Heartweed: Chapter 23

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

 

Chapter 23

Artie stepped off the 416 bus in York. The evening was grim; the threat of rain hung in the air. She pulled her jacket tighter around her and hunched her shoulders. Almost eight o’clock. She was supposed to meet Gorth at nine.
The past two days at college had been a special kind of hell. By the time she had turned up on Monday morning everyone had heard the story. How she’d freaked out on Rob and tried to stab him, then run into the garden to slit her wrists. Or so everyone was saying.
In the morning she had ignored it. In the afternoon she had walked around with her sleeves rolled up so they wouldn’t have to strain themselves to see. On Tuesday she had been tempted not to even turn up.
She’d kept her head down and stuck close to Sam and James – which hadn’t been difficult, they’d obviously made a pact between them to keep an eye on her. Artie was only a little irritated by this. Them keeping an eye on her had made it easier for her to keep an eye on them. Since March had made his threats she had been seeing him out of the corners of her eyes everywhere. Watching her with her parents. Spying on her eating lunch with Sam and James. Lounging against the wall of the corridor where she bumped into Rob – an excruciatingly awkward moment that ended with them avoiding each other’s eyes and hustling in opposite directions.
Toying with her is what he was doing. And part of her was glad for it. The longer he spun this out, the more time she had to do something about it. Even so, waiting for him to make his next move was wearing at her. Her stomach was in constant knots, wrung out like a dishtowel. But it would be over soon she hoped.
Her phone vibrated furiously. ‘Home’ flashed on the screen. Artie pushed the call to her voicemail. Five seconds later it rang again; she let it ring out this time. Two texts came in quick succession: one told her she had a voicemail, the other was from her mum.
“Where are you? Said you were going to Sam’s. We called. Not there. Phone us please.”
Artie switched the phone off.
She could have arranged an alibi with Sam, but she figured that with the way things were at the moment Sam would have just turned around and grassed Artie up to her parents. Everyone wanted to look after her. Like she couldn’t take care of herself. Like she wasn’t taking care of all of them. She bit her lip. Maybe they were right. It wasn’t like she had done a very good job of taking care of Alex.
Her phone banged against her leg as she walked – a guilty weight in her pocket. She paused and switched it back on. Another text announced another voicemail. Artie tapped out a quick text to her mum.
“Sorry. Got to sort something out. Don’t know hwen I’ll be back.”
She paused, the added:
“Love you.”
She sent the text and switched the phone back off before they had a chance to respond.
When would she be back? Gorth had said that he could make her powerful. By magic. Was he offering her a power that had to be worked for, training with some faerie sensei for months or years? Or would he make her strong enough to kill March tonight, as easily and offhandedly as he had killed Alex? Could she turn up back at home tomorrow and tell her parents – what? That she had killed the creature that they had never believed to have killed their son?
Either way Gorth had said that she would be changed forever. She couldn’t imagine what that would mean. Forever powerful – not bad. But you never get something for nothing. There was going to be a catch. Gorth had said that there would be a price, but not what that price would be. She didn’t think he was talking about the kind of price with a pound sign in front of it, or at least not only that.
She stopped at the cashpoint on the corner and withdrew the maximum: £300. She added the wedge of notes to the same amount that she had withdrawn yesterday. Six months of scanning shopping at the supermarket and hoarding her pocket money. Saving for a better computer. She hoped it would be enough. What was the going rate for magical powers?
Her heavy boots clattered on the stone streets as she crossed the city centre, heading for the bar where she was to meet Gorth. She hadn’t given it much thought until now, but a bar was a rubbish place to meet. With the height and build of a 12-year-old she’d never get past a bouncer. She hoped they checked ID at the bar and not on the door.
The streets were quiet. The cold and clammy kept everyone inside. Artie turned onto the narrow cobbled street where the bar was. The entrance to the bar was garishly lit with multicoloured fluorescent tubes. Artie slipped through the unguarded doorway into the crowded and noisy bar.
The crowd was made up mostly of uni students. There was no sign of Gorth, but she was over half an hour early. Artie shoved her way down the long room, using a well-judge elbow every now and then. The crush of people reminded her of March’s party. A bitter chill went through her despite the sticky heat of packed bodies; she looked around to reassure herself of the humanity.
The blue-haired gentry? Artie jolted to a stop and stared around again. She had thought she’d caught a glimpse of him standing in the shadows by the wall, but there was only a lone man in a suit there. As she stared up at him he met her eyes; disapproval smeared over his face. Like he never drank underage. Artie scowled back and turned away.
Ahead of her she saw Gorth leaning against the bar. He looked both exactly the same and different. His features were smoothed and dulled. A glamour to make him look human. He caught her eye and beckoned.
Artie slid through the crowd to his side. Gorth leaned down to her ear and shouted: “What will you have?”
“Orange juice.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Nothing stronger? Sure I can’t tempt you to a cocktail?”
Artie shook her head. “They won’t serve me alcohol, trust me.”
Gorth shrugged and turned to capture the bartender’s attention. Artie shifted her feet. What she had said was partly the truth. If she tried to get served alcohol she’d run a strong risk of getting ID’d and maybe asked to leave. But a bigger slice of truth was that getting drunk around handsome, confident guys wasn’t working out so well for her this month.
And he was handsome. She hadn’t noticed it before – too shocked at finding herself in a place that couldn’t exist, too worried for Alex – but Gorth was very good-looking. Even more with his features morphed into the more human shapes that she was used to.
He  turned and handed her a glass a smile crinkling around the corners of his soft brown eyes.
“So what’s the deal?” Artie asked.
Gorth shook his head. “Not here. Too noisy. I’m just waiting for another valued client. Then we can go somewhere to talk. OK?”
“OK.”
Gorth leaned back against the bar, his eyes sweeping the crowd. Artie sipped her orange juice.
A woman sliced through the crowd towards them. Artie gaped – she could have been a supermodel. Tall and slender – the woman defined the word statuesque. Her black hair was woven in elaborate ropes and her orange dress looked sprayed on. Artie felt every heterosexual male’s eye swivel to follow her across the room. The disapproving businessman was appraising the woman in minute detail.
The supermodel stopped beside Gorth and Artie, she towered over both of them. Artie felt a twinge of guilty hatred for this beautiful woman. She felt like a lump of wood in comparison. The woman pulled a folded piece of paper out of the top of her dress. She rolled her wrist over towards Gorth and he plucked the paper from between her fingertips. He read it. Nodded.
“Tomorrow?”
The woman nodded. Gorth pulled a roll of twenty pound notes from his pocket and unwrapped ten from the roll. He handed them to the woman and they vanished into the top of the dress. Artie sneaked a look around the bar. Nobody appeared to notice the dodgy-looking deal happening right under their noses. Even the horny gazes had been deflected. Were the three of them inside a glamour?
The woman’s eyes slid towards Artie. Artie blinked in surprise. The woman’s eyes were a luminous amber with thin horizontal leaf-shaped pupils. Artie realised that she was staring and shut her mouth.
“Um. Nice contacts.”
A lazy smile stretched across the woman’s face and she sashayed away. Artie turned to Gorth, he was grinning.
“Not contacts?”
Gorth shook his head. “Nope.” He drained his drink and jerked his head towards the door.
“Let’s talk.”
Artie put down her half-finished drink on the bar and followed him.

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