Friday, May 29, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 13] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Joanne "JJ" Sher @ her blog, An Open Book. Click here to read and share more great fiction! (p.s. It's also JJ's 15th wedding anniversary. WOOT!)

Author's Ramblings: Well, I'm feeling a little on the sleepy-slash-lazy side this week, so I fluffed up this installment (and yes, I got stuck. *roll*) and it's about half the size it usually is. ^_^ I hoped to add some more mystery to Mark, a touch of shadow to Ben and of course, well, I thought I'd been nice to Rachel this week and not particuarly go out of my way to torture her existence. ^_^ LOL! Enjoy the read-and thanks for stopping by-have a terrific weekend!

“Thom?” Pete flagged him down the moment his bushy head appeared over the stacks of Styrofoam cups. “We’ve got a problem.” He waited while Thom accepted two cups of coffee before threading his way through the crowded room.

“What kind of problem?” Thom handed over one of the cups, already reaching for the file folder in Pete’s hand.

“The bad kind.” Pete willingly relinquished the file. “You don’t really want to know what’s in there.”

Thom hesitated. “That bad? Talk to me, Pete.”

“Eight.” Pete forced the word through his mouth, then took a swig of the scalding hot coffee. The grimace on his face remained as he swallowed the burning mouthful.

“Eight?” Thom repeated as a sick feeling wormed its way towards his mind. “Eight more…deaths?”

The stress lines on Pete’s face had grown more pronounced as he slowly nodded in confirmation. “Yeah. Four of them kids from here Thom…we gotta do something.”

“More than something.” Thom muttered. “Autopsy reports? Any kind of reports? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“Apart from the fact they were all young with plenty of life ahead of them?” Pete shrugged. “I’ve got most of the reports in there, Chantal and the others are getting the rest of the papers cleared. One of the kids was famous, in a way.”

“What way?” Thom asked, bluntly.

“The girl who set up that Relay for Life benefit thing? Down by the river on behalf of the community and whatever…one of ‘em was her.”

“Mallory Hoover?” Thom nearly dropped the coffee cup, having to stand still for a moment to allow the information to sink in. “Little Milwaukee Mallory?”

Pete looked away. “Yeah. Her parents don’t want us to touch the body…Chantal’s working on them to allow the autopsy…they’re convinced she had nothing in relation to the other two.”

“Other two?”

“Read the report, Thom.” Pete said quietly, taking the coffee cup away from him. “And sit down when you do.”

Thom stared after him, belatedly remembering he had a question to ask. “Pete!”

“What?”

“The missing body…any news?”

“No…and Chief’s relocating officers to work on other matters….something will turn up.” His head bowed. “I’ll be…downstairs.”

Thom watched him shuffled for the stairwell and felt his stomach churn as he stared down at the seemingly harmless manila folder clutched in one hand. He didn’t like the feeling traveling back to him and he didn’t like the expression he’d seen on Pete’s face.

* * * * *
Ben materialized in the darkened space, automatically shying away from the shadowy figure in the corner. “Mark?”

“Over here.” The voice was bored.

Ben turned, frowning still at the shadow figure. There was something he didn’t quite like about the look of it. “Something the matter?” He twisted one hand. “Can’t be gone for long, it’ll ruin my cover.”

“Interesting.” Mark rose from the ground, wiping one hand on the rag sticking out from a side pocket. “Hold that side of that would you?”

“I would ask what it is, but I’m not quite sure I want to know.” Ben caught one end of the heavy metal rod, supporting it while Mark ducked around it, swabbing with a tiny piece of stick. “What’s wrong?”

“Hmmm? Oh…didn’t trust anyone with this particular necessary errand.” Mark offered a thin smile. “That and I knew no one would bother me while I was tending to it, meaning there would be no loose ends if I requested your audience.”

For what? Ben silently repeated in his head.

“I’ve noticed you're…hovering, over Rachel. I understand this is her first field mission, in a sense and I think she’s handling herself quite well. But-” Mark twisted around the rod, tossing the wooden pick into a plastic container. “Set that down, right side up.” He tugged the rag from his pocket and reached for a tube of glowing yellow gel. “But, I think your original objective might benefit from a bit of extra attention. I’ve just received a compilation of your last five-point reports.” There was a pause. “An extremely…interesting set of reports. Do you just assume I don’t read them, or were you trying to be funny?”

Ben swallowed. “There wasn’t much to report that week.”

“Then why didn’t you just cancel the filing? Why bother to waste actual paper, labor for the proper processing of it and my time to review it? Why? This isn’t a game, Ben. You know this, what I find increasingly difficult to believe is the fact that this conversation had to take place to begin with.” Mark painstakingly rolled the cloth into a tube and then generously slathered the end with the gel. “I need to know what’s really going on over there.”

“You’re getting desperate, aren’t you?” Ben inwardly grimaced. Those weren’t the words he wanted to slip out of his mouth, but from the way they’d flown out, there was no taking them back.

They didn’t seem to register at first, because Mark continued in his strange antics, rolling another towel into a tube and repeating the same action as before. “I see.” He said at last, stuffing the first tube down the hollow end of the steel rod. “So that is your interpretation of my request only necessary after your own shortcomings?”

“Didn’t mean it that way.” Ben muttered. Just get to the point already!

“I would get the point, if you’d just give me a chance.” Mark replied, calmly. “And please…stop thinking so hard, you’re giving me a headache and I don’t need another one.” A smirk touched his face. “Ben, honestly, I do trust you. Maybe more than someone in my position should, but you’re a good agent, good at what you do and great at the results that come with you. I understand you feel responsible for Rachel, but if your cover is blown, I’ve already warned you that you won’t be safe on this planet-and for quite some time. The effects are bad both ways.” He frowned. “and check the cords in your care. One of your issued bracelets malfunctioned the other night. I’m surprised it came from your division.” He checked his watch. “You’d best be going. I’d hate to cause the very catastrophe I hoped to prevent.”

“Of course.” Ben turned on his heel, reaching for the rope bracelet secured around his wrist.

“Oh and Ben.” Mark straightened. “Tell her about Allison-I’d hate for the news to reach her in the usual way. Dismissed.”

The unsettling feeling returned as Ben twisted the rope around one finger. That was one conversation he had been putting off, simply because he'd felt Rachel was dealing with enough already. His gaze flitting back to the shadowy figure restrained in the corner. If he didn't know better, he'd think that Mark had actually captured a shadow creature. There was something too familiar about it, but his musings were cut short as Mark cleared his throat and Ben snapped the cord. The pull, tug and flash of light was welcome as he warped out.

Mark waited until the last shower of sparkles drifted to the floor and then melted into nothingness. Ben had noticed after all, he hadn’t thought he would. The shadow figure shuddered as Mark approached, the gray rod easily hoisted over his shoulder. It had merely been a prop to keep Ben’s attention focused elsewhere. “You shouldn’t have attacked.” He murmured, a pale green orb of energy slowly spinning to life on the fingertips of his free hand. “Especially one of my own emissaries…”’

* * * * * *

The house was eerily silent as Rachel took the stairs two at a time. Her fingers twined delicately around the rope bracelet that had appeared during the night beneath her pillow. A quick call to Ben had only been an instant switchover to his voicemail. The message left made little sense to her, so Rachel left another one, in explanation.

Once that was all done, she’d searched for her file folder, only to find it missing. Panic had almost set in, until she noticed the tiny golden snake symbol on the corner of the dresser. She hadn’t misplaced it and no one had stolen it. Ben had simply sent someone to retrieve it for safe keeping, or at least someone had come to pick it up. With some energy to spare, her stomach growled as Rachel swept into the kitchen. To her surprise, it was empty and there was only a single, orange post-it note on the freezer door.

She grabbed at it half-heartedly, opening the fridge in search of yogurt. Her eyes briefly scanned the contents before she settled on a strawberry and then began the hunt for granola to top it off. The note was rather short and to the point. “Rachel…busy today. Jeanette’s with Calvin. If you need something, call. Huh…well that was nice.” Rachel yawned, crumpling the note and stuffing it in her pocket.

Her quest for granola continued, but her uncle’s kitchen cupboards were sadly lacking in that particular yogurt topping. Rachel sighed. “I need my own set of wheels.” She told the plastic spoon, digging it into the pink creaminess. She checked her cell phone for messages and sighed when the automated operator informed her there were no new messages.

Her mind continued in its aimless wandering as she realized her twenty-first birthday was marked for Friday the following week. “Wow.” She mumbled around a spoonful of yogurt. “Cake. A chocolate one at least.”

A glance in the dining room showed evidence of the breakfasts of those before her. A box of poptarts decorated one corner of the table and two boxes of cereal. Rachel grimaced. A warm breakfast would be nicer. She stared down at the cold yogurt in her hand. “Bother that.” Turning on her heel, she retreated to the heart of the kitchen.

There wasn’t anything particularly pressing at the moment, but it occurred to her that she ought to call someone, at least, to remind them of her existence. A quick call to Uncle Thom only earned her a possible errand at Calvin’s expense if he’d returned yet. Rachel answered in the negative, explaining that she’d only found the post-it note and the house was empty. Uncle Thom had then wished her a good day and excused himself to speak to someone else.

Sitting rather forlornly on the kitchen counter, Rachel left another voicemail on her mother’s cell phone and then began counting the soft thumps her feet made every time she banged the door. “I am losing it.” She told the spoon again. It was a very good listener. “Of all the things in the world I have to do today.” She groaned. “And since when to does Jeanette have a dog anyway?”

Uncle Thom’s thankless errand had something to do with picking up some flyers for the local kennel from the family operated printers downtown, a favor in exchange for Jeanette’s little terrier to board free.

Rachel frowned. Uncle Thom had dogs, but she’d yet to really run into them, at least from the first day. Her mind twisted that little fact around a few times and finally released it. She’d ask him sometime, that was the easier answer. He loved his dogs and most of the time, she liked them too. Most of the time, anyway.

The doorbell rang and her feet automatically headed for the living room.

A quick glance out the window allowed the necessary head’s up and Rachel practically flew to the door. “Robbie!” She exclaimed, enthusiastically.

“Good morning to you too, Rock.” His lips quirked into a smile. “I came to see if they were feeding you well enough over here and thought I might talk you into breakfast.”

“You can talk me into it anytime.” Rachel hurriedly spooned up another mouthful of yogurt. “Come in? I just need to put my boots on…”

“I’ll wait right here.” Robbie half-smiled. “Hurry up.”

In a whirlwind flurry, Rachel streaked off to the kitchen, dumping the now empty yogurt container in the trash can along with the plastic spoon. She hurriedly washed her hands at the sink and then ran her damp fingers through her messy hair. It would have to do, she thought happily, shoving her feet inside comfortable black boots and tugging the zippers up. “Ready!” She chirped, skipping down the steps.

“Whoa!” Robbie caught her arm as she stumbled on the last step. “Either someone’s hungry or in a really big hurry.” His gaze flickered over her shoulder to the empty house. “That bad in there?”

“No comment!” Rachel tugged her arm back. “Oooh…nice bike! What happened to your old one?” Her face fell. “Did you wreck it? No!”

Robbie chuckled. “Of course not. If I wrecked that bike, then I’d probably be dead. All set to go?” He tossed up the keys for the shiny burgundy specimen resting two feet away. “Want to drive?”

“Me?” Rachel stared at him. “F-for real? I-I’d better not.” Her words were beginning to trip over themselves. It was too perfect to be ruined by her fingerprints and yet her fingers simply itched to touch it.

“I doubt you’ll crash.” Robbie pressed the keys into her hand. “Besides…it’s yours.”

There were no words possible to capture the feeling Rachel wanted to express. Impulsively, she turned and threw her arms around her neck. “Robbie, you’re the best!”

“Right.” He seemed embarrassed, pulling away. “Thank Ben, it was his request that someone find you some wheels….aren’t you going to try it out?”

“Do you even have to ask?” Rachel retorted. “Helmet?”

It was willingly handed over. “I’m afraid you’ll have to hunt down any other accessories yourself.” Robbie teased, sliding on behind her. “And what happened to being afraid you’ll wreck it?”

“If it’s mine, I won’t.” Rachel laughed. “But if it’s yours, I’m worried. Everything you own takes on a personality and most of the time, they don’t like me!”

Robbie snickered. “Maybe most of the time you’re not listening to them.”

“Just hang on.” Rachel threw the words over her shoulder, a familiar thrill running up from the tips of her toes to the aching spot in her head. This was most certainly a delightful way to start the day.

© Sara Harricharan

Friday, May 22, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 12] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Rick H. @ his blog Pod Tales and Ponderings. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Well, I'm working up to a conclusion as I post this piece. Rachel's story is now drawing to a close. I've fluffed this particular installment up so you can learn more about Calvin and learn about a different side of Rachel. No particularly devious twists this week, just some nice happy reading. ^_^ There's also been new updates on the fansite. Feel free to check them out. Enjoy your holiday weekend-and the read. Cheers!

It was a silent ride home and Rachel found herself wishing for nonsensical chatter to fill the uncomfortable void. Her mind was whirling with too many things to get together and sort out into the respective little boxes for later thought. A groan bubbled up inside of her, but stuck in a lump at the base of her throat until they pulled into the driveway.

The night was cool, but the soft breeze was hardly refreshing as Rachel stiffly exited the vehicle and dutifully followed Jeanette’s bobbing head up the stairs and into the foyer. Her uncle was saying something, but her mind had already checked out and Rachel found herself the center of attention as Jeanette waved her arms wildly in front of her.

“Hey! You! Rachel!”

“Hey what?” Rachel jerked back. “Jeanette-quit it!”

“Well?” Thom was apparently waiting for an answer. “Ice cream or apple pie?”

Her mind backtracked, but couldn’t come up with an answer. She swallowed. Dessert was the farthest thing on her mind at present, though something sugary with “Actually…uh, now’s not a really good time. I uh, think I’ll just get a soda and go up for-”

“You’re going to pass up dessert?” Jeanette’s eyes grew round. “I thought you liked to eat your sugar, not drink it.”

“It’s the other way around.” Rachel rolled her eyes. “I just…need a soda that’s all. I don’t feel like ice cream.” She brushed past and headed for the kitchen, her stomach protesting at the thought of more ice cream. One strawberry sundae had been enough for today. Pausing to retrieve a soda, Rachel frowned into the refrigerator. There were no cold cans of comfort in sight.

Thom hovered over her shoulder, holding the door open. “Find any?” He asked, mildly amused. “I didn’t know I put them in there…”

She did an abrupt about face and headed for the pantry. There’d been a box of soda somewhere. “You’re supposed to put soda in the fridge, that’s what it’s for.” She grumped, wrestling a can of cola from the cardboard box and angling toward the stairs. She didn’t feel like coming back down again. “Goodnight Unk.” She called over her shoulder, pausing to add. “See you tomorrow.”

The refrigerator door closed below. “See you tomorrow Rachel.” Thom returned. “Goodnight.”

It bugged her a little, to think that she was simply ditching him to take care of business, but her mind convinced her otherwise and soon Rachel found herself standing in front of the second guest bedroom door. Casting a glance up and down the hall, careful to have paid attention for the sound of Calvin’s feet. Strangely enough, he hadn't excused himself to track her upstairs. The relief didn't come as she stored away his image for later, perhaps she could request a file on him. Rachel turned the doorknob to enter the room.

From the tiny sliver, she could see the same layout as hers. Rachel frozen in mid-twist, then slowly released the knob, backing away. Calvin would have bugged his room…because she knew she’d done the same to hers. It was a safe enough assumption, even if she only judged him as a Cobra, from a Viper’s point of view. There was a twitch of momentary relief as she continued on down the hall and to her own room, accidentally stumbling into the doorjamb and stubbing her toe.

Her fingers were fumbling for her cellphone and dialing Ben’s number as her hands turned the knob. “Ben? It’s Rachel…I mean, Rock… I really need to talk to you, please?”

There was silence for a moment, then finally a reply. “You okay, kid?” The question was guarded.

“Y-yeah. I’m fine, I just…need to talk to you.”

“Now?” There was a sigh.

“Yes! Now!” Rachel winced, trying to quell the new rebellion of emotion. Why would I call him if I didn’t want to talk to him now? The angry thought circled about in her head, but it was interrupted by Ben’s matter-of-fact reply.

“Then just talk to me.”

The phone slid from her fingers and froze, hovering in mid-air, back to waist level as Rachel stared straight into face standing just a few feet away. “Ben?” She started forward and stopped.

Ben moved the few steps between them and pulled her into a hug. “Bad day?”

“Worst day. You have no idea!” She moaned, gratefuls for the hug and the simple acknowledgement from someone who actually did understand what she was going through. What she'd been through today, at least.

“Try me.” He chuckled, guiding her to the bed. “Sit and tilt your head back.” He drew a glowing green amulet from one pocket. “It’s a healing stone. It should help with the stress.” He pressed it to the left side of her head. “How’s your head? Any headaches lately?”

Rachel struggled to stay put when she wanted to twist around and ask how he’d guessed. “Yeah. Several times today. How’d you guess?”

“I didn’t.” He smoothed the rock down the left side of her face. “Please don’t move if you can help it, I don’t want to direct the energy to the wrong place. Your body is realigning itself…because of another foolish mistake I’m not going to scold you for.”

“You’re not?”

“Not entirely.” He sighed. “What were you thinking? Cobras, Rock? Cobras?” The cool glowing stone was moved to the right side of her temple and methodically stroked across her forehead. “You practically drained yourself to the point of-” He stopped. “You’re just very lucky.”

“I drained myself to the point of what?” Rachel wanted to know.

“To a less than intelligent degree.” The phrase was forced. “I'm actually surprised you're doing so well. I felt the pull of energy when you used it. It was too much, too soon. You're nowhere near ready enough to handle that kind of power. I don't want you to do that again-ever. At least not without fully grasping the fact that it can kill you. Understood?" There was silence. "Rock?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Now why didn't you use your bracelet?"

"I did. Nothing happened."

"Nothing happened? Exactly how does nothing happen? I hope you have a better explanation than that."

"I-I don't know, Ben. It was all confusing and everything just happened really fast. I don't know what happened, I just know I turned up here at Unk's unconscious on his front porch."

"Someone moved you?" Ben turned several interesting shades of red and purple. "You can't recall anything?"

"No." Rachel yawned. "I don't think so."

"Focus, Rock, please...What did you really need me for-before we get off subject?”

“Besides the fact that the Cobra that almost iced me is my cousin sitting downstairs eating ice cream?”

Ben paused in mid-stroke. “Okay.” He said slowly. “Besides that.” Something sparked from his finger and suddenly streaked across every wall in the room.

“What was that?”

“Soundproofing.”

“Why?”

“Your cousin has abilities, Rachel…like you.” Ben frowned. “Tell me that you were aware of that?”
A blush touched her cheeks and Rachel couldn’t hide the emotion from him. “Well…not exactly, I mean-”

“Rachel!” There was an expression of dismay. “I understand he may be family, but he is also an enemy agent, haven’t I taught you anything about the opposite side?”

“Well, yeah, but Ben!”

“Don’t ‘but Ben’ me!” There was a short huff of air. “Of all the people in the world-” He began and then stopped. “Never mind. But now is not the time to let your focus slip, you should be thinking, calculating and planning a course of action that doesn’t require double checking every single detail with me.” He attempted to smile. “You’d want to be a solo agent some day, I’m assuming and it’s best to take the independence when it’s given. It’s always better that way around. Now, what did you really want me here for? What was so important it couldn’t work over the phone?”

“I met the Dragon Lady again.” The stone fell from his fingers and into her lap. Ben had suddenly become rather still. “Ben? You okay?” She picked up the amulet turned to look at him.

“Tell me exactly what happened-” He started to say, then stopped. “On second thought, don’t.” One hand brushed away the hair from her neck and he caught hold of the tiny blue jewel dangling from the gifted necklace. “Did she see this?”

“Yeah. I mean, I think so. I’m not really here right now…sorry. It’s been a crazy day.”

“That is quite obvious. You need more than a good night’s sleep. Have you had a healing today? That could account for side effects.” He sighed. “Okay, I’ll do this the easy way. Do you trust me?”

“What?”

“Answer it, Rock.”

“With my life, Ben…which is probably more than I should.”

He tipped his head to the side, not bothering to argue with that. “This is going to hurt and I’m sorry.” He muttered. “Just don’t fight it.”

Rachel opened her mouth only to squeak in surprise. It did hurt, but the pain was gone in the same instant it had come. She took a careful breath, then slapped the stone to her forehead, trying to scrub out the strange feeling. “What was that?”

“I borrowed a copy of your memory.” He said quietly, taking a seat on the bed beside her. “Quiet for a moment, I need to sort it out.”

“You took a copy of my what?” Rachel sputtered.

“Quiet!”

Rachel scowled, but stared up at the ceiling, absently rubbing the stone over her face, relieved when
the pain ebbed away. After a long moment, she sighed. “Are you done yet?”

“No.” He said simply, but held out a hand for the sstone.

She dropped it into his hand, waiting. “Well?”

“She admired you.” He said at last, a puzzled expression on his face.

“What?”

“She admired you, your…assertiveness. When you came over and demanded the payment for your strawberry sundae, she decided to make a new impression of you and it was favorable.”

“Favorable how?”

Ben frowned. “I can’t sort it through yet…your mind takes awhile to sort through the layers of every experience and you follow the same process for your memories. I’ll have to shift it over to a memory holder and let them work it through.”

Rachel frowned. “a memory holder? As in, another person? Ben, I don’t mind…you, in my mind, I mean, yeah, it’s you, but I don’t want my-”

“She gave you what Mark wanted.” Ben interrupted. “Only I don’t know exactly what it is yet. I know she had it with her when she was there and when she left you, it was for a reason. Tell me, is there anything that sticks out for you about it?”

“About when she left?” Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know. The fact that I told the clerk that there was an invisible bodyguard behind me. That I couldn’t buy a pack of mints, that I couldn’t even carry a civil conversation when I got home? Strange enough for you?”

“Goodnight.” Ben said abruptly, shifting to his feet.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. Apparently you’re not in the mood to get this figured out and I have extra work to do now because of it. Get some rest. I’ll wake you early and swap files. If there’s something here, like I think it is, then you’re going to be busy tomorrow.”

“You’re just going to leave?”

“Get some sleep, Rachel.” He twined one finger around the rope bracelet on his left wrist.

“What about Calvin?” Rachel tried in one last attempt to keep him there a moment longer. “and the
Cobras?”

“Stay out of their way. Don’t talk to him unless you have to.” Ben shrugged. “You’ll be fine…use your common sense. You’ve got plenty of it whenever you actually think to use it.”

“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“Goodnight, Rachel. I’ll expect you to be early tomorrow.” The bracelet snapped and he disappeared in a burst of sparkles.

The sudden flare of light, now caused the cozy room to appear dreary and rather drab as Rachel sat on the edge of the bed. She sat there for awhile, because she couldn’t think of a reason to make herself move. Her mind was still whirling and her thoughts focused on the fact that she’d actually shared a memory…with Ben. The question he’d asked her was enough to send her thoughts into a whirlwind. She did trust him…and truly more than she should. The mixture of confusion and frustration slowly overwhelmed her and she finally began the usual night preparations with a tortured mind.

* * * * * *

Calvin waited in the kitchen, listening for the silent alarm that only his ears would hear. But the ringing never came, instead he heard her footsteps pause several times and a bang when she walked into something.

He nearly choked on his ice cream. For a Viper agent, Rachel was far too clumsy and thick-headed in his opinion to even be considered useful to the organization. He sighed, focusing on the metal curves of the spoon stuck in the ice cream bowl to allow his super-hearing to continue in their eavesdropping.

She eventually seemed to reach her room and he heard a few muffled voices and then nothing. He frowned, straining to listen harder without being obvious that his attention was much further away than the discussion of which hockey team would win the state tournament.

The hand holding the ice cream bowl tightened around the smooth, cool surface. Something had happened. The two options logically returning to him were not ideas he welcomed. Either she was aware of his power and had taken the necessary measures to prevent his eavesdropping or she’d just left the house.

“Calvin?” Thom nudged the plastic bucket of ice cream closer. “Did you want more?”

“Oh!” He jumped, startled. “Sorry…um, yeah. One scoop.” He held out the bowl, licking the spoon as another generous scoop of creamy goodness was dished out.

“Can I have another one?” Jeanette’s bowl scooted closer.

Thom chuckled. “I don't think so kiddo, your mom will strangle me for maxing out your sugar level.”

“But it’s not really maxed.” Jeanette said innocently. “I only had three poptarts for breakfast and-”

“and sweet rolls from the Chinese restaurant, fortune cookies, two-fruit roll-ups and-”

“Okay, okay!” The bowl was quickly pulled away and Jeanette occupied herself with scraping the melted remains from the sides.

Thom smiled. “Too much sugar today means vegetables tomorrow.”

“Awww!”

“Balanced diet.” His mouth twitched. “And a set bedtime-no stalling.” He stood, carrying the ice cream bucket back to the freezer. His gaze swept hesitantly over Calvin who had once again become abnormally still. “Calvin?”

The head turned at once, a sign he hadn’t zoned out as far as he may have appeared. “Yes?”

“Any plans for tomorrow?”

He shrugged. “Not necessarily, I mean, nothing concrete at least. Probably just going to hang around the house…wash my car or something. Why?”

“If you could take Jeanette to the school to pick up her report card, I’d appreciate it. Ally said there’s nothing to sign or so, all you have to do is take the student with you. If it’s not too much trouble, I promised Ally I'd see to it. I’d ask Rachel, but she doesn’t exactly have her own set of wheels.”

Calvin straightened at once. “Really?”

Thom shrugged.

“Then how’d she get here?”

“She probably doesn’t even know.” Jeanette yawned. “She hardly knows anything at all and she never says anything nice.”

“Jeanette!”

“What? I’m just telling the truth.” She picked up her bowl and headed for the sink, dutifully washing it along with the spoon before placing both in the plastic drain rack.

“She’s just under a lot of stress right now…as we all are.” Thom sighed. “It’s no excuse for her to take it out on either of you, but judging her at face value now isn’t a good idea.”

“Right.” Jeanette yawned again. “Wow. Ice cream makes me sleepy. That’s a first. G’night Mr.C.”

“Goodnight Jeanette…see you tomorrow.” He retrieved his own bowl and set about washing it in the sink. “Calvin?”

“Uh, I’ll be heading up in a minute.” He hurriedly scooped chunks of vanilla into his mouth. “Uncle Thom…what kind of security system do you have here?”

“Excuse me?”

“I don’t remember it and I want to know that it’s foolproof.” Calvin stuck another spoonful in his mouth, speaking around it. “Is it? Have you had any trouble with it? With anything lately? I don’t mean to pry, but I’d really like to know. I’d feel a lot safer.”

Thom paused in front of the coffee maker and began the usual routine of scooping ground coffee into the new filter. “Safe enough.” He said quietly, turning to silence Calvin’s next question with a look. “No one will exit this house after I set the alarm. You won’t survive.”

The note of finality in his voice was enough for Calvin and he took a deep breath. He hadn’t expected that answer, but then again, he hadn’t expected his uncle to actually have an energy force-field based security system. The key phrase added, had sparked his curiosity, but he wasn't going there just yet as relief flooded through him. It was nice to know he was out of harm's way as long as he was here. A nuetral base was always welcome. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Thom shut the compartment and dropped the spoon in the sink. “Calvin…I'm curious. What are you doing here?”

“Pick and drop.” He toyed with the spoon, the ice cream now finished. “I pick something up and drop it off. No outside involvement, if reinforcements are needed in a quadrant where I am available, I respond.” He shrugged. “It’s cut and clean, Uncle Thom. I’m not mixed up in anything illegal or stuff like that.”

“That’s a kind of plain answer, isn’t it?” Thom hedged.

“You want the truth, don’t you?” Calvin shot back. “I don’t exactly care to dress up serious things with nonsensical babble.”

“I see. Tell me about these Cobras, then.”

“We help.” He said simply. “We’re like a cross between the secret service and other undercover agencies. We work quickly, simply and fast. We get things done, we get results. That’s the way it is. We’ve worked with the police for years, your government, other countries. We’re commissioned for good and we work under the international organizations. No weird space stuff.”

“My government?”

“Technically yes and no. We’re thought to think of the Cobras as drifters, so in a sense, yes. Yours. Not ours.” He shrugged. “We do as we’re told and we’re careful with what we do.”

“So this incident with you and Rachel…?”

Calvin scowled. “Some street scum got hold of a snitch. We were too late to intervene, so we shadowed and surrounded the place.”

“But you didn’t interfere?”

“No.” He seemed disgusted. “Rachel did that for us. We could have gotten more information if she hadn’t interrupted the conversation, but little-miss-goody-two-shoes thought she was needed.”

“And?”

“And she should’ve stayed out of it! She also took something from the body…I don’t know what it was, but she wouldn’t give it up and then she screamed and disappeared.”

“Screamed and disappeared?”

“Vipers have painful warps.” Calvin shrugged. “We prefer to travel naturally, with no supernatural effects involved.”

“Naturally?” Thom perked a brow.

He chuckled. “Wheels. I’ve got ‘em. She doesn’t. Really, Uncle Thom.”

“I see-if you’re done, please wash the bowl. House rules.”

“Right.” Calvin slowly unwound himself from the creaky wooden chair and headed for the sink. “I suppose I’ll have a chore list again?”

“I’ll post it on the refrigerator first thing before I leave tomorrow.” Thom hid a smile. “I’m surprised you remembered. But seeing as we're on subject, I'm still curious. Calvin-what exactly is the difference between Vipers and Cobras? Honestly, please-in language I can understand.”

Calvin hesitated. “It’s kind of complicated to explain simply, but I’ll try. Cobras are good, Vipers are bad. Vipers tend to use things, manipulate people and their methods are highly unethical. They are freelance and they deal with the…weird space stuff. Many of them have unusual abilities or superpowers as you’d call them. They network at lot-meaning there’s always plenty of them around. The Vipers are headed up by that creep, Mark of Denson and he’s like a demanding little warlord. Runs his agents like troops and they say he’s got mad power.”

“Mark?” Thom repeated.

“Yeah…Rachel talk about him?”

“She mentioned a Mark and it seemed like it was bad, but she hastened to assure me it was all good. Then she asked if we could skip the subject.”

“She’s here on assignment, isn’t she?” Calvin paused in scrubbing the bowl.

“I don’t know.” Thom said quietly. “She’s never given me a straight answer.”

“Vipers never give a straight answer.” Calvin blushed. “Not to knock on Rachel though…she seems nice...enough. But they are holding something over her, otherwise most people wouldn’t willingly work for them. Anything weird happen since she came?”

“Power failures and a stolen body count?”

“What?” Calvin nearly dropped the slippery bowl. “Body? What kind of body are we talking about? A dead one?”

Thom blinked. “Honestly, I never thought I would ever be asked that. Yes, Calvin, a dead one. Some lady ninja or something, turned up in house while Rachel and Jeanette were home and they had a power failure something happened, knocked them all out and she was dead, Rachel was out cold and Jeanette was a wreck. Still can’t get a sensible story out of any of them.”

“She killed her.”

“What?” Thom froze. “Calvin…”

“Never mind…sorry, it just slipped out. Reflex. I’m sure she didn’t do anything. Usually if someone’s dead, a Viper did it. Most of the time-you’re sure she was dead?”

“Yes.” There was an edge of his voice. "Why?"

“She's a Viper...she shouldn't have even come into close contact with someone who could have knocked her out. Not the way I saw her at least. But a stolen body....that sounds familiar though I don’t know why, I’ll ask Arkham tonight. He might have some good explanations. If Vipers are in town, which it appears they are, you need to be very careful Uncle Thom…and so does Rachel. She never shouldn’t have been where she was.”

“Where exactly was she?” Thom wanted to know.

“In the lower district. You know, that old place on the town, where you used to take us kids for ice cream? The parlor area? She was angling further in when she came on radar.”

“What was she doing there?”

“Beats me. Your guess is as good as mine. She looked like she’d been in a fight and she sure wasn’t in the mood to talk.” He rinsed the bowl. “Anything else?”

“No.” Thom waited while he set the bowl on the drying rack and then headed for the stairs. “Goodnight, Calvin. Thanks for your time.”

He shrugged. “No prob. Thanks for letting me stay.”

“Thanks for coming to visit….don’t wait another eight years until the next time you’re in my ‘quadrant’.”

© Sara Harricharan

Friday, May 15, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 11] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Shelley @ her blog, The Veil Thins. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's ramblings: Well, I should have known this week would get crazy again and I'd be cramming too many details into one short post. I'll make up for it next week-I think. lol. Enjoy the new character, Calvin and second appearance of the lovely "Dragon Lady" aka, Pearl. Rachel is shaping up and I soon hope to present her as the heroine you will love to cheer for, inspite of her human shortcomings. Happy reading and have a great weekend!


Calvin slowly descended the stairs with a set expression on his face, he moved stiffly, and deliberately avoided the pairs of eyes following his movements. He slouched on the sofa opposite of them, one hand curling tightly around a pillow, squeezing the fat tassel.

Thom stood at the head of the stairs, his gaze following the slow journey. His hand raised and he crooked a finger. “Rachel. Upstairs, now!”

An involuntary giggle spurted from Jeanette and she quickly slapped a hand over her own mouth, bugging her eyes out at the figure above the stairs. He offered a half-smile, then pointed. “Your turn next, kiddo.”

She wiggled her toes in response.

Thom smiled at her over Rachel’s shoulder, before turning to follow his niece down the hallway. The walk to his bedroom was silent and nothing was said until the door closed tightly behind them. He waited while she moved to the bed and slowly took a seat.

She peeked upwards at him from beneath lowered lashes. “Well? Aren’t you going start lecturing me?”

“Before you’ve had your say?” He teased, gently. “Rachel, your transparency has always been the one quality I admire in you the most, it is also the one at this moment that makes me wonder. There’s so many things written on your face right now, I don’t know which one to read first.”

“It’s that obvious?”

“Don’t they teach you how to keep and hold a blank face? The gray expression?”

“Actually, I skipped class that day.”

He chuckled. “I see…any particular place you’d like to begin?”

“Am I allowed to stay?” The words tumbled from her lips and her eyes pleaded with him, searching the face she knew by heart. “Please, Unk. I won’t get into more trouble…I won’t!”

“You won’t…but you also didn’t promise.” He said quietly. “You’re more than welcome in my home, Rachel-and so are those other two downstairs. Calvin’s had his share of…incidents and so has Jeanette. You three have a lot in common, if you’d care to look past your differences. If you are staying-I won’t force you to stay, but I will expect you to make an concentrated effort to get along with each other while you’re all living under the same roof.” There was a tired look to his gray eyes. “Promise me you will make an effort to do this?”

“I will.” Rachel held up her pinky finger. “Promise.”

He sighed. “Good. Now what exactly is it between a Cobra and a Viper, as you put it, that makes two normally level-headed, intelligent individuals suddenly chuck their common sense out the front window?”

Rachel closed her eyes. “We had a fight.” She said finally. “A sort of street fight.”

“Sort of? Care to elaborate on that for me?”

“I had…orders. I carried them out…there were some complications?”

“Calvin?”

“Let’s theoretically say there were a bunch of…Calvins.” Rachel opened one eye.

Her uncle was leaning against the dresser, one elbow propped up on the edge, listening. “Theoretically.” He repeated. “Okay.”

“And they were observing a…complication.”

“Pertaining to your mis-I mean, your orders?”

“Not exactly.” Her other eyes popped open. “It’s hard to explain.

“Then skip the politically correct phrasing and tell me the story plainly. I won’t repeat it, Rachel. I just need to understand what’s going on with you and if I should be worried.”

“You shouldn’t be worried about me.” Rachel muttered. “I don’t get why everyone has to be worried about me. Don’t they realize they’re the ones in trouble?”

“How so?” He held up a hand. “Don’t tell me, it’s complicated?”

“Yes!” The exclamation was more frustrated than she’d intended, but Rachel couldn’t help it. There wasn’t any way she could sensibly explain what had happened without having to give more details than she felt necessary.

“and somewhere between all of those complications, you and Calvin got in a fight?”

“Not directly.”

“So indirectly…you were in a fight?”

“Sort of.”

“Rachel.”

“Uncle!" She sighed. "Okay, look, there were some other people…they were picking on this guy, so I stepped in…and it was a stupid mistake.”

“Stupid how?”

“I almost ended up the same way as the other guy, but then the Cobras jumped in.”

“And you were caught in the middle?”

“N-not exactly.” Rachel twisted her hands together. “While they were fighting, I went to…examine the body and then there was a confrontation.”

Thom sighed. “A body? Where?”

“It’s all taken care of by now, I’m sure.” Rachel hurriedly added. “Really. It’s organization business, don’t interfere…please, Unk?”

“Is it someone I should be worried about.”

Rachel frowned, her mind rewinding to the moment where she’d rifled through the jacket of the unfortunate victim. “N-o.” She said slowly, remembering the strange coolness of the skin and the funny texture when her fingers had touched his neck and wrist. “Actually…I don’t even think he was human.” There was a strangled sound from the corner near the dresser and Rachel immediately turned to look. “Unk?”

“Nothing.” There was another sigh. “And how exactly did Calvin fit into this?”

“I found a scrap of paper near the body and I picked it up.” Rachel shrugged. “He thought I found some brilliant piece of evidence or something and demanded I hand it over or else.”

“And you didn’t?”

“Of course not!” Rachel exclaimed, indignant. “I found it! And it cost me a great deal of trouble and effort!”

“That was also partially indebted to the assistance of these…Cobras.”

“I would’ve been fine on my own.” Rachel growled. “I found it and it was mine.”

“Why didn’t you give it to them? Just because it was yours?”

“Something like that…they’re Cobras, Unk. You don’t ever trust a Cobra!”

“That’s funny, because the young man sitting on the sofa downstairs also happens to be my nephew…and I do trust him.”

Rachel swallowed. “Okay, let me try again. Those people…that killed that guy. The Cobras were watching, okay? They could’ve stepped in. They could have prevented that, but they didn’t. I got in involved, but I was too late. I tried to interfere for the sake of a life, Uncle Thom, a life! I didn’t care who they were or what side they were on, I just didn’t think it was fair and I thought I could take them.”

“But you couldn’t?”

“I did.” She said quietly, turning away. “But my backup malfunctioned. I’ve been having some trouble…controlling…myself. And because of a momentary lack of self-control, I nearly subjected myself to an unpleasant situation as a result of rash thinking and poor judgment. I was lucky to survive that, but it was nothing more than that. A freak moment. I won’t put myself in such a position again. The point is, whatever that guy had on him that they wanted, I don’t care how trivial it was, he died for it, because they didn’t think it was necessary to intervene. They didn’t earn the right to…to have that.”

“And you did?”

“At least I made an effort, Uncle Thom. I didn’t stand in the window of a warehouse on the same street and stare down at the darkness below.”

Thom sighed. “This self-control thing...does it have anything to do with your strange sleeping habits or the way you randomly appear on people's doorsteps unconscious?"

Rachel winced. "I wish you wouldn't put it that way."

"How can I put it any other way, when I distinctly remember that Ben-friend of yours saying something about blacking out the whole city? There was a major power outage in several districts that very afternoon, Rachel. Now I won't ask you if you're connected, but I will ask you to at least level with me."

"I tried. Ben's not a criminal."

"But he is acting like one." Thom frowned. "That's another discussion for another day, right now, we're focusing on you. Are you done now?”

Rachel hesitated. “Yeah. I guess.”

“And where’s this evidence or information that’s so important?”

Her hands traveled automatically towards her pocket and she stopped when her fingers wiggled freely. “I-it was in my pocket.” She shot to her feet, frantically checking her pockets. “I was right here! I didn’t-” She stopped, feeling the heat rushing to her face. “You said I turned up on the doorstep, didn’t you?”

“You did.”

“It’s too late.” She threw up her hands. “Mark’s got it.”

“Mark?”

“Uh, yeah. Never mind. It’s in good hands.”

“It’s in good hands, but it’s too late because some Mark has it?”

“Could we please not go there?”

He studied her silently for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. But take a seat again, now that you’re finished. It’s my turn.”


* * * * * *


Rachel slowly descended the stairs, shying to the side as a Jeanette bounded up them to her left. “Hey! Watch it!”

“My turn!” Jeanette chirped happily.

Rachel opened her mouth to protest and shut it at the sound of Thom clearing his throat. “Never mind.” She muttered, tromping down the last few steps and throwing herself onto the couch with a grunt.

She felt Calvin’s eyes briefly sweep over her and then return to his fixed object, a coat of arms above the old-fashioned fireplace. A slight glance out of the corner of her eye showed that he didn’t seem to have moved since his return or her arrival. He stared steadily at the metal shield, remaining almost perfectly motionless.

When the door upstairs closed, his head jerked around to her direction, a baleful glare directed at her. “Are you staying?”

Rachel returned the expression. “That depends, are you staying?”

“None of your business.”

“Then it’s none of yours either.” Rachel rolled to her side, turning her back to him as she stretched out on the sofa. A nap was seeming like a very good idea, but the thought of closing her eyes with Calvin in such close proximity wasn’t very safe.

She fished inside her jacket pocket for her cellphone and drew it out, hitting the speed dial for her mother’s phone. It ran several times before switching to her voicemail and then she left a short message.

Calvin snorted when she flipped the phone shut. “Is that who they’re holding over you?”

“Excuse me?” Rachel jerked upright.

“Your mother, of all people.” He chuckled. “At least our kind doesn’t do that. You hate your mother and she hates you, but with all the ridiculousness in this whole thing, no wonder you're so tightly wound up. It must be your incredible sense of loyalty that makes you hop and skip at someone else's beckoning to protect a person that disgusts you.”

"Hey! That's my mother you're talking about! You think you're above everything? That no one can touch you?"

"I never said I was. But seeing as you've brought it up..."

“I didn't bring anything up. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ll thank you not to talk to me.”

“Didn’t Uncle Thom just finish his lecture on politeness? It seems your ears were plugged.”

“Not any more than yours were.” Rachel shot back. “Are you always just superficial to a-”

Thom cleared his throat from the head of the stairs where he stood with one arm around Jeanette’s shoulders. “I am going to pretend that I didn’t hear half of that.” He said quietly. “I’m not going to mention how mature a 14-year-old is in comparison to the whining from the both of you. I’m also not going to repeat that since there are more of us than there was to begin with and it’s rather late, that we’re going out to dinner and I expect you to be ready in twenty minutes. Think casual dining with a few tweaks.” He looked meaningfully at Calvin. “You, comb your hair-Rachel, complete makeover-Jeanette, go take your meds now, hon.”

Jeanette skipped down the stairs, heading straight for the bright pink duffel bag at the corner near the TV center. She fiddled through the pockets and retrieved a standard prescription bottle, heading to the kitchen in search of water.

Calvin slowly shifted to his feet, heading for the downstairs bathroom while Rachel examined her ruined outfit. Her attention now focused on the torn materials and various stains covering the expanse of Ben’s gifted creation. She groaned.

“Rachel?” Thom paused in closing the front blinds.

“Nothing.” She muttered, heading for the stairs. In the safety of the guest bedroom, she pulled out the cellphone and dialed Ben’s number. After exchanging a few pleasantries, she dutifully parroted a verbal report on the day’s activities, explaining her twenty-minute cap and her activities for the evening.

Ben typed the report for her and sent a package in the form of a glowing dresser drawer, with wishes to enjoy the evening and a mandatory warning to beware of Cobra agents. A relieved Rachel retrieved the contents, to find a pair of jeans and a dressy top. She smiled, disappearing into the bathroom to change.

She was the last one out of the house, skidding to a stop in front of Thom’s SUV and wincing at his pointed look. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”

He didn’t answer, climbing into the driver’s seat as she found herself sharing the backseat with Jeanette. “Italian good for everyone?”

“Pizza?” Jeanette asked, hopefully. “Please say Pizza, Mr. C, Please!”

“No pepperoni or anchovies.” Thom smiled. “Deal?”

“Yes!” Jeanette pumped a fist in the air. “Can I have soda too?”

“That depends. Did your mother said you were okay to have sweets again?”

Jeanette sighed loudly.

Thom pulled out of the driveway, starting towards downtown. “I’ll take that as a no, but you’re allowed one glass and no more. No refills. If you get sick on my watch there won’t be a second chance for either of us.”

The rest of the trip reigned in silence and when they finally arrived at the Bella Vienna, Rachel felt her spirits lift as she stepped out of the vehicle and followed to the door. Once inside, they picked a booth in a corner and Thom suggested the buffet.

“Pizza?” Jeanette begged. “Please?”

Thom chuckled. “Okay. One pizza ordered, buffet for everything else.” His mouth twitched. “Please don’t make me remind you to take some vegetables.”

Rachel rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t pizza toppings count? Make it a super-veggie special.”

Calvin grimaced. “That’s disgusting. Don’t you know it comes with pineapple?”

“And tomatoes.” Rachel said cheerfully. “What’s the matter? Can’t stomach it?” She couldn't keep the triumph out of her voice as his expression turned slightly green. "It's really delicious."

“Actually, I want onions.” Jeanette interrupted, but there was now a hint of uncertainty on her face as she looked from one to the other and then back to Thom. “Mr. C?”

“Onions it is.” He shooed her out of the booth. “Go get your plate, I’ll be right there.” He shifted to his feet as she hurried off, pausing beside the two teens. “Am I going to have to separate you two or ask for a vow of silence?”

“Vow of silence.” They both chorused, and then mirrored glares at each other.

“What do you have against me!” Calvin demanded. “Good grief, I haven’t seen you in years!”

“Really? Oh that’s right, the last time you saw me, was probably my terrified face when you locked me in the basement of-”

“That’s what this is about?” His brow furrowed. “Wait a minute, that was you?” His expression brightened with a wicked smirk. “Don’t tell me you’re still afraid of the dark?”

There wasn’t a smart answer coming to mind for that, so Rachel turned away, crossing her arms as a flicker of pink caught her eye. Her jaw nearly dropped as she caught sight of The Dragon Lady and her entourage of six immaculately groomed and suited men flanking her on each side as she ate pizza with a fork.

“Of all the nerve!” Rachel fumed, her argument suddenly forgotten as she headed straight for the table. She grabbed a chair with one hand from a newly vacated table and plunked it down on the edge near the Dragon Lady, herself. “You owe me a sundae.” She neatly swiped a menu from the suit sitting on her left. “With whipped cream.” She opened the menu and buried her face in it, frantically scanning the dessert section.

There was a series of rustles, halted by a soundless gesture before the Dragon Lady spoke. “Pearl is very impressed.” There was a note of admiration in her voice. “What sundae does the little girl wish to order?”

Rachel tipped the menu backwards to catch a glimpse of the dancing golden eyes and neon pink lipstick. “A vanilla sundae with extra chocolate syrup…two cherries.”

She laughed. “Methinks I remember a strawberry sundae. With strawberry syrup…and two strawberries instead of a cherry. Would the little girl really settle for less than her heart’s desire?”

“It’ll have to do because they don’t serve strawberry sundaes here.” Rachel snapped the menu shut. “I’m not picky. It’s just that I had to pay five dollars out of my allowance.”

“Your allowance?” She repeated. “Not your salary?”

“If I’m getting a salary, no one’s ever told me about it.” Rachel frowned. “Just buy me the sundae, would you? I need the chocolate.”

“Pearl thinks the little girl should eat her dinner before her dessert.”

“And the little girl thinks that the Dragon Lady is out of her mind.”

Pearl laughed. “You have quite a temper, my darling. Please, do call me Pearl. The Dragon Lady sounds so….scary.” She nodded towards the suit on her right. “and they serve strawberry sundaes here.” Her wrinkled mouth curved upwards. “At least for me they do.” Her head tilted sideways. “Tell me, since when does a Viper have dinner with a Cobra, a detective and a child of an esteemed gray agent?”

Rachel visibly started. “C-could you not do that?” She swallowed. “I really don’t want to talk about it. And even if I did, it's complicated!”

Pearl chuckled. “Pearl understands…however if I am going to buy you dessert, I cannot do so until you eat your dinner. Anything in particular you wish?”

A wave of temporary happiness spilled over her and Rachel smiled gratefully. “An ultimate veggie pizza, please.”

“With pineapples and tomatoes?” Pearl asked, a wicked gleam in her eye.

Rachel matched the penetrating look. “Yes…and some Dr. Pepper to wash it all down, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not at all, my dear, not at all.” The suit to Pearl’s right had caught the attention of a waiter now directed with whispers on what Rachel’s order was to be. It was quickly jotted down and the freckle-faced waiter offered a hasty bow as he nearly ran towards the kitchen.

Rachel stared after him, surprised. Her shoulders itched in a physical response to the looks she could imagine being sent in her direction. One of them had to be Calvin's followed by that of her Uncle. Jeanette was probably happily stuffing her face.

Pearl studied her for a moment, then directed her gaze at the second suit down on her left. “Petroz, switch seats with Miss Banner…it seems some unwanted eyes are making her most…uncomfortable.”

The husky bodyguard immediately rose to his feet and offered a hand to a shocked Rachel who slowly switched chairs, beginning to feel as if her temper had landed her in a situation she wasn’t quite sure she ought to be in.

“You amuse me, Miss Banner. For a girl of your age and rank, you do truly amuse me. Enjoy your lunch and try not to talk with your mouthful.”

The first dish to arrive at the table was a steaming side plate of mixed vegetables. Rachel opened her mouth and shut it at the sight of the twinkling eyes from across the table. She took a small plate and scooped a third of the contents into the dish, deliberately taking a heaping mouthful.

Thankfully, it wasn’t as hot as it looked and she was able to chew and swallow with a neutral expression. “I suppose I ought to thank you for seeing a perfectly well-balanced meal.” She managed around mouthfuls.

Pearl simply smiled.

The meal went quickly and Pearl even attempted to try a slice of the exotic pizza herself. There was no expression after the first few bites, but halfway into the slice, she crossed the knife and fork across the plate, signaling the end of her meal. She had indeed ordered a strawberry sundae for Rachel and one for herself. Both desserts were quickly consumed and when the meal had ended, Pearl reached into her purse and drew out a blue credit card. “Rachel, darling, be a dear and purchase some mints from the counter for me?” The card was slid across the table. “My signature’s on the back, I’m sure you can sign it. I want the ginger mints, they help with digestion the best, they’re used to my order here, so you can simply tell them you want the mints for Pearl.” She smiled and tilted her head towards the hulk on her right. He stood up. “Blake will accompany you if you wish.”

“I do wish.” Rachel licked her lips. There was barely any comfort in his intimidating presence standing just a half-pace behind her, but her sense of politeness refused to allow her to deny the woman’s request. After all, she had replaced the sundae in addition to a full-course dinner. Rachel waited in line at the register and finally gave the table number when asked. “And um, some mints for Pearl? She wants the ginger kind.”

The bored-faced clerk looked her up and down, then his eyes narrowed. “You aren’t Pearl.”

“Uh, no. But she asked me to buy these for her….the mints, please?”

“I’ll need to see some ID.” He yawned. “Please hurry up, there are other patrons in line.”

Her fingers fumbled for the necessary square of plastic known as her driver’s license. “Here.”

Hawk-like eyes scanned it rapidly and then the narrowed eyes turned into a full-fledge glare. “You’re under-twenty one.”

“So?” Rachel resisted the urge to snatch the license back from him.

“So…you’re underage.” He flicked the license back across the counter. “Sorry. Can’t help you.”

“But I need them!” Rachel held up the card. “And I can pay for them.”

“You can’t sign for an unauthorized card.” He droned. “I’m sorry, next?”

“Hey!” Rachel twisted sideways to keep her face in his line of view. “The lady is right over there you can ask her yourself, you can also ask her bodyguard.”

“What bodyguard?” The fellow asked, loftily.

Rachel blinked. She turned halfway and then stopped. There was no one behind her and the table to where she’d pointed was empty. The credit card poked her hand as it clenched into a fist. “The invisible one next to me.” Rachel hissed. “Never mind.” She jammed the card into her pocket and turned away from the counter.

© Sara Harricharan

Friday, May 8, 2009

I'm Free!

I'm Free!

Those were the words that tumbled out of my mouth today when someone asked how I was doing. I couldn't help laughing after that-and throughout my entire explanation of why "free" was exactly how I was feeling. Needless to say, that was a very, um, interesting conversation. Why am I free? School's out of course...

The title pretty much explains my attitude towards the wide expanse of summer before me. It is weeks and months of glorious time, empty in a sense, for use. There are memories to be made, outfits to be worn, dozens of silly pictures and stories to be created and of course, cake. I'm seeing all the wonderful things I want to do, can do and probably will eventually do. The treat I am most looking forward to, has nothing to do with writing or other productive things. I just want to sleep.

^_^  For the past few months, the main wish has been for more sleep and more time to sleep. Now with finals over and done with, I have a chance to relax-possibly and enjoy the most favorite, yet elusive past time of all. Simply doing nothing. Do you know how hard it is to do that?

I finally figured it out one day when I was watching a Winne The Pooh movie, where Pooh and Christopher Robin were just talking and hanging out and Pooh wanted to know what they were going to do. CR simply laughed and said. "Nothing of course. That's the best part Pooh, you see when grown-ups ask you what you're going to do. You can say, nothing. And then you just go out and do it." As he's talking, CR and Pooh walk up to the great big tree on the hill and sit down, side by side, before CR adds one little note. "Of course you can't do it to often, then it isn't special anymore."

That particular thought has stuck in my head for awhile. I guess maybe it's just my own interpretation of it. Thinking, still...wishing. I think today, I'm going to do...Nothing.

Have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day to every mom out there. You're s special bright start in the hearts of everyone close to you.


Raising Rachel [part 10] (Friday Fiction)

This week's Friday Fiction is hosted by Julie @ her blog, The surrendered Scribe. Click here to read and share more great fiction!

Author's Ramblings: Hey everyone! I think I'm pretty close to this being the earliest I've ever been for Friday Fiction. I've been working on Rachel's story since last night, so that may have had something to do with it. ^_^ Some good news-I have a fansite I've been working on, with character profiles and a few "spoilers" for the curious. Here's the link : Raising Rachel Extras. Enjoy-and have a great weekend!


The new unfamiliar surroundings were rather scary in comparison to some of the streets Rachel had walked in her life. She was grateful for Ben’s arms around her and when they dropped to his sides, she took a careful breath.

“Don’t breathe too deeply.” Ben cautioned. “You don’t want to know what’s really been there.”

Rachel shuddered. “Then don’t tell me.”

“You can’t go in there looking like that either.” Ben frowned. “Next time remind me that you’ve got girl stuff to do.”

“Girl stuff?” Rachel paused in mid-brush. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You just got juiced by an unknown amount of voltage that, roughly translated into, you look as if you’ve been shaken, fried and steamed, because the crust that covered you afterwards was too crispy.”

Her stomach rumbled and she grimaced. “Are we talking about food or how awful I look?” She tugged at her mussed hair. “Don’t you have a holo gear or something that’ll give me a decent image projection?”

Ben shook his head at once. “You don’t want to go in there with that.” He rubbed his chin. “Okay…do you like…pink?”

“Pink?” Rachel repeated incredulously. But her answer didn’t get much further than that. A soft shower of golden sparkles twinkled over her, replacing her grimy outfit with a smart black pants matched with a white dress shirt, finished off by a flowing pink and purple scarf. She swallowed, turning to face him. “Great taste.”

“Don’t thank me. It’s standard wear for where you’re going.” He took a step backwards. “I know you’ve got your head screwed on straight, but still…watch your back, okay? I’ve got paperwork. I can’t run down here every half-second.”

“You’re going now, I guess?” Rachel shuffled forward. “Thanks.”

He half-shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. You look good, kid. Go knock ‘em dead. I’ve got other things to dabble in before the day is done.”

Rachel caught his arm as he reached for his rope bracelet. “Ben…that missing body…I know you were listening. You didn’t take it…did you?”

He looked at her for a full moment. “What if I said yes?”

Her eyes closed and she let go of his arm. “You did?”

“No.” He patted her shoulder. “But don’t ask who did. Just mind your side of things and don’t get involved in the bigger picture…it’s safest this way.” His fingers curled around the rope bracelet and pulled. As the rope snapped, a sudden flash of white burst through the darkness.

Rachel shielded her face, blinking to readjust to the darkness when he’d gone. She sighed. “This is not the way my life is supposed to go.” She told the brick wall in front of her. “And where exactly am I?” She inched out from the ally and was pleasantly surprised to find herself in the lower half of the old downtown district.

There were several people milling about, dim lights illuminating dirty windows. Rachel rubbed her wrist, it was aching again. She studied the names, some familiar and some not. The soda shop at the corner she remembered from childhood trips with her uncle.

Her wrist itched again and she looked down as she prepared to scratch it and then stopped. The words “Soda Shop” were clearly inscribed on the inside of her wrist. She swallowed. “Okay. I can take a hint.” She started for the soda shop.

A few curious stares followed her, but Rachel pretended she couldn’t see them. The bell above the door chimed, the wooden floorboards creaking as she stepped into the shop. It was almost full, except for two booths in the back. Rachel mentally flipped through her mission file in her head.

There were two small photos coming to the front of her mind, followed by names and topics to cover in their conversations. She stood in line, her mouth-watering as she decided on a strawberry-crème sundae. It would be nice to have something to snack on while she took care of business.

Her gaze flickered quickly over the occupants of the establishment. A shudder passed through her as she took note of several people she sincerely hoped had nothing to do with her mission. One in particular, was an elderly lady with a bright pink plastic hat and matching plastic jewelry. Rachel winced. “That is way too much pink.” She muttered to herself, moving onto the next curious person.
She realized, with sudden twinge of uneasiness that in spite of the busy soda shop, there were no children as customers. There were no children around period. Her mind quickly double-checked what she’d seen as she crossed the street. There had been no children around there either. One hand clenched into a fist, fingernails digging into the palm of her hand to help her keep her face as blank as possible.

When her turn came, she ordered the sundae with a smile and waited while it was scooped into pretty rose-colored glass dish. A little mermaid plastic spoon was stuck in one corner and a napkin was pressed into her hand, a little harder than necessary.

Rachel took the napkin and sundae with a careful smile, moving out from the line and pausing to crumple the tissue paper when she caught sight of faint colored smudges. She started towards the two back booths when she realized what the napkin said. Her stomach rumbled as she grimaced and did an about face.

Walking deliberately to the booth with the pink-plastic-hat lady, Rachel hovered at the edge. “Mind if I sit here?”

The wrinkled face looked up, the thin-lips parting to reveal a gap-toothed smile. “You bought me a sundae!” The woman chirped. “How precious of you! You are the bestest granddaughter a woman ever had.” Veined hands reached out and grabbed the pink sundae.

Rachel plopped into the booth, still holding the dish. “That’s mine-!” She started to say and then reluctantly released it. “You’re very lucky,” She began, then stopped. “Look, I don’t have a lot of time, can you hurry it up? I have a few more places to be.”

“A few more places?” Crackling lettuce green eyes drilled into her. “Or a curfew?”

“What?”

“Aren’t you a little too young for this kind of business?” A huge spoonful of strawberry ice cream disappeared inside the gaping mouth.

Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “Really? And aren’t you a little too old for this kind of thing?”

The woman cackled loudly, drawing the stares of several brave enough to look in her direction. “Impertinent little thing, aren’t you?” Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “Impatient too.”

“Take it however you wish it.” Rachel said, meaningfully. “But you’ve got five minutes before I’m walking right out of here.”

The woman snickered into a pink-checkered kerchief. “Running through life like that, honey, it’s never evah gonna turn out good.”

“So they tell me.” Rachel mutely handed her a napkin. “It’s dribbling down your chin.” She turned away as the woman froze, then snatched the napkin and swabbed angrily at her face.

She muttered under her breath, and continued to scarf down the ice cream. Rachel checked her watch and when the allotted five minutes were drawing near, the woman began to eat more frantically.

Rachel sighed. “You owe five bucks.” She shifted to her feet. “But I’ll send you the bill, alright?”

One gnarled hand reached out and captured her wrist. “Not so fast, my pretty. I doubt a certain fellow would be too pleased if you were to leave without what you were supposed to get.”

Rachel tried to pull her hand away. “I doubt he’d be any happier if I wasted my time, when I could be doing something more useful.”

The hand refused to release her. “Come now, my dear, I doubt that’s the way you talk to the Pearl Dragon.”

There was a split moment of silence.

“You’re the Dragon Lady?” Rachel took a deep breath and let it out. She didn’t bother to count to ten. “Then excuse me, you weren’t in the job description. I’ve got work to do.” Rachel gave her hand one extra hard jerk and succeeded only in pulling the lady to her feet as well. The vise-grip refused to relinquish what was rightfully hers.

“Then I am sorry they did not fully inform you.” Her speech had suddenly grown soft and eloquent, yet barely above a whisper. A kindly smile touched the aged face. “Would you please see me out?” The hand moved from her wrist to her arm.

For lack of something clever to counter that, Rachel simply kept her mouth shut. The atmosphere in the shop seemed to shift, but her mind had moved beyond that. They exited the shop and continued down the street. “Shouldn’t I be asking where you’re taking me?” Rachel murmured.

They stopped at the street corner. “Should you?” The cackle had returned.

“I don’t know, you tell me.” They rounded the corner, starting towards the darkened end of the rundown street. Rachel felt her senses heightening and she tentatively reached one hand towards the necklace.

“Pretty little bauble you have there.” The eloquence had returned to her. “Did a friend give it to you?”

Uneasiness overtook her as the lady’s hand suddenly dropped from her arm. Rachel felt herself stiffen. “I’m here for information, Miss Dragon Lady.” Rachel stopped, taking two steps backwards. “A package, a download, however you want to give it to me.”

“Information? You ask Pearl for information?” The cackle gave way to a lilting laugh. “It is extremely unwise to ask Pearl for any information. She sees nothing, she knows nothing. Pearl is a very good person. Pearl believes in the goodness of every heart. There is nothing to-”

“My ears are open too.” Rachel crossed her arms over her chest. “And I’m waiting to hear.”

“Pearl wishes she knew what the rude little girl was trying to ask her.” The polite smile changed into a smirk. “But the rude little girl should learn to have better manners.” The woman began to back away. “Peal is sorry, but she must go now.”

Rachel let her arms drop to her sides. Her head was beginning to hurt. She didn’t want to deal with that now. “Look, Miss Dragon Lady, I really-”

What a foolish little girl. I can’t believe the Great Mark of Denson sends me a little earthling girl. A human! Of all those he has available…and he expects me to simply hand over all the information in my possession? What a foolish man. As if I would tell him everything in the first place. Pysch is not my problem…and Mark will never look for the answer staring him straight in the face. Ugh. I do not have the time for this. I am going to be late for my brunch with the Grand Councilman’s wife. What do I have to do for those idiots to attack on time!? They are a full twelve seconds late!

Rachel blanked, her mind whirring furiously to understand the new information. Her body reacted to the training Ben had drilled her with, several years before. She backed immediately to a wall and began to undo the scarf from around her neck, threading it through the thin belt loops on the pants. She reached one finger up and licked it, testing the direction of the wind. Her mind did the calculations and she rolled her neck to the side. “Why can’t trig be as simple as this?” She muttered, casting a glance around her.

The streets were empty.

Shadows began to melt up from the ground. Taking form, each darkened wisp-like creature began to take shape into tall, slender beings with pointed ears. Their bodies remained entirely composed of the black shadow wisps, while their eyes burned a fierce, bright red.

Rachel groaned. “Aw man! You had to bring shadow creatures?” She turned to where she’d left the lady, but there was only a slight scorch mark left on the sidewalk. Rachel sighed. The headache was gone too. “You know I’m going to win, right?” She asked the creatures, as she painstakingly unbuttoned the shirt-sleeve cuffs and rolled them up. The blue-black tattoo glowed brightly and as they closed in, Rachel launched herself forward.

It was a matter of minutes before the streets were littered with shapeless forms of gray clay-like matter. Rachel gingerly picked her way over them and tried to shape her hair back into something recognizable.

She was still fumbling with the shirtsleeves when she walked up the streets, back towards the general direction of civilization. She reached for her cell phone, finger hovering over Ben’s speed dial. Her shoulders drooped. It was one phone call she didn’t really want to make. She plopped down on the edge of the sidewalk and stretched her feet out.

“Oh that feels good.” She wiggled her feet, then hugged her knees to her chest. “You’re smart, self.” The pep talk began. “All you have to do is use that brilliant mind of yours….yeah right, as if I’m brilliant.” There was a breath of silence. She scuffed her shoe along the edge of the sidewalk. “And if I was brilliant, I’d think.” She told the empty street. “I’d think....I’d think and I’d know that some things don’t really change.” She half-laughed. “That’s why no one’s really figuring this out, right? Because they’re not really using their heads? If I were an addict…and I wanted…no…that’s too weird, then again…” A slow smile crept across her face. “If I were kid on drugs…I already know the answer to that.”

She surged upwards to her feet and began walking, her mind retrieving and sectioning information as it came to her. “High school kids, they have more access than anyone realizes, good grief, I know that for a fact. There’s got to be a high school still open around here…I’ll just find someone to interview, in fact I should probably know a few of them.” She frowned. “At least I knew a few of them before-” She rubbed her arm absently. “Maybe they’ll have some interesting information…there’s always a kid who knows too much, one who wants to know and one who doesn’t want to be mixed up in the whole mess.” Her lips pursed. “I wonder which one of them will talk to me.”

Armed with this new direction, Rachel emerged from the darkened streets, scanning the road before quickly crossing. Her mind was busy sorting and arranging every bit of information she could pull from her experiences with the Waynesburg High Schools. Her mother had sent her to spend a few summers and a semester once, it hadn’t been pretty, but her younger years had rarely ever been worth remembering.

She stifled a shudder, as a familiar prickly feeling swept over her from head to toe. She rubbed her neck with one hand, unable to keep from turning to look over her shoulder. The feeling of being watched was increasing with every careful step she took. Her eyes continued to adjust to the still darkening surroundings as she trotted down the empty street, passing empty warehouses and buildings sectioned off with lines of caution tape.

Angry voices caught her ear and her head swiveled in their direction. Her brow furrowed as she focused, trying to make out the words. Something crashed, then someone swore and Rachel shrank back against the building, inching up to the corner.

It was the kind of thing she always wished she didn’t have to witness, mostly because she’d been on the receiving end of it a few times too many. Her stomach churned as she slowly made out the figures, punching and kicking a fallen shadow on the ground. Her head throbbed fiercely as she yanked her head back around the corner, forcing herself to take careful breaths.

It didn’t help.

The headache grew worse as she argued with herself, slowly losing the debate. One hand curled into a fist and she thumped her head softly on the brick wall.

I am so going to regret this.

She curved around the corner of the building and slowly walked towards the fight. It wasn’t exactly much of a fight, in fact, it was most decidedly one-sided. She stopped when the first scout noticed her and quickly alerted the others. They hesitated in their motions for a mere half-second, before someone jerked a head in her direction.

Three detached from the group and began to migrate towards her. Rachel sighed, flexing her toes inside her sneakers. It was going to be painful…on both sides.

“Hi.” She said, when they were close enough where they couldn’t mistake her. “Mind if I ask what you guys are doing?”

“None of your business-”

“Please don’t start any name calling…I don’t do very well with name calling.” Rachel rubbed her elbow with one hand. “I actually don’t do very well with this sort of thing either. Um…why are you picking on that?”

“What?”

“That!” Rachel pointed. “Him, her…whoever…what’d they do?”

The taller one glared at her, one eye strangely glassy as his searing gaze burned through her from head to toe. “That’s a real dumb question, little lady.”

Rachel forced a smile. “And here I thought I was being cute.” She tensed, waiting.

And the next few minutes blurred.

In the seconds it took them to move into formation to attack her, Rachel moved faster than them. She dropped to a crouch, lashing out with a kick to her left, before Ben’s training took over. She moved, seamlessly, dodging, punching, kicking in all the right places as her head continued to throb.

Her victory was short-lived when the noise drew the attention of the rest of the group. They dispatched as a blob, moving menacingly towards her, armed with the common variet of various street implements.

Rachel tilted her head to the side and rolled her shoulders back. Her gaze was fixed on the fallen figure left in the street, with one lifeless hand trailing in a dirty puddle. “That person better be alive.” Rachel growled, as they began to circle.

They closed in faster than before.

She saw stars in the one blow that reached her aching head and tasted blood in the punch that split her lip. Her temper sparked and she felt the throbbing ease as she reared up from the sea of hands and taunts with a sudden release.

The light blue ring of energy exploded outward from her chest, knocking them back into the brick buildings around her. Rings of blue energy snaked up the chains and wooden planks, causing cries of pain from their operators as the second wave of energy tackled those brave enough to stagger forward again.

With sudden gasp, Rachel felt the energy within her immediately fading as her limbs refused to move. A choked gurgle escaped as her body twitched, jerked and then slumped forward. The mocking laughter ringing in her ears only added to the humiliation sweeping over her as her eyelids began to slide shut. This wasn’t going to have a happy ending after all. There were too many of them. Too many things going wrong.

No!

This regret would haunt her for the years to come. Her head began ache again as her mind feebly sputtered through her quickly failing options. The foremost thought in her mind, was not to scream. The second thought was the rope bracelet Ben had given her. Her trump card.

Got to reach it…

Shouts and cries began to fill the air. Rachel struggled to keep her eyes open and focused on directing her fingers to use the bracelet. She was vaguely aware that the shouts were growing more muffled or possibly farther away. The cold, wet pavement carried a faint scent, reminiscent of a memory she didn’t want to remember.

There was a loud, distinct slurp. And Rachel coughed.

She could move.

Tears of joy could have sprouted and spilled down her cheeks if she’d had the energy for such gratitude. As it was, her common sense was mostly intact and so Rachel did the logical, human thing.

She staggered to her feet and charged the first few steps away from the fray now taking place behind her. It had only taken one terrified shriek to coax her eyes over her shoulder to see the battle taking place. It was one-sided again, but this time, to the newcomers, whoever they were. Melting from the shadows, crawling out of the broken windows from the surrounding buildings, they poured into the street, with singular intent.

Rachel couldn’t bear to watch, relieved to know that their current occupation kept them from noticing her escape and new objective. She hurried to the fallen figure, crouching near the body, her fingers automatically slipping around the damp collar to feel for a pulse.

A sickening feeling washed over her as she realized there was none, and from the chilled pavement, the coldness seeped in. Swallowing back the bitter taste in her mouth, Rachel gritted her teeth, methodically checking the pockets and then the shoes. Her fingers closed around a peculiar piece of bright paper, crunched into a ball. She stared at it for a moment, squeezing it and then about to unravel it when footsteps crunched on the loose gravel behind her.

“I wouldn’t take that if I were you.”

Rachel jerked to her feet, tucking the paper inside her shirt sleeve and under the rope bracelet Ben had given her. Her fingers toyed with the rough twine and she turned slowly. “Depends…finders keepers, isn’t it?”

There was a scoff. “Isn’t that just like a girl.” The speaker growled. “What kind of stunt was that back there? You could’ve gotten yourself killed if we hadn’t stepped in!”

“I kind of doubt that.” One hand curled into a fist. “I had it under control.”

“Yeah, with your face planted on the pavement after throwing out that kind of energy? Suuuure you had it under control.”

Her fist flashed out in the moment his hand swept up to block her. A stray flashlight beam briefly illuminated their smudged faces and they jerked apart, Rachel skittering several steps back. “Cobra!” She hissed.

“Viper.” The fellow snarled back. “This was a Cobra op, what are you doing here?”

“Minding my own business-why did you interfere!” Rachel took another step back, trying to count the heads slowly moving towards her. There was far more of them than she wanted to acknowledge.

“You’re in Cobra territory.” The speaker stepped forward, clicking on a flashlight aimed in her direction.

She shied back, leaning away from the beam. “Yeah…my bad…I guess you have a good explanation for that guy back there, huh? You know…the dead one?”

“an unfortunate…occurrence.” The fellow seemed to hesitate. “One that will be taken care of and if you cooperate, we’ll even let you go, as soon as you hand over that.”

“Hand over what?” Her fingers closed securely over the rope bracelet.

“You’re not exactly in a bargaining position, Viper.” The light grew brighter as the speaker approached. “Just hand it over-”

“You don’t even know what it is!” Rachel snapped the bracelet and waited.

Nothing happened.

Come on. Come on! Now!

“And you do?”

A spattering of laughter echoed around her and Rachel realized, belatedly that she was completely surrounded. They wouldn’t be letting her go, not even if they had what they wanted. Her arm began to burn and she absently reached up to rub it. Her pretty outfit was most certainly ruined. She thought, Ben would pitch a fit.

“Keep your hands where I can see them!” The fellow barked, as another beam of light cut through the darkness, illuminating her figure pressed against the dead end.

Rachel resisted the urge to stick her tongue out. “Yeah, yeah!” Her arm was beginning to burn even worse and she moaned softly, the rubbing turning to a frantic itch. “Stop it!”

“What? Hey!”

There was a sudden sharp pain and then the familiar pull and tug. Rachel closed her eyes as the energy flashed and blackness rushed to meet her.

* * * * * *

Mark watched the street fights with interest, nodding as Rachel had worked her way through each situation and then finally pulled on her last resort. He frowned when she broke the bracelet, but didn’t explode in the customary shower of glittering sprinkles.

When another moment passed, with nothing happening, Mark turned away from the surveillance screen and touched the tattoo etched on his left bicep. His eyes closed as he focused solely on her, then completed the summons.

He felt the ripple of energy when she was admitted to the headquarters and then slowly materialized in front of him, unconscious. The frown grew deeper as he knelt beside her, feeling for a pulse and then retrieving the scrap of paper she’d tucked inside her shirt-sleeve cuff.

It was a curious little square of paper, crumpled as if it had been crushed several dozen times over, but speckled with pieces of neon color. He turned the paper over in his hands, examining it before pocketing the specimen and rising to his feet.

He motioned to the surveillance guard standing at the doorway. “Send Cherry in.”

The guard leaned outside the door and knocked twice. Cherry hurried in, jabbering on her communicator until she was standing directly before him. She mumbled a few more things, then clicked it off. “Sir?”

“The arrangements…?”

“Just taken care of, sir.” She offered a tentative smile. “The last conversation was confirmation, all should go according to plan.”

“Few things go according to plan, Cherry.” Mark murmured, motioning for the guard to advance. “See that Rachel is taken to Terry and given a complete body healing and a mild memory suppressant to insure she sleeps well without interruption. I also need Quinn from forensics and Dayton from the Earth dispatch, for some new…just call them.” Mark brushed past heading for the door, he paused half-way through. “And Cherry? Put out the alert of Cobras in Viper territory…I want to know what they’re doing here and who sent them.”

“Yes sir.” Cherry swallowed, waiting until his footsteps echoed further along the hallway, before turning her glare to the girl now cradled in the guard’s arms. Her jaw slowly clenched tighter as she gave a jerk of her head and stalked out of the room.

* * * * *

Rachel stirred, sleepily. The warm softness wrapped around her was so good, it had to be a dream. She snuggled closer, while mindless pink fluffy things danced through her thought-stream.

Her brow furrowed, signaling her awakening as her mind began to connect together the previous night’s events and compute them with her strange whereabouts. Her eyes popped open and Rachel found herself staring up into her uncle’s worried face with Jeanette’s curious expression hovering over his shoulder.

“Rachel!” His eyes closed and he rubbed his forehead. “Thank you, Lord.” He murmured. “I thought I’d lost you…again.” There was an extra touch of annoyance on the last word as he shifted to his feet. “How are you feeling?”

Rachel tentatively wiggled her fingers and toes, relieved to find them in proper working order. She slowly eased upwards, wincing with the twinge of aches from pains she didn’t want to remember. On impulse, one finger went to her lip and she traced the throb for a moment, amazed to find the skin smooth. “I…you…when did I get here?” She croaked.

Jeanette giggled. “You sound awful.”

“I feel awful.” Rachel glared at her. “stop laughing…you’re making my head hurt.”

The giggles disappeared at once, turning to a look of disgust mingled with boredom. “Right.” She rolled her eyes. “And just looking at you, makes my eyes hurt.”

“Girls.” Thom said warningly, emerging from the kitchen with a platter in hand. “Rach, you need to eat something.”

Rachel sat up eagerly at once, and her body took over as she literally devoured every morsel on the plate, finishing with a soft burp and a quiet “excuse me.”

Another giggle spurted out from Jeanette. “Wow, you must be really hungry. Isn’t there any food at that motel?”

Rachel blinked. “Motel?” Her mouth went dry. “I’m not at the motel…” She whispered. “I’m home…how did I get here? Uncle Thom?”

He gently tugged the platter from her fingers. “You turned up on the doorstep, while I was fumbling for my keys.”

“What?” Rachel could only stare at him, her hands were slowly rearranging the blankets around her to form a comfortable cocoon of comfort. Her head grew heavy and she leaned back against the sofa. This was not the way things were supposed to be going.

Jeanette burst into laughter. “Boy, you are funny!” She managed, between giggles. “You’re better than-”

“Jean, could you bring me the carton of fried rice, with a spoon?” Thom nudged her off the sofa. “Now, please.”

There was another tragic roll of her eyes, couple with a sigh. “O-kay.” Jeanette took the empty plat, reluctantly shuffling towards the kitchen.

Thom fixed her with a penetrating look. “Rachel, do you have an explanation for why you appeared on the front porch, unconscious?” A soft chime sounded throughout the house and both heads turned towards it. Thom sighed. “I’ll get it.” He hurried the front door and happy exclamations filled the hallway.

Rachel buried her head in her hands. “Calvin.” She moaned between fingers. “I thought he wasn’t going to arrive until…” Her stomach rumbled and she whimpered. It hurt.

The happy greetings continued all the way into the living room until Rachel felt them standing in the living room. She turned, wearily to focus on an all-too-familiar face and a shock of blond hair, with a tattoo just below his left ear.

Her eyes grew wide and she tore off the blanket cocoon, backtracking to the stairs in the same movement. “Cobra!” The word hissed through her teeth.

Calvin’s head jerked up and his own expression mirrored hers as he took a step forward. “Viper!” He dropped his duffel bag and sport jacket. “You!”

“You!” Rachel shrieked back. “What were you …you’re…that’s…this is just plain wrong!” She danced up a few steps, maintaining a distance between him. “You could have killed me!”

“I?” He repeated, incredulously. “I could have killed you? You were the one with the heroics-and do you have any idea what that stupid stunt of yours cost me!”

“What stunt…don’t you dare come closer!” Rachel gripped the banister for support, the adrenaline fading.

“Rachel!” Thom stepped between them. “Calvin? What’s going on here?”

“He’s a Cobra!” Rachel whined.

“And she’s a Viper.” Calvin scowled. “Do the math.”

“He doesn’t understand that kind of math.” Rachel retorted. “Stop talking!”

Jeanette’s laughter spilled over from the kitchen as she stood, holding a carton of Chinese fried rice with a soup spoon in one hand. “Wow, drama!” She sing-songed.

“That’s enough!” Thom’s voice rang through the house with sudden force. “That is quite enough.” He repeated, quieter now. “Am I to understand there is some sort of enmity between you two on account of snakes?”

Rachel inched down the stairs, angling towards Jeanette and the necessary food carton, now standing beside her uncle. “Um, something like that?” She tried to shrug.

“Sit down.” Thom barked. “All of you. Now!”

Rachel immediately plunked down on the nearest sofa, then reached one hand upwards and pulled Jeanette down with her, snatching the food carton and spoon.

“Hey!” Jeanette protested.

“Calvin?” Thom directed his annoyance towards him. “Are you going to sit down?”

“Not in the same house as her.”

Thom deliberately inserted himself between Calvin’s line of sight. “I see.” He turned over his shoulder. “Rachel?”

“Yes sir?”

His mouth twitched. “Good girl. Stay. Both of you.” He added when Jeanette began to rise. “Calvin, upstairs, now. I’ve had it with all this cloak and dagger business and it ends here!”

© Sara Harricharan

Friday, May 1, 2009

Raising Rachel [part 9] (Friday Fiction)

This week's friday fiction is hosted by by Sharlyn at her blog, Dancing on the Rainbows. Click here to read and share more great fiction.

Author's Ramblings: Well, I'm late this week, but I hope it's worth it for two new bonus twists. ^_^ I added them as a last minute afterthought, think you can tell me what they are? It's a great installment with more exploration between Rachel, her uncle and a new connection between Ben. Enjoy and a have a wonderful weekend! (on a side note, I have successfully completed Screnzy, clocking in last night at 101 pages. The dialog side of me should be winding down soon. ^_^)

The ride back to the motel was virtually silent until they reached the parking lot, then Ben caught her arm as she reached for the door handle. “Wait…”

“What?” Rachel turned towards him, for the first time that evening, she caught the full view of the painful expression on his face. It made her chest ache. “Ben? Is there something wrong?” Her voice softened. She’d been leaning on him hard, from the first week of their friendship, it hadn’t occurred to her that his own needs or hurts would ever come to the surface.

“Your telepathy.” He said quietly, unhooking something from around his neck. It was a tiny blue pearl on a fine gold chain. “You won’t be able to control it and…having the power to read someone’s thoughts, or to deal with the strong auras of emotions is very taxing on the human…soul.”

“Soul?” Rachel undid the seat belt, turning to face him directly. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about a gift that is as much of a curse as it is a gift.” He offered a half-smile. He wiggled his finger. “Turn around. Wear this…it will keep your mind steady.”

Rachel turned, lifting her limp ponytail. The necklace slipped easily around her neck, settling almost weightlessly. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s a special gift…from a long time ago. When you need to focus, just hold it and use the energy inside of it. Okay?”

Rachel swallowed, fingering the tiny blue stone. “Okay.” Her voice was choked. “T-thanks, Ben…what kind of energy…?”

He almost smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Just know that from the moment, you think you’re losing it, your mind isn’t functioning the way you want it, then just hold this and focus. You’ll be fine.”

“You’re sure?” Rachel blushed, then reached backwards, leaning over to give him a hug. “Never mind. I know it will.”

He hugged her back. “Sure it will. It works when you’re good…it hones in on the positive energy generated by the wearer. You’re a good kid, Rock.” He sighed, pulling away. “Come along now, I’m sure there’s a lecture waiting for you upstairs.”

“A lecture?” Rachel scrambled out of the car and hurried to the sidewalk. “What do you mean?”

He didn’t answer and she didn’t ask again, but the strange-atmosphere seemed to grow as she continued up the walk, into the motel and even as they stood in the elevator.

Ben shifted uneasily in the corridor as Rachel opened the door to the motel room. She started in and backed out almost at once. Ben caught her elbow with one hand, his height allowing him to see over her shoulder and determine the cause of her sudden reverse.

She heard him sigh and the propel her forward into the room. Rachel opened her mouth and shut it as her Uncle Thom finally released the remaining set of words he’d had stored up for her.

“Where were you?” The question was more of a demand, as he stood, arms folded across his chest, expression hard and unmoving. “I’ve been waiting here for you for the past four hours. I couldn’t call your phone, Pete said you promised you were going to stay here and I’m supposed to have come to get your statement and then get out there looking for a killer!”

“A killer?” Rachel felt herself suddenly shrinking beneath his anger-tinted frustrations. “What kind of a killer?”

“That lady…” Thom raked a hand through his hair and then turned away abruptly. “That lady in the room…she was dead, Rachel. Somebody killed her. I can’t get a straight answer out of Jeanette and Abby won’t let me take it from her. What we have going on right now…all we can tell is that someone electrocuted her.”

“She didn’t just…um, zap herself?” Rachel heard herself say.

The words sounded foolish to her own ears and he nailed her with a withering glare, his mouth opened and more words poured out. “…and then what did you think you were doing? Just disappearing like that?” He caught hold of thick handful of hair. "Sit down. Just sit down. We need to talk."

Ben cleared his throat.

Thom glared at him. “I’m not asking your opinion, though I am curious…how many times have you died?”

Ben perked a brow.

The glare darkened. “I seem to remember a phone call with a sobbing Rachel on one end trying to tell me that some special friend was dead. I remember driving her to a memorial service. I remember watching framed pictures of your high school graduation displayed on a shelf above your open casket. I also remember overhearing a certain conversation between two punks, the neon colored hair and too much metal in their ears, laughing about how this wasn’t the first time, you’d died.”

Rachel stared at him, uncomprehendingly. “Not the first?” She swallowed, the rush of memories flooding over her.

Ben whirled on her at once. “Don’t!” He grabbed her shoulders and gave her a light shake. “Don’t do that! You want to black out the motel next?”

“Black out?” Thom interjected. “Get your hands off of her!”

Ben let go and took two quick steps back, successfully out of reach of Thom. “The lady back at the house-”

“That’s none of your business.” Thom said brusquely, drawing Rachel closer to him. “Rachel, are you okay?”

Rachel shrank back. “Yeah, I’m fine, Unk…it’s just Ben.” The thought echoed eerily in her mind and she swallowed hard, apparently this new power would be requiring a whole lot of extra work and concentration to maintain. She took several deep breaths to calm herself down. Blacking out a motel wasn't something she wanted to explain.

Thom scowled. “Just Ben. I know…that’s what those two said, I take it you’ve died more than once, correct?”

A new level of blankness registered on Ben’s face. “I wish I knew what you were talking about.” His voice was painstakingly polite. “But I’m afraid I don’t. Nice to see you again, Rock…stay out of trouble, will you?”

Rachel lurched forward. “Hey! You can’t just go!”

Thom grabbed her back. “He can’t just stay either!”

“If he’s not staying, then neither am I!” Rachel pulled away. “and will everyone quit grabbing me? I feel like a rubber toy!”

“Barbie or plush?” Ben asked, innocently.

Rachel turned her glare on him. “Neither! Barbie is plastic…and I don’t feel very warm and fuzzy right now.”

Ben offered a bow. “Hint taken, kiddo…keep your uncle in check.” He swept out the door before either of them could say another word.

There was a moment of silence and then Rachel continued forward to turn the locks on the door. She hesitated at sliding the bolt. “Are you going to keep yelling at me?” Her voice was quiet.

“That depends.” Thom turned back to the room and headed for the armchair near the telephone. “Are you going to leave if I do?”

Rachel shrugged, sliding the bolt shut. “I sort of deserve it…so I guess not…but if you really don’t have to-”

“I’m not going to yell at you.”

Rachel blinked. “you’re not?”

Thom half-smiled. “I’ve already yelled enough for one day.” He frowned. “That friend of yours wears on my nerves…he’s alive?”

Rachel shrugged, sheepishly. “Uh…yeah.”

“I see…and you found this out?”

“Just this past week…that’s why I ended up here.” Rachel shook her head. “I mean, because of him, I uh…was able to get a ride here.”

“Hitchhiking?”

“N-no…one of his friends gave me a lift.”

“What kind of a lift?” Thom asked, carefully.

Rachel squirmed. “That’s not really important…is it? It was just a motorcycle…”

Thom breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”

“Good?” Rachel stared at him. “What do you mean, good?”

“There were several unidentified cars in the area lately…a few of them fit the descriptions for those thugs you tangled with the last time.”

Rachel bit her lip to keep from protesting. While her uncle was somewhat in her confidence, at least as far as Mark would permit it, he was still in the dark about the rest of the operations. “Right…um, so....” She wracked her brain for a question and blurted the first thing that came to mind. “You have a girlfriend?” Her cheeks flamed hot the moment the words left her mouth and to her surprise, her uncle blushed as well.

“I’m sorry you met under those…circumstances…she’s really a great lady.”

“Right…sure.” Rachel pasted a smile on her face, recalling the verbal exchange between them. She stifled a shudder. She didn’t think she could look past that kind of first impression…or Jeanette. “Right…and she’s got a brat for a daughter?”

Thom winced. “She’s not really a brat…she’s just…”

“Special?” Rachel interjected. “That kid…I don’t know what’s wrong with her…you know, even that lady, the one who attacked us and broke into the house and all that…she went for Jeanette.” Rachel frowned. “Not for me…and I was in front.”

Thom suddenly straightened. “That’s the second reason I’m here. The first was to make sure you were okay and find out what’s going on, but since you’re focused on this side, go ahead and tell me exactly what happened from the last phone call.”

Rachel moved to sit on the bed, drawing up her knees to her chest as she thought. “Well, um, the power went out again…was it another fuse tripped?”

Thom waved it away. “Never mind that, I think it was just a power surge or something, skip that, focus past that, what happened?”

“Um, well, the lights went out and Jeanette was going to go down to the laundry room by herself to go flip that dumb switch and I told her she couldn’t go down there by herself, I mean, it’s…creepy down there.”

A laugh sputtered from her uncle. “Creepy?” He repeated, then shook his head, trying not to laugh. “Sorry, continue.”

Rachel resisted the urge to make a face. “yes it’s creepy! You can blame it on whichever idiot cousin thought it was a brilliant joke to lock me up down there. The shadows are alive! I’m not joking!”

Thom chuckled. “Okay, Rache, I get it. Please, finish the story?” The chuckle faded as his face grew serious once more. “There’s a lot of loose ends to be tied and retied, before I can actually relay a decent account of today’s events. I need to know what happened there.”

“She came through the hallway and started through the kitchen and I went upstairs…and I made Jeanette follow me and we-”

“Why did you go upstairs?”

Rachel hesitated.

“Rachel?” He shifted in the chair.

“My file.” She stared at the window curtains. “I hid the file when Jeanette arrived, because I didn’t know who it was, but if the person was looking for it…”

“Why would the person be looking for it?”

She shrugged. “I-I don’t know…”

“you don’t know, but you went upstairs anyway.” Thom rubbed the sides of his head. “Did you know there was no way out of there?”

“She wouldn’t have found us.” Rachel said stubbornly. “I never would’ve let her find us.”

“Yeah…but she did, didn’t she? At least according to Jeanette she did. Jean says that she almost left the room, then came back and looked under the bed. Did she do that?”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t think that was strange?”

“Like you said before…not everything in my life is normal.”

“And this was one of those instances?” Thom slowly rose from the chair. “How did you get that file?”

“A-a friend gave it to me.”

“A friend?” Thom crossed the room to stand near the bed. “What kind of friend are we talking about? That Ben fellow?”

“No!” Rachel jerked around to look at him. “Ben didn’t do that! He wasn’t here!”

“Can you prove that?”

“N-no. Look, Unk…I didn’t think they’d come up to the guest room…I mean, really, you saw the room and you saw the stuff I brought…which was pretty much nothing.”

“So you’re saying someone dropped you a service pack?” Thom closed his eyes. “Finish the story, Rachel, just finish it…with the realistic elements, please!”

“She yanked Jeanette out from under the bed and I grabbed her.” Rachel said dully. “That’s about as realistic as it’ll get.”

“Wait…she took Jean first?” Thom’s sudden red face was slowly draining of all color. “And then what did you do? You grabbed her, or Jean?”

“I already told you that! And it was Jean…I think.” Rachel frowned. “I can’t remember. I just tried to make her stop and then something happened and I blacked out.”

“Something happened?” Thom perked a brow.

“You said you only wanted the realistic parts.”

“Okay, then tell me the rest of it now. How and why did you black out? And how come you went from complete exhaustion to perky enough to yank a folder out of someone's hand, throw a pretend temper tantrum and survive an escort to a motel room, where you didn't go to sleep.” Thom took a deep breath and stopped as his cell phone began to ring. He pulled it from his side pocket and flipped it open to answer. “Pete?” He began to pace out of habit, murmuring into the phone. “What?”

Rachel scooted back to the middle of the bed, watching as he went back and forth. “What’s wrong?” She asked, the moment the phone flipped shut.

Thom rubbed his neck. “Someone just stole the body.” He jabbed several buttons on the phone. “Hey, Zaks? It’s Thom, they said you had a description of the carjacker…or ambulance jacker, whatever…give it to me…what? How young? Uh-huh? I see…Zaks, I know someone that fits that description.” His jaw tightened, his gaze turning towards the door. “Actually he’s just walked out the door. How long did you say it’s been missing?” There was another pause. “Yes, then it’s a probable suspect. I’ll give you stats and a sketch. He goes by the name of Ben, is about six feet two, I’d say-”

“What?” Rachel darted forward, grabbing his arm. “Ben didn’t do that! Stop!” She was rather unceremoniously twirled around and made to sit on the bed. “You have to listen to me!” Rachel jerked away. “Please!”

The phone call ended and Thom forced himself to take a moment before responding. “What was that?” He asked, struggling to keep control.

“Ben didn’t steal a body. I mean, the body…whatever. Unk, please! You’ve got to believe me!”

He sighed. “At this moment, I’m not quite sure what to believe. I know that I saw a guy who was supposed to be dead…twice in one day. He was at the house, what he was doing there, I don’t want to know, but maybe you can tell me later, when you’ve come up with a good story.”

“A good story?” Rachel stared at him in disbelief. “Wait!”

“I can’t. I came up here to get the information, whatever you had that you could give me and we’d get going on it.”

“On what?”

“Tracking down the killer.” Thom crossed the room to retrieve his jacket from the dresser near the door. “Whoever killed her probably didn’t have time to collect the body, for whatever reason and decided to steal it afterwards.”

“Why would someone steal a body?”

“Because there was something strange about it…” Thom shook his head. “I don’t…you don’t need to know.” He shrugged into the jacket.

“But you’re suggesting that the killer and the person who stole the body are the same person. It’s not Ben! I know it isn’t!”

“Rachel, I know you trust your friend…that’s very…loyal of you. But I have to consider all things. Stay away from him, okay? I don’t want to see you near him, I don’t want to hear that he was seen with you either. Until this is all sorted out, you are to stay put, Rachel. Answer your phone when I call, I’ve got to get going, they need me now. This conversation…twisted as it is, is not over, young lady.” He tipped her chin up. “Understood?”

“Yes sir.” Rachel slid off the bed and to her feet, following him halfway across the room. “Where are you going?”

“I’m pulling double time here, a homicide and drugs.”

“I thought you couldn’t do two at the same time, I mean, don’t they have specialists and-”

“This is my town, Rach, I know it better than any of them put together. I take the specialists help the professional advice and I help it make sense to the rest of everyone else. Just because this looks like a friendly little town, doesn’t mean it is.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying if there’s a killer on the loose and a few loose ends I haven’t had the chance to take care of yet, then I need you to listen to me and do exactly as I say. Stay here. Don’t go…larking off.”

Rachel sputtered a laugh.

“I mean it.” Thom pulled her into a hug. “and when I call you, it should mean that you can come back home…then you can tell me what’s bugging you.”

“Something’s bugging me?” Rachel tilted her head back to study his face. “What makes you think that?”

“Because I know you.” He planted a kiss on the top of her head. “I mean it, Rach. Please…it’s not safe out there for you.”

“Because miss ex-girlfriend is out there?”

Thom shook his head. “She doesn’t hate you really…she’s just a little headstrong.”

“Unk? um, don't get mad at me...again, but can you answer a question for me? Are you investigating…pysch?”

Thom froze in mid-movement towards the door handle. “What?” He turned to look at her. “Why…how…why do you need to know?”

Rachel tried to shrug nonchalantly, but her shoulders seemed glued to her side. “Just…curious.” She twisted her hands behind her.

“That brand of curiosity isn’t good for you.” Thom frowned. “Where have you heard that before?”

Rachel reached towards the necklace, trying to focus as Ben had told her. Thoughts. Thoughts. She instructed herself. Just need to know what he’s thinking… “Um…kids talk about it.” She tried to smile. “I mean, people know about it, that’s all, I was just asking.”

“You were just asking, because?” He hinted, meaningfully. Because you’re using it or you’re getting it for someone else? Why would you need to know that Rachel? That’s too precise a question. I am working on it, but you don’t need to know that…why you’re even asking…I don’t understand. Something’s wrong here. Something’s wrong with Rachel. Man…I’ve got to talk to her..and I am seriously not wanting to. Lord, please help me here…this is not the kind of conversation we need to be having right now. Please!

Rachel let go of the gem, licking her lips. She couldn’t bear to hear his thoughts any longer. It was too much. Ben had been right. It would definitely tax the soul, as he’d put it. “It’s out there. But, never mind…I shouldn’t have asked.”

“That’s what you came here for?” His earlier frustration was surfacing. “You came here for pysch?” He leaned against the door. “I’m sure I don’t want to know, but I’ll ask anyway. Are you…using it?”

Rachel stared at him, shocked. “What?” She sputtered. “I-you-I…” She stammered. “NO! I’m not! Why would you even ask me that!” Tears pooled immediately in the corners of her eyes. “I can’t believe you just asked me that.”

Thom closed his eyes. “I’m sorry…I was just being-”

“Thorough.” Rachel interjected. “I know.” She stalked to the door and began undoing the locks next to him.

“What are you doing?” Thom shifted away from the door.”

“You need to be working…and I don’t need to be insulted anymore.” Rachel yanked the door open, stubbing her toe before accidentally yanking it straight into her uncle’s shoulder. “Sorry…just…go, and be careful.”

“You’re throwing me out?” He tried to clarify.

“No, you were just leaving.” Rachel lifted her chin.

“I see.” He shook his head, starting out the door and pausing half-way. “We are going to have this talk.” He said quietly. “I would expect you to understand the stress and the situations I’m dealing with, but I also know that sometimes that’s a little too much to expect, even from you. I’ll call you for your statement later and I’ll send Pete by to take you down to the station to get your prints made, so we’ll be able to identify what in the house belongs to who.” His cellphone rang.

Rachel sighed, loudly.

Thom tilted his head forward and then stepped completely out of the room and into the hallway. The conversation was muffled and when he finally hung up, the edges of panic were slowly closing in on him.

“What am I? A hotel service?” He muttered, turning and knocking on the door. “Rachel? I need to talk to you.”

Rachel gritted her teeth, glaring at the white door. “I can hear you just fine.”

“I can hardly hear you.” He countered. “Open the door.”

“I just turned all the locks.”

“Rachel.” His voice dropped several octaves. “Open the door, NOW!”

The locks clicked and twisted in rapid succession and the door opened a crack. Thom perked a brow and the chain was removed, the door opening fully to show Rachel in the midst of working up her temper tantrum. “I just thought I ought to tell you, that staying in the motel isn’t permanent.”

She rolled her eyes.

Thom quickly hurried on. “And when the house is cleared, it should be by tomorrow, then I’ll come and take you back home. We’re also going to have another guest…and no, it’s not Jean or Abby…it’s Calvin.”

Her jaw dropped. “No!”

“Yes.” Thom made sure his foot was in the door so she couldn’t slam it shut before he finished. “There’s been a stir in the neighborhood, since he got mixed up in a few things similar to you, Gage is sending him over here until things calm down.” Thom tried to smile. “He’s changed a lot, Rachel, just give him a chance. Really.”

“He locked me in creepy basement when I was eight years old.” Rachel glared at him. “I’m never going to forgive him for that!”

Thom opened his mouth and then shut it. He deliberately moved back into the hall and then offered a salute, turning and walking down the hallway. He paused at the end, to hear the door click and then shook his head. “A circus.” He muttered. “That’s exactly what I’m running, I’m the ringmaster in the center of a…” His mutterings trailed off as he disappeared around the corner.

Rachel slumped against the door, fingering the tiny blue stone. She didn’t want to deal with anything at that moment and the adrenaline was slowly fading.

“You know.” Ben began. “If I were your uncle, you’d be in pretty big trouble for a stunt like that.”
Rachel lurched to her feet. “Ben!” She hissed in a stage whisper. “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here! My uncle thinks-”

“I shouldn’t?” He lounged comfortably by the bathroom doorjamb. “Why not?” He chuckled. “Mark wants you street hunting, so I’ll send in a double to keep place for you and a check knot that you can pull if you want out when either one of your bodyguards show up. I don’t care what your uncle thinks, I’m not the scariest thing out there.” He smirked. “apparently he has scarier shadows in his basement.”

“Shut up!” Rachel hugged her arms to her chest, digesting this new twist. “Bodyguards?”

“That uncle of yours…and his deputy friend.” Ben threw a rope bracelet through the air. “Catch.”

Rachel grabbed it. She gingerly suspended it between two fingers. “I have to wear it?”

Ben leveled her with a look. She sighed and tugged it onto her wrist. “Good girl. Now, be careful and stay close. I’ll warp you out and then you’ll be on your own. I said I’d keep an eye on your and I meant it, it just means that I’ll have to do that without the visibility you’re used to. Just because you can’t see me, doesn’t mean I’m not there. I want you to be careful, especially now. And don’t ever say my name when you answer the phone.” He paused. “I’ll get you a new phone soon….Rachel, you should apologize to your uncle, he’s sticking his neck out for you.”

“So?”

Something beeped and Ben surged forward, wrapping one arm around her neck and the other around her waist. “We’re good Jahan, warp out.”

There was a soft flash of green energy and then the room was empty.

© Sara Harricharan