The Fascinators – Andrew Eliopulos

TWENTY MINUTES NORTHWEST OF AUGUSTA, GEORGIA , in a suburb where you’re more likely to see someone praying in public than using their magic, Liv Honeycutt was trying to sell her diamond cross necklace at the King of Pawns pawnshop on Highway 104. She needed a hundred and fifty dollars— thirty to cover the car to Augusta, and the rest to cover the bus ticket to New York. The ten-dollar bill already in her purse would have to be enough for three meals during the twelve-hour trip. Maybe a Chick-fil-A sandwich for lunch and the side of waffle fries for dinner. But the guy working today did not want to give her a hundred and fifty dollars. The guy working today was sure Liv’s cross necklace was fake. “They’re plastic,” he said, pointing at the gemstone inlays with his ballpoint pen. “Or glass, maybe. Cubic zirconia at best. They’re definitely not diamonds.” “How can you tell?” “It’s like a special ability I have.” “You mean . like magic?” “Yes, like magic.

Not magic, I reckon. But like it.” Liv let out a sigh. She’d gotten excited for a moment there, at the prospect of a rare power. Any real power at all was rare, in this part of Georgia. People with real power never stuck around here. “My mom gave me this necklace for my sixteenth birthday,” Liv said. “Isn’t there some test or machine you can use to be sure?” The cow bell over the door clunked behind her, heralding the arrival of a new customer. The guy working the counter took a look over Liv’s shoulder, his impatience to be rid of her already clear on his face. “Listen, sweetheart, you can take this little necklace to Bob’s Pawn or Mike’s place, and I guarantee neither of them is going to give you more than twenty dollars for it. We can’t resell sentimental value at a pawnshop, do you understand what I’m saying? That watch, now—that looks like it might be worth something. If you’re that desperate for money, I mean.

” Liv felt her heart drop into her stomach. She’d almost forgotten she was wearing the watch at all, because she wore it every day, always putting it on while she brushed her teeth. And if it was all too easy to believe that the cross necklace—like everything else her mom had ever given her—was worthless, well . It wasn’t surprising that her grandmother’s watch would be worth quite a lot. She put her hand over the watch, as if to shield it from this man’s gaze. The new customer walked up to the counter beside her, and out of the corner of her eye, Liv could see that he was a young man, probably here to buy a gun or something. The guy at the counter turned to give the man his full attention. “How much?” Liv said. The guy at the counter paused. He stared at Liv’s hand, like he could still see the watch underneath it, no doubt tapping into his ability—like magic, but not.

“A hundred even.” “But I need a hundred and fifty.” She was about to cry. She knew she was about to cry; she could hear it in her voice, and she hated that. This man didn’t seem like the type to take pity on someone in need. She’d have better results if she bargained from a place of strength. But these past few days—the fights with her parents, the reaching out to friends who’d all taken her parents’ side, everyone turning their backs on her after seventeen years—well, she didn’t really have any strength to draw on at the moment. Some days Liv thought she was on track to have real power, if she worked at it. Today did not feel like one of those days. “A hundred twenty.

Take it or leave it.” One hundred and twenty dollars. That was the value of the only thing she had left to remember her grandmother—her grandmother, Emilie, who used to read her palm and her tarot and who used to tell her that her magic was as clear on her face as sunshine. One hundred and ten dollars, plus the twenty in her pocket—if she walked to Augusta, she could get the bus ticket and still have money left for food. “Fine,” she said, undoing the metal clasp. She set the watch on the counter, while the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a large wad of bills. He flipped through them until he found a hundreddollar bill and a twenty-dollar bill, and he handed them over to Liv like he was giving her a real gift. She took the money and ran, the clunk of the cowbell the last indignity of the encounter. Though that wasn’t quite true, was it? As she walked along the side of Highway 104, the sun beating down on her face, hot and miserable, she realized she was suffering the indignity more with every step. She pulled out her phone, hoping at least that Uncle Theo had responded to her Friendivist message by now.

If anyone would understand the soul-crushing ordeal that had been her week, it’d be him. She was counting on that. But no, no response. She tried to steady her breathing. She was still okay. As long as he responded before she got to New York, or before her parents realized they had the power to stop paying for her phone—since they’d said she was quote unquote “dead to them”—then everything would work out. Even if he didn’t respond, surely she’d be able to find some way to track down his address once she got to New York. Or maybe she’d start sending Friendivist messages to his New York friends if she hadn’t heard back by the bus ride. She was walking a few feet off the shoulder of the road, hardly paying attention to the cars that sped by. Even when she heard the crunch of gravel just ahead of her, she barely looked up; she didn’t care why this silver Honda was pulling over.

She just wanted to get to the bus stop and get the hell out of this state. “Hello there.” It was the customer from King of Pawns, leaning out of the passenger side window. Now that she got a good look at him, Liv realized that he was more of a boy than a man—he couldn’t be that much older than she was, in fact. He had a military buzz cut and a thick neck, but there was something about his smile that seemed genuinely friendly. Liv had been catcalled plenty of times before; this guy was at least smart enough not to lead with a come-on. She still didn’t trust him. “Hello,” she said, but she didn’t stop walking. “I know it’s none of my business,” the guy called to her retreating back, “but I think I have something that will cheer you up.” There it was.

“Let me guess—it’s in your pants.” “What? Oh—ha. But no. Actually, it’s in my hand, it tells the time, and it has a little engraving on the back of it that makes me think it’s something special.” That got her attention. Liv turned around, her eyes narrowed, and when she saw her grandmother’s watch in his hand, dangling out the window, her first reaction, even before suspicion, was rage. “What are you doing with that?” she snapped. “Whoa, hey—I was just trying to bring it to you. I didn’t like the way that guy was taking advantage of you. Especially since he tried to cheat me the same way after you left.

” “Well, aren’t you a knight in shining armor,” she said, but her voice lost a little bit of its edge. If this wasn’t a trick, it was the first nice thing anyone had done for her in a very long time. She walked back to the car. He held out the watch to her, and she accepted it gratefully, not taking its familiar weight for granted as she tightened the band across her wrist. “How did you get this?” In answer, the boy weaved his hands together, then pulled them apart. A tiny light seemed to be flickering to life between his palms, but just as Liv squinted to get a better look at it, a bright flash in her peripheral vision caught her attention and made her spin. When she realized there was nothing there, and when her heartbeat slowed, Liv turned back to the boy. “Like that,” he said. “Well, damn. I mean—thank you.

” “Where are you headed anyway? Can we give you a ride?” For the first time, Liv peered past him into the car. An older woman, maybe his mom, was sitting behind the wheel. She was watching their interaction with a kind of bland curiosity, but she hadn’t spoken, and she didn’t speak now. She did smile, though, like it was fine by her if Liv took them up on the ride. And Liv really wanted to. Her shirt was sticking to the sweat on her back, and her legs were sore from all the walking she’d already done this morning. “Are you sure? I’m going to the Greyhound station in downtown Augusta. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” “No trouble at all,” the boy said. “We were going to head that way on an errand anyhow.

” “Okay, then,” Liv said. Her hand hesitated on the handle of the back door, but only for a second. “I’m Isaac, by the way,” the boy said as Liv took a seat and the car got moving. “And that’s Grace.” Okay, so probably not his mom, then. “Nice to meet you,” Liv said. Grace only nodded. “It’s not often I meet other magickers in real life who would or could do what you just did. Everybody I know thinks magic is the devil’s work.” “Is that right?” Isaac said.

“Well, now you’ve met two. Grace and I live in a kind of co-op situation with a few more, as a matter of fact.” He paused, considering her. “I take it when you say ‘other magickers,’ you mean you can do some spell work of your own?” “That’s right,” Liv said, a hint of pride creeping into her voice, in spite of everything. “But my parents, well. They’re basically the mascots of the people who think it’s the devil’s domain. My mom barged into my room a couple nights ago when I was trying to do this spell to make my eyes green instead of brown. One look at the mess of candles and whatever was happening with my eyes and she started screaming her head off. Yesterday, my parents told me to leave and never come back. So now I’m headed to New York, to live with my uncle.

They disowned him too, when they found out he was gay.” It felt really good to say all of this out loud. She’d been feeling a little unhinged, keeping it to herself, like it was some awful nightmare she’d had and not her new reality. “Wow, that really sucks,” Isaac said. “I’m sorry. We got a couple people at our place who don’t talk to their parents anymore, either. Actually, one of them just ran off. We’re hoping it’s to live with an uncle type, maybe, but we’re not really sure. He didn’t leave a note or anything. That’s why we had to sell a few things at King’s.

We’ve got to come up with his rent for the month, living in a co-op. I just hope he’s okay.” Grace shot Isaac an inscrutable look. Maybe she wasn’t feeling quite so sympathetic to this boy who was costing them on the rent. Liv felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. It was a Friendivist notification—Uncle Theo had responded. With shaking hands, she opened the message and read it as fast as she could. and I sympathize, Liv, I truly do. But I live in a studio apartment with my boyfriend, and really it’s more his place, because I’m between jobs, and his couch is so small, you’d have to sleep in a sleeping bag, and we could put you up for a few days, maybe a week, but no way could it be permanent, and New York is so expensive, I don’t see how you would . “How much is the rent?” Liv said.

“On the room that guy left, I mean.” “Why, you want to live there?” Isaac said, laughing. But then, when Liv didn’t laugh, he added, “It’s three hundred a month.” “And it’s here in Evans?” Liv said. Ready as she was to start over far away from her parents, she hadn’t been thrilled with the idea of dropping out before graduating, and now, if she could find a job, maybe at Starbucks or something, she could complete senior year and leave Georgia on her own terms, the way she’d always planned. And better than she’d planned—she’d be spending the year until then living with other practicing magickers. Maybe they’d teach Liv what they knew. “It’s pretty close. Only a couple minutes outside of town.” “I don’t have a job yet, but I can get one,” Liv said.

“We were planning to pay this month’s rent anyway. You think you could have three hundred by next month?” “Easy,” Liv said. Grace shot Isaac another pointed look. “I am eighteen,” Liv said, interpreting Grace’s hesitance as misgiving. But Isaac just grinned. “Well then, Liv. Forget the Greyhound station. Why don’t we take you to see the place? See how you like the others? Fair warning—they’re not all as cool and personable as me and Grace, but they’re all right.” “Understood,” Liv said, laughing. Laughing! She hadn’t laughed in days, but this sudden reversal of fortune was so unbelievably perfect, so exactly what she needed, that it felt like some kind of divine intervention—and the irony of that revelation was just too much.

Laughter was the only reasonable response. It would be a few months before she would look back on this moment and recognize it in a different light—not divine at all, but a result of very human magic, self-serving, deceitful. By then, she would know that “not personable” was a gross understatement for describing the others; by then, she would wonder if maybe her parents had had a point, thinking magic was of the devil. By then, of course, it would be too late.

.

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