A Little Night Magic (Chapter 18)

I waited for Tobias as he walked toward me, knowing I should get up but unable to move yet. He got to me, his eyes never leaving mine as he flipped out his cell phone and hit speed-dial. A moment later, he said simply, "I got her," and flipped it shut again.

"Let's go," he said, his voice gruff and angry.

I tried to get up, then said, "I can't yet."

His expression morphed into concern. "What happened?"

I stared up at him. "I don't know. I just walked out of the house without thinking, and the next thing I knew, I was here." I swallowed. "I think she put the whammy on me."

Tobias sat down next to me on the bench and ran his hands over my arms and legs.

"I'm not injured," I said, my voice quivering. "I just can't move. I keep thinking, 'get up,' but I can't."

"It's okay." He pulled me into his arms and held me against him. "It'll pass. Just give it a minute. Calm down, and breathe. It's just a head game."

I rested my head against his chest. "She did the same thing with Nick the other night, when Millie attacked Peach. At least, I think it's the same thing." I sighed. "I don't know. I just … I swear, I didn't mean to do this."

"I believe you," he said quietly. "We'll just make sure you're not alone again."

I shuddered, even in the heat, and pulled back to look up at him. "If she wants me, she'll get me, Tobias. I think she's just proven she can do that."

"No," he said, determination in his voice. "She can't. We won't let her."

We stared at each other for a while, and then I lowered my eyes, unable to deal with it all anymore. "Can we just go home?"

"Yeah. Sure." He got up and held out his hand to me, and I took it. I rose from the bench easily, naturally, the residual effects of Davina's power over me fully dissipated. Tobias released my hand and stepped aside for me to go ahead of him. We made our way back in silence, walking side by side.

Cain was on the porch when we got there, and he darted down to meet us on the sidewalk.

"What the hell do you think you're – ?" he began, but Tobias said, "Leave her alone," and I was allowed to walk into my own home on my own power.

I went inside to see Betty and Stacy in the foyer, looking tense.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I just…" I shot a look at Tobias. "I needed some air."

"That's okay, honey," Betty said, but her eyes were tight with worry.

Stacy shook her head. "If you need air, you get air, Liv. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

"Davina was there," Tobias said, and I shot him a look.

Cain stepped closer, looming over me. "Where is she?"

"She's gone," I said, then shot guilty eyes at Betty. "I don't know what happened. I just suddenly wanted to go outside. I didn't think about it, I just … went. And there she was."

Betty made a grim face. "Well, I guess that confirms our suspicions about Nick. She's exerting some kind of mind control."

"The coffee," Cain said, and I looked at him.

"You think she slipped me something else in that coffee?"

He gave me a dark look and nodded. "Tell me what happened."

I took a deep breath. "She said it would be a few days, and then, if I didn't come to her and let her take my magic, she'd systematically start destroying the town."

"That's it?"

"Well, she was more flowery about it but … yeah. Them's the CliffsNotes."

He was quiet for a moment, then said, "We're out of time. We move tonight."

"Wait," I said. "She told me it would be a few days, that she wasn't strong enough yet – "

"If she's exerting her will over you in the daytime, she's past strong enough," he said. "She's waiting for you to get your strength back, and then she's going to strike. I say we don't give her the chance."

I shivered and rubbed my hands over my arms. "Well … what are we going to do?"

Cain took in a breath, thought for a moment, and said, "You said she had someone under her control? Who was it?"

I glanced at Stacy. "Well, there's Millie."

"Can we get to her?" Cain asked.

Stacy tensed up. "What do you mean 'get to'?"

"If Davina's got a conduit," Cain said, "we can use that against her."

"Use Millie? How?"

Cain sighed, as though he was annoyed at having to explain everything. "Running a conduit gives power. She feeds off the extra life force. But it also takes power; we cut that off, it siphons that power away from Davina. It'll weaken her, buy us some more time."

"Cut off? How?"

Cain thought for a moment. "You could take her as a conduit, too. Feed her some potion, take control, maybe siphon off some of Davina's power through her."

"Maybe? You're not sure?"

"It's magic," Tobias said. "You can't ever be sure."

"And would this maybe include hurting Millie?" I asked.

Cain huffed. "It's not like we've been testing this stuff in a lab. It's all maybe."

I looked at Betty. "What about Amber Dorsey? That thing with Frankie Biggs was exactly what Amber would do if she was under Davina's control. I can spare Amber Dorsey. She stuck gum in Millie's hair in the eighth grade."

Betty shook her head. "She went to stay with her sister in Syracuse."

"Then it's gotta be Millie," Cain said.

"No, it doesn't," I said. "Besides, it's not like I could get her to take potion anyway. She's under Davina's control at night. She'd never say yes."

Cain looked at me like I was an idiot. "She doesn't have to say anything. You drop it in her drink when she's not looking, the way Davina did."

"No. Millie's my friend. I'm not dosing her with anything without her knowledge. Jesus. What the hell's wrong with you?"

Cain advanced on me. "Look, you can play nice or you can win. You think Davina had even a second thought about dosing your little friend?"

I took a step forward, getting in his face. "I'm not Davina. I don't work like that."

"You don't have a choice."

Tobias took me gently by the shoulders, pulled me back, and stepped in between me and Cain.

"What other ideas do you have?"

"None that involves getting permission first," Cain spat, eyeing me with disdain.

"Oh, screw you, Dr. Doom," I muttered.

"Enough." Tobias looked at me, and his expression told me he meant business, so I backed off a bit. He turned to Cain. "Is there anything less risky that you can think of?"

Cain eyed him for a moment, then shrugged. "Less powerful."

"What is it?"

"I can put something together that will impede all magical influence," he said. "That'd take a chunk out of Davina, for a little while."

"But she'd still have to sneak it to Millie?" Stacy asked.

I sighed. "If it's returning her free will to her…" My stomach turned at the thought, but then I relented. "I could sneak something like that. I guess. You sure it won't hurt her?"

He met my eyes. "Sure as I can be." Cain looked at the clock. "Okay. We got five hours till sunset. I got work to do."

"Wait, sunset?" I said. "We're going at night?"

He nodded. "The connection to the conduit is only open when she's got power. That's night."

"But won't Davina … I don't know … kill us all?"

"Not if you leave me alone, let me get some work done." And with that, he grabbed his backpack off the floor, and headed toward the basement.

Betty, Stacy, Tobias, and I stood in silence, just looking at each other for a while, and then Stacy nudged me and said, "I'm sorry, how can you not think that's totally hot?"

* * *

We went to CCB's a little after closing. The plan was fairly simple. I had called Millie and asked her to meet me there for coffee, and to talk. When Millie wasn't looking, I was supposed to dose her coffee from the small vial Cain had tucked into my pocket.

Simple, as long as I didn't let the idea of dosing my best friend without her consent bother me.

I waited at the counter for Millie, while Cain hid out in the kitchen, and Betty, Tobias, and Stacy sat outside in Stacy's car, ready to charge should it all go to hell. I waited for nearly twenty minutes after our designated time, but finally, the bells on the door jingled, and Millie stepped into CCB's. This time, her dress was black, creating a dramatic contrast with the red shoes, lipstick, and fingernails.

"Hey, there, Elvira," I said.

Millie smirked and headed for the counter. She dumped her purse beside her, and leaned on her elbows, exposing cleavage, which, in the twenty-odd years we'd been friends, I had never seen. Even her bathing suits had been modest.

"Thanks for coming." I went to the carafe of coffee I'd made on the mini-coffeemaker and poured us each a mug. Millie watched me carefully. She was suspicious, which made me feel even worse about dosing her, but I was already here, and it would help her.

Maybe.

I set the cream and sugar on the counter and mixed them into my mug, took a sip, then set the coffee down.

"I really don't see what we have to talk about," Millie said. "But for old time's sake, I guess it made sense to come." She left her coffee black and sipped it.

"We need to talk about Peach," I said. "And Nick. And what the hell's been going on with you."

She gave me a flat look. "Oh, please. Like you don't know. Davina told me all about you, you know."

I couldn't help my surprise. "What do you mean?"

"She told me that you and Stacy and Peach had been laughing behind my back about Nick, all these years. Saying I didn't stand a chance with him. Calling me pathetic!" Rage flashed on her face, and then she calmed down. "Who's pathetic now, Liv?"

I shook my head. "That never happened."

"Right," Millie huffed. "I've always been the laughingstock. It's always been the three of you against me."

"Millie, that's not true. I swear."

"Like your word means anything."

"Look," I said, slowly, "I know how convincing Davina can be. I believed her, too, but Mill – "

"Just stop it, okay? I'm not interested in hearing more lies. I've got what I want."

"And just what is that, Mill? Nick wants Peach. Once Davina stops needing you, you won't have her mind-control trick anymore. What are you going to do then?"

Millie shook her head at me. "You know, I would have thought at least you'd be on my side. Stacy and Peach, they think that because they're beautiful, they can have whatever they want. They just step over the bodies of girls like us. How can you side with them after the way Stacy treated you?"

"Stacy never stepped over me," I said.

Millie slapped her hand down on the counter, making me jump back a bit. "She slept with Tobias! He was yours, and she slept with him! Doesn't that make you mad?"

"He wasn't mine, Mill. And Nick wasn't yours."

"Yes, he was. I was there for him, every day. I made him coffee, I laughed at his jokes, I loved him. And Peach just swoops in with her perfect face and her perfect ass and just – agh!" She flashed her fingers out in frustration. "She had no right! He was mine."

"No, he wasn't."

And it was then that I saw it, a hint of uncertainty, the old Millie inside this new, awful thing. I leaned forward and took her hand in mine.

"Millie, you can't let Davina do this to you. This isn't you. I know you, and you're not like this. You're kind and you're sweet and you love us. Peach, Stacy, and you and me, we're family." I sighed as I let out a sharp breath, my eyes filling with tears. "I miss you, Mill."

She lowered her eyes, looking down at her hand in mine, but she didn't pull away, so I went for it.

"I can help you," I said. "I just need you to trust me."

She raised her eyes, and they were full with tears, her lower lip quivering. "Trust you?"

"Yeah." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the vial Cain had given me. "I can mix this in your coffee. It'll cut off your connection to Davina, and cut off some of her power. It'll make it easier for me to take her down. She's trying to kill me, Mill."

Millie shook her head. "No. No, she wouldn't do that. She's been really nice to me. She helped me."

"Here." I put the vial in her hand. "I won't dose you against your will, but I'm going to ask you to take it."

Millie examined the vial. "What is it?"

"It's a potion. My friend Cain made it. He's really good. When Davina got to me, he saved my life."

Millie stared at it for a while as a tear tracked down her cheek. I reached out and put one hand on her arm, but she pulled away from me violently, and when she looked at me, her eyes were glittering with hatred.

"Mill?"

"I told her you'd never betray me," she said, shaking the vial in her fist as she stepped away from the counter. "She told me you would, she told me you'd do exactly this, but I said no. Liv would never do that to me, I said. What an idiot!"

Behind her, gray smoke started to whirl, coming up from under the tables behind her. Within the smoke, sparks started to fly, at first small and then growing bigger, illuminating the smoke around them like lightning. Millie closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them, she was smiling.

I stepped out from behind the counter, and as I passed by the kitchen door, I smelled it.

Gas.

I turned around, looking at Millie, those sparks in the smoke whirling behind her even more ominous now. "Millie, I smell gas. We need to get out of here."

"Of course you smell gas," she said. "Who do you think turned it on?"

"Goddamnit, Millie!" I said, and headed toward the kitchen door, but I couldn't move it. Something was wedged up against it. I pushed against it with everything I had, and moved it an inch, just enough to see the blue of Cain's T-shirt as the dead weight of his unconscious body sagged against the door. I coughed as the gas that had saturated the kitchen swept in through the crack in the door, then twirled around to see Millie there, arms raised, smoke and sparks seeming to come from her fingers.

"Millie, stop it!" I yelled. "If this place goes up, it'll kill you, too."

"Yeah?" Millie rolled her eyes. "You think she'll let anything happen to me? She's my friend. She loves me."

"She's not your friend!" I ran for the front door. I pushed back the Venetian blinds and tried to open it, but the dead bolt was flipped, and the key we usually kept in there was gone. I coughed again as the smell of the gas scorched my lungs. There was a pounding on the glass and I looked up: Tobias. I motioned for him to go around the back. If he could get Cain out in time and open the kitchen door, we might be able to get out the back. He gave me a quick, frantic look, then ran off. Stacy and Betty, who'd been standing behind him, moved closer. I waved for them to go away, but Betty was motioning to Stacy, saying something I couldn't make out, and Stacy ran off. Betty stood on the other side of the plate glass, her hand flat on it.

"Go away!" I hollered, dizzy from the gas. I fell to my knees, frantically motioning for her to get back. All I could see was her head shaking back and forth, a simple No.

I experienced the explosion in phases, my mind unable to process it all together at once. The first thing I saw was Betty's face, illuminated in red as the flames flashed through the dining room. Then, she was gone, thrown back by the force as all the windows and doors blew out in a million screaming shards. I pushed myself down to the floor and covered my head as the oppressive heat consumed the air around me. Then there was the concussive boom of it, making my ears ring. I gasped for air, unable to hear anything aside from the ringing in my ears, unable to feel anything but the heat from the flames.

A moment later, I felt myself being dragged out, and after a few gasps of fresh air, I realized that Tobias had me. I clutched at him and yelled, "Betty! Where's Betty?" but if he answered me, I couldn't hear him. The street was a mass of emergency vehicles, blue and red flashing lights, and the first thing I was able to focus on was Cain, breathing through an oxygen mask, an EMT next to him inspecting a wet rag. She must have snuck up behind him with chloroform or something.

Someone was prodding at me, asking me questions, but I couldn't answer. There was a mask over my face, and the tanked oxygen felt stringent against my ruined breathing passages. I pulled the mask down and grabbed the EMT attending me by the arm. "Betty? Where's Betty?"

The EMT shook her head, then pointed across the street. I turned just in time to see Stacy crawling into the back of an ambulance and sitting next to a body strapped to a gurney.

Betty.

Then the doors shut to the ambulance and it started away, and I watched it go, my eyes filled with helpless tears. The sound around me started to come back, and when I heard my name being called, I turned to see Tobias moving toward me, covered in soot but seemingly okay. He sat next to me on the edge of the truck, hesitated for a moment, then pulled me into his arms. He put one hand on the back of my head and kissed my forehead, then my cheek, and then held me to him again. Every muscle in my body was shaking, I had no strength left, so I leaned against him and allowed his to seep into me until I had enough to pull back and look at him.

"Millie?" I said, pulling my oxygen mask down. "She's still in there?"

Tobias shook his head. "They pulled her out. She's on her way to the hospital in another ambulance."

My eyes filled with hot tears. "And Betty? Is she…?"

"She's alive, but…" He let out a rough sigh. "Stacy said she'd call as soon as they knew anything." He pushed my hair back away from my face. "What the hell happened?"

I swallowed, trying to soothe the rawness in my throat. "I didn't want to trick her. I told her what was going on. I was so stupid, and now Betty…" I crumpled against him. "It's all my fault."

"She knocked Cain out and turned on the gas before that conversation ever started," he said. "It was going to end badly, no matter what you did."

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a harried EMT stuck my oxygen mask back on my face. "Take that off again, and I'll put you in restraints," she warned, and then went to check on Cain.

I leaned my head against Tobias's shoulder, and watched as the EMT fussed over Cain. He looked up, and our eyes met for a long moment, and then we both looked away to watch the firemen as they hosed down the hollow, charred remains of Crazy Cousin Betty's.