Night comes swiftly when day is squandered on battles that name no victor. Warriors lay waste to the land, then gather up their dead and dying, slinking home to tend to their wounds and beseech the gods they have been forsaken by. The silence of mourning is marred by the wailed laments of the living, and I do wish she would just shut up.
“Samilla!” I snapped. My cup wasn’t running over; if anything, it was bone dry and starting to crack. My nerves were frayed, and a mysterious pounding had taken up residence in my head, alongside Book, which would not cease its incessant, highly opinionated chatter. I poked a translucent finger at the open bag of ground Columbian and glared at my wreck of an apprentice.
“I don’t wanna die!” There was howling and gnashing of teeth. It wasn’t pretty, or fun, or remotely productive, and I was deeply regretting my decision to allow her to purge it from her system before we made our next move.
Kenize patted her on the arm and uttered an oh-so-helpful, “There, there.”
“But I’ve failed my mission! The Hunters are gonna get meeee,” she wept.
“Lookee here, Sista Snotty.” I clenched my teeth and ground out, “You. Are. Not. Going. To. Die.”
“You don’t know that!” she accused from her space in the corner of the kitchen. She stabbed at the air with a shaking index finger. Her glasses were askew and tear-stained. Her hair was sticking up in places where she’d tugged on it. The front of her shirt was soaked with the evidence of her distress.
I rubbed my temples with my middle fingers, then glared at Kenzie. “ You! Number 2!”
“Aye, sir!” the kid yelled and saluted me.
My eye twitched in response to Kenzie’s cheekiness. “Do something with her. Hit her over the head, stuff her in the cabinet, whatever. Just shut her up. Please.” I remembered enough of my manners to make it into a request. “Just shut her up so I can think.”
Kenzie snapped off another salute, yelling “Aye, aye!” and moved to drag Sami to her feet. I watched as the youth led my weeping, would-be warrior out of the room and sighed.
My head thudded to the table in front of me, or would have, if I was still solid. As it was, I’d started fading again just as Sami had begun the preparations for my offering of liquid life. She’d frozen in her tracks, dropped the bag of ground beans on the table, and retreated into her standard defensive mode –a ball of soggy, sobbing woman– and had been there ever since. Which left me with my nose in a bag of beans, inhaling like my tether to Earth depended on it. For all I knew, it did. Death needed a manual of some type, a “What to Expect When You Fall Off a Building and Plummet to Your Death” kind of thing.
“Sidewalk Kisses, maybe?” I mused.
“Spare me this inane train of thought, I beg you, Spare me!” Book screeched into my brain. To shut it up, I started humming the most annoying song I could think of, and was rewarded with a single whimper, then blessed silence. I cackled quietly, then marked an imaginary scoreboard, giving myself a point.
I was wasting time, and I knew it. I should have directing traffic, ordering sails hoisted and shutters sealed and hatches battened, but I couldn’t muster up the effort to do anything but wait. What I was waiting for? Not a clue. But I was certain that it would come to me if I could just swallow one mouthful of caffeinated goodness. I was starving, even though, rationally, I knew I wasn’t. Sure felt like it, though.
A rustle of clothing clued me in; I wasn’t alone anymore. I turned my head, resting my cheek on the table, and stared at Kenzie’s striped socks. “I don’t hear Sami.”
“Aye, sir. She’s sleep. Fell right over and started snorin’.”
“Stop calling me ‘sir’!”
Kenzie walked to my side and crouched before me, peering up into my face. “Do masculine pronouns offend you?”
“They don’t offend me,” I stated. “They’re just…not for me.”
“I understand. On paper, I’m a girl, but I’ve never actually felt like one. It was hard enough with just these feelings, but when the magic kicked in, and my parents…it was just too much.” Becoming pensive, Kensie continued. “I tried to blend in, at first. Then, I just tried to disappear. My life has been so much easier this way.”
“Yet you have a job and go to school.” I sat up and stared down at the youth. “If you wanted to truly disappear, you wouldn’t be using your real name or anything. You’d just be gone.”
Kenzie smirked. “You got me. I use my real name just in case…”
“So your parents can find you?”
A sad smile twisted those beautiful features and I felt an ache in my chest. “Silly, ain’t it?” Kenzie stood and stretched.
“Anyway, what’s the plan?
“Plan?” I blinked rapidly. “Eh…” I scratched my neck. “Can you make coffee?”
“Is it instant?”
“This kind is,” I said, pointing to the bag.
“Yeah, cool. I can boil water with the best of them.”
“Thanks.” I sat patiently while ze poked at my coffee-maker, then gave up and found a saucepan in the cabinet. Filling it with water from the tap, Kenzie sat the pot on the burner, and flicked the heat control knob with a flourish, all while humming along to a song only ze could hear. I envied Kenzie in that moment. Never in my youth had I been so upbeat, so alive, so willing to seize the day. I was sick of being strong and unruffled and unflappable. I was tired of relying on myself to get things done. At that moment, I also hated Sami, for being able to cry so easily, and proclaim what she did not want, even if it did border on hysteria. My breath caught in my throat, even though, technically speaking, I didn’t need to act out the tedious business of inhaling and exhaling.
“I’m sorry. The water won’t boil any faster.” Kenzie’s voice sliced into my thoughts, cleanly cutting off my path to self-pity.
“Meh. S’fine. No rush.”
We settled into a comfortable, companionable silence. I took the time to look at Kenzie, to really look, and was stunned by what I saw. Not only was Kenzie an attractive person, there was something about the shape of hir eyes and cheekbones that seemed almost, disturbingly familiar. I felt an urge to learn more about this kid who’d invaded my space and dropped into my life. I felt curious. I also felt Book attempting to stir and I smacked it back down, threatening it with psychological warfare in the form of crappy pop songs if it dared to try and interrupt my private thoughts again.
I perked up when Kenzie twisted the knob to the off position and pulled the pot off of the stove. My mouth watered as ze poured the water into a soup bowl. After depositing the hot, and now empty, saucepan into the sink, Kenzie spooned several heaps of ground beans (okay, freeze-dried flakes. Beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes. And that annoyed me greatly, but what could I really have done?) into the bowl and stirred. A wave of roast Columbian goodness wafted through the air and tickled my nose. Reverently, Kenzie sat my offering before me, and it took every ounce of self-control not to shove my face into the steaming liquid.
Kenzie raised a hand to salute, stopped halfway, then turned to hide a grin. “You’re welcome,” came the slightly muffled reply.
In that instant, I made a decision. “Get ready,” I told Kenzie. “When Sami wakes up, we’re going on a little trip.”