Heather Graham
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THE AWAKENING

by Shannon Drake

an excerpt . . .

September

The AwakeningThere had been rain the entire time Finn Douglas skirted New York City. The Jersey Turnpike, never the easiest driving on the East Coast, was slowed to a torturous crawl, and with drivers becoming more impatient, fender benders lined the way. After crossing the Hudson, he nearly missed the sign that led to all of New England. Maine was still a hell of a long way away, and by this point, he was already exhausted.

He'd figured he might have at least made the state line that night, but it wasn't going to happen. By the time he crossed through Connecticut and followed the Mass Pike eastward, he realized he was becoming a hazard to himself, and everyone else on the road. At twenty, he could have stayed awake a solid forty-eight hours and not felt a desperate need for sleep. That hadn't been all that long ago, and he taunted himself that at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, he should still be into Massachusetts, he didn't feel just tired-he felt as if he were being drawn to leave the road. By the time he neared the signs that told him he was coming up on the city of Boston, the urge had become a compulsion. He had to stop, and he had to stop there.

It was stupid to stop in Boston. The city lived in a constant state of "under construction." The roads all went one way. The congestion was terrible, and the motels, hotels, and restaurants would be higher here than anywhere north. But still…

Off. Get off now. It's imperative.

It was almost as if there were a voice inside his head. That of a state trooper, he thought wearily. One warning him that he would kill himself, and someone else, if he didn't rest a while.

He should have gotten off the highway in Connecticut, before hitting the Mass Pike and the highway in the city.

There was an exit ahead. He was somewhere in the north of the city, near the old turnoff for the airport.

He didn't know exactly where he was when he followed a ramp and naturally, found himself on a one-way street.

Boston. He'd never even find a parking space.

Ah, but Boston. A great city. Food.

A drink.

Those were of the essence. He had left Louisiana during the wee hours of the morning, and driven straight, allowing himself pit stops only when the car was nearly on empty. How the hell many hours had he been driving? He was simply a fool. An idiot for taking so long to come. After he had sat home so many nights, telling himself that she would know it, and come back to him.

But she hadn't done so.

And there had been a moment of startling clarity and panic when he had realized it didn't matter that he was right. He had allowed certain perceptions to grow because of his pride, and since he had furiously refused to deny any of those perceptions, he'd given her little choice. He lay in their bedroom, feeling the breeze from the balcony, hearing a muffled version of the cacophony that never really left the streets of New Orleans, and noting every little thing that was a piece of Megan. The beige drapes that fluttered in the night, the headboard and canopy of the large bed, the antique dressers, not yet refinished. One of her drawers remained open, and a trail of something made of silk and lace streamed from a corner of it. He could swear he smelled her perfume.

And if he were to rise, it would be to turn on the CD player, and listen to the sound of her voice.

He had almost called, but then, he hadn't. They had exchanged too many harsh words. He could see the fall of her long blond hair in the clear picture in his mind, the passion, and the tears, in the endless blue of her eyes. Calling wouldn't do it, not after the way he had shrugged when she had warned that she needed to leave, go home.

He was parked, he realized. He squinted. He thought he was somewhere near Little Italy, and thanked God that he somewhat knew Boston, since he had played it, though he knew almost nothing of the surrounding area-he had flown in and out before. There was a neon light blinking almost in front of him. It was like a flipping miracle-he had gotten a parking space in the city of Boston right in front of a restaurant. Or a bar. Or something.

He couldn't make out the name. It wasn't just his exhaustion. There was a fog sitting over the city.

He stumbled out of the car and straightened, blinking. Wherever he was, it didn't matter. He needed something to eat, and something to drink. And no matter how desperate he had become to reach Megan in person, he was going to get some sleep, somewhere very near. Even if he paid too much for a hotel room. He'd die on the road, for sure, and take someone else with him if he didn't get some sleep.

And a cold beer.

***

Theresa Kavanaugh left the bar late, and, admittedly, a few sheets to the wind. However, she was deeply unhappy to realized she would be walking home: George Roscoe was supposed to have given her a ride home, but that was before George hooked up with the pretty blond bartender. It hadn't mattered at the time, because Theresa had found the guy at the pool table to be totally fascinating, and she had been certain that he intended to give her a ride home. She had been rather careful not to introduce him to either Sandra Jennings or Penny Sanders, because though they were all coworkers at the office, they weren't really best friends, and even best friends, she had discovered, might hone in on a cute guy a girl met at a bar. She had seen him standing by the table first, chalking a cue stick. But he had no partner.

"I'm pretty good," she had told him. "Want to take me on?"

"What are the stakes?"

"We'll gamble a twenty."

"I had been hoping for something a little…more worth gambling on," he'd said, laughter in his eyes.

"Let's see how we play first," she had challenged, and he had agreed.

She'd taken the first game. He'd paid up immediately. They had laughed, they had talked-maybe she had talked more than she should have. Because after she returned from the ladies room, he was gone.

And so was George.

And at closing time, she had realized she was alone.

So, feeling somewhat irritated, she had left alone. Naturally, she looked for a cab, usually available in abundance. But there was so much construction in the downtown area the cabbies were avoiding the place, or they had already been taken, or, perhaps, because of the hour, they had given up and gone home. She could have tried calling, but when she returned to the bar to do so, the doors were locked and no one responded to her banging. She couldn't resort to her cell phone because she hadn't charged the battery. The whole thing had just gone bad.

Still…it was all right. There were plenty of lights in the downtown area. Her apartment wasn't that far.

And when she started out, it was fine.

But then…came the fog.

She thought she was imagining it at first. Even in Boston, it was rare for a fog to just begin on the ground and swirl to something as thick as pea soup in a matter of minutes. But that was what it did. She could see clearly when she left the bar, but she hadn't gone two blocks before it began to churn in puffy, blue-gray swirls around her feet.

She began to whistle, wondering why fog should make her so nervous. But it did.

She could hear the click of her three-inch heels on the pavement, and that made her wish she were wearing tennis shoes. But she was still dressed as she been at work: smart business suit, with a great A-line skirt, and the tank that she liked so much. Naturally, she had known they were going to dinner, and onward to party that night. Friday night. The workforce lived for Friday nights, or so it seemed in Boston. At least, it did at her company. There were a brokerage firm, still a Monday through Friday, nine-to-five kind of company. She was young, ambitious, and good at her job, and still…

Well, young. And she like to party. And since she and Beau had broken up several months ago, now, she beginning to feel a little lonely, and in need of the Friday night companionship. She wasn't ready to crash into anything with a man discovered at a bar, but by this Friday, when she had met the man playing pool…all right, so she would have invited him back to her apartment.

"Don't know what you missed, buddy!" she muttered aloud.

The fog had risen to her calves. It was the most bizarre color.

She kept whistling. She passed old buildings, many of which had been around for the birth of the country, along with new skyscrapers. As she passed one of the city's oldest cemeteries, she felt a little twitch in her spine. Now, there, the fog was downright creepy.

She decided not to look, but rather, concentrate on her memory of the man at the bar. She realized she couldn't remember his eye color, or his hair, or even what he had been wearing. Only that he'd had…

A magnetism.

Maybe he'd be there again. She might have been too talkative. But still…well, surely, he must have had some inclination that he'd get lucky. And she knew she was attractive, that the tailored suit accentuated her curves, and that she had a really nice head of long, natural blond hair, and a good face. One would think she'd meet someone at work, but in her department it seemed that the men came in married, gay, or bald and potbellied.

She had plenty of time to meet the right guy.

Her eyes strayed to the cemetery. Ghostly stones rose just above the blue mist.

Something touched her foot, and she screamed out loud.

"Hey, lady…got a buck?"

She recoiled in horror from the bum that had touched her. He was just there-lying on the sidewalk.

"No!"

"Okay…got a twenty?"

"Get a job!" she shouted.

And she started to run.

A block…

Then her heel broke. She nearly fell to the pavement. Swearing, she steadied herself. Home wasn't that far! It seemed to be taking her forever to get there. She wasn't walking-or running-or so it seemed. Rather, it was like wading through the fog. It was up to her waist now. Soon, it would obliterate everything.

She passed the cemetery…the buildings. Soon…just two..three blocks to go.

The fog kept rising.

She stopped dead suddenly, seeing a form before her in the fog. She held her breath, praying it wasn't going to be another bum.

"Hey! There you are."

It was him. The guy from the bar. Charming, magnetic, seductive. He was standing at the end of the block, right in front of one of the few trees in the area. There was something strange about him, but she didn't quite know what…

"Hey!" she called back. Limping on her one heel, she started for him, A frown knit her brow as she studied him, and tried to figure out what was different about him. "I thought you left."

"I thought you had left!" he replied softly. His voice…it was like silk. He stood so still, and yet it seemed he emitted so much energy and power. "I had hoped to see you again," he told her.

She smiled, thinking that the cemetery, with its stones, eerie in the blue fog, was behind her now. Just as the bum was who had reached out and touched her. And the night…it lay ahead with a sudden awesome and new mystery.

"Theresa…come on. Come to me, Theresa!"

Well, of course. I'm coming to you, gorgeous! she thought, smiling inwardly.

And she was.

Her one heel clicked on the pavement. A pathetic sound. The fog was to her chest, swirling madly. She was so close to him. Together, they could brave it.

She could see his smile. The flash of his teeth, she was so close.

She saw what was different about him. It was what he was wearing, on such a night..it was weird.

But on such a night, what did it matter?

She came closer, feeling more intoxicated that she ever had due to the influence of liquor. Maybe there were a few remnants of the cosmopolitans she had been drinking that stayed to warm her bloodstream, to make her feel as if her heart jumped with excitement with every movement that brought her closer.

It seemed that even the strange blue fog was a part of his magic…

She came to a halt, standing directly in front of him. "I can't believe I've found you again," she murmured.

"Fate," he said softly. "Destiny. Great things are to come."

The sound was so seductive. As were his eyes.

She couldn't have moved if she wanted to. And yet…

There was something…off. Something not quite right.

Fate. Destiny. Oh, yes. And yet…

She didn't even know exactly why she knew, or what she knew, or what exactly it was that she saw…or felt…except that it was…

She struggled to understand.

"Come with me,"

"Yes."

"Serve me!"

"Oh, yes!"

He moved…

Ah, the seduction of it all. The danger. Something forbidden, and thus, ever so tempting, and still…

It seemed she was simply swallowed into the depth of the night.

And the blanket of the swirling blue fog.

© Heather Graham Pozzessere 2003

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