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.