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Taking back forever, p.26
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       Taking Back Forever, p.26

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  I squinted, catching sight of a black feather caught in the swirling lights. Another black feather appeared. Then another. Soon, the globe of swirling color was darkened with endless black feathers.

  The globe shattered and feathers poured out, spiraling through the sky. I held out my hand and one single feather landed in my palm. From nowhere I pulled a fan full of peacock feathers from behind my back and slid the black feather into the shimmering blue and green bundle.

  Rainbow colored light exploded from the feathers like sparklers.

  I turned around, sensing something behind me. Black feathers still spiraled through the air, but they landed and gathered around a glowing orb. The orb slowly morphed into a young girl’s face. The feathers changed into black hair. She floated backward and walls of stone rose around her. One of her eyes peered out at me through a small round opening. I moved closer, wanting to see what color her eye was, but someone, or something pulled her away.

  The hole opened wider and Dedrick’s face appeared. I leapt backward.

  I was yanked down, spinning in fast circles like I was caught in a drain. A black tunnel formed around me, swirling and closing in on me tighter and tighter until I couldn’t breathe.

  “Breathe, Maryah!” Nathan’s voice demanded. His hands gripped my shoulders as he shook me. “Open your eyes and breathe.”

  I forced my eyes open and when I saw his panicked expression I sucked in a much needed breath of air.

  “Again,” he said, smoothing down my hair and holding my twitching face. “You’re all right.”

  I felt the sandy bottom of the pool beneath my feet. I pressed off of it and grasped Nathan, wrapping my arms and legs around him. He held me back just as tight.

  I was trembling. “I saw Dedrick.”

  “Where?” he asked calmly.

  “Through a window. In a room made of stone. Like a castle of some kind.”

  “What else?”

  My chest rose and fell fast against Nathan’s. “A young girl with black hair.”

  “Did she look familiar?”

  “No, I’ve never seen her before.”

  “Anything else?” I pulled back and looked at him, grounding myself back in reality. “Before that it was amazing. I floated in the sky with the stars and swam through webs of light.”

  His grin was bittersweet. “It worked. You astral traveled.”

  I wiped water from my face. It wasn’t quite the proud and celebratory moment I had imagined. I was still trembling.

  “Maryah?” Nathan lifted my chin to look at him. “Why were you looking for Dedrick? Gregory is back.”

  I shivered and Nathan sank lower. The warm water lapped at my chin. “He might still come after us. He might try to kidnap Gregory again. What if he slaughters all of us again like our last life? What if he still wants me dead?”

  “We’re stronger than we’ve ever been. If you’re ever in danger I can traverse you away from it instantly.”

  “And what about the rest of the kindrily?”

  “We all protect each other.”

  “But we don’t have a definite plan.”

  Nathan’s head tilted. “A plan?”

  I nodded.

  He kissed me, but it was too quick. My lips felt so cold after he pulled back. “Did you remember anything? Any memories from past lives?”

  “No. Why?”

  “Because you just sounded like your old self. You always had a plan.”

  “Maybe all this metaphysical training is starting to work.”

  “I think it is.”

  “It’s because of you.” I flicked my head, motioning to the scene around us. “Bringing me here was a brilliant idea.”

  He kissed me. “I’m so proud of you.”

  “Let’s try it again!” I said excitedly. “I’m going to focus on someone else. Maybe Krista.” I reconsidered that idea, worrying I might see her and Carson doing something that would scar me forever. “On second thought, maybe Eightball.”

  His head fell backward. “And the addiction starts.”

  I kissed his neck. It was too tempting, all wet and shiny in the moonlight. He moaned. “How about tomorrow?”

  “Why can’t we do it now?” I asked in my most seductive voice. If I couldn’t get in another session of astral traveling then I wanted a session of making out.

  He pushed me away until my legs floated free from his waist, then he swept them to the side and scooped me up in his arms. He glided across the pool and climbed the steps, carrying me. “Because it’s late and I was looking forward to falling asleep with you in my arms.”

  I shivered from the cold air and burrowed tight against him. Suddenly my goal shifted from making out to getting warm. “Can we have some hot chocolate first?

  “Certainly.” He carried me into the house then set me down and wrapped a quilt around me. “Would you prefer it be from Vienna or New York City?”

  “Ooh, tough decision. How about a little of both?”

  LEAVING SCARS

  Harmony

  I sat at the edge of the pond, watching the koi swim around and bump into each other. Krista lowered herself down beside me. “You wanted to see me?”

  “Before the meeting began, I wanted to talk to you privately.” My hand unconsciously rested on my ribs. “I wanted to thank you for leaving my scars visible.”

  She smiled while sipping her lemonade. “I thought you’d like that. I figured you’d want visual reminders so he’d never forget what he did.”

  “You know me so well.”

  Krista shrugged.

  “One day,” I said, “many, many years from now, if I ever do want to erase them, would you be able to?”

  “Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve never tried to heal old scars.”

  “That’s okay. I’ll probably want to keep them forever. Men need a good guilt trip every now and then.”

  Krista chuckled.

  “Seriously, Kris. Thank you for saving my life. For allowing me to be with Gregory again. I’m not sure I can ever repay you.”

  “You would have had many more lives even if I didn’t save this one.”

  “But I would have had to wait much longer to be with Gregory.”

  She nodded. I could tell from the sad faraway look in her eyes as she glanced out at the red rocks that she wanted to ask about the other person I needed to discuss with her.

  I beat her to the punch. “Sheila crossed over.”

  She closed her eyes. Her skin glimmered in the sunlight shining down on her. After a long moment she nodded. “Good.”

  Even though they had shared a long final goodbye, I sensed her wish to have had one more. Everyone wished to have one more.

  I placed my hand on her knee. “She said to tell you goodbye, that she loves you, and that the stars were waiting for her.”

  Krista choked back a silent sob. She wiped one tear from her eye then lifted her face to the sun again. “Thank you, Harmony.”

  I stood and brushed myself off. “I’ll see you inside for the meeting.”

  ∞

  I had never lit the candles of the chandelier before. Ever. But as I stood on the table and lit the last one, I grinned. The burning flames swayed and danced, waving to the star-shaped colored glass above them.

  “I dreamt of that skylight while I was with Dedrick,” Gregory said, staring up at it. “I don’t remember when or why, but the memory just came to me.”

  I handed him the box of long matches and he set them on the table then offered his hand to help me down. I squatted, wrapped my hands around his neck and leaned over him. With hardly any effort he slid me off the table and into his lap.

  “For these meetings,” I told him, “I give you open access to my thoughts. I might need to explain things to you that you’ve missed or won’t understand, and I know asking lots of questions makes you uncomfortable.”

  He nodded then kissed me. We were still kissing when members started arriving.

  “I don’t know,” Carson te
ased. “I’m still not sure he can be trusted.”

  “There’s no doubt he’s himself again.” I flashed Gregory a sultry grin as I slid off his lap and into my seat. “I promise you that.”

  Amber pushed her glasses up her nose. “Can I just say how happy I am to look across the table and see you in your seat, Gregory? It was empty for much too long. And a huge part of Harmony was empty too.”

  Amber was right. Two empty seats used to separate Nathan and me. Recently, Maryah had returned to hers, and while I was happy for Nate, it made the empty seat left between Maryah and me feel like a black hole that would never be filled.

  The black hole was gone. Stunning light now filled it. My twin flame completed our circle.

  “Look at us,” Louise opened her hands. “Every member present and accounted for. I’ll admit I worried I’d never see that day again.”

  “Plus one new member.” Krista shook Mikey’s foot as she set his carrier on top of the table.

  Edgar cleaned his glasses with a handkerchief. “I documented a lot of Gregory’s information when he first arrived, but I wanted a round-table meeting so we could brainstorm and see if we have any more questions Gregory might be able to answer before the details of his time with Dedrick fade to a point where he can’t recall them anymore.”

  “They’re fading?” Maryah asked.

  Gregory leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table. I held onto his strong bicep. I couldn’t not touch him. I had an irrational fear that if I didn’t have some sort of physical contact with him at all times he’d disappear.

  “It’s hard to describe,” Gregory started. “It’s almost like recovering from being drunk. You know you said and did stupid things, but the more the alcohol is eliminated from your system, the more the details of your intoxication become hazy.”

  “What about your memories from before you were abducted?” Maryah asked. “Do you remember everything before that?”

  “Yes,” Gregory told her. “And don’t worry, you will too.”

  My head snapped left to look at Gregory. Other members must have picked up on his certain tone too because several of us shifted.

  “Why do you sound so sure?” Maryah asked him. I was proud of her for asking important questions.

  Gregory shrugged. “You promised me you would, and I’ve never known you to break a promise to anyone.”

  “When?” Maryah pried. “When did I promise you that? And what exactly did I promise?”

  I glanced across the table. Edgar, Helen, Anthony, and Louise were all leaned forward as enthralled by this conversation as I was.

  Gregory’s ears pulled back. He was listening to someone’s thoughts, or trying to block out some of us. I was certain we were all asking a million mental questions. He lifted his face and scanned the table. His attention locked on Amber. I could tell whatever Amber was thinking was the bit of information Gregory needed.

  “Mary didn’t die on the beach at the massacre. Everyone knows that, right?”

  My breath caught in my healed-but-still-tender lung. “No one knew that,” I said quietly. “When did she die?”

  Gregory turned in his seat so he was facing Maryah directly. “You were with us. For the first few months you were a prisoner of Dedrick’s too.”

  My mouth dropped open. I stared around Gregory’s back at Maryah. She was frozen with shock.

  “No,” Nate said, looking just as miffed as the rest of us. “She slit her own throat with Dedrick’s knife.”

  Gregory nodded. “I remember that, but Dedrick’s healer didn’t let her die. They took both of us.”

  Nate dropped his head in his hands. “Dear god.” He had told us he watched Mary slit her own throat with Dedrick’s hand. He’d already been stabbed and was bleeding out when it happened. He lifted his head and stared at me. His eyes were like daggers stabbing me even harder than Gregory did. Nate’s words were laced with venom. “How did you miss that, Harmony?”

  “I...I—” I had told the story a dozen times. To Nate. To Edgar. To whomever asked. I told them every member’s soul solidified with light and crossed—except for Gregory's. We were Elements. We didn’t have reasons to linger. We always crossed to the Higher Realm quickly so we could return quickly. But the Nefariouns had Gregory—alive—so I stayed. My spirit followed them, to see where they would take him, what they would do to him. Two of them hauled him away before Maryah slit her throat. I never saw her die because I was watching over Gregory—until Gregory and his captors vanished into thin air. I searched everywhere. For days I searched and searched for him. When I found no trace of him, I assumed they killed him too. So I crossed over.

  “You told us you saw every member cross except Gregory,” Nate said.

  I raised my guilty eyes. “I made a mistake. I left before you and Mary died.”

  “You lied,” Nate hissed.

  I had lied. At the time it hadn’t felt like a lie. Mary had died, and she had reincarnated as Maryah. Everyone believed she had died on the beach with the others. I believed that.

  Gregory was listening to my thoughts. I could always tell when he was in my head. He held my hand and defended me. “She wouldn’t have intentionally lied about that.”

  “I didn’t know,” I confessed. “Truly, I assumed she died and crossed over quickly like always.”

  Nate had never looked at me with so much disappointment. “But you didn’t actually see her cross over like you told us you did. You lied to me—about the most important turning point of my existence.”

  My chest hurt. My hands felt so tiny and weak. “I’m sorry, Nate.” I looked at Maryah. “I’m so sorry.”

  Maryah turned to Nathan. “But weren’t we in the Higher Realm together? Didn’t you see me?”

  He shook his head. “I’ve told you, once we reach the Higher Realm linear time doesn’t exist. Our soul is there to make decisions and plan our route back. We’re there and gone in what would feel like the blink of an eye here. Our souls communicate with the source, not other souls. It’s why we always choose to come back. As glorious as the Higher Realm is we choose human existence for the interaction with others.”

  Maryah turned back around. She glanced at Gregory’s hand holding mine, then her eyes met mine. “You didn’t see what happened to me because you were watching over Gregory, right?” I nodded. “Understandable. I would have done the same if they had taken Nathan. It’s okay, Harmony.”

  Maryah might have forgiven me, but would Nate?

  “Gregory?” Maryah’s cracking voice asked. “What happened to me while I was there? With Dedrick?”

  “Let me think.” Gregory pressed his palm to his head like he was trying to shove the memory back in. “I traveled a lot, so I only saw you a couple times when we went back to the house. He’d send me in to read your mind, but you had mastered staying mentally quiet. You mentally told me off every time I tried to read you. And you were sick, I think. You didn’t look good at all. You were always in bed. Strapped to a bed.”

  “Strapped?” Maryah gasped.

  Gregory nodded. “At the time I must not have questioned it because of Dedrick’s mind control, but yes, you were always strapped to that bed.”

  “I’m going to kill him,” Nate snarled.

  “No, Nathaniel,” Gregory replied to Nate’s thoughts. “It’s not what you’re thinking. I doubt Dedrick ever forced himself on her physically. Even if he did, he couldn’t have done what you’re thinking.”

  We all knew what Nate was thinking. And the thought was horrifying. Gregory shifted in his seat and his hand protectively dropped to the crotch of his pants. “Dedrick isn’t...fully equipped.”

  Faith and Amber laughed.

  Faith held up her hands. “Okay, let’s pause for one moment. As interesting as this long awaited information is about Mary, I have to know how evil, egotistical, power-hungry Dedrick has no physical manhood.”

  Gregory smirked. “Some thoughts I overhear leave too memorable of an impression to forget. Many
decades ago, Dedrick was castrated by a member of another kindrily when he attempted to rape her while kidnapping her.”

  “Karma is a beautiful thing,” Krista said, grinning.

  “No wonder he’s obsessed with forcing souls into his circle,” Carson said. “He can’t ever have little spawns of his own.”

  Nate put his arm around Maryah and pressed his lips to the side of her head. I could tell he was still upset, but at least the possibility of Dedrick raping Mary had been eliminated.

  “As rewarding as that bit of information was,” Maryah said, “let’s focus on what happened to me while I was there. This could be the key to understanding why I erased.”

  I glanced at her when she said “me.” She said it so casually. I hoped her connection with her past lives was strengthening.

  Gregory pressed his palm to his head again. “One of the times I came to see you, you were crying.”

  “Crying. So?” Maryah said confused.

  “As Mary, you rarely cried,” I explained.

  Nate squeezed her shoulder. “For you to cry in front of Dedrick you must have been extremely upset.”

  “Why was I crying?” she asked Gregory.

  “I don’t think you told me or let the thoughts come into your head, but that’s when you promised me you’d remember. You told me no matter what you chose, you would remember again, and you’d find a way to make it right. I didn’t know what you were talking about at the time. I didn’t know anything I was doing for Dedrick was wrong. I relayed what you said to Dedrick and I moved on to my next assignment. A few days ago, when I figured out who you were, and Carson told me you had erased, it all made sense. You said no matter what you chose, you would remember again, and you chose to erase. You promised to remember, so I know you’ll find a way.”

  “But you have no suspicions about why she would have erased?” Louise asked.

 
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