Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Goat's Transformation


Sometimes a person comes across a moment in time that makes her stop and contemplate the life choices that got her where she is. I’m in the midst of such a moment myself walking across a field as I try to figure out how the heck one gets a goat out of an abandoned vehicle.

The only real choice I made, though, was in not complaining when my mom got custody of me after she divorced my dad ten years ago. I was only seven and Dad had spent at least half my life on business trips, so it seemed like the right call at the time. But then Mom met Hailey at a Bi-Pride event.

I was happy. Mom had been alone for years, and her finding love again seemed like something she really deserved. And they’ve always been super-cute together. I just wish that maybe Hailey was a little less… Hailey. Less the type of woman who thinks quitting her legal firm and moving to a farm in the middle of nowhere to raise goats is ever a good idea.

My first instinct when they told me about The Farm Plan was to call Dad and ask if I could live with him. I never actually asked though, because his wife answered the phone. I like her and could imagine happily living in her house, except for the fact that the house is filled with half-siblings. Or… Okay, “filled” is an overstatement. But there are three or them and they’re all under the age of five. As they all yelled in the background of the phone call, I realized I’d be better off spending my senior year of high school with the goats.

So I guess that was a second choice, but it was really just a repeat of the first one.

And, technically, I did chose to do as I was told when Mom told me to go fetch Lyle. Lyle’s the goat. He’s the big troublemaker in the herd, to the point that whenever something goes wrong we all claim it was Lyle’s fault, even when that something is it raining on a day we wanted to grill on or a traffic jam holding us up on the way home from a farmer’s market. But I kinda like Lyle, and he certainly seems to like me more than Mom and Hailey. The first time I spent the afternoon cleaning the barn, I saw him trying to dance to the Ramones. It was pretty much the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, so how could I not be charmed? Since then, I’ve given him a little more than his fair share of treats, so it’s no wonder the feeling is now mutual.

The goats all have trackers in their collars, so it wasn’t hard to find Lyle. And once I realized which field he was in, it really didn’t come as a surprise that he’d climbed into the rusty engine-less truck. I’ve never liked the truck, but the estimates for removing it were unexpectedly high and Hailey says it adds a certain je-ne-sais-que to our land. Sometimes I worry Hailey’s a little bit insane, but at least she’s insane in a mostly harmless way.

Lyle watches me as I approach the truck. He sits in the front seat peering out of the driver’s side window like he’s contemplating abandoning the farm and becoming a cab driver.

“Really, Lyle?” I ask. “Where do you think you’re goin?”

“Ideally?” he answers in an upper-class English accent. “London.”

My lips separate as I stare, desperately trying to come to terms with the fact that not only did a goat just speak to me, but told me he wants to go to the United Kingdom.

“The city in England,” he adds. “Not the town in Connecticut.”

“I figured,” I say dimly. Hailey’s sanity is clearly not the sanity I should have been worrying about. It would appear mine’s gone on vacation. “Besides, I think the one in Connecticut is called New London.”

“Ah, yes. You’re right.” He nods. “But either way, it wouldn’t be the London I need to get to.”

“Clearly,” I agree. Because if you’re going to lose your mind, you might as well do so agreeably. That’s what kept Alice going in Wonderland, wasn’t it? “But why do you need to go to London?”

“Because I live in London.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I’m not really a goat.”

I move my eyes slowly over him, noting the hooves and the horns and the fur. “You look like a goat.”

“Obviously,” he snaps. “But that doesn’t mean I am one.”

Okay… “So what are you, then? A were-goat?”

“Were-goat?” He shakes his goat-shaped head. “You yanks and your obsession with shapeshifters. No, I am not a were-goat. I am a wizard who was cursed into the form of a goat while on holiday.”

“Why?”

He narrows his beady goat eyes at me. “Not that it’s any of your business, but there was a misunderstanding wherein my girlfriend became erroneously convinced that I was cheating on her, at which point she cast a transformation spell.”

“Oh. When?”

His sigh is deep, moving his whole body. “I don’t know. I actually think I’m a goat most of the time, and goats are not very good at keeping track of time. It was before you arrived, though.”

My eyes widen. “Yikes. So at least three months.”

He nods. “Yes. And it had been some time before that, so most likely I’ve lost at least half a year.” He leans against the window ledge, looking as miserable as a goat could possibly look. “And the worst part is that when I leave this truck, I may go back to believing I’m a goat again.”

“Why?” I look down the length of the truck. It’s old and rusty and barely holding itself together. “Is there something special about the truck?”

“Not really. Or not about this specific one. Anything with sufficient amounts of metal would work. It disrupts the magic, you see. Modern cars have too much plastic, though.”

“I see,” I claim, even though I don’t really. “So we need to figure out how to get you to England without you leaving the truck? But you can’t teleport because the truck disrupts magic.”

“That and because teleportation of living creatures is impossible.” He pauses. “Or it is if you want them to remain living, at any rate.”

“Well, I assume you want to arrive alive…” I frown. “And you can’t break the spell yourself, or you would have already.”

“Indeed.” He shifts, his nose sniffing at the air. “Did you know that goats are always hungry?”

“I suspected. I mean, they’re always eating…” I remember stuffing a granola bar into my jacket pocket. Taking it out, I unwrap it and offer it to Lyle.

“Thank you,” he says before inhaling it.

“Is your name really Lyle?”

“No. It’s Neville.”

“Like Neville Longbottom?” I blurt.

The glare I receive makes me realize why some people think the Devil is a goat. “You do not want to get me started on the subject of Harry Potter and the completely disrespectful approach to magic that horrid series takes.” He snorts. “And quidditch. Absolutely ridiculous. She took airball, put people on brooms rather than having them levitate like reasonable human beings, and then added something that when caught gives you fifty points. Fifty! In a game where three-four would be considered a high scoring match!”

“I did always wonder about the snitch,” I admit. “It seems unbalanced.”

“Exactly!”

We pause for a breath before moving on.

Neville tilts his head at me. “Have you ever tried to cast a spell?”

“Of course.” I smile. “What little kid doesn’t. I used to grab a stick and run around the playground yelling all sorts of spells at things.”

“That was play,” he says with an eye roll. “Have you given it a serious effort? And have you done it recently? Having magical abilities before puberty is nearly unheard of.”

“Oh. Then, no.” On the edge of the field is a section of trees. “Should I grab something to use as a wand?”

Neville’s eyes close as he takes a breath. “No. That’s not really something people do.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No reason you should,” he tells me as opens his eyes again. “You have the aurora of a wizard about you, so I think it’s worth trying. Untrained, you probably can’t manage more than one casting a day, so we’re not going to experiment. I’m going to climb out of this vehicle. Then I need you to grab hold of me and think really hard about turning me back to my real form. Imagine it in as much detail as you can.”

“But I don’t know what you look like.”

“You’re not casting a transformation; you’re uncasting one. So don’t think about what I look like. Just think about me shedding my goat body and revealing the truth.”

That sounds a little less daunting, and I nod to show my understanding. “Alright. I’ll try. Do you want me to put you back in the truck if that doesn’t work?”

“If you can, then yes, please.” He takes a deep breath. Then another. And then he leaps through the window.

He takes a few steps, looking a little confused, then stops to regard me with a hopeful expression before bleating in the tone goats use to ask for treats. Guess that means he’s back to being goat-brained.

Slowly, so as not to startle him into running off, I get on my knees and wrap my arms around his neck. “Neville,” I whisper. “Be Neville.”

Lyle bleats uncomfortably and wiggles in an attempt to free himself. I hold tight though, turning my imagination into reaching inside the goat and trying to touch the heart of his essence. Against expectation, I feel a tingle along my skin.

“Be Neville,” I repeat, envisioning Lyle breaking open to release the human trapped in his form. The image is gorier than I anticipated, but I hold onto it as the tingly intensifies, growing first warm and then hot. I imagine the heat leaving me to wrap itself around Lyle and melt away his shape.

“Be Neville,” I say a third time.

The universe cracks.

Lyle expands and contracts, then finally settles into the form of a man standing on all fours.

“Neville?” I whisper.

He turns his head to give me a remarkably Lyle-esque look of exasperation. “Of course it’s Neville. Who else would I be?”

Laughing, I let go of him and fall back onto my rear in the grass. “And I really just did magic?”

His gaze softens a little. “You really did. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I smile at him for a moment. And then I realize he’s completely naked. “Clothes,” I squeak. “You need clothes.”

“Oh.” He looks down at himself as though he can’t feel the air on his skin. “So I do.”

He stands up and I put all my energy into staring at his feet. Between one breath and the next, a pair of jeans appears and some canvas sneakers appear, at which point I allow myself to look up.

Neville is younger than I expected, probably on the same side of twenty as I am. He has soft brown hair that flops over hazel eyes, a pair of copper rimmed glasses, and a t-shirt featuring the cover of the Clash album London Calling. I wonder at the shirt…

Maybe I should leave it be, but I have to ask. “Are you wearing that because you like the Clash or because Lyle’s heard me playing classic punk tunes often enough for you to know that I like the Clash?”

He laughs and holds down a hand to help me up. “I own all of their albums on vinyl.”

“Really?”

His head cocks roguishly to the side. “The albums are in my room if you wish to verify their existence.”

Laughing, I shake my head. “I’m starting to see how you wound up as a goat.”

Without comment, Neville starts to stroll across the field with all the confidence of someone in a familiar park. I trot to catch up. “So… Am I a wizard?”

“Gods no!” He catches my look of disappointment at the outburst. “I mean, it takes more than talent. It also takes training.”

“Does it?” I ask. “Because no one trained me to break that curse.”

“Breaking a spell is easier than creating one, same way breaking a vase is easier than blowing the glass.”

“Oh…”

We walk on for a few paces. “I could recommend you to my school,” he says. “As a first year, I shouldn’t have much say, but my grandfather is in charge to the place, so…”

I blink. “Schools of magic are real things?”

“Oh, yes. There are several in the United Kingdom, actually. My school, Hyde College, was opened by the first Queen Elizabeth and a fellow named John Dee.”

“That’s cool. I don’t think I could afford to go to college in England though.” I don’t have any idea how much a school of magic in another country costs, but my guess is that it’s considerably more than the public university I was expecting to end up at.

“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Neville tells me. “My family is quite wealthy and I fully expect my parents would be more than happy to cover your tuition in exchange for rescuing their baby boy.”

I blink. “Seriously?”

He nods. “Oh, yes.”

“Well, damn, Neville…”

“One thing though.” He turns to look down at me, the greens and browns seeming to dance in his eyes like flames. “I despise being called Neville. My mum’s the only one who uses that name. Everyone else calls me Nix.”

“Okay… Nix it is.”

I smile up at Nix, who grins down at me. My stomach gives a little twist as my heart assures me that, no, it wouldn’t be crazy to follow a boy across an ocean and study magic. Not crazy at all.

Above photo is by Irit Elazar Cohen and prints can be found in her Etsy shop.
It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

Monday, February 11, 2019

She Came from Space


I guess the developer assumed I’d stay where I was and wait for the alien to come to me from where she has inexplicably parked in the surf, because as soon as I step onto the bridge of rock leading the the mid-twentieth century idea of a spaceship, I sink straight into it. So far, the preview of this erotic fantasy sim isn’t impresing me. I’m not really here to be impressed though. I’m not really much into sex sims in general and alien fantasies even less. Call me a prude, but I like my partners to be from my species.

My silky robe slides off my shoulder, causing me to sigh and pull it back up again. Oddly enough, it’s pooling on the rock like the program thinks I’m sitting on the thing. I shake my head at the obvious cheapness of the coding; was it done by high schoolers or just people too incompetent to be paid decently?

The program didn’t offer any attire options beyond male or female. I chose female to reflect my real-world body, but here I’m a tall and slender blond with unusually large breasts and an apparent tendency to wander the outdoors in lingerie rather than a short and plump hispanic girl with the sense to dress herself properly.

While I wait for the alien to appear like Janet insisted I needed to do when she sent me the download link for this silly thing, I look at the ocean. It’s not flowing quite right and the waves in the soundtrack aren’t anywhere close to synced with the video. I can’t smell a thing and there’s not even a hint of a sea breeze on my skin. The developers couldn’t even find a decent stock beach setting?

Words appear in the air between me and the spaceship. “She Came from Space, Then Came on Earth.” Good lord. My eyes roll so hard it almost hurts.

Cheesy elevator music begins to play and a door appears on the closest side of the spacecraft. With luck, a ridiculous alien will appear soon and I’ll be able to tell Janet I stayed long enough to see the silly thing. The demo will undoubtedly cut off before she does anything terribly interesting anyway, so I may as well leave as soon as she shows up.

A walkway glides from the still closed door down to the rocky outcropping with all the rush of an exhausted snail. I walk toward it, hoping to somehow move things along faster by doing so. My body continues to be bisected by the ground, but at least the place is badly programmed enough for there not to be any sensation from that.

The door finally begins to open, sliding up from the bottom with glacial slowness. A pair of shiny silver boots appear. Their three inch stiletto heels are all the rage off planet, I’m sure.

I stop trying to approach the craft and just wait as the door goes up. The boots reach nearly to the alien’s knees, ending with a swath of light green skin. A moment later, I see the hem of a silver miniskirt. This could take a while.

As the door continues to creep up, I open a window to check my messages. There aren’t any new ones, so I move on to the weather. Looks like there’s snow in the near future. When a glance up shows that the door has made it up to the alien’s overly abundant boobs, which are clad a tight silver spandex, I pull up the news headlines. Apparently the President is still an idiot, Congress is still inept, and people are starting to think about the start of baseball season already.

My eyes flick back to the alien to see if she’s been fully revealed yet. Not only has the door opened, but the alien has taken several steps down the walkway toward me. Holy shit.

“Stop program!” I yell. “Exit!”

The artificial world falls away, leaving me on my bed. I yank my immersion helmet off as command my house management program to call Janet.

Sitting up, I wait for Janet to answer. When she appears on my monitor, she takes one look at me and skips saying hi in favor of blurting, “You saw it?”

“I saw it,” I growl back. “What the hell is my doppleganger doing in a low budget porno?”

Technically, the alien hadn’t been an exact copy of me. Her chest was at least twice the size of mine and her waist was smaller. And, of course, her skin was green rather than my light brown. But the face was identical.

“I’m not sure,” Janet says. “But my money’s on Craig. He’s still really pissed about your break up and Joe says this thing is all over their dorm.”

“Oh, god.” I lean forward, my stomach quaking with nausea. “I’m going to be sick.”

“The host said they would take down, but you had to be the one to complain.”

“Ok…” I nod to myself. I can do that. “Then what? They’ll arrest him?”

She gives me a pitying look. “That’s beyond the scope of Your Fantasies Online, babe. That’s more police or FBI territory. But I asked my brother, AKA Super Cop, and he doesn’t think you’d get an arrest because the level of proof you need that he was being malicious is so high.”

“You asked Thomas?” I squeak. “About me being in porn sim?”

“Well… Yeah.” Her breath catches. “Don’t tell me you’re still crushing on him. I thought you got over that already.”

I moan. “This just keeps getting worse.”

“It’s clearly against student guidelines, though,” Janet changes subject to state. “I bet we can get Craig expelled.”

“Assuming we can prove it’s him,” I grumble. “But first, I need to contact the hosting site. I’ll call you back.”

~*~

Hours later, Janet and I peer at my video screen as we try to figure out the data tags embedded in the sim program. All of it’s above my comprehension level and I quickly realize I’m going to have to call someone else in. Unfortunately, the only someone I can think of is Nina, the girl I dated my senior year of high school. But she virtually breathes computer code, already knows lots of embarrassing stuff about me, and has seen me naked before, so she’s a better choice than anyone else I know. And we parted on good terms, only breaking up three years ago because I chose to go to college close to home and she elected to attend Caltech.

Nina whistles when I call her up on video and tell her the story. “Wow. You’ve got great taste in women, but crappy taste in men.”

“Yeah, you may be right. I certainly can’t think of anyone to hold up as a contrary example.” To either half. The men I’ve dated have all turned out to be jerks. And the women… Nina’s the only one, but she’s the smartest person I’ve ever known and claiming she’s hot as hell would be underselling her. I never figured out how I managed to win her after crushing on her since middle school, so it wasn’t too bad a shock when I lost her, but she did spoil me. Now every woman I meet gets compared to her, and while she wasn’t perfect, she was close enough that no one ever does well in the comparison. Somehow it’s easier with men to ignore the obvious fact that they aren’t Nina. Of course, I’m not going to get into any of that out loud. “But you’ll help me?” I ask.

She smiles, renewing my belief that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. “Always. Send me the file.”

~*~

The next morning, I wake to a notification of an incoming video call from Nina. A glance at the clock shows that it’s ten thirty, which is earlier than I usually wake up on a weekend but later than she ever sleeps. Quickly, I rake my fingers through my hair in a weak attempt at becoming presentable while I drag myself from bed and move to in front of the screen. With a deep breath, I press the screen to accept the call.

Nina’s smile widens to a grin when she sees me. “Sorry,” she says. “I forgot you like to sleep all day.”

I grunt. “And I forgot you were a morning person.”

“It’s nearly lunch.”

“Only if you’re a freak, Neens.”

She laughs, the sound sending a completely inappropriate tingle through me. I always did love her laugh. “I sent you an email with information you need to show your dean highlighted. So hopefully that will work.” She pauses. “And there’s something else, but I can call back later.”

“Something else?”

Her face looks uncertain all of a sudden. “It can wait.”

I shake my head. “No. I’m up already. What is it?” My mind rushes to guess what it could be. “Does he have a channel full of pornographic versions of me?”

“No. Um…” Her tongue is visible for just an instant as it touches her lips, bringing up memories of what she tasted like. Dammit. This is why I stopped talking to her after we broke up; keeping my thoughts chaste is just too much of a struggle. “I’m graduating early. At the end of the semester.”

“Seriously?” I stare at her. “You went to a harder school than I did and you’re graduating before me?”

She shrugs. “I was in a hurry.”

“Why?”

Her eyes stay on me as she answers. “I never belonged in California. There’s not enough rain here.”

Our gazes remain locked together as I consider the words. They’re innocent enough, but either there’s a subtext to them or I’m just a hopeless optimist. “Maybe you should come back north then. Washington still has plenty.”

“I think I may.”

~*~

Two months later, I sit in a pub near the edge of campus and nurse a cider while I try to stay calm. Nina should be here soon. She’s in town for an interview, a fact I’m still having trouble believing. If she was trying to get a job in Seattle, I would have put that down to it being the obvious choice for a recent tech grad wanting a job in the Pacific Northwest. But my town’s a lot smaller than Seattle, small enough that you don’t find a job listing for here unless you were specifically looking for one.

The door opens and I look over to see her coming in from the drizzle outside. I stand as she enters, my hands moving to smooth down my deep burgundy tunic as I give her a cautious smile.

“Mariana,” she says, my name sounding like that of a goddess when she says it.

“Nina,” I respond.

We look at each other for a few heartbeats before we start to laugh. Tension broken, we embrace and Nina claims the stool next to mine. She orders an IPA from the bartender, then has to drag her ID out of her wallet before he’ll go get it.

While we wait for her drink, I look down at mine. My nerves are returning and I’d like to take a sip, but that seems like it would be rude. “So… How did the interview go?”

“Really well. They offered me the job right then and there.”

“Wow.” I watch as the bartender returns with Nina’s ale. She picks it up as soon as he’s left and takes a sip. “Are you going to take it?’

She lowers the drink slowly. “That depends.”

“On what?”

Turning her head, she studies my response as she says, “On you.”

“Me?” I move my hand away from my glass, afraid my suddenly trembling will make me spill the liquid in it. “What do you mean?”

She takes another drink before she answers, looking like she’s thinking. “I don’t exactly regret going to Caltech. But if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t leave you.”

Deep inside me, a wound I’d forgotten I had begins to bleed anew. “But you did leave.”

“Yeah…” She turns her head to look at me, her deep brown eyes full of emotion. “And now I want to come back. If there’s even the slightest chance of you letting me in your life again, then I want to be here.”

“I…” My breath leaves me and turn on the stool to just sort of gape at her. “You want to get back together?”

She nods. “Yeah, I do. I never stopped loving you. I don’t think I ever will.”

Part of me wants to tell her that’s her tough luck, that I left her in the past and don’t want her in my present. But I’d be lying. “I love you, too,” I admit.

“But..?” Her whole body moves to face mine.

I shake my head. “No but.”

“Really?” she asks, her eyes begging me not to dash her hopes.

“Yeah.” I take a second to grin at her, then lean in for a kiss. It’s sweet, but with the promise of things not remotely innocent. And it brings with it a sense of quiet rightness that I’ve never found with anyone else, like this is the one person in the world I’m supposed to be kissing.

When we pull apart, we’re both smiling. Then a thought strikes me and makes me laugh. At Nina’s curious expression, I ask, “Would you have called me up if I hadn’t contacted you first?”

“Eventually… Maybe. It might have taken a while to think up a good excuse.”

I laugh again. “Then we should send Craig a thank you note for hurrying things along.”

The most beautiful woman in the world shakes her head at me even as she beams with happiness. “As long as you’re not planning to invite him to our wedding.”

“Wedding?” I snort. “I agreed to date you woman, don’t go thinking it will be so easy to get me to marry you. You’ll have to work for that.”

But I think we both know that, eventually, I will.


The above image is a creative commons offering from Pixabay.
It was provided as a prompt to my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Tale of Two Enchanters


It’s like the silly twit doesn’t even see the dragon! I suppose she’s too busy staring up at Dearian’s golden eyes like she’s forgotten she’s in the middle of a festival and is trying to decide whether to rip his or her own clothes off first.

Dearian brings the Choosing Chalice up to his face, holding it before his lips but not drinking as he pillages its giver’s soul with his gaze. If he drinks, he accepts her offer of marriage. There’s no way he’s going to, even if the white feather in his burgundy cap does indicate that he’s open to proposals.

At the couple’s feet, Dearian’s miniature dragon looks up at his master, probably hoping the chalice is full of cheese that’s about to be dropped. I’ve never seen a dragon more found of cheese than Triscuit. He whines softly, but the silly woman trying to romance the Brytheman College School of Enchantment’s biggest cad still doesn’t notice him. Dearian must be using Tris’s magic to keep this lady’s mind muddled, because even he is not attractive enough to warrant this level of concentrated absorption. If she looked down for half a second, she might realize Tris’s scales are the exact same color as Dearian’s eyes, and if she had half a brain that would tell her Dearian’s an enchanter. Or maybe she knows that already and just doesn’t realize he’s enchanting her.

“Are you sure?” Dearian asks as I draw near. If he has any idea I’m around, he doesn’t show it.

“Yes,” the woman responds, voice all breathy and full of worship.

“Do you love me?”

“Of course.”

There’s really only so much of this nonsense I can stomach. “No you don’t,” I tell her. I gather my own familiar’s power and use it to disrupt the spell the woman’s trapped in. “Go away.”

She blinks I confusion, looking around like she’s not sure how she came to be at the festival. “Who are you?” she asks Dearian. Pulling the chalice in, she stares at it. “Why do I…” She gasps. “Saren! I have to find Saren!”

Dearian doesn’t try to stop the woman as she gathers her expensive-looking robes together and rushes off into the crowd. He pouts at me instead. My traitorous hormones can’t help but point out the forest-inspired greens he’s wearing really set off his coloring, but I try to counter them by telling myself he looks like a tree, except with the brown bits where the green should be and vice versa.

“Why are you always ruining my fun?” he asks.

“Fun?” I snort. “I don’t think she was having fun.”

On the ground, my azure dragon, Rhea, gives Triscuit a nose bump. Dearian and I may not mesh, but our familiars are the best of friends. Go figure.

“I wasn’t going to hurt her,” Dearian scoffs. “I was just going to ask for a token of her affection, preferably one that would get me a good deal with a pawnbroker. Some of us have to worry about where our tuition’s coming from, you know.”

I shake my head. “And if she’d offered something less concrete, that would be alright too?”

“Like what?” he asks flippantly. “Her virtue? I don’t think she has any, but if she does, I wouldn’t take it. I’m not completely without morals, Lys.”

And, honestly, he flirts with anyone capable of flirtation and leaves broken hearts scattered in his wake wherever he goes, but I’ve never known him to do worse than part his admirers from small amounts of cash. He doesn’t even lead them on for terribly long before cutting them loose. “All I know is that if you pulled something like that with me, you wouldn’t live long enough to do it to anyone else.”

“Ah.” He gives his head a cocky jerk that makes the feather in his cap bob. “But I wouldn’t do to that you.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” I agree with ready confidence. “Because if I ever come at you with a Choosing Chalice, it will be because I’m about to clobber you over the head with it.”

His shoulders slump a little as he shakes his head, but his voice stays as arrogant as always as he tells me, “One day, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you’re in love with me.”

“I’ll put it down in my agenda. How does noon on Thursday the sixteenth of Never sound?”

“That soon?” He winks. “I’ll be anxiously awaiting your call.”

Before I can come up with a rejoinder, Dearian gives Triscuit’s leash a tug and disappears into the crowd. Damnit. He always gets the last word, and it drives me nuts. All the more so because he was right when he accused me of being in love with him.

Sensing my mood, Rhea jumps into the air, beats her gorgeous blue wings twice, and lands on my shoulder. She snuggles her snout against my cheek while I reach up to rub the spot on the top of her head that makes her purr. I was surprised when first paired with her to learn that dragons can purr and hearing it always gives me a little jolt of happiness.

“I’m just as stupid as the rest of them,” I tell my dragon.

It doesn’t matter how often I remind myself that Dearian Edrik is an egotistical child who plays with hearts like toys and would never be able to love anyone half as much as he loves himself, I don’t believe it. He may be overly aware of how pretty he is and may have an over-inflated view of his own charms, but he is capable of deep feeling. And that’s not just something I want to believe; it’s something I’ve saw first hand early last year when I watched Triscuit get struck by a misaimed immobilization spell while flying over a river. The sound Dearian made as his dragon tumbled into the water is something I’ll never forget. Then he jumped in, barely able to swim himself, rescued the motionless Triscuit, and brought the critter to the dock our class had been watching from. Our fellow students rushed to pull him out, but he wouldn’t let them until someone took Tris first. And as if that wasn’t enough to make me love him, someone said, “Dude, it was just a dragon. They’re replaceable,” and Dearian wound up suspended for busting up the guy’s face.

Trying to put Dearian out of my mind, I resume my journey to find my friends and a good food vendor. I skipped breakfast and it’s well past lunch, so I may be more on the lookout for food than friends… Although I’m picky enough not to stop at the first place I see because it promises spice, which, in this town, is typically code for “Our meat has spoiled.”

After about a block, I pass the woman as she holds her chalice out again, this time to a plump young woman who breaks out sobbing yet grins as she eagerly gulps from the cup. Good for them. I yell out congratulations that probably confuse the pair and keep moving.

Even though I’ve been living in Moirewash City for three years now, the festival has me in a neighborhood that’s pretty far from the school and I get lost quickly. I guess that’s what I get for taking so long to find my walking shoes that my dorm mates all left without me.

I try for a good half hour to find a street I recognize. Not only do I fail, but eventually I can’t even find the festival. How do you lose an entire festival? And why are all the shops closed just because there’s a festival in another part of the city? I am getting seriously hungry. With no clue where we are, I let Rhea take the lead in the hopes she’s less lost than I am, but that only buys me another twenty minutes of navigating unfamiliar streets until she decides she’s tired of walking and hops back on my shoulder.

“Now what?” I ask Rhea, reaching up to give her a scratch. “Know any good location spells? Because I sure don’t.”

“I might,” Dearian says, nearly causing me to jump out of my skin. My motion leads Rhea to dig in her claws and I let out a wail.

Dearian rushes forward from the alley he’d apparently been hanging out in. “You okay?”

“Just got a few new piercings is all.” I reach up to pet Rhea, but she hops down to the ground and looks around for Triscuit, who is oddly absent. “What are you doing here?”

“Me? I live here. Down that way.” He points at the alley for a second. “The better question is why are you stalking me?”

“Hah.”

“Hah?” He crosses his arms and regards me with an enigmatic expression. He’s lost both his silly hat and his cloak, now wearing only a sage tunic over emerald leggings. It’s cold not to be wearing a cloak, so maybe he’s telling the truth about living around here. “So you didn’t follow me?”

“No.” I add a sneer in with the denial. “I’m lost.”

“Oh.” He grins. “Alright then. Carry on.”

My eyes narrow. Do I really want to give him the satisfaction of asking for directions? Deciding I don’t, I give a tug on Rhea’s leash and try to get her to start walking. She looks up at me, and very blatantly takes a seat on the cobblestones. “Damn dragon,” I mutter. “Guess who won’t be sharing my sausage if I ever find a vendor.”

Dearian laughs. “If you’re hungry, my mom stopped over this morning and left enough food to feed half the city. It’s better than you’ll find on the street.”

“I’m fine,” I snap.

“You don’t have to come in,” Dearian says. “I can bring you something here.”

I’m about to tell him I wouldn’t take food from him if I were dying when I realize I’m being silly. With a sigh, I nod. “Alright. I will allow you to serve me lunch.”

“Thank you.” After a quick little bow, Dearian rushes into the alley.

I could stay here and wait for him, but my curiosity combines with my desire to find somewhere to sit to prompt me to follow. The alley is pretty dank. It’s tight and there are puddles that I don’t think are full of water. But just past a refuse cart, Dearian goes through an archway into a little courtyard.

“Whoa,” I say, gazing around after following him out of the alley. The space we enter has a stone floor, but is filled with greenery blooming from a collection of pots and boxes. It’s also oddly warm. Glancing up shows a faint shimmer of magic that I assume is there to hold in the heat. “It’s like a park in here.”

Dearian stops and turns. “They’re my landlady’s, but I like plants. They’re… Calm. Quiet. And they offer great advice.”

Despite myself, I smile. “Advice, huh? And what do the plants advise you to do?”

“Most recently, they said I should go to the main road and check for stray college girls.”

My eyes roll.

“I’m serious,” he says. “You can ask the roses over there. They’ll back me up.”

He turns as I’m looking at the flowers and sprints up a set of stairs into a second-story apartment. It’s creepy how much I want to see his living space, creepy enough that I refuse to do it. Instead, I remove my cloak before settling myself at a cute little bistro table under what I think is a potted plum tree. My feet throb, unhappy with how much walking I did. For a moment, I worry about Dearian walking so far to class every day, but then I realize he probably takes a more direct route than I did. For all I know, we’re within five minutes of school.

I unhook Rhea’s leash from her collar, roll it up, and put it on the table. She rushes off to roll around on the ground, then sits and begins to lick herself clean. Crazy animal.

When Dearian returns in a few minutes, Triscuit now in tow, he carries a tray piled with food and drink bottles. The dragons take the time to nose-bump, then break into what looks like a game of tag.

“I didn’t know what you wanted,” Dearian says by way of explanation for bringing so much. “I know you like ginger drinks, but would you want plain ginger or lemon ginger? Or maybe you don’t feel like ginger and you want the sparkling orange…”

I laugh, cutting off his rambling. “Thank you. Do you have any orange and ginger?”

His eyes widen in alarm.

“Joking!” I exclaim quickly, holding a hand up. “I’m joking. The plain ginger sounds fantastic.”

“Okay.” Carefully, he sets the tray on the table. He takes one of the bottles and twists it open, then holds it to me. His hand shakes, but I pretend not to notice.

“Thanks,” I take the bottle, careful to keep our fingers from touching.

After a jerky nod of acknowledgement, he grabs a second bottle, opens it, and takes a long swig. Lowering the drink, he gives me a long look. “Can I ask you something?”

“I guess…” As much to avoid his eyes as anything, I examine the food on the tray. There’s a variety of things. Little sandwiches, some cookies, an assortment of fruit… I grab a sandwich and take a nibble. Chicken salad. Really good chicken salad.

“Were you really lost?”

I lower the sandwich and meet his eyes. Calling them gold is perhaps a bit simplistic. They’re gold, yes. But also brown. And a little bit orange. And bronze… I could spend a really long time picking out colors in his eyes. “Yeah,” I say quietly. “I don’t get over this way very often.”

After holding my gaze for a few heartbeats, Dearian nods. “Alright.” Does he sound disappointed or am I imagining that?

My eyes drop and I take another bite of my sandwich. He’s silent as I chew, a fact I’m highly aware of. “This is really good,” I say when I’ve swallowed.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “My mom’s a fantastic cook.”

We’re quiet for another little while, eating while the dragons play nearby. It’s… Really nice.

“Lys?” Dearian says three miniature sandwiches and several grapes later.

I swallow my grape. “Yes?”

He shakes his head and drops his gaze like he’s changed his mind about saying whatever he wanted to say. “Never mind.”

“What?” I frown. “You’re acting strange.”

His responding laugh is soft and slightly melancholy. “That’s all I ever do around you. Act strange. And moronic.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Looking up at me, he takes time to decide on what to reply. “I knew you watching earlier. When I enchanted that girl. I knew you were there. It’s why I did it. I saw you enter the square, saw you coming my way, and snagged her as she passed by.”

My eyebrows draw together while I try to figure out what he’s really trying to say.

“I wasn’t really trying to get something to pawn off of her. I…” He shakes his head. “I always know you’re there. When…” He stops, closes his eyes, and starts over. “I keep thinking that if you see other people want me, then maybe you’ll think I’m worth wanting.”

“You…” I stare at him, my body trembling. His eyes open but don’t meet mine.

“Sorry,” he says, getting up. “I’ll just go… Do something else. Not bother you.”

He makes it a step away before I’m out of my chair and grabbing his arm. “Hold up. You don’t get to say something like that and then run away.”

His bent head keeps his eyes locked onto where my hand holds him. Likewise, I stare at our joining while millions of little tingles course through my body from the connection. “Lys…” his voice breaks. “Do you remember freshman year, when we paired with our familiars?”

“Of course.” Pairing with your first familiar is one of the major milestones of any enchanter’s life.

“You cut everyone else off and grabbed Rhea before anyone else could. Even though no one else was looking at her, because she was so little and frail.”

I nod, still not daring to look up. She had been tiny and a paler shade of green than the other unbonded dragons. “And she had a cold.”

“Yeah. She was so pitiful. Everyone else said it was really stupid to pick a sickly, scrawny, little runt. But you… You were ahead of everyone; you could have had any dragon you wanted. But you chose her.” His hand moves under my chin, tipping my head up until I’m forced to look at him. “That’s when I started loving you.”

My heads swirls as I look up at him. Is this what enchantment feels like? If it wasn’t impossible to enchant an enchanter, I’d be certain that’s what’s happening.

“But…” I start. Then I realize that I don’t know what to follow it up with. He could be playing me, but… He’s always been a flirt, but I’ve never heard of him professing his love to anyone. I let go of his arm as I try to process what’s happening.

His hand drops, as does his gaze. “You don’t believe me. I suppose I deserve that.”

“I…”

“It’s okay,” he tells me. “You don’t have to say anything. Just leave the stuff on the table when you’re done.”

He starts to go. My pulse throbs and blood rushes in my ears. I should let him go. I watch his feet as he walks away. He gets to the stairs, starts up them.

“Wait!”

His feet stop, but he says nothing.

“I love you, too,” I rush. The words just sort of explode out, leaving a great feeling of relief them, like I’ve suddenly been released from a pressure that was crushing me. I smile as I look up at his back. He’s gone completely still. “I love you, Dearian. I have since sophomore year.”

Slowly, he turns around. He grins and takes a step back my way. “So it’s the sixteenth of Never already?”

Eyes locked on his, I nod as he approaches. “And if this is all a setup, you may not live to regret messing with me.”

He laughs, but he doesn’t tell me I’m a fool and crush my heart beneath his heel. “It is not a setup. I am not messing with you. And if you’re messing with me, I might die from it.”

We stand inches apart, just looking at each other. The dragons yip as they play and roll very close to our feet, but neither of us spare them a glance.

“I’m not,” I whisper just before he lowers his lips to mine. And as I kiss him back, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he means it.


The above image is by Vladislav Yerko.
It was provided as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.