“I’m going to go check on my mom,” I mutter, scooting the chair away from the table. I get up and put my mug in the sink then leave them in the kitchen, fully aware that Alex’s eyes are following me the entire way.
I hurry back to the room, scared and relieved to find that my mom’s still passed out in the bed. She looks dead, a corpse in a coffin waiting to be buried. Maybe she kind of is. Maybe The Underworld has practically killed her. Possibly that’s why she was so cold toward me.
I inch toward the bed, taking slow steps until I reach the side. “Mom,” I whisper, staring down at her. The word still feels strange coming from my lips. I always called Marco and Sophia by their first names and always said them formally. However saying “mom” is different. It means something. “Mom.” The prickle traces down my neck. “Mom,” I say louder, tears dripping from my eyes. “Mom.” I reach up and touch the wet tears, trying to figure out what I’m feeling. Sadness. Pain. Abandonment.
As more gush out, I collapse to the bed on my stomach, bury my face into the pillow, and bawl my eyes out until I fall asleep.
I don’t dream at all. I see nothing except blackness the entire time my eyes are shut. When I wake up, the curtains are open and the French doors are agape. Someone’s been in here.
I bolt upright, rubbing my puffy eyes as the pinkish glow of sunset creeps in through the open doors.
“Gemma.” The sound of my mom’s voice scares me to death, and I fall out of the bed, smacking my elbow on the floor and my head on the side of the nightstand.
“Ow,” I rub my elbow as I turn over and get to my feet.
My mom is sitting on the edge of the bed, looking over her shoulder at me like I’m a nut job. “Are you all right?” There’s no scorn in her voice, only sincerity.
I nod, get to my feet, and sit down on the bed on the side opposite from her. “Are you all right?”
She swallows hard and then starts hacking, covering her mouth with her hand. “I think I need some water,” she chokes, leaning over like she’s going to vomit on the floor.
“I’ll go get you some,” I jump to my feet, knowing that what I’m really doing is running away from my problems.
I rush into the kitchen and fill up a glass with water. While I’m shutting off the faucet, I think I hear someone behind me. When I whirl around I come face to face with a tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired Vampire/Keeper.
“Shit, Laylen.” I press my hand to my racing heart, steadying the glass in my hand. “You scared me to death.”
“Sorry.” He has on a pair of dark jeans and a navy blue t-shirt that brings out the blue in his eyes. “But you are kind of jumpy.” He sucks his lip ring into his mouth and nibbles on it, analyzing me over, looking as though he wants to say something more.
“Well, I did just get out of The Underworld.” My mouth plunges to a frown. “I think it might have scarred me.”
“Is everything okay?” He crosses his arms and relaxes his hip against the edge of the tile countertop. “You seemed kind of distant at the table.”
“There’s just some stuff going on,” I say. “But the good news is, my mom’s awake.”
He stands up straight, uncrossing his arms, his defined muscles flexing. “Is she okay?”
“I don’t know, but I’m about to find out.” I wind around him to leave, but I stop at the doorway, glancing back over my shoulder. “Do you want to come with me?”
“Wouldn’t you rather take Alex?” he says, sorrow lacing his tone. “I’m sure he has a ton of questions for her.”
I turn around and tell him the truth. “Laylen I want you there just as much as I want him there.”
He offers me a half smile as he walks toward me. “All right, let’s go.”
My mom has wandered out to the deck by the time I make it back to the room. She’s standing near the railing, gazing out at the ocean, still wearing her tattered pants and shirt. I need to get her some clean clothes.
I carefully approach her with Laylen at my heels, and the cup of water in my hand. I stop beside her and set the glass of water down on the railing in front of her, accidentally spilling some of the water out.
“Thank you,” she says, picking the glass up. She takes a few large swallows and then puts the glass back down on the railing. I wait for her to say something—anything—but all she does is stare out at the ocean.
“Mom,” I start. “Are you okay? Is there anything else I can get you? Like maybe something to eat?”
She finally looks at me, sighs, and then her gaze suddenly darts to Laylen. “Laylen, is that you?” she asks, shocked.
He nods, brushing his hair out of his eyes, as he steps away from the doorway and onto the deck. “Yeah, it’s me, Jocelyn.”
She smiles, however it looks morbidly wrong, like she’s working really hard to make the corners of her mouth move upward. “You’ve grown up so much.” She stares at me, her forehead furrowed, her eyes full of desolation. “And you…” She abruptly bursts into tears, shaking her head, her lips quivering. “You’re—you’re still…” She trails off, sobbing hysterically into her hands. “You’re still you. Oh my God, I thought he’d ruin you… turn you into him.”
I’m not sure what to say to her; that I’m not the girl she left behind, but someone trying to figure out who she is. I’m afraid if I dare utter those words, she might break apart completely. I let her cry for a moment, feeling awkward.
Finally, the tears cease and she dabs the remaining ones away with the corner of her shirt. “So what’s been going on?” She clears her throat and takes another sip of water. “While I’ve been gone for the last fourteen years.”
Jesus, where do I begin? So much has happened, especially over the last few weeks. I’m not sure what to tell her, and honestly, I don’t have all the answers since I can barely remember anything.
I do my best and start at the beginning, though, at least the beginning for me.
I try my best to get all the details right and fill her in on everything that has happened. I tell her about my lifeless years with Marco and Sophia and then college. I tell her how the prickle miraculously showed up and freed me from my solitude. I tell her about the Death Walkers and how Stephan is working with them as well as Demetrius, which she knew already. How he can create the Mark of Malefiscus and that he put the mark on Nicholas. I explain my special Foreseer gift and the visions I’ve seen, at least to an extent, minus the fact that I’ve seen myself bearing the Mark of Evil. I tell her about how Stephan tried to erase my mind with that stupid rock and how the locket she gave me saved me.
When I’m done, it’s nearly dark and most of the beach has cleared. The ocean roars in the distance and a few stars speckle the greying sky.
“I’m so sorry,” my mom says after I’ve given her the rundown. She reaches over and takes my hand with a slight tremor in her grip. I wince, but don’t pull away. “I’m incredibly sorry you had to go through all of this. God, it must have been terrible for you”
I swallow hard as I sit down on the railing. “It’s not your fault…I—I know you tried to protect me.”
She shakes her head, freeing my hand, and then sinks down in a chair. “I should have tried harder. I should have tried to run away sooner. I let it go on for too long, knowing what he was going to do to you... We need to stop it—stop him.” She glances over at Laylen sitting on the railing near the open French doors. “I need to talk to Alex and Aislin. Could you go get them for me?”
Laylen nods and hops off the railing, his boots scuffing the wood. “Of course.” He shoots me a confused look before walking into the house.
“Why do you need to talk to them?” I give her a quizzical look as I slide off the railing and land on my feet.
“Because, I need all of you here,” she says, crossing her arms over her stomach like she feels sick. “Because this—all of this—involves all of you. Each of you plays a part in it.”
“Plays a part in what?” I ask. “Stephan trying to open the portal? Because I thought he just needed the star.”
“Oh, Gemma.” She extends her hand toward my face and then brushes some of my hair out of my eyes; her first motherly gesture and I’ll admit that it’s strange. “There is so much more to Stephan’s plan than just you and the star. So much more.”
Time seems to stop. I’d always assumed it was me, based on what I’d been told. Simply me and the star and the end of the world. I guess I was wrong, though. We all were. Which makes me wonder just how much more we were wrong about.
Laylen returns a few minutes later with a very sleepy-eyed Aislin dressed in pink yoga pants and a fitted white tank top. Tagging along behind her is a very stressed out Alex wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. They each grab a chair and drag them closer so we’re all sitting in a circle. Alex avoids eye contact with me, stretching his legs out and staring at his bare feet. The deck light is on as well as the bedroom light and it lights up the night around us.
Aislin fidgets nervously, wringing her fingers in her lap. “Jocelyn, I can’t believe you’re here…It’s just really… great.” She struggles for words she never does quite find.
My mother gives her a tight smile. “Thanks. I’m glad to see all of you… you’ve grown up so much.” She talks almost robotically and I wonder if this is what I sounded like back when I was emotionless.
“Laylen says there’s something you wanted to tell us?” Alex asks impatiently, picking at a loose thread on a torn area of his jeans.
My mother nods and finishes the last of her water. “There is.” She sets the empty glass down beside her feet and relaxes back in the chair, her shoulders curling inward. “But I need you to tell me what you know first. Gemma’s already told me what she knows about your father’s plans and what not, however I think you might know a little more than her.”
I burn a hole into the side of his head as he presses his lips together with guilt written all over his face. He crosses his arms and shifts his weight while his eyes quickly sweep across the four of us.
“Alex,” my mom says and I’m a little shocked at the warmness in her tone. “I understand your initial reaction is to keep things a bottled up. It’s what you’ve been taught to do, but I need to know what you know—it’s important.”
He tugs on the bottom of his shirt, staring at the floor. “Where do you want me to start?”
“How about from the beginning,” she says.
“But where is the beginning?” Alex mumbles, his gaze flicking to mine.
I can tell that even after everything, he still has secrets. Maybe he always will. Perhaps I’ll never know him. The raw thought clenches at my heart. I want to know him. Every part of him. Inside and out… what does that mean exactly? About me? About us?