Alchemy of Shadows, a Snippet

From one of my current active projects:

Mysterious creatures known only as Shadows have infiltrated the college attended by Our Heroes.  In their attempt to bring Adrian, an immortal alchemist, under their sway, they have hoodwinked the authorities.  Now, our heroes are on the run, having abandoned Adrian’s old car, The Green Monster, in favor of new transportation not known to their enemies.  They are discussing the plans when the conversation goes sideways.

The waitress bringing our food provided an opportunity for me to consider my response.  In the end, I nodded.

“Chuck did seem to be free of the Shadow after the flare burned out, but Becki, remember when I said they need permission?”

“I know,” Becki said, her voice subdued. “I saw.” She sighed. “I always knew Chuck was…determined…to be a star but I never thought he’d make a pact with the devil to do it.”

“I did,” Jeff said.

Becki rounded on him. “You never liked Chuck.  You…”

“No.” Jeff ran over whatever Becki was going to say. “I didn’t.  I thought he was a self-righteous bastard who would do anything, anything to get his way.  And I was right, too.”

Becki slumped, deflated, in her seat.  She sat silent for several seconds before looking up. “I know.”

“You should find a nicer guy,” Jeff said. “Someone like Adrian here.”

My jaw dropped. “Hey, what?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Becki said.

My heart clenched at Becki’s words but I told it firmly to keep its own counsel.  I would not get involved with this young woman more than I already was.  I would not.  I should be glad that she felt the same way.

“No, think about it,” Jeff said. “He’s always been there when you needed him, whether it’s been help with your calculus…”

“I bet that’s not the first time he’s studied calculus.  I bet he studied with Isaac Newton.”

I sighed. “No, never met the man.  Nor Leibniz nor Gauss nor Laplace.  I’ve lived a long time.  That does not mean I’ve met every famous figure in your history books.  I was conscripted for the Civil War.  I did not, however, meet either General Grant or Abraham Lincoln.”

“But you did study calculus before.  This wasn’t the first time.”

I shrugged. “No.  It wasn’t.  Once credentials started becoming important I had to start going back to school when I started a new life.  That meant taking a lot of the same basic classes.”

“Exactly, so you…”

“Was always there when we needed him,” Jeff rolled over her again. “Rides?  The Green Monster was always available.” He met my eyes. “And don’t think I haven’t figured out that you slipped me a mickey that time.  Same stuff you used on the cop?”

“Same stuff,” I said. “There was nothing you could do by worrying and you needed to rest.”

“Exactly,” Jeff said. “I needed.  You’ve always come through with what I, or Becki, needed.” He fixed his glare on Becki. “You could do worse.  A lot worse.”

I held up my hands. “Hey, wait a minute.  What makes you think that I…”

Jeff threw up his hands in a dramatic gesture. “Just because I’m good at football, why does everybody think I’m stupid?  I have eyes.  I’ve seen your face when she walks into the room.”

Becki’s voice was soft. “Don’t be…don’t be…silly.”

Jeff stood up. “Hey, everybody!”  He pointed at Becki. “This is my sister.  If the two of them have any brains at all, this–” He pointed at me. “–is her new boyfriend.”

I stared at Jeff, my face frozen in shock.  I switched my gaze to Becki to see her equally stunned.  I closed my eyes and let my head fall forward onto folded arms.

I had centuries of experience on these two, a lifetime they could never imagine.  So why did I feel so completely overwhelmed, so completely out of my depth?

When did my life get so out of control?

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