Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

36,818
04.03.2019

“Gee, thanks a lot,” I muttered, then when he flushed bright red I hurried to add, “I’m sorry. I know what you meant. And I’m not feeling great.”

“You’ve been through a lot.”

I sat at the kitchen table. “Yeah, that week in a hammock or on the front porch is sounding better and better. But we have work to do, what with the bad guys on the loose and all.”

He expertly cracked eggs, then beat them with more vigor than was probably necessary. “I’ll take care of that. Idris and I are due for a good showdown one of these days.”

“Is that something you’ve seen or just something you’d like to happen?”

“A little of both.”

It was a showdown that I couldn’t help but think would go more smoothly without me in the picture.

That evening I repacked my bag, and then Owen walked me over to my apartment. It was still a little early to expect Gemma and Marcia to be home, which was fine with me. I thought things might go better if I were already there instead of walking in on them. I was relieved and a bit surprised not to find my belongings sitting in the hallway. My keys still fit in the locks, and when I opened the front door the place looked pretty much the same way it always had.

“They haven’t kicked you out,” Owen said.

“Not yet.”

“They won’t.”

“You’ve seen that, too, I suppose?”

“No. But you and your friends have been through a lot together. I don’t think they’ll give up on you so easily. Look at Rod and me. We’re still speaking after all these years and some worse stuff than you know about.”

“Really?”

“Remind me to tell you sometime.”

Marcia was the first one home. She looked startled when she saw us there, and then she hugged me. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve felt better. I’m tired. I’ve been through a lot, but I’ll be fine. How are you holding up?”

“I’m confused, but I presume you’re here to explain?” She frowned. “It did really happen, didn’t it? That wasn’t all just a dream?”

“It was real.” I paused, then asked, “Do you know if Gemma will be home anytime soon?”

“She didn’t say anything about being out late. Why?”

“We need to tell her, too, and I only want to go through it once, so let’s wait for Gemma, okay?”

All three of us jumped when the key turned in the lock and Gemma entered, with Philip right behind her. He was still pale, but looked like he was recovering from the night before. I was glad to see him. He’d be good for backing up my story as a neutral third party. “You’re back,” Gemma said. She sounded chilly, so Marcia must not have told her the full story yet.

“Get yourself a glass of wine,” Marcia said. “Katie has something to talk to us about.”

She went to the kitchen and got some wine, offered some to Philip, who declined, then joined Marcia at the table. Philip sat next to her. “Okay, what is it?” she asked.

Twenty-Two

I glanced at Owen, then faced my roommates and took a deep breath. “I have something to tell you. It’s going to sound crazy at first, but it’s absolutely true, and by the time I’m done, it’ll explain a lot.”

“Including New Year’s Eve?” Gemma asked.

“Including New Year’s Eve, but it goes back further than that.” I had to pause then and think. As many times as I’d imagined how I’d tell my friends about everything going on with me, I hadn’t ever come to a conclusion of the best way to go about it. Should I tell it like a story as it happened to me, or just launch into the part about magic being real?

I decided to fall somewhere in the middle. “The company I work for is a little unusual,” I began. “It’s not quite as boring as I let on. In fact, it’s really rather interesting, but most of what goes on there is top secret.” Philip’s eyes went wide, and I could tell he’d figured out what I was going to tell them. He frowned, but Owen gave him a reassuring nod. “The product this company sells is magic, more or less.”

“Like magic tricks?” Gemma asked.

“No. Real magic. Spells and stuff like that. For people with real magic powers.”

Gemma laughed. “Good one, Katie. But there’s no such thing.”

“Uh, yes, there is,” Marcia said.

Gemma whirled on her. “You know about this?”

“It has something to do with where I’ve been, but let them tell the story. I only know parts of it.”