Chapter 13: The chapter wherein Hero has a temper tantrum.
I found Jenny sitting on the backsteps, smoking. She’d quit years ago, but I knew that sometimes she still had an occasional cigarette – usually after having to deal with her family.
“Jen,” I sat down next to her, “He’s gone.”
She took another drag off of her cigarette, “I know.” She stared into the yard. “Sorry about all of that,” she waved at the house. “I didn’t expect that. Expect him.”
“So, what was he?”
She rested her arms across her knees and laid her chin on her arms. “He’s a satyr.” Her voice was almost wistful.
I choked back a laugh, “Like goat feet and all?”
She continued to stare dreamily across the yard and gave a small shrug. “I don’t know. I’ve never met one until today.” She sighed with yearning, “They’re supposed to be amazing.” She drew the last word out.
I tried to remember everything I could about satyrs, other than the goat-footed part. I was pretty sure they had something to do with sex, and briefly wondered if ever preter had some tie to sex. I decided not to question what she meant by “amazing” because I was pretty sure I knew and didn’t want to picture the two of them in bed. “Do they make good lawyers?” I asked, hoping something practical would snap her out of his spell.
“Huh, lawyers? Oh, ‘cause Nix is a lawyer.” She shook her head, “Don’t know. Most people would probably say a siren can’t be a good wedding planner, but you know I’m the best.” She smiled and I was pretty sure she was shaking off whatever he’d done to her.
“By the way, he did apologize for being unprofessional,” I said and stood up. “He also brought me a package, and I’m dying to know what’s in it.” I held my hand out to her and pulled her to standing.
“Ohh presents! I love presents.” She crushed out the cigarette and followed me inside.
I sat back at the table with the package. At this point, I was hoping it was something normal. Maybe it was just Dee’s favorite china or something. All in all, I’d just about had it with the preterworld for today. Jenny sat next to me, still looking a little dreamy-eyed. I shook my head and tore apart the paper and found a box. I opened it and found a book.
Jenny finally pulled her head out of whatever clouds she was lost in and glanced at the book. “Do you think it’s the manual?”
I glanced at her and rolled my eyes, “With my day, it had better be the manual.” I flipped open the book. Inside the cover was a folded piece of paper. I pulled it out and left the book aside, for now.
I unfolded the paper and wasn’t entirely surprised to see Dee’s handwriting.
If you have received this book from Nix, then I fear I waited too long to tell you the truth. I can only hope that you can someday understand my reticence to involve you in the sins of a past that you had no part in. Your grandmother, my Lenore, and even your poor tragic mother wanted you to have a normal life, a life outside of the preterworld. I tried to give you that. The sins that I committed, the sins that your grandmother committed have not been forgiven by the children of those we sinned against. This book is your inheritance. It should help you understand your particular gifts. Be wary of the specter of Sosostris, but trust in Jenny, as I should have many years ago. And trust in Kyle Smyth. His family owes me a debt, and they will fulfill it. Please forgive me for the secrets I kept from you.
You were always the daughter of my heart.
I didn’t realize that I was crying until the first tear hit the paper in my hand. I slid the letter away and cried. A small part of me had been clinging to the hope that all of the preter stuff was the product of grief. Or it was all a very long dream, but here was Dee, my aunt Dee, the woman who raised me, confirming everything. Confirming that I wasn’t human and neither was she. Confirming that she’d lied to me.
Jenny must have read the letter over my shoulder because she put her arm around my shoulders and tried to console me. She finally rose and returned with a box of tissues. Eventually, my tears stopped, and I wiped at my eyes.
“It’s all real. She was murdered for something that happened sixty years ago. She lied to me my entire life.” I whispered.
Jenny hugged me. “She did it to protect you. She wanted you to have a normal life, is that so bad?”
I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t. “But I didn’t have a normal life.” I practically spat the words. “I’ve spent my entire life feeling…” I paused wondering how to explain it, “feeling incomplete. Feeling like something was missing.” I leaned back in my chair. “I always thought it was because of my family, you know not really knowing my mother and all that,” I took a steadying breath, “but maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe I’ve felt wrong, felt something missing because of what Dee kept from me.” I was almost shouting.
Jenny sat stunned. She blinked at me, and seemed ready to say something, but closed her mouth.
I continued to yell, “She didn’t even tell me how to break the spell or whatever. She lied and she left me alone to deal with this. Because of her, I don’t know anything about the world I come from. Everything is weird and strange and I don’t know what to do.”
Jenny was staring at me, her face pale. “Hero, I don’t know what to say.” She paused, “I never realized that you felt wrong or whatever.” Her voice was quiet. “Maybe Dee didn’t know either.”
I sneered at her, “Well it doesn’t matter now. She’s gone and I’m stuck here, half a person.” I realized I was crying again. I stood up from the table and stomped away. I was glad that Jenny let me. I needed to be alone. I stormed up the stairs like I was an angry teenager all over again. I slammed the door to my old bedroom and threw myself on to the bed.
I stared at the room that hadn’t changed much since I moved out. Dee had always promised that this house would be my home, and so she never changed the room. The old rock band posters still adorned the walls, along with the remnants of high school and childhood memorabilia. The bookshelf still held all of the young adult books I’d loved so much, and Dee had tried not to disdain. I realized that I was calming down, but I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet.
My old desk still sat in the corner. I got up from the bed and looked at it. The picture I’d been looking for, the one of me and my mother was sitting on the desk. The picture wasn’t in a frame. I picked it up. I stared at my mother. I could see fewer hints of myself in her than I had in the pictures of my grandmother. Still, it was the only picture I had of my mother. We stood hand in hand in front of Dee’s house, now my house.
I turned the picture over. “Me and my darling Hero.” I blinked my tears away. It must be my mother’s handwriting. I turned the picture back over and tried to understand. Why had she given me to Dee? And why had Dee lied to me, what had Dee done that was so terrible that someone would kill her? I didn’t have any answers. All I had was a photo in my hands. In a fit of anger, I tore the photo in half. It tore cleanly dividing photograph me from my photograph mother. I immediately regretted it. I didn’t know if there was a negative of the picture, and now I’d torn the only picture I had of my mother.
I felt my tears start to build again. Why couldn’t I just be a grown-up for once? I chastised myself. I’d snapped at Jenny, and now I’d torn up a picture. I was getting out of control.
I shook my head and blinked back tears. I started rummaging through my desk drawers looking for tape to fix the picture. I found the odds and ends that end up in every desk, but no tape. I stared at the picture and suddenly felt lightheaded.
I tried to stand and found my legs shook so badly that I had to drop back to the chair. The same wave of dizziness and nausea from the Ouija Board incident flooded over me. I lowered my head between my knees, waiting for the feeling to pass.
That’s when I heard shouting from downstairs. I kept taking swallow breaths waiting for the dizziness to pass and listened to the muffled voices of Jenny and someone else arguing. Then silence, followed by someone’s feet pounding up the stairs. I heard the door open.
“Hero? Are you ok?”
I recognized Kyle’s voice. He sounded panicked, but I guess didn’t look that great. But how good would anyone look after an afternoon of crying and throwing tantrums?
I managed to drag my head up, “I’m fine.” I mumbled. I looked around for tissues and couldn’t find any. I wiped at my face with my hands, which I’m certain did nothing to improve my appearance.
Kyle sat down on the bed. I couldn’t look at him. “Really, I’m fine. Just a little overwhelmed by everything.” I said, and then I remembered zombie-Garcia and inched back in my chair wanting to be farther away from him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that close to anyone who could suck out a person’s free will. Even though Dee said I was supposed to trust him, I wasn’t sure I wanted to trust her anymore.
Kyle shifted. I guess he was trying to catch my eye, but I kept my eyes trained on the floor. “Hero, I came by to explain to you about Officer Garcia.”
I nodded and felt numb. He was going to admit that he had turned a person into a zombie slave, and for all I knew, the effects could be permanent. Jenny had told me about Aaron Wallace, the guy from high school. The guy she’d put into a coma. As far as I knew, he was still in that coma more than ten years later.
“First, he left as soon as he saw me. Just tore off down the street.”
I glanced up at him. He looked scared. His eyes were wide and his mouth pulled into a tight line. I nodded for him to go on.
“Second, I didn’t do that to him. No lilu can brainwash a person. At least not like what Jenny described.” He raised his hands in a gesture of defeat. “I don’t know what was done to him.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to decide if I did believe him, or if it was just easier to believe him. “What can you do?” My voice cracked a little.
He looked surprised and then nodded, “I guess that’s fair.” He paused as if collecting his thoughts. “Um, first,” he held up a finger, “I, um, eat people’s emotions.” He hung his head a little as if embarrassed by admitting that. “I kind of have to, at least if I want to stay alive.” He held up another finger, “But, when I do that to someone, the person is left feeling numb.” He paused again, “like emotionless, but only for a few hours.” He glanced at me to see if I was still following along.
I nodded at him to continue.
He held up a second finger. “Second, I can make people forget things. Little things, like when I made Garcia forget about you being at the break-in. The regs are clear and you’d have to go to the hospital and there’d be forms and an investigation.” He looked at me, “I didn’t think you wanted any of that.” He ran his hands through his hair, “But that’s all I did to Garcia. He forgot meeting you. That’s it. He forgot taking the call and meeting you.”
I could hear that he was frustrated, but I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. “Have you done it to me?”
He nodded slowly, “I told you about that. When I came to your apartment with the papers. When I met you, and you learned about Dee. I took that away so that you would…” He stopped watching my expression.
I stared at him through narrowed eyes. He was admitting that he took away my, my what grief? All of the feelings I should have over Dee’s death, and he took them away. Like my emotions weren’t my own. “You took it away?” I hissed at him. “What gave you the right to just take something. To take what I was feeling?” I was getting close to yelling again.
He dropped his eyes to the floor. “I did it to protect you,” he whispered, “and everyone else.”
“What!?” I snapped at him. Sure, I’d heard him, but I wanted him to explain it.
He looked back up at me. “I had to protect you.” He chewed his lip for a moment. “You were so lost. You were falling to fast into despair. Hero, I’m sorry. But I didn’t think I had a choice.” His voice was begging me to believe him.
I glared at him. “Because you didn’t think I could handle my own feelings, you just took them? Stole them from me? In what universe is that ok?” I was yelling now.
This time he matched my glare. “In the preter-universe, Hero.” His voice was hard. “I was afraid you were going to tear a hole into the Underworld itself.”
I blinked, my confusion overriding my anger for a moment. “Wait, what?”
The edge didn’t leave his voice, but he took a deep breath before he spoke. “I knew what you were as soon as I saw you. You had so many shades around you. I’m surprised you were visible at all. With what you were feeling, you could have ripped a hole in the world of the living and not even realized it.” He looked at me, and his voice softened, “Was I supposed to let that happen?”
I couldn’t move. I’d felt the blood drain from my face as he told me what could have happened. I started to shake. I didn’t want that kind of power. I didn’t even want to talk to dead people but tearing holes in the world sounded a whole lot worse.
“He’s telling the truth, Hero,” Jenny said from the doorway. “I hate to have to say it, but he probably did stop you from doing something terrible.”
My eyes shot to Jenny’s face. “But Dee’s spell. It would have stopped me. And you knew about it.” I heard the panic in my voice.
Jenny shook her head. “I knew about it, but I also know that if he hadn’t been there…” She paused and I saw her swallow. “If he hadn’t taken away the feelings, you could have shattered the spell through sheer will.” She stepped into the room and moved closer to me. “I’m sorry, but I would have been too late to stop you.”
I shook my head, my eyes darting back and forth between both of them. “But that’s not possible. I wouldn’t have…” I stopped remembering what I’d felt when Mrs. Finch had told me about Dee. The utter despair that had washed over me that had plunged straight through me. And how it had lessened and become, bearable when Kyle touched me. I looked up at Kyle.
“Sorry.” I ran my hands through my hair. “I shouldn’t have blown up at you like that.” I tried to smile but found my lip quivering. I bit down on it trying not to cry.
Kyle took my hand and I flinched at his touch.
“Hero, I’m not going to take this from you. Not this time.” He squeezed my hand. “It’s ok. You’re going to be ok.” He whispered and pulled me into a hug.
I found myself sobbing in his arms. I couldn’t stop. It was like the last three days just slammed into me like a truck. I felt Kyle tighten his arms around me and he just let me cry.
I finally stopped crying and I was left feeling empty. But I decided that it was a good empty. Not the numbness that Kyle had caused. I took a second staying in his arms. Then I shifted away. I was a little embarrassed to see the wet spot on his shirt from my tears.
Jenny handed me a box of tissues and I wiped at my face. I finally gave up and went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I could hear Kyle and Jenny talking quietly in my bedroom.
I came back into the room but stayed in the doorway. “Jen, I’m sorry about before.” I couldn’t look at her.
“Oh Hero, don’t worry about it.” She answered and I could hear the smile in her voice. I dragged my eyes off the floor and looked at her. She was smiling.
“Besides,” she said, “I keep forgetting that all of this is new to you. And this,” she gestured at the three of us, “and losing Dee.” She grew silent a moment, “I don’t know how you’ve held it together.” She looked at little abashed, “I should have thought of that.”
I stepped into the room as she was rising from the bed. I let her hug me and felt better for it. Once I’d apologized to Jenny, I knew that I should apologize to Kyle too. But he beat me to it.
“I’m sorry, Hero.” He said looking at me. “I should have been clear when I told you what I did. I took something from you, and I can’t give it back to you.” He looked like a little boy for a moment.
I disentangled myself from Jenny and sat on the bed next to him. “I’m sorry I accused you of turning Garcia into a zombie.”
He cuffed me on the arm and smiled. Even with everything going on, I was still slightly entranced by his smile. Damn, he was far too attractive to be good for me. His expression turned serious, “But we should figure what happened to Garcia.”
Jenny flopped on to the bed, next to me, and on the far side of Kyle. “It’s gotta be a circe or a hecate.” She sounded very sure of herself.
We both shot her questioningly looks and she shrugged, “I called Cousin Andy.”
Someday I’d have to meet Cousin Andy the preter-pedia. “Ok, but why would someone do that to him? Like where’s the gain?”
Kyle turned to face both of us. “The house. Someone is watching the house.” He looked at me, “I don’t know if they are looking for you or looking for something in the house.”
I felt cold suddenly. Someone watching me? The person or people who killed Dee looking for? I frowned, “What do you know about Sosostris?” I asked Kyle.
He paled. “Not a lot of facts. Mostly just stories.”
Jenny sat back up for this. I guess Cousin Andy didn’t know much about them either.
I gestured for him to continue.
“Just remember, these are stories. I don’t know how accurate they are.” He waited for both of us to nod. “Ok, so back before World War Two, a group of Circe started recruiting. They said they were trying to create a Preter community, and something went wrong.” He ran his hands through his hair. “It gets weird here. Supposedly, they were looking specifically for Lemurias.” Before I could get a word in, he continued, “It had something to do with harnessing the power of the Underworld.”
I raised my hand like it was school. He smiled.
“Ok, there’s actually an Underworld? Like the river Styx and Charon the ferryman?”
Jenny shushed me.
“What?” I looked at her?
“Don’t say his name.” She was sitting up and attentive now.
“Why? Is it like the Bloody Mary thing?” I asked trying to make it a joke.
Jenny shook her head and glanced at Kyle. “He might think that you’re calling him.”
I raised an eyebrow, “The ferryman? Uh-huh. He can hear me from my bedroom?”
Kyle shrugged, “Maybe he can.” He glanced at Jenny and tipped his head at me.
I threw my hands up, “Ok what? And don’t think that I’m going to forget about the Underworld, or am I not allowed to say that either?”
Jenny crossed her legs and shifted closer to me. “When you were alone up here, what did you do?”
“What?” I asked. I was getting annoyed again. Maybe I needed Cousin Andy’s phone number to get straight answers.
Kyle frowned at me, “Do you feel any different because Jenny and I are pretty sure that Dee’s spell broke.
I stopped and considered the question. I had felt all sick and light headed after I’d torn up the picture, but that was just guilt. Wasn’t it?