Originally posted on Tumblr on September 28, 2013.
After closing, Naeem’s bodyguard Malachi arrives at the café to deliver plenty of harsh words for Josie along with her clothes for the evening. Later, Josie gets the rug pulled from underneath her feet when Naeem introduces her to someone that truly shouldn’t exist.
Ricky’s closes at half past six.
By the time that Josie finishes stacking chairs and sweeping the floors, the sky outside is dark and everyone else has gone home except for Ricky himself who lives upstairs in a heavily warded apartment.
When Josie looks up from wiping down the counter, she spies a very familiar Rolls Royce idling out at the curb in front of the cafe. The gleaming black car is one of the council’s own and Josie can feel the heavy waves of magic emanating from the car even from inside of the café’s empty front room. The pulse of magic makes Josie’s fingers spasm around the cleaning cloth in her hand and she squeezes her eyes shut for a moment as she tries to regain her bearing.
A thudding knock on the door jolts Josie into action. Stepping around the counter, Josie crosses the floor and leans in close so that she can see the features of the person behind the locked front door. When she recognizes Malachi’s deep frown instead of Naeem’s smiling face, Josie sighs but opens the door anyway.
“Hello, Malachi. I was expecting to see you when Naeem came by earlier,” Josie says, stepping aside so that Malachi can walk inside the café with several boxes cradled in his strong arms. Once Malachi is in the café, Josie peeks out of the door, glancing about for the only friend that they have in common. “Where’s your boss anyway? He was supposed to come for me around closing. Is everything alright?”
Josie relocks the door and then wipes the palms of her suddenly sweaty hands on the sides of her dress.
Malachi just makes her nervous.
With broad shoulders and a frame tall enough that the top of his shaved head brushes against the top of most doorways that he passes through, Malachi looks the part of a bodyguard. He eyes the world around them as a threat to Naeem’s safety and even a witch like Josie, someone who’s known Naeem for years, isn’t exempt from his distrust. Despite knowing Malachi almost as long as she’s known Naeem, the dark-skinned warlock still doesn’t see Josie as anything more than an annoyance.
“Naeem is with a guard the wards at the theater already,” Malachi says in a deep voice that makes Josie want to shiver and reach for her wand holster. He looks at Josie with a faint hint of disapproval wrinkling his wide nose. “He shouldn’t have been here today. Not without a guard. Ricky’s wards don’t extend down here and there are too many… undesirables coming through the gate at any given time.”
Josie lifts and drops her shoulders in a shrug, choosing to ignore what’s most likely supposed to be a snub against her place in their society. Ricky’s might not have a gate that warlocks and upper-crust wizards use, but if Malachi wants to think of the people that do use the gate as undesirables, that’s his beef.
“I didn’t ask him to come here,” Josie points out with a stubborn note in her voice, thrusting out her chin in that way that always makes her aunt Selma tell her she looks like a goat. “He came on his own during the rush. D’you really think that Ricky would send a warlock like Naeem packing if he came through the gate?”
Malachi glares at Josie. “Regardless, you should have made him leave,” he says. “You know how dangerous being on this side of the gate is for someone with that many close ties to the council. He could have been intercepted before leaving and what did you do? You let him make plans with you.”
Affronted, Josie squeezes her fingers into fists and inhales sharply.
“If you’re only here to yell at me, you can leave.”
Forget going to the theatre. Forget Naeem and his insistence that he has something to tell her about the parents she never had. Malachi has always been prickly, but this – this is just ridiculous. It’s not like it’s her fault that Naeem has always had a habit of ducking his guards.
“I don’t have to put up with this. If you don’t want me to go to the theatre with Naeem, maybe you should have told him that you came here.” Josie jabs her thumb in the direction of the locked front door and does a little glaring of her own. “You need to leave.”
Malachi shakes his head and then shoves the boxes in his hands at Josie. “Now that you know where I stand on this foolishness, I will let you get dressed.”
Josie clenches her teeth hard enough that it hurts. “Let me,” she repeats. “You’re not letting me do anything. You just don’t want Naeem to know that you’re still giving me grief.”
Malachi’s pale green eyes narrow as his gaze skates over Josie’s rumpled work uniform and the frizzy mess of her curly black hair. “I wasn’t able to find someone to do your hair,” Malachi says with a faint twist to his mouth. “But it looks as though you are used to appearing in public with your hair in an utter mess.”
“I know what you’re trying to do,” Josie says, only keeping to a civil tone thank to years of dealing with snide jibes from other warlocks that aren’t half as subtle as Malachi thinks he’s being. “It won’t work.” Josie turns and starts walking towards the back of the café, pausing briefly so that she can look over her shoulder at Malachi’s scowling face. “I’ll be out in a minute. Don’t try and leave without me.”
Getting dressed takes more than a minute. It takes ten thanks to the two dozen tiny buttons that have to be done up with magic since her arms can’t reach back that way.
Slicking her hair back with the last few dribbles from a bottle of pomade takes several more minutes after that and Josie casts a small spell so that she won’t have to fuss with her hair again. By the time that Josie finishes dressing and puts the last touches on the outfit thanks to the small pots of glossy lipstick and other cosmetics, it’s after seven and the waves of magic that she can feel coming from Malachi have a distinctly angry tone to them.
But Josie looks good and she knows it.
In a pale blue sheath dress that has sleeves long enough to cover her wand holster and glittery beads that react to the quiet hum of her magic by gleaming bright silver in the light, Josie looks like she belongs. She looks as though she’s a real witch, like the kind of dame that Naeem’s parents have been throwing at him since they were sitting for exams. Even the barely restrained pouf of her black hair seems like less of an issue, less of a barrier.
Looking at her reflection in the tarnished slice of mirror hanging in what’s serves as a break room for Ricky’s meager staff, Josie sighs and slides her hands down the sides of the dress, taking in the way that the fabric shapes to her hips. This dress, this close-fitting work of charmed silk and lace, is probably the most expensive thing that Josie has worn in her whole life.
Add that to Naeem’s charmed ring sitting firmly on her thumb and the teardrop shaped earrings that were hidden in the pile of fabric that Josie is using as a wrap for her hair and well – Josie can almost see why Malachi is so upset with her. If he’s seen the prices for half of the things that Naeem sent along – or worse, had he been sent out to buy them in the first place – no wonder he’s even more ornery than usual.
A knock on the door startles Josie and she squeaks, one hand falling to her wand as she whirls around. When she sees Malachi’s massive figure taking up space in the doorway, she sighs and allows herself to relax by a small amount.
“We can go,” Josie says, pasting on a smile that feels forced. “I’m as pretty as I’m going to get. We shouldn’t keep Naeem waiting any longer. You know how he gets…”
Josie almost gets a smile. Almost. The corners of Malachi’s wide mouth twitch upward for a brief span of time before his mouth firms and he cuts his eye at her.
“I do know,” Malachi says. “I had to search the city for him while he was busy entertaining himself here.” Sighing just loud enough that Josie can’t ignore it, Malachi turns on his heel and strides out of the small back room without looking back at Josie.
Running in her dress and pumps isn’t impossible, but after how realizing difficult it is to trot after Malachi on their way out of the café to the car practically thrumming with magic on the curb, Josie doesn’t want to try.
Surprisingly enough, Malachi opens the backseat door for her.
“You will sit in the back,” Malachi says with no room in his rumbling voice for any argument. “It wouldn’t do to step out of the front and ruin Naeem’s reputation.” When Josie doesn’t move fast enough for his tastes, Malachi gets a look on his face that says volumes about how much the big warlock would rather be anywhere else and with anyone else.
It’s that disapproving look that makes Josie’s mind up for her and she gets into the car with so much as a peep. There’ll be plenty of time for that later, once Naeem’s gone and said his piece about her parents.
The difference between the magic that Josie deals with at Ricky’s and the heavy curtain of magic that fills the theatre is that the magic in the theatre is wild and untamed. It’s as natural as you can get in the city and the fact that it’s located in the heart of downtown and as far away from untamed nature as a body can get.
There’s sparkling bits of silvery magic in the orchestra, weaving around long fingers and gleaming instruments that don’t look secondhand at all. There’s magic in the chandelier, flickering gold notes that look like dust motes in the light. There’s magic in the performers already on stage, winding around their costumed figures as they perform something short for the audience as a warm up.
Lafayette Theatre is magic.
Josie can feel it in her bones, a low ache that has her own magic flicking up and out in response. As good as the magic feels on the outside of the theatre, inside it’s cloying and heavy even in the warded balcony seating that overlooks a packed house full of people that smile and greet her more because of her dark skin tone than because of the magic that they probably can’t feel around them.
Naeem leaps up from his seat the moment that Malachi ushers her into the balcony their seats are in. Grinning from ear to ear, Naeem looks pleased with himself as he takes both of Josie’s hands in his own and squeezes them.
“You look beautiful in that dress, little sister,” Naeem says, urging Josie to do a little twirl for him as she wobbles unsteadily in her heels. “You should dress like this more often.”
Josie decides against pointing out that waitresses don’t exactly get dolled up on the regular, settling instead for a small smile that can mean anything.
Naeem leans in to press a kiss to the side of Josie’s face. When he pulls back, there’s a softer smile on his face and he rubs his thumbs in small circles over the back of Josie’s hands. Naeem turns his face toward the bank of chairs facing the stage and Josie catches a glimpse of worry twisting his mouth out of shape.
When Josie opens her mouth to ask what’s wrong, Naeem shakes his head and mouths “Not yet” to her. When he starts walking toward the chairs, Josie follows behind him with her hear in her chest and her fingers itching for the security of her wand.
“I have someone that has traveled very far in order to meet you, Josie,” Naeem says in measured tones that are at odds with his usually playful demeanor. “Josie, meet Jocelyn Adams.”
The woman that rises from one of the chairs is tall and dark with deep brown skin that peeks from slits in a dark burgundy gown. Unlike Josie, Jocelyn is all but covered in charmed jewelry and her black hair has been straightened and left to hang loose around her face. Her features are sharp, chiseled in the way that a statue would be, and perfect enough to make Josie feel instantly inadequate.
Josie steps forward anyway, smiling because she was raised to be polite to strangers, and inclines her head in a shallow greeting.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Adams,” Josie says.
Jocelyn’s smile is warm and she glances at Josie with a too-familiar sort of fondness. “You’ve grown into quite the young woman,” she says, stepping smoothly around the chairs so that she can stand in front of Josie and look her over from head to toe. “To hear Selma tell it, you’re the next best thing to a warlock on your street.”
Blinking rapidly, Josie glances over at Naeem. “I-I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
Jocelyn presses one hand to her chest and sighs. “I know I should have been in your life, darling, but you should be able to recognize your own mother.”
“M-mother,” Josie breathes. “I don’t have a mother.” When she looks over at Naeem, the warlock’s face has a stricken expression. “Tell her, Naeem. Tell her she’s wrong or lying or something. My parents are dead.”
Naeem shakes his head. “I can’t, Josie,” he murmurs. “She’s telling the truth.”