Like sticky red strawberry juice splattered on a clean white blouse, she remembers the way her mother’s blood clung to her that dark April morning, seeping into every wrinkle and pore. With a shudder, Delilah closes her eyes and attempts to redirect her thoughts, but the memory grips her like an invisible hand tightening around her neck. The more she fights it the stronger it becomes.
Three months ago, Delilah found her mom's dead, mangled body on the floor of her father’s kitchen. The police wrote it off as a suicide, a heartbroken woman getting the ultimate revenge on her newly married ex, but Lila's dad doesn’t buy that story. He claims she was murdered, her wrists slashed in an attempt to hide the crime and mislead the cops, but as for who killed her or why, his theories stop there.
Either way, Lila knows one thing for certain- Her life changed forever that cold spring morning. No longer able to stomach living in Jericho, her father and stepmother packed up her siblings and moved across the country. Her childhood home, the only house she had ever known, was sold and torn down, and her best friend Kieran, who had lived with her family since before she was born, deserted her, leaving town earlier than planned to stay with her grandfather for the summer. As for Delilah, she and her stepbrother Rigby remained in Jericho, ultimately resorting to couch surfing until they could find a decent place to rent.
“I can’t sleep again.” Delilah hears the words tumble from her lips with unexpected emotion, but she’s far too exhausted to hide her desperation.
“Do you want me to come over?” Kieran asks in a worried voice.
She assumed he’d be angry, that he’d sigh and groan and complain about the outrageously early hour, so his sincerity takes her by surprise. “Yes,” she whispers in reply. “Please.”
After returning to Jericho last month, Kieran moved into an apartment with Rigby and their band mate Austin. The building is just down the street from Lila’s flat, and so he arrives at her door within minutes of hanging up the phone. Yawning and rubbing his eyes, he settles down next to her on the sofa and waits for her to speak.
“Were you thinking about Maeve again?” he asks at last, breaking the drowsy silence.
Delilah nods but doesn’t elaborate, and Kieran decides not to press the issue. She’s had a rough time dealing with her mother’s gruesome death, and he knows better than to push her right now.
“Did I wake you up?” she wants to know.
Kieran shrugs. “Doesn’t matter,” he says as he fights back another yawn. “I don’t mind.”
Lila smiles tiredly and lets her eyes begin to drift closed. Kieran’s presence has always had a soothing effect on her, and tonight is no exception. She feels sleep wash over her at last, blowing in like a warm breeze on a chilly winter day.
A small glimmer of sunlight peaks through the gloomy morning sky as Delilah lazily cracks open her bleary eyes. She feels tired, disoriented, and achy from sleeping upright on the couch all night, but still she forces her mind into focus.
“Kieran,” she whispers as she nudges him with her knee. “Kieran, wake up.”
“In a minute, Lila. I’ll be over in a minute,” he mumbles under his breath.
“Isn’t there somewhere we’re supposed to be today?” she asks distractedly. “Like a gig or something?”
Kieran’s eyes fly open as he begins fumbling around for his watch. “The studio!” he yells, jumping to his feet. “We start recording today!”
Melvin Roscoe, the vice president of their record label and the man who gave Delilah’s band their big break, rarely tolerates tardiness at the office, unless it’s his own that is. Luckily for Delilah and Kieran, he shows up for work even later than they do, and so their transgression goes largely unnoticed.
“Excellent work,” Roscoe chortles through the speaker as the pair finish up an acoustic number. “I think we’ve got enough material to call it a day. Delilah, Bexley and I would like to see you once we finish up in here.”
“I wonder what he wants?” Kieran muses in a hushed tone.
Delilah glares at him and shrugs moodily. “He doesn’t want to speak with you guys,” she retorts. “Whatever it is, I’m the one in trouble this time.”
“Do you think it’s about the concert?” Austin whispers.
Rigby rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “We’ve already been lectured about that, dude.” Assuming Mr. Roscoe’s deep, commanding voice, he continues. “You four are damn lucky that I don’t fire you right this instant. I have never been so outraged in all my life! Performing a halfway decent set instead of the shit I told you guys to play. And at the Simmy Awards too! Why, if the audience hadn’t of loved every minute of it, I’d drop you faster than you can say ‘terminated’. You must be the luckiest bastards to ever walk into my office, getting away with a stunt like that. I swear, if you ever disobey me again I’ll stick my foot so far up my a-”
“Ahem,” a small, dainty cough interrupts Rigby’s spiel, cutting him off short. Bexley Maddox, Roscoe’s assistant, silently motions for Delilah to follow her, and with a pointed glance in Rigby’s direction she disappears back into the studio.
“Good work today,” Roscoe declares as he swivels his chair around to face Delilah. “I hope we can keep up the momentum tomorrow.”
“Yes sir,” Lila nods, feeling unusually shy. She’s been around Mr. Roscoe plenty of times before, but something about him always makes her nervous.
“Did you see yesterday’s paper?” he asks. “Front page, bottom right?”
Lila frowns, startled by the question. “No, I don’t usually read the newspaper. Why? Did our band get a mention?”
“Indirectly, I suppose,” Bexley says with a smirk. “The article was about you, Delilah dear. You and Beau Henderson…”
Delilah feels her cheeks begin to burn as Bexley’s words sink in, but she manages to maintain her composure.
“You didn’t tell us that you two were dating,” Bexley continues in her typical condescending voice. “Why?”
“H-He told me not to," Delilah stammers as she fidgets with a loose strand of hair. This contract means the world to her, and she'd do anything to keep her employers happy. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”
“Sorry?” Roscoe chuckles amusedly, but his eyes remain hard. “Whatever for? Beau Henderson is one of the most visible actors in show business today, and we think it’s great that you’ve taken it upon yourself to cultivate your image like this. Tell me, where did you two meet?”
“At an after party at the Simmy’s, but Mr. Roscoe, I’m not trying to ‘cultivate my image’,” she says, shaking her head. “I just enjoy-”
“Of course, of course,” he replies with a knowing wink. “I understand how it is. Naturally we wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I just wanted to tell you that we here at Zephyr Records fully support your relationship and wish you two the best of luck together.”
“He wasn’t mad?” Kieran frowns and sets down his glass, making a loud thud on the table.
“Nope,” she replies cheerfully. “Not even a little. I think he thinks it’ll be good for the band, all the extra publicity.”
“But- Doesn’t Roscoe want you to focus on our album? I mean, we’re at a critical point in production right now, and once we release our second single you won’t have time for a boyfriend…”
Delilah giggles and playfully shoves Kieran’s arm. “Keep thinking like that and you’ll never get laid. Dating Beau is no more time consuming than being friends with you or Austin or anyone else. Speaking of Beau,” she adds, glancing around, “I wonder where he is?”
“Maybe he got tied up on set,” Kieran mumbles irritably.
“But surely he’d call or text or-” Delilah stops suddenly as her eyes come to rest on a man by the elevators. “Oh!” she breathes, jumping up to greet him.
Kieran tries not to watch as Lila throws herself into Beau’s arms, but a masochistic sense of curiosity keeps him engrossed in the scene before him.
“You alright?” Rigby places a concerned hand on Kieran’s shoulder, startling him out of his brooding silence.
“Yeah, never better,” Kieran snaps.
Rigby smiles sympathetically at his longtime friend. “Pretty nauseating, isn’t it?” he asks as he motions towards Delilah.
“You don’t like him either?” Kieran surmises.
Rigby shrugs. “He seems like a nice enough guy, but they’re all wrong for each other.” He pauses, carefully watching Kieran’s face. “Why don’t you just tell her, dude?” he asks at last.
The question catches Kieran off guard, but he is spared from having to answer by the arrival of Delilah and her date.
“We’re heading out,” she announces. “Beau has an early day tomorrow and doesn’t want to be tired on the set.”
Beau nods and flashes a pearly white smile. “I’m a total disaster when I haven’t gotten enough sleep, and we’re shooting a big action sequence first thing in the morning.”
“You’re leaving?” Kieran hears the words, dripping with disappointment, spill from his lips before he has a chance to stop himself.
Delilah laughs uneasily as Beau’s hand tightens around her shoulder. “Yeah, Kieran, but I’ll see you at the studio tomorrow. Is that okay?”
Kieran shrugs and drains the rest of his beer in one gulp, slamming the empty glass down on the table. “Fine, do what you want,” he replies gruffly. “I don’t care.”
An awkward silence hangs in the air as Kieran pointedly avoids making eye contact with anybody, and so Delilah and Beau leave without another word.
“Your friend doesn’t like me very much, does he?” Beau asks once they arrive back at Delilah’s place.
Lila shakes her head in reply, allowing Beau’s hands to wander leisurely up her shirt. “It’s nothing against you, babe. It’s just that Kieran can be a bit protective sometimes.”
“I don’t like the way he looks at you,” Beau murmurs in her ear. “Is there something going on between you two?”
Delilah rolls her eyes and turns around to face him. “No,” she declares, more forcefully than intended. “He’s just a friend. A good friend, but that’s all.” Narrowing her eyes, she adds, “Why does it matter to you anyway? It’s not like we’re exclusive or anything.”
“Maybe we should be,” Beau whispers as he leads her over to the sofa.
“Really?” Delilah sounds skeptical, but noticing the crestfallen expression on his face she changes her tune. “Uh, I mean okay, sure, that would be great.”
Lifting her into his lap, Beau smiles and pulls off her top. “My parents married young,” he explains in between kisses. “And I don’t want to spend the best years of my life living alone. I’m eager to find the perfect woman to wake up with every morning, and well,” he trails off, watching her closely. “I think I’m falling for you, Delilah. I realize that we haven’t known each other very long, but I can already envision our future together, from the beautiful house in the suburbs to the newborn baby in your arms…”
Delilah finally manages to shut him up with a tongue down his throat, but still it couldn’t come soon enough. His “vision” keeps her tossing and turning all night long.
The following day, Lila meets up with her friend Heidi for a late lunch at the diner across town. Heidi had insisted that they get together after receiving a frantic phone call from Delilah earlier in the morning.
“He said he wants to find someone to wake up with every day,” Delilah exclaims with a dramatic sigh. “That he can already see our future together, everything from the cookie cutter house to the bratty children.”
Heidi giggles, assuming the indulgent expression of a woman dealing with a willful five-year-old. “Well, I think it’s adorable,” she retorts. “And romantic too. He sounds like the perfect man for you, rich and successful and ready to make a commitment…”
“But I’m only eighteen!” Delilah snaps. “I’m too young to be thinking about forever.”
Heidi freezes, her face hardening slightly at her friend’s words. “Well, I don’t think you’re too young,” she proclaims. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, Lila, but I didn’t want to bother you so soon after Maeve’s death.” Taking a deep breath, she says, “Rigby and I are engaged. He proposed last month after your parents sold the house.”
Delilah’s face lights up at the news. “Really?!” she enthuses. “That’s awesome, Heidi! I’m so happy for you guys!”
Heidi shakes her head in confusion. “But you just said-”
“It’s different for you and Rigby,” she explains with a shrug. “You guys have known each other for years, and you’ve been dating since high school. Honestly I’m surprised you waited this long!”
Pleased with her friend’s response, Heidi spends the rest of lunch talking about wedding dresses and cake flavors.
Since Kieran lives in a cramped apartment with two non-magic roommates, he frequently drops by Delilah’s place to practice his spells. Well, that’s his excuse anyway.
The months Kieran spent with Delilah’s grandfather changed him in more ways than one. Not only did the ancient mage teach him how to use and control his powers, but he revived Kieran’s once dwindling interest in magic. Indeed, ever since his return to Jericho, Kieran spends more time fooling around with his spells than he does his instruments, a dramatic turnaround from his high school days.
“I thought we went over this already!” Delilah exclaims irritably as she joins Kieran on the couch. “I don’t care about magic, and I don’t want to waste my time with it. I’m perfectly happy pretending that I don’t have any powers at all.”
“But it’s part of you!” Kieran retorts, sounding equally exasperated. “An important part too, if you’d let it be. Besides, Atticus knows that you inherited your mother’s magic. I told him so myself. He wants you to get evaluated by a friend of his, to test the extent of your powers.”
“Atticus never gave a crap about me before. I don’t know why he suddenly cares now.”
“Human mage pairings are extraordinarily uncommon,” Kieran explains. “The last known case occurred over three centuries ago, and those children had no powers whatsoever. As a result, the magic community shuns humans now, distancing themselves from their non-magic counterparts whenever possible. But you have the potential to change all that, Delilah. You are living proof that humans and mages can produce children with powers equal to or greater than their magic-bearing ancestors.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Delilah frowns. “I don’t have much magic. You can start a fire with the snap of your fingers, but I can barely create a spark.”
“You could burn down this whole building if you wanted to,” Kieran insists, sitting up straight. “You have more magic than you realize, Lila, if only you would sit still and focus on it.”
Delilah shakes her head. “You’re delusional! I can’t cast a spell to save my life.”
“You’re wrong,” he declares. “Why don’t you try it? Right now?”
“Casting a spell. If you can’t do it, I promise I’ll stop bugging you, but if you can then you’ll go with me to meet Atticus’ friend.”
Delilah sighs, feeling resigned. “Fine, but it won’t do any good.”
“Sure it will. I’ll guide you every step of the way.”
Rising to her feet, Delilah patiently listens as Kieran gives her some basic instructions.
“And remember to breathe,” he adds, noticing her apprehension. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
“Anything I can think of?” she asks with a nervous frown.
Kieran nods. “It’s just an illusion, a trick of the mind. If you can visualize it, then you can create it.”
Closing her eyes, Delilah reaches deep inside of herself to summon her magic to the surface. Sparks of light begin to play around her fingertips as she prepares to cast the spell, and then in a blaze of energy her vision suddenly materializes in the palm of her hand.
“An apple?” Kieran laughs.
Delilah beams with pride, her eyes glued to the mirage. “I can’t believe I did it!” she exclaims excitedly. “And it looks so real too!”
“I don’t know,” he says with a mischievous grin. “It almost looks too perfect if you ask me…”
Delilah opens her mouth to argue, but the apple vanishes before she gets a chance to reply. “Where’d it go?” she cries.
“You lost your focus,” he explains. “With more practice, you’ll be able to create and maintain illusions without so much effort, but for now it requires your full concentration.”
“Well, that was kind of fun,” Lila admits reluctantly. “I guess we can go talk to your friend.”
“Atticus’ friend,” Kieran corrects. “I’ve never met the man myself.”
“Thanks you,” Delilah says suddenly as she throws her arms around a wholly unprepared Kieran. “For believing in me.”
Kieran feels his entire body tense up as she rests her head on his shoulder. “I- I- You’re welcome,” he sputters. “Any time.”
As I mentioned in my challenge notes last chapter, Delilah is now my generation one founder. I technically failed Luca’s generation, as I didn’t finish raising all the kids to young adulthood and Emily never achieved her lifetime wish, but I was more than ready to move on. I do want to share one cute photo from their teenage years, prom night at the McKinley household. It matches a picture I took ages ago of the gang as children (found here).
Also, after I made Beau, I made a grave realization. He looks *just* like a Ken doll! o_o