Authors: M.R. Forbes
Also By M.R. Forbes:
Tears of Blood
His Cure For Magic (coming soon!)
It started in a way I could never have expected it to. It started with, of all things, an alarm clock.
To be more specific, it was a clock radio; one of those kinds with the big blue LEDs that plugged into the wall. What year was this anyway? The song was 'Man in the Box' by Alice in Chains. I felt like that should have meant something to me, but it didn't.
I kept my eyes closed. Something told me I shouldn't open them. Something in me made me afraid. Of what? The truth? That couldn't be right. It fled as soon as I heard the soft groan of contentment on my left.
"Landon, are you going to shut that thing up?"
I twisted my head in the direction of the voice and willed my eyelids to lift. I was greeted with a vision of beauty; long, silken black hair framing a heart-shaped face. Violet eyes still half-closed, looking at me, filled with a gentle mirth. A perfect, white smile behind soft, full lips.
"Yeah," I said, returning her smile. I bent back the other way and hunted for the snooze button with my hand, smacking it down at random in the general vicinity of the sound. It took me a few tries, but I turned it off.
I blinked a few times, and tried to remember whatever it was that I had been feeling only a few moments before. It was like that was real and this was the dream, but I knew that couldn't be true.
"Are you okay?" she asked me. She sat up, holding the sheets to her chest more out of habit than modesty, and ran her fingers through my hair.
"You don't feel... I don't know... strange?" I asked her. "Like you're dreaming?"
"I always feel like I'm dreaming lately." She leaned over and kissed my cheek. "Snap out of it, love. We have a plane to catch."
She threw the covers off of her and onto me, hiding my view of her perfection beneath the down. Normally, I would have rushed to get the blankets off so I could catch one last glimpse before she vanished into the bathroom. Today, I hesitated. Why did everything feel so wrong?
I heard the usual morning sounds; using the bathroom, brushing the teeth. Then the tinkle of the shower. It was the sound of the falling water that broke me from the trance. I threw the covers aside and slipped out of bed, taking only a few seconds to stare out the window at the crystal blue ocean outside. A white sand beach preceded it, empty but for a few gulls standing lookout.
Tahiti, I remembered. We were in Tahiti. We had come for vacation, two weeks of bliss away from the day-to-day. Some time to be alone, to reconnect and recharge. Time for just the two of us.
"Landon, are you coming?" she asked.
I stopped looking at the beach and at the blue ocean beyond. As I turned to head towards the bathroom, I could swear one of the gulls was looking at me.
It was a stupid thought. I laughed at myself and entered the bathroom, emptying my bladder before joining my wife in the double-stalled shower. Not that we used half of it anyway, but it had come with the hut. As usual, I caught my breath on the sight of her.
"Anxious to go home?" she asked, leaning in and kissing me. "Good morning."
I didn't know. For an instant, I forgot where home was and that there was anything waiting for me there that would have made it worth going back to. My hesitation drew attention.
"You aren't okay, are you? What's up?"
I tried to sputter out something, anything. I shook my head and shrugged. "Just a dream," I said. "The strangest dream. I guess I'm not awake yet."
She took my shower puff, squeezed some soap out onto it, lathered it up, and threw a perfect beanball. It made a solid squishing noise when it smacked into my forehead. Eyes closed in defense, I caught the puff on the way down.
"Wake up," she said, laughing.
I laughed with her and tried to get myself together.
Excited. I should be excited. We'd spent the last two weeks alone, which meant two weeks without Clara. She could be a handful sometimes, but what would anyone expect from a six year-old? She was also a ball of loving energy, and the second most important woman in my life. Two weeks without her had been relaxing, but Charis was right. I was anxious to go home.
"Yeah," I said. "Not as anxious as you are, I bet."
"You know I love you, but part of me has missed her since we got here."
I couldn't, and didn't blame her. "It's been a lot of fun though," I said.
She looked me in the eyes, a sly smile on her face. "It's been ten years since our honeymoon. I think we earned it. Now hurry up."
Ten years, and yet she didn't look a day older to me. We finished the shower and I stepped out onto the marble floor and caught a peep of myself in the mirror. I looked pretty good, too.
"What time is the flight?" I asked, heading into the bedroom to grab my clothes.
"Twelve-thirty. We have half an hour to get dressed and check out. The cab should be on its way."
I nodded even though she couldn't see it, and pulled open the top drawer to the dresser. One outfit for each of us rested there. A pair of underwear, socks, designer jeans and a dark blue polo shirt for me. A white sun-dress for her.
"You're going to freeze when we get back to New York," I said. I had already questioned her choice of return dress a few times, so I was sure I was going to hear it.
"Shut up," she replied. "I'm a big girl. Between the airport, the car, and the apartment, we're only going to be outside for a few minutes anyway. Besides, it isn't that cold in October."
I smiled and slipped on my clothes, and then went back to the window to get one more good look at the ocean before Charis finished drying her hair and dressing. The gulls were still standing along the sand, though a pair had found something to fight over. They squawked and chased one another, leaving an empty gap for a third bird to swoop in and steal the prize. I couldn't see what it was, but did it matter anyway?
"Do you think Clara had fun with your mom?" Charis asked, stepping up behind and wrapping her arms around me. I took them from the front and held them to my chest.
"I'm sure she's had loads of fun," I replied. My mother had been difficult for me to deal with as a son. She was a doting grandparent.
She pulled her arms away and went over to the dresser to grab her clothes. I didn't take my eyes off the beach. There was something about the waves that was hypnotizing. The way they lapped in at the shore, the last remnants running up the sand and forcing some of the gulls to either get their feet wet or step out of the way. Peering further out, the water looked strange - as if it were moving backwards. I blinked a few times and was going to point it out to Charis when a gull swooped down and landed on the sill right in front of me, squawking loudly and looking up with red eyes.
"What the..." I stumbled backwards, and the bird made a noise, almost like laughter, and took off again, vanishing into the sky.
"It's just a bird," Charis said, laughing. "You've never been afraid of birds before."
"Did you see its eyes?" I asked.
There was something about those eyes. Bird eyes were black, not red. Part of me knew there was a reason for it, but it was an idea I couldn't catch onto.
She finished dressing and we grabbed our bags and headed out of the hut, along a paved walkway to the hotel. It was all open-air, with a simple thatch roof to keep the rain off and plenty of ceiling fans to cool the visitors. An attendant greeted us there. He took our bags and brought them around front where the taxi would pick us up while we checked out at the front desk.
By the time we were done paying the cab had arrived and the attendant had loaded our two suitcases into the trunk. We didn't say much, and he didn't say much, because the language barrier was too thick. He smiled and bobbed his head when I handed him some cash. That was a universal language.
A forty minute drive to the small airport, another two hours to sit together while we waited for our flight - a sixteen hour red-eye that would see Clara in our arms sometime tomorrow afternoon. We passed the time playing games on our tablet and looking at the photos we had taken. We would both have fun telling Clara all about our adventures.
The plane ride was uneventful. We flew through a couple of heavy thunderstorms that bounced us around a bit, but I had zero fear of flying and the turbulence was more like an amusement park ride. Charis got a little nauseous, but she held it together pretty well, even finding a few hours of sleep between the chaos and the calm. Still, when we finally touched down in JFK, she was ready to kiss the dirt.
I called my mother the moment the pilot said it was safe to do so. Clara picked up.
"Hello," she said, in her little chipmunk voice.
"Hello," I said, making my voice deeper and more raspy.
She laughed, not falling for it. "Daddy!" the shout hurt my ear, in the best way possible. "Are you coming to Nana's?"
"Of course, sweetie. We're at the airport. We'll be there before you can blink."
"I blinked," she said. "You're not here."
I chuckled and gave Charis the phone. There had been no service on the resort in Tahiti, so she hadn't heard Clara's voice since we'd taken off in the opposite direction. She had tears in her eyes while she talked to her.
They let us off and we were surprised to find a limo waiting to pick us up, courtesy of Nana. I expected her to dote on Clara. Treating us to something was a surprise.
My mother lived in Harlem, in a fairly decent mid-rise where crime was lower than average, and the schools were pretty good. We'd moved there right before puberty, and it was there that I had started the life of electronic crime that had brought Charis and I together, an act of carelessness that I still considered the best mistake I had ever made. I took her hand and squeezed it, thinking about the day we had met at the Museum of Natural History, when she had come to lay eyes on the chalices I had been assigned to watch over. She had been amazing then, and she was amazing now.
"I know what you're thinking," she said. The inside of the car was nearly silent, outside of the messages pouring through the radio to the driver up front.
I smiled and looked at her. "You do?"
"You always get all sappy when we visit your mom. I've never seen anyone else so happy to have been incarcerated."
Of course, it hadn't made things easy for us. I couldn't get a job in anything that remotely touched computers, which had left my greatest asset wallowing. Instead, we survived on the salary of a Senior Security Officer for Macy's. The pay wasn't that bad, but we liked living in the hustle and bustle of the city.
"I wouldn't have met you otherwise," I replied.
She laughed. "Yup. Sappy."
The car glided to a stop outside of the apartment and we exited while the kids outside stared at us, mouths hanging open. They hadn't seen too many limos in their neighborhood and the fact that it didn't drop us off and leave made it an even bigger spectacle.
We took the stairs up to the sixth floor. My mom lived in apartment sixty-six. 'Route Sixty-six' she always called it. She'd gone as far as to decorate with lots of relevant Americana - road signs, license plates, photos of the Grand Canyon, that kind of stuff. My mom was a little wacky.
"Anybody home," I called out, raising my voice a few octaves. I rapped on the door and we waited, expecting to hear the pounding of small footsteps racing to greet us.