Light from the morning sun blasted into her face and Brooke woke up with a groan, turning over and putting a second pillow on her head. She was having such nice dreams, and was sleeping so soundly after rubbing another one out last night… this just wasn’t fair.
As she was about to close her eyes again, though, another box placed at the foot of the bed caught her attention – Amos must have delivered it at some point. She blinked at it for a minute, waiting for her eyelids to decide whether she was going to fall back asleep or not, and when they didn’t feel so heavy anymore, Brooke knew the box had won.
Nail clippers from the bathroom did the trick of splitting the packing tape, and inside she found a shopping bag stuffed with blue, sparkling tissue paper. She tore out the paper and let it sail to the floor. Inside, at the bottom of the bag with a gift receipt was the prettiest two-piece bathing suit that she’d ever seen. The construction was good, the swimsuit spandex of surprising quality, and the cut was neither too modest nor too revealing. She wouldn’t have to worry about her boobs falling out, which was something she appreciated in her swimwear.
With a smile, she stood in front of the full-length mirror and changed out of her bra and panties. The suit was cut perfectly to her body – Amos must have measured her at some point, and it flattered everything. But her excitement turned to naysaying and she watched her shoulders slump.
“This is just asking for trouble,” she muttered. What trouble? Brooke thought with a grimace. The kind of trouble that might land you in the arms of a giant hunk as you figure out how to make out with each other?
But she knew that the making out wasn’t what was eating her.
“You’re still scared of him, aren’t you?” she murmured. No, just his… appetite, she reasoned, not even trying to hide this from herself anymore. You don’t know what kind of sex drive he has, what he wants… He’s a world-famous horn-dog! You probably wouldn’t even be able to keep up with him when he was normal. Not to mention that he’s got home field advantage, too.
She didn’t know what to expect, is what it came down to. She wasn’t ready for such a loss of power, for being quite literally in over her head. It was exciting to think about, Brooke knew, but that was just it: it was exciting to think about.
With a sigh she took the suit off and put it back in the bag before getting dressed in some real clothes.
Breakfast, like the day before, was had on the south patio. The fog had rolled in especially thick, and she could see the swirls of cloud moving through the trees just at the edge of the deck. It was cooler today, too, and Brooke was forced to put on the sweater she’d been wearing when she plunged into the sound. Jack, it seemed, was not cold – he still wore nothing but the sheet.
“What do you do in the winter?” she asked. “Or when it rains?”
He shrugged, taking a bite of potato – an entire potato. “I’ve got a few things I’ve MacGuyvered. I bought several bolts of wool felt that first year. Got a sail needle, some string, and sewed together a kind of… cloak-like snuggie thing, I guess. It looks pretty silly, but it does the trick. I don’t get as cold as I used to, though. I guess I’ve got more padding now. What’s interesting is that my core temperature seems to hold steady at about 102.6 degrees fahrenheit now…”
He talked a little bit more about what other subtle changes he’d noticed about his body; how fast his hair seemed to grow, his higher tolerance to pain, his diminished clotting factor, among other things. He really was a big geek, wasn’t he?
“What about the fog? Is that a side-effect of the magic?”
He nodded. “Or so I think. Everything she’s done seems to have been intended on isolating me, or giving me the power to isolate myself. It seems to change according to my mood, but I’m still not sure.”
“The paralysis too?”
“Second month after being cursed, Gary sent someone to see if I was here because I had been MIA since the party. Amos told me a couple of folks had set foot on the island and as when I panicked, they seized up.”
She gave him a look of surprise.
“Using Amos, I was able to listen to them in real-time and quickly deduced that I was somehow able to control their ability to come and go from the island.” A faint chuckle. “Eventually I just got on the PA and told them to get the hell off my property.”
Brooke considered this with some bemusement. “There is definitely a method to this perp’s madness, so to speak.”
“A witch uses magic to turn a powerful shithead into a monstrous pariah,” Jack mused. “Sounds like a damn fairytale, doesn’t it.”
She giggled. “It sure does.”
Around then, Brooke noticed a strange sound from somewhere nearby, and the pair paused their conversation to listen. Whatever it was, it was moving above the treeline, making a sort of flat, whining buzz. Brooke scowled and Jack moved away from the table in a crouch, ready to either make a run for it or spring into action.
Suddenly, she saw the shape of it in the fog. “There!”
It was a quadcopter drone outfitted with a camera on its underbelly. “Pizdets!” Jack hissed and quickly disappeared into the dark, foggy pines. “For fuck’s sake! I can’t be seen like this!”
Brooke broke into a sprint as the drone began to circle the house, pointing its camera into the windows, and shouted at it. “Hey, hey, hey!” she yelled up at the thing. “You’re in private airspace! Gain altitude or this is trespassing!”
The drone clumsily whirled around and the camera focused on her for a second, probably zooming in to get a clear look at her face, before lurching upward and back into the fog, where it wouldn’t be able to see squat.
“Amos, where the hell did that come from?!”
The nearest green light, located at the top of a slim pole sticking out of the ground, blinked to life. “There appears to be a boat anchored about 100 feet from the shore, Miss Foster. Registration number is WA-4739-FN, with a name on the stern that reads ‘Good News’.”
“Who does that vessel belong to?”
“One moment… Ah, yes, according to Washington State records, it belongs to a certain Mr. Gary Patel.”
Brooke turned toward the trees where Jack had disappeared, seeking cover, and dashed to find him some ways into the thick stand. He was crouched and frowning before looking her way when she ran up to him.
“Patel’s looking for you,” she said quietly. “But I think its gone, now.”
“Fucking bastard,” he muttered, standing up. Jack balled his hand into a fist and smashed the side of it into the trunk of a tree. Brooke started at the suddenness of it, but the tree was ultimately undamaged. “He’s getting impatient.”
“Google is expecting him to get his shit together so they can close this deal. You’re the last loose thread.” He didn’t say anything, just started off into the distance with a black look on his face. A thought occurred to her, though, and she had to ask: “Wait, you don’t want to sell the company, do you?”
“Are you kidding me?” Jack snorted. “Google’s the 500-pound gorilla and our biggest competition. Letting them buy us would be the very picture of defeat. But Patel’s a businessman and therefore a coward first – it’s no surprise that he wants this to go through so badly.”
Brooke couldn’t help but find his way of speaking any less than, well, charming in its own rough way. But the simple admonishment of his business partner spoke volumes to her: Jack Ilyin, then, valued skill and hard work more than she thought, perhaps even more than money.
“Cmon,” he grunted. “Let’s finish breakfast before it gets cold.”
Brooke was about to voice her agreement when her hip bones were suddenly enveloped in a two sets of strong fingers. She bit back a yelp as he hoisted her up into the air to sit in his hand while he walked back to the patio. With one arm around the back of his neck, she looked down at the ground far below her, remembering her held breath and let it out.
“You know, I could almost get used to this,” she laughed nervously.
“I might too, if it didn’t mean being a top-billing act at a Coney Island freakshow.”
She looked up and saw his brows were furrowing worry lines into his statuesque face. Her own frown soon followed suit.