“Could this be any more boring?” Dawn says yawning and just barely attempting to cover her mouth. Momma Walker shoots her a disapproving look. “You stop that right now! These people are all here to honor you.” Dawn offers her mother a curt smile, “These people are here for the free liquor and shrimp. I dint know most of them.” Laila can’t help but laugh at her younger sister’s sarcasm, since it comes so rarely. Dawn is usually the sweet obedient one, making life harder on she and Nina. “I think she’s got you on that one Mom.” Laila says encouraging Dawn’s sudden burst of confidence. “Now don’t you two start with me. I worked hard to raise a house full of geniuses. You three will sit here, smile wave, and let me enjoy pretending like I have well mannered children.” Nina reaches over and clasps her mother’s hand, “Of course Mom, we’ll pretend like we were raised well.” Everyone laughs at Nina’s joke, even Maurice. He shakes his head and smiles down at his wife. “We did our best baby. These three are hopeless.”
As expected, people continue to wander over to the Walker family table to congratulate Dawn on her excellent work. Reporters from various scholarly publications ask questions that only Dawn can understand before the usual line of questions begin. “What’s it like being in as culturally diverse as yours? Are there ever cross cultural issues in the family? Have you acclimated to your families cultures?” No one loves that question more than Laila, but its Dawn’s turn to answer. “It’s been wonderful growing up with my sisters and our parents, we’re just like any other family. We love each other, support each other, and borrow each other’s shoes.” The reporter laughs in cue to Dawn’s well timed joke. Laila would have responded, “What do you mean? We’re all black, they’re just light skinned.” She loves getting people riled up. Next is the second most common line of questions in recent year. “Mr. and Mrs. Walker, is it a coincidence that you adopted three remarkably intelligent girls that all grew up to be industry leaders? Did you seek out intellectually gifted children or was it in the rearing?” Nadine smiles warmly at the reporter. “We just made sure that ate their vegetables, did their homework, and came in before dark. The rest they did on their own.” She’d memorized that line and quoted it word for word each time she was asked.
As per usual they were all asked to stand for pictures. Dawn slips her petite hand inside Laila’s and Nina’s as they posed, interlocking their hands in a long interracial link for the camera. Dawn’s smile is small and nervous as she waves back. Of the three sisters, Dawn was the least apt to seek the spotlight. That was definitely a feet difficult for the resident whizz kid of Baldwin Hills where they’d grown up. She’d skipped a grade entering high school and would have skipped two if she hadn’t refused so she could have a normal high school experience. Dawn’s long black hair hangs down past the center of her back like silk. It glistens against her crème night gown tonight. Her slanted eyes gleam with excitement as she squeezes Laila’s hand. Laila looks at the variation of color between she and Dawn’s fingers laced together and smiles remembering she and Dawn’s first day in high school together. Some smart ass girl had made the mistake of calling Dawn a racial slur in Laila’s presence, not knowing that they were family. Without warning, Laila laid the girl out on the concrete with one punch, stood over her and said flatly, “Let me hear you call my sister a chink again, okay, and see what happens to you.” That day, they had truly become sisters and best friends. Boy was momma mad when she came home suspended the first day of school, and Daddy had to pretend to be for Momma’s sake. They had to admit then that Laila was Five feet eight inches worth of trouble.
It’s not long before Dawn is on stage, giving a brief lecture on her findings, and thanking her sponsors for their generous support. Nina and Laila keep vigil for their little sister, knowing how badly she hates being on stage in front of large groups. Her speech is short, and sweet, allowing Dawn to return to her seat quickly. “Can we leave now?” she asks the moment she sits, aiming her question directly to her father. She knows he’s more likely to give in. “We can’t leave right after your speech Dawn, its rude.” Nina says. “Nina, you know we wanted to have a talk with you girls tonight. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to leave a little early.” Nadine says holding her eldest daughters gaze for too long to be anything but oozing with conspiracy. “Talk about what?” Laila asks immediately. “Is there something wrong?” Panic fills her expression quickly as she looks over her family. She’s been away from home the longest, so any bad news could easily escape her. “Is someone pregnant?” Dawn asks a low whisper with excitement laced in each word.” Nadine grimaces at the word. “No, nothing is wrong and nobody better be pregnant. Not one of my talented, beautiful, successful daughters has managed to keep a man yet, so no babies. Your father and I just want to talk to you.” Laila raises a suspicious eyebrow to her parents. “It’s nothing awful Lai, relax.” Nina says sensing her sister’s trepidation. Of course Nina knows, Laila thinks, Mom always tells Nina everything first. Nina looks at her parents with a pleading expression. “Tomorrow you guys, okay? I wanted us to have a little girl’s night out when we left here. We’re hardly ever home at the same time, and with Laila’s new discovery who knows when we will be again. Let us have tonight.” “No, absolutely not Nina. The timing has changed, its time. I can’t hold it off anymore.” “What is this about? This sounds serious” Dawn asks quizzically, now seeming as worried as Laila. Maurice squeezes his youngest hand gently, “It’s nothing baby. It’s just about your inheritance.” Laila rolls her eyes, “Are you kidding? We can talk about our inheritances anytime. You don’t have to leave me anything but Dad’s Mustang.” “You wish” Nina cuts in sharply. Daddy Walker has been tinkering under the hood of his classic 56 convertible mustang for as long as any of them can remember. He and Nina would spend hours beneath the hood getting dirty when she was young. Maurice gives his wife an apologetic look, which always means he’s about to give in to one the girls, if not all of them. “Nina’s right baby, let the girls have their fun tonight. They’ll all still be home tomorrow.” “Fine” Nadine relinquishes her stand for the moment.
Laila is just as anxious as Dawn to get out of the crowded establishment and back to their home in the hills where she’d spent a great deal of her childhood; the black version of Beverly Hills on the opposite end of Los Angeles: Baldwin Hills. Their house is a large red bricked classic beauty. This is the first place that Laila had had her own room. When she’d moved in with the Walker’s it was as if they had been waiting on her. She still keeps a wardrobe at her parents, as do her sisters since they spend so much time at home with their parents whenever they’re not off on some project. Her room was already decorated when she moved in as a child and she’d had a closet full of clothes, new clothes. That was a brand new experience for her as well. Laila spent so much time with foster families and group homes that she had very little concept of ownership before she’d legally become a Walker. She was in the seventh grade when she became ‘official’, though she’d moved in months earlier. The Walkers did everything they could to help her feel welcomed, but it was a very long time before she felt a part of the family. Though Nina is Mexican and Dawn is Chinese, they’d been in the family for years and were truly sisters. Laila is black like her adoptive parents, but felt the least attached to them. Race had nothing to do with family. Family, she discovered, was about love. They had all taught her that. Even she and Nina, as much as they’d fought, had developed an undying sisterly bond that could easily repute any blood sisters.
The sisters are talking a mile a minute when they file out of Daddy’s black Range Rover. He had learned to tune out the banter of four females years ago. A man could lose his mind in a house with four women without some serious coping skills. Momma Walker keeps strangely quiet, as she often does when they’re out at night. There is something about dusk that always makes momma uneasy. She and Daddy have both seemed on edge to Laila recently, even on their online video chats. They seem suddenly more protective than usual, which is hard to accomplish.
Shoes are left at the door as the five make their way inside and across the polished hardwood floors. No one was allowed to wear shoes in the house and scratch up Momma’s floors, and no one did since they all had a turn to wax them growing up. “Girls,” Nadine calls as everyone filters into the house. She’s made her way quickly into the family room. The room is cozy, as one might expect any family room of such a big family to be. An intricately patterned throw rug adorns the center of the room, lined by an overstuffed peach and brown sectional and matching love seat. Daddy’s brown, leather Lazy boy sits off to the side where he could read his newspaper without having to pay too much attention to whatever gossip was going on in the room. Momma Walker stands in front of the red bricked fireplace, resting an arm on the mantle. She reminds Laila of ancient Egyptian artwork the way she is poised against the mantle with her head held high, donning a royal blue and gold trimmed cotton dress that gives her look of African royalty. Momma’s black and silver hair is cut in a bob that just stops at her shoulders and bounces when she walks. It had begun to become salt and pepper colored over the past few years. Laila only imagines she’d had plenty to do with that. “I want to let you girls know that I love you, I love all of you very much. I am so proud of my three babies, you can’t even imagine.” Her eyes are filled with emotion that only a mother knows. “All I ever wanted was to make sure you were all well taken care of and loved. You’re father and I have tried so hard to love you and protect you.” “You have Mom” Dawn’s eyes are glassy with tears; it never took much to affect her emotionally. “What your mother means is that we can’t protect you forever. You have all developed into beautiful intelligent young women, and we can’t keep trying to shield you from life and reality. We are going to have to accept that you are your own people, and that you are strong enough to handle what life throws at you.”
“Daddy, what are you two talking about, you’re starting to scare me.” Laila admits. This conversation is eerily reminiscent of the one foster parents always had with you before they sent you away. The ‘we really like you but fill-in-the-blank’ conversation that meant to pack your bags. Laila finds herself tugging at the curls falling around her face, as she often does when she’s nervous. Big daddy doesn’t answer her. “Mom, Dad, we agreed to discuss the inheritances tomorrow, remember?” Nina says in a near plea. “So we did,” Daddy agrees. “Who knows when the three of you will be able to go out and enjoy the night together again?” Dawn sighs, “I really wish you three would stop sounding so gothic. Unless someone is actually dying, discussing an inheritance isn’t that big a deal. No one is dying right?” “No, of course not.” Nadine answers, quick to qualm her daughter’s fears. They’d all already lost parents once before. There is no need in letting them worry about losing them too unnecessarily. “Nina,” Momma begins, “I’ll be there to keep Laila out of trouble, I promise.” “Hey! Why is it I always have to be the trouble maker?” “I’ve been asking myself that for years Lai,” Momma finally smiles.
“Thanks for the save Nina” Dawn whispers as the three hurry up the steps before Momma changes her mind. “Believe me, I know how it is. Don’t get it twisted, you are still gonna have to talk with mom later, she won’t forget.” “It can’t be any worse than her sex talk.” Laila counters. “You mean her no –sex talk?” Dawn nudges her sister in the side, flipping her bone straight stands over her shoulder. “Right” Nina and Dawn’s bedrooms are joined by a shared restroom, so it is always where the three convene to prepare for a night out. Make up, hair products, high heels, and random articles of clothing are strewn everywhere. Jeans, blouses, dresses and the like are tossed over towel racks and shower doors. Dawn’s Rihanna CD is blasting on the boom box ‘Please don’t stop the music’, as the three talk loudly over it while getting dressed.
The beauty of having sisters, Laila has discovered, is having two more wardrobes and two more make up cases to rifle through. The shoes are her personal favorite. Between the three of them there are shoes of every shape, color, style, and for every occasion. However the downside is that someone always has something that belongs to you, and locating said item is a personal hell. “So where do you have in mind for the night?” Nina asks knowing Laila always has a master plan. “That new spot on the strip, Wicked is supposed to be pretty hot. I thought we’d go turn it out.” Her smile is nothing short of scandalous. Dawn and Nina join in her conspiratorial glare; they had been known to turn out a club or two when in the mood.
When the three manage to untangle themselves from the mess of curlers, flatirons, and blow dryers, they emerge looking like runway models. Nina has gotten into a pair of dark blue jeans that look as if she’s painted them on. They are tucked into a pair of scandalously high heeled, black, calf high boots. No one would notice them however due to the merciless plunge of her black v-neck halter top. Her smoky black eye shadow makes her almond eyes seem to gleam amidst her thick lashes. She only wears a clear gloss on her lips, not wanting to overstate her look. Dawn has gone for a different look altogether. She’s spent an ample amount of time curling and spraying her hair into submission. She’s gotten a head full a voluminous curls and her makeup is hardly understated. Her look says bold and wild; contrary to her actual personality. She wears a black and white u-cut blouse, leaving her shoulders bare and cutting off well above mid-drift, showing her amazingly trim physique that Pilates and good genes have undoubtedly earned her. Her jeans are stark white and her black heels are trimmed with rhinestones, to set off her diamond earrings and tennis bracelet. Dawn moves like a model in heels, like she was born in them. Laila sports the sexiest mini dress her University bonus could buy. The dress is a golden tone, just a shade or two lighter than her copper hue and fits like a second skin. The sleeves bell out with excess material that makes up for the fact that it is backless and only comes slightly lower than mid thigh. Her gold chandelier earrings compliment the look. She wears a long silver chain with a medallion of the cross that hangs between her sinfully revealed breasts, ss sacrilegious as it seems. She never takes it off. It is the only thing left to Laila by her biological mother, and she never parts with the religious emblem.
“Oh no, I don’t think so. You three had better get back upstairs and put some clothes on.” Daddy says as the three prance giddily down the steps. “Oh come on Daddy, we’re big girls, all over twenty one.” That’s a bit of an understatement. The youngest of the three is 29, Laila is just days from her thirtieth birthday and Nina is 32. He ignores Nina’s comment nonetheless. “Nadine do you see these three?” She simply shakes her head, “You’re the one who said let them go out, so don’t you start back peddling now. Besides, they are grown women; they’ll take care of each other” “Thanks ma” Laila kisses Nadine on the cheek, leaving a hint berry tinted lipstick with golden specks behind. “I’ll behave myself, I promise Daddy” she says imparting the same colorful gift on his cheek. “I’ll drive” Laila says grabbing her keys. “I’ve got shot gun” Nina says quickly before Dawn can. “No way!” Dawn counters. We’re celebrating me tonight, tell her Laila!” Laila rolls her eyes, although glad to be a part of the silly sibling rivalry. “Flip a coin” she says over her shoulder as she heads out the front door, blowing her parents a kiss goodnight.
The line in front of the club had begun to form long before they arrived. None of them mind, knowing that half the fun starts in line. That is where you check out who is worthy of your attention, who is to be avoided, and who is the real competition. “Damn ladies, what’s a brotha got to do to be down tonight?” Laila has heard that line before, but this particular brotha has caught her attention. She’d seen him long before he approached. He moves differently than everyone else and there is something about his eyes. He stands about 6’1, just an inch taller than Nina in heels, but his presence is large, suffocating. His bronze skin looks silky to the touch, as if he’s never endured a harsh weather condition in his life. He looks to be in his late twenties, but his eyes boast of knowledge far older. His jaw is set wide and his smile gleams in the neon lights. “You could make the line move faster” Dawn says nonchalantly. “Is that it?” he says as if that’s a possibility in response to Dawn, but never takes her eyes off of Laila. She can’t pull her gaze from his eyes, the coloring is so unique, a mesmerizing shade of grey she has never seen before in any of her travels. “What is your wish Queen of the night?” Queen of the Night? This guy’s definitely been rehearsing that line. Laila thinks to herself. “That’s a new one, I’ve never been called that before.” She smiles, he is certainly alluring. “Never? No one has ever explained to you the meaning of your name Laila?” The man seems genuinely confused. For some reason his gaze travels to Nina in question. “I think I understand, you do not know. Either does she.” He says nodding towards Dawn. “Did I mention my name?” Laila can’t help but feel dazed, like she is missing something very obvious. “No, but since I have had the pleasure of revealing it to you, maybe I can open your eyes in another light, later.” His smile is sinful and extremely suggestive, causing a tingle between Laila’s thighs that she hadn’t expected. Everything feels cloudy and wrong, she’s never really entertained pick up lines before to be so entranced in this one. She hasn’t even gotten his name. “You won’t be revealing shit. Get lost” Nina says with venom in her voice. “You should know better than to bring them out like this so unaware, fair game” he says, still locking eyes with Laila. “Look, you’re creeping me out, back out of my sister’s face… like now” Dawn interjects. “Don’t make me back you up” Nina adds. Hesitantly, the man backs away, but not before taking Laila’s hand and lifting it towards his lips. “You kiss her, I’ll make sure it’s your last” Nina seems way more abrasive than necessary, but Dawn is too crept out to acknowledge her rudeness. He drops Laila’s hand and backs away, “Goodnight Ladies” No sooner than he looks away is Laila free from her clouded thoughts. “That was really weird. What was with his eyes?” she asks. “Just stay away from him and anyone who reminds you of him Laila, you too Dawn. Make sure we all stay together tonight.”
The music is blaring in the club and the three sister’s waste no time in hitting the dance floor. Laila can feel the music flow through her in a way she never has. In fact, she can feel everything. The heartbeat of everyone near her, the sweat soaked bodies, the intense sexual energy in the room all seem to be soaking into her aura. She and her sisters wind their hips and move their bodies to the music. They can all feel people watching them. It happens all the time when they go out like this, but tonight is more intense, like the world is centering its energy on them. Laila feels like she is floating and her elation is affecting her sisters. They all find themselves lost in the music; grinding and winding into which ever partner offered them self to dance, and it seems as if they were drawing a crowd. Sweat trickles down Laila’s bare back in rivulets, as she sensually moves to the rhythms. It’s like she’s under a spell, or casting one.
Nate sits at the bar, taking another gulp from his beer. The club hadn’t been a pleasure stop tonight. He’d been here on business, as usually is the case. He had a drop to make, but more importantly he was supposed to meet with Olarté, which has yet to happen, and he’s getting tired of waiting. The pulsing music has the crowd more amped than usual. He’s been here often enough to know the vibe tonight is different. He might just stay a little while and unwind. Nate brushes off his low slung, but well pressed khakis, and smoothes his beige and white button up, which he never buttons up. He preferred to let his crisp white T show. He’s not in dress code, but he is excused from those rules. The music changes and R&B artist Ne-yo’ s voice pours in through the speakers, whispering, “closer, closer”.
Oddly Nate finds himself nearing the dance floor, searching for something, getting closer. It’s an impulse he can’t manage to control. He’s never been one to dance. He’s been here before, but had never felt the desire to get up and dance. Tonight is different; he can’t help himself from being drawn out onto the dance floor. The crowd seems to part, offering a small glimpse of the show everyone has gathered to watch. Three women seductively twist their bodies wantonly, as if in open invitation, in the center of the room. All the women in the club are dancing in a similarly lewd manner, as they usually do, but these three stand out head and tails above the rest; tails in particular. Nate steps onto the dance floor, the women are facing away from him, but that is a view he can definitely appreciate. The woman in the center draws him more so than the others. In fact he can’t even see the others; he can only see the hypnotic sway of this woman’s ass. The sway of her ringlets over her shoulders is more than alluring. The way her golden dress clings to her luscious curves as she rocks to the music “And I just can’t pull myself away, under a spell I can’t break. I just can’t stop” the song plays. He can hear her singing along, over the booming music and noise of the crowd. How is that possible? He is drawn to her form, her body. He can feel her breathing on the skin of his neck from across the room; Nate realizes he needs to get closer to this woman more than he needs his next breath. “I can feel her on my skin; I can taste her on my tongue. She’s the sweetest taste of sin…” He’s made his way across the floor to the woman in gold, and immediately melds into her body, catching her rhythm. She arches her shapely curves into him without ever looking back to see with whom she is dancing. She offers her body to him to move to and to worship. She is too far gone in the music, casting her spell on not only Nate but everyone in the room. “Come closer, come closer” the music continues to play. Nate has no complaints as her firm round behind writhes against him in a manner far more than suggestive. His hands find her hips and hold possessively to her. She moves against him as if there is no one else in the room. He can’t keep his hand from tracing the sweat-dampened, bare skin of her back. Her body seems to sparkle, and Nate questions how much he’s had to drink. He can only recall one beer. Had someone slipped him something? She feels too good, he doesn’t care. Her skin feels like liquid electricity. Her persistent grinding brings his manhood to attention, but he doesn’t care as long as she doesn’t stop. He hasn’t gotten an erection this easily from dancing since high school, this is crazy. He fights the urge to press his lips to her flawless, bare neck and back as the song taunts “I just can’t stop”. The heat coming off of her body takes his mind to places he can’t understand. She feels like she is emanating light from the sun, as if she’s channeled the sun itself. Nate finds himself entertaining the idea of taking her on the dance floor; holding her up against a wall, lifting the hem of her very short dress and making love to her right there, in a room full of people.
The thought shocks him into reality and he breaks his hold on her body with great effort, and immediately regrets it and craves her touch. What is wrong with me? “Nate?” The woman turns around when he pulls away. She felt something inside of her come to life when he touched her. It stirred her desire as he stroked her back, but fled when he’d let go. The sexy golden goddess has a face, a name. “Laila? What the hell are you doing in here?” Nina and Dawn come from their music induced stupor looking confused. Dawn gives a shy smile, and wipes the sweat from her face. “Funny bumping into you!” she hollers over the music. He wonders why Laila hadn’t had to yell for him to hear her. Nina looks around, seeming out of sorts. “I think we should get out of here you guys, what time is it?” “It’s 1:30” Nate answers eyeing his cell phone before stuffing it back in his jeans pocket. “1:30? Have we been dancing that long? I really can’t remember!” Dawn exclaims. Nina watches her sisters intently, “I have to get you home Laila, now. Let’s go” “Can we get some water at the bar first?” Dawn pleads. “Just give the bartender my name; he’ll hook you up, both of you.” Nate says, nodding them off. Nina is reluctant to leave, but feelings of extreme dehydration urge her on. She doesn’t recall how long she’s been dancing but her parched throat and dizziness tell her too long. Laila doesn’t even seem winded. “Don’t you leave her side Nathaniel” she warns. “I got this Nina” he warns in return. He doesn’t need to be told to protect Laila; he’s always done that.
Nate takes Laila by the hand and leads her off the dance floor. “What about my sisters?” She asks as he pulls her along. “They’ll be fine” His voice is resolute and his eyes focused on the exit. Nate pulls her outdoors with little compassion. The cold night air confronts Laila’s scantily clad body; the fact that she’s covered in sweat doesn’t help. “It’s cold out here, what the hell are you doing?” she doesn’t hide her anger as she tugs her arm free from his grasp. Why does he think he can just drag her out into the night like this? Had Nathaniel lost his entire mind? “You wouldn’t be so cold if you had some damned clothes on.” He says taking off his button up and draping it around her shoulders “You weren’t complaining on the dance floor” she says rolling her neck with a hand placed firmly on her hip. Even in a mini-dress, expensive heels, and $200 worth of make up, Laila can pull the hood out of herself effortlessly. “I didn’t know it was you” “Oh, so it’s okay for anybody but me?” she rebuts, her voice escalating. “Yeah, I expect the average club hood rat to be dressed like that, doin’ all that, but not you. What were you doing in there, huh, and with hardly any damned clothes on?” He immediately regrets his choice of words and yelling at her on a street corner. If Laila was angry before, now she is livid. Her well arched eyebrows furrow so close together they almost touch. She looks ready to pounce. “Did you just call me a hood rat?” “No, I said you’re dressed like…” he decides not to walk onto that minefield. Her voice would soon hit the decibel of no return where he would become a lot of no-good-nigga’s, and aint-bout’ nothin’s. He is already wary of people passing by thinking he was some pimp chastising one of his ‘hoes’. “That’s not what I meant,” He lowers his voice from the authoritative tone he’d taken before. “You look amazing Laila, really. Every man in the room is going to try to take you home tonight, that’s the problem.” “I don’t see a problem” Laila rolls her neck with the statement with her hands still planted on her curvy hips. He exhales and shakes his head not only in amazement of her attitude but to keep his focus off her amazing body. If she wasn’t who she was to him, he’d beat out any man trying to get her home and out of that dress. “Of course you don’t. Sometimes I think you go looking for trouble.” “I didn’t know my being sexy was trouble for you” she beams. “I didn’t say you were sexy” he irritably grumbles in response. Nate immediately refutes and scowls at her in hopes of appearing more believable. He didn’t say that she was sexy, but it’s impossible for him to deny. Sexy hardly even began to express it, she is far more then sexy; she’s beautiful, amazing. Laila had worked that dress, and in turn she had worked him, and nearly turned him out. Inside the club she’d had his mind in places that he couldn’t bring himself from. “No, but you sure were drooling out there on the dance floor, don’t play stupid with me. I know what I felt all up in my back” “Whatever” he tries to hide his embarrassment at having had her feel his manhood grinding into her. “Whatever? That’s the best you can do? You’re falling off Mr. Washington.” She smiles; Nate takes that as the first step in the right direction. It’s been so long since they had last had a real conversation. He hates that their first discussion in all this time is an argument. “I’m being serious Laila. You have to be careful. You are here to have a good time, but there are predators in places like this every night. You can’t just come up in here drawing attention to yourself and not expect to be a target.” “He’s right” Nina and Dawn had approached them unnoticed. “That’s why we really need to go. Here’s your bag, let’s get out of here, like now.” Nina tosses Laila her knock off designer purse with unexplained urgency that is very unwelcomed by Nate. “Hold up Nina, we’re talking” “Call her tomorrow” Nina says grabbing Laila by the arm and giving her a tug. Nate tries not to look as annoyed as he is. Her family never did seem to want him around, no matter how polite he tried to be. Of course not too many parents would be cool with their daughter bringing home an old friend in baggy jeans, a pair of Timberland boots and packin’ heat in his waist band. Nobody wants to see their baby end up with a thug. “Is everything cool ladies? You’re not having any problems are you? Somebody here you need me to go talk to?” His eyes become very serious as he scans the area and all those slowly beginning to exit the club. “No, Nina is just acting weird. She’s all panicky tonight, but thanks Nate.” Dawn rolls her eyes at her sister, annoyed at leaving before the club closes. “Whatever, can we please go now?” Nina asserts again. “That’s a good idea, I’ll walk you to your car” Nate easily picks up on Nina’s nervous energy. In his line of work he’d learned to sniff out the real from the fake, and this woman is really trippin in a very real way. Something has her bugged. “No. we’re cool Nate” Nina insists “We just have to get gone.” “Okay, I have some business to handle inside. Take care.” He nods, before turning and leaving the women, Laila is still wrapped in his shirt. “Why are you trippin Nina?” Laila turns to her sister the moment Nate is out of sight. Nina had already walked away to wave down the valet driver. “Hey papi, we’re taking off. Can you bring around our car” The young man looks up from the curb and slowly lights his cigarette, “I just went on break ma’am, it’ll be fifteen minutes. Just hold tight and I’ll take care of you.” “I am not standing on a corner for fifteen minutes to wait for my car at this time of night.” The young man looks up for the first time, tussling his sandy brown hair with his free hand as if knocking out sand from an eternity spent at the beach. “Ladies, if you’re in a real hurry, you can always go around back of the club to the lot and pick up your car. Just show the guy your ticket and he’ll let you in.” “Fine” Nina says, briskly taking off. It takes Laila a moment to turn her attention from him; his eyes are a brilliant shade of sky blue with a faint undercurrent of grey. “Come on Lai”
Dawn and Laila struggle to stay on Nina’s heels as they head down the dark alleyway that leads to the car. “Nina, I don’t understand why we couldn’t have just waited for the car instead of coming down an alley, in L.A, at night. There could be muggers out here or something.” “I know you don’t get it yet, but believe me when I tell you that there are far worse things out here tonight than muggers.” Laila slows behind her sisters until she’s stopped moving completely. Suddenly in the cool night air she is unmercifully hot and as heavy as a wet blanket. The air feels thick around her, suffocating. “Dawn wait, Nina!” She feels like she is hollering after them but her voice is barely a whisper, a whisper that Dawn can hear from nearly 30 feet away. “Lai, what’s wrong?” Dawn turns back on her heels and is immediately at Laila’s side. Nina begins to look even more panicked. “Shit, we’ve got to get you in the car and out of here; I need you to keep moving Lai. Damn it Mom was right.” Nina is nearly pleading. “I can’t Nina, I can’t breathe” Laila grasps her chest, trying to swallow any air that the earth will allow. Every inhale feels like trying to breathe in oatmeal. Everything around her feels frozen in time, as if the earth is standing still. Dawn grabs Laila by the arms, seeing her struggle to stand, but Laila instinctively yanks free. Dawn’s touch feels like branding iron. “Don’t touch me!” She’d found her voice. Dawn’s eyes hold a combination of shock and hurt. “Lai I just want to help you.” “No, don’t help me. Something’s wrong Dawn, something feels very wrong” Nina’s eyes begin to scan the darkened alley, moving in a defensive circle.
“I’m calling the paramedics” Dawn says rifling through her purse for a cell phone.” “You don’t have time Dawn” Laila whispers. “It’s too late” Dawn stares at Laila not sure if she should cry, scream, or run for help. Laila’s eyes begin to flicker and then glow gold. The screen on Dawn’s cell phone shorts out. “Nina, do something!” Dawn screams. Laila backs into a wall and slides down it, in some odd sort of consciousness. “Dawn, we aren’t alone. I’m going to need you to be brave for me okay?” Nina says still circling her sisters. Laila can tell she is scanning for some sort of threat, but can’t get a handle on it. “The end of the alley to your right” Laila says with flat affect as if telling the time. “How do you know that?” Nina asks. “And to your left. Three are behind us, closing us in. Can’t you see them?” Laila watches as five men slowly advance in the darkness, appearing to float. Their figures are fuzzy and lack solid form as they approach. “No they can’t see us baby” a voice comes from the man at the front far right, the first one she’d seen. Laila immediately recognizes him as the man from the line in front of Wicked. “Only you can do that. You be real nice and I could teach you a lot about what you can do since your people didn’t.” “Why don’t you show yourself and let me teach you something?” Nina quips, following the voice. Five men appear as if from a fog encircling the sisters.
Dawn backs into the wall next to Laila, feeling faint. “Oh, my, God” The men all wince. “Watch your mouth pretty lady. Language like that could get you hurt out here” He is about 5’9, wearing a well tailored silver suit with black silk shirt. “Back away from them, they don’t even know what’s going on” Nina warns menacingly. She unsheathes a blade from each of her boots so quickly that Dawn misses the transaction in a blink. Laila hollers in pain, doubles over on the ground. Dawn is afraid to attend to her due to the glowing of her eyes. She yells out again, and the groups apparent leader smiles, abandoning his defensive stance. “It’s happening right now boys and we get to be here to watch.” No one can decipher the chuckles and whispers that follow except Laila. Their obscene plans of what they intended for she and her sisters sickens her more than the pain wracking her body. She can see the images they pass amongst themselves in her mind, barraging her senses and making her nauseated. Man after man openly displaying his sick inhuman sexual fantasies. “Over my dead body” she sneers through her pain. “Soon enough great one. I’ve been wandering the earth freely for more than a century. Do you really think I’d give it all up when I can simply destroy you as you come into your power?” The man’s laugh is deep and reverberating, it seems to echo through all of his counterparts.
The gang of overly dressed men looks strange surrounding three women in an alley. One of the men, this one of Hispanic descent and standing about six feet tall begins to circle and approach, his leather loafers clapping softly against the asphalt. Before he can advance too close Nina swings her blades in a lightning fast strike, relieving the man of his head. Dawn feels herself screaming but her voice will not come. Laila crouches over, sweating and shaking from the pain, unaffected by the scene. She feels like her insides are burning out. Every muscle and joint in her body feel as if they are ripping apart and forming again “That you’ll pay for” the leader speaks again. “Come on then, try and collect” Nina’s voice is like poison. “No” Laila is able to again speak. She attempts to pull herself up but ends up on all fours causing a sinister smile to grace the faces of the four remaining men. She can again see their decrepit thoughts and uses that energy to pull herself up. “You might want to sit this one out tonight baby girl, I had planned on letting you survive a little while to have a little fun with” “ “Lai, shut up and let me handle this” Nina remains in a defensive stance against the men, determined to make four more heads roll. Laila begins to walk forward, much to her sisters’ dismay.
The pain stops as suddenly as it started. Laila pulls herself from the gravel of the alley, brushing off her dress casually as if nothing is out of order but her dirty dress. She looks at her aggressors with a smile and slowly approaches. “Stop it Lai!” Dawn shouts reaching for her. “I told you not to touch me. I mean it, keep your hands off of me Dawn” Laila says in warning, confusing Dawn even more than what she is seeing. “Lai, get back, now!” Nina orders. Her breasts heave up and down with battle lust that Laila and Dawn had never seen before. “Stay behind me Nina.” Laila says her voice very low. Her lips hadn’t moved, yet her sisters heard her clearly and instinctively back away. “We don’t have to fight baby. I’m real nice.” She croons seductively as she saunters forward in her stilettos as only a sex kitten could. Nina stays ready for battle, prepared to jump to Laila’s rescue when this plan goes completely awry. Laila reaches her hand out to the man. “What do they call you daddy?” Her voice is hypnotically sexy. “They call me Bartholomew,” he says nodding towards the other four men. “But you can call me whatever you see fit.” His eyes rove her body greedily. “Come to me Bartholomew, let me show you what you’ve never seen.” The figure of a man approaches her slowly, drawn in by Laila’s seduction in a way that makes no sense. His eyes shine gray in the night and the features of his face are contorted to monstrous proportions. Slowly long fangs slide in where his straight white teeth had been, packing his jaw with thick, saliva ridden, razor sharp teeth, something similar to a piranha’s. Normally Laila would be terrified, but something in her keeps her feet from taking off. “What is it you can show me that I haven’t seen baby girl?” he hisses over his now dripping teeth. Unafraid, Laila slides her small hand into his, now distended with claws. “I can show you the light” Laila’s head falls back with a snap and her eyes glow brilliantly like two golden beacons. The creature screams in agony, attempting to claw out of her grasp. “What’s wrong Bartholomew? Don’t like it with the lights on?” Her eyes grow brighter. Dawn watches in horror as gold slivers begin to crack the glowing grey of the creature’s eyes until it overtakes them. Laila is literally filling him with light comparable with that of the sun. He drops to his knees. The three remaining men immediately go into attack, their faces now grossly distorted as well. The smallest of the men approaches Dawn, “You will be easy” he snorts over his grotesque fangs. He lunges forward and Dawn throws her hands out in front of her, awaiting the impact and hopefully instant death. Nina has her blades, Laila has whatever the hell that is she just did, Dawn has a broken cell phone and a perfect manicure, there is no way, she thinks, that she can make it out of this. The man lands on her hands but the impact comes no further, slowly she opens her eyes to see him hovering slightly above her swinging and gashing his claws around something he cannot see. “Put me down you bitch!” he swears, his blonde hair the only feature he has that still appears human. Dawn now recognizes him as the valet driver. She reaches through whatever it is that holds him and touches the yellowish skin of his face as if by rote. From the point her fingers touch, his body begins to incinerate slowly. His wails fill the alleyway until he is reduced to ash floating around Dawn on a strong breeze that encircles her only. Now she knows why Laila didn’t want to be touched. Her hair whips behind her in the building current and her eyes slowly slide closed as if absorbing something in the atmosphere. Nina can feel it too, the power. She can see small particles in the air drawing towards her and Dawn and follows them to their source: Laila. “What in the hell?” For the first time since the insanity ensued, Nina is shocked. The two things circling her notwithstanding, Dawn’s incredible feat stole Nina’s attention. Dawn had held that creature in midair and incinerated him by touch. She’d seen some pretty messed up shit in her time, but nothing that far beyond her mental scope of understanding. What is happening to my sisters? Watching Dawn do something so amazing and yet so lethal is astounding. Nina pauses to consider what might have gone through their heads when she’d pulled out her blades and lopped off what they thought was a man’s head. Or even more so when his body collapsed into putrid, brownish green, bile and was sucked down into the asphalt beneath them. Nina has been in a fight or two of this nature, but never with odds weighing so heavily against her. One of the two circling beings lunges towards Nina with a low growl. When Nina swings her blade an immense cold travels up her body and into her hands. Before the full effect of the guttural sound can leave the beings mouth, its head is rolling on the ground, eyes still open before splattering into the greenish goo. “Oh shit” the remaining entity mutters, slowly backing away. Nina herself is frightened by the action. Her eyes rove over her own body stilled by alarm. Her blade has extended itself by at least six inches of razor sharp, serrated edged ice. Water snakes up her right calf and thigh from a small murky puddle she’d inadvertently stepped into in her $800 boots. It curls around her waist and torso and separates to wind up both her arms, freezing in the palms of her hands as extensions to her blades. Nina tosses the blades away from herself in panic, not sure what is going on. The water from the puddle splashes at her feet.
Laila still holds to Bartholomew’s clawed hand, he’s long since dropped to his knees in agony, slowly searing from the inside out. “Come to me” The gruesome, man-like being lifts off of his feet, not of his own fruition. He struggles against an invisible force that has him in its grasp. He snarls and grunts his disapproval against being dragged about by the wind. He is drawn towards Laila, sucked into her gravitational pull. He is wrenched until Laila’s fingers are grasping his cold, vein pulsing, neck. She is repulsed by the sticky, slimy texture of its skin. Its breath is rancid, smelling heavily of the stench of death. Laila’s inner heat begins to fill the creature, causing its flesh to slowly smolder. With little effort, she tosses the beleaguered being to the ground and wedges a stiletto heel just above its enlarged Adam’s apple, not applying pressure. She turns her attention back to Bartholomew, still prone on his knees. Laila’s eyes blaze brighter against the night sky, illuminating the entire alley. Bartholomew fights with all of his strength to get away, digging his claws deep into the hand she restrains him with. Laila doesn’t as much as wince. Her once streaming coils of hair slowly rise from her shoulders and float as though she’s submerged in water. Bartholomew’s immense form convulses in her grasp until every orifice of its quivering body bursts forth with the golden glow that she’d filled him with, making him a gruesome light house for her golden heat until he explodes into plumes of flickering ash. Laila nonchalantly brushes her hands and saunters over to the remaining creature. He’d normalized into the form of a handsome man in a black Armani suit, with a red silk tie as he’d been before the attack. The image of the well built man cowering beneath a small framed woman in high heels and a mini dress seems absurd to Laila, but no more absurd than anything that had happened in the last fifteen minutes. “I didn’t know who you were, I swear. This was Bartholomew’s idea, I was following orders” His plea is a desperate one, seeing what has happened to those who were too foolish to bargain. “Don’t make that mistake again” she warns, eluding to the fact that he, it, would live long enough to have the opportunity. The entity disappears into a vapor before Laila can change her mind.
“Lai, are you alright?” Nina slowly approaches, still on the defensive, watching for any other threats. Laila doesn’t respond to her cautiously nearing sisters, keeping her back to them. She can hear Dawn’s shaky breathing clear as the night sky and the rapidity of her heart beat. She can sense Nina’s as well; her heart is racing but her breathes are controlled and steady, like that of a seasoned warrior. Laila feels her own pulse speed up instantaneously with an extreme drain of energy from every limb of her body. Her breathing becomes sharp and labored as realization begins to set dizzyingly in. What in the hell just happened? She lifts her shaky right hand and stares at the deep gashes left by horror-movie like claws. Her own blood drips from her fingertips to the asphalt. She uses the hem of Nate’s long shirt, still swaddled around her, to cover the wounds. “Lai, Laila its Nina, your sister. Can you hear me?” Nina knows better than to reach for her bewildered sister in this state, unsure of if her battle rage has subsided and unwilling to become an accidental victim of whatever the hell she’d just done. “I’m bleeding” escapes between her labored breaths. The light in her eyes had completely diminished and is no longer lighting the alleyway. “Laila!” Dawn calls out as her sisters body crumples upon itself. Laila doesn’t hear her sisters calling her name as she collapses to the ground. Her body is too heavy for her weakened knees to hold up. Darkness fills her consciousness and Laila can breathe again.
It had to be a dream. Nate consoles himself. What he had seen at the club was not even remotely possible. For a moment he’d thought he was drunk, but a single beer couldn’t pull that off. No amount of liquor had ever made him see what he’d seen last night. It HAD to be a dream. It was either a dream or he is going stark raving mad. Nate plays the story to himself over and over again, trying to make sense of what he’d seen and experienced to no avail. Laila and her sisters had walked away from him. He saw them get turned down by a valet driver and foolishly walk into a dark Los Angeles alley at nearly 2am. He’d followed them to see that they made it okay. That all made sense, but what happened next all turned left in the right turn lane of his mind. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Suddenly he just stopped moving. He could not move forward into the alley or backwards out of it. He was trapped just out of view. That’s when Laila got sick. She’d curled up into a fetal position on the grimy floor of an alley; she was in so much pain. Nate tried with all the fight in his body to get to her, help her up, but he couldn’t get any closer. His arms longed to hold her up and carry her until she had strength.
What he’d seen next was no dream, it was a nightmare. Laila and her sisters had been attacked by five men, or at least he had thought they were men at first. When the first two passed him in the alley it looked like they were floating. H e can’t even explain to himself what he’d seen. They looked like mist, and then they looked like men, then they were monsters. Laila, Dawn and Nina had not only escaped but exterminated the things they were affronted by. It was definitely a bad dream. When he woke up in the morning he was in the driver’s seat of his Navigator, still parked near club Wicked. Nate rubs the sleep from his eyes trying to focus on how he’d gotten there, but has no recollection. The image of Laila’s eyes blazing in the night sticks to his consciousness.
“Pull yourself together Nate” he says to himself in the privacy of his car. He pulls away from the night club and drives in the direction of home. Nate lives off of Crenshaw Blvd., not far from the high school. He pulls into the overcrowded parking lot of his small studio apartment. Roommates definitely aren’t his style, he’d had them his entire life in foster care. As a kid, he always dreamt of having his own room, so as an adult he did just that. He’d gotten his own room and kept it. He doesn’t require much space, just enough to maneuver through while getting dressed in the morning. Nate pulls his loaded Dessert Eagle pistol from the waistband of his pants. Calling the Eagle a gun is a travesty in his opinion, it’s more like a miniature rocket. He pulls up the cuff of his khaki pants and removes his secondary holster, the Berretta. Both weapons are tossed onto the kitchen table, just a few feet from his living room and bedroom. His black sofa is already folded out into a bed, unmade just as he’d left it. The flat screen television hanging on the wall opposite the couch is still on ESPN, also as he left it. All is well in the Washington residence.
Nate tries to wash away the images of the night in a hot shower, but finds himself only seeing them again and more vividly. Laila has always been beautiful and he’s always been attracted to her, but never like last night. The urge to touch her and to make love to her had been stronger than he’s ever felt for any woman. Her body felt as if it were fit to his, feeling her writhe against his manhood had him ready to burst. Nate leans forward onto the shower wall trying to shake her image. Laila is his Achilles heel, the rules change when she gets involved. He never could admit to Laila or himself what she does to him. Nate hates the way she regards him like family, as if he were a big brother, when he wants so much more.
Nate smiles sadly at his own wanting as he dips his head forward, allowing the hot water to fall over his toned, broad, shoulders and his muscular back. If Laila had known all the ways he’s wanted to know her over the years she’d be offended. Back in foster care he wanted to be the first to kiss her, but he’d been afraid she didn’t like him – like him. When he was in Juvenile Hall and her new family arranged for them to have a special visit he wanted so badly to hold her hand so she knew he was okay and didn’t regret anything. The correctional officers and Mr. Walker were there to see that that didn’t happen. In high school when they’d see each other on campus, he always wanted to be with her and call her his girl, but he’d done that with enough other girls to make that an insult to Laila, she wasn’t like other girls. Other girls would call him at his group home and talk dirty on the phone, other girls would meet him in unsavory places and do unsavory things. Other girls were no problem, they had little class, and no innocence left to speak of, he’d seen to that.
Laila has always been different. Nate would roll out of some girl’s bedroom window and call Laila and listen to her dish about her crazy new family and not feeling a part of it. They’d talk all night about how no one got them, and how they would always have each other. She’d been the constant in his life once they met. She always kept in contact with him, always encouraged him to do better and to be better, even when he’d joined a gang in high school and started selling weed. She always saw what he could be. She always addressed who he was instead of what he did. In her eyes he was always just Nathaniel Washington, her friend and confidant: her hero. Laila had never treated him like some gang member or a drug dealer. She knew that whatever he did, he was doing to survive, and that’s all she asked. “Nate, don’t get caught up out there, and don’t get yourself killed. I’d die if something bad happened to you” He can hear her voice like a melody from the past. Laila really got to him, or at least she had before she started college. Laila had a family and a bright future; he was still just another kid from the hood. His life had changed so much and she had no idea. She’d have to stay in the dark on his life now, it’s the only way he can protect her from it. Being a pretend criminal is far more dangerous than being a real one.
Nate lathers quickly and hops out the shower. His restroom is small with little room to maneuver. White tile, white curtains, and white towels: everything is very plain. He has no use for excess. He wraps a towel around his waist and picks up his cell phone. What he’d seen had to be a bad dream, but he still needs to know that Laila is okay. Her phone rings twice before he gets an answer, “What’s up Lai, its Nate” He says immediately. He’d hate to have her think he was some other guy and discover she is seeing someone. “Hi Nate, this is Nina.” He hadn’t called in a long time, but no one usually answers Laila’s phone for her, she is always glued to it when she’s in the country. “Where’s Laila, can I speak to her?” “Um, not right now Nate. She had a little too much to drink last night and she’s not feeling well. I’ll tell her you called” She didn’t smell like liquor last night, and since when did Laila get that drunk? Something is definitely not right. “Nina, just put her on the phone real quick. I won’t be long.” He’s reminded of the days when they were still in school and he’d had to call her house to speak with Laila. Nina was always on the phone, or he’d have to get through one of the two senior Walkers to speak to her. He’d practically had to beg Nina to let them talk for a minute back then. “I can’t Nate, it’s not personal. She really can’t talk now.” Nina sounds exhausted and drained. “As soon as she gets this out of her system and she’s feeling okay, I’ll have her call you I promise.” He sighs his resignation. “Lai’s not much of a drinker,” Nate finally relents. The woman had made it to 30 years old and has never overindulged. She isn’t the type to get drunk. “No, I promise you she’s never experienced anything like what she’s feeling now” Nina hangs up without saying goodbye.
“Laila baby, can you hear me?” Laila can feel her family all around her; she doesn’t have to open her eyes to know that they are there. Momma is sitting on the edge of her bed, holding onto her hand. Daddy is pacing back and forth near her bedroom door anxiously. Nina is leaning against the open restroom door where Dawn leans over the sink and splashes her face with cool water. She can feel all of them, her family, and the room is thick with fear and anxious energy. All of them are waiting on her to stir. What happened? Why is everyone so scared? Laila pulls her lids apart slowly, her lashes feel like thick rope, tangled and matted into one another making the process a laborious one. “Why is everybody in my room?” she is able to say on a strained whisper. “Oh Maurice, she’s awake.” Tears stream down Nadine’s cheeks, and the puffiness around her eyes make it clear that they’d been flowing for some time. Laila tries to sit up but her body feels like it’s made of stone. She feels so heavy and sore that she stops in her effort “No, baby just lay still and rest okay? Whatever you need, you just tell me.” Laila wonders what she’s done to make Momma’s eyes fill with so much worry and guilt. “How do you feel Lai?” Daddy asks, approaching her bed. “Like I was hit by a truck. What’s going on Daddy, what happened to me?” “Don’t you remember Lai?” Nina asks seeming shocked. “Mom, shouldn’t she remember?” Nina redirects her question. “I don’t know Nina, I’ve never seen a coming of age of this magnitude. Laila is the first in a century, maybe, longer. I don’t have any reference to what this is supposed to look like.” Nadine’s voice is serious; she seems to be studying every aspect of Laila, as if she’s never seen her before. Dawn stands ghostly silent in the corner of the room, not speaking or interacting at all. She is more confused than Laila. “Can somebody please just tell me what is going on?” Her voice slowly comes to her, but even it feels heavy. “Laila I want you to think,” Nadine begins, still holding her hand. “Try and remember what happened last night when you went out to celebrate. Do you remember that far? Do you remember Dawn’s dinner?” “Of course Mom, I…” Laila pauses and her eyes shoot immediately to Nina’s and then Dawn’s. Something had happened last night. She squeezes her eyes shut as a torrent of images barrage her memory. They were attacked in an alley. She’d fought off several men. Nina cut off someone’s head and Dawn had burned some guy into ashes. She was hurt and bleeding all over herself, and then there was nothing but darkness. The impressions swirling in her mind drive Laila up, out of the bed and over the toilet, spewing the reality out of her. That was real? It couldn’t be real. Nina is on her heels, holding her hair up and out of the way as she pays homage to the porcelain deity in her restroom. “I did that too when I found out” she consoles as she rubs Laila’s back. “I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t Lai.” “Tell me what?” she asks as she rights herself and rinses her mouth in the bathroom sink. “Who we really are and what we have to do.”
The living room had become something of a debriefing headquarters for the Walker clan. Laila had pulled on a comfortable pair of jeans and a Tee for the conversation. This is where they always have their family meetings. She curls her feet up into the love seat she and Dawn occupy as Nadine and Maurice weave the most colorful unrealistic tale she’s ever heard. Laila can do little more than sit and stare in awe at her family as her adoptive parents tell them about being a part of some elite society of spiritual warriors. Not the prayer and fasting kind, but the Kung Fu and heavy metal kind that actually go out into the world and fight. They try and explain to a closed mouth pair of sisters how what they experienced last night was a gift, or at least a demonstration of the many gifts they all possibly posses as a team of fighters; sentinels to be exact. “So let me get this straight,” Dawn says pulling wisps of her hair behind her very small ears with both hands. “Nina, Laila and I are like some super crime fighting team, like the Charlie’s Angels of the afterlife?” Dawn can find a positive spin to anything. “I never thought of it that way, but I guess” Nina smiles.
“Basically we are responsible for keeping the scum of the afterlife in check. Mom and Dad told me about it two years ago, and I went through my change, but it was nothing like yours Laila. I had some tremors and a cold sweat for a night, but that was it. Kind of like what you had last night Dawn” Dawn nods in understanding and Laila wonders what she had missed while unconscious. “Dawn burned up with a fever and tossed and turned all night” Momma adds as if she’d heard Laila’s thoughts. “You on the other hand were doubled over in pain, sweating and vomiting. You got so hot that I couldn’t touch you, like Dawn had, but then you’d get very cold, like Nina when she changed. Honestly I’ve never seen anything like it in all my days. I’ve been demon hunting since long before you were born but…” “You’ve been what?” Laila exclaims, finally grasping what her family was saying. Demon hunting?
“Have you all lost your damned minds?” Laila is up out of her chair. Everyone in the room tenses at her sudden leap forward, earlier she could barely stand and walk. “Demons are in scary movies, demons are in the Bible, God deals with demons Mom. Have all of you been drinking or something? You don’t hunt demons or fight them! Demons are no more than a symbolic representation of fear and lack of understanding in religions and underdeveloped societies. I’m a scientist for crying out loud. You can’t expect me to buy any of this nonsense!” Laila looks around frantically for someone to agree with her and sound even a little sane. “Then how’d you get the scars on your hand Lai? Those don’t look symbolic to me.” Big daddy points out nonchalantly, as if nothing said has stunned him aside from Laila’s outburst. Laila stops to examine her hand, as she has many times since she’s come to consciousness. Light markings are all that are left of the deep gashes that she’d received before. It had really happened, but why then were the scars nearly gone. “It’s part of the transformation Laila. Your sisters couldn’t come into their abilities until you did. You are the leader of the team and they have to draw from your energy. Before last night Nina was trained to fight and that’s it. She found out last night when they carried you to the car that she could heal through her touch. She touched your wounds and they started to seal.” Everyone’s attention refocuses on Nina, “I didn’t know I could do that, it just kind of happened.” “It’s true Laila, I watched her do it. I was scared too, but they aren’t lying. Something happened to us out there.” Dawn offers sympathetically.
“Well you’re right about one thing Lai,” Big Daddy says, finally having some input, “God does deal with demons. That’s why we’re here, to do his light work.” Laila buries her face into her palms and attempts to channel calm in the midst of insanity. “Do you have any idea how crazy you guys sound?” she quips. “You’re not the only scientist in this family Laila. We’re all scholars, all three of us. I remember saying the same things you are two years ago, and then I was attacked by one. That changed my tune. You already saw what’s out there. You might as well just suck it up, because you may not believe in them, but they sure as hell believe in you.” Laila pieces together her memory well enough to recall those things seeming to know who she was. “How do they know me Mom?” Nadine doesn’t move an inch, but nervous energy shows in her being, Laila can see it clearly. “I should have told you, I prayed and I begged heaven that you’d be allowed to at least start your life before you took on this burden. I should have told you what was coming, but you seem so happy doing what you do and you’ve worked so hard. Life had been so hard on you baby. We got to your sisters before they could ever really see the ugliness of the system. I just wanted you to enjoy peace while you had it, I’m sorry” Tears show in Nadine’s eyes like glass. Laila knows that what she is saying registers as truth down in her mother’s soul. Nadine is as much in her right mind as she’s ever been.
Maurice moves to his wife’s side, sensing that she needs his support. “We didn’t want to believe it either girls, but our paths were planned. I was running the streets still when I found out I was meant to protect you and your sisters. I thought I was losing my damned mind when I started seeing and hearing things I couldn’t explain. At least you have your family to be with you through it.” Laila’s heart sinks into her stomach. Her family? Is that what they really are? They had made her believe they adopted her because she was special and they’d wanted her. All these years she’s thought the Walker’s had come to love her like a real daughter, and that’s why they kept her around. This is why they took her in? “So that’s why I was adopted?” Laila begins with venom dripping from her tone. “You two thought I was some kind of a super cop or the dead so you adopted me?” Nadine scowls at Laila for making such a suggestion.“You are not a super cop or any other kind of cop. You are a Gatekeeper Laila. That’s the name that has been passed down for thousands of years to whoever is assigned this job. You are the Gatekeeper, the rest of us are your sentinels. You and your sisters have been called to protect the world. It’s an honor, and heaven knows why, but it has been bestowed on you. Last night was only the beginning. From what I understand, last night you literally had an entire club under your spell. You drew out whatever filth was there and shouldn’t have been, and lured them to you just in time for you to peak into your abilities. You are strong Laila, your name means Queen of the night. Don’t be afraid of who you are. We are still your family and we love you, but you have a destiny bigger than you know.”
Fear has little to do with it. Laila hadn’t signed up to be deputy dog of the spirit world, and certainly has no intentions of taking a bite out of super natural crime. “What if all this is true and I am who you say I am, but I don’t want anything to do with it?” Nadine pauses as if she’d never considered that possibility. Dad Walker is more ready with a response, “Then we will all do our best to fill in for you Laila, but none of us is the Gatekeeper; just you. Chances are we can’t do your job, or you wouldn’t have been chosen for it. I want you to know this Lai, I’d lay down my life to protect you and I will when the time comes. But you need to realize that the time will come, because whether or not you accept who you are, the enemy does. After that show of power last night they will definitely be looking for you. I just want you to be prepared baby, because they don’t fight fair.”