“And before you get on me about protesting too much, I am not going to get into the argument we had at the restaurant,” I continued.

“So, you put her up on a pedestal like the rest of your collection, forgetting that women are living, breathing creatures, with desires of their own that don’t wait for your interest to come alive?” Magda asked.

Sylvia and Matana took this opportunity to say very loudly that they were going off in search of ice cream.   They would have taken Doloise, but the Realm would not move or respond.

“If you knew what she was, that would almost be funny,” I retorted.

“What, she’s some kind of sexbot?” Magda was angry now.  “That’s sick, E.”

“She’s less human than Matana.  And what’s with that, anyway?  You know how I feel.”

“About women?  Black girls?  Vampires?  Yeah, I do know.  I know you better than you think.  You’re right, you can’t be in love with her because she doesn’t represent an ideal.  You’re only capable of being in love with your own delusions.”  She spun around and grabbed Doloise’s arm.

There was a burst of thunder above us, and a flash of light that took my breath away.  It wasn’t a lightning strike, but there was still a wave of ozone.  Silence, for a precious second, and then there was a clatter as Doloise’s amber sunglasses fell upon the ground.

Magda looked up from where she had fallen, sprawled, on the sidewalk.  A couple of passing gentlemen were waved away.  “I’m fine,” she said.  She picked up the shades, and extended them to the Realm.

She looked into Doloise’s eyes.

I watched her.  I had never seen real fear on the Magster’s face.  Sure, we’d taken on some tough moments together, but she was the epitome of cool and collected.  She believed that proper preparation could protect her from anything.

Whatever she saw in Doloise’s eyes proved it a lie.

Her hand hung in midair, but I saw the volition shrivel up before her arm got the message.  I strode over and made the connection, pushing the sunglasses into Doloise’s hands.  “Put these on,” I said, still not looking at her.  I helped Magda to her feet, blocking the way.  “Breathe,” I said.

Magda’s lips moved.  She made a circle of warding with her right hand, and then she stumbled back a little.  I helped guide her to one of the handy bunches in the median.  “Sit,” I recommended.  I didn’t want her to fall over or faint or something.

She slapped me, then.  A flat-handed slap that made a sting that drowned out whatever accusation caused her to hit me.  I knew it wasn’t a real assault because she hadn’t gotten her nails involved.  It hurt nevertheless, and I rubbed my cheek.

I bent over her and looked into her eyes.  “Is it out of your system?”

“You’re insane,” she whispered.

“No, I’m just in over my head and losing the energy to keep treading water.”  I turned my back on her, however vulnerable it made me feel, and went to check on Doloise.

I approached her carefully.  “Doloise?”

She had slipped the glasses back in and was still standing, cool as you please.  Her hands were caught in little fists.

“Are you hurt?” it asked.

“Oh, the slap?  It was nothing.  I’ve had worse.”

“She should not have struck you.”

I sighed.  “No, she shouldn’t have, but I have forgiven her.”

“My kind does not forgive.  We do not waste our time on petty lies.”  Her eyes were glowing behind the shades.

I wasn’t going to argue with her.  I turned away from her and went back to Maggie, feeling like how I figured a ping-pong ball might, all spun between two high-strung paddles.  Or something like that.

“I’m getting out of here,” she said.  “You’re crazy, flat-out crazy, being involved with that…thing.”

“You know stronger language.  I’m surprised you haven’t used it,” I said, sighing again.  I sat next to her on the bench, watching as she stared at the metallic pink cellphone.  “She’s what she is.”  I took a breath.  “Who are you calling?”

“Sylvia.  We took her car.”

“She’s just over there with Matana.”  They were coming back with cones.  “Come on.  Everything will be better after ice cream.”

She looked at me.  “You really are insane.”

“No, my life’s just gotten a little weird lately.”

She looked at me and laughed.  Well, made an explosive laugh-like noise.  “Anyway,” she said, standing up, “that’s only true if it’s frozen custard and it’s chocolate.”

“I think that’s Doloise’s favourite, too.  You two can fight it out.  Dibs on strawberry if they’ve got it.”

She looked at me, and then touched my face.  “I’m sorry.  It’s not going to work out between us.”

“I know.”  I smiled.  “Especially since I’m going to beat you to the cones.”

I ran to make my boast true.