James ran back through the forest towards his home. The Dark Palace loomed over him as he walked in its shadow towards the window down to the tunnel. There had to be an easier way to get in and out of the castle to the forest without ever having to worry about somebody seeing him... He looked down at the small square of cloth in his hand. Elena's initial was stitched in the corner in lavender thread with dark purple flowers around it. He carefully slipped it into his pocket before slipping through the window.

"Where have you been?" A voice behind James caused him to jump.

"Father?" He turned around and saw...

"Justin, you need to get up." Justin was awoken by the light being turned on and his mom's voice. He sat up and looked around for a moment. When he got to school Erin wasn't sitting in first period. Justin couldn't focus the entire time. When he asked AJ and Jess where she was they just shrugged and assumed she was sick. He called her only to get no answer. Text messages didn't get replies. He decided to stop by her house after school. Her brother answered the door and let him in without questioning why he was here. He knocked on the door of her room.

"It's open..." He smiled at the sound of her voice. When he walked in she had her face in one of the books.

"Why weren't you at school today?" Justin asked sitting down next to her. She jumped and turned to look at him.

"Um..." She was trying to find the right words to say. "I can read the books now... So I faked sick to read as much as I can..."

"What do you mean you can read the books now?" Justin looked over her shoulder. The writing still seemed foreign to him. He found himself staring at Erin and zoning out more than paying attention to what she was explaining in the book.

"Justin? Justin are you even listening?" She asked, waving her hand in front of his face.

"W-what? Yeah, yeah I'm listening." He raked a hand through his hair. 

"What was the last thing I just said?" She put the book down and crossed her arms over her chest. Justin peeked over at the page and caught sight of a map.

"You were explaining the different places in the magical world?"  He guessed. She looked at him for a moment, astonished that he had actually listened. If only she knew... Justin smiled and picked the book back up.

"How come you can read it and I can't?" He asked.

"I don't know, I looked at it this morning and all of a sudden the letters started rearranging themselves in front of me, but not in the whole book. There are still parts that I can't read..." She picked the book back up and shut it.

"So you're telling me you skipped school to read a book?" Justin questioned her.

"Yes..." She said in a small voice as she lowered her head in defeat. Like a puppy getting scolded for chewing up the couch.

The rest of the week was quite uneventful. Everybody kind of just went through the motions. Erin had her face in a book most of the time. AJ argued with Jess, and Justin didn't really do anything but think about the weird dreams he had been having. They weren't every night. But they were similar enough to be a little concerning.

            On Friday afternoon Justin was with Erin at his house. She had finally put the book down for once and they were actually having a normal conversation.

            "Favorite color?"

            "Orange..."

            "Really?"

            "Yeah... Why? You don't like orange?"

            "Not really..."

            Justin scrunched up his face a bit before grabbing another cookie off the plate Erin had in her lap. She pulled it back away from him.

            "You know if I was Jess I would have probably murdered you by now!" She giggled. Justin pouted and tilted his head to the side beggingly. 

            "When do I get to ask you the questions?" She asked.

            "There's nothing to tell... I don't exactly have a very interesting life." 

"Come on, there's got to be something you can tell me... I've only heard you talk about your mom... what about your dad?" Erin asked. 

"My parents separated when I was two, I don't know why... and my dad works for some company in California that owns a bunch of rental houses all over LA...I don't really get to talk to him that much." Justin explained.

"That's all you've got... anything else about yourself you want me to know, or would you rather it remain a mystery?" Erin nudged him.

 "There is one thing you don't know..." He said shyly.

            "What?" Erin cocked her head to the side in amusement.

            "That I like you..."

And in that second there was a shift in the balance. The earth seemed to stop spinning for a moment. The lights in the kitchen flickered and went back to normal after a few moments. The wind outside had begun to pick up.

"I like you too..." Erin admitted. And as if by instinct they both interlocked hands. The rain poured down from the sky in buckets and thunder cracked in the distance. The power went out again but they didn't care. Everything about that moment felt so right, as if it had happened hundreds of times before...


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