Saturday morning, standing in the dining hall, Kylie waited for her mom to show up to parents' day. She hadn't said anything about John coming, but Kylie didn't know if that meant he wasn't, or if she didn't feel the need to ask Kylie if it would be okay. She really prayed he was a no-show. Already feeling as if her relationship was on shaky ground with her mom, she didn't need John around.

On the other hand, Kylie's stepdad had to leave town on a business trip and wasn't going to make it- which was fine with Kylie. Without him, the combustion level would at least be lessened a degree. She hadn't stopped loving Tom Galen, but right now the father figure Kylie ached to see was her real father.

Ever since the Brightens' visit, Kylie had been longing to spend some time with Daniel. Almost every night before bed she'd pull out the photo album the Brightens had left her, and nearly every night, she'd end up crying. Feeling as if life had cheated her.

Cheated him, too.

Kylie watched a few parents stroll through the door. Miranda's parents walked in and found her waiting, prim and proper-like, at a table. Seeing Miranda like that felt wrong, like wearing your shoes on the wrong foot.

Miranda's mom sucked all the confidence and personality out of the witch. That was just so wrong.

Derek's mom moved in with exuberance, as if eager to see her son. That's the way parents should be, Kylie thought. The woman's gaze shifted around the room, obviously looking for Derek. When her gaze found Kylie's she grinned and waved and started moving toward her. Thankfully, Derek called to her from the other side of the room and spared Kylie the awkward conversation. What did you tell the mother of the boy whose heart you'd just broken?

Helen's parents walked in with worry on their faces, even though they'd just dropped their daughter off a few days earlier.

Jonathon hadn't stopped smiling since Helen had returned. Kylie had sat with them at almost every lunch break, letting Della and Miranda sit with their own kind. Yesterday during lunch, Kylie had studied all the different species tables and wondered if there would ever be a chameleon table at Shadow Falls.

Next, Della's parents and sister walked in. Her father looked as he always did, pissed off and unhappy to be here. Della's dad had even told her once that the only reason he came was because her mother made him. Part of Kylie would have loved to knock some sense into that man. How could he not know how much those words hurt his daughter?

Across the room, Della frowned at her family walking through the door. Kylie's heart went out to Della. If possible, her home life was even worse than Kylie's.

"You okay?" Holiday moved to stand beside her.

"Yeah. Just wondering why families have to be so screwed up. Why can't people just love each other?"Holiday brushed her shoulder against Kylie's, offering a bit of emotional calm. "They do love each other. Family drama is a trade-off for having family. What you see in this room right now is probably the worst it's going to be."

"What do you mean?" Kylie asked.

"The hardest time in any relationship is change. And nothing brings more change in a family dynamic than when a teen is becoming their own person. That's true for humans as well as supernaturals."

Holiday must have seen Kylie glance from Miranda to Della, because she said, "In a few years, Miranda will no longer care if her mother approves of her choices. And her mom will gradually accept that Miranda is her own person. Della will grow up and do great things, because Della won't accept any less from herself. Her father will have to admit that while he didn't understand the changes in his daughter's life, she grew up to be a success."

"And you don't think that these hard feelings will hurt the relationship?"

Holiday sighed. "Oh, there'll be scars and some mending to do, and yes, there are some cases that don't end well." She paused. "But for the most part, the problems you see here are things that families can and probably will recover from."

"That's hopeful," Kylie said.

"Did you return the Brightens' call?" Holiday asked.

Kylie had gotten the message yesterday that they'd called. "Yes, I spoke with them. They wanted to come to parents' day and meet my mom."

Holiday tensed. "You didn't tell me they were coming."

"They're not. I didn't think my mom was ready to meet with them. After the argument we had about me seeing them, we've barely spoken about them. She apologized, but now we're both pretending it didn't happen. I'm kind of scared to bring it up."

"It will work out. Your mom doesn't come across as the unreasonable type."

"Obviously you don't know her very well." While Kylie said it half jokingly, the other half had merit.

Kylie looked at Holiday and remembered her visit with the ghost. "I had a visitor last night."

"Did she talk to you this time?" Holiday asked, knowing exactly who Kylie meant.

"A little." She bit her lip. "I think it's all connected. The sword, the ghost, and Mario."

Holiday's brow tightened. "Why do you think that?"

Kylie leaned in. "Something she said, and ... just a gut feeling."

"Miss Brandon?" someone called from across the room.

Holiday pressed a hand to Kylie's arm and frowned. "We'll talk later."

Kylie nodded, and as the camp leader walked away, she saw Lucas walk in. He moved to sit down with a group of weres. One of the weres said something and then they all shot up from the table and left Lucas by himself.

It was starting, she realized. They were pushing him out. Pain for him cut deep.

"Sad, isn't it?" a voice said behind her. "And it's your fault." Kylie recognized Clara's voice. Kylie turned to face Lucas's sister, but she shot away. Breath held, she looked back at Lucas. She longed to go to him, to soothe him, but that would only make it worse.

Five minutes later, Lucas's grandmother came walking painfully slowly into the dining room. Kylie glanced around the crowd. Lucas still sat alone at a table in the back. The elderly woman's gaze roamedthe room and found Kylie.

When she started shuffling toward Kylie, her heart stopped. Oh, shit! She had no desire to hear Lucas's grandmother scold her for ruining her grandson's goals and quests.

Kylie went to dart out the side door when she heard her mom. Turning she saw ... her mom with John.

Oh, crap, he came. Nevertheless, she'd take John over Lucas's grandmother hands down-especially since her mom wasn't playing feely-touchy with John's butt.

Kylie took off toward her guests with fake eagerness, praying that would deter the elderly woman from approaching.

After a quick hug with her mom, and ignoring John, Kylie led them to an empty table as far away from Lucas as she could find. Her heart didn't find a normal rhythm until she saw Lucas's grandmother head to his table.

"Thank God," she muttered, and motioned for them to sit.

"Thank God, what?" her mom asked, still standing.

Kylie opened her mouth, praying something intelligent, albeit a lie, would fall out. Lately, Kylie's prayers had been going unanswered and this was no exception. Her lips opened, but nothing, not a thing, came out. Even worse, her brain had shut down.

"Thank God, what?" her mom asked again.

"That the pain in my stomach went away." Kylie pressed a hand on top of her belly.

"You've got stomach pains?" Alarm laced her mom's voice.

"It's nothing."

"You don't know it's nothing," her mom insisted.

"I do." Kylie's voice rang high pitched, fearing her mom would drag her to the emergency room. Heck, she might accuse her of being pregnant again.

"How do you know it's nothing?" her mom asked.

"Because it's just ... gas. I had a little gas."

Her mom, blushing, glanced at John. Kylie could feel her own face heating up like a Betty Crocker oven. Of all the things she could have come up with, why gas?

Her mom leaned in a little. "Do you need to go to the restroom?"

"No. It went away."

Her mom leaned in. "You sure?"

"Positive." Kylie dropped in a chair and prayed this wasn't a premonition of how this meeting would go.

Forty-five minutes later, Kylie, John, and her mom still sat at the table chatting. Well, Kylie did very little chatting, while her mom and John never stopped. They talked about her mom's new job that she'd be taking in two weeks and they talked about England.

"Oh, I brought you something." Her mom pulled a bag from her purse. "I know how you like T-shirts,"

Kylie couldn't help but think, My mom went to England and all I got was a T-shirt, but she smiled and pulled it out of the bag and then chuckled when she read the script across the front: My mom went toEngland and all I got was this T-shirt.

"Perfect," Kylie said, and loved that it was pink.

"I also got you this." Her mom pulled out a small white box.

The charm bracelet caught the light and sparkled, almost magically, when Kylie opened the box. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the charms. A sword that looked very much like a crusader sword, a cross that looked too damn close to the one on the sword, and a Joan of Arc emblem.

"I bought it at one of the castles and it didn't have a wide selection of charms, but ... for some odd reason I felt compelled to pick those out. I hope you don't think they're stupid."

Define "some" reason, Kylie wanted to ask, but she didn't. "No. I like them. Thank you." A certain familiar chill fell on her like a light rain.

Daniel was there? Had her dad led her mom to buy these charms? She glanced around hoping to see him, but he didn't materialize.

Soon, Kylie. Soon. The words echoed in her head, fear filled her heart.

I miss you, Kylie said in her mind. I don't know if I'm ready to die, but I do miss you.

Footsteps echoed in the room, and Kylie noticed the other parents leaving.

Her mom looked around. "These visits fly by. I should run to the girls' room before we leave." Her mom popped up and hurried off.

Kylie was about to stand to follow her mom when John rested his hand on hers. The feel of his palm sent a shiver down her spine. It wasn't cold or hot. Just emotionally wrong. She pulled her hand away.

"I was hoping to get a chance to speak to you," he said.

And I was hoping you wouldn't. She glanced toward the restroom. "I think I'll-"

"Is there a reason you don't like me, Kylie?"

She looked at him. Decisions, decisions. Was she going to be diplomatic, or honest?

Who was it that said honesty was the best policy? She couldn't remember, but she decided they were brilliant. Copyright 2016 - 2023