Chapter 5 - A Shoulder to Lean On
That stupid idiot boy of my sisters had gone and screwed everything up. For the first time in five generations, we might actually have a way to generate some leverage between us and The Hidden, and Kaiden had gone and stabbed her. All because she was more powerful than even I could have ever imagined. I mean, having five Gifts is not just unheard of, it is a complete miracle. And that miracle had dropped right into our laps, as clueless as a newborn lamb.
Delia Ray Olsen is the key to not only unlocking the mysteries around The Hidden, but she will also be our secret weapon to finally defeating them.
However, Edison had just called to inform me that her family out of the Americas Northeast Kingdom was here to steal my miracle away from me. I would not just stand by and allow Queen Deveroe to swoop in and take Delia from my territory and supplant her within her own. I don’t care who her family was, Delia was ours. I gave Edison strict instructions to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the Olsen’s are unsuccessful in their mission to take Delia from California and I was preparing a full debrief on the Olsens. I do enjoy the challenge that Delia presents, not to mention the fire within her that was obviously absent from Florence’s little brats, but if that willful child was just a little more agreeable then we wouldn’t have to take these types of measures.
--Prince Hernan Collins
I was starting to shift my weight from one foot to the other and trying to think of some excuse to get me out of this room when the doorbell rang. I glanced up and saw that Elijah didn’t look surprised when he opened the door and let Edison, Dominic, and Tobias into the house. Sean was very interested in the newcomers and left our little group to be a part of the second round of introductions.
“You okay?” Max asked me and I saw that all three of my Musketeers looked worried about me.
“Yeah, just even the thought of family kind of freaks me out,” I admitted and I knew that even though they couldn’t fully understand where I was coming from, these guys would always be here if I needed to talk. I was still holding Max’s hand and I gave it a little squeeze before letting his hand go. I was new to Valkyrie society, and even though I knew that they used touch to reassure each other, it was still way out of my comfort zone to simply hold a cute guy's hand. And the very last thing I needed was the butterflies getting excited about Max. They already had a weakness for the twins.
“Absolutely not,” I overheard Mathis say in a slightly raised voice. “My granddaughter does not need an outside mentor to help her train. I will train her in Tracking and Sean will take help with Weapons and Shield. None of us know anything about this Cloaking Gift, but I am sure that we can figure something out within the family.”
By this time, Mathis had garnered everyone’s attention but it was Edison that dragged me into their argument. “Delia, tell Valkyrie Olsen that you have already accepted Dominic as your mentor and trainer.”
Bananas. I had no idea who was the bigger risk here. I found the Blade Clan to be intimidating and power-hungry and my gut was telling me to stay away from them, but claiming Dominic as my trainer would give me an excuse to stay here instead of going to Boston. On the other hand, I had told Derik that I would give Mathis and Sean a chance and in my experience, you could learn a lot about a person by the way that they taught you. Instead of answering, I looked over at Elijah and Derik for some clue as to what I should do here.
“Do not defer to them like that, Child,” Mathis scolded in a heated voice when he noticed what I was doing. “You are better than this clan in every way.”
I lifted my chin, straightened my spine, and gave Mathis my best ‘I am seriously pissed off’ glare. As my anger level rose I could feel myself pull free of the light cloak I was maintaining to tamp down the amount of allure I gave off to a minimum.
How dare he judge the only Valkyries to ever support me after only just meeting them. That is something my father would have done.
“The incredible members of the Oakland Clan are the only people within this room that I trust and you are here as their guest. If you cannot show them the respect that they deserve, I will personally ensure that you never set foot back in this house again,” I said in a clear strong voice.
“Yes, Valkyrie Olsen. Here in the Americans West we treat our fellow Valkyries with consideration and respect,” Edison replied in a haughty tone and I went from angry to furious.
“Clan Leader Greer, in almost every interaction I have witnessed between you and the Oakland Clan, you and the Blade Clan have done nothing but insult and demean my friends. Not to mention the fact that you are the leader of a clan that is so prejudiced and elitist that you wanted to split up a linked sibling pair instead of welcoming both talented Berg boys just because you insist that every member of your clan have three Gifts. You and I are no better than anyone else.”
“That is where you are wrong my dear child,” Edison retorted, becoming almost as angry as I was. “You are a female with five Gifts, two of which are classified as extremely rare and another that we have never even seen before. You are worth more than every man in this room combined.”
“I am a street rat, foster kid reject, who lives in an abandoned bus and has to pay for my showers by the minute,” I hissed out and clenched my fists at my sides.
“Maybe by human standards but with us, you will be a powerful princess who never wants for anything ever again,” Edison said back and took a step towards me. In fact, it felt like everyone in the room was significantly closer now than they had been moments before.
“And all I have to do is marry a man that tried to kill me and offer up my freedom and independence on a silver platter.”
“Who tried to kill you?” Mathis growled at the same time that I felt someone grasp my hip in a fairly intimate way.
I jerked my head around to see that Connor and Max were standing strangely close to me. Blake was behind me and was the one holding onto my hip. I wasn’t really comfortable with him touching me in such a personal way, especially in this situation, so I twisted away out of his hold but didn’t have anywhere to go. Outside of the ring the Three Musketeers were forming, the rest of the Valkyries within the room had clustered into another circle around us. I was completely surrounded by tall men.
I had had this kind of effect on the guys before when I completely dropped my cloak and figured out that they were being drawn in by my allure. Once I realized what was going on I pushed back into the fabric of reality until I was cloaked enough to dampen my allure. I made sure everyone could still see me so they knew I wasn’t running this time. Slowly everyone seemed to wake up from a sort of daze and were quick to step back when they discovered how close they were to each other.
“What just happened?” Sean questioned as his eyes darted around the room looking for some kind of threat.
“Ray’s allure is getting stronger,” Derik informed the room. “We first noticed it when the humans that used to ignore her started flocking to her at school. When she is especially pissed off, it seems to affect Valkyries too, but I have never felt it that strong before.”
“She has fully matured into her Gifts, why would her allure be becoming more powerful now? Most Vals stop gaining allure when they hit puberty.” Sean asked, probing further into the situation.
“Yeah, well after everything your bastard of a brother did to her, Ray was terrified of interacting with other Valkyries and remained completely isolated within the human world from the age of thirteen to seventeen. Can you imagine what remaining separate from her own kind during those critical years did to her power reserves? Her allure and strength have been steadily increasing from the moment that she started trusting us enough to spend some time with us,” Derik laid out and I glared at him for being so blunt with my personal history.
I looked at my uncle and hated that there was now a heavy dose of pity in his eyes. “I am learning how to control the level of my allure, but my Cloak seems to slip when I get angry,” I admitted and silently dared him to say something more about the issue.
A timer went off in the kitchen and Max went to pull the double tray of enchiladas out of the oven while Elijah tried to get his calm and political diner party back on track. But I didn’t think I could do calm and political right now. I feel like running away has been my go-to response for most situations I have faced in the last two weeks, but I really didn’t want to be here anymore. I was starting to feel like a trapped zoo animal.
I also didn’t feel like being completely alone right now. Connor should still be recuperating with Blake by his side, plus their dad was here and I knew that was a big deal for them. I respected and trusted Elijah and Derik but honestly, I was still getting to know them and didn’t feel comfortable asking them to stay with me for a while.
I walked over to Max who was looking over at the mass of people that were starting to argue amongst themselves again and said in a small voice, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can be here any longer right now. I was hoping that you could take me home and maybe we could hang out for a little while away from all of this drama.”
Max looked into my eyes for a moment before nodding his head and pulling out his phone. “That sounds great. I am just going to text Elijah and let him know what we are doing.”
After he was done I cloaked both of us so that we could grab my bag and the keys to Max’s Toyota Corolla. We went out through the garage, got into his car, and didn’t talk until we were at least four blocks away from the house. The further away we got the more I felt the weight of my future lift from my shoulders and I let out a sigh of relief. “Holy bananas, that was intense,” I lamented and Max glanced sideways to ensure that I was okay.
“I wish that I could tell you that it will get better, but honestly I have no idea what is going to happen from here on out. But thank you for standing up for us back there,” Max told me in his sweet logical voice. I gave him a small smile before turning my head to watch the world go by as my mind filled with thoughts.
Would the Collinses really keep trying to convince me to marry Kaiden? Would other royal families start to show up with the same kind of demands? What would it be like to be trained by Mathis and Sean? So far Sean seemed okay, but was my grandfather as evil as my father was? Could I still go to college? What does a princess in a royal Valkyrie family even do with her time?
I was so distracted with these questions that I didn’t notice that Max had pulled up to a local burger place that had a drive-through until he started ordering enough food to feed five people. After we had picked up the food, Max drove to Sunny Times Trailer Park and parked in front of my bus. I grabbed my set of keys from within my pack and we settled in at the table to eat in comfortable silence.
After dinner, I invited Max to climb up on my top bunk sleeping area because it really was more comfortable than the makeshift couch I had made out of the old bus benches. Other than Jack and Amy, I had never invited anyone to just hang out with me in my sanctuary of personal space and there wasn’t a whole lot that we could do. Usually, I just did homework or read library books. Thankfully, Max didn’t let my awkwardness or lack of suggestions become a problem. He just sat next to me with our backs to the side of the bus and pulled out his phone and started streaming How I Met Your Mother. Before I knew it I was resting my head on his shoulder as we both watched from the small screen.
What was almost more entertaining than the sitcom was the constant stream of text messages that Max was receiving from the guys. Because we were watching on his phone, I was able to read the first several lines of each text as they popped up. All of them checked up on us, Elijah explained that everyone had left shortly after realizing that I was no longer there, and both twins wanted to know why I had picked Max over them.
Max paused to respond to the more serious ones and to let everyone know that we were doing just fine, but just ignored the ones from the twins. Eventually, we both relaxed and spent hours doing nothing but watching stupid T.V. and talking about meaningless fluff related to the show. It was exactly what I needed.
It was late when Max finally left and I insisted that he take back the priceless family book on Valkyrie Gifts after reassuring him that I had indeed read it. I would have actually liked to take another look through it, but with how hectic my life was these days, it was better that the book remain safe with Max.
After Max left, my bus felt empty and too quiet. My mind, which had gone blissfully blank when Max was keeping me company, refilled with questions and worries about what would happen next, who I could trust, and what my family was like. With a million thoughts running through my mind, falling asleep proved to be a difficult challenge.
I tossed and turned all night and when the bus door screeched open in the morning I was too tired to do more than look down to see my best friend, Jack, standing in the front with two coffees and what looked like a pastry bag in his hand. That coffee was about the only thing that could have gotten me out of bed and I sleepily climbed down off the top bunk.
“What, no ninja moves this morning?” Jack asked in a cheerful voice and I glared at him because I was jealous of his good mood. “Jesus Ray, you look rough. What is going on? You just disappeared from the beach and other than a text message I haven’t heard from you.”
I took the coffee that he was holding out and took a long swallow before replying, “Apparently I have a whole family on the East Coast and my grandfather and uncle showed up here unannounced yesterday.”
“Fuck,” Jack exclaimed and sank into one of the bus benches by the table. “How are you feeling?”
“So freaking confused,” I admitted and sat down across from him and busied myself with looking into the pastry bag to find a couple of donuts and a huge blueberry muffin. I pulled out the muffin and fingered it as I revealed a part of my past that we had never discussed.
“My father was... not a nice person and he was an even worse father. He never mentioned having a family and would always freak out and punish me if I asked any sort of questions about my mother. I always figured it was just the two of us and had decided that was a good thing because this world didn’t need more people like us in the world. I knew the police and social services had looked into finding a next-of-kin to place me with after my father was murdered. When they came up empty I never really thought about the possibility of having a family again.
“But now, I know that they exist and Sean, my uncle, says that he has two little boys and talked about other cousins. It sounds like they have a home and a normal life where the kids go to school, get into mischief, and are loved by those around them. It sounds kind of nice,” I said and hated how much I longed for something like that.
“Shit Ray, I always assumed that you had a shity childhood because normal teenage girls can’t best three armed drug deals single-handed or carry so many knives around, but I never wanted to push. Are you saying that you and your dad lived on the streets?” Jack asked.
“More like we moved between cheap motel rooms as we drove from city to city, following his next get rich quick criminal scheme. And the really ironic thing is that we even spent time in Boston. What kind of person returns to their hometown, where they still have family, and still doesn’t say anything about it?”
“So, what happens now?” Jacked asked after a long pause because he took a giant bite of one of the donuts.
“Well, they want me to return with them to Boston,” I said slowly and Jack’s eyes snapped to mine and he froze in mid chew.
“Fuck that! You can’t leave,” Jack nearly shouted, spewing out bits of partially chewed donut. “We only have three more months of high school and you are still a minor who is a ward of the state. If they take you across state lines, it will be considered kidnapping.”
“Yeah, I just bet the Oakland Police are going to launch a nationwide amber alert and manhunt for a single foster kid that is about to age out of the system,” I said with a heavy dose of sarcasm and wiped my face free of his spit. “I told them no, but I don’t think they accepted that answer.”
“What do you mean they won’t accept your answer. If they try to force you, just kick their asses. Or you can come stay with me and Amy to hide out from them. Cherry is dating this new lowlife who actually has a house and hasn’t been home in a couple of days. I am sure it will last for a while longer.” Cherry was Jack and Amy’s druggie mom who was absolutely horrible and couldn’t stand me.
“Thanks, but I am sure they would find some way to find me. They are determined in that way. I am hoping that they will figure out that I’m not worth all the trouble and just leave me alone,” I said and wished that I really meant it. Jack must have been able to tell that I was lying because he got up, came over to sit on my side of the bench, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder.
“We will get through. Just let things play out a little and learn some more about them before making any decisions,” Jack advised and then leaned over and placed a kiss on my forehead. Jack was one hundred percent human so I didn’t feel any supernatural clan bond but it always felt good to be embraced by someone who really cared about you. “So what are your plans for the day?”
I checked my watch and then said, “I have the brunch shift at Polly’s so I need to start getting ready, but I was planning on doing laundry with Amy this afternoon.”
Jack let out a deep breath and disengaged from our side hug to lean forward on the table. That was his, ‘I am worried about my baby sister’ pose and to be completely truthful I was worried about Amy too. Two weeks ago one of her teachers had tried to force himself on her in a classroom in the middle of the school day. Fortunately, I had felt her fear because she is one of my chosen protected and we had gotten there in time to stop the sicko before he could seriously hurt Jack’s sister. But she was having a hard time coping and the rumor mill at school wasn’t helping matters. Amy had been distant and edgy ever since the incident.
“Amy said that she was going to hang out with her new friends today, guess you are stuck with me as a laundry partner,” Jack said and I could tell that he didn’t want to talk about his sister’s new friends who were the ditch class to go smoke pot under the bleachers type.
“You hate laundry. If you let me borrow Cherry’s car I can do both our loads,” I offered but Jack just shook his head and gave me a smirk.
“I may hate laundry, but I love spending time with you. I will stop by Polly’s at the end of your shift. We can eat lunch and then head over to the laundromat.”
“Sounds good to me,” I responded and Jack got up and stretched to his now considerable height. “I should be done by two.”
I also stood and he gave me a hug whispering in my hair that we would figure everything out and make it through before leaving my bus. I let out a deep breath, cracked my neck, finished my coffee, and went to go take a shower at the truck stop. When I was done with my morning routine I walked to the bus stop while checking my phone. Because I had never had a phone before a couple of weeks ago, I still wasn’t used to having it and was horrible at texting people back. I had three from Blake, two from Max, and one from both Connor and Elijah.
Blake: Max just told us that he left. Sleep well Sweetheart.
Blake: Morning Ray-Ray. Thinking about you this morning. What are you up to today?
Blake: We are going back down to Castro Valley to help out with the investigation into the moondust. Pretty sure we were only invited because the Blade Clan thinks the only way to get to you is to go through us, but it is SUPER cool. Let us know if you need anything.
Max: Had a great time tonight. Thanks for inviting me over.
Max: How are you feeling today?
Connor: Going out of town today but we can be back in less than twenty minutes if you need us.
Elijah: Good Morning Ray. The Collins’ Royal Line agreed to make you an honorary member of the Oakland Clan. If you agree, this will be a way for you to stay in Americas West and should at least serve as a buffer politically and legally between your family insisting on you returning to Americas Northeast. This is a political move that is mostly just on paper. If you want this, please know that we do not want to limit your freedom. While you are always welcome in our home and we love when you are there, you will not have to move in with us or perform any clan duties. I doubt that this move will prevent other clans from continuing to approach you and asking for you to join them, it just gives you somewhere to say you belong while you are deciding what you would like to do next in your life. Hopefully, this will allow you to remain here to graduate. Think things over and let me know if you have any questions. No pressure or time limit.
Wow. That was a lot of information for a text message, but it seemed like Elijah found a way to give me exactly what I had asked. Time and space to graduate and decide what the world to do next with my life. And it sounded like not much would have to change. I could keep my bus and have the ability to walk away whenever I wanted to. Not to mention that the idea of officially belonging with the guys made my heart race in a good way. But I was a realist and knew that there was always a catch. I would have to think this over and ask some questions to clarify the details, but at first glance this seemed like the right thing to do.
When I got to Polly’s I was able to fully submerge myself in the routine of setting up my section, taking orders, refilling drinks, and running credit cards. Waitressing wasn’t hard, but I always stayed busy and my shifts flew by.
I was wiping down a table when I felt more than saw a person walk just a little too close to me. I sidestepped out of their way, thinking that I was in their way but when I looked up I saw it was Jonas standing behind me. Jonas was part of the group of teenage Valkyrie that had come to Skyline High with Princess Regina Collins on Friday because they were trying to attract me to the Collins’ Royal Clan. Personally, I thought that Jonas would make a great poster boy for some branch of the military because he had rugged good looks with a strong jawline, bulging biceps with the requisite tattoo, and a buzz cut. We had several conversations on Friday and my initial thoughts were that he was a good guy.
“Hey, I know it is a little blunt for me to just show up like this, but I have heard some of what you have been going through and I wanted to come and make sure you were okay,” Jonas said and shifted from foot to foot. Clearly, he didn’t know how I was going to respond to him coming to my work, but to be fair he had tried to text me first.
“What have you heard?” I asked in an easy friendly voice that seemed to put him at ease.
“Well let’s see. You went after Ransom after I specifically told you to leave it to the professionals and Connor ended up getting shot. You held your hands to Max’s shield enduring unimaginable pain to funnel your life force to Max so that he could heal Connor. Then the next morning, you were confronted by both Hernan and Kaiden Collins and for some unknown reason, of which there is much speculation, Kaiden actually called a blade and stabbed you. However, you bested the highly trained prince only to have a run-in with the local werewolf pack. Then later that day your long-lost unknown family shows up and there is a dramatic dinner party. How’d I do?” Jonas asked and tucked his hands into his front pockets.
His fairly accurate summation made me smile and feel like it was okay that I was feeling a little overwhelmed right now. Jonas was still living with his parental clan, which happened to be the Blade Clan so I wasn’t surprised that he knew all of this.
“Well, I know the reason why Kaiden stabbed me and there was no run-in with the werewolves. I was just making sure Logan got back home okay after we rescued him from that moondust factory. But other than that, it seems like you have excellent information sources,” I said in a slightly teasing tone.
“I know you are working, but I was hoping that you might want to hang after your shift,” Jonas asked and appreciated that he didn’t push for answers where Kaiden was concerned.
I glanced down at my watch to see that it was one forty-five. “My shift should be over in about fifteen, but Jack is meeting me for a late lunch. If you want, you can join us,” I offered a little unsure of myself. I was still not used to actually interacting socially with people outside of Jack. I was getting better with the guys, but I had just met Jonas.
“Perfect,” Jonas said with a million-dollar smile. “I’ll just grab a table. Take your time.” I nodded at him and then hurried over to a prim and proper lady that was giving me the side eye for having a conversation when her brunch plates were ready to be cleared. I got caught up in closing out my last tables and twenty-five minutes later I looked over to see that Jack was here and sitting at the table with Jonas. They seemed to be getting along just fine so I ordered my shift meal before walking over and sitting down in the chair next to Jack.
They were in a heated debate over some sort of car engine and I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was nice to just sit and listen to them. It made me feel normal. And I needed a little normal right now. Heather came over and took their orders and by the time our food arrived the conversation had shifted to movies. I was able to contribute a little because most foster families consider the television to be their personal nanny.
The whole meal was light and fun and for forty-five minutes I got to pretend that I was a simple teenage girl out to lunch with friends instead of a rare and powerful supernatural creature that everyone wanted to use to further their own agendas.
But I knew that my slice of normal was over when Mathis and Sean walked into Polly’s.