Authors: Nancy Straight
If I told the investigators what I had walked in on, it would have implicated Zandra. There was no evidence against me, really none against either of us. As the days went by, the Council Enforcers' official investigation concluded that an unknown assailant had broken into our home and killed our parents.
The Chairman chooses his successor, but, given the circumstances, the decision was left up to the heads of families from the Council. They chose Zandra as the new Chairman, but by the time they did, Zandra had left the country and sworn she would never return to Thessaly.
In my heart I was sure she had murdered our parents, but I was satisfied the prize she sought remained out of her reach. She would never hold Chiron’s arrow. Even after she left our home, she was still too much a part of me – a part of my childhood. I was sure she was guilty of the crime, but I didn’t want her to join our parents in the pasture. Once she had become the Chairman, she broke all ties with me for good. I could never bear to leave the pastures of Thessaly; it was my home.
She cleared her throat, and I was pulled back to the present. Zandra’s chestnut brown eyes were fixed on mine. The prominent wrinkles around her eyes, the permanent frown etched on her face – it wasn’t the Zandra I remembered. The brown of her eyes hadn’t changed, but the beautiful girl with blonde hair and an easy smile was long gone. This tyrant who ruled ruthlessly had taken her place so very long ago, I hardly recognized her. Had I been wrong all those years ago? Should I have let the enforcers send her to the pasture for murdering our parents?
As if she had read my thoughts, Zandra said, “I let you live because you were my brother. I have never forgiven you for killing them. When the day arrives for you to go to the pasture, you can explain yourself to them.”
What? What was she talking about? Could Zandra be innocent? If she were innocent and I had no hand in our parent’s murder, who had killed them?
I had nothing left to hide. The secret my father wanted me to keep was tied to the arrow. I had long ago given that arrow to the man who had taken care of Angela’s son. Shame began to color my memories: I’d known Zandra: why was I so quick to think she a murderer? I couldn’t go to my grave not knowing. Neither could she. “Zandra, I’m opening me connection to ya. If you want the truth and do no’ fear sharing your truth with me, open yours.”
She eyed me suspiciously; I could feel the strength coursing through her. Zandra had grown to be as powerful as our father had been. She didn’t need me to tell her I had opened our connection. I’m sure she sensed it. At first she made no effort to reach out to me, her head cocked to the side as if she were considering my offer to be some sort of a threat.
When she made no move to restore our connection, I challenged, “Unless ya’ have more ta hide than you’ve claimed all these years.” That did it. She reached out to me, our minds connected, and I felt the familiarity, the closeness I’d lost over forty years ago.
Describing the connection was hard, almost as if there had been a hole in my soul; a significant part of me had been dead and was suddenly resurrected in front of me. I saw Zandra searching my memories, the pain of losing the father I idolized and the mother I adored. She saw my fear that I would lose Zandra if anyone knew she had killed our parents, the utter emptiness I had lived with for decades with her gone from my life.
Conversely, I searched her thoughts and found the bitterness she harbored for me. Zandra believed I had taken Mam and Dad. The hate she had carried for me all these years galvanized her heart. She was convinced that I was the monster. I don’t know how much time passed before her voice meekly declared, “You didn’t kill them.”
I shook my head, “Neither did you.”
(Camille Nash – Centurion, South Africa)
We stood outside a warehouse. It looked just like all the metal buildings peppering this neighborhood, with nothing elaborate or ornate about it. I wondered if we’d been given the wrong address. Surely this run-down building couldn’t be the headquarters for the Centaur Council. In disbelief, I asked, “Are you sure this is the right place?”
Drake looked at the crumpled slip of paper he’d been carrying. “This is the address Will gave me.”
I reached out with my mind to try to feel other Centaurs. They were close, but I wasn’t convinced this decaying warehouse in the city’s center was it. Eyeing the door, I worried that we had made this incredible journey for nothing. Had the location changed? Had they already decided our fate? My family’s future?
Drake turned the handle. The door swung open easily to a vacant warehouse. We walked inside: the ceilings were at least twenty feet high, the walls unfinished and uninsulated. Exposed metal beams ran the length of the inside, giving the impression of an aircraft hangar. The floor was cement under our feet with a glossy epoxy covering it. As we walked, our footsteps echoed in the abandoned warehouse, announcing our arrival to no one.
I looked at my watch. Where was everybody? William was clear that everyone would gather here at exactly two p.m. That was ten minutes from now, yet we hadn’t seen any parked cars outside and no evidence that anyone intended to host any kind of meeting. The relatively short time I had spent around Centaurs led me to believe this would be a lavish event – no expense spared. We had to be in the wrong place.
A door on the far end of the warehouse opened. I didn’t need to hear his voice, it had only been a day since I saw him last. “Hello, sister. I told Grandmother you wouldn’t heed my warning. It looks like the party can begin after all.”
Cameron walked confidently from the opposite side toward us. He stopped abruptly fifteen feet away, keeping his eyes fixed on Drake. As I stood watching him, I couldn’t get over how close our features were. He had the same brown eyes I saw every morning in the mirror. His nose was a little larger than mine, but exactly the same shape. His hair was the same dark coffee as mine. Knowing you have a twin is one thing, but looking at a near stranger and seeing pieces of yourself is another thing entirely.
After our visit yesterday at the resort, I expected the coolness of his voice and the calculated rhythm in his speech. Despite my efforts, I felt a smile growing on my face as I took a couple steps toward him. Drake reached out with an arm and stopped me from going further.
Cameron’s voice wasn’t surprised, “Ah, Drake. So good to see you again. It’s not often that a thief is brazen enough to show his face after he’s been given a warning. After our encounter yesterday, I expected you might try to avoid me.”
“I needed the arrow to save Cami. I told you that.”
“I remember the night well. You showed up at my door frantically searching for Camille. You believed I might be able to help you find her.”
Drake remained motionless, his feet were planted with his arm still blocking my progress toward Cameron. “I remember it well, too. You might say it’s burned in my memory.”
Cameron chuckled, “I bet you do. I didn’t know whether to chase after you into the forest, have tea with my grandmother, or break into tears like a child as my father presented himself. Having had a few weeks to think it over, I can tell you – I am in your debt.”
What was he talking about? Cameron was somehow happy with Drake all of the sudden?
“Had you not found me, I would still be locked away in that freezer of a prison where my mother had so carefully stashed me away.”
Drake asked, “I notice you are absent your enforcer escort today. I hope that means you’re willing to listen to us.”
“All that comes from either of you are lies. What would you like to share with me today?”
Drake shook his head, “You’ve spent some time with Zandra and Angelo. We wish we could have broken you out of their grasp, but I couldn’t take the chance of either of them getting Cami again.”
“Broken me out? Are you forgetting? They are my family.”
My heart sank further in my chest. Poor Cameron. I wanted to run to him and tell him they are both crazies, so stay as far away from them as possible. Instead I offered a simple truth, “No. They are blood, but Mom ran away and spent her whole life keeping us away from them.”
Cameron made some sort of disgusted noise. “So I’ve heard. You are aware that she gave me up?” Cameron studied me, as if deciding what he needed to say next. His voice was full of malice when he continued, “Not you, though. She raised you herself and passed me off to Roger – a human. It must be nice to be the favorite.”
Defensively I answered, “I asked her why after she died. She didn’t think she could protect all three of us.”
“And she didn’t even try, did she? No, she got her Centauride daughter. You are who she wanted. It was like an heir and a spare. I can almost hear her now, ‘Well, let’s just hide him away where no one will ever find him.’ You have no idea what it’s like growing up with no one. Not a single person who . . . cares.”
His words sliced into me. “I don’t know why she made the decisions she did. I wish she were still around so we could ask her. But I know Mom. She never would have left you with just anyone – she trusted Roger.” I loved Mom. I wish I understood the choices she made, and I hoped Cameron was wrong, but I had no idea what her connection to Roger was. I, too, wondered how she could have dropped Cameron off and never looked back. The woman I thought I knew could never have done that.
“Roger was fine, but in twenty-three years she never called to check on me. She never wrote a letter. She never even picked up a phone. I know how important I was to our mother, less important than a broken car left in the yard to rust.”
“You don’t have the full story. You only have the story full of half-truths fabricated by Zandra.”
“No, I have a grandmother and an uncle who searched for me as soon as they learned I was alive – who want me. The fact that I shared nine months with you in a womb doesn’t make us anything more than past roommates.”
He couldn’t feel that way. It would break my heart if he seriously believed that. “Cameron, you have to give us a chance. Don’t believe the hate and lies they’ve tried to shove down you."
“What you don’t understand, what you’re too wrapped up into yourself to fathom: I’m taking my rightful place in this family. I will follow in Grandma's footsteps. I have no loyalty to you, but as your twin I will give you one word of warning. Hide. Go to the farthest corner of the earth, find a hole and hide. Eventually we’ll find you, but now will be your only chance to sneak away, just like your mother did.”
Cameron turned around without another word. His steps were brisk as he walked back to the same door he emerged from on the opposite end of the warehouse. His footsteps echoed loudly on the concrete. After he walked through the door, I could feel the others outside. Centaurs were approaching, too many to try to count. I squeezed Drake’s hand as we stood waiting for what would come next. He felt everything I did, so he didn’t need my warning, but the words came out anyway, “This is it. They’re all coming.”
Drake’s hand gave mine a gentle squeeze while his other hand gently stroked my forearm. “Relax. We’re doing the right thing. They’ll listen.”
His words were sincere but did nothing to calm my nerves. I stood up straight, my back arched as my eyes remained fixed on the door Cameron had just exited. Centaurs were all around us, hundreds converging on the outside of the building. The fine hair on my arms stood on end as the anticipation for what was about to happen became unbearable. I tried to sift through the thoughts of the Centaurs just outside the warehouse, hoping to hear familiar voices or some sort of support for my family and me.
I was disheartened when the random thoughts I picked up on were clearly about us, without an ounce of support for our plight. “
Her death will save us from Zeus’ wrath. . . an abomination. . . she’ll try to trick us. . . the enforcers are ready to kill them all. . . traitors have been in custody for weeks. . . “
All the thoughts bombarded me. This was a mistake. No one would hear us out.
A familiar voice, kind and full of love approached from behind us. I didn’t need to turn to look at the door: it was Gretchen. She must have heard the same thoughts I had been listening to, because her words made my heart swell. “
Camille, you’re the daughter I always wanted. I trust you with my sons’ lives. We are with you.
Gretchen was a force of nature. She should have been furious that I even existed, but she harbored no negative energy toward me. No one would ever take Mom’s place, but if we made it out of this, I’d tell her every day for the rest of her life how much I adored her. The door behind us creaked open as I felt not just Gretchen, but my whole family arriving the same way we had.
I closed my eyes, keeping my back to them, feeling their strength as they drew closer. I didn’t need to turn around to see them. I felt them all. Gretchen and Will were in front, flanked by Bruce and Hannah on one side, and Beau and Lacey on their other side. Brent and Katherine walked side by side with Gage and Bianca. Ben and Bart trailed behind.
This was right, one family making a stand, together. Gage and Bianca may not have been family in a blood sense, but there were no two I trusted more than them.