Eighteen Minutes to Midnight
I don’t know what I expected, but it sure as hell wasn’t this.
I had dragged Cari to the far side of the breakfast lobby when Sage had grabbed my arm and muttered for me to stop. Gal was wrapped around their right arm, her face flushed red. I could hear her heart beating a mile a minute as she willed herself to calm down.
“Gal, show her to the beverage booth,” they whispered into Gal’s ear. She nodded and gestured for Cari to follow her, saying something or other about the cafe’s selections of coffee and tea. Cari only briefly hesitated; with an assured nod from me, she linked arms with Gal and strolled away.
This left me and Sage all alone. A lump had formed in my throat, and I swallowed it down before I took another long drag from my vape. I almost believe it’s working on me.
Sage pulled their smoky grey messenger bag over their head and placed it on a tall standing dinette by the south exit, claiming the square table for our party. I joined them as they rummaged through their bag with their back to the exit, their eyes piercing through the hordes as they scoured the lobby for any sign of the witch heads.
I know I should have been looking along with them–I know I should have made my best friend’s peace of mind my number one priority. But as Sage pulled out a notebook, opened it to an empty page, and began jotting down their thoughts, I couldn’t help but watch them. I consistently found myself captivated by them; the way their wavy hair, no matter how wild, seemed to frame their slender face almost perfectly. The way they chew on their inner cheek as they concentrate. How deep and dark their green eyes appeared when they were lost in thought.
No one has made me feel like this since Jesse.
I snapped out of it when Sage handed me their open notebook and a pen. It was one of those fancy fountain pens adorned with their surname and family crest. I gripped the pen in my left hand, my thumb stroking the raised lettering as I read their note:
“1st things 1st, are you ok?”
I cleared my throat and nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.” When they cocked an eyebrow in my direction, I added, “Yes, really. I promise.”
Sage took a deep breath and nodded slowly, accepting my insistence despite their reluctance. They pulled another pen from their bag’s front pocket and leaned over my left arm to add another note. Their face was only half a foot from mine, and their body heat seemed to scorch my arm. I was fighting two distinctly different impulses–the first was to pull away completely. The second was to lean in and press my face into their neck. I forced myself to remain rooted in place, reading their message as they wrote it out.
“Fine, if you say so. What’s the deal with Cari and Max?”
I leaned forward before Sage could pull away, pressing their arm between mine and my chest. Their abdomen was still up against the side of my arm as I penned my reply; their heartbeat had quickened, and for several breaths that was all I could hear. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum…
“Nothing yet. They’ve never met.”
Sage frowned at me, prompting me to add:
“Cari’s mom has beef with Max’s dad. IDK too much & I can talk about even less.”
The witch’s eyes widened at my answer, and they slowly wrote out, “Are the rumors about Cari true?”
I didn’t need to ask Sage to clarify what rumors. I knew that Val had been bombarded with that shit during his stint at AOA, and the Enchanters were quick to try to befriend me to ask about Caricia de Ardo. I didn’t even pen my answer–I just nodded, my jaw stiff as I clenched my teeth.
Sage wrote out a follow-up question I had been expecting: “Do Cari/Max know?”
I nodded again and answered aloud, “Yeah, I think so.”
A group of female students walked slowly by our table on their way to the exit. They were mostly Enchanters, and they watched us with intrigue as they passed. Two of them were fairies, their eyes unabashedly travelling up and down our bodies. Jeez, they’re not even trying to hide that they’re checking us out.
I threw a smirk and a wink their way, and the group dissolved into excited giggles as they rushed off. I let out a sigh of relief. Finally.
“Imagine if they knew I was a hundred and seventy-four,” I muttered, still facing the exit.
I heard a chuckle from Sage as they whispered, “I’m sure they do know, and they’re probably into that.”
My head snapped back around as I studied their amused expression. How the hell–?
I came to understand as they tucked their hair behind their ears, and I saw the tiny white, barely noticeable receivers sticking out of both aural cavities. I huffed out a short laugh, impressed.
“Holy fuck. I didn’t even think I said that loud enough for it to register as sound. You pick up messages from Mars with those, too?”
“Piss off,” they grinned widely. I could tell they were delighted to have new aids–the old ones had “mysteriously” gone missing on the last day of classes the year before. Note how I put emphasis on the word mysteriously–it’s not all that mysterious. The only mystery was why the bastard wouldn’t tell me who actually stole them.
Seeing Sage smile put me in a better mood–and, unfortunately, when I’m in a better mood I grow overconfident. “ ‘They’re probably into that,’ huh? Are you?”
Their cheeks grew pink, but instead of getting flustered Sage whispered, “ ‘Doubt that the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move his aides, doubt truth to be a liar…’ ”
If my heart could still beat, I was certain it would have exploded from my chest in that moment. It wasn’t the first time in the past hundred and fifty-seven years that I had felt grateful to be undead, but it certainly was not a feeling I experienced often. I don’t think I could have handled the embarrassment if I could blush like Sage.
While my body would not express any involuntary reactions, I still felt emotions. I could feel rage, hunger, fear, desire–and I had never longed for another being as I did this nerdy non-binary witch. Which begged the question: what the hell were they going on about?
Using my worst Cockney accent, I countered, “Oi, you’d fin’ a rich bloke could speak proper English.”
Then Sage did something that surprised me; they spoke with impeccable accuracy in an accent I hadn’t heard in over a century. “Ain’t my fault you got all down but nine, Belvidere. I thought all you blue bellies could tell Shakespeare from utter bosh.”
My grin disappeared, as well as my horrible impression of a British person. “I never told you where I was from.”
The witch furrowed their eyebrows and murmured, “You don’t remember?”