By the time Aunt Amy shows up, Dad and I have already gone though my notes on the Reformation and he's marked up my English paper. I swear he takes as much pleasure in using that red pen as my teacher. I can't help but feel relieved when the only injuries Aunt Amy's got is a cut on her left hand and a black eye. Dad offers to bandage her hand and look at her leg which results in a two-minute staring contest. Dad wins.

Rather than sending me to my room, they actually let me stay in the kitchen and help. We don't have any ice packs, so I hand Aunt Amy a bag of frozen mixed veggies to hold over her eye. Dad disinfects the wound on her palm, which looks like a self-inflicted knife slice, before moving to her leg.

"Mind if I cut these?" He gestures with a pair of scissors to her jeans. They're splattered with mud and darker stains I don't want to think about, ripped at the knees, and look like they'd fall apart in the washing machine.

Aunt Amy frowns but allows him to cut a straight line from hem to hip. The material parts to give us a glimpse of pale skin mottled by dark purple bruises. In the center of the bruising is a penny-sized puncture wound that looks infected. Dad clucks his tongue just like he does whenever I do something particularly stupid.

"Grahk'na'al from the Pastisa. When will you learn to duck rather than charge in like a fool?"

She slaps at his hands, lips curled into a petulant pout. "Less lecture, more fixing."

Dad dabs on peroxide, ignoring her wince and attempt to kick him in the head with her other leg. "I'm just saying, Ame, that one day you're going to be a little too slow or you're going to get one with a poisoned barb. You've got to be more careful. Considering a wardrobe that consists of protective fabrics or sturdier leathers would not be remiss, either."

It's surreal to listen to them talk about creatures from other dimensions and potentially fatal injuries the same way other people discuss the weather and stock market. From the ease in which Dad tends to the wound, it's obvious he's done it more than once before. Was this what it was like for them before I messed everything up: Aunt Amy sending the bad guys home and Dad patching her up? Or did they go out together, my cautious uncle and kamikaze aunt?

That's going to be me soon, isn't it?

I manage to collapse into a chair just as my knees give out. I don't know if I can do this. I freak out over spiders, for crying out loud! How am I going to handle things with barbs and horns and poisoned gack? I don't even really know how this whole thing works! Am I supposed to kill them or send them back to where they came from?

Aunt Amy manages to tear her eyes away from Dad. "You okay, sweetness?"

No. I'm about a bazillion miles from okay. Everything's going to change and I'm not ready. "I have a thousand questions."

Dad puts his supplies back in the first aid kit and sits in the chair beside me. He rubs my back reassuringly but for once it's not doing the trick. "We don't have to go over this now, kiddo. Your aunt can do the binding and we can put the whole thing on hold for another year," he says hopefully.

It's so very tempting. It would be nice to shelve this entire conversation until next year. Except I'm not sure I want to take the easy way out. How can I say that I don't want to be a Keeper if I don't know what that means? "No, Dad. I need to ask. You're the one always saying that we have to make informed decisions."

Aunt Amy reaches across the table to squeeze Dad's hand. They engage in another staring contest. I want to knock both their heads together! This time Aunt Amy's the victor. "What do you want to know, Al?"

Where do I start? Is there a good place to start? "So does this Keeper gig come with super-strength?" That question earns me a snort, though I'm not sure if it's from Dad or Aunt Amy.

"Not really."

"Advanced healing?"


Dad points at Aunt Amy's leg. I really should have known better than to ask that question. Okay, then. On to the next. "Super-speed?"


"X-Ray vision? Prophetic dreams? A dashingly handsome and mysterious guide-slash-protector to help me along with my destiny?"

Aunt Amy lifts an eyebrow in response. She and Dad exchange smiles which only frustrates me more.

Okay, so maybe my Buffy obsession is showing. "Come on, you gotta give me something. Supersonic hearing? Telepathy?"

"You watch entirely too much science fiction." Aunt Amy doesn't even attempt to hide her grin this time.

"Some gift."

"That doesn't mean you can't learn to do other things. There are a wealth of little tricks that are fairly easy to learn if you practice." She glances over at Dad when she says that. I know it means they'll be arguing over how much to teach me. Dad'll want to keep me as protected as possible while I'm sure Aunt Amy is just itching to have a pupil.

"Great. More homework. Are you sure you're not evil?"

Dad laughs outright. Aunt Amy glares at both of us. I can't help but smile.

"So how do I know if these Hoppers are the baddies or not?" I do remember one of them telling me that not everyone who traveled across dimensions did so with malicious intent. Some do it for travel or to move while others look for resources and slaves to export.

"I figured that the whole snacking on and/or enslaving the general populous would be a big clue. If that doesn't work you can always, you know, stop and ask them. You don't need a detailed itinerary, just a general overview of their intentions. If they haven't eviscerated you or sucked the marrow from your bones, you can generally assume they're harmless." Somehow she manages to get all that out with a straight face.

"Your sarcasm is not appreciated."

Dad pats me on the shoulder and stands. He checks his watch and makes a big show of yawning. "I think that's about it for tonight, girls. You can ask more questions tomorrow, Ally. Time for a shower then bed."

This sucks because I still don't really know anything except that this Keeper thing has more cons than pros. Maybe letting Aunt Amy do the binding isn't such a bad idea. It's not like I'd be missing out on anything great. Rather than argue, I kiss them both good night and head up to my room.

I glance at my alcove but decide against eavesdropping. They're probably just going to fight more about me, anyway. I hope Dad doesn't bring up what he and I talked about during dinner. I've already depressed Aunt Amy once today.

I can still hear the low murmur of voices when I turn off my light and slip into bed. At least they're keeping it quiet this time. I snuggle into my blanket and close my eyes. For once, it's not Paul Davis' blond hair and laughing blue eyes that greet me in dreamland. It's a pair of moss-green eyes, whispered promises, and the scent of blood.