Later that night, I had a hard time getting to sleep. I kept picturing Justin, replaying every minute of our conversation, feeling his embrace again.
"Guardian," I whispered.
What?? came the annoyed sounding reply.
"Am I choosing right? I mean, I should help Justin and Wei, shouldn't I? Isn't that how I can fight all the awful things Mother does?"
I can't tell you what to do, the Guardian said sadly. I'm not allowed to, and in this case I can't see far enough into the future. All I can say is that your mother has a plan, and you must be careful. She's devious and works in ways you wouldn't guess to achieve her final goal, which is you either dead or under her power. Don't trust anyone.
After that bit of cheery advice I fell asleep, Justin's face haunting my dreams.
I woke up early with the sudden desire to read. I walked over to the bookshelf, crammed with old books that must have belonged to the previous owner of my house. Whoever that might've been.
I skimmed my hand along the spines of the books, when suddenly an invisible tug compelled me to pick up a certain one. I glanced at the title: The Laws and Workings of Magical Power.
I was amazed that this book had been hiding so close to me all along. I picked it up and didn't put it down for over an hour. It was so interesting!
In the first few chapters, I discovered that as Justin had said, my blue hair marked me as a powerful witch. But wouldn't I have noticed if I was so strong? I read down a little farther and discovered something shocking: a person with the bare minimum of magical power (hedgewitchs, the book called these people) could become more powerful if they stole magic from someone else, usually someone young and ignorant of their powers. I thought of Mother and her mundane black hair and realized that she most likely stole her powers from another person. From me. No wonder I didn't seem as powerful as I should! I shook with anger, and vowed to cure Wei, just to spite her.
I was relieved to learn that the effects of magic stealing went away after a few months. I would be back to my normal power level very soon. But I knew that wouldn't stop Mother. She no doubt had other sources. I read with horror that if you were vicious enough you could suck so much power out of a witch or wizard that it killed them.
I was so caught up in learning everything that Mother had kept from me that I was late to work. I had to force myself to stop reading. I had just started the chapter on enacting small spells.
After finding the book, my days were consumed with reading and practicing and reading more. Work and logic practice were distractions that broke into my reading time, but I knew it was important to keep making money.
I admit, I got frustrated sometimes. I wondered how I'd ever loved playing chess, when it was so tedious, such a waste of my time. I had to stop myself from turning the board over and screaming. The only thing that kept me sane were thoughts of Justin, imagining the smile when I at last told him that I could heal his friend.
I didn't see much of Goodwin. I was just too busy. And I'm sure he was busy too, exercising and saving people and all of that.
The time I used to spend with him felt like a sweet dream: nice, but not real. Reality was far too full of magic and reading to make any room for jokes and fun dinners. Maybe I'd have more free time after I learned more. If you're not too busy saving the whole world at that point, I heard the Guardian's sarcastic voice say. Sometimes I got the impression that the Guardian didn't approve of something I was doing, but she would never tell me what was wrong. It got to be a real downer having a negative presence in my head.
Months went by, and I became more and more confident in my skills. I wasn't at the level to attempt a major healing yet, but I would be within weeks. The only thing missing was Justin: I hadn't seen him even once since that night.
Then, he showed up outside my door. When I saw his face, I felt my lips form into a smile. I had missed him more than I'd even known.
"I'm sorry," Justin said. "I meant to visit you again earlier, but I was... busy."
His face clouded over and he seemed to droop, turning away from me to stare at the ground.
"What's wrong?" I asked, alarmed. He seemed so defeated.
"I can't even leave my house anymore," he said, still looking down. "Wei's just too ill. If I'm not watching him, he'll think he's a bird and try to jump out of the window or something. I have a neighbor watching him now, but I can't stay for long."
My heart went out to him. I knew that the timeline I'd been working on wasn't going to be fast enough. At this rate, I would have to be ready in days, not weeks. The longer I waited, the more Wei's brain would degenerate, and the harder it'd be to fix him.
I didn't know what to say. Justin needed comfort of some sort. Searching for a way to help, I felt myself leaning in and covering his mouth with mine.
I could feel Justin letting out all the tension and anger and resentment. He kissed me back passionately, and I suddenly knew why everyone made such a big deal about falling in love. I was completely in love with Justin, and it was the most amazing feeling in the world.
Eventually, we broke apart. Justin looked at his watch and groaned.
"I have to go," he said. He handed me a slip of paper. "That's my phone number. Call me if you need anything, or if you just want to get together for a little."
His gaze felt heavy. I had sudden visions of leading Justin inside, kissing him again and falling onto our bed...
"I'll call you tomorrow," I said, faking confidence when inside I was scared and confused.
That night, my bed felt especially empty. I'd never before appreciated just how large the bed was. Meant for two people, not one.
I woke up that morning, dreading work. I couldn't wait till after, when I could call Justin.
Right after I changed into my normal clothes and stepped out of the hospital, I saw Goodwin. I had a vague memory that he had Thursdays off, and he'd always known my work schedule. Just like I'd always known his.
"Blue!" he cried out, smiling.
"How was work today?" he asked, sounding just as carefree as always, though I could sense a hint of something else under his voice.
"Uhh... okay," I answered. "A little boring."
I'd been in a conference all day and couldn't practice my new healing spells on anyone, so it had gone from the usual minor waste of my time to an all out failure of a day.
"Boring?" he asked, confused. "That doesn't sound like the Blue I know! You love work!"
"Well, we haven't talked about work in a while," I said, a little angry that he thought he knew me better than I did. "Things change."
Goodwin looked confused and hurt. I felt sorry for about a second, till I remembered that I had important things to do, and Goodwin wasn't part of that. I had to end the conversation quick so I could call Justin.
"Things sure do change," he said tonelessly. "Yeah, we haven't talked about work in a while. We haven't talked about anything in a while! I haven't seen you in weeks, and the last time we talked on the phone you hung up after a minute because you were busy. What's going on, Blue?"
"I really can't talk about it now," I lied. "I'm in a rush, I have to get home and study more. I... have a test coming up at work, and if I don't pass it I can't be promoted."
"Oh, sure," Goodwin said tonelessly, and I knew he could see right through my lie. "I understand. If you ever want to hang out again, give me a call. I know I won't be calling you."
His words were all the more crushing for the bland, pleasant tone of voice he spoke in. He didn't stomp away either. He walked slowly, giving me time to change me mind. I watched him leave and said nothing.
I tried to read more, but I was too upset to focus. Why did Goodwin even care? Couldn't he see that he wasn't part of my life anymore?
After many hours of fuming, I finally gave up on practice and called Justin. He would make me feel better. I think he could tell I was upset, because he came over right away, even though it was late at night. I kissed him before I even said a word, forgetting about everything but him.
Justin followed me inside. I was nervous, showing him my shack of a house. Usually I loved it, but today I was more embarrassed than anything else. Justin didn't live in a mansion, but his house was much bigger than mine.
"This is it," I said awkwardly.
"I love it!" Justin replied. "So cute and beautiful. The perfect home for such a lovely woman."
I could feel a blush forming on my cheeks, which only intensified when he started to massage my shoulders.
"You're so tense," he said. "Let me loosen you up a little."
I knew I should've broken away at that point, asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee or something, but his touch just felt too good.
"Do you want to stay the night?" I found myself asking. I didn't want to spend another terrible night alone.
"I would love to," Justin answered, his voice little above a whisper. "But if I'm going to stay over, maybe you should change into something more comfortable."
His tone of voice was so inviting, and, well... seductive. I felt myself blushing all over again. He laughed, and I felt incredibly young, even though he couldn't be more than a few years older than me.
"I meant into pajamas, of course. Don't worry Blue, we'll never do anything you that makes you feel uncomfortable."
I rushed into the bathroom and changed into a pair of pajamas. Suddenly, I was incredibly tired.
"Ready for bed?" he asked me. I nodded, then shook a little as I realized that I only had one bed, and no couch for him to sleep on.
We got into bed, and at first I stuck as far to my side as possible, putting my back to Justin. Then I felt his hand on my back, pulling me to face him.
"Blue," he whispered. "You don't need to be scared. I'll never hurt you."
His words felt right. I leaned into his embrace and whispered, "I know."
We pulled the covers over us, and I suddenly knew that there was no way I would sleep like this, next to Justin, without doing anything else. I couldn't resist. Already, he was looking at me with his beautiful eyes, large with hope and another emotion that I was afraid to identify.
"Yes," I whispered.
"Are you sure?" he asked, grinning.
When I woke up, Justin was gone. I wished that he had stayed, but I knew he was busy, and needed to get back to Wei. I pulled on a pajama dress and laid on my bed, savoring the memories.
After that, the rest of the week went by in a blur of work and reading. I was fueled by thoughts of Justin, and I told myself that I couldn't call him or see him again until I was ready to heal Wei.
There was gossip all over Twinbrook about a new couple: Goodwin and Jenni Jones-Brown. They'd been good friends since they were little, all the busybodies at work told me, hoping for some kind of reaction. I guess a lot of people had thought Goodwin and I might start dating.
I got sick of all the useless gossip. What did I care if Goodwin was dating somebody? Not like it was any of my business. It was shocking, the time I saw them kissing one night, but what they did was their own concern, not mine.
I was sure that Goodwin would stick to his word and not call me, so it was surprising when I woke up one day to hear my phone ringing.
"Who is it?" I answered, hoping that Justin had somehow gotten a hold of my phone number.
"It's me," Goodwin said.
"What do you want?" I asked grouchily. Shouldn't he be busy with his girlfriend or something?
"Blue," he said, his voice desperate. "Don't do it. I know you've been studying magic. You're getting ready for something big. Please, you're going to get yourself killed."
I gestured at the phone angrily, even though I knew he couldn't see me.
"How do you know?" I asked icily, still in shock. "Are you spying on me?"
"I went into your house while you were at work," he said. "Blue, it was too easy. It wasn't even hard to pick the lock. You're too trusting. I found the book you've been reading, the one about magic. And it's hard for me to believe, but it makes sense."
I stopped listening the second he said that he broke into my house.
"You broke into my home and read my book?" I asked, wanting to scream. "How could you? It's my house, my private life! You don't have any right to be there when I'm not. I didn't tell you about my powers for a reason; because it's not your business. I can't even believe this. Don't call me again, and stop meddling in my life!"
"Blue," Goodwin said. "Please, you're in danger-"
I snapped the phone shut, trembling with anger. I would cure Wei and show Goodwin that he knew nothing about me, nothing about what I could handle. I was done with him thinking I was some foolish girl, who needed him to protect me. I didn't need anyone else, especially not him.
I decided to read some more of the book to calm myself. I knew that today was my last day. Tomorrow I would be ready. All I had left was the last section, the one about possible drawbacks and some safety precautions. It seemed so useless that I debated skipping it, but then figured that reading it couldn't hurt.
I opened up the book to the last section. But then, to my complete shock, I found that entire pages were ripped out, maybe 10 or so. The final section was decimated, and I quickly gave up on making sense of it with all the missing pages.
Who would have done that? It made no sense! I was sure these pages hadn't been missing before. Then I knew who it was. Who'd had access to my book recently? Admitted it, even. Goodwin. My anger grew even larger. He was trying to scare me off. Hoping I'd be too frightened to do anything good without some stupid little safety information. Well, he thought wrong.
Maybe he was even afraid I would become a more valued community citizen than him. I wouldn't be surprised. He probably loved all the attention, and didn't want some upstart healing witch doctor to save more people than him. Well, at least I knew what was important. I turned my fury into determination, and resolved to become the greatest healer the world had ever seen.
Mother had a guest over. I knew that he must be important, because she met him in the fancy sitting room. I stood near the doorway, ready to eavesdrop. It was a skill I had been learning lately, in the hopes of finding out more about Blue. And about my own future. Now that I was a young adult, I wanted to have an early warning if Mother was planning on marrying me off. Randal was still slouching around the house, but luckily I didn't think Mother had any intention of marrying me to him.
I could see Mother very clearly, but her guest was hidden, and I didn't dare to lean over more. Mother might see me and then I would be in terrible trouble.
"How is the plan unfolding?" Mother asked the guest. "Any unexpected setbacks?"
"Not at all," I heard a male voice say. "Everything has gone better than expected. I am quite sure that within a few days Blue will believe she's ready to work the spell."
"And will she be ready?" Mother asked, cruelly.
"Oh no, my Queen. Of course not," the man said. "She does not understand the extent of power it takes to cure mental illness. Does not realize her book made these spells for groups of powerful witches and wizards to enact together. I ensured her information was incomplete by removing the crucial pages in the safety section. She may be strong, but no one is strong enough for this."
"Then she will die," Mother said.
I sat down on a chair outside the room and felt tears welling up in my throat. I had to warn Blue, but I didn't know how. I didn't even know where she was.
"You will receive half of the power when she dies," Mother was saying. "As will I. That will boost our power levels for quite a bit. We won't need to find a new source for maybe a year."
"Thank you, dear Queen," the man said. "You are most kind."
"It's all I can do to repay you for your service. And she still has no clue that you're a wizard?"
"She would never guess," the man said. "She's too trusting by far; she rages when she's angry at someone, or she broods, but she isn't paranoid, even when it would be practical. She believes that she's the only one with power in all of Twinbrook."
"Excellent," Mother said. "My foolish daughter is nearly gone. She won't have time to procreate and pass on her useless traits to some snotty brats of hers."
I felt sick to my stomach, and angry. Mother was casually discussing the death of her own daughter. What kind of person was so heartless?
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Then the man spoke again.
"There was one thing I noticed when I was doing the daily check up spell. You know, the one you taught me that gives me all her vital statistics? Well, she's... well..."
I wondered what he had to say that might choke him up. Mother didn't seem to share my curiosity.
"Is this going to effect her power levels?" she asked angrily. "Will she succeed?"
"No, my Queen," he answered, sounding a little strange to my ears.
"Then I don't care," Mother replied. "I'll be waiting for more news. You're dismissed."
I started to walk away, but Mother looked into the doorway and saw me.
"So, Petunia, you've been listening to me. Eavesdropping is a vile practice, you know, but I hope it was educational. There's nothing you can do anyway. How does it feel to be powerless, daughter?"
She laughed cruelly, and I felt inexplicably ashamed. Why couldn't I leave like Blue? Why was I such a coward?
Mother walked out the other door, and I stood there. Then, silently, Mother's guest appeared in front of me. I somehow knew it was him. He had a sad look on his face, and I knew that he wanted to tell me what Mother had not cared to hear.
"Be witness to my crime," he said, formally, as if I was a priest and he was confessing to me. "I am knowingly allowing your sister to die. I have manipulated her to her death. And I do this now, knowing full well that she's pregnant. That's right," he said, seeing my shock. "She's pregnant, and I'm still going to let her die. What does that make me?"
He disappeared. I stood frozen with a look of pure disgust on my face, and a terrible fear, for Blue, and for myself. She was pregnant? Would he really let Blue die? And then another horrifying thought: would I be able to resist the power if it was offered to me? Would I too betray another for eternal life?
Author's note: That's the end to this long and eventful update. Please, I would love to hear feedback. Remember to comment! I especially want to know what you guys think about this chapter.