“What are you doing?”
Andrew held up a finger and Olivia paused where she was in the doorway. The room was dim, the shades blocking out the afternoon sun so that only a small amount of light spilled in around the edges. Andrew was sitting on the edge of the couch with a large white candle lit in front of him on the coffee table. The hand that wasn’t currently holding back Olivia’s question was holding a small herb bundle directly above the flame and he was squinting in concentration as he mouthed a few words that she couldn’t catch.
There was an intensity there that she hadn’t ever seen from him before. In the dark of the room, the candlelight illuminated his cheekbones and tossed shadows under his eyes. She would have thought he’d try to hide whatever he was doing, maybe toss it aside with some bitter little joke. But instead, it was like she hadn’t even entered the room. And she couldn’t quite believe that this was Andrew in here performing magic. What would the Andrew of a year ago have to say about it?
But then he blew out the candle and the image was gone. And it was plain old Andrew, his hair a little too long for his usual style and the start of a self-deprecating smile on his face as he looked up at her. “Sorry,” he said. “I just needed to finish that.”
Olivia stepped into the house and closed the door. “No problem,” she said. “I’m sorry to interrupt. What were you doing?”
There was the slight blush she’d expected. “Um, just a protection thing,” he said, looking at the smoke trailing lazily from the charred candle wick. “I needed to strengthen a few things and didn’t want to do it when Mia was home. Don’t tell Dr. Degas, I’m supposed to be off magic for a few more days.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “How’s your mum?”
“Good,” Olivia said. “She’s got Mia for a few hours so they can have a little Christmas time together. I’ll go back and get her soon.”
“Are you alright?”
Now it was her turn to be embarrassed as she sat down next to him on the couch. “Yeah,” she said with a sigh. “I’m alright. I think I was already stressed and it’s not like that one goes away, so it all just snowballed and…”
Amazingly, he somehow seemed to understand what she was saying. “Celine got rid of him,” he said, moving an index finger through the fading smoke, interrupting its path as it curled toward the ceiling. “I saw her do it.”
Her stomach turned, but she nodded. “I know.”
He’d driven her there. Olivia tried to think back, to remember anything about that car ride. But it was like probing at a rotten tooth and her eyes were stinging again already. “Thank you,” she said instead.
“What’s it feel like?” she asked.
Andrew turned to her, confused. “I mean, this,” she gestured at the candle. “Magic.”
“Um, like I’m crossing my fingers very hard,” he said. “Or like you’re tossing an envelope in the postbox and hoping for the best.”
He laughed as the last of the smoke faded away. “Boring answer, I know.”
“No, not if it works.”
“I never thought it would, but look at this place.”
Andrew gestured around the living room and Olivia followed his hand. This was her home and she’d spent two years making it exactly what she wanted. What made her feel safest. And now it was even more protected because of things like what she’d just walked in on. So even if she didn’t quite get it, she appreciated it.
“Have you talked to Noah at all today?” she asked.
Andrew shook his head. “I haven’t seen him,” he admitted.
“I saw him this morning. I think we’re all just…”
She trailed off, unable to think of how to finish that sentence. Depressed seemed too small. But there wasn’t better way to describe it, at least as far as she knew.
“Are you going to the caroling tonight?” Andrew asked.
“No,” Olivia said. “I was going to, but there’s too many people. And it’s cold and snowy. I think I’ll pick up Mia later and just stay home. Are you going?”
Andrew laughed, resting his head against the back of the couch. “No, I think I’ll stay here and just count the hours.”
Right. Tomorrow will be one year since he got trapped. Olivia was about to ask how he was doing, but he stood up.
“I need to shower,” he said. “Wash off the magic. See you in a little while.”
He walked out of the room and Olivia stayed where she was, breathing in the scent of burned bay leaf and trying not to think about anything at all for a few minutes.