There were too many things to do, and Sage and I were still frozen for a moment in indecision. Our child had passed out. Our child had just performed focus-less magic at a distance, using a TV as his scrying bowl. He had taken a hostage-taker hostage. He had sent an unregistered magic signature into the heart of a tense police stand-off.
He had saved the day.
Sage and I shared a look. He picked up the phone and dialed, as quickly as the old rotary phone would let him. I got Jin comfortable on the couch, pillow behind his head, half-sitting up.
While Sage got the chief of police to acknowledge him, I brewed tea. I dug into the canisters I kept locked away, the ones I did not want my children getting in, whether by accident or by purpose. Jin would need something a little stronger than the norm after that feat, and Sage and I… we would need something strong to deal with the aftermath.
When I went back into the den, Sage was drawing circles on the floor and scattering bones. I pulled up the throw rug to give him more room, sparing my oldest child another glance. Jin was still out. I imagined he would be out for some time.
“I’m trying to figure out how he did it,” Sage admitted. “He has power, that we already knew.”
“Of course.” We tried not to say too much about that anywhere the children could hear — and in this case, the children included Jin. “The question is, where has he been getting it trained? I know the Tower wanted him, but…”
Sage shook his head. “I’d have known if they’d have touched him. No, this isn’t their style.” He looked at the circles and the bones thoughtfully.
I sipped my tea and did the same. The patterns spoke of intent — that, we’d already known. The ritual was different from anything I’d ever seen before, and from Sage’s expression, neither had my husband seen such things. The results… the phone rang again, and Sage hurried off to answer it.
We were going to have to have quite a few conversations in the next week.
Four days later, we had spoken to the Chief of Police twice, the Fire Marshall once, and the head of the bank three times. Jin had been present for half of these meetings, remaining quiet, saying little more than “my parents speak for me.”
That was just about as much as he’d said to us. I’d gotten an “it’s nothing,” three “it’s no big deals,” and one loud “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” Sage had, from all his reports, gotten about the same.
There were, of course, no charges being pressed against Jin — he had done nothing against the law except a little bit of directed magic that could, with the wrong lawyer and the wrong judge, possibly be considered against a couple statutes. But the police chief and several others were very interested in his quick action, and a whole line of people after them wanted to talk to the hero of the day.
Jin wanted to hide in his room with the curtains closed.
In desperation, I turned to that which had never failed me before — cookies. I baked up a huge batch of Jin’s favorite snickerdoodles and brewed him a cup of his favorite milked tea, an affectation hw must have picked up from his father.
The cookies and tea got me in the door to his room, but, gauging from the expression on his face, the rest was up to me.
I considered and discarded several lines, which either sounded too uselessly motherly or too ridiculously chummy. Finally, I decided on the truth. “We’re still trying to figure out how you did it.”
He looked up, took a cookie, and ate it, as if considering that. I waited, wishing I’d brought tea for myself. Something calming.
“‘We,’ the city, ‘we’, the police, or ‘we…’”
“We, your father and I,” I confirmed. “Whatever the results, they’re a family matter.”
He stared at a second cookie. I stared at the cookie, too. Perhaps it held answers.
“I don’t want to go to the Tower, and I can’t go to the Pumpkin.” He lifted his chin and stared at me as defiantly as Junie ever did. “If I can do magic, proper spells, I’ll have to go somewhere, right? And Dad went to the Tower…”
Things began to fall into place. “You don’t have to go to the Tower if you don’t want.” I hesitated. He’d mentioned the Pumpkin, which was, of course, a girls’ school… but it also dealt in a different style of magic than the Tower. “You’ve been getting instruction.”
It wasn’t a question, of course. I tried hard to not make it an accusation, either.
“Yeah. I, uh.” He looked out the window, although his curtains were closed tightly. I wondered if he was hiding from Jimmy and the other Smiths. “Once it started coming in, a guy from the Tower stopped by. I… Iwas a bit rude.”
Someone from the Tower had spoken to my son without asking me? I swallowed my immediate rage. “Which realm of rude are we talking about?” In our family — in our neighborhood — rudeness could come in many forms.
“Words.” Jin wrinkled his nose. “I wasn’t good enough to target a curse at that point, and I know better than to wield anything I can’t aim.”
“Good! Well, if they were trying to talk to you without discussing the matter with your parents, they deserved every rude word you gave them. So…?” I fished shamelessly. “You went looking for tutelage?”
“Well, I knew I didn’t want to deal with those Tower people, at least not for a while. And I knew I needed help. So, uh.” He still wasn’t looking at me. I tried not to to take it personally. “Mr. Brown, he’s been haunting this neighborhood for a long time. And I went to talk to him.”
Learning lessons from an angry lost soul could be effective… and it could be amazingly dangerous. I thought about my answers for a moment.
Too long. “I knew you’d be mad.”
“Jin, you saved an entire bank of hostages. I am not angry with you.”
“The police are.” He finally looked at me. “They want to find some reason to blame me.”
“They want to find some reason to blame magic.” I leaned against the foot of his bed and studied him. “Remember how we felt, when we realized that the bad guy this time was human? Normal, everyday human… the police realized he wasn’t even a spell-user, he just had a magical item. That’s how they feel. They want magic to be at fault. They want something strange to be at fault.”
“..People suck sometimes,” Jin muttered.
I didn’t call him on his language. It wasn’t the time for that. “Sometimes people really suck,” I agreed, and endured his shocked look.
“So…” He shook his head, as if to clear the sound of his mother using a bad word. “You’re not mad at me?”
“No, I’m not. I would like to meet Mr. Brown, if he’s willing, but I’m not angry that you took the responsible step of finding a teacher.”
“And I don’t have to go to the Tower?”
“No.” I felt my jaw set. “I’ll speak to Sage, and we’ll talk to the Tower people about this breach of etiquette. I do want you to go to a proper school… but it doesn’t have to be the Tower.”
He relaxed and, for the first time in weeks, I saw my oldest child smile. “I might enjoy the Pumpkin.”
“I’m quite sure you would.” I let myself smile in return. “But maybe we’ll see if there are some other options, too.”
He allowed me to hug him, and I let myself release a little tension. “Thanks, Mom,” he muttered into my shoulder.
“Thank you, Jin,” I replied. Today, there were many things to thank him for.
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