After leaving Jordan’s house, Brian goes to talk to Neil. Cynthia calls to let his parents know where he is, so they won’t worry, then leaves the men alone to talk. Brian tells Neil all about Jian, and they talk about Brian’s supernatural battles, and Neil’s experiences in the war.
“And I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. You aren’t a soldier in the same sense, but you’re a warrior. You’ve battled death and survived. You’re a hero, even if no one knows it. You won’t get a medal, no one will throw you a parade, but you impress the hell outta me, kid.”
Brian’s head snapped up. Staring with disbelief, he examined Neil’s face and knew that he was telling the truth.
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.”
They shared a smile.
“Would you give this up, if you had the chance? I don’t mean now, I mean before. If you’d been given the choice. If someone had come up and said, Neil, we want you to do this job. Would you?”
“I’m not sure. The difference between us is that I grew up knowing. Had I been approached without that knowledge? I’d tell them to shove it and give it to someone else. This isn’t a job someone in their right mind wants. But I never professed to being in my right mind.” He chuckled.
“All things being equal, I couldn’t ignore it. I say I would, that I want a normal life, but what’s normal? Not this, obviously, but if we don’t do what we do, other people can’t go on living their oblivious lives. I’d want to turn it down, but I wouldn’t. Like I didn’t say no when the Powers That Be told me I’m the Voice. I didn’t like being the Dreamer, but I accepted it. I’m not crazy about being in charge of my Circle, but someone has to do it. Right now, the best person for the job is me. But I tell ya what, Neil, if I could give back one of the jobs, I would.”
“No one is equipped fully for this, Brian. We do our best, we muddle through and we lean on one another. I’m here, anytime you need to vent, I’ll listen. I’m fully equipped to discuss anything from alpha male tendencies to various sexual positions.”
Blushing, Brian ducked his head. “Well, when I get to that point, I’ll sure ask. I know how the parts fit, but that’s about all.”
“If you ever have any questions, don’t be embarrassed to ask. You might not be comfortable talking to your dad, but I’m not going to judge. None of us men are in a position to be judgmental, except Pennybaker.” He snorted. “But he’s been judging us all since we were kids. I’m not surprised his daughter’s difficult. I never met such a self-centered son-of-a-bitch. And having met his mama, that’s pretty damn apt. There’s one in every bunch. For me, it’s him. For you, it’s his daughter.”
“Did your dad have to deal with Marissa’s grandparents?”
“Her grandmother’s contentious, but otherwise they’re both fairly mellow. The one who gave him the most trouble was your grandfather.”
Brian laughed, tossing back his head. “Which one?”
“Figures. Man’s been causing trouble all his life. I’m told I take after him.”
“I haven’t met him, but I’ve heard a lot about him. If you’re half the man he is, well, you’re man enough to be alpha male. Don’t get all arrogant with this Jian guy, but don’t back down. Be polite, stick up for yourself, but don’t initiate anything. And above all, don’t let the little squirt push your buttons, cause he’s gonna try—hard. Laugh at him. It will piss him off faster than anything.”
“Kill him with kindness?”
“Wouldn’t go that far.”
“The killing or the kindness?”
Brian stayed a little longer, then headed home. Neil watched him drive away, until he was out of sight. The night seemed like it was waiting for something and he didn’t like it. He did up the doors, checking the windows as he made the rounds of the house and set the alarm for the night. Still feeling vulnerable, he took the holy water and scattered it as he went. Only partially satisfied, he tried to put the concern aside. He’d been living on military bases for twenty years. Much of that time was spent in the desert, surrounded by people, devoid of vegetation. He wasn’t used to the quiet and the encroaching trees. Sometimes, it felt as if the woods were closing in, listening to every move he made. Tonight was one of those nights. On impulse, he got the blessed salt with cumin and scattered it in front of the doors and on the window sills. He wasn’t satisfied until he’d also lined the door to the basement and shoved a chair under the knob.
Upstairs, he found Cynthia waiting for him. She was dressed in a slinky nightgown that he soon divested her of, tossing it in the corner. His shirt went next, followed by his jeans. Their lovemaking was playful and fun, but he still felt odd. After a quick shower, he scattered more salt on the window sills. Cynthia didn’t stop him. If he felt better after doing that, it didn’t matter. The truth was, she was feeling a little strange, too. It could have been the vibe coming from Neil, or it might have been more. She wasn’t sure. Whatever the cause, she wasn’t averse to a little salt scattered around.
© 2018 Dellani Oakes
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