Available now as a part of The Fates Trilogy.
Travers Kinneally picks up his son Kyle at his sister’s house in Oregon and strange things start to happen to him. First, his sister asked him to drive three strange women to Las Vegas. The women, whom he calls the Wyrd Sisters, seem to attract every weird thing to them. Kyle even calls them the Fates.
The Fates need to find a detective named Zoe Sinclair. Travers expects to find an 80-year-old woman. Instead, he finds the most beautiful woman imaginable.
Zoe senses trouble from the moment Travers appears. And even worse, he brought the Fates.
Zoe ends up helping them—not just because of the magic, but because of Travers himself. Handsome, smart, and in trouble, the kind of trouble that can get a savvy detective killed. Or kissed.
“An excellent story that’s every bit as good as the previous volumes in this engaging series, Absolutely Captivated is not to be missed. It will definitely go on my keeper shelf.”
—The Best Reviews
Copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First published by in 2004 by Zebra Books
Published by WMG Publishing
ZOE SINCLAIR CARRIED three overflowing beer steins toward the darkened corner of the bar, ignoring the catcalls and cries of “Hey, Baby, bring ’em over here!” coming from the men at tables around the room. The calls came in perfect counterpoint to the beep-beep of the video poker machines lined up against the wall by the door. The cigarette smoke was thick and blue in the low-ceilinged room, and Zoe wouldn’t have it any other way.
She was emphatically not a waitress—never had been, never would be, no matter how tight her money got—but she had perfected the three-stein carry in the nineteenth century, when she spent way too much time in German beer gardens, trying to find a secret doorway to Faerie that she’d heard about in Munich. She never found that German doorway, but she had come away with some practical skills, most of them having to do with beer.
O’Hasie’s Pub was crowded tonight, which meant that one of the downtown casinos was hosting a major poker tournament. O’Hasie’s was on the wrong side of Fremont Street, as far from the Fremont Street Experience as a walker could get.
O’Hasie’s catered mainly to the locals, but during major downtown tournaments, the poker players—usually the losing ones—made their way through the drug dealers and hookers who found refuge in this last unDisneyfied section of Vegas, and stopped at O’Hasie’s for some refreshment.
If Zoe had remembered that this was the big event, she would have suggested a different bar. But there were so many casinos in Las Vegas now, each with its own round of tournaments and concerts and special events, that she couldn’t keep track of any of them.
Whenever Zoe went to a tourist venue, she wore the traditional costume of the traveling American: blue jeans, logo t-shirt, and sneakers. What she usually liked about O’Hasie’s was that no tourists ventured close to it (except during major tournaments), and she could dress however she pleased.
Tonight she wore a black skirt with a slit along the side, and a see-through blouse over a black t-shirt. She topped it all with a small black fedora on her chin-length black hair. Certainly not camouflage clothes. The tourists looked at her as if she were a member of Vegas’s exotic nightlife.
Zoe managed to make it all the way to the back without spilling a drop—not a mean trick, considering how wobbly her stiletto heels were on the pilled carpet. She skirted around two bulky women in green Fitzgerald’s t-shirts, and headed for the booth next to the restrooms.
The booth had the benefit of privacy. It had tall sides made of the original mahogany wood that had once graced O’Hasie’s. In the many remodels this bar had undergone since 1955, the mahogany mostly disappeared, except in a few surprising places—this booth, the corridor leading to the restrooms, and an old-fashioned glass-doored phone cubicle just past the men’s room door.
A small red-shaded lamp glued to the wall above the table gave the booth an even greater air of privacy. From the bar, the patrons sitting in the booth were impossible to see.
But as she stepped across a rip in the carpet that had been there since 1983, the booth came into view. Its red upholstery looked particularly seedy, and the plastic oak-veneer tabletop, which someone had replaced the old wooden tables with four decades ago, had dried water stains that looked orange in the weird light.
Her friends, Herschel and Gaylord, were using two straws to slap a wadded-up straw wrapper back and forth as if it were a hockey puck. They were bent across the table, the game obviously serious, as games always were with the two of them.
They looked enough alike to be brothers, even though they weren’t. They both had thick black hair, slightly pointed ears, and slender forms that they tried to hide under heavy leather jackets covered with lots of chains and metal. Lately Herschel had tried to toughen up his pretty face with piercings, but the studs in his nose emphasized its small, perfect shape, and the rings in the eyebrows only served to accent their upswept arch, which made them look like wings. Nothing these two guys could do—not even Gaylord’s bruised right eye—could make take away from their unearthly beauty.
Zoe set the steins down, then slid one to Herschel and the other to Gaylord. She took the third stein for herself and sat down next to Herschel, adjusting her skirt so that the slit didn’t show quite as much thigh to the drunk and disappointed poker players.
“You screwed up the arena,” Gaylord said, raising his straw as if it were a lance. “You got water all over the playing surface.”
Zoe picked up the crumpled wrapper, rolled it into a perfect ball between her manicured fingertips, and then tossed it into the wastebasket halfway across the room. She hit the basket, but didn’t shout Two points! like she normally would have.
Instead, she leaned back in the booth and said, “We’ve had enough table hockey for the night.”
“You know, Zo,” Herschel said, tugging on a ring at the corner of his delicate mouth, “there are times you are no fun at all.”
Zoe sipped the foam on her beer, wishing that this bar had something more exotic than Heineken on tap. “I’ve got two divorces, one insurance fraud case, and one missing dachshund to find, so if you two—”
“Missing dachshund?” Gaylord giggled. The sound was high-pitched and infectious, and caught the attention of the poker players at a nearby table. They looked at Gaylord in shock, probably trying to decide how old he was. When Gaylord giggled like that, he sounded like he was three.
“Zo,” Gaylord said, “you’re better than finding missing dogs.”
“It’s my job,” Zoe said. “I take the work that interests me.”
“Since when did you become a pet detective?” Herschel asked.
Zoe felt a thread of irritation. “Since the client came to my office. Which is where I’m going to go if you two don’t tell me why I’m here.”
“Zo, Zo, Zo,” Gaylord said. “You should get your money the old-fashioned way. You should conjure it.”
He clapped his hands together and stacks of neatly wrapped hundred-dollar bills littered the tabletop.
“I don’t do that,” Zoe said. “You know that.”
She believed in earning her way through hard work, not magic. Besides, she was a mage, subject to the judgment of the Fates, and the rule of the Powers That Be. Herschel and Gaylord were Faeries, who lived under different rules. The Faerie Kings—the Faerie equivalent of the Fates—didn’t seem to mind a lot of magic use, where the Fates punished mages for using too much.
Gaylord picked up a stack of bills and waved it under Zoe’s nose. The stack smelled faintly of clover. “C’mon, Zo,” he said. “Live a little. Party up, girl. You work too hard.”
Zoe slapped the money away. “I don’t cheat people.”
“This isn’t cheating,” Gaylord said. “People are always so happy to get cash.”
“It’s Faerie money,” she whispered. “It’ll fade away in twenty-four hours.”
“Long after you’re gone, sweetheart,” Gaylord said. “The humans’ll just think they’ve lost it or spent it or counted it wrong when they were drunk.”
Zoe crossed her arms. The poker players from the next table were watching, their eyes big.
“Get it out of here,” she said very quietly, “or I’m leaving.”
“By the solstice, Zo,” Herschel snapped, “when did you get to be such a pain?”
Zoe gave him a cold smile. “I always have been, Hersch. I just usually pain in your favor.”
Herschel tugged harder on the ring on the side of his mouth. “You make it sound like I take sides. I don’t. Usually.”
“Neither do I,” said Zoe. “Now get rid of this stuff.”
“If you promise to stop using real names,” Herschel said. “You’re making me nervous.”
She had intended to make him nervous. The real name of a magical person—be he Faerie or mage—had a lot of power. With the right spell, someone magical could control another magical person, just by using their real name.
“Well,” Zoe said, nodding toward the Faerie money, “you’re making me nervous, not to mention attracting a lot of attention.”
Gaylord cursed in Gaelic which, from his accent, was not his native language. He clapped his hands together, and the money disappeared.
Zoe stretched one long leg toward the seat on the other side of the booth, then crossed the other leg over it. The slit in her skirt fell open, revealing a lot of skin.
She hoped the poker players noticed, so that they didn’t search for the missing cash.
“You boys called me,” she said softly. “Tell me what’s going on or I’m taking your beers back to the bar.”
Both Herschel and Gaylord grabbed their steins as if she had already tried to take them. She had taken their drinks away before. She felt she had that right.
She always bought when the three of them met because she didn’t want to risk her reputation around town. Contrary to what Gaylord said, mortals did remember who gave them Faerie money. And even though they might not understand what happened, and eventually come to think of it as some kind of cheap parlor trick, they did resent it.
“Word on the street, Zo, is that the magic is gathering around you,” Gaylord said.
“Which street?” Zoe asked. “Are we talking about the Strip or that avenue in Faerie you boys coated with pyrite?”
Herschel rolled his eyes. “It’s not fool’s gold, love. It’s pixie dust, and you know we weren’t supposed to tell you about that.”
“I don’t remember ever telling her about that,” Gaylord said, giving Herschel a sideways look. “Did you?”
“We had to,” Herschel said. “Zoe’s never going to Faerie, are you, Zo?”
Zoe didn’t answer that, at least not directly. She was afraid of Faerie. The prophecy that each mage got when her magical career started warned Zoe against Faerie, while promising her great rewards if she lived near it.
She could still hear the words as if they were being spoken for the first time: You shall find your true love near Faerie, if you don’t lose yourself inside its ever-changing walls.
For the first few decades of her magical life, she had sought out Faerie, trying to find an entrance. She wanted to find her true love. She actually hoped that she would.
In those early years, she found two entrances to Faerie—and had two disastrous relationships while she lived nearby. Finally, she gave up on finding her true love. She wandered all over the world, settling in Los Angeles and becoming a private detective.
In the end, though, Faerie’s siren song lured her to Las Vegas, the center of the Faerie universe. She loved it here, with its combination of glitz and seediness. She loved the people who came through, the cases that she got, and the mortals that she met. She even had a lot of Faerie friends.
But she refused to go anywhere near the entrance to Faerie, and tried hard to forget about the prophecy that had once guided her entire existence.
So she didn’t answer Herschel’s question directly. Instead, she said, “Why should I go to Faerie when it comes to me with rumors?”
“I been hearing them all over, doll,” Herschel said, sipping on his beer. “Sages, prophets, the glamour-eyed. They are all talking about you.”
“Me?” Zoe felt unsettled. The people Herschel mentioned were human with touches of magic, not part of the magical universe at all (although some of them eventually would become part of it). But these people saw corners of things, and it did the magical well to pay attention to what these people said.
“You, love,” Gaylord said. “Everyone’s saying the magic is gathering around you. Your time has come.”
Zoe’s mouth felt dry. “My time for what?”
“For whatever your destiny is,” Herschel said. “Magic doesn’t gather unless a destiny is about to be fulfilled.”
“That’s Faerie belief,” Zoe said. “We don’t believe that.”
Herschel shrugged. “We all dip into the same magical well, Zo. Believe or don’t believe. We just thought we’d warn you. Your prophecy is about to come true.”
Gaylord stuck the straw he’d been using as a hockey stick into his beer. Then he stirred the amber liquid, ostensibly watching bubbles rise. But, Zoe could tell, he was looking at her out of the corner of his black-and-blue eye.
“It’s not a bad one, is it?” Gaylord asked.
“What?” Zoe asked, a little too quickly.
“Your prophecy. It’s not bad, right?”
Depended on whether you looked at the true love part or the warning part. But again, Zoe didn’t answer him directly. Her prophecy was none of his business.
“All the mage prophecies are about love,” Zoe said.
“Oh, yeah.” Herschel giggled. His giggle wasn’t as infectious as Gaylord’s but it ran a close second. “Hearts, flowers, happily ever after. Soulmates. All sweetness and light, just like our Zoe here.”
“Don’t make fun,” Zoe said. “Some people take this really seriously.”
The smile left Herschel’s metal-covered face. “You one of them, Zo?”
She used to be. Before her heart got broken, shattered, stomped on, and flattened.
“You know me,” Zoe said. “Give me an Elvis Chapel, a bouquet of black hearts, and a million dollars, and I’ll be happily married until the money’s gone.”
“I can give you a million dollars, babe,” Herschel said.
Zoe narrowed her eyes. “Real money, Hersch. Real money.”
“Liar.” Gaylord slurped the beer through his straw. He’d done that as long as Zoe had known him, and every time it creeped her out. Especially the sucking sound, as if he were pulling hops off the bottom of the stein with his lungs.
“I’m not lying,” Zoe said. “I hate your money.”
“You’re lying about your dream, there, Zo.” Gaylord stirred the beer with the soggy end of his straw. It had teeth marks in it, pointy holes from Gaylord’s extra-sharp canines. Or, as he liked to call them, his fangs.
“I am not,” Zoe said, clutching her own beer stein tightly. Except for one sip, she hadn’t had any beer. And now she didn’t want any more. But she held the stein in front of her as if it were a shield.
“Hon, you can have black hearts and Elvis, if you really want that. I’m not disputing that part. I’m disputing the money part. You’ve got enough to last you and with a snap of your fingers, you can conjure more.” He stirred hard enough to make more bubbles rise.
Herschel tugged at a diamond pierced into the side of his nose, then realized what he was doing, stopped, and wiped his hand on his leather pants.
Gaylord continued, “You’re an idealist, Zo. It’s clear in all you do. You hide it, you pretend you’re a cynical as they come, but you like the mortals and you like helping them, and you’re not in it for the money.”
Zoe gripped her beer stein tighter. She didn’t think Gaylord was smart enough to see through her—not that it was hard. Anyone looking at her actions would know that she wasn’t as cynical as she pretended to be.
She just hadn’t thought anyone else was paying attention.
“So I betcha you believe in all this true love hogwash, and are secretly hoping some Prince Charming’ll knock you off your feet and ride off into the sunset with you.”
“Talk about mixed metaphors,” Herschel muttered.
“And such a lovely image, too,” Zoe said.
“So,” Gaylord said, undeterred by the criticism, “if the magic is gathering, your Prince Charming is on the horizon.”
Zoe set her beer stein down. “First of all, I don’t believe in Prince Charmings. I don’t believe in Prince anythings, having met several of them, and realizing that just because they’re royalty doesn’t mean their ears don’t stick out.”
“Hey!” Herschel put his hands over his severely pierced, jeweled, and pointed ears.
“She was referring to the British royalty, bud,” Gaylord said.
Zoe pretended she hadn’t heard the interchange. “Secondly, I don’t believe in Charming. Charming means liar. Charming means a man who’ll do anything to get what he wants. Thirdly—”
“We get it,” Gaylord said. “You’re not into this love thing. Which is why we warned you.”
“Actually,” Herschel said, “we warned you because gathering magic isn’t always a good thing. Just because your destiny lurks doesn’t mean that you’ll get it. I mean, each prophecy has a dark side. Right? Ours do, anyway. Things can go good or they can go bad. Same with yours, right?”
“I didn’t know you had prophecies,” Zoe said with surprise.
“Um.” Herschel looked at Gaylord, who looked back. They had equal expressions of panic on their handsome faces. “We don’t.”
“That’s right,” Gaylord said. “We don’t. Of course not. Why would we befriend a mage if we had prophecies?”
Herschel kicked him under the table. Zoe saw Herschel’s leg move, and heard the thud as his steel-toed boot connected with Gaylord’s knee.
Zoe pushed her stein into the center of the table, and leaned forward. She felt cold. “You befriended me because of a prophecy?” she asked.
“No,” they said in unison. Herschel actually shook his head repeatedly, a clear sign that he was lying.
“Why would we do that?” Gaylord asked.
“You tell me,” Zoe said.
They looked at each other again, wide-eyed, guilty looks.
“You may as well,” Zoe said. “You aren’t doing a good job of covering up. All I have to do is go to one of the seedy casinos on the Boulder Highway and ask around. They’ll tell me who gets prophecies, and then I’ll tell them who spilled the—”
“All right!” Herschel said holding up his hands as if she were robbing him. “All right.”
Gaylord watched him in stunned fascination. Or maybe it was fear. Zoe couldn’t really tell, not at this angle and in the dim light.
“We have prophecies,” Herschel said, “and they’re not individual like yours. They all have to do with power, and right now, you’re the power center, Zo.”
Whatever she had expected him to say, it wasn’t that. “Me?” she asked, not trying to cover her surprise.
He nodded. “I mean, we’ve always known, me and Gaylord, that you’d have something to do with the power shift in Faerie, but we didn’t know how, especially after we got to know you—”
“And like you,” Gaylord added, as if he were afraid she would be mad.
She wasn’t sure if she was mad or not. She’d always known her friendship with two Faeries was unusual, but she’d prided herself on her open-mindedness. She figured they had prided themselves on theirs as well.
“—and after we found out that you didn’t ever want to go into Faerie. We just figured, you know, that you’d hold the key to the entire regime change.”
“Regime change?” Zoe asked.
Herschel shrugged. “It’s not as bad as it sounds, not really. The Kings’ve been in power for a long time now, and they’re getting real stale. Not to mention power-hungry. So we figured if the power floats around you, then we’re safe near you. If you know what I mean.”
Zoe didn’t know what he meant. “I thought you said this had to do with my prophecy.”
“Well, technically, it does and it doesn’t.” Gaylord grabbed her beer and shoved his straw into it. Zoe grimaced. He stirred the beer, ignoring her reaction.
“Magic gathers whenever a destiny is about to be met,” Herschel said.
“It doesn’t matter whose destiny.” Gaylord was studying the swirling straw. “It could be yours, it could be Faerie’s, it could be someone else’s.”
“So you didn’t really want to warn me at all.” Zoe folded her hands together, mostly so that she couldn’t shake these little men like she wanted to. “You came here to find out what I knew.”
Herschel set his empty beer stein next to Gaylord’s, then moved them to the edge of the table, probably hoping the bar’s lone cocktail waitress would see them and interrupt the conversation.
“Well, you know,” Herschel said, “we figured if we mentioned the rumor, then you might just enlighten us.”
“You’ve done that before,” Gaylord said as he kept stirring.
Zoe grabbed the straw, and pulled it out of her beer. She moved the dripping thing into Gaylord’s stein, and pulled hers back in front of her.
She didn’t want to drink from it—not anymore, especially not after the straw incident—but she felt like she needed it as her shield again.
“I’ve told you things I shouldn’t have?” Zoe asked.
“You know, when you’ve asked us for information,” Herschel said. “We’ve traded.”
Apparently they traded a little more than she knew. She used to go to them for any information that had to do with Faerie-owned casinos—and there were a lot of them in Vegas, mostly on the outskirts. Ancient, seedy casinos, with long-enchanted customers who sat in front of slot machines and pulled and pulled and pulled until they got carpal tunnel or died.
“You guys have been using me,” Zoe said.
“No more than you’ve been using us,” Herschel said.
“It’s not like that,” Gaylord said, almost at the same time. “We like you, Zo.”
The thing of it was, she knew Gaylord was telling the truth. For all the times they had traded information, there were other times where they’d simply sat around a non-Faerie-owned bar, like this one, and talked. They liked her stories, and she liked theirs. They had all lived long lives, and they loved to share parts of the past.
She wasn’t as angry as she should have been. She never fully trusted them anyway, and she doubted they fully trusted her.
And they had called her here to do her a favor.
Zoe sighed. “What should I be looking out for?”
Gaylord and Herschel exchanged glances again. Those looks were beginning to make her nervous.
“Anything unusual,” Herschel said.
“More unusual than usual,” Gaylord said.
“More unusual than usual how?” Zoe asked.
“Like power stuff or love stuff might be a tip you’re in difficult waters,” Herschel said.
“Or stuff that isn’t quite what it seems,” Gaylord said.
“Like you guys.” Zoe couldn’t resist jabbing at them.
“No!” Herschel said.
“Yes!” Gaylord said at the same time.
“Okay, maybe a little like us,” Herschel said. “But not right now. You’ve known us, like, forever.”
“At least since you’ve moved to Vegas,” Gaylord said.
“But we’re talking about in the next few days,” Herschel said. “Watch out for strange stuff.”
“Realize it’s part of a prophecy,” Gaylord said.
“Whose?” Zoe asked.
“If we knew, we wouldn’t be so cryptic,” Herschel said. “We’re not privileged, Zo. You know that.”
Zoe felt her head beginning to spin. She hated dealing with magic. It had been a burden her entire life, and now, it seemed, the burden was going to get worse.
“Oh, and watch out for the blond guy,” Herschel said.
“What blond guy?” Zoe asked.
“The one with the kid,” Gaylord said.
“I know a lot of blond guys with kids,” Zoe said.
“The new one,” Herschel said.
“The new kid?” Zoe asked.
“The new blond guy. He’ll be tall and—
“Really good-looking,” Gaylord said with a wink.
“—and he’s got this really powerful kid who hasn’t come into his magic yet,” Herschel said.
A shiver ran down Zoe’s back. “Why should I watch out for him?” she asked.
Herschel and Gaylord exchanged yet another glance. And this one was filled with worry.
“Because,” Gaylord said, “he’s going to get you to go into Faerie, and you’ll get trapped in the Circle.”
“The Circle?” Zoe asked.
Herschel waved his hands, as if to say that an explanation of the Circle wasn’t important.
“Stay away from the Circle, Zo,” he said. He was more serious than she had ever seen him. “Everyone who gets trapped by the Circle dies.”
“In case you’ve forgotten,” Zoe says, “I’m immortal.”
Gaylord shook his head. “Not in Faerie, you’re not.”
“Just like we aren’t in Mount Olympics,” Herschel said.
“Olympus,” Zoe said, absently. Was that what her prophecy had meant? Trapped by narrow walls of a Faerie Circle? For eternity?
But they had said “died,” not “trapped.”
“What should I do?” she asked.
“How should we know?” Herschel asked. “We just came to let you know that the magic had gathered. We did that.”
He slid out of the booth, tossed a few bills onto the table, and looked at Gaylord.
“C’mon, Gaylord,” Herschel said. “We’ve done enough.”
And then he walked out of the bar. No one seemed to see him go—one of the many magicks that the Faeries always used to great advantage.
Gaylord was trapped in the booth by Zoe. He put a hand on hers. His skin was warm and dry. She wasn’t sure she’d ever touched anyone from Faerie before.
“Zoe,” he said, “do what you always do. What we’re taught about prophecies is that you can’t fight them. You just have to be yourself. The ending is determined not by the Kings or some divine energy, but by your uniqueness, and how you’ve developed it over time.”
“Great,” Zoe said. She hadn’t done so very well over her time. If she had, she wouldn’t be living in a seedy town that had more glitz than it should have and more magic per square acre than any other place on the planet.
Gaylord squeezed her hand. “You’ll do fine,” he said, and vanished.
She let out a small sigh and leaned back. No one else in the bar saw him disappear—and if they had, they wouldn’t remember it. The Faerie often used mind trickery forbidden to mages.
She wished she had someone she could turn to. Her mentor had moved on a long time ago. They hadn’t been in touch in more than a hundred years.
Zoe had very few magical friends. Most of them were scattered across the globe. She supposed she could call or just pop in on them, the way that Gaylord was popping in on someone right now, but she wasn’t sure they knew any more than she did.
And she knew better than to go to the Fates. Those three women, in charge of prophecy and magical justice, would just talk in circles, never letting her know what to do. They relished their superior place in the scheme of things, and weren’t about to sacrifice it to give someone like her advice.
She was on her own, the magic was gathering, and she had no idea what she was going to do.
AT THAT MOMENT, the blond guy with the powerful kid was in a motel one step below Motel Six in Ashland, Oregon, wondering how his older sister always managed to talk him into something he would never normally do.
The blond guy’s name was Travers Kinneally. He was a Certified Public Accountant who owned his own firm, handling investments and financial advice for a group of very well-to-do and well-connected people in Los Angeles, all of whom would be quite appalled if they knew he was sprawled on a double bed with his clothes and shoes on, hands behind his head because the two paper-thin pillows the motel provided didn’t give him enough support, staring at a TV that was bolted to the dresser.
His son, Kyle, was lying on the other bed in the exact same position, except that his shoes were off, and his Superman socks glowed kryptonite green in the half-light.
Normally, Kyle was not allowed to be up this late, so he was treating the Tonight Show as if it were a filthy movie broadcast on Pay-Per-View. Every time Jay Leno cracked a remotely risqué joke, Kyle looked sideways at his father, either hoping that Travers wouldn’t notice or that he wouldn’t shut the television off.
Kyle was precocious for an eleven-year-old, but he was also naïve, something Travers wanted to maintain as long as possible. The other children at Kyle’s private school seemed to know everything there was to know about sex and drugs and even rock n’ roll, but Kyle didn’t seem to care.
He lived for his comic books and his computer and his books, just like Travers’ sister Vivian used to do. She had turned out pretty darned good, except for her strange friends and somewhat mysterious new husband.
Travers and Kyle had been in Portland attending Vivian’s wedding when this entire odyssey got started. And Travers had been feeling so good, so magnanimous, that he had agreed to Vivian’s outrageous proposition.
At the time, it had seemed like the brotherly thing to do.
“Dad,” Kyle whispered, “do you think they can hear us?”
Travers started. His son was oddly prescient at times. Travers hadn’t really been thinking about the three strange women in the next room, but he was moving there. After all, they were traveling with him and Kyle at the behest of Vivian, who seemed to think that Travers wouldn’t mind some company on the way to Los Angeles.
“Does it matter, Kyle?” Travers asked. One of the pillows slipped from his grasp, and his head thudded against the headboard—which, for some unknown reason, was made of real, hard and painful wood.
“Dunno.” Kyle sat up, and wrapped his pillow around his waist. His round glasses slid to the edge of his nose, giving his face an owlish cast. “It’s just that….”
He shook his head, like he didn’t want to finish the sentence. Kyle often didn’t like to discuss what was on his mind, particularly with his father. He and Travers were about as different as two people could get.
That was one reason why Travers was sorry to see Vivian stay in Portland. She, at least, could talk to Kyle. Travers usually found himself starting sentences with If you only listened and Maybe if you tried to be like the other kids, sentences his youngest sister, Megan, a child psychologist, said were guaranteed to alienate any child.
“It’s just that what?” Travers asked.
“Well, don’t you think they’re a little weird?” Kyle turned to face him. Even though they’d been driving all day, Kyle had somehow managed to get ink smudges on his cheeks. The boy spent most of his time drawing his own comic books, even though Travers wanted him to learn some outdoor activities, maybe even join a league, although what kind of league, Travers didn’t know. Kyle wasn’t the most coordinated kid in the world, and most teams seemed to know that just by looking at him.
Then Travers realized what his son had said to him. Kyle was calling someone “weird.” Kyle hated that word, having had it thrown at him too many times.
Travers sat up.
“I thought you didn’t like to call people weird,” Travers said, and then immediately wished he hadn’t. Megan would have called that one of his manipulative moments.
Let the boy be himself, Travers, Megan had said to him during the wedding reception. You try so hard to have Kyle be the perfect L.A. kid that you fail to realize how very special he is.
Travers did realize how special Kyle was. Travers also saw how much pain being special caused his son—through teasing, taunting, and general bullying. Megan may have been quick with the advice, but she wasn’t the one who had to clean Kyle up when he came home with his clothing torn and his nose bloodied.
Travers wanted his son to have a normal childhood, just not the normal childhood of a nerd.
Now Kyle shrugged. He shoved his glasses up his nose in a movement reminiscent of Vivian.
“Dunno,” he mumbled. “Just kinda seemed like the right word.”
Then he lay back down, put his hands behind his head, and stared at Jay Leno, who was doing his usual Jay-walking segment at Universal City. Travers had always thought Kyle would find this part of the Tonight Show appalling and funny at the same time, but the boy wasn’t laughing. He was watching, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention.
Travers suppressed a sigh. He had been a single father since Kyle was six months old, when Kyle’s nineteen-year-old mother had fled the tiny apartment filled with dirty diapers, squalling baby, and sleepless husband.
I’m too young for this, Trav, Cheryl had said just before she left. I need to live a little before I settle down.
Travers hadn’t even pretended to understand. He was the same age. They had been high school sweethearts, and they had always talked about spending the rest of their lives together, having a passel of kids, and living the American Dream.
Apparently, for Cheryl, the American Dream didn’t include a happy baby who believed that nighttime was for playing, an apartment without cable television, and a bathroom that constantly looked like it was the center of a war zone. Not to mention a skinny husband who couldn’t seem to get a better job than bag boy at the nearby grocery store.
There wasn’t a lot of Cheryl in Kyle. There wasn’t a lot of Travers either, except in the looks department. Kyle was just as thin and gawky as Travers had been at eleven.
Only Travers had turned his attention to sports, become not just the best player on the basketball team, but the resident statistician for all the sports at both his junior high school and his high school. Travers had always loved numbers, and they had always loved him.
Numbers, he liked to say, were the only constant in his life.
Which wasn’t exactly true. He had his family—his parents and his two sisters and Kyle—and he loved all of them more than anything else.
This time, he sighed and got up, crossing the narrow space between the two beds, and sitting down next to Kyle.
“How come you think those women are weird?” Travers asked quietly.
Kyle shrugged and continued to stare at the TV. Travers could see the colors on the screen—the fleshy tones of Leno’s skin, the green neon that seemed to dominate Universal City, the blue of the jeans everyone wore—reflected in Kyle’s glasses.
Travers grabbed the remote—or tried to. It was bolted to the nightstand. Why would anyone bolt a remote to a nightstand? Or, more importantly, why would anyone think an old hotel remote was worth stealing?
He didn’t have time to ponder those questions. Instead, he leaned toward the nightstand, looked at the multi-colored buttons, and pushed the red one.
The television winked off.
“Hey!” Kyle said. “I was watching that.”
“Tell me why you think they’re weird,” Travers said.
Kyle glared at him, rolled over, and hit the red button. The television winked back on, but instead of Jay Leno, the picture showed the movie choices the hotel had thoughtfully provided. A good fifty percent of them were labeled Adult, and required going to another screen.
Kyle was about to press the channel changer buttons when Travers caught his hand.
“We don’t need to watch any more,” Travers said.
“I think they can hear us,” Kyle said. “But if the TV’s on…”
He didn’t have to say any more. Travers hit the button for the NBC affiliate, and left the volume up.
“So you’ll tell me?” Travers asked, feeling a bit like a supplicant. He had felt out of control with his son since Kyle started school. The outside influences severed a bond between them, one that had seemed so tight that it almost felt as if they knew what each other was thinking. At times, Travers wanted that bond back. At others, he simply wanted to know how come he no longer understood his own son.
“Weird,” Kyle said, sitting up and crossing his legs, “is one of those cool words that people don’t use right.”
Travers bit his lower lip. He didn’t want to say anything, but at the same time, he didn’t want a lecture. And Kyle was good at lectures.
“It means ‘mysterious’ or, you know like ‘ghostly’ or something. It comes from the Old English word ‘wyrd’ with a ‘y’ which means, literally, fate.”
Kyle put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, his hands expressing his thoughts as if he couldn’t speak without them.
“In Norse mythology, there’s these three women. They’re called the Wyrd Sisters—with a ‘y’—and they control fate, literally. Their real name is the Norn, and one of the sisters—I think the one who controls the past—is called Wyrd, which is kinda confusing, I know, but kinda cool, too—”
“Kyle,” Travers said. He already had too much information.
Kyle nodded, as if he realized he was telling his father too much. “Okay, so when I asked you if you thought they were weird, I meant strange, but not in the way that people mean when they call me weird. When they call me weird, they don’t mean weird, they mean dork. When I called them weird, I meant it in the coolest possible way. Like they were bound by tree limbs, you know?”
“Bound by tree limbs?” Travers couldn’t help but ask.
“Like the Wyrd sisters. They guard the root of this tree, Yggdrasill, which is in the middle of the world. The Wyrd sisters guard the root that extends into earth, which the Norse called Midgard. There are two other roots. One goes to the underworld, and the third goes to the home of the frost giants. Which isn’t important, but is cool.”
“Yeah,” Travers said. “Cool.”
“But all day, as we’ve been riding with these women, I kept thinking of the Wyrd Sisters. I wrote a comic book for Vivian called Defender of the Fates, and it dealt with the Fates, remember, Dad?”
Travers nodded, although he didn’t. All of Kyle’s comic book plots and drawings seemed the same to Travers which, his sister Vivian said, had a lot more to do with Travers than with Kyle.
“Well, if you look at the pictures, you see all three women. They look just like those ladies next door. And they talk like them, too, all jumbled up, and interrupty, and everything.” Kyle’s cheeks were flushed. He was excited to be talking about this. “And if you look at the Defender, she looks kinda like Aunt Viv, and she falls in love with this guy who looks like Uncle Dex, only I wrote it before I met him. And when we were coming up to the wedding, I started a new comic book called Fates’ Clues, and in it, there’s these same three women—only I was going to look up the Wyrd sisters, and kinda use them as the basis, and then there’s this other woman who’s a detective and she looks like that movie actress, that chocolate one?”
It took Travers a minute to follow that. “You mean Juliette Binoche.”
“Yeah, her. Only tall, with a dancer’s legs, and a longer face, but just as pretty—maybe prettier—”
“I get it,” Travers said.
“And I keep thinking that maybe I’m not making this stuff up. Maybe I’m, like, channeling it from the future, you know? Like Aunt Viv.”
“Your Aunt Vivian can’t see the future.” Travers knew that for certain. Sometimes she knew—in a very uncanny way—what someone else was thinking. And she could figure out all sorts of odd things, like who was going to call the moment before the phone rang, but she almost never saw the future.
Although every once in a while, she would pass out—which used to scare the whole family when Vivian started the practice in high school—and she would come to with the most amazing stories of things she’d seen. She called them visions. Their mother called them dreams, and Aunt Eugenia, who, before her death, used to pamper Viv, called them normal.
There was nothing normal about those visions, and watching Viv go through them was the only time in Travers life that he was glad he and his siblings weren’t related by blood. They were all adopted, which anyone could tell by looking at them—Viv with her dark skin, dark eyes, and dark hair; him, all tall and blond and Nordic; and round, chubby little red-haired Megan, who wasn’t quite so little anymore.
“Sometimes she can see the future,” Kyle said, and he sounded defensive.
Travers had mentally moved so far away from the original remark that it took him a moment to realize that Kyle was referring to Vivian, not Megan.
“But mostly, she kinda sees the present—especially if it’s happening somewhere else.” Kyle had an expression on his face that Travers hadn’t seen before. The expression was a combination of defiance and hope. Kyle truly believed this. “She saw Aunt Eugenia’s murder when it happened.”
“Vivian told you that?” Travers asked, thinking honeymoon or no honeymoon, he’d have a talk with his sister about the stories she told his son.
“Nope.” Kyle’s voice was soft. “I saw it, too.”
Travers folded his hands together, looking at them and counting to ten, just like Megan told him to do when his son said something he didn’t believe.
“You’re psychic,” Travers said as calmly as he could.
“I think so.” Kyle’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“You hear people’s thoughts,” Travers said.
“Sometimes,” Kyle said.
“And you see the future,” Travers said.
“Yeah,” Kyle said. “I draw it. If you look at my comic books, you’ll see a lot of stuff that I knew before it happened. Like I knew all about Uncle Dex and Aunt Viv when they met and stuff. I didn’t know I knew it, but I made a comic book out of it and gave it to Aunt Viv before we left Portland that first time.”
Travers raised his head. Behind Kyle, some rock group was playing in the middle of the Tonight Show soundstage. “You believe that?”
Kyle’s look of anticipation faded. His entire face closed down. “No, of course not,” he said in a perfectly normal tone of voice. “Why would I?”
“But you told me about the comic book,” Travers said.
“And it’s a good story, isn’t it?” Kyle uncrossed his legs. His socks looked even greener in the light from the TV.
“I thought you said this has something to do with those women.” Travers was confused. He wasn’t quite sure what Kyle had been trying to tell him.
“It does,” Kyle said. “They make me think of the Wyrd Sisters, which is what made me think of the comic book, and Aunt Viv, and stuff. I’m sorry, Dad. You know me. I just get carried away.”
He did, too. He got caught in his own imagination. Travers nodded. His stomach twisted, and he felt, once again, as if he had lost control of the conversation.
“I shouldn’t have agreed to bring those women along with us,” Travers said. “I should have told them to take the train or something.”
Kyle snorted. “Like they would’ve done good on the train. They’d’ve been arguing in the station and missed it.”
Travers nodded, in spite of himself. The only reason the five of them were in this seedy hotel was because the Wyrd Sisters, as his son called them, had argued about the best place to stay for so long all the other hotels from Medford to Ashland were full.
Travers had been tempted to drive all night, but everyone, including Kyle, managed to talk him out of that.
Kyle lay back down and tucked his hands under his head. He watched Leno for a moment, then as a Lexus commercial came on, he said, “You know, Dad, there’s just one thing.”
Travers stood. He headed back to his own bed. He was tired, more tired than he cared to admit. And this conversation, like the day, had taken something out of him.
“I have this feeling that the Wyrd Sisters—they’re not supposed to go to L.A.”
“Yes, they are,” Travers said. “They told me. Vivian told me. And they even offered me a free kitten if I took them there.”
Kyle giggled. He’d seen the kitten exchange, as had everyone else at the wedding. The Wyrd Sisters had given a group of kittens—well-trained kittens, or so they claimed—to anyone whom they trusted.
They claimed they trusted Travers.
“Seriously, Dad, I don’t think they’re supposed to go to L.A.,” Kyle said as his giggles faded.
“Where are they supposed to go?” Travers asked, knowing he would regret the question later.
“Las Vegas.” Kyle sounded very serious. “I keep seeing them escorting me through the Star Trek Experience.”
Travers grabbed his paper-thin pillow and pummeled Kyle with it. Kyle laughed again, grabbed his pillow, and whapped Travers with it. They had a good, old-fashioned pillow-fight as the Tonight Show theme song faded into the jazzy opener for Conan O’Brien.
Then he and Kyle collapsed on their respective beds, sweaty and laughing, and very tired.
They agreed to go to sleep, and Kyle went through his routine first, using the bathroom, brushing his teeth, and putting on his pajamas. Travers shut off the television and lay on his bed, thinking about the conversation.
It left him unsettled, although he couldn’t say why. Perhaps it was the belief in Kyle’s voice as he discussed his own psychic ability. Perhaps it was the long day with the three chattering, oblivious women. Or perhaps it was the mention of Las Vegas.
Travers had been avoiding Las Vegas his entire life. He had no logical reason for doing so. It was a numbers-man’s Mecca, a place where a CPA could meet a game theorist could meet a statistician, and all of them would have enough math to keep them happy for the rest of their lives. He could watch the average person in a controlled gambling environment and see his pet theories proven again and again.
Normally, most accountants and mathematics fiends loved places like Vegas, where odds were a way of life.
But Travers didn’t trust odds. They never worked quite right for him. And he hadn’t discussed that with anyone—especially not his superstitious family.
Fortunately, they had never asked him how he paid for college after Kyle was born. He didn’t want to tell them that he had done so with his lottery winnings. Not that he had won the big Powerball Jackpots or anything that spectacular. No. It was quite simple. He would stand in front of the scratch-off counter in a convenience store and know, somehow know, that the third ticket from the bottom was worth fifty dollars. That was the only time he would then do the math. If he made a profit after buying all the tickets to that one, he’d buy them. If not, he’d tell the clerk that the third ticket from the bottom was worth the fifty dollars. Later, the clerk would always tell him he was right.
The weirder ones were Powerball. He never hit the automatic number-choosing button. He always closed his eyes and imagined the little Ping-Pong balls in their little blower. He would see them come up—not the way they did on TV—but with big red numbers above the rotating Ping-Pong balls, as if someone, somewhere were trying to tell him which numbers would win.
He never put in all of the numbers. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t fair. So he’d see how low the pay-out was, and put in three or four, and take home his $20,000 or his $150,000. He never told anyone, and his name was never printed in the paper. Only the people who ordered the names of the weekly winners ever saw his. And they apparently never made the connection.
Not even Kyle knew. Travers kept that strange ability to himself, and lived as comfortably as he dared without calling attention to his wealth. CPAs made good money. They just didn’t make great money. So he made sure he looked like he was worth good money and nothing more.
But Travers knew that as tempting as Powerball was for him—and he had trouble walking past one of the kiosks without seeing the damn red numbers—Vegas would be worse. He always imagined himself watching the numbers come up correctly on the roulette table or in craps or even at the blackjack table, where math and luck lived together in an uneasy alliance.
It was—in Kyle’s word—Fate, and Travers didn’t want to tempt it.
If Kyle was right, and those women needed to go on to Las Vegas, Travers would help them find the right public transportation to get there. He was never going into that city.
His life would change once he did.
It was an irrational fear, he knew. But everyone, even the most normal person on the planet, was entitled to one irrational fear.
Entering Las Vegas was his.
And he clung to it, just like Kyle clung to the illusion that he was psychic. Because it made him feel safe.
Because it made him feel like he was in control.
Even when he wasn’t.
IT TOOK NEARLY an hour for Kyle’s dad to go to sleep.
Kyle lay in his bed closest to the window, listening to the traffic zoom by on I-5. Headlights constantly illuminated the flowered wallpaper, and the occasional horn would startle him, even though he wasn’t asleep.
His dad had this big block about magic. Aunt Viv had warned Kyle about that. Even as she told him about her magic, and her discoveries in Portland this last year. His new Uncle Dex, who was a dead-ringer for the 1940s comic book Superman (which kinda fit, considering Aunt Viv used to say that the original Superman was the handsomest guy on the planet), could do all sorts of magical things. He just wasn’t willing to.
Only Dad would never believe it. Dad hated all this mystical talk. Somewhere along the way, Dad had convinced himself that he was really practical and a non-believer in anything that he couldn’t see—from God to magic to psychic abilities.
But Dad had to have seen the weird stuff at Aunt Viv’s wedding. Like the way all those people popped into the hotel. Most of them arrived without luggage (it had popped in, too) and without obvious transportation.
After a day of suspicious arrivals, Kyle had actually planted himself in the lobby, and watched person after person appear on the front sidewalk out of nowhere. Not that anyone else seemed to notice or even care.
Then the Wyrd Sisters had shown up. That wasn’t their name, of course. Their names were strange enough, though. Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. They were model-pretty and they did carry kittens with them everywhere, and they glowed like they had magic, even though they didn’t.
Aunt Viv and Uncle Dex had the first argument of their marriage over those women. Aunt Viv said they still needed protection, and Uncle Dex agreed, but said it wasn’t his responsibility anymore, and then the Wyrd Sisters got involved and said that they would get their protection from Zanthia in Los Angeles, because she walked the mean streets.
The Wyrd Sisters were going to fly to Los Angeles until they realized that meant on an airplane (what else could it have meant? That had really intrigued Kyle), and then they saw Dad, and said that he was perfect; they’d travel with him.
Aunt Viv tried to talk them out of it, saying that Dad was pretty straightforward and not real imaginative, but they didn’t care, and then Aunt Viv told Uncle Dex, who laughed and said he wasn’t responsible for the women anymore, and that their instincts seemed to be good. Which was when Aunt Viv started disagreeing with him, and Uncle Dex held up his hands, not wanting to fight at the reception, and Kyle snuck off to talk to Dad, who at that point didn’t know he was going to be stuck in an SUV for two days with three of the strangest people he’d ever met.
Kyle counted his dad’s soft snores. When the count reached fifty, Kyle slid his covers back and eased out of bed. Then he tiptoed across the floor until he reached the door.
Kyle slowly brought his arm up to the chain lock. Sound—or the lack of it—was really critical to sneaking out of the room. He slid the chain across its little track, then out of the track, catching the chain as it fell away. He set it against the door, very gently, so that there was no sound at all.
Then he turned the knob, and felt it click rather than heard it. He pulled the door open slowly, and the hinges creaked. Kyle bit his lower lip and looked at his dad. His dad didn’t wake up.
Kyle slipped out of the door. He pulled it closed, and stood for a moment on the concrete balcony that overlooked the parking lot and, beyond it, the interstate.
Lots of trucks went by. The parking lot was full of cars and trucks and a few trailers. Kyle’s bare feet were cold. In fact, his whole body was cold. He shivered, rubbing his hands over his arms. His pajamas were a lot thinner than his regular clothes. And it had gotten a lot colder out here than it had been a little while before.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe he should’ve waited until morning to talk to the Wyrd Sisters. But he wanted to give them the heads-up that their advice hadn’t worked and that magic—or at least psychic abilities—weren’t something they should even try to talk to his dad about.
No sense in having Dad mad all the way to L.A.
The concrete was scratchy. Kyle hopped across it, using the iron railing as a brace.
He got to the next room, only to discover a handwritten sign on the door.
At the pool—
Kyle sighed, looked down at his bare feet, then at the stairs several feet away. He’d be an ice cube by the time he got to that pool.
But he sucked it up, and walked—not hopped—to the stairway. The concrete there was smooth, and the railing wobbly. He hurried down, his feet making a slapping sound. The stairway turned toward the center of the complex, into a little breezeway with a Coke machine, an ice machine, and a pay phone. Just beyond it, in a fenced-off alcove, was the tiny, square-shaped thing the manager called a pool.
He hobbled across the breezeway, avoiding bits of glass and gravel, until he got to the open gate door. As he got close, he could hear laughter floating across the breeze.
“…so much better than being in that cave.” Clotho’s rich voice had a touch of laughter in it. “I do like seeing the sun now and then.”
“It was better than a cave,” Lachesis said. Kyle knew it was Lachesis, not because he recognized her voice, but because these women always spoke in order: Clotho first, Lachesis second, and Atropos last. In the three days Kyle had known them, they hadn’t varied the pattern once.
“Caves aren’t that plush,” Atropos said.
“Whatever,” Clotho said. “It’s just nice to see the stars.”
Kyle pushed the gate open and stepped into the pool area. Lawn chairs that had once been white but were now a kind of dingy gray surrounded the pool. An umbrella teetered over a glass-topped table. Tiny hotel towels sat on the concrete near the square pool.
“Come on in, Kyle,” Lachesis said. “The water’s nice.”
All three women were swimming back and forth in the tiny pool. And, Kyle blushed to realize, they weren’t wearing anything. Or at least, it didn’t seem like they were.
He immediately covered his eyes.
“Oh, dear,” Atropos said. “This New World puritanism is something I really do not understand.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Clotho said. “It comes down to upbringing. The children simply do not understand that the body is a natural thing, that there is no shame involved in nakedness and—”
“You could get arrested, you know,” Kyle said as he pushed the gate open, careful to keep one hand over his eyes.
“Really?” Lachesis asked. “How delightfully medieval.”
Kyle stepped through the gate.
“Where are you going, Kyle?” Atropos asked.
“Back to the room.” He stopped though. He was pretty angry. He didn’t realize it until now. He had listened to these women this afternoon, when they told him to have a heart-to-heart with his dad, and then they said he could talk to them. And now that he wanted to, they were—well, nude.
“I thought you wanted us to be available for conversation,” Clotho said.
“I did,” Kyle snapped, his anger finally coming out. “But I can’t talk to you like this.”
“Like what?” Lachesis asked.
“When you’re—naked.” Just saying the word made him blush even more. He was glad it was dark.
“Oh, child,” Atropos said. “We didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. We’ll get out.”
“No!” Kyle said, and sprinted toward the stairs.
“With our clothes on.” Clotho’s voice floated after him.
He stopped in front of the Coke machine. It hummed. He swallowed hard, hoped his dad hadn’t heard him yell, and said, “You will?”
“Certainly.” As Lachesis spoke, water splashed. The women were getting out of the pool.
Kyle didn’t turn around. He stared into the parking lot, and the passing trucks beyond, wondering how these women got away with all the things they did. They pretended they didn’t know money—Kyle had to explain the difference between coins and cash to them at the Quickie Mart outside of Salem; they seemed to know some things about the culture, like HBO, but other things, like laws, eluded them.
Dad simply said they were nuts, but that was a blanket description which really didn’t get to the heart of the problem. They might have been nuts, but they were nuts in a really odd and consistent way.
“All right,” Atropos said. “We are—what is your word?—decent.”
“Which, if you think about it,” Clotho said, “goes right to the heart of the point. ‘Decent’ would only be used in this context if nakedness were somehow indecent.”
“Which is why I made the point,” Lachesis said.
Kyle turned around. Slowly he let his hands drop from his eyes. The women, wrapped in big, fluffy robes, were sitting in the ancient lounge chairs.
Lachesis was bent at the waist, drying her red hair. She was built like a plus-sized model—his dad had called her zaftig at the wedding and Aunt Viv had punched him—and yet she looked the best in the robe.
Atropos had her robe wrapped around her knees. She was as thin as Calista Flockheart, only prettier, with black hair that fell to her shoulders. But the thinness probably made her as cold as Kyle was. His feet felt like little blocks of ice.
Clotho stood up. She was the blond, and looked kinda like pictures of Kyle’s mom (whom he couldn’t remember). Clotho pushed the gate open and held it for him.
“We’re sorry,” Atropos said. “If we had realized you would be uncomfortable, we wouldn’t have gone swimming.”
“It’s not just me,” Kyle said as he walked back to the pool. “I wasn’t kidding when I said you could get arrested.”
“Why?” Clotho asked as she closed the gate behind him.
“Because you’re in a public place. You can’t be nude in public.”
“See?” Lachesis said. “It seems to me that was a plot point in one of the movies we watched.”
“Probably several, but Henri—” The women always insisted on calling Uncle Dex “Henri” for reasons Kyle didn’t understand—”said that we shouldn’t learn everything we know about modern culture from the television.”
Atropos seemed puzzled by the statement even though she was the one repeating it.
“You guys are really weird,” Kyle said, as he sank into one of the lounge chairs.
“I thought you didn’t like that word,” Clotho said.
“So I was right,” Kyle said. “You could overhear us.”
“Just that part.” Lachesis sat up, the towel wrapped turban-like around her hair. “Then we decided we’d better come down here so you could have a private talk.”
“How did it go?” Atropos asked.
Kyle shook his head. “Not good. That’s what I came to tell you. My dad doesn’t believe in magic. He never will, so stop trying to convince him, okay?”
“We never said you had magic.” Clotho sat down beside him. The plastic lounge chair squeaked under her weight. “We said you would develop magic at twenty-one.”
“And then you’d be exceedingly powerful,” Lachesis said, “so you really should begin your training now.”
“Well, my dad’s not going to pay for any training.” Kyle couldn’t quite fight the feeling of disappointment. “He thinks I’m just goofy, that there’s a logical explanation for everything, and he doesn’t believe in predicting the future.”
“What about his magic?” Atropos asked.
“Shush,” Clotho said. “We’ve done enough.”
Kyle shrugged. “My dad doesn’t have magic.”
“Certainly he does,” Lachesis said. “Or we wouldn’t be here.”
“I thought you needed a ride to L.A.,” Kyle said.
“I’m sure there would have been others to take us,” Atropos said.
“Now I understand why Vivian was worried about our safety.” Clotho leaned back in her chair. “We are becoming too impulsive.”
“That’s for another discussion.” Lachesis put her hand on Kyle’s arm. He jumped. “No one ever taught your father the rules of magic?”
“Why would they?” Kyle asked.
“Oh, dear,” Atropos said quietly. “And here we are, taking him to his soulmate.”
“Huh?” Kyle asked.
“It’s all right, dear,” Clotho said. “We do need Zanthia’s help as well.”
“Dad’s soulmate is named Zanthia?” Kyle asked, feeling confused.
“Shh!” All three women said in unison.
“You should never discuss someone else’s soulmate before the souls mate,” Lachesis said.
“Who are you guys?” Kyle asked.
“Well,” Atropos said, wrapping her robe tighter around herself. Kyle had guessed right; she was just as cold as he was. “You weren’t that far off with the Wyrd Sisters.”
“You heard that too?” Kyle felt his cheeks heat up. He didn’t like calling people names because they might overhear—heaven knew he always did at school, even though he pretended like he hadn’t—but he was talking to his dad for heaven’s sake. And that was private.
Clotho shrugged. “It was part of the same discussion.”
“It was what made Clotho decide we needed to come down here.” Lachesis’ towel turban was slipping slightly, giving her face a pirate-like air.
“She’s not real fond of that nickname,” Atropos said.
“I didn’t give it to her,” Kyle said, his voice rising with the denial. He kinda had, but he wasn’t going to admit it, at least not in this way. “I mean, it’s Norse. You know, the myths.”
“We know the myths.” Clotho stretched her bare legs out. She had goose pimples running along her calves. “We’re the Fates, child.”
“Or at least, we used to be.” Lachesis sounded sad.
“Used to be?” Kyle asked.
Atropos waved her hand. “Long story, and one I’m sure you’ll hear when we meet up with Zanthia.”
“Names!” Clotho and Lachesis said in unison, as if they were reminding Atropos of something.
Atropos clapped her hands over her mouth. “Sorry.”
“Fates?” Kyle said again. “The ones who determine life and death?”
“Yes, child,” Clotho said.
“You’re not making this up?” Kyle asked, feeling his neck get warm, too, as his blush moved down. “Like using the names as a test or something, like for school?”
“What do you mean?” Lachesis asked.
“You know, like I was supposed to notice that you were named after the Fates or something.” Kyle put his feet on his chair and rubbed his cold toes. His hands weren’t much warmer. But it gave him an excuse to keep his head down. “I don’t remember ever learning your names. We had to memorize the Muses. There’s Erato and Terpsichore and Polyhymnia and—”
“Oh, please don’t confuse us with those bores,” Atropos said.
“Besides,” Clotho said. “They stopped working as a unit centuries ago.”
“Millennia,” Lachesis said.
“Three women can get along,” Atropos said. “Nine, however—”
“It does make things dicey,” Clotho said.
“And you would have to mention Polyhymnia,” Lachesis said. “Religious poetry is one thing, but religious music—”
“That’s not fair,” Atropos said. “There was a lovely Golden Age—what, a few years ago? That Bach fellow—”
“Like Johann?” Kyle asked.
The three women—Fates?—nodded.
“That was centuries ago,” Kyle said, feeling shocked.
Clotho waved a hand in dismissal. “I’m still not certain of the ways that mortals tell time. A century, a year, what’s the difference?”
“Decades,” Kyle said.
“Still, we’re not to the central point,” Lachesis said. “Which is helping you.”
“If your father won’t acknowledge his magic, then there’s not much we can do,” Atropos said.
“Don’t you have magic?” Kyle asked.
“We used to,” Clotho said, and all three women looked very sad.
“It’s part of that long story,” Lachesis said.
“Oh,” Kyle said. “Well, look, my dad might wake up and find me missing, and if he does I’m in a heck of a lot of trouble, so I’m going to go to bed. Just don’t talk to him about this, okay? And all the magic stuff? Tomorrow, let’s just drive. Really, it’s for the best.”
The Fates nodded. Kyle nodded back, like a grown-up would, and then he stalked away from the pool, not caring that the concrete seemed even colder than it had a moment ago, and that he was hitting rocks with his bare feet.
Served him right for listening to other people. It didn’t matter that Aunt Viv had found someone who appreciated her psychic powers. It didn’t matter that Uncle Dex believed in (and maybe even had) magic.
All that mattered was that Kyle’s father didn’t believe in psychic powers or magic, no matter how much psychic ability Kyle had.
And he had to remember that, instead of getting carried away because someone else found the secret to happiness.
Kyle hurried up the stairs, ripped the note off the Fates’ door, and let himself into his own hotel room. His dad was still asleep, only he’d rolled away from the door. His even breathing reassured Kyle, as Kyle pushed the door closed.
It was the two of them. It had always been the two of them.
And it always would be.