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Chapter 13 -- Family Reunion
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

Mara called Miyuki Burke on her cell phone, but as fate would have it Walter answered. He informed Mara that we could meet with Miyuki in the morning, but that she would not be available that evening.

Well, that struck me as strange; what could be more important that talking to the investigator of your daughter's rape?

Back at the house, I decided to begin work on the enchantment of my staff, even though I didn't have it all planned out on paper. Sometimes experimentation is the only way to figure things out. I took the staff sections into the small room under the basement stairs and laid them on the floor. Next, I got a rug to sit on, and I sat down and began the enchantment process.

An enchantment is like a spell, in that it has a multidimensional spellform powered by magic energy. The spellform of an enchantment is much more durable than a spell, though; when power is unavailable, the enchantment ceases to function, but is not dispelled. It is possible to dispell an enchantment, but it usually isn't easy.

By the time I had completed the first enchantment, Power, I was exhausted and dripping with sweat. I went upstairs to take a break and get a drink; I hoped there was still hot xocholotl in the pot. It was lukewarm, I found, but better than nothing. Then I heard Mark talking to someone in the office.

"I'll be there right away," he said as I walked in, and I saw that he had been talking on the phone. Mara was there also, and they both looked concerned.

"Good, you're done," she said, looking up at me.

"No, just taking a break. What's going on?"

"That was Art," said Mark. "He said that Valerie is asking for me. Doctor Harper put her on tranquilizers to control her outbursts, and Art says she's rational now."

"I thought Art hated you," I said.

"I thought so too. Are you coming with me?"

"If you want us," answered Mara for both of us.

"Hey, we're family, right?" We piled into Mark's car, and he drove like a madman to the hospital.

In case you are curious, I always ride in the back seat when the three of us are going somewhere. It's a courtesy to Mara (don't call me old-fashioned just because I am), but also, in Mark's convertible it's the easiest place to get out of in a hurry. Perhaps I've been fighting too long, but I'm almost always on the lookout for a tactical advantage.

It seemed that the trip to the hospital took half the usual time, but I'm sure Mark wasn't driving that fast. When we got to Valerie's room, Art and Laura were just walking out with Emily between them. All had been crying, and Emily still was. She ran to her father, who dropped to one knee to hug her. "Oh, Daddy, Mommy's real sick. She wants to see you. Hurry, Daddy, hurry!"

Mara and I remained in the hallway as Mark entered the room. We couldn't quite hear their voices, but the tone of sadness came to us clearly.

Art stuck his hand out to me, and as I took it he said "Arthur O'Donnell, but you can call me Art. You must be this Solo Jones who Mark works for."

"Yes, sir, I am. This is Mara, my girlfriend."

He put his hand out to shake hers, saying "Mara..."

"Just Mara, please," she answered his half-formed question. "No last name."

"Another young person ashamed of her heritage," he huffed, and Mara gave him a withering look. Laura stepped forward quickly, and seemed about to speak, and I was afraid that Mara would also.

I beat them all to the punch, as they say. "Art, don't judge what you don't understand. Someday if you are lucky you may learn some things that'll give you a new perspective on heritage." He visibly backed down, and Mara cooled a bit, and then Laura stepped in front of her husband and took Mara's hand.

"I'm Valerie's mother, Laura. I'm pleased to meet you both."

"Can you tell us anything about your daughter's condition?" I asked.

Laura looked at Art, then she said "It looks bad, I'm afraid. The tumor in her brain has spread branches all over, and most of it is inoperable. The doctor says that chemotherapy probably won't save her, since the cancer has spread too far already. He had a specialist, Doctor Marsh, look into her case, and he agrees. They are going to transfer her to a hospice..." Her voice cracked. "Oh, what am I going to do," she cried, her composure lost, "my little girl..." Mara went to her, put her arm around her, and led her to a seat.

Emily had been quiet through all of this; I realized we had forgotten her only when she too began to cry and went to join her grandmother. Art and I were left standing there together; it was a very uncomfortable moment, and I could think of nothing to say. He was a disagreeable sort, it's true, but he was also a father facing the impending death of his child.

After a long moment of sadness he spoke. "How was I to know?" he asked me, and I shook my head, not understanding. "How could I know that my daughter was lying to me, or that a... thing... was growing in her head, killing her? I hated Mark, I wanted to see him ruined, I jumped for joy when the judge gave Valerie everything. How could I have known that my only daughter wasn't telling the truth?"

"You couldn't know, Art. You did the best you could." It was small comfort, but it was all I could think to say.

Mark came out then, and told us that Valerie wanted to see us all. So, we entered the room. I was more than slightly puzzled why she included me in the group, as she didn't know me, or Mara for that matter, but I was called so I went. Mara and I remained in the back row, out of the way of the family.

Valerie looked bad. The cancer had obviously progressed rapidly in the last few days; I wondered why, but being no healer I had no idea. Her eyes were sunken and dark, and she looked very frail.

"I wanted to apologize to all of you for the terrible things I said... and did." I saw that she was looking at Emily at that moment, and in response the little girl ran to her mother, climbed the metal rail of the bed and lay down beside her.

"It's okay, Mommy, I'm okay. Please stay with me." I could almost see Valerie's heart breaking, and there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Valerie hugged her daughter with all her fading strength.

After a long moment she looked at me. "You are Solo Jones?"


"I'd like to talk to you, please... alone." Art made a surprised sound, but everyone respected the sick woman's wishes. Laura picked up Emily, and shortly the room was empty of all except Valerie and I.

I approached the bed. "How can I help you?" I asked.

"You already did, didn't you? That was really you in my nightmare, I know it was."

I considered lying, but I've never been very good at that. "Yes, it was me. There were two of you, in a deserted diner, and the... other one was like a ghost."

"It was you!" she said with the most strength I had yet heard from her that day. "Are you psychic?"

"Sometimes," I said. "You couldn't see me, but I was there. I saw the way you were treating Emily, so I made you both to sleep. I entered your dream and saw the other you goading you into evil; and I saw in your aura that you were sick. I made the call to Mark, and he took over from there. I just wish we could have figured this out in time..."

"Don't be sad, Solo. I'm going to die, but I will die with a clear conscience. I will leave behind a daughter and husband... ex-husband who will know that I loved them dearly, and I won't leave a rift between my parents and Mark. You can't save me; no one can. But you have given me a great gift."

I turned my head away, wiping my tears on my sleeve. I couldn't face her, nor speak, for a long moment.

Finally I said, "You're welcome. If there's more that I can do for you, you need only tell me."

She reached her hand out to me, and I took it. She was so weak, she could only hold my hand a moment. "Please call everyone else back in."

I did so. Valerie looked at her father. "Dad, I know I told you this before, but I need to again, with Mark here. All the things I told you he did, all the awful stories, were lies. In some way I think I believed them, but they never happened. I drove a wedge between the two of you, and I'm sorry."

Art nodded, then turned to Mark. "If you have some bad feelings, Mark, I'll understand."

"No, I don't. I might have done the same in your place." They shook hands.

"Now," said Valerie, "I don't know how long I'll be sane before this... thing in my head takes over again. Please don't believe any evil things I might say then." She waved to her mother to approach. "I've already signed a power of attorney for my mother to handle my business, and make medical decisions for me. I want you all to hear that I want Emily to stay with her father from now on... if you want her?" That last bit, of course, was directed at Mark, and he quickly stepped forward.

"Of course I want her," he said. He picked up his daughter and hugged her.

"My last request is that you not keep me on life support. No heroic measures. Let me die when my time comes."

I don't know how she did it, but Laura held on to her composure. "Of course, my dear. We'll do all we can to let you keep your dignity."

"Thanks. Thank you all." She yawned then, and I could tell she was completely exhausted. Having said all she needed to, she let go and fell into a deep sleep.

We all filed out of the room. We hung around the waiting room for a while, then Mark said to Art and Laura, "I'll need to get Emily's stuff. We should go now, before it gets dark."

Art said, "You stay here, Laura. I'll go with Mark and Emily, and then after we're done I'll come back." She nodded her head absently, lost in sadness. Mark looked at Mara and I, a question in his eyes.

"Go, Mark. We can walk home from here, or take the bus." He smiled, relieved, picked up his daughter and went with Art to the parking garage. I took Mara by the hand and we went to the elevators.

"Are we really going to walk home?" she asked. "I'm not wearing walking shoes." Indeed, she was wearing sandles, with heels just a bit too high for comfort on a long walk.

"Not if I can avoid it," I said, leading her into an empty elevator. I pushed the button for the top floor. After the doors closed, I said, "We're going to fly home, invisible. I hope you don't mind."

"If this was a happier day, I'd be thrilled. I don't think I'll enjoy it today." She smiled a weak smile, and I nodded my agreement.

I had not intended to carry a passenger when I prepared the Flight spell, but I had increased the "thrust" capacity. I didn't intend to be hunted down by someone leaping again just because my spell was too slow. Thrust can just as easily lift extra weight as provide extra speed, so I was confident I could carry Mara with me.

So I released my Flight spell, then just before the doors opened on the top floor I made us both invisible. That spell, at least, I had prepared two of. I held Mara's hand (since I could not see her) and led her out into what turned out to be the Obstetrics department. Fortunately they weren't very busy, so we didn't have to dodge much to reach the door to the roof.

As always, that door was locked. There was no one around, so I took my time and formed the word carefully, and the door opened before us.

"Why don't I hear you walking?" I asked Mara as we climbed the stairs.

"I'm carrying my shoes."

"Clever," I answered.

"Well, invisibility isn't much good if they can hear me walking. Besides, you're going to carry me flying, aren't you?"

"Yeah," I said, puzzled.

"Well, I could lose a shoe in the wind, couldn't I? These are my favorites."

"I see," I said with an invisible grin.

I picked up Mara with some difficulty. I was (and still am) quite strong enough, and she isn't heavy; but did you ever try to lift a woman, even one who is cooperative, when you can't see her?

We took flight slowly and flew off unseen into the dusk.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005