Before her was a small vial. Quincy stared at it, both palms on the table. Her forehead creased as sweat beaded on her skin. Her eyes flickered to Lethia, who stood on the other side. The girl’s expression was somber, her eyes downcast. But why did she look so sad? Surely someone who was willing to put a person through this wouldn’t look so contrite?
Quincy’s eyes narrowed. “This is it?”
Lethia closed her eyes. “Yes.”
“No, I mean… Is this is really what you say it is?”
“When you focus on something for too long, anyone can doubt it.”
“I suppose.” Quincy wiped at her face. “It feels like I’ve been staring at it for ages.”
Lethia opened her eyes again, her expression gaining a hint of wry humor. “That’s because you have.”
The wizard said nothing in response, instead finally picking up the vial. She held the glass up to her eyes and watched as the milky white liquid sloshed inside.
“It looks like an abortive potion…” Quincy murmured. Her eyes flickered to Lethia. “But you could’ve added something to it.”
Lethia gave her a suffering look. “Quincy…I already offered to make the potion in front of you! If you’re still suspicious after choosing to let me get this one, then you’re only letting your fear speak for you, not your common sense!”
“I can change my mind, Artaud. Do you think I’m stupid?”
The teenager covered her face with her hand. “No. I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“Really, because it sounds like you do!”
“Do you put Hakeem through this too?”
At the mention of her husband, Quincy tensed. “Shut up!”
“Quincy, just drink it!”
Her hand tensed around the vial, and the wizard stared at the stopper.
Lethia groaned at her hesitation and leaned forward onto the table with one hand. With a look that spoke of disappointment, the girl shook her head. “You’re not going to do it, are you?”
Quincy glared at her. “I’ve decided. I want to mix the potion myself.”
“Because you think I’m trying to make you infertile?”
Lethia smiled humorlessly. “Quincy, did you stop to ask yourself why you didn’t think I would try to poison you instead?”
Quincy blinked. That was right. Why hadn’t she thought of that first? Why had she been so focused on her ability to have children?
“You have to consider what it means if you value something more than your own life.” Lethia continued. “But with you, it’s like loving the door and not the room behind it. You’ve held onto the hope that you can start a family of your own, and yet even when you had the chance to, you opted to continue living the dangerous life you led. We have to be real here. Your hopes were false and empty. Like a security blanket for a child. But you’re not a child anymore, Quincy. If you want to make a potion, I can let you make one, but it’s still up to you to accept the truth. This isn’t about whether or not that vial in your hand is bad for you. It’s about your own misconceptions. The ones you’ve got to let go.”
The woman swallowed hard as her eyes clouded with more tears. Her cheeks were already tear-stained from earlier, she wasn’t about to go through that again. Roughly, she wiped the tears away.
With a breath, she removed the stopper from the vial.
Elmiryn’s cheeks were hurting from her attempts at keeping her smile up. Lethia was watching her like a hawk now, and it was putting her on edge. She would have loved for a drink, but since that weird moment earlier with Nyx, Elmiryn thought it best not to diminish her ability for good judgement. She tried not to think how close their lips had been, how her body responded to what was happening…
They were sitting on the sofas, Taila having rejoined them, and the conversation had somehow turned on to politics, but the woman was only half paying attention. When she wasn’t woefully comparing her lack hipness to those in the room, she was trying her best not to look at Nyx and Taila sitting adjacent from her, touching hands and laughing together. Lethia sat on Elmiryn’s other side but leaned in close to be heard over the music, making the redhead feel cornered.
Nyx reached over and gave her a small shove in the shoulder. “Well hey, what do you think?”
Startled, Elmiryn looked at her, her eyes fluttering. “About what?”
“About Clinton wanting to overturn his marriage law.”
The woman started to sweat. “Uh…which was that again?”
Nyx grinned as Taila snickered next to her. “The Defense of Marriage Act he signed in ‘96.”
Sensing danger, Elmiryn tried to play it cool. “Oh! Yeah…that. Well…” She paused as she tried to think.
Clinton, Clinton, Clinton…fuck, all I know about him is that he’s married to Hilary and he got a blow job in the oval office! Or…wait. Okay, wait. These guys are all about gay rights, so obviously it has to do with that. So he signed an act against gay marriage in 1996 and now he wants to overturn it? Jesus, I really need to read more about this stuff.
Clearing her throat, Elmiryn said what she thought was safest. “Look. Clinton is a politician. Politicians change positions all the time. If he wants to support gay marriage now, then good for him.”
“He’s only doing this because it’s what Obama wants,” Taila said with a derisive snort.
Nyx looked at her, a stung look on her face. “You don’t think it’s because our movement has gotten stronger?”
Taila patted her knee. “Babe, you know I do. I mean that Clinton is just an opportunist who is only interested in furthering his career. There’s gotta be a pay off in this move somehow.”
“It does feel inauthentic,” Lethia agreed with a nod. “But when it’s about something like marriage rights, where over thirty states have gone out of their way to define it, can we really afford to be picky?”
“But people can change,” Elmiryn said, looking at them all. “Or is it impossible for someone to change their opinion?”
Lethia gave her a pitying look. “We’re talking about a politician, Elle. It’s a little different for them. In all the years Clinton has worked, he’s never been on record supporting same-sex marriage. What is on record, is that he passed DOMA and DADT, which have hurt the gay community for years.”
Elmiryn stared at her cousin, who stared back. Slowly her head turned to look at Nyx and Taila. They were gazing at her curiously. She opened her mouth as though to speak, but didn’t know what to say. Belatedly, she closed her jaw and stared at the untouched beer in her hands, lukewarm and watered down.
“You’re so self-involved.”
Lethia’s voice. But when had her cousin ever said that?
People can change. What the hell kind of thing is that to think, that a person can’t? What does it matter what they do? I mean, forgiving a person for what they did is one thing, but do you have to forgive them for a mistake to believe they’ve CHANGED?
Taken by emotion, Elmiryn stood abruptly, her beer sloshing onto her jeans. “Fuck!”
Nyx stood too, her hands held out. “Woah! Oh shoot. You need a towel!”
The redhead wiped vainly at the damp stain with her hand as she set her half-filled cup down. “No, I’m fine.”
“It’s no problem. Let me just get–”
“I’m going to the bathroom anyway,” Elmiryn blurted out as she stumbled past Lethia. They all stared as she went, and she fought very hard to keep the blush from creeping up her neck and into her face.
Hardly thinking, she hurried out the room as fast as the crowd allowed her before she realized she had no idea where the bathrooms even were. After getting directions from one of the partygoers, the woman headed upstairs where she found a line of people waiting to get in. She sighed and leaned against the wall.
When she got tired of listening to the girls next to her talk about how much they loved Nicki Minaj, she took out her phone and sent Izzie a text.
hey. this party sux. miss u
After hitting send, the woman stared at the far wall and tried to sort out the sense of guilt in her stomach. “What happened back there?” She murmured to herself.
“What happened where?”
Elmiryn’s looked sharply to her side to see a tall swarthy man with dark shoulder length hair, gaunt features, and a goatee in need of trimming. He was dressed in bummy clothing–sweats, a grease-stained Captain America t-shirt, and dirty generic sneakers. What really got Elmiryn was his eyes. They were like Izzie’s.
“Uh sorry, were you talking to me?” She asked.
The man shrugged his hands. “I don’t know. Were you talking to me?”
Elmiryn rubbed at her neck and turned away. “Naw. Sorry.”
For a while it seemed that was it. Then the man leaned in and breathed, “I’m Nick.”
“Not interested, Nick,” she snapped over her shoulder. She wasn’t in the mood for shitty come-ons.
“You’re not…interested? You’re not interested?” The man laughed, causing people to turn and stare. Even the girls in front of Elmiryn stopped blathering long enough to glance over their shoulder.
The woman turned fully to glare at Nick. “What’s your problem?”
Nick slid out of line and started backing up toward the stairs. “My problem, Elmiryn, is that meaningless scenes like these are what get your juices flowing!” He pointed at his face and shouted, “Do you have any idea the sort of trouble I had to go through just to get into this nightmare? Do you know how hungry I am? No. Of course you don’t. You’re starring in your own drama, featuring you and your fantastic ineptitude. Your name doesn’t even fit into this setting! None of theirs do! Has that managed to squeeze into your fat head you self-involved bitch!?”
“Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never even met you before!” Elmiryn shouted. “Go be crazy somewhere else!”
“I’ll remember that when you come crawling back to me!” Nick seethed as he stumbled down the stairs. “You are my toy, Elmiryn! MINE!”
After Nick left, the people around the woman continued to stare. She said to no one in particular, “I don’t know who that was. He looked like a crack addict.”
“They should call campus security,” One of the girls in front muttered. There was a murmuring of assent.
The redhead put on a brave face and shrugged. Inside, however, she shivered.
How did that guy know my name?
A little while later, and Elmiryn was finally in the bathroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She wasn’t sure why she was even in there. The beer on her pants had soaked in enough that the smell was going to linger and there was no longer a need for a towel. Was she scared of being around Nyx? But what did she have to be afraid of? She was with Izzie, right? She was happy…
“…You self-involved bitch…”
“People can change…” She murmured. Her brow tightened and she struck her palm against the edge of the sink. “People can change!”
Her features slackened and she covered her eyes.
Everyone’s so stupid. They don’t get it. The issue isn’t whether or not people can change…it’s whether or not they change for the BETTER.
She thought of Izzie, and how her girlfriend was now that they had moved in together. The change was subtle, but it may as well have been screamed into her ear with a megaphone. Every day, every hour, minute, second, was weighed by an expectation for more. It was hiding behind Izzie’s words when she teased Elmiryn about how she folded her clothes, or when she rearranged the fridge to make room for her Diet Pepsi, or when she got them new comforters for the bed. It said she wanted Elmiryn’s tomorrow.
Elmiryn only wished she knew what she wanted her tomorrow to be.
Feeling depressed, she opened the bathroom door and stepped past the next person in line, only to bump into someone else. Coming out of her funk, the woman raised her eyes and apologized as the other person did the same. It was Nyx. Elmiryn blushed and rolled her shoulders in an attempt to shake off her embarrassment. “Oh. Hey.”
Nyx tilted her head to the side. “You look thrilled to see me.”
“What? No! That’s not it…I just–” Elmiryn gave a rough sigh. “I don’t feel good. I think I might have to go soon.”
“Aww.” Nyx pouted. It was horrendously cute, and the woman’s blush deepened.
Someone sidled past them in the crowding hallway, and they both stepped to the wall. Elmiryn’s heart quickened as Nyx stepped in closer. She poked the woman in the ribs, making her squirm. “Well hey, I was getting a book for Lethia. Wanna see?”
She should’ve said no. The thought entered her mind instantaneously, her eyes even flickering to the stairs. Ears were everywhere, and if she learned one thing in college, it was that people talked. Somehow, sooner or later, this would get back to Izzie. Her girlfriend. The woman she said she loved.
“Sure,” Elmiryn said with an almost resigned grin.
Something’s got me right now. I don’t know what this is.
Nyx’s smile turned sly and she took the woman’s hand. “Come on, then!”
This is so stupid, on so many levels. This isn’t who I am. What’s wrong with me? Is this what Ting felt, when we first met? …No. She knew what she was doing. She knew her girlfriend was at that party and she brought me anyway. I was the other woman. Me. And now I’m the other woman again. Only this time…I’m choosing to be.
But just as they came to Nyx’s door at the end of the hallway, screaming was heard downstairs, and the both of them turned their heads in confusion. Nyx hurried back the way they had come, Elmiryn following her, and when they got downstairs, she pulled one of the sorority sisters aside and asked what was going on.
“Some guy went crazy! He’s got one of the pledges by the throat with a knife!”
Before Nyx could speak, Elmiryn grabbed the girl by the shoulder. “Which pledge!? Does she have long blonde hair? Green eyes?”
The girl nodded and Nyx covered her mouth with her hands. “Omigod! Lethia!”
Elmiryn bared her teeth. “Where are they!?”
The girl pointed mutely outside, and Elmiryn barreled past them both, her heart pounding in her chest. When she managed to shove past the crowd that had gathered, she saw Lethia standing out on the grass, Nick behind her with a knife at her throat. He grinned maniacally when he saw Elmiryn.
“There you are!” Grabbing Lethia by the hair, he jerked her head back and pressed his knife in tighter so that the skin bleed. Her cousin cried out. “Now I’ve got your attention!”
“Let her go!” Elmiryn shouted, her hands clenched into fists.
“Not until you listen to me!” Spit flew from Nick’s lips.
Lethia sobbed. “Elle…please! Help me!”
“I’m trying to Lethy, just hang tight!”
“Campus security is on their way!” Nyx. Behind her. Elmiryn didn’t look. All her attention was focused on Nick. On his thin face, his white cracked lips, his foggy eyes. The guy was out of it. What did he really want…?
“I’ll listen to you, Nick,” She breathed, holding up her hands. She dared a step closer. “Okay? I’ll listen to you. Just let Lethia go.”
Nick laughed. “Oh, Elmiryn. This is what you’ve always wanted, wasn’t it? To be the hero? To save the damsel in distress and get the girl in the end? Well it’s not all its cracked up to be, is it? But if you snap out of this, I can promise you a few adventures you’ll just love!”
“Look, I don’t know how you know me. I don’t know what you want! Lethia doesn’t need to be involved so just let her go and we can talk it out, okay!?” Elmiryn dared another step closer.
“Why should I let her go? Hmm? Why? Are you afraid to remember what it feels like to be my toy?”
“I’m not your toy. People aren’t things.”
Nick grinned and pointed the knife at her. “Well that works, because you aren’t a person.”
“Fine. I’m not a person. But she is. Let her go.”
He’s got the knife off her throat. Good.
“You’re patronizing me. I hate it when people patronize me.” Nick raised the knife as if to stab Lethia. The girl screamed as she tried to get away.
Elmiryn let out a yell and charged the man, tackling him around his torso. They tumbled down the small incline, and when they stopped the woman was on her back and dizzy. When she tried to rise, Nick jumped on her with his knife, and she only just managed to catch his wrist in time before he stabbed her in the heart. For a skinny drug addict, he was deceptively strong. As they struggled, others came hurrying down the slope. People shouted and screamed.
Nick leaned in real close and hissed, “The things I do for you!”
Elmiryn yelled and wrenched his knife away. The man had been leaning his weight in that direction so his balance was off. Twisting her hips, the woman was able to throw Nick off. When he was down, she took her fist and slammed it into his nose. He yelled in pain and so did she. She’d never punched anyone before.
Holy shit…was this…is this a fight?? I’ve never been in a fight before! Christ, I could’ve DIED!
She sat on the grass, dumbfounded, watching as Nick tried to staunch the bleeding from his face. Nyx, Taila, and Lethia came hurrying down the small slope, but before they reached them, campus security appeared with guns drawn. They yelled at her to put her hands up. Elmiryn stared up at them, cradling her hand. She felt her phone buzz in her pocket. That was Izzie.
She’s going to have to wait for a response… Elmiryn thought miserably as she raised her hands.
When campus security, who were actually city cops on loan, had control of the scene, the redhead was cuffed and pulled aside to be questioned. Nyx and Lethia protested her detainment loudly along with some others, but she cooperated anyway, too dazed to do otherwise.
When the cop speaking to her asked for her name, she said, “Elmiryn.”
Then she frowned.
The cop paused as he waited for her last name. When she didn’t give this, he leaned forward, his pen resting on his clipboard. “Ma’am? Your last name, please?”
She looked at him, her eyes squinted. “Hey…Elmiryn’s a weird name, isn’t it?”
“Ma’am…your last name, please?”
Elmiryn turned to look at Nick, also handcuffed, but sitting in a squad car. He was staring at her steadily from the dark of the backseat, a smile on his face, his eyes glowing eerily in the shadow…