Alea stands perfectly still in the middle of the yard. I watched her measure it out a moment ago, looking forward and back, over each shoulder, and shuffling in the grass to place as much distance between herself and each of the stone walls. Then she shuffled a little farther from the house, a little farther from me sitting on the back steps, to give herself all the space she needed.
Now, she’s perfectly still, and I’m shuffling in my seat. Arms crossed over my knees, I shift my fingers, turn my heel until my ankle stops complaining about this silence, scuff my toes in the dirt, bury my chin and watch her over my wrists.
When she raises her hand into the air, palm out in front of her chest, I hold my breath. But she goes still again.
This is the restraint that Momma keeps telling me to mimic. This is patience. This is careful. But all I feel is wait for it.
The heat shimmer in front of her hand creeps in. I almost miss it, trying to watch, but it tugs at something under my skin. I can feel every ounce of it as she pours it into the air. When the fire blooms, curling off her fingers, it spits and sparks, and she turns to stone just to soothe it. She only breathes again after a moment, when the energy in front of her remembers that she is the living thing, and it will get all its sparks from her.
It drifts off her finger tips, crawling into the air like wet smoke. It drips off the base of her palm, too slow, as if it were sliding down a pane of glass. Here and there, drops fall, puff into mist, forgetting to hold together, or striking the air too hard.
Alea turns her head just enough to see me, smiles, and shuts her eyes. It takes a moment for her expression to smooth as she presses her hand tighter to the air. The flames curl farther from her fingers. They slide farther, crawling down to her waist, her knees, and brush against the paving stones beneath her feet. It’s an icy-blue sheet of heat, threaded with black and white licks that roll, twist, and burn away.
I can feel the heat on my shins, the backs of my hands, my cheeks, gentle pressure and my skin is getting ruddy with it. When I tuck my chin lower, it feels suddenly cooler. I take a deep breath, and that is cool too, like I’m chewing on mint leaves.
My palms itch a little. That would stop if I got up to join her.
I stay where I am.
The shifting heat is a wall in front of her now, still growing. She leans into it, leans against it. Her shoulder rolls back, and her feet shift. It’s holding her up.
And she’s holding it up with the square edges of her thoughts.
I shift my heel over again.
Alea raised her other hand. I’m not sure if the wall breaks or splits or gapes, but suddenly there is empty air between her thumbs and one of the sheets of heat is loosening, brightening, bounding forward. It sweeps an arch all the way to the ground, then bounces, humming. The other piece cracks, hardens and rebuilds itself until it stands taller than her and the other piece tumbles around it, licking ivy around a column of old star ice. The sound of it is screaming laughter, hiss and crack, and Alea’s in the middle of it, eyes shut, ears shut, body perfectly still while I watch her mind twist in streams of blue, white, black, fire.
Through the gaps, the coiling, the humming and the brilliant haze, Alea opens her eyes and meets mine. Her smile is so slow I almost miss it, except that I can feel every pound.
Wait for it, she says.