Chapter 5

Just like a shadow

I'll be beside you

I'll be your comfort

I'm there to guide you home

~Matt~

After Vanessa and I hooked up, I dropped her off at her house and headed home in a fairly good mood. Man, that girl knew exactly how to turn me on. The drive home was quiet, and the sun was starting to set in the sky, casting an orange glow across the sky. The temperature was going to drop tonight to freezing, and the wind was already starting to produce a biting chill to it. I took in a shuddering breath and smiled, inhaling the beauty of this terrestrial realm. It could never match the wonder of Skuld's plane, but it was beautiful all the same.

I pulled into the drive and then felt the ley throb. What was she doing here? I sighed and walked up into the house. Eric came rushing out the door in a panic.

"Whoa dude, where's the fire?"

"Loki. On call. Gotta go now."

He shoved past me and sprinted into the woods. I made sure he was safely in there before I went inside.

Serenity was sitting with the little one that I believed to be Desiree coloring on a piece of white paper while Desiree scribbled and clutched a tattered old bear. She was talking animatedly, doing her Serenity thing of throwing her hands in the air and making wild gestures as she talked. Desiree smiled sweetly like she was nervous, but she had a happy aura shining off of her. Mom sat on the couch with a few of the books she had left over from mine and Eric's freshman years spread across the tables. She smiled at me as I walked in.

"Hi Matt honey, good to see you're home."

"Yeah, sure, uh, what is the kid doing here?" I asked point-blank.

"Well, Infiniti's gonna be staying with us until she can get her utilities turned on. I don't want them to freeze over. Plus I will be homeschooling Infiniti until she can get back up to the senior level to take her GED. Speaking of," She snapped her fingers and pointed at the stairs. "Do me a favor and go get me whatever textbooks you had left from freshman and sophomore years, please."

"Uh, yeah sure, I guess." I trudged reluctantly up the stairs to my room. Man, this had gotten so surreal. First she was assigned to me, and now she was living in my house. And just what the hell did Skuld mean anyway about remembering I had a girlfriend? Vanessa's body was much better anyway.

Suddenly the pinch in my bladder reminded me that I hadn't peed since this morning. I changed my direction back down the other side of the hall and headed for the bathroom door. I opened the door and-

"AIEEE!" Infiniti shrieked and then grabbed a towel to cover her naked body. Her face blushed and I felt my cheeks redden. I muttered an apology under my breath and left. I needed the sanctity of my room, and I needed it NOW.

I reached my room and slammed the door shut. Images kept leaping out from my head, and my vice leaped and snarled at me to go back to her. I gripped the edge of my dresser until my knuckles went white from the strain of holding on. I calmed my breathing, until I could drown away all thoughts of… her.

Purposefully I grabbed my Algebra and Science books and walked back downstairs. By the time I got there, she had Desiree in her lap and was listening intently to Mom as she talked.

"Now when you take the test, it'll be about ten to actually take it but if you need the cash, I'll provide it for you. You'll need to brush up on your English, math, science, and take a liberty and law test." Mom smiled at me. "Oh hi honey, did you get those books?"

"Yeah. Here you go."

I sat the books down on the table and sat next to Mom. Infiniti and I distinctly avoided eyes. Her face had a nice red tinge to it, which I had to say was a very nice color on her, paired with her large blue eyes and pale complexion. And for the record, I wasn't hitting on her, I was appreciating her assets. Beside me, Mom continued talking.

"Now what kind of classes were you in before you left?"

"Mostly honors programs. I rock at English and most sciences, but suck royally at physics and math."

"What about your electives?"

"Choir and art."

"Good good." Mom smiled. "I'll have Matt tutor you in math and physics."My body stiffened just a bit, but I refused to open my mouth. Again, you do not argue with Mom. She continued. "I can do the English and Lib and Law, and Eric can do science. Don't worry sweetheart, the rate that you're going you'll have your diploma by the end of this year."

"Thank you so much Ariel, I can't tell you how much I appreciate this." Infiniti said it sincerely and dipped her head. Desiree fiddled with her rabbit and giggled a little bit. Infiniti bounced her on her knee and held her tight to her body. Desiree yawned plaintively.

"I'm hungry sissy."

"You're always hungry when you're tired love."

Desiree looked at Mom and gave a wide smile.

"Sissy doesn't what she's talking about. Can I eat?"

"Of course sweetheart. Kitchen's right over there.

"I'll take her there! Come on! I made cookies!" Serenity grabbed Desiree and led her to the kitchen and they tumbled over each other laughing and giggling. Infiniti watched with a smile on her face and kept her eyes on Desiree. Infiniti seemed very protective of her little sibling. Her watchful eyes kept a close count on her sister at all times.

"Well, it's late, and I need to head to bed. Don't stay up too late. Guest bedroom is upstairs and to the right, help yourself to anything in the kitchen. I think that's just about it. I'm going to my room now. You kids be good now."

And with that my mother walked off. Leaving me and Infiniti alone, together. Ah, hell.

"So…"

"Do not talk to me." She plaintively avoided my gaze.

"Aw come on, I thought the damn thing was empty for crying out loud! It's not my fault I had to pee!"

"You. Stared."

Shit, she had caught me looking, that sucked. I kept my thoughts and emotions in check as I carefully selected my next words.

"I'm sorry that I looked. I am an arrogant teenage boy and my brain clicked the off switch on my eyes. Besides, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the sight." I gave her a quick smile, to show my openness and friendliness. Infiniti's face blushed a fierce red and her eyes flashed. Dammit, my mouth got me in trouble again.

"Does that work on every girl that you catch naked? Do they smile and accept that comment because 'Oh this gorgeous guy just hit on me in a very leery way, let's go have sex now!' No, uh-uh. So, I would suggest you take your wandering eyes elsewhere because I am not a handout." And with that she flipped her hair, strode to the kitchen and grabbed her sister, and stormed up the stairs. Damn, that girl had some fire.

I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes. I had to admit this, she was definitely something else, something I hadn't had in a while…even with Vanessa around. Lately it just seemed fueled by sex and drugs, and the hint of a commitment that I wasn't ready for. I needed to sit down and have a talk with her, but every time I tried, she got in my face and accused me of cheating. Then we would calm down, and do stuff. It's a cycle, one that I enjoy and hate at the same time.

The landscape slipped from beneath me, and suddenly I was floating in the air, suspended by nothing. Vanessa sauntered in front of me, completely naked, a seductive smile on her caramel features. She opened her arms to me.

"Come to me my love. Don't hesitate, mi amor."

I took a step towards her, when the air changed and she changed. She was clothed in fine Egyptian cloth and a gold crown adorned her head. But instead of my beautiful Vanessa, there stood an old and decrepit naked woman. I stumbled backward, and her features became angry, a froth of snakes burst from her mouth.

"She will never have you!"

I jerked awake, my heart pounding like a jackhammer. The clock on the wall read three in the morning, and every muscle was tight as a coiled wire. Something wasn't right.

Her scream didn't reach out of the walls of my mind, but I heard it clear as a bell. I jumped up and raced upstairs to the guest bedroom and threw the door open. Her aura was glowing a vibrant red and gray, a sign of pain and panic. Her hair was splayed around her like a bright whirlwind, and a sheen of sweat covered her face. I pressed my forehead to hers and forced my way into her dream world.

Sands crashed and rose around us, and the moon lingered high in the sky, tinted a bloody red. Infiniti was pinned to the ground be a tall, elegant woman adorned in tattered cloth, her eyes flashing red.

"Give back to me what is mine!"

"I don't know what you are talking about!"

"I give this one chance kófti̱ ní̱ma, give me what has been stolen!"

"I don't have it! Leave me alone!"

The woman screamed and the sands blew in hurricane force around Infiniti. I rushed to them and wrenched Infiniti out of her grasp with a little struggle.

"Follow me! I can get us out of here." I screamed above the roaring wind. We set off sprinting in an easterly direction, fighting tooth and nail against the sand tides. I saw a break, and grabbed Infiniti's hand and screamed, "JUMP!"

"Are you crazy?"

"Just trust me!"

We looked back to see her chasing after us. I saw the panic in her eyes flash wildly.

"Look, this won't work if you aren't willing. I need you to trust me and jump. Or do you want to go back and face that?"

All of her doubts flooded away as she considered her options. I nodded my head once and we dived into the chasm.

"You can't hide forever! The one you thought dead shall find you once more!" She screamed after us, and then the dream was no more

I was brought back to reality gasping for breath. Man, I was drained. I pulled myself off of Infiniti, just before her eyes shot open and she sat up, pressing a hand to her chest. She looked at me.

"Just what the hell was that?"

"I'm not sure, that was your dream, so you might have a better clue than me. Who was that freak?"

"Wait, so you were in my dream? What the- Ugh, just never mind. My head hurts too much from this anyway. I don't know who she was, she was just there, screaming at me to give back what was hers. I'm so confused." She put her head in her hands and sighed.

"Is this the first time she's showed up in your dreams?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. How the hell were you in my dream?"

"Uh…."

Just tell her Galadriel. The truth will be known to her soon enough. Skuld's voice floated among my head, and I could almost see her smiling beneath her veil.

Are you sure she won't freak out?

No. She probably will. But you can't undo what you did. She has questions, ones that need answers. Her clock is ticking, and time is unraveling. She needs the truth. I'll guide you, worry not.

I sighed and ran my hand through my hair, trying to calculate my words.

"Okay, you're going to think that I am crazy."

"I already do."

I rolled my eyes.

"Do you want an answer or not?"

"Yes." She sighed laboriously.

"There are people, who think you are important. Important enough, that is, my higher up put you as my watch."

"What higher up? What the hell do you mean by 'watch'?"

I gave a pointed glare at her and she sighed and waved me on to continue.

"As I was saying. You are… special. You need protection. I got you as an assignment the day before you arrived. Trust me on this, I know just about as little as you do right now."

"I don't get it."

"Neither do I." I smiled just a little. "I just take my orders and do as I'm told. No questions asked."

"So what are you? The Mafia?"

"No, just weird."

"So why were you in my dream?"

"Another complicated thing that is best left unspoken. Trust me, it's even crazier, and it doesn't get any better."

"Gee, thanks, I am SO reassured." Infiniti sighed and lay back down. Her eyes closed.

"So if you don't mind me asking, how did you guys get up here anyway? That house has been abandoned for years."

"It's a long story."

"I got time."

She rolled her head over to look at me. There it was, a spark, a flicker of something that made my chest constrict beautifully. There, in her eyes I saw the world hidden in her icy depths, so much so it made me shiver. My vice rolled around inside of me painfully, but I caught hold of it and bade it to stay down. I had the control here, me, not it. I kept a straight face while she kept her eyes locked on me.

"My father tried to kill my mother. We ran away while she was still pregnant with Desiree, and when she actually had Desiree, she told me about that house. I guess I kind of didn't believe her, and I didn't think it was going to be very safe. But one night, I remember it was the worst. Desiree was clawing at her belly because we hadn't had food in a week, except for maybe a few scraps we had managed to beg from store owners. I was tired of all of the running, tired of wondering where our next meal was coming from and where we were going to sleep the next night. I want Desiree to have a normal childhood, want her to be able to play safely and have a belly full every night with a nice blanket to cover her shoulders. I want her to sleep well and wake up in a room for God's sakes. I don't want her to have to wake up scared and cold in the middle of the night, clinging to me because an animal had snuck up on her and she was scared. I don't want that for her."

"That's crazy." I was awestruck. "At least you're safe here, right?"

"Nowhere is safe for us." Her eyes turned to stare blank at the ceiling.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, as long as he's still out there, we will never be truly safe. We'll only be okay for moments in time. I have this bad gut feeling that when and if he ever finds us, we'll be as good as dead. And my gut has yet to lie to me."

"Sounds harsh."

"It's our reality. Harsh or not."

"So, how do you know your dad's even looking for you? Besides the gut feeling." I added as an afterthought.

Infiniti stared at me.

"Before we came up here, we were staying in an old abandoned house not far from here. I remember waking up in the night worried sick, gut feeling be damned, and got Mom, Desiree and I out. While we were going out, I saw a police car outside and two policemen waiting. My dad was on the force, and they said they'd get a big bonus for taking us in for Demetrius. That was my father's name."

"Well, Mom won't let anything happen to you. She's pretty protective and her and Serenity have already taken a liking to you, so I wouldn't worry. Besides, I'll beat away anything that goes bump in the night."

"That's almost as scary as the things that do go bump in the night."

"Hey now!"

She smiled a little bit and sighed. Sleep was weighing heavily on her. I could feel it reverberating in her aura. I hesitantly put an arm on her and brushed her wisps back from her head.

"Why don't you get some sleep? I'll stay here tonight to make sure whoever the hell that was doesn't decide to make another unannounced appearance, cool?"

"Kay." Infiniti closed her eyes and nuzzled into the pillows, sighing almost too softly for me to hear. I waited until she was completely passed out before I went to my room and grabbed my belongings. I made a pallet in the floor next to her and watched her sleep. It was the first time I ever saw her face unguarded, with no fear or worry or guarding between her and the rest of the world. She was gorgeous. Her black hair glowed almost blue-purple in the moonlight and her small body rose and fell with each breath under the comforter. I pushed the blanket up on to her chin and smiled. Perfect.

I lay myself down on the pallet and closed my eyes, willing my body to take the sleep it needed. Something told me that there was trouble on the way, trouble looking for this one girl. She had something in her, and I would soon find out what. Until then, I slowed my breathing to match hers, and let the darkness overtake me into sleep.

~Infiniti~

Every step that I make
Name your price I would give anything
I want to start over again
What do I want I have nothing to say
Whatever it is I want it today
Do we choose our own ground Do we choose to stay
Well I've seen too many throw it away

I woke to sunlight streaming gently through my eyelids and puncturing the darkness there. I clenched my eyes closed even more, wanting to enjoy this rare moment of peace.

Finally, my muscles could take no more and I stretched tentavily in the bed, listening to every joint pop and crack. Satisfied, I sat up and looked around. Desiree was still asleep in her bed, her untamed curls spilling everywhere on the pillow. She must be enjoying her rest as much as I was. I smiled devilishly and ran over to her, scooping her in my arms and spinning her in the air.

"Dizzy, Dizzy, Dizzy! Wake up sunshine!"

Desiree's eyes opened uncertainly before she buried her head in my shoulder. I chuckled under my breath and sniffed the air. Something was cooking. Something good was cooking, reminding my stomach it had almost been a full 24 hours since I had last eaten. With Desiree still on my arm I wandered into the kitchen, curiously glancing around the house. There were family photos strew across the wall. There was one of Matt and Eric when they were born, with their mom holding them proud, and a tall auburn haired figure standing next to them. I could only guess that was their father. There were more, ones of Serenity when she was born, ones of Matt and Eric on their first days of school, the list went on and on. Their father was in each and every one of them, until right before High School, where pictures of him disappeared altogether.

I went downstairs and inhaled the air coming from the kitchen. Ariel met me outside the kitchen door witch a wide smile and two pieces of bacon in her hand.

"Good morning honey! Your mom's already in the kitchen eating. I'm about to send the boys off to school. Come, come sit!"

She ushered us inside and I sat Desiree down in one of the chairs. Mom was sitting in the corner, her mouth full of pancake and eggs. She smiled as I walked in.

"Look Infiniti! This hotel has room service!"

"I know Mom. Is the food good?"

"It is amazing! Give my compliments to the chef."

I stifled a giggle and reached around to peck her on her head, brushing out her hair with my fingers. "I will Mom, I'm sure the chef will appreciate it." Ariel and I shared knowing smile as I grabbed a plate and started filling it with food for Desiree.

"Dizzy! What do you want for breakfast darling?"

"No no no! In my house, you sit. I will make your sister's plate. You worry about you while you're here, no one else. Clear?" Ariel took the plate from me and gave me a new one. "Get you some food."

I blushed and muttered a thanks under my breath. I filled my plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes. My stomach rumbled happily as I sat down.

"Coffee or juice?"

"Coffee. Oh yes, please coffee." Ariel smiled and sat a steaming mug in front of me and put the creamer and sugar right next to it. I made it very creamy and very sugary and took my first sip. Ah, heaven. It had been over a year since I had last indulged myself, and the familiarity of the taste brought me to a happy place.

"BOYS! YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES! GET MOVING!" I heard Ariel call up the stairs and two loud thumps come from it. I glanced at her curiously and she shrugged. "They can be a bit of slowpokes when it comes to school. Anything else and they're up and at 'em. Teenage boys, I swear."

I giggled behind my hand as Matt and Eric came tumbling down the stairs, laughing and hitting each other in the arm. They walked up to their Mom and each gave her a hug.

"Morning Mom." Matt helped himself to a couple pieces of bacon and munched on them, a backpack thrown on his back.

"Morning Matt. Do you have to pick up Vanessa today?"

"Yep. On my way out the door now." He finished his bacon and gave Ariel a quick kiss on the cheek. "See ya at three."

"Be careful!"

Matt was already out the door. Eric smiled and sauntered his way over to me. Sunlight glinted off of his blonde hair and I could see the stubble growing on his chin. His milky brown eyes stared at me, until I realized he had been talking.

"What did you say?"

"Good morning gorgeous. Wow, you really did space off. Or maybe you were just admiring my good looks." Eric laughed and struck a superman pose while I blushed fiercely.

"No, I spaced off."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

Eric laughed again and sat next to me, his eyes directed on me. "Fine, whatever you say lovely. Though next time you do, I might not believe you. Don't worry, I don't normally take offense to girls give ole Eric a quick look-see."

I rolled my eyes and punched him in the arm. "Why aren't you in school?"

"I don't have to go for another hour or two. I have most of my credits so I just go in the afternoon to take my classes."

"Nice. So you're going to sit here and watch me get pummeled with learning."

"That's the idea. I can't wait to watch you squirm."

"Eric, be nice, since you're going to be a nuisance, go get the books from the front room. Now."

"Yes ma'am." He gave a mock salute and went away.

"Is he always like this?"

"Most days, yes."

"I feel so sorry for you."

She laughed as Eric came in and sat the books down in front of us. Ariel's look turned serious as she grabbed pen and paper from beside her and cracked open the World History textbook. She gave me the pen and paper and popped her knuckles.

"Okay, Infiniti, it's show time."

And then she launched into her lecture on the ancient Chinese while I furiously scribbled notes, her words golden to my ears.

Five hours later

"Okay, I think that's enough for today."

I sat back and rubbed my tired eyes. We had hit the World History, then English, and for the better part of the day , we worked on my math skills, which, by the way, were definitely not up to par. I had just completed over 50 problems, and I thought my head was going to explode.

I got up and poured me another cup of coffee. If it wasn't for this miracle drink, I would have never survived. Ariel put her hand on my shoulder.

"You did good today. If we keep up this pace, you should get your GED in another three to four months."

"What happened to the end of the year?"

"It got extended."

"I see this. All on account of my terrible math skills."

"And your complete lack of knowledge in grammar."

I groaned and slammed my head forward, swishing it back and forth in a mental no. I was so mentally exhausted from this. Desiree had fallen asleep halfway through Ariel's introduction to English Literature, and she was laying down in the front room on the couch, right next to Serenity. Those two had become fast friends, they ran and chased each other through the house, screaming and playing with each other. I think Desiree was just thrilled to have somebody to play with other than me and Mom. Somebody who was almost her age, that was good for her. Eric had retreated to his room for a while after watching my squirming, as he had put it, for a nap. Man, he could be a complete ass sometimes, but he was cool enough. And I had to admit, the man had a bod. I shivered when I thought of the few times I had felt his skin, and experienced the heat going between us. He had gorgeous eyes, and a killer smile. Damn, he was all of it wrapped into one little package.

I walked into the front room to see Desiree still sleeping. This was probably the most sleep she had gotten in ages. I kissed her forehead and re-tucked her blankets before going upstairs, coffee in hand. I was lost in my thoughts, happy ones of the future. This could be our new beginning, a new start and a new path we could go on. I could pay for our own utilities, and food. I must have been pretty lost, because I didn't see the figure blocking me until I bumped into him, making me almost spill my coffee.

"Hello beautiful."

"Jesus Eric! You scared the crap out of me!" I smacked him in his arm as hard as I could and gave my best glare to him. Eric just laughed at me and smoothed my hair.

"Why did I scare you? You know, there's this lovely little thing called watching where you're going, maybe you should try it sometime."

"Eric, shut up."

"Make me."

"You know, you sound like a little kid when you do that."

"I know, it just adds to my excruciating charm and manliness."

"I'm not even sure you have any manliness to speak of."

"Is that a challenge?"

"Take it as you will." I smiled and started to walk away but Eric grabbed me lightly by my arm and stared deep into my eyes, and his face became very tender and loving. I stopped and melted on the spot.

"Infiniti, you are simply, and truly gorgeous."

"Thanks."

"You see, I have a problem. I'm the kind of guy that when I see a beautiful damsel in distress, I can't bear to watch her walk away. Matt has Vanessa, and they're all lovey dovey honeymooner stage, but I'm the lone man out. Amanda's gay, and her girlfriend is all the way in Colorado. That's a horrible way for a man like me to live. So, in comes you, beautiful and you hardly know it, and I am compelled to be by your side. So, Infiniti, how hard would I be hit if I kissed you?"

"Um…"

He didn't wait for my answer, just cupped my face and kissed me gently. His lips were a fire to my ice, making me shiver all the way to my toes. Eric wrapped his arms around me and held me tight to him, as I put my hands to rest on his chest. He pulled back and looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. I was breathless.

"So, how hard am I being hit?"

"Um…"

"You're so cute when you don't know what to say."

That's when I came to my senses and punched him in his arm. Eric laughed and pulled me closer.

"That's my girl."

He leaned in for another kiss before he let me go and started toward the stairs.

"And now I must leave you. Off to the horrors of AlternativeHigh School! Oh the learning! Oh Infiniti, save me, or I will surely die of," He gasped dramatically. "Brain exhaustion!"

I giggled and pointed him down the door way.

"There's worse to die from, and I'm pretty sure that you'll live. Get moving."

"Oh Infiniti! Will you wait for me? Even if a teacher takes my life with incessant droning on of subjects I care nothing for?"

"I'll be here, now go before I give you something worse to fear than a teacher."

Eric flashed me a dimpled smile and blew a kiss before he sauntered out of the door. I blushed fiercely as I realized just what had happened between us. He kissed me. I held my fingers to my lips as if the memory remained there. He liked me. I had to say, I was a little pleased with myself for a moment. I walked into the guest bedroom to see Mom playing some more slots. Between that and poker, she seemed to win a lot, judging from her throwing her arms in the air and laughing like a little girl. I suddenly had an idea what to get her for Christmas. I would get her a deck of cards so she would maybe have something to actually act it out with. Who knows, I might just challenge her one day to a game. Mom waved me over to her and went smiling.

"Yes momma?"

"Infiniti! Your father wants to see you!"

I rolled my eyes and looked in the direction she was pointing, not really wanting to play this game but doing it for her. Then I looked to the window and my heart stopped dead cold in its tracks.

My father's scarred face was staring at us through the window, a deceptive smile playing on his lips.

"Hello Finny, miss your dear old Dad?"