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A note from Fox-Trot-9

Written on 7/20/17. Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2017 edition.


Warning(s): sexual content (mild).

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

—Hebrews 11:1


1


To say that they were in trouble was the grossest of understatements. After Mara's destructive outburst and collapse into unconsciousness, Kendra fireman-carried the unconscious girl over her shoulders, while Colbie and Celia cleared out the rubble and exited the old Rancaster district through the huge gash in the wall.

On the other side, SWAT vehicles took up positions along the street, and several SWAT teams formed into ranks and pointed their guns at the girls. Several SWAT members talked into their hand-held radios reporting their findings to the SWAT team leader, Lt. Frank Shaefer, who came forward to see for himself and then called it in to Kendra's stepfather over his radio transceiver when he spotted Kendra and her friends amid the rubble, saying, “Hey, Roy, this is Frank. You’re not gonna believe this, so just get your ass over here,” and gave him the location of the scene and added that he couldn’t miss it if he tried. When asked what was going on, it only took him to mention Kendra and her friends in the same sentence as Mara Cairns for Roy to get his ‘ass over here,’ pronto.

Before Roy’s arrival, Lt. Frank Shaefer radioed all of his teams to stand down and asked for the ambulance team to take the girl to the Nayland Hospital near the Paradise Gardens district. Rifles were lowered, and he walked out into the street and raised his hand at his teams, signaling that the girls before them were not threats.

Kendra gulped and paled at seeing the man all decked out in SWAT gear, helmet, body armor and military boots, and said, "I can explain—"

"Do that later at the Police Station," he said, then looked over at her friends who winced under his gaze. "And that goes for you two, as well. I’ve contacted Roy, and you three will be taken to the Station, while I deal with all this," he added, pointing to the damaged length of wall and other damaged properties around the immediate area.

When the ambulance came, Kendra placed Mara on the gurney, and the medics wheeled the gurney into the back of the ambulance and shut the door and drove off down the street with sirens blaring.

He then led the three girls behind the line of SWAT vehicles, but he waited for Kendra's father to arrive first. All the while, he ordered his SWAT teams to secure the area and set up roadblocks and bring in construction crews to clear out the rubble.

But when they saw cruiser lights flashing up the street, meaning that Roy had arrived, he took Kendra aside and said, "I'm not exactly sure what kind of mess you’ve gotten yourself into, but does it have anything to do with the Cairns case?"

Kendra looked down at her feet, while her friends looked on, and said, "Yeah, it does."

"In that case, I'll try and say something to him before he explodes on you," he said. "Hold tight, miss."

Kendra gave him a weak smile, saying, "Thanks."

When the police cruiser stopped, Detective Roy Dolan stepped out, a tall and clean-shaven man with his normally combed-back hair a bit disheveled.

Lt. Frank Shaefer came up to him and said, “Kendra says it's about the Cairn case, sir."

Roy just stared at his long-time friend and glared at Kendra and her friends, making them flinch where they stood next to one of the SWAT vehicles, then sighed and under his breath, “Dear Christ, those three will be the death of me some day."

“Try not to be too hard on them,” he said.

“I’ll try not to. Carry on, Lieutenant," he said, placing his fingers to his temples to massage away yet another on-coming headache. "I'll take them in and have them questioned. I can already see it's gonna be one of those days!"

"Heh! Good luck on that, sir," Lt. Sheafer said. "Hope the brass doesn't crawl your ass too much!"

"Yeah, yeah, fuck you, too," he said, then walked up to the girls. "You three, get it in the car."

But Kendra said, “Really, I can explain if you—“

"Don't argue! Just get in the car!"

All three girls flinched and followed Roy to the police cruiser, who opened the back door for them and slammed the door shut when they all filed onto the back seat.

All three girls fell silent in that seat, the seat used for apprehending criminals and suspects, and when Roy entered and slammed the door shut and started the ignition, Kendra mouthed at her friends so he wouldn't overhear: "We. Are. Fucked."

Of course, the sharp-eyed Roy saw through the rearview mirror, so he turned around in his seat and said, "That's for your folks to decide. I'll have to explain all this to my superiors, and I'll probably have my ass crawled by the time they pick you up. And as for you, Kendra, you're grounded! So no more phone privileges for a month!"

"But that's not—"

"Quiet!” he said and turned back around in his seat and started the ignition. “And that's on top of what I'll say to you when we get home, so you better get used to it!"

Kendra winced at his words and stayed quiet throughout the ride, while her friends just clammed up and grabbed Kendra's shaking hands on either side of her. No matter how bad it was about to get, Kendra knew that she wasn’t alone in this. Screw up together, suffer together: that's what friends are for.


2


Indeed, upon entering the Missing Persons Office and Inspector Dunham’s office, in particular, Detective Roy Dolan had more than his ‘ass crawled.’ In quite a few tirades of yelling and cursing, Inspector Dunham said that Roy had been taken off the Cairns case starting tomorrow, pending a reprimand and a suspension from the superintendent for causing an “enabler” (Inspector Dunham’s word for Connie Davis) to allow minors to interfere with investigative protocol and administrative procedure to quarantine the old Rancaster district.

After a long diatribe about investigative protocol and administrative procedure and especially about Connie Davis’ involvement in the whole debacle, a fuming Inspector Dunham said, “Do you have anything to say for yourself, detective?”

“Yes, sir,” Roy said, standing behind the chair he was not asked to sit in, and noticed the reddening hue of the inspector’s bald head. “That is, if I’m free to speak, sir.”

The inspector waved his hand, saying, “Go ahead, detective.”

“Connie’s one of my most trusted contacts,” he said. “I’m sure Ronnie and the Larking brothers would hate for me to burn her.”

“Looks like she burned you, first, Roy. She’ll probably get fired from her position at Shad-Row Academy and get her PI license revoked for her actions,” the inspector said, then in a softer voice: “Look, I’m sure you didn’t intend for things to happen like this, but revealing police protocols on an active investigation to an outsider (even for a second opinion) carries some serious administrative consequences.”

“Steve’s gonna vouch for her,” Roy said.

“Whatever Steve does at the Phantom Office is his decision, not mine or not yours,” Inspector Dunham said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get the superintendent off my back.”

“I know, but—”

“No ‘but’s, detective,” Inspector Dunham said. “I’ve already got the superintendent breathing down my neck because of all of this. And since a Phantom Office PI enabled three minors to interfere with the superintendent's administrative quarantine of the Rancaster district in connection with the Cairn case, I’ll have your case transferred to the Phantom Office, and Steve will deal with it.”

“I see,” Roy said and paused for a spell, then: “How long is the suspension?”

“For as long as the case is still open,” Inspector Dunham said. “The superintendent doesn’t want you anywhere near this case.”

“Starting tomorrow?” he said.

Inspector Dunham nodded, saying, “Starting tomorrow, yes, pending a reprimand, of course.”

“Jesus, man, I know!” Roy said. “But what the hell am I supposed to do till then?”

“You figure it out,” Inspector Dunham said, then paused for a moment. “Look, for what it’s worth, and this is off the record, each of those three girls should be awarded a medal. Honestly, what they did today was a fucking miracle. We wouldn’t have found the Cairns twins without them, so don’t be too hard on Kendra, okay?”

“I know,” Roy said, “and I’ll try, sir.”

“All right,” he said. “Get out of my hair.”

But Roy had the last jab, saying, “You don’t have hair, sir,” and left the inspector’s office.

After his dismissal, Roy doubled back through the side hall of the Missing Persons Office into another hall where the interrogation rooms were and talked with another officer in charge of questioning Kendra and her friends about today’s events in the next ten minutes. After that, he exited the Police Station through the back doors, avoiding Kendra’s line of sight as she was talking to her friends in the lobby area, and looped around the building along the sidewalk looking for his car. When he spotted it, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his smartphone and dialed the number for Inspector Stephen Larking of the Phantom Office and waited for him to pick up.

When nobody did, Roy received an automated voice message, saying, “This is the office of Inspector Stephen Larking of the Phantom Office. I’m sorry for not taking your call at this time, but you can leave your name and phone number and your reason for calling after this message.”

The message beeped.

“Hey, Steve. This is Roy,” he said, fishing out his key ring, and approached his car and unlocked it. “Bad news, man. I’ve been debarred from this case starting tomorrow, so I’ll try to get everything set up at the hotels and the drop zones before daylight. Over and out.”

He pocketed his phone and opened the door, then climbed into the driver’s seat and started the ignition.


3


Upon listening to the news broadcast on the overhead TV during her shift break with her colleague, Connie Davis stood up from her seat at the mention of Mara Cairns’ rescue from the old Rancaster district. The news reporter said that three unnamed minors had infiltrated the old Rancaster district moments before the superintendent of the Larking Metropolitan Police Department could enact the quarantine over it, trapping them inside once the quarantine took effect. The picture then changed to an on-site still image of the shattered wall.

“Are you fucking serious?” Connie said.

“What’s wrong?” her colleague said.

Connie gulped, ignoring her colleague’s question, and took up the remote and increased the volume, so her disbelieving ears could hear better.

The reporter said, “. . . but in a miraculous twist of fate, those three girls not only managed to locate the missing Cairn twins, but they were even seen taking Mara Cairns to safety outside the district’s perimeter.”

Then the picture changed to Lt. Frank Shaefer, saying, “I couldn’t believe it when I saw them with Mara Cairns. It was almost like watching a movie.”

Then it switched back to the reporter, who said, “The LMPD has since retrieved the body of the other twin, Nico Cairns, and put it into a cold storage unit at the morgue an hour ago. As for Mara Cairns, she was taken to the Nayland Hospital, where . . .”

“I have to go,” Connie said.

“Go where?” her colleague said.

“To the hospital,” she said, taking her jacket off of the backrest of her chair and putting it on. “Cover for me, okay? I’ll make it up to you later.”

“Why are you going there?” her colleague said.

“Just cover for me,” she said, and headed straight for the door, “and don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”

“But why? Are you . . .” Her colleague’s words drifted off, but then she said, “Are your girls involved in this?”

Connie wheeled around and pulled her fingers across her lips as if she were pulling a zipper and said, “Don’t tell anyone about this, got it? I’m begging you, please!”

“All right, all right,” she said, “but what do I say if the doctor comes in?”

“Just make shit up,” Connie said, then crossed the threshold. “I’m depending on you,” she added as she footed it down the hall towards the exit.


4


When the nurse overlooking Mara Cairns had informed him of the girl’s condition, saying that she had five bloody indentations on her stomach, Detective Roy Dolan asked to see the girl in person. When asked why, he just said that he wanted to see for himself what those indentations looked like.

The nurse paused for a moment, then said, “Why?”

“Her case is pending a transfer to the Phantom Office,” he said. “I need to see for myself what has been done to her before I release her case to them.”

Again, the nurse paused, then nodded and allowed him through the door but said, “If anyone catches you, don’t tell them I was with you, okay?”

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell,” he said, and with the nurse walking off, he approached Mara’s bedside and noticed her hospital gown bleeding through with blood. He raised her hospital gown past her stomach and saw those bloody indentations on her skin. “Ah, Christ! Please don’t tell me it’s a blood seal.” He lowered the hospital gown and looked at the girl’s face, a portrait of a peaceful night’s sleep, and said, “What the hell happened to you?”

He turned to go and exited the hospital room when he spotted Connie Davis running up the hall towards him, who said, “Roy, is she in there?”

“Yeah,” he said, but he stretched his arm across the door jamb, “but why are you here?”

“I’m here to see Mara,” she said.

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“But . . . Why?” she said, looking past him to Mara’s bedside. “You might need—”

“I’ve been suspended, Connie,” he said, “and my case is being transferred to the Phantom Office. Starting tomorrow, I’m officially debarred from this case, so I won’t be the one to close it anymore.”

Connie cupped her hands over her gaping mouth, saying, “Oh my God, Roy, I’m so sorry! If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, anything at all—”

“How the hell are you gonna do that?” he said, then cut himself off when he noticed some of the staff nurses approaching them, telling them to take their conversation to the waiting area, because they were disturbing the patients nearby.

He and Connie apologized and walked down the corridors to the waiting area in silence, till he said, “Inspector Dunham knows what you did.”

“What?” she said. “Are you kidding me?”

“I’m not,” he said, then halted in the middle of the corridor, stopping Connie’s steps.

“I’m in a lot of trouble, aren’t I?” she said.

“That’s an understatement,” he said, then paused to reflect on his next words, “but tell me one thing. Why did you let them go through with it?”

Connie averted her gaze from him, pausing for some moments as tears began trailing her cheeks, and said, “Because I believed in them, but I . . . I should’ve stopped them. I should’ve . . . I . . . I . . .”

Connie had lost her words, so Roy hugged Connie close, cupping his hand against her back and letting her cry over his shoulder, saying, “I know you’re sorry, but I need you to be strong for them. Promise me you’ll be there for them, and I’ll be here for you. Okay? Promise?”

She nodded her head, still crying into his shoulder.


5


After promising Connie that he wasn’t angry, Roy waved her goodbye and got back in the car, backing out the parking space and waiting for cars to pass by before entering the street on his way back to the Police Station. After greeting the station guard and parking his car, he fished out his smartphone and called Colbie’s mother on her phone and informed her that her daughter was at the Police Station. Then he called Celia’s older sisters, but when neither of them picked up, he left voice mail messages informing them that Celia was at the Police Station.

After that, he got out of his car and glided through the front entrance, passed the receptionist, and entered the hallway leading into the interrogation rooms where Kendra and Celia and Colbie had just finished signing their witness statements and asked the officer in charge if they were free to go. The officer said they were, so Roy led them through the hallway and asked them if they needed to see a doctor. All three of them said no, so he shuffled them off to a row of seats in the lobby and informed them that Colbie’s mother and Celia’s sisters will pick them up in the latter part of the afternoon, then told Kendra to wait for his shift to end.

He then headed towards the receptionist and said, “Can you keep an eye on them for me?”

“Sure can,” the receptionist said.

“Thanks,” he said, yet just before he headed back into the hallway towards the offices of the SWAT Unit to look for Lt. Shaefer, he heard Mrs. Amame blustering into the lobby like a whirlwind, swirling air currents all around the waiting area, scattering loose sheets of paper all over the place, and causing those waiting in handcuffs to look over at the ruckus and cower in fear at the smartly dressed lady in high heels and mid-thigh skirt and office jacket, her long locks still swirling in the residual wind.

If looks could kill, Mrs. Amame was Death itself after a bad day at the office looking for a poor neophyte to grill in her backyard. If moods could swing, she was a hurricane stuffed inside a bottle waiting to be opened by a certain girl somewhere on the premises of this lobby. In fact, the woman all but gutted the place with her gaze when she spotted Colbie cowering in her chair with her friends, staring down at the floor, not daring to look her way, probably thinking sunny thoughts on her way to the slaughterhouse.

"There you are," Mrs. Amame said, storming her way towards her miscreant daughter and glowering over her, arms akimbo. "You and I are gonna talk when we get home!"

"I didn't do anything bad, okay?" she said, while her friends sat stock-still, sweating on either side of Colbie and avoiding her mother's gaze of death.

"Then why did I get a phone call from Detective Dolan, hmmmmm?" Mrs. Amame said, but it wasn't really a question; it was more like a veiled threat pending a forced confession of the verbal kind.

Colbie stayed mute where she sat between her friends, sweating more the longer her mother kept her glare on her.

At this, Roy came up to her, saying, "Mrs. Amame, I talked to you earlier."

"Oh! I hope it's not anything serious, detective."

"No, it's not," he said. "She got off with a warning. Same thing with Celia and Kendra.”

At this, Mrs. Amame breathed a sigh of relief and said, "What happened?"

Detective Dolan paused, giving it some thought on how to phrase it, and said, "You’ve heard that we found the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Cairns earlier today?"

She glanced at her daughter and said, "Yes, I've heard."

“These three found Mara Cairns alive in the Rancaster district,” he said, deciding against telling her about the blood seal he found on Mara Cairns’ body. “She was taken to the hospital before I arrived at the scene, but she's in stable condition when I looked in on her.”

"What about her sister? Is she still missing?"

Detective Dolan paused and stared at his feet for a moment, then said, "We recovered her body an hour ago, and these three helped us pinpoint her location in the same district. I'll admit that what they did was reckless, but we wouldn't have been able to find her body if it hadn't been for them."

Mrs. Amame put a hand to her mouth, gaping at the information Kendra's father had given her. She then looked at the three sitting girls and said, "Are you three all right?" She then looked at Celia and added, "Do you want me to call your parents?"

"My sisters will pick me up," Celia said.

“Where are your parents?”

“Dad's with the publisher,” Celia said, “and Mom's at a dig site, so they're busy right now.”

Only then did Mrs. Amame notice her bandaged hand. "What happened to your hand?"

"I used one of my grandma’s spells to locate the Cairns sisters, but I'll be okay.”

"Geez, girls," Mrs. Amame said, lowering herself to the girls' level on their chairs. "What could've possessed you to risk your lives like that?"

"But we had to, Mom," Colbie said. "Now that Mara's whole family's gone, she needs us."

Mrs. Amame looked back at Roy.

“Don’t doubt her, Mrs. Amame,” he said.

So Mrs. Cairns refrained from causing her daughter further grief. Besides, no matter how reckless she had been, Roy thought to himself, even if Colbie had been his own stepdaughter, he would never doubt her intentions when it came to doing the right thing, and he hoped Mrs. Amame wouldn’t lose sight of that.

A moment later, Celia's older sisters came into the waiting area and saw Mrs. Amame with the three girls and waved at her. Mrs. Amame walked up to them and explained the situation with Celia's sisters, and both sisters looked over at Celia's bandaged hand with something resembling concern on their faces.

Watching all of this from the sidelines, Roy couldn't help but smile, even when Kendra herself had no say in this exchange. From what his colleagues and supervisor said about their actions and from his own observations, Detective Sergeant Roy Dolan couldn’t stop thinking about his tenure as a rookie cop eleven years ago with his old partner, Edmund Tellerman, Kendra's real father. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt that he understood Kendra Tellerman a little better today through the actions of her friends, for real friends always had your back. As such, if Roy was going to fill that role of surrogate father to his former partner's daughter, he'd have to be his own man and be a good stepfather in his own way.


6


Since Roy Dolan was her only legal guardian, Kendra had to wait for his shift to end in the early evening at around 6:00 p.m. So Kendra had been talking to some of the officers on duty near the reception area, asking them if they had any weird cases they could tell her while she waited for her stepfather, and they readily obliged her. She would visit the Police Station a few times a week just to listen to their stories, and they have grown accustomed to her company in the slower hours of their shifts when the hectic workload of the afternoon wound down into tedium and boredom. So they told her some of their more interesting cases from their line of work, from funny ones and tragic ones to the sometimes downright scary ones.

One of her regular veteran storytellers, Officer Todd Curvan, had an abnormal amount of strange cases under his belt. He leaned onto the reception desk, where Kendra had been sitting next to the receptionist for company, and told her about a moving staircase that would appear at odd hours during the night. Every now and then, they would receive phone calls from witnesses who were unfortunate enough to see it outside their homes.

In particular, he remembered this one time when he and his partner got called in to investigate a staircase sighting near the Lucky Valley neighborhood on the northernmost outskirts of Larkington. He said they had found a kid standing on the top step of the stairs.

On overhearing, other officers walked over and listened.

Todd said, "Okay, this is how it went down when we got there. We pulled up next to the curb, and we saw the mother running up to our patrol car, and she was screaming that her kid had climbed up those stairs. You should've seen her. She was freaking out.

"So I tried calming her down, while my partner went up ahead in the family's back yard to call it in. Heard him screaming his ass off the next moment. I hightailed my ass over there, and guess what I saw. A dragon, the kind you'd see from a Chinese temple or something like that, and it was flying real low above the ground. I'd say around twenty to thirty feet, just snaking around above the family's backyard."

"That must've been a really big backyard," Kendra said.

"Heck yeah, it was. Their backyard was on the edge of the Sharps Valley Sand Dunes, and when we saw that flying dragon overhead, we nearly lost our minds. I thought we were in some dream world or something, 'cause it was still in broad daylight. Then I noticed the kid, a small toddler, reaching up towards the dragon at the top of the stairs, and the dragon started snaking its way closer to the house, so I ran to the stairs and up the steps and was about to snatch the kid when I saw the kid starting the levitate from the top landing just as the dragon was going to swoop down over the top steps, and that's when I shat myself.

"I charged up the steps, two at a time, and lunged at the kid and caught him just as the dragon swooped down over the top landing. I literally felt the breeze of the thing passing just a few feet above my head as I crouched down on the top step with the kid in my arms.

"Then I looked up at the dragon and saw it disappear into the sky above the sand dunes, and that's the last I saw of that thing. I checked on the kid to see if he was all right, and guess what?"

"What?" Kendra said, leaning forward on the edge of her seat, wrapped up in the story. "What happened?"

"The kid was asleep. Wasn't scared. Wasn't crying. He was asleep the whole time."

"You mean, sleepwalking?"

"Yeah," Officer Todd said. "Turns out, the kid was a narcoleptic, so he was prone to daytime sleepwalking, but that doesn't explain what my partner and I saw that time. I mean, I've heard of stairs in the woods and all that jazz from my park ranger buddies out west, but I've never seen anything else like that in my career. Stuff like that just doesn't happen to us city cops, but there are always exceptions, and you’ve just listened in on one of them. I didn't enter that dragon detail in the statement, though. Otherwise, I'd have been sent off to the looney bin years ago. The information was suppressed, but you never forget that kind of thing. I've got it all locked up in here," he added, pointing to the side of his temple, "right up here where no skeptic's bullshit about hoaxes will muddy it all up."

That's when Kendra noticed his yang sanpaku eyes and wondered about his mental health, but she didn't voice her concern. She didn't want to offend one of her most colorful storytellers.


7


Roy Dolan finally clocked out of his shift after turning in his paperwork on the Cairns case to Inspector Dunham, still stinging from the superintendent barging into the room and dishing out a hard-nosed reprimand that garnered a sympathetic look from Inspector Dunham as Roy tried to his best to refrain from punching the superintendent in the face. As such, he left the inspector’s office and entered the lobby area with his shoulders slumped and his morale drained.

But when he saw old Todd Curvan surrounded by other cops and his perennial listener, Kendra, Roy walked up to the reception desk and said, "Still telling your tall tales, eh, Todd?"

"Not tall tales," Todd said. "True tales. There's a difference."

"I'll take your word for it," he said, smiling at the idiocy of it all. "Come on, Kendra. Time to go."

"Already?" Kendra said, raising her arms up in a stretch and getting up from her chair.

"What, you wanna stay and listen to 'tall tales' all night?"

"Hey, it's true tales," Todd reiterated. "True tales!"

"You show me evidence of one of those true tales, and I'll believe you," he said. "Otherwise, try 'em on someone else."

"Well, at least Kendra seems to like them!"

"She's a bit impressionable, but I'll make sure to straighten that out soon."

Kendra pouted. "Really, you could be a little bit nicer."

But Todd wasn't going to let that go so easily. He added, "She's right, you know. Maybe you could use a bit of straightening out yourself, old son. It'll do wonders for you."

At that, his fellow officer cronies chuckled and sniggered at Roy’s expense, making Kendra gape at the innuendo and look up at Roy, who smiled and nodded his head and eyed his older colleague, “Now you’ve done it.”

But Todd waved his warning away, saying, "Sorry, Kendra. It just slipped out."

But Kendra was a snark when she wanted to be, especially when Roy was the one backing her. In fact, neither of them were the type of individuals to leave things hanging like that, so Kendra said, "Geez. Wonder what else 'slipped out.' You might want to check on it soon.”

“Might I suggest Viagra?” Roy added. “It helps.”

The reaction was immediate.

The cops who overheard Kendra's legendary comeback said, "Oooooooh," and began laughing their heads off, saying that they can't believe old Todd Curvan got double-punked by a stepdaughter and stepfather duo.

All the while, Todd feigned misery and defeat, burying his face in his hands in a mock-show of utter humiliation brought upon him. To this, stepdaughter and stepfather waved them goodbye and exited the Police Station, leaving them still laughing their heads off.

Now it was back to the old routine, with the added weight of Kendra’s part in the misadventure at the Rancaster district looming over their heads. So it was a quiet and tense ride home, filled with all kinds of thoughts running through their heads, but Roy had other plans.

Instead of taking the usual route back home, he took a detour through the downtown area of Woodley Place and said, "Wanna go eat out tonight?"

Kendra just sat there on the passenger's seat, staring at him in silence. "Really? Treating me to dinner after everything I put you through?"

"Yeah," he said. "I mean, you're still grounded, but I feel kinda bad for exploding on you earlier. Shouldn't have done that, especially in front of your friends. What do you say?" Kendra paused on his offer, till Roy glanced her way and noticed her cheeks turning red and said, “Yes, Kendra, it’s a date.”

Kendra looked away, blushing even more and making Roy smirk at her expense, and said, "Let's go to the Dragon Buffet. Haven't been there since my father died."

The mention of her father's death made Roy pause for some moments, turning his smirk into a frown. After three years, Roy was still trying to get used to the idea of being a stepfather, after years of being a bachelor, so he was at a loss for words.

They stayed silent for the rest of the ride, till they turned into a half-filled parking lot and pulled into one of the parking spaces outside the Dragon Buffet.

Roy Dolan parked the car, removed his seatbelt, and opened the driver’s side door.

Kendra said from her seat, "Roy."

He paused in his seat and met her gaze and felt his heart rate picking up. Kendra rarely ever called him by his first name.

“What is it?” he said.

"You don't have to be exactly like my father," she said and placed her hand on top of his over the stick shift. "You're a good man the way you are. You don't have to change anything, if you don't want to."


8


Roy grabbed a ticket from the hostess up front, while Kendra slouched at the edge of the waiting booth, her fingers laced together over her stomach, and her butt near the edge of the leather cushions. She had her legs crossed for modesty, one ankle over the other in a semi-relaxed position, because she saw a 'No Man-Spreading' sign over the back wall of the receptionist's counter.

But beyond these petty things, she was thinking.

She had a lot to think about, from Mara's angry words to the cop's story of the dragon's staircase. As disparate as they were, they lingered like spells over her mind, creating unconscious associations that would later become the motifs of her dreams. As a lucid dreamer with her dream-diving buddies, Colbie and Celia, she had the more mundane and impressionable dreamscapes, mere vivid snapshots of little details that caught in her mind in waking life and expressed themselves in exacting detail in her dreams. She was the analytical dreamer, the dreamer of minute details and subtle intrusions into the real world, the dream detective, just like her real father had once been. And though she wouldn’t admit it in waking life, she considered herself the dream-diving equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, surpassed only by her real father, Edmund Tellerman, the dream-diving equivalent of Mycroft Holmes.

They waited till they got a table booth near the back end of an aisle of tables filled with other patrons, and both asked the waiter for iced water. Then they got up and took a plate from the plate dispenser near the food aisles, filled their plates full of food, and returned to their booth.

Kendra placed her plate on the table, filled with two cuts of tilapia, and sides of Kung Pao chicken and chow mein noodles and Mongolian beef, with sautéed mushrooms poured over the whole thing. Roy's plate was a more conservative ensemble with a cut of roasted salmon, a generous helping of General Tso's chicken, a side of chow mein noodles, and several bites of sushi on the edge of his plate.

For the first few minutes, they ate in silence, but Kendra soon grew bored. She had finished off one of her cuts of tilapia, so she cut a chunk of the other tilapia with her fork, stabbed it, and waved it in front of Roy, catching his attention.

"Want this?" she said. "I got a little too much on my plate."

Roy obliged, sliding his plate over, so she could put it on top of his chow mein. "They'll charge you for wasting food."

"I know, I know. That's why I'm having you eat that," she said, before cutting into the other half of her tilapia and eating more chunks. She then took her fork and stabbed a piece of General Tso's chicken right off her stepfather's plate and ate it.

"Hey! I was gonna eat that."

"You're helping me eat that," she said, pointing with her fork at the tilapia he hadn't eaten yet. "So I'll help you eat that," and she stabbed another piece of General Tso's chicken off his plate and ate it.

Roy slid his plate a little closer to his side of the table, then began cutting into his salmon and shoveling forkfuls into his mouth, while eyeing Kendra's fork.

Kendra made another attempt at his plate, this time stabbing at one of his sushi, but Roy was prepared.

He brandished a spoon and fended off her fork like a shield.

But Kendra was quick and wily with her movements, smiling at Roy's struggles to keep up with her fork. She made another feint at his sushi, attracting his spoon and leaving his General Tso's chicken wide open. She then lunged with her fork and stabbed another piece of General Tso's and ate it in triumph.

"Come on, Kendra," Roy said, putting his spoon down onto the napkin beside his plate. "Stop acting like a kid!"

"But I am a kid," she said. She was sniggering her head off right now, smiling up at him, then made another feint with her fork at his plate.

Which had an unintended side effect. She had merely wanted to fake him out again, but instead, he raised his free hand and smacked one of his knuckles on the edge of the table, and his face scrunched up in an agony of pain.

Kendra winced, saying, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean for that to happen!"

Roy stayed silent for a moment, shaking his hand and opening and closing it to alleviate the pain. "That's it," he said, holding onto his fork like a sword, and sliding his plate sideways away from Kendra's direct line of attack to the farther part of the table, so that their plates formed a diagonal across from each other. "I'll eat here, and you'll eat there. How does that sound?"

"That's not fair," Kendra said. "How am I gonna help you eat?"

"You haven't even eaten your chow mein yet," he said.

"All right, all right, I'll eat," she said, taking up the noodles with her fork, then taking up a spoon and placing it against her fork, then turning her fork against her spoon and swirling her chow mein around her fork like a lollipop.

Roy just stared at her doing it. "How did you learn to do that? I've never seen anyone eat like that."

"My dad taught me," she said, then put the forkful in her mouth and ate it. "I eat spaghetti like this, too."

The mention of her father made him pause again, and something of a smile pursed his lips, then changed into a slight frown. He said, "He must've taught you a lot of things, didn't he?"

"Yeah, he did," Kendra said, repeating the action of swirling more chow mein onto her fork with a spoon. Then she noticed the expression on his face, so she added, "You don't have to be exactly like my father, Roy. You're good just the way you are."

Her words roused him back into another smile, so he lunged with his fork across the table and stabbed a piece of her Kung Pao chicken from her plate and ate it.

Now it was Kendra's turn to stare, as she gaped in disbelief. "You did not just do that?"

Roy grinned from ear to ear, saying, "I just did."

He made another attempt at her plate, but she slid her plate closer to herself, saying, "Now who's acting like a kid, hmmmmmm?"

"You're jealous, because I did it while your hands were full," he said and drank from his glass of iced water and placed it between his plate and hers. "Sweet victory, at last."

Again, Kendra gaped at his brazenness, because he was calling the score before the war was over. So, before commencing with another skirmish, she ate the rest of her chow mien and slid her plate over to his side of the table, as if daring Roy to make another attempt at her plate, while she started eating her Mongolian beef and some of her mushrooms.

Roy, on the other hand, kept his plate where it was, and started cutting into his roasted salmon and eating it, while keeping his eyes on Kendra's fork for any sudden movements. After finishing off the salmon, he went to work on Kendra's half of the tilapia on top of his chow mein, then went for his chow mein, and then went for his General Tso's.

Now was the time for eating, but it was a tense stalemate, a temporary truce in which both eaters kept a wary eye on each others' forks. In a few more minutes, they managed to finish their meals without further incident.

Till dessert, that is.

When they got up and took a saucer from the plate dispenser near the fruit and dessert aisles, they filled it with their choice and returned to their booth. Kendra only got a few cubes of jello on her saucer, but Roy got six squares of mocha cake, stacked two pieces high in three tasty groupings.

Kendra gaped, staring at Roy and then at those tasty morsels, and said, "Are you gonna eat all of those?"

"Yes," he said, smiling at her, while brandishing a clean fork and taking off a bite-sized piece of mocha cake. "And I'll eat them, one by one, very slowly in front of you, and you're going—"

"Stop, please, stop," Kendra said, but he didn't stop; he just kept eating the squares of mocha cake slowly and deliberately, chewing and chewing and chewing. "You're cruel, you know that? That is absolutely beyond cruel."

But he kept at it, anyway, smiling and chewing, and shoveling more mocha cake into his mouth, repeating the process like a broken record.

"Ugh! Why are you being so disgusting?" Kendra said. So she ate all of her jello cubes in quick succession, then brandished a fork and threatened to stab one of the mocha squares. "I'll do it, you know. I really will do it!"

"All right, all right," he said, finishing off the fourth mocha square, then pushing the saucer with the two remaining mocha squares towards her. "I've had enough sweets. You can have the rest of them."

So she dug into the fifth mocha square and savored the taste, and was about to dig into the last one, when Roy grabbed the last one from the saucer and proceeded to eat it.

At this, Kendra gaped and covered her mouth in both hands, eyes wide at the sight of her stepfather eating like a baby. "Oh my God, you're disgusting! Stop, stop! Oh my God, you are seriously disgusting!"

When he finished off the cake, Roy looked at Kendra in triumph and smiled.

But Kendra wasn't about to be outdone. Without warning, she grabbed at Roy's hand ("Hey, what are you doing? Don't!") and proceeded to lick his fingers clean of leftover mocha icing.

Heads turned and people stared, and some of the parents tried to block their kids from seeing such a sight, while Roy just sat there as the center of unwanted attention, saying, "It's not what it looks like!"

When Kendra had finished, he pulled away, saying, "Jesus, what the hell was that for?"

Kendra smirked evilly and said, "That's payback for eating the last one."

Roy kept looking around and listening for anybody talking about him, or quite possibly whispering about his relationship with Kendra, but they weren’t making it obvious. So she leaned forward and whispered so only she could hear, saying, "If you haven't noticed, you just made me look like a creep in front of everybody in this place!"

That's when she looked around and saw some of the patrons staring at them and felt self-conscious, saying, "Sorry about that. Guess I got carried away."

"Yeah, you did."

Some moments later, a waiter showed up at their table with the bill, placing it on their table with two fortune cookies.

Roy paid the bill and added a five-dollar tip, while Kendra broke open her fortune cookie and ate all the pieces.

She unfolded the slip of paper and read, "'Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.'" She leaned back in her seat, mulling those words over in her head, wondering about Officer Todd Curvan's story about the little kid on top of the creepy staircase.

When Roy opened his fortune cookie and read it, he said, "I think this one was meant for you," and handed it to her.

She took it, and read it: "'Mastering yourself is true power.'" She looked up at her stepfather and said, "Ha! Very funny."


9


By the time they got to their house at the end of a cul-de-sac, it was 7:25 p.m., and both wanted to sleep early tonight. Kendra could sleep in tomorrow if she wanted, since it was winter break, but Roy had no such luck. Due to all the commotion Kendra and her friends caused in the abandoned Rancaster district, as well as all the damage they caused to the surrounding area, he would be up to his eyeballs in paperwork tomorrow.

Hence, Kendra was still grounded, which meant that her smartphone privileges were still restricted. In fact, Roy made it clear to her that she was not to use her phone outside of school work and emergencies. He also made it clear that Kendra would not meet with her friends outside of school and school-related activities; that meant she could only ever meet with her friends out of school to participate in Connie Davis's sleep experiments. Other than that, he expected Kendra to be in her dorm studying, eating, or sleeping.

And on the subject of sleeping, he added one more stipulation, just to make things crystal clear, so she wouldn't bend the rules later on.

"And one more thing," he added. "No sleeping with anybody else in your dorm, got that?"

Kendra stared at him in disbelief and pouted, folding her arms over her chest. "You're kidding me, right? That's not even an issue. I don't even sleep with my friends, let alone with anybody else," she said, then stomped her way to her room to dress into her sleeping clothes.

In the meantime, he stripped off his clothes and placed them in the hamper in the corner of his room, then opened a few drawers, pulled out a clean muscle shirt and boxers, and put them on just in time.

Kendra now poked her head in through his bedroom door as he was getting ready for bed. Despite the winter cold, she had on short shorts and a T-shirt loosely tucked into them, and her hair was undone. She said, "Oh, and you don't have to put cameras in my dorm, or pay anyone to spy on me. I'm a good girl, and good girls don't do any of the perverted things you're thinking right now."

"What makes you say that?" he said. "Think I'm psycho or something?"

"Mayyyyyyybe," she said.

"Kendra, I'm a cop. I'm naturally paranoid, but I'm not psychotic," he said. "What you’re thinking only happens in the movies."

Kendra rolled her eyes and gave him a wry smile, saying, "Surrrrrre."

She then did something unexpected. Instead of heading towards her room, she walked towards his bed as he was tucking himself under the sheets.

He sat up, saying, "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to sleep," she said, grabbing the sheets and lying right next to him, pulling the sheets up over her face.

Roy shifted a little further away from her and said, "Why are you sleeping in my bed?"

That's when she pulled the sheets down, revealing just her eyes, and pulled the sheets down her face, revealing a stern expression that held his breath when she said, "Because I trust you, and I want you to trust me, too."

Roy saw her licking her lips and staring up at him, only to look away from him when she shifted to her side away from him on the bed. Only then did something, possibly his conscience, tell him that she was trying to bridge the gap between them, making all the moves and going all the way, while he had stood aloof and met her halfway, like the workaholic he had been.

"I'm sorry, Kendra," Roy said. "I know it's hard for you, but I'm trying my best, believe me."

She shifted to her side again, facing him, but stayed silent for a time.

"Believe me," he said.

A warm smile appeared on her face, and she said, “You don’t have to hide it, Roy.”

“Hide what?” he said.

She then propped herself up and leaned over, kissing Roy's lips, and said, “That.”

Roy propped himself up on one elbow and said, “Why did you do that? You know that’s—”

“I did it, because you’re lonely,” Kendra said and watched Roy, though he tried his best not to give away too much. “I want you to depend on me, Roy.”

He said, “I’m not like that.”

“Like what?”

Roy grimaced and stayed silent, gulping down his qualms yet refusing to give Kendra another reason to prod him, even when he knew that she was the last link he had to Kendra’s father, Edmund Tellerman, Roy’s mentor and friend and partner.

“Roy,” she said, “I kissed you, because I know what my father meant to you, and I know you’re still mourning him. I’m not asking you to let him go and forget about him: I’m just asking you to share with me what you shared with my father. I know you loved him as much as I did.”

Roy gulped again and avoided her prodding gaze, so Kendra proceeded to kiss him again, but he put two fingers to her lips and said, “Don’t do that.”

“Don’t you trust me?” Kendra said.

“It’s not about trust,” he said. “I just can’t bring myself to love you like that.”

“Like the way you loved my father?” Kendra said.

Roy gulped yet again and said, “Why do you keep bringing your father into this?”

“Because you loved him,” Kendra said, then smiled and licked her lips again. “I know you did.”

“It’s not what you think, Kendra,” he said. “I never loved your father the way your mother loved him, and he never loved me the way he loved your mother or you, for that matter. He was like a brother to me, yet I only became his partner after he had lost his wife, your mother.”

“I’m sorry,” she said and turned over and faced away from him. “Can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

“How did you become my father’s partner?” she said.

“My father mentored Edmund before he died,” Roy said, “and he blamed himself for his death even when everyone in my family and his family knew it wasn’t his fault.”

That’s when Kendra turned back over and faced him with wide wondering eyes and said, “Daniel Dolan?” (Roy nodded.) “The former head of the Phantom Office?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding again. “Your father never was the type of guy to show much emotion on the outside. He preferred keeping things bottled up for a while and expelling it when he thought it was the right time.”

“That definitely sounds like him,” Kendra said.

Roy gave a rueful smile and said, “Your father and I were like brothers before I entered the Police Academy. So when I heard what had happened to your mother, I came to him during her funeral and offered to take you in for a while, so he could get his act together without upsetting you.”

That’s when he noticed Kendra averting her eyes from him, before she turned back over and faced away from him again.

“What’s wrong?” Roy said.

“When my father died,” she said, “did you take it the same way?”

“Kendra—”

“You don’t have to answer me,” she said. “You knew my father better than I do. I just want you to trust me like you trusted him. If you can.”

“Kendra . . .” Roy’s words slipped away from him when he noticed her crying, so Roy sat up and said, “I trust you. Believe me, I trust you.”

“Then be honest with me,” she said.

“I am being honest,” he said, then paused for a spell and looked at her, looking for some way to make it up to her and bridge that gap of silence between them. “What do you see in me, anyway?”

“Take a guess,” she said.

“Your father?”

“Too obvious,” she said. “Guess again.”

“Your friend?”

“Too bland,” she said. “Guess again.”

“Your mentor?”

“Too unreasonable,” she said. “Guess again.”

Roy smiled at the subtle jab and said, “Your lover?”

She turned back over to face him and smiled, saying, “You wish. Guess again.”

“Your brother?”

“Ewwww,” she said, pulling a face at him like he was a pervert, which he wasn’t—most of the time. “I never thought you’d be this bad at guessing.”

“Then give me a hint,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll make this easy for you,” she said. “It’s the Scotland Yard inspector who’s also friends with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Now take a guess.”

“Lestrade, are you serious?” he said.

“Of course, I’m serious,” Kendra said, smiling. “He fits you to a T. Now,” she added, “what do you see in me?”

“A girl who won’t let me sleep?” he said.

“Ewwww,” she said again, pulling another face like he was a pervert, which he wasn’t—most of the time. “You sure have a dirty mind, Roy.”

“You’re the one thinking that,” Roy said, “not me!”

“Surrrrrre, you’re not,” she said and lay down flat on her back, looking up at the flustered man still sitting in bed next to her. “I can only imagine the kinds of naughty stuff going through your head right now, lover boy!”

“At least this boy’s got some common sense,” he said, smiling, “unlike someone I know.”

“Sense that belongs to the majority isn’t very deep,” she said, “but you’re deeper than most,” and she reached over and grabbed one of his hands and placed it on her cheek. “So be yourself, Roy. You don’t have to be like my father. I like you the way you are.”

Roy just looked at Kendra in shock, knowing that she had seen right through his tough-guy facade and saw the clear depths of his soul teeming beneath like fresh water from an untainted spring. And when he peered into her eyes, he saw a moment’s respite from the clusterfuck of his weary mind, and when he looked at her parted lips, he saw an invitation to partake of something he had shared with Kendra’s father.

“Kiss me,” Kendra said.

“What? There’s no way I’d . . .”

So Kendra said, “I never said I saw you as my father, Roy. Now kiss me.”

“What about Randal?” he said.

“I never said I’d marry you, either,” she said and smiled at him, “but I know you’re lonely, and I know what I did today brought back some really bad memories for you, and I know saying ’I’m sorry’ won’t cut it, so I want to make it up to you. Now kiss me, or I’ll keep pestering you.”

He bent down and partook of her lips and lingered there in her embrace, brushing his hands up against her waist and feeling her breasts in the palms of his hands, feeling himself getting hard and teetering on the edge of doing it with her, but he pulled away just in time and lay down, closing his eyes and taking long deep breaths to calm himself.

“I can’t do it,” Roy said.

“Don’t you trust me?” Kendra said, smiling at him. “I asked you to kiss me, not fuck me,” she added and turned over and planted a kiss on his lips, a warm kiss, a familial kiss, a kiss of affection that bordered on the edges of lust. In this world, there were three kinds of kisses: the family kiss, the loving kiss, and the kiss of death. Of the three, the first was the purest expression of affection anyone could experience or give to another, like a breath of mountain air or of water from a spring. It was a kiss that fed the soul and gave new strength to weary minds, and she gave it in lengthening doses on Roy's lips, making him hard again, then: “Do you feel better?”

Roy just looked at her, saying, “I don’t understand—”

“I’m increasing blood flow to your brain,” she said, “so you won’t feel depressed all the time. Do you feel better?”

"Mayyyyyyybe," he said.

So Kendra smiled and said, “Good, but don’t expect more than that,” and she shifted on the bed again beneath the sheets and snuggled herself against his body, and Roy felt the back of her thigh against his erection.

“Kendra!”

“I don’t mind,” she said.

“Are you sure?” he said.

Kendra pulled his arm around her waist and snuggled deeper against him, saying, “It’s not what you’re thinking. I’m just really cold. Don’t blow your load now.”

“God, don’t be disgusting!”

Kendra giggled and went to sleep with an expression of complete trust and faith in him. “Sweet dreams, Roy.”

Roy wondered at his stepdaughter, the scion of his late mentor and friend and partner. Kendra had that unshakable faith and an analytical mind, qualities she shared with her father, Edmund Tellerman. Even in Roy’s rookie cop days, Edmund Tellerman had more faith in Roy than Roy himself could muster on his own and saw more in Roy than what he could see in himself in his own mirror.

He then turned over and reached for the lamp and turned off the light, then turned back over and laid his arm over Kendra’s waist again and stared into the abyss that was the ceiling, saying under his breath, "Like father, like daughter," and hoping that one day he would find the courage to be his own man, whatever that was.

But such a hope lay in the future, for Roy was still cognizant of the present moment just before his own dream dive into the Phantom Realms. He was as much a dreamer as Kendra, since he had learned the ropes of dream-diving from Kendra’s father and had proven himself a lucid dreamer by most standards of lucidity, yet he knew his limits. In fact, just as Kendra had often taken the epithet of Sherlock in her observations, Roy found himself entertaining a similar epithet. On his better days, he often thought of himself as the promising Watson, but he settled for the conventional Lestrade due to today’s debacle.

He took a deep breath and exhaled, repeating his breathing exercises for a few minutes to clear his mind, and closed his eyes and thought of the Daimyo and Bangsian hotels, as well as the three drop zones in the Phantom Realms where Stephen Larking’s op would play out in less than 24 hours’ time: one drop zone at a clothing store; one at an abandoned fort atop the hill; and one at a nondescript warehouse. All five locations he had staked out in last night’s dream dive.

Last night lay dead and buried, and today was put to rest, and tomorrow has yet to emerge, but in the present moment, Roy had one more assignment to finish before resigning the Cairns case to the jurisdiction of the Phantom Office: to set up everything in both hotels and the three drop zones for the rest of Stephen’s Phantom Office colleagues on a massive bastard of a case.


10


Like almost every night, Kendra dreamed that night, and on this night, she dreamed of the same weird staircase Officer Todd Curvan had told her about back at the Police Station. And lo and behold! It was the same scene she had pictured in her mind when Todd had mentioned the details.

First, there was the house in the Lucky Valley neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Larkington, dwarfed by the Sharps Valley Sand Dunes that loomed in the horizon like slumbering giants.

Then there was the detached staircase leading into footless halls of air beyond the last step, whereon the toddler of Todd's story stood reaching up into the sky in his sleep.

Then there was the dragon snaking its way above the sand dunes and closing in on the houses below it, spotting the child atop the stairs and swooping in to snatch him up.

And then there was that poor mother screaming her head off, watching it all in horror, probably on the verge of fainting or going insane.

And now there was Kendra Tellerman running up those steps towards that boy on the last step, reaching out to him just as the dragon swooped down ever closer like a meteor trailing sparks against the air. Only to see the boy disappear before her eyes and feel the rush of wind billowing over her on that last step, as the dragon passed overhead and disappeared over the sand dunes.

And for a moment, she tottered on that last step on the balls of her feet, bent over and waving her arms wide, struggling to keep herself from teetering over the edge and into the abyss of dreamless sleep. But she regained control and steadied her feet on the top step, and looked up into the sky.

Mara Cairns was there in the sky, in the same blood-soaked clothes Kendra saw her wearing when she found her in the crater, unconscious. Now she was floating amid a group of smaller dragons snaking around her like a living idol, or a willing sacrifice.

Kendra waved her hands wide and yelled, "Mara!"

When she saw Kendra on the last step of the staircase, she glared down at her. Psychic waves of energy flowed through Kendra's dreamscape, blurring out the house, and now warping the outer edges of the staircase into blurry shapes, shaking her footing on the last step.

"Mara, please!" she said, struggling to regain her balance. "Just calm down! I didn't mean to—"

But Mara had enough of her, saying, "You made a promise to my sister, but you fucking LIIIIIIIIIIED!"

Now the lower part of the staircase warped into blurry shapes below Kendra's feet, and looking back, Kendra knew she was losing time. "I know, I know! I only got angry," she said, standing firm on the last step through the rush of Mara's psychic waves, "but that doesn't mean I lied to her! You have to believe me!"

Mara didn't budge, though. She only said, "Prove it!"

But Kendra now wavered, wondering how she could convince someone so dead set on disbelieving her. She looked back down the steps and saw the warping of the lower steps continuing slowly up the staircase, blurring into nothing. She looked back up at Mara and noticed her standing in midair, as if standing on something she could not see.

And so she closed her eyes, and imagined more steps going up beyond the top step of the staircase, leading up to Mara who was waiting for her to make that leap of faith. With the words of her fortune cookie now repeating in her mind, Kendra took one step past the threshold.

Then another.

And then another.

And then another step.

And then another one after that.

And one by one, step for step, Kendra climbed the footless staircase, up through Mara's psychic waves that buffeted her as she went, now reaching up into the sky, now reaching forward with hands of faith, and reaching out for Mara's hand.

And when she felt that human touch caress her fingers, Kendra grasped onto Mara's hand in a firm grip, hoisting herself up onto Mara's level, and only then did she open her eyes and look back down on the steps she had climbed.

And there they were, each step glimmering in the blurry haze that had clouded Kendra's thoughts with doubt.

"You did well, Kendra Tellerman."

She looked back, but no longer saw Mara Cairns. She now saw Nico Cairns the way she had seen her in the ruins of the dream mansion. And in that space of recognition, now looking into her eyes, Kendra stepped towards her and pulled her into a tight embrace and said, "Don't ever doubt me, you hear? I'm better than that, so don't you Goddamn forget it!"

Nico smiled at her words, then cupped her hands around Kendra's face and planted a kiss on her lips.


つづく

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About the author

Fox-Trot-9

Bio: From Las Vegas, NV, welcome to my profile, RoyalRoadsters! I'm Foxy, the fluffy butt-stabber! I'm weird, introverted, impatient, cheerful (half the time), and friendly. I'm a Catholic, a former college student, a dream diarist, an amateur poet and short story writer and novelist, and a chronic perfectionist, ugh!

Genres I write include dark fantasy, gothic, magical girl, occult detective, action, thriller, horror, genre mashups, LGBT, and a dash of ecchi.

Genres I read include whatever catches my fancy. Who knows? It might be one of yours!

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