Rachel sat down and put her head in her hands. “I don’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe this is happening … My God!”
“You have now entered the third and final stage of your journey, Rachel. I am your last companion.”
She laughed bitterly as she glanced up. “You seem just like the other two. Do you have a name?”
“The Specter of Things to Come.”
“Nice. Friendly. I don’t suppose we’ll have very much to look at so our time together will be short.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Oh, c’mon!” Rachel exclaimed. “Right now, I am upstairs making love with Derek Rayne and the entire Legacy is threatened by me. Do you honestly mean to tell me that I’m gonna see the error of my ways now? That I’ll apologize, give up witchcraft, lead an honest, decent life an’ never do anyone any harm? Is the Legacy going to let me off so easily?” She laughed again. “I don’t think so.”
“There is another possibility you haven’t considered,” the Specter commented.
“Really. An’ what’s that?”
“That the Legacy is destroyed.”
Rachel stared at her. “Am I that powerful ..?”
“Your grandfather was Joshua Cantwell.”
“My God … ” Rachel repeated on a whisper. “This is a nightmare. I never wanted this. I wanted Patrick an’ Connor to live …”
“And they have.”
Rachel couldn’t say anything. She just felt a huge, tearing hole open in her chest, and all her hopes and dreams fell into it. If Patrick had lived, she could be the one to finally succeed in doing what so many others had attempted – destroy the Legacy. It was too much of a price to pay. For the first time in her life, Rachel found that she was glad Patrick had been killed. Instantly, she felt a towering wave of guilt. There could be no balance in this. It was either one or the other and there was no margin for compromise.
Tears fell from her eyes, her loyalty to one man and her loyalty to one organization both in shreds.
The Specter moved to kneel before her. “Why do you cry?”
“Because .. I love him and I never wanted to think, even for a second, that I’d be pleased that Patrick died. How could I think that? He was my husband … ”
“Didn’t Derek tell you once that you were meant to join the Legacy? That the death of your husband and your son was meant to happen? Some things cannot be avoided, Rachel. The reason you have questioned yourself, over and over, is because you were never sure. You never quite believed that the Legacy was your future. Now you are learning the truth of those words, and the truth is often painful. It is still no less the truth.”
Rachel leaned forward. “Just tell me this is a dream and that I’ll wake up and find my life is what it should be.”
“You will wake up and this will be only a memory and, then, only if you choose to remember.” The Specter didn’t move. “One other thing you can learn from this experience.”
“What?” Rachel asked quietly.
“Let go of the past. You hold onto it, and it is your anchor. It drags you back and denies you happiness in the present and the future. Patrick is dead and that cannot be changed. Others live. Others who would love you if you gave them the chance.”
“It’s difficult,” Rachel whispered. “I feel so guilty.”
“That is because you have never let him go. You still mourn him.”
“Is that wrong?”
“Isn’t it better to remember the past yet not live in it? Isn’t it better to live in the present?”
Rachel wiped her eyes. “I don’t know. I can only try.” She straightened and the Specter rose to her feet. “I guess we should get on with this.”
“If you’re ready.”
“Putting it off isn’t going to make much difference. I’ll still have to see it.”
The scene shifted. Rachel hoisted herself onto one elbow to gaze into the sleeping face of her lover. Derek twitched, his eyes moving rapidly under the closed lids. He frowned several times.
“A bad dream?” Rachel asked the Specter. “I bet it isn’t. I bet .. he’s trying to fight the spell and he can only do it when he’s asleep. She can’t influence him while he’s unconscious.”
Rachel smiled as she bent to kiss him. Derek woke, his body tensing, then relaxing.
“Bad dream?” she asked.
“Why do you say that?”
“You were frowning, twitching,” she replied.
“I can’t think why. I don’t recall dreaming.” He glanced at the clock and groaned. “I have to go.”
“You could stay,” Rachel suggested, running one lazy finger along his arm to his shoulder.
“I could, but I can’t.”
“You could try harder,” she said, a slight edge to her voice. “It’s New Year’s Day. I don’t want to spend it on my own.”
“Rachel, I have responsibilities. You know that,” Derek sighed. “I wish I could stay here, with you; I want nothing more than to be able to do that. But they are already suspicious of the amount of time I spend here. I don’t want to make it worse. You understand, don’t you?”
Rachel turned away in disgust at the pleading in his voice. “That isn’t the Derek Rayne I know,” she told the Specter. “Even when faced with total disaster, the man does not beg.”
“This Derek is under a powerful enchantment,” the Specter pointed out. “He is trying very hard to keep the wolves from her door because he loves her.”
Rachel glanced back at the bed. “But .. does he love her, or is she making him love her?”
“You could ask that of any man and any woman, Rachel. Love is a natural form of magic, isn’t it? It’s the combination of many different factors and facets which first trigger attraction and then cause it to mature into something more. You know that. Why do you ask for my approval?”
“I’m not,” Rachel said quickly. “You’re just a .. a ghost and God only knows who sent you to give me this gift.”
“Yes, Derek, I do understand,” Rachel replied. “When can I see you again?”
“I’ll try to get away tonight but it may be late.”
“I’ll be right here,” she smiled, and reclined back on her pillows. “Is Patrick still living at your house?”
hesitated. “Why do you ask that?”
“Just curious. Are you jealous, my love?”
“Madly,” Derek responded, smiling.
The scene moved on and Rachel felt her heart twist in a mixture of emotions. Fear and affection. It was an odd blend.
The study held four people – Nick, Alex, another man, and Derek Rayne. Nick was on his feet and he looked angry.
“We didn’t need to follow you,” he said, his eyes blazing. “We don’t need to tag your vehicle. We know where you go, Derek. What we don’t understand is how you let this happen.”
Derek’s nostrils flared. “My private life is none of your concern.”
“When it affects us, it is our concern,” the unknown man countered.
“Who’s that?” Rachel inquired.
“Dr Roger Nairn. He joined when Julia died.”
“But she died in Ireland,” Rachel frowned. “If I never had reason to go there –”
“She died in the United States. An investigation went wrong. When it is someone’s time to die, Rachel, they die. Deliberately, accidentally, of natural causes, anywhere in the world, it makes no difference. When it is their time, they will go.”
“How does it affect you?” Derek inquired.
“C’mon, Derek, anyone with eyes can see you’re under her spell,” Alex replied. “Even when you’re here, you’re with her. You were supposed to be helping her. Instead .. well, I don’t know what you’re doing.”
“But we got a damned good idea,” Nick added darkly and Derek flushed, confirming his guilt.
“It isn’t your fault,” Roger went on. “She’s enchanted you, just like she did her husband. We managed to free Patrick Corrigan and get the children out. She switched her attention to you and it could be a two pronged revenge attempt – one, to get back at Patrick, and, two, to get back at us. London house is very concerned. They’re sending in an expert to put this entire situation right.”
Derek paled. “You’ve told London ..?”
“You expected us to do nothing?” Nick demanded. “You’re the Precept here and you can’t think for yourself. That leaves us all wide open, and the whole Legacy is under threat. One wrong word from you, she’ll know everything and that’ll blow us outta the water. Maybe you don’t give a damn what happens to us, or this house, or the Legacy, but we do. If you can’t help yourself, Derek, we’ll do it for you.”
Rachel threw up her hands. “Y’see? I told you this would happen! When a Legacy member is threatened, everyone in that house pulls together an’ closes ranks to protect that person. When an entire house is at risk, the Legacy itself closes ranks. All that .. is gonna be aimed at me.”
“Not you, Rachel.”
“Right now, I feel like it’s me,” Rachel said, hugging her shoulders and shivering. “I feel .. like I was never a part of this, like I’m on the outside looking in.”
“And is that a bad thing? You’ve asked yourself what would it be like, haven’t you? How is this making you feel?”
“Sad. Like .. I’ve missed out on so much.”
“Yet you are the one who has questioned the most.”
“I know! Maybe I was wrong to do that,” Rachel confessed. “Maybe .. the gains outweigh the sacrifices. I just .. never thought about what I’d gained from being a member because it was there, all around me, all the time. Each loss, each sacrifice .. seemed to stand out. I guess it’s like on the news. They tell us two hundred people died in a plane crash. They don’t say so many hundreds of thousands arrived safely at their destinations. It’s only now, when I’m removed from it an’ standing outside looking in, that I can appreciate what I have gained, and what it feels like to be .. protected by the Legacy.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “And that is a gift I am very grateful to receive.”
“Rachel, one of your finest qualities is your refusal to immediately bow down to fate. There are some things which are inevitable but most things can be resisted, or at least challenged. Not to do so would be giving up on life. The thing to remember is the point where you cease to challenge and start to accept. You have fought the acceptance of your membership past that point. Maybe it’s only now that you have really begun to accept it as inevitable.”
Rachel smiled gently. “Maybe you’re right.”
The scene moved on, and several months by the change in the seasons. Rachel and Patrick’s divorce was made final and custody of the children was awarded to him. Rachel had visitation rights but she wasn’t permitted to see her children unsupervised or unaccompanied. To her embarrassment and humiliation, Patrick hadn’t mentioned the real reason why he was insisting on this, instead he had told the court of Rachel’s previous problems with alcohol and tranquilizers and he’d made it sound recent and as if she still had a daily struggle to stay sober and clean. It was grossly unfair and she couldn’t believe he could do something so underhand and nasty to her.
Neither could Rachel who watched herself go to pieces for a few days. Her anger at the magic and the witchcraft and the sheer stupidity of getting involved with it at all vanished and she felt her heart twist and ache with sympathy. This woman, approaching her mid-forties, was alone and hurting. She’d risked and she’d lost everything. For those few days, she was simply Rachel Corrigan, divorced wife and mother of three children now denied to her. Witchcraft, the reason she had lost her way, was the last thing on her mind as she sat alone and wept.
“I know it sounds cruel but .. if she can just stay like this .. get over the pain without falling back into the habit .. she stands a chance,” Rachel murmured. “I hope she does. I hope she finds the strength to throw away the crutch and stand on her own feet.”
Derek arrived and held her as she sobbed on his shoulder. The hunted, haunted gleam in his eyes started to fade as the effect of the spell began to dwindle.
“Rachel, you have to see it was for the best,” he murmured into her hair. “We couldn’t allow your children to become exposed to – ”
Her head reared and she pulled away from him. “Exposed to what?” she snapped. “To the power I control?”
Derek’s eyes dulled again as the enchantment strengthened. “I’m sorry, Rachel.”
“It was your idea that I not be permitted to see my children?”
He winced in pain. “I didn’t know you when I suggested it. I didn’t love you like I do now.”
She slapped his face. “How could you?” she flared.
Derek folded in half, unable to breathe, as the pain screamed thru his body. Then it stopped, as suddenly as it had begun. Rachel ran a hand over his sweating forehead.
“Derek, there’s something I have to tell you,” she whispered. His agonized eyes rose to meet hers. “I’ve changed,” Rachel went on. “I’m different now. And it’s because of you.”
He swallowed. “What do you mean?”
“I can see things. Visions. I never could before. But you have the sight, don’t you? I think it’s because we’re lovers. You’ve given me the gift as well. I’ve seen so much when we make love. What’s the Legacy ..?”
Derek paled and shook his head.
She smiled and kissed his numb lips. “Tell me, my love. Tell me everything. You know you can’t resist me … ”
“Is that possible?” Rachel murmured, staring at the Specter.
“Anything’s possible, Rachel. Is it probable ..? I don’t think so but I’m not an expert. She could be telling the truth. She could be lying. Maybe he’s said something in his sleep. Maybe she’s used the magic to enhance latent psychic ability and make it work. Maybe just being near Derek has triggered the sight. After all, your daughter has it. She had to inherit it from someone.”
“And will he tell her?” Rachel asked stiffly.
“You know the answer to that.”
The scene moved on a few months. It was summer, and Rachel and the Specter found themselves back on Angel Island.
“Derek, this is an extremely grave development,” Paul Emery said. “Under any other circumstances, we could have you ejected from the Legacy. However, we understand that your actions were done under severe duress. In short, you had no choice.”
Derek sat in the library and Nick stood behind him, arms folded, guarding his Precept.
“The question is .. what do we do now?” Paul continued.
“Don’t hurt her,” Derek begged, starting up. Nick’s hand on his shoulder forced him back down.
Paul glanced at Nick who was shaking his head. “You see what we’ve had to deal with? He’s obsessed. He can’t break free, not on his own. And, now, she knows about us. It’s just a matter of time.”
Paul nodded slowly. “Derek, understand this is for your own good. Until this is over, Nick is acting Precept. We can’t take any chances on you, just temporarily. You have the run of this house, but, if you go outside, you must be accompanied and you will not be permitted to leave the island. Any letters you write will be read before they’re mailed and your phone calls will be monitored. Your contact with this woman must be terminated for the good of the Legacy.”
Defeated, Derek nodded.
“We can break the enchantment on Derek,” Paul said. “Isolation and distance will be the start. That’ll weaken the spell. Ongoing magic like this needs to be constantly refreshed.”
“What about Rachel Corrigan?” Nick asked in such a cold voice that Rachel, standing beside him, shivered and grew pale with fear. “I thought you were going to send in an expert to put this right.”
“I’ve brought her with me,” Paul said. “I’m sending her to deal with the Corrigan woman.”
Rachel began to shake her head.
“I hope she’s immune to witchcraft,” Nick commented.
“She’s immune to just about everything,” Paul responded. “Aquila.”
“Oh no … ” Rachel breathed.
Aquila entered the library. “What are my orders?”
“The address,” Paul murmured to Nick who handed a slip of paper to the woman. “Go there. Make sure her ability to practice this art is destroyed by whatever means necessary.”
Aquila nodded once, turned on her heel and walked out.
“That’s it,” Rachel announced in a flat voice. “I’m dead.”
“You fight to keep things the same when change would benefit you, and yet you give up so easily when there is little need,” the Specter commented. “Perhaps it is your judgment of the situation which needs reassessment.”
“With the Legacy under threat and Aquila ordered in to deal with it .. how can you even imagine I’m gonna walk away from this?” Rachel wondered, amazed.
The scene moved, spinning around them and reforming to show Rachel in her kitchen, humming quietly to herself as she read a magazine. As the sound of the doorbell, she glanced at her watch, shook her head, then, curious, went to answer.
“Yes ..?” she frowned.
“I don’t know if I can watch this,” Rachel muttered.
“I must speak with you,” Aquila began.
“Do I know you?” Rachel asked.
“Courage, Rachel,” the Specter murmured.
“I have been sent here by Derek Rayne’s associates.”
Rachel eased back. “I see. I don’t understand why I should defend myself to you but I love him – ”
“I’m sure you do but I will not discuss my business with you out here on the street.”
“Then come on in,” Rachel invited, smiling coolly.
“Your art will not work on me,” Aquila warned as she stepped over the threshold. “Do not attempt to cast any spells to deflect me from my course.”
“You sound sure of yourself,” Rachel commented. “I’m very powerful, you know.”
“So am I,” Aquila responded. “In a contest of force, you will lose.”
Rachel, unused to the direct language and a little uneasy by now, led the way into the kitchen. “Well .. what do you have to say?” she asked, hugging her shoulders.
“You must end the enchantment you have put on Derek Rayne. You must cease working in the art.”
Rachel laughed softly. “Or you’ll do what?”
“Nothing?” Rachel exclaimed, glancing at the Specter. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing,” Rachel echoed. “Then why don’t I just continue?”
“You don’t understand. You can end the enchantment of your own .. free will, or I can break it. He will be forever beyond your reach. You may try to effect revenge upon him, his associates, his organization, and you will fail. Every spell you cast aimed at them will be returned – increased in power by a factor of ten – to harm you. I can do nothing to hurt you but, by protecting them, I can ensure you hurt yourself. I can keep you confined inside this building. I can do many things – ”
“But you can’t hurt me,”
“You are not evil, only dangerous. Stupid, impulsive, selfish, but not evil. The enchantment you have cast was not thru spite or malice, or to bind his soul and give it to the darkness. It was thru loneliness and fear. Those are not evil qualities.”
Rachel sat down suddenly. The verdict, delivered in a flat, toneless voice, had hit home with a vengeance.
“My husband had an affair. He was going to leave me … And then, I couldn’t stop, y’know? When Derek came to help Patrick, I fell in love with him and it got stronger when Derek tried to help me. He was .. so kind, so generous with his time. I couldn’t bear to lose him an’ I knew I would when he believed I was free. I wanted him to love me as much as I loved him.”
“Now you must release him,” Aquila said. “You must give up the art.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Rachel admitted.
“You can,” Rachel urged, leaning forward over the table.
Aquila studied her thru narrowed eyes. “You appear to believe you have a choice. You don’t.”
“Telling me to stop is like .. telling me to cut off an arm or a leg!”
“Perhaps you need an incentive,” Aquila suggested. She angled her head. “A dome now surrounds you. An impermeable shell. You can still breathe, function, be a regular person, but any attempt to work magic will not penetrate the dome. In other words, no spell will work. Any attempt to break thru will only strengthen the dome. If you wish it to disappear, it will dissipate with time and by not being fed. In possibly thirty years, if left alone, it will have gone. Is that enough of an incentive for you?”
Rachel stared, her mouth opening in shock. “You can’t do this to me!”
“It’s done,” Aquila stated. “Live with it.”
“I know about the Legacy!”
Aquila raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “Threats do not work on me either. Neither does blackmail. If you reveal any secret you have learned, you will have to deal with me and I will not negotiate with you again.”
“You call this negotiation?” Rachel raged, rising so fast the chair toppled over.
“You are a doctor. You have the means to support yourself honestly. I suggest you do so.”
With a tortured shriek, Rachel flung out a hand and spit arcane words. Nothing happened for a split second then she froze in agony as the spell rebounded and struck her.
“That just added about five years to your sentence,” Aquila remarked, and walked out.
Rachel couldn’t stop grinning. “I never expected that. I thought I was dead. I honestly believed I was going to watch myself die. And, now, I’m free .. in a weird kinda way. I can’t do any more magic. This is great!” She turned to the Specter. “Thank you.”
“I have done nothing, Rachel, except be your companion thru the future.”
“You’ve done more than that. I’ve learned so much. I really feel .. I have a fresh chance to live. And, maybe, I can get Patrick back. Be a family again. Oh, I know, there’s a lot of work to be done. I have to show him that I’m worthy of his trust an’ that isn’t gonna be easy. But at least, now, I’m standing on my own feet The crutch hasn’t so much been thrown away as forcibly removed. I’ve sunk as low as I can get. Now .. the only way is up.”
The Specter watched her. “Just now, you wept because the price was too great .. and, now, you would exchange your life for hers again. What exactly have you learned, Rachel? That your membership of the Legacy was inevitable and that the time has come to live in the present, or that everything you have experienced as a member of the Legacy was a mistake?”
Rachel hesitated. Her mouth worked for a moment, then she shrugged. “I can’t exchange places. I meant that .. she can get Patrick back, an’ her children. I will sleep easily at night knowing that .. in an alternate life, she is happy.”
“Does she look happy?” the Specter remarked.
Rachel turned and her good humor faded. “No. She looks miserable.”
Rachel sat at a long, empty wooden table in a bare comfortless room. Her skin was gray, her eyes dull, and her body was on the thin side.
“She’s lost her husband, her children, and her lover. And she’s lost the ability which made her feel in control of her life,” the Specter stated, “In exchange, she has uncertainty, doubt, fear and loneliness. But the Legacy is safe again.”
“It can be ruthless about protecting itself,” Rachel agreed. “But Aquila was right. She isn’t evil, just scared. More bad than anything. And .. now she can’t even be bad so she has no real reason to curl up an’ give in.”
The door opened and Connor, Kat and Casey entered with their father.
“Mom!” Connor exclaimed and ran to her.
“Hi, how are you?” Rachel asked, embracing him. The sparkle had returned to her eyes. “You’ve grown so much! I can’t believe you’re seventeen now. Kat, sweetie, you’re beautiful! Fifteen years old .. you make me feel ancient. And my baby … Come here, Casey. Give your Mommy a big hug.”
Casey clung to Patrick’s hand. “Go on, Casey. It’s okay,” Patrick murmured.
Reluctantly, the six year old crept forward. Rachel tried to hide the tears in her eyes but they fell anyway. Her daughter was scared of her and she was ashamed.
“Rachel,” Patrick nodded. “How are you?”
“I’m .. okay. Not good but okay. Hanging in there,” she replied.
“Good. I’m pleased.”
“I was wondering .. it’s the holidays soon. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Maybe we could – ”
“I don’t think so, Rachel,” he cut in.
“Daddy, please?” Kat asked quietly. “Just to visit? We don’t have to stay.”
“I’ll think about it, Kat,” he replied.
“Please, Patrick,” Rachel begged. “Please think about it. Even for an hour. I’d like to see the children open their gifts. Talking of which … ” She reached under the table and brought out a large bag. “Connor .. and Kat .. and Casey.”
She watched them rip away the paper and exclaim in delight. Patrick watched too, carefully, his expression carved in stone.
“Patrick, can I talk with you a moment?” she asked.
“Oh, Patrick, don’t give up on her,” Rachel pleaded. “She really needs a friend right now, an’ you were always her best friend.”
The Specter said nothing. This scene in a room at the courthouse was heart wrenching enough.
Rachel went to him and they retreated to a corner.
“What is it?” he asked, maintaining a distance.
“I know I did terrible things to you and I am sorry. Someone .. came to see me and she did something to me. Revenge, I guess. But it means I can’t – ”
“Rachel, it doesn’t make any difference,” he interrupted.
“No! No, listen, please!” She clutched at his sweater. “I can’t work any magic anymore! I can’t hurt you. I’m not a threat to anyone! Please, just .. give me a chance to prove it. I love you, Patrick. I always have.”
“You have a funny way of showing it,” he commented.
She couldn’t think of the words which might soften his heart and persuade him. “I do love you. I never wanted to lose you, that was all. I was foolish to do what I did. I just need .. a chance. I’ll be good, I promise. Whatever you say, I’ll do it.”
Patrick tore her hands away. “Rachel, the woman I married was bright, funny, strong. I wanted to spend my whole life with her. But I changed .. and then you changed. And, now … ” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, but you’re just pathetic. There’s no way we are ever getting back together. The kids and I have a new life now. Stop living in the past,” he told her.
She had gone white, her eyes brimming with tears of embarrassment. “Pathetic ..?” she whispered.
“Look at yourself. You’re a mess. You need help, Rachel. For God’s sake, go get it,” he hissed then stepped back. “Kids, c’mon! Visiting time’s over.”
“At least think about Christmas,” Rachel begged. “Please, Patrick. I can’t .. face it on my own.”
“Women do, all the time,” he said.
And then they were gone. Rachel dragged in a shuddering breath and collapsed to her knees, her heart broken and her life in pieces all around her.
The Specter was simply a facilitator, a mouthpiece and a mirror, and so she said nothing. Rachel Corrigan had to deal with this in her own way and she was a strong woman. She had seen people – men and women both – suffer emotional collapse and she knew she could cope. However, when the woman was Rachel Corrigan – even though she was aware that she was only watching this happen to a facsimile, an alternate Rachel – it was a lot harder. Knowing that she couldn’t interact with her at all made it almost impossible.
Rachel was silent for a long time, crouching down by the other woman, watching her, being as physically close as she could be, as if she could share some of her own strength.
Eventually, she staggered up and straightened her skirt, smoothed her hair and wiped her hands over her cheeks. Rachel looked totally drained.
“What’ll happen to her now?” Rachel asked as she also straightened. “She has nothing left. No one she can turn to.”
The Specter hesitated. “In her place, what would you do?”
“As much as I didn’t like to hear Patrick say it, he was right. She is a mess. I never believed I .. she could yearn so much for approval from others. I always believed I was stronger than that.”
“Yes, I am. She isn’t. It is really pathetic to watch.”
“Your life and her life sprang from the same roots but diverged along two different paths. In your life, your family was shattered in one traumatic accident. You existed in a wilderness for a year, then you suffered a personal trauma which brought you to the Legacy’s attention, and then into the Legacy. That has given you a sense of real purpose, a sense of belonging and family, it plays to your strengths and helps you overcome your weaknesses. In her life, her family drifted along then drifted apart before crashing onto rocks. She clutched at the first prop she had to hand and it ruined her. Now, as you say, she has nothing left and no one to turn to. She knows about the Legacy in the sense that .. it is an enemy. It doesn’t protect her or come to her rescue. But she isn’t pathetic, Rachel. She has simply lost her way in the darkness and cannot see the light shining all around her.”
“Neither can I,” Rachel remarked.
“She is alive. And .. it’s an old cliché but it’s still true – while there’s life, there’s hope.”
“What she has to do is … ” Rachel smiled wryly. “Stop living in the past. Stop dreaming that she’ll get him back, that they’ll be a happy family again, and start living in the present for herself. If she can find joy in just being Rachel Corrigan, she’ll find peace, and people will love her because she loves herself. She has to take each day as it comes, make the most of her opportunities, learn from her mistakes and then let them go. Stop being dragged back by what has been and look forward to what might be.” She laughed softly. “We’re not so different, are we?”
The Specter smiled inside the deep hood of her robe. “This journey has been worthwhile, if you can say that.”
“Patrick was right too when he told her she needs help. She needs to see a psychologist. Work over all the issues, get them out in the open. Then she’ll find that .. it’s okay to be alone.” Rachel watched her wander out, her eyes distracted, her feet unsteady. “Will she ..?”
“Let’s find out.”
As the scene started to dissolve around them, Rachel looked quickly at the Specter. “I thought that was it, that I was at the end of my journey.”
The scene settled again in the lounge. It was Christmas and a very different Rachel was there one year on. Last year, she had been waiting for her lover to arrive and, while Derek had been enchanted by a strong magic and not there of his own choosing, she had been buoyant and happy. This year, Rachel sat alone. The tree stood in the corner, decorated, its lights cheerful in the otherwise dark room. Gifts lay around its base, wrapped in shiny paper and bedecked with ribbons and bows. She waited for Patrick and their children to visit. It was Christmas Eve, a magical night.
Time was on fast forward. Rachel sat there, on the sofa, her arms around her knees, hugging them to her breasts, as daylight slowly filtered in. Rachel and the Specter watched as the daylight grew brighter and then began to fade into evening and then darkness again. No one came. The gifts still remained at the base of the tree, unopened, unwanted.
“That’s cruel,” Rachel muttered. “Even if he hates her, Patrick could’ve brought the children to visit. What does he want her to do? Become suicidal?”
“Would that happen?”
“It could,” Rachel replied. “She’s suffered an emotional breakdown. Gentle encouragement, unconditional support .. little things mean so much right now. Similarly, little things not happening – like fetching the children to visit an’ open their gifts – take on monumental significance. In that fragile state of mind, the least upset becomes a huge personal failure and could result in suicidal tendencies. And that would be such a waste.”
Daylight came again and Rachel uncoiled from the sofa. She looked around and saw nothing festive. She sighed deeply. And then the doorbell rang.
Listlessly, she padded on bare feet to open the door.
“Mom!” Connor greeted.
It was if someone had flicked a switch inside her because Rachel came alive. Her eyes grew warm, her face lost its pallor.
“Hi, Mom,” Kat said, hugging her. “Merry Christmas.”
“And to you too, Kat. Oh .. it’s good to see you.”
“Hi, Mommy,” Casey said, clutching Rachel around the knees.
“Hello, baby,” Rachel smiled, picking her up and setting her on one hip. “Ooh, you’re getting too big for this.” She turned and extended a warm smile to Patrick. “Thank you.”
He smiled too. “Merry Christmas, Rachel.”
“Come on in,” she urged. “Who wants some breakfast?”
“I wanna open my gifts!” Connor responded.
“Connor, let’s not be rude, okay, partner?” Patrick scolded. “Sure, breakfast sounds good to me.”
Rachel and the Specter watched as Rachel fixed breakfast and they sat around the table to eat and talk, just like in the old days at the other house. They opened their gifts. When Rachel, with painful caution, asked if they could stay to lunch, Patrick said they could.
“This is doing her a lot of good,” Rachel declared.
The Specter said nothing.
Midway thru the afternoon, Patrick and the children took their leave. Rachel stood at the door to wave as they drove away. Then, smiling, she returned to the lounge and examined her gifts again. A silk scarf from Connor, book tokens from Kat, a leather purse from Patrick, and a matching change purse from Casey.
“Y’see? You see how much better she is?” Rachel invited. “And this proves to her that it is possible for her to live alone yet still have amicable contact with her family.”
The Specter remained silent.
Time moved on although the scene stayed the same. Rachel was tidying the lounge, and the silk scarf was looped around her throat. She stroked it every so often, unconscious that she was doing it.
“What more do I need to see?” Rachel inquired of her companion. “Isn’t it over?”
Rachel looked around the lounge and nodded, then went thru to the kitchen.
“Well .. when is this?” Rachel asked.
“February 12, two thousand, three,” the Specter replied.
Rachel sat down at the table. “In two days, it’ll be Saint Valentine’s Day,” she said aloud, although she was alone. “I don’t want to be on my own on Saint Valentine’s Day. I can’t use magic to make him come to me. I can’t buy his love. I can only give what’s mine to give .. and I give it freely.”
“What is she doing?” Rachel asked in a hollow voice.
“I give my soul in exchange for my husband’s love. I give my soul in exchange for my family being reunited. It’s mine and I give it away for these gifts in return.”
Rachel closed her eyes as thunder cracked suddenly overhead.
The gift is accepted, rumbled a deep, deep voice.
Rachel, the other one, closed her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Does she realize what she’s done?” Rachel whispered.
“I don’t think she does,” the Specter replied, equally softly, “but she’ll soon find out.”
Two days later, on Saint Valentine’s Day, she took extra care with her appearance. Welcome home gifts awaited Connor, Kat and Casey in their freshly decorated rooms. At eleven o’clock, there was a knock on the door and, her heart fluttering girlishly, Rachel ran to open it. But it wasn’t Patrick at the door, it was Aquila.
Rachel stumbled back. “Why are you here? I haven’t tried to work any magic. I haven’t said anything about the Legacy, not to anyone. I’ve not once attempted to contact Derek.”
“She won’t tell you,” Rachel said. “She doesn’t give explanations. So I’ll tell you, even though you can’t hear me. She’s here because she has no choice,” she said in a dull voice. “You’ve learned nothing … You didn’t even sell your soul. You gave it away .. for a hopeless dream.”
Rachel choked as the blade of fire sank into her gut and impaled her to the wall behind. Aquila said nothing as she withdrew the sword. Rachel’s eyes began to glaze in death so she never saw the sword swing again to topple her head from her shoulders or her body erupt into fire and smoke, and then vanish away. But the other Rachel did. She saw everything.
In one life, Patrick died and Rachel lived. In the other, the life without the Legacy, Patrick lived and Rachel died.
“Now .. it is over and the journey’s end has been reached. This was your life without the Legacy, Rachel. Your questions have been answered,” the Specter said. “Merry Christmas.”
Rachel woke sharply, her heart hammering in her chest. She stared around her room, making sure it was her room in the Legacy house on Angel Island, and she was surprised to find it was still dark. It felt like a lifetime had elapsed since she fell asleep yet, as she lay there, she heard the clock chime the last stroke of midnight.