Impenetrable fog surrounds everything, deafening all sound, all sensation; walking yet going nowhere, for within the clouds there is no path.
A distant voice’s call; a response choking upon the barrier of thickening mist that threatens to suffocate all…
A groan startled me, before registering that it was my own. Summer’s morning shine had already brightened the room, and a familiar lump on the bed against my legs shifted position but didn’t stir awake.
Hard to blame the poor little guy, I’d only been in here for a few hours trying to catch at least some sleep before the day started - whether I was ready for it or not.
Which, come to think of it, is how all my days lately had been. Heh. I mean, think about it: not so long ago my main concerns were confined to whether my code would work and if I could meet the deadlines demanded by my clients. No crazy magic weirdness, no being surrounded by children who with a simple look of sadness could wrench your heart out of your chest, and no talk of being something other than a boring and regular ol’ human, let alone a mutant or a meta. Just a ‘norm’ living a mundane life wondering if their 401k contributions were high enough to eventually retire in some modicum of comfort.
Whereas now I had so many things on my list to worry about it was ridiculous. And yes, also terrifying.
But first things first. This morning was still supposed to be about Evie, not me. That was motivation enough to stumble out of bed towards the bathroom and try to splash the sleep away with cold water.
I had stayed with Evie for most of the night while she slept all cuddled up to me, much like Khan does. She had given me her own tablet and headphones so I could surf for videos and things while occasionally munching on pizza, but eventually my eyes refused to stay open. Gently waking her, I tried to explain why I needed to go and couldn’t just sleep there with her. After boggling her tired eyes with how I might ‘slip away to another dimension unless I slept within my special circle’ she reluctantly let me go. I did ask what she remembered of the night before, but from her shrugged reaction I gathered that the answer was not much. Which, all things considered, was probably for the best. Granted, I was no expert.
Those were scheduled to meet with us at eight-thirty.
After brushing my teeth and muttering some obscenities at my reflected face for looking far too fresh and perky compared to how I truly felt, I was in the middle of putting on a t-shirt before remembering that today I was expected to wear the uniform.
Continuing the colorful monologue, I stepped out of the bathroom to retrieve a skirt, slip, and blouse from the wardrobe, and added yet a few more words once realizing too late that the purple bra was way too dark for the lighter colored blouse and showed through.
While trying to reach behind my back to undo the hooks of the mismatched bra there was a distinctive sound of feathers out on the balcony. Sure enough, the hawk was out on the railing again peering in at me through the window. As our eyes met, the cheeky bird bobbed its head up and down at me again as if hoping for another bouncy show like it had gotten yesterday!
Stunned into gawking at it, I burst into laughter as it tilted its head sideways with an expression, I kid you not, that looked rather pleading and hopeful. It even stretched its wings out and back as if in emphasis.
Still chuckling, I shrugged and slipped free of the boob-trap, giving the crazy bird voyeur a couple small jumps up and down of jiggly cleavage. With a screech of delight, the hawk took to the air again - this time swooping out towards the forest to the west and disappearing amongst the tall trees.
Shaking my head at the absurdity of having acquired a peeping tom-hawk, I donned the light cream-colored bra Cecilia had made to go with the uniform before quickly following on with the rest, including the dark pumps for shoes. A quick brush of the hair before shoving it into a hairband and I was complete as a skirt-wearing school-girl.
Yeah, it was disconcerting seeing that reflection in the mirror and knowing that, hey, it’s me! But that’s just what I was now, no way to deny it.
And if I was going to still be here for Danielle when she finally arrived, I’d better get used to it.
Plus if I wanted breakfast, I’d have to brave the trip like this. Evie may have been allowed to get meals in her room to avoid social anxiety attacks (something she told me when I offered to come by early to take her to breakfast), but I had to actually go to the cafeteria if I was to eat.
Either I was just overly paranoid yesterday or Tamara was sleeping in, because I made it to Crystal Hall, was able to eat quickly (fluffy buttermilk pancakes smothered in real butter plus syrup along with an omelet and two cups of English Breakfast tea, yum), and jog back to Hawthorne all without difficulties. Even in my elevated-heal shoes. The sensation of a smooth slip sliding against my legs as I ran was definitely a new experience, and I can proudly say I remembered to sweep the skirt forward out from under me before I sat down.
Okay, so quite a few of the students in the cafeteria did stare at me while I ate - but I attributed that not to me failing as a girl, but from whatever rumors and stories were spreading about yesterday’s events or, in the case of the boys, their hormones requiring them to examine in detail the redhead sitting by herself.
Though maybe I just ate too fast and not lady-like or something. Meh. Whatever their reasons, I got back in plenty of time to rouse Evie from her slumber and give her time to nibble on at least the bagel and cream-cheese sitting on her breakfast tray. And yes, I waited in the hall while she got got dressed.
As we stepped out of the cottage and into the bright cloudless morning, she took my hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I didn’t dare say anything, just ever-so-gently squeezed her fingers.
Her grip tightened the closer we got to the medical building, but her expression was more of determination than fear. She was holding my hand, not to be saved or protected from what had happened, but just for the reassurance that she wasn’t alone.
We walked into Doyle together, and if she had melted my heart any further I would have needed to go wash yet another shirt.
Having been in the medical complex just the once and on the ‘Emergency Care’ side of things, Evie was my guide to the counseling offices.
Waiting for us in the reception room with its many red couches was Louis - still wearing the same stuff he had on the night before. I wondered if he had gotten any sleep at all, but his face (much like mine) didn’t show any lack of it.
“Ladies,” he said with a quick smile. “How are you both feeling this morning?”
I narrowed my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him, about to retort how calling me a ‘Lady’ was ridiculous - but caught myself as not only was Evie here with us, so was a receptionist sitting behind the counter.
Crap, my smart-ass mouth almost spilled my secret. My mom warned me long ago that someday it’d get me in trouble, and come to think of it, she’d been proven right on a number of occasions.
Let that be a lesson: listen to your mother. You can ignore her advice, sure, but do listen. That way she can’t claim later that you didn’t.
Fortunately Evie didn’t notice my gesture towards Louis. “I’m okay,” was all she said while eying him with a cautious reserve.
I coughed in a pathetic attempt to cover my rudeness - though from his amused expression I knew he had seen. “Morning, Louis. You get any sleep?”
“Some. And yourself?”
“Eh,” I said, glancing at Evie for a moment realizing I didn’t want her feeling any guilt for my lack of slumber time. “I did alright.” I forged a confident smile to back up the lie.
Yeah - Louis didn’t buy that one either. But I think he understood.
“You our counselor for the day?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yes and no. We have a new psychologist on the staff who would like to talk to both of you. But, if Evie doesn’t mind waiting here with me for a few minutes, she was hoping to talk to Jordan first.”
My hand, still held by Evie, got squeezed again. Before I could lower myself to a knee and ask her if that would be okay, she surprised me and said, “Yeah, okay.”
She let go. I wanted to give her a hug before I went, but I sensed that if I did her self-control might slip - which would only embarrass her in front of Louis.
“Right then,” I said. “Just a few minutes, though.” I nodded to Louis and he gestured to a doorway that led to a long hall.
“Third office on the right, the one without a name plate.”
“Gotcha.” Smiling at Evie, I said, “See you in a short bit.”
“Yeah okay,” she said again while not looking at anything in particular.
I went through the doorway to go find the unlabeled office and my hands curled into annoyed fists. If they had really wanted to talk to me first without her, they should have scheduled me earlier - even if that meant walking back to Hawthorne to get Evie after. If she shut down again while I was out of the room, then the whole visit might be a waste.
It wasn’t until after I had knocked harshly on the third closed door before opening it without waiting for a response that I remembered Louis was obviously a psychic of some kind - and that maybe he wanted to scan Evie carefully without me close to her and was using this as a good excuse to separate us for a moment.
After all, who knows what my aura did to things near me now - certainly I didn’t have a clue.
What was obvious though was that I had startled the occupant of the office with my forceful knocking. I heard a book hit the floor and a woman’s voice mutter, ‘Dammit.’ Stepping inside there was a woman bending over behind a desk that had an open moving box sitting on it. The walls behind contained mostly empty bookshelves.
“Sorry,” I said as the lady straightened up. “I didn’t mean to… Natalie!”
The counselor from the DPA pushed her glasses back up her nose then plonked a large book onto her desk. “Good morning, Jordan. I will admit, I wasn’t expecting such a … pounding… on my door just yet.”
I winced. “Really, I’m sorry.” I looked back at the door. “I hope I didn’t damage it… I’m still getting used to this strength.”
“Well, let’s not worry about that right now, it appears to still be on the hinges. Come on in and have a seat. I’m in the middle of unpacking as you can see, so I get to apologize in turn for all the clutter.”
Moving further inside, I closed the door - and yeah,there was a hairline crack in its wood.
The two chairs sitting before her desk had more moving boxes stacked on them. There was a couch against a wall that had a painting of a calm ocean lapping against a lighthouse cliff resting on it. A thunderstorm could be seen far out over the water.
It made me think of the cliff that kept appearing in my dreams, and the guy who had been lurking on the rocks.
“You like the picture?” she asked, seeing as how I had stopped to admire it.
“Yeah. Reminds me of my dreams of late.”
She paused, then sighed. “I’ll have to ask you about that later - but right now we need to be discussing Evie.” She, at least, had dark circles under her eyes and was showing clear signs of lack of sleep. Is it weird to be envious of such a thing?
“How about you first explain what the heck you’re doing here?” I plopped down in a chair after moving its contents to the floor, and gave her a frank and expectant stare.
She showed a hint of amusement as she sank into her own (and more plush) chair. “Short version? I was notified two days ago I’d be moving here to fill a therapist position. My employment with the DPA included moving to wherever I get assigned. Not that I mind this assignment, to be truthful.”
“Oh? You wanted to keep tabs on me that badly?”
She chuckled. “No. I just missed Whateley. I interned here under one of their staff psychologists a few years ago to finish my credentials, and I came to love the place. Even if Dr. Bellows treated me more as a secretary most of the time.”
I frowned. “This can hardly be a coincidence, though.”
“Of course not,” she agreed. “The Director seems to want someone he can trust keeping an eye on you - and to be here to help should you need it. I was a natural choice, given the circumstances.” She paused to let me consider her statement, then continued. “And yes, as you might suspect, there is more that I cannot say - at least not until authorized to do so.”
Crossing my arms I muttered, “Great. Just great.” More mysteries to add to the list, gee thanks new day! “So why didn’t you tell me you had interned here and liked it?”
“Because my own opinions would have colored yours, or if not they might have come across as trying to push you even harder into going here than you already were getting from the Director. As a therapist it’s my job to council - not push.”
“Huh.” She kinda had a point, but I couldn’t help feel a little disappointed. Would knowing more have changed my decision though? Probably not, the other options weren’t all that great or feasible, all things considered.
“What’s important now is Evie,” she was saying. “I arrived just past midnight and was given a briefing on her situation, along with a summary from Mr. Geintz about what happened at your cottage party.”
“Louis Geintz, senior faculty of the Psychic Arts; he’s outside with Evie now.”
“Can you give me a short run-down of the events from your point of view? It could be helpful. You see, the staff here think they may have not only underestimated Evie’s abilities - but also mis-diagnosed her pathology. This is why they’ve drafted me into it - I’m a fresh set of eyes, not to mention you know me already and, as I understand it, you were central to diffusing a very dangerous situation last night.”
“So you’re to be my therapist as well as Evie’s now that you are here? Bound by patient privacy and all that?”
“Yes. Unless I determine lives are potentially in danger by me not disclosing privately held information.”
“Even from the DPA?”
She looked at me with all seriousness and said, “I took my oath before joining the DPA. I’m a doctor first, Jordan. Always.”
I gave Natalie a brief run-down of the party, including seeing Evie having fun singing with other students while eating her ice cream cone. Then told her of being swept up in the search for Evie later on, finding Jenna on the bathroom floor, and being infested by one of Evie’s manifested despair things.
That’s when I stopped.
“What happened then, Jordan?” Natalie asked, her tone shifting softer and deliberately less imposing.
I just stared at her while debating what to say. Could I trust her? Even with the claim about her medical oaths, the DPA had sent her to basically spy on me. Did I really trust the Director? They had done a lot to help me so far, that was certainly true, but they also had goofed up and sent me and Mark off without proper backup. Mark and I both had almost paid with our lives for that mistake, so all their official help after and the sudden personal appearance by Director Goodman could be seen as trying to cover it up and prevent any lawsuits - something that occurred to me as I had thought things over while Evie slept.
But Natalie had helped Danielle, and yeah, she had even helped me. And I knew, perhaps better than anyone, how much Evie needed that kind of help.
How could I ask Evie to trust Natalie if I wasn’t willing to extend her the same trust?
Not meeting her eyes, I plunged ahead and told her of being a statue and watching everything I cared for in the world either burn down, be dead, or walk away. And how I owed perhaps my very survival last night to the wisdom my wife had shown as she died.
Natalie pulled a small pack of tissues from the moving box on her desk and handed it to me without saying a word.
I blew my nose after wiping my eyes. “Yeah, so, uh… I snapped out of it, yanked that nasty thing out of my stomach, and obliterated it. Louis was already there containing the swarm from spreading, but it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to do that indefinitely.”
“Thank you, Jordan,” she said kindly. “I know that was difficult to do, telling me all of that, and at some point - if you’d want to - I’d like to talk to you more about it.”
After crumpling the used tissue into a ball, I tossed it into her empty wastebasket. “Yeah, but as you said, this morning isn’t about me - it’s about Evie.”
She nodded. “True. What happened next?”
“Well, seeing as how Louis was having difficulty, and after he explained how dangerous the situation was for probably the entire school, I had to do something. Considering I’d just vaporized one of the things, I figured I may have a shot at getting to Evie and perhaps convincing her to stop - or failing that, Louis wanted an opening through the things so they could knock her out. Or worse.” I figured the reports she had been given would have detailed the worst-case scenario, so I shouldn’t have to spell it out.
She spoke up. “Louis described you as simply walking into the ‘swirling darkness’ and being swallowed by it. You disappeared completely to his psychic senses a few moments later and he feared something truly awful had happened to you. He was reinforced by other mystical and psychic arts staff members as well as security. They were trying desperately to not only hold the containment but somehow push a clear tunnel to open a shot when…” She looked at me expectantly.
“When I must have reappeared, and I’m going to guess that most of the emotional cast-offs got blasted away in that moment, except for a few stragglers on the edges that I took care of immediately after.”
“Can you tell me where you went? Do you know?”
Huh. That was an odd way to phrase the question. “Of course I know. I went into Evie’s mind, or subconscious, or wherever her spirit was stuck being overwhelmed by the feedback from her own inner demons. And before you ask, no I don’t think Evie remembers what happened in there. She just remembers being at the party, having a major panic attack after finishing her ice cream, and running until she found an unoccupied bathroom within which to hide. And no, I don’t know why she didn’t try to hide in her own room. Maybe she doesn’t consider her own spaces as being safe.”
“If she doesn’t remember, do you?”
I paused before answering firmly. “Yes, I do. All of it. And I’m sorry but you’re going to be frustrated with me, because I’m not going to tell you what I saw.”
She studied me with her clinical stare - but there was no way I was going to back down. “Why not?” she asked.
“Because whatever bond was forged between me and Evie while I was in there was from her giving me her trust, and I won’t betray it. At all.” I glared at her stubbornly.
Her face transformed into a gentle smile, and damn me but it reached her eyes. With that smile, Natalie looked truly beautiful. “That’s alright, Jordan - in fact, I agree and believe you’re absolutely correct. If deep down Evie came to trust you - then that is possibly the most encouraging thing I’ve heard about her entire case, and we should preserve that in any way we can.”
“Oh, uh…” I floundered. Why did I suddenly feel embarrassed?
“Without betraying that trust, what can you tell me?”
“Uhm, yeah. I don’t know what you have in her file regarding her background, but it was bad. Really bad.”
“Her father is a pedophile and abused her, and her mother committed suicide the day he was arrested for it. After a year in foster care due to her grandmother - her father’s mother - being unwilling to take her in, her powers manifested and the grandmother then provided for her tuition and summer boarding here at Whateley. Without any direct family contact, as I understand it. I agree that qualifies as ‘really bad.’”
“Okay.” I thought furiously, trying to determine what would or wouldn’t be a betrayal of trust to reveal. I couldn’t expose that Evie’s powers had triggered her mother’s suicide, nor say why ice cream was such a trigger point for her. It was all too personal. But maybe keeping to general ideas would work.
Dangit, wanting to help and knowing that the more information Natalie had the better she might help Evie was really making it difficult.
Natalie waited patiently for me to figure it out, and to her credit didn’t try to pry.
“Firstly,” I said, “I think you’re correct that she’s more powerful than everyone expected. Specifically I think she has potentially high levels of being an emotional empath. The pizza party had a ton of kids having fun, and she joined in - much against her usual nature. If I were to guess, I’d say she was overwhelmed by it all and couldn’t help it.”
“Go on,” Natalie said encouragingly.
“Ice cream is absolutely a trigger thing for her. Especially when she finishes eating it. I won’t say why.”
“Interesting. Anything else?”
I stared meaningfully at Natalie. “If you really want to help her, you need to know when her powers first manifested.”
“Her file says…” She paused what she was about to say and met my steady gaze. “I see.”
“Evie blames herself for a lot of things that are entirely not her fault. But I can say that - deep inside - there’s a girl who wants to hope and, more than anything, needs to feel loved and not have others be afraid of her.”
I let Natalie think about it all then said, “That’s as far as I’m willing to push the boundaries of her trust. And she’s probably been waiting out there for me long enough.”
The wheels were rapidly spinning in her mind. “You’re right. I’d like you to introduce her to me, and then I’ll need to talk with her one-on-one. If she doesn’t remember what you saw and did while in… her mind, or wherever you went, then there are things she may not want you to know - even if in truth you already do. Make sense?”
“Yeah, absolutely. I get it - if she trusts me, and I can convey to her that I trust you, that gives you a leg up on helping her beyond what the other therapists have had with her so far.”
“Yes.” She smiled again. “And thank you for understanding so well.”
“Heh. I’ll go get her.” I stood up. “And doc? For what it’s worth, with me being a total noob here and all, welcome back to Whateley.”
“I’m glad to be here, Jordan. Very glad.”
I could hear in her voice that she really meant it too - and after what I’d witnessed of the school so far, I could definitely see how it could grow on someone.
Even if a crazy witchling was throwing curses at you between classes.
Back in the reception area Evie was busily sketching on a pad of white paper with several colored pencils. Louis lounged in a nearby chair pretending to read a newspaper - his eyes were more on what Evie was drawing then anything on the newsprint pages.
“Hey hon, I didn’t know you were an artist,” I said as I walked over to her. “Whatcha drawing?”
She shrugged not say anything, so I peered over her shoulder to take a look.
What I saw caused me some serious inner confusion.
There, clear as could be on the white page, was a hovering angel: two magnificent wings drawn as golds and yellows spilling out behind a slender woman clad in a white gown with bare toes. And her hair, of course, a long golden-red mane framing a young face with gold and silver eyes looking upwards with an enraptured expression.
I mean, how much more obvious could it be that she had been drawing an idealized angelic version of me?
Yet that’s not how I first saw it at all.
My mind flashed with annoyance: how the wings should be white and soft like cotton-candy made from purest snow, how the eyes should be a sparkling emerald green twinkling with merriment and care, how the face and chin should be a little more angular and more ageless, and most of all how the angel should have been gazing forward at the viewer with the most gentle and most compassionate smile that anyone had ever seen.
Louis must have felt my confusion while my jumbled thoughts and emotions tried to straighten themselves out. He was suddenly standing over Evie’s other shoulder.
“Is that someone we know?” he asked her.
She shrugged again. “It’s Jordan. Duh.”
Only then did it click in my head that she had drawn me. And done a really good job of it too.
Evie spoke again while adding more crimson to the hair. “She’s my angel, so who else could it be?”
Shit. What the hell - or heaven - was up with my mind? Who had I thought it to be?
The mental image that had briefly flashed was already gone, and to my great frustration my so-called perfect recall failed to summon it back.
“Who said I was an angel?” I asked quickly, wondering if Jenna had let that cat out of the bag.
“My dream last night. I saw you.”
Louis caught my attention and tilted his head back towards Natalie’s office. Right. The reason we were here and all that.
“Hey Evie? The counselor lady would like to meet you, can I introduce you to her? Turns out I know her, and she’s someone who’s helped me a lot.”
Suspicious fourteen-year-old eyes looked sideways up at me. “Helped you?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Everyone’s got stuff they have trouble dealing with, you know? Me included. She’s been good, and also is rather smart.”
She thought about that then asked, “Think she’d like my drawing of you?”
Louis answered before I could. “I can say with utmost confidence that she would adore it. In fact, as her office is brand new and needs pictures for its walls, I bet she’d hang it up if you offered it to her.”
“Really?” Evie’s face lit up.
Inwardly I groaned. A picture of me as an angel, hanging on Natalie’s wall? Gah!
“Yeah,” I forced myself to say. “Shall we go give it to her?”
As you’ve probably guessed, Louis was right. Natalie gushed over the sketch, not having to fake admiration as it really was well done - much better than anything I could do, that’s for sure - and she immediately pinned it to her wall.
Natalie sneakily gave me a wide grin as she did so too, and it was all I could do to not put my face into my hands.
That having been accomplished, and with Evie still radiating pride at her artwork being so prominently displayed, Louis and I were allowed to retreat so Natalie could begin working her own form of magic with her new patient.
Louis exited first so I closed the door behind us, leaving us both standing in the hallway.
“That went better than I had hoped.” He smiled.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “So where am I due next? Should I wait here for them to be done, or did you teaching folks just postpone those placement exams until I was free here?”
“Postponed. But first, Rabbi Kirov is waiting for you in the conference room down the hall. He’d like to speak with you before tossing you at those exams.”
“Uh, he’s been waiting all this time? Here, and not in his own office?”
Louis’ expression went purposively blank. “He felt it was important to not delay, and I agreed with him.”
“Something happen?” I asked, worry once again filling my stomach with anxiety-bees. “I mean, more than the stuff with Evie last night?”
“Go see him and find out.”
Yet more mysteries? Great. At least this one sounded like it could actually get explained. Be still my beating heart.
“Fine.” Shaking my head, I marched down the hall looking for the conference room. I left Louis standing behind me, and he didn’t follow.
Imagine my surprise after I entered the conference room and saw Rabbi Kirov sitting at the table with Louis already sitting next to him.
I got mad. “What the hell, Louis? Are you a teleporter as well as a psychic? You could have just told me. It’s not like I haven’t had enough damn surprises in the past week to deal with!” I’m not sure why it pissed me off that much, but it felt like they were toying with me just because they could.
Kirov raised a sheepish hand. “Oh my. This is my fault, I’m afraid - I asked him to show you instead of telling, I’ve often found it easier to show than to tell if that’s possible…”
“Show me what? That he can teleport as well as do… uhh… psychic stuff?”
Louis shook his head. “I’m not a positional displacer. I’m a psychic projector.”
He sighed, and looked to the rabbi to explain.
“Mr. Geintz suffered an… anomaly… with his physical form. He resides under Hawthorne in a special tank designed for his needs.”
“Wait, what?” My anger drained away. “Louis, how bad…? And how…”
He tried to explain. “Like I said, I project my psyche into the minds of those I wish to see and interact with. And if I need to project more of my mental strength remotely, I augment the projection with a form of what is usually termed ‘astral travel’. As for how bad, I believe there are those who have it worse. At least I’m alive and have the ability to function, even if with some limitations, at considerable range.”
I suddenly understood why the kids had called him ‘Fubar’. The old military acronym apparently applied to him in a literal sense. Oh man.
Louis waved away my sympathies. “Please don’t worry on my behalf. But it was important for you to understand this about me, in order for us to explore something that was quite the surprise last night. Something in addition to your being able to banish Evie’s emotional manifestations and pulling her from her fugue state.”
“Uh, okay? What else did I do?”
“You kissed me.”
My eyes widened as I blushed intensely. “Just… just on the cheek!”
Kirov chortled. “Yes, yes, an innocent gesture, we do not doubt that!”
“Then… what…?” Embarrassment and confusion, please report to the frontal cortex. Aye aye, Captain!
Louis said rather quietly, “You should not have been able to do that.” And to demonstrate he waved a hand slowly through Rabbi Kirov’s arm, and also through the conference table it was resting on.
“Wait, you’re not substantial?” My mind replayed my interactions with him: in the shower room, down the hall, the elevator, at Evie’s door… oh my god, he never touched anything. I opened or closed all the doors, I carried Evie, and the elevators were controlled by Security from elsewhere. “Then how…?”
Louis stood and stepped in front of me. “How did you kiss me? Here, take my hand if you can.” He held his hand out. I stared at it, then hesitatingly put my hand in his.
It felt real and solid to me.
“Remarkable,” Kirov exhaled. “You were right, Louis.”
Louis stared down with wonder in his eyes, brushing the back of my hand gently with a thumb. I became acutely aware that a man was holding my now-fully-girl fingers in a tender yet strangely intimate fashion.
I flushed a deeper red and pulled my hand away.
“I’m sorry,” Louis said, still subdued. “It’s just been… quite awhile since I touched anyone.”
Ah dammit. Now I felt like a total bitch for pulling away. Emotional ping-pong, me? Yeah, I was all over the map.
I tried to cover for it. “No, it’s okay - I’m just a bit taken aback is all.”
Rabbi Kirov spoke up. “Without a ritual, I’d likely have a hard time perceiving it, but can you, Louis? What we discussed?”
“Perceive what?” I asked, looking between the two of them.
Louis began to circle around, examining me from my head to my feet on all sides. I would have been further embarrassed by this, but his expression was focused - much like when corralling Evie’s demon-eels. He also was very careful to not appear to be trying to peek up my skirt. When he was behind me he stopped, and then I felt his open hand touch my back right on a spot between my shoulder blades.
His hand sank right through the uniform blouse and bra-strap, to rest against my bare skin. Yes, it was really freaking odd. I could feel both his hand and my blouse with the bra, all at the same time, on the same area of skin.
“Here,” he said. “The connection is here.” He removed his hand, and I felt an urge to adjust my clothing - but they hadn’t been disturbed.
I spoke through gritted teeth, between anger and embarrassments having reached my limits. “Would one of you two mysteriosos just explain already?”
Kirov nodded his head. “You have heard of astral projection, hmm?”
“You mean other than Louis mentioning it just now? Yeah, sure, spirit leaving its body and floating off somewhere. Which is something Louis here does, I take it?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Louis said. “Jordan, take a look at me, like I just did with you, try to see my energy pattern. Look for a cord or trail going off behind. Some people will see a silver cord, but not all view it the same way. It’s the mental and energy connection to my physical body.”
“Okay.” Having just practiced this sort of thing with Penelope the night before, I let my imagination picture Louis while overlaying that image with the one from my eyes.
It took a minute or two anyway, and I had to move around him while he tried to guide me where to look. A couple times he even disappeared completely causing me to jump, but with a few blinks his image returned into focus. And sure enough, I finally could make out a faint glowing trail of bluish-green light flowing outward from his stomach as it crossed the room to where it seemed to fold itself through space. “I think I see it!”
I tried to make sense of that twist in the air at the end and was slammed with a quick mental flash of a large tentacled face belonging to some kind of eldritch horror lurking below dark waters. In my shock at seeing such an image I instantly and completely lost focus.
“Uh,” I said. “Was that…?”
Louis nodded. “Yes, that was my actual body.”
I swallowed, not sure what to say. But my mind popped up a question while my emotions were busy stumbling around. “Hey. If you’re projecting here from your physical body, and you have that cord connecting you… why were you looking for that on me? I mean, I’m already here, right?”
Rabbi Kirov fielded this one. “No, that is just the issue, you see. You should not be able to interact with Louis’ projection as if he were physical unless you yourself were also of the spiritual plane. And yet, not only are you able to touch him - but clearly you can touch the physical realm in full as well.”
Louis asked the rabbi, “So is she a remote manifestor then? It’s rare, yet I’ve heard stories of it being possible. But if so, where is her body? I was unable to trace the connection, but even my range has limits.”
Immanuel sank further into his chair. “That is the crux of it. If I’m not mistaken, she has no body at the other end: she is an angel projecting to here from Above. Something which, according to the lore that I have devoted my life to studying, says should be entirely impossible in this day and age.”
“Wait, what?” I spluttered.
He looked at me over his glasses with bemused astonishment.
“If I am not mistaken, you are here by virtue of a bona-fide miracle. Because you, when you manifested in this form as we see you now, must have already passed beyond.”
I looked to Louis in frustration. “What the hell does all that mean?”
Louis answered simply.
“It means that you died.”
Louis and Rabbi Kirov were arguing. My thoughts scrambled about like eggs tossed into a hot tumbling clothes dryer: cooked into an utterly inedible mess all over everything. Having collapsed into a chair at the far end of the conference table, I hadn’t paid much attention to their debate.
“… of course it must be due to God’s direct will, Louis,” the rabbi was saying. “The lore is clear: the Malakhim after the incidents with the Grigori were not allowed to walk freely amongst mankind. It has been strictly forbidden since the time of the Flood, and obviously enforced or else the Host would not have need of human avatars to be their mediums. How else, if not for God’s intervention, could she be a manifested spirit?”
“What of Sodom and Gomorrah?” Louis responded. “As I recall the story, two angels walked in, interacted with Lot, and wiped out both towns. Supposedly they even ate and drank at Lot’s table - how could they have done that without manifesting?”
“Obviously they made use of two human avatars to achieve their appointed tasks and departed when all had been accomplished. In truth, the legend of the Grigori gives a very interesting explanation as to how the first meta-genes may have been introduced. Nothing provable, of course, but still utterly fascinating when you consider…”
“This is bullshit!” I shouted, much to their surprise and my own.
“All of it!” I continued. “If I’m dead and just some kind of crazy spirit projection then why the hell did my getting kicked straight through the gym’s wall hurt so damn much! I bruised the crap out of my spine, shattered my leg, snapped my arm, and bled all over the place. And don’t even get me started on the pain from Soren’s stupid ritual box - I wouldn’t wish that level of agony on anyone, not even the bastard gryphon who slit my throat! If I’m not real and alive, then what the hell is? Sure I was able to heal it all up, but for fuck’s sake how can something that doesn’t exist need healing?”
The rabbi’s eyes were the size of saucers from behind his spectacles. Louis, with a forced calmness, said, “Jordan.” He pointed towards my hands.
My skin had flared up brightly again and my fingers were clawing grooves into the wooden conference table.
“No one said you didn’t exist,” Louis said, speaking as if to a crazy and possibly dangerous escaped mental patient.
“You said I died!” My shoulders shook, and the table’s wood creaked dangerously under the force of my grip.
“Yet by virtue of a miracle you were resurrected,” Kirov said, echoing Louis’ tone.
“I don’t care about ‘miracles’!” I snarled. “You two can debate theology all you want, but leave me the hell out of it. I’m here, I’m going to keep being here, and I’m going to make damn sure that Danielle, and come to think of it Evie too, are taken care of. So do what you want and think what you want, but in the meantime just point me to these student evaluation exams so I can get them over with and move on!”
I glared wildly at them, daring either to object.
“If nothing else,” said Kirov slowly, even as he flinched under my gaze. “We may need to adjust the second circle in your room.”
Louis went silent, probably deliberately to get me to stop yelling and be the one to ask the obvious question. Either that or he was afraid of setting me off further.
“What does that have to do with anything?” My voice cracked with hysteria.
The rabbi fumbled with his glasses, trying to clean an imagined spot with his dress shirt. Crap, he was terrified that I’d do something stupid... or worse.
Feeling awful to have caused such a reaction, the anger drained towards despair.
“Because we were wrong in its design,” he said, his complexion pale. “It was intended to keep a body and spirit from crossing dimensions - but that was based on the assumption that both were already contained within. But your greater spirit is not.”
They just stared at me, obviously worried that anything they said further might push me over the edge. They were afraid of me. Of me! Dammit, was this how Evie felt every day? Seeing other people be scared of her and what she might do? Knowing that if she lost it, their fears were completely founded?
I groaned, echoing how I had woken up that morning. Frustrated and isolated like I had been in the dream.
Wait. My dream and the damn fog. “Could that circle have been messing up my dreams too?”
Kirov put his glasses back on his nose, his now-magnified eyes still watching me anxiously. “The second circle? Have you had… difficulties?”
“I don’t know.” I traced a finger idly along the gouges I’d made in the table. The wood had cracked and splintered, but no shards had penetrated my skin. “Before arriving here I kept dreaming of this repeating ocean cliff place - but the last couple nights I was stuck in this impenetrable fog, like I was trying to get through it but couldn’t. It was starting to bother me, but I had thought it was just a reflection of, you know, my own frustrations.” I crossed my arms, pinning hands under elbows.
The rabbi became more thoughtful. “I will need to discuss this with colleagues, but it’s quite possible. Perhaps this can be taken care of during the required renovations to your room: either its removal or modification.”
“The what?” Renovations? Huh?
Louis hastily clarified. “The Administration reviewed the regulations regarding student accommodations. It was found that the rules explicitly require all student rooms to have a solid door with a lock to ensure student privacy.”
“The elevator access thing isn’t good enough? It’s got doors…”
“Apparently not,” Louis said. “And maintenance may need access to the piping and air conditioning ducts that lie on the other side of the elevator from your area in any case, which could also violate the privacy clause - something the school takes very seriously. The plan is to put up drywall to create a small lobby space of sorts so they can hang a door specific to your room.”
Oh great. “And where is my cat supposed to go during all this construction?”
They glanced at each other and then back at me before the rabbi answered. “We were supposed to discuss that with you. Perhaps he could stay with another student during the day tomorrow while the walls are put up? And then again on Sunday for the painting. I have been reassured they will use quick-dry paint; you should only be inconvenienced for this weekend.”
The shift in the conversation was surreal, like being concerned about what wine to drink while the Titanic sank. But I knew one thing - I’d reached my limits. “Khan can stay with Penelope - but if he gets too cold, she needs to be able to contact someone to move him, maybe to Jenna’s room if she’s willing. I’ll ask her. Anything else?” I said frostily, wanting to get the heck out of there.
“I believe Evie and Natalie are likely to be finished soon,” Louis said quickly to me. “Could you escort Evie back to Hawthorne? I’m sure Rabbi Kirov in the meantime can arrange for your first sets of exams to start early this afternoon.”
The rabbi became flustered. “Wait, there is still much to talk about - we haven’t even tested if she’s impermeable to unseen astral presences or only your own…”
“Not today, Rabbi,” Louis interrupted.
Louis raised a hand to cut Kirov off again. “We can wait to ask Jordan to revisit powers testing at a later date. I don’t think the administration would be keen to replace yet more furniture.”
We all glanced at the deep grooves I had left engraved into the conference table.
I felt bad about it - but was also still too worked up to offer an apology. Besides, with what they charged for tuition I’m sure they could afford a new table, dammit.
It was only a few minutes wait before Evie was ready to go back to Hawthorne. She put her hand back in mine as we exited the building, but as I was still irritated by everything she stiffened.
She didn’t pull her hand back though.
Ah dang. “I’m sorry, hon. I’m kinda worked up at the moment.”
“Because of me?” She asked steadily, but underneath she was bracing for an affirmative answer.
“Oh no, not because of you, not at all.”
“Then what?” she asked suspiciously.
I sighed. “They told me something about myself that pissed me off. And also scares me.”
“You’re not afraid,” she said immediately and with conviction.
“No. You’re mad and you’re worried. But that’s different than fear. You’re like Natalie.”
Wait, what? “Natalie? She’s mad and worried too?”
Evie nodded. “Yeah. She’s angry about something, but she’s not afraid of me - she’s worried about me. And about you. She’s okay - I like her.”
“I like her too.” I wondered what Natalie could be mad about. She seemed genuinely happy to be here, but also admitted that there were things she wasn’t being allowed to tell me.
Maybe that was it. Or yet something else entirely unrelated - and I doubt she’d say anything if I asked in any case. And I had plenty to worry about as is. Enough to wear through the leather of her new couch trying to work through it all.
We walked the paved path that cut through the thick grass towards Hawthorne while I tried to distract myself from everything by scanning for any mystical energy interferences like Penelope had suggested. Besides, I wasn’t sure if Tamara would leave me alone if I had someone else with me and didn’t want to risk it if I could help it.
Evie, being awfully more perceptive than I expected, took notice.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Scanning for curses,” I shrugged.
“Is that why you were asking everyone about magic at the party? I heard you talking to others about it.”
“Um, yeah.” And here I thought I’d been discreet and subtle. Guess not.
“Oh. Who would send curses at you?”
“Maybe Tamara, she’s rather mad at me.”
Evie stopped walking to stare at me. “Sigil? That’s not good.”
“You know her?”
“No. But I saw her once in the cafeteria - I don’t always eat in my room,” she added defensively.
“That’s where I encountered her too,” I said. “It didn’t go so well.” The understatement of the year award goes to the seriously cranky temperamental redhead. Talk about fitting the damn stereotype.
“Her pendant,” Evie was saying. “It’s evil.”
“The black opal thing?”
She perked up. “You’ve seen it? I tried to ask Leland about it and he said she wasn’t wearing one. But she totally was.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it too. Maybe it’s invisible to people who can’t sense or see magic? And you’re right, it felt odd to me. But evil?”
She nodded. “Like me and what I do. Evil. I can feel it.”
I couldn’t help it, I pulled her into a hug. “Evie, sweetie - you’re not evil.”
She didn’t resist, but she shrugged her shoulders. “It’s okay to say it. It’s what I am.”
I hugged her tighter. “No, it’s not. What you’ve been through - that’s evil. But you aren’t. You don’t want to project those things, you don’t want to hurt people…”
She squirmed her way out of my embrace. Looking up with those dark eyes she gently touched my cheek. “You’re really nice. Naive, but nice.” With that she took my hand again and led us back to our dorm.
I was quiet for the rest of the walk. For the life of me, I didn’t know how to respond to that.
Evie decided she wanted to sit in her room and watch Netflix for the rest of the day, and while she said I was welcome to stay I could tell she was hoping for some alone time.
If she was feeling my roller-coaster emotions, I couldn’t blame her for that.
In any case, Mrs. Cantrel had a message waiting for me: I was to report to Kane Hall at one o’clock to take the Mathematics placement test and following that English Composition. At two and a half hours each I had a feeling they were going to be rather thorough.
Seeing as how it was now only ten in the morning, that gave me a few hours until they started. But after being late yesterday, I decided on an early lunch and after I’d just go straight to the exam room and wait.
I did run upstairs to grab a book first, and while I knew I should start reading the ones on biblical lore that Soren had sent I decided they could bloody well wait and grabbed something else instead. I was definitely not ready yet to think about such things. Thus I selected an old Heinlein favorite: I Will Fear No Evil.
It was an appropriate choice all things considered.
Armed with the paperback, I hustled back to the cafeteria - all the while trying to remain vigilant for any energetic magical interferences.
Lunch, if you must know, consisted of a delightful tortilla soup with chicken, vegetables, cheese, and just enough spice for it to be interesting. Complementing the soup were a pair of crunchy beef taquitos and sour cream. I hadn’t expected New Hampshire to have good Mexican food, but the Crystal Hall certainly delivered the variety.
It was on the short walk to Kane Hall that I felt something, yet couldn’t figure out where to look. And sure enough, the sprinkler system for the surrounding lawn kicked on full - with the sprinkler heads all ‘mysteriously’ misaligned to aim at the walking paths.
I wasn’t the only student who got hit by the sudden rogue streams either as we all scrambled full speed off the paths and onto the areas of the lawn where the sprinklers now failed to reach.
Two students even ignored it all entirely - I saw water divert itself in a simple curve around one of them and just bounce off some kind of forcefield surrounding the other.
The flag today was a verdant green, after all.
Taking refuge in Kane Hall, I eventually found the exam room on the second floor. Being that it was still occupied by a class and the clock in the hallway showed over an hour to wait, I did what I used to do all those years ago at my old school: I parked my butt on the floor against one wall and began to read my book.
Of course back then I didn’t have to hold the book out far enough so the new shelf on my chest wouldn’t block it, or have to sit cross-legged with a skirt carefully tucked under to avoid flashing anyone passing by. Also as I turned the pages I found I could conjure up the images in perfect detail of all the pages from my original copy of the book.
That was somewhat depressing. I no longer needed to have a library to keep all the books I’ve read, they’d just collect dust. Out of stubbornness I continued to read along with the one I held in my hands. Even still, I finished the entire book before it was time to go on in.
As for the math exam itself, it proved to be more challenging than I had expected. They weren’t testing for high school level math - this thing went straight to college calculus and beyond, with a single targeted question on each possible special topic. You know, stuff I hadn’t done in years plus others I had never taken the classes for. Fair enough.
Being able to recall previous textbooks along with their examples helped a great deal. I know for certain I would have done miserably on it two weeks ago before the changes. But as I was now, anything I’d encountered I was able to solve - along with a couple problems I’d never seen prior. I was still working on one of those when time was called and I had to put down the pencil.
After a five minute break I was given the English Composition exam. This one required reading a number of passages, then madly scribbling a set of very short essays about the contents - all within the two and a half hours. My old high school had provided a very rigorous English curriculum, so I had the requisite practice in taking a five page idea and presenting it in only one. It’s harder than it sounds to do properly.
Oh, and one thing that had absolutely not improved was my penmanship. If anything it had gotten worse as my thoughts kept out-pacing my writing hand. I hoped the teachers here could decipher the frenetic scratchings on my paper.
If not, they should have let me type it into a laptop.
It was past six when I finally escaped and returned to the cafeteria for dinner (stuffed salmon on a bed of rice, with a Greek salad). I spotted Tamara and Erica leaving through a different entrance as I arrived, so I ate quickly to try and get back to Hawthorne before Tamara could start playing with her scrying crystal again at my expense.
Unless, of course, someone else was responsible and trying to frame Tamara for it all, but I couldn’t think of any other likely suspects.
Jenna was waiting for me in the first floor lounge as I jogged through the main doors.
“Jordan! About time, girl. We only have an hour to get ready.”
“Get ready?” I asked, confused. “For what?”
“Movie night at Emerson! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten Brendan’s invitation already…”
Her grin was ear to ear and another passing girl (who had hands and feet more akin to claws than anything human-like) exclaimed, “Ooh! Jordan has a date with Tank!”
“It’s not a date!” I professed loudly, but from the giggles of everyone around I don’t think they believed me. Ugh.
“Let’s get a move on,” Jenna said. “Because we are so going to do something about that hair of yours. It’s been stuck in that boring ponytail long enough. To the showers! And on the way we need to pick out what you’re going to wear, and decide on makeup to match…”
Like a lamb to a colorful fashion slaughter I was led upstairs.
We both arrived at Emerson about twenty minutes past eight, or ‘fashionably late’ according to Jenna. I disagreed - and had spent a good part of the last thirty minutes protesting arriving at anything other than the appointed hour.
I will admit, though, that we both looked great.
Jenna was wearing her blonde wig along with an azure off-the-shoulder top that tucked into some of the tightest black jeans I think I’d ever seen. As it was a ‘movie night’ she informed me that we should go ‘casual dressy’, as if I should understand what the hell that meant. All I knew was that she looked fantastic.
My bare wardrobe and its lack of options did give her pause, and I had to explain that with my recent transformation nothing of my old stuff fit anymore so I was rebuilding my wardrobe from scratch. She selected my lowest cut purple top, a pair of jeans, and even called a friend downstairs to see if I could borrow their leather boots. Amazingly they fit - Jenna had guessed my shoe size correctly. The heels were higher than I was used to, but not obnoxiously so.
She also made me wear a pair of clip-on earrings that dangled a single golden feather from each ear. I had to admit, they were very pretty and made my eyes stand out more. She said she had a lot of clip-on earrings, due to regeneration constantly healing over any piercings whenever she’d taken out the studs.
I got to skate by on not having my ears pierced using that excuse too. Phew. And lack of earrings got explained away because I claimed I had given them away.
No necklaces, rings, and being utterly clueless about makeup was a lot harder to get away with. She didn’t comment on any of that, much to my relief. She just sat me down and put stuff on my face. I think she picked up on it all as being a touchy personnel subject and was kind enough not to pry. And thanks to Mrs. Shugendo I at least had a basic makeup kit on hand for her to use.
But it was my hair that made us late.
After insisting I wash it - with shampoo and then again with conditioner - we struggled to get it dry. After spending at least fifteen minutes with a hair dryer and a brush, she muttered that my hair must have been made out of sponges.
Once it was dry to her satisfaction, she braided it - another time consuming process. My hair was transformed into braids that formed near my temples pulled back in the semblance of a circlet, only to merge with a larger braid that started at the back of my head and lay down over the rest of the loose strands. This allowed most of it to hang free, and yet kept it out of my face and eyes. She said it was a variation of a ‘French braid’ and that I should learn how to do it or similar myself.
I had a deep feeling that Jenna really missed having her own hair to style, so I couldn’t object too much to her taking the extra time to work with mine. Just, you know, mutter the occasional comment. Ahem.
And it really did lend an elegance to how I looked, especially after she expertly yet minimally applied touches of blush to my cheekbones and a hint of purple around my eyes.
Jenna commented that with my height and hers, there wasn’t a nightclub in the country that would card us. I didn’t debate her, not because I thought we really looked over twenty-one, but because I knew how nightclubs worked when it came to allowing attractive women past their entrance ropes.
You know, ones like us. Something that was still tripping me up inside.
The house mother of Emerson, a Mrs. Tolliver, greeted us as we went in - and at the same time gave us a good looking over.
“You both are from Hawthorne, correct?” the dark-skinned and rather slender woman asked while raising an eyebrow - one that was losing the battle against grey invaders.
“Yes ma’am,” Jenna answered. “Brendan invited us to watch movies with the guys tonight.”
“Hmm. Very well, but if either of you begin to show symptoms of any afflictions or power issues, report it immediately. Understood?”
We both nodded. The other eyebrow rose to match its siblings, so together we quickly said, “Yes ma’am!”
“You can visit the lounge and the theater, but girls are not allowed upstairs or to any student rooms.” Her glare made it clear this was a rule not open to negotiation.
Another verbal acknowledgment and she called out loudly to their lounge, “Brendan Rogers, your guests have arrived.”
I swear the hallway looked like it belonged more to a hobbit-hole than a regular building as Brendan’s seven-foot-plus frame filled it. Dang, the kid was big.
He also was standing there awkwardly with eyes bugging out as if we’d grown extra heads or something.
“What?” I asked, annoyed. Jenna elbowed me in the ribs. “Ow!”
Stumbling over his words Brendan said, “Uh, hi… wow… you both are, uhm, really pretty…”
The poor tongue-tied boy was rescued by Jenna. “Hiya, Brendan! Thanks again for the invite, so which way is the theater?” She smiled warmly at him.
Even with the prompt he was still lost. “Theater?”
“Yeah,” I said. “You know, where people watch movies? You may have heard of those…”
“Movie night!” His eyes brightened as if receiving a revelation. “You’re here for movie night!”
I couldn’t help it; I started laughing. Had I been this awkward around attractive girls when I was his age? Dear God, I hope I hadn’t been this bad. Jenna shoved her elbow into my side again.
“You bet!” she said cheerily. “Just lead the way!”
“Oh, uh, right! Follow me!” He turned and waved us down the hall after him.
Jenna grabbed my arm to pull me along, whispering fiercely into my ear as she did so. “Quit it! He’s sweet!”
That’s when it hit me and I put two and two together. One glance at her face as she was drooling over his rather fit rear end confirmed the thought.
I mentally promised I’d behave. Teasing her later, though, oh that was on!
We reached a set of double doors opening into a small theater. It had four rows lined with plush couches all on a gentle decline towards the screen. A digital projection system could be seen above the entrance, and speakers lined the walls.
Many of the seats were already occupied by other boys - a few of which whistled loudly as Jenna and I came in. “Hey, girls!”
Brendan straightened to his full intimidating height. “Guys, this is Jenna and Jordan. They’re my guests.” His tone left the other boys no doubt that he would not put up with any shenanigans where either me or Jenna were concerned.
They got the message, in fact a couple of them cleared out of one of the three-seat couches in the middle of the room - obviously the best spot for viewing the screen.
Brendan led us to that couch, and suppressing a grin I deliberately pulled me and Jenna down so she would be sitting between me and him. Poor guy had been hoping to sit between us both, but he gallantly took his spot next to Jenna.
I caught his eyes wandering over her again, and noted how his strong facial features softened with perhaps new considerations.
Nestling into the soft couch, I had an idea. Turning to my left, I spoke to a short-haired blonde kid who was busy futzing with a phone. “Hey, I was promised popcorn for this. You all have any?”
The guy looked up, startled that I’d even talk him I guess. “Uh, yeah? In the kitchen probably.”
“Cool! Get me some, okay?” I smiled sweetly at him.
He blinked, but scrambled to his feet without protest.
“And some for Jenna and Brendan too! Plus napkins!” I called out after him as he headed to fetch my request.
Grinning to myself at how easy that was to get away with, I popped out the built in foot rest thing and settled into proper lounging position.
Being a girl may have some perks after all!
As promised by Brendan, they started up the first of the Prophecy movies. I’d seen them all before many years ago, and had liked them despite their low budget and cheesiness. Eric Stoltz was great as a creepy yet loyal angel, Viggo Mortensen near the end portrayed a disturbing and subtle Lucifer, and of course Christopher Walken had obviously enjoyed the heck out of stealing every scene he was in.
In retrospect I really should have thought through what the subject matter was before agreeing (even if reluctantly) to go. The protagonist was a cop who had years prior lost his faith when on the verge of taking priestly vows - not because of doubt, but because right then and there he suffered a vision.
He’d seen just a glimpse of angels dying, their feathers splattered with blood.
In my previous viewings this only served the director’s desired effect offering dramatization of the horror of angelic wars and also amplifying empathy for the main character. But this time it hit me viscerally.
I even muttered a quiet, ‘No!’
Fortunately that scene was over quick. As it moved on, I tried to shake it off but inwardly was wrestling with growing unease. I don’t think Jenna noticed.
What I couldn’t get over was watching Walken, in his unique and admirable style, portray Gabriel as ruthless, uncaring, and yes, evil.
Have you ever met someone new and had a sharp intuitive understanding about them? Like that they should be avoided at all costs, or the flip side, that you immediately trusted for no conscious reasons whatsoever? It was kind of like that. I’d seen these movies, heck I’d enjoyed them greatly, but watching it now something in me was screaming deep inside.
It was wrong.
Biting my lip, I kept my arms tightly crossed to prevent any damage to their couch I might cause by accident. Every time Walken was referred to as Gabriel, I wanted to yell at the screen that ‘No! She’s not like that!’ - and yet I had no idea why I should think such, let alone so strongly that I wanted to shout and weep.
When Walken set Stoltz’ angelic character of Simon aflame, I whimpered. And when the cop and the teacher caught a glimpse of the ruins of an angelic battlefield full of angels impaled on spikes screeching their dying agonies, I couldn’t take anymore.
Uneaten popcorn fell to the floor as I flipped the footrest away and jumped to my feet. While running out the doors I heard Jenna call my name - but I couldn’t stop.
From within the depths of my subconscious something had stirred, and as I burst out into the summer night’s rain a memory reached up and pulled me under.
The light. I reached for the light, reaching to be cleansed, to let my sorrows be washed away in the purity and the brilliance.
Peace and serenity were within my grasp, all interrupted by a voice, tender and warm, conveying not just words but an unspoken apology.
“Not yet, young one,” whispered into my mind and I was somewhere else.
There was a room empty of all furnishings, its walls white and bare. Yet I was not alone: before me stood a woman dressed in a flowing opalescent gown.
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Light red hair dangled over a shoulder, perfect emerald eyes rested upon sublime features, and behind her stretched gloriously white-feathered wings.
Her true beauty was not from her looks, gorgeous as she was. It shone from within, through her soft expression and tender eyes, for to look into her gaze was to know she loved you - a love unconditional and utterly without reservation.
Falling to my knees in supplication to such a love, I asked her who she was. She took my hand in hers to raise me back to my feet and answered. When I heard the name - spoken in a language unlike any other and yet somehow being like all of them - I experienced the meaning directly with all the overwhelming compassion it contained.
She was Gabriel. She was the Strength of the Creator’s Love to all things.
I understood then that I must have perished, and by knowing I remembered how. She pulled me close, wrapping me with arms and wings as the sorrow ripped through my heart.
I had failed. And in so failing, Danielle must have joined me in death.
“There is still time for her,” the angel said and her mercy and tenderness granted more support than her embrace. “But only a single precious moment.”
“How? I was incinerated beyond even ash, by now she would be the same…”
“Shh. Worry not about time, and ask not of ‘how’. These are not important, not to us. Instead ask ‘why’, why should you return?”
“She’ll die otherwise…”
“All people do. Just as you have.”
“She doesn’t deserve to die so young! It’s just wrong!”
“Nature and the world is neither fair nor unfair, it simply is.”
“I don’t care. I need her to live… she has to…”
“Because if she dies my heart will shatter - I can’t bear it. I can’t.”
She kissed my forehead and floated apart. “Then hold onto that purpose with all that you can muster and go. Return - save your heart by saving hers.”
Over her shoulder an archway lead to a bright yet cloud-filled sky, one with buildings and towers rising above them. And beyond that too I could feel and see the Light I had wanted so badly to reach before she had pulled me aside to this place.
But that’s not where I was needed. She said I could save Danielle, and I believed her. Wrapping that need around and through myself I stepped backwards off a ledge I had not noticed was there.
As I fell away from her and that Light she whispered one last thing.
“Go, save as many hearts as you can, and in so doing you might also save my own…”
I tore my attention away from her and the brilliance behind to look below, seeing there in the far distance a little girl strapped unconscious to a chair. Between me and her stretched a barrier of infinite symbols forged of multi-colored interlocked energies waiting to catch me and blocking any path. Compared to that immense impermeable net stretching over the entire world I was tiny and insignificant.
Harnessing my need and desire with all that I was or could be a heat surged into the space between my shoulders. I was no longer falling - no, I was flying full throttle towards the barrier standing between me and where I must go.
With a wordless cry of sheer will I punched right through.
Heavy scent of grass, of mud, and of the perfume Jenna had spritzed onto my neck filled my nostrils. Wet earth pressed cool moisture into my knees while free-falling drops from above did the same across my back. Out of the cloud-covered sky the shrill skree of a hawk echoed across the school like an oracle’s unheeded warning, the sound of feathers beating against the wind registered its passing.
The senses were all so clear and yet so distant - the impressions of a world possibly no longer my own.
The rain was helpless to cleanse such a thought, for closed eyes saw only the afterimage of the angel dominating their inner vision: Gabriel. I had met the Archangel Gabriel. And she had sent me back.
Because I had died.
Not ‘almost’, not ‘oh that was too close for comfort’, not ‘gee don’t do that again or else’. No, it was Death with a capital ‘D’, passed over and on, heading upwards into the eternity of the Light I had been channeling since that return from beyond.
Jenna called my adopted name, the sound merging with another piercing cry from the hawk. The spikes of her heels squished the ground as she ran across the lawn, then hands were on my shoulders and she was asking me if I was alright.
Even with Rabbi Kirov’s office wards confirming the nature of my spirit, it still hadn’t seemed real. God, angels, heaven - these were descriptions of things from stories, from paintings and statues, from television and films. They weren’t things of my experience, not directly, and with all the astounding abilities I had seen not only from Danielle but from so many of the other kids at this school it had been all too easy to mentally lump myself in as just another meta or mutant: enhanced yet human. Intellectually I had grasped enough of what Kirov and others had been trying to tell me, yet acceptance had not sunk in. Maybe in bits and pieces, but not in the entirety.
Losing my home, almost losing Danielle, and losing my old profession had been hard enough to handle - but this? Other than all the concerns for the safety of others when it came to these abilities - ones that threatened by their very nature to place my destiny in hands other than mine - all had been pushed aside and not faced nor absorbed.
But Kirov and Louis were correct, even if I hadn’t wanted to hear or acknowledge it. I had expired. Kicked the bucket. Justin Thorne truly was dead and gone, his life finished and his reported demise not just a convenient cover-story but undeniable fact. And I was only his spirit projected somehow back through the veil that separates the living and the dead.
Brendan chased after Jenna, his feet impacting the ground in thundering steps as if an irresistible momentum was being fought off by stubborn unyielding earth. Over the rising wind he asked her what had happened. She answered, but I had stopped listening.
My lips parted instead to invite the rain to drip onto my tongue. A taste of running mascara, lipstick, and salty tears. A flavor which when examined drove the truth of the changes deeper into a heart trying to match the frenetic beat of a hummingbird’s wings.
An internal damn burst from that jackhammering inside my chest, shattering the strange dissociative perception and scattering it to the sky.
“I can’t go back!” With a shrill cry I fell forward into Jenna’s arms. She held me, letting my muddy and grasping hands stain her top while I sobbed.
“Go back? Back where?” Brendan asked with confusion.
I could answer nothing. Because whether I had meant back home to my old life or back to the sublime tranquility and peace I had been so close to attaining within that Light before the angel had interrupted my passage, I didn’t know.
“The movie… did it trigger something?” His concern was laced with all the frustrations of an aspiring hero: wanting to help, but feeling lost from not knowing what to do.
I recognized the feeling all too well.
“It must have,” Jenna replied. “Jordan…?”
“Gabriel,” I muttered quietly. “She’s not like the movie. She’s not like that at all.”
They both stiffened, but it was Brendan who gave voice to the skepticism. “You… you’ve met the angel Gabriel?”
Sniffling, I straightened and tried to wipe my nose. “I died. She caught me. I didn’t remember it - not until now. She… she’s the most loving person I’ve ever met. Ever. I can’t even put it into words. The movie, it was so wrong, so very wrong about her…”
Jenna looked at me in shock. “Wait… you died?”
Brendan, his face also paling, fumbled in a pocket to produce a white handkerchief, and handed it to me.
I took it gratefully, only to blow my nose and probably stain the cloth forever with the stuff painted upon my face. Staring off into the dark trees beyond the grass, I just nodded. “The rabbi and Louis figured that out today. I didn’t want to think about it. But… when I manifested… I died first. All dead, not even ‘only mostly dead.’” I wanted to laugh at the quote, but only a strangled whimper came out.
“How…?” Poor Brendan, he didn’t know what questions to ask or whether he should even believe me.
Jenna stared at me, an unspoken question hanging in her eyes, and I knew what she wanted to ask.
“Go ahead,” I muttered softly. “It’s okay.”
Nodding, she then looked back up at Brendan. “Jordan is an angel herself. They hit her with that too.”
Comprehension struck. “Then the movie… with Walken… and the dying angels… oh shit.”
I choked up again, I couldn’t help it. “I didn’t think about it, you know, when it started. I should have - I mean, I’ve seen it before, years ago. I just…”
“Hey, it’s okay.” Jenna put her hands back on my shoulders.
“I ruined your movie night, I’m sorry…” Tears fought to escape my eyes yet again.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it!” Brendan said with forced cheer. “There’ll be another one next Friday - and I’ll make sure it’s about something totally different! You know, like a comedy, how ‘bout Ghostbusters? That’s a classic! Wait, that’s got ghosts and spirits, uh… Dogma? Shit, that’s even worse…”
He kept failing to think of something non-related to spirit things, and the obvious distress at his mental lock got me to chuckle in spite of myself. Jenna stood, offering me a hand. I took it, and she hauled me back onto my feet with ease.
“Constantine? No, uh… Hellboy?” Brendan was still trying.
Jenna punched his shoulder with her free hand. “Give it up, ya goof!”
I snickered my way through another sniffle and complained, “Now you’ve got me crying and giggling at the same time!”
He smiled. “Then I’d suggest focusing on the laughing part - otherwise I’m going to run out of ideas!”
Well heck, the boy was much sharper than I’d given him credit for. He’d done it on purpose!
I shook my head. “You two should go back and finish the marathon.”
“Nope, I’m walking you back to Hawthorne,” Jenna said firmly.
“No buts, Jordan,” she said. “Sorry Brendan, but we’ll have to take a rain check until next week.”
His face fell, but then brightened. “Hey - that’s two rain checks you owe me, Jordan - both given while standing in actual rain. So you’re totally on the hook for two more movie nights!”
I smiled wearily. Emotionally I felt drained, but if that eased the roller coaster I was okay with that. “Fine, but Jenna is stuck too.”
His eyes looked over Jenna appreciably. “How awful it will be to have both of you lovely ladies returning to grace my poor unworthy dorm. Yep, awful.”
Jenna blushed furiously and didn’t say anything.
“Thanks, Brendan,” I said. “And again… I’m sorry my weird crap interrupted an otherwise fun evening.”
He shrugged it off. “No worries - we here at this school thrive on ‘weird crap’, I’ll have you know. Oh - and keep the handkerchief. I’ve got plenty!” He grinned. “G’nite ladies!”
“Goodnight!” Jenna and I said together.
Brendan waved before sprinting back towards his dorm and the shelter it provided from the downpour.
Jenna, watching his rear end while he ran, found and squeezed my hand. “Let’s get you back to your kitty and out of this weather.”
After taking a longer look at the mess of makeup the rain and tears had made of my face, Jenna suggested we take the long route back to Hawthorne - a path that avoided going through the main quad for all to see. Instead we cut further across the lawn and through some trees to navigate our way more in the dark. Being already rather drenched, she commented that a little more water wasn’t going to harm either of us at this point.
Overhead I again heard a hawk’s cry, and even caught a glimpse of its shadow coasting above the trees.
“How many hawks live around here, anyway?” I asked, finding myself curious.
“Hmm? Oh.” She looked up. “A few I think, though I think Zap has claimed the campus as his own territory and drives any others away.”
“Remember what I told you about others having it worse than us? Zap was a freshman a few years ago, like before I got here. Story has it that he had some issue with his dreams, and Lodgeman - he’s one of the trustees - tried to help. He put Zap through a sweat-lodge and prepared him for some kind of vision-quest thing. It didn’t go very well.”
“In the middle of his vision-trance, Zap screamed, turned into a hawk, and flew off.”
“Huh. So he can shapeshift to a hawk? That doesn’t sound that bad…”
She gave me a look. “Seriously? He’s never shifted back. He’s been a hawk for years now. Have you met Lieutenant Forsyth?”
I nodded. “Yeah…?”
“Those scars on his arms? That’s from trying to catch the bird. I’ve even heard that Zap escapes any traps they put out for him. Lodgeman issued an edict to leave the hawk alone, as anything they tried just made things worse.”
As if to agree with her, the hawk screeched again. He seemed to be pacing us.
“Is there… is there anything human left in him?” An image of the bird happily bobbing his head on my balcony came to mind, and my face reddened deeply with the realization I had been flashing not just a bird but a student. Oh geeze.
“Maybe? No one really knows. But a lot of us leave treats out for him sometimes. And his stuff is supposed to still be in a room in Poe; Lodgeman insisted Zap’s student status be retained. His school ID sits on an empty bed that waits for him, apparently.”
She stopped walking abruptly. “Damn. I forgot it.”
Jenna sheepishly scrunched her face. “I left my purse in Emerson when I ran after you. It has my ID.”
“Well crud. If Brendan doesn’t go back to the movie, no one will notice until after the marathon is over - and who knows how late that will be.”
I tried to smile reassuringly. “Go get it. I’m okay.” She glowered at me, so I had to fess up. “Alright, alright. I’m not, not really, but that’s not going to fix itself with only a few minutes of thinking or good friends. More like months of serious introspection mixed with shouting. I only meant I’m not about to break down and freak out again right at this very moment. And if you want, I’ll just stand here and listen to the hawk for a bit until you get back.”
“Yeah.” I laughed lightly. “Without that ID you aren’t getting any breakfast. And I don’t want that on my conscience.”
Jenna reached down to remove her shoes. “I’ll be faster without these damn spikes. Even if they aren’t that tall, they’re kinda hard to run in. Here.” She handed them to me. “I’ll be right back!”
With that she took off at a jog back towards Emerson, leaving me standing in the rain holding a muddy pair of heels.
I sighed, looking down at the wet smears adorning my own clothes. The hawk cried again, sounding closer.
“Think they have laundry facilities I can use in the middle of the night?” I asked him once I caught sight of his feathery outline.
He circled right above where I stood, impressive wingspan revealed by shadows and light filtering through the trees cast from distant lamp-posts. A louder screech this time. And another. He was yelling at me, getting more and more insistent.
“What?” I shouted back at him. “What’s your deal? I don’t have any treats, if that’s what you want!”
He swooped past right in front of me, emitting another ear-piercing cry as his answer.
That’s when it hit me. I was standing alone, off the path amongst dimly lit trees, heading to an obvious destination.
And I wasn’t scanning for any magical interferences.
With growing unease I threw open that inner vision and hastily glanced about.
Fiercely bright energetic symbols lit up the ground and the trees all around me - with more forming even as I watched. Reaching out with my senses to one nearby, with the silly hope that maybe I could disarm it (don’t ask how, as I had no clue either), I got a quick electrical shock and caught a whiff of ozone.
When I heard the rumble of distant thunder the purpose of the runes became all too clear.
Unlike Jenna, I didn’t jog. I ran.
We raced through the trees - me on my feet and the hawk above with his wings. After making a break between a gap in the sigils, I hoped to be safe - but those hopes were quickly dashed.
The damn marks were sliding along the ground behind me giving chase. Worse still, new ones kept popping up in front of me whatever direction I turned.
“Aw c’mon! That’s just not fair!”
The hawk screeched his agreement.
I was reminded of playing capture the flag when I was little, spinning and dodging the menacing symbols like I had done so long ago to avoid the reach of other kids trying to grab the cloth strips on my belt. But with as much as I ran and weaved, the pattern of the wads of energy was confusing and didn’t make sense. With their speed at least one should have been able to slide under my feet and do its thing.
But they didn’t.
It wasn’t until I burst my way out into a grassy clearing that I discovered I’d been seriously played. I’d been herded to the field before Hawthorne where a whole cluster of the damn things lay waiting.
Tamara (or whoever was behind it) didn’t want to hit me with just one, she wanted a ton of them. Each may not have been a lot of energy individually, but together? Who knows how strong an effect that would trigger. And here I was trapped while more behind me spilled out to complete the boundaries of a circle that started spiraling around with me at the center.
The thought of trying to jump over them flashed through my mind, but no - once clumped their spinning velocities were way too fast. They were going to converge under me no matter what and unlike the hawk I couldn’t fly my way out of this.
“Fuck this!” I shouted and reached within to flood myself with as much of that inner energy as I could grab and shove through my body. If I was going to get nailed, I was going to be ready. Even if just to try to survive and heal.
I lit up like a lighthouse beacon as all those crazy symbols and weird short lines coalesced into a wide circle under my feet. The hairs on the back of my arms and neck stood up and a tremendous charge built in the air leading upward into the sky.
Ah crud. I was right. I was about to be struck by lightning.
I threw hands over my head, I dunno, maybe with the idea I could redirect it or something. Though that likely just made me an even better antenna.
A flash of electrical light brighter than my physical eyes had ever directly witnessed blinded me, and the immediate punch of thunder slammed into me like a steamroller, knocking me on my ass.
But the lightning hadn’t touched me. What the hell?
To my astonishment, suspended above me was Zap - glowing blue with dancing and sparking power.
Holy shit. He had done it! He caught the damn lightning!
His triumphant shriek split the night like a cymbal crash to the thunder’s drum, and with feathers burning and crackling with electric power he beat his wings and blasted the energy up over the trees tracing a path of azure fire in its wake.
There, along that path at the edge of the lawn, I saw the electrical residue forming a small hovering sphere. Behind the fading white-blue sparkles I caught a flicker of alternate colors and had a moment of intuition.
Throwing my own energy like a whip with a wordless shout, I connected to that anomalous manifestation.
A huge wooden surface spilled out around me, its colors awash with shifting purples, reds, and blues. Perceptual context fell into place - the surface was a desktop, and it wasn’t changing colors, only the spherical bubble which bound me fast I was looking through. A giant loomed overhead, a giant with dark hair hanging like curtains around the multi-hued prison, with angry eyes burning like emeralds. A large black opal dangled within view, secure on a silver cord wrapped around the giant’s neck.
The giant’s face was sallow and worn - dark circles smeared under those hate-filled eyes. Tamara’s eyes.
“What have you done?” she raged at me.
I was unable to move or speak, I might not have had any form at all.
“Get out! Get out of my crystal!” Her shouting grew panicked and she stumbled away from the desk.
My vision spanned full circle. A massive math book lay open nearby, a poster of a forest was on the wall behind me, an unmade bed mirrored another whose flowery green comforter lay all bunched into one corner, a second empty desk, and Tamara herself shaking from over-exertion as she retreated in horror knocking over the small desk chair she had been sitting on.
Without thinking I did the only thing I could: I started pulling in more power.
Ignoring her protests, I pushed that energy into the crystal-forged cage, feeling it out as I did so. There was a small flaw in one spot on the bottom, likely placed this way so it would be hidden from the casual viewer.
With an effort of will I focused on that spot, shoving hard into the imperfection.
There was a sharp crack and like a burst fire hydrant it blasted me out.
“Jordan? What the hell!”
I was flat on my ass in front of Hawthorne. The lawn was flattened in a wide circle all around, and may have been smoldering. Blinking, I looked up and saw Jenna.
“What were you thinking?” She shouted at me, even as she offered me yet another hand up. “Playing with lightning? That’s insane!”
“Wasn’t me,” I said, handing back her shoes. Somehow I hadn’t dropped them. Go me?
“Then what the…? I can’t leave you alone for even a minute!”
I was going to try and explain, but she stopped me. “Save it until we get inside.”
Oh. Huh. Rain was now flooding everything in a torrential downpour. I hadn’t even noticed.
She pushed me towards the doors to dryer (and hopefully safer) surroundings. Before I went inside I paused and turned back towards the trees.
“Thanks Zap! I owe you one!” I yelled to the sky, not caring who heard.
A single distant shriek was my reply.
Satisfied, I stepped on in. Jenna stood there dripping onto the floor, arms crossed.
“Okay, girl. Talk.”
We ended up in my room. After changing into my bathrobe I gave Jenna a basic rundown of previous events and the suspicions they had generated. Then I pulled Penelope into the video chat app thing - I didn’t feel like describing things twice, and I knew I wanted Penelope’s insight. It didn’t take long to describe my crazy run through the trees, miraculous rescue by a crazily powered hawk, and quick prison escape from inside a crystal ball.
“Holy shit, Jordan. Do you have any idea how much a scrying crystal like hers is worth?” Penelope gasped after hearing how I likely shattered the thing.
Khan, deciding he wasn’t getting enough attention, jumped into my lap, burrowing into the soft fluffy folds of my robe.
“No,” I groaned at Penelope. “I’m going to guess a lot?”
From where she sat on my bed, Jenna piped up. “Think the cost of a Porsche. Maybe more.” I could tell she was unhappy I hadn’t told her about Tamara’s curse-flinging. She had called me stupid for letting her leave me alone outside like that.
How could I argue, though? She was right. I had been stupid. If not for my heroic hawk, I could have been fried. And I wasn’t sure how my whole energy-healing thing would work if I wasn’t consciously focusing to do it. It could have been, uh, bad.
“If you thought she hated you before, this is going to bring it to a whole new level,” Penelope commented.
“So what do I do?” I whined. “Think she’ll go to the administration or try to sue me for the cost?”
Jenna scoffed. “Not likely. That was serious illegal magic usage on her part. She tried to kill you, Jordan! Aren’t you getting that? If anyone should go to the teachers it’s you!”
“And say what?” I retorted. “I have no proof it was her, no witnesses to corroborate anything I could claim other than some poor kid who, by the way, is stuck as a hawk. Random accidents and a blast of lightning in the middle of a thunderstorm isn’t evidence.”
“Fubar could scan her mind and get the truth,” Jenna said.
From the laptop speakers, Penelope spoke up again. “No way. Foob doesn’t scan anyone like that without solid reasons to do so. You’d need evidence of some kind first.”
“And that’s what I don’t have,” I grumbled.
“I’m just surprised she could pull off that kind of spell,” pondered Penelope. “Clever using a lot of little workings leading into one big ol’ kazap magnet, but still. She should have burnt herself out doing that, especially at range even with that crystal of hers helping.”
“She looked awful,” I admitted. “And I probably just made it worse.”
“Why are you feeling guilty?” Jenna asked angrily. “This is attempted murder we’re talking about!”
“Because!” I said hastily, but then got stuck. Wait, that was a good question. “Huh. I don’t really know. Maybe because I triggered it all? Stepping on the toes of her beliefs, and now probably destroying her link to her mother? And everyone has said she hasn’t been like this before - so something else is causing it. Come to think of it, I might have an idea on that.”
I relayed to them what Evie had said about Tamara’s pendant. “Jenna - you ever see her wearing that?” I asked.
“Not like you describe, no.” Jenna shook her head.
“What about you, Penelope?” I glanced at the laptop.
Penelope frowned and I could see she was doing something in a separate window on her computer. “Can’t say that I have. And reviewing what footage I have stored of Tamara from this summer - nothing like that is showing up on any of my video sources. You sure it’s real?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve seen it, and Evie has not only seen it - she’s felt it. If it’s not showing up for others, then it’s got to be magic - and not healthy magic at that.”
“I agree,” Penelope said. “I’ll look into it, see if I can find something out. In the meantime you ought to be safe - after all, pretty sure you busted her crystal. So if she tries anything it’ll have to be in person.”
“And I’m not leaving you alone,” Jenna declared. “You just got yourself a bodyguard. She tries anything and I’m punching her face.”
“That’s not necessary,” I protested.
“Like hell it’s not.” Jenna was unmoved. “Someone has to watch out for you; if you had told me about this earlier I never would have left you alone, and this wouldn’t have happened. She doesn’t want witnesses, that’s pretty clear - and smart of her.”
“Hey - Zap is watching out for me,” I tried to jest, causing her to just glare harder. “Okay, okay, fine. You’re stuck escorting me to whatever other exams or testing they pile on this weekend.”
“And if I can’t go, like on Monday when I have classes, you walk with someone else. I don’t care who - just as long as you aren’t alone.”
I threw my hands up. “Viva La France! I surrender!”
Penelope giggled. “That’s awful. I have friends who are French!”
Khan nudged my fingers which had momentarily stopped scritching. “That reminds me. Penelope? Can Khan stay with you during the day tomorrow and Sunday? They need to do construction on my room.”
She squealed. “Tomorrow? Cool!”
I snickered. “Well yes, cool… but not so cool he freezes, okay?”
“No problem! I’ll keep an eye on him and set up blankets… bring his toys!”
“Will do - along with his other amenities.”
“Yay! Give me a buzz when you need to drop him off, I’ll be awake! Now lemme go make a few calls and see what I can dig up about that necklace.”
“Sounds good. G’nite Penelope!”
“Goodnight Red!” With another giggle she signed off.
On my bed Jenna raised a still-painted eyebrow that had miraculously escaped being washed away by the rain. “Red? Is that your nickname?” She grinned evilly at the thought.
I groaned again.
If I didn’t have a lap occupied by a cat, I would’ve grabbed a pillow and smacked her with it. That likely would have led to a full on pillow fight, and given our relative strengths the destruction of my pillows.
So darn good thing I had a kitty to save me from such things.
Which reminded me of another animal that had saved me. I wondered if I could help him. And would Zap even want me to? I didn’t know, but I decided I had to try anyway.
My thoughts were interrupted by a fluffed pillow connecting with the back of my head.
“Hey, Red! Pay attention, I was asking you something!” Jenna was laughing at me.
With a gentle double tap - the code we had worked out years ago for when I needed him to move - Khan hopped off my lap and allowed me to pick up the fluffy missile from off the floor.
Standing, I turned towards Jenna with fake menace. “That was a big mistake…”
She stuck her tongue out at me. “Prove it!”
With a laugh I extended my weapon and lunged at her. Because hey, come to think of it, I could totally afford new pillows!