Keeper of the Keys, страница 1
Keeper of the Keys
By Kodilynn Calhoun
Copyright 2011 Kodilynn Calhoun
Keeper of the Keys
Fade met his soul mate on the hottest day of summer, just after dusk as twilight descended upon them. He saw her standing under the lamp post where his booth was set up, a typical carnie game—place a quarter on a set of numbers and he’d spin a wheel, release a mouse from a metal box, and whichever numbered hole the mouse went into, that number won. She wasn’t there to play, just to watch. And she was alone.
She was beautiful; tall and lean, her skin a dusted bronze, almond-shaped eyes grinning even though she looked solemn, if not a bit nervous. Her hair was thick and golden, spun into a braid that twined down her back like a snake. He couldn’t help but imagine what she’d look like with that mane set free upon her shoulders.
Yet, as attracted as he was, he knew better. She was human. She probably had a life: a family, a dog, a gang of friends who adored her. From the look of her, she excelled in school and maybe even already had a college picked out. Humans were fickle like that. Who was he to take that away from her? The Fae were selfish beings as a whole, sure, but Fade didn’t like pigeonholing himself.
It didn’t mean he couldn’t spend time with her during the fair. She could be his, at least until the Quintari packed up and left, just like they always did. They were a traveling band of rogues, people from both sides of the Shining Court—the Solitary Fae banded together as a family. The Quintari disguised themselves as carnies and traipsed all over this side of the Veil to cater to the humans’ fantastical whims.
He’d had several girlfriends like this; a different girl in each city, but they never lasted more than a week. They’d never sung to him like this girl did. She was his soul mate, he was certain of it.
So Fade finished up the game and offered his girl a prize, handpicked off the hooks—a large, overstuffed polar bear. The girl’s eyes lit up as he handed it to her, though she regarded him wearily.
“A pretty prize for a pretty girl,” he said complete with his trademark grin. “Could I…buy you something? A lemon shake-up, perhaps? Or an elephant ear?”
“I’m actually waiting for someone.” She glanced around the street, but her eyes returned to his.
A small flare of jealousy crept into his heart, but he bit it back and smiled again. “A boyfriend?”
“N-No! Just a friend.” Fade wasn’t sure what pleased him more: the fact that her blush made her adorable, or the fact that she was fair game.
“Kaiya. You can call me Kai—everyone does. Kai means ‘of the sea’ in Hawaiian. I’m half-Hawaiian, so it fits.” She rambled for a moment, then looked flustered. “Sorry, sometimes I talk too much when I’m nervous and—”
“Kai.” The word thrummed against his tongue and tasted like watermelon on a hot day. He smiled. “It also means ‘keeper of the keys’.”
There was a soft beeping sound and Kaiya pulled out a pink cell phone, flipping it open. She read the text and clapped it shut. Then she met his eyes once again and his pulse fluttered. “My friend’s not gonna make it; her mom grounded her.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “Her mom’s a bipolar bitch.”
“So…that means you’re free? We could get a hotdog and a coke and play games ‘til the fair closes? My treat. I can get Syrrin to watch my booth; he owes me anyways.” He couldn’t squash the hope rising in his heart. When she gave a shy grin and nodded, he laughed. “I’ll go get him.”
They spent every night of the fair together, trailing through the booths and the games and the food vendors. The Quintari were set up in town, on streets with many shop fronts, so when it would get too humid to wander the fair, they’d slip inside a store and browse. Fade was quick to buy her anything she wanted—after all, he could conjure up coins out of grass. By the time the money turned back into grass, the Quintari would be long gone.
It was on the last day, when the fair around him bustled to pack up, to be gone by morning, that Fade’s heart ached. He tugged Kai into his chest and kissed her once. In a matter of moments, he was breathless, but it wasn’t from the kiss. It was the image of her, withered and pale in a hospital bed, the beeps of machines and the drips of IVs filling his mind so suddenly. He could almost smell the sickness in the room. Sucking in a breath, he staggered back. “Kaiya…”
She would be gone. By the time the Quintari made it back here, to this quaint little town, she would no longer be here. It made him sick inside. “Nothing,” he said, waving a hand, although his arms felt like lead. “Can I walk you home?”
“I’d like that,” she said, and he took her hand in his. He ignored the calls of his fellow carnies, telling him to get his butt to work, they had a schedule to keep. He blocked them out and just kept walking.
Once Kaiya was safely at her door, he kissed her again, more gently this time. His hands cupped her cheeks as he tasted her, sunshine and happiness and bubblegum lip gloss. He brushed golden hair out of her face and looked at her.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you.” Her voice was barely audible. Crickets chirped at the bottom of the porch. “I won’t ever see you again.”
Please, not like this, Fade pleaded with the skies. “We’ll be back next year.” He would, but she wouldn’t.
“I can wait a year.”
“Can you?” He tipped his head to the side, dark bangs falling into his eyes.
“I can and I will.” Another smile, another kiss. “You make me feel happy, Fade. I’ll count down the days to when you return. I won’t even look at another boy.”
He frowned. “You don’t have to do that—”
“I want to.”
Fade hugged her one last time. “Promise me something, Kaiya,” he said, looking into those dark eyes. His fingers twined in hers and he squeezed them. “Promise me you’ll wait for me.”
She didn’t even think about saying no. “I promise, Fade.”
He turned away. With his hands stuffed in the pockets of his beater-jeans, he headed back towards the fair, towards the colorful lights playing against the street and the glass faces of buildings. He could only pray that her promise would hold true.
Fade thought about Kaiya every day for the next year, crossing the days off in red Sharpie on his personal calendar as they came and went.