I looked over at him in wonder. "How did you know that's what I was thinking?"
"Because I know you," he said simply, no mockery in his eyes. "Your aura got sad, and I figured being on a college campus had something to do with it."
I couldn't meet his gaze and turned away. "I don't like that."
"What, that someone actually knows what's important in your life?"
Yes, that was exactly it. But why did it bother me? Because it was Adrian, I realized. Why was it that a vampire understood me so well? Why not one of my friends? Why not one of my human friends?
"You can be Jet if you want," I said brusquely, trying to get us back on track and cover up my troubled feelings. After all, this wasn't Sydney's Therapy Hour. "But we are not posing as a couple again."
"Are you sure?" he said. His tone was lighter now, turning him back into the Adrian I knew. "Because I've got a lot more terms of endearment to use. Honey pie. Sugarplum. Bread pudding."
"Why are they all high-calorie foods?" I asked. I didn't want to encourage him, but the question slipped out before I could stop it. "And bread pudding isn't really that romantic."
We had reached Wendy's door. "Do you want me to call you celery stick instead?" he asked. "It just doesn't inspire the same warm and fuzzy feelings."
"I want you to call me Sydney." I knocked on the door. "Er, Taylor."
A girl with freckles and frizzy red hair answered. Her eyes narrowed warily. "Yes?"
"We're looking for Wendy Stone," I said.
She scowled. "Are you from the registrar's office? Because I told them the check's on its way."
"No." I lowered my voice and made sure there were no witnesses. "My name's Taylor. We're here to talk to you about, um, magic."
The transformation was sudden and startling. She went from suspicious and cautious to shocked and outraged. "No. No. I've told you guys a hundred times I don't want to be involved! I can't believe you'd actually show up at my door to try to convert me to your little coven freak show."
She tried to shut the door, but Adrian managed to stick his foot in and block it. Very manly. "Wait," he said. "That's not what this is about. Your life might be in danger."
Wendy turned incredulous. "So you guys are threatening me now?"
"No, nothing like that. Please," I pleaded. "Just let us talk to you for five minutes inside. Then we'll leave and never bother you again."
Wendy hesitated and then finally gave a nod of resignation. "Fine. But I'm getting my pepper spray."
Her apartment was neat and tidy, save for a pile of papers and engineering books scattered on the floor. We'd apparently interrupted her homework, which brought back my wistfulness. She made good on her promise to get the pepper spray and then stood before us with crossed arms.
"Talk," she ordered.
I showed her the picture of Veronica. "Have you ever seen this woman?"
"Good." Or was it? Did that mean Veronica might have Wendy tagged as a future hit and was waiting to pounce? "She's dangerous. I'm not exactly sure how to put it. . . ."
"She finds girls with magic and sucks away their souls," supplied Adrian helpfully.
Wendy did a double take. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"That's not exactly the case," I said. "But it's close enough. She seeks out girls with power and takes it for herself."
"But I don't use magic," Wendy countered. "Like I told you, I don't want anything to do with it. There's a witch who lives in Anaheim who's always telling me how much potential I have and how I should be her apprentice. I keep telling her no, and I've never even tried any spells. This soul-sucking lady has no reason to come after me."
Ms. Terwilliger had warned me some of the girls might say this. In fact, she'd said most would have this argument.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "That won't stop her."
Wendy looked terrified now, and I didn't blame her. My reaction had been similar. It was frustrating to know the very thing you were trying to get away from might come after you.
"Then what should I do?" she asked.
"Well, avoid her if you can. If she comes to see you . . . I mean, don't let her in. Don't be alone with her." That was slightly lame advice, and we all knew it. "If you do see her, I'd tell that witch in Anaheim. In fact . . . I know you don't want to, but if I were you, I'd get in touch with that witch now and try to get her help. Maybe even learn a few defensive spells. I understand you don't want to - believe me, I really do - but it could save your life. Also . . . " I held out the agate charm. "You should take this and wear it at all times."
Wendy eyed the charm as though it were a poisonous snake. "Is this some trick to get me to learn magic after all? You come here with this whole act about how if I don't learn, I could get my soul sucked away?"
Again, I had to give her points. I would think exactly the same thing. "We're telling the truth," I insisted. "There's no proof I can offer - well, wait. Give me your email address, and I'll send you this article about another girl it happened to."
Wendy looked like she was on the verge of using the pepper spray. "I think I would've heard if some girl had her soul magically sucked away."
"It wasn't really obvious to those who don't know about the magical world. Let me send it to you, and then you can make your own decisions. It's the best I can offer."
She reluctantly agreed and wrote down her email address. Adrian stepped forward to take it from her, but he must have moved too quickly because she suddenly thrust the can of pepper spray in his direction.
"Stay back!" she exclaimed. At the exact same moment, I sprang in front of him, terrified he was about to get a face full of pepper spray. I cast the first spell I could think of, a simple one that created a flashy - but harmless - show of colored light. A shielding spell would've been much more useful, but I hadn't practiced any yet. That would have to be rectified, in case our future errands involved more pepper spray.
"You back off," I warned.
As I'd hoped, the brilliant display was terrifying to someone anti-magic like Wendy. She retreated to the far side of her apartment and thankfully didn't use the spray.
"G-get out," she stammered, eyes full of fear.
"Please take precautions," I said. I set the charm on the floor. "And please wear this. I'll email you the article."