A small playground, Portland, Oregon
“Like you know how to fly.”
It was almost midnight Nicole was pretty sure, but the four friends, and Chark, Matt’s half-brother, had made no motions to leave the park. Nicole sat next to Cowell, since they had started dating a few months previously it was hard to sit anywhere else. Dragon’s were a wee bit possessive even if they spent most their time in a spell to look like a human, something she hoped would fade with time.
“I will one day. Watch. I’m going to be the greatest goddamn mage this world has ever seen.” Matt looked so serious, but a bit thin, and drunk for such a grand announcement. He was thin as a teen, and a little short. Taller than Nicole though. Longer hair too, this year, the shaggy brown locks tied back with a hair tie he stole from Hailey.
He was standing balanced on top of the monkey bars, and he jumped, landing in a crouch in front of the rest of the group.
Nicole snorted, and then blushed at the sound. Hailey giggled, but Cowell just covered his mouth, the usual sign of humor from the dragon. Chark seemed more focused on his hands, than his brothers antics. Everyone else was drinking, but he always looked down on any sort of partying. Hailey seemed to be bothering him, but he still let the little fairy sit so close they were almost tangled. Which in turn seemed to be bothering Matt, which gave Nicole an odd twinge of emotion she would rather not examine. She liked her simple relationship with the dragon.
Nicole chugged the beer, a few long draws from the can, and passed it back to Cowell. He took a small sip, and set it down. She had been leaning against him, but he pushed her off so she sat upright.
“You don’t think he can do it?” Chark asked a tight strand in his thready high voice. He had made it clear several times that he was not a fan of leprechauns, fairy’s, or little folk in general. That never seemed to slow him down, his hand already disappeared into Hailey’s shirt, for most things, but lately he seemed to have a real problem with Nicole.
“No, I just think he needs to you know, practice magic, to do it,” she said a bit awkwardly. Chark kept his eyes on her, and the anger she saw there sent a bolt of fear through her. A glance at Matt, to see if he caught the look.
“You kidding?” the young mage asked, a peaceful smile on his face. “Nice is my number one fan. She’s just always on me to study.”
“You are failing every class,” Cowell said. For some reason the dragon chose then to try to pull her back, but she pushed his arm off.
“Not true, you can’t fail if you don’t show,” Matt said. “Although I was there yesterday, and Friday.”
“Wasn’t yesterday Sunday?” Nicole asked assuming he was joking, or that he broke in again. Matt, and rules were not always close friends.
“Monday,” Hailey said. Matt looked a little confused, but as he opened his mouth he was cut off.
“Don’t need all that shit anyway bro,” Chark said, standing too. He passed Matt another beer.
“Shall we show them?” Matt asked, with a wink at the assembled friends.
“What?” Hailey asked, scooting forward. The little plant fairy had a taste for bad boys, and the two Naughtwoods, were about as off-limits as she could get. Chark in particular had caught her eye tonight with his black hair, and large spaced earrings. Matt was all she talked about last week though. Fairies were fickle, at best, in romantic matters.
“Why do we fall?” Matt asked dramatically.
“So we can rise?” Nicole asked back.
“And rise we shall.” Chark, his eyes on her.
The two brothers held their arms at their side, as they rose a few feet into the air.
“Holy fuck.” Nicole earned herself a look from Cowell.
The tables were in the yard.
Pa was too, out back talking to Matt while the two of them pretended they were not getting high.
They were supposed to have pizza, and beer, but Chark, and Cowell were already standing by the portal. Chark was in a rush apparently uncomfortable in the leprechauns home.
The ancient black stones had been in her family since before anyone could remember. Now humming with energy, as the Naughtwoods prepared for the journey of a lifetime. Other World. The land of her ancestors. And Cowell’s too, but he was not going either.
He was enrolling in medical school, and she was….
Nothing. Just watching Matt, and Cowell walk off into real life. Waiting, she guessed. To see what would happen. Looking for her path.
She tried not to sigh, and walked toward Cowell.
“Just nothing I would be proud of,” Chark was saying quietly.
“Well of course, but we would hardly…” Cowell stopped. She knew what it was, but right now she could care less if being a leprechaun was not good enough for some people. Also part of her really did not want to know how he would have finished the sentence.
“He done smoking with your dad?” Chark asked.
“They aren’t….?” Hailey asked, and Chark rolled his eyes. She never seemed to mind drinking, but plant fairies tended to be really touchy about plants, and burning them, or consuming them in raw states. Nicole always meant to ask for an explanation, but right now the little fairy was busy dabbing at her eyes, and trying to kiss Chark’s cheek every so often.
“No, they’re just having a chat.” Cowell -tsked-, at the white lie, but she ignored it.
“Why is my brother so friendly with your dad?” Chark asked eyes on Cowell.
“Pa just has people he likes.” It was not really a lie. Pa did like Matt, and he had a lot of chances to get to know the young mage better. Occasionally, over the last few months, Matt was found sleeping on the little mattress in the shed in back. More mornings than not recently he, and her brother Nicky, were laughing at the breakfast table when she got downstairs. She did not really want to lie to Cowell about it, but he never left her alone around Matt anymore.
She regretted it, but the idea of him showing up to escort her to breakfast made her feel a bit sick. Another part of the regret was that he had a point, in a weird way.
Matt leaving was worse than she had ever imagined. Things, feelings she had just thought were impulses, and occasional fantasies were bubbling. Deeper, and thicker than she imagined, the brew had boiled over, leaving her feeling dirty a lot of the time, and just steamy the rest.
She realized he was there now, and her dad. They had walked in quietly, a genuine tear on the corner of her pa’s one eye. No way to tell if it was from emotion, or the smoking, but the old man gave the young mage a hug, and even offered Chark a handshake.
Matt’s cold look seemed to force his brother to take pa’s hand in a quick shake.
She tried to focus, but blood was rushing in her ears. Cowell put his hand on her shoulder, and she resisted the urge to slap it off. She hated when he loomed over her. The hand brought her back to reality though, and she heard the end of Matt’s joke, was able to laugh a little.
“See you guys around,” he said. Honey, she realized. His voice was that sweet, and smooth. “I’ll miss everyone.”
“You have to go?” Hailey asked, bouncing on her heels. She was here for Chark, she claimed, but lately his brother had been in her sights again too.
“Not much for me here.” His eyes were on her shoulder, on Cowell’s hand. Nicole gulped.
“Good luck,” Cowell said, and tapped her shoulder.
“I’ll miss you.” She had not planned on speaking at all. Even to her it sounded… Demure. Feminine. She was not saying ‘bye’ to a friend, she was making a promise to a love. Tears started streaking her face. Panic set into his, and he was gone, diving into the silver light.
“Holy shit.” Nicky, master of the wrong thing to say, had just been beaten.
“I tried you fucking cold hearted prick.” Tears streaked her face, as she screamed it.
“I didn’t do anything,” Cowell said, a little laugh at her ‘overreaction’. Everything was an overreaction on her end.
“It’s fucking Tuesday.”
“So? I went to work Sunday, and woke up Tuesday,” she said. He was holding a latte he had brought with him. It was the first time he had ever remembered vanilla, and still something felt off, or maybe the gesture had made it worse. “That doesn’t seem fucked up to you?” Part of her wanted to knock the paper cup to the ground, but she wanted to hear what he had to say.
“You had a hard day yesterday.” Doubts had been dancing at the edge of her mind, shadows playing in headlights. The high beams were clicked on, as the pieces fell into place. “You just seemed tired, and we were having an issue.”
“An issue?!” she shouted, and grabbed the cup. It exploded brilliantly over him, spirits of steam rising into the cold air. “Did I fucking break up with you?”
“No, no,” he said, wiping coffee from his eyes. “Just an argument.”
“Give it all back. The whole day. Now!” Her mind changed again, as he stepped closer, too eager, far too happy to comply. “No, stop, stay back.” She had mace in her purse, but Cowell was a dragon. She might as well just hit him with the handbag.
“No, it’s fine, I just thought you’d want to forget a bad day.” He kept moving closer, and she kept backing up.
Finally she hit the small car.
“Cowell please, I just want to stop.”
His mind was cold as his hands.
11 Days Later…
“Seriously, it doesn’t feel like Sunday.”
25 Days Later…
“I’ve been writing Tuesday all day.”
31 Days Later….
“I wasn’t scheduled Friday…. No, sorry, I thought it was…… Ten minutes…..”
“Please, I just want it to stop.”
57 Day Later….
“Cowell.” Ice was already in her tone. She had just gotten out of her car at the park, and stood by the door. He stood twenty feet away, damned cup in his hand like a dozen times before.
“Hey Nice, how has your day been?”
“I don’t know, she said, laughing a little bit. “I think it’s been bad, but they’ve kind of been running together for a long, long time.” She nodded afterward, her brow drawn tight.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked walking toward her.
“No,” she said, and backed up a little. Toward her open back window. “I think you’ve done enough.” She held up a little silver tape recorder.
“What is that?” A step back now showed it was a rhetorical question.
She hit play, and let her own voice explain. “If you’re hearing this, it worked again. He must have caught on somewhere. Maybe because we see the notes? Just leave the recorder in your purse. Don’t think about it while he touches you…. Goddamnit, N. I’m sorry about this, but if you’re hearing this, it worked again. Another day he stole. Just keep the recorder hidden. He can’t know about it if we don’t see it….. N. Sorry again. We just need a plan, or something. If he were here he could help. I can’t tell anyone, I never figure it out quick enough. He already knows it’s coming before I do. We need a new plan…. Sorry, N. Tried to run, but he must have caught us somewhere. We’ll do this, girl, just keep trying…. Hey, gonna try again. Soon, we’ll get through this soon. It can always get better…..Sorry, N. Christmas in two weeks, and we’re still not making it. I don’t know what it is, but we keep finding the notes, and putting it together, but I think we never find the tape, until just before some of the meetings. New plan……” It continued on, but that was all he needed to hear. Six months on this tape alone. She found written references to another, and to other messages.
A scar, on the bottom her foot that said ‘tape’. Another smaller arrow on her thigh, and an even smaller one on her ankle. Barely visible, unless you knew what you were looking for. She had left herself a trail through her life. A path to get it back. The last piece was the tattoo. This morning, and still raw. She had insisted the artist use wide gauge needles, and go over a lot of the space twice. It was a grueling experience, and the whole time she had listened to the tape. Nothing would ever take another day from her, the tattoo was her constant reminder of that goal.
“Nice, listen I just….”
“What? Didn’t think mind-fucking-raping-fucking-me was a fucking problem?!” She would have hit him, if she could bring herself to move closer. He took another step.
“You’re acting insane.”
“I’m insane?” she asked, with a loud laugh. “I’m insane? How many times have I broken up with you? How long have you been in my fucking head? Am I even me anymore, Cowell?”
“It’s not like that,” he said, still calm. Still so relaxed. Just another Tuesday, as he pulled out bits of her life.
“We’re breaking up, Cowell. I don’t want to talk about it. Just go.”
“Do I get a goodbye kiss?”
That was on the tape too.
“You’re too close, Cowell. Way too close.”
He stepped closer still, one hand on her shoulder, so focused on breaking her mind that he never saw his goodbye kiss coming. She had set it on the backseat, standing with the handle skyward for an easy grab. A late attempt at a dodge, had left the little axe slicing through his scalp, between his eyes, and down to his chin.
She was not sure why she had chosen the hatchet, but it was in her trunk, the tape told her. She had followed the clues to the end this time.
“You ever get that close again, you’ll need a portal to find your dick.”
He was on all fours, blood raining from the wound. Dragons were tough though, he’d probably survive being run over afterward too.
Which was tempting, but she just never wanted to see him again right now. She left the lot, and drove for a while, wondering if anyone would call the cops. Wondering if she really cared today.
She looked in the rearview mirror when she stopped at a light, angled down so she could see her arm. Pulling the sleeve up, and the white bandage back, she examined her reminder. Black, and red ink, with a single green leaf. A rose, ‘Better Life’ cutting through the flower.
Her path complete she got her own latte.
Thanks for reading.