A FOUR-YEAR-OLD DARK-HAIRED DERVISH WHIRLS into the room with a whoop and runs into my arms. I scoop him up, twirl him around and hug him until he squeals. His father watches, grinning from the doorway.
"Frey! What are you two doing here?"
John-John, his son, answers before he can. "We're visiting. I'm going to see Daddy's home. And we want you to come with us. You will, won't you?"
I set him down and crouch so we're eye level. "When did you get here?"
"Just now." John-John is dancing with excitement. "We came right from the airport. Daddy saw your car so we knew you were here."
Frey brushes a shock of hair off his son's forehead. "Easy, Shiye. Give Anna a chance to catch her breath."
I don't need to catch my breath. Or at least I wouldn't need to catch my breath even if I had breath to catch. I'm so happy to see Frey and his son, I jump up, snatch my keys and bag and look past them to the open door. "Do you have a car?"
"We came in a cab," John-John says. "A yellow one. The driver didn't look so happy when we made him stop here."
I nod. The office is only about a five-minute drive from the airport on Pacific Highway. "I'll bet. Well, I'm glad you stopped. Have you seen the ocean yet?"
He shakes his head. "Only through the plane window. Not close up. Will you show me?"
"I will. We'll take a ride up the coast before we go home if it's all right with your dad."
"Azhe'e?" John-John turns those expressive dark eyes to his father, using his native Navajo.
Frey nods. "Let's go."
He holds out his arms to John-John and me and we each take a hand. It's amazing how natural it feels, the three of us together like this.
Frey's luggage is piled by the door, a car seat balanced on top. He and John-John grab their suitcases and I take the car seat. We jabber all the way to the parking lot, then John-John and I watch as Frey fumbles the car seat into the back. Finally, we get John-John safely buckled in, Frey takes the passenger seat beside me and we're off.
I follow Pacific Coast Highway up through the beach communities until it becomes too dark for John-John to see the ocean, and then I turn back toward San Diego, promising more trips during the daytime when we can play near the water. I remember the toys in John-John's bedroom on the reservation and promise a trip to Legoland, too. John-John fills me in on all he's done in the last months since I left him and Frey at their home on the reservation in Monument Valley. School, riding with Kayani, hiking with his father.
He seems well-adjusted, happy even though I detect an undercurrent of sadness under the exuberance. He lost his mother while I was there. It was a traumatic time, and it was my fault. I can't believe they've both forgiven me.
While John-John and I chatter all the way to Frey's condo, Frey is strangely quiet.
Maybe I've overestimated Frey's ability to forgive.
Once at the condo, we get John-John settled in. Frey and I make up a bed for him in the guest room while John-John explores the library. This is Frey's legacy as a Keeper. John-John will someday inherit his father's vast treasure trove of books that explore every aspect of the supernatural world. He inherited his father's ability as a shape-shifter, too, though that won't manifest itself physically until he's in puberty.
At least that's what Frey hopes. John-John already possesses the ability to link psychically with vampires and other shape-shifters. He is years ahead of Frey in developing his abilities, a sense of both pride and concern for Frey.
Frey orders groceries from a nearby store and while we wait for them to be delivered, John-John appears from the bedroom with a small wrapped box. He's squirming with excitement as he presents it to me.
"Open it, Anna," he says.
I tear open the paper to find a ring box. I glance at Frey, an eyebrow raised.
John-John plops himself down beside me. "Go on. Go on. Open the box."
I link an arm around his shoulders and hug him close as I flip open the top.
It is a ring. A beautiful ring.
A band about a half-inch wide of carved turquoise and silver.
John-John takes it out of the box and slips it on my left ring finger.
"This is for protection," he says. "Turquoise is sacred to the Dine'e. It will keep you safe from curse magic."
My throat is suddenly dry and tight with emotion. I have to clear it to be able to say, "Did you pick it out?"
He shakes his head. "It's a gift from another friend."
"Another friend?" Besides the people in this room, the only other person I know on the reservation is Kayani, an officer in the Navajo Police and a close friend of John-John's deceased mother. I hardly think he'd be sending me a gift. "Who is this friend?"
"Sani. He told me to bring it to you. To help you remember."
My eyes snap to Frey at the mention of Sani, the Navajo shaman. I hadn't mentioned what happened last summer between Sani and me to either of them. Frey meets my startled gaze with a smile of mild amusement and nods toward his son.
John-John catches the question in my head. "Oh, we are friends, Sani and me. Since I was little."
Little? He's four. The answer makes me smile.
Frey's looking at me with more exasperation, though, then amusement. "I guess you forgot to tell me that you met the shaman, right?" he asks. "Because I know you would have wanted to tell me something as important as that."
JOHN-JOHN IS ASLEEP. FREY AND I ARE SITTING ON opposite ends of his couch, glasses of wine in our hands, faces toward the flames of a flickering fire. Outside, the rain has finally blown in, gusting against the windows, making the crystal wind chimes on his deck twirl and dance.
I glance at my watch. It's almost midnight. I should leave.
I don't want to.
I take a sip of the wine. From the corner of my eye, I catch Frey watching me. I turn my body slightly, toward him. "John-John seems good."
He doesn't need elaboration. "He is a remarkable kid. He has bad days, sure, but he takes care of me more than I take care of him."
Frey lets a long minute stretch between us before he adds, "He really was excited about bringing you that gift from Sani."
I look down at the ring on my hand. In the firelight, the silver catches and reflects light like tiny rays of sunshine in a mirror. "It's a beautiful ring."
"Do you want to tell me how you met Sani? What he said to you?"
"First, let me ask you. Have you met Sani?"
He shakes his head.
"Then how does John-John know of him? When do they meet?"
Frey releases a breath. "My son is remarkable in many ways. He and Sani have forged a friendship and I can't even tell you how. There are some older boys on the reservation that he rides with. Three times he's come back from those rides with stories about the shaman. I thought he was recounting tales learned from his friends, but when he came back with that ring, I started to suspect something more. The older boys won't say much about it... just that Sani appears sometimes and talks to them."
A feeling of warmth spreads over me. John-John couldn't have a better teacher or protector than Sani. He is watching over him just as he promised.
Frey quirks an eyebrow. "Now it's your turn. How did you meet him? When did you meet him?"
I settle my head on the back of the couch and stretch my legs. In my head I relive my meetings with the most holy of the Navajo shamans: Sani, who has the power to restore life to the dead. It's the reason Frey and I traveled to Monument Valley. I wanted to see if he could restore my mortality.
Carefully, I compose my thoughts.
"Sani," I tell Frey, "helped me see the truth. I am destined to be a protector and my power lies in the melding of two natures... that of human for morality and integrity and that of vampire for strength and cunning. Even when I asked that John-John's mother be brought back and was willing to trade my life for hers, he refused. Sani told me that I am a warrior, a leader, and my path is set, just as John-John's mother's was set. It was her time. It wasn't mine. Not yet." I glance self-consciously at Frey. I realize what I said sounded melodramatic and egotistical. "Sani's words. Not mine."
A wry smile tips the corners of his mouth. "I do believe Culebra and I have been telling you the same thing for a year and a half. You accept a stranger's word but not ours. I should be hurt."
"You're right. I should have listened to you. I admit it."
"You say that now," he says. "But will you remember the next time I give you advice?"
Frey laughs. "At least you're being honest." Then he sobers. "Thank you for what you tried to do... bring John-John's mother back."
We lapse into a comfortable silence. The crackling of the fire, the heartbeat of rain on the windows, the tinkling of the wind chimes, all lull me into a cozy warm cocoon, and before I realize it, my eyes have closed. I feel Frey lean over, take the glass from my hand. His lips brush my forehead and as if from far away, a whisper.
"I've missed you, Anna."
From the warm, soft bubble of twilight sleep, I feel my lips curl into a smile. "I missed you, too, Frey."
Then I let go and fall into full night.
* * *
SOMETHING CUDDLY AS A PUPPY HAS CRAWLED UP ON the couch and is snuggling down beside me. When I open my eyes, the top of John-John's head rests just under my chin. I don't let him know I'm awake. I wait. Then, I pounce, tickling his tummy until he's laughing so hard, we both tumble off the couch in a tangle of waving arms and legs.
When I look up, Frey is standing over us, hands on hips. "What's going on?"
He's dressed and when I glance at the clock on the mantel, I'm shocked to see it's already eight.
I hoist John-John and slide back onto the couch. In unison, John-John and I say, "Nothing."
He shakes his head. "Ready for some coffee?"
"Me, too?" From John-John.
"No," Frey answers in a parental tone. "It's milk for you."
John-John and I follow Frey into the kitchen where the table has already been set for breakfast. I can tell which is my place. There's only a mug on the placemat. But for once, I'm not self-conscious. John-John knows and accepts what I am. Something his mother certainly didn't.
That thought brings a wave of shame. How can I fault her when I'm the reason she's dead.
You're not, you know. A small, childish voice penetrates my thoughts. Sani explained it all to me.
John-John's voice in my head surprises me. I can't believe I'd forgotten. Frey and I have no psychic link. I broke it through a stupid act of impulsiveness. But John-John can hone in on my thoughts. And he has. Color floods my face, hot with humiliation.
Frey, who caught his son's message to me, comes to stand beside my chair. "John-John is right. What happened to Sarah was tragic. But it was not your fault."
He's holding a bowl of oatmeal and a pitcher of milk. He sets the bowl in front of John-John, passing a hand gently over the top of his son's head. "We know she's at peace. John-John is safe."
With the resiliency of childhood, John-John's thoughts brighten and he starts to work on the oatmeal. Frey brings a coffeepot to the table and pours us each a cup.
"I've been thinking," he says after a moment. "How about the three of us take that trip to Legoland today?"
John-John's high-spirited whoop is matched decibel for decibel by my own.
FREY AND I CHASE JOHN-JOHN ALL OVER LEGOLAND. I grew up with Disneyland being the theme park of choice so this is a new adventure for me, too. It's amazing how much energy a four-year-old has. Even with a vampire's constitution, it's work to keep up.
But it's fun. Especially the Raptor Splash where John-John and I take on Frey... pelting him with water balloons from our battle station launcher. We come off that ride soaked to the skin and laughing our heads off.
Of course that necessitates a shopping trip for dry clothes, it being January and all. Great marketing ploy, that. When the three of us exit the Brick Brothers Trading Company we look like true California surfer dudes: John-John and Frey in their Quiksilver Diplo pants and tees and me in my Roxy hoodie and jeans.
Then, after still more rides, it's a trip to the Big Shop. John-John picks out a Dino-themed Lego set to take back home with him. And at last the kid shows signs of tiring. His squeal on the rides is a little less piercing, his gait a little less frenetic. Like a spinning top winding down, he finally looks up at Frey and holds out his arms. Frey hoists him onto his shoulders and, armed with packages and souvenirs, we wearily and thankfully make our way back to the car.
As soon as we get to the condo, John-John crawls onto the couch and falls fast asleep. Frey lifts him up and carries him to the bedroom while I pour us each a glass of wine.
One glass, I tell myself. One glass and then I'm going home.
When Frey returns, I hand one of the glasses to him, echoing out loud what I'd been thinking a moment before. "One glass. Then I have to leave."
"Why? It's early."
I point to the couch. "Any more than one and I'll end up falling asleep again."
"So? You looked pretty comfortable on that couch."
"No. If I stay, you'll tempt me with a trip to SeaWorld tomorrow and then I'll miss another day of work. I have to at least check in. And Stephen is coming home in a few days and I..."
Something dims in Frey's eyes. He turns away and sinks down onto the couch.
Frey takes a long pull of his wine and avoids looking at me. After a moment, his shoulders seem to relax and his expression softens. "How is Stephen?"
"And the two of you...?"
"Are we making it work? I think so. There's something about a life-and-death battle against a godlike demon that tends to bring people together."
My attempt at humor is obviously lost on Frey. No smile. Under his breath, I hear him say, "You and I have fought a few demons together, too."
No response except, "So it's over with the tribunal?"
"How did you know...?" I stop. "Of course. You've been talking to Culebra."
"We've kept in touch."
"Yes. Belinda Burke and the tribunal are finally behind us." I mentally cross my fingers. Belinda Burke? That bitch is undisputedly dead. But the tribunal? I can only hope.
Frey lets another long moment pass. "John-John had fun today, didn't he?"
"He's such a great kid."
"I've been giving a lot of thought to my decision to stay on the reservation. It's one of the reasons I brought him here."
"You're thinking of moving back?"
"Not full time. I would never cut John-John off from his grandparents or force him to leave the only home he's ever known. But maybe we could split our time. Stay here for the school year and spend winter and summer breaks on the reservation."
"That would be so great."
"Kayani is willing to take care of the horses and the house while we're here. I've spoken to him about it already. He thinks it would be good for John-John to broaden his horizons."
"And John-John? What does he think?"
"I haven't talked to him yet. I wanted to give him a chance to experience life in the big city for a week or so. It's quite a change from what he's used to. He may not like it. And it's as much his decision as mine."
I nod. Then, "What's the other reason?"
"You said rethinking your decision to stay on the reservation was one of the reasons you're here. What's the other?"
He stares into the fire, and something in the set of his jaw gives it away. Still, I won't say it first. I can't.
Frey lets another long moment pass. "You," he says at last. "I came back for you."
His words hang in the air. They may as well be in blazing neon over the fireplace.
I don't know what to say. So, for once, I exercise restraint and say nothing.
Frey looks up at me from his seat on the couch. "I shouldn't have said that."
Still, no intelligible response springs to mind.
Frey smiles. "I've rendered you speechless."
I drop down beside him. "You have."
He releases a deep breath. "I realize you and Stephen have gotten close. But he's human. Do you really think you can make it work for the long term?"
"Can anyone make anything work long term? My parents are the only couple their age I know that have been together as long as they have. And that wasn't easy. I remember how hard it was after my brother died. And there were other times. Things my parents didn't know I knew. My father had an affair once. I thought he'd broken my mother's heart into so many pieces, she'd never be able to put it back together. But they survived. They got stronger."
"Because they loved each other." Frey's soft voice is like a caress. "No one exasperates me the way you do. Or tests me the way you do. Or completes me the way you do. You have the most generous heart of anyone I know. I want John-John to learn from you. I can't think of a better role model. It took being away from you to make me realize how much I need you to be part of our lives."
His words slow, then stop abruptly. He's facing away from me as if afraid to see how I'm reacting. He shouldn't worry. I've never been so touched. I turn his chin gently so I can read his eyes.
"I will always be a part of John-John's life. As long as you let me. I love that little boy." I let my hand drop and the motion makes light reflect off Sani's ring, a spark that seems to penetrate the haze of confusion whirling in my head.
"You and I have been close for a long time. We've been through a lot together. You are the one I go to when I'm in trouble and you've never turned me away. Maybe you think you're in love with me. But you're emotional now because of John-John and the huge responsibility you've taken on."
Frey stirs, ready to respond, but I have to get this out.
I place a finger over his lips. "It would be easy after a day like today to jump into a relationship with you. You and John-John are the family I can never have. But I want more. I want a partner who loves me the way my father loves my mother. Is it Stephen? I don't know yet. It's still too new. But I don't think it's you. Not now. Not yet."
The corners of Frey's mouth turn up in a wry smile. He kisses the tip of my finger. "Should I have started off with 'I love you'?"
"It would have helped."
He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close. I don't resist but let my head rest against his chest. "Does that mean you'll still go on play dates this week with John-John and me?"
I close my eyes, breathing in his smell, listening to his heart, nestling closer. Feeling safe. "Try and stop me."
* * *
REMARKABLY, WE MANAGE TO GET THROUGH THE NEXT few days of Frey's visit without another bombshell being dropped. I handle my office thing in the mornings (even fugitives lay low during the holidays), and the afternoons are spent showing John-John around San Diego. He loves the ocean, is spellbound by it. The weather cooperates by giving us two afternoons of bright sun so we can gather seashells and make sand castles. By the end of each day, his little fists are full of treasures that he can take home with him. Tiny shells, glass polished by the sea, a perfect starfish. In my mind's eye, I picture these prizes on the bookcase in his living room, next to the pictures of his mother, and bits of rocks and feathers he'd gathered on his daily rides. It makes me happy to know this visit will become part of his memories, too.
But then I am alone, sitting in my car, staring at the ring on my hand. I've just dropped Frey and John-John off at the airport. We parted with hugs and kisses and, like another family departure just a while ago, promises of visits to come.
I like the sound of that.
The airport security guard is approaching, waving and telling me to move on. It snaps me back and I put the car in gear. Time to get back to another reality.
Stephen will be home tomorrow.