Chapter 38: Theorizing
Dawn couldn't concentrate for long, though, despite how much she loved the movie. Unbidden, her eyes moved back to the left, where Ever and her friends were sitting. Ever and one other girl were looking in her direction, and when she turned her head to them, they quickly looked away and murmured something to the others. They all laughed. Dawn's cheeks burned. Were they gossiping about her? Really? Not everyone was out of high school, it seemed. Or maybe it was her own juvenile mentality that made her think they were talking about her. She tried to look at them without allowing them to see her, but they didn't look at her again.
"You okay?" asked Rico quietly.
She jumped, then blushed, trying not to show that she had been so preoccupied she'd almost forgotten about the boy sitting next to her. "Sorry. Yeah, I'm fine." She tried to smile at him.
He frowned back at her, his warm brown eyes boring into hers. "No, you're not. What's wrong?"
She shook her head and looked down, unable to meet his gaze. "No, it's really nothing. It's stupid."
Because she was looking down, she saw his hand reach toward hers where it rested on the blanket before she felt it, but she didn't move, though she could have. "You can tell me," Rico said.
She looked back up at him, feeling both bewildered and comforted. How had he known the exact right thing to say? "Are you sure? It... well, really doesn't make any sense."
"I think I can deal with that. We're at a college that teaches magic, after all. Most people would say that doesn't make any sense either."
She nodded. "I guess you're right." She looked around herself nervously one more time. No one was paying any attention to them. Taking a deep breath, she let the whole complex story come rolling out of her, starting with the scream. Rico stayed quiet until she was done speaking.
"That's pretty bizarre, I have to admit," he says. "But it makes some sort of sense. I think."
She looked at him hopefully. "Really? I can't make any sense of it."
He nodded slowly. "Well, there's consistency, at least. People who know more remember more. Nobody but you, Lorelei, and the girl's roommate remembered who she was the night she disappeared, right?"
"As far as I know."
"Well, her roommate knew her best, so she remembered her for a while. Lorelei knows about... whatever's going on, so she remembered things. She forgot, but unlike everyone else, she was able to remember again."
Dawn shook her head. "Sure, but what about me? I barely noticed her."
Rico sighed. "That's the part that confuses me. Maybe you have some kind of magic talent. I don't know."
"I guess I could ask my magic teacher about it on Monday."
"Hopefully you'll have figured all this out by then. You're going to go see Lorelei in the hospital tomorrow, right?"
"Right. I'm hoping she'll be able to explain what's going on."
"Maybe she'll know. You could try asking Ever..."
She shook her head hastily. "She wouldn't tell me if she knows anything, and she might even try to stop me. She stopped me from talking to Lorelei."
"That could be a coincidence."
"Maybe," she said doubtfully.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out."
Dawn laughed shakily. "Your confidence in me is appreciated, though I don't share it. I really appreciate that you're not saying I'm dreaming or delusional."
"Well, I know a little bit about magic, and this has all the hallmarks of it."
"Really? My aunt went here and took magic classes, but she never mentioned anything like this." She looked cautiously around. No one seemed to be noticing them--they were talking quietly enough not to bother anyone. The man in black was demonstrating the properties of iocane powder, but she had little attention to spare for the movie.
Rico frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe it's not the same kind of magic they teach here."
That startled her. "You think there could be other kinds of magic?"
"Sure. There are different kinds in books, aren't there? I bet if the old witch from my neighborhood was here she'd know how to deal with it."
"There was a witch living in your neighborhood?" Dawn barely resisted laughing. For all her belief in magic, that was pretty absurd. Unless Rico meant a pagan witch, like Corrie and her mom, but it didn't sound like he meant a religious person. Then again, she didn't know if Corrie and her mom did magic. She made a mental note to ask about that.
"Yeah. Mostly she sells herbs and stuff to help people who are sick, but she also does stuff like love potions, curses, and curse removal. I wonder if Lorelei has a curse on her."
He sounded completely earnest, and his words made so much sense that Dawn was forced to consider them seriously. She thought back to how Lorelei had acted. "It did seem like she got worse when she tried to tell me what was going on."
"So maybe there's a witch living in the woods."
"What, like in Hansel and Gretel?" She was feeling more relaxed now that she felt she had a bit of a handle on what was going on, even if the prospect was still scary. "Why would she live in the woods?"
"I don't know." Rico shrugged helplessly. "Maybe to get away from the annoying students. Maybe the magic teachers banished her or something. And that certainly doesn't explain why she would kidnap a student. But it's a theory."
She smiled at him, hoping her face showed the relief she felt. "You've really helped a lot, Rico. I don't feel like I'm surrounded by inexplicable mysteries anymore."
His round face broke out into a grin. It was dark, but she could have sworn his eyes sparkled. "I'm glad I was able to help, Dawn. Anytime you need any help, feel free to ask me." Slowly, he lifted his arm and put it around her shoulder. She leaned against him and closed her eyes. She was comfortable.