Daniel rose from his chair with a groan, wondering how many more times he might be able to accomplish it without help. As he picked up his cane from the table in his wrinkled left hand, he could almost hear old man Johanson's words echoing back to him from across the many long years.
My time is almost up, Daniel. I can feel it in my bones. Don't you bother telling me it ain't, 'cause I know better.
He understood now — standing in almost the exact same spot as the man who had been as a third grandfather to him. His time was slipping away, too.
Daniel's cane tapped on the hardwood floor as he walked to the window. The first sight of the trees buoyed his spirit, and made him feel stronger. He knew that his love awaited him there — rather impatiently. The whispers of her voice in his head and the ivy rubbing up against the window left little doubt of that.
He understood her impatience all too well. He didn't spend much time in Mr. Johanson's house, which he'd purchased to give his daughter and her new husband some privacy all those years ago. Most of the time, he remained with his love, near her pool in the woods, which stood between his new home and the house where he'd grown up.
Before he walked out the door, he checked his cellphone, to make sure that he'd turned it on. All too often, things like that slipped from his memory of late. He wouldn't wait any longer to return to her side, but he needed to be able to stay in touch with the world outside the wood, as well.
The plants in the house rustled in anticipation as he walked to the front door. As usual, his paper was lying in the grass right in front of the porch. Daniel had yet to figure out how she managed to transport it from the mailbox at the end of the drive to the front door without leaving her wood, but he was grateful for it.
One of the stories on the front page confirmed what had driven him to return to the house, and the world beyond the wood. The Governor and a group of speculative investors were pushing hard for the new highway. Though it wouldn't cross his property, Daniel was determined to stop them from destroying a vast swath of the nearby nature, replacing it with four lanes of asphalt, hotels, gas stations, and restaurants.
He found the Governor's push to have the vote on Earth Day particularly insulting.
Shaking his head in irritation, he rolled the paper up and tossed it near the door on the porch as he turned toward his true home. He felt stronger with every step toward the wood, his cane little more than an accessory by the time he stepped beneath the shadowed boughs. The curved handle warmed in his hand, seemingly as eager to return as he was. As soon as she'd seen the need coming, his love had coaxed a tree and some vines to grow into the beautiful cane.
The scent of wildflowers tickled his nose, and birds erupted into song as he crossed the barrier between untouched nature and manicured lawn. A squirrel scrambled down a young maple tree only inches away, chattered at him, and then used his shoulders as a stepping stone to leap to an oak on the other side of the trail.
He'd grown used to it over the years, though the habit the animals had of stealing anything he tried to eat right out of his hand was irritating sometimes.
Only a few steps down the leaf-covered trail into the wood, she seemingly materialized from the undergrowth, wrapped her arms around him, and planted kiss after kiss on his face.
"Come. You have been gone too long," Xantina said with a perfect pout when she finally stopped kissing him.
Daniel held his nymph mate's hand, as stricken by her unchanging beauty now as he was on the day that she revealed herself to him. He brought her golden-hued hand to his lips to kiss it, and then reached out to run his fingers through her hair — the color of new leaves.
Xantina giggled, her willowy, nude body shivering from his touch, and causing her ample breasts to jiggle. Daniel felt his manhood rising, her sensual beauty and her magic easily able to overcome the infirmities of his seventy-four years.
She took his hand again, tugging him toward her pool at the center of the wood. Her body swayed as she walked the trail backwards, her steps unerring. Branches and fronds that crossed the path moved aside to let her pass, where any but she or her mate would have found the trail vanishing with each step. Her radiant smile could have tugged him along, even if she didn't hold his hand.
Upon reaching her spring-fed pool, Xantina let out a musical laugh and helped Daniel remove his clothing, which she carelessly tossed into the ferns and flowers that surrounded the pool. She kissed him again once he was nude — a lingering, passionate kiss this time — and caressed his erection with her hand.
"Xantina, the kids are coming," he reminded her, though he wanted nothing more than to sink down into the moss and ferns with her.
She stuck her tongue out at him, a gesture that she'd picked up from her daughter, when Xanbrina was a little girl. She laughed again, and turned to dive into her pool. Naturally, she gave a perfectly timed kick of her feet just before they sank below the surface of the water, splashing her love.
He was expecting it, as the game was as much a part of their relationship as their kisses, but he made no effort to move out of the way. Taken back to the days when he was a child and she was but his imaginary friend, Daniel slipped through the ferns, sank into the pool, and splashed her back as soon as she surfaced.
Xantina blew a drop of water off the tip of her nose, and then cocked her ear to the wind.
Daniel felt it, too. As the years had passed, he'd grown more attuned to the natural world around him, able to sense things beyond the ability of most people to discern. Likewise, he had a bond with those of his family that none other could have possibly understood. It was the latter that had attracted his attention, and that of his mate.
"Oh dear," Daniel said with a raise of his bushy white eyebrows.
Gary stood in the bedroom doorway, just as spellbound by his wife's beauty as his father-in-law was with her mother's. Xanbrina brushed her honey-blonde hair — the tresses just as lustrous as they were on the day he met her, over twenty-five years ago. In a few more years, he would look more like her father than her husband.
Brina smiled at his reflection in the mirror. "I hope that you aren't about to tell me that you have to go in to work today."
He shook his head while crossing the room to hug her from behind, and kiss her neck. "I love you."
She moaned from his touch and his words. "I love you too." She put her brush down on the dresser and spun in his arms to kiss him properly. "What is it, then? I know that look in your eyes."
"Kia asked to borrow the car."
Brina's smile faded into irritation. "What?" She let out a sigh. "You reminded her?"
"Yes. She just rolled her eyes at me and walked off."
Brina's voice had an ominous timbre to it that he knew all too well when she asked, "Where is she?"
"In her room." Brina turned as if to walk out of the room, but Gary caught her hand and said, "Maybe we shouldn't push her too much, Honey."
Brina sighed again, and offered a half-smile. "This is too important, Gary. We've already held on to her too tight. She's eighteen, and she's probably just as lost as I was at that age. Mom can help her deal with things, and calm some of her fears about..."
He held up a hand and interrupted her with a laugh. "Please don't talk about her having sex. I don't think I'm ready to deal with that yet."
She laughed, and hugged him. "You're as bad as Daddy," she whispered in his ear.
"And you're just like your mother," he whispered back.
She pulled back, wearing a naughty smile, and twitched her eyebrows. "You seem to like that, sometimes."
He sighed as blood rushed to his nether regions in response to his wife's coquettish tease. "Go talk to her, but at least think about giving her space, if she needs it."
"I will. Wish me luck?"
"Good luck — you're going to need it. She's in a mood today."
Xanbrina made her way to her daughter's room, and saw the door was open. She peeked in to find Kia standing in front of the mirror, alternately holding two different blouses in front of her and nervously twisting a lock of her strawberry-blonde hair. For just a moment, she saw the smart, sweet girl that she remembered — that she knew was still lurking beneath the rebellious teenage front.
"The blushing pink, but don't let your father see it," Brina suggested as she stepped into the room. She knew that the way the blouse accentuated Kia's full breasts would cause her husband to sputter with worry.
Kia sighed and rolled her eyes, but she did toss aside the red top, far more modest by comparison, in favor of her mother's suggestion. "Mom, I have a life."
"Honey, we planned this visit with Mom a week ago. It's important — and not so disconnected with you having a life as you might think."
"I have a date with Steve. Can I have the car or not?"
Kia growled and tossed her blouse aside. "Don't call me that. I want to have a normal life. I don't want to be a freak."
Brina winced, the words stabbing directly into her heart. Without another word, she turned to leave the room.
"Mom — wait," Kia called out, and hurried to the door before her mother could leave. "I'm ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
Brina sucked in a quavering breath, her eyes misting with unshed tears. "You can have the car," she said in a small voice, without turning around, and then walked away.
Gary saw the look on his wife's face when she walked into the front room. "Brina?"
"I'm going ahead. She can have the car." Xanbrina shrugged, and puckered her lips into a kiss. "I love you. I'll see you in a little bit."
"I love you, too." He understood that his wife needed some time alone with her parents — especially her dryad mother.
In the meantime, his trembling, obviously ashamed daughter needed some comforting as well.
Daniel drifted back into reality as Brina walked toward the wood, kicking off her shoes as soon as she stepped on the grass outside. He'd clearly heard every bit of the conversations inside his boyhood home, as if he sat a short distance away from each of them. He could still sense every one of his daughter's footfalls. "Did you do that?"
Xantina giggled and threw her arms around her mate's neck. "No, silly. You did."
"But how?" He curled his arms around her to cup her bottom beneath the water of the pool.
"You let go," she cryptically answered, and then nuzzled her nose against his.
Daniel knew that their daughter had nearly reached the pool, and his mate confirmed it by diving beneath the water to resurface at the pool's edge. Xantina climbed out of the pool to hug her daughter, who finally let her emotions free, sobbing into her mother's shoulder.
"Shh — all young ones say mean things," Xantina comforted her daughter. "Come swim with us. You will feel better."
None could long remain sad in the presence of the bubbly nymph. Brina soon lifted her head with a final sniffle, and reached for her blouse to remove it.
After so many years of seeing her so, Daniel barely noticed his daughter's nudity any longer, or felt any self-consciousness about his own. Somehow, Xantina's prejudice against clothes felt right here, in her place. Once mother and daughter dived into the pool, he pushed off a submerged rock and floated over to hug Brina. "Your mother's right."
"I know, Daddy. I'm just so worried about her. I'm afraid that we sheltered her too much." She turned to her mother and said, "She seems pretty serious about the boy she's seeing, and I though that maybe you could..."
Though Brina hadn't mentioned it before, she knew that her thoughts were an open book to her mother. When she was her daughter's age, her mother had taken her on a magical journey, letting her see, feel, and learn about sex to calm a young woman's fears.
What Brina didn't know — or at least chose not to know — was that her daughter was not nearly as sheltered as she believed.
Xantina grinned at her daughter. "She does not fear the nice thing. She only waits for her one."
Brina could feel her mother's amusement through the link they shared, and caught other little snippets of thought as well. "She's already been experimenting, hasn't she?"
Xantina stroked her daughter's cheek and let out a giggle. "She waits for the nicest thing of all, but she has done other nice things."
"I guess I got upset over nothing, then." Brina dunked her head beneath the water, and then smoothed out her hair. "She is being careful, isn't she?"
Xantina answered with a nod of her head. Unable to resist any longer, she swam over to kiss her mate. She simply couldn't go longer than a few minutes without doing so whenever they were together. "She should still come see the nice things with me, but it does not have to be today."
"Is Gary coming?" Daniel asked. He needed to talk to his son-in-law about the highway project.
"In a little while. I needed to calm down."
Xantina pouted, knowing that her mate's thoughts were outside the wood. While she agreed with what he was doing, and understood the need, he'd already lived in that world for two days now. He needed to relax as well, and she knew just how to accomplish it.
Brina and Daniel both raised their hands too late to avoid her splash.
"Maybe I should call Steve and..." Kia began.
Gary shook his head. "No, go ahead on your date." His daughter had finally managed to calm down, though she was still deathly ashamed of what she'd said to her mother. "I don't know exactly what your mother and grandmother have planned, but I have the feeling that they don't want you distracted — and you're certainly distracted."
He leaned in a little closer and asked, "Have I met this Steve?"
Kia's cheeks warmed as she thought about the man who'd caught her eye. "His dad is Franklin — the one who owns that land."
Gary grunted in acknowledgment. He remembered the young man, and couldn't think of any immediate reason to disapprove of him. Franklin owned the largest tract of local land along the route of the proposed highway. He'd resisted at first, but the proponents of the project had finally made him an offer that changed his mind. "Go ahead on your date. I don't need to go through the ritual of warnings, do I?"
Kia rolled her eyes, but she smiled this time. "No, Dad. I know all about seatbelts, and the birds, and the bees, and condoms, and STDs..."
"Okay." He held up his hand to cut her off. "You can apologize to your mother tomorrow."
"I will, Dad." She hugged him and said, "I'm sorry."
"Just think about it next time. Now, go on." He handed her the keys.
A short while later, Kia hurried from the house wearing a jacket that struck him as a bit warm for the day. It made him suspicious that she was wearing something that he wouldn't have liked, but he decided to let it go. His wife rarely protested the racy clothing, and sometimes purchased it, so he deferred to her judgment.
Knowing the calming influence his mother-in-law exuded, he had little doubt that his wife had fully relaxed by now. He already missed her, and needed to talk to her father, so Gary stepped out the front door and turned toward the wood.
As always, Gary marveled at the abundance of flora and fauna. Everything grew to the extent of its natural bounty, and beyond. Many of the plants were rare in the area, and some were unique. The smell of flowers and damp earth after a spring rain filled the space beneath the canopy. A smile spread across his face when he heard twin, musical giggles from the center of the wood — his wife and her nymph mother.
He emerged into the clearing to see Daniel and Xantina, who both sat in the pool submerged to the neck. The clear, sparkling water did nothing to hide the nymph, and her startling beauty still made him a bit uncomfortable, even after years of seeing her so. He was just about to ask after his wife when he realized what was happening — too late.
Brina burst up from the water and hit him with a double-handed splash, absolutely soaking him, and then swam back from the edge of the pool, laughing.
Gary chuckled and said, "Brina, you could have waited until I got undressed."
Xanbrina blew a raspberry at her husband and said, "That wouldn't have been anywhere near as much fun. I do the laundry, so quit complaining and come in."
Even though he knew it was coming, Gary couldn't stop his cheeks from reddening when he dropped his pants and his wife licked her lips in response. He splashed down into the pool as quickly as possible, kissed his love, and asked her. "Feeling better?"
She kissed him again and answered, "Yes. How's Kia?"
"I calmed her down, but she knows how wrong she was to say that. She's off on her date."
Xantina splashed her love with a little pout. "Hurry and talk of these things that scurry in your head."
He wiped the water out of his eyes with a chuckle. "Yes, Love." He then turned to Gary and asked, "What's the word?"
"Not good. I've talked to everyone with land on the route, but they're being paid way above market value. Franklin was the last hold-out, and he's boxing things up now. That leaves us with no chance of even delaying it with an eminent domain court battle."
"What about the environmental studies?"
"They must all be on the payroll. Last one came in today, and they're all giving the green light."
Daniel sighed. "We're running out of time and options. I don't know if we can stop this."
Xantina wrapped her arms around him from behind and kissed the back of his neck. "It is the way of things. All things pass, and are renewed."
He shivered and melted into his mate's embrace. "I can't help thinking that it could be us next."
"All things pass," Xantina repeated, and kissed him again.
"Not as long as I draw breath — for however much longer that may be."
Brina took her father's hand. "Don't talk like that, Daddy."
"Just don't." Brina smiled. "They won't touch a single leaf here for as long as I'm around, either."
Gary put his arm around his wife. "Same goes for me."
Xantina smiled, knowing that the devotion didn't stop there. Even if Kia didn't know it yet, her heart and her destiny were tied here as well.
Kia glanced over at Steve as his car pulled into the driveway at his house. Everything had been fine — wonderful actually — as they watched the afternoon matinee and then went out for something to eat. Then, on the drive back to pick up her car, he'd grown quiet.
As the car rolled to a stop, Kia asked, "What's wrong?"
Steve sighed and put the car into park. "Dad took that offer on the land."
Kia reached over and laid her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry. I know you didn't want him too. I can't imagine losing all the memories."
"It's not just that. He's looking at places in Florida."
She smiled and stroked her fingertips over his arm. "It's not that far away. You'll be able to drive there in a day for holidays and things."
"Kia, I can't afford law school and an apartment, even with the grants and scholarships. I'm going to have to move too."
Tears welled up in her eyes as the weight of his words settled on her. "But..."
"I don't want to go." He reached out and touched her cheek. "It's bad enough that I'm moving, but when I think about not seeing you..."
Kia couldn't deal with that thought, and buried it as quickly as she could. "Let's go for a walk."
She put her fingers to his lips. "Not right now. Let's just go for a walk."
"Okay," he said, forcing a smile.
Once out of the car, Kia walked to his side and took his hand. She tugged him toward the woods surrounding the house, and he pointed out a trail. She did her best to forget the conversation in the car, and concentrated on being close to him, holding his hand.
The moment that she set foot on the trail, a feeling of deja vu swept over Kia. A few steps later, she realized that the feeling wasn't really that she'd been here before, but rather that it had the same magical feeling as the woods next to her house.
She found it a bit strange, because old growth pine dominated the woods, leaving the ground mostly a carpet of pine needles spotted with newly sprouted trees and islands of other vegetation. It was just as beautiful in its own way, but certainly far different than her grandmother's wood, which was mostly hardwoods and filled with thick undergrowth.
"I want to show you something," Steve said, his smile looking far more genuine this time.
"Okay," Kia responded, glad that he wasn't talking about the move any longer.
Steve had a bit of a spring in his step as he walked, his eyes either intent upon the trail ahead, or upon her. Kia saw something ahead through the leaves and pine boughs. "What's that?"
"That's what I want to show you — our clubhouse."
"Oh, wow," Kia exclaimed as Steve led her into the small clearing. The clubhouse was really two buildings, one on the ground, and another set in the branches of a tree. Rope swings and poles descended from a balcony on the upper level, and the whole thing had been painted to resemble a castle, though the paint was faded and peeling in many places.
Dried leaves crunched underfoot as he led her into the clearing. "I haven't been here for a while. What do you think?"
"It's amazing. Did you build it yourself?"
Steve laughed. "Dad did most of the work, but my brother and I helped. I was only about nine at the time. Come inside."
The door creaked on its hinges as he opened it. There was a large table and several chairs in the center of the room, all covered with dust, as well as four bed frames lacking mattresses. A door stood open, and Kia could see a toilet and sink in the small room.
"Dad let us camp out here in the summer once we were a little older. It took him a week to dig the water and sewer lines. We used to have a generator out here too."
"It's amazing," Kia remarked, and then noticed a crude wooden sign hanging on the back wall. No gurls allowed, it read. She pointed at it and asked, "So, am I in trouble?"
Steve laughed. "That was actually Dad's idea. I think that this place was as much his dream as ours — not that we didn't love it." He walked over to a ladder ascending through the roof and said, "Come on up."
Kia looked upward at the ladder, her expression a little dubious.
"Don't worry, it's safe. Mom refused to allow us anywhere near it until she relented that Dad had done a good job. That's when Dad had us put up the sign as a finishing touch, because she never stopped complaining that we were going to break our necks."
Steve climbed up, and after a moment of hesitation, Kia followed. When she emerged from the boxed-in ladder, she was in an empty space, and had to stoop a little because of the low ceiling. She shrugged her shoulders, hardly impressed, and not knowing what to say.
Steve held up a finger to indicate that she should wait, and then walked over to one of the walls.
One after another, Steve pushed up wooden panels that propped up on notched braces, opening all four sides of the tree fort, and giving a marvelous view of the surrounding woods. A pair of panels in the roof also opened, providing a skylight.
"All the other boys must have been jealous of you," Kia said as she leaned out one of the windows.
"Probably, but they all got to use it to." He opened the door and said, "There are some benches built into the parapet."
"Parapet?" she said with a laugh.
Steve laughed with her and took her hand to guide her outside. "We called it a porch at first, but Dad corrected us. He said that castles didn't have porches."
The benches were sturdy, but designed for young boy's behinds, so Kia had to sit quite close to Steve.
She didn't mind that in the slightest.
"I'm going to miss this place." He let out a great, sad sigh.
"Shh," she admonished, not wanting to think about it. Her eyes met with his, and she felt her emotions surge. Her lips parted of their own volition, and she leaned toward him.
Kia felt as though she was hovering over the bench, her whole body as light as air. She was connected with Steve in a way far deeper than ever before, as their lips met in a passionate, incredible kiss.
They'd kissed before, but only quick, chaste, shy pecks. This was anything but. Steve cupped her cheek in one hand, while the other held hers tight. Kia's free hand moved to his back, and their tongues slipped out to caress each other.
When their lips finally parted, Kia gasped. Twin, powerful emotions swept through her — love and desire. She could see both dancing deep in his blue eyes as well.
The pair sat for long seconds, lost in each other's eyes, mindless of the world around them. A rapid tapping sound finally snapped them out of their trance.
Kia giggled and demurely turned away for a second, her cheeks red and flushed. She immediately looked back at him and smiled. "Wow."
"Wow," he echoed.
The tapping arose again. Kia's brow furrowed and she looked around, seeking the source of the sound. "What is that?"
Steve looked around as well, and then he pointed to a large pine tree. "Look — there. Woodpeckers."
"Oh, I bet they have babies in there." Kia dug into her purse for her phone. When she found it, she aimed the built-in camera and took a picture of the birds. She then turned and snapped a picture of Steve.
"Are you trying to break it?" he asked, raising his hand as if he was covering his face.
"You look handsome," she corrected him. Somewhere, deep inside her, a voice arose that added, And delicious.
Kia's cheeks burned again, and she turned to snap more pictures to hide her blush. This spot was more open than the part of the wood closer to the house. She could see open spaces, the blue sky above, and even a large pond a short distance away, surrounded by cattails. "It really is beautiful up here."
Kia glanced back at him, and smiled so wide that her cheeks hurt when she saw that he was looking at her, not the scenery. She aimed the camera out into the woods again, the naughty voice in her head growing a bit louder from seeing him admiring her.
After she'd snapped a few more pictures, she heard Steve mutter, "Shoot."
"What is it?"
"I guess I should really get back and check on Dad. He refuses to listen to the doctor and pushes too hard. He was planning to work on the upstairs sink today."
Kia nodded her understanding, and then followed him down the ladder. Somehow, she missed the last rung, and lost her balance. She didn't even have time to cry out in surprise before Steve caught her.
"Are you okay?"
With his arms wrapped around her and his body so close to hers, Kia answered, "Wonderful."
Their lips met again, the kiss just as perfect and amazing as the one that they'd shared above. Afterward, the couple walked hand in hand back to her car.
Kia had tried to tune out her father and grandfather talking about the new highway, and didn't care one way or another — until now. There was no way that she was going to let them destroy this place after the way she'd connected with Steve here.
Kia sat down on the couch next to her mother, with shame evident in her face.
Brina smiled and asked, "How was your date?"
"I'm so sorry, Mom. I didn't mean it."
Brina took Kia's hand and said, "It's okay, sweetie. I would tell you that you should apologize to your grandmother, not me, but Mom ... Well, she's not so easy to upset. I think you did mean it, in a way."
"No, Mom. I..."
"Shh. It's hard enough growing up. Growing up different from everyone else and hiding a secret is even harder."
"I forgive you. Your grandmother forgives you. No harm done." Brina leaned in a little closer and smiled. "So, how was your date?"
Kia shivered, prompting her mother to chuckle. Brina twitched her eyebrows and said, "That looks like a good sign."
"Mom," Kia protested, her cheeks burning, and rolled her eyes. "He kissed me. I mean really kissed me."
Brina squeezed her daughter's hand a little tighter, and her smile turned devilish. "You've got him in your trap."
Kia's face turned even redder, but then her smile faded. "It may not matter."
"His dad is selling the house. He thinks that they're moving to Florida."
"Oh, honey." Brina wrapped her arm around her daughter and hugged her close.
"Dad and Grandpa are trying to stop them from putting in the highway, right?"
"They're trying," Brina answered, not wanting to get Kia's hopes up.
"I want to help."
"I'm sure they'll be glad to hear that. In fact, why don't we go down and talk to your grandfather about it right now." Brina stood up, still holding Kia's hand. "Then, maybe you can have that talk with your grandmother that you missed yesterday."
Kia now understood that her mother wasn't going to back down from this mysterious talk, no matter what. She decided that it was best to get it out of the way, and nodded as she stood up as well. "Okay."
Daniel scratched his chin and leaned back against the trunk of a young tree. "You know, it couldn't hurt. If you could get enough of your friends to show up, that could bring in the media."
Kia said, "April's dad is on the city council, and Jenny's is a state representative."
Brina drummed her fingertips on her knees. "Hmm ... There are a couple of wives that I might be able to convince to work on their husbands, too."
"It's worth a try," Daniel admitted. "We're running out of time, and options."
"I'll go call Jenny right now," Kia said as she stood up and tossed away a leaf that had stuck to her bare behind.
"Oh no," Brina corrected her daughter. "Don't you have something else to do first?"
"Oh yeah," Kia responded, remembering the talk that she was supposed to have with her grandmother.
Brina picked up her clothes and stood up. "Come on, Dad. I think that you might want to come visit with me for a while."
Daniel chuckled, and then groaned as he stood. His mate helped him dress, while Brina did the same.
"You okay, Dad?"
He stopped rubbing his arm. "Just aches."
"Maybe you should go to the doctor."
"I'm old — everything aches. I'm twice as accurate as the weatherman, just by waking up in the morning and seeing what aches, swells, or stings."
Brina handed him his cane, and then took his other hand. "I left blueberry muffins cooling when we came down here."
"If you'd told me that before, we'd already be there." Daniel headed down the trail, tugging on his daughter's hand. "Come on now, keep up."
Brina laughed as she picked up the pace.
Xantina held out her hand to her granddaughter. "Come sit with me. I want to teach you some very nice things."
Brina hung up the phone, wearing a smug smile. "Veronica didn't even know anything about it. Her husband is going to have to consider his vote carefully, if he doesn't want to eat boiled grass and sleep alone."
"I don't know if we have enough time," her father remarked, and then sighed.
Brina sat down at the table next to him. "Well, we're going to try."
"So, what brought Kia around? She didn't seem to care much about the highway."
"The boy she's seeing lives on the route. If it goes through, he's moving to Florida."
Daniel grunted and nodded his head. "That'll do it. Your mother likes him."
"I do too. Gary's not so sure about him, though."
"He'll come around. He's just not happy with the thought of his daughter growing up."
"I'm not completely comfortable with it either," Brina admitted.
"It's the nature of things."
"I know, but I don't have to like it any more than you did." Brina shook her finger at her father, wearing a mock stern look. She couldn't help but laugh a second later, though. "I wish I could just be happy for her and not worry, like Mom."
"There's more of your mother in you than you know. You'll do just fine, and you'll get Gary through it."
"If I don't have to help Kia get over him moving away," Brina said, her eyes focused out the window, toward the wood.
Kia moaned and let her eyelids flutter open. Every inch of her felt warm and tingly, the lingering aftereffects of what her grandmother had shown her. Even though she'd already experimented with sex, she was a little overwhelmed by what she'd learned in the magical journey. Through her grandmother's magic, she'd shared bodies with women that had coupled with their lovers around the pool. She'd felt what they felt, and understood how they pleasured their men. She shivered, thinking about what it would be like to show Steve what she'd learned.
Xantina giggled and cupped her granddaughter's cheek in her hand. "Your man is very pretty. You will like doing the nice things with him — many times."
Kia sat up, thoughts of him moving away intruding upon her arousal, and the deeper emotions she felt. "If I don't lose him because of that stupid highway."
Xantina smiled, and kissed Kia on the forehead. "You know what to do."
"Can't you do anything — you know, with your magic?"
"It's not my place. This is my place."
Kia's eyes welled up with tears. "But, there are only a few days left, and Dad sounds like he's about to give up, and..."
"He will never give up. Neither will Xanbrina or your grandfather. They have magic, and so do you."
"What do you mean?"
"Xankia, the greatest magics are hope and love." She hugged her granddaughter, and then added, "And the nice things. Those are very magical."
Kia couldn't help but laugh through her tears — and blush — upon hearing that.
Gary checked his tie, and then looked toward the group of young people gathering in front of the State House. "Well, there they are. Did she tell you what she's planning?"
Brina finished touching up her makeup and answered, "Not really. I know that she called her friends, and that they called their friends, and..." Brina gestured toward the group, "Here they are."
"I really hope we don't have to bail her out of jail in a little while."
Brina playfully slapped her husband. "I thought you would know what she planned to do. She hasn't left you or Dad alone for the last two days."
"Not really. She asked questions, we answered them. She sort of surprised me with how quick she got up to speed."
"She picked up most of it by osmosis. You and Dad have been going on about it for a year, and almost constantly for the last month. Besides, it's in her blood. I could find my way around the State House and the local courthouse alone by the time I was ten. She's hardly a stranger to the whole thing, either."
"True, and she actually seemed to enjoy it, right up until she turned into a teenager on us."
Xanbrina pointed at a television van pulling up into the parking lot. A second was coming down the street, while a third had already parked and raised its link tower. "They're attracting attention, at least."
"Out of town stations. If nothing else, they aren't going to be able to sweep this vote under the rug." Gary yawned. "And we aren't the only ones up at this ridiculous hour."
"We had to be here before any of the Senators or the Governor crawled out of bed."
When he saw a reporter walking toward the gathered young people, and Kia stepping forward to meet him, Gary opened his car door. "The sharks are circling. Let's get over there in case Kia needs us."
Brina looked at her daughter facing the press with eager determination, and beamed with pride. Kia held Steve's hand, and she didn't look the slightest bit nervous.
As she joined her husband outside the car, Brina said, "Something tells me that she has everything she needs right there beside her."
"Let's hope it's enough."
The next couple of hours were a whirlwind for Kia. If she wasn't talking directly to the press, she was standing nearby, doing everything in her power to shame the legislators entering the State House in front of the cameras.
All the while, Steve was right by her side, and a growing crowd of young protestors gathered behind her. Even Kia was surprised by how many people had showed up, and they just kept coming. The arrival of the police made her nervous, but thankfully calmed a few people that were growing too enthusiastic. Despite what Brina had said to her husband earlier, Kia took comfort in her parents standing nearby, talking to reporters as well.
Word bubbled through the crowd that the press had already descended on the Governor, and that he was on his way. Kia didn't even need to see Governor's car to know that he'd arrived. The press moved as one toward the car, swarming upon him and asking questions before he could even open the door.
Kia heard several questions related to the protest, and how she was requesting that the Senate hear them before the vote. The Governor ascended the steps, his handlers busy fending off questions until he could reach the top. He wore a resigned look as he turned to face the press of reporters.
Someone behind Kia started chanting, "Let us speak!"
The cry spread through the crowd like wildfire as the Governor answered questions from the press.
One of the Governor's handlers approached after a minute or so and said, "The Governor has agreed to hear from representatives. No more than four of you, for safety and security reasons."
Kia quickly turned to her father.
"We'll come with you, but this is your show, Honey."
She turned to Steve, and he nodded his head before she could even ask the question.
"Here," a young blonde said while holding out some large pictures on posterboard to Kia.
"I've got them," Gary said, intercepting the pictures as his daughter reached for them.
"The four of you, then?" The Governor's handler inquired.
Kia took a deep breath. "Yes."
"Come with me."
Kia blushed as the crowd whooped and applauded. The press made way, still shouting questions, and the Governor made his escape into the State House. Kia hadn't really expected to get in — though she'd hoped for it — and her stomach tied into knots as she ascended the steps.