There’s no other witnesses, just us two…” I say, after turning away and crossing my arms against the biting cold. Of all the places, why the hedge maze? Why outside, in November? At least it’s not snowing…
“…so?” she squeaks; the way her voice cracks is irritating.
“So…don’t get too excited, because it doesn’t count. Besides, you have to do it in front of the class, remember? During school hours…” I shrug, before patting down my pockets. Where the hell are my cigarettes? Shit, did I leave them in–
I blink, and then furrow my brow. “Stay out of my head, Lydia…”
The way she rolls her eyes almost raises my blood pressure. “…I don’t need to read your mind, Nina. I asked you if you left your cigarettes in your jacket.”
“Yeah, I did,” I shrug and then slouch back against the wall of the maze. “Well, no sense standing around here. It’s cold, and I don’t have a summoning charm on my jacket. I’ll teleport us back in.”
“…no! I mean, let me do it? Please?”
All I can do is stare at her for a few moments; as much as I can in near-darkness.
“…just one try, and then you can teleport us back in if I can’t. Please? I was so close…”
No, you weren’t, I think to myself with a frown. The hedge maze is miles from the library. Still, one more try wasn’t going to make the difference between warming up and becoming a human Popsicle. With a sigh, I concede with a nod of my head.
Well, if we’re going to be here for a while…I snap my fingers before giving my hand a lazy twirl upwards, the rune in my palm lighting up simultaneously as I mutter the incantation for the lighting spell, before enveloping my hand in pure white light. Now, I can see Lydia’s face, and the flash of longing as her eyes linger on my illuminated hand.
I push myself off the wall, and hold out my free hand for her to take. “You can do it again…you just need to clear your mind.”
“I’ll try,” she offers; any certainty her voice held before seems to have evaporated into the dry winter air.
She closes her eyes and mutters the incantation under her breath, the runes across her body lighting up feebly in a sickly shade of pale blue instead of the desired bright white.This isn’t going to work…
As predicted, we go…nowhere. I can’t help it, and before I can stop myself I’m rolling my eyes and sighing impatiently. “…all you have to do for this spell is clear your mind, focus on where you want to go, and say the incantation. It’s not hard.”
“That’s easier said than done. I don’t just have to clear my thoughts, you know…”
I frown. “…I thought you said you weren’t reading my mind.”
“…I can’t help it.” She slumps down to the ground. It takes everything I have to resist the urge to just leave her there. If only my grade didn’t depend on her. Group projects are the worst.
So, instead of walking away, I decide to sit down next to her and, for good measure, I put my free arm around her shoulder. There, there. Pat, pat. This is helpful, right? Oh, shit, she’s…
“I’m sorry…” Her voice was thick as she sobbed into my shoulder. Thank the Gods this girl didn’t wear makeup, or there would be mascara all over my shirt. I clear my throat and remain silent, looking away towards the nearest darkened corner where the light of my spell could not reach.
After what feels like an hour, she repeats her apology with a few rough sniffs.
“It’s fine,” I reply, deciding I’ve had enough. I roll my shoulder in an attempt to get her off me. She gets the hint and the cold air hits my shoulder with an extra sharpness immediately after she withdraws; it feels as though she’s soaked half my damn shirt in tears. I turn my head to look at her; how was it possible that she could look even worse than usual? Her thin black hair is sticking to both her reddened face and her fogged glasses, and there is definitely a bit of snot leaking out from her nose.
She sniffles (well, more like snorts) again. As she removed her glasses and began cleaning them on her skirt, she says, “…I wish I wasn’t a telepath.”
I also wish you weren’t.
“It’s a gift, if you learn to control it,” I say halfheartedly as I climb to my feet and brush off my backside. I hold my hand out to her and give it a slight shake.
“…but I can’t control it. I’m not powerful enough.”
I shake my hand again, this time raising my eyebrows. “I’m freezing, Lydia,” I say, the edge in my voice a warning that my patience had run out. “Let me teleport us back in; we’ll practice some more tomorrow. We still have a week.”
She takes my hand after a moment of hesitation and then proclaims, “I’m sorry Mrs. Berkshire made us partners. I hate working in pairs…I hate holding others back,” with a crack in her voice.
I don’t know how to respond. Not because I feel sorry for her; I’m too distracted by the chance of freezing to death for that. No, it’s because I realize that I also wish we had not been partnered, but to say that now might make her cry again. Instead, I give her another awkward pat on the back before releasing my grip on her hand.
“You’re not holding me back.”
Dammit. Tears are welling up in her eyes again!
“Really, you’re not. I have so much extra credit, I don’t even need to pass this assignment,” I lie, and then plaster a grin on my lips as my teeth chatter. Bolstered by the realization that she had not started crying again just yet, I press on. “You’ve already teleported once…do you think I got it right the first few times? No, and I…well, I didn’t have other people’s thoughts breaking my concentration.”
Hm. That is true. It must be hard, not being able to concentrate when performing spells. I feel a momentary pang in my chest, and shudder involuntarily. Before I can think too long about the cause, I add,
“…anyway, we will pass. You will teleport, and you will do it in front of the class.”
She smiles a little, after sniffling again and wiping hard at her nose. “…thanks,” she says. “…it means a lot. No one’s ever…” she hesitates, and then shakes her head. “…just, thanks.”
“…you’re welcome,” I reply, before crooking my finger to beckon her over. “All right, come here and I’ll teleport us back inside. Er…that hand, please.” I indicate to her left hand (the one she hadn’t been using to stem the flow of snot from her nose), and then flick my own wrist to snuff out the light in my palm.
Before she can say anything else, I speak the teleportation incantation. It’s a great relief when the runes littered across my body illuminate and flood me with warmth. In less than a second we’re back in our room in the girls’ dormitories…just as I intended. Moriah and Aliyah are still gone, which is good; I’m too exhausted for questions.
Lydia steps back as soon as we’re in the room and stares at my bare arm, watching as the runes fade away. The longing in her eyes is a bit clearer in the well-lit room and I feel that pang in my chest again.
“Let’s get some sleep. We have all day to practice tomorrow,” I offer, forcing another smile onto my lips. Lydia nods her head and then removes her glasses, which were fogging up again now that we were someplace warm.
“…look…there’s no way your telepathy can be that powerful if you’re not powerful,” I add after a few minutes of silence as the two of us retreat to our respective beds.
Lydia pauses at her nightstand, where she was retrieving a handkerchief to clean her glasses. “…that’s what my parents said. Years of private lessons have taught me otherwise.”
“Maybe you just haven’t had the right teacher?”
“…maybe,” she concedes in a dismissive tone. “Good night, Nina.” We hadn’t even climbed into our beds yet.
“Goodnight,” I mutter, sending one last glance her way before waving off the lights.