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A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms

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A Fistful of Charms

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019
Добавлена: 29.06.2019
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The crackle of cellophane was faint over the music—happy, happy music that didn’t fit my mood at all. “Sorry,” he said, rolling the bag down and shoving it in the back. Licking the orange from his fingers, he started messing with Kist’s CDs. Again. Then he’d fiddle with the glove box, or spend five minutes getting his window at ju-u-u-u-ust the right height, or fuss with his seat belt, or any of the half a dozen things he’d been doing since getting in the van, all the while making a soft commentary that I think he didn’t know I could hear. It had been a long day.

I sighed, adjusting my grip on the wheel. We had been off the interstate for the last 150 miles or so, taking a two-lane road instead of the interstate up to Mackinaw. The pine forest pressed close on either side, making the sun an occasional flash. It was nearing the horizon, and the wind coming in my window was chill, carrying the scent of earth and growing things. It soothed me where the music couldn’t.

The National Forestry sign caught my eye, and I smoothly braked. I had to get out from behind this woman. And if I heard that song one more time, I was going to jam Daddy’s T-Bird down Jenks’s throat. Not to mention “Mr. Bladder the size of a walnut” might need to use the can again, which was why we were on the back roads instead of the faster interstate. Jenks got frantic if he couldn’t pee when he wanted to.

He looked up from rifling through the glove box as I slowed to bump over the wooden bridge spanning a drainage ditch. He’d been through it three times, but who knows? Maybe something had changed since the last time he had arranged the old napkins, registration, insurance, and the broken pencil. I had to remind myself that he was a pixy, not a human, despite what he looked like, and therefore had a pixy’s curiosity.

“A rest stop?” he questioned, his green eyes innocently wide. “What for?”

I didn’t look at him, pulling in between two faded white lines and shifting into park. Lake Huron lay before us, but I was too tired to enjoy it. “To rest.” The music cut off with the engine. Reaching under the seat, my healing knuckles grazed my new laptop when I shifted the seat rearward. Closing my eyes, I took a slow breath and leaned back, my hands still on the wheel. Please get out and take a walk, Jenks.

Jenks was silent. There was the crackle of cellophane as he gathered up the trash. The man never stopped eating. I was going to introduce him to a mighty burger tonight. Maybe three-quarters of a pound of meat would slow him down.

“You want me to drive?” he asked, and I cracked an eyelid, looking askance at him.

Oh, there’s a good idea. If we were stopped, it’d be me getting the points, not him. “Nah,” I said, my hands falling from the wheel and into my lap. “We’re almost there, I just need to move around a little.”

With a wisdom far beyond his apparent age, Jenks ran his eyes over me. His shoulders slumped, and I wondered if he knew he was getting on my nerves. Maybe there was a reason pixies were only four inches tall. “Me too,” he said meekly, opening his door to let in a gust of sunset-cooled wind smelling of pine and water. “Do you have any change for the machine?”

Relieved, I tugged my bag onto my lap and handed him a fiver. I’d have given him more, but he had nowhere to put it. He needed a wallet. And a pair of pants to put it in. I had hustled him out of the church so fast that all he had was his phone, clipped proudly to his elastic waistband, which had since been depressingly silent. We’d been hoping Jax would call again, but no such luck.

“Thanks,” he said, getting out and tripping on the flip-flops I’d bought him at the first gas station we stopped at. The van shifted when he shut the door, and he made his way to a rusted trash can set about fifty feet from the parking lot, chained to a tree. His balance was markedly better, with only the usual trouble most people had walking with slabs of orange plastic attached to their feet.

He dumped the trash and headed for a tree, an alarming intentness to his pace. I took a breath to call out, and he jerked to a stop. Slumped, he scanned the park, making his way to a clapboard restroom instead. Such were the trials in a day of the life of a six-foot-four pixy.

I sighed, watching him slow at the bed of straggly daylilies to talk to the pixies. They buzzed about him in a swirl of gold and silver sparkles, coming from all over the park like fireflies on a mission. Within moments a cloud of glowing dust hovered over him in the darkening air.

I turned at the hush of a car pulling in a few slots down. Three boys like stair steps exploded out, arguing about who switched whose dead batteries in their handheld games. Mom said nothing, wearily popping the trunk and settling it all with a twelve-pack of double A’s. Money was offered by Dad, and the three ran to the vending machines under a rustic shelter, shoving each other to get there first. Jenks caught the smallest before he fell into the flowers. I had a feeling Jenks was more worried about the plants than the boy. I smiled when the couple leaned against the car and watched them, exhaling loudly. I knew the feeling.

My smile slowly faded into melancholy. I had always planned on children, but with a hundred years of fertility facing me, I was in no hurry. My thoughts drifted to Kisten, and I pulled my eyes from the boys at the vending machines.

Witches married outside their species all the time, especially before the Turn. There were perfectly acceptable options: adoption, artificial insemination, borrowing your best friend’s boyfriend for a night. Issues of what was morally right and wrong tended not to matter when you found yourself in love with a man you couldn’t tell you weren’t human. It sort of went with the whole hiding-among-humans-for-the-last-five-thousand-years thing. We weren’t hiding now, but why limit oneself simply because there wasn’t a safety issue anymore? It was way too soon for me to think about kids, but with Kisten, any children would have to be engendered by someone else.

Frustrated, I got out of the van, my body aching from my first day without a pain amulet since my beating. The couple drifted away, talking between themselves. There wouldn’t be any children with Nick either, I reminded myself, so it isn’t like this is anything new.

Painfully stretching to touch my toes, I froze, realizing I had put him in present tense. Damn. This was not a choice between them. Oh God, I thought. Tell me I’m only doing this to help Jenks. That nothing is left in me to rekindle. But the wedge of doubt wiggled itself between me and my logic, settling in to make me feel stupid.

Angry with myself, I did a few more stretches, and then, wondering if the black on my aura had soaked in, I tapped a line and set a circle. My lips curled in revulsion. The shimmering sheet of energy rose black and ugly, the reddish light of sunset coming in from around the trees adding an ominous cast to the black sheen. The gold tint of my aura was entirely lost. Disgusted, I dropped the line, and the circle vanished, leaving me depressed. Even better, Mom and Dad Cleaver called to their kids and, with an unusual hushed haste at their loud questions, jammed everyone into the car to drive away with a little squeak of tire on pavement.

“Yeah,” I muttered, watching their brake lights flash red as they settled into traffic. “Run from the black witch.” I felt like a leper, and leaned against the warm van and crossed my arms over my chest, remembering why my folks always took us to big cities or places like Disney World on vacation. Small towns generally didn’t have much of an Inderland population, and those who did live in them usually played their differences down. Way down.

The snick-slap-snick of Jenks’s flip-flops grew louder as he returned down the cracked sidewalk, the swirl of pixies dropping back one by one until he was alone. Behind him were the outlines of two islands, both so big they looked like the opposite shore. Far off to the left was the bridge that had clued me in that this was where Jax was. It was starting to glitter in the dimming light as night fell. The bridge was huge, even from this distance.

“They haven’t seen Jax,” Jenks said, handing me a candy bar. “But they promise to take him in if they do.”

My eyes widened. “Really?” Pixies were very territorial, even among themselves, so the offer was somewhat of a shock.

He nodded, the half smile glimmering under his mop of hair turning him guileless. “I think I impressed them.”

“Jenks, king of the pixies,” I said, and he laughed. The wonderful sound struck through me, lifting my spirits. It slowly died to leave an unhappy silence. “We’ll find him, Jenks,” I said, touching his shoulder. He jumped, then flashed me a nervous smile. My hand fell away, and I remembered his anger at me for having lied to him. No wonder he didn’t want me to touch him. “I’m sure they’re in Mackinaw,” I added, miserable.

His back to the water and his face empty of emotion, Jenks watched the sporadic traffic.

“Where else could they be?” I tore open my candy bar and took a bite of caramel and chocolate, more for something to do than hunger. The van was radiating heat, and it felt good to lean against the side of the engine. “Jax said they were in Michigan,” I said, chewing. “Big green bridge held up by cables. Lots of fresh water. Fudge. Putt-putt golf. We’ll find him.”

Pain, hard and deep, crossed Jenks’s face. “Jax was the first child Mattie and I were able to keep alive through the winter,” he whispered, and the sweetness left the wad of sugar and nuts in my mouth. “He was so small, I held him in my hands to keep him warm for four months while I slept. I’ve got to find him, Rache.”

Oh God, I thought as I swallowed, wondering if I had ever loved anyone that deeply. “We’ll find him,” I said. Feeling totally inadequate, I reached to touch him, pulling away at the last moment. He realized it, and the silence grew uncomfortable.

“Ready to go?” I said, folding the wrapper over the rest of the candy and reaching for the door handle. “We’re almost there. We’ll get a room, grab something to eat, and then I’m taking you shopping.”

“Shopping?” His thin eyebrows rose, and he walked to the front of the van.

Our doors shut simultaneously, and I buckled myself in, refreshed, and my resolve strengthened. “You don’t think I’m going to be seen with a six-foot piece of dessert dressed in a nasty pair of sweats, do you?”

Jenks brushed the hair from his eyes, his angular face showing a surprising amount of sly amusement. “Some underwear would be nice.”

Snorting, I started the van and put it into reverse, snapping off the CD player before it started up again. “Sorry about that. I had to get out of there.”

“Me too,” he said, surprising me. “And I wasn’t about to wear any of Kisten’s. The guy is nice and all, but he stinks.” He hesitated, plucking at his collar. “Hey, uh, thanks for what you said back there.”

My brow furrowed. Checking both ways, I pulled onto the road. “At the rest stop?”

Sheepish, he shifted his shoulders in embarrassment. “No, in the kitchen about me being the only backup you ever needed.”

“Oh.” I warmed, keeping my eyes on the car ahead of us, a black, salt-rusted Corvette that reminded me of Kisten’s other vehicle. “I meant it, Jenks. I missed you the past five months. And if you don’t come back to the firm, I swear I’m going to leave you like this.”

His panicked expression eased when he saw I was joking. “For the love of Tink, don’t you dare,” he muttered. “I can’t even pix anyone. I sweat now instead of dusting, did you know that? I’ve got water coming off me instead of dust. What the hell can I do with sweat? Rub up against someone and make them puke in disgust? I’ve seen you sweat, and it’s not pretty. I don’t even want to think about sex, two sweaty bodies pressed against each other like that? Disgusting. Talk about birth control—it’s no wonder you only have a handful of kids.”

He shuddered and I smiled. Same old Jenks.

I couldn’t keep myself from stiffening when he began rummaging in the music, and apparently sensing it, he stopped, putting his hands in his lap to stare out the front window at the darkening sky. We had come out of the woods and were starting to see homes and businesses strung out along the road in a thin strip. Behind them was the flat blue of the lake, gray in the fading light.

“Rachel,” he said, his voice soft with regret. “I don’t know if I can come back.”

Alarmed, I looked at him, then the road, then at him again. “What do you mean you don’t know. If it’s about Trent—”

He held up a hand, his brow pinched. “It’s not Trent. I figured out he’s an elf after helping Ceri last night.”

I jerked and the van crossed the yellow line. A horn blew, and I yanked the wheel back. “You figured it out?” I stammered, feeling my heart pound. “Jenks, I wanted to tell you. Really. But I was afraid you would blab, and—”

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” he said, and I could see it was killing him. It would have brought him a huge amount of prestige in the pixy world. “If I do, then it means you were right in not telling me, and you weren’t.”

His voice was hard, and I felt a stab of guilt. “Then why?” I asked, wishing he had brought this up when we were parked, not when I was trying to navigate the outskirts of an unfamiliar town, bright with neon lights.

For a moment he was silent, his young face pensive as he put his thoughts in order. “I’m eighteen,” he finally said. “Do you know how old that is for a pixy? I’m slowing down. You nicked me last fall. Ivy can snag me whenever she wants.”

“Ivy’s got Piscary’s undead reactions,” I said, scared. “And I was lucky. Jenks, you look great. You aren’t old.”
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