When I walked back to my office to collect my bag, I found an activated phone with the same number was sitting on my desk. Attached to the front was a post-it note with a hand-drawn smiley face. I knew it was from Eli because he was the only person who knew I lacked a phone. I had no idea when he’d found the time to buy it. I unlocked the phone and found several texts, including one from Eli, ‘Best husband ever, right? ;)’, I smiled despite myself. The smile fell from my face when I noticed that several of the messages were from Jonah. I slowly opened the text thread and read each one. ‘I heard they fired you’, ‘Can we meet tomorrow?’, ‘I need to explain myself’, ‘Please don’t be mad’, ‘I understand if you don’t want to talk to me’, ‘I’m in Dunn. Please talk to me.’ The last one had been sent two hours ago, and I knew Eli would have read the earlier ones. I sent him a simple message, ‘The Diner at 5.30’.
Jonah was sitting in the Diner drinking a coffee when I entered a few minutes late, as I’d been caught in the peak hour traffic on my way back into town. He smiled when I sat down across from him.
“Shoot,” I said.
“I heard they fired you. If that had anything do to with what I asked, I’m sorry.” Jonah apologised.
“It didn’t. There is something I wanted to ask you about.”
He looked up from adding extra sugar to his coffee. “I’ll help any way I can.”
I noticed that he was wearing a forget-me-not blue suit and cuff links shaped like the flower. Forget me not flowers had been Tara’s favourites, she’d been obsessed with them and the light shade of blue most commonly associated with them. I felt a wave of nausea wash over me as I realised how odd it had been for Jonah to suddenly reach out to me. He’d approached me with the one thing I’d wanted more than anything a month ago. What did he want from me? My breath was shaky as I looked away from the cuff links to focus on him. I felt relieved that Eli had seen those messages, he’d know I responded and met with Jonah if I didn’t come home. Would he be able to figure out that J was Jonah Wit? As far as I knew, Eli had no idea who he was. Jonah and Eli ran in entirely different social circles, and he was three years older than us and a mortal. Eli had never been close to Tara growing up.
Viola’s words from the other night slipped into my mind, ‘never let someone take you to a second location’. I’d stay in the Diner and call someone to pick me up if I needed, but I wasn’t leaving at the same time as Jonah. I ordered a coffee and burger from the passing waitress. The Diner was filled with people getting their dinner in before it closed at seven, and I wasn’t going anywhere soon. If Eli was out with his friends and couldn’t respond to my text, I’d go straight to Cory. I’d noticed Eli had added Cory’s number to my phone, under the name ‘Hunny Pot ;)’ when I tried to add it. I didn’t have any friends outside of my family, but I still had an extensive list of people who could join us, and I’d start with the most influential people on that list. I knew Grandfather was possibly more powerful than Eli or Cory, but he was older, and I didn’t want him to be hurt. I knew it was probably silly to fear this guy, but the last time I’d seen him before our lunch a month ago, he’d put his hands around my throat. The suit and cufflinks were too deliberate to be a coincidence. Tara’s death had been a tragic accident, and Jonah hadn’t been able to handle that.
“My cousin Katrina works for a newspaper, and she said that there is no amalgamation happening.” I saw him clench his jaw for a second when I said Kat’s name. He remembered her as one of Tara’s friends.
“I lied.” He ran a hand through his already mussed blonde hair. “I don’t work for the PR firm anymore. They made me redundant, and it caused me to take a long hard look at my life and the choices I’d made. I hated the person I’d become and wanted to right the wrongs. I burnt every bridge when I left town. As I stared down the barrel of thirty, I realised what I’d done.”
“What exactly do you want from me?” I had my phone in my lap ready to send a message to Eli. I’d typed something while I pretended to look at the menu, a menu I’d had memorised before I could read. I’d copied it so I’d easily be able to send any additional messages with two touches.
“I want to apologise for hurting you.” He looked down at his pale fingers. “I lied to you because everyone else hung up when they realised it was me. My mother slammed a door in my face.”
“I blamed her and Dad for not doing more.”
“I was so angry with you and her other friends before I accepted Tara’s death for what it was. A tragic accident. I wasn’t in a good place mentally before it happened.”
“What did you want them to do?”
“Force the police to arrest you for murder.”
I blinked back the tears in my eyes. “Jonah. I promise you I’m telling the truth. What happened was a tragic accident. We tried to stop her, but there was only so much we could do.”
“Were you drinking when it happened?”
The question hit me like a punch to the gut. It was time to be honest. “Yes.”
He looked at me for a long time. “My parents wouldn’t tell me, but I’d heard them whispering about something the cops had said.”
I said nothing.
I couldn’t say anything.
Anything I said would sound like a hollow excuse.
“We were friends, right? When I was tutoring you.”
Not really. “Yes.”
“I hate that I ruined my relationship with those who cared about me most. I want to make things better.” He smiled at me and looked me in the eyes. “I want to be friends with you again, Dexter. The only friends I had in the city were at my job, and they stopped contacting me the moment I lost it. Please, just give me a chance for Tara’s sake.”
“Okay.” The word sounded deformed and choppy, as though I’d forced it from my mouth. I carefully looked over at him, but he hadn’t seemed to notice, a nervous smile still on his face.
We continued to make awkward small talk after my meal arrived, thankfully Mason and Ariella walked into the Diner to get takeout just as I finished my food. I walked out to my car at the same time as them and drove straight home; only getting out of my car after I’d waited to see if anyone had followed me. He may have claimed he wanted to be friends, but he still looked at me like he wanted to wrap his hands around my neck. I’d been too blinded by his offer the other day to notice.
On Friday I left work at lunch and went to Gran and Pop’s Bunker. I cut through the national park in a direction that would have made it hard for anyone to follow me and entered the property from the back. It surprised me that the keypad still worked after all these years of neglect. Maybe he’d placed some kind of spell on it. Everything seemed oddly clean and in good repair. Did someone else have a code? I checked every room, my heart hammering inside my chest before I was sure I was alone. There was a letter sitting on the oak desk with my name on it in Pop’s handwriting. I used his dagger-shaped letter opener to open it.
If you’re reading this, I’ve likely been dead for a while. God that sounds stereotypical, I’m sorry.
I sometimes wonder how your life will go. If you haven’t been pulled into the Mage community, please reach out to Helen Fraser in Morse Bay. If you need you always have a home with the alchemists, they always look after their own.
If no one can or will help if you get into trouble, please go to them. Tell them who you are, and someone will help you. If you can’t get to them go to Wendel Milton, my old partner he will protect you with his life. He’s the man who used to leave you one of his son’s old comics when he came to visit me.
I worry about you, Dex. What Eve did to you is unacceptable. She had no right or skill to teach you magic the way she did. It’s unsafe for you to live in Dunn and know magic. If my calculations are right, you’re old enough to understand that. If Eve doesn’t give you the code, I’ve instructed Wendel to send it to you on your twenty-fifth birthday. He’s been looking after the place, and once he knows you’re here, he’ll pass it over to you. At least pay him a visit to tell him if you get the code from Eve.
I’ve left you a collection of potions to help you have the upper hand if you’ve been pulled into the Mage community like I expect. They’re labelled, and I left a guide to making each of them. Some you won’t be able to make until you advance your skills, but learning Potion Craft will be a tremendous advantage for you. If you’re anything like the sweet boy I knew, you’ll need all the help you can get to navigate the cutthroat world of magical politics. All the information I can give you is in this bunker.
I read the letter over five times before I folded it back into the envelope. I opened cupboards until I found the one with the potions in it, careful to select only one of each potion and copy the instructions and description to each into the Grimoire Cory had helped me buy. The shopkeeper had placed a spell on it so only I could read it. I knew it was a basic spell compared to the one that had been on the Grimoire in Cory’s desk, but it was better than nothing. I wondered what had drawn Cory to that book.
Before I knew what I was doing, I read one of Pop’s journals. He’d been the avid journal-keeper. There was an entire shelf covered wall filled with the fine hardcover books. The first he started before he had arrived in Australia a few months before he’d met Gran when he was younger than I was now.
I was pulled from my reading by a text from Cory, ‘did you honestly ditch work like a petulant teenager?’ Typical he comes looking for me the one time I’m not there, I’d spent the last three days bored in my office while he dealt with his regular duties. I’d finished the forms from Nora Rowe’s house on the second day and had nothing to do but read due to the lack of phone reception in the basement. I wasn’t stupid enough to use the Agency WiFi; they’d be able to see everything I did on my phone. If I had to deal with this Nox problem head-on, I didn’t want them to have a back door into my phone.