Nothing much else happens for the rest of the evening. Eli cooks dinner with Aunt Addi, and sends some texts back and forth with Zoe, just to make sure Arthur’s not doing anything . . . Lacroix-ish. He’s not, judging from Zoe’s enthusiastic replies (im corrupting a lacroix with my wicked witchy ways!), and that makes Eli feel a little better.
Addi isn’t so enthusiastic about Val’s wake, partly because of the whole murders thing, but mostly because of who extended the invitation.
“Arthur’s . . . okay,” Eli says, and almost can’t believe he’s saying it. “He apologized for being a jerk. Kinda.”
Addi sighs, stabbing at her spaghetti with her fork, smashing apart the meatballs distractedly. “It’s not Arthur I’m worried about,” she says. “Yvonne Lacroix is . . . dangerous. More than you know.”
“Okay, Aunt Addi,” says Eli, who think he knows exactly how dangerous the woman is. More so than Addi does. “I promise I’ll be careful.”
In the end, Addi agrees to let him go, but only after he assures her Zoe will be there as well. This, as it turns out, isn’t even a lie.
arthur wants to ward the rec centre, Zoe texts, as Eli is messing around with his computer, trying to turn “Waifu Perfect Class 2” into something appropriate for a wake (“Melancholy Perfect Class”, Eli calls it, if only in his head). just in case
Prolly a good idea, Eli replies. Then he sends Zoe a rough cut of the track he’s working on. Her only reply is to send back a list of her favorite depressing Vocaloid songs, so Eli figures he’s still got some way to go.
Friday morning, Eli’s tired and cranky after spending too long patrolling for peryton in the pouring rain, and not long enough sleeping in his warm, dry bed. He didn’t find anything but, near as he can tell, no one got murdered either, which he supposes will have to do.
The rain hasn’t let up by morning, so Eli pulls his hair back for once and buries himself inside the deepest darkest recesses of his ludicrously oversized Reaper hoodie. When Zoe finds him, half-asleep inside his own locker, she makes a noise of frustrated disappointment.
“Tsch, Ee! You should’ve told me! I would’ve worn my Mei!”
“Sorry,” Eli mutters, mostly into his textbooks.
Zoe, who is wearing her Kalos trainer outfit and has watched more episodes of CW shows than Eli’s taken rides on the subway, narrows her eyes and says, voice hushed, “Long night patrolling?”
Eli nods, making a vague affirmative sound as he drags himself upright. “Nothing,” he adds, to answer Zoe’s inevitable next question.
“Well . . . that’s good, right?” Zoe tries. “At least that means no-one . . . y’know.”
“‘S what I told myself.” A thought occurs and Eli starts patting down his front, eventually locating the little ziplock baggie shoved to the bottom of one of his pockets. “Here,” he says, handing it to Zoe. “For the warding. Sorry it’s kinda gross.”
Zoe’s eyebrows get very high first, Eli assumes, at the fact he’s passing her suspicious baggies out in front of his locker and then, when she’s processed the appearance of said baggies, over the contents. “Is this—?”
“Yeah.” Eli runs a hand around the nape of his neck, where he’s suddenly sporting about half an inch of short, rough-cut fuzz. Zoe wants to keep the peryton out of Val’s wake, and that’s something Eli can help with, if only as a supplier of raw materials for the magic.
“Thank you,” Zoe blurts, voice unsteady. “I just— Thank you.” She basically throws herself at Eli in an awkward, but heartfelt, hug. He returns it, enjoying the warm, soft feel of her beneath his hands for one moment, then two. Then Zoe is stepping away, sniffing, and Eli lets her go.
“You’re the best,” Zoe says, tucking the dragon hair away in her bag. “You know that, right?”
“I have my moments,” Eli says, managing a grin. Funny, how he doesn’t feel quite so tired any more. Must be magic.
“Also,” Zoe leans forward, voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “Morgan is totally giving me massive stink-eye. I think she wants to talk to you.”
Eli blinks and turns and, sure enough, there’s Morgan, standing halfway down the hall, glaring daggers at Zoe. Her expression softens when her eyes meet Eli’s, and she mouths something that might be, Talk?
“Go on,” Zoe gives Eli a light punch on his arm. “Looks like we’ve both got a case of the Lacroixs lately.”
Eli nods and says his goodbyes to Zoe, then heads over to see what Morgan is after. Her eyes are still fixed and glaring over his shoulder when he walks up, and he’s saying, “Don’t,” before she can even open her mouth. “If this is about Zoe, I don’t wanna hear it.”
Morgan’s eyes flick between Eli and Zoe, then back again, and she says, “Elias—”
“Ah!” Eli holds up a hand. “One more word and I walk away.”
A moment, then two. Then Morgan’s shoulders sag and her gaze drops to the scuffed, beige floor. “Fine,” she says. “Whatever. It’s not . . . it’s not what I wanted to talk to you about, anyway.”
Eli makes a gesture indicating she should continue, and even though Morgan’s not looking at him she says:
“It’s about the thing. For Mo. Arthur said you agreed to play something?”
“Yeah . . .?” Uncertainty. He hopes this isn’t going anywhere bad.
Except Morgan just nods and says:
“Thank you. I know they weren’t always nice to you, but . . . it would’ve meant a lot. To Mo.”
“Sure,” says Eli, who still isn’t sure, a) whether he cares about this, or b) whether he should care. Sure, Val-slash-Mo is dead, and died in a shitty way Eli wouldn’t wish on anyone. But they hadn’t been friends and Eli feels no need to valorize the guy’s memory just because he bit the big one.
(Just because the big one bit him, says a small, mean part of Eli’s mind. He ignores it.)
Morgan is saying:
“I was thinking . . . I mean, I was going to play something too? So maybe if we, like. Did something together?”
Okay now that, Eli hadn’t been expecting. Although, thinking back to that afternoon in the rain, maybe he should’ve been.
“You mean, like a duet?” he asks. “You on your . . . violin?”
Morgan nods. She looks oddly shy, for Morgan, but there’s something bright and soft behind her eyes. Something sad, but earnest. “I know it’s not really what you usually do, but—”
“No,” says Eli, then winces. “I mean, yeah. Yeah, no. I think . . . That’d be cool? I’ve never done it with someone playing live before, but . . . I think it’d be cool.”
“Oh.” Morgan’s pink-frosted lips split open in a pretty peach smile. “Oh, awesome. I, um . . . Did you have anything planned? Arthur said you’d asked Mo’s favorite track. Of yours, I mean.”
Eli laughs, awkward. “Oh, yeah. It was a bit . . . not really the right mood, maybe? But I’ve been working on something else. Like, a remix. It has a piano track I think’d be killer played live.”
And Morgan? Morgan’s eyes light up. Eli hadn’t thought that really happened to people but, huh. Apparently it does. “That sounds amazing,” she says, and honestly seems to mean it.
They make arrangements to crash the music room at lunch to practice. Eli doesn’t have his stuff, but there’s a decent computer in the school’s little studio and he keeps all his WIP files in Dropbox. By the time the arrangements have been arranged and the bell is ringing for first period, he feels . . . pretty awesome, actually. Morgan’s not too bad, when she’s not trying to drown Zoe for witchcraft, and she is pretty good on the violin. And Eli hadn’t been lying; he’s never played with someone live before but, now that the idea’s in his head, he’s totally jonesing to try it. The contrast, between his beats and Morgan’s strings, is going to be—
—is going to be running straight into Jake, apparently.
Eli catches him before Jake can go sprawling from the inadvertent bodycheck. “Geeze,” he says. “Sorry, man. Didn’t see you there.”
Jake just huffs, and steps back. “Getting a bit cosy there, aren’t we?” he says.
It’s such a legitimately strange thing to say—unnatural and accusatory, like it’s something Jake read in a book once and has been dying to try out since—that all Eli can think to reply is a perplexed, “Huh?”
Jake makes an aggressive pointing gesture with his chin. “Lacroix,” he says. “You fucking her, or what?”
“Dude. The hell?” Jake’s comment almost feels like a slap, enough that Eli takes a step back, unsure.
“She’s a real Stacey, I’ll give you that. So I guess I wouldn’t blame you.”
Eli blinks, then blinks again, and finally his brain manages to catch up. “Whoa,” he says. “Whoa whoa whoa. I am not . . . that with Morgan Lacroix. We’re just— Look, there’s this thing on for Val, y’know? I told you about it yesterday. Morgan wants us to do a gig together. That’s all.”
(Somewhere, inside, Eli thinks: Why am I justifying myself to you? Whatever this is, it’s your damage, not mine. And not Morgan’s, either.)
Jake just narrows his eyes, and smirks in a way Eli doesn’t like. “Sure, Drake,” he says. “Whatever you say.” Then he walks off.
Eli has a sudden, intense urge to chase him down. To grab Jake and shake him and make him admin he’s being an idiot, to admit he’s . . . what? Jealous? Eli doesn’t even know. But he does know that whatever Jake’s thing is, it isn’t Eli’s problem. Stars know Eli has enough of his own problems, without worrying about Jake’s as well.
So he just scoffs. And heads to class.
After that, the day goes not too bad. He meets up with Morgan at lunch and they jam for a bit, or whatever it’s called when you’re playing a violin. Morgan likes Eli’s new track and she has some pretty good suggestions on how to improve it—slight tempo change here, a tweak of the key there—and they’ve barely even been at things for fifteen minutes and already Eli’s feeling like he could take on the world. Musically speaking.
It’s about then, of course, that Morgan says:
“I’ve been thinking about what you said.”
“About . . . about Zoe.”
“Oh.” Right. Eli looks up from the track lay-out out in Reaper (piano, bass, oboe; he’ll add the Vocaloid at home later, and trigger the samples from his ‘pad live), to find Morgan watching him with the same clear, sharp intensity Eli’s seen from her mother and brother.
“I think . . . I’ve decided to believe you,” Morgan says. “If you think Zoe’s not . . . not a witch, then I believe you.”
“Er,” says Eli. “I mean . . . she’s not a bad witch. She totally casts spells, though. But, like. Good ones.”
“Mom says there is no good magic.”
“You believe her?”
Morgan’s fingers pick at the strings of her violin, nervous and oddly a-tonal. “I don’t know,” she says eventually. “I . . .” She stops, looks away. Then: “I don’t know.”
Eli shrugs, like it doesn’t mean anything to him either way. “Sure,” he says. “I get that. But Zoe? She’s great. And she don’t hurt no one.”
“All right,” Eli agrees. He’s not stupid enough to think this is the end of it. After all, Zoe’s beef with Morgan is Zoe’s, and Morgan making announcements to Eli about it doesn’t mean anything. Not yet. But it could, and Eli thinks that’s probably a good start. Which is why he taps at the keyboard, and asks: “One more time?”
Morgan smiles, raising her violin. “Or two or three,” she says, winking.
Eli laughs, and they start to play.
Eli makes arrangements to meet Morgan at the rec centre at five. Val’s thing starts at six, and according to Morgan they probably won’t do tributes until after seven. That gives them plenty of time to get set up. Eli is feeling . . . pretty great about it all, actually. Playing with Morgan turned out to be a lot more fun than he’d been expecting—energizing, in a way he hadn’t been expecting—and he thinks the track they ended up with is really fitting. It still riffs off “Waifu Perfect Class 2,” but the beat is slower and the whole thing is re-tuned to a minor key which, honestly, can make anything sound more serious. Eli thinks maybe in a day or two he’ll ask Morgan to record a proper version with him. Like, for YouTube. It probably won’t get many hits—his slower songs usually don’t—but . . . he’s proud of it, and wants the world to know.
Zoe texts him as he’s walking home to let him know she’s meeting up with Arthur to put up wards prior to everyone else’s arrival. Eli sends her back a thumbs up, overwhelmed for one brief moment with just how different his life is from a week ago. And not just because of the dragon stuff. Because of everything; Morgan and Arthur and Zoe and the whole cave of wonders. It’s shitty how it’s come about, what with all the murders and all, but Eli thinks he wouldn’t trade it. It feels . . . good. Like maybe he’s starting to rebuild something. Something that can last.
It’s started drizzling again by the time Eli’s walking in the front door of Aunt Addi’s. She’s home for once, and gives him one of her awkward-but-heartfelt hugs as he walks in. “Gonna be a storm later,” she says, looking through the still-open doorway.
“It’s okay,” Eli tells her. “Arthur’s thing’s inside.”
Addi scowls, more at the clouds than at Eli, then closes the front door with a resounding thunk. “You call,” she says. “If anything— Anything at all. You call.”
“Yes Aunt Addi,” Eli lies. He’s getting good at that.
According to Morgan, the wake will have finger food but Eli takes the opportunity to reheat himself leftovers for an early dinner, just in case. He hums Val’s wake song as he watches the microwave, rewriting last minute tweaks in his head, then takes his bowl of falling-apart lasagne to his room to eat.
He’s halfway through opening Reaper when he notices the textbook.
Jake’s Chemistry textbook, sitting innocuous and forgotten on Eli’s desk. The book he promised he’d get back to Jake, then promptly forgot about.
A brief lance of guilt slices through Eli’s stomach. Maybe they have kinda forgotten about Jake, what with everything else going on. So Eli takes a quick look at the clock. The trailer park isn’t exactly on the way to the Heights—pretty much exactly the opposite, in fact—but Eli thinks if he heads out now he can make it there in time to meet up with Morgan.
Hey man, he texts Jake. Got ur chem book. Coming over now to drop it off? Even as he’s sending it he’s stuffing his Launchpad and his laptop into his backpack, throwing the book in on top.
He calls goodbye to Addi as he crashes down the stairs, coat on and hood pulled up against the drizzling rain. She tells him to be careful and he promises that he will, and then he’s jogging out into the street. Jake still hasn’t replied to his text, so he gets the address off Zoe, who’s all-too keen to send it along with a bunch of photos of the wards she’s working through with Arthur. None of it means anything to Eli, but he sends her a, nice! anyway, because she’s his friend.
Then, he runs.