I couldn’t breathe.
His eyes were dark and powerful, burning with such intensity it made me flinch as they held my gaze. He stood several yards away, dressed in a long red cloak, unbothered by the sun scorching him from above. Students that walked past him were oblivious of his presence. His face was blurry, making it difficult to discern more detailed features, but I picked out brown curls across his forehead. His eyes, however, stood out completely, glistening in the sunlight. They were like rubies, enticing to look at, but the feeling that came with them made me apprehensive. A cape of ice draped around my shoulders. Sweat pooled at my underarms, dampening the peach tank top I was wearing. An elephant sat on my chest. My lungs got crushed; each breath made my chest struggle and ache. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. Trapped by his eyes, I was on the verge of hyperventilating, desperately trying to get precious oxygen that my body craved.
Suddenly, he blinked. As our eye contact broke, everything I had just felt vanished. It felt like someone dumped water over me. My breathing restored, I instantly sucked in air and tried to control my trembling hands. Tears obscured my vision, but when I rubbed my eyes, he was gone. Before I could comprehend what just occurred, someone plopped down on the seat next to me.
“Dee-all-ah!” Tracy Robinson grinned and hugged me as she sat down. “Did you miss me?”
When my voice failed to work, I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat, curling my hands into fists to hide the shakes. Once collected, I tried again, “I just saw you last period.”
She dismissed the comment. “Oh, by the way...happy birthday!” She chirped and hugged me. I returned her embrace, laughing while she fished for something in her purse. She produced a small black rectangle. I gave the box a gentle shake, grinning when something bounced around inside.
Upon removing the lid, I saw two gold bracelets. Among the cute trinkets provided, were charms that had “Best Friends” engraved on the bottom, along with the image of a four-leaf clover.
“Aw, Tracy, thank you!” I handed one to her and slid mine onto my wrist.
She grinned, revealing her dimples. “Now we match.”
The bus roared to life and shook as it pulled out of the parking lot. Various conversations blurred with one another. I snuck a glance out of my window again, scanning the vicinity for the figure in red. When he was nowhere in sight, I pushed the image and feelings away briefly when Tracy spoke.
“So, what are your plans for today?”
Tracy blinked, puzzled. “I’m sorry, what?”
I shrugged. “I’ve got nothing planned.”
“It’s your Sweet 16!” she exclaimed. “How do you not have something planned?”
“It depends on whether my mom is working late or not,” I explained. “People call out sick, and she has to work doubles. It’s nothing new.”
“But it’s your birthday!” She shook me back and forth as if to emphasize the fact. “And you can’t deny the fact that she picks up a lot of extra hours.”
“Well, being a single mom with two kids does that.” I had gotten used to her missing certain things. With the shortage of nurses, her work was overstaffed which led to her working frequent shifts. She was doing the best she could with everything. I got to see her that morning so that was fine. Mostly.
Tracy, being an only child of two working parents, sometimes forgot about the difference in expenses.
After a small pause, Tracy then launched into her usual gossip of the day’s events, as if I hadn’t been there to experience them myself. First, dozens of light bulbs exploded in Geometry. Then, Bunson burners ignited in Chemistry without warning. Lastly, it felt like I was experiencing menopause, having the weirdest hot flashes in each period. Even being submerged in the pool did little to cool me down. As scary as that had been, no one got hurt, which was always a relief. It did, however, cause rumors to circulate quickly about a possible cause. Some students had theories about the school not paying their bills, or something stupid like that. I paid little attention to my friend as she rambled. Instead, my mind wandered back to the mysterious man I’d seen and how no one seemed to notice. It wasn’t that he had been invisible exactly, but like everyone was ignoring him, or they couldn’t see him. Yet, when he and I locked eyes, it felt so real. That sensation that came with it, the frigid cold and that intense pressure—it wasn’t normal but didn’t seem like something I could have just imagined.
“Hey, Dialla, come on. It’s our stop.” Tracy tugged on my shoulder and sauntered off the bus. I followed suit, and Tracy gave me one last hug, “If at the very least you don’t have a nice birthday dinner, I’m going to kidnap you and make you one myself.”
“Yeah, yeah. See you later.” I called as she walked to her house, conveniently located across the street, whereas my house was all the way at the bottom. Once her front door was closed, I took off down the hill, eager to get to my house as quickly as possible.
Once inside, I maneuvered my way through the decorations my mom hastily put together this morning and ducked into the bathroom. I perched myself on the counter and tossed my hair over one shoulder. The angle I was going for was tricky; if I had a three-way mirror like a dressing room, it would have been easier. Still, I made do with what was available, and with a bit of tugging on my skin, I was able to see what I was trying to find.
I sighed. “It’s still there.”
A mark on the back of my neck had appeared this morning, much to my dismay. It was a lone flame in the shape of a hook, a deep onyx color. At least this time it appeared to be dormant, versus the bright red and orange colors from when I first woke up. Tenderly, I traced my fingertip against the image, feeling its heat. Pins-and-needles crept into my fingers and I removed them, flexing my hand. I chewed on my lip and groaned. My forehead fell against the mirror, taking comfort how it cooled my hot skin. I closed my eyes. All day long this mark had been there, annoying me with its constant, abrupt waves of pain. Hell, if it hadn’t started hurting when I woke up, I wouldn’t have even noticed it.
My first thought had been that it was just an oddly shaped bruise. However, when it started to light up, that demolished my only theory. With that in mind, I had planned to cover it up with generous amounts of foundation, only to discover that I was out of it, as was my mother. There went my plan B. Running out of time that morning, I ended up wearing my hair down, successfully obscuring the mark for the entire day. It was a good thing Tracy and I didn’t share many classes together otherwise she would have likely noticed my bizarre behavior. Now, that I was home for the weekend, I could at least ponder in solitude.
“Hello? Anybody home?” A voice called.
“Tyler?” My brother’s sudden return home nearly caused me to slip off the counter.
“There’s the birthday girl!” Tyler whooped cheerfully. “Where are you?”
“Uh, one sec. I’m in the bathroom.” I hastily brushed my hair back to its original style before emerging.
“Happy birthday!” He swept me up into his arms, using all of his strength in a crushing embrace.
“Ow...hey! Let go, Tyler. Let go!”
My older brother, just a few months’ away from the legal drinking age, grinned as he put me down. I smoothed out my outfit and scowled. His white t-shirt was wrinkled though it paired well with his cargo shorts and sandals. His hair was the same shade as Tracy’s, dark brown, so dark that it looked black in some lights. His skin was paler than I had seen before—he had been at college for a little over a month, and his tan was already gone. His eyes were the same deep shade of blue as my mother’s.
“What? I’m just saying happy birthday,” he teased.
“Okay, well you said it. You can stop now,” I grumbled, though there was no helping the smile playing at my lips.
“Nice to see you too. That’s what I get for coming all the way home just for your birthday?”
“You came home because Mom would’ve killed you if you didn’t.”
He waved his hand casually. “Semantics. Now come on, say hi to my friend.”
“Didn’t know you had one.”
Tyler moved over to our front door and poked his head out, speaking briefly with his companion. He held the door open as his guest strode inside.
First thing I perceived was his height. He was tall, not quite as tall as Tyler, but he still towered over me by several inches. Then again, Tyler was a freak of nature and had reached six foot while still in high school. His comrade was perhaps around five-ten or so. Unlike my brother’s messy hair, the mystery man had his hair—a few shades lighter than my brother’s—cut short, but styled in a way that was neat yet sexy at the same time. He wore a red T-shirt and black shorts. There was a speck of a tattoo on his bicep but was mostly covered by his attire. He had a bit of stubble on his face. His eyes were faintly blue, with bits of gray in them. Overall, I gave him about a billion on a scale of one to ten for hotness.
Aside from his physical appearance, there was something radiating from him. An intense and powerful vibration, so palpable that my hands shook. My breathing was unaffected, which was nice, but the fact that this was happening again was now terrifying. What if he was that guy from the parking lot? It was tough to tell now that his face was so vivid—and handsome—and his eyes were different. Something like that could easily be changed with contacts.
“Hi,” I breathed.
Tyler gave me a nudge. “Dialla, this is my roommate, Dimitri Agostini. Dimitri, this is my sister, Dialla Matthews.”
The man extended his hand, and though I was afraid to touch him, I reluctantly shook hands with him, relieved when the pressure didn’t intensify. A jolt flew from his body into mine, making me feel warm and fuzzy.
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
“Yeah, you too,” I said, half-heartedly.
Tyler roamed into the living room, plopping down on the couch. Dimitri joined him, and after a moment, I followed suit.
I curled up on our loveseat. “What are you doing home, anyway?”
“Did you expect me not to come home for your birthday?”
My brother feigned a hurt expression. “So mean. Don’t know how Tracy puts up with you.”
“Oh, please. Tracy loves my sarcasm.”
“Well, you did learn from the best, after all.” Tyler winked.
I rolled my eyes.
“How was school?”
“Same as ever.” The lie came so quick, so effortlessly, as if I were saying the sky was blue. Weird mark or not, changes happening to my body were not conversations to have with my brother. Maybe I could talk with Mom when she finished her shift tonight?
“Yeah?” Tyler arched a brow. “Nothing strange happened—like passing any of your tests?”
“Haha, you’re funny.”
“So, nothing out of the ordinary? No bitches needing stitches, no pigs flying?”
“What about that mark on the back of your neck?”
My heart hammered. I blinked. “Sorry?”
Tyler stretched casually. “You know, that flame shaped like a hook? Mom saw it this morning.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I replied, using all of my willpower to keep my expression neutral. It would have worked—if only said mark hadn’t spasmed with a burst of heat. I grimaced. Tyler and Dimitri both leaned forward, with excitement and curiosity marring their faces.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying?” Tyler smirked, standing up. “As I said, Mom saw it this morning and told me about it. Frankly, I was beginning to doubt it was going to show up at all, considering most of us are born with it. I guess you’re a late bloomer, after all.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the lights that exploded in Geometry when you failed your last test. I’m talking about the flames going off during Chemistry when some girls were bullying a classmate, and you got mad. You know, all that stuff that ‘didn’t’ happen today.”
I glared at him. “You were spying on me!”
My brother waved his hand. “We’ll get back to that later, but yes, I do know about all of that stuff that happened today.” His expression turned stoic. “I know because you caused that to happen, Dialla. I know that because I can do it too.”
My premature response stopped short, mouth slightly agape. “What?”
Tyler nodded. “It’s true. Everything that happened today was caused by magic. You’re smart, kiddo; you know stuff like that doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s because we are sorcerers. You are a sorceress, Dialla.”
For a moment, all three of us were silent, waiting for any reaction. In my defense, my response was reasonable. I laughed, laughing so hard that my sides hurt, and tears pricked in the corner of my eyes. It took awhile for me to calm down, since I kept giggling and snorting. Finally, I stopped and looked at the two men. Tyler’s eyes had narrowed while Dimitri was raising a brow at him mockingly.
“Well great, you just cost me twenty bucks, Dialla.” Tyler fished in his pocket and produced twenty dollars to give to his partner.
“We had a bet,” he explained, “about whether or not you would believe me. I said you would. Thanks a lot.”
“Good, I knew it was a joke.”
“Oh, no, we’re dead serious. You can do magic.”
My stomach dropped and my breathing hitched. “Magic isn’t real.”
“It is real. Look, I know I mess with you sometimes” —A look at my wry expression made him falter— “okay, a lot of times...but I’m serious. Totally, completely, one hundred percent serious.”
I studied him. Though I wasn’t about to admit it, his tone and demeanor were different from a few moments earlier. He wasn’t his cheerful, happy self. His lips were pressed in a thin line, and his jaw was tight. No matter how solemn his appearance, what he was claiming wasn’t real. It was simply a myth. Magicians were the closest thing to ‘magic,’ but they focused on illusions and distractions. While what happened in my classes weren’t distractions, there had to have been logical explanations behind it.
“T-the teachers said the light bulbs were faulty,” I mumbled.
Tyler arched a brow, unconvinced. “And the flames?”
“Would’ve caused a lot more damage, don’t you think? Do you really think the school would have kept you there if there was a risk of things blowing up?”
“Well, no, but—”
“And,” he continued, “the fact that it happened when you got upset didn’t strike you as odd? On the same day you wake up with a weird mark on your body?”
“It’s a bruise.”
“Didn’t realize you get bruises on your neck now.”
I gritted my teeth. “Yeah, it’s called a hickey, Tyler. Clearly, you’ve never had one.”
Tyler snorted. “From who, that boyfriend that you don’t have?”
“I could have one. You haven’t been here in a while.”
Tyler sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I’m trying to be honest, here, Dialla. I really am, but I have to know that you believe me first before I can go into more detail.”
He was really pushing this prank of his. I decided to humor him a little. “Fine, prove it. Show me your wand.”
“Okay, cool, I’ve always wanted to—what?”
“Your wand,” I prompted. “Let me see it.”
“Wha—I don’t have a wand.”
I turned to his reticent friend. “Do you have one?”
“Dialla...” Tyler let out a frustrated breath. “We don’t use wands.”
“Huh. Must not be good sorcerers, then.”
Dimitri choked on a laugh. My brother fixed an exasperated gaze on me.
“Enough with the jokes, Dialla. I’m being serious.”
“I’m just saying if you can’t really prove that you are a wizard or whatever—”
“You want proof? Fine.”
Tyler pinched his thumb and forefinger together and dragged it from left to right. Something tugged my lips the same way and sewed them together. What I’d thought was a trick, ended up being very, very real. I couldn’t open my mouth, no matter how hard I tried. It scared the crap out of me, as I clawed and pried at my lips, in a vain attempt to free them.
“God, I’ve wanted to do that since you learned how to talk.”
“And because your mother isn’t here?” Dimitri argued.
“A little bit of both,” Tyler admitted. “Anyway, Dialla, relax. It’s just a tiny, harmless spell. I only did it since you talk too much.”
Since I lacked my voice, I flipped him off instead.
“That’s not nice,” scolded Tyler. “I only did that so you would sit quietly and let me explain things to you. Look, you woke up with a strange mark on your body, and now all sorts of weird stuff happened at school, right? That’s because of magic. I’ve got one too. We get it when we are born.” He brushed at his hair behind his left ear, revealing what was hidden. Hesitantly, I peered closer, perceiving a small black triangle. It looked just like a tattoo. As much as my brother wanted a one, he would never have gotten one as stupid as that.
Tyler grabbed my hand and pressed it against the design. I flinched at the sudden tingle, but the warmth spread through me so rapidly I couldn’t move away. The sensation spread all the way down to my toes and made it difficult to think clearly. I also felt...calm. Calm and happy. My heart swelled at the pressure. A goofy grin spread across my sealed lips.
Tyler smiled back before removing my hand. “That’s magic, Dialla.” To return the favor, he placed his fingers on the back of my neck. I squirmed briefly but watched my brother share a similar reaction.
My gaze shifted to Dimitri. Without a voice, I got to play Charades to get my point across, tapping my neck and then gesturing to Dimitri.
“Do you want to see his mark?” Tyler asked. When I nodded, he turned to his friend. “Is that okay, man?”
“Anything to help.” Dimitri lifted his sleeve to fully reveal the tattoo—the mark—that had been peeking out.
Unlike mine and Tyler’s, his was a large green flame that covered his entire bicep. Hesitantly, I reached out and traced the design. When I was met with that same glorious feeling again, my brain was reluctantly deducing that this couldn’t have been a coincidence. I removed my hand, and Dimitri readjusted his shirt sleeve. Closing my eyes, the feeling still lingered within me. It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t just that, it was originating inside me. I certainly hadn’t felt like this yesterday. This...this was magic?
“Now then.” Tyler cleared his throat. “If you promise to behave, I will undo the trick I did, okay, Dialla?”
I nodded. Tyler repeated the gesture in the opposite direction. The invisible zipper tugged on my lips until they were free, and I could speak. Unfortunately, the euphoric feelings were soon replaced by animosity when I soon realized something. Something that seemed different about another family member of mine.
“Is Mom one too?” I asked, my voice low.
“Yes,” answered Tyler.
“So, you both have been lying to me for my whole life?” I shook my head, standing up with my fists clenched. “That’s great. That’s wonderful, Tyler. You guys are the best.”
“Hey, what the hell was she supposed to do?” Tyler stood up as well. “Dialla, up until today, we had no clue if you even had magic within you. We can’t exactly go flaunting our abilities in public.”
“If I may,” Dimitri stood up, his hands in a wary gesture like I was a wild animal. “Tyler is right. We aren’t allowed to do magic where normal people can see us.”
“Exactly!” Tyler exclaimed. “We just did it to protect you.”
“Liar!” I snapped.
“Look, just relax—” Tyler reached out for me, and I panicked. Flashes of the exploding lights and flames coursed through my mind.
“Don’t touch me!”
I stretched out my hands to push him away. Suddenly a mighty blast erupted between us, sending us flying. Tyler crashed into the couch with enough force to knock it over. I went down the hallway. I collided with a solid object, one that let out an irascible groan. Dimitri, who had been near the couch until a second ago, was now standing against the wall as he adjusted his grip on me.
“You okay?” he demanded, perturbed.
“What...how did you...?” My words trailed off as a wave of fatigue swept over me. I groaned and held my head.
Dimitri set me on my feet carefully, though he kept his hand on my back as my legs were a little weak. The look he gave me insinuated that he blamed me for the incident, though he remained silent. I flinched. He turned to the living room. “Tyler?”
“I’m good,” he called, getting to his feet. “You?”
“We’re fine,” he replied.
“Uh, I’m not,” I added, annoyed. “What the hell was that for, Tyler?”
Tyler let out a snort. “I didn’t do that. That was all you, kiddo.”
I shook my head. “I did not!”
The lights flickered violently upon my outburst, and I shrieked when one of them popped. No shards fell like in class but I still shrunk away, trembling. My hands were stinging abruptly. When I examined them, they were bright red. That happy tingle that I felt throughout my body seemed to be pooling in my palms as they erupted into tremors. I curled them into fists and blinked hard at the tears pricking my eyes.
“Dialla—” Tyler began.
“Just leave me alone!” I pushed off Dimitri and darted into the depths of my basement.
Slamming the door behind me, I collapsed onto the ground and closed my eyes.
The pain had subsided, but the redness lingered on my palms. Magic, marks, sorcerers...all of this seemed like something out of a dream. The stinging mark served as a constant reminder that I was in reality. The thoughts did lead me to wonder what would happen next. Could I really control something as potent as this? While I was sure Tyler and Mom would help me, intimidating thoughts mixed with anxiety in my head. Even if I did get control, it wasn’t like I could tell this to Tracy, or anyone else I knew. While it didn’t sound like there were any detrimental laws against telling normal humans, there had to be consequences of sorts. Would her memory be wiped? Would she forget me completely? I would rather be stuck lying to her than have her not remember our friendship.
However, knowing I wasn’t alone in this situation did help. It did explain why Tyler went to different schools, and why he didn’t try out for sports too much. Dimitri saved me from the blast, but Tyler had to be sore, yet he had gotten up with no problem. Was he physically stronger because of the magic? Just how different were we from regular people? I tried to think back to times I played sports. I hadn’t been exceptional, but not awful either. Just average. A regular girl. Most girls got cars for turning sixteen; I became a sorceress.
I studied the ceiling. Lightbulbs illuminated the vicinity, making me squint. More on a whim than anything else, I aimed at the lights, trying out a spell from Harry Potter. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. I guess those spells weren’t real after all. Still, I focused on the bulbs, willing them to switch off. Beads of sweat popped onto my forehead. I was just about ready to give up when finally, the lights shut off. In my disbelief, I turned to the entrance of the basement where the switch was. No one was there, and they remained in the upright position. Looking back at the grey bulbs, I found myself smiling, despite the tears rolling down my cheeks.
“A sorceress, huh?”