It was Alex’s turn to wake up in an empty bed. He knew it before he opened his eyes, reaching across the mattress to make sure. He opened his eyes when his fingers touched cotton. He smiled when he saw his shirt. She left it the same way he had, draped across the pillow as a deliberate act to mark her place, to let him know she was coming back. Of course she would, it was her house and her bed, but still, he understood this was now a private message system between them.
He thought about going back to sleep, but then he noticed the balcony door was open. He couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing out there, then couldn’t help but think what it would be like to lay her down among the flowers and use his hands to paint her with moonlight.
But since he had no idea what she was actually doing out there — or even if she was, the door could be open for many reasons — he paused long enough to pull on a pair of briefs. He walked quietly, not wanting to startle her if she was having a quiet moment.
She was, just not like he had envisioned. As soon as he saw her his mind started snapping photos, even as he tried to figure out exactly what he was seeing.
She was sitting in the middle of the deck, in a modified lotus position. Her hands were palm up and raised to shoulder level, her face turned up to the moonbeam that surrounded her. All that was fine and good, but the more he looked the more it looked like moonlight was actually radiating up from her palms. That couldn’t be right, but even as he blinked he realized he could see the air swirling around her, smoky colored tendrils that wrapped around her.
Alex closed his eyes, both to preserve the image and clear his eyes. When he opened them the illusions were gone, it was simply Katie meditating in the moonlight. He stepped back into the bedroom, not wanting to intrude. He thought again about going back to sleep, but the image in his head was asking politely for a canvas. Since she was occupied, he might as well be, too. He moved his shirt back over to his pillow and went downstairs to find some paint.
He was well into the painting before he heard her footsteps coming up behind him; it was coming together with surprising speed. Alex was used to painting fast, it was one of the things that allowed him so much output, but this was even faster than usual.
He didn’t stop when she got to him. She stood quietly beside him, just far back enough to not engage his peripheral vision. She knew about living with painters. She stayed just long enough to realize what he was painting before moving off to the kitchen. If they were both awake she might as well fix some food.
Katie cooked fast like Alex painted fast; talent, years of experience, and an exquisitely organized kitchen helped her fix meals in record time. By the time he came into the kitchen she was plating up home fries, bacon and biscuits.
He knew by now to not try to help, he would only hinder her well-oiled machinery. He sat at the island and watched her work.
Katie couldn’t stop glancing at him as she finished setting everything out. Did he mean to be looking at her so intently? She couldn’t quite read the expression on his face. Then again, she was bright enough to add things up and guess what was on his mind. She knew it was just a matter of time before he’d start asking the questions Carlene had already asked.
Alex hadn’t planned on asking her any questions, but when had plans stopped anything since he pulled into her driveway? He opened his mouth to bite a biscuit and instead found himself asking the question lodging in his head.
“So how much of that was my eyes playing tricks on me, Katie?”
She wanted to play dumb, to buy time, or maybe just make sure they were talking about the same thing, but she knew damn well what he was referencing. The more he had painted it the more he found questions, and who else could answer them for him?
“None of it, Alex.” She waited a moment, long enough to be sure the info cleared the circuits. He nodded, acknowledging he had already come to that conclusion.
“That was lack of forethought on my part. I should have put up shields as soon as I sat down, but I …” she paused, running the moment through her head. “I didn’t think of it, to be honest. I didn’t have time to, and truth be known Gods probably wanted it that way.” She started to add more, but made herself stop. He had to do be the one to say it.
“You really are a witch.”
“Yes. Although what you saw wasn’t exactly witchcraft, just metaphysical energy manipulation.”
“Which you use for witchcraft.”
“Which I use for witchcraft,when I am casting spells. But I also use it for meditation, and for grounding energy, or raising it.”
“Are you the reason I’m here?” The words were no sooner out of his mouth before he realized what an ignorant question that was. Of course she was the reason he was here, he didn’t need to know that. He just needed to know if she was the reason he pointed his car in the direction. Or why Boone Howard pointed him here. He started to elaborate but Katie held up a finger. She had a look on her face, one that could have been anger. Or fear. He thought maybe it was anger.
“No, but apparently my Grandfather is.”
Yes, definitely anger.
“Tell me what you know, Katie. Tell me the truth.” Alex tried to keep his voice neutral, with very limited success. He didn’t know if he was scared or pissed or heartbroken. All of the above probably. All of it was showing around the edges of his voice at any rate.
She cocked an eyebrow at that, ready to throw a plate at him for even suggesting she might lie. He cocked one back, not giving an inch. She knew his fucking history goddammit, knew the seven kinds of bullshit he had to deal with from obsessive fans or cold-hearted starfuckers. He wanted nothing more than to believe in her, but self-preservation made him hold out.
“The other night at the bar Boone told me when you showed up in the bar in Nashville my grandfather spoke up in Boone’s head and told him to let you play Mandy, and then told him to send you to me.” She wanted to add more, an angry avowal that she had no clue about any of it until after Boone saw them together. She kept her mouth shut, refusing to give into the idea that she had any explaining to do here.
It didn’t last. Katie was simply not the kind to hold her tongue for any reason. She always wore her anger on her face, too, same as her heart.
“I didn’t cast a goddamn spell on you Alex. Or Boone. Or any fucking body else, including my fucking dead grandfather. I haven’t reached out to any ancestors in the last few years. I never fucking asked anyone to bring you — or anyone else, for that fucking matter — to my fucking door.”
Alex held out his hand across the table. Katie knew he wanted her to put her hand in his, but she couldn’t, not yet. First she had to fight the urge to stab him in the palm with a fork.
That came through, too, the way her anger did. For one brief second Alex knew exactly what she wanted to do. Instead of being mad he smiled, in delight and dare-you.
“If it will make you feel better to stab me with a fork go right ahead. I’m sorry I hurt you by implying you would lie. Just like you need to remember I’m just another man, I need to remember you’re not just another fan.”
Instead of grabbing her fork she reached over and touched her index finger to the middle of his palm. She didn’t try to shield herself, letting her anger give him the slightest zap. Well, maybe not so slight, she realized, as a small ball of pissed-off energy punched into his hand like a b-b. Oops.
Alex’s fingers twitched and his eyes widened, but he kept his hand still and his mouth shut. He deserved that, and she looked like she had something to say.
“But I am, Alex. Your music is right up there with food and shelter for importance in my life, and has been for the last ten years. When I came around the corner and saw you on the porch …” she paused, trying to find the words to explain what a monumental mind-fuck it had been. The moment spun out and all she could do was look at him, hoping maybe he’d be able to read her mind. Or her face, at least, he seemed to be pretty spot on about that.
“I imagine it was a lot like the first time I walked out on a stage and saw 10,000 people staring back at me. You know what you’re seeing, it’s just doesn’t compute.”
“No, it didn’t. It didn’t compute at all, and then you said my name …” she paused again, trying to gather herself because she was about to cry, of course she was, if there was one guarantee in life it was that she would cry when she least wanted to. She blinked a few times but wouldn’t drop her gaze from his, wouldn’t let herself take the easy way out.
“I’ve spent ten years listening to your voice sing me to sleep and then you show up on my doorstep and say my name and it was as right and as primal as the sounds of my babies’ first cries. ”
She had managed to keep the tears from her eyes, but not her voice. Moonshine and moonlight filtered through velvet and opium smoke, that’s all Alex could come up with and for a moment he was dumbstruck, trying to figure out how he could paint it or weave it into a piece of music.
“Katie, did it ever occur to you your voice sounds just as right to me?”
No, it hadn’t, but how the hell should she respond to that? Before she even think of options Alex closed his hand around hers, his long fingers easily covering her fist. With everything else gong on she still had to take a second to marvel over that. She had big hands — man hands, some asshole or another once spat at her — and the idea that his could engulf hers touched her like little else had.
“Say it, Katie.”
“Say what, Alex?” She tried to make her voice light, to feign innocence or obtuseness, and failed spectacularly. Her voice sounded scared and horrified and desperately happy, and how she managed that neither knew.
He held her hand, held her gaze, and held his tongue. He wasn’t going to beg or demand. She’d either do it or not, and all he could do was wait for her decision.
To say it in bed, during mind-blowing sex, well that was one thing, but to say it here, in the bright light of a kitchen rather than the candlelight of a bedroom, during conversation rather than copulation, to say it in this moment meant there would be no running from it, no backing down.
She waited, hoping someone would speak up in her head, her guardian spirit or dead grandmother, even once of the harpies that never seemed to shut up, but no one did. She was on her own with this.
Katie closed her eyes for a moment, to clear her head and open all her senses. The warmth of his hand around hers was making it easier to gather her courage. She opened her eyes, and would there ever come a day that she would open them and see him looking right back at her and not want to die of surprise? Not for a long time, she thought, considering it wasn’t that he was looking at her, but how. She wasn’t the only one wearing her heart on his face, and she had to wonder how in the world she never saw it before.
Because now you’re seeing him when he isn’t trying to hide it, Katie. This is for you.
And wasn’t that idea the biggest mind-fuck of all?
She held her other hand out across the table. Alex smiled and wrapped his around it. He waited patiently. He knew it was there, he could read it in her, could see it perfectly. He was asking a lot, he knew that, and if she was going to be brave enough to give it he damn well could be polite and patience. He could wait.
At the last moment she tried to pull herself back a bit, but by then she was already in motion, running down the hill to throw herself off the edge of the world.
“I’ve loved you for so long now I can’t remember what life was like before I did. It started with your art, but it’s you that sealed it, the way you always give every single bit of yourself for it. The way you open yourself up at every chance. The way you use your voice to stand up for what’s right.” She had to pause, to catch her breath and center herself, she was hitting free-fall now and she had to be careful.
But he was looking at her so intently, just eating up her face with his eyes, storing and feeding at the same time, and looking just as happy and scared as she felt. Her breath caught and for a moment she forgot how to breathe.
“And now you’re sitting here looking at me like that, I’m scared and vulnerable and I swear I think my heart might just explode out of my chest and kill us both with the shards and for the life of me I don’t know what to do because fairy tales just aren’t true.”
Alex smiled wide and raised an eyebrow.
“If witches are real, why aren’t fairy tales real as well?”
Katie gaped at that, caught off guard and unable to think of a comeback.
“If all you have to answer that with is ‘just because,’ well, you better know that won’t fly, darlin’. If you can believe in magic you can believe in fairy tales.” He squeezed her hands and leaned forward. “You can believe that I’m in love with you. That I want you with me.”
She opened her mouth a few times, and simply couldn’t make anything come out. She was completely at a loss for words, or any clear thought on what to do next.
Alex opened his hands and laid them palm up on the table, right next to hers. Katie looked between his hands and his face a few times. Alex composed his face into serious lines, putting the softness away for a moment. He wiggled his fngers at Katie, and when she didn’t move he moved a hand to pick hers up, He placed her palm to his, t0 the hand on the table, then put his hand back down and wiggled the fingers again.
Katie knew what he was doing of course, but he didn’t. Or, he thought he did, he thought he understood what he was doing and what he was asking for, but she was pretty sure he had no clue. There was only one way to point that out, though, so she placed her other hand on his, making sure their palms had a good seal. She didn’t do anything else, just looked at him, eyebrows raised and waiting patiently.