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Seraph of Sorrow, Page 2

MaryJanice Davidson

  “In a manner of speaking. Your mother and I—”

  “Where is Mom, anyway?”

  “She went into town on a couple of errands, at the pharmacy and such. Listen, instead of work, how about spending the weekend relaxing with us?”

  Jonathan’s brow furrowed into a suspicious pattern. “With you? Doing what?”

  Crawford began to sweat. “Um, hard to say. I hope you’ll stay. Can you?”

  “Actually, now that you say I’m free, a bunch of my friends are going to—”

  “You need to stay with us.”

  “Dad! Why the hell did you ask?”

  “I’m sorry, son. This is pretty important. You’ll see—it’s important that you stay here this weekend.” The older man squinted wistfully into the sky—at what, Jonathan did not know or care. Other than a pale sunset, the only thing up there was a slowly slimming half-moon.

  Jonathan flipped his dark bangs out of his face and let out a sullen hiss. “Why can’t you speak plainly to me? Why is everything a secret with you two? Secrets become surprises. I hate surprises!” The recollection of Heather Snow ambushing him in the practice room with her ridiculous good friends speech worsened his mood.

  “Jonny.” His mother’s voice from the porch steps made him jump; he had not heard her drive up to the barn or get out of the car. “Please trust your father and me. We’d like you to stay here at the farm with us. And once this weekend begins, we think you’ll want to stay, too.”

  As much as he hated to give in, Jonathan could not withstand his mother. He had more than a foot on her—but the slightest hint of sadness to Caroline Scales’s smile, like the one she wore now, rendered him helpless.

  “What are you doing carrying all that,” he mumbled as he scrambled down the porch steps and wrestled two bags of groceries from her. “You’re not supposed to be doing that. You should have waited for me to get home, so I could go with you.”

  “I’m not an invalid,” Caroline snapped with a fire in her golden eyes. “Not yet.”

  “Fine, I guess I’ll stick around this weekend. If it’s so freaking important to you both. Next time, if I don’t have to go to the Grears’s farm, I want to use some of that free time for myself.”

  “We’ll see.” Crawford’s casual tone irked his son. “Don’t forget your chores tomorrow after school; you’ve got to—”

  “Hush, Crawford, don’t lecture him. He knows tomorrow is Friday. Now tell me, Jonny, how was your day? How’s that nice Heather Snow girl you’re seeing?”

  “Um . . . excuse me . . . do you have a pencil with an eraser?”

  “No,” Jonathan mumbled. He paused from his sketch of Heather Snow’s face on the body of a dog, flipped the pencil around so he could erase part of the foreleg, and then flipped it back.

  “Huh. Okay, champ.” The sultry voice from behind was unfamiliar to Jonathan; he tried to place it. Who was in study hall with him on Fridays—Holly McNamara? Kirsten Taylor? No, whatever, who cares. He added a swarm of curvy “waves” around Heather’s mangy tail. This demonstrated her enjoyment of the still-beating human heart in her flea-ridden jaws. Nearby, a corpse with a steaming hole in its chest lay on the ground. It sported the same black, high-top sneakers Jonathan liked to wear.

  “Mr. Scales.” Ms. Templeton, who was also behind him, had an easy voice to place. “Art class comes later in the day. Surely you have homework you can do here in study hall?”

  Still drawing, Jonathan gestured rudely behind himself with his free hand.

  “Charming,” Ms. Templeton spat. “I’m inspired by your eloquence. In fact, I think you should share your expressive gifts with the detention monitor this afternoon.”

  Jonathan’s gesture did not falter, nor did he turn to face the teacher. Finally, he felt a tap on his tiring shoulder. “Um, Scales, is it? I think you can relax. She’s nagging someone else.”

  Lingering curiosity made Jonathan turn around. He quickly put his arm down.

  He was sure this girl’s hair, cheeks, lips, and nose were extraordinary. Probably the rest of her, too. But he would have to take all that on faith: He could not get past the eyes.

  They shifted from whimsical emerald to thoughtful indigo as she offered her hand. “I’m Dianna Wilson. Just moved here from the city. No offense to you country boys and girls . . . What do you all do for fun in this deadbeat town?”

  “Ermmm . . .”

  “Yeah, I thought so. Anyway, if I stay after school in detention with you, will you walk me home and show me a decent coffee shop? You know, one not attached to a gas station?”

  “Guurrp . . .”

  “Let’s call that a yes.” She lowered her hand, released her hold on him with a slow bat of her lids, and set her voice high enough for the entire classroom to hear. “Yeah, dude, you’re absolutely right! Ms. Templeton is a frigid bitch with no chest and visible panty lines.”

  Detention together was paradise. Coffee at Professor Java’s afterward, Jonathan decided, was the paradise that people in paradise got to go to if they lived a good afterlife.

  Things are going my way, he congratulated himself as he watched this vision named Dianna delicately sip the caramel and whipped cream off a hot apple cider. She was giggling at all of his jokes, her irises sliding gently from cool silver to contented brown. After this dumb, boring weekend with Mom and Dad, I’m going to start doing what I want, whenever I want. No rules, no hanging around with strange people . . . and no more damn surprises . . .

  Outside the window, behind clouds neither of them noticed, the sharp end of the thick crescent moon pierced the horizon.

  “Where the hell have you been?”

  Jonathan didn’t answer his father. He was exhausted, clothes reeking of dragon sweat and salt water. Both his wings and the crescent moon had nearly given out over the Pacific, and he had only just made it to the California coast. From there, it had taken days by train to return to Minnesota. In all that time, Jonathan had not been able to chase away the sights he had seen in the Australian outback.

  Less than two years before, young love had been kindled at a small coffee shop. A few days ago, the love Jonathan Scales and Dianna Wilson shared had collapsed into ash and embers on another continent. No child, the bloody words in the cracked ground proclaimed. Their baby, Evangelos, he was sure, was dead. Dianna had disappeared, and Jonathan was left with nothing.

  “Jonny, what’s wrong?”

  He pushed past his frail mother and slumped against the frame of the porch door. How had it come to this? What he and Dianna had—it had been invincible, they had told themselves. They had survived their initial discovery of who they were without flinching, hidden their whirlwind relationship from both dragon and arachnid, gotten married at sixteen with the help of a gracious (and somewhat senile) judge in a remote corner of a county on the other side of the state, and come up with a daring plan to ease their families into the truth of Dianna’s pregnancy.

  And then, in a single bad evening, it had all fallen apart.

  Because I wasn’t there, Jonathan repeated to himself. I wasn’t there to help her. To help our son. And now they’re both gone.

  “Everybody’s been searching for you, Jonny. You’ve worried us sick.”

  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, heading for the stairs and ignoring his father’s angry protests. Sorry for everything. He found his bedroom through a blur of tears and tumbled onto his bed.

  For two days, he did not come down the stairs. Caroline Scales, showing increasing signs of physical weakness, tended to him in his room. His father did not enter his bedroom, though Jonathan occasionally heard the older man cough as he passed by on the way to the master bedroom, or as he mumbled concerns to his wife on the stairs.

  It wasn’t until the third morning, while Jonathan was staring out the window and daydreaming of his lost wife and child, that Crawford Scales finally knocked.

  “I’m busy,” he muttered at the door.

  It opened anyway. “Moment of your time,”
Crawford said in a grave tone. He examined Jonathan from where he stood.

  “I’ve been eating,” he pointed out.

  “So your mom says. Soup, and milk, and occasionally toast. Eating and sleeping, eating and sleeping. It’s like having an infant around the house again. Though you are quieter, I suppose. And you do use the bathroom.”

  Jonathan turned back to the window. “I don’t want to talk.”

  “Fine, you’ll listen better. As you know, I enjoy telling a good story—”

  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  “—and there’s one I’d like to share with you, which I think suits this situation.”

  “You don’t know what this situation is.”

  “Let’s see about that.”

  Jonathan let out a sound that might have left his throat under a crescent moon.

  “Once upon a time . . .”


  “Once upon a time, there was a dragon named Roman Candlelight. He lived in a faraway land called Crescent Valley.”

  “Crescent Valley.” Jonathan simmered. Secrets again. His father had shared this name with him, but little more. Crescent Valley was some sort of hiding place where dead dragons called “venerables” flew around and mythical passageways to “silver moon elms” existed. Adult dragons got to live there. Younger dragons had to content themselves with rumors.

  “Like many young men, Roman was proud, and young, and foolish, and impulsive, and self-centered, and annoying as all hell—”


  “—and above all impatient. He left Crescent Valley because he decided there must be a bigger world out there, and he belonged in a bigger world. While traveling, he ran into a beautiful woman with long, auburn hair that hugged her spine. She was walking down the same road, and she smiled at him, and so he followed her.

  “Hours passed, then days. They never said a word to each other, not even to give their names. He stayed several steps behind her, watching her curves hitch back and forth like a metronome, afraid to catch up in case she should let him pass by. He had to content himself with the rare glances she tossed back over her shoulder. Each one pierced him like a hot spear.”

  “So Roman was a stalker?”

  “He followed her, on foot, for two days and nights. Neither of them tired. He began to believe she was testing him, that if he could keep up with her until she quit, she would tell him her name and they would be together forever.”

  “I see where you’re going with this. You’re saying that love requires patience, and—”

  Crawford smacked him on the back of the head. “Rule Number One.”

  “Ow, Dad, I—”

  Smack. “Rule Number One. What is it?”

  Jonathan stared out the bedroom window. “Rule Number One: Don’t interrupt your neurotic, self-centered father while he’s trying to tell a dumb story.”

  “You’ve been listening to your mother too much; but you’re close enough. As I was saying, he thought she was testing him. When nearly fifty hours had gone by, she came to the edge of a lake and stopped. Hardly daring to hope, Roman walked up next to her.

  “She took a deep breath, and the sweet air was passing from her lips to tell him her name when the moonlight on the lake dwindled by the tiniest bit. Her body convulsed, and so did Roman’s. He looked up and saw that the moon had lessened into a crescent.

  “He morphed into a dragon, but her new shape was something altogether different—a spider with a carapace as dark as a maroon twilight, and eyes like emerging stars. She gave a shriek at the sight of him, and leapt out over the lake. By the time Roman recovered and thought to follow her, she was gone.”

  Jonathan sat in silence, startled. A dragon who fell in love with a spider? This was hitting awfully close to home. Did his father know more about Dianna Wilson than he let on?

  “Roman searched for her for years,” Crawford continued. “He had fallen in love with her, you see. It was forbidden, of course, and rightly so. Such love is impossible. But Roman wasn’t like you and me. He could only think of her beauty, and her walk, and her name that she never told him. Nothing else mattered to him. It was stupid. That’s young love for you.”

  Having no appropriate reply, Jonathan let the comment pass.

  “He walked up and down that stretch of road, and all around that lake. He searched the watery depths, peeked into nearby caverns, everything and anything to find her. She was gone.”

  “No one ever found her?” Jonathan’s voice almost cracked.

  “Never. But his obsession didn’t fade. Decades later, when Roman Candlelight became our kind’s Eldest, he commanded the entire Blaze to help him. They boiled the lake’s water away and burned the surrounding forest down. Nothing was found. They raided the nearby towns, and leveled houses. Nothing was found. Little by little, the Blaze came to reject his leadership, as he sank into madness. Finally, they banished him and sent him to a remote tropical island, under the same moon as Crescent Valley but far away from anyone else. The name Roman Candlelight became synonymous with foolish conquests, dangerous obsessions, and eternal isolation. Roman didn’t know when to quit. He didn’t know how to accept loss.”

  Jonathan took a deep breath. “Wow. Great story, Dad. Dumb loner loses a girl, never gets a clue. I feel loads better now.”

  “You’ve missed the point.”

  “I get the point—”

  “The point is, loss is part of life. Life without loss, without danger of loss, is not worth living. Deny the loss, and you deny life.”

  “And if you deny life,” Jonathan continued for him, “the Blaze will throw you out and you’ll wander alone in twilit jungles until you die. That story’s horrible, Dad. Do you have one where the listener doesn’t want to knife himself after hearing it?”

  “Not today. As much as this might shock you, son, I don’t want you to knife yourself. You’re coming out of your teenaged years and you’re almost bearable again. So here’s what I do want: I want you to move on. Emotionally for now, and physically soon. This is your house as much as it’s ours, but you can’t stay here forever. And you’re going to need to learn how to deal with a much bigger universe, after you leave.”

  Jonathan peered through the familiar window and saw a world—trees, birds, the sheets drying out on the line—swaying back and forth to a mysterious breeze. The wind forced its way through the cracks around the panes and chilled him. Why does it start? Why does it stop? How hard will it blow next time?

  “I don’t know where to go,” he admitted.

  “I think it is time,” Crawford said, “for you and me to go to Crescent Valley.”

  Jonathan would recall that day and realize that without losing Dianna Wilson, he might have waited years before his father let him into the dragons’ ultimate refuge. It meant a lot to him that his father broke the rules to teach him a lesson he needed to learn about the wider world. But as much as he’d gained that day, he never forgot what he’d lost, and he never stopped feeling that his secret relationship with Dianna Wilson would come back someday to haunt him and those he loved.



  “You sure you want to introduce me to your friends? I doubt they’ll like me.”

  Elizabeth Georges squinted at him over a blue raspberry slushie. “You mean Wendy? What makes you say that?”

  “I just know.” Jonathan stretched as he lay on the park bench with his head in her lap. Or am I paranoid? He wasn’t sure. Ever since a few years ago, he wasn’t sure of anything. Love? Dianna Wilson was long gone. School? He had switched undergraduate majors five times. Family? His mother was slowly dying, and his father was grim even toward his son.

  For all that this woman was teaching him once again how to be sure of something. Hooking a finger around her thumb, he gently scraped her palm with a fingernail. “I guess I have trouble making friends. Um, that crap you’re eating is going to turn your tongue blue.”

  Elizabeth took a long sip of the slushie thro
ugh the heavy red straw-spoon and then began grinding the faded ice. “Wendy’s kind of a tense person, I suppose. Especially around Hank. She’s gotten weird about—well, about a lot of stuff. And I don’t care if this drink turns my tongue blue, do you?”

  “If she’s a tense person, she’ll suspect I’m different. Don’t you think that could become a problem? It’s not so much the blue tongue I worry about—though I’m not kissing a frost monster, however gorgeous she may be. It’s the fact you think there are actually blue raspberries that grow in some magical land, with natives hand-squeezing this mythical fruit into some sweet, all-natural, frozen slushie mix that they ship to your local convenience store.”

  “All she knows about you, and all she’ll ever learn, is that you’re a graduate student. There are blue raspberries.”

  “See, you can’t say that one thing, and then say the other, and then expect me to believe you have any clue about either. Raspberries come in three colors—red, gold, and black. That’s it. No blue, no chartreuse, no pink with silver polka dots. What you call ‘blue raspberry’ is the tragic result of an industrial accident at an unscrupulous candy manufacturer.”

  Resting the festive paper cup on his forehead, Elizabeth teased his ear with the straw-spoon and spun a golden curl around her other hand. “You’re jealous that you didn’t discover the natural wonder that is the blue raspberry. I wouldn’t introduce you to Wendy if I honestly thought she’d learn what you are, because if she learned, you’d be dead.”

  He waved the utensil out of his ear. “So you think she and I will get along?”

  “I don’t know.” She looked out with thoughtful emerald eyes over the glorious riverbank, full of autumn hues and dark, rushing water. “Do you plan to relate your ridiculous blue raspberry conspiracy theory to her?”

  “I’ll bet she has the good sense not to drink these things. I mean, you’re premed, Liz. You study stuff like nutrition, don’t you? You say she studied sociology—whatever that is—and she knows better! Aren’t you embarrassed?”

  She got the straw-spoon up his right nostril, making him flinch and spill the cup onto the ground. He kept his head in her lap anyway. “It’s not like she’ll use her degree, anyway. All she wants to be is a housewife for Hank.”