“Dammit, Weaver! Turn that stupid thing down already!”
Weaver poked his head out of his room. “What’d you say?” he called over the horrific music. “So sorry, I’m afraid I just can’t hear you!” The polite words were delivered through Weaver’s familiar mocking yellow-toothed grin—the one that always accompanied a healthy portion of teasing. He wasn’t fooling me. He’d heard me fine, and I was not in the mood to be taunted.
I stomped up the stairs, letting the trapdoor slam behind me. I was definitely ready to break his head, though maybe I’d go easy on him and just break the radio. Weaver had been particularly inconsiderate with his noise habits in the last few days, and maybe he just wanted my attention, but it wasn’t fair to distract me when I was busy trying to concentrate downstairs. Especially when he knew we needed quiet to do our work. I’d told him a billion times and so had Adele. Weaver’s self-satisfied smirk beckoned me from the top of the stairs, and I heeded its call all too willingly.
I readied myself to kick that smile into tomorrow, but . . . he had to be expecting that. I couldn’t let him think I was that predictable; it went against all the rules of being a good prankster. The enemy must never suspect an attack. As I approached him, my thoughts of responsibility faded into the background of my mind. Now what mattered was teaching him a lesson.
I pasted on an innocent smile, as if the two of us were about to have a nice chat. Weaver’s mirth melted into uncertainty, which I was able to read perfectly, and he didn’t go streaking out the window like he normally did when I was coming to kick his ass. Ha, my ruse had worked. I win, I thought. You’re dead.
I dropped my benign mask and caught him under the arms, swinging him up to my level. He squawked in protest and wriggled, trying to swat me with his wings. I let him squirm for a minute, holding him away from me and ignoring his threats.
“You’re gonna be sorry if you don’t let me go,” Weaver said, still playful but beginning to sound truly frustrated.
“Oh, that’s scary, Weaver, look, I’m shaking.” I rattled him up and down like a rag doll, grinning sadistically. “What am I gonna do, I’m so frightened, I can’t stop!”
I quit shaking him when he pinched my wrists with his sharp little nails.
“Ow! You little bastard. . . .” I returned the favor by ramming his head into the ceiling. He made a very unpleasant noise and stuck there. I laughed.
I scampered over to his radio, turned it off, and bounded out of the room. Knowing he would come after me as soon as he could pull his horns out of the plaster, I decided it might annoy him further if he wasn’t able to find me. I raced out the front door of the house and looked for likely hiding places. The roof? Nah, way too obvious. Nowhere good to hide on the grassy beach, either. A nearby tree was the closest convenient shelter; if I tried to make it to the thick of the forest he would definitely spot me before I’d managed to conceal myself. I giggled and decided the tree was the best I was going to get.
I plopped down on one of the higher branches of the short, thick tree and snickered, hiding in the foliage to the best of my ability. I watched the door and waited. Just as I’d expected, Weaver came charging out almost immediately, shaking plaster from his hair and swearing revenge. I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. Giggles sprung up in me anyway, and I almost choked trying to keep them down.
I wanted to watch him try to find me, so I controlled myself with an effort and finally managed a straight face, but laughter was bouncing around in my brain. The white plaster dust was all over his head. It looked like dandruff! My voice betrayed me and erupted into a fit of giggles. Dammit, I thought.
I pressed both hands more firmly against my mouth and tried to hold my laughter in, but stifling myself was not one of my talents, and some of the sound leaked out anyway. Maybe he wouldn’t hear me. Unfortunately, he had even better hearing than I did; yup, his little ears were perking up. He would probably figure out where I was in a matter of seconds. I hoped I was overestimating his senses because he looked ready to rip my face off.
That’s weird, I thought. He looked way more serious than usual. Most days he almost seemed to like being my punching bag, and he’d never minded being thrown headfirst against hard things, which was good since I liked to do that. So what was up his ass today? He’d deserved what I’d given him. It wasn’t as if we didn’t have enough noise in our house all the time, with up to sixteen people in the place at once, each making their share of racket. He didn’t need to add to it with that godawful music, especially not when I was trying to work. Yeah, he deserved a worse beating than the one I gave him, I thought. Maybe he was just annoyed because I always won. Plus this was the third time I’d beaten him up today. It could have driven him to the end of his rope. I giggled again, then remembered my situation and clapped my hands over my mouth.
“IVY! I know you’re out there!” Weaver yelled, his beady blue eyes promising vengeance as he scanned the treetops. He focused on my tree. I’d obviously been unsuccessful in concealing my laughter.
He flapped into the air and made a beeline for me. Before I could blink he was there in the tree. Now escape without being detected was not an option. Maybe I could slide down the tree behind his back, since if I went up much farther the trunk wouldn’t be thick enough to hide me. Weaver started pawing around the tree, growling playfully on the branches just an arm’s distance above me. His blue-and-black fur stood at attention in attack mode, but I couldn’t bring myself to see him as scary. He had a bad temper, but he looked like a comical mix between an oversized bat and a teddy bear, and therefore he was cute and fuzzy and lovable no matter how angry he was. He began to creep like a little tiger around the tree branches, and I kept out of his line of sight by inching around the tree trunk, grinning like a fool. I continued to do so until I noticed that his growling noises had stopped. The sudden silence made me curious, and I peeked around the trunk.
Weaver turned and saw me, his eyes lighting up as he bared his fangs. He was roughly an inch from my face. He growled. My brain froze; I hadn’t been expecting to see him there. In surprise, I jerked backwards, all my grips coming loose. I was about to fall—some dim corner of my mind recognized that—but for some reason Weaver’s grin held me transfixed. It was like time slowed down or I was in a dream . . . I couldn’t even think fast enough to steady myself. Gravity started to have its way with me, and while my head was still ringing with shock, Weaver crouched and leaped into the air at me, his eyes suddenly turning playful. I squealed.
When he slammed into me, I noticed that there was nothing holding me to the tree anymore, and I wasn’t supporting myself in the air. I had time to register confusion and surprise before I plummeted to the ground and landed hard. I ended up right on my bum in the sand, dazed. I wilted from the impact, flopping onto my back, stretching out to try to catch my breath. What the hell was that, anyway? How could I have fallen down? I thought. I’ve never fallen like that in my whole life, and then I go dropping like a rock as soon as the little bastard gives me bug eyes. Oh, was he gonna get it. As soon as I could sit up.
Weaver stopped just short of the ground and did a flip in midair, laughing. He finally landed gently on my stomach and brandished his tiny sword. Despite the weapon’s kitchen-knife size, it was still somewhat intimidating as he thrust it at my nose.
“Checkmate,” he said calmly, then cackled and began treading air a couple feet above my exposed stomach. He put his sword away.
I wanted to reply with something scathing, but all that came out was a whiny “Owww.” My voice felt sour with pain and embarrassment.
“I got you!” he crowed. “You fell out of a tree! Wait ’til I tell everybody you fell down!”
“You won’t be telling anyone anything once I get through with you,” I said, sitting up and rubbing the bump on my rump. My whole body ached, but my bottom really hurt, and even worse than that, my ego was bruised. My eyes stung with tears of embarrassment. I would have never thought I could fall out of a tree just because of a mild shock . . . how could I have been sloppy enough to let gravity beat me? Why hadn’t my reflexes kicked in? That freezy stare was something I’d never encountered before—maybe it was some extra power he’d never admitted to having, which would just figure after I’d spent so many years enduring his bitching that my abilities had given me an unfair advantage and a swelled ego. Nah, more likely he’d just put on an evil face and caught me at a weak moment. I shouldn’t even have weak moments, especially not in front of anyone else. I was just going to have to kick Weaver’s ass to put a bandage on my pride.
Stretching my legs, I shifted my weight to my knees and was rewarded by an insistent pain. I made a mental note that falling out of trees was not high on my list of things to try again.
“I can’t believe I actually made you fall. I thought that was impossible!” Weaver carried on, doing a goofy little dance in the air.
“Well, from now on it is impossible, don’t think I’ll fall for that again.”
“You made a pun! Get it, fall for that?”
“You shut up or next time more of you goes through the ceiling.”
He ignored me and swooped in happy little circles above my head. I noticed my beaded bracelet was broken.
“Damn, look what you did,” I said.
“You gonna fix it?”
“Yeah, right. You fix it, it’ll only take a second for you.”
I nodded. That was true, and Weaver’s little clawed fingers probably couldn’t do something as delicate as beading anyway. I licked my lips and gathered up the pieces of my bracelet, sticking the beads and string into the side pocket of my skirt as I glared at Weaver, who beamed as if aggravating me had been the highlight of his day. He deserved a good spanking.
Swearing under my breath, I grabbed Weaver by his hairy little blue feet and hauled him to the sand, pinning him with my knees. He grabbed a fistful of my braids and pulled them, so I slapped him away and sat on him, laughing. I pushed him down underneath my bottom, trying to get him back for the pain he’d caused me. After I was sure he wasn’t going anywhere, I started to bury him in the sand, but I stopped and looked up when I noticed a shadow fall over us.
There stood the looming, ever-serious figure of Alix. His bright gray eyes contrasted with his displeased expression as he gnawed on his toothpick.
Clearing his throat and looking at us disapprovingly, he waved his ever-present can of beer in my direction.
“I suppose this means you and Adele have finished the job?”
“Uh, no, not exactly. . . . ”
“Then don’t you think you ought to be getting back to work, Ivy?” Alix asked, angling his toothpick diagonally upward. His expression offered a challenge. I stood up, feeling my jaw set in response to his air of dominance.
“Shit, Alix, it was only a little fun—”
Alix thrust his hand out in a “stop” signal. I dropped my shoulders and huffed an angry sigh out of my nose, gritting my teeth. I had to control myself since I honestly didn’t want to hurt him. I’d learned that long ago.
“I know. You’ve had your fun, now get back to work.”
Bite me. . . . I wanted to say it, but I stopped myself, deciding not to further antagonize him. Not being able to freak Alix out always intimidated me a little. Alix thought he was so great, but for some reason I always found myself tolerating his attitude. It had something to do with my ingrained desire to obey people who’d helped raise me, even though I could kick their asses in the time it took to blink. I fiddled with one of my plastic rings and tried to explain.
“I stopped because I couldn’t concentrate.” I pointed at Weaver. He growled. “I was doing fine ’til that little son-of-a-bitch decided to play his music at a totally ridiculous level, so I couldn’t do a damn thing to save my life.”
“All right then,” said Alix after taking a swig from his can. “Now the music’s off, so you can get things going again.”
I nodded obediently, then chewed my lip and cautiously replied.
“Ya know, it’s not like there’s some kinda deadline. You shouldn’t mind if I wanna slack off sometimes.” I cocked my head and waited for an answer. Alix only coughed, then whirled about, his cape flying out behind him as he stalked darkly off toward his favorite pond.
“Bastard—” I cut myself off this time, deciding the stupid jerk wasn’t worth my energy. I plopped down onto the sand beside Weaver and exhaled noisily. Then I gave Alix the finger behind his back, which made me feel like I had gotten the last word. Still, I sensed an overall loss of our argument. That bothered me. I hated giving in to anyone. I glanced at Weaver, who was making a face somewhere between pity and disgust. When he saw he had my attention, he brightened.
“Don’t worry, Ivy, we all know he’s full of crap,” Weaver said in his scratchy voice, looking up at me.
“No,” I replied, eagerly seeking a second wrestling match. “You’re the one who’s full of crap, you little devil! You got me in trouble!” I teased him by rubbing more sand into his fur.
“Hey—” he shrieked, brushing it off and attacking me again. After I’d forced him to the ground and started tickling him, he gasped, “Wait! What if Alix sees us?”
“Aw, screw him,” I said. “He has no authority over me. He’s just trying to boss everyone around again, if he gets in my face this time I’ll show him who’s really boss.” I punctuated my statement by attacking him with gusto again.
After several minutes of hard-core wrestling, Weaver and I lay on the uneven sand, breathing hard. He turned to me and asked if I didn’t think I should get back inside before Adele came looking for me.
I groaned. “First Alix, now you!”
“It would get him off your back,” he said.
“Oh, hell. Well, I guess I probably should.”
He grunted, summarizing my mood.
I began to get up from the sand, half-heartedly brushing the excess grains from my clothing.
“Hopefully this won’t take too long,” I told him.
“It always takes longer than you say it will.” Weaver pouted.
“You can bite me, arright? We’re almost done.”
“Okay,” he said in a singsong voice, “but don’t forget, you promised to fly with me tonight. You better not hole up in there all day!”
After a hasty agreement, I made my way back to the house. As I stood on the top step outside the door, I hesitated, wishing I didn’t have to go back inside. I didn’t feel like leaving the beach, even temporarily. The wind was just waiting to comb itself through my braids, and the sand beckoned me to squish it under my feet. The water was begging me to kick it, and the late afternoon sun wanted me to absorb its last rays. I turned and looked at Weaver, who was a blue-and-black fuzzball near the ocean where I’d left him. He could do whatever he wanted until it was time to nap; why couldn’t I? I bit my lip and looked at the beach with the trees dbehind it, and I made a promise in my head that I’d be back as soon as I could. For now, duty called.
Before I resumed work on our project, I needed to answer a little call from nature. I knocked on the door of the bathroom, which was occupied as usual. I heard the toilet flushing and a voice imploring me to wait a minute.
I waited, tinkering with my broken wristband. By the time the door opened, I had already slipped all the beads on and fixed the clasp, and I was putting the bracelet on my wrist again when Zeke came out. He was carrying a magazine, and that made me giggle; I wondered if he took so long because he got wrapped up in reading or if he started to read because he took so long. Surprise registered as he saw me, as always; it was almost as if my face still startled him after all this time. I batted my eyelashes and smiled my fake come-on smile. I’d never smiled a real one in my life. My fake one was good enough to drive him up the wall, almost literally.
“Oh, uh . . . hey, Ivy.” Zeke tried to play it cool.
“Hello there, Zeke,” I replied, swishing by. As I passed him I gave in to the urge to tease, allowing my short blue skirt to lift, as if by a freak breeze, just enough so he could catch a glimpse of my fancy cherry-printed undies. Then I disappeared into the bathroom. I cackled to myself and did my business.
After I was done, I repeated my come-hither look in front of the mirror, to see if it was convincing at all. My reflection delighted me; it really was an irresistible “I like you” smile. I was getting almost too good at harassing the poor guy, but I figured I was still falling short of being cruel by a few notches. He was a lot of fun to tease—definitely one of the best victims in the house. Weaver was tough enough to handle my physical attacks, and Zeke responded well to emotional tweaking. Most of the others were smart enough to get out of my way if I was mad and avoid antagonizing me. And that wasn’t fun at all, because if they wouldn’t play I couldn’t either.
When I left the bathroom I almost ran right into Zeke. Why was he still standing there? He usually ran away when I befuddled him with my fake flirting. But this time he seemed totally at ease, recovered in full from my patented cherry-undies attack.
“So, what’s going on with you today? Got any big plans?” he asked conversationally. He looked at me through his shaggy black bangs, trying to look appealing and nonchalant. I hated small talk.
“You should already know what’s ‘going on,’ Mr. Smarty-Pants. I’m about to go finish my work with Adele,” I replied, my hands on my hips.
“You guys looking for anything special?”
“Uh . . . why are you asking me? She’s the one who knows everything.”
“Um, I guess that’s true.”
“I’m gonna guess we’re about to look for our next victim,” I said, my fingers bent into claw shapes to accompany my evil grin. Zeke rolled his eyes.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk about people like that. It’s disrespectful.”
“Ahh, and I am known far and wide as the queen of respect, Zeke.”
“Very cute,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “I really don’t think ‘victim’ is the right word at all. I’ve always thought the people who get invited to live here are pretty lucky, ya know.”
“Whatever.” I thought interrupting people’s normal lives to suggest they move in with us and give us most of their money constituted taking advantage of them, but I guessed if they wanted to do so—and considered it an honor, like Zeke apparently did—I couldn’t really consider us the predator and them the prey.
“So what’s next after you’re done tonight?” Zeke asked.
“I’m gonna go up with Weaver like always. Where’s your brain today?”
He fell silent and just looked at me like I was a piece of fine art. I didn’t like it, so I broke the mood with one of my rabid-squirrel smiles and attacked his hair with my hand, turning it into a bird’s nest.
“Oh, you,” I said, “you should really invest in a camera or something so you don’t have to spend all day ogling me, ya know?”
“Well maybe I just will,” he grumbled, trying to straighten his hair. Now he looked angry and uncomfortable, and I liked it. Zeke was a certified genius, but I could still freak him out with the simplest things. He was, after all, male, and therefore susceptible to well-placed female tortures.
Then I heard some whispering behind me, accompanied by a childish giggle. I glanced surreptitiously over my shoulder and saw two pairs of eyes gazing innocently at Zeke and me through a slightly open door. In this house people were always making private things their business.
“All right, you guys, cut the spying,” I said. Both pairs of eyes widened and the door slammed abruptly. I heard giggles from the room. What was so funny about me playing my games like I always did? Maybe they couldn’t tell I wasn’t serious. I’d never been serious about someone that way and I didn’t plan to start.
I turned my back on the closed door, and as soon as I did, it opened again. Tab walked out with Thursday riding on her head. He was almost hidden in her hair but I had a lot of practice at spotting him.
“We want to ask you something,” said Tab thoughtfully, her face looking almost troubled.
I wanted to get back downstairs to work with Adele, but I supposed she could wait a little longer while I satisfied the kids’ curiosity. “What is it?” I asked.
“Tab says you and Zeke are boyfriend-girlfriend,” announced Thursday. “Are you really?” A big grin lit up his face, and a teasing light awoke in his little brown eyes. I looked at Tab incredulously.
“You’re joking, right?” I asked. Both kids shook their heads solemnly. I glanced at Zeke, who had stuck his hands in his pockets and looked away from us, embarrassed. He was probably sticking around to hear my answer. “My gosh, Tab, where the hell did you ever get that idea?” Was Zeke telling people we were dating? If so, I’d eat him for breakfast.
“Um, well, Cecily told me you guys would be ‘doin’ it’ before long, and when I asked her doin’ what, she smiled real big . . . ya know, that face she makes?”
I knew it too well. Cecily liked to play matchmaker and was always looking for scandals.
“And you believed her? I thought you were smarter than that,” I told Tab. She looked somewhat abashed.
“But you guys are always teasing and Cecily says boys and girls do stuff like that when they like each other.”
“Oh, you mean stuff like this?” I asked, attacking Zeke’s thick black hair again. He jumped and gave me a look that somehow combined a glare and a grin, like he couldn’t decide whether to tell me to go to Hell or to do it again. Tab laughed wildly and Thursday cracked a smile.
“So you are boyfriend-girlfriend?” she said.
“No! Now get outta here and go play!” I bellowed, tired of being misinterpreted. Tab froze for a second, then scampered down the stairs, with Thursday clutching her curly bangs to keep from falling off. I rolled my eyes and turned back to Zeke. He still looked like he wasn’t sure whether to scream at me or to melt into a puddle. The mixture of expressions on his face was quite amusing. I raised my eyebrows at him and met his dark brown eyes, wishing I could see behind them so I could find something more fun to harass him about.
I was prevented from teasing the poor thing further when Adele shouted at me from the kitchen. I cringed as I remembered I was supposed to have returned to my work long ago. What was Adele doing in the kitchen instead of the ground floor anyway?
“Ivy!” she called like she was my mother. “Quit your fooling around and get in here!”
I rolled my eyes. Why did she have to rain on my parade? In a final attempt to torment Zeke, I wiggled my hips as provocatively as I knew how, swaggering toward the kitchen. I congratulated myself on my sick sense of fun and leaped into the room.
Adele was standing there by the sink, completely soaked. She totally looked like someone had tried to give her a bath with a hose. Damp red hair hung over her face and hid her eyes from me, but I could tell she was pretty pissed. I laughed involuntarily and asked her what had happened.
“The faucet sprayed me again.” She brushed her hair back and crossed her arms. “I think you’d better persuade Zeke to come in here and fix it.”
I giggled, thinking I could probably persuade Zeke to do anything.
“Well, if you would be so kind as to make yourself useful and get me a towel, I’d appreciate it,” said Adele crabbily, and I scrambled down the hall to obey her, returning in record time with a dishtowel from the closet. She gave me a look when I tossed it to her.
“I had meant an actual towel, Ivy, but this will do for now,” she said as she opened it up and rubbed it on her hair.
“Sor-ree,” I shot back. “If getting squirted was gonna piss you off so much, you’d think you’d have seen that one coming.” It was weird that the woman who was always hounding us with predictions from the future had gotten outsmarted by a leaky faucet.
“I doubt a little water was earth-shaking enough to necessitate a warning premonition. I think I’ll live.”
“Ooh, but the time you predicted Tab was gonna spill her grape juice was a more serious situation?”
“None of us exhibit peak performance a hundred percent of the time, Ivy.” Her eyes shined knowingly as if she was hinting that she knew I’d just had a completely preventable accident myself. I shut up and forgot about it.
“So,” I began, reaching up to touch the doorframe, “why’d ya come up here? I thought you were gonna wait for me to come back down.”
“It became obvious very quickly that you’d be gone a while.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Ivy, we’re both well aware of your tendency to get distracted, though only one of us admits it openly.”
I blew a raspberry. She didn’t have to insult me. “I didn’t forget!”
“I know you didn’t. But you also didn’t come back promptly enough to expect me to just wait for you, sitting in the dark. I’ve got better things to do, and evidently so do you.”
I made a face. “Yeah, yeah. But how would you know I wasn’t coming right back?”
She blinked. “Child, who are you talking to?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You just asked me ‘how would you know?’ Just how often do you suppose I operate on guesswork?” With a wry smile she turned back to the sink.
I grumbled under my breath, figuring I’d better shut up before I embarrassed myself more. Adele was good at “just knowing” things, but who could say if she’d known for sure or just guessed based on my past habits? It pissed me off when she flaunted her ability to know, but I supposed I had to deal with it like everyone else. Both of us were used to a little extra respect because of our abilities, so sometimes I forgot that she was the one person I kind of answered to. Better to drop the subject.
“So why are you hanging out in the kitchen?” I asked.
“Well, I decided to come up here for a snack while you were occupied,” Adele said, peering into the sink. “After all, there’s no rush.”
“Ha! According to Alix there is. I’m surprised he didn’t come in here and bug you about it,” I said. “He just finished riding my ass to get it done. Guess he doesn’t have the balls to rag you too.” She rolled her eyes, copying my gesture. I swung on the doorframe a little bit, blowing my bangs out of my eyes so I could see better as Adele moved something around in the sink. I wondered what she was doing.
“That Alix. . . . ” she grumbled in a somewhat gravelly voice. “So melodramatic . . . you’d think the world would end every time someone displeases him.” She hit the edge of a bowl with a wooden spoon and glanced over her shoulder at me.
“Yeah . . . ya know what? He’s been unusually bitchy about stuff lately. And he’s acting like he’s in charge or something,” I said. He always seemed bossiest when we had a mission to run, like he had to take charge just because they’d been his idea originally.
“Well, I can’t take him seriously when he’s strutting about in that stupid cape,” said Adele, turning away from me and toward the sink again. “I really do wonder what possesses him to wear that silly thing. He must know it’s long since lost its image of authority.”
“Aw, he just wears it to feel important. Like he’s some kinda prince or something.” Except that princes in books usually looked human. Alix was less human than I was, in my opinion.
“Well, he may dress like royalty, but that doesn’t mean we have to obey his whims, dear.” She looked over her shoulder and grinned at me.
“Yeah . . . let’s just see how regal he looks upside-down in the living room, begging me to let him down!”
Adele laughed. “I’m sure you’d never do that to him.”
“Don’t underestimate me,” I warned. “You never know. He couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to get him back, and he knows it. I’ve had it with his stupid demands. I’m not gonna take it anymore.”
“When you do decide to take your revenge, dear, be sure to save me a seat in the audience.”
“So, what’cha doin’?” I asked, swinging from the doorway onto the kitchen table, then finally perching on the refrigerator. It looked like she was trying to wash dishes, but that wasn’t her job.
Adele shook her head and grumbled at me. “Stop flitting around like a fairy. You make me dizzy, girl.”
I laughed at that, too. It was fun to move fast, and it was a bonus that doing so pissed people off. She wasn’t the only one who could flaunt her skills. I skittered down onto the counter beside the sink, looked into it, and made a face.
“What the hell?” I asked, looking at Adele as if she might have an explanation. She shrugged and continued to peer into the sink. Why she’d had to look at it so many times was beyond me. All I saw was a sink full of dishes. No deep mystery.
“I don’t know what this is from. I guess the kids thought it would be fun to bake something.” Thursday and Tab had mercurial attention spans, which explained the mixing bowls and spotted cupcake tins; they were plenty entertained by the baking itself, but once wash-up time rolled around, they grew bored. It looked like more than just the kids had been having a dish party, though.
“Are you actually gonna wash them?” I asked, sliding down to the floor.
“Well, it’s not a big deal,” she replied. “Unlike you, I don’t think of doing work as a fate worse than death. Besides, you weren’t there to help me finish, so I had to find something to do. You know I can’t do this part without you.”
“Yeah, but doing dishes?” I said. “Why don’cha let Robin do ’em? It’s not like it’s your job.” I wound three of my braids around my long fingers.
“Yes, I know,” said Adele, “but Robin hasn’t been around today, and I figured, well, no harm done if I should decide to do the dishes once in a while. Robin must get sick of us treating her like a slave. But I still don’t know who would’ve cooked spaghetti at this time of day,” she added, holding up the strainer, and then picking up a crud-encrusted saucepan, “and whose gross pot is this?”
“Gross pot?” I repeated, liking the sound of the words. Adele nodded, then squirted some dish soap into the gross pot and began to rub it. I laughed.
“What could be so funny, girl?” she asked.
“I like the way you said ‘gross pot,’ ’cause it sounds funny. Gross pot, gross pot, gross pot!”
“Ivy, if I didn’t know better, I might begin to think your sense of humor is the strangest thing about you.”
I laughed at that concept too. Adele shook her head and reached for the cold water knob, and when she turned the faucet automatically the water spurted out and soaked her again. She must have forgotten it was broken when I’d distracted her—and I couldn’t blame her; it had gone out of my mind too. But that was kind of normal for me. I laughed harder as I realized she looked sort of like a drowned raccoon. She shook her head in exasperation and sprayed water around the kitchen.
“Dammit! Ivy, go get Zeke and tell him to fix this seal!”
“Okay,” I replied, sobered by her unusual use of profanity. I leaped to my feet.
“Wait a second,” she called, catching my wrist and pulling me back, “I’ve got a request . . . could you please withhold all of that temptress nonsense? You’re just freaking the poor boy out with lustful thoughts when he needs to be thinking useful ones.”
“Fine,” I said, reluctantly agreeing. I liked freaking people out, especially Zeke, but I couldn’t say that without Adele scolding me. I pouted. I wondered whether she’d known what I was doing when she couldn’t even see me, but then again, this was Adele.
“One would think you want him too, the way you go after him,” she added, chiding me.
“No, thank you!” I said. “I have no intention of ending up like them.” I pointed out the kitchen window to where our housemate Dax was busy sweet-talking the new girl, Zoe, behind the long grass bushes where he thought nobody would see. He’d moved in on her rather quickly in my opinion, but then, I didn’t know what was normal for those kinds of relationships. Cecily had seen it coming, of course. I personally thought it was rather disgusting, and I resolved to cut down on teasing Zeke even though it created so much glee on my part. I didn’t want Zeke to actually be interested in me . . . at least, not that way.
“One more thing, Ivy!”
I drifted back into the kitchen. “Yes?”
“After you get Zeke in here, come join me on the ground floor, okay? I want to finish the work today, so Alix will shut up.”
“’Kay,” I said. I made my way to Zeke’s room, walking softly with my toes barely touching the floor, doing my best to sneak up on him. I poked my head into his room to see what he was up to. He was sitting on the floor with his back to me. His arms were moving, but I couldn’t imagine what he was doing.
I was afraid he’d see me if I tried to spy on him from behind, so I decided to use more unconventional methods. I moved upwards until I was hugging the ceiling, trying not to even breathe too loudly. The light angle was wrong for me to cast a shadow over him, so it was safe to go forward. I perched in the air just below the ceiling, directly above Zeke. Now that I could see over his head, I discovered he was building a little house out of cards. I laughed to myself. The resident genius wasted time like this. My prankster instinct kicked in again.
I got Zeke’s attention by stealing one of his cards right out of his hand. The eight of diamonds slipped out of his fingers easily and flipped through the air to where I was hiding above him. I heard the sharp inrush of air as Zeke gasped, and then he looked up and saw the card, and me. I smiled benignly and waved as if to say, “Guess who?” He responded with a fairly filthy scowl. I decided I’d better come down.
Dropping to the floor, I held out his card, which he snatched from me with a look of unfounded suspicion. I opened my mouth to tease him about the look on his face, but I remembered Adele’s advice to stop picking on him, so I simply stated, “Adele wants you,” and hurried out.
“Nice way of letting me know,” he called at my back. “Next time, how ’bout a tap on the shoulder?”
I laughed and shook my head. As if I would ever do something as commonplace as that.
I flew to the ground floor with speed in mind, wanting to feel a little wind in my face before I sat down to do my duty to the group. I dropped down through the open trapdoor and sat on the dirt floor. Once I’d closed the trapdoor above me, all I saw was a little square of light way up on the ceiling. My eyes focused quickly in the dark. I flipped on the lantern, then gathered up my iridescent pebbles and dunked them in Adele’s little dish of water, smiling as they played tricks on my eyes. Looking at the shiny pebbles always helped me get into a meditative mood.
I took a few deep breaths and tried to get as calm as possible. I didn’t want to act antsy while we were working or Adele might get annoyed with me, and she could never concentrate very well if she was annoyed. I didn’t want to be the roadblock to her success. Weaver’s music had bothered her, and so would my impatience. I didn’t need to concentrate very hard for my part; all I had to do was pick up a bunch of pebbles. The rest I left up to her. Even though my minimal assistance was only required because Adele couldn’t pick things up without using her hands, it still made me feel useful. She had to move all the pebbles at once to get the desired pattern, and she couldn’t do that without me.
I thought about what we were about to do, trying to get my brain to turn in the right circles. My past experiences told me we were probably about to find another person to come to the house. Adele’s predictions were famous for that sort of thing. But it seemed too soon; we’d only gotten Zoe about a month ago, and usually there was a waiting period before we pulled another regular person into our weird little world. The house was filling up fast. When was Adele going to decide enough was enough?
Well, that wasn’t for me to decide . . . and I really didn’t care since it was my job to carry out the missions, not make them up. It was up to Adele to choose who was to receive the next invitation. She could see places she’d never been and people she didn’t know just by looking at a bunch of pebbles, which boggled my mind; I’d never understood how it worked. Somehow the patterns she made with the little bits of rock meant something to her.
I wasn’t really very interested in what person we were going to find. I knew I should probably be excited or worried or something, since I’d be the one going to get them. But since it wasn’t going to happen today, I found it hard to anticipate it at all. Anything more than six hours away seemed like another lifetime, and I liked to live for now. The missions were fun, but they were an unwelcome distraction from my playtime since they involved responsibility and doing what someone else wanted. Sometimes I wished Alix would just do the damn missions himself if he wanted them done so badly, but I always got stuck with the job since I’d been “blessed” with an outward appearance so similar to regular people’s. Why couldn’t I have been born winged and furry like Weaver, or tiny and pixie-ish like Thursday? Even a set of mean pointy teeth like Dax’s might have exempted me, but then I’d have trouble eating. Occasionally I liked looking almost human, but usually it just meant more work dumped in my lap.
Adele had announced that we needed to do another of our searches just today. She hadn’t told me why or what it was going to involve. That was normal, but it was partly because Adele often didn’t know herself. She knew what had to be done, but sometimes the “why” took a while to figure out. So I had to jump into a lot of situations more or less unprepared and uninformed, with just a name and a face to go on. I didn’t mind the mysterious circumstances, though. That made it exciting. Unfortunately, Adele had made the mistake of informing Alix that another search was to take place, and consequently, another mission for me. That always made him ride our asses to get it done. I believed that he was hoping one of these days we’d find him a girlfriend. I snickered, thinking about it.
When I finally heard the trapdoor open, I looked up to see Weaver behind Adele.
“Don’t forget!” he screeched. “You promised!” I nodded as Adele climbed onto the platform below the trapdoor and began to descend, picking her way down the staircase I always ignored.
When Adele reached the bottom, she sat down on the dirt floor across from me, brought her lantern closer, and showed me the layout of her iridescent pebbles. She looked at the pattern, and then I could see a transparent, fragile image forming over them. Sometimes I could see the things Adele saw, if she let me. The only thing showing was water, though, which was obvious. Our pool always made a gate into another body of water, so a water image was always present.
Adele sighed contentedly. “Well, it looks like there’s no loud music to break our concentration . . . are you ready?”
“Of course.” I dunked my pebbles in the water and threw them down on top of her configuration. Spreading a thin, non-specific field across them and closing my eyes, I tried to concentrate on nothing, so Adele could impose her will on my energy somehow. It was something she could only do if I held my thoughts a certain way, open to her suggestions without really hearing them consciously. When she wanted a pebble to move, my energy moved it; if my will wasn’t in tune with hers, nothing could happen.
As she did her thing, I felt the pebbles settling into new places, making up more of the puzzle. Every correct placement rang true in a way I could just barely understand, while she knew exactly what she was doing and understood what each meant. But at least acting as her tool gave me thrilling little glimpses at something I couldn’t do alone. Being a part of Adele’s process was enlightening, and a little scary—something I couldn’t control or totally comprehend. And we liked doing it together this way, even though she could do predictions dozens of other ways too. This was quicker and sometimes more accurate than her other ways, and it seemed the best way to connect a person with a place for our missions. Plus it was one of the few ways she could actually “demand” an answer from the universe, choosing the time and place instead of waiting for a dream or revelation. It was amazing. For all my whining, I liked being a part of this.
The new, clear image brightened over the old one, blending the two together and coming into view so strongly that I couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen it before. I smiled and opened my eyes.
“Good work, child. I can find it now. . . . ” The picture faded from my sight, but not from hers.
I stood up and watched her working, her eyelids twitching as if there was static behind them. I could tell by her face the moment she figured it out.
“There. The place is called Kingswood Forest,” she pronounced, “and the city is Ridgefield, North Carolina. We’ll . . . well, you’ll go there tomorrow.” She continued to gaze at the pebbles, probably seeing the image of the person who lived there. Right now, though, I didn’t much care who it was, because it was getting late.
“Is that good with you?” she asked with a laugh in her voice. She knew I didn’t have anything else planned; all I did was run missions and do chores, with a little bit of beating my friends up on the side. It was a more or less satisfying existence. But I just didn’t care about tomorrow at the moment. I wanted to go flying. I gave her a look: You already know the answer to that. And I knew she got the message, too, because she was one of the few people who could read my expressions with no trouble. But still she looked at me, her eyes teasing, telling me she expected an answer as a formality anyway.
“Ivy? Shall we go ahead with this tomorrow?”
I gave her an impatient nod.
“Okay, how about some of the background details?”
“Just tell me later,” I chirped, because suddenly my need to get moving had become overpowering. Without another word, I zipped straight up and out the door to join Weaver in the sky. I heard Adele’s light, breathy chuckle following me.
“Took you long enough,” he grumbled, his little tiny arms crossed under his sullen expression.
“Bite my butt,” I said, grabbing him and tossing him roughly into the air. I laughed as I watched him reverse his flying movements to try to right himself.
“It’s almost sunset,” he puffed, catching up to me.
“So what? It’s still fun,” I said, twisting a breeze around him so fast he spun.
“Bitch,” he cried as he finally stopped whirling. He tried to get me back by fanning a tiny gust in my face with his wings, but it didn’t affect me. I wasn’t dependent on air resistance like he was. He couldn’t mess with me unless he took me by surprise, like he had in the tree. And times like that were very rare. I was still surprised he’d managed to do that. I’d have to take care not to let him faze me next time; I’d never hear the end of it if he got away with it again. We got serious and pushed for altitude, racing each other to be first into the clouds. Of course it was no contest; he was getting a workout flapping his wings, while I gained inches just by thinking about it. I had to keep my speed in check so I wouldn’t totally leave him behind.
“Whee!” I cried, swooping into the clouds at last. They were relatively low today, and they had a moist, dewy feel, but not as damp as clouds usually were. They were also a little warm, much more like a muggy fog than actual clouds. The water vapor collected in my eyes and on the tips of my ears, in my nose, on my lips. Little Weaver soared up beside me, basking in the insubstantial blanket. We made it through the first layer and hit a pocket of emptiness, soaring over a pillowy floor.
The sun hit the clouds from above, making cotton-ball flood lights in orange, yellow, and red. It was a great view. I flew lower and tried to touch the clouds, but when I got close they slipped between my fingers. I loved how they looked solid but behaved like steam. I lifted myself away from the clouds and tumbled around in the air, relishing the wonderful feeling of the sky. Nope, flying was one thing that had never gotten old, even though I couldn’t recall a day I hadn’t done it.
Weaver and I had only been playing for a few minutes when the sky started to look blacker, somehow. The clouds above us thickened spontaneously. The sun hadn’t gone down yet, but all around it began to grow dark, and I felt the sudden electricity prickle my neck hairs.
I looked around for Weaver and saw him a short distance away.
“Shit! Hey Weaver, we gotta go back down!” I called to him, and he flapped hurriedly toward the ground, recognizing the signs of a thunderstorm about the same time I did. I angled myself straight down and was very glad when my feet touched the shoreline sand.
“Dammit!” said Weaver. “That sucks! We got cut short!”
“Yeah,” I said.
“If you hadn’t taken so friggin’ long, we woulda had more time,” he pointed out. I responded by grabbing him by the feet and pulled him through the air along the shore, leaving my distinctive footprints in the wet sand as I hauled him toward the house. His little wings flapped furiously as he tried to break free, but I held him easily, towing him like a balloon.
Zeke burst out of the door and I stopped short.
“Oh, you’re all right,” he said, sounding relieved.
“Yes,” I agreed, wondering why he thought I wouldn’t be. “What’s the matter?”
“Well,” said Zeke, “I saw the storm coming, and I thought you were up there. . . . ” He pressed his lips together as lightning arched toward the horizon.
“I didn’t even get a chance to piss in the water,” grumbled Weaver, twisting out of my grasp. I adopted his attitude.
“I been flying all my life, Zeke. I know how to handle myself.”
“Sorry. Just worried, that’s all.”
I offered him a real smile, just to reward him for bothering to worry about me.
Adele came out to shepherd us into the house. I looked back at the lightning stroking the ocean. A mist began to fall from the sky. I shivered and went inside.
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