Authors: C. Elizabeth
His car slowed and stopped a block away from my house. “I don’t like doing this...sneaking, but it will be easier for you if I let you out here. I’ll keep watch until you’re in the house.”
He caressed his finger down my cheek. “Now scoot.” He smiled. There was a longing in his eyes, probably the same as mine.
“Saydi...” Sighing, he hung his head low. “I hate this as much as you do.”
For me, running wasn’t an option. The idea of not seeing him made everything wrong with the world, not to mention how extremely lonely and lost I felt without him escorting me to the door. I kept glancing back to see him smile, then he’d wave the backs of his hands at me to keep me moving.
Nathanael was true to his word. He never called, nor did I see him or his car. He fell off the face of the earth, as well as from my insides—his emotions were gone along with him. Once in a while, he would mind-talk to let me know he was still there, but other than that, nothing.
Regardless of the fact that I moped around all day, my parents took the opportunity to use all my free time to have me work twice as hard on my donums, and only because they believed we would be fighting against Nathanael.
As far as I was concerned, they were being stupid. Not once did they want to hear what I had to say. No matter how loud I said it, they stuck to their guns and even tried to appeal to me, asking why I would want to be with someone who would hurt me. Promptly, I told them he wouldn’t, and they had it all wrong—my pleas continued to fall on deaf ears.
The Tovs were divided. Mora and André insisted Nathanael hadn’t turned, and Mora even quoted how the few decisions she was getting reflected hurt, not revenge. Zack would rebut, saying Nathanael more than likely knew Mora could monitor some of his decisions, and it would be easy to change those for her benefit, masking the truth.
Mora agreed it could be done, but there was no way of Nathanael knowing which decisions she was getting. She also pointed out: Why would he do that if he despised her so? Wouldn’t he simply let her see? Why go through the masking?
Every day was a vicious cycle and they went round and round each time the topic presented itself.
My girls couldn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t let me see Nathanael and were a bit pissed about the whole thing. However, for Todd, it was his chance to be my shadow again, trying to convince me how wonderful he was.
As for Norma, she increasingly looked lonely whenever we saw her. She’d glance our way giving us a smile, and, somehow we didn’t feel complete without her. It took some time to convince Angie and Becky that Norma was still Norma, and if I was willing to forgive her, then they should too.
Eventually they agreed to listen to what she had to say and they forgave her again, though I knew there would always be a bit of mistrust. After all, for a demonic temptation to work, there had to be a hint of a desire.
The Christmas season was coming and that meant Miranda would start stocking the shelves with seasonal product along with the normal stuff and, as it was with every Christmas, she stayed open later. So not only did I have school and training, my Saturdays were working from seven in the morning until well after nine at night.
Then church on Sunday saw my week starting all over again, not to mention the anxiety when I saw Mr. Braxton attend with only two of his sons, all three of whom I avoided.
However, Sunday also brought with it time. After church, I was allowed a couple hours to myself and because Sloppy’s, once again, wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be—the mine was where I preferred to spend those couple hours. It gave me some breathing room to think about the week prior or the week coming, but most of all to play with the Pue so I could feel close to Nathanael.
Instead of calling the Pue to come in fast, I stood on the edge of the ridge and watched as it slinked along the ground weaving around each tree, slithering its way toward me. From the corner of my eye, something moved—the whole mine came into view just as two boulders shot from the depths. They came so fast there was no time to react other than to hit the ground—I dove face first into the snow; the air around me shifted as they whizzed over me.
The sound of wood and stone colliding was abruptly halted when from the basin of the hole a voice echoed, one that had my breath and body turn to stone. “Good for you, Miss Gardiner. Well done,” Mr. Braxton falsely complimented.
Taking a quick breath, I locked everything down again, not moving.
“Come now. We can’t really do anything to you. We’re simply here to see how far you’ve come.”
My inside voice screamed.
Peeking up, the Pue flowed a couple feet away waiting for my command, then my vision tunneled trying to gauge how far away the opening in the fence was and, with the calculation firmly in my mind, I pushed up on my hands, used my legs for leverage and catapulted myself toward it—the wind found my feet taking me to my destination in a split second. My arms were hooked up by unseen hands and my escape disappeared. Instead I was in the air, a scream jolting from my throat, as my body fell down...down. Next thing I knew, my feet were firmly planted on the ground, twenty feet away from Mr. Braxton.
“Saydi, Father just wants to see how far you’ve come over these past weeks,” one of Nathanael’s brothers said.
Every muscle, bone, nerve and body part vibrated—I was certain if Job and Joshua weren’t holding me up, my knees would have given out.
“So, Miss Gardiner, please inform us of what you have learned thus far,” Mr. Braxton requested.
I whispered, “Nothing.” There was no ability on my part to think straight. He had me petrified, knowing who he was and what he could do.
“Well, sons, if Ms. Gardiner isn’t willing to tell us, I guess we will have to force her...”
My eyes grew huge at his revelation and a sob squeaked out of me.
“Step aside, my sons.”
The Pue latched on without my command, but all I could do was cower within myself, waiting for whatever he was going to throw at me.
Mr. Braxton sighed heavily. “Miss Gardiner, this really is no fun at all...defend yourself!”
A little courage crept forward. Everything in my sight became visible and without taking my eyes off Mr. Braxton, I took a deep breath and stood tall, scanning the tip of the ridge for any rocks that might help me if it was required.
He threw his arms forward. A pile of baseball size rocks came from behind him, zooming straight for me. There were so many... My mind screamed.
And I did, falling to the ground.
I could hear some eerie chuckles behind me and a growl from the front. “Miss Gardiner, you are weak! You should have been training your whole life!” Then Mr. Braxton laughed. “We really have nothing to fear, sons. Let us go. It will take a...miracle for Miss Gardiner to be ready.” They all laughed.
Staying down, I prayed he meant what he said about leaving and when they did, I started to cry. Still unable to move, I knew he was right—it was going to take a miracle.
After some time, I was able to find the strength to work my way home and all the way struggled whether or not to tell my parents. My conclusion was yes... It was the wrong conclusion.
Most people know what a demon is like, but pissing off a god, my Dad...who knew? It took all the Tovs to stop him from storming over to the Braxtons’ and start a completely different battle. Mom finally was able to calm him down enough, but not without a lot of soothing and ducking—Dad was in the back yard taking his anger out on the jungle gym.
That whole scenario basically confirmed that Nathanael was to never know about it, unless he specifically asked—there would be no stopping him.
Christmas was three weeks away, and between missing Nathanael horribly, the constant looking over my shoulder for the other Braxtons, training, school, work and homework, the stresses of it all must have been showing because Mom and Dad promised to take me into the City for the weekend for some Christmas shopping. Miranda was even in on it, giving me, as she said, “a well-deserved day off.” It was the first time in what seemed to be one hundred years that I looked forward to something.
We worked our way through downtown Saskatoon. All the street corners had Santas ringing the bells, and the lightposts had a different ornament on each. People trekked through the snow with packages, some singing, some grumbling. It was all very exciting, making me smile inside and out. When I glanced to Mom and Dad, they were holding hands and taking quick smiles at each other. We were just like a normal family, Christmas shopping together, and I was unable to contain myself.
“Yay!” I shrieked, clapping quickly like a two year old. Dad looked at me from the rearview mirror with a smile, and Mom twisted in her seat with an extra-large twinkle in her eyes. She was happy, really happy, which made me think that if anything good came out of the oncoming battle, it was that Mom was happy for a while.
We pulled into a half circle driveway covered by a large canopy. A valet immediately came around and took the keys from Dad, then helped Mom out. I scrambled out all on my own, fascinated by what I was seeing. It was a grand hotel, not just a little shabby thing. Valets rushed to take the cars, bellhops shuffled luggage carts around, and the lobby had one gigantic Christmas tree in the middle and four or five normal sized ones around the perimeter. All were lit with different colors and themes. One had trains, another nutcrackers, and it was so spectacular my mouth wouldn’t close.
The staircase wound up both ways, and people were sitting reading the paper as if being filmed in a movie. We had never been in a place like it.
“Wow!” I breathed, staring up at the lights.
Mom giggled, tugging onto my arm. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“How come, Mom?”
Dad approached, holding out a key card to me. “Nothing is too good for my girls,” he proclaimed, kissing Mom on the cheek. She blushed. No matter how often Dad showed her affection, she blushed. It was so cute.
The bellboy brought up our luggage and dropped mine off. He was really cute as he smiled and bowed. “Miss, thank you.”
“Thank you,” I said a little too exuberantly.
His cheeks flushed just before he closed the door.
My room had its own sitting room with a big screen TV, king-sized bed and a private balcony. The bathroom had a big double Jacuzzi tub, and it felt good to feel happy again, even it was only a shadow of what it was.
A knock echoed at my door. “Saydi,” Dad called through it.
I swung it open, smiling.
He took a step back, grinning. “Well, it’s sure nice to see you smile. Mom and I are going for a drink in the lounge, so if you leave, don’t wander off too far. Stay around the hotel. Maybe you should take a swim in the pool and practice your breathing.”
He gave me a wink and crooked grin.
Lulling back a little and narrowing my eyes, I replied, “Okay.”
“Well, have fun and stay on hotel grounds.”
I looked down the hall. Mom was dressed to kill. She gave me a wave just before Dad took her waist.
“Hey, wait a minute. Since when do you drink?” I called. Too late. The elevator closed.
As I shut my door, the idea of a swim sounded good.
~ * ~
The pool was on the roof and deserted, which suited me just fine. Slipping off my slippers and housecoat, I dove in and did some laps; it was warm and soothing. The thought to play with it crossed my mind, but it quickly sank into the hurt my memory brought me. Instead, I let myself sink to the bottom and sat breathing in and out, in and out, recalling the first time I tried to do it in the tub and how I ended up swallowing a whole lot of water, and almost emptying the tub when I leapt out choking and hacking.
Let’s just say it took a few tries.
It always surprised me how calming it was to sway my arms back and forth, holding myself down, but I couldn’t wave too much or the water would lift. All of a sudden the water above me gushed down with a pressure that made me hunch, then something hit my head, then disappeared. I pushed hard on the bottom and broke through the top, sputtering and rubbing my eyes.
“What...are you...” Coughing “...doing? Don’t you...look!” I was almost choking. No one answered... Only the sound of the water whooshing back and forth could be heard. I opened my eyes to see two green/blue ones staring back.
My heart did a double take, then I squealed, throwing myself at him. “You’re here!”
He chuckled, binding himself against me. “Hi,” he murmured, then kissed me and twirled us around. “How are you?”
I ran my fingers through his wet hair. “Good now. You?”
“Good now.” He clamped down on my mouth again.
When he released me, I asked, “Did you follow us here?”
Chuckling, he pecked my lips. “No, I’ve been here the whole time. It was too hard being at home, not being able to see you.” He touched his finger to my chin. “Come to think of it, why are you here?”
“Mom and Dad brought me for the weekend to do some Christmas shopping. You didn’t know we were coming?”