Part One: The Guest
July 25, 2013: 3 PM
The night air was colder than usual for a July afternoon in New York. Ashley sat at her slate grey desk, mindlessly twirling a pencil in her fingers. Above her, on the wall, hung a diploma from Yale University. On it read:
The President and Fellows of Yale University in New Haven in the State of Connecticut send solemn greetings to all to whom this document shall come. We, the President and Fellows of the University, admit Ashley B. A candidate for first academic honors, to the degree of Bachelors of Political Science and we confer upon him/her all rights, privileges and insignia pertaining to the honor.
Above it was her FBI training certificate. She had dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but sometimes plans change. Becoming a fed hadn't been as big of a deal as she had thought it would be.
She didn't have her office decorated like most of the others; too many things had a tendency to happen here for her to worry about things getting broke. Two shiny black leather seats sat across from her, and a simple fern sat in the corner. Three large metal file cabinets sat to her left. On her desk sat a laptop, a telephone, a wooden name plate with Ashley Black FBI, SA engraved in gold, and a single picture in a lacy black frame. The picture contained five happy, smiling, people. In the back stood her parents with their arms around each other’s back. Her mother’ free arm was draped over the shoulder of a fair skinned, freckled faced teenage girl, her sister, Alexis. Her father had his free arm draped over the shoulder of a tall lanky preteen boy, her brother, Joe. Ashley stood in the very front. Being the shortest one in the family, Ashley had become accustomed to standing in the front.
Normally there would be a light breeze blowing her long, red, curly hair, but she hadn't felt the need to open the window today. She tapped her pencil on her nameplate and sighed. She rolled her shiny golden eyes up to the black clock that sat on the wall. Three p.m. She sighed again. She took her cell phone out of her desk drawer. The screen lit up. No messages. Pushing her chair back, she stood and stretched her back. As she shook her head, her red hair bounced behind her shoulders. Her eyes glittered as the dropping sun flashed in through the windows. Her lips were painted blood red, and her face didn't show any of her, soon to be, 32 years. She wore a red, silk, v-neck, tank top. It hugged tightly against her ample breasts, and flowed down just to the top of her hips. Her black jeans showed off her perfectly shaped butt and legs. All that was on her feet at the moment were a pair of red socks. She hated having to wear shoes, so she would kick them off whenever she had the chance.
She slid her cell into her pants pocket and walked to the door. She stepped out into the waiting area where her receptionist, Brain sat. He was a pudgy, round man. He always wore a sweater vest, and a silly bow tie. Ashley could always tell when it was close to the end of the day by looking at Brain's hair. First thing in the mornings, he would have it slicked back, but as the day wore on it started to stick out all over, and the more messy it was, the harder the day had been.
Ashley walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Ahh," Brain screamed jumping around, "Oh, it's just you."
"I didn't mean to scare you. Forgot I didn't have my heels on. Have you heard anything from Liz today?"
"Liz? Liz? Oh, yeah, that Liz. Sure I have a message right here from her."
He tore a piece of paper out of a booklet that laid next to his hand, and handed it to Ashley. Ashley read: Sorry, but I can't make it tonight. The new boss has me working late. I left something for you in your car. Love Lizbeth.
"When did she call?" asked Ashley as she tossed the note into the waste basket sitting at her feet.
"Um... Around two I think."
Ashley stared at him with amazement, as she so often did. Not in amazement for how well he did his job, but for the lack thereof.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I forgot to let you know," he apologized.
"How many times do I have to tell you? As soon as you take a message for me either call me on the intercom or just walk two feet into my office," she said slowly, hoping some of it might sink in this time.
"Right, I'll remember next time. I promise."
Ashley turned back towards her office.
"Doubt it," she mumbled to herself.
She shuffled her way back into the office and flopped back in her chair. She had been waiting on Liz to let her know when she got off work since her last appointment at 1:30. They had planned on having dinner at a new seafood restaurant across from Ashley's office. She grabbed her shoes and slid her feet into a pair of black, leather booties with gold buckles on the side. When she stood up her shoes had added an extra three inches to her 5'3" frame. Grabbing her black leather bag, she bounced out of the office. She stopped at Brain's desk.
"I'm outta here. You can leave whenever you want. I'll see you tomorrow," Ashley said.
Ashley walked down the cold grey hallway of the FBI building in Albany, New York. Ashley had grown to appreciate the lackluster color and cold feel of her office. It was a nice reprieve from the things she encountered in the field. When she made the choice to join the FBI, they didn't have this nice of an office for her to work in. This had been the FBI's first Supernatural Division. Ashley had been the first Supernatural Agent for New York, and had been the only one for the United States for a while; that's what paved her way to her current position. It's amazing what necessity can accomplish. Most humans in the world didn’t know that supernatural creatures existed. The main exception being if they were a government official, but even they don't know as much about them as they truly should. So when Ashley got involved with the FBI and they found out that she was supernatural, a vampire and werewolf, they jumped at the chance of having her head a new division.
She opened the warm glass door and stepped outside into the afternoon sun. She held her face up towards the sky and let the sun warm her as the wind swept her hair around her. She hadn't realized how cold she was until she stepped outside. She glided over to her dark purple, 2012 Chevrolet Avalanche. Liz had tried to talk her into getting a Mustang or a Corvette, but she needed something that could make it off road if necessary. With a beep, the care unlocked. Ashley slipped her hand around the sun warmed metal of the door handle and pulled open the door. The smell of her Hawaiian breeze car freshener hit her as the car’s hot air flooded out. She lifted herself up into the tall vehicle with practiced precision. She slid the key into the ignition and sat her purse into the passenger seat. On her dashboard sat a silver enveloped with a bright pink Post-It tape on top.
She grabbed up the envelope and read the note: I got this note from my boss. I wanted you to look at it. I thought it seemed weird. Love, Liz. She flipped the envelope open and slid out the letter. The envelope itself felt like satin, and Lizbeth was embossed on the front with gold letters. The letter itself was written on what seemed like cotton, and the words seemed sewn on. The appearance looked like a cross stitch sampler.
It has been delightful to work with you these past few days.
This may seem sudden, but I would love if you would come with me
to New York Fashion Week. You seem to be one of the best
designers here, and you get along with everyone. I'll understand
if you say no, but please consider it.
Ashley rubbed her thumb across the letters as she read the note. Rhythms radiated off the letters. Rhythms, most of the time, were not a good thing. They meant that magic was at work, and that somebody was trying to hide something. Good rhythms only happened when meeting a new person. Each supernatural had a different rhythm, and all supernaturals could feel each other’s rhythms, as well as the rhythm of humans. Humans were virtually unaware of the rhythms their bodies give off, except for the few enlightened. The letter had been written by a wizard, and one with some powerful vibes. This kind of charm was almost always used to do bad, or at least to deceive. Ashley knew she had to figure out who this guy was, and why he was trying to charm Liz, but she also had to make sure that Liz didn’t start asking questions about the note. Ashley had worked hard over the years to keep her powers a secret from Liz.
Ashley raised up her hip and wiggled her cell out of her pocket. She scrolled through her contacts until she found the name she wanted. Stacey. Stacey was a tracker fairy, giving her the ability to track anybody, anywhere without the use of electronic devices. Giving her more power than the police Ashley pressed her name and waited for her to answer.
"Hello, Stacey speaking," Stacey answered.
"Hi, this is Ashley Black. I need you to track someone for me."
"Sure. Who is it?"
"The letter says Charles, but I'm positive that isn't his real name. He seems to be a fan of charm."
"Do you have a feeling as to what his name could actually be?"
Ashley had several special powers, one of which was reading rhythms more deeply and finding out information about the person through their rhythm. She silently rubbed her hand across the letter breathing in the information held within.
"He has done a pretty good job at hiding information. It's like he knew that somebody would be trying to read this, but he's not perfect. I am getting the name Jeremy, but I can't get anything else."
"That should be enough. A guy named Jeremy pretending to be Charles. I will try to get you some information by tomorrow."
"Thank you so much."
Ashley ended the call and tossed her phone into the passenger seat. With a rumble, the car came to life and Ashley pulled out of the parking lot.
When Ashley pulled into her driveway she noticed a blue Harley Davidson parked in her yard.
"I wonder what he wants?" she asked as she turned off her car.
On the outside, Ashley's house looked similar to all the other houses on her block. It sat further off the road than most and was blocked by trees. A colonial with an attached two car garage, that hardly ever had a car in it. It was a two story house with simple, elegant charm, white vinyl siding with red trim, and a red door. Anybody that drove by would assume a nice family lived inside, but the inside told a different story.
Ashley hopped out of the car with her purse and trotted to the door. She twisted the cold door knob and stepped inside. The smell of pizza hit her nose as soon as she walked in. The foyer was decorated in an elegant gothic style. She hung her purse on the coat rack standing at the right of the door. A black leather jacket hung next to hers.
"Joe," Ashley shouted.
"Kitchen," replied a gruff voice from within the house.
Ashley walked through an arched doorway to her right. She walked through a sitting room with blood red walls and black leather furniture. Turning to the left, she walked through another archway into an open living room with snow white walls and purple furniture. One wall held a large flat screen TV and on another, a large bookshelf filled with old leather bound books. The kitchen, with its white walls and shiny black appliances, gleamed at the other end of the living room.
"What are you doing?" Ashley asked, sitting down at the bar.
"Fixing something to eat. Want some?" Joe replied sliding a hot, bubbly pizza onto a pizza board.
"So now you just walk into people's houses and fix pizza?"
"No, just my favorite sister's," he said, sliding a slice of pizza over to Ashley.
"What do you want?"
"Can't I just fix my sister supper without it meaning anything."
"No," she replied, biting into the pizza and pulling away a long string of cheese.
"Well... I might have something I want to talk to you about."
"Joe," Ashley cried, "can't I go one week without your antics?"
"Trust me, Ash; I think I have something this time."
"You always say that, and all you end up doing is wasting time that I could be using on a real case."
"But I'm at your house, and not at your office. So technically I'm not wasting any work time, only personal time."
"Ugh, fine talk, but get me a beer first."
Joe ran over to the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer, clanging them together. He walked the beer back over to Ashley. With a sigh, the bottle opened and Ashley took a long swig.
"Alright, talk," Ashley commanded.
"You remember the last time we talked I told you about this friend of mine, Elwin, had been missing. Well I ran into him the other day. Turns out he wasn't missing, just on vacation," Joe laughed.
"Get to the point Joe."
"Right, well we started casing this old building where I had last seen my suspect."
"How many times have I told you not to talk like an old cop movie?"
"Fine, but the story is going to be a lot less fun. This guy I had been following, not sure who, he just looked suspicious went into the basement of this old building..."
"And I think you should send somebody to go check it out."
"Seriously Joe, you haven't given enough probable cause for me to send somebody in there."
"But some weird guy went into the basement of an old building."
"Yeah, and homeless people do that all the time."
"I'm telling you this guy is up to no good."
"Tell you what; you get me some pictures of this guy, and a little more concrete evidence that he is up to no good, I will go check this place out myself."
"Awesome. Thanks sis."
Joe quickly kissed his sister on the cheek and ran out of the room.
"Hey! Where are you going? You left me kitchen in a mess," Ashley started, but Joe was already out the door, "Uh, figures, I get stuck with cleaning up the mess."
Ashley kicked her boots off before sliding off the bar stool. She shuffled over to the oven with a sigh. She stood on her tip toes reaching for a bowl to put the pizza in. After shuffling through a few to find one the right size, she slid the hardly touched pizza into a large blue bowl. She had just finished loading the dishwasher when she felt her phone buzz.
Ashley pulled her buzzing phone out of her pocket. The screen was flashing Alexis over and over again. She slid the green phone across the screen.
"Hey, I didn't interrupt anything did I?" Alexis whispered.
"I was just cleaning up your brother's mess."
"Oh, Joe was trying to talk you into something, huh."
"Yep, and he may have succeeded this time."
"What? You never tell him yes, ever."
"I didn't say yes per say, but I may have given him enough hope that he's probably doing something stupid as we speak."
"Why are you whispering?"
"I just got Rose down."
"Oh, how's my niece doing?"
"Mean as ever. She doesn't want to sleep in her crib anymore. But that's not why I called. I need to ask you something."
"So this isn't a friendly sister call then."
"Nope, I'm afraid not, but it's nothing sinister."
"Alright, hit me."
"I have this new hire that I want to cross train."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"I want to cross train him at your office. He already knows how things work here, and I want to send him to you to see how things work there."
"So that I can send him if you need help. I know that you don't have any other agents to help you out and now I have two extra. You seem to see a lot more action than I do. I just thought I'd help you out."
"That sounds good to me."
"There are a couple of other things you need to know. He's not from America."
"Does he speak English?"
"Not a problem then."
"He also needs a place to stay, and I was..."
"You were hoping that he could stay with me."
"I was hoping. I don't want him staying in a hotel in a strange city."
"Did he live with you when he first moved to Buffalo?"
"Then why does he have to stay with me."
"It's cheaper than a hotel."
"Come on Ash, please, I'm begging you."
"Alright, I hate to hear you beg. He can stay with me."
"Thanks he will be there tomorrow evening. Bye."
"Tomorrow? Alexis... Alexis. Damn it. What did I do to get stuck with siblings like these?"
Ashley turned off her phone and sprinted upstairs. She hadn't had a stranger stay in her house in a while, and it was in no shape to make a good impression. With less than a day to get things ready for her guest, and a full day at work tomorrow, Ashley had a long night ahead of her.
A lone light shined at the far end of an office building. Cubicles filled the middle of the room while several offices lined the walls. All the offices had large windows inside where anybody that looked in would see walls covered in drawings and magazine clippings. Everybody had left for the day except for one dedicated woman. Lizbeth sat in her office drawing with quick precise strokes. Her office smelled of Japanese cherry blossoms, and was heavily decorated in pink. Crumpled up paper littered the floor, and her fall designs were pinned to various felt boards around the room. A large bookshelf stood behind her desk packed full of design books and novels. On top of the bookshelf sat her diploma from the Fashion Institute of Technology.
She whirled around in her chair sending her long blonde hair twirling around her. She flipped through a magazine looking for something. A piece of inspiration that would help to pull together the piece she was working on. Her white sports coat hung across a mannequin in the corner. The sleeves of her pink silk blouse were bunched around her elbows. She grabbed a hair clip off the table and quickly twirled her long hair on top of her head. She clicked on her phone, 8 PM flashed onto the screen. Everybody else had left three hours earlier, and didn't bother to say a word to her. She whirled back around to her sketch with magazine in hand. She started to sketch but stopped and grabbed her phone. Her fingers moved deftly across the screen. She sent a quick message to Ashley: I'm so sry that I couldn't make it 2day. I have this dress I have been workin on and its buggin me. I'll come by ur house 2nite after I finish. See u then. <3 Liz.
Liz leaned back in her chair rubbing her temples. She and Ashley had been best friends for as long as she could remember. One of the few people she knew she could always count on to be there for her. They had a lot of memories together, but she always thought of the same night every time she got stuck on a design. She wasn't sure why that night gave her inspiration, but she figured it was because that had been the day she had told her parents she was going into fashion. They had laughed her out of the room, but Ashley had given her the support she needed.
* * *
Halloween 1999: 8 PM
"They just laughed?" Ashley yelled over "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.
"Yep. Didn't say a word. Just laughed."
"Don't worry. Parents are wired to disapprove of their children's dreams unless they say they want to be a doctor."
"What do your parents think about your dreams?"
"Honestly, I haven't got a clue about what I want to do."
"Oh, well I'm sure whatever you decide, I will approve, even if your parents don't."
"I'm sure you will."
Liz grabbed Ashley up in a hug.
"What would I do without you?" Liz asked, fixing the poof of her pink ballerina costume.
Liz and Ashley laughed loud enough that the people around them shushed. Ashley stood straightening her Goddess costume.
"I'll be right back. You want anything?"
"No, I'm good."
Liz stood and started towards the bathroom when she tripped over somebody’s foot. She started to fall when a rock hard arm caught her, knocking the breath out of her.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah I'm fine. Between these shoes and all the people..." Liz looked up, seeing her savior for the first time, "Uh... All the people here... Hi."
"Hi. I'm Joe, and you are?"
"Liz! Her name is Liz," shouted Ashley pushing through the crowd towards them.
"Ashley didn't know you were here."
Ashley flashed blazing eyes towards Joe.
"You knew I was going to be here, Joe," she barked.
"You two know each other?"
"Yeah, he's the brother I told you about."
"Really, you never told me how good looking he was."
"She really gives credit where credit is due," Joe said without seeming phased by her comment.
Ashley squeezed between the two, trying to draw Liz's eyes from Joe's.
"I found Alexis over there. She suggested going back to our house for a horror movie marathon."
"Maybe she wants to stay here."
"Come on Liz, let's go. My parents just bought popcorn and garlic. You can make the grossest food combinations that you want."
"Can't we stay for a little bit longer?"
"I have Johnny Depp movies."
"Johnny Depp?" Liz asked, taking her eyes off of Joe for the first time since she saw him.
Liz pushed through the crowd towards Alexis, not giving a second look at Joe. Ashley turned to face Joe, her eyes glowing yellow and lips curling back from her teeth.
"I told you to stay away from her. You’re not even supposed to be out."
"The girl literally fell into my arms."
"Yeah, because you tripped her."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"Wipe the damn smirk off your face. This isn't a joke. You won't keep your mouth shut, and I don't want her to know. It's safer that way."
"You... Need... To... Re... Lax."
Ashley rolled her eyes and stormed off leaving her brother.
* * *
July 25, 2013: 9 PM
Liz snored out, waking herself. She jerked her head up and glanced at the phone in her hand.
"Nine? Shit, maybe Ashley can tell me what's missing. Either way I need to go or I won't be able to see her tonight."
Liz jumped up. Her bra peaked around her disheveled blouse. She quickly shifted the blouse back into place. She grabbed her briefcase and slid in her papers. With her coat slung over her arm, and her bag over her shoulder; she flipped her desk lamp off and trotted out the door. She paused long enough to turn and lock her door before making her way through the sea of cubicles. She started to reach her finger out to press the glowing, orange down arrow when the elevator dinged open. She jumped, goose bumps running up her arm. She twisted her head to look into the elevator.
"Liz, what a pleasant surprise," purred Charles.
"Mr. Smith, I thought I was the only one here," Liz replied, shakily taking a step backwards.
"I didn't mean to startle you. I forgot something in my office."
"Isn't your office on the tenth floor? This is the seventh."
"It is, isn't it? Oops, I guess I hit the wrong button."
Charles stepped out of the elevator, gliding his way towards Lizbeth. Liz side stepped toward the open door, eyeing him as she moved.
"So, Lizbeth," her named dripped off his tongue like honey, "why are you here so late?"
"I was just trying to finish up a design I've been working on."
"Did you get it finished?"
"No, I'm actually heading to a friend’s house. I was hoping she might give me some input."
"I can give you some input, if you would like," he said sliding closer to her.
"Thanks, but I really have to get to my friends. I had to cancel our dinner plans, so I promised I would drop by tonight," Liz quickly replied, tripping backwards into the elevator.
"Are you sure? We could go back to my place, have some wine, and look at some things."
"That sounds great, but I have a boyfriend and he probably wouldn’t like that, and I really have to go see my friend."
Lizbeth slammed her finger into the G button. She prayed he wouldn't stop the door from closing. The only thing she wanted was to get the hell out of there. The door seemed to take forever.
"Come on, come on, come on," she thought.
He stood there staring at her with a sly grin on his face. Liz nonchalantly raised her finger to the door close button, and shoved it several times. Charles looked away, and Liz heard the distinctive clink of the doors beginning to close. She let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. The grey doors closed in front of her blocking her off from Charles's grin. As the elevator slid down, Liz slumped against the metal wall behind her.
A soft pink 2012 Mazda Miata hummed into the dimly lit driveway, parking next to Ashley's truck. The car disappeared in the shadow of the truck. Liz softly revved her engine, letting Ashley know she was there. That had become a tradition after they had gotten their own places. The engine quieted as Liz grabbed her bags. As she stepped out of the car, the wind whipped around her knocking the clip in her hair loose. She yanked the clip out and tossed it through the open window of her car. Her heels clicked each step she took up the stone walkway. The door swung open before she had a chance to touch the handle.
"Damn it, would doors stop opening before I touch them," she sighed.
"Rough day darlin'," hummed Joe, emphasized his Carolina accent.
"Not really, but my boss creeped me out before I left, and I guess I'm just a bit jumpy."
"I'm sorry you're still having problems with him," Joe said, bending to kiss her on the lips.
Joe pulled Liz into him. She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his chest. Joe's chin rested gently on her head. With a deep breath, Liz took in his mixture of musk and honey. She relaxed into him.
"Should you be touching me in front of you sister's house?"
"She's watching TV in the living room, but I should get going."
"Why don't you come by later."
"Where else would I go."
Joe grinned at Liz, causing her to melt. She had yet to figure out why she had been so strongly drawn to him, but everything always felt right when she was with him. She stood on tip toes reaching for his blood red lips. He met her reach with a long, lingering kiss. Liz pulled away first. She spoke with her lips brushing against his.
"We could just go back to my place now," she whispered.
"No, you need to see Ashley, and I have something I need to do first."
"Fine, I'll see you in a little."
Joe kissed her cheek, and sauntered over to his Harley. Liz watched as he mounted his bike and started it with expert finesse. He pulled out of Ashley's yard without spinning it up; something most would not have attempted. Liz turned back to the door and walked in. She hung her purse next to Ashley's and kicked off her heels like she was at home. She made her way through the dark house, to the living room. Ashley was slumped down on the purple leather couch with her bare feet propped up on the glass coffee table. The TV screamed jokes about idiots as Ashley chuckled softly.
"Took you long enough," said Ashley, not looking around.
"I ran into Joe on my way in."
Liz walked around the couch, dropping her briefcase in the floor. She slid into the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the fridge. She flopped onto the couch and plopped her feet next to Ashley's.
"You ran into Joe?"
"Yeah, he was leaving as I came in." The beer fizzed as she twisted it open.
"How could you have run into him? He left here a few hours ago."
"Well I did. Maybe he was hanging out somewhere else in the house. This place does have a lot of hiding spots."
"Yeah... Sure. So what's the deal with this boss of yours?"
Liz took a long swig before she answered.
"I'm not sure. I think he may have a crush on me, but he just... I don't know. He's just weird."
"What does he do?"
"Tonight, for example, I stayed late to work on a new sketch. I was the only one there, and he had left at one. He's the boss. He can do that. Everybody else left at five, like normal. But when I started to leave he came up in the elevator. He claimed that he had forgotten something and came back to get it."
"He could have."
"Sure, but his office is on the tenth floor. Mine is on the seventh. Then he tried to get me to go to his house so he could give me some feedback on my sketch that I was having problems with."
"The letter you gave me did seem odd. I don't know many new bosses that would ask their employee to go to New York Fashion Week with them. Especially if they aren't his right hand man or something like that."
"Mhm, that's what I was thinking. So what do you think I should do?"
"I would just try to avoid him the best you could. And try not to stay after so you don't run the risk of running into him alone. I also have some pepper spray you could keep with you in case he tries something."
"I don't think I could pepper spray somebody."
"I have seen you drop kick a guy for touching your butt before."
"Yeah, but pepper spray burns their eyes."
"Yeah, and I'm pretty sure that guy won't be able to have kids."
Laughter ripped through them both, laughing like teenage girls at a sleepover.
"So where's the sketch?"
Liz leaned over the arm of the couch and grabbed her bag. She slipped a hand in and pulled out the sketch. She handed the paper over to Ashley. On the paper laid a beautiful white wedding gown. A strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline and a fitted bodice that cascaded down from the hips in a river of ruffled lace.
"What's wrong with it?" asked Ashley.
"What's not wrong with it? Everything is wrong."
"Maybe it's because it's the first wedding gown you've designed. Why are you designing one?"
"I don't know. I just felt compelled to. Like, some invisible force made me. I was trying to design a ski outfit, but I kept seeing all these wedding magazines and I felt like I had to design a gown."
"Mh, weird. Maybe you should just step away from it for a bit. See what happens."
Liz flopped back onto the couch with a sigh. She tapped the lip of the beer bottle against her mouth before turning it up and chugging half.