The magician hasn’t answered his phone. I have no idea what he is doing, no clue if this is a good thing or not. I’ve been calling him at least once every ten minute s for five hours. I imagine I can hear waves crashing on the shore from the hotel room I rented for Jay and me. Me and Jay. Jay and I; I can’t be bothered to care what it is. I’m six blocks from the ocean, I’ve got the window open and I’ve gone through three packs of cigarettes in as many hours and I can’t rest for trying. The god inside me is a roiling mass of barely contained fury. I have no idea where its anger ends and mine begins, not until the door to our room opens.
It was locked, but Jay tends to unbind locks without thinking. “Charlie,” he burbles as he comes into the room. He’s not even went, with his cane in one hand and a bag in the other, dark glasses not even slightly askew on his face despite him having dove into the ocean seven hours ago.
“What time do you call this?” I snarl, and Jay goes still at that, colour draining from his face.
“You were going for a swim,” I say, and he rocks back at the anger I’m not even trying to hide. “You went under water, Jay. That was seven hours ago!”
Jay blinks, holding up the bag in a shaking hand. “I was touching nice coral and helping it, unbinding plastic from fish and I wath just going for a walk,” he whispers. “I brought you some shells?”
I haven’t heard him lisp in weeks. “Shells. Seven. Hours.” He drops the bag and just stands, frozen. “You’re not even wet!”
“I bound the water away from me, and I bound air in my lungs but I didn’t need it,” he whispers. “I was fine. I’m tough and –.”
“You don’t need to breathe?”
Jay shakes his head, not moving, trembling all over.
“And you didn’t know this before you decided to walk under water for seven hours?”
“No, I –.”
“Four hours I was waiting at the shore. I shouted your name until I was hoarse, Jay. You didn’t show up, didn’t find a way to call me or anything at all.”
“I – I didn’t mean –.” He bites into his lower lip. “I was exploring, because the mermaid on tumblr told me all about how cool the oceans were and I can’t see them but I could feel them and – and – and –.” His breath hitches and he falls silent.
“For all I knew you were dead,” I say, and my voice isn’t remotely even at all.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Jay says, the words coming out in a wail.
“You could have drowned or been eaten by a giant squid for all I knew!”
Jay lets out a whine and flings himself toward me for a hug; I backhand him into a wall without thinking. His glasses go sailing, and sightless eyes filled with fractured light and falling stars widen in shock.
“Charlie?” He doesn’t move at all.
“You were trusted into my care,” I say, and my voice is thick even to my ears. “Mine. And you could have died or been eaten or worse and you didn’t even think to find a way to let me know you were fine?”
Someone pounds on the door of the hotel room; I snarl back and hear them run away.
“I was having an adventure,” Jay says, so soft I barely hear him. “I was looking for the mermaid and the ocean feels different and has lots of bindings I got to know and others I got to fix and time doethn’t pass in the oceans like it does on land.” He sniffs loudly. “I didn’t even – I didn’t – I –.”
This time I manage not to strike out when he flings himself, wrapping trembling arms about me in a hug and saying the word sorry over and over. I manage to ruffle his hair and return the hug.
“You had me terrified, Jay.”
“I didn’t feel it. In the – the bindings, because I was all having an adventure,” he says, the words muffled.
“I know, I just –.” I take a deep breath, another, push him away. “Jay?”
He looks up, still trembling violently. I reach out; he doesn’t flinch as I gently pull his bottom lip out from his teeth.
“You trust me, after I hit you?”
“You’re my friend,” he says. “And – and sometimes friends hurt friends and – and – and –.”
I press a finger to his lips and hug him tight, and this time I tell him I’m sorry and ignore his confused asking of what I’m sorry for. I hold him tight until he’s not shaking and let go slowly after. “Shells?”
“I found a lot,” he says hesitantly.
“One bag in seven hours?”
“Uhm. I might have more outside? I kind of bound them into the air and pulled them beside me to the shore?”
I pause. “How many more?”
“Lots,” he says proudly, but still makes it a nervous question.
“Let’s go see them?” I pause. “Even though you can’t see?”
Jay blinks, then giggles at that and grabs my right hand, pulling me out of the hotel room and down the stairs.
Half the parking lot is overflowing with sea shells and bone in a riot of colours and shapes. It’s past midnight, but even so people are circling the pile in confusing, some taking pictures on cell phones. I take a deep breath, letting go of everything I can. “First off, unbind the pictures from their phones. Secondly, won’t the ocean want all this back?”
“I might have said I was only borrowing it. The water thinks long thoughts, so they’ll be okay with a few years,” he says happily.
I let go of his hand and stare down at Jay. “Where do you plan to keep a small mountain of shells for two years?”
“I can keep them in a hiding hole and give them to nice people?”
“Okay. You mind hiding them now before people get really confused?”
“They are very pretty, and I do like them, but people will wonder how they got here and get worried.”
“Oh! Okay,” Jay says, and must bind them somewhere wholly other because each shell is gone a moent later. “I kept the bag upstairs for us!”
“All right.” I grab his hand and pull him back toward the hotel room. “We can look at them now. I can tell you what each one looks like if you want?”
“Really?” Jay grins hugely and pulls his hand free to bounce up the stairs.
I follow him into the hotel room, closing the door behind us. “Kiddo? I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know that,” Jay says. “Everyone gets mad at stuff, and I all scared you and I’m really sorry but!” I try not to flinch at the but. “But now it’s okay,” he continues, “and you can tell me all about the shells and make up for maybe being mean by getting us lots of pizza later?”
I remind myself Jay isn’t human at all, even if he does appear to be a human boy of about 11. I remind myself I am human. I take a deep breath and sit on one of the beds, and Jay plops down on it beside me and pulls shells out the bag and listens as I describe each one he runs his fingers over. I order pizza later, and he spends the rest of the time until dawn telling me about the sand under his feet and all the fish around him and how awesome it was.
“You want me to come with you next time?” I say finally, mentally smacking myself upside the head.
“Could you? We could go mermaid hunting!”
“I don’t think mermaids might want you using the term hunting,” I say dryly, fighting back a yawn. “But yes, we will. And I’m sorry.”
Jay frowns slightly. “I know; you already told me that. And I said I was sorry, so everythng is okay.” The grins hugely at that and bounces off to go sleep in the other bed, and for him everything is entirely okay.
I remember my anger, and the blow I struck. I don’t sleep for several hours, staring up at the ceiling. I think Jay might be awake when I start crying, but he just keeps quiet and pretends to sleep.