CHAPTER ONE - FASCINATION
"Nathaniel! Nathaniel Whitney!" Angela Baskin, the head of the catering company, screeched. "Where is that boy? I need him now! The guests are arriving!"
Nate stood on the edge of a cliff over a hundred feet away from the lighted pavilion where Angela paced and shouted for him. His eyes were fixed on the sea and his ears attuned only to the waves. His white button-down shirt flattened against his muscled chest. Even though the waves were fifty feet below him, the salt spray lifted up on the wind's wings and stung his face. He took in a deep breath. Salty air filled his lungs.
The sea was a slate gray and the white caps looked like icy cream foaming on top. Sky and sea were becoming one as dusk fell. He could already glimpse a hint of stars. But it was the sea that called to him the most at this hour. It was irresistible. He felt his breath in the water. The rush and shush of the waves matched the movement of his blood. The crash of the waves on the rocks mirrored his heartbeat. He squinted his green eyes to look deeper beneath the water's surface. He thought he saw something there, maybe it was fish, or seaweed, but it looked different than that. Silvery. Glittering. His heart rate rose. He leaned further forward.
"Nate!" Daniel slapped his shoulder. "Man, you deaf?"
Nate spun around to face the other boy, but his foot slipped on the loose dirt near the cliff's edge. His heel slid off into open air. His arms pin wheeled at his sides as he began to fall backwards. Everything slowed down. He watched as Daniel's mouth opened in an 'o' of terror. The scrawny boy's eyes bugged out of his head in panic. Daniel's fingertips scrabbled at Nate's arm, but didn't catch hold. Nate was falling. He could feel the emptiness behind him. He was going to topple over and smash on the rocks below.
"NO!" Nate cried out.
The wind suddenly gusted strong and sure. It held him up. Harder. Blow harder. Just a little bit more.
And the wind responded. It propelled him forward. He hovered there, neither falling nor ascending for long moments. But Daniel could reach him. The other boy's fingers scrapped along Nate's shirt, but finally his hands closed around Nate's forearm and he yanked Nate back onto the grass. Nate's heart thundered so hard in his chest that he couldn't hear anything else for a moment. The smell of earth filled his nostrils. The grass was cool against his cheek.
"Holy shit! Holy shit!" Daniel gasped out.
Nate turned to look at the other boy sprawled beside him. His heartbeat quieted. Daniel's face was pinched and white. Daniel was a thin, scrawny boy with a scattering of pimples on his cheeks. He clutched at the front of his shirt as he stared at Nate like he didn't believe the other boy was really there and not broken and bloody on the rocks fifty feet below. Nate felt the same way.
"Thanks for the quick thinking." Nate pushed himself up to his knees. His limbs trembled. Adrenaline still coursed through him. He lifted one hand up before his face. It shook.
"I'd say you're welcome except it was my fault you nearly fell to your death. And I really thought for a second that I'd lost you," Daniel said, his voice high and tight. His brown eyes were wide and worried.
Nate nodded. "Me, too." He realized that the wind, which had seemed so powerful before was now just a normal ocean breeze. He took in a deep shuddering breath.
"I think I lost a decade off my life." Daniel smoothed his hands down the front of his white shirt. They were dressed the same: white button down, black pants and shoes. Traditional catering-wear.
"We're eighteen, it'll take a while before you actually know whether a decade's gone," Nate responded dryly.
"I intend to live fast, die young and --"
"Leave an ugly corpse? Because without that surgery we've been talking about --"
"Shut up! Fuck, you're the only guy I know who nearly dies, almost takes me with him, and can still joke!" Daniel shook his head.
Nate forced himself to stop trembling. He stood up. The sick sensation of adrenaline hitting an empty stomach had him feeling slightly nauseous. "Were you calling me before? I didn't hear you." Nate ran a hand through his dark brown locks. A stray curl fell over his forehead and he hastily pushed it back.
"Not me. That was Angela screaming for you. I'm just her messenger boy. I believe she burst a lung this time." Daniel grinned.
Nate looked back over his shoulder towards the house that was all lit up for the party that he and Daniel were serving at. Between the edge of the cliff and the house there were dozens of tables swathed in expensive creamy cloth with fat yellow candles in their centers. A giant, white pavilion was set up at the base of the garden's steps. It was lit from within with large chandeliers and filled with masses of candle-and-flowered covered tables. Tonight was the annual fundraiser for the Dunhaven School for the Gifted. Not that the school needed a fundraiser. Everyone that went there had piles of money. Nate thought it was just an excuse to party with the fig leaf of a good deed to cover it up. The rich perplexed him. If they wanted to have a party, have a party, but it seemed like they always needed a theme or cause. He sighed and dusted the grass off his knees.
"Shit. What does Angela need so bad that it nearly cost me my life?" Nate asked.
"Oh, I don't know, something about you having to actually work for the pittance she's paying us tonight? Maybe that was it. I mean I know she adores you, but even she doesn't want to pay for you to do your phasing out thing." Daniel held his sides as he laughed at his own jokes.
"Jerk." Nate bumped his larger frame against Daniel's smaller one. "I finished setting up. I was just taking a quick break."
Daniel's gaze darted away from Nate. "Quick? You've been in la la land for almost twenty minutes."
"It couldn't have been that long. I just walked over here." Nate realized then that the sun had dropped behind the Abberley Mansion. More time had passed than he had thought. A trill of unease went through him. "Shit, maybe you're right."
"I know I'm right. Are you okay?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, yeah. Just ... I'm good." He resisted the urge to turn to the sea again. The wind skittered around his legs like a playful puppy. His unease grew. What was happening to him?
"Excellent. Then we must go speak to Madame." Daniel pointed towards the white pavilion.
"What's left to do? It looks like everything's done." A stab of guilt went through him. While he had been daydreaming, or phasing out as Daniel called it, the others were working.
"Angela probably wants you to double check everyone else's work," Daniel guessed. He suddenly blinked his eyes up at Nate and made his voice high in a poor imitation of Angela's, "After all, you're the best, Nate."
"Unlike reprobates like Daniel who skirt through his work." Nate grinned.
"Hell, yeah, didn't I just say that she pays us a pittance? That doesn't make all of us check, check, double-check like you." Daniel went to slap Nate's shoulder again, but he patted his arm instead. "Come on. Let's see what the boss wants before she pops a blood vessel looking for you."
Nate cast one last look at the sea. But it had grown darker now and the water was black. If there had been something down there, he wouldn't be able to see it now. The pull was strong, but with his friend there, he could turn away from it. The near death experience heightened that moment, the intensity of what he'd felt. Unnerved by the sense that the sea and air looked back at him, he hurried after his friend.
He and Daniel began to thread their way through the small circular tables that dotted the expansive back garden of the Abberley Estate. The candles flickered around them. Guests were already arriving and clustering at the upper garden. Nate quickened his step. He and Daniel had worked for Angela all summer, playing waiters, pot scrubbers, leftover food wrappers, valets and whatever else she needed to handle the busy summer party season. Tonight was their last big gig before school started. Their senior year. Not at the ritzy Dunhaven, but at the local public high school with its peeling gray paint and chipped Formica floors. He could almost taste the freedom of college though. Well, some freedom. He'd be working three jobs, going to school part time and probably still living with his grandmother, but it wouldn't be high school anymore.
"What were you looking at before?" Daniel asked suddenly. "In the ocean?"
"I -- just the usual," Nate said lamely. He hunched his broad shoulders.
Daniel had been Nate's friend since they were ten, gap-toothed and too gawky for anyone to notice except to tease. Daniel still was that. But Nate had changed physically. He'd grown tall and filled out this last year. Girls had begun to notice him, but their interested looks just had him feeling cold. He almost wished he was invisible again. Daniel teased him mercilessly about that, but there was a touch of jealousy in his best friend's voice sometimes that had Daniel wincing. He wished someone would notice Daniel instead of their eyes going and staying on him. But despite this strange, unwanted rivalry, Daniel had been the only one that Nate had trusted with the strange feelings he had when he looked at the sea, or a wash of forest, or sometimes even the spill of stars against the night sky. It was a oneness that went beyond what other people said they felt. Nate got lost in nature and nature seemed to be just as fascinated by him.
"But you normally don't phase out like that at work though," Daniel pushed.
"It's getting worse, I guess." Nate grimaced. "I don't know. It was really ... powerful tonight. I think it's the changing of the seasons or something."
Fall was already starting to nip the air. Summer was fleeing. It was always during the changing seasons that the feelings became especially strong.
"What did you see this time? Were the fish dancing beneath the waves for you? Did they whisper: Nate, come swim with us?" Daniel asked. He was joking, but there was an uneasy undercurrent to it.
"Uh, no, not quite." But Nate remembered the silvery thing that had drawn his attention. What had that been? "It's not seeing so much as this feeling. The ocean reflects what's inside of me and then I reflect what's inside of it." He shook his head. "I know that sounds crazy."
"Crazy? Yeah, but it doesn't mean it's not real. I was there when that wolf stepped out of the forest last spring. I nearly crapped my pants when it came up to you, sniffed, and lowered its head so you could scritch it behind the ears. A fucking wolf," Daniel said. He scratched at a pimple on his chin absently as he remembered the incident.
"Yeah, I guess. But it could have been a dog. We don't know --"
"It was a wolf. Don't even try to tell me it was a dog. It wasn't." Daniel waved him off. He grew more serious as he asked, "So what do you think this is?"
"This? I don't know." Nate's lips thinned. "It's sort of freaking me out. Yet ... I like it." He remembered the feeling of the wind at his back, the way it had seemed to respond to his call. That had been heady. "But I've never lost it at work before. That's the freaking me out part."
"Maybe you should talk to someone about it," Daniel said awkwardly.
Nate let out a sharp laugh. "Who would I tell? A shrink? I'm not crazy, Daniel."
Daniel's brown eyes slanted towards him. "I know."
"I'm not!" Nate repeated.
A flutter of panic went through his chest. His father had been crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Bludgeoned his mother to death and tried to burn the house down with Nate still inside in his crib. He didn't know why his father had done it. No one would tell him and the newspapers never did say. They speculated it was because he was going to lose his job and the stress had caused him to beat his wife to death and try to burn his newborn son alive. He was in a hospital now for the criminally insane. Nate had never gone to see him. But sometimes he wanted to ask his father why he'd done it.
"I'm not disagreeing with you!" Daniel said.
But it was there, left unspoken that this was weird, too different to be ignored, and it was getting worse. Or better. The wind had saved him. It had stopped him from falling.
Or am I totally imagining all that and it was all luck? Is this what Dad felt when he went nuts? It couldn't have been anything like this. The feeling doesn't make me feel violent. It makes me feel at peace. Almost like I could do ... something. But that something is good!
Whatever had driven his father to murder could not be this feeling. Nate just hoped that this wasn't craziness just with different symptoms.
A woman with bright blonde hair emerged from the pavilion's entrance. She was tapping a stylus against her lips. Her blue eyes alighted on Nate and she immediately made a beeline in their direction.
"There you are, Nathaniel!"
He skidded to a stop in front of Angela. He announced unnecessarily, "I'm here."
She raised a plucked eyebrow up at him. "So I see. Where were you?"
"Sorry about that. I was --"
"He was putting silverware out on the far tables," Daniel chimed in with a subtle elbow to Nate's side to tell him to not confess to the phasing out.
Angela brightened. "Good. That's good. This party is the crown jewel of the season. Everyone who's anyone is here. I can pretty much ensure picking up a few customers if this goes well."
"We'll do whatever you need," Nate said. He dug his fingers into his palms. He would not flake out again at work. Angela was a good person and he wanted things to go well for her. She'd given him a job in Winter Haven when no one else would. Maybe people remembered about his father or they just saw another teenager that couldn't be counted on. But Angela had immediately sized him up and offered him a gig the first day he'd come into her offices with his very sparse resume in hand.
Angela was fifty, but looked forty. She always wore a dove gray skirt suit that was open at the throat to show the crisp lines of her white shirt and a large set of black pearls. Her colored blonde hair was artfully piled on top of her head with only a few wispy tendrils hanging down on the sides of her face. Her makeup was subtle yet she looked better than most of the heavily made-up women at the party. Her eyes skittered from one part of the garden to the next, tallying what was done and what still needed to be accomplished.
"Both of you are assigned to appetizers. Start picking up a few trays and circulating among the guests in the upper garden," Angela instructed.
"Right. Got it." Nate nodded. A stiff breeze suddenly came from the sea. It ruffled his dark brown hair and had a salty chill to it.
Angela looked out at the suddenly darkening skies. "It better not rain. The pavilion gets so hot when we shut it up. Well, get going both of you. What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?"
Both boys grinned at her. The Abberley's gardens were tiered. Sets of stone steps lead from one to the tier to the next. The boys took off up the steps to a side entrance to the kitchen where food was being set out. Daniel's smaller form let him slip between the guests more easily than Nate. Soon the boys were separated. Nate couldn't even see the back of Daniel's head any longer. He had to slow his pace and apologize as he tried to get around the guests. Women in sheath dresses and men in suits blocked his path. The sweet smell of whiskey wafted over him as he passed a ruddy-faced man in a dark blue jacket and tan pants. The man was gesturing expansively with his hands, but Nate thought he could get past him. The person he was talking to didn't register on Nate. He got a vague impression of a handsome face with catlike eyes and black hair.
Nate stepped forward just as the talking man closed his arms in the middle of his story. The boy was almost past him when the man unexpectedly flung his arms wide. The hand with the whiskey on the rocks and the sweet maraschino cherry hit Nate in the chest. Alcohol sloshed up and over the edge of the highball glass and soaked Nate's front. He bit back a hiss of annoyance and smoothed his expression to one of subservience as he raised his head to look at the man that had spilled the drink on him.
"Watch where you're going!" the ruddy faced man snarled.
"Sorry, sir," Nate said meekly even as he yearned to grind his teeth in frustration. He stunk of whiskey and there was a spreading golden stain on his chest. He'd have to grab another shirt for the rest of the evening. He thought he had one tucked away in one of the catering vans.
"It wasn't his fault, Carl. You tend to gesture when you talk. And the more excited you are, the bigger the gestures. I think you're the one who owes him an apology," Carl's companion said. His voice was smooth and rolled across Nate's senses pleasantly.
Nate looked over at the speaker and gaped. He felt like a deer in headlights as he took in the classically beautiful face that looked back at him. The speaker stood a little over six feet and had a perfect v-shaped upper chest. He appeared to be anywhere from late twenties to early thirties. He had one of those timeless faces that didn't show age. Unlike everyone else, he didn't wear a suit, but he looked somehow that much more elegant. He had on a cashmere turtleneck that hugged his powerful upper chest. Black dress pants encased long legs and brushed the top of shiny black shoes. Black hair the color of midnight with a subtle hint of curls at the ends was brushed back from a pale, perfect forehead. Topaz-colored eyes that seemed to shift from a light gold to a burnished bronze caught and held Nate.
"I don't owe him an apology, Emrys!" Carl huffed.
"You do," Emrys said in that honeyed voice. "You've made a mess of him." He extended one long-fingered hand and touched the center of the stain on Nate's chest.
Nate felt his cheeks grow hot. "It's okay. It's so crowded already. I should have been more careful."
"Damn straight. And I lost my drink, too." Carl stared down at the now-empty glass with a rueful purse of his lips.
"I can get you another one, sir," Nate offered. He could still feel Emrys' touch through his shirt even though the man had brushed him with his fingertips only barely. That hand was back down at Emrys' side now.
"That would be good. Manhattan. Extra cherries. No less than three." Carl shoved the empty glass into Nate's hands. "Now, Emrys, as I was saying. My son really needs more personal attention in class. He's really special, you know."
Nate slowly backed away from the two of them. Even as Carl rattled on about his son, Emrys continued to watch him. For once, Nate didn't want to be invisible. In fact, being looked at by Emrys echoed how he felt when the wolf had come to him that one time. A hand on his shoulder nearly sent him sprawling for a second time that night. It was Angela. She was looking over at Carl and Emrys.
Nate felt his stomach clench. "I'm getting him another drink, Angela. It was a total accident about the spill and --"
"It's all right, Nathaniel. I'm not worried about it," she said, but still she stared at Emrys who had finally gone back to looking at Carl.
"So ... what are you worried about?" Nate asked.
Angela shook herself. "I see that you met Emrys Frost."
"Uh, yeah." Nate's cheeks colored again. A thrill went through him as he mouthed Emrys' full name silently to himself.
"He's come back to teach at Dunhaven," she murmured. "We haven't had a Frost in Winter Haven for over a hundred years."
"Really?" Nate asked. "So, he's a big deal?"
"A very big deal," she said. "I'm surprised he didn't take over as headmaster. He could have. After all, Dunhaven is ... well, its his."
"He owns Dunhaven?" Nate's eyes went wide.
"Oh, yes, the Frosts founded it," she said. "Then they ... left."
Nate watched as Emrys' graceful neck bent as he listened to yet another party-goer. He wondered if they were telling Emrys how special their son or daughter was and how he needed to give Billy or Susie a little extra attention in class.
God, that would suck. He must feel like he's in the Ninth Circle of Hell at his party, Nate thought.
At that moment, Emrys turned and looked directly at him with a wide grin as if he had heard Nate's thoughts. The boy gave him an uncertain smile back. Lightening suddenly crawled across the sky and there was the low rumble of thunder.
Angela hissed, "It really is going to storm. Looks like a big one, too."