I'll Never Leave You
The wind blew through her fiery, auburn hair and with the rising sun shining between the trees behind her, she looked like she was on fire. Alex stood in the center of the clearing, her arms outstretched. “I’m here, My Love.” Stew thought she never looked more beautiful than she did at that moment.
He walked toward her, not believing what he was seeing. “I knew you couldn’t be gone.”
She wrapped her arms around him as he drew near. He closed his eyes and buried his tear-soaked face in her shoulder.
“Something just kept telling me not to be sad… that you’d be coming back.”
“I’ll never leave you. I love you, Stew.”
His eyes still closed, he pulled back enough to see her expression as he told her what he had wanted to for so long but was unable to. The words came out as he slowly opened his eyes. “I love—“ His face froze in terror. He found himself staring at a pair of red orbs in the middle of a black, feathery head. The tip of a long, crooked beak was an inch from his nose. The raven opened his mouth and from it, a man’s voice spoke, “I’ll never leave you, Stew.” Then, it let out a deafening, guttural “Kraa!”
Stew screamed and woke up to see a dozen panicked passengers gripping their arm rests. He felt Goose, still veiled in shadow, digging his claws into his thighs, apparently, just woken up himself.
“Are you okay, Stew?” Wiz asked softly, leaning over from the window seat beside him. “Bad dream? You were sleeping.”
“Bad dream. Yeah. You could say that. Let’s hope it’s just that.”
“What do you mean?” Marie asked. She put her hand up and mouthed “It’s okay,” in an attempt to calm the people who were still staring from their seats.
Stew looked around before continuing, “It was Alex. She was alive. I thought…” He bowed his head and sighed, straining to hold back the tears. He sniffed and took a deep breath. “But after I got close, she turned into this giant… raven.”
“Ooh. Hm,” Wiz said, contemplating the meaning of the images.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Stew said, but his voice quivered, betraying his false assurance in that fact.
Brandr walked up the aisle toward them from his seat next to Tófa several rows ahead of them. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. We’re fine,” Wiz whispered. “Just a bad dream.”
“How are you guys doing up there?” Wiz continued quietly.
“We’re all right. Tófa’s asleep. Samal’s being bugged to death by a seven year old. Where’s Goose?”
“He was asleep on Stew’s lap. Now’s he’s on mine, looking out the window.”
“Good/. Well, I’m going to get back to my seat.”
“Okay. We land in a couple of hours. I’ll see you then.”
As Brandr walked back to his seat, Marie turned to Stew and Wiz, “I apologize, Stew, for having to lean across you. What’s the game plan for when we land?”
“For you, damage control. You need to make sure things are right with your partner and your job.”
“If I get fired… so be it. I have no regrets.”
“I’m glad you don’t regret helping, but I still don’t want you to lose your job because of it.”
“Stew… would you mind, um…”
“Sure. No problem.”
“Are you okay?” Marie asked Stew as she stood up and let him sit on the aisle.
“Yeah. I’ll be alright.”
Once they got situated and readjusted, Marie continued. “Wiz… seeing what I’ve seen… knowing what I now know… there’s no way of undoing that. And I’m having a difficult time trying to figure out how I’m going to hide all of this from Derek. I’m thinking about turning in my resignation.”
“What? And not be a detective anymore? But you love your job.”
“I didn’t say I would stop being a detective. I mean, you guys are still going to need my help.”
“I’m not going to ask you to risk your life more than you already have, Marie. In fact, I insist that—“
“I risk my life everyday just being a cop,” she said, her voice slightly elevated. “What’s the difference?”
“Calm down. I see the point you’re trying to make, but you have to understand… you must see it by now. Zachary is not like any criminal you will ever come across in your entire career as a police officer.”
“I know that. But I also know that you care about me.”
“You’re right. I do. That’s why—“
“You think Zachary doesn’t know that?”
“How would he know that?”
“You don’t think he was hiding somewhere… watching the ceremony in the park? They took his name off it… well, the name he made up for himself… and made it a reminder of his repeated failure. He probably saw us there. And if he knows that we have feelings for each other, he can use me to get to you. And I have a much better chance of surviving if I’m kept in the loop—if I’m right there with you.”
“You’re right. We’ll talk about it more when we get back on the ground.”
“Do you ever lose an argument?” Wiz asked, cocking his head with a facetious smirk on his face.
“Only those I have with myself… and my father. You want your seat back, Stew?”
“Uh… sure. If you…”
“Yeah. I’ve got to go to the restroom.”
Stew undid his seatbelt and stood up to let her by. When she was out of earshot, Stew sat down in the center seat. “Alex and Marie aren’t related, are they?”
“Alex was like that. You think you know which way is up, but…” Stew’s eyes became misty as he thought about the love he lost, “you talk to her and realize that your life has been upside-down the whole time. And she's the one...” Stew swallowed hard. "She's the one who got me standing on my feet."
“That’s a very good summation.”
“I miss her, Wiz.”
“I know you do. I’m sorry.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“What did it feel like to know that I was alive when everyone around you told you I wasn’t?”
“I think it had to be the loneliest feeling in the world.”
“No. I mean… physically. Was there an actual feeling that you had?”
“Like a hunger, I suppose, only not in my stomach, but in my heart. Why do you ask?”
“Mm. Just curious.”
“You know what?” Stew said as they waited outside the terminal for an empty taxi. “I haven’t talked to my parents since before we left Charlotte. My mom’s probably… Come to think of it,” he reached in his coat pocket. “She hasn’t called… Where’s my cellphone?”
“What?” Wiz asked, confused.
“My cellphone. It’s gone.”
“Well,” Marie said, trying to be the voice of rationality, “where do you think you lost it?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it could have fallen out of my pocket during the scuffle in the clearing. Marie… can I borrow your phone?”
Zachary stood in the middle of the grove, amongst the empty, plastic beer cups and food wrappers, staring at what should have been his moment of triumph. Instead, once again, there was the cold, stone symbol of his failure. His plan was perfect. Where had he gone wrong? Not only did the Circle slip out of his hands but he had lost Astrid, as well, for the second time. And, perhaps, this time for good. A cellphone rang, piercing through the night air and his melancholy. It was a sound he had not expected. A purely digital version of the song Funkytown. He looked around, following the noise until he found it under a bush near the edge of the clearing. He picked it up and flipped it open but didn’t say anything.
“Hello?” the person on the other end said. “My name is Stew Kasey. Uh… I guess you found my phone. I was wondering—“
Zachary flipped it back shut and smiled.
Jade hated shopping for shoes by herself. In her eyes, what good was shopping without someone to envy her fantastic sense of fashion? Still, she needed a new pair of heels to go with the dress she bought for that night’s dinner party. 2008 had been her first year as assistant campaign coordinator and there would be plenty of people there that she had not met yet.
As she contemplated buying a pair of Etienne Aigner’s, her cell phone rang inside her purse. It was Stew’s ringtone. She didn’t know whether she should jump for joy and answer it or ignore it and throw darts at his picture later. She dug in her handbag and pulled out the phone. She stared at the screen as it played Jungle Boogie by Kool and the Gang. Just as she made the decision to answer it and her thumb reached for the button with a green phone on it, the song stopped. Missed call.
“Damn it. Maybe it’s a sign.”
She was about to put the phone back in her purse when it rang again. Stew again. She flipped open the phone and put it up to her ear.
“No. I’m sorry. Is this Jade?”
“Who is this?”
“I found Stew’s phone. I’m just trying to return it to him.”
“Well, he works at the newspaper. The Gazette. You can drop it off there. I’m sure they’ll get it to him.”
“There are specific instructions on here to give it to Jade if found.”
“I guess that’s because I used to be his girlfriend. But I’m not anymore so—“
“I happened to see your picture on here when I was looking at the recent calls list. I noticed he hasn’t called you in a while.”
“Yeah. He broke up with me. But I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“That’s a shame. He was extremely lucky to have you and someone as beautiful as you should be the one doing the dumping.”
“I know. Right?”
“Would you like to have coffee with me sometime?”
“I don’t know. I—“
“You’re seeing someone.”
“No. That’s not it.”
“Then, what is it? Come on. Public place. I’m buying. You’re probably going to have coffee in the morning anyway. Right?”
“I don't go out of my way to meet strange men. Goodbye, now." She shut the phone and put it in her purse. "Creep."
Her phone rang again. She yanked it back out of her purse and saw that it was the man with Stew's phone again. She pushed a button on the side and held it until the screen went black.