Astyr woke the next morning feeling good. She went for her jog and met up with Randy just past the driveway. They jogged in a comfortable silence for a while and after they turned off of the paved road and were headed back towards home, Randy asked her if she would go to lunch with him that afternoon.
“I know it’s not a lot of notice,” he added, “but when I thought of it yesterday, I realized I don’t know your phone number.”
“Oh, I can give you my number,” She said, “and I’d really love to go out this afternoon. I just have to ask Grima first.”
“Cool,” he said, “I thought since we’re going to the dance together, you might want to hang out sometime when we’re not on the run together.”
Astyr laughed at that and agreed that it would be nice to be able to get to know him better. She gave him the phone number for her cell phone, Grima had bought her an iPhone the first week she was here, and told him to call after half an hour to see if she could go. She waved goodbye and headed back to her house.
She took a quick shower and then went to talk to Grima. “Do you think it would be ok if I went out this afternoon with Randy?” She asked. “He’s the one I’m going to the dance with.”
Grima smiled at her and said it would be fine as long as Astyr was home before curfew.
Astyr thanked her and when Randy called, she gave him the good news.
“Be sure to wear pants and a warm jacket, ok.” Randy added before he hung up.
This left Astyr with some free time and she decided she wanted to spend it asking Grima some questions.
“Grima, do you mind if I ask you about something?” she started
Grima told her to go ahead and Astyr paused for a moment to figure out the best way to open the subject.
“Why does Gunnar have to stay home until he turns sixteen?” she asked. “I know he said that his energy levels would be unstable, but what does that mean?”
“Well, dear, that’s complicated.” She said. “It has to do with both the way our species absorbs energy and the ways in which our bodies can use it afterwards. The start of the regeneration process requires a great deal of energy and yet the body of a fifteen year old is not quite ready to process it in large amounts. Do you see where this imbalance might cause problems?” she asked.
“Not really,” Astyr replied, “I think you should probably spell it out for me.”
“As you wish,” Grima said and continued, “Just before an Aesir’s sixteenth birthday, or any of the races of our species, his body will start to absorb energy in large quantities in preparation for the start of regeneration. However, before the process actually begins, his body isn’t equipped to store that much. All Aesir are able to use the energy in their bodies in various ways such as seeing what is in someone’s soul, changing their shape, manipulating the minds of humans, and even discharging bolts of energy out of themselves. I’ve even heard of people using it to fly, although I can’t imagine they could go very far. All of these things and more are possible through the use of the energy in our bodies. Some things require very small amounts and some can completely drain a person to the point where they can barely sustain life.
Before most of that is possible, he needs to get through his sixteenth birthday.
The last couple of weeks before this birthday, the body can be unpredictable in the ways in which it tries to compensate for the energy imbalance. It isn’t unheard of for a person to go from spontaneously changing forms to being unable to do so much as lift a hand. It is rather hard to be in public during this time, as you can imagine.” She finished.
Astyr took a moment to think this all over carefully.
“Is it dangerous?” she asked, “Can Gunnar get hurt or die because of this?
“Oh, don’t worry about Gunnar, dear,” Grima told her. “He’s in good hands with his parents and Hakon with him; and at the coming-of-age ceremony there will be many of us present to help him if something goes wrong.”
Astyr realized that she couldn’t ask for more than that and felt reassured for her friend’s sake.
“What about me?” she asked Grima. “Will I go through this before my birthday?”
“Yes, Astyr, you will. That is why I spent so many years trying to find you.” Grima sprung this news to her with no warning.
“You were looking for me? How did you know anything about me?” This was the last thing Astyr had expected to hear.
Grima paused and thought carefully before answering. “Your mother was a dear friend of mine. She fell in love with someone and married him in secret. She never told anyone the name of her husband; not her own family and not me. She said it was too dangerous because he had an enemy who was desperate to take revenge against him by hurting his family the way the enemy felt that his family had been hurt. When she became pregnant, he sent her away so that no one would find out. She came to me and I was helping her through her pregnancy. One night when she was close to her time to deliver, she disappeared. I searched for years but I never found a trace of her. I did think that I might be able to find her by searching for the child who would have been born fifteen and a half years ago. When I found out about you, I knew at once that you were that child and I used my contacts from when I used to practice medicine to have you brought here.”
Astyr was floored. She was so deep in shock that she could only sit and stare at Grima, not able to force words out of her mouth.
“I know this is a big thing to spring on you, dear.” Grima said kindly. “We can talk more about this later when you’ve had some time to think.”
“Yeah,” Astyr said, “I guess I do need some time to wrap my head around this. Can I just ask you one more thing?” she added.
“Yes, of course.” Grima replied quickly
“My mother,” Astyr started hesitantly, “Is she, I mean, do you think that she might be, you know, still out there somewhere?”
Grima sighed sadly and shook her head. “I hope more than everything in the world that she is, but after all the years I spent searching, I’m forced to doubt it. I’m so sorry, Astyr.”
Astyr thanked her and then went to her room. She laid down on her bed and just stared at the ceiling with her mind in turmoil. She was glad that Gunnar was going to be okay and she wasn’t worried about her own upcoming birthday, yet. But the idea of her mother was burning in her heart.
She had been raised to believe that she was an orphan; abandoned at birth by a mother who hadn’t wanted her. But according to what she had just learned, her parents had loved each other very much and had sacrificed being together to give Astyr a chance to live. What on earth could have happened to cause her to leave Astyr alone on the side of the road? Was it possible that Astyr’s mother was still alive somewhere. Grima didn’t think so but that didn’t mean it was impossible.
No, Astyr told herself; don’t even think about this. Even if she hadn’t been abandoned on purpose, it didn’t change the fact that she had been left behind. If her mother hadn’t come back to find her by now, the chances that she would now were almost zero.
She heard a loud roar coming from the driveway and sat up to look out the window. It definitely didn’t sound like Hakon’s Camaro. In fact, it wasn’t a car at all. It was a motorcycle; a big motorcycle. It was shiny and black and had chrome pipes coming out of the massive engine on both sides. Astyr jumped up and checked her face in the bathroom mirror before grabbing a black jacket to wear over her jeans and long-sleeved black tee shirt. She said goodbye to Grima and promised to be back well before ten o’clock and then ran down the stairs to see Randy pulling off his black helmet.
“Oh my God!” Astyr said in amazement. “What on earth is this?”
“This,” Randy said proudly, “is a Triumph Rocket 3 Roadster.”
Astyr’s face just went blank. To her, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between one motorcycle and any other; they all had two wheels, handlebars and an engine. “Ah, great.” She said in a vague way. “I take it we’re going to go for a ride today?”
Randy got a big grin on his face, “Yep! Don’t worry, Astyr I’ll drive slowly until you get used to it.” He held out another black helmet and after Astyr put it over her head he closed the chin-strap for her.
“You look great like this, Astyr.” He told her. Then he put his own helmet on and swung his leg over the seat of the bike. Astyr climbed on behind him and perched herself on the small piece of leather that passed as a back seat and wrapped her arms around his waist as he started the engine and slowly turned the bike in a wide circle and drove off down the driveway. It was slow going over the rutted dirt road and Randy had to swerve from side to side to keep the bike balanced and to avoid large pot holes, but as soon as they got to the paved road, he turned left, away from town, and revved the engine so that they roared off down the road.
Astyr absolutely loved it. It almost felt like flying as the wind whipped past them. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the small two-lane blacktop and so they were able to speed south and really enjoy the scenery. She was surprised at how comfortable she felt with her chest pressed so tightly to Randy’s back. He was really muscular and with his black leather jacket on, Astyr couldn’t get her arms all the way around him. Between her jacket and his body heat, she was perfectly comfortable and found the ride to be enjoyable and more than a little bit thrilling.
After an hour they arrived at the shore of a large body of water and Randy drove the bike all the way down to the beach. The sky was clear and bright blue and the temperature wasn’t too cold since they were sitting in the sun. They were sitting overlooking the clear turquoise water on the terrace of a beachside restaurant that seemed to be popular with the locals and eating burgers and fries with lots of ketchup. Astyr had already spent some time telling Randy how much she had enjoyed the ride, and now she was telling him about her friends at school and some funny anecdotes about the cheerleading squad. They finished eating and went down to walk along the beach and Randy started asking Astyr about her childhood. After her conversation with Grima this morning, it wasn’t a topic she really wanted to think about, let alone discuss, and so she just briefly mentioned that she was an orphan and had grown up in foster homes, Grima’s being the last in a long line.
Randy seemed to pick up on her reluctance and changed the subject. She was grateful to him for that and they spent the afternoon having a good time in the little coastal town. They stayed long enough to watch the sunset across the water and when it was fully dark, they put their helmets back on and hit the road back home. Astyr was much more relaxed on the back of the big machine now and so Randy started to drive faster and even pulled the front wheel up off the ground as he pulled away from the gas station. They sped through the night and arrived at Grima’s house way too soon. Randy stopped the bike near the edge of the clearing that the house stood in and they both took off their helmets to say good night.
They got off the bike and after Randy was finished strapping her helmet down he stood up and faced her in the darkness.
“Thank you for coming with me today, Astyr.” He said in a soft voice. “I had a really good time.”
“Me, too, Randy.” She answered. “Riding on your bike was so much fun and it was really nice spending time with you.”
“If you like riding with me, why don’t you let me give you a ride to school in the morning? I usually leave at seven thirty but I don’t mind showing up a little early if it means getting to see you before work.”
She was surprised at his offer but the idea of getting to ride on his bike in the morning was kind of exciting; almost as exciting as the idea of getting to see him. “If you really want to, I’d like it.” She said.
“I’d more than like it,” he said. “I’ll pick you up here at seven sharp.” He leaned towards her as he said this and brushed his lips gently against her cheek. The small gesture sent pleasant shivers down her spine and she had to force herself to stand up straight and not lean into him. “Good night, Astyr, sweet dreams.” She wished him a good night as well and made her way up the stairs as he drove off into the night.
Randy was tired from the long drive and didn’t want to deal with his father after having spent such a nice day with Astyr. As he parked his bike next to his father’s old Harley, he tried his best to take as much time as he could before heading upstairs into his house. When his helmet was put away and his bike was clean of all the dust from the road, he had no more excuses and with a sigh of resignation climbed the weathered wooden steps up to the living room. He found his father in the usual position, slumped in the old recliner that had been here when they moved in with a mostly empty whiskey bottle in his hand. Randy wondered briefly how many he had finished before this one; it took a lot of alcohol to get one of their kind that drunk, but his father was always dedicated to the cause and willing to put in the effort.
Randy tried to move silently across the room but before he could reach the door to his bedroom, his father’s slurred voice called his name.
“Randulf? Randulf! Hey, boy, I’m talking to you. You hear me?”
Randy wanted to just ignore him and go straight into his room but he knew that would just make it worse. It was always easier to just get through whatever the old man wanted until he was satisfied. “I’m here, Dad, what do you want?”
“You know what I want, you pup!” He growled and tried to rise from the chair. He only managed to shift his weight over the arm and leaned precariously over the edge twisting his head back to look at Randy. “I want you to do what we came here for so we can get the hell away from this place and away from Lucky. I’m tired of being under that old man’s thumb!” Most of this was heavily slurred but Randy had long experience in translating his father’s speech at times like these.
“I’m doing fine, Dad.” He said. “And anyways, there’s still more than six months, and I’ve already got her going out with me. Just leave me alone and I’ll take care of everything.”
Yep, Randy thought, just like I always have to take care of everything around his drunk of a father.