Rhyn Trilogy, Book One
By Lizzy Ford
Edited by Christine LePorte
Cover art and design by Dafeenah
Copyright 2011 by Lizzy Ford
Cover art and design copyright 2011 by Dafeenah
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Gabriel turned the pages of the Oracle's book, watching as words scribbled themselves across the parchment, updating a chain of events that changed with every decision made by the Council That Was Seven. Only the long-dead Oracle possessing the book and the deities could see the Past, Present, and Future.
He saw only the Present, like fractured scenes of a movie where the actors continually changed their lines and settings. Words leapt from the pages to form hologram-like images dancing over the book. Friends and strangers alike acted out their stilted scenes before dropping onto the page as words again.
Show me Rhyn.
He always peeked at his friend, whom he'd dropped off in Hell to serve an undeserved sentence. Rhyn's powers were beyond even Gabriel to control, and the unfortunate immortal was a loose cannon that'd accidently almost destroyed the world more times than he could count.
Gabriel's lover and master, the deity Death, materialized beside him at the Oracle's altar in the center of an ancient fortress in the Sanctuary. Each of the four Sanctuaries sat on an island straddling the human and immortal worlds and housed an immortal treasure, such as the Oracle.
He sensed Death's disapproval.
"I know," he said, and turned the page in the book to continue watching Rhyn.
Death took her human form out of respect for the women of the convent-like Sanctuary that housed the Oracle. She was beautiful, a woman of sunshine, smiles, and eyes that changed from white to black and every color in between. At close to seven feet with eyes and hair blacker than night and a permanent scowl, he was what most expected Death to look like. Yet the lithe woman with the transparent skin and glow was exactly what people saw when they went: a bright, beautiful, peaceful light.
"I want to know if -"
"Immortals aren't so far off from humans, are they?" Death mused. "They share their weaknesses."
"I know what really happened, and I hoped others would figure it out. He doesn't deserve to be in Hell," he replied.
"You can't interfere more than you have. How many times have I warned you about breaking Immortal Code?"
"Does nothing bother you?" he asked without heat, knowing the answer. "And technically, I interfered by making him disappear before anyone figured out he'd saved humanity."
Death smiled serenely and placed her small hand on the book. He met her gaze.
"All things come to me eventually," she said, quoting the familiar words. "You, too, you know."
"And someday Rhyn. He's on my list, Gabriel."
He was quiet, the words and holograms before him blurring as he thought. The only immortals on Death's list were those who were about to become dead-dead. He'd always hoped Rhyn would have another chance, that Hell was a place to stash the dangerous immortal until the world was ready for him.
"He didn't deserve what he got," he voiced, troubled. "In all my time, I've never felt guilt at what I do."
"You're my best assassin, and you're the only one who can trespass in Hell and return. You had to do what you did. If nothing else, you know he's safe, and so are the little humans."
"Are you serious about making him dead-dead soon?"
"Let me show you something," she said, and stepped up beside him. "Keep in mind, you're not supposed to be anywhere near the Oracle. Only -"
"Deities and whatever," he finished with a roll of his eyes.
She gave him a stern glare that made him smile. Her human form was tiny enough that the Oracle's book reached her shoulder level.
Death's hand hovered over the pages, and she turned them quickly without touching them. She stopped and touched a page with her fingertip. An image sprung from the paper before them.
The earth in flames, with earthquakes swallowing whole towns and buildings burning.
Gabriel shifted, well aware Rhyn was capable of this.
Death gave him a pointed look, waiting for him to jump to his friend's defense as he always did. It was hard with the scenes she showed him flickering in front of him.
"The Future isn't set," he managed at last.
"It's not," she agreed. "But if I don't make him dead-dead, there's a good chance this is the fate of the human world."
"I can't believe there's nothing that can be done!" he replied with more emotion than he intended.
"You're going soft, Gabe."
"Odd, coming from my best assassin."
He said nothing, watching the scene. Death closed the book and looked up at him.
"Do you believe in him so much, or do you feel so much guilt?" she challenged.
"I believe in him."
She considered him for a long moment before turning away. He suppressed a sigh, sensing she was beyond mercy for anyone on her list. Normally, so was he. Death held out her hand, and an hourglass with black sand appeared in her palm.
"He could be such an asset to the Council That Was Seven. Right now, he's useless to them and anyone else, just an immortal whose freakish power should've landed him on my list long, long ago," she said.
She tipped the hourglass, and black sand began to spill.
"I'll give him a second chance," she continued. "For you, my sweet, not for him. But I can't let him stay alive long, or you've seen what'll happen. When the sand is gone, I'll make him dead-dead, unless he can learn to control his power and to work with his brothers."
Gabriel stared, surprised, then dismayed, at her conditions. He watched the sand that was Rhyn's life and met her gaze.
"And, you can't break the Immortal Code to help him."
The restriction smacked him hard, as he'd been ready to drag Rhyn out of Hell as soon as Death was gone.
"How do I get him out of Hell?" he demanded.
"You won't. Someone else will."
"The leader of the Council That Was Seven is about to make a decision that will alter all their paths. It involves a woman destined to be the first Ancient's mate and who's immune to immortals."
"He has a mate?"
"He might, if she doesn't die before the sand runs out."
Gabriel dwelled on this new information. He wasn't really sure Rhyn would consider being sentenced to eternity with a mate much of an improvement over Hell.
She slid the Oracle's book carefully into a satchel and replaced it inside the altar before placing the hourglass in front of him.
"Immortal Code," she reminded him.
"You won't kill me," he remarked, hope and frustration filtering through him. "I'm violating Immortal Code by serving you, by locking Rhyn in Hell to keep Kris from killing him."
"Take him this, and don't you dare break the Code again," she said.
A familiar vial appeared in her hand containing what looked like sand. Rhyn's name was etched in the immortals' tongue across the top. It was his immortal powers, which Death had yanked from him when she ordered Gabriel to take him to Hell.
Gabriel took it and smiled, cheered by the thought of the most powerful immortal ever born cursed with the self-control of a five-year-old in a room with fresh-baked cookies and no adult supervision. Rhyn couldn't do what others wanted, not when he couldn't control his own powers. Gabriel wondered if even a mate and a second chance could help him.
"He tends to destroy the natural balance of everything when he's free," Death said with some annoyance. "Maybe when he's stabilized, he can leave Hell."
He looked at her, and she smiled the same gentle smile she used to greet humans to the underworld.
"But who in Hell is going to become his mate?"
"His brother Kris will take care of it," she said.
"He'll make things right with Rhyn after their nasty break?"
"Not on purpose, but yes."
Intrigued, Gabriel relented from his stubborn position before the altar.
A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. The leader of the convent that cared for the Sanctuary opened the door and curtseyed. Death curtseyed back, gave Gabriel a final look of warning, and followed the woman in grey to afternoon tea.
He watched her go, wondering how he could help his friend without breaking the Immortal Code yet again. Pocketing the vial, he willed himself to the shadow world, the place between worlds. It was hazy and cool, like a beach after the evening fog rolled in. Portals to the mortal and immortal worlds glowed warm yellow through the fog like beacons. He went to the only portal that glowed black -the portal to Hell -and stepped from the shadow world into the tiny, dark cell holding his friend.
He watched Rhyn's body contort beneath the spells of Rhyn's brother, Sasha. Without the contents of the vial, Rhyn was defenseless against any immortal. Gabriel couldn't help the feeling of deep satisfaction as he gripped the vial in one hand.
Rhyn was being given a second chance, and Gabriel hoped he killed Sasha before the sands in the hourglass were gone.
Rhyn didn't even know what shape he was. The world was dark as always, cramped, his skin hot and clammy. He'd been fevered for a zillion years, trapped in the tiny cell in ever-changing forms, always in darkness.
At least he wasn't burning or drowning or freezing or watching his skin being pulled from his body and screaming. Sometimes his brother let him out for a furlough, claimed he was free, and then yanked him back. If nothing else, his traitorous half-brother Sasha kept things switched up. He would stay in this holding cell on the outskirts of Hell until Sasha figured out some new grueling punishment.
A touch of coolness grazed his heated frame, which always grew hotter than Hell when he changed forms. His body contorted, and agony floated through him as the sixty seconds of being whatever he'd been was up and he changed again.
"Still dark in here," said the voice of his only friend.
"You here for me, Gabriel?"
"No, but thanks for asking."
Rhyn growled a painful laugh, appreciative of the death dealer's dark humor. Especially now, when he had no one else.
"What am I?" he asked, panting as he dropped to all fours.
"Not sure. You look like a cross between a were-beast and a bird."
Gabriel's touch was like ice, and Rhyn shuddered. He changed again and this time recognized his human form. One wall of his cell lit up suddenly. He shielded his eyes and gazed into an empty prison cell opposite his. Surprised, he crossed to the bars of his cell but found the whole wall disappeared when he touched it. In darkness again, he dropped his hands.
"Yeah." Gabriel's voice was quieter.
"You and Death fighting?"
"Never. She'd win."
Rhyn snorted and faced the corner, making out Gabriel's eyes, which gleamed darker than a night in Hell itself. The death dealer was his only friend who'd stuck with him since he'd been banned to Hell by his brothers and dragged there by the immortal death dealer before him. Gabriel's visits weren't often, but Rhyn had grown to like him.
"Brought you something."
Gabriel held out a vial he'd last seen in the hand of a furious Death. A thrill went through Rhyn as he claimed it. He popped the top off and dumped the sandy magic into the air. The sand transformed into a mist and swirled around him before settling into his skin. He felt the magic penetrate him to the core, and the ancient tattoos marking him as both an immortal and an Ancient blazed red in the darkness before subsiding.
For the first time in years, he felt whole again. He tested his ability to control the familiar magic. Hell buffered his natural inability to rein in the magic and absorbed much of his energies.
"Who'd you kill for this?"
"I have other means of obtaining stuff," Gabriel said with some offense.
Rhyn felt Hell's and Sasha's power roll over him like a boulder in a river. They couldn't control him once he left Hell; no one could.
Even Kris. Rhyn's anger made his cell wall shake before the energies of Hell itself began suctioning his power from him.
"Easy," Gabriel warned. "I'm breaking Immortal Code one last time to bring that to you."
"Fuck the code."
"Don't bother, Gabriel."
The death dealer chuckled
Rhyn stretched physically and metaphysically, testing the bounds of Hell. They were much older, much stronger than he. He sagged against the wall, exhausted.
"Are there any girls down here?"
Very little surprised him, but the death dealer's question did.
"Or…women, I guess," Gabriel clarified.
"You need a woman that bad?"
"No, no. Just thought I'd check."
Rhyn stared hard into Gabriel's dark corner and shook his head. He didn't know why the death dealer was distant this visit, and he didn't care. The only thing that concerned him now was killing Kris. And escaping.
Escape first then kill Kris.
"You wouldn't happen to have a key to my cell, would you?" he asked.
"I'm not allowed to break any more Immortal Codes," Gabriel said with some distaste. "Or I'll end up in the cell beside you."
"Better company than I have now."
"Not my thing."
"So you give me my power back but don't free me. This does shit for me here," Rhyn grumbled.
"I'm restricted by -"
"I know, Gabe."
The death dealer shifted but didn't leave, and Rhyn looked again at the corner.
"I need a favor."
Rhyn never expected to hear these words from the death dealer, who needed nothing from anyone.
"Whatever it is, I'll do it," he said without hesitation. "You've done more for me than anyone else."
"There's going to be someone you'll meet soon. I can't break Immortal Code to protect her."
"But I can," Rhyn finished. "Immortal? Demon? If you tell me it's one of my brothers, I -"
"One of the immortals wrote a book about caring for humans," Gabriel said with some reticence.
Rhyn heard him place the book on the ground beside him.
"You could've asked me for anything in the universe, and you ask me to babysit a human."
He reached for the book, convinced Gabriel had finally gone crazy after all his years serving Death. The book was an immortal's, clasped in a flexible leather-like cover with thin, transparent pages. He was distracted by the feel of both after so long with nothing but stone walls beneath his fingertips.
"Where is this human?" he asked. "How do I find it when I'm stuck here?"
"I haven't figured that out yet," Gabriel admitted. "I'll let you know."
Rhyn lifted the book. He had no intention of reading it, but he liked how soft the cover was.
"Why is this human important?"
"Death won't say."
Rhyn snorted and let his head drop back against the stone wall. Death and her pet worked in their own ways. He didn't mistake his returned powers for a free favor. No, Death wanted something from him, and gave him the ability to do her will.
Yet another traitorous woman. He felt some peace knowing that -whatever Death wanted from him -she'd have to free him from Hell to get it.
Katie Young looked at the speedometer, which read thirty-seven when the blue lights flared up behind her, jarring her out of the pre-coffee morning stupor. She guided the car to the lit parking lot near the metro station, her destination. It was four-thirty, and she'd never seen a cop along this stretch leading up to the nearest metro station.
His glaring spotlight of a flashlight blinded her as he walked to the driver's door, and she held her hand up.
"Do you know why I stopped you?" the cop asked as she rolled down her window.
"No," she said.
"You were going thirty-seven."
The light flashed away, leaving her in blackness studded with dim bulbs.
"The speed limit's thirty-five," she objected.
"So you knew that?"
"Yeah. I drive this way every day."
The light returned to her eyes, and she bit her tongue to keep from griping. She couldn't be late again for her job as an assistant general manager of a fast food joint, or she'd be fired.
"You were speeding intentionally," he said with a level of disgust she reserved for the revelation of her sister's ex-boyfriend cheating.
"It's just two miles an hour."
He said nothing, but the light disappeared and she heard him scrawling.
"Your taillight is out," he added in a clipped tone.
"I have four. There's only one out -the rest all work."
"So you knew your taillight was out."
"Look, it's early, I didn't get much sleep, and these seem like minor issues," she said in what she hoped was a friendly voice.
"Your pupils are dilated. Have you been drinking?"
"I took a sleeping aid last night, yes. I have a lot of trouble sleeping lately, probably because -"
"How many hours ago?"
"Taking a sleeping aid and driving before eight hours has passed means you're driving while under the influence of a medication."
She rested her head against the steering wheel, frustration making her veins swell. Her headache worsened.
"I have you for reckless endangerment, driving while under the influence, driving an impaired motorized vehicle while dark, and speeding," he summarized, handing her one ticket for each crime. He waited, as if she'd reveal enough dirt to make his monthly quota then added, "They'll probably suspend your license. You'll have to report to court tomorrow morning."
"Sounds wonderful," she managed.
She rolled up her window, watched him return to his car, and cursed.
She beat the rush onto the metro and took up a comfortable position on the aisle side of the commuter train, book in one hand and purse in the other. The train lurched forward, the gentle hum of electricity soon pushing her into a near-doze, until the train lurched to a halt. As usual, the next stop filled the train, and she looked with some irritation at a five-year-old who shoved by her legs to stand next to the window beside her.
He was dressed in worn clothing and shoes and flattened his palms against the window, as if he'd never been on a train before. He turned to her twice and pointed out the window as the scenery whizzed, but she ignored him, reading instead.
Four stops later, she rose and tucked the book away, wading through the throngs of people to the door as the train slowed.
The cry startled those around her, and she glanced back at the kid, who stared in her direction.
"Lady, that your kid?" someone asked as she stepped toward the door.
"Oh, hell no," she said with a smile.
The kid began crying and she waited, ticking off her mental to-do list to see where she'd start. First off, request the morning off to go to court tomorrow. Second, find out when the general manager of the fast food joint where she worked was returning from maternity leave. Third, call her snotty sister and find a way to back out of brunch Saturday. Fourth -
"Ma'am, your kid," a woman said, taking her arm and pointing with a look of such judgment that Katie reddened despite herself.
"Not mine," she said.
The kid was crying and began tugging on her coat. He spoke in tear-filled gibberish she didn't understand, and she moved away to the door. She was one of the first off the train while the kid wailed and several people around her muttered.
"Lady, you can't just leave him!" the first objector said, grabbing her arm. "You're like that sick lady who put her kid on a plane to Russia 'cause she don't want him no more!"
"How could you leave him on the train? What's wrong with you?"
There were three then five voices with a sixth calling the police and the seventh hugging the sobbing kid.
"He's not mine!" she insisted, unable to break away from the mob. She protested until the cops came and took them both to a police station.
Too surprised to understand what exactly was happening, she obeyed the police officer's instructions to sit down and shut up and sat in the quiet police station reception area. The kid sitting beside her made smacking sounds as he chewed on a huge wad of gum. She rubbed her face, certain the mistake would be clarified soon and she'd be released with an apology the size of a bottle of painkiller she desperately needed.
"Fill this out," a dour black lady said, handing her a clipboard. "C'mere, honey."
Katie ignored the glare leveled on her while the woman cooed to the little boy. The woman and boy left while she filled out the paperwork and then set it on a counter of what looked like an abandoned reception area. There was no computer, no office supplies on the other side. A single bell sat on the counter. She rang it. When nothing happened, she rang it again.
She looked around her, flustered. The waiting room consisted of two chairs, an empty magazine rack, and a potted plant in the corner. It resembled a doctor's waiting room rather than any police station she'd seen.
She rang the bell again.
"Please have a seat, Ms. Young," an irritated voice announced over the intercom.
She obeyed. Another hour of silence passed, and she started to pace. Her cell phone had no signal, her head throbbed, and the coffee pot was empty. When she felt ready to snap, the black lady returned with the little boy in tow. His dark eyes were glowing, and syrup was on his face.
"Officer David will see you now."
Katie grabbed her purse and walked quickly down a pristine hall to a placard that read Officer David. The little boy followed her. She knocked and entered with a smile that faded.
Officer David gave her the same glare.
"Have a seat, Ms. Young," he said. "You too, Toby."
"Officer, this has been just a horrible morning," she started.
"For your son, maybe."
"He's not my son."
The officer stared at her then held up an ID card with the boy's picture.
"It must be some other Young," she insisted. "I don't have a son."
"I oughta call child services on a wack job like you," he muttered.
"Go ahead -call them!" she snapped.
"Parenthood is a responsibility that no one should take likely! I don't care how…"
She listened to his rant, peppered with language no kid Toby's age should hear. Officer David waved a piece of paper in her face depicting Toby's ID. Toby was quiet, and she snatched the paper, intent on showing him their addresses were different.
Only they weren't different. Toby's address was listed as hers. She set the paper on her lap and stared at it. She'd lived there for four years -almost as long as the kid had been alive.
"I don't understand…" she muttered.
"Your record is full of bullshit," Officer David said acidly. "Reckless endangerment? And now child endangerment? You're going to court. You damn well better have a good lawyer, because…"
She sucked in a breath and turned to the kid.
"Toby, kid, whatever. Tell this nice man the truth," she said, meeting the twinkling brown eyes.
The kid was adorable, with dark eyes and hair, sun-kissed skin, and a round face. He was well fed, though clothed like he'd been going to make mud pies and not to school like he should have been. He smiled.
"Toby, is this your mommy?" Officer David said in tones as sweet as they were bitter toward her.
Toby nodded. Katie's mouth dropped open, and she began to realize something was very, very wrong. This was a dream; she'd fallen asleep on the train and not yet woken up. With any luck, the worst part of her day would be missing her stop.
Toby took her hand. His soft hand was cold. The sensations assured her the surreal situation was really happening.
"Officer David -" she began in earnest.
"Enough!" he roared loudly enough to make them both jump. "I've had enough with deadbeat…"
He ranted, signed her papers with a vicious flourish, then shoved them at her and manhandled her out his door. She stood in the hallway, staring at the door slammed in her face, holding a fistful of papers she didn't know what to do with.
"The car will pick you up."
The black lady's tone left no imagination to what she thought of the latest deadbeat mom in her office.
Frustrated, Katie looked both directions down the pristine, eerily quiet hallway before following the kid toward the far end, where a bright red exit sign hung over the door. Her unease grew as she went. The placards on each of the other doors were blank, the doors closed with no sign of light around the edges. The hallway smelled medicinal and clean, like the antiseptic-laced air of a hospital mixed with pine cleaner.
She'd never been in a police station, but she didn't think they'd be this different from the police shows on television! She paused near the end and turned back to see both Officer David and the woman watching her with disapproving looks and crossed arms. She'd not thought twice about their lack of police uniforms but was now struck by it.
This wasn't a police station. It couldn't be.
"Mama!" Toby called cheerfully.
She turned and stared at him. He shoved the door open with all his might, revealing the steely skies of winter and the grey cement curb outside. Whatever this place was, she -and probably Toby -were better off somewhere else.
Toby was agitated and shivering, skipping up and down the sidewalk while shaking with cold. She'd been too flustered to pay attention to the trip to the police station and looked around, not recognizing the area. It looked suspiciously like the warehouse district near the Annapolis port, and she smelled the sea on the air. She twisted around. There was no handle on the outside of the door she'd just walked through, no number on the building.
She shivered in her wool coat, folded the paperwork, and called her sister. As usual, the phone rang until her voicemail picked up.
"Hey, Hannah, it's Katie. I need some help. Can you give me a call?"
Toby's pattering stopped, and she looked up, startled to see a massive man a few feet away. The sight of him struck her like a frozen water balloon. He was tall and clothed in all black, ominous and large against the slate sky. His trench was long and unfastened, the chilled winter wind whipping back one side to reveal a sword tucked against his leg. He looked like death with his dark hair and cold eyes, his panther-like physique, and gloved hands.
"Toby," she called instinctively.
The little boy ran to her side. The man in black approached. She took a step back, heart fluttering.
"We made a mistake. Toby, you can come with me."
He failed to make the cryptic words in any way friendly, and the cold glare seared through her.
"I don't think that's a good idea," she managed.
"You're early," Toby said, unafraid. "I want to go with her."
Katie turned to stare at the little boy, who beamed a smile.
The shadow-man's hand twitched and inched toward the sword at his hip. She stepped back even more and clenched the purse to her body, distracted as a sleek black car pulled up to the curb. A door opened, and Toby vaulted in without waiting for her. She took one more look at the ominous man in black and the sword at his hip and followed, shaking from more than cold. The man shut the door behind them.
"Goodbye, Gabriel!" Toby called from the interior of the warm car. He waved at the massive shadow lingering on the sidewalk.
"You'll be fine. I'll take you home."
The soft, firm words of the female in the driver's seat were the first kind ones of the day. Katie instinctively believed her and twisted, staring with Toby at the man in black who watched them drive away.
"My God," she murmured.
"No," said Toby. "Death dealer."
She looked at him, and he nodded as sagely as a five-year-old could.
"Death dealer, ha! Probably just some bum," the brunette driver said with a forced laugh. "We get lots of them around here."
"At a police station?" she asked skeptically.
"Yeah, sure," came the less certain answer. "You know, like, you can't have a cop station in a nice side of town. They kinda have to be in a crappy part of town, where the criminals are. It makes total sense, right? I mean, why would a death dealer be here?"
The grey eyes were beseeching, but Katie couldn't manage anything verbal let alone a lie to placate the driver. Instead she looked again to Toby, who'd begun to mess with the buttons on his side of the car.
"Shouldn't you have your seatbelt on?" she asked.
"Okay, Mama," he said cheerfully, and complied.
I'm going insane.
The driver said nothing the rest of the way and dropped them off in front of her apartment complex without asking for directions. Toby darted out of the car and shoved the door to the lobby open with all his might.
She trailed, even more perplexed when the janitor waxing the floor called out a cheerful, "Hey, Toby!"
She rubbed her head, wondering if the kid lived somewhere else in the building while unable to shake the sense that something was really, really wrong. Toby held the elevator for her and pressed the button for all twenty floors. She looked at him hard, unable to recall anything at all about the kid.
They reached the sixth floor, where her apartment was. He darted off the elevator and down the hall, stopping in front of her apartment. She opened the door, and he strode in as if he owned the place. Toby bolted to the first room on the right, the guest bedroom.
Katie looked around her apartment, eyes lingering on a drawing done by a child on the fridge. There were pictures on her mantle of the two of them together when he was younger, toys piled into a box near her couch, a school lunch menu and more pictures -these apparently from past Halloweens -on the bulletin board on one wall of the kitchen. She took it all in, feeling as if she'd stepped into the Twilight Zone, and followed Toby down the hall.
The guest room was redone in race cars and Disney characters. His energy sapped, the kid was sprawled half asleep across the race car bed. She stared at the walls, wondering who'd had the time to repaint her guest room. It certainly didn't smell like someone had painted it recently, and there were scuff marks, crayon, and dirt on the walls.
As if it'd been a kid's room for a long time. She hesitated, then covered him with a blanket and walked to the guest bathroom. It, too, was done up in a race car theme with toys lining the side of the tub.
Head pulsing, she retreated to the kitchen and painkillers, staring at a picture drawn by a kid, probably Toby, on the table before her.
She didn't have any kids. She'd never had kids. She'd never met Toby before this day!
Her cell rang, and she stared at it briefly through bleary eyes.
"Hey sis," she said after pressing the answer button. "I've had a horrible day!"
"Oh, hon, I'm sorry to hear that," her sis said in a distracted tone that said she really didn't care. "Toby still sick?"
"Is Toby still sick?"
Katie drew the phone away from her head and stared at it, willing herself to wake up.
"Ooooh, are you having one of your…issues?" Hannah whispered the last word.
"You know…your amnesia issues."
"I have amnesia?"
"Hon, call Dr. Williams immediately."
"Who? Hannah, when I left home this morning, I had no kids! None. None!"
"God, it's getting worse, isn't it?" Hannah said with genuine concern. "Gio's paying for the best neurologist in the world. You may as well go in."
"So you're still engaged to Giovanni. And I work at…"
"McGillen's, like you have for the past few months. I think it's your third job this year."
"I remember those things. You can't tell me I'd forget my own child!" Katie all but shouted.
"Let me guess, you have a headache. You probably did something stupid like leave Toby on the train."
Katie's mouth worked without producing sound.
"We go through this at least twice a year." Now Hannah sounded bored rather than concerned. "Call the doc. You keep his number on the fridge."
Katie looked to the fridge, where a small business card was stuck beneath a cartoon magnet. She plucked it free.
"Yeah," she managed. "Yeah, I'll call him."
"We'll have brunch Saturday. Don't be late this time. I have to get ready for the Kingsly gala. Oh, and wear something decent this time. You looked like you were in pj's last time."
Katie set the phone on the table and stared at the kid's drawings on the fridge.
How could she remember everything but her child? She felt sick to her stomach.