tagRomanceHow to Be a Genie: 12 Easy Steps Ch. 04

How to Be a Genie: 12 Easy Steps Ch. 04

byaltar_ashes©

Chapter Four: What You Don't Know...Sucks

The sunlight was coming in at an odd angle. Avery was used to it coming directly across his face in the morning, but he could feel the heat of it on his feet instead. Startled awake by this odd change, he found, upon opening his eyes, that he was sleeping on his couch. God, I had such a crazy dream last night, he thought, rolling over onto his back and forcing his eyes open to slits. Cypress was a genie! And a hot genie, at that... But wait just a minute. Why, precisely, was he sleeping on his couch? Avery didn't own a terribly comfortable couch; he preferred to avoid sleeping on it at all costs.

He rolled back onto his side and found himself staring a vase made of blue glass that was sitting on his coffee table. Shit, it wasn't a dream, he thought, sitting up and kicking aside the blanket he'd pulled over himself. I'm apparently just going crazy. What other explanation was there? It all started to come back to Avery as he wandered into the kitchen, intent upon getting some coffee to sweep the sleep cobwebs from his brain. Last night, after he'd gotten her to settle down—not to mention given her some actual clothing—Cypress had told him the whole story about her trip to Iifa and her sister drafting her into the life of a genie. It was all real. Avery knew that. But he still thought he was going crazy.

Which would have been preferable, really, to being dead, which he was about to be. He knew this because he'd just heard a key slide into the lock of his apartment door. Only one other person had his key—although not because he'd given it to her—and that was Vivian. The woman who was certain, even if he wasn't, that they were destined to be together for the rest of their lives. Well, finding Cypress in my bed might discourage her, Avery thought, mulling this over as he stirred his coffee. Then I wouldn't have to—oof!

"Viv!" he gasped, shaking hot coffee from his fingers. "Please let go."

"Good morning, Avey," Vivian cooed, ignoring his words completely. "Are you happy to see me?"

No, Avery thought. "Of course I am," he said, wriggling out of her grasp. "Although it's um...early. I mean, I didn't expect you this early."

"You forgot?" Vivian pouted up at him, the picture of a spoiled, upper-middle class woman. "We've got to go grocery shopping, silly. My parents are coming to dinner tonight."

"Tonight? Here?" Avery asked, starting to feel panicked. How had he forgotten this? He never forgot these things.

Vivian planted her hands on her hips and frowned at him. "Yes, here," she said, giving him a seriously disapproving look. "I left message about it on your cell phone last night. You never picked up."

Oh. So he wasn't just dead, he was DEAD. All capitals. Because it was true, Avery had ignored his cell phone when it rang last night; all fifty times. Of course he'd realized that it was Vivian. He'd figured that, owing as to how he'd been trying to comfort a girl who'd suddenly become his own personal genie, he'd had a right to ignore her calls. Unfortunately, as Vivian often did, when she couldn't get him to give her an answer on something, she answered for him. I really need to learn to put my foot down, Avery thought, abandoning his coffee and following her into the living room. Because I sure as hell don't need this right now.

The other thing he didn't need was for Cypress to come wandering out of his bedroom at just that moment. So naturally she did. She was wearing one of his old Iron Maiden t-shirts, which was admittedly a step up from the little wisps of silk she'd arrived in. You know, if I weren't about die a very horrible death, Avery thought, tilting his head just slightly as he studied her, I'd probably start thinking on how cute she looks like that. Thank god he'd gotten the t-shirt a couple sizes too large, though (he'd been sixteen at the time, after all). At least it hung nearly to her knees, and the sleeves came down far enough to cover the gold bands on her upper arms. Vivian was going to be pissed enough without thinking he'd gone and joined some twisted Master/slave sex cult.

Cypress stood in the middle of the living room, blinking at them both. Not because she couldn't see—she'd told him she didn't appear to need her glasses anymore. Avery noticed that she looked half-horrified and half-amused. And why not? he thought, watching Vivian stomp over to her. I'd probably be laughing too if a munchkin was trying to intimidate me. Because that was what Vivian, who was five foot and zip, looked like in comparison to Cypress.

"Who are you?" Vivian demanded. "And why are you in my fiancé's apartment?"

Cypress handled herself with surprising aplomb. "My name is Cypress," she said, "and I'm a friend of Avery's. He just let me crash here tonight cause I had this big fight with my girlfriend and I had nowhere else to go."

"In his t-shirt?" Vivian asked, although the girlfriend comment seemed to take all the wind out of her sails.

"This," Cypress said, plucking at the t-shirt, "is mine."

She turned on her heel and went back into her bedroom, leaving Vivian gaping in surprise. Knowing how Vivian felt about lesbians, Avery put an arm around her shoulders and smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. That was some seriously quick thinking, he thought, glancing over his shoulder at the bedroom door. But she...she doesn't really have a girlfriend, does she? No way. It was just something she'd said to throw Vivian off the scent. Some might say that Cypress' aversion to men was a sure sign of lesbianism, but Avery knew better; Cypress had an aversion to everyone. She'd pretty much told him so, last night.

"You never told me about her," Vivian hissed, when they were back in the kitchen.

And even if it was the truth, I never would have, Avery thought. All I'd need is you telling her how she's going to burn in hell for her sexual orientation. Out loud he said, "Well, she's um...not really a people person. Doesn't like meeting anyone new..."

"She isn't going to be here tonight, is she?" Vivian wanted to know. Suddenly she looked quite panicked. "My parents won't like that at all."

"She won't be here tonight," Avery assured her, even though what he really wanted to do was tell her that yes, unfortunately, Cypress would be joining them for dinner. He just didn't think Cypress would appreciate it all that much. "Listen, why don't you go on ahead and I'll meet you at the store, okay?"

In her state of complete shock, Vivian was much more compliant than usual. She kissed him on the cheek—rather unenthusiastically, actually—and left the apartment. Thank god, Avery thought, retrieving his coffee mug. I thought I was about to be strung up by my um...toes. His coffee, unfortunately, was now cold. No big surprise there. For him daily life operated under Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". Perhaps that was why he'd found it so easy to be sympathetic of Cypress' plight. Her luck was worse than his.

Cypress came out of his room again, this time fully dress. The jeans he'd leant were much too big for her, but she didn't seem to care. It was a little odd, seeing her with her hair looking so soft and smooth, like silk.

"Think you could give me a ride home?" she asked, smiling sheepishly. "I don't have any shoes."

Avery grinned. "I think that's the least of your problems," he told her, honestly. "But yeah, I'll give you a ride. You're going to talk to your father, right?"

"I'm going to go home," Cypress said. "I appreciate your hospitality very much, but I can't live here!"

He refrained from pointing out that she was, technically, his genie. For one thing, he didn't think she'd appreciate him referring to her as his possession. For another, well...she wasn't his. As much as the laws of her people—whatever they actually were—might say that she belonged to him, she didn't. Although for some reason it kind of stung that she didn't want to stay. Maybe it was Vivian, Avery thought, as he headed into his bedroom to change into something clean. She's always been really good at scaring other women off. Not that he actually really wanted Cypress to stay; that would be a hassle and a half. It was just that, you know, if you were going to be stuck living with a woman, it might as well be one who had good taste in music. Who would want to live with Vivian, who liked Clay Aiken, when you could live with Cypress, who liked Ozzy Osborne?

Oh, okay, fine, she's cute, Avery admitted grudgingly to himself, as he came out of his room to find Cypress waiting for him. She had her hands up under her sleeves, chaffing at the gold bands around her upper arms, which looked mighty uncomfortable. When he came back out of his room, she looked up and smiled at him shyly. Ah, a shy, sweet, quiet girl. Well, at least, shy. And relatively quiet. Avery was used to Vivian's constant babble. Aside from explaining what had happened to her to him last night, Cypress very rarely spoke unless it was absolutely necessary.

"Ready to go?" Avery asked, jangling his keys at her.

Cypress nodded. "Yeah," she replied. "I just really hope my dad remembered to feed the cat."

*****

The apartment building hadn't changed in the least little bit since she'd been gone. Not that she'd been expecting it to. After all, as far as she was concerned, she hadn't been gone more than a day, perhaps two. According to Avery, though, she'd been missing since last Wednesday. You know, she thought, if I actually had a brain, I would have asked him what day it was. And how many classes had she missed? Cypress wished she had a few more classes with Avery; at least then he'd be able to give her his notes to copy. Well, and it would just be nice to be able to look at him more often.

Considering the circumstances, he'd been very kind and understanding. Of course, Cypress would have found anyone who even believed her to be kind and understanding. In her hours alone in that wretched vase, she'd come to accept that she was, in fact, half-genie. Hard not to, really. The bands around her arms were uncomfortable, sometimes to the point where they seemed to burn her skin. As she climbed out of Avery's car, they flared up with a heat that had her gasping, leaning heavily against the car to avoid falling.

"Are you all right?" Avery asked, reaching across the car seat and grabbing her arm to steady her. It was wonderful, really. The eyes of the Celtic forest god held concern. For her.

"Yeah," Cypress assured him, straightening up slowly. "Yeah, just...you know, this whole G-word thing comes with some downsides, I guess."

Avery grinned. "I'm sure it does," he agreed. "Look, give me a call if um...if you need to talk or anything. I mean, not that I can really understand what you're going through, but I can still listen."

Cypress could only nod. She knew her cheeks were turning red, and she felt warm inside, as if the heat from her armbands had transferred to the rest of her body. Stumbling a little, she turned and headed toward her apartment building, pausing only long enough to wave good-bye to Avery. You know, maybe what Ephasia did wasn't so bad, Cypress thought, as she hit the buzzer to be allowed into the building. I mean, who knows? This could lead to something between Avery and me. Yeah, sure, it was highly unlikely. What with him having a fiancée and all. But it was really nice to think about.

She wasn't sure who was happier to see her; her father, or her cat. Probably her cat. Phil rubbed against her legs, purring so loudly that it sounded as if it were coming through his nose. Cypress picked him up—not an easy feat, him being so large—and held him, mainly so her dad couldn't hug her. She was angry with him. The more she looked at him, the angrier she became. And her father must have realized it, too, because he smiled at her uneasily and took a step back.

"I've been so worried about you," her father began, in a quiet, cautious voice.

"Oh, I'm so sure," Cypress said sardonically, rolling her eyes. "You were so worried about me...so how does that explain you never telling me that mom was a genie!?"

Her father winced. "Cypress, sweetheart, it's...well...to be honest..." her father stammered, looking somewhat lost. "Well, how was I supposed to tell you?"

In her anger, Cypress tightened her hold on Phil. Her cat let out a yowl of dismay and started to squirm, at which point she promptly set him down. She followed him into the kitchen—his usual destination when he saw her—and got a can of cat food from the cupboard. Her father followed, as well, but she was too busy fuming to speak to him. Not to mention feeding her cat. Judging based on the lack of dry food in his bowl, and the hole chewed into the side of the plastic garbage can, it was safe to say that Phil hadn't been fed in awhile. Cypress spooned salmon-flavored Friskies onto a paper plate, her trembling fingers causing some of it to spatter on the counter.

"There was nothing I could have done!" her father cried, throwing his hands up in frustration. "Cypress, even if you had believed me, what would we do? I couldn't let you go around telling people your mother was a genie! They'd want to put you on Ritalin or something!"

Her father, she knew, thought Ritalin was evil. "That's the least of my worries!" Cypress snapped. "Does she know you never told me? Does she think I didn't want to see her?"

"I..." Her father's shoulders slumped. "I haven't really...well, she gave me a way to contact her if...but I didn't think..."

Well now that was just the final straw. Cypress slapped the paper plate down on the floor, growling in frustration as more salmon Friskies splattered on her shirt. Great, she thought, as she stomped away from her father, towards her room. This doesn't even belong to me! And now she was going to have to wash it, which would remove the nice Avery-smell it had to it. It was, she knew, really a childish thing to do, but Cypress made sure to slam her door as hard as she could after she'd stomped into her room. Naturally, that backfired on her, since the door just bounced right back open again. Cursing lazy landlords, she shut it and locked it.

She slid down to floor and leaned heavily against the door, bracing her head in her hands. He's known all these years where she is, Cypress thought, and how to get in contact with her. How could her father do this to her? The one thing she'd wanted all these years, more than anything else, was to know who her mother was. And that her mother hadn't left because she didn't love her. I have an older brother, Cypress thought, which means mom had an affair with dad, which is why I was born. Which I guess is a pretty good reason why she couldn't stay. No wonder she wasn't welcome in the genie world. Still, her father should have told her. What if she needed to get in contact with her mother? What if she'd started manifesting powers or something?

"Oh my god," Cypress murmured, lifting her head. "Powers!?"

Because if she was a genie, she needed to be able to grant wishes, right? Didn't that mean she should have some sort of powers? Oh, no, no, no, Cypress thought, forcing herself onto her feet. I can't have powers, I can't! No one as clumsy and stupid as me should be allowed to have magical powers! She paced her room like a caged wild thing, going from the window to the door and back again. She'd seen no indication that she could grant wishes, but then, Avery hadn't asked for one. What if he did? And what if he could? This does not bode well for the universe, Cypress thought, shaking her head.

"I have to do something," she said out loud, coming to a halt in the middle of her room. "I absolutely cannot sit around and think about this."

And she needed time to calm down, so she could try talking to her father again. Although it was a long time before she was going to be anything other than mad. Cypress sat down at her computer—a very old Packard Bell that barely managed to run the internet—and reaching for her backpack. She didn't have any friends, so she would have to contact her teachers about the work she'd missed. And figure out what kind of excuse she could make as to why she'd been out of class. Maybe I should tell them that I was sick, Cypress thought. Better yet, that my father was in the hospital. Because he yet might be, if he keeps talking himself into a hole.

There was not a whole lot else to do. With e-mails sent off to each of her teachers, Cypress spent a little time surfing the net. She couldn't do much there, either, because she had the slowest connection known to man. Instead she found herself pulling an old romance novel down off her bookshelf and curling up on her bed to read it. Corny and lame, she knew, but there was nothing else to do. Nothing aside from read, and get up occasionally to check and see if her teachers had gotten back to her. Oh, and ignore her father, who kept knocking on the door and saying idiotic things like "I thought I was doing what was best for you".

At noon she went into the kitchen and made herself a tuna sandwich on wry. Her father didn't even try to talk to her this time, just kept looking at her from over the back of the couch, when he thought she wasn't paying attention. Cypress went back into her room, with Phil on her heels, and continue to read the afternoon away. She only ate half of her sandwich; the other half went to her poor cat, who had spent the past God knew how long not being fed.

Aside from the whole genie thing, it was a sadly typical day for her. It wasn't until almost six o'clock in the evening that things started to get interesting...although not in a good way. Cypress rose, to check her e-mail again, and tumbled back down to the bed as the world spun violently around her. What the hell...? she thought, slowly sitting up again. God, I must be hungry... Except her stomach wasn't growling. And the world was spinning so violently, more so when she tried to stand. The room started to feel unbearably hot, until she was sweating. And the places where her armbands were itched and burned. What's going on? Cypress wondered frantically, as she dropped her head between her knees in a desperate attempt to make the spinning stop. What is this!?

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