Chapter XXV: Family Matters
Chapter XXVI: Hopeful Words
Chapter XXVII: All the Night's a Stage


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The bitter end of the ritual left Megan and Patrick a bit shaken. The former tersely excused herself and left without looking back; the latter, much to Vex’s enjoyment, ended up going home with her. Since he had other things to do, Andre also bowed out and let the pair head back to the apartment where they shortly fell asleep in each others arms in her bed.

Patrick had a class in the morning—extremely early in the morning. This wasn’t a surprise; he’d already warned her about being a farm boy. The dark hours of the morning didn’t even faze him, so he’d gone ahead and scheduled a class for seven in the A.M. To Vex this was mental suicide, but he took to it like he was born for it. Though deep in the throes of heavy slumber at the time, she remembered that he’d kissed her forehead and cheek before whisking away into the dawn.

At least he was coming back again tonight. She tried not to dwell on the fact that she was getting extra quality time with her new boyfriend because his next door neighbor had been murdered in a particularly gruesome manner. Reflecting on that, there were obvious connections between Mary Beth and the last fanatical echoes of the murderer. Except that she was dead now—really dead. Only one of that group remained, yet inscrutable and unreachable: Darlene.

Whoever remained of that group would certainly have to be an extremely dangerous sorceress. More dangerous and wily than Mary Beth, and that girl certainly seemed to know what she was doing. This meant one thing: this time Vex was going on that hunt alone. The book she had plucked from Those Were the Days beckoned from the counter in the tiny kitchen and her mother’s warning echoed in her head.

Why her mother had taken so much interest in this matter, Vex couldn’t tell, but anything that brought such intense interest usually suggested the worst. Ever since a week earlier she’d been having subtle nightmares about fire and destruction, the sort that Alex had alluded to in their brief encounter on Mill that Saturday night.

The light on her answering machine was still blinking. Four messages now.

Beep! The first message was from Nathan, recorded the night before. “Hey Vex. I just wanted to see if you were going to be coming out to Coffee Plant tonight for the poetry slam. Call me.” Nope. Sorry, Nathan. Dead people couldn’t wait.

Beep! The second message was a wrong number. “Simon and Horne calling for Julia Gald—” Julia sure got a lot of bill collectors and lawyers. Vex began screening her calls shortly after moving in—that was almost two years ago. Still they called.

Beep! “Goddaughter mine,” said Madame Summer’s sultry accent from the tape, “I have spoken to the Three and the omens they spoke cut us to the quick… Terrible, terrible omens. Nicu and I are closing the shop for a little while. Come week’s end, we shall quit this place. You should also. I have more news for you. Come to the Wand.”

It wasn’t like her godmother to panic, but she sounded genuinely concerned about something. Vex drummed her fingers on the countertop and let the machine roll over to the last message.

Beep! The last message turned out to be her father.

“Vicks!” She winced. She hated it when he called her that and told him so every chance she got. Still, old habits died hard. “Darling,” he went on, “everyone from the shop is going to celebrate the upcoming merger on Thursday. We were thinking of trucking over to the Kickstand and knocking back some brews. You’re welcome, of course. Okay, okay, so it’s not your scene. I get it. Just hear me out. Andrea and Donny are coming out. And I’ll bet Salter would be grateful to have another youngster around. Think about it. Well, that’s all I got to say.”

Vex rolled her eyes. The more he tried to talk like he knew what was going on in her life the more cheesy he sounded—making up for years of being missing from her life post haste. Generally, it wasn’t so bad, except that the more she let him treat her like a teenager the more she felt like one. Oftentimes her internal gripes about even his reasonable requests felt like haughty peevishness in hindsight. She never had a real chance to rebel against his fatherly protectiveness and now they sparred in guarded pantomime; never quite fighting, and never quite revealing their innermost concerns.

With her father it was like a play. They each had their roles. Memorized their lines. Never quite looking at one another; never quite coming into contact. When the curtains raised everything fell into place—but her mother was still dead, and her father still a shadow compared to the myth of the man before he left.

Vex considered that bitterly: her mother an inaccessible ghost and her father, though living, kept her around out of strange obligation. A dysfunctional family of truly epic measure.

She could always work for a different cab company, she told herself. She certainly enjoyed having all the perks of being the owner’s daughter, and it did put her in the position of having him around if she ever decided to reconcile her flesh and blood father with the legend.

Profoundly disinterested, she decided the best thing to keep her mind working would be to get out and make some dough. She didn’t exactly have a regular shift today, but nothing stopped drivers from just hooking in and her dad wouldn’t be at the garage until tomorrow. A little driving. A little extra cash. And she might even be able to get the mechanic back at the garage alone long enough to talk about fixing her A/C.

With a grim spring in her step, Vex scooped her keys off the kitchen table—ignoring the book and its offer of adventure—burst through the door into daylight and let it slam behind her.


Hours later, with the sky edging into the evening, Vex finally pulled the cab into the lot at the central offices. Intent on seeing if Gary or Kent would look at her car, she clomped around the chill interior of the garages looking for a sign of life, but the only person visible was Andrea, through the upper window of the switchboard room. The static hiss of the radio that always played in the garage greeted her when she called out. Rarely, it would play music, but even then it was impossible to actually hear the song over the crackle. Maybe it was a mechanic thing.

The smell motor oil brought back memories of her first days in the garage. Fresh faced and uncertain about entering the taxi driving biz. Hacking, her father told her—making broad motions like a salesman—wasn’t for everyone, but she was his daughter and should take to it without a problem. When Kent and Gary first worked on her cab, she sat nearby, in this very garage, surrounded by the same smell, and watched every motion. She bought the taxi with her own money, earned hacking for her father. It was a good feeling, owning her own car, a type of independence that didn’t come with catastrophe.

She was about to give up and go talk with Andrea when she noticed Patrick’s jeep turn off of the main road and park next to the reception building.

Of course, before she was able to go find out why Patrick had come all the way to Phoenix to see her—at the garage no less—her father caught up with her first.

A tall man in stature, with heavy arms and heavier features, his head of graying red hair poked into view over an open chassis as he climbed out of a repair pit. The sight of him brought conflicting emotions. She watched, paralyzed by the memory, as he wiped his hands clean with a dirty rag. His muscled shoulders worked beneath a grimy shirt, his skin roughened by age and hard work. When his blue eyes finally turned in her direction, he smirked; the stubble around his mouth crinkled and pinched as his smile widened. As long as she’d known him, he’d sported a beard of two days growth; although she knew he shaved it often—she’d recalled him complaining about the electric razor when she was a child. Vex tried to school and blank her expression, but instead felt her mouth wilt in the heat of his grin.

She could have cursed aloud. He was like a bad penny, she reminded herself, whenever she let herself get caught up on him, suddenly there he was! Granted, this was his place of business. Perhaps, subconsciously, she came here to see him, if just to quench her irritation in the chill of the reality. But it never worked out that way.

He shook his head, tossing the rag incautiously away. He stopped a few feet away, as if a bubble around him prevented him from straying closer, and looked her up and down like he was seeing her for the first time. Unbidden, the thought crossed her mind that she’d forgotten to read her script. Her father forged on with the play anyway.

“You dress so fine, Darling,” he said in his rumbling baritone. “You would look so much more pretty if you picked something with more color. Your mother used to dress you in blue when we went to Sunday Mass.”

“Please don’t bring up mom, Da,” she said. Da, her word for dad. She used it like a weapon. It stopped him for a moment. She didn’t want to play by the script, but the lines came to her readily, anyway. “You know I don’t like it.”

“Ah, but I miss her.” He folded his arms. “I would— Alright, I won’t go on. Did you get the invitation I left on your machine?”



“I don’t know if I can make it.” Stalling. She wasn’t doing anything Thursday evening, she could certainly go.

“The boys at the Kickstand would sure like to see you,” he said. “They’ve told me some crazy stories about stuff you’ve been up to. I swear, I turn my back for a moment and you’re hanging out with my old buddies.” Vex thought she caught a hint of pride—his old biker buddies were hard men to impress, but it would only make sense that Vince Harrow’s daughter was hard enough to impress that rangy band.

She almost smiled.

“Why hello,” her dad said with a suddenness. “Can I help you, lad?”

Vex turned to look and caught a vision of black leather, scruffy brown hair, and blue eyes.

Patrick! She’d totally forgotten he was on the grounds… This wasn’t good: Patrick and her father in the same room. If past experience of her father meeting boyfriends was any indication, things could go south really quickly. She really did not need this today. Vex moved to get between them, but her father proved swifter.

“If you’ll forgive the intrusion, sir,” Patrick said. “I’m here to see the young lady.”

“Vince Harrow,” her dad said, his hand thrust out, “the young lady’s father.”

Eyes locked, they shook hands. “Patrick—”

Vex cut him off, “My boyfriend.”

Her father’s expression broke out once again into a gigantic knowing grin, like he’d surmised as much the moment he saw the boy standing, uncomfortably at the entrance to the garage. The one handed shake quickly became a two handed clasp.

“I hope he treats you well,” he said over his shoulder. A gesture more for show than actual concern.

“You should know,” Patrick said, “your daughter is not somebody to be trifled with.”

“Of course not!” her father bellowed and clasped him on the shoulder. “She’s a Harrow.” Then, sensing an opening, he pounced like a steel trap. “You know, I invited Vicks—”


“I mean, Vex,” he said, “to a gathering we’re having at a hole-in-the-wall dive that we know well on Thursday. If you think you can convince her to join her friends and family, it’ll earn you points in my book.”

“I will see what I can do.”

The older man nodded and yawned as he did so. “It’s getting on late,” he said, “and I have a lot more work to do. So I’ll lave you two to your own devices. Goodnight, dear heart.”

“Good night, Da.”

She watched him go in silence, willing herself to remain quiet until he was out of ear shot. She did not speak nor move until she saw the door to the stairwell that lead into the switching room close—which was thoroughly soundproofed. Once it clicked shut, she pivoted hard on one heel and stalked past Patrick, who fell in next to her.

“Ugh!” Vex fumed, trying valiantly to keep her irritation below the boiling point as she stomped towards Patrick’s jeep. She had him with her, which meant there was at least hope to salvage the night. “I feel like such a goddamn kid around him!”

“I rather liked him.”

“I haven’t had a boyfriend who hasn’t.”

He shrugged. “I guess I don’t get to be the odd man out.”

“And that’s the problem.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“Because he’s going to start using you to ingratiate himself with me.” The same old ploy. It stared early on when he’d first inserted himself back into her life. He wanted to be friends with her friends, as if that would give him insight—or ammunition. He really didn’t need any more than he already had by being her father. Knowing all this only added fuel to the fire of her anger at him for not growing up with her. But he was all she had without mom in the picture anymore, even if she couldn’t quite accept his new, father-as-friend-boss role in her life.

But that’s not what she wanted to dwell on.

“Patrick,” Vex said. She slowed her pace and took a deep breath. “First, I’m not angry with you, but… What possessed you to come to my work?”

“For that explanation, I require a prop.” He pulled open his jacket and produced an envelope from the breast pocket. With deft fingers he withdrew four tickets, each emblazoned with the title: The Crüxshadows Live.

Vex’s jaw dropped.

“I could kiss you!”

And she did.

She kissed him long and slow, letting it linger, and for a blissful moment she forgot the rage in her heart and let the stillness embrace her.

When it was over, Patrick exhaled unsteadily. “I should buy concert tickets for you more often.”

She mmmed softly and poked him in the chest. “I’ll say,” she said, “but those tickets are for tomorrow night. We still haven’t decided what to do tonight.”

“The night is young,” he said, “what is your desire?”

They separated and took up places on either side of his jeep. With the doors removed, she could see clear through to the other side where Patrick stood fishing out his keys.

“I have a desire for Waffle House,” Vex said as she slid into the passenger’s seat of the jeep. While Patrick clambered in, she tugged a black handkerchief from a hidden pocket in her dress.

“Do you know where one is?” He took one look at her expression and put a warding hand up. “Okay. Stupid question. So, what is the hanky for?”

“If I know Da, and I do, he still had grease on his hand when he squeezed your shoulder,” she said.

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