By the end of school, Brian was edgy and ready to go home. He smiled with relief when he saw Jordan at her locker and practically ran up to her.

"God, it's been a day!" he said.

"Me too. I kept seeing weird stuff," Jordan said. "No one looked right. And there were shadows...."

"Like right here?" Brian waved his hands in the furthest reaches of his peripheral vision.

"Yes! I'm so glad it's not just me. I thought I was going crazy! Not that it really should make me feel any better. It's like all the shadows were gathering, preparing for... something."

Brian shuddered. That was exactly what he'd felt. Having her say it somehow made it seem all too real.

Heath picked them up and took them back to their house. He tried to make it seem like any other day, but both the kids knew differently. He made small talk until Jordan stopped him. She and Brian described what they had been experiencing all day.

"Us too," he said quietly. "Even Maribelle, as bad as her vision is, saw things. In fact, I think she saw more detail. It was as if the less we focused on it, the more we saw."

"What do you think is going to happen," Jordan asked.

"I don't know, honey. But whatever it is, I think it's going to be soon."

Brian and Jordan spent a couple hours trying to do their homework, but neither of them could concentrate. They walked into the kitchen, looking for their parents, and found the three of them at the table.

"Hey, honey. Want to help Maribelle and me fix dinner?" Jackie asked.

"Sure! The men can bond over a game of pool or something," Jordan said, going to the sink to wash her hands.

Brian and Heath looked at one another, resigned smiles on their faces.

"We know when we're not wanted," Heath said, trying to sound huffy. "We'll find something to do."

"Maybe we should knock out that wall you were talking about," Brian said. "You know, the one in the basement?"

"Sounds like a great plan," Heath said.

"No wall knocking allowed!" Jackie called after them, laughing. "No do-it-yourself anything!"

They trotted downstairs to the game room. A pool table and TV with game consoles took up most of the space. The laundry room was to the left and a closed door to the right.

"You like pool?" Heath asked Brian.

"Yeah."

"How about a game?"

"Sounds good."

Heath uncovered the table and racked the balls. Brian chose his cue, chalking the tip. They flipped a coin to see who would break. Brian won. As he leaned over to line up his shot, Heath stopped him.

"This is a good way to practice," he said calmly.

"To practice what?"

"Your abilities. They need exercise in order to get stronger. You also need to get used to them. Focus on the front ball. As you draw back the cue, imagine it hitting the others in just the right spot to separate the balls. Can you do that?"

"I can try," Brian said, leaning over once more. He aimed at the ball, concentrating on it. He hit the cue a little low. It nearly jumped off the table. "Dammit!"

Heath smiled, picking up the ball. "Try it again. This time, divide your attention between the cue and the other ball. You know where to hit it to get it to go where you want. Try again."

Brian did. It was better, but not as good as it might have been.

"Again." Heath racked the balls once more. "And this time, don't hold your breath."

"Could have told me that already," Brian muttered.

"And spoil the fun? Just do what I tell you. Divide your attention, aim and breathe. Quit trying to make it hard."

"Quit distracting me."

Brian aimed again. Heath's cue stick rapped his knuckles, commanding Brian's attention. The smile was gone. His dark eyes were angry, frustrated.

"My only daughter is your future mate," Heath said quietly, his teeth clenched. "You need to be able to protect her. Now, let's take this seriously and try again."

Brian didn't flinch away from Heath's anger, but he was somewhat intimidated. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "You're right."

He leaned over once more, going through the steps Heath had told him. Closing his eyes, he visualized the other ball, seeing the cue ball as an extension of the stick. His arm cocked back and he hit the cue ball in just the right spot. The balls scattered to the pockets, nearly all of them going in. Three were left, spinning on the felt.

"Not bad." Heath sounded quite impressed, though he didn't allow himself to fully show it. "Let's do it again." He didn't move toward the rack.

When Brian did, Heath grabbed his sleeve. "Without touching the balls." He stared at one pocket of the table.

Two balls slowly rose from the pocket and lay on the table. One by one, he raised the balls.

"Now, put them in numerical order." He leaned back, hands on top of his cue.

Brian concentrated on the balls, lining them up in number order. Heath said nothing, waiting. Brian realized he'd just put them in number order, not laid them out in a triangle. He did it again, this time aligning them correctly. Heath smiled.

"Break again."

They went through the exercise until Brian was panting from the effort. He'd never realized that moving things with his mind could be so exhausting. After about an hour, Heath called a break. They sat down with a soda and talked about what they'd been doing. Heath gave Brian pointers for how to do what he did without using so much energy.

"You couldn't tell me that to start with?" Brian laughed, sipping his drink.

"You wouldn't have understood what I was talking about. You have to do it the hard way first. I will say this, you did better than I did the first time. I hit the cue ball so hard, it cracked and the pieces went flying around the room. See this?" He pointed to a scar below his right eye. "One of them got me."

"Really?"

"Would I lie?" He winked.

Brian knew he'd told him the truth. He couldn't have explained how he knew, but he was certain.

"Dinner!" Jordan called from upstairs.

Putting their cues back on the rack, Heath and Brian went upstairs.

"Smells delicious," Heath said.

"I think I just started to drool," Brian commented. "I smell fresh bread!"

The men went to the sink to wash their hands before sitting at the kitchen table.

Jordan blushed. "Thank you. Mom and Maribelle made most of the meal, but I made the bread."

"Really? I love fresh bread," Brian commented.

Jordan passed a basket of thick, steaming slices around the table. Brian held his a moment, inhaling deeply. In addition to the yeasty scent, he detected a variety of herbs.

"This is great! I smell garlic, onions," he sniffed again. "This smells familiar. I know those herbs, but can't place them all."

Jordan smiled proudly. "You detect parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in addition to the garlic and onions. There's a dash of pepper and I also used barley for part of the flour."

"Wow!" He nibbled a corner of the bread, earning himself a scolding by his mother and Jackie for eating before blessing. "That's amazing. I could eat just bread for dinner."

"But you won't," Jackie chastised. "This meal has very specific properties, which I'll tell you after blessing. Heath, would you do the honors?"

"I ask blessings on those present. For those absent in body, but still in our hearts. I ask that the food we're about to eat nourish our bodies and minds and strengthen us."

Brian thought of his father alone in an empty house. He hoped he was having success with the wards. If Mr. D. had been able to get in once, would he be able to do so again? Was his father safe?

Heath, who sat at the head of the table to Brian's right, touched the boy's hand. Their eyes met. Heath's gaze filled Brian with reassurance. This new form of communication was going to take getting used to. Brian didn't know how closely the adults could examine their thoughts, or how much Jordan could get from him. It could prove embarrassing if either of her parents saw what they'd been doing when Maribelle caught them.

2016 Dellani Oakes