The Cost of Magic
Adrean Chance's Mind Controlling Concubine
Theo sat in the window sill, one leg pulled up with an overfull ashtray balanced on his knee, the other hanging down so his toes grazed the floor. It made him look both taller and smaller than he really was. I kept my head low, using the back of the couch as cover. Theo didn’t know I was awake yet. He would want to talk as soon as he realized.
He took another drag and held his breath before blowing the smoke through the screen. His form-fitting tee-shirt did well to show me how much he had grown in four years. He wasn’t the scrawny teenager I’d corrupted anymore and I felt a certain amount pride knowing I’d been his first.
I let my eyes wander around the apartment. He still lived like his big sister was going to come help him pick up. Dirty dishes were scattered like they’d gotten lost on their way to the sink. His guitar was propped against the wall, the same one he’d always had. The red paint that used to shine was worn and dull in some places. The neck was scratched and scarred. Broken strings laid in a tangled puddle below it. My gaze found its way back to Theo, his grey eyes watching me.
“Was I loud?” A smile played at his lips.
I shook my head.
He nodded in relief and stubbed the cigarette out, adding it to the swollen pile. He set the ashtray aside and padded over to sit on the coffee table in front of me. The words were loud in his head, hard not to hear. He knew I was reading him, so he didn’t bother saying them.
“Yeah,” I said.
He nodded again. Less relief that time and more resignation. “Yeah,” he repeated.
We sat in silence long enough that he got restless and picked up a pen to twirl between his fingers.
“You don’t have to go,” he said. You could stay. Not because he thought it would do any good, but because he couldn’t help it. Once he thought something, he said it.
Without meaning to, I reached out and ran my fingers though his hair. “You would have said that last time.”
He leaned into my hand like a cat. “It would have been just as true.” He took a startlingly shaky breath. “I put you on the list.”
The guest list. He gestured to the guitar. “It’s supposed to be just crew and stuff.” He grinned. “The rest of the band thought I just made up an androgynous name so I could give it to anyone I wanted at the show.”
I laughed. He put his hand on my leg. I wasn’t sure if it was me or him that didn’t want this moment to end.
“Don’t go, Julian” he said.
I couldn’t look at him. “Shut up. I never meant for you to wait for me.”
He pulled away and looked down, smiling, even though he didn’t think it was funny. He didn’t have to say anything. With that look, I knew he’d always been waiting for me. He got up and paced in the open space near the door, trying to come up with the right combination of words that would make this go the way he wanted it to.
“And miss out on all the angsty lyric writing?” He tried to make it sound casual, so I let him believe I thought it was.
I stood and picked up my bag, slowly. He wanted more time. I was bad at goodbye, but great at leaving. He caught my hand and our fingers tangled for a moment.
This was easier last time, when I only had to justify myself to a sleeping body. Now, I had to look him in the eyes. Listen to the gears in his brain grind through every scenario. Looking for the one where I wouldn’t walk away.
Shit, don’t say it.
“I love you,” he said.
I smiled from the door. “You love heartbreak. Write a song for me.”