Justin brought the car to a stop and turned off the engine.
“Where are we?” Samantha asked, rubbing her eyes.
“Douglas Cameron’s house,” Justin informed her, checking his watch. “One of my dad’s law partners. He’s putting us up for what’s left of the night.”
“What time is it?” inquired Samantha.
“Midnight,” Justin told her as he rang the doorbell.
The Cameron’s must have been waiting up for them, decided Justin. They answered the door in seconds.
“Come on in,” said Douglas, opening the door wide. “We were beginning to get worried.”
“We’re sorry about that,” replied Justin, looking at Samantha. “We, ah, had a little delay at a rest stop. But, we made it.”
After introductions, Susan Cameron delegated the sleeping arrangements. She had a room made up for Samantha, and offered Justin the couch, with apologies. “It folds out into a bed, if you’d like,” she informed him.
“No need to get that fancy,” Justin told her, remembering many nights at home when he had come in stumble-drunk. “Couches and I have a very good understanding with each other.”
“Very well, then,” said Susan, brightly. “Blankets and a pillow are on the couch. I’ll leave you to it while I show Samantha her room. The bathroom is down the hall to the left. Good night.”
Fifteen minutes later when all the lights were out and everyone was settled, Justin impathed Samantha.
“How are you doing, Lady Fair?” he asked.
“I didn’t get a goodnight kiss, but other than that, I’m good.”
“I could impath you one.”
“That will have to do, I guess,” she told him. “They’re better than no kiss at all, but nothing like the real thing.”
Justin did so, brushing, then lingering on her lips. A sudden idea came to him. “Wanna hear a bedtime story?” he asked her.
“Ooh,” she said, “Yes, I would. I’m not as tired as I thought I’d be. That nap in the car kind of revived me. Will the story be boring enough to put me to sleep?”
“Boring?” replied Justin. “Golden oratory awaits, and you knock it?”
“Okay, Sir Justin. Tell me a bedtime story.”
Justin shared with her what had transpired while he was in heaven. Far more than verbal descriptions, and because of his new abilities, he was able to impath not only what he had seen, but the emotions and other sensations he had experienced at the time so that she was able to experience them also.
“Oh, Justin,” Samantha said when he was finished. “That was…wonderful..and beautiful…and awesome. I like my Guardian Angels.”
“Well, hang on then,” he told her, “because you’re going to love this.”
A few seconds passed, then Samantha impathed back excitedly. “Their auras?” she asked in disbelief, “you just sent me the auras of my Guardian Angels? How did you get them?”
Sighing, Justin replied, “I’ve been feeling kind of guilty for doing it. When they gave me yours, I don’t know…I just suddenly knew how to do it myself. So, I imprinted all of them in my mind before they sent me back.”
“You sure know how to wake a girl up, don’t you?” asked Samantha. “Now I won’t be able to sleep for the rest of the night, thinking about this.”
“I think we can fix that, Lady Fair.” he said. “Close your eyes.”
Doing as she was told, Justin impathed to her the feeling of peace he had experienced upon first realizing that he was in heaven. “Oh, how wonderful,” she answered softly. He kept the feeling streaming to her until she was fast asleep, then gently withdrew it.
After a very satisfactory breakfast the next morning, Justin put on the suit coat and tie his friend Bart had loaned him. Going to a church was not something Justin was in the habit of doing. Examining himself in the mirror, he had to admit that the borrowed finery looked good on him. Samantha thought so too when he came into the living room.
“Wow,” she said, getting up from her seat on the couch and walking over to him. “You clean up very nice. I’m going to have to hang close to you just to keep the other women off.”
Justin and Samantha rode to the funeral with the Camerons. On the way, Douglas informed Justin-with an apology for having to bring it up at such a time-that Justin’s mother had contacted the law firm and informed them that she was going after all of her ex-husband’s assets, including the house. She would also be attending the funeral to “make sure that no funny business goes on between you shyster lawyers and that worthless son of mine.”
“Wonderful,” said Justin, rolling his eyes. “Just want I didn’t want.” When Samantha looked at him questioningly, he elaborated. “You think your mother is a little off the cork sometimes? Well, she can’t begin to compare with dear old mom. If she does come to the funeral, she’ll probably arrive about half-soused.”
“At least she’s coming,” injected Susan Cameron, “so she must feel some remorse.”
Justin snorted. “Remorse,” he said, derogatorily. “Trust me. She’s not feeling any remorse. She’s coming to celebrate her sudden wealth. As far as I’m concerned, she can have everything. I’m not going to fight her.”
If some in the car doubted Justin about his mother showing up inebriated, they became believers when she did just that.
She arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the funeral, and though she hadn’t seen Justin for years, she was still his mother and recognized him immediately.
“Hello, mother,” said Justin unemotionally as she came up to him. As he expected, she skipped the niceties-which probably would have been phony and insincere anyway-and got straight to the point.
“You’re not getting a dime of your father’s estate,” she said, contemptuously, her breath reeking of alcohol, “so you can just put that idea out of your mind right now.”
Justin leaned back a little to escape the fumes from her mouth. “You’re drunk, mother,” he told her, “and I don’t care about the estate, You can have it all.”
Looking at him suspiciously for a moment, she decided that he was being straight with her. Relieved that her riches would not have to be fought for, she turned her attention to Samantha. “Well,” she said, laughing. “Got another girl friend, I see. Someone should have warned her about you. Nice looking though-but I’ll bet you’ve always had an eye for nice looking.”
“Do me a favor and don’t say anything to her”, Justin impathed Samantha. “It will just get her going.”
“Looks to me like she’s already going, but I’m not sure I want to talk to her, anyway,” returned Samantha.
“Well, aren’t you going to introduce her to me?” Justin’s mother was asking.
“Okay, mother,” Justin said, resigned. “This is Samantha. Now please go sit down.”
The funeral was about what Justin expected it would be, the only sour note being something Justin himself caused. Concerned that in her present condition his mother would create a commotion at some point during the funeral, Justin impathed a suggestion to her that she was sleepy. The suggestion worked better than Justin expected. Besides falling asleep, she began snoring-loudly-during the eulogy.
“Serves you right for suggesting that she fall asleep,” impathed Samantha with a chuckle.
“Yeah, well, I don’t find it very amusing, Lady Fair,” replied Justin. “I’m going to wake her up.”
Knowing that a simple, quiet suggestion would not do the trick, he impathed forcefully into her aura. “Wake up!” he commanded. “Stop snoring and wake up!”
With a startled snort, Justin’s mother came out of her sleep. “Okay, okay,” she said out loud, “I’m awake. You can stop yelling!”
As the eulogy-giver paused in confused silence, the rest of the congregation erupted in laughter, Samantha gasping along with them.
“Very effective, O Knight of mine,” impathed Samantha, doubled over and holding her stomach. “You really outdid yourself!”
Totally embarrassed, Justin slid as far down in his seat on the bench as he could.
On the way back to the Camerons after the funeral, neither Douglas or Susan mentioned the incident, much to Justin’s relief.
“If you want to pick up some things from your father’s house before you leave,” said Douglas, “I can give you the key.”
“No,” said Justin, after a moment’s thought. “I don’t need anything. It would just remind me of a life I’ve tried very hard to leave behind. There’s nothing there for me anymore.”
“You have disappointed me.”
Clark and his friend stood silent and nervous in the almost darkened room. The only light to be had came from an ordinary bulb directly above them. Though it bathed them in its glow, Clark found it strange-even eerie, perhaps-that the light did not illuminate any other areas of the room. Just the area they were standing in.
Cerberus, the person behind the voice, sat in a plain chair at a simple desk, nearly unseen by the two standing in front. A man void of any emotion, ‘disappointed’ was the strongest term of rebuke he used. “I cannot abide failure,” he told them. “You were to kill the boy and the girl.”
“We killed the boy,” Clark said, “but the girl-”
“Excuses waste my time. The girl is alive. As for the boy-”
“He’s dead, as you wanted,” interrupted Clark’s compatriot, hoping that their success with the boy would make up somewhat for their failure with the girl.
“The boy is alive.”
“That’s impossible,” interrupted Clark’s friend. “I checked his pulse myself. He was dead.”
“Do not pretend that you are a doctor,” said Cerberus. “The boy is alive. He was seen at his father’s funeral the next day.”
“Whoever told you that is lying! I know dead when I see it, and he-”
Suddenly, the voice of Clark’s friend turned from desperate but clear speech, to an unintelligible hodge-podge of choking and coughing.
“Do not presume to lecture me,” Cerberus told him smoothly. He allowed the choking and coughing to continue for a minute, then released his invisible hold. “The boy and girl are alive,” he said, “and a price must be paid for this.”
Clark’s friend had no sooner regained control of his voice, when he felt something cold-very cold-seeping up through his feet, bringing with it a dull but stinging ache. The stinging turned quickly to intense pain, and he realized in horror that his feet were literally being frozen solid from the inside. He could feel the cold moving up his legs-freezing , then numbing everything as it progressed. He knew that he had only minutes to live.
“No,” he pleaded, sobbing. “We can find them again and do it right this time.” Without slowing, the uncaring coldness rose higher, to his thighs, then up to his hips. “Oh, God,” he said loudly, “the pain…I hurt.” His breathing quickened, as did his speech, which morphed rapidly into unintelligible babbling. Finally, mercifully certainly, he uttered the last intelligible words he was to speak in his life: “I…can’t…breathe.”
In death, he remained upright, like a statue-or a monument perhaps, created by Cerberus in honor of himself.
For what seemed like eons-from Clark’s perspective, anyway, Cerberus studied him. Though Clark could not see the man’s eyes, he could sense their evil coldness caressing his body. He suppressed-just barely-the impulse to throw up.
Finally, Cerberus spoke. “What do you think is to be your fate?” he asked.
“My fate will be whatever you choose it to be,” Clark answered, unable to keep his voice from trembling.
“Well spoken,” said Cerberus. “You live only because I have a use for you. Your failure does not negate the fact that two of whom I expected to be dead by now, are still alive. This does not please me. Do not fail a second time. You will bring the girl to me, and I will use her to get the boy.
“You don’t want me to kill them?” asked Clark in surprise.
“Bring her to me. I will lure the boy and do the job myself.”
“How much time do I have?”
“Allow them to lapse into a false sense of security. I am patient. Then, after you have presented the girl to me, you may live to see the outcome.” A short silence, then: “You will not disappoint me again.”
Clark felt his feet being invaded by the same petrifying coldness that had killed his friend. The dull ache increased in intensity until he was close to crying out in pain. Then suddenly, the cold dissipated completely.
The message was perfectly clear.
“Justin, can I ask you something?”
Justin and Samantha had just begun their journey home, and Justin was looking forward to seeing the Barbers and his other friends again. “Of course you can, Lady Fair,” he assured her.
“Could we maybe go a different route so we don’t have to see that rest area again?”
“Hummm,” replied Justin. “I’m not familiar with this part of the state. What if we get lost?”
“Wow, that sounds romantic.”
“Okay, romance it is,” grinned Justin.
They arrived home a few hours later than if they had taken the interstate, but the quaint towns and rustic scenery they had driven through made the detour, they both decided, very much worth it.
As they were driving, they agreed not to tell anyone what had happened at the rest stop, and especially not anyone in law enforcement. The details would be too complex to explain without sounding unrealistic, and to attempt to simplify it would be even more disastrous. So, better not to say anything to anyone.
About an hour from home, Justin pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.
“What are we doing?” asked Samantha.
“I’ve got to find a convenient bush, if you know what I mean,” Justin told her.
“I think I’ll wait here in the car, then.”
“Good idea,” said Justin. “I won’t be gone long.”
Smiling mischievously, Samantha watched as he looked for, then found, some shrubbery up the hillside that was tall enough to hide him. When he disappeared behind it, she counted off about ten seconds, then impathed him.
“Guess what?” she asked, putting excitement into her message. “I just figured out how to work the Vision part of my impathing and-oo-la-la! Lookie what we got here!”
With a loud and verbal “Samantha!”, Justin-as he hurriedly pulled his trousers up-managed to step on his own pant leg and ended up crashing into, then through, the bush he had taken refuge behind. The foot and shoe of the stepped-on pant leg had the misfortune of disappearing into the pant leg and wedging itself there. With a series of desperate oh-oh-oh’s , he ended up one-legging it down the incline, still trying to get his trousers up while endeavoring to free the wedged foot and catch his balance at the same time. Finally, after a good dozen hops and some hard yanks on his trousers, the shoe popped out and he was able to stop himself.
“That was cruel and unusual punishment,” he told Samantha a few minutes later in the car.
“No, it wasn’t,” she replied after catching her breath from laughing so hard. “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You have a wicked sense of humor, Lady Fair,” he told her. “A wicked sense of humor.”
Justin stopped at Samantha’s house and walked her to the door. Turning to him, she hugged him tightly. “I’m glad I didn’t lose you,” she said, her voice trembling slightly.
“I’m glad I didn’t lose me, either.”
“Come on in for a minute. I’ll take my stuff up to my room, then we’ll head over to Smiths.”
Justin found a seat on the couch about the time Ian McCallen arrive home from work.
“Hello, Justin,” he said. “How was the trip?”
Looking around to make sure that Samantha was not within hearing distance, Justin looked at Ian.
“That daughter of yours has a wicked sense of humor,” he confided to Ian. “Wicked. I know you go on vacations every year. Did you ever get the urge sometimes just to drop her off in the middle of nowhere and leave her there?”
“This ought to be good,” said Ian in merriment. “What’s she done this time?”
Telling the story as well as he could without including the impath capabilities, Justin finished with “so there I was, hopping down the hill on one leg while trying to get my foot unstuck so I could finish pulling my pants up so I could regain my balance. It was pretty dicey there for a minute, I’ll tell you.”
Doubled over with his hands on his stomach, Ian stumbled weakly to his recliner. “That is rare!” he gasped after catching his breath enough to talk. “Hop-yank, hop-yank, hop-yank…That is just too rare!”
“I thought you’d appreciate it,” said Justin, grinning.
“Yes, we were entirely serious when we said that you could stay here for as long as you want.” Connie and Lloyd were both smiling at Justin from across the dining room table.
“But how can you afford me?” asked Justin, more concerned for them than for himself. “I told the lawyers that dear old mom could have everything. With dad gone, there’s no one to pay me for working here.”
Lloyd chuckled, amused. “I agreed to your father’s offer of paying your salary so that he could feel like he was contributing to the Justin Billings Get-a-Life Project. I don’t need his money.”
Justin looked searchingly at both of them. “I’ve got an absolutely wonderful girl, good friends, and two people who I’ve come to think of as second parents. So, I guess you’re stuck with me for awhile-at least until I graduate and figure out what I’m going to do with my life.”
“Second parents, huh?” asked Lloyd with a dry look on his face but a twinkle of pleasure in his eyes. “Might have to start calling you ‘junior’ or ‘sonny’, now.”
“Junior?” asked Justin, matching Lloyd’s dry look. “Sonny? Okay, gramps. Whatever works for you.”