Chapter 21: The Dog Ate My Homework (Second Half/ Part 2)

Squinting, she read the topic. “Do heroes exist on their own? Should their lives be freely taken?” She scratched her head, wondering how many cups of coffee Mrs. Jenkins had gone through in order to write something so pedantic; and yet it seemed almost amazing.

Her lips creased together as she thought about Roger. The many things he might have said. Things like, there’s no such thing as fate. Destiny. Or even that heroes didn’t exist, even though she was almost certain that he read comics; which meant that at one point or another, he had to have believed. She stretched her fingers. She needed to be serious, because this was part of her final grade, and she was failing miserably.

Something the world English teacher had said wasn’t true for him. She closed her eyes, tried to focus. Wondering why everything about him was hidden. Covered up. In some ways, he even reminded her of Teresa, except there was no guilt. No denial. She opened her eyes, fearing his reaction, she decided that she couldn’t tell him, about her visit to the past. Or her talks with his father. She made a scratch, with her pen, crossing off the word, father, which had appeared on her script. She ached, wanting to touch the pendant. To return to that strange place that almost felt like home.

Looking at his empty seat, she knew that there were things that she wouldn’t understand. Couldn’t fully know, but she liked the way he had looked at her. How he had protected her, during the party. Gone so far as to take her medicine bottle and force her to examine herself.

Mr. Ono shifted in his seat. When he looked up, their eyes met and Brandi nodded. She almost felt guilty for disobeying his orders. Remembering the last time, how she had been thrown out. Her head bobbed again, like a sunken submarine that didn’t want to be caught. Or even spotted.

Making a fresh indentation mark, she started a new paragraph; fascinated by the way the Nameless One could change. Shape-shift. The way the pendant had also changed her. Even though, going back was forbidden. But then, she was trying to change things. Make them better. Then the color bled. Mutating as the scene shifted. The one with her father and the three witches. Dwight. Someone would have to save them. She realized that that scene seemed to represent some sort of key. She would save them, but she also needed to know the truth. About him.

But she couldn’t tell Roger, because he would dissuade her the same way, Teresa had, when she had first mentioned Lucien and the mysterious box. Her head bobbed up and down. Teresa had once been her friend. But now, she only had Roger.

And Teresa wasn’t her friend. No. Not anymore. So much for fate, luck and destiny.

Sweat poured from her face and she flinched, remembering the arrow, and then, she looked up. At her side, Mr. Ono stood watch. His arm outstretched, waiting to collect her paper, like an errant guard.

She wiped her forehead. The thud in her chest growing louder, stronger as the pen’s ink smudged. “Not finished.”

“But the others have,” Mr. Ono waited as Brandi looked at the clock, observed the long hand on six and the short on 9. The bell rang. Color drained from her face as she extracted the unfinished essay and folded the test.

Mr. Ono pointed to the sheets. “Everyone except you.”

No longer concerned about the cautionary looks of her classmates, or Mr. Ono who seemed to be registering shock, she handed it over. All the while, shaking her head. “I just didn’t get it.”

Seeming genuinely concerned, Mr. Ono placed a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. Then he lifted her arm. It fell soundlessly. “Okay, but tell me something.” She looked at him, almost ready to divulge a secret. “Who assigned you something on fate?”

She could hear the chairs as they scraped back. The others hurried outside, as if to avoid an avalanche. Standing there, Brandi could hear his breathing. She closed her eyes, knowing before he did that he was going for her essay, so she sidestepped him; shoving the papers into her pants. There was nothing he could do.

But she was wrong.

Because instead of getting angry and shouting, Mr. Ono pointed towards the door. It was as if he was some sort of mystical king who could evict her from his kingdom.  “Leave.” Drawn tightly together, he looked constipated.

Brandi stamped her feet. Glanced, like a spoilt child who had been made to go to bed without supper. She stuffed everything into her bag, thinking that it would have been wiser to go to him before the period. But she couldn’t control things. Her life was hackneyed. There was nothing and no one to excuse anything, so she trudged out. Seeming more than a little defiant.

But oblivious to her walk of shame, other students entered. Among them, Roger and Teresa fell back, busy, observing the hands of fate as Brandi’s mind stretched back further, and she considered the fact that the transfer she and her mother had initially carved out, had failed.

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 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.

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.