Here you are! Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it. :) E.T.
A long hike through a crocodile infested bog improved no one’s mood. Any satisfaction I had at Elsie’s make-up streaking in the heat was crushed every time I looked at Kevin’s rigid shoulders.
“Finally,” he growled as we broke from the trees.
I drew up, looking around in astonishment. It was the parking lot for a Wal-Mart. The huge store sat a few acres away from us, shoppers going in and out with no idea that a magical school existed only a few miles away in the swamp.
“This is me,” Elsie said. She unlocked the door of the small passenger car and popped the trunk. “Need anything before we go?” she gestured to the big-box store.
“I’m fine,” I said weakly. Kevin maintained his glower as he dropped his pack in the trunk.
“I’ll drive,” he said, taking the key from Elsie’s hand. She watched him slide into the driver’s seat, then turned to me.
What’s up? She mouthed. I shrugged. She opened the passenger door. “I’ll sit in back,” she offered.
Unexpectedly, I smiled. “Coward.”
She shrugged at me and smiled too. I put my pack in the back, shut the trunk and went to the front passenger door. I didn’t look at Kevin as I got in my seat and buckled in.
“North?” he asked.
I closed my eyes, feeling. It was easier than it had been before. “That way,” I said, pointing. I opened my eyes to look. I was stabbing the Wal-Mart with my finger.
“North,” Kevin agreed. He started the car and backed out of the spot.
“How far?” Elsie asked.
Kevin found a freeway in a matter of minutes. The silence inside the car was oppressive, but I wasn’t going to be the first to break it. The only thing I could imagine that would make this situation worse would be to materialize Jeff in the backseat next to Elsie.
I wondered if the car would explode from the force of Kevin and Jeff trapped inside. He was already taking up more than his fair share of ego. Add their castings on me into the mix and between the three of us we might blast a crater in the middle of the road. Poor Elsie wouldn’t have a chance.
As we drove, I looked out the window, just thinking. It didn’t help at all, but it gave me something to do instead of staring at Kevin’s profile.
What was in that house? I knew it had nothing to do with Jeff. Would it help me break the castings that Jeff and Kevin had put on me? Could I convince Kevin to see his somehow, to undo it, even though the curse would be able to reach me?
And why was the power out of balance? What made me so special? Nothing, I was sure. It was not me. I was just a girl, a stupid, useless, nonmagical girl. No matter what Malcolm said, I had no skill in magic, I couldn’t use it. I might as well not have it at all.
Was it my magic that was healing me and not a shield Jeff had put around me? When I cut my own hand, it had not healed. But then it had after I had seen the curse? Could I heal others, if I could find a way to control my magic?
I shivered as I realized where my thoughts were going. I did not want to use magic, no matter how much I had inside me. I did not want to be magic at all.
I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing. Blazing lines crossed my vision, blue and gold, twisting, fighting, until I fell asleep.
I stirred, surprised out of another dream of that house. The few windows not broken out glinted in the sun.
I lifted my head looking around blearily. Kevin’s hand was resting on my knee.
“Becca, it’s lunch time. Are you hungry?” I straightened in my seat, my neck aching. I felt a little better about passing out when I saw noticed Elsie curled up on the backseat as well.
I shook my head. “No. Thanks, though.”
He grunted and lifted his hand away and put it on the steering wheel.
I sighed, both glad and annoyed by having a third wheel snoring in the backseat. It made it hard to have a private conversation.
His eyebrow I could see flattened. “You keep saying that. Are you sorry you kissed me?”
I blushed, glancing warningly back to Elsie.
“She can’t hear us.” He said.
“I put her to sleep.”
I simply stared at him. “Why?”
“We need to talk.” He slowed and stopped the car right in the middle of the busy freeway. I flinched as a semi-truck swerved to avoid us. Nobody honked, just shifted at the last moment to slip by the car.
“I’m not sorry I kissed you, Becca.” I took refuge in staring at the center console. “I don’t know why you felt you couldn’t tell me. And honestly, I’m pissed you didn’t. I think I’ve proved myself enough to you.”
I was oddly relieved to be getting this all out now. I had thought it would fester between us for days, until we could get rid of Elsie. He went on.
“I’m going to help you. You know I will. I will find a way to save you.” His voice had become steely. I could feel his casting tightening around me, suffocating.
His fingers were tapping on his leg, showing his agitation. It was the bravest thing I had ever done. I reached over and gripped them. They stilled under mine.
“Kevin,” I said gently. “I am not sorry I kissed you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I was scared and shocked and I didn’t know what to do.”
His thumb was running along my knuckles, making it hard to think at all, let alone be reasonable. I took a quivering breath and said what I had to.
“I know you want to try to save me. I want to try to save me. But I might have to die. You have to accept this.”
I heard his sharp intake of breath to deny it and cut him off. “Kevin, I promise I will not try to end it myself until the very last moment. I will do anything you think will help, go anywhere searching for an answer. But I can’t fully trust you until you take off your casting.”
I felt him stiffen, his fingers clenching around mine. “What?”
I explained as gently as I could. “You put a spell or something on me. It is holding back the curse. You have to take it off.”
He twisted, gripping my shoulders and shaking me. “That’s a lie!”
I shook my head, looking in his blazing eyes. He knew I couldn’t lie under eye contact. “Kevin, I can see it.” I could, bright lines across my vision. I wonder he couldn’t feel their heat. “You must take it off.”
“I haven’t put a casting on you,” he snarled.
“Yes, Kevin. Can’t you see it?”
He set his jaw. “I did not put a casting on you, Becca.”
I sighed and dropped my eyes. “Kevin, please.”
We sat like that for a long time, listening to the traffic rushing around us. He growled under his breath and jerked me to him.
I discovered I really liked being kissed. By Kevin particularly. I thought it had been the shock that had made the first one so electric.
He pulled away a little. “I’m sorry, but I did not put a casting on you.”
I smiled sadly. His was brighter now, stronger than Jeff’s, more tightly woven. I knew that was bad, but it was hard to care about my curse or anything with his arms wrapped around me.
His eyes moved over my face slowly. “I can’t see it.”
“Your casting?” I asked, slurring a little.
He grunted. “No. Your magic.”
I shrugged. “I can’t see it most times either. Or the curse.”
“You can see your curse?” he demanded. I nodded, more than happy to drown in his eyes.
“Sometimes. It’s like a dark cloud, blotting out the world. You’re holding it back. You and Jeff.”
I knew that was the wrong thing to say as soon as it left my mouth, but I couldn’t help it. I thought for a moment Kevin was going to back off. Then he swore.
“I’m getting really tired of hearing about Strenton,” he growled. Before I could respond, he kissed me again and even in my inexperience I could feel the possessive quality of it. He was claiming me as his, in some base, hormone-driven fashion. I didn’t put up much of fight. Any, really.
I was pleasantly surprised that when he drew back at last even he had kind of a starry-eyed look. He cleared his throat, glancing to the backseat. “I wish you hadn’t let her come,” he said.
I shrugged. “I needed a ride.”
He made a rude noise. “Becca, look at me.”
I was, smilingly. “Yes?”
The blue of his eyes flared. “You ever kiss him like that?”
And all at once I knew how to fight his power over me. Sharp, seething bitterness cut through the soft fog that had wrapped around my mind. I wiggled out of his arms.
“No.” I answered truthfully. “And I’d appreciate it if you would believe me. I’ve already told you there was nothing between us.” My insides squirmed. “I may have had a crush on him once. But nothing happened.”
I crossed my arms over my racing heart and stared out the windshield. “For your information, today was the first time I have ever been kissed.” I imagined he winced.
“Sorry,” he said softly.
“For what?” The irony of us reprising our conversation from this morning was not lost on me. I was not amused.
He sighed. “I don’t know. I just am.”
“Sorry you kissed me?” I asked nastily.
I did not expect him to chuckle. But he did, low and rich. Like chocolate again.
“No,” he said. “No more secrets, Becca. I’ve wanted to kiss you since I first saw you. It’s been all I could do not to. Then you took us to Strenton’s school and that hellhole in Montana…” he sighed and when I chanced a look, he was rubbing the back of his head, his brown hair ruffled. “Well, I thought you were looking for him. The Speaking sends you after what you desire most.”
“I needed to find Strenton,” I said. “So he can take off his casting.”
“I did not put any spell on you, Becca, I swear it.” He touched my arm. I looked at him. “I swear, Becca. No more secrets, okay? What are you looking for in this house?”
I met his eyes squarely and lied. “I don’t know. I just feel we need to go there.” Until he saw the casting, I could not tell him my plan.
He smiled a little. “Alright.”
“Speaking of secrets, what was between you and Elsie?”
Kevin grimaced and glanced to the backseat. “We dated a few years ago. Nothing serious.”
I sniffed. He chuckled again. Before I could draw away, he pressed a firm kiss to my lips. “Don’t be jealous.”
“I’ll stop when you stop,” I retorted. He grinned at me. I watched him settle himself in his seat uneasily. Where we boyfriend and girlfriend now? How did one go about that? “What are you going to tell Elsie?”
“I said it before.” Kevin said with a hint of exasperation coloring his tone. “What happens between us is none of her business.”
“But if really there’s nothing between you,” I said, “Why don’t you want to tell her?”
Kevin stilled, his hand on the key. “Becca?”
“You need to learn to keep your mouth shut.” He started the car. “Tell her if you want. I don’t care.”
He was angry again. Why? “Why are you angry?”
“I want you to trust me,” he snapped.
“I do!” Almost.
“Then stop asking me about Elsie.”
“I’m done talking about this.” He made a curt gesture. I had opened my mouth to argue when Elsie yawned hugely and sat up, rubbing her face.
“Wow!” she said, yawning again. “How long was I asleep?”
“Not long,” I assured her. I eyed Kevin. He was gripping the steering wheel so tightly the tendons in his arms were standing out.
I sighed and looked out the window at the world passing us by once more. We were back where we started, him angry and hurt, me confused and too inexperienced to figure out how to fix things.
His casting shimmered around me, Jeff’s still fighting his, jealous and gaining strength, the curse pressing closer, reaching, searching.