"What in the hell are you talking about!" I rounded on her.
She was gasping in weird little panting breaths, and her eyes were starting to flutter. Even in the darkness I could see the whites in them beginning to show. I grabbed her shoulders and shook her.
"Tell me what you see!"
Clearly trying to control herself she nodded with a jerky little movement. "I will," she panted. "Just stay with me "
I sat beside her on the bench and let her grab my hand, not caring that she was squeezing so hard it felt like she was going to break something—not caring that she was my enemy and someone I'd never trust—not caring about anything except the fact that Grandma might be in trouble.
"I'm not going anywhere," I said grimly. Then I remembered how Neferet had prompted her. "Tell me what you see, Aphrodite."
"Water! It's awful ... so brown and so cold. It's all confusion .. . can't— can't get the door of the Saturn open ..."
I felt a horrible jolt. Grandma has a Saturn! She bought it because it was one of those ultra-safe cars that were supposed to be able to survive anything.
"But where's the car, Aphrodite? What water is it in?"
"Arkansas River," she panted. "The bridge—it collapsed."
Aphrodite sobbed, sounding terrified. "I saw the car in front of me fall and hit the barge. It's on fire! Those little boys ... the ones who were trying to get truck drivers to honk as they passed .. . they're in the car."
I swallowed hard. "Okay, what bridge? When?"
Aphrodite's whole body suddenly tensed. "I can't get out! I can't get out! The water, it's ." She made a horrible noise that I swear sounded like she was being choked, and then she slumped back against the bench, her hand going limp in mine.
"Aphrodite!" I shook her. "You have to wake up. You have to tell me more about what you saw!"
Slowly, her eyelids moved. This time I didn't see the whites of her rolled back eyeballs, and when she opened them they looked like normal eyes.
Aphrodite abruptly let go of my hand and shakily pushed her hair out of her face. I noticed it was damp, and that she was covered with sweat. She blinked a couple more times before meeting my eyes. Her gaze was steady, but I couldn't read anything except exhaustion in her expression or her voice.
"Good, you stayed," she said.
"Tell me what you saw. What happened to my grandma?"
"The bridge her car's on collapses and she crashes into the river and drowns," she said flatly.
"No. No, that won't happen. Tell me what bridge. When. How. I'll stop it."
Aphrodite's lips curled up in the hint of a smile. "Oh, you mean you suddenly believe my visions?"
Fear for Grandma was like a boiling pain inside me. I grabbed her arm and stood up, pulling her up with me. "Let's go."
She tried to jerk away from me, but she was too weak, I held on to her easily. "Where?"
"To Neferet, of course. She'll figure this crap out, and you'll damn sure talk to her."
"No!" she almost screamed. "I won't tell her. I swear I won't. No matter what, I'll say I don't remember anything except water and a bridge."
"Neferet will get this out of you."
"No she won't! She'll be able to tell that I'm lying, that I'm hiding something, but she won't be able to tell what. If you take me to her, your grandma will die."
I felt so sick I'd started to tremble. "What do you want, Aphrodite? Do you want to be leader of the Dark Daughters again? Fine. Take it back. Just tell me about my grandma."
A look of raw pain passed over Aphrodite's pale face. "You can't give it back to me, Neferet has to."
"Then what do you want?"
"I just want you to listen to me so that you know that Nyx hasn't abandoned me. I want you to believe that my visions are still real." She stared into my eyes. Her voice was low and strained. "And I want you to owe me. Someday you're going to be a powerful High Priestess, more powerful even than Neferet. Someday I may need protection, and that's when you owing me will come in handy."
I wanted to say that there was no way I could protect her from Neferet. Not now—maybe not ever. And I wouldn't want to. Aphrodite was messed up, and I'd already witnessed how selfish and hateful she could be. I didn't want to owe her; I didn't want anything to do with her.
I also didn't have any choice.
"Fine. I won't take you to Neferet. Now what did you see?"
"First give me your word that you owe me. And remember, this isn't an empty human promise. When vampyres give their word—be they fledgling or adult—it is binding."
"If you tell me how to save my grandma I give you my word that I will owe you a favor."
"Of my choice," she said slyly.
"You have to say it to complete the oath."
"If you tell me how to save my grandma I give you my word that I will owe you a favor of your choice."
"So it is spoken; so it shall be done," she whispered. Her voice sent chills up my back, which I ignored.
"I have to sit down first," she said. Suddenly shaky again, she collapsed onto the bench.
I sat beside her and waited impatiently while she collected herself. When she started to talk I felt the stark horror of what she was saying pass through me, and I knew deep within my soul that what she was telling was a true vision. If Nyx was pissed at Aphrodite, the Goddess wasn't showing it tonight.
"This afternoon your grandma will be on the Muskogee Turnpike on her way to Tulsa." She paused and cocked her head to the side, like she was listening in the wind for something. "Your birthday's next month. She's coming into town to get you a present."
I felt a jolt of surprise. Aphrodite was right. My birthday was in December —I had a sucky December twenty-fourth birthday, so I never got to really celebrate it. Everyone always wanted to mush it in with Christmas. Even last year, when I was turning sixteen and I should have had a big, cool party, I didn't get to do anything special. It was really annoying ... I shook myself. Now was not the time to get lost in my lifelong birthday complaint.
"Okay, so she's coming into town this afternoon, and what happens?"
Aphrodite narrowed her eyes, like she was trying to see out into the darkness. "It's weird. I can usually tell exactly why these accidents happen— like a plane doesn't work or whatever, but this time I was so tuned in to your grandma, that I'm not sure why the bridge breaks." She glanced at me. "That might be because this is the first vision I've ever had where someone I recognize dies. It threw me off."
"She's not going to die," I said firmly.
"Then she can't be on that bridge. I remember the clock on her car's dashboard said three fifteen, so I'm sure it happens in the afternoon."
Automatically, I glanced at my watch-6:10 A.M. It'd be light in the next hour (and I should be going to bed), which meant that Grandma would be waking up. I knew her schedule. She woke up around dawn and went for a walk in the soft morning light. Then she came back to her cozy cabin and had a light breakfast before beginning whatever work to be to on her farm. I'd call her and tell her to stay home, that she shouldn't even take a chance on driving anywhere today. She'd be safe; I'd make sure of it. Then another thought tickled at my mind. I looked at Aphrodite.
"But what about the other people? I remember you said something about some kids in the car in front of you, and that car crashed and caught on fire."
I frowned at her. "Yeah, what?"
"Yeah, I was watching from your grandma's point of view and I saw a bunch of other cars crashing around me. It happened fast, though, so I couldn't really tell how many."
She didn't say anything else, and I shook my head in disgust. "What about saving them? You said little boys died!"
Aphrodite shrugged. "I told you my vision was confusing. I couldn't tell exactly where it was, and the only reason I knew when is because I saw the date and time on your grandma's dash."
"So you're just going to let the rest of those people die?"
"What do you care? Your grandma's going to be okay."
"You make me sick, Aphrodite. Do you care about anyone but yourself?"
"Whatever, Zoey. Like you're so perfect? I didn't hear you caring about anyone else except your grandma."
"Of course I was worried about her the most! I love her! But I don't want anyone else to die, either. And no one else is going to if I have anything to say about it. So, you need to figure out some way to let me know which bridge we're talking about."
"I already told you—it's on the Muskogee Turnpike. I can't tell which one."
"Think harder! What else did you see?"
She sighed and closed her eyes. I watched her face as her brow wrinkled and she seemed to cringe. With her eyes still closed she said, "Wait, no. It's not on the turnpike. I saw a sign. It's the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River —the one that's right off the turnpike near Webber's Falls." Then she opened her eyes. "You know when and where. I can't tell you much more. I think some kind of flat boat, like a barge, hits the bridge, but that's all I know. I didn't see anything to identify the boat. So, how are you going to stop it?"
"I don't know, but I will," I muttered.
"Well, while you're thinking about how to save the world, I'm going to go back to the dorm and do my nails. Raggedy nails are something I consider tragic."
"You know, having crappy parents isn't an excuse to be heartless," I said. She'd turned away and I saw her pause. Her back got really straight and when she looked over her shoulder at me I could see that her eyes were narrowed in anger.
"What would you know about it?"
"About your parents? Not much except that they're controlling and your mom's a nightmare. About screwed-up parents in general? Plenty. I've been living with pain-in-the-ass parent issues since my mom remarried three years ago. It sucks, but it's not an excuse to be a bitch."
"Try eighteen years of a lot more than just 'pain-in-the-ass parent issues' and maybe you'll start to get something about it. Until then, you don't know shit." Then, like the old Aphrodite I knew and couldn't stand, she flipped her hair and stalked away, wiggling her narrow butt like I cared.
"Issues. The girl has major issues." I sat down on the bench and began rummaging through my purse for my cell phone, glad I carried it around with me even though I'd been forced to keep it on silent, without vibrate on. The reason could be summed up in one word—Heath. He was my human almost- ex-boyfriend, and since he and my definitely ex-best friend, Kayla, had tried to "break me out" (that's actually what they'd said—morons) of the House of Night, Heath had been way over the top on his obsession level for me. Of course, that wasn't really his fault. I was the one who had tasted his blood and started the whole Imprint thing with him, but still. Anyway, even though his messages had dwindled down from like a zillion (meaning twenty or so) a day, to two or three, I still didn't feel like leaving my phone on and being bothered by him. And, sure enough, when I flipped it open there were two missed calls, both from Heath. No messages, though, so hopefully he's demonstrating the ability to learn.
Grandma sounded sleepy when she answered the phone, but as soon as she realized it was me she perked up.
"Oh, Zoeybird! It's so nice to wake up to your voice," she said.
I smiled into the phone. "I miss you, Grandma."
"I miss you, too, sweetheart."
"Grandma, the reason I called is kinda weird, but you're just going to have to trust me."
"Of course I trust you," she replied without hesitation. She's so different than my mom that sometimes I wonder how they could be related.
"Okay, later today you're planning on coming into Tulsa to do some shopping, right?"
There was a brief pause, and then she laughed. "I guess it's going to be hard to keep birthday surprises from my vampyre granddaughter."
"I need you to promise me something, Grandma. Promise that you won't go anywhere today. Don't get in your car. Don't drive anywhere. Just stay home and relax."
"What's this about, Zoey?"
I hesitated, not sure how to tell her. Then with her lifelong ability to understand me, she said softly, "Remember, you can tell me anything, Zoeybird. I'll believe you."
I hadn't realized that I'd been holding my breath until that instant. On my let out breath I said, "The bridge on I-40 that goes over the Arkansas River by Webber's Falls is going to collapse. You were supposed to be on it, and you would have died." I said the last part softly, almost whispering.
"Oh! Oh, my! I'd better sit down."
"Grandma, are you okay?"
"I suppose I am now, but I wouldn't be if you hadn't warned me, which is why I'm feeling light-headed." She must have picked up a magazine or something because I could hear her fanning herself. "How did you find out about this? Are you having visions?"
"No, not me. It's Aphrodite."
"The girl who used to be leader of the Dark Daughters? I didn't think you two were friends."
I snorted. "We're not. Definitely not. But I found her having a vision and she told me what she saw."
"And you trust this girl?"
"No way, but I do trust her power, and I saw her, Grandma. It was like she was there, with you. It was awful. She saw you crash, and those little kids die ..." I had to stop and breathe. The truth had suddenly caught up with me: my grandma could have died today.
"Wait, there were more people in the crash?"
"Yeah, when the bridge collapses a bunch of cars go into the river."
"But what about the other people?"
"I'm going to take care of that, too. You just stay home."
"Shouldn't I go to the bridge and try to stop them?"
"No! Stay away from there. I'll make sure no one gets hurt—I promise. But I have to know that you're safe," I said.
"Okay, sweetheart. I believe you. You don't have to worry about me. I'll be safe and sound at home. You take care of what ever you need to do, and if you need me, call. Anytime."
"Thanks, Grandma. I love you."
"I love you, too, u-we-tsi a-ge-hu-tsa. "
After I hung up I spent a little while just sitting there, willing myself to stop shaking, but only a little while. A plan was already brewing in my head, and I didn't have time to freak out. I needed to get busy.
Grandma better not die!
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