Chapter 8 — Making a Difference
Hailey couldn’t help feeling a little guilty dragging Rupert around the city—but every little burst of joy on Jessica’s face made it totally worth his suffering.
”How on earth do you manage to find so much rubbish to buy?” he grumbled, hoisting yet another bag onto his arm.
”I did offer to carry them all myself,” Hailey pointed out, tapping her own bag for effect.
”You also said that was too much of a risk.”
”A real gentlema— ooh, Jess, that looks great!” Jessica had just popped up from behind a rack with an infinity scarf that matched the gorgeous blue in her hair. She put it on, and Hailey clapped her hands in delight. She gave Jessica a very exuberant thumbs up.
”How much?” Rupert asked.
”Oh hush. I’ll pay for any of hers.” Hailey grinned. “You can just stick to buying me gifts.”
Jessica sauntered over to the counter and set it down, and Hailey quickly paid before the cashier could start to ask her any questions. Jessica watched the money exchange with a passing look of disappointment, sending another tiny twinge of guilt through Hailey’s stomach. Sure, she could probably remember how much each bill was worth just from the pictures, but it didn’t mean much if she couldn’t read the price tags anymore.
Still, Hailey didn’t regret for a second taking Jessica on this little excursion. After the panicked rush out to Natalie and the subsequent week of flying around with Alden to introduce even more newly awakened, Jessica was clearly in need of a break. Hailey felt totally ready to keep going, but she could tell that Jessica was increasingly frustrated at all the meetings with zero ability to contribute. Hailey wanted to make sure she didn’t feel taken for granted, so she’d arranged a trip out with Rupert.
Despite his complaints, Rupert looked just as pleased as she did whenever Jessica’s face lit up at another store. Once again confirming he’s literally the greatest boyfriend ever.
”I wonder,” he started, as they walked through the mall to the next store that caught her eye. “Has she ever been to Seattle?”
”I don’t think so.” Hailey shrugged. “We never went, and she’s getting so hyped up over even the touristy stuff, so I’d guess no.”
”Did she ever even make it out of Rallsburg?”
”Not so loud,” Hailey hissed.
He winced. “Sorry.”
No one had been anywhere near them, so Hailey relaxed again. “I know she went on a couple family trips when she was little, plus going to Olympia whenever they needed to visit a real doctor. That’s all she mentioned though.”
”Shame she has to experience the city like this.”
”There’s plenty to do even without being able to read,” Hailey said determinedly. “I’m still gonna show her a great time.”
Rupert gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Anything I can do, just say the word.”
Her plans went off without a hitch. Hailey had grown up in Seattle, so she had a list of favorite spots and hangouts already down. They visited most of them one by one. Great restaurants and stores, spots by the Sound and quiet obscure coffeeshops where Hailey had gone to do classwork. Jessica drank it all in, excited by even the smallest details.
As they walked down the coast, Hailey and Rupert were checking out one of the vendor stalls when they realized they’d lost her. It took only a minute’s panicked search to find her again, just a block away. She’d stopped to listen to a pair of street musicians, a drummer and a guitarist playing a duet.
Far more surprising, she was dancing—dancing well.
”Did you know she could do that?” Rupert asked, sounding dazed.
”I mean, she’s always kinda danced around the house, but not like that…” Hailey murmured. “And never in public.“
”Our Jessica, though?” His eyebrows raised at the sight.
Hailey had to agree. Comparing this twirling, springing sprite to the demure, timid girl Hailey had first met was night and day. Despite the growing crowd and the enthusiastic musicians, Jessica was keeping pace and not missing a step. It seemed out of character, until Hailey thought about it for a moment.
”They can’t make fun of her anymore.”
Hailey smiled, but she felt so bittersweet about it. “She’s not embarrassed because she’s given up on actually knowing what anyone’s saying. No one can mock her, so she can do whatever she wants.”
”I believe you underestimate the great hecklers of our age.”
She laughed, but couldn’t hide the sour edge. “Maybe, but she doesn’t care anymore.”
”Ah,” Rupert said, finally catching on to Hailey’s mixed emotions. “I’m sorry.”
As they hit a crescendo and Jessica made a huge leap, the crowd burst into applause. Hailey joined in wholeheartedly, honestly impressed by her moves.
”She understands that,” Rupert pointed out. He was right. A wide smile erupted onto her face at the chorus of clapping hands, even as she continued to improvise movements in time with the music.
Hailey felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye and quickly brushed it away. “Yeah.”
The musicians finished their song, to another round of applause. The crowd quickly dispersed, dropping a few dollars here and there into the guitar case. The drummer, a very intense looking girl with a ponytail and an old t-shirt, stood up and made a beeline for Jessica.
Hailey clicked her tongue. “A Nirvana t-shirt? Seriously?”
”What’s wrong with that?”
”It’s just so… typical.”
Rupert laughed. “That doesn’t diminish their quality.”
The drummer offered Jessica a water bottle, which she gratefully accepted. Hailey saw an opportunity in the making for a quick experiment.
Ever since her last conversation with Beverly, Hailey had been trying to figure out how to cast spells related to those connections she’d talked about. Hailey didn’t have any malicious intent; she just wanted to make sure she could cover as many bases of magic as she could manage. Who knew when such a thing might come in handy?
She hadn’t told anyone else. After all, none of them knew she was talking with Grey-eyes, and it wasn’t like she could find out from Rachel. She had to figure this one out on her own. After weeks of practice at home, Hailey had finally found a promising start.
Beverly had talked about how relationships actually existed outside people, which was the key Hailey needed. Conceptualizing them as tangible things, Hailey slowly pushed her way into visualizing them in midair. It was vague and insubstantial, but it worked. Problem was, Hailey couldn’t see anyone else’s. All she could find were connections that branched off of herself.
She wondered if that marked her as a particularly vain individual, but brushed it away. It would improve with practice. In the meantime, she could explore past herself by following those first few connections into their proceeding branches, though her vision faded quickly after just one segment. The two strongest relationships, Rupert and Jessica, branched again as she watched them hanging out in her room. They had their own vague line, but it was entirely different from the lines drawn to Hailey herself.
Hailey didn’t figure out why until she tried it again at a meeting with Cinza, Ruby and Nikki. She realized that she could actually tell what sort of relationship they had, not just that it existed. Jessica and Rupert’s showed their love, just as clear as the immeasurably strong bond between Cinza and Ruby.
Now, Hailey was curious to see the line drawn between Jessica and a total stranger. To her surprise, there was already a bond forming, though it was clearly far stronger in one direction than the other. Jessica was only barely paying any attention to the drummer, but the other girl had set her sights so quickly, Hailey was surprised she hadn’t noticed without magic.
That could be a problem… Hailey dropped the spell and moved quickly to join them, Rupert at her heels.
”—’s your name?”
”Jess!” Hailey called. Upon seeing her face, Jessica’s cheeks went bright red. She pulled her brand new scarf up and her hood low, retreating again. There’s the Jess I know.
”You guys friends?” the drummer asked.
”You’re a great dancer, Jess,” she continued. “I feel like you deserve some of these tips.” Jessica didn’t know how to respond, so she just took another drink from the bottle before handing it back without a word. The drummer looked dismayed. “I say somethin’ wrong?”
”She’s deaf,” Rupert explained quickly.
Rupert, why would she be dancing to the music then? Hailey fumed.
”Oh.” The drummer looked really confused. Jessica smiled at her though, and she smiled back.
Hailey jumped in. “She can still feel the rhythm. Props to your drumming,” she added with a smile.
”Thanks.” The girl glanced around. “You guys doing anything tonight? We’ll be hitting up a few clubs, could get you in.”
In another life, Hailey would have said yes without a heartbeat. In that life, Hailey would have been the one leading the charge to those same night clubs. Not anymore.
”Sorry, we’ve got plans. Thanks though!” Hailey took Jessica’s hand.
”Well, here. Lemme give you my number. We can hang out sometime.”
She jotted it down, and they turned to leave. Hailey felt a wave of melancholy and regret washing up into her, knowing where this could never lead.
”See you around!” the drummer called after them.
”What was that about?” Rupert asked, as soon as they were out of earshot.
Jessica, totally oblivious, was already moving onto the next attraction. They were headed for dinner, and she’d spotted a seafood place up ahead. Hailey dropped her voice low, even though she realized it was pointless. “…That girl was about to ask her out.”
”What’s wrong with th… ah.”
”Nothing’s wrong with it at all,” Hailey sighed. “That’s the problem.” Rupert put an arm around her shoulder, and Hailey leaned into him while they walked.
”Do you think she’ll ever be able to meet someone?”
She shrugged. “I mean, once this is all out in the open and it’s not so weird to explain, maybe? But I don’t know. I don’t even know if it was just me or it was all girls. She only told me the day it happened.”
”You never asked?”
”…I felt too embarrassed to bring it up.”
Rupert grinned. “And you accused her of being the shy one.”
”Shut up.” She nudged him playfully.
”Still, there’s no reason to think she couldn’t find someone someday,” Rupert continued thoughtfully. “Especially once she solves the problem.”
”If she does.”
Hailey hesitated, watching Jessica examine the pictures in the menu. “I get the sense she’s not really trying. You saw it too back there. She’s not so shy now, she doesn’t try to hide anymore.”
”So she doesn’t want to fix it?”
”She did at first. Right after the ritual, she was a mess. She kept breaking down trying to talk to me and—” Hailey cut off, remembering that she’d never told Rupert about the others. “Let’s just say we’re lucky she pulled herself back together at all.”
”But now you think she’s too far gone.”
”Yeah.” Hailey stepped up and ordered for them. As soon as the food arrived, they picked a table all the way out on the pier, where they could watch the birds circling above the ships coming and going. “I feel like she’s convinced herself she’s happier this way.”
”What if she is?” asked Rupert. Hailey opened her mouth indignantly, but he raised a hand to forestall her. “I’m not saying that’s certain. But if it’s what she really wants, who are we to say otherwise?”
”I can’t believe that,” she whispered. “I just can’t.”
Hailey drained the rest of her beer and dropped it back to the table with a thud. She tossed her jacket aside, bare-armed and ready to fight. Her elbow slammed onto the table with her hand in the air, a wide grin on her face and an eager glint in her eye. “Scared?”
Trevor shook his head. His own hand fell into place alongside hers.
”Those arms are like ten times your size, Hales,” said Elissa, sipping her glass of wine. “You’re crazy.”
”Can it, Piao,” Hailey shot back. “I’ve got a boy to humiliate here.” She meant it, as she was currently trying to gauge the right amount of magic to push into her arm. She didn’t want to totally obliterate the poor guy, just put him in his place. No matter what happened, he was in for a rough surprise.
Rupert gave her a knowing wink as he cleaned up the beer bottles around their pending contest. He carried them over to his recycling in the corner of the apartment. “You know, Hailey, Trevor’s undefeated in the noble sport of arm-pulling.”
”You do a lot of arm wrestling in nursing school?”
”A bunch of hot guys in scrubs always wanting to show off?” Elissa mused.
Rupert raised his eyebrows. “Do you really believe everyone who attends nursing school is hot?”
”I can dream.” She sipped her glass again with a wistful look in her eyes. “It’s gotta be better than most of the guys in my CS program.”
”Just gotta know where to look,” Hailey grinned.
”Screw you Hales, I’m still infinitely jealous you found Rupey before I did.”
”I don’t know how long we’d last if you called me Rupey,” Rupert murmured.
”Enough stalling, Johnson,” Trevor growled. Hailey winced. Such a lame last name. Only thing I could come up with in the moment though. “Let’s do this.”
”Does someone wanna give us a coun—”
”Go,” Elissa said lazily.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Trevor nearly twisted her arm all the way down to the table. Hailey only had a split-second to react—but she had already prepared her shoulder and her arm enough to resist. She was ready for him.
Hailey stopped him an inch above her side of the table. With a wicked grin, she began to ratchet him back up a centimeter at a time. His eyes went wide as the dinner plates they’d just been eating from. Elissa seemed to have totally forgotten her drink, watching them with a dumbstruck expression.
Rupert laughed. “Is there a problem, young master Trevor?”
”What the hell…”
Hailey sent another burst of energy into her arm, gathering it up from the thrumming, spinning core of power she constantly felt around her heart. Trevor’s grip, as strong as it was, couldn’t possibly stand up to her magic. He made a valiant effort, but they crossed the apex and his arm started falling down little by little.
Hailey wondered briefly if she should be screwing around like this. Even if they were both Rupert’s good friends, they were both mundane, normal people. They hadn’t the first clue about magic. This was just cheating.
Yeah, but he asked for it. No way in hell am I gonna lose to him.
Hailey paused about a quarter of the way down. Trevor’s eyes were bulging out of his face, and she could see his muscles straining from the effort. She barely felt anything. He might as well be pushing up against a brick wall.
She held him there for a moment. With her other hand, she plucked another beer out of the bucket of ice sitting on the table and opened it one-handed. She chugged the whole bottle dry, while Elissa and Trevor gawked. Trevor continued to struggle in vain against her arm, but Hailey finished off the beer without losing a millimeter in the contest.
As she drained the last few drops, Hailey leaned forward. Looking Trevor directly in the eyes, she held up the bottle. She moved it toward his hand, and—ever so lightly—tapped the glass against the back of his fist.
An instant later, Hailey slammed his hand flat against the table.
”And that’s how it’s done,” she crowed, dropping the bottle on the table with a flourish.
Rupert smiled. Elissa was still looking at the spot in midair where their hands had been a moment earlier, her mouth slightly open. Trevor rubbed his hand, eyeing her with newfound respect.
”Okay, maybe you’re right,” he said begrudgingly.
Hailey rolled her eyes. “Don’t make me beat you up every time you’re losing an argument, man. That’s gonna get old quick.”
He smiled. “Nah, I’m rethinking my entire life right now.”
”What were we even arguing about again?” Elissa wondered aloud, hiccuping slightly.
”If you’re too drunk to talk straight?”
”Hey, I’m not drunk. I’ve had way less than Hailey, and I’m just having wine.”
”Oh, you don’t want to get in a drinking contest with her,” Rupert added, dropping onto the couch next to Hailey and putting an arm around her. Hailey settled in comfortably, still enjoying the rush of victory coupled with the solid warmth of her boyfriend’s chest. “It’s even more one-sided.”
True to form, Hailey was barely feeling the three beers she’d already drained. She wasn’t planning to drink much that night, since she still had to fly home with Jessica later. Flying around intoxicated wasn’t something she felt like trying anytime soon.
Remembering Jessica, Hailey sent a tiny breeze to flow around Jessica’s hair where Hailey knew she’d be laying down, just to say hi. Her friend was currently on the roof of the apartment complex, a couple floors above them. She refused to meet Rupert’s friends, though she never said why. Hailey secretly suspected she didn’t want to deal with teaching yet another group of people how to interact with her. Whenever they ever visited Rupert and he had company, Jessica spent the time on the roof, practicing magic or doing whatever else she might be doing.
It was always a bit dangerous, going out into the world with their status as refugees-slash-wanted persons, but Hailey didn’t want to get trapped in a cycle of being stuck with so few people to interact with, as they had been in Rallsburg. Hailey had offered to go out alone, since they didn’t need to risk both of them being recognized somehow, but Jessica insisted on accompanying her every time.
After their day in Seattle, the original plan had been to come back to Rupert’s place and spend the evening with just the three of them, but Rupert’s friends ambushed them on the way home. Jessica had pretended not to know her, discreetly following them home and levitating herself up to the roof from the dark alleyway.
As soon as Hailey’s breeze hit her, Jessica sent one in return, fluttering the shades near the window. It looked like the oscillating fan in the corner (always on to mask Hailey’s unconscious air currents from Rupert’s friends) had moved them, but Hailey could tell the difference. Thanks, Jess.
”So what were we talking about?” Rupert prompted, who hadn’t actually been in the room when they’d started getting into it.
”One person making a difference,” answered Elissa, getting up to refill her glass.
”I thought you couldn’t remember,” said Trevor. Elissa rolled her eyes at him and walked back into the kitchen area.
”What do you mean?” Rupert asked.
”Well, we were talking about the world right now.” Trevor went on. “How one person can only do so much on their own. They gotta be lifted up by the gatekeepers if they want to make a difference.”
”How does that lead to Hailey making a fool of you on my table?”
”He made a dumbass comment about women being weaker than men,” Hailey said with a shrug.
”I worded it poorly,” said Trevor quickly.
”Then why’d you agree to arm-wrestle me?”
”Because he likes showing off,” said Elissa, plopping back onto the couch and putting her feet up.
”I didn’t mean to insult anyone. I’ve known plenty of women stronger than me. I’m just trying to speak at large here.”
Hailey laughed. “I know, dude. Don’t worry. Just remember some people take it a lot more seriously. Think before you speak and all that.”
”Right.” Trevor leaned back in his chair. “Anyway, back to the real topic. These days, it doesn’t matter nearly as much if you’re male or female, black or white for making a change at the top. It matters a lot what you are when you’re at the bottom, but at the top, the thing that really counts is money.”
”Brilliant insight, Mr. Halliday,” said Elissa dryly.
”It’s always been money, hasn’t it?” Rupert pointed out. “That’s not exactly new.”
”No, but what has changed now is the reach and power of that money. You know that we’ve had protests, riots and injustices just as big as the huge, history-making movements back in the day? But they don’t get anything done anymore. Why is that?”
”Because they have no clue… what they’re doing?” said Elissa, desperately masking another hiccup.
”I mean, yeah, that too, but they’re also working against massive corporations with little regard for how the law can actually be changed. They don’t know how to work the system.”
”What’s your solution then?” Hailey asked.
”Change the laws,” Trevor said simply.
”That easy, huh?” said Elissa.
”It’s the only way to get change set in stone. Everyone, even the corporations and the wealthy, still obeys the rule of law. They find every possible loophole they can, up to and including paying off judges, but by the absolute letter of the law, they’re legal. So that’s where we start.”
”Pity all the lawmakers are owned by ’em too.” Elissa sipped her wine and sighed. “And we’re just a bunch of broke college kids with big dreams and broken arms.”
”My arm’s not broken.”
”Really? ‘Cause it looked like Hailey was gonna tear it off there without breaking a sweat.”
”She’s freaking strong, Elissa. You try to wrestle her.”
Elissa eyed Hailey warily. “No thanks.”
Hailey ignored the aside, as the main topic was starting to interest her. “So if we have to change the law, but we can’t change the law, what can we do?”
”Change the minds of the people in power, I guess?” Trevor shrugged. “I’m just spitballing here.”
”But we’re all nothing,” said Elissa. She was getting a bit emotional. Hailey suspected it was partly due to how much she’d had to drink. “I barely have time to keep up with school. I can’t change the world.”
”I don’t think it all hinges on you, Piao,” Hailey commented. But maybe I can? I’ve got the time and the power…
Rupert shot her a look that said he knew exactly what she was thinking. “But maybe there are a few people out there with the power to make a difference, who aren’t already sitting at the top of the world.”
”Better hope they’re on our side,” Trevor muttered.
”Oh, you might be surprised,” Rupert added with a smile.
”When I see some random person off the street actually decide to help his fellow man for no benefit, no reward at all, then I’ll start believing.” Trevor got to his feet. “I’ve gotta get home and study.”
”Want any of the leftovers? I’ve far too much for my poor refrigerator.”
While they negotiated the food, Hailey scooted over and took a seat next to Elissa. She hiccuped again, scrolling through her phone with glazed eyes. “Hales, how do you do it?”
”Balance all your shit. I’m constantly overwhelmed.”
Hailey shook her head. “I’m not in school and working and dating all at once. You’ve got way more on your plate and you’re still handling it.”
”Two out of three,” Elissa grumbled. “I can’t find a decent guy for the life of me.”
”No worthwhile ones. All I’m finding are nervous wrecks who can’t get a word out or perverts.” Elissa glanced at her sideways. “How’d you land Rupert?”
”Bumped into him.”
”Seriously? Least helpful answer ever.”
Hailey laughed. “Seriously. I ran into him at the grocery store. Completely knocked him over.” Outside the grocery store, actually, and by knocked over I mean he fell over shocked when Jessica and I landed nearby and turned visible. Who would have expected someone taking a walk through the thickest part of the park that late at night anyway? “I helped him up, we got to talking, and ten minutes later we were strolling through the park under a full moon. Couldn’t have happened better if I planned it.”
”You’re so lucky.” Elissa finished off her glass of wine. “Also, would you stop calling me by my last name? That’s kinda Trevor’s thing.”
Her face got red. “Okay, I’m definitely talking too much now.”
”No, that’s a good thing to tell.” Hailey helped her to her feet. “I was just going with it, I didn’t notice it til you said something.”
”Trevor and I have been best friends since kindergarten,” Elissa went on, rambling a bit as if Hailey wasn’t even there. “He’s always been there for me.”
Hailey resisted pointing out the obvious. There could be any number of reasons why she’d never considered it. Hailey had only known these two for a few weeks. She helped Elissa to the stairs, where Trevor took over. They waved goodbye as they headed out for the bus stop, leaving Hailey and Rupert alone.
Rupert glanced up at the ceiling. “Should we invite her to join us?”
Hailey bit her lip slightly, eyeing him with a small smile. “I dunno. I was just getting an earful about how great you are. I thought maybe you would want to take advantage of that. Now that you’ve got me all alone.”
”Take advantage? Me?” His face twisted into mock-outrage. “I’d have to turn in my card and venture back across the pond for such a transgression. Her Majesty would have my head. I’d be beneath the worst of scoundrels.”
”Well then,” said Hailey mischievously. She created a burst of air behind Rupert, shoving him toward her waiting arms. “We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t find out.”
They fell onto the couch together, scattering a few loose papers that Rupert hadn’t cleared up. She pulled Rupert tight, kissing him as they landed on the couch—right until Hailey bumped her head against the couch arm with a loud knock.
”What?” Rupert sat up, genuinely worried.
Hailey shook her head. She reached up and pulled him back down again. “It’s fine. Come here.” Rupert was still distracted, though, which killed the mood. Hailey sighed. “I’m not fragile, you know. A few bumps and bruises aren’t gonna break me.”
”I know.” He didn’t sound totally confident though, which bothered her more than she wanted to admit.
”I’ll be fine.”
”I can’t help worrying about you, dear.”
Hailey sighed, and scooted back up to a sitting position. She’d lost him for a while at least. “You do remember I’m basically one of the most powerful people on the planet, right?”
Rupert frowned. “That’s a dangerous thing to say.”
”It’s a dangerous thing to believe. I don’t actually believe it.” Hailey shrugged. “There’s the rest of the naturals, plus Alpha’s still out there somewhere. And I don’t think for a second I’m stronger than Grey-eyes. Trust me, I know the totem pole.”
”But you still think you’re stronger than the common man.”
”Well, I mean…” Hailey nodded at the table, where her beer bottle still sat. “I’m pretty sure that’s true.”
Rupert shook his head. “I don’t mean physical strength, love. Though you’ve obviously got that. I mean actual power.”
”I don’t have any of that.”
Hailey frowned. “I agree with Trevor on that bit. Actual power is all about money now, and I’m flat broke. I’m a supposedly dead faux-celebrity in hiding, living off the generous donations of a multimillionaire who’s also in hiding. I’m a charity case.”
”But you have influence. Influence is the real power. Money purchases influence, whether that’s directly or simply by having it and impressing weak-willed individuals with its ownership. Influence gives you a voice, and that voice is how you can change the minds of those in power.”
”How did we get from almost having sex to debating philosophy?” she grumbled.
Rupert smiled. “Do you want to go back to that?”
Hailey laughed. She pulled him down next to her, laid out on the long couch. “No, no, you’ve actually got me interested now. Keep going.”
”I’m afraid I’ve lost track of my argument.”
She snorted. “Ah yes, the typical young adult male,” she added in her best fake British accent. “The mere mention of sexual activity and their brains are emptied in an instant.”
”Guilty as charged, love.”
”I think you’re overestimating my power of influence,” Hailey continued. “I’ll give you that having influence isn’t totally tied to having a huge bank, but you usually still gotta have something. I’m not even really a celebrity. Your friends haven’t figured out who I am yet, even with all the pictures floating around.”
”You do look quite a bit different,” Rupert pointed out. “By necessity of course. But it’s not your celebrity or money or anything like that which will propel you, dear. You’ve got something far more important than all of that.”
”You’re a hero,” he said simply.
Hailey snorted again, even as her heart fluttered a little at his words. “As if.”
”I mean it wholeheartedly.”
”That’s sweet of you, but even if that’s the case, heroes don’t always become influential. Half the time they just become figureheads for the money again.”
Rupert shrugged. “So don’t let them do that to you.”
”That easy, huh?” Hailey echoed Elissa’s tone from earlier.
”You’re smart, you’re crazy strong—”
Hailey burst out laughing. “Oh my god, please do an American accent more often. That was amazing.”
He grinned. “And you’re beautiful. You’re forced to hide it right now, which is a terrible crime against the gods, but I’ve seen you with your hair down—so to speak. They can’t compare. Combine those three and you can do almost anything you put your mind to.”
Hailey shrugged. “A lot of pressure to put on a girl.”
Rupert nodded. “It is. But I believe in you. And I’m here to support you come what may. If there’s anything I can ever do, you just say the word.”
She smiled. “Thanks.” As a small gift to him, she murmured a spell under her breath. Slowly, her face changed shape and color ever so slightly, the freckles fading away to perfectly smooth, clear skin. Her hair returned to its natural, wavy golden blonde.
A coquettish smile creased her lips. Rupert’s eyes had grown wide again. He’d never seen her shift appearance like that. She wrapped an arm around his back and pulled him close, meeting his lips with her own, playing up the old fun Hailey persona she used to wear.
Now that the fake Hailey was her natural look, she had to actually hold her old self in place with a constant stream of magic. It was a bit of a strain, and she had to dedicate real brainpower to keep it going. She longed for the day she could finally go back to being herself, without the odd feeling that her face didn’t quite fit on right, or that her hair was like a wig she couldn’t take off.
For the look on Rupert’s face in that moment, it was totally worth it.
”I think I can see his apartment from here,” Hailey joked. Jessica leaned against her and gazed out over the city. “Sorry that took so long.” She tapped the watch on her wrist, then put a hand on her heart, trying to look apologetic.
Jessica rolled her eyes. She made a motion with her hands with a knowing smirk, which pulsed Hailey’s cheeks bright red. It took a lot to embarrass her, but Jessica was more than capable.
She put a hand to her ear, then pointed at Jessica, tilting her head to the side slightly.
Jessica shrugged, smiling innocently.
Hailey shook her head in amusement, settling back into the blanket they’d wrapped up in.
Night had fallen completely and the city was a pool of light from atop the Space Needle. The place was still open, and tourists bustled about below them in the restaurant, or above them on the observation deck. Hailey and Jessica sat below the top deck on the disk itself, up against the wall, enjoying the view and the cool night air.
Hailey tried to resist the chill of the wind, but she shivered as it rolled through. Immediately, Jessica began to warm up the area around them.
”You don’t have to do that, Jess,” she said, adding a flip-flop hand motion with her hand. Hailey was more than happy with the balance between the cold air and the warm body next to her. Jessica shrugged, and the heat dissipated back into the air.
Jessica pulled out her phone, unlocking it with a pattern and tapping through to her photos. After a few moments’ scrolling, she came up with a photo of Dan, prompting Hailey.
Hailey shrugged. “I haven’t heard anything.” She covered her ears for a moment, then drew an X in midair. She pulled out her own phone and a map of the Northwest, and drew a vague circle over the forests in B.C.
Jessica frowned. She mimed a gun with her finger, making quick shooting motions at Dan’s picture.
Hailey made a cutting motion with her hand, then pointed at her own brain. “As far as I know.”
Jessica made as if she were reading a newspaper, widening her eyes in shock for a moment.
Hailey nodded. She pulled up a recent news story that showed Dan and Boris’ international wanted pictures.
Jessica shook her head in dismay and put away her phone, snuggling back up to Hailey’s side. She made another gesture, which Hailey didn’t quite understand. Something with waving clenched fists in midair.
She frowned, and raised her hands again. An image appeared in midair—a crude likeness, but it was enough to make out the drummer from that afternoon.
Hailey raised her eyebrows. Oh. So she… don’t jump to conclusions, Hales. She turned to Jessica, questioning.
Jessica nodded. She pointed at the image, then herself. Her face grew pink, and she looked away again, dismissing the magic in a puff of light.
Hailey grinned and hugged her tight, wrapping the blanket around them both. Message received, Jess. As soon as she figured out how to go about it, Jessica would definitely get another chance to meet her.
She relaxed, laying back against the wall, watching the city move about and wondering what to do for the rest of the night—and something caught her eye, much further way. She doubted anyone else could see it, but Hailey had gotten used to switching in and out of enhancing her eyes on a whim. She’d had so much practice that it had become instinctive to murmur the spell whenever she spotted something she couldn’t make out.
Far to the south in the suburban sprawl, a window had lit up. Not with the steady even light of a bulb, or even the flicker of a candle. No, this was something more deep red and intense.
It was growing quickly.
Hailey scanned the area from their high perch. Come on, someone respond.
An emergency light almost blinded her, forcing her eyes shut for a split-second. A fire truck speeding down the road.
It was going the wrong way. Some other emergency.
Hailey bounded to her feet. Jessica spluttered awake, apparently having dozed off. She tugged Hailey’s hand to get her attention.
Hailey pointed at the growing orange glow out in the distance. Jessica had invented the spell they both used to see such distances, and as soon as she’d cast it, she understood what Hailey was asking. She hesitated, while the fire began to spread through the whole complex.
What is she waiting for? Hailey thought, dismayed. “Come on, Jess. We have to do something.” She mimed a diving motion, then gathering something up with both arms and holding it close. Jessica frowned. She looked nervous, brushing back her brown-and-blue hair with a trembling finger. After a moment, she nodded.
Hailey nodded back confidently. Before they could take off, Jessica conjured a tiny flame in midair. She choked it away, but immediately shook her head. Hailey wasn’t sure what she meant, and tilted her head to the side.
Jessica repeated it, then pointed at the fire and shook her head again.
”We can’t put it out,” Hailey realized aloud. “We can’t explain that.” She nodded again to show she understood.
Jessica threw her arms around Hailey and they took off, flying out at breakneck speed before anyone on the observation deck might see them. In what seemed like no time at all, Hailey was already flaring out her wings to slow them down as they approached the apartment building.
The fire was spreading quickly. Hailey had read about it once, how modern homes tended to burn very quickly with all the cluttered fast-burning fuel filling every room of the place. There were screams issuing from some of the higher rooms, and smoke billowing out of the top.
Hailey glanced around again in midair, but she still didn’t see a fire truck in sight. Jessica clung to her, her eyes shut tight. Hailey took a deep breath and dove for the top floor window. At the last second, she sent a burst of magic into window frame, shoving it wide open.
They landed easily on the top floor hallway, just as one of the apartment doors opened. A bleary-eyed man in a nightshirt rubbed his eyes, staring at the duo.
”…the hell are you?” he muttered.
”Housekeeping.” Hailey reached forward and pulled him roughly into the hall. “You need to get moving. There’s a fire downstairs. Go to the fire escape.”
”Fire?” The man’s eyes lit up. His adrenaline was finally kicking in at the perceived danger. He turned back to his apartment. “But I—”
”Your stuff or your life, dude,” Hailey said firmly. She yanked him back and shoved him toward the fire escape, a bit more roughly than she intended. “Get going.”
As she did, a small explosion rumbled through the building. They all winced. A shower of dust fell from the ceiling.
The danger finally processed through the guy’s skull. “Yeah. Okay.”
”Does anyone else live on this floor?”
”Last two doors on the right.” He turned and bolted for the fire escape at the other end. The alarm finally started to shriek as he plowed through the door.
”Come on, Jess,” Hailey called. Jessica had been watching the staircase uneasily. They could both feel the growing heat from below as the inferno started to consume the whole building.
They repeated a similar conversation with both occupants, though it was a great deal easier to convince them with the shrieking alarm and the building shuddering beneath them. Hailey was shocked at how much it took to wake some of these people, until she noticed the second person had earplugs in the whole time. Lousy neighbors.
”None of these people screamed though,” she said to Jessica, who was helping the woman from the third apartment out to the fire escape. “Who was that?”
Jessica just stared back at her, not understanding. Hailey motioned to the staircase. She looked uneasy, but she nodded. Hailey took her by the hand and started down the steps, two at a time.
The heat increased exponentially as they descended. The fire had started low, but was climbing up the building fast. Hailey finally heard a siren far in the distance, but she still couldn’t be sure if it was even meant for them. She had to keep going. What if someone else is in here? Someone screamed downstairs. We have to help them.
Another explosion rippled through the building, accompanied by a shower of glass outside. Hailey and Jessica tumbled out of the staircase onto the next floor down. They faced another line up of closed doors.
”Why aren’t these people leaving?” Hailey cried. Jessica closed her eyes and flung her hands out, muttering a quick spell.
Every door burst open with a bang. Behind the nearest one, Hailey spotted a man lugging a large desktop computer under his arm.
”Goddammit, get out of here!” Hailey shouted. She didn’t have any more time to waste. The smoke was filling up their floor. She ripped the desktop from his arms with magic and slammed it against the wall. He gawked at the suddenly levitating computer for a split-second, before Hailey grabbed him bodily and shoved him toward the fire escape.
Seeing Hailey throw caution to the winds and use magic openly, Jessica started to blow the smoke away from them. A burning in Hailey’s throat she hadn’t even noticed began to fade, but the fire was stubborn. It kept advancing. Jessica shot a look at Hailey, tilting her head to indicate a question. She made a quick tiny flame in her hand and snuffed it out just as fast.
Hailey shook her head vigorously. “We can’t!” Even if a couple people see us in here, no one’s gonna believe them. But if a whole fire goes out for no apparent reason? That’s too big to ignore.
Jessica nodded. She ran to the staircase where the flames were erupting forth, snagging on any fuel they could find as they rampaged up through the building. Instead of choking them out, she made a wall of force in front of them, blocking their advance. It wobbled for a few seconds as she figured out exactly how to set it up so the flames couldn’t catch on anything else, but it held firm.
Hailey quickly cleared the rest of the rooms, as fast as she could. It was slow going with how obstinate some of the occupants were.
This was their home, they couldn’t just abandon everything!
It’s just stuff. Their lives are more important!
She dealt with a few stubborn pets too, but those were much easier since she could just lift them into mid-air with magic and send them out along with their dumbstruck owners.
”I think that’s everyone, Jess!” she shouted as the last man finally climbed out onto the fire escape. As she turned, Hailey’s heart stopped.
Jessica was on the floor, crawling away from a churning inferno.
The smoke was so thick that Hailey was struggling to breathe. She dug deep for the air, any air she could find, but the smoke resisted her. Trying to shove oxygen and normal air into the thick plume of smoke was practically impossible.
Hailey sprinted to Jessica, forcing away every lick of flame near them as she did. The angry demon refused to back down from such paltry resistance, gathering up behind them as it threatened to devour the whole building around them. Hailey picked her up off the ground and bolted for the window at the end of the hall.
Oh god, please let her be okay.
Hailey didn’t have the time or the presence of mind for subtlety anymore. She shattered the window with a blunt spear of force, just before diving through it.
They were falling fast. She couldn’t stop coughing. Hailey tried to feel for her wings, but they were so far away. They’d burned up with the rest of the crumbling building.
They aren’t real wings, you idiot!
With a painful thump, Hailey managed to flare them out as they plummeted to the ground. Even with the sudden brake and as much air as she could muster, they still made a painful landing on the grass outside the complex.
It took a few seconds for Hailey to come to. She vaguely heard her own voice in her mind, telling Natalie about how to handle unconscious people only a week earlier. Who could’ve seen this coming? she mused.
Jessica started coughing in her grip, to her immense relief. Coughing’s better than silent. Hailey released her, letting her work through the smoke left in her system while she struggled to her feet.
The residents of the apartment were surrounding her in a loose semi-circle, dressed in a colorful variety of nightshirts and pajamas. Hailey winced as the building continued to burn away behind them. A fire truck was only just pulling up on the other side, deploying men and women to fight the growing conflagration.
Hailey was about to say something when she spotted a horrifying sight out of the corner of her eye. A tiny flash of light, almost imperceptible, but the telltale sign of a camera lens.
They were being filmed.
Hailey didn’t have a choice. Jessica wasn’t in any shape to make them invisible, but they absolutely could not be seen.
She picked up her best friend, still struggling to force clean air through her lungs, and flapped her great wings as hard as she could. Annihilating a few gemstones on her necklace to fuel their furious ascent, Hailey and Jessica rocketed back into the sky, through the pillar of smoke illuminated against the black night. They vanished into the clouds, while the tiny crowd of onlookers watched their would-be heroes perform yet another impossible feat.