I was back at the university library, and this time I was certain a bastard in a bow tie wasn't following me.
Anthony wouldn't be released for another few hours and Tammy was with Mary Lou. Feeling an odd sense that I was either stepping into a trap, or into something extraordinary, I moved through the busy ground floor, and on an impulse I stopped at the main desk.
"Who works in the Occult Reading Room?" I asked the flirty young clerk.
"In the Occult Reading Room? No one. It's a self-service reading room. But I could help you if you – "
"Thank you," I said, and turned away. I headed over to the bank of elevators. In a daze, admittedly.
At the third floor, which was as empty as the first time I had been here, with my curiosity and wariness growing exponentially, I made my way down an empty aisle, stepping lightly over the dull acrylic flooring. With each step, my shoulder ached. My throat was still raw and red and for now I kept a scarf around it. The air conditioner hummed from seemingly everywhere.
At the end of the aisle I came to the far wall. Ahead of me was the opening to the Occult Reading Room. Would the same young man be there? The young man with the bright eyes and the slightly pointed beard, a young man I hadn't thought much about the first time I had seen him, but who was now very much the object of my attention.
Prepared for just about anything, I moved forward, all too aware that the medallion on my chest was growing warmer and warmer.
The same young man was there, and he was once again sitting behind what I had assumed was an employee desk, but was, in fact, just an oversized reading desk.
I sat cautiously opposite him, noting that my own inner alarm system was as quiet as could be. In fact, I even felt oddly at peace, perhaps for the first time in a long, long time.
"You don't really work here," I said, as I sat my purse on the floor next to me.
"Not officially," he said, dipping his head slightly, apologetically.
He couldn't have been more than twenty-five, perhaps even as young as twenty. He looked like a student, surely. Other than the bright twinkle in his eye and his pointy beard, he looked unremarkable.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Archibald Maximus, of course," he said. "You can just call me Max, though."
I stared at him a long time. His aura was violet. A beautiful violet unlike anything I had ever seen. "How old are you, Max?"
He gave me a half smile. "Does it matter?"
"I guess not," I said. I liked the way Max looked at me. He didn't stare rudely. In fact, he seemed to find great pleasure in looking at me, as if he were soaking me up, remembering my every detail. Normally, I don't like to draw attention to myself and I like to be ignored. But sometimes I make exceptions. "You're not a student here, are you?"
He smiled warmly. "No."
"And you're not twenty-something, either?"
"Let's just say no."
We looked at each other some more. I noticed now how perfectly groomed his beard was. I also noticed that his blue eyes were not really blue…holy hell, were they violet?
"I…I don't have your book," I said.
"I don't know what happened to it."
"Do I still owe a fine?"
His lips broke into a wide smile, his cheeks rising high enough that the fine point of his beard wasn't so fine.
"I don't think the library would appreciate me taking fines for books that don't officially exist."
"I don't understand."
"It's okay if you don't understand. There's lots I don't understand, too. That's half the fun: finding answers." He leaned forward a little and his gaze locked onto the area just beneath my throat, an area that was now throbbing with real warmth.
"Ah, I see you're wearing the medallion. Or, more accurately, it's wearing you."
Which should have been a highly unlikely statement, since the medallion was currently concealed beneath my shirt.
"I…was protecting it. I had no idea it would…"
"Attach itself to you?"
"Would you like for me to remove it?"
"Yes. But I had heard – "
"The seal was permanent?"
"Normally, yes. But I'm fairly familiar with it. Would you mind?" he asked.
I shook my head and he got up from behind the desk and stepped around to me.
"Just try to relax," he said.
He put his hands on my shoulders, which sent a shiver of warm energy through me, charging me from the inside. Next he moved his fingers around my throat and slipped them down inside my shirt.
I gasped and felt a different kind of thrill.
His searching hands found the medallion, where he rested the flat of his palms over it. There was no pain, just a sense of…release.
A moment later he removed his hands, and held up the gleaming medallion. He grinned.
I was relieved beyond words. There was hope again. There was hope my son could live a normal life.
"Now, Sam, what would you like to do with this?"
But I was having difficulty speaking. I was so afraid to have hope, so afraid to believe. I tried speaking again: "I had heard that the medallion…" but I couldn't get the words out.
"You had heard that it could reverse vampirism?"
"Yes," I said, but I was terrified to hear his answer. Oh, sweet Jesus. What if he couldn't do it? Or what if he said no? What would I do then?
"Yes," he said, smiling. "The medallion can do this. Or, rather, the magic encoded within it can."
"And you…you can decode this?"
He nodded. "I can, Sam. And before you ask, yes, I will help your little one."
Relief flooded me. So much so that I couldn't stop shaking. He reached out and took my hand.
"You've had a rough few days, haven't you?"
I could only nod as the shaking, the relief, overcame me.
"You're never alone, Sam. Ever. As hard as life might seem, there's always hope. There's always a way, and there's always love. Always."
I waited before I was certain I could speak, then asked, "How did you know I was looking for you?"
"How do you know I wasn't looking for you?" he asked, eyes twinkling. He saw my confusion and smiled sweetly. "Very few call my name, Sam, but when they do, I listen."
I couldn't speak. I could only nod my thanks.
He said, "Now give me a few minutes. Feel free to peruse the books, but stay away from the ones that call out to you. They're trouble."
I told him I would be careful, and he slipped away into a side room and closed the door. A few minutes later, he returned holding a small glass container with a cork cap, filled with amber liquid.
"Have your son drink this tonight. He will sleep soundly for twenty-four hours, and will awaken with little memory of the past few days."
"And he will be…human?"
"As human as ever."
"And the medallion?" I asked.
He motioned to the amber liquid. "The medallion is no more."
I raised the glass container, mystified. "It's in here?"
He winked. "Distilled through, let's just say, highly-advanced alchemical means. And Samantha?"
"There's only enough for one."
"Somehow I knew that."
"Remember, Samantha, there's always an answer. Somewhere. You just have to look."
I hugged the young man as hard as I could, and thanked him. When I finally pulled away, I saw that my own tears had stained his white shirt.
"I'm always here, Samantha, if you ever need anything."
"Here in the Occult Reading Room?"
He grinned and winked. "There's a lot to read. Oh, I have one question: How did you come upon my name?"
I told him about the creepy old gnome who lived in Fullerton. As I spoke, Max pulled on his pointed beard.
"And he bargained for your son's life?" he asked.
"I'm horrible, I know. I was desperate."
"Not to fear, Sam. One cannot bargain with another's life. Ever."
I looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, your son is safe."
"And the creepy old gnome?"
"The creepy old gnome will never bother you again."
I hugged him for a second time. Somehow, even tighter.
It was a week later.
Summer was in full bloom and I was working a few cases. I had two cheating spouse cases and an undercover assignment working for a shipping company to find the reason for their occasional missing shipments. Two nights ago, I had gone on a date with Kingsley, to the musical premier of Annie in Los Angeles. He had kissed me goodnight and bowed slightly, and I was reminded all over again of his grace and charm and just how old he really was. Yes, we still had our issues, but to his credit he had dropped his loser client once and for all.
Fang was there, too. Always texting, IMing and emailing. During one of our exchanges, I told him that Kingsley and I were going to explore a relationship together, but I always wanted Fang as my friend.
He had paused for a few minutes before answering. When he did, he said that, of course, we would always be friends and that he was happy for me. To his credit, he appeared to be happy for me, but I could feel his hurt. We were, after all, still deeply connected.
Danny had visited the kids once, and although he seemed pleased that his son was alive and well and not a freak, as he liked to call me, I could see that his old suspicion was back. The fear was back. The hate was back.
Admittedly, I almost preferred Danny like this. I could handle his hate and suspicion. His flirting this past week had just been damn creepy.
Now it was a Saturday evening and I would work the night shift later. It was dinner time, and I called the kids in from the backyard where they were playing on a Slip N' Slide. Both were as red as tomatoes from their sun block having long since worn off, and never had I been more happy to see a sunburn on my son. Anthony was showing no ill effects from either the vampirism or the Kawasaki Disease, either.
My son was back, alive and healthy. Had I altered his soul's journey? Maybe. Had I played with his karma? No doubt.
But he was back. Oh, yes, he was back.
Dripping and arguing, they came running inside, snatching hot dogs and chips. A few minutes later, Mary Lou and her family arrived. My sister gave me a big hug and Anthony an even bigger hug.
We all settled in with hot dogs and chips – or water, in my case – and put in a movie. About halfway through the movie a strong and foul smell permeated my living room, and that's when the looks started.
"Mommy did it!" Anthony cried out, giggling.
"That's it," I said, grabbing him and throwing him over my legs, exposing his bony butt to the air. I was soon playing butt bongos off his little tush while he squealed with laughter. Soon Tammy joined in and so did my sister. There might have been some tickling thrown in for good measure.
It was later, at night, when I was putting Anthony to sleep when he looked up at me and said, "Thank you, Mommy."
"For what you did."
"What did I do?"
"You know, Mommy," he said, and reached up and hugged me tighter than he had ever hugged me before.
The EndREAD MORE >>