CHAPTER 1: PRECIPICE
Cold knives of fear dug deep into Rosa Infante's stomach. She bent over in her seat, trying to force her legs to stop quaking. They wouldn't. Eventually the shaking spread to her hands, which lay folded in her lap.
Please be okay. Please be okay.
She lifted her head, staring at the dull white walls of the hallway and the candles floating overhead that provided illumination. When she woke up this morning in her apartment in Boston's Milmothryn Market, she never expected to end up at the Muamok Magical Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. She also never expected the news her cousin, Jared Diaz, to be here lying in a coma.
"Overindulgence of a Daydream Charm." That's what the healer had told her and her family. An examination of Jared's wand showed he had been using the charm three to four times a day, instead of no more than once in a twelve-hour period as instructed. He'd even experimented with the charm to make it last longer. In the end, according to the healer, Jared had lost the ability to distinguish between reality and imagination to the point his brain couldn't take the strain.
Now all they could do was wait, and hope.
We can regrow limbs, mend bones, heal burns, but we don't have a spell or potion that can wake someone up from a coma.
Rosa leaned back in her chair, pressing her head against the brick wall. Why, Jared? Why did you do this to yourself?
She glanced around at the others. Uncle Irving sat with his face buried in his hands. A lump formed in her throat as she watched him. First he lost Aunt Liana, now he may lose one of his sons.
Speaking of sons . . .
Uncle Irving's oldest son, Esteban, sat by himself at the far end of the hallway, as far as he could get from Rosa. Neither of them had talked since the night they argued about trying to help Uncle Irving, an argument that ended with Esteban striking her in the face. She still had so many mixed emotions about that. She didn't think he had done it on purpose, but still . . .
Are we ever gonna talk again?
Rosa knew she wasn't ready to make the first move. Anyway, right now her thoughts had to be with Jared, not his older brother.
Across from her Jimmy O'Bannon and Mireet Miradeaux sat beside one another, quietly holding hands. Just another surprise to this day. She had thought Jimmy left the Wizarding World for good after all the trauma he experienced during the war. She couldn't believe it when she saw him in Artimus' apartment. But instead of hugging him and welcoming him back, she had yelled at him for abandoning her, their friends, the entire Wizarding World.
At least he port keyed with us to Thailand. I guess that's something.
Her gaze then went to Artimus Rand and his Muggle girlfriend, Jenna Fabrici. A brief smile flashed across her lips. She had to give it to Art. He had tried to get them all together to work out the problems that had strained their friendship since the end of the war. Unfortunately, the get-together had deteriorated into a screaming match, one she was largely responsible for.
That thought made her stare down the row of benches she sat on, to her parents, Cesario and Adelaide Infante, the U.S. Secretary of Magic and the Director of the U.S. Aurors Bureau respectively. Mom sat next to Uncle Irving, her brother, clutching his arm and whispering something to him. Uncle Irving, however, didn't appear responsive.
Rosa clenched her teeth. That had been the subject of one of the arguments that erupted at Artimus' apartment. She hurled accusations and insults at her mother, berating her for removing Uncle Irving as head of the Special Magical Creatures Action Team. That move, combined with the death of his wife months before, had started Uncle Irving on a downward spiral that Mom, she felt, did nothing to fix.
I hope she's not making things worse.
Rosa sighed dropped her chin to her chest. She closed her eyes, thinking back to happier times with her family. Not just Mom and Dad, but Aunt Liana and Uncle Irving, whom she thought of as a second set of parents. Jared, her best friend since they were in diapers, more a brother than a cousin. Esteban. While she may not have been as close to him as with Jared because of five-year age difference, they still got on well. Hell, she loved him, like she loved everyone in her family.
I thought everything was supposed to be better with the war over, she thought, not for the first time. But it seemed her family had been a lot closer while they'd been fighting for their lives than they were in peacetime.
She stood up, folding her arms, and slowly walked toward the other end of the hall. She hated this waiting, hated not knowing how Jared was, dreaded a healer or nurse appearing to tell her that her cousin would never recover.
Another emotion tore through her worry. Anger. Anger at . . . well, everything. Her family, her friends, her job at the Aurors Bureau, the war, the whole damn Wizarding World. Why the hell couldn't life be simple, like when she'd gone to Salem? Go to class, do homework, hang out with friends, find a quiet place to make out with her boyfriend, spend the summer with her family. But the war had turned everything upside-down. Even two years after the war ended, things were still upside-down.
Part of her wanted to blame Jimmy. If he hadn't have spent that year overseas at Hogwarts, if he hadn't have agreed to help Headmaster Dumbledore fight Lord Voldemort, if he hadn't have asked her and Jared and Artimus for their help . . .
She sighed and stared at the floor. No. She couldn't blame him. Even if Jimmy had never gone to Hogwarts, the war still would have come to the United States, and she would have been involved with it anyway.
Rosa halted near the window at the end of the hallway. She stared out at the sea of orange and yellow lights and the silhouettes of distant tall buildings that made up Muggle Bangkok. This shouldn't be her first experience in Thailand, stuck in a hospital with Jared in a coma. She should be here visiting him, exploring Magical Bangkok and Muggle Bangkok with him.
Now I may never do anything with him . . . ever.
Tears stung her eyes. Rosa concentrated on keeping them from spilling down her cheeks.
Footsteps echoed behind her. She turned to find Uncle Irving approaching. Her chest constricted as she noticed his sagging face and half-closed eyes.
"Hey, Uncle Irving."
He said nothing, just gave her a barely perceptible nod.
She choked back a sob. It wasn't fair, dammit! A dead wife, fired from a job he loved, his oldest son's wife walking out on him, now his youngest son in a coma. How could life be so cruel to one man? How could anyone recover from all that?
"He'll get better." She gently grasped her uncle's arm. "You know he will."
Uncle Irving stared back at her with dead eyes. "He's my son," he muttered. "My son, my flesh and blood, and I can't do a thing to help him. Just like I couldn't help . . . couldn't help Liana."
Rosa's jaw trembled. She felt a tear roll down her cheek.
Uncle Irving unexpectedly hugged her and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "You're a wonderful niece, Rosa. You always have been."
"Thank you." She barely got the words past the lump in her throat.
"I, um . . ." Uncle Irving exhaled slowly. "I need to get some air. Bye, Rosa."
He shuffled to the door leading to the stairwell and pushed it open. Rosa stared through the rectangular window above the doorknob and watched her uncle walk up the stairs.
She clenched her jaw and hugged herself. From his tone of voice, it seemed Uncle Irving abandoned all hope that Jared would recover.
How could he do that? How could he just give up on . . .
An uneasiness niggled the back of her mind. She turned to the stairwell door again. Why had Uncle Irving been going up the stairs? If he wanted some air, wouldn't he head to the ground floor to go outside? The only place he could get some air going up would be . . .
A lead ball dropped into her stomach. Goosepimples broke out over her body. She remembered Uncle Irving's last words to her. "Bye, Rosa." Why would he say "bye" if he only wanted to get some air?
Oh no. No, no, no no!
She bolted for the door and pushed it open.
"Uncle Irving!" She craned her head, staring up at the numerous flights of stairs leading to the roof. She spotted him, one landing away from the doorway to the outside.
He ignored her and kept climbing.
She sprinted up the stairs, shouting his name.
He pushed open the door to the roof and disappeared through it.
"No!" Rosa bounded the stairs two or three at a time. Her heart raced. Panic spread throughout her.
Don't do it. Please don't do it.
She charged through the doorway onto the flat roof. She couldn't find Uncle Irving in the darkness. Her knees buckled. Oh Merlin, no!
There! She saw him standing in front of the parapet, looking down at it. Shoulders slumped, he lifted his leg and placed one foot on the parapet.
He turned to her. "Rosa, you'd better go back inside."
Uncle Irving swallowed. "Rosa, please. I don't want you to see . . . I don't . . ."
"What? You don't want me to see you throw yourself off the roof?"
Uncle Irving averted his gaze from her.
"Am I wrong? Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you're not going to do that."
He stooped over, shoulders twitching as he softly sobbed. "It's too much, Rosa. Liana, SMACRAT, Jared. I lost it all."
"Jared's not dead."
"He's not going to recover. I know it. Fate is determined to take everything in my life that I care about. It's just . . . everything will be better if I'm not . . ." Uncle Irving peered out over the edge.
"Don't say that!" Rosa stomped toward him. "Jared needs you. He's your son, for Merlin's sake."
"A son I cut myself off from. I cut myself off from both my sons. Now look at them. Esteban's wife walked out on him and took little Rodolfo with her. Jared became addicted to a Daydream Charm and now he's in a coma. Where was I when all this was happening? They're my sons, and I did nothing to help them. They don't need a father like me."
"That's not true. They both need you, now more than ever. This whole family needs you."
"No they don't." He turned his back to her.
"I need you!"
Uncle Irving froze. Rosa held her breath, willingly him to step away from the edge.
He glanced over his shoulder. "No you don't. I cut you off just as much as I did Esteban and Jared. You, who I thought of like a daughter instead of a niece. This is, this is better for everyone. Now, go back inside, please."
"No." Rosa took another step toward him. She thought about going for her wand, hitting him with a Body-Bind Curse or a Levitation Charm. But if Uncle Irving saw her reach for her wand, he might hurl himself over the edge before she got it out. And she had no guarantee she could reach the edge and cast a spell in time to save him before he hit the ground.
"Rosa, please. You've seen enough bad things in your life. You don't need to see this."
"I'm not leaving this roof."
Uncle Irving hung his head. He exhaled slowly.
Rosa bit down on her lower lip. Please . . . please . . .
He turned back to her. "I'm sorry. I love you. Tell Jared and Esteban I love them, too."
"Uncle Irving, no!"
Rosa whirled around when she heard the new voice. A slender witch with regal features and long dark hair stood a couple feet away.
Her mother just nodded to her and slowly walked past her, extending a pleading hand to Uncle Irving.
"What do you want?" he practically growled.
"Irving, please. Don't do this."
"What do you care?"
"What do I care? I'm your sister. I love you."
"Well you have a funny way of showing it." Uncle Irving scowled at her. "You're the one who got me dismissed from SMACRAT."
"I was . . . I never meant to . . ."
Rosa swallowed, praying her mother wouldn't make this worse.
"We're family, Adelaide. How could you do that to me? Your own brother. Didn't I always look out for you when we were growing up? And this is how you thank me?"
"Irving, that decision wasn't easy for me."
"But you still did it." His head shook with anger. "You took SMACRAT away from me. That's all I had to keep me going after Liana died. And you took it from me!"
"I'm sorry!" Mom's eyes glistened in the moonlight. "Irving, I'm so sorry. Please believe me, I never meant to hurt you. Do you want me to get on my knees and beg for your forgiveness? Fine, I'll do it."
"I don't want . . . it's too late for that anyway." Uncle Irving started to turn away.
"No!" Mom took another step toward him. "Irving, think of Jared. What will happen when he comes out of that coma?"
"What if he doesn't?"
"What if he does? No, he will come out of that coma, and when he does, he'll want to see you. Do you really want the first thing he hears when he wakes up is that his father threw himself off the roof of the very hospital he's recovering at? Can you imagine how devastated he'll be? Him and Esteban and Rodolfo . . . and me. Don't do this to them, to us. Don't do this to Jared. Please, Irving. Think about your son. Don't let him carry this around for the rest of his life."
Uncle Irving trembled. He looked to Mom, then over the edge, then to Mom again as she held out her hand.
"Irving . . . please."
He half-breathed, half-sobbed, looked out at the sea of lights covering Bangkok, then stepped away from the parapet.
"Adelaide . . . Adelaide, I'm so sorry."
Mom threw her arms around Uncle Irving and hugged him tight. "No. I'm sorry. Please let me help you, Irving. Please let me make this right. Please."
Uncle Irving nodded as he cried into Mom's shoulder. Rosa wiped away her tears and hugged her uncle from behind.
A few minutes later the three headed back down to the floor containing Jared's room. Mom, with a hand on Uncle Irving's back, guided him to the bench where Dad sat. Once Uncle Irving sat, she whispered something in Dad's ear. An incredulous look spread over his face. He then looked over to Uncle Irving and patted his shoulder. Uncle Irving turned to him and nodded.
Rosa rubbed Uncle Irving's arm as Mom walked away, her heels clicking rapidly on the floor. She turned quickly and went into the women's restroom.
Swallowing, Rosa gave her uncle one last pat on the shoulder and headed down the hall. She placed a hand on the bathroom door, hesitating. Holding her breath, she pushed open the door.
Water poured out of the middle sink. Her mother leaned over it, gripping the sides, and crying.
A quiver went through Rosa's insides. This was not a sight she was used to seeing. Her mother almost never cried.
Mom rotated her head toward her. Tear stains covered her cheeks.
"Mom . . ." Rosa's mouth hung open, unsure what to say.
"I almost killed him." Mom sobbed. "My own brother, and I almost killed. I just thought . . . I only wanted . . . You were right. You and Jared were both right. You have every right to hate me. I am an evil hag. How else could I do what I did?"
"I don't hate you, Mom. I don't. I . . ." Tears streamed from her eyes. A sob escaped her lips.
Rosa hurried across the bathroom. Mom pushed away from the sink and wrapped her in a tight embrace.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. It's okay."
Rosa thought back to just a couple hours ago back in America. She'd been yelling at her mother, saying she didn't need her for anything, saying she would have been better off being raised by trolls.
Those memories made her cry harder.
She had no idea how long they'd been hugging and crying when the door to the restroom opened. Rosa turned around and saw Mireet standing in the doorway.
"Oh. Um . . ." The French witch looked rather embarrassed. "I am sorry to bother you."
"No. No, that's okay, Mireet." Mom wiped at her eyes. "What is it?"
"I just wanted to let you know, the healer just told us Jared is awake."
TO BE CONTINUED