Perpetual Light by Jordan K. Rose
“L’amore e dolcissima corrispondenza degli spiriti, che di due anime ne compone una sola.”
Love is the sweetest joining of spirits, when two souls become as one.
April 11, 1667
The Abyss hovered, waiting to take me.
More time, I need more time. He’s coming.
The raspy sounds of my own breathing filled my ears. With each jagged gasp, pain shot through my body straight to my core.
Pressure, cold and heavy, weighed on me. The Abyss called.
The next breath held the scent of sun-kissed grapevines, and I knew he was near.
“No. God, no.” He sobbed as he lifted me into his arms. “Lucia.”
My eyes opened.
He was changed. His skin, tanned from years in the vineyard, was now gray, and deep, dark grooves circled his eyes. Gone were the beautiful green and gold flecks of his hazel irises, replaced with the crimson glow of one who walked in shadows.
He needed me.
The Abyss stretched forward, reaching for me, its frigid tendrils swirling as souls trapped within its depths screamed for salvation. Cold burns whipped across my aura as the angry void attempted to claim me.
No. Not yet. I concentrated on Vittorio, steeling myself against my bitter destiny. Another moment with him was all I needed.
Gazing into his eyes, I found his trembling soul, hidden within him. Without hesitating my power wrapped around him, hiding his presence from The Abyss.
Tortured and terrified, he stared back at me, unmoving, his heart hammering in his chest.
Calm, my love.
A scream pierced the air. The Abyss grew impatient.
My very essence quaked as the angry void surrounded me. But I called on my powers and captured his soul, holding it in the warmth of eternity, caressing it, loving him.
Drink from me. Drink and take my gift. Keep me with you forever. It was all I could offer, the only way I knew to keep him safe, to keep us together.
He shook his head. “I don’t want to hurt you, cuore mio.” A single red-tinged tear rolled down his cheek.
No, you cannot hurt me. I will give you strength. I will give you the light you need. Drink.
I lifted my chin and pulled him to my neck, muffling his sobs against my skin.
His fangs penetrated my flesh, and he drank.
And The Abyss howled at my return.
“Amor di nostra vita ultimo inganno.”
Love is the ultimate deception of our life.
La Moda Boutique
A familiar ache throbbed deep in my chest. The quiet, steady rhythm worked itself into a cadence that my heart tried to match. But it was too fast, too loud, too deep. My heart couldn’t compete.
Stay calm, Lu. You can do it.
I swayed against a mannequin, and she teetered on her pedestal. With trembling hands, I gripped the window frame, holding on hard to reality.
Darkness loomed around me, stalking closer with every breath like an animal coming to devour me. Shivers ran along my skin as I swallowed back a scream.
In a sudden flash, brilliant sunlight reflected off the fresh fallen snow, creating a golden splendor. Its warmth bathed me, calming my racing heart and banishing the ache from my body.
The darkness receded.
“I’ll be Home for Christmas” played in the background, its soft melody soothing me. Fully stocked clothing racks waited for the day’s first customer. The scents of freshly baked gingerbread and coffee wafted in the air.
I took a deep breath.
Dad stopped shoveling and waved. “You okay?” he yelled through the window.
“What?” Mom yelled back.
“Not you! Lucia. Is she okay?” he hollered, pointing at me.
“What is it, honey?” Mom dropped a wrapped package beneath the Christmas tree and hurried toward me. She pushed my hair back from my face, gently twirling the long brown spirals in her hands.
“Nothing,” I whispered, briefly glancing in her direction. Breathe, Lu. A deep breath in. Hold. Exhale. After repeating the words a couple times, I had coaxed myself through the process.
The bells on the door jingled as Dad entered the shop. “Aren’t your eyes bothering you?” He kicked slush from his boots then stepped inside.
My heart raced. “What?”
“Direct sunlight. It must hurt your eyes. The way they shimmer is something else, Lu. I’d swear they were glowing.” He quickly stripped off his hat, gloves, and scarf.
Glancing down, I found my sunglasses in my hands. Unsure of when I’d taken them off, I shoved them onto my face with a vague sense of unease.
“Are your eyes bothering you, honey?” Mom’s gaze darted from me to Dad and back to me.
“No. I’m fine,” I lied. In the last two weeks, my eyes had gone from hazel-green to an almost iridescent emerald shade. I couldn’t explain it and had spent most of my time trying to hide them, wearing sunglasses everywhere.
I ducked around a display table and straightened the handbags piled on top. Mom followed me, hovering.
I moved on to a rack of blouses, pretending to adjust the holiday bows she’d attached to the hangers. “The shop looks great. I like the ornaments and the train.” Every year she decorated La Moda for the holiday, creating window displays to rival 5th Avenue. “The tree smells good, too.” I smiled. “Christmas-y.”
She watched me wearing that look, the one she always wore when she thought I was hiding something. The one that meant she was deciding the wording of her next question, the question that would get her the most information. Whenever she worried about me, she strategized like a commander preparing for battle.
I hunkered down and waited for the assault, hoping to evade the inevitable offensive.
Ours was the least complex game of espionage ever to be played. Nothing covert about it. She chased and I ran, dodging questions like a sparrow dodges a hawk.
“How’ve you been sleeping?” she asked, plugging in the tree lights. “Art, fix these. I don’t want them flashing.” She handed Dad the last string of lights.
“I’ve been sleeping fine.” I marched to the desk to get to work on the inventory.
“Any dreams?” She straightened some jackets on a rack while Dad fiddled with the bulbs.
“No.” I opened the file on the desk marked ‘Inventory’, pushed the power button on the computer, and organized the highlighters.
“No dreams? That’s interesting.” She folded a couple sweaters. “Not even about Vittorio?”
The Christmas tree lights stopped alternating and a steady glow illuminated the shop.
All my life I’d had vivid dreams, most of them sweet and pleasant, involving a vineyard in Italy and one man, Vittorio, my dream-husband. He was tall with dark, wavy hair and eyes that sparkled with flecks of gold and green. And his smile always melted my heart. ‘Cuore mio’, he called me, and loved me in a way I’d never experienced in my own life.
Until recently, I always looked forward to going to sleep, knowing I’d see him. But, lately, Vittorio hadn’t appeared in any of my dreams.
“Nope.” I shuffled the papers in the file.
Dad sipped his coffee, quietly waiting for his moment. Like any good husband and father, he always knew to keep out of it, even if he was equally as worried as she. Lingering in the background, he listened to the battle, waiting for the opportunity to swoop in and call a truce. A true diplomat, he never chose sides.
“Is this the complete order for Gemma?” I asked as the computer came to life.
“Mm-hmm. Any nightmares?”
The numbers on the page swam before me as I bit my tongue to keep from blurting out an answer that would have given her more information than she needed. Deep breath in. Hold. Exhale.
In the past two weeks everything had changed: my eyes, my dreams, even the way I felt in my own skin. Every morning I woke in a state of grief so overwhelming all I could do was sob. No explanation for the grief existed. Nothing sad was happening in my life, no losses, no disappointments, nothing. Just the dreams. The inability to explain my grief consumed most of my mornings, if not my days.
“Has the blond man made any more appearances?” She clicked the switch, and the desk lamp shined above me.
I shook my head and thumbed through the pages in the file.
The blond man, wicked as Satan, prowled my nightmares, stalking me the way a wolf hunts a lamb, hiding in the edges of my mind, creeping into my world one slow step at a time. I’d always been able to keep ahead of him, to escape to safety, enveloped in a void that echoed with his enraged screams. As though watching him from a safe room, I’d been forced to witness him act out his anger, leaping from the recesses of my thoughts to brutally attack and murder so many innocent lives.
To call the dreams “nightmares” didn’t even begin to describe their intensity.
He hadn’t haunted my dreams for several nights. But he hadn’t disappeared either. Everywhere I went I’d taken to looking over my shoulder, my intuition piquéd by an unspoken omen. A foreboding. Someone or something hunted me. A darkness—no, an evil like nothing I’d ever known hovered just beyond my vision. Its presence loomed. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was there.
Forcing myself to concentrate on the work at hand, I entered the numbers from the page into a spreadsheet then blinked in surprise. “This is a small jewelry order, a third of the size of the usual one.”
“It will do for now,” she answered. “I’m glad to hear the nightmares have stopped.”
Without looking, I felt her probing gaze, the way it wandered over me, studying every fidgety muscle, gauging the depth of each breath, and anticipating every thought that moved through my mind.
I didn’t react, just sat there, pretending to study the paperwork. She hadn’t asked a question. No need to respond.
The nightmares were worse than usual, more frequent, more vivid, more violent. And, although I recognized the people in my dreams, I didn’t know them—or maybe I knew them, but didn’t recognize them. Whichever it was, I desperately wished never to dream of them again.
Mom moved on to the camisole display, arranging them by color and size. “So, you’re sleeping well?”
“Fine.” I tapped the keyboard, entering numbers as fast as I could.
Multiple theories on what was happening had occurred to me. Maybe I was possessed. This was my number one theory, considering the dreams and my recent paranoia. Two: maybe my eyes weren’t changing at all, and I was imagining it. I kept telling myself that, but every time I checked, they still glowed.
My last theory was that I suffered from multiple personalities, and when I inhabited my ‘other self’ I was putting in funky contacts and living some weird life. But no matter how many times I jabbed a finger into my eye to draw out the contact lens, there was never one to remove.
So, theory number one seemed the only logical answer. Of course, when demon possession seems a logical explanation for your life, you know you’ve hit new a low.
“Are you staying for lunch?” Dad asked. “I’m starving.”
Mom scowled at him. “It’s not lunchtime.”
He grinned and smoothed his hands over his sweater. “Lu should stay for lunch.” Almost twenty years ago Dad retired from teaching and came to work in the shop with Mom, which left my overprotective dad free to tag along with me on a number of business trips.
Somehow, no matter how hard I tried to improve his fashion sense, he never lost the math teacher vibe. The button-up sweater over an oxford with casual pants was his uniform. He’d worn it for nearly forty years. I half expected him to grab a piece of chalk and begin writing equations on the wall.
“I’ll get sandwiches at The Corner Bistro,” he said, grinning.
I was fairly certain I was the only kid in history whose dad transferred to every school she ever attended, and taught for each grade level as she passed through them. He had only been my teacher five of the thirteen years—second and seventh grades and the last three years of high school.
It goes without saying, my homework was always in on time.
“Can’t stay for lunch. I need to get to Gemma by two o’clock. Tempo’s Christmas party is tonight, and the boss wants us all there by six.” I printed the Gemma document and stuffed it into my bag.
“Ah, Tempo’s big shindig.” Dad grabbed a handful of gingerbread cookies off the tray mom had left for the customers. “That paying employer of yours throws a good party.” He sat on the settee by the window. “You know, they should let you bring your parents.”
“Arturo, shush.” Mom removed three cookies from his hands, put them back on the tray, and moved it across the room. “Lucia doesn’t want to bring her parents. Is Michael going to the party with you?” She ran her fingers through her dark hair, letting the big curls roll around them, then wiggled them loose.
“No. He has some business meeting he can’t miss. What about the other orders? You said there were some inventory issues.” I closed one manila folder and opened another, trying very hard to keep her occupied with work so she’d quit interrogating me.
Michael and I had dated for a few years. Sometimes we were more serious than others. Sometimes we were just friends, which was our current state. I hadn’t been able to “pull the trigger,” as Dad liked to call it. I loved Michael, but I wasn’t ready for marriage.
“It’s all there.” Her fingers worked her hair again. Then she reached for mine, gently fluffing the long tresses. Her touch, so tender, reminded me of my childhood and the many nights when she brushed my hair. I closed my eyes for a moment, relaxing.
“What are you wearing tonight?” she asked.
“A burgundy velvet gown.”
With a quick hug, she said, “Get pictures. You know I’ve always loved to see my little girl dressed up.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, fighting back sudden tears. I’d have loved to have a family, a little girl of my own. But with all the traveling I did for Tempo, my lifestyle wasn’t conducive to one. Worse than that, lately the nightmares had become so horrible I’d begun wondering if I was sane enough to be near adults, never mind children.
An hour later we’d finished the inventory, and I had just packed my bag, slipped into my coat, and kissed my parents good-bye when the door to the shop opened. A gust of wind whooshed in, carrying with it the scent of a freshly mown lawn.
With my back to the door, I knew exactly who had entered. He was the only man I’d ever met with that cologne. And, although I liked his cologne, I didn’t like him. Maybe it was that annoying confidence, or his irritating ability to observe everything, or the inexplicable magnetism he had with customers. Whatever it was, he irked me to no end. I gritted my teeth and exhaled loudly, trying to clear my lungs.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Mom asked.
“Nothing,” I growled before wheeling on the new arrival. “What are you doing here?”
Peter glided into the shop, that annoying, cocky smile threatening at the corners of his mouth. “Jack sent me. I’m supposed to learn everything you know. I believe we have an appointment at Gemma.”
Jack sent him. Stupid Jack. I’ll…
Two weeks ago our boss Jack promoted me, out of the blue, to Senior Buyer. The company had decided to make an abrupt change in structure, adding a junior level. My lines, women’s accessories, moved the fastest, selling at nearly double the rate of any others, so I was given the punishment of training the junior. Peter was my junior.
“Mr. and Mrs. DiComano, it’s a pleasure to see you,” Peter said. The lilt of an English accent seemed to color his voice, but the slight inflection faded as quickly as it came.
He stood directly in front of me. A light blue ring surrounded his midnight blue irises, giving the illusion of depth. He exuded a tranquil, welcoming charm. When he faced my parents, his smile broadened.
“Oh, the pleasure is ours.” Mom walked toward Peter, her eyes fixed on his.
“Yes. Thanks for coming by.” Dad extended his hand.
As they both reached for him, Peter’s jaw clenched, freezing that dumb expression on his face.
“It’s good of you to come,” Dad said, his voice deepening.
I looked at Dad. The only other time I’d heard his voice drop like that was when he caught Billy Taylor kissing me in the stairwell at school. Needless to say, Billy did not take me to the prom.
My parents regarded Peter like warriors sizing up an enemy. I wasn’t sure if they were sympathetic to my dislike or if they’d developed their own in the thirty seconds Peter was in the shop, but either way, I liked it.
I fixed my hair under my hat and didn’t bother to hide my pleasure as I watched the faceoff. Thank God for parents.
My smugness vanished and shock took over when they suddenly began acting as though he was a rock star, their eyes wide, giant grins, heads nodding as if they were all telepathically communicating. No one should be this happy to see Peter. They weren’t this happy when I arrived.
“What the hell? What’s going on here?” I asked.
“Lucia, behave.” Mom frowned.
Ignoring me, the three of them began chatting about the job with all its travel requirements.
“Peter, we know you’ll keep her safe, won’t you?” Mom asked, her tone more commanding than inquisitive.
Dad rested his hand on Peter’s shoulder, keeping a firm grip.
“Yes, Mrs. DiComano, until my last breath.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I’ve been traveling since I was born. You brought me to the US from Italy when I was three days old. I haven’t stopped since. I’ve traveled to third world countries alone and been perfectly fine. Now, you’re asking him, my junior, to keep me safe? Have you lost it?” Peter shuffled to the left as I barreled between him and Dad. “Until your last breath? Give me a break.”
“Lucia, you know I’ve never liked you traveling alone. Now that you have someone to look out for you, I feel better.” Mom patted Peter’s arm. “He’s strong and smart. He’ll keep you safe. And, I think he has friends that…well, they’ll help.” She plucked a piece of lint from his jacket, then squeezed his arm.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her away from him. She always liked people, but she didn’t fawn over anyone but me, and she’d never responded this way to a stranger. “He’s all of twenty-two years old. He’s never been anywhere or done anything. I’m babysitting him, and he’s not exactly a superhero who would scare off attackers.” I motioned at Peter.
Taller than my five-feet-four-inches, though only by six inches or so, Peter was muscular, but trim. Certainly handsome, with fantastic blue eyes and blond hair, but he was still a baby, one I had been forced into grooming.
More unsettling, his skin often seemed odd, changing throughout the day. Usually, he started the day looking like he had the flu, but by the end he appeared to have recovered; the dark circles under his eyes faded, and his skin went from gray to almost luminescent.
Either he was weird or I was seeing things, which made me hate him even more. Mom should not like him.
His eyes twinkled, and the corner of his mouth ticked upward as he watched me guiding Mom away from him. I snickered, and that stupid, full-on cocky grin returned.
“We should get going if we’re going to reach Boston in time to meet Elizabeth and Alexander before the party,” he said. “Mr. and Mrs. DiComano, you have nothing to fear. Lucia is safe with me and my friends.”
“I hope so.” Dad’s brows lowered.
“Yes, sir.” Peter fidgeted with his gloves.
Mom wriggled her hand from mine and leaned toward Peter. “Thank you.” She kissed his cheek.
She could have knocked me over with a feather at that point.
“Be careful, Lucia. Remember, you are the light of our lives, always the light,” Dad said, kissing my cheek.
“I know, Dad.” If I hadn’t heard him say that a million times, I hadn’t heard it once.
Mom hugged me. “In your travels keep your eyes open, my girl. Pay attention to what’s around you.” She squeezed me tighter than usual. “Ti amo, piccola mia.”
“Ti amo, Mom. Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes, honey.” She stepped into Dad’s embrace.
“Are you sure?” I asked, studying the two of them. Their eyes held something different. Relief? Their faces relaxed, tender smiles curving their lips.
“We’re fine. We’ll see you soon, honey,” Dad said.
“Let’s go, Lu. We don’t want to hit any traffic,” Peter said.
I spun to tell him to shut up and had to turn completely around. He was across the room, holding the door open.
“How did you do that?”
“Do what?” he asked.
“Get across the room that fast.” I snatched my laptop bag and the Gemma file, heading toward the door.
“I don’t know what you mean. I just walked the few steps.”
“It’s more than twenty feet,” I countered.
“Bye, honey,” Mom said. “Take good care, Peter.”
“La tenero al sicuro,” Peter said as he opened the door.
I waved to my parents and closed the door, then reeled back to scowl at him. “You’re going to keep me safe? I’m going to shove you in front of a bus.” I stomped past him.