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  1. #121

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 17

    "Oh, thank you for feeding my bacon craving!" Jordan took a piece in each hand, alternating bites. "I don't know how my mother doesn't think bacon is a slice of heaven. Yum!"

    "I gather that once you and Brian are married, you won't be keeping the vegetarian tradition?"

    "With his hulk? He'd rebel and start eating the vertical blinds."

    "Only if they're made of bacon," Brian replied, stuffing a biscuit in his mouth.

    "I know Mom thinks it clears the brain and keeps her more spiritual, but I can't deny my carnivorous moments. She made the switch when I was ten. I don't know what brought it on, she never told me. It wasn't an easy transition, especially for Dad and my brothers."

    "If you decide to enforce it, warn me so I can divorce you and marry some other sultry, brunette beauty with nice boobs and a great smile," Brian teased, forgetting his mother was in the room.

    Maribelle cleared her throat pointedly. Brian dropped his head to the table.

    "Sorry, Mom. That was a joke because I nearly landed face first in Jordan's chest the day we met." He raised his head, looking guilty. "You know, I had no clue you were even a girl until that happened."

    "You thought I was a boy?" Jordan's laugh burst forth. "Oh, that's great. Way to stoke my ego, Casey."

    "In my defense, Jordan isn't exactly the most gender specific name. And you have a husky voice And you were wearing a very bulky jacket."

    "I concede your defense," she replied. "As long as you're clear now."

    Brian smirked, raising an eyebrow as his eyes drifted to her chest. Her sweater clung to her curves, emphasizing her lush figure to perfection. "I'm not sure. Maybe you need to convince me further."

    Maribelle cleared her throat again. "Brian, I didn't raise you to be a leach."

    "No, Mother, you didn't. It's an ironic quirk of fate and, no doubt, a misalignment in the stars that causes my loutish behavior. I promise that I shall strive to do better, but please don't expect it to improve. I have testosterone."

    "Go away. Now, before I am forced to smack you." She brandished a spatula at him.

    Brian jumped away as she swung playfully at him. "Watch it, Mom. You'll hit the baby!"

    "Go away," she repeated.

    "Yes, ma'am. Going away now, ma'am."

    Brian and Jordan cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen after breakfast. He felt marginally normal, despite his odd experiences last night.

    "You need to journal this," Jordan decided. "Let's go to the basement, and we'll do a video log of it."

    "Did all our friends go home last night?"

    "No, they're still here, but we're not getting together until lunch time. After that, they'll head home. Meeting at my house this time. Some of the ladies are already there getting things set up."

    "It's cool that you're here?" Brian didn't want her to leave.

    Jordan put her hand on his cheek. "I'm where I need to be—where I want to be. I never really got the chance to say this yesterday. You were too hell bent on blurting out everything on your mind. I love you, too, Brian. We've battled fire and ice together, vanquished a demon—"

    "You raised me from the dead," he murmured, his lips near hers.

    "You gave me my first real kiss," she whispered. "And even if we weren't betrothed by Fate, I'd choose you, too. You're the only guy who gets my sense of humor. You laugh at my jokes and you don't let my sarcasm set your skin on fire." She giggled as he moved closer. "And you look at me as if I'm the most beautiful girl in the world."

    Brian kissed her deeply. Heat blossomed in his chest, spreading warmth all over his body. He hadn't realized how cold he'd been after the ritual, until now. Jordan rekindled the heat inside him, making him feel more alive than ever. Hearing Andre's voice in his head again, he backed off. Only Andre's voice wasn't in his head, it was in the next room.

    "Could y'all keep it down? We were trying to sleep!"

    Brian laughed, shaking his head. "No, you weren't! I may not be psychic or see auras, but I'm a man. Mom's got breakfast ready. Might wanna get dressed and eat."

    "Asshole!" Andre tossed back.

    Prick!" Brian countered.

    "Thanks, I got me one already."

    "Mine's bigger," Brian couldn't resist adding.

    Andre made a disgusted noise. He and Louisa came out of their room a few minutes later.

    "Sorry, dude. I forgot you were here," Brian apologized.

    Louisa went upstairs with Jordan to fix plates for herself and Andre.

    "I get it, man. It's been a busy couple days for you. Cool it, though. I know the urge to take it fast, believe me. I got a kid to prove it."

    "Does Louisa know?"

    "Yeah. She's met the ex, and knows my baby. We have an amicable relationship, but it was never love. Both women know that. I can't stress enough how important it is to wait. Trust me, the first time with the woman you love, the one you're bound to—nothing like it." He clapped Brian on the back, shaking his head slowly. "I sound like an old man, don't I? Mr. Experience at twenty."

    Brian laughed. "Yeah, you're the old man of the bunch. But we love you, gramps."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  2. #122

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 18 & 19

    Andre poked him in the ribs. "I'm gonna go eat. Then I want to hear all about what you saw. You were pretty messed up last night. Couldn't hardly get out two words when Jordan and I put you to bed."

    "You did that?"

    "Yeah. You think a bitty thing like her could get you up the steps? Our folks were asleep, so I gave her a hand."

    "Thanks."

    "No problem, Brian. That's what friends do."

    Jordan and Brian had a cup of coffee while the other two ate. Back in the basement, Jordan set up the camera on Brian's laptop. He sat on the dilapidated couch and told about his vision. Afterward, the others asked him questions and he explained more about his impressions and feelings.

    "Since we don't know who will see this in the future," Brian said. "I want to make it clear that I have no idea if the ritual worked or not. I don't know if I summoned the Peddler, or had a vision of Heaven, or something else entirely. I don't feel all that different, but I did have the sensation this morning, as if someone else looked through my eyes. It was strange, like what I was seeing was all new."

    He shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment. Inhaling deeply, he could pick out the scents of the three others in the room. He smelled laundry soap and baby spit up. He could taste Jordan's kisses on his lips, flavored by her breakfast and coffee. The texture of the couch was more pronounced, the worn areas distinctly softer than the other material.

    "I can sense more. Feel more," he murmured. "Everything—stronger, better, more pronounced. Smells and tastes, especially, but my vision seems clearer too." He cocked his head to one side, listening. "Someone turned on the TV upstairs. ESPN. Must be Dad." He chuckled. "I can feel the walls of the house. If I concentrate, I can sense the cracks in the foundation and the spaces between the bricks."

    Brian's eyes fluttered open. "I don't know if it's the Peddler, or something new about me, but I've never felt like this before. Whatever we unlocked last night—" He shook his head. "We did something, but heck if I know what it was."

    The others listened in silence. Jordan inhaled sharply and turned off the camera.

    Disturbed by the resounding quiet, Brian spoke. "Someone say something."

    Andre cleared his throat. "Dude...." It was obvious he had no idea how to continue.

    "Do you feel—like someone else is—possessing you?" Louisa asked.

    "No. More like someone is along for the ride." He paused, pursing his lips. "You know how they will put a helmet camera on someone who's going skydiving or dirt bike racing? Same kind of thing, like someone is watching through my eyes. There, but not there."

    "Have you told your folks yet?" Louisa asked.

    "No. I just realized it this minute."

    "We need to tell your folks," Louisa said. "And Claude needs to check you again."

    "I'm fine, Louisa." Brian tried to walk past her, but she halted him.

    "Please. It would make me feel better."

    "And me," Jordan added in a small voice.

    Put that way, Brian relented. How could he claim to love Jordan, and not put her wants ahead of his own, once in awhile? Especially when it was a such small thing.

    Andre already had his phone out, calling his father. A short consultation, they decided to head to the hospital in Natchez. Dr. Beauchamps had a few friends who would get them in so he could run some tests.

    Maribelle Casey hugged Brian so long, he was afraid they'd be late. Miles peeled her arms from their son.

    "He's fine, Mamie. No worries allowed. Jordan, you coming?"

    "Yes!" she grabbed Brian's hand as they walked to the car.

    Maribelle broke down, sobbing as they pulled out of the driveway. Adele Beauchamps held her, crooning softly. Elise fussed, her plaintive wail audible over the baby monitor. Louisa went up for her.

    Andre called the others, telling them what was going on. They met up for lunch, but no one felt much like eating. Andre played the video for them, summarizing what Brian had said after the camera turned off.

    "You mean we could have called something that possessed that boy?" Marissa's father, Harold Pennybaker, snarled. "If I didn't have an obligation to be a part of this, I'd put it behind me. This is treading on the Devil's ground!"

    "Oh, stuff it, Harold," Heath Barrett said. "I don't know what crawled up your behind, but this isn't demonic possession. Could the Peddler be a Rider? Now, that's possible. It's not unheard of. Lore and legend...."

    "Lore and legend be damned! It's exactly that kind of wild thought that makes this so dangerous!"

    "Lighten up, Harold," his wife said, her nostrils pinched and white. "I've listened to your narrow minded slop as long as I can tolerate. It's bad enough you've squelched our daughter's skills and warped her faith, I won't let you do it to anyone else. At least you haven't done so to mine. If I had my way, I'd have put a sock in your mouth twenty years ago. I can't help that your granny had religion and infected the rest of you with it"

    The adults and teens sat in mute shock as the scene unfolded before them. Fortunately, the children were enjoying the lovely fall day outside with the dogs.

    Nadine Pennybaker stood, marching over to her husband on the other side of the room. Shaking her finger under his nose, she continued. "This ends today, this very second. You can be Mr. Religion all you want, but you leave me and our daughter out of it. Marissa has a place in all this. She's been chosen. I've taught her what I could on the sly, camouflaging it so you wouldn't know, but she's got a place to fill, a job to do. She can't do it with you hollering about demon possession and all that other crap!"

    Nadine turned to the rest of the group. "I apologize for this. It should have been a family matter, but I can't stand listening to it another minute. So, Harold, what's it to be? Can you set this nonsense aside and focus on the real problem?"

    "I'm sorry, Nadine. I thought I was. This is serious! That boy could be injured or sick in the head. We did this to him. Us and that witch doctor from the Outback."

    "Dr. Meru is a well respected historian who lives in Sydney," Andre stated calmly. "And your wife's right. This isn't helping Brian. You've got some mad skills, Mr. Pennybaker. Skills we need."

    "You don't have to be scared of this, Daddy," Marissa said quietly. "I was terrified until last night. Brian took on that job, even though he didn't want to. I know he was scared, but he did it. Whatever experience he had, it was fantastic! He's not possessed—I know Andre can confirm this. There's not another person inside him. I can see it. It's like Heath said, he's got a Rider."

    "A Rider is like a demon on your back," her father protested.

    Marissa stamped her foot. "No, it isn't! Must you be so utterly obtuse? Let me put this in terms your primitive little brain can understand, okay?"

    Her father crossed his arms, glaring at her. Andre and Chase moved closer to Marissa. Chase took her hand in both of his, nodding at her to continue.

    "The Rider, Heath mentioned, it's energy. You know how pirates are always depicted with a parrot on their shoulders?" She cast about the group for a response.

    The others nodded. It was a familiar, comfortable image.

    "A Rider is like that. Like this little bird perched on your shoulder. It's not there to cause trouble or hurt you or anyone else in any way. It's an observer. It would be like the Google maps guy who walks around with the camera on his head."

    The young people chuckled softly, understanding that image even better.

    "Maybe he was sent by the Peddler. Maybe he is the Peddler. Whatever's the case, he's here to help. I can see it."

    Jackie and Andre exchanged a look.

    "Whatever it is, it's changed his aura," Jackie said. "Not in a bad way. It's like he's got this golden—something...."

    Andre motioned toward his right shoulder. "Here. Like the parrot. It glows white hot. It's not dangerous."

    "It's pure good," Jackie concluded. "They can run tests, but it's not something to worry about." She went to Maribelle, hugging her. "Brian is fine, Mamie. Whatever the Rider is, it's here to protect him—to protect us. If it was evil, don't you think one of us would have spotted it? Or the dogs? They are better judges of evil than any human I know."

    Harold Pennybaker tossed up his hands in disgust. "I see no one will listen to the voice of reason."

    "When you've got something reasonable to say, Harold, we'll listen," his wife snapped. "Meanwhile, I'll pray for a change of heart for you. We need everyone at a hundred percent capacity. You can't pretend this isn't real. Everything we've seen in the last year, should convince you."

    He hung his head, shaking it.

    Marissa took her father's hand. "It's okay to be afraid, Daddy. We're all scared."

    He put his arms around his wife and daughter. "Do you think I'm scared for myself? Never for a minute. I'm terrified of losing the people I love. You're all I've got. If anything happened to you, it would kill me. Forgive me for hiding behind God, baby girl." He kissed Marissa's brow. "He is our shield and protector. I wanted His strength to aid us."

    "No one's denying God's existence, Daddy. We're just spreading our faith. Who's to say God didn't put us here? Seems to me, the world is a mess and needs all the help it can get."

    Harold kissed his daughter's forehead. "How'd you get so wise?"

    "I listened to you and Mama."

    Harold chuckled. "My friends, I apologize for the drama. I got so snarled up thinking this was wrong, I couldn't see what was right."

    Everyone hugged everyone else. Maribelle's phone rang. It was Miles.

    "Hey, darlin'," he greeted her when she answered. "He just got out of the MRI. It looks good, according to Claude. The radiologist has to do her thing with it, but Claude watched the whole procedure and said he's never seen a prettier brain." He paused for a moment. They could hear another voice, a woman's, speaking. "Doctor Rosenthal agrees. Beautiful brain. That's a relief, anyway. They did blood work and so on, but won't have the results on that for awhile. We're checking out now and should be on our way home in an hour at the latest. We're probably going to stop for lunch. We're starving."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  3. #123

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes Part 20

    "Did you hear that snow is predicted for tonight?" Marissa said as she passed Brian and Jordan's table.

    "Hey," Chase, one of Brian's few good friends, stopped at their table, flopping on Jordan's stool while she was at the supply cupboard. "Did you remember about the bonfire tonight?"

    "No, where?"

    "My place, of course. Dad and I have been gathering wood for days. It's going to be a great one. Bring whatever you wanna toast. Mom will have every conceivable, non-alcoholic beverage imaginable. Bring your lady friend. Starts at eight."

    "She's not my girlfriend," Brian tried to explain.

    "So what. Bring her anyway." He leaned closer. "So, if y'all aren't dating, is she single?"

    "I have no idea. You'd have to ask her."

    "'Cause, dude, if you haven't noticed, she is smokin' hot!"

    Brian had noticed, but it didn't seem quite as important as the fact they'd both been attacked and seemed to be the targets for some massive paranormal upheaval. He hadn't missed the fact that Jordan was pretty and well built, he just hadn't dwelt on it. Apparently, Chase had.

    "I'll see if she's free. My mom and I are going to her house for dinner. We may be later than eight."

    "Fire won't start until nine, so that's cool. See you there."

    "I hope so."

    It did sound fun. Brian wanted something like a bonfire party to make him feel like a real teenager again. He'd played adult since his dad left, even more after his mother's accident robbed her of her sight. The days and nights of worrying about her, spending weeks in the hospital, hoping she'd be able to see again, had taken their toll. He wanted something calming and a bonfire would go a long way to relaxing him.

    "Who's that?" Jordan asked as she sat down.

    "That was Chase. He invited us to a bonfire tonight."

    "Sweet. Not quite the social pariahs we envisioned, huh?"

    "I guess not," Brian chuckled. "Have to square it with the folks. We're due at your house for dinner."

    "Mom will probably be delighted I'm meeting more young people. She used to worry about me back home. I never went out much. So many kids my age are so superfluous." She waved her hands like she was brushing away fluff.

    Brian had to agree. With very few exceptions, he found kids his age annoying. They embraced the rap culture, watched reality TV and thought that The Lord of the Rings was a series of movies, not epic novels.

    "I still need to call Andre and them," Brian murmured as he measured water for their experiment.

    "Wait until after school. Then, if we need to, we can make plans to get together this weekend."

    "Good point. They're probably all in school, too."

    "How's it coming along?" Mr. Sullivan asked from behind Brian, making him jump.

    "Fine, until you scared three years off his life," Jordan replied with a sweet smile. "You always sneak up on folks like that?"

    "Not unless I think they're talking about something other than the experiment. Were you talking about personal matters?" He raised a curious, yet knowing, eyebrow.

    "Never, not us," Jordan replied with a perky grin that made Brian choke. "We're all business, Mr. Sullivan." She sounded a lot like Shirley Temple, pout and all.

    Brian almost choked, he was trying so hard not to laugh. Instead, he made it sound like a sneeze, covering his mouth with his hands.

    "Bless you," Mr. Sullivan said automatically.

    "Thanks." Brian rubbed his nose, pretending it still tickled. "I guess these chemicals irritated my delicate nasal passages."

    Mr. Sullivan smiled and moved on. The two of them fought down the giggles. Fortunately, class was almost over. They were able to contain their laughter until they got down the hall a few steps.

    "Oh, my God!" Jordan burst out laughing. "I almost peed myself!" She clung to Brian, laughing so hard she had tears.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

  4. #124

    Default Re: He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes Part 20

    I apologize for missing several weeks. I've been sick. For your reading enjoyment I give you 4 parts.

    The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 21

    Flowers of every type and color danced around him. Soon, they turned into lovely, slender women with flower petals for skirts. They swooped and whirled around him in an evanescent blur. Their faces were beautiful, delicate, ethereal. Their bodies were as brightly colored as their skirts. Long, green hair flowed down their backs. When he looked more closely, Brian could see it wasn't hair, but fine vines. Brian was happy there, content. The pain receded, joy filled him. They invited him to dance. He joined them, twirling and spinning until he was too dizzy to stand. The dance whirled faster. Brian stumbled and fell to his knees. His stomach clenched and he vomited.

    Gentle hands wiped his face. The stench of vomit filled his nostrils and he knew he'd really thrown up.
    "At least he missed my shoes," Jordan said quietly. Her hands mopped his brow "Hey, baby, we're home."
    Brian's aching eyelids rose slowly. He saw Jordan's house out the window of Claude's Escalade. "Sorry I hurled in the car," he mumbled.

    "Not a problem, son," Claude said calmly. "We'll get it taken care of. Are you all right?"

    "No. I think—" he stumbled, falling on the grass of Jordan's yard. He vomited again, gagging on bile. "Sorry," he groaned. "I feel—" He gagged again, but nothing came up.

    Strong arms lifted him, carrying him into the crystal room. Jordan followed as Claude and Miles carried Brian in the house and laid him on the floor. Jackie joined them, kneeling by Brian. He felt a coolness on his brow and recognized the resonance of Lester, his favorite crystal skull. It hummed and thrummed, warming his skin. Unlike the MRI, which had felt oddly hot and uncomfortable, the skull drew the pain and nausea away. Two smaller skulls were placed in his hands. These filled the spaces left by illness with a delicious contentment. His eyes drooped shut.

    When he woke later, Brian's head rested on a pillow and a soft chenille throw kept him warm. He could smell Jordan and knew she was nearby. He lay on his side, face mere inches from the large, pink crystal in Jackie's meditation room. His movements alerted Jordan. She knelt beside him, touching his face.

    "Are you okay?" Her voice was rough with emotion, her eyes full of worry. "Mom," she called. "He's awake!"

    Jordan's parents and his rushed in, followed by Claude Beauchamps. He took Brian's vital signs, smiling.

    "Better," he announced. "I should never have done the MRI, but after Rose and I weighed the risks, we decided we had to."
    "Wait, you knew I was gonna hurl?" Brian asked.

    "We suspected. MRI's are difficult on our kind, especially those who shape earth. Throws us all out of whack. I didn't think to bring a crystal with me, or we could have taken care of it before you vomited the first time. I'm sorry."

    "Sorry about the car."

    Claude laughed. "It's all right. I've had worse to deal with."

    "You're sure he's okay?" Jordan hadn't left his side since he woke. She held him, supporting his weight.

    "Good as new."

    "Dinner will be ready soon," Jackie promised. "Are you hungry?"

    "Starving." Brian replied weakly.

    His father and Claude helped him stand. They supported him as he went to the small bathroom under the stairs. He felt much better, but a little shaky. Jordan was waiting when he came out. She gave him her shoulder for support, but he didn't need it. Instead, he held her close, kissing her deeply.

    She smiled up at him. "You're feeling better."

    "Much. You taste fantastic," he said, licking his lips. "New lip gloss?"

    "Not wearing any."

    "Yum," he whispered. "I could get addicted to that easily."

    Jordan buried her face in his chest. "You looked like absolute hell in the car," she whimpered. "Like when we pulled you from the ground last year, kind of like death. I thought I was going to lose you. Don't scare me like that again."

    "I told you, I can't promise that. I'm not doing it on purpose," he assured her.

    "I know, but it doesn't make it any easier."

    "I know." He raised her chin. "But no tears, okay? I'm fine. Tell me what I missed." They went to sit in the formal living room.

    Their parents were talking in the kitchen, but the two of them didn't feel like joining the adults. Brian sank onto the comfortable couch with a sigh. He was much better, but he still felt like he'd been someone's punching bag. His sides and head ached, but it was dull, not sharp or immediate. He could live with it.

    "Everyone's gone home expect Claude and Andre. They refused to leave. Louisa and Adele went home with her family. I called Dr. Meru and he was really concerned about you, but he wasn't surprised."

    Brian nodded, but it made him dizzy, so he stopped. He grunted instead, finding that something he could handle without a problem.

    "Want something to drink?"

    "Yeah, but if we go to the kitchen—noise."

    "I know. Is the ringing in your ears better?"

    "Yeah, little bit. How did you know?"

    She motioned around herself. "Your aura was all off. There were black lines stabbing into it near your stomach and ears. I knew you were going to puke before you did. I was lucky I had a reusable grocery bag within reach. That caught most of it."

    "Good. At least I didn't puke on you—did I?"

    "No. And it would have been okay even if you did. In sickness and in health, right?"

    "We aren't married yet."

    "But we will be. Why not start now?" She sighed, brushing hair from his brow.

    "I have other things I'd rather start," he growled softly, taking her face in his hands. Groaning, he stopped himself. "I feel like I've fallen off a speeding bike, and it caught me in the balls."

    "I'm guessing that's happened."

    "When I was ten."

    "Good news," she whispered against his lips. "It didn't damage the goods. They still work."

    Brian groaned again. "You're aware of what that kind of talk does to me, right?"

    "Sadly, no. I don't have testicles."

    "Remember what Claude said about setting his crush's books on fire?"

    "Yeah."

    "I don't wanna burn down the house. And that's where this is going."

    Jordan scooted away, creating a small space between them. Brian pulled her back, his lips touching hers. He kissed her deeply, tasting her. His senses revealed so much more—her hair smelled of rosemary and mint. Her skin was soft and silky. The tiny hairs on her cheeks tickled his hands, where he'd never even noticed their presence before. Her body pressed against his was torture. He was so much more aware of her femininity. She was as hot for him as he was for her, which excited him more than he could possibly describe. Trying to stop himself, he filled his mind with negative thoughts. Nothing worked. Not even knowing that they were in her living room with his parents, and hers, only a few yards away. It wasn't enough of a deterrent. He wanted. He needed.

    "Brian?" Jordan's voice held concern. "What's going on?"

    Her face was red from the roughness of his kisses. Her eyes were wide with fear. She backed away from him, her hands on his chest. He realized his mouth hovered over her breast while one hand grasped the other. She was dressed, but he'd obviously tried to take her clothing off.

    "I'm so sorry!" He sat back, hands in the air as if she held a gun on him. "I don't know what happened."

    Andre came into the darkened room, sitting across from them. "You okay?"

    "Yeah. No. I don't know," Brian replied. "What's happening to me, Andre?"

    "Wish I knew, my friend. Dad sent me in here. He knows something's up, but he's cool. He won't rat you out."

    "Maybe he needs to. I need to be locked up before I hurt Jordan."

    "You won't," Andre assured him.

    "Look at her and tell me if I'm in control."

    Andre's silvery gaze turned to Jordan. He smirked. "She looks like a woman whose man can't control his testosterone. Point is, you won't hurt her."

    "I already did," Brian countered.

    "No, you didn't," Jordan said, touching his cheek. "And it felt all kinds of right. But not on Mom's antique couch in the living room, with our folks a few feet away. And Andre all up in here with his sexometer."

    Andre laughed. "I prefer sexisensor."

    "Nope, sexometer is—sexier."

    "I concede to the lady's judgment." Andre tilted his head, rolling his eyes toward Brian. "So, we cool?"

    "We're cool." They tapped knuckles.

    "Good, cause dinner's ready and I don't know about y'all, but I'm starvin'."

    Jordan washed her face with cold water, hoping to do away with some of the redness. They joined the adults in the dining room. Maribelle hugged her son. Miles helped him sit. Elise dropped her bottle, expecting him to pick it up. Brian did so with a grin.

    "Glad to see you're feeling better," Claude aid, his dark eyes twinkling.

    "Thanks. Never better," Brian said, taking a bowl from Jordan. "Don't suppose I can miss school tomorrow?" He winked at his father.

    "I think you'll be fine," his father said. "Any excuse, I tell ya. Send the kid to another realm, and this is the thanks we get. Ungrateful."

    Brian chuckled. Jordan giggled, putting her napkin over her face so she wouldn't spew her food.

    "I'm staying the night," Claude said. "But I have appointments tomorrow afternoon I can't miss. However, we will all be back for the Halloween Ball and we'll be in attendance. If something happens, we'll be ready."

    Feeling better, Brian sits down to dinner with his family, Jordan's and the Beauchamps'.

    "Still got the rest of this week to get through," Brian said with a sigh.

    "Meru wants to talk to you," Miles said quietly. "Do you feel up to it?"

    "Yeah, I guess."

    "I'll set it up after dinner," Andre said.

    "Thanks."

    Dr. Meru's smile had dimmed since Brian last spoke to him. He eyed the younger man critically, desperately wanting more nuance. He'd spoken to Andre and Claude, but he wished he could make his own hands on assessment. At least the boy looked well, though he was slightly pale.

    "Tell me what you experienced."

    Brian gave him a detailed account. Dr. Meru nodded, making notes as Brian spoke. He asked very pointed questions, clarifying details the way that Jordan and the others had.

    "This is fascinating, Brian. You've been somewhere and seen something that no one else I know, has ever seen. This is absolutely unprecedented!" He couldn't control his enthusiasm any longer. "Do you realize how special an honor you've been awarded? You've been to another realm. You brought back a Rider!"

    "So far, it's been a rare treat," Brian replied, somewhat sarcastically. "I could have done without the pounding headache, the vomiting, the vertigo.... The enhanced senses are kind of cool, but I have to say," he leaned toward the computer, lowering his voice. "The jacked up sex drive is awkward."

    Meru leaned forward too. "Increased libido? That is interesting. Disconcerting, to be sure, at this stage of your life." He nodded, considering a few moments before replying. "You have noticed a marked increase? This isn't just, forgive my belittling it, teenage hormones?"

    "Trust me, Doc, there's a huge difference. Teenage hormones heat things up, no doubt. But I feel as if I have a tendency to start fires."

    Dr. Meru caught the song reference and laughed. "Indeed. I wish I had a solution for that, my young friend. Sadly, other than the usual remedies, I have none."

    "I'll have to make sure Jordan and I aren't alone," Brian said. "I can't keep Andre around as a watch dog."

    "To be sure. I might have an additional aid." He flipped through a book and landed on a page. "This is a chant—not a spell, no tedious ritual, no special ingredients, merely a meditation aid." He rattled off a few words in a language that Brian didn't know. "Repeat it."

    Brian did. Strangely, it helped. He felt less burdened.

    "Completely reusable and non-addictive. Say it whenever you have need of it. If I come up with anything else, I'll contact you."

    "Thank you, Doc. You've been a huge help."

    "I fear not as big a help as I'd like, but I'll keep looking. I have my colleagues world wide, searching through their files as well. Perhaps we'll find a solution before Halloween."

    "Thanks."

    They bid farewell and disconnected.

    Brian and his parents headed home a short time later. Andre and Claude went with them. Brian had been very careful how long he kissed Jordan when they said goodnight. He made sure that Andre was nearby and kept a slight distance between them. He didn't dare risk her safety again.

    School the next day, was predictably boring. If he hadn't had Jordan, Chase or Marissa in most of his classes, Brian would have gone out of his mind. He waited for Jordan to finish with play practice after school, since he was giving her a ride home. They were doing an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that the speech teacher and the senior English teacher had written. Jordan, to her surprise, had been chosen for Juliet, although she'd tried out for the part of the Nurse.
    Brian sat in the semi-dark theatre, watching the party scene unfold. The boy playing Romeo wasn't bad. He carried himself well and spoke distinctly. Brian couldn't help but be impressed. He wasn't really paying attention until it came time for the kiss at the party. Throwing himself into the scene, Romeo got a little too familiar with Juliet. Whether it was scripted or not, he decidedly slipped her some tongue.

    Jordan, taken by surprise, rabbit punched him in the gut. With a yelp, Romeo jumped back. Jordan dropped into a fighting crouch, fists raised.

    "Come on, I was in character," he whined, stumbling back a couple of steps.

    Jordan shook back her hair, color high in her cheeks. "Because you're so irresistible, is that it? I'm supposed to excuse you because you say you're in character?"

    "You know you wanted it."

    Jordan screeched, lunging at the hapless boy. He staggered back another couple of steps, tripping over his own feet. He landed hard on his butt. One of the girls jumped forward, grabbing Jordan before she flailed him.

    Brian stood angrily, not moving right away. He watched, fury pooling in his belly. The floor quivered under foot. No one seemed to notice at first.

    "I have a boyfriend," Jordan reminded him.

    "So?"

    "So, he's here," she explained, pointing to Brian.

    Brian squared his shoulders. He was considerably taller and more muscular than Romeo. His anger made him even more formidable.

    Romeo glanced at Brian, face going slightly pale, but he'd come too far to back off. "Big whoop. It's for the play, Jordan. Get over it."

    "Nowhere in the script does it say, Romeo slipped her some tongue," Jordan explained. "Don't do it again, or I'll bite you."

    "She threatened me, Mrs. Faust," the boy appealed to the teacher.

    "I didn't hear anything," she replied. "And if you do it again, I'll replace you. You've got an understudy." She stood with her hands on her hips. "Just because the scene calls for a kiss, doesn't mean you can take advantage. Apologize."

    The boy mumbled something unintelligible.

    The floor shook again, this time the director and her assistant took note. Jordan's frown deepened.

    "What was that?" Mrs. Faust asked.

    "I don't know. Maybe a train?" the girl replied.

    Mrs. Faust glanced at her watch. "Not time for one."

    There was another shudder. Jordan's horrified gaze met Brian's.

    "Excuse me, Mrs. Faust. I want to wash the taste of his tongue out of my mouth. He tastes like cigarettes and fruity Mentos." She hurried off the stage.

    "Sure. Take ten, kids."

    There was another rumble. Jordan rushed up the aisle to where Brian stood. Grabbing him by the arm, she dragged him out of the theatre.

    "Stop that right now! It's over. He's just an idiot who thinks he's God's gift to women."

    "You don't know how bad I want to punch him," Brian growled. His hands balled into fists and the windows rattled.

    "Yeah, I do. You have to calm down," she cautioned. "Please, Brian. Go splash water on your face, or something."

    Brian wouldn't move, so Jordan dragged him to the men's room. It was empty, so she shoved him inside, following him. Jordan wet a paper towel and tried to mop Brian's face with it. He blocked her hands, breathing rapidly, his anger still strong. The mirrors and sinks shivered. Bits of plaster fell from the ceiling.

    Pointing her finger at him, Jordan concentrated a spurt of frigid water at his face. Sputtering, Brian looked at himself in the mirror. Red in the face, he was covered in water and tiny ice crystals. His shirt was wet and the slush was dripping on his pants. A warm wind dried him.

    "Better?" Jordan glared up at him. "Because this is stupid. He's just some dumb boy who thinks he's way hotter than he is. He got fresh, I took care of it. I don't need you to protect me, Brian. I'm pretty good at doing that myself."

    Sighing, he hung his head. "You're right. I'm sorry. And I deserved that."

    "You deserved way more, but I don't want you bringing the school down on my head because you're angry."

    "You're right. I'll wait outside for you."

    "Okay. Good plan." She kissed his cheek and went back to the stage.

    Brian shuffled outside and flopped on the grass. His phone rang. "Yeah, Chase."

    "Dude, was that you?"

    "Was what me?"

    "We had tremors at football practice. Coach is freaking. He was gonna call the fire department or something, but it stopped."

    "Romeo dove for Jordan's tonsils. I got pissed."

    "That's it? Jeesh, Brian. What's up with you?"

    "Not much, Chase, except I've got a psychic Rider on my shoulder." Stopping himself before he lost his temper again, he took a deep breath and repeated Meru's mantra. "Sorry, man. I'm edgy, and I don't know why. I feel like there are icy spiders running up my spine."

    "Bhhhg," Chase shuddered. "Great, now I feel that way. I'm on my way."

    "You've got football."

    "Things are such chaos right now, Coach won't notice. Where are you?"

    "Outside the theatre."

    "Stay put. I'm coming. I need to tell Marissa and Mom. Hang tight." He hung up.

    Brian didn't want to go against Chase's instruction to stay put, but he was worried about Jordan. Phones weren't allowed during practice, so hers was off and in her backpack. If something was about to happen, she needed to know. He'd headed toward the door when Chase called to him.

    "Where are you going?"

    "Jordan."

    "Marissa's on her way. She's at chorus. Mom's coming."

    Mrs. Finley joined them a few minutes later. "What's happening?"

    "No clue. Brian said something about icy spiders and I realized I've felt like that the past couple hours."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

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