let someone of his clan carry on his father’s name. Pulling up the zipper, he took comfort in finding his father’s jacket and carrying his baseball. Sometimes when people died, they said that remnants of them could be found in the ordinary things that they loved. He took comfort in that thought, and the fact that he’d see Brandi at school tomorrow. Even though, he was almost certain that she would pressure him for answers, now that her mother and Nicholas had chosen to open up.

What would he tell her? he wondered. And how was he going to explain that his father had deserted hers, leaving him to rot in a dungeon, decades earlier. He looked up at the sky, cursing himself for forgetting his watch. There would be no sure way to explain that his family were a bunch of nomads. That they often changed direction to suit the wind, and moved whenever feelings of fear and danger threatened to overthrow them. He whistled, ruffling the strand of hair on his head as if they were feathers, the way his father had done when he was younger. But he was no a coward.

He would stick with her through thick and thin, that had been his promise to them, his assurance to her. That whatever happened he would be on her side. He rubbed his fingers together as if, trying to suppress the cold and pulled a pack of chewing gum out of his pocket. While his stomach groaned. Tangled. Truth be told, the people in his clan weren’t brave. Not like in Brandi’s. But he was trying to be different. To change things.

Because the nameless one would appear to her, and show her all of the things that he had somehow hidden. Or just, failed to mention, and then she would know what his father had done, by choosing to leave a realm that wasn’t really meant for him. Then she would know that he had trapped her father and sealed Brandi’s fate.

Roger sank down onto the concrete as if he was trying to find something that he had lost. But there was nothing there. All that he possessed were the deck of cards that he kept in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Clothes he could make change into anything because like Brandi he possessed the touch.

He alone could show her what she was meant to be. Perhaps even destined, but she alone would be the one to choose. To accept the battle.

The wind picked up and he dragged himself over to the grass and shuffled the deck of baseball cards that some say (for them) predicted the future. Who would you be if you could choose to be one of the greats? he thought, laying Joe DiMaggio, Hank Arron and Albert Pujois face down. He shuffled the rest of the cards and added Chipper Jones, Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera. Uncertain as to which one lady luck would prescribe, when the wind blew and he came face to face with Jackie Robinson.

One of the African American players whom he head learnt, had had it tough, starting out. No. He scratched his head, as another Hank Arron also revealed itself. Brandi wasn’t going to be a wanderer like her father, he thought, re-shuffling the deck. Ashamed that he had allowed Lucien get the upper hand. Only this wasn’t a game.

And she was nothing like her father, he thought because she has everything to live for. He would show her. Because like her, he was doing something that his father could not.

Roger nodded, wiping his eyes, pretending that it had only been the dust. Knowing that this thing between them was only a part of the deal. And he had to make sure that she chose wisely. Not because he truly cared. Or because she seemed lost. With or without him, she would have to learn that life was fraught with risk. Challenges. And if she still chose to be a seer, then he would have to make everything that much harder so that she eventually decided against herself.

Roger stuffed the cards back into his pocket, no longer caring about its order or the sanctity of a reading because Brandi wouldn’t be made to see the cards. Wouldn’t be made to choose, he assured himself, brushing his hands in his jeans and getting up. Ready to make his way home. With or without Nicholas’ help, he would see to it, because revelations were a thing of the past. Something he wouldn’t have to consider because on any journey that she pursued, they’d be doing it together.

Chapter 14: Parents Just Don’t Understand

Mrs. Daniels was sitting outside on the porch when they reached the house. Watching her inquisitive gaze, Brandi looked down at her shoes, and tried to think up some excuse for her absence. Something that her mother would agree with.

But, that was before Nicholas exited the house, and took a seat opposite her mother. Brandi’s lips moved silently, as if she was speaking to herself. By the scowl on her face, Roger guessed that the pep talk was anything but friendly. Or upbeat as she glanced at him. Ushering him up the narrow driveway, where her bike usually lay, and yet she didn’t even register its absence. Almost forgetting that if anything, her mother was the one, who would have the need to be angry or dismayed because she hadn’t been at home.

Indicting to the jacket she wore, Roger tugged at his own shirt, trying to get her to notice the revealing nature of the fabric. But Brandi brushed his fingers away and then after a moment’s hesitation and her mother’s accompanying stare, she pulled it close. Remembering that a few weeks earlier, she had been the one who had coerced her into buying it.

“You should be in bed,” Mrs. Daniels said, getting up from her perch on the rocking chair. Her skepticism about the stranger, did nothing to abate her feelings of misplaced trust and anxiety, as she blew her nose into a handkerchief, and then surveyed Roger, for some assurance that he should be there. And wasn’t intruding.

Perhaps, conscious of the questions his presence raised, he took a step forward and extended a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Daniels. I’m Roger Barnes.”

She looked at him comically and offered a fake smile, as Nicholas put out a hand to stop her. But she embraced the boy anyway. “You must be confusing me with somebody else, my friends call me Stein. Gertrude Stein,” she said, her eyes peering at Roger’s. “What are you doing with my daughter?” Roger released himself from her embrace and took a step back. It was as if this wasn’t how he had envisioned their meeting. Twisting his neck, he pulled at a stray curls at the back of his head and looked up towards the heavens.

“I wanted to make sure she got in safely,” he said, as Mrs. Daniels straightened her shoulders and wrapped the shawl more tightly around herself. Her face angling towards Nicholas who came closer, taking away the narrow space between them that would have served as an exit.

“Oh, really,” Nicholas said, grabbing his arm and poking his skin. “Don’t you have parents or some kind of curfew?”

Roger shook his head, angling to get a look at Brandi, who stood a few feet away and looked rather distant. Backed against the side railing, Roger shoved his hand into his pants pocket, wondering what he could say to stop them when his fingers brushed against a baseball. He retrieved it, and wiped his brow, no longer feeling stifled and hemmed in, as his eyes met Brandi’s. She was watching him, as he clutched the ball. Watching as the storm abated and the furrowed eyebrows started to even out and his breathing became a little more calm. Was she testing him? he wondered, plastering on a smile and becoming almost jovial. As if in response to their arrogance, he was saying okay, bring it on.

Behind them, Brandi cleared her throat and moved closer. “It’s nothing for you to concern yourselves with. We have world Literature with Mrs. Jenkins, if you must know. And tonight, he saved me from being stuck in another dimension.”

Nicholas scratched his brow, shifting his weight from one side of his body to the other, realizing for the first time that there was something odd about the boy and the ball. Something that he should have remembered. But for whatever reason his mind was drawing a blank.

Mrs. Daniels nodded, not sure how to take this. Even if she was the queen on a game of chess about to be sacrificed, she wasn’t going to show her hand, or take things at face value. She touched her daughter’s head and neck, trying to ascertain the extent of the fever before Brandi pulled away. “Thanks for that then. She seems okay.”

Brandi shifted her gaze awkwardly, not wanting Roger to think that this was an everyday occurrence. It wasn’t as though people came to their house willingly. Or casually. She dropped her silent phone onto the center table and raised her head. “Honestly mum, Teresa was the one who invited me out. Roger is just a back up. An escort,” she said, winking at him, until she saw his features fall.

Nicholas looked from on to the other suspiciously while her mother folded her hands and examined the dead phone. “Okay,” she said, sighing, not even bothering to turn on the phone and check for herself as Brandi moved silently towards the front door. She removed the jacket and handed it to him.

After a moment, she turned back as Roger accepted his jacket and made a motion towards the stair. “Oh and in case any of you are wondering, Roger’s also my guardian.”

Mrs. Daniels slammed her fist down on the table and Nicholas grunted as if he too was a parent. Her parent. Someone who had something to say on the matter. “And yet, you allow her to go out by herself and face that doom.”

“No, I did nothing of the sort,” Roger said pulled away, unprepared for the attack. The hostility brewing in the older man’s eyes as the scene from the diner came to him unbidden. “You should be the last person to talk about my action.” He stuffed his arms into the jacket. “Because your actions in the diner didn’t save her from being discovered. I am here, only to help make her into what she will become.” He edged down the stairs, waiting for them to raise any further objections as Mrs. Daniels pulled her daughter to the side and Nicholas glared, like a fire-breathing dragon who could demolish anyone.

“Says you, the boy who lacks history and connections.”

Roger turned back, unfazed, as if he had been called worse. Shaking his head. “Honestly I would have thought at least that you’d be glad, because our families have a shared history.” Nicholas looked at him doubtful before he pulled out the baseball glove and offered it to him. With thin fingers, Nicholas followed the lines of the family tree and saw that indeed there was some connection, before he offered the glove to Mrs. Daniels who did the same. Taking her time to sift through the names and discover their familial connection.

Then she looked at her daughter, wondering if any of this was new to her. But from her features, she knew that she had already know and that like with her father, Mrs. Daniels was the one who was now in the dark.

“What do you propose to do? Do you have some sort of plan?” she asked, leaning onto the railing, suddenly feeling tired and strained.

“She will meet with the nameless one,” he said, his eyes on Nicholas. “Unless you’d prefer another run in with Lucien.”

Mrs. Daniels raised an eyebrow as if this had been something that they had discussed and then slowly she nodded her head. It would be futile to go against the Foundation, she thought. Unnecessary to lose her daughter.

“Of course,” Roger said, as if reading her mind, collecting the baseball glove with his free hand. “Nobody’s losing anyone on my watch. Please consider Brandi a free agent. No one can touch her, until she turns sixteen.”

Mrs. Daniels nodded, as though this too had been discussed. But her face still seemed strained. Exhausted.

“You should tell her what you know, because Lucien has already found a way to use her friends.”

Brandi’s face turned scarlet as her mother’s eyes devoured hers. “Like I was saying earlier, Latoya’s not my friend and I didn’t injure her.”

Nicholas pulled out his phone and scrolled through the Foundation updates as if anything that happened was known to everyone within the circle. He scrolled through the pages, becoming more and more engrossed, until he looked up and saw mrs. Daniels leaning on his shoulder, her eyes almost pleading, and brimming with tears. “Then whatever the connection, you’ve definitely done something wrong, because Lucien is the least of your worries,” Nicholas said, placing a hand on her arm. “Unless you’ve already met the nameless?”

Brandi’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head. Not too far off, Roger sucked in a deep breath as the trees around them began to rustle and shake. Mrs. Daniels shrieked and went towards the door as if something about this frightened her. “Maybe we should do this inside.”

“Inside?” Brandi looked around at them, as if they all held a little piece of the puzzle that was quickly becoming her life. “What is it that you’re not telling me?” she asked, hands on her hips.

“Someone will show you the past,” Roger began, before Nicholas could cover his mouth.

“But that’s not the crux of it,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “In the end, you are the only one who can decide how things will go. Who can be saved.”

Brandi looked at him, not really following because she had no idea about who she would have to choose from and how she would be able to make the final decision. “How am I supposed to decide?” she asked, looking at each of them one by one.

Her mother gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “By conquering your fears and discovering your enemies,” she said, turning and going towards the open door. Nicholas nodded, following her inside. Their fingers joining even before they crossed the threshold. Standing there, Brandi could do nothing but contemplate their union which with every passing day was becoming less and less of a mirage. She could almost see it progressing further in her dreams, and she shuddered, as Roger gave her a plaintive smile.

“Catch you tomorrow,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, there are worse things.”

Like what? Brandi wanted to counter, but held her breath. She didn’t need another person hating her or doubting her reactions she thought as he turned to leave. “Yeah, see you in school,” she said, instead, not even concerned about the nameless one or her opponent because something else more piercing was rising within her. Thoughts of her father.

Chapter 13: The Way Back Home

Suddenly Brandi didn’t feel like dancing. Or going out. Instead, she imagined what it would have been like if she had just stayed home and counted her blessings. Besides, she was too young to die, she thought, remembering the image of the woman who had tried to pry her hands away from her scorching partner. Not that she had wanted specifically to save Roger, but maybe like her, he still had family. People who were looking forward to seeing him again.

And she didn’t want to perish. No, not in some alternative universe where the people wore ballroom gowns and had their own personal numbers.

“Wait, what number are we?” Brandi asked, breaking out of her reverie, as seven – the number of the other couple – stayed fixed in her mind.

Roger held onto her hand, touched his lips. “We’re fourteen. Why?”

She looked up at him, feeling all of the air being sucked out of the room and grabbed her wrist. “That means we’re next.” He shook his head, not really believing her.

“Next?” The words left his lips slowly. He looked baffled, as she glanced at the clock, wondering how many more minutes they would have before their luck ran out.

She touched the pendant. A memory emerged.

The one where Teresa had slammed the ball into the volleyball player, and caused the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid to fall. She stared at the DJ, eyes more intent as she realized that the girl moved with a slight limp. Brandi scratched her head.

Because back then, Latoya had been the one in the limelight. The one who had enjoyed showing her exuberance at football and basketball games. A smile spread across Brandi’s face because even though Mrs. Redman had not seen it fit to enter her into junior competitions, she had coached them about being graceful and effortless in their movements, since judges were often spiteful and exacting.

Brandi moved closer to the center, no longer concerned that Roger had lost. Or that Lucien had appeared. They could win, she thought, as the DJ – Latoya – moved forward, at a more leisurely pace. Her left leg, just as swollen as Brandi had remembered it, when she had gone to the nurse’s station to collect her irate friend.

Walking and standing was one thing. Dancing would be another, she presumed; bowing graciously as Roger looked around the room.

She glanced at her watch and then looked at the other one on the wall. The difference between the two was seven, which meant that she was right. They were number two. The second couple to be sacrificed for whatever it was that this game entailed.

Latoya opened her hands and looked at her, weaving an almost quizzical expression. “I know you were hoping for the locomotion,” she said, as if reading her mind, “but this is a slow dance.”

Brandi nodded as the sea of people disappeared, leaving only them, Roger and Lucien. Her eyes narrowed, certain that they could do it, whatever it takes.

As if to caution her, a thought rose, like the hand of Nicholas that had stopped her at the cafe before she ran through the side door. Nothing is as it seems, it said, as the pendant reclaimed its place around her neck. Was it trying to tell her something? she asked herself. Warn her perhaps that her current course of action was the wrong one. She looked towards Roger to see if he was the one who was sending her the message. To hint at some disaster. But his face remained impassive until he eyed Lucien. His countenance becoming more firm and determined.

No. Brandi paused, stretched her hands and squatted, as if she needed to become more limber. More capable and confident. She adjusted her bun and allowed Roger to take possession of her arm as she held her breath, and then exhaled.

“I can do this.”

Whether it was fear or that sense of dread you encountered before undertaking a great feat, Roger offered her a different view, as he strained to get a better look at her and shook his head. “You don’t have to do this. Not with her.” And as if on cue, the music started up and Latoya embraced her partner. The smile she gave Brandi, jarring. No, you don’t have to.

So she turned away, wondering if the similarities between the DJ and Latoya were real. Or if they had just been another part of her imagination, that was making her see the people one moment, and then miss them the next. Her grip tightened. She leaned into Roger and whispered. “Have you noticed anything strange about the DJ?” Following her eyes, his gaze shifted.

“Yes.” His face clouded. “Isn’t she a friend of Teresa’s?”

Brandi looked at him, wondering if he was just as delusional. Or crazy. Because Teresa’s friends were nothing like this. That. And besides, she would never let herself  get hung up on revenge. She inched forward, the tip of her shoes, grinding into his toes as if she they were a pestle in a mortar.

He grimaced, yanking his leg back, doing his best not to scowl. “Is she Latoya?”

Brandi nodded and bit her bottom lip, hiding from him, the fact that she and the ex-cheerleader had arrived at the party together.

“So, how do you think she knows Lucien?” he asked, seeming somewhat less concerned about the earlier friends angle, as he rubbed an imaginary mustache. Brandi shook her head as a silver bracelet glistened on Latoya’s arm and she felt a slight shiver run down her spine.

“Honestly, I have no idea, but nothing is as it seems.” They watched as Lucien dipped the girl and then the two of them laughed.

Neither one of them moved, until they realized that the judges were going for their numbered cards. Brandi picked up the pace, her eyes going to Roger to alert him about the bracelet, but he seemed more wary, also edging away. So she would have to dance. And make it to the end to ensure that they were safe.

“You’ll have to out dance her before we run out of time,” he said, indicating to the clock.

“I know.” She pushed down on his arm, as if he was giving away everything that they had learned. The charms sparkled as they moved closer. She looked at Latoya, wondering where she had gotten the bracelet, as Roger shook his head. “Roger, move closer.”

He attempted a dip and then a wide twirl. Latoya stood just before them, her arm outstretched as if she was getting ready for a bow. “I hope you lose,” she said, bumping into Brandi with her waist.

She pretended to be seriously hurt, dropping Roger’s arm. “Now,” she said. “Get the bracelet.”

Roger grabbed Latoya’s wrist and yanked it off. “Funny how we both want the same thing. And have the same idea.”

Lucien shrank back as if he had just been hit. While Latoya dropped to her knees and fanned the flames with the edge of her dress.

“You won’t be so lucky next time, son,” Lucien said, tipping his hat and making a quick escape. He glanced at Latoya, showing only regret, as her screams rose and she tried yanking on her braids which seemed to be getting tighter.

“Can we save her?” Brandi asked, her fingers knotting together as she cupped her ears. By her side, Roger’s head shook.

“No, unfortunately, she already made her choice. Now she must live with it.” His arms opened and he collected Brandi, transporting her back to their own time, as a wormhole opened up near her home and they were thrown onto the grass.

She got up and hugged him. “How did you know, how to do that?” she asked, forgetting all the other discord and the night’s events.

Roger dusted off his pants as if it had only been an after thought and she had been the real hero. “You’re getting better at thinking on your feet.” He appraised her. “Now how about me getting you home.”

“Sure,” she said, her face still slightly confused. She hadn’t meant to injure anyone, and now thanks to them, her, Latoya was stuck in some abyss probably thinking about some personal injury that had been done.

Roger placed a hand on her arm, after observing her slow gait. “Remember it wasn’t your fault. No matter what, we do what we have to do.”

She gave him a wary look, wondering if he’d ever tire of the assignments and the tests and whatever it was that he was trying to teach her. Her hand making a slow, lazy trail from the pendant to the scar that she could still feel under the thin fabric of her dress. She squeezed his arm. Around them, the wind picked up and he offered her his sweater. Thankfully, she accepted it and burrowed deeper as if it was some alcove, that could keep her hidden from everything.

But at the corner of the street, she spied a house that resembled hers. Her shoulders became rigid while her backbone remained erect as she spied the faint outside light. Standing there with Roger, she prayed for her mother’s absence, because she had had enough disappointment for one night. And she could do without more scolding.

At her side, Roger smiled broadly and then bowed, like a gallant knight offering  his arm to the queen. “Don’t worry yourself, I’ll explain everything.” He promised, as she sighed, already knowing that her mother would be too much for the likes of him.

Chapter 12 : If You Can’d Dance, then You Won’t Live (entire)

Brandi grabbed Roger’s arm as the judges glanced in their direction, giving them nods of approval. It had been months since she had last taken a step in Mrs. Redman’s class, but here, after a few deep breaths she relaxed her shoulders and leaned into her partner. Trying her best to think about the music and the costumed people who seemed to belong more to this time period than them. Roger leaned closer too, as if trying to suppress a giggle. She gave him a furtive glance, demanding silence. Seriousness.

Shrinking into himself, he glanced nervously at his feet, while she attempted to guide them. “I take it, you’ve done this before?”

“Yes,” Brandi said, clearing her throat as his hands moved from around her neck to capture her shoulders. She stiffened. Her eyes going into the space just above his head.

He relaxed as they switched positions. “Good, then I don’t feel so stupid, about standing where you once stood,” he said, as if offering her some new joke.

Brandi frowned, wondering if he was trying to tell her something about what had happened to him, and how he had ended up being her guardian. But the distant expression on his face told her otherwise. Besides, he was the guy who read about baseball for fun. She had seen him do it during English class, when he suspected that no one else was looking. Now though, she wondered if he didn’t know anything about music. Or any of the musical greats. She shook her head, thinking briefly about Teresa, her eyes following Roger. There was no other way to explain their connection. Especially since the last trip she had taken, like this, had happened while she was sleeping. Her brow wrinkled. Was this some sort of astral projection? she thought, hearing some old 60’s music start up.

“Don’t worry. It’s only the monkey,” Roger said, making some weird gestures with his hands. “Watch me. Or follow the crowd.”

He smiled as a group of women beside them squealed, their arms going up and down as they moved from side to side. Then he grabbed Brandi’s hands. “Come on.”

For a few seconds, Brandi watched him, wondering which one was more ridiculous – the group of screaming women at their side or Roger, who was actually acting like a real monkey. She made a face, forgetting herself. Slowly, letting out the air that had collected in her lungs, she copied his movements. Her body loosening up on its own. Was this really what the 60’s had been like? she asked herself, trying to remember some of the crazy dances her mother had shown her, after her dance sessions. There had been the pony and the swim, if she remembered correctly. Her mother, she was almost certain, had been even more adept. She glanced at Roger. A guy like him would have nothing on the pony, she thought, moving closer.

Likewise, he ambled towards her, too busy doing his own routine to notice her changed expression.

So she leaned in closer and challenged him. “Can you do the pony?”

Roger’s hands stopped, as he gazed across the room. The others changed their moves to match the new music. He looked down at Brandi, becoming even more suspicious, beads of sweat dropping from his face as he became a little more serious. “No, but, can you?”

Like a dance instructor Brandi created some room and performed the steps. “Right, ball, change,” she said, making sure that his eyes were directed at her feet. “Left, ball, change.” The black dress showing the crisp exactness of her execution as Roger’s eyes moved momentarily to assess the jerky movements of the man beside him, whose number read seven.

Taking a deep breath, Roger followed her slowly, as the disco ball changed from red to blue to silver. Watching Brandi move freely across the floor, he wondered what she might have done to get them there, because she seemed to be able to control the music. Unless, she had no idea what she was doing and didn’t know that changing plaines was forbidden for seers.

He put a hand up, is self-defense and asked, “Have you figured out how to get us out of here?”

Brandi shrugged. Certain that their arrival there hadn’t been her fault. “No. This has nothing to do with me,” she said, biting her bottom lip. Looking up at him, she wondered if he knew more than he was letting on, because surely someone, at the other party, would realize that they were gone.

Teresa. She would ring the alarm.

With her free hand, Brandi tried to pull at the number that was stitched to her back. But Roger dissuaded her, because the people around them were suddenly closing in. Making their space even smaller.

“The Hitchhiker,” he said, his feet going numb, as her eyes darted towards him. “And I challenge you to do the Hitchhiker.”

Brandi eyed him cautiously, as the music changed and the other dancers became a little more erratic. Were they hailing a cab? Or trying to get a lift? she asked herself, as the woman next to her put a hand on her hips and followed the now familiar gestures.

“Oh, crap,” Roger said, as a guy backed into him. He groaned, running his hands through his hair. Brandi wanted to smile at his confused look, but she was too busy learning the moves. Could it have been any worse? she wondered, as the man next to them collapsed.

Roger turned, realizing that he wasn’t the only one who was a lousy dancer. At the left side of them, the man’s dance partner reached down to help him up.

Roger pulled back, grabbing hold of Brandi’s arm as the overhead lights became brighter. The DJ stepped up to the mike and motioned towards the odd couple. “Seems like we have our first casualty,” she said, her sequined dress, shimmering in the limelight. Her voice boomed louder than the music as Brandi peered at her, because her voice sounded familiar.

Then the DJ bowed and cheered. “Hats off to the lovely couple.” The spotlight came on, captured them as the other couples parted.

“Death by flaming shoes.”

Almost instinctively, Brandi ran towards Roger who shielded her eyes as the couples’ shoes caught on fire and then their bodies evaporated.

A warning bell sounded and Brandi looked at Roger perplexed. She had never experienced anything so tragic before, her fingers tightening around his. Color drained from Roger’s face as a man with a red baseball cap moved towards them.

Following her lead, he squeezed her hand and lifted her chin. “You’re the only one who can get us out of this.”

Brandi’s face folded. “You can’t be serious?”

He nodded. Looked at her, his face calm. “Yes, this is not a test,” he said, forcing her to take in the entire room. And then, as if reading the rules that had been on the strip he reminded her, “To the Seer of the Past, you can see the past and the present but you cannot change time.”

Brandi sighed, remembering the flaming couple as her eyes met Lucien’s. Some things it seems are just meant to be, she thought, nodding at Roger, knowing that having Lucien there wasn’t a good sign.

Around them, the other couples joined hands and Roger took Brandi’s hand. “Act as if nothing strange has just happened,” he said, feeling the temperature in the room increase. “Act as if everything is normal and can be fixed.”

Brandi nodded as her eyes met those of the woman on the stage. She flashed a smile, and Brandi wondered if what she was doing was eliminating the competition, as the DJ, Latoya waved a hand in the air, as if to say, see you on the other side.

All New Next Week: Chapter 12: If You Can’t Dance, then you Won’t Live (excerpt)

Brandi grabbed Roger’s arm as the judges glanced in their direction, giving them nods of approval. It had been months since she had last taken a step in Mrs. Redman’s class, but here, after a few deep breaths she relaxed her shoulders and leaned into her partner. Trying her best to think about the music and the costumed people who seemed to belong more to this time period than them. Roger leaned closer too, as if trying to suppress a giggle. She gave him a furtive glance, demanding silence. Seriousness.

Shrinking into himself, he glanced nervously at his feet, while she attempted to guide them. “I take it, you’ve done this before?”

“Yes,” Brandi said, clearing her throat as his hands moved from around her neck to capture her shoulders. She stiffened. Her eyes going into the space just above his head.

He relaxed as they switched positions. “Good, then I don’t feel so stupid, about standing where you once stood,” he said, as if offering her some new joke.

Brandi frowned, wondering if he was trying to tell her something about what had happened to him, and how he had ended up being her guardian. But the distant expression on his face told her otherwise. Besides, he was the guy who read about baseball for fun. She had seen him do it during English class, when he suspected that no one else was looking. Now though, she suspected that he didn’t know anything about music. Or any of the musical greats. She shook her head, thinking briefly about Teresa, her eyes following Roger. There was no other way to explain their connection. Especially since the last trip she had taken, like this, had happened while she was sleeping. Her brow wrinkled. Was this some sort of astral projection? she thought, hearing some old 60’s music start up.

“Don’t worry. It’s only the monkey,” Roger said, making some weird gestures with his hands. “Watch me. Or follow the crowd.”

He smiled as a group of women beside them squealed, their arms going up and down as they moved from side to side. He grabbed Brandi’s hands. “Come on.”

For a few seconds, Brandi watched him, wondering which one was more ridiculous – the group of screaming women at their side or Roger, who was actually acting like a real monkey. She made a face, forgetting herself. Slowly, letting out the air that had collected in her lungs, she copied his movements. Her body loosening up on its own. Was this really what the 60’s had been like? she asked herself, trying to remember some of the crazy dances her mother had shown her after her dance sessions. There had been the pony and the swim, if she remembered correctly. Her mother, she was almost certain, had been even more adept. She glanced at Roger. A guy like him would have nothing on the pony, she thought, moving closer.

Chapter 11: Houston We Have a Problem

The hummer stopped in front of a quaint two-story house with slanted styled windows, and although the blinds were partially closed, Brandi could still see the streams of coloured lights that seemed to pierce through the shades. Getting out of the car, she did her best not to stare at the strange faces of the other teenagers while the other two girls made their way towards the entrance. All the while, Brandi tried to figure out if Jason was just some random guy that Teresa had picked up in the public library, her only other regular haunt.

Taking a moment to scrape some chewing gum off her shoe, she watched the other girls go in, suddenly feeling apprehensive, knowing that if her mother ever found out she wouldn’t get away with some petty chore like washing the dishes, which was something she was almost certain her mother could do in her sleep, as her hands moved along the counter sometimes almost aimlessly when she talked. A habit that Brandi was almost certain had started with the new job at Marshall’s and Luxley’s. One of those more trendy places, where she couldn’t afford the salad, with her meagre allowance of twenty five dollars, if she remembered to take out the trash, help with the cooking and do her homework.

But looking around this lush environment with its miniature gnome, decorated lights and outdoor foliage, she was sure that although these parents may have cared with keeping up appearances, their kids didn’t mind too much about hanging out, going places, and having fun, whenever the need arose. Teresa flashed her a smile at the door, as if she could tell what Brandi was thinking and then ushered her inside.

Brandi took a deep breath after crossing the threshold. Wondering why she was getting a serious case of the heebie-jeebies, when she had already assured herself that everything was going to be fine. Unless of course, the house was somehow telling her that she shouldn’t be there. She frowned, deep in thought, wondering if she was the one who was thinking all of this or if her brain was flying solo. She shook her head and passed a hand over the pendant, as if to reassure herself that everything was fine.

A girl wearing a bit too much mascara gave her a kooky grin, as if she was mysteriously checking herself out in front of some invisible mirror and Brandi shook her head, explaining to herself that that was definitely not possible. Then the girl raised her eyes and walked away, leaving Brandi to stare into space, somehow speechless about what had just happened, as Teresa motioned towards at her.

“Wait here. I’ll get us something to drink.”

Brandi nodded, hoping it was a reference to water because she couldn’t handle anything heavy. In fact, one Christmas when uncle Ken had spiked the punch, without her knowing, she had unwittingly drank a mug or two after losing to Avery at a game of gin rummy. Sure, they shouldn’t have been playing. And sure, Brandi shouldn’t have been such a sore loser that she’d challenged her cousin to a second game that included a dare of the spiked punch; but then Brandi hated losing to Avery who she sensed had everything she had always wanted. A dad. A house. And some roots that she swore she would kill for. Not that she had ever gotten that far. Nevertheless, she had made a fool of herself in front of their dinner guests by puking on the Thanksgiving turkey and then burping all through the toast. She shut her eyes, hoping to dispel the memory that she had long since forgotten. Remembering how embarrassed her mother had been, turning her head after she had sent Brandi up the stairs, to Avery’s room, to sleep off the after-effects, as she and aunty Pam had gone down on their hands and knees – in their good dresses – to clean the floor and the lily white tablecloth.

Avery had barely looked at her then, as if to say that it hadn’t really been her fault and Brandi had been the one responsible. But Brandi knew better. Two years older than her, she felt, that Avery should have ’fessed up and accepted part of the responsibility because they had done what they did together. Come hapless soul or high water.

Now though, she pressed her back into the wall, wondering if there was anywhere that she could hide and take her medicine when Teresa handed her a bottle of cold water. “Thought you’d need it since it’s heating up inside here,” she said, casting a quick glance around the room.

Brandi watched her friend, taking in the kids slowly, as if somehow between the time of first seeing the girl with the heavy mascara and now, she had forgotten where they were. In one of the corners of the room, she spied Latoya, talking to some good-looking Asian guy who seemed to be a year or two older than them. She pointed, steering Teresa in their direction. “She knows people here?”

“Of course,” Teresa said, pushing Brandi’s hand down. A bangle with charms jangled on her wrist, as her lips formed into a tight line. “She was the one who invited us.” Brandi’s eyebrows raised as Teresa waved at some blond haired guy who was propped up by one of the open curtains talking to a group of athletic guys. “That’s Jason.”

Brandi followed her with her eyes, not really seeing the attraction as Teresa flickered her wrist again, and she took in the shape of the aikido charm and the kendo body armor. When had her friend started to collect such things? she wondered, feeling something change within her as she felt the faces of some of the other kids turn to appraise her.

She shrank back. Was their something wrong with her lip gloss? Or teeth? she wondered, moving towards the hallway mirror and taking a look. Teresa’s hand relaxed at the side of her dress and Brandi felt herself shift away, as if somehow she was being singled out. “Oh, he seems fine,” she said, nodding towards Teresa, who seemed to be waiting for her approval. “Maybe you should go, I’ll just find something to eat and take a tablet.”

Teresa looked down at her purse, as if not wanting to part with her. “I will…I mean we came together and I would hate it, if anything happened to you on my watch,” she said, scrutinizing the dance floor. “Besides, you don’t know anyone here.”

Brandi put a hand on her friend’s arm, reassuring her. “I’ll be fine,” she countered. “I mean there’s no way I can get lost in a small place like this.” She looked at Teresa, waiting for her eyes to offer some assurance.

For a little while none came.

“I’m sure you’re right,” Teresa said, turning away from her. “And I would hate to have gone to all this trouble and not at least spend some time with him.” Brandi smiled, watching her go. All too aware that in that department she was definitely flying solo. It wasn’t like there was anyone at school who had her back. Or any boy she felt that she could trust.

Jason’s face lit up when he saw Teresa. Brandi watched their short kiss feeling a tinge of jealousy, regret and doubt. Her mother had said that she wasn’t at that age yet, but watching Teresa and Jason go at it, she begged to differ. Her face turning into a scowl as she watched the night become even darker. She spun out of the room, her eyes taking in nothing in particular until she caught sight of a familiar red and blue baseball cap. And she almost smiled when the sound of a familiar piece of waltz music streamed through the room and she heard a unanimous groan.

A head popped up and Roger’s eyes appraised hers. “Funny, seeing you here. I would have thought that with a cold you would have decided not to come.”

In the kitchen, she dropped the bottle of water on the counter and unscrewed the cap, wondering if he was referring to the bizarre note that had gotten her caught in the downpour, or if he had sent some other sign that she was still unaware of. Brandi took a sip of water, as the music increased. Listening to it, she remembered the dance lessons her mother had sent her to, before they had moved into her father’s house. At first they had occurred once a month on Sundays. At around 10:30 a.m., the time when according to some of the other students Mrs. Redman, the dance instructor would give her husband his sleeping pills. But unlike them she hadn’t been too snoopy, because she realized that it had also been the only time her mother took a rest, because uncle Ruiz had agreed to carry her grandmother out.

Brandi looked up at the clock on the wall and saw that it was exactly 10:30, something turned over in her stomach and she broke out into a cold sweat. Her other hand reaching into her purse to extract the bottle of cough syrup that she had tried to nudge down.

Roger moved closer, peering at her face. “Is everything alright?” he asked. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

Brandi looked down, trying to steady her hands as she searched around the room for a spoon to pour out the cough syrup. “No, everything’s fine,” she said, moving towards the sink and opening a couple of drawers, as her breathing became a little uneven. “It’s just the music.” Her voice hung in the room as she removed a spoon, and took two tablespoons, ignoring the instructions. She looked out the window as if sensing some impending doom, and offered him a strained smile. “I think I’ve heard it somewhere else before.”

Roger took the bottle of cough syrup from her hand and held it up to the light. “You sure you’re not taking too much of this stuff?” he asked, taking the spoon. “Says here, the serving size is one teaspoon.” He pointed to the directions section, forgetting the can of orange soda he had been nursing a few minutes earlier. “Maybe it would have been wise if you weren’t here.” With a light touch, he smoothened the hair at her temples, taking her in.

Brandi took a step back, wondering why the space between them was suddenly getting smaller and smaller, as a dimple appeared on his cheek and the music in the background changed to the fox trot. I’m not supposed to be here, she thought, reading into his suggestion. Knowing that something about this seemed strange. And it wasn’t just the people outside there that she had no knowledge about. But this boy, here who seemed very concerned.

Brandi glanced at the dance floor, where Jason and Teresa sauntered across the room. Maybe they had talked, she thought, remembering her conversation with Teresa who hinted that Roger wasn’t her type. That they’d have nothing to talk about. His forehead creased and she wondered if that had all been a lie. Some tale to get her here. To have her make a fool of herself. “You don’t have to pretend to care,” she said, closing the bottle and stuffing it into her bag. “I can do many things on my own.”

Roger pulled back, and returned to the sink as if he had been insulted, and emptied his soda. “It doesn’t take much to care,” he said, his back stiffening against her. “But…when it comes to you, I have a job to do and I can’t back down.”

Brandi watched him, wondering why his tone seemed so edgy. Hard. When she was only trying to make him see reason. Because she didn’t need a guardian. And whatever it meant, by having the pendant, she would handle it on her own.

His eyes grew furrowed, as his fingers clenched into fists. “Haven’t you learned anything from being shot by that arrow?” he asked as she glared at him, wondering if he meant to embarrass her. Not caring how he knew. Or why it seemed so important.

“I am not your concern.”

“No, of course you’re not,” he said, putting the baseball cap on his head. “I was wrong, you’re just like your father. But sometimes the world doesn’t revolve around you.” She raised a hand to slap him, and he caught it, just as her hand reached the side of his face. He grimaced, shoving the purse aside, as he held her fingers down, by the sink. “Like I was saying, tonight is not a good night for creating new memories.”

Brandi stared at him, as if he was saying something that she could only partially understand. The scar above his right eye becoming even more prominent than it had been before as she looked directly at his face. When had he been injured? Why hadn’t she noticed it earlier? He relaxed his face.

He watched her, letting her arm drop to the side of her dress as his hand stopped right over the side of her dress where her scar was located. “Not everything is made visible,” he said, as if looking directly into her. She flinched and pulled away, feeling a sudden raw energy connect him to her.

She raised a finger and poked his chest. “You may know about my father but you know absolutely nothing about me.”

Roger stared down at his shoes, bowed and held out a hand. “But I can,” he said, leaning closer as he took Brandi’s hand and placed it on his arm. “If you allow me this one dance.” In the background the music changed again and they were both transported to some 60’s dance floor, where couples wore numbers and judges held placards. Looking around the room, Brandi let out a deep sigh. Houston, I think we have a problem.

Chapter 10 : Come Let’s Play!

Somewhere in the distance an alarm-clock sounded. Brandi rose from bed, rubbing her eyes as the sound increased; and then she pressed the buttons, until it became silent. Turning, she withdrew her hand and knocked over a wooden picture-frame, which contained the only photo of her parents in the house, as far as she was aware. The plastic screen thumped out and Brandi stooped to pick it up. Glancing down, on the far right, she noticed a young girl who had been hidden under the border of the frame. She squinted, peered closer because the woman appeared to be looking directly at her father, whose features seemed nonchalant. His back was stiff and head erect. She shook her head, moving closer to the light, thinking that the woman almost looked like Teresa. She shook her head, that would have been impossible. She shoved the picture and the dismembered frame into a drawer. Not believing in coincidences.

As she picked up her phone, which buzzed in her hands. It was already 6:30. Watching the text message flit across the screen, she opened the phone and read it. Be there shortly, T. She dashed towards the wardrobe, pulled out a few dresses that her mother had insisted they buy and then, she dropped them onto the bed. Moving between the space of the bed and the full length mirror, Brandi held up each of the five dresses that she had taken out, and modeled with them until she was down to two. A black dress that seemed to hug her waist and a blue sequined piece that seemed a bit more flashy. She laid the others aside and gave the final two dresses some space, hoping that after a quick shower, it would be easier to decide. All the while also telling herself that everything would be okay, although something else was telling her that it would be wiser to stay away.

But she ignored it. The concoction of cold medicine making her feel as if somehow she was now invincible. She felt her neck, knowing that the fever had already broken and rushed into the bathroom.

She wouldn’t need to think too much about tonight, she thought, her mind becoming hazy, as the cold water sapped her skin. She adjusted the knobs, knowing that at the party she would be nothing more than a spectator: observing couples. Besides, there would be nobody else from their school there, since there was no one called Jason in their grade. Or the one higher. She passed a hand over her abdomen, feeling a thin scar, where her mother had said the wound was healing nicely. But she removed it, because she couldn’t avoid the icky feeling that accompanied the application of the salve, which had somehow remained with her. And yet, it had been a life saver because the arrow hadn’t damaged a vital organ.

She shut off the water, dried her skin and returned to the bedroom, not wanting to think about it, because besides almost failing English, her knowledge of health class was even more iffy. She took her time to get ready, even though, she knew that Teresa would be there soon. It didn’t matter. She had time, she thought, casting a peripheral glance at the pendant.

At the bed, she bit her lip, and decided to go with the black dress and a pair of low heels because the blue dress seemed a little too flashy. As an after thought, Brandi wrapped a matching shawl around her neck and then picked up the pendant. How would she be able to wear it openly? she thought, not wanting to discard the extra abilities that she was almost certain it had given her. Besides, she didn’t want them to be locked away. Or hidden.

So, sending caution to the wind, she removed the shawl and fastened the clasp. The pendant dropped below her unflattering neckline, between an ample bust, as she adjusted the straps, hoping that the pendant’s necklace-effect would make her seem more mysterious, rather than questioning. Brandi slipped her feet into the low heels and walked over to the window to look out. But she wasn’t focusing on the Red Dragon sign that usually held her interest, even though it seemed to be spinning faster than usual, like some sort of homing device.

Instead, she wondered if the more upscale restaurant that her mother worked at, was more crowded. Perhaps even packed, as a slow wind picked up. She took a deep breath and wondered if she was making the right decision to follow Teresa. Or even to go to the party. And whether or not, she should be feeling so much doubt. She passed a hand through her hair, as if deciding, and then moved away from the window to powder her nose.

She had been in bed for most of the week and a little partying never hurt anyone, she assured herself, trying to get rid of a frown. Pouting, she added a thin layer of red lip gloss to her seemingly chapped lips, and brushed back her hair. When she was finished, she dropped the lip gloss and a few other essentials into a purse, before turning off the lights, going downstairs and then out the front door.
*     *
Once outside, she locked the door, pulling the shawl more tightly around her, she pushed the key down into the purse, where the bottle of cough syrup seemed to be fighting for a way out. Drawing a ragged breath, Brandi leaned against the door and shoved it down further, doing her best to zip it close as she heard the sound of a car’s exhaust backfire in the driveway.

Her face lit up when she laid eyes on the yellow hummer, and she saw Teresa’s head pop out through a side window. Her friend waved as the car came to a stop.

“Chica, your chariot awaits,” Teresa gushed from the end of the driveway.

Brandi squealed, moving closer. This was the first time that she had seen Teresa spare no expense and she wondered what was so important that it demanded such exquisite taste and lavish decadence, as her friend got out of the car and pulled her in. She gasped, realizing for the first time how beautiful Teresa was, with her hair up and her sparkly pink dress. A silent smile spreading across her lips until she saw two other bodies pushed into the seats opposite them.

There was Tracy Devers, a slim African American girl she recognized from band, who hardly ever spoke during class and Latoya Evans, her more outspoken cousin. Truth was, Brandi couldn’t stand Latoya, firstly because she talked too much and secondly because she had once ratted her out to Mr. Ono, their math teacher. He was one of the few teachers that Brandi respected. And even though at the time she had been trying to get out of a homework assignment, she could have easily completed, she had blamed Latoya for being sent to the principal’s office and almost getting a two week suspension. Since then, of course, she had sworn never to engage in idle talk with her. But then Teresa smiled at them and nudged Brandi.

“You two know each other, right?”

Brandi nodded, taking a shallow breath, everything inside her body telling her not to rescind, even as she stretched out a hand to them and smiled. “Tracy, Latoya, it’s good to see you again.”

“No,” Latoya said, her eyes steady. “I think the pleasure is all mine.”

Brandi watched, the green peacock feathers on her dress and hat light up in the dim glow of the car’s internal lights before the door closed. Tracy barely grunted and for a second she wanted to kick herself for enacting a truce; even if it was there only to keep Teresa happy, she assured herself as the car sped off and they were on their way.

Chapter Nine – the Trouble with Teresa

It was one thing when your best friend told you that she wanted to possess special powers. And another when you started to believe her.

Not that Teresa had been naive or gullible. Usually on April Fool’s she was the one person who failed to be duped. The old whoopee cushion trick could get no rise from her. Neither could the false messages of school closing or no homework. Because whatever it was she had learned to stare the perpetrator in the face and tell that they had been lying.

But with Brandi, it had been different. A bit of wishful thinking that she had been almost certain, would amount to nothing more than a few incidents of trust, here and there. Like at the restaurant. But that had gone wrong. Because the man with the red cap had made a few alterations and changed things. History.

She took a seat on the sand, slowly, trying to wrap her mind around everything that she had learnt from her mother; her fingers touching the sports bracelet on her arm. She was useless when it came to soccer. But aikido and kendo proved more versatile; showing up her skills and mental tenacity. Her ability to think ahead and more – something thankfully that didn’t require the movement of a ball.

“You have been chosen,” those were the words that her mother had uttered a year ago and although she had not known what it meant. Somehow, she now knew that she was different. But after that, her mother had mysteriously disappeared and Teresa had been trying her best to get another hold on her – to find out as much as she could from the town’s archives and the local library that seemed to possess newspaper print going back for centuries. She had gotten glimpses of her, a school girl making a row with an errant banker, who had decided to take away her family home. A lost love, who had been sent away and cursed because she refused to give up her powers. And then there were the suspicions of her as being a witch.

Teresa pulled her toes out the water and squealed. This should have had nothing to do with her, she thought, letting the charm bracelet echo in the wind. She didn’t want anything to do with Brandi Daniels, she thought, even though they had once been friends. Even though by the look of things, somehow they still were. She bared her teeth and bit into her arm, trying to tell the difference between what was real and what was fake. Because friends didn’t hurt friends. Didn’t turn on you and make you feel misplaced. Especially when it came to boys.

She closed her eyes, thinking back to the diner and how she had seen them together. Surely there was nothing going on between Brandi and Roger, she told herself, even though her mother had now filled her with some nagging predictions. They could be together, she seemed to be saying and there’s nothing that you can do about it.

Teresa closed her fist and beat the sand, hoping that the infected eggs had done the trick and tonight her friend would see to reason as the clock ran out. But then, she knew that like her, it would be hard for Brandi to face the truth and Teresa watched her arm go up and down. The sound of the bracelet filling her with an eerie sense of calm that seemed to relax her. She pushed strands of hair back and sat up, watching her reflection as though she was reading pages from a book. She should be tested. Or made to see…

Reason. Teresa looked into the water as though it was a huge cauldron and needed a spin. She still didn’t have enough strength for that, so she took a deep breath and formed a smaller pool in the sand – thinking about the party tonight and the possibility of going to the dance.

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” Stephanie asked, appearing out of nowhere. Teresa shrank back, not wanting to infuriate her. Shielding her eyes with her hands, she looked across at her, from her position further inland, watching as she ambled closer.

Her sister’s face didn’t waver and Teresa wondered how she could be so young, when she was supposed to have been a few years older. Standing up, she dusted her hands in her pants. “I was only clearing my head. Preparing myself for the task at hand,” Teresa said, her eyes down cast. “What’s the plan?”

“It’s all on a need to know basis I’m afraid,” her sister said, flashing her a warm smile. “And right now you really don’t need to know.”

Teresa bit her lip and looked down at her shoes, wondering why there was this need for secrecy when they were already joined. She thought of the pact they had made to rescue their mother and looked down at the scar on her arm, where the stray arrow had grazed her. Heat surged through her body just thinking about it because she was never one to make sacrifices for loved on, except that Stephanie had been insistent. Showing her the three witches who had bound her mother and would deliver her, if only she could deliver Brandi and Roger.

She pulled down the sleeve of her sweater, imagining the pink baby doll dress that they had already picked. Something to “die for,” according to Stephanie. But she hoped it wouldn’t go so far. Brandi had been a friend to her and this thing with Roger was probably nothing more than hormones, she told herself, thinking of how it had been with Spooner. How being with him had seemed to make all of her dreams come true.

“Snap out of it,” Stephanie said, splashing her with water.

She shrieked, gazing and uncurled tendrils of hair. “I said I would help, you don’t have to baptize me.” She said, got to her feet and grabbed her duffle.

“Good.” Stephanie yanked her by the arm. “It’s good to know that you’ve remained compliant.” Teresa gave her a peculiar look, like the one at the library. The day she had decided to show up, even after they had been separated for more than three. No, maybe just absent. Or missing.

“So that’s all you require of me?” she asked, watching the slim card with the picture of the luxurious hummer. “To act like a mode of transport?”

Stephanie shook her head in the affirmative, transformed her younger sister’s clothes with a slight twirl. “Yes, be beautiful and friendly, but get her where she needs to go.”

“All right,” Teresa said, as if she’d heard this many times before. “I’ll get Cinderella to the ball, you and the messenger do what you have to do to warn her – but it better not be like last time.”

Stephanie raised her hands in the air and smiled. “Surely you have forgiven me for that accident. And not tonight, there won’t be another slip.” Teresa looked at her as though she believed her. As though her friend’s life still meant something. And then she remembered her mother, surrounded by the three witches like with Macbeth as they promised him things. Perhaps, there was no other choice. No other way. She sighed.

Turning away from the thunderous waves, she watched as the stretch limo appeared and thought that she could keep her audience waiting, deal or no deal. Pact or no pact.

Chapter 8 : Egg Me On

     Out from school for a few days, Brandi reveled in the fact that she didn’t have to see Mrs. Jenkins or read anything else from her world literature text. Somehow her mother had smoothened things over with the principal, who she had said sounded concerned. Not that Brandi knew what that meant. Idly, she thumped through one of the Glamour magazines that her mother had started reading. Within a few minutes though, she deposited it back onto the desk, thinking that the clothes were too flashy to be hers and the language a bit elevated.

     One of her friends, her mother had assured her, had been given the task of bringing over her assignments. Brandi turned towards the tv screen, trying her best not to think about it, as she pressed the remote and waited for last night’s dvd to load. Suddenly uncomfortable with her current movie genre that included hits like the Amityville Horror, Nosferatu, Little Shop of Horrors and Friday the Thirteenth Part III, she had switched to Pocahontas today because she wanted to be entertained. Instead of, scared out of her whits.

     Alone now, only because her mother had chosen to go out to get another bottle of cough syrup. She adjusted her skirt and shifted her bra strap that was coming down over her shoulder, as she made a quick scan of the room and then fixed her gaze on the screen.

     Peering at the almost empty bottle on the table, near her head, she drained the remains as if it was the last bit of soda pop. Before taking one last sip of the lukewarm tea on the counter, her mother had almost sworn she needed along with daily doses of vitamin C. By the time, her eyes returned to the screen, the opening credits had begun to roll and she adjusted the pillow; her hands trembling momentarily as it reached out to capture the remote and she increased the volume. Hopefully her mother would be back soon, she thought, turning over to make herself more comfortable, because the chair was too lumpy.

     Still groggy an hour later, she got up to answer the doorbell and looked through the peephole. Her eyes hesitating over Teresa.

     She smiled and yanked open the door.

     “Did you have breakfast?” Teresa asked, over the sound of the door closing and the screeching sound on the tv.

     Teresa picked up the remote and lowered the volume; dropping her bag into the seat as it was a person and eyed her friend, with an almost nervous chuckle. “It’s not much fun with you gone. How soon are you going to get better?”

     Brandi inhaled, wondering why the room had suddenly started to spin as she reached out an arm to touch the sofa. “Soon.” She eyed the floor, realizing that she had forgotten her regular flip flops. The bunnies staring up at her. She frowned. Then eyed Teresa. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”

     “No.” Teresa gave her a slight shove. “Not when it’s so much later.” She pulled the curtain by the window, waiting for Brandi’s head to turn. For her to see the overcast weather.”

     Brandi nodded. Dropping back into the chair. As if all of this was normal. Teresa nodded her head and walked towards the kitchen.

     “Let me fix you something,” she said, pushing up her shirt sleeves. “What are you having?”

     Brandi looked down at her feet, as if seeing something. “Eggs,” she said, taking a napkin to wipe the perspiration on her neck. “If you know how to scramble it.”

     “Sure, over-easy,” Teresa said, nodding. “It was something her mother also liked.

     Enjoying the room’s ambience, Brandi relaxed into the chair as Teresa knocked over pots and pans, as she tinkered around in the kitchen, getting the utensils and the cutlery, without much difficulty. In the refrigerator, she found two eggs that she cracked onto the side of a bowl, before getting rid of the shell. Beating the mixture with a whisk, she added salt, pepper and a bit of cilantro. Then she put the skillet on the stove, added some butter and then poured everything in.

     It sizzled and she rushed around searching for a spatula to turn it over. Then she diced a tomato and added a leaf from a lettuce onto the plate along with two slices of bread. On the other plate she did the same, before cutting the large egg into two.

     “I didn’t know you could cook,” Brandi said, appreciating the smells that were coming out of the kitchen. With the mounting chores and the extra pressure to complete her homework assignments, she felt as though she was already over extended. Sure there were things that she still needed to learn but then she wasn’t sure where she was going to get the extra time.

     With her friend occupied in the kitchen, Brandi took the time to check the computer for Seers of the past. Prophets and prophesies. Among them, she found Nostradamus to be one of the most prominent names; even though she didn’t really know anything about his quatrains. All she knew was that different people had used it to explain different doomsday prophesies for things that had happened at different times. Brandi, however, couldn’t quite wrap her mind around it.

     Sure, there had to be some measure of truth, she thought. But then who was to be believed? Whose version could she trust as being the one true thing? She looked away from the screen, wondering if Roger had any thoughts about it as she heard Teresa milling around. Should she ask her?

     Explain things, she wondered, uncertain about how that would have changed things. Teresa had been her friend for what may have seemed like forever but she needed someone that she could trust. Someone that she could depend on. And although she wasn’t sure that that person was Teresa, she also wasn’t sure if it was Roger. After all, Nicholas had said that she could be manipulated. She closed her eyes, trying not to equate the addition of one with the subtraction of the other. Since she really didn’t know that much about Roger. And yet he had said that he could help her. Strengthen her powers. She wanted to believe him and yet everything with Teresa had been so sure.

     She closed down the screen, suddenly feeling dizzy. It was almost as if she was the one toy on the playground that everyone wanted to play with. And she had no idea about what to do. Who to leave herself open to – so that she could be claimed. She looked up and caught sight of Teresa, observing her.

     “Thanks,” Brandi said, seeming to prick her. Because there was no way that either of them was play acting, she told herself, watching Teresa who seemed to know too much about her. She felt stumped and strange as she rest down the plate and used a few drops of the antibacterial ointment to clean her hands. She smiled and then took a big bite, hearing a soft buzzing sound, as she tried to focus on he chewing because when the food went down there was no taste. She took a sip of her drink feeling slightly parched; trying to remember what real food tasted like, as she took another bite and nodded to her friend. “You should try the Red Dragons, maybe they would hire you.”

     Teresa looked at her with a strange smile. “Right, I’m sure they’d need some help with their chicken fried rice,” she said, taking a sip from her soda and taking another big bite of her sandwich. “I’m sure you could do the same if you tried,” she said, taking a sudden look at her before turning back to the tv. As Brandi fell. Faltered.

     It was then that the sound became more pronounced. Distracting. What was happening to her? she wondered, sitting up; her body feeling suddenly stiff as she assumed another position. And looked around to find that her plate had been cleared away. Taking a few deep breaths, she sat up on the couch. “Was I out long?”

     “No,” Teresa said, pushing her plate aside; her body moving up and away from the averted frame of the laptop screen. “You sort of fell down and I helped you to the couch.”

     Brandi blinked. She had fainted. Tried to swallow the saliva lodged in the back of her throat. “And did I eat the eggs?”

     “Some of it.” Teresa held up her empty plate and showed some teeth. “I did too.”

     Brandi watched her. Muscles sore. And rubbed her shoulders.

     “I got you some aspirin,” Teresa said, giving her two capsules and a glass of water. Taking a deep breath, Brandi swallowed and waited for the pain to subside. Then as if to change the subject, she cleared away the things and then flopped down on the seat across from the couch. “Are you going to Jason’s party, tonight?”

     “I’m not sure. I could be busy,” Brandi said, holding up an empty bottle of cough syrup.

     “What? Don’t tell me you weren’t invited,” Teresa squawked, taking the bottle and placing it on the coffee table.

     “No, of course not.” Brandi adjusted her hair after putting down the glass. “Besides, they’re not my crowd.”

     Teresa turned her head. “Not a problem. I’m going with Kenny. And I’m almost sure, he has a friend,” Teresa said, walking around the room in her imaginary dress. Slipping a hand into her bag, she extracted the assignment. “I’m sure you’d do your best to get this.”

     Brandi sat up; her feet barely touching the ground. “You wouldn’t do that.”

     “Sure. Why not?” She held out a hand. “Come on, it could be fun.”

     Brandi shook her head, stopping only when the figure in front of her started to become doubled. “This can’t be right. You’re thinking about going to a party with a guy who drinks like a fish?” She put a hand to the side of her lips as if thinking it over, and seeing it for what it was. Another bad idea.

     Teresa raised the paper up in the air again. “No, you’re just not thinking straight. And before you say no, remember that your mum doesn’t come home until late, so there’ll be no one to check up on you. And just this once, we could get wasted.”

     Brandi pulled back, capturing her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “Except I’m fighting off the elements, unless you’ve forgotten that I have a cold.”

     Teresa opened her bag and took out another bottle of cough syrup. “No, I haven’t forgotten.” She put the assignment sheet down. “And if you go, I’ll make sure that you don’t turn into a pumpkin and get home on time.” She stuck out her hand.


     Brandi waited, feeling slightly woozy. Forgetting the dream and the thing that had come to her like a premonition. Wanting only to impress her mother, as she glanced at the assignment sheet. “And where are we meeting?”

     “In the grove, under the almond tree,” Teresa said, helping her friend to sit up properly in the chair. “By seven but until then please take a rest.”

     Brandi nodded, holding onto Teresa, thinking how fortunate she was to have her as the door closed. Sitting there, she assured herself that she would be better soon, even though the pain in her side refused to subside. With slow fingers; she ran down the list of things she would have to do for her assignments as her eyes narrowed on the essay about heroes that was due in a week. She would need to make some headway, she thought, getting up. She carried the bottle of medicine to her room and retrieved the pendant from the small jewelry box her mother had given her.

     Holding it, she told herself that things would return to normal soon, so that she could with a little help from her eyeshadow and lipgloss. Make it to the party and still get home at a reasonable hour. Besides Teresa had assured her, and she had never known her friend to lie.

Chapter 7: A Hint of What’s to Come

Waiting at the table alone, after he had gone, Brandi thought back to her encounter with Roger Barnes. Was he really her guardian? she thought, pushing the finished literature assignment aside. Their teacher had asked them to do some research on Valkyries, but Brandi feared her half-assed attempt was tepid at best, as she played with the cup of cocoa on the table. Not sure if she could even bring it to her lips, as she thought over her current predicament. Firstly, she reasoned, she could  talk to her mother, and see what sort of decision she should take. But then her mother was too moody and would probably nudge her away from doing anything that had to do with the foundation. Or being a Seer. Not that she had figured out what either one entailed.

She shrugged. Turning the saucer yet again. Her mind running to Nicholas. She had only seen him once or twice after the incident and still she felt frazzled just thinking about the damage that had been done. How she had screwed up royally and like always put herself in danger. But then again, maybe unlike her mother he would have no reason to rebuff her, she thought, thinking back to that look of calm she had seen in his eyes when he had assured her that he was taking her home.

And she bit her lip, thinking that maybe they both knew something that up until now they had been unwilling to share.

And she turned towards the frosty glass, thinking that rain was probably on its way. And that she had been a fool to let Roger walk out with her umbrella. He wasn’t dependable, she thought, thinking about how he had rebuffed her. Not that she would have considered him hero material, even though he had a varsity jacket and some of the other baseball players seemed to look up to him. No, to her, he’s just a boy she had pegged as a loggerhead. A dumb jock. Someone who would chime in with jokes whenever the class seemed a little slow. Or boring. But then again, she wasn’t A class material either, she thought, looking at her bitten down cuticles and sketchy ensemble. No. She was nothing like Teresa who could play the trumpet and the bugle and had somehow gotten an honorary place on the band. She sighed, fidgeting, feeling around her neck for the pendant with its now turquoise hue.

She had seen many shades of blue before. but this one was different. it almost reminded her of the ocean, she thought, when she heard that strange sound again. A sound that reminded her of the chimes of a Buddhist monastery, like the one she had visited with uncle Ken, when he ad first been diagnosed and wanted to release any negative energy. Before the transportation.

But unlike that prayer room (where people assumed different poses) here there were couples with numbers, moving back and forth across a tiled floor that resembled a dance floor. She held her breath hearing the music change from jazz to country to rock. And like people pumped with adrenaline, the couples performed various dances. Smiles painted on their faces as a red headed DJ made a signal to the ceiling and the disco ball started to spin.

Strobe lights followed the contestants as Brandi found herself out on the floor. Looking down at her feet, she saw tap dancing shoes and feeling around her back, her hand brushed against a number.

She was one of them. She almost shrieked, trying to take the number off as someone walked forward and grabbed her hand. It was then that Brandi awoke from her dream. Then that the hollow sound of her scream filled the air as the cup on the table shattered and all eyes turned in her direction; before the strobe lights faded and the chimes sounded once more.

“Hey kid. Are you alright?” a girl with a paige’s haircut asked, holding the menu to her chest as if she was too afraid to get any closer.

Brandi eyeballed the waitress, uncertain about the corporeal nature of her being – as she flattened down her air and wiped her lips in her shirt. She shook her head, wondering what alright meant when she was almost certain that she had probably touched a skeleton. She stood up, shaking herself out, before turning back to her purse and pulling out a twenty.

“Sorry for the hassle,” she said, wondering if there were many episodes of daymares as she turned to appraise the waiting crowd, who slowly took their eyes off her. “Must have been something I drank,” she said, shoving her books in her bag as the waitress stooped to pick up her shattered teacup.

Her back straightened as she eyed Brandi and then turned back to the man who was still positioned behind the counter. “Or maybe you should leave now,” she said, her voice seeming entirely peculiar as she stood back up and watched Brandi collect her things. The crowd today had been slow enough without being stilted.

Some of the patrons continued to stare, even as Brandi took her load and made it to the door. So much for strange and unusual, she thought, passing her hands through her hair. Maybe she was the one who was cursed and not Roger, she thought, closing the door, as drops of rain started to fall on her uncovered head. She turned the handle of the door, hoping to get back in and saw the waitress smile as the sign changed from Come In We’re Open to Sorry We’re Closed. Please come back later.

Dropping her bag to the floor, she grunted against the weight of the world literature book that seemed heavier than she remembered it, and moved towards her bike. Jutting out of one of the handle bars a piece of white paper waited for her. She opened it, wondering if this was another one of Roger’s pep talks.

Beware, it said, as Brandi dropped the bag into the carrier bin. What was there to be afraid of? she wondered, kicking aside the prop stand and getting on. And who would leave her such a note. She shook her head; her mind going back to the waitress who had glared at her. But then they didn’t know each other before today, she assured herself. Unless this was somebody who was just out to make a joke. She turned right and then left; her mind going briefly to the unseen number and the packed dance floor. It wasn’t like she was going to any party. At any club, any time soon, she thought, hating herself for not packing a sweater as she chose to speed home through the rain that was quickly becoming a squall.

Chapter Six – Discover Your Guardian

A few days later, after Teresa had calmed down, Brandi shared some details with her about the strange encounter with Roger. Thinking that things were now back to normal and she could feel some ease, she tried to highlight how perceptive he had seemed, until Teresa butted in.

“I wouldn’t worry about him,” Teresa said, her voice elevated. Brandi shoved the mouthpiece a few inches away from her face and waited for a pause before continuing.

“I don’t.” She stared at the phone, trying to figure out what her friend was trying to insinuate and took a deep breath. “I’m not interested in him, not in the least.”  She waited for Teresa’s response.

“Of course you’re not,” Teresa chirped, playing devil’s advocate. “Who in their right mind would be interested in Roger Barnes? He’s one of those boys who’s clueless about love. And too besides, you know absolutely nothing about baseball.”

Brandi pursed her lips, hating her friend for being so blunt. Remembering how during soccer practice, they had made fun of girls like Jane Scott, the team’s captain who chose to wear shin pads and tugs both on and off the field. And yet Brandi had liked her. Not that she would have admitted it to her friend. Once she had even asked Jane for pointers and gone to a few extra practice sessions on Saturdays. Hoping to somehow hang onto her spot, even though she mostly warmed the bench.

She cleared her throat as an uncomfortable silence built up on the other end of the phone. Maybe they were both wrong, she thought, seeing the way Jane’s face had lit up when she gave her instructions. Her brown freckles spreading from her nose to the rest of her face, as she became even more animated and gestured with her hands. Brandi nodded slowly, envisioning him the way he had been after their last meeting, surrounded by friends. Maybe baseball held a similar fascination for Roger, she thought suddenly measuring herself and feeling as though she was lacking.

“No, he’s different.” She leaned closer to the counter, suddenly feeling very small, as her words escaped into the air.

“What do you mean?” Teresa asked, sensing a rift between them. Her voice elevating to an even higher pitch as Brandi passed a hand over her stomach and wiped away the cloudy liquid that was running down the side of her bandage. Cradling the phone between her head and neck, she moved towards the paper towels and ripped out a few, then she moved towards the sick and washed her hands, trying to remember what her mother had said about the salve – a purplish ointment – she had given her that morning, which she had said would prevent scarring.

“Our lives should revolve around books and boys and parties,” Teresa said, baring down on her. Brandi shifted her position by the sink, thinking that her friend had somehow misspoken. Forgetting all the talk of books and grades and external expectations, as she pulled out a chair and took a seat.
“Don’t you agree?”

Obediently, Brandi nodded, giving herself over to her friend’s words as if nothing else mattered. Not even her own resignation. In their short time together, Teresa routinely reminded her about the fact that they had been born twenty nine days apart. Teresa of course leading not just by weight and height but also by hours and days. “Yeah, I guess so,” she said, turning to eye the clock. Trying to piece together the length of their conversation, because she would need to apply more salve and then change the dressing.

“Ok,” Teresa huffed. “Try not to sound too enthusiastic. It’s not my fault nobody’s ever met his parents or seen his siblings.” Forgetting for a second that she was on the phone, Brandi nodded and then said, “Sure.” Wondering what had implored her to call or even to start this discussion.

And then she remembered her promise to give her friend a second chance. To start over. Even though, Teresa still hadn’t apologized. She had only acted as though things hadn’t changed between them. And her mother had seemed calmer, reassured when she had witness their playful banter the day before. Perhaps sensing, like her, that everything was returning to normal. So, there would be no talk of her mother’s connection to Nicholas. Or the people in the diner who probably wanted her dead.

She shook her head, remembering her talk with her mother that morning; she had been the one to speculate about the death part, while encouraging Brandi to make a few changes with her life.

“Forget the necklace,” she insisted, offering one of her empty jewelry cases. “Put it somewhere safe, where no one will touch it.”

“But this is what I want,” Brandi had informed her, wiping away fierce tears that refused to be abated, as she gritted her teeth, trying her best to endure the fresh application of salve that had accompanied the changing of her bandage. Her hand stopping her mother mid-turn.

Then their eyes had met and her mother appeared to see reason when Brandi told her about resuming talks with Teresa. Now though, when she bowed her head, she felt a slight pain in her side as Teresa’s breathy sigh caught her off-guard. Maybe she was exercising or doing some dance Brandi thought, thinking about the questionnaire they had both filled out during camp, where her friend had also admitted to having an interest in aikido.

“Not hearing about his parents is strange,” Teresa said, as if forgetting that there were people in their school who were part of the foster care system. Along with others who lived with relatives. Brandi opened her mouth to speak, wondering if  her friend had forgotten about the sister she had failed to mention, but then stopped when she heard something that resembled a curse. “No, parents. No, siblings, no life.”

Brandi gasped, feeling uncertain. She knew little about Roger. But thinking of him as alone made her uncomfortable. Especially since she had only just learned about Teresa’s sister, so that feeling of being snubbed, of not being worthy or trusted with important information still lingered. After all, she had spoken about her grandmother, mentioned how shitty she had felt about leaving her behind, and how she had first been against the idea of the retirement home, until her grandmother had started walking out of the house and wandered the streets. She had even gotten lost in the drinks section of the grocery store when Brandi had turned to get water.

And then there was Nicholas. The man who had saved her and was probably smitten by her mother. Not that she could easily broach the topic, without being reminded of just how immature she still was. Or how much she needed to grow. She bit her lip, lamenting the fact that since the accident – incident, she didn’t have anyone to talk to. And that had unnerved her, because now she was the one keeping secrets, because she wasn’t sure if Teresa could handle the fact of untrue things coming true. So until she was certain, she had to keep her mouth shut about her powers. And the pendant. Not that she had figured everything out.

“Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Brandi asked, her mind tuning into Teresa’s last few words. Wasn’t it wrong to wish someone harm, she thought, appraising herself in the metallic sheen of the refrigerator.

“No,” the voice on the other end said, coming in one sharp burst. Brandi cradled the phone to her ear, wondering if her friend was indeed winded, as she heard the slamming of a door. Was she only now getting home? Brandi asked herself  as the thud of bolts greeted her pause. She looked across at the clock. It was only 7:30. She pulled back, away from the fridge, feeling slightly bloated and patted her stomach. With the tear to her side, she hardly felt like eating, picking slowly at a bunch of grapes that her mother kept at the side of the sink for her smoothies. She plucked a few, washed them and then ate.

“Were you going out to get the paper?” Brandi asked, spitting out the seeds, as her friend’s breath slowed, and she heard the flickering of a light.

“That’s none of your business,” Teresa intoned, “you just stay clear of him.” What? the voice in her head asked, before she was greeted with the sound of the dial tone.

Convinced that their final exchange was indeed surreal, Brandi replaced the receiver; wondering if things like witches were real. She remember the previous summer, back at camp when along with a group of Teresa’s friends they had snuck out and gone to one of the counselor’s homes to watch The Craft. Some nineties movie about teenagers, who were trying to learn more about witchcraft and how one of the girls had ended up being duped by her friends. She hadn’t enjoyed it much, although Teresa’s friends had so enthralled that they were repeating some of the dialogue word for word as they threw popcorn at the screen. Then a slight shiver had run down her back, hearing their. That chorus of voices, filled with some evil intent. Now she felt a similar shiver run down her spine and prickle her skin as she thought of Teresa and Roger. Was there a need for such ill-will and bad intent? she wondered, adjusting her hair into a bun, with the scrunchy that had been wound around her wrist. She let out a shallow breath, thinking that such things were not for her to know. Or consider, as she remembered Cheryl, the woman from their Sunday School group who had been a victim of domestic violence that her mother had unwilling put up.

Once back when they were closer, she had asked her why there were such things in the world and her mother had told her that people lead the lives they lead, sometimes out of fear. When she had prodded her further, she had said that maybe they couldn’t do any better. Now, she wondered if that was what her friend was doing, by hoping for the worst. And she felt slightly confused, and ashamed, that she had pressed her more and willed her to think about things for the right.

And she willed herself to try. Thinking that her cousin Avery and uncle Ken had faced insurmountable odds almost every other day, as they met with opposition almost at every other turn. Like last semester when Avery had had to miss her piano recital because her father had had to be rushed to the hospital. Not that the nurses had been willing to admit her even though her mother had been away visiting relatives, and the doctors had had to vouch for and assure her safety. Grunting, she dropped the soggy paper towels into the trash, wondering when they would see each other again, as uncle Ken, aunty Pam and the girls were quickly becoming a distant memory.

And she shrugged, thinking that whether or not she talked to Roger, wouldn’t make the world come to an end. Or change things. After all, Uncle Ken was her uncle, illness or not and Teresa would remain her friend no matter who she talked to.

Besides which, as far as she knew, Roger had no interest in either school gossip or dissing Mrs. Jenkins. Brandi smirked, realizing that now was as good a time as any for her to go back to the diner. The place where all of this had started, even though her mother strictly forbade it. Holding the pendant, she told herself to trust her instincts, because so far, it was the only thing that seemed sure. Prickly with sweat, she changed her t-shirt and then darted through the door. Certain that either way, the Roger Barnes mystery, as Teresa liked to call it would remain just that, a mystery, because as far as she knew there was nothing between them.
#     #
One week after her incident in the diner, Brandi returned there to complete some school work. Pushing the books aside and taking a bite of her hamburger, her face lit up, momentarily, when Barnes walked in. He took a seat at the counter, ordered a cheese burger, fries and an orange soda. Looking at him she wondered where all the food went. With a slim frame, he stood at an even six feet. His body mass a whopping 150, she had heard him boast to one of his baseball friends.

No longer feeling too hungry, Brandi adjusted the English textbook on the table. After Soujourner Truth, Mrs. Jenkins had turned to Dickens and then Shakespearean sonnets. She wasn’t exactly sure if World English was the best way to learn English literature. But for now at least, she was trying to keep up. If only her teacher would let them read someone like Sandra Cisneros or Isabel Allende, she thought, the task would not be so difficult.

There was something alluring about Spanish Literature, with its allegories. The fantastic tales seemed to suggest things to the reader that made other texts seem bland. The somber tones of O’Neill for example and Dickens with his tales about orphans and lonely boys. Those stories had nothing to do with her, she thought, taking a sip of her grape juice. She had her mother and they lived in a really great place.

“So superficial,” a voice above her said. She turned and looked up. Roger stared down at her. What had she said? She turned the page away from Dickens.

“Dickens isn’t as far off as you might think,” he said, taking a sip of his soda. “His stories may not seem relevant to you. But there are things there.”

“Like what?” She challenged as he took a seat next to her and placed his food down on the table.

He inclined his head, as if trying to see if she was being serious. “You may have your mother but you’re still alone. The same way that David is alone, before he figures out his past and learns who his real friends, or better yet who his relatives…are.”

Her brow furrowed as she tried to figure out why all of this was important to him. “And what about you?” she asked. “No one knows nothing.”

“Anything,” he said, correcting her. “No one knows anything.”

“Right.” She nodded, wondering why she had made such a silly grammatical mistake. “Do you have a family?”

He smiled as if expecting her question. Did she know what she was getting into? she asked herself as he pulled out a baseball glove from his back pocket. “Yes, I have a family,” he said, opening the worn glove. “Or at least people whom I consider family.” He presented it to her.

In it Brandi saw names, written displayed in a manner that resembled a family tree. At the bottom left, she saw the name Barnes, Roger. And on the opposite side there was a Daniels, B. She frowned. Confused. Were they related? she wondered, pushing the glove across to him. Could that person be her?

Roger shook his head, rubbing the smooth surface with his hand. “It’s okay, they’re not referring to you. Even though we are related.”

“Are we?” she asked as the waiter appeared with his order and placed another tray in front of him. It was another burger, shake and medium fries.

“Ah danke,” he said, taking a sip of his drink and beaming up at the waiter. Then his features changed and he became a little bit more serious as his eyes narrowed and he surveyed Brandi. “Have you done what I asked?”

“You know German?” She closed the book, not sure how she knew the name of the language. Taking a sip of her cola, she nodded.

“Yes, I know a few things,” he said, waiting for her to answer his question while he gobbled down his second burger.

“You said that I needed to be prepared,” she said, pulling out a yellow and white umbrella. “So this morning, almost certain of rain, I took the bus and carried my umbrella.”

He coughed, dropping the last piece of burger patty back onto the plate. His eyes inspected hers as he took a gulp of his drink. “It’s a little more than just that Brandi. You have to look around you because the man who gave you that scar and sent an arrow through your abdomen wasn’t out playing hide and go seek.” He leaned forward, his voice low. Controlled. “He sat right here, where I am sitting now, and he waited for you because he wants you to reveal who you are so that he can figure out what you are capable of.”

“And what’s that exactly?” she asked, leaning closer to him.

“You can’t just see what is to come. You alone can change the outcome. Open up new possibilities.”

“How do you know all of this?” she asked, leaning closer, her mouth open.
“Like I said, we’re related.” He looked up as if fishing for a word. “Connected.” His mouth formed into a smile. “Every seer needs a guardian…” he paused, as if for effect. His eyes zeroing in on hers, “And I am yours.” Her head tilted to one side and her lips opened and closed.

“A guardian?” she asked as he went back to work and wolfed down his fries. His sandy hair wafting in the wind.

“It’s not just about appearances,” he said, dusting his hands in his pants and zipping up his battered jacket. “There are forces out there that are a lot greater and stronger than us. Forces your father fought and you will also have to fight. I am here to make you ready until the time approaches.”

What time? She wondered, looking out the window towards the darkness that so far he alone could fully know. He had to make her ready, she thought rearranging the condiments on the table. There was no other way. She took a deep breath, hoping that she was making the right choice as she struck out her palm.

He took it, giving her hand a firm shake. A seer had to do whatever was necessary to prevent time from repeating itself. So Brandi would have to become a warrior. Not a fourteen year old school girl. She had to be able to look beyond and prevent the future from being meddled with.  Or the past altered. Roger lifted his head. There was no time to fill her in. Now she would have to learn from the stories of the past, how to look forward to the future because soon there would be little else.

“So you know about my father,” she said, feeling even more confused, when he nodded.

“You aren’t the only one who has powers that have been passed down,” he said, stretching his arms. “Sometime ago our fathers shared a similar bond. My father was your father’s guardian before they were both lost. So yes, I’ve heard of Van Elder. Among us he is somewhat of a legend.”

Brandi blushed, wondering if it would be the same for her. For them.

“But the ability to train your mind to see takes time. Action,” Roger cautioned. “You have to be more aware of your surroundings so that during recall, you can see the things that are most important and then influence what is to come. This is how you will become better.”

“Of course,” Brandi said, suddenly becoming more serious.

“But before you can become a full fledged seer, you will have to undergo the trials of Terrors. Or in layman’s terms your first test.” He took a final sip of his soda and threw the cup across the room into a rectangular dumpster. A few people cheered and Brandi pulled back, eyeing him suspiciously. Roger nodded, as if knowing that he would have to do something else to convince her. He stood up and whispered a few words into her ear. “I will tell you as your task approaches, but read your stories and look for clues. They alone will tell you how you should act.”

Brandi opened and closed her eyes, as if taking everything in, for posterity. Her mind recording even the small movements: of Roger returning the glove to his pants pocket, the assortment of bills he dropped onto the counter and the military salute that he performed before walking through the door.

Brandi shook her head and bit down hard on her bottom lip. Something had to be wrong, she thought, her mind replaying the news of Roger’s announcement, that he was her guardian.

Chapter Five – Roger Barnes and the Library of Woe

Brandi had hoped that everything would be settled at the library. That she hadn’t been dreaming. And the image wasn’t a ghost. But instead, it seemed as though a future unwritten was unfolding before her; and it was her task to figure it out. To make it, make sense, because there was no other way.

In the parking lot, she hopped off her bike and approached Teresa. Yet, when she got closer and her friend turned, Teresa’s expression seemed vapid. She shrugged her shoulders and turned away, as if unhappy to have been kept waiting.

Uttering an apology, Brandi stooped to attach her bike to one of the bike posts. Checking and double checking the lock’s clasp, she ensured that it was secure before stepping away, because although her bike wasn’t new, the fresh coat of paint she had given it the month before, made it seem a tad bit more alluring. She smirked, wondering where the vein of possessiveness had come from as she rubbed sweaty palms into her jeans. Watching her friend, she realized that Teresa was still being tight-lipped.

“Earlier, I saw someone who reminded me of you,” Brandi said, hoping that her friend would soon tire of her childish behavior. And talk. She gazed at her, unnerved; and then their eyes met and she faltered. The laugh that was about to escape her lips, died without air.

She tried again, appraising her friend’s eyes for the tell-tale sign of movement. An expression. Brandi touched her shoulder. “She looked like an older version of you,” Brandi said, before her voice dropped to an inaudible whisper; and Teresa removed her hand and spoke.

“I know.” Her friend laid her books down, on one of the nearby benches and retied her perfect shoelaces. Brandi felt her own eyes open wider in confusion as Teresa nodded. This time she collected her books before going through the glass door and entering the library. At the information desk, she picked up a brochure that listed events around the city and a flyer with a list of new books: How to be a Star Athlete, Hank Aaron’s Best Plays and Baseball’s Greatest.

Like a traffic cop, a male guard directed the pedestrians to various parts of the library. Ignoring him, Brandi followed her, as Teresa took a seat at one of the larger tables in the back. It could accommodate sixteen people. Brandi scratched her head, wondering what she was playing at because they rarely used large tables. On a chair nearby, she saw familiar orange gloves and then met a pair of hazel eyes that seemed intent on studying her. Bringing her hands to her lips Brandi grasped. A few heads turned in their direction, as she tried to figure out how the girl had managed to get there before her, when she had been the one to turn back.

She glanced at Teresa. While the girl smiled and waved, as if they were sharing a joke.

“Sorry but, do I know you?” Brandi asked, stepping forward. She extended her hand.

“Depends on who you ask,” the girl said, standing up. She strode over to where Teresa was sitting and took a seat, never taking her eyes off Brandi. “You’re Brandi, right?” Her eyebrows raised as the girl’s hand went around Teresa’s shoulder. “You go to school with my baby sister.”

Brandi took a step back. The resemblance was too uncanny to miss. She dropped her bag. Her shoulder aching. “The two of you? You’re sisters?”

The older girl laughed. And flashed a smile as if trying to reassure her, while Teresa’s gaze seemed to become more intense.

Brandi shook her head, wondering why everything about this seemed strange. Surely, they couldn’t be twins.

The girl stuck an arm out. “The name’s Stephanie. And I go to Community College in San Diego,” she said, as if trying to convince herself as well as Brandi, who looked down at her hands, trying to come up with some excuse for not being sociable.

“Oh,” Brandy said, too afraid to shake Stephanie’s hand. Her fingers touched the friendship bracelet on her wrist. “Teresa hasn’t spoken about you, so I had no idea.”

The Stephanie raised her hand. Pushing the comments aside. “Of course not. We’re not that close.” The older girl watched as Brandi’s face registered confusion and then shock. She touched her wrist as Brandi halted. “Besides, if you were her, I doubt you’d mention your missing father or sibling to a complete stranger.”

Brandi’s eyes narrowed and her breath caught in her throat as she watched her friend. They had known each other for more than a year. Surely, she wasn’t a stranger, she thought as Stephanie raised a hand and edged closer. “Not your father. Ours, I mean.”

Brandi’s right hand wavered near her chest. Certain that Teresa would never betray her.

She glanced at her friend who nodded towards her sister and said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you.” Getting up, Teresa collected her things and then they left together.

“Sure,” Brandi mumbled, putting her stuff together. It was almost as if they hadn’t planned a lunch date. Or agreed to do the writing assignment together. She fumed, wondering how she would be able to complete the summary alone. Blowing air out through her nose, she doubted that she had enough strength to make the trek home.

And yet, something about the encounter unnerved her, as she got to her feet and trudged outside. Telling herself that it wasn’t that they had done so many things together. Or even that she missed her friend. No, this was more of an awakening. Like she had had with Nicholas when he had knocked her off her chair and tried to warn her. Except that this feeling was different. Because she felt like a balloon, tethered to a string that had been left out to be weathered by the elements. Just before a storm.

Outside, she looked down at her hands. All too aware of the fact that her guide still hadn’t showed up as yet. Looking around, she searched for the path that Teresa and her sister had taken. Wondering if Stephanie could have been hers, and whether or not they were fated to meet again. And whether she was really Teresa’s older sister.

Then, a bell dinged.

And she jumped back, scrambling to one side.

“You ought to be more aware of your surroundings,” a familiar male voice said.

And Brandi turned, her eyes meeting Roger’s. She had no idea that this was one of his hunting grounds and she bared her teeth, uncertain about offering a smile. “This isn’t baseball, Roger. There are no foul balls.”

A girl on a bike sped off ahead of them as Roger dusted his hands in his blue and white track pants. Meanwhile, Brandi observed the school’s colors. Did they have a match today? she wondered, thinking that this was probably the first time that they had spoken outside of English class.

“Baseball or not, you need to be on your guard,” he said, passing a hand over his lips as if demanding her silence. She glared as he adjusted his cap. A motion she assumed would help to blot out the sun. Brandi watched him carefully, her eyes alert, as if searching for a ball.

But there was none.

She looked beyond him, wondering what he had been mumbling about, when she considered herself safe, because as far as she could tell, her bases were covered, and there was nothing else to look out for, since she hadn’t touched the pendant. Not even once. Her arms smoothed over her legs as she fought the urge to reach out and take possession of it.

That was when she had first heard the swishing sound. And saw something coming towards her. She ducked, veering left; she hoped to avoid it. But the ball had other plans. So, instead, it whacked her on the head and knocked her out.

She raised an arm in protest and struggled to get to her feet. “Are you crazy or something?” she yelled, throwing the ball back at him. He caught it with one hand. Wow. Quick reflexes, she thought, stopping dead in her tracks. Was that what he had meant? she wondered as he displayed the ball high up in the air.

Roger’s head raised and he seemed to access her. “No.” He smiled. “I’m just proving a point.” He paused. “You must be more prepared Daniels because there’s no other way.” Brandi watched him shrewdly, as he turned and rejoined his friends. Her mouth opening as the other boys circled around him and the smile seemed to take up his whole face. When had he become so popular? she asked herself, scratching her head in disbelief.

Feeling an extra pressure to perform, Brandi flexed her arms, after dusting herself off. The wound luckily was still properly covered. Moving her hand away from the gauze, she tried not to think about either the wound or the accident, as her fingers brushed against the pendant and the scene flashed before her eyes.

In her initial fury, she had thought that he had just thrown the ball and hit her. But looking at it now, she realized that the speed of the ball hadn’t been as fast as she had first thought, because he hadn’t thrown the ball crazily. So she could have braced herself to avoid it; or moved a little further off. Except she hadn’t been looking. Only reacting.

Then she remembered Roger’s words: be more prepared, and she focused on them as the scene played again. Now, she saw the trajectory of the arch. Saw how she could have positioned herself, to avoid it altogether, and a smile spread across her lips. He had been hinting at something less peculiar. Preparation. Awareness. And being present in the moment.

Strange. She shook her head, realizing that his sense of perception went further than hers and she wondered why she hadn’t thought about it before. Hadn’t followed her own advice. Instead of simply being reactionary, like during her exchange with Teresa. No, she needed to do more. To look for new opportunities, because seeing beyond required practice. Necessitated, that she do things the right way.

She undid the lock and removed her bike. Wondering where the heck her guardian was as she hopped on and headed home; feeling the now familiar pain returning to her side.

The Way of the Seer – Chapter 4 – Tipping Over

When she awoke, her eyes fluttered open. “Where am I?” she asked, trying to find detail in the pitch black room, where the glow of the pendant was the only thing that could break through the darkness.

It beckoned to her and she rushed towards it, feeling the bed and everything else evaporate.

Like them, she sank into a nothingness.

Opening her hands, she tried to claw at the air and scream. But there was nothing there. No sound. Or anything  else more tangible to grab a hold of, because she was falling from a precipice.

Color faded from her eyes. She hit something and then she heard a sharp thud. Then the black nothingness was transformed into a grey dungeon. Lighted by a candle. There was even straw on the ground and metal bars hung everywhere. She gasped as her eyes fell upon a metallic sheen of something that appeared to be a piece of armor. How was that possible? she asked herself, thinking that they were living in the twenty-first century. Getting up, Brandi rearranged her hair, as her eyes grew accustomed to the light and the low vaulted ceiling.

And from among the rafters, she heard a voice call, “Trapped are we?” She strained to get a better look at the creature whose deformed head reminded her of Quasimodo, the famed creature from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, except that this one had arms that resembled vines. Arms that it was using to keep itself upright.

Brandi gasped, realizing that this was the closest she had ever come to seeing a chandelier.

“Who are you? And what do you mean by trapped?” she asked, feeling a faint sense of apprehension.

“Nothing except that for your family, dungeons have become a sort of trademark,” the creature said, as the side of its face opened up. And Brandi had to peer more closely to ensure that it wasn’t some sort of marionette trick. Racking her brain, she tried to think up some reason for being there, and almost self-consciously her hand reached down for the pendant, as the creature withdrew.

“I’d get rid of that thing, if I were you,” it said eyeballing her.

“What? This?” Brandi asked, brandishing the pendant. “It was a present from my father,” she gushed, unable to stop herself. The creature edged backwards, its arms wrapping around the metal bars that was keeping them locked in.

“But it would have been better if you hadn’t,” it said, tilting its head to one side. Extending its viny hands it poked against the her skin, as if to reassure itself that she was also real.

“Stop it!” Brandi said, brushing the vines away. “I’m sure he doesn’t want me to end up with a similar fate.” She pushed the pendant below the fabric of her nightshirt and examined her fingers slowly. Cracking her knuckles.

How can you be sure? the creature seemed to be saying as it looked at her without speaking. Like it knew more about her father than she did but had chosen to remain silent. To keep her in the dark. She scratched her chin, thinking that maybe their minds were on the same wavelength and nodded her head.

“Yes, he wants me to right his wrongs.” She smiled solemnly as the creature cast her a baffled glance at her bunny bedroom slippers. She tried to hide her feet and waved her arms, commanding him, it, to focus as her breath caught in her throat and she suddenly felt filled with a sense of purpose and determination.

Yet, the creature chose that moment to counter her. Its viny arms reaching around her waist, almost playfully. “Even though at times, the decisions of both parties can be clouded by unforeseen incidents?”

Brandi raised her head and shielded her eyes, refusing to be baited. “Whatever it is, I am sure that something can be worked out.”

The creature’s eyes fell to the floor. “Unfortunately his ills cannot be so easily mended,” it said. “Because a Seer should never be clouded by doubt, especially when they try to serve two masters.”

Brandi bowed her head, wondering how the words from the bible fit in.

Quasi looked at her as if staring straight into her soul and said, “The path that he has chosen will likely be the same for you.”

Brandi shook her head, wondering why it mattered so much. But she was too afraid to ask. Choosing instead to offer some speculation. “And if there is a choice, then maybe whatever happens, it will be for the best.”

The creature stretched out its arms and attempted to touch the pendant. It shrieked when it was greeted with an electric shock. Was she being naive? Brandi wondered, covering the pendant with her hands and moving away. Or did she have what it takes?

In the distance, she heard a bell ding and then she felt herself being transported back to her own time. Like the night before when she had been returned to her own room and bed. And just as suddenly as everything had appeared, things shifted. Fading to black as the dungeon disappeared and Quasimodo, the candle and the metal bars vanished.

*     *

Brandi awoke with a gasp. She was back in her own room, lying down on her own bed and listening to the sound of the alarm clock going off. She leaned over and pressed the snooze button. It was already nine thirty. She looked around, trying to find the pendant in her pocket and under the covers, only to realize after sitting up, that it was still there around her neck. With deft fingers, she felt the details of the crest that had been etched onto the pendant.

And she closed her eyes, doing her best to forget Nicholas’s words which suggested that things could be planted. Was that what had happened just now? she wondered, bringing her hands up to remove stray strands of hair out of her face as she tried to stifle a yawn. Under her clothes, she could still feel the tape against her skin and she pulled the fabric of her clothing free, so as not to disturb it, as something tugged against her chest. Was what had happened that night also real? she asked herself, turning over, not wanting to get out of bed. Or examine the wound.

School could wait, she thought, pushing aside the clock and dropping back onto the bed.

She groaned and pulled the pillow over her head, remembering the fight that she had had with Teresa. Had her best friend really just let her have it, because of a few choice words like chance and destiny? she wondered, her grip on the pillow tightening as she shrieked into the comforter. Her muscles quivered and her body tensed.

She was willing to concede that her thoughts might have been excessive. But she wondered why her friend had been unable to side with her. She knew that if the tables were turned that she would have done the same for her. She beat the other pillow with her fist and then she kicked off the covers and stood up. The evidence inconclusive.

Or maybe the fight was inevitable, she thought, as in the past few months Teresa had seemed more agitated about everything. First there was the boy in the lunchroom who she had tripped for stealing one of her cheesy fries, and then there was the brunette she’d elbowed during volleyball for getting in her way. Not that they had discussed it. Brandi shook her head, wondering if it had something to do with her home life. When they were together they had learned to avoid such discussions. Or talks about their parents, which had been fine with Brandi before, when she wanted to avoid things. But now though, she wanted to get to the bottom of things. Things like her father. No, she thought. Teresa was her best friend. And she wanted to do whatever it took, to help.

Even though she had been the one to put Brandi in her place and demand that she listened. While giving her no chance to defend herself. And yet, Brandi could forgive her because their friendship mattered. Meant something.

Moving towards the bureau, she appraised herself, wondering if she too was changing. She shrugged, not wanting to believe it, although the wound seemed to tug at her and the pendant gleamed. Today was an ordinary day, just like all the others, she assured herself. Thinking of the pendant as only a minor change. Something almost insignificant like the man with the red cap. Or Roger Barnes.

Then she thought of the photograph of her grandmother that hung in the foyer. Mrs. Van Elder. Her mother had once called her the cruel witch. Or the wicked queen of the manor. And remembering her imposing features, Brandi was almost certain that if she had been alive, she would have ordered them to have a sit down, where both parties could list their grievances. Like her parents, who had been forced to hash things out, according to her grandma Rose. She thought of the navy blue blazer and the pearl necklace and she imagined that even if the woman was impassive or imposing when it had come to her parents getting married, that at least with her, she had at least tried to mend the errors of her ways, by taking her shopping on her seventh birthday, when they had bought a white, vestal, lace frock that she could wear to outings, like their stint at the MET.

She bit her lip, trying not to think about it, and remembered that before the outburst in the school’s hallway, she and Teresa had agreed to meet in the library for ten thirty. On Saturday. Today? She scooped up some of the things off the floor, wondering if it still made sense to go, as she looked across at her mute phone, that hadn’t beeped once during the night. Was she the one who was supposed to apologize? she wondered, in the wake of their disagreement. Although she had been the one who had been left standing there, in the aftermath of their squabble. Or should she have tried to catch up and explain.

Turning over the phone in her hand, Brandi tried to ignore the nagging feeling in her gut that was telling her that now was the perfect time to act. And instead, she removed the pendant and tried to examine the intricate nature of its designs with its lush coconut trees, birds and ships. Besides, there was no one else there except her mother. She stuffed the pendant into her pocket and gripped the phone, deciding finally to enter Teresa’s number.

“No. Not until you’ve had your breakfast,” Mrs. Daniels said, grabbing the phone. Brandi shrank back, knowing the drill. She would have to shower and change if she wanted to see it again.

So without looking across at her mother, she rushed into the bathroom, brushed her teeth and showered, and changed. Doing her best to avoid soaking the bandage, which would probably need to be changed soon.

Silently, she followed her mother down the stairs, where a platter of bacon and some eggs waited for her. She turned it around on the table, suddenly remembering the sights and sounds of the diner, where she had waited for her water to arrive. She closed her eyes feeling nauseated, as she remembered seeing the sight of her own blood, when she was crouched down by the door.

“Are you alright, dear?” her mother asked, getting up to tend to her.

Brandi raised her hand and nodded her head. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said behind gritted teeth, forcing a smile. Then she extended a hand to grab a hold of the jug of orange juice that lay just before her. Her fingers tightened around the handle and she began to pour. Sensing her mother’s eyes, still pressed upon her, she glanced across the table and inhaled sharply.

Her mother’s eyes opened wider.

“Brandi, the cup!” she said, pointing towards the table where the yellow liquid was racing over the rim and forming a pool around her. Her daughter’s face flushed as she jerked to set the jug back down and then scrambled to get a handful of napkins from the slim holder. Mrs. Daniels joined her, biting down on her lower lips as if she was the one who had erred.

Then she offered Brandi a smile and let out an exasperated sigh, as they returned to their respective sides of the table. And as Brandi struggled to get her fork into her sunny side up, Mrs. Daniels attacked her muffin as if it was the one who had been giving her trouble.

Brandi averted her eyes, as her mother cleared her throat, and waited for the impending sermon that she knew would soon come. Waiting for it, she lifted her glass and gulped down half of her juice, because whatever it was, she was almost certain that she didn’t want to hear it; and her body stiffened as her mother’s voice filled the room.

“This isn’t some game, Brandi,” she said, smoothing the edge of the tablecloth. “According to Nicholas, men with weapons aimed at you, so whatever it was that you thought being a Seer was, it doesn’t make you invincible.” Brandi scraped her chair back and rose.

“Then you tell me. What am I supposed to do?” she asked, lifting her hands in the air. “How am I supposed to figure things out when Dad’s not here to guide me?”

Mrs. Daniels turned away, tight-lipped. Feeling insulted. Then she rose too. Captured her daughter’s hands and looked into her eyes. “And even though he isn’t, Nicholas is here. And he’ll see to it that you are not alone.” She embraced her daughter.

“Great!” Brandi said, leaning against her. “But I think he’s more into you.”

Her mother blushed, turning to inspect the little kitchen as her jaw slackened. “No, he’s been a great help since your father…” She brushed loose strands of hair from Brandi’s temples with her finger.

“Please mother,” Brandi said, backing away. The last thing she needed was more adult supervision. As if her mother wasn’t overbearing enough. She shook her head. “I don’t need Nicholas to tell me what to do.” She pouted.

Mrs. Daniels grabbed her arm. “Don’t be foolish, niña. ¡Ten cuidado!

“What do I have to be careful about?” Brandi asked, hating the way that her mother could switch back and forth from her native tongue. It seemed like ages since she had last done it, Brandi thought, remembering the row that she had had with Grandma Rose, over the phone when they had first gotten there.

“Por supuesto,” she said glumly, looking across at the cuckoo clock as she headed towards the staircase. “I’m meeting Teresa in the library so that we can finish and English assignment, unless there’s something else.”

Mrs. Daniels paused, as if thinking of something else to say. But then she shook her head and moved back into the dining room where she started to clear away the breakfast things.

Brandi watched her for a minute and then headed up the stairs; thankful that for now at least she didn’t have to hear anything else about her mother’s precious Nicholas. Her back stiffened.

Her mother didn’t understand what it was to be her, she thought, remembering the pictures in the photo album of her mother’s prom that her grandmother had shown her. She had had a date, and a father. And memories. While Brandi only had one picture, that seemed to taunt her every time she looked at it. Her father’s face staring across at her from in the frame, even though in some way it was no different from any other stranger’s.

She imagined that her mother’s life had been almost perfect. But the truth was that, she hated school. Hated the way that the teachers talked down to the students, and made them seem inadequate and useless. People like Mrs. Jenkins, who was so old that Brandi was almost certain that she had probably known her deceased grandmother, Mrs. Van Elder, the woman who hung around in the gold frame in the foyer. In her room, she pulled most of the books out of her bag and added a sweater. The truth was that she didn’t want to be here. New York was her home. Not San Diego. Or California. Even though, she had agreed a year ago to go to the West Coast.

Although Teresa had chosen to be her friend when some of the other flaky kids, who didn’t seem to know much of anything besides the beach and suntan lotion. Because she couldn’t stand to be a loner in a town that wanted followers instead of leaders. She groaned inwardly feeling a throbbing sensation in the pit of her stomach as her chest tightened. Slamming the door, she promised herself that she would give her best friend another chance because she deserved it.

*     *

Brandi rushed out of the house an hour later. By then her mother’s blue Volvo was nowhere in sight, so she took her bike instead of depending on the local bus for navigation.

It charged ahead of her and she tried to chase it as it made a right on Scott’s Field, instead of going straight on Carrington.

She took her foot off the pedal and tried to slow down as a middle-aged woman cropped up in front of her, carrying a large grocery bag. Brandi dinged her bell, and saw the woman fiddle with something that appeared to be an antiquated SD player. She pressed down hard on the handle bars, hoping to ignite the handle bars.

The bike screeched to a stop and Brandi adjusted her backpack as a voice wafted in the air around her. “If you go, then they will come.”

She whispered her apologies and peered at the woman, wondering if she was some kind of a witch. But the woman seemed to see beyond her and she felt in her pocket for the pendant and slipped it on; feeling slightly shaken. Then she pulled on her t-shirt as if inviting the breeze to cool her skin that now felt warm. Grateful at least for the bandage that covered the broken part of her abdomen. Nobody else needed to know about what had happened, she thought, feeling a newfound sense of exhilaration. Because she had had an an adventure, but couldn’t tell anyone. Not unless she discovered her guardian, she thought, looking across the street for signs of life and movement.

Yet there was hardly anyone her age about and looking down at her watch she chided herself knowing that the library wouldn’t stay open forever. And Mrs. Jenkins homework would need to be done. Yes. Her head bobbed up and down. She needed to complete the assignment, she thought, remembering the threat of Mr. Perkins and detention, since the woman would definitely not let another indulgence go.

At the intersection of Warrency and Main, Brandi continued straight for three blocks until she met with gridlock. Not too far off, she saw another cyclist dressed in black and orange make a sharp turn and headed down one of the side streets. Looking at her, she wondered if she knew a shortcut and decided to follow; hoping that Teresa wouldn’t mind the slight delay, as the young woman whizzed past her.

Brandi bit her lip and frowned, thinking that she had probably been mistaken, because she swore that her hazel eyes and slender nose reminded her of Teresa. And as far as she knew, Teresa didn’t have a sister. She held her breath, feeling uneasy as the long eyelashes, petite nose and slim figure inched past her. They eyes almost appraising Brandi’s face for an assent.

Her hands shook on the handle bars and she racked her brain, trying to piece together the mini conversations that they had had since the term had started. Conversations that had happened during winter break when they had enjoyed a few sleepovers at her place and outings to the movie theater. She angled her body and turned the bike, thinking that seeing that girl was no coincidence. She needed to get to the bottom of that mirage, because she was almost certain that two versions of one thing couldn’t exist in or at the same time. Certain that quantum mechanics wasn’t something taught to high-schoolers until they were in college. Or at least that was what Jeff, her old neighbor from New York who attended NYU had said.

Either way Brandi was spooked enough to change her mind again and headed directly for the library; hoping that her friend would confirm the impossibility of what she had seen. So, she moved forward, racing on the wind and ignoring the pain in her side, because she thought that it would all be settled soon and she could do without the confusion and the doubts that were now building up inside of her head.

Christmas Thanks and Happy New Year Cheer!

I’d just like to thank all the people who read and responded to my posts of The Way of the Seer. And on Wednesday I’ll upload the second writing piece: Methods for Writing.

So, until then keep safe, enjoy the rest of the Christmas season and Have a Prosperous New Year!

Chapter Three (Entire)

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.

“Who’s there?”

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.