The 4th Paladin - Chapter 3

The 4th Paladin - Chapter 3

A Chapter by Maria Mercurio
"

Present day - Maya leaves with the mystery woman to what end?

"

Chapter 3

"Oh my God, is this is really happening?"

 

 

     I squeeze my eyes when I feel the betrayal of hot tears escaping down my cheeks.  The woman produces a soft linen handkerchief like the ones my grandmother used to keep tucked in her bra strap, but less wrinkled.  I dab my eyes and will myself not to cry.  I can do that later.  I frantically look around for Naomi before I realize I would have no way to explain anything to her.

     The woman knows my thoughts.  “It’s best if we just go now.”    She pats my arm and turns to leave expecting that she will be followed. 

     I am in a daze as I trace her footsteps out of the room and into the crisp night air.  She leads me straight to my car not even asking which one is mine.  It's a silver Prius, and there are even two others in the parking lot    

     “It might be best if I drive.  You look a bit shaky.”  She holds out her hand for the keys.

     I numbly dig them out of my purse and hit the alarm off button.  “You don’t need them to start the car they just have to be inside.”  I open up the passenger side and slide in.  Funny I'd only ever sat in this seat on the day of my test drive, it feels wrong.

     She gets in and looks for the key ignition by habit and then shakes her head with a delighted smile as the car starts when I press the power button.  “Where are you taking me?”

     “To your home to gather you things,” she answers as she pulls the car into the street and heads unerringly in the direction of my house.

     I hold my breath as a surge of hope travels through me.  “Will I get to see my family?”

      She looks over at me with sad brown eyes flecked with gold.  “To say good bye.”

     I gulp.  It's more than I'd expected.  “How long do I have?”

     “With your family?”  She clarifies.

       I nod.

     “Just tonight.  We’ll need to stage an accident of sorts I think.”  She purses her lips looking at my car.

     The full effect of her words don't have time to register before my cell phone buzzes.  I pull it out and see it's a text message from Naomi.

Where did you go off to?  

 

     I look nervously at the woman driving my car.  “My friend wants to know why I left without saying goodbye.”

     “Keep it simple and short.”  She replies.

     I sigh.  Not having Naomi to talk to makes me want to start to cry again.  She's closer to me then my own brother.

 

Sorry getting close to curfew.  Mom texted me to come home.  You were busy with the raffle.  You did a great job tonight! 

 

     God, how I want to write goodbye and tell her how important she is to me, but of course I can’t.  I keep the phone in my hand hoping to hear a response, not wanting our communication to end.

 

Well don’t text and drive!  Don't want an accident! Your Mom will never let you out then LOL.  gym in AM?  Hot spin teacher at 7:00

 

     The comment about an accident makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. 

Out 4 2mrw.  Family stuff! Night xo

 

     A single tear makes its way down my face, and I brush it away impatiently.  I'm sure the woman doesn't want to see me crying.

     She looks at me pensively her eyes still sad.  “I know this is hard.  Believe me, I know.”  She turns the car down my street.  “A clean break is best.  You can’t have this life anymore.”

     I nod, thinking how ironic that only this morning I felt that this life was not mine to have, and now that I’m leaving it behind, I realize how much I’m giving up.  I guess it matters little now about declaring a major, I no longer need one.

     She pulls into my circular driveway and parks the car in my exact spot.  It’s spooky.   I stand woodenly and manage to open the front door of my house.  My hand rests on the door knob.  How am I ever going to do this?

     My parents and my brother are in the den watching one of those super hero movies that Josh is addicted to.  He practically has them on repeat.

     “You're home early honey,” my Dad calls out not looking away from the screen.    “Was it terribly boring?”

     “Hi.” Is all I can get out before my voice brakes into a sob and my parents jump up in concern.

     “Baby is everything OK?”  My mom glances me up and down nervously looking for an injury.  That was when SHE steps into the room.  My brother and father are still confused until they see my mother's reaction.  All the blood drains away from her face, and she puts trembling hands over her mouth to stifle a moan.

     It was then that my father clues in.  “No!”  He states emphatically.  “No, you can’t have her!”

     I stare at him in amazement.  It had never occurred to me to say no, or that my parents would either.  I look at my mother, but it’s clear she’s in shock.  Josh just stares at the woman, ogles the woman might be more appropriate.  My father is flushed and angry and shaking his head.

     “Hello,” the woman smiles comfortingly.  “My name is Dee.  I’m sure you have lots of questions for me and I will try to answer them the best I can.  Maya doesn't have much time here and we have much to plan.”

     “I said no.”  My father says more quietly.

     “Arthur,” Dee steps close to my dad and puts a hand on his chest.  “You know this is not up to you.  Maya has been chosen.  She is the one to make the vow.”  She looks at me expectantly then.

     What can I say?  I most certainly don't want to go.  Do I have a real choice in this?  I look at my mother again.  She's managed to regain some composure and is looking at me with such love shining in her eyes.  I know she disagrees with my father.  Making this sacrifice is something she would have readily done.  Can I do any less?  “I’ll go.”  I say meekly.

     "No baby, you don’t have to.”  My dad grabs my arms and crushes me to his chest.  “I don’t want you to do this.”

     “Yet you have raised her to be a potential Paladin.”  Dee says gently.

     My father glares at my mom.   He looks hurt and angry.  “You said this wouldn't happen.  That it was just a tradition.”

     My mother has the grace to look guilty.  “I believed it would be the same for her as it was for me and my mother.”  She whispers with trembling lips.  “But I am proud of you Maya.”

     Rare words to hear from my mother.  It chokes me up.  “Thanks mom.”

     “Maya, go upstairs and pack.”  Dee instructs me.  “I need to talk with your parents about arrangements.”

     I nod mutely and head for my room.  I can hear Dee’s voice trailing after me.  “We will need to fake her death tonight.  I have an officer ready to make the report.  I think a car accident would be most believable.  People know she left the event and drove home." 

     She continues to talk calmly about what needs to be done but it's all drowned out when my father begins sobbing and my mother quietly joins him.  The flood gates burst open then, and I run to my room so I can cry as loudly as I want.

     When I am wrung out and exhausted I start packing.  I find the biggest suitcase I can in the hallway closet.  Packing is an impossible task.  How do you pack for the rest of your life?  I picture what it would be like instead moving into an apartment with Naomi, but then scrap the idea.  This won't be the same thing at all.  I toss in my favorite jeans, sweats, and work out clothes.  I assume if I need anything else I will be able to get it.  I mainly fill my bag with photo albums, my senior yearbook, a summer camp scrap book, my entire jewelry box, my favorite books, and a few stuffed animals.  I imagine I’ll need something comforting. I grab a picture frame that holds a shot of Naomi and me from a talent show we did when we were ten.  I take a moment to look around one last time, and then head back to the living room.

    Everyone is somberly sitting on the sofas when I enter.  Even Josh is no longer drooling over Dee, instead, he is staring at the hands in his lap.  I roll my heavy suitcase behind me, bumping it into my shin and probably creating a heck of a bruise.  I lay it on the ground with my picture frame on top of it. 

     My dad stands wringing his hands and looking at me with a sad and hopeless look.  It takes all of my resolve not to rush into his arms.  My mom gives me a wan smile.

     “So what's the plan?”  I try to make my voice as casual and resigned as possible.

     Dee turns to face me and her body flares brightly.  I notice my mother’s eyes water at the display almost as quickly as mine do.  “Take your time and say goodbye.  I will handle the other arrangements.”

     “My car?”  I question but know the answer. 

     “You can’t really take it with you.  Leave your lap top and cell phone with your mom.  I’ll be back for you in one hour. “ She glides gracefully out of the room, but I stop her before she reaches the front door.

     “Can I see them again?”  The plea is clear in my voice.

     Dee purses her full lips.  “That’s hard to say.  It could be dangerous for them.  I know you wouldn't want harm to come to them, but I also understand that the desire will be very strong.  If we can do it safely, I promise we'll try.”

     I expel the breath that I’m not aware of holding.  That's fair, not ideal, but I had to say it's fair.  I rush back to the living room not wanting to waste my last minutes with my family.  My mom and dad both hold me tight.

     “Are you sure about this honey?”  My dad speaks into my hair. 

     “Arthur!” my mother admonishes.  “Don’t make this difficult for her.  Don’t act like she can just say no.  This is not the kind of thing you say no to.”

     My mom is right.  Ironically the world needs me.  How can I say no to that?  I couldn't go back to my life and pick some random career knowing I'd abandoned my true purpose.  This is my destiny.  Isn't it?

     My mom pulls me up to face her.  She smoothes my hair and rests both hands on my shoulders.  “Be careful sweetheart.  Dee told us she will stay with you awhile and be your guide.  Listen to her, she knows better than any how to do this.”

     “I will mom.”  It's good advice.

     My mom wipes a stray tear as she smiles at me.  “Can I get you something?  Are you hungry?”

     The corners of my mouth raise slightly.  I'll miss my mom’s cooking.  She is an excellent baker.  “I could sure use a slice of your lemon pie if there is any left.”

     “Whipped cream?”  She smiles brighter putting on her brave face.

     “Yes please.”

     She hurries away to the kitchen and I turn to face Josh.  To my utter shock he is sniffling and rubbing his sleeve over his eyes to hide any trace of tears.  I'm touched.  There was always a slight distance between us.  He got to be a normal kid while I prepared my whole life for this.  I throw my arms around him and hold him close.  “I’ll miss you too.”  I whisper into his ear and he hugs tightly back.  I lean away and get the picture frame.  “Give this to Naomi for me will ya?  She always wanted me to email her a copy, but I never remember to scan the picture.”

     “What do I tell her?”  His face is white.

     “Tell her you know how much I care for her and that you thought she might want this.”  I grasp his arm then to give me courage to get the next words out.  “Tell her I was lucky to have a friend like her in my life.”

     “I can remember that.  I'm lucky to have a sister like you.”  This time neither of us bother to stop crying. We just hug again.   

     My mom comes back in with pie for everyone.  I’m not hungry but I want the comfort of eating with my family one last time.   Before my mom hands me my plate, she notices Naomi's dress.

     "Maya, what on Earth are you wearing?"  She exclaims.

     I arch my eye brows and stare back at her mystified.  "Really, mom!  You want to talk about this now?  Does it matter what I am wearing?"

     My mom suddenly looks sad and vulnerable.  "You’re right honey.  It doesn't matter at all.  You wear what you want.  Now let’s have some pie."  

     We all squat down at the coffee table and eat in companionable silence.  We’re in the same position when Dee returns.  I get one final hug from each of them, I struggle through saying good bye, and then I am out the door and getting into a silver Honda Accord sedan.  A nondescript popular car seems like a good choice for living an unseen life.  It makes me think about my Prius.  I vaguely wonder where Dee staged the wreck.  What a waste.  I had just gotten the car as a high school graduation present.  

     I am despondent as we drive away from the only home I have ever known.  I feel numb, and this whole day feels unreal.  I think perhaps this is just a crazy nightmare, and tomorrow I’ll wake up in my own bed and lament that my 20th birthday is not coming fast enough.  I look over at Dee with a sinking feeling that I may never see 20.  "Where are we driving to?"  I ask more because I think I should.  The numbness is dulling my curiosity as well as my pain.

     "The Paladin network is a vast one.  We have safe houses in almost every major city.  Your Grandmother's house in Montecito is the closest to here, but I’m afraid that won’t do for our purposes."  Dee takes her eyes off the road to look at me.  I'm not surprised at the revelation about my Grandmother, she is my mother's mother after all, and it would only make sense that our family had deeper involvement than just providing the sacrificial lambs.

     "So that means we need to make it down to LA instead, where we’ll stay the night.  I need to get us on a plane and headed to New York.  It took me a bit longer than I thought to select a new Paladin."

     This comment makes me bolt upright, the seatbelt protests holding me rigidly.  "You mean there are other choices you could have made!"  I choke out the words.

     Dee eyes me slightly wary.  "There are five girls in North America of the right age and blood line, but you were the only possible choice."

     "Why?"  I'm suspicious.

     "They did not meet the criteria, purity of body and spirit."  Dee shakes her head with a slight frown.

     "So you're saying that these other girls, what? had sex, got tattoos or some other item on the random no no list and that's why it's me?"  I have a moment where I would like to say some choice words to my mother.

     "That’s a simplified statement."  Dee continues to frown.

     "So I’m only here by default."  I slump back and sigh loudly.  If I wasn't such a goodie goodie I wouldn’t be here at all.

     "I don't see it that way.  You girls all have a sacred burden, and yet YOU were the only one strong enough to endure the pledge of your lineage."  Dee held my eyes while she spoke.

     "Or too meek to do anything other then what I’m told."  I mumble bitterly turning to stare out the window.

     Dee laughs.  "Well there have not been many meek Paladins that I can remember.  This is a choice.  The others chose to say no through their actions, while you had the courage to remain true."

     I stay silent after that.  I don’t know what to say.  I’m afraid to let her know the real truth.  I have serious doubts that I can do this thing, big foot sized doubts.             



© 2013 Maria Mercurio


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Added on March 3, 2013
Last Updated on April 24, 2013
Tags: young adult, paranormal, angel, demon