Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 115

   

“Close your eyes, Jem,” Mam said quietly, and took his hand, squeezing it. “Tell me if you can feel Mandy in your head.”

“Sure. I mean, yes. She’s there.” He hadn’t thought of Mandy as a little red light before the business in the tunnel with the train, but now he did. It kind of made it easier to concentrate on her.

“That’s good. You can open your eyes if you want to,” Mam said. “But keep thinking about Mandy. Tell me if she gets too far away for you to feel.”

He could feel Mandy all the way, until the Caddy pulled up next to them again—though she had got a little fainter, then stronger again.

They did it again, with Uncle Joe and Mandy going all the way down to Arlington Street, on the far side of the Public Garden. He could still do it and was getting kind of cold and bored, standing there on the street.

“She can hear him fine,” Uncle Joe reported, rolling down his window. “How ’bout you, sport? You hear your sister okay?”

“Yeah,” he said patiently. “I mean—I can tell where she is, kind of. She doesn’t talk in my head or anything like that.” He was glad she didn’t. He wouldn’t want Mandy chattering away in his head all the time—and he didn’t want her listening to his thoughts, either. He frowned at her; he hadn’t actually thought of that before.

“You can’t hear what I’m thinking, can you?” he demanded, shoving his face in the open window. Mandy was riding up front now and looked up at him, surprised. She’d been sucking her thumb, he saw; it was all wet.

“No,” she said, kind of uncertainly. He could see she was sort of scared by this. So was he, but he figured he wouldn’t let her—or Mam—know that. “That’s good,” he said, and patted her on the head. She hated being patted on the head and swiped at him with a ferocious snarl. He stepped back out of reach and grinned at her.

“If we have to do it again,” he said to his mother, “maybe Mandy can stay with you, and I’ll go with Uncle Joe?”

Mam glanced uncertainly at him, then at Mandy, but seemed to get what he was really saying and nodded, opening the door for Mandy to bounce out, relieved.

Uncle Joe hummed softly to himself as they turned around, went right, and headed down past the big theater and the Freemasons’ building. Jem could see Uncle Joe’s knuckles showing through his skin, though, where he was clutching the wheel.

“You nervous, sport?” Uncle Joe said, as they passed the Frog Pond. It was drained for the winter; it looked sort of sad.

“Uh-huh.” Jem swallowed. “Are you?”

Uncle Joe glanced at him, kind of startled, then smiled as he turned back to keep his eyes on the road.

“Yeah,” he said softly. “But I think it’s gonna be okay. You’ll take good care of your mom and Mandy, and you’ll find your dad. You’ll be together again.”

“Yeah,” Jem said, and swallowed again.

They drove in silence for a little bit, and the snow made little scratchy noises on the windshield, like salt being shaken on the glass.

“Mam and Mandy are gonna be pretty cold,” Jem ventured.

“Yeah, this’ll be our last try today,” Uncle Joe assured him. “Still got her? Mandy?”

He hadn’t been paying attention; he’d been thinking about the stone circles. And the thing in the tunnel. And Daddy. His stomach hurt.

“No,” he said blankly. “No! I can’t feel her!” The idea suddenly panicked him and he stiffened in his seat, pushing back with his feet. “Drive back!”

“Right away, pal,” Uncle Joe said, and made a U-turn right in the middle of the street. “Gloucester Street. Can you remember that name? We need to tell your mom, so she can work out the distance.”

“Uh-huh,” Jem said, but he wasn’t really listening to Uncle Joe. He was listening hard for Mandy. He’d never thought about it at all before this, never paid any attention to whether he could sense her or not. But now it was important, and he balled up his fists and shoved one into his middle, under his ribs, where the hurt was.

Then there she was, just as though she’d always been there, like one of his toenails or something, and he let his breath out in a gasp that made Uncle Joe look sharply at him.

“You got her again?”

Jem nodded, feeling inexpressible relief. Uncle Joe sighed and his big shoulders relaxed, too.

“Good,” he said. “Don’t let go.”

BRIANNA PICKED UP Esmeralda the rag doll from the floor of the Abernathys’ guest room and tucked her carefully in next to Mandy. Four miles. They’d spent the morning driving round Boston in circles, and now they knew roughly how far the kids’ mutual radar went. Jem could sense Mandy at a little over a mile, but she could sense him at nearly four. Jem could sense Brianna, too, but only vaguely and only for a short distance; Mandy could sense her mother almost as far as she could detect Jem.

She should write that down in the guide, she thought, but she’d spent the afternoon in frenzied arrangements, and right now the effort of finding a pencil felt like searching for the source of the Nile or climbing Kilimanjaro. Tomorrow.

The thought of tomorrow jolted her out of her exhausted torpor with a zap of adrenaline. Tomorrow, it would start.

They’d talked, after the kids had gone to bed. She and Joe, with Gail listening in the corner, the whites of her eyes showing now and then, but saying not a word.

“It has to be Scotland,” she’d explained. “It’s December; ships can’t sail until the springtime. If we crossed in North Carolina, we couldn’t travel from the colonies before April and wouldn’t get to Scotland before the summer. And putting aside the fact that I know what ocean travel in the eighteenth century is like and I wouldn’t do that with children unless the alternative was being shot . . . I can’t wait that long.”

She’d taken a gulp of wine and swallowed, but the knot in her throat didn’t go down, any more than it had with the last half-dozen swallows. Anything could happen to him in six months. Anything. “I—have to find him.”

The Abernathys glanced at each other, and Gail’s hand touched Joe gently on the knee.

“Of course you do,” she said. “You sure about Scotland, though? What about the people that tried to take Jem from you? Won’t they be waiting, if you go back?”

Bree laughed—shakily, but a laugh.

“Another reason to go right away,” she said. “In the eighteenth century, I can stop looking over my shoulder.”

“You haven’t seen anybody—” Joe started, frowning, but she shook her head.

“Not in California. And not here. But I keep watching.” She’d taken a few other precautions, too, things she’d recalled from her father’s brief—and discreet—memoir of his World War II experiences, but no need to go into those.

“And you have some idea how to keep the kids safe in Scotland?” Gail was perched uneasily on the edge of her seat, as though wanting to spring up and go check on the kids. Brianna knew the feeling.

She sighed and wiped a straggle of hair out of her eye.

“There are two people—well, three—there that I think I can trust.”

“You think,” Joe echoed, sounding skeptical.

“The only people I know I can trust are right here,” she said simply, and lifted her wineglass to them. Joe looked away and cleared his throat. Then he glanced at Gail, who nodded at him.

“We’ll go with you,” he said firmly, turning back to Bree. “Gail can mind the kids, and I can make sure nobody bothers you ’til you’re set to go.”

She bit her lip to quell the rising tears.

“No,” she said, then cleared her own throat hard, to kill the quaver in her voice—caused as much by the vision of the two Drs. Abernathy strolling the streets of Inverness as by gratitude. It wasn’t that there were no black people in the Highlands of Scotland, but they were sufficiently infrequent as to cause notice.

“No,” she repeated, and took a deep breath. “We’ll go to Edinburgh to start; I can get the things we need there, without attracting attention. We won’t go up to the Highlands until everything is ready—and I’ll only get in touch with my friends there at the last minute. There won’t be time for anyone else to realize we’re there, before we—before we go . . . through.”

That one word, “through,” hit her like a blow in the chest, freighted as it was with memory of the howling void that lay between now and then. Between herself and the kids—and Roger.

The Abernathys hadn’t given up easily—or altogether; she was sure there would be another attempt at breakfast—but she had faith in her own stubbornness and, pleading exhaustion, had escaped from their kind worries in order to be alone with her own.

She was exhausted. But the bed she’d share with Mandy didn’t draw her. She needed just to be alone for a bit, to decompress before sleep would come. She could hear going-to-bed noises on the floor below; taking off her shoes, she padded silently down to the first floor, where a light had been left on in the kitchen and another at the end of the hallway by the den, where Jem had been put to bed on the big couch.

She turned to go and check on him, but her attention was diverted by a familiar metallic chunk! The kitchen had a pocket door, slid half across. She stepped up to it and glanced through the opening, to discover Jem standing on a chair next to the counter, reaching to pull a Pop-Tart out of the toaster.

He looked up, wide-eyed at the sound of her step, held the hot pastry for a second too long, and dropped it as it burned his fingers.

“Ifrinn!”

“Don’t say that,” she told him, coming to retrieve the fallen tart. “We’re about to go where people would understand it. Here—do you want some milk with that?”

He hesitated for an instant, surprised, then hopped down like a towhee, both feet together, and landed with a light thud on the tiled floor. “I’ll get it. You want some, too?” Suddenly, nothing on earth sounded better than a hot blueberry Pop-Tart with melting white icing and a glass of cold milk. She nodded and broke the hot tart in two, putting each half on a paper towel.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she finally said, after they’d eaten their snack in companionable silence. He shook his head, red hair ruffled up in porcupine spikes.

“Want me to read you a story?” She didn’t know what made her say that; he was much too old to be read to, though he was always somewhere nearby when she read to Mandy. He gave her a jaundiced look, but then, surprisingly, nodded and scampered up to the third floor, coming back with the new copy of Animal Nursery Tales in hand.

He didn’t want to lie down right away but sat very close to her on the sofa while she read, her arm round his shoulders and his weight growing warm and heavy against her side as his breathing slowed.

“My dad used to read to me if I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep,” she said softly, turning the last page. “Grandpa Frank, I mean. It was a lot like this; everything quiet.” And themselves cozy and bonelessly content, alone together in a puddle of warm yellow light, with the night far away.

She felt Jem’s sleepy interest rise.

“Was he like Grandda? Grandpa Frank?” She’d told the kids little things about Frank Randall, not wanting him to be forgotten, but she knew he’d never be much more than a faint ghost beside the vivid warmth of their other grandfather—the grandfather they might have back. She felt a sudden small tearing in her heart, a vivid second of understanding for her mother.

Oh, Mama . . .

“He was different,” she said softly, her mouth brushing his bright hair. “He was a soldier, though—they had that in common. And he was a writer, a scholar—like Daddy. All of them were—are—alike, though: they’d all take care of people. It’s what a good man does.”

“Oh.” She could feel him falling asleep, struggling to keep a hold on consciousness, the dreams beginning to walk through his waking thoughts. She eased him down into the nest of blankets and covered him, smoothing the cowlick on the crest of his head.

“Could we see him?” Jem said suddenly, his voice drowsy and soft.

“Daddy? Yes, we’ll see him,” she promised, making her own voice solid with confidence.

“No, your daddy . . .” he said, his eyes half open, glazed with sleep. “If we go through the stones, could we see Grandpa Frank?”

Her mouth dropped open, but she still hadn’t found an answer when she heard him start to snore.

BE THOSE THY BEASTS?

WHILE IT WAS undeniably true that standing stones didn’t bite, Roger thought, that didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous.

It had taken them only a day and a half to find the stone circle. He’d made a quick sketch of standing stones on the back of his hand with a bit of charcoal, to assist communication, and it had worked surprisingly well. While the scattered people they’d found had regarded them with immense curiosity—and not a few private glances accompanied by whirling motions of the forefinger beside the head—no one had found the visitors more than odd, and everyone had known where the stones were.

They’d come across a tiny village, in fact—consisting of a church, a public house, a smithy, and several houses—where the last household they’d approached had even sent one of their younger sons along to guide Buck and Roger to their goal.

And there they were now: a scatter of stumpy, lichened, wind-scored pillars beside a shallow lake filled with reeds. Ageless, harmless, part of the landscape—and the sight of them filled Roger with a fear that shivered as coldly over his skin as though he stood there naked to the wind.

“Can ye hear them?” Buck muttered under his breath, his own eyes fixed on the stones.

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