Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Indigo Spell Chapter Nine

AS JILL HAD SAID, Adrian was more than happy to begin our hunt that afternoon. In fact, when I finally got ahold of him, he offered to pick me up when classes ended, in order to maximize our time. I didn't mind this since it meant I'd get to ride in the Mustang. Admittedly, I would've preferred to drive it myself, but I'd take what I could get. â€Å"When are you going to name the car?† I asked him once we were on the road to Los Angeles. â€Å"It's an inanimate object,† he said. â€Å"Names are for people and pets.† I patted the Mustang's dashboard. â€Å"Don't listen to him.† To Adrian, I said, â€Å"They name boats all the time.† â€Å"I don't really understand that either, but maybe I would if my old man ever fronted me the money for a private yacht.† He shot me a quick, amused look before returning his attention to the road. â€Å"How can someone as cold and logical as you be so obsessed with something as frivolous as this?† I wasn't sure which part bothered me the most – being called cold or obsessed. â€Å"I'm just giving the proper respect to a beautiful machine.† â€Å"You named your car after coffee. That's a sign of respect?† â€Å"The highest1respect,† I said. He made a noise that sounded like a cross between a scoff and a laugh. â€Å"Okay, then. You name it. Whatever you want, I'll go along with.† â€Å"Really?† I asked, a bit startled. True, I'd been badgering him about naming the car, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be the one to wield that sort of power. â€Å"It's a big decision.† â€Å"Life or death,† he said, deadpan. â€Å"Better choose carefully.† â€Å"Yeah, but you're the so-called creative one!† â€Å"Then this'll be good practice for you.† I fell silent for a good part of the drive, struck by the gravity of the dilemma that lay before me. What should the name reflect? The car's sunny yellow color? Sleek lines? Powerful engine? The task was overwhelming. Adrian pulled me out of my thoughts when we began nearing the outer Los Angeles suburbs. â€Å"We're not actually going into the city, are we?† â€Å"Huh?† I'd been waging a mental debate between Summer Wind and Gold Dust. â€Å"Oh, no. We're heading north. Take the next exit.† Mrs. Santos had provided me with two neighborhoods known for their Victorian-style houses. I'd researched them extensively online, even going so far as to look at satellite pictures. I'd finally chosen one that most resembled my vision and crossed my fingers I'd have the same luck as I'd had in finding Marcus's apartment. Surely the universe owed me a few favors. Unfortunately, things didn't look too promising when we finally reached the street I'd been given. It was a peaceful residential area, filled with those same distinctive houses, but nothing that quite matched the one I'd seen in my vision. We drove up and down the street as I scanned each side, hoping maybe I'd missed something. â€Å"Ugh,† I said, slouching back into my seat. No luck. The universe had apparently cut me off. â€Å"We'll have to check the other location, but seriously, it didn't look like a match.† â€Å"Well, it can't hurt to – † Adrian suddenly made an abrupt turn onto a side street we'd nearly driven past. I jerked upright as he clipped the curb. â€Å"What are you doing? Think about your tires!† â€Å"Look.† He made another turn, putting us on a parallel street. Most of it was contemporary California housing . . . but one block had more Victorian houses. I gasped. â€Å"There it is!† Adrian came to a stop on the side of the street opposite from the house of my vision. Everything was there, from the wrapping porch to the hydrangea bush. And now, in the full light of day, I could make out the sign in the front yard: OLD WORLD BED-AND-BREAKFAST. Smaller print identified it as a historic site. â€Å"Well, there we go.† Adrian was clearly very pleased with his find, despite the risk to the car's tires. â€Å"Maybe Jackie's sister is staying here.† â€Å"Odd choice to run nefarious magical activities out of,† I remarked. â€Å"I don't know. Seeing as there aren't any ancient castles in the neighborhood, then why not a bed-and-breakfast?† I took a deep breath. â€Å"Okay, then. Let's go make some inquiries. You sure you can muddle the minds of those who see me?† â€Å"Easy,† he said. â€Å"Easier still if you were wearing your wig.† â€Å"Oh, shoot. I forgot.† I ducked down and retrieved a shoulder-length brown wig that Ms. Terwilliger had supplied me with. Even with Adrian's magic, we wanted to take extra precautions. While it would be good if people were visited by an unmemorable blonde, it'd be better still if they were visited by an unmemorable brunette. I tugged the wig on, hoping no one had seen my transformation. I lifted my head. â€Å"Does it look okay?† Adrian's face showed approval. â€Å"It's cute. You look even brainier, which I didn't think was possible.† We left the car, and I wondered if I wanted to look brainier. A lot of people already thought I was boring. Blond hair might be the only exciting thing I had going for me. Then I thought for a minute about my recent experience scaling a fire escape, breaking and entering, and getting into a fistfight with a fugitive. Not to mention that I was now hunting a powerful evil witch alongside a vampire who could control people's minds. Okay, maybe I wasn't so boring after all. We stepped inside to find a cute little lobby with an ornate desk and a sitting area with wicker furniture. Stuffed rabbits dressed in ball gowns adorned the shelves, and the walls actually had oil paintings of Queen Victoria. The owners apparently took their theme very literally, though I wasn't sure how the rabbits fit in. A girl my age sat at the desk and glanced up in surprise from a magazine. She had short platinum hair and hipster glasses. Tons of necklaces hung around her neck in a gaudy display that went against my minimalist sensibilities. Hot pink plastic beads, a sparkly green star, a gold and diamond locket, a dog tag . . . it was mind-boggling. Even worse, she was chewing gum loudly. â€Å"Hi,† she said. â€Å"Can I help you?† We'd had a whole routine planned, but Adrian immediately went off script. He slung his arm around me. â€Å"Yeah, we're looking for a weekend getaway, and a friend of ours swears this is top-of-the-line romance.† He pulled me closer. â€Å"Our anniversary's coming up. We've been dating for one year, but man, it hardly seems like it.† â€Å"That's for sure,† I said, trying to keep my jaw from dropping. I forced what I hoped was a happy smile. The girl glanced back and forth between us, her expression softening. â€Å"That's so sweet. Congratulations.† â€Å"Can we check the place out?† Adrian asked. â€Å"I mean, if there are any vacant rooms?† â€Å"Sure,† she said, standing up. She spit her gum into a trash can and walked over to us. â€Å"I'm Alicia. My aunt and uncle are the owners.† â€Å"Taylor,† I said, shaking her hand. â€Å"Jet,† said Adrian. I nearly groaned. For inexplicable reasons, â€Å"Jet Steele† was a pseudonym Adrian really liked using. In our rehearsal today, he was supposed to be called Brian. Alicia glanced back and forth between us, a small frown on her face that soon smoothed out. I had to guess it was Adrian's compulsion, confusing her perceptions of us a bit. â€Å"Follow me. We have a few vacant rooms you can see.† With one last puzzled look at us, she turned and headed toward a stairway. â€Å"Isn't this great, sweetie?† Adrian asked loudly as we walked up the creaking stairs. â€Å"I know how much you like rabbits. Didn't you have one when you were little? What was his name, Hopper?† â€Å"Yeah,† I said, resisting the urge to punch him on the arm. Hopper? Really? â€Å"Best rabbit ever.† â€Å"Oh, neat,† said Alicia. â€Å"Then I'll take you to the Bunny Suite first.† The Bunny Suite had more of those well-dressed stuffed rabbits as part of the decor. The quilt covering the king-size bed also had a border of alternating hearts and rabbits stitched in. Several books sat on the mantel above the wood-burning fireplace, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Rabbit, Run. Until that moment, I hadn't realized just how absurdly far a theme could be taken. â€Å"Wow,† said Adrian. He sat down on the bed and tested its bounciness, giving it a nod of approval. â€Å"This is amazing. What do you think, buttercup?† â€Å"I have no words,† I said honestly. He patted the spot beside him. â€Å"Want to try it out?† I answered with a look and felt relieved when he stood up. Adrian and beds stirred up too many conflicting feelings in me. After that, Alicia showed us the Morning Glory Suite, the Velvet Suite, and the London Suite, all of which competed to outdo the others in tackiness. Nonetheless, despite the absurdity of Adrian's ruse, the tour had given me the opportunity to take note of the other labeled doors in the hallway. We followed Alicia back downstairs. â€Å"We don't get to see the Sapphire Suite or the Prince Albert Suite?† I asked. Alicia shook her head. â€Å"Sorry. Those are occupied. I can give you a brochure with some pictures, if you want.† Adrian had his arm around me again. â€Å"Angel cake, wasn't the Prince Albert Suite where Veronica stayed? She's not still here, is she?† â€Å"I'm not sure,† I said. This, at least, was similar to what we'd rehearsed. I glanced over at Alicia. â€Å"You probably can't tell us that, huh? If our friend Veronica's here? She's really pretty, has long dark hair.† â€Å"Oh, yeah,† said Alicia, brightening. â€Å"Of course I remember her. She was in the Velvet Suite, actually, and just checked out yesterday.† I resisted the urge to kick the desk. So close. We'd missed her by a day. Yes, the universe was definitely done giving me breaks. I wouldn't be able to cast the scrying spell until the next full moon, which was a month away. â€Å"Oh, well,† said Adrian, still with that easy smile. â€Å"We'll see her for Christmas anyway. Thanks for your help.† â€Å"Do you want to book a room?† Alicia asked hopefully. â€Å"We'll get back to you on that,† I said. I actually wouldn't have put it past Adrian to book one and then claim it was part of our cover. â€Å"We're checking out a few places. A one-year anniversary isn't something you want to make a hasty decision on.† â€Å"But,† said Adrian, giving her a wink, â€Å"I've got a good feeling about the Bunny Suite.† Alicia walked us out, her eyes widening when she saw the Mustang. â€Å"Wow, nice car.† â€Å"It's an amazing car,† I said. â€Å"That's our baby – well, until we have real ones. Don't you think it needs a name?† asked Adrian. â€Å"I keep trying to convince Taylor.† Once again, I had to fight the urge to punch him. â€Å"Oh, definitely,† said Alicia. â€Å"That kind of car . . . it's like royalty.† â€Å"See?† Adrian shot me a triumphant look. â€Å"And Alicia's an expert on royalty. Didn't you see all those paintings?† â€Å"Thanks for your help,† I told her, steering him forward. â€Å"We'll be in touch.† We got in the car, and after waving goodbye to Alicia, Adrian drove away. I stared blankly ahead. â€Å"Much like with the Bunny Suite, I have no words to describe what just happened. I mean, really? Our anniversary? Jet?† â€Å"I look more like a Jet than a Brian,† he argued. â€Å"Besides, that was a much better story than the one about how we wanted to pay a surprise birthday visit to our ‘friend' Veronica.† â€Å"I don't know about that. But it did give us the information we needed. Which isn't good.† Adrian grew serious. â€Å"Are you sure? Maybe Veronica left the area altogether. Maybe you and the other girls are out of danger.† â€Å"That would be good, I guess . . . except, it just means some other poor girl somewhere else would suffer instead, and we wouldn't have any way to stop it.† From my purse, I pulled out Ms. Terwilliger's list of magic-using girls. â€Å"One of these addresses is in Pasadena. We can at least swing through on our way back and warn her.† The girl we sought was named Wendy Stone. She was a student at Cal Tech, which seemed like an odd vocation for a wannabe witch. Of course, Ms. Terwilliger had said these were girls who weren't actively studying the magical path. They simply possessed magical ability, and I supposed the fact that they had no mentors suggested that they might actually be resistant to their inborn abilities – kind of like me. Wendy lived in an apartment near campus that was easy to find. It was a no-nonsense, primarily student residence, but it seemed like a luxury palace after Marcus's building. As we passed busy students carrying backpacks and talking about classes, I felt a pang of longing that I hadn't experienced in a while. Inheriting the Alchemist mantle meant I couldn't go to college. College was a dream I'd held on to for a long time, though enrolling at Amberwood had helped ease some of my longing. Now, in this buzz of academia, a surge of jealousy sprang up in me. What would it be like to have this kind of life? To have your days solely devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, with no intrigue or life-threatening situations? Even Adrian, with his part-time art classes, was able to have some sort of collegiate experience. â€Å"Don't be so down,† he said when we reached Wendy's floor. â€Å"You might get to college someday.† I looked over at him in wonder. â€Å"How did you know that's what I was thinking?† â€Å"Because I know you,† he said simply, no mockery in his eyes. â€Å"Your aura got sad, and I figured being on a college campus had something to do with it.† I couldn't meet his gaze and turned away. â€Å"I don't like that.† â€Å"What, that someone actually knows what's important in your life?† Yes, that was exactly it. But why did it bother me? Because it was Adrian, I realized. Why was it that a vampire understood me so well? Why not one of my friends? Why not one of my human friends? â€Å"You can be Jet if you want,† I said brusquely, trying to get us back on track and cover up my troubled feelings. After all, this wasn't Sydney's Therapy Hour. â€Å"But we are not posing as a couple again.† â€Å"Are you sure?† he said. His tone was lighter now, turning him back into the Adrian I knew. â€Å"Because I've got a lot more terms of endearment to use. Honey pie. Sugarplum. Bread pudding.† â€Å"Why are they all high-calorie foods?† I asked. I didn't want to encourage him, but the question slipped out before I could stop it. â€Å"And bread pudding isn't really that romantic.† We had reached Wendy's door. â€Å"Do you want me to call you celery stick instead?† he asked. â€Å"It just doesn't inspire the same warm and fuzzy feelings.† â€Å"I want you to call me Sydney.† I knocked on the door. â€Å"Er, Taylor.† A girl with freckles and frizzy red hair answered. Her eyes narrowed warily. â€Å"Yes?† â€Å"We're looking for Wendy Stone,† I said. She scowled. â€Å"Are you from the registrar's office? Because I told them the check's on its way.† â€Å"No.† I lowered my voice and made sure there were no witnesses. â€Å"My name's Taylor. We're here to talk to you about, um, magic.† The transformation was sudden and startling. She went from suspicious and cautious to shocked and outraged. â€Å"No. No. I've told you guys a hundred times I don't want to be involved! I can't believe you'd actually show up at my door to try to convert me to your little coven freak show.† She tried to shut the door, but Adrian managed to stick his foot in and block it. Very manly. â€Å"Wait,† he said. â€Å"That's not what this is about. Your life might be in danger.† Wendy turned incredulous. â€Å"So you guys are threatening me now?† â€Å"No, nothing like that. Please,† I pleaded. â€Å"Just let us talk to you for five minutes inside. Then we'll leave and never bother you again.† Wendy hesitated and then finally gave a nod of resignation. â€Å"Fine. But I'm getting my pepper spray.† Her apartment was neat and tidy, save for a pile of papers and engineering books scattered on the floor. We'd apparently interrupted her homework, which brought back my wistfulness. She made good on her promise to get the pepper spray and then stood before us with crossed arms. â€Å"Talk,† she ordered. I showed her the picture of Veronica. â€Å"Have you ever seen this woman?† â€Å"Nope.† â€Å"Good.† Or was it? Did that mean Veronica might have Wendy tagged as a future hit and was waiting to pounce? â€Å"She's dangerous. I'm not exactly sure how to put it. . . .† â€Å"She finds girls with magic and sucks away their souls,† supplied Adrian helpfully. Wendy did a double take. â€Å"I'm sorry, what did you say?† â€Å"That's not exactly the case,† I said. â€Å"But it's close enough. She seeks out girls with power and takes it for herself.† â€Å"But I don't use magic,† Wendy countered. â€Å"Like I told you, I don't want anything to do with it. There's a witch who lives in Anaheim who's always telling me how much potential I have and how I should be her apprentice. I keep telling her no, and I've never even tried any spells. This soul-sucking lady has no reason to come after me.† Ms. Terwilliger had warned me some of the girls might say this. In fact, she'd said most would have this argument. â€Å"It doesn't matter,† I said. â€Å"That won't stop her.† Wendy looked terrified now, and I didn't blame her. My reaction had been similar. It was frustrating to know the very thing you were trying to get away from might come after you. â€Å"Then what should I do?† she asked. â€Å"Well, avoid her if you can. If she comes to see you . . . I mean, don't let her in. Don't be alone with her.† That was slightly lame advice, and we all knew it. â€Å"If you do see her, I'd tell that witch in Anaheim. In fact . . . I know you don't want to, but if I were you, I'd get in touch with that witch now and try to get her help. Maybe even learn a few defensive spells. I understand you don't want to – believe me, I really do – but it could save your life. Also . . . † I held out the agate charm. â€Å"You should take this and wear it at all times.† Wendy eyed the charm as though it were a poisonous snake. â€Å"Is this some trick to get me to learn magic after all? You come here with this whole act about how if I don't learn, I could get my soul sucked away?† Again, I had to give her points. I would think exactly the same thing. â€Å"We're telling the truth,† I insisted. â€Å"There's no proof I can offer – well, wait. Give me your email address, and I'll send you this article about another girl it happened to.† Wendy looked like she was on the verge of using the pepper spray. â€Å"I think I would've heard if some girl had her soul magically sucked away.† â€Å"It wasn't really obvious to those who don't know about the magical world. Let me send it to you, and then you can make your own decisions. It's the best I can offer.† She reluctantly agreed and wrote down her email address. Adrian stepped forward to take it from her, but he must have moved too quickly because she suddenly thrust the can of pepper spray in his direction. â€Å"Stay back!† she exclaimed. At the exact same moment, I sprang in front of him, terrified he was about to get a face full of pepper spray. I cast the first spell I could think of, a simple one that created a flashy – but harmless – show of colored light. A shielding spell would've been much more useful, but I hadn't practiced any yet. That would have to be rectified, in case our future errands involved more pepper spray. â€Å"You back off,† I warned. As I'd hoped, the brilliant display was terrifying to someone anti-magic like Wendy. She retreated to the far side of her apartment and thankfully didn't use the spray. â€Å"G-get out,† she stammered, eyes full of fear. â€Å"Please take precautions,† I said. I set the charm on the floor. â€Å"And please wear this. I'll email you the article.† â€Å"Get out,† she repeated, making no move toward the charm. As Adrian and I walked out of her building and into the sun, I sighed loudly. I was dismayed enough that I didn't even have the chance to feel down about being at a college. â€Å"That didn't go so well,† I said. He thought about it, then grinned. â€Å"I don't know, Sage. You threw yourself in the line of pepper spray for me. You must like me just a little bit.† â€Å"I – I figured it'd be a shame to ruin your pretty face,† I stammered. In truth, I hadn't been thinking of anything that specific. All I'd known was that Adrian was in danger. Protecting him had been instinctual. â€Å"Still, that spell was kind of badass.† I managed a small smile. â€Å"It was harmless, and that's the thing. Wendy didn't know any better. The reason Veronica goes after these girls is that they don't have any magical protection – and that's exactly why they probably can't stop her. I don't think pepper spray will help, but maybe the article will convince her. Oh, shoot. I'll have to make a fake email address for Taylor.† â€Å"No worries,† said Adrian. â€Å"I already have a Jet Steele one you can use.† This actually made me laugh. â€Å"Of course you do. For all the online dating you do, right?† Adrian didn't comment one way or the other, which bothered me more than it should have. I'd meant it as a joke . . . but was there truth to it? If rumors – and some of my own observations – were true, Adrian had experience with a lot of women. A lot. Thinking of him with others upset me, far more than it should have. How many other girls had he kissed with that same intensity? How many had been in his bed? How many had felt his hands upon their bodies? He couldn't have loved them all. Some – probably most – had been conquests, girls whose faces he forgot the next morning. For all I knew, I was just the ultimate conquest for him, a test for his skills. You probably couldn't find a greater challenge than a human with hang-ups about vampires. And yet, thinking back on all the things said and unsaid between us, I was pretty sure that wasn't true. No matter how crazy this romantic entanglement was, he loved me – or thought he did. I was no superficial conquest. It'd probably be better if I was, though. Without an emotional connection, he'd eventually give up and easily find comfort in someone else's arms. This would probably be a good time for me to suggest he do that anyway. But I stayed silent.

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