One image kept flashing into my head – Amelia's face at the end, when she yelled. Everything about her was typical frustrated kid… except her eyes. In my mind, I could see the look she gave me. It was kind and patient, the look of a loving parent trying to explain something her child doesn't have the experience to understand. It was a strangely sophisticated expression for a girl who couldn't have been more than eight years old, and even stranger for one who seemed like she was about to have a meltdown.
It was similar to what I noticed in her grandfather, who looked old, but gave off a vibe of youth and energy.
Knowledge beyond one's years… vitality beyond one's age… I knew that. I had seen it in Sage. He'd been twenty when he drank The Elixir of Life. Now, five hundred years later, he was as strong and vibrant as ever. Stronger, even. And his mind was sharp from centuries of experience.
I didn't even realize how tense I'd become until I heard the boom of Roosevelt's galloping hooves. We were moving quickly, faster than I'd ever gone, but I couldn't release my grip on Roosevelt's flanks. If anything, I pushed harder as everything fell into place.
An old man more vital than his age; a child sophisticated beyond her years.
Did Amelia and her family drink The Elixir? It seemed to fit, but it didn't explain everything. The Elixir kept people young, but it didn't give them superpowers. Unlike this family, Sage couldn't pop in and out of existence. If he could, I'd have seen it happen – it's a power he'd have found helpful many times between when I found him in Brazil and lost him in Japan.
Yet there was no doubt these people were connected to Sage somehow. They knew all about him… or they wanted me to believe they did.
Amelia's mother had said I should think of them as Guardian Angels. She wanted me to believe they were on my side. If they were, why would they want to keep me away from Sage? What did they know that I didn't?
Roosevelt slowed to a walk. We were back at the stables. He took a slight stagger-step and I put my hand on his neck, hot and coated in sweat. I felt terrible; I hadn't meant to push him so hard.
"Wow," Nico marveled as he and Rayna walked toward me, "you sure put Roosevelt through his paces."
Nico was my mother's latest hire, one of a battalion of staff members who had converged on our home in the last several weeks. I hated the extra scrutiny of so many fresh pairs of eyes, but I suppose I'd brought it on myself. Part of the deal with Mom and Dad letting me pursue a photojournalism career at a young age was that I'd let them know where I was at all times… something I neglected to do when I took off for Japan with Ben and Sage. Mom found out when she heard some of her young staffers gossiping about pictures of Ben and I that had been snapped by gawkers in Shibuya and posted on the web.
That was bad enough. It only got worse when she received a frantic call from Piri, our housekeeper, screaming that I'd come home with a gunshot wound to the leg. Mom raced home in a panic, and nearly lost her mind when neither Ben nor myself could offer her a decent explanation for what happened.
Mom decided the whole incident was a direct result of my continuing struggle with Dad's death. Though she'd thought therapy would help me, she was now positive that I was acting out because she hadn't been available to me. I swore that wasn't it, but she wouldn't hear it, and pretty much relocated her entire office from Capitol Hill to our home. As the Junior Senator from the Great State of Connecticut, she had to spend a certain amount of time in D.C., but the Weston family fortune made chartered flights a simple solution.
Once I'd have been thrilled to have my mom change her life for me, but right now I wanted time alone to think. Instead I was surrounded by chaos. And even though Mom was in the same house, she was so busy I barely got to see her… just her huge, constantly moving and buzzing staff, including Nico. He was brought in to help Rayna's mom Wanda,a.k.a. our "Equine Professional." Wanda was unstoppable, but with Mom home and riding more, she needed the extra help.
Rayna couldn't be happier. She was my best friend from birth, and I was used to her falling head over heels within seconds of meeting someone, but her instant obsession with buff, blonde Nico might have set a record even for her. Despite her mom's job, Rayna had never been particularly horse-oriented, but the day she saw Nico, she put together an entire wardrobe of jeans, button-down plaid shirts, cowboy boots, and hats so she could "blend in" at the stables.
It took Rayna no time to work her way into Nico's confidence, and everything he told her, she then passed on to me. As a result, I knew far more about him than I was interested in knowing, including his age (twenty-one), home town (Montana), family structure (four younger siblings and a deceased father), economic status (poor – especially since he sent ninety percent of each paycheck home to his family), and plans for the future (continue his mom-mandated furlough to see the country and expand his horizons before going back home to the ranch).
As I dismounted Roosevelt, Nico took the reins and led him into the stable. I felt like I owed him an explanation for returning the horse in such a state, so I followed. "Sorry," I said. "I think he's a little overheated."
"He's not the only one," Rayna lilted in my ear. When I turned to her she pointed to Nico and threw her head back, then fanned herself as she mouthed "OMG."
I smiled and rolled my eyes. Rayna had been in near-despair that after weeks of her most concentrated flirting, Nico hadn't touched her except to help her up after she tripped and fell. A fall that, of course, was orchestrated for that very outcome.
"He's okay," Nico said. He had already untacked Roosevelt, and was reaching for the hose. "He likes to go long and hard."
From anyone else this would be a blatant – and pretty cheesy – double entendre, but Nico looked oblivious. That fit with what Rayna said about him, that he was "adorably innocent." I didn't buy it, but Rayna said I was letting recent events make me overly suspicious, and cloud my otherwise open nature. I reminded her I didn't have an otherwise open nature, but she liked the theory and was sticking with it, so I let it go.
"Clea, did you get that Camila Dexter song I emailed you?" Rayna asked loudly enough to be heard over the running water. "It's been going through my head like crazy."
"The new one?" Nico asked. "I love that song."
Of course he did. And of course Rayna knew it before she asked. Camila Dexter was a country singer, and neither Rayna nor I ever listened to country music, nor emailed songs to one another, but already she and Nico were in a deep discussion about the track, so this was my perfect exit.
Alone again, I was free to think about Amelia and her family.
Was there even a chance they could be Sage's family?
I had never seen his family in my dreams of Olivia, the woman I was when Sage and I first met. I supposed it was possible they could be ghosts of family members. If so, it would explain the blinking in and out of existence. But then why did they claim to be looking out for me? Why would they tell me to give up on Sage?
I put my hand on the doorknob of my house and cringed as I prepared to enter. I couldn't believe I was pining for the days when Piri's bizarre Hungarian superstitions were the only things I dreaded. They used to make me crazy, but at least I could slip past her and have the house to myself. These days I barely had the space to breathe. I was lucky to even have this quiet moment outside – when dignitaries were in town, we had Secret Service members flanking the front door.
The wall of sound smacked me the second I walked in. As I made my way to the kitchen to grab a snack, I passed several aides walking with great purpose, carrying who-knew-what to who-knew-where as they talked a mile a minute into their earpiece phones.
One in particular stopped in her tracks when she saw me. Suzanne.
"Clea!" she cried, and wrapped me in a huge Chanel-scented hug. She was several inches taller than me to begin with – add in her five-inch heels, and the hug had the effect of pushing me face-first into her C-cups. Just when I thought I might smother, she pulled away and held me at arm's length, scrutinizing me with her makeup-counter lacquered face. I'm a healthy person – I eat right, I exercise… I'm in good shape. But Suzanne's long frame, tucked into her button-down silk fitted shirt and pencil skirt, made me feel three people wide. "We've missed you this morning!" she said.
"We" meant Suzanne and my mother, and it made me crazy that this woman felt perfectly at ease speaking for the both of them. Like Nico, Suzanne was one of Mom's recent hires – a right-hand aide here in the "Connecticut office." Mom liked the idea of someone local taking the job, and Suzanne had been an aide for Hartford's Mayor Josephson since graduating Yale with an honors degree in PoliSci the year before. Ed Josephson was in his eighties and an inveterate lecher. The buzz was she'd walked into the interview and "accidentally" spilled a sip of her bottled water down her cleavage. By the time she'd finished blotting it dry, the interview was over. She had the job.
In a strange way, I'd have been less disgusted by that story if Suzanne was unqualified, and using the Mayor's sleaziness to her advantage. But she was qualified. Mom raved about her, and when I watched her in action I understood why. Suzanne was brilliant at handling people, and she could go toe to toe with anyone on any hot-button issue and leave them reeling. She didn't need to act like a Playmate to win a job. The fact that she did it anyway turned my stomach.
Suzanne, however, felt no such shame about her former job. It had been a prime position for someone her age, and she worked both it and her Ivy League education (summa cum laude!) into conversations as often as possible. "The Senator thought you might be around after breakfast, but now she's on a string of calls that'll go all day. She's hoping her one-thirty will end in time for her to have a proper lunch, but it's with Mayor Josephson, so it won't happen. Believe me, I would know – I was there when he spoke to the President, and even he couldn't get the Mayor to hang up."
The Senator. One more galling thing about Suzanne – she wouldn't say "your mother." It was always "The Senator." The title that tied my mom to her top aide, not to me.
I realized Suzanne was staring at me, expecting some kind of reaction to her close encounter with the leader of the free world.
"Wow. Well, I won't count on her for lunch then. Thanks."