It happened with these bouts of magic. I’d barely been able to drag myself out of bed when I’d brought Jill back. The toll of wielding so much life was just too great, and the mind rebounded from the high. Well, mine did. Lissa didn’t have these dramatic ups and downs. Hers was more of a steady darkness that lingered with her for a few days, keeping her moody and melancholy until it lifted. Sonya had a mix of both effects.
My little brooding artist, Aunt Tatiana used to say with a chuckle, when I got in these moods. What’s gotten into your head today? She’d speak fondly, like it was adorable. I could almost hear her voice now, almost see her standing there beside me. With a shaking breath, I closed my eyes and willed the image away. She wasn’t here. Shadow-kissed people could see the dead. Crazy people only imagined them.
I ate my pizza standing at the counter, telling myself over and over that this mood would pass. I knew it would. It always did. But oh, how the waiting sucked.
When I finished, I returned to the living room and stared at the paintings. What had seemed wonderful and inspired now seemed shallow and stupid. They embarrassed me. I gathered them all up and tossed them into a corner on top of each other, uncaring of the torn canvas or wet paint.
Then I hit the liquor cabinet.
I’d made good progress on a bottle of tequila, sprawled on my bed and listening to Pink Floyd, when the bedroom door opened a couple hours later. I smiled when I saw Sydney. I was adrift on the buzz of tequila, which had effectively muted spirit and taken the edge off that terrible, terrible low. That wasn’t to say I was bright and peppy either, but I no longer wanted to crawl into a hole. I’d defeated spirit, and seeing Sydney’s beautiful face lifted me up even more.
She smiled back, and then, in one sharp glance, assessed the situation. The smile vanished. “Oh, Adrian,” was all she said.
I held up the bottle. “It’s Cinco de Mayo somewhere, Sage.”
Her eyes made a quick sweep of the room. “Is Hopper celebrating with you?”
“Hopper? Why would—” My mouth snapped shut for a few moments. “Oh. I, uh, kind of forgot about him.”
“I know. Maude sent a message by way of Ms. Terwilliger asking if someone was going to come for him.”
“Crap.” After everything that had happened with Rowena, my dragon fosterling had been the last thing on my mind. “I’m sorry, Sage. Totally slipped my mind. I’m sure he’s fine, though. It’s not like he’s a real kid. And like I said, he’s probably loving it.”
But her expression didn’t change, except to grow graver. She walked over and took the tequila from me, then carried it to the window. Too late, I realized what she was doing. She opened the window and dumped the rest of the bottle outside. I sat up with a jolt.
“That’s expensive stuff!”
She shut the window and turned to face me. That look drew me up short. It wasn’t angry. It wasn’t sad. It was…disappointed.
“You promised me, Adrian. A social drink isn’t a problem. Self-medicating is.”
“How do you know it was self-medicating?” I asked, though I didn’t contradict her.
“Because I know you, and I know the signs. Also, I sometimes check up on your bottles. You made a big dent in this one tonight—much more than a social drink.” Glancing at the window, I nearly pointed out that technically, she was the one who’d made a big dent in the tequila.
“I couldn’t help it,” I said, knowing how lame that sounded. It was as bad as Angeline’s “it’s not my fault” mantra. “Not after what happened.”
Sydney put the empty bottle on the dresser and then sat beside me on the bed. “Tell me.”
I explained about Rowena and her hand and how the rest of the day’s events had unfolded. It was difficult staying on track with the story because I kept wanting to meander and make excuses. I left out the part about despairing over birthday gifts. When I finally finished, Sydney gently rested her hand on my cheek.
“Oh, Adrian,” she said again, and this time, her voice was sad.
I rested my hand over hers. “What was I supposed to do?” I whispered. “It was like Jill all over again. Well—not quite as bad. But there she was. She needed me, and I could help—then when she noticed, I had to make sure she forgot. What else was I supposed to do? Should I have let her break her hand? Should have I let her ruin her career? What else was I supposed to do?”
Sydney drew me into her arms and was silent for a long time. “I don’t know. I mean, I know you couldn’t nothelp. It’s who you are. But I wish you hadn’t. No…that’s not right. I’m glad you did. Really. I just wish it wasn’t so…complicated.” She shook her head. “I’m not explaining it correctly. I’m no good at this.”
“You hate that, don’t you? Not knowing what to do.” I rested my head against her shoulder, catching the faint scent of her perfume. “And you hate me like this.”
“I love you,” she said. “But I worry about you. Have you ever thought about…I mean, didn’t Lissa take antidepressants for a while? Didn’t that help her?”
I lifted my head swiftly. “No. I can’t do that. I can’t cut myself off from the magic like that.”
“But she felt better, right?” Sydney pushed.
“She…yes. Kind of.” I had no problems with “liquid healing,” but pills made me squeamish. “She did feel better. She didn’t get depressed. She didn’t cut herself anymore. But she missed the magic, and so she stopped the pills. You don’t know what it’s like, that rush of spirit. Feeling like you’re in tune with every living thing in the world.”
“I might understand it better than you think,” she said.
“It’s more than that, though. She also stopped because she needed the magic back to help Rose. What if I needed it back? What if it was you that was hurt or dying?” I gripped Sydney’s shoulders, needing her to understand my desperation and how much she meant to me. “What if you needed me, and I couldn’t help you?”
She removed my hands and held them between hers, her face tranquil. “Then we deal. That’s what most people do in the world. They can’t rely on miracles. You take your chances. I’d rather have you stable and happy than risk your sanity on the slim chance a concrete block will fall on me.”
“Could you sit by if you had the ability to help someone?”
“No. Which is why I’m trying to help you.” But I could see the conflict in her, and I understood her anxiety.
“No pills,” I said firmly. “This won’t happen again. I’ll try harder. I’ll be stronger. Have faith that I can do this on my own.”
Hesitating, she looked as though she might keep arguing the matter, but at last, she nodded in resignation. She drew me down to the bed and kissed me, even though I knew she didn’t like the taste of tequila. The kiss reinforced that connection between us, that burning sense I always had that she was made for me, and I was made for her. Surely if I could just drown myself in her, I’d never need alcohol or pills of any kind.
“I have to go,” she said at last. “I’m only supposed to be out buying toothpaste. It was a boring enough errand that Zoe wouldn’t want to come.”
I brushed wayward golden strands away from her face. “Clarence’s tomorrow night?”
She nodded. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
I walked her to the front door. She did a double take at the ruined paintings but didn’t say anything and kept her expression neutral.
“I mean it,” I told her. “I’ll try.”
“I know,” she said. That earlier look of disappointment in her eyes still haunted me.
“I can be strong,” I added.
She smiled and stood on her tiptoes to kiss me goodbye. “You already are,” she murmured. I watched her disappear into the night and hoped I’d been telling her the truth.