Small town motels tend to be cheap and grim affairs, though the one Jay and I ended up in last night is at least clean even if the mattress felt like sleeping on a rock filled with spikes. I’m stretching slowly when Jay pads into my room, cell phone clutched tight in his right hand. Jay looks to be ten but he isn’t at all, a creature from far Outside the universe bound into my service. Entering the universe when so newly born damaged him; I haven’t helped since, but he doesn’t blame me at all.
He says he does sometimes, but only because he knows it would make me feel better.
“Honcho; my phone doethn’t have a battery in it.” He holds it up, eyes narrowing, pale within a pale face. “It did when I went to thleep.”
“Yes. I took it out.”
“Why?” he snaps. I say nothing. “I could bind electrithity to it and make it work!”
“And not have the phone explode?” Jay says nothing in turn, glaring at me. The lisp is part of the damage to himself from entering the universe; that he sucks on his thumb in stress now is entirely my fault. He refuses to get angry with me over it, not truly. This – this I’m not as sure about.
“Magithans might not use phoneth, but other people do.” He crosses his arms. “I want it back.” He doesn’t add ‘now’, but we both hear the unsaid word; I’m not sure which of us is more surprised.
“It’s not a magician thing. It’s something else. I’m not going to be near any phone today; it isn’t safe.”
Jay deflates a little at that. “You could have just thaid that,” he mutters. “We didn’t have to have a fight.”
I think I manage to fight back a grin. “You consider that a fight?”
“Yeth! And that wath too,” he adds, his attempted glare spoiled by a grin trying to fight free of the scowl.
I shake my head and toss the sheets back onto the bed, grabbing my small duffel bag. “We’ll head out the back way and walk in the woods.”
“There’th thomething dangerouth in the woods?”
“No. Nothing at all.”
Jay goes and gets his own bag, waiting in the hallway. “I can’t use my phone becauthe...?” he says as we head outside, poking me in the side with a finger for a response.
“It’s Mother’s Day.”
Jay scratches his head. “Okay?”
“It’s a day devoted to being kind to mothers. You’ve met mine.”
Jay offers up a small nod. It wasn’t as bad as meeting my sister was; Jay ended up screaming at my sister to stop hurting me with words. But it was enough that he puts his phone into his pocket without another word.
“She’ll try and call me. She has a small talent, enough on a day like today to make phones ring. Perhaps even to try and make me answer them.”
“Oh,” he says in a very small voice.
I say nothing else as we cut through the parking lot and a small field leading into the woods proper. The forest is thick about the town and I hurry into it, seeking paths where we won’t meet hikers. Jay follows and is silent for almost two minutes.
“I could bind my phone tho no one can call me?”
“It might not stop her.” I wait until he scrambles over a log and beside me. “You don’t have to check your phone for messages every day, you know.”
“Checking email promptly helpth to keep the monthters in the internet locked inthide it,” he says. I know there are – forces, entities from Outside somewhere in the internet. It’s enough to avoid such things entirely; Jay radiates sincerity as I look at him.
“You’re trying too hard.”
He pouts. “But –.”
“But nothing. Imagine if your mother wanted to speak with you, kiddo.”
Jay stops dead at that, eyes growing wide.
“Jay?” I say, softly.
He lets out a whimper of fear and moves so fast I fall back into a tree as he impacts hard into my chest, shoving his right cheek against my chest and sucking violently on his right thumb before he’s simply gone: vanished from sight, even from all the ways in which a magician can see the world, though I can still feel and hear him.
“Jay.” I wrap my arms gently around him and he quivers, still hidden. Still terrified. He hasn’t had to move like he can in a long time. “It’s okay,” I say. “I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Really?” His voice is thin, scared, and he becomes visible, pulling his thumb free of his mouth with an effort as he lets me hold him, trembling still.
I reach down and raise his chin gently. “I think you know better than to doubt that.”
Some colour seeps into his cheeks as he blushes. He doesn’t offer up what his mom was, or whatever she must have tried to do to him. I hold him until he finally lets go on his own a good ten minutes later. It’s been weeks since he’s felt the need to cling, to emphasize the bindings between us this hard.
“No,” he says, then pulls out the ghost of a grin from somewhere. “Can I get my battery back now?”
Jay sticks out his tongue at that and looks a little better, walks a few steps and then stops. “Nathen?”
He doesn’t use my real name often, and not only because I like to keep it private. “Yes?”
“There ith a day for fatherth too?”
“Like Mother’s Day? Yes.”
Jay knows I killed my father, though no details as to the kind of magic my father was doing, or why it was necessary. He’s never asked; for all I know it’s entirely normal in the part of Outside he is from for childen to destroy parents. He is quiet for a little while, then ventures: “Ith it going to be worthe than today?”
“Oh. Good.” And he says nothing else at all, not even asking about his phone, just walks over beside me and wraps a hand in mine to squeeze it. Offering strength, as best he can.
I squeeze his hand in turn, and ask no questions about his mother, or his family at all. We just walk through the woods until day slowly turns into night, keeping company with our silences. There are days, and today is sometimes one of those, where I wish I’d never become a magician at all. I let out a breath and pull the battery for Jay’s phone from out of the air beside me.
He takes it, then places it in his other pocket without a word.