Outside the sky was turning from deep navy to a smudgy, smoky grey. Still Cecily lay curled up in her bathroom, shuddering and gasping. She didn't dare open her eyes. On the inside of her eyelids and in the foreground of her mind, she could still see her disfigured skin – even that watered down memory was too much for her.
It was the piercing beep of her alarm clock that stirred her. It sounded muffled and far away. The alarm clock heralded the start of a run-of-the-mill day – careful preparation and decoration of herself before shuffling sullenly off to work. Right now, the idea of normality seemed as distant to Cecily as the beeping from across the apartment.
Ideas of work started to break through the images of the lines and smudges smothered across her arms and legs. The little coffee shop, quiet and still. Customers came and went at a gentle pace, usually elderly, almost always alone. The employees were also generally silent. Cecily, above the others; Fynn, too shy to speak; and Wren –
That was when it struck her.
Wren – Wren with her strange ways, always hidden behind some book or article on spirits or star signs or witches. Wren had hated Cecily from the start, and Cecily had never tried to hide her mutual feelings. And then, of course – of course – yesterday evening; it was all making sense now.
Cecily had been in the bar. The evening was just beginning, and she was still sober as a nun. As she waited for her drink to arrive, she caught sight of Wren out of the corner of her eye. Usually Wren's clothes were boyish and unflattering, and her hair was tied roughly back out of the way. Not this evening, though – this evening, she had made an effort, and was looking far pleasanter than Cecily would have hoped.
With a scowl, Cecily looked away. That Wren could be on a date – that seemed the only plausible option – while Cecily was alone was ridiculous to her. For the next few minutes, she stared hard at the glass doors to the bar, hoping to catch sight of Wren's suitor and stop him in his tracks.
To her shock, a figure she recognized appeared through the rain: Fynn. He also looked dapper, and Cecily rapidly did the equations in her mind. Before he could even open the door, she was over there like a bullet.
"Fynn!" she said with a sickly smile, obstructing his path as he tried to go inside. "I'd hoped I'd catch you. Wren just texted me. She's really sorry, but something's come up – she can't make it tonight."
Fynn blinked at her, a strange mix of shock and blankness on his face. It took him a moment to gather his thoughts and respond.
"But – what? Did she say why?"
"No. I thought that was a little strange, but I didn't want to pry."
Fynn had never been the brightest young man, and a simple mind and trusting nature led him to rarely question what he was told. With a downhearted thank you, he turned and left.
Cecily beamed and giggled to herself as she went back into the bar, a spring in her step. Wren, sitting in a booth and frowning at her watch, had missed the whole adventure – it was time to update her.
"Why, hello there! Fancy seeing you here," she said, settling into the seat opposite Wren. "I thought you generally avoided crowds in case they tried to burn you at the stake."
"I'm not interested, Cecily," Wren muttered, keeping her eyes facing the table and going slightly red.
"No. Neither is Fynn. I just had a little chat with him at the door, and he's headed home." Wren's head snapped upwards and her lips grew thin. Cecily smiled.
"What have you done, Cecily?" Wren said shakily. "What did you say to him?"
But Cecily just stood up and walked away, laughing a little more with every step. Each time Wren called after her, she felt her spirits rise – until:
"Aalid geddyn basse –"
"Stop that," Cecily snapped. "Stop being so stupid, you little freak."
"– beisht doosih."
Cecily span round and brought her fist down on Wren's table. From behind the bar, a member of staff yelled something, but Cecily could barely hear it. Wren was sitting with her eyes closed, her face expressionless.
"You think you can scare me," Cecily hissed, "but you can't. I'm not going to believe your witchy rubbish. Keep playing with your hocus-pocus – I don't care. But don't you dare think you can scare me."
With that she had stormed out of the club. No longer in the partying mood, she slunked home, scowling at a homeless woman outside her apartment block on the way – she wasn't feeling particularly charitable. Even as she fell asleep, she couldn't quite get rid of that scratching of fear at the back of her mind that told her there was something more to Wren than some made up words.
And now here she was. And Wren was to blame.