From my recent release “Alchemy of Shadows”.
An 800 year old alchemist collides full-tilt into 21st century college life.
I pulled into the parking lot for the apartment complex near downtown Indianapolis about ten o’clock. I removed a new flashlight from where I kept it tucked between the seat cushions—out of the way but still handy—and dropped it in my pocket. Two magnesium flares followed. I still did not know what had happened to my previous flashlight and wanted another way of making a lot of light.
I had picked up the keys to the small student apartment the previous weekend, a one-bedroom that would have been luxurious in my youth but served for a struggling college student in the present.
I opened the trunk and removed the first of my two large suitcases. I hauled the suitcase around to the front entrance to the apartment building and set it down so I could open the door.
The sound of music blared from inside, some current fashion involving dissonant chords and excessive volume. Alcohol fumes wafted out the door to assault my nose.
The noise increased as I climbed the stairs, dragging the suitcase behind me.
As I reached the second floor, the door to the stairwell banged open and a young woman barged through it. She wore shorts with big pockets on the thighs, a style called cargo shorts and a T-shirt tied under her breasts, leaving her midsection bare. Sneakers of a garish purple covered her feet. No socks. I could not see her face as her head was turned to look back through the doorway but her hair fell in thick brown waves to just below her shoulders. Her right hand braced open the door while her left held a red plastic cup.
“Be right back, Vonnie,” She said.
“Whatevs,” someone in the hallway beyond the door, a woman by the sound of the voice, said.
The young woman stepped clear of the doorway, letting the door close behind her before turning round to face forward. Only my own prompt step back prevented her from colliding with me.
“Whoa!” Some brown liquid sloshed out of her cup. “Oops. My bad.”
Waves of dark hair framed her olive-brown face. Her eyes were the color of dark chocolate. A subtle use of gloss darkened and added shine to her lips. I saw no other makeup. Her T-shirt was blazoned with the logo of some overly loud band barely discernible above the knot. Like most people, she was taller than me, but only by a few inches.
I stood stunned. She was absolutely the loveliest young woman I had seen in decades.
“It’s okay,” I said at last.
“You here for the party?” She frowned. “No. Wait. Just moving in?”
“That’s an awfully big load. Hang on.”
She opened the door a crack and stuck her head through. “Hey, Jeff. Fresh meat. Could use some help with his luggage.”
She pulled back and another head appeared in the doorway, several inches higher than hers. The man had likewise had olive brown skin, his a shade darker than the young woman, his eyes a shade lighter. He wore his hair cropped short. The resemblance of his features to hers spoke of close family ties.
“Come on, Becki, they’re just about to start…”
“Don’t care. Guy needs a hand. Look at him. That suitcase is almost as big as he is.”
She looked at me and an expression of chagrin crossed her face. “Oh, I’m sorry. No offense.”
I forced a lopsided smile. “None taken.”
“So, come on, Jeff. Help the guy out.”
She grinned. “I’ll owe you a solid.”
Jeff’s eyebrows raised. “You’ll owe me? What about him?”
“I’m asking. He’s being entirely too shy to ask.”
She was wrong. I am not shy. I simply choose to keep a distance between myself and people so very much younger than I am. Saves trouble in the long run.
Jeff pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped through. “Fine.”
Jeff stood a bit over six feet. I could not guess his weight with the baggy sweatshirt sporting the logo for the IUPUI Jaguars—dressing for comfort rather than appearance.—but he was big. Despite the differences in their sizes, there seemed to be a certain similarity in their faces. The shape of the nose, the curve of the lower lip, they shared that.
“So,” Jeff said, nodding at my suitcase. “Need help with that?”
“No,” I said, my voice soft, “I’m fine.”
Jeff grinned. “I insist. Becki will beat me with a stick if I don’t.”
Becki punched Jeff in the arm.
I found myself returning his grin. “Wouldn’t want that. So, please.”
I dragged the suitcase up the last step and set it on the landing.
Jeff reached out a huge hand. I let go of the handle. Jeff picked up the suitcase as though it were empty. He paused for a moment then turned to Becki. “That loser boyfriend of yours called. He said he’d be late.”
“Hey, I calls ’em as I sees ’em.” He turned to me. “Which room?”
“Three Oh Eight,” I said.
Becki punched Jeff in the arm again.
“Where are your manners? Introduce yourself.” She turned to me. “I’m Rebecca Pierce, Becki to my friends. This is my brother Jeff, dumbass to people who know him.” She grinned.
“I’m Adrian Jaeger,” I said. “Ms. Pierce. Mr. Pierce.”
“Oooh, all formal,” Becki grinned. “Don’t be silly. Ms. Pierce is my mother. Becki.”
“I dunno,” Jeff said. “I kind of like ‘Mr. Pierce.’”
“Be nice, Jeff,” Becki said. “Or I’ll tell Mom about Candy.”
I watched the byplay with amusement. I’d seen so many dysfunctional families over the years, so many youngsters steeped in selfishness that it was refreshing to see a brother and sister that not only openly cared for each other but were kind and helpful to a complete stranger.
Jeff put his foot on the first step of the stairs up. “Three Oh Eight is up here.”
I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.