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“Okay, so hear me out,” MG tells her that night. They’re on the back porch steps, and she’d brewed herself some tea—she’d made some for MG, too, just for the feeling of company. “I think… someone is into me.”

“Did Alyssa call you again?” she asks. “I thought you two were done for good this time.” He shakes his head no. “Is it… you and Lizzie? Finally?” Please, just get to it already, she thinks. Lizzie moping around and acting like MG never liked her in the first place is the opposite of what Josie wants to experience when she heads home, so.

“Definitely not Alyssa,” MG tells her. “Pretty sure she blocked my number and, like, my reflection? And, um…” he hesitates. “Pretty sure the ship has sailed with Lizzie. A long time ago, if I’m being completely honest with myself.”

Oh. If she’s being real, Josie didn’t know if MG would get over Lizzie, like, ever. “Well, I didn’t want to say that,” Josie says, shifting in her seat and passing her mug to her other hand. “She does like you, you know.” Doesn’t say that she doesn’t really buy Lizzie’s whole he’s too good for me thing, at least not quite—when Lizzie likes someone, she’s ready to shout it from the rooftops. And as much as Josie loves her, she doesn’t know if she’d want her to be with someone she had seen as a distant backup option up until recently. She loves Lizzie, but MG’s her friend, too.

“I know,” MG answers. “Just not…” He holds up a hand. “Sorry. I mean, not to talk down on Lizzie or anything, but I’m just… kind of sick of being a backup option. I love her for life, and she’s one of the best people I know, but I want someone to choose me first, you know? And recent events have proved that… that’s not our dynamic.”

“I get it,” she says. Josie thinks about Hope and the hole in the back of her mind last summer, of how scared she’d been when she’d found Landon that day on the dock—a world without Hope and Rafael wasn’t one he saw much left in. She hadn’t known it then, but there was no possible ending to that story where someone picked her. So Josie does get it, the whole first choice thing. “That’s kind of why I liked Penelope so much, even if things between us got… twisted, at the end there. It felt good when she cared about me. More than I cared about myself, most of the time.”

“She was crazy into you,” MG agrees. “Questionable morals and all that, but definitely into you.” Josie laughs at the memory, and he laughs with her. She hadn’t thought about his friendship with Penelope in a while, past that one night she’d seen them together in the kitchen. But they’d been close-ish—no matter how many times Penelope had gotten MG involved in some messed-up scheme to try and throw her and Josie back together while simultaneously driving him and Lizzie apart.

“So,” Josie attempts again. “Mystery someone. Is this you asking for rejection help, or…” MG doesn’t respond, staring out into the backyard.

“You ever like someone you’re not totally supposed to?” he asks suddenly. Josie freezes up: auburn hair, a love note, a fire… A middle-school crush. That’s all it had been, really.

“Sure,” she says. “Hasn’t everyone?”

“Not, like…” MG sighs, still caught-up looking for the right words. “What was it like? You know, the first time around?”

“The first time I had a crush?”

“The first time you had a crush on a girl,” he clarifies.

“Oh,” Josie says. “Um. Well.”

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” he interjects, gently nudging her hand with his on the stair. “Like, it’s cool if it’s personal.”

“No,” she responds, “no, it’s fine, just.” What was it like? Hope had been pretty and closed-off and mysterious. She was an exceptional artist—still is, that hasn’t changed—and her silence had only intrigued Josie further. “It was pretty small looking back, but at the time it was a lot—it was on my mind all the time. It was kind of overwhelming sometimes, how much I liked her. And I still kind of…” Josie hesitates. She likes Finch a lot—she hadn’t been lying when she told her that. “I don’t know. I don’t think it ever really leaves you.”

MG nods thoughtfully. Even though they’ve had their friendship missteps, he’s always been a good listener, and he’s always wanted to hear what she has to say. When Josie hadn’t felt heard by anyone, he’d been there, and she appreciates it still. “Look, Jo,” he starts, “there’s this guy…”

“Ethan?” Josie guesses. He pauses. “Oh, sorry. You do spend all your free time with him, so.”

“I’m not, like… obvious or anything, right?”

“No, no,” she assures him. He sort of is, but it’s probably best not to tell him that. “Um, he totally is, though.” Also true.

“It’s only been a couple weeks, so it’s not like, that serious or anything,” he says. “But I don’t know. We just clicked really easily. And it’s been a long time since I felt, like... good about that.”

“So you’re conflicted because he’s a guy, or…”

He shakes his head. “It’s more the human part I’m stuck on. Like, maybe back home I would be concerned about that, sure, but I’m a vampire now, Jo. Being into some guy in my history class is like, the last thing I should be worrying about.”

“Yeah,” Josie says. She’s only hung out with Finch a few times, and everything between them is still up in the air, but she gets the distant sort of longing for a more normal life—one that’s not mixed up in supernatural drama. The difference between her and MG, she thinks, is that Ethan isn’t really an escape from that side of himself.

Josie’s not stupid; she can tell he didn’t compel him when he was supposed to—MG’s being honest with him, at least to some degree, and maybe if Josie could just be like that with Finch she really would get it, but that feels like a recipe for disaster. Finch is nice, but “nice” doesn’t necessarily mean “ready to date a witch who went dark and tried to kill her sister a couple months ago”, and Josie’s not that eager to tell her about it. So far, Finch has been handing out second chances whenever she freaks out—and she’d probably be a lot less inclined to if she knew about Josie’s past.

Or not, she thinks, but is it really worth the risk to find out? She likes the bubble they have—even if she knows deep down it’s not completely real—and too sharp of a move would pop it instantly.

And even more risky, another part of her, deeper down, reminds her that she does have options who knows the real her; that she’s just too scared to explore them. For better or for worse, the closest she’d come to confronting her true self lately was in the afternoon she spent in the cemetery with… well.

Thinking of those feelings she doesn’t feel like talking about makes her think of her break, and thinking of that period makes her think of MG, again—the same MG who’d tried to bring out the caring side of her all-black closed-off persona, who’d even offered her a gift before she had tried to siphon him into oblivion in return. It’s true that Hope is probably the person who best understands every part of Josie—she had taken a literal trip through her mind, after all, and that’s hard to beat—but MG had seen the good in her when she was at rock bottom, too. She feels terrible that the dissolution of their friendship has made that fade to the back of her memory. “Listen, I’m sorry I almost…” she doesn’t know how to phrase it without downplaying it, but also without making him relive it. “You know. When I wasn’t myself.”

“Almost killed me?” MG asks, and she tries not to cringe at how bluntly he puts it. “I know.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever formally apologized to you directly, but I never actually wanted to hurt you or anything. You’re a really great guy, MG. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make it up to you.”

“I know, Jo,” he says. “I forgive you, if that makes you feel any better. I know you don’t actually want to hurt me.”

“I still feel bad about it,” she continues. “And…” Josie still hasn’t said it to herself yet, so there’s no way she could say it to MG, but she knows what the tug in her chest means: You weren’t possessed. That was all you. Your deepest, darkest, repressed you, drawn out by dark magic, but you nonetheless. “Yeah.”

“You can’t beat yourself up over it forever,” MG says. “And I’d be kind of a hypocrite if I held your screw-ups against you.”

“I don’t know. Honestly, I think you had a point with the Ascendant,” Josie tells him. She remembers waiting with Hope for nightfall; how the coin had looked between her fingers. Hope believed in Josie more than anyone, really—Landon and Lizzie had never really understood how all the parts of Josie were really her, her dark self and her regular self both being pieces of a whole and not the result of some preventable infection of evil; had believed it was something she had to overcome. Hope had seen the good in her at her worst and given her the strength to take control of it on her own—it’s part of why it had hurt so badly to hear her echo those words back just to try and get Josie involved in her carelessly dangerous plan.

Thinking about Hope for too long feels like holding her hand to a flame, and not in the way that Josie usually likes playing with fire, so she changes the subject back: “To be completely honest, as Lizzie’s sister, I’m tempted to discourage you,” she says, “but more importantly, as your friend, I want what’s actually good for you. And… you deserve to be first choice, MG.”

“Thanks, Jo,” he says, then, “hey, come here,” and wraps her in a hug. Josie sighs, burying her face in his jacket—it really has been kind of lonely being away from home.

“Thank you,” she responds. “It’s really nice to just sit and talk to a friend.” A moment of silence, then: “You think you’re gonna go for it?”

He pulls away; shrugs. “Maybe,” he says. “I don’t know. I could, I guess.”

“Well, keep me updated, ‘kay?” MG smiles at her, and Josie feels warm in her chest—she just wants him to be happy. She’d missed their friendship, when they sort of grew apart. And for the first time in a good while, Josie feels—content, with what she has. Kind of relaxed. Love life aside, and whatever her subconscious has been continuously trying to argue with her about on a day-to-day basis, she has been living a normal, human life. And it’s been good.

“I’m going to brew some more tea,” she tells MG, and he nods. Something in his eyes makes Josie feel she can make it through another day of honors chemistry and US history and not completely explode—like he believes in her.

It’s nice to be believed in. She hopes the feeling never goes away.