I wished I had Delilah’s confidence. One look into Flame’s defiant face and it felt as though questioning her would a pointless exercise in frustration. All I could sense from her was contempt. Flame’s anger was like a brick wall. She clearly hadn’t forgiven me for stealing from her. To make matters worse, that was only part of the problem. Flame had never liked me. I had always gotten a sense of contempt from her. She wasn’t going to give up anything. The idea of trying to get anything useful out of her just made me feel tired.
“Delilah, can I talk to you out in the hall?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
She looked so pleased, I didn’t want to disappoint her. It couldn’t be helped though. Wordlessly, I lead the way out into the hallway. Better to let her down easy than let her keep her hopes up. Working with me would only frustrate her.
“Delilah, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here but Flame is never going to give up anything useful. You heard what she said. I…have to tell you something. I took…I stole her driver’s license and I stole things from Plum.”
“Is that why you look so defeated? Listen, I may not know you but I saw and sensed enough during our connection to know that you wouldn’t have done those things unless you felt that you had to.”
“She hates me. How can I get past all that anger and resentment? She’s determined not to tell me anything. I don’t know what I’m doing anyway.”
“That’s why I’m here. You said you wanted to learn how to use your abilities. Well, this is your first lesson.”
“Can’t we do this in the morning? I’m still kind of tired. I’ll feel stronger after a few hours of sleep.”
“Something tells me your attitude won’t be any better in the morning. Here I am willing to take time out of my busy night to help and you won’t even try. You’ve got to be about the most ungrateful…”
“I didn’t mean to seem ungrateful Delilah. I appreciate what you’re doing for me. I really do. More than you know. I just don’t want to disappoint you.”
“The only way you could do that is to give up. If you believe that you can’t do something then you won’t be able to do it. I don’t care how angry Flame gets. She’s still only human. You’re looking at this the wrong way. Strong emotions actually make her more vulnerable.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it Patricia. How clearly do you think when you’re in the grip of a strong emotion like anger? How many reckless decisions have you made because you were pissed off at the time?”
“I see what you mean.”
“Good, now let’s get back on track. I am going to start you off with a simple technique called skimming. Think of her anger like the fire under a pot of stock. It causes scum to rise to the top which you skim off.”
“You just lost me.”
“I’m saying that in her vulnerable state, even the seemingly meaningless things she blurts out have value because they keep her talking. Focus on the emotions simmering beneath the surface and you get to the truth. Look into her eyes and stop getting psyched out by her facial expressions. She’s using them to bluff. Now come on, let’s get back in there before she cools off.”
I reluctantly followed her back into the room and avoided looking in Flame’s direction. Instead, I busied myself helping Delilah drag a couple of chairs across the room. We sat down in front of Flame and I had to force myself to meet her gaze. The amused look on her face was unexpected. Had she heard what I’d just said out in the hallway? What else would make her smirk like that? I was mortified.
Delilah cleared her throat expectantly and all I could think about was how badly I wanted the ground beneath our feet to open up and swallow me whole. Flame started to chuckle and I felt myself shrink inside. The same helpless sensation swept over me that drowned my resolve whenever someone bullied me. I almost heaved a sigh of relief when Delilah finally spoke up.
“Seeing as how my friend appears to be distracted at the moment, why don’t I get the ball rolling? We want some information from you Flame. The quicker you tell us what we want to know, the sooner this whole ordeal will be over. Tell me something. Is Flame your real name,”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Weren’t you paying attention just now? I’m Patricia’s friend. What’s your name?”
Flame smirked in preparation for some sarcastic remark. I suddenly realized that I knew the answer and blurted it out. It was gratifying to see the startled look flash across her face. It showed me that she wasn’t completely impassive. Delilah chuckled.
“Very good Patricia, did you feel her surprise?”
“Hey, you know what? I did feel it.”
“So, you were able to skim it off.”
Flame snorted derisively, “Big deal, so I was a little surprised. So what? I forgot this little thief stole my driver’s license that’s all. You act like she just pulled a rabbit out of a hat.”
Flame’s angry gaze had shot back to me when she said the word thief, between clenched teeth. I felt an involuntary twinge of guilt and suddenly couldn’t maintain eye contact. Flame’s laughter was contemptuous.
“See? I can play the game too. I don’t need to be an empath to read people.”
It was my turn to be startled, “How did you know…”
“That you were an empath? Plum told me. She had big plans for you in the beginning. ‘Course that was before you turned out to be a marshmallow. I must say, it caught us both off guard to discover that you were a thief as well. But then again, most cowards are untrustworthy.”
Her words stung. They upset me so much, I couldn’t figure out if I was hurt by the fact that Plum had written me off as a loser or that Flame was calling me out as a coward. My heart sank as I realized that everything Flame said was true. I didn’t want to ask anymore questions but I needed to know the whole story.
“So, the night that she confronted Amanda in front of me?”
“Was a test that you failed miserably.”
“Did she kill her?”
“You haven’t earned the right to know the answer to that.”
“Fair enough, I don’t think I want to know anyway. What was the point if sending me out with Yul then?”
Delilah sighed heavily, “I hate to interrupt this little trip down memory lane, but we’ve got more important matters to discuss.”
I stared blankly at Delilah, “Like what.”
“How about whether or not Plum is a witch? Ah, did you feel Flame’s spike of fear Patricia? That answers that question. Now, let’s really dig into her.”