I had already turned around and was halfway out of the room by the time Shiori hurriedly caught my arm. “F-Flick, wait. Where are you going?” Her eyes were wide as she clutched my arm tightly.
Admittedly more than a bit crazed, I blurted, “Where do you think I’m going? It’s my dad, I have to stop him! I have to tell him about all this, I have to make him stop!” I was already pulling free of her.
“But you can’t,” Shiori put herself in front of me, hands raised while she stammered. “R-remember? Even if you tell him, he won’t remember it and you’ll be back where you started. He’s a Bystander.”
“He’s my dad!” I insisted. “I—I can’t just do nothing! It’s Fosser, he’s investigating Fossor! You know what that psychopath will do? Dad doesn’t even have to be a threat, he doesn’t have to get that far! If Fossor even notices him, he’ll…. he’ll…” The implications in my own words were enough to make me sick, and I couldn’t finish the sentence. That fear, the terror of losing my father, left me hysterical.
Another hand rested on my shoulder then, and Asenath spoke quietly, calmly. “He won’t, Flick.” When I looked that way, she continued. “Yes, he’s putting himself in danger. That’s why I had to show you, because it wouldn’t be fair to you if I didn’t. You deserve to know what’s going on. But we’re not just going to let it happen. Twister and I, we’re going to divert his investigation, lead him the wrong way.”
Finally breathing, I stared at her for a moment while trying to calm myself down enough to think clearly. My words were hesitant, the fear for my father still fresh. “You… you already have a plan?”
Nodding once, Senny assured me, “Of course. We’re not going to let anything happen to your dad, Flick. That’s what you hired us for, remember? We’ll make sure his investigation leads him somewhere away from Fossor, I promise. I just needed you to know what’s going on, and what he’s been doing.”
My body still wanted to panic, but I made myself calm down slightly. “You’re—you–” Cringing, I shook my head to clear it. “Thank you. Thank you. I can’t—if anything happened to him, I’d just…”
“I know,” Senny spoke softly, her voice filled with more compassion than a lot of humans I knew. “Believe me, I know.” Her hand squeezed my shoulder before she continued reassuringly. “But he’ll be okay. Between Twister and me, we can make sure his investigation doesn’t lead anywhere near Fossor.”
Stepping that way, I hugged the vampire tightly while shuddering a little bit. “Thank you,” I repeated, unable to keep the shiver out of my voice. “Thanks for being there, for helping my Dad. I just–” Cutting myself off from saying anything else, I just hugged her harder. I didn’t trust my own thoughts, let alone anything I might say. I didn’t want to put any more words to the fear that had risen in me.
After returning the embrace for a few long seconds, Senny brushed my hair back and smiled at me while stepping back. “Hey, why don’t we order that pizza and talk about everything that’s going on? We can get caught up on everything else.” Glancing toward Shiori, she added, “And you can tell me all about how your classes are going.” Her voice turned teasing as she reached out to poke the other girl in the shoulder. “After all, I do have to make sure that my little sister’s making the best of her education.”
So we spent the night talking about everything that had happened, and what we needed to do. Senny gave us some ideas about getting through the security in the hospital where Tangle was. And when Twister eventually got there after my dad made it back home, she gave some thoughts of her own.
Of course, I didn’t let that go on the whole night. Once we’d talked about that stuff for awhile, I left Shiori and Asenath alone so that the two of them could have some time with just each other. I was still worried about my dad, of course. But not so worried that I wanted to take away their chance to bond.
Eventually, it was the next morning. Shiori and I had eventually crashed in my room. I let the other girl take my bed (the same one Asenath was using during the daytime), since I didn’t need very much sleep.
Hearing my dad moving around downstairs, I lifted my head away from the pillow that I’d laid on the floor. I was trying to be quiet, but when I glanced toward the bed, I found Shiori’s eyes open. She was watching me with an expression that I couldn’t really read, but still made me blush a little bit.
“Um, morning,” I whispered, not wanting to wake up the sleeping form of Twister, who had crashed into a pile of blankets on the other side of the room. Every once in awhile, the Pooka’s ears twitched.
“Oh, hi.” Shiori whispered back. Her face was a little bit flushed as well, and she sat up in the bed before yawning wide. The yawn turned into a full-body shiver that ran all the way down to her hands, which she shook out. It was… god, it was adorable. Especially when she smiled at me afterward.
Distracted, I swallowed hard before forcing myself to respond. “I guess we should get up so Asenath can have the bed back before it gets too bright, huh?” Not that I wanted to move at all. Well, okay, I did want to move, but not exactly to leave the room. I wanted to… oh boy. Shutting that thought down, I picked myself off the floor before extending a hand to the other girl. “Come with me if you want some breakfast,” I teased, trying to keep it as light as possible while my thoughts were anywhere but food.
Shiori giggled quietly before taking my hand. The two of us went still for a second, and I found myself looking from our joined hands to the girl herself. A goofy little smile had found its way to my face, and was met by one of her own. I meant to pull her up out of the bed, but in that moment, I very nearly did the exact opposite. A shiver ran through me, and I swallowed once more. “Um. I should…” My words trailed off, and I almost lost myself by staring at the adorable girl as she gazed up at me silently.
Avalon. The thought of my roommate came to me, and I flinched a little inwardly. God. I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want… Why was this so hard? Why couldn’t I just… I didn’t even know. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking, what I wanted, or what I was supposed to do.
“Flick?” Shiori spoke hesitantly, her voice barely audible in the dimly lit room. “Are you all right?”
Breathing out, I nodded and found a smile for her. It wasn’t that hard. Even as confused as I was about… well, everything, it was still easy to smile at Shiori. “Yeah,” I answered quietly. “I’m okay.”
The two of us left the room before we ended up waking Twister, hurrying downstairs to find Asenath and my father sitting at the kitchen table having coffee and donuts from the place down the street. Dad glanced up and smiled broadly while setting his mug down. “Well hey there, how’d you guys sleep?”
Part of me almost wanted to respond that I’d only really laid down about an hour and a half earlier, so of course I was perfectly fine. That probably would’ve required a bit more explanation than I wanted to give. So instead, I just stretched while nodding. “Oh, you know, hard to get used to my bedroom after the five star private school suites they’ve got us in up there.” Winking, I added, “But we made do.”
Rolling his eyes, Dad pushed the donut box over toward me. “Well, we may not have all the amenities you’ve gotten used to, but have some breakfast. I figure we’ll eat light through the day, and then I made reservations at the buffet for seven o’clock. That way Senny here can have Thanksgiving dinner too.”
His eyes moved to the girl beside me then, and he asked, “You don’t mind eating that late, do you, Shiori? What time do we need to drive up to Jackson to grab your brother from the airport?”
“Oh, Columbus said he could just take the bus down here after he lands,” Shiori started to explain.
Dad shook his head. “Oh hell no, there’s no need for him to spend a couple hours on some smelly bus after he just got off a plane. Shoot him a text, let him know we’ll just head up there and pick him up.”
“Oh, well, okay then.” Shiori clearly couldn’t think of any reason not to, so she shrugged and glanced to me briefly before answering. “His flight’s landing at um, at one o’clock.”
Nodding, Dad gave us a thumbs up. “Great, so we’ll head up there in a few hours to pick him up. Hell, if nothing else, it’ll give Flickster here a chance to show you two around, give you the grand tour.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled under my breath, “that won’t take very long.” Coughing, I smiled sweetly at my father while picking up two of the donuts. Offering one of them to Shiori, I took a bite. “Mmm, food.”
Chuckling, Asenath pushed herself up from the table. “All right, well, I better get some sleep myself if it’s gonna be a busy night.” She stepped over, poking Shiori. “Wanna come up with me for a minute?”
Nodding quickly, the other girl gave a little wave before going upstairs with her sister. While they were gone, I stepped over to sit down by my dad as I finished the donut. Without saying anything at first, I simply wrapped both arms around him while leaning sideways to rest my head against his shoulder.
“Hiya.” There was a smile in Dad’s voice as he hugged me, brushing a hand through my hair. “What’s this for? You’re not trying to butter me up because you went after another drug dealer, are you?”
If only it was that simple. Part of me wanted to laugh, while another part wanted to cry. Instead, I just shook my head while hugging him even tighter. My voice was weak. “I love you, Dad. I miss you.”
Kissing the top of my head, Dad squeezed me a little tighter. “Hey, I miss you too, Snuggles. Are you sure everything’s all right up there at your school? If you’re having any kind of problems, you know you can tell me.” There was obvious concern in his voice. “If you need to come back here, it’s okay.”
I shook my head at that, trying to reassure him. “I’m okay, Dad. I just… I guess I’m a little homesick. But I’ll be all right. This school, it’s… it’s really teaching me a lot.” Yeah, it sounded lame even to me, but it was all I could think of to say. And, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly inaccurate. I was learning a lot.
My father seemed to accept that, and he ran a hand down my back. “Well, we’ll just have to spend a lot of time together before you head out to your other friend’s for second Thanksgiving, won’t we?”
Raising an eyebrow at his voice, I sat up to smile at him. “You’re a little bit jealous, aren’t you?”
“Of you getting two Thanksgivings?” he retorted, poking me in the stomach, “I’m a lot bit jealous.”
Giggling a little in spite of myself, I nudged him. “I’ll see if I can bring you back any leftovers.”
The two of us sat there in the kitchen for a few minutes, talking about pretty mindless and unimportant stuff. Part of me was trying to figure out how I could bring up the case he was working on and try to find a way of talking him out of it. But there was no easy way to do that without making it obvious that I knew more than I should. After all, I’d never really objected to my father looking into dangerous things to report on before. Hell, he’d always been the one to try to tell me that I needed to be more careful. So in the end, I was just going to have to trust that Asenath and Twister wouldn’t let anything happen to him. As hard as it was, the best thing I could do was leave it up to the two of them to lead his investigation elsewhere, away from the psychotic, mass-murdering necromancer who wouldn’t hesitate to destroy him. Hell, not only would Fossor not hesitate, I was pretty sure he’d be amused by the idea.
But I shut that out of my mind as much as I could. Dwelling on that kind of scenario was a really good way to ruin Thanksgiving, and that was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. Especially now.
Instead, we spent the morning together, eventually joined by Shiori once Asenath was asleep. For awhile, we played Scrabble. Shiori beat both of us, which was pretty impressive considering Dad’s been writing for longer than either of us had been alive, going all the way back to his school days.
Eventually, it was time to drive to Jackson so we could pick up Columbus. Dad ended up driving, while Shiori and I sat in the back seat and chatted. I was telling her about the school paper and how nobody but me had seemed to care that much about it. In the midst of that, I glanced up to the front as a thought struck me. “Hey, Dad, do you know if they’ve actually got anyone working the paper this year?”
“Nope,” he replied. “Usually they’ll send someone down to the real paper—excuse me, the city paper a couple times through the semester. But that was you the last couple years, and I haven’t seen anyone so far.” Turning his head a bit to wink over his shoulder at me, he added teasingly, “They probably couldn’t find anyone to replace you on such short notice. Or maybe they retired the very concept of a school paper as soon as you left. You know, since they know how completely irreplaceable you are.”
Rolling my eyes, I scoffed at him. “More like no one really cared about it. I mean, it’s not like we were exactly selling out of copies.” Sighing a little, I sat back. “I dunno, I guess I kind of hoped that someone else really did care enough to do something with it. But nobody reads the regular paper anymore, let alone some dinky school version.” In spite of my words, I smiled. “But I liked it. And I guess I kind of miss it a little bit. Or a lot. I miss sharing the truth with people.” I wasn’t really thinking as I said it, half-talking to myself as I looked out the car window at the passing scenery.
“Of course you miss it. You put a lot of work into it,” Dad replied. “Maybe you should start something like that up there at your new place. If they don’t have a paper already. Which I’m assuming they don’t, or you’d already be all over it.” Shrugging easily, he added, “But even if they don’t, most teachers won’t mind if you decide to start one. Make it a newsletter. And if they don’t want to waste the paper, send it out over e-mail.”
My father was quiet for a few seconds then, just driving along in silence. I thought he was done on the subject entirely, but eventually he spoke up again. “It doesn’t matter what format the truth comes in. If you have to send it to people in a newspaper, over the television, through e-mail, skywriting, or damn smoke signals. What matters is what you’re saying, what you’re sharing. What matters is the truth.”
Again, he glanced over at me. “You don’t need a fancy newspaper office to make sure people know the truth, Flickster. You never did.”
His words were hitting a little close to home, and all I could do was nod a little weakly while sitting back. The truth. How long had I been obsessed with sharing that? Pretty much my whole life. It was funny how far from that I’d come in such a short time. The sheer amount and weight of the secrets that I was keeping was utterly overwhelming whenever I let myself actually think about it that way.
Finally, we reached the airport in Jackson. It took about half an hour to meet up with Columbus, and when we did, Shiori ran to meet him with a quick hug.
“They’re adopted,” I explained to my dad as the two of us stood out of the way.
Shrugging at that, Dad just said, “Seem like any brother and sister to me.” Glancing my way, he added, “I’m glad you’re making friends up there. You…” he hesitated then, laying his arm around my shoulders. “It seems like you’re doing better. Maybe getting away from this place was good for you.”
My eyes closed, and it was all I could do not to say it. Dad, Mom didn’t stop loving you. Mom never stopped loving you. She left to save my life, to save both of us, probably. She’s been suffering all this time because she loves us so much. She’s the bravest person in the world.
But I couldn’t. Because he wouldn’t remember. And telling my father the truth only to have him forget felt like it would be even worse than him not knowing at all. Not that the knowledge of that made things any better. I still felt like crying.
Instead, I sucked it up and straightened, looking to him. “Ready for Thanksgiving, Dad?”
“Sure, kid,” he replied while ruffling my hair once more.
Columbus and Shiori joined us, the former taking the time to introduce himself to my father before we set out again. And as we walked through the airport, I found myself lost in one little thought.
Next Thanksgiving, Mom won’t have to be by herself. Either we’ll have saved her and brought her out of that hellhole…
Or I’ll be right there with her.