Table of Contents
Chapter 1 appears
in this issue.
Living in a basement apartment wasn’t quite what I’d expected. The place was cold and I had neighbors who liked to thump on my ceiling at odd hours of the night. On top of which, I’d been fired two weeks after moving in. No job meant no paycheck... which meant no food. I needed more than a servant now; I needed the extra income the kid would provide if he got a job. I decided a month was long enough and sat down at the table to find out if he’d gotten the message.
He was sound asleep, curled in a ball in the middle of the terrarium, his head on his arm. He did that a lot. Of course, he had precious little else to do in there, other than stare at the ivy. I sat and watched him for a few minutes then snapped my fingers. He started awake, pushed himself up and sat gazing at me from the other side of the glass. I watched his face, wondering what was going through his mind and allowed myself the luxury of a wicked smile. He blanched and backed away. I stood up, took the lid off and reached inside.
I lifted him out, put him on the floor and spoke a command.
The spell reversed and he looked like a balloon being blown up. His clothes inflated rapidly but his form took a little longer. His legs stretched and got puffy then his arms, followed by his body. His head took the longest and he stirred as it finished expanding. He lay motionless on the gray kitchen tile for almost a minute longer, and then pushed himself up on one arm and stared up at me. I sat down, crossed my legs and motioned to the other chair. “Have a seat.”
His expression was one of pure terror, but his body obeyed, and he got up from the floor. “The chair.” I pointed. “Or do I put you back in there with the plants?” His eyes got wider than I thought possible and he grabbed the chair and fell onto it. I inspected a fingernail and waited. He didn’t move, but his gaze strayed to the terrarium as if he expected it to come to life. “What’s wrong?” I picked up the lid and put it back on top, sealing the moisture inside. I wanted it to stay nice and uncomfortable if I had to punish him. “You don’t like ivy?”
“Uh....” As articulate as ever. I rubbed my chin with a thumbnail and ran my gaze over his body. He gulped, tried several times to respond and ended by shaking his head. I frowned and thought over the spell. He misunderstood my expression and started breathing in shaky gasps; panic oozing out of his pores. I stopped thinking about the spell, settled back in my chair and pinned him with a look. “Stop that. Have I hurt you yet?”
His eyes left my face and glued themselves to the terrarium. I shrugged. “So? I fed you didn’t I? You spent a month sitting on your rear, doing nothing. Shall I make it another month?”
He jerked his eyes from the terrarium and plastered them on my face again. “No!”
I examined my fingernails and tried not to feel guilty then gazed across the table. He gulped. I lifted an eyebrow and watched his expression change. “Jason, you’re making me wonder if you don’t prefer being three inches tall and living in the planter.”
I took the top off the terrarium and set it on the table. He shook his head wildly and pushed against the back of his chair. “Stop forcing me to make you talk. If I ask you a question, I want an answer. Right then, not thirty seconds later after I’ve had to threaten. Understand?”
“Good.” I put the top back on the terrarium, stood and walked out of the kitchen. “Come with me.” He did so, immediately, and I smiled. So far, so good. I walked through the living room, climbed the stairs and opened the front door. Jason stopped at the bottom of the stairs and I could feel him staring out at the sky. I allowed him to gaze at it for something like half a minute, shut the door and twisted my head around to look at him. He shut his mouth and took a step back. His eyes had lost most of the panic, but fear still danced in their center. I narrowed mine a fraction of an inch and watched him back up two more steps.
“Here’s the deal.” I waited until he calmed down again and was paying attention. “You want to hear it or would you rather guess?”
“I’m listening.” His voice was faint; almost a whisper and his gaze strayed to the door.
“I’m only going to say this once. You better do more than listen.”
He ripped his eyes from the door and glued them to my face. “I’m listening.”
“Better. Now that I have your complete attention, here’s the deal. As long as you do what I tell you, you stay out of the planter.” I pointed toward the kitchen and his eyes traveled with my finger.
He gulped, shook his head a few times and gave me back his attention.
“You even get to go outside and if you prove I can trust you, you can start classes in the fall just like all the other freshmen.” I paused.
His brain was doing cartwheels across my living room. I leaned against the door and watched the expressions flowing over his face as he struggled to digest my words.
I thought over my comment and decided I hadn’t been speaking in tongues. “Jason!” I spit his name at him and he jumped. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me finish before going comatose.”
I really felt bad for him now, but his fate was sealed the second he followed me into Gino’s of his own free will. Some spells just can’t be undone. I drew myself up and inhaled. “Get something through that head of yours. If I wanted you dead, or hurt, you would be. You keep acting like you expect me to grow fangs, and I will.”
He nodded rapidly and I found myself wondering if his head might pop off and roll across the rug. I waited until he stopped jiggling and stood away from the door. “As I was saying, as long as you obey me, you mostly get to do what you want. I might even be nice and let you go live in the dorms... once you prove I can trust you.”
He winced and scrunched up his face. I gave him a look and he found something interesting on my floor to stare at.
“How well do you know the campus?”
“I don’t.” What ever was on the floor had captured his attention and he spoke to it instead of me. I glanced at the carpet and decided it wasn’t growing mushrooms or turning colors.
“Look at me.”
He jerked his head up and stared at my chin. I attempted to wait patiently as his gaze crawled up my face, debated a smile, decided he might not survive it and opened the door. “Come on.” I stepped out onto the stoop and moved to the side. It took him less time to join me than it took me to close the door behind him. I flicked my fingers at the lock and listened to it click then realized he was staring at the sky again.
“You have a thing for blue today?”
“No.” His voice was a whisper and I saw tears trickling down his cheeks. I felt like a heel so I leaned on the railing and let him look at nothing for a few minutes. I was seriously regretting the spell I’d chosen to cast for my final. I hadn’t expected to care about Jason once his unwilling assistance enabled me to graduate. I knew I was going be stuck with him if he didn’t die, but I figured he’d be useful. For things like running errands, scrubbing the floor, kissing my butt. Now I stood watching him and wished I’d decided to cast something with less complications; like creating a volcano in the middle of downtown or banishing dryer lint.
He stared up at the sky, oblivious to my musings, and sniffled.
“Oh come on.” I pulled a handkerchief out of thin air and handed it to him. “It’s not like you couldn’t see the sky from inside any time you wanted to look. The planter’s right next to the window.”
He took the handkerchief and wiped his face then decided to study the patterns in the concrete of the stoop. I let him and gazed at the street, watching the noon hour traffic flow past. He sniffled a couple more times then I felt him lift his head. “So now what?” His voice was soft, but at least he wasn’t whispering.
“Now you start earning your keep.” I felt his heart rate double and stuck my arm out in case he decided to say hi to the ground with his nose. He surprised me by remaining on his feet. I twisted my head around and looked at him over my shoulder. “Would you like me to tell you what that means, or would you prefer your overly active imagination took a stab at it?”
Wrong choice of words. His face turned the color of old newspaper, he tried to breathe and swallow at the same time, and wound up bent over the rail, coughing violently.
I said nothing, waiting for him to regain some semblance of composure. Which he did about five minutes later... after he stopped coughing. I let him straighten up and waited until he’d wiped his face.
“Jason, get a grip or live to regret it. I’m fed up with the hysterics.” My voice grated on my ears and I wasn’t too surprised at the expression that took a stroll across his face. I gave him an A for the effort he made to keep from reacting and wondered if he should consider majoring in acting. “Where were you living?”
He boggled. I watched his thoughts spin into space and waited for him to shake his head. He obliged by doing so after a few seconds.
“Before college. Where were you living before you got here?”
“Across town?” He answered with a question and I spent a few seconds turning it around in my mind. The implications were annoying. I thought daggers at Kathy then cleared my throat. He misread me again and shook his head. “My folks have a house across town. That’s where I was living.”
Just what I didn’t need. I wondered how much Kathy’d actually found out about him before dumping him in my lap. He chewed on his bottom lip and tried not to react some more.
I debated which way to approach this new complication and decided on the direct one. “I assume your parents are wondering where you are?” I could almost see the lie written on his face. The words made it as far as his lips.
He struggled with the spell and the veins stuck out on the side of his neck from the effort. I twisted the knife in his psyche. “Should I also assume they might be slightly worried?”
His eyes closed and I could hear the gears shifting in his brain. I scratched an itch on the tip of my nose and counted cars for a while.
“Yes.” His assent was almost audible. It drifted past my ear, tickled the tip and floated away. I bit down on my tongue and succeeded in not blowing my stack. Mostly. It took another ten cars before I calmed sufficiently to look at him again. He hadn’t moved, but at least his face was the right shade of tan.
“Are you trying to see just how thin my temper can stretch? Don’t bother to answer that.” I knew what he would say and I was tired of standing in one spot. “Let’s go.” Lunch was calling from a little Greek joint that let me buy on credit and I was hungry. I wasn’t sure if Jason’s stomach would cooperate, but at the moment, I didn’t care.
I stepped off the stoop and started toward the sidewalk. Jason didn’t move for almost three seconds then ran to catch up. I rechecked the spell and shot him a glance. He avoided my eyes and rubbed his temples. “Don’t disobey me, and you won’t get a headache.” He didn’t respond but I figured the point sank home since he did his level best to keep pace with me until we got to Uncle Nick’s.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2008 by Crystalwizard