We’re Never Really Gone – a snippet of my forthcoming paranormal/fantasy novel. Here is a little more insight into the major characters.
A morning power walk would be all that Em needed to get grounded before anassignment. On that morning, the air had a clayish feeling – unseasonably warm for October and a dampness that made her clothes stick to her body. This was not what late October in Jersey should be. One thing felt worse than walking in bipolar weather – the fact she had to climb into a rickety old van in less than two hours and travel to a mission she wasn’t ready to accept. Too many people were relying on her to get herself together – for her grandmother, for Dinworth’s sake, for everyone’s sake, even Marnie. There was little room to be human. She never felt she truly was.
An uphill climb back to the house ended her walking route. Dinworth started packing the van at first light. As she passed the detached garage, she could hear him singing Moon River through the door. Em grabbed a banana from the wire fruit basket hanging over the sink, took off the entire peel, then headed up the stairs. It seemed quiet, and she hoped Kyan was still in his room sleeping. She was not in a hurry. After quietly closing the creaky door to her room, she grabbed a duffle bag hanging on a hook behind it. She threw in two handfuls of underwear without counting them, grabbed her favorite T-shirt bras, and picked random pairs of mix-matched socks. Once she finished packing, she peeled off her sweaty clothes and threw on her bathrobe. Then she went through the routine. With the robe wide open she examined her body in the cracked floor mirror. Each morning she ran her hands over the red lines on her chest and stomach.
Despite it all, she continued. She fought and survived. That’s what she was good at. Marnie often told her, “Be more ashamed of the parts of you that are not scarred, those are the days when you stopped fighting for who you’re meant to be.” Em wondered what it was like to be an unblemished fighter. Of course, she couldn’t take only the easy jobs. Chayton, the boss, would never let her.
Once a chill hit her body, she wrapped herself back up in her robe and made her way to the bathroom. She made it four feet away from the bathroom door when it flew open and a wall of steam hit her in the face. Once her line of sight cleared, her eyes locked on his tattooed shoulders and arms – tribal marks and raven feathers against firm, alabaster skin, his wet hair brushed back with a small ringlet hanging over his forehead. Her heart leapt into her throat when she saw he had only a small towel wrapped around his waist – a towel meant for drying your hands and face.
“Oh my God, wow, I am so sorry. I had no idea you were up,” bad choice of words she thought.
“No big deal, it happens.” Her feet felt stuck to the floor with a thick, sticky layer of awkwardness. Kyan looked devilishly amused. She pushed her back against the door frame to allow him plenty of room to pass the narrow doorway typical of an old house.
“I thought I gave you bigger towels,” she tried to avert her eyes towards the ceiling.
“I packed them for the trip. I hate hotel towels. They’re like trying to dry off with toilet paper.”
She gestured for him to leave the room with one hand as she clasped the neck of her robe closed with the other. As he inched his way into the door frame, he smelled a mixture of sandlewood and sweat. Her anxiety was palpable, and he wasn’t used to a woman being nervous around his scantily clothed frame.
“You ok, Em?” he asked with a smirk as he moved inches from her.
“Yeah, I’m fine! Why wouldn’t I be? Man, this ceiling really needs a coat of paint.”
“Ah, come on, there can’t be that much lead paint. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“Very funny. Does every response from you have to be a sarcastic quip?”
“Well, does every response from you have to contain hot daggers of blind hatred?”
“I do not always respond like that,” she glared into his eyes making every effort to not look down. “God, we’re not even in the van yet and you’re already irritating,” she sighed.
“See, case in point. I’ve been a smart ass, yes. But at least I haven’t been insulting.” He shook his head as he moved away from her fidgeting body against the doorframe. At that moment, and much to her chagrin, she realized what he said was true. Unfairly, in some ways, she hadn’t been very cordial with him, and it was only their second day together.
“Ok, ok, fine. Maybe we both can do without the name-calling and insults.” She looked apologetic even though she refused to say sorry.
“Maybe we can,” he winked then headed towards his room. She caught a glimpse of his upper thigh revealed by the opening of his minuscule towel wrap. Once she heard his bedroom door close, she pushed out the breath she sharply took in at the sight of his skin.
She washed away the stickiness of the morning walk, the aggravation of dinner the night before, and the terrifying thoughts triggered by his water-beaded shoulders and his sage and pine scent. As she washed her face, she tried to rub away the indigo shades that seemed to rise from his pores. Time to get back to the life of a mediator.
After Em and Kyan battled over the assistance he offered her with her luggage, they set off. The van, an early 1990’s Chevy with a sliding door on the side, rusted gashes in the paint, and one missing row of backseats, rattled like a school bus as they travelled north towards the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. They had a long drive ahead of them and what started out as a promising, mild weather day, turned into a much cooler and rainier one.
Mr. Dinworth tried to make small talk but neither of his travel-mates seemed to be alert enough. He knew Em wasn’t a morning person, and he was not surprised to see a look in Kyan’s face that screamed hangover.
Dinworth couldn’t stomach awkward silences, especially while driving a long distance. Em’s demeanor made it worse. She gazed at the passing houses and businesses, daydreaming about how those out-of-the-way homes spent their Saturday mornings.
“You doing okay, ace? Any shadows we should be concerned about?” He finally asked.
“Nope, never better. Same old walk in the park, right?” Em poorly exaggerated a grin.
“I don’t think any of our adventures have been considered walks in the park, my dear.”
“Well, there was that one when I was younger, at that park in PA with the little zoo in the middle. First time I ever had to deal with animals and amazingly not the last.” She tied her blonde locks, still a little damp from the shower, into a tight bun as she glanced at Kyan through the rear view. He looked zoned into the glow of his phone, and he had his earbuds in. She faintly heard the music he listened to. No wonder he doesn’t listen. He’s been deaf since the 7th grade, she thought.
“I do still feel bad for that gentleman who landed face first into that pony manure,” Din smirked in her direction.
“Hey, a karmic kick to the nuts is required sometimes. I didn’t make the rules.”
“That beast broke the poor man’s nose, Emerald.”
“If he wanted to dish out the pain-in-the-ass, he had to learn to take it.”
“I just don’t know what this old soul of mine is going to do with you, Ms. Sage.”
Em playfully rolled her eyes at him and turned the radio up to hear Ella Fitzgerald’s voice over the rattling of the windows.
“I’ll be fine, Din. You just worry about our little boozer back there.”
“Give him a chance, my dear. It’s time you start expecting at least some people to surprise you, not deceive you.”
“Like I said, you wanted him. You take care of him.”
“He’s a grown man, dear.”
“Who’s going to think this is all fun and games.”
“You know there will come a time when he won’t be able to deny the truth. He’ll either run or he’ll press on because he has nowhere else to go. I’m thinking the latter. This is an intelligent man with a mind not too difficult to open. Wait and see.”
“Oh man, guys. Check this out.” Kyan leaned forward and faced his phone in Dinworth’s direction.
“It’s a naked mole rat, also known as a sand puppy. Isn’t that funny as hell?” He turns the screen to Em.
“God has an amazing sense of humor, doesn’t he?” She shakes her head.
“You got that right. Do you think God just woke up one day and and said, “You know what this world needs, a creature that looks like a big dong with legs and bucked teeth.”
“To be honest, anyone who’s able to go through their days pondering questions like, “What’s up with the naked mole rat?” I want their life for five minutes.”
“What? It’s not like you guys are getting the short end of the stick in life, gorgeous. You get to read and sell books all day, live in a big house, and constantly travel. Wouldn’t kill you to do something for the sake of an easy laugh, you know?”
“Call me by my name or don’t call me anything, please, and are you implying that I don’t have a sense of humor?” Em never heard a man refer to her as gorgeous, even in jest, but she hated feeling somewhat flattered.
“No, but I will say for someone so young, you do take life too seriously. We’re all going to be dead in what seems like ten minutes anyway. Laugh at a few dick jokes every now and again.”
Before Em could respond, Dinworth chimed in. “I’ll have you know, Kyan, that Emerald here won her 5th grade talent show for walking on her hands while singing the alphabet song backwards. All her idea too.”
“Ha, got any pictures?”
“No, and even if we did,” she turned towards Kyan to shoot him her patented death stare, “I would not let you see evidence of the goofiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“My brother and I dressed up as Laverne and Shirley for Halloween in the eighth grade. He popped a boob in study hall, and I rolled my ankle in the cafeteria. Fell right into the lunch lady’s cans. Damn heels.”
Em chuckled at the image of a young Kyan dressed as Penny Marshall.
“Why, Emerald, I believe that’s the first genuine laugh I’ve heard come out of you in at least 72 hours,” Dinworth teased.
“Thank you for the reminder, dear squire. Now can we talk business for a while. You haven’t given the details about this house we’re seeing today.”
“Ah, yes, well a mother and son own this old bed & breakfast up near Watkins Glen, been in the family for well over a century. The husband and young man’s father wander-, ah I mean passed about two years ago, leaving his wife and son to maintain the estate on their own. From what I understand, they are going broke. Apparently, guests on vacation don’t like it when the bathroom door opens on them while showering or when they have to get up several times to flick off a light switch. Disturbances scared a lady so badly, she fell halfway down the stairs.”
“I’m reading the Yelp reviews now,” scrolling on her phone. “Quite possibly the gate to hell one says, but then he ends with saying, ‘The omelets are life-changing.’ That was nice of him.”
“I’ll show you a gate to hell,” Kyan chimed in, “Try waking up in a skanky Atlantic City motel in a room that’s not yours because you’re supposed to be at Ceasar’s Palace.”
“Please stay on topic. This information is just as valuable to you as it is to me.”
“I thought I only had to point and click or record?”
“Yes, but you also have to be..aware of your aware, and be ready for surprises.”
“If you say so, princess.” Kyan leans back into his seat with his hands behind his head.
Em took a deep, cleansing breath before responding matter-of-factly, “Stop calling me princess, or I will crazy glue your balls to your leg while you sleep. How’s that for a sense of humor, Jack?”
“She’s got you there, son.”
Em grinned at her little victory as she pulled Cerridwen out of her bag.