Excerpt from Too Wyrd
I knew better than to answer the phone when the Animaniacs ring tone was playing. Yakko, Wakko and Dot tried to warn me that what followed would be “totally insane-y”, but I didn’t listen. That particular song indicated a call from my dearest friend.
“Nicola, it's about Keith,” the smooth, bedroom voice said.
“Seriously, Joseph?” I did not want to hear about the ex, certainly not at 10 o’clock at night on a weeknight. I wanted him left in the past, six years past, where he'd put himself by denying his child. “What about him? Is this about Ella?”
“Just answer the door.” I stalked to the door, still talking into the phone. “It would be exactly what you deserve if I was naked right now.” I flung open the door to find Joseph grinning at me. We both put our cell phones away and stepped into each other’s arms for a hug.
Joseph held me at arm’s length and raked my body with his eyes. “Not naked.”
I craned my neck to look up into his face, more than six inches above mine, and saw the fatigue in the tension around his blue eyes; that worried me. I forced a grin and rolled my eyes. “Like you'd even appreciate my naked awesomeness, gay man.”
I stepped back and led him into the house. “Come on. You want something to drink? Water? Red wine? Hard black cherry lemonade?”
Joseph gazed around, taking in the practical arrangement of furniture and the portraits of my daughter covering most of the wall behind the sofa and in the hallway. I couldn't blame him for being a little nosey; he had never visited me at home before. Living so far away from each other made that nearly impossible.
“Red is fine.” He nodded to the most recent picture on the wall, Ella's dark brown hair framing her tan, heart-shaped face with honeycolored eyes sparkling. “She looks good. Happy.”
My eyes narrowed as I poured a glass of red wine for him. “She is. Happy.” It was a gut reaction to be upset. I was always sensitive to comments like that. Being a single mom was filled with little digs and insults, even though most of them weren't intentional.
I grabbed a hard lemonade for myself and gestured for him to go through the sliding door onto the patio. We sat in the overstuffed patio chairs and I dropped the drinks on the low table between us. “You gonna tell me what this visit is really all about? It must be good for you to leave the city.”
Joseph sighed and rubbed his face with his hand before reaching for the wine and taking a long drink. He'd never been a heavy drinker, so I took that as a bad sign. “I'm not really sure. I wish I knew what was going on, but this... It just doesn't make any sense.”
I took a sip and a deep breath. “Well, tell me what you've got.”
Joseph sipped his wine again. “A couple weeks ago, I heard a rumor about Keith.”
I nodded. Joseph was a kind of neutral entity in the Indianapolis Pagan Community. He kept his nose out of drama and his ears open, so most of the stuff that went on came to his attention quickly.
“I blew it off at first, ‘cause it was so… out there. But people kept talking. I figured there might really be something to it, but I never thought it could be what I'd heard.” He looked at me. “They were saying he was invincible. And that he could show people, prove it. They said he could stand in a fire and come out with no burns. He could be sliced with a knife and not bleed. They said he couldn't be killed.”
I cocked my head to the side, considering this. If Joseph was telling me these rumors, there was some truth to them. Neither one of us was the type to believe in stuff like that without proof, Pagan or no. We didn't just buy into the whole fireball-and-lightning kind of thing. “So, you checked it out?”
Joseph gulped down the rest of his wine. “Yeah, I did.”
Joseph stared at his glass for a long moment, then he reached into his pocket. “I got vanillas.” He waved a pack of cigarettes in my face. “You want one?”
I raised an eyebrow. I'd quit smoking nearly a decade ago, though vanillas were the one exception to that. “I don't know how you get that kind of contraband snuck into this country, and I don't want to know.” I reached for the smoke and grabbed his Zippo lighter, too. “Why are you avoiding telling me what happened?”
Joseph sighed and lit his own cigarette when I returned his lighter. “Because it's one of those things that makes you wish you were a normal, mainstream, Sunday-Christian, non-magic using, non-magic knowing human.”
Both my eyebrows went up this time. “That bad, huh?”