My pre-paid phone rang. I flipped it open. “Hello?” Please let it be Kat, please let it be Kat!
“What’s going on?” Kat’s voice demanded. “I’m eating breakfast, when suddenly a note from you lands smack dab in the middle of my bowl of oatmeal, and I have no idea where it came from! So now I’m standing here on the street at a goddamned payphone, and I want an explanation as to why on earth I’m standing here and what the hell is going on!” she yelled. I grinned. She always was a fiery red head. I was particularly amused by the way Frank and Myrrh had delivered my note. Dropping it into her breakfast was a nice touch.
I had given some thought as to how to get her here safely. No doubt if people were trying to blow me up and were following Grant, Kat was on their radar, as well. Having her drive herself over here was not a good idea, not if I wasn’t supposed to be here. It would only raise suspicion. Public venues seemed to be the best alternative. Even Andreas pointed that out when we discussed visiting the hospital earlier. “I need your help Kat,” I said, forcing an edge of desperation into my voice, while still keeping it calm. It was a fine balancing act, but after a week of walking a proverbial tight rope, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. Plus, it was true, I needed her help. “I can’t explain it right now. You’re probably being followed, so I need you to go to Pike’s Place. Go to the fish market. I will meet you there in one hour. Don’t tell Rob, don’t tell anyone.”
There was a long pregnant pause before she spoke again, her voice in a low, nervous whisper. “Rhi, are you in danger?”
Is the sky blue? “Everyone who knows me is right now, hon, so please do what I say and be very careful!” I crossed my fingers hoping she would agree.
“You know I would do anything for you, Rhi, but oh my god, what are you getting me into here?” she whispered fiercely. “You better have a damned good explanation when I see you!”
I let out a breath I didn’t even realize I had been holding. “So you’ll be there?”
She agreed, worried, and a little panicked. I told her to just be calm, and I hung up.
Grant came in through the back door and tossed me a plastic grocery bag. “Here’s your honey, honey,” he said, with a lopsided grin. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing, just be sure the fairies get the honey when they get back. Andreas and I have to go.” I flipped open my phone again to place another call, wondering how many minutes Aislinn had provided me with, and was I going to run out soon?
“Where are we going?” Andreas asked. He had been sitting silently on a bench near the back sink, brooding, since before Kat called.
“First to the hospital to fetch my records, and then to Pike Place.” I punched 9-1-1 into my phone.
“911,” came the operator’s voice, “Please state the nature of your emergency.”
“Yes,” I said, in a panicked warbly voice, “I need an ambulance at the Botany Bay Greenhouse at 12685 First Avenue South, right on the corner of South West 128th street. A woman… she just collapsed! I’m afraid she’s having an allergic reaction or something, please hurry!”
“Alright ma’am, stay calm, help is on the way,” she said. I heard her typing furiously into a keyboard in the background.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Grant demanded as soon as I hung up.
“Getting a ride,” I said calmly. “Anyone have a better idea how to get from here to the hospital without being attacked, please let me know.” I swept my gaze from Grant to Andreas, but neither spoke up. “Aislinn said that the best place to hide is in plain sight, and these people have yet to outright attack us in the open, so a ride with the paramedics is probably a safe bet.” I folded my arms across my chest, trying to take on the air of someone who didn’t want to be argued with, which I didn’t. “Besides, I’ll have Andreas with me. He’s big on self-preservation. Aren’t you?” I muttered bitterly. I turned around and strode out into the main nursery. “He’ll keep me safe just to save his own skin,” I shouted over my shoulder.
I could hear the sirens approaching. I walked near the front. Grant and Andreas decided to join the party finally, as I heard their footsteps behind me. “Grant, unlock the front door and open the damn store already. Andreas, it’s time for Eddie to ham it up again.” With that, I lay down on the floor, sprawling out as if I had fallen, and acted unconscious. I heard Grant hurry over to the front door and unlock it, turning our neon “open” sign on. Andreas crouched down beside me, hovering over me with an air of forced concern.
“Grant, remind me to discuss health insurance with you again when this is over,” I called out. I heard him mutter something in return, but couldn’t make out what he said. I think it included some colorful curse words.
The sirens rolled up to a stop in front of the building, and I heard the team of paramedics rush in the door. Grant directed them my way.
Andreas stayed by my side, and took my hand. “Thank god you’re here,” he said to them in his Liverpool accent. “Poppy – ” he paused, his voice cracking with grief, “She just collapsed.” He stroked my hair. “Love, it’s going to be alright.”
The paramedics took over, checking my pulse, and Andreas moved out of the way. “What happened, sir?” one of them asked Andreas.
“One minute she was smelling the rhododendrons, and the next she was collapsing on the floor. She must be allergic to pollen or something,” he said, a ragged tremor in his voice. “Please do hurry!” He was good.
They hooked an IV up to me. I had not been expecting that, and it took a concerted effort to just lay there and be absolutely still as they shoved that horrid needle into my vein with a sharp sting of pain. They asked Andreas questions. Who was I, what was my address. He pulled my fake passport out of my purse and handed them all the information they needed to know. They put a cervical collar around my neck, loaded me onto a stretcher, and strapped me down. It felt strange to be manhandled like that, like I was just a piece of meat to be tossed around. I forced myself to remain as limp as a dishrag.
They rolled me out and loaded me up into the back of the ambulance. With a little bluff and bluster, Andreas convinced them to let him ride in the back with me, hamming it up, proclaiming that he needed to hold his “Poppy’s hand, she’ll never forgive me if I’m not there when she wakes.”
The sirens went off again, and the van started moving. Andreas was so close I could hear him breathing, holding my hand, acting for all the world like a concerned lover. He kept squeezing my hand and stroking my hair, murmuring that it was “going to be alright, love.” He was so convincing that even I had to remind myself it was just an act, and that if these were ordinary circumstances I would probably be the last person he would want to touch. I felt a pang of grief at that, and a wave of guilt crashed over me anew. I wallowed in self-pity, my heart aching. I had hurt him, all out of my own selfishness and lack of self-control, and I couldn’t take it back. He had made that abundantly clear.
“Think happy thoughts,” his voice whispered quietly in my ear. His intentions, while well-meaning, completely backfired, and I just wanted to cry. I silently choked back a sob, forcing myself to stay calm, silent, and seemingly unconscious. I concentrated on breathing, using the meditation technique Grant taught me to calm and focus myself. By the time the ambulance pulled up to the emergency room entrance at the hospital I felt calm, cool, and collected again.
“Step back please, sir, and let us do our job,” said the paramedic to Andreas. He released my hand, and they rolled me out of the ambulance and into the hospital. I could hear the familiar fall of his boots right behind me. As soon as we were inside and the stretcher rolled to a stop, I opened my eyes, swiftly pulled the release on the restraints, and sat up, much to the surprise of the paramedic attending me.
I smiled gaily, climbed off the stretcher, and unvelcroed the cervical collar from around my neck, setting it on the stretcher. “I’m feeling much better now, thanks!” I said, and yanked the IV out of my arm. Before the stunned paramedic could reply, I patted him on the arm. “Be a dear and send me my bill, would you?” I grabbed Andreas’ hand. “Come on, love,” I said brightly, and we took off trotting, off into the bowels of the main hospital.
Hospitals are always such a maze, but at least the wall signs give some guidance. I followed the signs, and Andreas and I worked our way through the maze and found the medical records department. I stepped up to the counter, and pulled out my wallet. “I called a couple of days ago,” I said to the clerk behind the counter, smiling sweetly, “and you are holding a copy of my records for me.” I passed over my real ID to her. She looked at it, and then looked up at me skeptically, eying my new bad dye job. “Oh, it’s an old picture,” I said, waving my hand dismissively. “I get that reaction all the time,” I smiled conspiratorially.
She was a woman, she understood full well about dye jobs and hairstyle changes. I saw the expression on her face, the one that said that she, too, had had her fill of people in the past questioning her lack of resemblance to her own picture when she got carded, and what a pain it was to deal with. She smiled and nodded her head. “One moment, please.” She went over to a lateral filing cabinet and pulled out a large envelope. She flipped it open, inspecting its contents, then with a confirmatory nod of her head, brought it over to me. “Here you go!” she said, and handed me the package.
I felt a surge of triumphant glee rush through me the instant it was in my hand. I shoved it into my purse and Andreas and I walked casually away. It was all I could do to suppress my exuberance. I felt positively giddy over the small success. Once we turned the corner, I ducked into the nearest stairwell, dragging Andreas by the hand. The door slammed behind him and I couldn’t help myself. Excited, pumped full of adrenaline, I jumped on him, hugging him tightly and laughing. “We did it!”
Without even thinking, I planted a kiss soundly on his lips, getting swept away with my own excitement. Andreas changed instantly from being stiff as a board, to wrapping me in his arms for a fierce embrace, returning my thoughtless kiss with fervent passion. He took my breath away, and a jumble of conflicting emotions came over me. One moment he was furious with me and I was wracked with guilt, the next he was kissing me like the world was ending, and I was confused, not knowing what to think, but I clung to him desperately, hoping the tide had turned and he had forgiven me.
As soon as it had begun, he pushed me away from him, straightened his shirt and cleared his throat. His face bore a tumultuous combination of perplexity, anger, and concern, but the set of his jaw was grim and determined.
I backed up, touching my lips with my hands, feeling once again that I had made a grievous error. “I – I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I got excited and carried away.” He got swept up right alongside me, too. I knew he only felt what I felt, it didn’t make it his feeling, just an echo of my own.
“Quit muddying things up,” he said brusquely. “Where to now?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject.
Once again I felt like crying. I blinked rapidly, and forced myself to remain calm, and the urge passed. “I’m supposed to meet Kat at Pike’s Place Market. I don’t suppose you know of a place nearby we could teleport to, do you?”
He thought about it briefly and then nodded his head. “Let’s go.” I reached out for his hand. “You’ll have to step a little closer than that, it’s a small space,” he cautioned. I obeyed, stepping forward until once again we were touching. Our bodies were against each others, but there might as well have been a wall between us. He closed his eyes, and the world fell away around us.
The world snapped back into place and I found myself sandwiched next to him inside a bathroom stall that smelled of piss. I wrinkled my nose. “Nice choice,” I said.
He relaxed a little and let out a small laugh. I could hear the hustle and bustle of the busy market beyond the walls, so I knew we were in the right place. I looked up at Andreas, a little mystified as to his choice of beaming sites. “What if somebody would have been in this stall?” I whispered, poking him in the chest. “We could have been discovered.”
He smirked. “Then I wouldn’t have teleported us here, of course,” he scoffed. “I show you how to do one little trick and suddenly you think you know all about it, don’t you? There’s more to jumping than just landing safely.”
“Oh,” I said, stymied. Naturally, the angel wasn’t going to give away all of his secrets. I didn’t know why that bothered me, but it did. However, it was neither the time nor the place to have a discussion about it, so I mentally filed it away for later. “Do you think our disguises are still good, or have we been made yet?” I was still dressed like a bimbo, although Lucas’ dress gave me an air of high class, and he was still dressed like a rock star in shredded jeans and shiny black.
“Does it matter?” he shrugged. “The market is so public and crowded that it’s probably an acceptable risk. I’ll be with you the entire time,” he said, assuring me. “For the record, though, this is a very bad idea.” He was not happy, but I knew that already. He hadn’t been happy with me all day, what was one more bad idea?
I rolled my eyes. “Come on,” I said. I opened the stall, to find myself in a tiny dank men’s restroom. The women’s restrooms weren’t nearly this awful, I noticed with chagrin. I wondered if people spent more money on women’s restrooms than on men’s because women seemed to have to use them ten times more frequently. I was certain there was a little truth in that. There was a man washing his hands at the sink. He saw my reflection in the mirror as Andreas and I stepped out of the stall, and just gawked. I batted my eyes at him, and sidled past him to the exit. “Excuse me, sir!” Andreas was right behind me as I exited the restroom into the main market.
Pike’s Place Market was a world-famous landmark of Seattle. It covered more than three blocks and nine acres. Multiple stories, part indoors, and part outdoors, the market was filled with private vendors renting stalls and eclectic shops hawking their wares – everything from incense to fresh produce to electronics. There were nearly two-hundred shops and stalls, and over fifty places to get a bite to eat. I was particularly fond of the farmer’s market and the fish market. Food didn’t get any fresher than what the Market offered. An herbal shop in the Economy Market Building bought and sold fresh herbs from my greenhouse. There was also a fantastic little cheese shop and a used book store I frequented. The Market even had child care and a preschool. I didn’t have time to browse today, though; books and cheese and fresh produce would have to wait for another day.
It was a busy, bustling Saturday at the popular market. We jumped into the flow of traffic and headed downstream towards Pike Place Fish in the main arcade. The fish market was so busy, packed with people shopping and haggling. The salmon tossing fish mongers were always a sight to see. If it weren’t for Kat’s distinctive bright hair, I doubt that I would have been able to find her amongst the throng.
I spotted her bright head as she bent over to examine a tray of freshly caught north Pacific halibut. I elbowed my way over to her through the crowd of people as the fish mongers tossed one clear over my head. “May I recommend the ling cod?” I asked loudly, tapping her on the shoulder. “It’s fresh in off of today’s boat!”
Kat jumped and screeched. She practically levitated. I concealed a little giggle at that. She was always easily startled. She spun around and peered at me. Recognition dawned on her. “Rhi?” She gave me an incredulous look. “What on earth are you wearing? What’s going on?” She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug, laughing; half from relief, half from anxiety.
I hugged her back, but calmly told her in her ear, “Don’t make a scene, ok?” I pulled back. Andreas placed a hand on my shoulder possessively, making his presence well known to Kat.
She looked up at him, and then at me, and then back up at him and smiled. “Well hello talk dark and gorgeous,” she flirted. She leaned into me conspiratorially. “Rhi, if you’re going to get yourself into trouble, at least you have the good sense to do it in style.” I just shook my head and grinned. Kat was an incorrigible flirt. Rob was very tolerant, knowing all too well that his lovely sociable girlfriend was devoted to him, and only him.
“Kat, this is Andreas,” I said. “Can you get us out of here?” I said to him softly.
He looked down at me gravely, a dark expression on his face, and shook his head. “I don’t like this, Rhiannon.”
I sighed. Of course he didn’t. Kat was a human, and humans were perpetually kept in the dark. Whoever made these stupid rules ought to understand that sometimes necessity required breaking rules. “Can you or can’t you?” I said crossly.
He shook his head again. “Not three people, not so soon after the last, and don’t you dare,” he whispered furiously.
Kat was confused. “Uh, what’s going on guys? Would somebody please start explaining? Why don’t we just go catch a cab or something? What’s the proper escape route for fugitives these days?”
I didn’t have time for her questions, not yet. We needed to get out of the market, first, without being caught, and preferably without being recognized by whoever was after me, Marshall Lewis’ minions. I realized it was the first time I had consciously given my pursuer a name. Who was Marshall Lewis and what did he want with me?
I looked at Andreas apologetically. “I’m sorry, Andreas. If any consequences will come of this, I’ll gladly pay them.” I grabbed Kat by the hand and dragged her away from the fish market, and into the nearest woman’s restroom. Andreas was hot on my heels. He burst through the door a moment later, as I was checking underneath the stalls to see if we were alone, and grateful to find that we were.
“You can’t do this, Rhiannon!” boomed Andreas. “I won’t let you!” He grabbed my wrist, but I twisted away, faster than he was.
“Try and stop me,” I said tersely. I took Kat’s hand, and gave her an apologetic look. She looked positively bewildered. “Don’t hate me,” I said. And then I closed my eyes, and teleported her and myself back to my office in the greenhouse. My head was pounding, but I forced myself to ignore the pain, gritting my teeth against it.
Andreas appeared right behind me, stumbling into my desk when he materialized, a righteous fury emanating out from him so strongly it was almost tangible. He grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me. “How dare you risk us like that? You have no right! This is way bigger than you, and yet you put us all at risk!” he shouted.
Kat was standing there, trembling, her eyes full of shock. At that moment she decided to rejoin reality. She let out a blood curdling scream, and sunk to the floor. “What did you do?” she sobbed, gasping for breath.
“Get out!” I shouted at Andreas, pointing to the door. “Get out now! Let me handle this!” He was furious, but he did as I asked, with a growl, closing the door behind him.
I ran over to Kat and knelt at her feet. I was afraid she was about to hyperventilate. “Kat, calm down, it’s ok, everything’s ok, we’re in my greenhouse, and if you just take deep breaths and calm down, I’ll explain everything!”
She looked at me with wide, fearful eyes, confused and bewildered. I understood the feeling perfectly.