A Little Night Magic (Chapter 7)

I swallowed a chunk of cake down. "Me?"

She leveled her eyes at me. "We bound your power when you were a baby, but now it's here, and we need to deal with that."

"Wait – you bound my power?"

She stared at me like I was stupid. "You were supposed to be a normal kid. We couldn't very well have you running around making turtles out of plates, now, could we?"

"No." I sat back. "Guess not."

"Eventually, your power was going to come out. This was never not going to happen. To be honest, I was expecting it all to hit the fan when your mother died; emotional trauma can do it. That's why most Magicals get their power at puberty. And it may not be a big deal, really. Just because you got your power, it doesn't necessarily put you in more danger than you were in last week. It's just that if the people who were after you guys find out you've got power, they might come after you again. So we need to have this talk just so you know to be careful and all that."

"Oh, shit," I said.

Betty's eyes widened. "What?"

"There's a woman, Davina. Last Friday, she showed up here and threw a stinky gym sock at me, telling me I was magic and that I should be what I am, or something like that."

Betty's eyes widened. "And you're just telling me this now?"

"I thought she was insane. We get insane people in CCB's every day. But last night, she came to the house, and talked to me about the magic, and I turned my phone into a bat."

"You turned a phone into a bat in front of someone?" She shook her head. "Way to bury the lead, kid."

"There's more…"

She put her hand to her forehead. "Oh, Christ in a bucket."

"Sunday, I bumped into a guy in the alley outside Happy Larry's, and I turned a trash can lid into a dog in front of him." I swallowed. "Davina said his name is Cain, and that he wants to kill her."

Betty stared at me for a while, then pushed up from the table. "Pack your stuff. We're going to the airport."

I stood up as well. "Wait. Let me think a minute."

"Think while you're packing. You're going to Europe in a few weeks anyway, we'll just change your ticket when we get there and send you now."

"Wait. How did you know about Europe?"

"Tobias told me. He asked me if I really thought you would go, and I said no, but right now, I say yes. You go."

"I can't go now."

"Why not?"

"Because we don't know what these people want, or who they are. Davina actually seems kind of nice. A little crazy, but nice. And she protected me when Cain surprised me in that alley. As for Cain … well…" I felt a shiver go through me at the memory of him in that alley. "Okay, he might be dangerous, but running away isn't the answer. If they found me here, it's just a matter of time before they find me somewhere else." I took a deep breath. "We're just going to need to figure out another solution."

Betty stood there for a moment, her eyes sharp on mine, and then she sat down again. "Any ideas, Mary Poppins?"

"Well … you said you bound my power. Couldn't you do that again?"

Betty stared at me for a moment, then shook her head. "No."

"Why not? You did it before."

"No. Your father did it before. Gotta be a blood relative, and even then, things get complicated past the age of reason, about seven or eight. There's free will to be messed with and that's where things get dark with magic. It's not a good place to go."

"But it's my free will," I said. "I will it. And complicated doesn't mean impossible, right? I mean, the spell worked well into my twenties. That means it can work again."

"It's got to be a blood relative, Liv. You're kind of short on those."

"I have a father and a sister out there somewhere," I said, feeling my heart rise at the thought. Family. "I'll just find them."

"It's not easy finding people who don't want to be found. I tried when your mother died, I wanted to tell them, but I couldn't find them. And I hired a real private detective. From Buffalo."

I met her eye. "Okay, but I'm not going to Europe. Not yet."

"Okay." She reached across the table and patted my hand. "We'll think of something else, then. In the meantime, though, you're officially on sabbatical. I want you home, safe, and out of the public eye until we get a plan together."

There was a long moment of silence between us, then I dug out a chunk of chocolate cake and stuffed it in my mouth. "Oh my god, Betty, this is really, really good."

It took a moment, but eventually she smiled, then picked off a small chunk for herself. "I know."

I sipped my coffee, which was still hot, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the sparkly magic square.

"Hey, Betty?" I pointed to the square. "Is it really magic?"

"Hmmm?" She looked at the floor, not seeming to see what I was pointing at.

"The sparkly square," I said.

She laughed. "The what?"

I pointed. "That sparkly square. When I was a kid, you told me it was a magic wishing square. And then you told me it wasn't. But I made a few wishes on it and they came true, and in light of recent events, I thought … maybe…"

"Magic linoleum?" She shook her head. "No. That's just crazy."

* * *

It takes awhile to accept that you have magical power, and here's why: It's insane.

It's insane to actually believe that your father was not Some Guy Named Dave, but rather Some Magical Guy Named Gabriel.

It's insane to believe that you can create little woodland creatures from trash can lids, phones, and spare coffee mugs.

It's insane to believe that your boss can conjure baked goods up from thin air, that a stranger in town can bust open your power by throwing a ratty gym sock at you, and that another stranger in town might possibly be here to kill people.

It's insane.

And it only took about fourteen hours for me to accept it as truth. Fourteen hours of sitting on my bed, staring at a little red mug bunny and a destroyed, lifeless bat phone. I didn't eat. I didn't sleep. I didn't go to the bathroom. I didn't even really think that much. I just … stared.

Mug bunny, meet dead bat phone. Dead bat phone, meet mug bunny.

The truth finally settled around me only once I was in the dark, on my bed. I could just barely see the outline of the mug bunny scooting around my bed, glimmers of reflected moonlight shimmering off the smooth ceramic, and one moment, I was watching it, removed from everything. Then it tumbled off the side, and something inside me shot to life. I gasped and caught it and drew it to my chest and snuggled it, and that's when I knew. That was the moment when I accepted that this was all real, that there were people in the world that had magical power and I was one of them.

"Huh," I said out loud to no one in particular. I patted the mug bunny, and realized I was starving. I put the mug bunny in its shoebox on the floor so it wouldn't get hurt, and I stumbled downstairs in a haze, glancing at the clock on the wall in the kitchen as I went into the refrigerator; it was only nine-thirty. It felt like it should be later, that somehow, days should have passed.

Nothing in the fridge appealed to me, and then I remembered the bag of conjured pastries Betty had sent me home with. I wandered out into the hallway, but they weren't there. I searched the living room: nada. Finally, I went out onto the porch, flicked on the light, and there was the big brown paper bag Betty had stuffed full for me, sitting on the porch railing.

Huh. I couldn't even remember leaving them there. Then again, when I'd stumbled back from CCB's that morning, I'd been in something of a daze.

I sat down on my porch swing, pulled the top Styrofoam container out of the bag and opened it.

Chocolate cake. Eight gazillion calories of glorious, chocolaty goodness. Then a thought hit me, and I wondered if conjured food has the same calories. What if it had no calories? A momentary shiver of glorious wantonness shot through me, and then I came back to reality.

Even I couldn't stretch my imagination that far.

"Liv!"

I looked up to find the source of the voice, and there was Peach, running in place on the sidewalk in front of my house. Her blond hair bounced behind her in a ponytail, and her running outfit clung to her perfect curves as she jogged effortlessly in place. I hesitated at the thought of talking to her while digging into chocolate cake with my bare fingers like a crack addict sucking on a dirty pipe.

If only I'd thought to grab a fork …

I set the cake down beside me. "Hey, Peach."

She kept jogging in place, then said, "I'm sorry about before."

I shrugged. "It's okay."

"No, it's not. I was being jerky, and I suck. I'm sorry."

I looked at her and smiled. "Apology accepted."

She grinned back, slowing from jogging in place to just moving her legs a bit. "Good." She waved me toward her. "Come on, run with me and we can talk about everything. I was almost done, but I can squeeze in another mile or two without dropping dead."

I busted out with a sharp laugh. "Seriously? You think I'm going to run a mile?"

She rolled her eyes, smiling. "Fine. We'll power walk. But I tell you, exercise is the best thing when you're feeling like hell. You breathe in the air and your heart gets pumping and it's just … whoo! Invigorating. Know what I mean?"

I stared at her. I had just been contemplating downing an entire chocolate cake in one sitting. Of course I didn't know what she meant.

"Yeah, you're probably right, but I don't think so."

"Okay." She touched her neck with two fingers, glanced at her wristwatch, and slowed down the jogging to walking in place. After a few seconds, she stopped moving altogether, then rested both palms on the tree, stuck one leg straight out behind her, and stretched.

"So, are we doing Confessional on Saturday? I really think we should. If you want, I can host, I just have to get all of Nick's landscaping crap out of my living room." She switched her stance, stretching yet another muscle group, although I couldn't tell which one. "Did I tell you about the solar walkway lights he bought when Dunlop's went out of business? Two freaking thousand of them, to sell in a town that gets six weeks of sunlight a year."

I stared down at the chocolate cake by my side. Was I really so insecure that I couldn't snarf a little cake just because Peach was a health nut? I was just about to pick it up when I heard wood creaking, and looked up to check where the swing hooks were attached to the porch ceiling. Jeez. You know it's bad when your house starts making commentary on your weight.

"Anyway, of course, he ran out of room in his storage space, so guess where the extras ended – ow!"

I jolted at the thunk sound. Peach pulled back from the tree, rubbing her shoulder, then bent over and picked up what looked like a pale wooden lime from my yard.

"Walnuts?" she said, picking it up and twirling it in her hand. She glanced up at the tree. "This isn't a walnut tree … is it?" She stepped back, staring up into the branches of the tree.

"No. It's an oak," I said, and then I heard it again … that creaking. I got off the swing, and the creaking continued. I looked up at the tree, and saw in the light of the streetlamp what looked like long fingers of dark gray smoke swirling oddly around one branch. Then, out of thin air, another walnut appeared and flew down straight at Peach, who jumped out of the way at the last minute. She looked at me. "Are you throwing walnuts at me?"

I shook my head, then looked up and down the street; it was quiet, almost ominously so, and the hair on my arms shot up.

"Peach, come up here on the porch, please," I said, trying to keep my voice firm but calm as the creaking sound started up again, louder this time. The trunk of the tree behind her seemed to be shaking now, and the gray smoke was starting to spread through more branches.

"Not if you're throwing things at me. Jeez, Liv, I said I was sorr – ow!" A walnut bounced off her head, and she looked up into the branches of the three. "What the hell? Is there a bird or something in there?" She stopped talking suddenly, seeming to freeze where she was, then said slowly, "Liv, is your tree smoking?"

The creaking got louder, the sound approaching violence, and the smoke began to swirl around the branches, weaving between them with will, like snakes.

"Peach, get up here!" I yelled, but Peach just stood there, staring up into the branches, dumbfounded.

I dashed inside and grabbed my biggest umbrella from the holder by the front door, then shot it open as I ran down the front steps to grab Peach. I got her arm just as the walnuts started coming down in force, pelting us in the back and legs as we ran back onto the safety of the porch. We stood there, hands clasped together, staring in disbelief as hundreds of walnuts crashed down onto my yard, bouncing off the ground with unnatural force as they hit. After a few moments, it stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the smoke that had surrounded the branches of my tree seemed to be sucked back into it in a whoosh.

Peach was stock-still for a long time, her eyes wide and her mouth shut, and then she turned to me, releasing my hands.

"I think there's something really wrong with your tree, Liv," she said, her voice shaky. I recognized the feeling, that sense of shock as you tried to reconcile something you just witnessed with everything you know about how the world works.

"Yes, there's definitely something wrong." I glanced up and down the street, then gave her my umbrella, which was pockmarked and beaten to a point where I was pretty sure it would never close again. It would get her next door, though, and once she was gone, I could try to figure out what had just happened.

"Why don't you go on home, Peach? I'm gonna call my tree guy."

"Sure." She blinked twice, as if she was still trying to process what had happened, and then flipped the dented umbrella up over her head. "Let me know what you want to do for Confessional on Saturday. I really think we should all … you know … get together." Her voice shook a little bit, and I patted her shoulder.

"Everything's okay," I said, my voice soft and reassuring. "Go on home."

"Okay." She nodded like a child, and then held the battered umbrella over her head as she made her way next door, giving my oak tree a wide berth as she walked past it toward her house. A moment later, her front door shut and I heard a strange blurp sound, like a pop played backward on a sound system. I looked back to the walnuts, which were disappearing one by one, into quickly dissipating puffs of gray smoke.

Blurp-blurp-blurp. Gone.

I stood on my porch for a few minutes, breathing in and out, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It was magic, that much was obvious, but it wasn't the kind of magic Betty and I had. This was malevolent, magic intended to harm, maim, or kill.

Possibly, intended to kill me.

I stood there for a moment, lost in thought, and had just started for the front door when something in the corner of my eye made me tense up. I twirled around, and there in the pool of streetlamp light at the end of our lane, stood a woman in a red dress, her ash-blond curls flowing freely around her face in the light breeze.

"Millie?" I whispered. There was no way she could have heard me, but still, she turned and disappeared from the light as soon as I spoke her name. I darted down my porch steps and ran down the road after her. Either she hadn't been trying to elude me, or she wasn't used to the bloodred spike heels she was wearing, but I caught up to her before she'd gone half a block.

"Mill!" I grabbed her arm and turned her to face me. "Mill, what's…? Wow."

Her eyes were made up dark and smoky, and the deep red lip stain brought out the fullness of her mouth. Even her nails were perfectly manicured in the same red. I looked at her again, squinting my eyes at her.

"Millie?"

She smiled sweetly, the same old Millie smile, and I recognized her again. "Yes, Liv, it's me."

"Oh my god." I took a step back to survey her. "Holy crap, Mill."

She gave a little half-twirl, like a shy little girl, and her dress swirled around her legs. "It was time for a change. Do you like it?"

Do I like it? I'd heard stories about women who'd lost a lot of weight and subsequently lost their friends through jealousy, and my mind went to that as I checked out Millie. There was no doubt; she was beautiful. The dress was perfect for her slightly thicker frame, and the little black shrug she wore over her shoulders added an extra sexy element to the outfit. She looked amazing. But did I like it?

No. I wanted to, but something in my gut just wouldn't let me.

I met her eye and smiled. "You look incredible."

She nodded, barely able to contain her exuberance. "I do, don't I?"

"Yeah." I hesitated a moment, then motioned back toward my street. "Hey, did you just see what I just saw over there?"

She blinked, twice. "What?"

"Um…" I wasn't sure how to explain it in a way that wouldn't sound completely insane if she hadn't seen anything. "Peach, under the tree in front of my house. All the walnuts fell on her at once. It was … really weird."

She worked her face into a frown, but there was a glint in her eye she couldn't hide. Millie wasn't a great liar anyway, but at the moment, she was even worse than usual.

"No," she said, her voice going high with feigned innocence. "I didn't see a thing."

And that's when it hit me; maybe Davina hadn't unleashed just my magic. Maybe she was some kind of magic-freeing fairy godmother, going from town to town and loosing whatever magic had been tied up there.

Maybe I'm not alone.

I took a step closer and touched Millie's shoulder.

"Mill, has anything strange happened to you lately? Like, maybe, a weird, middle-aged black woman throwing a gym sock at you that makes you sneeze? And makes … you know … maybe other things happen?"

Something flashed in her eyes; she knew what I was talking about, or something about it, anyway. I felt the hope rise within me, and then …

"Sorry, Liv." She gave a mild shake of her head, and a shrug of the shoulder. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I don't care if it sounds crazy," I said. "Whatever you want to tell me, I'll believe you."

Millie took a moment, eyeing me carefully, and I held my breath, waiting for her to tell me that something strange had happened to her, too. That we were in it together.

That I wasn't alone.

"All I know, Liv," she said, "is that the tree in front of your house is an oak, not a walnut."

I pulled back from her a bit. There was something about the cold enjoyment in her eyes that worried me. This was the same Millie Banning standing before me who I'd known since I was six years old, the same Millie who had helped me stuff my first bra, who had helped me care for my mother, and then bury her, mourning her loss as much as I did. But in a lot of ways, it also wasn't Millie. It was New Millie, and I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about her.

"Okay," I said after a moment. "Hey, we're doing Confessional at my house on Saturday afternoon. Are you coming?"

A deep twinkle shone from her dark eyes. "Oh, yes," she said. "I'll be there. With bells on."