The color of armor
Rayne stood in the open doorway holding a cup of coffee she was not sure she wanted to drink. She was already hyper and anxious and the caffeine stung. It was quiet and dim, not light yet, not completely dark. The walled courtyard didn’t quite light up until after the dawn spread out across the road, so she stood in the dark and waited.
Last night her brother Eric called to inform her he was picking her up to take her to to Sandy Point to get her car. Their father told him he needed to help his sister and to make it happen. She should be ready to go because he didn’t want to wait for her, and he was coming at six o'clock in the morning. Duff was distracted and once he heard it was Eric, apparently comfortable with the idea.
Nobody asked if she wanted to go.
Rayne heard the car pull up and Duff call down the stairs at the same time, telling her to go on out, so she let the door close behind her and went on out. There wasn't anything else to do.
Eric was driving a white BMW roadster convertible, and he leaned against the fender and smiled at her. She’d heard about the car. Nate put in most of the money to buy it, money he had apparently been hoarding for years for just that purpose, and then had to ask Eric for the amount he was short. She hadn’t expected Eric to accept the offer, no one expected it, but he had. The twins didn’t like sharing.
What was not unexpected was Nate’s refusal to go to his father for the money. As far as Rayne knew he had never even mentioned the purchase to him.
“Good morning.” Leaning against the fender, Eric eyed the coffee cup in her hand. “Don’t spill that coffee on anything; you want me to hold it?”
Rayne turned aside to set the cup down on the curb where Duff would either get it or leave it for the housekeeper. “I’m not going to spill it. I’m not bringing it. I don’t want it.”
"I didn't mean you had to put it down on the sidewalk. If you don't want it, take it back inside or put it in the trash. Don't you have a trashcan out here somewhere?"
Eric stepped away from the car and pulled her into a big hug. “Are you okay Rainie?”
“I’m fine,” she lied. “You have jumper cables and everything just in case?”
Duff walked through the gate and across the short strip of sandy grass, took her brother's hand and made the usual 'hi how are you nice to meet you' thing. They’d never met before. Duff hadn’t met any of her family except her father and maybe Wyatt and she wasn’t sure about Wy. Oh and her mother - Rayne was definitely sure Duff had met her mother. Since her mother had spent the last several months screwing Blade, they had to have met.
Eric gave him a quick, casual once over then asked, “Aren’t you leaving in like a day? I’ve seen the ads for the tour, I thought the band would be gone by now.”
Duff gave him a tight smile. “Not quite yet. “
Rayne had never intended to go on the tour with him and hadn’t thought it was a big deal to blow it off. Duff didn’t seem to mind. Rayne found nothing glamourous about a band tour and he certainly knew it. That had changed. She definitely did not want to stay in this house with the stairway up to that room all by herself for months, and she didn’t know where else to go. If Jimmy hadn’t died she would be safe in her own house and could fly out to join Duff when it worked for both of them. In the week since Jimmy’s death, everything in her life had changed.
Duff slipped his arm around her, tucking her close to his body, his hand tight around her waist. “I will make this work.”
She felt him draw a deep breath before he turned to look at her brother. “Our tour dates have been rescheduled in the past. The meeting this morning will be about final arrangements and I intend to bring it up.”
Eric seemed to realize something wasn’t quite right. He dropped it. “Yeah, okay, I’m sure you’ll work it out. I’d like to get back by dark, I’ve got a thing I’d like to do tonight so we need to get going. That detour for the flamingo ruins is going to add an hour as it is.”
She opened the door and huddled up on the leather seat, pulling her legs up and hugging her knees. If Eric had a problem with shoes on the upholstery, he would tell her. Duff leaned over the door so close she could feel his breath on her cheek and said firmly. “You will call me if there is any problem.”
“I will. It’ll be okay though.” Rayne didn’t want to let go or leave the house, didn’t want to even get out of sight. She had been uneasy about Duff driving her there and supervising the trip, resentful knowing he would limit her freedom of movement, but now that it wasn’t going to happen she would much rather he come with her after all. She forced a smile. “Eric won’t let me fall in a hole or something.”
Eric got in behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, started the engine and turned on the lights, and looked past her at Duff. “If her car won’t start or looks like it’s not going to make it, I’m not dealing with it. My dad will take care of it or you guys can do it, whatever works for you.”
Duff stepped away from the curb and nodded. “Thank you Eric.”
With a little show of unmistakable drama, one corner of her brother’s mouth twitched with amusement and he inclined his head and said solemnly, “You are welcome, Duff Tyson.”
He drove to the dead end, made a U turn and headed down the road back towards the harbor and the road out of town. Eric was different; he wasn’t like anyone else in the family and that little gesture was typical: teasing without malice, finding a way to turn a tense situation into something a little less crushingly awful. Nate laughed at him but Eric didn’t seem to mind. “That was courtly. What is it that Nate calls you?”
He downshifted, turned right and accelerated hard down the empty road, glanced at her and grinned. “Nate knighted me. I'm Eric the Young.”
The Stone Sisters Islands, southern archipelago. Flamingo Temple Ruins.
Three hours out of South Beach the car stopped somewhere bright and loud and weird. Rayne had fallen asleep, sleep she needed, and woke with a bang when they parked next to columns and crumbling walls and a waterfall that didn't look natural. It was a literal bang - people were shouting and knocking things around. A girl next to some towers struck a pose and winked and waved frantically and yelled something, maybe Eric's name since he grinned and shouted, "Hey Lin!"
She took a deep breath and tried to wake up. She knew this place, she'd seen photos of it, a dig people were excited about because it was so old and they'd found bodies of people and flamingos. It was the flamingos that made it so cool, not the dead people. What were they doing here?
"Sandy Point. I'm taking my sister to pick up her car, and it's a hell of a drive. Cutting through here saves us hours. I really appreciate it, Emma."
"Oh you're welcome. The detour scares off the tourists but we try to work with normal people."
He had a way to cut two hours off the trip and he hadn't mentioned it? Could they go back the same way? Rayne blinked through the light and the oppressive heat - how hot was it - and wondered if she recognized the woman as well as the place. Maybe. She was kind of pretty. She didn't seem like a girlfriend, but Rayne didn't know anybody the twins dated anymore. It had all sort of slipped away.
"Thanks, you saved me two, maybe three hours. I'll buy you a drink when we get back."
"I won't be back until the weekend but by then I'll want more than one. Call me?"
"If I can break you away from Nate."
She laughed. "Just call. I'll answer."
As they pulled away Rayne leaned on her elbow and looked away from one of the guys who had been shouting at one of the other guys. He was staring at her unless he was staring at Eric - either way he was out of luck. "So who's the girl?"
"Emma de Barra. You've probably seen her on that show about archeology, Ancient Archipelago, the one that uses Dad's tracks. She's in a couple of my classes."
So Eric's 'friend' had some kind of connection to their father because she wanted something from him. Maybe that's why she was nice to Eric. It made her feel bad, or worse since she already felt awful. She snapped at her brother, not meaning to, the anger intended for someone amorphous or at least not physically here. "What did she have to do to get permission to use his music? He never does that. Everyone is always after him for something and the women are the worst."
Eric gave her a narrow eyed glance as he negotiated the rough trail that passed as a road. "She asked him. What the hell is your problem? Dad doesn't need protection you know. He doesn't need you to get out there and challenge people on his behalf. He can say 'no' all on his own; he knows how to do that. He says no and the people go away. That's how it works."
Insulted and annoyed, Rayne kicked at the floor of the car and glared steadfastly out at some huts hanging out over the water. The roofs were falling in. Maybe Emma de Barra had to spend the night in one of them along with the other sweaty stinky angry digging people, although that didn't seem quite fair. Eric obviously liked her. She probably hadn't actually done anything, However, Rayne knew who had. "Maybe you're wrong."
"Rainie, I've got Nate protecting Mom and you protecting Dad and both of you convinced you're right and pounding on me all the time about it. You're both crazy. You're not a white knight and neither is Nate and I don't want to hear it anymore.
"I'm not the black knight either. Nate's closer to that than I am."
The car bounced and she accidentally bit her lip and winced, thought about complaining and then didn't. Eric gripped the steering wheel with both hands. "You don't even know what that means, and you both wear it well. Shut up and go back to sleep."
Sandy Point. House by the bridge
She hadn't intended to sleep again but the long ride and the quiet wind lulled her right back into it. When Eric pulled up outside her house, he had to wake her up. The street was empty. It was full summer in Sandy Point, it should be crowded, but the weather had been cold and unsettled so the whole place looked sad.
Rayne sat in the car and looked at her brother. She felt sticky with sleep. She felt like telling him she didn't want to get out of the car.
He didn't look very happy either.
"Go check your car, Rainie. They're calling for more rotten weather and I want to get out of here."
Rayne slammed the car door, stepped over one of Sandy Point's worn out curbs and strode down the sidewalk toward the driveway. Eric was the one who demanded she meet him, and Eric was the one who scheduled it for that insane time of the morning. She hadn't called him and begged him to drive her somewhere she didn't want to go. "I didn't ask you to come in the first place."
"Yeah, I'm aware of that. Start the car and we can both leave."
The engine sputtered but it caught, and settled in and purred happily and efficiently. It ran. She could drive it back.
"Okay," she said, climbing out, knocking her knee against the door, "it starts. We can go."
Eric crossed his arms, stepped irritably away from one of the more intrusive palms and demanded, "What's going on? All the way here - no, since I picked you up at Duff's place - you've acted like going to Sandy Point was the last thing you want. You don't want the damned car or you don't want it enough to come all the way out here to get it. You look terrible. You look like being here is making you sick. Why did you want to come?"
Rayne shivered in the heat and clutched her bare arms. "I didn't want to come. Nobody asked me. Duff told me he thought it was a bad idea, and he was right. It's all empty, and there's nothing but bad memories."
Eric stepped out into the road as if he intended to get in his car and drive off and for a moment Rayne was afraid he was going to do just that and leave her here alone. He paced across the street and turned back, looking exasperated. "If you didn't want to come, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you call Dad and ask him why he set this up? What the hell is the matter with you?"
It was complicated. She felt guilty, and scared, and anxious about what was going to happen with Duff, and underlying all that she was angry. Something terrible was going on and her father was still lying about it. She needed to stay in control but there was so much, and she wasn't used to feeling so overwhelmed and so helpless. She just went with Eric and she didn't know why she didn't refuse.
"I don't know. All I know is I didn't want to go but here I am."
He came back across the street, briefly touched her on the shoulder, walked around her car looking at it, then and started back toward his car, keeping her by his side by watching her every move now.
"Okay, you're here but you're leaving. You want me to drive you back or do you want to go ahead and drive your car? If that's what you want, I'll follow you and make sure you're all right. What's it going to be?"
They stopped right in front of the gap in the fence that led to the blue stairs and the screen door and the porch behind it. Duff said the place was almost completely empty. They'd left a few things they could get later: a couple of lamps, a chair in the kitchen, a mirror that Shooter accidentally broke but he thought she might want it repaired, and some items on the porch. Rayne didn't really want to go strolling around the house but it seemed to call to her. It was the place she went when she moved out of Jimmy's house. She probably should not have left him, not at all, he needed her and she let him down, and the house sort of stood for that terrible decision. She should go in one last time.
"You go on ahead, Eric. Duff said he left some things and I'd like to take them if I can."
Eric glanced down as if trying to keep his calm, and then in his quiet voice said, "You don't want me to hang around, do you?"
"I want you to give me a little space to think, that's all. It's not like I don't want you around."
"Rayne, I can't do that. I can't leave you here. If you feel like you have to go in and you want to do it alone, I get that, but you have to come right back out again and get in your car and leave the island. I'll wait somewhere. I'm not going all the way back unless I know you're okay."
She smiled, walked around the car and leaned over and gave her brother a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you sweet knight. Don't worry."
Rayne hesitated, watching his car, then with a falling heart put down her head and went up the stairs through the screen door and into the little painted porch.
The floorboards creaked in the empty room. Someone had closed two of the three windows but left the middle one open and a curtain still hanging. It could have been either Shooter or Duff since Duff came home exhausted and she assumed Shooter was equally wiped. Who cared about a window and a curtain? However, they left her old chess table too and the pieces along with it. She’d thrown a sheet over it to protect it from the weather, intending to move it inside, and then Jimmy died and here it was. It was the sort of thing they would have decided to leave behind for now along with the chair in the kitchen and the table lamps.
What was strange though is that the game had been abandoned with pieces still in play. Rayne had the bizarre thought of Duff and Shooter taking a break from moving furniture, sitting down and playing a game of chess only to be interrupted and then leaving it that way, pawns set aside, the knight advancing, the future unknown.
Jimmy bought those pieces at a yard sale even though she had never been a good chess player. One pawn had been missing, a black pawn. Jimmy had given her a seashell to use for the pawn and joked that it would probably be the first one to ‘die’, and usually chose black since he considered it somehow 'fair', but there was no sign of it. Maybe someone had knocked it on the floor and swept it up and thrown it away.
He had touched those little pieces of carved wood, held them in the palm of his hand, tossed them up in the air, sometimes tossed them at her. The piece in the center, standing there as if he had just set it down, that was Jimmy's. It was his black knight.
It was not something she considered or decided. It simply happened. She turned and slammed through the screen door and down the porch stairs toward her car. She would come back for the chess set, she wouldn't leave it, Jimmy would not have liked her to leave it. There was nothing else here, not in this house, and she was here in Sandy Point and she was alone and there was something she had to do.
She was shaking. She was determined. She was going to say goodbye.