The Indigo Spell Chapter Four

The Indigo Spell Chapter Four

I FROZE. I didn’t trust myself to respond.

What was Adrian thinking? Putting aside all the drama between us, it was absolutely unforgivable to ask this here, in front of other Moroi and Alchemists. Maybe in Palm Springs, where things were a little more casual with my friends, it might not be that crazy a request. But here? He risked exposing that we knew each other, which in turn risked Jill. Almost as bad, it could be a tip-off of his feelings for me. Even if I insisted that I had no matching feelings, the fact that things had progressed this far could get me in serious trouble with the Alchemists.

As all these thoughts raced through my mind, a more concerning one suddenly popped up. A good Alchemist shouldn’t be worried about any of those things. A good Alchemist would have simply been horrified at the immediate problem: dancing with a Moroi. Touching a vampire. Realizing this, I quickly mustered an outraged expression, hoping I looked convincing.

Fortunately, everyone else was too shocked to pay much attention to me. Good relations only went so far. Stanton and Ian wore legitimate looks of disgust. The Moroi nearby while not appalled, were astonished at the breach of etiquette. And yet . . . I also saw a couple exchange looks that said they weren’t entirely surprised Adrian Ivashkov would suggest something so outrageous. This was an attitude I’d seen a lot with him. People often shrugged off his behavior with, “Well, that’s Adrian.”

Ian found his voice first. “She . . . no! She absolutely can’t!”

“Why not?” Adrian glanced between all our faces, his expression still sunny and unassuming. “We are all friends, right?”

Abe, who was rarely shocked by anything, managed to shake off some of his surprise. “I’m sure it’s not that big a deal.” His tone was uncertain. He knew that Adrian wasn’t a total stranger to me but undoubtedly assumed I had the usual Alchemist hang-ups. As tonight had demonstrated, most Alchemists still struggled with handshakes.

Stanton seemed to be waging a mental war. I knew she thought it was an outlandish request . . . yet she was still conscious of the need to keep things pleasant. She swallowed. “Perhaps . . . perhaps it would be a nice gesture.” She shot me a sympathetic look that seemed to say, Sometimes you have to take one for the team.

Ian jerked his head toward her. “Are you crazy?”

“Mr. Jansen,” she snapped, conveying a stern warning in just his name.

All eyes turned toward me as everyone realized that ultimately, it was my decision. At this point, I didn’t know if I should be shocked or scared – and the thought of dancing with Adrian made me feel both. I met Stanton’s eyes again and slowly gave a nod. “Sure. Okay. Good relations, right?”

Ian’s face turned bright red, but another sharp look from Stanton kept him silent. As Adrian led me to the dance floor, I heard a few whispered comments from curious Moroi mentioning “that poor Alchemist girl” and “there’s no predicting what he does sometimes.”

Adrian put his arm around my waist, perfectly proper and distant. I tried not to think about the last time I’d been in his arms. Even with appropriate spacing between us, our hands were still clasped, our stances still intimate. I was hyperaware of every single place his fingers rested on my body. His touch was light and delicate but seemed to carry an extraordinary heat and intensity.

“What were you thinking?” I demanded once we were moving to the music. I was trying to ignore his hands. “Do you know how much trouble you may have gotten me in?”

Adrian grinned. “Nah. They all feel bad for you. You’ll achieve martyrdom after dancing with a mean, wicked vampire. Job security with the Alchemists.”

“I thought you weren’t going to pressure me about . . . you know . . . that stuff. . . .”

The look of innocence returned. “Have I said a word about that? I just asked you to dance as a political gesture, that’s all.” He paused for impact. “Seems like you’re the one who can’t get ‘that stuff off your mind.”

“Stop turning my words against me! That’s not – no – that’s not right at all.”

“You should see that Stanton woman watching us,” he remarked with amusement, glancing behind me.

“Everyone’s watching us,” I grumbled. It wasn’t like the entire room had come to a standstill, but there were certainly a number of curious onlookers, gawking at the unlikely sight of a Moroi and a human – an Alchemist, at that – dancing.

He nodded and swept me into a turn. He was a good dancer, which wasn’t entirely a surprise. Adrian might be brash and impertinent, but he knew how to move. Maybe dance lessons had been part of growing up in an elite tier of Moroi society. Or maybe he was just naturally skilled at using his body. That kiss had certainly show a fair amount of talent. . . .

Ugh. Adrian was right. I was the one who couldn’t get over “that stuff.”

Unaware of my thoughts, he glanced over at Stanton again. “She’s got the look of a general who just sent her army on a suicide mission.”

“Nice to know she cares,” I said. For a moment, I forgot my dance floor woes as I thought angrily back to Stanton’s “need to know” attitude.

“I can pull you closer, if you want,” he said. “Just to see how much she cares. I’m always willing to help like that, you know.”

“You’re a real team player,” I said. “If putting me in danger is for the greater good, then Stanton probably wouldn’t do anything about you moving in on me.”

Adrian’s self-satisfied smirk faded. “Did she ever come clean about that guy you were trying to find? Martin?”

“Marcus,” I corrected. I frowned. Her denial still bothered me. “She keeps claiming she doesn’t know him, and I can’t push too hard if I don’t want her to get suspicious.”

“I thought of a way you might find him,” said Adrian. I would’ve thought he was joking if his face wasn’t so serious.

“You did?” I asked. The Alchemists had vast information at our disposal, with hands in all sorts of agencies and organizations. I’d been scouring them these last few weeks and found it unlikely that Adrian would have access to something I didn’t.

“Yup. You’ve got his picture, right? Couldn’t you just do the same spell you did the other night? Locate him that way?”

I was so surprised, I nearly tripped. Adrian tightened his grip to keep me from falling. I shivered as that small gesture brought us closer. The tension between us kicked up a notch, and I realized that along with our bodies being nearer, so were our lips.

I had a little difficulty speaking, both because of how it felt to be so close to him and because I was still stunned by what he’d said. “That’s . . . wow . . . that’s not a bad idea. . . .”

“I know,” he said. “I’m kind of amazed myself.”

Really, the circumstances were no different from finding Ms. Terwilliger’s sister. I needed to locate someone I’d never met. I had a picture, which was what the spell required. What was different was that I’d be initiating the spell myself. It was a difficult piece of magic, and I knew Ms. Terwilliger’s coaching had helped me. There was also the moral dilemma of working that type of spell on my own. My conscience had an easier time handling magic when I felt coerced.

“I couldn’t try until next month,” I said, thinking back to the spell book. “I mean, I have the picture with me, but the spell’s got to be done during a full moon. This is the last night for the current one, and I’d never be able to get the components in time.”

“What do you need?”

I told him, and he nodded along, promising he could get them.

I scoffed. “Where are you going to get anise and hyssop at this time of night? In this town?”

“This town’s full of quirky boutique shops. There’s some herbal place that sells soaps and perfume made of anything you can imagine. I guarantee they’ve got what you need.”

“And I guarantee they’re closed.” He swept me into another flourish-filled spin, and I kept up with him perfectly.

The song was wrapping up. The time had flown by faster than I’d thought. I’d forgotten about the onlookers. I’d even forgotten I was with a vampire. I was simply dancing with Adrian, which felt easy and natural, so long as I didn’t think about our audience.

His roguish look returned. “Don’t worry about that. I can find the owner and talk her into making an exception.”

I groaned. “No. Not compulsion.” Compulsion was an ability vampires had to force their wills on others. All vampires had it to a small extent, and spirit users had it in excess. Most Moroi considered it immoral. Alchemists considered it a sin.

The song ended, but Adrian didn’t release me right away. He leaned a little closer. “Do you want to wait another month to find Marcus?”

“No,” I admitted.

Adrian’s lips were a breath away. “Then we’ll meet in two hours by the hotel’s service door.” I gave a weak nod, and he stepped back, releasing my hands. “Here’s one last sign of good relations.” With a bow that could’ve come straight out of a Jane Austen novel, he gestured to the bar and spoke loudly. “Thank you for the dance. May I escort you to get a drink?”

I followed without a word, my head spinning with what I’d need to do in two hours. At the bar, Adrian astonished me by ordering ginger ale. “Nice restraint,” I said, realizing he’d need to stay sober to work spirit. I hoped he hadn’t indulged too much already. For him, the only thing better than an open bar would be a case of cigarettes showing up at his door.

“I’m a master of self-control,” he declared.

I wasn’t so sure of that but didn’t contradict him. I sipped my Diet Coke, and we stood there in comfortable silence. Two Moroi men sidled up the bar near us, talking with the volume and exuberance of those who hadn’t held back on sampling free liquor.

“Well, no matter how liberal that girl is, she’s certainly easy on the eyes,” one guy said. “I could look at her all day, especially in that dress.”

His friend nodded. “Definitely an improvement over Tatiana. Too bad about what happened to her, but maybe a change of scenery was for the best. Did that woman ever smile?” They both laughed at the joke.

Beside me, Adrian’s own smile vanished, and he went perfectly still. Tatiana, the former Moroi queen, had been Christian’s great-aunt. She’d been viciously murdered this summer, and though Adrian rarely spoke about her, I’d heard from a number of people that they’d been close. Adrian’s lips twisted into a snarl, and he started to turn around. Without hesitation, I reached out and grabbed his free hand, holding it tightly.

“Adrian, don’t,” I said softly.

“Sydney, they can’t say that.” There was a dangerous look in his eyes, one I’d never seen.

I squeezed his hand harder. “They’re drunk, and they’re stupid. They’re not worth your time. Please don’t start a scene here – for Sonya’s sake.” I hesitated. “And for me.”

His face was still filled with rage, and for a moment, I thought he would ignore me and throw a glass at one of those guys. Or worse. I’d seen angry spirit users, and they were terrifying. At last, that fury faded, and I felt his hand relax in mine. He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them again, they were dazed and unfocused.

“No one really knew her, Sydney.” The sorrow in his voice broke my heart. “They all thought she was some draconian bitch. They never knew how funny she was, how sweet she could be. You can’t . . . you can’t imagine how much I miss her. She didn’t deserve to die like that. She was the only one who understood me – even more than my own parents. She accepted me. She saw the good in my soul. She was the only one who believed in me.”

He was standing in front of me, but he wasn’t with me. I recognized the rambling, consuming nature of spirit. It messed with its users’ minds. Sometimes it made them scattered and distant, like he was now. Sometimes it challenged people’s grip on reality. And sometimes, it could create a despair with devastating consequences.

“She wasn’t the only one,” I told him. “I believe in you. She’s at peace, and nothing they say can change who she was. Please come back to me.”

He still stared off into someplace I couldn’t follow. After a few frightening moments, he blinked and focused on me. His expression was still sad, but at least he was in control again. “I’m here, Sage.” He removed his hand and glanced around to make sure no one had seen me holding it. Thankfully, the bride and groom had taken to the dance floor, and everyone was too mesmerized watching them. “Two hours.”

He knocked back the rest of his drink and walked away. I watched him until he disappeared into the crowd, and then I returned to my own table, glancing at the clock along the way Two hours.

Ian jumped out of his seat at my approach. “Are you okay?”

No Moroi well-wishers were around, so only Stanton was nearby to hear him. She seemed to share his concern. “I’m sorry you had to endure that, Miss Sage. As always, your dedication to our work is admirable.”

“I do what I can to help, ma’am,” I said. I was still worried about Adrian and hoped he wouldn’t slip back into spirit’s grip again.

“Did he hurt you?” asked Ian, pointing. “Your hands?”

I looked down and realized I’d been rubbing my hands together. They were warm from where Adrian had touched me. “Huh? Oh, no. Just, um, trying to rub the taint off. In fact . . . I should probably go wash up. Be right back.”

They seemed to find this a perfectly reasonable idea and didn’t stop me as I hurried to the restroom. Free of their concern, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d dodged two bullets here, by not letting the Alchemists know that I was friendly with a vampire and also that I was plotting magic with him.

“Sydney?”

I was so distracted when walking out of the restroom that I hadn’t noticed Rose standing nearby with Dimitri Belikov. They stood arm in arm, smiling at my surprise. I hadn’t seen Dimitri tonight, and his black and white guardian attire told me why. He was on duty here and had undoubtedly been one of the shadows darting among the trees of the greenhouse, keeping a watch on everyone. He must be on a break now because there was no way he’d be standing so casually here, even with Rose, otherwise. And really, “casual” for Dimitri meant he could still leap into battle at any moment.

They were a striking couple. His dark-haired, dark-eyed looks matched hers, and they were both dazzlingly attractive. It was no wonder Adrian had fallen for her, and I felt surprised at how uncomfortable that memory made me. Like Sonya and Mikhail, there was a bond of love between Rose and Dimitri that was almost palpable.

“Are you okay?” asked Rose, eyes kind. “I can’t believe Adrian did that to you.” She reconsidered. “Then again, I kind of can believe it.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “I think the other Alchemists were more appalled than I was.” I remembered belatedly that even if Rose and Dimitri knew I knew Adrian from Palm Springs, I still couldn’t act too at ease here. I put on my earlier look of outrage. “It was still out of line, though.”

“Propriety’s never been Adrian’s strong suit,” Dimitri observed.

Rose laughed at the understatement. “If it makes you feel any better, you guys looked really good together out there. Made it hard to believe you’re mortal enemies . . . or whatever it is Alchemists think.” She gestured to my dress. “You even coordinated.”

I’d totally forgotten what I was wearing. It was a short-sleeved silk dress, almost entirely black save for some splashes of royal blue on the skirt. That was a bolder color than I would normally wear, but the black tempered it. Thinking back to Adrian’s shades of blue, I realized our palettes had indeed complemented each other.

You guys looked really good together.

I don’t know what expression I wore, but it made Rose laugh again.

“Don’t look so panicked,” Rose said, eyes shining. “It was nice seeing a human and a Moroi look like they belong together.”

Belong together.

Why did she keep saying things like that? Her words were messing with the cool, logical demeanor I tried to maintain. I knew she was speaking in that friendly, diplomatic way that everyone was pushing so hard for. But as progressive as Rose and Dimitri were, I knew even they would be shocked if they knew the truth about Adrian’s feelings and that monumental kiss.

I spent the rest of the reception with a knot of anxiety building within me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to hide it. Moroi and Alchemist alike expected me to feel that way. In fact, Stanton soon got her own share of “diplomacy” when a middle-aged Moroi guy asked her to dance, obviously taking a cue from Adrian’s display of goodwill. Apparently, as outrageous as Adrian’s behavior had been, some Moroi thought it had been a smart move and decided to follow suit. Stanton could hardly refuse after encouraging me, so she took the dance floor with gritted teeth. No one asked Ian to dance, which was probably just as well. He didn’t look at all disappointed.

Adrian stayed away, presumably to gather my spell components. Time ticked down, and as the two-hour mark approached, I realized that although I’d brought Marcus’s picture with me on this trip (I rarely let it out of my sight), it was still in my room. I excused myself from Ian, telling him I needed to go back to the inn to change shoes and would take one of the cars that had been ferrying wedding guests around town.

Ian’s face immediately grew protective. “Do you want me to go with you? It’s not safe out there.”

I shook my head. “No, you need to stay here. Stanton’s in more danger.” She was standing near the bar, speaking to two Moroi men. I wondered if she had another dance in her future. “Besides, it’s early, so there’s still more of them here than out there. At least the inn is run by humans.”

Ian couldn’t fault my Alchemist logic and reluctantly let me go. Catching a town car was easy, and I was able to make the round trip in almost the perfect amount of time. I even changed shoes so that I’d have proof for my story. Although I’d worn heels to the wedding, I’d packed flats in my suitcase, just in case. That was just smart planning for any occasion.

When I reached the service door, however, I realized my clever planning had failed. Filled with haste and anxiety, I’d left my warm, heavy shawl in the car, which was probably long gone. Now, waiting for Adrian in the bitter Pennsylvania cold, I wrapped my arms around myself and hoped I wouldn’t freeze before he showed up.

He was good to his word, though, and arrived at exactly the appointed time with a tote bag over one shoulder. Even better, he was completely back to his normal self. “Ready to go,” he told me.

“Seriously?” I asked, my teeth chattering. “You found everything?”

He patted the bag. “You ask, I deliver. Now where do we need to do this?”

“Somewhere remote.” I scanned around. Beyond the hotel’s parking lot was a vacant field that I hoped would suffice. “There.”

Walking across the well-salted parking lot wasn’t a problem, but once we “off-roaded” into the snowy field, even my practical flats were of no use. I was also so cold that I suspected my skin was as blue as my dress.

“Stop,” said Adrian at one point.

“We need to go a little farther,” I protested.

Adrian, who’d had the sense to put on a wool coat, was taking it off. “Here.”

“You’ll be cold,” I protested, though I didn’t stop him when he stepped forward and helped me put the coat on. He was taller than me, so the three-quarter length was mercifully full length on me. Its scent was a mix of smoke and cologne.

“There.” He pulled the coat more tightly around me. “I’ve got long sleeves and the jacket. Now come on – let’s hurry.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. Aside from the temperature, we had to do this before we were caught by others. Even I wasn’t going to be able to explain this away to the Alchemists.

The moon was still crisp and bright when we finally found an acceptable spot. I sifted through Adrian’s bag, amazed that he’d come through with everything, from the mirror to the dried leaves and flowers. He stayed quiet as I set it all up, only speaking when I was just about ready to go.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked gently.

“Just keep watch,” I said. “And catch me if I pass out.”

“Gladly.”

I’d memorized the spell when Ms. Terwilliger and I had performed it. Still, I was nervous about going solo, especially since the environment was so distracting. It was kind of hard to find the mental focus I needed while kneeling in snow. Then I thought back to Stanton and the lies the Alchemists were telling me. A spark of anger flared in me, creating warmth of a different sort. I used that to direct my thoughts as I stared at Marcus’s picture. He was Adrian’s age, with shoulder-length blond hair and a pensive look in his blue eyes. The tattoo on his check was a tangle of indigo crescents. Slowly, I managed to sink into the spell.

I felt that same euphoria as the mirror shifted into a city image. No fog blocked me this time since presumably Marcus wasn’t wielding the kind of protective magic that Ms. Terwilliger’s sister had been using. The scene before me showed what looked like a very modest studio apartment. A mattress lay on the floor, and an ancient TV sat in one corner. I looked around for any identifying features but found nothing. The room’s one window finally gave me a clue. Outside in the distance, I could see a Spanish-style building that looked like a church or monastery. It was made of white stucco, with red-roofed domed towers. I tried to get a closer look, to fly up like I had in the other spell, but suddenly, I became aware of the Pennsylvania cold seeping into me. The image shattered, and I was back to kneeling in the field.

“Ugh,” I said, putting my hand to my forehead. “So close.”

“Did you see anything?” Adrian asked.

“Nothing that’ll help.”

I stood and felt a little dizzy but managed to stay upright. I could see Adrian ready and waiting to catch me in case I did indeed keel over. “You okay?”

“I think so. Just a little light-headed from the blood sugar drop.” I slowly gathered up the mirror and bag. “I should’ve had you get orange juice too.”

“Maybe this’ll help.” Adrian produced a silver flask from his suit jacket’s inner pocket and handed it toward me.

So typical, Adrian helpfully offering alcohol. “You know I don’t drink,” I said.

“A few sips won’t get you drunk, Sage. And it’s your lucky night – it’s Kahlua. Packed with sugar and coffee-flavored. Trade me and try.”

Grudgingly, I handed him the bag and then took the flask as we began walking back to the hotel. I took a tentative sip and grimaced. “That is not coffee-flavored.” No matter how much people tried to dress up alcohol, it always tasted awful to me. I didn’t understand how he could consume so much. But, I could taste the sugar, and after a few more sips, I felt steadier. That was all I drank since I didn’t want to get dizzy for different reasons.

“What’d you see?” asked Adrian, once we reached the parking lot.

I described the spell’s scene and sighed in frustration. “That could be any building in California. Or the Southwest. Or Mexico.”

Adrian came to a halt and slung the bag over one shoulder. “Maybe. . . .” He took out his phone from his jacket and typed in a few things. I shivered and tried to be patient as he searched for what he needed. “Did it look like this?”

I peered at the screen and felt my jaw drop. I was looking at a picture of the building from my vision.

“Yes! What is it?”

“The Old Mission Santa Barbara.” And then, just in case I needed help, he added, “It’s in Santa Barbara.”

“How did you know that?” I exclaimed. “What that building is, I mean.”

He shrugged. “Because I’ve been to Santa Barbara. Does this help you?”

My earlier dismay transformed into excitement. “Yes! Based on the window’s position, I can get a pretty good idea of where the apartment is. You may have found Marcus Finch.” Caught up in my elation, I squeezed his arm.

Adrian rested a gloved hand on my cheek and smiled down at me. “And to think, Angeline said I was too pretty to be useful. Looks like I might have something to offer to the world after all.”

“You’re still pretty,” I said, the words slipping out before I could stop them. Another of those intense moments hung between us, the moonlight illuminating his striking features. Then it was shattered by a voice in the darkness.

“Who’s there?”

Both of us flinched and jerked back as a black-and-white-clad figure seemed to materialize out of the shadows. A guardian. It was no one I knew, but I realized I’d been foolish if I thought we could slip in and out of the hotel unseen. The grounds were probably crawling with guardians, keeping watch for Strigoi. They wouldn’t have cared much about two people leaving, but our return would naturally be challenged.

“Hey, Pete,” said Adrian, putting on that easygoing smile he excelled at. “Nice to see you. Hope you’re not too cold out here.”

The guardian seemed to relax a little upon recognizing Adrian, but he was still suspicious. “What are you two doing outside?”

“Just walking Miss Sage back,” said Adrian. “She had to get something from her room.”

I gave him a puzzled look. The inn wasn’t in this direction. Pete looked dazed for a moment. Then he nodded in understanding. “I see. Well, you’d better get back inside before you freeze.”

“Thanks,” said Adrian, steering me away. “Make sure you get a break and try the canapes. They’re amazing.”

“You compelled him,” I whispered, once we were safely out of earshot.

“Only a little,” said Adrian. He sounded very proud of himself. “And being outside to walk you is a valid reason, one he won’t think too much about later. Compelling someone into believing a story works best if there’s a little truth – “

“Adrian? Sydney?”

We’d almost reached the back of the building now and were suddenly face-to-face with an ivory-clad figure. Sonya stood before us, a fur stole wrapped around her. Once again, I was struck by her beauty and the happy glow she seemed to radiate. She gave us a puzzled smile.

“What are you two doing out here?” she asked.

Both of us were speechless. Adrian had no brash words or tricks. Sonya was a spirit user too, and compulsion wouldn’t work on her. Frantically, I groped for some excuse that wasn’t: We were out using illicit magic in a continuing effort to uncover secrets the Alchemists don’t want me to know about.

“You can’t tell,” I blurted out to her. I held up the flask. “Adrian was letting me sneak some of his Kahlua. Stanton’ll kill me if she finds out.”

Sonya looked understandably startled. “I didn’t think you drank.”

“Tonight’s been kind of stressful,” I said. It was hardly a lie.

“And it’s coffee-flavored,” Adrian pointed out, as though that might aid our cause.

I wasn’t sure if Sonya was buying it, so I attempted a change in subject. “Congratulations, by the way. I didn’t have a chance to talk to you earlier. You look beautiful.”

Sonya let go of her inquisitiveness and offered me a smile. “Thank you. It’s kind of unreal. Mikhail and I have been through so much . . . there were times I never thought we’d reach this moment. And now . . .” She glanced down at the diamond sparkling on her hand. “Well, here we are.”

“What are you doing out here, Mrs. Tanner?” Adrian had recovered himself and was back to his outgoing self. “Shouldn’t you be inside gazing adoringly at your husband?”

She chuckled. “Oh, we’ve got a lifetime of that ahead. Honestly, I just needed to get out of the crowd.” Sonya took a deep breath of the crisp, cold air. “I should probably get back soon. We’re about to throw the bouquet. You aren’t going to miss your chance, are you?” That was to me.

I scoffed. “I think I’ll sit this one out. I’ve already caused too much speculation tonight.”

“Ah, yes. Your infamous dance.” Sonya glanced between us, and a bit of her earlier puzzlement returned. “You two look very good together.” Awkward silence fell for a few seconds, and then she cleared her throat. “Well, I’m getting in where it’s warm. Hope you’ll change your mind, Sydney.”

She disappeared through the service door, and I resisted the urge to beat my head against the wall. “She knows we’re lying. She can tell.” Spirit users were good at reading subtle cues from people, with Sonya being one of the best.

“Probably,” agreed Adrian. “But I doubt she’s going to guess we were out working magic in a field.”

A terrible thought came to me. “Oh God. She probably thinks we were off doing – you know – romantic type, um, things – “

That amused Adrian far more than it should have. “See, there you go again. That’s the first thought that comes to your mind.” He shook his head melodramatically. “I can’t believe you keep accusing me of being the obsessed one.”

“I’m not obsessed!” I exclaimed. “I’m just pointing out the obvious conclusion.”

“Maybe to you. But she’s right about one thing: we need to get inside.” He anxiously touched his hair. “I think my hair gel’s frozen.”

I handed him back the flask and opened the door. Just before stepping through, I hesitated and glanced back at him. “Adrian? Thanks for helping me.”

“What are friends for?” He caught the door from me and motioned for me to go inside.

“Yeah, but you went above and beyond tonight for something that has nothing to do with you. I appreciate that. You didn’t have to help. You don’t have the same reasons I have for cracking open the Alchemists.”

Not knowing what else to say, I gave him a small nod of thanks and went inside. As the warmth and noise of the crowd swallowed us, I thought I heard him say, “I have different reasons.”