Be Careful What You Wish For–Part 4

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Monday, August 31
Day 5

 

After lunch, Tim had left Josie in charge and taken some time for himself. When he returned a few hours later, Josie was seated in one of the chairs over by the window, her ever-present knitting project in hand. He could just hear her singing something in a low voice. The sound was soft and soothing: Tim found himself smothering an unexpected yawn.

Other than her humming, the room was abnormally quiet. He looked about at the children. They were curled up, asleep. All five of them. At the same time. His eyelids began to droop and he had to hold back another yawn. He stiffened at that.

“Josie, what is your Talent?” he asked with sudden suspicion. It was not a topic that had come up before, but he was sure she had at least one or two—he doubted the daughter of two powerful Talents would not have some magical gifts of her own hiding in there somewhere.

The singing stopped abruptly. Her head jerked up and she flushed, but she seemed to understand immediately why he was asking. “I’m a Leaner. I’m not supposed to use it except under certain circumstances, but I thought helping them get to sleep would be a good thing. Did I think wrongly?”

He shook his head. “No. Sleep is best for them all,” he reassured her, but inside he thought, Oh heavens, a Leaner? Tim was no expert on Talents, but he knew what a Leaner was—someone who could make people feel things that they might not otherwise feel. Nearly as dangerous as a Bender . . .

A sudden horrifying thought struck him. Is that why I’m still ensnared by you?

“Josephine—?” He broke off in dismay before finding the strength to ask, “Have you ever used your Talent to . . . ?” But once more he couldn’t finish the question.

She somehow guessed anyway, because she answered in a voice flat and hard: “Have I ever used my Talent to forcibly attract someone? No.”

But how can I know that for sure?

Again it was as if she’d read his mind. “Of course, if I had done so, why would I ever admit it? Truth is, a Leaner can only directly affect a person’s emotions when they are physically close.”

At his continued silence she added in a voice sharp with bitterness, “Are you afraid you have been captured by une belle dame sans merci? That I am playing Viviane to your Merlin? Well, if your feelings for me don’t suddenly change when I am gone, then they are your feelings alone, and no Leaning of mine.”

He knew for a fact that nothing ever changed in his feelings toward her. A near-silent sigh escaped and he felt the tension in his shoulders loosen.

Some sign of his relief must have shown because she let out a harsh little laugh. “You know, I’ve never understood why people always assume there’s magic involved when someone is attracted to me. I mean, just look at me—do I really look like a girl who needs a magical Talent to capture a man’s attention?”

She fluttered her lashes at him, just a little, as if to underscore the truth of her words. Her smooth, pale skin and rosy cheeks, those perfectly shaped lips and wide silver eyes, golden curls escaping from the plain, sensible braid that hung over one shoulder: even in a worn, wrinkled cotton dress years out of style and obviously exhausted, Josie Black could still make his heart beat faster.

“Point taken.” Even as he spoke, it struck him hard what he’d basically accused her of. He sat down across from her and once again took her hand in his. “Josie, I am sorry. Truly I am. I . . . I never should have thought such a thing of you.” You may be a light-hearted flirt, but you’re no jezebel.

Surprisingly, she dismissed his apology with her free hand and a smile. “It’s okay. You aren’t the first person to think that of me. I’ve grown rather accustomed to the question.” Then her voice and smile became unsteady. “Though not the sting.”

“I would not have suspected that. You hide it well,” he said slowly.

Her smile stiffened, became too bright. “Contrary to popular thought, and the image I project, I actually do care what people think of me. I just don’t let their opinions stop me from behaving as I wish. Which makes life rather painful at times.” The smile twisted. “And unfortunately, my secondary Talent doesn’t make my life any easier either.”

“And what Talent is that?”

“Masking.”

He’d never heard of that one. “What’s Masking?”

In answer she turned her head away, and when she faced him once again, it was her mother’s blue eyes and dark hair he saw.

Tim blinked and rubbed his eyes, then reached out without thinking to stroke what his eyes told him was a dark brown braid, even though he knew it could not be so. “How . . . how are you doing that?”

“I’m not sure exactly. I hold a detailed image in my mind of what I want to look like, and then somehow push that image outward, and that’s what others see. Katja and I both have the ability, but I’m far better at it than she is. One of the few things I can say that about.” Abruptly her own face reappeared. “However, it is exhausting, and even more useless than Leaning. I like the way I look naturally, so why should I ever wear a Mask?”

His immediate thought was, I agree—you’re beautiful just the way you are. What he said aloud was, “Are you always this open and honest about yourself?”

She thought about it for a moment, then gave a delicate little snort. “Actually, no. I never am. It’s probably the lack of sleep, making my tongue wag more than it ought. Hopefully I’ve not given you a disgust of me with all this soul bearing.”

“Far from it,” he hastened to reassure her. “In fact, I like this Josie Black far more than the one you usually present to the world.”

Her eyes met his for a brief moment. “Thank you,” she said simply. “I needed to hear that.”

 

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