Jamaica Blue Magic: Chapter Three

Jamaica, 2010

Alfred’s Ocean Palace was a beachfront motel, painted brilliant blue, a two-story building with a peaked roof and a partial third floor. The windows were heavily shaded, and the siding of the building was weathered and over-painted. It was surrounded by palms and cotton trees and brush-like vitae trees.

The restaurant itself was open-air and covered by a wooden awning that was supported by two adjacent yellow and orange walls and wooden beams. Inside, the floor was green concrete and sandy, with a bar set in the center with benches around it. Round and rectangular wooden tables with old schoolhouse style chairs were spread out around the interior.

Across from the restaurant was a raised stage with a painting of palm trees and blue skies, and the Alfred’s logo written across the face. Lights hung from the white ceiling, and the walls were cut at an angle so they met at a point in the back. Christmas tree lights dangled from the walls and ceiling, and speakers were positioned around the front of the stage. A band of young musicians with keyboards, drums, guitars and bass played to a lively crowd of dancing, drinking patrons on the beach.

Dylan sat at the bar and waited for Lou, who promised refreshments before they went outside to look for space at one of the many brightly painted picnic tables. The room was filled with sweating, living forms that assailed his senses in every direction. Hearts beat, veins pumped, lungs drew in air, mouths chattered or chewed. He was surrounded by life.

The salty ocean breeze barely kept the scent of sea-touched flesh from his nostrils, and Dylan found himself wondering how many people packed the restaurant club. Inside and outside there was a sea of pale, sun burned, deep golden, ebony, and chestnut skinned people, flowing in and out of the building and the ocean, and up the beach.

The revenant closed his eyes. He was used to the rhythm of the living, but he rarely clubbed, hadn’t since Anna left. It wasn’t about control; the coffee house often filled with customers, and he rode the subway frequently. He’d never attack a mortal. It was more about living. Dylan wasn’t alive, and living like the living had no point unless there was purpose behind it. Cooking for others had a purpose, it made people feel good. Fighting monsters helped people and was one of the few things that gave him a rush, but going to clubs? Drinking and socializing with strangers? That just didn’t do anything for him, not now.

Instinct drove him to scan the moving bodies and focus. His Sight helped him to see them clearly through their concealment spells. Most of the people were human, but some of the auras were dim, others were dark or gray. There was a woman with pale blond hair, next to a handsome Mediterranean man. She was not vampire, but her aura was a pale blue.

Fae, like Danny’s kid. Except she didn’t have vampire blood in her. He hadn’t seen a fae without vampire influence before. He had thought they were all like Liam.

This woman practically sparkled to him. Dylan saw her laugh, and place a hand to her mouth as the man touched her shoulder, and she leaned into him. They were definitely together.

The man was vampire. They both were well dressed, he in shorts and a casual shirt, she in a short, tight, blue ruffled lace dress.

There were others: revenants, ghouls, vampires, shape-shifters, and half-bloods. The undead and their relations were out tonight. One in particular caught his attention: a slender man with thin features. He was tall, with snow-white hair, and dressed in an expensive white suit with a matching waistcoat. His aura was black, like a demon-blooded vampire, but it was stronger, a more pure black than any vampire. The man was no undead; he was a demon.

The Texan tensed, and watched the man weave his way around the crowd. There was something familiar about him, though the face was not one Dylan had seen before.

A tall glass of red liquid, similar to a bloody Mary, slid in front of him. Startled, Dylan peered up to see Lou grinning.

“They have a special menu, Dylan.” He pointed to a tall waiter with a red shirt and apron behind the bar. “Ask Frank; he’ll set you up with another.”

“Frank’s one of us?” Dylan watched the large, dark-skinned man glide over to three lovely women in sundresses and chat with them. He had been so focused on the other man he had failed to notice that the barkeep didn’t have a heartbeat. Great work, hunter. That kind of thing could get you killed.

“He’s a vampire.” Lou confirmed softly. “They don’t discriminate here, either. Even against your kind. Tourism.”

That was welcome news; most places catering to the undead didn’t like revenants, zombies, or ghouls. Though some tolerated them, almost none served zombies. He looked down at the drink and sniffed. A very high-quality blood vodka and Tabasco, mixed with tomato juice, made his mouth water. Stirring it, he saw an eyeball pop up. He quickly poked it down with his straw. Eyeballs and human blood were easy enough to get. They were removed at most funeral homes and tossed, but no reason to call attention to his drink.

“Jeez, man, this stuff legal?”

“Do not worry, they’re legit.” Lou added and slapped him on the back, and held up his own drink. It was a piña colada with a red umbrella. “They’re going to bring dinner out to one of the tables on the beach.”

He gestured to one of the tables outside. There were a few people sitting there already, but the beach was crowded, and Dylan was unable to discern who they were. He shrugged, hoping his friend hadn’t any social plans for him.

“They do what they can here to make a living, Dylan. This isn’t a League controlled country. No League restrictions, though they do have community oversight and federal restrictions. You can relax. Try to enjoy tonight!”

Relax? How could he relax? His life was in New York.

Warily, Dylan sipped at the drink. When it came to paranormals, one never knew, regulated or not, where food came from. “I’m trying. Been a hunter too long.” He was more concerned about the demon than the food, but he didn’t want to mention it to Lou in public.

“Remember, you’re not a hunter tonight.” Lou straightened, and looked over the crowd toward the stage. “Hear that angel’s voice? There is a diva on the stage! It would be a shame to miss her set!” He gestured for the revenant to follow him. “This way!”

Dylan picked out the woman’s deep sultry alto over the speakers. It was warm and inviting as it floated over the low rumble of casual conversation. Maybe Lou was right; even demons took a day off sometimes. He was thinking too much. He needed to feel peace. Not every demon was a problem. Sure, the USA was teeming with them, and he had had a bad run-in with a few, but it didn’t mean there would be a problem tonight.

Besides, Anna would have wanted him to have downtime. Music always made him feel better, and it had been years since he had just listened and enjoyed someone sing, or watched someone dance. They didn’t have to be Anna. Letting go was difficult, though. He was so used to looking for trouble. Lifting his glass, Dylan climbed to his feet. Lou was well into the crowd, on his way to the table outside.

“I didn’t realize they served your kind here,” remarked a smug Midwestern voice. “But I should have expected it. These kind of tourist traps only care about money.”

Dylan swiveled, nearly spilling his drink.

Looking down at him, drinking a large clear martini with a green olive and matching umbrella, was the gray-haired, pale-skinned demon. He smiled thinly, revealing sharp canines.

Strangely, the mortals seemed not to notice them, people still chattered and laughed, as if their conversation wasn’t happening.

Narrowing his gaze, he let his hand slide towards the knife. It wasn’t his preferred weapon, but it was a lot better than nothing.

“I wouldn’t do that here, Mr. O’Brian. You’d draw attention. Many of these people are well armed, but you must know that. Your father did teach you how to recognize concealed weapons, did he not? If not, that fae cop friend of yours must have.” The demon pressed his glass to his lips.

“You have me at a disadvantage.” Dylan said evenly. Asshat knows my real name and about Jason. He has shit manners, too. But those manners were probably on purpose; he wanted to provoke Dylan. With an effort, he let his hand move away from the weapon. Asshat or not, the demon was right. There were at least ten other people in the establishment who were armed, two of whom were undead, not to mention security staff with weapons. If he drew a knife, hed be in for a world of hurt.

“And I thought that sight of yours was keen, boy. Then again, you always were dim.” The man studied him, that faint, thin smile playing about his lips.

“Not dim, just needed to work a little harder than others,” Dylan corrected him. “I’m a genius at what I do,” his words were low, and he fixed the demon with a steely gaze, “and there’s a whole territory in New York City that knows it. Now, begging your pardon, sir, I’d think a well-bred gentleman like yourself would have been taught manners. If my mama heard me talk to a stranger like you have me, she would have whipped me within an inch of my life.”

“There are those who deserve respect, Mr. O’Brian, and those who are no more than puppets to be used. Your kind, living or dead, have always been puppets.” He stressed the word kind, which didn’t make sense right away; living wasn’t anything like the same kind as revenant, that was for damn sure.

Was he with the Blackwells? He’s downright dickish enough to be with them. As he recalled, Elias and his brother Wilfred were neck deep in every prejudice he could imagine, they were a vampires-only club; to them, revenants were nothing but mindless beasts, and they hated fae-bloods.

Dylan felt his revenant rage stir. It took all his will to drive the rage back. Can’t lose it, not here, not because he wants me to.

“Lucky for you I’m on vacation, and I’m not planning on letting you bait me into causing trouble tonight. So, are you going to be a gentleman and get to the point? Who the hell are you? Or are you going to keep being an asshat and taunt me for the rest of the evening? Because I got better things to do with my time, like listen to some good music and hang with a friend.”

It occurred to him how much like Angelus he sounded. Thirty years in New York meant that part of the city was in him now. He was no longer the boy the man claimed he knew.

The smile twitched. For a moment, the world appeared to stop around them, and the demon leaned close. “Your mother sold her soul to me to save yours and your sister’; such a desperate creature. She thought my school would fix both of you, a murderer and a whore.”

Wilfred Blackwell had murdered his mother. But he hadn’t had a school; that meant that the demon before him could only be one man.

The room darkened and spun out of focus, leaving only the cold-smiling face clear before him, the center of the sudden boiling fury within him. Dylan began a lethal lunge, but before he completed it, before his mind completely lost itself, a large, sunburned, strawberry-blond woman with bright tropical flowers in her hair boldly pushed between the two of them, planted a hand on Dylan’s chest, and shoved him back.

“Well, some things just never change, do they?” she remonstrated gently, speaking with a thick southern accent. “I’m so sorry, Dylan, you’re still an asshole magnet.”

Stunned, Dylan stared straight at the freckled face of his old friend, Paula Swan. The anger ebbed away into shock. Of all people, he hadn’t expected to see the fiery Creole were-puma in Jamaica, but there she was, all five-foot-six, two hundred and fifty pounds of her. She hadn’t aged in thirty years. She was still lovely, with a round, bright, perfectly made-up face and plump lips. Her curvy hourglass figure was adorned in a loose, short, flower-covered red skirt with a slit up to the thigh. She wore a matching tight top and gold jewelry and her hair was styled, with curls on top of her head.

The rage was forgotten.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

From behind, Louis plucked the drink from his hand, “Do we have a problem here, Dyl?” he asked, directing his attention to the demon.

Disappointment crossed the former Reverend Beckmann’s face. Apparently the additional numbers did not appeal to him. “No, no problem. I was just leaving.”

“Very kind of you, sir. It would have been rude to make the nice people of this establishment have to clean your guts up off the floor,” Paula said sweetly. “Which is exactly what would have happened if I hadn’t happened along to keep Dylan off you.”

“Come on Dylan, let him go,” said another voice, and a dark sienna arm slipped around his elbow and eased him from the bar. “I had no idea you were this pathetic.”

He was that pathetic? Looking over, Dylan found himself being led away by another old friend. Tina Marty, a Harlem University Law student, and like Paula, one of Anna’s old charges from SoHo. Tina wore a pair of jean shorts, and a pretty peasant blouse with a wide beaded neckline. Her dark, springy hair was pulled back, and her face was focused with a confidence she had never shown in her youth.

Glancing behind him, he noticed one other figure joining Lou and Paula, a taller, very fit man in his early forties, with blond hair and broad shoulders. Henry, Paula’s husband. Jesus, is the whole Muffin House Gang here?

“What the hell are you guys doing here?” he repeated.

“Anna is dead, Dyl. Do you think we’d let you deal with this alone?” Tina asked. “She was a part of all of our lives! If anyone understands what you’re going through, it would be us.”

A tall, skinny kid with tan skin, short messy black hair, and coke-bottle glasses bulled his way out of the crowd. “He’s not alone,” the young man said, shoving his glasses up his narrow nose with a knuckle. “He’s got two goons sitting at the table, at three o’clock from the bar. They are armed. One’s got a medicine bag on him, as well. He’s a magician, but like nothing I’ve seen. You know how to pick them, Dylan.”

The young man wore an Iron Man T-shirt, and a pair of jeans. He looked about sixteen, but Dylan knew better. His fellow revenant was two years younger than he was.

“John? You too? Qui called you guys?”

 

“Angelus,” John corrected him, folding his arms. “He said you were having a mental break of epic proportions, and they were sending you to Jamaica. Good thing we came, too, Wonder-Bread boy, because you would have splattered douchebag’s brains all over the floor and gotten yourself hexed into a grave.”

Tina’s eyes narrowed as she placed her hand on Dylan’s arm and glared at the seemingly young man.

“John, so help me God! You could be a little politer about it!” Gently, she led Dylan by the arm. “It’s all right, Dylan. We’re all upset about Anna. We all wanted her to come back.”

The crowed started to thin as they stepped out onto the sand. The music was louder, and most of the people were dancing near the stage. Tina led Dylan to the table Lou had picked out for them.

“Aw, c’mon, it’s Dylan, he can take the truth, T,” John protested as he plopped down at the table and folded his arms. “He appreciates bluntness.”

“I would have splattered his brains, Tina,” Dylan admitted. He looked at his empty hand, missing his drink. “But thanks.” He noticed his two revenant friends had plates of fried food. He licked his lips and peered down. “Guess they have a full menu?”

“Yeah.” John popped something in his mouth. “Make the best blood eyeball poppers on the island. As good as Sardies in New York; not better than mine though.”

“So what happened? Who was that guy?” Tina asked, worried. “Was he a Blackwell? We put a restraining order on them! They’re forbidden to bother you!”

And vice-versa.

“We’re in a non-League country,” Dylan pointed out. “All those rules don’t apply here. And he’s not a Blackwell. He worked with them. He’s a demon.” Dylan felt the anger trying to rise again, pushed it down. “Says he has my mom’s soul.”

“That’s bullshit. How much do you wanna bet he’s one of their pals? He was just trying to piss you off.” John replied. “Revenants have a short fuse. He wanted you to make a scene. He thought he could make you go batshit and nearly succeeded. You’re predictable, Dyl.”

“Not that predictable. I can control my temper now.” Dylan stretched his legs. “Paula had no problem stopping me, and I didn’t try to go through her.”

“And if Paula wasn’t here? Anna’s gone, Dylan,” Tina pointed out. She fished around her plate and jabbed a fried crinkly thing and placed it in her mouth. It sort of looked like a clam. “That’s gotta affect you, Dylan.”

“Ok, I can sort of control my temper.”

Lou placed a glass in front of Dylan and sat down next to John; they were joined by Paula and Henry. The Renfield looked over his plate of baked seafood.

“Your demon friend left. He is powerful, Dylan. He is not an ordinary demon. Something about him is different. Very different.”

“John says he’s a magician.” Dylan cupped his glass between his fingers.

“What in hell is he doing here?” Paula asked as she picked up her fork and studied the plate in front of her. On it was a lobster tail, cut in half, and several braised shrimp. “He didn’t come out here to give you a hard time, did he Dyl?”

“No one knew we were coming,” Lou told her. “Filipe bought the tickets in secret, and that man knows secret.” He stirred his drink. Beside him, Henry drank from a tall glass of red liquid. He had no food.

Dylan frowned, distracted, just for a moment.

“Wait a minute, Hen; you’re dead? When did that happen?”

The vampire shrugged. “’Bout five years ago, no biggie. Fell off the roof trying to fix it and broke my neck. My mom was a little freaked, she was worried about the kids, Paula, the Sports Center, and our charges; but well, you know, I rose, so everything was cool.”

“Wed just lost his dad the year before, so it’s been hard on her,” Paula said.

“Yeah, I know how it is.”

Sometimes it took time for mortals really to understand the implications of the vampiric infection. Death was just as complex and filled with contradictions as life. Humans needed to rethink it. Henry, unlike Angelus, was lucky enough to have stayed alive until his mid-forties, married, and had a family before he became a full vampire.

“Now, about this gentleman?” Lou said pointedly.

“Beckmann? I don’t know what he calls himself now,” Dylan told him. “Honest to God, Lou, I was about to let it go. I knew he was a demon. Then the bastard comes over and said my mom sold her soul to him. But that should be old news. Hell, it was thirty fucking years ago.”

Placing her fork down, Tina pressed her fingers to her lips, troubled.

“Exactly how did your mother sell her soul?”

Dylan shook his head. “He tricked her. It’s how demons usually work. They convince you they’re something they’re not, trick you into believing in them. And my mom, she believed he was going to save us from the vampires and undead, enough to give Brig and me to him.”

Yet it had been Blackwell who had killed his mother, not Beckmann. His mother had also betrayed him. Was it possible she had freed herself before she could be taken completely? After all, John was right, demons lied, and his mother wasn’t weak, she was stubborn.

“This could be a coincidence,” Henry said cheerfully. “He didn’t want to press the issue after Paula and Lou showed up. Maybe he just saw Dylan and tried to get rid of him by pissing him off because Dyl just made him nervous? Now that we’re here, he’ll just go someplace else to hunt.”

Henry always was a glass-half-full kind of guy, and infinitely more down-to-earth with his theories. A demon hunting for an easy meal at a swinging Jamaican vacation resort? That made sense. Dylan bowed his head and ran a hand over his face. Beckmann had been a demon! How had he missed that?

“Still, that’ the problem,” Dylan said reluctantly. “They don’t just hunt, Henry; they’re not like Vampires. They settle into a place, make themselves a nice big congregation, or school, or fancy club, and get people to believe in them, and then feed off their rancor. Like the Westboro Baptist Church that pickets all those military funerals? Run by demons.”

Henry looked worried.

“Doesn’t mean he’s not scouting a territory.” John proposed. “Though you’d think he’d pick a place inland. People are poorer, easier to manipulate, lots to feed on.”

“Poorer actually arent easier. Oh, a politician can feed them good lines, but when it comes to survival, a lot of them tend to be harder sells. The working poor and middle classes are a lot easier to lead, especially by someone promising prosperity and hope. They have lots of anger, and wealthy demons make them feel good about it. Influencing the rich and powerful helps a demon get a wider reach, but feeding off the working poor and middle classes is how he gets his power.”

Lou stirred his drink, thoughtful. “Tomorrow, while most of you sleep, I will see if there are new churches with white ministers in the area. Dylan… this Beckmann, he is part of the American League, is he not? They have an influence on this island, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an estate here. I could look into that as well, after we find out his name.”

Which was a problem, because the man no longer looked like the one Dylan had known, and the only connection Dylan assumed the man still had was with the Blackwell family. “I hate to say it, but the only clue’s the Blackwells. He worked with them, but I have no clue what he’s calling himself now.”

John waved his fork in irritation.

“I did not plan a demon hunt and am not prepared for one.”

He jabbed another fried thing with his fork, exasperated.

“And, I left my laptop at the hotel.” He dropped his fork, and fished into his pocket. “But I did bring my iPhone. I can do a search from the beach near the hotel.”

“John, not now! This is a healing and mental health day for all of us!” Tina reminded them. “We’re not here for trouble. This is a vacation. If we wanted trouble, we could have stayed in New Orleans! No offense, Dylan, but when it comes to your family, you can’t think rationally. He might have been saying it to get a reaction out of you. After the Blackwell situation, demons don’t like you.”

Tina hadn’t changed a bit. She was cautious, and still concerned about their welfare, even now, when they could hold their own.

“Tina, John, Dyl, Paula and I have been pounding the tar out of troublemaking paranormals for thirty years now,” Henry said, his voice slightly muffled by the glass he was sipping from. “This is no different than what happens at home when some vampire is trying to bully one of our charges or someone hexes one of our neighbors.”

“No offense, T, but we can’t let some unholy bad thing gobble up tourists and feed off the locals.” Paula stirred her frozen margarita. “Besides, I’m sure there are places on this island to find supplies for hunting. Since sorcery is illegal, it might be hard to find the right magic supplies, but I have connections.”

“Excuse me, I’m the one who talked with Angelus, here. Dyl’s been obsessing and breaking his back over this hunting shit. He needs to step back and focus on dealing with the loss that’s been driving him!” Tina snapped bluntly. She glanced back to Dylan and fixed him with a stern glare that reminded him of Sacco when he was certain Dylan wasn’t facing something important. “No more running from losing Anna. And we all know he does that by hunting.”

“Not anymore, T. And this is important and dangerous.” He held her gaze and leaned his arms on the table. “It’s about my mom. The man didn’t kill her, but he says he has her soul. Can I honestly let that go?”

He watched John as the gangly nerd noodled around on his phone.

“I can get on Safari, but the connection is SLOW!” He wiggled the phone, frustrated. “Oh, and T, soul hoodoo is serious business, if it’s not bunk.”

“John’s right. And this is my mother we’re talking about. Can I take the risk?” Dylan asked.

Not all demons were capable of taking souls, but some understood necromantic arts, and those who did were very formidable. He had a medicine bag, and that meant magic. Maybe it was someone else doing the magic, but maybe not.

Tina sighed. “Not alone, Dylan. We’ve always been a team,” she said, finally conceding the necessity. “This fight can’t be about your revenant. It’s gotta be about saving people, and Anna would agree. You’ll lose yourself someday, Dylan, and we’ll be the ones hunting you.”

Dylan shrugged. He wasn’t going to argue. Tina had used the Anna trump card, and he knew she was right. They had to work together, and Anna wouldn’t want him hiding from his hurt by letting the revenant take over. They had been a team in the past, and they should be again. John and Tina were the thinkers; Dylan and Paula were the heavies; and Henry was the heart of their group.

He studied Louis as the tall man seemed to focus on the stage and the woman singing there, and wondered where he’d fit in.

This was also a different kind of fight. He wasn’t sure how to say it to Tina. It was a hunt, not a political statement like in the past. The Muffin House Gang had been big into politics, and theyd been making a political statement, getting people like revenants and ghouls their first chance for recognition. But this wasn’t politics; this was dealing with a monster.

Dylan watched Tina turn to John, pull out her own phone, and waited while the two of them tag-teamed web surfing for information.

“We’ll search for Blackwell and his associates, start from the eighties and go from there. Maybe there’s a new Headmaster for this school your mother was so fond of. What’s the name of it, Dylan?”

Dylan recalled pamphlets lying around the house. “Liberty Cross,” he answered. He smiled. Tina and John had always been the brains of the group. He had forgotten how much he’d relied on them. They had been the ones who came up with the plan to challenge the League of Vampiric Peoples by using the territory battles to convince the League to give revenants, zombies and ghouls a chance to join, to become citizens. Back in the eighties, the League generally just culled other races, but Tina had confronted the League with a legal argument that forced them to accept all undead, even zombies, as members, so long as they could control themselves sufficiently to fit into society in some way.

Not, Dylan thought, that it had completely changed. The less-respected supernatural races were still really only safe in the few Free Cities, of which New York was the largest. The American League viewed them as something between experiments and nuisances. Change took time. At that, they were better overall than the European League.

“Be sure to check to see if there have been any recent Blackwell graduates from the school. That would confirm a connection with the school still exists.” Paula leaned over so she could get a better look.

“If any of them were in sports, you might be able to find articles on them,” Henry added.

John rolled his eyes. “One thing at a time, Hen!”

“Thank you, Hen,” Tina said, countering John’s oblivious rudeness.

Dylan leaned his chin on his palm and watched his friends as they argued back and forth. It seemed like just yesterday they had all been in group therapy, a bunch of frightened victims of paranormal violence struggling to get control over their lives.

“You’ve all graduated from the Muffin House with honors.” Lou said quietly from beside him. “What do you think?”

“Sometimes you talk like you knew her.” That was possible. Lou had been around a long time. He could easily have met Anna. Dylan drained his glass. He looked at the eyeball on the bottom and quickly passed it over to John, who popped it in his mouth like a maraschino cherry.

“Might have,” Lou said, shrugging. “Sometimes when I look at her picture, the one you have in the café? I think I remember her, but then it doesn’t mesh with what I recall.”

He looked across the beach, beyond the crowd of swaying, dancing club patrons.

“Did you ever feel like you belonged to something, even though you know you don’t?”

“Once.”

A breeze cooled his face, and Dylan’s attention was drawn to the ocean as the waves lapped at the sand, just beyond the tables.

“When I first saw Anna. I knew I belonged with her. I belonged in New York City, and they were my family.”

He gestured toward his friends. John was waving his hands in aggravation, trying to silence the chaotic flow of helpful and less-helpful ideas, while Tina jotted them down, organized as ever.

“How about you?”

There was no hesitation.

“I knew I belonged in New York, too. The café, it felt like home, my calling. Everything felt familiar, the office, even the damn spinny chair, even the smell of the place. I knew Id come home.”

“Funny how things work out, isn’t it? If it’s worth anything, you do belong. You’ve got that special kind of crazy need to work at O’Reily’.”

The desk and the spinny chair had been Anna’s and were with her before Dylan had entered her life. They had belonged to Reggie, according to Anna.

Lou gave a full, rich laugh. “Crazy, eh? I suppose you can call it that.”

Looking back to the others, Dylan nodded. His life was all kinds of crazy, but then again, it seemed right, especially the people in it. People he trusted, which was the important part.

“Wouldn’t change it, Lou. Not for all the porn on the Internet. Hell, I think I’ve lived the best years of my life in New York, so I see it as a blessing.”

The tall man nodded and turned his attention to the stage and the band. They were playing a slow piece. It was soft and pleasant, and floated up like a breeze in the clear night, blended with the cool hush of the ocean waves.

“Count those blessings every day, Dyl. Because you never know when things will change.”

Like Anna, he thought. Life moved so fast, it was easy to lose track. Dylan had already lost the most important person in his life. He needed to learn how to slow down and enjoy the people around him.

Anna had taught him that.