Chapter 1

"Yes, Gran… I know, Gran… Alright… Okay… Yes, ma'am…See you tomorrow… Love you… Bye."

Tara hung up the phone and sighed as she plopped onto her bed. She sat up and continued folding the mound of laundry currently piled up on her bed and placing it in suitcases. She considered sorting clothes later in the summer to donate or give to her sister, who was always taking her clothes anyway.

"Is everything okay, honey?" asked Mrs. Kavanagh, as she entered her daughter's room with an armful of jeans.

"Yeah," said Tara, reaching for a headband to pull her long red hair away from her face. "That was just Gran. She's super excited about my coming. She even offered me a job at her gift shop."

"Great," said her mother, in a tone loaded with sarcasm. Tara struggled not to roll her eyes. Ever since she received her acceptance letter to the small college in the town her grandmother lived, her mother had made her disapproval more than clear. Not just because it wasn't a big name school, like Ohio State, which meant no bragging, despite the fact that Tara had earned a free ride. It was because Tara would be spending the entire summer with her grandmother, whom Mrs. Kavanagh refused to speak to unless she had to, or had a gun pointed to her head. "Do you need help packing?" she asked after a moment of awkward silence.

"No, thank you," said Tara. "Everything is just about packed. I could use some help loading the car, though. I may as well do it tonight so I can just go in the morning."

"In that big of a hurry?" Mrs. Kavanagh asked, her tone obviously increasing in the level of annoyance with every statement.

"I've never driven to Gran's on my own," Tara explained, trying to hold back her own frustration. "I don't know the roads that well so I want to get there while there's no traffic to get a feel for the area."

"Fine," said her mother. "I'll help you load the car after dinner. Bring your stuff down so we're not making 1,000 trips up and down the stairs." She walked out.

Tara collapsed back on her bed with an exasperated sigh. Then, she sat up and called her mother back. She had one chance to answer this question. It may start the fight to end all fights but she didn't care. When Mrs. Kavanagh returned, Tara took a deep breath and asked, "What do you have against Gran, anyway?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied, flatly.

"Don't lie to me," Tara snapped in an equally irritated tone. "You've never had a good thing to say about her since I can remember. What's your issue?"

"Do we have to do this now?"

"Why not?" Tara demanded. "When will we have another chance in the coming months? And, no, your answer will not change my mind."

"I don't like some of the crazy things she talks about," Mrs. Kavanagh said at last. "I've told your father she should be put in a home and looked after by professionals. Living in that big house alone is making her mind go."

"You mean her stories?" Tara asked. "She has an imagination. So what? I kept saying she should have been a writer. They are harmless fantasy stories. And I'll be there to help her out, at least this summer and on weekends during school. So she won't be alone."

"You should focus on your classes and not any distractions," said Mrs. Kavanagh. "It's your first year of college, although it shouldn't be much of a challenge."

"Oh, stop it!" cried Tara. "When will you accept the fact that I didn't want to go to a big school to begin with? And this place offered a full scholarship. How could I pass it up?"

"I just thought you have so much talent and potential. It's being wasted at a small school. No one has ever heard of Continental College. How do you think you'll get a job?"

"I'll be self employed as a writer," said Tara. "And, I plan on getting a head start by recording Gran's stories. Maybe embellishing them slightly, but I'm sure I can find an audience for them."

Mrs. Kavanagh just rolled her eyes and went downstairs. "I have to start dinner. Bring your stuff down."

Tara spent the next twenty minutes bringing boxes, bins, and suitcases from her room and stacking them in the living room. She had so much stuff there was only a narrow path to the kitchen from the stairs. She was tired and hungry when she was done. A few minutes later, her father and sister came home and it was time to set the table for dinner.

Tara always felt like the odd girl out in the looks department compared to her family. She, at 18 years, was tall like her father and had bright green eyes like her mother but the similarities ended there. Tara's hair was a bright red, thick, and came to the middle of her back. Part of her 6'0" figure was because she was "all legs" as her father called it. Her size 12 feet meant she was continuously tripping over herself.

Tara's sister, Christine, at 13, was also considered very tall for her age, at about 5'8". She had thick, dark brown hair that she kept cropped at her shoulders. Christine's eyes were a kind of slate-blue that seemed to lighten and darken depending on her mood in a way Tara envied.

The personalities of the two sisters were also polar opposites. Where Tara was reserved and quiet, often shy, Christine was outgoing, outspoken, and hot tempered. Tara was content to sit with a book or write her stories. Christine loved playing baseball or football with the neighborhood boys and taking the dog on long hikes through the woods. Both were fiercely protective of each other. If one was insulted, the other would come to the rescue no matter what. Tara sometimes described her own personality as a volcano. Calm mostly, but when pushed too far, look out.

Family dinner for the evening began with relative quiet. Christine talked about softball practice and Mr. Kavanagh, who was a history professor at a community college, grumbled about his lazy students.

Then, Mr. Kavanagh brought up Tara's big move. "Are you all set to go tomorrow?"

Ignoring her mother's annoyed sighs, Tara nodded. "Yes, Gran called me today and offered me a job at the shop this summer and weekends, once college starts."

"That's great, Sweetheart," said Mr. Kavanagh. "Poor Miss Loraine had a stroke and her recovery hasn't been easy so your Gran has been short on help."

"Isn't Miss Loraine the really nice lady who always had candies behind the counter?" asked Christine.

"Yes," said Mr. Kavanagh. "She and your Gran have been friends since they were girls. So, it was very upsetting when she got so sick. There is Rose, but her time is limited because she has three young kids and they're all involved in something. Dance, karate, football.

"Why does your mother have to hire Tara?" asked Mrs. Kavanagh. "She is perfectly capable of getting an on-campus job."

"I don't want an on-campus job," said Tara, trying to keep her tone calm.

"There's a lot you don't want," her mother muttered.

"Mom, the only thing available for freshmen is the book store. If I'm going to do retail, I would rather be somewhere I know I'll get hours and I can help Gran in the process."

"You should just wait to move on campus and get the book store job," said Mrs. Kavanagh.

"No, because I want to join the paper, too, and the hours will interfere with that. At least at Gran's, I can study and work on the paper during down time."

"Let's calm down," said Mr. Kavanagh. "Michelle, Tara is old enough to make her own decisions about school and jobs and my mother is willing to be flexible with her schedule so she can get the full college experience. She is also particular about who she trusts enough to hire. At the same time," he turned to Tara now, "you know your mother and I worry about you. You've never spent more than a week away from home so this is new territory for all of us. I expect a text daily, even if it's just to say hi, and a weekly phone call except during midterms and finals."

"Fine," said Tara, considering the matter resolved.

Mrs. Kavanagh said nothing and began clearing the table. Plates and silverware clattered into the sink with so much force, Tara was afraid something would break. She caught her father's gaze and he nodded toward the sink in the unspoken language of a father with his daughter that said, "Go help clean. It'll smooth things over."

Tara smiled at him and went to grab a towel to begin drying dishes while Christine cleared the table and Mr. Kavanagh packed away leftovers.

The tension could be cut with a knife. Mrs. Kavanagh's mood did not improve. In fact, she seemed to be ignoring everyone in the room. Tara knew this was bad. She only did that when she was really angry. If provoked further, there could be screaming so Tara stayed silent and finished her job. She decided not to insist her mother help load the car. Instead, she would quietly ask Christine to give her a hand. But, as soon as dishes were done, Mrs. Kavanagh began lugging boxes to Tara's car in the same manner she did the dishes.

Worried something was going to get broken, Tara began rearranging the boxes in the back seat and the trunk. Unfortunately, Mrs. Kavanagh picked up on what she was doing and became very offended.

"What?" she snapped, after she shoved a suitcase into the trunk. Tara tried to suppress a cringe as she prayed she imagined the sickening crunch coming from a box. "I'm not good enough to help you pack?"

"I didn't say a word," argued Tara. "I just don't want things to get broken. You're upset with me, obviously, so before something happens let me get Christine to help and we'll talk later."

"There's nothing to talk about," said Mrs. Kavanagh. "You've made it clear. You've made your decision. You're 18 now. You want to throw your life away, that's your choice."

"I'm not throwing my life away!" cried Tara. She felt a lump in her throat. Next would come tears which would only make matters worse. "And yes, I made my decision. So, why can't you just be proud that I got into college like any other parent and treat me like I'm 18 and not 8!"

"You want to be treated like you're 18? Finish yourself, then," Mrs. Kavanagh shouted, dropping the box she was holding on the driveway. Tara let out a sob as she heard the tell-tale crunch of glass shattering as it hit cement. The box was full of Mason jar candle holders she had painted to sell at Gran's shop for some added money once school began and her hours were cut.

Now, Tara let the tears flow and was unable to speak when Christine came out to finish helping her. She just wanted to crawl in bed. Maybe she could leave before everyone was awake. But, that would make her dad and sister think she was mad at them, too. No, she would have to face her mother one last time. There was no choice.

When the car was loaded, she thanked Christine for her help and said good night to everyone. The early summer sun had barely set and she wasn't going to sleep right away. She just wanted some solitude on her final night at home. It was easier than more arguing.

As she scribbled out her frustrations in her diary, she heard a soft knocking on her door. She was about to shout go away, thinking it was her mother. So, it was a surprise when Christine peeked in.

"Hi, can I come in?"

"Sure," said Tara, sitting up and closing her diary.

"Mom is really upset," said Christine, taking a seat next to her sister on the bed.

"That makes two of us," grumbled Tara.

"You know she had an issue when you made your school choice," snapped Christine.

"So, you're taking her side?"

"I'm not taking sides," said Christine, giving her sister a light shove. "You're both acting like idiot children. So, take tonight to cool off and try to leave on a positive note tomorrow." She held out a box to her sister. "I made something for you."

Tara opened the box. It was full of large pieces of cardstock paper. Each sheet was covered in pictures, stickers, doodles, and quotes. There was also blank paper and a number of packages and stickers.

"You can make more at school," Christine explained. "There is enough to wallpaper your dorm or you can split them between your dorm and your room at Gran's."

"I love it!" Tara exclaimed as she set the box down and pulled her sister into a hug. "Thank you. And you're right. I will try to at least smooth things over before I go. But we both need tonight to allow cooler heads to prevail."

Christine nodded and said good night.

The screen clicked off and he stood in a darkened study of his mansion. His eyes glowed orange in the dim light in an inhuman manner. Which was appropriate since he wasn't human. He merely looked like one. Easier to blend in, even though he was capable of taking any form he pleased, provided it had a heartbeat.

He was busy contemplating the scenes he had just witnessed when a soft sigh diverted his attention. Turning, his expression softened as a woman all but floated into the room. She was dressed in a long, deep blue nightgown. Her hair, black with red highlights, was loose, long, and flowing. Her skin was ghostly pale. She gave him a small smile when he wrapped his arms around her gently, as if she might fall apart if he held her any tighter.

"You should be resting, beautiful," he whispered in her ear.

"I know," she said, reaching a slender hand out to caress his cheek. "But, I wanted to see the girl. Is she coming?"

"Tomorrow," he said, taking her by the arm and leading her from the study and down the hall." She doesn't seem to be much of a threat. Our plan will go on and you'll have your strength back in no time, my love."

"Good," she sighed, swaying slightly. The short walk already exhausted her. "I'm bored in this miserable old house."

"We'll go anywhere you like the minute you're well," he promised, lifting her in his arms. He carried her into a lavish bedroom and laid her on the bed.

"Mmm, Paris?" she asked him with a smile.

He chuckled. "Sure." He kissed her and turned to go, but she reached for his hand.

"Stay with me," she pleaded. Her hands were like ice and she looked like a frail little girl, rather than the mighty sorceress he knew her to be.

"Alright," he said, smiling. He crawled in beside her. He could not say no to her, especially when she was like this. She snuggled close and rested her head on his chest as he pulled the covers around them both and he watched her fall asleep.