The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on Shiori and Asenath during Thanksgiving break.
“I should’ve gone with her, I should’ve gone with her, I should’ve gone with her.” As she walked down the sidewalk with her hands shaped into tight fists at her side, Shiori knew she was repeating herself, but the words kept coming. And no matter how many times she said them, it didn’t feel like enough. Her heart was racing and it felt like she couldn’t breathe. She felt cold, but she was also sweating. A dull ache had settled in her heart and her stomach kept flipping over.
Columbus, walking along the sidewalk to her left, shook his head. “Easy, Shy. Deveron said she’s fine. I mean–” His face turned into an awkward sort-of apologetic expression. “As fine as she could be.”
Pivoting on her heel to walk backward, Shiori fastened her stare onto the boy. “I know what he said,” she blurted. “He said that Seller guy took Flick, Koren, and Wyatt to Eden’s Garden with Koren’s mom because she… because she’d… die without help. Because it was a trap, a trap f-for… for–”
“A trap for Koren,” a level voice finished for her. Asenath, the one who had insisted on taking both Shiori and Columbus out of the house to go for a walk in order to stop them from acting distraught and worried in front of Flick’s father, was walking along the side of the road. Her gaze was focused off in the distance as she continued. “Not for Flick. From the sound of things, Flick, Wyatt, and Deveron showing up is what saved Koren and her mother.”
“I know it’s a good thing that they were there,” Shiori insisted, feeling awkward and confused even as the words left her mouth. “I know! But I should’ve been there. I should’ve helped! I should’ve tried to…” She trailed off, unsure of what she was even trying to say. The thoughts were all jumbled up in her head, as they had been ever since the news of just how bad Flick’s attempt at a Thanksgiving with her long-lost sister and niece had gone.
“You couldn’t have done anyth–” Columbus started, but Senny held a hand up to stop him before he could finish the sentence.
“Shiori,” she started in her soft, measured voice. “Do you want to know how I know that Flick is going to be okay now?”
Trying to swallow back the lump in her throat, Shiori met her vampiric half-sister’s gaze. “How?”
“Because she’s with Seller. And not only is he one of the strongest Heretics I know, who happens to be her own ancestor…” Asenath trailed off briefly, giving her a smile that showed her fangs. “But he also wouldn’t dare let anything happen to her, because he knows it would piss me off. And after Texas, well, he knows that’s a bad idea.”
“What happened with you two in Texas?” Columbus demanded.
In response, Senny just raised a single shoulder in a shrug. “Let’s just say it started with a guy who thought mixing jackrabbits and rattlesnakes was a good idea.” She paused then, musing, “I still think a couple of those Rattlejacks got away…”
“Okay, one, that absolutely didn’t answer the question.” Columbus held up a finger, followed by another. “And two, I am never, ever, ever going anywhere near Texas. Actually, where are we?”
“Wyoming,” Shiori reminded him.
“That’s probably still too close.”
Despite her worry, Shiori managed a slight smile at that, and told herself that Flick was going to be okay. She still felt awful, worried for Koren’s mother and… and sad about what had obviously happened to her father. But the panic and terror about Flick being hurt or worse was starting to settle down. Asenath was right, Seller wouldn’t let anything happen to his descendant. Not only would Senny kill him, but so would the headmistress.
Being distracted was working. So, as they continued down the dark street in the middle of the small town that was where Flick had grown up, Shiori glanced back toward the other girl. “What’s it like?” she asked quietly.
“Being a vampire, or being this old?” Senny asked, eyes flicking over to meet her gaze.
Shiori bit her lip before clarifying. “Being alive for so long. What’s that like?”
“It’s…” Asenath paused, standing there on the pavement without moving for a few seconds as she collected her thoughts. “It’s wonderful, and sad, and amazing, and…. impossible to describe. Shiori, I have seen so many things, watched so much happen over the past couple hundred years. When the War of 1812 started, I was your age. When Spain ceded Florida and Desoto to the United States, I was twenty-four. When President Monroe declared that the American continent was off limits to European colonization, I was twenty-eight. When Texas declared their independence, I was thirty-one.”
She stopped then, quietly staring off into the distance before turning her attention back to the other two. “That was in 1836. Think about that for a moment. Those are the things that I witnessed within a normal human lifetime. Not even a long one. Age-wise, I was an ordinary adult. Going from 1836 to today, to 2017 is just… I want you to be able to see the things that I’ve seen. I want you to be able to… to travel, to learn, to… to experience the world. I want to take you to Europe. I want to take you to Africa. I want you to see everything that this world has, everything that this world is.”
Once she had found her voice, Shiori stepped off the sidewalk and hesitantly took the other girl’s hand. “Senny, you’re… you’re not upset that I’m not leaving Crossroads, are you?”
The question seemed to make Asenath smile faintly. “No, Shiori,” she answered softly. “I’m not upset. There’ll be plenty of time to show you everything that I want to. Maybe I’m nervous for you, being there when I can’t be. But I’m not upset.” She returned the squeeze against Shiori’s hand and lifted it up while looking at her. “Besides, I wouldn’t dare take you away from Flick.”
As Shiori felt her face go red, Columbus snapped his attention back and forth between the two of them. “I’m sorry, the what from the who now?”
“Oh come on,” Shiori rolled her eyes at him. “We both know I’m not that subtle.”
Asenath stepped up onto the sidewalk then, still holding her hand. Her voice was gentle. “It’s pretty strong, huh?” When Shiori hesitantly nodded, she asked, “Have you talked to her about how you feel?”
Shiori’s head couldn’t shake fast enough. “No, no, no. Not now. Not—no.”
Before Senny could say anything, it was Columbus who spoke up. “Shy, Flick isn’t Gabby.”
The name itself cut deep into Shiori, and she cringed even as Senny asked, “Who’s Gabby?”
Rather than answer right away, Columbus looked questioningly toward Shiori. Feeling that familiar pain, Shiori reluctantly nodded for him to go ahead. Then she lowered her eyes to stare at the sidewalk while he started.
“Gabby was Shiori’s best friend for a few years when we were little. They were basically inseparable all the way through junior high and our first year of high school. Then um—Shy, are you sure it’s okay?”
She made herself nod, despite the ache that his words were bringing back. “Yes,” she answered hollowly. “It’s okay.”
So Columbus continued. “Shiori figured out in our sophomore year, about a year ago, that she liked girls. Gabby in particular. She tried to keep it secret for awhile, but then they um, they went on this trip for Gabby’s birthday. It was a whole two-day thing, shopping, movie, games, everything. And they didn’t just have a sleepover, they stayed in a motel. It was Gabby’s parents in one room, Shiori and Gabby in the one next door. They were supposed to go to Six Flags in the morning.
“It was late, they were watching this movie. It was um–”
“Good Will Hunting,” Shiori supplied without looking up. She had released Asenath’s hand and folded her arms against her stomach.
Columbus nodded. “Right, that. They were watching that and it was at the point where Ben Affleck’s character tells Matt Damon’s character that he wants him to leave town and make something of himself, that… even though they’re best friends, he wants him to leave because he knows he’s better than that. So Shiori looks at Gabby and said–”
“I said I must be a bad friend,” Shiori interrupted, voice sounding hoarse to herself. “Because I could never ask her to leave. I said I was selfish because I wanted to stay with her forever and ever. And she said that was okay, because she wanted to be forever and ever too. And I–” Her throat closed up again, and she gestured for Columbus to go on.
“She kissed her,” he finally continued, the words sending a stab of painful memory through Shiori. “She kissed Gabby.”
Asenath’s voice was quiet. “I guess it didn’t go that well?”
“She freaked out,” Columbus confirmed. “Stormed out of the room, slept with her parents. The next day, Gabby wouldn’t even look at her. Gabby’s dad drove Shiori home and talked to our foster parents. He told the Porters that Shiori molested Gabby. There was… more, but they didn’t really tell us all of it. Or even most of it. Gabby’s family were religious and it… um, it was bad. They took Gabby out of that school, transferred her. Shiori tried to talk to her a couple times, but it never went well. She called her–”
“Don’t,” Shiori finally interrupted, head shaking. “Just don’t. Please.”
Relenting immediately, Columbus stepped over to her. “Flick isn’t Gabby, Shy. It’s not going to–”
“I can’t.” Her head shook. “I just—please. Don’t bring it up. I can’t do it. Not now. Gabby was my—she was everything, and she—I can’t.”
Columbus was hugging her, and then Asenath was doing the same. When it stopped, Senny laid a hand on her shoulder. “You’re a beautiful, funny, brilliant girl, Shiori. Just give it time.”
Swallowing once more, Shiori made herself change the subject. “What about Mom? What’s… what’s she like?”
Asenath smiled at the question. “Mom is… how do I describe her? She’s quiet and dignified… and she tells the raunchiest jokes you’ll ever hear. She’s this small Chinese woman that doesn’t shout, doesn’t make a big scene, but she can drink a troll under the table. Seeing her fight, it’s… she uses these two guns, these pistols and it’s… you know the movie Equilibrium? The whole gun-kata thing? Picture that, but coming from this seemingly meek, polite, soft-spoken little Chinese woman. She doesn’t talk while she fights, she doesn’t mock them, she just… she’s a quiet force of nature.”
The description of Jiao made Shiori smile while simultaneously feeling the pain of not knowing the woman. “I… I really want to meet her.”
“I’m sure she wants to meet you,” Asenath assured her. “As soon as we can, as soon as I get a hold of her, I promise. We’ll make it happen.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Columbus put in after a few long seconds of silence had passed. When the vampire nodded to him, he went on. “Flick said you started this whole thing because you were hunting for Ammon, because he killed that girl.”
“Denise,” Asenath supplied. “The girl he killed at the gas station.”
The boy nodded. “Right, yeah. I—whatever happened with that? I mean, you’ve been here for awhile.”
Senny was quiet for a moment before she answered. “I called her mother and told her that the person who killed her daughter was dead and that she needed to stop paying me because the job was done.”
Shiori blinked at that. “You… lied to her?”
“I gave her closure,” Senny corrected gently. “Ammon will pay for what he did. But the fact that it has to wait this long, the fact that he’s a little kid and that what he is now probably isn’t his fault, the fact that… any of these details won’t help her. She can’t even know them because she’s a Bystander.
“If I made her wait, she’d never be able to move on. She’d never be able to focus on remembering her daughter, because she’d spend every single day waiting by the phone, obsessed with the person who killed her. And Ammon doesn’t deserve her attention. Her daughter does. She should be focusing on remembering Denise, on honoring her daughter.
“This way, she can move on. She can put her love and attention where it belongs. And eventually, I will honor my promise. I will get justice for Denise. But until that happens, her mother deserves peace. So I gave it to her.”
Shiori was quiet after Senny finished with that. She hesitated, then slowly reached out and took her sister’s hand, squeezing it. “Can… you tell us about your dad for awhile?”
Asenath’s eyes found hers, and then she smiled faintly. “Sure,” she answered in a quiet voice. “Let’s keep walking, and I’ll tell you everything I know about Tiras, of the Akharu.”
So they did.