Author’s Note: Okay. First up, sorry for being gone so long. First, I was just getting ready for university, then I was helping a family member move house, then I was getting acquainted with a new job. Basically, I’ve had stuff going on. My apologies. Secondly, this is a pretty short chapter, I know. It was a sequence that was too small to make a full sized chapter out of, but it was also too big to just staple it onto another chapter without breaking flow. So, you’re getting this chapter now, and hopefully, another one in a few days time. Thanks for being so patient with me. Enjoy.
“Well, my grandpa says you weren’t lying about the ritual,” James mumbled, resting the phone tiredly against his ear, his head lolling gently against his hands. It was seven PM, and he’d had the longest day. “But it sounds like we’d better wait a couple days to get it done. He said something about setting up a hideout for you with a friend of his.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Caleb replied on the other end of the line. “I don’t think so, at least. Our bosses might make us pull another hunt by then, but I guess I’ll just have to grit my teeth and give em what they want, right?”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “Guess so. Oh yeah, and Tasha says she wants to put you in a headlock while you’re doing it. Just in case. You know?”
At that, Caleb’s voice only chuckled.
“Hey. She can try it if she wants. See how that goes down.”
“She’d kick your butt.”
James allowed himself a small smile, and shook his head. Right. That was one job done. Now he just had to apologize to Cas-
“There might be one small problem,” Caleb admitted. “I’m, uh. I’m pretty sure Twenty Three’s figured something’s up. I don’t think she’ll come quietly when we try to free her.”
James put the phone in his lap, rested his head in his hands, and groaned. First the training session, then therapy, and now this. When would today just end?
“… I’ll talk to Tasha about maybe backing you up,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t need that much help though, right? I thought you said that stuff was gonna supercharge you.”
“Yeah,” Caleb’s voice replied. “That’s the hope, at least.”
From outside of the room, James heard the front door click, and the muted sounds of speech in the hallway below. Casper, finally back from wherever the heck he’d gone. Twelve seconds ago, that realization would have filled James with another wave of dread at the last of the evening’s obstacles. Now, though, it gave him an excuse to end this talk with Caleb before any more problems were added to the pile.
“Hey,” he said. “I gotta go, alright? Got some stuff to do before bed. I’ll get Tasha to message you in the morning. They wanna meet up with you anyways.”
He hung up before Caleb had quite finished his reply. It was rude, but he figured the older boy owed him one on that. Then, he put the phone aside, leant his palms against his knees, and tried to psych himself up for the task.
Okay, James, he said inside his mind, listening to the faint thumps as Casper climbed the stairs towards his room. You’ve hung out with Jiji. You’ve gone to therapy. You’ve planned a rescue. Now you just gotta tell Casper you’re sorry you yelled. Easy peasy, right?
James hated the voice in his head, sometimes. Nevertheless, he pushed himself up off his bed with a groan.
The aches and pains had come and gone sporadically in the hours since his mishap with the skeet, seeming to fade away for a while on their drive back to manhattan, before returning with a vengeance in the hours since his session with Doctor Sharpe. It was fine as long as he was moving, but he really didn’t feel like moving now. He’d have rather flown, but he couldn’t. Bex was around, and as far as his parents knew, Casper still had zero clue what magic was.
He stood, spent a few seconds creakily straightening up, then stepped forwards towards the door, and out onto the landing.
It took James longer than he’d have liked to traverse the distance between his and Casper’s rooms; only partially because of the stiffness in his joints. He didn’t want to do this. Apologizing sucked.
He took a deep breath, then a second one, and raised a hand to the door, knuckles poised to knock.
Half a minute later, he lowered it back down again.
Come on, James. Stop being a wuss. Just put on your big boy pants and-
“Dude,” Casper’s voice called through the door, sounding almost as tired as James felt. “Just make up your mind already. You coming in or not?”
Friggen’ radar brain.
Regretfully, James pushed the door open, and stepped inside.
Casper was sitting on the bed, a video game controller in his lap, his gaze set determinedly on the TV screen. James shut the door behind him, and leaned himself against the wall, his arms folded in tight over his chest. Neither spoke.
After a few moments, Casper’s television chimed, a game loading up on the screen.
Just say you’re sorry.
James opened his mouth to speak, and Casper turned to look at him. Nothing came out. Casper returned his gaze to the TV.
Why was this so hard?
James shook himself, and tried again. What eventually came out wasn’t exactly what he’d planned.
“… His name’s Caleb,” he muttered. “The guy I was sneaking out to meet.”
For a moment, James regretted it; spilling the secret like that. But this was Casper. This was important.
This time, when Casper turned to face him, he wasn’t frowning. Now, he looked concerned.
“Who is he?” the other boy asked. “What’s he want?”
“He, uh,” James swallowed. “Stuff. He wanted to do some really stupid stuff to rescue a girl he likes. So, that’s what I’ve been dealing with.”
For a few moments, Casper simply gazed at him.
“Yeah,” James took a deep breath, and let it out in a sigh, before moving to sit beside his friend. “And, uh. Sorry I got mad at you.”
At that, Casper shook his head.
“Sorry I pushed like I did,” he muttered back. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
The two were silent then for a time, James simply sitting beside his friend while Casper moved his character aimlessly through a level.
It was surprising, really. That had been far less painful than James had been expecting. It was nice, being comfortable like this again. Maybe he was just tired.
Eventually, Casper spoke again.
“So, that thing about the phone.”
That got his attention.
“So…” Casper seemed to hesitate for half a second, before apparently coming to a decision. “The thing is, when I ran away from home… I kinda got myself a magic teacher.”
“Really?” James asked, honestly surprised. “I thought you kinda just wanted to forget about it.”
“It’s hard to forget about when you can’t turn it off, dude. You know that, Mr. ‘I weigh thirty pounds.’”
James conceded the point with a sigh. The changes to his body weight hadn’t gotten any easier to deal with in the last few weeks. There’d been one embarrassing incident when he’d tried to take a bath, only to find himself floating upwards in the water, bobbing along the surface like an oversized rubber duck.
“So, I got myself a teacher,” Casper continued. “Didn’t wanna tell you because getting training when you’re not registered’s kind of a legal no-no, but yeah. The phone’s how he’s been staying in contact with me.”
“… And asking you about your school day?”
“Yeah,” Casper groaned. “He’s also kind of a creep.”
“… You okay?”
“Yeah,” James felt Casper’s fist bonk him gently on the shoulder. “I’m okay.”
“Good,” James muttered. “You’re still a doof, though.”
“Yeah. You too.”