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Spellbinder (Chapter 11)

I don't understand," Eric said pitifully as Thea towed him toward the bleachers.

"Well, that's reasonable."

"Blaise wants to talk to me alone and you want me to do it."

"That's right." Thea hadn't realized it was possible to sound bright and bleak at the same time. "I told you she'd probably go after you-"

"And you told me to be careful of her. You made the point very strongly."

"I know. It's just…" Thea searched for an explanation that wouldn't be too much of a lie and clutched her bottle of Evian water. She didn't need to ask him if he had the protective charm with him- she could smell New Hampshire pine needles.

"It's just that I think it's better to get things settled," she said finally. "One way or the other. So maybe if you talk to her face-to-face… well, you can decide what you want, and we can get this over with."

"Thea…" Eric stopped, forcing Thea to stop, too. He looked completely bewildered. "Thea-I don't know what you're thinking, but I don't need to talk to Blaise to know what I want." He put his hands gently on her upper arms. "Nothing she can say could make any difference."

Thea looked at him, at his clean, good features and his expressive eyes. He thought things were so simple.

"Then you can just tell her that," she said, trying to sound optimistic. "And the whole thing will be resolved."

Eric shook his head, but allowed her to guide him onward.

Blaise was leaning against a concrete dugout by the baseball diamond. When they were about ten feet away, Thea stopped and nodded at Eric to keep going.

He walked to Blaise, who slowly straightened with the leisurely grace of a snake uncoiling.

Thea put her thumb into the Evian bottle and jiggled it gently.

"Thea said you wanted to talk to me." Eric's voice was polite, but not encouraging. He looked back at Thea after he said it.

"I did," Blaise said in her liquid, persuasive voice. But to Thea's surprise, she addressed the ground, as if she felt awkward. "But now… well, I feel so embarrassed. I know what you probably think of me-trying to say something like this while your girlfriend is standing there."

"Well…" Eric glanced back at Thea again. "It's okay," he added, his voice softer. "I mean, it's better to say whatever it is in front of her than behind her back."

"Yes. Yes, that's true." Blaise took a deep breath as if steeling herself and then lifted her head to meet Eric's eyes.

What on earth is she doing? Thea stared at her cousin. Where did this scene come from?

"Eric… I don't know how to say this, but… I care about you. I know how that sounds. You're thinking that I have dozens of guys, and the way I treat them I can't possibly care about any of them. And I don't blame you if you just want to walk away right now, without even listening to any more." Blaise fiddled with the zipper at her throat.

"Oh, look, I'm not going to walk away. I wouldn't do that to you," Eric said, and his voice was even more gentle.

"Thank you. You're being so nice-much nicer than I deserve."

Absently, as if it were the most casual of gestures, Blaise reached for the zipper at her throat and pulled it down.

The necklace was revealed.

Don't look directly at it, Thea told herself. She stared instead at the back of Eric's sandy head-which suddenly went very still.

"And you know, this is going to sound strange, but most of those boys don't really like me." Blaise's voice was soft now-seductive but vulnerable. "They just-want me. They look at the surface, and never even try to see any deeper. And that makes me feel… so lonely sometimes."

In Thea's peripheral vision, gold stars and moons were shifting and flowing. Yemonja root and other delicious scents wafted toward her. She hadn't even noticed that the first time; she'd been too deep in the necklace's spell to analyze it. And a faint, high resonance hung in the air-two or three notes that seemed to shimmer almost above the threshold of hearing.

Singing crystals. Of course. Blaise was assaulting every sense, weaving an inescapable golden web… and the whole thing was tuned to Eric's blood.

"All I've ever wanted is a guy who cares enough about me to look deeper than the surface." Blaise's voice had a slight catch now. "And-well, before I knew Thea liked you, I guess I thought you might be that guy. Eric, please tell me-is that completely impossible? Should I just totally give up hope? Because if you say so, I will."

Eric was standing oddly now, as if he were crippled. Thea could see his breath coming faster. She didn't want to see his face-she knew what it would be like. Like Luke's. Blank wonder changing into slow adulation for Blaise.

"Just tell me," Blaise said, raising one hand in a gesture full of pathos. "And if you say no, I'll go away forever. But if… if you think you could care about me… even just a little…" She gazed at him with luminous, yearning eyes.

"I…" Eric's voice was thick and hesitant. "I… Blaise…" He couldn't seem to get started on a sentence.

And no wonder. He's lost already.

Certainty hit Thea, and she stopped shaking her plastic bottle. Her little Elixir of Abhorrence didn't stand a chance against Blaise's magic. Eric was hooked and Blaise was reeling him in.

And it wasn't his fault. Nobody could be expected to hold out against the kind of enchantment Blaise was using. Enchantment and psychology so beautifully mixed that even Thea found herself half believing Blaise's story.

But she had to try anyway. She couldn't let Eric go without a fight.

With one final, violent shake, Thea took her thumb out of the bottle neck. Colorless liquid skyrocketed, spraying up and then raining down on Eric. A geyser of loathing.

Only one thing went wrong. As soon as the mysterious downpour hit Eric, he turned to see where it was coming from. Instead of looking at Blaise when the elixir soaked into his skin, he was looking at Thea.

She stared back into his gray-flecked eyes with a kind of horror.

Twice. He'd been twice enchanted now, once to love Blaise and once to hate her.

Oh, Eileithyia, it's over….

It was a crisis, and Thea responded instinctively. She reached for Eric, to save him, to be saved herself.

She flung out a thought the way she'd fling out a hand to someone going over a cliff.

Eric.

A connection…

Like dosing a circuit-and that was all it took. Thea felt a wave of… something, something hot and sweet, more magical than Blaise's magic. Distilled lightning, maybe. The air between her and Eric was so charged that she felt as though her skin was being brushed with velvet. It was like being at the intersection of cosmic force lines.

And it was all okay. Eric's face was his ordinary face. Alive, alert, full of warmth-for her. Not zombie worship for Blaise.

Thea.

It can't be this simple.

But it was. She and Eric were staring at each other in the quivering air and the universe was just one big singing crystal.

We're right together.

A yell shattered the silent communion. Thea looked toward the dugout and saw that Blaise the vulnerable had disappeared.

"I'm wet," Blaise shrieked. "Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what water drops do to silk?"

Thea opened her mouth, then shut it again. She felt giddy with the sweetness of relief. She had no idea if Blaise really thought the elixir was only water-but one thing was clear. However strong Blaise's spell had been, it was broken now. And Blaise knew it.

Blaise jerked the zipper up and stalked off.

"She's mad," Eric said.

"Well…" Thea was still dizzy. "I told you she likes getting mad." She took Eric's arm, very gently, and partly to steady herself. "Let's go."

They'd only gone a few steps when Eric said, "Thank God you hit me with that water."

"Yes." Even if the elixir hadn't worked it had somehow broken Eric's concentration or distracted Blaise or something. She'd have to see if she could figure out what had happened to disrupt a spell as potent as the one Blaise had created….

"Yeah, because, you know, it was getting really awkward," Eric went on. "I kept trying to think of a polite way to tell her there wasn't a chance, but I couldn't. And just when I realized I was going to have to say it and hurt her feelings-well, you soaked us."

Thea stopped dead. She stared at him. He was serious.

"I mean-I know I hurt her feelings anyway. Or she wouldn't have gone away mad. Uh, are you mad now? Thea?"

She started walking again. "Are you saying you didn't even want to be with her? Not even just a little?"

He stopped. "How could I want to be with her when I want to be with you? I told you that before this whole thing started."

Maybe it's because we're soulmates. Maybe it's because he's so stubborn. But, whatever, I'd better never tell Blaise. She'll have a whole new reason for killing

him if she finds out her spell bounced off like water off a duck.

"Well, anyway, it's resolved now," she murmured-and at that moment she really believed it. She was too happy to think about anything dreadful.

"Is it? Does that mean that we can finally go out? Like on a date?"

He sounded so wistful that Thea laughed. She felt light and free and full of energy. "Yeah. We could go right now. Or… we could go in. Your house, I mean. I'd like to see your sister and Madame Curie again."

Eric made an "ouch" face. "Well, Madame Curie would probably like that. But Roz lost her case- the court ruled that the Boy Trekkers are a private organization. And she is not-pardon the pun-a happy camper."

"All the more reason we should go see her. Poor kid."

Eric looked at her quizzically. "You're serious? You have a choice of anywhere in Las Vegas and you'd like to go to my house?"

"Why not?" Thea didn't mention that a human house was more exotic to her than anywhere else in Vegas.

She was happy.

It turned out to be a modest frame house, shaded by a couple of honest-to-goodness trees, not palms. Thea felt a twinge of shyness as they went inside.

"Mom's still at work. And"-Eric checked his watch-"Roz is supposed to be in her room until five.

Home detention. This morning she microwaved her

Barbie dolls."

"That doesn't sound good for the microwave." Rosamund's door was plastered with homemade

Signs. DO NOT ENTER. KEEP OUT AND THIS MEANS ERIC. FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE.

When Eric opened the door a piggy bank shaped like a skunk came flying toward him. He ducked. It hit the wall and, amazingly, didn't break.

"Roz-"

"I hate everybody! And everybody hates me!" A hardback book came soaring.

Eric shut the door fast. Bang.

"Everybody doesn't hate you!" he yelled.

"Well, I hate them! Go away!"

Bang. Bang. Crash.

"I think maybe we'd better leave her alone," Eric said. "She gets a little moody sometimes. Want to see my room?"

His room was nice, Thea decided. Lots of books, some smelling of mildew-"I get them at the used book stores." Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. Development and Structure of the Fetal Pig. The Red Pony. Most of them were about animals in some form or other.

And lots of trophies. Baseball trophies, basketball trophies, a few tennis trophies. "I have to switch between baseball and tennis different years." Sports equipment was scattered carelessly around, mixed with the books and some dirty socks.

Not so different from a teenager's room in the Night World. Just a person's room.

There was a picture of a man on the desk, a man with sandy hair and a glorious, lightning-bolt smile like Eric's.

"Who is it?"

"My dad. He died when Roz was little-a plane crash. He was a pilot." Eric said it simply, but his eyes went dark.

Thea said softly, "My parents died when I was little, too. What's sad is that I don't really remember them."

Eric looked at the picture again. "You know, I never thought about it, but I'm glad I do remember. At least we had him that long."

They smiled at each other.

By the bed was a tank that gave off a pleasant percolating sound. Thea sat next to it and watched iridescent blue fish dart around. She turned off the bedside lamp to see the lighted tank better.

"You like it?"

"I like everything," Thea said. She looked at him. "Everything."

Eric blinked. He eyed the bed Thea was sitting on, then slowly sat at the desk. He stuck out a casual elbow to lean on and papers showered to the floor.

"Oops."

Thea stifled a laugh. "Is that the U.C. Davis application?"

He looked up hopefully from gathering them. "It sure is. Want to see it?"

Thea almost said yes. She was in such a cheerful mood, ready to agree to anything, be open to anything. But a moment of thought changed her mind. Some things were just going too far.

"Not right now, thanks."

"Well…"He put the papers back. "You know, you still might think about transferring to the zoology class at school. Ms. Gasparro is a great teacher. And you'd really like what we're studying."

Maybe I could, Thea thought. What would it hurt?

"And if you were ever interested. Dr. Salinger is always looking for extra help. It doesn't pay much, but it's good experience."

And… what would that hurt? It's not as if I would be breaking any laws. I wouldn't have to use any powers, either, I could just be close to the animals.

"I'll think about it," she said. She could hear the suppressed excitement in her own voice. She looked at Eric, who was sitting with his elbows on his knees, leaning forward, watching her earnestly. "And- thanks," she said softly. "For what?"

"For… wanting the best for me. For caring." The light from the fish tank threw wavering blue patterns on the walls and ceiling. It made the bedroom seem like its own little underwater world. It danced over Thea's skin.

Eric stared at her. Then he swallowed and shut his eyes. With his eyes still shut, he said in a muted voice, "I don't think you know how much I care." Then he looked at her.

That connection again. It seemed to be drawing them together-an almost physical feeling of attraction. It was exciting, but scary.

Eric got up very slowly and crossed the room. He sat by Thea. Neither of them looked away.

And then things just seemed to happen by themselves. Their fingers were intertwined. Thea was looking up and he was looking down. They were so close that their breath mingled. Thea shivered with the electricity.

Everything seemed wrapped in a golden haze.

Crash.

Something hit the other side of the wall.

"Ignore it; it's poltergeists," Eric murmured. His lips were an inch from hers.

"It's Rosamund," Thea murmured back. "She feels bad-and it's not really fair. We should try and make her feel better." She was so happy that she wanted everyone else to be happy, too.

Eric groaned. "Thea…"

"Let me just go see if I can cheer her up. I'll come back."

Eric shut his eyes, opened them, and turned on the lamp. He gave her a pained smile. "Okay. I have to water Mom's outside plants and feed the rabbits and stuff, anyway. Let me know when she's cheered up enough. I'll be waiting."

Thea knocked and ducked as she entered Rosamund's room. "Roz? Can I just talk to you for a minute?"

"Don't call me that. I want you to call me Fred."

"Uh, how come Fred?" Thea sat cautiously on the edge of the bed-or not the bed, actually, the box springs. The mattress was across the room, standing on its side in a corner. The entire room looked as if it had been hit simultaneously by a hurricane and an earthquake, and it smelled strongly of guinea pig.

Slowly, part of a sandy head appeared above the mattress. One green eye regarded Thea directly.

"Because," Rosamund said with terrible maturity, "I'm not a girl anymore. Things have always been this way for girls and they will always be this way and they are never going to change. And don't give me any of that B.S. about how females hear better and do better in submarines and have better fine motor skills, because I don't care. I'm going to be a boy now."

"You're a smart kid," Thea said. She was surprised at how smart Roz was, and at how much she wanted to comfort her. "But you need to study your history. Things haven't always been this way. There were times when women and men were equals."

Rosamund just said, "When?"

"Well-in ancient Crete, for one thing. They were all children of Eileithyia, the Great Goddess, and boys and girls both did dangerous stuff, like acrobatics on wild bulls. Of course…" Thea paused, struck by a thought. "The Greeks did come and conquer them."

"Uh-huh."

"But, um"-Thea wracked her brain for human history-"Well, the ancient Celts were okay-until the Romans came and conquered them. And… and…"

Human history was a problem.

"I told you," Rosamund said bitterly. "It always turns out the same. Now go away."

"Well…" Thea hesitated.

It was the excitement that did it. The giddy feeling of everything being right with the world. It made her overconfident, made her feel as if Night World law were a little thing that could be dispensed with if necessary.

Don't, a part of her mind whispered. Don't or you'll be sorry.

But Rosamund was so miserable. And the golden glow was still around Thea, making her feel protected. Invulnerable.

"Look," she said. "This may not help much, but I'll tell you a story, a story that always made me feel better when I was a little girl. Only you have to keep it a secret."

There was a flicker of interest in Rosamund's green eyes. "A true story?"

"Well-I can't really say it's true." And that's true-I can't. "But it's a good story, and it's about a time when women were leaders. About a girl called Hellewise."

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