Authors: Miriam Khan
The Lebrus Stone
Published by Rogue Phoenix Press
Copyright © 2014
Electronic rights reserved by Rogue Phoenix Press, all other rights reserved by the author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the copyright law. This is a work of fiction. People and locations, even those with real names, have been fictionalized for the purposes of this story.
Thank you to everybody who helped.
I see the night engross the day
I see the day entice the night
I see the sun and moon collide, then break
I see a heart within the stars, stream tears into a mystic lake
They sink and drown, but awake you
The sky crashes as I fall, but still I desire you
In my dullest hour or happiest smile
I seek you fair and far and wild
Come to me, come to me, dear light and darkness
Devour me, shield me, seal my fate with true love
For I may be nothing without my Midnight Prince
He may be nothing without my eternal forgiveness
And so we bow and kiss
We hurt and miss each other's arms
Until they wind and uncurl
Leaving our eyes cold, yet our sight churning with sapphire and jewels
For this is the gift of forgetting
These are the charms of a sin
A crest of loyalty and betrayal
A singe to my lashings of honor in thy name
But if you must and shall destroy me
I take courage in my faith to reunite you with a soul
I give prayer to the invisible
The divider of our kindred spirits
Those dancing within the fight to set us free
Sanctified and closer.
In a world where we are as one
Some say God's only mistake was giving humans free-will.
It could be true.
We do tend to think with our heads instead of our hearts.
We do have a habit of ignoring the alarm bells ringing so loud in our conscience we'd probably be deaf if we really listened.
I think that's because we want to avoid getting hurt by the consequences of our actions. I think we like to hide behind a happy charade for as long as possible.
It's not that I'm religious or a big believer in fate or kismet or whatever those spiritually inclined like to call it. I just know following your heart doesn't always run smoothly. In fact, it can be a nightmare to pull through. I also know some sacrifices are worth it. I know because I now am one. And obviously my journey had to begin on a day where I least expected it: on the way to work during a pending blizzard.
I'd hopped off the bus fifteen minutes later than planned due to a hold up of traffic two blocks away. I'd thought about walking the fifty yards, but the haphazard snow on the street had me moving like I had all day. Before I could reach the bookstore, my boss, Jared, flew out of the doorway, pulling on his big gray coat flapping in the wind.
"Crys! Crys, there's someone here to see you!" He panted, skidding to a stop.
At the time, I hoped it was my best friend, Sal. We had a falling out over a year ago when she found a big time loser in Kentucky and got engaged to him as soon as she turned eighteen. Big mistake. But then I realized with a sickening disappointment that Jared knew Sal, and that he wouldn't have gotten so worked up about her appearing.
"It's a woman called Isobel Locke," he said. "She's claiming to be your great aunt."
"What?" My heart pounded.
"Do you think it's true?"
Spending pretty much all my life in foster care and group homes with nothing but my parents' minimal file report hadn't exactly left me with much hope of breaking the mystery behind my heritage. So to say I was shocked to learn a great aunt had turned up to see me was beneath even an understatement, and at work of all places.
I paced the snow-filled sidewalk, weighing up my options like I really had any. I was wary, anxious, and admittedly a little excited. But I had to be rational. The woman could have been a total fruitcake. Still, it didn't take long for me to want to hurry inside. I figured whatever was going to happen, I'd be ready for the disappointment.
Jared gave me an encouraging nod before I clomped my way into the store.
T.J., the only other person who worked at Kane's Kove, was climbing down a step ladder, a pile of books in one hand and a grin on his face.
"Is it true?" It wasn't that I didn't believe Jared. I just needed to hear it from someone else to sink in.
He thumbed the staff room door. "She's smokin' hot!"
I rolled my eyes.
"For an older woman," he quickly added.
Jared ran inside, struggling to close the door on the wind. "Do you believe me now?"
"But how can she be my great aunt?" I whispered. Whatever hopes I'd set on the woman's arrival too soon had to be squashed. It could have been a hoax—someone's cheap game to manipulate me, for what I didn't know.
"Easy," T.J. said. "Isobel might be your mom or dad's aunt or the wife of one of your grandparents' brothers."
The two of them being on first name basis had me feeling strangely jealous. As for the blatant sarcasm to his explanation, I ignored it, especially the flirty wink that went with it. It was something he was doing a lot these days.
Jared grabbed me by the arms and surprised me by shaking me. He was old but strong enough to make me wince.
"Just go inside and see for yourself. What do you have to lose?"
"But I'm an
. Why would some great aunt wait eighteen years to find me?"
"That's what you need to find out!"
get your butt on in there," T.J. said, slamming the books on a table. "The woman looks rich. She can be my aunt any day."
My hands trembled.
Why couldn't the woman have sent me a note first so I could have prepared myself?
I could have had a monologue ready, explaining why I didn't need a so-called great aunt.
I was about to leave the group home in a few months. I had survived this long without relatives. Another few decades were doable.
Jared released his steely grip and turned me to face the staff room door. I had known what was coming: a push in the wrong direction.
No amount of arguing would have made him listen.
"It'll be fine. You'll see." He smiled proudly like it would help. It didn't. My teeth chattered, and it wasn't because of the cold.
"Good Luck," T.J. muttered, and eased me into the staff room without the chance of a second debate.
Inside it was quiet—morgue-like even—and dark, since just a small lamp had been switched on instead of the overhead lights.
I was given the thumbs up as I closed the door. My trembling hands rattled the doorknob. I remembered thinking they were so going to get it if she turned out to be from the local asylum.
As soon as the door clicked to a close, something moved behind me, sounding like heels scraping the tiled floor.
"Chrystalla?" came a voice.
The woman before me was tall, pale and with crimson red lips. Her hair was styled into a tight bun that elongated her watery brown eyes: wide, startled eyes that were a lot like mine perhaps. She was beautiful. Mature. Yet somehow youthful. And it could have been her smile that did it, but something in me unfurled and my heart stopped thudding against the hardwood behind me.
prefer Crystal," my voice croaked.
"Ah. Forgive me."
We stared at each other as I fiddled with a loose button on my coat and she wrung her beige leather gloves. Second by second, my heart climbed to my throat. I wasn't sure if it was beating, if I was even breathing.
"I suppose they have explained who I am," she began.
"Yes," I said, finally able to exhale.
" She held out her hand. "Come and sit with me."
I did as asked and lowered myself stiffly onto the black couch. She sat beside me, and for a moment I thought she was going to take my hand and kiss it. I was stupidly disappointed she hadn't.
"My name is Isobel Locke," she stated unnecessarily. "I was a close friend of your mother's. I also knew your father."
I wondered how that qualified her as my great aunt. Why it was a friend coming to see me and not an actual blood relative. My head hurt. Too much was being processed.
"How did you find me?" I managed, blinking several times to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
"A picture of you was found in an article promoting the bookstore," she said, very matter of fact.
I knew which article she meant. Kane's Kove had been awarded for its longevity.
"But how did you know it was me?"
She inched closer, her eyes shimmering, holding back tears, the kind I couldn't offer in return. As always, I was too emotionally numb; cautious of letting anyone see the sorrow I kept hidden.
Isobel smiled sadly. "Because you look just like Sophia. She would be very proud of the young woman you have become."
The comment seemed to have the opposite effect of what must have been intended. It irked me. I hadn't liked the way she assumed so much from knowing little. It was as if a closed wound had been scratched open. And proud? Of what? For mostly being a loner who had to find her own way?
Isobel placed her hand on my shoulder. It stilled me. I hadn't known I'd been shaking. "Don't be afraid, Crystal. I do not mean you any harm. I simply wished to see you. I want to get to know you." Her hand hovered by my cheek, but returned to my shoulder. "I am aware I have gone and sprung this on you, but I had no idea how to approach this. Calling first didn't seem feasible. Sending a letter would have felt all the more inappropriate. I am afraid meeting face to face straight away was the best option."
Her voice became muffled as a lot of swooshing went on around me, as though I was spinning without moving. I held my head and rubbed at a dull ache at my temples. Isobel stroked my arm and I allowed myself to feel soothed by it as she rambled on about how she'd found it difficult to locate the store. All the while, I kept thinking back to how my parents had died not long after I was born. How I'd spent the next years of my life in foster care or group homes.
When I was old enough to understand, the authorities had nothing to tell me about my parents other than the basics. The next of kin listed had been my mother's half-sister, Lorraine, the woman my parents had left me with and whom I lived with for a short time since she died in a house fire. Other than that, my parent's file report had been minimal as far as my likelihood of having a family was concerned, and I never understood why there was nothing to trace back. It was as if my parents had been some type of fugitives. And now, due to the supposed secrecy, I had missed out on knowing who might have wanted to find me. I had missed out on a love born from blood and bone.
Isobel was oblivious or perhaps pretending not to notice I was on the verge of hysterically screaming in her face. A part of me was relieved. I didn't want her to see the rage that had been anchored to every memory from my childhood, memories filled with cheers and taunts from those who saw me as different. Over those years, I had been afraid to speak and hid a diamond shaped birthmark on my chest that proved I might not be normal. Even the care workers had looked at me like I was a freak.
"Your boss, Jared, informed me you are a Valdez," Isobel said, interrupting those morbid thoughts.
"What else would I be?"
I regretted asking. I was afraid of losing self-control, of becoming a sobbing mess. I'd fought long and hard to be unemotional.
Isobel picked at invisible bits of fluff from her coat. "Well, your father was a Delgado"
still recalling the horrible taunts from my childhood
"Oh, my. You are perspiring, dear." Isobel handed me a handkerchief out of her purse. Her previously flawless forehead wrinkled with concern, the kind that couldn't be faked.
I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent from it: Violets. Just how I imagined my mother to smell: innocent and comforting. It
decreased a wave of nausea and a tightening in my chest; a signal that the one thing I didn't want happening could be about to. I needed to stay conscious.
"Keep going," I said, opening my eyes.
"If you are sure."
"Please," I blurted, certain I could handle what she had to say.
My panic attacks were no longer an issue. I had grown out of them in my early teens. But that day it had felt as though they were returning. I breathed in and out as slowly as I could, waiting for Isobel's face to become less…blurry.
"Your parents must have changed their surname," she said, hesitantly.
I laughed, but it came out too stiff to be convincing.
"They must have been eager to remain untraceable. Drastic measures must have been sought by the time you were born."
She didn't say anything for a moment, just fingered the embroidered flowers on her pale blue handkerchief. "Well your mother had fallen out with her father, and I…" She bit her lip. "I married his step-brother. Your mother could not give her blessing."
I waited for more with baited breath. Another silence hung over us, until I had to insist she explain.
"He was sixty-one and I nineteen at the time of our marriage," she said finally.
I didn't care about their age difference. I was just shocked at how calm I was being about my surname being different from what I'd grown up with. I think I was just relieved to be learning something. Anything. The truth, no matter how unusual and frustrating.
"Love holds no boundaries," Isobel went on, her lips pressing into a thin line. "I have no regrets."
"Please, go on," I urged her. "Tell me more about your search for me."
"What can I say? I did not have a name or a photograph of you. I only had a photograph of your mother that I passed around the state—even those bordering it—hoping somebody would see a resemblance."
"My parents never got in touch at all?" I asked, finding my voice. "What kind of a best friend was my mother?"
Isobel shook her head, her lips down turning. "No, but a friend of the family had claimed they had seen you all together. Your grandfather had quietly looked into it and traced an address here in Utah. Of course, by the time he arrived, he learned your parents had been —" She broke off mid-sentence and gazed at the floor.
"Killed in a car accident," I finished.
I could say it. It had been too long for me to get emotional. Not that I knew them to mourn their deaths.
Isobel nodded. "We assumed you must have died, too." With a deep breath, she pulled out a fresh tissue from her pocket and held it to her nose, stifling a sob.