Again, thanks to Engbunny for her wonderful editing!
January 22, 1998
I can’t believe it, another birthday and only 4 more months of school! Summer vacation, YAY! It has been an unbelievable month so far; I found out I got my scholarship to UCLA for the fall! I am now officially enrolled and ready to go and while I’m so excited, I’m also scared to death. I wonder if everyone feels this way about going to college. Robbi and Lani are just as excited and both will be going to UCLA as well, although we will each be in different ‘colleges’ at the university. Still, we’ll see each other a lot I hope. I will live at home the first year, but I hope to get to live in the dorms my sophomore year. Mom says it’s a big enough change for me just to go to the university, that I don’t need the stress of dorm life right away.
I can see her point but it sort of disappoints me, you know? I mean, I am SO ready for some independence, of being in charge of my own life! It’s only a year – I’ll just have to continue to repeat that! Both Robbi and Lani will be stuck at home too so at least I won’t be the only one.
I still have frequent nightmares about my shadow man. I wish I understood what happened. I know that he is gone, but what I don’t know is whether or not he was ever there. Maybe I just made him up; maybe it was a crutch I needed to feel safe and secure, who knows? What I do know is that since last summer I haven’t caught any glimpses of him, I haven’t felt his presence. I’m not scared really, not of the scary woman any longer anyway. I still think about what happened then, but so much of it is only dream-like now. Bits and pieces flash through my mind, a remembered image of the fire, but never the faces, the white dress she wore that night and for some reason I also see the color red.
What I do remember vividly is being in his arms; I remember feeling safe. He held me close and told me that I was going to be okay, that he would take me home. It’s funny, but I don’t really remember coming home though. Mom says that’s because I was actually asleep when I got there. I’ve asked her about him, that man and she doesn’t say too much, only that Clark had told her about him.
I admire my mom so much; if ever anyone ever needed an ideal role model it would be my mom. She wasn’t perfect, don’t get me wrong and we’ve certainly had our share of disagreements but I always knew that she was there, no matter what I needed. The older I get the more I realized how much she had to have sacrificed for me, including a personal life, although I never asked that of her.
Clark has always been around and I’ve often wondered why they never got together? They care for each other I think and in many ways he was a great substitute dad. Neither one of them will talk about it though, just like mom never talks about my dad.
So many things to wonder about!
The weather didn’t cooperate this year for an outside party; the group ordered pizza and Beth, Lani and Robbi waited impatiently for it as all three were hungry. It was cool and rainy out and Lani was breathing on the window in the living room and then drawing dirty pictures on the steamy display.
“Lanelle Parker, STOP that immediately!” Dorothy said as she walked up and saw a drawing of a very overly - endowed man. “Where do you get these ideas?” Lani hastily wiped the drawing off the window, a shocked look on her face at being caught. Dorothy laughed to herself as she turned away and headed back into the den.
That girl is certainly going to be disappointed some day!
Dorothy saw her mother sitting in a chair in the den and she looked a bit chilled. She grabbed an afghan off the back of the sofa and wrapped it around her mother’s shoulders.
“There, is that better Mom?”
“Thanks Dorothy. Yes, it’s better now. I’m just feeling a bit chilled today; must be all the rainy weather here. And I thought it never rained in California!”
Clark smiled and said, “Well, that’s how the songs go but I guess they are wrong, today anyway. Grace, how about I get you a cup of tea?”
“Oh, no thanks Clark, this wrap will be just fine.” She pulled it a bit tighter around her and missed the look of concern that passed between Dorothy and Clark.
The door bell rang, peeling loudly in the conversation lull and they heard the girls cheering.
“Mom! The pizza is here,” Beth said, coming into the den. “And you had better go and rescue the delivery guy – Lani thinks he’s cute!”
“Lord!” Dorothy said, starting to get up.
“I’ve got it,” Clark said, beating her to her feet. He followed Beth back to the living room and told the girls to go and help Dorothy set the table.
As they headed into the dining room Robbi remarked, “You know, it’s like he lives here too. It’s kinda weird Beth.” She quickly quieted when she saw Dorothy looking at her.
“Beth, get the paper plates out of the cupboard please? And Lani and Robbi, grab the cups and the ice for me, if you would?”
All three girls nodded and went to follow her instructions.
It was 6 pm in Seattle and Michael Sandoval was just getting up to start his day. If he could have slept the night away he would have gladly because he was fully aware of what day this was and that for the first time in 13 years he wasn’t there to watch what was happening. He wouldn’t see her, wearing her tiara blowing her candles out or her family and friends around her, hugging her and wishing her well. He was no longer a part of it all.
Face it Mick, you were never a part of it, ever. He told himself that over and over; maybe one day he might actually believe it too. But right now it just hurt. It was a pain that stabbed his undead heart mercilessly.
What he couldn’t shake was the fact that he still felt her; in his heart and in his head. Like some kind of emotional connection that just wouldn’t go away, not with time or distance and it puzzled him greatly. A thought burrowed through his brain that maybe the connection wasn’t meant to go away and for both of their sakes he hoped that wasn’t true.
He padded barefoot to his hidden fridge and grabbed the bottle of A positive that he favored and prepared to pour a glass and then he thought better of it. Instead, he set it back down and reached for his syringe and a vial of O positive; he needed a main line shoot this time, a jump start so to speak.
He filled his syringe and then settled into a comfortable chair to plunge the needle into a vein. He slowly depressed the plunger and felt the blood being infused into his vein. He sucked in an unnecessary breath and blew it out slowly enjoying the heady feeling and for a moment just savored the rush of the blood making its way through his veins.
Mick yawned and stood up, taking the syringe back into the kitchen and pulling it apart so that it could go be cleaned. After he was finished he hopped into the shower, trying to focus on the case he was working on in an effort to take his mind off of the events unfolding in California.
Instead his mind wandered back to a time 13 years ago, to a deserted building in the valley where his ex-wife had taken a 4 year old girl in some deranged effort to convince him that they could be a family.
She had been expecting him to show up, of course, she had left a huge trail of bread crumbs that only an idiot could have missed. The clues were all totally unnecessary since he knew as soon as he caught the scent where the child was and who had her. As soon as he stepped through the door, his heart went out to that child; she was petrified and she looked at him as if he were her savior. She was okay physically and Mick felt enormous relief; Coraline hadn’t turned her yet.
Coraline herself was ‘floating’ on the ceiling and immediately settled down on the floor behind the girl, holding her out as if she were an offering to Mick. He knew that Coraline had some special skills and while he wondered briefly about her ‘floating’ he quickly dismissed it as he tried to make sure the child was alright.
“Cora, what are you doing?” he asked her, sickened by the fear in the child’s face.
“Mick, we can be a family; you, me and baby!” Her hands caressed the side of the girls face and huge blue eyes blinked as she gazed at Mick, tears streaking her tiny face.
“I won’t let you hurt her, Coraline!” he said, and Cora could tell he meant it.
The ensuing fight was ugly, violent and the child shrank into a corner, trying to be invisible. Cora’s shrieks and screams were loud and terrifying to her and she feared that the man would die because he was quickly covered in blood.
It was funny how certain moments are pivotal in a person’s life. A single thought or action will change everything and this was that moment for Mick. Life with Cora played through his mind in Technicolor for Mick and in that split second he decided he had had enough. The craziness was going to end – right here, right now.
The stake through her heart was fast and true; a rush of air escaped her lungs in a paralyzed scream that ruptured the air. For one half of a second Mick was amazed at what he had done. She was not only his wife but his sire; her eyes pleaded with him to remove the stake.
NO – NO, he would not do it. He went to the child and told her he was taking her home. She crawled quickly into his arms, hugging him tightly about the neck. He looked around the room and saw a lantern and before he could think he grabbed it and tossed it towards Coraline. The fire ignited a chaise and spread rapidly, flames licking at everything in its path. Coralline’s keening screams became louder but he tuned them out, only thinking of getting the child out of the building. They left the inferno, a blaze of heat chasing them. For one moment he thought he saw Cora rise and beat against the window, the stake no longer in her heart. An impossibility. He turned away, closed the book on her.
All these years later he still could remember every detail of that night; every smell, every look and every terrified scream that was pulled from Coraline. He had killed his sire, the vampire equivalent to killing your parent, a crime that was regarded as horrific in either world. Your sire is your connection; to your heritage, to yourself really. Each blood line has different attributes to some degree and many vamps were overly proud of their heritage.
Mick wasn’t one of them. Cora was her own brand of crazy; she was also like a drug and she pulled him into the craziness with her. She had no conscience, no real loyalty and no regard for life; all ideas that Mick couldn’t support.
She was dead, period.
The party was over and Beth stood looking in the mirror; gazing at her face. Seventeen, she as seventeen today and she didn’t think she looked all that different from last year. The light from over head caught the sparkle of the tiara on her head and she carefully removed it, looking at it with a bit of sadness.
It reminded her so much of her grandpa and how much she missed him. Lifesavers and the tiara were all she had left of him; maybe of childhood. Next year at this time she would actually be in college, no longer a child, but a young woman who would be on the verge of discovering her own life. A salty tear slipped silently down her cheek and spattered onto one of the pink CZ’s adding an unwanted sparkle.
She traced the filigree on the tiara with a cautious fingertip, ever mindful that it was getting older; she didn’t want to dislodge any more of the stones on it. Memories came flooding back to her; of birthdays past that were shared with the people she loved the most in this world. Those people loved her and supported her but there was something missing now and she thought about it every day. Maybe that should be ‘him’, her shadow man, her guardian angel.
Beth knew without a doubt that he was not here any longer. She didn’t know how she knew; she just did. What she didn’t know was what had happened to him; why he was gone. She didn’t know who he was – she did know that he existed. For awhile she thought maybe she imagined it all, but last year when he left she knew; she knew. He had been real.
There was a knock on her door and she called out an absent-minded “Come in”. Her mom opened the door and walked into the room, watching as Beth carefully wrapped the tiara up to put it away for another year.
“Your grandfather would be so happy to see that you still wear it. His princess, he loved you so much, Beth.”
Beth nodded, swallowing hard. “You think he watches now, or that he can’t?”
Dorothy frowned for a moment, thinking how to answer. “I guess I want to believe that’s possible Beth; in truth I don’t know. Does it comfort you to think he does?”
“It – it makes me feel closer to him I guess.” Beth put the tiara into the box and set it on the shelf in her closet. She sat down on the bed and motioned for her mom to sit too. “Mom, why don’t you ever talk about when I was little? You know, when I was ta…taken?” Beth stumbled over that last word; it brought back so many memories that she tried to forget.
“Beth, I – I, it was a painful time, for all of us. I don’t see that it does any good to talk about it. You were found and you were okay. That is what mattered.” Dorothy’s heart was pounding wildly as the memories came rushing back to her; the fear, the fear that choked her until she couldn’t breathe. Until she found Mick, she knew that he was the one to help her as soon as she found him.
“Mom, sometimes I DO need to talk about it. I can’t hide from it forever, I just can’t! Who took me? Who found me? It was a man, I remember that, but who was he? Mom, I need to know!”
“Beth, I, it was a woman who took you, you know that. I didn’t know her. A private detective found you; someone a friend recommended. He- he was amazing and had you back to us very quickly. That’s really all I know.” For a moment she felt a pang of guilt about the lie she told her daughter, but it was a lie born of necessity. It was better for everyone that Beth didn’t know too many details. Once you knew you couldn’t go back and Dorothy didn’t want Beth to have to bear the burden of that knowledge.
Beth shook her head impatiently; she had heard this before and it wasn’t the answers she needed, wanted. “Mom, there has to be more, more that you can tell me. I just don’t believe anymore that you don’t know more than that!”
“Beth, your being returned to us was a gift, the most precious gift imaginable. I didn’t ask that many questions; the questions weren’t important, only the fact that you were safe in my arms again. Can’t you understand that?”
“NO! No, I don’t. Mom, you have always told me to fight for what I believe in, to push for answers and not to settle until I was satisfied. Well, I’m pushing now! I need answers.” Beth’s defiant blues eyes stared into eyes that were remarkably like hers; the same shade of blue except right now her own were darkened with the passion of her need to find out the truth.
Dorothy recognized that look well; she wore it often herself but she had nothing else to offer and so she rose off the bed and bent to kiss Beth on the top of her head. She reached a gentle hand out to caress her daughter’s cheek and wiped a warm tear away. “Honey, I don’t have any more answers for you. I’m sorry, but I don’t.” She tried to smile and failed miserably so she turned to walk to the door. Before she closed it she looked once more at her daughter, sitting on her bed, her knees drawn up and arms hugging them. Beth looked at her with wounded eyes and Dorothy saw betrayal in them. It was something she had chosen to live with a long time ago and she couldn’t go back now. She nodded at her daughter and softly said, “Goodnight Beth. I love you.”
Beth nodded her head, a jerky movement; an angry movement. “Goodnight Mom.”
No ‘I love you’ in return, but Dorothy knew that it wasn’t because she didn’t love her; it was just because she was angry right now. She paused for a moment and then closed the door as she left the room.
As the door softly closed Beth fought the urge to throw a pillow at it; instead she laid her forehead on her knees and let the tears flow. They weren’t healing tears though, they were angry tears and eventually she stopped them because they did her no good.
What is she hiding? Is she hiding something, or does she truly not know anything? And if she doesn’t, how can that be?
She was 17 now, time to grow up. Beth knew that she wouldn’t ever wear the tiara again; that was her past. It represented a time of protection and innocence; now she felt neither. Her shadow man was gone and for some reason she no longer felt innocent. She felt like a woman who needed answers about her past and she was determined to find them.
To be continued...