Modern Day; November 18th; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa
Breathe. In… Out. You can do this. Focus, now. Breathe.
I felt the power go out of me and opened my eyes. My mouth fell open of its own accord at the sight of the burning bush in front of me. The branches remained unclaimed and unmolested. The fire was like a harmless decoration upon its branches, dancing in the wind.
“Excellent, Melissa!” Adam said. He clapped heartily, beaming at me. “Fantastic!”
“How’s that for a biblical reference,” said Willow.
He winked at me and I smirked at him. It was hard for me to avoid showing how proud I was of myself. I had come so far since the beginning.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Beth. “My mother sent me to Sunday school when I was little, but God knows my father didn’t teach me anything when she left. My spiritual life kind of withered away to nothing.”
“Maybe that’s why you’re so unhappy,” said Felix with a shrug. “You need someone to talk to and God has never felt like an option to you.”
“God,” she scoffed.
“Religious views aside, how do you think I did?” I said.
“Eight out of ten,” Felix said, but he was laughing.
“Eight? Only eight?”
“Well, it’s not being consumed at all.”
“That’s what I intended.”
“Oh! In that case, it’s a ten.”
“Thanks. You need to pay better attention. I said what I was going to do before I started.”
“Sorry. I was a little distracted.”
His eyes flitted over to Beth and I rolled my eyes at him. He had the biggest crush on Beth and I found it incredibly annoying, mostly because she acted like she had no idea. Beth got on my nerves nearly every day, but I had to try and not get annoyed because today was her birthday and I actually wanted her to have a good one. Ever since she had moved in, things had been very strange. I had never lived in a house with anyone other than just Amber. Beth was staying in the guest room across the hall from me, so if I left my door open I could see what she was doing across the hall. It was very distracting – since I was always trying to do school work in my room – so I almost always had my door closed. In the mornings, she took forever in the bathroom and I was forced to brush my teeth in the kitchen sink. It was the biggest adjustment I’d ever had to make and I still didn’t know what to think of it.
Ever since Beth had first experienced an ability, our mutual trust had grown. Now she felt comfortable asking me what it felt like for me when I was controlling fire. It was much better now that I didn’t have to keep that a secret from her, but I felt uncomfortable that she knew more about me than Amber did. Amber, who had raised me on her own and taken care of me my whole life. She deserved to know and I knew I had to tell her soon.
I inclined my head and the fire went out. Adam looked at Beth.
“Beth, do you want to give it a try now?” he said, nodding to her.
Her voice wavered with a lack of confidence, but she stepped up and frowned as she tried to focus. I relinquished my hold on the fire and it disappeared from the bush, leaving it unchanged. Adam, Beth, Felix, Willow, and I stood in the garden above the entrance to the Underground. Adam had insisted that Beth and I practice controlling our abilities and Felix and Willow had tagged along to watch and give any advice they had. I wished that Cierra could join, since she was my best friend, but she was busy with her new responsibilities. It was strange not having her around all the time and I could tell that Willow felt the same way. We kept each other company and there was a silent understanding between us that we were both sad that she was busy all the time. It was clear that Felix was hanging out with us more because of Beth. He was Willow’s best friend, but the person he paid most attention to was Beth. It was kind of funny to watch.
“You can do it, Beth,” Felix said.
She breathed in, as I had, and when she exhaled, water began to pool around the bottom of the same bush I had practiced on. It reminded me of that pool of water at the top of a potted plant when you watered it too much. But the water wasn’t coming from the ground, it was coming from Beth.
“Nice, nice,” Adam said as he watched her.
She bit her lip and separate droplets of water began to slide up the trunk of the tree and down the branches until the pool of water was dispersed in droplets along the entire tree. I was so jealous that I could almost feel the blood stirring in my veins. My eyes bored into the back of her head.
How is she doing this? How is it possible that she can be so good so fast?
I allowed the barriers of my mind to lower and focused on Beth. I didn’t often read people’s minds on purpose, but it was different with Beth. I always felt the need to know what was going on in her head because she was so difficult to read otherwise.
Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Holy fuck.
I coughed to try and cover up a laugh at her unexpected thoughts. I had expected something more focused and meditative, but she just sounded as panicked as I always felt whenever I used my abilities. After all, she was only a kid like me.
“Oh my God,” Willow said under his breath.
“Beth, that’s amazing,” said Adam. “I’ve never seen such precision before, and never on a newly developing elf.”
“You mean half elf,” I said, trying not to sound as jealous as I felt.
“I don’t even know how I did that,” Beth said. “It just felt so natural. Like putting on a glove or something.”
Adam smiled and said, “That’s how it’s supposed to feel. It’s supposed to feel like doing the right thing. Like it’s as natural as going to sleep or waking up.”
“What if you have insomnia?” Felix said.
I was the only one that heard and I smirked at him.
“Do you think I could try doing other things?” She turned back to the bush. “Like turning the water to ice?”
There was a soft crackling noise, almost like bacon sizzling in the distance, and I watched as the water droplets hardened. The bush was caked with ice. None of us said anything and Beth turned around slowly. She looked almost frightened at her own power and I felt a twinge of sympathy. It was one thing to have power over an element, but to have that much power would be overwhelming. Her eyes were round like a child’s. She crossed her arms over her chest and the ice shattered like glass, leaving the bush as it had been before.
“I think I’m done for today,” she said.
“Are you ready to go home now?” I asked.
I didn’t trust myself to say anything about how her practicing had gone.
“You did an excellent job today, Beth. And you, Melissa. I’m very proud,” Adam said.
I gave him a hug, but he and Beth shook hands because they didn’t know each other very well yet. Willow came over and hugged me too.
“Bye. I’ll see you later,” he said before kissing me.
We had been dating for over a month now and I still felt sparks whenever I kissed him. They were actual sparks, too, because of my ability.
“See ya,” Felix said.
He hugged me and then I watched him hug Beth. He smiled with his arms around her and she was blushing when they pulled apart. I reached out for Beth’s hand and we teleported as soon as our skin was touching.
“Parcia is such a beautiful place,” she said when we had appeared at the end of our street in Cleveland.
“I knew you would love it. It’s my favorite place. And to think I didn’t even know it existed a couple months ago.”
“I don’t understand why they keep it a secret.”
“As hard as secrets are to keep, sometimes they are kept for a reason.” I turned and raised my eyebrows at her. “You have to remember not to say anything to Amber.”
“Why is that so important to you? I thought you shared everything with Amber.”
“I do. That’s why it would be so devastating to her if she found out from anyone other than me. I’m going to tell her when the time is right, I promise.”
“And what exactly is the right time to tell your mother that you’re not human?”
I laughed, but inside I worried because she was right. There was never going to be a “right” time. I just had to do it.
When we walked inside, it smelled heavily of baking. I walked into the kitchen with my nose in the air, as if that would help me catch more of the delicious scent.
“Hi, Sweetie,” Amber said, hugging me with her apron on.
“Hi, Amber. It smells wonderful. What are you making?”
“Cake, of course. I know I’m cutting it close, but I had to work until three today and then I had to pay the bills.”
“Please don’t apologize,” said Beth. “I haven’t had a proper birthday cake in so long.”
She hugged Amber and I started setting the table in the dining room.
“Happy birthday, Beth,” I heard Amber say.
“Thanks, Mrs. Curran.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Please call me Amber. You’re practically a Curran now, anyways.”
I stopped what I was doing, alerted by what I had heard. I couldn’t believe it. Beth was practically part of the family now? That was something I was not prepared to grasp.
“Okay…Amber. Is there any way I can help?”
“Yes. Take this out into the dining room please.”
I resumed setting the table and Beth came out, carrying a pan of lasagna. She looked at me as she set the pan down, but didn’t say anything.
Amber brought out salad and dressing and then the three of us took our seats.
“Actually, Beth, I wanted to talk to you about how you’re practically a Curran,” Amber said as we began to dish up our food. “Since your father is in jail and your mother is otherwise occupied… I was wondering if you would like to join our family.”
I dropped the salad tongs and they went skittering across the dining room floor. I dropped to my knees to get them and clean up the slight mess I had made. My heart was hammering in my chest. What was Amber doing? She was changing everything and she hadn’t even talked to me about it.
“Are you… Serious?” Beth said.
“Of course I’m serious!”
When I got back in my chair, I saw that Beth was crying. I patted her on the back, but I couldn’t find any words to say.
“I would love to be a part of your family.” She smiled through her tears. “There’s nothing I want more than that right now.”
Not even Felix?
“Wonderful. Tomorrow I’m going to start going through the paperwork to make me your legal guardian.”
“That’s so exciting!”
They smiled at each other. I looked at Beth’s tearful face and found myself very torn. I wanted to be happy and welcoming to her, but I was too overwhelmed by this change. It had come from seemingly nowhere and it seemed like I had been hit by a ton of bricks. Amber looked at me and I tried to smile, but all I could muster up was a half smile. She probably knew exactly what I was thinking, which was usually my capability. Beth turned and hugged me. I hugged her back, but I was surprised by her sudden familiarity with me.
“We’re going to be sisters!”
It was a strange thought and I hoped that I would be able to feel excited about it eventually. Right now, I just felt sad and tired.
After we finished eating, Amber needed to put the frosting on the cake that had been cooling in the kitchen, so Beth and I were left alone at the table.
“It’s strange,” Beth said. “I’m so used to being an only child. This is going to be interesting for me, adjusting to living with you guys and being your sister.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.”
I felt terrible then because I hadn’t realized that Beth was going through the exact same thing as me. I wasn’t alone. In fact, I would probably never feel alone again.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. I mean, not only are we both the only child of our families, we’re also both teenagers who aren’t fully human and are developing abilities.”
“Could you say that a little louder?” I said, putting my head in my hands.
“Relax. She didn’t hear a thing.”
I straightened in my chair and listened, but Beth was right. Amber was singing “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by ABBA to herself and hadn’t heard a word.
“So we have a lot in common.”
“Yes. I’m really looking forward to sharing this weird transition with you, Melissa. You’re one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.”
I bit my lip hard to prevent myself from laughing when her thoughts floated through my head.
“You know, I really think you should ask Felix out. I’m sure he’ll say yes.”
She frowned at me.
“I wish you would stop saying that. He’s way too old for me. There’s no way anything romantic can ever happen between us.”
“Just keep telling yourself that.”
Amber appeared in the doorway behind Beth, carrying the cake with three candles on top. She waved a hand to get my attention and then made as if to conduct me so that we both started singing happy birthday at the same time. Beth giggled in surprise and watched as Amber set the cake in front of her and then returned to her seat. When we finished the song, Beth closed her eyes, waited a minute, and then blew out the candles. I resisted the urge to read her mind and find out what she had wished for, but I stopped myself because that was beyond rude. Wishes were a very personal thing.
“Look, Beth!” I said, pointing to her three candles. “You’re three years old now!”
Amber and Beth both laughed, but Amber was shaking her head.
“If I had used seventeen candles, there’s no way she would’ve gotten them all out in one breath.”
“I don’t know, I’m pretty skilled.”
More skilled than Amber could possibly know. I really need to tell her soon. It’s gotten to be so bad that I feel terrible whenever I’m around her just because she doesn’t know everything.
“It was nice of Willow and Cierra to have you both over after school,” Amber said as we ate our cake.
It was a delicious cake – yellow with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles.
“Yeah, they said they wanted to hang out with me since it was my birthday.”
“What did you all do?”
“Oh, you know… We played twister and watched a movie,” she lied. “We just hung out. Teenager stuff.”
Amber laughed, thankfully.
“I remember when ‘teenager stuff’ meant listening to my parents’ records while getting high and talking about boys. You girls didn’t get high, did you?”
“For God’s sake, Amber,” I said.
She saw the look of disbelief on my face and said, “Yeah, I didn’t think so. You’re good girls, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“I don’t doubt that you and Willow get up to some things.”
“Are we really talking about this at the dinner table?”
“You’re right. That was inappropriate of me. Beth, dear, did you have a good birthday?”
“The best ever,” she said with a large grin. “I’ve never had so much cake in my life.”
She looked at down at Amber’s masterpiece with delight.
“That’s not all for you, you know,” I said.
“Melissa.” Amber gave me a look. “Why don’t you take care of the dishes tonight?”
“It was just a joke!”
But I obediently began to stack up the dirty dishes. I always did the dishes anyways. It was the least I could do after the magnificent food Amber cooked for me.
The doorbell rang and Beth called out, “I’ll get it!”
I shut off the sink just in time to hear Felix say, “Happy birthday!”
I tried to be as quiet as possible as I put our plates in the dishwasher so that I could hear the rest of the conversation.
“Felix! You didn’t have to come here just to say that! You said it to me earlier.”
“I know I did, but it’s the only day out of the year when people can say it to you, so what’s so bad about hearing it more than once? Also, I didn’t come here just to say it. I also came to give you your present.”
“Present? You didn’t have to do that!”
“Yes I did. We’re good friends and you deserve something.”
I dried my hands and walked over to stand in the doorway of the kitchen and watch as Beth unwrapped her gift. Her immediate response was to squeal and throw her arms around Felix. Felix smiled triumphantly at me over her shoulder and I laughed at him silently.
“Linkin Park! Yes! Thank you so much!”
“I thought you might like it.”
“I love it! Ah!” She squeezed him again. “We have to watch this now! You have to stay and watch it with me! Have some cake. We have so much left over.”
“If you insist,” Felix said, but he winked at me.
“Melissa! Wanna watch this concert DVD with us?” Beth said when she saw me.
“No thanks. I have homework to do.”
As I climbed the stairs, I smiled to myself at the thought of them snuggled up on the couch together.