CHAPTER FOUR - HISTORY'S SHADOW
Nate whipped around in his seat to look out the back window. The Mercedes' headlights slowly receded into the distance. They were alone on the road once again. His heart still thundered in his chest. They had almost died. There should have been a crash. A terribly accident. But it hadn't happened.
"He should have hit us. We should have been flattened." Nate swallowed. He felt Emrys' breath on his cheek and turned to see that the other man was looking out the back window with him.
"Never had a chance of coming anywhere near us. He didn't even see we were there. Because for him, we weren't," Emrys remarked with a shrug. He patted the back of the headrest with his hands. Hands that were not on the steering wheel.
"You're not driving the car! Get your hands on the wheel! Turn around!" Nate yelled.
"Oh, ye of little faith! I am driving the car. Just not with my hands and feet," Emrys answered.
Nate's heart leaped into his throat as he realized where they were. They were entering the Narrows, a stretch of road going from the Hill to the northern outskirts of Winter Haven where Nate lived. The Narrows was aptly named, because of the slender width of the two-lane road and the hair-pin turns. Nate gaped at the wheel as it moved of its own accord. The gas pedal was pushed down and the car continued to glide over the blacktop at over forty miles an hour. Perfectly controlled. Perfectly safe. Emrys continued to thump the headrest and grin at the empty road behind them. He wasn't even looking where they were going.
"How are you doing this? The Force?" Nate let out a slightly hysterical laugh.
"In a manner of speaking, young padawan, yes." When Nate goggled at him, he added, "Magick actually. And make sure you think of it with a 'ck' on the end. None of this 'ic' business or you'll be thought a novice, which you are, but still. You must know the true lingo. Though truthfully I'm not so sure if magick is much different than the Force when I think about it --"
"Don't think! I mean -- keep thinking! About driving! Keep your mind on the road," Nate urged.
"Wait! Oh, my God, you've distracted me now. Thinking about movies, music, alcohol and not DRIVING!" Emrys yelled.
The car suddenly swerved towards the side of the road. Nate clutched at the seat and let out a shrill sound. Emrys screamed, but it soon turned into an uproarious laugh. But when it became clear that Nate was really freaked, he gently smoothed back the boy's hair. It was such a tender gesture that Nate's trembling slowed and he found himself leaning into the touch even as he cursed the man under his breath. Tremors shot through him.
"It's all right. I have you. Everything's fine. I was teasing," Emrys assured him.
"Teasing? Shit, don't do that!" Nate gasped out.
"You have no sense of humor," Emrys sighed.
"I've nearly died three time tonight. Give me a break!" Nate laughed.
"Ah, I see your point."
The car was now gliding along the road easily. Nate sank down onto his seat and Emrys did the same. His hands were placed lightly on the wheel but his eyes stayed on Nate. The boy had to tell himself not to freak out, that Emrys was in fact driving the car. Emrys just didn't need to focus like everyone else did. Because he was a witch. And he claimed that Nate was one, too.
"So magic. Witches -- wait a minute! We're boys --"
"You're a boy. I'm a man. Though there's nothing wrong with being a boy," Emrys said and he smiled slowly at Nate, which had the boy flushing and looking down at his hands in confusion.
"Right. Well, the point is that we're male. And witches are female. Aren't we warlocks or something?" Nate asked.
"Ah! My first teachable moment," Emrys said and rubbed his hands together. "'Witch' is gender neutral. 'Warlock' actually has a bad connotation. They are considered oath-breakers. Ones that are banished from the coven." His smile became a grin. "Considering I've been banished from everywhere that title might apply to me. But not to you."
"Why not me?" Nate asked.
"You're too young to be breaking oaths," Emrys answered, but there was a trace of sadness in his smile.
Emrys' coat had fallen off of Nate when he had gotten up on the seat. He pulled it up over his lap. His clothes still felt uncomfortably damp. "Did you ..." He stopped and bit his lip. What he wanted to ask sounded almost arrogant: had Emrys come back specifically for him?
"I said I did, Nathaniel," Emrys said, doing his mind reading trick again. "But it's a bit more complicated than that." He took a breath. "This was not at all how I intended things to go between us."
Nate flushed and clamped down on the thought that Emrys meant 'us' in any way other than the obvious. "You didn't know I was going to be at the party?"
"No, and certainly not serving at it," Emrys remarked with a furrowed brow. "Are you ... slumming or something? And why do you live so far from the Hill? Didn't your grandmother want to leave her house?"
Nate felt slightly flummoxed by the fact that Emrys seemed to know where he lived though he hadn't thought much of it before, just let Emrys be in control. The man could read his mind. How hard would it be to know his address?
"Do you know everything I'm thinking?" Nate asked suddenly.
"Ah -- no, only what's very clearly thought by you. But back to my questions --"
"So you only know it if I'm thinking it really hard?" Nate interrupted. He was relieved when Emrys' nodded. That was something at least. His every thought wasn't laid bare.
"Back to your questions. I guess, I'm confused. I mean, why do I work? I have to work, because I need the money," Nate explained. "And we can't afford to live on the Hill. Besides Grandma Bess' place is great."
Great if he didn't look at the fact that there was a hole in the roof with a flimsy patch. Great if he didn't think about the strange black mold that formed in the corners of the bathroom. Though there was an awesome huge claw footed tub as well. But the house was old and lived in. They didn't have the money to keep it up like it should be. But he loved the cozy feeling about it all the same. The library stuffed to overflowing with books, a wood-burning fireplace and one of his grandmother's hand knitted blankets over his knees. He wouldn't trade it for the world.
Emrys frowned and his eyes narrowed. "The Whitneys were a very wealthy family."
"It didn't trickle down, I guess. My parents didn't have any money. Grandma Bess used a lot of her money to ... uhm, pay for a lawyer for my father for the criminal trial. So I have to work to have any spending money and for school." Nate rubbed his hands together. He hadn't used the word 'father' so much as he had that night in years. It felt heavy on his tongue as it made him think of the man and what he had done. Things he had pushed down about his life seemed to surface with that one word. "My mom didn't have any money. I think her family cut her off when she married him."
Nate crossed his arms over his chest. An image of his parents' shining faces appeared in his mind's eye. It was their wedding photograph he thought of when he pictured them. His own memory was completely blank of his parents' faces. Instead, they were caught like insects in amber in that one moment in time before he had ever existed. In the photo and his mind, his father's hair brushed the tops of his shoulders, unstylishly long, and he wore a tux with a ruffled shirt. His mother also had long, dark brown hair that curled by her waist. Her dress reminded him of a many-tiered wedding cake. Too much lace and frou frou by more modern tastes, but she was smiling and he knew that she felt beautiful that day. Two years later, it would be over. Her head battered into a bloody pulp. Her face unrecognizable. Teeth splintered. Face bones pulverized. He knew that much after reading a newspaper article. He'd never looked into it again.
"Nate, you do know that your mother's parents are dead, don't you? You are the last Whitney," Emrys said quietly.
"Yeah. I mean they died right around the same time -- uhm, my mom did." Nate frowned. He hadn't ever thought of the conjunction of those deaths. His grandparents supposed were killed in a burglary gone bad. "It was soon after or maybe a little before my mom -- was killed."
"Would it surprise you to know that they died within a day of your mother's death?" Emrys' topaz eyes were fixed on his again.
Nate's stomach clenched. He told himself that it was because he still wasn't used to Emrys' eyes leaving the road. "I guess it does seem strange. But bad coincidences happen."
"Coincidences? Perhaps," Emrys answered.
It was Nate's turn to frown. "Do you know something I don't?"
"I know much that you do not." Emrys took the car around a particularly sharp turn. The road then opened up before them. The moon hung heavy and pregnant low in the sky. Another scattering of falling stars shot across the sky.
"So beautiful." Nate's heart ached, temporarily
"What do you think when you see them?" Emrys asked.
"They make me think of traveling. Going to somewhere exotic. Where I don't recognize the language and I only know the person who walks beside me," Nate answered.
"Who walks beside you?" Emrys asked. His voice was almost hypnotic.
Nate stared up at the stars that were spilled across the sky like diamond against a black, velvet cloth. In his imagination, he could feel the brush of another's hand against his as they wandered down narrow, cobbled streets lined with ancient buildings. He felt their heat and the strength of their body. He turned his head in his vision and tried to see the person, but their face was obscured.
"I don't know," Nate said after a moment.
"But they mean something to you," Emrys murmured. "You would give yourself to someone fully. Your life would be bound with theirs and you would never look back."
"No," Nate said more firmly than he intended.
"Too much like your mother if you did that?" Emrys asked. "Too easy to pick the wrong person to trust?"
Nate shrugged. "I don't know. I never knew her and I don't talk about her with anyone who did."
"Why?" Emrys asked simply.
Millions of responses could be given to that question. Nate could find one that was acceptable and offer it to Emrys, but he doubted it would be believed. And he didn't want to lie. But the truth was something he wasn't sure of either.
"I don't want to think of her. Or him. Or any of it," Nate whispered. He stared out the window, but he could still see his own and Emrys' reflections in the glass.
Emrys gritted his teeth together. "You worry about madness and murder. Is it in your blood? Your soul even? What was it about him that caused him to kill her? Was there something about her that made him do it?"
"He just went crazy and snapped." Nate shifted uncomfortably. "It wasn't her fault."
"I could tell you that Shane McCollum never even had a parking ticket before he killed her. Never raised a hand to anyone. There was no one afterwards who said he was the quiet type that was just waiting for someone to light his fuse either," Emrys said. His hands tightened on the wheel. "They say he was a good man. That he loved his wife and son. That it was inexplicable what he did and no one understands. But that would make it all the more frightening, because that would mean it could happen to you just as easily. You could snap or ... be snapped and there wouldn't be any warning."
"It doesn't matter why he did it. He did it," Nate said.
"But it does matter. And you should want to know. But you forcibly ignore it. I'm surprised that Daniel hasn't at least pointed out how odd your attitude is or has he?" Emrys asked with a pointed lift of his eyebrow.
Nate gritted his teeth. Daniel had mentioned it. He had printed out tons of materials from the Internet to show Nate a few years back, but Nate refused to look at it. He wouldn't talk about the murders. Even when Daniel had tried to tell him things that seemed to not add up about his father's guilt, he had pushed it away. He couldn't explain why. His best friend had just wilted and taken the pages home with him. To this day, Nathaniel wasn't sure what Daniel had found.
"You sound like you know something about crazy parents," Nate said.
"You're correct." Emrys suddenly pulled down his already completed extended shirt sleeves. A nervous tick, the first that Nate had glimpsed that night. Nate frowned as he noticed that there was a raised, white line on the outside of Emrys' wrist. A scar. Not just one. A bunch of them. "The details of my life are not important now. Just trust that I know. And also trust me that I took the road you're taking right now and it won't work."
"I don't even know what I'm doing right now." Nate let out a mirthless laugh.
"Avoidance. You don't want to think about your past. You don't want to know what happened or why. You think that if you act like the past doesn't exist then it won't. But things don't work that way, Nathaniel." Emrys made a slashing movement with his hand and a grim expression transformed his handsome face into a much starker, older visage.
"But what does all of that have to do with now?" Nate nearly wailed. He had a sensation that he was standing atop the cliff again and falling. "I've left it behind! I have nothing to do with them! But you act as if it does. That it matters!"
"Like I said, this isn't happening like I planned. So let me connect some of the dots before we get you back to your house," Emrys said.
"I'm all ears," Nate said and huddled down beneath the coat as if it could offer protection from Emrys' words.
"As you know, I'm going to teach at Dunhaven," Emrys said and his mouth formed a moue of disgust. "All those charming children that need my individual attention."
"Sounds like Hell for you. I'm trying to imagine you teaching The Scarlet Letter or Geometry. It will be a disaster. You don't seem the type to suffer fools gladly." Nate shook his head. Emrys would totally have a ruler and rap his students' knuckles.
"Indeed. I would surely lose my mind if those were the subjects I was teaching," Emrys agreed.
"So what are you teaching?" Nate asked. He had turned back to the older man. Watching Emrys talk when he was animated was something to see. The play of emotion across his face was mesmerizing.
They turned onto Nate's street when Emrys said, "Come now. You must have guessed."
Nate held up his hands. "I really have no idea."
Emrys sighed theatrically. "I'm teaching magick, of course."
"Magick? No ... you're kidding?" Emrys gave him a deadpan look. "Okay, okay, I can see you're serious about this. But if you're teaching it at Dunhaven does that mean that Dunhaven is really Hogwart's in disguise?" Nate couldn't hide his disbelief.
"No. Most certainly not. Unless ..." Emrys grinned. "Dunhaven is Hogwart's on meth. That description might work."
"Hogwart's on meth? Well, that's an image." Nate thought that the very idea of magick was out there enough without adding in drugs. "So there are other witches out there that you're going to teach?"
"Ancient families reside in Winter Haven and many of those have magick. Unlike yourself, they know what they are. Dunhaven has always been a place where witches have gone to congregate and pass on their secrets to the next generation," Emrys explained. He drew the car into the crushed gravel driveway of Nate's home. Nate could see the light in the back study was on. His grandmother was probably reading by the fire with a blanket across her knees.
"Are they like Wiccans? I mean I've heard of those," Nate said awkwardly.
Emrys shook his head. "I wouldn't want to tarnish their good name by what we are. We are ... different."
"A woman at the party said that the Frosts were burned at the stake," Nate said as Emrys put the car in park.
"No, not because they shouldn't have been, but our magic protected us. If it wasn't a sudden attack, there was simply no way that my ancestors could have been destroyed like that. They did send some of their enemies to the stake though," Emrys mused.
"That's not really comforting, you know," Nate pointed out. He picked at a loose thread on his pants as he added, "They also said something about black magic and devil worship."
Emrys merely smiled as he turned in his seat to face Nate. "I want you to come to Dunhaven. I want to teach you."
Nate froze for a second before laughing. "Uh, I'm going to the local high school. It's my senior year. With all my friends. I'm not leaving there. Besides I can't afford Dunhaven either."
"You can afford Dunhaven. You can afford to live on the Hill. You don't need to be working at a party. You should be hosting it," Emrys said.
"Uh, no. I explained --"
"You're the heir of the Whitney fortune," Emrys interrupted.
"No, I'm not. I've never heard anything about it! I mean I would know!" Nate insisted.
Emrys' topaz eyes seemed to glow. "Ask your grandmother."
"She wouldn't keep something like that from me. She would have told me. We need money. She wouldn't just sit on a ton of cash, because -- well, there's no reason for her to!" Nate objected.
"I will, but she'll have nothing to tell," Nate said mulishly.
"As you say," Emrys said quietly. His gaze slid over to the lighted window. Grandma Bess had pulled back the curtains and was peering out. "You should get in."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess." Nate opened the door to the car. Cold air rushed inside. He shivered.
Emrys hand was suddenly on his shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow. Ten a.m."
"Uh, are we getting together tomorrow?" Nate asked even as his stomach fluttered.
"Yes, you'll need a ride," Emrys answered dryly.
"Where?" he asked.
"To see your father," Emrys said.
Nate froze. "I -- I -- no! I'm not going to see him."
Emrys tapped his chin. "Then we'll practice placing wards. Those are very necessary. Besides ten doesn't leave us enough time to get to the sanitarium."
"I'm never going to see him," Nate said firmly. "Ever. Get it out of your head. We can hang out tomorrow if you want, but we're not seeing him."
"As you say," Emrys repeated, which now sounded more to Nate like: I'm humoring you, silly boy.
"Look, why do you want me to go see him? Why do you want me to think about my parents? I don't want to! I'm not them! I don't even know them!" Nate was surprised at how his voice raised with emotion. He thought he hardly even considered what had happened. Now his throat clogged with emotion and tears stung his eyes.
Emrys cupped his face. "Forgive me. I seem to be saying that a lot."
"This isn't how you planned, right?" Nate asked.
"No, but I knew I would have to make you face this. And you do need to, Nathaniel." His thumb caressed along Nate's cheek. "Now go inside. And get warm."
Nate nodded dumbly, grateful that Emrys didn't say anything about him talking to his grandmother about the Whitneys and their supposed fortune.
But I'll ask her about it anyways.
He stilled at that. He would ask her. Not that it could be true. And there was no way he was going to go to Dunhaven his senior year of highschool. That would be crazy. Emrys could just forget that. Emrys' hand suddenly went away and Nate got out of the car as if dismissed. But he hesitated. He leaned down inside and stared at the strange man that had entered his life so unexpectedly but seemed to belong there.
"See you tomorrow?" Nate asked, unable to think of what he truly wanted to say.
Emrys grinned. "Maybe sooner."
Nate only realized as he watched Emrys drive off that he still clutched the other man's coat in his hands.