Ice’s familiar magic waited for me on the other side of the door. Umbra reassured me that he was alone out there. I opened the door to see a nervous look on his face. I remembered him looking this anxious the first time he kissed me. Something told me that I wouldn’t be as happy with whatever was making him nervous this time. I stepped back so that he could come into the room. He stayed in the entryway instead of making himself more comfortable on the couch. My own face must have mirrored the nerves on his. My mind was flipping through possible worst-case scenarios. He wasn’t coming with us. He wanted me to go back to the Coven. His kiss was just a spontaneous mistake. He has someone else in his life he forgot to mention on his last visit.
“I have to go. The Coven wants me to bring in Storm Ryder,” he said.
“His little stunt wasn’t approved?” I asked. There were so many other questions I’d rather have the answer to, but I was scared to ask them.
“Not in the slightest,” he said. A hint of amusement crossed his face before he met my eyes, and the nervousness was back. “How long will you be here?”
“I’m not sure. We haven’t talked it through yet. I don’t know that it’s the best idea unless the rest of the Coven’s people are leaving with you,” I said.
“They’re staying, but none of them should recognize you. They’re not hunters, and they all joined up after you were already gone. I didn’t put the ‘wanted’ list on their curriculum.”
“So you’re going to come back here?” I asked.
“If you want me to.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“I’m with you. I know there’s a lot we have to figure out, but I don’t want to lose you again,” he said. He pulled something out of his pocket with his right hand and held out his left hand in a silent request for one of my hands. I lifted my hand for him. He put a small metal object in mine. I looked down and nearly cried. “I’ve been holding on to it until I found you again. I had to clear your essence on it in case they figured out I had it, but I knew you’d want it back.”
“Thank you.” I stared at the gold pocket watch in disbelief before pulling him into a hug. I didn’t think I’d ever see my mother’s watch again. I cried into his suit jacket. It was the only thing I had from my time before the Coven. I couldn’t bring much with me when Vincent took me in.
“I should leave. My team has probably collected Ryder by now,” he said.
“Wait,” I said. I took the clip off the end of the chain and slid it into place on his jacket pocket. “If we have to run, I won’t be able to leave directions for you.”
He tilted my face up and leaned down to kiss me. It wasn’t hot like our last one. It was a promise, though. He would find me again. I kissed him back, hoping he felt a similar pledge on my lips. I’d wait for him. I didn’t have a chance to ask him if he was sure before he left me in the hotel room’s entryway. He’d built a life without me. He’d said he made the curriculum for his team downstairs. He’d become someone of value to the Coven. They wouldn’t take kindly to him abandoning his position. If he came with me, he couldn’t go back to that. Ruby already knew what she was getting into when we partnered up. She’d been on the run too. I didn’t feel like I was destroying her life when we left Orlando. If Ice joined us on the run, it would be my fault he couldn’t go back.
“How far is the Coven from here?” Ruby asked me.
“New York,” I said.
“Kinda cliché, isn’t it?”
“Their compound isn’t in New York City. They own a building there, but their main base of operations is in Albion, NY.”
“Never heard of it,” she said.
“That’s kinda the point,” I said. “No one finds them if they don’t want to be found.”
“So he’ll be back in a few days if all goes well?”
“If everything goes well,” I said.
“We need to work on your pessimism,” she said.
“Come on. You thought that we were screwed beyond belief, and instead, you got a hot make-out session,” she said.
“We got exceptionally lucky,” I said.
“That makes it sound like we wouldn’t have been able to handle things if they went differently. We had a plan. We would have gotten out of here just fine,” she said.
“We can’t know that.”
“We’re going out,” she said.
“You’re reuniting with your ex, we didn’t get turned in, and the world has its first celebrity witch. That’s a lot to celebrate.”
“You’re not gonna let this go, are you?” I asked.
“You know me so well already,” she said with a smile.
The “Bring Your Broomstick” ball was easy to dress for with our wardrobes. Because of my freak out in the vendor hall, we didn’t have any cosplay gear. There was a decent mix of people who went all out for their costumes and people who put in even less effort than Ruby and me. Within the first five minutes of being at the party, Ruby found two custom conical witch hats for us to wear. Their original owners looked happy to hand them over, so I assumed she gave them a financial incentive to part with them. The hotel’s ballroom didn’t quite pull off the club vibe that they were going for, but it was dark enough that I felt comfortable. Umbra vibrated under my feet. They were enjoying the music. I thought back to how they’d converted the sounds of Orlando’s streets into music for me when I first bought the cage that housed them. We shared that same joy again as the bass reverberated in the room. I took the hat Ruby offered me, and we went out on the dance floor.
While we danced, I felt Umbra stretching out into the surrounding shadows. There were several other witches on the dance floor with us. There were other supernaturals too. With Umbra’s help, I sensed a couple werewolves, a vampire, and a succubus. I gave them all as much space as I could. They weren’t necessarily any more dangerous than us, but I was already less cautious than usual by being there. I wasn’t looking to take extra risks. Ruby wasn’t the best dancer, but she had fun and didn’t bump into anyone, so I saw no reason to try to adjust her style. I couldn’t say when but eventually, I stopped keeping track of the rest of the room and started enjoying the party. Right before midnight, the DJ said something I didn’t catch. The only words I did understand were “Storm Ryder.” The crowd cheered, and several of the witches on the dance floor imitated the actor’s magical flourish. The rest of the dancers cheered even louder as harmless sparks of magic flew through the air and fizzled out in different directions. It was a shame that the man of the hour wasn’t there to see the light show he inspired.