A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Marius?"
You can barely contain your glee as you step from Mathilde's room, and have to force an imperious twitch onto your lips even as you want to laugh out loud. I am Mathilde Ambard!
You catch yourself walking too fast as you stride down the hall, and slow up into a more deliberate, haughty stride. I'm the empress of the school, you remind yourself.
It's an amazing feeling. If being Stephanie Wyatt made you feel desirable, being Mathilde Ambard makes you feel powerful. At the head of the stairs you meet Bailey Kinney. As JM, you'd have to dance awkwardly around her. But Bailey backs away to let you sweep past, and you giggle to yourself as you ignore her. You could revel in this borrowed confidence for hours, but you've only got nine minutes to find Marius. Anything after that runs the risk of discovery.
You pause in the middle of the corridor to check Mathilde's cell—maybe Marius gave her a location to meet at? But her cell is locked, and you momentarily panic at knowing the code. Then you remember: I am her! I've got her fingerprints! The phone unlocks as you press a thumb to the phone. Then another moment of panic: The messenger app is all in French! But the layout is the same, and soon you are scrolling through a cascade of messages from Marius. He and Mathilde, it seems, talk a lot, but you don't have time to do a Tammy-Lynn and snoop. Instead, you quickly find the unopened message asking Mathilde to meet when she gets back. With a quick swipe you delete it, and resume your search.
Luck is with you. As glance into the game room as you pass, and spot Marius and Ryan Hall (no relations to each other) bent over the pool table. You fold your arms and wait in the doorway with suppressed impatience for them to notice you.
Pool balls click softly together, then Marius catches you out of the corner of his eye. "Hold up a sec," he tells his partner. "Bon soir, Mathilde, ça va?"
Shit. Don't tell me he's going to carry on the entire conversation in French! "Stick to English," you improvise. "Your accent is terrible."
Marius smiles. "Hey, I don't sound anything like that!"
Double shit! You're speaking with Mathilde's voice, but you haven't got her natural, rolling French lilt—you're speaking with a Californian accent! Have you got an answer? No. So you force a micro-smile onto your lips. That's Mathilde's usual signal to get to the point.
"Ah, yeah, my text," Marius says. "So I was wondering if you'd help with a small house matter. Jocelyn Moss … Do you know who she is? She has this book, and we'd like to know what it's about."
He sets his cue against the wall and steps over to a small end table, where a briefcase is lying. He opens it and takes out a book bound in red leather. Your heart beats faster. This is working! But you can't let your imposture drop now. Even as he proffers the book, you you hang back, as if trying to decide if this is an utter waste of your time, then shrug and walk over to take it. For the briefest moment his hand touches your own, and you feel a quick burst of electricity. Are Marius and Mathilde an item!? Something in the way he leans in toward you sets your pulse racing. Or maybe it's the excitement at using the book's magic to get the book back.
"She says she bought it for some art project," Marius continues as you open and slowly flip through the book and pretend to study the pages. "I'm inclined to believe her. She's in my law and politics classes, and she's always been on the level. But there's an old school bylaw about, uh, alternative religions. It's got a pentagram on it, and if it's some kind of, I don't know, spell book or something ..." He trails off.
Is he really unsure? Didn't he notice those weird, transforming faces on the front papers? Didn't he try to translate this page which talks about taking blood? Or the next, which is a spell for making masks? Or the one after that, which makes a magical sealant? Or the one after—!
You freeze. That page was locked the last time you had the book! But it's unlocked now! Your heart goes into your throat.
You cover your excitement with a Gallic shrug, and make a big show of trying to pull at the next page. You try sliding your thumb between pages deeper inside the book. You shake it, and ostentatiously demonstrate that, except for the first few pages, the book is as solid as a block of wood.
"Iz zis a joke?" you ask. "It is a piece of decoration. Nuzzing more."
You half-expect Marius or Ryan to flinch and frown at your ridiculous attempt at Mathilde's accent. But Ryan says nothing, and Marius just looks confused.
"A decoration?" He takes the book from you, and also tries opening it up at other places.
"Yez." You give Marius a hard stare. "It iz , how you zay? A folly? A zhoke? Like walls zat look like bookcazes? It iz a brick, nozzing more. Zey zumtimes make zese, in the zame zpirit. Ze first payzhes, zey are just nonsonse Latin and zum pretty pictoorz. Zat is all."
Marius sighs. "Pcheh! Why didn't JM just say so?"
"Uh, cause it's Joss-Moss," Ryan says. What the hell does that mean? you wonder as he and Marius share a smile.
But then Marius frowns and snaps the book shut. "No," he says. "I don't buy it."
"There's got to be more to it than that. Why the hell would she spend all her time with a book that's just got a few pages?" he asks Ryan. He turns the book over and over his hands, pulling and pressing at the spine and cover. "Maybe it's not a brick, maybe it's a box. With a secret panel. Maybe it's got a hollow bottom?" he murmurs as he thumps the cover. "She was more bothered about losing this than her vape pen."
Ryan says, "What would you keep in it?"
Marius shrugs. "JM? I dunno. A dildo, maybe?"
"Want me to have a look?" Ryan offers. "I've got a penknife in my room, we can cut this sucker open."
"Nah," Marius says. "Lemme play with it tonight. If I can't figure it out I'll give you a holler."
You tremble with impotence as you see the book slip from your grasp. But all you can do is arch an eyebrow with pretended boredom.
Then the distant chime of a cell phone reminds you that you can't linger. But it's with a JM slouch rather than Mathilde's air of command that you slink from the room.
Thirty minutes later you are back at your desk. At least you managed to sneak Mathilde's cellphone into her room before she woke, and you changed back to JM – boring face, boring clothes – in the girls' bathroom without getting caught. But the thrill of being Mathilde still lingers, and you're aching to do it again. Everything about her life was just so much better than yours. If you could find a way to switch with her, or at least to carry out a longer imposture ...
But none of it matters – it's all empty fantasy without the book. You're still raging at Marius's pig-headedness when Tammy-Lynn enters. You give her a quick glare, but she comes over to stand at the corner of your desk with her hands behind her back.
"I just wanted to apologize," she says."I know I talk a lot. It just kind of spills out. And I'm just curious is all. I figure if I know more about you, then maybe we could be friends, rather than just two people stuck in a room together."
You huff a little. "That's not going to bring my stuff back, is it?"
Tammy looks down at the ground. "Well, about that." She brings her hands out, and holds out a book in red-leather covers, covered in gold script.
The book! You gasp and leap to your feet. "What? How?" you scream, and throw your arms around Tammy-Lynn.
She smiles. "I felt bad, so I went to talk to Marius. 'Parently, Mathilde had already told him it was a fake or something. A box disguised as a book. He was about to slice it open to see what you were hiding inside, but I backed you up and said it was all an art project. Showed him that drawing, told him you were making art stuff with it." She puffs out her cheeks. "I'm sorry, JM. I promise, from now on what goes on in this room stays between us. Truce?"
You're too relieved to do anything but nod furiously and give her another hug. "I'm sorry about all the stuff I said too," you tell her. "And I'll do my best to have a better attitude." You seal the deal with a third hug.
You want to start on the next spell right away, but you don't want to make too big a deal about it, so you set the book aside. Instead you take out your phone and go online. You can hardly concentrate, though, until a text comes in. It's from Mark, to 'StephWyatt': Wow, u look amzing. Mybe I can come 2 a game?
You couldn't send him a selfie, but you did find a picture of the real Stephanie Wyatt. She plays basketball, and you sent him a news photo that shows her in action: tight shorts, revealing tank top, powerful limbs pumping as she rises into the air to make a basket. It's from a practice session.
Maybe, you text back. Still preseason tho. Gng to hv to get physical anthr way. ;)
The reply comes back almost immediately: U busy this wk? Mybe take u 4 dinner?
You bite your lip. A romantic dinner with Mark Pederson! It's an offer that's too tempting to refuse… if only you weren't stuck at St. X.
Next: "The Mind of Mary"