Monday, February 27, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 33: Heat Haze

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Kay’s night shift went uneventfully, and her eyelids were drooping by the time Nadia woke up. Part of her wanted to make the case for letting both of them get some sleep the next night, but she knew that with each passing night, the likelihood of Maywitch finding them increased.

They each showered and ate breakfast before posting up with books in front of the security monitors. Occasionally, one of them would glance up as a bird or other creature would skitter through the air, sending shadows across a window or a dark spot across a grainy camera feed. The stress of their circumstances combined with inadequate sleep made Kay increasingly jumpy as the afternoon wore on, and she began to wonder how much more she could take.


Nadia spoke less than ten words the whole day, but Kay chalked it up to nerves and lack of sleep. As dinnertime approached, Kay set The Sun Also Rises to one side and crossed to the kitchen. “You should take a nap now, if you plan on taking first shift tonight,” she said. “What do you want for dinner?”

Nadia set her own book down and crossed to the basement door, keeping her face angled toward the floor. “I saw some black beans down there yesterday,” she said. “I’ll get them.”

Her tone was strained and she walked quickly, as if hurrying to get out of the heat of the first floor. Kay watched the basement door swing closed before pulling a bottle of water out of the fridge and taking a long drink.

The whole scenario had her on edge, but she could only hope it wasn’t having the same effect on cool, level-headed Nadia. When several minutes passed and Nadia still hadn’t emerged from the basement, Kay set the water bottle down and took a few cautious steps toward the basement stairs.

The basement door swung open and Nadia stepped through, nearly colliding with Kay. Kay opened her mouth to say something, but stopped as Nadia stepped around her and set the can of beans on the counter.

“Um, everything okay?” Kay said after a moment.

Nadia paused, and her shoulders seemed to shake - or maybe it was just a trick of the light, Kay thought as Nadia turned halfway. “I’m just tired,” Nadia said over her shoulder.

“Eat something and then take a nap.”

“As if,” Nadia spat, shaking her head. “I could barely sleep last night because it’s so goddamn hot in this house even in the middle of the night, and with Gardner - I’m so fucking worried that I might as well just try to stay awake—”

Instinctively, Kay took a hesitant step closer and held out her arms. To her surprise, Nadia rushed into them before wrapping her own arms around Kay’s waist. “I hate this! I just hate not knowing what will happen next. I just want it to be over already,” Nadia yelled, her voice cracking.

“I know,” Kay said, not knowing how else to comfort her without lying. “I know. Eventually the Board will intervene and get things back the way they should be, right? And maybe they’ll keep George from making things worse.”

She could feel tears soaking into the strap of her tank top. Nadia sniffled loudly and pulled away, shaking her head. “I’m not holding my breath,” she said. “The Board has never thought very highly of Gardner. They’ll side with George any day. God, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

Kay sighed. Her frustration at the situation had been mounting; if Nadia was beginning to lose hope, then things were officially bad. Barely thirty-six hours earlier, Nadia had been worried but calm, and Kay could only guess that the quiet of the beachhouse had given Nadia ample time to mentally run through every possible scenario.

“C’mon, let’s watch the ocean or something,” Kay said. “Surely we can open one of the windows that faces the beach, right? That’ll give us something new to do.”

Nadia wiped her eyes with both hands. “I mean, we can, but that doesn’t mean we should.”

“It’ll help us feel a little less stir-crazy, I think. Besides, no one’s gonna be spying on us from the beach.”

“True,” Nadia said. “They’d be using the trees for cover. I like your thinking.”

Of course Nadia would still be focusing on safety, Kay thought as she walked toward the corner of the couch closest to a window. She bent over and peered through the blinds for a long moment, surveying the shrub-spotted sands for any signs of danger.
She raised the blinds about six inches and waved toward the blue-lined horizon before them. “Look okay?”

Nadia claimed the corner of the couch and squinted out the window for a long moment. “Looks safe to me,” she murmured. “I’m a little surprised that there’s literally no one out there.”

“I guess it’s kinda the off-season now that school has started, huh?”

“It’s still suspicious,” Nadia said. She sat back against the armrest and drew her knees to her chest, as if trying to minimize the space she occupied.

Kay waited a moment before sitting next to her. “How many people even live on this island, let alone visit it during the off-season?”

“Fair question.” Nadia sighed and tilted her head back, sending her sweat-soaked hair falling back behind her ears. “Sorry for being cranky. I’m PMSing a little.”

Kay sighed. “That explains it. I know how you get.”

“Well, thanks,” Nadia muttered as she crossed her legs. “I thought things would get better with being sterilized, but the docs said that it probably messed up my hormones in some other ways.”

“That makes sense.” Kay leaned sideways against the back of the couch, turning her head just far enough to watch out the window.

Nadia fell silent, her gaze fixed on the two feet of horizon visible out the window, and they sat quietly for a long time. The oppressive heat made Kay shift in her seat from time to time, trying to mitigate the discomfort from the sweat running down her back.

Eventually, Nadia shifted as well, rotating so that her legs and torso faced Kay. “Kay?”

“Hm?”

“I’m glad you didn’t quit.”

Kay turned to face her fully. “Huh?”

“I’m glad—” Nadia’s face broke into a smile as she tore her gaze from the window and looked at Kay instead. “I’m glad you didn’t try to defect or anything. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did, considering what a mess everything has been, but…” 

She looked out the window and shrugged.

“I’m glad I stayed,” Kay said. “I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.”

“Really?”

“I mean—” Kay shrugged. “Everything’s a mess, and I don’t want it to be this way, but I’d rather be here than not here. I’m actually doing something here.”

“That’s exactly how I feel. I’d rather be here, even though it sucks. I - I mean, how would I feel if I was just sitting at home, innocently watching the world begin to burn?” Nadia stared at her toes as her hair fell into her face. “Especially - I mean, we’ve seen how evil and awful humans can be, right? I don’t want to sit there waiting for things to happen. I won’t wait quietly for things to happen to me.”

“You’d rather root out the problem,” Kay said.

“Exactly.”

Their eyes met, and in a fleeting instant, Kay saw herself mirrored in Nadia’s eyes. Two different people, thrown onto the same path - not just by their circumstances, but by past trauma and disillusionment. They had just chosen different paths and come to different conclusions for a while, Kay thought. She had fled the magical world. Nadia had faced it head-on.

More importantly, though, they were now looking at each other with the same wonder - and a hint of wide-eyed longing.

Kay felt her face flush as she turned to stare at the ocean again. That wasn’t good. It was as if all of the admiration she had for Nadia’s various traits had suddenly blossomed into… something else.

Maybe it wasn’t so sudden, though. After all, who drew the lines between love, trust, friendship and lust?

Scratch that last one, she thought as Nadia wiped her eyes again. “You got to go to Corpus Christi a few times when we were growing up, right?” Nadia said.

“Yeah, but the beaches there had nothing on this. Wish we could enjoy this properly, though,” Kay replied.

Nadia stared down at her toes again, and Kay could sense her distress. “Nadia,” she continued, leaning over to get a better look at Nadia. “Hey. This isn’t like you--”

“Sorry,” Nadia said, her voice choked with tears, “I know it’s not. It’s stupid, okay?”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is!”

“Do…” Kay trailed off. Seeing Nadia with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes wasn’t just baffling - it was outright alarming. “I dunno, do you want another hug?”

Nadia snorted as she wiped her eyes. “You sound so reluctant.”

“What?”

Nadia paused, her right hand hovering by her face before pressing over her lips. Her eyes slammed shut as she lowered her head, but Kay saw more tears trickle out and glimmer in the mid-evening sun.

Kay slid toward her and held out her arms, and Nadia choked back a sob as she rested her head on Kay’s shoulder. For a moment, Kay felt anger flare up inside her - not at Nadia, or even Nina, but at Gardner. Their Director had thrown them into a truly unpredictable mess, and the most likely outcomes seemed to end badly for both of the young mages.

Then again, Kay thought, maybe this was still the scenario with the highest likelihood of success, if ‘success’ was simply defined as keeping the Grimoire away from Nina.
She put that idea aside as she glanced down at Nadia, who was now trembling slightly. She felt the anger fade and be replaced by concern bordering on fear. “We’ll be fine. We’ve been through all sorts of stupid shit since we were kids, right? If anyone can handle this, it’s us,” she said.

Nadia nodded and sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she sat upright. “I know you’re right,” she murmured. “It’s just a lot of things on top of that, too, I guess. I’m pissed off at how you got roped into this - into everything with Maywitch! This isn’t how I wanted us to be reunited!”

“Reunited?”

“I didn’t really say this before, but I missed you after we moved. It was kinda awful that you got dragged into things at Maywitch, but selfishly, I was…” She trailed off and lowered her gaze.

“I guess I sorta get it,” Kay said. “Kinda how like… I’m sorry you got dragged into this, too, but it’s still better than being alone. And if Maywitch has been kinda shitty to me, it’s better to be reunited like this than not at all, right?”

“I don’t expect you to feel the same way as me…” Nadia leaned back, and Kay could finally see that her cheeks had flushed scarlet.

“What, about being kinda glad that I’m at Maywitch?”

Nadia hesitated for a long moment, and Kay felt her heart skip several beats. “Forget it,” Nadia said, wiping her eyes. “I’m fine. I promise.”

“Go get a tissue and drink some water or something,” Kay said with a sigh. “I’m gonna go grab that copy of The Hobbit I saw in the closet, and then you should nap, for real - unless you wanna eat first.”

“I’m not hungry,” Nadia said, sniffling as she rose and walked toward the hallway bathroom. “Too nervous to eat, I guess.”

“Will you make sure to eat something during your guard shift, then?”

Nadia slowed, then stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “Don’t worry so much,” she murmured, the corners of her lips turning up only slightly.

Kay considered arguing, but changed her mind as Nadia disappeared into the bathroom. She wiped her forehead as she stood and went into the bedroom, rummaging in the closet for a moment before realizing that she had already grabbed the book and set it on the kitchen counter earlier in the day.

She sighed as she headed back to the living room. Apparently her recent interactions with Nadia had really scrambled her brain.

As she stepped into the doorframe, she collided with Nadia, who took a shuffling half-step backward. “Sorry,” Kay murmured as she glanced at the ground.

Nadia opened her mouth to reply, closed it again, and folded her hands in front of her. Kay waited for her to move, but she didn’t. Nadia’s eyes darted from Kay to the floor to the living room, her face flushing deep red.

Kay could feel her own pulse pounding in her ears. She fought back the urge to reach for Nadia again, but somehow, she couldn’t quite find the strength to move away, either. She opened her mouth to speak, but whatever she was going to say got stuck in her throat.

Nadia looked up, her deep brown eyes wide and full of deep amber reflections. It was as if she was surprised - or anticipating something.

Kay took a shallow breath, but even that felt unwise, in case it somehow disturbed the peace and outright bliss of the moment. It felt like the coursing waves of heat that used to flow from her fingertips had migrated to her chest instead. Sweat trickled down her back, and she realized that their proximity in such hot and humid weather was probably not a great idea.

So why had neither one of them moved away yet? Better yet, why did they keep drawing near to each other like this?

Nadia slowly reached a hand up to Kay’s face. There was a faint tremble in her fingertips, but she held firm, her eyes narrowing slightly as if certain of something.

In response, Kay closed her eyes.

She didn’t have to wait long. Warm lips touched hers, accompanied by a hint of hot breath tickling her nose. She opened her eyes for a split second to confirm that she wasn’t imagining things, and sure enough, Nadia’s damp eyelashes were inches from her own, laying in thin black lines above dark tan skin.

For a moment, Kay panicked. There was no undoing this. Everything - their childhood friendship; their fights; their time apart; their comradeship - had just been struck by yet another round of hurricane-force winds.

Before she could stop herself, her fingers rose and entwined themselves in the short hair at the nape of Nadia’s neck. Nadia let out a short, almost unnoticeable moan of surprise before leaning even closer.

The sensation was intoxicating and electrifying - and terrifying, in a way. After what felt like twenty minutes, they pulled apart for barely a second, scanning each other’s faces with half-lidded eyes. Nadia nudged Kay backward before planting another, deeper kiss on her lips.

“You’re shaking,” Nadia whispered when she pulled away again.

“So are you.”

“Why?”

Kay half-sighed, half-laughed as she glanced away. “What kind of question is that? Anticipation, maybe?”

Nadia ran a hand up Kay’s arm, ignoring the thin sheen of sweat present, and leaned in for another kiss. This time, though, her lips connected with Kay’s earlobe, and teeth scratched over sensitive skin for a split second before Kay let out a gasp.
“Anticipation for what?” Nadia whispered.

The nervousness Kay felt faded and was replaced by raw need. She laced her fingers through Nadia’s and gently pulled her toward the bed. “You, I guess,” she whispered before tilting Nadia’s head back to kiss her.

Boredom, desperation, lust - whatever was happening underneath the surface, she would worry about it later.
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Holly could feel her hand shaking as she turned the key in her bedroom door. There was little point in locking it, she knew, but it was a small comfort nonetheless. She stuffed the key in her pocket and took off down the hall toward the garage.

It took every ounce of willpower to keep putting one foot in front of the other. As she passed by Tierra’s bedroom door, she paused and prayed for forgiveness. She watched the closed bedroom door for a minute, then turned away as tears welled up in her eyes.

She would never have a shot with Tierra after this. Maybe she was just rebounding and she’d be over it in a few days, but the aching, crushing pain in her heart was almost unbearable. She wanted to bang on Tierra’s door, explain the whole situation, and then run away with her - or just stay there at the base. Either one was better than this.

But that could backfire horribly. There was a crush there, sure, but there was no trust. Tierra could turn around and destroy Holly’s life, if she wanted to.

Holly took a step toward the garage, then another, and tried to tune out her emotions as she mentally reviewed the mission plan. She soon found herself in front of the plain black sedan she had been assigned, and she glanced around the silent garage before unlocking it with the keys she had been given. She pulled her orders from Wojtec out of her pocket and set them on the passenger seat, knowing she would need to show them to security when she got to the main gate.

She took a deep breath as she climbed in, shut the door, and shoved the keys into the ignition. There was no turning back once she got out of the main gate. The thought gave her pause, but she turned the car on and drove it toward the garage exit before she could dwell on it any further.

The chess board had been overturned - and though they would eventually get to pick up the pieces, there was no telling how many would be lost in the chaos. Sitting on the sidelines wouldn’t save anyone. She had no options left but to fight.  
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