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Hidden gifts, p.18

Hidden Gifts, page 18

 

Hidden Gifts
 


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  “I don’t know,” I said. “I just know that this whole thing is making me feel like crap.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  Looking at him, at the sober expression on his lean features, I thought Simon truly was sorry for me, for whatever that was worth. Unfortunately, his pity wasn’t going to change anything about my situation. “Thanks,” I said.

  “For what?”

  “For listening to me babble. I probably shouldn’t have dumped any of this on you, but you’re the only person I know in Santa Fe who isn’t — ” I had to stop myself, because I’d almost said, Who isn’t a Castillo. “Who isn’t part of my fiancé’s family. His sister is super nice, but I still don’t think she’d take my side against her brother.”

  “Probably not,” Simon remarked. “A lot of these old families in Santa Fe are pretty tight.”

  I tilted my head at him. “How did you know they were an old family?”

  “Oh, well — I just figured if they were doing something as old-fashioned as arranging marriages, then they had to be one of the old families. Otherwise, that kind of thing sort of went out at least a hundred years ago.”

  That made sense. I wondered how many families were like that here in Santa Fe, able to trace their lineage back hundreds of years, long before New Mexico was a state, back to the time the Spaniards had come, bringing God and guns. “What about your family?” I asked.

  “My family?” Simon repeated, looking taken aback.

  “Yes, your family. Have they been here for hundreds of years?” I grinned, and took a bite of pizza. “You know, you’ve never even told me your last name.”

  “I didn’t?” He shrugged and went on, “It’s Gutierrez. And no, we haven’t been here for hundreds of years. My family came up from Mexico in the early 1900s, I think. To some of the really old families, we’re still considered upstarts. But whatever. It’s not where you come from that’s important, but what you make of yourself.”

  I thought of him riding the train to Albuquerque so he wouldn’t miss any classes while his car was in the shop, of how he appeared to take every weekend to work in order to support himself. Hustle, I thought, the kind of initiative I’d never seemed to show. Why would I? My parents had made sure I had just about anything I wanted…except real magical powers. That was a gift beyond even their control.

  And Simon was right. It didn’t matter who your family was, or where you’d come from. The important thing was what you did for yourself. Right now, it seemed as though I was failing that test, big-time.

  “Look,” he went on. “I don’t pretend to know everything that’s going on with you and this guy you’re supposed to marry. And maybe I shouldn’t be saying this at all, maybe it’s not my place…but if you have any doubts — any at all — then you shouldn’t marry him. I don’t care what kind of arrangement your two families have made. You shouldn’t jump into something you’re not sure about.”

  It all sounded so easy when he said it. In a perfect world, maybe I should have been able to go to Rafe and tell him that we needed to delay the wedding, needed to take our time with each other. To be fair, some of this was my fault, since the other evening I’d been absolutely sure that we were meant to be together. His kisses had affected me so much that I hadn’t been thinking straight, had thought that surely we were destined to be together.

  I wished my mother had warned me about that kind of thing. Maybe she hadn’t thought I would have such a physical reaction to the man who was my betrothed. Or maybe because her only real experience with the opposite sex was my father, her consort, she hadn’t thought she could provide any useful advice on the subject, because the sparks that the consort bond generated were something far beyond simple attraction. Either way, I’d been caught off guard.

  “It’s not that easy,” I said, and Simon gave me a weary smile.

  “No, probably not. But you need to stick up for yourself if no one else will.” He pushed a pizza crust around on his plate, deliberately not looking at me. “I want you to stick up for yourself.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you deserve it. You deserve to have the life you want. And also — ” His eyes met mine, dark, penetrating, sending an odd shiver down my spine. “I like you, Miranda. I want you to dump this guy because…well, you probably know why.”

  It was my turn to look away. I knew then that I needed to get up and leave, because matters were in enough of a tangle with Rafe without me getting close to someone else. My biggest mistake had been accepting Simon’s invitation to stay here at all. For all I knew, he’d taken my acceptance of his offer as encouragement to pursue me, when all I’d wanted was a place to take refuge for a few hours. And yes, try to talk things out, get a handle on what I should do next. That wasn’t fair to Simon, though. I was just using him to work through my problems, and he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. I might not have known all that much about him, but I did know he was a decent person, someone who shouldn’t be saddled with my burdens.

  I wiped my hands on the paper towel he’d given me, then got up from the couch. “I really should go.”

  He stood, too. Although not quite as tall as Rafe, he was still tall enough that the top of my head didn’t quite reach his chin. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

  “No, it’s okay. It’s just — no one knows where I am, and they’ve got be worried. I need to get back.”

  One hand lifted, as if he intended to reach out to me, and I tensed. At once his hand dropped back to his side, and he stepped away from me. “If you have to.”

  I could see the hurt in his face, and I hated myself for causing it. At the same time, I knew I needed to go. Part of me wanted to reach out to him, but I couldn’t allow myself to do that, not when the situation with Rafe was still so unsettled.

  “Thank you, Simon,” I whispered, and grabbed my purse and hurried toward the door. Just as my fingers settled on the knob, he spoke.

  “I hope everything works out for you, Miranda. But if it doesn’t” — he paused there, and seemed to gather his breath — “if it doesn’t, you know where to find me.”

  I couldn’t answer. All I did was nod slightly, and then I forced myself to slide out the door before I did something I regretted.

  Or maybe it was too late for that.

  14

  Explanations

  I didn’t even try to teleport away from Simon’s apartment, even though the little foyer that opened onto the alley was completely deserted and I wouldn’t have had any witnesses to my sudden disappearance. After the failures I’d suffered recently whenever I’d tried to consciously guide the magical gifts that had inexplicably awoken in me, I didn’t want to experience yet another letdown.

  Instead, I walked a few doors down to a bar located on the corner, then asked the bartender there if he could call me a Ryde. Luckily, he was accommodating; it was standard practice back where I came from that bars would offer this kind of service, but I hadn’t been sure about how they did things in Santa Fe. The self-driving car appeared a few minutes later, and I gave it the address for Rafe’s house. That might have been a mistake; I didn’t know for sure where he would be, and since I didn’t have a phone, I couldn’t call. It seemed the most logical place to look for him, though. Besides, I just couldn’t face the prospect of going back to the casita and being intercepted by Genoveva. She might not have known about my disappearance, but I didn’t want to take the risk.

  As the Ryde vehicle pulled up at the curb in front of Rafe’s place, I noticed a black Mercedes SUV parked about half a block away. Cat’s car. It seemed as though the two of them were lying low together, which made sense. Cat would have gone to her brother for help, and done what she could to avoid her mother and make it seem as if everything was just fine.

  I didn’t know for sure whether it was a good thing that Cat was there. True, we were friendly with each other, and I might have been able to look on her as an ally, but on the other hand, it was entirely possible that she’d los
t patience with me after this latest episode. If that turned out to be the case, then I could all too easily imagine brother and sister joining forces to condemn me for yet another disappearance. True, this one had been entirely involuntary, but I didn’t know whether I’d be able to convince them of that fact.

  Whatever happened, I needed to get this over with. There were things I needed to say to Rafe in private, but I had to hope Cat would allow us that privacy once she realized the importance of such a conversation. If not…well, Rafe and I had the prospect of our impending nuptials hanging over both of us. Cat had to understand that the wedding might not happen at all if we weren’t able to get things worked out.

  I got out of the Ryde and forced in a breath of chilly early evening air, then let it out again. One foot in front of another. That made it a little easier to move down the sidewalk and turn onto the flagstone path leading to Rafe’s front door. If I could focus on the small things, I didn’t have to think about the big ones.

  Like the pleading expression in Simon’s eyes as he gazed down at me. The last thing I’d wanted to do was hurt him, but he had to know that we didn’t have any chance at a future together.

  At least, that’s what I needed to tell myself. I needed to believe I would be with Rafe, that somehow all of this would work out. As for my magic, well, I hoped we could get to the bottom of that puzzle as well, once our relationship got sorted out.

  Before I could lose my nerve, I leaned over and pressed the button for the doorbell. A simple ding-dong sounded within the depths of the house, and I clung to my purse strap, telling myself this would all be okay. Because Cat was here, Rafe couldn’t lose his temper too much…could he?

  Far sooner than I would have liked, he opened the door. His amber-brown eyes widened in surprise — and, I thought, a trace of relief — just before a frown creased his forehead. “Where the hell — ”

  “Can I come in?” I asked, forestalling his question. “It’s cold out here.”

  The request seemed to halt any recriminations he’d been about to utter. “Well…sure.”

  He stepped out of the way, and I went inside the small foyer as he closed the door against the chilly night air. “Cat’s here,” he said, possibly because he felt he had to say something.

  “I know. I saw her car.”

  He seemed to absorb this piece of information, then led me into the living room. As soon as I came into view, Cat rose from the couch, her expression one of shock.

  “Miranda! Are you okay?”

  “I’m fine,” I said. Whether that statement was actually true, I didn’t know for sure. Physically, I was all right. My mental state was an entirely different topic for speculation.

  “What happened to you? I saw — I saw you disappear, but that’s impossible, isn’t it?”

  “I guess not,” I replied, shoving my cold hands in the pockets of my jacket. The silky fabric that lined them was also cold, but it was better than nothing. “I don’t know why any of this is happening — or how — but I did teleport away from the cathedral to another part of downtown.” That statement was accurate without giving any real information away, and I hoped it would be enough to tell Cat and Rafe that I had never been in any danger.

  “‘Any of this’?” Rafe said. His tone fairly dripped with suspicion. “There’s more than what just happened at the chapel?”

  “I — ”

  “Miranda, why don’t you sit down? You look pale. And Rafe,” Cat added, shooting her brother a significant glance, “go get her a glass of water or something. Lord only knows what all this has taken out of her.”

  Maybe God — or the Goddess — knew, but I certainly didn’t. I allowed Cat to guide me over to one of the couches and sit me down. It did feel better to be off my shaky legs, and the obvious kindness of the gesture made me think that maybe she wouldn’t give me too much trouble about all this.

  Rafe, on the other hand….

  He returned to the living room right then and gave me the glass of water he’d been holding. I swallowed some, glad of the cool liquid flowing down my throat.

  “Thank you,” I said, once I was done drinking. “I know this all looks crazy, but really, I don’t understand what’s going on any more than you do.”

  “Was that the first time it happened?” Cat asked as she gave her brother a quelling look. I could tell she wanted to take the lead in asking questions, probably to avoid as much awkwardness as possible.

  I’d go along…for a while. At some point, though, those questions would probably veer into territory I only wanted to cover with Rafe.

  “Not exactly,” I said, and he shot me a narrow-eyed look.

  “What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

  “I mean that I had a really short blip last night, when I was alone in the casita. For just a few minutes, I somehow managed to transport myself to my parents’ house in Jerome.”

  “You what?” Rafe demanded, and Cat gave him an exasperated glance.

  Ignoring the exchange, I said, “I was only there for a minute. Two, max. I could hear them talking down the hall, and I started moving in that direction. But then I tripped on one of the rugs, and the next thing I knew, I was back in the casita.”

  “So that time yesterday, and then again today — that’s it?” Cat inquired.

  “Sort of.” Those were the only times I’d teleported, after all. My discussion with ghostly Victoria at Tony’s house was something entirely different, although I supposed it could also be classified as a manifestation of powers I hadn’t even known I possessed. There hadn’t been any incidents with spirits after that first one, however.

  Rafe crossed his arms, brow still knitted in a frown. “Sort of?”

  Briefly, I described how I had spoken with Victoria’s ghost, a magical gift that was my mother’s but which had never been mine. As I spoke, Rafe’s frown only deepened, while Cat appeared increasingly perplexed.

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

  “At the time, I didn’t think there was all that much to tell. I mean, while talking to ghosts and spirits is a witchy power, it’s also something that civilians have claimed to do from time to time. I suppose I just thought all the energy was coming from Victoria’s side of things, so to speak.”

  Rafe rubbed at the dark stubble on his chin. “You talk to any more ghosts? There are a lot of them here in the downtown area, as Cat knows all too well.”

  His sister shook her head, looking halfway irritated, but she didn’t respond.

  All I could do was shrug. “No, I haven’t encountered any other ghosts or spirits. I have no idea why Victoria decided to talk to me, but I haven’t seen anyone else.”

  “So where’ve you been for the past few hours?”

  Truth, or lies? He hadn’t been too pleased about my meeting up with Simon before, when it had all been an utter coincidence. I doubted Rafe would be happy to hear how my subconscious had somehow decided that Rafe’s apartment was the place I needed to go when my weird teleportation talent kicked in. My brain apparently decided it was better to tell a white lie, because I said, “I ended up in a big building that I realized was the Museum of Art. Luckily, no one was in the gallery when I appeared. I thought it might be better if I hung out there for a while, cooled off a bit, and — ”

  His eyes narrowed at that comment, but he didn’t respond. Had Cat told him what she and I were talking about when I went poof? I couldn’t tell for sure, but it seemed that way, judging by his current reticence, the sudden tightness of his jaw and mouth.

  “ — and then the museum was closing, so I left and walked back down to San Francisco Street and got something to eat. I was really hungry by then — I guess teleporting uses up a lot of energy or something. But then I realized you all must be really worried about me, and so I got a Ryde and came over here. I figured you were probably trying to stay away from Genoveva so she wouldn’t find out what had happened.”

  “That’s exactly it,” Rafe said, his voice grim. “Not so eas
y when she wanted all of us to go out to dinner tonight, but I told her you and I wanted to have a romantic meal alone, and she seemed to buy it.”

  “I’m sorry,” I told him. And I was. Sorry that I kept seeming to mess things up just when it appeared as though we’d gotten our differences worked out, sorry that I had to lie to him. My instincts told me it was better that he didn’t know I’d been with Simon. Of course nothing had happened, but I didn’t know whether Rafe would believe that our encounter had been entirely innocent. “And I’m sorry about these weird magical flare-ups. I don’t know what’s causing them — I’ve never had any magic talents appear before this. You have to believe that.”

  “Of course we do,” Cat said quickly, as though she wasn’t quite sure whether her brother would respond the same way. “We know your parents told our mother you didn’t have any magical gifts. Why would they have any reason to lie about that?”

  Well, one could postulate that they might have told such a lie to keep me out of this arranged marriage, but that wasn’t the case. As far as they knew, I was entirely without magic. As I had been, up until the day before yesterday. “No reason at all,” I said.

  “Maybe it’s something in the air here,” Rafe remarked, and I couldn’t quite tell whether or not he was joking.

  “Maybe,” I allowed. “After all, when you’re dealing with magic, all bets are off, right?”

  “Something like that.” His gaze shifted to Cat. “Well, it looks like Miranda is safe and sound, so you’d better head on back. That way Genoveva can stop texting you every five minutes.”

  “It’s all these bridesmaids I’m dealing with,” Cat replied. “They’re driving me crazy. I don’t know why they need me to hold their hand for every little thing.”

  “Thank God groomsmen aren’t that same way.”

  “No,” she shot back, “because they’re texting me, too. Somehow I got designated as assistant wedding coordinator or something.”

  “It’s because Mother trusts you implicitly.”

 
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