House of Frost

Chapter 5

By Dabeagle


Certain things are annoying because they happen without your notice – or permission. – Matilda Frost

Extracting a bullet is an odd experience at best. I'd imagine it's similar to a person being numbed up and then a local surgery being performed. You don't feel pain really, but you do feel a sort of pressure that's just plain strange. You also have to give up the use of one hand when the bullet is in your shoulder, so it's awkward. It's messy, and you have to be careful with whatever you're digging around after the bullet with, because you can cause further damage, maybe sever an artery or something, and not be aware right away due to the lack of pain to know you just made your situation worse.

My choice of tools was limited to teaspoon or butter knife.

After extracting the bullet I took a hot shower and traded my damaged clothes for something that looked less like someone had tried to kill me. I picked the raglan shirt and the jeans Al had said would go best with it. After combing my hair I made sure I had the card for purchasing and told Abelard I was leaving. I stepped out onto the sidewalk and suddenly realized I wasn't sure where to go.

I pulled out my phone and contemplated asking one of my friends for a recommendation. I thought if I phrased it as advice, rather than me not knowing anything, it might work out better for me. I was going to press the icon for the chatting app, but instead I hit the one for sharing pictures. The screen populated with tiles and I was suddenly seeing all the images Tess had taken that day. Seeing myself was unusual to begin with, but to see me smiling with others was almost surreal. While the image of Brad with his arms around Ty's neck and mine was made funny by Brad's expression, there was something that drew me to the image of Ty and I looking at each other. I thought for a moment and realized this was when I'd asked him if Tess calling him the sexy Tyler Flexen was a title.

Art has always confused me when I'm confronted with it. It can be so many things that it seems sometimes to defy definition. Looking at the picture, though, I was captivated by something in that moment caught in time. The position of our bodies, the angle of our necks, the trace of a teasing smile curling the corner of Ty's mouth. I was startled from my thoughts by my phone dinging.

Ty: Oh you liked the iced coffee huh? Not a virgin anymore.

I was momentarily confused, but then grinned as I realized he was answering my question from earlier.

Me: I haven't been for some time.


I stared. I have no idea what these acronyms mean.

Me: Where do you recommend I get food from?

Ty: Like take out?

Me: To cook at home.

Ty: Uh, grocery store I guess.

I thought for a minute and decided to ask him if one store was better than another rather than admit my ignorance. As I began to type he texted me again.

Ty: Jay is still sleeping. Want to get another coffee?

Well. That would work out.

Me: Sure. Meet you at the school?


Whatever that means, I thought. I figured he'd show up, though, so I struck out for the school. My shoulder itched a little where I had healed the bullet wound, but I was pretty much okay by now. I needed to spend some time with that tracking device to see how it worked and perhaps get a clue as to who made it. As I walked, though, I turned over the two times this fellow had found me. The first time he'd said it was purely by chance, and that could happen the first time. I suppose it was even possible the second time, however less likely.

I decided to run down that unlikely path first. If it were a magus hunting me, then they would use divination, which would be blocked by the wards on the house, but I don't think they would extend to me in the school or on the street. That likely eliminated Michael, if someone would even help him by providing the divination.

What if it were this group my Grandmother had warned me about? Their success rate was under fifty percent, so perhaps their few successes had more to do with dumb luck than talent? If I follow this line of thinking, how would someone like them get imbued items to assist them in tracking a magus down? Not only that, didn't they claim that magic was a divine gift, and shouldn't that eliminate them from using magic items? Okay, set that conflict aside for a moment – where did a normal group get a shoddy piece of tracking gear like that item? It had to have come from a magus.

I slowed my steps. That either meant they'd somehow stumbled on the device, that they looted it from a dead magus or a magus had given it to them willingly. The likelihood of stumbling on the device and knowing what it was was slim. If they killed a magus – by accident or design – they would still not know what the item was or how to operate it. Or at least it was unlikely. But if a magus were to supply them and provide instruction....

“Nick? You alright?”

I glanced up, startled to find I was already at the school and Ty was calling to me from his car. I mentally shook myself and walked to his car. “Yes, I'm fine – just thinking.”

He looked at me for a minute and then said, slowly and with a tiny smile, “So are you going to get in the car or...?”

Duh. “Sorry,” I said again and climbed in the front seat.

He drove us while I put my thoughts, distressing as they were, behind me so I could focus on the moment. “So you said Jay was still sleeping?”

He sighed. “Yeah. I don't know man – something's not right, but he won't tell his dad.”

“Why not?”

He left one hand on the wheel and the other he held up, fingers to the ceiling. “I don't know. They have insurance, so it's not like he can't be seen.”

“Besides sleeping, what makes you think something's not right?”

“It's not the sleeping; it's that he's always tired. It started this past summer, and it's just getting worse.” He paused, glancing at me and then back to the road. “Last time he wrestled with Brad he ended up with a few bruises. He said Brad just got lucky but...doesn't seem right.”

Thoughtfully I said, “No. No, it doesn't sound right.”

We pulled up in front of the business where we'd gotten the drinks before, and he turned the car off. I was a little confused, but followed his lead. He opened the door and I followed him into the business – mildly surprised that there was a counter and places to sit. For some reason I'd thought the nature of these businesses was to stay in your vehicle and be handed the drinks, but apparently you could also go inside and order and drink them.

Ty ordered and I pulled out my card, saying I would pay this time. He nodded a thanks, and I fumbled with the device that transferred the funds.

“You have to hit the red button for credit,” the clerk said. I glanced down at the machine, hit the red key, and the payment processed. Well, that wasn't so difficult. We moved to the end of the counter to wait for our order.

“So. Nick. You're a bit of a mystery, huh?”

“Am I?”

Ty leaned on the counter and smiled at me. “New to the school, the town, doesn't really say where he's from or where he's been. Ends up with a decent group of friends after just a few weeks, but still very quiet. We don't really know you, do we?”

I thought for a second. “Well, it depends on what you think of as knowing anyone.”

“Oh. Are you about to pull some philosophy on me?”

I smiled back. “Just an interpretation. You might think you know someone just because you know some details – where they were born, what grades they get or what car they drive. Or you might know someone better through their actions – do they keep or spread secrets? Do they lie or sell others out to save themselves?”

“Here you go, guys,” the clerk said, placing our drinks before us. We scooped them up and I followed Ty to a table, where we sat, and he regarded me with a raised eyebrow.

“Okay, I admit there is a little sense to what you're saying. But...all I really know about you is that you told Tess about Brad getting cheated on. You can hold your own with wrestling – and that Brad will be after you like a tick on a dog to get you to wrestle this year.”

“Does he do that a lot?”

“Yeah. He's good at it, and he's always trying to get more people to go with him. Jay did it last year, but I don't think he'll be up for it this year.”

I nodded. “I heard Brad trying to recruit you.”

“Yeah,” he replied and sipped his drink, so I did the same while thinking of Jay and what was going on with him. “This is so good!”

“Fiend,” he said with a little smile.

“So why won't Jay tell his dad he's not feeling well?”

Ty rolled his eyes. “He won't say, but I think it's some stupid idea about guys being strong. His dad is okay. Lets his mom walk all over him and his kids – like Brad doesn't even have a room. He had to give it up for his Grandma Bea, and he sleeps on the couch.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Right. And I could see volunteering if she weren't such a bitch. I mean to everyone. She acts like she's doing them a favor by being there or like she's letting them live with her. It's such bullshit – and they all just put up with it, because the one thing that really gets their dad mad is if they,” he held his first and second fingers up on each hand and wiggled them slightly, “disrespect his mom. I can see being polite until someone proves you shouldn't be polite to them, but this guy thinks you should respect his mom just because she's a crusty old woman.”

I nodded along. “Sometimes you don't know what strings an older person has – through leverage or knowledge – so it's always better to default to being respectful. But if people are rude, I can understand why you wouldn't want to be.”

He sipped his drink again and studied me. “So. Do you live with your parents?”

I shook my head. “They passed when I was very small; I don't really remember them.”

“Oh. I'm sorry,” he said quietly.

“It's okay,” I assured him. “I don't get emotional about it. My grandmother raised me, and I had a good childhood.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? That's good.”

“And you? Do you live with your parents?”

“My dad,” he said with a bob of his head. “My mom disappeared like ten years ago or so. So it's my dad and my older brother, Corey.” He sighed. “I wish Corey would move out, because he's kind of a fuck up.”

“I have a cousin you could probably say that about,” I said with a smile. “I say he's my least favorite cousin, but he's also my only cousin.”

Ty smiled. His phone buzzed and he pulled it from his pocket as he said, “Corey just can't seem to get his head out of his ass. He got into being stoned in high school, which doesn't sound so bad, except it was all he wanted to do. Then he wanted to be a professional video game player, except he sucked at it. Then he was going to be a mechanic, except he doesn't know shit about cars – seeing a common theme here?” he asked, chuckling and looking down at his phone.

I laughed and sipped more of my drink. “Tess?” I asked, looking down at his phone.

He chuckled and put his phone on the table. “No. It's 'Hey Season.'”

I tilted my head and smiled in question.

He rolled his eyes and smiled a bit wider. “Guys are over their summer flings and now they are thinking about the school dances coming up and they're all 'Heeeeyyyy' at people,” he said, his tone lilting up and down in a funny yet flirtatious way as he said 'hey'.

I chuckled, his expression and tone disarming. “Do you like dances?”

He shrugged. “It's fun to dress nice and have a good night, but it's not always worth the hassle of one of these 'hey guys'.”

“What do you mean?”

“They pretend to know you, try to get what they want. You must have had guys do this to you,” he said with a curious smile. What did that smile mean?

Thinking of Jalem I shook my head. “No. I haven't dated much.”

“It's because you don't tell anyone anything about yourself,” he said, poking his finger at me and smiling.

I shook my head but smiled back at him. “There isn't a lot to tell. I went to a small private school and transferred this year. I've always lived with my grandmother, as far as I can recall, and I haven't dated much. What else is there to say?”

“Seriously? That's practically nothing! Do you like dances? Movies? Comics or novels? What music are you into?”

I chuckled nervously, not having answers for some of those questions. “Do those things matter?”

Ty hung his drink from his fingertips, placing one hand over the other hand and sipped for a moment before eyeing me. I shifted under his gaze. “You're interesting.”

A shiver rippled from my back, up my spine and into my chest. “How?”

“People usually don't get involved in other people's drama unless it benefits them or they like watching dumpster fires. Then you challenge those ideas by being completely respectful to Al, who's had a pretty rough time since coming out. You have no problem telling Brad you'll hang out with him because he keeps his shirt off so much – and good call, he's eye candy for days.”

“Then why don't you date him? Or is Jay your type?” I interjected, nervous about his thoughts and how he may give me more questions I couldn't answer.

He laughed, clear and fairly loud. “Jay? Oh, no. Jay and I ended up on the same rec soccer league four years ago, and we just get along. He's totally straight, and I have no interest in him – he's my bestie. Brad is straight as you can get, I guess, and I'm not into chasing lost causes – no matter what my dating history says.”

“Have you dated a lot?”

“I guess so,” he said with a shrug. “A few boyfriends. A few guys who were just curious. A hook up here and there. A broken heart, but overall nothing that's worth remembering.” He paused and sipped his drink before adding, “Single, for now.”

I nodded soberly, thinking it was a shame. I liked that Ty was asking about things that counted toward character – showing respect to his friend Al as a for instance. Characters were common; people of character were less so.

“So,” he said, pushing his light brown hair back, “why did you tell Tess about Brad getting cheated on?”

I let out a slow breath. “A few reasons, actually. Tess had invited me to sit with her lunch group, and it was a relief since I didn't know if there was assigned seating or if it was okay to sit with strangers.”

“Talk about social anxiety,” Ty said with a nod.

“And when they were talking it sounded familiar – a conversation I'd overheard that morning. So I wasn't sure I was talking about the right person – but Tess confirmed it, I guess.”

Ty rested his chin on his hand and regarded me with a steady gaze. He had a small nose with pale blue eyes and a pointed chin. His mouth was small, but proportional to his face.

“So what's your routine?” he asked.

“My routine?”

“Yeah. For getting shredded. You must work out all the time.”

There was that term again – shredded. “I...listen, I guess I grew up kind of away from people. In my old school it was very focused, so there wasn't that much socializing, and I'm a little confused about some of the words you're using. Like shredded. What do you mean?”

He tilted his head, but left it being supported by his hand. “Really competitive school, huh?”

You have no idea, I thought.

“Shredded just means your muscles all stand out – like you don't have a layer of baby fat or anything, just muscles showing, even if they aren't huge.”

“Oh,” I said, realization dawning. “That's what you meant earlier about muscles. Now it makes sense!”

He laughed. “Sorry, I didn't realize you wouldn't understand.”

I shrugged and smiled. “I'm mostly careful what I eat. Is the way I look...unusual?”

He sat up a little. “Not if you're posting pictures of yourself online to get a following or something. Average guys like me? I mean, I don't have a ton of muscles, but I stay fit from running track and cross-country at school.” He lifted his shirt briefly, displaying his torso with a flat belly and smallish pecs. He dropped the shirt and I thought for a moment.

“Would you say you're built in an...average way?”

“Ouch,” he said, smiling and taking a sip before speaking again. “Talk about hitting a guy's ego.”

I widened my eyes. “I'm sorry. You look healthy, I just don't have anything to compare to besides myself or Brad.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Never seen shirtless guys before?”

I paused. “Okay. I see your point. What I mean is the people I went to school with before...wouldn't be normal or average in any way, so I know? I don't think I see a way out of this, so I'm going to stop now.”

He laughed at me and leaned back in his chair. “It's okay. I'm a big boy, I can take that people aren't interested.” He tilted his head. “Did you play sports at your old school?”

I nodded. “We didn't have teams, but we did have classes for wrestling and other physical activities.” Mostly to disarm or kill an opponent quickly, but that wouldn't be wise to say.

His phone dinged again, and he glanced down with a sigh. “Christ. He's persistent.” He glanced up at me. “What do you think, should I give him a chance?”

I widened my eyes. “I don't know. Do you like him?”

He leaned side to side in his chair which was funny and a little endearing. “He looks nice. He uses filters in his pictures, I'm sure, so I can't be sure he's not hiding a colony of birth defects somehow, but if he's actually a jerk or not...I won't know until I meet him.”

I frowned. “Do you want me to go with you?”

He chuckled as he started to type on his phone. “On a date? Not really a three way thing, Nick.”

I felt mildly embarrassed. “Oh. Of course.”

“Come on, I'll drop you at the store. I guess I have to go met this guy and see if I should take a chance or not.”

I stood and looked down at my empty cup.

“What?” he asked.

“I'm just wondering...maybe I should get another one.”

He smiled indulgently. “Fiend. Get it to go.”


Grocery stores are amazing. Once I was outside I determined, much as I hated it, teleporting back to the house was the wisest course. I made a note to see if I could figure out how to teleport food to the pantry much as other vendors delivered supplies.

I spent part of the weekend at Tess's, wrestled Brad – but didn't let him win this time – and observed him and Cara getting closer together. Jay showed more signs of fatigue, and I noted the bruising that Ty had mentioned when we'd been out together, though they must be new bruises. I made an effort to assess him more than once, and the best I could say was that I didn't understand what the cause was, but I could see the problem was in his bloodstream.

We were sitting in the garage eating, Jay beside me.

“I hear you and Ty went on a date,” he said loud enough for the group to hear.

I shook my head. “We went back to the place with iced coffee,” I said.

“Right. A coffee date,” he said.

“Um. Was it?” I asked. Chuckles raced around the room.

“Don't be sending my boy mixed signals,” he said, adopting a stern expression, but then relaxed into a smile.

“He has someone, I think,” I replied. “He said it's 'Hey Season.'”

Cara started to giggle, and Brad asked her what was so funny. “He said that's when people start calling for dates for school dances and stuff.”

“Summer flings are over,” I confirmed.

“Yeah? Your summer fling over?” Brad asked Cara, teasing.

“Is yours?” she asked a bit louder than she may have intended, given her blush and suddenly looking around.

“Yep,” Brad said. “Nick exposed my ex.”

“You mean he confirmed what everyone knew before you started dating her,” Jay said with a laugh.

“Could be worse,” Zumibia said, her springy hair shaking as she tried to contain her laughter. “You could have Topher Franklin after you.”

“Oh my God!” Tess said in a high pitched tone and pointed at Zumibia. “Don't say his name!”

Brad frowned. “Is that tool bothering you?”

Tess sighed. “Not really. He asked me out and said he'd be fine waiting to hear back. I'm not sure what to say.”

“Do you like him?” Jay asked. “I mean if you like him, why not?”

Tess rolled her eyes. “He's okay.”

I frowned lightly. “Didn't you say he was a troll?” I assumed she wasn't talking about the types under bridges.

She smiled as the group laughed. “Yeah, yeah. He likes to stir the pot sometimes.”

Jay grinned at me. “It hits different when someone shows interest in you, I guess. No principles, that one,” he said, jerking a thumb at his sister.

“Oh. Oh you there. Yeah, you, Jay. You can just fuck off and when you get there, keep fucking off some more,” Tess replied with her nose a little in the air, causing more laughter.

“You like him!” Zumibia accused with a grin on her face.

“She likes the attention,” Jay clarified. That quickly descended into chatter that was too hard to follow with voices overlapping. Ty showed up a little bit later and was quickly filled in on the Tess and Topher issue.

“Brad,” Ty said, ignoring the Tess thing. “Have you asked Cara to the fall dance?”

Brad went slightly pink in the face and glanced at Cara. “Not yet. Um. How about it?”

Cara flushed. “Sure. That'd be nice.”

“Good man,” Ty replied. He turned toward Jay and raised an eyebrow.

“Zumibia already said yes,” Jay said, raising a hand in the air.

“She what?” Tess nearly shrieked, looking wide-eyed at her friend.

“What?” Zumibia asked demurely. “Someone got together without you knowing?”

“ brother? Ewwww!” Tess said, breaking down in giggles.

“So, Tess, I guess that means you and Topher?” Ty asked, circling back and showing he'd been listening.

Tess narrowed her eyes. “I will gut you.”

Ty glanced at Jay, and Jay grinned, saying, “Yup, he asked.. He had to have asked.”

The attention was all on Tess, and she flushed, rolled her eyes and said, “Okay! He asked! I haven't made up my mind yet!”

“So we need to coordinate,” Zumibia said. “I don't want us wearing clashing colors and nothing too, like, similar either, you know?”

Tess raised an eyebrow at her friend. “Really? You're just going to assume I'm going to say yes?”

Zumibia rolled her eyes and began changing her voice back and forth to have a one sided conversation. “So do you think I should go? Of course I think you should. But I'm not sure I like him – it's Topher. You like that he's intelligent, that's how he stirs the pot like you always say. Yeah but. No, but. Go to the dance with the boy. Well, okay.” Zumibia looked at Tess. “Can we plan colors now? Or do we need to do that again?”

“Why are you my friend again?” Tess asked flatly to a round of laughs. Tess turned to Ty, “And you. Why are you talking about dances all of a sudden? Did your coffee date turn into a real date?”

“Coffee date?” Ty asked, coughing.

“Yeah. We heard all about you meeting up with Nick there, Buddy,” Jay said and slapped Ty on the back.

“Well,” Ty said, smiling quickly at me. “I told him I was single, but he didn't bite.”

Wait. Was I supposed to have asked him out? Was that the way things worked – if someone told you they were single you were expected to ask them to date? I felt a twist in my gut as I looked back at Ty.

“Then why are you getting all riled about this dance?” Jay asked.

“Because I got pestered into going and if I'm going, then all you motherfuckers are suffering with me.”

There was another overlapping of voices so that I couldn't follow what passed for a discussion, but when they quieted Brad asked, “Wait. What about Nick? Now he needs a date.”

All eyes swiveled onto me, and the idea of ants pulling down a larger creature suddenly felt more real than it ever had.

“Me?” I asked dumbly.

“Duh. Can't leave you out,” Jay said. “Who would work for him?”

There was some murmuring, and I was thinking I should just say I didn't need to go, but Ty got a bright smile on his face and said, “I know! Al never gets to go. What do you think? Go as friends?”

I felt trapped for a moment, but what did I really have to fear? I calmed my heart rate and nodded. “Okay. Sure.”

Ty grinned. “They're so going to dress you up!”

Next Chapter Previous Chapter