A Little Night Magic (Chapter 4)
"Goddamnit, Peach," I muttered, then pulled my fluffy pink polka-dot robe around me and yanked up the blinds just in time to see her pulling her headless broom handle back across the tiny gap between our houses and back into her bathroom. I threw the window open and sat on the radiator.
"We're not twelve anymore, Peach," I said. "You can call me on the phone."
She leaned her elbows on the sill of her open window. "Have you talked to Millie lately? Oh, and I'm out of conditioner."
"Just a minute." I reached under my bathroom sink and pulled out the small bag full of hotel toiletries I kept there. I pulled out a little bottle of conditioner and tossed it across the six feet between us; she caught it handily.
"No, I haven't talked to Millie," I said. "I've been a little distracted since the Confessional. You haven't talked to her?"
"No," she said. "And Nick said she hasn't shown up for work."
"She's missed three days of work? Why would she…?" I shot Peach a look. "You didn't tell him, did you?"
Peach gave me an indignant look. "About her being in love with him? No! What kind of friend do you think I am?"
I stared her down for a moment, and she deflated a bit.
"Okay, fine, yes, I told him. He's going to be my husband. We share everything. But I told him not to say anything to her, and he didn't, I swear. He didn't get the chance." She nibbled her lip. "I've left, like, ten messages on her phone. She hasn't called me back. Have you tried to call her?"
"No," I said, feeling a twinge of guilt. I'd been so wrapped up in my own drama with Tobias that I hadn't thought much about Millie. Not that there was much real drama with Tobias at the moment; hard to have a lot of drama when you're pretending the other person doesn't exist. I'd also used a fair amount of mental energy rationalizing the trash-can-lid dog – tequila causes hallucinations, right? – so I just hadn't had much left to worry about Millie.
"I'm worried," Peach said. "Maybe we should go by her house later."
I grabbed a towel off the rack and scrunched my dripping hair in it. "Good idea. All right, I'm going to go dry my – "
"Why don't you come over?" she said. "We can go to CCB's for waffles."
I sighed. "I can't. I've given up waffles. Just until I get the pudge off. Do you know how many calories are in those things? I think I get contact fat just from serving them."
She shrugged; Peach had never had to think about calories a day in her life. "Have you talked to Stacy?"
I felt myself stiffen at the mention of her name. "No."
Peach gave me a sharp look. "You should cut her some slack on that whole thing. It was a long time ago."
I felt a stab go through me, and I toweled my hair with a little too much vehemence as I said, "It doesn't matter. It's over. I'm not upset."
"Okay, whatever you say. But she didn't know how you felt about Tobias back then, and she feels really bad about it."
I stopped rubbing the towel against my head and stared at Peach. "Oh, please. She does not. Stacy has never felt bad for anything she's done, ever." I continued toweling my hair, then stopped again. "And it doesn't matter anyway, because Tobias is a grown man who can do what he wants. Neither one of them owes me anything. There's nothing to feel bad about." I pulled the towel away from my head. My scalp was starting to hurt.
"Well, at any rate, you can't go to Europe now," she said carefully.
I raised my head to look at her. "Oh, no? And why is that?"
She stared at me. "The whole group is falling apart. Millie's upset and none of us know what's happened to her. You and Stacy are fighting."
"We're not fighting," I said through gritted teeth.
"Look, Millie's grandmother is dead. Your mom is dead. My parents are in Florida so they might as well be dead. And Stacy's mom is a nutcase. We're the only family we all have. You're going to just leave and let that fall apart?"
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Is that what this is about? Are you manufacturing drama to keep me here?"
"I'm getting married," Peach said, her lower lip quivering. "Are you even going to be here for my wedding?"
"Of course, I'll be here for your wedding," I said. "They have airports in Europe, you know. Have you picked a date?"
Peach straightened up and stared at me, delivering her statement like a blow. "December twentieth."
"Wow. That's fast. But … sure. Okay. I'll be back for the wedding."
Her mouth dropped open. "Back? You can't go and come back. Who's going to help me plan?"
I ticked off my fingers. "Nick. Stacy. Millie. A thousand wedding planners in the regional phone book. And your parents are in Florida, Peach. They're not dead. You've got people."
"I need you. I can't put on a wedding without you, you're my oldest friend. You're the closest thing I have to a sister. You have to stay here until I get married, and then it's the holidays, and you can't go then. January and February are too cold, and it's even worse in Scotland in the winter. We can talk about it again in April."
"I bought my ticket," I said. "I leave in August."
"Get a refund."
"I don't understand why you have to leave all of a sudden like that. It doesn't make any sense."
"I just…" I thought about explaining it to her, invoking memories of my mother, who used to sit in her garden staring into space for hours. I know he left her on October fifth only because she spent that day crying in her room every year. But I couldn't tell Peach all this because she wouldn't allow me to leave her because of a man. Peach was great in a lot of ways, but she would never understand what unrequited love did to you. No one had ever turned Peach down in her life.
"It's just something I need to do, Peach."
"Well, I don't understand why."
I huffed in frustration. "You don't have to. We're not family, Peach. We're neighbors. So just back off."
Immediately after I said it, I wanted to take it back, but I couldn't. Silence edged into the space between us as Peach stared down at the ground below, quickly swiping tears away from her cheeks before raising her head to look at me once again.
"I'm only going to get married once, Liv. Europe will always be there." And with that, she closed her window and left her bathroom.
I sat with the bag of toiletries on my lap, just staring until all the products melded together in a blurred lump in my vision. Peach would come around and apologize later. Millie would be fine, we'd all see to that, and Stacy and I would iron over whatever was tense between us. Tobias and I were already getting back to normal, kind of. The chances were good that by the time I got on that plane, Peach would accept it, too. It was about as likely as a winged unicorn flying over my house and pooping rainbows, but there was a chance.
At the moment, though, I was too tired to think about it, so I stuffed the toiletry bag under my bathroom sink and went to take a nap.
* * *
It was a little after seven at night when I woke up, although with the sun being out so late in the summer, it took me a moment to realize it was still Wednesday, my day off. I lay back in my bed and stared at the ceiling, wrist resting on my forehead. I supposed I could eat, but it was hard to work up any enthusiasm for it. Really, the only thing I had enough energy to do was go back to sleep.
Just as I'd closed my eyes, I heard it. A sound, downstairs. A door opening. I shot up in bed and my heart raced as I tried to remember … hadn't I locked the door? Not that anyone in this neighborhood needed to lock their doors with Peach and Ginny Boyle around, but still … I thought I had.
"Crap," I said, trying to decide what to do. Maybe whoever it was would just steal my television and leave me in peace. I really didn't care; it was an old TV, and it'd save me the trouble of selling it. I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself it was my imagination, but then I heard more shuffling downstairs and figured I had to at least check it out.
I grabbed my pink softball bat and walked down the stairs; when I got to the foyer at the bottom, I heard a sound in the kitchen, and relaxed a bit as I realized it was probably just Peach. We'd traded house keys years ago, and she had no boundaries. It would be just like her to let herself in if she needed sugar or eggs or something.
"Peach?" I called out, still holding the bat in my hands, but a little lowered. "Is that you?"
The kitchen door flew open and Davina stepped out, her bright peacock-colored skirt whirling around her. I screamed. Davina threw up her arms and screamed, too, spilling a bit of her drink on the floor. She took a breath and raised one hand to the wall to steady herself as she laughed.
"Oh, baby, you scared the hell out of me." She looked down at the floor and said, "Crap, I spilled," and then flew through the kitchen door, leaving it swinging in a wake of blue silk and lilac scent.
I stood in my foyer for another minute or so. I realized my mouth was hanging open and I shut it. Adrenaline shot through my body on every hard pump of my raging heart, and I went into the kitchen, where I saw Davina placing a second glass of scotch down on my tiny linoleum table, presumably for me.
"Sit down," she said, grabbing a sponge off the sink. "I'll be right back."
She disappeared, humming an unfamiliar song as she cleaned up the spill on the other side of the kitchen door, then came back in and sat down opposite me, lifting her glass in the air.
"We need to talk," she said, and downed her glass.
"Talk? About what? You broke into my house. We don't need to talk, you need to leave."
"You look good," Davina said, her eyes bright. She reached out and patted my hand. "You got your color back, which is good. Especially after that incident in the alley next to Happy Larry's."
I felt a chill run down my back. "What are you talking about?"
She laughed. "I'm talking about how I saved you from that guy." She made a flinging motion with her arm, then made some boom! pow! sounds to imitate knocking the guy out in the alley. Then, she giggled. "Women's Ultimate Frisbee Champion, University of Louisiana, 1981." She glowed, proud of herself. "I still got it."
"Well … what the…? That was you?"
"Sure was," she said. "And I saw what you did, too. Dog!" She laughed and clapped her hands. "Very impressive work, and really advanced for someone who's only been at it for what? A week?"
I swallowed and sat back. "You saw … the dog?"
"But … you couldn't have."
"Because I've spent the better part of the last few days convincing myself none of that happened. That it was a drunken hallucination, a brain tumor maybe. I was making progress with that."
"Ain't no brain tumor, baby. It's magic and you have it." She giggled again, like a little girl. "Isn't it exciting?"
I stared at her. I had a lot of emotions whirling within me at the moment. Excitement wasn't one of them. "Who are you?"
"You know who I am. I'm Davina."
"No, I mean … what is up with you? You threw a gym sock at me. What was that about?"
"That was necessary. I had to be sure you were who I thought you were."
"What was in the gym sock?"
She looked to the ceiling for a moment as she composed her answer, then smiled at me. "Think of it as a magical DNA test. It came out positive, and unblocked your power."
"I don't have any power," I said.
"I know an aluminum dog might beg to differ with you there."
"Yeah, and speaking of that … why didn't you just come out in the alley instead of throwing things? I was totally freaked out."
"Oh, I couldn't risk that man seeing me with you, baby." She leaned forward. "He's trying to kill me. Who knows what he'd do to you if he knew we were friends?"
"Kill you? Why?"
"Well, for the same reason anyone wants to kill anyone else," Davina said simply. "He's crazy."
"Who the hell is he?"
She took another sip, a grim look on her face. "His name is Cain. Avoid him. He's bad news." Her expression brightened. "I want to talk about you. What other magic have you done? Anything fun?"
I stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out what the hell she was talking about, then gave up.
"Yeah. Okay. That's it." I got up and pushed through the kitchen door, walking into the living room, and hunting for my cordless phone. I never put it back on the stupid cradle, and I can never find it when I need it.
I could hear Davina's footsteps coming up behind me. "What's the matter, baby?"
"The matter? I don't know. Trash can lids turning into dogs. Strange men trying to kill you. Either I'm nuts, or you're nuts. Likely, we're both nuts. Maybe you're not even real. Either way, doesn't matter. I need to call someone. Like … I don't know. A doctor? Maybe?"
"You don't need a doctor."
I started pawing through my couch cushions, feeling underneath them for the phone. Davina's hand clamped down on my arm, pulling me back. I stared at her dark fingers over my skin. I could feel them there. I looked at her.
"I can feel you."
I reached out and poked her cheek with one finger, and she swatted my hand away.
"I'm real," she said.
I pulled out of her grip. "Look, go away. I know you're not real. You're a hallucination, and the trash-can-lid dog was a hallucination, and that guy probably was, too. I'm going to call a doctor, and he's going to give me drugs that make the whole bunch of you go away."
Davina stared at me, and took a step back. Good. I went back into the couch cushions and my hands hit something hard and plastic. I pulled it out: the phone. I held it out to her like a weapon, hit the call button. The numbers on the dial pad lit up orange, and I poised my fingers over it to dial …
… but I didn't have a number to call. I needed the Yellow Pages. Except – crap – it was after five. I wouldn't be able to make an appointment. Did this qualify as an emergency? Should I call 911?
I looked at Davina. She was either real, and had broken into my house, or she wasn't, and I was hallucinating. Both possibilities counted as emergencies in my book.
"Nine-one-one it is," I said, and dialed the 9, but then Davina said, "Don't do that," and touched my arm and I wigged out and tossed the phone up into the air. My hands tingled with extreme heat, and I felt dizzy and disoriented.
"Agh!" I yelled. "Don't do that. You're freaking me out!"
"Calm down, Olivia," she said.
"No. I need my phone. I need to call nine-one-one." I glanced around the floor, looking for where the phone had landed, but I didn't see it anywhere. I was just registering that I couldn't recall hearing it fall to the ground when something flew past my head. I swatted at it and looked up to see a small black body floating above my head with bony wings, wisps of electric yellow light circling around it as it flew …
"Bat!" I screamed, pointing, but Davina just stared, watching it fly around. I stared, too, looking closer as it flew in circles overhead. It had bat wings, and a bat body, but on closer inspection, it seemed to be made of some kind of hard plastic.
And there were glowing orange numbers on its chest.
Davina just watched it, smiling as her eyes followed its circular arcs around the room, banging into walls, zooming back, and trying again.
"Oh, Jesus!" I yelled as the thing swooped down at me. I grabbed Davina and used her as a human shield, hiding behind her. "Oh, god, I hate bats!"
Davina angled around and looked at me, her face warm and smiling. "You have been practicing. Good girl."
I ducked down behind her. "What the hell are you talking about?" I pointed at the bat. "Kill it, kill it!"
"I can't kill it." She motioned up toward the bat, her face aglow with joy. "That there isn't a bat. Bats don't fly during sunlight. They also don't have glowing numbers on their bellies, and they aren't made of plastic. That there" – she pointed to the bat, which bounced blindly off the living room wall and course-corrected into the opposite wall – "is your magic."
"My what?" I asked.
Davina turned to where I was crouching behind her and pulled me up by my shoulders. She positioned me in front of her and said in my ear, "That's your magic, baby. Isn't it beautiful?"