I really love how Lara manages to freak me out and then ten minutes later say everything is okay. As if that’ll calm me down and make me put my lampclub back where I’d found it. The ones in our room are heavy and useful for bludgeoning people to death, which Lara had jokingly noted when we’d first walked in. I hadn’t expected to need to put that to practical use!
I’m in the process of of giving her a death glare as she walks in when she’s followed by this dark haired Tibetan girl. She’s maybe a little younger than I was when I first met Lara and my snarky comment dies in my throat. It had been a good one, too. The poor girl looks half-starved and I can’t blame Lara in the slightest for her compassion. I slip an arm around her waist as she calls to have some food delivered. But I still have some snark in me. “If this is your hint about kids, it’s noted.”
She shoots me a look and I give her my most darling smile. I’m leaning in to sneak a kiss when I realize the girl is gaping at us. She probably doesn’t see two women acting this close all that much around here, and I step back. I can sense Lara relax as I do so. Moving over to the bed I sit next to the girl. “I’m Sam, Lara’s...person.”
The girl gets this determined look in her face. “I’m Dolma. And neither of you need to do anything, I’m fine on my own.”
Oh there’s some serious stubborn pride there and I kind of like her. She reminds me of Lara and me. I wonder if I was that bad. Lara was. She still is. “Just because you don’t need anything doesn’t mean we don’t want to help. Trust me, Lara can outstubborn the both of us combined if she sets her mind to it. It’s better to just let her help.”
She sticks out her lower lip in a pout. That might work under other circumstances and it’s really hard not to waver under the power of it. I glance back up as Lara approaches, and wonder what she’s planning. We can’t exactly take the girl with us when we leave.
“Food will be here shortly.” She plants her hands on her hips and regards Dolma, studying her like she’s a particularly fascinating sculpture. “Do you have anyone? Any family or friends?”
The girl shakes her head and I feel my stomach tighten. I’ve only just started mending things with my parents. Sometimes I really do forget how lucky I am. This girl doesn’t even have a Roth. Maybe that’s it. I look at Lara again, really look at her. Roth did so much for her when he was the only thing she had left in the world and she wants to pay it forward.
My wife nods her head and returns to the phones. I wonder what she’s doing but when I move to ask she just shoots me a look and I shut my mouth. Okay then. Instead, I occupy my time asking Dolma questions about the city and the people she’s seen here, filming the whole time. She’s not very talkative, but I get a little bit out of her.
Lara hangs up the phone, then comes over and sits next to us. “Sam, do you think you have something she can wear? I’ll take her shopping tomorrow but until then I think we can get her into something cleaner.”
“Yeah, I have a couple things!” I bounce up and start rooting through my bags. I find a t-shirt I usually sleep in and a pair of sweats. If Dolma ties them tight enough they should stay on her long enough to get her something in her size. “I mean if we gave her something of yours it’ll never fit!”
“I don’t know if that’s supposed to be an inappropriate joke or not,” Lara says. “But you should really refrain around Dolma.”
The girl rolls her eyes, and I giggle. “Lara, she’s not five. Remember that I lost my virginity at-”
I give Dolma the clothing, still unable to stop the grin on my face. “Go change in the bathroom.”
When she’s gone, I turn to Lara. “How do you do this? You just find a kid in the middle of freaking Tibet and bring her home.”
“And she had this.” Lara pulls something out of her pocket. It’s some kind of carved wolf. I can feel it’s energy giving me the heebie jeebies almost immediately.
“What the hell is that?”
“A key,” Lara says, looking suddenly tired. “From my father.”
“A kid, who by some miracle knew your dad?” This isn’t a door I want to open any time soon. I sit next to Lara and take her hand, trying to absorb this crazy coincidence. That’s how we’re sitting when Dolma comes in. She looks at us, then sits in one of the chairs and pulls her legs up.
“Did you know Amelia Croft, too?” I ask her, after there was a long silence. Dolma shakes her head.
“Just the man.”
“How old were you when you met him?” I’m trying to figure out the math in my head because if the timing works out it would be around the time Lara’s parents vanished.
She shrugs, and I feel Lara shift in irritation next to me. So instead I say, “Okay, never mind. Food is almost here.”
We don’t get any more answers and we never end up visiting any of the places we’d planned on. Lara spends a lot of time making arrangements on the phone, too and by the time we’re flying out of Lhasa, Dolma has been set up with a small apartment, a cell phone, and a monthly allowance.
I take Lara’s hand as I watch her look out the window. I wonder if she would have done any of that if her family hadn’t been involved. I don’t have the heart to ask her, because I don’t want her to have to think about that. But knowing her, she asks herself the same question. Besides, I’ve got other questions on my mind.
“What is it, Sam?”
Her question startles me, and I take so long to answer that she looks at me. “Well…” I give her a shrug of my shoulders. “I was wondering how come we’re not knee-deep in snow right now. I’m not complaining. I don’t think we need to be chasing after wild geese right now.”
She holds up the little white figurine that Dolma had given her. “I’m not ready, I guess. I don’t think I want to know the answers, or what I’ll find. It’s been so many years, and I’m just not ready.”
There’s so much resignation in Lara’s voice that it hurts. I wonder how much is what she really feels or if it’s that damned wolf. It doesn’t sound quite like her and it’s just a teensy bit alarming. Lara should be chomping at the bit but she’s sitting there talking about not being ready. I take the figure from her and I can feel Himiko stirring inside me. She’s pacing around like a caged tiger and maybe this is how Lara feels all the time. Even a moment’s lapse and the monster comes out to bite you and everyone you care about.
Carefully, I put it away in Lara’s carry-on. Like water washing over me, my own personality reasserts itself and Himiko is gone. It seems like whenever I’m around one of these things my control over myself weakens. It’s terrifying and the last thing I can do is tell Lara about it. I can’t burden her with my existential bullshit.
“When it’s time, we’ll book the first flight out there. I promise you.”
Her tired smile buoys my spirits. “Well Sam, what’s next on our whistlestop tour of the ancient world?”
“I wasn’t sure if you were still in the mood for any of that. We spent an extra day in Lhasa, and this...whole thing with your dad.”
Her finger presses to my lips and she shakes her head. “I’m not going to change my life around for things like this. We’ll be back home eventually and then we can let the world back in, but until then I’m going to enjoy my honeymoon.”
Of course, her finger is in the perfect spot to start sucking on and I manage to distract us both for a couple of minutes. Her expression gradually lightens until there’s only laughter in her eyes. I can never get enough of it when Lara looks like that. It’s a look she reserves exclusively for me.
I don’t let Laura see our destination when we change planes and keep her distracted whenever the pilot mentions where we’re going. She finally puts her arms around my head until after the pilot announces half an hour to landing, and then lets go of me. “Rome!”
There’s a lot to do in Rome even when you have a week, so I’ve given us three days. That had been part of my plan all along, and even with the extra time in Tibet we’re still going to get the full stay. We’re barely settled into the hotel before Lara’s trying to drag me all across the city. I indulge her because I know she’s still got Tibet on the mind. Besides, soon enough the sun sets and the night is mine.
Even though my feet are killing me, I put on my most killer heels and my shortest dress, and pin Lara down until she gives in and puts on the outfit I picked out for her. This manages to backfire pretty spectacularly when she rolls me onto my back and pins me to the bed. Lara’s eyes are hooded and dark and I drink in her gaze as my body lights up like a Christmas tree. It takes me ten minutes just to straighten myself out when she’s done with me but it’s totally worth it.
Rome’s nightlife is supposed to be excellent. I have the most beautiful woman in the world on my arm. Lara is wearing this sexy, low-cut blouse and stylish leather pants, which matches really well with the black dress I’m wearing. Heads turn as we walk into the first bar and I grin toothily at Lara. She has to feel as proud as I am. My hand slides down her arm and touches the ring on her finger. I love when she wears it there instead of around her neck. I guess she isn’t expecting any kind of danger or climbing today.
This gorgeous, sexy woman is mine, and from the way she glances at me, she feels the same way about me and there’s just something about that that makes me stupidly giddy. I don’t even go for drinks, I just drag her out to dance. Lara eventually finds her rhythm. My arms are around her neck and shoulders and we lock our eyes together, oblivious to the world.
She gives me a feathery kiss on the lips and touches her forehead to mine. “Before we left for Japan, I asked Winston to have the master bedroom stripped down. New bed, different furniture...I was torn between something modern and something classical but decided you’d like modern better. We can make it truly ours once we’re home.”
It takes a minute for that to sink in. She really is serious about living at the manor. I check her forehead for a fever and she swats at my hand, rolling her eyes. So I poke her nose instead. “You better be doing this for you and not out of some misguided sense that I need some big place or something.”
“It’s for both of us, Sam. Yes, there are a lot of memories there, and it’s so ostentatious it’s a little nauseating, but it’s just being wasted sitting there, unlived in.” Lara hates waste. After all our time spent with her working two or three jobs just to get through University and keeping a roof over our heads, we’ve both learned to be thrifty. Well she learned and just made me copy her, anyway.
“Lara, there’ll be like three people if you include Winston.” I hate pointing that out, especially when her face furrows up. “Maybe we should open it up to someone. We travel a lot, right? I’m not saying rent to strangers because that’s skeevy but what if we converted it into … I don’t know, a shelter for kids or something.”
“Now that’s a thought…”
Anything else Lara might have said is lost when someone taps my shoulder. It’s a woman, maybe late twenties. She’s pretty, in the girl-next-door sense. Her skin is tanned and there’s a long, curved scar that runs from just her left eye, down across her nose and cheek all the way to her jawline. That eye is cloudy, but her right one is the color of emeralds, and she has on dark eyeliner. Her hair though. Her hair makes me jealous. It’s long, dark red and shines in the light of the club.
She asks in Italian if she can cut in. Her voice is low and smokey and I can picture her belting out a song like ladies used to do in the forties, drawing the music from the very depths of their being.
I don’t get a chance to answer before she’s swept Lara away from me.
They dance for like twenty minutes while I nurse a drink. That lady has moves, and in a slinky navy colored dress she’s putting them to good use. I get distracted by the way the fabric molds and flows around her ankles and then at how it hugs her breasts. And it just depresses me. Lara can tap that if she was inclined. There are a lot of people she could be with. Dancing with. Looking very serious and concentrated at. That’s it. I get up with every intention of throwing the first punch, but Lara intercepts me first. I pout at her and there’s more hurt in my voice than I want to let out. “Enjoy yourself?”
“It’s not…” Lara sighs in frustration and presses her palms to my cheeks. “We need to get back to the hotel and change. I’ll explain on the way there.” Her face falls as she takes in my expression. “Don’t look at me like that, Sam. You’re the only one for me.”
“Yeah. Tell that to Tits McGee.” I pull away and make it outside before she grabs my arm and holds me, her front to my back. It’s pouring out and I don’t really care if I’m channeling Himiko or not. I’ve come to learn that Himiko is the jealous sort. Or maybe she just brings that out in me.
“I did. The first time she made a pass at me I made it very clear I was already claimed by the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. This is about business, Sam. Please don’t be angry. It’s about an artifact.”
Turning around, I stare at her face. She’s genuinely fretting. My anger abates and the downpour slowly turns into a drizzle. “I just get … I mean look at her curves.”
“She does nothing for me.” When I give her a look she rolls her eyes, then drags me into a taxi for the ride back to the hotel. She doesn’t let go of my hands, and it isn’t long before I’m leaning in against her. “I take marriage very seriously. You don’t...you don’t stray. Especially when your wife is this jaw-dropping Japanese princess.”
“Tell me more about this wife of yours,” I reply, nuzzling my nose into the crook of her neck.
“Oh! Well she’s gorgeous. When I run my fingers through her hair it’s like touching fine silk. Her eyes are almost always filled with light, and she’s smarter than she likes to let on. Her ability to take raw camera footage and make it into art is supernatural. I’ve known her for years and she always comes up with ways to surprise me. And…” Lara lowers her voice to try to hide her embarrassment. “And she’s utterly brilliant in the sack. A creative mind in love, you know.”
“Mm. Your wife is lucky. She has this tall, sexy and intense woman who loves her that much.” Taking Lara’s hand, I place it on my leg and rub it in place until she gets the hint. Her eyes keep darting furtively to the taxi driver until I turn her face and kiss her. I’m having trouble breathing by the time we pay the taxi and stumble towards the elevator. This is exciting but really kind of frustrating since Lara is so paranoid we’ll get caught that she can’t concentrate on what’s important. Namely, getting me off.
That all changes in the elevator when she lifts me up against the mirrored wall. I’m completely at her mercy, her hand between my legs and her mouth on the pulse-point of my throat. I don’t care where we are or who walks in on us and my nails draw blood on her shoulders. I scream my release into her mouth as she holds me against the mirror. Lara lets me down gently, both figuratively and literally, and presses some fingers against my cheek. That makes me blush more than what we just did.
The elevator dings and this elderly couple enters. I’m standing there, my hair going in every direction, the hem of my dress riding up on one hip. Lara not-so-discreetly fixes that, and I reach up to smooth out her shirt.
Lara’s face is as red as mine. There’s this jolly song playing over the speakers as we go up several more floors while we stand next to a golden girl and her husband. I can’t say a word, and stare straight ahead until the door opens. I grab Lara’s hand and drag her out of the elevator. As the doors close, I swear to god I hear laughter behind us.
“Oh my fucking god!” I double over and start to laugh too. “Oh my god!”
Lara leans against the wall. “We are never doing that again!” I look over at her and her shoulders are shaking. I poke her in the ribs and the laughter bubbles forth. This is probably some kind of horrific nightmare for her. Which means I’ll have to work extra hard to get her to loosen up again. I’m in an amazingly good mood though, and push Lara through the door when we’re back in our room.
It’s another thirty minutes before we’re back in a cab again. Lara makes me wear something good for running and climbing. She’s threading her wedding ring onto the string of her pendant when I finally get around to asking what’s actually going on. “So Tits McGee has some kind of...artifact? Or does she know where one is since we’re dressed like we’re going on a burglary.”
“Giovanna. That’s her name,” Lara corrects, and I wrinkle my lips and mouth the name like it tastes bad. It’s snooty. I revise her up from girl next door to Desperate Housewife.
“This is what I get for feeling jealous around Soraya, isn’t it,” she says, letting out an exasperated sigh.
“Well, she knows enough about the official word from our adventures to have done her homework, and she said she knew where there was something that might be similar to what we’ve encountered.”
I put my hand on Lara’s lap possessively. “Yeah, so she follows me on Youtube. That doesn’t make her an expert in funky power skulls.”
“No, but she does know things about them that you cut out of the videos.” That makes me pause. When I edited together everything out of Costa Rica and Peru I’d been careful about how much I’d shown of the copies and some of the weird faces.
“Like what kind of things?”
“That the artifacts and the shadow copies are related. She claims she’s been researching this for over a year.”
“You can’t seriously be trusting her.”
Lara shakes her head, squeezing my hand and then opening the cab door to let us out as we come to a stop. I’m relieved. I don’t like that woman on principle and I’d never actually spoken to her. And if she knows too much, there’s no telling where she got the information from, or who she’s actually working for. Whatever she told Lara has to have been really convincing.
It takes me a moment to recognize where we’re at. I turn to Lara. “The Vatican? Are we going to be committing blasphemy? Because if we’re going to be committing blasphemy I’m wearing the wrong pants.”
“We’re not…what? Giovanna told me that the artifact is in there. I wanted us to investigate a bit first before we meet her.” Lara takes my arm and leads me along the the outer wall. “Maybe we can sense whatever might be in there. Or maybe the figurine will. It seemed to react positively when I was speaking to her…”
“Lara, are you seriously listening to an ancient wolf statue?” It’s then that I feel it. This energy in the air and Himiko reacts violently to it. Way more violently than the tiff in the club. I lean into the wall for balance as Lara says my name. It’s like she’s talking through glass.
I shake my head when the sensation passes, and look at Lara. The fright in my eyes is reflected in hers. “I’m okay I’m just...there’s something in there and Himiko doesn’t like it.”