More back story tales from the Collegium universe. While this is a follow-up to “Last Call” I don’t think it’s really necessary to read to the former to follow “Trial”.
John leaned against the counter and eyed the pot of life-giving liquid. Just a minute or so more, he thought. A soft vibrating of the wards warned that someone had just pulled into the driveway. The fact that the wards were only vibrating said it was someone he knew and trusted. With a soft grunt he pushed off from the counter and reached into the cabinet for two mugs.
He had just finished filling the second mug when there was a soft tapping on the screen door. “Mr. Summerton?” It was a pretty day so he had the doors and most of the windows open.
“Come on in,” he poked his head around the door and called towards the front door.
The storm door squeaked on its hinges as he dumped several spoonfuls of sugar in the second mug and walked out to the living room. His favorite student was just setting her purse on the small table by the door. He knew he shouldn’t have favorites among his students, but where most of them only wanted to control their gift, wanting to ignore it, to live as normal a life as possible, she embraced her gifts with a passion.
He motioned with a mug laden hand towards the couch. “Have a seat.”
Robin nodded and folded herself onto the couch. Everything about her exuded weariness.
“I thought, perhaps we would forego practice today.” John sat the mug within easy reach of the young woman and lowered himself into the overstuffed arm chair. She nodded again and absently reached for the mug. “How are you doing?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure.” Robin took a sip of her coffee and sat back. “I feel like I’m being pulled in several directions at once. People say they want to help, but only seem to be getting in the way. And yet I can’t seem to really get anything done.”
“It doesn’t help if I tell you that that’s normal,” John raised an eyebrow.
Robin shook her head. “Intellectually, I know it, but emotionally …” she let the rest trail off. “You’ve met my family; we’re not exactly big on emotional displays.”
“What about Star? I saw her at the funeral, have you tried talking to her?”
“Ahm,” she glanced at him for a second then looked through the dining area, out the back door at the deck. “Star just came in for the funeral. She had to go back that night. I will talk to her later on.”
“I didn’t know there were any same day flights to and from Alaska.” He peered at her over the rim of his mug, covering a small smile. If he was right, Star hadn’t used conventional methods to get to the funeral. But, as far as he knew, Robin wasn’t aware that Star’s teacher was one of his friends; and they shared “war stories”.
Robin half shrugged and sipped at her coffee. “I guess she caught a jump-seat ride, or something.”
“Ah.” John studied his student for a few seconds. Her first instinct was to dodge the question, even though she knew that he knew all about the supernatural world. She defaulted to protecting her friend. That was worth noting. “So, since Star hasn’t been here, then you haven’t had a chance to talk to someone, to decompress so to speak.”
Robin set her mug down and sighed. “No, not really. We’ve been busy with arrangements, the funeral, finding Dad’s papers, and tripping over each other at the house. Ojiisan and Gram are staying in Dad’s room and Rhea has been sleeping on the couch. I love my family …”
“But they’re driving you nuts?”
“Yeah.” Robin took her glasses off and scrubbed at her face. “I guess that’s why I came over, even though I really didn’t feel like practicing. The house is full of people, but I feel alone – like it’s empty instead.”
“Understandable.” John set his mug down and cleared his throat. He was about to cross onto tenuous ground, given her emotional state, but it was better that be addressed now. “I am very sorry about your dad. Losing him, especially this way, caught everyone by surprise.”
Robin nodded and picked up a worn throw pillow, cuddling it like a stuffed animal. “Thanks,” she whispered.
“I’m sure he wasn’t expecting anything.”
Robin shrugged and shook her head, indicating a lack of information, and stared at her glasses on the table.
“Have you seen or heard him?”
She shook her head without looking up.
“Would you like me to look?” he asked quietly. “It’s not uncommon for someone to be so lost in grief that they don’t feel a loved one’s presence.”
“No,” she looked up, eyes glistening. “That won’t be necessary. He’s not here.”
“Yeah.” She cleared her throat and turned her attention back to the sliding glass door and a bird at the feeder. “I helped him cross.”
“Oh?” John picked his coffee up and studied her for a long moment. “I’m listening.”
Robin glanced at him for a second and then turned her attention back to the bird feeder, hugging the pillow tighter.
“You know he didn’t die at the scene, right?”
“No, all the reports I’ve seen only say that he was declared dead at the hospital.”
I was home that night, studying. Dad was on a drug raid, I think. He never really told me what was going on; I guess he didn’t want me to worry. I suddenly felt my perception go sideways, like I was on a roller-coaster. I wasn’t sure what was going on, except I was pretty sure the house wasn’t under attack. The world righted itself, but I started feeling cold, like it was still winter instead of mid spring. I’ll admit I was scared.
Once I’d learned how to establish a kind of link with family members I’d wasted little time establishing a link with Dad and Rhea. With both of them being active in police work I was always worried they might be hurt in the line of duty. It took a moment, but I did figure out what had happened. One of them had just been seriously injured, and I had the overwhelming impression that it was Dad.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when there was a loud knocking on my door. Part of me wanted to go upstairs, act like no one was home, or that I didn’t hear. But I went to the door anyway.
There was a young Deputy standing on the doorstep. “Miss Yokama, I’m Deputy Patterson with Loudoun Country. There’s been an incident, ma’am. I’m sorry to say that your father has been shot. They’ve taken him to the hospital in Leesburg. I’m here to take you there.”
I guess they didn’t want me to drive or something. I vaguely remember the lights being active, but I don’t remember the siren.
Rhea got there shortly after we did. Apparently she’d been on duty since she was in uniform, with her rig on.
The Sheriff greeted us right after we walked in.
“Ladies, I’m sorry. We don’t know exactly what happened yet. Your father was approaching the house when someone opened fire. We don’t know if the round penetrated the vest, or if it hit a gap. They have him in surgery now. Your dad’s a tough guy; I know he’s fighting this.”
We sat around, doing nothing, for a while, jumping every time someone looked like they were coming in. No one wanted to talk.
I knew before they came in. One moment I was fine, nervous as hell, but fine, the next it felt like half my brain had been cleaved away. I’d gotten up to get some coffee when the sensation hit and my knees almost buckled. Patterson started trying to get me to sit down. I know he was talking, but I couldn’t hear him. All I could hear was a roaring in my head accompanied by pain worse than any migraine I’ve ever had. I hadn’t expected the backlash to be so strong. If I had been warned, I’d forgotten.
Across the waiting room an elderly man shook his head and gave me a look of sympathy. The kid with the bloody face just looked around and went back to beating his head on the wall.
I think I was starting to cry when the doctor came in. I could just hear him over the roar.
“I’m sorry. We did everything we could, but the bullet fragmented and there was too much blood loss.”
The room broke down then. Deputies who had worked with Dad for years were being comforted by others. The Sheriff was offering what comfort he could to Rhea. Patterson let me lean against him till I suppressed the urge to scream.
The kid stopped beating his head and went quiet. Not that anyone else could hear him. I sat there, barely aware of anything, staring at those Earth Bounds for a while. It finally crept into my brain that Dad could become one. I remembered that unexpected death, especially one that is traumatic, could leave someone lost and confused. I couldn’t stand the thought that Dad, my Dad, would spend who knows how long wandering the halls of the hospital until someone could, or would, help him.
“Deputy, I need to leave, now.”
“If you want to step outside, Miss, I’ll be happy to stay with you.”
“No. I need to go. I do not like hospitals, I do not like crowds, and I do not like guns. I have people with guns standing around me in a hospital.” I was rambling. Breathing was starting to get a little difficult. “I need to get out of here, before I start freaking out.” I turned and started for the nearest door. “You can stay here, I’ll see if I can get a cab.”
“Miss Yokama, please.” Patterson jogged after me. “I can take you home, if you’re sure that’s what you want.”
I started to feel a little better after stepping outside the door. “Yes, please.” I climbed into the front seat of his cruiser and waited while he started the car. I stared out the window at the moving headlights on King Street as we drove. My world had just been shattered, but the rest of the world went on, unaffected. Part of me wanted to scream at them, how dare they go about their lives so casually, when mine was being torn asunder. Fortunately the drive was short.
Deputy Patterson pulled into the parking lot of the townhouse complex and let me out. He’d been quiet since we left the hospital, maybe he was afraid that I would totally melt down on him. I got the feeling that he would have stayed if I asked, but I didn’t, so he left with a quiet good-night and “I’m sorry.”
The lights and TV were still on of course. I hadn’t taken the time to do anything but grab my purse and jacket before bolting out the door. I turned off the TV and picked up my textbooks. What I wanted to do would take time to set up, and quiet so I could concentrate. I laid the books on the steps and started shifting some of the furniture around.
I was starting to move the couch when I felt a presence half a foot behind me. “Mama Bri,” I greeted her without turning around. Normally I would have spoken to her in Japanese, but my mind was half numb and I found myself unable to think in anything but English.
“Robin,” she paused for a second, as if searching for the right words. “I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” I answered automatically, without thought. Couch out of the way I turned around. At least she never changed.
“Is there anything I can do?”
My mind spun a bit. ‘Like go back and stop this from happening?’ I thought. “Um, I want to move the coffee table and I guess I should close the blinds, keep the neighbors from being too nosey, if any of them are even up.”
I’d learned years ago that Mama Bri could move objects, including furniture, around at will. After a hundred and some twenty odd years existing as a spirit, she was psychically stronger than most Earth Bound spirits. She walked over and closed the blinds. “Can I ask what you’re doing?”
“I’m going to make sure Dad doesn’t stay earth bound.” The coffee table joined the couch against the fall wall.
“You’re sure you’re ready for something like that?”
“I have to, he’s my dad.”
She made a sound that passed for a sigh. “Okay. How can I help?”
I paused and looked at her. Bri wasn’t thrilled that I’d learned to use magic, but maybe she was starting to coming around. “Keep me company?”
“You don’t need to ask for that, Granddaughter,” she said softly.
I nodded and went upstairs to get some supplies. It was possible to do what I had in mind in my room, in fact I probably would be more comfortable, but I had a feeling that Dad would prefer the living room.
I grabbed my kit from under my bed, quickly changed into something a little more comfortable and went back down. Mama Bri had shifted the arm chair to the same wall as the couch and coffee table, giving me a little more room to work. There wasn’t much we could do with the entertainment center or the desk.
I nodded my thanks and started marking the cardinal points before drawing the circle with silver/blue sand. It was harder to clean up, but I’d found that I preferred the sand to chalk.
Once I had the foundation for a shield set up, I sat down and got comfortable. As long as I stayed inside the circle, I would be safe from anything that came investigating the power. And the rest of the house, the neighborhood, was safe if the wrong thing appeared in the circle. Bri wisely stayed outside the circle.
I whispered the words to draw up the power and then started mentally calling. I called harder, louder, than I had ever called before. There was no making it up if I failed, no one to fix it for me. It had to be right the first time. After a few minutes, I felt another presence in the room. I took a couple of deep breaths, bracing myself, before opening my eyes.
“Robin?” Dad’s voice was oddly flat, lacking the usual timber. “What’s going on? Why am I home?” He looked around the room almost like he’d never seen our living room.
Dad stared past me at Mama Bri for a long moment. I’m not sure if he was more surprised that he could see her or by the fact that she was Caucasian. I think he always assumed she was Japanese. I can’t really blame him since I normally spoke to her in Japanese. “Bri?”
When I felt the first waves of a forth presence I relaxed a bit. Then I remembered what I had to do.
“Dad, I’m sorry. There is no easy way to put this. You were fatally shot earlier this night.”
“You mean …” his voice faded away.
“That you’re dead? Yes.” Damn it hurt to say that. “I’m sorry. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.”
“That’s ridiculous. Sure, I was hurting earlier, but I’m fine now.”
“Dad, I felt it okay.” I bit the inside of my lip to keep from losing it.
“But we’re here, talking.” I guess, in the heat of the moment, he forgot my Gift. That I’d been talking to dead people since I was three.
“Adrian, don’t argue with her,” a clear soprano voice came from the other side of the room. “She knows what she’s talking about.”
Something that almost sounded like a sharp intake of breath from behind told me that Bri hadn’t expected the latest arrival.
“Miyoki?” Dad turned stared in open mouth shock.
I waited several heartbeats before turning to face a mother I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. She looked pretty much like I remembered, better perhaps since I’d been all of three when she’d died.
“Mama Bri, still hanging around I see.” Mom looked behind me, smiling.
“Well, someone has to keep these kids out of mischief.”
“Will someone please tell me what in God’s name is going on?” Dad interrupted.
“Adrian, calm down. Swearing won’t help,” Mom told him.
“Dad, please, listen to me.” I stood up and moved to where I could see all of them. I put on the ‘face’ that I used with every other spirit I’d dealt with. “You were fatally shot tonight. You are dead; otherwise I would not have been able to call you.” He looked like he was going to start arguing again. I held up a hand to stop him. “I do not have the ability to restore life. I can only offer you peace. But you have to be willing to take it. It is not within my right to force you. Just know that if you choose to stay, it can, and probably will, turn into a hellish existence. Bri is the exception, not the rule. Staying won’t help me, it won’t help Rhea. “Can you see a light?” Dad glanced off towards his right then nodded slowly. “All you have to do is walk towards the light. I ‘called’ Mom here to help. Go with her.”
“Adri,” Mom stepped forward and held out her hand. “It’s okay. I know it’s a shock, but she is telling you the truth.”
The room fell silent as Dad looked between us. Finally in desperation he looked at Bri. She closed her eyes and nodded, once. That was all he needed. While he’d never been able to see Bri, he’d always known about her, that she took her role as family protector seriously and would not be inclined to lie.
He slowly stepped forward and took his wife’s hand, then pulled her into a fierce embrace. “God, Miyoki, I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Well, the Fates, and our daughter, had something else in mind,” she told him, a faint smile flickering across her face.
“Robin?” Adrian stepped back a half step.
“All you have to do is go with her, Dad. Take what is rightfully yours.” I could feel the tears starting to run down my face and I could hear the quiver in my voice; I took a couple of deep breaths to clam and center myself.
Mom started to step back then paused and looked back. “Robin…”
“Please,” I cut her off. I wanted to talk to her, ached to talk to her in fact, to know the truth about what had happened. I can still hear the echo of an explosion and cries of terror from eighteen years ago in my dreams at night. But not now. Not while these wounds were so fresh, still bleeding. A wave of fatigue passed over me as I shook my head.
Mom nodded, apparently understanding that more time was needed to heal those wounds, and the new ones. “Bri,” she looked towards our family Guardian. “Take care of them.”
“Always.” Bri promised.
They turned and walked towards the wall, slowly fading from sight. “Bye Dad. I love you both,” I whispered.
Once their presence had faded, and the gate to whatever realm they now called home was closed, I sat down on the floor. Without my attention, the shields flickered and slowly dropped. Eventually they faded and vanished.
I sat there for a while, lost, without thinking or feeling. It may have been an hour or just a couple of minutes before I noticed my legs were cramping and I had to stand up.
Mama Bri did what she could to help me clean up and move the furniture back. I was glad that she’d stuck around; even though I couldn’t touch her, her presence was comforting. Once we were done I dropped onto the couch and fell asleep.
I woke up a few hours later; an old afghan had been laid over me while I slept.
“The house felt barren and empty, and it really hasn’t changed since then.” Robin finished her story. “All the people in the world won’t change that. Dad’s gone. What made it home, his presence, is gone with him.”
John sat his long cold coffee down and studied her. She gave no indication that she was aware of what she had done. Calling someone back took more energy, more focus, than an Apprentice should have. To do a dual summoning was also not something Apprentices should be able to do. He was going to have to speak to Maurice about her. It was time.
“I’m sorry Robin. I wish you had called me.” He held up a hand to stop the argument he saw in her eyes. “I understand why you didn’t. But it may have been easier on you if you had called. I would have come, you have to know that.”
“I know. I guess I wasn’t thinking; not beyond that Dad needed help.” She lowered her head down to the pillow. “I don’t know what I am going to do without him, Mr. Summerton. He believed me when I told him I could see Mama Bri. He never questioned me when I told him where things were.” She choked back a sob. “When the migraines started, he didn’t think I was just trying to get out of class. He took me to several doctors until we found one who told me, us, what was wrong. When I wanted to get control of my gifts, he backed me a hundred percent.”
John moved over to the couch and sat next to her. Guiding her to lean against him, he stroked her hair. “Go ahead, let it out. The shield and wards here can hold up against wayward energies.”
She leaned into him and started crying, releasing the pent up pain and anger from the past week.
John felt the energies rise and swirl around him as she gave into the emotions. Some time later he felt the energies ebb as she calmed down.
“You know, the first time I remember meeting your dad, he showed up at school in full uniform.”
“That sounds like him,” she half laughed.
“You and I had just talked about getting your gift under control. I remember looking up and seeing a deputy standing in the door of my classroom. I thought he was there for some investigation or something, and then he introduced himself. I swear my heart dropped to my knees. I just knew he was going to find a reason to arrest me.”
“He could be kinda intimidating.” Robin managed a quiet chuckle.
“Instead he came in, sat down at one of the desks, and started asking questions: what was this training, was it going to help you get control, would I be teaching you how to use the gift responsibly. I’ve had the occasional parent ask about getting the gift under control, but it’s been more of a “make life as normal as possible” request. Adrian was the first time I’ve had a parent ask about responsible use.”
“Yeah, that’s Dad.” Robin slowly sat up. “When he found out I was having sex, he didn’t freak out. He just said that you couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle, made me get a check-up, birth control, and laid some firm ground rules.
“And, when I told him that I wanted a truck, a real truck, instead of a nice sedan, he just asked why. I said that if I wanted to be a private investigator in Virginia, it would be good to have a vehicle that could handle the back roads, and would look at home on those roads.”
John took his arm from the back of the couch and put a reasonable space between them while he gently guided her towards good, fun, memories and away from the still raw ones. There would be time enough to talk to Maurice and the other Masters about bringing her into the Collegium. Now, she needed to heal. “Remember that time he dressed up as a Zombie Deputy and picked you up from school?”