Authors: Jeanne C. Stein
David’s jaw is tight. His eyes are fixed straight ahead. His shoulders are bunched so tight that I think if I poked him in the arm, they’d shatter.
We’re pulling into the parking lot of an IKEA. David finds a space to park and it’s not until he’s shut off the engine that he says another word. Then he doesn’t turn to look at me, but simply says, “Look, Anna. We’re never going to agree about this. But you know me. I won’t break Tracey’s heart. She has nothing to worry about. You have nothing to worry about. Can we just let it go at that?”
Then he opens the door to the Hummer and jumps to the ground.
T’S NOT UNTIL WE’VE WOUND OUR WAY THROUGH
A maze of living room, dining room, office and kitchen furniture to arrive at the “kids stuff” that David again acknowledges my presence. He’s standing in front of a bed shaped like a race car.
“I would have killed for a bed like this when I was a kid.” He’s running a hand over the frame. “It’s not too big for John-John, is it?”
His voice has lost the anger and bitterness of our conversation in the parking lot. I jump at the chance to smooth things over. “I think it’s perfect! And John-John makes Lego cars all the time.”
David has moved from the bed to an area with rugs and toys. He points to a rug laid out like a racetrack. “Get this, too, and those wooden cars. And that lamp and desk.”
He’s picking out things faster than I can write the item numbers on an order sheet. IKEA is a big warehouse with the displays in one area and the pickup in another. I start to laugh. “Hold on there, cowboy. I can’t keep up.”
But David has already moved onto sheets and towels and shower curtains. “That bedroom has its own bathroom, doesn’t it?” he asks. When I nod, he starts loading our shopping cart with sheets and towels and a brightly color-splashed shower curtain.
In less than an hour, we have everything. I’ve never seen David move so fast. I follow along, caught in the undertow of his enthusiasm. It’s a side of David new to me. A side I would not have expected.
When we’ve had everything loaded into the back of the Hummer, and are on our way to my place, I risk igniting the firestorm again.
“What do you and Gloria talk about?” I ask softly.
I wait, shoulders bunched, for the explosion. Instead, David says, “Mostly how her career’s going. Where she’s going on location next. Who she’s dating . . .”
Sounds like Gloria. There’s Gloria and then there’s the world. “Does she ever ask about what
“Of course she does,” he replies with more than a hint of impatience. “Why do you always assume the worst about her?”
I grunt. Let me count the ways. But instead, I say, “I worry about you where Gloria is concerned. She seems to have some mystical hold on you I’ve never been able to figure out.”
He glances sideways at me. “You mean besides the fact that she’s beautiful, famous, rich, an international star and sex with her was—”
“Okay,” I interrupt. “TMI.” At least he didn’t say sex with her
. I regroup. “Which brings me back to the question I asked you before. Where does all this leave Tracey?”
He raises his shoulders in a half shrug. “I told you. I won’t hurt Tracey. Gloria is fantasy. Tracey is real. Someone I can rely on to be honest. Someone I can count on.”
I shake my head. Does he even know how demeaning that sounds? “Do you think you’re being fair to Tracey?”
His jaw sets. “I’ve always been honest with Tracey. I’ve never promised her more than I can deliver.”
“Maybe not in words, but I see the way she looks at you.”
He shrugs again. But we’re pulling into the back of the cottage and I have to jump out to open the gate before he can answer. Then we’re busy with boxes and packages and I get caught up in the excitement of tackling John-John’s room.
David is unloading one of the cartons containing the bed from the Hummer when he asks, “Want some help putting this stuff together?”
His tone is full of eager anticipation. He sounds as enthusiastic as I feel. Who am I to deny him such pleasure? Besides, I looked at one of the instruction sheets. It’s written in three dozen languages not one of which was fumble-fingered female. “I’d love it!”
It takes us twenty minutes to unload everything and haul it up the stairs to the second story. I dump the white goods on my bedroom floor and David and I tear yards of bubble wrap and cardboard from the furniture pieces. Then we hunker down and piece the bed together. I read (or interpret) the instructions. Most are stick-figure drawings with one or two words to clarify what you’re looking at. Not that David needs much direction. He’s got that bed put together and we’re standing back admiring it in less time than it took us to buy it.
“How about a beer?” I ask.
“Sounds good.” David has wandered over to the open closet. Inside, I’d stashed the cans of paint bought to transform the stuffy adult room to something more to a kid’s liking. He’s looking at the color swatches. “This is great. Why don’t we get started?”
“What? You want to help me paint?”
“Right after that beer.”
* * *
I REALIZE, STANDING SIDE BY SIDE WITH DAVID, SWIPING
paint rollers of pale yellow over the walls of what’s to become John-John’s bedroom, how much I’ve missed doing simple, human things with him. How much I’ve missed our friendship.
I actually have to swallow down a lump in my throat before I can say, “You know what this reminds me of?”
“Painting our office two years ago,” he replies without missing a beat.
I hear the smile in his voice. “You spilled a whole pan full of paint,” I say.
“Because you bumped the ladder,” he says.
“I did not. You saw a spider in the corner and jumped off the ladder so fast, everything went flying.”
A chuckle. “Well, it was a big spider.”
I snicker. “We’ve had some good times.”
He’s quiet. When I glance over, his shoulders are slumped, that little muscle at the corner of his jaw is jumping.
“What’s wrong, David?”
He continues to paint, eyes tracing the swaths of color onto the wall as they appear from the end of his roller.
“If something’s wrong, I wish you’d tell me.”
His hand pauses in mid-stroke. “Nothing’s wrong.”
David keeps painting, pushing the roller back and forth. I’ve stopped painting now and turn to face him. “That’s bullshit, David. What is it?”
The silence stretches on. I don’t take my eyes off him, fixing him with what I hope is a laser stare until finally he gives in with a growl.
“You’ve never forgiven me.”
My stomach does a small roll. I know exactly where this is coming from. What I did this morning, going after that skip alone, has awakened the dragon. Angry at myself, I blurt, “That’s because there’s nothing to forgive.”
He lays the paint roller down in the pan and wipes his hands slowly and deliberately with a rag. “You know that’s not true. Because of me, you were raped and beaten and left to die.”
His words are sharp, enunciated carefully with bitter recrimination as he continues.
“Because of me, your life changed. You’ve had one boyfriend after another. Your family lives halfway around the world. I don’t ever see you with friends. I don’t ever see you out of the office. You’re not the same. And it’s because of me.”
I can’t look at him. My heart aches and my mind is full of things I
to say. Things I should say.
Things I can’t say.
I release a long breath, put my paintbrush down alongside his. My hands are trembling when I turn to face him.
“You’re right. My life changed that night. But not because of anything you did.”
“Because I did nothing,” he retorts bitterly. “I was knocked out. Like a fucking amateur. And Donaldson beat you and raped you and would have killed you if someone from that bar hadn’t come out to stop him. I don’t know how you can stand to look at me. I walk into the office every morning expecting to find your letter of resignation. You should hate me, Anna. It’s what I deserve.”
He’s still looking down at his hands, rubbing them with that rag as if they were the last year and a half and if he scrubbed hard enough, he could wipe them out of existence.
I put my hands over his to stop it. “David.” He won’t look at me. I take his chin in my hand and lift his face. “None of what happened with Donaldson was your fault. He was on PCP, remember? He surprised both of us. I got over it. I wish you would. It almost sounds as if it would be better for you if I left. Is that really what this is about? You have Tracey now. She’s a good partner. Do you want me to go?”
He closes his eyes. “God, no, Anna. The business wouldn’t be the same without you. It’s just—”
“Then stop. If you want me to say the words, I will. I forgive you. I fucking forgive you. But you know I don’t mean it because in my heart, there’s nothing to forgive.”
That gets a tiny smile from David. The tension breaks. “You make me feel so much better.”
I grin, so relieved my knees feel shaky. “It’s what I live for. Listen, I know we don’t do all the things we used to. It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because we lead complicated lives. You know all that’s happened. First there was Trish and her bitch mother. Then there was all the drama with Gloria. My folks inheriting a winery. You getting kidnapped. I admit my love life hasn’t been the most stable. But neither has yours. I think we both have a real chance now at getting it right with Tracey and Frey. Let’s put the past away once and for all.” I reach up and tweak his cheek. “Think we can do that, big boy?”
That actually elicits a laugh. “God. Now you sound like Tracey.”
“Better get used to it.”
David sighs and picks up his brush. “Let’s get this done. I’m ready for another beer.”
“You’ve got it. And David?”
He looks over, eyebrows quirked.
“You’re going to make a great dad.”
He grins. “And you’re going to make a great stepmom.”
We finish in companionable silence. I don’t know what David is thinking, but I’m thinking, I should be a novelist. The story I just spun is worthy of a Pulitzer. But David deserves to have that burden of guilt lifted over what happened to me. Only I can ever be aware of the irony. An attack by a “skip” who left me for dead turned out instead to be an attack by a vampire that made me immortal.
CAN BARELY SIT STILL.
I’m in front of the first terminal at San Diego International Airport, one eye on the cop coming up five or six cars behind me, one eye on the doors. If Frey and John-John aren’t out in the next thirty seconds, that cop will wave me on and I’ll have to make another lap around the parking lot.
Down to ten . . . the cop is eyeing me.
The voice of an angel. I’m out of the car in time to see the cop turn on his heel and start back down the row. In another nanosecond, I’ve scooped John-John up and we’re spinning around the sidewalk. Over the top of his head, I see Frey approach, pulling a roller, a car seat balanced on top, and clutching a couple of duffels.
“A little help here?” he says. But he’s smiling.
I set John-John on the sidewalk and pop the remote to the trunk. Frey settles the bags inside. Then we’re face-to-face.
He touches my cheek. It’s not enough. I put my arms around him and squeeze. John-John hides his eyes behind his hands.
Frey leans his lips close to my ear. “Later.”
The one word is breathed with so much promise, my heart starts to race.
Frey steps around and hefts John-John’s car seat into the back. I’ve put the top down on the Jag so it takes only a few moments to secure it and get John-John settled in.
Frey takes his place beside me in the front. “Your place or mine?” he asks.
I glance back at John-John. “Mine. I have a surprise.”
“What is it?”
I put the car in gear and pull out. “If I told you, what would be the fun in that?”
“Then go fast, Anna.”
And we do.
* * *
I’M NOT SURE WHO IS MORE EXCITED BY THE TIME WE
get to the cottage.
“Leave the bags,” I tell Frey, grabbing John-John’s hand. “We’ll get them later.”
And then the three of us are through the back gate, across the yard, I’ve fumbled the lock open and John-John and I are racing up the stairs.
I throw open the bedroom door. “Ta-da!”
At first I get the sinking feeling John-John doesn’t like his room. He’s stopped at the doorway. In profile, I can see only one wide eye and an open mouth. Frey has come up behind us. His hands rest on my shoulder. I hear his breath catch.
Then John-John whoops and runs to the bed. “Is all this for me?”
And he’s everywhere at once, touching the cars and the Legos and books and climbing up on the race-car bed and down again to examine the rug.
“Do you like your new room?” I ask with a hopeful tone.
John-John whirls to look at me. “I love it. You got everything right.”
Then it’s Frey who pulls me around. His eyes are shining and I’ve never seen such warmth in a smile.
“You did,” he says. “You got everything right.”
* * *
JOHN-JOHN IS ASLEEP. FREY AND I ARE UPSTAIRS ON
THE deck outside my bedroom, watching a full moon rise over the ocean. There’s a circle of light around the moon, a golden nimbus reflected in the still water offshore. The only sounds we hear are the waves gently breaking off the seawall. Even the air is still, heavy with the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine.
Frey and I are seated in deck chairs, glasses of wine sitting untouched on a small table beside us. I feel the heat from his body, hear his soft breathing. His presence is a balm to my soul. This afternoon with John-John was all I’d hoped it would be. It felt like a beginning and an ending. The beginning of our becoming a family and the end of my being alone.
Frey’s fingers brush mine.
“The room is wonderful. I can’t thank you enough.”
“I didn’t overdo it? I wanted everything to be perfect for him. I love John-John. I’m so happy he likes me.”
Frey pushes himself off his chair and perches on the end of mine. “He more than
you. Do you know he talks about you all the time when we’re in Monument Valley? He sees you the way I do, Anna. He wants you to be a permanent part of our life.”
Frey reaches into the pocket of his shirt and pulls out a small box.
“Another gift from Sani?” I ask, holding up my left hand where the moonlight reflects off the silver band of turquoise the Navajo shaman made for me.
Frey doesn’t answer with words. He takes my hand, slips the silver ring from my finger and replaces it with another.
A white-gold band with a single, sparkling stone big as the tip of my little finger.
For the first time in my life, I’m speechless.
As if from far away, I hear Frey laughing. “You should see the look on your face. I hope what I’m seeing is ‘oh my god yes’ and not ‘no are you out of your mind’?”
I can’t seem to form words. My throat is suddenly too dry, my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. My heart hammers against my ribs until I think it will burst.
Frey pulls me to my feet. “Talk to me, Anna,” he says. “I’ve never heard of a vampire having a heart attack, but you look as if you’re about to have one.”
I rest my head against his chest. Where do I start? My thoughts and feelings are churning like a maelstrom, my mouth still so dry, I don’t think I can speak.
“Anna?” Frey tilts my chin up, his eyes clouded with worry. “Did I overstep? Did I misinterpret your feelings?”
Come on, Anna. Get it together. I swallow hard and reach up to touch his cheek. “You hear about girls who have fantasies about how this moment will be. When the man they love proposes.”
Frey strokes my hair. “Was I not romantic enough?”
I look into his face. “I never had a fantasy like that. Ever. I always thought I’d be alone. Even during the love affairs I’ve had, I knew deep down I wasn’t destined for a happily ever after.
“Then I became vampire and the idea that I might someday marry, have a family, seemed even more unattainable.”
“And now?” Frey’s tone is still unsure, hesitant.
“Now, I’m not so sure.”
Frey’s arms tighten around me. “That’s the nicest declaration of love I’ve ever heard,” he says. Then we’re kissing and I’m so happy, my heart soars.
* * *
IT’S MORNING AND ALTHOUGH FREY AND I INTENDED
that we’d get up before John-John and make ourselves presentable, a timid knock on the door brings us both straight up in bed.
“Does John-John know that you were going to propose last night?” I whisper, frantically scrambling to throw on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt.
Frey is doing some scrambling of his own. His suitcase is still downstairs so he has no choice but to slip back into the same clothes he arrived in. “Yes. I thought we’d wait a little while, though, to let him see us—” He gestures at the rumpled bed. “Together in bed. I don’t know if he knew of the affair between his mother and Kayani.”
But Frey forgot the powerful abilities of his shape-shifter son. A small matter-of-fact voice sounds in our heads.
Mother explained that two people who love each other often sleep in the same bed.
I throw open the door and scoop him into a hug. “Your mother was right. Your father and I love each other. Very much. And I love you, too, and I hope you’ll let me become a real part of your family.”
John-John throws his head back and holds out his arms to his father so that in the next instant we’re tangled in each other’s arms.
I can’t remember ever being so happy.
* * *
IT TAKES HARRIS TO BRING US BACK TO EARTH.
After breakfast the three of us trek to the office so I can officially introduce Frey and John-John to David and Tracey. A fishing boat is coming back to port and we’re all on the deck, watching seagulls dip and swoop for chum, when the front door to the office opens.
David glances in, then gives a low groan. “Shit. It’s Harris again. Remember what I said, Anna, tell him you’re about ready to sue for harassment.”
I leave everyone on the deck and go inside. “What is it now?” I ask.
He’s looking through the slider to the group outside. “Good. I see Daniel Frey is here. I have some questions for him.”
“How did you know he’d be here?”
But even as I ask the question, I can guess the answer and the idea of a harassment suit becomes more appealing.
“You’re having me watched?”
He holds up his hands. “All legal and aboveboard. After all, we’re investigating two open cases and you admit you and Frey were around for both.”
John-John bounds in and runs up to me. “Anna, Anna—come back out, the birds are catching fish right out of the air.”
Harris bends down. “And who is this?”
I have to fight the impulse to physically place my body between Harris and John-John. Instead, I do the next best thing. I pick him up. “John-John, this is Lieutenant Harris. He’s a policeman. Lieutenant Harris, this is Daniel Frey’s son.”
Harris looks surprised. I guess the fact that Frey has a son slipped his mind. I set John-John down and turn him back toward the deck. “Go get your daddy, will you, John-John, and ask David to come here a minute?”
When he’s scampered off, I direct my fury to Harris. “I’m going to ask David and Tracey to take John-John for ice cream. Don’t you ask a single question until they’re gone, do you understand?”
Harris returns my glare but does as I ask. I tell David what’s going on and he and Tracey leave to take a giggling John-John to the ice cream shop at Seaport Village. Then Frey and I face Harris.
“Does he know why I’m here?” Harris asks, jerking a thumb at Frey.
“He does,” Frey answers, and I’m suddenly glad I took the time last night to fill him in. “So if you have questions for me, ask them.”
Harris plops himself down on David’s desk chair. I take my own. Frey pulls the visitor’s chair to my side of the desk.
“Judith Williams,” Harris begins. “What do you know about her?”
“Nothing.” Frey leans back in his chair. “Anna and I ran into her in Monument Valley. Anna introduced us. It was the first time I’d ever seen her.”
“So you didn’t know her personally?”
“No. Should I have?”
“What were you doing in Monument Valley?”
I wonder how Frey will answer but he doesn’t even hesitate before telling his story. “Anna and I went to visit my son. He lived on the Navajo reservation with his mother. While we were there, John-John’s mother was killed in an accident. I stayed on to care for him. Anna came home.”
Harris’ eyebrows jump. “Another accident?” He makes a show of taking a notebook from his pocket and scribbling a few words.
I shake my head. Our friend, Kayani, will be getting another call, I’m sure. Harris’ next words confirm my suspicions.
“While you were both there something else happened, too. Judith Williams went missing. I understand you were questioned about her disappearance by an Officer Kayani of the Navajo police.”
Frey nods. “I was. Briefly. But since I couldn’t help with the investigation, Officer Kayani didn’t question me again.”
Harris shifts in his chair. “What about Warren Williams?”
“What about him?”
“You knew him.”
“Not well. Met him once or twice through Anna.”
“His body was found outside of Palm Springs. You and Anna had been at the Palm Springs home of Anna’s boyfriend, Lance Turner, at the very same time. In fact, according to our reports, Williams was killed coming back to San Diego just hours after you two left to come home.”
Frey’s expression remains neutral, betraying neither interest nor surprise at the revelation.
His detachment seems to trip Harris’ temper. “So you and Anna are in the vicinity of two murders at two different locations and times, know the victims and are alibi witnesses for each other. Is that about it?”
At that, Frey registers shock. “Do we need alibis, Detective?” he asks.
Harris lumbers to his feet. “You two have it all figured out, don’t you?” He shakes his head at us, then his eyes widen as they settle on the diamond ring on my left hand. He looks from the ring to Frey and shakes his head again.
“Better be careful with this one,” he says. “Her track record with men is lousy.”