I jumped at the harsh banging on the bathroom door. My eyeliner smeared, ruining the wings I’d been painstakingly working on. Cursing under my breath, I wet a cotton ball and started to clean it.
More pounding. “Dialla, hurry up! You’re going to miss the bus.”
“I’m fine,” I yelled. “The bus doesn’t come until 6:30.”
“It is 6:30, you idiot.” Nothing like never-ending love and support from Tyler to get me moving.
“Already?” A glance at my phone supported his claim. Well, that and the rumble of a large vehicle cruising down the street.
I paused in my makeup. “Was that the bus?”
“Yes, Dialla. That was the bus,” he sighed, aggravated.
I winced. “Oops. Sorry!”
“Are you?” Even though a door separated us, I had a feeling my brother was rolling his eyes. “Whatever. Just hurry up. I’ll drive.”
No time to fix my makeup, I focused on getting dressed. I stripped out of my simple pajamas and selected a red tank-top and jean shorts. The weather for Miami had depicted another scorcher of a day despite it being the middle of September. The old air conditioners in my high school didn’t help either.
I gave myself a once-over when a jolt of pain flared at the back of my neck. I grunted, and clutched the sink, leaning forward, my head nearly hitting the mirror. With the throb came a burst of heat and I gasped.
“What happened?” Tyler demanded.
“I-I’m okay. I think,” I panted, the pain decreasing. “My neck spasmed.”
“Let me take a look.”
Before I could protest, he opened the door and strode into the bathroom, bare feet padding against the tiled floor. Tyler towered over me at six feet with messy brown hair. The white T-shirt he wore paired well with his black shorts. His blue eyes reflected a mixture of annoyance and concern. I guess the latter counted for something.
“I probably just slept on it wrong,” I added. “It’s fine now.”
“Did you move a certain way that exacerbated it?”
“Ooh, ‘exacerbated’,” I teased. “You learn that in med school?”
“Pre-med,” he clarified, “and yes.”
He tossed my blonde hair aside to peer at my nape and I saw his lips twitch in the mirror.
I arched a brow. “What is it?”
“Nothing, just a mole,” Tyler responded.
“It felt hot, too,” I added, studying him. “Does it look red at all?”
“You’re fine, Dialla,” he said firmly. “Now, let’s go, or you’ll be late for school.”
Palm Spring high school currently housed around a thousand students, several of them racing into the building as the warning bell rang. Tyler sped into the drop-off zone and screeched to a halt. The momentum nearly threw me into the dashboard, even with the seat belt securing me.
“Jesus!” I yelped. “I’m not the only one who is late, you know.”
“Still not a habit you want,” Tyler argued, unlocking the car. “Have a good day.”
“I will, but not because you said so.”
He rolled his eyes as I closed the door, but I caught sight of the edges of his lips pulling into a grin. Or at least a smirk. Despite being five years older than me, clearly, I didn’t annoy him too much.
Tyler waited until I stepped into the school before driving away. Once inside, I hustled to my homeroom around the corner. My teacher, Mr. Cragen, shot me a sidelong glance but said nothing as I slid into my seat. A brunette in the seat next to me giggled. Mr. Cragen shook his head before initiating roll call.
“Close call, Dialla.” The brunette grinned.
“I blame Tyler. He made me mess up my makeup.”
“I doubt that. Eyeliner wings were never your specialty.”
I scoffed. “Thanks, Tracy.”
Tracy Robinson smirked beside me, dodging my playful swat. She wore a black floral blouse with white shorts. Tresses of her brown hair escaped her braid and fell in front of her face. Given that we had been best friends since elementary school, I was used to her antics, and she mine. Our similar likes and personalities made us fast friends.
We rounded the corner and stepped into our last class of the day. Rows of black tables served as our desk and workstation for chemistry. Inactive Bunsen burners were attached to each one. Scraps of paper sat at my station, as well as several beakers filled with water, ethanol, and a combination of them. I claimed my seat in the middle of the room, while Tracy was assigned to the opposite end. One day of us seated together and Mr. Delmont recognized his mistake.
I rested my chin in my hand, half-listening as Mr. Delmont explained the experiment. I yawned. At least the day was almost over. Prior to starting, however, he handed back our last test grades and I straightened, gulping. Mr. Delmont placed my test face down without a word and I hesitated before flipping it over.
Bright red and glaring, the number 50 burned into the page.
I winced. “Ouch. Seriously?”
Anger coursed through me. Hot tears filled my eyes and I blinked hard. A tingle trickled into my palms and my nape felt warm. I gripped my igniter so hard my knuckles turned white. Nostrils flaring, I clicked it to get a spark going.
My burner roared to life, flames soaring higher than the ones nearby, nearly reaching the ceiling. A boy next to me marveled at the display, while the girl on my left scooted as far away as possible. The excessive warmth nipped my skin and I flinched.
“The gas, Dialla!” yelled Mr. Delmont. “Shut off the gas!”
His shout prompted me into action, and I immediately cut off the source. The fire died off instantly. Mr. Delmont rushed over, and I moved out of the way. Murmured conversations broke out, theories and rumors spreading. Tracy started toward me when a throbbing ache hit the back of my neck.
Grimacing, I clutched it and darted out of the classroom.
Right across the hall, the bathroom was the closest spot with a mirror. My neck pulsed again, stronger this time. I bit my lip to quell any noise and tossed my hair aside. Using my phone’s camera as a second mirror, I worked to get the right angle on my neck.
I gasped. “What the hell is that?”
A lone flame in the shape of a hook currently flashed a brilliant mixture of fiery colors. Such a beautiful display, though I didn’t care for the pain that came with it. A stinging burn made me flinch. After a moment, the light and pain faded, returning the hook to a deep obsidian color. Tenderly, I traced the image.
I looked down at my hands next. Redness developed over my palms, mixing with the pins-and-needles that crept into my fingers. Flexing them, I chewed on my lip and groaned. Grey discoloration beneath my eyelids poorly complimented my brown eyes. My skin looked paler than usual. My forehead fell against the mirror, comforting my hot skin. It wasn’t as much relief as I’d hoped for, but still felt nice, prompting me to collect my thoughts.
What was this? A bruise? Certainly not a tattoo or hickey. It definitely hadn’t been there yesterday. I was skeptical of the chance of it just appearing overnight.
Overnight . . .
With a start, I gripped the sink with one hand, running my other one over my mouth. The pain and heat just now had been nearly identical to what happened this morning. When I was in the bathroom with Tyler. Who looked at my neck and claimed it was bare. Either this design really did spontaneously develop just now . . . or Tyler knew about this.
He knew and didn’t tell me.
I walked numbly through the halls, passing through the front doors and out to the parking lot. I squinted at the bright sun, following the rumble of idling busses ahead of me. Scanning them, I found mine and strode toward it, eager and weary to go home.
The sensation hit me as soon as I climbed those steps.
Overwhelming pressure wrapped around me in a vice grip. My breathing grew rapid and shallow. Ringing broke out in my ears, growing louder and louder the further I walked down the aisle. Or, stumbled, was probably more accurate, thanks to my wobbly legs. I slumped into the first empty seat, nestling close to the window.
Red irises locked with mine and my breathing hitched.
He stood several yards away, far enough that I couldn’t see his face, but his eyes shone like beacons. He wore a red cloak, loose ends flapping in the breeze, unperturbed by the heat and humidity. Students and teachers maneuvering through the parking lot were oblivious to his presence. Couldn’t they see him?
My neck pulsed like a heartbeat and mixed with heat to irritate my skin. I imagined that little hook was glowing just like before.
A girl stumbled and fell into me. The jostle shattered whatever hold the cloaked man had over me and gasped. Free from that pressure, I worked to regain my composure. I gulped in more air before sneaking a peek out the window again. The hooded man disappeared. Someone plopped beside me, but I didn’t move, searching frantically.
“Man, Miss Healey needs to stop assigning so many papers to do!” Tracy groaned, shoving her backpack to the floor. “I hate Shakespeare.”
When I didn’t respond, she poked at my cheek repeatedly. “Dee-all-ah! Are you listening?”
I peeled myself away from the window. “Yeah, sorry. I just. . .” My voice trailed off, eyes casting back outside.
Tracy’s chin fell on my shoulder. Her brown hair was tied into a braid, and stray strands tickled my cheek.
She squinted through the pane. “What are you looking at?”
“That guy,” I said, pointing to where I’d seen the red-eyed man. “Didn’t you see him?”
Tracy followed my gaze, searching. “I mean, I see Matt Hutchinson devouring his girlfriend.” Her nose wrinkled. “I thought you were over him?”
“He’s not— ” I sighed. “Never mind.”
“Well, enough about him.” She tilted my face away from the window. “Are you okay? Did you get burned or anything?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. How was the rest of class?”
She shrugged. “Not bad. The experiment Mr. Delmont did was pretty cool. He dipped a dollar bill in some ethanol and alcohol to see if it would catch fire and . . .”
The bus lurched forward, pulling out of the parking lot. Chatter picked up then among other students. It helped to drown out her rambling. Tracy was my best friend, but I honestly wondered whether she ever took a breath when talking. My mind was too busy racing, scattering down a rabbit hole of theories.
Following her off the bus, I watched Tracy enter her house located across the street. Once her door closed, I turned and sped down the hill where my house sat. Palm trees rustled in the breeze. Leaves cluttered the cement and crunched under my feet. A tabby cat sprawled out on top of its owner’s car, bathing in the golden warmth from the sun.
I walked straight into my living room, tossing my backpack on the couch, only to see Tyler was nowhere in sight. His voice, loud as he was, carried from further down, likely from his office down the hall. Sure enough, I found him at his desk with a headset on in the middle of a conversation. An open book sat before him, its pages filled with highlighted sections. Tyler clutched a notebook, twirling a pen in his hand.
“We need to talk,” I ordered.
Tyler held up a finger without even glancing at me.
I crossed my arms with a scowl. It took every ounce of maturity in me to refrain from interrupting. If he was just playing games with his friends, but academics were another matter.
“Okay, my class just finished.” Tyler removed his headset and turned to face me. “What’s up?”
It figured now that I had his full attention, my words died in my throat. Besides, it wasn’t like I had proof he was involved. Hell, I didn’t even know where to start.
“How was school?” he added, smiling.
“Did you do something to my neck?” I blurted.
He lifted a brow. “What?”
“It—well, it’s been hurting all day,” I answered, fumbling with my fingers.
“You said it was spasming, right? Mom called your doctor—”
“I don’t think it’s something a doctor can help with, Tyler.”
His lips twitched ever so slightly, the edges curving. “Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“There’s this bruise,” I explained after a minute. “And I . . . I swear it was glowing or some shit. I’ve never seen it before. So, either you need glasses, Tyler, or you lied about it, so—”
“Oh, yeah, I lied.”
“Good because—wait, what?” I blinked.
Tyler leaned back in his chair, cracking his back. “I said I lied. It was there this morning.”
I stared, mouth falling open. For a moment, I didn’t know what stunned me more: the fact that Tyler lied, or that I was actually right.
“I didn’t think you’d actually get yours, to be honest. Although it shouldn’t hurt,” he continued, running a hand through his hair. “And, of course, it’s on a day when Mom is busy.” He shrugged. “Oh, well. Can’t be helped, I guess.”
“It—wha—what are you talking about?” I demanded. “Why did you lie to me?”
“Personally, it’s because I never thought you would get yours.”
“This isn’t just some bruise?”
Tyler shook his head. “Nope. Bruises don’t shape like that, kiddo. And they don’t glow.” He paused, lips pursed. “Although, marks aren’t supposed to do that either . . .”
“What is this thing? What did you do to me?” I tried to hide the quiver in my voice.
“I didn’t do anything, Dialla. It’s who you are.”
“Who I am?” I repeated, heart jumping to my throat. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Sorry, kiddo.” He held up his hands in mock defense. “Mom said to wait till she got home.”
“Isn’t she working a double tonight?”
I sighed loudly, running a hand over my mouth, and paced.
“Hey, believe me, Dialla. You want Mom for this, not me—”
“No, what I want is some answers, damn it!” I threw my hands up in exasperation.
The lights began to flicker, and Tyler immediately jumped to his feet. His eyes darted back and forth before settling on me. “Dialla—”
“Why does this hurt so much?” I demanded. “And glow and tingle? I don’t like it, Tyler! I just—”
“Okay, okay!” Tyler rested his hands on my shoulders. “Just calm down, Dialla. Please. I’ll tell you, I promise.”
Tears pricked at my eyes, and I sniffed. I wiped at them before they could fall, feeling my cheeks burn. Tyler waited for the lights to settle before releasing me. He pinched the bridge of his nose, exhaling slowly.
He looked me straight in the eye. “We’re sorcerers, Dialla. Mom and I can do magic. And so can you.”