Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
I headed for the alley entrance and rode the service elevator to Gino’s floor. It creaked worse than normal and swayed like wind was blowing up the shaft. I wondered if the maintenance man had been avoiding it like he did the lights and decided it might be safer to take the stairs. The doors opened and I noticed the car wasn’t quite even with the floor. I wondered about the maintenance guy some more and tried not to trip as I stepped out.
Bright afternoon sun flooded through the windows at either end of the hall and lit up the faded designs on the carpet. The tower was old and falling apart. It needed new paint, new carpet and a new maintenance man. None of which was it likely to get. The wizards who owned it didn’t want the general public too interested in the place. Normally I agreed with that, but not when it came to safety.
I shoved my hands in my pockets and watched the floor moving beneath my feet as I walked to Gino’s apartment. Gino wasn’t expecting me so the door didn’t open to my knock. I wondered what he had going on, waited a few minutes, and knocked again. It took three rounds of beating on his door before it opened.
“This ain’t Saturday.”
“I know. But I really need to talk to you. Pretty please?”
Gino glanced over his shoulder at something and opened the door. “Come on in an’ try not ta take too long.” He stood aside and I stepped cautiously into his apartment. Gino shut the door and walked over to his easy chair. “Darnell, this is Lynda. She’s new here.” He spoke to a tall man dressed in a pair of black pants and a black shirt who occupied a less comfortable chair on the other side of the room. The man turned piercing green eyes on me and inclined his head. He didn’t smile.
I returned the brief nod and didn’t smile back. If he wasn’t interested in being sociable, neither was I. I stood, since there was nowhere else to sit, and waited for Gino to settle into the easy chair. He did so then indicated Darnell with a wave of his hand. “Lynda, this is Darnell. He became a junior wizard just before you did. I believe he’s also attending your college?” He addressed me but asked the question of Darnell. A thin smile crossed Darnell’s face and his eyebrows lifted.
“You’re going to Mount Abrams?”
“What’s your major?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I’m still getting all the required basics out of the way.”
Darnell nodded but didn’t relax. I’ve seen boards that were more flexible. I wanted to talk to Gino but after his introduction, I felt the need to try and make small talk with Darnell first. “What’s your major?”
“You’re a politician?” The image of Darnell schmoosing with people, and giving speeches to an adoring public, didn’t fit the man who perched on Gino’s chair. He shook his head.
“I’m just studying the field. I’m not sure if I’m going to finish. I’m considering switching majors.”
I blinked and tried to determine if he was serious. His expression hadn’t changed, and small talk wasn’t why I’d come up, so I gave up and turned to Gino.
“Sorry to bother you Gino...”
He chuckled and picked up a glass of something green from the table beside his chair. It fizzed, shot miniature bolts of lighting out the top and burbled. He took a drink and set it back down.
“Is... what’s that stuff?”
He didn’t offer me any and I didn’t want him to. I reminded myself why I’d come calling and tried to get to the point. “Is there any possibility I could switch apartments?”
Gino took another drink and I watched the liquid change colors and shoot streamers of light into the air. “Why?”
“Um well... what is that made of?”
“You don’t want to know.” Gino took another drink and the liquid reacted by changing to a deep dark black speckled with bits of light. It looked like someone had poured the night sky into his glass.
I decided Gino was right. Whatever it was, I didn’t want any part of it. I yanked my attention from his glass and tried to explain. “Jason needs somewhere to sleep besides the couch.”
“Jason?” He was worse than Kathy. I forced myself not to roll my eyes. I was on friendly footing with Gino, but he did have a temper and I didn’t relish it directed at me.
“The guy I used for my final.”
“Ah.” He didn’t ask for an explanation and I wasn’t about to give one. He didn’t need one anyway. The laughter dancing through his eyes told me he’d been expecting exactly what had happened. “Nothing right now. Might be in a few weeks, I’ll let ya know.” He took another drink. The liquid shaded to orange, jiggled violently and erupted in a four foot high fountain that fell back into the glass without spilling a drop.
Gino set the glass down on the table and grinned at me. “Anything else?”
“Not right now.” Sparks of blue light, glowing green pinwheels and purple streamers shot out of the top of the glass. I gave Gino a weak copy of one of Jason’s lopsided smiles. “I think I better get going.”
He chuckled, rose from his chair and saw me to the door. “If anything comes available, I’ll let ya know.”
He opened the door and I walked into the hall. The door clicked shut behind me but the feeling of Darnell’s eyes boring into my back persisted and it made my skin crawl. I wondered what sort of powers he possessed, turned around and backed away. The hall remained empty and I opened the stairwell door when I reached it and almost ran down the stairs.
I was panting by the time I got to the basement and feeling foolish. I let myself into my apartment through my bedroom door, locked it and went looking for something non-explosive to drink. Jason hung up the phone as I walked into the living room and turned toward me. His expression looked like I felt and successfully banished Darnell from my thoughts.
Jason heaved a sigh, ran his fingers through his hair and tried not to look disgusted. “Mom wants me to come over day after tomorrow.”
“You need to get your clothes anyway.”
His eyes told me I had completely missed the mark and the expression on his face followed. “She’s having a dinner party Saturday night. She wants me to come help her host it.”
I squinted at him through one eye and visualized a room full of old men and women wandering around with drinks in their hands while his mother flitted among them carrying a tray of hors-d’œuvres. “A dinner party?”
“Yeah. She has a couple every month. She packs the house and plays queen for the evening.”
I snickered. Jason’s face darkened, reminding me sharply of his Dad. “It’s not funny. I hate her dinner parties and I don’t want to go help her out.”
“You need to get your clothes.” I was repeating myself and realized I hadn’t phrased anything as a command for two days. I devoted a few brain cells to considering the implications and pushed ahead. “We...”
“Not we. Me. She wants me to work, not socialize and she doesn’t want you there. She was adamant about that.”
That put a different light on the situation. My face must have done a fair job of reflecting Jason’s expression because his eyes widened and he took a step back. The fear which had been missing for more than twenty-four hours resurfaced and he decided the floor was a lot more interesting than me. I tossed a furious thought in his mother’s direction, kicked myself and walked across the room.
I put my hands on his arms and waited for him to raise his head. He watched the pattern on my carpet do nothing and chewed on his lower lip.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was a whisper and it caught in his throat. I expected tears to follow and he didn’t disappoint me. He blinked and water trickled down his cheeks.
I felt worse than I had when he was staring at the sky from my front porch. “Jason, look at me. Please.”
That startled him and he jerked his head up. Our eyes met and I wondered how much sugar lemonade was supposed to have in it. “I’m not mad at you. Just not happy with your mom. But you do need to get your clothes and it won’t hurt you to help her out. I’d rather she was happy with the idea of you being here, instead of poking her nose in the door and trying to find out what we might be doing that she wouldn’t approve of. Please?”
Jason wrinkled his nose and gave in. “Alright.” His voice sounded anything but happy but he forced himself not to frown.
I turned away to give him a chance to recover in private and climbed the stairs to the front door. “Come on, let’s take a walk.” He followed me out onto the porch and I closed the door then turned to look across the street at the parking garage. “How are you planning on getting there?”
“I dunno. They probably towed my car weeks ago.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, leaned against the rail and kicked the toe of his shoe against the stoop. I stared at the parking garage some more and debated the cost of getting his car out of hock.
“You could ask your dad.”
He shook his head. “He’ll be out of town. He’s always out of town when mom holds her dinner parties. Emergency business trips and stuff. That’s why she wants me.”
“To get your car out of impound.”
Jason squeezed his eyes together, twisted his mouth into a pretzel and pulled his head into his shoulders. I leaned against the other rail and thought about turtles. “No thanks. I’d rather walk.”
“You might get there by Monday.” The Snow Homes were a good thirty minute drive from my apartment over the high roads. Walking wasn’t a viable option.
“I’d still rather walk.”
Forget Dad. My practical self whispered an answer and I rolled my eyes at it. The thought persisted however and I stared at the parking garage again. “You can take my car.” I listened to the words and tried to figure out who’d said them. Jason stared at me. “Just don’t wreck it.” He stared at me some more. “Okay?”
“Don’t move.” I left him on the doorstep and went back inside. I wasn’t about to give him the only key to my car and I wasn’t thrilled about him heading to work and not locking the door while I was asleep. I dropped my keys in my backpack, slung it over my shoulder and went back outside.
Jason was right where I’d left him, not that he any choice. I’d unintentionally phrased my last statement as a command and he’d turned into a statue. I mentally smacked my forehead and locked the door. “Let’s go.” He unfroze, made a face at me and stepped off the stoop. I grinned. “Sorry. I didn’t mean literally.”
He relaxed and poked me in the ribs.
He pulled out the innocent puppy-dog eyes. I narrowed mine and took a step towards him. He stiffened, teetering on the edge of nervousness. I poked him in the ribs for payback and ducked as he jumped. He was faster than I expected and much better at tickling than I’d anticipated. It took less than five seconds before I was squirming and begging him to stop. He put his arms around me and smiled into my eyes. I slipped my arms around him, leaned my head on his chest and listened to his heart beat.
“Where were you wanting to go?” His voice rumbled in his chest and I snuggled closer for a few seconds then pulled away. He released me and put his arm around my shoulders instead.
“The hardware store. I need to get a set of keys made for you.” I slid my arm around his waist and we walked away from the apartment.
The afternoon sun was warm, my thoughts were focused on Jason and I felt happier than I had in months. The trouble brewing on the horizon had become black storm clouds rumbling with thunder. I just couldn’t see them. Yet.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2006 by Crystalwizard