“Hey, Morrison!” Scott St. Pierre spat the words across the dressing room. It was not his intention to come off as rude and obnoxious, but any intention he ever mustered in that regard never seemed to matter in the slightest.
Nick ignored him. He decided he wasn’t quite hungover from last night, but he was still irritated about Andy’s self-centeredness. Why had he bolted out of their game like that? All his pontificating about selflessness and the construct of self, yet he always seemed to do his own thing with no regard for others.
“Morrison!” St. Pierre hollered again, louder this time. Suddenly it was quiet. Every player in the room knew Scott and Nick’s history. And considering Nick always managed to humiliate Scott — be it physically or intellectually — everyone there was dying to see why Scott seemed so insistent on poking the bear.
Suddenly, Nick determined he was hungover after all. He glared at Scott St. Pierre and remembered what the piece of shit had done to Andy on the bus. Was this going to be about that?
“What is it, Scott?” The deadpan was not intentional, but to the room, it came off as delightfully dismissive.
The unexpectedly cordial tone of Scott’s next words caught everyone off guard — especially Nick. “I thought you were going to Cedars on Friday, I didn’t see you.”
Confused by the friendly overture, Nick, due more to laziness than anything else, deemed it easiest to just play along.
”I thought about going.” He said as he snapped on his helmet. He paused and the words in his head did not get to his mouth. But Friday is always Aetherwield night. Suddenly his truth seemed absurd to him: immature — even embarrassing.
“I went to the flat rocks with some friends from Toronto,” he lied. Nick didn’t know why he lied. It just happened. He felt shame — but also an unexpected sensation. Was it liberation?
“Maybe next time, Scott.” It suddenly occurred to him that he could go to Cedars with Deb and her friends next Friday. The reception the idea had received at the game last night had been cold, to say the least. He resolved to go to the mall after practice to talk to Deb about this. He could also ask her what the hell was going on with Andy. His gloves were on now. Grabbing his stick, he stood and made for the door, which required him to walk right past Scott St. Pierre.
Standing up on skates caused Nick’s hangover to descend upon him in earnest. He had too much on his mind. There was too much in disarray for his liking. He felt like a lost soul and it irritated him.
Impulsively, he tapped the heel of his hockey stick on Scott St. Pierres’s shoulder pad as he walked past. Scott was bent over and lacing his skates.
”I’ll save you a dance.” Nick said. This time the dismissiveness was intended.
A snicker rippled through the dressing room. But if Scott St. Pierre noticed he was being laughed at, he did not show it.
“Patience, Scott,” The voice in his head was intoxicating. Had he possessed the worldliness to discern such things, he would have noted its peculiar variation on a Welsh accent.
“Nick Morrison is donefore.” The alluring voice said.
“You just need to be patient.”
Because his face was down as he finished lacing his skates, nobody saw the malicious grin that split Scott St. Pierre’s wide, freckled face.
Had they seen it, they would have been horrified at how much that grin was not his own.
Ruby Crowley loved her weirdo little brother. He deserved better than he had gotten from his parents and yet he took it all in as though even the shittiest things in life were just more wonders to be experienced. The least she could do for the only family she had left was cook him a big breakfast whenever she was free. She was on leave from the airbase in Trenton and had arrived home late last night.
“Cap’n Ruby brings home the bacon!” Andy was wearing a Journey concert shirt, which raised Ruby’s eyebrows. She knew Andy’s taste in music well enough to be surprised by the fact he even owned a Journey shirt. There was only one reason he would wear it. And that reason made her heart flutter with excitement.
“How’s Deb?” She asked. Her tone was loaded with innuendo. Her eyes and a quick jerk of her head showed Andy she noticed the journey shirt.
Andy had indeed woken up thinking about Deb, which had surprised him considering the Guskar meeting in the cave beneath Mount Qaf-Khun. He felt great. He was still curious about the Earthstone being in his dice bag. He still hadn’t checked. The implications of him bringing an object across the planar barrier would be huge. He wanted to savour the notion a little longer. He was also curious as to how possessing the Guskar’s Earthstone would help move him to an answer on the Nick issue. He had a theory. Right now he wanted to share some positive energy with his sister for a change. He knew he’d given her a hard time lately.
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” As he shoved bacon into his mouth, Andy used his head to indicate the stairs he had just come down. The suggestion was that Deb was in his bedroom.
“Oh puleease?” Ruby said. “Alfred E. Newman thinks he’s Jon Bon Jovi now? And what’s with that shirt?”
“Hah!” Andy laughed. “Nosy Aunt Ruby! It would make a good band name. Hey, maybe we’ll name the baby after you.”
He savored the toasted bacon sandwich he had constructed and got lost in his thoughts for a moment. He had gone to bed in a maelstrom of concerns about a banshee’s pronouncement of Nick’s impending demise; the bittersweet glow of Deb’s profession of love for him; and confusion about whether or not to reciprocate with his own profession of love for her. The absence of his regular drowning nightmare had made him feel better about Nick. His best friend’s death was not a certainty, Andy now felt. As for Deb, he felt like a weight had been lifted by hearing her say the words — but that the burden lifted was offset by another, heavier issue: could he — considering who he was and the trajectory of his reality as an entity chosen by sorcery — actually be with Deb? As he pondered these things, trying to assemble order from the chaos, he failed to notice Ruby’s silence following his joke about her being an aunt.
“Don’t even joke about that Andy,” she finally said. Her face was a mask of stone. It was Soldier Ruby. Andy had seen that face a lot when she — with the Morrison’s help — had fought for the right to be his legal guardian. She smiled so he would not think she was too angry with him. The smashed nose on the bus lecture, the detention lecture. She had a job to do, but Jesus she didn’t want to be her mother. God knows, an icy chill of utter disgust ran down her spine, I don’t want to be that!
“We are dealing with enough, aren’t we?” She was pulling her shoulder-length auburn hair into a bun she would wear under her Air Force wedge cap. It told Andy she would be going somewhere for work. He was saddened that she would be leaving again so soon.
He summoned as much compassion into his face as he could.
“Ain’t that the truth,” he said around a mouthful of bacon sandwich.
Ruby could tell he felt bad about the joke and she let it go. This kid, she mused — so sharp; so tuned in; so insightful.
“I may have to go to Germany for a week. But before I go, I want the total skinny on what’s up with you and Debbie Holcroft.”
“Of course,” Andy said. And he smiled. “Nosy old-lady-next-door Ruby.”
Ruby laughed. “Much better than Aunt Ruby!” she said. “For now anyway.”
She loved him so much. And was so proud of him. Their situation had definitely been challenging and strange, but she had no concerns about leaving him home alone so frequently. He was so far beyond his years. Andy Crowley was the most together person she knew.
Andy told her everything he could about what had happened with Deb last night. Of course, he omitted everything about the banshee, Nick’s possible death, and anything to do with mysticism, planar transference and sorcery.
He sometimes wondered if his esoteric interests had played a part in driving his 6 to church, which had in turn driven his father to drink. In no way did he feel responsible for what his parents had done to themselves. Nonetheless, he had sworn to himself that his peculiar calling would never bring others to harm.
When Andy had finished recounting the night’s events, Ruby came around the kitchen table, bent down, and hugged him.
“You know I love Deb, Andy,” Ruby was genuinely excited for him. “He needs this,” she thought.
“It was always going to be either you or Nick? But I always knew it would end up being you.” She looked at him like a mother then — a good mother.
“Why?” Andy laughed as he asked the question. To his mind, Nick was literally the Jon Bon Jovi to his Alfred E. Newman.
“Because I’ve watched the three of you grow up,” Ruby looked away. An easy, dreamy smile was on her face.
“And I saw the way she always looked at you.”
Andy’s heart sank. Suddenly none of this seemed right. He couldn’t be with Deb anyway. could he? And what about Nick? If Ruby was right, then Nick and Deb should —
Why had his willpower failed on the bus? Why had he been foolishly willing to reveal himself. Why had his spell failed to work? Why was a banshee of Fey telling Deb Nick would die? Why was there a whiff of the mariner in blue on the Banshee. There was too much here to process. He would get to it all in time.
His mind turned to Guskar and the ruby Earthstone in his dice bag. He needed to figure out. Right now he wanted to distract his consciousness and let his subconscious calculate things. Everyone is at the mall. Why the Hell not?
Today, something different!
His decision to go there surprised him.
Receiving the red stone awakened in him a specific curiosity: the astral realm. The other proximal plane. It was the next logical step. Just as the dream realm was represented in blue, the astral was red. The Earthstone was a hint. Everything is a hint when one awakens from the slumber of reductionism.
He had some reading to do. Rudolph Steiner and P.D. Ouspensky came immediately to mind. The astral realm was the lock. And Guskar’s ruby earthstone, if it really was still in his bag, would be the key.
“I love you, Roob,” was all Andy Crowley could think of to say in that perplexing moment.
It was all he wanted to say.