“How long have you been standing there?”
Brie finally notices me hovering beside her, green tea in one hand and BLT in the other.
“About an hour,” I lie and she rolls her eyes. I’ve only been standing there for a few minutes, watching her stare distractedly out the large front window of the cafe. I wasn’t originally planning on teasing her, I just couldn’t think of anything to say. Like meeting with a stranger, I feel awkward. Intimidated.
I sit on the cold metal seat across from her, looking for any sign that something has changed. She looks the same as usual: impeccably dressed in pleated pants and a sleeveless navy blouse, her long brown hair braided over her shoulder and her makeup almost professionally subtle. Perfectly put together despite the night I know she’s had. And yet I can’t help feeling that there’s something starkly different about the person on the other side of the table. It is reminiscent of what I felt staring in the mirror this morning.
“That was some crazy shit last night. How much do you remember?” Brie asks. She seems to be regarding me with the same scrutiny I’ve been affording her.
I hesitate. Is she asking because she doesn’t remember? They wouldn’t erase Brie’s memory, would they? After the sacrifice she made to save Grant? No, that would be too cruel. “Pretty much everything, I think. You?”
“Yeah. So, has anyone talked to you about any of it? I mean… how much do you know?”
“Well I visited the officer from last night and he gave me a quick overview. So, I’m in on the secret, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
She nods and sinks back into her chair, making me realize how tense she had been only a moment before. “Good. I don’t know who else I could have talked to. I mean there’s Grant, but he’s kinda part of the problem.”
“Did you know? Before all of this?” I ask.
Brie shakes her head. “No,” she says, “I didn’t have a clue. He told me everything last night. Can you believe he actually cheated his way into school? But once he was spending so much time around us, making friends and stuff outside of his crazy family, he changed. Distanced himself from them. Of course they were pissed about it. He was breaking up with me, letting me move away because he thought I’d be safer…”
“And you’re sure that’s true?” It is a blunt question, but Brie and I haven’t stayed friends for over a decade by pulling our punches.
“I’m not naive, Selene. What happened to him… he wasn’t even supposed to be there. Someone tipped him off that there might be trouble and he came to protect me,” her tone is fierce and I see that same fierceness in her eyes. I drop my gaze from hers and smile. It’s good to know the old Brie is still in there. She continues, “You both saved my life. I don’t know how you did it.”
“According to my new friend at the police department, I had help.”
“Yeah, we talked to Harvey too, after he… helped… Grant,” she casts a suspicious glance at the surrounding tables, as if anyone could be listening, “He’s one of the people Grant approached back when he decided to leave his family, so they knew each other. He asked a lot of questions about you.”
Here it comes.
“He’s pretty cute,” she says and her smile is positively devious.
“Yep. He’s also some sort of magic-wielding keeper of the peace.”
“Hey, Grant… well… Grant too you know. With the… magic… stuff. And Harvey saved Grant’s life.” Every single time a mildly attractive man comes within a foot of me, Brie is all over the entire situation.
“We just survived a supernatural attack and you’re trying to set me up on a date?” I sound surprised, but inside I’m not so much. Brie lives for romance – other people’s as much, if not more than, her own.
“Would you rather me dwell on the fact that a bunch of my friends are dead or injured because I threw that stupid party? Because my boyfriend couldn’t just be a normal guy?” Her stare is painful – all ice and daggers – until she changes the subject, “Or maybe you’re interested in that other guy. The one you were asking about last night? What was up with that?”
“How in the hell do you remember that? I even forgot about it! Your priorities are fucked up.” I’m genuinely impressed with her sheer determination. I shrug before answering, “It was just a guy that made some passes at me. I didn’t recognize him. Longish red hair. Big scar on his lower lip.”
“I know who you’re talking about. Police boy is cuter.”
“And I never said I was interested in either of them. Who is he?”
“I don’t remember his name. He came with Jason, I think. I’d ask him, but… he’s dead,” her voice wavers, almost breaking, and she looks out the window again.
Jason. Yagher had mentioned a Jason – Yohannes’ other target. If the red-haired guy came to the party with him, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s responsible for the protection spell.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” I say, and my eyes drift out the window after hers.
We spend most of our lunch date trying to regain a sense of normalcy, dwelling on nostalgia mostly, though she occasionally finds an opportunity to tease me about Yagher. She blames Wynn for my lack of interest in dating and the debate that follows is both heated and well-rehearsed. We almost convince ourselves that nothing has changed until it’s time for her to check on Grant’s surgery.
I think about Yagher on the subway ride home – how kind he seems, and understanding. I remember his offer for me to call him, and I wonder if I should tell him about the stranger from the party. About the kiss. After all, he did say skin mages are singularly dangerous. But as much as I like him, as much as I want to trust him, I feel like I need to hear the red-head’s story first. The feeling isn’t unlike the one that made me investigate at the party. The one that got me into this mess. The one that saved Brie’s life.
When I arrive at my station and climb the stairs, my phone regains its signal and vibrates to notify me that I’ve missed some messages . There’s one from Brie telling me they had to take Grant’s arm at the elbow, but that he’s doing really well. The other is a message from a number I don’t recognize. It reads:
forgot to tell you that you might start seeing some things now you know about us
call if you need to
What the hell does that mean? I’m usually the last to notice when someone’s interested, but Yagher has asked me to contact him a lot. I’m not going to lie, despite everything, it’s kind of exciting.
I text him back:
Thx. What kind of things?
He still hasn’t answered by the time I get home. A fact I’m worrying about way too much. I shake my head and pop my phone into the back pocket of my shorts before heading to the stairwell. I walk up the three flights from the first floor to the fourth and pause at the door. There’s a gold number three hanging there. I glance down the stairs, certain that this should be the fourth floor. I consider just forgetting about it and heading up another flight, but instead I go down a floor. The stairwell door holds another three, identical to the one above. I try to open the door, but it’s locked.
Maybe they hung the wrong number on our floor by accident? Wouldn’t I have noticed by now?
I run back upstairs, and open the door there. All of the door numbers are in the 300’s, definitely the floor below mine. I go up one more floor where the door is labelled with a golden four and, sure enough, it leads to my own hallway.
“Okay… that’s weird,” I say out loud. At least it explains why I was so confused in the elevator last night. Hmm… the elevator…
I walk down the hall until I reach the sliding metal doors and press the down button. After a moment, the doors open with a loud ding. Luckily, no one else is inside. I enter and begin examining the buttons on the panel. There are two number threes and all successive numbers are shifted one button ahead. Last night, I must have only glanced and pressed the button where I assumed the four should have been. But how had I not noticed the extra number before now? I’m pretty sure I know the answer and my heart pounds as I press the first three on the panel.
The doors open. At first, I can’t accept what I’m looking at. My brain strives to make sense of the scene before me: There is an expansive green field where I expect the hallway to be. The sun is beating down from a cloudless blue sky and I can feel the heat of it on my skin. Several feet away yellow corn stalks dance in the breeze and an old wooden barn sits crookedly on my right. Sudden movement draws my attention and I panic when I see a large dog bounding freely through the fields towards me. I am ready to press the button to close the elevator doors, images of the yellow-eyed monster from last night fresh in my mind.
The dog halts no more than two feet in front of me, tail wagging, and then rolls on the ground playfully. My hand drops from the panel. The dog stands up again and I can see that it is an Irish Setter with a beautiful, shining coat of reddish brown fur. It bounds off again, seemingly bored with its new visitor.
On a whimsical impulse, I turn to look at the mirrored panel at the back of the elevator box. I look back and forth several times. In the mirror I can’t see a field, but I also can’t see anything resembling the other hallways. The reflection shows the entirety of the third floor – no hallway, no individual apartments. There are support columns but almost no dividing walls or rooms to speak of. There is furniture, but it is scarce and unremarkable; a bed is tucked away in one corner, a bookshelf and rocking chair in another. A small table with two chairs sits a few feet away from a large oven and fridge. The blinds and curtains at each window are the same boring brown colour. There is no decor anywhere. As far as I can tell no one is at home, except for a dog. It is an Irish Setter, its fur dulled and greying around the muzzle, laying on a worn rug by the chair.
I turn back to look at the field just as the elevator doors close. They open again at the main floor and an older woman with a small cart full of groceries stands to the side, waiting.
“Getting off dear?” she asks gently.
I inhale sharply, and shake my head. I make room for her to join me in the small space and ask her floor number. I press eleven for her and four for myself. If she notices that we pass an extra floor on our way, she doesn’t say anything.
When I get to my apartment I text Yagher: