6. “It’s almost time.”

I waited, ready to catch her if she fell. My Pagan was always up to something dangerous. I spent more time keeping her alive than I did comforting her. It was rare that she cried. But then, I never allowed something to upset her for long. If a frown appeared on her perfect face, I found a way to make her smile. Today she wasn’t exactly making me very happy. Seeing her climb up a tree was difficult. Every small slip of her foot caused me a moment of panic.

Just as I’d feared her foot slipped and this time my brave girl couldn’t catch herself in time. Stepping up to the tree until I stood directly under her, I held out my arms ready to once again catch her from falling out of this tree. It would be the third time this summer.

“Umph, got you,” I assured her as I stared down at her tightly closed eyes. Her eyelids blinked rapidly before opening and gazing up at me. The confusion in her eyes when she saw me was always so painful. I hated that she couldn’t remember me. That she couldn’t remember the times we’d spent together

“Uh,” she mumbled in confusion as she shifted her eyes from my face to the tree.

“What were you doing up there? That was too high.” I told her this every time. It never did any good but I kept trying. Maybe one day it would stick.

“Um, I uh... did you catch me?” she asked in that familiar surprised voice.

“Yeah. Why else do you think you’re not lying on the ground with a few broken bones?” I asked trying not to laugh. She didn’t like it when I laughed at her. It was as if she knew she was missing out on some important piece of information and she hated being out of the loop.

When she began to wiggle in my arms, I stood her up carefully. The curious expression on her face soothed some of the ache in my chest. She remembered me… at least her heart did. I could see it in her eyes. She was trying so hard to open up those memories.

“Where’d you come from?”

She always asked me this, “Just around. Saw you climbing too high and came over to see if you needed help.”

“Do I know you?” she asked watching my face for any sign of a clue.

“I wish you did but you don’t. Not yet. It isn’t time.” I bit back my words. I shouldn’t have said that. I needed to be more careful with the things I said to her. Even if she would forget me by the end of the day.

“What do you mean?” she asked with a frown.

“Pagan Moore, get your butt over here if you’re going to get a sneak peek at my tree house before the boys get here.” Her friend, Wyatt, called to her from the street. He wouldn’t be able to see me. That would confuse her. It was time I left, for now.

Slowly, I let the memory fade as I watched Pagan’s sleeping form toss and turn. This time she wouldn’t forget. She hadn’t connected me to the boy in her dreams just yet. But she would. With one last promise, I whispered into her ear, “It’s almost time.” Before leaving her alone to wake up.

“De gurl won choose you over Dankmar. Jes take her,” Father stood in the backyard of Pagan’s house.

“She’s remembering father. I need time,” I glanced back up at her window and watched as she stood staring at the tree. The memories would change things. They had to.

“De memories, dey wan be ‘nough.” He drawled over the cigarettes hanging from his mouth.

“They will,” I growled in frustration.

“De Death draws near. Leave me. Ahm gonna talk da him,” Father demanded. The dark coal black eyes met mine and I knew there was no arguing with him. He’d speak to Dankmar. There was no way I could stop him. But I wasn’t going to go too far. I wanted to hear what Dankmar said. Would Father tell him that Pagan’s soul was mine? If so, I had to be here.

Stepping back into the woods I waited. I knew the moment Dankmar felt my father’s presence. The threat rolling off his form was impossible to miss. Pagan kissed him and I closed my eyes unable to watch.

Then she was back inside the house and Dankmar was turning to face my father.

“What do you want with Pagan?” he asked quietly but the hard edge to his voice was terrifying.

“She belongs to me.” Father replied without backing down. The Dankmar that had walked the hallways of the high school had been so nonthreatening that I’d forgotten at times the true power of the Death Lord. Now, seeing him like this I cringed backing up against the tree behind me.

“No. She doesn’t.” Dankmar replied taking a step toward Father. I wasn’t surprised when my father took a step backwards. The winds had stilled in Death’s presence and all living things had fled his presence. A dark growl encased the silence.

“De gurl is marked as a restitution. Her mama made de deal. She know de cos.”

“Pagan Moore is mine. Leave her alone. You’ve never crossed me before but I can assure you that a voodoo spirit lord is no match for me. You know this.

For the first time in my existence, I watched as my father’s body tensed in fear. He’d pushed Death too far. “But de restitution mus be made.”

“NOT with Pagan it doesn’t. Whatever deal you had with her mother is with her mother. Pagan had nothing to do with this.”

“You’d of nevah known her if I hadn’t healed her. You’d of taken her soul whilt she lay curled up dying as a child. It’s me who don lak to see chilren die. You don care who you take. She’s alive ‘cause of me. She’s meant for me purpose. I saved her for me son. He’s watched over her all dese years.” I stood frozen as Father explained to Dankmar exactly what we’d done all those years ago. The violent expression on his face told me all I needed to know. He wasn’t going to let her go. He may extinguish me and my father but he would not let Pagan go.

“Leave her or deal with me.”

“De gurl wilt have to choose or ahm takin’ my payment in udder forms. I got de right,” the tremble in Father’s voice was unmistakable.

“Fine! Let her choose,” Dankmar roared.

Without waiting to see what happened, I fled.

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