“Nothing,” Ari perfected her monotone. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”
“Well.” Rachel smiled, a watery smile that broke Ari’s heart. “We could take your mind off of it. There’s nothing you can do, sweetie, but the let the doctors figure this one out, so me and Staci are here at your disposal.” Her eyes lit up. “What if we took you across state to Penn? We could check it out together. Your dad would want you to do that, no?”
A part of Ari was genuinely mad at the suggestion. Did they really think she was going to head out of Sandford Ridge while her dad lay dying in a hospital bed? Was college all Rachel ever thought about? Even though the rational side of her knew Rache was just trying to find ways to comfort her and take her mind off of a bad situation, Ari drew on that angry part and shot her best friend a disgusted, disdainful look. “Is that all you think about? College? My dad is dying, Rache!”
“Ari, no, I didn’t mea—”
“And I’m not going to college. I never wanted to go to Penn in the first place.”
Rachel shook her head, perplexed. The look she shared with Staci was one Ari knew well. She thought a screw had come loose in Ari’s head. “Wait. No. Of course you want Penn. Ari you can’t let this hurt your future. Your dad wouldn’t want that.”
Do it, Ari. Just do it.
She curled her lip mockingly. “You don’t know what he’d want. How could you when you don’t even know your supposed best friend?” she scoffed and narrowed her eyes on them, watching her two friends pale with shock at her aggression. “I’ve been freaking out for weeks about college, but I couldn’t even talk to my best friend about it because she would have turned her back on me the second I said I didn’t want to go.”
Rachel snapped her head back as if she’d been slapped. “Ari, that is so not true. I would have been there if you’d just talk to me. You blame it on me but you don’t talk to us! You didn’t even tell us your dad was in the hospital! What is wrong with you?” Her lips trembled and Ari had to hold herself back. Rachel was so close to crying. Ari couldn’t stand to see anyone cry.
She shrugged, remaining strong. “I just know who my real friends are, is all.”
“What? Charlie Creagh?” Rachel cried, tears now spilling down over her lids. “Yeah, Ari, he’s such a good friend. He’s not even been there for you for the last two years! He’s a loser! And if you keep going this way you’re going to end up just like him,” her last words were caught on a sob as she whirled around and fled out of the hospital room.
Staci stood frozen for a moment, staring at Ari as if she’d never seen her before. Finally, she cleared her throat, “I don’t know what that was about but I know this isn’t you. So does Rache. She’ll realize when she stops crying that this… this isn’t you.” She gave Ari a soft, heartbreaking smile. “I want you to know that when you’re ready to deal with all of this, we’ll still be here, Ari. We’ll be waiting.”
Her promise almost broke Ari’s resolve. She wanted to fall into Staci’s arms and hug her friend and ask her to take away the last few weeks. She wanted to go back and have everything be the way that it had been. But her life was never going back. There was no friends, no parties, no college talks in her future. There was good and evil, magic and danger. And Rachel and Staci were too vulnerable to be involved in that.
Throwing her shoulders back, Ari gulped down the nausea brought on by her grief. Her eyes deadened as they looked right through her friend, and she replied in a clear, unemotional voice, “Don’t bother.”
What little color had been left in Staci’s cheeks fled and her own eyes glistened with hurt tears before she nodded, a little puff of disbelief escaping her lips as she turned on her heel and followed in the wake of her friend’s departure.
As soon as the door closed behind Staci, Ari sagged, a sob catching in the back of her throat as she bent over her father’s bed, groaning in heartbroken fury.
A hand slid across her back, a spicy familiar cologne tickling her senses. “You OK?” Jai asked her quietly.
Frustrated at everything, Ari shrugged away from his comforting hand and felt him step away from her. She shot him a look over her shoulder and found him gazing at her blankly, although his features were taut. She hoped he was hurt. Hoped he was mad. She wanted someone to be as mad and as hurt as she was. “What do you think?” she bit out, kicking the hospital bed with her foot. “How would you feel if you had to cut Trey out of your life?”
He shrugged uncomfortably, shoving his hands into his jeans’ pockets and looking like a little boy who had just been scolded.
Ari scoffed meanly, “God, between you and Charlie it’s a wonder I haven’t gone into frickin’ dentistry.”
“What does that even mean?”
She grunted. “It’s like pulling teeth to get anything out of you two.”
Jai shrugged, still looking bewildered. “We’re guys.”
Ari shook her head, hating everyone and everything at that moment. “You’re asshats.”
I Don’t Want This Heart, It’s Split in Two
Sunlight poured in through the kitchen window like an interrogation spotlight on the unbreakable. Ari turned her head this way and that, catching the beams of hot light on her face and feeling nothing but the temperate tingle of its touch.
She missed the heat.
She missed the cold.
She missed... her dad. Her friends. It was weird but she’d spent half of her time complaining they weren’t really there for her. As it turned out they were there enough to have created an ugly dent in her bumper now that they were gone. Charlie and Jai sat behind her at the kitchen table. Charlie had gone out to the store and gotten some eggs. Jai had cooked omelets. They existed together in a strained state of peace for Ari’s sake. Ari felt just as tense around them as they did around one another.
Feeling the way she did. About them both.
It wasn’t enough to be worrying constantly that The Red King hadn’t contacted them in three days, or that Rachel and Staci were gone from her life (and so easily – it was a little insulting), or that she was exhausted from using her Jinn magic twenty four hours a day. Who knew that conjuring random crap out of thin air instead of having to get off your ass and get it could get boring? But it did. Ari could see why Jai lived like a human, fetching glasses of soda and cooking omelets. Not that she talked to him about it. Since the hospital she had been distant with Jai and Charlie. There was just too much to think about. Too much to feel and right now she was just…
Angry at her dad, at The White King, at The Red King, at Azazil, at Rachel and Staci for walking away after a five minute dispute (yeah, yeah rationality wasn’t really factoring into her rage), mad at Charlie for being a teenage delinquent for the last two years, and mad at Jai for making her feel a certain way about him and then treating her like some one night stand he couldn’t wait to get rid of. Finally… she was just angry at herself. Surely she should be coping with all of this way better than she was? She should be strong enough to protect the people she loved rather than have to push them away; she should be smart enough to find some way around The White King’s plans for her rather than playing directly into his hands; and she shouldn’t be so flaky as to fall for a guy when she was supposed to be in love with someone else.
She groaned inwardly, pressing her nose against the window pane. Sucks.
Ari was close to giving up on feeling the heat through the glass when Jai’s voice cut through the room, commanding and steely, “I think it’s time we test your other powers.”
Nervous little cretins awoke in her stomach, dancing and partying around in there, not caring that she was this close to throwing up.
Ari knew what Jai meant when he said ‘other powers’.
Stealing herself, she turned around slowly, her eyes falling on the table. Charlie sat looking at her, a forkful of egg inches from his mouth as he waited on her answer. Jai was finished eating, his plate pushed away from him, his arms crossed over his chest so his muscles flexed almost threateningly. “Why now?” she asked quietly, afraid.
“Because The Red King is taking a while. I don’t know what that means but I do know that time is running out. I think we should use what time we do have sensibly. To me it makes sense that we test the powers of the Seal.” His eyes narrowed at the petulant look she threw him. “Hey, I’m not happy about it either. The only way to test those abilities is to test it on the Jinn. The only Jinn we have in our midst is yours truly. I’m putting a lot of trust in you that you won’t command me to do something asinine.”
Ari snorted. “Asinine?”
“Ari…” he warned, standing up.
Charlie had been watching the byplay between them, his head swiveling back and forth. Now he grinned wickedly up at Jai. “Do I get to choose what she commands you to do? Come on, let me, it’ll be fun.”
Jai laughed humorlessly. “I said I don’t want her commanding me to do something asinine, kid.”
Charlie’s grin disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced. “I told you not to call me, kid, Jinn boy. I’m what… two years younger than you, douchebag?”
“Try five. And that’s only in physical years.”
“What, you trying to say I’m not mature?”
“Oh those socks you’re wearing definitely are. Have you heard of detergent? A shower? Hygiene?”
“I shower, you militant, glorified fucking babysitter.”
“Watch it, kid.”
“Kid? I am this close to taking a swing at you, you overblown piece of—”
“Oh for the love of God!” Ari cried, throwing her hands up, her head pounding. So much for their strained peace treaty. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!”
Despite their matching glowers, both of them slammed their lips closed and glared at one another. Ari heaved a sigh of relief as she pulled a chilled can of soda out of the refrigerator. At least the soda still felt nice sliding down her throat. Not the same as an ice cold Coke on a blazing summer day but still nice. She took a refreshing swig and turned towards her male companions once again. Blasts of frost shot out from Jai’s eyes only to be met by the simmering black heat of Charlie’s angry gaze. Rolling her eyes and biting back the guilt that she was somehow responsible for the animosity between the only two people she could count on right now, Ari spilled into the chair between them and Jai slowly sunk back down into his.