“Just for the record, if I ever say ‘let’s go shopping’ again, it’s a secret code that means ‘call the doctor, I’m having a stroke’.”
Mom just shook her head. “It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?” I held up the four bags she was making me carry. They weren’t that heavy, but the point was made. “There are more people in this mall than actually live in the state of Virginia.”
I’d only expected to be out an hour or two, and home with most of a thousand bucks left over. I’d mentally assigned half of it to Laura, she needed it and she deserved it. The other half was spending money, I planned to burn a chunk of it on a nice gift and night out with Cassie.
I wanted to get something cool for Alex, too, but fuck if I knew what he’d like. He lived for football and catching the attention of scouts. I knew somewhere between shit and jack about football. Which was an idea, if I dropped his name in a news interview it might get someone looking his way. It was a stretch, but sharing the limelight a bit couldn’t hurt.
I caught a glimpse of a jewelry store. Well, at least shopping for Cassie can be easy. “Hey, I’m gonna dip in here for a moment.” I didn’t wait for Mom to say anything before setting the bags on a nearby, somehow empty, bench. She’d have to stay out here to make sure assholes didn’t steal anything.
The inside of the store looked like I expected a jewelry store to look like, enough white to remind me of a hospital. There were more men than women in here right now, which didn’t surprise me too much.
A darker skinned guy in a blue polo shirt approached. He wore that special smile that somehow every salesman and politician knew on instinct. “Hello, sir, can I help you?”
I wonder how much these people get on commission. Well, I know I’m buying something, may as well make it quick. “Yeah, I’m looking for something nice for my girlfriend.”
He nodded as if that was the only answer that made sense. “How long have you been together? Too nice could be worse than not nice enough.”
I hadn’t expected that question, I’d just assumed he’d try to sell me the most expensive thing he could. Maybe he just didn’t want to waste time trying to sell me an engagement ring or something.
Somehow, Cassie didn’t strike me as the type to care too much about a gift being too expensive. “We’ve only been together a couple months, but it’s also a Christmas present.”
“Then I’d suggest silver,” he said as he led me in. “Were you thinking earings, necklace or maybe a bracelet?”
I noticed rings weren’t mentioned, but still considered his question. Given Cassie’s love of showing off her cleavage, the answer was obvious. “Necklace.”
I spent a few minutes browsing while the guy explained metal purity and its value. He really seemed to love the jewelry, or maybe he really wanted a sale. I dismissed a lot of the stuff on sight. I wasn’t buying something with flowers, and I sure as hell wasn’t going near the stuff with the hearts.
A couple minutes in, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful mesh necklace. It was so intricate, with a tiny woven pattern that put it somewhere between chain and spider web. The surprise was it only cost a hundred and twenty bucks. Most of the other fancy looking stuff in here was over three hundred.
“What about this one? It looks kinda fragile.” And amazing, but I wasn’t about to say that out loud.
The guy blinked. “Ah, that one’s actually made from titanium.”
“They make titanium jewelry?”
“Some companies do,” the salesman answered. “It’s not a traditional precious metal, but as you can see it is beautiful and can be worked in ways that softer metals like silver and gold cannot.”
“Consider it sold.” There wasn’t any doubt, I was buying this.
“Would you like to have it giftwrapped? It’s only an extra dollar fifty.”
Eh, fuck it. “Sure, that sounds great.”
I waited, then tried not to laugh when the guy watched me pull a couple hundreds out of my wallet to pay with. He was no doubt thinking he should have tried to sell me something more expensive. I grabbled the box, and what my power told me took my breath away. Up until now, it had always been a thing that just told me stuff, but this… it was like listening to music for the first time, or a first kiss, or… I don’t even know what to describe it as.
“Sir, are you okay?”
I snapped out of my daydream. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I turned and left, still caught up in the information my power was feeding me. The salesman said some polite goodbye, but I didn’t hear it. If this was what GL got out of music, no wonder he was willing to wait for hours while I did homework.
Mom looked pretty annoyed with me when I got out. “So, find what you were looking for?”
“Yup.” She was actually asking what it was and who it was for, but I wasn’t about to answer those questions. “So, can we get something to eat, I’m starving.” If I felt bad about lying to my mother, I was still too caught up in the pattern of the necklace I held. I can’t even remember where we ate at, I think I had a steak.
By the time we got home, the sun had already set and there was music playing in my bedroom. I was pretty sure I didn’t leave it on, but Mom didn’t seem to catch that. I made sure to close the door before talking. “Hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
The pause was long enough to make me wonder if I did just leave music playing when we went out. “No, not long. I have a message from our friend. Several, in fact. First, she wants you to keep quiet on what we learned last night, something about needing to talk to certain people.”
I frowned, it was about what I expected. “I don’t know who I would tell.” The police had proven themselves less than useless. Maybe I could have tried for a meeting with the gang leaders, but I had no damn clue how to find them.
“She had a warning about your new gauntlets, too,” GL continued. “Turns out they’re all kinds of illegal.”
Not as illegal as what I plan to use them for. “Oh, okay.” After a moment, I decided I should say more. “Let her know I’ll be careful.”
“Last, and probably least, she has the route sorted for the day. Six yellows to report in, and two greens. Weird thing is some of the yellows happen at the same time in different parts of the city.”
“Don’t think about it too hard,” I dismissed. “My power makes me immune to headaches” usually “and trying to figure out how that works hurts the ol’ noggin.” I knocked on my own skull.
“I still don’t understand how you’re doing what you’re doing at all,” GL said. “Her powers aren’t supposed to work like this, and she talks about Surges like she’d rather die than have one.”
“Have you asked her about it?”
“No, I haven’t seen her in person for weeks. She calls me on the phone. I can’t talk over the phone, but I can listen. And I’ve got pretty good memory for details.”
“Huh.” The joys of having a paranoid recluse for a partner. A paranoid recluse partner that was lying to me for her own purposes. Which was enough to make me feel pretty paranoid as well.
The more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off. We’re supposed to be able to trust our team. That thought made the decision for me. “It’s kinda a long story, and I’m not even sure how it works, but it starts with time travel and Morse Code suicides…” It took me an hour to get the general idea out. If Mom thought I was in my room talking to myself, at least she didn’t make a big deal about it.
“That’s overpowered as fuck,” GL decided after I finished explaining the basics. “Are you sure it actually works like that?”
“All I’m sure about is it seems to work,” I said. “I mean, the greens all worked so far. Reds and blacks haven’t seen a lot of testing, maybe it’s murkier with other Imbued involved.” I doubted it, but I didn’t want GL to start asking the questions I was asking. “Yellow has a pretty big failure rate, like almost half seem like a false alarm.”
“Maybe they see the cops coming but wouldn’t have seen you,” GL suggested.
“We’re guessing it’s something like that. Either way, the cops go to every call, so they can’t be too upset.”
“They’re used to it. Psychics with a better success rate than ten percent are exceedingly rare. Besides, if you’re averaging six or seven calls a night, and half of them pan out, that’s three or four busts a day more than they were making. Figures to roughly a hundred a month. That sort of thing that makes the department’s numbers look really good.”
“Yeah, makes sense.” I flopped down on my bed and held up the box containing the necklace. I didn’t need to look at it, all I could see was the plain gold wrapper. It was the inside that mattered.
“It’s for Cassie,” I answered. “Something about it just feels really cool to my powers.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a little Christmas shopping of my own. I don’t know what I’d do without the internet.”
“You and me both, buddy.”
After that, we went quiet. He had his music, I had my necklace, and we were both just content to enjoy them more or less alone. Tonight, I’d do the routine, helping in little ways while waiting for something to happen. I had no means to find Kitten, and she clearly didn’t want me to find her. Maybe Flux would find my attention, or maybe my plan to see if Muwth was lying to me would work out.
For now, I just wanted to let myself pretend I had nothing to worry about.