Learning Curve 2

Uncle Glen let me off back at Tavi’s place with my things, his number in my phone, and his promise that he’d clear it with my manager for me to have time off.

I hurried back upstairs, calling a quick greeting to Tavi while I kicked off my shoes.

“Heya,” she called back. “Got everything?”

“All yours,” I said. I left my bags by the metal-frame futon that served as her couch and returned to her. “Feeling better with a bit of food?”

She was sitting up at least, and the cookies and juice were all gone. I could still see drops of sweat, but it looked less drastic, and her breathing was slower.

“Yes and no.”

I joined her on the bed, sitting up with my legs crossed. Her bedroom was comfortable chaos: a double brass bed with clothes hanging over the footboard, a dresser with makeup and jewellery and other odds-and-ends covering the top, walls plastered with a riot of old-school and retro fantasy posters, a large cork bulletin board displaying an overlapped mishmash of her favourite sketches, more clothes scattered across the laminate flooring. A water-blue sarong with bright tribal dolphins served as a curtain. A bookshelf held a collection of sketchbooks, a shallow desk organizer tray I knew was full of assorted pencils and pens and the like, and highly diverse books split between technique and reference, with a couple of wooden posing mannequins in front of them, currently positioned to look like they were making out.

“How so?”

She looked down, hands twisting in the blankets. She was wearing a lime-green tanktop, which looked highly citrus-y with her yellow hair.

“I sort of feel better, but it’s really scary. I can feel this kind of… it’s heat and cold and electricity and liquid, all at once, and it’s starting to build up again. It was a relief, really, when it just ran dry, after the fish and the plant. At least I wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone. But with it recharging…” She looked up to meet my eyes, and hers had tears brimming in them. “I’m really scared, Sky. I don’t want to be a witch, I was glad I wasn’t, but now I am, and it’s late and I can’t control it and I’m so terrified I’m going to hurt you or accidentally do something that makes you angry or… or something…”

I reached out to wrap both hands around hers. “You won’t hurt me, and you can’t make me angry because I know you and I know what’s deliberate and what isn’t. Anything that happens is still shaped by you, right? It’s not your conscious mind, but it’s still coming from inside you? Not random, and not influenced by anything outside?”

“Yes. Well, mostly. If something’s on my mind a lot because I just binged a TV show or something, that might be an influence.”

“That’s the kind of thing we actually can control. And there’s nothing lurking somewhere in your head about being mad at me for something that happened when we were eight, or anything like that, right?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then I’m perfectly safe. And I am absolutely not leaving you to deal with this alone. Anything that happens, I’ll find a way to live with it for however long I have to. Okay?”

Silence for a couple of heartbeats, then she leaned forward to hug me. “Okay. And thanks. It was sort of less scary and more scary at the same time, being alone. But I don’t believe you that you aren’t scared at all.”

“Of course I am. Everything I know about witches is second-hand, mostly through you. I don’t have any witches in my family and I don’t have any witch friends.”

“Yes you do.”

“I do now. I know what I’ve read and seen in documentaries and things like that, but not much I’ve even seen in person, let alone actually experiencing it. But I do remember that we went through a phase when we talked a lot about morph witchery and what we’d do if we had the option… remember that?”

“Oh, god, so much of that was just so bad!” That laugh was as much embarrassment as mirth.

“We were still in high school. Of course it was. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if I’m a bit scared. It wouldn’t be the first time we got through something together that scared both of us. We’ll get through the next week, ten days, two weeks, whatever it is, and then get on with our lives. And I’ll get to brag to everyone about my best friend being an epic-level morph witch.”

“Oh, you will not!”

“Will too. I’m gonna take full advantage of the situation. Just watch me.”

Tavi rolled her eyes. “Oh, I can’t wait.”

At least she was wired less tightly now. “Believe it. Okay. I know there are parts we’re not going to know until they happen. What do we know?”

“Neoarcane syndrome isn’t a disease. It’s more like trying to do a new kind of exercise but not having the strength and coordination for it yet. Except that it isn’t really. If I’m eating and sleeping normally, I’ll keep recharging. Under normal circumstances that’s a good thing. But because I have no control and no way to bleed that energy off safely, it’ll keep building up and then just… explode outwards. Unless, once the pressure gets high, I can release it by focusing hard on a target. I’m really hoping I can actually do that, because I’m seriously out of practice at all the visualization and meditation exercises I had to learn.”

I remembered her learning those: sometimes frustrated when she wanted to do something different, but dutifully mastering them anyway.

“And when you do that, your target changes.”

“Uh… yes. I’ve seen Dad and Gran work and I’ve never seen anything that suggests pain is involved, for whatever help that is.”

“That’s pretty helpful.”

“It generally comes with some essential motor control skills and that kind of thing. Emotional reactions can be pretty dramatic, though, even when it’s completely by request.”

“I don’t plan to be dramatic. At least, not in a bad way. I might end up having fun or something. So do we have any idea how long it will take between moments of needing a safety valve release?”

“No. Probably longer each time, though.”

“And we don’t know what I’m going to end up being. Talk about dramatic.”

“I might be sort of dramatic myself. It’s probably going to make me exhausted for a while each time. At first, anyway. It’ll be less tiring the more times it happens.”

“So I’ll be continuing my original plan of looking after you. All right. While I know I can, I’m going to hit your kitchen so I can come up with a plan for ten days of easy suppers plus enough for breakfasts and lunches, and figure out what we’re short on.”

“Try to stay flexible. There’s… there’s always the chance you might not want some of the same things, depending on what you end up being for a while. It might not be that extreme, but we just don’t have any info yet.”

“Right. So brace for occasional vegan or meat-heavy meals, at least for me, that kind of thing?”

“That’ll probably cover it? I hope?”

“Gotcha. I’ll be in the kitchen. And I’ll find something fast for tonight. You want anything else right now?”

“Um… more cookies and juice?”

“You got it. Back in a minute with those. And meanwhile, you work on those visualization exercises, okay? We need you to get those right and make sure that you keep everything focused just on your consenting volunteer here.”

“I will.”

I found the ingredients for grilled cheese sandwiches, and got those started. While they cooked, I jotted down an extensive list that would keep us both fed for a couple of weeks, just in case—even when it would cost more, I took shortcuts that would make it simpler to prepare meals quickly, especially ones that would be good for at least two days, or where partial leftovers could be cycled forward as part of the next day’s meal. That plus plenty for meals earlier in the day and some snacks. Some things wouldn’t keep, and we’d need to get more later—bread, for example, since her freezer wasn’t large enough to allow for freezing it—but I could make sure we had enough essentials. Scheduling deliveries might be tricky. There was a definite possibility that I’d be unable to answer the door without giving someone a massive shock and that Tavi might be physically incapable of it.

Tavi joined me in the living room to eat, and we watched the newest episode of a hilariously irreverent animated spinoff of an old-school sci-fi series, both of us laughing and able to forget the situation for that long.

“Sky?” Tavi said hesitantly, once both we and the show were done. “Um, I’m feeling… that feeling inside that’s everything at once is getting pretty strong, and there’s a kind of… of pressure. It’s not really bad yet, but I can definitely feel it.”

“We were expecting that,” I pointed out, trying to ignore the clenching in my stomach. “You’re expecting this to leave you all worn out, right? Right. You’ve been lying in your bed sweating and shivering all day. How about you go have a quick shower and I’ll change your bed. Then you can do what you need to do right on your bed, so you can just fall over. You’ve got some food in your stomach, and you can sleep in a clean bed. That’ll be better, right?”

“I’m glad I have all those old sheets my mom decided to get rid of, ‘cause laundry is going to be a problem. That sounds amazing. You sure you don’t mind?”

“Nope. Shoo.”

Smiling, she got up, and a moment later I heard the shower.

I washed the few dishes, figuring that it could be catastrophic to get behind, then collected sheets from the linen closet in the hall and changed her bed.

I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her clean bed when she returned wet and wearing only a towel. That was nothing new. We’d seen each other naked, been in the room through changing clothes, slept in the same bed, even been in the same shower when a pulled muscle in my shoulder had made washing my hair just shy of impossible until it healed. We were so open to each other emotionally that physical modesty seemed rather petty and inconsistent.

“That’s going to feel so much better, Sky. Thanks so much.” She rummaged in a drawer for an oversized hot-pink t-shirt to wear to bed. “It’s going to be your call, whether you want to sleep in here with my zombie body or on the couch. You’re literally the only guy I would ever allow to be here if I’m so tired I might not even remember anything bad, let alone being able to stop it.”

“That’s because you know I would never in a million years sexually molest anyone, let alone you.” I slithered off the bed. “Just in case, I’m probably better standing up. Do you need to touch me?”

“No, just line of sight.” She sat on the edge of the bed, hastily braiding her yellow hair so it wouldn’t tangle. “Can I apologize in advance for whatever happens to be in my head?”

“No. There’s nothing to apologize for.” But I was starting to wish she’d just get on with it.

“That’s getting really strong. It sort of burns and sort of chills and it sort of… sings, or hums. And it really wants out badly.” She closed her eyes, took a slow deep breath, then another, and a third, then opened her eyes again, fixed on me.

Neither of us moved for what felt like forever.

Abruptly, Tavi’s whole body spasmed, her back arching, and she let out a soft grunt. A second spasm, and all at once her muscles went slack and she sagged. I dove in without a thought to help her curl up properly, tucking sheet and blanket over her.

Wait, I was still me… wasn’t I?

I looked down at my hands.

The backs of them were changing colour, turning pale orange with thin deeper-orange stripes across it, but it was spreading with every tick of Tavi’s anachronistic analogue clock.

“Sky?” Tavi mumbled, eyes still closed. “You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. You get some sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up. Although you might not recognize me.”

“I’ll always know you.”

I switched off the light and relocated to the living room, closing the bedroom door behind me, although leaving it open just a crack in case she called me.

I had a feeling I was going to want to be alone long enough to get through this and adjust to it.

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