“Red?”

She lifted her eyes to look at Norquay. They were pulling into a spot next to their house that had changed size.

“I had Teak make some changes, so we had enough rooms. I thought you’d want your mom close. I also made sure there was enough room for Tabitha and her daughter.

That was one of the things she loved about him. He went out of his way to do the nicest things for her. Douche bag Matthew wouldn’t have cared about her mother or the others she rescued tonight.

“Are you alright?”

Was she?

“The town I grew up in is strange. Always has been, but it’s never been strange like it was tonight.” The woman standing over the cellar door, like she was a demonic angel. The other woman fading into the darkness like she was one with it. Even Tabitha thinking her mother wouldn’t want her. None of it was making sense. She didn’t know where to start to unravel the puzzle.

“Things were stranger than I thought they would be. Other than that, I’m good.” She climbed out of the car what she needed now was to make sure her mother was going to live. The rest she could think about later, hopefully much later. She watched as her mom, Bella, and Tabitha were taken from the SUV into the house.

She helped to get her mom settled while the queen and Em helped with the others. Now she was pacing outside of her mother’s opened door. Rial threw her out so he would have room to work.

When he walked out, Red asked the only question that mattered. “Is she dying?”

“Not anymore. Your mother had a nasty bacterial infection that would have killed her. Given enough time, I think the doctors would have found the antidote. It’s a strain I’ve never seen on the earth before, but I have seen it. Given that it’s alien in nature, I’d say some of our enemies passed through your town. This strain can adapt to its host which is why it’s so nasty. If it stayed in its original makeup, your mother would have been unaffected. I’ll drop an anonymous tip to the CDC in case this turns up again. She’s sleeping, I’m off to see my next patient. Call me if you need me before tomorrow.”

“What’s in the I.V.?”

“Fluid and nutrients. She’s going to be weak.”

Red nodded moving out of his way. She went and sat on the side of the bed holding her mother’s hand.

“She almost died.”

“But she didn’t. You got to her in time.”

“I did.”

Norquay walked over to her helping her stand. “Let your mom sleep and we’ll talk to her in the morning. You have so much to tell her.”

“She’s never going to believe me,” she gave a shaky laugh before burying her head in his chest.

There was a time she thought relying on another person made her weak. Strength belonged to superheroes and the ones who made it in life. CEO of this corporation, or doctor, and lawyer. The little people like her weren’t strong, that’s why they were the little people. She knew better now. With a tilt of her head, she gave pain the homage it deserved.

“I’m tired. Let’s check in on Bella and Tabitha, then get some sleep.”

Rial was in the room with Bella. Tabitha was huddled in the hallway between Teak and Rycal. The sight was strange, the first child she had seen here. They were both comforting her. Part of Red’s heart twisted when she found Tabitha huddled in that bed looking so alone. Watching the two males spoil her untwisted her heart. She took a deep breath of relief. It may take time, but she believed everything was going to work out.

“How’s your mother?” Teak asked her.

“Momma P,” Tabitha said.

“Momma P?” Norquay said.

“My mom’s name is Peaches. Tabitha calls her momma P. Everyone else called her Patricia, they said her mother shouldn’t have named her after fruit. Rial said she’s going to recover.”

“Bella will recover. According to Rial…” Teak stopped to look down at Tabitha.

“Come along young female, I believe I offered to make you some hot chocolate,” Rycal took her hand leading her away.

She giggled, “you talk funny.” Rycal growled making her laugh harder.

“They were starving her,” Teak said when Tabitha was far enough away. “Rial is going to do what he can to stabilize her. She will need food and nurturing.”

“We can provide that.” Red felt herself falling, Norquay caught her.

“You need sleep, tomorrow the same problems will be here for you to face. Alert me if we’re needed,” he told Teak before leading Red away.

“Why?” she asked once they were in bed.

“I don’t know, but I suspect we can use that one question to backtrack until sentient beings were first created in the universe.”

“If I could I’d ask Adam and Eve, but I don’t think they know.”

“They weren’t the first.”

“For us God was. I’d ask him, but I still don’t expect an answer.”

“Maybe there is no answer to why. Maybe we just are.”

She liked that answer better than the ones she had been given in the past. The one where the children suffer for the sins of parents they may have never met. The one where right is might or might is right. She moved closer to Norquay. Maybe they just were. Somehow God seemed to fit into the equation too. Tomorrow she would think about it, tonight she would sleep.

 

She woke up alone. The thought of hugs and kisses before the day started fled her mind when she realized the other side of the bed was cold. One shake of her phone to wake it told her it was almost noon. Norquay let her sleep in thinking she needed the rest. She did need it, although she probably wasn’t going to tell him that.

In the shower, she tried to make last night make sense. No matter how she thought about it, nothing added up. The rumors of someone dying in the cellar were all over the town, but it had happened when she wasn’t there. That’s the only reason she hadn’t tried to get the perpetrator thrown in jail for life. You can’t take rumors before a judge. It was also the reason her father wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in jail. There was no concrete proof that he wanted her mom to die.

The image of that woman standing over the cellar wouldn’t leave her mind. She said all the right evil things, but her actions were almost protective. How could she have known that Red was coming to free Bella? She couldn’t have. There had to be a different reason that woman was guarding the cellar door in the middle of the night. It wasn’t because she thought Bella could get out. Without Lyrek, Red wouldn’t have been able to get in. There were too many questions and not enough answers. She dressed and went to join everyone.

She stopped outside her mother’s bedroom to find her sitting up in bed with a tray over her lap. Teak was sitting in a chair talking to her.

“You… don’t have to… call me that. No one… likes it.” Red’s mom’s voice was hesitant. She stopped every couple of words like she was reviewing them to make sure they were what she wanted to say.

“I like the name. Peach is also the complexion of your skin when you blush. Beautiful.”

Her mom was blushing, and she was flushed with a peach-like glow. Huh, her mom looked like a woman. She wasn’t sure she liked that.

Teak turned his head and looked at her. She could see his byema in his eyes and he wasn’t happy. Red took a step back.

“Only you could upset Teak considering he loves us like a daughter. Let him feed our mom. We have others to check on.”

Byema-Red was right. Teak never looked at them like that. He picked up on her emotions. she was embarrassed she even felt them. It was just, she was her mom. The only person she had for so many years. She talked to her mom when no one was around. Her mom was her sounding board although she didn’t know. Now she was here, but not talking to Red.

When she got to Bella’s room she was there with her daughter. They were both staring wide-eyed at Rycal who was trying to get them to eat. She lingered at the doorway wanting to laugh at how they looked at the food. After a few minutes she left feeling sorry for herself.

“It’s hard. Breakfast or lunch?” Norquay asked her.

“Lunch. What’s hard.”

“Watching their attention to move to someone that’s not you.”

That’s what she was feeling. Did he feel it too? “Do you feel that?”

He threw a bit of mocking laughter over his shoulder before he opened the refrigerator.

“In this house, Teaks attention belongs to me. He’s the father I never had but became used to. All he does is fawn over your mother since I’ve been up. Now, mind you, he had no problem with all the time I spent with you.”

“It kind of makes you feel like a brat.”

“It does and I’m much too old to be a brat.”

“You’re an old man. How do I keep forgetting that?” He threw a broccoli spear at her.

“What are you making?”

“Beef and Broccoli.”

“Yummy.”

“How would you feel if your mother found an abraza among my people?”

“You mean the people who believe in loving their mates, taking care of them, and laying the world at their feet when they can, those people?”

“Yep, those people.”

“I think she would love it, and that’s all that counts. I would worry about the bite.”

“Before we go too far, she still has to survive being taken care of by Teak.”

She thought back to the flush on her mother’s face. “I think she’ll be okay. One of us, well two of us are hungry. Are you going to talk or cook?”

“I can do both,” he boasted, then got silent so he could cook.

Red laughed chatting at him, not really expecting an answer. She didn’t feel as selfish as she did before they talked. Who knew that she wanted to be the center of her mother’s world, but it made sense? In some ways, her mother was the center of her world, her moral compass when it felt broken. What would mom do? She had thought that simple line more than once before like Wonder Woman she tried to make the world whole again.

Now she got to sit back and watch what her mom would do. Was she interested in Teak? Was he interested in her? Why would she want them to be interested in each other? That was simple. When she least expected it, the dream she had been too scared to dream walked into her life.

She was in love with a man who could change into a large prehistoric cat. The realization hit in her in the stomach. It came with fireworks that went off before her eyes. The floor shook and her body trembled. The knowledge was so heavy she fell down landing on her hands and knees panting. Her body changed without her permission, Byema-Red coming out and roaring.

“Stop, you’ll scare mom and the others!” Red shouted.

“We’re under attack.” Byema-Red was already running towards the door.

Well, hell, that made sense. Red never did consider herself a drama queen. The earth-shaking just because she admitted she loved Norquay did seem a bit too much. Never mind, she’d reevaluate that later.

Byema-Red didn’t stop until they got to the perimeter of their land.

“What’s so interesting about this spot?” Byema-Red had walked it, then ran it several times. She kept coming back here. Something tickled at the back of my brain, she couldn’t catch the tendrils of thought that moved like quicksilver.

“Our abraza brings us here.”

He did? Red looked around through her byema’s eyes. She was right, Norquay brought them here several times. The fact that her car came here to rest astounded him. He thought it meant something that they weren’t seeing. He’d been researching it for over a year. Like an idiot, she ignored him, because coincidence anyone. she should have known better than that.

They set out to search ignoring the males that were all over the place. The more they searched the more apparent it became that this border was secure, nothing known to mankind was going to bring it down.  They didn’t stop there byema-Red demanded they look at the connecting border. Every curse word she could think of went through her head when she saw the connecting border. It was a good thing she was in byema form or those words might have slipped out. If her mother heard them? Oh, the woman believed in soap to clean a mouth out. She shivered; her mom didn’t like cursing. She, on the other hand, liked it a bit too much.

“Red, you shouldn’t take off by yourself. What are you looking at?” Em came up and nudged her.

How could they communicate in their byema form? Yeah, she should say animal form, but she didn’t think of a being this alert and high functioning as an animal.

“The weakness in the connecting border wall.”

“The what, where? Red it’s clear. What are you talking about?”

“Can’t you see the border wall?”

“No, I can feel it, but not see it. You see it?”

“As plain as daylight.”

“Shit.”

Should she warn Em about her mother or sit back and enjoy?

“The cavalry is coming.”

She nodded and byema-Red’s huge head moved on her neck. It was strange really. The more she became her byema the less distance she felt between the two of them. Red wanted to ask Em if she felt it, but at the same time she felt like she was betraying that other side of herself.

“You should wait and ask her when you’re in your human body again.”

“No eavesdropping.”

“It will take time, but you and I are the same person. No matter what form we take.”

She had a feeling byema-Red was right. To be honest, she didn’t know how she felt about it, but it was much too late to change it.

“Can anyone see the border wall?” Em asked when the king and queen got closer.

“No,” Lyrek told her.

“I think so. Yes?” Jade moved closer to the wall inspecting it.

“I can see it,” Norquay said as he got closer. “It’s weak, looks like it was damaged by whatever went off earlier.”

“That’s what I said,” Byema-Red was still there, Norquay had changed forms.

“You can see the wall in your humanoid form?” The queen asked.

“I can. What I don’t understand is why no one else can see it.”

The guards were surrounding them. They each peered at the wall but couldn’t see it.

Norquay walked over to byema-Red throwing his arms around her massive neck. He gave her (me) kisses and scratches to her head.

“You did it byema-Red and Red. This is the missing piece. Well, one of the missing pieces let’s call it a corner. Now I can work on the puzzle now that I have the whole outline for it.”

“Would you like to fill the rest of us in?” The queen’s voice was a bit droll. Norquay winked at her. The only one other than the king that could get away with it.

“Can we go to my house? I’d like to check on the others before we start.”

“We can,” Jade told him.

Lyrek motioned them off. He and Jaydel were setting up guards around the perimeter.

 

They all sat in the newly expanded living room sipping from cups of hot cider. Red and Norquay had made the rounds making sure everyone was safe. Her mother was listening to a story Teak was telling her nervous tension in her shoulders until she saw Red. When she was convinced that Red was safe, she laid back giving Teak a smile and telling him to continue with his fascinating story. Her mother had mad skills. Red kind of felt outclassed.

Bella slept through the whole thing, Rial told them. He was in her room checking her vitals making sure she was fine. Rycal sat in a chair at her bedside with Tabitha in his lap. There was a story there that she was dying to hear. You could take the gossip out of the human, but you couldn’t take the human out of the gossip. That was a thing, right?

Norquay took a deep breath blowing it out slowly. All eyes turned to focus on him. He stood relaxing his stance before he started to speak.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research on the royal family and the hierarchy beneath them. When I studied our last two kings and queens, I found out nothing I didn’t already know. I didn’t stop there I went back in history to our preflight days. I studied the records we have back to the days before there were a king and queen.

“The first king and queen became that not because of their gold eyes. Their gold eyes were a symbol of their relationship to the pack. They could feel their people. In those days we spent more time in our byema form. We also didn’t have a third form. The third form came about as a result of the union between the king and queen. I haven’t found anything yet that tells me what that union consists of yet.”

He stopped to take a sip of his hot cider and he watched Lyrek. “According to the royalty of old, every byema was gifted with the ability to help the pack. This directly contradicts what I learned from the last two royals. All the abilities lied within them.”

“That makes more sense than I want to admit.” Jade jumped up. Her hands were wrapped around her cup of hot apple cider like she was drawing warmth from it. “Imagine you have somehow won the lottery and now you’re the highest-ranking male or female in your world. What would you want more than anything?”

“To hide under my bed?” Em quipped.

“Em, that’s you. I’ve watched more than one power-hungry exec make moves to ensure that no one could dislodge him from his position even if he deserved to be ousted out. Now we have a king and a queen, ruler of all they see. Everyone is bowing and scraping to them telling them how great they are. What’s missing? Ultimate power. If you,” Jade gestured to everyone else in the room. “Have power, you’re now a threat to me. To eliminate that from happening I will take whatever power or gift if you like, away from you. Now each of you is dependent on me and my goodwill.”

“Norquay, is this what you believe happened?”

“I do sire, but worse. We were not meant to bear the entirety of the gifts given to us in two vessels. They couldn’t handle it.”

Lyrek stood and joined Jade who was looking out the window. He wrapped his arms around her, then buried his nose in her neck drawing in her sweet scent.

“It gets harder every day,” Jade said.

“Norquay just made it easier. Now we know we don’t have to do it alone.”

“This is why the things that seemed to only be a surface anomaly are becoming a deeper part of us,” Jaydel said before he drew Em onto his lap.

“Yes, it will only get deeper, unless our king and queen decide to horde all the gifts for themselves.”

Jade held her hands out like scales. “Horde gifts.” That side of the scale went up. “Have more time to make love to my abraza.” The horde gifts side of the scale hit the floor. “Sorry, people will have to learn to handle their own gifts. We will set up classes if needed. Red, along with that census we will need to know who is showing a gift and what it does. We will also need a list of those whose gift has not manifested yet.”

“Yes, my queen.”

“We will reconvene tomorrow and discuss our border now that we know it is under attack,” Lyrek told them before leaving with Jade at his side.

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