Kara stripped her jacket off and spread her wings wide. She rolled her shoulders, the movement sending a relaxing shiver across her wings, through each feather. She stood inside her cottage, afraid of going to the cliff. Though she’d not found anyone in the bushes on her last flight, she still couldn’t shake the feeling of having been watched. The thought terrified her.
She glanced up at the ceiling, wondering if it would be all that difficult to just do a little flutter around the room when a knock sounded on the door. She jerked, instinctively pulling her wings in, grimacing against the pain of the movement. She quickly grabbed a sweater and pulled it on, her mind immediately panicked at the thought that someone might see through a slit in the curtains, in spite of the fact that she’d secured them tightly.
She took a deep, calming breath and moved to open the door, pulling it only far enough to peek out. She nearly slammed it when she saw who stood on the other side. Seb. Instead she simply stared at him dumbly. Long moments passed before he lifted one brow sardonically.
“I’m not going to bite you.” Pause. “Unless you want me to.”
Kara’s jaw dropped then snapped shut. “Do you always have to be such a—” She clamped her mouth shut. Why did he prod her to such meanness?
“I’m kidding,” he said. “I came to see if you wanted to go for a walk.”
“Why?” she blurted.
“Don’t worry; it’s business.” Remoteness shuttered his face as he stared at the doorframe, not meeting her eyes. “I have some ideas I want to go over with you.”
“Oh. Um.” She glanced back into her cottage, as if the answer to his question could be found there.
“Do . . . do you have someone there?” he asked, taking a step back. “I’ll just talk to you tomorrow, then.”
“No,” she said quickly, holding a hand toward him as if she could stop him with the gesture. Oddly, he sounded upset, which was reason enough to let him go. Honestly, she preferred to get outside for a while, even if it was with such a grump. “Hold on, just let me grab my coat.” She came back as she pulled it on. “Let’s go.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked past his sled in the road. Was she so wrapped up in stretching her wings that she hadn’t heard him drive up? Not good. What if he’d just opened her door? It would be highly unusual for an elf to be so rude, but if anyone would, Seb would.
“So?” she prompted.
The snow crunched lightly beneath their feet, glistening in the moonshine. “I’ve been thinking about the logistics of the floor,” he said. “In order for it to have the lighting we want, we need to suspend it. That means building it a little higher off the ground than we planned.”
They talked back and forth about how it would work. Seb thought they’d need an appointment with the engineer to finalize the plans once they decided on the flooring. They’d need to meet with an engineer at each part of the building process to make sure they could proceed as they wanted.
Kara didn’t understand why Seb needed to discuss this with her. It wasn’t anything new that she didn’t already know.
“Was there something else?” she asked after they walked in silence for a few minutes.
Seb stopped short and she faced him. The moon lit Seb from behind, throwing a halo around his dark hair. Even in the shadow, his blue eyes stood out, two sapphire jewels glowing in the night. He was tall, even for an elf, something she knew from the moment she’d first seen him. Now, standing in front of him in the moon’s reflective light, she realized just how much taller he was. Not just taller, but broader, too, in a very real, very tangible way. She’d certainly been attracted to other elves before, in the South, in spite of the fact that she knew nothing real could ever happen with any of them. But never before had she felt the gut-deep pull she felt to Seb. She only wished he weren’t so dang gorgeous!
He shuffled the snow around with one foot, dropping his eyes. “I just . . . we have to work together, and spend a lot of time together, so I thought . . . sometimes, the way you look at me…” He looked up at her. “Kind of like you’re looking at me now.” She blinked and tried to adopt a completely neutral expression. She had a suspicion she failed miserably. “There can’t be . . . I’m not interested in . . . getting involved . . .”
As his words slowly sank into her psyche, she realized what he was saying—or rather, trying to say. She bristled, her wings quivering against her back. She scoffed—loudly. His eyes widened at the sound. Even in the shadows, it was clear.
“Are you kidding?” She laughed, not an ounce of humor in it. “You think I’m . . .? Please!” She pulled away, walking back toward her cottage. She might be in absolutely no position to even consider someone romantically, but for him to basically tell her no possible way . . . it hurt.
Kara heard his quick footsteps as he jogged to catch up. “Look, I’m sorry if it sounds—”
She whirled on him. “It sounds ridiculous.” She jabbed a finger into his chest. His very solid chest. She withdrew her hand as if burned. “Guess you can’t imagine any girl who wouldn’t just be falling all over herself for you, huh?”
She swung away again, stalking through the snow. This time he kept pace with her.
“If I misread your looks, I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t look at other—”
“And you know me well enough to know how I look at other people?” she half-yelled, not looking his way.
“You don’t look at Blue that way, even when he’s so clearly hitting on you.”
“Look at him like . . .” She huffed, mainly because she knew he spoke the truth, and embarrassment flooded her. She should have known she was being too obvious in her admiration for his beauty. That’s all she admired, and though it was blinding at times, she should have kept her thoughts from her face. Sometimes she hated that the only thing she seemed capable of hiding was her cursed wings.
“I’m sorry.” He sounded anything but. “I don’t mean to offend. I just wanted to make sure we were clear . . .”
Kara’s anger drained. He was right. She hated that he was right, but that didn’t change the fact that he was. He might be a jerk sometimes, but at least he was honest. That was something she could admire. Besides his face. And those eyes. And his broad shoulders. And muscular arms. She shook her head and her steps slowed until they were walking a normal pace. They walked in silence until her cottage came into view.
“Kara,” he said. “I’m—”
“Please,” she said, holding a hand up to stop his words, not looking his way. “Don’t apologize again. It doesn’t suit you.” Then realizing her rudeness, she gritted her teeth. “That was uncalled for. Sorry. It doesn’t matter. You were only saying what you thought.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She jogged the last little bit to her cottage, ducked inside and slammed the door. Slumped against the door, she blinked and a rogue tear rolled down her cheek. Silently cursing her stupid girly-ness, she pushed away from the door. When she heard his sled start up, she stripped off her coat and threw it angrily to the floor.
The familiar whisperings of witch began as I weaved through the thick crowd. I spotted Jack sitting on a desk, a can of Diet Pepsi in his hand.
“Marigold, I’m glad you came.” He greeted me with a tight grin as he stood and came toward me.
“I was passing by when I saw all of this.” I gestured to the Mylar balloons floating about the room and the blue streamers draped from the lights and across the chalkboard. “I came in to see what’s going on and saw the cake.”
“Really?” he questioned. “Fiona and Felecia said they invited you, but you had a date with some guy you’ve been seeing over in Grantsville.”
For a moment, I could have sworn sadness touched his eyes, but looking closer into the deep pools of brown, I saw nothing.
I let the comment pass, fearing I’d lose my temper over the lie the sisters told him and feed the witch rumors. “Where are you going? Is there a basketball tournament I didn’t know about?”
“No. I . . . Uh, I’m moving to Port Fare, New York.” His voice held a strange chill now. Why is he acting so weird? “The high school there has an awesome basketball team and my parents think I’ll stand a better chance at getting a college scholarship there than I will at Podunk, West Virginia High.”
“Your dad’s giving up his job for the chance that you might get a scholarship?” The move seemed a bit impetuous. Jack had talent, but Dirk, the forward on the team, played better.
“My dad works from home so it doesn’t matter where we li—” Two of Jack’s teammates jumped him from behind and one poured a bottle of Gatorade down his back. Jack howled playfully as I jumped back.
“You’re dead, Cliff,” Jack shouted after the boy with the now empty bottle. “Sorry, Marigold. I have to get a little revenge. Maybe we can talk later.” Jack took off after his teammates and I turned to leave, not wanting to be there another moment. Was I the only one who imagined that the week we’d spent together was special? It also hurt that he so readily believed the twins about my having a boyfriend.
“Why the tears, witch?” Fiona asked. She appeared out of nowhere, blocking my escape route. She propped her hands on her hips, her short denim skirt rode up several inches. Felecia, wearing almost the exact same outfit, mimicked her sister’s pose.
“Excuse me. I don’t want to be late for my bus.” I dropped my gaze downward, too upset to try to deal with their games at the moment. I attempted to go around the obnoxious twins, only they were having none of it.
“You actually believed Jack liked you, didn’t you?” Felecia asked, flicking a strand of my frizzy hair.
I snapped my head up and glared into the girl’s watery gray eyes. “Is that why you lied and told him I had a boyfriend and couldn’t come to the party?” At least, I hoped that was what happened. Because if Jack really didn’t care about me . . . I shivered at the thought.
“We know you’ve put a spell on him, witch. He wanders the halls searching for you between classes, and Fiona caught him doodling your name on his notebook,” Felecia bit out between her clamped teeth. “He’s clearly bewitched.”
“So you’re protecting him from me then?” I asked, stepping toward the twins.
“That’s right.” Fiona offered up a nasty sneer. “I saw him first, and since I can’t compete against your black magic voodoo, I invented a boyfriend for you. Now Jack thinks you’ve been playing both ends.”
I moved even closer as they each crept back. “Wh-what does it matter, witch?” Felicia said, her hands shaking. “He’s leaving in the morning for Port Fare. You would have lost him anyway.”
I stopped. They had a point. What did it matter? The boy I loved was leaving. The only person ever to have defended me against the witch taunts. I turned for the door, but stopped when I heard the twins’ snide laughter. It burned hot in my stomach. Before clearing the door, I casually flipped my hair over my shoulder, or at least I hoped it looked that way to my classmates. In fact, the gesture meant much more. Through my strands of hair, I wiggled my index finger at the Farious twins. A stink rose from the girls so vile people actually tripped over themselves in an effort to escape. When the unmistakable noises started, laughter filled the room and fingers pointed at the girls who would forevermore be known as the Fartious twins.