?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Chapter 2

The bus station wasn’t as busy as she had feared it would be, and Joan sank gratefully down onto an uncomfortable chair, dropping her backpack onto the dirty tile floor. There was an older lady sitting in the row across from her, busily knitting on a blanket. She was focused intently on her work, a slight frown on her face, and the young woman decided not to distract her. There would be a two-hour layover at this station, which would hopefully be enough time to catch a quick nap. She had spent most of the bus ride so far feeling nauseous and hadn’t been able to sleep like she’d wanted to. The row of plastic, armless chairs was vacant, so Joan set her backpack on one and used it as a pillow while she stretched out across the others. She reached underneath her loose shirt and unbuttoned her pants with a sigh of relief. She needed to move on to maternity clothing, but new clothing cost money that she didn’t have.

Joan had just begun to relax despite the uncomfortable, noisy surroundings when she felt it. She jerked up and pressed one hand to her abdomen, panic stirring. It almost felt like very faint cramps, although it wasn’t painful. She scrambled for her cell phone as she tried to remember what the signs of a miscarriage were. It took several fumbling tries before she managed to dial the Carpenter house, only to end up growling with frustration when no one picked up. Was this something she should bother Patricia with?

“Are you all right?” Joan looked up from contemplating her phone to see the older woman looking at her with concern in her faded blue eyes. She had set her knitting aside and was standing in front of Joan. “Is there something I can do?”

“I don’t know.” She couldn’t quite keep the faint note of panic out of her voice. Why wasn’t Charity picking up? Something was wrong and she didn’t know what to do. “I felt something.”

The woman sat down next to her. “Are you pregnant,” she asked quietly. Joan nodded, feeling a flush of embarrassment color her cheeks. “What did you feel?”

“It . . .it kind of felt like cramps,” the girl said quietly, her color deepening. She hadn’t even liked talking about this with the midwife, let alone a complete stranger at the bus station. “It didn’t hurt, though. That’s good, right?”

“That’s a very good sign,” the woman agreed, smiling encouragingly. Her voice was calm, soothing, and Joan thought, for an absurd moment, that the old woman could probably use that voice to settle a spooked animal. “What’s your name, dear?”

“Joan.”

“All right, Joan. You can call me Cecilia. Did it feel something like fluttering?” Cecilia smiled more broadly when Joan nodded and reached out to pat her hand. “There’s nothing to worry about, dear. That’s your baby moving. That’s what you felt.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’ve had three of my own. That’s what it feels like. As long as there’s no pain or contractions, you’re in good shape.”

Joan sighed with relief and sagged back against the plastic chair. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Cecilia sat down next to her, a wrinkled but strong hand grasping Joan’s still-trembling one. “We women have to stick together, sweetie. I’m guessing you’re all alone?”

“Umm . . .,” Joan looked away from the woman, her earlier embarrassment returning in spades.

“It’s all right, you don’t have to answer.” Cecilia hurried to put her at ease, looking worried about upsetting her now that the question was out there. “It’s none of my business, really.”

“No, no, I want to. It’s just a hard question to answer.” She looked up at the older woman. “His father isn’t around, but I’m not alone. Not really. I can’t really explain it.”

“You don’t have to explain,” Cecilia reassured her. “Sometimes things happen that leave us alone.” She seemed to falter at the end of her statement; her expression dimming back to what it had been when Joan had first seen her.

“We’re never really alone, though,” Joan blurted out, hoping to bring back some of the light. Cecilia looked at her with shuttered eyes, and the young woman hurried to qualify it. “Stuff happens that we don’t always like. But it happens for a reason. And we might never know the reason, because that’s the big picture that we can’t see.”

“You seem rather young and alone for such a sentiment.” Cecilia picked up her knitting. Joan didn’t know if that was a signal to end the conversation or not.

“What are you making?” she finally ventured.

Cecilia didn’t answer immediately. “A lap blanket.”

It sounded like a lie, but why would anyone lie over something so insignificant? “I really like the colors.” It was true the bright assortment of oranges, reds and yellows appealed to her. She rested her hands on her stomach and sighed. “I should have thought to bring something with me. Would’ve made this trip go by a little faster.”

Cecilia thawed a little. “Do you know how to knit?”

“A little. I’m not very good at it yet.”

The older woman rummaged through her bag. “Practice makes perfect, sweetie. Would you like to start something? I have extra needles and yarn.”

Joan nodded, beaming, and Cecilia passed over the needles and a ball of red yarn. After a few false starts, her fingers seemed to catch on again and she started making progress. The two women sat together, knitting in what had become a comfortable silence, for close to an hour before Joan’s hands cramped up and she was forced to set the project to the side. “So where are you headed?”

“St. Louis, for now. I’ll be staying with my daughter for a while.” Cecilia didn’t look up from her knitting. The woman must have the strongest hands in the state.

“That’s good. Family’s important.” Joan winced a little at the statement even as she made it. How lame and boring could you be? “So what’s your daughter like?”

“She works as a paramedic for the fire department. And she’s infuriating.” Cecilia looked up, raising a faded eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“Drury, Missouri.”

“And what will you be doing there?”

Joan shrugged. “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” Drury was called just then and the line for her bus began to form, so she gathered her bag and stood up. “Here’s your yarn back. You can unravel it and start something new if you want.”

“You keep it,” said Cecilia, digging through her bag and coming up with three small items. They were made of the same yarn as Cecilia’s current project. Joan recognized them as a tiny cap and a pair of booties. “Here, take these too. I made them for my daughter-in-law, but I think you need them more.”

“I couldn’t,” Joan protested.

“Nonsense. I can always make more. Take them.” She pressed them into Joan’s hands. “Now hurry and get in line. You don’t want to miss your bus.”

***

Cecilia watched as the girl climbed onto her bus and sighed. A part of her regretted giving away the tiny things she had knitted for her first grandchild, but Matthew and Jennifer wouldn’t be needing them and Joan definitely did.

The woman sighed and rubbed her hands. She shouldn’t have kept on knitting like that, but the distraction had been necessary. The girl had reminded her of Jennifer, not so much in appearance as in personality, and the pain of that resemblance had been unexpected. She was used to things reminding her of her son, had grown accustomed to that particular ache, but the acute reminder of her daughter-in-law and the grandchild that would never be born had caught her by surprise.

The anger at her son had faded, but it still flared up at times like this. She had understood why he had chosen his lifestyle, had even supported him, but if his work hadn’t followed him home, she’d be a grandmother by now. And Matthew would be a father, instead of dead at the hands of the same creature that had killed his wife and unborn child.

***

Joan stood outside the bus station and took in the sights of Drury, Missouri. There wasn’t much to see. She’d already taken a walk around the small town, which had taken approximately twenty-five minutes. There was a library, a small motel, a post office, two restaurants and a gas station/convenience store. She wasn’t sure why God had sent her here, beyond nebulous instructions to find a job and share her experiences.

Finding a job was something she could handle. The library building had a help wanted sign in the window; she would start there. Joan settled her backpack on her shoulders and headed in that direction.

The door was locked when she got there, but there were lights on inside and she could see someone at the circulation desk so she knocked to get their attention. A pleasant-looking woman in her fifties came to the locked door.

“I’m sorry, honey, we’re closed. We just started moving into the building and we won’t be open for at least a week.”

“Actually, I’m here about the help wanted sign.” Joan saw the woman look her up and down, gaze lingering on her middle, and fought the urge to cover herself with her arms. Instead she started talking, the words coming out in a rush. “My name is Joan Girardi. I’ve worked in bookstores for the last three years, and I’m pretty good at shelving and computer catalogs.”

“It’s just temporary,” the woman said apologetically. “We need someone to unpack and shelve the books on this end, double check the catalog and maybe help set up the new computers.”

“I’m only in town for a little while. Temporary is fine. And I could definitely do everything you’ve mentioned so far.”

“I don’t know,” she said, still glancing down at Joan’s belly at intervals during the conversation.

The young woman took a chance, reached out and touched the arm of the librarian, resting her other hand on her belly. “This won’t affect my ability to do the job,” Joan said when she was sure she had the other woman’s attention. “Give me a chance. You won’t regret it.”

“All right,” the older woman said finally, standing back and letting Joan inside. Joan shivered a little in the air-conditioned atmosphere, which was a drastic change from the muggy sunshine outside. The librarian lead the way through the eerily empty shelves and into a back room crowded with boxes. There was a boy of about twelve or thirteen there, sitting at a table with a book in front of him. “Jonathon!” The boy scrambled up from his seat, looking equal parts startled and guilty as the librarian swept into the room, Joan trailing behind. “We’re not paying you to read, you know,” the older woman said, a slight smile softening the words a little. “This is Joan. You two will be working together.”

Jonathon glanced up at her from under long, untidy hair. “Nice to meet you,” he said, his dark eyes not quite meeting hers.

She smiled back at him. “You too. You must know the library pretty well for them to trust you to keep me in line.”

***

Joan moaned with pleasure as one calloused, long-fingered hand slid down her back. The other cupped her cheek and drew her in for a kiss. She returned it eagerly, letting her own hands glide over a broad chest and drift downward. Sam’s mouth moved down to her neck and he murmured something that she strained to hear as the room started to fill with light.

The dreamscape dissolved abruptly when her eyes snapped open, the lights of a passing semi illuminating the empty motel room. Joan lay in the bed for a minute or so, willing her heartbeat to drop down to something resembling normal. Both Patricia and Charity had mentioned that this kind of dream was fairly common during pregnancy, but she hadn’t really taken the warnings seriously. When she felt like she could stand without trembling, she climbed out of bed and headed into the postage-stamp bathroom. After using the toilet, she washed her face and hands and got herself a cup of water from the tap. Her hands shook a little as she drank and Joan stared at herself in the mirror, trying to will the emotions the dream had stirred up back into their box.

Almost against her will, she began studying her reflection, noting the changes. She hadn’t had this much unfettered bathroom time since she walked away from her tiny apartment, and she couldn’t resist the urge to lift the hem of her sleep shirt and take a good long look.

Her stomach was the most obvious difference, of course, too round to be anything but pregnancy and impossible to hide anymore. Her boobs had gotten a little bigger, which wasn’t entirely unwelcome, but so had her rear end. Her face was rounder, too. Everything was round nowadays.

Joan sighed and dropped her shirt back into place. Would the changes not have mattered as much if Sam were here? If he loved her and was here with her, excited about the baby on the way, would she welcome the way her body was transforming?

Tired from all this introspection at a hideous hour, Joan crawled back into bed. Her cell phone was sitting on the nightstand, and she reached for it and paged through the contacts. She let the cursor hover on ‘Home’ for a moment, a lump in her throat as she thought about how much she missed her family. She wanted her mom to hug her and stroke her hair, and her dad to make everything all right, and her brothers to just be here.

Sniffing back the tears, she moved the cursor down. Grace was out of the question. She hated being dragged into this kind of drama, and that is exactly what would happen if she hit send right now.

Charity would have answered the phone and would have talked to her for a while, but Joan felt bad calling at 4 am when the woman had so much on her plate already. And that left only one name in her contacts list. She stared at Sam’s name until the screen went dark, one hand absently rubbing the curve of her belly.

She knew she should tell Sam. He deserved to know that he was going to be a father. But every time Joan got ready to make the call, she remembered waking up alone the morning after their night together with nothing but a note that contained his scribbled-down phone number. It was the first number that she’d programmed into her prepaid cell when she left for Chicago, and like all the other numbers it remained undialed.

Joan snapped the phone shut decisively and turned off the light. She would get to sleep eventually.

***

The following days quickly settled into a pattern. Joan worked with Jonathon, cataloging and shelving every book in the library’s collection and double-checking to make sure that they were all in the computer system. The work was boring and repetitive, but not all that physically or mentally demanding, so the two of them ended up talking while they worked. They laughed at how certain parts of the alphabet slipped into sentences as they tried to multitask.

Jonathon was better at keeping his tasks separate and with a little bit of digging, Joan soon figured out that he was a straight A student always looking for something more to learn. When she mentioned some of the messes that her brother Luke got into, Jonathon frowned. His school did not have the money or the opportunities for him to learn and explore like Arcadia High. He was floundering for something to do. Joan searched through the non-fiction books and found the perfect solution. It had less pictures and more explanations than Jonathon preferred reading but with a little encouragement, the physics book was carried wherever the boy went.

She met him in front of the library every morning, and they sat down on the steps in the sunshine as they waited for one of the librarians to unlock the doors for the day. Joan found herself combing her memory for interesting tidbits from her science classes to meld with the boy’s newfound interest in physics. It was surprising how much remained in her mind, even though some of it was garbled.

It was on one of these mornings that she came around the corner and saw a group of boys gathered in front of the library. Joan paused and studied the situation for the moment, but it became obvious what was going on when one of the unknown boys shoved another to the ground. “Hey!” She hurried over, shouting as she went, and the other boys scattered, leaving the one who’d been knocked down behind. When she reached the boy, Joan realized that it was Jonathon. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” he muttered, and reached over to pick up the book he’d been carrying. The boy smoothed the bent pages, refusing to look up and meet Joan’s eyes.

“So why were they bothering you?”

“It’s ok. I can handle it.” The ‘I’m used to it,’ went unspoken, but Joan heard it nonetheless.

“You shouldn’t have to handle it,” Joan said, her temper flaring. “Those kids were jerks and they shouldn’t be picking on you.”

“I can handle it,” the boy repeated, his voice a little stronger than before. “It’s no big deal. I just don’t want anyone hanging over me.”

Joan forced herself to sit down on the steps, and the boy came over to join her. “It is a big deal,” she said, trying very hard to keep her voice quieter and more even than before. “You shouldn’t let them do it. It doesn’t matter if you can handle it. The next person they come after might not be able to.”

“That’s why I let them pick on me. That way they leave the other kids alone.”

Joan smiled at him and nudged him with one shoulder. “You’re a pretty smart kid.”

“That’s why they pick on me,” Jonathon said simply.

“You remind me of my brother. He’s pretty smart too, when he’s not being a . . .,” she broke off, remembering the age of her audience and checking her language. “When he’s not doing something stupid. Like letting someone beat him up.”

“It’s not that stupid,” he said indignantly.

“Yeah it is, but it’s brave stupid, so I’ll let you get away with it. Just so long as you don’t let what they say get to you.” She looked over at him with eyebrows raised. “And as long as they’re not seriously hurting you.”

The boy nodded, surprisingly earnest. “I know.”

“So if someone does hurt you, you’ll stop it.”

“Yeah.”

“All right then.”

***

The sun was warm on her shoulders as she walked away from the library for the last time. She would miss Jonathon, but the kid had Luke’s e-mail address and she knew he would be all right. Cute-boy God was waiting on the sidewalk for her, still wearing his corduroy jacket despite the heat of the August day. It had been three very hot weeks in Missouri. “Ready to head back to Chicago, Joan?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She looked at him suspiciously. “You’re not planning on sending me somewhere else, are you?”

“No, not just yet. You should go back to the Carpenters for a while. They could use the help.”

“Good. Well, not that they need my help, but that I get to go back.”

“It’s always nice to feel wanted, Joan. And Charity likes having you around. You should enjoy your time with the Carpenters.” They walked toward the bus station in silence. God stopped at the door. “You need to start being more careful, Joan. You and your baby are beacons. You’re going to attract attention from the other side of things.”

“The other side of things?”

“There’s evil out there in the world, Joan. You’ve seen it. And evil likes to devour innocence.” He reached out and lightly brushed his fingers against her belly, and she could feel a flutter of movement, quickly becoming more familiar and less terrifying every time it happened. “Be careful,” he reiterated, folding his hands into his pockets. “It’s looking for you both.”

Joan looked worried. “I’m not going to cause trouble for Michael and Charity, am I?”

“Nothing they can’t handle.” He smiled and walked away, giving a quick wave before he turned the corner and was gone from sight.

***

Azazel had been in the midst of tainting another psychic child in Missouri when he felt it.

Power.

Just a pulse.

He left the little girl and didn’t bother to flame the nursery since the mother never awoke to defend her child.

Where was the power that called to him?

There was a scent on the wind. It was trailing away.

It was… pre-natal.

It was…

Oh.

Yes.

A Winchester.

How very, very sloppy.

How very, very delicious.

Azazel could feel the Brothers in a northwest direction, South Dakota if he wasn’t mistaken. The child was not anywhere near them.

Nor their protection, not that he couldn’t taint the child right in front of them. (He conveniently forgot the little girl that Samuel had… taken off the roster.) It wasn’t as if they could kill him without the Colt. They would have to stand by and watch helplessly.

How very, very delicious.

He would ensure that the mother did not survive the sixth month of her child’s life. Just to add to Samuel’s guilt. To give Azazel another rein to manipulate his General-to-be.

He would have to find the mother. It wasn’t likely that there was a deal binding them, but he could probably coerce her into one somehow. All he had to do was watch her and find out who her weaknesses were.

How hard could it be, to find one pregnant woman who pulsed with such tantalizing power?

***

Chapter 3

Tags: