Monday, October 10, 2011

A new blog

From now on you can find me at, on Facebook, and you can always Email me!

Friday, September 2, 2011

“Mom, James poked me and so I punched him in the face,” and other fun realities of being The mom.

For staters, I want you to know I believe in Radical honesty. I am not going to sugar coat my life, and probably I am going to offend a few people in the process, so before hand, I am sorry to hurt your feelings, this is my life as I see it.

A day in the life

It’s five am and my husband’s phone begins to ring, vibrating my bed, where I am sleeping, kinda, with my two littlest kids. I glare in the direction of the man who is snoring next to me and doing nothing to stop it… After a few minutes I grumble meanly at him that he needs to turn off his phone. He informs me that his is not certain where it is. At this point I want to strangle him, really, and tell him to look in the middle of our split King bed because it is giving me a massage right now. And tada there it is.

The side effect of the whole thing being I have now woken up my two littlest kids. Sigh. So again the day starts before the sun. I tuck them back in and go make bottle and protein drink, known in toddler speak as the “Bannama bobbie”, pick them up and plop them on the couch, to see that the ruckus has also woken up my five year old, who has PTSD. Some people would be livid. There are days I have been, but this is my life, and I know my husband had the best of intentions, he was trying to get up and shower early so as to stay out of my way with what is next to come.

At six, after working on too many things to name, I have to get all the kids up, all four who are still sleeping for a grand total of 7 under age 8. Jayden is less than a morning person and glares at me under her shock of blond hair, and freaks out whenever someone looks at her wrong. We look over our morning chore list and the countdown to school begins. To me it’s like the timer on a bomb. Tick tick tick, mom’s gonna freak out if everything is not done before the clock says time to go. Yes, I freak out. After so many mornings doing the same picture list of chores to get ready for school you would think the kids and I had a clockwork system down, but it seems we don’t. Unless you count them playing and me yelling as a standard. And I would love to yell less, but unfortunately it works.

So, the big kids get dressed. I dress the little kids, change diapers, and look at my ugly pink robe thinking, I am looking fabulous (Did you hear the sarcasm?) And then I look at the bombshell that is my kitchen. It was clean this week, but not today. I have had to do therapy, back to school night, dental appointments, dad working late, and my normal schedule this week. I just didn’t get to it last night before I passed out in my bed. We scramble through cleaning, making lunches, checking backpacks, and then the blissful moment when I get to shower…. I love my showering time. It’s almost as good as bedtime and naptime. That is until someone interrupts myblissful revire by slamming open the door and screaming. “MOM! James poked me so I punched him in the face!” I admit I hear shocked silence for a moment, wishing I could rewind for a moment and just pause my life so at to enjoy my blisfull shower just a moment longer, but then sigh, I have to deal with it again, “Well, since you punched him, I can’t help you, you meted out your own justice. I think you were a little too hard on him and I need you to go appologise.”

Which is naturally followed by the shrieked reasons why he was being fair and I am not. I hate the word fair, nothing in life is fair, I can tell you for certain. So I growl at my eight year old, “Go appologise and I will deal with this when I am OUT of the shower!” He sculks out, I get dressed and it’s almost time to head to school.

I head out to the truck (Yep I had to sell my huge van and I have not had time to replace it) to see that it is full of my husbands tools, some that weigh a ton, and all the carseats are in the garage. I glance at my watch. Mr. Incredible had it right, “I still got time.”

I take the ten minutes to fix both problems, march my three littlest across the street to my angelic neighbor who is willing to watch them while I drive to school, in exchange for a nap, and pack everyone in the car.

I admit to loving the silence as I drive home with only the baby, who is babbling and talking in the back seat. I let my mind rove as I drive the memorized route, opposite of commuting traffic. Small break, and then back into the fray. I have one hour until preschool drop off. So gather kids, change the laundry again, change the dishwasher, pick up and vaccumm so that the carpet grubber won’t eat something and throw up again this morning…. Oh time to get the kids in the car again. I run over to the same nieghbor’s house, pick up her little girl and drive down the hill, and back up.

After looking at the clock I see I have an hour and a half until Kindergarten drop off… Huh, what can I get done in that time? Addy needs a nap, Ben need hugs, James needs positive reinforcement so he is nice to his teacher today, oh and an early lunch so he eats before school. And then suddenly we have to go again… I drag myself to the truck, loathe to deal with another run. This time I put on music to make the drive more palatable and as I head home, my toddler breaks down. I hand him a drink and he passes out. Ahhh the peace of naptime. I tuck him into bed and place the baby on the floor where she is amazingly close to crawling. Sleep beckons me and I wish I could give in, but soon it will be time to pick everyone up again for the day. My wonderful neighbor brings home the preschooler and he sits at the table narrating his life and reading books, really looking at pictures, while I allow myself time to breathe. Then it’s time to change the laundry and dishes again, prep dinner and toss everyone, even the slightly sleepy toddler back into the truck for after school pick up, this time leaving the baby and the preschooler with my neighbor knowing the toddler is a mess and needs the time to wake up before he can be nice.

The last drive to school of the day, to the sound of “Too tight!” and “No mom!” while I try to find a happy place. The carpool lines are long and it’s blisteringly hot outside, but I turn around after loading up my four kids and head home. We talk about what they did and we fall out off the car, pulling out backpacks and homework, all over the table. Their shoes inherently land everywhere except where they belong, and make the toddler stumble, and cry. I sigh, time to yell again, talking isn’t working. “Backpacks and shoes do not belong in the middle of the floor!” They scramble to pick them up, kinda, and shove them out of the middle of the room, returning to homework.

I have to go pick up the little kids, and the neighbor kids, and then it’s time for homework, which is it’s own form of torture. We should re-institure homework as punishment for bad parenting. They must do two hour of homework for four children every day and then we will consider forgiving their crimes… I think it would work. There is a fast clean up again and it’s time for dinner. I made pizza, store bought. I know, not terribly healthy, but I managed to get it made, with grapes and salad, it will have to do.

We clean up and begin the required reading for school, my homework, since none of my kids are good readers yet, and then get ready for bed. They toss all their clothes on the floor, which I sigh and tell them to clean up for the hundredth time, brush teeth, and flop onto the couch. I wish at this point I could say we did something fun like going to the park, but frankly I am done and want to sleep. I let them pick a couple shows from Netflix, one boy show and one girl show, and then off to bed.

Once the peace of little sleeping bodies settles over the house, my husband gets home. It is the perfect moment to give him a hug, and have him there to talk with on an adult level is awesome. There are more dishes to do, laundry to fold and put away, and life to prep for the morning.

When I fall into bed at the end of the I pass out.. Hello bed. I have missed you. We should spend more time together… Snore. Only to be woken up at five again, or often before.

Conclusions and a new leap

So after working with a publishing company for the last eight months and being less than pleased with their process, and what they decided I "needed" to add to my work, I am thinking about self-publishing. So this blog is going to change more than a little. I am going to spend the weekend preping my first manuscript and then put it on both Amazon and This will give me access to both major types of e-books. I am looking into create space for physical copies on demand. But I am done with the way I have been doing things and now it's time to try something new. I am done with having babies and adopting, so here goes me trying a shot at my dreams. Let me know what you love and I will try and set up links....

Happy reading. I look forward to feedback and reviews from you all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life update

I started this Blog eons ago, but never got it more than stated. I hope to update this often and would like to get comments on the writing. Especially what you like and would like to see more of. Since I started this, we adopted our three foster boys, had a baby (Ben), and got an agent... Exciting life. But I am hoping to get back to work with my writing soon.  Thanks for the imput.


Chapter 1

I sat high on horseback at the very crest of the hill. The wind was softly pulling at my hair and pushing me back the way I had just come. Wanting me to follow Yasminda to the safe haven of her kingdom to the South. I had to breathe deeply a few times to keep my composure. I was glad to be gone, but I was afraid to keep going. I was so far beyond the realms of anything that I knew. I was going into the middle of the strange kingdom that I lived on the border of. Northward this country got strange and women became scarce. I had no idea what to do or who to talk to and would never have done this by myself.

‘But not by yourself,’ the beast near my knee replied. He was more than a large cat, but not a man either. He had told me that his name was Sedric the day he had arrived.

I had wanted to go with him. He was the stuff of dreams and my life was more of a nightmare. I had always hoped to be swept away from that place by a knight in shinning armor; I just had never imagined it was the creature purring in my ear that I would have run off with. Sedric snorted at the thought.

“It’s not my fault that you have two wings instead of two legs,” I teased him patting him. “Had you come flitting in on two legs I would have thrown myself into your arms and run away with you just as enthusiastically.”

‘And promise me nice times in thanks?’ he teased back, looking up with a grin.

I laughed at him for that, “Not a man and yet you think with all the priorities of a sixteen year old boy. Let’s go get some food. I am very hungry.”

That was all it took and we were heading down the hill to the town below. As I rode into the town, a huge festival was going on. Every villager seemed to be dancing and celebrating in the streets. I stopped at the edge of the party and leaned down to tap a tall, very skinny, boy.

“Excuse me,” I greeted him.

He looked startled as he gazed up at me, “I’m sorry lady, and I should have noticed you.”

“No big thing,” I replied, “I just wanted to know what all the hullabaloo was about.”

“Oh, our village’s only girl just reached adulthood and can be promised.”

I blinked, “Is that a big occasion?”

He looked appalled, as if I had asked if the moon lit up the night sky or something equally as obvious, “Of course.”

I smiled at him; boy did I have a herd of things to learn about how things were done away from the borders.

“One more thing, Can you direct me to the inn?”

He pointed shocked silence on his face.

I weaved my horse through the crowds, having to stop frequently to keep from running over a small boy or deeply chuckling teen. It was easy enough to find the Inn, being somewhat of the center of the party. I left the horse to the innkeeper who was not at all fazed by Sedric or me. The innkeeper led me to the bathhouse and I took full advantage of its amenities. I was not used to being unclean even for a day. Thus, the last few had been more than a little unorthodox for me. When I got to my hair, I was at a loss. It was tangled and split from the wind and the riding. It was beyond help at that point. Even though I loved it, it had to go.

I pulled on scant clothes and went to find the innkeeper. He was bustling around the kitchen with quite a few other people.

“Excuse me sir,” I began. He immediately jumped to as I spoke, “Could you spare a pair of scissors and a looking glass?”

“I can do you one better than that,” He gleefully replied, then turned back to the others. He was bursting with pride as he introduced his daughter. It was such a huge thing to have a daughter especially in these parts, or so he said. Where I was from on the border, there was more intermarrying with the neighboring country to the South and women were not as uncommon, or as treasured. The smallest young woman I had ever seen came towards me with a pair of scissors in her hand. She led me back to the bathhouse and unveiled for me a mirror.

“What do you want to do to it?” she asked as she motioned for me to sit in the chair she had pulled to the mirror. I could not help but notice the promise band on her finger. She could not have been more than twelve, but she had probably been spoken for since the day she was born. It was such an odd custom, and still somewhat foreign to me even though these were my people.

“Off,” I replied, “It’s a huge mess and I should probably just start from the beginning.”

She scowled at me.

“You don’t approve?” I giggled at her.

“It’s not that. I am just deciding how to make starting over look intentional and not just an oops.”

I waited for her. She thought a bit longer and then went to work. Within a few minutes, there was a huge pile of mahogany hair piled on and around me.

I shook my head in delight. It was short, very short, but it worked and did not look at all like an oops.

“Thank you,” I told the young woman as I admired myself in the looking glass.

“Any time. I am Kalla,” She thrust her hand out to me.

“Thank you Kalla,” I replied, and then looked down at myself, “I think I need another bath.”

She smiled and then went to picking up the masses of dark hair on the floor. I washed again and then actually got dressed and ready to keep riding with Sedric. I was presented with food for the trip and my name was noted on the records of entry as a female served, which would be dictated when the yearly records were given to the capital. I went to my room rather early since I was so exhausted from riding a long way and fell asleep.

I dreamed that I was standing in the middle of a huge inferno with voices all around me. I tried to find my way out to my family and could not. I cried and screamed as it ate into my skin. I felt the fire burning me and I knew I was going to die, but I was not ready to die. I screamed out in fear. Then woke up, panting.

Sedric landed on my blanket. “You are alright,” he asked me, “Get dressed we should go.”

I dressed, saddled my father’s horse, and we were off again.

Chapter 2

I had no idea how far it was to the city of our destination, or how many days we would ride all day, but it was just nice to be free. I had no schedule to meet and no one to worry about pleasing. That was more than I could have asked for. It had been four days and we kept going onward to our unseen destination. It did not seem to bother Sedric’s padded feet or his fine spotted coat, but my rear end was hating life in the saddle.

“Can I bother you with a question, Sedric?”

He laughed in my mind, “I am here to help you, my lady.”

I smiled, “What a polite little cat you are. I was wondering why you picked me.”

There was an odd silence. Sedric sat down on his haunches as if he were thinking, “Well, His Majesty sends all of the Guardians out far and wide to look for the most gifted of people. You shine to us with a kind of inner light. I was sent and I found you. I liked you so I decided to bring you back with me.”

“So, power is the only criteria?”

“No,” He tipped his tufted ears toward me, “Power and being a good person. I could tell right away that we needed each other.”

I laughed, “Silly kitty, why would you need me?”

He laughed back, “Maybe I need you to help others that need you.”

I pursed my lips at him, “One of these days I will make you explain that to me.”

“One of these days you will realize that you understand,” He gave my mind a loving caress. “Come on, let’s get there already.”

We must have been getting close, because Sedric told the horse to pick up the pace, in what seemed like anticipation, near dusk.

We topped another rise to see a city on the other side of the valley. It was a sprawling place, with seemed to have an odd sort of order to it. We worked our way up to the main citadel. The interior walls and the solid fortifications that were so well hidden among the houses and bustle of a lively city getting ready to rest itself for the day surprised me. There were guards at the small gate in front of us. None of the other gates had been guarded. This man was like most of the other people in the city, medium tone skin, pale blond hair, but he had beautiful dark eyes. Somehow, just coming up against him made me nervous. I reached for my knife in reaction, but Sedric hissed at me without turning his heading from the guard.

The horse obediently stopped for the guard, following Sedric’s lead, who read his nametag and let the two of us in. Our eyes met for a moment as he pushed open the gate, and I had to swallow hard. He seemed to have noticed something odd about me, I hoped he was reacting to my dark hair and pale skin. It was even more drastic in the night. I smiled at him as I rode on. It was always nice to be noticed and in this city of so many men, I had been noticed, with every clop of the horses step. The guard was very good looking and he did not look that much older than I was.

Sedric made a noise at the horse that I did not understand, which caused him to double step and brake into a run. I clung to him from the surprise. Then I noticed the chaos ahead of me. There was a man spouting fire of an odd sort from his hands and then a scream cut the night. It echoed outside and inside of my head at the same time. I clapped my hands over my ears, but it made no difference. Sedric did not let us stop, but seemed to have the intention of riding down the man. I leapt from the saddle and rolled to the ground feet from the chaos. I grabbed for the power deep inside of me without thinking further than the need of the woman. I stumbled to a halt as I got near her. It was more than just a woman, there was a whole family there, scattered within yards of each other. I found my footing. The mother was fading fast.

“Not me!” she demanded, gasping, “the kids!”

I moved to the two motionless forms on the ground nearby. They were fair and small. I picked up the little girl and reached through her with my mind. Her spirit was not far from the body, as if it were reluctant to leave.

I pulled her back and she reacted with a sob. I grabbed her brother. He was not much farther than she had been. They clung to each other as I went to the mother again.

She was almost gone at that point so I just pushed my mind to hers. All she kept saying was the ‘babies’. I searched through her and saw that she was pregnant. There were two babies there. They were tiny, but very strong. They were trying to hold on as their mother’s heart began to falter. I knew I did not have the will to pull them all back. I could probably bring the mother back after I had rested up for a day or so, but the babies had to be saved immediately.

Sedric nudged me with his velvet nose. I opened my mind to him and he presented me with a startling idea. I needed his help to manage it, but it could be done. I reached into her womb with my will and held onto the two little babies there. I took a few deep breaths and moved them as quickly as I could think into myself. I crumpled with pain as they expanded an inexperienced body. Sedric took over from there and tied them to my life force.

The woman breathed a last sigh and left her body. I crawled back to the older children in total exhaustion.

The buildings had boiled out with hordes of people in the moments it had taken me to pull the family back as much as I could. I pulled the little kids into my lap and they cuddled down into the protected place. I was soon surrounded by intent strangers, demanding information. Some hostile, some not.

I just sat there and looked at them without understanding. I was more tired than I had ever been and I ached, as I never had before. Eventually, the guard I had seen on the way in approached me and took the kids from my lap, handing them one at a time to waiting people. He reached down with his gloved hand and picked me up. I had no strength left in my bones and wavered, even with his help.

“She just got here with Sedric,” he announced to the crowd.

They seemed a bit placated by that, but still wanted answers.

“Saw them attacked,” I whispered to him, trying not to let my head lean against his available shoulder. “Tried to help.”

He nodded and announced to the crowd what I had said. He picked me up at that time and carried me into the building. I did not know where he was going, but I liked the soft bed on which I was placed. It was so nice that I fell soundly asleep within moments.

Chapter 3

I dreamed again about being consumed in fire that I had to save someone from this time. I woke biting back a scream. It was morning. The sun was peeking through the stone windows and between he curtains…Curtains? I could not imagine anyone in the castle adding curtains. I began to slowly come back to the last night’s and week’s experiences. Had it been real? I looked around me. The quarters were stark and very clean, almost too clean. I tried to sit up and the insides of my head began to pound. I felt very empty. I remembered using up all my power last night, but it should have regenerated more than this by morning, especially with how well I had slept.

Then I felt my abdomen. It was definitely bigger. I stretched my sore mind to it and there were definitely two little people in it. I had made myself pregnant last night with the babies of someone I had never met. How strange was that? I had tried to avoid just this situation, yet here I was. Fate had a funny sense of humor. I was sure fate was more than a little bit amused.

I swung my feet out onto the floor. There was hot tea waiting for me by the bed, but I had to pass it by in case it could hurt the babies. How odd to be instantly so protective of them, when I did not know their mother, or father, or have any other tie to them.

‘They are living under your heart. Isn’t that a rather powerful tie?’ asked Sedric from his perch by the bedpost. It had been perfectly constructed for a cat just his size. A larger one, like the lions or cougars would never have been comfortable, but little Sedric was content.

“I suppose so,” I replied aloud.

“What? Are you awake?” asked a voice from the other room. Moments later the head of the guard popped around the corner.

I was immediately very shy of seeing him in my unclean state.

“We weren’t properly introduced last night,” he began as he tried to brandish a welcoming smile. I stood up on the other side of the bed and waited.

“My name is Jason, and yours I have been told by my ever so obliging Guardian, is Alexa. Thank you for your help last night.” He had not moved.

“Thank you.” I replied, still rather uncomfortable with the situation.

“You will probably want to get clean and have something to eat before you meet with the college Dean. He is waiting ever so impatiently for you to be up and going, but I don’t think we have to tell him that you need some private time first,” he was trying to win me over, but I was still a little skittish of him.

My brothers and time in the border wars had taught me that men, especially overly friendly ones were not to be trusted. “Again thank you. Can you show me the way to the baths?” I no more than whispered to him.

“There. Just through that door.” He had pointed to the other side of the room, which was closer to me than to him.

“I’ll be out here making you something to eat for when you get done. But take your time. No hurry.” He smiled again, glanced at Sedric and nodded.

I watched as he turned to leave, still more than a little unsure about why he was being nice to me. I looked up to Sedric, who rolled over, pulling his paws up into the air, “You go. I’ll wait here. This is nice.”

I sighed and went to the door he had offered.

I was more comfortable when I got into the bathroom and there was a lock on the door. I slid the bolt home and went to the tub. It was good to be clean again. I looked at myself in the mirror and ruffled up my short hair. I took one side-view look at my belly and shook my head. At least they did not know that I was not normally a little round in the front. For all I knew with their love of women, they would like me even more for it. They would not know the difference until this was all over. I would get the mother and father back as soon as I could and wash my hands of the situation before anyone knew the difference.

Once I was clean, I dug through my pack of clothes that had nicely been put by the door for me. I opted for dark grey leather pants, high boots, my last clean shirt, and a low belt from which to hang my knife. It was rather dashing even if I said so myself.

‘What do you think Sedric?’ I asked quietly in my head.

He laughed at me, ‘I think, other than not having a fine coat of fur, you look just wonderful. Or I would if I could see you.’ Somehow, I had forgotten that he was closed out of the room.

I nodded to myself on that note. I had to go brave the presence of this Jason and find out what I could about those kids last night.

I made my way out to the front room where the most delicious smells were wafting out to meet me. He was taller than I had remembered with dark sandy colored hair that was managing to misbehave more than a little bit. His back was to me and he was humming to himself over a stove. There were bits of chopped food strewn hither and yon across the counters of the kitchen. I watched for a moment as he worked. He also had a Guardian who lay on the top of the cabinet he was working under. But it was so comfortable that it did not even bother to look at me. Well at least he was a good person. No one with a Guardian could be otherwise. The smells were beginning to overcome my desire to observe.

“Is part of that for me?” I asked from a few feet away. He jumped more than a little and then turned to look at me.

He looked, not very subtly, at my whole attire.

“Is that a request?” I teased, thrusting out one hip to the side.

He met my eyes in an instant, “That’s not a normal outfit for the palace.” He tried to explain. “How old are you anyway?”

I laughed, grinning back in glee. There was nothing dangerous about this man. He was no more than a little boy, and I could read not a single bad intention in his mind.

‘You think I would have let any other type of person put you in their bed while you were unconscious?’ retorted Sedric with great indignation swishing his tail as he came out of the bedroom.

“Well?” he demanded turning back to his cooking.

“Well, what?” I shot back, as I pulled a chair up to the counter.

“Age.” He responded.

“Eighteen,” I told him as I put my elbows onto the counter and sat my chin in my hands to wait for him to finish. He looked at my hands in confusion and looked frustrated, returning to his work.

Moments later, he plopped the plate down in front of me.

It looked good, but I had no idea what it was, “What is this called?” I asked as I cut my first bite.

“An omelet,” He told me, “How do you not know that?”

“We never got much fancy stuff to eat even when there was a lot of food around. None of the men in my family had any idea what to do with food other than shove it down their throats at all available moments. Life is hard on the border and we got by without much extra.” I began eating as quickly as I could manage, seeing as how the food was hot and very good.

“You act like you haven’t eaten in a year,” he watched intently as I wolfed down his creation.

“I feel like it has been longer. Besides… with five brothers… you have to eat fast to…. Get any food at all.” I was stuffed, “Thank you.” I told him wiping my mouth with a napkin.

“Your brothers ate at the same time as you?” he demanded, looking shocked.

“Of course, no use cleaning the table twice. My mother had enough work as it was.”

“Your mother cooked and cleaned? How odd.” He blinked as if in real shock, taking the empty plate and washing it in the basin.

“Would you plan on doing all the house work for your wife?” I grinned at him, putting my elbows on the counter and batting my eyes teasingly.

He smiled back before checking his actions, “Of course, any good husband would. But I am not sure that marriage is on the list of things His Majesty is planning to allow for me.”

I grinned, “Are you a determined old bachelor at what twenty-five?”

He turned and frowned, “Determined old bachelors are made in this town at birth, and then concreted at twelve.”

That made no sense. How was a young person supposed to fall in love at twelve with any sense, let alone at birth? I decided that it would be better to change the subject, “Where do I meet this Dean?”

“I’ll show you the way. Are you sure you’re eighteen?” He was tugging on his shoes, when he looked up at me again an odd emotion crossing lightning quick in his eyes. But then it was gone before I could name it.

I just smiled at him, “That’s what my mom told me.”

He shook his head and walked around me to yet another door across the room, holding it open for me to walk through. He led me down countless halls and passages to an older part of the building. Each time there was a turn he would stop and wait for me looking back and then going ahead when he was sure that I was still following. There began to be bustling youths all around us, mostly male of course. They were yelling at each other and hurrying on their ways in various directions. Even a few couples had the audacity to be kissing in the halls. I guessed they must be married already, even being so young. I blushed hard when we passed one pair, causing Jason, who was waiting for me again, to chuckle.

“You’ll get used to it. I’m sure before long you will be enjoying your own part of the entertainment.” He grinned, and then when he looked back at me his smile faded into a frown.

I blinked, “Would you like me to join in or not?” I asked.

He just turned on and kept walking.

I was not sure what I had done wrong.

We climbed a set of stairs and the silence began to descend again. At the top of the stair was a single overly warn door. One knock and it was opened to me.

“I will come get you again in an hour and help you get settled into your own room,” Jason promised then shut the door behind me.

Behind the desk was a man that was more than average looking. He was so plain that no one would notice him or remember him as remarkable in any way.

He rose and shoved his hand out to shake mine, “I am dean Elcott. We need to talk and see what classes you will need and which you will not. So, have a seat and we will get going.”

“I suppose the first thing we need to discuss is a social problem that may seem like none of my business. But I need to know about your intended.”

I shook my head, “No. There is no one.” I was surprised that the confession was a bit painful. Somehow, in this place not having someone made me feel like less of a person. Why would the absence of something I had never known now be so suddenly painful.

He frowned, a bit but said nothing more. He noted it down and went on.

Our conversation ranged far and wide over everything from growing food to court etiquette, from swordplay to language. By the end of the hour, he had a page full of notes and a list of classes in front of him.

Another hollow knock rang through the door, and Jason opened the door towards me. “Do you need more time?”

“Just another moment, but you can come in anyway.” Then he turned back to me, “Here are your classes. I will have one of your classmates meet you in the morning to show you around. Your chores are also listed with your classes and you are expected to do them every day. Today, I think Jason here would be a good tour guide of the grounds and buildings. You will also need to go meet the swords master for his evaluation at the end of your tour.”

It was a clear dismissal so I took my papers and without so much as a by your leave, I went out into the hall.

“That was curt of you,” Jason chastised as he followed me down the stairs, but the criticism was soft, not angry. More like he was amused with a disobedient child than irritated with a rude teenager.

I looked at him in confusion.

“You should at least say thank you or good-bye when you leave,” he informed me.

“I guess I am just not that used to such niceties,” I looked down at my feet in apology. “We don’t bother on the border.”

“Don’t worry.” He chuckled. “He understands. He’s a borderer himself. This way for your tour.” He put his hand between my shoulder blades on my back, to steer me in the right direction, but a current of electricity passed between us as he did and I jumped away from him. My heart raced, angry from the current and my lungs hurt for attempting to keep up. He looked just as startled as I did. We stood very far apart for a while looking at each other, people passing between us.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, still feet away.

“I didn’t.” I replied defensively.

He looked at me a little sideways and then began walking back in the direction of the dean’s office holding out a hand for me to follow. “I think that calls for a little side track.”

I nodded, not really wanting to touch him until I knew that it would not happen again. He led me to a quiet place among the trees not far from the building where the Dean was officed. It was quiet there and no one was going to bother us. But being in a secluded place with anyone made me anxious after the last months, so I called out to Sedric, trying not to look too stressed.

‘Are you coming?’ I asked Sedric as I saw us nearing the trees.

He did not put the affirmative response into words, but was shortly within site with Jason’s Guardian. They matched stride as they came to meet us.

“You two would make a pretty pair of buggy horses.” I laughed at them relaxing at their carefree attitude.

“Just a pair of show offs,” teased Jason.

They swished their tails in unison, as no regular felines could, like two friends doing a dance they had practiced for a long time.

I just laughed at them again and then found a nice place to sit under one of the trees, “I assume there was something that you wanted to say here in the grove?”

He looked at his feet. “I wanted to ask about the shock when I touched you. Did you not want me to, touch you, I mean?”

“I didn’t mind, but I also didn’t do it.” I retorted to him, throwing back my shoulders.

“Then touch me again and show me that it wasn’t you.” He whispered looking at the cats, who were curled up together looking interested but not phased.

I uncurled and rose as gracefully as I could. I strolled to him, very slowly. I could see his breathing had increased and I enjoyed that bit of control over this Harbinger, especially since he was confusing me so much with his contradictory actions, and my sudden overpowering feelings for him. I stopped a few inches from him and held up my hand just between us. Then, waited for him to make the next move. It took more than a moment before he moved his hand to intertwine with mine. As soon as he did, the energy began to race into me. It was more than just a powerful electrical current. It filled me with love, worry, history, and possibilities between us. More than anything, it reaffirmed my desire to do anything to make him happy.

His eyes widened and he stepped closer. I kept waiting, the power making me feel more than a little euphoric. He seemed to be feeling the same effects, because he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me full on the lips. There was a noted power spike as he did so. I was not sure how long it lasted. Most likely only a few seconds, but it also felt like an eternity there in the most perfect moment that I could never have imagined, when he pushed back from me. My head was spinning, and I liked it. I liked him. More in a moment than I imagined I could in a year.

“You did that for certain this time!” there was accusation there, but more directed towards himself than at me. And something more. He was not acting like he was enjoying the powerful euphoria that I was. He almost seemed afraid.

“Sedric,” I turned to my Guardian, startled and a bit worried but his response. “Was that my doing?”

“It looked as if he started it,” he agreed, “What do you think Cassie?” turning his head to the other Guardian.

“He definitely started it,” she agreed with a tilt of her small speckled head.

Jason blinked in surprise. “I did?”

I wondered if the euphoria only came opposite the instigation, “Well, maybe I should start it this time and see if it still works. What do you think?” I asked the two Guardians lying together.

“Sounds like a reasonable experiment,” Cassie replied.

I turned back to Jason and kissed him fiercely. The influx of energy erupted violently between us. I pulled him closer and he wrapped his arms around my waist pulling me tightly to him. I let myself follow the flow of the racing energy and pulled myself hard up to his mouth. Enjoying that I was at peace and at home at the same moment that I was in the midst of a roaring inferno.

After a moment, he pushed away panting.

I was doing the same; I leaned forward with my hands on my knees trying to catch my breath.

“Very interesting,” Sedric observed.

“Yes,” I agreed between breaths caught between whether I should glare or grin. Somehow, the presence of my Guardian and his was making me brave in ways I normally was not.

“I wonder how that would go if my dear Harbinger didn’t get so terrified of his reaction to it,” Cassie teased bobbing her head at him.

Jason turned eight shades of bright red in a moment and was probably giving Cassie what for in his mind.

“You know this is strictly not allowed,” Jason informed me with defiance in his eyes.

“It isn’t? Why not?” I asked, “No one seemed to mind the people in the halls. Aren’t you interested in me?”

“You are a student and I am a Harbinger.” He turned away and began pacing. I hoped he was trying to convince himself of what he was saying. It appeared to be the case. “You are a woman and I am a man. It is not permitted without prior permission from a member of the counsel.” He was adamant that this could not go on.

“So ask,” I replied, smoothing down my hair and patting Sedric’s silky head. I was sure he was who I wanted. My brothers could not have come up with objections. My Guardian was definitely approving.

He looked as if he were ready to swallow his tongue. “It’s not that simple.”

“And why is it so complicated?” I demanded, a little hurt that the feeling was not mutual.

“Technically,” Cassie broadcast, “His majesty’s Guardian would be as much permission as was needed for you to keep exploring this phenomenon.”

Jason turned and glared at his Guardian.

“I understand,” I told him as I swung a tree limb back, “You are just not attracted to me like that. I respect that. Do not worry, I’ll find my way to the arms master. You don’t have to help me anymore.”

I turned and walked away, but not before looking askance at his Guardian. Sedric seemed to sigh as he got up to follow me, padding along in the soft grass.



Today life would change. Not that it hadn’t been doing that in incalculable ways too frequently for me to keep up with. I felt adrift in the emotional ocean that kept tumbling me over without a perceivable direction or purpose. Today would be different because the direction of the ocean was also a direction on the compass. I was being sent away. Away from the chaos of this city to the unknown of another. I thought of Seattle as my home. This little rented house among so many estates of glanderous proportion. It wasn’t much, but it was the place I had known for most of the days of my life. Now I was headed for a small town that only appeared on a few maps, namely Purdy, besides what kind of name was that? It was a small town by all standards as well a being in the middle of nowhere. So, why? Why all this change. It held the key to the answers I was looking for, but the current why lay in the last year of school in Bellevue High. At fifteen, not old enough to drive, and not old enough to date by normal standards, I had a boyfriend.

Dirk was good to look at and smooth in his ability to convince. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be his girlfriend, but I said yes and began a series of events I could not have dreamt. His best friend wanted to date me too, but I was all unaware. That relationship went south, as most do at my age. He dropped out of school and I didn’t see him for awhile. He was working construction to get away from his parents. All that changed when I awoke in the middle of the night sweating. Something was wrong, my heart shrunk in my chest, it felt like the apocalypse had come to Bellevue. I didn’t realize the apocalypse had come to my own life. I didn’t look at the papers in the morning. I was too caught up in my own fears. It wasn’t until a friend shoved the paper in my face that I realized that I knew the faces of the dead girls there and I knew who had done it and maybe even how. I emotionally collapsed as I sat down with my friends to discuss the situation. Dirk had killed a family. A family we knew. I had dreamed of where. I knew even though it wasn’t in the papers.

In a daze I walked down to the counselors’ office. I had to tell. He knew I would. That made me next and his vengeance had been to a whole family, it would be as expansive with mine as well. Still, the truth had to be told while I could still tell it. I told the counselor. She called the detectives. They picked me up from school. It took almost a month for him to be arrested. In that month I didn’t sleep well, some nights he knocked on my window. I lay shaking in my bed knowing that if I so much as moved he would add my family to the slaughter. Then he was arrested. That should have given me some comfort, but it didn’t and the nightmares never stopped. I had to workout and read all the time to keep my body so exhausted at night that I wouldn’t dream. The trial dates were coming and I would have to face them again.

My family had been turned upside down. Not only because of the news of the murders, but by my psychological reaction to them. I needed help and they came up with the plan of sending me away. Away to a family friend that lived in the middle of nowhere. They believed that somehow it might help me to heal. Or maybe just help them to ignore my problems, either way, I wasn’t sure life would ever be anywhere near normal again. But I was tired, so I didn’t fight it. I was too busy battling to keep hold of myself. That is how I came to be packing boxes in my room, heading off to live with friends I didn’t know well, and to a city I was completely unsure about.

My mother had called her friend not long after the arrest.

“Charlotte, its Dena,” I heard her say, “I need your help. Callista needs your help. I know we talked about your guest house and she needs a change to help her through this. Have you talked to Gregory? Do you think she could stay there for awhile?” and then silence while she listened, “I don’t know how long. Probably for the school year like we talked about. We’ll send you money to help out with the situation and maybe your kids can help her learn to deal with this whole thing better.” She was nodding her head in understanding. “Yes, I think she will be okay. She seems to be trying to work it all out by herself, but I think all the familiar sites make it harder for her.” Again she was listening. “I can bring her next week if you want. I’ll call the school and arrange the move. Thank you. I think it will be the best thing we can do for her… Yes…Thank you, Good-bye Charlotte.”

Then my mother turned around to look at me. “You should start getting ready.”

That was all I was told. I went to my room and found the file of boxes waiting for me. I cried as I packed, not that I had any huge ties to this place, but it was home and I was being sent away. Even if was the best thing for me.

As a last resort I had called my best friend to go for one last walk about the city. I needed to encapsulate the memories and vistas for the dark days of my exile. We took the bus downtown. Somehow my mother saw that as safe enough. Maybe it was just my emotional state that she worried about and not my physical well being. That aside, we took the trip. As we rode on the dirty city transit bus I lay my head down on Megan’s shoulder. She was used to this reaction and was very comforting to me. It was good to have a friend most days, but even better these days.

“How am I going to manage without you?” I pleaded.

She just laughed at me and patted my leg, “You’ll do fine, you always do. ‘Sides, I’m going to miss you too.”

The bus stopped way too frequently and the twenty minute drive lengthened to almost an hour. We got up and exited as the bus stopped at the familiar station at the top of a hugely slopping hill. It was San Francisco steepness, but the smells were all Seattle. We clumped down the hill with our arms about each other. It was a few blocks down to the Farmer’s Market, which was always our first stop. We detoured to the Flower shops at one end and spend long minutes examining and smelling the flowers. Nothing would ever smell like those flowers in the market, their smell was so familiar because it was tainted by the smells of fresh fish and leather and salt water. To some people that was a bad combination, but the ocean was home. I loved days like today when we wandered through the market under the gloomy overcast sky, smelling and tasting everything that we could. There was the honey vendor with more flavors of honey than imaginable; the people who sold spiced nuts were always near the people who made fresh cider. We always bought some and then went to the little French bakery across the crowded street to get a chewy French cookie, whose name escaped me, but I knew what it looked like and that was all I needed. With our cider and cookies we went to the grassy knoll at one end of the market and sat watching the boats float by.

“I am going to miss this,” I confessed to Megan.

“You’ll mange.” She replied flipping her over bleached blond hair behind her shoulder.

“It’s not the same. I won’t have all these people pressing in around me. No more street fairs, no more space needle, science center, or aquarium. Just lots of trees and too much quiet time to think.” I was already feeling bad for myself.

“At least you’ll be alive,” She smiled at me with that best friend look that kept me on track.

“I guess there are worse options huh?”

She laughed, “More than a few. Like still being stuck here.”

We sat in silence for a little while, just soaking in the gray-blue ocean against the gray clouds. It was picturesque today, as only Seattle ever was. I could hear the waves lapping at the ocean bulwarks so many feet down from us. The cars honked and the street artists tried to talk the passer-bys to buy their only vaguely impressive work.

“How am I going to do this?”

He reached over and patted my hand, “Sleep with everyone in your new school,” she counseled in a sarcastic voice, “You’ll be busy for at least a day.”

I laughed at her. She knew I never would. I never had, but my reputation said differently. She probably had, but it was water under the bridge. I was sure that it would never matter to me if she had slept with the whole school, she was steady when life moved sideways. She managed to shrug off life in ways I could never imagine. I lay down on the grass and looked at the cloud until bright circles of light danced in front of my eyes. Then I closed them and memorized the cacophony that I loved.

Megan interrupted my reprieve, “For real, you’ll manage and when you come back for the trial” it was a known which trial she meant, “Come have lunch with me.”

“I promise,” I agreed.

It was a beautiful drive. I looked out over the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound as the salt water crashed into the sides of the floating bridge. The grey streaked cotton ball clouds seemed like they would open up at any time and sprinkle another of their daily summer storms on us. Then came trees, towering above until they cut off all light from the sky. They reached out over the road as if they were trying to shelter me from the world and protect me from the pains of my life. It grew denser as we got further from the city. A small town appeared in the distance peaking in and out of the groves of trees. I guessed it was to be my new home, but to my surprise we didn’t even slow as we came to and then went out of the little town. Again we crossed the water and found our way back into the forest. The car started ascending and descending hills. In a valley larger than the others, I began to see the ocean through trees again. We began following the water and then just before a bridge we turned left. The road paralleled a tide beaches to our right the last hill was long and steep after an almost right-angle turn. The paved roads stopped, but the packed dirt looked well worn by travelers. One last turn took us into a densely surrounded glen. In the middle was a log cabin of significant size. This was it, my new exile.

We stopped and I exited the car with little excitement. The front door opened and out came the whole clan. I knew them from the family videos and vacations of long ago. Charlotte was a beautiful woman with short dark hair and short stature of the ideal mother. She could have been the mother out of any story book. She made all around her feel like little children who wanted to be taken in and cared for by this all knowing mother. Her husband Gregory followed after her and greeted us with a big booming voice and a bear hug. He was tall and had the voice of a man twice his size. He easily could have been a radio personality with his voice. They were followed by their children, one of the boys was older than me, but the youngest was little more than a baby.

They were ecstatic to greet us and I began to wonder what I would have to do to manage to be worthy of all their warm welcome. We were ushered into the house and told not to have a care for our things, because the boys would follow with them and help me to get them settled. I brought in my back pack and was shown the way up the stairs and away from the main house to the guest house. It was nice, but little more than a sitting room with a loft and bed. I set my bag down inside and almost ran face-first into their oldest son.

We both stepped back, “Excuse me,” we both chimed.

I ducked my head and stepped around him and went back into the kitchen to sit down beside my mother.

Both mothers were in the middle of a conversation as I slipped into one of the seats at the table. Without a pause in the conversation, I was presented with a plate of cookies and a cup of milk. I probably didn’t catch more than two words as the talking flew on over my head. It wasn’t until the cookies were gone that I noticed that my name had been called more than once.

“Callista…” Charlotte said again. This time I looked up, “The kids are outside and will show you around if you want them to.”

It was more excuse than I needed. So I made my way out to the back yard which was mostly an extension of the woods. There was an odd swing and a tree house as well as a trampoline and a huge lawn of mostly wild grass. The whole expanse had the almost natural look about it and the trees thickened at they became more distant from the house. There were no houses that could be seen from the back yard, but there was laughter. All the kids were doing something. The oldest boy was pushing the two little girls on the swing and they were squealing as they tried to stay on. I figured that was probably the safest place for me and avoided the other two boys that were younger than me, but close enough to my age to still be intimidated.

The girls’ laughs were contagious as they flew back and forth on the swing. I couldn’t help but smile at their childish glee. The young man pushing them had caught me smiling as I met his eyes.

“You have a nice smile,” he said as I got close enough to hear him.

“Thanks,” I replied looking at my feet.

“I’m Tristan Scott,” he introduced himself thrusting his hand out in my direction.

“I’m Callista Decker,” I replied, “but I’m sure you knew that.”

“Maybe,” he laughed, & shoved the girl high up again. They screamed gleefully in response.

“Are you going to be my tour guide?”

“Sure, over there,” He added pointing out into the woods, “Is the place where we tie the kids up on Saturday. Over there,” he continued pointing another direction, “is the place where we beat them on Sunday, and over there,” he finished, in his still very serious tone, pointing in again another direction, “is the place that we get our weekly lectures on Tuesdays.”

I scrunched my eyebrows at him as I tried to determine if he was kidding.

He laughed in response, “Of course, I’m kidding. There’ nothing very interesting around here, but when I’m done, I’ll take you down to the town and show you all five of the local sites.”

I laughed at that, “All five huh? That many?”

“Actually there are probably only four now, but that’s because Bessie is in for the night, which exclude all cow tipping.”

I shook my head and smiled.

“Actually, there may never be five again. Crazy Jake shot her this morning when the kids were walking to school.”

I pursed my lips, “Another joke.”

“No,” he laughed, “That one really happened.”

I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at that, “Holy Cow!”

“Literally,” he agreed, again serious.

He grabbed the swing and the girls in it in one movement. He held steady while they jumped the girls down one at a time. “Let’s go get some ice cream and I’ll show you the sights.”

“All four of them.”

“Yes, all four.”

He stuck his head inside the house for a moment and then directed me around the house. There was his silver car. Rather sporty actually. It wasn’t what I expected someone who lives in the middle of the woods to drive. It looked more suited for the city streets of Bellevue than the dirt roads of Purdy. He opened my door and I slid into the bucket seat.

As soon as he was in we peeled out on the gravel and were headed down the dirt road followed by a cloud of dirt. I soon was lost through the quick turn and rises in the road. Still, it was surprisingly soon when we reached the local grocery store. Frankly, that is all there was here. A store and a little ice cream stand. There was a frazzled girl working at the ice cream stand and a help wanted sign. He smoothly pulled into one of the front stalls and jumped out of the car. I followed him up to the stand.

“Hey Katie,” he greeted, “This is my friend Callista. She’s going to be staying with us for awhile.”

“It’ great to meet you,” she responded. “So, what can I get you?”

“Strawberry,” he responded, “what can she get you?”

“Plain old vanilla.”

“Well, aren’t we adventurous today?”

“I don’t think an adventurous spirit is needed here. Especially if of the top four things to do in the town, we go to the grocery store.”

“Hey now,” he chided me, “This is one of the top four things to do here. This is where I work.”

“Well,” I agreed, “that does make it more interesting. What do you do here?”

“Produce. I keep it lookin’ and smellin’ nice.”

“So you are the one that cons me into buying more carrots than I would need in a month?”

“On a good day, that’s my job.” He grabbed the cones and paid Katie.

“Katie,” I began, “could I get an application? I get the feeling that working is a good idea in this little town.”

She handed me a paper, “Frankly, if Tristan says your worth hiring the job is yours. The application is just for the files.”

“Thanks,” I replied.

He led me into the store and gave me the full tour while cracking jokes the whole way. From the dairy section, which “kept the smell of the cows out” to the produce department, which had “regular rain, like any other working farm.” Not that the store was that much different from any other mom and pop grocery store in the world, but it was more interesting because Tristan told me that it was. The whole time my mouth was occupied by licking the ice cream cone and trying not to let the food in my mouth spray out through my nose. He took me on a tour of the isles with commentary about the set up of each one as well as historical content.

“Isle 5 and 6 were added later,” he explained with a waive of his hand at the oddly strange set of isles we were headed towards, “and the contractor evidently did not own a level because the floor rises over five inches and comes back down on the other side.” I giggled as we stepped up and then at the end of the isle, back down, “This store could not be in the city due to handy cap code. In the city some one would have sued the stupid level-less contractor in an instant, but here in Purdy it just makes isle five a little more interesting especially after it is mopped. So many people fall going to the freezer section.” He shook his head and I kept laughing as we exited the two after thought isles.

We went back outside and past the box boy, who was delighted to be sweeping, at least he was outside and on level ground.

When we finished our cones and the tour, Tristan led the way back to the car. We continued on our tour through the woods. Next on the trip was the church building. We stopped and I was given a tour around the whole exterior. That was so useless, but it was funny all the same. When we got back to the car and climbed in Tristan began pulling doughnuts to depict what a nice parking lot the church had. I just clung to the sissy bar for dear life. I could hear the rims begin to cut into the asphalt on the last one and gasped at him. A guy dressed in a Karate uniform came by and began yelling at the two of us. He was so animated that I had to hide my face to keep from laughing outrageously. He was promptly cut off by yet another car stopping in front of the church to my chagrin, it was the bishop. He calmed the man and in a very calm voice informed the man that he would take it from there. I ducked my head a bit. This was not the kind of first impression that I was looking for. He looked directly at Tristan. He smiled, as if they were close friends.

“This must be a very good car if it can do that. Maybe this is the kind of car I should get.” He smiled broadly at Tristan and then patted him on the shoulder and left.

“And this must be the long awaited Callista,” he shook my hand, “It is so good that you are here. Try not to let this guy get you into trouble.”

I nodded.

“See you on Sunday!” Tristan called as the bishop waved and left in his plain little car.

“He’s not going to say anything?” I asked.

“I told you it was a happening place.” He replied with the mischief making it back into his eyes again. I chuckled at him and wondered what would be next.

Next was the High School, which also looked similar to all other High Schools. It was built on a steep hill and the high light of the stop was “Pride rock.” At first, I assumed that it would be like some movie prop from the Lion King, but it was little more than a huge boulder with hundreds of layers of paint. I giggled at the fresh coat of paint, which I could smell when standing near it.

“This week is the football game with our rival school. They came and painted our rock last night and we had to reclaim it this morning.” He was very serious about it, but that just made it all the more funny.

“Well, we can’t have another school painting our rock can we?”

“Absolutely not,” he agreed still keeping as strait face, “I am glad that you see the importance of the situation.”

I just laughed all the harder.

Next we made a stop at the Purdy spit. It was a rather anti-climactic kind of place. It was little more than a long pile of gravel topped by a road and surrounded by the sea. Even so, the view from it was amazing. The water was gray and green and smelled like the open ocean. The waves crashed softly on both ides of the spit.

“Once it warms up a bit we can all go swimming,” he offered.

“Isn’t it a little bit cold?”

“More than a little,” Tristan agreed, “On the best days of summer the water gets above fifty degrees, but not much.”

I chuckled, and made a shivering gesture at him.

“So, where is our last very interesting place?”

“Over by my sister’s house. It’s one of my favorite places to go.”

“I know! It’s the local dairy farm.”

He just chuckled at me.

“You’re not going to tell me?”

“I hadn’t planned on it. I was thinking that showing you would be better.”

I pursed my lips and waited as we plunged back into the forest and made our way to the last of the interesting spots of Purdy. It ended up being quite a way out to the last stop. The deep woods closed around us as we went and it was dark like late after noon. Suddenly, the trees began to thin and the gray light of the sky began to shine through once again. We slowed as the trees cleared and the land dropped off sharply. There in front of us was the uninterrupted Puget Sound. It streaked away to the distant gray land mass on the horizon, which must have been Seattle. The rhythmic lapping of the waves against the sandy shore was soothing and made me relax as the ocean always did. It was one of those things that soothed me as nothing else could. The waves were a sound I had heard through out my life and had that helpful permanence, like the heart beat of the planet.

“Beautiful isn’t it?” He asked from just behind me.

“There are no words.”

We stood there in silence watching the waves come in. As I lost focus to the sound of the water, Tristan flopped down beside me and began taking off his shoes and rolling up his pants. I tilted my head to the side and watched him. Then, I decided to join him in taking off my shoes.

We walked down into the water and I squelched the sand in between my toes. It was very cold, but it felt good. It was the way the ocean was supposed to fell, not like the warm water in California. That to me had felt more like a bathtub that smelled bad or a very big pool with a fake wave machine. This cool water was the background of my childhood. Water that never, even on the warmest day of the year, make it up above fifty five degrees. In an odd way it felt solid, the stark reality that had been there in the days before the world had turned itself upside down. It was the one North Star to me and somehow the simple act of standing in the cold water with the predictable rhythm of the ocean lapping against my legs, the world righted itself for a moment. I could feel a bit more me than I had before. I could see the way the world had been when I was little. It all felt just as carefree and okay at that moment.

So, I shoved Tristan in the water. It was the act of a little girl. No thought, no care for the consequences. It was just a moment of being. That felt right. Until, after sputtering out of the water, he glared. I knew it was coming, and I did what I shouldn’t have, I laughed at him. He didn’t look scary at all dripping with water. He plunged me under the water in one leaping bound. Lucky for me it wasn’t deep and I was able to get a hold of my breath before I momentarily went under.

It was nice to play, and Tristan indulged me in my need to be five for a time. We laughed, until it hurt to keep laughing. We splashed and chased and generally made idiots of ourselves without a thought to how we looked.

“Tee?!?” Called a voice from the trees on the edge of the beach.

Tristan turned and smiled, one of those dangerous, yet not at all scary smiles. It must have been his sister, Marie. She was short and blond and looked just as happy as any person could have hoped to have been. Next to her was a tall man with dark hair and broad shoulders. He looked more like a bear than a man and was not a person I would have liked to have met in a dark anywhere, until he smiled. Some how his smile lit his whole being and the dangerousness about him faded from expressing grizzly bear into big teddy bear.

They began making their way towards us. I stepped back a bit so as to let Tristan take the lead. Instead, he scooped up water and managed to fling it directly his sister, and missing her husband. She in due course screamed in offense. This caused the battle to begin anew without so much as proper introductions.

By the time the water fight ended all four of us were soaked, laughing, and exhausted.

“So, you little brat,” Marie began as she glared at her brother from the safety of the other side of her husband, whose name I had gathered was Eugene. “Why all this?”

“Well, I was showing Callista around the sites of Purdy.”

“I guess with the limited options, this would have to be considered on of the highlights of the place,” she laughed at the idea. “You know you live in a pitiful place when there is so little to see that you go and have a water fight on the beach for good times.”

We all laughed. It seemed like this would be one of those places that we spent a whole lot too much time. Even though we were all soaked to the bone, we were oddly warm and still smiling.

“Well, Eugene,” Marie began, “I think the clams are clean now.”

I noticed the abandoned buckets and shovel at the top of the path only when Marie gestured back to them.

“Oh, I am so sorry,” I replied,” I wasn’t trying to ruin your night!”

Tristan laughed.

“Don’t worry,” Marie replied brushing the guilt aside, “Plans were made to be changed.”

“Let’s get something hot to drink back at the house and dry out before we send these guys home.”

They led the way down the beach to a cliff drop off. It looked like there was a house on the top of the cliff that over-looked the ocean. The climb was steep one side a cliff the other a row of trees.

“How do you pass here?” I whispered to Tristan as we walked down the drive.

“You don’t,” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“You have to honk the whole way up or down. Last summer there was an accident here.”

“Really,” I was instantly worried, “What happened.”

“Tristan tried to kill me,” Marie volunteered.

“You can’t blame it on me! You were the one blasting the music and looking for your next CD!” He retorted in a teasing and yet irritated voice.

“You say you were honking, but were you really?” she continued to jab at him.

“Maybe if you hadn’t been playing Prince loud enough for all of Purdy to hear you might have noticed me carefully coming up the hill to get your stupid movie!”

“Oh, sure, it was all my fault. You said you weren’t coming. It’s not like this is the most public highway in the world. You shouldn’t have been on the road!”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been on the road. Besides, have I ever really told you no when you asked so nicely. Even if I had a prior appointment?” He teased her followed by a little brother arm around the shoulder.

“Appointment huh? Where?” I asked prying for more details.

“A girl…” Marie began with the air of another good story on the way. Until her mouth was closed in a hurry by the hand of her brother. When she struggled out of it, it was quickly followed by a change in tactics. Tristan began tickling Marie and she began shrieking and squirming to get way from him. Eugene let out a big chuckle and joined the fray going after Tristan. I watched for a little while as I tried first to decide if I wanted to join the tickling giggling party and secondly what side I would end up on.

The decision was circumvented by the end of the fight when Tristan ended up running quickly up the hill and Marie running down it to break the whole thing off. The rest of the walk was punctuated with gibes and teasing, but not very close physical proximity; as if they were all afraid that if they got too close together again they might not be able to stop the magnetic need to attack each other. It was nice to watch a group of people just be together without any demands from their proximity. I hoped to someday get to be in that kind of family. As much as I knew and liked the Scotts, I was still just the outsider and it took work for them to think about including me in the natural relationships that they had formed over the years.

Eugene began to slow down to come and talk to me as we got closer to the house.

“Hey,” He began, “How’ it going?”

“Better than expected,” I replied.

He laughed at that, “Let me guess, not very excited about moving to the middle of the lost country?”

“Basically,” I laughed in return. He made me feel to comfortable and I just wanted to tell him everything after a few minutes talking with him. He seemed to honestly relate with everything and was quick to be witty and jovial.

When we arrived at their little house, Marie went to get us towels and Eugene busied himself with the hot drinks. I watched them in interest. I had expected Marie to be the in the kitchen kind of person like her mother, but it seemed that Eugene had a knack from maneuvering his way around the appliances.

Eugene made a huge salad for us with all kinds of unusual toppings. We had fresh bread to go along with it and tons of teasing and laughter. I was at ease with them in the little dinning room. I helped Eugene clear the plates, while Marie and Tristan kept digging at each other. Eugene handed me two mugs.

“For dessert,” he explained and motioned for me to go back into the dinning room. We gathered by the fire, which Tristan started, with blankets and steaming cups of hot chocolate. It was like a scene from a postcard or a “Why Washington isn’t so bad” book.

“So, you’re here for awhile?” Eugene asked, between sips at his drink.

“It seems that way,” I agreed doing the same.

“What are you planning to do here?” asked Marie as if she had no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to spend any amount of time in this bumpkin town.

“To be completely honest, I haven’t a clue. I was going for not die of boredom, and then if I make that goal for awhile, manage to have a bit of fun.”

They all nodded and the room went quiet as we warmed ourselves by the fire.

“Well,” Tristan began, interrupting the quiet, “We had better be getting home, we have church in the morning and you know how mom likes us to actually be coherent for all of sacrament meeting.”

Marie smiled and it crinkled the corners of her eyes with glee. She was holding back something witty, but probably didn’t want to say anything bad in front of a new friend.

“Thanks for the sand fight, it was most entertaining,” Eugene said standing up and thrusting out his big paw in Tristan’s direction, then he turned to me, “And thanks for distraction from the usual. It was nice to meet you.” I felt a lit dwarfed by him but welcome all the same.

Marie got up and hugged us both and then held the door open for us, “See you in the morning,” she called, and then shut the door behind us.

“So, what did you think about the five sights of Purdy, exciting aren’t they?”

“More than I could have guessed that they would be,” I replied through a grin, “Are they always this fun?”

“The sights are not, but me, I am,” Tristan bragged puffing out his chest. I looked at him, not sure if he was joking or not.

He laughed when he looked over at me, “I was kidding,” He informed me.

“That’s good to know I was beginning to think that I might have to schedule an ego reduction for you.” I teased him back.

We both laughed at ourselves.

We climbed back into the silver Saab and speed away towards home and the waiting showers. As we turned into the drive way, a sly smile crossed Tristan’s face.

“What?” I asked a little scared of the retaliation that his smile might reflect.

“I’m going to race you to see who gets clean and dressed first. I’m sure mom and dad want to say good night, before it gets too late.”

I nodded in acceptance of the challenge.

As soon as we stopped we both leapt from the car. I had a moment’s head start because I didn’t have to turn off the car, but his greater height caught me before we reached the front door. As soon as we entered we changed directions, I for the guest house and him for the stairs to the main house. I was sure he made it to the bathroom before I did, but I was nearly undressed by the time I arrived, because I knew there would be no one there. I scrubbed and soaped as quickly as I could and then jumped out with a towel caught as an afterthought. It was probably harder for me to get re-dressed; I had to find my clothes in my suitcase. I ran back down the stairs while brushing out my hair. I was just finishing this up as I got to the kitchen. Tristan was lounging with his feet up on the table as if he had been there for a long time, but I could see he was still breathing rapidly.

“I loose,” I conceded, “So what now?”

“It is movie time with the family,” He informed me.

“Is that an every week occurrence?” I wondered aloud.

“Mostly. Some weeks we aren’t all here, but the movie almost always goes on at about nine and plays till late. That is how my parents get the little kids to go to sleep on weekends.”

I nodded, “So, where is the movie fest going to be?”

“Outside of course,” he replied.

“Well, I should have known, that was the obvious answer.” I was sarcastic as he looked at me out of the sides of his eyes as if saying he wasn’t sure that I was joking. It must have seemed so normal to him, but I was from the city and movies were watched in the house and a theatre.

Outside, tied between two large trees was a pristine white sheet. There was a movie projector on a card table and everyone was flopped out on a variety of chairs, none of which even pretended to match in the least. His mom looked up when we opened the back door.

“Nice to see you,” she greeted us, “You missed the beginning, but you probably have that memorized. Grab a seat.”

He directed me to one of the empty chairs. The show was with Chevy Chase and the plot, if one exited, was beyond me, but I was intrigued by the laughter that regularly erupted from all the members of the family. I wasn’t really touched by that kind of humor, it seemed more stupid than anything to me, but I found myself laughing at how much they loved it. It was so contagious, that I found myself watching the each person in the family more than the movie. That is probably why I missed the point of the show, seeing as how it wasn’t that challenging mentally. Maybe that was the whole point. This family was so happy to be together that they didn’t need social sophistication, they just needed each other and that seemed to be enough for all of them.

I watched each of the family members in turn. There was Charlotte, the eternal mom, with the littlest girl on her lap. She was watching the show while brushing her baby’s hair. The little girl was putting on princess shoes and playing with her baby while intermittently gave orders to her mother as to how to improve the brushing and hair-do creation.

The next oldest was sitting in the middle of a blanket surrounded by toys and blatantly ignoring the movie. She was too busy getting ordered her toys and baby dolls. She had long black hair and had scrunched her face up in concentration. I wondered at her, she had so much of the world ahead of her, would she make it through without any scaring. That was so rare these days, but I hoped it for her.

Then there were the two boys. One was still little, but he sat up like he was the king of the world in his little chair. He had a look of total enthrallment on his face, yet never seemed unaware of his posture or the locations of anyone else in the area. He caught me looking at him and I quickly turned my face away and to the other boy. He was only a little younger than me and had big bottle cap glasses. He loved the movie and laughed with the older members of the family. He seemed a little unsure of himself and almost the opposite of his little brother sitting feet away from him. I made a note in my head to look out for him at school. He looked like he needed good friends around and so did I.

Lastly, of the children, there was Tristan. He had the kindest face of them all. There was so much youthful and uncorrupted about him. He laughed freely and just seemed to be totally carefree. Would that be the same all the time? I wasn’t sure, maybe. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn to be so sure of the goodness of all things in life that nothing seemed all that bad to you? That would be a nice change from the constant fear and uncertainty that overshadowed my whole existence.

I seemed like a very short time had passed as I examined all the members of the family, but the credits were rolling. I looked around and the three younger kids were asleep in various, uncomfortable looking, positions.

“Everyone head off to bed.” Dad ordered very nicely as he gathered up one of the girls. Charlotte picked up the one in her lap and they headed to the house. Tristan gathered up his little brother and the other brother picked up the projector. I was surprised to see them leave the sheet hanging on the trees, but there must have been a reason, even if it was only that everyone’s hands were full already.

I followed the troop into the house, feeling a sudden wave of exhaustion wash over me. I headed for my bed. I was tired in every bone. I had too much stimulation today, but my mind wandered. That was no good. I would have to fall asleep reading.

Going through my bedtime routine didn’t take all that much effort. It was mindless from regular practice. Still, I stood with my back to the wall and the sink to y side when I could. I avoided washing my face, it took too long with my eyes closed. So, I had found these scrubbing pads that I could use without exposing my back to the room.

In my room I shoved the bed into the farthest corner so that there was no part of the room I could not see when I lay there. I closed the blinds and opened one of my book boxes. I pulled out a new book, whose binding I hadn’t yet cracked. It was a good night for a simple story. Books were so good, they were safe. Even when bad thing happened, I knew that all the characters were going to end up just fine, and even if they did not, they wouldn’t bleed from wounded hearts as soon as the book covers closed on their world. Sleep was the closest thing for me to that, but it hadn’t come easily for a long time. I had to leave lights on all the time and lock doors, and yet I was still so afraid. It was irrational. I would check everything more times than necessary and I was still afraid that he might be there at any turn.

At some point I fell asleep in the light. I woke up when it was very late outside. I was tired enough to be able to flip off the bedside lamp and keep sleeping, but that was only because I made the motion in mid-sleep. I was too tired to be bothered by dreams and that was how I liked it. I had to keep myself so tired that my mind and body didn’t have the extra power to keep going after I lay down.

Morning came too early and I took a long hot shower, glad for the separate water heater that serviced the quest house. I pulled on comfy clothes for the morning and went about doing my hair and makeup for church. By the time I was done, everyone else was probably up, so I went down to the kitchen and joined everyone else at Sunday breakfast. Charlotte had made blueberry waffles, bacon, and hash browns for the crew. Everyone looked in some state of insomnia. It was rather amusing to see a group of people sleeping over a meal rather than eating it. All that is except for little Caitlin, she laughed in her highchair and pushed her food around making bubbles on her lips. I decided to sit by her. She would probably e the best conversation of the group.

“Good morning Princess,” I greeted her.

“If you don’t mind, she could use some help getting some of that food into her mouth rather than around it,” Charlotte asked me over her shoulder as she tossed the bacon onto the serving plate.

“That I can manage to do,” I replied and picked up the jar of baby food and began flying it into her airport mouth. She thought that I was so funny that I managed to get most of the food down her gullet before she realized that it was just a misdirection tactic. She must have been full, because she began grabbing the spoon with her little baby hands and smearing baby art across her tray.

“Well, I think that is plenty for you,” I informed her with a distasteful look and a dramatic shake of the head. She just goo-ed at me and held up her hands to ask me to join in her play.

“No, but thank you very much. I have no desire to take another shower today. I would never be ready in time and then I would have to stay home all alone.” I was sure she had no idea what I was saying, but she liked that I was talking to her, and that’s what mattered.

I looked up to see Tristan watching me. I smiled at him and he looked down quickly.

“Hey guys, it’s time to eat, who wants to say prayer?” Charlotte announced as she laid the last plate on the table. The family seemed to wake up significantly. We said prayer and then all dug in. The food was very good and disappeared from the serving plates at record rates.

When everyone had their fill and had headed upstairs to get ready of the weekly expedition to the church house. Jim had left just after everyone finished breakfast to attend to his business for the day. I volunteered to help with the morning dishes and had the breakfast mess cleaned up before anyone was ready.

“You better knock that off,” said William, “you’ll make the rest of us look bad.”

“Thanks for the warning, but I am more worried with being liked than I am with making the rest of you look bad.”

“Don’t worry about that.” He reassured me, “Mom and Dad like you just fine. You are more helpful than a lot of people who have set up shop here. They would like it more if you called them Mom and Dad though it makes them feel appreciated.”

I made mental note of that.

“I better get ready, so I don’t hold everyone back,” I nodded my thanks to him and hurried back upstairs to finish the beautification process that always proceeded church, no matter what the day.

Just started this one- Challence


As the world came into its own, having recovered from another depression, great leaps forward occurred in science whose consequences where unexpected. The world plague of AIDS had finally been cured, at least for those who had escaped it so far. The vaccine saved millions from the epidemic, but the virus had other notions. It ravaged the population with its next mutation, but this time the consequences were not mangled cells that demolished the immune system. This time the virus changed to activate the DNA. Those portions of the DNA that all people carry which have the power to create all other living organisms were randomly activated creating in their wake a new terror for the people.

The new group was called Changers, and they were immune to the vaccines. They had wings, manes, and tails that came and went at the will of the infected. The Changers quickly frightened the general population and the ruling governments into a kind of apocalypse. There was warfare over infections, intentional or perceived. Invasions came in all forms and soon the greater arms were being shot over the oceans, one superpower at another, leaving the infrastructure in shambles and the ruling powers devastated beyond recovery.

It was not until the world as it had been known before had crumbled, that the Changers realized their one weakness. They could not reproduce. The virus created enough changes in the DNA that the fail-safes inherent in the human system stopped most pregnancies and created mass infertility among the Changing population. They gathered together in even grater numbers looking for a cure for their problem, only to find there was no solution.

A small part of the population was still able to have children. There was a quirk that their bodies did not pick up, or a defective protein that allowed for the abnormalities. These women soon were elevated in respect among the Changers. They were revered and held above all others. Any Changer or woman who could bear Changers what given anything and everything she wanted. She had her choice of mates, homes, and most everything else. The hope was that her children would be the solution to the problem. But after years of watching, it appeared that it was not to be. Even among the children of the Changers, the same ratios held true. Only a few would be able to bare children, and most changed would come from infecting the general --, or non-changing, population.

So citadels were built for the Changers to keep them safe from the outsiders and protect those who had to learn to live with their disease. The citadels grew with each passing year and a ruling class emerged. Driven by the heightened animal instincts in the group, an Alpha emerged in each citadel. He was the strongest, smartest, or wileiest of the Changers. He often was replaced, and had to always be on his guard. Very few of the Alphas had families, but they oversaw the Captains who specialized in the care of the community. Every now and again a rogue would work their way into a citadel and decimate the population with the latest drug to “Cure” their “illness.” Needless to say those medical helpers did not enjoy a significant lifespan when they were discovered. And so the Changers became wary of the outside world and their societies became more guarded.

People who were infected with the Change-virus were often left to rampage through the general -- population for weeks before the local citadel would come to bring them in and train them to control their new instincts, or put them down. Sometimes the local police took the matter into their own hands and just deal with a predator. That was not the preferred method, considering the Changers were unpredictably strong, smart, and often armed with surprising extras. So any possibly infected were often quarantined in the worst of circumstances, and others were sent away into the wilds. Scientists continued to work on solving the Changer’s problems, and the world continued to try to function; limping along without proper support and often failing.

Chapter 1

Astraea took a deep breath before reaching up to knock on the heavy doors. She was sure they knew she was there. There was no way she would have gotten this close to the city without being watched, but for some reason, she hoped a good omen, they had left her alone.

A deep voice boomed from the other side of the thick wood slats, “What do you want?”

She swallowed again, “I need to join you.”

The voice chuckled, and not in a friendly manner. “We are not in the habit of taking on foreigners.”

Astraea put her head against the door. “Please. We need your protection.”

“Only Shifters are allowed in.” The voice replied firmly.

“Then allow my son in.”

There was a pause, “Where is this son?”

Astraea pulled back the top of the pack she was wearing to reveal the little infant it was hiding. Someone must be able to see her, but from where, she was not sure. “Here, with me.”

The quiet continued.

She began to worry, maybe she would have to come up with another option. This had been her best hope.

But just before she was going to turn and begin the grueling walk away from the city, a clang and scrape sounded and the door creaked open the tiniest bit. A dark haired man looked out, with a deep frown.

“This is your child?” He asked more softly than the first, but only comparatively, he was still a long way from friendly.

Astraea nodded.

“And you have seen him change?”

She nodded again.

“And his father?”

Astraea swallowed, looking down and away, “Not in the picture.”

This seemed to bother the man all the more, “Come in, we have a few things to talk over and I would like to be called when he does change so that I can verify.”

Astraea nodded, relieved that they were at least letting them stay for a time. It would be good to rest somewhere safe, and these days, very little was safe.

As she passed through the doors, Astraea noted their thickness, no less than a foot, and marveled at the strength it would take to hang them. The fittings inside were heavy steel, which was not hard to come by, but someone here had to have worked it into its current shape. Which also boasted of how well stocked the citadel was. She fervently hoped that she and Adamsalom were able to stay. This would be the best place for him, and maybe she could find something helpful to do.

“I’m guessing you haven’t eaten for awhile.” The man continued as they walked through a maze and out into the evening dimness of an open courtyard.

Astraea nodded.

“Alright, I will get you dinner and see what kind of accommodations we can offer you. Things are a little full here these days, so I can’t promise much, but it will be a safe place to sleep until we can ascertain what to do with you in the long run.” He looked back at her as she walked taking in all her grand surroundings. On all sides tall gray walls rose keeping out all unwelcome guests. There were no flowers or plants of any kind in the courtyard, but all the walls were immaculately maintained. As they proceeded they came to a row of no less than ten arches, with a catwalk over the top. Many Changers looked down from above at her, but most seemed to be mature men. Astraea wondered if there were many women and if that was why she was allowed to enter.

Once they passed under the arches, another courtyard opened up which was nothing like the first. It was filled with stalls and canopies, people of all ages, shapes, and colors walked about talking freely. Planters filled all sides, covering many of the walls with splashes of color. Astraea brightened looking at the happiness of the people and daring to imagine her son running with the other little boys on the cobbled ground. Maybe this was a better choice than she had hoped. As they walked on past a large fountain with many lions holding it up, they came to a single story building.

The man motioned her in under the speculative eyes of others. He walked her down a cold hall way and opened one of the doors to a room covered in papers with walls plastered in drawings. A small twitchy man sat behind a desk and rose quickly as soon as his door swung open.

“Oh! Draco. How can I help you?” he simpered out.

Draco sighed, “We have a bit of a situation, and I figured you were the one to give it to.”

The man looked Astraea over with a critical eye, blinking quickly.

“This woman is not a Changer as I am sure your nose has told you.”

The twitchy man nodded.

“But she has a baby that is.” He sighed, perching his rump on a pile of books.

The office owner looked for a moment as if he were going to say something, but decided better of it, “And you got the baby where?”

Astraea sighed. “He is my son.”

The little man blinked, and began chewing on his nail and looking at one of his maps, muttering as he did. The longer he looked at it the more flustered he became.

“I have nothing!” He finally cried in despair. “If we had the addition finished, I would have plenty of room, but it is no more than drawn. It will be weeks before I am ready to move people into even the first rooms!”

“Settle down, --. The suppliers are still gone for at least another day. We can put her and the baby into any of their rooms for the night and then figure out who has an extra room in the morning.”

--looked at him as he worried his lip with his top teeth, “I suppose there is little harm in that. I would say we should put her in a room with a bath so that the baby stays as clean as possible. The only one with those kind of amenities is Challence’s.”

The first guide coughed, as if startled by the suggestion. “Are you sure that is a good idea?”

The little man shrugged, “Best we can come up with tonight. Besides, like you said we can change things tomorrow and I will tell his Excellency why it was needed.”

“Your head not mine,” he muttered. “Alright, get that in motion. I need to get her fed and find out a little more, but then I will make sure she finds here way there. If you will take care of everything else.”

-- nodded. “I will.”

They left, Astraea following again the large man. Adamsalom began to fuss. Astraea stopped, pulling the pack off and beginning to take him out.

“What?” -- demanded, turning to see that his charge was not hot on his heels as he exected.

“The baby wants out.” She replied in as soft a voice as she could manage.

He huffed and waited while she got him disentangled and snuggled into a blanket in her arms.

“He’s small.” --noted.

Astraea nodded,.“Yes, they start that way.”

“How old is he?”

She smiled down at his little red face. “Two weeks.”

The man blinked a few times. “And you have been walking with him this time?”

Astraea nodded. “I couldn’t stay where I was. Alone with a baby is just not safe. I had hoped to get here before he came, but…”

The man nodded. “And how soon after he was born did he change?”

Astraea shrugged. “I knew he could before he was born. That’s why I decided to try for here. I worked with medical equipment. I borrowed an ultrasound machine and when I looked at him, he was a small cat. While I was watching he shifted back to a baby.” She shrugged looking away, “Once he was here, I think he shifted about twice a day for the first few days and then settled into this skin. Now he does it more rarely, but it happens.”

--blinked. He had no experience with Changer babies, or any babies for that matter. “Come on, let’s get you fed.”

They walked back out into the courtyard, past the fountain, to another building. This one smelled amazing, and Astraea’s mouth began to water. There were tables everywhere in this corner of the courtyard and once under the permanent roof, pots and dishes seemed to fill every nook and cranny.

“Berba!” He yelled.

Adam began to fuss, catching a quick glance from the man. He stopped yelling and went off to find whomever he was calling. Astraea took a seat and began looking over her son. She changed his swaddling and began talking to him softly before her guide returned with a smiling round lady.

“This is Berba. She’ll get you fed. What do you want?” He demanded.

Astraea shrugged. “I am not picky. I haven’t eaten much in a long time.”

Berba grinned more broadly, “So you have brought me a thankful customer. I might even be happy with you for this.” She teased the larger man.

He grunted at her.

“I’ll be back with something to get that baby nice and fat.” She patted Astraea on the shoulder and turned back to her kitchen. She was gone for what seemed like moments and returned with a heaping plate of meat, bread, cheese, and fruit. Astraea looked at it like it were a dream, afraid to touch it and make it disappear.

“Go on, eat up. I’ll be right back with water for you to drink.”

She blinked at the woman.

“Well go on. Or will I have to feed you myself?”

No more coaxing was needed. She dug in, filling her mouth with as much as she could manage. Every bite was like heaven. It may not have been the best cooking that she had ever eaten, but her hungry stomach argued that it was manna from heaven.

“So tell me about this man?” He asked sitting down opposite her at the table.

Astraea swallowed her bite, but it stuck a little in her throat. “He was a Changer, but didn’t have any control over it.”

“I see a --.” He filled in.

“I guess.”

“How did you…”

Astraea swallowed again, but not food. “I… It was not a good day. He cornered me…” The memories of that monstorous event came flooding back to her. The blood and bruises. She shuddered and shook her head, trying to plead with her questioner.

He frowned in response, so she tried again.

“He came into the lab, breaking things and growling. He had fangs and a mane…” She chocked on the words, tears beginning to run down her face.

“We’ll talk again later,” He sighed. “I have to go check on the guards.” He shoved back his seat, the corners of his mouth still turned down. He glanced back at Astraea one more time, shook his head and went back the way they had come.

“Can I help you by holding the baby while you eat?” Berba was back. She sat in the emptied seat with a grin.

Astraea looked down at her son, anxious to let him out of her arms for the first time. “If you sit right there.”

Berba smiled. “I was a grandma before all this craziness set in. I used to hold my grandbabies all the time.” She came over and picked him up with deft hands. “Oh sweet baby you need a bath.”

Astraea looked ashamed. “I did my best.”

“Oh no dear, I was not criticizing you.” She smiled softly. “No. He just smells like sour milk. That makes you a good jersey cow.”

Astrea frowned.

“That is a good thing. He just has milk under his chin. In all those baby folds,” She crooned.

Astraea took a bite not taking her eyes off the other woman. But the food was amazing, and so much easier to eat with both hands free. She ate until her stomach hurt with over filling.

“Here, you take him and I will put together something for you to take with you for the middle of the night. You have to keep up your energy to be a good jersey.” She grinned taking the plate and cup from the table.

Astraea hugged her little boy tightly and he grunted in response. Soon Berba was back with a little pouch and a canteen. She sat down in the other chair. “I am going to slack off on doing that mess of dishes and sit with you until that mountain of a man comes back to get you to bed.”

Astraea smiled shyly.

“What did you used to do before your life got exciting?” She was so kind and gentle that Astraea wanted to talk about the good days and not think about the things that had happened since.

“I was working Just North in what used to be San Jose as a medical researcher…”

Berba cut her off, “Not on the Changer virus I hope.”

Astraea had to smile, “Not on the curing it project. I was working with a group trying to solve the fertility problem that comes with it.”

She nodded.

“I had gotten through a bit of it, but it was proving more challenging that had been first assumed. It is a basic human checks and balances system I was trying to bypass. And frankly most of us were stumped most of the time as to why it sometimes worked and why it sometimes didn’t.” Astraea shrugged.

Berba grinned. “Well anyone who is trying to help us get babies will be well loved among the women here. It is the greatest tragedy for most of the younger ones infected with the virus.”

“I can imagine.”

The grandma looked at the baby, “Did you always want to be a mother?”

Astraea smiled, “I did someday, but I had not gotten to the point of really thinking about it. I had my job and it took so much of my attention that I never really bothered with relationships that much let alone thinking about families and babies.”

“And then here you are.”

Astraea nodded at her little offspring. “And here I am. A mother. I haven’t a clue what to do half the time, but it’s good. I like it. I am tired and irritable, and he makes me laugh. He started smiling at me in his sleep and it melts my heart.”

“You’ll do a fine job,” Berba said, “I am sure of it.”

Chapter 2

Challence had endured yet another grueling day. The sun was setting, but at least tonight he didn’t need to set up a fire and meal for those in his encampment. Tonight they had made it back home.

He walked the familiar halls, dragging his fingers lovingly over the cold stone. He smelled the air, knowing many of the smells in it, also aware of how many more there were here than there had been before. He ignored many of the conversations around him, nodding as was needed to those who noticed who was walking down their corridors. All seemed well; or at least as well as could be expected without the Alpha having been around.

He had left the place in good hands, ones that could take over if their forays were not successful. But the citadel needed supplies and the Alpha had to go along sometimes to negotiate with other groups to get what was needed. He rubbed his forehead. It had been a long week, and hopefully there was enough medical supplies to fill their needs. But with the collapse of the infrastructure, what was left was not abundant and those who still knew how to make medicines were extremely valuable. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to be Changers, and Challence was not about to let anyone else inside, not with the overcrowding he already faced.

The Cat were working on the new expansion plans, which he assumed he would be approving in the morning. It would be good to have more breathing room. He took another deep breath; it was beginning to smell like home. This part of the city had been an old castle and the halls were dark. He did not mind it, and neither did many of the others who were often gone on forays. It also remained one of the least desirable districts for families, which kept down the overpopulation, which suited Challence just fine, he rather enjoyed his bachelor status and the silence it afforded him on nights like this.

At last, the long hall ended in his door. A thick Mahogany beast that held the Alpha crest and a fine view. He pushed it open to a surprise. There in his bed lay a woman and a small baby, who was humming in his sleep, almost purring. The woman held him protectively in her arms, tucked tightly in his covers. Challence blinked, looked at the door and back at the woman.

He turned to the sound of steps in his hall. Norfrat was hurrying his way, eyebrows pulled together, steps mincing to try and hurry along.

“My greatest apologies, your Excellency,” He muttered, rather more quiet than usual. “I tried to catch you before you left the main square, but as usual, you are far faster than I am.”

Challence waited for the purveyor to get to the point.

“I was going to tell you we have run out of space, and given the rarity of this woman, we decided it best to put her in your room.” The rat-faced man swallowed, looking over his glasses frantically.

Challence took a step back and closed the door without a sound, “What’s so special about her?” He sighed, not liking the idea of giving up his bed, which he had so anticipated sleeping in.

The Purveyor, Norfrat, nodded. “Yes, well, it seems that she gave birth to that baby and he is a Changer.”

Challence nodded, that was rare. Most Changers were created as adults and the survival rate was less than encouraging. But a woman who was able to have a child who could change made Challence pause. Most Changers could not have children at all. As Alpha, he saw the need to protect such a person.

“And her mate?”

Norfrat shook his head. “Even more interesting. It seems she was attacked by a Rogue. No idea why she was able to escape. She tried to tell us, but was broken down into such hysteria by that point that not a one of us understood.”

The Alpha gave up the hope of getting his bed back. “Alright, so where does that leave us?”

“I was hoping you would be willing to stay with Abram. You as Alpha have a right to evict her to get your own bed back, but…” He let it trail off significantly.

“You were hoping I was in a better mood than that.” Challence ran his hand through his hair. “Alright. I suppose I will give up my bed for this woman, tonight. After that, I expect you to find her a suitable place.”

Norfrat bobbed his ascent, but seemed all the more fidgety in response.

Challence knew if they had put her in his room there was nowhere else, but retaliating on the little man for taking his bed was not for him. The little man scurried off as Challence sighed, heading for his commander’s door.

He beat on it openly irritated. Abram opened it frowning. “What? Did I forget something?”

Challence shook his head. “No. I am taking your lounge tonight.”

Abram’s eyebrows shot up, “What did something eat your bed?”

Challence sighed. “No. I am letting someone borrow it for the night.”

Abram stepped back inviting the Alpha in with the sweep of his hand. There were a million questions to ask, but not of the Alpha and not after a trip like he had endured. Abram would have to wait until his friend was ready to talk. Pushing an Alpha was like teasing a croc, not something a person who enjoyed breathing ought to do.

More than that Abram had grown up in the same suburban neighborhood as Challence. They had been the only survivors in their families and as young teenagers had banded together as a primal pack. Challence was always the Alpha and had quickly taken over the role with others who they came across. Eventually they began building citadel. But to see him resigned to sleep on a couch meant this guest must be something more than a little special. Most people he would kick out without a second thought. Especially after weeks on the ground. Challence had never been one for camping, and it suited him no better now that he was a Changer.

Abram went to his wardrobe and tossed a few blankets at the Alpha. Even in the heat of summer, it was cold in the old castle.

“Good night Alpha.”

Challence grunted his agreement.