Gisela unlocked the kitchen door with the key Cynthia had given her when they'd moved in, and padded quietly into the silent house. She'd sensed Jesse's presence with increasing intensity since her second-last class, prompting uncharacteristic impatience to escape the school and come find him. His shoes lay carelessly by the door, a battered black canvas backpack beside them; she could hear music turned down low in the living room. She left her own boots and bag there, and crossed the kitchen towards the rest of the house.
When she reached the living room, she was glad she tended to move so quietly: he was curled up on the couch, one of Kevin's magesilk blankets tangled around him, his head pillowed on his arm and his other hand cradled close against his chest. He didn't react at all to her presence. Sound asleep.
She smiled to herself, and decided to let him be. There was nowhere she needed to be on a Thursday afternoon. The house would be empty until Sunday evening, so there'd be nothing to disturb Jesse. He could probably use the rest.
She prowled back out to the kitchen, and found what she halfway expected: a note.
Jess, Flynn had a hunch you'd show up this weekend. We left Thursday morning, we'll be back Sunday evening. You're welcome to stay. Unfortunately everyone you know is gone. If you need anything call Gisela or Evaline or Lori, phone numbers are on the wall by the phone. They know who you are. See you when we get home. Kevin. PS, this key is yours to keep.
The key in question lay beside it on an unadorned ring. Most likely, Sundark had simply left the door unlocked earlier.
Flynn had a hunch, huh? Like that was anything new. There were those in Haven who could see farther places in the world, see farther into the future, see things with no more focus than an item or two of information or an object; Flynn was, however, hard to rival when it came to matters close to home and of the immediate future and relevant to those he was familiar with.
She got settled in one of the living room chairs, her feet tucked up under her. Being barely five feet tall and willowy-slim had few advantages, but one was that she could get comfortable in places and positions her friends couldn't. She closed her eyes and let herself doze off, listening for Jesse to wake. The slow dryad metabolism was the opposite of the elves' rapid one: they were fine eating once or twice a day, but tended to need more sleep. Why pass up the chance for a catnap?
Motion roused her; she lay still, but opened her eyes to watch Jesse extricate himself from the blanket and stretch lazily.
Belatedly, he noticed her; she saw him tense like a startled cat, trying to decide between fight or flight.
She smiled, sat up and crossed her legs, combed honey-brown hair out of her eyes with her fingers. “It's okay. Only me.”
The wariness remained. “I don't know you.”
“I'm Gisela. I knew you were here so I came.” She made a face. “Dia'd yell at me if she knew. She'd say I'm invading when you wanted to be alone. So nobody knows.”
“No one ever tell you it's dangerous being alone with a guy you don't even know?”
The relevance of that she dismissed with a wave. “You won't hurt me.”
“So why did you come?”
“Because you hurt yourself, and I can help if you'll let me.” She got up and came to sit beside him. “Give me your hand.”
Jesse obeyed automatically, and let her take his bad hand in hers. She frowned thoughtfully.
“Can you stretch it flat?”
“It hurts, but almost.”
“Can you close it all the way?”
“No.” He showed her how far he could, about halfway, and his thumb was definitely not cooperating.
Gisela caught his hand again, held it between both of hers, and turned her senses inward, tracing the damage. Connective tissue, mostly, which was a nuisance to fix but better than bone, and most of it radiated out from the joint of his thumb. Once she knew what was wrong, she began to repair it, coaxing everything back the way it should be, easing the inflammation, rebuilding attachments. She felt the familiar warmth in her hands, felt it spreading into Jesse's, working its way through skin right down to the damaged muscle and tendons. Jesse felt it too, because he tensed again, poised as if he'd bolt at any instant.
She opened her eyes and released his hand. “Now try.”
He stretched it fully, closed it tight, a few times, with only one small wince of discomfort.
Gisela smiled when he raised wondering eyes to hers. “I'm a healer. I'm still learning a lot, but I help take care of my friends. I'm glad you came so I could fix it. Take it easy on it for a few days, though. Come tell me any time you get hurt and I'll always fix it. I promise.”
“That's... incredible. Thank you.”
She shrugged. “That's what healers do.”
“Can everyone around here do things like that?”
Gisela gave him her most guileless smile. “I'm the only healer you've met. Lots of people in Haven can do things the rest of the world doesn't believe in. That's why we stay here, so no one finds out and we'll be safe. Part of why, anyway. Dia says we can't tell you everything yet 'cause we don't know you well enough. I think that's crazy. You won't tell anyone. You don't like normal people either. And I don't think you'd have a very hard time getting used to it. But I'll behave. Usually Dia knows what she's talking about better than me, so I listen, but nobody's right all the time, right?”
“As a general rule, it's safer not to trust someone you don't know,” he cautioned.
“Maybe generally, sure. But you're safe.” Most likely her friends would tell her she was counting too heavily on the link that bound her and Jesse and Kevin like delicate strands of spider-silk. She doubted she'd have been able to make them understand that it wasn't the link that made her sure she was safe, only her own instincts telling her Jesse would attack only to defend.
Jesse shrugged. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Anyway. I did what I really wanted to do. I'll go away if you want me to, and I won't be offended. Or I could stay here or you could come home with me, it's up to you.”
He hesitated, then shook his head. “I don't think I want to go anywhere. But it doesn't matter to me if you stay.”
“Oh, good, 'cause it's much quieter here than it is at my house, even with Deanna away. She's home so much you can hardly tell she s'posedly lives here.”
Jesse gave her a confused look. “Deanna's your sister?”
That made Gisela giggle. “More or less. See, lots of people in Haven are part of a coven, which is a small group of people that are really intensely connected on multiple levels. It's so common that a lot of the time, people use their coven's name instead of their regular last name, it's just more useful. Our parents are in the same coven, and we all live in the same house. Four parents and three kids, me and Dia and our little brother. It's a big house but that's a lot of people.”
“No shit. Uh... would it be safe to guess that Kevin and Cynthia and Bane...”
“And Deanna and Flynn are a coven? Good guess. I'm not in one. I just hang around with Coven Sundark a lot. That's Kevin and everybody. And there are two other covens, Winter and Dandelion, and one other person who isn't in a coven, and we all tend to hang around together a lot. The thing they do every week that I bet you've seen, that's called a circle, it's a way of sharing energy. That's what makes a coven a coven and keeps them connected, and it's extremely rude to ever interrupt a coven in circle. It's about as intimate as possible. Because of that, covens tend to be very close on a lot of levels, and some things almost always happen just because they're so tangled up in each other. Like living together and sex within a coven. A lot of Haven businesses are run by one or two covens collectively.”
“Uh-huh. And... aren't covens supposed to have something to do with witches or something?”
That puzzled her, until she recalled that the outer world used the word differently. “You mean like the witches in Macbeth? Casting bad spells?”
“Sure. Or Satanists, or stuff like that.”
Satanists? Another word that confused her briefly. “Death magic, you mean? Or summoning demons?” She shook her head. “Death magic's revolting, and no one with half a brain will mess around with demons. And Sundark being that kind of witches is silly. Can you see Dia making brews in a cauldron out of eye of newt and tongue of frog or whatever it's supposed to be, to hurt anybody?” That made quite the image in her head, of Deanna in a black robe chanting evil spells over a huge cauldron, the rest of her coven dancing around her and it, and all sorts of demonic beings hovering around them; she laughed, despite the disturbing connotations of demons and death magic. “No way.”
Jesse relaxed a bit. “Just checking.”
Gisela lingered for a while, did her homework there, and they dug two of Kevin's frozen dinners out of the freezer. Reluctantly, she went home after they ate, with a promise to come over after school the next day.