Before I share the teaser for the next book in the Night Horde SoCal series, I need to warn you that this teaser is a MAJOR SPOILER for important events in Fire & Dark, Book Three (released today).
I’m not joking; it’s a really big spoiler.
So if you haven’t read Fire & Dark to the end, you should reconsider your choice to read any more of this post.
Okay, any unwanted spoilage at this point is officially not my fault. 🙂
The next book is called Dream & Dare, and it’s Hoosier and Bibi’s story. Which means that it is told predominantly in flashback. Hoosier and Bibi are going through some important stuff in the series present, though, so that present grounds the story of their relationship.
As I’ve written the books of the Night Horde SoCal, I have come to love Hoosier and Bibi deeply. That usually means that my muse (I think most readers know by now that I call her Lola) wants to do mean things to them. I let her, because the way they come through their troubles makes me love them even more. Lola did mean things to Hoosier and Bibi in Fire & Dark. In Dream & Dare, they come through it—and we learn that they’ve been coming through together for decades.
Because it is mainly set in the past, Dream & Dare does not push the series narrative forward very much (just a few months, with very little development of the club story). For that reason, I’m calling it a “Side Trip,” even though it is a novel-length story.
I plan to release Dream & Dare on Saturday, 20 June 2015, with cover reveal and preorder announced a couple of weeks ahead of that. Like Fire & Dark, Dream & Dare will be in wide release right away: Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, iTunes, etc. And paperback.
Without further ado, the first chapter of Dream & Dare:
Dressed more conservatively than usual, Faith hooked a large, black portfolio over her shoulder and paused in the arch that separated the family room from the front hall. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, Beebs. Thanks for this.”
Bibi shifted Lana in her lap and pulled her hair out of the baby’s fist. “It’s fine, Faith. Hooj’s in therapy this mornin’, anyway, and I know he don’t like me watchin’. Even without words, he makes that clear.”
“I’ll be back in plenty of time for you to be there by lunch. It’s just…if I get this commission…”
She had submitted a proposal to do a sculpture for a new building at California State University-San Bernardino. Though Faith didn’t normally enjoy doing commission work, it paid better than the art she made for its own sake. And this commission, with its theme of ‘discovery,’ had her more excited than usual. She had made the final round and had an interview with the selection committee. Hence her business suit and sensible pumps.
“Honey, I know. He’s gonna be at that place a long time. We all gotta live around it. So go. I got the kids. Tuck and I’ll take good care of this little monkey.” She turned and smiled at the four-year-old sitting on the floor at her feet, going through a stack of books he’d brought over. “Right, Tuckster?”
Tucker looked up at Bibi and then at Faith. “Yeah. We’re gonna read stories.”
Faith bent down and tousled her son’s golden-brown hair. “Thank you, buddy. You always take good care of your sister.”
Sitting up proudly, Tucker nodded. “Yeah. I’m her pro-decker. Like Pa says.”
“Her protector,” Faith laughed. “Exactly so. I’ll be back soon.”
With that, Faith turned and headed out, ducking the affections of Virgil, their big mutt, on her way out the front door. As always when Faith or Demon left and didn’t take him, Virgil stood for a second, staring at the door, his head cocked and his one upright ear at full attention. Then, with a whine, he trotted to the front window and nosed the sheers out of his way. He watched until Faith had driven out of sight. Then he barked once.
Lana startled and looked over Bibi’s shoulder, dropping her pacifier from her mouth.
“Virgie!” Tuck scolded. “Don’t scare Lala!”
The dog whined again and then went to lie on the rug near the door. He’d stay there until Tucker moved out of his sight. Then he’d follow the kid. Bibi smiled at the dog. It was hard to take care of your people when they wouldn’t all just be still and stick together. She knew.
Having finally selected a book, Tucker climbed up on the sofa next to Bibi and Lana. Lana, almost nine months old now, reached over and grabbed a handful of Tucker’s hair. He leaned close and let her pull.
She was a grabby little thing. She was crawling, and beginning to stare longingly at tables and other furniture when she motored over to them, so standing and cruising wasn’t far off. Though she was a preternaturally quiet child, who rarely cried for long and only vocalized in sweet little songs and murmurs, she was also stubborn, and when she got moving, Bibi didn’t think anybody was going to be able to stop her. There was a dervish lurking behind that china-doll face.
Tucker had been badly delayed in all his developmental stages for the first couple of years of his life, but he was a smart little man, and in the two-and-a-half years since then, he’d caught up with his peers. He’d been a terrified, silent, still baby. Now he was an active, curious, chatty little boy who already thought seriously about the way things should be.
“What book did you pick, buddy?”
Tucker showed her the cover—full of brightly colored dinosaurs. A blue stegosaurus in the center wore a yellow backpack. The title was Stanley Goes to School. They’d read that book at least a hundred times. Lana seemed to like it as much as Tucker did. “Okay. You want me to read, or you?”
“I want to read. Lala likes it when I read.”
“Yeah, she does. So do I.” Tucker couldn’t read yet, but that didn’t slow him down at all. Though he knew the story the words told, and probably had it perfectly memorized, that didn’t slow him down, either. When he ‘read,’ he told his own story, and it was different every time. He wasn’t Faith’s natural child, but Bibi thought his elaborate imagination was due to her artistic nurturing.
His gentle manner with his baby sister, the way he took his ‘job’ as her ‘pro-decker’ so seriously—that was his daddy, shining right through him.
Bibi put her arm around the child who was the closest thing she had to a grandson and snuggled the child who was the closest thing she had to a granddaughter. For a few minutes, she set thoughts and worries about her husband aside and focused on this bright spot in the gloom of her current life.
Tucker opened the book. “Once-a-time,” he began. Bibi bent down and kissed his head.
Just before lunch, Bibi got to the San Gabriel Center, where Hoosier had been transferred a couple of weeks after Christmas.
Walking through the front entrance, she sighed at how much time, how many years, she’d spent visiting people she loved at this very place: Muse’s sister, Carrie, who’d died here after years in a persistent vegetative state. Faith’s mother and her own best friend, Margot, who lived here in the dementia wing and would someday die here. And now her husband of forty-two years.
Who’d damn well better not die here.
He was in their ‘Rehabilitation and Recovery Wing,’ which focused on ‘restorative care’ for ‘shorter-term’ patients. The hope was that Hoosier would someday come home. Six days a week, he had some kind of therapy: physical, occupational, cognitive, or speech. He’d suffered a catastrophic brain injury in the fire that had destroyed their home, their neighborhood, their lives, almost everything but their very existence. He’d also been badly burned, inside and out. He’d been comatose for almost two months, and when he’d woken, just before Christmas, he’d been unable to do almost anything except be awake.
He had to learn again to walk, to talk, to read, to write, to feed himself, to clothe himself. That first day, all he’d been able to do was to move his arms and legs when asked.
So he’d understood that much, and he’d had that much control of his body.
And he’d remembered Bibi immediately. She’d seen it in his eyes. After a day or two, he’d known their son, Connor, too.
He was in there. Her Hooj, the strong, wise, intuitive man she’d loved almost her entire adult life. She could see him in the beautiful, deep-brown eyes that stared back into hers. She could see her man, and she could see his furious desperation to be freed of whatever held him back. He was trapped inside a body that had forgotten how to understand him.
In the month since he’d woken, he had made some strides. He could feed himself again—not always tidily, but independently. Sometimes, he laughed in his usual way, a rough, subdued chuckle that said he knew so much more than anyone else did. And he was learning to walk again, to gain real control over his body.
But he couldn’t talk, and he didn’t seem to know anyone but her and Connor. Not even Faith and Demon. Not even Tucker and Lana.
When she talked to him, he watched her closely, and she saw that love and need in his eyes. But she didn’t see comprehension. He reacted to her, not to the things she had to say.
It was like they were separated by a thick glass wall—transparent but impenetrable.
But she came every day. She sat and held his hand. She ate with him. She made his room comfortable. She stayed with him. She would always stay with him.
On her way down the corridor, she saw Dr. Philpott, the neurosurgeon, coming out of Hoosier’s room. Philpott wasn’t Hoosier’s primary physician here at the center, and Bibi hadn’t known he was coming. If she had, she would have asked Faith to make other arrangements for the kids, because she would have wanted to be here.
He was an apparently renowned surgeon, but as a human being, Philpott was an asshole. He kept forgetting that there was a living person attached to the brain he was in charge of, or that the people who loved that living person had feelings and worries of their own.
Bibi routinely called him on his shit, so she wasn’t at all surprised to see him look disappointed to meet her in the hallway. “Mrs. Elliott.”
“Doctor. Were you scheduled to come today?”
That was it. No explanation about why he’d been to see her husband unannounced. “No? There a problem?”
“Dr. Mitson asked me to check on him. Your husband isn’t making the cognitive progress he should be. The skull needs to be repaired, but the anesthesia for that procedure could further compromise cognition.”
A piece of Hoosier’s skull had been removed to give room for his brain to swell and recover, or something like that, and they’d implanted it in his abdomen. It was all mysterious and macabre. But Bibi knew that they were anxious to put Humpty Dumpty back together. So was she. What Philpott was monotoning, though, made no sense. “And what the hell does that all mean?”
He sighed, and Bibi could see him pulling up his manners. “Your husband is seventy-three years old. Prolonged anesthesia at that age can cause substantial cognitive losses. It can trigger dementia, even in patients without no previous brain trauma. It’s important that we restore the fragment as soon as we can, but we’d hoped that he would at least be speaking again before we did so. From what we can tell, his memory and contextual associations are still weak. We’re running out of time to wait.”
Gritting her teeth against the vitriol she wanted to unleash on this superior asshat, Bibi took a breath. “I’m askin’ again, Doc. What does it mean? For Hooj? For me? What can I do?”
“It means that we are going to have to restore his skull soon, and the more improvement he can make before we do, the better his chances of recovering…everything. What you can do is try to help him. Talk to him. Help him remember. Help him…” Philpott stopped and looked away, past her. When his eyes met hers again, he looked pleased, like he’d thought of something. “He needs to have something to say. Try this. Did you have a good marriage? Happy?”
Jesus God, this son of a bitch needed a good, hard slap. “We do have a good marriage. We’re still havin’ it. Yeah, we’re happy. Why’s that your business?”
“Tell him the story of it. Like he’s someone who wasn’t there. Tell him all of it. He responds most and best to you. I’ve heard you talking with him. You tell him about your life now. He doesn’t remember that life. Try to access his most important memories. Lead him back to the present.”
Bibi stared at the doctor. Never before had he said anything so metaphorical before. And for the first time, he’d said something that made sense to her. She thought she understood what she could do for her man.
But God, it would hurt. Because what if that life was simply lost to him? If it was lost to him, it would be lost to her, too.
The life they’d lived these forty-two years, she’d made herself ready for the day she’d have to carry on without him, the day he didn’t come home. But she’d never prepared for days like these, when he was just on the other side of that thick, glass wall. Tantalizingly close, but beyond her reach.
“Okay, Doc. I’ll try.”
Philpott nodded brusquely and gave an awkward pat to her arm. “Good. I’ll be in touch.”
When he had gone down the hall and turned the corner, Bibi went into Hoosier’s room.
Though the thought of losing even more of him terrified her more than she could think, she would be glad when his skull was repaired. The burn scars didn’t bother her. The cannula he needed to wear all the time to get enough oxygen barely registered in her notice, but even after three months, she had not become used to the sight of his oddly sloping head, or the ungainly lump in his belly.
He was sitting up in bed. The television was on, as it always was. He watched, but he never reacted to what he saw, and he didn’t seem to care what program was on. When she came in, though, he turned to the door. His eyes lit up, and he smiled the smile that was the first thing she’d ever known of him.
Remembering that night, so very long ago, when she’d turned away from the bar in a basement club in East Hollywood and nearly collided with a leather-clad chest, she smiled. She could still feel his hands over hers as he’d steadied the beers she’d been holding. And that smile had been just above eye-level. Hoosier wasn’t quite six feet tall, but Bibi herself was no Amazon, so she’d had to tilt her head back to see the face holding up that knowing smirk.
It had been a good face. Those dark eyes. The straight nose. The dark hair, a little bit shaggy. He’d managed both to stick out and fit in in that grimy punk club.
Now, in this unfortunate present, Bibi went to the bed and planted a soft, lingering kiss on her old man’s lips. He pursed them, all he would do to kiss her back these days. But when she straightened up and moved to set her bag down, he grabbed her hand and held on.
His eyes fixed on hers. He was pleading. She could almost hear him, in the distance, deep inside his head, shouting to be freed. Begging for her help.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she let her bag just drop to the floor, and she patted his hand. “You know what, darlin’?” With her free hand, she dropped the side rail. When she was seated on the side of the bed, facing him, she lifted his hand, roughened and gnarled by a long, hard, physical life, spotted with age and sun, and now scarred by fire, and kissed it. His rings were gone, even his wedding ring. They were all in a little bowl on the dresser in Faith and Demon’s guestroom, where she lived.
Because she was homeless. They had lost everything.
Except each other. And their family.
Thinking of little Tucker, so fierce and protective already, so resolute and serious, thinking of how quickly he’d grown and caught up once he’d been allowed to live in love and be nurtured by family—and how his father had been healed in the same way—Bibi smiled. “You know what, darlin’? I am goin’ to tell you a story today. It’s the best story I know.” She kissed his hand again and squeezed it hard.
“Once-a-time,” she began.
©2015 Susan Fanetti