CAVE OF MIRRORS
// Coming Soon
As forceful winds stirred beneath the house, I was reminded that autumn was nearly finished and winter was just around the corner. Only two more months before Christmas, and I could already feel the holiday spirit taking over. Soon, there’d be famous Christmas carols filling the town with laughter. People would gather on porches with large scented reefs and golden lights to hang. White fluffy flakes would decorate the lawn, and patterns of snow angels would glisten at the peak of day when the sun was most glorious, which was something I’d been looking forward to ever since I could remember. This kind of weather was nonexistent in California, so it was just another reason I was glad to be in Arkansas. Already I could taste hints of eggnog and warm brownies, which would be baked in the morning and stacked next to Tre’s delicious oatmeal cookies, and everything would be served unreservedly. In addition to the food, there’d be a Christmas tree standing in the center of the living room, dazzling with our favorite ornaments.
Blue had already started putting some of her partially covered boxes near the fireplace. Some of them were filled with cinnamon scented pinecones and glittery silver balls and holiday stockings and multiple flavored candy canes. There might’ve also been presents inside, but I wasn’t going to go through her things to find out. I imagined stacks of presents loaded beneath the tree, waiting to be opened. The anticipation was something I hadn't felt in such a long time that I was having difficulty processing my newfound excitement. Carl and Laura were such selfish bores, living inside their privileged bubble, to ever be traditionalists. The most we ever did for Christmas was watch a stage show and give each other envelops filled with money and plane tickets. As far as they were concerned, Christmas trees were out of the question, and so were holiday songs about reindeer. For the most part, they liked to be alone at the end of the year and often sent me away to shop at the mall while they stayed in bed and enjoyed their million-dollar home. This arrangement left me with enough time to sulk about mom and how great our lives were with dad before she died. Eventually, I was going to need to forgive Carl and his new wife and get over it. But forgiving them didn’t mean I had to move back and live with them. It’d be easier to forgive them from a distance.
I knew it sounded childish, but with Carl and Laura out of the picture, I was much happier than before. Maybe because there wasn’t anyone around to shape my identity into the image they thought I should be. I was having such a grand time spreading my wings. Day-by-day, step-by-step, I could create my own destiny without interference. Even if this path wasn’t the most ethical line of work and I was currently hiding myself from the law in this small town, I was still freer than I’d been before.
The intricate ink pattern on my arm forming a spade was the latest addition to my life – the proof that I wasn’t a little girl anymore. ‘Thieves were born in the wild’ was a famous saying here. And not only had I been fully trained as a professional in the art of taking things that weren’t mine, I was also born with a gift that hadn’t been triggered until after my 18th birthday, soon after I arrived in this driveway. Like everyone else here, I was a spade, or someone supernaturally inclined to move things without touching them. I hadn’t quite mastered the gift yet, but I’d been secretly working on it ever since the ceremony ended. When no one was watching, I experimented in the gym and tried to grow comfortable with the idea of what I’d become. Fortunately for me, no one else thought I was freakish. Everyone had the same gift, so I didn’t have to go through the impossible awkward phase...again.
Once Chris took the others to the airport and dropped them off, he was coming back here to give me a one-on-one intensive on how to control my newly discovered gift. It appeared that him and I would be staying in the cabin for a couple of months until the others returned from their trip. As usual, the team was breaking up into partners and going on separate missions, stealing whatever was required of them...usually diamonds. In normal circumstances, Chris and I would’ve gone on our own heist assignments together for the first time. But because of what transpired with my awakened powers, he was instructed to stay at the cabin and train me alone, at least until I was able to control my ability.
Jack was insistent about not getting the two worlds mixed up. Our heist assignments were altogether separate from our innate talent to regulate air pressure. And they were never allowed to intermingle. That meant we had to conceal our powers by not using it in public or during a heist. Jack didn’t want us getting caught. If the police found out we were thieves (which was an impossible occurrence due to our extensive list of connections) it was better for them to throw us in jail for stealing than for them to know power lurked beneath our fingertips. The first could be dealt with, but the latter would be the destruction of our species. Our underground world would be destroyed forever. Not to be confused with witches, we were the next best things. The only difference between us was that we didn't use tools, like spell-books, to distort the elements of the earth to get what we wanted. We were a natural force, born with the gift, and when the time was right and we were ready, the power within us turned on. Mine turned on right after my last birthday, which was why I needed to learn how to operate these surges of energy flowing through my veins before taking on any more assignments.
Secretly smiling to myself, I rested my head on the front door, staring into the driveway. This time of year usually made me sad from thinking about my mom. But for some reason, the thought of getting warm and toasty inside this cabin next to Chris made me want to leap out of my skin and do something inappropriate with my coach. I was surprised when the thought didn’t subside right away. Chris hadn’t spoken to me much since that night in the attic when he pressed my body against the wall and cradled his mouth on the curve of my neck, whispering how much he wanted me and how much he knew I wanted him. Even now, the memory rippled through my being, raising my skin. I could feel him trapping me in the corner of the room with a groan in his throat, breathing my name, making my heart melt and setting it on fire. I could taste the warmth from his lips as though they’d never left, and shivers raced to the top of neck where his hands had been. Those strong hands were like gentle magnets, exploring me for the first time in that lonely dark corner, all of this while raindrops struck the window. Gravity itself seemed to implode right through me. So I balanced myself and closed my eyes, recounting the collision of our desire; the desire that for so long, Chris had denied and pretended didn’t exist, and I’d suppressed for the sake of not wanting to be the only one with feelings.
Since then, Chris never looked at me the same way he did that night. Nothing was ever as intimate as the experience we shared in my attic bedroom. We exchanged a few polite words during practice, but it was nothing more than politeness. The others were always around to distract us from what happened three weeks ago, so we addressed each other formally and continued on as if nothing happened. This left me with enough room to fantasize about the unknown and what could’ve happened if Tre hadn’t knocked on the door and interrupted paradise. Whenever I was working out or taking a midnight run or relaxing in the tub . . . I was always thinking about Chris. In fact, there wasn’t a place in the world where I didn’t think about him. My mind was completely mesmerized by what took place that it was hard to command myself to think about something else. Which wasn’t a good thing. This kind of enchantment always led to a broken heart. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to stop myself from wanting him. And I probably wouldn’t stop feeling this way until we finished what we started.
At the sound of the van’s engine, my attention thwarted, and I watched my teammates pull out of the driveway. Chris was behind the wheel, and Tre’s arm swung out the passenger’s window, throwing up the peace sign. I returned the gesture and formed a smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes. Folding my arms, I realized the obvious. My usual strive for greatness was at its lowest. I could feel the carelessness taking over my practices. Usually I was more self-motivated about being the best thief in the cabin, or at least better than Blue. I should’ve been more clear-headed about my position. Learning this magical craft was just as crucial as being a skilled crook, and both aspects needed to be taken seriously if I was going to wear the crown as Chris’s new partner. That wasn’t going to happen if I was thinking about him all the time. Tre made it perfectly clear that I was making history, and replacing Jennifer wouldn't be an easy feat. I definitely had some big shoes to fill. For one, Jennifer was a legend in this place. She used to be Chris’s partner until she disappeared (or died), and there was no way I could fill her shoes without feeling intimidated.
For two, there were a lot of girls here already who didn’t want to see Chris with anyone else but them. Having continued fantasies about him would just make me vulnerable to attack and incapable of handling the position with honor. I wanted to curse at myself for being distracted, and in a moment of irritation and rationality, I tried shutting him from my mind completely. There was no time for puppy love games when I needed to focus on my career. I owed this to myself to remain firm and professional. If Chris wanted to pretend like nothing happened, I’d do the same . . . even though every inch of me wanted to knock on his door in the middle of the night and ask him, what the hell? He couldn’t just handle me the way he did in that attic bedroom and then go about his business like we hadn’t just opened Pandora’s box. But that’s exactly what he did. And from this moment forward, I was going to do the same. For the sake of my own sanity and for the sake of my profession, I was going to end this diversion once and for all. My thoughts about him were over. Starting now.