Rowan and Heather


By Eilis O'Neal

"I know," Heather said, licking the last bit of sauce off her fork. "She'll figure it out."

"So, do you use magic," she wiggled her fingers in the air, "on them?"

"A little. Sometimes they don't know what they want, though. It's harder then."

Heather spun off the couch and twirled around the coffee table. "Well, can you —" she wiggled her fingers again, " — do me?"

"Why, where are you going?"

"To a film. I have a date. He's going to pick me up here in an hour."

"You'd think a film major would want to do something else on her night off," Rowan chuckled.

"Naw," Heather said. "He's one, too. We'll just saturate ourselves in the surrealist exhibition downtown."

"What do you want to look like?"

Heather threw her head back and grinned. "Excitement. Movement. Magic."

"You hardly need my help for the first two."

Heather pouted. "But I can use all the help I can get with the third. And you're the only one I know who has it."

"All right. Let's go into my room."

In the bedroom, Heather sat down at the dresser. Rowan rifled through her drawers, rejecting and accepting various pieces of makeup, until a pile of bright colors lay on the dresser's top.

"Think about what you want to be," she said as she picked up a fat brush and swept it through pearly pink blush.

"I know, I know," Heather said, twisting the pearl ring she always wore.

"And stop picking at Grandma's ring or I'll remind Mom that it was me who was supposed to get that and not the brooch. Right? " Heather huffed, but folded her hands in her lap.

Rowan worked for twenty minutes. Clear sight, she thought as she rubbed smoky purple eye shadow onto Heather's lids. She willed protection as she dusted shimmery powder across her sister's cheekbones and collarbone. As always, the magic was easier now, since she and Heather had performed this ritual for years. She could feel the merging that meant the magic was working, the touch of Heather's desires mingling with her own wishes. When Rowan had slicked the last coat of lipstick on, she turned Heather to face the mirror and said, "Look."

Heather breathed a sigh of contentment; a smile broke across her face. Rowan never knew how to describe the changes she wrought with her magic. It wasn't that she altered people's faces dramatically: a plastic surgeon would probably not even notice a change had been made. But people looked different after she brushed cosmetics on them. More of whatever they had wanted, and a little of what Rowan thought they needed. The changes didn't last forever. On a stranger, it lasted only until the makeup came off; on her mother and sister, several days.

Her sister, never one to sit still for long, had already jumped up and romped back into the living room. Rowan put her things away. She found Heather going through her mail.

"That's a federal offense, you know," she said teasingly.

"But you don't mind, I'm sure. They want you to do the Theta carnival on campus," she said, holding up a letter. "Face painting, all that."

Rowan shook her head. "I wouldn't dare. You remember that tiger incident at the heart disease fund raiser."

Until recently, Rowan had made extra money painting faces at carnivals and fairs. A few months ago, however, a girl had been bitten by a boy Rowan had painted like a tiger. No one but Rowan had connected the boy's painted face and the untamed look in his eyes to his strange behavior, but she had stopped doing fairs all the same.

The doorbell chimed, and Heather ran for it. Rowan could hear her talking in the entry hall, and the low rumble of a man's replies. She turned around as they came into the living room, only to stumble backward as she met the man's twilight eyes.

"Hey, are you okay?" Heather cried out, leaving the man's side and reaching towards Rowan.

"I'm fine," she said, a hand on the couch to steady herself.

"Well, this is Rhys."

"I'm sorry we startled you," Rhys said.

The sense of wildness that had hit her when she looked in his eyes was gone, replaced by something like concern. Even that, though, seemed wrong, as if he had never had the opportunity to look concerned before.

"That's okay," she said vaguely. "I guess I didn't hear you behind me."

That's not it, she thought.She felt both attracted and repulsed by him, unable to look away and yet uncomfortable, as if she would be with an unchained lion in the room. Except that this man was just as out of place inside an apartment as a lion would be.

With a fond look, he took Heather's hand and said, "We'll go then. Have a good night." His dark hair hung long enough to touch his shoulders, and he moved with feline grace.

She followed them to the door, watched them go out, and was about to shut it when Rhys turned back. "The Queen wants you," he said.

He smiled, a smile that did not reach his eyes, and pulled the door shut behind him.

The next few days were filled with Rhys, or rather, Heather's delight with him. Every night she returned to Rowan's apartment to regale her sister with stories of her new boyfriend and select a new face with which to meet him. Rowan weathered it, as she had weathered all the other half-month boyfriends that Heather found irresistible, then finally discarded.

Her attachment to Rhys seemed different, though. She never mocked his follies or came over weeping from a fight, as she did with most of the college boys she dated. Instead, she reported his every phrase with doting pleasure.

Rowan saw him only a few times after that first night. One evening he was standing on her doorstep when she came back from the grocery store.

"Heather said that I should meet her here," he said, taking one of the bags as she opened the door. "She wanted you to do her makeup before we went out."

Rowan gave him an assessing look. Uncomfortable though he might make her, he didn't look the type to try to knife her for her jewelry. "You can wait inside. She's always late."