I hope you will pardon me in sending this letter. I assure you that in any other circumstances, I would have let you be. But new dangers force me to throw myself on your mercy. I received your address through an old acquaintance of mine–you remember Aaron, of course? Yes, how ironic it is that he would be the one to bring us back together, when he was the catalyst that drove us apart.
I am writing this on the twenty-first of May, two years exactly since the day you told me I would never be anything but trouble, and trouble was something you wanted nothing of. I still live in the same apartment where we lived together, on 34th, with the view of the Empire State out the bedroom window.
About Aaron–I know what you’re thinking. It’s not like that. I stopped going to visit him and the others after you left. He tried to follow me here, at first, but this world isn’t his. He gave up when he realized I could never feel for him what I felt for you, and we parted ways. I hadn’t spoken to him for over a year, until I reached out to him asking where I could find you.
The address he gave me is in California. You’ve made it far in two years. I wonder if you’re attending an Academy there–everyone knows that California’s got loads of crossing points. I wonder if you’ve found someone who’s less trouble than I was.
Will you humor me, and let me explain things? It’s been two years, and before I get to what happened the other day, I think I ought to start with everything before.
✦ ✦ ✦
You were always the good girl. Pretty, blond, white. The studious one. The polite one. Maybe you didn’t stand out, but no one avoided you.
They avoided me. I was the bad girl at our Academy, with my lone-wolf attitude, my lack of intrest in classes. I had short scruffy hair and skin just dark enough to mark me as different. Even if I did everything perfectly, I would have been an outcast. So I didn’t bother.
At first I hated you. You were the kind of pretty, smart girl who everyone said was going to go far–the kind of girl I despised. You were everything I wasn’t.
But unlike the other smart girls, you didn’t act like I was dirt. You saw an outcast, yes, but one who didn’t deserve to be cast out. You were such an angel, always hoping to save me.
No one had ever bothered to do that before.
I came across as callous. You came across as condescending. I wanted nothing to do with you. That was what drove me across the veil in the first place--I hated that you were kind to me. I hated the pity in your eyes.
Remember that day when you followed me after class? You wouldn’t leave me alone. You asked me if I wanted help studying. Not if I wanted to study together--if I wanted help.
I don’t know why that got to me so much. I yelled at you and ran. Not home--I ran to the nearest crossing and tumbled from dreary asphalt to lights, music, dancing. Right in the middle of a party, with more veil folk than I ’d ever seen in one place–fairies, elves, even trolls. The beat was addictive, and you know how the air there makes you feel, like you’re breathing oxygen and stardust. And I just started dancing with the rest of them. I forgot everything and just danced.
Aaron was the only one to notice a human in their midst. He was good-looking, with that thin, sharp look elves have, skin like earth, eyes like fire. His smile pulled me in.
Yes, I fell. For his looks, for his disregard for rules. Even if my side of the veil would always see both of us as different, he didn’t care what anyone thought of me but himself. He was a bad boy, and I was sick of trying to be a good girl.
He asked who I was. He introduced me to his friends. We danced and danced and danced. And when I was too tired to laugh or dance or flirt any longer, he asked me to come back. And I did.
You didn’t leave me alone. I still wished you would. But at some point, something changed. You didn’t give up, and eventually, I started to give in.
Let me explain: The world had always told me I wasn’t going to amount to anything. Aaron made me want to laugh in everyone’s faces--I didn’t give a hex what they said I could or couldn’t be. But you–you made me feel like maybe the world was lying. Maybe there was a different kind of resistance. Maybe instead of ignoring what people said, I could prove them wrong.
And there I was, caught between two worlds. Aaron’s realm and ours were like night and day, and I couldn’t choose between the sun and the stars.
You don’t know what I did with them, do you? Besides the parties and the dancing and the flirting, there was something else. I'm sure you’ve guessed, but I'll say it at last: Magic. They taught me magic.
There are people who would call it black magic, but it wasn’t. Not bad, just different. More dangerous, yes, than your little textbook spells. More powerful. And since the world had made me powerless, power was something I craved. That was why I couldn’t give it up–even when you moved into my apartment, even when we spent every day together, my nights were always spent with them.
It could only go on for so long–something was bound to go wrong.
And go wrong it did. As you know.
I’d had a bad day, and you didn’t seem to notice that something was getting on my nerves. I felt stifled. I had that same feeling I always had, that same desire to get away.
Instead of going home, I turned and made my way to the crossing where I knew I could find Aaron and his friends.
They were in a particularly rowdy mood, and I was happy to lose myself. We laughed and joked and cast, cast, cast–flooding the woods with magic just for the thrill of it.
Eventually we settled down, sitting in a ring around a little orb of fairy’s fire. Aaron was so close to me, and I didn’t tell him to move. His eyes were glowing, warm embers, and I couldn’t look away.
He leaned into me, pressing against my skin and pulling my head onto his shoulder.
And of course, that was the moment you found me.
I will never forget how still you were when you saw me, gathered around a fire with trolls and fairies and one handsome elf, with his face buried in my hair. You didn’t move a muscle as you took in the scene, your mouth pressed tight and your eyes burning into mine.
You marched right up and yanked me away from him, and the others were all too drunk on magic to bother following as you pulled me away.
I’d never seen you so angry. You didn’t say a word as you dragged us back through the crossing, back through the streets to our apartment. You waited until the door was shut and locked behind us to start yelling.
I won’t make excuses. We were both wrong. Me, for taking you for granted. You, for trying to fix me.
I don’t want to be fixed. This--my love of danger, my sarcasm, my disregard for anyone telling me what to do--is part of who I am. But I went too far with Aaron, and for that I'm sorry.
And I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry I told you that you were just like everyone else. I'm sorry I told you that they were my friends and you weren’t. Some of it was true, and I won’t go back on that. But I'm sorry, because there were better ways to talk about it. Ways that didn’t involve screaming and yelling and threatening to blow us both to the stars, with the magic they’d taught me turning my hands black.
Ways that didn’t involve you packing up your things, telling me I was nothing but trouble, and slamming the door.
✦ ✦ ✦
I have wasted too much time and paper reminiscing. It’s time I got to the point. I chase after trouble, you said–well, now it’s chasing me. And I fear it’s on your trail as well.
Do you remember the last time we crossed the veil together? We took something back. Something we found in the pebbles on the bottom of that stream where we would sit, near the hidden spot where the fairies hold festivals–you remember the one? I saw it glinting in the water, and you went in and fished it out. A little charm shaped like a star, with two pieces that came apart. Just like a friendship charm–and we figured that was what it was, and that some creature or other had lost it. It was tarnished, like it had been there a while. You said we should keep it, and gave me half–I wear it now, dangling from a little gold chain.
It was only a few days after we went to the river when you left for good. For California, apparently. And you took your half of the necklace with you.
I took mine off and hid it in the back of a drawer that you used to use. I tried to go back. I drifted away from the boys you’d always hated, as if that would bring me closer to you. I stopped going to the veiled realm except for Academy, threw myself into my studies. I surprised myself by discovering that if I put my mind to it, I'm not bad at schoolbook magic, although I'll never be as good as you.
But lately I’ve been thinking about you, as I grow nearer to graduating the Academy, and missing you more than ever. I know it sounds pathetic, but without you, I honestly don’t know what to do next. You were the one who dreamed great things for us. I was the one who messed it all up.
The other day, I dug out the pendant again, for the first time in almost two years, and put it on. Then I walked to the nearest crossing point–that one we used to use all the time, near Grand Central Terminal, that led to the little clearing with the stream. I didn’t do much in the veiled realm–just walked a little, sat by the stream. Tried to figure out where I was going. Eventually it started getting dark. I returned to the crossing.
There was nothing there. No little dropped stitch in the fabric of reality. I spoke the words anyway, and nothing.
Now, every young caster is used to going in and out through the same spot. I thought of the veiled realm almost as a series of islands, unconnected–I’d never been from one crossing point to another on this side.
I managed, though. I wasn’t sure if their world lined up exactly with ours, but I pretended I was going to Central Park from the terminal and tried to follow the path I would take. It took some poking around, and the veil folk I asked weren’t very friendly, but it helped that I only wanted out and they were quite happy to show me the door. I stumbled through the crossing into Central Park, well past sundown, and caught a subway back to the apartment.
I was too tired to think about it–or to even take off the pendant–before I fell asleep. In fact, the next day I was still tired enough that I almost didn’t notice the violent hex on my front door. If Aaron hadn’t taught me how to detect veiled magic, I would certainly have opened it and caught fire or been blown to bits.
It took me two hours to remove the spell, which gave me plenty of time to realize that
I hadn’t bothered to clean it until then. I scrubbed and scrubbed until the tarnish came away, and so did the silver. What’s left is a perfect blue stone, that seems to catch the light even when there isn’t any. I’ve only seen this kind of jewel one other time–in the veiled realm, pinned to the chest of a masked stranger. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I was used to hidden identities at the places Aaron took me, but I remember him telling me to steer clear of “folk like that.”
Are you scared yet? What if I told you that all over the city, crossing points are disappearing? The Central Park one is gone, and so is the one in Times Square that leads to the Academy. The Academy. Dozens of the best casters, human and veil folk, and they haven’t been able to get it back open as far as I know.
If you’ve already gotten rid of your half of the pendant, then you’re most likely safe. If you kept it–as I suspect you may have–keep it safe. Don’t try to destroy it–I did that with mine, and both magical and nonmagical methods failed to do anything but singe my fingers. But put as many theft curses and hiding spells on it as you can. And whatever you do, please don’t cross the veil. Especially not with the pendant.
I need your help. Whatever this charm is, it’s important. And someone wants it back. Schoolbook magic or no, you were the most powerful caster at the Academy. Between your spells and mine, we just might be able to get to the bottom of this.
I’ve already packed what little I need. I'll drop this letter in the mail on the way to the train station. Very old fashioned of me, I know, but I want to lie low.
You’ll probably get this the day I arrive. I'm sorry to show up without warning, but I hope you can tell this is serious.
I'm not asking you to love me again. I know I don’t deserve you. I don’t expect anything from you. You could throw me out on the streets of San Francisco and I wouldn’t blame you. Like you said, I'll never be anything but trouble.
But I know you could never resist a mystery, and me, I could never resist an adventure. We don’t have to be in love. We don’t even have to be friends. But if you’ll be my partner, if you’ll help me get out of this mess, I’ll do my best not to let you down again.
Best wishes, Rebecca. I'll see you soon.