“Darling,” I say sweetly, stroking her hair, “Darling, sweetie, are you really going to let that slide?”
My girl doesn’t answer. She doesn’t even look at me. Just picks an olive leaf off the tree and flicks it at a shrilling wheatear standing on an arching olive root. I take strands of her long hair, the color of ripe apricots, and begin threading them through my fingers, knotting, braiding, tying, until half her hair is trapped to my fingers in a lovely five-strand braid.
“Darling,” I say again, then stop. I won’t allow the whine to enter my voice. “Darling,” I begin, clearing my throat. “He called you names, dear. Threw a rock at you. Why, look at your forehead, darling!”
A thin line of red falls from her left temple down to my lap. It drips onto my gauzy green dress, staining it a delicious shade of crimson. I sigh and brush my fingertips across my skirt. Instantly fresh color smooths back over.
In Pallas’s head, I, Iras, can have anything I want.
I appear quietly. Before me, sitting under the olive tree, is my own Pallas, honey-colored hair in strange knots, and that simpering sickly-sweet imbecile, Iras. I clear my throat and brush Iras away. She disappears without a shimmer, throwing me a disgusted look as she goes. When her hands fall away Pallas’s hair falls too, but the knots stay.
“Pallas, my dear girl,” I say gruffly. “Did they hurt you again? Did Rhys hurt you again?”
She sits looking dreamy, swinging her legs over the stone wall, winding her fingers through the limp knots. I pick a lantana blossom and put it behind her ear. She picks it out and closes her eyes against the warm sun.
“Feel the magic under your nails, Pallas,” I urge. I’m not one for words. I am impulsive. Reckless. Brave. She likes me, I know. One of her better friends.
“Come, Pallas. You know we’re here for you. If you want us to, we can go to them. Kill him. Hurt him. Whatever you need. We’re here.”
She sighs again, folds her knees, blossoming with purple bruises, up underneath her, and her posture relaxes and she leans against the gnarly trunk of the olive tree.
“Do you want me to, Pallas?” I watch her face carefully.
She doesn’t move. The clouds drift by and the heat slowly increases. The orange and pink brick houses below us shimmer in the sun, and she smiles quietly in the pool of sunlight. There is no sun on me, no shadow to indicate I am there. Only here in Pallas’s head I am alive.
I am a friend, just a piece of her mind needing a friend. The sun pokes holes in me and Pallas’s mind goes quiet and I depart.
I’ve got red hair, because Pallas wants red hair. I am lithe and strong, because Pallas is short and her limbs are weak, though she runs very fast. I was with her when Rhy’s gang chased her from the steps of the library all the way up to the hill, throwing rocks and shouting insults and trying to catch her and tear up the books she’d borrowed. She runs well. I don’t run, I don’t need to, but I kept up with her, through the air.
She likes me best, for I am most like her, even if I am a boy and she a girl. I tell her jokes and she tells me stories and we sing duets together sometimes.
I am her best friend.
“Pallas?” I say once that bully Ely is gone. “Pallas, are you alright?”
She nods, looks at me, tries to smile, but her eyes are trembling with tears and her face is iron hard and defeated-looking. I put my arm around her shoulder as best I can, but she doesn’t feel it.
“You can get him back, you know,” I say kindly. “You have power. Through us you have power.”
She doesn’t answer.
“Pallas, talk to me. You’ve never been like this before.”
She folds, broken, weeping into my shoulder. “I want someone!” she cries. “I want a friend!”
The bluejay flits near her, laughing, mocking. I shoo it away.
“Pallas, Pallas, you’ve got me. You’ve got us!”
The others appear. Fat Marzia with a lust for blood. Idiotic Iras who is more sly than Pallas knows. Bull-headed Ely, like a general orchestrating his soldiers’ deaths. Know-it-all Lafew, who tells Pallas what to do. Laughing carefree Vivan who sings about hate. Somber lonely Martext who talks about death and is not one of us. Childish Athena whom Pallas loves best.
All of them, agreeing, murmuring, whispering comforts to Pallas. Her face is tangled in the white, white cold air of the sky, mourning, weeping, understanding. She is quiet. She listens.
“We’re all you need, Pal,”
“You don’t need them, Pallas. We love you.”
“I love you best.”
“Rhys is nothing, he’s nothing, don’t listen to him. You’re good enough.”
“Pallas, ignore him.”
“Stay with us, Pallas.”
“Let us stay, Pallas. We need you and you need us.”
“We are your only friends. Can you even imagine abandoning us?” I play our trump card.
She stands, throwing her arms out wide, shouting, “Stop! Stop!”
Iras fades quietly, intending to go, but Pallas reaches with her mind and brings her back. She closes her eyes and we can all see that she is whispering something, words lifted up high, asking for courage and faith.
“I don’t know you all,” she exclaims. “You are saying this because you are jealous. You want me for yourself. You are not even real! You are just in my mind! I have no friends, you are not my friends.”
We try to bring her back. This is dangerous territory. She cannot loosen herself, for we would have no power then.
She throws off the weights, unshackles herself with her own mind and soul, frees herself from our heaviness. “Get away from me!” she shouts again, putting her face to the sky, letting it kiss her truly. “You are not my friends, you are never my friends. Get away.”
We die. We are gone. I am smoke. She is free. With my last breath I beg her, let my fingers go through her hair as I am pulled into the abyss of the mind.
Only I am left. I stand there in my black cowl, watching her with a pleased expression on my face.
“Well done,” I say suddenly. She opens her eyes, and a jolt of fear strikes through them, fresh green amidst a field of wheat-colored hair. “Well done, Pallas. You’ve kept out of my grasp a little longer.”
“Who are you?” she gasps. “You are not in my mind.”
“No,” I say, plucking a leaf off the olive tree and ripping it idly in half. “I never was.”
I sit next to her. “I am Death, Pallas.”
She understands then.
“You’ve evaded my grasp a little longer,” I say again, “But—”
“No,” she interrupts. I hate that. “No, Martext. No. No more. You’re still in my mind. You’re Death, but I have my say. Leave me be. When it’s my time, then you can come. Only then.”
I stand. I am much taller than her, but she stands firm. I’d like to crush her with my fingers like a bug. I could do it in this moment, but she has an aura around her, some otherworld protection. I look up at the sky and then not. I will obey.
“Very well,” I say, drawing my hood over my head. I begin to fade. “Very well, Pallas. I leave you.”
I am gone.
I sit down. The sun is warm and I am hungry but content. I have defeated my own mind, admitted I am alone, rid myself of my demons. Through faith I had courage. I scolded Death.
Martext still frightens me. Someday he will come, and it will not be pleasant. But we are equals now. I’ve pushed him further away.
What have I to be afraid of? Rhys? No. I’ve defeated demons.
I smile slightly and lean against the olive tree again. A yellow-breasted warbler and a white-winged crane fly together through the sky, a mismatched pair, and I watch them as they fly farther and farther until the sun swallows them up and I am alone again.