After almost two weeks in my bedroom, I needed to get out. I went on a walk and found myself on Short Street in front of the Diner. I felt the ghost a few meters down the street push at the back of my mind. I pushed back against the intrusion with a simple ‘no’ and pushed on the Diner’s door.
When I walked into the Diner and ordered a pot of earl grey tea, I didn’t take notice of anyone else in the quiet building. At two-thirty in the afternoon, everyone I knew was at work. As I opened my phone a hand with long neon yellow fingernails wrapped around the pole of my table number.
“Not even a smile or a wave? Am I being snubbed?”
I looked up from my phone. My cousin, Kat, was twisting my table number between her lightly tanned fingers. She met my eyes once then walked off with my number towards her table. I grabbed my bag and rushed after her.
I noticed a laptop-tablet hybrid sitting on the table beside a stack of books and loose paper. Kat’s frizzy brown hair was held back with two expensive silver pens. There was a notepad about to fall from the front pocket of her baggy emerald button-down. The navy pants gave the impression that she’d dressed in the dark, the colours not quite matching in the stark light of the café. “Are you still writing for that rag?”
“Yes, and It’s not a rag.”
“Ignore me. I’m a prick.”
“I haven’t had a real conversation with you since your graduation party.”
“I know.” I accepted my pot of tea from the passing waitress. “What do you want?”
“Don’t be like that, Dex.”
“I’m not sure you have the right to be offended that I didn’t notice you. We used to be thick as thieves, now we live in the same town and never say more than a quick hello.”
“Communication comes from both ends, Dexter.”
She looked down at the blue, red and white checkered tablecloth. “I’m sorry too… because I do want something.”
“My boss wants an interview with your husband.”
“It’s about the town council election.”
“Why would your boss want to interview Eli? Lacy Senior is the one running for the election. Not to mention it doesn’t actually matter much, Dunn is going to be amalgamated into the Tallow Shire.”
Kat held up a hand. “Nothing you just said makes a lick of sense. Let’s start with the easiest thing.” She took a deep breath and closed her blue eyes for a second. “Where did you hear that amalgamation thing?”
“I know someone working for the Tallow Shire.”
“One, that idea was trunked a long time ago.” She held out her fingers and counted her points. “Two, if Dunn were to join a larger shire, it would be Beckham Shire. They have the largest magical population in the country. Tallow doesn’t even have an official magical community.”
“You’ve heard about my accident?” I wasn’t surprised that she was in on it. She’d attended Dunn Academy with Eli.
“I know you’re safe to talk candidly too. Rumours travel fast.” She tapped the table. “Back on topic. Eli’s the one running for town council. The rest of his family has no desire to. I heard they tried to push Viola into it as she is a far more acceptable age, but she refused. None of the cousins would give it the time of day. There is the expectation they will field a candidate which leaves Eli.” She reached out to pat my hand with a smile. “Don’t look so worried. He’s twenty-three, no one is going to vote for him, seriously.”
“Has anyone mentioned how messed up this town is? Certain families expected to field council candidates. I hardly think Eli is serious about this.” If he were, he would have told me.
Kat gave me an odd look. “Check he isn’t serious before you say anything. Maybe he was looking for the best time to tell you. It’s not public yet. His grandfather was the one who leaked it to the press.”
“We have a date tonight.”
“He probably plans to tell you then. Maybe try act surprised?”
“Is that the cousin advice of the year?”
“Yes.” She grabbed my teapot and filled her empty coffee cup. I tried not to look at the sticky, gritty milk residue that floated in her tea. How long had the cup been sitting on the table before I arrived? I slid my cup away from my hand. I was done with tea for the day.
“How many members of our family know about magic?”
“The only people who don’t know are your parents and Ralph. If someone doesn’t know it’s because they’re not a good fit for magic.”
“Not a good fit?”
“They tested you just before you went into first grade, and you got cut. Everyone who has magical parents or grandparents is allowed to take the test.”
“A test I took when I was six decided the course of my life?”
“It takes a long time to learn magic. Primary school kids are socialised with the Mortals and taught base level spells in after school classes. We specialise in high schools like Dunn Academy. After graduation, most take apprenticeships or traineeships. There are university courses, but those are for the top ten per cent of Mages or those who need Mundane degrees.”
“You never wanted to tell me?”
Kat looked into her tea. “It’s more important than ever to keep the secret. Mortals have nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the world, many times over. Magic isn’t enough to keep us safe from those who fear us anymore.”
“There’s that word again, Mortal. Magic doesn’t make anyone special.”
“Dex.” She reached out to touch me.
I pulled away from her and stood up. I left the Diner, dropping the money for our drinks on the counter.