The filming went well, and ended up being surprisingly fun. I enjoyed the way the guys kept asking me to do more and more ridiculous shit with my powers, until I was casually pulling off tricks that very few people had been able to pull off before the emergence. I must have been glowing with happiness after that, because Brook grabbed me as we finished up and held me tight.
With her face nestled into my neck she murmured, “You look really happy and competent right now and I love it. I love you little glowstick, sorry… I know that’s weird to say, but I just love seeing you like this. It gives me hope that you can beat your past.”
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Why were her words making me want to cry? I just… she was wonderful and… shit. Goddess she I would never be able to go through life without her. Emotions were hitting me so hard and from so many different directions because of what she’d said that I felt speech quickly leave me, and it was all I could do to clutch at her and try to keep breathing.
The guys packed up their stuff around us as we held each other, and when it came time for goodbyes, it was Brook who answered. She had to explain that I was okay and just tired, because they got all worried that they’d upset me. They definitely had not upset me, they had done the opposite. The sheer amount of praise and cheering that they had thrown my way for the past hour and a half had my head still spinning.
Once they were gone, Brook stepped back and her confidence fell away from one beat to the next. The heartbreaking change revealed how she was really feeling inside after spending time pretending to be my girlfriend, I could see it in her eyes and written across her face.
“What’s wrong?” I croaked stupidly, moving forward by instinct to try and hug her again.
She quickly backpedalled further from me and shook her head, saying quietly, “Do you mind if I go home? Alone? Sorry, I need some time to… uh, block this out, remind myself it’s not real.”
No! She was going to cry and drink herself to sleep again! The thought… it hurt, it physically hurt. I wanted her to smile again, I needed it so badly.
“I don’t… I want to come with you. I don’t want you to be upset and alone,” I mumbled, to raw with emotion to get any sort of volume.
“No. Sorry, I’m drawing a line here… okay? I really want to help you like this, I need to help you. I’d hate myself if I didn’t, and I can do it, but until this is over I think… I think I’ll need time to myself so I can guard my heart, or it’s going to die in my chest,” she explained with a depression-rough croak, already walking backwards away from me. “See you around, Elsie.”
Then she was gone, and I felt something inside me break a little bit. Fuck. I knew I should have said no to this dumb plan. I knew it was a bad idea from the start. All the happiness and confidence I’d felt as I showed off my skating and powers shrivelled up and died. I was shit.
With a heavy heart it was all I could do to get on the bus and ride home.
A week and a half later and things between Brook and I were beyond weird. We would meet up after class every other day and hang out, sometimes skating alone together, sometimes hanging out with Eric and Oscar, who were fast becoming added to my growing list of friends.
We’d act like a couple together, we’d make out in front of people, we’d hug and touch and whisper caring words to each other. Then sometimes, once or twice when no one was looking, she’d fall apart. I hated it, I hated what this was doing to her, but every time I tried to convince her that we should stop, she overruled me.
So for the past three days I’d avoided going out anywhere, I’d gone to class and then claimed that I was on my period to stave off my new friend’s invitations as well as Brook’s worry. She wasn’t buying it, but she also didn’t make a fuss about it either.
Periods sucked by the way, really fucking sucked. I remembered being strangely jealous of girls for them before, simply because it was a thing that women had to deal with. Then I had my first one, and suddenly I realised why us girls always complained about them. The part that fucked me up the most was how my emotional responses to things started sliding down into all sorts of extremes, and both times now I hadn’t realised what was happening until it was too late.
Diana had helped me through them with infinite patience, offering products for the bleeding and painkillers for the cramps. Cramps that always seemed to be ready to revv up the moment I was doing anything important. Point was, the whole experience was less than fun, but I guess using it as an excuse to get out of things was a bonus.
Today I had rushed home after class, one that didn’t have the two youtubers in it so I hadn’t had to make excuses, and I was busy trawling the internet for jobs. I needed one if I wanted to build a new computer, and since I was a perfectionist when it came to PC builds, I’d need a good one. I needed the new PC because frankly I felt I like hiding all over again, burrowing back into the world of online gaming and staying there. Anything to escape the ache in my chest.
Giving up on finding a job for the moment, I left my busted laptop open on my bed and put on a little pleated skirt and rainbow thigh high socks. I know it’s a trans girl cliche, but they gave me a lot of gender euphoria so fuck it, whatever.
With clothing on, I went to the kitchen to look for something to eat. Petra’s magical notes were strewn everywhere in the living room area, as they had been for several days now as she followed some magical conundrum with increasingly irate diatribes about things I did not have a hope of understanding.
I was almost positive there was something happening between her and Diana now. The way they were always close but not touching when I walked in on them talking. Plus, I was damn sure that one of the most famous super heroes in america had a better place to hang out than our living room.
Putting the kettle on, I was about to go and dig the tea out of the cupboard when the doorbell sounded. Who on earth would that be? Brook maybe, hunting me down because I was avoiding her?
I left the kettle to boil while I went to answer the door… and stopped dead when I saw who was on the other side. Maddy.
She looked anxious, nervous and… different. She carried herself weirdly, the old self conscious slouch was missing, replaced by something approximating good posture. I debated even letting on that I was home, since I still had some sort of thing for her. The dying ashes of a crush that did not need stoking once more. In the end though, sheer curiosity won out, and I cautiously opened the door.
“Hi?” I said, my greeting also coming out as a question.
“Elsie!” she exclaimed, looking simultaneously relieved and even more anxious. “Uh… how are you?”
“I’ve been better to be honest,” I said, feeling a flash of anger at the way her words were so casual. She owed me more than that shit.
“Right…” she winced, shuffling awkwardly from one foot to the other. “I guess I um… I’m here to say sorry. For standing you up, for ghosting you and… yeah.”
“You better have a fucking good explanation,” I said quietly, but I stepped aside to let her in.
“I do, I promise,” she said, and there was almost a note of excitement in her voice.
We moved through into the kitchen, where I began to fix tea for both of us. She was silent as she sat on a stool at the kitchen island, drawing idle circles into the dark faux-granite tabletop with her fingers.
“So… I missed our date,” she said after a minute.
“Yup,” I said noncommittally.
“Um, so like, days before that, or longer, time has been funny for me recently… uh, someone appeared in my house. Literally dropped out of thin air,” she told me hesitantly. “She didn’t speak english, she was confused and scared… later on she explained that she wasn’t even sure who she was for a few initial hours.”
“Someone… appeared in your house?” I asked, my surprise chasing away my anger for a moment. “Was that the girl I saw you with that time in White Plains? The one who sucked at eating a hot dog?”
“Yeah that was her,” Maddy nodded with a slight giggle, but then her expression turned serious again. “Elsie… she’s not even from our universe, from our reality.”
“Say again?” I blurted in disbelief.
“She’s not from this reality, she’s from a parallel universe!” she told me excitedly.
I was having some trouble believing all this, and it was fairly evident in my voice, “How exactly did she get to ours then?”
“She was fighting… she knows magic Elsie! She’s been teaching me! Sorry, anyway, that part is really exciting, except well… yeah how she got here isn’t so fun,” Maddy said, stumbling over her words for a moment as she told me about magic. Collecting herself, she continued, “She was fighting this thing, it could screw with reality, reconstructing it to suit its own brand of weird madness.”
The word reconstructing stuck in my mind and vibrated there like a bowstring after an arrow had been fired, but Maddy was oblivious as she kept telling the story.
“She said that the monster they were fighting grabbed her and tore the essence of who she was from reality, erasing her entirely,” she told me in a hushed voice. “But it didn’t work, because it’s broken. The monster isn’t whole, it was missing parts of what it was meant to be. The key component that it needed to erase her completely wasn’t there, and she was thrown out into the place between realities! It’s like something out of a crazy fantasy webnovel!”
Reconstruction. Essence. Reality. Key. Words that Sunfall had used before I ejected him into low orbit. Something strange within me seemed to twitch, was it my powers? It was definitely my gravity powers, they wriggled and stirred like a small child disturbed in sleep.
Then it woke up.
My perception of my body was gone, I was surrounded by nothingness, not even a black void to stare at. It was like I simply didn’t have eyes.
“Ah, the one I most desire,” a terrible, shuddering voice intoned. “You become aware at last.”
That voice, it felt like it shifted and moved things inside my very soul. Where was it coming from? Why couldn’t I see? Oh god, what was happening? Why didn’t I have a heartbeat?!
“The others, they’re important, don’t mistake my words for favouritism… but you my dear, you are the key to my victory… for what is an army without transportation? It becomes mired in pointless conflicts, stuck in battles that could easily be bypassed with a simple road, and you my dear, are the road builder,” the voice chuckled darkly as it spoke.
My mind filled with fear, flailing and screaming inside as I tried to figure out why I felt like I had no body, but both my anxiety and the thing that spoke to me were interrupted.
“I knew this shit would pay off eventually!” a cocky woman’s voice said. Who was that? I didn’t recognise the voice? What was going on, what the fuck was going on?
“Alright Nosos, you utter cunt, leave the poor girl alone now,” she said with a chuckle, and I heard her say something like she’d turned away from a microphone and was speaking to someone in the background. “He’s going to be so pissed. Wish I could see his face!”
Distantly I heard a cuter, more charming voice say, “I thought the creepy guy didn’t have a face though?”
“Quiet Syl, let me have this moment,” the first woman said with a laugh.
I stumbled as my world came abruptly back into existence, complete with Maddy telling me something about how that girl of hers had been spinning in some place or something.
Distantly, through the haze, I heard a whisper, “Good luck Elsie. We’ll help you if it tries again, and we’ll come find you when we need you. My name is Nia, which you’ll need later… anyway! Have fun over there, practice your powers!”
Maddy stopped after another few moments as she noticed me struggling, and asked, “Are you okay?”
I looked up at her like she was an alien for a moment as I worked to make sense of what had just happened. Did I want to talk about the weirdness that had just happened? No, and definitely not with Maddy. I didn’t trust her, and how could I know that what I’d just felt wasn’t some emerged weirdness? The powers of some nearby mental battle? It happened sometimes.
“Why weren’t you at the date?” I asked instead, bracing myself on the island, the tea forgotten behind me.
Her expression wavered again and she opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it again, then opened it to speak. “Magic isn’t something you’re born being able to use, at least not on our planet… so for Vosa to teach me magic… that’s her name by the way, Vosa. Anyway, for her to teach me magic I had to have the magical source created within me… except it went wrong. It took way longer than we thought, and I was like, mentally sick for days and days.”
“You missed our date to gain magic?” I asked, a part of me understanding that part… while the rest of me remembered the way she’d treated me afterwards. Just a simple fucking text when she was able, or even this explanation over a phone call would have kept me at least a little sane until we could work things out.
“Uh, yes…” she swallowed, her face going pale.
Magic. Did magic excuse this? I’d seen the way Petra casually threw it around like it was just the same as breathing. Could I forgive this and give her another chance? I didn’t think I could, not as far as wanting to try again with her. I had been too hurt when she ignored me, ghosted me… I’d been doing better with my internal demons until she’d fucked me over like that.
I shook my head. “And you didn’t text me to apologise… why? You ignored me, why?” I asked, getting more and more upset and angry. “Maddy, do you realise how fucking awful you made me feel?”
“I know… but how was I meant to explain all this? I couldn’t figure out how to say sorry and then the days kept going and I was getting lost in learning magic and… I don’t know,” she said, trailing off and sagging in her stool.
“Ugh,” I groaned, slumping forward myself, my head going into my hands. “Okay, I can understand anxiety I guess. Doesn’t mean I’m not upset with you, but I understand.”
“We can… do you think I can make it better?” she asked softly, her voice small and defeated.
“Friends? Yeah maybe. Dating, a relationship? Hell fucking no,” I said emphatically, then remembered my charade with Brook and realised I could use it to put my foot down here. “I’m not even single anymore.”
“What? You’re not?” Maddy asked with equal parts sadness and surprise. “With who?”
“Brook,” I said softly, wishing with all my heart that it was her in that chair and that I could go to her, let her hold me like she used to when we were alone and I needed comfort.
“Oh,” she said with a watery croak. “That makes sense.”
That caught me off guard. It made sense that I was with Brook now?
“Why does that make sense?” I asked quickly, my heart jumping strangely as the question left my mouth.
“I thought that you were in love with her when I saw you together… then I thought I was wrong when we started flirting but… I guess not,” she said sadly.
Maddy had thought I was in love with Brook? Why though? That didn’t make sense? I’d spent most of our friendship rebuffing her advances! Why did she have to go and say that? Why did she have to go and just casually drop that grenade through my mental door?
“Okay,” I managed to say around my spinning thoughts. “Sorry uh, I think I want you to leave now.”
I needed her out of my hair before my head spun off its shoulders. Alternate realities, crazy flashes of weirdness and the girl I’d had a crush on throwing me away for power. It was way too much to think about properly with the object of my confusion sitting here in my kitchen.
“Uh okay… I’m sorry…” she mumbled, stumbling off the stool. Her self conscious posture was back, but I couldn’t find it in me to care that it was me who put it there again. She had magic after all, she’d be fine.
She moved to leave, then stumbled to a stop with a gasp. She was staring at Petra’s notes over in the living room area like she’d seen a ghost.
“Who’s are those?” she asked, whirling to look at me.
“Noone that I can talk about, now get out,” I said urgently. Shit, I was definitely sure she shouldn’t have seen those notes.
“Please tell me! That’s magic over there! I can see the spell branchways!” she exclaimed as I moved to put my body between her and the living room.
“No, not telling. If you want, I’ll mention that you recognised them alright?” I said, almost pleading with her.
“Is it Ms Monahan’s?” she asked instead, completely ignoring my requests for her to leave.
“No it isn’t,” I said desperately, and then a little voice in my head reminded me of something. Petra had said that I was powerful right? “Maddy, if you don’t get out, I will make you leave. My offer to tell the owner of the notes stands.”
“I have magic now,” Maddy frowned. “I can defend myself now. Don’t threaten me.”
Threaten her? She was the one refusing to leave my house! I let the anger within me free, contained this time, aware of what I was doing. It came into being with a thump that warped everything in the room. The feeling of a gravity wave passing through your body was not pleasant when you were standing right next to the cause. The folks at LIGO were going to be scratching their heads for sure.
The black hole shuddered and wobbled in my hand, too small to be stable without my concentration, and I glanced pointedly at it. “The person who owns those notes thinks I’m more powerful than her. I asked you to leave and you’re being invasive. I don’t owe you shit for answers Maddy, not after what you did.”
Petra thought that, for some reason. I didn’t agree, but maybe she was talking about my raw power rather than skill and prowess in battle. I dismissed the black hole a moment after I finished speaking, because I already felt wrong for even using my powers aggressively like that.
Maddy stood and stared wide eyed at me for a long minute before she took a deep breath and nodded, saying in a small voice. “I’m sorry… I did it again, letting magic blind me to how I’m acting. It’s like Vosa said I guess.”
“What did Vosa say?” I asked cautiously.
“She doesn’t feel comfortable teaching me too much more… because I’m like that. She says I’m too single minded,” Maddy deflated further, looking small and depressed.
Ah damn it… why was I like this? I couldn’t stand to see Maddy crushed like that, no matter how dead my infatuation with her was and no matter how upset she’d made me. I stepped forward hesitantly and offered her a hug, which she accepted with a blink of surprise.
“I don’t hate you,” I told her in the hug. “I’m upset and angry with you, but those things can be changed. Although I’m not going to date you, that ship sank... but I can be your friend.”
I felt her swallow as she worked out what to say. She stepped back out of the hug and nodded with a weak smile. “Thanks… uh. I guess I would like to know whoever made those notes, if you’re okay telling her.”
“Okay well… I guess I’ll leave now. Uh, thanks for listening to me and I guess I’ll see you around?” she asked.
“Yeah, let’s keep to chatting on discord for a bit though,” I agreed.
“Right. Yeah, I forgot about that,” she said awkwardly, backing away towards the front door.
Yeah, she had forgotten. It had sucked, and I’d spent nights crying over it.
“Bye,” she said as she reached the door, leaving with a little wave.
“See you,” I waved back, closing the door behind her.
As soon as she was gone, my forehead hit the wood of the door and I let out a pained groan. I had so much shit to unpack after that, but the one that jumped to the forefront of my mind was the same dickhead thought that had been pestering me since Brook and I had kissed in front of those girls.
Seriously, in love with Brook? After all this time? How would I even begin explaining that to her if it was true? Fuck… Fuck! How do you even tell if you’re in love with someone? Maybe Mum would know? Mum knew a lot of things, I guess I’d ask her… yay. Awkward conversation time.