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
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
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
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
“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
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.