Authors's Bio. Burning Lily, my quirky, urban fairytale, is the story of Lily Linez, a young woman searching for her sense of soul as she deals with the existential crisis of her current life and the residue of sorrows from a long-dead girl in another life. I wrote Burning Lily a few years back, and I signed immediately with a small publishing company, Wild Child. Burning Lily subsequently went through several rounds of thoughtful edits by the publisher with an intended release date at the beginning of this year. However, the company closed doors last December before my novel published. In January of this year the complete rights rescinded back to me. Burning Lily is my first novel. I’ve published articles on the award winning Writer Unboxed Website writerunboxed.com. and also in the Writer’s Digest publication of the Writer Unboxed Community’s Author In Progress book, as a community contributor.
Book 1: Reality's Shadow
1. A tingle crawled along Lily’s spine. The man materialized at the threshold of the crypt. Her cockapoo, Pelagius, growled behind her. Lily held her breath as she pressed the button on the camera. Beneath the bandage around her left wrist, the skinscabs pulled, but she held the Yashica steady. Slowly, she raised her gaze from the lens. The threshold was empty. She exhaled. Pelagius barked and strained against the leash Lily had anchored under a wrought iron bench. “Hold on a second, boy….” Lily skirted around the roses strewn before the camera. She heard the thump of her own heart as she peered down the passageway. It was empty. But voices floated from the foyer. The catacombs were a dreamlike blur as she ran down the hallway. The voices grew louder. She burst through the entranceway. “Oh my gods, it’s just you—” Lily grabbed the marble doorframe for support. The women of the local historical society looked up from their flower arrangements in confusion. “Did a gray-haired man…come through here?” Her words rode on heavy breaths. “No, dear.” Madge, the president of the society, and Lily’s neighbor, gave her an odd look. "Maybe you saw a ghost,” the woman in a frilly pink blouse who worked next to Madge said. “Oooh, a ghost…!” another woman chimed in. A howl echoed down the hallway. “What’s that?” the woman in the frilly pink blouse squealed. “Pelagius,” Lily told them. “I’m coming!” she called out to the dog, running back down the corridor. When Lily entered the room with the crypt, Pelagius wagged his tail, but he whined nervously. She knelt down. She had to steady her hand to scratch her puppy behind his ears. “Calm down, boy.” “My dear, are you all right?” Madge peeped over the threshold. The sunlight through the stained glass basked Madge in a cold-jeweled light. “Yes. I’m…fine.” Her own voice sounded far away. Madge gave the camera equipment a knowing eye. “I was just a little concerned. The girls and I noted your bandage—” “This?” Lily raised her left hand. A sharp burn jarred through her wrist with the movement. Reality superseded the surreal with a sudden hard edge. She held the inner side of her wrist, taped up with plastic wrap, toward her nosy neighbor. “You were wondering about this?” Not that it’s any of your business, but this not a razor slash. “It’s new ink.” “Ink?” “A tattoo.” “A tattoo? Oh, I’m so relieved. I know your mother and stepdad quite well, and I know of your father’s—” “And you were concerned for my well-being. Thank you. But I’m perfectly okay.” Lily gave Pelagius’s ears another scratch. He felt solid beneath her fingers. Madge sighed. “Well, my dear, as long as you say you’re all right.” Her footsteps retreated down the corridor. Lily stared at the empty threshold. Pelagius let out another uneasy whine. It was time to go. Smoothing the bandage on her wrist, the young woman tore down her camera, locked the lights in a utility closet and gathered the strewn roses before placing them in vases of the nearest vaults[H1]. Her puppy strained against the leash, forcing his mistress to hightail it past the busybodies in the foyer and through the exit. Outside the mausoleum, the pleasant afternoon faded into evening. However, the cemetery was far from empty. People streamed in through the gates with ice chests, blankets, and chairs. They staked out places in front of a large movie screen. “Heya, Lil.” Phil nodded. The security guard with the Mohawk moonlighted as a bouncer at Hills of Eternity on movie night. “Heya, Phil.” Phil leaned over and scratched Pelagius behind the ears. Her puppy groaned with pleasure. Lily slackened his leash when Pelagius rolled over. Phil sat down on the steps next to her dog and rubbed Pelagius’s tummy. “Phil, did you see a tall man with long gray hair come out of the mausoleum?” “Nope. Only those ladies from the historical society going in.” “Oh, hell!” “Lil, you okay?” “I’m not sure." Lily shifted the camera case. "Can I bum a smoke?” “I thought you quit.” “I did, but I think I need one.” Phil held up a cigarette. The scabskins on Lily’s wrist pulled when she grabbed it. “Son of a—” Lily glared at the bandage. “Oooh, fresh ink? Lemme see.” Pelagius licked Phil’s hand. He put love and a fair of amount of slobber into it while his mistress gingerly peeled back the plastic wrap from her tattoo. Beneath the scabskins rested the promise of an elegant script. L’éternité est une rose sur la tombe de mon bien-aimé. “Damn, Lil. You really do love that song.” “Yeah. I do. ‘Eternity is a rose on the tomb of my beloved.’ French or English, the words are beautiful. Makes me believe love can survive death.” “Yeah? Well, I hope you still love those words when you’re, like, eighty. ’Cause you’re gonna read ’em forever now.” Phil grinned so big that it encompassed his entire face and displayed the gap where his left incisor should be. Some days, Phil joked that he’d lost that incisor in a fight with a mean-ass poltergeist in the Hills’ family crypt. Other days, he claimed he got shit-faced drunk, fell into some rich old dude’s open grave, and whacked his tooth out on the ornate coffin trim. Lily could never tell what the truth was and what he made up. Lily taped the wrap back up. “Light?” Phil wiped the dog slobber from his hand on his pants and took a book of matches with a Drucilla and the Coffin Queens logo out of his pocket. “Thanks.” She held out the cigarette. Her hand shook slightly. “Drucilla and the Coffin Queens?” “Yep, they’re not a bad band for a buncha newbies.” “Yeah? Well, I bet they’re not as good as my indie Frenchmen.” “Yeah? Well, whaddya you know? Coffin Queens kick fuckin’ ass. Those Frenchies have one song out. It’s only played on late-night radio, and they don’t even have a video. For all we know Chien d’Armée, they might be a buncha beret-wearin’ Euro-hipsters.” Lily laughed, a short-lived laugh, with a high-pitched, hysterical edge. Pelagius whined. She placed the cigarette between her lips and took a deep drag. “You sure you’re okay, Lily?” Lily exhaled a stream of smoke. “Yeah. Just tired. Too much to do. What with the upcoming show. And then there’s the packing.” She gave Pelagius’s leash a gentle tug. “C’mon, boy.” The puppy whined again. “We’re gonna miss you ’round here, Lil. You workin’ at the flower shop, doin’ your awesome, morbid photo shit—the whole damn dead people park ain’t gonna be the same without you.” “I’m gonna miss all this shit too.” Deep down, in that place where she pushed stuff she found hard to admit, fear and loneliness ruled. She took one last drag on her cigarette before she tossed it to the ground and extinguished it with the heel of her combat boot. “I should be heading home.” Phil stood up and opened his arms. Lily gave him a distracted hug. Pelagius wagged his tail, let out a small bark, and tugged at his leash. “Hey, Lil, what kind of adios is that?” Phil squeezed her in a gentle bear hug. “Now that’s how you say good-bye to a friend. Don’cha forget all about me just ’cause you’re movin’ to Hollyweird, you hear?” He handed her another cigarette and the Coffin Queen matches. “Here. Take ’em. Never know when you might go cravin’ a smoke.” Lily blinked hard to stop the sudden itch that promised waterworks. She nodded to Phil because she didn’t trust her voice not to break. Pelagius strained against his leash. She shifted her camera case to a more comfortable position and followed her puppy down the marble steps. Their shadows loomed tall against the tombstones. Tina, who ran the flower shop, and up until this afternoon had been Lily’s boss, had already left for the day. The heavy plate glass door marked Florist was locked. However, Terry Hills, the owner of Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, and Tina’s wife, was in her office. The door was half-open, and she called for Lily to enter when she tapped. Lily poked her head around the door. “Just came by to say thanks, it’s been fun.” “Lil. Glad you’re still here. I’m sorry we couldn’t give you a bon voyage party. But with both Gabe and Zack down with summer colds, Tina’s going crazy. You know how she hovers over our boys. But I talked to Doc Bill. He recommended they inhale fumes from a bowl of hot water mixed with a capful of witch hazel.” “Yeah, that’s Doc’s remedy for everybody with a cold,” Lily said. She grimaced, thinking of her mother’s husband, Bill Silverstein, a retired general practitioner, known affectionately in their small town of Colma as Doc Bill. Terry paused a moment, taking in Lily’s expression at the mention of her stepfather. Her reprimand was gentle. “Your stepdad’s a remarkable doctor and an all-round amazing man.” When Lily stayed silent, she added, “Your mom rocks too.” Lily studied a scuff on the toe of her boot. “Yeah. They have their moments.” Like begging me to go live with my big brother, Ángel—as if I were five instead of twenty-five But what if they’re right? What if I am…unstable? Lily entered Terry’s office, Pelagius at her heels, and dropped the closet keys on Terry’s desk. “Thanks for the loan of the lights. I locked ’em back up in the mausoleum.” “Pelagius, how’re ya, boy?” Terry asked the dog, leaning over and scratching the puppy’s ears. Pelagius wagged his tail. “How’d the shoot go?” “Great. If the pictures come out half as spectacular as I expect.” She tried to keep her tone light. The image of the man was seared into her brain. She cleared her throat. “I got this weird and wonderful shot of some strewn roses. Depending on what I see when I develop it, I may even add it to my show.” “Good,” Terry said. “We’re going to miss you around here, Lil. You are staying for the movie?” “No. I love Dawn of the Dead, but I’ve got all this prep for the exhibit, and I’ve got these new pictures to develop.” “Aww, too bad. But I understand, hon. Tina’s not gonna make it down, either. She has the boys tucked in. Her mother offered to watch ’em. But you know Tina. She’s not a fan of zombies.” Terry gave a good-natured shrug. Lily grinned. And then, despite herself, her eyes misted over. She was going to miss Terry and Tina. Heck, all of her friends here in Colma. Ángel claimed Los Angeles was the outermost hub of the western world, but for Lily, Los Angeles couldn’t compete. Colma, just outside San Francisco with its one thousand living residents and over five thousand graves and counting, was a place where the dead outnumbered the living. That made Colma a launching pad to destinations unknown. She would miss Hills of Eternity Memorial Park especially. Goth kids, musicians, college students, and even cheerleaders haunted its burial grounds. In an urban area small on parks and large on graveyards, where else could people hang out? She asked Terry, “You and Tina get the invite to my show yet?” “Yep. It arrived in the mail this morning. Of course we’ll be there for your big night, honey. You know you can count us among your fans. You are gonna to be famous, Lily. And I’m gonna to brag to everybody that you took the photographs that started it all right here in Hills of Eternity.” Terry grabbed an envelope from her desk and handed it to Lily. “Lil, Tina wanted to get you a pendant, but the only necklace I’ve ever seen you wear is your grandfather’s rosary, so I opted for the practical route.” Lily stared at the envelope. Terry grinned. “Well, open it.” Inside, a card signed by Terry, Tina, and their two sons, Gabe and Zack. And eight hundred-dollar bills. “Eight, the symbol of Eternity, and start-up cash is good. It’s an expensive place, Los Angeles,” Terry said. “Oh my gods, Terry, thanks.” “Welcome, hon.” Lily bent over the desk and hugged Terry. Terry’s gaze froze on the cigarette. Lily had tucked it behind her ear. Her benevolent smile morphed into a concerned frown. “Oh, Lil, you smoking, again?” “Just a little. I’m stressed. It’s not like—it’s just one.” Lily tapped the cigarette, and Terry’s gaze went to the bandage on her wrist. “And new ink?” “Yeah. Just got it. I was kinda marking Daddy’s anniversary an’ all.” Terry nodded. Her gaze softened. “Can I see?” Lily peeled back the tape. “Beautiful. Tribute to your dad?” “That and kinda to keep me grounded. Jimmy, my ex, he’s engaged again.” Lily replaced the wrap over the tattoo and smoothed the tape back over her skin. “When it rains, it pours. I’m here if you need to talk, kiddo. Anytime.” Lily nodded. Then she took off. She didn’t want to discuss Jimmy—or her dad, for that matter—with anyone.The gray-haired man who haunted her frequent dreams about her dad had appeared in her real world. That was all kinds of crazy. Or maybe she was. The only way to know for sure was to develop the photograph. To be honest with herself, the only reason she was still hanging out here instead of hi-tailing it back to her photo lab was because she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. Either way it didn’t bode well. Her fingers trembled when she took the cigarette from behind her ear and placed it between her lips. Fumbling through her jeans, she found the book of Coffin Queen matches and lit up, cupping her hands to shield the flame. Movie carnage played in the distance; several rows of tombstones cut between her and the screen, muffling the screams. The anniversary of her dad’s death had never been an easy date for her. And this year she’d gotten punched by a second whammy. A mutual friend had sent a link to a Dallas newspaper that announced Jimmy’s engagement to somebody else. Lily tried to keep busy. After a late-night tattoo, and finishing her last day at the cemetery flower shop, she’d photographed more of the lovely, dark images she’d earned a reputation for at the Art Institute of San Francisco. Lily’s semi-celebrity status had caused Shannon, Lily’s stepmother, to arrange Lily’s first professional showing at Shannon’s Third Eye Gallery in Pacific Heights. Lily, Shannon predicted, was evolving into a major talent, perhaps as important as her father was. Despite her success, Lily’s personal life sucked. Horrified by Lily’s graveyard visions, Jimmy’s mom armed herself with a Bible. She probably would have demanded an exorcism too. But when she found out Lily’s father was the victim of an unsolved murder in an occult scandal that had rocked the Bay Area, she’d been rendered speechless. Lily and Jimmy fought so much about his stupid mom that they’d broken up. Now, thanks to an oh-so-considerate friend, Lily was privy to know Jimmy had found Jesus and a new fiancé. One approved of by his mother. She didn’t care anymore. But she would go crazy for real if she didn’t start to feel something. Even if that something was the sting of a tattoo needle, it was better than being numb. She had to feel or die. Because crazy was not an option. She would go home and develop the photograph.
The dream haunted Lily’s sleep. Dirt clung to her bare feet as she waited for her dad at the edge of the road. There was the unmistakable hum of his Indian motorcycle and the distant glint of silver from the spokes and handlebars. This time, she told herself, her dad would stop. This time she would cast away her sorrows and climb up on the bike behind him. This time, together, they would travel the open road. But as in her previous dreams, her dad roared past her. Once again, she tried to run after him. Again, there was a hand on her shoulder, restraining her. She caught a glimpse of blue-gray eyes and long gray hair. Then he spoke again, always the same words, his voice unmistakably male, but melodic and kind. “Your father’s path is not to be your own,” the man said. Then Lily woke up. The real world rushed in, and the dream receded. But the line between her dream and reality disintegrated. The proof of that fact stared back at her from her computer. She’d uploaded the film from her latest shoot at the cemetery. She’d zoomed in on the roses strewn across the floor of the crypt. Although the man in her dream who’d stopped her from following her dad wasn’t visible in the photograph, his shadow was clearly cast across the flowers. There was not a doubt left in her mind. The man who’d stopped her in her dream had watched her from the edge of the crypt. Lily did the only thing she could do to keep herself sane: worked her latest image and made it entirely her own vision, enhancing the roses to the bloodiest of reds and dusting the apparition with silver. When her fervor was over and her work done, the young artist fell into a dreamless sleep. Upon waking, she studied the photograph with rested and objective eyes. Lily wasn’t delusional; the proof was in the picture and the man’s shadow definitely haunted it. But she would go crazy for real if she kept this secret. Her rock, her confidante, her big brother was his way home. Ángel would know what to do.
3. On the way to the airport in San Francisco to pick up her brother, Lily, with Pelagius along for the ride, took a detour to visit the house in Haight-Ashbury. A block from her destination, she parked at the curb, got out, snapping her puppy to his leash, and together young woman and dog walked the rest of the way. The Victorian home of her childhood appeared the same old painted lady. The current owners had kept its green and ochre palette. But the two separate sets of green doors had been replaced by a double set made of mahogany. The duplex once again a single unit. She stared at the house. The memories were always with her, but they were sharper here. Red, white, and blue lights of a police car flashed through lace curtains on a foggy San Francisco morning.... The door of the Victorian opened. A young woman wheeled a baby in a stroller onto the porch. Pelagius let out a joyful bark, wagging his tail. The woman saw Lily and her puppy on the sidewalk. She smiled. Lily smiled back. “We get a lot of people stopping by to admire our painted lady,” the woman said. “It’s a beautiful old house,” Lily said. “Thank you, it’s a joy to live here,” the woman said. A part of Lily wanted to introduce herself, to explain to this woman that her home had once been Lily’s. But this woman seemed so happy. Her family’s tragedy belonged to the house’s past. It had no business with this woman and baby who embraced a new morning. She gave the woman a pleasant nod and Pelagius in tow, returned to her old Honda, stopping to allow the dog to sniff spots at the edge of the sidewalk from time to time. Her father, Roberto Linez, and his wife Shannon had shared the left side of the painted lady. Great-Aunt Marisol inhabited the other side. Lily had inherited their great-aunt’s diminutive stature, straight, dark hair, and eyes that slanted upward the way a cat’s do. Marisol had immigrated to San Francisco after her unwed sister, Solis, died in childbirth. Marisol fled their Mexican village with her infant nephew, Roberto. Once in Haight-Ashbury, she lived an open lifestyle as a witch. Witchcraft was a practice handed down in secret by the Linez family for generations. In Mexico, clients came by whispered word of mouth. In Haight-Ashbury, Marisol was free to advertise in the local newspaper, and her talents built a devoted following. “Where but in the United States of America?” Great-Aunt Marisol had said. “Where else is there such respect for diversity of thought and lifestyle?” Lily got back into her car. After blinking twice, hard, to eliminate any traitorous tears, because she’d never been a cry baby, Lily started up the engine. When she made a U-turn the old house’s image appeared in her rearview, and from this distance, the changes to its past were barely noticeable. But time had moved ahead, and everything changed irrevocably. Lily switched lanes and turned in the direction of the highway, the image of the old house replaced by visions of the current city, and the past returned to her memories as her excitement to see Ángel mounted. She pulled into the airport and took the circular route to the arrival terminals. Ángel, wheeling his old brown suitcase, a smaller bag slung over his shoulder, headed to the curb of his carrier, and he recognized the Honda and raised his hand in an excited wave as she approached. “Perfect timing, sis.” Her brother called out as Lily veered into the loading zone. Lily burst out the driver’s door, and Ángel let go of his suitcase to wrap her in a gigantic bear hug. Pelagius barked excitedly, sticking his nose through the half-rolled window and scratching at the door. “Pelagius…?” Ángel leaned in to give the exuberant animal he given Lily last Christmas a scratch behind the ears and then tossed his luggage in the backseat as Pelagius licked any part of him that he could reach. “He’s way bigger than I remember. He’d never fit in that Christmas stocking now.” “He’s almost grown up.” Lily, sliding into the driver’s seat, gently pushed the dog in her brother’s direction as she closed her door and started the car. Ángel smiled at his little sister. “Oh, it’s going to be such fun having you as a roomie. I’ve missed you so, my gilded Lily.”
4. “There’s a new man in my life,” Ángel said when Lily and Ángel caught up at lunch the next day. Lily opened her mouth to ask for details, but he silenced her with a kiss to the top of her nose. “That’s all I will say for now. I want you to make your own impressions. You’ll meet him when we get to LA. I’ve got a deadline on an article at the magazine, but I was thinking we could hold over here through the weekend after your show Friday—if we leave early Monday morning.” Ángel grinned, scrunching his nose. Lily realized how much she’d missed him, those warm hazel eyes he’d inherited from their mother, along with her hair, that rather unruly mass of golden brown waves. He sported a brand-new tattoo that took up his upper right arm. The design was a blend between a cross and the blade of a sword, Roberto Linez scrolled around the hilt. Lily gave a little sob when she saw it. Reaching over she kissed the R in her father’s name. Several days had passed since her photo shoot in the crypt. The scabskins on Lily’s left wrist had melded into a scroll of beautiful words from her own new ink. And once she had acknowledged the reality of the shadow in her photograph, the dream had stopped. She was grateful for that. But it also made her even more determined to control what she could control. She had made the photograph part of her gallery show. She showed Ángel the master shot. A row of gray vaults loomed behind the strewn roses. The blood-red tint of their petals glistened against the white marble floor. Cast over the roses, the shadow shimmered silver. Below the photograph in a font as elegant as her new tattoo, Lily had inserted a quote from Hamlet. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come. Ángel caught his breath. “Shannon says it’s my best work to date.” “I think I agree with her, Lily. It’s right up there with Silver Ángels in my book.” “So then, you like my vision?” “Like isn’t strong enough of a word. I love it.” Lily took a deep breath. “Ángel, there is something I want to tell you about this photograph—” “Lily. I’m so very proud of you.” Ángel leaned over and kissed his little sister on the forehead. “We’ve all been so worried. But here you are, taking the reins of your work, and of your life, capably into your own hands.” “Thank you, Ángel.” Tears pricked Lily’s eyes, but she held them back. Mom and Doc had been concerned about her depressed state of mind. But her big brother was a journalist. He counted on facts to make his conclusions. Like the rest of her family, he believed Lily was suffering from depression due to her breakup with Jimmy. But she’d been over her ex for months. And these dreams that had started shortly after—how could she possibly confide in her brother about the dreams and the man now? She’d sound crazy. Her secret, however scary, she must deal with alone. No shadow would get the best of her.
5. Lily’s stepmother Shannon had Lily’s new photograph blown up to almost half the size of one of the Third Eye Gallery walls at Shannon’s own expense. Shannon said she didn’t mind because she would recoup the loss upon sale. She ordered the printer of Lily’s catalog to typeset the price for a staggering sum of five thousand dollars. She insisted on hanging the new photograph in a place of honor, a small alcove flanked by Grecian columns off the main gallery. Here it would stand alone and still be linked to the rest of the showing. “It’s an absolutely haunting piece,” Shannon said. Lily’s stepmother had a deep love for the medium of photography. But she also had the shrewd steel nerves of a business tycoon. She had propelled Lily’s dad’s work posthumously to superstar status. Shannon hedged her bets. Her stepdaughter’s bloodline, along with her blossoming abilities, might reel in some serious art connoisseurs. Shannon’s life partner, Judy, took out an ad in a couple of elite trade magazines. Lily cut it out and pasted it into a scrapbook. The Third Eye Gallery Proudly Presents: “Cuerpo y Alma” The Photography of Roberto Linez’s only daughter Lily Anne Linez It was a bittersweet moment for Lily. Her father hadn’t lived long enough to see the appreciation his photographs now earned. “This one’s for you, Daddy,” Lily said.
6. The day before Lily’s gallery opening, a sudden storm bled the summer skies. She was on Skype with Doc’s niece Chaya when the raindrops hit the roof of the old Craftsman. It was an endearing and familiar sound. A sound she hadn’t realized she missed when she’d lived in a ground-floor apartment with Jimmy. Rain put everything into perspective. Like Jimmy’s departure and even a captured shadow. Choose to leave it all behind or choose to go crazy. “Earth to Lily.” Chaya smiled her beautiful, wide smile from Lily’s computer screen and then stifled a yawn. “You know it’s an eight-hour difference of time from Paris to California? I’ve got an exam tomorrow afternoon, little cuz, and I’ve got to get some sleep. I thought you called me up for wardrobe advice?” They settled on a backless, black silk mini-dress, vintage sixties, that Lily had found in a thrift shop. The mini had sheer taffeta strips sewn into the edge of each shoulder, which were supposed to thread through a loop in the front for a scarf-like effect. At Chaya’s suggestion, Lily cut the loop off and pinned the taffeta back to drape over her shoulders. It made dramatic stage curtains for her gargoyle tattoo. The gargoyle took up most of Lily’s back. His wingspan spread across her shoulder blades. She had the work done in a shop near Notre Dame the summer after high school when she’d backpacked Europe with Ángel and Chaya. Ángel and Chaya also got their first tattoos in Paris. Ángel had “El mundo debe ser jodido, dijo entonces, caundo los hombres viaja es primera clase y la literature va como cargo,” a line from Gabriel GarcíaMárquez, down his inner left arm, which translated meant something like: “The world must be a fucked-up place when people go first class and literature goes freight.” Chaya had a line from the Irish poet Dylan Thomas’s classic poem, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light…” tattooed on her left shoulder. “…and, Lil, I meant what I said about your new photograph. The shadow cast over those roses makes me want to cry. And you are so beautiful and that dress, little cuz, it’s perfect. It just needs an accent. A necklace?” “I was thinking of wearing the rosary.” “Well, put it on. I want to see it with that dress.” Lily complied. “Très chic, ma belle.” Chaya nodded her approval from the screen. "An edgy fashion statement and that’s so you, my little cuz.”“I just wish you could be here for the opening, cuz, and I wish you the best on your exam….” “Me, too, on both counts, li’l cuz. But I promise I’ll visit next summer.” Chaya blew her a kiss through the computer when she signed off. Lily’s own reflection, the family rosary Great-Aunt Marisol had given her after her father’s death, gleamed back at her from the computer screen. Great-Aunt Marisol had insisted on burying Dad in the family graveyard on the grounds of his ancestral home. The Linez adobe, an old mansion on the outskirts of the little Mexican village of Canción, was a crumbling testament to a more genteel era. The caretaker, Earlana, a small, wizened woman who walked with a limp and wore a steel brace, had known Marisol since they were girls. On the day of their arrival, while her family took a traditional siesta, Lily went exploring. On the ill-kept grounds, she stumbled upon a decrepit chapel. Birds cooed from nests up in its rafters. Patches of sky were visible in places where the roof had given way. Fallen debris covered the clay floors and even the tiny altar. Under a cover of frayed muslin, Lily found an organ. She ran her fingers over the yellowed keys. The discordant notes caused a rat to scurry from the shadows beneath the pews. Lily screeched and jumped up on the organ bench. From her new vantage point, she discovered a little niche in the wall, surrounded by a border of painted roses. The paint was faded and peeled, and inside its border, a rosary dangled from a gilt frame. Lily jumped off the organ bench and pushed it under the niche. She was small for her age, but when she stood on her tiptoes, she was eyelevel with a dome of dusty glass. She pushed back the rosary beads and moved in closer, so close her nose touched the glass surface. Her breath created a small, grimy circle through the layers of dust. She licked her fingertips and rubbed them inside the circle to enlarge it for a clearer look. Beneath the dome of glass, there was a black and white photograph of a beautiful young woman. Lily recognized her at once. Great-Aunt Marisol had a whole album with pictures of this woman. It was Lily’s grandmother, Solis. Solis appeared to be asleep on a table. Her long ebony tresses spilled across a pillow. Her hands lay clasped against her chest and beneath them, a single white bloom. “Like a black-haired sleeping beauty…,” Lily said. The delicate beads of the rosary stirred with the breath of her words. She unhooked the rosary from the frame and studied it. A large, clocklike gear made of silver and gold hung in place of the traditional religious medal at the apex. An inscription circled the edge of the gear:CalculareSummaCupiditate. In the center of the inscription was a ruby, carved into the shape of a rose. Lily traced the ruby with her fingertip and discovered it turned clockwise. There was a ticking sound. The gears at the apex moved and then stopped. After repeated windings, she learned that the gears ticked in momentary spurts. She studied the cross at the end of the rosary. It was made of the same black ebony as the beads and framed in silver. There were tiny five-pointed stars cast into the silver, but there was no Christ figure, and in place of the traditional “INRI” inscription at the top of the cross, there were Spanish words, also set in silver, “Santa Sangre Rosa.” Although she wasn’t fluent, Lily understood enough Spanish to translate. “Holy Blood Rose.” Earlana clumped toward her. Lily looked up, startled. Earlana snatched the rosary away. “Maldigo el engendro del Solis ella-demonio.” Lily caught the gist of Earlana’s meaning. “I curse the spawn of the she-demon Solis.” This woman meant her harm. Their gazes locked in mutual hatred. "You wicked ole bitch." Earlana slapped her hard across the face. The pain was so intense Lily lost her breath and almost fell off the bench. Recovering her balance and her breath in wheezing gasps, the child let out a high-pitched scream. Earlana covered her ears with her hands. Still screaming Lily jumped from her perch and charged through the chapel doors as the old woman cowered against the wall. Her screams woke the entire household. After the dust settled and Great-Aunt Marisol was able to sort out what happened, order reigned again. Shannon held a peeled leaf of aloe vera against Lily’s sore cheek. Great-Aunt Marisol instructed Earlana to see her in the parlor and closed the door. “I hope she fires that evil old woman,” Ángel said. When Earlana skulked out of the parlor, the look he sent her shot daggers. Great-Aunt Marisol summoned Lily and Ángel inside. “Earlana should not have slapped Lily,” Great-Aunt Marisol said. “But her actions stemmed from fear. In her younger days, Solis teased Earlana mercilessly. Earlana believes the rosary placed over the picture protects her from Solis’s ghost.” “Earlana is a stupid old woman as well as a cruel one. She deserves to lose her job,” Ángel said. “Earlana is a sad individual. She bears the cross of a crippled body. And worse, she is crippled by fear. She deserves our mercy, not our condemnation, Ángel. If I didn’t employ her to watch this house, she would have no place to live and no food to eat...and you, young man, you who would cast her out…. You would have that sin on your soul. Earlana stays.” “But what about Earlana’s sin? She slapped Lily.” “Forgiveness and mercy, Ángel, are the paths that lead to heaven.” Great-Aunt Marisol placed the rosary around Lily’s neck. “Mija, these sacred beads once belonged to your grandfather. Use them to pray for the grace of mercy, so that you may forgive Earlana.” Great-Aunt Marisol died the following summer. Not brutally, like Lily’s father and his mother Solis had, but peacefully, with her grandnephew, grandniece, and Shannon by her bed. At Great-Aunt Marisol’s bequest, they buried her next to her nephew, Roberto, and her sister Solis, on the grounds on the Linez adobe. Her funeral was a grand affair, attended by several San Francisco witches as well as the remaining family. When they arrived back home, Shannon sold the Victorian and started over. Life for those Roberto had left behind must go on without him. However, the sadness that shadowed Shannon’s voice when she remarked on how much Lily’s blossoming talent reminded her of Roberto made Lily realize how much Shannon still hurt. Roberto’s unsolved murder had cast a dark shadow over his entire family. Without a sense of closure, how could his loved ones heal?
7. Lily stared at herself in the mirror. Although she would never succumb to being the girly-girly dress-up type this was a special occasion, and she needed to pull it off right. The rosary looked dramatic against the black mini, and the fingerless black lace gloves made the perfect accessory. Blue streaks freshly dyed into her hair framed her face and complimented her heavy black eyeliner and deep red lipstick. She studied her new, spike-heeled black ankle boots. They were awesomely wicked and gave her just the right amount of height while emphasizing the curve of her legs. If she could keep the stage fright under control, she just might make it through the show-- There was a knock on the door. “Lily, c’mon, let’s go. Mom and Doc left over an hour ago. I swear someday you’ll be late for your own funeral,” Angel called from the other side. Lily reluctantly pried herself away from the mirror and opened the door. Ángel wolf whistled. “Damn, li’l sistah, you look beautiful.” “I do?” “Yep. In a bloodsucking, Tales from the Crypt kind of way.” “I’m aiming to give the impression of a resident artist, you boob.” Ángel laughed. “The resident artist of Transylvania.” Lily couldn’t help but laugh, too, even though her stomach felt full of butterflies. When Ángel surprised her with a limousine he’d hired for the evening, the sensation of wings stirring in her stomach increased a hundredfold. “Oh my gods, Ángel, I feel just like Cinderella.” “But you’re so much luckier than Cinderella, Lil. Think about it. Your mother hires a maid service, your stepmother is throwing an event for your artistic endeavors, and instead of two ugly stepsisters, you’ve got one gorgeous brother—” “Yes, all true, but where’s my handsome prince?” “Didn’t I tell you? I invited him to the ball.” Ángel winked. “Now, your carriage awaits, my lady, because the limo is the way we carriage it in LA.” “I think I may like living in LA after all.” “Oh, my gilded Lily, I promise you we’re going to have the time of our lives in LA.” The San Francisco summer fog rolled with them to the gallery. Lily shivered a bit when she stepped out of the long black car. It was partly due to the weather, but mostly because she had a case of the jitters. Ángel offered her his arm. Grateful for his support, Lily smiled up at him. Her big brother leaned over and kissed the top of her nose. “I’m so proud of you, Lil.” Arm in arm they stepped into the Third Eye Gallery. Lily was overwhelmed to see how many people had come. It felt unreal to see her photographs on exhibit for such a crowd. She had helped set up the display, but the gallery had been empty then. Tonight the artsy-hip of San Francisco celebrated her work. Some of them sipped wine, some of them nibbled cheese, and all of ’em talked about her photographs. If she could just sell one or maybe even two, she’d feel redeemed for all this fuss. Please, to whatever gods reside above. Let at least one photo sell. Please, let the local art critic, whom I’m trying not to notice perusing my work, like me. Shannon introduced her to scads of people. Lily heard so many compliments her head swum. In fact, her head felt like it was going to explode. After what seemed like hours of nonstop meet and greet, she excused herself and headed out for the parking lot. Ángel fell into step beside her. “You okay?” “I’m fine. I just need some fresh air.” “Well, go take a quick breather. I just got a text from some very special friends of mine. They’re here, and I want you to meet them.” “I’ll be happy to meet them now.” “No, go take that breather, sis. We’ll hook up after.” Lily squeezed through crowds of people as she headed outside. She smiled and nodded and regretted the choice of the spiked boots. They weren’t as comfortable as they were pretty. As she passed by the alcove where her latest work hung, she glimpsed a man standing before her photograph. His hair fell to his shoulders, blue-black beneath the gallery lights. His brow furrowed in concentration. A pair of silver chains double looped from the top of his jeans to mid-thigh. A white silk vest, worn shirtless, flattered his well-cut physique. She paused. And what an impressive piece of ink wound around his right bicep. Lily caught her breath as she studied the tattoo. A three-headed dog with a serpent’s tail, the beast appeared ready to lunge off his arm in attack. Ruby, cobalt, and black, the colors were jewel like against his tanned skin. It made Lily want to trace the work with her fingers. Her stare must have been very intense because the man turned her way. Lily’s breath caught for the second time in the space of two heartbeats. Blue-gray eyes seared into her soul. Ángel appeared at her elbow. The dark-haired man saluted her brother. Lily stared at Ángel, floored. “Come, let me introduce you to Ashe.” Ángel took Lily’s hand and pulled her into the alcove. “Ashe. I’m so glad you were able to make it to Lily’s show.” Ángel smiled. “My uncle and I were delighted you invited us.” The slightest hint of a French accent laced the man’s English. “Lily, I’d like you to meet Ashe Variselle.” Ángel nodded toward the dark-haired man. Then he nodded to a man with a blonde crew cut and a well-tailored white suit that entered the alcove. “And this is his uncle, David Slazko. David is known to one and all as the Baron.” Ashe extended his hand toward her. Muscle rippled through the tattoo on his bicep. Time seemed to slow. Lily extended her hand. His flesh felt cool and smooth beneath her calloused fingers. The harsh chemicals of the old-fashioned developer she used for her photographs took its toll on her hands. She had never regretted that choice until this moment. “Ms. Lily Linez, it’s so nice to be properly introduced,” Ashe said. To her chagrin, Lily flushed. Her words came out in a rush as she tried to cover for it. “Please, call me Lily.” The haste of her speech made her flush even more. “Lily it is then. And you must call me Ashe.” “And I am David.” The uncle extended his hand. Another accent, thicker, guttural, German? She turned gratefully and shook Ashe’s uncle hand as she struggled to get a grip. “It is so nice to meet you…David.” A deep breath, before turning back to Ashe, a bid for composure masquerading as nonchalance. “…And you too, Ashe.” Ángel smiled at Lily. “I recently interviewed Ashe for an article. He sings in a band.” “Oh…you’re in a band?” “Chien d’Armée.” “Shut up.” For a moment, the room swam. Lily hoisted the lace glove higher to cover the new tattoo on her left wrist. Ángel’s smile widened, but his tone was innocent. “Ashe shares your penchant for cemeteries, Lil. He’s written songs inspired by historical epitaphs. Now, Ashe, if you and my sister can spare us for a moment, our stepmother would like to have a word with your uncle.” Her brother smiled at David Slazko. The Baron nodded. A moment later, Lily found herself alone with Ashe. “My stepmother knows so many people. I believe that must include your uncle.” “Yes, he bought some of your father’s photographs several years back.” “I see.” Lily raised a gloved hand to her rosary. She rolled a bead between her thumb and forefinger, conscious of the new tattoo covered by the black lace. “What a beautiful rosary.” Ashe took a step closer. “May I see?” She nodded in answer because she didn’t trust her voice not to tremble. Ashe leaned in and picked up the cross. He studied the scroll at the apex. “Calculare SummaCupiditate?” Lily met his gaze again. She could drown in those blue eyes if she didn’t watch her step. “Yes, ‘calculate the sum of desire.’ I often wonder about that. This piece has passed through several generations of my family.” “And what is the sum of your desire?” Was that a hint of amusement in his voice? “Um…. I haven’t decided.” A waiter in black coattails approached with a tray of wine, an alcoholic version of the cavalry. She turned to the server, grateful for any excuse that diverted her gaze from Ashe’s. Ashe released the cross. It fell against her dress. She stepped away from him toward the waiter and grabbed a glass of wine. Ashe accepted a glass of wine and nodded his thanks to the waiter. The waiter returned his nod and left to continue his rounds. Ashe sipped the wine. “And so where were we? Oh yes…the sum of your desires?” He stared at Lily over the glass. “I told you. I haven’t decided.” “If you don’t know what you desire, wherever do you get the inspiration for such beautiful, passionate photographs?” “From my wish to freeze-frame forever on film what cannot last in life.” He shot her a triumphant smile, but he may as well have yelled, “Checkmate.” Lily bristled a bit. “Yes…I suppose a wish and a desire do amount to the same thing.” But she wasn’t about to surrender. Rather than admit defeat, she went on the attack. “Chien d’Armée, Army of the Dog? You’re named for the Greek myth’s Cerberus.” She inclined her head in the direction of his tattoo. “It’s all starting to make sense.” She took another long swallow of wine. He raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Cerberus, indeed. You know your mythology.” She took a deep breath, a little more confidantshe wouldn’t drown. But her head swam from the wine, and the wine loosened her tongue. “I’ve studied cultural mythology at art school. It intrigues me, especially lore that focuses on death. Cerberus, a dog perhaps named Spot, is the guardian of the living against the return of evil spirits. Whatever possessed you to name your band after him?” “My day job is to protect the living from the clutches of the evil dead.” Lily blinked. An awkward silence crept between them. Ashe laughed. It was a deep, rich sound. “You want the truth? The name came to me while writing a song. You seem to know the mythology of the dead very well, Lily.” The smile he shot her, she was certain, meant to disarm. “Death is where I get my inspiration, but I don’t fear death, so I’ve never been inspired to have a tattoo of a guardian against its encroachment emblazoned upon my flesh—” Lily couldn’t believe the words spilling from her own mouth. She tried to stop, realized it was too late, andlaughed. Attempting to stifle the laugh only made her laugh harder and blush…again, so she was relieved but also a bit disappointed when she smelled Shannon’s gardenia perfume. Her stepmother entered the alcove with Ángel and the Baron. Ashe’s uncle introduced Shannon to Ashe. The Baron smiled at Lily. “I am curious about the type of lighting you used for the photograph called Silver Ángels.” It was easy to forget her shyness when she discussed her work. Silver Ángels featured the reflection of a Christmas tree in an antique mirror. She had decorated the tree with leftover silver-paper angels from the flower shop’s funeral bouquets one long-ago Christmas Eve. “It’s homemade technique. I made my own reflectors instead of a flash setup. I placed the reflectors above and below the mirror to create the effect of a glow.” “I love the mood you created with light, Lily. Consider the photograph sold.” “Well, that’s news that requires a toast,” Shannon said. She beckoned to a waiter. When everyone had a glass, and Ashe and Lily new ones, they raised them in unison. “To artistic inspiration,” Shannon said. “And to the passion of its sources,” Ashe added. He smiled at Lily. Lily couldn't help but smile back. “Lily’s coming to live with me in Los Angeles,” her brother said by way of conversation, and nodded at Ashe. Ashe smiled. “Well, if you’re in town, Lily, I would—please join us—at my show. Chiend’Armée plays the Cave on Sunset Boulevard, next week.” “I would love to.” Shannon tugged at Lily’s arm. “Please excuse us. A reporter from the local paper wants a statement from her.” Lily allowed Shannon to spirit her away, but she couldn’t resist. She had to look back for one last glance at Ashe. Ashe caught her gaze at once and smiled. She returned the smile but added a businesslike nod. It would never do to let on to him how fast his smile made her heart beat. She caught up with Ángel a half hour later and was disappointed to find that Ashe and his uncle had left. “They asked me to extend their farewells and their congratulations. Ashe said to tellyou that he looks forward to seeing you again, at his own show.” Lily’s brother grinned. “Maybe after he sings that song you like, you’ll show him your new tattoo.” The rest of the evening passed in a big blur. And she didn’t sleep well that night. As she lay half-asleep, the words of Ashe’s song, “L’éternité est une rose sur la tombe de mon bien-aimé” played over and over inside her head. Somewhere, deeper down in the darkness beyond the music, the man in the dream lurked. Almost, but not quite, forgotten.
8. Lily’s cell phone blinked on the nightstand. Earlier it had rung a couple times. She’d rolled over and ignored it. But Pelagius wasn’t letting her ignore him. The puppy licked her face and played tug of war with her hair. When he scooted under the blankets and nibbled her toes, she gave up. She got up and wriggled into a pair of cutoffs and a T-shirt. She grabbed her cell phone. Two missed calls from the Third Eye Gallery. It was the gallery phone, not Shannon’s private cell. That meant Shannon wanted to discuss business. Lily would need at least two cups of coffee before she called back. Sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows. Lily squinted. Mom was making soy chorizo. She smiled at Lily. “I just made a fresh pot of coffee.” “Thanks.” Lily poured herself a cup and reached for the almond milk. “Judy called hours ago. She said when you woke up for me to tell you to call Shannon ASAP. She sounded excited.” “Perky as hell I bet and first thing in the morning too…. That’s our Judy. An early bird. Just like Doc an’ Ángel. Freaks of nature.” Lily added some blue agave and took a sip of her coffee. “Where are the boys?” “Oh, honey, they left hours before I got up. Ángel went with Doc to help out at the store.” When Doc retired from his traditional medical practice, he’d opened up a Cush shop in Colma, Organic Euphoria. It was a very popular joint. After a second cup of coffee, Lily pushed her hair out of her face. She felt much more awake. She even began to kind of enjoy the sunshine. Mom placed a plate of soyrizo and waffles in front of Lily and sat down opposite her. “I’m going to miss breakfast with my girl.” “Well, you wouldn’t miss me if you didn’t force me to go away.” “Lily, you know we agreed as a family the change will do you good.” Her mom smiled, but there was a teary look in her eyes. “Here, I was going to give you these the other day, but with so much going on….” Mom pulled a little pink leather box from her dressing gown pocket. “I decided to wait until we had some alone time.” Lily sighed. Her mother insisted this was an heirloom intended for her only daughter, but good gods, please, not now. Lily opened the box, and the earrings, a pair of platinum lilies with little diamonds inset into the stems and around the edges of the petals, glittered in the sunlight. Time traveled back as the daughter imagined her mother, a woman in her first bloom. Her mother opened the gift from her lover. “Will you marry me, Delilah?” Dad asked. Despite the love that had faded between them, despite the gulf of years and sorrow, the lilies sparkled with the memories of what once had been. Lily stared into the box. These lilies belonged to the girl her mother used to be. The girl her mother wanted her to be. Delilah wanted a wholesome, carefree daughter, a daughter just like herself. The melancholy aspects of Lily’s father, the darkness in his visions, had driven the girl her mother had been away. They were the very things Delilah was afraid to acknowledge in her daughter. Lily closed the box. She slid it back across the table. “Thank you, Mom. I appreciate the thought.” Lily gestured to the rings and cuffs in her ears. “But these are so much more me.” “All right, Lily. I’ll just hang on to them for you.” They sipped their coffee in a silence that was broken only by the ring of Lily’s cell. “Hi, Judy,” Lily said. “Seventeen photographs sold. And we’ve got a bidding war going for What Dreams May Come.” Judy, being a New Yorker, cut it down to the bones. Lily gulped hot coffee, yelped, and dropped her phone. “Lily, what’s going on—” Lily’s mom jumped up and ran over to her. After a few swallows of water and a good, firm pat on the back from her mother, Lily picked up the phone again. “Okay, Judy, what now?” “So when do you think you can you get here?” Judy said into Lily’s ear. “I’m on my way,” Lily said. An hour later, Lily was in Shannon and Judy’s loft above the Third Eye Gallery. Shannon gave her the incredible news. Ashe Variselle and the lawyer for an anonymous art collector were in a bidding war for What Dreams May Come. Through the tint on the floor-to-ceiling windows, she glimpsed Divisadero Street below. Outside, the heat of the San Francisco summer had emptied the street. Lily turned away from the window to look back at Shannon. “A high-rolling deal is in the process of negotiation.” Shannon smiled. “You are going to make your mark in the art world, Lily. Just as I predicted, remember?” Lily nodded. She smiled back. Her student exhibit—could it have been just last year? She had been engaged to Jimmy. The showing coincided with his parents’ visit from Texas to meet her. They met Jimmy’s parents for breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel the morning after. Several mimosas later.... “You’re photographs are very disturbing,” Jimmy’s mom had said. She handed Lily a business card from her purse. Lily took the card. It was from a local psychologist. “You think I need a shrink?” “You’re far too beautiful a girl to be such a sick little kitten.” “I define myself as an artist. Not as sick little kitten or a beautiful girl.” “Michelangelo is art, Picasso is art, and Gauguin is art, dear. Photographs of tombstones are not art. They are morbid death obsessions.” “Maybe if you faced the fact you’re going to die one day, you wouldn’t waste your life in drunken denial.” “Lil, shut up. Don’t talk to my mother that way.” Jimmy slammed his hand down on the table so hard the silverware jumped. The people at the next table stared. Jimmy’s father shrugged and raised an eyebrow to his son. “Well, your twisted little girlfriend has a point, James,” he said. “Your mother is an out of control alcoholic.” “I may have had a drink or two, Marvin, but I know a nutjob when I see one—” Lily got up and left. Jimmy chased after her. His parents flew home. But she overheard Jimmy on the phone with his mother. “Please don’t cry, Mom. Lil’s going to give up her sick photography hobby when we marry. I promise.” “A hobby?” Lily had a dreadful vision. She was married to Jimmy, and she was Jimmy’s mom’s age. She was haggard, drank too much, and hadn’t taken a photograph in years. “We have reached the point of no return, Jimmy.” It wasn’t easy to say good-bye, though. Their physical attraction to each other was so intense, so fiery. They broke up only after Lily hurled the engagement ring that had belonged to Jimmy’s paternal grandmother, and sported a three-carat diamond, at a photograph of his mother. Jimmy grabbed the photograph out of the broken frame. He retrieved the engagement ring from a pile of shattered glass, staring at Lily as if she were a stranger. “My mother is a wonderful woman, you ungrateful, crazy bitch.” He grabbed one of Lily’s favorite tombstone shots off the bedroom wall and threw it. Lily ducked. It hit the mirror. Reflections shattered everywhere. “Go fuck yourself, Lil, go fuck yourself dead.” Shannon was the one Lily had run to for comfort. “Darling, the life of an artist is never an easy one. Although it hurts daggers now, you’ll come to realize that breaking up with a douche like Jimmy is such a trivial price to pay for the gift of yourself.” Shannon hugged Lily through her tears. She listened to Lily’s woes for hours. She supplied Lily with tissues, an entire carton of Lucky Strikes, and several dirty martinis. Lily smiled at Shannon. She wanted to tell her to stop the bidding war. I’m gifting the picture to Ashe because he understands the desire behind my photographs. But that would be wrong. Shannon had worked hard to make Lily a success. Besides, Lily had signed a release form that gave Shannon the legal authority over all financial transactions regarding the show. “Hot man, Ashe, eh, Lil?” Judy said with a wink. “And how,” Lily responded. After that, she was only half listening when Shannon went over the details of the sales and pending sale. Lily knew who was going to win the bidding war. The victor’s name thudded in Lily’s head in time to the pounding of her heart. Ashe Variselle.
9. As Delilah helped Lily pack the last of her things, Lily’s cell rang. “The collector won the bidding war. It was so close—” Judy said. “Mr. Variselle folded?” Lily’s stomach tied itself into knots. She tossed a crumpled T-shirt back into a pile of crumpled T-shirts. “Darling, the collector jumped from Variselle’s offer of fifteen thousand dollars to twenty thousand in one move. We couldn’t get hold of Variselle in the time allotted, and the collector’s lawyer threatened to withdraw and sue. We had no choice but to close the deal.” Lily wasn’t as impressed as Shannon and Judy that the bidding war had ended at a mind-blowing twenty thousand dollars. Or that the other sales had netted her another ten thousand. “But it’s not a bad take for a crazy girl, eh, Delilah?” Lily would have paid the whole twenty thousand dollars to take the words back after she said them. Mom’s expression was so hurt that Lily hurt for her too. “I’m sorry, Mommy, I don’t know why I say the things I do sometimes.” She hugged her mom as she made an instant and belated vow to keep a better watch on her tongue. Lily’s mom hugged her back. Delilah didn’t let go for a very long time. When she did, she sat back down on Lily’s bed and folded the pile of Lily’s tees into a neat stack. “You think I’m turning my back on you. But I’m not. You need this change.” “You think I need this change. But you’re not me.” “Lily, I’ve been where you are. I know what it’s like to try to pick up the pieces after a failed relationship—and fall down again. It’s the reason I moved out of San Francisco. I couldn’t heal there. Every time I went into an old, familiar place, I’d see my life with your father. You need to make new memories. You can’t unless you’re away from the places you and Jimmy shared together.” Her mother placed the neat stack of tees into Lily’s suitcase. “I just want you to be happy, Lily. The way I am now.” “Oh, Mommy. I just want to be happy too. But I’m afraid what makes me happy are not the same things as you.” “Happiness, Lily. It’s an elusive thing. But I know it can’t be found by holding on to what is no longer there.” Delilah zipped up the suitcase. “You’ll see. You’re going to find such a new and exciting life in LA.”
Book 2: Transitions
1. Lily and Ángel left for Los Angeles before the sun rose. She took the first shift behind the wheel of her old Honda. Ángel sat shotgun, and Pelagius curled up in the back. The puppy’s tail thumped against a mountain of Lily’s stuff. Ángel had to check in at the magazine by late afternoon, so they needed to haul ass and took the fastest route. The first hint of dawn streaked the night sky by the time they reached the little town of San Arindo. The points of interest, marked by an asterisk on Ángel’s GPS, boasted San Arindo “…is home to a genuine fifties diner, and the town is a monument to a fading Americana,” Ángel read aloud in his best Masterpiece Theatre voice. “We have to get off here, Lily.” “I thought you were in a hurry to get back?” “I am, but I always get off on this ramp. Besides the diner has great coffee.” “Sheesh. Okay.” Lily turned onto the off-ramp. A truck behind her followed. Its headlights made her blink when they bounced off the rearview mirror. The off-ramp sign glittered, Riverside Road Exit. “Riverside Road Exit, why does that sound familiar?” She glanced at Ángel. His jaw clenched. Maybe he had déjà vu too. There was a noise like a gunshot and then a slapping sound as flattened rubber hit asphalt. The car started to shake. “What the hell?” “Switch on the hazard lights.” Lily did. Ángel placed his hands on the wheel and helped her steer to the edge of the road. He got out and inspected the damage. Lily unrolled the window with a sweaty palm. “What was that?” “Left back tire’s blown to hell,” her brother called. Lily hit the steering wheel with the flat of her hand. “Damn it.” Doc had insisted she have the tires changed before they left. Perhaps if she’d kept her old, dependable ones they wouldn’t be stuck on this—this ramp. She searched through her cell for roadside assistance and pressed the send button with shaky fingers. Ángel came to the window. “Who’re you calling?” “Roadside assistance….” Lily fought to hold back her tears. “Hang up—I can fix it. Pop the hatch.” Lily popped the hatch as she hung up the phone. Ángel lifted the back door. She heard him rummage as he searched. “Damn, you have so much shit packed—okay—spare and tire iron, check—where’s the jack?” “The jack is back with the spare, Ángel. Where else—” Lily jumped out and ran around to the back. She leaned in next to Ángel and started to search. Lily stopped. “Oh my gods. The jack. Ángel, I just remembered. I took it out to make room for some stuff. I think I forgot to put it back—” She burst into sobs. Ángel grabbed his sister gently by the shoulders. Her brother turned her to face him. “Lily, Lil—will you please calm down? It’s a flat, not the sinking Titanic—” He broke off when the truck that had been behind them a few moments ago pulled over in front of their car. “A tow truck—our odds side with luck.” Ángel smiled down at his little sister. “Please stop with the tears now, okay?” Lily nodded. She took a deep breath. The door of the tow opened. The driver got out. He was young with a muscular build and a military-style crew cut. “I thought you folks might need assistance.” The driver smiled. Ángel smiled back. “Thanks for stopping.” He extended his hand. “I’m Ángel.” They shook. “I’m Jake.” “Nice to meet you, Jake.” Ángel nodded in Lily’s direction. “My sister, Lily.” Jake nodded to Lily. Lily wiped her eyes and nodded back. “You got a jack, Jake?” Ángel grinned. But Lily knew her brother well. Ángel stressed when his little sister cried. The stress clipped his tone. It lurked behind his grin. “Yeah, of course. I’ll be right back.” Pelagius whined. Lily stepped into the road to open his door. A black sports sedan sped down the ramp, and its engine idled to a purr as the car slid up alongside her. The door clicked, tinted windows blocking the occupants from view. It all happened so fast. Ángel came behind Lily and dragged her back. Jake jumped in front of Lily and Ángel. Jake’s tire iron rose. The sports car roared from zero to takeoff in a matter of seconds. The force of rubber hitting road caused a backlash that blew Lily’s hair into her face. She brushed the hair out of her eyes and stared after the vehicle. Ángel pulled a pencil stub and a pad from his jacket. “VE-something and then an H—” “Custom built, I’d wager,” Jake said. “Lots of assholes runnin’ amok on the freeways nowadays.” Lily stared down the off-ramp. The car had disappeared, but the freeway sign loomed before her. Riverside Road Exit. The eerie sense of the familiar came back full force. She realized why. Lily’d seen its image many times in an onslaught of newspaper photographs and television news footage. The highway patrol found Daddy’s body on the Riverside Road off-ramp. The shock of the car, of their location, had all just started to sink in when Lily noticed the tattoo that peeked out from underneath the right sleeve of Jake’s T-shirt. Ruby and cobalt, the serpent’s tail lashed. She didn’t need to see the entire image to know it was Cerberus. Lily could trace every line of that tattoo from memory. On some terrible gut instinct, she turned away from Jack to the tow truck, searching out the logo on the side panel. However, the company inscription, Jake’s Towing Service, did nothing to substantiate her suspicion of some sort of conspiratorial connection. Still—what the hell was going on? With the last lug nut tightened on the spare, Jake unhooked the jack. Lily met her brother at the trunk as Ángel replaced the tire iron. “Did you see Jake’s tattoo?” “I saw. Same as Ashe’s. Why are we whispering?” “Because this is all very weird.” “You’re acting very weird.” Ángel pulled out his wallet.. He walked back over to Jake. Lily followed. “How much do I owe you?” Ángel asked. Jake shook his head. “Nothing. You had your own tire. All I did is help out with a jack.” “Well, thanks, Jake—” “That’s an interesting tattoo on your bicep,” Lily blurted it out with a distinct challenge in her tone. Ángel shot her a look of disbelief. Jake’s liquid green eyes met Lily’s. Kindness emanated from them. He raised his shirtsleeve with his thumb, unveiling Cerberus in all his regal guardianship. “Cerberus.” Jake flexed his muscle. “The protector of travelers with flat tires. I had it done a while back, in ’Frisco.” He shot Lily a grin so guileless she felt like an idiot. Jake handed his business card to Ángel. “Call me if you’re ever in need of my services. It was nice to meet you.” He nodded. “Ángel, Lily.” “Thank you, Jake.” She tried hard to keep her voice steady. “My pleasure, Lily.” Jake gave Lily a little salute before he headed back to his truck. She stared after him through narrowed eyes. Jake paused at the door. He winked and climbed back into the truck. Ángel slid Jake’s card into his wallet and got behind the wheel of the Honda. Lily slid into the passenger seat and buckled her seat belt. Jake drove out before them in a cloud of dust. He waved and honked good-bye.
2. The rays of the morning sun shone through the windshield. Ángel returned from the diner, carrying a holder containing two paper cups of coffee. He handed Lily the container when he slipped back into the driver’s seat. Lily glared. “Why’d you make me get off here, on Dad’s off-ramp?” Ángel looked over at her, a contrite expression in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Lil. I didn’t think you’d realized where we were.” Lily handed him a cup of coffee without speaking. She concentrated on popping open the lid of her to-go cup. “Look, Lil, I didn’t want you to have to dredge it all up. But I had to get off here. I always do when I come this way. I grab coffee at the diner and sit here for a moment to remember him.” Ángel stared at the sunrise through the windshield. The sun cast his profile in a rosy glow. She followed her brother’s gaze out into the new morning. What would life be like if Dad were still here? Would they still be on this road headed for Los Angeles? “Are you purposely trying to drive me crazy?” Ángel put down his coffee. “Like I said, I didn’t know you’d realize where we were. I’m sorry, Lily, but this stop isn’t about you. I’ve traveled to this spot many times since high school. I’ve tried time and again to get a sense for myself of what happened here. I’ve spent countless hours at San Francisco University as an undergrad researching the facts. And I’ve never come up with a reason or a clue. Dad was found with an upside-down crucifix staked through his heart, an occultist modus operandi, and no one seems to understand by whom or why. No one. I can’t just let him fade into the darkness like that.” He turned to her. “Instead of getting so angry—you of all people should understand.” His words drew a sharp exclamation of pain from her. Lily put her coffee cup in the holder between them. She reached over and squeezed his hand. “I do understand. I’m so sorry. I love you, Ángel.” “I love you, too, my gilded Lily.” Ángel blinked. He squeezed her hand back. "And just for the record, Lily. I didn’t come up to Colma to fetch you because I think you’re crazy. I came because I love you and I know you’ve been through a bad time. I’m your big brother. It’s my job to protect you. That’s what Dad always said.” Ángel turned away. He patted his front pocket. “Now where did I put my sunglasses?” Lily grabbed her brother’s sunglasses from the dashboard. She handed them to him without a word. “Thanks.” Ángel stared straight ahead as he put on the glasses. But Lily saw the tears in his eyes. Ángel hit the gas pedal and slipped a disc into the CD player. Lily pushed her seat back and closed her eyes. The poignant strings ofan acoustic guitar hung in the air, followed by a rich and beautiful tenor. “L’éternité est une rose sur la tombe de mon bien-aimé….” Lily opened her eyes. “Where’d you get this?” she whispered because she didn’t trust her voice not to break. Ángel glanced at her as they drove back onto the interstate. “Ashe sent me a burn on disk.” They listened to the Chien d’Armée CD for the rest of the trip. It was a friggin’ amazing collection of songs. Lily treated Ángel to lunch at a nice restaurant. She wanted to tell her brother so many things, but she was better with actions than words. Thanks to the gallery show, she was rollin’ in dough. Lily knew it was a calculated risk, but she’d gone right out and purchased her dream camera, a Konica-Minolta 7D/K-M 28-75mm f/2.8 setup. Konica had beaten it out of the camera business awhile before that. But nothing digital—in her opinion—quite captured colors like this baby. And Lily was experimenting a lot with color shots. She’d also wound up dropping some serious cash for new lenses and a portable light kit. Lily handed out presents too. She sent a delicate silk shawl to Chaya. She gifted a bar in a suitcase to Doc and Mom because they were set to travel to Europe soon. She bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin for Judy and laid out some serious cash for an old edition of Kerouac’s works for Shannon. She spent even more for an antique edition of Shelley’s collected poems for Ángel. She said with her gifts what she lacked the ability to say to her loved ones in words. Their road trip ended on a pleasant if speedy note. Lily even squeezed in some time at a rest stop to try out her new camera. They reached Hollywood by late afternoon. Their first stop was the offices of LA Rocks magazine. They turned into the magazine’s parking lot, waved through by the parking attendant, who knew Ángel. They parked in Ángel’s assigned spot. Lily got out and stretched her legs. She put a leash on Pelagius and pulled a plastic baggie from the glove box. She planned to wait for Ángel in the car while he checked in. But Ángel took her by surprise. “Lily, come in with me. And please bring your portfolio.” “Why?” “Don’t ask. Just say yes, please.” Ángel grinned. “Okay. Yes.” Lily went around to the back of the Honda. She opened the hatch and slipped her portfolio out of its pocket on the back of the car seat. Doc had custom made the pocket for her with a few hand tools and some recycled burlap. Lily placed the portfolio strap over her shoulder. Ángel took Pelagius’s leash. Lily grinned down at her puppy. “Pelagius, I have a feeling we’re not in Colma anymore.” Ángel grinned. He held open the emerald-tinted glass door for his sister. Lily, a little overwhelmed and far from her comfort zone, stepped into the realm of Hollywood’s hottest rock magazine.