“Just one day before finals were to end, a Silverstone State University student went missing.” I rested my hip against the cold, kitchen countertop and turned up the volume on the television. “Twenty- year-old Ruth Baker has been missing for over seventy-two hours and investigators still haven’t found any sign of her. Search parties have been working day and night in hopes of finding Ruth alive, but time is running out.”
Twyla clawed at the back of my shirt, breaking my concentration.
I smiled at my orange tabby cat. “That’s not nice,” I teased. Twyla, perched on the counter top where she wasn’t supposed to be, stared up at me with glowing, golden eyes and tilted her head. “And you’re not supposed to be on the counter,” I added pointedly. If Twyla had been human, she would have rolled her eyes. She swished her tail twice and gracefully hopped off the slick, granite surface before circling my legs and yowling at me. “You already ate,” I argued. She harrumphed and stalked towards the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony of our condo. Apparently food wasn’t what she wanted. I crossed my arms over my chest and sighed. “In a minute. Let me listen to the rest of this.” Twyla lay on her side, resigned to waiting. The smile that was creeping up the corners of my mouth died when I turned my attention back to the television.
The news station was showing clips of the press conference that was held that morning. My roommate’s father, who also happened to be the mayor, stood next to the sheriff with a grim look on his face. He was wearing a dark three-piece suit that must have been uncomfortable in the sweltering heat. Mayor Rogers was a tall man with deeply toned skin and broad shoulders to match. His eyes were black as pitch unless he was in direct sunlight. In that lighting, they took on a deep chocolate color. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the sheriff’s name. The burly man was speaking into the microphones mounted on a podium in slow, solemn tones. His voice rumbled deep in his chest and, unlike the mayor, sweat left a sheen on his brow. The sheriff’s shoulders were slumped and there were bags under his eyes. He looked exhausted and defeated as reporters badgered him with questions.
“Do you have any leads?” a female voice asked.
“Not at this time.”
A man piped up. “Where was Miss Baker last seen?”
The sheriff stifled a sigh. I was positive that information had already been made available to the public. “Miss Baker was last seen entering her apartment on the corner of Chesapeake and First,” he replied tightly. A chill ran down my spine. The condo building where I lived with my three roommates was on the corner of Chesapeake and Third. Only two blocks away. I pursed my lips as the sheriff continued. “She hasn’t been seen since. Her car is still parked at the apartment building and her phone was inside her apartment when it was searched. The security cameras have provided no further details.”
The footage cut back to the newsroom and the anchors told the audience to call 911 immediately if they saw any sign of Ruth or had any information that might help with the investigation. I turned the volume back down and pushed off the countertop. The thought of someone who was only one year my junior going missing caused a ball of dread to form in the pit of my stomach. Silverstone was an up-and-coming city with lots of new buildings and a popular university. The crime rate was almost non existent. Consequently, the news that someone had gone missing had the entire city on edge. I really hoped that Ruth would just show up, laugh, and tell everyone that she had just stayed at a boyfriend’s house for a few days and forgotten her phone, but I wasn’t counting on that.
I shook my head and walked over to where Twyla was lounging. She sprang to her feet as I unlatched the heavy door. She slipped between my legs to go lie on the picnic table as I stepped out onto the balcony, intent on watering our plants — I should say my plants. I was the one who took care of them. The dry air that filled my lungs and harsh sunlight pricking at my skin took my mind off the curious case of Ruth Baker. I carefully surveyed the potted plants that lined the banister. All of my cacti were doing okay. This spring had been dry — even for Texas — but it wasn’t anything a cactus couldn’t handle. My purple tulips, on the other hand, were looking a bit pitiful. I approached the corner where they sat and knelt down. The dark brick walls of the building extended out on either side and stopped about half way to the edge of the terrace. A styled metal banister connected to the walls and lined the outside of the balcony. After watering the tulips, I touched my hands to the damp soil of the flower pot and concentrated. As I created a connection with the flowers, I could feel their spirits flow through me. The beautiful song that only I could hear rang in my ears and wrapped around my soul. The flowing line of shimmering power originated in my chest and swirled to my fingertips. I used that connection to heal their wilting petals and browning stems. Once they were all healed up, their spirits returned to their normal, lively selves.
That little talent of mine was rather new. I’d only discovered that I could heal plants and animals shortly after turning eighteen. Three years later, and I figured my control had gotten pretty good. I could easily deal with plants and animals and with a lot more effort, I could work my magic on humans, too.
I joined Twyla atop the picnic table and basked in the early afternoon sun until I heard our front door open. I blinked hard as my eyes adjusted to the flood of sunlight. Ryder had his black hair pulled back in a ponytail and sweat darkened patches of his red tank top. Wes ran a hand through his blonde hair and tossed his head back as he took a swig of water. I hopped off the picnic table, much to Twyla’s chagrin, and beckoned her inside. She narrowed her eyes at me, but she obeyed. When I stepped inside, the sudden rush of cool air caused goose bumps to erupt all over my body and the scent of manly deodorant and body spray assaulted my nose, almost making me gag. I was half tempted to complain, but I knew that sweaty gym smell was a whole lot worse, so I kept my mouth shut. Ryder’s dark brown eyes met mine and he opened his mouth to say something but he shut it when he heard the light pad of footsteps coming from the hallway. Jenna, my best friend and daughter of the mayor extraordinaire, floated into the room. Her dark, corkscrew curls bounced around her soft-featured face with every step she took. She was still in a tank top that hung from her small frame and pajama shorts. I assumed that was because she had just gotten out of bed.
“Oh good! You guys are home. Now we can decide what we’re doing tonight,” Jenna said excitedly. Her hazel eyes were shining brightly and she wore a broad smile on her full lips. She stopped abruptly when she neared Ryder and wrinkled her nose. “Jesus, you guys. Did you put on enough body spray?”
I snickered and Ryder shot me an amused look. Wes smiled in a way that evoked a cheshire cat. “Last time you said we didn’t have enough,” he reminded her.
Jenna pursed her lips and crossed her slender arms over her chest. “There’s a middle ground,” she said with a light whine in her voice. Her eyes slid to me with a look that said, “Can you believe these two?”
I arched an eyebrow at her because yes, I could believe these two. Jenna’s ire was targeted at Wes, but I was pretty sure it had been Ryder’s idea to overdo the body spray as payback. I checked the clock on the microwave. It was a couple of hours past noon.
“You’re up early,” I observed.
“I was up late working,” she said defensively. She turned her attention back to Ryder and Wes. “We’re doing something tonight and you two are coming.”
They were both over six feet tall and well built, but that’s where the similarities ended. Ryder had deep, copper skin, while Wes had a light beige complexion. Ryder’s hair was shoulder length and jet black, while Wes had short, blonde hair and icy, blue eyes.
Ryder leaned over the breakfast bar in our sleek, modern kitchen, supporting his weight with his forearms.
“What do you want to do, Jenna?” he asked patiently.
Jenna smiled and raised her eyebrows, “I want to go out. We could all use it,” she said matter-of-factly. She was right. I had spent the last two weeks with my nose stuck in books and term papers. Wes was in law school and Ryder was a software engineer. The three of us currently had dark circles under our eyes courtesy of sleep deprivation. On top of that, the whole town was now plagued with mass hysteria over a missing college student. A night out would do everyone some good.
Wes ran a hand over his face. “We could go to Dunbar’s,” he suggested.
Jenna scoffed, “No way. They have rats. Right, Rosalie?” she asked turning to me with her lips pursed.
Jenna was right. Dunbar’s was particularly disgusting. “It’s true. Everyone knows that rat beer causes cancer,” I said with a smile.
Ryder and Weston shared a look, “Okay,” Ryder sighed slowly, “then where do you want to go?”
I turned to Jenna and her catlike eyes locked with mine. She cracked a wicked smile and I knew we had the same idea. “We could go to Atlantis. We haven’t been there in a while,” I suggested.
“Atlantis is a little pricey,” Wes countered.
“That’s because they don’t have rats,” Jenna replied brightly. “I’m going to go shower. Boys, do make sure you’re ready to leave at a reasonable hour.” She flipped her hair and skipped to our shared bathroom. Wes rolled his eyes while Ryder and I shared a smile. Jenna always seemed to be a bright beacon of light no matter what else was going on.
The day was pleasant if still a little boring. Jenna and I went out to the square for a walk to get some fresh air. Later that afternoon, Twyla decided she wanted to spend some time outside, too. She was laid out on the picnic table next to me, her orange fur glittering in the sunlight. The motionless air stirred with an abrupt breeze that caused Twyla jump with a strained yowl. I looked over my shoulder to see Ryder smirking. “You know she hates that,” I said laughing.
Ryder was like me in a way. We both had magical powers that neither of us could really explain. During the entirety of our first year of living together in the condo we’d hidden it from each other. The only person who had known about me was Wes and no one had known about Ryder. It wasn’t until I caught Ryder doing something odd with a salt shaker when he thought he was alone that he’d shown me what he could do.
I’d had a hard time getting to sleep one night, so I decided a midnight snack was in order. When I went into the kitchen, I was confronted with the sight of Ryder pushing a salt shaker across the kitchen counter. The weird part was that he wasn’t actually touching the salt shaker.
I watched him curiously for a long moment before asking, “What are you doing?”
His shoulders went rigid. “Nothing,” he snapped.
“You’re doing something.”
“I think you’re just tired.”
I sighed and cautiously approached. “I won’t tell anyone,” I promised. “Do it again.”
Ryder narrowed his eyes. Without another word of warning, I felt a breeze kick up and the salt shaker started moving again.
“You’re using the air to do it,” I whispered.
Ryder backed up a step and glared at me. “Why aren’t you losing it right now?” he asked.
I couldn’t help the smile that played on my lips. Sure, Ryder was probably freaking out, but I was excited that someone else had powers. I was pretty sure I wasn’t imagining my own magic, but until then I hadn’t been sure. “Come outside with me,” I said.
Instead of following me outside, he stayed where he was and stared at me.
“Ryder, come on,” I urged.
His brow furrowed and he looked unsure of what to do. “Are you going to throw me over the railing, Rosie?” His tone was teasing, but he wasn’t kidding, either.
“Of course I’m not going to throw you over the railing. I want to show you something.”
He still looked skeptical, but he followed me outside anyway.
I picked up a cactus that wasn’t doing so good and set it on the table. “This cactus is half dead, right?”
Ryder crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head like a curious puppy. “Right,” he agreed reluctantly.
I took a deep breath and touched the prickly plant. I couldn’t help but relax as I connected with the cactus and let my power flow into it. I kept up the connection until the brown dissipated and the cactus was returned to its former glory.
When I looked back to Ryder, his jaw was on the floor. I winced. I probably should have warned him before I went into magical plant lady mode. I wasn’t sure exactly what to say to make him feel better. I settled on stating the obvious. “You’re not alone,” I said with a shrug.
He scoffed. “No shit.”
After that night, I told him Wes had known about me for years. After some coaxing, he confided in Wes as well. Jenna quickly figured out that the three of us knew something that she didn’t, so we’d told her, too. Now, magical powers were a house secret. Ryder and I couldn’t do the same things, but we figured we could control elements. I knew Ryder could control Air but I wasn’t quite sure what to call what I was controlling. I’d settled on believing I could control Earth, even though that didn’t feel quite right.
Ryder chuckled. “She hasn’t killed me in my sleep yet,” he remarked as he sat next to me atop the picnic table. Twyla, now over being startled, jumped into his lap and waited. Ryder lifted his hand, generating a small vortex of wind. Twyla pranced around the table trying to catch it. It was like watching a cat trying to catch a laser only more interesting. A smile tugged at Ryder’s lips as he watched her.
“You’re getting better at that,” I said with a smile. Ryder could create breezes and really small tornados, but it was something he had to work at. My abilities required a great amount of practice, too. Healing plants wasn’t a huge deal, but healing animals and people was a different story.
His dark chocolate colored eyes flicked to mine. “It’s less exhausting to keep it up,” he explained as his vortex continued to flow atop the picnic table. He slowly closed his hand and the funnel faded away.
We sat side by side for a while, enjoying the feel of the sun on our skin. In a month, it’d be too hot to really enjoy being outside without a pool so we made the most of the milder parts of the year. I was vaguely aware of Ryder’s arm brushing against mine. Suddenly, Ryder was laughing uncontrollably. “What?” I questioned sharply.
“How mad do you think Jenna would be if I caused a tornado in her hair?” he asked between chuckles.
That got a laugh out of me. “She would probably hire a hitman.”
That night, Jenna and I scrambled to get ready. Okay, so we’d waited a little too long to start getting ready. Jenna had managed to get her hair to behave and she thought it was high time to get mine done.
“Jenna we don’t have to do this. We can just brush it. It’ll stay straight,” I argued. My hair was naturally straight. Even getting it to stay wavy was a nearly impossible task, let alone talking it into holding curls.
“But it looks so pretty curly! We’ll drench it in hairspray. It’ll stay,” Jenna promised.
“Do we even have time?” I asked, glancing at the clock.
“Of course we have time!”
I decided to acquiesce and let Jenna do her thing. It would look great even if it only lasted ten minutes. Once that was done, it was time to get dressed. Jenna settled on a white, strapless high-low dress that stood out against her dark skin. I was torn between a bright pink, thin-strapped sundress and a bright orange one. “Pink or orange?” I asked holding each of them up to my body.
“Hmmm,” she said, tapping her foot. “Definitely pink. It goes with the green in your eyes.”
Jenna and I finished getting ready before heading out to the living room to meet up with Ryder and Wes. When we got there, they were both reclined on the couch watching a baseball game. “Well it’s about time,” Wes said dramatically as he stood up.
“And you thought we’d take forever,” Ryder sneered. We shot the boys a look and everyone laughed.
We made our way to Atlantis, only two blocks from our condo. The May air was dry and slightly warm. The dry air was one of the things I loved most about Texas. It made the heat easy to deal with and it was easy on frizzy hair. Atlantis was always loud, but tonight it was especially so. I assumed every other college student had the same idea. Atlantis was in a huge building with a modern design. The bar was curved and accented by lights that washed a blue color over the glossy surface. The air was clean and fresh rather than musty, even with all the people. Atlantis almost felt like a nightclub with all the students there, but it wasn’t quite loud enough to really be one. The four of us sat at the bar and ordered drinks. Jenna and I watched and laughed as Wes and Ryder hit on girls. They were both attractive and didn’t have an issue finding a few to talk to.
I leaned back to laugh at something Jenna had said when I bumped into a hard figure. When I turned to apologize, I found a pair of dark blue eyes looking back at me. “Sorry,” I stammered.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a kind smile that perfectly accentuated his square jawline. “What’s your name?” he asked.
I felt my face get uncharacteristically hot. “It’s Rosalie.”
“I’m Jackson,” he said, holding his hand out to me. I reached out to shake it. His skin was warm and his hand was calloused but somehow still soft. His touch felt electric and his smile made my heart flutter. “Are you here to celebrate summer?” he inquired over the loud music. He had to lean in for me to hear him which only made the butterflies in my stomach more frantic.
“We finished finals yesterday,” I said simply, “What about you?”
“Who’s this?” Jenna asked before he could answer, causing me to jump. I’d been so focused on studying Jackson’s dark eyes and short beard I’d forgotten Jenna was even there.
Okay Rosalie, get a hold of yourself. “Jenna, this is Jackson,” I choked out.
A tall man with ashy blonde hair walked up behind Jackson and whispered something in his ear and Jackson whispered something back. “This is Simon.”
“Ladies,” he said winking at Jenna. Did he have some kind of accent? Simon walked away and I made small talk with Jackson and Jenna. After a while, Jackson leaned in so I could hear him over the dubstep playing in the background.
“Why don’t you come outside with me?” he said.
Before I answered I looked over my shoulder at Jenna, asking permission to leave her alone. Jenna gave me a mischievous smile. “Go for it. Angela will be here in a few minutes.”
“Be careful,” I told her. I tried to keep my face hard and serious to show Jenna I meant business. Angela was Jenna’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. I had hoped that she would stay Jenna’s ex this time, but obviously I had no such luck. Her relationship with Angela had always been volatile. I saw something flicker through Jenna’s hazel eyes, but I couldn’t tell if it was a rush of fear or gratefulness that I cared. Maybe it was both. Either way, Jenna gave me a sharp nod before checking her phone and wandering off into the sea of bodies.
I turned back to Jackson and we walked through the crowded bar towards large, frosted glass doors that led into the warm, dry air. The outside patio was lit with the same deep, blue wash as the interior. There was an outdoor bar, some tables in the center of the stone patio, and round booths circling the outside. Now that I was outside in the quiet, I realized how loud it had been inside. Even in the dim light, I could see the details of Jackson’s well defined arms through his black t-shirt as he led me to one of the smaller tables. “Tell me more about yourself,” he said as we sat down. “What are you going to school for?”
It took me longer than it should have to find my voice. No one’s face should look that perfect. “I’m a biology major. I’ll be in medical school after this next year.”
“A doctor?” he asked leaning towards me.
I nodded “I want to work in the ER. I’m a receptionist at the hospital right now. What about you? What do you do?”
Jackson smirked, “I’m a firefighter,” he clarified. “Simon is, too.”
That caught my attention and I raised my eyes to meet his. It felt as though time slowed down. Everything about Jackson was mesmerizing. His voice was deep and rich and his posture was relaxed, like he didn’t have a care in the world.
I don’t know how much longer we spoke for. It felt like hours had gone by but also like we’d only been talking for a few minutes. He was twenty-four, born in Denver, and his favorite color was red. He was easy to talk to despite his intimidating demeanor. Spotting Jenna’s face as she peered through the crowd was what finally snapped my attention away from our conversation.
Jackson must’ve seen the change in my expression because his brow furrowed and his features became stone cold. “What’s wrong?” he asked me.
“It’s Jenna. I’m not sure what happened,” I explained slowly. I wasn’t looking at Jackson when I said it. Instead, I was looking past him at my distraught friend. I stood up to go to her and Jackson stood in kind. He turned to see her and I noticed his posture stiffen.
It wasn’t until Jenna came closer that I noticed a cut under her right eye. Her normally soft and dainty features were swollen and distorted. When she came even closer I noticed the color. Her smooth, coffee colored complexion was tainted by an emerging patch of purple.
“Jenna, what the hell happened?” I demanded when she finally reached me. Instead of answering she checked over her shoulder.
Jackson moved himself behind Jenna, blocking her view of the crowd and the building but also acting as a human shield. I was briefly distracted by his act of kindness. His arms were by his side and his focus was on Jenna. That was when I really noticed how tall Jackson was. He towered over Jenna like a protective statue.
I gently touched Jenna’s arm to get her attention. She immediately jumped but soon calmed when she turned and realized it was me. “Jenna,” I began. I was careful to keep my tone friendly and understanding this time. “Please tell me what happened.”
Jenna’s eyes were still wide with fear and she wasn’t able to think clearly. I could tell her head was spinning. “It was Angela,” she explained. Her words were hardly audible and her voice was shaking. “She…”
Jenna was cut off by a dry, grating voice. “Oh good, you found some friends to protect you,” Angela taunted. Angela’s face was masculine with harsh features that were made even harsher by her fury filled expression.
Jackson turned his body towards Angela to stop her from getting to Jenna. “Would you like to explain exactly what happened?” he asked dryly.
Angela stiffened and glared at Jackson. She let out a dramatic sigh and calmed herself before speaking. “Jenna tripped and fell into a barstool,” she said pretending to be coy, “I tried to help her up but she ran off. I don’t know what got into her.”
Jackson’s face twisted in disbelief at Angela’s account of what happened. “Are you absolutely sure that’s what happened?” he asked cynically.
“Of course I’m sure!” Angela said raising her voice.
“Jenna,” I said softly, “is that what happened?” I asked knowing what her answer would be. There was no way Jenna had tripped into a bar stool and given herself a black eye. Besides, this wasn’t the first time Angela had put her hands on Jenna.
Jenna looked at me, her eyes still wide with fear. She just shook her head.
Angela scowled towards Jenna and then towards Jackson. “She’s lying!” she shouted. “I wouldn’t put my hands on her!”
A split second later Wes was pushing through the crowd looking for something. “There you are!” he exclaimed. I guess that something was me. When he saw Angela and Jackson squared off he slowed and tried to assess the situation. That’s when he looked to Jenna and noticed her black eye. “What the hell Angela?” he barked.
“I didn’t…” Angela began to protest, but Wes cut her off.
“Don’t start with me, Angela. Get the hell out of here,” he ordered. Angela quickly scrambled away from us. Jackson was intimidating, but Wes’s assertiveness was even more so.
“Get her out of here, I’m right behind you,” I said to Wes.
Wes nodded and wrapped his arm around Jenna’s slender frame and helped her away.
“I’m really sorry about that,” I began to say to Jackson. Before he could respond, Simon was behind him.
“Jackson, we’ve got to go. Work tomorrow,” Simon said quickly. That was definitely a British accent, possibly London.
“I’ll be there in a second,” Jackson said. When I turned back to look at him he was holding out his phone. “Put your number in. I’ll call you.”
I smiled up at him and programmed my number into his phone. After I handed it back to him, he winked at me. “It was nice to meet you, Rosalie,” he said as he disappeared into the crowd.
I got a hold of myself and walked to the front door of the bar where Wes, Ryder, and Jenna were waiting for me. We walked back to the condo in silence. Everyone of us was watching Jenna closely. When we got back to the condo I helped Jenna change and get into bed.
I sat on her bed and touched my hand to her face. “Is it okay if I help you?” I asked quietly. I knew Jenna would know what I meant.
Jenna nodded and I closed my eyes. I let the energy flow through me and into Jenna. Slowly, her eye that was purple, bleeding, and swollen began to heal. Her color was returning to normal and the cut closed up.
“Does that feel better?” I asked when it was done.
Jenna nodded but she remained quiet.
“What happened?” I asked.
Jenna sighed before answering me, “She asked me to bring her her drink and I spilled it. She just snapped.”
I gave her a weak smile. “Get some rest. We’ll deal with this in the morning.”
I changed into pajama shorts and a plain white tank top before taking Twyla back outside to the balcony. I heard the doors slide open behind me.
“Did Jenna get down okay?” Ryder asked me.
“Yeah, she’s in bed,” I told him. “I’ll check on her again before I go to sleep.”
Ryder shook his head slightly before looking back up at me. “Who were you talking to at the bar?” he asked. I was grateful for the change of subject.
“He said his name was Jackson,” I explained, “he’s a firefighter. He got my number before he left.”
Ryder smiled down at me. “You know what they say about picking up strange men at dive bars.”
“It’s a good thing we didn’t go to a dive bar,” I shot back. “What about you? Did you find any old women to take home?” I snickered.
“That was one time.”