I held on to my smile like it was a life preserver. “Well, Marvin, I’m sure tomorrow’s going to be a beautiful day for going outside and soaking up some—”
Marvin had taken the required number of steps out of frame, and just as I said the word “soaking,” the bored, cigar-chomping stagehand standing off-camera to my left yanked a rope.
About twenty gallons of water dumped from buckets directly over my head, right on target. It hurt. The bastards had chilled it, or else it was a lot colder up in those rafters than down here on the stage; the stuff felt ice-cold as it splashed off the plastic rain hat, straight down the back of my neck, to splash down into the stupid yellow rain boots.
I was standing in a kiddie pool with yellow rubber duckies on it. Most of the water made it in. I gasped and looked surprised, which wasn’t hard; even when you expect it, it’s tough not to be surprised by the idea that someone will actually do a thing like this to you.
Or that you will not kill them for it.
The anchors and Marvin laughed like lunatics. I kept smiling, took my rain hat off, and said, “Well, that’s the weather in Florida, folks, just when you least expect it…”
And they hit me with the last bucket. Which they hadn’t warned me about.
“Oh, boy, sorry about that, Weather Girl!” Marvin whooped, and came back into frame as I shoved my dripping hair back and tried to keep on smiling. “Guess we’re in for a few showers tomorrow, eh?”
“Seventy percent chance,” I gritted out. It wasn’t quite so perky as I’d planned.
“So, moms, pack those umbrellas and raincoats for the kids in the morning! Joanne, it’s time for our weather lesson of the day: Can you tell our viewers the difference between weather and climate?”
A climate is the weather in an area averaged over a long period of time, you moron. I thought it. I didn’t say it. I kept smiling blankly at him as I asked, “I don’t know, Marvin, what is the difference?” Because I was, after all, the straight woman, and this was penance for some horrible crime I’d committed in a previous life. As Genghis Khan, apparently.
He looked straight into the camera with his most serious expression and said, “You can’t weather a tree, but you can climate.”
I stared at him for about two seconds too long for television etiquette, then turned my smile back on like a porch light and said to the camera, “We’ll be back tomorrow morning with more fun weather facts, kids!”
Marvin waved. I waved. The red light went out. Kurt and Janie started doing more happychat; they were about to interview a golden retriever, for some bizarre reason. I gave Marvin the kind of look that would have gotten me fired if I’d given it on the air, and threw my wet hair over my shoulder to wring it out like a mop into the ducky pool.
He leaned over to me and, in a whisper, said, “Hey, do you know this one? How is snow white?… Pretty damn good, according to the seven dwarves. Ha!”
“Your mike is on,” I said, and watched him do the panic dance. His mike really wasn’t, but it was so nice to see him make that face. The golden retriever, confused, woofed at him and lunged; panic ensued, both on and off camera. I stepped out of the wading pool and squelched away, past the grinning stagehands who knew exactly what I’d done and wished they’d thought of it first. I stripped off the wet rain slicker, stuffed the hat in the pocket, and escaped from the set and out the sound-baffling door.
Hard to believe that less than a year ago I’d been a trusted agent of one of the most powerful organizations on Earth, entrusted with the lives and safety of a few million people on a daily basis. Even harder to believe that I’d thrown all that away without looking back, and actually thought that I wouldn’t miss it.
Normal life? Sucked. I’d become a Warden out of high school, been trained by the elite, spent years mastering the techniques of controlling the physics of wind, water, and weather. I’d been taken care of and coddled and had everything I’d ever wanted, and I hadn’t even known how good that was until I had to survive on a poverty-level income and figure out how to make a jar of peanut butter stretch from one payday to the next.
And then there was the magnificence that was my job.
I took a deep breath of recycled, refrigerated air, and went in search of a place to sit down. A couple of staffers were in the hall, chitchatting; they watched me with the kind of bemused expressions people get when they’re imagining themselves in your place and thinking, there but for the grace of God …
I ignored them as I squished by in my big, yellow clown boots.
In the makeup room, some kind soul handed me a fluffy white towel. I rubbed vigorously at my soaked hair and sighed when I saw it was starting to curl—nice, rich, black curls. Ringlets. Ugh.
That never used to happen before I died. I’d been a power. And then I’d had a brief, wildly strange few days as a wish-granting Djinn, which was both a hell of a lot more and less fun than you’d imagine. And then, I’d been bumped back down to mere mortal.
But in the process my hair had gone from glossy-straight to mega-curly. All my power, and I couldn’t even keep a decent hairstyle.
Maybe power was an overstatement these days, anyway. I’d turned in my proverbial badge and gun to the Wardens, quit and walked away; technically, that meant that even though I might have some raw ability—a lot of it—I was now a regular citizen. Granted, a regular citizen who could sense and manipulate weather. Not that I did, of course. But I could. For three months, I’d gone cold turkey, resisting the urge to meddle, and I was pretty proud of myself. Too bad they didn’t have a twelve-step program for this sort of thing, and some kind of cool little milestone keychain thing.
The fact that I’d been told by my own former colleagues that if I so much as made one raindrop rub up against another they’d bring me in for a magical lobotomy might have had something to do with my amazing strength of will. Some people survived that process just fine, but with someone like me, who had such a high level of that kind of power, getting rid of it all was like radical surgery. There was a significant chance that things would go wrong, and instead of just coming out of it a normal, unmagical human being, I’d come out a drooling zombie, fed and diapered at the Wardens’ expense.
They weren’t likely to do that to me unless they had to, though. The Wardens needed people they could trust. The organization had taken a lot of hits, from within and without, and they couldn’t afford to burn bridges, even as shaky and unreliable a bridge as I represented.
I sighed and rubbed moisture from my hair, eyes closed. There were days—more rather than fewer, now—when I really regretted giving in to the impulse to fling it in their faces and walk away. I was one speed-dial away from having my life back.
But there were reasons why that was a bad idea, principal among them that I would lose the one thing in my life that really meant something to me. I’d willingly live in a crappy apartment and wear secondhand clothes and knockoff shoes for David’s sake, for as long as it took.
That had to be true and eternal love.
I looked up from vigorous toweling and found a steaming cup of coffee in front of my nose. My benefactor and personal deity was a petite little blonde who went by the name of Cherise, impossibly young and pretty, with a beach tan and limpid blue eyes and a fine sense of the inappropriate. I liked her, even though she was just too damn cute to live. Not everybody in my new life was a burden.
Cherise made the days just a little bit brighter.
“Nice ’do,” she said, poker-faced. “Is poodle-hair coming back in style?”