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.