fApril twirled around, while a trio of pixies flitted between her arms with unnatural grace, streaks of white, blue, green, red and yellow lights. April thought it was a dance with faeries, an addition to the play like we’d done multiple times a year since I’d moved in here. It was a beautiful dance; April must have had some classical dance experience which she blended with more contemporary styles. Every time, her moves seemed to get just a bit more elaborate.
A beauty that was ruined for me, since I knew the other dancers so well. The Tuatha thought they were harrying scouts, meant to distract the target before the main strike force came in for the kill. They were awaiting the moment I commanded them to unleash the ‘spells’ they possessed, at which point they’d release streams of painful energy at the girl who had no comprehension of her partners in show.
“So, did you miss me?” I turned on reflex, to find Zach holding a camouflage duffel bag dusted with snow.
“Wha? Zach!” But I thought you were going to be in trouble. I looked back to April, still holding out her hand, while three of the pixies hovered just outside her reach. “Umm, sorry but I need to take five.”
“Sure, I could use a breather, too. And I should practice the other scenes, right?” April smiled at me, and at Zach. She’s figured it out, I know she has. That’s why she’s smiling the way she is. “Have I told you how much I love being able to play Titania with actual fairies?”
Only thrice a day every day for a month, every time we’ve done Midsummer Night’s Dream, for the last three years. “Once or twice.” The pixies flitted over to me when I held out my hand toward them, finding perches on my shoulders and arms. They were controllable enough, in small numbers, while I was overseeing them, but I didn’t dare leave one unattended around people.
April kept smiling as she walked backward a couple steps, before turning and jogging past Eric on her way toward the back. “Hey, Dan, wanna help me with my lines!?” Yep, I am now the gossip of the theater for the next month, if not longer.
Nothing I can do about it, I suppose. I turned my attention back to Zach, who was also smiling. It’s not because of April, is it? “I thought you said your mom was going to ground you forever.”
“Turns out, the opposite,” he said.
What’s the opposite of grounding? “So…” Maybe they sat down and talked it out? “Does that mean things are okay at home?”
“Well, they will be, once I find one.” Zach chuckled by act of will, rather than humor. He slipped his duffel bag off his shoulder, then set it on the ground next to him. “Turns out, I’ve accomplished what my sister never quite managed, and got my ass disowned.”
“That’s terrible!” I brought my hand up over my mouth, while lights started to come from all over my armor. The Tuatha were responding as all my summons did when I was upset: look for what’s responsible, and kill it. “What are you going to do?”
Please don’t ask to move in with me. I still don’t know what to do with a boyfriend, but I know I’m not ready to live with one. How will I tell him no if he does ask? I’m terrible.
“I’m thinkin’ I’ll hitchhike across the country, so I don’t feel like I missed out when I’m old and gray.”
Dammit, Zach, now’s not the time for jokes. “Please, are you going to be okay? I’m worried.”
“You don’t have to worry, I’m always okay.” He shrugged, still holding that smile of his. “Well, except those times when some asshole breaks out a power that no-sells mine. I’d like a lot less of that in my life.”
“You know what I mean.” How can you pretend you’re okay, when you were just kicked out of your home? I was a wreck for a month when Mom left us, and all she did was leave, she didn’t kick me out on the streets. “What are you going to do?”
“Well, in theory I should be going to Dad’s place.” Zach didn’t sound enthused about that idea. “But doing that and the hero thing’s gonna be tricky. He’s a bit out of the way, and god help us if he finds out Laura’s part of the team. He’s fine with me trading punches with supervillains… but if he finds out his, ahem, ‘little girl’ is getting in on the action, he’d lose his shit.”
How do I respond? What do I say to help?
“For now, I’m thinking I’ll crash at Laura’s for a while. Yeah, she’s got a live-in boyfriend, but he’s cool, and he’s good at staying out of the way. You’d never even know he was there.” Zach tilted his head up, then looked over his shoulder. “Usually.”
“Haha, very funny.” Glen’s rumble-voice wasn’t that good at emulating sarcasm, but I’m sure he intended to sound sarcastic. “Speaking of annoying people beating your only real power, how’d you know I was here?”
“Saw Laura’s car in the parking lot, figured you’d follow me in,” Zach said. “I am a man of overwhelming observational skills, nothing more.”
“Overwhelming bullshit, more like.”
Was this a test? Was Zach trying to see if I’d offer to let him stay? He mentioned that Glen was staying with Laura, that can’t be a coincidence, can it? He wanted to know if I’d be there, and I failed the test. No, Beth, you don’t know that. But why else would he bother coming here? I took a breath, then prepared a ‘test’ of my own, to see what sort of test he was doing, if any. “Uh, what did you need?”
“Porque no los dos?” Zach stopped and turned his attention back to me, but looked at the ground. At least he had the decency to be ashamed. “Oh, right.” He looked back up. “Well, I’d love to say I just wanted to see you again. And I do! But, well, Laura kinda needs me to grab her money. For the healer. Sorry?”
“Oh!” That makes perfect sense, and I’m such a bitch for suspecting it was a game. “There’s nothing to apologize for. It’s her money. I just have to go upstairs and get it.”
I headed for the stairs. But am I wrong? He could easily be using the money as an excuse, and it’s not like I can prove otherwise. Not without mind reading powers, which Zach knows I can’t do.
“I’ll come with!” Zach didn’t so much as try to sound casual, in his haste to catch up.
“Okay, I get the picture,” Glen said. “The chaperone’s gonna head back to the car. But don’t take too long, or Laura will come up there and ruin your alone time in ways I wouldn’t want to imagine.”
What? “No!” I turned, finding myself almost nose to nose with Zach. He still had a bit of a height advantage, despite the platforms of my armor. His face was almost as red as mine felt, which contrasted in wonderful ways with his hazel eyes. I wrenched my face away from his gaze. “We’re not!”
Glen’s rumble-laugh echoed around us, while I became very aware that Jake and Carol were staring in our direction. “I know, I’m only teasing.”
Zach sighed, still close enough that I could feel the warmth of his breath on what little of my face my armor left exposed. “Yeah, yeah, yuck it up. Besides, we all know you don’t have to follow us to eavesdrop. Your hearing’s so absurd you probably know where every dog is going at it in a two block radius.”
“Ugh. It’s three blocks, and please don’t remind me. I’ll tell Laura to crank up the radio, give you what privacy I can.”
“Thanks.” Zach kept staring into my eyes, so close that he was going to bash his nose off my costume if he wasn’t careful. His nose was a nose, I didn’t know if I had any prefered nose type, it was just sorta there. I was more interested in his eyes.
I stepped away from him. “Uh, right, let’s go get your sister’s money.”
“Ladies first.” Zach smiled his usual boyish smile.
Is there a word for when something is both cute and idiotic, all at the same time? I kept my smile to myself as I ascended the stairs.
“Gentlemen get the better view,” he added, ruining the moment with the same casual ease as it came to be.
“Whatever. You can’t see anything.” Eufron did have a bit of curve, but it still emulated full plate armor and placed form over function. Whatever I thought of my posterior, it was well-hidden at the moment.
So I kept climbing, now quite conscious of every movement my legs and hips needed to take in doing so. I can’t believe he just told me he’s looking like that. Or that he even wants to look in the first place. I suppose it’s not so bad, he is my boyfriend. It’d be worse if he didn’t find me attractive, right?
“Truly one of life’s great tragedies,” he said. “On the other hand, I have a good memory, and better imagination.”
I stumbled on the last couple steps, saved from an embarrassing face-first collision with the door to my apartment by my armor’s defensive effects. For a moment, I was encased in a protective forcefield which felt almost as if I were moving underwater. With my momentum slowed and my weight reduced, it was simple to correct my path before reaching the door itself.
“Sorry, I guess I went too far.” He remained on the step below the small platform which held my door, looking up at me.
“Yeah.” I fumbled to unlock my door, while Zach stayed silent. I stepped in the moment I could, while Zach stayed out on the stairs. “You can come in, if you want.” Regardless of his teasing, it didn’t seem right to leave him out there.
“Thanks.” Only now did he come off the top stair. “I’ll stop with the stupid jokes. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
Uncomfortable is one word for it. “You don’t have to do that.” I looked away from him, seeking a way to explain feelings I didn’t understand, myself. “It’s not bad. I just, well, nobody’s ever treated me like this before.”
“What? Seriously? A cutie like you at least had to have guys trying in high school.”
I’m not cute. “I didn’t go to high school.” Great, now he thinks I’m a dropout. Wait, he’s a dropout. Dammit, Beth, focus! “I got my powers young, and they’re hard to control. Private teachers, so I couldn’t…” hurt anyone else.
“I get the picture.” Now was Zach’s turn to be uncomfortable. “Well, speaking from the inside looking out, you didn’t miss much. Except dudes telling you how hot you are. But don’t worry.” He reached out, touching his hand to the armor covering my cheek. “I’ll help make up for lost time.”
The line was corny to the point of cringe-worthy, but I smiled so hard it started to hurt my jaw. “Do you ever stop?”
“Stop flattering beautiful girls?” He stepped in closer, so he could put his arm around me. I had to give a conscious command to my armor to keep it from responding to his act of tenderness as a threat to my safety. “Not even for death. The jerk didn’t stop for me, either. Said something about how they were supposed to send a poet.”
His eyes. That’s my favorite feature. “I didn’t know you were a Dickinson fan.” Or his smile, there is something dissarmingly sweet about that goofy grin of his.
“Is that where that line comes from?” Zach asked. “I coulda swore I got it from a cartoon, somewhere. Which just goes to show you how over-rated high school is.” He stopped talking, just holding me for a moment.
He leaned forward the little bit necessary to brush my armor with his lips. “So, not to kill the mood or anything, but Laura will limp her ass up here and break our legs. She’s Italian like that.”
He’s right. I slipped out of his arms, much as I hated to. “Does that mean your sister’s scarier than death?” I extracted the envelope, money still inside, from its hiding place between my couch cushions.
“On a scale of one to ten, where one is fluffy baby birds, and ten is Laura? Death ranks six, seven tops. Trust me, I’m a veteran of both.”
“If you say so.” Knowing Laura, she’d take it as a compliment. I handed the envelope over to Zach.
“Thanks.” Zach slipped the envelope and his hand into his coat pocket. “Once again, I really don’t want to go, but I’ve gotta get moved in, and we’re scheduled to get Laura taken care of tonight. I want to be there, just in case something happens. I know Muwth’s keeping an eye out to make sure we’re all okay, but I’ve watched enough war movies to know what happens to people who put too much trust in precogs. They lose.”
“And I should get back to prep for the play.” As far as reasons went, Zach’s was better.
He hesitated in his step toward the door. “Umm, Muwth’s given us the all-clear tonight. Nothing but nuisance crimes on her radar. But, umm, we were talking about having a planning session tomorrow night. Maybe I could get here a little early? If that’s okay with you, of course.”
My stomach tingled. Is he asking what I think he’s asking? “Yeah, that sounds nice.”
“Great!” He leaned in, kissing my armor again. “I’ll be here. Bye.”
I watched him as he rushed down the stairs with remarkable athleticism. Which made more of an impression on me than his prior window egress, if less on the ground.