Interlude VIII — A Day in the Life of Jessica Silverdale
Her angel peered into her face, crying in horror. Her eyes were wide and terrified. Jessica hated seeing the angel look so upset. She tried in vain to push herself back up, but she couldn’t. Her leg wouldn’t move. As she looked down, she saw it in pieces, covered in blood, spilling out like a river. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.
…Is that mine?
A huge bang echoed through her eardrums. The calm man on the ground—the one who’d done this to her—jerked and slid across the street. His head disappeared. She wondered what just happened to him.
Another painful spike in her leg. It was like someone were driving a nail into her skin. She tried to twist away, but the strong dark arms of the detective held her down. He seemed like a good person. He used to be their enemy, and now he was their friend. She tried to lay still, but the agony in her leg made her try to crawl away. Try to get away from her own limb.
The angel grasped at the holes in her leg, stopping the blood flow. Jessica tried to resist, but the pain overwhelmed every sense in her body and her mind. Her eyes were getting hazy and weak. The black clouds were coming back, flooding into her eyes, just like the burning building. Next to the angel, she could just barely make out the angry girl. Her hair wasn’t blue anymore. Jessica’s was still half-blue though… Maybe she should change it.
Am I dying?
The angry girl pointed at spots on her leg, and the angel adjusted her grip. Jessica couldn’t help it; she whimpered in pain, and that only made her angel’s expression ten times worse.
I’m sorry. I didn’t want to. I was just trying to help.
Angry-girl crawled away. Jessica noticed she was bleeding too, but it didn’t seem as bad. She crawled up the side of the car and opened the door, dragging out the bound and limp body of the pretty boy. The one Jessica had been trying to save, because her angel thought it was important. Except she hadn’t saved anyone. She’d been spotted somehow, found by the scary man with the gun. She’d barely noticed it, someone else sending out a magical pulse just like she did. Feeling out for anything happening around her that she couldn’t see with her eyes.
I messed up…
The three scary men were on the ground now. One of them was dead, and the other two were stunned and twitching. Their guns were far away. She didn’t have to worry about them. They couldn’t hurt her angel. Sirens, as an ambulance rolled up. More hands grabbed at her, tearing away at the cloth covering her wounds, trying to clean and bandage them.
I need to stay awake…
Falling unconscious would be very bad. She’d been shot. Multiple times. She knew what that meant. She knew that the only way to stick around was to fight, harder than she ever had before. Her body just wouldn’t respond. Pain was blocking out everything. All she had was her mind, trying to hang on through a hurricane of torture. And… her magic. It was still there, right in the center of her brain as it always had been, ever since that day.
Movement. She could feel a huge burst of magical energy on the other side of the truck. She recognized it, too. A faceless monster. Like the ones from her home.
The monster was about to throw the truck into her angel.
Watch out! she tried to shout—but of course, she had no idea how to say that. Not in a way they’d understand. She needed to do something, before the monster could kill the one she loved most in all the world.
Jessica reached out, just as the monster grasped the edges, and pulled with all her might.
The truck tore in half. The monster found itself gripping nothing, as she ripped the remaining piece from its hands. She couldn’t get it much further than that, but at least she’d gotten their attention.
The angel whipped around. She saw the monster. Jessica would have breathed a sigh of relief… except that she was having trouble forcing any air through her lungs. She felt so weak. Her body just wouldn’t move like it was supposed to. Pain kept her rooted in place.
The detective kept shouting, while the angry girl backed away. Her angel started funneling magic like the beginning of a tornado spinning into a howling fury, painfully different from the usual gentle breeze of her true spirit. Jessica tried to reach out and give her more, but she was so far away, and Jessica couldn’t get to her.
She was lifted into the ambulance, and the sirens started up again. She watched as her angel started to fight again—but Jessica wasn’t at her side where she was supposed to be. The ambulance door slammed closed, and the car rumbled away, while the sounds of explosions and gunfire echoed through the metal box surrounding her.
The paramedics kept working, trying to talk to her. She mumbled something, hoping they’d understand she couldn’t talk but was still awake. They needed to know she was awake. She needed to stay awake.
She needed to stay awake.
She needed to—
The crystals exploded. Every single one around the outside of the symbol she’d drawn on the floor in chalk, simultaneously. They shot in every direction, embedding in the walls, barely missing her by inches. Barely missing him, too.
Jessica panicked, letting out incomprehensible noises of fear as she scrambled away. He ducked as a rushing sound filled the room, deafening her. Light flooded back into the room, where it had been pitch black only a moment before. She fled into the corner, curling into a ball, trying to hide herself from him. Somehow, his intrusion had fractured it. He’d shattered everything. She’d been so close to discovering something huge. She could feel it, just inches away from her grasp. It might have been nothing useful yet, but it would have been a breakthrough. It was a whole new area of magic, some facet she’d never explored. Just a few more minutes and she would have been done.
Now, she was naked and broken, while her mind twisted into shapes that she couldn’t understand. She shivered and tried to press herself deeper into the corner of the room, praying he’d just go away. She whimpered in fear, as sensation overwhelmed her mind. There was so much energy flooding through her skull, a torrent of unchecked magical power. She couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t control it anymore. It could kill her if she didn’t let go.
Someone shouted. A voice. Her voice, the voice Jessica longed to hear every minute of every waking day. I have to let go. If I don’t, I’ll die. I’ll never see her again.
Jessica let go.
The rushing sound stopped. The flow of energy froze, like a river that suddenly turned to ice. It cracked. She reached out with her mind and tried to push it away.
It shattered, and along with it, something in her brain. Something she couldn’t remember, even though it had been there only a second earlier.
Someone said something.
Jessica slowly looked up, peeking through the curtain of hair covering her face. Both of them were staring at her, wide-eyed, terrified. She tried to say something back, reassure them that she was okay. She opened her mouth.
They stared at her. Jessica tried again.
Nothing came out. She didn’t have the words to say it. They were gone. She knew they existed. They were out there somewhere. She reached for them, but her brain refused. It couldn’t go down that path. It wouldn’t let her.
They started talking, at the same time. She looked between the two of them, panicking. Her mind was moving faster than she could understand. Jessica tried to slow it down, hoping she was just in shock, that she could hear them if only she concentrated. Nothing. She could hear them just fine, but the words meant nothing to her.
The other girl—the beautiful, confident, exciting girl who filled up her sad grey life with color and joy—reached out. Her hand touched the skin on Jessica’s leg, where her knees were pressed up into her face, trying to hide from the sudden terror that had become her entire world. As her throat caught up in her chest and her eyes began to water, Jessica leaned forward and let the girl wrap her up in her arms, the last safe place left for—
The sirens screamed in her ears.
Jessica spluttered awake. The doors to the ambulance slammed open. She was lifted out on a stretcher and loaded onto a gurney, hurried through the doors to the emergency room. More people appeared, on either side of her. A doctor. Nurses. They shouted questions at her that she couldn’t answer. She tried, feebly, to lift an arm, and it moved. She could have cried in joy, if she weren’t already crying from the pain.
I need to stay awake.
The doctor realized that she couldn’t answer. The doctor looked intense. Jessica was frightened of her. But she knew that they were just trying to help. She pointed down at the other pulsating spike of pain, higher up above her leg near her hip, the one nobody had looked at yet.
The doctor’s eyes widened. She shouted something, and more hands grabbed at her. They tore apart everything in the way. Jessica instinctively tried to move to cover herself, but a firm, strong grip held her down. The pain stopped her feeble attempts a moment later, as another wave of pure agony washed through her skull and broke her concentration.
She’s out there fighting. I need to fight too.
Jessica growled, a husky sound that barely resembled her voice. The doctor glanced over, but since she didn’t say anything more, they hurried back to working on her. They were trying desperately to patch her up.
It went on and on. Every time they jabbed at her, she forced herself to stay still. She didn’t twist away. She didn’t move at all. She’d be the best patient they’d ever had. Mind over matter. I am in control. I’m Jessica. I know my name. I’m not alone.
Except… she was alone. She didn’t know anyone around her in this place. She didn’t even have her own labels for them. At least back home, she could think of her best-friend, or the best-friend-squared, or the wolf-girl and the cult-leader. And, of course, her angel.
She’ll be here soon. I just have to hang on.
Bright lights shone in her face. They were cutting something. Needles poked at her skin. She could barely even feel them over all the pain emanating up through her veins, like boiling water flooding under her skin. She couldn’t feel anything down there, actually, as they kept prodding.
My leg. I can’t… I can’t feel my leg anymore.
Jessica growled again, more fiercely. Her hands gripped the pure white sheets tight, bunching up in fists. Her vision was fading. Her grip on the sheets loosened.
She’s coming. The angel’s coming.
Everything’s gonna be okay. She’s always there for me.
Her parents were shouting at her. Her mom was furious, her dad confused and upset. They didn’t understand why she’d done it. She couldn’t explain it to them either. She was just so miserable. Every single day was anguish. She woke up in the morning, wondering if that was the day she’d just give up already. The routine was the worst part of it all.
If she went through that same routine one more day, she knew it would end. Something had to change.
So she’d struck out. She’d done everything she could to upset her parents. She’d caused this. This anger, this pain. They hated her, they didn’t want her, and she was okay with that. She just needed to get away, to reset her life, and this was the best course of action she could find. She had packed her bags every single night for months, and unpacked them again in the morning when she couldn’t follow through.
This time, she’d burned the bridges. There was no going back. Jessica left, and her dad slammed the door behind her.
She wandered down the street, wondering where she’d go. What she’d do. Where she’d live. Their town wasn’t very large. Everyone would know soon that her parents had kicked her out, unless she found somewhere to hide. She couldn’t exactly live on the street here; there were so few, and the sheriff would be on her in a flash. She could go to the city—except she’d never lived in a city. She’d barely even been to one. Was that a good idea?
Except… she was here. Jessica couldn’t leave.
What if I just… live with her?
Jessica laughed aloud, savoring her own bitter misery. How could she live with her, like this? Jessica didn’t want to be looked on like some beggar. Not by her. Jessica wanted to be something she could desire. As impossible as it might be. Jessica wanted—needed—to be wanted in return.
Not like with her parents, who’d never wanted her. Who’d had her by accident and regretted it ever since. Who’d never understood her, and probably never could. Especially now, when she suddenly had powers that nobody understood. That she couldn’t understand, even with the spells that let her learn more than anyone about the nature of the magical energy they’d all discovered.
She wandered, and as always happened when she wandered, she ended up at her best friend’s dorm. When she knocked, he was inside, playing games online with his best friend, the football player, who had long-since flown back home out of fear. They spent a ton of time together, even now when they were a thousand miles apart. But then, her best friend was the type who could definitely have two best friends. She didn’t resent the other guy at all. They didn’t exactly get along, but she never felt like she was left out with them. Her best friend was there for her when she called.
But at the same time, he couldn’t ever be what she really needed, and he knew it.
The moment he saw her, bags weighing down her arms and the look plastered across her face though she did her best to hide it, he welcomed her in with open arms. She spent the first night there, asleep on his couch, and the second and the third night after that. But she couldn’t stay there forever. The dorm didn’t allow her, for one, since this was the guys’ half, and she hated imposing on her best friend. He wouldn’t ever complain, because he really was the best, but she could tell she was pressuring him.
When they finally talked it out, and she confessed what was really going on, he didn’t laugh. He hugged her again, and listened to her complain, gave her a shoulder. Everything a best friend should do. She loved him for that.
He was the reason she finally worked up the courage to take the next step. She’d already escaped her parents, now she needed to complete changing her life. She couldn’t accept anything less, else she knew she’d never recover.
The next night they spent at her apartment, she invited Jessica to stay over. Jessica didn’t even need to say anything. Jessica never mentioned what had happened, or why she wouldn’t be expected home, and no one asked. Soon enough, she had a perfect excuse, after the terrifying fight between the two angry gods that nearly destroyed the old town library. Suddenly, Jessica was just living there, as if she’d always belonged.
A month later, Jessica made it official, and no one ever found out her secret.
A month after that, in a room covered by symbols and gemstones, with energy flooding the air in so many ways, Jessica finally opened her mouth, threw caution to the winds as she would have done, and—
Jessica groaned. Her eyes fluttered open. A beeping sound. A monitor. Heart rate. And other things. She could see the line pulsing over the screen. There were numbers. At least, she assumed they were numbers. Nothing else would really make sense there. She wondered if it was a good heart rate. If her blood pressure was okay. She knew what the good amounts were for someone healthy, but what about someone in her condition?
Her leg wouldn’t move. Pain was still radiating through her, but it was dulled. Muted, almost, but still very much pressing on her brain from every direction. She was probably on painkillers. Multiple IVs dripped out of her. She was getting blood and other nutrients.
She moaned again, not by choice. She could barely move, and every twitch brought a fresh wave of anguish. She’d never imagined someone could feel this much pain. It wanted to consume her, wanted her to vanish into its burning depths and swallow her whole. She had to fight, every single moment, to stay aware.
Help. Please. Someone.
The room was dark. Only the glow of the monitors. She wondered what time it was. There were no windows to the outside, and the ones she could see through were just as dark. Except… it wasn’t dark. It was light. Bright lights. Someone was poking at her again, working on her leg. She tried to hold it in, but another moan escaped her lips. It was too much. If she weren’t feeling so weak, she would have tried to get away from the doctor’s hands. Even though Jessica knew better, knew she was just trying to help, the doctor caused pain with every single touch.
Why is it so hard to see?
She should have been able to see just fine. Her eyes were way better than normal. She and the angel figured out how to do that so long ago, and made it permanent. But… she couldn’t.
Noise. Loud, painful noise. She winced. The doctor looked up, but not at her. Out the window into the hall. The lights were on.
A nurse hurried to the door, holding someone back. Holding her angel back. They were whispering, but it was so loud it might as well have been shouting. Arguing. Jessica could guess what about.
The angel got angry. The nurse held up a clipboard like a shield, trying to push her out of the room.
A surge of magic in the room. The clipboard ripped away from the nurse’s hands and into the air. Jessica felt its trajectory before it even moved.
She caught it before it hit the wall.
Everyone stared. The nurse looked terrified. The doctor froze in place. They were all watching the clipboard, hovering in midair. Jessica ignored them, because the angel was staring at her, tears in her furious eyes.
Jessica forced her hand up into the air, struggling against the restraints and the medication and everything else holding her back. She waved the angel forward.
The doctor said something, but the angel snapped at her and the doctor fell silent. The angel rushed to Jessica’s side, taking an open stool next to her bed and clasping her hand tight. Sighing in futility, the doctor returned to Jessica’s leg and lower abdomen, still working on her.
Something else bugged her mind. Sterility. What if her angel hadn’t properly protected against infection? It was no wonder the doctor was so concerned. Jessica sent out another pulse of magic, and to her relief, she couldn’t feel anything. The angel had done everything right, just like she was supposed to do. It was okay.
The angel could be there with her, and hold her as she needed to be held.
Another surge of magic in the room, like the sense of electricity in a room—a faint flickering of energy that was barely perceptible, but made her hair stand on end. She tried to feel where it was going, but the angel hadn’t reached for anything in the room. She didn’t seem to be using it on herself either, though of course Jessica couldn’t be sure of that—until she felt the glow.
Like the heat of a fire, dancing on the edges of her skin, the angel was trying to push magic into her. Trying, desperately, to do something. Jessica couldn’t be sure what. It didn’t matter though. The rules were unbreakable.
She squeezed the angel’s hand, as hard as she could. Trying to let her know she could feel it. That Jessica appreciated what she was trying to do, impossible as it might be even for someone as strong and intelligent and brave as her.
More commotion at the door. The nurse was blocking more people. Her mother and father. She felt like it had been centuries since she last saw them. Except… it was only yesterday, wasn’t it? She couldn’t possibly know. The only way she could keep track of time was her own mind, and she’d been knocked out cold. It could have been weeks, or no time at all.
Her angel was arguing now too. The doctor got into it this time, insistent. Her parents tried to push their way in again. She didn’t want them to. She didn’t want anyone around her anymore. Just the doctors, who were helping her stay alive, and the angel, who gave her the reason to stay alive.
It hurts. Please, make it stop.
She couldn’t move, could barely breathe, but she could still use magic. She picked up the clipboard again, which she’d set down on a cabinet and which the nurse had abandoned with a nervous expression. It flew in front of her parents, between them and the nurse.
Blocking them out.
Everyone stopped talking. They all looked at her, but another massive wave of pain crashed in at that exact moment, and she was overcome. She lost sight of the room, only barely hearing her father’s weeping, her mother’s angry cries.
She lost everything but the feeling of her angel’s hand on her own. Tight, fingers interlocked, right where her hand belonged. Right next to her, where Jessica had finally found her home.
The crying and pleading faded out, and suddenly she was afraid again. What if it didn’t come back? What if she didn’t come back? What if she was—
They tumbled back into her bedroom. Jessica was coughing. She couldn’t stop it. Every breath she took hurt. Her angel was feverishly looking up something on the laptop. Probably ways to help her deal with whatever this was. Jessica knew she’d inhaled a lot of smoke—way too much. She thought she could handle that much fire, but the pressure of the smoke and holding back the inferno, coupled with the distraction of the building falling apart, and she’d broken. The smoke poured through her walls and nearly smothered her.
The angel got her out, but they were both feeling the after-effects now. They went to sleep coughing. It took Jessica hours, clinging to her side, to finally drift off. Every time she coughed, she could tell she’d just woken the angel up again, and she hated herself for it. She tried to move away, give her space so one of them could get some sleep, but the angel refused, and it tore Jessica up inside even worse than the smoke had. To pull away was out of love, and to stay close was out of love. She gave up, and just let the angel decide for her.
Except then the morning came, and she was still coughing her lungs out. Her throat burned and her eyes were red and stinging. It was even worse than the night before.
Jessica’s mom came into the room, and they started shouting again. Jessica hated it. Her parents shouting seemed like the cause of so many of her life’s worst moments—and this was no exception. She forced her mother to leave, driving her away to let them all have some peace. It didn’t matter what they were arguing about. She just wanted some quiet.
But then the angel turned back to her, and Jessica realized why she felt so awful. She knew she was about to let her down. Let down the person she cared most for in the world.
She tried so hard to hide it, but the tears burst forth anyway. She explained, in broken, pained gestures and bursts of magic, that she couldn’t do it anymore. That she couldn’t go out into these situations, into danger, into the terror and nightmares. Ever since they’d witnessed the angry god and the light god fight each other in her home, she knew she wasn’t built for a life like this.
But her angel was, and she wanted more than anything to stay by her side.
The angel’s face fell. Her eyes softened. She looked heartbroken.
Jessica’s heart did break. She immediately wanted to take it back. She was on the verge of crying out that she didn’t mean it. That she was just overreacting. She could keep doing this. She could stay close.
Nothing came out. She shrunk away. Jessica knew already this was the worst moment of her entire life, letting her angel down, but she still did it. As the tears became a stream, she fled the room. She couldn’t look at the angel’s face anymore, not after that. Not after—
If she thought the pain couldn’t get any worse, she was wrong.
The real world crashed back into life as a massive surge of pain thundered up her chest to her brain. Her back arched involuntarily. She hadn’t even realized she could still move that much, and it only exacerbated the agony. Accompanying the new sheer wave of torture was a chorus of beeps and chimes. The doctor and the nurse flew into a panic.
Shouting. More people in hospital gear appeared, flooding through the door. Jessica lost her grip, lost the warmth in her hand as the angel was shoved aside.
No, please! I need her! Don’t take her away from me!
The doctors were working furiously. Nurses brought in more blood, more fluids, more antibiotics and medicine and materials. The angel watched from the corner, eyes locked on hers. Jessica stuck to that as her anchor. She sent out a wave of magic through the air, insubstantial and without any purpose, and let it just hang there in midair. Waiting. Praying she’d notice.
She did. The angel sent out her own gust of magic, and Jessica felt it cling to hers, a lifeline of mystical energy that she held onto, to keep from drowning into oblivion.
Don’t let go of me. Keep me here. I want to stay with you forever. I always wanted y—
They were going to a party. Jessica hated parties. She never knew what to do at them. She liked staying in with a good drink and some chocolate, reading or watching TV. But her best friend insisted. Told her this party was special. It wasn’t like a typical party, it was hosted by the most popular girl in school.
Jessica dreaded it even more when he said that. Not that she had any clue who the most popular girl was; she didn’t really pay attention to things like that. She just concluded it definitely wasn’t for her, if popularity had anything to do with it. Nobody paid attention to her, after all. Even the guys ignored her. She wasn’t just a fly on the wall, she was totally inside the wall. On the other side of the wall.
But she was living with him, and she wanted him to stop worrying about her, so she reluctantly agreed to go. They headed out to the party that night, and Jessica even dressed up a bit, tried to make herself look prettier. She didn’t really like how it looked, but her best friend kept insisting she looked amazing, and his best friend agreed.
She knew they were just being nice. If she even had the potential to look amazing, she probably wouldn’t be so totally isolated. It was okay though. She was used to it. She’d get over it.
The party was in the house of her old neighbor. She felt a little uncomfortable about that, but it was still a fair distance away from her parents. Her best friend, fulfilling his duties perfectly, realized it the moment they arrived. He took her aside and quietly made sure she was okay. She brushed him off. She’d be fine. She could handle this.
The partygoers were her bigger concern, especially as her sudden makeover drew attention. Suddenly, she was being noticed. She’d been catapulted over the wall, and she didn’t want to be on this side. After all, parties were mostly just an excuse to meet people, get drunk, and maybe have sex with someone. Jessica wasn’t big on the first, enjoyed the second on her own time, and as for the third…? She still wasn’t really sure how she felt about it.
More importantly, she wasn’t what they were looking for. A few different guys made an attempt to talk to her. They weren’t rude about it; in fact she was a bit relieved at how nice everyone was. But she had to decline, politely, every single one of them, and she never gave an explanation. She got mostly bemused glances as they vanished back into the crowd.
Jessica didn’t want to be stuck with the label. Didn’t want everyone to just think of her as that kind of girl. She saw a few very attractive women in the room, people she could see herself with if she could crawl out of her shell, but she knew she’d never be brave enough. Never even consider it. She’d stay on the sidelines forever if she must, rather than show the world who she was. Even her best friend didn’t know.
Stay on the sidelines she did, taking a small armchair that wasn’t big enough for anyone else to even try to share it. She sipped her drink, wary of anything stronger, and she watched her best friend make a fool of himself, grinning the whole while. She laughed, she smiled, she stayed sitting on the outside. She watched as other couples paired off, she bobbed her head to the music and actually started to enjoy herself.
If this was a party, it wasn’t so bad. As long as she knew exactly what she was doing there, and who she was, she could learn to enjoy it. It all came down to the people, she concluded, and her best friend had informed her that the hostess maintained very strict rules for every party that kept things fun.
Speaking of whom, the party burst into applause as she arrived. Jessica was still watching her best friend dancing like an idiot with a girl half his height and twice his enthusiasm. When they stopped, she felt so disappointed. She’d wanted to see where that was going.
Then Jessica turned around, and saw her.
An angel descended down the staircase. She wore a stunning blue dress, with waves of golden-blonde hair cascading down the sides like curtains. Her eyes were the most perfect shade of blue—not too dark that she couldn’t see who was underneath, nor too light that she might seem cold and distant. No, these were the eyes of the pure open sky, with just a hint of sparkle, like the stars that hid underneath the sun and came out to fill the void every night above their town. Her smile was like joy distilled into a human face, and her voice was so full of life and energy that Jessica felt like she could survive off of that sound alone. Everything she did, every movement and every tiny twist of her expression was someone truly alive.
Jessica was in love in an instant.
The angel came down with a friend at her side, a very quiet girl with thick brown hair and striking grey eyes whom Jessica shared a few classes with. She announced the official start of the party, to which everyone laughed. They’d already been there for an hour. The angel descended into the crowd, and an upbeat song kicked on the stereo, and for the first time in her life, Jessica felt like actually joining in the dance.
But she couldn’t work up the courage.
The party went on, and the angel danced with everyone who came to her, no matter who they were. It could be a dozen guys, or a single girl, or any number of any combination in between, they all found her laughing and spinning around like mad. She wasn’t a good dancer, but it didn’t matter in the slightest. She dominated the whole room. Everyone wanted to be closer to her. Jessica wanted to be closer to her. She didn’t understand that feeling, but she never wanted it to go away.
But she had no idea how to keep ahold of it.
The angel had come down with someone. A friend. Jessica watched her instead for a while, trying to understand who she was. How she’d come to be that close. To her surprise, the other girl stuck to the edges of the room, just like she did. She looked like she didn’t want to be there, just as much as Jessica didn’t. Jessica wondered if they were together. It tore at her heart to imagine it, but at the same time, she would have been happy for them. If this quiet girl could find someone like her, maybe there was hope for Jessica too.
The angel was doing something else. Steering people around, though she did it so subtly that Jessica doubted anyone on the inside would ever notice. The dynamic of the room shifted just slightly, and the entire crowd moved to one side, following her. At the same time, one of the guys found himself separated. A tall, handsome bald guy, with eyes dark as midnight and a very focused way of moving about the room. He looked around, bemused, and saw only one person nearby—that same quiet, grey-eyed girl.
Jessica watched them start talking, not daring to hope.
The music cut short. Sirens. The sheriff was outside. People scattered. The angel was shouting something, the grey-eyed girl and her new friend were bolting out the back door. Jessica’s best friend was grabbing her hand and tugging her away from the house—
A knock at the door. Jessica tried to roll her head to look, but even that was hard.
Her hand was warm again. Her fingers were clutched tight between each of the angel’s. She’d been asleep in the chair next to her hospital bed. At the knock, the angel woke up in a panic, twisting around to look up.
It was her ex-boyfriend, barely visible in the dim glow from the beeping heart-rate monitor. He said something, and her angel replied in a nervous voice. Jessica had always liked him, actually, even up until the end. She understood why he’d been so afraid. Jessica of all people could never fault someone for being afraid. She’d been okay around him.
She didn’t move, even as they spoke. Neither of them seemed to realize she was awake. The pain had subsided again, but it was still there, a drumbeat in her head that had settled to a snare, rather than the huge bursts of the cymbals and bass. One of the lines trailing from her arm told her she was probably on painkillers again, plus more blood and antibiotics.
Her leg still wouldn’t move.
Jessica was too exhausted to panic about it. She just accepted it, like everything else happening around her by now. She was barely staying in the present, staying awake and aware. Who knew how much time had passed now? Everyone was gone from the room except for the angel, never leaving her side.
The ex-boyfriend came back, and with him came the other two. Her best friend, and the best friend squared right behind him. She was shocked to see him. He’d made it pretty clear that he hated what they’d become. Hated everything about what they’d done. Hated magic itself.
Jessica could never hate magic, after everything it had lead to. It wasn’t all good, but it was worth it. She’d finally found something she was good at, something she could share with her angel, something worth doing.
Her best friend spotted her eyes open. He waved. The angel twisted around, and Jessica tried to smile at her. To her relief, it actually worked. The angel smiled back, and that did more to help her recover than anything the doctors could have done.
She squeezed her hand and inclined her head just slightly towards their friends, trying to tell them to go ahead and talk. That she was okay just listening, hearing their voices again.
They didn’t just talk, of course. They kept her in the loop anyway, gesturing and doing as much as they had to in order for her to understand. It was painful for her to see them take so long to say something so simple, and after a while, she stopped paying attention. She appreciated it, but they were clearly struggling—the best-friend-squared most of all—and she’d rather they just get on with it.
Something did eventually catch her eye though, as they swapped stories. Her angel was so used to gesturing everything at this point while talking that she could do both easily. She was telling them about Jessica, about the trip into the needle-city with the new guy. The nurse with the accent. When she’d started dancing in the street, because she liked the song and wanted the angel to cheer up. She’d taken a lot of dance lessons before, at her mother’s insistence, but never really used them for much. It finally paid off, and to see the awe on her angel’s face was worth every single minute she’d suffered through.
As the angel finished the story, she brought up the drummer. Jessica assumed she’d stop there, but apparently she’d forgotten that she was even still gesturing everything. She told them how the drummer had talked to Jessica, asked for her number, asked her out.
Jessica closed her eyes, trying to block out the pain and noise again, but she smiled slightly. That girl had been a great musician, for sure, and she was probably going places. Jessica could definitely be friends with her. But not in the way the angel thought. Never that way. As much as she knew it pained everyone to think she was totally alone, Jessica never felt alone.
Not by her angel’s side.
I can’t leave her now.
As the group left them again, Jessica made up her mind. She still had one thing she could do comfortably. Her body wouldn’t work, but her mind and her magic still could. She had to find a way, since she wasn’t getting any better by medical means. The doctors had obviously done all they could, if they’d left her here in the dark with just her angel as company. She had her own magic, the kind none of them could ever do. Her specialty.
The sphere awaited.
Jessica plunged in, hard and fast, her eyes shut tight. She’d once described it to the angel like it were a giant ball of thread, and she was just trying to follow a single strand to the answer she needed—but in truth, it might as well have been ten thousand balls, each the size of a continent and interwoven so much that she could get lost if even the tiniest thing distracted her.
Nothing could distract her anymore. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. There was barely any light in the room, and the only sound was the angel’s quiet breathing, and the occasional beep from the heart-rate monitor whenever it detected something unusual.
Jessica found the path she wanted, the path she needed. It took her hours to find the thread, but she was diligent. She would follow it as far as it took. Magic that allowed her to mix with her own body, in ways none of them understood. Magic that could transform her shape, her cells, reconstruct and rebuild the damaged and broken parts of her and make her whole again.
She knew this path. She’d walked parts of it before, but she’d never followed it all the way down. She’d followed another path, toward a different form of shaping. A path of creating from nothing, of bringing something to life, something powerful and majestic and made of the elements themselves to fulfill her angel’s deepest desire.
The thread was so tangled up though, and Jessica’s body was getting weaker every minute. She could feel it. She was fading. The darkness outside the windows wasn’t just a lack of light. She was cold.
She was so very, very cold.
No. The warmth of the angel’s fingers interlocked with hers kept her focused. The rhythm of her quiet breath as she slept in the chair next to her bed, the sight of her chest rising and falling in perfect time, her troubled face as she worried so much about the deaf-mute girl laying beside her.
I’m going to fix this. She’ll smile aga—
The answer burst into her mind, fully formed. It felt like her own thoughts, but she knew by now it wasn’t. The magic gave her this answer. Showed her the shape of the wings, the process to create them and give them a permanent form, the way by which she might control them. Jessica wouldn’t be able to do it herself, but the angel could do it. She just knew it, as surely as she knew the ritual would work.
It took convincing, but the angel agreed. She feared what had happened to Jessica, and Jessica couldn’t blame her for taking caution—but this was her dream. The very first thing she’d wanted, from the moment they’d found the page and realized what it meant. Jessica would not allow herself to be the obstacle in the angel’s path to soaring as she deserved, on the wings she’d always been meant to have.
They went back into the room. The room of Jessica’s nightmares, but also her greatest hopes. The spare bedroom, which was supposed to be hers, but which they’d never once used for such a thing. She forced herself to spend time inside, making sure she could handle it so that when the day came, she wouldn’t be held back. They kept it bare, they kept it spotless, and they made sure it was as balanced as it could be. Anything they could, so they could practice magic without any fear of interference.
So nothing like her would ever happen again.
She prepared the circle and laid out the gemstones, then turned to the angel, who was watching anxiously. She looked distracted, staring at her favorite stone that always hung around her neck. Jessica tugged at her sleeve, reminding her what she was supposed to be doing. She turned away while the angel undressed, then cleared the space so she could begin.
Jessica didn’t want to intrude, but she didn’t want to miss the moment either, so she watched while the angel began the ritual. As the energy surged inward, she threw her mind against the walls of the gemstones and feathers, and tried to break inside to the essences within. Jessica saw her fail, even with the help of the gemstone hanging just above her breast.
Saw her eyes flutter open in joy and the sublime moment of inspiration.
The angel leapt out of the circle before the magic had even subsided. She seized Jessica’s hands, explaining what she’d figured out in painstaking gestures. How she couldn’t break through. How she needed something else.
How she needed Jessica.
In a flash, without realizing what she was doing, Jessica threw aside her clothes—caution and modesty tossed away into the angel’s hurricane wind of excitement. She leapt into the circle alongside her, clasping her hands, knees together as they sat cross-legged. The ritual began again, and this time she was inside the walls. She was so close that she could feel the angel’s breath, as the heat and sweat built up and they hurled their mental efforts in unison at the ritual.
She felt the angel’s essence touch her own. Saw herself, her very soul laid bare before the angel—and it didn’t feel wrong. It felt beautiful and warm and loving. It felt safe. It felt like home. It was the other half of her being that she hadn’t ever been able to find. She never wanted that feeling to go away.
Then the angel pulled back, as if in fear. Afraid she had pressed too far, too close. Jessica felt hurt. Why had she done that? It was so perfect.
The angel shifted again, and her soul threw itself back at the ritual circle, pressing forward as hard as she could. Jessica drove away her confusion and focused only on what the angel was doing, supporting every move she made with as much energy as she could muster.
The feathers broke. The wind exploded into the room. Hair whipping around wildly, Jessica forced the energy to flow into her angel—to her back, where the shapes of the wings were already starting to take root and grow. She floated up into the air as Jessica kept feeding the magic into her, making sure the ritual stayed steady in these last, vital moments.
The wind vanished. The feathers and gemstones vanished. Everything went silent.
The angel opened her eyes. She floated above Jessica, and never had she been more beautiful. In her mind, Jessica could see the wings on her back, purest golden-tinged white to complement her hair. It worked. As the angel flexed her new wings and dove around the room, Jessica laughed and cried in joy. It worked.
She’d done it. She’d helped. They’d achieved her dream, and she got to be a part of it. She had never felt more happy, more alive in her entire life.
The angel dove across the room, gathering her up into the air, twirling around in a tight hug, flying across the room in a gust of wind and joy and—
She lost the thread again. The pain was back. Jessica moaned aloud, against her best efforts, and the angel spluttered awake. She still hadn’t ever let go of Jessica’s hand. Jessica shook her head in response to the angel’s pleading gestures, asking if she should go get someone, and closed her eyes again. She squeezed the angel’s hand once more for luck, then dove back in.
It was a thread she’d followed once before, trying to repair the damage to her lungs after the fire. She’d learned some things, and she’d managed to accelerate that process. Helped her lungs heal faster. This was the same idea, but she needed to work much faster. She knew she didn’t have much time left if she couldn’t figure it out.
There! That thread. It felt like renewal. Rebirth. Regrowth. It was cells dividing and shifting, becoming new components of her body. She hurried down it, as fast as she could. She pressed on, while energy drained from her body to complete the spell.
She felt a gemstone on the angel’s ring around her finger, just close enough to her skin that she could grab it.
She shattered it, whispering an apology in her mind, and the resulting burst of magical power blew through a dozen criss-crossing threads in an instant. Only… this wasn’t where she’d intended to go. Renewing cells made sense to her. The spell explained that to her. She already understood that, and the thread kept going. Kept moving into new territory, deeper inside her body, something about the shield that protected her from harm.
Protected them all from magical harm.
Jessica could heal herself now, but as she let go of the spell, the burst of energy from the gemstone had faded away. She tried to start the process, beginning with her leg. Through blurry, weak eyes, Jessica saw the cells begin to knit together, blood surging back into place, but even a few seconds was exhausting. It shouldn’t have been, but she was just so weak. The trauma was too much. Her body couldn’t take any more. She couldn’t concentrate on the spell. Even if she got more energy, it was too complex. Her brain was shutting down. She couldn’t hold the designs in her mind, the reconstruction of her complex body.
Except… she didn’t need to be the one casting the spell.
The idea burst into her mind unbidden, and she knew it wasn’t her own. Magic had delivered the answer, like it always did for Jessica. No one could ever cast a spell on her, because the shield she unconsciously projected prevented it, as it did all spells. No magic could ever break through that protection. It was inviolable.
Unless she was aware of it. Unless she chose to take it down.
I need you. Please.
Jessica opened her mouth. She needed the angel to do this. She needed someone else to cast it on her.
Her arms could barely lift up. She didn’t have the energy to explain it, by magic or by her own hands. She could speak, but anything more was too much. All she could do was speak.
Except she couldn’t say anything.
She’d chosen not to say anything.
I was so stupid.
Jessica hurled herself back into the sphere. She found the thread she needed. She flew down it, burning every ounce of energy she had left, but it wasn’t difficult to find. She’d been there when it happened. She knew exactly what branch of magic she’d been using, the spell, everything. Following that same path into the sphere was easy. If she’d known how to navigate the sphere so well after the first couple weeks, she probably could have reversed it immediately.
But she never did. She was afraid to. Afraid of what she might hear. She didn’t wan—
Jessica finished speaking. She’d just confessed the deepest secret of her life, to the person she loved most in the world. She awaited judgment. Jessica was so afraid, so deathly afraid of what she’d say. When she found out why Jessica had stuck to her like glue, moved in with her, spent every night in her bed.
Even in her wildest dreams, she didn’t expect to be together. At best, she hoped for acceptance, for reserved judgment. Until she could prove that she wasn’t so cruel and twisted as she felt sometimes. She’d finally move into the other room, and they could just live together. Be normal friends. She’d never find anyone else, but she could live with that. She could be friends.
But Jessica didn’t see any judgment on her face. Jessica only saw love. Saw the purest, brightest smile she’d ever seen. Saw—
Her mind opened up. Unclouded, for the first time in over a year. Her heart-rate was only forty-one beats per minute. Her blood pressure was very low. The angel was saying something, and the words were returning to her. Jessica could understand her. Understand… Hailey.
Where are the doctors? Where are the alarms?
I’m going to—
Hailey was rushing forward, over the edge of the circle of chalk on the floor of the empty bedroom. She buried Jessica in a hug. Whispered in her ear, told her everything was going to be all right. They were still best friends, they were never going to be apart, they’d be—
Jessica still couldn’t understand most of what Hailey said. She couldn’t tell if it was because she was so tired, or because of the lasting effect of the magic. It didn’t matter.
She could explain it to Hailey. Tell her how to heal. Tell her everything.
Her barriers were all gon—
Hailey hugged her tight, told Jessica that she loved her and wasn’t letting her leave no matt—
I’m so scared. Please, Hailey! Help me!
Hailey leaned forward, as if she’d heard Jessica, even though no words had escaped her lips. Jessica squeezed her hand again, but her fingers were so weak, her grip barely responding. Jessica tried to open her mouth, tried to say someth—
She was in Hailey’s arms, crying in joy and relief, and Hailey was brushing the back of her hea—
Hailey leaned down, over the hospital bed, closed her perfect blue eyes, and kissed her.
No, please! I don’t want to go! You can save me!
Jessica Silverdale opened her mouth.
Hailey looked up at her name. She wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it or not, until she saw Jessica’s desperate, painful expression, her mouth still open. Jessica tried again, but nothing came out. Her lips tightened, and her eyes finally fluttered closed, for the last time.
The silent monitor flatlined.
The doctors were long gone. They’d known it was a lost cause hours ago—and after seeing how she was suffering, Hailey had finally given them consent to leave, to turn off the alarms… to give up. Everyone had come to say their goodbyes, though she hadn’t heard a single one. They’d finally left the two of them alone—just Hailey and Jessica in the dark, quiet hospital room, where she clutched Jessica’s hand as her body finally gave up.
Hailey leaned in and kissed Jessica again. She laid there, head on her motionless chest, and cried.