Chapter 1: Tuesday
Something slammed into Eva's stomach and woke her up.
Awareness that this would be one of the rough ones set her fumbling for her phone, no matter how much she'd rather turn over and burrow into the blankets. Dragging her eyes open, she turned the phone's screen on — seventeen minutes before her alarm, did the magic have to? — and read the Dog's Head Bay Gazette's headlines and community calendar page, looking for clues. Unicorns set to arrive today. Please God let it be that I'm meant to unload. It wouldn't be just that, she already knew, not and have her feeling so awful.
Further sleep was a lost cause even if she wouldn't feel worse after, so she staggered out of bed. After a shower that had to have half-drained the Morgan family hot water tank, Eva pulled on the jeans and loose shirt she always wore on Fixing days. Her stomach eased as she began doing what the magic wanted.
"No school today, Mom," Eva said as she walked into the kitchen.
The look on her mother's face — angry, worried, resigned — kicked Eva's teeth. The familiar cycle of thoughts chased each other: first pitying Mom, then the flash of anger because if it's hard for her to be my mother how does she think it feels to be me, then choking all that down because they'd had that conversation too many times for it to be worth repeating. False sense of security on both our sides after two months quiet.
"Oh, EvaMay." Her mother pulled her own phone out and tapped; emailing an excuse to Eva's teachers, Eva knew from all the times before. "We should look again at online schools if this is going to keep happening."
Eva tried to ignore Mom's implication that Fixing might stop. And what again? You didn't let me back when I wanted to. "My teachers this year understand when I have to miss." She'd missed a few days in September; they'd let her make up the work with no fuss about it. She opened a canister and scooped out half a cup of feathers. "Forgot I was low on these."
"BethAnne'll look for some more old feather pillows when I take her to the shops."
"Hasn't she already resupplied her booth?" Eva poured the feathers into the bottom of a sturdy teapot, then set it on a lit gas burner and stirred them as they charred to ash.
BethAnne had decided at eight that her allowance wasn't enough and started buying things from thrift shops to decorate and resell. By the time she was ten, she'd graduated from showing pictures on her phone around town to renting a space in the local craft mall.
"Hoping the big after-Thanskgiving rush repeats this year."
Eva coughed. Why's the air so hazy? Crap, I forgot the vent fan! She flipped the switch next to the stove, then reached back to shove up the window's lower edge, blowing smoke out into the backyard.
When the feathers were burned down to powder, she poured hot water in and stirred again until the water dissolved the ash, then poured it into a mug. She sipped the feather-ash tea, then grimaced. Still tastes like burned stuff. She squirted honey into it from a bear-shaped bottle, then sipped again, trying to convince herself the honey hid the taste.
"That can't be nutritious."
"It's not about that." Of the emergency spells, levitation was the fiddliest to set up — balancing a rock on a feather. By the time she got wherever she needed to go, a rock in her hand would be held by feather bits, so she'd be able to do the levitation spell without most of the setup.
"At least have a real breakfast."
Eva bit her lip. Having something to run on would be better than not, but if she stopped for it, the way she'd felt first thing, it wouldn't stay down. "Something I can eat on my bike," she finally said.
"It'd be easier if you had a car."
"No it wouldn't." Eva'd explained that the distance a Fixer could travel soon enough, combined with local problems, determined how often she'd have Fixing duties, so if she learned to drive she'd have more Fixing days, but the explanation bounced off. Worse than Mom was Ms. Jarner, her school counselor, since driver's ed was required.
She finished the burned feather concoction as BethAnne bounced into the kitchen, still in her nightgown, and threw Eva's beeping phone at her. "I'm dropping it in the toilet next time."
Eva killed the alarm and shoved the phone into her pocket. "I'll turn you into a frog," she said, her tone milder than the words since the younger sister had some right to be annoyed. Junior high started half an hour later, and Eva rode her bike in case she had to Fix something after school. Ten miles, a few minutes by car, was an hour by bike since she couldn't go flat out through town; an hour and a half of lost sleep was enough to bother anyone.
"Ha! If you could do that, you'd've done it to Arabella, when she stole Noah."
"Girls. Enough." Their mother put an omelette in front of BethAnne and handed another, wrapped in a tortilla, to Eva. "And what's this about Noah?"
"He turned out to be stealable, so I'm better off for him being out of my life," Eva said, the story they'd agreed upon. "I'm off. Don't expect me for lunch," she said, shouldered her bag, and left, getting away from her mom's disappointed look. Dammit, BethAnne... Dating, finally, was the first normal thing Eva'd done in years. Mom'd been so happy Eva was doing something normal that Eva'd pretended to meet Noah in town a couple evenings a week for the past month. If turning BethAnne into a frog were an option, for ruining Eva's way of making Mom happy, Eva would've done it.
Pedaling down Saltgrass Lane and steering one-handed around the roughest spots, she chewed bites of omelette wrap.
BethAnne was what their mom understood — blonde, cute, a social butterfly, like Mom as a tween and teenager according to everyone. Eva was dark-haired and a near-loner with the same few friends since elementary school, like the girls on Dad's side of the family from what she'd heard, She only had second-hand information about them, because Mom hadn't gotten along with them either. So it wasn't BethAnne's fault for having no idea how it was to be unsatisfactory, not meeting any expectations.
Eva'd kept the dating box checked for almost four months, counting when Mom hadn't known they'd broken up; now, the sole tick mark was erased. She probably expected me to be more upset about getting dumped, Eva realized, too late for it to do any good, and sighed again. It had bothered her a little when it happened, but that was weeks ago, and even at the time she'd known it was for the best: she wasn't cut out to be a sports girlfriend and Arabella was.
Even though Eva knew it wasn't fair to expect BethAnne to understand how finally making Mom happy felt, Eva was upset with her sister. [I'm not happy with what I've done here. Load it in as subtext somewhere else?]
The sun on Eva's back after turning north on Shoreline Drive was welcome. The unusual south wind, also on Eva's back, however, was less so. If she'd had the house to herself in the morning instead of getting distracted by breakfast, south wind would have been fine; as it was, though, bits of her hair kept getting blown forward. Some just got in her face, but a few snapped back and stung her cheeks. She pedaled harder, trying to go faster than the wind was blowing her hair.
Racing the wind, Eva reached Jaw Inlet in what seemed like no time. She hopped off her bike and unclasped her helmet, then locked them on the usual tree next to the trail to the inlet. Along the trail, behind the dune, there was a park bench. Eva sat on its least seagull-excrement coated spot, turned sideways and put her feet on it right in front of her, buried her face in her knees, and breathed salty air for a few minutes.
Sometimes, only that worked.
Just another eight months, she told herself. It sounded long, but eight months back, March, spring break, felt like yesterday. For that long, she could stand anything.
In July, she'd be eighteen, and summer would be good timing to quit school with less fuss over it. Then she could get a job (what kind, flexible enough for her Fixing, she wasn't sure, but she'd have had to figure that out a year later anyway) and move out. Mom would be disappointed that Eva wasn't going to college, probably also not getting the right kind of job, but Eva wouldn't be in the house to observe that disappointment every day.
She couldn't go to college, even one that would take her on a GED. Even if the college wasn't in a large city, the campus's population would always provide problems to Fix, so she'd flunk out as fast as possible.
Her stomach turned. Either the omelette wrap wasn't sitting right, or, more likely, the magic had decided she'd pitied herself long enough. Right, time to get back at it. Eva stretched, stood, and shook it off, then set out down the trail. That was how she'd handled things since the moment late in elementary school when she'd realized she'd be grown and on her own in fewer years than she'd already been alive: you've made it this far, keep going.
She could see most of Jaw Inlet's surface from the rock where she sat and waited. The water sprite wasn't visible, but they didn't need to breathe. If it was collecting gossip, the boundary between the inlet and the rest of the bay or the mouth of the river that flowed into the inlet were where it might be. She scanned those areas again, though a small sprite could hide even behind the choppy waves so not seeing Jaw didn't prove it wasn't busy. On the other hand, if I wait for the magic to nudge harder... She splashed her hand to call the sprite.
A few minutes later, a creature like a teal salamander with flippers popped above the waves twenty feet out and paddled in. "What kept you, Jaw?"
"I could ask you the same."
"Bit of everything afoot today. The unicorns — "
"I know about that already."
"Not just arriving, Dog's Head says. Increasing hospitality demands all up and down this coast."
She might be there to unload, but cutting open sacks of oats and corn was beneath Eva's talents. "What else?" Not that she wouldn't do it, but it couldn't be her Fix.
"The fish are upset." Jaw waved toward the bay, where fishing boats were visible on their way out to sea.
"That's normal." Fish were a species, and humans were a species that ate them. Water sprites had opinions about land creatures eating water creatures, which hopefully Jaw wouldn't go into, but the magic hadn't asked Eva to change food webs. She'd be running around rescuing mice and bugs too and never have a moment's peace.
"Dog's Head says Pacific says something's going on up the coast."
"Half again past the old lighthouse, by the river. Pacific says the land creatures there are reporting a lot of rumbling."
Eva scowled: she could get that far, but it'd mean not being around to unload the unicorns, which the town paid her for. "Anything else?"
"Dog's Head hadn't heard from Ear."
That was weird enough to follow up on: water sprites were shameless gossips. Even being less than conscientious about visiting upstream neighbors was unusual, as that was the opportunity to show how much one knew, but one would never miss meeting with a downstream neighbor since gossip from more places flowed downstream before flowing back up in all directions. Some people said in the old days, before magic was cut off, water sprites had been an early version of the internet; Eva didn't know about that, but it would have worked. "I'll start with that," she said, "unless there's something bigger and you're holding out on me." It didn't hurt, either, that helping unload the unicorns afterward wouldn't be out of the question.
Jaw shook its head. "If you hear of anything better, I want to know about it."
"Of course." Eva smiled; that was such classic sprite-ness. She pulled a rough rock out of her bag. "Ready to trade?"
Eva reached into the shallow spot next to her big rock and took a few of the smoothest rocks, then dropped in the rough rocks from her bag. Jaw splashed to the shallow spot and licked the rocks' broken edges. "Delicious."
"I'll be back if it doesn't get too late."
She walked up the trail. As it took her over the last dune before the road, she yelled "Hey!" and broke into a run. Rodney and Max waved back sarcastically as they threw her bike into the back of Rodney's truck, then took off.
Eva got to the tree and swore under her breath, then picked up her lock. They'd cut the cable again, though the cable's box had said it was hardened: that had been her fourth bike lock, each more expensive than the last. How the hell do they keep slicing through them like nothing? She needed a spell instead for sure, now that they'd gotten through the best one from Ferguson's Hardware. Eva hated to replace hardware with magic, since Mr. Ferguson was nice. If it can't do its job, though...
If I'd been a little sooner, Eva thought, I could have at least tried to stop them, done something. And if I hadn't stopped on the bench... She kicked at the sand, then picked up her helmet, then looked at the time on her phone. Mom wouldn't have left to take BethAnne to school yet; it would be the easiest thing in the world...except for dealing with the fallout. Not worth it, she decided, wrapping the lock cable around itself until it fit in her bag. She could walk it if she had to; Mr. [geography teacher] said people in poor countries walked long distances all the time.
Twenty minutes later, she came to the footbridge by the road over the creek that emptied into Jaw Marsh, cursing the slowness of walking and wondering how people anywhere could stand going so slowly. About ten miles from home to school; maybe eight from here. At this rate... She cursed again: getting her bike back would cut deep into her day before she could start Fixing. Her stomach flopped to make sure she was clear on that being a problem; she took a deep breath, regretting the omelette.
Eva sighed and looked at the time on her phone. Mom and BethAnne would be on their way out of the house; if there was a better plan, Eva wished it would pop into her head, as she tapped [Can you pick me up by the marsh when you take BethAnne in?] into a text message. Fifteen seconds later, in the absence of better ideas, she tapped send.
[What happened?] Mom texted back.
[Rodney and Max again.] That would, unfortunately, be enough.
Fifteen minutes later, Eva rubbed her forehead. Listening to how much harder a car would be to steal wasn't helping, and she still wasn't doing what the magic wanted, and then Mom said she'd talk to Rodney's parents. No! That'll make it worse! "It's not that big a deal, Mom," Eva said from the backseat. "I'll just get it back like always."
"It's the principle."
"They're not worth it."
"Why aren't you mad at them?"
If there was one thing Eva couldn't stand, it was people assuming she had no feelings because she didn't wear them on her sleeve. Just because I don't make sure everyone in the county knows my emotional state — "I am, I just — it doesn't matter."
"Anyway, if you're going to be on campus, maybe you should go to class after all."
There was the reason she'd waited fifteen seconds instead of ten, hoping for a better idea. "It doesn't work that way, Mom." The "stomach flu" she'd had off and on in eighth grade had been the result of trying to put Fixing off until after school. While it hadn't been the actual stomach flu, she hadn't been faking the symptoms.
A few minutes later they arrived at the junior high building; Eva unfastened her seatbelt and moved to get out along with BethAnne.
"I can take you around to the high school side."
"Faster if I walk across the soccer field." She set out, not waiting for the argument. It wasn't — driving around the block would take little more than a minute, while crossing the field took five or ten — but ten minutes in fresh air and relative quiet was preferable to five in a car with Mom, without BethAnne to run interference.
It took more like the full ten than the five it should have, because she couldn't cut across after all: first period PE was using the field. Cyndie and Katrina waved and she waved back; friends would be an overstatement, but they were nice, and might've been friends if she'd been in their year instead of only with them for math. And they get to graduate and get out of here this year.
Rodney's truck was three rows into the parking lot. She looked around, ran across the driveway to it, and climbed up on the back bumper. Her bike was exactly where she'd seen it go. She pulled it to the back, lifted it over the tailgate and balanced it on the back bumper, then jumped back down herself, then pulled the bike down and looked it over. Scuffs on the handlebar curves, but nothing worse. She could fix it herself, not like last time; last time she'd swept floors and washed windows at the bike shop for a week to settle up for the broken chain, torn seat, and bent wheel, and only gotten under her mom's radar about not riding her bike to school by getting rides from Noah. This passes for things going right...
She put on her helmet, hopped on the bike, and pedaled away from the school. "Hey!" someone yelled behind her; she looked back over her shoulder, then pedaled faster. Mrs. Parks, the geometry teacher, who had no patience for Eva's Fixing affecting her school attendance; Eva had been the only freshman to get a C in her class, two years before. She'd wanted to change to an online school that year, but that year her mother had been against it, saying she wanted Eva to have a normal high school experience. Like that was ever possible. She pushed her hair back out of her face with one hand — though it would have been, before she threw that coin in the wishing well at the old lighthouse. She'd never have lived up to BethAnne's popularity but she could've gone unnoticed if she hadn't become a Fixer.
As soon as she was out of sight of the campus, she stopped, finger combed her hair roughly, pulled a hair tie out of her bag, and finally tied back her hair. One problem fixed, an indeterminate number remaining. She wished, not for the first time, that magic would text her assignments instead of nudging her along with vague uneasiness and stomach symptoms.
She took a deep breath. Everyone was as out of her way as they would be all day — Mom had driven off, Rodney and Max were presumably in class — so, finally, she could accomplish something. Ear Inlet, that's a good place to start, nottoofar from here and something going on. And if it turns out not to need me it's on my way to the other.
Less than an hour later, she passed the road to North Bay Elementary and her old neighborhood, and slowed: the river would be next, then the trail to Ear Inlet alongside it. Belatedly, she worried about what she'd find, since Ear missing a meeting with Dog's Head was weird enough to mean something was really wrong. Seeing the creek almost overflowing its banks as she crossed the bridge [expand this bit — she stops, compares pictures or something, etc.] didn't calm her, either: if it were natural causes, those same causes should have affected [the creek that ran into Jaw Inlet], Jaw's upstream, which was at its normal level for November. Something's definitely wrong here. She felt guilty for feeling vaguely satisfied about that fact.
At the trailhead, she looked for something to lock her bike to, then swore, remembering. Take it with me, then. She scowled. The sand and salt wouldn't do it any favors, especially now that it needed its scuffs fixed, but if her bike disappeared with some random person she wouldn't be able to get it back. Without a way to get around town, she'd never be able to save up for a replacement; she could ask Dad for the money when he got home from the fishing boat, but he might think seventeen was too old to be asking for bike money, especially if Mom got to him first, so that couldn't be counted on.
As Eva got close to the creek's mouth, she saw why the creek was running high: water wasn't flowing into the inlet, but around it, as if the inlet had been wrapped in plastic film. There was a visible barrier, between the creek and the inlet, and then the inlet and the bay, though the barrier didn't seem to be made out of anything; new marshes were forming on either side of the inlet proper, where dammed water was overflowing the natural and unnatural barriers. Because this is not normal. She wrinkled her nose against the smell of brackish water, almost as bad as the time BethAnne put compost in her kiddie pool and covered it for a few days to see what happened. The immediate result had been what anyone might expect; the ultimate result had been no more kiddie pool.
Ear Inlet was not much smaller than Jaw Inlet, so it wasn't shocking that she couldn't see Ear. On the other hand, as wrong as something was, Ear ought to be trying to get the attention of anyone who might be able to fix it. If it can. Whatever's wrong is something to do with barriers; what happens if you imprison a water sprite? How would you if you wanted to, even? You couldn't tie one up — she'd seen Jaw dissolve into the water once.
Eva shook her head. I'm jumping to conclusions. Ear might not be paying attention in this exact direction any more than Jaw was. She thought it over, then took off her shoes and socks and stuffed her phone down in her shoe, left her bike behind, just above the soggy ground — out of sight of the road, if anyone managed to steal her bike they deserved it, in spite of the trouble it would cause her — and waded out through the new marsh to the inlet proper.
The barrier between the marsh and the inlet felt like a thin layer of congealed molasses. Surface tension times a million? The plants and fish in it, what's happened to them? How long has this been going on, how long can they live without — ? She shook her head again — it either was recent enough that they were still alive to save, or not — and pushed her hand into the inlet, then splashed it to get Ear's attention. Except that it turned out as more a slosh than a splash, because the excess surface tension kept drops from splashing out.
Instead of the sprite appearing, ripples slowly spread out from the reeds. She dog paddled toward their center, each stroke much harder than usual. It had to be the barrier; she wasn't the best on swim team, but not the worst either, and natural water with less predictable currents was different to swim in but not enough to wear her down like this.
In the reeds, a tied up plastic shopping bag thrashed. That can't be — no one would do that, it must be some animal — She grabbed the bag and tore it open, and barely saw that it was in fact a water sprite inside when the dammed water whooshed, carrying Eva with it. Aware she hadn't thought that through, she tried to hang on to the bag as she kept her head usually above water, but divergent currents pulled it out of her hand within seconds and she couldn't grab it fast enough.
At least that weird surface tension is gone, she thought, swimming across the formerly pent up flow. Then she felt less movement around her and broke form to get her bearings. Out of the inlet entirely, out into the bay proper; paddling the other way across the broken loose water would've taken her to the docks, or out in the shipping lanes.
She shivered; the standing water had warmed, but the bay water hadn't. With no other way out, she picked the nearest spot on the shoreline and swam for it.
A few minutes later, she felt something nudge her. There weren't supposed to be sharks in Dog's Head Bay; she looked over and saw another water sprite, bigger than Jaw or Ear. "You dropped this," Dog's Head said, handing her the bag.
Eva broke form again to stuff it into her pocket. "Sorry."
"I gather you've been to see my upstream?"
Dog's Head laughed. "Yes, things did happen rather suddenly. Where are you heading from here?"
"Back there. I left my bike."
"Your travel contraption, of course. I'm going to find out from my upstream what has happened; would you care to trail along?"
"Oh, yes, thank you." Water sprites rarely offered to pull or carry a human, so Eva hadn't considered the possibility, for all that she was tiring. She put her hand in front of Dog's Head's mid-back fin and her other arm flat against her body to be as streamlined a load as possible, then relaxed as Dog's Head zipped off faster than even the best of the swim team.
Though the boundary between the inlet and the bay was no longer visible, Eva could tell where it was by the sprite waiting there, at the water's edge. Eva pulled herself onto shore and lay there, recovering and hoping to dry off, while Ear and Dog's Head caught up on the news.
"So they came around a few weeks ago and took all my rocks," Ear said, when Dog's Head asked what had happened. "Then a couple nights ago they came back, and I was hungry. They showed me the rock in the bag and I jumped in to eat its edges. Then they tied the bag shut with me inside!"
What happened to a sprite happened to its water; if Ear was wrapped up in something, then so was Ear Inlet, so that explained the boundary. "If they take your rocks again," Eva called over to them, "send word and I'll bring more, but don't get into any more bags."
She'd given up on drying off in the November air, ridden home, started laundry to hide her soaked clothes, taken another long hot shower (with an uneasy feeling that she could almost hear the hot water heater complaining), dressed again, moved her laundry to the dryer, and almost made it back out before her mom got in with groceries. "That's a different shirt."
"Got wet, so I came home and changed," Eva said. "The thing where Orange Creek was backed up, if you've heard about it; I Fixed that."
"Oh, you're done for the day? You could go to your afternoon classes."
Eva shook her head. "There's more." Ear had been a big piece of the magic's plans for her day, but she still felt off, more than aftereffects. "I think I'm supposed to help with the unicorns."
"It's not always easy to tell."
Mom sighed. "I know I can't make you go to school." She'd tried. "But don't you want to be able to get a good job?"
Eva raised her eyebrow. Her parents had graduated from Dog's Head Bay High, and gone on to such prestigious jobs as fishing boat crew and house cleaner, but if she brought up the contradiction, she'd be in trouble. "One afternoon can't make or break that." Especially since her grades were utterly unimportant when she wasn't planning to graduate.
"At least have lunch, then, before you go back out."
She glanced at the kitchen clock; it was almost eleven already, and eating at home would save the cost of a sandwich downtown. "All right, is there anything that needs used up?"
"Not at the moment."
She grabbed a soup tin, holding her breath for the speech about eating out of a can; when it didn't start, she looked over her shoulder and saw that Mom had left the room. Breathing again, Eva started rice in the microwave steamer, then dumped the soup and a can of water into a saucepan. While she heated and stirred the soup, adding basil and garlic, she thought about how things could have been different. If she hadn't been so idealistic in eighth grade, breaking away from the group on the field trip to the old lighthouse to toss that weird old coin into the well and wish for the ability to do something that mattered for people, the last three years — almost exactly — would have been completely different.
Then she shook her head. She might have been more willing to fall into line about things like school if Fixing hadn't given her a way to describe herself, but she'd already felt there had to be more to life than fitting in, as long as there were things wrong with the world.
The microwave beeped; she dumped the slightly-underdone rice into the soup to finish cooking, as her mother stomped back into the room. "EvaMay Catrin Morgan, what do you know about this?"
Middle name? That's never good. She turned and blinked; her mother was waving around a pack of condoms. "No idea."
"They were in your sister's gym bag."
"Then they're probably BethAnne's. I haven't touched her smelly bag." She poured the soup into a bowl, grabbed a spoon from the drawer, and sat down. "Some things aren't my fault, you know."
"You're the one that had a boyfriend until a bit ago. You could have given them to her so you wouldn't get caught with them."
Eva rubbed her forehead: if she had any use for that sort of thing, BethAnne would be the second- or third-last person she'd want knowing about it, so getting them back would be a problem. But her ability to think through keeping that kind of secret was not something to point out. "Well, I didn't. Like I said, if they're in BethAnne's bag, good bet they're BethAnne's." Let x be an item in the set of things in BethAnne's bag; the expected value of owner(x) is BethAnne, Eva thought, and tried not to laugh and get herself in trouble.
"Is there some protein in that?"
"In the rice, probably."
Her mother opened the fridge and a bag of shredded cheddar thunked onto the table next to her.
"Do we have parmesan?"
They did. "I'm still not through, I'm getting to the bottom of this," her mother said, rattling the package.
"School probably gave them out in health class, Mom," Eva said, breaking up chunks of shredded parmesan over her soup.
"So? School starts handing them out in eighth grade."
Eva swallowed too fast, knowing by Mom's tone that she'd stepped into something, then coughed from a single grain of rice trying to go down the wrong way.
"You never brought home anything like that. Did you?"
It was progress: Mom believed Eva wasn't stashing them. "Left them in the school bathroom because I wasn't planning to need them and figured someone else might."
"You didn't tell me that."
Eva burst out laughing, though it might get her yelled at. "Come on, Mom! What was I supposed to say? 'Hey guess what, in health class today they gave out contraceptives, but it's OK because I'm not having sex'? Hell would freeze over sooner than I would start a conversation with that." She threw a quarter in the general direction of the swear jar rather than try to make the case that metaphysical geography didn't count.
"Well." Mom looked uncomfortable. "How many times have they given you...those things?"
"Couple times a year. And the nurse's clinic has them out where anyone can take some whenever."
The look on Mom's face said how do you know that?
Eva sighed. "I saw the bowl when I went to check out sick."
"Not sure the school should be encouraging that sort of thing."
In a way Mom was being prudish was a relief: Eva had worried that the fact she hadn't been hooking up with Noah was one more abnormality to disappoint her mother with, if Mom found out. "Based on my classmates, I don't think anyone's doing anything they wouldn't anyway, just needing less antibiotics after. But Mom, I don't think you have anything to worry about with BethAnne. If she were planning to use them she'd keep them handy and if she were trying to hide them there are better places. She probably stuck them in the bag when they handed them out, and forgot about them."
"Maybe. I'll still have to talk to her."
Eva resisted the urge, since it would just make things worse, to point out that the conversation wouldn't have started unless the school had already had a talk with BethAnne.
"And what better places?"
She swallowed the rest of her soup in two gulps. "Gotta unload unicorns, bye!" How was I dumb enough to say that?
For the third time that day, but the first where she was sped along neither by cold damp clothes and the thought of a long shower nor a gas engine, Eva watched Unicorns' Field getting closer up ahead. She'd sign up to help unload — the city always needed help for that, and she could levitate things that were otherwise awkwardly placed. Afterward, if she was lucky, the magic would be satisfied and she wouldn't have to run around town looking for trouble.
"Hey, Mr. Pierce," she said to the field manager. "Are signups open yet?"
"Just flashed the paperscreen." He set it on the counter. "You're off school today?"
"Fixing," she said, writing her name and city work ID on the roster's top line. That was enough; as field manager for the unicorns, he knew a little about magic, though he was a Mundane. "Mom knows. Pretty sure this is an assignment."
"Want to run a team?"
Eva blinked at that: team leads got a fifty cent hourly bonus, but Mr. Pierce never let under-18 workers do that, and she'd given up asking. She could use the extra pay, and the precedent that she could run a team, but if this was an assignment, she knew what kind. "Rather go solo from the perch." She could see the whole field at once from the scaffolding platform, a story and a half [check/gather notes about this] up the tower, that had been left behind last time the tower was cleaned.
"Suits me." He made notes on the sign-in sheet.
"Can I stash my bike somewhere?"
"Feed shed's open. They're cleaning us out this time."
"I heard. Thanks!"
She threaded the lock cable through the frame and wheels, knotted the ends, and tucked the knot into the pocket under the seat — it wouldn't prevent anything, but at least the bike wouldn't be an obvious easy grab — then rode the elevator five stories up to the top of the tower. Since the lighthouse was on a timer and light sensor, going up there was only necessary when too many LEDs went out, so it was one of Eva's places. Even as other people arrived to pick up work Eva could be fairly sure of a moment to herself. With full-time work rarer by the year for anyone without the qualifications to work on the robots that did most other jobs, and the No Available Job payment so low people said they couldn't live on it even though many did, odd jobs that didn't need done constantly enough for a robot suited to the task to be cost-effective were how people survived.
Cars flowed through the city center below her, starting and stopping and rarely honking, blessedly normal, not a sign of anything to Fix, no odd twist as she looked at any building nudging her to look again. Ear Inlet and the unicorns. Surelythat's enough for one day. She didn't feel done, but it didn't feel urgent nor severe; the unicorns really might be it.
Speaking of which... The speck in the sky might be almost anything, but from that direction, since they were expected, it was almost certainly the unicorns. Break time was over; she stood, stretched, found that her leg had fallen asleep, and shook it out in the elevator on the way down to the second story.
She whipped around on the perch, grabbing the rock from her pocket, then pointed that fist at the top of the stack of boxes. Third in ten minutes, what is wrong with these people, she thought, clenching her jaw. She maneuvered the top box down, then tossed the rock in the air — she had to lose contact with it to let go of the box — then caught it and pointed her fist at the crate that had been below it, also teetering at a bad angle, and brought it down.
"You. Human. We need more hay."
Eva looked down at a unicorn ten feet below her. "I'm not on the hospitality crew, I'm unloading," she said, scanning the field for who was wearing that team's green vests. "You need to talk to — "
"You don't look like you're unloading. More hay."
"What you see is what we have." Not that she was supposed to be the one to tell the unicorn that sort of thing.
"Inadequate. We'll have to halt the delivery if that's the case."
Unicorns! Ever since humans allowed their own freight services to be priced out of business, mostly a decade or so after the Unlikely Condition event though a few holdouts muddled along for another four or five years, unicorns had become increasingly demanding, eating more and raising prices and setting schedules however they wanted to. For all I knowthis is myFix, but does that mean confronting it or smoothing it over? Confronting it couldn't be the job: the city wouldn't stand by a day worker in the face of upset unicorns. What can I come up with that unicorns would eat? "What about fresh grass?"
"This field is dry and dead and worthless as food."
Summer festivals long over, the city's water budget had run its course, and the rainy season hadn't yet picked up the slack. There were plant-healing spells that could bring it around, but they were beyond Eva's skills even if it wouldn't take her away from levitating boxes. "Not this one. Fresh grass in general."
"That would be acceptable. If the grass is fresh."
She grabbed her phone, then stopped another crate from falling over onto a unicorn — no, a pegasus, no horn on that one — then called her mother. "Do any of your clients need their lawns trimmed?"
"Hello to you too."
"I know, it's random — Mom, the unicorns are here, and they're hungry, and they're losing patience with our empty hay reserves. So who needs their lawn mowed?"
"I see where you're going with this. Let me finish Mrs. Oaks' kitchen and I'll call around."
She hung up, averted another near-collapse, then tried to catch her breath with the unicorn looking at her. "I'm working on it," Eva said. At least she didn't have the tight, prickly twist in her stomach that meant she was doing the opposite of how she was supposed to Fix something; on the bad side, that meant that, if the situation with the unicorns was her Fix, smoothing it over was right, so snapping at them would be counterproductive.
"You're a Magical."
Brilliant of you to infer that from my casting spells. "Yes."
"Since birth? What kind?"
"Just a few years. Fixer."
The unicorn blinked, then nodded. "Interesting work, Fixing. I trust, then, that our feeding is within your abilities."
"Like I said, I'm working on it."
A few near-catastrophes later, her phone rang, the ringtone that meant it was her mother. "Please tell me you've got lawns."
"I've got lawns."
"Great. If you can come to the field, I can tell them to follow you and you can lead them to the houses."
"Can't you just give them the addresses?"
"I am not trying to explain house numbers to unicorns." That was as much beyond her abilities as resurrecting the field lawn.
The traditional cheer for the last box told Eva she could finally breathe. She sagged against the tower wall and closed her eyes. There'd been one decent interval, fifteen or twenty minutes, with no crates threatening to fall onto anyone; other than that, she'd be surprised if there had been five minutes without a near disaster. She'd stopped trying to count at twenty-three, and that had been before Mom arrived to lead the unicorns to lunch.
She breathed again, the weight of the day falling away. As much as she'd done, she had to be right that it was her assignment. Invisible work, but for Fixing that was normal — small things set right before they got worse, leaving the world to go in its own way, hopefully right, after. It mattered, incrementally, and that was what she'd wished for, the ability to do something that mattered at least a little.
Sometimes she thought she should've been more specific, but she wasn't going to quit, even if it was hard enough to fit in that she couldn't risk taking on more.
Across Shoreline Drive, they were loading some crates onto boats that would deliver supplies to fishing boats and islands too small for their own landing fields. Working on one of those wasn't out of the question, she supposed — she could get a reference from Mr. Pierce, and being out on ship might be enough to keep the magic from sending her to Fix things on shore. It would nudge her to anything going wrong on the boat she was on, but that wasn't a bad thing. This time next year, maybe. It felt strange to think about trading school for work so soon, after so many years of school and the years before it being murky with the mist of childhood memories. Preschool had started for Eva at three, more because BethAnne was on the way than for Eva to learn anything, as she'd figured out when BethAnne stayed home until kindergarten, but it still meant she'd been in a world of teachers and worksheets for fourteen years, and now that was almost over and she was going to have to decide what to do with herself.
She stood and stretched, then climbed in the window. Usually from the second story she'd walk down, but her legs were so rubbery that the elevator looked awesome.
Eva collected her pay stub — the actual money would be deposited into the bank account her father had gone with her to set up, since she'd known better than to ask her mother but was tired of losing 10% on check cashing fees — and turned from the window.
"Why does she get paid anything?" the guy who had been behind her asked. "She sat around on the perch the whole time."
She'd kept a box from squishing him personally. If she were less tired, she might have turned around and let him decide whether that was worth getting paid.
"She's a Magical," Mr. Pierce told him. "Makes the boxes not tip over. Better for our safety figures than the safety briefings I don't make you people sit through any more."
"Oh, she's the one doing that? I guess that's all right, then. Faster without having to worry about it. Jake's or Morty's?"
Eva shivered but kept wobbling away. They're counting on me, she realized. They're being sloppy because they know I'll Fix it. But it's only a matter of time until two at the same time... She opened the feed shed, and swore at a more immediate problem: her lock cable was still there, wrapped neatly, with a piece of paper threaded onto it. Youthinkyou're clever but how clever do you feel now? Rodney's handwriting; they'd had some classes together back in junior high, and his handwriting hadn't changed much.
Twice in one day; that's got to be some kind of record. She should be angry, but she was too tired. And this time he won't even be on campus to get it back from right away. She swore again: unless she was supremely lucky and he left it in his truck overnight, she'd have to involve their parents to get it back from his house. Either way I don't have it now so coasting home as much as possible is out of the question. That was more upsetting than the theft. And how the hell did they find it in the shed? It was out in the open this morning, if they were on Shoreline at all, but this —
Eva shook her head. Doesn't matter how, they obviously did. She jammed the cut cable and note into her bag and turned to the road home, cursing the slowness of walking for the second time that day.
"EvaMay Catrin Morgan."
"They got my bike again," she said, latching the kitchen-garage door and wobbling toward the fridge, at quarter 'til eleven.
"That does not explain why you didn't call for a ride."
Damn, I should've. "I just didn't."
"Not good enough."
She didn't disagree, but wasn't going to say so. "Well, it's what happened. Are there leftovers?"
"I ought to send you to bed without supper, getting in this late without calling."
Who still calls it supper? She ate a plate of sliced potato casserole with shredded chicken, diced canned tomatoes, and some kind of cheese sauce, feeling Mom's disapproval even between the comments she didn't see any use in responding to, and with every bite, more certain that the twist in her stomach was not just emptiness. No no no! I've done nothing but Fixing and its consequences all day, I can't do any more!
"So what do you have to say for yourself?"
It wouldn't get her out of trouble, but neither would hiding it. "I think I have to miss school tomorrow too."
"Not going to happen."
"I let you get away with a lot, Eva."
She didn't feel like she was getting away with anything. "Fixing is important!"
"And because you're so sure it's important, you'll go and do it anyway, and damn the consequences."
Eva jumped; Mom didn't usually swear in front of her or BethAnne.
"And some of those consequences fall on your family, EvaMay. Like that fine because you were ditching school."
"That was two years ago." The year she'd had geometry. "As long as I don't have another teacher like Parks [change this] — "
"And what do you think will happen to BethAnne next year when she has Mrs. Parks' class?"
"She's not a Fixer, Mom."
"She's living down your reputation with her teachers. Remember how hard I had to fight to get her into honors math because Mr. Tobin didn't want another Morgan? Well now it's all the rest of her teachers."
"Mom. I'm sorry BethAnne's teachers can't tell one Morgan from another. I'm sorry the school gives you trouble about me. I'm even sorry I didn't think to call for a ride. But I'm a Fixer and that's a fact and I have to do things because of it."
"You can't tomorrow."
"You couldn't get around without your bike anyway, because you won't learn to drive and get a car like everyone else your age, so you might as well be at school as home."
"It doesn't work that way." At least from home she could walk to places; at least at home she could quietly throw up in the toilet with no fuss about it...
"It's going to have to."
A/N: Thank you for reading this! It's my first time posting on this site so I hope I haven't messed up too badly.
FYI, the rest is already written except for a few bits here and there, sitting at 87K currently, and I plan to post a chapter a week (might break up some of the longer chapters). The version I'm posting has had a fair bit of self-editing is not a 100% final draft and I would be happy to get constructive criticism (nonconstructive criticism will be ignored or printed so I can set it on fire). My intent is to publish a really-final version on Amazon after this — if you'd like to join my ARC team please let me know.