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At last, the ringing ceased, and for a moment she thought perhaps her magical abilities weren’t quite so useless after all. Seconds later her father bellowed her name, however. Muttering a few curses, she picked up the cordless phone on her bedside table.
A glance at the number on the LCD display said the call came from a payphone. Who the hell would be calling her from a payphone?
"Yeah?" she mumbled into the phone, yawning although she’d had at least nine hours of sleep.
"I woke you?" said a familiar voice.
"Mer." Gen sat up in bed and yawned again. "Yeah, but I’m being lazy today—I should probably already be awake. Why are you calling from a payphone?"
Meredith paused for a moment. "I had some things to do downtown."
"Oh. You should get a cell phone."
"Well, I wanted to let you know that apparently we have the weekend off."
"I talked to Michael earlier and he said if any of us show up prior to Tuesday, we’ll be shot on sight. I’m inclined to believe him."
Even without the threat of death, Genevieve was more than happy to oblige.
"That’s awesome. Not like I have much else going on, but it’s still cool."
"No plans with Peyton?"
Gen grinned in spite of herself. She hadn’t said anything to Merri about what happened the night before outside the school. It was all so new and strange…awkward, even. She wasn’t even sure what it all meant. She liked Peyton and Peyton liked her. Then what? Were they going out? Should they start holding hands and stuff? Is this even the sort of thing a person asks, or should she just hold on and see where it all goes?
"Gen?" Merri prompted.
"No," she said. "No plans with Peyton. I don’t think. I’m not really sure, actually. Should you have any supernatural insights for me, that’d be really helpful."
"Not really. Did you talk?"
Though Genevieve did her best to summarize their conversation and subsequent sort-of kiss, nothing came out terribly clear as she jumped out of chronological order. Excitement bubbled through her, just as it had last night, and she was pretty sure she was babbling incoherently. Confirming her suspicion was a long pause on Merri’s part when Gen had finished speaking.
"So…" Merri said at last. "You had a good time then?"
"Yes, and though I considered killing you at the time for leaving us alone, I’m glad you did. Do I even need to ask—?"
A knock on her bedroom door interrupted her.
"Hold on." She covered the phone’s mouthpiece. "Come in!"
The door cracked open and Levi peeked around the corner. Dammit, they hadn’t really spoken last night after she followed Sage outside—she hoped he wasn’t there to yell at her.
"Mer, can I call you back?"
"Oh, right, payphone. Call me later if you get a chance, okay?"
Though Merri agreed to phone her later, Gen doubted she would. She almost never called, never emailed—never actually contacted her about anything. She also didn’t talk about her parents much, and Gen had started to suspect they were those crazy, anti-technology types or something.
Levi hung in her doorway while Genevieve returned the phone to its cradle.
"You coming in?" she asked.
"You getting dressed first?"
She gazed down at her nightshirt and shrugged. "You’ve seen me in less at some point, I’m sure. I think it boils down to whether or not you can still tolerate my morning breath."
He nodded and entered the room, easing the door closed behind him. She slid to one side of the bed so he could take the other and once he sat down and stretched out, she waited in silence for a few minutes. He must have come over to tell her something, since they weren’t due to be at Stephie’s until around seven or eight.
"Did you catch up with Sage last night?" he asked at last.
Dread knotted in her stomach. Knowing his current opinion of Sage, this sounded like a segue into an argument.
"Yeah. Gave her the sheet with the request Hayden put in and she took off. Haven’t heard from her since." To her surprise, Levi didn’t respond. "Are you here to yell at me about it?"
He shook his head and cast his eyes downward. "I miss you, Genny."
"Things haven’t been the same," she agreed sadly.
"You’re my best friend…and I don’t like it being like this. I don’t like us being like this."
"Me either." Still half worried the conversation was going to turn into an ultimatum regarding Sage, Gen tensed a little, prepared for an eventual argument. "So what are we going to do about it? Try talking like we used to?" Shit, bad suggestion, she realized before she could take it back. Talking like they used to would mean telling him everything, which she really couldn’t afford to do anymore.
"Have any deep dark secrets then?" He eyed her closely. She couldn’t be sure if he joked or not.
"Nothing recent," she replied. "Well…you might be mad at me for this, but…I kinda sorta…made progress with Peyton. A little bit. As in, apparently she likes me. Are you mad?"
Levi sighed. "Nah. I’ve been going out with Kourtnee for a week—why would I be mad? I mean, she’s cute. Talks a lot, but cute. It’s cool she likes you."
Genevieve breathed with relief, only realizing then that she’d been nervous about telling him. "Of course, I find out she likes me the very day Janine decides to talk to me. Great timing, eh?"
"You’ve become quite the chick magnet." He gave her a lopsided grin that put her even more at ease.
"Apparently, and if you ever figure out how that happened, let me know, okay? Now it’s your turn. Any new deep dark secrets?" She expected him to laugh her off, but a sudden frown met her eager gaze. "Lev?"
"I did come here to ask you about Sage," he said. "Was she upset when you saw her last night?"
"To say the least," she mumbled. He didn’t seem mad this time, at least. Sad, maybe, but not angry. "But she wouldn’t talk to me. Took off before I’d said three words."
"Sage…broke into Hayden’s room last night."
Gen’s cold blue gaze shot to him suddenly. "What?"
"I was going to bed and I heard a noise. I found her in there, crying."
"What did she say? Anything?"
Levi stood suddenly and paced the room, keeping his eyes downcast. "Not much. I guess she didn’t know Mom’s been packing up his things—maybe she came there looking for something, or just to remember…"
"So you didn’t talk to her or anything?"
He had walked all the way to the door at this point, and then turned and wandered back towards the bed. She couldn’t make out his expression, not with him refusing to look at her like that…was it anger? Grief? God, she used to be able to read him so well, but now she hadn’t a clue where his thoughts lay.
"She was curled up in the corner of the room," he continued. "And she just…she seemed so small. I’ve never seen her like that, not ever."
"So you didn’t…yell at her or anything?"
With a heavy, weary sigh, Levi sank down onto the mattress again. Perched on the edge of the bed, his shoulders turned inward and his head hung down. He stayed there in silence for a few moments until Genevieve shuffled to the edge next to him.
"I couldn’t," he said at last. "You know, I don’t think she’s okay. Really not okay."
"Like…she might hurt herself or something?" Oh Christ, she’d never really thought of that. Not with that iron will of Sage’s. Somehow she’d get through it—that just seemed a given. But what if…?
"I don’t know," Levi said. "I sat with her for awhile, and then she just left without saying anything. I thought maybe…you said you and Meredith saw her sometimes. I thought maybe you were kind of friends with her, but if she doesn’t talk to you…"
"I know someone she will talk to," Gen said quickly. Or hopefully will. She had a feeling Sage would talk to Michael, if he asked her too, but whether or not he would was anyone’s guess. "I’ll make sure someone helps her. I promise."
He nodded. There was no knowing if he believed her or not, but at least he didn’t argue.
"There’s something else…"
Genevieve braced for the worst, horrified it would be something involving Kourtnee that she had no interest in hearing.
Levi swung his gaze her way, dark eyes wide and sad, seeming to lay open his very soul.
"I’m still in love with her. I didn’t think I was and I tried not to be…but I am. Fuck, what kind of horrible person am I?"
"You’re not a horrible person." She slipped her arm around him and leaned her head on his shoulder. "You can’t help how you feel."
"Don’t tell her," he warned. "Please, don’t ever tell her I love her."
The morning after Levi’s confession to her about both his concern for Sage and his lingering feelings, Genevieve rose early with a mission in mind. Dragging herself to Michael’s at nine a.m. was the last thing she wanted to spend her Sunday doing, but she had barely slept since talking with Levi. She knew Michael could probably reason with Sage, so she resolved to try to talk him into it.
Was it even any of her business? Possibly not, and it seemed certain that Michael would probably yell at her for it. But Merri had mentioned to her before that Sage seemed to trust him—though God knows why—and if he could help her deal with her grief, then Gen was willing to try.
Of course, as she finally stood at his front door, she found herself wishing she’d asked Merri to do it instead.
Though she wavered for several minutes on whether or not she should even disturb him—especially when he’d specifically said he didn’t want any of them around that weekend—at last she raised her hand to knock.
Several minutes ticked by with no answer. A little relieved he didn’t seem to be home, she decided to knock once more before leaving, just so she could claim she made an effort.
Unfortunately, footsteps sounded behind the door just then, and seconds later it swung open. Michael stood in a pair of long charcoal pajama bottoms, sleep in his eyes and hair even more of a mess than usual. In a word, he looked like hell—rough night, whatever he’d been doing. He squinted in the sunlight and yawned. His hand slid along the edge of the door, gripping it tightly for support.
"What?" he mumbled as he recognized her.
"Uh…I…" Dammit, she wished she had like an email address for him or something. A quick note would have been a lot easier.
"You’re not supposed to be here today," he said, as if she needed reminding.
"I just wondered if I could talk to you about something for a second."
She thought for sure he’d turn her away, but instead he pushed the door open further and gestured for her to enter the house. She moved past him quickly, happy to be out of the cold though she never felt completely comfortable in his presence and that day was no exception.
Her mouth opened to speak as he closed the door behind her, but he brushed past her and went immediately for the kitchen. As she followed, her gaze swept over the familiar space to find it not-so-familiar suddenly. The kitchen table and chairs had been moved across the room, and all the books were removed from the shelves opposite appliances in the kitchen.
"You moving?" she asked, praying her voice didn’t sound as hopeful as she felt.
"Renovating," was his reply. He filled the coffee pot with water and moved to get a coffee cup from the cupboard. Tipping it in her direction, he gazed over his shoulder at her and raised a brow in question.
"I don’t drink coffee," she replied.
"Um, sure." She didn’t generally drink tea either, but it was so rare he offered her anything, she hated to refuse. Maybe he was sleepwalking or something; that could explain why he wasn’t acting right. Or maybe he had some kind of head injury…
He filled the kettle next and it was then Gen’s gaze fell to his bare back and sides. Several dark red scratches marred his skin—fresh by the look of them.
"Get attacked by a bear?" she asked, a small smile hovering on her lips. It was hard not to giggle.
Michael met her eyes and watched her gaze stray to his sides again.
"Maybe that pussy needs to be declawed."
"The thought has crossed my mind on occasion," he said dryly. "Now what do you want?"
"It’s about Sage."
"I mean what kind of tea," he said sharply with a glare. Gen mused he must have finally woken up.
"Surprise me." She regretted that statement almost immediately—rat poison seemed a very real possibility with him. "So don’t you want to know why I’m here to talk about Sage?"
"Mind if I have my fucking coffee first?"
"Whatever." Christ, if she knew he was going to be such a baby about it, she would have stopped at Tim Horton’s first.
He pulled a few more ingredients out of the cupboard and thankfully none of them resembled rat poison, at least from Gen’s view. She kept her silence as he took to pouring the drinks and added a tablespoon of honey to her tea, but couldn’t keep her silence when he dropped a generous amount of whiskey in his coffee.
"So is that your usual morning ritual or just to deal with me?" she asked as he scooped up the mugs.
"Bit of both, though today I’m leaning toward the latter."
Genevieve didn’t doubt it.
As he walked past her, he thrust the mug of hot, fragrant tea in her direction. She accepted the cup with care and followed him out of the kitchen. Michael took a seat on the couch, slouched down a few inches so his position resembled more of a sprawl, and took in a long sip of hot coffee. Gen settled on the edge of a nearby chair and waited for her tea to cool.
"Okay, explain," he said. "And be done by the time I finish my coffee."
"It’s about Sage."
"You already said that."
God, he was annoying. She quickly reminded him of the fact that he advised Sage to go to that dance, informed him that she had shown up, and then described how it all went to hell when Hayden’s request was played. He looked then as though he was going to bark something at her about wasting his time, but she continued before he could speak, finishing with what Levi had told her.
After voicing her concerns, she took a sip of the now-cool tea. "And by the way, this is really good—what is it?"
"Masala chai," he replied. "And can you perhaps refresh my memory as to why, exactly, you decided to tell me all this?"
"I was hoping you could talk to her."
"Because she listens to you. I thought…I don’t know, that maybe you could help her or something."
"Her boyfriend died—did you think by now she’d be over it?"
"No," she snapped. "I know she’s upset—this isn’t about her getting over him. It’s about her losing it. What if she tries killing herself?"
His face remained impassive—no luck there.
"Fine," she continued. "You don’t actually care about her—I get that. But you told us before that all this end of the world crap hinges on the fact that the three of us have to stay alive. Don’t you think her suicide would impact things a little negatively?"
As he tipped his mug to his lips, he watched her from over the rim and, to Genevieve, seemed to be considering her words. Of course, if appealing to him as a human being didn’t do it, at least cold logic spoke to him.
"Can you help her?" Gen asked when it seemed he wouldn’t say anything further.
"I’ll talk to her."
"But don’t tell her that I told you all this," Gen said quickly. "And really don’t tell her Levi told me any of that—it was probably supposed to be a personal thing. Maybe just tell her that you—"
He waved toward the door. "I’m not playing those games. You can leave now."
That didn’t seem such a bad idea to Gen. After draining the mug, she stood and returned it to the kitchen. Though it seemed preferable to get the hell out of his house as soon as possible, she turned to face him once more when she was only halfway to the door. Perhaps it was the positive development with Peyton on Friday, or the fact that Levi had come to confide in her, just like old times, but Genevieve felt bold suddenly. Stronger. A whisper of power rushed through her, so sudden and small she almost didn’t notice it at first…but it was there.
"Actually," she lifted her chin slightly and her voice took on a self-assured tone, "I have something else I wanted to talk to you about."
"Is that so?" He seemed more amused than threatened, but she refused to let him embarrass her into backing down.
"Yeah. I want to know something about that day at the farmhouse, when we all went there."
He didn’t seem surprised at her question. "I figured you would. You want me to tell you what you did to them?"
A little shudder went through her at the thought. "No, actually. I’m not sure I ever want to know about that. I want to know why, when that man had a knife to my throat, you almost didn’t do anything to help me."
Finally getting the words out had done nothing to quell her fear of him, but she did feel some weight drift off of her shoulders. A lump formed in her throat as she awaited his answer, however, and as long minutes of silence passed, the air grew heavier with expectation and tension.
"You’re standing here right now as a testament to the fact that I did help you," he replied coolly, "on a couple of occasions."
"It’s not that I’m not grateful, but that’s not the point. You helped me, but not before thinking long and hard about it. I saw you. You know I did. You were thinking of letting me die."
Michael regarded her without a word, continuing to casually sip his coffee. "Yes, I did."
Having that confession at last did little to ease her mind.
"Why? I’m not stupid—I know this is personal. You stalked me for weeks and you didn’t do that with Sage. I’m willing to bet you didn’t with Mer either. And if you were willing to stand there and watch that man murder me, I’d hazard a guess that you’ve considered doing it yourself a few times." Now that part she hoped he’d argue with, but the cold half smile on his lips told her otherwise.
"Interesting deduction." He downed the last of his coffee and rose. Though their heights nearly matched, she couldn’t help that he intimidated her, and every second was an internal struggle not to back away from him.
"If I’m supposed to keep coming here and trusting you, I have to have the truth," she said. "Can I trust you? Am I going to be spending the rest of my time here looking over my shoulder, afraid of you?"
He stalked toward her slowly, and again she fought the urge to backpedal. Two feet away from her he stopped, staring at her and saying nothing.
"Should I be worried about you deciding to randomly go homicidal on me?" she asked again.
He seemed to consider his response for a moment. "No."
Gen couldn’t say if she found that reassuring or not. "And should I expect that the next time my life is in danger you’re going to stand there considering whether or not you’re going to save me?"
Even less reassuring.
Power continued to twist through her veins and down her arms, winding around her fingertips. She didn’t actually know if any of it could do her any good—if any real magic was dwelling within her at that moment—but that little power was enough to ignite her sense of fearlessness again.
Genevieve took a step forward and gazed coldly into his green eyes, issuing a challenge that she only half hoped he’d accept.
"I want to know why this is personal," she said. "I need the truth—whatever it is. I need to understand."
Michael took another step forward so mere inches separated them and looked her dead in the eye.
"The day you understand is the day I will kill you," he said evenly. "So I’d say it’s in your best interest to forget about it."
At this point Genevieve was absolutely terrified—a threat on her life tended to do that to her—but she kept her composure as best she could.
Gen plastered on an exaggerated smile, calmly said, "Thanks for the tea," and abruptly turned toward the door. Once outside—and a safe distance from Michael’s—she muttered a few curses.
She’d better learn how to do a goddamn fireball soon ‘cause a certain target was just begging to be burned alive. The imagined sight of him writhing in fiery agony made her smile.
Suddenly conscious of her gory thoughts, Gen nearly stopped mid-step. Christ, what had happened to her? She had felt sick at the thought of doing something horrible to the people who really had tried to kill her—how could she really be smiling about burning someone else alive?
Genevieve shivered a little and she knew the sudden chill wasn’t from the cold.
A call from Michael late that Sunday afternoon had startled Sage. She’d heard from Merri—she knew that, for whatever reason, he had said he had no desire to have anyone around that weekend, even her. It was with disappointment that she accepted, and planned to spend both afternoons out jogging. And then, just as she laced up her running shoes, the phone rang and her mother informed her that her sensei was on the phone. That alone worried her—two weeks had passed since she’d dropped out of all her classes without telling either her mother or Michael. So why would one of her teacher’s call?
But relief and a spark of curiosity came when she heard Michael’s voice on the line, abruptly informing her he would be expecting her within the half hour.
In less time than that, she stood at his front door, sweat sprinkled across her brow from the run. Over the past few weeks, she hadn’t knocked once upon her arrival, knowing that if he expected her, the door would be open and she was to walk in and immediately start stretching. Michael had little tolerance for small talk and greetings, and she was glad of it.
On this day, however, she found herself hesitating. Something didn’t feel right, and though she normally wasn’t the sort of person to get mysterious intuitive nudges, she couldn’t ignore it this time.
Still, she clasped the cold doorknob and thrust the door open.
Inside, Sage slipped off her shoes and socks and left them by the front door, then strode into the main room. Already dressed in long track pants and a hoodie, she didn’t see the need to change. Without any sign of Michael, she perched on the arm of the couch and waited. Furniture had been moved out of the kitchen since the last time she’d been there days ago, and now the kitchen counter was heaped with tools and boards. Against the far wall were long, wide boxes only a few inches deep, along with a huge roll of plastic.
She sincerely hoped he hadn’t called her there for help to dispose of a body. It was bad enough helping Merri get rid of the guy who shot at them over a month earlier; though Sage prided herself on having a strong stomach, the whole event wasn’t one she was eager to repeat.
There was the sound of an engine in the driveway then as a vehicle pulled in, followed by car doors slamming and voices talking loudly. Minutes later the front door opened and Sage tensed, expecting the worst.
Not one of the three men looked familiar, nor did any of them pay her notice as they passed by to go to the kitchen.
"Should we get started then," one called, the tallest and oldest of the three.
Sage swung around to see Michael standing in the loft, looking over the railing. Dressed in a thick black sweater, he seemed to meld into the shadows up there, and she realized he might have been watching her when she came in without her noticing.
"Beer’s in the fridge," he called to the visitors. "You’ve got today and tomorrow, and you’re already late." His gaze went to Sage. "Get your shoes on and come upstairs."
Confused, but accustomed to following his directions, she did as she was told and found him waiting for her at the top of the steps to his loft. She hadn’t been up there once in the past month and a half she’d been coming to his house, but didn’t have time to spare the space a glance before he was leading her to the shadowed far right corner.
"What’s going on?" she asked.
"They’re installing a breakfast bar," he replied. "So we’re working upstairs."
Upstairs…was there a third floor she wasn’t aware of?
Michael yanked on a cord hanging from the ceiling. A simple bulb turned on, revealing an iron ladder affixed to the wall. It led to a hatch door in the ceiling, and after gazing at it for a few seconds, she returned her attention to Michael.
"Had it installed yesterday," he replied to her unasked question. "It makes sense to have more than one exit here."
After a nod from him toward the ceiling, Sage went to the ladder and climbed up. A few shoves on the hatch door and it swung open.
Cool November air brushed her skin as she climbed onto the roof. Though the sun wouldn’t be setting for awhile yet, thick clouds blanketed the sky, threatening to snow if it got much colder.
"Rope ladder is over there," Michael said as he followed her and closed the hatch door again. He gestured to a steel box bolted to the flat roof near the building’s edge. "Not my preferred way to leave, but a possibility."
"It’s a good idea," she agreed. Moving towards the edge, Sage gazed at the horizon. She could see a good half of the town from up there, and the distance from everything…it was simple. Peaceful. Easy. Perhaps she might persuade him to move their training sessions up there more often, even if it was a little cold.
"Tell me something, Sage," he said casually. "Why is it you were home when I called today?"
"Huh?" She wheeled around to face him, confusion clouding her expression. He stood about three metres away and watched her with interest.
"You have Muay Thai classes Sunday afternoon," he replied.
She flushed a little—she didn’t realize he remembered that.
"You don’t normally show up here Sunday evenings until around six, if at all, so I’d venture a guess those classes finish at four. Why were you home at three-thirty?"
Why bother lying to him? She doubted he’d actually care anyway, especially not if it meant she’d have more time for his instruction.
"I dropped them," she said. "A couple of weeks ago."
Michael watched her in silence. Shifting under his steady gaze, she dropped her eyes to the side.
"You fought hard to go to those classes, and you just left?"
She nodded, waiting for the inevitable "why."
"What else have you dropped?"
Sage glanced up at him sharply. "What?"
"What other classes of yours have you dropped?"
Dammit, why did he seem so mad at her? "All of them," she replied with a sigh.
A shrug. Her Aikido sensei threatened to discipline her regarding her aggression and warned her not to come back if she couldn’t control her temper…so, logically, she didn’t go back. It wasn’t long before the rest of the classes fell to the side as well.
"Your sensei asked you a question," Michael reminded her coolly.
Sage bowed her head with the obedience ingrained in her. "You know much more than my other teachers do," she said. "I thought you could teach me."
"I don’t know Muay Thai, which was why you were so eager to keep those classes, as I recall."
"I thought my time would be better spent with kenjitsu."
"If you can’t stick with your previous disciplines, how am I supposed to believe you’ll follow future ones?"
She struggled to think up an answer for him—anything to keep him from throwing her out and refusing to teach her. But before anything came to mind, he spoke again.
"That’s not why I called you and brought you up here today."
Looking up at him again, she studied him curiously. "Then why…"
"I thought there was something you should see." He reached into the back pocket of his black jeans and pulled out a Ziplock bag with something small and square inside. She hadn’t long to speculate on the object when he threw it her way.
She caught the bag and turned it over in her hands. A familiar looking compact black cell phone…what the hell?
Holding it closer to her face, she examined the phone. Something had dried a dark brown on it, flecks falling off into the bag.
Sage looked back up at Michael. "This is his?"
"But you said you never found it at the farmhouse."
"It wasn’t at the farmhouse."
Her mouth went dry. "What?" she managed to whisper.
"I didn’t find it at the farmhouse, Sage."
"Where did you find it, then? You said they must have had it—that since they called me after they attacked him, they must have kept it…"
His lips formed into a cold smile as realization finally dawned on her. Grief, rage, hurt…it all welled in her at once. Betrayed. God, he killed Hayden? How could he…?
"You’re far more useful to me if you have a mission for yourself," he said, as if reading her thoughts.
And then she picked just one of those emotions. One that wrapped itself around her suddenly, warmly, almost comforting in its simplicity.
"I’m going to kill you," she swore.
Michael shrugged nonchalantly. "Have at it."