Every inch of my body felt like it had been beaten by a sledge hammer, and I wasn't sure if I had any motor control over my limbs left. Even my sensory control wasn't in proper working order as I couldn't tell anything about my surroundings which required me to open my eyes. The slow response from this thought to the actual movement of my eyelids only proved that I wasn't in the best shape. Blurry shapes took a while to come into focus but once they did I still didn't have any idea where I was.
Above me, a large chandelier twinkled, the many different colored crystals hanging from it throwing a rainbow of spots off the walls. From that alone I knew that I was no longer in Gabriel's apartment. The chandelier was something would've hand-picked which meant one thing. I was in my new apartment. I bolted upright and then immediately regretted it when a wave of nausea rolled over me and I nearly passed out again.
As the blackness slowly receded and the apartment came back into focus, the first thing I saw was Garrett crouching beside me, peering closely at me.
"It's about time," he said, although he sounded relieved.
"How long have I been out?" I asked hoarsely. My mouth and throat felt chalky, the bitter aftertaste of magic.
"A little over twenty four hours," said Garrett, still watching me carefully. I slowly rose back into a sitting position, the wave of nausea less forceful this time.
"A whole day?" I gasped. I had never been out that long before.
"Gabriel didn't exactly ease you back in," muttered Garrett darkly.
I rubbed my still pounding head. "I guess not."
"He must be nervous," wondered Garrett, almost to himself.
I looked over to see him studying his shoes. He had never said anything like that before. "What do you mean?" I pressed. "Nervous about what?"
"Nothing," said Garrett shaking his head, "I shouldn't have said anything."
Before I could ask him more questions, he got to his feet, turned on his heel and spread his arms wide, a convincing smile plastered on his face.
"Welcome to your new home."
With those words curiosity swelled in me to overtake my wish to press Garret for more information. I slowly rose from the couch, turning on the spot to appraise my new home. After this afternoon, I was nervous about what liberties Gabriel might have taken with the interior design of the apartment. But a quick glance around showed that he had upheld his previous aptitude for sticking with my preferences. In fact, as I looked closer, I saw that he had surpassed himself.
Besides the chandelier, of which there was another crystal one I could see hanging in the bedroom, he had selected about a dozen other paintings and sculptures placed strategically throughout the apartment whose forms and colors complimented each other. There was an impressive stereo under the flat screen television in the entertainment center with an equally impressive collection of music on either side of the speakers. These things, the art and the music were the choices that really mattered to me; they were my only forms of freedom in an existence I was trapped in. The only forms of expression that were entirely mine and not dictated by the rules of the game I had to play with Gabriel, and unfortunately Garrett too.
I wanted to take more time to look through the music, which I was slightly more partial to than the art but I decided to save it for later. The deep purple couch which I had recently vacated was curved to fit the living room area and matched the two egg-shaped chairs. In the center of the room was a glass aquarium coffee table with a multitude of exotic fish swimming through vibrant reeds. Each new apartment more or less included the same style of interior design but the coffee table idea was new and I found surprisingly that I liked it. In fact, this apartment was slightly nicer than the previous ones, had the feeling that slightly more care was placed in the choosing of the furniture. But far from making me happy, it made me uneasy. What was Gabriel playing at?
I made my way towards the kitchen, which was more or less standard although the appliances had an expensive air to them that the granite countertops reflected, and opened the refrigerator. It was already stocked top to bottom with all of my favorite foods and drinks, another new development because I usually had to go out and buy my own food. The same was true for all of the cabinets that I opened as I circled the kitchen.
"Is everything okay?" asked Garret, who had been watching me closely.
I shook my head to silence to him and made my way to my bedroom. A queen-sized bed took up most of the space, its crimson bedspread standing out starkly against the white carpet, white walls, and crystal chandelier. On the end of the bed was a bouquet of flowers, held together by a bangle identical to the ones on my wrist. It was Gabriel's reminder that he was still in control.
I stalked back into the kitchen and tossed the flowers into the garbage disposal, stabbing the button to grind them into powder. There was an awful grating sound when it reached the bangle but I just smirked. Gabriel would have to pay to have it fixed if it broke.
"Anything wrong, Zola?" repeated Garrett.
He seemed concerned, but that might have been the sadistic look on my face as the last of the flowers were destroyed.
"Nothing but the usual," I answered grimly.
Garrett nodded. "You like the apartment?"
"Yes. It's great actually," I admitted.
"Good." He paused and then added, "Are you ready?"
"No, but when am I ever ready?" I sighed. I returned to the couch. Now that the wave of adrenaline had passed a new wave of nausea was beginning to build. "I sick of being Gabriel's servant," I blurted out.
Garrett sat down next to me on the couch. He tentatively reached a hand out with the intention to place it on my knee but seemed to think twice and withdrew it. Right now though, I didn't care about the pain or the longing, I reached out my own hand and grabbed his, holding on it.
He returned the hold with a smile and said, "You won't be for much longer."
"You're supposed to say that."
He shook his head. "I mean it, Zola. If it's the last thing I do, I will free you from Gabriel."
Although it is his job by design to help me free myself from Gabriel, Garrett has never formally promised this to me. Is he perhaps giving me a hint that the boy that I am fated to be with is the boy at this school? Does he somehow know that this time is the time?
"Do you think this time is it?" I ask, ensuring that my voice was innocent curiosity.
"Yes, but I think that about every time, don't I?" he mused.
"Maybe this time is different," I pressed.
"And that's what you think every time," he laughed though not unkindly.
I lapsed back into silence, studying our interlocked hands, surprised that I didn't feel weak at the contact.
"Zola?" asked Garrett when I didn't speak for several minutes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it."
"It's not that," I countered. "I was just thinking about all the past…relationships."
"You mean games?" clarified Garrett, tracing a pattern with his thumb on the back of my hand.
That was the word Gabriel used to describe these trials I went through, but coming from Garrett's lips, it made my skin crawl. I unlocked my fingers and drew back to look him in the eye. A challenge. "No, I mean relationships," I said angrily.
He flinched at the knives in my voice, but instead of backing off like usual, he rose to the fight.
"Don't kid yourself, Zola. They weren't relationships, they were competitions between you and Gabriel…and me. We were players in games that Gabriel watched us lose," he snapped.
"Funny, I don't seem to remember you having anything to lose in these so-called games," I shot back.
Garrett jumped to his feet. "I have everything to lose!"
"I don't count!" I yelled, jumping to my own feet. "I don't matter. If I find him, I'm still here. You can still see me whenever you want. But if I lose, I lose everything!"
"See that's your problem, Zola! You think all of this is so simple and clean-cut. You see everything in terms of you and you mystery boyfriend that you don't care what happens to me or anyone else in these stupid little games," he retorted.
"And that's your problem, Garrett. You see everything in terms of me too," I said quietly.
After Garrett stormed out, I retired to my bedroom, in a fog of exhaustion and with a very good chance of throwing up. I went into the full bathroom with the intention of taking a long hot shower, when I caught sight of my reflection in the gilded mirror. I hadn't seen my reflection in months, and the face staring back at me surprised me as if I had truly forgotten what I looked like. I wasn't ugly without magic, in fact I was very pretty by human standards, but with magic I was nothing if not beautiful. I had high cheek bones, clear green eyes, full lips, and dark hair that fell in natural waves to the middle of my back. What I assumed was my little Persian blood showed in my bronze coloring and I was thin but not unhealthily so. And with the magic, I seemed to be glowing, the picture-perfect girl.
Short of breaking the mirror, I stuck my tongue out at my reflection and took refuge from it in the shower. I wasn't vain but the magic made me pretty to the point that it attracted the wrong guys, the ones who got in my way and refused to leave. I liked myself better without the enhancements, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. I laughed to myself as I watched the bubbles swirl down the drain between my feet, with everything going on it was comical that I was concerned about how I looked.
After my shower, I faced my reflection once more, wondering what Gabriel was plotting this time around, wondering what was making Garret so angry about this one, and wondering if this one could really be the one. I laughed again at how many times I had thought that.
"Let the games begin," I said, letting the steam obscure my reflection.