After almost two weeks in my bedroom, I needed to get out. I went on a walk and found myself on Short Street in front of the Diner. I felt the ghost a few meters down the street push at the back of my mind. I pushed back against the intrusion with a simple ‘no’ and pushed on the Diner’s door.
When I walked into the Diner and ordered a pot of earl grey tea, I didn’t take notice of anyone else in the quiet building. At two-thirty in the afternoon, everyone I knew was at work. As I opened my phone a hand with long neon yellow fingernails wrapped around the pole of my table number.
“Not even a smile or a wave? Am I being snubbed?”
I looked up from my phone. My cousin, Kat, was twisting my table number between her lightly tanned fingers. She met my eyes once then walked off with my number towards her table. I grabbed my bag and rushed after her.
I noticed a laptop-tablet hybrid sitting on the table beside a stack of books and loose paper. Kat’s frizzy brown hair was held back with two expensive silver pens. There was a notepad about to fall from the front pocket of her baggy emerald button-down. The navy pants gave the impression that she’d dressed in the dark, the colours not quite matching in the stark light of the café. “Are you still writing for that rag?”
“Yes, and It’s not a rag.”
“Ignore me. I’m a prick.”
“I haven’t had a real conversation with you since your graduation party.”
“I know.” I accepted my pot of tea from the passing waitress. “What do you want?”
“Don’t be like that, Dex.”
“I’m not sure you have the right to be offended that I didn’t notice you. We used to be thick as thieves, now we live in the same town and never say more than a quick hello.”
“Communication comes from both ends, Dexter.”
She looked down at the blue, red and white checkered tablecloth. “I’m sorry too… because I do want something.”
“My boss wants an interview with your husband.”
“It’s about the town council election.”
“Why would your boss want to interview Eli? Lacy Senior is the one running for the election. Not to mention it doesn’t actually matter much, Dunn is going to be amalgamated into the Tallow Shire.”
Kat held up a hand. “Nothing you just said makes a lick of sense. Let’s start with the easiest thing.” She took a deep breath and closed her blue eyes for a second. “Where did you hear that amalgamation thing?”
“I know someone working for the Tallow Shire.”
“One, that idea was trunked a long time ago.” She held out her fingers and counted her points. “Two, if Dunn were to join a larger shire, it would be Beckham Shire. They have the largest magical population in the country. Tallow doesn’t even have an official magical community.”
“You’ve heard about my accident?” I wasn’t surprised that she was in on it. She’d attended Dunn Academy with Eli.
“I know you’re safe to talk candidly too. Rumours travel fast.” She tapped the table. “Back on topic. Eli’s the one running for town council. The rest of his family has no desire to. I heard they tried to push Viola into it as she is a far more acceptable age, but she refused. None of the cousins would give it the time of day. There is the expectation they will field a candidate which leaves Eli.” She reached out to pat my hand with a smile. “Don’t look so worried. He’s twenty-three, no one is going to vote for him, seriously.”
“Has anyone mentioned how messed up this town is? Certain families expected to field council candidates. I hardly think Eli is serious about this.” If he were, he would have told me.
Kat gave me an odd look. “Check he isn’t serious before you say anything. Maybe he was looking for the best time to tell you. It’s not public yet. His grandfather was the one who leaked it to the press.”
“We have a date tonight.”
“He probably plans to tell you then. Maybe try act surprised?”
“Is that the cousin advice of the year?”
“Yes.” She grabbed my teapot and filled her empty coffee cup. I tried not to look at the sticky, gritty milk residue that floated in her tea. How long had the cup been sitting on the table before I arrived? I slid my cup away from my hand. I was done with tea for the day.
“How many members of our family know about magic?”
“The only people who don’t know are your parents and Ralph. If someone doesn’t know it’s because they’re not a good fit for magic.”
“Not a good fit?”
“They tested you just before you went into first grade, and you got cut. Everyone who has magical parents or grandparents is allowed to take the test.”
“A test I took when I was six decided the course of my life?”
“It takes a long time to learn magic. Primary school kids are socialised with the Mortals and taught base level spells in after school classes. We specialise in high schools like Dunn Academy. After graduation, most take apprenticeships or traineeships. There are university courses, but those are for the top ten per cent of Mages or those who need Mundane degrees.”
“You never wanted to tell me?”
Kat looked into her tea. “It’s more important than ever to keep the secret. Mortals have nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the world, many times over. Magic isn’t enough to keep us safe from those who fear us anymore.”
“There’s that word again, Mortal. Magic doesn’t make anyone special.”
“Dex.” She reached out to touch me.
I pulled away from her and stood up. I left the Diner, dropping the money for our drinks on the counter.
My family had been lying to me my whole life. Could I do other types of magic? Or was this all I had? I went home. I wanted to go to The Echo, but Eli would chain me to the bed if I walked several kilometres from home at three in the afternoon. I still had staples holding my skin together.
Why did this have to happen to me? I curled up in my bed and stared at the wall; every little clue I had ignored over the years rushed through my mind. Why did Gran and Pop think it un-necessary to tell me that my paternal family was magical?
I passively opened my phone when the email notification came through. Weeks ago, I’d gotten drunk and brought one of those ancestry DNA tests. The most exciting thing about my ancestry was my quarter African American through Pop; the rest of my family probably came with the convicts. I was mainly interested in the fun extra stuff; why does coriander taste like soap, my amount of Neanderthal DNA or how sensitive I was to bitter tastes. I’d forgotten about it with everything that had been going on. I tapped the link to open it. My stomach dropped when I saw I had South Asian ancestry, a rather large percentage of it to be incidental. I studied the breakdown of where each ethnicity entered my DNA. I genetically had a half West African mother and a half Malaysian father. I should have a full Malay paternal grandparent.
I almost dropped my glass of wine in my rush to refresh the page. This had to be a mistake. I’d always been slightly darker than my brothers but not dramatically given how dark Mum’s skin was. My lily-white almost blonde Dad wasn’t half Malay, the parental suspicion lay with me. My blood type was A Negative not O Positive like I’d been told my whole life. They must have done some kind of test before they gave me blood after the accident. There was no way I was adopted because I had a rare magical ability from my maternal family. Lies. Why was so much of my life a lie?
“Dex? Are you okay?” Eli sat down on the bed next to me.
I handed him the phone. “Read it.”
I heard him gasp a few seconds later. “Does this mean what I think?”
“That my Dad isn’t my biological father? Yes.”
“The Arkwright family are some of the whitest people I know. With all that magic importance, their ancestry must be recorded. Plus the chances are that much DNA would have to come from a grandparent. Do any of my grandparents look Malay to you?”
“I get your point. What do you do now?”
“I have no idea. If Dad knows, he’s not going to give me his DNA so I can test it against mine.”
“What about Edwin?”
“As in my grandfather Edwin?”
“Yes or even your brother Edwin. If Ned comes back with the amount of DNA a half-sibling should have, then you know.”
“I think Ned would be the person most likely to say yes.”
“Ask your brother, then.”
I ran both my hands through my curls. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
“I understand that finding out about magic is hard.”
“It’s not the magic; it’s finding out that my family, friends and even the man I love have been lying to me about a huge part of their lives. The fact that my father might not be who I think means that everyone in my life has been keeping huge secrets from me. These aren’t small secrets.”
“I know.” Eli laid down beside me and looked me in the eyes. “From now on, no more secrets. Do you still want to go out for dinner?”