Well, MagicU Book #3 was supposed to go live yesterday, but the Ravenous Romance website is having hairballs and not uploading the cover and such. Honestly, my first thought when they told me that was, “OMG, you mean Circlet Press isn’t the only company that can be completely hamstrung by website gremlins?”
Anyway, my apologies for those of you who are eagerly awaiting it! To help tide you over… I have two suggestions. One is that a reader mentioned to me that “The Big Wheel” by Rush makes a great theme song for Kyle. (Lyrics here: http://bit.ly/cIe8wC) Anyone have any other suggestions for songs to put on my MagicU “soundtrack”? Leave yr suggestions in comments or email me at ctan.writer (at) gmail (dot) com.
The other suggestion is… here’s a sneak peek. The Prologue.
Kyle stalked through the swirling snow, but he didn’t feel the cold. Anger kept him warm. His boots crunched over bare sidewalk scattered with rock salt and then over packed white snow where the shopkeeper or landlord hadn’t shoveled yet. On a Sunday evening like this, some store-owners probably wouldn’t bother clearing their walks until the morning, and in the meanwhile, pedestrians up and down Mass. Ave had tromped over the snow.
He turned onto the side street where Professor Raburn lived. A little voice in his head told him to stop, to go into the pizza shop and calm down. Try texting or calling Alex again…
But he’d tried that. Alex didn’t even have that cell phone any longer.
You could have gotten Professor Raburn’s number from the school directory, he told himself, if you’d really wanted it…
Too late now. He was standing on the front porch of the big, old house and somewhere inside was Alex Kimble, at least if what Kyle had heard was to be believed.
Kyle rang the bell. Maybe it was all a mistake. Surely Alex hadn’t been here for a week without calling Kyle to tell him he was back? Surely Kyle hadn’t been that wrong about their friendship, and about the reasons Alex had run off with Kyle’s then girlfriend? He half-hoped Alex wasn’t here, and that Professor Raburn would just come to the door with a puzzled expression on her face…
But that was definitely Alex opening the door, his sandy hair in its usual disarray.
“Kyle.” He stared a moment. “How are you? Come in.”
Kyle stood on the porch, frozen. He’d been expecting… something else. Anger or joy or something, not nonchalant politeness. “Are you sure you want me to?”
There. A little twitch around his eyes. Alex was stung, maybe by guilt. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he said, stepping back and gesturing at the living room. “Are you… are you all right?”
Kyle stepped into the front hallway, wiping his shoes reflexively on the mat, and shut the door. “No, I am not all right when my supposed best friend doesn’t even bother to tell me he’s back from exile.”
Definitely stung. Alex closed his eyes. “Let’s sit.”
“Let’s not. What the fuck, Alex?”
Alex jammed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “I’m sorry. I… I’ve been meaning to call you. I just… I wanted to figure out what to say first. I was going to email you as soon as I decided to come back. But then the longer it went, the worse I felt and… you know me, Kyle. I’m the worst at facing anything I really have to.”
“Talking to me shouldn’t be a chore!”
“I said I was sorry!”
“Sorry for what?”
“For everything!” Alex shouted back. “For doing the worst thing to you I could have done, all right? You think I don’t know that? I pulled those fucking cards for you, you think I didn’t know leaving you was the worst thing I could do?”
Kyle’s answer stuck in his throat. He’d just gotten the apology he’d so badly wanted, and it hurt nearly as much as what Alex was apologizing for. “Then…” He had to swallow to speak. “Then why did you?”
“I’m not a white knight, Kyle,” Alex said, shoulders slumped. “I had to do what was best for me, and Ciara, too, which was get the hell out. Trust me, she would much rather have been on the run with you than with me.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Can we sit? Please?”
Kyle stayed where he was, as if he might turn and storm out at any moment. “Where is she now?”
Alex bowed his head in resignation. “Cardiff, I think. She… met someone. There. She’s not coming back.”
He couldn’t keep the misery out of his tone. Kyle couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. Heartbreak wasn’t something he’d ever seen in Alex before.
But he still wasn’t quite ready to forgive him. He pulled a deck of Tarot cards from his coat pocket and held them out toward Alex.
Alex shook his head. “No. You know I’ve got no talent at sooth—”
“That’s bullshit,” Kyle said. “I don’t believe you.” Not after the two readings Alex had given him. Both had been spot-on.
Kyle threw the cards down at Alex’s feet and turned away, pulling open the door. He was stopped by Alex’s hand on his shoulder.
“All right. One reading. Because I owe you. And I truly am sorry.”
Kyle turned and met Alex’s eyes, finding an intensity and a sadness there he had never seen before. Kyle said nothing, just went into the living room and sat on the animal-skin rug by the fireplace. Alex lit the candles on the mantelpiece and drew the blinds closed. That was more ritual than Kyle had ever seen Alex use before, and it sobered him.
When Alex sat down cross-legged across from Kyle, he had his own deck in his hands. He rubbed the top card gently, as if warming it up. The candlelight made a halo of the dry frizz of Alex’s hair. Alex put the cards into Kyle’s hand.
“Why? You’ve never had me shuffle them before.”
Alex winced. “Let’s do it right this time, okay? But not shuffling is a form of shuffling, too, you know.”
Kyle nodded and just cut the cards, then set the pile between them.
Alex took a deep breath. “All right. Top card is our starting point. Put it face down in front of you. Now draw three cards for the left and three cards for the right. That’s your two pathways. Now draw one more and set it aside. That’s your alternative to either path, your reminder that there are never only two choices in life.”
Kyle didn’t feel any crackle of electricity as he dealt out the cards, no stirring of power through the air or the soles of his feet. That wasn’t how soothsaying worked, he supposed. It was more of a natural talent. Unlike the other aptitudes, where the magic user applied their will to change reality, soothsaying was about just recognizing the patterns that were already there.
He turned over his “starting place” card. The Moon. Kyle was surprised it wasn’t the Ace of Swords.
Alex whistled. “Nothing like going back to the primordial ooze,” he said. “Starting place indeed. So, it’s back to basics, starting with just your animal instincts. Okay, turn over one of the pathways.”
Kyle flipped over the three cards on his right. Six of Wands reversed, the World reversed, and then the Eight of Coins. He didn’t remember the details of what all the reversals meant, but overall they did not look like happy cards. “This doesn’t look good,” he said.
“No indeed, mister poet, given that if there’s a card I’d call ‘writer’s block’ it’s the Six of Wands reversed. And the World reversed only worsens it because it means getting stuck, isolated from others. The Eight, though… well, it might all work out okay, but the Eight is usually about working through difficult issues, possibly including writer’s block or creative confusion, to a more honest understanding. But it’s a painful process.”
Kyle turned over the other three cards to see swords, swords, swords. There was the Ace, finally, reversed. Four, reversed. And then the Ten.
“Not as painful as this, though,” Alex said, almost a whisper.
Swords, swords, swords. In soothsaying class way back in his first semester he remembered they had named the Ten of Swords the “yes, it really is that bad” card. In Alex’s deck, all ten swords were depicted sticking out of the back of someone bleeding to death in the snow. Kyle remembered the professor writing the meanings on the whiteboard: ruin, defeat, desolation beyond tears, total betrayal. Few cards were less ambiguous. And the Ace, upside down? That could only be Kyle himself, with his world turned upside down.
Like it was now. “Um. What’s the Four…?” he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Well, when it’s not reversed it can mean peaceful rest, contemplation…”
“It usually means something like… new information or knowledge that prompts you to action. But given the outcome here…” Alex put his hand over the Ten as if he couldn’t bear to look at it. “If it’s any consolation, the utter pain and devastation of the Ten can mean, actually, that these things have already happened, and so it’s time to start anew…”
“You don’t sound very sure of that.”
“Well, it’s hard to put that spin on it when it’s the last card of a sequence, rather than the first,” Alex pointed out. “So, you have here… the way of the poet. Isolation, struggling with writer’s block but eventually finding some kind of enlightenment. And the way of… trouble. Traditionally, the reversed Ace means confusion, fear of conflict, or difficulty facing issues. You don’t normally have those kind of issues, though, Kyle.” As evidenced by him barging over there that day and banging on the door. “But you are so closely identified with the Ace, I have to take this to mean something else. You betraying your own principles, maybe.”
They both stared at the cards for a while.
Finally Alex prompted, “What about the alternative card? What did you draw there? What’s the reminder we shouldn’t forget?”
Kyle turned the card over. The Lovers. “Um…”
Alex said nothing for a few moments. Then, “I take it you’re single now.”
“Yeah,” Kyle said curtly, as if he didn’t want to talk about it. He and Marjory still hooked up once in a while, but he’d felt like he shouldn’t just be underfoot for her all the time. They loved each other a lot, and the sex was still terrific, but it wasn’t a romantic kind of love. They weren’t a pair.
“The Pair,” he said then, suddenly.
Kyle put the card down. “I can’t help but think the Lovers is a reminder to me about the Prophesied Pair.”
“And not a reminder that maybe if you got into a fulfilling relationship with someone you wouldn’t go down either of these two paths? You wouldn’t live the isolated life of a solitary but enlightened poet, and you wouldn’t compromise yourself to your utter ruin?”
Kyle made a dismissive noise. “So, is this spread always an either/or?”
Alex tapped the lead card while thinking about his answer. “It’s tricky, but sometimes both paths come true. All futures are not mutually exclusive, after all. Especially with a starting point like The Moon.”
“In other words, I could end up both betrayed and alone.” Or with a lover, the alternative. Kyle closed his eyes, feeling the Ten of Swords like an accusation. He got to his feet. “I guess I’ll be going now.”
Kyle pulled his coat back on and moved toward the door, but Alex stopped him, putting himself between Kyle and the entryway. “Look, I know I’ve been a shitty friend for the past year…”
“You’ve been non-existent for the past year.”
“And I know you’ve got no reason to believe I won’t run at the first sign of trouble…”
“I won’t.” Alex put a hand on his shoulder. “I came back because of you, you know.”
“What?” Kyle blinked.
“You think I came back because I’m so concerned about getting my degree?”
“Well, no…” Kyle hadn’t thought about that before. Alex could get by no matter where he was.
“I know you’re still angry at me. You don’t get over things quickly…”
“Yes, I do!” Kyle heard himself insisting.
Alex shrugged. “Believe that if you want.”
“You just told me you came back because Ciara dumped you for someone else.”
“When did I say that? Yeah, she dumped me, but I didn’t have to come back here.” Alex folded his arms across his chest. “Seriously, Kyle. You deserve to be pissed off. I know that. But it’s true. I won’t be one of the ones sticking a sword in your back. I’m here for you.”
“Because I need so much help writing my poetry junior project?” Kyle asked, edging into a lighter tone.
“Because… whatever. I didn’t feel right about leaving you like I did, and I’m back now. Okay?”
There was still something Alex wasn’t telling him, but Kyle supposed maybe that was part of the package of being friends with Alex. There was always something left unsaid. He supposed that was all right, though, most of the time. “Okay. Thanks for the reading.”
Alex pulled his coat off a peg on the wall. “So. Did you eat yet? They’ve started making this thing at the shop on the corner. Baked ziti pizza. It’s awesome.”
“I could eat.”
“Come on, then.” Alex snapped his fingers, and the candles snuffed out all around the room.
Alex laughed. They went out into the cold, leaving the cards on the rug for Professor Raburn’s cats to read.