The world feels familiar and strange all at once. I suppose itâ€™s to be expected since I inhabit a younger version of myself. This body has never stolen magic. Itâ€™s never killed either. But I have. The memories are constantly in the back of my mind, pushed there to keep the guilt under control. I canâ€™t allow myself to fall apart as I did before. The memories will consume me if I let them, and then I will have nothing but the fear and hatred they leave me with.
|The Return of the Wizard (The Box book 5.5) By Christina G. Gaudet|
I canâ€™t let that happen again. I wonâ€™t. Lou is counting on me and I will not let her or anyone else down.
My gaze shifts to the door of my sisterâ€™s room as I pass. Sheâ€™ll be in there still, locked in a state between life and death after having her magic ripped from her. As much as I would like to go to her and find a way to help, sheâ€™s not my priority right now. I need to see Lou, even if this version of her doesnâ€™t know me yet, seeing her safe will help ease some of the anxiety causing my chest to ache.
As soon as I enter my room and find her sitting on my bed, my body feels lighter. Sheâ€™s alive. Victor hasnâ€™t destroyed her or her family. Maybe I really can prevent all of those horrible things from happening.
Her long, black hair falls in lose waves over her slim shoulders as she holds her face in her hands. I want to rush over and wrap her in my arms, but I canâ€™t. She may have kissed me and told me to save the world only moments ago, but that wasnâ€™t this Lou. This Lou barely knows who I am. That alone makes me wish she never sent me back here. I need her to look at me as she did outside of her Granâ€™s house one more time
Her sister, Sin, stands in front of the bed, her eyes shiny with emotion. â€œLou! Oh shit, Lou. Can you hear me? Please say something.â€
â€œIâ€™m fine.â€ Lou doesnâ€™t finish saying the words before Sin throws her arms around her sister in a quick, tight, hug.
Sin pulls away, her face red with embarrassment as though she hadnâ€™t meant to show how much she cares. I donâ€™t remember her trying to pretend she doesnâ€™t care about her sister like this. Though, clearly there were a lot of things I didnâ€™t notice at the time.
Rose turns to me with wide eyes, the blue silk bag and my sword still in her hands. Looking at her now, I can barely see anything but the love she feels for me. It seems to consume her face, causing her cheeks to blush the longer I look at her and her eyes to shine with hope.
I take both objects from her, tucking the bag into a pocket while slipping the sword into its sheath. I squeeze her shoulder and her face brightens to match the red of her freckles. â€œThank you,â€ I say. â€œYouâ€™ve always been like a sister to me.â€
Her shoulders sink away from my grip at my words and her face twists to something between disappointment and a fake smile.
â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m here for.â€ Her voice is strained as she visibly attempts to keep herself from looking too distraught. â€œYour sister, Rose. Always around to help when you need me.â€
I wish I could say something to ease her pain, but everything I can think of would only give her false hope. Weâ€™ve been down that road. Now that I understand how much I hurt her, I canâ€™t do it over again. Better for her to know where we stand now when thereâ€™s still a slim chance of salvaging our friendship.
â€œLou, whatâ€™s wrong?â€ Sin leans in when Lou rubs her eyes and groans, distracting me from Rose and her feelings for me. Itâ€™s only then I remember how terrified Lou must be. When she woke up after Stewart stole her magic, she was blind. Of course she doesnâ€™t know the effects can be reversed, or any other details of whatâ€™s happening to her.
I kneel in front of her and pull her hands away from her face. I hope sheâ€™ll find some comfort in the contact rather than grow more frightened by being touched by a stranger. Though maybe the contact is for my sake. The feel of her soft skin against my palms soothes the fear of failure scratching at my mind.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ I say. â€œI know youâ€™re scared. I promise weâ€™ll get your sight back. I know itâ€™s a lot to ask, but I need you to trust me.â€
Her head moves as though sheâ€™s trying to look at me, and a smile lifts the corners of her lips.
Such a simple word, and yet it wakes a bolt of energy within, twisting through my chest, diving all of the way to my toes. Impossible for her to know, but sheâ€™s just repeated what I said in the future, before she sent me back. Isnâ€™t it?
Itâ€™s silly thing to ask. Of course the girl sitting in front of me is Lou. But, Iâ€™m not really asking her name. Iâ€™m asking if sheâ€™s my Lou. Could she have come back with me?
Her smile spreads and she nods as though she understands exactly what Iâ€™m asking. Relief and excitement and every other feeling I was sure I was incapable of with the guilt of what Iâ€™ve done ruling my mind floods through me in such a rush. I donâ€™t know if the feelings will cause me to collapse or start running in wild circles.
Without thinking of the dangers of how such contact could destroy her all over again, I lean in and kiss her. My fingers tangle in her hair as I try to touch as much of her as possible. She leans into me, her magic flowing through me as easily as if Iâ€™m drinking a glass of water rather than stealing her power.
I force myself to pull away, though everything within me tells me never to let go. I have to remember how little magic she has at the moment. It would be all too easy to take too much and put her back in the coma we just saved her from.
As soon as I attempt to release her, she pulls me into another kiss. â€œA little more,â€ she whispers.
â€œWhat the hell is going on?â€
Sinâ€™s shout is a much needed reminder Lou and I arenâ€™t alone. We break apart and I take a step back, placing myself firmly against the far wall so I wonâ€™t fall for the temptation to lean back in once more.
While I stare at Lou, marvelling at the knowledge sheâ€™s here with me and grinning like an idiot, I catch a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. The door slams a moment later. Rose.
A long sigh pushes all of the energy out of me once more as I realize I need to go after her despite my desire to stay. After all thatâ€™s happened sheâ€™s still my friend and she deserves an explanation.
I start to try with Sin first, but Lou waves her hand. â€œGo. I got it.â€
Rose hasnâ€™t fled far, and Iâ€™m able to catch up quickly. As soon as she rushed out of the house, she must have lost momentum and is now walking away surprisingly slowly. She ignores my calls and only looks at me once I grab her wrist to stop her from trudging any further.
As soon as I see her face, any words I might have strung together to try to fix thing are gone. For the first time in my memory, tears stain her cheeks and make her look softer and younger than I remember her being. She was always the strong one. She cheered me up when I found out I was going to be taken to the University. She was the only one to treat me like a human when I came back. She even followed me into my madness, helping me when I barely recognized that she existed.
Lou might have my heart, but Rose will always be a part of me.
â€œRose.â€ Thereâ€™s nothing I can say that will make the tears stop, though I know I have to try. She deserves that much. â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€
She wipes her eyes with her dress sleeve and forces a smile, though it wobbles. â€œItâ€™s fine. Iâ€™m fine.â€ She shakes her head as if sheâ€™s struggling with words as much as I am. â€œI just didnâ€™t realize. I mean, how could I? Youâ€™ve only just met her, havenâ€™t you?â€
I open my mouth, about to explain everything to her. She might have a hard time understanding the idea of time travel, but if anyone would believe me, itâ€™s her.
She raises a hand to stop me and pulls away. â€œI just need to be alone for a bit.â€
Before giving me a chance to respond, she runs away without so much as a glance back.
I watch her go, debating whether I should follow or give her the space she wants. I choose to let her go. Anything else would be unfair to her. Besides, I need to return to Lou so we can figure out our next move.
As soon as Iâ€™m back inside the house, I hear Sinâ€™s frustration. â€œHeâ€™s a wizard. He could have killed you.â€ Even from outside of the room, I know sheâ€™s pacing the small space like a trapped chimera. â€œYou canâ€™t trust him, Lou. You definitely canâ€™t kiss him. Jeeze. What got into that head of yours? Since when do you throw yourself at practical strangers like that?â€
I pause in front of the room, trying to figure out what to say to ease Sinâ€™s worries. Itâ€™s amazing how much of a mess I managed to cause in the few minutes since Iâ€™ve been back in this time. At least I donâ€™t have to do the rest on my own.
â€œI wonâ€™t hurt her.â€
Sin spins around, startled to find me standing there. Her hand goes to her pocket and I recognize the frustrated expression. Sheâ€™s just discovered sheâ€™s out of the dust she normally keeps in her pocket. Lucky. The fear and hallucinations of the spell are unpleasant, and Iâ€™m much too tired to be able to fight off the effects. Even with the bit of Louâ€™s magic coursing through me, any sort of battle with Sin would be too much.
The relief brings exhaustion as all of the events both in this time and in the future catch up to me, making it suddenly very difficult to continue standing. Sin tries to block me from the room and her sister, but I easily slip around her and fall into my bed next to Lou.
â€œNope.â€ Sin tugs at my arm, but she doesnâ€™t have the strength to move my weight, and Iâ€™m definitely not going to cooperate. â€œNo way. Get away from her, or Iâ€™llâ€¦Iâ€™llâ€¦â€
Her hand goes to her pocket again before looking around for some other weapon to use. It may not be the most gentlemanly move, but I wrap my arms around Lou to pull her into a lying position against my chest. The perfect protection from any attempt Sin might make to hurt me.
As Lou snuggles closer, some small part of my mind warns me to be careful. Being so close to her could cause me to act irrationally and rip her power from her. But the thought is so tiny I barely acknowledge it before pressing my face into her hair to rest my lips against her neck. There will always be the risk I could lose my mind and steal her power. She probably wouldnâ€™t even resist me if I did. Itâ€™s that trust that erases any urges I might have once felt and makes me sure I will never hurt her.