“Jim. You missed the turn.”
Jim made a grunting noise to acknowledge his sister in law. They were on their way to see The Mariinsky Ballet from St. Petersburg performing Sleeping Beauty. Jim’s mind was less on the dancing they were headed to and more on the woman in his passenger seat. While his brother had been away in jail the two had grown close.
Jim and Jonathon were brothers but they were not alike in any way. Jim had dark hair and Jonathon light, they had different colour eyes. Jim was a cop, a detective. And Jonathon, well, Jonathon had gotten himself sent to jail for his involvement in a confidence scam. He was being released in three days after serving eighteen months of his sentence.
This was Jim’s last day with Rosanne. She had wanted it to be special and Jim was doing his best to give it to her. They had enjoyed lunch on the harbour, a leisurely two-hour cruise, followed by a walk in the gardens, most of their time spent by the roses. Rosanne loved roses. Dinner had been at a 50’s themed diner that Rosanne loved and now they were headed to the ballet.
Afterwards, they would go back to the hotel for their first and last night together.
Jim was excited and nervous, and more than a little envious of his brother for being married to this astounding woman. Not that it could have been him, he had been married years before Jonathon and Rosanne had met. Still, Jim would never understand what Rosanne saw in his brother beyond his good looks. Rosanne was well travelled, highly educated and stunningly beautiful. She could have had any opportunity she wished to pursue and yet she was married to Jonathon, staying that way, and not planning to pursue any kind of career. It was a mystery that not even a top detective could unravel.
“You’re very quiet, Jim. Is everything okay?”
“So far everything is perfect,” Jim replied. He glanced from the road to Rosanne and gave her a smile. Everything about today was perfect and he hoped it had been for her too. He also hoped what remained of their time together would be just as perfect.
“I agree, it’s been perfect. You’ve spoiled me, Jim.” Rosanne rested her hand on Jim’s thigh and left it there as he navigated his way to the parking building for the theatre. Once they were parked they shared a kiss, Rosanne fixed her lipstick and by the time she had finished, Jim was around the car opening the door for her.
“You look beautiful,” Jim almost stammered as he helped her from the car. Beautiful seemed inadequate and yet, if he waxed lyrical he would most likely come off cheesy. Jim wasn’t really a man of many words, nor a very eloquent one when he tried to be.
“Thank you.” Rosanne blushed and touched her hair. It was a sweet gesture that Jim read to mean that she was just as nervous as he was.
He took her arm and kissed her cheek. “You’re welcome.”
Both smiling, often at each other, they walked arm in arm toward the door to the stairs to head to the theatre and their seats. Sleeping Beauty was Rosanne’s favourite ballet and Jim was so glad they could share it together.
“You were conceived that night.”
Briar had not been aware of herself until that moment. She had been watching the scene play out unaware of her own form and consciousness, right up until the female voice spoke and the scene paused around her. Briar turned and found a woman standing next to her wearing a red dress. She looked as Briar imagined she might when she was older.
Was this an older version of Briar come to give her wisdom on her quest?
It took Briar a moment to see the differences in this woman, differences that would not come to Briar with age. This was not herself, no, this woman was more like the one that Jim had been escorting away. This woman looked like Briar’s mother, or how she would have looked had she lived and aged. The woman Briar had been watching had been twenty or twenty-one, twenty-two at most, and Rosanne had died two weeks before her twenty-fifth birthday. She would have been in her fifties now, as this woman in the red dress looked.
“Are you my…?” Briar couldn’t bring herself to say it. She wasn’t sure why, but the word mother stuck in her throat like cotton balls.
“In a way. I was once but now I am something different.”
“And that was you I was watching. That’s what really happened?”
“It is. I knew I would fall pregnant that night, and I knew I wanted Jim to be your father. It was one of the best nights of my life. I loved Jim so much.”
“Loved him? Yeah, I can tell how much you loved him by the fact you never tried to be with him.”
Rosanne, or the spirit that had been Rosanne, looked down and Briar could have sworn that sadness rolled off the woman like mist off the sea.
“No, you don’t get to go all quiet and sad on me. If he had been known to be my father I would have gone to him when you died. Not your sister and that…man.”
Briar’s anger was quick to rise. It always was but especially on this topic. It was something that had eaten away at her since she had found out that Jim was her father and not Jonathon. Why had her mother denied her a real father? Why had she been sent to her Aunt? Why was she denied a loving home? Even if Jim’s wife had hated Briar it would have been a more loving environment than what she got.
“It was complicated. Jim had obligations to his wife, his children and I…I had complications too.”
“Complications? Don’t you dare give me that BS. Don’t you fucking dare.”
“You had to go to my sister. I made promises and even though I did try to break them, it was already done.”
“That tells me nothing. Why did you damn your own daughter?”
The woman in the red dress paced a few steps away from Briar and then turned and looked back at her. Rosanne looked like she had made a decision and Briar hoped like hell it was one that would allow her to understand.
“I, I wanted a child. I was willing to do anything, anything at all for one. A man came to me. I thought he was an angel. He was beautiful, and he radiated power. He promised me I would have a child. He showed me a potion that I could drink to have a child and it reminded me of an old Sleeping Beauty story I had read, a magical creature promises the queen a baby. He asked me what I would pay for it and I told him anything, I would pay anything, do anything for a child and he told me that was an acceptable payment. I could have kept the potion and drank it when Johnny came home but I drank it the night I was with Jim. I wanted you to be the child of a good man. When I was six weeks pregnant with you I made up my mind to leave Johnny and go to Jim. Even if it was selfish to ask him to leave his family. But the angel returned, he walked in with Johnny and I knew I had been played. They told me the child would be terminated if I tried to leave and if I did not do everything that the angel wanted after the child was born he would return and cut out the child’s beating heart.
He was not an angel. He was a demon and he told me of my heritage, our heritage, that we come from the line of a demon.”
Rosanne fell silent and while Briar knew that at this news she should feel compassion for her mother, she did not. She still felt anger and betrayal.
“So, you agreed to everything they asked and doomed me. Losing my heart might have been a better way to go.”
“They had plans for you and I could not bear to take life away from you. I tried to fight them, I did.”
“By doing everything they wanted? That’s a fantastic fighting technique, Mum.”
“Each birthday they would come for a ritual. By your fifth birthday, you would be completely twisted into a demonic creature. By your sixteenth, you would join them. I couldn’t let it happen. I found a woman, a witch who promised to help me. On your next birthday, they came again to do the ritual. A man appeared that was more powerful than them and he cast them out. He said I only needed to summon him and he would come to save you. He said he protected his family. I called him one last time the night of the accident and he saved you. By the time he returned to help me I was already dead.”
Briar found herself sinking down onto the concrete ground. She could see the whole thing playing out in her mind, the birthday party, the car accident that was clearly no accident. It was jarring and painful to witness, her head throbbing painfully. Briar closed her eyes until it was done and the pressure left her head.
Rosanne looked around before she moved to Briar’s side and embraced her. The two women clung to each other and Briar was not sure who started crying first.
“I am sorry for everything that happened then and after. I would give my life again to change things for you. I am so proud of you and I wish I could stay.”
“I have so many questions. So many things I’ve always wanted to say to you.”
“And I wish I could stay so we could speak of everything you wish.”
Briar looked up. She had thought Rosanne meant that she wished she could stay for good, not that she could stay no longer. “You’re leaving?”
“I should not be here. Lorelei gave me as much time as she could to join with you. Be strong, my Briar Rose. You are so much better than me. You can survive this. You will wake.”
Rosanne vanished. Briar was left alone as the background faded into shadows. She had been given a glimpse of the love that she had been conceived in and given dozens more questions about herself, her mother and her uncle.
It had answered one question that Briar had always wondered about Jim. It seemed he had really loved Rosanne, and what he said to Briar about wanting to make a life with Rosanne if she’d let him was true. No wonder his wife had left him when she found out. But, it still did not excuse him for not coming for Briar, no matter what promises he made to Rosanne.
Briar was not one for tears, she had trained herself not to cry at an early age. But she was crying now. For her father, for her mother, but mostly for herself and the life she could have lived if she had been allowed to grow up in the love that had created her. It seemed that the universe had been against her right from the beginning, so was it any wonder that Briar kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and destroy her current happiness. If the universe was so set on taking love and happiness from her from the beginning why should it allow her to have it now?
“Are you ready to move on now, Briar Rose? You have much more to see.”
A man was suddenly standing in front of her with his hand extended to help her to her feet. He seemed familiar but Briar had never seen his face before.
“Who are you?”
“We met before when I helped you with a tricky situation. I wore someone else’s face then, someone I knew you would trust.”
“Greece. You, you called yourself Hermes.”
“A slight lie on my part but given you believed the others were also Greek Gods it seemed a logical lie.”
“Who are you then?”
“You can call me Nathaniel.”
“I can call you that, or that is your name?”
“It’s one of them.”
Briar hesitated for a moment and then took his hand. If this was the same man or being, that had rescued her then it stood to reason she could trust him. He helped her to her feet, tucked her hand into his bent elbow and started walking.
“Where are we going?”
“Back to Greece, well, we shall begin there. You were right to worry that it was more than it appeared to be and that your attackers were not done with you.”
Back in the room, they could all see Briar’s body twitch and move as she dreamed. They could all see the tears that ran down her cheeks, into her hair and wet the mattress beneath her. Lorelei moved and placed a hand on Alistair’s shoulder as he sat on the floor at the edge of the circle. “Those tears are ones of healing, do not fear, she has not passed into any danger, yet.”
“It’s the yet that worries me.”
“I know, but she is protected and guarded. She would not want you upset.” Lorelei knew that all present worried; Briar’s tears upset them. Lorelei knew that there was much worse yet to come. This was only the beginning.