Chapter 5

By the next morning Issy was seriously regretting her decision to tell Nico the truth about who she was. She was almost hoping as she walked into the park that he wouldn't be there, but no, there he was. He was sat on a secluded park bench beneath a tall oak tree. She walked over to him, her heart thudding so loudly in her chest she wouldn't have been surprised if he could hear it. As this thought crossed her mind his head snapped up. He noticed her approaching and smiled, causing her legs to turn to jelly. "Hey," she said, hoping her voice wouldn't betray how nervous she was. "Hey," he replied cheerily. She sat down next to him and took a deep breath, but then couldn't think what to say. Burying her head in her hands she said despairingly "God, this is hard to say! I don't know where to start." Issy considered a few different opening statements in her head. He's going to think I'm crazy, she thought, before summoning all her courage and saying "Nico, do you believe in magic?"

"Magic!" he spluttered. "Issy, you can't expect me to believe" – he broke off when he noticed the look on Issy's face. "You wanted the truth, Nico," she said. "Well, this is it. You can decide that I'm crazy and walk away right now, or you can hear me out." Nico ran a hand through his hair. With one sentence she'd thrown his thoughts into turmoil. "Of course I'll listen to you," he said. She nodded once.

"You already know that I live with a foster family. Well, that 'foster family' is in fact a coven of witches. Witches don't have leaders, but in this case Impusa is definitely the leader we don't have. There are three others: Detvortesau, Salmakia, and me. I must have had parents once upon a time, but I don't remember them. I live with the witches in a cottage just outside of town. I cook, I clean, and I tidy... kind of like Cinderella. Up until recently I could only do baby-magic, but now I've started to do real magic without even meaning to. Healing you, and healing the bird, that was just baby-magic. Moving that car the day before yesterday was real magic. I don't know how I did it, so don't ask. Normally, to be able to do real magic you have to be taught and I refuse to learn. I don't want to be a witch. I don't want to be different. I've grown up surrounded by secrets and lies, and I hate it. I just want to be..." Her voice trailed off. "Normal." Nico finished the sentence for her.

"So, are there other witches out there? Or wizards?" Nico asked. "I don't know," was her answer. "The witches won't tell me anything. In my coven there are two rules that must never be broken. Number 1: don't ask questions. Number 2: keep the secret." Nico couldn't take it all in. "Hang on; let me see if I understand. You're a witch. All the strange, impossible things that happen when you're around are magic. And I'm the first person you've told about this." "Yes." Nico was half expecting her to burst into laughter and say "I'm kidding!" but she didn't. Her expression was open and honest. "Issy, I want to believe you, but all this just sounds so... so... unbelievable." He grinned ruefully. "I'm sorry." "It amazes me how far people will go to ignore magic, even when it's staring them in the face,' she said, rolling her eyes. "OK, let's pretend for a moment that I do believe you. Won't you get into trouble for telling me the secret?" he said. "No, because the witches are never going to find out that you know. If they did find out, you'd be in danger Nico. Remember, rule number 2: keep the secret. It's the most important rule there is." Nico laughed, even though he couldn't see anything remotely funny about the situation. "Issy, this is... insane. You're insane. Magic and all that stuff, it isn't real. 'I'm a witch', honestly. What's next? Are you going to tell me that fairies actually exist? Or, I dunno, dragons?" He laughed sarcastically. "People who actually believe in that kind of stuff are freaks." A tense silence followed this statement. "Forget it. I knew it was a mistake to trust you." Issy sprang from her seat and ran away.

Nico sat stunned for a moment before coming to his senses and chasing after her. "Issy, wait!" Damn, she's fast. He finally caught up to her on the pavement outside the park. "Issy, I'm sorry," he said, grabbing her arm. She shook him off angrily. "Wait," he insisted, taking hold of her hand. "WHAT!" shouted Issy. The ferocity in her voice shocked Nico, who backed away. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry." "Oh, you're sorry are you?" Nico winced at the venom in her voice. "Nico, you just called me a freak. Did you really think that I'd forgive you if you just said sorry?" Nico tried to retaliate, but the words got lost on the way to his mouth. "And to think I was just starting to... well, never mind. I was obviously wrong." Her scathing tone of voice had vanished, and to his horror she now sounded like she was about to cry. Issy never cried. "I can't take back what I said, and I know that saying sorry isn't going to fix everything just like that. I, er, don't know how I'm going to make it up to you, but" – He stopped talking as an idea came to him. "Hey, erm, you trusted me with your secret, so I guess I can trust you with mine." She frowned. "What do you mean?" "Meet me at the park again tomorrow, okay? I'll explain then." She didn't reply. "Please?" asked Nico. "Fine. See you tomorrow."

Issy left early and walked slowly to the park the next morning. It was quite cold and she'd forgotten her jacket, so she'd crossed her arms across her chest with her hands tucked under her shoulders to keep warm. This tense posture gave her an air of defensiveness and fear. She loitered at the park entrance for a while before Nico showed up on his bike. He skidded to a halt next to her and smiled uncertainly. "Hey Issy. You look freezing, how come you didn't bring a jacket?" "I forgot," she snapped, as the memory of yesterday's fight was still fresh in her mind. He sighed, then said "Erm, get on then," gesturing towards the bike. She didn't move. "Unless you'd rather walk...?" he suggested. Issy relented and carefully stepped on to the pegs on the back wheel, placing her hands on Nico's shoulders. "Hold on!" advised Nico, and then they sped off along the road.

After barely 10 minutes Nico abruptly hit the brakes, and they came to a sudden stop outside a fairly nondescript house not far from where Nico lived. "Where are we?" asked Issy, her curiosity getting the better of her. "My cousins live here. Um, we'll go in round the back," he said, opening a side gate that was barely visible beneath a curtain of ivy and wheeling his bike through to the back garden. "They'll be in the garage," Nico called over his shoulder. Issy followed him hesitantly. The back garden was wildly overgrown. Only one small space hadn't yet been taken over by plants: a small patio at the corner of the garden. A rose bush grew next to this patio, but as it was nearly winter most of the roses had died, and the few that remained were clinging feebly to life. The garage was situated at the far side of the garden around the back of the house. The door to the garage had been propped open to reveal a curtain of pink and green glass beads.

At the sound of Nico and Issy's approach the bead curtain was brushed aside, and a boy and girl that Issy had never met before walked out. The boy looked almost exactly like Nico, only slightly taller and with shorter hair. The girl had spiky, scarlet hair, pixie-like features and a mischievous grin. She bounced over to Issy. "You're Ismira, right? I love your name, it's so unusual. Oh, I'm sorry, Nico said you like to be called Issy. I'm Erin, and this is my brother Mark." She said all this without stopping for breath. "Slow down Erin," said Mark with a grin. Issy was again struck by the resemblance between him and Nico, as Mark's lopsided smile was identical to Nico's. Issy smiled blankly at Mark and Erin, thinking what am I doing here? but feeling like it would be rude to ask. "So, do you want to hear us play?" asked Erin. "Erm... sorry, what do you mean?" asked Issy, feeling more confused by the second. Erin turned and swatted Nico on the shoulder. "You didn't tell her?" "I was kind of embarrassed," he replied sheepishly. Erin rolled her eyes. "Me, Mark and Nico are in a band," she said to Issy. "It's only the three of us at the minute and we don't even have a name yet, but we're not bad. The garage is soundproof so Dad lets us practise there. Come and see!"

The garage was lit by a single light bulb and a string of fairy lights around the edge of the ceiling. The walls were plastered from top to bottom with vintage band posters. It wasn't that big, but they'd managed to squeeze in a drum kit, a microphone, a keyboard and an electric guitar on a stand. "We're still saving up for the rest of the equipment, like amps and stuff," Erin said to Issy. "Plus we really need a bass guitarist and at the minute I'm the only singer. Are you any good at singing?" she asked hopefully. Issy blushed. "I can't sing." Erin looked disappointed for a moment. "Hey Erin, are we going to practise or what?" asked Nico impatiently. "Right, sorry! Issy, do you want to sit... er, hang on, I'll just make some space." Erin kicked some boxes aside to make space for Issy to sit down, then picked up her guitar and slung the strap over her shoulder. Nico was already settled behind the drum kit. Issy perched lightly on one of the discarded boxes and waited expectantly for the band to start to play.

Nico couldn't concentrate, nor could he stop his eyes from continuously straying over to where Issy was sat. Why am I so nervous about this?, he thought to himself as he glanced at Issy again. This time their eyes met, so he smiled shyly at her before quickly looking away again. He was so distracted that he almost missed Mark and Erin signalling that they were about to start. With difficulty he pushed Issy out of his mind and concentrated on the music, and soon felt his nerves fading away.

Nico and Issy left several hours later, Nico on his bike and Issy walking beside him. Though Issy had been reasonably nice to him in front of Mark and Erin, now that they were alone together she didn't seem to want to talk to him. The tense silence persisted for several minutes, until Nico worked up the courage to ask "Are you still mad at me?" Issy thought for a moment before replying "No. Well, maybe a bit. I can't believe you never told me you're in a band! Honestly, you can be such an idiot sometimes." Nico was relieved to see that she was smiling. "Look, I really am sorry about yesterday." "I know." "So, uh, what did you think of the band?" Nico asked nervously. "You guys are amazing!" Nico beamed at her. "Seriously? You really think so?" "Yes, you idiot," laughed Issy. "And your cousins are both really nice." "Yeah, being nearer to Mark and Erin was the one good thing about moving here." Another few minutes of silence followed this brief conversation, until Issy suddenly said "I guess we don't have any secrets from each other now." "I guess not." Nico replied uneasily, thinking of the conversation he'd had with Mark just before they'd left...

"So, are you and Issy going out then?" "No! We're just friends." "Really." "Yes. Stop smirking. Stop it! Me and Issy... it's not like that, OK?" "Whatever you say."