“Amon!” I jerked awake, my pulse racing as the nightmare slowly ebbed. I’d taken to keeping a night-light on near my bed ever since the horrors that took over my dreams still haunted my dark room when I woke. Some terrible creature had cornered him. It had screeched in a satisfied way, its putrid breath stinging my nose as its tongue darted out to lick the blood from a gash on Amon’s shoulder. It all felt so real.
Shivering, I wrapped my arms around my body and slid from the bed as I headed to my favorite spot on the balcony overlooking Central Park. Once there, I rubbed my hand over the head of the falcon statue perched on the railing.
The bird reminded me of Amon’s golden falcon form, and when the sun warmed it, the heat stored in the metal carving seemed to linger, even in the late hours of the evening when I paced my room unable to sleep. It soothed me when I touched it and I could picture Amon as I’d last left him and not as the bruised and pain-filled man he was in my dreams.
He was lost to me. I knew that. I acknowledged that I should try to move on, maybe try to date someone else, but the memory of my Egyptian sun prince come to life was a hard one to beat. Amon wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty darn close. Even now I could easily picture him standing near me--his golden skin warmed by the sun, the glint in his hazel eyes, and that secretive smile hiding behind his defined and very kissable lips.
Sighing, I leaned on the railing and looked out at the park. I was in love with a guy who was centuries old and currently moldering away in an elaborately decorated sarcophagus fashioned by Anubis himself. His spirit half, the half that was supposed to be in paradise while he waited for the next time he was needed, haunted my dreams.
Either he was in grave trouble or something was seriously wrong with me since I’d returned from Egypt. Still, the creatures I saw in my dreams were much more horrifying than any I could have made up. I wasn’t that creative. Even worse than my suspicions that Amon was in danger was the problem that I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Nobody even knew he’d existed.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Dr. Hassan knew, but he lived on the other side of the world. I’d written to him when I got home, and his elated response made me smile even though I’m sure he’d figured it out when he couldn’t find my body on the pyramid after Amon and his brothers had saved the world. I was more than a little proud to be a part of the whole thing, even though fooling Amon into siphoning off my energy had nearly killed me.
It took a month to get a reply from Dr. Hassan, though I’d fanatically checked the PO box I’d leased for our secret correspondence every day. He’d told me not to worry, that Amon had the protection of the gods, that he’d hidden the brothers well, and that I should be proud of the sacrifices I’d made to keep the world safe.
That was pretty much the extent of his letters. They got progressively shorter as time went on. It was as if he, too, wanted me to just forget everything that had happened and move on with my life. But how could I? Amon haunted my dreams. Not that I wasn’t happy to see him. I was. But the horrors he faced were enough to send any girl, even one who had seen the things I’d seen, running for the nearest mental institution.
My parents were worried. My lack of sleep was starting to show, though I tried to act as though my life was simply business as usual. They had no idea that I’d nearly died, fallen in love with a drop-dead (no pun intended) gorgeous mummy come to life, and spent an extended spring break in Egypt. The fact that I’d actually made it through to the end of the school year without my grades falling was a major accomplishment.
They didn’t know about my experience with Amon in Egypt and how much it had transformed me. I myself didn’t know how much I’d changed until I got home. I thought it would show on my face, all the emotion, all the trauma, all the . . . death, but my parents only noticed my hair. My brown, no-nonsense straight hair was now riddled with random sun-kissed highlights of different shades. They didn’t like it.
The first thing my mother said was, “What were you thinking?” Immediately she picked up the phone and lectured our hairstylist, who didn’t have anything to do with it but who cleared his schedule instantly to repair the “damage.” I told her quietly but sternly that I was rather fond of it and that my intention was to keep it. To say they were shocked at my little act of rebellion was an understatement.
As much as they protested my decision to keep my new highlights, they outright refused my request that they call me Lily instead of Lilliana. As a result, I began to feel like a stranger in my own home. To keep the peace, I told them I’d go to the college they wanted as long as I was allowed to spend the summer at my nana’s farm in Spring Lake, Iowa. I figured it didn’t matter anymore where I went, and the compromise went a long way toward assuaging the fears my new hairdo ignited.
Once I got the acceptance letter, they backed off and left me to my own devices, which meant I could mourn the loss of Amon without anyone taking notice. One month after another went by, and then graduation was upon me.
As I gazed in the mirror the morning of graduation, I was dismayed to see that my golden highlights, the last tangible proof I had of Amon’s touch, were fading. At this rate, they’d be gone by Christmas. I indulged in a good cry before showering and dressing for my graduation ceremony.
If my mother noticed my too-bright eyes, she probably chalked it up to my being emotional about leaving high school. The truth was, I didn’t care about high school. I didn’t care about college or boys. I didn’t care about much of anything anymore.
The time soon came for me to depart for the summer, and I was surprised that my parents wanted to drop me off at the airport. Maybe they noticed more than I thought they did, or perhaps they were just feeling nostalgic about me growing up and leaving the nest. Either way, the drive felt a bit awkward.
I stared at my reflection in the window.
My eyes were large and dull; my hair was wound in a perfect, tight bun at the nape of my neck; and my lips were stretched in a thin, unforgiving line, as rigid as a ruler. In fact, that was what I looked like: a schoolmarm. A smirk lifted the corner of my mouth as I imagined how much Amon would hate my hair like this. He preferred it wild and unbound.
After a few quiet goodbyes and some stiff hugs, my parents relinquished me to the chaos of the airport. Inside, a range of emotions hit me all at once. I remembered being there with Amon a few short months earlier, and how with the wave of his hand and a charming smile, he could wrap anyone around his finger.
I boarded the plane and strapped in, remembering how even the most mundane actions like buckling a seat belt were completely new and foreign for Amon. Though I actually did try not to think of him, it seemed that was all I could do, and when I shut my eyes, rocked to sleep by the plane, I found myself in Amon’s world once again.
He wasn’t fighting a monster, which was a relief, but he had a wicked wound on his thigh that was seeping blood onto his leggings. Sucking in a breath, he tore away the fabric around it and wrapped it in the bandages he’d created from the sand. Some kind of armor lay discarded next to him, and Amon shrugged out of a tunic before dipping it in a small, natural basin of water and scrubbing his arms and neck. I hoped the precious drops trickling down the side of a boulder were enough to both quench his thirst and clean his wound. The area was very desolate and dry.
Though the sight of his bare chest was distracting, I was more absorbed by the expression on his face. He was exhausted and hurting, and not just physically. I wondered if he missed me as much as I did him.
“Amon?” I whispered involuntarily.
In my dream he froze and looked around, eyes shining with an iridescent green light in the darkness. Though he’d never been able to hear me before, I still tried. One day he might. After a moment, the tenseness in Amon’s shoulders relaxed, and he settled down with his back against a rock and closed his eyes. His bare chest rose and fell in a rhythm that slowed as the minutes passed and then something changed.
As his body continued to sleep, a gentle pressure wrapped around me.
“Lily?” I heard his familiar voice and squelched a sob.
“Amon? Can you hear me?” I asked the ethereal darkness.
“Yes. I can hear you, Nehabet.”
“Is this real?”
He didn’t answer right away but then eventually said, “I wish it were not.”
“What’s happening to you?” I asked desperately. “Why are you suffering? I thought you were in the afterlife. I thought you were at peace. Why are you tormented night after night?”
“I am no longer under the protection of the gods. I have relinquished my station.”
“I don’t understand. What does that mean?”
“It means that I would rather suffer than continue to do their bidding.”
“But if you don’t save the world, who will?”
“They will find another to replace me.”
“I still don’t understand. Are they punishing you?”
I felt his sigh as much as I heard it. “They did not choose this for me. I am the one who decided to walk this path.”
“It’s a pretty difficult path, Amon. Can’t your brothers help you?”
“We are separated. There is nothing they can do for me now.”
“I hate seeing you like this.”
“I know. I am sorry for causing you pain. I didn’t think our connection would be this strong.” He paused for a moment before adding, “You are in pain, too, Young Lily.”
Bitterly, I said in a shaky voice, “Not like you.”
“No. Not like me. But you are hurting nonetheless. It is my fault. My loneliness has caused this.”
“Your desire for human connection didn’t cause this. The gods did. They don’t understand. Everyone needs to be loved. It’s completely natural.”
He laughed sardonically. “I was human, Lily, once. But I am something altogether different now. I gave my humanity up for the greater good.”
Thunder boomed in the sky above Amon’s still form, roiling clouds shifting like a churning ocean. Lightning struck and his body jerked awake. I felt the loss of his presence, as if a warm blanket had been ripped away from me. As the ground shook, he staggered tiredly to his feet and summoned his armor made of sand to strap onto his form. Amon lifted his face to the wind as he closed his eyes and said, “I love you, Lily. But it is time for you to wake up.”
He raced into the darkness to face whatever beast awaited him as his words echoed in my mind. “I love you, too,” I whispered, even though I knew he could no longer hear me.
I felt a nudge on my shoulder as someone said, “Wake up, miss. We’ve landed.”
The flight attendant gave me a strange look before moving on. I scrubbed my palms over my eyes, hoping my conversation with Amon had taken place only in my mind and I hadn’t been talking in my sleep.
Making my way to the baggage claim, I couldn’t have missed the gray-haired woman waving a handmade sign back and forth that said lilypad, my nana’s pet name for me.
“Hey, Nana.” I smiled as she dropped her sign and wrapped her arms around me. She was a robust woman, a rancher’s wife, and her arms were strong and solid. As she squeezed me tightly, I felt the tension in my shoulders melt like a pat of butter in a cast-iron skillet.
“I missed you, Lilypad. It’s been too long.”
“I missed you, too.”
Gripping my shoulders, she stepped away and gave me one of her scrutinizing looks. “Hmm. You’re too skinny. Well, we’ll take care of that.” Smiling, she put her arm around me and we turned to watch the rotating baggage carousel. “I can’t tell you how happy you made me when you asked to stay with me this summer.”
“I’m just glad you said yes.”
“Of course I would say yes. You know how badly I’ve wanted you to come for an extended visit.”
I shrugged. “There was just never a good time.”
Nana harrumphed. “Never a good time for your parents, you mean. To think, my own son is too busy to remember what’s most important in life.”
“You know they love you, Nana.”
“If love looks like too-busy-to-call-your-own-mother, then yes. I’m sure they do in their own way.”
I spotted my bag and yanked it off the spinning carousel, with Nana helping me to get it upright.
“Are you hungry?” she asked as we headed out to her car.
“Famished,” I admitted with a smile. And I was. Surprisingly, my appetite had returned. I wasn’t sure if it was a result of being with my nana or having recently spoken with Amon or if it was just suddenly feeling more like myself, but I was hungry enough to eat an entire cow, which wasn’t too far off from the realm of possibility on my nana’s farm.
After we stopped at a diner, we were back on the road and found that we both had a hankering to listen to Elvis. Since her old car didn’t have satellite radio and most of the roads we were driving on were too far from any normal stations, we sang. Fortunately, Elvis recorded so many songs that we never had to repeat any. I looked up the lyrics on my phone and we sang our hearts out the entire drive to the farm.
There was something freeing about being on the road. I felt more like myself than I had in months, and I knew that was because I was embracing the same things Amon loved--laughing, feasting, and being with people who cared about you.