Tuesday, May 14, 2013
25. The Conversation Derails
“What is my magic?" Lily asked. With a smile, she answered, “I can sell books.” At his snort, her smile widened. “Really, that’s my gift.” As he continued to stare at her, she found herself saying, “Okay, now and then, sometimes, I can sense…undercurrents. It’s hard to explain but that’s why I don’t like Katy’s new friend, he’s hiding something behind the mask he wears.” Her eyes roamed over his face, then she said softly, “Do you have a pacemaker, or some kind of implant?” At his puzzled look she murmured, “It’s just, there’s this hum, a strange vibration of some kind, coming from your chest and—”
Without thinking Daniel’s hand pressed against his sternum at her words, but with a hiss of pain he abruptly surged to his feet, the bench sliding with a screech across the floor. Lily froze. Was his agitation from a painful memory, or was it actual physical pain she had just seen flash across his face? “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Please, sit down, eat something.”
He stopped pacing, eyes haunted as he stared at her from across the room. “God, Lilith, there’s so much—”
“Wait,” Lily interrupted, “what did you call me?”
Surprised, he answered, “Lilith. Your name.”
“No, it's not. My name is Lily. Lily Donovan Chareau.” Narrowing her eyes, she sputtered, “Oh don’t tell me! After all this intrigue and mystery, the damned suspense, don’t tell me you’ve got the wrong person?”
Emphatically he said, “There are no doubts you’re the right person, believe me.” Meeting her startled gaze, he mumbled, “I guess I just assumed Lily was short for Lilith.” Pushing the bench seat back under the table, he sat down. “I have a very complicated story to tell you, Lily, but before we dive into that morass,” Daniel looked wistfully down at his plate, “would you mind if I just have a bite of this sandwich? I think it’s been awhile since I’ve eaten.”
“Of course,” Lily said, watching him cut the sandwich in half before his last words registered. “You think it’s been awhile. You don’t know?”
Ruefully, he met her gaze. “It’s been a really bad couple of days.” He paused, head tipped in thought. “A really bad couple of weeks actually,” he amended. Taking a large, hungry bite of the sandwich, he chewed appreciatively, even closing his eyes with a groan once or twice.
Once the edge had been taken off his hunger and he'd finished the sandwich and two helpings of potato salad, Daniel put down his fork, refilled both their glasses with the last of the wine and took a long, deep drink before clearing his throat to say quietly, “I live in San Francisco.”
Lily waited for more, but he just stared pensively into the dark burgundy depths of his wine. “It’s a beautiful city.” As the silence lengthened, she asked, “What do you do there? For a living, I mean.”
Daniel grimaced. Shaking his head in frustration, he said, “I really don’t know how to begin to explain this.”
Lily smiled. “My grandfather always says the way to tell a story is to start with the first word.”
After a deep breath, Daniel took her literally and quietly began to talk about his early years at the orphanage, his life with the sisters. He paused for a few minutes, gathering his nerve, then asked, “Do you know much about astral travel, dream flying, the Ethereal?”
Lily burst out laughing. At Daniel’s fierce scowl, she raised her hand in a stop gesture and said, “No, wait, I’m not laughing at what you said, truly. I’m laughing because if anyone would know, it would be me. Not only have I lived with grandparents who were light years ahead of their time and parents who dance naked under the full moon to increase the harvest, but surely you realize, Enchantments,” she emphasized the word, “is an esoteric bookstore. I have an entire section downstairs devoted just to astral projection, travel, dream worlds.”
“Reading and believing can be worlds apart.”
“Yes,” she said softly, “though not to me.”
So, Daniel told her about his first foray into the Ethereal, becoming mesmerized by the jewel-bright threads, seeing the glorious wonder of the Library, nearly falling into the darkness, then meeting Taurin. As Lily listened intently to every word, he carefully told her about his teenage years, how he had learned to understand the threads, and to use them. Taking a deep breath, he finally got to the crux of his story, telling her how he had become the thief who stole from thieves.
“What are you saying, that you’re like a modern day Robin Hood?” Lily wasn’t sure what to think. Was this mysterious man delusional? A lunatic after all? Was it truly possible to do what he claimed?
Daniel could see by Lily’s posture, the look on her face, that she was grappling with the knowledge she might be sitting across the table from a crazy person. He knew there was one sure way to convince her, but he wasn’t ready for that just yet. There would be no going back once he told her, showed her the mark on his chest.
“I steal what has been stolen. I return the items, give them back to the museums, galleries, places that have been robbed. But if something has been stolen between one bastard and another? No, I don’t give it back. I find another way to deal with the provenance, then donate the funds where they can be used to help others.” He raised a brow and looked her in the eye. “And I take a percentage. Don’t think I’m some kind of hero. I’m not.”
In the quiet kitchen, the only sounds came from the ticking clock on the wall. Lily stared at Daniel, questions rioting in her head like a pinball machine. “But I don’t understand. What does any of this have to do with me? With why you're here? Or for that matter, with Dominic Cantrell?”
“I had to explain the…back story, I guess you could call it, before I tell you exactly what happened, and what it has to do with you, and Cantrell.” He ran a rough hand through his hair, then rubbed his temples, his weariness apparent in every slow, deliberate movement. “And me, of course.”
Lily stood. “Let’s go into the other room,” she murmured distractedly as she began to clear the table, her mind in a whirl. “Do you want some coffee or tea? More wine?”
“I would love a cup of tea, but let me help you clean up.”
“No,” she said, “go sit in the living room and relax. It looks like you haven’t done that for awhile either.” He still helped carry dishes to the sink before he would concede kitchen duties to her. After discussing the tea selection, he started out of the room but stopped when she said quietly, “You could light a fire if you want.”
Smiling at her over his shoulder, he replied, “That sounds good.”
Buzzing around the kitchen, Lily put things in order and made the tea. When it was ready, she carried a small tray with the teapot and cups out to the living room. Setting the tray on the center table, she turned to sit down, then realized he had fallen asleep, his breathing soft and even as his head rested against the back of the sofa. He’d removed his boots, long legs stretched out toward the fire. She sat on the edge of the coffee table and took in his length, the size and contours of him. His tousled black hair was nearly irresistible and she struggled with the urge to run her fingers through the strands, feel the texture, the weight. Her eyes dropped to his hands, folded over his stomach. Strong hands, with long fingers, like a concert pianist.
Though she didn’t want to deprive him of the rest he clearly needed, she had to wake him, hear the end of the tale. Settling next to him on the sofa, she gently jostled his shoulder. Her mouth opened to call his name when, shocked, she realized he hadn't told her. After another shake which failed to rouse him, she leaned closer, laying her palm on his chest and began speaking quietly near his ear so she wouldn't startle him.
But before she could whisper more than a few words, intense rays of light suddenly burst from Daniel’s chest, so bright every sinew and bone in Lily’s hand was backlit in burning clarity. At the same instant, Daniel’s eyes flew open and his hand painfully trapped hers. She tried to pull away, could see him struggle as sweat beaded his forehead, teeth clenched in a furious struggle to release her, but the light would not relent, fusing them tightly together. Vision dimming, Lily could only watch in horror as the man slowly lifted his other hand to her nape, his body shaking with exertion as he tried to resist the inexorable force pulling her head down to his chest. Their eyes locked, panic and remorse, fear and pain swirling between them.
When her forehead touched his chest, Lily had a brief, lucid moment before she lost consciousness, where she remembered her dream: floating amongst millions of books, somehow being inside this man, the terrifying dark.
And she remembered something else.
She knew who he was.
Falling into the stygian blackness, Daniel Valentine's name on her lips, she also knew exactly what he had done.