Charlie looked to me as the phone rang in his hands. "No answer," he narrated. "Again."
"Call… again," I said.
He moved to do just that but then paused. "You sure? Ben will be pissed if there's a ton of charges from the phone when he's checking out. We're poor, if you'd remember."
"I remember, but Ben won't care. Casadee told us to get ahold of the diner, and Ben will agree with Casadee," I pointed out. My argument clearly won, I observed, as he muttered and dialed the number once again.
Of course, I was getting just as frustrated as Charlie; I was only better at hiding it. Truly, it was super annoying how this diner owner was dodging us, but I refused to give up. I knew that this task was important. It could save the world.
According to an ancient prophecy, the world was going to end by the hands of an evil woman (Super vague, but we were working with it). The only one that could stop the woman was Fate, a succubus. The problem with this was that—one, we didn't have Fate with us, and two, we did not know where the woman was. But we did have Casadee, who was pretty omnipotent.
When Casadee was a young woman, she had seen herself. Casadee had seen herself… from the future. Casadee's Future Self told her that she needed to find and help me protect Fate in order to save the world. Casadee had spent countless years doing just that. She did the best that she could—yet failed every time.
Failure was no biggie, though because Casadee was also a time weaver. She had seen pretty much every possible past, present, and future from "loops" (What she called the resetting of time when the world ended). Upon the deaths of everyone from the evil one, she would start again, working to make the new loop different and to, hopefully, change the outcome.
According to Casadee, this current loop was long. We were doing well. All we had to do was find the woman and Fate. The latter was not a very difficult task; Casadee had learned in a past loop where Fate was going and stated that Fate and Sophie would be at this diner. Charlie and I were tasked on finding them—thus why we were calling off the hook.
"Nope," Charlie said.
"Again," I instructed.
Obediently, he typed on the keypad.
"We'll reach them eventually," I spoke. "We have to."
Charlie frowned, obviously not agreeing with my sentiments. "I'm beginning to wish I was out there playing poker with Ben."
"You don't know how to play poker."
"So? I can learn. Why do we get the lame task?"
"Casadee knows the future… which is, you know, good for gambling," I told him. "And Ben has hundreds of years of experience with this type of stuff."
"Okay, but still," Charlie said.
I rolled my eyes. "Are they answering?"
"What do you think?"
He sighed. "Okay. Hey, turn the TV on. I want to see the news."
Right. To add more to our messy lives, we were not just in charge of preventing the end of the world, we were also wanted criminals. There was a lot going on.
I pressed the remote and browsed through a few channels. "Nothing," I said thankfully.
"For now," he said.
"I really admire your positivity."
Charlie was about to respond, but his mouth suddenly fell open, eyes widening in shock. I sat up immediately on the bed, growing concerned that he was being possessed or something. I asked, nervously, "Are you okay?"
He cupped his hand over the phone. "They picked up!" He removed his hand. "Yes, hello. Hello, sir. Yes… oh, no, it wasn't me calling so often. Yeah, people can be so annoying…" Charlie let out a breathy chuckle. "Yeah, yeah. Oh, wow. Yeah." Charlie raised his hand, giving the hand signal of a person talking on and on. "Yeah. Hey, so, sorry to interrupt but the reason I'm calling is, uh, my friends don't have cell phones, and I'm trying to get in touch with them. I know that they're going to be in your diner in a few days, so if you could just give me a call when they come in?"
I gave Charlie a tentative thumbs up. "We good?"
"What do they look like?" Charlie repeated through the phone. "Hmm… well… they're around eighteen years old, both girls. Very pretty. Their names are Sophie and Fate. Yeah, uh, look, if you start telling them this, they probably won't believe you, so just tell them that Charlie called, okay?" Charlie smiled at something that was said and gave me a big thumbs up. "Great! Okay! Thanks, just let me know! Okay. Yeah, yeah. Uh-huh. Okay. Well, I've got to go. Okay, bye." He set the phone down.
"Sweet!" I cried joyfully. "We did it! Mission accomplished!"
"Wow, I can't even believe it. I almost thought we would turn grey before they would pick up."
"I know!" I felt like jumping. "We rock!"
"Yeah we do!" He shook his head in disbelief for a few seconds, and then his smile started dimming. "So what do we do now?"
"Hmm…" Ben had told us to stay put in the room to avoid being seen, but this motel was so crappy that it didn't even have room service, and I was starved after all of those soul-sucking, empty phone calls. "You hungry?"
"Starving," he admitted. "But are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Not really, but I don't know how long Ben and Casadee will be, and I'm hungry." Idly, as I said this, I switched the television off.
Charlie nodded at this, standing to go get his jacket. Of course, the cold didn't bother him, but we did need to keep up appearances; it was January in Illinois. The wind could be super harsh.
It was odd; we'd grown up in Florida, where we could almost always wear shorts, so we had no experience with cold weather. The only times we'd been off of the island had been in Texas and Mexico—places that weren't exactly known for their chilly winters. It was only when we had left Mexico and gone more North that we realized it was time to invest in winter clothing.
I stood as well and put on my blue parka. "Where are you thinking of going?"
"There's a shopping center just down the street," he said. "I don't know what's in there, but we can find something."
I nodded and put on my hat to protect my ears. "Should we tell Ben?"
"We'll be back before he's finished," dismissed Charlie. "And besides, Casadee already knows that we're going out to eat, right?"
"She does?" I asked, surprised.
"She knows the future," he replied.
"Different forms of the future. Remember, she makes something different every loop. Things can change."
He hesitated, but then shook his head. "We'll be fine. Do you have money?"
"Ben gave me a fifty," I said.
"Okay." Charlie put the room key in his pocket and went to the door. "Let's go."
I followed along obediently. Charlie shut the door behind me, and we were on our way. Ben had gotten us a room on the first floor, so there were no stairs to walk down. No cameras, either.
"I'll never get used to this," I said bitterly as the wind sliced into my face.
He shrugged. "I'm sure it's not that bad."
I scoffed, burying my fingers deeper into my parka pockets. "Trust me, it is."
Charlie was quiet.
My focus went to our surroundings. The street we were walking down was long and not at all congested. There weren't many cars at all; we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. The only signs of life were the neon-lit WELCOME signs on the businesses down the road (This had to be where the restaurant was). This town was so far from everything that Ben had actually left for three towns over for the casino.
I hadn't wanted him to go, but I didn't say so. Things were… weird between us. Especially with Charlie, who was my ex-boyfriend, who Ben had seen kiss me hours after Ben had kissed me. Ben and I still hadn't talked about it—mainly because he refused to believe that I didn't still have feelings for Charlie.
And Casadee made things even weirder. Impossibly weirder.
I had no idea if knowing Casadee was telling the truth, but she claimed that Ben had known me in the past. She said that she had seen it—us—and that Ben and I had been in love. She said I was Alice, Ben's once-lover who had been tragically murdered before they could truly be together… a loss he still had not recovered from. I was not so sure about all of this.
Ben certainly believed it, which was unlike him, due to the lack of facts and evidence. He was going off of Casadee's words, and only her words. I think he just wanted to believe it (I'd always known he compared me to her).
I didn't like being around him anymore because he treated me differently now, like I was another person. To him, I was another person. I looked like Alice, I acted like Alice, and in the past I had been Alice.
And this was just one of my lives! According to Casadee I had been reincarnated many times ("Reincarnation isn't common," she told me. "But your lives were always shrouded in tragedy… unfairly. Fate gives people like that the chance to start again.") and in all of my pasts, Ben, or his soul or whatever, had been with me.
I had no idea if that made us soulmates or just good friends or if it was even a good idea to use my past to dictate my present, and so until I figured that out, I was taking a break with my friendship with Ben.
"Speaking of trust…" Charlie began slowly, tentatively, catching my attention. I felt a little sick. Before, he never would have been hesitant with me. Before all of this… "I've been meaning to talk to you."
"About?" I pressed quietly. I turned my head to look at him, but this proved to be a mistake. The harsh wind was too much. I instantly faced forward once more.
"I don't know about Casadee," Charlie admitted quietly.
"Why?" I asked, surprised. I'd had my own private reservations, but she had said nothing to Charlie about the past.
"She doesn't tell us anything," he said. "She just gives us orders on what to do. Doesn't tell us why we're doing it."
"She told us about the diner today," I retorted.
"That's the first time she's done that."
I immediately went to protest, but then I thought about what Charlie was saying. He was right. Since we had met Casadee, she only gave orders and rarely told us why. When we did ask, she said that she had already told us.
"Past loops don't count," Charlie would say.
She ignored him.
"What are you trying to say?" I said eventually.
"I'm saying… are you sure that we can trust her?" he asked. "I mean, what do we even have to go on? Her word?"
I looked at the ground. "I guess."
"It's not enough for me," he admitted. "After everything… after all of the betrayals and running, I can't just trust some stranger."
"We have to."
"Maybe that's what she wants you to think," Charlie said.
"Okay, so you think she's lying. That means I'm still going to destroy the world."
"I don't believe that either."
We were nearing the shopping district. "Okay," I repeated. "Whatever."
"Look, don't shut down. I didn't want to pick a fight. I'm just worried."
"I know you are. You always are. Maybe we should stop worrying and just give in to fate," I said.
"The succubus, or destiny?"
"Destiny." I let out a chuckle. "That was good."
"I was actually confused." But he was laughing, too.
By then we were by the shops and spoke briefly about our options for dinner. We had to go to a low-key place—which this town was the definition of—with no cameras. Preferably, to a fast-food place, but none were around. Most of the shops were closed at this time—the ones that were open were a liquor store, some psychic shack where people could get their fortunes read, and a Chinese place.
"Chinese is all we've got," I spoke, after a thorough analysis.
He sighed. "I don't like Chinese."
"Would you rather starve?"
Charlie considered this seriously. Eventually, he sighed, "No."
"Let's go, then."
The door to the Chinese restaurant had a bell on it, altering the owners to our presences. Our orders were quickly taken, and we were informed, upon inquiry, that we would be allowed to pick our food up in thirty minutes (We didn't want to sit in one place for so long because there actually was a camera in the far corner of this restaurant).
Charlie and I deliberated going back to the motel to wait for the thirty minutes to pass but ultimately decided that it would be better just to stay close to the food. Since we couldn't stay in the Chinese place, and we had no interest in liquor, we went to check out the psychic's shop.
Her door had a bell, too, but that was the only similarity between this place and the Chinese restaurant. The air was choked with incense and candles, walls lined with hanging black linens. Charlie and I ducked around the sheets to enter an area covered in pillows of all shapes and sizes. In the middle of the area sat the psychic. She looked up at our entrance.
The woman was in her mid to late forties and adorned a lot of make up to try to conceal the former fact. She had auburn hair, which looked a little too shiny to be real, and had it curled in ringlets. Her clothes were like a gypsy's—and so, she looked like a stylish homeless person.
I very instantly didn't think that she was a real psychic. The profession—if it had even been a real thing in the first place—died out as soon as the distinction between us and them formed. Us and them being bleeders and non-bleeders.
The split happened when I was young. There were a bunch of rumors of how it all finally came out: some sirens got careless, some vampire got spotted, yada, yada. The point is that they got discovered. So we all got discovered.
Most of the older ones, like my parents, were killed, while the young were put on islands—far away from bleeders. We lived there—and we would stay there, until we died. It was how it worked.
This was why I didn't believe that this psychic was legit. Psychics were still… bleeders, but they were hovering on the edge. They weren't exactly human, which made normal humans very wary of them. Psychics went out of business—or just plain out disappeared. To save their lives.
For this "psychic" to be broadcasting her sixth sense was not even stupid but most likely a full-out lie.
"Hello," she welcomed through slit eyes. "My name is Madame Turpan. Please, take a seat. What do you wish for me to do for you?"
"We're just looking around," Charlie explained. "What is it that you… do here?"
"You can ask me what you truly want to," Madame Turpan spoke.
"And what do I want to ask?" Charlie wondered. He shot me a look like, we should go.
"It's the question everyone asks: are you real? Are your abilities true?" She smiled at her own question. "And the answer…" Madame Turpan looked to us.
"I'm going to say yes, assuming from the fact that you're still in business," Charlie said.
"Ding ding!" She turned her gaze from Charlie to me, studying my face carefully. "You are a witch, are you not?"
Both Charlie and I tensed.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," Madam Turpan went on. "It was only a question."
"How did you know?" I demanded.
"I'm psychic," she replied. "Here, you all look so stressed out. Just sit down. I'll give you all a free reading—something tells me that you two need it."
Charlie and I exchanged a look. Eventually, I shrugged. What was the harm? She already knew. And there seemed to be no cameras. We were waiting, anyway.
Charlie crossed his arms as I reached my verdict. He did not like this. Since we had left the island, he had become less and less free and open. Now he was guarded, like Ben. Not as quiet… just guarded.
"Fine," Charlie relented finally, at the look on my face. "But we only have thirty minutes."
"Brilliant," exclaimed Madame Turpan as we sat. "Well, where should we start?"
"What do you do?" I asked.
She offered her hands out. "Each of you, take one. I will do what I can."
Charlie and I looked at each other once more but, again, ignored our reservations and allowed for her to read us.
Madame Turpan exhaled sharply as we touched her. "Oh, yes… I see much…"
"What do you see?" I prompted dully. Although Madame Turpan had proven herself, I was still mostly skeptical. She could've seen my face on the news.
"There is…" She pulled back suddenly, grimacing. "For Specials, you two certainly have heavy veils."
"Veils?" Charlie asked.
"Well, it's like… we're connected to the spirit world naturally, but you two have big sheets over your faces, blocking your vision," she explained.
"Who put the sheet there?"
"The veil can be natural, too. Yours both are just very thick." Madam Turpan paused. "They can become this way due to a great loss… emotional distress. I assume that you two have experienced plenty of both."
"Enough for a lifetime," I said.
She nodded to herself. "I think I know what I can do for you two today: I'll lift the veils a bit."
"Why? What does that do?" Charlie wondered. He had been reserved about this idea, but now he was slowly getting into it.
"The idea is that a veil forms from emotional pain," Madam Turpan told us. "If you lift the veil, some of that pain is meant to go with it. It's a cleansing thing, like sage, only it actually works."
"Maybe the veil is there for a reason," I said. I wasn't sure if I wanted her to lift it. If the pain left, then it would be like Arella and Indrid never existed. They had existed.
She shrugged. "It's no difference to me, whatever the two of you want. I just thought I could help."
"I want to do it," Charlie said quickly.
He looked to me, frowning. "I'm tired of all of this, and I know you are, too. Don't you want to stop having nightmares?"
I stared at him. "We don't know what this will do."
"It releases emotion," Madame Turpan input. "It will help."
"See? Come on, T, let's give it a shot."
I sighed at the peer pressure. "Fine, whatever."
We both placed our hands back in Madame Turpan's and watched her forehead wrinkle in concentration. I was expecting the process to take maybe two seconds, and when it didn't, I began to fidget unhappily.
Charlie shot me a look.
I opened my mouth to snap at him when I felt it. There was no way to describe the sensation, just that it was there. It was… sort of like a suction cup. A suction cup of emotion… I literally felt my hate for Lowell leave. I felt… the fear of watching Arella bleed on me. I felt the shock of hearing that Indrid was dead. I felt the pain of watching my parents be dragged from the house… smelling the fire.
With a gasp, I pulled back, standing in a hurry. Charlie quickly followed suit, although he seemed reluctant.
"I'm going to go," I said quickly, pulling my hair out of my face. "W-we should get the food."
"Wait," the psychic said. "I have something to tell you." She looked to Charlie. "You, please go outside."
Charlie gave me a look, as if asking if this was all right. I was too shaken to really reply, and after a second he just left.
"What is it?" I asked cautiously.
She pressed her lips together tightly. "I wanted to tell you that I sense a great misfortune in your future."
"Are you sure you aren't seeing my present?" I replied.
It was a joke, sort of, but she didn't laugh. "I am merely warning you," she said. "Be careful."
I walked out of the store.
Someone shook me.
"Are you okay?"
I managed to clear my throat and look up at Charlie. "The memories…" I began slowly, shaking my head. "They're too painful."
"Even after she lifted the veil?" he asked.
"Did she get the chance?"
He shrugged. "I'd assume so. Do you want to go back?"
"No." The response was a little too swift. "Let's just get the food and head back to the motel, all right?"
"Sure," he said. I knew that Charlie wanted to say something else, but he didn't.
"Out with it," I moaned.
He bit his lip. "T—"
"Come on, let's hear it."
Charlie sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I just think that you should stop running."
"Running? Running from what?"
"Everything. It's going to catch up to you."
"I'll deal with it then," I said sharply. I had no right to be mad with him; I had asked, after all. "Come on."