At 5 pm the next day Tori was sitting in an oak tree along the side of Henry road in Napa and stared over rows and rows of leafless grapevines at a large stucco-sided, solar-tiled villa half-hidden by apple trees and currently tinted pale gold in the late afternoon sunlight.
She had been around, under or in the tree since 1 pm trying to figure out whether or not to go in and talk to the inhabitants. It wasn’t going well.
According to her research this was probably the house of Cecilia Bianchi, who was probably the wife of former big-time superhero Skyhawk, who was probably her father Andrew Hernandez.
When Tori looked at things in the light of day that was a lot of probably to go so far on.
Too much, maybe. Half her reason for thinking Skyhawk was Andrew Hernandez was based on the fact that Pam had bought her a Skyhawk poster one. Maybe she was just being nice. Or maybe there was one man on the face of the planet that she didn’t hate. If there was, Skyhawk would be a good one to pick.
Twenty-two heroes on her bedroom wall. Twenty-one of them female. Big posters of Quicksilver, Citrine, Sunflower, Alleycat, Nightowl and Skyhawk, all bought by Mom or Pam online. Pam had bought the one of Skyhawk herself.
Tori had printed out a six-piece poster of the Eagle at school when she was thirteen. Pam had freaked when she saw it up and told her to take it down. She hated the Eagle, said he had ruined the country and him dying had only made all the crazies following him worse.
Why does she have to be so insane?
The Skyhawk poster was definitely not her usual behavior.
It also wasn’t proof.
How was she going to knock on the door of a woman she’d never met and ask to talk to a man who might not even be her husband and who didn’t want to know Tori existed even if he was?
It’s probably not even her house.
Was this even worth it? Tori had known for most of her life that there was something weird about her family. Pretty much everyone else at school had a dad and a mom. Some had two sets, some had mom with dad missing, one boy she had met had dad but no mom. She was the only one with two moms and no dad anywhere.
Which wasn’t so horribly bad, except for the no dad part. And the Pam part.
The first time she had asked Pam who her dad was, Pam had told her she didn’t need one. The second time, Pam had said she didn’t know. The third time, Pam had gotten angry. Tori hadn’t asked her again after that.
Her mom had always had the same answer. She didn’t know. When Tori was ten she had explained where Tori came from and why that meant she didn’t know who Tori’s father was. She had taken it right there every time Tori ever asked, and left it.
For Tori, the question had grown with time, like a fire that fed on mystery. Father was an answer that every other child around her had, even if they didn’t have the person himself. She needed to join them in that.
Sneaking into the clinic had been a risk. A big risk. She had faced that, and come this far. She had to at least knock on the door before going. Find out if Cecilia really lived here. Find out if Andrew was her husband.
I need to at least see him.
Tori’s stomach twisted with a confusion of longing and fear as she thought of that. The check mark remained. Even if she had found Andrew Hernandez, he still didn’t want to see her.
Why is this so hard?
Tori put her face to the trunk of the tree and groaned.
“Is there something wrong?”
Tori was so surprised by the woman’s voice that she phased through the tree branch and fell, only catching herself at the last second so she could come in for a tangled landing in the dirt.
Tori looked up from the ground.
Cecilia looked down at her, surprise lifting her tanned, Romanesque features with an elegant arch of sharp black eyebrows. The trademark white-crystal ear-things traced up the edges of her ears like leafy vines, framing her face and contrasting nicely with the long black ringlets of hair that fell around her shoulders and back.
Cecilia held out a hand, small and delicate, fingertips slightly wrinkled as if they had been wet for a while.
Tori extended one dusty hand and Cecilia took it. Tori felt soap on her fingers. The woman pulled with surprising strength and hauled Tori to her feet.
She didn’t let go of Tori’s hand.
“I’m Cecilia. I live in that house just over there. What’s your name?”
“Tori,” she whispered.
“You’ve been sitting in that tree for a long time, Tori. You must have a lot on your mind.” Cecilia’s voice was light, soprano, with enough Italian accent to mark her as foreign, but not make her hard to understand.
Tori stared at Cecilia’s sandals. White leather with ribbed strapping. She was wearing a long flowered-blue skirt that almost covered them. Tori felt all kinds of unwelcome in her surplus flight jacket and scruffy jeans.
Cecilia waited, still holding Tori’s hand in hers.
Tori looked up and met Cecilia’s eyes. They were deep dark brown, almost black, yet warm and inviting.
Cecilia smiled at Tori.
Cecilia turned and led her by the hand up the long drive to the house.
Soon Tori was able to see the garden that the apple trees had hidden, mostly green perennials and succulents centered by something that glistened like running water and burned like the sun. Tori shielded her eyes until they could adjust.
It was a fountain, made of some clear, sparkling, glasslike substance shot through with strands of reflective gold and copper so that it dazzled the sunlight throughout its interior. Combined with the water spraying up and over it the effect became one of sunlight bound into a dancing tree of fire.
Tori had never before seen anything like it. She approached to get a closer look, not even realizing that Cecilia had released her hand.
“I call it Acqua della Vita. It’s one of my favorites.”
Tori looked at Cecilia.
“Is it yours?”
“Did I make it? Yes. I did. Come, sit here.” She led Tori over to a small glass table surrounded by matching glass chairs, all struck through with the same gold and copper mirroring so they burned in the light.
“Are these safe?” Tori stared at the chair in front of her.
Cecilia smiled and lowered herself into hers with deliberate care. As she smoothed her dress Tori noticed the bulge in her middle for the first time. Looked at directly Cecilia’s round stomach was very distinct. She was pregnant.
Tori sat down in the chair opposite. It held her weight without flexing. It also didn’t feel like glass.
“What are these?”
“The chairs are diamond. The table and the fountain too. It’s my specialty.”
Tori stared at them, awed.
“Diamond is not very difficult for a crafter. It is much easier than eternite, and far cheaper. Carbon is everywhere.”
Tori nodded, still stunned. She had seen crafted goods before and knew that crafters could work in unusual materials, but the reality of a chair made of diamond was still hard to take in.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful. It’s all very beautiful.” Tori relaxed into the chair. Hard as it was, it held her just right.
Cecilia smiled again. “Thank you.”
“When is the baby due?”
“The doctor says at least five more months. We know it’s going to be another boy.”
“Congratulations.” Boy or girl, congratulations were always in order. However, it meant this woman had a family. Andrew, if he was here, had a family. She was an intruder. “You said another boy?”
“Yes. We already have four.”
Tori whistled. “Four boys. That sounds exciting.”
Cecilia laughed. “It is very exciting. My husband is very proud. However, I sometimes secretly wish for a daughter.”
Tori winced at the word ‘daughter’ and fell silent.
Cecilia waited again, watching her.
Tori could not tolerate the silence for long. She had come here to find something out and there wasn’t going to be a better time to ask. It was now or never.
She opened her mouth and the words got stuck.
Come on, come on Tori. Say it!
“Is,” Tori paused. “Is your husband named Andrew Hernandez?”
Cecilia raised one eyebrow.
Tori sobbed and put her hand over her mouth to keep it from happening again. She felt wild crazy energy crawling over her mind, insane laughter trying to bubble up from her chest. Tears filled her eyes despite her efforts at self-control.
“I’m sorry,” she said, but her voice was too tight. It came out as a squeak instead of a phrase.
I’m about to fall apart right here. I must look like a crazy girl.
“Do you know Andrew?” Cecilia asked.
A laugh jumped out. Tori caught it and shook her head.
Know him? Of god I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here.
“Are you looking for him?”
I came to see him. If he’s here, I have to see him.
Tori nodded. It was all she could manage. She felt Cecilia’s dark eyes boring into her.
Cecilia returned the nod.
“He is around back, playing with the boys.” Cecilia rose. “Come, I’ll introduce you to him.”
Tori sat in the chair, stiff as the diamond.
Cecilia stepped close and held out a hand.
Tori took her hand again and Cecilia led her along a flagstone pathway where the stones bore crystal pictures of grapes, flowers, sheep and horses.
As they rounded the side of the house Tori heard children laughing.
She looked up and saw him.
Andrew Hernandez, tall and powerful, face split with a wide smile, centered a swarm of four young boys with hair as dark and wavy as Cecilia’s, one of them only just walking. All five were kicking a soccer ball around, even the littlest one, if only barely. The laughter was caused by a brown Labrador retriever who tried to steal the ball every time someone kicked it.
Tori’s heart ached at the scene, twisting until she thought she would die. She felt like a ghost, someone completely out of place. She needed to fade away.
“So I did see you phase.”
Cecilia’s words snapped Tori back to her senses. She looked down at herself and saw the sun shining through her body. She phased back in.
That’s him. That’s my father. Okay, I’ve seen him. Time to go now.
Tori tried to think of an excuse that would let her leave.
He’s not the one I’m looking for. That works.
Tori opened her mouth and Cecilia put a hand on her arm.
“Talk to him,” she said.
Tori stared at her.
Cecilia met her gaze with those dark eyes and held it until Tori nodded. Cecilia gave her another smile and turned to her family again.
Andrew looked up as his wife called. He quickly took in Tori standing next to her, saw her hair and her flight jacket. Tori also felt a faint, distinct tingle against her skin, not quite like anything she had felt before.
Skyhawk’s projective sensory powers. Right.
Andrew stopped chasing the soccer ball and jogged up to Cecilia.
Cecilia sparkled at him.
“This young lady has something very important to tell you. I’ll take the children inside while you two talk.”
Andrew nodded and looked at Tori again. Tori noticed that his eyes were almost as dark as Cecilia’s. Streaks of gray lightened his black hair on either side of his head. He had a strong jaw, with smile lines on either side of his mouth.
Tori looked down when he met her gaze.
“Bambini! Vieni!” Cecilia picked up the toddler and swept the rest of the swarm into the house.
Tori was left alone with Andrew, frozen with fear and unable to meet his eyes. She could feel him looking at her, could actually feel the subtle pressure of his sensory field all around her.
Her heart hammered in her ears and she want to disappear again. She hadn’t imagined this could be so hard, but he wasn’t just her father. He really was Skyhawk and she was nobody, about to tell him that she was the daughter he didn’t know he had and didn’t want.
“So you’re a talent, then,” he said.
Dammit! Not again!
Tori phased herself back to visibility.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“What’s your name?” he said.
“My wife said you have something important to tell me?”
Tori nodded without looking up. A long moment of awkward silence stretched between them.
“I can tell you’re very scared,” he said. “I promise you’re safe here. Just tell me, whatever it is.”
Tori opened her mouth, but her voice caught again. She closed her mouth. Instead, she unzipped her jacket and pulled out the folded papers. When she saw him reach for them her hand shook.
Andrew removed the papers from her hand gently.
Tori didn’t watch him read. She heard crackling paper and waited. He sorted the papers several times and still made no response.
The silence stretched out between them, as if he had as little idea of what to say as she had.
Andrew pulled in a deep breath and let it out long and slow.
“Jesús, perdóname,” he whispered to himself.
Tori wondered what he had said. She had taken chinese, not spanish.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her. “You’re scared that I won’t want you to be here, and it’s my fault.”
After a moment of processing that, Tori looked up slowly.
Andrew was still staring at the papers in his hands. He seemed older, like a great weight had settled on him.
Tori unfolded a little.
Andrew looked up and met her eyes. This close Tori saw how much they looked like her own.
“A great friend of mine once told me that I had a choice. He told me that I could try to please the God of fire and judgement and hope that he would find me worthy in the end, or that I could admit my weaknesses to the God of lost lambs, and trust that he would carry me to his home.”
“I didn’t really understand what he was saying back then. I was Skyhawk. A hero. I could do no wrong.” He paused. “It took him dying for me to see how selfish and small I really was. It’s taken years for me to see how many mistakes I’ve made. Things that looked so small at the time, like nothing more than a mark on a piece of paper.”
He looked at the papers in his hands again, folded them, and handed them back to her.
She took them but didn’t look at them again.
What’s he saying?
“I am grateful that you came here,” Andrew said. “And I am amazed that somehow something I did helped make the brave young woman I see before me. Your parents must be very proud of your.”
Oh. That’s what he’s saying.
Tori felt dizzy.
“I’m also amazed, and a little proud, that you found me here with the information on those papers.” Andrew smiled. “I”m not so proud about the fact that you stole them, but I don’t work for the FSTA anymore and I don’t feel like reporting this. Breaking and entering isn’t something you normally do, is it?”
Tori blushed and thought of Anna. She shook her head.
“Good. So tell me about yourself. Your family. Who is your father?”
Her blush deepened and she looked away again.
“Do you have a father?”
Is this guy a mindreader?
“No,” Tori said.
“Two,” she whispered and looked up.
Andrew stared at her for a moment.
“You’re here looking for a father then?”
Am I? Crap, that’s a crazy thing to ask for.
She stared, unable to say what she wanted.
Andrew nodded to himself.
“Consider yourself a part of this family, then. You will need to get permission from one of your official parents before visiting, but this house is open to you whenever you want to come.”
Tori’s world stopped. Oh my god! Did he just say that?
“Are you serious?” she said.
Andrew nodded and gripped her shoulders.
“You will not be turned away.”
Tori didn’t know quite what she was feeling, except that it was too much and not at all what she had expected. The emotions whirled around in her like a storm set to lift her off the ground.
Cecilia’s voice cut into her confusion.
“Falco! Dinner is ready.”
Tori turned around and saw Cecilia standing a few paces away. Cecilia looked at her and then at Andrew. Tori picked up on the question in her eyes.
“Ceci,” Andrew said. “I want you to meet my daughter.”
Something that Tori couldn’t translate passed between Cecilia and Andrew in the long quiet moment that followed.
Cecilia nodded and smiled at Tori.
“That means you’ll be staying for dinner, yes?”
Tori saw warmth and welcome in Cecilia’s dark eyes and finally identified one of the emotions swirling around in her heart.