‘ It came upon a midnight clear.’
The midnight sky was awash with stars, a vast display of sparkling diamonds against the blackness, just space, planets and unexplored universes. Yet deep within it, unseen by any eye or telescope lay a place of mist, where time stood still, where peace was found. Into it materialised a woman dressed in white, her gown flowing behind her as she walked upon the mist around, giving the sense as if she were actually floating. She smiled as she felt another presence. “ Hello Michael.”
He stepped free of the shadows, his own smile showing. “ Hello Calli.”
“ Mind telling me what I’m doing here? I thought I was out of favour.”
He chuckled. “ Well, all of us have been at some point.”
She acknowledged his words with a slight bow of her head, her hands going to her back as she fell into step beside him. “ You didn’t answer my question.”
“ No I didn’t. Let’s just say we have a job for you. One I think you will appreciate.”
She wanted to ask more, but knew things always went by their own timeline. She drew to a halt as he stopped by a fountain. With a wave of his hand, the crystal clear water trembled into motion. With a curious glance to him she finally looked into the pool, which now contained a moving image of a dark haired woman. Calli’s breath caught, her eyes going quickly up to him in surprise.
He nodded, answering her unspoken question. “ Yes, it’s her.”
“ Her soul did continue.” A different smile came now, one that showed joy and a small amount of relief.
“ You doubted her?”
She turned quickly, an eyebrow rising. “ Didn’t you?”
His answer was a deep laugh. “ Good point. It’s time for you to re-earn your wings Calli. She needs our help.”
She turned, her eyes blazing, her shoulders set. “ I'm ready, what do I need to do?”
He nodded approvingly. “ First let me tell you her story.”
She fell into step beside him, both disappearing into the mist. They reappeared in a cave full of voices, of images. Each one a light, a soul. This was known as the ‘ Room of souls.’ Only the highest guardians were allowed within. Calli swallowed, realising the honour and trust that had been returned. Michael moved away, going directly to a silver glow, picking it from the millions shining in the air. Lovingly, he carried it to a stone, placing it down. Calli waited, only moving forward when Michael beckoned her.
“ She was born on the 11th of April 1970. As always, she didn't do anything easily. She was a breech.”
Calli caught the snort before it came out, her eyes going to the images now playing like a movie upon the stone. Michael’s voice continued as she watched. “ She was christened Jacqueline Mary Richmond. But most call her Jace.”
Calli was fascinated, watching as the newborn changed into an infant. Various scenes flickered in and out. Different times within the child’s life. Her first steps, her first tears, her first horse ride, each image spanning the years as she grew.
Michael narrated. “ A brother was born five years later. Harry Mark Richmond.”
The scene changed showing the girl holding her small brother, the joy on her face. The images continued showing the two of them. Each turn of the orb showed a year of their lives.
A winter scene appeared.
Calli saw Jace now thirteen throwing snowballs. The picture expanded to where various other children played. Calli couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled within herself, caught up in the merriment. Children were skating on the lake’s ice. Others were building snowmen. The joy of fun filtering into the image and turning its surrounding into a vibrating gold. The gold suddenly darkened. Calli’s breath caught as the surface of the ice cracked under the weight of the skaters, most of them screaming in terror and getting to the edge in time. But one of the smaller boys disappeared beneath the ice. Immediately Jace bellowed out a scream of anguish, running across the surface, slipping and sliding in her haste until she reached the edge and leapt in, disappearing beneath the unforgiving blue water.
Calli dug her nails into her clenched palm. “No.”
Michael’s hand descended onto her shoulder, chasing away the feelings of anguish, replacing it with warmth. “ She saved her brother that day.”
Calli let out a breath, watching the rescue unfold, gasping as Jace pulled her brother to safety, her face pale covered in blood.
“ Jace’s face caught on an ice shard. It cost her the sight in her left eye and a scar. But she survived and so did he.”
Calli sighed in relief, a small part warming that in this lifetime this soul didn't lose a brother. Her gaze returned to the image. Various scenes quickly sped through, Jace arguing with her brother more.
Michael spoke. “ She became very protective of him. But she learnt to let go of the fear of losing him.”
The orb spun then settled.
Trees and golden fields, rivers and streams, the vision followed a road before finally stopping on Jace at the age of sixteen running along a train track, the joy plain on her face, her raven hair wild. She slowed to pick up stones and throw them. Stooping to pick up more, she paused, her hand laying on the track. She frowned, looking back, watching a side road that dipped in and out of the trees, catching the glint of a car, confusion showing in her eyes. Her head turned again, this time looking up the tracks, searching for something, then both eyebrows rose as fear filled her face, she broke into a run. Running flat out, glancing back every now and again, her eyes widened as she watched the outline of the approaching train. She slowed only to change direction, the shale spitting up under her boots as she reached the junction hut, taking the steps two at a time until she grabbed for the door, throwing it open, entering, looking around in panic.
“ Mr NYLES? Mr NYLES?” A moan drew her attention to a figure slumped in the corner. She ran over, unsure of what to do. She shook him. “ Mr Nyles, the three… thirty is coming.” When she got no response, she shook him harder, drawing back as a hand lashed out, her hand going to her mouth as a gush of whiskey assailed her senses.
“ Get away from me, let me be…. Get away.” The man broke away in a sob.
She blinked, unsure. Then she felt the rumble under her feet of the nearing train. She shot forward, grabbing his arm, trying to pull him up. “ Sir, the train. You have to put down the barrier, there’s a car coming. I’ve seen it. I don’t know what to do…. Please Mr Nyles please hurry.”
His arm shot out again. This time she wasn’t as fast, it caught her across the face, sending her backward with force. Totally stunned she sat up, a flash of pain covering her face, her hand coming away bloody. She stared at him in shock. A piece of paper lay where she had fallen. She reached across, bringing it into focus, trying to read it through tears.
Dear Peter. It is with sad news that I have to inform you that our son was killed in a car accident two weeks ago. I don’t know what else to say…
Jace didn't read the rest, her eyes went to the broken picture laying on the floor. The train whistle made her jump. She rose quickly, grabbing the front of his shirt, pulling him forward yelling in his face. “ Mr NYLES THE TRAIN. PLEASE…. PLEASE.”
His eyes opened filled with anger about to hit her again.
“ No please don’t… don’t hurt me again. The train… the train. There’s a car, it’ll hit it.”
Another whistle screeched. Nyles blinked, what she was saying finally filtering through. He pushed her roughly away, running to the levers and handles, quickly putting up the red and lowering the barrier. He ran to the doorway watching, seeing the car come around the corner and finally slow. The whistle blew again as the train thundered safely past, showering his lungs with diesel fumes. He drew in gulps of air, sweat rolling down his face, realisation dawning on him of what had nearly happened, the alcohol disappearing from his system in shock. He turned slowly, a shaking hand raising the barrier, catching a glimpse of the family inside as the car passed. He ran his hand over his face, turning now to the cowered figure on the floor, remembering now what he had done. He ran over, pausing as the girl shrunk back.
“ Oh god Jacey. I'm sorry… Shhhhhh I won’t hurt ye again I promise. I’m sorry child.” Jace sniffled then began to cry full force as he pulled her into his arms and hugged her for dear life. Finally Nyles whispered into her ear. “ Thank ye. God thank ye.”
Calli drew back from the image, palming a tear off her cheek.
Michael spoke. “ They never talked of what happened. Jace didn’t even tell her parents. She simply told them she slipped on the tracks and struck her head.”
Calli nodded. “ She always was loyal.”
Michael smiled, patting her shoulder before drawing his hand away. “ Nyles never drank again. He now has a wife and two sons.”
Both their gazes returned to the new images.
“ All her life Jace has wanted to escape her hometown. As she got older childish dreams changed into a deep longing deep. But something always arose to stand in her way. She always made the self-sacrificing choice. She chose to work on the ranch rather than go to college, allowing the money to be saved for her brother to later go. But all the while she was saving for one thing, and one thing only. To leave and see the world, to become a writer.”
Calli looked up at him in shock. “ A bard? Xe… “ She corrected herself. “...Jace wants to be the bard this time?”
An amused eyebrow rose. “ Yes, she does.”
Calli laughed then a thought came to her. “ Wait, is she here in this lifetime?”
Michael didn't need to ask who the ‘she’ was. He simply nodded as the new vision began.
The scene was of an older Jace.
A banner hung from the rafters. ‘ HAPPY BIRTHDAY.’ The barn was awash of song and laughter, with the smell of roasting beef and sweet pies filling each sense. A band played, ‘ Don’t break my heart my achy breaky heart.’ A line of dancers all in jeans and shirts moved with the music.
Jace laughed as her parents stepped up. Sipping a beer, she leant back against the stall, her eyes glowing as she watched them dance.
“ Come on Sis. Get your butt over here.”
She turned her head, trying not to laugh out loud at her brother, the Stetson looking far too big and reminding her of when he was seven and playing cowboys and Indians.
“ Nooooooooooo I'm staying here thanks.” She took a long gulp of beer.
He moved forward, wiggling his hips, his hand outstretched. “ Awwww come on, be the last time I get a chance for a while.” He gave his best puppy dog look.
She rolled her eyes. “ Nooooooooooo.”
He grabbed her hand, taking the beer, passing it to someone passing. “ Yesssssssss.”
She laughed harder as he pulled her into line, then finally she gave up just enjoying the moment. She stepped forward then back, turning.
“ Guess who’s here?” Harry mirrored her steps as he came back next to her again.
“ Who?” She turned away, swaying her hips.
“ Emily.” Out of the corner of his eye he watched her closely. He smirked as she reacted.
Jace shot a sideways look at him, only just managing to keep from tripping over her boots. She quickly refocused, making her voice as non-emotional as possible. “ So what?”
Harry grinned. “ She’s got a boyfriend now, Sam Parker. You know Parkee? We played with him as kids. His Pa owns the warehouse.” He smirked again as he saw his sister misstep.
“ So what?” Jace tried very hard not to grind her teeth at this information.
His eyes sparked with mischief. “ Hear she’s only back for a couple of weeks during the summer hols, then going back to her mom’s.”
She shot him a look. “ You hear too much.”
He drew his head back and laughed, pulling her closer, continuing the dance.
Jace moved outside after the dance. She wasn’t sure at all why she felt so angry, but she did.
The soft voice came from behind her, Jace smiled. “ Hi Em. Harry told me you were here. Glad you could make it.”
Emily stepped into view smiling. “ I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Jace grinned, then feeling uncomfortable broke the beginning stare. “ You look older.”
Emily laughed. “ Well I should hope so, I’ve been away for three years.”
Jace leant on the tether bar, looking out into the night. “ Yea. That makes you eighteen?”
“ Ahuh. You always were good at maths.”
Jace chuckled. Emily moved up next to her, her eyes looking Jace up and down before turning out towards whatever Jace was looking at. Silence fell between them. Emily took the time to study Jace’s profile, then realising what she was doing, stared out into the night. “ What do you see when you look out there Jay?”
Jace froze as a shiver went through her. Emily was the only one who called her Jay and for some reason this time it passed inside of her. She swallowed hard. “ I see freedom.”
Emily mouth curved into a sad smile. She remembered all those times under the stars that Jace spoke of adventures. “ I'm glad you didn't lose your dreams.”
Jace turned to face her and for the first time really saw her. It almost took her breath away. Innocent green eyes stared back at her in question but something else was there too. Something that touched her heart making it ache. It also started to feel like a weight around her neck. She broke eye contract, looking back out into the darkness. Nothing and no one was going to keep her from her dream this time. “ I'm leaving in three days time.”
Emily blinked, torn abruptly from what she thought she’d just seen in Jace’s eyes. “ What?”
“ Harry’s back from college, he’s taking over from me at the ranch. I fly first to New York, after that wherever I want.”
Emily had to wait till her heart started beating again. All she managed was an “ Oh.”
Jace ignored the twisting feeling inside. “ Yea, you know how much I wanted to travel, well now I get my chance.”
Emily had to look away, finding herself suddenly needing to cry. “ Will you come back?”
“ Not for a while.” Jace swallowed the lump in her throat, she hadn’t expected getting what she wanted in life to be suddenly painful. She needed to get herself under control. She turned, throwing Emily her best smile. “ So what do you want to do?”
Emily pushed back the ache and smiled back. “ I want to come back here after college.”
Jace’s eyes widened. “ Here? God why?”
“ I love this place.”
Jace snorted. “ Well I guess someone has to.”
Green eyes flashed. “ It isn't that bad Jace.”
Jace sighed. “ I suppose it isn't. I just don’t belong anymore, I guess I’ve grown out of it.”
“ You calling me a child?”
Jace blinked over to her in surprise, hearing the anger. “ No of course not.”
Emily took a long breath. “ Sorry, it’s just always annoyed me you’ve wanted to get away from here so fast. I never really understood why this place wasn’t enough for you.”
Jace scoffed. “ Because I can’t be me here, I'm expected to do things I don’t really want to.”
Emily gave a small smile. “ I guess you’re right. But can’t you be a writer here?”
Jace chuckled. “ When would I find the time? I spend most of it running the ranch or helping Pa settle problems on other ranches.” Her face turned serious. “… To be who I want to be I have to leave.” She turned to Emily, slight desperation in her voice. “… I have to get away. Can you at least try to understand why?”
Emily placed her hand on Jace’s arm. Shivering slightly as skins connected. “ I’ll try.”
Jace looked down at the upturned face, the sudden urge to kiss her overwhelming, it slowly went beyond, it became a need, an aching heart and soul need. She bent forward, feeling the hand on her arm tighten, her eyes never leaving the green ones watching. Jace bowed her head lower, lips reaching out for their goal. She felt Emily’s breath catch in response.
“ Emily?” A name spoken but within it held a million questions.
“ Jay.” A whispered name exhaled but within it held every promised answer.
Then lips touched.
“ Well here you are.”
Both of them broke apart fast. Emily quickly looked over to the approaching figure. “ Sam.” Her eyes turned nervously to Jace who was once again looking out into the night.
“ This is my dance I believe Emmy…” He realised they weren’t alone. His handsome face broke into a genuine grin. “ Hi ya Jace. Happy birthday.”
Jace finally controlled herself enough to turn. “ Hi Sammy. Thank you.” Her eyes darted to Emily’s, briefly seeing confusion. With great effort she returned her focus to Sam. “ You’re looking good.”
He laughed, straightening tall and flexing a muscle. “ It’s the football, but wow look at you, you went and turned out beautiful. What the hell happened to the scrawny too tall teenager?”
She had the good grace to blush, totally aware that Emily’s eyes hadn’t left her the whole time. “ I guess I grew up.”
He laughed, oblivious to the torrid of emotions around. “ Well yea I guess you did. I hear you’re off in a few days?”
Jace’s eyes jerked off of the greens ones watching her, Sam’s words penetrating into the haze of emotions. She took in a breath, her mind over-riding what she was feeling. “ Yes. I go in three days.” She caught the sharp inhale Emily made, but kept her gaze fixed on Sam.
Sam held out his hand, which Jace took, shaking it. Stepping back, Sam wrapped his arms around Emily even more, laying a kiss on her cheek. “ Well good luck, I hope you find what you’re looking for. I however have found exactly what I want right here.”
Jace bit down inside her cheek, the urge to smack Sam making her hand twitch. But she’d made her choice, she had to get away. She just had to, especially now.
“ I can’t wait to leave, Sam.” She looked directly at Emily as she said the words, putting every tiny bit of steel in her gaze. Jace got no satisfaction when she saw the green eyes widen then flinch before filling with tears as Emily finally got it. Not even she could hold Jace here.
Jace felt like she wanted to be sick.
“ JACEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” The scream of her name broke everything else into pieces. Jace didn't think she’d ever heard her mother’s voice sound like that in her entire life. She ran, skidding to a halt as her brother came out, his face white.
“ It’s….” tears started down his face. “…. It’s Pa. He… Oh god Jacey.” Before Harry could finish Jace was already pushing past him.
The vision faded but not before a wail of pure sorrow echoed around the cave.
Calli drew back. “ What happened?”
“ Her father had a heart attack. He died three days later.”
Calli looked down sadly. “ Did she stay home?”
Michael sighed. “ Yes. The ranch needed her and her brother to survive. If they’d sold, the surrounding smaller ranches would have gone under and Brisbane would have taken over the land and foreclosed. Jace never got the chance to leave.”
She looked to him in question. “ Brisbane?”
Michael’s face fell into a scowl. “ Brisbane owns most of Daley springs. Jace’s father thought that was more than enough for one man, so he refused to sell to him. Instead he sold to smaller ranchers, even taking out loans on his own ranch to help them with the costs, letting them pay off the amount slowly.”
Her grey eyes dipped to the frozen image of Emily crying. “ What happened between them?”
Michael drew in a long breath. “ Jace sent her away the day of her father’s funeral.”
“ She never did see what was right in front of her.” She gave Michael a bittersweet smile, one he answered. “ Did they ever get together?”
This time his smile was warmer. He turned his gaze back to the orb.
The sun was high, scorching the land, white clouds speckling the blue sky. Jace sat back, wiping a bandanna over the sweat. With a click of her tongue she turned the horse, heading back towards the ranch. Dismounting when they entered the barn, starting to remove the tack.
“ How was it?”
Jace looked over as her brother entered, but didn't pause as she pulled the saddle free. “ It’s too dry, if it doesn’t rain soon we might have a problem with the west pasture.”
Her brother nodded. “ You want to open up the water dam yet?”
She shook her head. “ No, if we do it too early we won’t have any back up if this weather continues. There’s enough water coming from the wind drill to keep us ok for a while.”
He sighed. “ You should get into town once in a while Jace. You spend too much time out here on your own.”
She ignored him, reaching for the curry brush. “ Uncle Billy get here yet?”
He shook his head in disappointment that once again his sister had closed up. “ No, he called to say he was out at the Witmone ranch. They’ve had a hell of time with this heat wave, he a… he doesn’t think they can make their payment this month.”
Jace closed her eyes briefly. “ Tell them not to worry, they can make it up when they can. If they’re low on water they can graze on the top fields for a while.”
Harry sighed in relief. “ I kinda already told him.” he smiled sheepishly.
Slowly she gave a proud smile, then it was gone and she returned to the mare. “ I still don’t understand why Uncle Billy insists on collecting the damn money by hand, it would be easier and safer for the ranchers to transfer it electronically.” She brushed the mare firmly.
“ Yea I know. But it makes him feel needed sis. You know Pa created the job just for him. Come on, it’s not like it’s a problem.”
She grunted, not liking it at all. “ Yea I know it’s not. But you know how he is.”
Everyone in Daley springs knew how Uncle Billy was, the kinder ones called him slow. He decided to change the subject. “ So are you coming to the party tonight?”
“ What party?” she turned away, forking fresh straw into the stall before latching the gate.
“ Come on, I told you about it months ago, it’s Em’s coming home party.”
Jace stopped dead in her tracks. “ She’s home?”
“ Yea, for good this time too.” Harry watched as a torrid of emotion crossed her face. He sighed heavily, watching her erect the mask she wore now to everyone.
“ No, I got too much to do.” With those words she stalked out of the barn.
Harry kicked out at the straw at his feet, muttering. “ Why you have to be so stubborn sis?”
A watching Calli smirked. The image continued.
The sun was gone, but the heat hadn’t, not even the breeze helped cool the beads of sweat running down Jace’s back. She sat on the deck, her head tilted watching the moon. She smiled as she heard the squeak of the door and the soft footfalls she knew so well.
“ Gawd, what I’d give for a cool breeze.”
Jace smiled, turning to her mother, shifting over so she could sit, accepting the lemonade.
“ So, tell me why you’re here and everyone else is at a party?”
Jace swallowed, feeling the tart of the lemon at the back of her throat. “ I didn’t want to go.”
“ Is that so?”
Jace shrugged, “ too tired I guess.”
“ Is that so?”
Jace shifted uncomfortably. “ It’s been a hard month, Mom.”
“ It has yes, been just as hard on your brother, but he still found the energy to go and party.”
Jace frowned. “ He’s five years younger than I am.”
Her mother snorted. “ So you’re telling me you’re too old to go and enjoy yourself?”
“ Well no, not too old. There wouldn’t have been anyone left around here.” She winced as soon as she said it.
“ Oh really, then what am I? Chopped liver?” Her hand went to her hip.
“ I didn't mean that.” Jace sighed. “ Look Mom I just didn't want to go, ok.”
“ Emily used to be your best friend. I’d of thought you most of all would have been welcoming her home.”
“ Mom can we just drop this.” Jace took a long gulp of lemonade, about to rise, the hand on her arm stopping her, with a sigh she met her mother’s eyes.
“ I love you Jace but I’ve hated that you gave up so much to stay here after your father died.”
“ Mother please don’t.”
“ You have given up so much to keep this place going, and each day I’ve watched little by little as more light has gone out of your eyes.”
Jace took a jagged breath, moving fully to rise, surprised at the strong grip that held her.
“ And I’ve also watched as you’ve pushed away the one thing that means more to you than that damn stupid honour you have.”
Jace blinked. “ Wh…at.”
Her mother smiled, gently guiding her daughter back to sit. “ You think I'm so naive not to notice when my little girl falls in love.”
Jace sat down with a jolt, her face paling. “ Lo…ve?”
“ Did you think we’d disapprove or just wouldn’t understand because it’s a woman?”
Jace’s mouth opened and closed, making her look like a floundering fish.
Christine Richmond bit her lip to stop herself laughing out loud. “ Oh good lord Jacey, I’ve known for some time you prefer the ladies.”
She couldn’t resist a little chuckle however as Jace’s mouth snapped shut in horror.
“ I don’t mean to shock you dear, but I think it’s time we had this chat, because quite frankly I’m tired of waiting for you to come and tell me. I had hoped you would.” She sighed, “… As for Emily, that child followed you around ever since she was able to walk. You two never went anywhere without each other. Harry figured out long before your father and I did that your feelings were more than friendship towards Emily.”
Jace paled even further. “ H…a…rry did.” Her voice actually squeaked. “ Father!”
Finally Christine took pity on her daughter, bringing her closer into a hug. “ Breathe dear.”
Jace took in a long ragged breath, her mind a turmoil.
Christine patted her daughter’s back. “ Jacey, all your father and I ever wanted for you was to be happy.” She sighed. “…. Harry told me what happened at the funeral and how you sent Emily away. I wish you hadn’t done that.”
Jace stiffened. Her mother ignored it. “ Now hush let me finish. Jace you were miserable when Emily left to live with her mother and you’ve been miserable since the day you sent her away. Now she’s back. So, what do you want out of life Jacey? I know your dream was to leave here? Well if you still want to, Harry and I will manage.”
Jace drew back, her face confused. “ You want me to go?”
Christine let out an exasperated sigh. “ Good god no. What I want is you happy, I'm giving you back a choice baby, one that was taken from you when your father died.”
Jace blinked. Could she leave? Would they be ok without her? Did she want to leave now? Her thoughts drifted away from the all-consuming dream, a face filtering into it. Emily.
As if reading her daughter’s thoughts, she took Jace’s face in her hands, turning it.
Fear replaced confusion on Jace’s face. “ What if she doesn’t love me?”
Christine smiled. “ You never know till you ask.”
“ I think I’d rather not know.”
Christine pulled away. Her voice stern “ I did not bring you up to be a coward Jacqueline Mary Richmond.”
Jace winced at the full use of her name. “ No mama.”
Christine took a breath, calming herself. “ If you don’t want to go after her because you don’t love her that’s fine. But don’t not do it because you’re scared. God, when I went after your father I was scared shitless.”
Jace blinked in shock, she couldn’t ever remember her mother using that word before.
“ Jacey follow your heart baby. That’s all your father and I truly ever wanted for you.”
Jace swallowed hard, her mind going over every single possibility, ones that had been a closed door for so long. Her face lost the fear and a stronger expression filled it, one of want. She grabbed her mother close in a huge hug then rose, running flat out to the barn.
Her mother sat there, watching the rider and horse explode from the barn, her hands clasping together as she saw the direction her daughter was heading. With a tear rolling down her cheek. she looked to the heavens. “ I know you’re smiling darling.”
Jace wasn’t sure what she was going to say or do, which didn't seem a good plan when she found herself standing in the middle of Emily’s house, dripping in sweat and looking like she’d been run over by a stampede. She was already scanning the area looking for Emily among the party crowd. Her breath caught as she spotted the small blonde laughing in a corner. Jace frowned as she also spotted Sam. Suddenly this didn't feel like a good idea at all.
“ You made it.” Harry’s surprised voice came from behind, he slipped his arm into hers.
“ Yea I did.” Her face darkened, watching as Sam leant in closer to Emily.
He followed her line of sight, biting back his smirk when he saw who it was held his sister’s gaze captivated. He jumped as she pulled free of him. “ Hey, where you going?”
Jace kept walking. “ This was a mistake. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, mother has no idea what she’s talking about.”
He frowned. “ Um, ok.” He quickly increased his steps to catch her up. “ What doesn’t mom know about?”
Jace stopped suddenly causing him to shoot past her briefly before stopping and coming back.
“ This, her!” Jace waved her hand back towards the party. “ I can get away now.”
Harry blinked. “ Away?”
“ Yes! I don’t need complications.”
Harry’s confusion showed. “ Um sis, what the hell you talking about, what's a complication?”
“ Am I the complication Jay?” Emily stepped into view.
Jace face froze, then finally she turned to her. “ Yes.”
Harry looked first to his sister then to Emily, shaking his head he left muttering. “ Women!”
Emily moved forward slowly. “ So, you’re leaving?”
Jace paced. “ Yes.”
“ Where you going to go?” Emily took another step.
“ I don’t know. Anywhere, I don’t care, just away from here.”
Emily stopped just in front of the pacing figure. “ It’s what you’ve always wanted isn’t it?”
Jace shot her a look. “ Yes.” Then she swallowed, her pacing slowing, bringing her to a halt right in front of Emily. “ Shouldn’t you be getting back to your party, Sam will be waiting.” Venom sounded in her voice.
Emily stayed perfectly calm, hoping deep within her what she was seeing was what she thought it was. “ Sam is with Helen.”
Jace paused, her thoughts thrown. “ Helen?”
Emily nodded. “ We broke up three years ago, shortly after… after your father’s death.”
Jace blinked again. “ You did?”
Emily nodded again, watching as Jace began to pace again.
Jace felt her body begin to shake, she didn't know why, all she knew was she suddenly felt more trapped than ever. “ It doesn’t make any difference. I'm still leaving.” I have to, god I have to.
“ I’d like you to stay Jay.” Emily’s heart was pounding but her voice was a whisper.
Red flushed Jace’s face, immediately she turned back to Emily. “ No, no, I'm going, I'm not letting anything stop me this time.” She grabbed Emily’s shoulders, shaking her. “ NOONE YOU GET ME NOONE. NOT EVEN YOU.”
Emily let out a sob. “ Jay.”
Jace shook her harder. “ I don’t love you, I don’t need you. I’m going, you hear me? I'm finally getting out of this miserable town.”
Emily cried harder but didn't fight back.
Jace suddenly pulled Emily hard forward, breaking the distance between them, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman in total desperation, her voice losing the anger, punctuated with sobs. “ I don’t, I don’t. I’m leaving… I … I.”
Emily grabbed hold with just as much desperation, tangling her fingers into Jace’s shirt, pulling her closer. “ Stay with me.”
Jace began to cry, pulling away, she crushed her lips to Emily’s in a bruising kiss, one Emily returned with just as much passion. Jace drew back, burying her face in golden hair, rubbing her cheek against it tenderly, the fight lost, the rage gone. “ I love you… I love you.” She said the words as if it were her only true benediction.
The scene faded. Michael’s voice vibrated once again within the cave.
“ They became lovers and a month later they exchanged vows, making Richmond ranch their home… Even that didn't go smoothly. Jace wanted to use the money she had saved for a honeymoon, one that would take Emily and her to the places she dreamed of. But the long summer caused a fire, many of the ranchers lost their grazing land. Emily was the one who offered their saved money. It saved them all. For the first time Jace actually found inner peace, realising she’d made the right choice and never thought about leaving again…”
Calli smiled over to Michael as he continued.
“… They worked together finding a new kind of dream. Two years passed and they decided to start a family. A girl was born. Deborah Kelly. They call her DeeDee. Through the years that followed, Jace became just as special as her father. She used some of the lower land to build houses on, giving them as low rent to some of the Mexican immigrants who had called Daley springs their home. It became known as Richmond Park in memory of her father.”
Calli watched again as the images kept time with Michael’s voice. Showing a Mexican family moving into their new home. With Jace holding a two-year-old on her shoulders and Emily by her side.
Michael continued. “ There were hard times ahead. But Jace and her family always weathered whatever came. Brisbane never gave up trying to take the land, his hatred for Jace becoming personal. But he also saw an opportunity in her too, so he offered her a position.”
Calli broke her gaze from the image. “And?”
Michael smiled. “ She didn't give into the temptation, although for a moment she was tempted by the power of it. Brisbane didn’t take the rejection well. He managed to put a few doubts in Jace’s head about Emily. You see it didn’t help that Sam had become a very successful businessman. His visits to see them always left a small rift between Emily and Jace.”
Calli sighed. “Jace was jealous.”
Michael nodded. “ Yes, it made Jace look at what Sam could offer Emily, things that she never could. Jace was scared that maybe Emily would see it one day too and leave her. Brisbane had just used the one thing he knew could possibly turn Jace to work for him.”
“ Idiot, obviously Brisbane knows nothing about love.” A spark of anger ignited in grey eyes but it quickly dimmed. “I’d have thought at least in this life Jace would have known better.”
Michael looked at her reproachfully. “ Each time is new, an old soul doesn’t bring with it wisdom or harsh lessons learned from before. What would be the point of being reborn? Remember free will Calli.”
“ I know, sorry.”
He bowed his head, accepting her apology.
The orb starting spinning again.
“ They continued together. But each year that came was a little harder. Cattle prices dropped, and ranchers were finding it hard, even Richmond ranch itself. But once again they found a way. However Jace silently believed she was bad luck. Didn't all of the things happen when she was in charge of the ranch? But with Emily’s love and her family close those dark days didn't stay long… With Emily now working the ranch Harry decided it was time he found his own way in life. Just like his sister he had a consuming dream, he wanted to be a navy pilot. Jace wasn’t happy at first, her fierce protection of him nearly made a rift between them. It was Emily who showed her that this was Harry’s way. Harry left.”
Calli had watched each image in the stone as Michael spoke the words.
“ Three years passed, Harry became a lieutenant in the air force. He went to all those places Jace had dreamed of…” Michael’s voice lowered. “…. As all of history has shown, war between man never stays away for long. This time it began in the Far East.”
The image in the stone erupted into flames and noise of rapid gunfire and screaming metal filled the cave. Missiles fired, rockets were launched, ships’ guns shot at diving aircraft. Smoke and death filled every sense.
The image calmed.
“ During one of his missions, Harry shot down three jets, each of them aiming directly towards an aircraft carrier. He was awarded the Silver Star.”
Michael turned his gaze back to the image. “ Now you’re going to get an answer to your question Calli. Why you are here.”
The scene unfolded.
The town was a buzz, a local hero was coming home. Banners were already erected high above the streets. It was a dual time for celebration, Christmas was only a few days away. Trees and lights blended in with the banners. Snow was already beginning to fall and cover the surrounding with its Christmas card beauty.
“ Look at, it just look at it.”
Emily patiently looked over to her lover. “ I know Jace, I’ve seen the newspaper twenty times in the last half hour.”
Jace shoved it forward again, displaying the picture of her brother receiving his Silver Star from the president. “ I know but look at it. I'm so god damn proud of him.”
Emily laughed, Jace’s joy was infectious. She turned her attention back to the street, pulling the truck over. Unclipping her seat back she reached across and pulled Jace into a long deep passion filled kiss.
Jace drew back slightly breathless licking her lips. “ Wow. What was that for?”
“ Because you’re so adorable and I love you.”
Jace’s only answer was to grin.
Emily reached back, getting her bag. “ Ok, I’ve got to go pick up the last of the Christmas list and your mother asked me to get a few extra things. You sure you don’t want me to wait for you? It looks like the snow is going to get heavy later.”
Jace was still looking down at the picture until a nudge made her look up. “ Uh no, it’s ok, I got to wait for Uncle Billy to get here and I got some things to do too.”
Emily nodded. “ I might go over to see how Martha is on the way home anyway.”
Jace placed the newspaper in the glove box. “ Ok, just make sure you’re home before the snow hits, I don’t want to have to freeze my butt off coming to rescue you.”
Emily stuck her tongue out. “As if.”
Jace shot forward, with a yelp Emily opened the door and jumped out. “ You got to be faster than that oldie.” Her nose scrunched up in amusement.
Jace lurched forward grabbing her, pulling her back in. “ I’ll give you oldie.”
Emily erupted into laughter as Jace tickled her. “ Oh my god, stop that.”
“ Morning Jace, Morning Emily.”
They both froze. Emily peeked up over the dashboard, swallowing when she saw who it was. “ Hello Reverend Blaine.” She slapped at Jace’s hand as it moved up her thigh. She threw Jace a look before moving out of the truck. “ Sorry about that.” she smoothed down her hair, zipping up her jacket.
He smiled, his brown eyes dancing in amusement. “ Don’t be, nothing wrong with laughter.”
To prove he was right Jace giggled. Emily rolled her eyes. “ Can I help you with something Reverend Blaine?”
“ Actually I wanted to thank you both for the donation to the church.”
Jace stepped free of the truck. “ It was our pleasure sir, I wish it could have been more.”
He smiled. “ Don’t be silly the gift was very generous. When is your brother due home?”
Her face lit up. “ The day after tomorrow if the weather holds.”
“ The least I can do is pray to keep the skies free. Will we see you at midnight mass?”
They both grinned. Jace answered. “ Wouldn’t miss it.”
He nodded. “ You two have a good day.” He tipped his hat to each of them.
“ You too Reverend.”
They watched as the old man continued down the walkway. Emily was the first to speak.
Jace looked across, grinning. “ Me too.”
Emily traced her hand across Jace’s cheek. “ I never thought he would just accept us like he did. I thought he’d be the first in this place to yell hell and damnation at us.”
Jace caught her hand. “ I know babe. But as they say, never judge a book by its cover.”
Emily squeezed the hand before letting go. “ Ok, I got to get moving before I'm late back and DeeDee paints grandma’s face green again.”
Jace snorted. “ Be careful, I’ll be home about seven. I love you.”
“ I love you too. You sure you don’t want me to wait?”
Jace turned her around, smacking her butt, pushing her towards the truck. “ Nooooooooo, go woman let me be, I got things to do.”
Emily laughed moving forward for one last kiss, then locking the truck she crossed the street.
Jace turned, whistling as she headed towards the coffee shop.
For the tenth time Jace looked down at her watch, her fingers drumming on the table. She’d been waiting for over an hour. Her good mood was slowly being replaced with annoyance.
“ Can I get you anything else Jace?”
Jace turned her gaze from the window. “ No thanks Marina, if I drink any more coffee I’m gonna float out of here.”
Marina chuckled. “ You waiting for Uncle Billy?”
“ Yea, you haven’t seen him have you? You know what he’s like, he forgets.”
“ Oh I know. I asked him once what those bits of string were on his fingers, he told me it was because he forgot stuff. But no sorry I haven't seen him today.”
“ Hmmm.” Jace’s eyes looked up and down the street again. “…. Well I wish he’d hurry up, the bank closes in three hours.”
“ Don’t worry he’ll show up, you sure you don’t want anything else?”
Jace flashed a smile. “ No I’m fine honestly.” Marina still stood there. Jace looked at her again. “ Something wrong?”
“ I was… I was wondering if I could talk to you.”
“ Sure.” Jace waited.
Marina looked around. “ Could you meet me out back?”
Surprise jumped into Jace’s eyes. “ Um, Marina you know I'm with Emily right?”
Marina blushed. “ Yea, it isn’t anything like that, look forget I asked.”
Jace caught her arm, somewhat embarrassed. “ No, no wait, I'm sorry, I was being an ass.”
“ Ok, I got a break in five minutes could I see you then?”
Jace nodded watching her go, wondering what was wrong. Then she headed out the back and waited. She didn't have to wait long.
Marina stepped out in her coat, a cigarette already lit. “ Thanks for doing this Jace.”
“ No problem, what's wrong?”
Marina exhaled smoke. “ I need to get away. I need some money…” she flushed.
Jace sighed. “ He hitting you again?”
“ Sometimes.” Her eyes darted away.
Jace shook her head. “ Marina I don’t mind giving you money, what I do mind is you going back to him and giving it to him.”
Marina looked away ashamed. “ It’s not like that this time.”
“ Yea what's different?” Jace shoved her hands in her jean pockets.
“ I'm pregnant.”
Jace stopped kicking the snow and looked up. “ Oh.”
Marina gave a slight snort. “ Yea oh.” She exhaled smoke again before dropping the cigarette to the floor and treading it out. “… Well the thing is I want it, I cabled my mom and she wants me to go there. She said she’d send the money and I believe her, but I got to go as soon as possible, if he finds out…” She paled. “… Well you know what he’s like Jace.”
“ Yea I do. “ Her face darkened. This wasn’t the first time she’d helped her. “ How much you need?”
Marina gave a sigh of relief. “ The train is hundred sixty five, I got eighty but I can’t figure out a way to get the rest, I wouldn’t ask you again but I haven't got anywhere else to go. It will be a loan, I’ll pay you back, I swear it.”
Jace reached into her back pocket, pulling free her wallet, she peeled off three hundred-dollar bills handing it over.
Marina’s mouth dropped open. “ Jesus no, I only need another ninety.” She pushed it back.
Jace took her hand, opening it, placing the money in to it, curling Marina’s fingers closed.
Marina’s head lowered, crying. “ Thank you.” Then she moved forward, pulling Jace into a hug. “ I promise Jace, this time I promise. Thank you.”
Jace hugged her, aware of the people passing the alley giving them both a strange look.
Marina stepped back, wiping at her face. “ I’ve got to finish my shift, then I'm gone, the train leaves at eleven. I’ve got a bag packed, have done for a while.” She sniffed.
“ Be safe. Let me know how you are if you can.” She reached across, clearing a tear with her thumb. “ Happy Christmas Mari.”
Marina caught her hand, kissing it. “ Merry Christmas Jace.” Then she was gone.
Jace exhaled deeply, wondering how Emily was gonna take the fact she’d just given away the money for the new snow chains. She sighed, moving back into the street. Frowning, she looked at her watch again. She crossed the street, jogging down towards the bank.
When she came out her face now was tinged with worry, the bank hadn’t seen him since before ten. She scratched the back of her neck thinking, then her eyes picked out a figure amongst the Christmas crowd, she let out a gasp of relief. She moved quickly towards him.
He pushed past her, searching the ground, turning over bits of discarded rubbish.
Jace grabbed him. “ What are you doing?”
His old face was a mass of confusion. He stuttered. “ I .. I.”
The anger she felt quickly vanished, replaced with concern. “ Hey, it’s ok, it’s me Jacey, You ok? What’s wrong?”
He pulled away, going back to what he was doing, searching through the litter on the ground. She stared at him in shock as he dropped to his knees. “ Jesus, get up you’ll freeze.” She grabbed him. “ What’s wrong? You’re scaring me here.”
He finally met her gaze. “ I … I lost it. I’ve looked everywhere, I'm sorry Jacey, I'm sorry.”
She stared at him, completely confused. Then a shiver ran up her spine. She grabbed him harder. “ The money? You lost the money?”
Various people in the passing crowd looked over at the raised voice.
She shook him. “ Billy, Where’s the money?”
He sobbed. “ I don’t know… I went to the bank and I reached for the bag like I always do, and it weren’t there. I’ve looked everywhere Jacey, even went back out to the ranches. I can’t find it. I had it earlier, yes yes I remember that, I was counting it, I put in the leather bag the one your Pa gave me...” he scratched his head frantically as if doing so would loosen some lost memory. “… But it’s gone Jacey, gone.”
She swallowed hard, stepping back from him, horror filling her face. “ No, no.”
He went into his pockets pulling out rubbish. “ I haven’t got it. I don’t know where it is.”
She could feel the panic rising within her, such pure panic robbing her of each and every sense, she took a long breath, focusing, she grabbed his arm, pulling him roughly ahead of her.
From a window above the bank, Alfred Brisbane watched the two figures with a snarl of enjoyment on his face. He moved away from the window. Sitting in his chair, he lit a cigar, pulling open the drawer in the desk, staring down at a leather bag with the initials WR on the front. He closed the drawer and locked it, grinning as he did so.
Billy’s house was a mess. Jace had pulled apart every single nook and cranny in her search, he just sat on the floor rocking backward and forward. With a grunt Jace threw a book at the wall, her hand going to her hair in a sweep, her eyes frantic. She tried again to stop the panic inside, but it was getting so hard now, knowing what this meant. They’d looked everywhere, going back over every move he had made that day. This was the last chance. She kicked out at a table, striding over to where Billy sat, grabbing him by the jacket, shaking him. “ What have you done with it? Don’t you know what this means?”
He sobbed. “ I'm sorry … I’m sorry.”
In disgust she threw him back. “ I should have fired you years ago. You’re useless.”
He sobbed again returning to his rocking. “ Don’t be mad Jacey, I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
She threw him a look of disgust, pacing. “ I have to think, think.” She slapped her forehead in frustration. “ I can get the bank to give me an extension, I can… I can mortgage the ranch again.” With a final pained guilty look to Billy she ran from his house.
Brisbane poured himself a brandy looking to Jace. “ You want one?”
For a moment she nearly refused, then nodded. He poured the two and took it over to her. She took it, immediately gulping down a mouthful, coughing and spluttering as the alcohol burned.
“ You shouldn’t drink it like that Miss Richmond.”
She coughed again, wiping her mouth across her sleeve, smoothing down the spilt alcohol on her shirt. “ Sorry, I kinda needed it.”
He sat. “ Yes I can well imagine you did after what you just told me. So the whole ten thousand is lost?”
Jace paled. “ Yes.” She hated this, hated the fact he was going to make her beg.
“ Hmmmmmmm.” He took a sip of the brandy. “ So what do you want me to do about it?”
“ I’d like to ask for an extension.”
“ Really. Why should I do that? Are you anticipating the money being returned?”
She looked at him sharply. “ It’s lost Mr Brisbane, I can’t see it ever being returned.”
He opened his arms wide. “ Then you see my problem. If I give you an extension, what guarantee do I have that the amount is going to be paid at all? The ranchers who have already paid wouldn’t be expected to pay it again, surely?”
She inhaled deeply. “ No, it’s my responsibility.”
He looked at her curiously, knowing full well who was responsible. He’d seen Billy drop it just outside the bank. He’d been the one to pick it up. “ Yours?”
“ Yea mine.” She set her jaw.
“ Have you informed the police?”
Jace sat back, suddenly realising in the whole panic she hadn’t. “ No.”
“ I see.” A smile came to his face. “ It’s rather an odd thing not to do.”
She bit back her anger. “ I didn't think of it, I... I just wanted it found. I guess I panicked. Look I’ll do it later. All I need is for you to give the extension. First thing tomorrow I’ll come in and arrange an advance on the mortgage or I’ll do it now if you draw up the papers.”
His eyes narrowed. “ You already have a substantial mortgage already Miss Richmond. As the owner of this bank, it wouldn’t be in my best interest to put another amount on top of that.” He smiled again. “… Forgive me you seem somewhat panicked about the whole thing. Why ask for an extension, however? There is a twenty four hour grace period.”
“ Because if you put the extension on the loan it won’t show up as a problem.”
“ Ah I see. So you don’t want anyone else to know about this am I correct?”
“ Yes, I don’t want the ranchers to feel obligated in any way to find the money again.”
He looked at her, tilting his head. “ You know this is all very suspicious.”
Her head jerked up. “ What?”
“ The money disappearing suddenly… I'm not one for gossip but I’ve heard you were seen handing money over to Marina Taylor today? I also seem to remember hearing a while ago of something being between you two...” he flicked his hand dismissing it. “ I take no notice of such things and it’s simply none of my business anyway.”
Jace’s jaw clenched. “ You’re right it isn't.”
He sipped his drink again. “ But you can see my point, I may not take notice, but others might. Like reporters or the police. They don’t tend to believe in coincidences. I mean look at it from their point of view. Money goes missing, you didn't contact the police, and on top of that you’re seen giving money to a known drug user. Then you come here and ask for an extension to keep it away from public knowledge…” He shrugged leaving the sentence unfinished.
Jace paled, her mouth opening to answer but nothing came out, suddenly seeing what he was implying. Her mind ran over everything again trying to come up with an answer. Then it hit her. “ I have a life insurance policy. It’s worth a quarter of a million, I can sign it over as guarantee until I make up the ten thousand over the next year.”
He chuckled. “ What kind of guarantee is that really? It isn't worth anything unless you’re dead. In fact you’re worth more dead.” He rose. “… I'm afraid you have nothing and as a citizen of this town I have no option but to inform the police of what’s going on here.”
Jace jumped up. “ There’s nothing going on, just give me the damn loan and it’s sorted.”
“ I don’t think so.” He lifted the phone. “ Mary, put me through to the police.”
She felt it again, the trapped feeling, the weight descending on her like a shroud.
He moved his mouth away from the receiver. “ I hope for your sake Miss Richmond that this is only a misunderstanding. I’d hate to think what the prison sentence is for fraud these days.”
Jace did the only option left to her she bolted, pushing the chair out the way and flinging the door open. Home. She had to get home.
Brisbane spoke into the phone, telling the police everything. When he finished he laughed, a full out stomach retching laugh. He was going to finally get what he wanted.
Emily jumped as the door slammed, she calmed when she saw who it was, a smile ready, which froze as she took in her lover, soaked to the skin. “ Jesus what happened to you?”
Jace swallowed, looking around, noticing the six children playing. “ What’s going on?”
Emily jerked in surprise at the tone in Jace’s voice. “ It’s the Christmas party.”
Jace slumped into a chair.
“ Hiya Jacey, can we go riding today?”
Jacey looked up as the nine-year-old boy came over. “ No, it’s too cold.”
“ Awwwww but you promised me.”
Jace’s head snapped around. “ I said NO!”
The boy blinked, Emily frowned, she went over and whispered in Danny’s ear steering him away, turning her attention to Jace. “ You didn't have to yell at him like that.” As she moved closer she paused. “ Have you been drinking?”
Jace rose. “ No.” She moved quickly away from Emily’s outstretched hand. “ Where’s DeeDee?”
Emily looked at her lover, unsure. “ She’s… she’s upstairs, she was running a fever this afternoon, they went walking, she forgot her coat. Jay what's wrong?”
Jace spun around to her. “ What? How bad? Did you call a doctor?”
Emily stepped back, surprised. “ Jay?”
“ Damn it! Do I have to do everything around this fucking place?” She turned going upstairs.
Christine stepped into the living room, looking to Emily. “ Was that Jacey?”
Emily bit her lip nervously. “ Yea.”
Jace calmed herself before entering the room, slowly opening the door, only to find DeeDee on the floor. The sense of dread she felt ebbed a little. “ What do you think you’re doing?”
DeeDee looked up, eyes widening, she rose quickly, getting back into bed. “ Ut oh.”
Jace sat on the bed’s edge, laying her palm on DeeDee’s forehead, sighing in relief when she didn't feel a fever. She tucked in the blanket. “ You got to stay in bed, kiddo.”
“ Ahuh I know but I wanted to play with my rock.” She opened her hand to show a small black pebble.
Jace smiled. “ Can’t you play with it in bed?”
“ Nooooo, the rock wanted to play with my dolls. I knew I had to stay in bed.”
“ Oh it did?”
“ Ahuh.” Mirrored blue eyes blinked at her innocently.
Jace chuckled. “ Tell you what, how about I look after your rock while you sleep?”
DeeDee grinned. “ Okay.” She handed the rock over.
Jace kissed it and put it in her shirt pocket. “ Now sweet dreams, you gotta get well.”
DeeDee leant forward, Jace took her in her arms. “ Love you Momma.”
Jace swallowed hard it took almost all her control to not just break down. “ Love you too.”
Laying a kiss on her daughter’s forehead she tucked her in. Forcing herself to leave, she paused at the doorway taking in the scene, one that she might never see again. The lump rose in her throat like a fist, and so did the anger. She turned off the light, then headed back down the stairs. “ How the hell did she go out without a coat?”
Both Christine and Emily looked up with a jerk.
“ Can’t you two take care of at least one fucking thing while I'm away?”
Christine looked over to Emily in alarm, Emily was already moving to Jace, anger flashing in her eyes. “ Jay what is wrong with you? Don’t use language like that around the children.”
Jace scoffed. “ Like they haven't heard it before…” She turned suddenly. “ Will you shut up on that piano Claire for fuck sake.”
Claire stopped dead. Christine immediately went to the child, giving Jace a reproachful look.
Emily moved, grabbing Jace’s arm pulling her to face her. “ I can’t believe it, you are drunk.”
Jace pulled her arm free. “ I'm not drunk! Isn’t it enough we give them a roof over their heads for Christ sake. Do I now have to feed them?”
Emily grabbed her again. “ I think you’d better leave and come back when you’re sober.”
Jace flinched as if slapped. “ What?”
Emily crossed her arms trying her best not to cry. “ You heard me.”
Jace looked over to her mother, then around at each child, seeing fear.
Emily gasped as she watched raw anguish enter her lover’s blue eyes. “ Baby what is it?”
Jace’s anger kicked in again, she threw Emily a look which stopped her cold. “ Fine, I’ll leave, maybe I won’t bother to come back.” She stormed from the house.
Emily looked over to Christine before moving to follow Jace in a run. Just as she got to the porch the truck shot by. Turning, she went back in, quickly going to the phone.
Jace drove, she didn't care that the snow was falling so hard she could hardly see the road. She increased the speed, ignoring the tears rolling down her face, the whole day flashing before her eyes. A sob escaped her. She had no way out, she was going to lose everything.
The scene faded.
Michael looked across to Calli. “ It’s time.” He waved his hand. A shooting star flashed across the night sky.
Jace felt the truck shudder as it struggled with the speed, the wheel jerking as the tyres tried to find purchase on the icy road, the wipers working overtime to keep the snow from the windscreen. The barrier approached closer. Suddenly a woman was there, trapped in the headlights like a deer. Jace yelled, slamming on the brakes, wrenching the wheel hard left, spinning the truck into motion. It stopped only when it hit the tree. Jace gasped, sitting back. She kicked the door open, blinking to see through the snow. Finding herself knee deep in a drift, she struggled to reach the road.
“ Are you looking for me?”
The voice came right in her ear. Jace jumped with a yelp of surprise, losing her footing and ending up sitting with a grunt of exhaled air. She looked up. “ What? How?” She looked back at the road, then up to the woman. “ Are you hurt? Did I, did I hit you?”
Calli just shook her head, looking around. “ We need to get out of this storm. Isn’t there an old maintenance hut around here somewhere?”
Jace blinked for a moment, she thought she saw a glow around the woman. She felt the bump on her forehead. Well that explained that. “ Hut? Yea there’s one down by the bridge.”
Calli reached down and with little effort pulled a somewhat surprised Jace to her feet.
Calli smiled. “ I don’t want you to catch pneumonia, wouldn’t seem right after I just saved your life.”
Jace frowned. “ You saved me?”
“ Ahuh, lift your arms.”
Jace did it before she realised she had. Her shirt was pulled off and an old blanket was quickly placed around her. Jace began to stand, only to find a strong shove sending her back to sit.
Calli gave her a reproachful look. “ I wish you wouldn’t say that, he doesn’t like it.”
Jace blinked, looking around. “ Who doesn’t?”
Calli pointed up.
Jace followed the direction of the pointing finger then both her eyebrows rose. Oh good lord, she’s a nut.
Calli tutted. “ He doesn’t like that either.”
Jace snapped her mouth shut in asking how the hell she knew what she was thinking.
Calli sat down opposite, looking at Jace, seeing the suspicion in her eyes. “ I’m Calli. By the way you’re bleeding.”
Jace’s hand went to her head. “ Yea, I hit it on the wheel. What were you doing out there?”
“ I told you, saving you.”
Jace’s eyes narrowed. “ By standing in the middle of the road?”
“ Well, it stopped you driving off the bridge, didn’t it?” Calli smirked.
Jace’s breath caught. “ I… What?”
Calli crossed her legs, smoothing out her dress. “ You were going to drive off the bridge so that your family could get the insurance money.”
Jace rose. “ Who the fucking hell are you? Did Brisbane pay you to follow me?”
Calli ignored her temper. “ No Brisbane didn’t send me. It was someone of a much higher authority.” She smiled and pointed up again. She frowned however when Jace burst into laughter.
“ Great, just my luck…” Jace laughed harder. “ This is all I need, an escaped lunatic.”
Calli scratched her temple. “ I haven’t been called that in a while, however I'm not one now.”
Jace snorted. “ Yea right, ok, so what are you then?”
Calli smiled. “ I'm an angel.”
Jace face froze, she sat down with a jolt. “ Jesus Christ.”
“ No, an angel. He’s a totally different department.” Calli smirked. Then she grinned as she heard the wind catch the bell above the door. “ Oh someone got their wings.”
Jace frowned, looking over her shoulder to the bell. “ Huh?”
“ Every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings. Surely you’ve heard that before?”
Jace looked back at her. Fruitloop, definitely a fruitloop. Humour her then get the hell out of here. “ Yea, so you’re supposed to be an angel, so where are your wings?”
Calli shifted uncomfortably. “ I lost them, long story, which isn't important. What is important is you.”
“ Me?” Jace could feel a headache starting.
“ I'm here to help.”
Jace stared, then everything came back to her. “ You can’t help, no one can. Shit, you should have let me go off the damn bridge.” She kicked out, sending a chair smashing into the wall. Jace threw off the blanket. “ That was my last chance to fix everything.” She slumped into the chair, her face buried in her hands. “ I wish I’d never been fucking born.”
Calli looked up, thinking, an idea sparking in her eyes. She rose. “ Ok done.”
Jace jerked straight. “ What?”
Calli crossed her arms. “ You got your wish, you’ve never been born.”
Jace snorted, the fight leaving her. “ Go away. Just leave me alone.”
“ You’ve stopped bleeding.”
Jace looked at her, then she blinked in total surprise. She could see, not just out of one eye but two. She put her hand up over her good eye and stared.
Calli smiled. “ Yes, you can see out of both.”
“ It… it must have been the crash, I probably jarred something.”
Calli shook her head. “ Nope, the scar is gone too.”
Jace jumped up, going to the small mirror on the wall, tracing her fingertips over her temple. The scar was gone.
“ You were never born, Jace. You never fell through the ice.”
Jace spun around. “How did you know that? How did you know my name? I never told you.”
Calli sighed, “ I know everything about you. I'm an angel, remember.”
“ Stop saying that.” She looked back at the mirror again, realising she was fully dressed.
Calli shook her head. “ You were never born.”
Suddenly fear filled her. “ Will you stop saying that and stay the hell away from me.” Jace tore across the room, and back into the storm. It wasn’t till she was halfway across the bridge did she notice the snow was gone, all of it.
Calli sighed, rising. “ How did I know this wasn’t going to be easy.” She followed.
Jace ran, aiming for the end of the bridge. She skidded to a halt, her truck was gone.
“ It’s not there.”
Jace yelped as the voice was in her ear again spinning around, looking at Calli in fear. Backing away until finally she turned and ran back towards the town.
Calli simply followed in a walk.
The sign made Jace stop in her tracks. The “ Welcome to Daley springs.” was gone, replaced with, “ Welcome to Brisbane springs.” Jace frowned. This didn't make any sense. She backed away from it, heading to find people she knew.
As soon as she entered the town she could feel the difference, it didn't feel right. Things didn't look right. She looked over at Marino’s bar. It was gone. Nick’s place replaced it. She walked faster up the main street. Brisbane’s name replacing ones she knew should be there. She suddenly felt sick. Backing into the road she looked up, searching for what she knew should be there. She jumped back to the sidewalk as a car horn sounded a warning.
“ The banners aren’t there.”
Jace spun again, looking at Calli in shock. “ How? Where did you come from?”
Calli ignored her. “ You were looking for the banners weren’t you? The ones welcoming your brother home?”
“ I, what… what's happening here? Where are they?”
“ You were never born, Jace. You weren’t there that day to save him.”
Jace jerked back. “ What? No, I was there, I saved him. He’s coming home the day after tomorrow, he’s a hero, he won the Silver Star.” Panic crept into her voice.
Calli shook her head. “ You never saved him. It didn't happen. Because it didn't happen, he wasn’t there to save the aircraft carrier. It was destroyed.”
Jace’s face creased in anguish. “ You’re wrong, I was there. I… GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” she pushed Calli roughly aside and took off down the street.
Calli lowered her gaze sadly, following.
Jace gulped air, ignoring the looks she was getting. Nothing in the town made sense to her. She turned a corner and what she saw made her stop dead in shock. The church was boarded up. She caught the movement out of the corner of her eye, knowing now who it was. “ What … What happened here?”
Calli’s head was down. “ It didn’t have the money to continue. People lost faith in it.”
Jace swallowed hard. “ You going to tell me this is my fault too?”
Calli looked at her in sympathy. “ The money you gave each year kept part of it going, but mostly it was the impact of the town. You weren’t here to help other people. You weren’t here to build houses and ease the suffering of the immigrants. You weren’t here to offer hope Jace and when people lose hope they lose faith.”
Jace shook her head. “ This is bullshit. My father did a lot more work for this town than I ever did.”
Calli looked away. Jace looked at her sharply. “ What?”
Calli swallowed, meeting the blue eyes she knew so well. “ After your brother died, your family broke, Jace.”
Jace paled. “ What, what do you mean broke? They left?”
“ No, your father worked himself to death on the land. He died much, much earlier. Your mother….” Calli swallowed. “ Your mother didn't live much longer after him, she just couldn’t anymore, she had no reason to.”
Jace felt like she’d been punched in the gut. “ No, no this can’t be happening.”
“ Brisbane took over the ranch and the land. Everything you see belongs to him now.”
Jace moved fast, pushing her backwards. “ You’re lying, this is all lies, I was born. This is all some screwed up fucking dream, I'm sitting back there in the truck dreaming this shit up and any minute I'm going to wake the fuck up.”
Calli didn't defend herself, she just let Jace push her. Then Calli’s eyes flashed. “ What more do you need me to tell you for you to believe? Should I tell you about Mr Nyles and how you weren’t there to warn him about the train and how the family in the car was killed? That he ended up in an insane asylum? Or shall I tell you about Marina who was beaten to death carrying her unborn child because you weren’t there to help her get away from her husband this time? Or Uncle Billy and how he was found frozen to death sleeping on your parents’ grave? I could go on, I have hundreds you know, people you never thought you made a difference to and did.”
Jace stopped dead, uncertainty creeping into her eyes. “ No, this...”
Calli calmed. “ No one ever really knows how they affect people in their life Jace. You’ve been given a gift to see it.”
Jace suddenly looked up. “ Emily? What about Emily?” Calli closed her eyes briefly. Jace grabbed her. “ What about Emily, damn it, and DeeDee?” She reached frantically for her pocket.
“ It’s not there. DeeDee was never born. She never gave you the black pebble.”
Jace hit out but Calli was already stepping away. “ Striking me won’t help you.”
Jace sobbed. “ Please, where’s Emily? I need to see her, please… please.”
Calli sighed, then slowly turned, walking back towards the town. Jace ran after her. Calli stopped outside the coffee shop. Jace followed her gaze, her eyes widening.
“ She never married, she never had children. You weren’t there when she was younger to teach her how to stand up for things. You weren’t there to help bring her out of her shyness. You weren’t there Jace to show her how to laugh at life and dream. She works here every day, nine to five, then she goes home and takes care of her father. Day in, day out.”
Jace couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the woman she was watching was Emily.
Calli’s voice was sharp. “ She was never destined to marry Sam and he’s another person impacted by the fact you weren’t born.”
Jace tore her gaze off of Emily long enough to look at her. “ What do you mean?”
“ You weren’t here to give his father the land to move his new warehouse to. Their business collapsed. Sam is now working for Brisbane as a debt collector.”
Jace gasped in shock.
“ Every life is a chain of events Jace. If I take your link out of it, the rest falls apart.”
Jace looked back over to Emily, seeing her exit the coffee shop, she started to walk away.
Calli moved forward. “ Wait, she won’t recognise you.”
Jace glanced back. “ You‘re wrong. “ She broke into a run. “ Em… Emily.”
Emily jerked back at the figure running at her. “ I'm sorry…do, do I know you?”
Jace swallowed the hurt. “ It’s me Em, Jay.”
Emily stared at her then shook her head. “ I'm sorry, I don’t, I don’t remember.”
Jace reached out, stopping as Emily stepped back. “ I'm your partner Em. Tell me this is a joke, that the ranch is ok, that DeeDee is home.”
Emily shrunk back, this time starting to walk backwards, her eyes darting around. “ Look, I'm … I'm sorry but I have to go.”
Jace reached out, grabbing her, pulling her into a hug. “ Oh Em, please, please baby. I can’t take this anymore.”
Emily screamed a scream of pure fear.
Jace let her go immediately. “ Don’t Em, it’s me. I…” Her eyes darted left. Seeing people coming, she started backing away, terror and pain in her eyes as she took in Emily’s sobbing form, and suddenly Jace believed everything. She ducked as someone made to grab her, elbowing her way through the crowd, running as fast she could to escape the growing mob, hearing the police sirens in the distance. She ran, ran for all she was worth back towards the bridge, only stopping when she reached it, gulping air and sobs as she stood at its rail.
“ Do you believe me now?”
This time Jace didn't jump when the voice whispered in her ear. “ Yes, yes I believe you.”
Calli moved into her view. “ You’ve thought for so long that you were a curse to everything you touched. You were so wrong, you were a blessing. You know why I was sent Jace? Because so many people prayed for you, it got his attention. He sent me to help.”
Jace sobbed. “ How, how do I get it back?”
“ Why would you want too? What waits for you is still there. The thing you ran away from, the reason you wanted to give up the gift of life for. That hasn’t changed.”
Jace sobbed again. “ I don’t care. Calli I want it back please.” She sobbed again, her hands coming together as if in prayer. “ I'm sorry, please give it back. I’ll face everything, I won’t run, I won’t waste it this time. Forgive me Pleaseeeeeeee.”
The wind stirred and snow began to fall again.
Jace turned. “ Pleas…” the word froze on her lips, Calli was gone. She jerked around searching. “ Calli! Calli!” She caught a shadow of something in the snow. Her truck was back. She squinted, her hand coming up to her face, going over her good eye. With that covered she realised she couldn’t see anything. A laugh mixed with a sob escaped. Her hand frantically went to her shirt pocket. Pulling out DeeDee’s pebble, she looked at it, closing her eyes clenching it tight, crying and laughing at the same time. “ Thank you, oh thank you.” And then she was running, running to the only place she wanted to be… home.
Michael smiled, looking down at the image. Calli walked forward. He looked up. “ Very well done.”
Calli blushed. “ Thank you.” Her eyes darted to the image seeing Jace run through the town, yelling Merry Christmas to everyone. “ What happens to her?”
Michael nodded to the image as he spoke. “ Emily happens. When Jace left, Emily called Uncle Billy to find out what was wrong. When she knew, she started calling anyone and everyone to help look for the money. But their friends went one better. As soon as they heard Jace was in trouble they came with whatever they had. When Sam heard the whole story he authorised a bank transfer to cover any loans. You see no one knew that Jace owed so much money, she simply never thought to ask for help. After the money was returned the police couldn’t really pursue it. Brisbane never did get what he wanted.”
His eyes went back to the orb as it sparked pure emanating gold
The ranch was full to the brim, Jace stood crying with Emily wrapped around her, DeeDee in her arms. All three were staring in amazement at the table in front of them, a table which was beginning to fill with money and was still growing as each person Jace had helped in life came forward and emptied everything from wallets to piggy banks onto the surface. Jace just stood there in a daze, then behind her the bell on the Christmas tree rang.
DeeDee clapped in joy. “ Oh Momma, an angel just got its wings didn’t it?”
Jace looked over, a grin spreading across her whole face. “ Yes baby, I think she did.”
Emily gave Jace a questioning look. “ She?”
Jace pulled her closer, kissing her deeply. “ I’ll tell you about it some day. I love you.” Then she looked to all the people around, gratitude radiating from her eyes. “ Merry Christmas and thank you.”
Above the echoing words of the crowd, Jace’s eyes looked upwards and sent her silent words towards the heavens. “ Thank you... Thank you…Thank you.”
The image faded
Calli gasped, her spine going straight as a bolt of pure white energy hit her. Then it was gone. She stood, now engulfed in a glow, and on her back were two perfect angel wings.
Michael’s face shone as he spoke. “ Congratulations Callisto. Try not to lose them this time.” He chuckled, moving to lift the orb and return it to its rightful place. Then turning, he offered his hand, which Calli took. She gave one last glance back to the spinning silver orb before they walked together from the cave.
“ Now, I think I have just the soul for you to be guardian angel to, her name is…”
His voice faded as both of them disappeared into the mists. Then two shooting stars streaked the midnight sky.
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