The morning after the ritual, the other members of the Circle arrive after breakfast. Cynthia knew they were coming, but had forgotten to tell Neil. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to bother him as much.
Neil and Cynthia cleaned up their breakfast and Neil made another pot of coffee. They gathered in the family room, largely devoid of furniture, sitting on the floor like teenagers. All of them were casually, comfortably dressed and were barefoot. Jackie unwrapped a ten inch crystal, putting it in the center of their circle. She set it on a purple cloth and scattered flowers around the base. She gave each of them a small, crystal skull to hold. It seemed to be random, but Neil knew it was anything but that. The bits and pieces he remembered of their powers, and the properties of stones, he made the connections. Cynthia, who controlled earth and air like her brother, had one made of hematite. His own, as a wielder of fire and water, was made from fire agate. The others also had stones which were compatible with their elements.
Adele handed out bundles of wood chips and herbs tied in neat little bags. These were charms of some kind, though, in his ignorance, he couldn’t identify them. He had no idea how to use any of these things, so it hardly mattered what they were. He knew he’d be told soon enough. Jackie, who often lectured on such things, spent time going over the items with him. Neil did his best to concentrate, but it was difficult. She was going so fast, his head started to ache, his vision swimming before his eyes.
Standing suddenly, he swayed unsteadily. “Sorry. I’m—totally lost. This is—it’s too much. Twenty years is a long time to be away and you’re assuming that I remember anything. I’m sorry.” He dashed from the house, out the backdoor and gone.
Cynthia intended to pursue him, but Heath stopped her. He didn’t run or rush, merely strolled out. He knew where Neil was going. There was a well built tree house on the edge of the backyard. It was a place where he and Cliff had spent a lot of time as teens. They smoked their first joint there, got their first sip of whiskey and each of them had had a woman up there from time to time, though not the women they eventually married.
As he expected, Heath found Neil crouching in the center of the tree house. It had weathered the years fairly well. Heath suspected that Cliff, or maybe Chase, had kept it up. He sat across from his friend, folding his hands in his lap.
“We make assumptions,” he said quietly. “We forget that you haven’t been around this for a long, long time. We think that because it’s easy to us, that it’s easy to you. What is common place and every day in our minds, is completely foreign to others—including you. Even Cynthia has been around it more than you have, these past two decades. For that, I apologize.”
“I put it aside,” Neil said so softly, Heath could barely hear. “I never thought it would be mine and it—hurt—so much. Jackie might as well have been speaking Farsi, it made about as much sense.”
“You’re fluent in Farsi.”
Neil made a face and flipped his friend off.
“But yes, I understand what you mean. And yes, I get it. What would work better? A group setting or just you and me and a bottle of single malt?”
“I don’t like people,” Neil replied. “I mean….”
“Crowds. There’s danger in crowds. I get it. I haven’t experienced anything that you have, but I’m still uncomfortable in a press of people. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through and I’m sorry that we’re asking you to put yourself in harm’s way again.”
“I went to serve my country because I was needed. I’m taking on this job because I’m needed here even more. But I can’t handle this approach. I need…. Hell, I don’t know what I need.”
Someone was climbing the ladder. Heath was a little surprised to see his daughter. She hadn’t come with them. Jordan smiled at Neil, nudging her father aside so she could sit down.
“I had a feeling that I was needed. Brian brought me over. He’s down there.” She nodded to the ground below them. “He said that he knows how to help. So do I. We’ll need Cynthia and everyone else needs to go,” she told her father.
He nodded, accepting the statement. Climbing down the ladder, he sent Brian up. Cynthia came out a few minutes later and the four of them sat on the floor while the others departed. Brian had a bag over his shoulder. Inside was a purple stone skull about the size of a softball. Its name was Lester and it was the first one he’d had contact with two years ago. Jackie had given it to him as a present for his sixteenth birthday. He set it out on a piece of white cotton cloth. He instructed them to sit at the four points of the compass, with Neil at north and Cynthia at south. He took east, leaving Jordan to the west. They sat close enough for their knees to touch and lightly clasped hands.
“You’re in full freak-out mode,” Brian explained. “We’ve all been there at one point or another. Unlike your folks, ours didn’t tell us anything about who we were or what to expect. I really wish mine had, because let me tell you, it was funky as shit when all these things started to happen.” Realizing that he was babbling about things Neil didn’t know, he stopped, taking a deep breath. “But you’re entitled to your freak out time. Our folks have forgotten what that was like. To them, this is as normal as breathing. To the rest of us, it’s a lot to take in. Your body feels like something’s doing a tap dance on your spine and dude, your balls are jangling, am I right?”
The women looked annoyed and uncomfortable, but Neil grinned.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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