"So, Horner," Kyle calls out casually, barely glancing over at Jack climbing the wall beside him.
"Yeah?" Jack answers with grunt.
"Just letting you know, you hurt my sister and you will pay."
"Fuck off, Brannon. It's none of your business."
"My family, my business."
"Are you ladies here to train, or are you just here to gossip?" Juniper Crane taunts as she passes both teens. A recent high school graduate, Juniper has just enlisted in the military.
Shadow is spending Saturday afternoon in the library with Iola and her father.
They are joined by Jesse Horner.
"Endangered Passion?" Shadow snerks, glancing up to see what Jesse is reading.
"I like romance," Jesse says, "What's wrong with Endangered Passion?"
"Suit yourself," Shadow shrugs, "I promise not to tell Cassidy you read crap."
Jesse puts the book down on the table. "So, um, what kind of books would impress Cassidy, then?"
"Lately she's been into medieval fantasy stuff like Haute Knights," Shadow tells him.
"That sounds romantic," Jesse observes hopefully.
Cassidy joins them at the table with a copy of True Fairy Tales, smiling ruefully at the abandoned romance novel on the table, knowing full well which of the group had chosen it.
"I made the, you know, soup," Shadow says in a whisper when gets Iola alone for a moment, "I'd like you to be there with me when I do this."
"Your parents will be at my house tonight," Iola says.
"And my uncle Elliot will be with Claire," Shadow finishes, "Can you come over?"
"That was what I was planning on doing, soup or no soup," Iola laughs.
"Thank you so much for being here with me," Shadow says, hugging Iola.
"I wouldn't let you do something like this alone," she says.
"I made enough for two, you know," he offers.
Iola shakes her head and laughs, "With visions of the past and future coming at me, I often need to focus to just stay grounded in the now. The last thing I need is to send my mind off into some other dimension. And, anyway, one of should stay sober, in case anything happens."
Shadow drinks the concoction he made based on the recipe they'd discovered in the old tome of fables.
"Oh, wow, I'm kind of dizzy," Shadow says, and lays his head on Iola's lap.
"Do you need to go check on the kids or anything?" Claire asks.
"They aren't babies, they're seventeen," Elliot laughs, "We could go out somewhere if you wanted."
"Or we could stay here and cuddle," Claire suggests in return.
"Are you the shaman that wrote the book?" Shadow asks.
The old man grunts his disapproval, and ignores Shadow's question.
He stares at Shadow for what seems like an eternity, and then finally speaks. "You haven't been prepared."
"Can you help prepare me?"
"Too late for preparations now, here at the edge of the spirit realm. Go, into the cave. Find your destiny."
"You can only choose one. Now, go."
"I have questions..."
"I have questions, too, boy. Not all of them have answers. Now, into the cave."
Shadow does as instructed and enters the cave.
Choose only one, Shadow remembers. But what should he choose? To his left are jewels, a pouch of coins, dice, a golden apple. Obvious symbols of wealth, pleasure, perhaps, or maybe something more.
To the right, a stack of papers, potion bottles in a variety of shapes and sizes, and a worn metal shield. Knowledge, both practical and arcane, perhaps, and the shield could be security. Given his inclinations, if the papers and bottle represent any kind of knowledge, he should be drawn to them.
But of the groups of objects, one stands out, a cheap plaster heart decorated with tiny pink foot and hand prints, tied with a ribbon. A cheesy expression of sentimentality, Shadow thinks, but of all the objects presented here, this is the one that attracts his attention. Maybe because it's his favorite color, or maybe he's just more sentimental than he admits to himself, but as soon as his eyes turn to it, he chooses.
With choice made, the world changes. There is no cave, no shaman. Instead, there's a lake, pure and blue, and Iola bathing in it, naked as a nymph.
"I chose you," he whispers, taking her in his arms, "Above everything else in life, I choose you."
Awareness flickers and fades, the lake, his bedroom floor, changing, flowing into each other. The one constant is Iola in his arms, and himself inside her, merged as they were meant to be. At some point, the lake leaves and never comes back, his awareness returns to his room.
"Is this real, Iola?" he asks, his voice hoarse and whispery against her throat. Her only answer is the soft moans of her pleasure, and it's all the answer he needs.
"How did we end up here, like this?" he asks her, knowing how awkward the question sounds, but having to ask it all the same. "I, we, were in a lake..."
"You said you chose me, above everything else in life," Iola says, "You were quite passionate about it."
"I did say that," he remembers, "I did choose you. I could only choose one. It felt real..."
"It was, Shadow. It is real." She moves just the slightest bit beneath him, her skin against his, a reminder of just how real it is.
"I can't describe how intense it was," he tells, "Or how closely bonded we were, in that moment. But I was somewhere else, wasn't I? Our first time, it shouldn't have been like this, not for you..."
"Shadow," she says his name with deep affection, "Since we were children, I've seen visions of our future, I've been your lover, your wife, the mother of your children. And it's so hard to come back, to remember when I'm with you that we aren't there yet. There's no 'first time' for me, there's just been the waiting for this moment, when I look into your eyes and see that you've truly given yourself to me."
Delaney shows up as soon as the club opens. No more games, arriving purposefully late, pretending she doesn't care.
Jack is there just moments later.
"I like it," Delaney says, noticing his new hair style.
"I like yours, too. You never wear it down."
"I decided to try something different."
For a Saturday night, the club is dead, and Delaney and Jack have the dance floor to themselves.
"Are you getting cold?" Jack asks, his voice grown husky, "Outside in that tiny little skirt?"
"Maybe a little," Delaney answers, smiling suggestively, "Maybe you could warm me up."
She asked him to warm her up, but the heat between them quickly becomes unbearable. His right hand plays shyly with her breast, outsde her jacket, while his left hand makes a bolder move under her skirt.
"Not here," she gasps, pulling his hand up, "We're in a parking lot."
"No one's here," he points out.
"But anyone could show up at any minute..."
"I know a place we could go," Jack suggests.
"Yes," Delaney sighs, knowing full well what he wants, because she wants it, too. "Yes," she repeats, feeling the weight of the word on her tongue.
She drives where he directs her, out to the edges of town, by the old junkyard to an abandoned warehouse.
"Are you sure this is safe?" she asks doubtfully.
"It's been empty asince the cops broke the criminal ring that had been using the place to store stolen goods," Jack tells her, "It's still officially a crime scene, but I come here a lot at night. No one ever bothers me. We'll be completely alone."
It's filthy and kind of gross, but also exciting. Criminals had hid out here, she thinks, and she and Jack are breaking the law just being here, tainting an official crime scene with their presence.
"Second thought?" he asks her.
"Oh, hell no," she answers, falling into his arms.
She's the one, Jack thinks, with all the surety a seventeen year old can have. As soon as they get done with this high school crap, he's going to make her his wife.
He'd marry her right now if he could, run way with her to someplace where no one knows who they are, start their own life together apart from their families, their pasts. But she wouldn't go for that, so he has to wait, be satisfied with what she's giving him now, put his claim on her and hold her to the future he's going to give her.
"Say you love me," Jack whispers.
"You think I'd get down on some skanky mattress with a guy I didn't love?" Delaney laughs.
"Say it," he insists.
"I love you, Jack," she sighs.
"I love you, too."