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Posted: April 25th., 2007
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Awakening the Dragon--an excerpt
Proclaimed by: Theresa Chaze
Proclaimed from: Traverse City, Michigan
Awakening the Dragon--Book One of the Dragon Clan Trilogy--an excerpt
Where JK Rowlings left off with the Harry Potter series, Theresa Chaze picks up with real magic and a modern day setting. More for adults than for a young children, Awakening the Dragon gives a more comprehensive view and of what Wiccans and Pagans believe. Ms Chaze's goals are not only to entertain, but to dispell the long standing bigotries and misconceptions of Wicca and Paganism.
Rachael pulled up and was able to park directly in front of the Dragon's Den. The crack shot out from a hole just right of center. Someone had taped the glass, preventing it from shattering and falling to the ground. There were two smaller holes with cracks radiating from them. She shook her head, like she needed one more thing to take care of.
Carmen ran out of the store directly to Rachael's car. "Don't panic! No one got hurt. The glass will be replaced this afternoon."
"I don't pay you enough."
"If that's a raise. I'll take it. Now go home. Go to sleep."
"I did nap." Rachael thought it sounded lame to her own ears. "It only made me cranky."
"Can't. I'm moving the kids and me into the cottage."
"Are you crazy lady?" Carmen snapped. "You can barely stand."
"They've left me no choice. The landlord has a key. I don't think we're safe."
"Point." She drummed the roof of the car with her fingertips. "Ok."
"Have the utilities been switched?"
"Yes. The telephone will be activated on Monday."
"I have the cellular."
"Do you want your furniture moved as well?"
Rachael could see in her brown eyes her mind was working, plotting and planning. "No. Just the stuff that can't be replaced. The kids. Personal stuff and my clothes. I was going to shop first, then-"
"Fine. It'll give me a chance to get the hood put on my pick up."
"You don't have to."
"Protect you and my job security. Yes, I do. I'll meet you at the apartment in about an hour. They're fixing the window 'bout four-four-thirty. I'll have plenty of time to get back. We'll take as much as we can. What doesn't fit, we'll store here."
"Remind me to give you a raise."
"Accepted. See you in an hour." Carmen backed away from the car.
She stopped and mid-turn.
"Thanks. You're a good friend."
She smiled and waved. "Get going."
Relieved, Rachael started the car. It was going to be easier than she thought. The kids would be upset over being moved again. But she'd keep them on the medicated food so Merlin wouldn't get another urinal tract infection. Everything and everyone would be all right. She turned the wheel and checked the traffic. She waited for the approaching car. What kinds of food do kids eat? Spaghetti, obviously. The car suddenly it screeched to a halt and backed up, barricading her in the parking spot.
"Sweet Mother of Light. Now what?" Rachael opened the door and stepped out. She met the older woman in front of her own car. "What are you doing?"
"You're Rachael Franklin." It was more of an angry accusation than a question.
"If I am, " Rachael answered in kind, "it's none of your business."
"It is you, corrupter of children!"
"Join reality lady."
"If it isn't Lady Katherine Mitchellson. Spreading joy and love as always." The sarcasm dripped of Carmen's voice like venom off an adder's fang.
Rachael pivoted; the rapid change in personality made her wonder which woman was the most dangerous. "You know each other?"
"Oh, yes. We know each other very well." Carmen sauntered forward. "She changed the destiny of my life. Before Sarah died, " she put emphasis on the word 'died', clearly meaning another verb, "I worked at the lumber mill as the office manager. I was damn good at it."
"That's your opinion!" The red head snapped.
"She fired me. Fought my unemployment. Drove me out of town of town for a few years. I only came back to take care of my Mother when Kevin and several friends in the police department guaranteed my safety."
"All of your kind will be driven out." Katherine turned on Rachael. "You won't have one peaceful moment in that cottage. I'll see to it."
Adrenaline and anger washed away Rachael's exhaustion. "You and your fellow crazies can get used to it. I'm not leaving. The store is opening. And I know a really good lawyer who will take care of your kind, " She mimed quotation marks around the phase, 'your kind', "legally. You must have heard of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It what gives you the right to annoy people on street corners. It also gives me my freedom of religion.” Rachael pointed at the store. “And about my window…In order to make things right, I call upon powers of light. For harm they have caused to me and mine, may their own dreams unwind. For the hatred and violence so bestowed, may the heavens themselves make justice unfold. As they have set out to create tension and fear, may their efforts bring them only tears.”
“In the name of God, I reject your curse!” Katherine didn't give ground. "And call on God to smite you."
"Funny thing or maybe not so, unlike you and your church--Jesus preached love, peace and wisdom.” Slowly Rachael arched her arm around to point at the older woman. “You promote ignorance, bigotry and violence. None of which was on the path at Jesus cleared for you.”
Carmen pushed past Rachael. Standing directly in front of the taller woman, she matched her stance. "Just so you're aware. Kevin recanted the company's statement. He admitted you lied. I received all of my back unemployment, an apology and a very nice settlement. He offered my job back."
"That job is filled." Katherine snapped. "By a competent--"
"That job is mine whenever I want it. All I have to do is ask."
Rachael inwardly panicked. There was no way she could compete with the type of salary or benefits. She didn't want to lose Carmen.
"Just keep pushing. I'll change my mind."
Rachael only partially breathed a sigh of relief; she knew these types of religious nuts, they didn't give up.
"My son won't be in control much longer. My lawyer-"
"Has lost. Everybody knows it. Join us in reality."
Katherine's hand flew through the air. Carmen caught her wrist, pushing her backward. Tripping, she landed on her touché. For a moment, Katherine sat stunned. Triumphantly, she started to scream. Traffic slowed. The pedestrians circled.
The foot patrol officer walked through the growing crowd to the center of the circle they were forming. Katherine's screams ended as quickly as they began.
"They attacked me." She whined.
His eyebrows met in the center. "Carmen St. McCloud. Back in town and starting again so soon?"
"Why officer, I just defended myself."
Impatiently, he cleared his throat. "Huhu. I wasn't there officer. It wasn't me. And even if somebody saw me, I didn't do anything."
"Excuse me, officer." Rachael angrily cut in. "This woman cut me off. Threatened me and tried to hit Carmen."
"Rachael Franklin I believe. Officer James Mirren." His offered his hand. "You've come late to this picture."
Rachael looked from his hand to his clean shaven face. "I was here the entire time."
"For this round in the continuing battle." His hand dropped to his side. "These two have been fighting since she dated Kevin in high school. I know I was there. It only stopped when Carmen left town." He looked over to the prone woman. "Mrs. Mitchellson, get up you’re not fooling anyone. You're just making yourself look stupid."
"Never." He finished her statement. "And Carmen stop picking on Kevin's old lady. She doesn't control him. He doesn't control her. You've got your reputation back. Let it go."
A wicked smile crossed Carmen's face and she tugged at his collar. "James, I didn't know you cared."
He pulled her hand away and patted her wrist. "You be good."
Shaking his head, he turned to the crowd. "Ok. Ok. The afternoon's entertainment is over. Go make the storeowners happy. Go shop."
Snickering and whispering, the crowd slowly disbursed, leaving only the three women and the officer separating them. James walked over and offered his hand; Katherine took it and rose to her feet.
"This is your car, Mrs. Mitchellson?"
"You know it is."
"Move it. You're double-parked." He opened the door for her. "I'd hate to give the mother of a friend of mine a ticket."
Tossing her head back, she slid into the seat. He closed the door. She started the engine and was gone. He returned to the curb.
"No problem. Sorry about the window."
"It's being fixed this afternoon."
"The Captain's ordered more patrols for downtown." He turned to Rachael. "You probably won't believe me. At least not, right away. But Coyote Springs is a good town. Most of us get along."
"It's just a few." Carmen winked at him.
Smiling, he nodded and walked toward the center of town.
"He's a good guy." Carmen touched her shoulder. "If you ever need help, he's the one to call."
"A white knight I'm sure."
Carmen tightened her grip. "No sarcasm involved. He's a good guy."
"Ok. Ok, let go of the death grip."
Carmen quickly let go and brushed smooth her wrinkled shirt. "Sorry."
"It's ok. Don't do it again." Massaging her shoulder, Rachael moved toward her open car door. "We'd better get going. Our timetable just got pushed forward."
"Think you're right. See you in an hour. Your place." Carmen turned and strolled toward the front door.
Rachael slid into the front seat, closing the door and starting the engine. Paranoid or no, her little voice told her tonight would not be sleep filled. She pulled out of the parking space and joined the traffic. She quickly turned down the side street that led to the grocery store she normally shopped. Every now and then, she checked the rear view mirror; no one seemed to be following.
Meijers was only moderately busy. She conceded that she was basically ignorant to the eating habits of children. So with the exception of the spaghetti, she bought the things she would normally eat, only in larger amounts. She remembered the new litter boxes, also adding new toys, litter and tuna, just to say 'mommy loves you'. Forty minutes later, she emerged with an overflowing cart. Quickly loading the hatch, she was grateful Carmen was meeting her. The back seat would mostly be filled by the carrier, leaving only the front seat for her clothes, computer and first edition volumes. Before getting behind the wheel, she looked around. No one seemed to be watching her. Good, she thought.
Driving out of the parking lot, she drove down the street, which led to the apartment. Turning on to her block, her stomach knotted when she saw several pick up trucks parted in the driveway and a group of people on the front lawn. Slowing down, she parked in the street and reached for the cellular, not knowing what to expect. She opened the car door and Carmen appeared from the center of the group. Rachael leaned back in the seat, breathing through her nose and exhaling through her mouth. She still hadn't moved when Carmen reached the car. She looked straight ahead. "You scared the sh*t out of me."
"Sorry. I called a few friends."
"So I see." Rachael released her grip on he phone and dropped it between the seats. "My mind went a'racing."
"Did a little shopping." Carmen nodded toward the hatch.
"I have houseguests."
"So I heard. Rumor has it the Reverend Marshal has called a meeting for two o'clock. We don't know what to expect." Pivoting Carmen started toward the building. "Time's short."
Rachael slid out and closed the door. Both women walked to the house.
"Guys, intros will wait. We've got an hour to empty the place."
"Wait." Rachael cut in. "Let me go in first and put the cats in the carrier. It'll be easier."
"Good idea." Carmen turned to a stocky, long haired gent with an attitude of impatience. 'Paul, you're the expert. I'll leave it to you to organize everything."
Rachael didn't hang around. She opened the door and sprinted up the stairs. Reaching the top step, she fumbled with her keys to find the apartment's. The hall was empty. But it wouldn't have mattered. Help was only a yell away. She opened the door and was immediately greeted by three meowing fur balls. They wouldn't be happy. She pulled the carrier out of the hall closet, grabbing Merlin in the process. He saw the carrier and hissed. The other two scattered. Tara hid under the couch; Ralph disappeared under the bed. Tara was reachable. Growling, she joined her brother in the carrier. Ralph was more difficult. Gently sliding the broom, she pushed him from beneath the bed and leaped to catch him before he found another low piece of furniture. She was just placing him inside when they knocked. She closed and locked the carrier door. "Come in. It's safe."
Paul and two other guys walked in. They stopped for a moment to look at the hissing and growling box.
Rachael stood. "They aren't happy campers."
"I can tell." Paul extended his hand. "We might as well be properly introduced. Paul Foster."
She shook his hand. "Rachael Franklin."
She shook each man's hand in turn. "It's not going to be that bad. I only moved in a month ago. The store has kept me too busy to unpack much."
"Good deal." Leonard looked around the living room. "Some nice antiques."
"We'll be careful."
Dennis walked down the hall, peering into each room he passed.
"We've decided that you and Carmen should get out of here as quickly as possible. Not that you can't take care of yourselves." Paul quickly added. "It's just we're expecting trouble and the two of you will have enough of that later."
Rachael nodded. She was impressed with his sensitivity and directness. "I understand."
Carmen appeared in the doorway, carrying several empty boxes. "Paul give you the game plan?"
"You and I are out of here."
"Right after we pack your undies and other personal stuff that these perverts shouldn't be handling."
In spite of the tension, Rachael burst out laughing. "Thank goodness. Wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea about me."
"We don't have time to play with your toys." Paul's voice dripped with sexual under tones. "Course we may ask to borrow them later."
Rachael felt her face color.
Steve reappeared from down the hall. "Looks easy. The back bedroom is filled with stuff she didn't unpack."
"Let's get to it. Dennis you set up the box brigade. Have two on the stairs. No one has to run up and down. Ladies, get crackin'."
"I'll take my bedroom."
"Might have known that's where you kept your toys."
Carmen backhanded his shoulder. "Be nice."
Rachael disappeared into bedroom, closing the door behind her. She packed her altar first, using her clothing to wrap the breakables. Luckily, she kept the original moving boxes. It wasn't neat; it wasn't organized, but fifteen minutes later all her clothing and personal things were tossed into boxes and suitcases.
Carmen knocked on the door and poked her head in. "Almost ready?"
"Done." Rachael answered proudly. "Just don't ask me to find anything."
"Agreed." She swung the door open. "Guys, she's ready. They just took the cats down. They're in your back seat."
Two of the men Rachael saw on the front porch came in; grabbing a box each, they disappeared down the hallway.
"Both our vehicles are full. We'd better get going. I'll follow you."
"Good deal. See you at the cottage." Rachael walked down the hallway. The bathroom was empty. Most of the living room furniture was gone. Dennis was carefully wrapping her dishes in newspaper. A dish in hand, he waved at her as she exited. The stairway was empty, but she heard the voices returning toward the house. She met Steve and another man, she didn't know on the front porch.
Steve stopped her on the top step. "Take Seventh Street to Washington. Washington all the way to County Line. We've got people watching that route."
“I belong to the Unity Church. Leo belongs to the one of the Catholic. We set up a safe route between here and the cottage. If the House of Christ tries anything, you won’t be alone.” He smiled and continued inside, followed by his companion.
And I thought I was paranoid, she thought. She shook her head and walked to the street. Inside her car, the kids were still emoting their displeasure. She got in and started the car. Pulling away from the curb, she saw another load being brought down. This could be a world record for moving. She turned onto Seventh, heading toward Washington. Reaching back, she stuck her fingers though the holes in the plastic and scratched trying to reassure them. It didn't help much.
Half way down the third block, she noticed almost every house had someone in the front yard. Some just sat watching. Mostly they hung close to their cars. Several openly held phones in their hands.
At the corner of Washington and County Line, six motorcycles waited. Rachael recognized Candace. She pulled up to the corner.
Candace started her bike and rode around to the driver's side. "Hi. Be by tomorrow to work on you're wiring."
"How did you know?"
She looked back down the road and smile. "Coyote Springs is a good town. It started with the Unity Church. But friends talk to friends. Half the town is looking out for you."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say head'um up and move'um out. We're your escort to the cottage." Without waiting for a reply, Candace waved and two bikes took off. Candace rolled her bike back, waiting for Rachael to follow.
Rachael nodded and put her foot on the gas. Through the rear view mirror, she saw two bikes following. Two remained at the corner, most likely for Carmen. Good, she thought.
She barely remembered the road between that corner to the driveway. She felt safe with her escort. The kids cried and complained at their rude treatment. She would make it up to them with a tuna dinner and extra attention. They turned into the driveway. The back motorcycles did a one-eighty and sped back.
Norman’s and Meredith's vehicles were still parked. Rachael felt relieved and annoyed. Relieved not to be alone and Meredith would be safe. Annoyed she wouldn't be alone and Meredith's presence also gave the House of Christ another reason to attack the cottage. She pulled up and parked. The motorcycles parked on either side of the driveway. She motioned for them to come to the cottage; they shook their heads.
Norman ran out of the cottage and down the stairs. "What did you do?"
Rachael pulled the carrier out of the back seat. Tara hissed at him. "There was going to be trouble in town. Carmen called out the marines. So to speak. Grab the litter and the boxes for me." She walked around him, the thirty-two pounds of feline was testing the endurance of her arm muscles. Over her shoulder, she added. "That small bag too if you can manage."
She struggled up the stairs. Inside, the girls were awake and were coloring on Barbie coloring books in the living room. They looked up. Rachael didn't stop.
"What'dya got?" Melanie sat up.
As if on cue, all three started to meow.
"Cats!" Lisa jumped to her feet, accidentally crushing a crayon, and ran to intercept Rachael at the foot of the stairs. "Can I pet them?"
"Not now. They're unhappy campers."
The child snapped around to face her mother.
"Where are you supposed to be?"
"Over there." She pointed meekly. "Coloring."
Lisa returned to her sisters. Melanie made a point of hiding the crushed crayon.
"Meredith." Rachael rested the carrier against the step. "Take a chill pill. And while you're at it, go help Norman with the groceries."
Angrily, Meredith rested the broom against the basement door and marched out the front door.
So nice to see you too, Rachael sarcastically thought. She lifted the carrier again and continued up the stairs to the bedroom. I’ll be sleeping in the bed after all, she thought setting the carrier down on top of it. Hope it's comfortable.
Downstairs, she heard Norman's voice intertwine with Meredith's. They were arguing. Meredith made no attempt to lower her voice. Rachael didn't care for her territorialism. It was something she also didn't like in herself. However, Rachael felt she had room to express her feelings; it was her territory and she was going to make her terms very clear up front.
But first she needed to insure the safety of her children and herself. She closed the door. Walking to the Eastern corner of the room, she raised her hands. "This room represents the entire house, the entire property. The powers of the East-beings of light, air, rain, thunder, lightening, wind. I ask you to attend to witness and protect my circle." Her hands came together in front of her forehead. She lowered them to her heart level. Moving to the Southern corner, she again lifted her arms. "The powers of the South-beings of fire, heat, the sun, the heavens above which shelters and protect us, keeping us warm and growing our food. I ask you to attend to witness and protect my circle." Her hands came together and she lowered them to her heart. She moved to the Western corner and raised her hands. "Powers of the West-thou who provides our water, our fish, the cleansing element of our bodies and our souls, you satisfy our thirst and calm our souls. I ask you to attend my circle to witness and protect." Her skin began to tingle with the energy she brought into the room.
The temperature dropped, them warmed as the electrical and gravitational levels fluctuated. Rachael walked to the Northern corner and raised her arms. "The beings of the North, I ask you to attend to witness and protect my circle. Like the Earth Mother be the grounding force that provides protection and comfort. You who gives us our homes, our food, and the love we all need to survive." Bringing her hands down, she turned and walked to the center of the room. "I have asked you here to witness my new home. I call it mine for me and my children-Tara, Merlin, and Ralph. We alone are residents here. All others are visitors. To be protected, yet we alone call this place home. From above and below and from all four directions, I encircle this house-my home, my yard, my car, myself and my children in the silver and golden healing lights so that we may be safe, secure and know we are well loved. I authorize whatever force necessary to protect the residents of this home, starting at first with minimal to deadly if necessary. I ask all deities present to insure the safety of me and mine."
The air charged. Heat radiated off the walls, like the hot waves off black top. The energy circulated from within and around her expanding to fill the room. She continued without knowing why. "I combine my energy and tradition with all those of light who have gone before. May we be joined, making each stronger exponentially. Where there was one, may there be two. Where there is two may there be the power and wisdom of four. Where there be four, may the power of sixteen do what must be done. And so it goes until all the beings of light work together as the whole." Through her mind's eye, she saw the energy in the room expand, filling the room, spilling out to fill the house and yard to the borders of the property. A column of light shot both upward, as a beacon, and downward, connecting them to the source. "Thank you for your blessings."
Up from the ground, another energy surged. For a moment, Rachael was frightened. It withdrew, returning more softly. It filled her heart with love. She saw an older woman. She was from the dream. Smiling, she walked to Rachael and placed a ring of iridescent flowers around her neck. She spread her arms wide. Bubbles of the same shiny energy floated down from the heavens, filling the house and the yard, building a solid fence around the property.
Rachael knew the bubbles pile high and energized the ground beneath them. She breathed it in and it filled her being with love and strength. The woman stepped away, fading into the energy around them. She opened her eyes. Knowing she had been blessed by the Earth Mother, herself; she bowed her head in gratitude. "Thank you, Mother."
You're welcome, daughter, whispered the wind. Call you new protectors. Spirits of the centuries of times long past, yet still now live on, I call you to be special protectors of this guardian and those she loves. Eyes that see all of the night I charge your claws and fangs to defend with all that is necessary to keep evil at bay.
Rachael heard them before her she saw them in her mind’s eye. Large and aware, she could see them manifest in the trees, shrubs and shadows around the cottage. Multi-shades of gold and green, their luminescent eyes rivaling the sunlight.
A single tiger leaped and landed before the woman. She reached out and stroked its head. He purred. Pointing to Rachael, she continued. “She is the guardian of this holy place.” She pointed at the suddenly quiet carrier. “These are her children. Let no harm come to them. Both day and night watch and defend. As it was before, you and the others have free reign. Do not wait for her to call. As you sense so shall you react.”
The golden eyes fixated on Rachael, sending shivers through her. Sensed his powerful spirit gently embracing her, getting to know her. He turned his head toward the carrier for a moment; then he vanished.
“As you are the guardian of this place, so they are to you. No harm shall come to you. Whether here or out in the world, one will always be close. Take care how you direct them.” As in the field, she reached out and cupped Rachael’s chin in her palm. “You have the strength, wisdom, and the honor for the tasks at hand. Do not doubt yourself.” Smiling, she tweaked the end of Rachael’s nose. “Now call the Mother Dragon. So we can continue.”
Rachael took a deep breath and tried to remember the correct wording.
“Speak from you heart and she will hear.”
“Mother of all the clans. The source of all our wisdom and strength I ask you to come to this my new home and bless it with your protection. It has been a source of love and wisdom, but now it is under attack by ignorance and bigotry. I ask you to bless it in such away that all the clans watch over and protect us. Let beautiful place of light and love shine as a beacon for those who need comfort.”
Suddenly the room glowed with incandescent silver light that came from everywhere, yet nowhere. It filled the room. Again, Rachael knew it went far beyond to radiate though the cottage and out into the yard. The hair on her arms stood on end as the room charged with the energy of the Mother Dragon. Only once before did she feel as close to the Mother Dragon--when she dedicated herself to the dragon clan. Only this time it was stronger, deeper reaching. She felt it lift her spirit above the cottage until she could see and feel it all. Carmen was not far down the road and should arrive in minutes. Norman and Meredith argued about the living arrangements in the kitchen. The children watched from the living room. Lisa looked up at her and smiled. Beside her and all around, she felt the infinite love of the Mother.
Child, your awakening is at hand. The Mother‘s whispered to her. Soon you will know what it truly meant to walk the path of the dragon.
Rachael smiled within herself, knowing without consciously knowing what the statement meant. It was the unconditional love she responded to as if she was a young child being given the courage to start something new.
“As our energies intertwine so we meet together in the spirit of the new guardian. We become part of her as she becomes one with us.” The woman unfurled her arms shoulder high; her palms facing outward. “Let the ripples of our actions let it be known, the new guardian has been chosen.” Slowly she lowered her arms. “Be blessed Child of Light. Welcome home.” Suddenly she vanished.
Rachael stared at the now empty space. The energy still rippled through her in waves. She didn’t know if she was to expected to release as always or if there was something special she needed to do.
As you will, came the reply.
Just to find the norm, Rachael raised her head and walked to the Northern corner. Putting her hands together in front of her heart, she brought them straight up, level with her forehead. "Thank you powers of the North and for your blessings. I release you now. Always know you will be welcome in this house, my home." She spread her arms wide. The energy level dropped slightly, yet she knew they were still watching and protecting. She continued to the other corners, repeating the release. Each time the energy level lowered, yet she knew no one or nothing could harm her from that direction. She took a deep breath, held it; slowing releasing it, she walked to the bed and opened the carrier door. "Come see your new home."
Ralph crept out, cautiously looking around. He looked back into the carrier then jumped off the bed. He sniffed around. A chirping bird outside the window caught his attention. He jumped on the sill and looked for the bird.
Merlin smelled the bed and the remnants of the girls' nap. Only Tara remained inside.
Rachael reached in and pulled her out, cuddling her. "See Pretty Girl. You're safe. It's our new home."
Tara lifted her head and looked around. Her brothers had already started exploring. Seeing them on their adventure, she wanted down. Rachael opened her arms; Tara leaped on the bed.
"Ok. Mom will be right back. I'll get your dinner and set up your litter box." On the way out, she grabbed the one plant she didn't recognize. She closed the door tightly behind her and walked downstairs.
The small bag, the litter and the new litter boxes were sitting on the bottom step. The litter box had fallen over. Rachael leaned it against the wall.
In the kitchen, Meredith and the girls were putting away the groceries. The fresh fruits and veggies had been set aside on the table.
Rachael walked in and placed the pot on the table. Lisa stopped and stared at her. Meredith bumped into her. Annoyed, she pushed her daughter to one side. A can of spaghetti still in hand, Lisa crossed the room and looked up at Rachael. "You're like Cheyenne."
"Lisa! Bring that here." Meredith snapped.
Dutifully the child turned toward her mother. Melanie intercepted her, taking the cans to their mother. Lisa tugged on her older sister's sleeve. Melanie leaned forward and Lisa whispered in her ear. Melanie cocked her head to one side and stared at Rachael.
Watching the girls interact, Rachael realized Melanie not only protected her sisters from their father, but from their mother's inconsistencies as well. No wonder she was so angry, she thought, it was a lot for such small shoulders.
"You didn't buy much meat. We eat more than spaghetti."
"There are ten bags of mostly food. I'm sure you can find something." Rachael set the bag on the counter. Opening the cabinet, she pulled out three saucers and placed them next to the bag. Taking a can of tuna out of the sack, she reached for the can opener.
"Oh good, tuna. I'll make a casserole."
Rachael held back the can. "Cat food."
"Cat food?" Meredith snapped. "You’re feeding tuna to your cats?"
"I'm also feeding you!" Rachael's voice echoed off the walls, just like the anger reverberated within her. She was deliberately pushing all her buttons; she deserved what she got.
The children shrunk away. Terror evident in their eyes. Shawna popped her neglected thumb into her mouth and hid in the comfort of her blanket. Melanie gathered her sisters and herded them toward the dining room.
Seeing the fear in the children, Rachael felt guilty. She knew the anger would only add fuel to this growing fire. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, centering herself. Exhaling slowly, she asked her higher self, why Meredith was obviously trying to pick a fight? Control and fear of the unknown came the answer. Rachael realized getting angry would only play into the drama Meredith set up. She took another deep breath, releasing her anger, and opened her eyes.
Meredith had gathered the cans of tuna; possessively she tucked them away in the cabinet.
Rachael sucked the front of her teeth. She crossed the room and gently, but firmly took the tuna from the cabinet and closed the door. Squaring off against the other woman, Rachael stared straight into her brown eyes. "I'm alpha bitch here. I make the rules. I have all the power. What you're used to I don't know. Don't care. You can pick all the fights you want. We will not argue. You will leave. There are two doors. Pick one. It's your decision."
Angrily, Meredith pushed past her.
"I won't let you use me as an excuse. If you go back, it'll be because you want to. Not because you don't have a place to go."
Meredith stopped and spun around. "You're so smug. You don't know what it's like."
Rachael pointed at the children, trying their best to sneak away. "They do."
Meredith didn't turn around. "I'm doing this for them."
"Doing what? Trying to escape or trying to find an excuse to go back?"
"No!" Melanie screamed. "We won't!"
Furious, Meredith jerked around and slapped her. "You'll do what I say!"
The younger children hid behind their sister, who backed away from her raging mother, pushing the younger girls back with her into the dinning room. "We won't be hurt any more. Or watch you be hurt."
Meredith ran across the room. Crossing the threshold, she ran into Norman. He had been standing out their sight in the dining room. He grabbed her by the arms and held her.
"Meredith, calm down." His voice was smooth, but tainted with anger. "Let's talk."
"No. I've changed my mind. I'm taking my children and leaving. I'll explain to Dan. He‘ll understand."
He pushed her away. She stumbled backward into the kitchen.
"You can leave." He stepped between her and the girls. "I have more than enough evidence to prove emotional abuse..." He paused, looking at Melanie. "And physical abuse."
"I love my children!"
"Prove it!" He matched her angry tone. "Provide them with a safe, loving home."
"Dan doesn't hurt them."
"Yes. He does. Physically and emotionally." Norman's voice dropped from the high pitched scream, which competed with Meredith's, to a low deadly calm that seem to still the air around them. "I told you this would be the last time. And it is. You go back now. You go back alone. I won't be there. Your job won't be there. The courts will take your children. I promise you."
Meredith crumpled into a sobbing mass on the floor.
"Not this time. You cried 'help me' too many times. You always went back. Not any more. You either go through with the plans. Start your new life. Or you walk out the door and don't look back."
Her head snapped up. "I'll call the police. You'll be arrested for kidnapping."
A sad smile crossed his face. "Who would they believe? A woman who won't defend herself or her children from abuse or an upstanding member of St. Joseph's church, the rotary, the-"
"The police will turn against you just as fast."
Rachael couldn't see the expression on her face, but the emotional roller coaster ride she was taking them on was making her nauseous. She didn't understand. How could she even consider going back? If a man ever hit her, he had better do it right the first time; eventually she would get up and love or no, when she did, he'd be in a world of hurt.
Meredith leaned forward, looking around Norman to the girls. "Come with me. We'll find daddy. I'll make it all right."
Lisa shook her head.
Shawna sucked her thumb and held her blanket tightly with one hand and her oldest sister's leg with the other.
Melanie angrily looked across at her. "No." Her voice was flat. Her eyes were a flame, the wrinkles around them deepened, making her look more like an old woman.
"You lied to them again." Norman stated. "They don't want to go with you. They want more than fear and pain in their lives."
"I won't let you take my children." Meredith hissed. "That's what you and your barren wife wanted all along."
Norman winced. "We did everything we could to help you."
"Help yourself to my children more like it." Meredith stood. "You won't get away with it. Dan will help me."
"Into an early grave."
Meredith swung. He grabbed her wrist. She tried kicking him in the groin. He jumped aside and grabbed her ankle. He held her suspended, like a puppet master.
"If you had done more of this earlier, you wouldn't have had so many bruises and black eyes."
She spit at him.
Without effort, he threw her against the wall.
What am I doing here? Rachael thought. What in the Goddess's name am I doing here?
Meredith picked herself up off the floor. Tossing her head back, she walked toward the door. Two steps pass Norman, she grabbed at the children. Melanie swung, hitting her mother in the cheek. Lisa screamed, lashing out nails extended, but not making contact.
Norman spun around and pushed her toward the front door. "They don't want you."
"This isn't over!" She screamed. Dashing through the door, she ran into Carmen, nearly knocking the box from her arms.
"What the hell?" Carmen juggled the box. Pinning it against the open door, she looked over her shoulder at Norman and the crying children. "What's going on?"
Norman shook his head and picked up Shawna to comfort her.
"Rachael? Rachael, you here?"
A car engine started. For a moment, it sounded like it would quit, but it roared back to life. It accelerated backward, kicking up dirt. Meredith shot out of the driveway, nearly running into the incoming pick-up.
Rachael shook her head. She'd been here the whole time, but she still didn't know what was going on.
"Don't ask." Rachael put her arms around Lisa, who came to her willingly and snuggled against her. Only Melanie stood alone. Rachael didn't know how to reach above or around the barrier the child had build around herself. She took a step closer. Melanie backed away. Rachael nodded and extended her hand. Melanie looked at it. The hand didn't move. Her eyes drifted up to meet Rachael's. The young-old child trembled. Rachael knew she wanted comfort, but didn't know how to accept it. "Take it." She whispered. "It will never hurt you."
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