The realisation hit me as I looked at the picnic blanket. We were sitting on the beach, but none of the sand had migrated onto the rug. When I asked Eli about it before he’d claimed it was a sand repellent picnic blanket Mrs Lacy had seen on an infomercial. God, I was dumb. Informercial my arse, he was using magic to keep the sand off. I needed to go to the beach more because I obviously had no idea how sand worked. I turned my gaze from the blanket and back to working on eating my crumbling piece of fish. Glad Eli couldn’t see my flushed cheeks.
“You must be hungry? You haven’t said a word since you saw the food.” Eli had managed to finish his fish without turning it into a mass of small, slippery pieces that wouldn’t sit on a fork. He placed a heavily sauce dipped chip in his mouth. He’d dragged it from the paper to his mouth without even a hint that the sauce might drip onto his neat button-down tee-shirt and board shorts. Some people managed to make eating messy food look elegant. Most of my public eating involved a small nasty voice in the back of my head telling me that any second I would be kicked out for a gross display of public indecency. I stopped myself short of running a sticky lemon juice covered hand through my curls. I was having a bad day if I was self-conscious of my eating around Eli. He had to be using his magic to keep the sauce on the already vinegar-soaked chip. At this point, the thing shouldn’t have even been holding it's self together. To be able to use magic with such ease. I forced myself to keep a neutral expression as the wave of jealousy flooded me. I pinched my thigh through my cargo shorts, the pain distracting me from the anger and envy that threatened to show on my face.
“Dex? Are you okay?”
I smiled at him. “Yes. Just Mrs Gregory on about the gays at work again.”
“Whenever she remembers I’m married to a man, she likes to tell me how I’ve been corrupted by the gay agender and need to find Jesus again. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I’ve never known Jesus. Hell, no one in my family has met Jesus since the 19th century at least. ”
He laughed. “You really know how to taper my anger.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I swallowed the words I really wanted to speak; I was yet to tell him the excuse they used to demote me. It would only make him angry at two people he already hated. Mayor Chesterfield was Eli’s uncle, and I didn’t want to add to the hostility between them when the older man had done a good job of it on his own.
I turned to Eli and looked him in the eyes. “What is your magic?”
“What can I do?”
“I guess in simple terms you’d call it Telekinesis.”
He took a few seconds to scan the empty beach, then smiled at me. “Don’t eat all the chips while I’m gone.”
I took a long look at the half he’d doused in vinegar and barbeque sauce. He seemed concerned that I might actually steal his food, but that had to be a joke. I even avoided kissing him until he’d had most of his water. I hated to imagine how it tasted going down based on the second-hand aftertaste.
I watched him go to the dunes and return with a handful of small ocean smoothed rocks. I knew why I’d never beat him at rock skipping; he was a dirty little cheat.
I watched him skip the rocks on the water. They were entirely under his control, the waves no obstacle, some flying meters into the air. I watched each of the stones as long as the fading light allowed.
“That your only trick?”
He smiled at me. With an unnecessary flick of a finger, he brought a couple of chips over to where he was standing. His lack of effort was almost disappointing, but this was Eli. What had I expected? A big, fancy show that would require actual effort? He’d likely cheated at skipping rocks, right from the beginning of our rivalry around the game as kids.
Eli took a long, loud breath and walked back over to sit beside me. The smile slipped from his face. “The family wants me to do that town council thing.”
“Do you want to?”
“You’re the first person who’s asked me that. The only person that’s cared. Viola, the golden child, said no and Lewis is too young, which leaves me. The middle child, poised to pick up the slack again.”
“I wasn’t asking if you feel obliged to do it. I was asking if you wanted to.”
He lay back on the rug, hands folded behind his head. “I’d have to give up my job at the Agency. The one thing I truly chose for myself was my field of magic. I only protect and assist a couple of investigators, but it’s my thing.”
“The family has already decided that I’m doing the council thing. In fifteen years, I’ll be mayor.”
And the rest of the council will love you. Should I warn him? He had to know; he wasn’t stupid. The other members would jump on a young inexperienced member and take full advantage. Eli would go with the flow, he always did. His tone expressed real disappointment when he said he’d have to give up his job. ‘The family has already decided’, those words left a bitter taste in my mouth, and I wasn’t even the person who said them. Did his family decide I was the perfect guy for him? He hadn’t openly been with anyone before me. They claimed to want him to be happy, but it was happiness on their terms. He could be gay but only with a suitable man from a good family. The same attitude had led to his elder sister’s teen pregnancy. They’d pushed her and my brother together so aggressively that they’d decided to give it a try. Ralph hadn’t just walked out on his kid but the expectations of both our families. The message had been clear from my childhood; marry someone from a ‘good’ local family. I did love Eli, but that didn’t erase the panicked thought that maybe the family influence had gotten to me. I always liked Eli, but I’d never looked at him sexually before I moved back home. Before he asked me on that first date, I’d never considered the idea. It was like I’d looked at him as the adult he’d become for the first time when those words left his mouth. The web years of history had weaved around us falling apart. There had always been an undercurrent of something deeper within mine and Eli’s relationship. It had boiled over and melted the barriers between us like acid.
I touched his shoulder. “Don’t accept the job if it isn’t what you want. I think you need to fight for the life you want. You’re the one who has to live with this, and I want you to be happy. You need to be happy.”
“I’m a Lacy. I don’t think I’m allowed to be happy.” He waved a hand between us. “I know you think our families welcomed this idea with open arms, but I had to fight for it. I promised never to fight them on anything ever again if I could just have our relationship. I wanted one thing to call my own.”
“We need space from them.” I took his hand. “I know it’s closer to Tallow then we’d like, but Gran wouldn’t mind us living in her parents' house.”
“When we make a move like that, I want it to be on our terms. I don’t want to be obliged to anyone. I just have to work through the money thing.”
“I have money saved from my job, enough for a deposit. We’re both working adults with a good credit history.”
“I’ve taken that into my calculations. We need enough to buy something in full. One wave of Grandpa’s finger and no bank in a one hundred mile radius will loan to us. No one will rent to us without a history.”
“I didn’t think you wanted to get out. It’s why I’ve never brought it up.”
“I don’t have access to any money. Grandpa controls every cent. He got to my Mum. Eventually, he’ll get to you.
“We need a plan to get out that doesn’t involve you unwittingly joining the town council. If you want the job, I’m fine with it, but I can’t stand by and watch you forced into something you don’t want.”
“I like the work I do for the Agency. I’ve been trying to save money, slip away as much as I can.”
“My paycheck goes into a shared account controlled by Grandpa.”
“Christ.” I didn’t mean to let the word leave my mouth, but this level of crazy was going too far. How had I failed to see how deep it ran?
“I didn’t want you to find out.”
“What, because you knew I’d think it’s insane? When I use the card he gave me, is it coming out of that account? Why did you join him in pressuring me to use it?”
“I want you to be happy and have anything you could ever possibly desire. Those people who claim to have walked out with nothing and made it on their own are either very lucky or full of shit.”
“My necessary expenses are covered, I’d be happier knowing I was spending my own money on books. I’ve been able to put a healthy amount into my savings account since we got married.”
“I know they’re controlling me. Why not take advantage?”
“Your hard-earned money is going into an account owned by your Grandpa. I don’t think you’re the one taking advantage.”
“I have no idea what to do.”
“I have a rental history from Perth. It has to count for something.”
“All the decent landlords are friendly with Grandpa. My family honestly has the money to back up their power, and anyone with a business won’t become his enemy.”
“We need to cut the strings while you can still pull out of this election.”
“Think realistically. No one is going to let us stay with them until we save enough money to buy a house. I’ll start from rock bottom; there’s no way I’d get the money already in that account. Grandpa, as a member of the board, has enough power to make the pay department fluff around with changing my check long enough to flush us back.” Eli said.
“We’re going to get out and not come back. You’re an adult Eli; It’s healthy to have boundaries.” I said.
“Okay. We’ll find a way to get out as soon as possible. None of my friends are at a place in their life where they want or need roommates.”
“We’ll figure it out.”
He rhythmically ran his tongue over the chipped spot on the tip of one of his canine teeth, his hazel eyes distant and brow creased.
I waited, not wanting to break his train of thought, the next move needed to be his. I’d kept quiet about his family until now, and I wasn’t about to place a wedge between us because I criticised them.
“I’m going to slip out my money and put it in that savings account of yours. I won’t get it all. It might be enough to get something cheap in a couple of years, with your entire check going into the account.”
I relaxed a little. When we’d married, I’d expected questions about why I kept the savings account secret from everyone but him. The sole reason? His family. I hadn’t the desire to completely place my life under their control.