Twenty-four and a quarter.
My father gripped my hand, much stronger now than when I’d brought him home, and I sat down on the edge of the bed the way Donar had often sat on mine.
“I worry about you,” he said. “The way you moon around all day, talking to yourself. I hear you sometimes, through the wall, and I know you can’t be yakking with Eric so often, busy as he is.”
I flushed. Old habits died hard, and at home, most of my time with Donar had been spent alone in the house. I hadn’t ever considered that anyone might hear me. “I guess I just like to hear the sound of my own voice.”
“Mrs. Phillips used to tell me she heard you carrying on conversations with someone, when you were a little girl. I thought you’d grow out of it. Or it was just something you picked up from your mom, thinking it was normal.”
“From Mom?” I asked, trying to keep the strain from my voice. “She talked to herself, too?”
His lips thinned and his brown eyes met mine, even and sad. “Your mom was sick, Anna. Real sick, even when she took her medicine. She heard voices. It was harmless mostly. Just gossip and conversations, but when she forgot her pills it got ugly sometimes. Especially at night. I’d hate to find it snuck up on you, too.”
My stomach twisted and I swallowed hard. “You don’t have to worry, Dad. I’m fine.”
He searched my face before letting go. “You should tell Eric. So he’ll know, just in case.”
“He’s a doctor, Dad. He’ll take good care of me.” I leaned down and kissed his forehead, like he used to kiss mine. “Get some sleep, all right?”
I didn’t speak to Donar that night. Or the night after. But I felt him in the back of my mind, waiting, wondering. There.
“You promise that if I ask you to leave me alone, you’ll go?” I whispered into the darkness. “Just like you said when I was nine.”
I was silent for the last four years, Anna. All of this has always been your choice.
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. He was right, of course. He only came when I called.
Even if it was an illness, if I could control it, control when I heard him, did it matter?
I guess I’d find out.
I started studying the Eddas and the Sagas, and sometimes, when I could get away with it, even Asatru. I had never been a religious person, and I didn’t mean to start now, but I had spent the last twenty-plus years of my life talking to a something that claimed to be a god, and I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this could be ascribed to some spiritual experience. I would rather be communing with god than schizophrenic, in any event. I would rather be a pagan than wear a straight-jacket in a padded room.
I wasn’t sure what Eric would prefer. Probably something that could be medicated. Something he could understand. I still remembered Mrs. Philips and her threats to take me to the doctor. I still remembered what Donar had told me, too. Crazy or not, I wasn’t ready to lose him on anyone else’s terms but mine.
My father sent me boxes upon boxes of my mother’s books, unearthed from the crawlspace where he’d hidden them after her death. I sat with them in the middle of the floor, unpacking each one carefully.
“I wish I’d known we had all these,” I said, more to Donar than to Eric, who was watching me.
“Did you even know your mother was interested in this kind of stuff?” Eric asked.
I shook my head, my fingers lingering over the spine of a small green book. I opened it carefully and found the illustrations I knew would be there. The pages were yellowed and the cloth cover was frayed at the corners. “She used to read to me from this one.”
He took it from me, paging through it. “Are these all on Norse myths?”
“Three boxes over there are just Arthurian legends. She must have collected every book ever written that was even tangentially related. And those two boxes are Greek and Roman. I think this is the only box of Norse. Everything else is kind of a mishmash of whatever obscure mythologies she could find, and then some fairy tales.”
“That’s a lot of books.” He handed me back the green one. A children’s book. “What are you going to do with them all?”
I looked up at my husband and smiled. “Read them.”
“At least I know you won’t miss me while I’m gone.” He leaned down to kiss my forehead. “I’ll try to be home for dinner tonight, but I’ve got to go back in after. You’ll be all right with your books?”
“I’ll be wonderful with my books.”
Eric never questioned my interests after that. Even if he should have.
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