BY AL BRUNO III
Thursday November 14th 1996
Isobel had spent the better part of the last week hating herself and avoiding eye contact with Galen. She blamed him and she blamed herself for Cheryl, she blamed him and herself for her brother getting maimed but most of all she blamed herself for falling in love with Galen.
Guilt was the only thing keeping her from speaking more than two words to the man but it was killing her.
If not for Angie she might have locked herself in her room and never come out again. In fact that was what she had tried but Angie had been gently persistent, asking if she wanted to play checkers or gin rummy, offering her juice and wine. Finally Isobel had relented and allowed the woman in her room. They had talked for a time; Angie had been hungry for gossip stories of celebrities and general news of the Capital District. Isobel had been eager to learn about the world she had blundered into.
At first Angie had been reluctant; telling her that she was better off hearing what she needed to hear from Galen but Isobel had explained that she didn’t want to hear this from Galen. So over the next few days Angie doled out the information bit by bit, telling Isobel a story of hidden wars and secret enemies. Of the Monarchs, inscrutable beings trying to pollute the world with their hunger and of this place, Laurel House, a place as invisible to the Monarchs as it is to mundane eyes.
“Then how did we find it?” Isobel asked.
And Angie had shrugged, “Because you needed to.”
Did she believe that? It was as good an explanation as any and she wasn’t going to question it, not when she’d just found a friend.
“There goes your brother.” Angie said. They were spending the morning by the fireplace swapping stories; somehow they had gotten onto the subject of Proms and high school boyfriends; a rich subject of conversation if ever there was one.
“Yeah.” Isobel said, “I thought he’d stop by. I worry he hates me, he wouldn’t have been… you know, if not for me.”
“He doesn’t seem the type.” They had pulled the thick leather chairs up as close to the fire as they dared and had thick blankets draped over their legs.
“You think? We kind of drifted apart after I left home. I know he had some bad stuff happen to him in high school. There was this kid Tristam…”
Angie nodded, “Yeah, he sounds like a real creep.”
“It must be something in the water.” Isobel found her eyes returning to the framed photographs that dotted the walls at irregular intervals. They were all in black and white and full of smiling strangers but there was something about the landscapes that surrounded them that seemed desolate. It made Isobel so curious, what were these places?
“It’s the Monarchs again.” Angie said, “At least that’s what I was told anyway. They’re very close to our world there.”
Someone cleared their throat, both women looked up to see an older man standing there; he was muscular, his silver-white hair was shorn close to his scalp and he had a thick moustache. There was something fierce about him. He was holding a tray with two steaming cups of hot chocolate, “Good morning.”
“Johnny.” Angie’s expression brightened. She was the only person who could call him that, to everyone else he was Sig, “How was your walk?”
“I didn’t go too far. Just enough to lose myself in the woods for a bit.” He brought the tray over and offered it to Angie, “I knew it was time for this.”
She brushed her hand over his before she took one of the mugs, “Any sign of you-know-who?”
“No but Zeth said he’s on his way.” An unpleasant look crossed his features, “Just what we need.”
Isobel took her mug when it was offered, “Is this that McGuire guy you’re talking about?”
Sig smiled at her, but only with his mouth; his eyes never smiled except when he was looking at Angie, then they positively twinkled. “Magwier.” He said, “He calls himself Jason Magwier these days.”
Isobel sipped her hot chocolate, “Thank you for this.”
“My pleasure.” Sig turned back to Angie and have her and handful of huge looking pills, “These are the last. I have to go into town tonight.”
Angie took the first of them and then asked, “Can you wait until morning? I hate having that bed to myself.”
Spring December romances usually didn’t faze Isobel but this one that made her wonder, the way they seemed sad and sweet all at once. Isobel thought it had to be the loss of a child; no couple ever fully recovered from such a loss. Her parents had taught her that.
Sig slipped the tray under his arm, “All right. I’ll leave you two to talk now.”
Isobel said, “You can stay if you want. The more the merrier.”
“No.” Sig said, “No thank you. I was never much for long conversations.”
When he walked past Angie ran her fingers along the length of his arm with a casual tenderness that made Isobel feel a pang of envy. Would she ever be lucky enough to be so happy? She doubted it, not when she wasn’t sure if she was ever going to even let Galen back into her bed.
God damnit! How can I ever be thinking about sex now?
“If you need anything from town you should let him know before he heads out for Windham.” Angie drew her bare feet up under her blanket.
“Windham?” Isobel said, “Isn’t that about 15 miles out of the way?”
Angie took the first of her pills, grimacing when she swallowed it, “Yup. And he walks it.”
“What?” Isobel leaned forward in her chair, “Is that safe? Walking alone like that? I mean he’s got to be sixty or close to it.”
Her brother walked past her, actually he was more or less dragged past her by Hao the woman that- along with Jack- seemed to more or less run Laurel House. Warren flashed his sister a helpless smile, but it was a wide one. Angie was smiling too, almost chuckling into the back of her hand.
“What’s so funny?” Isobel asked.
“Oh what you said about John’s age. He’s older than that actually but he’ll be fine trust me.”
“You’re being coy again.”
Angie nodded, “I suppose I am. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has become an inside joke.”
“Well how about letting me in on it?” Isobel took a sip of her hot chocolate.
“There are some things…” Angie paused as she swallowed another pill, “… that I think you need to hear from Galen. There are things I don’t feel I have the right to tell you.”
Isobel frowned, “If that’s how you feel about it.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t be mad ok?”
“Only if you finish telling me how you hid that hickie from your parents.” Isobel said with mock severity.
Angie laughed again, “Oh my God. I could have died…”