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Authors: Jeanne C. Stein

Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General, #Horror

Crossroads (33 page)

BOOK: Crossroads
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Then I do what I started to do—head for the shower.
HOWERED AND RID OF MY PUNGENT JEANS (I HOPE the smell of horse comes out in the laundry), I’m ready to rejoin the world. Frey and John-John have moved into the living room. I make a pot of coffee and sit myself down at the kitchen table, still unwilling to intrude on father and son.
The events of the last few days flood over me. My heart is heavy with guilt. My presence precipitated all that happened. There’s no denying or rationalizing that fact.
And what have I accomplished?
Frey and John-John appear at the door. “We’re going to make breakfast. Care to join us?”
But instinct tells me they have more to discuss. John-John’s eyes are red-rimmed. Did Frey tell him that he lost another friend—George? Or that he was leaving? My heart breaks for the boy.
I pick up my coffee mug and push away from the table. “You two eat. I’ll be on the porch.”
Frey gives me a weak smile, and I know it was the right decision.
I take the same old porch chair that I’ve occupied how many times since we arrived? Each time I sit here, it seems there’s a new question to puzzle out.
This time I’m the puzzle. Sani said I would see him again. I am no closer to a resolution now, though, than I was twenty-four hours ago.
I would see him again. If Sarah never presented my petition, how did he seek me out?
did he?
The sun rises higher in the sky, reminding me of the first time Frey and I saw the house and Mary Yellow Bird. I thought her an Indian princess. Now she and her sister are dead. No storybook ending here. Greed and disrespect for her own heritage brought about Mary’s death. Nothing supernatural or otherworldly about it.
So, could I have found the answer if I’d been mortal? Or would the bone charm have ended my life the first night I was here?
Everything that’s happened since I became vampire, everything I’ve accomplished, everyone I’ve saved or harmed, has been because I am no longer human.
But the price. My family living across the ocean. My business partner put in danger twice. No chance of a relationship that lasts longer than it takes to have sex or feed.
Stephen. Too soon yet to see if we can make it work. And if we did—
Twenty mortal years.
If I married, could I bear a child? Or would the stress on my body from the transformation back to mortal make it impossible? Certainly, if I were able to conceive, I would not live to see my grandchildren. Would my enemies in the vampire universe launch their attack on the mortal world knowing I was no longer able to confront them? Would they seek revenge on my family?
What legacy would I leave?
A world of terror? No less crime or injustice? A world still threatened by Chael’s lust for power?
Sani said there have always been those asked to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good. Could I really be one of those? I know my shortcomings. I’m rash, impulsive, quick to judge. I lack the wisdom of the shaman. I’m not pure of heart. I stumble through each crisis blindly. One step at a time. If not for my family, for my friends, Frey and David and Tracey, I doubt I would have survived this last year.
But if not for me, if not for vampire, they might not have survived, either.
It comes in a flash of insight.
Vampire and I complement each other. When I need strength and courage, she is there. When she needs compassion and restraint, I am there. We are two halves of a whole.
I gaze out over the land, now dazzling under a blinding summer sky.
Sani said it—I have been wrong to worry I cannot serve as a protector and live life as a mortal. Isn’t that what I’ve done this past year? I’ve walked the tightrope between two worlds and hopefully, both are better for it. Oh, there are problems that still need resolving. David and his flickering memories of a night under the spell of a vampire. Harris and his blossoming curiosity about me.
But when did problems ever disappear completely?
My family is safe. I have friends like Daniel Frey who know and accept the vampire. Human friends who know and accept Anna Strong. And now, Stephen.
There is only one way I can protect them all.
And perhaps make up for some of the damage I have caused.
I have my decision.
HERE IS MOVEMENT AT THE EDGE OF THE PROPERTY. A soft blur of gray moves behind rocks. Then the blur takes shape and steps into the open.
A wolf looks up at me with calm, intelligent eyes.
A thrill of eagerness, of anticipation courses through me. Sani’s messenger.
Wolf comes closer. Not threatening. Her eyes shine into mine. She stops at the edge of the porch, waiting. I come down to meet her. She brushes under my hand until it rests on her back.
The ground tips and begins to spin.
A vortex of sight but no sound. A sensory barrage of color without shape. A rainbow gone mad.
Colors fade. The spinning slows, stops. Wolf is gone.
I’m standing in the middle of a circle. Alone.
Vision clears.
Not alone.
All around me, twelve ancients sit, their solemn faces reflecting wisdom, understanding,
. They are naked except for loincloths of leather, beaded and tied with thongs. Their faces and bodies are old, creased with age, but exuding vitality and warmth. They each hold a long, slender stick carved with symbols—a tree, a mountain, a stream. Others I don’t recognize in my ignorance.
For I am more aware of my ignorance than I have ever been. I am humbled to be in the presence of such power. We are not in the cave. I don’t know where we are. It’s open ground and all I see around us is earth and sky.
In the center, Sani. He rises, takes a step into the circle, squats back down, motioning for me to do the same.
As before, I follow his example, folding my legs under me.
“You have made a decision,” he says.
My heart thuds with sudden fear. Not for what I am about to ask, but because I have so little right to ask it.
“What is it?” His gentle face reassures me.
“I will not ask for mortality to be restored. Not for me.”
He catches the subtle nuance of my last words. “What are you asking?”
“I ask that Sarah be returned to her son. She is dead because of me. I can face any challenge. I am adult and vampire. There is a little boy who lost his mother and aunt. If I can lessen his pain, I will bear the consequences.”
“The consequences?”
“Grant me twenty years. I will do all in my power during that time to rid the world of those vampires who would destroy it. I will make sure my successor is like me—a protector. I ask nothing else.”
Sani is silent. Probing his heart—or mine? I can’t tell. He lets nothing show in his expression.
Finally, he says, “It is always sad when young ones die. Mary betrayed her sister and tradition. Her alliance with George Long Whiskers led to their deaths. Whether or not you were here, they would still both be dead.”
“No. They would be alive if I hadn’t persuaded Frey to bring me here.”
“Can you be sure?”
“Does it matter? I am sick that John-John is alone.”
Sani takes my hands in his. “I cannot grant your request. Sarah has been buried in the Navajo way. She has traveled this path. That you would ask in her name is a tribute to your spirit. I know your fears for the boy, but he will not be alone.”
I close my eyes for a moment, sadness overwhelming me. I wanted to give John-John his mother back. I failed. In my heart, I suppose I knew I would. I square my shoulders and raise my face to meet Sani’s gaze.
“Then I have made the only decision I can. I will remain vampire, protector. I only hope someday to be wise enough to know what is right and to have the courage to fight for what is right.”
Sani’s eyes shine into mine. “Follow your heart in all things and you will not go astray.”
His grip on my hands loosens, but I don’t let go. “Tell me,” I ask. “Why did you agree to meet with me?”
He smiles, patting my hand. “You have respect for the Navajo. For the old ways. There is too little of it, even among our own people.”
He rises, takes my hand, pulls me to my feet. “You are a soldier—a guardian. Don’t fight your nature. Embrace it, learn from it. You have an important role to play. You’ve just begun to understand how important. You seek love, for yourself and others. It is understandable. But seek knowledge, too, and through it, understanding. There are many factions, many battles ahead. You will be the ambassador to bring all sides together. That is the gift of the Chosen One.”
He lays a hand on my head, a blessing.
And a farewell.
Just like before, I don’t have time to process his words or respond. Sani is gone. The scene around me melts into a blur.
The next moment, I’m back on the porch.
HEAR FREY CALLING ME FROM THE KITCHEN BUT I’M too disoriented to get up right away. I’m not sure my legs will support me.
What happened wasn’t a dream. Was it?
The last few minutes replay in my head as vividly as a movie. Sani’s words are imprinted in my brain, there for me to call up when I falter.
The thought fills me with warmth.
It’s as if I have a little of Sani’s spirit inside.
When I walk into the kitchen, Frey and John-John are seated around the table. Frey tilts his head, peers at me. “Are you all right?”
“Sure. What’s going on?”
Frey motions for me to take a seat. “I have to tell you something.”
I slide in next to John-John. He looks a little happier, his eyes clearer. He holds out a hand to me and I blow into his palm. He grins.
Frey isn’t so happy. “I’ve made a decision.”
I beat him to the punch. “You’re staying here with John-John.”
He looks startled, as if I’ve pulled a chicken from behind John-John’s ear. “Don’t look so surprised.” I muss the child’s hair. “It wasn’t so hard to figure out. I knew before you did.”
Sani’s words, the boy will not be alone.
And Frey’s admonition: magic always exacts a price. The bigger the magic, the bigger the price. Isn’t that what he said?
This is my price to pay. Life without my friend. Even if the magic didn’t work the way I hoped it might.
This is my price to pay.
“You could stay with us,” John-John is saying. “I could teach you to ride and speak Navajo.”
“I wish I could. But I need to get back to work. I’ll come visit, though. I think it’s time I learned to ride a horse, don’t you?”
He is smiling. I touch his hair, softly, and stand up. I don’t know how long I can pretend to be upbeat about Frey’s decision, even though I know it’s the right one. The only one. Sadness is so close to the surface, I’m afraid it will overwhelm me. How will I get along without my friend?
“Besides,” I say through the huge lump in my throat. “I’ve been thinking about my own family. I think it’s time I paid them a visit. Trish has been scolding me for staying away so long.”
With a side trip to New York. I missed Stephen’s debut network appearance. Maybe I can catch the next one in person.
I can tell by the look in Frey’s eyes, he approves. I wish I could communicate how much I’m going to miss him. Maybe it’s better that I can’t.
“He knows,” John-John pipes up. “He’s going to miss you, too.”
Frey and I laugh. “I forgot how smart you are.” I hug John-John to my chest. “You take care of your dad.”
I let John-John go, fighting back tears. “I’d better call my pilot and have him pick me up in—Ah, where would be the closest airport?”
John-John’s eyes get big. “You have a plane?” he asks before Frey can answer.
For just a moment, excitement and wonder sweep the cloud of sadness from his eyes.
I bend down so our faces are close. “I sure do. Tell me, John-John, how would you like to take a ride on a private jet?”
Ace Books by Jeanne C. Stein
BOOK: Crossroads
5.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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