Read Strength Online

Authors: Angela B. Macala-Guajardo

Strength (9 page)

BOOK: Strength
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Chapter 9

 

 

 

“By the way, the name is Luis, and my wife and son will be catching up with us any second. Who are you?”

“My name’s Aerigo and hers is Rox.”

“Alrighty,” Luis puffed cheerfully, “just a few more steps and then we can get everything organized.” Luis led the way, to the nearest door at the top of the stairs and carelessly dropped all his bags, causing the ground to vibrate even under Aerigo’s feet. He fished out his keycard to his cabin. “Jesus! I need to weach my wife—weach? That’s not even a word,” he said with a laugh. “I meant ‘teach.’” He found the key and swiped it. “Gotta teach her to pack lighter.” Luis opened the door to reveal a large suite. It was like a miniature home without the extra walls. The first thing Aerigo noticed as they entered were the glass doors to a balcony about half the width of the suite itself. The balcony was laden with a table, chairs, and lounge chairs. In the cabin, two queen-size beds covered in identical flowery spreads, with a nightstand on each side. There was a modest kitchen with a mini-fridge, microwave and toaster oven, wooden cupboards, a sink and coffee maker. Beyond the kitchen sat a plush love seat almost as large as a couch, with a coffee table in front of it, and a plasma TV hanging on the wall.

Luis dragged all his bags inside and started unpacking as Aerigo laid Rox on a bed. “Just relax for now. We’ll worry about your own suite later.”

Luis’s behavior puzzled Aerigo. Was it normal for people from Earth to share living spaces so casually? Luis didn’t feel like any of Nexus’s minions in disguise though. Not wanting to draw extra attention to himself, Aerigo set this puzzle aside, sat on the empty bed and watched Rox for signs of wakefulness. Minutes later, Luis’ family arrived.

“Luis!” his wife said testily from the doorway. “Who are
these
people?”

Luis dropped a box of crackers and faced his wife. “Anna,” he said in a pained voice, “they were in need of help. You know how I am when it comes to people in need. Besides, they won’t be staying too long.”

“Who’s that?” the little boy said. He clutched his mother’s hand and pointed to the sleeping woman on the bed.

“That girl is named Rox, and she’s very tired right now, Jake, so don’t make too much noise. We don’t want to wake her, okay?”

“Okay,” Jake said with a smile. He shared his mother’s eyes and his father’s charming smile.

“And this nice, tall man here is Aerigo, little buddy,” Luis said. “He’s been helping me unpack our kitchen stuff.”

“That’s enough, Luis,” Anna said tartly. “You and I need to talk right now. Jake,” she said without looking away from Luis, “you go watch TV or something while your father and I have a word.”

Jake marched to the love seat and pulled out his Nintendo DS.

Aerigo wordlessly headed onto the balcony. As soon as the door shut behind him, he could no longer hear Anna’s peevish interrogation. Instead he heard the wind, voices, and the drone of distant planes as the ship putted down the middle of the river. He sat in one of the lounge chairs and shifted his worries to Rox.

Five minutes later, the balcony door slid open. Aerigo’s new acquaintance stood with his wife behind him, her arms wrapped around his waist. They were both smiling.

“It’s safe to come in, Aerigo,” Luis said. “You can help us finish unpacking if you wish, or grab some food or do nothing at all. Whatever suits you, my friend, go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” Aerigo said. He stood and followed the couple into the suite.

Jake was still staring intently at his Nintendo DS as the three filed in. Rox yawned. The couple stared at her, but Aerigo ran towards her, vaulting himself lightly over one bed and landing in the space between them. He bent over and put one hand on Roxie’s shoulder, calling her name in a whisper.

***

Roxie lazily opened her eyes, stretched, and looked around the room. When she noticed a pair of strangers and what must’ve been their son, she bolted upright, wide-awake, narrowly missing Aerigo’s forehead as he dodged out of her way. “Where are we?” she asked Aerigo while staring at the strangers.

“On a ship. Do you feel better now?”

“Is this a cruise ship?” She swung her legs over the side and sat up straighter.

“I guess that’s a ‘yes,’” Aerigo said.

“Hi, I’m—” She looked at Aerigo. “When did we leave the hotel?”

He sat opposite her, the plush mattress making him bounce a little. “You don’t remember passing out on the bed?”

She searched her memory and shook her head.

“Are you sure you’re feeling better?”

“Yeah, and hungry.”

The man whom Roxie assumed was the father said, “I’ll lead you to one of the food courts and we can all straighten some things out while we’re there.” He beckoned to his son and held out a hand. The boy slid off the love seat and hurried over.

Figuring the father was only referring to the strange rooming situation, Roxie eagerly followed, but had to double back and grab Aerigo by the wrist to get him moving. The father led the way to the food court section of the ship and they all agreed on the ‘Around the World’ buffet, which had everything from burgers, pasta, Chinese food and odd delicacies, to pizza, Mexican, and sandwiches galore.

While they all ate and drank at a round table Luis, the father, explained that his family went on this cruise ship every year to celebrate his and Anna’s anniversary. “It brings back memories of the first time we met,” Luis reminisced in a dreamy tone. “Anna was on vacation with a group of friends from work, and I happened to be jogging around the track when I saw her lying on a beach chair. They were all wearing such nice bikinis that I had to stop to say hello, but my attention quickly focused on Anna.” Luis paused to admire his wife. “It felt like I’d been hit by a twenty-foot wave when she smiled at me.” The two smiled, their noses within inches of each other. “I’d never believed in love at first sight until I saw Anna. By the end of the cruise we were great friends. Two years later, we were married on this very ship.”

“Wow, that’s so romantic,” Roxie said in a dreamy voice, daydreaming of something like that happening to her one year. “You have a very nice husband, Anna. Don’t lose him!”

“Don’t worry,” Anna said slyly, looking at Roxie out of the corner of her eyes. “He won’t be getting away from me any time soon.” She kissed her husband and they all laughed—except for Jake and Aerigo.

“Yuck! You kissed!” Jake made a grossed-out face.

Aerigo stared at the table as if he hadn’t been listening. Roxie noticed but didn’t feel concerned. That’s just how he was: serious.

“How can you go on a cruise every year?” Roxie asked. “They’re a lot of money.”

“Yes,” Luis said lightly, “but I’m the owner of this cruise line. My name is Luis Herschel, son of William Herschel, and you are aboard the Herschel Lines.”

Oh, my god. Rich people
!
“Shouldn’t you be getting all kinds of special treatment?”

He shook his head. “I don’t like getting special attention, but I had to reveal my identity to get you two on board without any fuss.”

“I’m sorry,” Roxie said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a dismissive wave. “My cover never lasts for more than a couple days anyway.”

“Well, it’s an honor to meet you and your family,” Roxie said.

“Thank you, Roxie,” Luis said, putting both forearms on the table and looking pointedly at Aerigo, “Now, I know you two don’t have your own cabin.”

Roxie froze. By some miracle she avoided having her eyes glow. She turned to Aerigo, who was staring at Luis. “I know Grandma said to not go crazy with her credit card, but
stowaways
?”

“I don’t why my intuitiveness let me in on that secret,” Luis said, “but I knew I needed to help you two. I knew Roxie was more than overtired. You see: I get these urges to help others sometimes.”

Aerigo bowed his head and steepled his hands. “Keep following your intuition.”

Luis laughed. “I will, so long as it doesn’t drive my wife nuts.”

“I’m getting used to it, love,” Anna said.

“My daddy’s psychic,” Jake said.

“He’s a half-seer,” Aerigo said, then clamped his mouth shut.

“A what?” the adults asked in unison.

“I think it’s time for us to find our own suite,” Aerigo said, standing up.

“Wait a second,” Luis said, looking around to make sure no one was eavesdropping. “What did you call me? I want to know.”

Aerigo glanced at each of them solemnly before answering. “A half-seer,” he said in a low voice.

While Luis handled Aerigo’s slip rather well, Roxie noted that his wife was a little confused. Their son was lapping it up. He’d forgotten his DS. Its dungeon music blared away in the sudden silence.

Half-seer? So she wasn’t the only person on the planet with magical powers? The revelation was comforting, yet it created more questions.

Aerigo said, “You know when to reach out to strangers is because you’re a half-seer. You’re not a full seer for reasons that are difficult to explain.”

“I understand,” Luis said, sounding satisfied with that answer. “Let’s head to back the cabin, now. Your own cabin can wait until tomorrow.”

When they got back to the room, Aerigo pulled Roxie aside. “Come with me a second.” He led her onto the balcony and sat down. “It’s time I explained some things to you, Rox.”

She leaned against the railing.

“We’re headed to a world called Phaedra. It’s older than this world and very beautiful. I think you’ll like it. There are some things you need before I can start teaching you how to use—”

“Is that really the best you can do, Aerigo?” a man said in a pained tone. “
Honestly
, do I have to do everything? Now shut your eyes and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Not sure whether the voice was coming from inside her head or not, Roxie clenched the rail. Through the sliding doors Luis was unpacking with his wife. That voice wasn’t his. It wasn’t Aerigo’s either. “Who-wazzat?” Telepathy was just a rumor on her world. But so many strange things had happened lately that she was starting to feel numb.

“A friend of ours,” Aerigo said dryly. “Just close your eyes.” He did just that.

Seeing no harm, she followed his example and her vision was filled with a starry night sky above and below them. Roxie started flailing, hoping to fly or float, or swim or whatever, over to Aerigo, who calmly floated near her. She stopped flailing when something invisible took hold of her. She tried to clamp onto whatever made her suddenly feel like she’d been wrapped tight in a sheet, but ended up smacking her stomach. The invisible sheet pulled her forward through the cosmos so fast it felt like she was rushing down the biggest hill on a roller coaster. There was no wind, yet she traveled so fast that the stars were nothing but streaks of light.

In mere seconds they stopped moving and felt solid ground beneath her feet. She was standing in tall grass, with Aerigo right beside her. Roxie took in her surroundings with her fists raised and knees slightly bent, then looked at herself. She looked whole and unharmed but she patted down her torso. She stopped when heard the voice again, this time outside her head.

“Welcome to my realm, dear child,” a man said warmly. “It’s a real pleasure to be meeting you in person at last.” He was slightly taller than Roxie, had a solid build, and close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and goatee. He wore only a pair of cargo shorts and leather sandals, and had tanned skin. Roxie’s attention was particularly drawn to his eyes. They were the softest blue she had ever seen and
that
made her like this stranger right away. She wiped her hands on her shirt but couldn’t quite relax. This was all so bizarre.

“My name is Baku and I have brought you both here to explain what that oaf standing next to you can’t seem to, for some reason or another.”

Aerigo gave Baku a hard stare and the man kept going as if he hadn’t noticed. “Why don’t we go down by the lake? All this tall grass is lovely, but when you wish to sit and talk, seeing one another becomes rather difficult.” He led the way while Roxie trailed behind, taking in the vibrant realm like a pet having suddenly been brought into a new house. One large, lone mountain rose to their left and seemed to touch the aurora sky with its pointed summit. Far past the mountain grew a rain forest that looked like it came straight from Brazil, complete with an abundance of vines, and wisps of fog looming above the canopy and snaking between branches. Beyond the mountain’s left stood a marble temple that looked like it belonged in ancient Rome with its massive pillars, domed roof and grand stairway leading to the entrance. The temple emitted a soft blue glow.

There was something strange about this realm, but nothing bad. It felt like it was breathing or whispering. The multicolored sky felt like it was aware of her presence. She couldn’t explain how she knew it; it just felt like she was on the translucent side of a one-way window, with someone on the other side observing her every action. The sensation should have made her uncomfortable, but the invisible watcher, or whatever, felt more like a parent or guardian keeping a watchful eye on her.

“I’m going to try to explain this as best and as quickly as I can,” Baku said seriously as they walked out onto a small beach. Baku gestured to the ground and they all sat in a semicircle on the white sand speckled with black, facing the lake, Roxie between both men. The sand felt like silk beneath her, and the lake beckoned to her like her bed after a long, exhausting day. Surely a swim right now wouldn’t hurt?

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