Home > Boundary Lines (Boundary Magic #2)(14)

Boundary Lines (Boundary Magic #2)(14)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

I went as fast as I dared, trying to make it before the early-morning commuter traffic. By six forty I was parking in the townhouse’s narrow driveway, just behind Simon’s Chevy. There was no sign of Tracy’s VW Beetle, which surprised me a little. None of my business, though.

Simon opened the door before I’d finished knocking, dressed in a blue flannel button-down and jeans, his trademark messenger bag clutched in his teeth. The crutches were gone, but he was leaning on a simple wooden cane. “Can you . . .” he said through his teeth, and I reached out and snagged the messenger bag, looping it over my own shoulder. “Thanks,” he said. “Hurts to lift my arms that high.”

“No worries.” I looked him over carefully. The search for my niece a couple of weeks earlier had ended at the farm of a hillbilly named Atwood, in a decrepit barn full of rusty junk. Simon had climbed a ladder to the hayloft where Atwood was keeping Charlie, not realizing that the “shitkicker witch” had sabotaged the ladder to collapse when he was halfway up. My friend had landed on top of a pile of rusty junk, including some metal-and-glass lanterns, and wound up with torn-up back muscles and a lacerated kidney. The metal shards had also nicked the iliac artery in his lower back, which had caused him to bleed out and, technically, die.

Because Atwood was a witch, Simon would have been responsible for tracking him down regardless of my involvement. During the rescue, though, I was the one who’d told Simon to go into that barn to get Charlie. I used to be a soldier; I knew that you have to make decisions in the heat of the moment. And even when I look back now, I’m not sure I could have done anything differently with the information I had at the time. But there was still a voice at the back of my mind that insisted it was my fault Simon was hurt.

All things considered, though, he didn’t look too bad. He’d dropped weight from his lean frame, but his hair was clean, and his olive skin—Hazel and her late husband were a mixed-race couple—was no longer sickly. He looked tired, though. “Stop examining me,” Simon snapped.

My mouth dropped open, just a tiny bit. That wasn’t like Simon. He was always kind and even tempered—sometimes almost too laid-back.

Without waiting for me to respond, he hobbled past me onto the front steps. “Let’s go.”

I scrambled to follow, trying to spot him on the steps without looking like I was spotting him on the steps. Could whatever was bothering the other witches also be getting to Simon? Or was he just cranky from dealing with his injuries?

“Everything okay?” I ventured, when we were buckled in my car and on the road toward Boulder.

“Fine.”

“How have you been feeling?”

“Good. Much better.”

Yeah, right. I’d heard that tone of voice before. Like out of my own mouth. “Uh-huh,” I said, keeping my voice playful. “And how are you really feeling?”

“I’m fine, Lex,” he snapped, and then sighed. “Sorry. I know you mean well.”

There was a pause, and I didn’t think he was planning to finish the thought anytime soon. “But . . .” I prompted.

“But you don’t really know what it’s like for me now.”

I’m not sure what I’d expected him to say, but it wasn’t that. “Actually,” I pointed out, “I may be the only one who does.”

His whole face creased into a frown. “What do you mean?”

“You died, Simon,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. “And I’ve . . . you know . . . died a bunch of times.” As a boundary witch, my body had a natural resistance to crossing the line from living to dead. I had drowned as a teenager and I’d bled out after surviving the IED in Iraq. I’d also been stabbed to death by a crazed vampire only a few weeks earlier. My body wouldn’t let me die—and now I had refused to let Simon’s.

“I guess you’re right. Do you . . .” he started, but had to pause and take a breath. “Do you have nightmares?”

I smiled sadly. “On and off. When I was a kid, I dreamed about drowning a lot, and death. Dead people. And after Iraq . . . yeah. But it fades. For what it’s worth.”

Another long moment of silence passed between us, and I could feel him working up to something. “You haven’t asked me where Tracy is,” he said at last.

I shrugged. “None of my business.”

“She’s been sleeping at her mother’s. She says it’s because of the nightmares, but things have been tense.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Simon and I had always enjoyed a very casual student-teacher relationship, so it felt strange for him to share something so personal. Then again, I was the one who’d encouraged him to share, wasn’t I? “I’m sorry, man,” I finally said.

“I remember, you know,” he said abruptly. “I remember disconnecting. Floating. Seeing you.” I glanced over at him. He was staring it me intently, curiously. “You were crying.”

There wasn’t much I could say about that. Simon squirmed in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position despite the bandages he probably had on under his clothes. I changed the subject. “So in case someone asks me, what kind of biology do you do?”

Some of the tension smoothed off his face. Back on familiar territory. “Officially, I’m an associate curator at the Natural History museum on campus, and I teach undergraduate classes in biology. My specialty is mammalian vertebrate systemics.”

   
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