Chapter 30: The End is Another Beginning

     Then the gong dinged.

     Brandi was no longer at the beach. Or on the shore, watching the crabs move. Instead, she was inside the beach house; viewing the projector with the Nameless One. Images flashed across the screen. Parents rushing to collect their fallen children. Trying to keep them safe.

As she stood there, she could still see Roger. Dwight leaning over the boy’s body, a hand pressed comfortingly on his arm. As if he was waiting for some motion that would never come. While Teresa’s mother nudged Brandi’s father outside the door.

A little way off, the Nameless One turned to appraise the girl. Her figure uncontrollably still, as another woman rushed through the still open door. A woman who if Brandi looked closely enough, she could almost swear, resembled her mother.

The girl blinked. Shut her eyes against the sight of undulating bodies. The sound of unruly chatter and the final stillness as the woman fell to the floor, beside Brandi’s bag. On the screen, something beeped and that sound carried her further away into the past. On another journey to uncle Ken’s hospital bed, where her mother had kept a two day vigil. Until Avery and Aunty Pam had walked in.

That had been the last time that she had seen her mother cry as she had screeched to one of the nurses that something was blocking his feeding tube. Killing him….She looked away now, feeling something well up within her throat. Feeling as though she couldn’t go on and had no reason to live, when the Nameless One walked up towards her and put an arm around her neck.

And with a voice almost as measured and controlled as uncle Ken’s she said, “This too shall pass.” The girl nodded, wiping away the stray tear, that threatened to overpower her. Dark and heavy like a flood. Sniffling, she turned her head back to the screen, forced herself to look.

At the hysterical woman who was leaning heavily against Nicholas’s arm, as though she had just received some bad news. Brandi suspected, news that concerned her own disappearance, and she bowed her head, feeling something tug at her chest. As her mother raised a hand to clamp it down over her own lips. The strands of hair that Brandi had always thought possessed a type of military precision were now flying as though, everything had been thrown to the wind. She watched her mother, hug the bag and back up into a wall, taking on the entire scene. Uncertain about what they would all call it in the end. Uncertain, about who had been brave and who would seem guilty.

She nodded towards Nicholas, thinking that he was an even better life raft than her father had been. That somehow like Roger, she knew that he would keep her mother safe. Brandi untangled herself and walked towards the screen. Stopping a few feet away, wanting to touch it, but then being unsure, afraid that like Quasi, maybe, she too would be shocked.

“Go ahead,” the Nameless One said, her voice gentle. Knowing that the girl would soon have to face her own demons and do what was necessary, for them to round up the two fugitives. As Brandi leaned forward as if considering her loss of power. The pendant glittering in Dwight’s pocket, in that other place that now seemed like something beyond.

“Everything you need is right here,” the woman said, pressing a hand to her chest. “Inside of you.”

Brandi paused as if considering the journey that she had just taken, the boy she had loved and then lost. Biting down on her bottom lip, she thought about how Roger had told her that some people could not be saved. And she remembered her uncle. Grandma Rose and Roger. He was right, she thought with a jerky movement as she looked around the room. Nicholas would see to her mother and like she’d done with Teresa, she would do whatever it was that was necessary to take care of her father. She made a step towards the Nameless One and held out her hand, “What would you have me do?”

THE END

Chapter 29: The Thing About Reality

Her friend had tried to warn her. But there was no scathing predicament. No tumultuous outcome that could have prepared her for this. Nothing that the Nameless One hadn’t told her about half a dozen times before. To become a Seer. There are rules. Rules you must follow.

Brandi heard those last few words now and everything passed through her. Even the image of the man at the door. She shook her head. Sad that her mistake had come at such a high price. And so instead of going to the man, she rushed over to Roger, because this price was too steep. Something she couldn’t pay. Wouldn’t.

The man followed her with his head as if waiting for her to say something. Do something, as she picked up the boy’s body and brought it closer to her chest. Even as she wiped away the tears that were trying to force themselves out through her closed lids. She put her lips to her arm, trying to strangle an already muffled cry. As she kissed Roger, hoping to bring him back to life.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, rocking him as though he were a baby. Then, her eyes went to Teresa. If it wasn’t for Teresa, she was almost certain, everything would be alright. Her eyes opened. Closed. Opened. She tilted her head down, focusing on the silver charm bracelet and bit her bottom lip. Tasted, the metallic tinge that she suspected was blood. And needing to be vindicated. She swore. The way she had heard Teresa do it over the phone, that first time, when they had been discussing Roger.

“Like a vine that grows in the deep, dark forest, may you be turned into something that no one can fix.” She held up a hand, dropping the boy as Teresa raised her head. Stricken, her eyes darting around the room, as she looked for some way to explain her actions. Brandi took a step forward. Continued. “May you forever suffer like you’ve made me suffer. May you see the world through another’s eyes.”

Teresa lifted her hands in the air. “This isn’t what it looks like.” The girl let go of the spray can. “My mother…”

Brandi raised a hand to her lips as though she had already heard too much when Stephanie rushed into the room. Her eyes focusing on the fallen boy.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid youth,” she said, her eyes going towards Brandi, who appeared too dazed to even see her.

But even as the young woman stopped to look at the brazen girl, another type of transformation had already begun as Teresa fell to the ground and groaned. It sounded as if she had been cursed.

Bringing her hands to her lips, Brandi watched the girl grow. Like vines, her hands reached out to touch the pendant, and when they connected, there was a spark. The hand drew back. Brandi smiled at the aborted attack and licked her lips as her friend’s bracelet dropped from her wrist. At her side, Stephanie changed shape, transforming into an older version of Teresa. Brandi watched her sudden appearance and realized for a second that her face seemed familiar. She took a deep breath, her mind finally making the link between this woman and the person in her parent’s wedding photograph.

Brandi felt something in her gut shift. Wrench free. As the woman took a step towards the man purporting to be her father. Like a reunited couple, they joined hands. Clasped wrists.

There would be no saving herself, she thought, watching Quasimodo assume her un-natural shape. Near the door, Lucien appeared and Brandi steeled herself as he took a step towards Roger, knelt, and placed a ball within his closed fist.

Doggedly, she gazed at them. Her face consumed with rage. It took a few minutes, but eventually she stilled herself. Yanking off the pendant, she threw it at the messenger, telling him that she had had enough of his games. When he removed the red baseball cap, everything within her shifted as she realized that she was staring into the face of Dwight. The boy she had once told that he was connected to Roger.

She looked at him glumly as if sad for the way things had turned out. While he pocketed the pendant and buried his face in his hands.

It was then that the other man, her father, stepped forward. Touching her arm as Brandi sniffled, his hands reaching around to embrace her neck. “In the end, I’m glad you did what you did,” he said, kissing her cheek. His face solemn.

She looked at him, perplexed as he too appeared more familiar. Younger. She let go of him, moving backwards to put some space between them. As she caught sight of something forming on his wrist. A string of rosary beads and a familiar pendant.

“Did you cause this?” she asked, her eyes going briefly to the other woman. The broken window. The dying fire and then at Roger.

He shook his head, touching her chest. “No. You were the one who wanted to come here.” He nodded. “The one who thought that having a mysterious object would make you great.”

She stiffened, realizing that it had all been a mistake. Because he had never been who she had wanted him to be. A mirage. She shook her head. Part of her imagination. She looked at Dwight comforting his fallen son. Roger. The boy who had tried to save her. How her mother and Nicholas had also been trying to make her do the right thing. To see beyond everything that was there. She bit her lips, knowing that she would miss them. But there was no other way. No other choice.

“You’re wrong,” she said, going over to her bag and unzipping it. She removed the document she had signed earlier that morning and waved it in the air, as if it were a peace treaty. Cease fire. Or truce. “Unlike you, I choose to forget. To move past my fantasies and step into the future.”

And she closed her eyes and imagined herself back on the beach. Certain that she would have to pay for what she had done to Teresa but almost sure that her mother at least would be safe.

Chapter 27: Making a Wish!

The ceiling fan cluttered to a stop and someone in the back let out an exasperated sigh. Listening to them, Brandi picked up a book and began to fan herself, as other heads dropped onto desks with a loud clank. She rubbed her shoulders, suddenly feeling sticky and in need of water as she looked around the packed room. The air was almost stifling and she turned back towards the windows, wondering why nobody had gotten up to open them wider. Insanely jealous of the flowers and trees as they blew, she dropped a sheet of paper onto the desk and waited for it to take flight.

It didn’t and so she berated herself for leaving her water bottle on the counter that morning, before she had headed out. If her mother had been there, she reasoned, she would have remembered. She looked at the door again, this time distracted by the sound of feet as someone moved in the opposite direction. Going towards the gym.

She opened the book wider and flicked her wrist the way she had seen some Asian women at the market do it whenever the summer’s heat was getting to them. Up. Down. Left. Right. Not that she had a paper fan. Or knew anything about the art of fanning. But she was willing to try anything. At least once.

Sweat dripped from her brow. Collecting in pools at the base of her neck as she hung her head, suddenly remembering the 2003 blackout her mother had experienced while in New York. How her mother had said that it had been dreadful and her abuela had sworn that she had been made to climb more than ten flights of stairs. Thank goodness they had moved into a respectable brownstone after that. She shook her head, recalling her amusement at her grandmother’s plea. Now though, pulling at her collar, she could almost feel what it would have been like, as the humidity increased, and she felt as though she was being cooked.

The clock on the wall read 4:45. She could leave in fifteen minutes, if Mr. Perkins stuck to the rules and they managed to appease him. She looked down at her words on the page. They seemed more like something her mother would have termed chicken scratch. She pulled out a few strands of her hair which seemed to be going grey and then creased her brow, trying to figure out what was going on. Almost instinctively, she turned and gazed at Teresa who seemed unusually silent. And still.

“What’s up, four eyes?” Her old friend threw her an unwarranted scowl, and Brandi blinked, thinking at first that her friend had misspoken. Then she smiled, pretending that it was some kind of a joke. Jest. Rubbing her palms together, she relived their getting to know you sessions at summer caps when they had both agreed that life was better with a partner, because both their parents were single women. Back then, Brandi had almost relented wanting to divulge her mother’s sporadic dates, when Teresa revealed her mother’s propensity for bad dates. But she had kept quiet, knowing that her mother would never find anyone serious. Not until Nicholas. She held her breath, and gritted her teeth, remembering that the revelation about the glasses had come some time after mentioning uncle Ken’s illness and their plans to leave the state.

Not that Brandi hadn’t wanted a fresh start. In fact, she had been extremely curious about her father’s family and finding the family’s crest among her mother’s things, she had scoured the city’s many libraries in search of something that would reveal more. Agreed even to forgoing the summer film and music festivals in Bryant Park, which she usually went to with Jason. And his friends. Their numerous library tours also partially because she had developed an insatiable crush that her abuela had said would pass.

But she couldn’t pinpoint what was happening with Roger. Even though she felt as though they were both going the extra mile. No matter what, wasn’t she the one who was supposed to make sure that everyone else was safe?

Instead, she felt humiliated. Because the people here didn’t give her a chance to open up. Or to prove herself. And she was fed up of trying, like she had done at the party. Only to be left waiting. Stranded. And then having to deal with her mother and Nicholas. And their constant need for reflection. As if she could learn something from looking back. She slammed a hand into her head, thinking how Roger’s father had been too afraid to tell her father that he was leaving. She looked up at the door, thinking that she was stronger. That she could never do that. That all she had ever wanted was closure.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” Mr. Perkins said, looking down at her. Frowning at the lope-sided scribbles that barely resembled letters. Numbers. She felt a slight twitch on the corners of her lips and looked up as his ruler cracked on the side of her desk. He wiggled a finger. “You haven’t done much?” He looked at her, as if issuing a challenge.

And Brandi stood. Wanting him to be more specific about her errors.

He pushed her shoulders down. Made her sit up straight. “This is bad form. Who taught you penmanship?”

Brandi massaged her fingers, her mind going to her father again. She was almost certain that he was nothing like this burly beast, who questioned her skills and made wise-cracks about her form. She had attended a prep school in New York which may not have been lively or daring as this one. But at least, there she had people she could call her friends. People she could rely on. She passed a hand over her jeans and tried again. Doing her best to make straight strokes and round curves, the way her mother had taught her. Not that she had listened then. No, she had been too busy impersonating her grandmother’s doctor to notice that legibility counted for something.

And yet, the world wasn’t going anywhere. Even if she performed this one task. Silently, she grabbed hold of the pendant, hoping to whisk her teacher away. Whispering something that seemed like magic: Bring my father, home.

Chapter 26: Can you be my hero, baby?

Then the door opened and closed, sucking them in.

“Everyone, quiet down!” Mr. Perkins yelled, throwing the blackboard’s duster into the  bin; before turning to appraise the room full of delinquent students. From the door, Brandi’s eyes followed his as Roger pulled the attendance sheet and filled in their names. The P.E. teacher was a massive, six foot two jock whom she had surmised, over the years, had probably let himself go. His belly was a plump mass that seemed to stick out. And his head was almost as bald as Homer Simpson’s, although she had stopped watching the weekend cartoon after they had moved from New York. But watching her teacher now, she couldn’t help but wonder about the ill-fated attraction between the gym teacher and Mrs. Jenkins. Something the older students had insisted was legit. Even though they avoided each other in the hallway and seldom shared lunch.

Mr. Perkins grabbed the roster, as Brandi clung nervously to Roger’s arm, and then took a few giant steps towards them.

Looking at them, his eyes appeared vacant. But Brandi suspected that behind the closed doors of the staffroom, the lives of the pupils were eagerly discussed. After all, it was human nature to discuss things that were unfamiliar. Truant.

With a sweaty palm, Mr. Perkins batted a few strands of hair down. Cursing himself, for having such shitty luck. Two years earlier, in fact, his ex-wife had taken the dog, a German Alsatian, the jeep, a red jeep grand Cherokee, and his favourite chair. And this morning, he had promised his current girlfriend, Mrs. Jenkins, that he would gladly take over her block of after-school jokers, so that she could have a restful night. Evening. He scratched his head as if he was a man afflicted with psoriasis and was trying to get rid of flakes. This was the punishment he got for avoiding their thirteenth date.

He looked down at the list and then back at the two students who had just walked in. There was Roger Barnes, sports hero, if he continued playing as he had in the last six months. College jock-to-be. Maybe even an athletics scholarship. He nodded approvingly, because the kid had quite an arm and had impressed him during tryouts. He squared his jaw, taking in the interlocking fingers, his eyes on the girl. Brandi Daniels. The thorn in his girlfriend’s side. He shook his head, remembering Cindy, his ex-wife. Past supermodel. Cheerleader. Unlike her though, this girl was vile, probably even had no future.

He searched the room, trying to find two seats. Two. Separate. Seats. As his fingers dug into his pants, in search of a cigarette, although he wasn’t supposed to smoke on the premises. Maybe later, he could grab a coffee. He exhaled. A long debilitating sigh. The one that his ex-wife had said probably meant that he needed to cut back, on his two most important vices. He almost nodded, when his fingers grasped nothing, and he realized that they were probably hidden in another pair of pants, he might have dropped into the wash.

He thumped the boy on the back, thinking he probably also deserved a warning. “I’d be careful with that one, if I were you.” He rubbed his brow. “It’s never good to trouble trouble.”

Roger gave him a suspicious look, arching his eyebrows as the other students snickered. The boy watched Brandi and then glanced back at the teacher. “Thanks, but I think I’ll live.” Self-consciously, he gave the girl’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

But she covered her face with her bag, trying to avoid speculative stares. She darted towards the seat in the back that the teacher had pointed out.

Roger stood there, feeling as her hands left his; watching as some of the other boys gave them catcalls. Some staring almost maliciously at him. While Mr. Perkins dropped the roster back onto the desk and waited for them to resume their silence. He shrugged and trudged on. Knowing that this was part of the plan. Part of what he was supposed to do.

In her seat, Brandi looked at the paper with her penance grudgingly. She would never have expected Mrs. Jenkins to pull something like this, but then again, she didn’t really know her. Like a bullet train, the words jumped off the page and collided with her.

“I will not tell lies,” they said. “Even if everyone is against me and my life depends on it.” Brandi groaned, turning it over. Her eyes glancing up and searching for Roger’s. What was Mrs. Jenkins playing at? She breathed into her hands, feeling the tinge of truth or foreboding locked in the words, draining on her strength.

But Roger wasn’t looking at her.

Instead, he had started to scribble out his own text. And her face went down to her desk as she tried to figure out, what sort of a tortured existence Mrs. Jenkins thought she lived. Her eyes going outside to the lawn, where she spotted yellow daisies and poinsettias.

She inhaled, closing her eyes, retracing her steps until she was back at the beach, encountering the Nameless One for the first time. The beach had seemed so serene. That she almost wished that she could remain there forever. But it wasn’t possible. So she shook her head, wiping away the memory. Her mind settling instead on her father. Wishing that they could be together, even if it was only for a short while.

She embraced herself. Trying to communicate to him just how empty her life had been. Without him. How sad she was feeling now. Even though, a part of her knew that she still had Roger.

And in the front of the room, he coughed. Bringing her back to the present. Just as the door opened and in strolled Teresa. At his desk, Mr. Perkins consulted his list twice, before agreeing to let her stay; and she took the only other empty seat, next to Brandi.

Roger got up, hurried to the front desk as if to excuse himself. Indicating towards the restroom, as though he was a three year old, who was about to burst. Brandi watched the exchange with rapt attention as he headed closer to the door. Then a soft whistle blew and he was allowed to exit.

Brandi sat there, wishing that he would tell her that everything was going to be alright. That she would be safe. But he didn’t even bat an eye in her direction. Or blink. So there was no warning about what would happen next.

No, instead, he just zipped up his jacket and waltzed through the door, as if he was too busy preparing to end one chapter of his life, and so that another would begin.

Chapter 25: Before Running the Gauntlet

Outside the door of the detention room, Brandi paced nervously. Surely her mother would be expecting her for dinner, seeing as how Nicholas had converted their home into a nest for three. So, there would be no excuses. No way to explain how, or why she had acted up. Dropping herself onto one of the benches, she pulled out the comic book that Dwight had given her, wondering if he had been able to avoid his future. Her brow wrinkled. She tried not to think about it, because they were not supposed to mess, with time. Stretching her fingers out repeatedly, she exhaled a breath and then, leaned back against the cold wall.

Sharp, clear footsteps alerted her that she was not alone. And turning her head, she spotted Roger. Their eyes met briefly. He gave her a searching look, before dropping down into the seat beside her. His mouth puckered like an old woman, digesting a sour prune, as his fingers found hers and she lost interest in the book.

Wary of his gaze, though, she kept her eyes averted. Pre-supposing that somehow he had heard about what had happened with her in math class, and had come to chide her. Hesitantly, she watched as his tongue moved inside his mouth, inspecting the top row of his teeth. And she inhaled, trying her best not to lay herself bare, as she let go and brushed flecks of dust, from her pants. “I’m really sorry about what happened,” she said, standing up. Her back facing him.

But instead of the gruff, condemning tone that she had expected, his voice was gentle. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” he said. His hands touching lightly against her face. “It was all me.” He shook his head. “I should have been there.”

She turned then, as his hands went around her waist. She breathed in his lemony scent, wondering briefly why he had made the trek to the bathroom, when she caught sight of the spectacles and couldn’t help laughing. Pulling them off gently, she leaned into him. “Is this why I never noticed you before?” she asked, folding them up. Her fingers caressing the edges of the smudged frame. He looked at her calmly, and shook his head. She continued, as though she had never been interrupted, “Why we’re doing this?”

Roger watched her, feeling somewhat vaguely confused. Wondering why it was starting to feel as if she could see through him. And his breath caught, because with the Nameless One it had always been best to keep things hidden. And he thought briefly of his father and aunt and how despite those two things she, Brandi, had always been his only concern. Looking over her head towards the door, he suppressed a groan and whispered, “No. I wasn’t that interesting.”

But Brandi kissed his cheek, as if telling him that that was something she found to be a bit unbelievable, and then he held out his palm and waited as she returned the spectacles. Something within him stirred and he looked at her almost contrite. Hoping that she would forgive him for what came next. “It’s like I said before.” He leaned closer and motioned towards the pendant. “We’re in this together.”

They embraced each other fully, and she stepped back feeling an electric charge pass through their bodies. A few paces away, Roger observed her with a grin as she placed a hand over her heart, as if like the pendant it’s ownership was the thing being disputed. She shook her head, meeting his eyes firmly. “Nobody can have it.” She pointed in his direction. “Not even you.”

“Good.” He raised his head, reassured. And she wondered if he could see through the door. “Especially with Mr. Perkins…” Brandi glanced back at him, waiting for an explanation as they waited for the bell to sound.

Roger straightened up. “Because he’s an ogre. Bully, and much worse than the guy at the party.” For a second or two Brandi gazed at her shoes, wondering what else? What was next? When Roger held up his world literature paper and showed her his F.

She could hardly believe it. Tore the paper from his grip and went around him in circles, feeling both elation and dread. As something in her stomach gnawed at her, again. Certain that if the tables were turned she would choose instead, to escape.

Sensing her misapprehension, he pulled her into a firm embrace. She didn’t need to know everything, he reasoned, deciding to keep his connection to Teresa and the man with the red cap to himself. Besides, that knowledge wouldn’t save her. Couldn’t help them. He kissed her cheek, knowing that she would be strong enough for the both of them. Knowing that if worst came to worst, the Nameless One would protect her, if he couldn’t.

He touched her cheek. “You can do it.” He kissed her forehead. “I know you can.”

Then the bell rang.

And their final moment together ended as Brandi let go and went to collect her things. Standing there with the stream of students passing among them, it was almost like any other day. Except for the prying eyes of Teresa who stooped to retrieve the fallen comic, unnoticed; as they fell into step with one another and entered the aforementioned room, where many said, only compliance brought reward.

Chapter 24: Take Me Home, Country Road

Roger wasn’t like most kids, who had grown up knowing that they had both a mother and a father. No. Instead, he had had one aunt, who had seemed more like a traveling salesman, appearing even more sporadically than even he would have liked.

But what he remembered most about her was the treats. Trinkets that seemed to always appear from inside her slender pocketbook. Or sometimes a slim lilac purse. One time she had given him a baseball glove that she had sworn had once belonged to his father. And another time, she had shown him a picture of his smart cousin, T. A girl who she said, would one day become a great witch. But Roger was only good at sports. In fact, he had grown accustomed to things like academics, being boring, until she had carried him to the local library and introduced him to a book with a convict and a boy called Pip.

Things had happened more swiftly after that. Then whenever she visited, they would go to the park on weekends, and some days she would even take him to the beach. There she would tell him stories of his people. Their people, whom she had said were descendants of gypsies.

Knowing that, had always filled him with pride. Like they could go anywhere. Do, anything. That was until she had taken him back to the city, to that old house on Cauldron Road, and shown him the little lane, street where she said his father now slept. But the man was a thin broken figure. A specter of a man, whom he could not look straight in the eye. A man with a red cap, who even refused to let him enter his new home.

Roger shook his head now, distrusting the man and the image. Distrusting everything because somehow he thought he could do better him. Somehow, he thought the tales were more gallant when the man had been a guardian. And somehow in taking the deal with the Nameless One, he had promised himself that despite everything, he was choosing to become a better man.

Because the bill collectors and the men who had taken away his mother and placed her into an asylum had been wrong. Because they were not the ones with the bad dreams. They were just the ordinary citizens, trying their best to keep on.

Roger brushed the tangled strands of hair back, remembering the magic of the crabs coming together to form a body. He even remember the three witches who had first made the deal. One of them, a youthful version of his aunt. But standing there; he could think of nothing better than seeing his father as a coward; for leaving his best friend behind. Turning his back on his fate and his family.

Standing there, now, he judged him as guilty. A man living on borrowed time, trying to do what was best to maintain the status quo. Roger rubbed his temples gently and put on the dorky glasses he had given up right before resuming baseball, and silently accepted the task he had been called to do. And with an imaginary bat, he whisked after it, swinging at a phantom ball. The image of T in his mind converted to Teresa and he promised himself that he would banish her, if it was the last thing he could do.

Latest Writing Tip : Don’t Bury Your Lead

In the last week, I’ve managed to upload a bit more chapters and I’m grateful to you, the readers for accepting, reading and liking my posts (for the Way of the Seer). Seriously kudos and thank you! While doing this though, I’ve also tried to keep up with my reading, which as you all know can help us, to write better. One good thing I’ve learned in that time is that while there are many maxims for writing, one of the greatest seems to me: don’t bury your lead.

Now, depending on the writer, such a line might come either at the end or the start of the paragraph. For some of the really great writers, having a good lead-in at the start of a piece can be really insightful. Moving. Even if every writer is different or uses different techniques. Check for yourself. Get a copy of the Cuckoo’s Calling or the Husband’s Secret and see for yourself. Both are a good read. No, sorry, great read. Or even check the novel you are currently reading.

I mean here are two writers are not afraid to create intrigue by laying it all on the line. The Husband’s Secret begins with the line: It was all because of the Berlin Wall… I know to some of you it might not seem like much, but this very line, lays the groundwork for the entire novel. Think of other novels you may have read, how did they begin? For me the novel, Every Day (by David Levithan) comes to mind. It starts with the line: I wake up. Either way, the writer (of THS), Liane Moriarty digs deep, gets us in there. Down in the trenches, where her story unfolds. Trust me, I read the first three chapters before going to bed and woke up ready to thumb through the rest of the novel as if I had discovered the Holy Grail.

As writers, sometimes we may lack direction and purpose, but keep at it. That opening line is just as crucial as the adjoining mini steps that comes at the start of the other alternating paragraphs. Create a trajectory. Focus your readers by redirecting language that might have otherwise seemed like sloppy edits. Take your time. Relax and read over what you have written, edit it and then re-write. Give your readers their money’s worth. (Or if you’re still learning the craft, like me, keep at it, in time you’ll be duly rewarded).

And just in case you’ve like the post, leave a comment. Tell me some of the books you like/d and some of the lead in’s that really hooked you. And above all, remember to the two most important lessons of being a writer: Read, read, read. And write, write, write. I wish you all the best in your many endeavours.

Below is a copy of the before and after versions of chapter 21, The Dog Ate My Homework. See for yourself how the first sentence helps control the piece.

Chapter 21: No Seriously, the dog ate my homework.

As the other students walked through the huge mahogany doors, Brandi strolled in after them. Wondering how it was that one minute she was, where she was supposed to be, and then (the next) somehow she was in another. Cursing under her breath, she grabbed a couple of things from out of her locker and then made it further down the hall to math class.

Oh great, she though, as a trio of teachers moved past the door before her. Her head/she caught sight of the back of Mrs. Jenkins’ head and the curl of her horn-rimmed glasses. She would have thirty minutes to accomplish a feat that should have taken her all night (a few hours).

Brandi groaned and dropped into one of the back chairs, noticing for the first time that Roger and Teresa’s chairs were also empty. Until the door opened again, and she caught sight of her friend removing a pair of sunglasses from her face. She frowned, not really remembering her friend as someone who would be dulls up/glammed up. Brandi lowered her head, pulled out a few books and laid them almost silently onto her desk. As she bit into the bottom of her pencil, almost snapping/ chewing off the eraser.

Chapter 21: The Dog Ate My Homework

As the other students walked through the school’s mahogany doors, Brandi followed. Wondering how it was that one minute, she was, where she was supposed to be and the next, in another place entirely. Cursing under her breath, she grabbed a couple of things from her locker, and then, she went further down the hall to math class.

Ahead of her, she caught sight of a trio of teachers. Her breath caught. She was dismayed at seeing the curl. Edge of a pair of horn-rimmed glasses which she knew belonged to Mrs. Jenkins. Oh, great! she thought, feeling the huge expanse that she had often thought of as time, slip through her fingers. There was no way she would accomplish this feat in half an hour, she lamented, holding her head in her hands. Why had she squandered the night?

She dropped onto the black-cushioned, metallic chair, searching for her friends, but Roger and Teresa weren’t there. They had absconded. Why hadn’t she also received the memo? she thought, pulling books out of her bag and dropping them onto the desk, as if their usefulness meant nothing to her. She glanced out the window and forced herself to take a calming breath. Then she heard the side door open again and she caught sight of Teresa. A new and improved version of Teresa, who was wearing a pair of designer shades, and looked way too glammed up. Something inside of her shifted and she shook her head, remembering the party that she had been tricked into attending. She turned her face, hoping to avoid another confrontation, like the one on the bus.

Chapter 20: My House of the Past Has Secrets to Tell

“You should come with us,” Dwight said, motioning to Brandi. After a moment’s hesitation, she raced into the deserted house and joined them.

“Won’t Jenson be alarmed?” she asked, watching as the pool of water settled at the soles of their feet.

“Who’s Jenson?” Dwight asked, casting her a suspicious glance while closing the door.

“The butler.”

Van raised an eyebrow. She touched his shoulder, thinking that this was all part of some game. “He’s here, right?” she insisted.

Van shook his head. “Not that I know of.”

Mute, she walked past the huge family portraits that hung on the walls in the hallway. Looking up at them Brandi caught sight of her father, his parents, a baby sister and a fierce-looking bulldog. Her sneakers squelched as she came to a complete stop and eyed them. She shifted her head, glancing at the other frames, searching for the two men who had opposed her mother in taking possession of the property. But try as she might, she couldn’t find uncle Charles or uncle Phil, anywhere. Her father’s two older brothers, they had been very persistent, going so far as to to fire the butler, a year and a few months after they had settled into their new home. She held her breath, deciding not to broach the subject as she read the sign beneath the dog, which said Pugsy.

“Unless I’m mixing you up with somebody else,” she said, scratching her head again. “This old brain must be turning into spaghetti.”

Dwight, always open for a joke, nudged her and offered her a smile. “You should try wearing a pair of glasses; they’ve been known to help.”

Brandi looked at him confused, wondering what glasses and sight had to do with a muddled brain. Speechless, she waved him away. Pulling her hair into a bun, she followed them down the narrow corridor. She passed her fingers on the edges of one of the frames, caught a trail of dust and cobwebs, then shivered, wondering why she was getting a feeling like this was a decrepit museum instead of the lively home, she had always envisioned. She pulled away.

In the lounge, Brandi discovered an ancient telephone. The one you could put your fingers through and the earpiece that almost covered your entire ear. On impulse, she gave it a twirl.

On the second go-around, the phone rang. She jumped. Alarmed that such an ancient machine could do that to her. Van grabbed the phone, listened for a few seconds and then handed it back to her. “It’s for you.”

Brandi wiped her brow with the back of her palm. “Yes.” She leaned forward, listening intently. “What can I do for you?”

“It must be strange to return home and find that everything’s helter-skelter,” the voice said.

Brandi waited, watching the two boys. Then, looking at the floor, she wondered if anyone had the power to conjure up the rain. Or to make people return to what they were in their youth. She held the phone tighter, trying to decipher the voice that by now was barely audible. “No, everything’s the same,” she lied, replacing the receiver. Turning back to Van and Dwight she acted as though nothing had changed. “Do you guys have anything to eat? Or drink?”

Van nodded. Leading the way into the kitchen’s pantry. “My mum keeps the supplies in here, in case of an emergency.” He took a handful of snacks and stepped back, giving Brandi enough time to observe the overflowing pantry and its adjoining kitchen; the contents of which barely reminded her of home. She shuffled backwards, wondering if, this was how it had been for him.

“Yeah.” Dwight opened an oreo and shoved one into his mouth. “Mrs. Van Elder is the best.”

Her brow creased as she remembered the shouting matches between her mother and the older woman. Matches that had erupted over simple things like a white baptismal gown, she had refused to remove. She cringed, remembering that afterwards, her mother was often left alone, nursing a migraine. “Right.” She nodded her head, letting the memory slip. “My mum can barely make a tuna casserole.” She opened a snack bag and wolfed down some chips. “Thank goodness for takeout,” she muttered underneath her breath.

“Takeout?” Dwight grabbed a few cans of soda as they went back into the living room. He took a seat next to her. “So, what do you do for fun?”

Brandi quieted. Waiting for the lumps in her throat to settle. “Nothing.” She wiped her eyes, afraid of being too honest. “Unless you consider me riding my bike around town and going to the movies, alone.” She lowered her head, momentarily forgetting Roger; knowing that somehow things had been better with Teresa.

Van looked at her. Frowned. “Why’s that?” he asked, as if seeing something about her, that was admirable. He opened a can of orange soda and took a sip. “You’ve got friends, right?”

Brandi averted her eyes, looking at the television set, which was turned off, before turning back to them. “No.” She fidgeted, opening a can of soda. “Not like you and Van.” She explained. “It’s just me and my mum. Have you guys been friends long?”

“It’s been a while,” Van said, grabbed a pack of chips. “We usually meet up in the summer when school’s out.” He motioned towards Dwight with his head, almost chuckling. “Dwight’s folks travel a lot.” He paused. Brandi’s thoughts ran on Roger. She wondered if that was why she hadn’t really noticed him until she had received the pendant. She held her breath, watching as they threw chips at each other. She enjoyed being in the center of the two of them.

Dwight edged his glasses farther up on his nose, appraised her. “You’re like him, aren’t you?”

Brandi nodded as Van got up and headed towards the kitchen. Holding her half-empty can, she supposed, he was going to get another, when he turned back to her. “You want anything?”

She shook her heads and they watched him go. Then Brandi turned back to Dwight. “How did you know?”

He leaned closer, pointed to the string around her neck. She inclined her head, gave the pendant’s cord a slight tug, undoing the kink that was making it partially visible. With a free hand, she pushed it down. “Does Van have one?”

“Yes.” Dwight patted her arm. “Like you, he’s getting used to it.”

She paused, fiddling with the can. “And as his guardian, do you see what he sees? Feel, what he feels?” Her eyes scrunched closer.

This time, Dwight was the one who appeared more cautious as he reached across and captured her arm. “Yes. But only if he wants me to.”

She pulled back her hand as he adjusted himself and asked her another question. “Have you found your guardian?”

“Yes,” she said, wondering how to tell him about his son. But she stopped herself, remembering Roger’s warning about the past. “Are you the reason I’m here?”

Dwight paused, looking at her. “Maybe.” He put down the pack of biscuits. The can of soda. “My folks are thinking of leaving.” He stole a glance at her. She nodded. “For good this time…I don’t know how to tell him.”

Brandi looked at him, admiring the curly black hair that reminded her of Roger’s. “It’ll be fine,” she said, squeezing his hand, almost sure that he would find a way around it, since they hadn’t been separated in the future. “Just be honest with him.”

He nodded, seeming relieved, offered her a tight-smile.

“That’s what your son is doing for me.”

“Son?” His features creased; he rubbed his eyes. “So Van and I both get married.”

“Not exactly.” She turned to look at one of the pictures on the wall, swearing that she had seen some movement.

He propped up his elbows and stared at her. “What do you mean?”

Brandi hesitated, wondering if she had already revealed too much as he edged closer. “My parents never spent much time together, after I was born.” She took a deep breath. “And they say, he ended up trapped in some future that nobody could save him from.”

Dwight frowned. Scratched his head. “You mean us.” He tore off his glasses and gave them another cleaning. “We get trapped on some sort of mission, that’ll take us away from those we love.”

Brandi kicked her backpack, feeling almost foolish. As though she had backed herself into a corner. She looked down and saw her world English book and journal. Then from under the nearby table she heard a distinctive growl. She stood up, sensing that Pugsy had already entered the sitting room, when she spotted a head.

She threw a few chips his way, jumping onto the couch as he rushed forward. He chomped on the pages, as though they were pieces of food. Bones.

Brandi screamed, Pugsy, taking this as an invitation, salivated over the few scribbled pages and continued to eat. Even as Dwight moved to the center table and whacked the dog’s butt.

“Bad Pugsy.” He whacked the center table, shook his head. “Go, Pugsy, go.” The dog barked once more and rushed out, whizzing through the doggie door. Dwight shook his head apologetically. “His bark is worse than his bite.” He took up the journal and handed it over.

Brandi took it, fingering the torn pages, as she reached out and re-captured her bag. How would she pacify Mrs. Jenkins, she wondered, when their relationship had already been strained. She glanced back at Dwight, who was already becoming hazy, as another bell dinged.

Chapter 17 : Destiny and the 3 Simple Rules

Brandi pulled back, as the woman’s lips curled into something that appeared close to a snarl. Thinking that this wasn’t anything like what she had expected. The woman, Yin passed her hands through her hair and looked at Brandi again as a large television screen appeared in the center of the room. There the girl saw two men whose ages seemed closer to twenty-something. One of the boys had curly black hair like Roger and wore glasses; while the other one seemed a bit more tame, in a plaid shirt and dockers khakis.

Brandi edged closer. A hand reaching to her lips as she almost swore that he, the second young man, looked like a Van Elder. “Does this have anything to do with my father?” she asked, turning back to the Nameless One. “Is that really why I’m here?”

“Just watch the screen, my child,” The creature said. “Watch the screen.”

In the background, not to far from the man who appeared to be her father and his guardian, she caught sight of three young women. All of whom projected pointy objects that she suspected were wands. She reached across, touched the screen, and felt a sharp surge of electricity rush upwards into her arm.

The Nameless One shook her head, as if to say don’t do that, when the voices suddenly became audible.

“Darkest of night, and strongest of day, help us to see with sight beyond sight,” the women cackled, looking at the two men, whose apparel changed to some flashy metallic costume that Brandi could barely recognize. Was that also something that she could do as well, she wondered as she saw the women begin to fire.

“Van! Get back,” the boy with the glasses said, trying to act as a barrier between Van and the group of women.

He ducked behind a wall as the young women continued mixing the contents of their caldron.

The other boy tried to sneak past them, but one of the women kept throwing her wandering gaze at him and uttered something like a hex that seemed to keep him rooted to the spot.

“Without a guide, the Seer is unable to act,” the woman said, moving closer to the bespectacled man. The other two women laughed. “Stronger are we. The sisters of three.”

Brandi saw the man behind the wall stand up and point his sword towards them, as if he was issuing some sort of a challenge.

“Let Dwight go. He’s done nothing to hurt you.”

“A friendship so strong that nothing can break. A Seer, a daughter and lasting heart ache.”

The man edged closer. “What is to come will happen without us, you cannot name her for she is beyond.”

Brandi looked at the Nameless One, wanting to ask if he was referring to her. But the Nameless One held her breath. Remained silent. She was almost as silent as Brandi’s mother who had kept almost everything about her father hidden – the few things she had learned were gleaned either from picking her grandmother’s mouth, or making inferences about the things she saw.

She watched the men in silence as Van rushed at the furthest woman who seemed closer to him in age. He creeped up on her, then roped a hand around her neck. At first Brandi wondered if he was trying to smother her and then she saw something glint, and realized that he was reaching for something. A pendant. No, the wand.

Watching them struggle, she was relieved when it clattered to the floor. But then, the woman’s sisters could only look over at them with concern. But that didn’t prevent them from stirring their mixture as the cauldron bubbled and steam rose to the surface.

“It’s too late,” one of them said, pointing towards Dwight. “He’s going to leave without you.”

Brandi saw her father gasp and push the woman away. The look on his face more skeptical and doubtful as she grabbed the wand, pointed it at his friend and uttered a few words. Before Dwight disappeared. Leaving him alone.

Standing there, Brandi shook her head. Before now, she would never have thought that witches were real. No, to her, they had only been part of the myth and lore of centuries that storytellers used to frighten kids. Make them see reason. She held her breath, trying not to consider the idea of vampires and werewolves. Her hopes dashed because it looked as though her father had failed.

Just then, the screen collapsed. Closed in on itself and she took a moment to remember that she wasn’t the only person in the room, who had gone over the consequences of his actions.

“There are only three rules,” the redheaded woman said by her side. “You are asked only to memorize them. Know every detail.” She turned, a slight edge developing on her last three words. “Because when you first received the box, you were told to follow the rules. Knowing them can help you escape a much worse fate.”

Brandi looked down at her hands, wondering what could be worse than being deserted, as she passed a finger over the cuticles that she had wanted desperately to return. Did the woman know that already, she had partially failed? She averted her face, thinking of this as only a warning because, the woman couldn’t be serious, she thought, expecting her to live up to some age old rules that didn’t really apply to her. Or her father.

The Nameless One arched her back and pointed a finger into her chest, realizing how much things had changed over time. How people now sought fame as position as those things were more important than living rightly. Justly. Her features hardened. “Being chosen doesn’t make you a celebrity,” she said, looking down at the girl as if she was someone’s spoilt daughter, who needed to be chastised. Made to see reason.

“You are only here to help others. Your friends, family, they are no longer your concern.” She extended a hand. “You must promise this.” The Nameless One faced her. Appraised her as if she had been the one who had sounded glib.

Brandi closed her eyes, remembering Mrs. Jenkins and her need to instill order into the world. Was this woman any different? she wondered, realizing that for her, things were about to change. Could she follow such orders? she wondered, slowly looking around the room. Could she make the necessary adjustments? Follow suit.

The Nameless One retracted her arm, pulling out a pen and paper. “This is the contract, if you intend to be a Seer sign it and get it back to me.

Brandi watched them for a few seconds and then with a slight nod, she accepted the pen and the paper. Having watched a few lawyer shows with her mother, she knew better than to just sign on the dotted line and return it. Instead, she would go through it like a woman undoing box plaits with a fine tooth comb.

“Is this standard issue?” she asked, as if the papers were some sort of weapon that people like the Nameless Ones used to make them do what she wanted.

She hung her head. Uncertain. Wanting someone else to be there. Someone perhaps like Roger. The Nameless One shook her head, smiled. Reaching across at Brandi, she gave her shoulders a light squeeze. “You can decide on your own time,” she said, as the girl folded the papers. “But bring it back to me when you’ve done what’s required.”

Brandi stopped for a second, drew in a sharp breath. She had to decide this. She had to figure out for herself what could be done. She nodded to the Nameless One as the house started to disintegrate and then she found herself alone. The paper wrapped neatly in her hand.

Taking a deep breath, she walked back down to the water, and took a seat, trying not to think of her father. Trying only to imagine, her way back home.

Chapter 16 : An Encounter with the Nameless One

It wasn’t as if Brandi had any sort of confidence in her powers. All she knew was that something was coming after her, and in her head that something had changed from one thing to another. Like Tom, the boy she had met and liked in New York who hadn’t even noticed that she existed. Her uncle’s illness that was slowly causing him to wither away. Her friendship with Teresa, that she was trying so steadfastly to restore. Her mother’s new interest in Nicholas.

Brandi closed the window in her room and took a seat on the floor, wondering what her father had learned growing up where he had, because as far as she could see the effects of the environment seemed far more insipid than she had first thought when she had gotten there. Now, she could almost count on one hand all of the trouble that had befallen her and all of the people who had come out to counter her. Not that she believed in conspiracy theories. Only that life had a way of making things seem even more coincidental than they had appeared at first.

Like the two dragons that danced outside her window. She was almost certain that for kids in China, they still held some significance, something that she would have previously wandered at, as she passed through the streets of Chinatown. Now, far away from the action she could barely think on it. Barely see the connection.

Passing her hand along the side of her bureau that her mother had said had once belonged to her father she saw a carving that reminded her of the Chinese symbols for yin and yang. Using her finger she pressed her hand into it, thinking about how similar it looked to one of those hankos that Japanese teachers used in place of their signature.

She was almost sure that someone like Mr. Chen would have something like it and she told herself that when next they met, she would ask him about it.

Not thinking too much about the insignia, she pulled back when she felt a sudden heat, and saw that the skin on that part of her flesh was growing dark. How was that even possible, if this bureau had been made so long ago. Surely such heat, or spark was something that would be unheard of, she said to herself, getting up to retrieve some of the healing salve that her mother had given her for her abdomen.

Maybe, something said behind her, as the room began to spin and Brandi found herself once again on a journey back in time.

#     #     #

But when her body hit the ground this time, she discovered that she had fallen on something that resembled sand. She pushed out her hand and let the grains fall through her fingers. It had been a while since she had last seen the beach, much less been able to feel the grainy texture of sand.

She blinked, pinched herself and licked her hand. Thinking that all of this had to be nothing more than a dream. But the sand was real. She found herself crunching down on them as if they were pieces of black pepper and she wiped her tongue in her t’shirt, trying to get the salty, acrid taste out of her mouth. She sputtered, coughed and then ran to the water to rinse her mouth.

How could she have been so stupid? she wondered, thinking that a pinch would have sufficed. Beside her a crab, clicked its claws as it observed her. She watched as its colour changed from red to green to blue. She rubbed her eyes, thinking that maybe she was seeing things and then she shrieked, remembering the sand and not too long after, she was back in the sea, washing her eyes out. This time though, forcing herself to keep her eyes closed because sand, saltwater and clear eyes were not a good mix.

“Merde. Really!” she said, reaching her arms up in the air as if begging the heavens to take pity on her because she was doing something foolish. Something that maybe she could be excused from.

Another crab crawled closer to her and then after a while, she found that at least ten of them, sat close by, clacking their claws as if they had seen something humorous. As if she was providing them with some sort of entertainment. She passed her hand in the water, this time collecting some in her palms and threw it over then. How dare they choose to make fun of her. To see her plight as something bemused?

“Life is better served with laughter and mirth,” the first crab said, staring up at her.

Brandi dusted her hands off in her pants and moved herself back further. Was she also hearing things? she wondered, looking from one to the other.

Again, the crab edged closer. Spoke. “You are here Brandi because there is no time like the present. Nothing greater than to see and be seen.”

The crab drew back, waiting for her to acknowledge what it had said, before all the crabs drew together and formed another body. This time, though, it was a rusty colored cocker spaniel and it wagged its tail.

Brandi stood up, knowing that this was the present time, which didn’t have anything to do with her. “Were you the one who called me here?”

The dog barked, racing up towards a clearing that Brandi realized led to a house when she got further up the path. Looking across the wide expanse, she wondered how something so small could create something so grand.

“To the human mind everything else is always a mystery,” the dog said, after issuing another bark. Then the dog’s body changed into that of a human, who after walking up to the verandah, threw on a robe that hung loosely on the back of a deck chair. Standing there, it extended a hand and drew Brandi closer, eyes almost sparkling. “Yes, I am the one who called you here.” Her hands cupped Brandi’s. “I needed to know if you have what it takes.”

Brandi’s hands dropped. Her mind racing as the woman’s red hair fell onto lithe shoulders and the robes’ straps tightened. While Brandi clutched the pendant, thinking that just having it had made her position more secure.

Beside her, though, the woman leveled her gaze and as their eyes met, she shook her head. “No, not necessarily. But every man, and in your case woman, is called to fulfill her destiny.”

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 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.

     “Deal?”

     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.