Sadie crinkled her nose at the smell of grease and burnt pepperoni when the entrance to Guido’s Pizzeria opened.
“Are you sure you won’t come inside?”
Hugging her jacket close, Sadie gave Mama Guido the same smile she had every fifteen minutes for the past hour. The snow had tapered off, but the descending darkness gave the late afternoon an ominous edge.
“No. I’m fine.”
“You’re going to freeze out here.”
Enduring the repeated chastisement, Sadie burrowed deeper into her hand knit scarf and defrosted her face with a sigh. She tried to pull some warmth from Mabel’s tropically themed postcard tucked into her inside pocket but the thought served to stoke her irritation instead. Mama Guido’s dismissive wave spiked it further, and Sadie pivoted while the rotund woman wobbled inside where brick ovens blazed.
Striding along the sidewalk, Sadie crunched the flakes fallen into her boots’ previous prints. Other treaded soles had added their mark, the crowd nearly exposing the cement at the street’s corner.
Iced asphalt peeked out beneath tire tracks and glistened in the yellowed lamp arching overhead. Rubbing at her arms, Sadie rustled the down inside her sleeves. She stomped her feet, encouraging her toes to thaw. She watched the passing of a sedan and a hearty bus complete with clunking chains around its massive tires. They trundled along, their long shadows chasing them out of sight.
Another shade seemed to leap into view and scurry along the brick wall alongside Guido’s. The shape seemed oddly familiar and despite her second thoughts, Sadie turned her back to the road. A glint, like the emerald cross Mabel had always worn around her neck, beckoned from where a dumpster peeked out from behind the restaurant.
Pulling her cap down over her forehead’s furrows, Sadie stalked after the curious gleam.
Sadie sped her gait and rounded the dumpster. She stopped short when snow and brick faced her instead of the face she had expected.
Stepping in a cautious circle, Sadie passed over the back stoop, the dumpster, the bins of the picture frame store next door, and followed the fence along the perimeter of flanking apartments, and then the gates of the bottom floors at her left. Her frown deepened until she traced the fire escape and caught a glint at the initial landing.
Mabel’s vibrant smile sparkled like new fallen snow.
“I knew you’d come.” Wiggling through the opening, she hung by her arms, and then plopped onto the ground with a wet splat.
Sadie gaped, but her desire for answers she’d already waited an hour to hear dissolved her surprise. “What are you doing here?”
Mabel adjusted the hood of her parka over freshly purpled hair, before jutting out a hip and setting both hands at her waist. “What do you mean?”
“You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Oh that.” She laughed, a softer tone than normal, more like chimes than church bells pealing. “That was just supposed to work on the dunces.”
“Call me a dunce then.”
“Never.” With her smile beaming, Mabel skittered forward and Sadie couldn’t help but return her cinching embrace. “Man it’s good to see you.”
“You too, Mabel. But—”
“Why all this?” Mabel eyes glittered. “Funny you should ask.”
Sadie bit her lower lip but let Mabel take her gloved hand and guide her to the third gate in the fence, the only one ajar.
Sadie gulped her question when Mabel put her bared finger with its blue nail to the lips she had painted purple, like the bangs swaying beneath her hood. Mabel’s grin returned in full force after the frozen moment of warning and her clasp on Sadie’s hand tightened. Silenced, Sadie followed her through.
Words failed her regardless when the ebony gaze of the pale-faced man seated at the iron-wrought patio set caught her over his steepled hands. Glue seemed to stick Sadie’s feet to the naked slate slabs when Mabel released her hand to latch the door behind them and bounce back to her side.
“Didn’t I tell you she was perfect?”
The ebony-eyed man tilted his head a fraction, the motion making his slicked black hair glisten.
Sadie’s tongue fought for a single word. “Ma…Mabel?”
“Oh, what am I doing?” Mabel’s smile returned, suddenly radiating warmth like a summer sun. “Sadie, this is—”
She froze in mid-sentence. The gusts of wind died too. Everything seemed stilled when the ebony-eyed man shifted his index fingers from their towered formation and pointed them directly at the sky.
Sadie gasped, the breath a sudden shock to her system, and rocked back on her heels. “What is going on?”
The ebony-eyed man lifted his shoulder in a hint of a shrug. “She drivels.”
“She? You mean Mabel?” Sadie escaped from his entrancing gaze and found Mabel, mouth open, flung arm caught in mid-motion to indicate where he sat. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Besides an inability to hold her tongue?”
Wheeling, Sadie mounted a glower but the scathing reprimand shriveled on her tongue when she found herself facing the knot in the ebony-eyed man’s charcoal tie. Swallowing her retort, she walked her gaze along his throat, past the bulge of an Adam’s apple, around a chin shaven clean of any hint of stubble, bypassed the smirk quirking his lips, a tapered nose, and found his eyes again. They had lightened from their bottomless black and swung to the opposite extreme, the pupils almost vanishing in the sclera.
“Who are you?”
His smirk twisted “The question is not who, but what.”
“Fine.” Quivering, Sadie managed a single back step, but the air firmed to stone behind her, barring further retreat. “What are you?”
“I didn’t know I needed saving.”
“Few do.” His focus flicked to Mabel. “She did. It’s one of her gifts.”
“She Sees.” His gaze snapped back. “She Sees those who can be saved which is why, I in turn, saved her.”
Sadie shook her head and felt along the invisible wall, her fingers sweating beneath her gloves. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir, but I’d like to leave now.”
“She suspected you would wish to run, which is why I have reduced this introduction to something so obvious.” He made a graceful motion with his hand and Sadie followed his pale fingertips as they indicated the bared slate at her feet, the lush grass in the nearby patch of lawn, the gleam on the polished furniture, and the dome overhead where the resurging winter’s snow melted upon impact.
“Curt. I approve.”
His tone irked Sadie’s nerves and she regained a bit of her glower. “What is going on here?”
“Perhaps you should tell me. I find people believe more when they recount what they see.”
“I see Mabel. Here. Alive. I’m standing in a virtual summer bubble in the middle of winter with some asshole who’s drugged me or hypnotized me or something, and who refuses to give me a straight answer.”
“You wish for a straight answer?”
“Damn right I do.”
“But you already know the answer.”
“What bullshit.” Grabbing Mabel’s shoulders, Sadie shook, but Mabel refused to budge. She glared at the once ebony-eyed man. “What have you done to her?”
“What does it look like?”
Sadie spun and raised a finger as if to force it down his throat and pull something more coherent off his tongue. She balked, however, when a spark ignited instead, the turquoise flame hovering upon her fingertip like a candle’s fire. The warmth caressed her cheeks and Sadie waved her hand until the light doused.
Her voice emerged in a warbling whisper. “What was that?”
“Trust your eyes.”
She met his. “What I saw isn’t possible.”
“You doubt your own perceptions?”
“There must be a better answer.”
“Better implies you’ve already reached one.”
“But it’s not possible.”
Sadie stared at her hand, at the finger still warm. She walked her gaze over the backyard, over Mabel, over the lawn, and over the reedy man before her.
“Magic doesn’t exist.”
His lips spread into a smile heating her bones and staining her sight like a nightmare.
He raised an index finger. With a quiver, the world regained its motion, its chill, its familiar babble of Mabel’s apology, but Sadie couldn’t imagine it being quite the same ever again.