What are You People?
They stayed out on the patio until their drinks were empty and it was too cold to sit still in the evening air any longer. Cullen lead Eleanor back inside with his arm draped over her shoulder, and she excused herself to the ladies’ room while Cullen went to meet up with the rest of their group.
The restrooms were down a narrow hallway, the ladies’ at the far end of the squeezed space. When she left, drying her hands on her jeans, looking at her feet as she went, she bumped into a large object blocking her path.
It was a man.
“I know you, don’t I?” he asked.
“Maybe?” she asked, squinting her eyes in the dim light. She normally didn’t need her glasses to see up this close, but something about the way the light from the bar filtered into the dark little space made it almost impossible to make out any features on the man’s face.
“You’re from the Redgrove place. Eleanor? I think we went to highschool together. John Manning.”
The name sounded familiar, sure. But that didn’t mean much. Everyone in three counties had gone to the same high school; there weren’t enough school-aged kids to necessitate more than one building, even if it meant some of the students had to travel an hour to get to and from home each day. She was right then; she knew she would run into someone she knew. She was just glad that she didn’t know him better. And that no one had given any of the other bar patrons much to talk about. “Yeah, that’s me. Sorry, I was just on my way out -” she tried to squeeze past him but she put a hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t think so,” he said, and his voice took on a serious tone.
“I think we have to have a little chat about what you said to Missy.”
Missy? Who the hell was Missy? Wait - the girl who tried to make a move on Dorian? “How about fuck you both?” she offered and tried to shove past him again, but he didn’t relent, and the space wasn’t wide enough for her to even begin to squeeze past.
“Not so tough without your boyfriend, are you?”
Eleanor sighed deeply. “Look, John,” she said his name with emphatic disgust. “He really isn’t my boyfriend. I promise. But he really is gay and just wanted to have a night out in peace. Tell Missy I’m sorry, but Dorian just isn’t into chicks. Not even me. Huge shocker, I know.” She took a step past to see if he would allow her passage now that all of her cards were on the table.
“So you don’t have a boyfriend?”
She squeezed shut her eyes. She thought maybe she did, after the rushed conversation - not even really a conversation - she’d just had with Cullen. Maybe a potential boyfriend. What an awful word, boyfriend, she thought. “No, I do,” she tried to point past him, “but he’s the blond one -”
He grabbed her extended wrist. “That so?”
She tried to yank away but John held strong. “Yes, it is, and I’d like to go home with him now, thanks,” she said through gritted teeth. She wasn’t making progress but she was holding her ground.
“You kiss a lot of men you ain’t dating?” he asked, a wetness in his voice.
She could have said a lot of things but none of them would have been kind to herself or to Dorian so Eleanor remained resolute in her silence, testing his grip with another jerk of her arm, but his fingers remained locked around her wrist.
“You realize I could just call for them, right? Those people are soldiers.”
“Don’t look like any soldiers I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah, and you should be fuckin’ glad for that,” she told him, and the comment seemed to take John off-guard, just long enough for her to rip her wrist free of his grasp. She made a move for the end of the hallway but she was too slow; he used his whole body to slam Eleanor into the wall she was squeezing against.
“I don’t fucking think so,” he said to her, pinning her there and bringing his face within inches of hers.
There was a second of absolute blankness that flashed through Eleanor, and in a shuddering moment, something started to well up inside of her. It felt like anger, it felt like pain, but it felt like so many other things - like power and light and freedom, and from her lips came the strained sound of her voice as the feeling pushed through her whole body, forced and forceful all the same.
“Well I do!” she growled and from her - from all of her, from her skin, from her mouth, from her very neurons - exploded a shockwave of whiteness, of force, and John was pushed out of the hallway and onto his knees.
The light faded and Eleanor braced herself against the wall with both hands to stop herself from fainting, from throwing up. She pressed her forehead against the cool wood, now unable to leave the narrow, dark space she had tried to hard to escape only seconds before. From the far side of the bar rushed Cullen and Dorian, the commander reaching out his arms to Eleanor, and she gratefully collapsed into them, pointing a trembling finger at John as she gasped, “That fucker needs to leave,” her voice harsh as though the sound itself had been burnt.
“Eleanor, what -” Cullen began, but Dorian cut him off.
“How did that happen?”
Leaning against Cullen, Eleanor tried to walk over to the bar, taking small, weak steps, but directing the much stronger, larger Cullen all the same. She reached into her purse and slapped money down onto the bar top, gripping the wood for a moment and taking long, slow breaths. Finally, she freed herself from Cullen’s embrace and said, “I’m going home now.”
“Wait, Ellie,” Cullen pleaded, remaining where he stood, but she waved a hand behind her, dismissing any and all of his concerns as she made her wait to the front door. All she said was, “Home.”
Dorian stood beside Cullen and watched as Eleanor pulled open the door and let herself out into the night. Then they shifted their eyes to the young man who had been knocked to the ground by… well, by Eleanor. Cullen’s face grew hard as he took a step forward towards the man, who was crab-crawling away from the commander, knocking himself up against a stack of chairs when he found he could go no further. He scrabbled to his feet.
“What are you people?” the man asked imploringly.
“That is the least of your concerns,” said Cullen, reaching out and grabbing Eleanor’s assailant by the collar of his shirt.
“Cullen,” cautioned Dorian, “I think he’s had enough.”
“I don’t” said Cullen with a growl.
“We have other things to worry about,” the mage intoned, pointing to the door which had swung shut behind Eleanor’s fumbling exit.
Cullen released his grip on the man’s shirt. “I wouldn’t suggest you come back here for a very long time,” the commander said harshly, and stalked away, following Eleanor’s wake.
He caught up with her just as she was passing the foot of the stairs to the bar. Her arms were wrapped tightly around herself, hands gripping her elbows, and she looked shaky and cold. Cullen took off the grey shirt he had been wearing and slung it over Eleanor’s shoulders, and she glanced up at him, as though finally realizing he had followed her out.
“Ellie,” he began slowly. He wanted to ask her, wanted to ask her what she had felt, what she had done; if his suspicions were correct, they might be about to have a much bigger problem on their hands. Bigger than the Blight? Not globally, no, but this… this might change things.
“I’m okay,” she said, her feet still carrying her in the direction of the farm. It was clear to Cullen that she was going to stop for nothing, so he only put an arm around her and walked with her.
He said her name again, softly, but imploringly, “Ellie, tell me - has anything been… different for you lately?”
He looked down at her with soft brown eyes, so rich, so full of concern that Eleanor wanted to burst into tears right then and there. She should have told him before, she knew that now. He presented no threat to her; how could he? Fighting back exhaustion and a sadness, an emptiness that came in waves, she had to look away from him. “Cullen,” she offered, unsure of whether she should move closer to him, or further away, “I’ve been having these… dreams.”