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Hidden gifts, p.7

Hidden Gifts, page 7

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  “Until now,” Victoria responded, an enigmatic smile touching her Cupid’s bow of a mouth. “Perhaps you have more of your mother’s talents than you thought.”

  “No, I’m pretty sure — ” I began, then stopped, because she’d disappeared, fading from view within the space of a second.

  Rude. But then, I remembered how my mother had said that spirits didn’t always follow our rules when it came to manners. They did as they pleased, often not staying around to answer direct questions. Or sometimes they simply went away because they felt like it.

  Whatever the case here, I was clearly alone again. I looked in the mirror, and my dark green eyes stared back at me, cloudy and haunted.

  I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

  And I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

  5

  Explorations

  I didn’t sleep well that night — no wonder, because I couldn’t get that conversation with Victoria out of my mind. It wasn’t that she’d said anything of any particular import. It was more that I shouldn’t have been able to say anything to her at all. Why had I seen a ghost — spoken to a ghost — now? According to my mother, Jerome had been teeming with ghosts, but I’d never seen any of them, let alone had a conversation with one. What was different about Victoria?

  The car ride home with Cat had been quiet. I hadn’t volunteered anything about my encounter with her cousin’s resident ghost because I was still processing what had happened. At least after that unsettling experience, the night had been fairly uneventful — Tony seemed to have taken the hint and backed off, and I met a bunch of Castillos I might or might not be able to identify if I saw them again. But, ghostly encounters or no, it had felt good to go out on Halloween, to do even a little bit of something to celebrate my birthday.

  And that wasn’t all. When I got back to the casita, I found a beautiful vase of cream-colored stoneware, bursting with blush-edged creamy roses, sitting on the front step. Tucked in among the roses was a plain white card. All it said was “sorry,” in a strong masculine hand, but I knew it had to have come from Rafe. The gesture wasn’t quite enough to melt all of my annoyance, and yet I knew I’d forgive him.

  I had to.

  Despite my weariness, it felt good to wake up the next morning and see the roses sitting in the center of the table where I’d left them the night before. Some coffee revived me, although I had to put off brewing a pot for a bit so I could pour some fresh water and put out some food for the cat. He settled in to eat right away, leaving me free to get back to my coffee.

  As I sat down to drink it, the cat finished his breakfast and jumped up to perch on the little window seat next to the alcove where the table and chairs were located. The morning sun poured in through the window, awakening glints of reddish light in his black fur.

  He really was a magnificent animal, clearly part Persian, with that long, luxurious fur. I had to wonder where he’d come from, because you’d think such a glorious cat would have a home. Although he ate with a healthy appetite, he was sturdy, his fur glossy. He definitely didn’t look like a street cat.

  Maybe later I’d see if Cat could help me make some posters with his picture on them, put them around the neighborhood just in case someone was looking for their lost pet. In the meantime, I thought I might as well give him a name, even if it was a temporary one. With the way he sat on the window seat and gazed out on the garden, dark lord of all he surveyed, I thought Lucifer might be a good name for him. But that seemed like a lot of baggage to pin on a cat, so I settled on Loki, although I hoped he wouldn’t bring quite as much mischief with him as his namesake.

  I didn’t have time for much more than that cup of coffee and a muffin I’d found in a bag in the breadbox. It was probably one of the best muffins I’d ever had, cornbread with little chunks of green chile and whole kernels of corn, not really sweet at all, which was good, since it would have to sustain me until lunch with Rafe and I didn’t want to deal with a sugar crash. At least, I assumed we’d have lunch somewhere in the midst of our sightseeing.

  After my hasty breakfast, I showered and got dressed, and took more care with my makeup than I normally would. I wanted him to see me at my best, rather than the travel-weary girl who’d shown up on his mother’s doorstep the day before. Nothing too fancy, since we’d be walking, but I thought I looked chic enough in my fitted leather jacket, slim jeans, and low-heeled boots. The final touch was the green tourmaline dangly earrings my parents had given me for my eighteenth birthday, and a plain silver ring on my right hand.

  I’d just finished running the brush through my hair one last time when someone knocked at the door. A quick breath, a pause to tell myself that it would be okay, and then I hurried to answer that knock.

  Rafe stood outside. Like me, he was wearing jeans and a jacket over his T-shirt, a nod to the chilly day. The first of November, hard and bright, with more of those thin clouds beginning to drift in. His eyes wouldn’t quite meet mine as he said, “Ready?”

  “Yes,” I replied. “I just have to grab my purse.”

  As I went back to fetch the bag from where I’d left it on the table, Loki slipped past me and headed out the front door. Rafe watched the cat go, one eyebrow raised. “Who was that?”

  “I don’t know,” I admitted, coming back to the door so I could shut it behind me. Because Loki seemed like he could take care of himself, I hoped he would do all right on his own. At least this street was fairly quiet, and deep enough in the city that coyotes probably weren’t an issue. “He was here yesterday. Cat said it was all right for me to keep him.”

  “I suppose so. I doubt my mother will come down to visit you at the casita and see the cat — she likes to summon people to her presence, like a queen.”

  He was frowning as he spoke. The last thing I wanted was to get on the subject of his mother, so I said hurriedly, “Thank you for the roses. They’re really beautiful.”

  His expression didn’t change much. “You’re welcome. It seemed the right thing to do, considering.” A pause and he added, “Well, let’s get going. I’m parked out by the garage.”

  I followed him, trying to push back at the irritation that sought to raise its head again. It seemed he couldn’t even accept a thank-you gracefully. However, I was determined to have this day turn out better than the day before — not that that would be too difficult — and so I decided I should just let it go.

  He hadn’t actually parked in the garage, only pulled into the driveway, blocking one of the bays. His vehicle was a sand-colored Jeep Wrangler, much older than the shiny Mercedes SUV Cat drove. Was the slightly shabby vehicle a subtle hint from Genoveva that Rafe didn’t have favored status, or did he simply prefer to drive something that didn’t attract quite so much attention?

  It wasn’t a question I felt comfortable asking, so I only climbed into the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt without comment. He backed out of the driveway, saying, “I figured we’d start in the Plaza and work out from there. You probably didn’t get to see much of it yesterday.”

  “No,” I replied. “Just a little as we were driving through.”

  “It’s Friday, so it’ll be crowded. Luckily, I already have parking arranged.”

  “Oh?”

  A slight pause as he stopped at the corner of Palace Avenue and waited for an opening in traffic. “My father owns a bunch of restaurants around town. There’s a parking lot behind one of them that he also owns, and he always keeps a couple of spaces open for family.”

  This was the first time I’d heard Rafe — or anyone else, really — mention his father. I figured he had to be around, but he didn’t seem to have played much of a role in my coming here. “That must keep him busy.”

  Rafe shrugged. “It’s something to do. I’m just glad he never tried to rope me into the business. My sister Louisa and her husband Diego take care of that.”

  I couldn’t really blame Rafe for feeling that way. Running just one restaurant, let alone several of them, was hard,
demanding work. “So what do you do?” I asked.

  He gave me a quick sideways look before replying, “I do pre-vis work for VR games.”

  Not exactly the most comprehensible of answers. “Um…what?”

  This time he almost smiled. “Creating virtual reality games isn’t that different from making films, in a lot of ways. Pre-visualization is just imagining what you want the world to look like, the backdrops, the characters…lighting, music. The companies often use freelancers for that part of the work before it goes to their in-house programmers. I like it because it’s not dealing with tourists at a restaurant, or having some crappy desk job.”

  “Do many of the Castillos have crappy desk jobs?” I inquired, genuinely curious. The McAllisters tended to be an artsy bunch, since the clan stipend guaranteed they didn’t need to have an income from a career to sustain their lifestyles, and Jerome was the kind of kooky place where no one batted an eye if you were a fiber artist, or made musical instruments, or whatever. More of the Wilcoxes worked at “real” jobs, just because they lived side by side with civilians, and it would have looked strange to have a nice house and car and all that without any visible means of support.

  “A number of us. There are a lot of artists and musicians and writers here, because this is Santa Fe and that’s what people tend to expect. And we have people in other parts of the state who run wineries or are ski-lift operators or whatever, but there are also a lot of teachers and lawyers and insurance adjusters.”

  By this point we’d turned down a narrow street a few blocks away from Palace Avenue. We turned again, and there was the parking lot Rafe had mentioned, not much more than an open area with a gravel surface and some outbuildings off to one side. Obviously, the woman sitting in the parking attendant’s booth knew him, because she waved us through before he’d barely had a chance to begin braking.

  As promised, there was a trio of empty spots under a sort of carport on one side. Rafe pulled into one of them and turned off the ignition. “It’s just a block to Loretto Chapel from here,” he said. “I figured we’d start there, since it’s a landmark and everything. Then we can decide what to do next.”

  “Sounds good,” I replied, unfastening my seatbelt. Generally, I wouldn’t have been all that eager to go visit a church, since my upbringing had been more pagan than anything else, but right then I was just glad to be out with Rafe. I’d learned a little bit more about him, about his family, and that made me feel better. He hadn’t tried to keep any information from me, but it also wasn’t as if I’d asked any truly personal questions.

  We got out of the Jeep, and he led me across the parking lot and through a sort of covered arcade between two buildings. On the other side of the arcade was a large courtyard with huge old trees and beds of flowers, now nearly dormant. Some patio furniture remained, although covered against the snows and wind of winter. There was something forlorn about the scene, as if the courtyard mourned summer’s passing and the knowledge that it wouldn’t come alive again until late the following spring.

  However, I didn’t get much of a chance to linger, because Rafe kept walking, heading toward the street. Now we were back on Palace Avenue, on a block filled with all sorts of intriguing stores. I itched to explore some of them, to pause and look in the windows at the Native American jewelry and the fancy belts and shoes and who knows what else. But we had a destination in mind, so I didn’t say anything, hoping there would be time for shopping later. Then again, maybe that was something better saved for an outing with Cat. My relationship with Rafe was rocky enough. The last thing I wanted to do was drive him crazy by dragging him from shop to shop.

  The chapel was less than a block away from Palace Avenue, its gothic spires pointing toward the sky, a stained-glass window overlooking the street. All around it were carefully tended shrubs and trees, and in fact it appeared as though there was a park to one side. I didn’t have much of a chance to stop and look, though, because Rafe kept walking and headed in through the chapel’s front door, and I could only follow him.

  Lofty ceilings arched overhead, and the pale November sun gleamed through stained glass windows. At one end of the chapel was an impressive spiral staircase carved from wood, and the altar gleamed with gold.

  To my surprise, Rafe paused after we entered and dipped a finger in the font of holy water near the entrance, then made the sign of the cross. This quiet observance made me a little uncomfortable, even though I knew the Castillos were still fairly devout Catholics, just like the de la Paz clan in southern Arizona. Genoveva had assured my mother that no one would try to make me convert, but still….

  Speaking quietly, Rafe said, “The staircase was made without nails, and doesn’t have any support from the walls of the chapel. Some say it’s a miracle in itself.”

  I glanced back at the staircase, now even more impressed. Before I had merely thought it was beautiful, but now I could see why some people might think it was a miracle. Or, lacking miracles, a pretty amazing feat of engineering.

  “Do they still have services here?” I asked, noting that tourists seemed to outnumber worshippers about two to one.

  “Not regular mass — it’s used only for weddings and funerals now. But it’s also open to the public. Sort of like Notre Dame in Paris, although I’ve never been there.” He offered me a humorless smile after making this statement, as if he understood the implausibility of his making a trip to France. Witches and wizards very seldom ventured out of their home territories even to go to a neighboring state, let alone a whole other country.

  “It’s beautiful,” I said honestly. I could admire the chapel for its architecture and its artistry without getting hung up on the religious reasons for its existence.

  “Yes, it is.” He was silent for a moment, gazing up at the flying buttresses that held up the roof. Had he used elements of this architecture for his pre-vis work? I could see how they might lend themselves to fantastic fantasy worlds, and I supposed he must look for inspiration everywhere. It really did sound like a fun job. Maybe, once we’d gotten to know each other a little better, he’d show me some of his work.

  After that, he walked me around the chapel, showing off more of its design features and explaining the reasons behind them. I could see why he’d wanted to come here first; he seemed more relaxed as he spoke, more comfortable with himself and possibly even me. It was a good starting point, and I hoped we could just pretend that the day before had never happened and move on from here.

  “If you jog back down to Old Santa Fe Trail, you’ll come to the oldest house,” he said as we left the chapel. We’d spent more than a half hour inside, and when we emerged, the sun was higher in the sky, the day a little warmer, although I was glad of my jacket.

  “What’s the oldest house?” I asked.

  “One of Santa Fe’s original buildings. They claim it’s one of the oldest houses still standing in North America. Those witches in Salem don’t have anything on us.”

  He was smiling slightly as he spoke, and I realized he was making a bit of a joke. It was true, though; most people probably had no idea how old Santa Fe was, how it had a history just as long and complex as the original thirteen colonies.

  “That sounds interesting,” I said. “We don’t have anything like that in Flagstaff or Jerome. I mean, they’re old compared to some places, but not like this.”

  “Good,” Rafe replied, looking almost relieved. He was probably glad I was willing to do the touristy stuff, because then he could talk about neutral topics like Santa Fe’s history rather than having to get into the far more fraught subject of our future together.

  And I was fine with that. I still had basically no idea what Genoveva had planned for us, whether she was going to allow things to develop organically no matter how long that might take, or whether she intended to get us married off after an appropriate amount of time had elapsed. Sooner or later, I’d have to bring up the subject with Cat, mostly because I hated to have everything up in the air. Not knowing wa
s always the worst part. True, I had a hard time visualizing the man who walked beside me as my husband, but this was only my second day here. We both had to ease into this. At least he seemed to be trying today, and I couldn’t deny the thrill I got when I looked up at him, took in the fine, strong features and the breadth of his shoulders.

  The oldest house wasn’t spectacular like Loretto Chapel, but it was still fascinating to stand within its walls and realize it had been there for almost four hundred years. I could almost feel the weight of those years in the thick adobe walls, the residue of the lives that had been lived there.

  Were there ghosts? I couldn’t say. Certainly no one came out and introduced themselves the way Victoria had, but a sense of heaviness in the air, of something lingering within those walls, made me think there might be. For all I knew, I was trying to manufacture something simply to prove that last night’s encounter with Victoria hadn’t been a fluke. I wanted to believe that I had inherited my mother’s talent, that it had only slept within me until I had come here to Santa Fe. It felt so much better to believe that my magical gifts had only been dormant all these years, rather than to think I had none at all.

  Maybe that was why Rafe’s grandmother had been so insistent about having me marry her grandson, make this place my home. Maybe she had seen that the only way for my powers to develop was to come here, for whatever reason.

  It was noon when we came out of the oldest house. I knew without even glancing at my phone, because the cathedral a few blocks away was chiming the hour, the sonorous carillon drifting out over all of downtown Santa Fe.

  “Lunch?” Rafe asked, and I nodded.

  “Sounds great.” I’d noticed several restaurants as we’d walked over here, and all of them had looked interesting. In fact, there was one almost right across the street.

 
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