Obviously, I still hadn’t quite recovered from that little goodbye with Avalon by the time I made it down to the Pathmaker building (or rather, to the edge of the protective circle that surrounded it). Professor Dare, who had been standing there waiting by herself, immediately questioned me with, “Miss Chambers, you look flushed this morning. Did you happen to stay out in the sun too long?”
Well, that was a good way to make me flush even more. Coughing while shaking my head quickly, I managed a slightly weak, “N-no, Professor. I’m fine. Uh, how are you? Are you doing anything special for Thanksgiving?” Thinking about what little I knew about the woman from history class, I added with a side-eye, “I mean, I don’t know if you’ve got… you know, family you can go visit or anything.”
Smiling faintly at me, Professor Dare replied, “A very noble attempt at gathering information, Miss Chambers. I am aware of the questions that my background brings up. And I promise, you will have your answers. It is simply a story that I do not particularly enjoy repeating every time the subject is raised by a student who recognized my name. I promise, when you reach the appropriate unit of your Heretical History class with Professor Ross, I will make a visit to explain precisely what happened to the Roanoke Colony. And I will answer any questions you have about it at that time.” Raising an eyebrow, she added in a slightly teasing tone, “Will your curiosity survive until then, Miss Chambers?”
Making a face at her, I managed to sniff airily. “Well, now that you’ve let me know that there is a story there, I’m gonna be even more curious. That’s so not fair. I’m supposed to be a reporter and an investigator, Professor. That’s two halves of me who don’t wanna just wait to find out the truth.”
“I’m quite certain that you will survive,” the professor replied dryly. Then she sobered. “Seriously speaking, Miss Chambers, it’s time to discuss number of things. After what happened the last time you were home, there was some discussion about whether or not we should allow you to go there at all.”
My eyes widened. “Wh-what? You can’t stop me from going home. My dad’s expecting me. He’ll be–”
Raising a hand to stop me, Professor Dare interrupted. “It’s all right, Miss Chambers. I promise. No one is going to stop you from visiting your father. You know that the headmistress would never allow that. There were, of course, a few who raised that possibility, but a better compromise was found.” Reaching into the pocket of her suit jacket, the woman produced a handful of items before holding them out for me to take. There was a red marker, a blue shirt button, and a pack of strawberry chewing gum.
After I hesitantly took the three items, the professor explained. “Anything you write with the marker will immediately be seen by Professor Kohaku, Professor Katarin, myself, and the headmistress. If you rub your thumb over the button several times, it will activate an emergency tracking beacon. It will also automatically sound an alert if it is separated from you by more than about ten feet, so keep it close to you at all times. And if you chew that gum, the four of us will hear anything you say while doing so.”
“Wow,” I blinked down at the items curiously for a second before putting them in my pocket. “Thanks, Professor Q. I, uh, I guess you guys sort of take this whole Ammon thing pretty seriously after all.”
Looking at me seriously, Professor Dare nodded. “Very seriously, Miss Chambers. As I said before, it is our failing for not noticing the danger you were in on your birthday. And that is a mistake we will try not to repeat. If you ever feel like you are in danger, please do use any method you can to alert us. We are very well aware that there are things that you would rather the entire school not learn about. But when it comes to your safety, make certain that you do not take too many risks. Is that understood?”
I swallowed a little. “Yes, Professor. I promise. Shiori’s gonna be there, plus my dad. Believe me, I’m not gonna take a bunch of risks. If Ammon or… or anyone else bad shows up, I’ll call for the cavalry.”
Hesitating, I glanced around. “Um, speaking of Shiori, have you seen her? She said she’d meet us.”
“The last time I saw Miss Porter,” the older woman answered, “she was taking Miss Moon down to the beach with a box of food. Perhaps they intended to have a picnic.” Glancing toward me then, she added a little slyly, “Or the food may have been meant for some other purpose, such as feeding some… birds.”
Keeping as straight a face as I could manage, I met the woman’s gaze. “Well, whichever it was, I’m sure the food’s being put to good use.” It was obvious that the professor either knew or suspected something about Choo, but she didn’t push any further than that. Instead, she simply smiled before looking away.
“Ah,” Dare announced after another couple seconds. She lifted a hand to point. “Here she comes now.”
Sure enough, Shiori was on her way. Seeing her approach, I felt two things at the same time. First, I felt my stomach do a funny little spin. Involuntarily, I found myself smiling at the sight of the girl. And second, I felt intense confusion. Avalon kissing my cheek hadn’t actually answered anything. I still liked both of them so much it was just… ugh. It was confusing, strange, and I didn’t know what to do.
“Hi, Flick!” Waving as she stopped, Shiori adjusted the backpack over her shoulders before looking to Dare. “Hi, Professor.” Looking worried, she added, “I didn’t keep you guys waiting too long, did I? Sorry, Columbus wanted to make sure we were on the same page about when he’s visiting tomorrow.”
Yeah, Columbus was going to come over for the actual meal, but he wasn’t actually staying through the vacation like Shiori was. That had taken some explaining to both their parents and my dad, but we worked it out. We’d kept it as simple and close to the truth as possible. As far as Dad was concerned, Shiori was the friend from school that had introduced me to her half-sister over the internet since we were both into reporting. And now I was bringing her home to visit. Dad hadn’t minded. Actually, I think he was pretty happy about the fact that I was close enough to someone at school to bring them home for Thanksgiving, even if it was to visit their own sister. As for Columbus, well, Dad and I were so accustomed to very quiet, lonely holidays that I’m pretty sure he would’ve happily accepted anyone.
Shaking her head, Professor Dare assured Shiori, “You’re just fine. Now then, shall we depart?
“After all, I’m sure you both have very important reunions that you would like to get to.”
“Dad!” Practically charging off the bus that Shiori and I had taken the last few miles to Laramie Falls, I let my father grab me up in his arms. As I was hauled off the ground, I hugged onto him tightly. God, I’d missed my dad. I tended to put it out of my mind, but every time I heard his voice or saw him again, it reminded me of just how strange and unsettling it was for me to be away from the man for so long.
Chuckling, he held me off the ground, crushing me against his chest. “Hey there, stranger. No Kung Fu greeting this time, huh?” he teased while still holding onto me tightly, like he didn’t want to let me go.
Blushing a little in spite of myself, I shook my head. “Nah, I’ll get you when you’re not expecting it.”
Dad was still smiling broadly as he lowered me back down. He ruffled my hair before focusing on my companion. “And this must be Shiori Porter.” Extending a hand to her, he added, “Lincoln Chambers.”
Quickly shaking his offered hand, Shiori bobbed her head politely. “Good to meet you, Mr. Chambers.”
After our quick round of greetings, Dad took us back to his car. As we approached, I saw a small, dark squirrel run behind a tree, just out of sight. A second later, a little bird flew up and away before circling around. Seeing that made me smile a little. Twister was still around, and as promised, hadn’t let Dad out of her sight. She gave a tilt of her wings when she noticed me looking, before landing on a stop sign.
“Your sister wanted to be here to meet you too,” Dad explained while opening the back door of the car to throw both of our packs in. “But you uh, well I’m sure you understand her condition.” When Shiori nodded, he added, “You don’t have any sensitivity to the sun or anything then? It sounded genetic.”
“No, sir,” Shiori answered. “It’s probably because we’re only half-sisters. I um, I haven’t really talked to her very much though. We… sort of only just met pretty recently.” Glancing toward me briefly before looking back to my father, she continued. “That’s why I wanted to say thank you for letting me come here to interrupt your holiday so I could visit her, sir. It’s, um, it was really awesome of you. Really.”
Dad’s response was just to smile even more. “Hey, don’t mention it. Unless you think you might be able to convince your mother to show up and cook again. I’m afraid Flick and I mostly depend on restaurant food for our Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t subject any of you to my attempts at cooking an actual turkey.”
Shiori giggled a little. “I’m sure it’ll be great, Mr. Chambers. Food is great, but mostly I’m just glad I get to spend time with Senny. And Flick,” she glanced toward me before continuing with an impish smile. “Besides, there’s probably not many turkeys left anyway, after the police got through with them.”
Blinking, Dad’s head tilted curiously. “I’m sorry, what? I didn’t hear anything about the police taking–”
I almost warned him, but Shiori piped up with a bright, sunny grin, “They arrested them for fowl play.”
Her own giggles pretty much drowned out both of our groans.
So Shiori and I spent some time hanging out with my dad that afternoon. He took us to lunch at a local burger place that he and I both loved, and then we took a little tour of the town. I showed Shiori where I’d gone to school before ‘transferring’ to Crossroads, and the house where Miranda had lived. We passed the combination miniature golf course and arcade, and I promised to take her there to see the place that I spent so many hours (and quarters) of my childhood at. Dad and I didn’t live in a big city, but I was proud of every little bit of it that I got to show to Shiori, and she seemed to love all of it.
And the whole time, I kept catching glimpses of Twister in various forms. She was definitely keeping a close eye on my father, just like she’d promised. Thankfully, her shape-shifting meant that, even as observant as Dad was, he had no reason to suspect that he was being watched over so much. Still, knowing him the way I did, I kept half-expecting the man to abruptly point out that animals kept following him around.
After that little tour, we went to see a movie at the theater I had worked at over the last summer. There were big signs touting about how it was under new ownership and management. Apparently Calvin had pled out to most of the charges for a reduced sentence, and had ended up selling off the theater to pay for his legal fees. About half the staff had been switched over as well, and I didn’t recognize most of them. Those that I did recognize were polite enough, but didn’t seem to want to talk to me very much.
In any case, the movie was fine, and Dad made a big deal about how much better the popcorn had been when I had served it to him. It was awful, ridiculous, embarrassing, and I loved him even more for it.
Eventually, we made it home. Since it wasn’t dark yet, the three of us played card games at the kitchen table for awhile until Dad’s phone buzzed. He glanced at it, then excused himself to take the call.
“Flick,” Shiori whispered while leaning closer. “I dunno if you know this, but your dad is really cool.”
“Oh trust me,” I replied while smiling back at her. “I know. My dad is the coolest. That’s–” Trailing off, I sighed while looking away from her. “That’s why lying to him about all this stuff sucks so much.”
A moment later, I felt her touch my hand before taking it in both of hers. When I looked that way, she was smiling faintly. “I’m sorry, Flick.” Swallowing, she blinked a few times. “I know how much it sucks. And with your… your mom and everything else… I wish there was some way I could help.”
Squeezing back with my own hand, I met her gaze. “You do help, Shiori. Trust me, you—umm–you help a lot.” It sounded lame coming out of my mouth, but I still managed a weak little smile at her.
For a few seconds, the two of us just sat there at the table, looking at each other. My stomach was doing that twisty thing again, and I couldn’t stop smiling in spite of the serious subject. Shiori’s hands holding mine felt good in a way I couldn’t describe, and I desperately wanted to make sure she didn’t let go.
Eventually, I found my voice, weak as it was. “Shiori… I… umm, I wanted to say that… I’m not sure–”
The kitchen door opened and Dad came back in, putting his phone away. “Sorry guys, we’re gonna have to call the game there. I’ve got a meeting to get to.” Leaning over, he kissed me on the head. “Don’t worry, no work tomorrow, I promise. But I’ve gotta take care of this. You gonna be okay here?”
Releasing Shiori’s hands, I straightened to hug him. “Dad, I’ve lived here forever. I think we’ll be okay.”
“All right, well, as soon as Asenath wakes up, you guys can order a pizza.” Dad gestured to the counter. “There’s twenty bucks there. I’ll try not to be home too late, so save me a couple slices, would you?”
Grinning, I nodded. “Sure, we’ll be sure to save you the ones with marshmallows and mayonnaise.”
Rolling his eyes, Dad lightly thwapped me upside the head before heading out again. After calling over his shoulder that he’d be back as soon as he could, he was through the door and gone.
“Does that happen a lot?” Shiori asked, head tilted toward me curiously.
I started to nod when there was a creak on the stairs. Turning that way, the two of us watched as Asenath made her way into the kitchen. As soon as she appeared, Shiori darted that way to embrace her sister. “You’re awake! Are you okay?” She started looking around quickly for any uncovered window.
Laughing, Senny returned the hug. “Hey little sis. I’m fine. Trust me, Lincoln’s careful about making sure the blinds are drawn and everything. But what about you? Did you really befriend a Jekern?”
Blushing noticeably, Shiori bobbed her head. “Uhhhh yeah. His name’s Choo, and he’s adorable. And really smart. Also really hungry. But Vanessa’s taking care of him while we’re gone. Maybe we can show him to you someday,” she added a bit hopefully, still clinging to the other girl.
“Someday,” Senny agreed. “And hey, I… I was hoping that we could get Mom here to visit, but she’s still off grid, doing something over in Africa. But I promise, as soon as I can get hold of her, she’ll be here.”
Somewhat more subdued, but clearly still happy to at least be around one part of her family, Shiori nodded. “We’re supposed to order some pizza. Are you hungry? Wait, do vampires get hungry for things other than, you know…”
“I do like eating pizza, even if I don’t have to,” Asenath replied before focusing on me. “But I take it you haven’t talked to Twister yet.”
Blinking at that, I shook my head. “I didn’t get a chance to, why?”
There was a second of hesitation before Senny took her sister’s hand while turning to walk. “Come on, I need to show you something you’re not going to like.”
Biting my lip, I followed after her. Shiori glanced to me questioningly, but all I could do was shrug.
Asenath led us to my father’s closed office door. As usual, it was locked. Dad kept all his important investigation work and files in there.
It took Senny about three seconds to pick the lock. Then she looked at me. “You need to see what your dad’s been doing while you’ve been gone.”
Blinking again, I hesitated before stepping into the room. Then I flicked on the light. Right in the middle of the room, taking up most of the free space, there was a wheeled bulletin board. And the thing was completely covered by notes, bits of computer print-outs, photographs, maps, charts, and more.
Stepping closer, I found my eyes drawn toward a familiar looking limousine that had been captured by a traffic camera. Next to it was a photograph taken from a fast food drive-through security camera of the same car. In both pictures, the license plate had been circled with red pen.
Beside that there was some kind of print-out from the DMV about that plate, and a hand-written note from my Dad about how it had been stolen from some place a couple hundred miles away.
Everywhere I looked, there were more pieces to the puzzle that led out from that limousine. There were notes about bank accounts, traced phone numbers, favors that Dad had called in from his time in LA, and more.
Right in the middle of the board was a badly taken photograph, clearly from some other security camera. It wasn’t clear at all, and had been taken from a bad angle. But I recognized the subject that had been circled with red pen. Beside it, Dad had written, ‘Behind the October 28th attack – Why? Who?’ And branching out from that was evidence of his attempts to find out the answer to that question.
“Oh… oh my god…” I managed after a few seconds of stunned silence. “We have to stop him. We have to stop him….
“My dad’s investigating Fossor.”