Awakening – Start Reading Now…
The world outside Kallie’s apartment was unreal—a hazy fairy tale sucking her into itself as she dashed from her building into the gray morning chill and descended rain-slicked concrete steps to the city street.
Not a happily-ever-after fairy tale.
Kallie hesitated on the sidewalk, turned, and eyed the massive door to her apartment building, then ran a hand through the dark waves of her hair, flattening quickly in the damp. Should she bolt back upstairs for an umbrella?
Overhung with scudding clouds and wrapped in an evil mist, the murky streets had all the feel of the Brothers Grimm about them—tales of stepsisters who cut off parts of their feet to fit the glass slipper and wicked queens forced to dance in fiery iron shoes until they dropped dead.
But she was late already for her Yearly Ritual. And the portal to the underground labyrinth of subway tunnels yawned only three blocks east. If she hustled, she could descend into their protection before the clouds fractured and soaked her through. Better to push forward and attempt repairs to her hair when she reached the museum.
She flipped the collar of her white trench coat upward and soldiered on. She clutched her soft-sided laptop case to her body, kept her head down, and wove through sluggish pedestrians, dodging wayward umbrellas and stepping over puddles. The wind was strangely warm for March, with a hint of salt impossible this far from the sea. The kind of peculiar wind that dampened the soul and whispered of longings unfulfilled, of desires just out of reach.
The three blocks stretched, and the metallic-rimmed eyes of a hundred windows seemed to watch her rush to the subway. The streets smelled of rotting leaves and garbage in corners and sausages cooked by street vendors braving the elements—a combination of ordinary odors trapped by weighted air and the city fermenting, composting around her.
Such black thoughts.
But it was always this way—on this day.
March twenty-first. Vernal equinox. Her birthday, as Judith called it. And if so, only her seventh birthday, with the rest lost in mist thicker than the New York air.
Her mouth tasted of three cups of bitter coffee and her nerves jittered to match. She’d needed overcaffeination to face the day, but it had been a mistake. Her stomach swirled in uneasy rhythm with the unpredictable sky. She reached the subway entrance at last, already swallowing people at this early hour, and sighed in relief.
She’d left her apartment late. The six-fifteen train would have come and gone. It meant standing on the platform, pressed into the restless crowd, staring like a single, many-eyed beast down the dark tunnel, waiting for the tremor underfoot to signal rescue.
She followed the red-painted stripe down the stairs, into the tunnel, and ran her gaze along the chipped and peeling red line as it disappeared into darkness—Ariadne’s thread leading into the labyrinth.
A middle-aged man in a floppy-brimmed wool hat slouched against the wall, some kind of stringed instrument in his hands. He played, but the discordant, jerky plucks on overtight strings sounded more like cat howls than music. Kallie stood apart from the crowd, closer to the wall, and fished a few dollars out of her bag. She stepped across to the open case beside him, dropped the money into a pool of coins and scattered bills, and gave him a quick smile. The musician ceased plucking and brought his gaze from the lyre-like instrument to Kallie’s face.
A sudden shiver ran through her, like the vibration the train would soon cause, but there was no train. She checked.
He was dressed in grays and whites, with clean-shaven, plaster-colored skin. Beside him lay a wooden cane, intricately carved with twisting snakes. He wore sandals over large bare feet. Sandals with oddly placed decorative pieces on either side, like tiny wings. She shuddered again.
Kallie knew her Homer well. Not only the Iliad and Odyssey, but the lesser-known works and hymns. Winged sandals, stringed instrument, the snake-twined caduceus staff.
Hermes. Messenger of the gods.
He watched her still, not unkindly. She took a step backward. The look in his eyes had more of pity than gratitude. The hollow silence of the tunnel pressed against her, and she steadied herself with a shaky hand against the grimy wall.
He opened his lips, held them open as though summoning speech from another world. When he spoke, the words were quiet, earnest. Had she expected the booming voice of a prophet?
“Shattered mirrors can be mended.”
Kallie swallowed, looked toward the empty tunnel, and stepped away. To anyone else, his words would have indicated mental imbalance.
Not to her.
The platform began its quivering and the commuters shifted, prepared for the battle of the daily commute. Kallie joined them, welcoming the train and the escape it provided from the sandaled stranger.
The inside of the car smelled of fumes and people and neglect. Kallie stood alone and apart, as though untouchable in her immaculate white coat. She forced herself not to think about the odd stranger, the Yearly Ritual even, and focused solely on tonight’s big bash.
The grand reopening of the museum’s Greek and Roman exhibits would be celebrated by a fund-raising gala—an invitation-only, black-tie soirée. As the department’s curator, Judith would give an impassioned plea for funding, with special emphasis placed on Kallie’s pet project, the Minoan Collective. She let her mind drift to the wonderful possibilities the funding could bring to life. She could truly focus her passions on the Collective, set aside the more mundane duties of assistant department curator, and spend her days digging through the fascinating past, uncovering secrets long buried.
The past. Like shattered mirrors. What did the man say? “Shattered mirrors can be mended.”
She tried to visualize mending a mirror while absently studying the subway map posted above the darkened windows. The red thread twisted and trailed under the city, a faithful guide through the maze, a sure path to her true home: the museum.
Yes, home. For it was the museum where seven years ago she was truly born.
The subway shrieked to an abrupt stop and the doors swooshed open, sucking commuters onto the next platform. Kallie held the strap of her case against her shoulder and stepped across the narrow gap between train and concrete, her toes just across the universal yellow line of danger. And stopped.
Around her, passengers jostled and flowed like river water around a jutting stone. Kallie could not move.
Across the platform, against another red-striped filthy wall, sat a musician with a strange instrument and winged sandals.
He met her eyes. Of course he did.
Did no one else find it strange to see him there again? They hurried up the steps, up into the world, as though the gods had not broken through to mortals.
She heard the doors slide closed behind her, felt the rumble of the train as it surged away, pulling air into the vacuum it created. A dizziness swept her, threatened to drag her backward into the void. Her mouth was plaster dust. Would this messenger give a different message?
Ariadne’s thread was unraveling.
Kallie teetered backward, a black fuzziness at the edge of her vision, hand gripping the strap at her shoulder as if it could anchor her to the floor. The tracks below were magnetic, pulling, pulling her downward.
It was the sort of damsel-in-distress moment that screamed for a hero to swoop in and save her.
Kallie yanked her unruly thoughts together and rescued herself.
She was headed home—and nothing would stop her, including hallucinations. Sidestepping Hermes without a glance, she bounded up the steps to the city block, hurried along the street, then stopped at the foot of the museum.
The clouds still hoarded their rain, thankfully. She stepped inside and sped past the wide stone stairs of the visitor’s entrance to a half-hidden door marked Employees Only. A swipe of her card and she was across the threshold, safe from imagination and paranoia, hair still wavy, white coat still immaculate. She exhaled, then shook her head to center her thoughts. Yes, it was only the Yearly Ritual. It did strange things to her mind.
She hurried through the empty corridor to the elevator, her mind skittering over the past, the subway, the gala tonight, and finally settling on the present moment as the elevator deposited her at the entrance to the third-floor Greek and Roman exhibits.
Compared to the squalor of city and subway, the pristine white glow of statuary with its clarified air and holy hush of empty halls felt more like temple than museum. Kallie’s shoulders relaxed, her breathing evened out, even the caffeine seemed to leach out of her system.
She drifted through Andreas Hall, absently pulling thin white gloves from her bag and slipping them over her chilled fingers. She ran a reverent hand over the foot of Zeus, the robe of Athena as she passed. The tracks of myth ran heavy through time, through all cultures of the past. If the divine could be known, surely it would make itself known here.
The statues and friezes called out their connection to something beyond mortality, but it was the marble relief at the end of the hall that drew her to itself. This time she did not resist its magnetic pull. Not today.
The relief was anchored to the wall, a solid piece of marble measuring thirty-one inches wide and nineteen inches high. Carved in the Hellenistic period, circa 320 BCE. Garlands of flowers, grapes, and pomegranates. Beneath the swags, Theseus slaying the Minotaur.
She stopped before it, lowered her laptop case to the floor, and traced its contours first with her eyes, then her gloved fingers. Searching, as she always did, for answers. The museum dropped away and she closed her eyes, sleepy and trancelike, and drank in the stone through her sense of touch alone, a blind woman desperate for truth.
Why here? Why then?
The gloves were not long enough to cover her wrists, and when she opened her eyes, her gaze strayed from the marble relief to the faint red markings that striated her skin. Markings of her past. Her unknown past.
Seven years ago, doctors suspected she had attempted suicide. Upon further study, it was decided they were rope burns. Angry, deep rope burns that suggested captivity and torture and unnamed horrors.
The burns had healed to pink scars. How could the unknown be healed? It was a shattered mirror.
Brisk footsteps advanced behind her. She needn’t turn. She knew the gait, expected the arrival.
“Happy birthday, Kallista.”
Judith never used her nickname. Always the full name, Kallista.
Kallie inhaled, dropped her hands from the relief, but did not turn.
The curator had a right to formality. It was Judith who had named her. Kallista, the ancient Greek name for the island of Santorini. Andreas, for the family whose charitable contributions over many generations had funded the holdings, the research, and the staffing of the museum’s Greek collections. Kallista Andreas was a product of the museum, through and through.
“Anything this year?” Judith’s New York accent carried eager curiosity.
At her question, Kallie’s thoughts fluttered over the heraldic weather, the subway hallucination, her jittery emotions. None of it connected or made sense. She shook her head and turned. “Nothing.”
Judith Bittner was a short woman, slight though exuding power, refusing to age past sixty. She wore her salt-and-pepper hair short and spiky around her face, dressed exclusively in black, and had eyes the color of steely blue sapphire. To the interns and newer staff, she was a force of nature to be feared and obeyed. The museum was her life.
For seven years Judith had been a strange mix of fairy godmother and wicked stepmother to Kallie, in turns gifting her with a name, an education, and a job—all the while goading her to work harder, work longer, for meager pay and even less affirmation. For Kallie, it was hard to say whether she hated Judith or loved her.
The older woman held out a package in her hand and stretched it across the space between them.
Kallie accepted the red-wrapped square with both hands, then removed her gloves before pulling off the wrapping. A leather journal, tooled with intricate swirls. She feathered the pages—blank, with thin blue lines.
Judith’s voice was oddly uncertain. “I thought, perhaps, you might want to begin a journal. Start a story.”
Kallie felt the outline of something else in the wrappings and removed a lovely wood-grained pen. Both items were clearly expensive. She raised moist eyes. The gift was unusually sentimental for Judith. “Thank you.” Her voice wavered with uncertainty at the idea. The journal and pen felt heavy in her hands, substantial. As if they held power to create a story for her, one that could not begin any further back than seven years, but perhaps was worth the telling all the same.
Judith shrugged one shoulder, all business again, and jutted her chin toward the marble relief. “Take as much time as you need.” Her clipped footsteps echoed away and she disappeared around the corner.
Kallie returned her attention to the relief, but the spell was broken. There was no use taking more time. Despite her faithfulness to the Yearly Ritual, this corner of the museum never yielded answers. She hoped—and feared—one day there would be a staggering revelation that would change her life forever. But it never happened. She was reading too much into weather, people, any variation in her life for clues.
She tossed the journal, pen, and wadded red paper into her bag, shoving everything mystical into the dark tangle of her soul, and strode purposefully toward her office. There was much to do before tonight’s event.
She crossed the entrance hall and slipped through a small door marked Private. She bypassed several small offices, each one cramped and overflowing with shelves of books, reams of paper, and lesser-valued museum pieces in transit, including Judith’s, and entered her own tiny space with a sense of reprieve. She closed the door and exhaled. The Yearly Ritual was over. She would not go near the marble piece again until the first day of spring next year.
Kallie pulled her laptop from its case, mulling over the final details of the brochure she’d been working on for the past week. She needed to get the file to the in-house printer in time for tonight. Maybe glossy paper for the tri-fold piece, to show off the high-resolution images of the collection’s latest Minoan acquisitions. It was the text that needed work, needed crafting into the perfect combination of fascinating fact and passionate plea to open the pocketbooks of the wealthy for the funding she desperately needed for the Minoan Collective.
Then perhaps she could let go of the past. The Collective was her future—a reason to exist. A repayment to Judith for all she’d done. Kallie could be part of a team, find a place to belong. And in the process, she would become the world’s foremost authority on Minoan culture, for the good of this research community and the museum, of course.
A photo of a terra-cotta tablet lay on her desk, and she squinted at the ancient, unknown script. Linear A, still a lost language, had been her passion since grad school. The mysterious language fed her obsessive desire to understand the past and flowed through her veins like a life-giving river. Tonight’s event could be the key to unlocking the symbols. Eagerness shot through her. She would transfer her passions so powerfully in the brochure that others would be ignited as well. She sat down and poured herself into communicating through words and pictures the very essence of her heart’s longing.
Two hours later, she e-mailed the brochure file to the printer, but heightened anxiety over its perfection drove her out of her office to speak personally with the print staff.
The museum had opened to the public while she’d been holed up in her windowless office, and now in Andreas Hall, the sun dissolved the morning mist and streamed through the huge, high windows flanking the room. It was a glorious sight, and she drank it in as she walked. She passed Judith, speaking to a group of school-age children. Judith could have delegated the duty to Kallie or another assistant, but the older woman seemed to thoroughly enjoy educating the school groups.
Her eyes immediately flicked to Kallie. She wrapped up her comments with a big smile, directed the group to the next hall, then hurried to catch up with her protégé.
“Kallista, a word.”
Could she run? “I was just going to the printer, to make sure—”
Judith waved away the explanation. “Yes, yes, your precious brochure. People aren’t moved by brochures, Kallista.”
Kallie locked eyes with her, raising her chin and frowning at the insult. “That’s why we have you, Judith. To close the deal.”
Judith’s blue-bright eyes bore into her. “Passion, Kallista. It’s passion that moves them, gets them opening their wallets and writing their checks.” Her eyebrows drew together, a dark V that made Kallie nervous. “And no one is more passionate about Linear A than you.”
Kallie shook her head, anticipating Judith’s next words. “My passion’s flowing through the entire brochure, Judith. As soon as they look at it, they will feel the excitement, understand the need. I’m the visionary. You’re the speech maker.”
Judith struck like a viper, her fingers biting into Kallie’s arm. “Do I need to remind you how important tonight—?”
“Exactly!” Kallie winced. “That’s why it needs to come from you. You have the credentials, the reputation, the respect.” She yanked her arm from Judith’s grasp and glared at her. “The funding is far too important to have an assistant make the plea.”
Judith sniffed and lifted her chin, meeting Kallie’s gaze. “Passion trumps position.”
Kallie crossed her arms. “Money trumps everything. They are thinking first about their money.”
“Dimitri Andreas will be here.”
If she thought her announcement would sway Kallie, she was mistaken. All the more reason for Judith to make the speech. The mysterious, newly appointed patriarch of the Andreas family—for whom the Greek collection’s hall had been named—had just returned from years in Europe. It would be his first visit to the museum that had benefitted immensely from his family’s generosity. Kallie narrowed her eyes. She was done with this conversation.
Judith glanced left and right, then spoke quietly. “Supposedly, he has information about the Key.”
Kallie’s breath sucked inward and she leaned forward. “What information?” The question came out as a whisper, conspiratorial and urgent.
Judith’s eyes glowed in victory as she shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him. Tonight. After you speak.”
The curator spun around, sauntered off, and rejoined the schoolchildren who were filing into the corridor outside Andreas Hall. Her arms flung upward as she extolled the virtues of a statue of Apollo.
Kallie sighed. She would deal with Judith later. Make sure she knew Kallie would not speak. She was better suited for behind-the-scenes research, not a public platform. The professional periodical article she was putting together had a better chance of gaining her funding than any speech she might make.
Right now, she needed to get to the printer before he could make a mistake with her brochure.
On the wall above the room’s exit, a strange shadow wavered, thrown there by the sunlit window panel behind her. She turned in time to see an enormous bird sail past, its wings nearly unmoving. A hawk?
Shaking off the obvious myth-born significance, she escaped Andreas Hall.
Hours later, eyes blurred from research, she lifted her head from her desk to find the clock reading four. Time to get home and get ready for the gala. But first to find Judith and remind her that Kallie’s role would be secondary tonight.
She gathered up her laptop, bag, and papers and was about to leave the office when her desk phone rang. She hesitated, deciding whether to let it ring to voice mail, then swung her bag against her hip and grabbed the receiver.
“Kallista Andreas.” Her professional voice automatically kicked in.
There was no sound but soft breathing on the other end. She half smiled. A prank call? To a museum?
But then a raspy hiss. “I know who you are.”
Kallie froze. It was most likely a woman’s voice. But who? The laptop bag slipped from her shoulder, hit the floor with a thunk.
The voice sizzled. “Stay away from what is not yours.”
A shiver ran up Kallie’s spine, gripped her neck with icy fingers, prickled the hair on her arms.
“Who is this?” The words choked in her throat.
Nothing but a click that severed the connection.
Kallie set the phone down slowly, replaying the cryptic words. It didn’t have the feel of a prank. But what else could it be? She was an assistant curator of a single department. An academic, buried in a tiny office, with a pathetically nonexistent social life. But there was no mistaking the meaning or the tone. She had been warned.
But it was not the cartoonish warning that burrowed like a stone into her chest.
“I know who you are.”
She tried to shake off the nonsense, retrieved her bag, and marched straight to Judith’s office. It was already locked for the night, and Kallie growled at the unyielding doorknob. The woman probably left early to avoid Kallie’s objections. There was nothing she could do now but go home and get ready for the evening.
Thankfully, Homeless Hermes was in none of the subway tunnels on the long trip across the city to her apartment, nor when she returned two hours later, refreshed and dressed up like a princess headed to the ball. She felt attractive yet still professional in a black satin sheath that fell to midcalf, complemented by agonizingly high-heeled strappy sandals. She’d tamed her hair into a chignon, but already a few wisps trailed her face and tickled her lip.
Judith would complain at Kallie’s crossing the city alone at night, but she wasn’t worried. It was only seven o’clock. She’d take a cab home when the gala ended.
When the train pulled up and the doors beeped apart, she hurried into the car, grabbed a pole, and took a deep breath of stale air.
And tried not to think of it as the most important night of her life.
Yeah. Right. She glanced around, trying to divert her thoughts. There was the dingy East Line map, the pretty young girl and her prince—headed into the city for Friday night fun, the old crone hunched into her faux-fur-lined hood, hoarding shopping bags at her feet. The couple and the woman lifted narrowed eyes to her as if she was annoying them. Oh. How long had she been tapping the inside of her rings against the metal pole?
Another deep breath. Chill, Kallie. She only needed to show up, let Judith introduce her to the big money, smile, and shake a few hands. She could do that easily. Charm the money out of a few gray-haired philanthropists, keep from falling off her spiked heels. It would be over quickly enough. Long before it grew unbearable. None of them need ever know she was only seven years old.
Twenty minutes later she reached Andreas Hall and gasped. Even though she and Judith had planned every particle of this event, seeing it was like stepping into another world. Museum staff had placed braziers along the sides of the long gallery, and their shimmering flames danced along the walls between the sculpted forms of gods and mortals. The hall had become a mysterious, alluring, ancient palace. A portal to the past.
She let it wash over her, soothing and still.
The murmur of wealthy conversation drifted from the gallery to her left, a low current of sound rippling gently across white travertine floors. At the far end of the hall, a shadow, too solid to be flame-induced, shifted.
Curiosity lured her farther, body slanted toward her toes to keep the stilettos from striking tile. Definitely a person. A man, judging from height. He stood with his back to her, facing the glass-enclosed display of Late Minoan artifacts. A soft metallic sound echoed.
Ten feet from him, she paused and a furious flare of heat surged to her fingertips. He was picking the lock on the glass case! She’d happened upon an art thief, bold enough to do his work with a hundred witnesses in the next room.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She rushed at him, the words spilling out with a righteous fury, in spite of a flicker of fear.
He spun to face her. Brazier light glinted from something in his hand.
But it was his eyes that caught her. They did not betray surprise, nor guilt. They spoke of pain. Deep, perhaps bottomless, pain.
But then his expression hardened and he straightened.
She glanced to the item in his hand. A paper clip. Not exactly the tool of a master thief.
And if he was a thief, he was cut from the Pierce-Brosnan-Thomas-Crown mold. Expensive tux, heavy gold ring on his finger. Her fear evaporated and indignation triumphed.
She pointed to the paper clip. “You’ll have to do better than that. It’s not some teenage girl’s diary.”
He slid the paper clip into his pocket and half smiled, the confident look of a man fully aware of his charm. “Yes, I’ve discovered as much. Perhaps you have a key?”
Of all the— Why did attractive men always think they could get whatever they wanted?
“And I’m not some teenage girl.” She glared at him. This was her museum, her home.
He graced her with a full smile then, though somewhere behind it was the pain, still the pain. His eyebrows lifted as he appraised her from chignon to sandals. “Clearly not.” His mouth quirked with humor.
She forced down the blush, grateful for the dim light. “What is it you’re looking for?”
He turned to the case, giving her an instant to breathe again, regain her equilibrium.
Taken aback, she almost laughed. Weren’t they all?
But she didn’t laugh. The display case, or perhaps its thief, subconsciously drew her to his side to study the three glass shelves of artifacts, lit by a single small bulb.
She glanced sideways at her companion.
He leaned his forehead against the glass, where it would leave a smudge.
She said nothing.
His voice was soft, reverent. “Do you know what it is?”
She followed his eyes to a carnelian-colored, amygdaloid seal. The orange stone was smaller than her fist, etched with a palm tree and Linear A script. Her voice softened. “A seal. It was used to stamp one’s personal imprint in wet clay.”
His nod was nearly imperceptible, his head still braced against the glass.
She studied his profile. He was shockingly good looking. Like a sculpture, fleshed out. Square chin and strong jawline. Just the right amount of fashionable stubble. Expensive cologne, spicy and sharp. She spoke to break her mesmerized gazing. “Why do you want to steal it?”
“I wasn’t stealing it. I only wanted to touch it. To hold it.”
She bit back a reply about oils on the fingers, about cotton gloves and proper handling techniques. She said nothing because…she understood. She turned back to the seal, suddenly connected to this stranger by mutual admiration of the artifact. “It was most likely used by someone on the island of Crete, about 1500 BCE, the Late Minoan IA period.”
He straightened, then used the cuff of his tux to wipe the glass. “Those are its facts.” He looked at her, his eyes intense, smoky. “But what is its story?”
A flutter of something—part fascination, part excitement—coursed through her blood and she met his eyes. “You feel it, too? The way every piece has a story.” Her voice grew zealous, urgent, heating up to match the flame in his eyes. “Something to be unlocked, discovered, celebrated.” She reached her own fingers yearningly toward the carnelian seal. “If we could decipher the script, an entire civilization would open up to us. A new world, with all its passion and glory, its deceit and greed, its lives and loves and contributions to humanity.” She licked dry lips, felt the breathlessness that always accompanied her obsession. “It’s all right there, waiting to be pried open, like a long-buried vault of secret treasures.”
He nodded, wide-eyed, and they stood in companionable silence. Kallie traced the contours of the seal with hungry eyes and felt he shared her intrigue.
Footsteps clicked behind them and they both turned, startled. Kallie smoothed down her dress and fumbled at her hair. Somehow the encounter had left her feeling disheveled, though everything seemed to be in place.
“Here, Judith.” She stepped forward into the light, distancing herself from the enigma at her side. “I was just about to come in. Do we have a good crowd?” She spoke quickly, too quickly—like someone covering guilt.
Judith glided toward their end of the hall until she was a few feet from Kallie, then looked over Kallie’s shoulder and stutter-stepped. Her eyelids flickered and her lips opened wordlessly at seeing the man.
It was only a sliver of a moment, and perhaps he didn’t even see it.
Kallie reached for Judith, grasped her arms. “What is it?”
But she had already recovered. Chin lifted and mask of serenity back in place, she gave the stranger a cool smile, once more the priestess of her temple.
He stepped from the shadows and extended a hand. “You are Judith Bittner, I take it?”
She dipped her head in acknowledgment and gave him her small, heavily jeweled hand. “And you are?”
Kallie’s lips parted shock, but thankfully no unprofessional expression escaped.
Judith’s face was stone as well, but Kallie knew her well enough to catch the flicker of surprise behind her eyes.
“Mr. Andreas, how lovely to meet you at last.” Judith brought her left hand to enclose their handshake, her voice as warm as her encircling grasp. It was her most effective and charming greeting. “And may I say how sorry I was to hear of the loss of your father. He was a great man, and such a devoted benefactor of the museum.”
“You are very kind. I assure you it is my intention to carry out his work and his philanthropy in the way he would have wished.”
From Judith’s flush one would think the man had just declared his undying love. Perhaps for Judith, they were one and the same.
“And I see you have already met our most promising researcher, Kallista Andreas.”
Dimitri glanced at her, his dark eyes sparking more with concern than any curiosity over their shared last name. Did he fear she would reveal the hidden paper clip?
“Yes, she was giving me a most informative and passionate lesson about the Late Minoan period.”
Judith beamed. “As I told you on the phone, she is the best and brightest our institution has to offer.”
So. Judith had already spoken of her to the man. From his lack of reaction, Judith must have also mentioned the strange coincidence of their shared last name.
Dimitri extended a hand toward the gallery, including them both in his gallant gesture. “Shall we join the party, ladies?”
Kallie followed Judith, intensely aware of the walking, talking Greek god at her back.
At the entrance of the gallery she paused, taking in the room full of old money, black tuxedos, and jewel-toned gowns. Again, the weight of her blank past, her lack of connection to anyone or anything, squeezed against her heart. She was a fraud in this room, and she had to make sure they would never discover that truth.
A gentle pressure against her low back surprised her. Dimitri’s hand, encouraging her to enter.
His head was just above hers and he spoke into her ear. “They are waiting to be inspired, just as you inspired me.”
Her limbs grew both cold and hot at once, a mingling of terror and joy, dread and anticipation “I’m only a researcher.” She said it more to herself than to him.
Then they were in the gallery, weaving among the wealthy, with Dimitri introducing both himself and Kallie to guests who nodded their greetings, their hands full of champagne flutes and napkins of hors d’oeuvres.
Dimitri disappeared as she spoke with a software company president and her husband, then returned with two glasses of champagne.
She accepted, grateful only for something to hold. No alcohol for her tonight.
At some point she found herself eating a cracker with a tiny shrimp curled over cream cheese, but the edges went down sharp and the shrimp was tasteless. So far, no questions about her family, her past. But how long could her luck hold?
Finally, the clink of metal on glass drew all eyes to the front of the gallery and settled a hush over the socializing.
Judith stepped onto a tiny platform, placed there especially to accommodate her tiny stature. They hadn’t wanted anyone to miss a word. She signaled Kallie with her eyes and a slight inclination of her head.
She wanted Kallie to stand beside her, a visual aid. No problem.
Kallie weaved through the crowd to the front of the room, only slightly dwarfed by Judith on her dais, and faced the crowd with a pasted smile and twisting stomach.
Dimitri had disappeared among the patrons.
Judith’s introductions and gracious welcome flowed through the room like perfumed music. She could be venomous with employees during the day, but with children and with donors by night she became the snake charmer. She mentioned the elder Andreas’s passing with the appropriate amount of respectful regret and hailed the younger Andreas with delightful warmth. She spoke of the importance of history, of knowledge, of research, with smooth persuasion that would make a politician envious.
“But we are here tonight not only to celebrate the renovations your generosity has made possible, but to look to the future, to what new funding and new research will bring us.” Her eyes were bright as she held the crowd in her palm. “And for the future, you do not want to hear an old woman speak.” She winked, and the crowd chuckled obligingly. “No, it is the passion of the next generation that will carry us forward. So I give you the future! I give you Kallista Andreas.”
With a grand flourish toward Kallie, she stepped off her platform, leading the room’s polite applause, and joined the crowd looking expectantly at Kallie.
A light-headedness swept her, not unlike the feeling this morning when she’d nearly fallen into the channel of subway tracks.
Don’t do this, Judith. Do not do this to me.
But it was done.
She lifted a leaden foot to the platform, then another, because it seemed strange to speak from her place on the floor when Judith had addressed them from above.
She faced them, all of them, looking to her. For inspiration, Dimitri had said.
Who was she to offer inspiration? She was a researcher, nothing more. She knew books and analysis and facts. She did not know people. Her breath was coming too quick. She was going to hyperventilate.
This panic, it was more than a lack of self-confidence. It was a phobic fear of standing before an important crowd who held expectations she could not fulfill.
Kallie swallowed, a tight, dry swallow. Where was that champagne? The gallery had grown so silent. That uncomfortable sort of silence when one hears the stray coins jingling in someone’s pocket at the back, the subdued throat clearing of a woman to the left. The clink of ice in glasses. Of a cork popping at the open bar.
Small and distant with black shadows at its periphery, the crowd seemed to telescope away from her. She was alone. Friendless.
And she did as she always did in moments of heightened stress—she flashed into her imaginary world.
A disfavored queen, I stand before my people with one last plea for fealty, while the executioner waits in the wings. One chance to convince them all I should lead, convince them they should trust me with their kingdom, with their lives. Knowing they will reject me, will find my claim to the throne spurious, and I will die alone.
She dragged her thoughts back to reality and forced air and sound into her throat. “I—I am glad you are all here.”
A terrible opening, but at least she had spoken.
“It’s an important night. As Judith said. An important night.”
She sounded like a first grader. Her mind screamed curses.
“The next project—the project that needs funding—is research into the Minoan period.” Her lips had gone numb, but they were moving. “We know a lot about the later Greek period, of course, but not enough about the people who lived in Greece before them. Before the classical period, I mean.” Were her lungs constricting? Could one suffocate while speaking? “So that’s what we want to do. Study the Minoans. And try to figure out their language. Because we haven’t yet.”
The room was tomb-silent now. Even the ice seemed to have melted down in the heat of her failure, and the corks and coins and coughs retreated with shame.
Big finish. She needed a big finish. This was her moment, her chance to step into all she was supposed to be.
She opened her mouth as her mind went blank and the world started spinning. Quickly, she stepped down and forced herself to breathe, her back to the crowd.
The silence stretched, and then there was one slow clapping, the kind of slow clap that follows a shocking and yet profound speech. She had shocked them, to be sure. But she’d been as profound as a child’s picture book.
Judith took the platform again without meeting her eyes. A bad sign.
Within seconds, Judith regained the crowd and had them laughing, the tension draining from the room.
Kallie didn’t wait for her to conclude. She escaped through the tiny door at the head of the gallery, back into Andreas Hall, back to the marble relief of Theseus and the Minotaur where she’d spent her morning and braced her back against the wall beside it, panting like she’d run across the city, her neck clammy with sweat.
She heard the footsteps at the end of the hall but did not raise her head, even when they grew close. Her teeth and jaw were locked in tension.
“What was that?” Dimitri’s voice was angry, demanding.
Kallie shook her head, still staring at her feet. “She shouldn’t have done it.” The words were bitten off, an attempt to stem the emotion. “She knew I had nothing to say.”
“Nothing to say?” He thrust a thumb toward the case that held the carnelian seal. “What about all that? The passion and the glory. The vault of secret treasures. Why didn’t you say any of that?”
She raised her eyes, straightened her spine. “Why do you care? What is it to you if those people open their wallets?” The fire was returning. Where had it been when she needed it?
He made a sound like a growl and spun away from her. “It’s not about them. It’s about you.”
Kallie inhaled, a sharp intake of breath that seemed to ignite her blood. “And who am I?”
He turned to her again, arms crossed over his wide chest. “That’s the question, isn’t it? Who is Kallista Andreas?”
She’d told him. Judith had told him of the vacuum.
“Judith insists you’re the future of Minoan research. I came here tonight to find out if this is true. To learn if my money would be well spent—”
“It would be!” Kallie surged toward him, grabbed at his sleeve, heedless of the inappropriateness of the gesture. “I promise you—”
He pulled away and jerked his head toward the gallery where Judith was still speaking. “After that stunt?”
“So I’m not a public speaker. Who cares? I belong behind the scenes—”
“Well, that’s not what I’m looking for, Kallista. I’m looking for a leader. Someone with passion and vision and strength.”
She backed off but continued begging. “Will you take two out of three?” She needed this. She needed him. Her life, her future depended on it.
He exhaled, a tiny breath of amusement that seemed to deflate his anger. “I don’t know if that’s enough.” His eyes found hers and studied her for a moment that felt like a month of knowing. When he spoke, his voice was sober and deep. “You have strength, Kallista. You only need to find it.”
Her heart expanded to swallow up the praise, but she couldn’t accept it. Not truly.
And then Judith was there, a firestorm of wrath, spitting rage in tiny, short bursts, the veins across her forehead like bas-relief. “Kallista! Shocking! Idiotic.”
Kallie faced her, burning with humiliation under the heat.
Dimitri disappeared into the shadows, like the gentleman she’d already discovered he was.
Judith raised a furiously waving hand and cut her short. “Do not even try to say you warned me. Your reticence is unacceptable.”
“Can’t I just—”
“Just what? Stay in that tiny office your whole life? You could be the curator of this museum one day, Kallista.”
Kallie fought back the sting of tears at the unexpected tribute.
“But not like this. Hiding behind research, never connecting with people. You must learn how to work the public, especially the rich ones. Learn how to be a passionate leader. Instead of this—this—untouchable, ivory-tower snob!”
Dark spots flamed behind Kallie’s eyes. How dare she? Never mind that Judith’s words echoed Dimitri’s.
Judith’s voice spewed venom and fire. “You’ve put your own project in jeopardy tonight. You know that, yes? And perhaps even the department’s funding!”
Kallista cringed, her whole body shaking, only the wall holding her upright.
At the entrance to the gallery, a quiet cough severed Judith’s diatribe. Henry, another of Judith’s assistants.
“What is it?” Her bark was subdued so only Kallie and Henry heard it, no doubt mindful of the guests in the next room. Another figure appeared beside Henry.
“Mr. Wilton was searching for you.”
Judith was all smiles and extended hands. She deserted Kallie at a brisk walk, her smooth stream of pleasantries carrying her to the gallery entrance. “Ah, Mr. Wilton, I am so glad you found me. I’ve been wanting to say hello to you and your charming wife all evening. It’s just not a proper gala without the two of you here…” The rest of her magic was lost to Kallie as they disappeared into the other room.
Kallie wasted no time. She’d glad-handed enough donors and done enough damage for one night. She stumbled toward the cloakroom, retrieved her wrap, and fled the museum through the main visitor’s entrance, seeking the city’s elusive shadows.
After closing the museum’s massive doors, she stopped to catch her breath. The sharp March air jabbed through her clothing like an icy knife, and she stopped before descending the grand stone steps that led down to the street. On either side of the wide platform, huge stone sphinxes guarded the entrance, like a warning to the unworthy. The vinyl banner above the doors, with three-foot letters proclaiming the grand reopening, snapped in the stiff wind.
Since no one had followed her out, Kallie’s stomach began to unknot. She strayed to the gargantuan sphinx and leaned her head against its roughened paw, absently watching the passing vehicles. The park across the street was a tangle of shapeless limbs and shadowy paths, unlit by the cloud-banked moon. The city smelled of fumes and rain. She swallowed against the salt of tears at the back of her throat.
She’d made a fool of herself and, by extension, embarrassed Judith and the department. Dimitri’s anger over the debacle was no doubt only the beginning. Though a significant one. His money was important, and he’d never give it to an idiot like her.
A strange sound, one she couldn’t immediately place, drew her attention skyward. A huge shadow passed across the lights atop the museum.
There it was again—the shadowy form and the flapping sound.
And then the dark thing was spiraling down, down, down to light upon the head of her sphinx-sentry. It peered at her with a glassy bead eye. A hawk. Like bookends to her day—the Hermes character in the subway tunnel and now this mythic symbol. Hawks were always messengers.
The bird shifted on its twiggy legs, raised and lowered its wings twice, and rotated its head, still looking at Kallie. For an insane moment, she was certain it would speak.
The day, with all its omens and disasters, pressed upon her, and she wished it would speak, give her some understanding of past and present, and even future.
But hawks did not speak, even on nights such as this, and when it flew off into the park, Kallie watched it till it vanished in the blackness. Forcing herself out of the trance, she dug around and pulled her cell phone from her clutch bag.
There were good reasons for keeping one’s shrink on speed dial.
The line-drawing maze lured her eyes, then her finger, to wander through its impossible channels in a futile search for its center. In the year of seeing Dr. Newsom, the solution had remained a mystery. If only she could take down the frame, remove the glass, sketch a path with a pencil…
“Kallie!” A door slammed.
She jumped, whirled, sucked in her breath.
“Still trying to solve the puzzle?”
Kallie stretched the tension from her neck, fighting gritty-eyed sleeplessness. Dr. Newsom had agreed to the emergency Saturday morning session, but the promise of relating yesterday’s disasters had not relieved her insomnia. In truth, she avoided sleep to avoid the dreams. “One of these days, I’ll get it.”
Her psychiatrist crossed the room to his desk, confident and casual. Newsom was in his mid-thirties, with no wedding band, no pictures of a wife and kids on his desk. But they never talked about him, so Kallie knew nothing about his personal life.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“I appreciate your seeing me at all today.” She resisted the pull of the unsolved maze.
He dropped to his desk chair, waved her to an overstuffed seat, and grinned. “When my service gave me your message, I could hardly ignore it. Something about going off the deep end?” He leaned back, bracing his hands behind his head. “We like to avoid those terms in my profession, Kallie.”
He was joking, trying to put her at ease as he always did. With his unflustered smile and slightly dimpled chin, he seemed anything but an academic. More like a big brother who liked to tease.
Kallie succumbed to the red and yellow cushioned depths of the “patient chair” with an attempt at a smile.
“Still having the daydreams?”
She snorted. “Daydreams, nightmares, hallucinations.”
The doctor leaned forward, elbows on his desk, eyes contracting. “Hallucinations?”
Kallie shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe. I don’t know. I guess that’s the problem with hallucinations, isn’t it?” She avoided his eyes and scanned the familiar office. Newsom had a knack for making patients feel comfortable, from the cheerful décor to the intriguing desk gadgets that seemed more like toys. Her favorite was a moving metal sculpture of two children on a seesaw, perfectly balanced in a perpetual up-and-down. The little girl’s head lifted and fell, her laughter almost audible.
“You’re afraid that what you are seeing may not be real?”
She relayed the incident with the homeless man in the subway tunnel, skipped briefly over last night’s public speaking disaster, and ended with the hawk that hadn’t spoken.
He steepled his index fingers and pressed them against his bottom lip. “Interesting…”
If he’d said it with an accent, it would have been a decent Freud impersonation.
She picked at loose threads on her seat cushion and let the silence lengthen. Outside the windows, behind Newsom’s desk, a garden courtyard languished in the cold, its fountain silent. All she heard was the hiss of the forced heat through floor vents.
“And the subway man’s reference to shattered mirrors—what did that mean to you?”
Unable to remain seated, she got up and paced the floor. “Nothing. I don’t know.”
“You know.” His voice was gentle, coaxing.
“The past, I suppose. When I look in the mirror, I see nothing. Like my past has been smashed into a million pieces and I can’t make sense of it.”
He had that probing-question thing down to a real science.
“I’ve tried! You know I’ve tried.”
Yes, years of trying. First with the aging Dr. Freinhauer, who had finally retired. Now Newsom, whose playful approach to therapy felt like a kid drawing fake mustaches on works of art.
“So we have Hermes and we have a hawk. Both messengers. Both emerging from Greek myth.”
“Emerging from my messed-up mind, you mean.”
“From your subconscious, Kallie. Which, of course, is steeped in Greek history and culture and images. Very natural.”
She paused in her pacing to watch him drag a little rake through a sand-filled Zen garden. “Doesn’t feel natural.”
“Can you sit?” He raised his eyebrows slightly.
“No.” That didn’t feel natural, either.
“All right.” He continued to contentedly rake his minigarden.
She huffed. “If you want me to sit, just say so. You don’t have to agree with everything I say!”
“You’re an adult, Kallie. You can make your own decisions.”
It was a familiar tune. For all his childlike banter, he was always reminding her she was not actually seven years old. Urging her to believe in herself, in her own strength.
She grabbed a handful of bright pastel chocolate mints from a bowl on his desk and plopped into the chair with a huff.
“Any new men in your life?”
She crunched the candy coating of a hot pink mint too hard and jarred her teeth. It was an unexpected question, and coming from an attractive man it felt invasive, accusing. Did he find her perpetually single status indicative of something deeper? “Why are you asking me that?”
He half smiled, as though holding a secret. “Just trying to see what has changed, what might have triggered this new phase we’re about to enter.”
The candy went sour in her mouth and she swallowed too soon, jagged edges scraping at her throat. “What new phase?” The words came out panicked.
Dr. Newsom inhaled slowly, leaned away, tilted his head to examine her. “It’s time, Kallie. Surely you see this?”
“I don’t need anything to change—”
“But of course you do.” He rolled a pen between two fingers, then tapped a rhythm against the edge of his desk. “It’s time to come to terms with your past. If you don’t make this choice intentionally, your subconscious will force you. I believe this is what happened yesterday. This is what the heralds are making known. It’s time to remember what happened to you, to bring it into the light.”
Kallie circled her left wrist with her fingers, rotated her arm to rub the phantom rope burns. “I—I have already—”
“You’ve resisted. But you can’t resist any longer, not if you want to be whole.”
The rest of the candy was melting in her hand, leaving traces of pink and blue and yellow. She dumped them on the edge of his desk.
“It’s not uncommon for people with PTSD to be challenged by their subconscious—”
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” She jumped up and resumed pacing. “I’ve told you, I’ve done the research. PTSD should only cause repression of the traumatic event, not wipe out my entire life.”
“Amnesia is not an exact—”
“Amnesia!” She waved a hand dismissively. “I’m not some TV movie-of-the-week, Doctor.”
He laughed, but sobered at her steely look. “We don’t need to argue over terminology. That’s simply avoidance. We need to face the truth. The repressed memories are part of your Self along with your Shadow, which you fear so much. You have to face both to be whole. Let the old identity, the old Self die and the new Self be reborn.”
Kallie inhaled and blew out her breath through tight lips. “Carl Jung and all that?”
“You have done your research. Yes, you’re prime material for Jungian analysis. These ancient motifs are charged with meaning and common to all human beings. You’re steeped in the archetypal myths already, and anything borne of your subconscious will naturally have deep spiritual significance.”
“You believe the divine can be known?”
He spread his palms. “There is something beyond the simply physical and mortal, of course. Every myth, every part of ourselves, our experience, tells us this. But whether the divine exists outside of ourselves, how can we know?” He leaned forward, his forearms skimming the desk. “The important thing is to discover your part of the collective divine.”
She heard the excitement in his voice, the fascination of a child with a new plaything, and it burned a hole in her stomach.
“I suppose you’ll write a journal article or something about me, then?” Her voice came out spiteful, sarcastic, and she closed her eyes at the unkindness.
His voice sparked. “There’ll be nothing to write if you never find any courage.”
“So I’m a coward?”
He said nothing, in that shrink-silence meant to draw the patient out, get her ranting all her secret, angry thoughts. But Kallie had mastered the game over the years. She sat in the chair, crossed her legs and arms, and waited him out.
“Kallie, of all my patients you should have an understanding of the motifs we find in dreams, in delusions and myth—those preexistent forms that are part of the inherited structure of our psyche. They can manifest spontaneously, anywhere—”
“The phone call.” She straightened in the chair, twisted her hands together. How had she forgotten? “I got a phone call yesterday—or at least I think I did. It wasn’t any kind of archetype or mythic symbol. Just a weird call, warning me to stay away.”
Dr. Newsom’s lips tightened for a moment. “Stay away from what?”
“I don’t know. From something that is not mine. As if I was being watched.”
Again, the flicker of heightened concern flashed in his eyes.
She tried to lighten the incident. “Maybe I’m part of some kind of mind-control experiment or something—”
Newsom stood, and his chair rolled backward with the sudden movement. “Kallie, stop.” He circled to stand in front of her, leaned against his desk, but his body was rigid, tense. “We aren’t going to indulge those kinds of thoughts. No one is watching you. You are not being controlled.”
Cold fingers of fear tightened around her heart. She had come for reassurance, but his demeanor gave none. “What aren’t you saying, Doctor? You think I’m crazy?”
He folded his arms, seeming to weigh the wisdom of telling her some awful truth. “We need to consider the possibility your situation is becoming more serious, perhaps something other than repressed—”
“Just say it.”
He sighed. “Schizophrenia often presents at around your age. The sleep disturbances, social isolation, paranoia, hallucinations—they can all be symptoms.”
The words bounced inside her head like stones dropped into a deep cavern. Schizophrenia? Would she be wandering the subway tunnels soon herself, muttering and smacking her head to still the voices?
“But there is also research suggesting strong ties between psychotic symptoms and PTSD. Either way, it’s time to face the past.” He crouched in front of her chair now, bringing his face to her level, the way one would soothe a child. “We’ll face it together, Kallie. I promise.”
She chewed her lip, scanned the room for a place to hide. Swallowed against the acidity in her throat. She couldn’t be crazy. Not on top of everything else.
Newsom was back behind his desk. “I’d like you to start recording your dreams.” He rolled his chair forward and leaned his elbows on the polished mahogany. “All of them—the daydreams, anything you suspect as a hallucination. And when you wake, try to get the nightmares down on paper immediately. Bring your notes with you when you come next week.”
Judith’s birthday gift flitted into her mind—the handsome pen and leather-bound journal, with its blank pages calling out to be filled. Perhaps it was meant to be a dream journal. Something to anchor her to reality, to keep the hounds of mental illness at bay.
But thoughts of dredging up the unknown past were more like saber-toothed tigers than hounds and threatened to shred her sanity into bloody pieces.
She shook her head, eyes focused on her tight fists. “I—I think it’s best not to dwell on the past. To focus on the future, on my work—”
“Then this refusal will destroy you.” Newsom’s voice was full of foreboding, an omen in itself.
Their time was finished. Kallie half stumbled from his office, barely hearing his final warnings. She had begged for this emergency session so he could tell her she wasn’t crazy. Instead, he’d implied it would get worse, or that her imaginings meant something more terrible than she suspected.
The reception area was empty and no one sat at the front desk. She was Newsom’s only crazy this morning.
Kallie hurried through the glass door, barely noticing the insistent chirp of her phone. On the sidewalk she fished the phone from her purse, glanced at the unfamiliar number.
“Yes?” The syllable burst out sharp, angry.
“I—I’m trying to reach Kallista Andreas?”
“Yes. This is she.” Kallie retreated to the office building’s outer wall and turned one ear away from the street.
“Hi, Kallista. It’s Dimitri.” A pause. “Dimitri Andreas.”
The angry heat generated in Newsom’s office deflated into a clammy chill. Her heart dropped to her stomach, but professionalism kicked in.
“Yes. What can I do for you, Mr. Andreas?”
“I was hoping, wondering, if you were free this evening.”
The heat resurged. And confusion. She couldn’t handle being criticized again. Not right now.
“Uh, I think so. Did you need something?” She tensed.
“I have something I want to discuss with you. Regarding your Minoan research.”
“Ah.” She winced. Everything in her wanted to run down the street. His censure the night before had been quite enough. But perhaps she needed to tell him to stand down.
“Kallie—are you there?”
“Yes…well, where would you like to meet?”
“Would you mind if I sent my driver for you? I’d like to meet in my office.”
“I don’t need a driver—”
“I know. I just thought it would be easier than a taxi.”
“Okay, yeah, sure.” She closed her eyes. After last night, she could imagine exactly what he wanted to discuss. But she’d keep her head up, insist that she was a researcher—an excellent one, and she would find the Key if he would give her a chance. If he refused, she had no idea what she would do next. She couldn’t think about that now.
She numbly recited the address and agreed to six o’clock.
“Thank you, Kallie. I look forward to seeing you this evening.”
“Right. Thanks.” She tossed the phone back into her purse, leaned the back of her head against the office building wall, and felt herself slipping, falling into her dream world…
I walk through the stone arch, across the marble atrium, the dim recesses of its lofty ceiling lost far above. The coolness of shadowed stone greets me, caresses my skin.
It’s not imposing, though. Not intimidating. I am confident here, sure of myself, my purpose, and my belonging. I stroll through the atrium, past the central fountain, the goddess pouring water from her horn in a never-ending supply of abundance. I run fingers through the crystal water as I pass, then flick droplets into sun-dappled air and dry my fingertips on my robe. Across the atrium, the entrance to the throne room beckons, but I linger a moment. I sense a presence in the throne room and approach with careful, silent tread.
The windowless throne room lies mostly in shadow, for the royal audience has ceased for the day and all but one brazier has been doused. The remaining bowl of fire flickers in the front corner of the room, behind the throne platform. Illuminated by its fitful light, I see two figures, shrouded and indistinct. Shards of conversation glide to me across the white marble. Two women, one dressed in dark robes and hooded. The other in white, her face strangely blurred in my vision.
“I fear for them,” the white-robed woman is saying, hand pressed against her heart.
I cannot hear all of the black-hooded one’s words. “…test must strip them…”
“But they might come to harm—”
“—together or apart—against each other—”
I strain to hear the other’s answer but do not enter the throne room. Instead, I press against the rough stone wall at the entrance, the smell of plaster dust in my nose, and hope to remain unnoticed. Somewhere behind me, I hear the shout of one palace slave to another, something about a delivery of grain. I lean into the throne room.
“They are so young.” Again, the white-robed woman, her voice full of fear, of love.
“No younger than you, when you were called to rule.” This phrase comes to me fully from under the black hood and fills my heart with dreadful anticipation.
Her head is dropped to her chest now, the woman in white, a sign of submission. I cannot hear her whispered words, but a black cloaked arm reaches for her, and a bony hand covers her head. More whispered words. A blessing or a curse, I cannot tell.
And then the throne room is rushing away from me, sucked into a vortex that leaves me swaying and alone, empty and abandoned…
Kallie blinked and swallowed, swiveled left and right, shot an arm out to steady herself and pawed empty air. A rippling blueness sparkled under her shoes, sunlight striking water in a thousand bright beads.
The air whooshed from her lungs in a sudden terror of realization, at the very moment a white sedan screeched to a stop on her right and the driver jumped out.
“Hold on there!” His voice roared over the din of bridge traffic. “Let’s talk a bit. We can talk.”
She turned her head slowly, taking in the white car, the metal struts of the suspension bridge, the three-foot drop to the asphalt behind her, and the dizzying plunge to the river below her concrete perch. The wind tore at her hair, and the numbing cold of shock wrapped around her limbs. Her teeth tapped each other—a jerky hammering that threatened to jar her from the wall.
The man slid beside her, his hand extended, his smile genuine and unintimidating. “Can you step down, please—just for a minute? We can talk, if you’d like…”
She gazed at his large hand and pleading eyes, still confused. But she reached down and gripped his hand with her own icy fingers, then tightened her grasp as though she already dangled above the river. Her body vibrated like her teeth, twitchy involuntary movements as though her limbs would fly apart.
He pulled her to the asphalt, hands clasping her forearms, and steadied her beside the waist-high wall. Cars continued their rush, heedless of the scene on the narrow shoulder.
“We should get off the bridge,” he was saying calmly. “Let me take you somewhere—do you have family nearby? Friends?”
She shook her head, more shudder than answer. “I—I want to go home.”
“Good. That’s good. I’ll take you home.”
He led her to the passenger side of his car, her Good Samaritan, and placed her carefully inside.
Moments later they rejoined the flow of traffic and she was forcing out her address. He tapped it into his GPS and they rode in silence for a few minutes.
“Do you have someone to talk to? About what just happened?”
Kallie tried to steady her breathing, tried to loosen the grip of the choking, unnamed terror. “I wasn’t going to jump. I don’t think. I don’t know what happened. I just sort of—woke up. And I was on the bridge.”
The words tumbled from her lips even as her eyes focused on the green LED lights of the dashboard clock. Her appointment with Dr. Newsom had ended at eleven this morning.
“Is that—is that the right time?”
He followed her glance. “It’s a few minutes fast, I think. It’s probably only about two.”
Two o’clock. Three hours since she’d left Newsom’s office. Three hours, and how many miles?
PTSD. Amnesia. Schizophrenia. Whatever it was, Newsom was right.
It was going to destroy her.