A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "The Ghost of Boyfriends Past"
"What got into you?" Will growls at you afterward, when you're in the parking lot. You never did catch up to Chris, who made his own exit via side door or something. So now it's just you and Will, for Brianna and Genesis took off a few minutes ago with your promise that you'd probably—maybe—for sure—meet up with them at Starbucks later.
"What do you mean, what got into me?" You pinch him again.
He jumps. Then he pinches you back. "Fine," he says, "if that's the way you—"
"You were the one who was all flirty earlier! You know. So people wouldn't think it's weird when we start hanging out together!"
"There's no one with us now!"
You take a couple of steps back from him. "You want me to stop? Do you want to stop?"
He rolls his eyes and sighs heavily.
"You're doing it on purpose, Will," he says. "This whole act," he adds before you can challenge him to explain himself. "You're trying to act like me with me."
"Don't you like it?"
He makes a face. "It's an uncanny valley thing. Or— I dunno. I don't like, you know, seeing myself like this." He squirms on his feet. "I don't think I like myself like—"
"I like you like this," you tell him. "I like—"
But then you have to break off, and you blush.
"I'm sorry," you say. "I'll stop. And if you don't want to do anything Friday, or today or tomorrow—"
"It's not that," he protests. He touches your wrists, which gives you a thrill, then clasps your hands and twines his fingers into yours, which gives you a shiver. He shifts from foot to foot, which pulls you off balance, and then you realize you're also shifting from foot to foot. "Only stop trying so hard."
"Do you think I'm trying?"
"I don't know." Your breath is coming in short gasps, and you don't know why. "What are you trying to do?"
He stares at the ground and kicks at the asphalt.
"I dunno either," he says. "Trying not to mess anything up, I guess."
"Are you scared that I'm going to mess something up?" you demand.
"I'm just trying to do what you would do, Will," he says. "What it feels like you'd do."
"But that's what I'm doing!"
He doesn't answer, and almost you pull away from him. But he pulls you close to himself before you can.
"Look, I was flirting with you earlier so you'd know it was okay to flirt back with me. So we could start hanging out lots together— And have it just be the two of us, sometimes— Without people thinking it was weird." His eyes roll in his sockets, showing their whites. "I don't think you have to, um, dial it up higher than that."
You stare at him a moment, then wrench your hands from his.
"Okay, Leah," you tell him. "That's the way we'll handle it. We'll be flirty but that's all." You hop back. "I'll talk to you later."
"Will!" he calls. "Leah!" he corrects himself. "Where are you—?"
"It's okay!" you call back as you scamper off. "We'll talk later! Anyway," you can't help adding, "won't it be more believable if we get in kind of a fight? That way people will think we're really serious, and that'll be—!"
But you have to break off and hide your face as you sprint back to your—Leah's—car. God damn it, why does it feel like I'm about to bust out crying? you yell at yourself.
* * * * *
You don't actually bust out crying, though you feel jittery and unbalanced on the drive out to the Starbucks to meet Brianna and Genesis. Maybe it is better this way, you think. I just had a fight with Will, and it'll look like I had a fight with him, but I'll pretend we didn't, and then people will really think we're serious and oh fuck when did I start prattling to myself like this, like a goddamn girl!
So you are all breathless smiles when you settle at the table at Starbucks, where Brianna and Genesis already have their books out so they can pretend like they're studying even as they are busy tapping into their cell phones. They ask you if Will is coming and you breathlessly tell them that something came up and he can't, but though they exchange a look neither one of them says anything to you, and then Susie Lekuawehe comes wandering in—as she usually does, with a faintly addled air and a giggle like she's surprised even herself by showing up—and so the table talk (what there is of it; mostly the others concentrate on their phones while you do your homework) is about whatever Susie wants to talk about.
But Brianna hasn't been thrown completely off-stride, and when you and she are walking out of Starbucks together afterward, she asks you point-blank if Will really had to go do something else all of a sudden. "Ye-e-e-e-es!" you sigh at her in the most melodramatic way you can. When she presses by asking you where, you reply, with even more exasperation, "I don't know! He just said he had to be someplace else!" Then, when she asks if you're going to be hanging out with him tomorrow, you set off a calculated explosion: "I don't know! How about you make some kind of plan that needs both of us along, so we can do something together, and you'll see us doing something together, and then maybe you'll leave us alone!"
You should stomp off toward your car after that, but instead you hold your ground, wobbling on your feet and staring everyplace but at Brianna.
She says nothing for the longest time. Then she says, "You had a fight."
"No we didn't! Jesus! We just— Things just got kind of messed up between us!"
"What did he say?"
For a moment you feel like you've been slapped. Why the hell do you assume it's the guy's fault, my fault? you want to yell at her. Then you realize she is just trying to protect your—Leah's—feelings.
"He didn't say anything! It's my fault! I freaked him out. Oh, God!" You grind the heels of your hands into your eyes. "You saw me in the theater!" You sniffle and snuffle.
Brianna touches your arm. "Did you ... scare him?"
"Oh!" Brianna put her arms out and hugs you. You clasp her back, and she feels good in your arms. She's a soft little thing, not so much overweight as generously padded all over, and you want to squish her close to you.
After a minute of this, she pats your back and releases you. "Let's go get gelato," she says.
Even though you pretend to be reluctant—you really need to go home, you tell her—you are secretly pleased by the suggestion, and let her pull you along in her wake.
* * * * *
You talk about almost everything with Brianna except Will—Parker and Kristina; Jack; Genesis and her latest crush; classes—and you feel much better when you part an hour later. Texts have built up on your phone by the time you leave, one of them from Will asking to talk, but you have ignored them. Once back in your car, though, you draw the deepest breath you ever have, and return Will's text with one of your own, telling him to call you at his convenience.
"So, I'm really sorry about this afternoon," he says when you talk later that night, after you're home and have eaten.
"I'm sorry too."
"Thing is, I'm trying look at it like, you know, you would. I mean, how I would. How both of us would— Oh, shit! Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so," you hazard, though you really don't.
"Do you? I mean, I told you that I know how you think. Except I've decided I don't, not really. Or ... sort of? When I'm with your friends I can sort of—"
"Is it the same with you? God! I'm totally confusing myself! Trying to figure out what I think and what you'd think, and what you'd because of what I'd think, because of where you are and where I'm at, and—"
"No, yeah, I get it."
There's a pause. "You were acting like I would, when you ran off, weren't you?"
"I dunno. Maybe? I didn't feel a lot like myself, but—"
"Well, I wasn't acting like myself when I said those things to you."
"I don't remember," he confesses after a fractional hesitation. "You know, we've been talking about how, um, we need to act so people aren't ... surprised ... that we're hanging out? Well, I've been thinking, why would they be surprised? We're, like, friends already. Friends hang out."
Your heart plunges. "So we just act like friends?"
There's another pause. And then he says, with a careful neutrality, "Well, that's not exactly what I was saying. No, I was thinking—" You can almost hear the heart in his throat, as he speaks around it. "I was thinking, we're pretty ... intimate ... with each other right now. Just the way things are. Like, all that 'I know what you know' stuff. Right?"
"Uh huh." Now your own heart is in your own throat.
"So, I was thinking— It would be okay with me— If— We were— Maybe we should be ... completely intimate with each other? Nothing between us?"
You can't believe it. Is she suggesting that you fuck each other while inside each other's bodies?
That's all for now.