Earthbound

By JM Dragon & Erin O'Reilly

© by JM Dragon and Erin O'Reilly 2006

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

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Prologue

 

There's a time and a place - there's a space and a race - one day soon you and I will meet and know we face our fate, Raquel whispered to the two women as they slept separately. And so, their story began

 

Chapter 1

 

It would be so easy to end all the pain here and now, Amanda Lawson said as she stared into the murky depths of the Susquehanna River . She rested her elbows on the rock wall of the narrow footbridge that crossed the river as an endless flow of tears coursed down her cheeks. The water, which increased in volume with each teardrop, lured her to surrender and become one with its icy coldness.

She took in the length of the bridge and wondered if she could somehow manage to climb over the wall. A new shiny penny peeking out from between two dandelions and a small patch of grass nestled close to the wall caught her attention. Time seemed to stand still as she gazed at the object. Someone said that when you find a penny, you've been kissed by an angel. She sighed as she picked up the coin and made a decision. I've never taken the easy way before; why start now?

Her feet were numb and her legs ached as she walked with determination back toward her vehicle. Once she got to her car, she turned back certain that she heard the water calling her name. Not today. She got in and flipped the switch to heat the seats. She knew the heat wouldn't do much to ease the pain, but there was some degree of comfort in the warmth. She opened her fist and looked at the coin, shaking her head at her weakness before flicking it into the ashtray filled with other pennies. She moved the gearshift into drive and eased the vehicle away from the river and its insistent beckoning.

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There were other routes to get to her home, but for almost two years, she always took the same one. Her eyes scanned the side of the road until she saw the dilapidated billboard where a small white cross stood in front of it. The hard tires crunched on the gravel as the vehicle came to a rest on the shoulder. All that was left of the sign were red scripted letters spelling out EVIL along with a pair of cow's eyes and the barest hint of black, which had been the nose. At one time, Middleville Dairies had been a thriving business but now was only a signthat if one thought about it read evil eyes . The sign marked the one-mile point from the house, and the place where her happiness ended

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It was a bright, late summer day as Amanda and her partner of eight years Gwen Witherspoon made their way back from their annual camping trip. They had spent a week communing with nature in the woods above Cayuga Lake, which is one of the Finger Lakes in upper New York State . This was their sixth end of summer sojourn to celebrate and renew their love and commitment to each other.

Well, Ms. Amanda, I see you still haven't quite made it up the learning curve, Gwen said with a playful lilt in her voice.

Amanda took her eyes off the road for a moment and frowned. What are you talking about?

Oh, there is the small matter that for the sixth year in a row you have managed to burn yourself on our outing.

Hey, come on, that's not fair. The marshmallow would have landed on the ground and attracted bears.

Gwen laughed. Since when did we ever see a bear?

Well, Amanda sputtered, it could happenyou never know. Besides, I get to have my own private nurse take care of my injuries.

I will always be there to take care of you, my love, Gwen said as she took her lover's hand. Hey, look there's the evil eye. We're almost home.

In the instant it took to say those words, both women's faces filled with horror as they saw a large cement truck barreling around the curve toward them.

OH, MY GOD, NO, Gwen screamed as she braced herself for the imminent impact.

Amanda jerked the steering wheel to the left to avoid the vehicle.

The crunch of metal on metal fractured the air as the impact spun their smaller car down a slight embankment.

Amanda felt herself pinned down by the airbag as she opened her eyes to the sting of blood seeping into them. Her nostrils filled with the smell of burning gasoline. Gwen! Gwen! You okay? We've got to get out of here; I think the car's on fire. She heard nothing. Her throat hurt and her lungs ached as she called out again, Gwen?

Hey, I'm fine, everything is good. Don't move until they come for us. Promise me you won't move.

In the distance, Amanda heard the wail of sirens and said, I promise, before she passed out.

She heard her name being called, but couldn't quite place where the sound was coming from. Amanda, Amanda, try to open your eyes for me. Hell no, lady, it's not going to happen. Amanda, open your eyes for me. You've been in an automobile accident, and I need you to open your eyes. An accident? Gwen! Her eyes flew open and tried to fix on the source of the voice.

That's good. Can you see me?

She tried to focus, but all she could see was the brightness of an overhead light.

Move that, another voice ordered.

Amanda's eyes darted around the room at the sterile whiteness and felt a sense of foreboding. Her throat was sore when she tried, but failed, to speak. Finally, she slurred, Where am I?

You're in the hospital. You were in an accident.

She pulled her hand up only to find it restrained. Her face, contoured with pain, scrunched up in question.

Try not to move, Amanda. You've fractured your spine.

With effort she whispered, Gwen. I need hershe will The next voice she heard seemingly came from a long, lost memory.

I need to see her, the familiar voice demanded.

Amanda's face went flat as recognition filled her consciousness. I know that voiceit's Gwen's mother.

Mrs. Witherspoon, you may speak with her for a moment, but we need to get her to surgery.

Amanda's eyes focused on a woman and wondered why she was there. Where's Gwen?

Carol Witherspoon glared at the battered, bloody body of her daughter's friend. In a hard, cold voice she said, You were driving, weren't you?

Terror and apprehension filled Amanda. Gwen, I need Gwen. Where is she?

A stern male voice scolded, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. You're upsetting my patient,

Carol ignored the doctor's request and frowned. Now you think about her, she said in a clipped voice.

Please, you need to leave now.

Amanda eyes filled with acknowledgment. I remember, she whispered. You don't approve. She grimaced as she gritted her teeth and asked, Where's Gwen?

Carol screamed, She's dead! My daughter is dead; and it's all your fault! This is your punishment for turning my daughter into a pervert!

The doctor glared at the woman. I will not have you distressing my patient or speaking to her in that way. The doctor looked at the nurse. Get security, and get this woman out of here.

NO! Amanda gasped before consciousness abandoned her.

The next time Amanda opened her eyes she saw a round woman dressed in scrubs checking some machine to her right.

Who are you? She couldn't speak above a whisper and found it difficult to swallow.

A bright smile greeted her. Good. You're awake. How are you feeling?

Like shit.

The woman laughed. That's to be expected. I'm Sue Bishop, and I'm be your nurse.

Nurse? Where am I?

You're in intensive care. You were in an automobile accident. They say your airbag saved your life.

Airbag A memory invaded her mind...

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Gwen flopped down on the couch next to Amanda and handed her an automobile brochure. Take a look at this.

Whatcha got? Amanda saw the green Ford Explorer that seemed to be floating over rugged terrain.

Old Bessie has seen better days, and I was thinking that we can move up to an SUV.

But, old Bessie is paid for. Amanda saw the crestfallen look. Hey, I know we need a new car. Show me what you found.

Gwen's face lit up as she pointed to the spec sheet. Look at all the featuresit even has two airbagsI know how you love your safety equipment. We can take it on our camping trip in two weeks.

It will be longer than that before we can afford this. Amanda held up the booklet and shrugged. I'm sorry, but I promise you that I will do whatever I can to make it happen as soon as possible. Her reward was a kiss and a squeal of delight.

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A tear escaped from Amanda's eye with the memory. I need to get out of here.

Dear, you've just had major surgery; you need to stay put for now.

NO, I need to go. I need to see her, she cried.

See who?

Gwen, Amanda whispered.

A compassionate, sad look crossed the nurse's face. They buried her yesterday. Sue patted the distressed woman's hand. I worked with her for three years in the emergency room. She was a lovely woman, and one of our best nurses. She shook her head. What a waste.

Amanda drew inward and cried. I never got to say goodbye.

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Three months later, Amanda was finally able to walk out of the rehabilitation hospital under her own power. Over the months, the people who visited her dwindled down until only one person came to see her on a regular basis. Katie Regan held her arm as Amanda cautiously walked to the waiting car.

I did as you said, Amanda, and left everything the way it was in the house. I dusted and turned up the heat. Gwen's mother tried to get in, but she couldn't and read me the riot act after I had the locks changed.

Amanda lowered her head as she wiped away a tear. You didn't touch the bedroom, did you?

Katie's heart went out to her friend but said nothing since she knew Amanda was having a hard time with not only losing Gwen, but with the intense pain. Do you want to go straight home?

No, I need to see her.

 

Chapter 2

 

Now, Amanda stared at the small white cross emblazoned with Gwen's name. Her shirt, as always, was drenched with her tears. Once she was up to hearing the details, she found that Gwen had died upon impact, and that the man driving the truck died, too. The brakes failed, which caused his vehicle to go out of control when he tried to negotiate the wide curve. The man's employer and insurance company agreed to pay for all her medical bills along with a hefty sum for not suing them. She would have traded it all just to see Gwen one more time.

The rubber tires bumped over the shoulder until they were back on the pavement. Amanda drove past the road to her home for another two miles and turned into the cemetery. At first, she visited Gwen every day and found some measure of peace in the knowledge that she was near her lover. With the ever increasing pain that some days totally incapacitated her, she could only now visit twice a week.

Hey, I'm back. I don't think you would have been happy with me today. I went to the river and actually considered ending it all. I know what you are saying, but I remember the poem Do what you must and hold on tight/ If it takes you into eternity/ Do not let go of me or your life hold on tight/ Even if it is easier to let go hold on tight Know what stopped me? I found a penny lying in the weeds, and I remembered the end of the poem. Hold on tight to my hand/ Even if someday I am not with you still hold on tight . She pressed her hand against the headstone. I miss you so much. Tears that never seemed to stop streaked down her cheeks. I have another appointment tomorrow with Dr. Banks. Amanda smiled. Do you remember me telling you that she spoke of you at my last visit? She seems nice, but I really don't think there's any hope left. I want my life backI want you back. She touched her fingers to her lips, kissed them, and ran them across Gwen's name. I'll be seeing you, my love.

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Emily Banks opened the door to the examining room. How are you doing today, Amanda?

I feel like shit.

I take it that the epidural has worn off, the neurosurgeon commented.

Yes, it really never alleviated the pain. Why not just give me another prescription for Oxycodone, and I'll be on my way.

The doctor looked at her patient and shook her head. Not so fast, I need to examine you first. She picked up the envelope with Amanda's latest MRI and one by one snapped the films into the viewer. I see there is further deterioration at L3 and L2. She smiled and patted the table. Lie down on your side.

Amanda complied and then felt the doctor's gentle fingers probing her spine. Damn, you found the right spot.

Sorry if I hurt you. Dr. Banks looked back at the films. The radiologist found fluid between the joints. I think that another injection will help alleviate some of that pain.

Amanda closed her eyes and sighed. I don't want to do that.

Emily lightly touched Amanda's shoulder. You can sit up now. The doctor gently rotated her patient's ankles. Why don't you want to try? It might be just what you need.

Amanda looked at the doctor. In one of those pain management classes you sent me to, I was told that there are worse things than pain. They were right, pain is nothing compared to losing Gwen. Her eyes tracked to a poster on the wall then back to the doctor. Every time I hurt, it reminds me of the pain of losing herthat hurts the most.

You need to move on. The Gwen I knew wouldn't want you to keep punishing yourself this way.

Tear-filled eyes threatened to brim over. I considered jumping off a bridge a few days ago.

What stopped you?

Amanda shrugged. Don't know.

Will you please consider having another epidural?

She lifted her shoulders and sighed. Sure, why not. Maybe it'll work this time.

Yes, it might. How are you coping with these? Emily asked, tapping on the braces.

On a really hot day, Doc, you should try having your legs encased in plasticit is a wonderful experience. She couldn't help her sarcastic tone. I hate them.

Maybe so, but they keep you upright. Dr. Banks said as she manipulated Amanda's legs.

Amanda strapped on her leg braces as she watched the doctor jot down notes. I need more meds.

The doctor took out her prescription pad and began to scribble before handing the piece of paper to her patient. I have written a prescription for the physiologist, so you can have another round of injections. Emily scribbled again. This is for the Oxycodone and Darvocet. I want you to use them like we did when you first got out of the hospital. She fixed her eyes on Amanda. Only use the Oxycodone when the pain is overwhelming. She looked sternly at Amanda. Is that clear?

All Amanda could do was blow out a breath and say, Yep, I got it.

Emily sat down next to Amanda and compassionately patted her hand. Tell me more about your last session with Rita.

Rita Reiter, a grief counselor, had been advising Amanda for almost a year. The woman had contacted Emily a week earlier concerned about Amanda's lack of progress.

Amanda shrugged. Not much to tell. She told me I needed to move on and forget about Gwen. Amanda's eyes filled with tears as they always did when she spoke of her dead lover. She doesn't seem to understand that I can't do that. I just want her back.

Other than Gwen, what do you want?

My lifeI want my life back. Amanda smoothed her blonde hair back with her hand. Did I ever tell you I was a decent tennis player before this happened?

Did you know there are many handicapped people who enjoy sports?

Thanks, but no thanks. I don't think I want to aspire to star in the crippled Olympics.

What else did you do before that you would like to do again?

I had the best garden in town. My tomatoes were legendary for size and taste. She wiped away a tear. I can't do any of that now. Her eyes were distant and sad. I just want to be happy again, she whispered. I just want my life back.

The doctor wrapped her arm around Amanda's shoulders in comfort. You can't have the exact life you once had back, but maybe we can figure out a way, with some modifications, for you to get back to doing the things you used to love.

Amanda smiled sardonically then laughed. What will help is a backbone replacement, and as far as I know, that isn't a possibility. The smile left her face. Do you have any idea what it is like to pray each day that it will be your last?

Have you been taking the antidepressants I prescribed?

Yes, Amanda said.

Gwen is gone, Emily said.

Anger blazed in Amanda's eyes. Do you think I don't know that? Do you think that with each breath I am not painfully aware that she is no longer here? Amanda only referred to Gwen as being gone, but never dead.

I know, but you need to move on, and stop living in the past. Gwen would never want you to still be grieving.

You don't know what Gwen would or would not want.

Tell me the one thing that you remember the most about her.

All bravado and cynicism left Amanda's voice when she spoke of Gwen. She is one of the kindest people I've ever met. You know the saying she'd give you the shirt off her back? She looked at Emily for acknowledgment and felt the arm around her tighten. That is who Gwen is. If she has something that someone admires or wants, she will give it to him or her. Amanda laughed. She always speaks in est the biggest, the best, the nicest, the greatestthere is never any middle ground for hersomething is either right or it is wrong. She shook her head. If she were standing here right now, she would talk with you for a little bit then she would either like you or not. She wiped an errant tear from her cheek. You are compassionate, and that is one of the traits she always looks for in people. It is what makes her a great nurseshe cares.

Emily nodded and smiled. She was one hell of a nurse. I was always glad when I went to the ER, and she was working.

Pained blue eyes fought to hold the flood of tears back. You miss her, too.

Yes, I do. Emily hugged Amanda then released her hold. How is that editing job going?

Amanda scrunched her face. Oh, it is okay. Not like teaching English Lit. She sighed. I guess it is my salvation in a way.

What do you mean?

It gives me something to do. She shook her head. It is about the only thing I can do now.

Amanda, if I send you some information on coping with disabilities, will you a least look them over?

A snort preceded a frown. I already told you that I'm not into that handicapped stuff.

Please, just look at it.

She nodded her head and capitulated. Sure, why not?

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As she did every time she arrived home, Amanda sat in her car and anticipated Gwen opening the door and waving to her. She never did but carrying on their ritual of greeting each other when coming home somehow consoled her. She dragged her bone-tired body out of the car, knowing it would take several days to bounce back from visit to the physiologist. The shot that pinpointed the area where fluid had built up had been excruciating, and it would be several days before she would know if it worked. Her main goal was to get inside and find the easy chair that would allow her to put her aching legs up. She was a few feet from the front door and felt her body tumble to the ground. Shit, she exclaimed as she rolled over and sat on the soft grass. So much for that shot working. She struggled to her knees and from a kneeling position, slowly stood up.

Every nerve cell in her back cried out with pain as she put the key in the lock. Once she was finally inside, she let out a heavy sigh and walked, with as much speed as she could muster, toward the cabinet that she had recently restocked with medication. After she dumped two white pills into her hand, popped them into her mouth, and chased them down with water, she closed her eyes. One fifty-milligram tablet was all she was supposed to take, but her back cried out for two. If that doesn't work, I'll take more.

Her eyes remained closed until the familiar feelings of Gwen's presence filled her consciousness. At times, she was certain that she could feel her lover's hand brush across her face or her breath whisper in her ear. Why don't you show yourself to me? As time passed, it took longer to feel Gwen's presence, and that caused Amanda to worry that Gwen's spirit no longer remained. It is all I have left of her.

Her feet carried her to the bedroom door, where she opened it and stared into the room's dark depths. A blast of cold air hit her face on. Nothing of Gwen's had been moved or changed since her death. She walked farther into the room, opened the closet that held all of Gwen's clothes, and took a deep breath. A small smile played around her lips as she closed her eyes again, hoping beyond hope that when she opened them, Gwen would be standing there with outstretched arms. She turned her body quickly as she opened her eyes to feel, rather than see, her lover. Tears once again threatened to spill out of her eyes when she realized she had seen nothing.

Amanda made her way into the bathroom with shorts and a t-shirt in hand and sat down on the toilet. Clothing with elastic waistbands was easier to put on and take off, and she dug her hands along her bare skin and pushed downward letting her pants and underwear fall to the ground. She took off her shoes, undid the Velcro strap around her plastic braces, and removed them before stepping out of the garments. Soon, as was her morning and nightly ritual, she was dressed. Early on, she found there was much less strain on her back if she dressed sitting down.

When she had finally made it to her recliner, she noticed the flashing light on the answering machine. Must be someone soliciting something. No one calls me anymore. At first, her friends were gentle and kind, but as the days turned into weeks then months and Amanda adopted a depressed, morose attitude, they slowly gave up on her. Katie Regan was the only one who would ever call, but that was only on holidays. She reached out and pressed the button. I want my daughter's belongings. How can you be so cruel as to deny me something to remember Gwen by? Please, I'm begging you. Carol Witherspoon's voice sounded as if she had been crying. Like I care what you want, lady. She hated the woman whom she was sure spent her every dime on lawyers in an attempt to get Gwen's things.

Both women knew that to make sure no one would interfere with their final wishes they needed to make out wills leaving everything to each other. Mrs. Witherspoon did everything possible to break them apart. Even when Gwen warned her mother about not making her choose between Amanda and her, the woman refused to listen. Amanda shook her head as she remembered the last time Gwen's mother came to the house

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Once she was released from rehab Amanda returned home and found that Carol Witherspoon pounded on her door at least once a week. The conversation never varied. Let me in, the woman demanded. You can't shut me out.

You have no rights to anything in this house. Go away, Amanda countered. Gwen made me her beneficiary not you!

You brainwashed her!

No, your actions made her angry. If you only had attempted to meet us half way, you could have had anything you wanted. But, I know what Gwen's true feelings were, and I'm going to respect them.

The woman banged on the door harder. Let me in!

There's nothing here for you, Mrs. Witherspoon. Go away!

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A sudden blast of wind seemingly came out of nowhere. Amanda's brow creased as she turned in the direction of the air. The windows are all closed. Gwen? Gwen, is that you? her lonely voice echoed throughout the empty room. Gwen? Nobody answered. She lowered the footrest and got up as pain shot through her back. Nevertheless, she walked toward the direction of the blast of air. On a chair next to the table where photos of happier times resided, she saw a phone book that had blown open.

Where'd that come from? She bent over with care and picked up the phone directory, closing it, but keeping a finger in the page. Nineteen ninety-nine? She laughed. Gwen never does throw anything away. She reopened the book and looked at the selection. What theSpiritual Healers. In the middle of the right page was a large box that showed two hands open and a caption underneath that read, Let me heal you with the lightLuminitsa can help your body and soul .

Gwen, she called again as tears leaked from the corner of her eyes. Faith healers, yeah, right. More like smoke, mirrors, and take all your money. In anger, she threw the phonebook down. I shouldn't have taken the second dose; I think the pills are making me hallucinate. She sat back down, raised the footrest, put a pillow under her knees, and extended the chair backward. Sleep, which often eluded her, came fast that evening.

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Amanda opened her eyes and marveled at how refreshed she felt. Cautiously, she stretched her body and found the familiar pain and stiffness was gone.

Hey, sleepyhead, get a move on, the voice said.

Her eyes widened. Gwen?

The one and only.

ButI thought you

We can talk later. Right now, you need to get up if we are going to beat the traffic.

Traffic?

To the lake and camping.

But

Babe, come on, chop, chop. Gwen flashed her biggest and best smile. I'm going to jump in the shower; then it'll be your turn.

Amanda watched as Gwen disappeared into the bathroom, and she heard the water turn on. That knob has always been squeaky . She then slapped her arm to make sure it was all real. Ow. Maybe it has all been a dream, so when we return from our trip, we can be on the lookout for that truck. Wow, wait until I tell her this one. She laughed and got up. It was all a dream. Damn, this is gonna be a great day. As she put her hand on the bathroom doorknob, she heard the water shut off. When she pulled the door open, instead of the warm steam she had expected cold prevailed. The room was empty, and in reaction, she fell to her knees. Big copious tears dripped from her eyes. It hadn't been a dream. Gwen, she wailed as she lie down on the cold tile and wrapped her arms around her knees. Why?

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Time for her seemed to move slower and slower, and she didn't know how long she had been on the bathroom floor. The insistence of the ringing had her struggling to get up and move in its direction. Hello.

Amanda, is that you?

Yes, who's this?

Emily Banks. How are you doing? Didn't you get the epidural yesterday?

Amanda shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the thoughts of Gwen, and the earlier events.

When she hadn't heard a response, Emily became concerned. Amanda, are you okay?

Yeah, umI fell when I got home yesterday.

Did you hurt yourself?

She pondered the question. How much more can I hurt? NoI'm not sure, but I don't think it helped the effects of the shot.

Did you have your braces on?

Yeah.

What made you fall?

My left foot drags. I think I caught it on something.

You should have the brace looked at, so you can get better support.

It was at that moment she made a decision. No, I don't think I will, she said with determination. I am done with wasting my time going to doctors and therapy. It is all just a big joke, and a way to make money.

That's not true. If it were, I wouldn't be calling you.

Listen, Doc, I appreciate all you have done. You are one of the few good ones. I have come to the realization that how I feel right now is as good as it is ever going to get. I have to learn to deal with that and accept it. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to fix meI'm damaged goods that can't be repaired.

Have you spoken with a priest, minister, or rabbi?

What kind of god would do this to me? It is bad enough that I have to limp around, but he took Gwen, too. I don't want any part of anything that destroys love. Brief anger filled Amanda's voice but was gone as soon as the words stopped.

Emily heard the strong words but also noted the lack of conviction behind them. Has she lost all hope ? I don't want you to give up, Amanda. We will find an answer. The doctor's voice was level and compassionate. Have you considered complimentary therapies?

Amanda laughed sarcastically. You mean voodoo and witch doctors?

No, I mean acupuncture, meditation, homeopathy, or holistic medicine. In conjunction with traditional medicine, some of them have worked for patients.

Well, that is not for me. I will visit my doctors when I'm told, so I can continue getting my meds, but other than that, I am through.

Please don't give up, Amanda, Emily said.

What's the point in doing anything more? If you come up with some miracle treatment for pain, let me know; otherwise, I am done. She hung up the phone without hearing a response. Any hope she felt was gone, and the best she could look forward to now would be to die peacefully. With the degree of pain escalating, she made her way to the drawer that held her medicines, and a measure of relief.

 

Chapter 3

 

Two weeks later, Amanda dumped the last of her pills into her hand. She had been doubling up in hopes that Gwen would reappear, but she hadn't. She now had to decide which doctor to call to get a refill. I can't believe my life has now become so out of control, she said as she wiped her face. She bent her head backward and opened her moist eyes. Gwen, why did I have to be the one to live? she screamed. Why did I kill you? she sobbed.

A cold gust of wind blew on the nape at her neck, and she turned around to see the source. The windows are all closed and so are the doors. She felt a distinct corridor of cold and moved in its direction. Once again, she looked at the old phonebook that had seemingly blown open to the same pages. She stared at the advertisement on the right side of the page and read, Let me heal you with the light. It's nothing but a rouse. No one can heal me, Gwen, no one! This is a message from you. You want me to visit this person; what else can it be?

She tore out the page and dialed the number.

Hello.

Amanda's mouth flew open, but she didn't know what to say. My lover, who has gone away, sent me a sign to call you. That sounds lame. Hi, I was wondering if I might speak with Luminitsa. She held her breath.

Luminitsa is my grand-mère, and she is indisposed at this time. May I ask who you are?

Amanda Lawson.

Silence filled the airwaves for almost a minute. I've been waiting for your call.

Dumbfounded, Amanda blurted, No, you haven't.

My name is Raphaela, and I have been waiting for your call for almost two years.

This is some kind of trick, right? You're playing me.

I assure you there is no slight of hand here. Luminitsa had a vision from a young woman who asked for us to help her lover. She said the name was Amanda. She was very worried about you and asked us to save you.

You're just guessing. I told you my name.

Amanda, how did you get this phone number, and my grand-mère's name?

Out of the phonebook, of course.

Luminitsa stopped running ads six years ago.

The phonebook was from 1999. It just appeared one day, and somehow the pages were opened to your grandmother's ad, Amanda said. Can it be? Did Gwen do all this? I bet you don't know

Gwen, her name was Gwen. You lost her in a car accident on August seventeenth.

Just when she thought there were no more tears, they welled up again. Help me. Please, help me, she sobbed.

Amanda's soaked t-shirt clung to her body chilling her as she scanned the advertisement again. Although she didn't see any tarot cards, astrological symbols, or palms, she was certain that was exactly the kind of person whom the Luminitsa woman would turn out to be.

Amanda, are you still there?

Yes.

Will you come to visit with my grand-mère tomorrow morning?

Amanda surrendered to a power that seemed to be pulling her in Luminitsa's direction and said, Yes.

Will ten be good for you?

Sure. She sank further into her chair as she hung up the phone. I bet when I get there tomorrow I'll see a dark, smoke-filled room with a small round table that has a crystal ball sitting in the middle of it.

She picked up a photo of Gwen and herself taken on their last camping trip. She sobbed as she remembered the moment

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There you go, babe, a perfect hamburger that's medium rare with cheddar cheese. Amanda presented the meal with all the flair of an internationally known chef. Would Madame care for some accoutrements with her filet de hamburger? she said with her best French accent.

Gwen laughed. Oui, oui, mon amour.

Amanda waved her hand across a tray. Ah, we have le catsup, le lettuce, le onion, and one very limp slice of le tomato.

Beside herself with laughter, Gwen took the tray and pulled her lover toward her. You, my love, are wonderful. I don't know what I would ever do without you.

No worries about that happening because I will come back and haunt you.

Gwen hugged Amanda closer then laughed. Can't do that cause I don't believe in ghosts or the afterlife.

Amanda pulled back. You mean if you died you wouldn't hang around?

Once again, Gwen laughed. No need to worry about that, Babe, cause it ain't gonna happen until we are old and wrinkled.

><  

 

Amanda tried in vain to stifle the flow of moisture. But you did leave me, and now I think you are sending me messages! I must be crazy. You told me you wouldn't do that.

She looked at the photo again and picked up Luminitsa's advertisement: Let me heal you with the light. Are you trying to reach me, Gwen? She felt a cold blast of air hit only the wetness on her t-shirt, which sent a shiver up her spine. She reached for the bottle of pills and shook out two Darvocet. She looked at the white pills, popped them in her mouth, and chased them down with a full measure of whiskey. She leaned back and closed her eyes while she waited for the moment when the pain was gone. The whiskey would increase the effect, and she knew she wouldn't have to wait more than thirty minutes. Soon, she felt as if a squeegee was making its way down her body eradicating the pain and replacing it with numbness. She could do with numb for it meant her mind would stop tormenting her.

 

Chapter 4

 

She rested her small hand on the glass doorknob before quietly opening the door. The room was dark except for sunlight that streamed in around the closed shutters.

Grand-mère, Raphaela said.

Finally, the older woman said. She has found you at last. A serene smile crossed Luminitsa's face as she held out her hand. So much time has been lost, and so much pain has been endured. What a waste.

Raphaela, with her large globe earrings that were reminiscent of the disco ball in the ceiling of the old dancehalls glinting in the dappled sunlight of the room, bent to kiss her beloved grand-mère's velvet lined cheek. She has found us , Grand-mère. Perhaps it was how fate intended it to bethat she had to suffer so. Now we can help her. Isn't that what we do?

Ah, young people of today. Even her granddaughter, who was wise beyond her years in most things, felt the need to hurry things along occasionally. When she is as old as I, she will realize that time marches on very quickly indeed. Yet some things need help in that direction . Yes, my darling, that is what we do. Have you arranged for her first consultation?

Tomorrow morning at ten, she said with a smile. That way you will have time to wake leisurely and be rested when she arrives.

Luminitsa smiled tenderly at her only daughter's child. That will do very well. It also gives you plenty of time to do what you do each day before you bring me breakfast.

With a vague expression of agreement, Raphaela looked at the clock. It was a quarter after twelve and time for her grand-mère's lunch. I'll fetch you lunch, and then we can discuss how we need to handle Amanda. From what I heard in her voice, she is very fragile, she said absently. She left her grand-mère alone in her comfortable room surrounded by the mementoes of life as she called them.

Luminitsa watched the child go. Child was not exactly how Raphaela would be termed by anyone else. She is, after all, thirty-two years old. Luminitsa's memories of her birth had a bittersweet reflectionas the baby took her first breaths of life, her mother drew her final ones. Giselle had been such a volatile but adorable child. Though she did possess the gift of their family, she chose not to embrace it. That had been a hard blow to take, but one Luminitsa had taken with aplomb. How could she not, for she loved her child deeply? When Giselle had run off at eighteen and married a virtually unknown and impoverished French artist, there had been no question as to whether she would stand in her way. For, although Luminitsa had known her daughter's ultimate fate and that of her lover, destiny had decreed that it was to be, and all she could do was watch.

When the baby had been born and Raphaela's father had broken down in grief, Luminitsa took over the child's upbringing. One month to the day, the small child's father committed suicide in a Paris ghetto. Out of so much sorrow came Raphaela who had shown an aptitude for the family's special gifts from the very early age of three. The flamboyant lifestyle that Luminitsa led while traveling with a traditional gypsy caravan took the girl all over Europe .

The experience assured that Raphaela could gain a wealth of understanding about people by studying how different individuals perceived life, and the changes bestowed upon them both good and bad. For the first twenty years of her life, Raphaela and her grandmother held great stature among the European royalty as well as other affluent and influential people. Luminitsa and her granddaughter's reputations for their gifts of second sight and abilities to communicate with the departed were renowned and much sought after.

Shortly after that time, Luminitsa decided that it was time to stop traveling and put down some roots so that her granddaughter could attend college. For a long time, Raphaela wanted to study herbalist medicines, and there was such a course available at the Institute of Natural Healing in Wintersville , Ohio . Once they had settled in the small town, Luminitsa opened a small shop with an attached house for her spiritualist work and as a home for Raphaela to do her studies. Once her granddaughter had completed her education, it was their intention was to travel again. They did make it as far as the mountains of downstate New York , but time marched on, and Luminitsa's body began to weaken. Now, twelve years after traveling to the United States and remaining in the town they called home, part of Luminitsa longed to be out traveling the roads again. Raphaela appeared not to mind either way, which worried her greatly.

Although Luminitsa had been able to keenly pick up the fate of her own daughter, her granddaughter remained as much a spiritual mystery as she was the day she was born. It was probably for the bestthey were then like everyone else and could live out their lives in blissful ignorance of what fate had in store for them. Other people, such as Amanda Lawson, were another thing altogether. It will be interesting, very interesting. This one case has eluded us. All she knew was that the woman was important to them both. Rubbing her hands together at the thought of getting her teeth into work after a long absence, Luminitsa didn't hear her granddaughter re-enter the room until she spoke.

You look like you're planning something cheerfully wicked, Grand-mère. Raphaela said, with her hazel eyes twinkling, mirrored her amusement at her grand-mère's guilty expression.

Why I am, my dear, I am. Amanda Lawson may be fragile, but she's going to be in the gentlest hands possible when she meets us tomorrow. Isn't that so?

Raphaela grinned as she placed the crouton filled French onion soup with the soft, freshly baked baguette on the table beside her. Yes, she will be. As we are both aware, she means a great deal to us already. Now, please eat, or you'll be turning your pretty nose up when it gets cold.

Both women laughed as they settled down to the meal with their thoughts on Amanda Lawson. How would they handle her precarious state?

>< >< ><

 

Raphaela smiled as she watched her beloved grand-mère sleeping peacefully. The woman was the only family she had, and the only one she had ever known. A small part of her had wondered briefly, as a teenager, what her father's family was like, but as other events became more interesting in her life that petered out. Beyond that, she had thought nothing of them, as they had obviously no interest in her. She lived the life of a gypsy with her grand-mère, which was a marvelous and colorful experience filled with happiness for the most part. The culmination of the life was the unexpected meetings of cultures, and the various people who populated them. If anyone said that she had lived a lifetime's experience in her first twenty years, she would have willing testify to the truth of the statement.

The special gift bestowed upon on her at birth had long been a cherished entity of the female line of her ancestors. That aspect roared into her life when she had been barely out of her diapers. Perceiving dead people had been a game when she was three. For her, they were playmates that others, except Luminitsa, had thought were nothing but a figment of the imagination of a lonely child always on the road. She was by no means lonely and knew she would never be alone. Her talent frightened many, but she delighted in her gift and accepted those souls as welcomed friends. At three, she had been too young to use her power for anything but her own sustenance. The loving hands of her grand-mère trained her in honing her power for the greater good, as she called it, when her capabilities blossomed during her teenage years. Her mission was to help those who had trouble crossing over, and those, still on this side, who refused to allow them to go.

When Luminitsa had announced they were going to live in America , she had been stunned. Up until that point, her life had been one of roaming the gardens of Europe . Royalty, as well as powerful and poor men and women, clambered to have audiences with Luminitsa making her life exciting and safe. Traveling to America , even on the pretext of her education, had been scary, and she felt after the freedom the road allowed them it would be claustrophobic. Luminitsa's father had been an American, and although they were required to complete copious forms, they eventually immigrated to the United States it was Luminitsa's birthright. Surprisingly for her, where they first settled in a small town in Ohio , she found the difference almost as interesting as her time in Europe . Although her earlier education took place in her travels, she was able to take an equivalency exam that allowed her admission to the school. For the first time in her life, she actually attended a formal educational establishment. While studying to become a medical herbalist, she learned a kinder, gentler way of healing. She had an advantage over the other students for she had gathered knowledge beyond her years from many of the gypsies in their travels across Europe .

Soon after she obtained her degree, she joined her grand-mère's spiritual business as a complimentary yet integral part. Raphaela loved to hunt for and gather her own plants. The area around the Ohio town was not particularly conducive for growing herbs, so they moved to a small town near Ithaca , New York where the forest areas provided a bounty of herbs. For the next three years, they enjoyed a thriving working partnership before Luminitsa's health began to deteriorate after a mild stroke. It was then that they decided to allow the legend of Luminitsa to retire. It hadn't been easy. How do you stop an eighty-five year old active mind from doing what had become a lifetime's work and joy? Gradually, they had agreed to take only cases that were impossible for modern people and medicine to cure.

Over the last three years, they had only taken on six such cases. The one case that had been unresolved and continued to haunt them was Amanda Lawson. Fates had dictated that they could not seek her out but had to wait patiently for her to approach them. Only when the woman was as low as she could go would the human defense mechanism kick in. For some, as in her own father's case, it meant death; and for others, it would be the act of reaching out for the implausibleRaphaela and Luminitsa were that incredible link. Amanda Lawson seemingly had finally accepted that alone, and despite modern medical techniques, she was not able to function in this life.

With a slight frown on her face, Raphaela recalled the phone conversation with the woman. She sensed that it had been hard for Amanda to admit her low ebb but was glad that she did. They finally had a chance to solve the puzzle that had been growing in both her and her grand-mère's mind. Why is this woman so important to us? Raphaela reached for her purse as she glanced at the clockif she didn't move fast, she'd be late. An amusing thought having trickled through her mind as she considered how she and Luminitsa looked to the public in general. Charlatans, I guess. Out to make a fast buck on the unfortunate's sorrow. However, she preferred to think of them as intermediaries between life and death by giving a new hope of light to those who suffered on both sides. Although Amanda didn't know that she was responsible for Gwen's pain on the other side, that one action was preventing either woman from moving forward. Yes, it is time to shake Amanda into what life has in store for her and allow Gwen to, at last, travel another path. After locking the door of their small comfortable house, she proceeded toward the bus stop, and her twice-daily date.

>< >< ><

 

The short bus ride gave Raphaela time to reflect when both she and her grand-mère felt the presence of the entity that called itself Gwen. Luminitsa had been adamant that she find the woman called Amanda Lawson. There is no time to waste, Ray. We need to find her immediately.

For grand-mère to be so resolute, she must have been receiving the same bad vibes that I have for the last couple of weeks. Out of mutual respect and as a courtesy to each other, they rarely shared the experiences they received from the other side unless it was essential. This time it appears that it is.

Finding Amanda Lawson initially hadn't been easy. However, eventually via a woman who used to work with Amanda and small fragments of information she had gleaned from her visitations by spiritual entities, she had been able to track her down. Fortunately, she was in the same vicinity saving them time and money.

Spending the few leisure hours that she had each day pretending to be a private detective wasn't how she planned to spend her precious R&R. However, Luminitsa had said it was essential they watch over the woman and watch over her she did as best she could for two months. Due to other commitments, she varied the hours she observed Amanda, and it only took two weeks to find that the woman was predictable. She shopped once a week, mainly going to the pharmacy. She visited the hospital and her doctor regularly and occasionally walked around her garden listlessly, and, from the pain etched in her face, with difficulty. On more than one occasion, Raphaela's heart went out to the woman. The injuries she had sustained in the car accident not only robbed her of someone she loved dearly but often sent her tumbling to the ground. She would watch, as Amanda would grit her teeth before she would ungainly drag herself to her feet and defeated, retreat into her house.

The house was where she spent a good deal of her time. One thing that made Raphaela even more compassionate toward the woman was the fact that at no time during her observations had anyone called on her. From all appearances, she had no family or none that was close by. Either friends were out of town the whole time or she had none. What is it like to have no one who cares about you? As the weeks passed, the expression of defeat on Amanda's face etched itself like a permanent portrait. Inside, she clearly had lost all hope, and that made Raphaela weep silently for the woman. Those who have passed and loved her are right to be concerned. This woman has no hope left. Darkness of not only her mind, but also of the broken body that stubbornly refused to heal enveloped her. How can I infiltrate myself into such a person's psyche?

Several days before Amanda contacted them, Raphaela had followed her to a bridge and almost had to step in when the woman looked as though she might jump. But, she had felt less wary as a peaceful sensation filled her body, and she knew whoever was contacting them had arrived to save Amanda. When the woman bent to pick up a lone penny, Raphaela knew that a higher body had intervened. She knew that she was no longer needed and left to report to her grand-mère. Two days later, Amanda Lawson had called them, and they hoped that at last all their questions had answers.

 

Chapter 5

 

She sat in front of the ordinary looking house for fifteen minutes. The place was not what she had expected for there were no neon signs or the outline of a hand; it was just a plain house with trees and grass. They probably have a spell on me to see it like this. I bet they are charlatans wanting to make a fast buck off my misery. For a moment, her hand reached for the ignition key, but something stopped her. Gwen's words: even if I'm not there hold on to my hand. She had taken an extra measure of medicine to ensure that her mind emptied of all thoughts of her loverit did not work. Okay, okay, I'll go in.

She opened the car door reluctantly and gingerly stepped out onto the pavement. She let out a small laugh as she remembered Gwen calling the door handle an oh, shit handle when she let go and closed the car door. She closed her eyes as all traces of the laugh disappeared, and she wondered if Gwen grabbed onto it and said, Oh, shit when she saw the truck coming at them. Shaking her head, she looked at the house again. Will I find you in there, Gwen? With slow purpose, she made her way to the front door and raised her fist to knock.

Raphaela had heard a vehicle stop outside their door. It made her smile slightly as the person probably, no, definitely, was Amanda Lawson. She could have used the driveway as our other clients have. I wonder why she didn't. This woman was certainly perplexing, but Gwen had already given signs that this would be so. She also told them that the persona she would show today was not the real Amanda. She walked toward the front door and opened it at almost the same moment as the timid knock sounded.

"Hello, Amanda, we've been expecting you." Raphaela tried to prevent a giggle from exploding as she lowered her tone, which to her was reminiscent of an old black and white horror movie.

Amanda was surprised that the door opened even before she could knock, but soon her eyes flared at the audacity of the woman who was laughing at her. Why did I ever agree to come here? Then something remarkable happenedshe felt a beckoning into the house that seemed against her will.

Raphaela saw that her comment had irked the woman. Then, she felt the connection of an entity transmit its essence across the boundary that separated her from this life, and Amanda's expression changed completely. Please enter, Luminitsa is waiting for you. She waved her slim hand, with rings on each finger, toward the interior of the house.

Amanda's first inclination was to run and hide, but for some reason her feet seemed to float across the floor as she followed the woman. From all outward appearances, the young woman looked normal except for the jewelry that adorned her hands and ears. As she drew nearer to the older woman, a cold chill similar to the ones she had experienced at home coursed through her body. In reaction, she shivered and was surprised when the woman in front of her commented.

Don't worry, my dear, you will understand everything very soon. Now please, tell me why you seek our guidance? Luminitsa gave the impression of being a kindly grandmother figure, hardly a person who could conjure up the spirits of the dead. At least that was the initial outward expression she gave to gauge the reaction of prospective clients. Now, she waited for Amanda Lawson to show her true colors.

Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion as Amanda sat down in front of a woman whom she thought must be at least a hundred years old. She tugged slightly at the collar of her t-shirt in an attempt to release the knot lodged in her throat. II don't know why I am here, she said slowly. The phonebook kept opening to the page with your ad on it. Amanda looked directly at the old woman and knew she wasn't buying any of what she said. I lost my girlfriend twenty-five months and three days ago. I can feel her around me all the time, but I don't see herI want to see herI want her to come back to me. Tears welled up in her eyes before they dripped down her cheeks.

Luminitsa smiled slowly as she heard the heart wrenching words. For most, it would have tugged at sympathy strings, but for those like her and Raphaela it was just an indicator to what they had to do to help the woman. You say lost, my dear. Exactly how can you lose your girlfriend?

Raphaela, from her vantage point standing with her back to the wall, watched each expression drift over Amanda Lawson's face. That particular question was one of Luminitsa's keys to her perception of how people saw them and their work.

She went away. Amanda gulped back the words that threatened to ruin her existencedead was not in her vocabulary.

We are not a missing person's organization, my dear. Have you called the police to help you?

Amanda couldn't believe the boldness of Luminitsa to ask if she had gone to the police. You are supposed to be the one who knows all and sees all! Didn't your ad spout off about being able to heal with the light? Well, I need to be healed. The truth of her last words was lost to her as her anger raged on. Do you have any idea of what I have gone through? I lost the love of my life, and living isn't worth the cost of admission anymore, she shouted through the tears congregating in the corners of her mouth.

Luminitsa closed her eyes for a few moments. The passionate explosion from the young woman was worthy of their help. If it had been less, there could be no link to the other side. Only a person genuinely held in the grips of the insanity of loving someone so much could demand that the soul of the departed stay shackled to her indefinitely. We do not spout our gifts as you call it; they are given to us at birth, and we help those who want to help themselves. Do you really want to do this? If you do, it may require you to relinquish your hold on Gwen. Are you ready for that, Amanda?

The sound of her lover's name mentioned by the old woman was strange to Amanda's ears. How can you speak her name? You do not know her or anything about her or me. She planted her feet firmly on the floor and pushed back scraping the chair along the wooden floor. I think I have had enough of thisthis sham. She turned, took a step, and then proceeded to fall flat on her face. When she opened her eyes, she saw something in the corner, but she couldn't quite make out what it was. Squinting, she looked harder and saw a shiny penny before she heard the voice she longed to hear.

You okay, babe?

Raphaela moved quickly but was unable to stop the fall. She was, however, able to help the woman who had a glazed expression in her eyes get up. She looked like she had seen a ghost. Are you okay?

Amanda's brow furrowed as she looked at the person holding onto her arm. Gwen, she said softly afraid if she spoke louder it would be nothing but a dream. I'm okay now that you are here.

Raphaela glanced across at her grand-mère for guidance, and the glimmer she saw in the aged eyes comforted her for what she had to say. Amanda, my name is Raphaela. The fall must have placed you in shock for a few moments. Let me help you back to the chair.

Confusion ruled Amanda's brain. She didn't know if it was the doubled up medication or if she were truly going mad. The only thing that was clear to her was what she saw and heard. Gwen. Where did she go?

Luminitsa spoke from her reclined position on her chaise-lounge, Amanda, I'm tiring, please arrange with Raphaela for another consultation. Tomorrow perhaps?

With her voice reaching an emotional pitch, Amanda cried out, No, no, you can't do that! I want to see Gwen. She was here, and I need to see her.

Amanda, please, my grand-mère is fragile these days, and she needs her rest. I promise things will be clearer for you tomorrow. Will the same time be convenient for you? Raphaela felt sorry for Amanda Lawsona being had been in the room with them. However, not channeled as the woman suspected through Luminitsa but via the pennies that kept appearing in the room each time the entity communicated with them. "Take thisI think then you will understand," she said dropping the penny into Amanda's hand.

Amanda looked down at her hand as a lone tear fell. I don't know if I can go on, she said with a quavering voice. The words that Raphaela said finally took hold of her consciousness. Sure, tomorrow will be fine. She rose slowly from the chair and looked at the other two occupants of the room. I am sorry. As fast as she could go, Amanda headed for the door.

With a knowing look at her grand-mère, Raphaela followed Amanda and reached the door as she opened it. Amanda, please, one more thing before you go. She pressed a small packet into Amanda's hand.

Weary, sad blue eyes looked at the woman. What is this?

With a smile that lit up her features, Raphaela replied, Take it tonight an hour before you go to bed; I promise it will help you.

It will help me? In what way, is it a magical poison to make me sleep forever? Amanda didn't try to mask the sarcasm in any way, and Raphaela understood the mindset. How do I know you're not trying to drug me? The words sounded oddly funny to her ears. Drugs are already in my body. She felt her emotional rollercoaster suddenly slam to a stop as she began to shake. Then she heard Raphaela's soothing voice and felt a calmness fill her weary body and mind.

This is for the pain of your physical body; unfortunately, the pain of your spirit is not so easily managed. You may find that the other drugs you take are less useful; we can talk about it tomorrow. Raphaela wished Amanda goodbye ensuring that the woman had collected herself enough to drive home and closed the door on their new client. She then headed back to Luminitsa for a consultation regarding Amanda Lawson.

>< >< ><

 

Luminitsa glanced at the pensive expression on Raphaela's face, and with a raised quizzical eyebrow spoke softly to her granddaughter. You thought I was harsh on her, didn't you, Ray?

Raphaela sat down in the same chair opposite Luminitsa that Amanda Lawson had previously occupied. Her lips curved into a smile at her grand-mère's pet name for her. Her ray of light she had nicknamed her as a child, and it had stuck. Maybe a little. She is in a very delicate state of mind now. Our friend from the other side didn't help either by making her presence known.

Considering the disparaging comment regarding the astral presence carefully, Luminitsa nodded slightly. We do not pass judgment, Ray. We only reach out allowing ourselves to be the conduit whereby everyone finds release. Gwen is equally struggling as you have very well experienced.

Raphaela heard the chastising words accepting them graciously before sighing deeply.

You appear preoccupied, Ray; why is that? We have waited a long time for Amanda to enter our lives. Do you now regret it?

No, not in the way you may think. I was hoping that perhaps once she arrived, we would know immediately why she is important to us. I feel nothing significant has changed; do you grand-mère? Raphaela spoke quietly; her eyes running over the rings on all her fingers except the third finger of her left hand. They represented momentous occasions in her life and handed down on each event to the firstborn female over the generations. They were all important heirlooms of her ancestors, and the only personal ring added over time would be a wedding band that went with her body when she left one plane of existence for the next. The ancestors of the first jewel maker who had begun the tradition in Europe centuries earlier made each ring. If an occasion permitted in her lifetime, she could commission a ring to mark that event. Her grand-mère had been fortunate to have such an event marked as her eyes drifted to the ring that signified light battling darkness.

Luminitsa watched her granddaughter's fascination with her rings but those memories are for another time to dwell on. We cannot always rush the answers, Ray. When the time is right, the door will open, and then we will see the light that Amanda shines in our direction. Tomorrow, I will need your energy in the meeting with Amanda. She is not strong enough yet to have a one-on-one session. Will you willingly participate?

It was a given that she would help in any way possible, and her grand-mère knew that, though she always asked permission. It was such a personal undertaking for anyone to share his or her energy. You have my force, Grand-mère. Now, you need to rest, and in an hour, I will bring you lunch. We cannot let you miss out on our schedule, can we?

Luminitsa chuckled. You mean you can't disrupt your schedule, Ray. Where is it that you go diligently to every day? I know, I know, I'm an inquisitive old woman, forget I asked.

Raphaela grinned warmly while shaking her head at the question. She then stood up before gracefully bending to kiss the wrinkled forehead. She whispered, I love you, before leaving the woman to her rest.

As her granddaughter departed the room, Luminitsa frowned slightly. Where is it that she goes and does not confide in me? Perhaps she has a lover at last! With that lovely notion filling her head, she closed her eyes and immediately fell into a restful sleep.

>< >< ><

 

Tranquility soothed Amanda as she walked slowly to her car. Once she got in, she opened her left hand and stared at the packet and the penny. With a heavy sigh, she closed her fingers around the objects before placing the key in the ignition. As she drove home, she felt as if she were in another world that defied all reason. There could be no other explanation for the earlier events.

As the cloud that had encompassed her lifted, she looked around and found she was in her living room. The clock on the mantle read eight o'clock, and she was surprised at how well she felt. She had no recollection of how she got there or any event that may have occurred in the eight hours since she last remembered falling at the stranger's house. Strangerswho were they? She felt someone or something touching her balled up left hand. The space between her eyebrows furrowed as she slowly stretched her fingers open. Where did these things come from? Her eyes closed as she desperately tried to remember how the objects got into her hand, but nothing would come. Come on, damn it, remember! she screamed. Why can't I remember? In frustration, she squeezed her eyes tightly closed willing herself to remember what had happened. Her mind was a blank. Opening her eyes, she sighed as she ran her finger through her hair. What is happening to me?

Her gaze tracked to her palm, and the objects resting there. They seemed so familiar, yet at the same time, strange. Then, a vision of a woman with a strong forehead, long black hair, and intense brown black eyes seemed to be floating above, around, and inside of her. The woman's spirit absorbed Amanda completely rendering her helpless as she sank into the feeling. She did not feel panic or danger only deep abiding love and something else that she couldn't quite understand. Taking the packet, she opened it and looked at the strange herbs and a note that read, Steep in hot water and drink before bed. As if she were possessed, she went into the kitchen and set a kettle on to boil. Once she heard the whistle, she poured the water into a cup holding the herbs. She took a sip and was surprised at the pleasant taste.

Part 2

 

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