The boys’ auras swirl madly around them. It’s not only colors that transmit info from a distance, it is tone and shape and movement and a myriad of effects that tell me so much. Confusion and the piercing stab of the fear that keeps one sharp color their auras almost identical. The swirl seems an attempt to locate the ripple of the something that runs through the bar. The fact that they are five steps behind what is actually happening kinda unnerves me. The fact that they know something is going on gives me hope.
Reading their faces, I am sorely tempted to come clean, to stop the games. But, that is just not the way I do things. It is not just my Loki-blood. There is a time and a place for revelation. Out in the open, even in Jim’s protected bar, is nowhere near the right place. It is self-preservation. I just enjoy the necessity.
I avoid looking in Jim’s direction. Jim, my confidant, my link to human interaction, knows more than he needs to know about me. Did I mention how distracting he is? Well, I can picture his face right now. The look would say he’d seen/felt the mistake, seen me get cocky. He wants to watch me dig myself out of this one. I hold my lips tightly together to keep from sticking my tongue at Jim chuckling behind the bar. Silly, sensitive human who knows too much.
As I stroll back to the pool table, several choices run through my mind:
- I could pretend that nothing happened, that I wasn’t the cause of the fluctuation that rippled through the building. I could pretend that I am a dumb human and make them think they are crazy for even thinking I am more than what I appear to be. How far would that really get me? This is no longer a simple data gathering situation.
- I could down the beer quickly and leave, calling it quits for the night. But, that would get me tailed.
- I could hit the head, change my looks, leave out the back, return from the front and start all over.
- Or…. I could play the victim. The boys are White Knights after all….
Setting the beers on the small shelf behind the table, I excuse myself. A small alcove with two dartboards and a group of college students tossing Jim’s old rentals lies beyond the pool tables. Past that is a dark hallway with five doors. Supply and office are on the right and restrooms are on the left. At the end of the hall, a flickering EXIT sign marks the back door. Pieces of hand-carved wood label each door.
The wooden marker thunks the door when I push through. After making sure the room is empty, I push the button on the knob that locks it. Standing before the mirror over one of two sinks, I place my hands on the sink and take a deep breath, calculating.
Karen isn’t a true victim. Her backstory includes too much strength. I gaze into her eyes and change them.
Brown eyes lighten to soft amber. The azure streak in my hair disappears. I trade dark makeup for softer eyes, pinker cheeks and lips that hint of gloss. Lengthening the brown hair down my back, I add a touch of blond highlights and curl so that when I create the braid that runs down my spine, bits of hair escape and in the right light will give a very subtle illusion of innocence. Karen’s trendy side-swept bangs slide down and frame my face with untended waves. My face rounds slightly. I change the shapes of my lips and nose as well.
While removing the wrist tattoos, I send a sliver of thought to Jim so I will not catch him off guard. He knows he always risks role-playing for me.
I twirl away from the sink, returning to the jeans and boots I am actually wearing. My top twirls with me into a flowered tunic beneath a jacket with patches on the elbows and pockets all over the front. I pull a pair of black plastic glasses from one of the pockets and shove them on my face.
Taking a left out of the restroom, I toss a snip of magic at the EXIT sign to stop the flickering and step into the largish alley behind the row of businesses on this side of the street. Looking up, I catch sight of the horned moon above old magnolia branches and lightning bugs dancing between the flowers. It is still fairly early.
I glide into the smaller alley between McGuffin’s and the children’s boutique closed since six this evening, walk a few feet into the darkness then spin around back the way I’d actually come.
I really hate to hurt myself, but….
I trip and fall hard. The brick wall hits my face, creating a small scrape on my left cheekbone.
Then the knees of my jeans rip on the asphalt seconds before my palms scrape across rocks sliding just enough to tear a patch from my arm and bloody my elbow. Before catching my breath, I let out a helpless, scared kinda scream that hits the mental rather than audio nerve of those it is aimed at.
Tears glisten in my eyes.
A slick trail of salt hits the scrape on my cheek.
I push myself up to my knees.
I fold my glasses in one hand.
The brothers are first out the back door. Merely a half step behind is Jim. (What I would have given to see him vault over the bar the way he must have to sell the bit.)
Nick kneels down to my level and sees the blood. Jim hovers beautifully. Logan, alpha male, pounds around the corner to find my assailant.
Jim pushes Nick aside, takes my face into his hands and peers into my eyes. Emotion passes between us. An entire conversation and mutual understanding arrives in seconds. Times like this make me so grateful Jim is not a true telepath. He’d rip me a new one for hurting myself, even as slight as this. Still, I slide my tongue between my teeth and press hard to keep from sticking it in his face. Especially when he speaks, all breathless and worried.
“Chloe! What happened? Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, I guess. Interrupted some guy skulking out here.”
Logan returns in time to ask, “What did he look like?”
“Like a denim blur,” I say. “I didn’t get a good look at him.”
Nick on one side, Jim on the other help me stand. I get both feet under me and waver just enough, as if my knees aren’t steady. I clutch at their shoulders much more than I need to.
“I told you not to use the fire escape after dark, Sis. I told you to use the stairs in my office.” Jim tosses Nick a key, whisks me up in his arms and carries me up the iron stairs to the room above the bar.
This isn’t my home. It is Jim’s old bachelor pad. He rents it sometimes to friends and friends of friends. It is between tenants now. Jim steps aside while Nick opens the sliding glass door Jim had installed so his renters could bypass his office entrance below.
Logan paces the alley a few times, determining for himself that no one or thing hides in the shadows. Satisfied, he follows us up to the loft.