Dad ever so skittish with strangers and worried they would steal me away or something. At first I chalked it up to overprotective parent stuff, then my abilities surfaced. This was much more than your usual Stranger Danger warnings from parents. The distrust centered on those church extremists. Those who thought of me a some kind of demon and Dad considered me some kind of miracle. I, on the other hand, considered this— whatever it was—a curse.
While they wait for me, plotting who knows what, I’m tucked away. Jumping at every noise. Sitting here hidden among the aroma of old paper and lemon oil from the freshly polished wood of the library calmed my anxiety. I’m here looking for family history. The rich Texas history stored in this hundred year old building just might possibly fill in the blanks that my father left out about my abilities and why others crave them—or wanted to snuff them out.
I am Maria Richards, or so they tell me. With all my ancestry searches, I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of that name. And my features scream Native American with my dark hair and complexion. So, I am stuck. Frustration floods me. With my father gone, my sister away at college, and my mother only hanging on by the stem of a wine glass, I have few answers.
Running both hands through my chestnut hair letting it fall behind my shoulders and away from my face. I tuck my foot underneath me to give myself a little more height. Gripping my hands, then shaking them out and wiping them off on my freshly starched jeans.
My pen spun like a propeller under my waggling fingers as I read. I’d been so excited back in second grade when I first learned about my little trick, but now it’s almost involuntarily. And there was more, so much more.
While I studied the old dusty pages of Sangre: Blood of the Tonkawa, with my left hand I controlled the trick and my right drummed out a tribal sort of rhythmic beat. A chapter title caught my attention—Perfect Triad. The pages read like a fable of sorts, stating the redeemers would come in the form of a shapeshifting pack, an eagle protector, and the one favored by Mother Earth—usually a female. My father taught me about Mother Earth and the sanctity of magic, but the shapeshifting thing seemed to tread further into the fantasy realm than a girl with the ability to spin a pencil and mess with the weather. In perfect time with my still drumming, thunder roiled outside. And I smiled.
As my fingers thumped a second down beat thunder crashed again—thunder I caused. A peek through the gap in my long brown curls revealed the most perfect smile flanked by the cutest dimples and finished off with the hottest tanned body—Joaquin. He rocked the line between boy band cute and hot sweaty body builder. And he—he was watching me.
He waved and mouthed, “Hello, Maria.”
Crap! My hand dropped on the pen. My drumming stopped, but not before the third roar of thunder cracked in time with the dance of lightning in the high windows above the library shelves, the super high industrial lighting buzzed, crackled, and dimmed for a few seconds.
The history books he read made me want to ask questions, but my mission was set. And last time I checked, HOTGUY 101 couldn’t answer any of my questions.
As I gave a quick wave, a hand clutched my shoulder. An extremely strong and overly warm one. A touch that broadcast the owner. Teo, another super-hot guy. Ugh. Public school reeked of overly hot and overly distracting guys. Years of being warned about boys and the needs of boys from the nuns at my Catholic Girls School made me leery of these guys. Making me miss my all girl private school, well maybe not completely.
Didn’t we learn from the fairytales by Grimm, the worst of the worst are sometimes hidden behind a beautiful face? Beautiful step mothers who want to kill their step daughters because of their beauty. Sweet little old ladies with poison apples. And a wolf disguised as a grandmother, waiting to eat the granddaughter.
I jumped and clutched my racing heart.
“Teo,” I smiled and turned using my arm to shield the reading material on my table. “What’s up?”
“I’m here to save you.”
“Save me from what exactly?” My mind raced. Had he seen or heard about someone wanting to hurt me. Was he part of their plan?
He flipped my book to check out the cover and I jerked it back. “You know, to save you from turning into one of those crystal packing Goth girls. Are you seriously into all this magic mumbo jumbo?”
“This book is about Native American History. How did you extrapolate magic from that?” Then, I wondered how long he’d stood behind me. I had to be more careful about using my magic, even the fun tricks.
With nimble fingers, he flipped to a page and pointed for me to read.
The title of this section read, Shaman. Exactly what I had been searching for and the shock sent a ghostly cold finger running down my spine. Before my ADD moment with the fable, I’d been in search of Native American magic. Some semblance of clarity about my ability to effect the weather. How did he know? Or was it just a flip of the page?
“So, you’ve read this?” I asked.
“What makes you think that?” He smiled.
“Seriously, I’ve been reading this for like thirty minutes and saw nothing about magic. You just flip the page to something about magic. You’re saying it’s a coincidence?” I shut the book after making a mental not of the title and page.
“Lucky break. I mean just look at the cover. Look at all those Native American hocus pocus symbols. Odds are every other page would be some kind of superstitious crap.” He made some overly dramatic hand waves.
He knew these symbols? Questions formed fast, but did I really want the answers? And could I trust word of mouth—his mouth.
“How do you know these symbols?” I asked.
“Seriously, I’m Mexican. This is Texas. These symbols are part of our town and culture. It’s stamped on jewelry for goodness sakes. Just look around. You don’t have to be a scholar.” He mocked.
“First of all, it’s not crap. It’s their belief and we should respect it. You know that’s like their religion. Don’t disrespect.”
He held up his hands like he was fending me off. “Whoa. No disrespect. I’m just not totally sold on all that shaman stuff. Are you?”
Teo caught me looking away and repeated himself. “Are you?”
“I don’t know. There seems to be a ton of literature on it. It worked for them years ago. I guess it could be true.”
“Got your dancing shoes on today, huh.” He asked.
“What?” I said as my brow crinkled.
“You know,” he looked straight into my eyes. “Do. You. Believe?”
The harshness in his voice caught me off guard. “I—I’m not sure. I guess so.”
Seeing me recoil, he backed up, and softened his voice. “Enough about that. How about we go have some fun?”
“This is fun. What are you doing in the library, anyway? Doesn’t your little crew do your homework for you?” I said with a playful slap to his shoulder.
I think the only book I ever saw in his hand was the football play book, and let’s face it—not a real book. He definitely rocked style over substance. And those giggling underclassmen that followed him around like a mini cult, did any homework assigned, so he skated through without cracking a book.
“Funny. I’m looking for you,” he said.
“Yes—you. Is that so difficult to believe? Just wanted to see if you wanted to go to Lexi’s. We dropped the paddle boats and need some extra leg power,” he said.
In some ways I found it hard to believe with the gaggle of homework assistants, they would claw a girl’s eyes out to get a date with the guys. So, yeah, it surprised me that he would look for me.
“As awesome as that sounds, I’m going to have to pass.”
“Come on, get the stick out and have some fun. I told Lexi I was coming to get you. She’ll be waiting. Do you want to tick off your besty—or me?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t make me beg, ’cause I will. I’ll embarrass you right here in your sanctuary. Nobody knows me here.” He put his hands together like a child saying his goodnight prayer. “You never hang out with us. If you say, yes, I guarantee it will up your social value,” Teo had me. And there it was—he sank to threating my social status.
“I’ve got this homework to finish,” I said without making eye contact.
“This book doesn’t look like anything I studied junior year. Why bother?”
“Extra credit. Good college. Getting out of this place.”
“This place isn’t so bad. Where do you want to go?”
“Austin. Houston. Any city—“
He cut me off, “Anyway, while we paddle I can fill you in on the town’s history. My family can trace their lineage back to a tribe that settled right here in Cove. Word of mouth was once the way they taught history. How about it? Two birds—one stone. Whacha you think?”
He had me. And he might be super annoying, but he was awful cute when he begged. Plus, he could possibly have some tendril of information to clue me in on my abilities. Some morsel of information that somehow hid in the history of this town and possibly the shaman he pointed out. It did sound like more fun than thumbing through tons of books.
With an over-exaggerated sigh and a slam of my library book, drawing a dirty look from the librarian, I stood. Confidence gave me height, but genetics had me at little over five feet. On my way to return my book to its original spot, I gave Teo a nudge with my shoulder. I would come back—soon.
He grabbed his shoulder to feign an injury. Like my hundred pounds could have done any kind of damage, to his body that seemed more than any high school guys should be able to rock. I guess there were worse ways to spend my afternoon, than with a hot, popular guy helping to up my social standing.
When I banged the book into place, thunder roared, and I smiled. Electricity ran through my finger tips and I ran my thumb across the ends of each finger soothing the sensation. It felt good, like—power.
When I turned back to Teo, he flashed those perfectly white teeth. Somehow it seemed that he knew that was me.
“Losers!” Lexi yelled from the middle of the pond.
Lexi’s laugh bounced off the trees and surrounded me. My best friend at this new school. She had light brown hair with highlights and striking blue eyes. Perfect posture and impeccably coordinate outfits with oversized accessories. What I loved most was the little bit of whimsy in the form of a tiny diamond on the side of her nose and a lock of purple hair hidden among her bouncy curls. She didn’t scream alt-girl, she just whispered it. My first period teacher sat me next to her and that’s all it took. A conversation started, she found me at lunch, and just like that I was at the table with the in group. Which led to meeting Jim, her cousin, and his best friend, Teo. Bipity-bopity-boo, you’re sucked in. Luckily, not a bad place to be.
Shading my eyes with my hand I strained to see her partner—Jim, of course. Another football player, but more of the lineman type—huge with a side order of muscle. And brash, loud, and a little too aggressive for my liking. Other than football these two guys didn’t seem to have anything in common and I wondered why they were friends. Their appearance was even on opposite ends of the spectrum; black hair to blonde, olive skin to pasty, and cut lean muscle to slightly flabby.
Lexi told me she lived on the same property as her uncle, and with the uncle came the cousin. They, Lexi and her mother, moved there shortly after her father passed away. Not in the same house, but on the same farm.
The closer I got to the water the slower my steps became.
“Bok. Bok. Bok. You chicken,” Jim yelled out to me—us.
“You losers up for a little race?” Lexi teased.
My heartbeat quickened. I loved sitting on a blanket beside it or with my feet in the shallow end of a pool. But lake-deep murky water with fish and whatever else swam around in these backwoods country waters gave me goose bumps. Despite all my athletic activities, I never learned to swim. Not ready to reveal this factoid to my new friends, I joined them. If not, it would be impossible to sit at our lunch table if some of the gang found out. They’d have commentary for weeks.
We strode along a short wooden dock where a paddleboats floated, tied to a cleat. When Teo took my hand to help me into the boat, I squeezed it tight. With a smile he squeezed then released my hand. He stepped into the boat and leaned back to untie the boat. The rock of the boat made me grab for a handhold. My heart raced out of control.
My feet slipped into the straps of the pedals. We backed away from the dock and Teo shifted a lever. With a chug, we moved forward across the lake. His controlled nature and melodic voice calmed me—slightly. Jim and Lexi paddled over to us.
A couple of ducks swam in the tank, but they flew to the opposite end whenever Jim came close. I envied them. His creeptastic nature made me squirm.
The view of lush trees and green open spaces sprinkled with wild flowers far away, to a secret place my father took me to practice. We’d walk out into the field and I’d raise my hands toward the sun calling upon Mother Earth. The openness made my chest lighten and my breaths come more naturally.
The lake centered between the tree line and Jim’s house. It made an irregular oval shape and it took up about half an acre of land—maybe more. The sun shone and the birds fluttered and sang. I pressed the back of my hand softly against my nose to relieve the burning sensation from the bright sun. The smell of the water, flowers, and fresh-cut grass made this moment near perfect.
Teo relaxed, too. More like a longtime friend. Not a super jock. I mean he’s hot, like the muy caliente type. And don’t get me started on the bulging muscles, dark hair, and olive skin. So my type. But, still there was something—something he held back. He asked the usual questions—what I liked and where I came from. That wasn’t what I wanted to talk about, but I couldn’t get centered. Unease from the water gripped me, and I couldn’t remember my chants. I couldn’t call upon Mother Earth, but she knew my thoughts. A soft wind caressed my face—my natural anti-anxiety medication.
“How do you like real school, Maria?” he said.
“Real school? Saint Mary’s was totally a real school. I’ve already been invited to take some summer classes at The University of Texas, as a junior. How’s that for real school?” I said.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” Teo held up his hands admitting defeat. “Well, one thing’s for sure.”
“Catholic prep school has the right idea about those uniforms,” Teo flashed a wolfish smile that gave me goose flesh. This guy was a real piece of work, but he had information.
“So, tell me about the Cove’s history.”
My friend Lexi decided to make things interesting. “Y’all gonna yap or race?”
Ugh. I blew my hair out of my face and bit my tongue. Competitiveness bubbled up and I smiled. But not forgetting my need for information. I asked again, “You said you would help me with my report.”
A heavy aura of darkness filled the space between us. A jagged row of tall trees that lined the far shore blurred with clipped visions of wavy darkness.
“Well. Well. I thought you’d used that as an excuse to spend time with me. But, no. You’re just using me for information,” he said.
“While your sparkling personality may be a perk, I do need the information.”
He pressed his hand to his heart faking a wound from my remarks. “Okay, deny your true feeling a little longer.”
This guy could have any girl he wanted—literally, but he wanted to hang out with me. It gave me the slightest of thrill, but I didn’t really get it. What was special about me?
“Ugh,” I gasped.
“Okay. You see that tree line?” He said pointing to the tree line.
I faced where he pointed and nodded.
“There is a creek down there. It’s the home of a bloody battle between the Apache and the Tonkawa. They fought for this land. Some believed they had some special abilities.”
Jim moved beside our boat and nudged us.
“Cut it out, you pin head. You’re going to tip us over.” I screamed.
“Whatever. Are we going to float around like little girls or race? I don’t have all day,” Jim teased.
“Where to?” Teo asked.
“To that buoy making the deepest part of the lake.”
“Get after it then,” Teo said. And just like that. My objective for the day stifled. Information with each crumb Teo dropped seeming more helpful—he mentioned abilities. Ugh. Did he really have answers about my ability? Or why someone would kill my father for them. And if my sister or I were next.
Teo’s feet moved quickly. My legs paddled faster as we raced toward the far bank. We worked in near perfect unison. Our boat pulled past theirs, enough for Jim to bump the rear corner.
“Stop it,” I screamed.
“For real, dude, cut the shit,” Teo yelled.
The boat wobbled.
“Please,” my plea came out as a whisper. My fists clutched the side handlebars with such force my knuckles changed from purple to white. Then he bumped us again with more force. We wobbled from side to side. Panic struck me, and as Teo tried to compensate, we flipped.
My body sunk low under the water. I fought to pull myself to the surface. Even though the water was warm from the sun, it still took away my breath. As I grabbed for the boat, my hands met the bottom slick with pond slime, and found no place to grip. They slid off. Again, I tried to heave myself up onto the bottom, but I slipped off. This time, I went deep underwater. I flailed. It sort of worked. I climbed back up to the surface, and as my head emerged under the boat, something banged my forehead. Something metal and unforgiving.
The shock of pain stilled my body. I sunk deeper and deeper. My mind told me to move my arms and legs, but my body ignored the command. Enveloped in darkness, white stars dotted my vision.
For the first time it occurred to me—I might drown. Death would come way too soon. This would send me to join my dad, but my mother—this would shatter her.
A jerk of my collar pulled me upward. Arms and legs followed behind. The water around me grew brighter, and then the sun blinded me—air touched my face. Mouth gaped wide open as I tried to fill my lungs with air, but with every breath, a cough shoved the oxygen back out. Vision flashed blotchy and broken. My rescuer swam toward the bank, in smooth, sinuous strokes.
Every part of my body ached, too weak to move. It felt lifeless and limp as it moved through the air. Then the rocky ground poked my back and shoulders. Someone’s scream helped me break through the darkness. I squinted as Lexi’s form grew small in the distance. Again my vision melted away and the sky split apart and came back together. A growl rumbled from near the water, and Jim moved out of the water toward the bank. The muck and dark water followed him, it morphed into something alive—something animal-like swam around his torso. He dipped underwater again.
Out of focus, too dizzy and weak to watch, I passed out.