Cian leaned forward in his seat, his fingers steepling against his lips. "Okay. Concentrate."
She kept her eyes closed, her muscles knotting as she reached out –
"No hands!" he warned.
Making a noise that was something between a growl and a whine, she gritted her teeth and focused, trying to imagine an extension of herself probing out. She pictured a white glowing strand or maybe something similar to an amoeba pseudopod stretching –
The wineglass on the table jittered ever so slightly, gleaming against the polished mahogany surface.
Excited, Cian leaned forward, propping his forearms against his knees. "Come on. Almost there."
Forehead bunched up, she could feel the start of a headache coming on and she pushed with her mind again. The glass vibrated, rocking on its stem.
"Almost. Come on."
Teeth gnashing, she unleashed her full force, willing the damn thing to move and the wineglass shattered into a dozen crystalline pieces. The broken glass sprinkled across the table, showering the floor with different sized shards.
She froze in shock. Slowly, her eyes slipped over to the stupefied man. A rapid shift of emotions swept across his face, running from shock to awe to dismay and right back to shock and he breathed, "Damn."
"Sorry," she repeated.
"It's alright. No big deal."
Kaetlyn hovered in the background, observing Cian as he cleaned up the mess. He'd shoved up the sleeves of his beige knit sweater to his elbows and was carefully picking up shards of glass off the ground, dumping them into a plastic bag that had a yellow smiley face logo. Scanning the ground, he reached out to pick up another piece between his thumb and his index finger and tossed it into the bag.
She'd been trying to learn how to mentally move objects around and the most she'd gotten was getting a pencil to hover a centimeter off the table. Then it'd exploded, the pencil splitting down its center, wooden layers falling away from the lead like they were petals dangling off a lily. Cian got five splinters in his right hand.
Unfortunately, her powers seemed to be either a hit or a miss. Either she couldn't get them to come through for her or they wreaked havoc on whatever she was focusing on.
Cian suggested, "This wouldn't be so bad if all you had to focus on were our enemies."
She blanched at the thought of clumps of ghostly body parts raining around her.
Slinking away to her favorite corner in the apartment, she sat down in the dim section and curled her feet beneath her. Funny how she hadn't exactly been fond of the dark when she was alive. Now, she seemed to always be finding solace within the shadows.
The dim light grew more pronounced as a second shadow fell over her. She knew, without looking up, that it was him.
Cian eyed her carefully, his arms folded before him. His sleeves were still pulled up to his elbows and she noticed that his skin was tanned with several small whitish lines scattered across, remnants of old wounds and scars. "Are you tired?"
She wouldn't say that she was exactly weary, but she could feel her head starting to pound. "A little."
"We can continue tomorrow."
Offering a small nod, she pulled her legs up and hugged them, dropping her chin down on her knees.
He cocked his head to one side, studying her. "Do you want to watch TV?"
She grimaced and shook her head.
"Um, how about a book?"
Lifting her head up, she gave him an inquisitive look. Encouraged, he backtracked a few steps before turning to head over to the opposite side of the room. Stopping before the table that was adjacent to the singed couch, he rifled through the stack. "Um, I have … textbooks. And old flyers." He lifted one heavy tome in his hand and threw her a sheepish smile. "What do you say to Combinatorics?"
"Combinatorics." He ran a finger down the spine of the book.
"Common and what?"
"Combinatorics," he repeated, voice even and patient.
"Common and … torics?" She repeated uncertainly. "I'm … not really sure what that is, but … fantasy?"
He looked amused. "Actually, it's a math text."
She grimaced. "No, thanks." Clearing her throat, she waved a hand. "I mean, I'm sure it's a very enlightening subject, but it's not really my idea of reading for pleasure."
"Not mine either." He stood, awkwardly rubbing his elbow as he glanced through the rest of the books in the pile. "Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be something else that's any more appealing."
"Oh." Deflated, she started to curl up into a ball against the corner.
"Wait, wait." He held up his hands. "How about I go pick up some books from the bookstore for you? What do you like to read?"
Kaetlyn looked up at him, blinking evenly as the color crept into her cheeks. One of her biggest secrets was her penchant for reading romance novels. Call it a guilty pleasure, but when she wanted to curl up with a book, she'd turned to her stash of historical romances complete with dukes and debutantes. They didn't necessarily have to be bodice-rippers, but she certainly didn't mind the ones that were.
And as Cian gazed down at her expectantly, she suddenly realized with dismay that she may never get her chance to read another romance. Sending him out to get her a romance ranked up there with sending him out for tampons or something. Hell, even back when she'd been alive, she'd always tried to furtively check out the books from the library, hands covering particularly torrid front covers. Thank goodness for self-scanners.
"Kae?" Cian prompted.
Unable to think of a suitable solution, she blurted out, "Can I go to a library?"
She hadn't really been out on the streets since the day Cian trapped her in his CD and by now, she'd developed a case of nerves that threatened to overwhelm her. Straggling behind Cian, she followed in his footsteps closely and tried to avoid getting in the way of the oblivious pedestrians.
Cian stopped short and she squeaked when she tumbled into his back, walking right through him. "Oh!" She backed up quickly. "Sorry! Sorry!"
He rubbed his chest with an odd, pondering expression. "It's okay. It doesn't really feel like anything. Just a bit … cold."
"Yup, guess you have to work at it harder if you actually want to touch me." He sent her a leering smile that was quickly ruined when a lady walking past him did a double-take and scowled, quickening her steps as she veered off course away from him.
Cian flushed while Kaetlyn broke out into loud guffaws. He muttered softly, glancing around him to make sure no one was staring at him, "I'm so glad you found that funny."
"You set yourself up. That's what you get for your snarky comments," she rejoined.
His expression turned downtrodden and he mumbled, "I'm not snarky. Haden is snarky. I make one innocent comment and suddenly, I'm the bad guy."
"Yup," she said as she breezed right through him. He sucked in a deep breath and turned to watch her go through the deep mahogany doors of the library.
Then she poked her head back out. "Coming?"
"Yes!" he said, irritated.
A kid with a mop of blonde curls standing next to him jolted and let go of the balloon he was holding. Staring wide-eyed as it floated up into the sky, the boy turned his eyes to Cian and his nostrils started to flare.
Cian held up his hands. "Sorry! Do you want another –"
Fat tears spilled over as the boy started to wail and his mother turned to glare daggers at Cian.
"Sorry. I'm sorry! Don't cry!" Cian peered around desperately. "Oh, for - where the hell do you buy the damn balloons?"
The woman all but bared her teeth at him, hauling her son up into her arms and striding away while throwing another nasty look at him over her shoulder.
Cian turned to glare at Kaetlyn, but the girl had already disappeared into the library. Feeling like a fool, he shoved the doors open and stalked in.
The Bryden branch consisted of two floors with a winding staircase behind the librarian's circulation desk and pale oak shelves. Directly above the stairs, a circular, segmented skylight took prominence in the middle of the whitewashed ceiling. Kaetlyn looked up, dark hair spilling down her back as she stood in the natural spotlight and the way the light danced through her hazy figure, creating a perfect soft focus image, made Cian catch his breath.
She turned to him, the light feathering upon her eyelashes. "Is the fiction section on the second level?"
He glanced around them. There weren't many patrons and as far as he could see, there were only an elderly old man sitting at a round table near the children's books, perusing a newspaper, and a young redheaded teenager pushing a cart of books through an aisle, re-shelving them while snapping her gum. A librarian, a spindly lady dressed in a loose navy blouse and black skirt stood behind the circulation desk, attention focused on the computer monitor.
On one hand, it may be a good thing to have fewer witnesses in case something happens with Kaetlyn. On the other, it can get bad real fast if it was so quiet, all attention would immediately zone onto him in case something did happen with Kae.
The dilemma of his life.
He dipped his head in a terse nod at Kaetlyn and then made his way to the staircase, hoping it would be even more secluded on the second floor. He felt Kae follow him closely, the hair on the black as his neck standing up. Chills always ran down his spine whenever he picked up on a ghostly presence. These days, with Kaetlyn living in his apartment, his skin seemed to be in a perpetual state of gooseflesh. If he got particularly close to her, he usually made a beeline to the bathroom afterwards to take a hot shower to keep the chill from settling in his bones and making his "ghostie senses" immune.
Haden seemed to find a twisted humor in how most guys had to take cold showers when they find themselves getting uncomfortably intimate with a girl and here Cian was, nearly boiling his skin –
The man didn't get to finish because Kaetlyn had gotten so embarrassed, she'd slapped the man across the arm. Except she'd underestimated her strength again and Haden ended up creeping off to get his dislocated shoulder popped back into place.
Cian hadn't been able to keep a grin off his face for two days straight afterward in spite of Kaetlyn's apparent mortification. Even the charred remnants of the wooden stand next to the sofa (courtesy of Haden's irritation) barely made a scratch in Cian's primal satisfaction.
He stood on the landing on the second floor and was greeted by neat, horizontal lines of aisles, staggered one after the other. A row of computers stood by the furthermost wall, screensavers dancing across the monitors. It was completely silent on this floor except for the soft, electronic hum. Perfect.
He whispered, "What kind of books do you want?"
Kaetlyn turned to him. "Do you have a library card?"
"Can I check my books out by myself?"
Perturbed, he cast her an amused smile. "It might look a bit funny to have books floating in midair over to the librarian."
"Oh, but there are self-scanners."
"It might look a bit funny to have books floating in midair over to self-scanners too."
Kaetlyn turned silent. "Do you think I can materialize –"
"What kind of books are you going to borrow?" He laughed. "I promise I won't laugh even if it's Kama Sutra or something."
"I don't need Kama Sutra," she snapped.
"Because you're an expert already?" he grinned widely.
Oh, she set herself up for that one. "Because I'm a ghost maybe?" She was practically glowing pink now. "I don't need –"
"Oh, shut up."
She turned and marched off in search, slipping straight through the first shelf. Cian, still smiling, made his way around and into the aisle. She wasn't there and he called out softly, "Where are you?"
Her voice sniped at him from somewhere in the distance. "Why don't you come and find me if you're so good at catching ghosts?"
His smile widened and anticipation lit up his eyes as he stretched his arms, craning his neck. Taking a step into the aisle, he relaxed and his senses kicked in, the humming turning into a loud roar in his ears. He hadn't done this in a while and the blood pumped furiously through his veins. "You asked for it, Kae."
There was silence and then her startled reply came, "Wh – what?"
He rolled back onto the balls of his feet, bounced lightly as he mapped out the library and all possible routes in his mind and then he sprung forward, flitting through the rows of stacked books as he tracked the ghost and zoned in on her.
Even though he kept silent, he could feel Kae tense up and then she exclaimed, "I didn't mean it like that!"
"Too late," he murmured as he careened into the next row, pulling up short. Not here.
"For god's sake, I'm not going to play hide and seek with you," she said crossly.
There. There. He whipped around and zipped down three rows, the musty smell of books delicious in the air. His whole body was fairly buzzing now. "Fine," he purred. "Stay there for me then."
"Stop it. You're – you're hunting me, you jerk!" she responded, alarmed.
"That's right," he sang. He stalked throughout the next aisle, eyes narrowed as he tried to pinpoint her exact location.
"Stop. I'm not some animal. I'm one hundred percent against hunting and bloodthirsty games and –"
He started picking up speed again, dashing pass two rows and ducking right into the next aisle, heading down it before he made a turn back into the walkway. "The more you keep blabbering, the more clues you leave for me."
"No clues! I'm just standing right here because this is absolutely ridicu – lah!"
He was just about to pass the aisle she was in and he jerked to a stop, his shoes squeaking against the linoleum floor as he whirled around, catching his hands on the opposite sides of the bookshelves. The spans of his arms blocked out the hallway's light and his shadow fell upon her, dimming the narrow path. She stared at him, eyes widened, and his lips broadened into a feral grin. "Found you," he murmured.
Kaetlyn tried to recover, scoffing as she rolled her eyes. "So what? You going to tackle me or –"
Cian lunged for her and she instinctively threw herself aside, going through the shelf into the next aisle. She stumbled about, trying to catch her balance which was hard since she couldn't grab anything to hold herself up.
By the time she righted herself, Cian was back in her aisle, practically on top of her again, and she vaulted into the next passageway, sprinting for it. She shrieked, "You're crazy! I don't want to play anymore!"
"This is good practice," His disembodied voice filtered out from somewhere close by. Too close. "Take it as a lesson."
She ducked low, thinking that perhaps he could see her ghostly aura, and crept forward. "Lesson on what?"
"Lesson on how to escape people you want to escape."
"How about you teach me self-defense instead, starting with the ways to go about crippling you?" She peeked around a shelf, catching sight of his brown jacket two rows down and she staggered off in the opposite direction.
He laughed freely. "We'd keep that in mind for the next lesson."
"I hate you."
"Keep up with the insults and I'd show you just how much you're going to hate me all the sooner."
She kept quiet, making a face as she slinked her way back to the staircase. Maybe if she escaped and got back to the apartment before Cian realized it, that would show the stupid mediator how idiotic he was.
She stopped short with a muttered curse as a familiar brown fabric slipped past her out of the corner of her eyes. "How the hell do you keep finding me?" she snapped as she barreled through a stack of books when she realized Cian was heading her way again.
"Because I'm good."
Her skin prickled and she thought her hair must be standing on end. She had this uneasy sensation of being herded and something in the pit of her stomach pulled on her, as if she wanted to disappear on the spot. She went down on her knees by the passageway in between the lines of shelves and she peered out, listening for his footsteps.
There was no sound and she frowned. A thought came to her and she scowled darkly. Watch him be the one to abandon her in this library while she's crawling around on her hands and knees like an idiot. If she went home and found him reclining in front of the TV, laughing it up with Haden, she'd slaughter them both.
But chills slithered down her spine then and just as she turned around, she realized too late that he was directly behind her. She nearly tripped as she clambered up to her feet and for one whole second, he just stood there, beaming at her. Then he leapt for her and suddenly, she was flying backward, the wind knocked out of her.
She jerked to a halt as his arm cinched around her waist and she snapped forward as he yanked her to him. His other hand clutched the frame of a shelf to keep their balance and he breathed heavily even as he leaned over her, grinning in blatant satisfaction. "Tag." His voice was husky. "You're it."
Kaetlyn couldn't breathe so it was fortunate that she didn't need to. She clutched the front of his forest green knit sweater that was visible now that he'd left the buttons on his brown suede jacket unfastened. She narrowed her eyes on him as she tried to catch her thoughts. He was so warm and the way his hazel eyes twinkled, warm gold entwined with moss green, was fairly distracting. "You – I – hateful."
"At least I didn't topple you over to the ground and pinned you down," he said. Then he blinked. "Hey, I rhymed."
"You – hated!" She was still spluttering and she raised her hand just as she remembered the last incident she slapped someone across his shoulder. Dropping her hand sullenly, she glowered at the man.
Cian pulled away from her and inclined his head, casting his eyes about. "Thank goodness no one was around."
"Too bad. It might have been funny for them to watch you run up and down the aisles like a madman," she muttered.
He bumped her shoulder with his and teased, "Don't be a sore loser."
She looked up pointedly, peering around for a camera. "Maybe they have surveillance and they've already phoned an asylum."
"Well, that'd be a shame. How else would you get to check out your Harlequin romances then?"
Her head whipped around and she gaped at him. "How did you –"
He was already snickering, but the words wedged in her throat when a weird creak caught both their attention. Cian stopped laughing, brows knitting together as he tensed. Kaetlyn turned her head just in time to see the bookshelf come crashing down upon them and she instinctively ducked low, bringing her hands up over her head.
There was a muffled grunt from Cian and a round of scattered thumps as books came tumbling down around them, but there wasn't that loud crash she'd been expecting. After a moment's worth of silence, she opened her eyes to find Cian's body somehow curling over her while his arms braced against the pale oak shelf. His head was crooked awkwardly away from it and she realized that there was a shallow wound along his temple, trickling blood.
Teeth gritted, he released a pained breath. "Shit."
Her throat worked as she stood up in that small space, reaching up to help him support the shelf. Her hands passed through his and vaporized right through it.
"You should have jumped out of the way and left me here. The shelf would have gone through me anyway," she said as she desperately tried to will her hands to grab hold of the wooden frame.
"Out of the way to where?" He grunted as he tried to straighten up.
"I don't know," she said behind clenched teeth even as she cursed out her hands in her mind. "Back to the walkway or somewhere safer than under an incoming tree."
"Did you just say tree?"
"Incoming tree product! Whatever!" she snapped as she tried to focus on her hands. They tingled slightly like the feeling of blood rushing into a numbed limb.
Cian scowled at her. "I'm not going to jump backward and just leave you here."
"Sure you can. It's not so far away. You could have easily leapt for it. You're a good leaper!" She undulated her arms in an awkward wave. "And I'm like air. No bodily damage to me from hard projectiles and - oh god, you're bleeding." She flapped her shaking hands furiously as she gave herself a migraine in her attempt to materialize her useless limbs.
"Yeah, well, I didn't have much time to think this through," he hissed as he slowly pushed the shelf up.
"What happened?" She squeezed her eyes shut and finally got her hands working as they fumbled over his hands to help prop up the shelf. Pushing hard, she nearly sent the bookshelf toppling the opposite way and Cian's hands jerked out to keep hold of it. He gave her a look, but she was too busy studying the books that lay around them in haphazard heaps. "What did you do?"
Cian snorted as he swiped a hand across his cheek, catching the rivulet of blood. He glanced down at his hand and grimaced. "I didn't do anything. The shelf just collapsed by itself."
"Shelves don't collapse by themselves." Without thinking about it, she arched up on her toes and reached out to check his wound. Her fingers barely grazed his skin and he shivered. "Either you must have done something or someone else must have shoved the stupid …" she trailed off.
They both stiffened at the same time. Slanting their heads to one side carefully, they eyed the bookshelf which had now been emptied of all its tomes. Kaetlyn dragged her eyes from bottom to up and she flinched, a startled gasp escaping through her lips, when she was met with a pair of dull, black eyes from the opposite side. Fixated on her with an unnerving intensity, they seemed to bore right through her.
"You two really talk too much," a gravelly voice spoke.
Then a grey hand whipped out through one of the spaces and grabbed hold of Kaetlyn's throat, hauling her forward through the wooden structure.
Thanks for the votes in the SKoW Round 6 Awards! Unfinished Business has been named as the winner in the Most Humorous category and I've been awarded the Amazing Wordsmith title in this round. Much thanks to everybody for your support, reviews, and congrats notes! You're all the best.
© Copyright 08/22/2008 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.