The time was coming to see her again, and he could hardly wait.
Thirty-six year old Gene London arrived at his sizable, gated-community apartment carrying a brown paper bag that had the store logo Bath & Beauty. He set it down on the kitchen counter then slipped free from his charcoal coat and threw it on the nearest armchair, glad to finally be rid of it. Like most office professionals, he was used to the heaviness of a fine suit coat, but right now he wanted to throw all remnants of his lousy work day behind him. For nine hellish hours he had to listen to his partners and clerks talk about the problems of this client and that client—a car crash here, an armed robbery there—and all the while he had something else on his mind.
Today, real soon … I’ll finally see her again.
He tried to remember how long it had been since he last did so. Was it the beginning of the summer? Spring’s last rainfall? Whatever it was, it had been too long. She might be angry with him. Even so, the long wait was mostly her fault, not his. “I prefer you see me when you have something to report,” she had once said, so he began to see her only when he had something relevant to say.
Once, during lunch hour, he had found himself daydreaming. His mind’s eye dwelled on creamy white skin and eyes the color of shallow tropical waters … and then he heard his business partner Kenny say, “—pee on the carpet?”
Gene snapped out of his reverie and looked at Kenny curiously. “Um, sorry, what was that?”
“Renin to Gene, Renin to Gene,” Kenny said, waving a hand inches from Gene’s face. “I said, doesn’t this mark here look like someone took a pee on the carpet? Maybe it’s time we hired some cleaners.”
Gene looked at said mark and made a smug smile. “I think it adds character to the place.”
“Yeah, you’re a character!” Kenny made a curt laugh and moseyed off. After that, Gene tried to keep his mind on office matters.
Now that he was home, though, he was free to chuck all thoughts of business out the window and get down to what really mattered to him.
He had intended on starting the process right away, but he found himself wandering into the kitchen first, about to make his daily fresh coffee. He even poured the instant crystals into the mug before he caught himself. Hey, what the hell am I doing? This can wait, but she can’t.
He grabbed the paper bag, brought it into the bathroom, and set it on the toilet lid. He then cleared the counter around the sink—placing things like his razor and soap dispenser in the cabinet below—and drew from the bag four white candles (unscented, even though Bath & Beauty had candles with as many different fragrances as an iguana had scales). He set the candles around the sink, getting them as close to the mirror as he could without danger of setting the walls on fire, then lit them with a cigarette lighter and turned off the vanity lights.
He then did something he had done before but wasn’t sure he’d bother with again: He reached back into the cabinet beneath the sink and retrieved a bottle of perfume. Sapphire Tears was the brand name, which he thought fitted his woman well enough, for he could imagine such tears rolling from her blue eyes. If she was even capable of crying. Sometimes I wonder. He stepped through the bathroom door and sprayed twice above the sink, giving the miniscule droplets in the air time to come down before they were given a chance to land on him.
He then stepped back in and faced the mirror. Now all there was left to do was the spell. Just thinking about it set his heart racing, which made him smile despite himself. He had seen hundreds of beautiful women in his life, yet only she could made him feel like a teenager this close to middle-age.
Gene slid his hands across his flat cheeks. With closed eyes, he made a silent prayer to Nephus, the god of red magic, then put his palms together and began to chant. His words were of the ancient language of Renlin, said to have been spoken during the time when Voltor, the black god, still walked the planet. He spoke them slowly and surely, rolling them off his tongue smoothly and effortlessly, never skipping a beat nor a single syllable.
He couldn’t see her, but he knew she was there. The woman, the goddess, the love of his life. She was appearing in the mirror, replacing his image with her own.
His eyes slowly opened, his heart jumping in anticipation. Sure enough, she was there, standing amid a milky white aura. She never had a consistent form: Her edges always dissolved into the aura, making her appear ghostly and distant. But at least her face was clear—beautiful, adoring, a model of perfection. Her sky-blue eyes were filled with light, as if they themselves were a source of illumination; her delicate lips were coated with scarlet lipstick, the only darkness her pale face bore; her wheat-colored hair was parted on her right side, which then flowed down in graceful curls like wisps of cloud. She wore a slender white dress that could have been a nightgown, slightly transparent with a cleavage that ran shoulder-to-shoulder in a perfect, teasing curve. He was glad he had used the perfume; the scent in the air made it almost seem she was right there in the room with him.
“Ellen,” Gene softly said.
She grinned and tilted her head up. “Gene,” she said, sounding relieved yet at the same time a little exasperated. “It’s been so long, I was starting to worry.”
“Afraid I forgot you?”
“Afraid you tried doing everything on your own and got yourself blown to bits.”
He grinned and laughed a little. “Not likely to happen … but I’d do it as a last resort, because I love you so much.”
She raised a shoulder and blinked at him a few times. “And I, you … but not as tiny bits.”
“I summoned you today because we’re almost there. I swear to you, we’ll be holding hands sooner than you might think. You remember Jill, the Congresswoman I’ve been talking to? I finally got her to send that grant our way.”
“Wait, you mean give money to the people helping you? What were they called again?”
“Altor Laboratories. They should be getting it in about six days, just after Jill announces that they’re the recipients.”
He was hoping she would be elated. Instead she crossed her arms and gave him that sidelong look that always cut right through him. “Gene … are absolutely sure this ‘Congresswoman’ will do as you say?”
“Yes, she will. She gave her word.”
“Gene … are you a hundred percent sure, or more like eighty percent?”
He sighed. That look of hers always made him end up spilling his guts. “Okay, more like eighty. But I have plenty of faith in her, just as you have plenty in me. And look how your faith rewarded you: I haven’t been blown to bits.”
“I see that. But Gene, just ask yourself: If this Congresswoman Jill screws you over … what would she have to lose?”
He averted his gaze and pressed his lips together. It was a question he had asked himself several times, and he was never satisfied with the answer. “My friendship … my faith … some disappointed Altor executives …”
“And what else?”
“That’s about it, I think.”
Ellen slowly shook her head. “Oh, Gene … I don’t think that’s enough.” She tapped the other side of the mirror, making soft tinkling sounds. “You have to do better to ensure she does what you want.”
Gene planted both hands on the counter and leaned forward. “So what do you want me to do? Threaten to kill her?”
She gave him that sidelong look for a moment … then averted her eyes.
Gene straightened himself up again. “That’s what I thought.”
Ellen sighed. “Okay, you want to know what I think? I think that … that it’s always an option best left on the table.”
Gene frowned a little. A growing sense of horror threatened to make him do more, but he managed to stamp it down. This wasn’t the first time Ellen had said something morally ambiguous. He just chalked it up to desperation. “I’ll think about it.”
Ellen smiled and shook her head again. “My love for you, Gene, grows each and every time I see you … but you can still piss me off sometimes.”
“What? What did I do?”
“You said you’d ‘think about it.’ That means you’re just humoring me.”
He scratched the back of his neck. He hated it when she saw right through him like this, but given his choice of words, it was entirely his fault this time. “Look, you just don’t know Jill very well, love. If I threatened her, it might make her screw us over for sure.”
“Well, since money seems to be our only obstacle left standing, it stands to reason that you should do whatever you can to get it.”
“Actually, it’s not our only obstacle. Having a hefty budget would be great, but we would still need a mage willing enough to cast the spell.”
“The Rending Spell,” Ellen said, reciting the name as tenderly as one would the name of a famous jewel. “Have you been talking to any mages about it?”
Gene stifled the urge to laugh. “My dear, I haven’t even begun … and even if I did, I wouldn’t do the asking myself. If you were to say ‘Rending Spell’ in a community of mages, you’d run the chance of getting chased right out of town. Finding the right person won’t be easy. He or she would have to be both naïve and powerful. If you’re naïve, then you’re young; if you’re powerful, then you’re old. There’s virtually no middle ground.”
“What was it you once said to me?” Ellen asked, running her fingers down a lock of hair. “‘Whatever’s hard is worth doing?’”
“‘Whatever’s worth doing is never easy.’ Close enough, and it’s absolutely true. I’ll find someone, don’t you worry.”
“I suggest you find someone young—someone who shows promise.”
“And then wait till he gets powerful? That’ll take a long time.”
“Don’t worry about the wait. Trust me, it will work out.” When Ellen was in mid-sentence, she started to disappear. “You’re fading. Remember, find someone young—a black mage.”
Gene reached out a hand. “Yes, Ellen. I love you!”
“And I lo—”
She was gone, replaced by Gene’s own startled reflection. His heart sank a little, frustrated at how the time had seemed to fly by. Still, he had seen her again, and it had lifted his spirits. True, she had made him squirm a little, but it was one thing he loved about her because it made the two of them alike. He was primarily a lawyer, after all; it was partly his job to make supposed eyewitnesses squirm on the stand. He pictured Ellen as a lawyer herself and chuckled.
As he blew out the candles, he thought of her last words: Find someone young. Well, that was easy enough. There was certainly one kind of place where promising young mages gathered.
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