“Colin?” Mrs. Basford asked as she came into the living room with two glasses of iced tea. The house looked like something from a TV show, too clean and perfect to be lived in. Even the scuffs and wear marks on the table and sofa looked fake.
“Hello, Mrs. Basford.” Colin accepted the glass nervously, barely glancing up at her.
She sat beside her husband on the sofa, across from Colin in an armchair. “You knew Callie, is that right?”
Colin took a sip in a vain effort to get some moisture back into his mouth. The hefty dose of sugar didn’t cover the bitterness. “Yes, I did. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Mrs. Basford smiled warmly. Mr. Basford put his hand over hers. “We try not to dwell too much, but I guess that’s why no one seems willing to talk to us about her anymore.”
Colin tried to smile. He looked at the picture of Callie on the bookshelf. There were many pictures of her in this room, but he was there for the one on the bookshelf, making faces behind the photographer so she had the distinct look of someone trying very hard not to laugh.
“What’s on your mind?” Mr. Basford asked, releasing his wife’s hand and leaning forward.
“I knew her,” Colin said. “We were… talking about maybe dating sometime.”
Mrs. Basford straightened. “She was dating Charles.”
“That’s why we were only talking about it. But, I was…” Her beautiful half-smile, just like he was back in that room with her. She hated her smile in that picture, but Colin loved it. Her eyes were so happy, and he’d made them that way. “I was supposed to meet her at the park the night of the storm.”
There, he said it.
Mrs. Basford’s smile faded, and Mr. Basford squeezed her hand. The air in the room felt thick with sudden tension. Colin set his glass on the counter.
“How dare you,” Callie’s mother growled.
Colin took a sharp breath. He should have known this was a possibility. He looked away. “I’m sorry to have upset you.”
The words were hardly out of his mouth when she swatted his still full glass off of the coffee table into the bookshelf and the picture of Callie. Mr. Basford stood and held her by the shoulders.
“How dare you come here and tell me my daughter was a slut.” Mrs. Basford struggled in her husband’s grip. “How dare you try to soil her memory with your petty teenage fantasies. It’s your fault she’s dead if that’s true. It all comes back to you. That poor Mary girl, they raped her and passed her around like a joint because of you! Your parent’s are dead because of you!”
“You should go,” Mr. Basford said.
Colin left as quickly as he could, with Mrs. Basford shouting abuses after him. He almost walked past his car in a panic. He didn’t breathe again until he got a few blocks away. Then he took a deep breath. She was right. It all came back to him, didn’t it?
He looked at his shaking hands. Shaking, but no sparks, no lightning, no messing with the electronics of the car.
Maybe Andreus was right, maybe there was something to the whole closure thing, even if it did feel like shit.
Colin planned on getting some shitty fast food and drowning in at least half a bottle of whiskey. He didn’t want to see anyone, or deal with anything until after that, at least.
Mary had other ideas. She threw her arms around him as soon as he opened the door and she saw his face. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” he lied. “Nothing I can undo, anyway.”
She took his hands in hers and searched his eyes. “What did you do?”
He tried to fake a smile, but it wouldn’t come. How could he look at her and smile at her when he was the reason she’d suffered so much so long ago? He trie to tell her what happened, but the words wouldn’t come, so he stood there with a horrible fake smile that flickered in and out of existence.
“Let me pour us a drink,” she said. “Do you have anything to eat?”
“I might have some apples in the fridge.”
She laughed, then screamed when something slammed into the sliding glass door.
“What the fuck was that?” Colin said as he rushed toward the door.
“Oh, god.” Mary covered her mouth with both hands, but pulled them away to speak. “It’s Andreus.”
They fumbled with the door in the rush to get it open. Finally they opened it and pulled Andreus inside.
“What happened?” Colin asked. “Andreus, are you okay?”
“Clearly not, Colin!” Mary shrieked. She took a breath and pulled out her phone. “Sorry, I think I know what happened.”
“What do I do, Mary? What do I do?” Colin had enough on his conscience, especially today, without Andreus dying in his kitchen. Colin tried to pull him further into the house, but Andreus’ limbs turned to liquid when Colin grabbed them. Andreus flopped on the kitchen floor, seeming too much like a dying fish and its spilled water bowl.
“Hey,” Mary said calmly into her phone. “It’s Andreus, at Colin’s place. It’s bad. No, no he’s not.”
Andreus’ body contracted and water came out of his mouth. It hardly splashed against the tile before it was reincorporated into his body.
“He is, now,” Mary said. “What does that mean? I need something I can use!”
“What’s he saying?” Colin asked. Mary put a hand up to shush him.
“Okay. Colin, get some towels and some tupperware. Whatever you have with a tight lid. We need to keep him from sucking the vomit back up.”
Colin launched himself into the kitchen and threw every towel of every size and every container with a lid over the island counter toward Andreus.
“Soak it up or catch it, whatever you can do and cover it up quick,” Mary turned her attention back to the phone call. “Just get here. We’ll do what we can.”
She hung up the phone and locked the back door before sending utensils clattering out of a vase and turning the faucet on. “Take this and keep spraying him. I’ll see if I can get him closer.”
Colin dropped the towels and took aim at Andreus, still heaving, and flickering from solid to liquid, but less often as he absorbed water.
“Come on,” Mary said to Andreus as her hands slipped through him again and again while she tried to drag him into the kitchen.
Colin couldn’t manage to say anything, it was all he could do to stay still and keep the water trained on his dying friend. It was all he could do not to run.
Andreus was solid longer between flickers, and eventually he was solid enough for long enough to produce a bone chilling scream of pain.
“Yes!” Colin said. “Stay strong, buddy.”
Mary stared at Andreus, attempting to catch the poisoned water when it came out, so focused that when someone gently tapped the door, she screamed. “Oh, shit. That should be Sam.”
Colin kept spraying and willing Andreus to live. It didn’t look good, but in Colin’s experience of watching as many people overdose as trip and fall, the ones who started talking again, screaming, even, they were the ones who got back up.
Sam walked in with a dark red duffel bag slung over his broad shoulders. “How’s he doing?”
“A hell of a lot better,” Colin said.
Sam nodded. “Let’s keep him quiet for the time being.”
Colin’s heart jumped to his throat, but he kept spraying.
Sam withdrew a long needle from the bag. “Has he been shifting a lot?”
“He’s pretty stable now,” Mary said.
“Good. You can stop spraying, Colin. Do you have a fireplace?” Sam calmly loaded the needle with some kind of drug and jammed it into Andreus’ thigh.
Andreus screamed again, but it quickly died to a whimper.
Colin stopped spraying, but he didn’t like the sudden quiet.
“Get ready for the flood,” Sam said, pulling out a roll of plastic bags. “Do you have a fireplace?”
“There’s a gas fireplace upstairs,” Colin said. “And a fire pit out back.”
“Don’t go out there!” Mary shrieked. She covered her mouth and shook her head. “I’m sorry, just be careful.”
Seeing Mary shaken added to Colin’s uneasiness about the whole situation.
“I’ll light it up,” Sam said. “Catch what you can, we’ll burn it up, hose him down, do it all over again. Avoid the steam and the smoke. Got it?”
Andreus twitched. Colin waited with one of the bags at the ready. Mary nodded.
The fire pit’s sudden orange glow lit up the kitchen.
They worked together, almost silently. Colin tried to catch the waterfall as it spilled from Andreus’ mouth. Mary used every paper towel and towel and napkin she could find wiping up what Colin couldn’t catch. Sam threw it all into the fire pit and made sure it all burned.
No one acknowledged that Andreus was dying.
Hours later, Andreus, heavily drugged but apparently done vomiting, looked at them with recognition in his eyes for a moment before he closed them.
“Should we move him?” Colin asked.
Sam shook his head. “He might wake up with a sore neck, but he’ll survive and you won’t have to replace your carpet.”
Colin looked at his friend, pale and thin curled up on the tile. “I can’t leave him there.”
“Get his legs,” Sam said. “Where do you want to put him?”
“The couch, I guess.” Better than letting him die on the floor.
Colin was more in the way than he was helpful in getting Andreus to the couch, and eventually Sam took over completely while Colin found him a blanket.
“They’re playing dirty,” Mary said after she toweled herself off and changed into some of Colin’s clothes.
“I assume you know who this was?” Sam changed into a shirt from the duffel bag.
Colin sat in an armchair.
“It’s got to be Henry, right” Mary said. “He got me once, too, but not this bad. He’s not powerful with his element, but he’s a devious little shit. We can’t even identify what he uses because it’s always like this.”
Sam looked at Colin and nodded. “You’d think we’d figure it out and be ready one of these times. I was carrying around some testing vials for a while but they broke like a year ago. It’s been a while.”
“Not to mention you can’t have just anyone test it,” Mary said. “He, or they, figured out how to make it bind to our elements, and water elementals are most susceptible.”
Sam went to the kitchen and offered to make coffee.
Mary gave a little snort of laughter. “He works at a fucking donut shop. We haven’t been able to take this guy out and he works at a place called PrimaDonut.”
“We can’t afford to expose ourselves by going after him there,” Sam said from the kitchen. “And every time his defenses are down outside of the shop, it’s because we’ve got other things to do, and we’re spread too thin.”
A chill ran up Colin’s spine. A few weeks ago, he’d never have considered saying what he was about to say. A few weeks ago he would have laughed in the face of someone who suggested he’d ever make this offer. But now, soaking wet and coming down off of so much adrenaline, still watching Andreus to make sure that his fragile looking chest kept rising and falling, he didn’t see any other choice.
“I’ll do it,” Colin said.
“What?” Mary asked.
Sam didn’t even hear Colin over the hiss and splashing of the coffee maker.
“I’ll kill him.”
“I can’t ask you to do that, Colin.”
“You didn’t ask,” Colin said. “I offered.”
Sam cleared his throat. “How do you expect to do it any more discretely than I could? If you think walking up and shooting him in the head will work, it won’t.”
“I can do it,” Colin said. “It’ll be easy, just like Saphira. He won’t have time to shift, if that’s a thing he does. I can do it.”
“You can’t just start a fire in his shop without starting a war. Anyway, he’ll get away,” Sam argued. “It’s a suicide mission, and for what? Revenge?”
“He won’t get away,” Mary said quietly. She turned back to Colin. “You should sleep on it, wait a few days, don’t make this kind of decision this way.”
“Maybe he won’t even be there,” Colin said. He slammed the phone book up onto the kitchen counter and started flipping through for the donut shop.
Mary sighed and picked up her phone. “What do you need to know?”
Colin picked up the phone and started dialing.
Sam objected. “You need a plan. He can escape a fire, even an explosion. What exactly do you think you’re going to do?”
The recorded message in Colin’s ear told him everything he needed to know. He looked at the microwave clock. They’d been awake all night. PrimaDonut would be open in less than an hour.
Colin picked up a light bulb from a bowl on the counter. His parents once kept a bowl of wax fruit there. These were far more useful. It lit up.
“Sam,” Mary said, in a tone between soothing and warning. “I haven’t told you the whole truth. And if you’re going to get mad about it, get mad at me.”
“Mary, I am mad at you most of the time. We’re both pretty used to that. So what the hell is going on?”
Colin looked from Sam to the glowing bulb. Recognition slowly dawned on his face.
“I can do it,” Colin said. “I’m getting dressed.”
“Jesus, Mary,” Sam said. “Who else knows?”
“You, Phoenix, Andreus, Carmel, and Isaac and Katrina probably know.”
“And Kurada,” Colin added.
“Why does Kurada know?”
“She just does,” Colin said, on his way upstairs to change. He settled on a hooded sweater and some jeans that weren’t too scuffed up.
“The guy’s name is Henry,” Mary said. “He’s easy to identify. He’s got something wrong with one eye. Glaucoma or whatever makes your eye turn white.”
“Cataracts?” Colin offered.
“You’re both right,” Sam said. “He’s Korean.”
Mary sighed, with the look of someone waiting for a well-worn inside joke. “Go ahead Sam, let it out.”
“Just make sure you get the right guy,” Sam said. “Not all Asians look the same.”
Colin looked from Sam to Mary.
“Jesus Christ, I forgot that Andreus is like fiftieth generation Chinese instead of Korean, my bad, guess I’m a racist.”
Sam laughed. “As long as you admit it.”
“Be careful.” Mary kissed Colin before he left.
“We’ll try to keep things boring until you get back,” Sam said before unrolling a blanket for himself from his duffel bag. “Get out of there as quick as you can.”
Colin nodded to both of them. “I will. Promise.”