Melinda had visited this spot numerous times since she’d been staying with Moon. These ruins, situated near the river and only a short walk from Moon’s idyllic little cottage, were beautiful, and so inspiring. Melinda could lose hours here, gazing at the crumbling arches, listening to the river flowing past her and imagining how the collapsing brick had looked in the building’s heyday.
She’d come here, alone, with her swanky new digital sketchbook in hand, and draw.
At first, as was usual, every image she sketched had the same eyes, Rose’s eyes. Her ill-fated birth mother would form on the screen in a multitude of guises, as ever, as Melinda sought to find the one face that felt right. The one face that she’d remember.
But, as the short summer nights had passed, ruefully short, and as Melinda had grown ever more aware of her new place within the shadows, her drawings had begun to change. The soul-searching portraits gave way to a new style, a darker style, where morose figures lingered in tangled webs. Where ghosts haunted the ruins, clinging to their tragedies.
These ghosts always seemed familiar.
Without meaning to, Melinda had washed a beautiful place of peace, history and tranquillity with her own brand of misery. She was focused only on the bad side, only on what was wrong with her existence, and not what she had to be thankful for, who she had to be thankful for.
Or, as her dad would say, she wasn’t seeing the bigger picture.
She needed to break out of her funk, but darn it, it was so hard to be positive when everything in her world was so ruddy gloomy. She had to cling to the light, she reminded herself, keep seeking the metaphorical sun. She had to believe that a cure was possible, that Wyatt, Broof and Lilith would find it.
She had to believe that Faith was OK.
She had to.
Until now, these ruins had been Melinda’s private place. Nobody seemed to know that they existed, she’d never seen a soul there. A selfish part of her wanted to keep it that way. But a bigger part of her knew that selfishness was a hole she could not afford to fall into. She wasn’t the only one struggling with the new night-time normal, after all.
She wasn’t sure how successful it would be, bring April to the ruins. The pair would usually spend their date nights outdoors, just because they could, walking around the countryside, venturing into the city, incognito, to watch a show at the outdoor cinema, or to hang out on the park, or to window shop at the closed stores. April wasn’t really interested in star-gazing, but she was hopelessly whimsical, so Melinda was banking on the beautiful settings conjuring up enough imagined romantic history to keep April’s attention, should the celestial light show be a bust.
Because there wasn’t really much else to do up here. Apart from making out, of course, but wherever they went, that was almost a given.
As the pair climbed the worn stone steps to the plateau where Melinda knew they’d have the best view, she was nervous. So nervous. It was so ridiculous to be nervous – this was April! She’d known her for years! But not like this. It had suddenly dawned on Melinda that she and April were alone. Completely alone. No Sandy to dodge, no city dwellers to avoid the gaze of. No distractions at all.
This all suddenly seemed like a really bad idea.
“Wow!” April gasped, looking up at the ruins and turning a slow circle to take in the view. “Oh my… wowee!” she squealed. “Mel, this place is amazing!”
“You really think so?”
“Yes! It’s like something from a fairy tale,” April said wistfully, gesturing at the arches. “I feel like Sleeping Beauty.”
“Sleeping Beauty?” Melinda asked. “That’s not the princess I thought you’d choose.”
“Why not? I was awoken with a kiss, after all. Not a nice one, though.” She pouted. “Maybe not Sleeping Beauty then. Maybe, um, Cinderella. No, not her, she was good at cleaning. Oh, I don’t know. I think being a princess is overrated, anyway. So, are we stargazing here tonight?”
Melinda shook her head, trying to keep up with April’s train of thought. “Yes, but it’s not only stars on the schedule tonight. There should be something amazing happening too, with any luck.”
“Oh,” April smiled, her expression immediately becoming coquettish. “That explains the romantic, private setting…”
Melinda’s cold, dead heart almost skipped a beat. Words escaped her. Lucky, words rarely escaped April and she’d already chattered on to the next subject before Melinda lost her cool.
“Do I have time to give you your present first?” April asked, reaching into her inventory before Melinda could respond. “Ta-da!” she announced with a flourish, hold up a glass bottle full of light purple fluid.
Melinda looked at it and then back at April.
“Oh, thanks!” she said. “I don’t think we’re low on erythrocyte elixir, but always good to have a supply—”
April rolled her eyes. “No, silly! I wouldn’t gift you that! How boring! It’s a new potion. A sun elixir! It’s like a super strong suncream. Super strong. But you don’t apply it like suncream, you drink it.”
Melinda tilted her head. She knew that the witches could craft all manner of potions that did a plethora of unfathomable things. But a suncream that you drank? That worked on vampires? It seemed too weird.
“How does it work?” she asked.
April pouted. “I don’t really know. Magic? It doesn’t last forever, but according to the recipe it should mean that we can stay in the sun, for a little bit. I’m not sure how long actually. Hopefully long enough to watch the sunrise. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
It would be amazing, Melinda thought wistfully, but it seemed too good be true.
“Hopefully?” she asked. “So you haven’t tested it yet?”
“No, I only made it today,” April looked at the bottle. “But it looks the right colour! Purple. It was a bit more purple in the book, but that was only a drawing. And it is a bit smellier than I expected to be.” she tilted the bottle and deflated like a balloon. “It might not be very good. I’m so sorry I made you a terrible present. If you don’t want it, I’ll understand.”
“No! It’s not terrible at all! It’s a really lovely thing to do and I do want it! It’s only that it’s an experimental potion, is all, and you know me; I’m always really cautious.” Melinda took the bottle from April and hugged it against herself. “I really like my gift, thank you April.”
“You’re very welcome,” April said brightening once again and reminding Melinda that not all the light in her life was gone. “Shall we try it tonight? We can watch the sun come up here, it’ll be magical!”
“We can, but I think perhaps we should try it over at Moon’s house. That way if anything goes wrong, or if the effects don’t last very long, we can seek shelter and help.”
“…You think it’ll go wrong?”
“No. Sorry. I’m sorry, I’ll stop being such a pessimist,” Melinda promised, for the umpteenth time. “Besides, Wyatt helped you with this, right? He wouldn’t let us drink a potion that wasn’t safe.”
April looked away sheepishly. “No, he wouldn’t.”
Melinda watched as April scanned the floor. She wondered whether April knew that everyone could tell when she was lying. And why she’d be lying about Wyatt not screening her potion. Melinda didn’t believe for a second that Wyatt would ever do anything to hurt April, or herself, but she’d suspected that something wasn’t quite right with Wyatt and April’s situation for a while.
April always smelled a bit stale and she had never invited Melinda to their apartment, which was unusual, because April was usually keen to show Melinda everything. She always travelled to Moon’s on the bus, or on foot, Wyatt never transportalated her. And on the rare occasions Melinda had seen Wyatt, he had been oddly lacking for casual sorcery and smelled even worse than April did.
Melinda knew that Broof had suffered a magical setback after losing his daughter and Moon had told her that it wasn’t uncommon for that to happen. She wondered if Wyatt had suffered the same after losing his mother, and whether the shame of everything was making him keep everyone at an arms distance.
“What are you thinking, Mel?”
“You’ve got that…” April pouted and looked pained for a moment. “…that face. The ‘thinking-of-sad-things’ face.”
Gosh darn! “I’m thinking that if this potion works, maybe after the sun has risen, we can walk to your apartment?” Melinda lied. “I’d love to see this recipe book.”
April bit the inside of her cheek. “Maybe. So, are we sitting in the gazebo to watch the sky?”
“Gazebo? No we… oh, shoot!” Melinda was so hung up on, well, everything, that it took her a moment to realise that, in their haste to get a few sweet moments alone, she had totally forgotten to pack a blanket a sit on. Fortunately, the grass was dry tonight, and there didn’t appear to be any animal poo in the spot they’d chosen, unlike the spot Melinda had chosen the previous night.
“I’m so sorry, I forgot to bring the blanket. Are you happy to sit on the grass? We won’t get a good view in the gazebo, unfortunately. If you don’t want to get your jeans dirty, I can run back and the get the blanket. Or a chair, if you’d prefer—”
“My jeans are already dirty,” April said with a smile, dropping straight to her butt. She looked around again as if this slightly new angle had reinvigorated the novelty of her surroundings. “This place is super pretty, Mel! What did it used to be? Was it a castle?”
Melinda shrugged and dropped in place beside April.
“I don’t know. I tried to look it up, but nobody seems to know it’s here.”
“Really? Ooh, how mysterious!” April gushed, her eyes glittering. “So, it’s our secret castle?” She clapped her hands and stared at a nearby column, her cute mouth forming a little ‘o’.
Melinda was almost giddy. This was going so much better than she’d hoped. She ignored the fact that the ruins were too small to be a castle and allowed herself to pretend. She crawled her fingers across the grass to April’s resting hand.
The pair gazed up at the sky. The little cloud that had lingered was disappearing and the last of the sunlight was vanishing from the horizon. Soon, it would be dark, that beautiful velvety dark and, Melinda hoped, the sky would come to life.
“Imagine,” April said after a moment’s silence. “Imagine if the sun potion works. What’s the first thing you’d do if you could go out in the daytime again?”
“After watching the sunrise? Oh, I don’t even know. Everything. But first, maybe I’d come back here and see this view in the sunlight. Watch the shadows cast by the arches and the flowers following the sun across the sky…”
“I’d go to the seaside,” April said. “I’d splash in the sea.”
Melinda laughed. “We could do that in the dark.”
“Yes, but it’s not the same. Nothing is the same in the dark, is it?” She picked at a piece of grass. “We could be like normal again, if we could go out in the day. We could go into shops when they’re actually open. Fun shops, not just the off-license and 24-hour supermarket. You could go to university. I could get a job.”
“What job would you get?”
“You’d be inside all day as a librarian, so you could probably get that job now, if you wanted to. Although we’d still have to be careful not to be recognised, don’t forget. It would still be limiting,” Melinda said, and then immediately kicked herself. Even in fantasy situations she was such a downer. Had she always been such a party pooper?
April didn’t seem to notice. “Maybe there’s a potion I can make for that. One that will make us look different – older, or fatter or… ooh! Manlier.” She put on a gruff voice for that last word, which still sounded absurdly feminine.
“I bet there is,” Melinda chuckled, trying to think of something to say that wasn’t mopey. “It would be nice, though, to be able to do all those things we previously took for granted. Living like people instead of like, well…”
April turned her face towards the sky and looked around. “I can still only see stars, Mel. Will I know what I’m looking for when I see it?”
“Yes, you can’t miss it,” Melinda replied, also looking around and wondering if tonight just wasn’t a lucky night. She’d never seen the sky so dark and clear, never seen so many stars. Surely there’d be something by now.
“Oh! Is it that big, green, glowing thing behind you?”
“Yes! That’s it!”
“Ooh, wow!” April gasped. “It’s super pretty! Oh my gosh! It’s wriggling! What is it?”
“It’s an Aurora. It’s caused by charged sun particles and solar wind interacting with Earth’s ionosphere.”
April poked Melinda in the side. “In Simlish, please, not Geekish.”
“It’s energy. Colourful energy.”
“Colourful energy? Wow. It’s sky magic!”
Melinda pursed her lips, reminding herself not to be a boring stick in the mud her whole life. Reminding herself that a little light-hearted whimsy is why she brought April here in the first place. “Yes, I suppose you could say it’s bit like magic. Um, sky magic.”
“Maybe it’s witch heaven,” April whispered. “And tonight, all the witches of the past are having a party up there, casting spells and lighting up the night to let us all know they’re up there, watching.”
“Yes and maybe… maybe…” Melinda dried up. This really didn’t come naturally to her.
“Maybe Grandma Sage is one of them.” April smiled and settled back in the grass where Melinda joined her a moment later. “A witch’s sky party amongst the stars. It’s amazing. Thank you for bringing me here, Mel. You find all the best things.” She reached over and linked her fingers through Melinda’s, eyes still fixated on the dancing lights in the sky.
“Sky magic,” she repeated softly and closed her eyes. She was silent for so long that Melinda wondered if she’d finally been bored catatonic. Suddenly, her eyes fluttered open again. “It’s still there,” she whispered. “You’re still here.”
“Where else would I be?”
“You could be a dream,” April said softly. “A perfect dream.” She shifted on the grass until the tip of her nose brushed Melinda’s, until her huge, blue eyes were all Melinda could see. She leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Melinda’s lips.
“I wish I could taste you,” she murmured, placing kisses along Melinda’s jaw, down her neck. “I bet you’d taste like…” she slowly teased the strap of Melinda’s top aside and pressed her lips to Melinda’s collarbone. “…gummy bears.”
Melinda watched the colours of the sky as April’s soft lips continued their route down her chest, her tummy, to the waistband of her jeans, where the exposed skin ended. Gosh, how Melinda wished she’d worn a skirt. Or nothing at all.
April straddled Melinda and pulled her up until the pair were nose to nose again. In the silence and darkness that enveloped them, Melinda became aware of every fibre of April, of herself, of the lack of space between them.
Melinda rarely made bold moves, letting April go at her own pace, knowing that she needed to feel like she had control. She was usually so conscious of everything she did, and how April might perceive, it so often she found herself numb.
But, gosh, she was so done thinking, so ready to begin being. To see wriggling magic from partying sky witches and princesses roaming the ruins of a castle. To find a story and joy in the simplicity of any given moment, like this beautiful, wonderful, underappreciated person on her lap could.
Melinda reached behind April’s head, her fingers tangling in her slightly matted, blonde hair. Her hand gripped firmly on to April’s belt, pulling her as close as she could get her, as if she could draw her into herself.
She was now completely ignoring this ultra-rare phenomenon that she’d studied, planned for and waited weeks to see. As April encouraged Melinda’s hand under the waistband of her dirty jeans with a breathless yes, Melinda wouldn’t have noticed a meteorite falling from the sky.
For that moment, all was right in the world.
I’ve killed him.