Xavia sat on her grammy’s porch—well, the Afterlife version anyway. On the condensation-frosted lemonade pitcher, a water bead slid from lip to base. Her eyes tracked the descent while she considered the brevity of life. How much time had she spent here—lost here? In this realm beyond the sun and moon, where day never turned to night, time, as measured on Earth, didn’t exist. Employees in the Afterlife didn’t sleep or eat or use a bathroom. No longer flesh and bone, denizens of this place consisted of swirling energy: walking, talking mini-galaxies of electricity.
“Xavia?” Uriah’s espresso-dark voice woke her from her reflection.
“I asked you about your friendship with Osiris Cavanaugh.”
“What about it? I like him,” she admitted with an edge of umbrage. “He’s gruff and confused and pretty screwed up about some things, but he’s generally harmless. And I think I can help him. Already, his aura’s softened up, and he’s lost the noxious smell he used to walk around with. We’re working on getting that vile alarm under control, too.” A glimmer of doubt crept into her psyche, and she cocked her head to study Uriah’s solemn, black-lined eyes. “I have helped him, haven’t I?”
“What do you think?”
“I think…no, I know I helped him come to terms with some of his issues. Mind you, he’s a looooong way from perfect, but we’ve made progress together.”
Uriah nodded. “I happen to agree. As does the Board. Are you willing to continue working with Sergeant Cavanaugh?”
Her first reaction was suspicion. Was this a trick?
Past experience with the Board and its Council of Elders had taught her to tread lightly. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?”
“No. But he does take up a lot of your time. Do you think you can continue to handle your Probation workload while dealing with the sergeant?”
A bitter laugh escaped her tight lips. “Are you for real? That’s what has you worried? My workload? I have a staff of twenty in my department. If I find myself in a time crunch, I can always spread the wealth. That’s not a problem. And I’m pretty sure you know that. So why don’t you cut the crap and tell me the truth for once? Do you guys want me to work with Osiris or not?”
“Fine. Great. Peachy. I’m happy to help. Was that so hard?”
“We wanted to make sure the sergeant’s issues didn’t unduly burden you.”
Forget treading lightly. Now they’d pissed her off. “Since when do you care? With all the crap you’ve thrown at me since I got here—punishing me by forbidding me to ever see my son, pairing me up with his killer, reuniting me with my son who’ll never recognize me or fully comprehend the link we share, and then stealing both of them from me when we made our peace between us—now, all of a sudden, you want me to think I matter to you?”
Uriah’s placid expression never wavered. “You do matter, Xavia. Every one of our charges matters to us. You may not always understand or approve of our methods, but we do what we think is best for you. For all of you. Tell me, knowing now what you didn’t know then, would you have preferred to never see your son, or learn the fate of his killer?”
“Of course not.” Regardless of the pain she’d suffered finding them both, knowing them on this side of life had taught her so much—and given her a peace she never would have found without them. “I understand why they were both crucial in helping me come to terms with what happened in my life that led to my suicide on Earth. So now, I want to use what I’ve learned to help someone else: Osiris. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
That question earned her another nod. “We’ve already established it is. I just want to make sure you’re up to the task, should your…challenges become more…challenging.”
“Let’s call a spade a spade. You mean, when I find out how Osiris and I are connected. Why not tell me now? Get it over with. Let’s rrrrip the Band-Aid off the wound and air it out, shall we?” She leaned forward and wheedled, “Come on, you can tell me. Was he my master on the plantation? The one whose family I killed by cooking up the wrong antidote to the poison I fed them? The one who ordered me hanged as a warning to other slaves?”
His fathomless expression never wavered.
“Was he the Gestapo officer who turned me in? Or the spy who told them where to catch me on that last trip to Alsace?” At last, she noted surprise register in his eyes for a glimmer. “Ah, I’m close, aren’t I?” Leaning back again, she pushed the swing into rocking on the humid South Carolina air. “Don’t sweat it, Uriah. I’ve learned so much about this place in my time here, I could probably do your job now.”
WAITING IN THE WINGS will be released in March 2015.
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