A Little Night Magic (Chapter 8)

I got out of bed early after a night of fitful sleep, then ambled downstairs and watched the early-morning cartoons while I ate my breakfast of coffee, an orange, and a strawberry Pop-Tart. The only thing that was different from every other day off was that now, I had company. It was a magically conjured mug bunny, but hey – beggars and choosers and all that.

"How are you feeling this morning?" I asked the little mug bunny, who tottered around the living room while Wile E. Coyote ran off the edge of the cliff with an anvil in his arms.

"Don't look down," I said.

Wile E. looked down, looked back at me with an expression of tragic realization, and then plummeted immediately out of frame.

"He never listens to me." I took another bite of my Pop-Tart, then picked the bunny up and offered him a bit of it; he didn't appear interested.

"So, is it that you don't eat," I asked him, "or are you maybe a vegan?"

Considering that it had been over twenty-four hours since I'd made him, and he hadn't eaten anything and seemed no worse for the wear for it, I guessed it was option number one.

"I'm feeling edgy," I said to him. "I need to get out of here. Wanna go to the falls?"

In Nodaway, "the falls" referenced a little brook in the woods. One part of it sort of jumps down a bit of a decline, but by no stretch of the imagination is it a true waterfall. Apparently, it was bigger when the town was founded, but even so, when you exist within a hundred miles of Niagara Falls, it's kinda ballsy to add "Falls" onto any town's name unless there are … you know … falls there. Still, it was a nice walk for shaking out your sanity, and my sanity desperately needed some shaking out.

I tucked an old sweatshirt into the bottom of my worn army-navy messenger bag, and set the mug bunny inside. Immediately, it curled up and seemed to go to sleep. I threw on my sneakers, gray sweats, and L'EGGO MY EGGO T-shirt, pulled my hair back into a half-assed ponytail – who was going to see me, anyway? – slid my bag over my shoulder, and went out my front door just as Tobias was turning from the sidewalk onto my walkway.

"Hey," he said, smiling up at me as I froze where I was at the top of my porch steps.

"Hey," I said. "I was just about to take a walk. To the falls."

"Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." I smiled at him, feeling shaky and tense but somewhat comforted just by the sight of him. "I'd like that."

"Great." He motioned for me to join him, and I fell into step beside him. As we navigated the sidewalks of the village, then the dirt at the edge of the two-laner that passed for Nodaway's highway, we spoke on innocuous subjects, town talk mostly. Maurice Greeley had been in the day before showing off his granddaughter, that kind of thing. Then, when we hit the path in the woods, we started talking about the waffles he'd made for me the other night; I asked him for the recipe, and he told me, and I retained none of it. Then, deep in the woods, we talked about nothing, just went silent and walked together. We reached the falls and sat on the big, flat rock overlooking the inconsequential brook. For the first time in a while, I felt peaceful and at ease.

And then, Tobias spoke.

"So," he said, "I guess your power came in, then?"

I froze, not sure how to respond, and then finally, I said, "My … power? What, you mean, like … my electricity? It wasn't out."

He looked at me, his expression frank, and I felt my heart clutch in my chest. "Oh. You mean…"

"Yes."

"You knew?"

"Yes."

"About the magic. About the … things I can do."

"I know about magic, yes."

I shook my head, trying to absorb this. "You knew."

"Yes. Day or night?"

"Day. You knew?"

He nodded. "How does it manifest?"

I joke-punched his upper arm. "Bruises. That's how it manifests. Don't skip ahead. You knew?"

"Get mad at me later," he said. "Right now, I need answers. How does it manifest?'

"I'll be mad at you now if I want to be mad at you now," I grumbled, but at the same time I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out the mug bunny and handed it to him. "I turn household objects into woodland creatures, household pets, and common vermin."

He flipped the mug bunny upside down, inspecting the bottom, and the little feet flailed wildly. Then he turned it back upright, and handed it back to me.

"Cute."

"Yeah. It's a growth industry." I tucked the thing, wriggling in objection, back into my messenger bag, and took a moment to breathe and sort out my building fury before turning to look at him again. "So, all that, 'whatever you want to tell me, I'll believe you' stuff. That was about getting me to admit to the magic."

His expression was impenetrable. "I have a job to do. It's important to that job that I know what's going on."

"It's important to making waffles that you know about my magic?"

He shook his head. "No. To protecting you."

"Protecting me? That's your job?"

"Yes."

"So all that 'there's a good reason why this is a bad idea' stuff … that was about the job? Of protecting me?"

He met my eye, and for the first time since we started the conversation, I could see some evidence of regret. Not a lot, but it was there. "Don't sleep with the job. Things get messed up when you get emotionally involved."

"I'm a job. Great." I digested that for a minute, then said, "Wait, who hired you?"

"I was hired by your sister to protect you," he said. "She was worried that someone might come after you."

A rush of excitement ran through me, and I jumped to my feet. "My sister? You know Holly? Where is she? I need to find her, I need a blood relative to – "

His eyes met mine, steely dark and businesslike as he said, "She's dead."

I slumped back to sit on the rock, and it took me a moment to catch my breath. Tobias put his hand on my back and ran it down my spine, then lifted it up to do the same again, but I pulled away from him.

He dropped his hand. "I'm sorry."

I huffed. "Sorry for what? That my sister's dead? Or that you lied to me?"

"That your sister's dead," he said.

I glared at him. "You son of a bitch."

"I'm not sorry I lied to you. I did it to keep you safe, and I'd do it again. That's the job."

"Stop saying that," I said. "It's creepy. I'm not a job, I'm a person, and you…" I dropped it, unable to sort my feelings. All I knew is that they were unpleasant, but packed for the moment in numbing cotton. Eventually, the cotton would dissipate, and I'd have to feel it, but for the moment, I was okay.

"How did you end up working for my sister?"

"I work for a … kind of a security firm, I guess you'd call it. She hired the firm, the firm sent me."

I looked at him. "You never met her?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Tell me everything you know about her."

"Her name was Holly Monroe – "

"Wait, I thought her name was Ford."

He met my eye. "So was yours. When your parents split the family, your mother took the name Kiskey for you and her, and your father took Monroe for him and your sister."

"Right," I said. "The hiding."

He nodded.

"She's dead?" I could feel the cotton dissipating, and I reached for more. I needed my numbness right now.

"Three months ago," Tobias said, his voice quiet.

"How?"

"She was found in the woods. The official word is that she died of exposure, but how a healthy thirty-one-year-old woman dies of exposure in April in Tennessee…"

I looked at him. "You think she was killed."

He shrugged. "She was worried enough to hire us to protect you. And then she died mysteriously, so my guess is, she was right to worry."

"Wait. She knew about me?"

"Only your first name, and your mother's first name. She was three when the family split in two, so I guess your father didn't see the point in lying to her."

"Oh! My father! Do you know – ?"

I stopped off the look on Tobias's face. He moved a bit toward me, as though considering touching me, but then seemed to think better of the idea.

"Your father's been missing for ten years. Presumed dead."

"Of course." I took in a deep breath, and the understanding came in waves, bringing the hurt along with it. I hadn't realized how badly I wanted my family until that moment. The pain of losing them, even before I'd gotten the chance to know them, promised to cut deep as soon as it got through the cotton. I chose instead to focus on the other pain, and turned my angry gaze on Tobias.

"That's why you showed so much interest in me, why we hung out so much. I was a job."

He hesitated, then said, "At first, yeah."

"And then?"

He looked at me, his eyes dark and intense, and despite the craziness of the whole situation, my heart fluttered with the sudden understanding that my instincts hadn't been wrong about him. He cared about me. Unfortunately, the realization was of small comfort.

"So it wasn't just me," I said. "You did want me."

"I couldn't," he said. "Objectivity is crucial. It can be the difference between keeping you safe and getting you killed."

"Well … why didn't you just have them send someone else?"

"They wouldn't," he said. "When a client dies, payments cease, and when payments cease, so does the job."

"But you're still here."

"I'm on leave," he said simply.

"Oh." I stared at the stream, watching the water move gracefully over its bed of stones, wishing it could carry me along with it. "So, you knew this was coming. The magic, I mean."

He sighed. "I knew you had a sister that had magic, that you might have it, too, and that you might be in danger. That's all."

"You knew I had a sister. You knew when she died. And you didn't tell me?"

"I couldn't tell you."

"Why the hell not?"

He let out a sharp, angry laugh. "Well, for one, you wouldn't have believed me."

I had to concede the point. "Maybe not, but – "

"And second, it wasn't the right thing to do. Knowing more than you need to puts you in danger. I couldn't tell you, I was right not to tell you, and given the same choice, I'd make it again."

"Right. I keep forgetting. I'm a job." I got up, slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, and started on the path back home. I could hear his footsteps crunching the twigs on the ground as he followed me.

"Job's over, Tobias. Go home, wherever that is. Not that you'd tell me."

He grabbed my arm, turning me to face him. "We're not done here."

"You may not be," I said, feeling the edges of anger jabbing into me like fiery steel, "but I am."

I tried to wrench my arm out of his grip, but he held on tighter.

"You're hurting me," I said.

He loosened his grip, but didn't let go entirely. "I need you to tell me everything you know about Davina. She's not your aunt. Who is she?"

Blind fury fueled my strength and this time, when I pulled my arm away, he let me go.

"I don't know. A fairy godmother or something. But I can tell you this – out of everyone in my life, she's the only one who has told me the truth. God!" The anger bolted through me, red and hot, riding the waves of the hurt. "How could you, Tobias? How could you know that I had power, that I had a sister out there somewhere and not tell me?"

"Part of keeping you safe was making sure you didn't know."

"Yeah? Well, part of being my friend is choosing me over your goddamn job. You just let this whole thing slam into me sideways, without a word of warning." I took in a sharp breath as I realized something. "You knew I had a sister when she was still alive. I could have met her."

"That wasn't my call."

"Don't hide behind that. You know it was wrong, you know it, I can tell by the look on your face. Jesus, Tobias. I thought you were my friend. I thought you would put me first."

His eyes went dark with anger. "I put your safety first."

"That was the job," I said. "I'm talking about me."

He went quiet, and my ability to deal crumbled. Hot tears flooded my eyes and I turned away, not wanting him to see. I started down the path, my feet crunching the twigs on the forest floor as I walked away, and I could hear the echo of his footsteps behind me as he followed.

"Liv, wait."

"You're relieved from duty. Go away."

He darted in front of me and blocked my way. "Something's going on. I don't know what, but I think you're in danger, and right now, that's more important than you being pissed off at me."

"I've got Betty and Davina. I'll figure it out." I walked around him and continued down the path, but again, he followed.

"You want to be pissed off at me, fine, but don't be an idiot. Whatever is going on, it's killed your sister, and is likely the reason that your father disappeared. Not taking that seriously because of your fucking pride is just stupid, Liv, and you're not stupid."

"Oh, I'd beg to differ there," I said, giving him a sharp look. "I fell in love with you, didn't I?"

He shut his eyes, released a breath, and opened them again. "We'll get to all that, I promise. But right now, we've got bigger problems."

"No, I have bigger problems," I said. "You just need to find a new job."

I continued down the path, but this time, there were only my stomping, crunching footsteps, a fact that filled me with warring factions of relief and distress. I kept moving until I was sure I was completely out of earshot, and then I allowed myself to cry.

* * *

It took me the rest of the day to figure out what I needed to do. I spent most of those hours in bed, hanging out with the little red mug bunny and watching streaming TV on my laptop, barely noticing the story lines as I tried to work out my next move in my head. I slept so much that day and night melded together, and when I ate, it was coffee and a Pop-Tart. No matter how I angled everything around in my head, though, wondering what I was going to do, I always came to the same answer. The only answer, really.

Move on.

On Saturday morning as I was toweling my hair dry after my shower, I heard the door downstairs open, and Davina's voice called, "Baby? You awake? I brought coffee."

I looked at the mug bunny, who was sitting on my bed in his little shoebox. "I bet they knock in Europe." I tucked the mug bunny in my arm and brought him downstairs with me.

"We need to talk," I said when I got to the bottom of the steps. Davina stood in the hallway, a cardboard drink tray in her hand sporting two cups of coffee and some kind of pastry bag. She was smiling, and she looked really pretty in her brightly colored peasant skirt matched with a bright yellow silk shirt, so exuberant next to me in my old jeans and faded purple T-shirt.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"I'm about to disappoint you." I moved toward the front door, holding it open; I didn't expect this to be a long conversation. "You seem like a nice person and everything, really. But this whole magic thing … I don't want it."

"What do you mean?" She stared at me for a long moment, then set the coffee tray down on the half-moon hall table. "What's going on?"

"I'm getting rid of the magic."

"Getting rid of it? Why? Did something scare you?"

"Did something scare me? Um, yeah. Every time I pick something up, I'm afraid it's going to sprout wings or whiskers. I have to go out and buy a new phone because I turned my old one into a bat. I have no idea what you even feed a ceramic mug bunny. And, I got pelted by magic walnuts the other night." I lifted the right pant leg of my sweats and showed her the fading bruises, then let it drop. "Whatever's going on between you and that Cain guy is your deal. I really don't think he's out to kill you, but that's between you and him. As for Millie…" I thought about Millie, standing in her red dress at the end of the street after magically pelting Peach with walnuts, then I looked at Davina. "You didn't throw your stinky gym sock at Millie, did you?"

"I'm sorry. You lost me at magic walnuts. Who's Millie?"

"An old friend. Sort of on the short and pudgy side, used to be a normal person, now she's a bombshell with anger issues? You don't know her?"

Davina shook her head, then crossed her arms over her chest and eyed me. "You think she has magic?"

I felt a moment of unease, and then let the front door shut. "You know, forget the walnuts. It doesn't matter. I probably imagined the whole thing. The point is, I'm getting rid of my magic, and then, I'm leaving. I'm going to Europe, and I'm going to take pictures of myself with goats. So, thanks so much for everything, but you can go do your fairy godmothering with someone who wants it." I recognized the edge in my voice, and added, "You know. No offense."

She watched me for a moment, then said, "Mmm-hmmm."

"Mmm-hmmm what?"

"Nothing, it's just…" She shrugged, obviously trying to come up with a nice way to say whatever she was thinking. "Wherever you go, there you are."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that your problems will go with you to Europe, or wherever you end up. Your problem isn't the magic, baby. It's you."

"So help me god, if you tell me that I had the power within me to change my life all along and all I have to do is click my heels three times, I'm gonna pop you one."

She laughed, a hearty, lively laugh that somehow, despite the circumstances, made me feel better.

"I'm going to have to take that chance. Because don't you see? You want to do something with your life. This is your chance to do something with your life, something important. You have power. And not just any old everyday power, either; even among Magicals, you're unique. Power like that, you could do some very important things with it."

"Like what? Turn plates into groundhogs?"

Davina's eyes widened in excitement. "Oh, no. There's so much more to what you can do than that."

"More? Are you insane? I can barely handle this." I held up the mug bunny in my hand. "I'm making woodland creatures out of household goods, and you tell me now that there's more?"

"Oh!" Davina laughed and clapped her hands together. "He's cute!"

I lowered him back down. "Not the point."

"Oh, come on. Relax. Hello, little guy." She petted him on the side with her index finger and smiled up at me. "Is it a little guy or a little girl?"

"I don't know. I didn't think to check." I lifted him up and looked underneath while he protested with much twittering and scrambling of little ceramic feet. "I don't know. It just says Gibson." I turned him back upright and he calmed down.

"Gibson," she said. "I like that. That's a good name."

"I'm not naming him." I set him down on the ground, where he clacked across the front-hall floor toward my living room, bouncing into a wall on his way. "I don't want him. I don't want any of this." I swallowed hard, finally saying out loud the plan that I'd had in my head. "I'm going to find my father and have him bind my powers again. Then I'm leaving."

Davina watched me for a moment, her eyes hard. "Oh, that's the plan, is it?"

"Yep." I wished I felt as confident as I was trying to sound.

"I see. And you know where your father is?"

"No." I looked at her, feeling like a surly teen. "That's where you come in. I was kind of hoping you might know something about that."

"I do," she said, and I had just enough time to work up a decent surge of hope when she said, "He's dead."

My heart plummeted. "You know that? For sure? How?"

"I don't know, not for sure. But he's been missing for ten years and I just don't think your plan is exactly … realistic." Davina reached out and touched my arm. "I'm sorry. I really am. I knew your father, he was a good man, and it was a great loss to the community when he died – "

I gave her a sharp look, and she changed course.

"… I mean, went missing, but I'm afraid for you that this determination to find him is going to bring you nothing but heartache."

"I'll take that chance." And then I had a thought. "Unless I don't need to find him. Hey." I pointed a finger at her. "You did this to me. You can undo it. Un-whammy me."

Davina crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a doubtful look. "Un-whammy you?"

"Yes, get out your stinky gym sock and take it back."

"Doesn't work that way. And what's more, I wouldn't do it if it did. I gave you a gift, and I don't mind saying, I think you're being a mite ungrateful about it."

"Fine." I pulled the door open again. "Then it's back to Plan A. If not my father, then there's got to be a grandparent or a cousin or someone out there I can find who can do this. I don't mean to be rude, but I've got things to do. So, it was nice seeing you, but…"

She stood where she was for a moment, then said, "So that's it?"

I nodded. "That's it."

"You don't even care what kind of danger people are in?"

I paused, leaning on the doorknob. "Who's in danger?"

She hesitated, and said, "I'm not sure. But this thing with your friend and the walnuts … you said it was at night? After dark?"

"Yeah, but I could have imagined all that." I thought about the gray smoke, the walnuts falling from the oak tree. "Okay. Maybe not."

"It must be him," she said quietly, a troubled look on her face. "He's started it, then."

I felt a shiver of unease, and I shut the door again.

"Who's started what?"

She looked at me. "Baby, this may come as a surprise to you, but this whole thing? Is not just about you. I came to find you because I wanted to get to you before he did, and it's a good thing I did, but now…" She bit her lip and said, "He's doing the same thing he did in Tennessee."

I touched her arm. "Who?"

She met my eyes. "Cain."

"Cain?" I said. "The drunk guy from the alley? The one you knocked out with a trash-can Frisbee?"

She shook her head. "Don't underestimate him. He's much more dangerous than he seems. If he finds out who you are…"

I felt a shock of panic go through me. "He knows who I am," I said. "He asked me if my father was Gabriel Ford. I said no because I didn't know who my father was, but he obviously did."

Davina closed her eyes, released a breath through her nose. "Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"I didn't think it meant anything. It means something?"

"It means everything." She grabbed her coffee cup out of the carrier and walked into the living room. I grabbed mine, and followed her.

"Davina, who exactly is this guy?"

She cleared off a space on the couch, sat down, then looked up at me, a grave expression on her face.

"This guy," she said on a grim sigh, "is the man who killed your sister."