Kethrin returns to the Grove of the Memory Trees, to pay her respects to her dead sister and check on her ex-lover. Only she discovers that her sister isn't buried where she should be....
The light from the setting sun cast stripes of red across the clouds like streaks of blood.
Kethrin felt a shiver. Such things were sometimes omens, and if her returning to the family grove was laden with grim foretellings, Ket decided, she should probably turn around. But Michael was there, and the call of the memory trees was an imperative she couldn't deny.
"So what are you going to do?" Ket asked herself as she pulled into the gravel driveway and killed the headlights. There was a dull ache in her belly every time she thought of Mike, wholly separate from the tear in her heart where her sister Lizzie had been, and it was more than the dull pang of ancient love lost.
After Lizzie's funeral, MIke had withdrawn from the world. And over the months, the feeling had grown within her that it was more than simple grief. Lizzie had been Mike's wife, yes; but she'd also been Kethrin's sister. And Kehtrin was justified in coming out here and checking up on him. Who better to share the grief?
The acreage had changed over the years. After seven years under Lizzie's care it seemed thicker and darker, more wild somehow. There was more undergrowth and splashes of random color than there'd been at the wedding. But then, Kehtrin had shown up only long enough to give a blessing of prosperity before barreling out of town.
It wasn't because her sister was married to Kethrin's first real love. There'd been a green baby born in Newfoundland with webbed feet and hands. The Selkies were causing a lot of property damage and that wasn't the kind of thing you take to the local police.
Sometimes, Ket regretted her choice of lifestyle. The folks she negotiated with and the methods she used to maintain the Accords were far from the everyday world. One day she'd be dealing with the Unseelie Courts in Nova Scotia, the next with Vampires in California. How did you relate to normal--blind--people when your world was filled with such variety? She'd found it impossible to explain to Mike a decade ago, when they were dating. But after seven years in the grove, surely it would be easier. He might even see, now.
Footsteps startled Kethrin from her reverie. Michael crunched across the gravel of the driveway, surefooted. He was barrel-chested with a broad smile. He'd let his hair grow out from the buzz-cut he normally wore. His cheeks were sunken and she could see the chords of his neck. In the dark, she couldn't tell about his eyes, but currents of blue and gold vibrated from him like heat swells from midday cement. In all, he looked far healthier than Ket had expected.
A dozen different explanations ran through her head. All her practiced words crumbled. "Mike." she opened the door and took a step forward. "I called, but kept getting voice-mail. Are you..? I mean... I just came because I... I didn't see--”
Suddenly, she was surrounded by Mike's powerful arms, in an embrace so strong that maybe words weren't necessary. He held on to her for a long moment.
"I missed you at the funeral." Mike said, a low, throaty baritone.
"You were busy." She said, pulling back slightly. "And I wasn't sure if--"
"If you were someone I wanted to talk to." Mike finished smoothly. He let her go and held her at arms length.. "Your problem was with 'Lizabet." He said seriously. "Not with me. Never with me."
Mike turned away suddenly. He reached through the drivers' side window and flicked the switch that opened the trunk. "How long are you planning on staying?"
"Probably only a day or two. I'm still on call." It wasn't a lie.
"You'll have to stay in the sitting room, then." Mike hefted her bag, grunting momentarily under the weight. "The studio's a mess. I'm working with an agent in Toronto to put together a final showing of her unfinished works..."
Lizzie had been a creative whirlwind with the same metaphorical impact on her surroundings. Her work was beautiful, destructive, ethereal and sometimes disturbing. And the impact it left on her life showed the same destructive force. It was that precise impulse that had driven the rift between her and Kethrin.
But they'd grown up in the grove. So, Kethrin had known something was wrong just before the autumn equinox. One of the Memory Trees had died, and the blow had struck Kethrin as if she'd been hit by a pole axe. Lizzie had told her on the phone that it was a lightning strike, but Kethrin had known she was lying.
Unfortunately, Kethrin had been held prisoner by the Mokole Court in Ecuador and by the time she'd gotten free and found her way back to Georgian Bay, Lizzie had already died. Mike's family had organized the funeral and after the first day, Ket felt like she was just in the way. After all, she was the wayward sister-in-law.
For a startled moment, instinct kicked in and Ket felt a rush of fear for the grove, but Lizzie had tended to it for the better part of a decade. She'd surely have taught Mike the foundation of their traditions.
"Go on." Michael said in less of a non-sequitur than she'd have expected. He motioned to the darkest part of the grove--the Oracle's Path "I'll put coffee on. You'll know where she is."
Somewhere in the dense tangle of trees, there'd be a sapling growing from Lizzie's grave.