This story takes place after the events of books 1 & 2 in the Misplaced Children Series. If you have not read A Misplaced Child or A Misplaced Hope, I recommend bookmarking this page and coming back later.
Byron swung wide, and Silas went for the opening. He came in low, and when his sword flew to the side, he let go of it and let the sword fly into the wall, carried by Byron’s magical force as Silas dived. A glint of steel flew from Christopher and the dagger plunged into Byron’s eye. The baron screamed. Silas rolled and sprung to his feet, a dagger from his boot in hand. He smashed the hilt into the baron’s hand, and he dropped the sword. Silas caught the falling weapon and in one smooth, powerful move, spun it around, and sliced off the baron’s head.
—A Misplaced Hope, chapter twenty-two.
The phone rang and rang until the impersonal beep of the voicemail went off. I sighed and left my message in flawless Italian. “Hey man, it’s eleven here, eight o’clock there. I know you aren’t in class or asleep. What’s going on? You won’t text and now you’re dodging my calls. I can feel something’s up. Just talk to me.”
An old white lady a few rows ahead on the bus glanced back at me again, as if trying to figure out what type of brown I am. I gave her a charming smile, and she visibly relaxed. “Well, if you don’t call me back by the weekend, I’m flying out there. I miss you Christopher.”
I ended the call and slid my phone in my pocket as I glanced out the window. Apparently I could have taken a ferry to my destination and saved a few hours, round trip, but boats make me nervous and I’m already intimately familiar with deciphering bus routes in any city.
“Hey, you’re Kirk right? I think we have civics together.”
I slapped a casual smile on my face and turned in my bucket chair to glance at the speaker, and sure enough, I recognized the blond dude sitting on the bench a few spots back from me. Nick something. I had four Nicks in my first period, so it wasn’t hard to remember.
“Yeah, dude. What’s up? It’s Nick, right?”
“Yeah, hey listen.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice.
I braced myself for his ask. If previous encounters were enough to go by, he would be looking for either drugs or tutoring.
Nick glanced around nervously before continuing. “My Spanish two teacher gave me a list of tutors and you were her top pick. Do you have any time free? I knew I needed help, but apparently I’m much worse off than I realized. I didn’t understand a thing you just said on the phone.”
I relaxed. “Don’t worry about it, dude. That was Italian, not Spanish. But yeah, I got some time for you on Tuesdays or Fridays.”
“Italian?” Nick’s face fell. “Well, maybe not then. I need help with Spanish.”
“I speak both, dude.”
“Trilingual! Sick! Where are you from?”
“Florida,” I said flatly.
“No. I mean, like, before that.”
It took a lot to not roll my eyes, but I managed. I could tell him my oldest memories are from Puerto Rico, but he probably wouldn’t realize that made me a US citizen, and I didn’t want to get into that discussion. Hell, I could just tell him I’m from Pundica, the magical epicenter of the Twoshy, in the world of Eres, but then he’d think I’m bonkers, and I could really use the cash he would pay for tutoring. So I redirected.
“Just trust me when I say languages are my thing, dude. I can help you pass Spanish, no problem.”
Nick grins wide and points at me. “You mean no problemo?”
“Well, actually,” I start, but stop myself. No point in giving him a free lesson. “Never mind. How does Tuesday at six in Gleeson Library work for you?”
We agreed on a time and place and exchanged numbers. I glanced out the window again. We were only a block or two from my stop, so I stood and took a step toward the back door.
I pulled the string to signal my stop. The bus came to a halt and I stepped down to the sidewalk of an older yet wealthy neighborhood. My stomach churned, but I didn’t let the anxiety stop me. I had a mission. Well, two really, but I would focus on the first. I would keep a promise I’d made to a knight in a far away magical world.
Yeah, my life was a little complicated, but I liked it.
It took only a few minutes to find the house, a light purple monstrosity that resembled a gingerbread house more than it did the neighboring buildings. It was just the sort of house I would imagine Elodie living in, though it belonged to her best friend Vanessa and not her. Vanessa’s grandma had passed and invited Elodie, Kat and Sam to all move in. It sounded like a dream. Not the house specifically, but getting to live with friends and found family. Much better than the tiny dorm I share with my history major roommate, Jim. He wasn’t a bad guy, but I couldn’t talk to him like I could talk to the others. It was hard getting close to someone when you couldn’t tell them you sometimes disappeared to a magical world.
I paused at the sidewalk before the big house and took a deep breath. I needed a clear head for the confrontation to come.
I pulled out my phone, tapping open the message app to my thread with ‘My Sun And Moon’. Three and a half days and still no reply. I can still see my last message at the bottom of the screen, unread and unanswered.
>So what does this mean for us?
Three days and I’m to believe she hasn’t read it? More likely she saw the message preview and dismissed it without opening the conversation so the message never showed as read. That would give her all the plausible deniability she needed.
I wish Christopher was here. He wouldn’t have any groundbreaking advice, but I always feel off balance when he isn’t around.
Another deep breath, and I centered myself.
Once I felt totally under control, I took that first step onto the stone path leading to the door surrounded by stained glass sunflowers. I knocked on the hardwood door and waited, looking off to the side so that whoever opened the door would have a little privacy as they peeked out to make sure I wasn’t an axe murderer.
I thought I heard steps on the other side of the door, but then there was a long moment of stillness before finally a lock clicked, and the door opened to reveal a goddess in human flesh. Her shining black hair hung just below her shoulder blades, perfectly framing her round, golden brown face. Her pink full lips pursed together with tantalizing fullness and her eyes . . . Well, her diamond eyes were glaring daggers at me, but the bits I could see past her hooded glare were deep brown, nearly black, like the night sky reflecting the vastness of space back to me. She crossed her arms, the muscles flexing, showing her strength and looking damn hot.
“Kirk, I told you I was busy this week. I can’t believe you just showed up like this,” my warrior princess said to me with the sweetest tone of annoyance and dismissal I’d ever heard.
I took a deep breath and met her stunning eyes. “Sorry, Sam. I didn’t realize you would be home.” I lied. “I’m here to see Vanessa. Is she here?”
Sam blinked, off balanced and speechless for a moment. I felt a little bad about it, but wasn’t everything fair in love and war or whatever? She blinked again and looked away from me, then took a step back and held the door open. I stepped inside and paused in front of her. I inhaled slowly and let her scent fill my lungs; honeysuckles, soap and sweat. It was Sam, and it was everything. Our eyes connected and I felt that spark I always feel when she lets down her guard. It lasted only the barest moment before Sam growled softly in her throat and closed the door rather hard behind me.
Kat poked her head out of a doorway a ways down the hall, and her eyebrows went up. Great, a bigger audience, exactly what I need.
“Hey Kirk. How’s it going?” She asked.
“Hey Kat, going good. Can you point me toward Vanessa?”
Kat’s eyes darted over my shoulder, no doubt to the beauty behind me who was likely looking at me with deadly focus. Kat stepped out of the room slowly and waved for me to follow.
“She’s in her studio. Come on.”
Kat led, and I followed, ignoring the love of my life still standing by the door. The inside of the house was as interesting as the outside, with lots of little details in every door frame and end table. Kat led me through a kitchen to a side door that opened up onto a light and airy sunroom. The space was large and bright, but cluttered with canvases and boxes of paint stacked everywhere.
A pretty black girl leaned over a drafting table in front of the large windows and sat up when we entered. She gave me an assessing look, and I returned my grade A smile.
“Vanessa, this is Kirk. He says he’s here for you,” Kat said as way of an introduction before beating a hasty retreat and closing the door behind her.
Vanessa stood and stepped over a box, reaching for me. We shook, her hands covered with bits of paint and charcoal. “Nice to finally meet you, Kirk.”
“Yeah, you too. The girls talk about you all the time,” I said and gestured toward the rest of the house.
Vanessa chuckled. It was light and sweet. The kind of laugh that drew you in. “I guess we have that in common. Sam said you just moved into the city. I’ve been telling her to invite you over for dinner.”
I sighed and ran a hand over my hair. “Yeah, I don’t think she wants anything to do with me right now.”
“I kinda got the impression you two were . . .” She trailed off.
“Yeah, so did I,” I said, and looked away at a painting of a run down castle.
“I don’t mean to pry,” Vanessa said.
“No, no. Please pry away.” I spotted a stool sitting among the boxes and pulled it closer before sitting. “I mean she said she missed me, and wished I lived closer, then I talked the admin of both schools into rushing a transfer, which wasn’t easy mind you and when I get to town, I’m suddenly too much and she’s too busy to talk. Even El and Kat are keeping their distance, girl code and all.” I slowly let out a breath and glanced up at Vanessa. “Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
Vanessa didn’t look put out. She shrugged and fiddled with a piece of chalk. “Sounds like you’ve needed to say that for a while.”
I shook my head. “My brother isn’t even answering my calls right now.” How pathetic am I? Coming here and venting to this girl I’ve never met? “This isn’t why I’m here. I wanted to ask if you take commissions.”
She nodded, accepting the change of subject. “What do you mean, exactly?”
“I need a sketch done. Can you draw someone from a description? You know, like a crime artist or something?”
She shrugged. “Probably, if you can describe them well enough. I’d be willing to give it a go. Who are you wanting to draw?”
“So there’s this dude in the Twoshy, I don’t know if Elodie would have talked about him, but he’s a knight, and—”
“Wait, you want me to draw Silas?” Vanessa asked, her voice morphing from calm therapist to fangirling teenager.
“You know about Silas?”
“Of course I know about Silas,” she said, as if I’m dumb. “Elodie’s been talking about him since we were twelve. What is this for?”
“Well, a few years ago we were facing off with some bad dudes and I told Silas if he took this one dude out I would get his face on a t-shirt. It was kind of a joke you know, to psych the other guy out, but I follow through on my word. Joke or not.”
Vanessa started snorting and dug around in a desk for a fresh sheet of paper. “Say no more. I’ll do it for free just to get a look at this guy for once. Okay, so tell me what he looks like, and I will start, and we can adjust as we go.”
“So he’s got like this intense super hero jaw and brow line, like Henry Cavill, but way more handsome, like, a cross between Idrus Elba and Rege-Jean Page.”
Vanessa looked up at me like she was trying to see if I was serious, so I just nodded understandingly. Silas is a beautiful man, no question about it.
Vanessa sighed, shaking her head, and looked back down at her pencil case. “Elodie never tells me the important details,” she muttered, selecting a pencil. She started drawing an outline for the face shape, and I suggested minor changes as she went.
The door opened a short time later and the light of my life walked in with a scowl.
She crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe
“What are you doing?” she asked, and my heart sped up a little, overcome by the sound of her voice.
“Art,” I said evenly. Vanessa didn’t say a word, seemingly focused on her sketch.
She sighed, and I could hear her eyes rolling in her head. Maybe if I engaged her a little, pulled her in . . .
“I have a t-shirt design in mind and Vanessa is helping me realize it,” I told her.
I caught a whiff of honeysuckle as Sam leaned in to look. Vanessa tipped up the paper.
Sam blinked, and the corner of her mouth twitched up. “Wait, is this supposed to be who I think it is?”
“Yep,” I say, trying to keep the satisfied grin off my face. Maybe Sam would stay and help me detail Silas to Vanessa.
She spent a little time looking over the drawing, running a finger over her plump pink bottom lip while she looked. “His eyes are a little more intense, like he’s looking through your soul,” Sam said, and I deflated a little. Hearing my girlfriend talk about another man’s eyes isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. I mean, I’m confident in myself, but Silas is a good-looking dude.
Sam made a few more suggestions and gave me a smirky smile before leaving. I sighed again and looked out the window into a well-kept garden, feeling like the sun had just gone behind a cloud. I could feel Vanessa’s eyes on me, and I didn’t like it, preferring to sulk alone.
“Can I help you?” I asked the nosey girl.
She looked all innocent and got back to her drawing, shading in Silas’s eyebrows now that we had the shape down.
“So, hypothetically speaking, if someone moved across the world to be close to someone else, what would cause that person to get pissed at the person who moved?”
Vanessa glanced up at me before refocusing on the sketch. “I think the best way to find out would be to talk to the person who’s mad,” she said.
“That would be a lot easier if said person returned any of my messages. I get it, girl code, but can’t you at least give me a hint?”
Vanessa set down her pencil and rubbed her face, leaving behind faint traces of graphite. She looked out the window for a few moments, and it felt like she was preparing to tell me my dog died. When she turned back, her expression was even, but her eyes were intense.
“I know we just met, but I’ve heard enough stories over the years. So please don’t think I’m making any kind of judgement on you as a person. You are smart. You think fast on your feet and can talk yourself out of most situations. You can and do make friends with anyone, and use humor to get yourself out of a lot of trouble. You’re devoted to your brother before anyone else on Earth or Eres, and you are terrified of being alone, mostly because you’ve already spent most of your life alone, and you hate it.”
For once in my life, I was speechless. I kept thinking through her words, trying to find something to argue with, but she’d hit every point dead on. I didn’t think Sam or Kat or Elodie knew me this well. How the heck did she? Finally I nodded, and she nodded once in reply.
“You and Sam are opposites in a lot of ways. She’s all steel and sharp edges and you are laughs and persuasion. You excel at making people feel good about themselves, making them feel special. That’s how you make friends so easily.”
“I don’t get what’s bad about that,” I said.
“Nothing. Nothing is bad about that. You compliment each other well, I think. You need someone to stay on task, and she needs someone who can bring a little joy, but the problem when everything’s lighthearted and a joke, you don’t really know what’s real.”
I frowned and repeated her words over again in my head, but I felt like I was missing something. “I don’t follow.”
Vanessa shook her head and leaned back over her sketch. “Talk to her seriously, no jokes. See where it goes.”
I didn’t really get what she meant, but I nodded and kept watching her sketch.
I excused myself for the bathroom five minutes later.
Sam had a hard time with emotions when she was a preteen. She had a lot of them and it left a lot of scars, both physical and emotional. She learned to deal with them through her soldier training and it made her a badass, but maybe just a little closed off. I know she feels something for me. I know in the same way I look at Christopher and know he’s hungry. But with Sam, I know it’s not some twin thing. It’s just intuition and faith.
I know I’m right with Christopher because his actions and words prove me right. But with Sam, her actions and words never seem to line up with what I expect her feelings to be. When she does this, when she acts like I’m just someone she grew up with, a casual friend, sometimes an annoying pest, and nothing more, I doubt myself.
Maybe I am just deluding myself into believing she loves me, despite feeling it’s true in my bones. If only she would say it just once. Her confession would carry me through the next ten years of my life. I could live on the small glimpses of the truth of her feelings and survive the days and weeks of indifference.
On my way back from the bathroom, Sam stood in the kitchen slicing bell peppers on the counter. I sidled up to her and snatched a strip of red pepper off her board. She glared at me as if wishing I would disappear, and I slowly took a bite. I closed my eyes halfway and groaned as if the pepper was the most delicious thing on earth. I saw a small spark in her eye, but it was gone a moment later as she turned back to her work.
She said she missed me, wished I lived closer. I’d waited years to graduate highschool. It had been my dream since I was ten to go off to college with Christoper, so we could finally live together in the illusion as well as the Twoshy. Christopher even passed up several ivy league colleges to go to one that had offered me scholarships. The last three years had been the best in my life, then right before our senior year, I up and left him and moved across the world for a girl who wouldn’t even answer my texts.
“What are you making, babe?”
She scooped up the cut bell pepper and dropped it in a bowl, then grabbed an onion. “What does it look like?”
I glance at the counter. Okay, I like food. I should be able to figure this out. There was chicken, a can of beans, avocado, carrots. “Is it a stir-fry?”
She laughed. It was a bright and beautiful sound. She sliced the ends off the onion and rinsed it off before cutting it into thin ribbons. Finally, she sighed a little sadly and grabbed a head of lettuce to chop. “Why are you really here, Kirk?”
“I told you, I want to get a t-shirt with Silas’s face on it before the next time I travel home.”
Sam shook her head and dumped lettuce in the bowl.
“Salad!” I exclaimed a little suddenly. Definitely not stir-fry, unfortunately. I’m not the biggest fan of salad. I can see the edge of Sam’s mouth tip up, but she holds back the smile.
“If that’s all you’re here for, you should get back to Vanessa.” Sam said, turning toward a cupboard and pulling out another can.
I snatched the can out of her hand, which she obviously let me do, and grabbed the can opener. I cracked the can, twisting it open while she sighs and crumbles cheese over her salad. Our arms brush gently and I watched her fingers work for a moment. Glancing back at my can, I jumped at the sight of something brilliantly red spilling out.
“What the heck is this?” I asked and held up the can so I could read the label. “Beets? You actually eat these things?”
Sam rolled her eyes and bumped me out of the way with her hip. She tipped the can into the sink, letting red liquid pour down the drain. Giving it a little shake she flipped it back over and dumped the contents into the big bowl. Thin strips of red beets gleamed in a big lump. She picked out a particularly large piece and held it out to me.
“Try it,” she said, a little gleam in her eyes, a smile threatening to appear.
“No way, woman. I had a foster mom obsessed with those things once. They taste like dirt.”
“These are pickled,” she said, her fingers moving closer to me.
“That’s supposed to make it better?” I took a step back but hit the sink. Cornered.
She kept coming, her powerful body leaning in. She put one hand on the sink by my waist and the other moved in slowly to my mouth, her fingers stained red as the beet juice ran down her arm. Her grin made my heart pound in my chest.
“How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t even try it?” she asked softly, her breath warm against my face.
Dragging my eyes away from the red threat looming ever closer, I met her eyes. They were the molten core of a black hole and they pulled me in, lost to space and time. I opened my mouth, and she leaned in further, feeding me the red strings. I bit her fingers softly and sucked the ends, not even registering the flavor as I swallowed down the beet, because in the next moment her red stained fingers were in my hair, and her perfect pink lips were on mine, and all I tasted was her.
I wrapped one arm around her waist, the other running through her hair, and I pulled her into me, held her tight to my chest, and she let me. When we broke apart for breath, I kissed down her neck. Her skin was honey, and I was poo bear ready to dive in. She was everything I wanted in the world, and I would never let go, and in moments like this, I knew she felt the same. Her lips met mine again, and she nipped at my lower lip. I chuckled and dived in again, her lips the only thing in my world.
I faintly heard a door, but my Sam addled brain didn’t care. Then Sam went still in my arms, and I tried to coax her back, a little kiss on the side of her mouth, one on her nose.
Then someone cleared their throat.
Oh right. Other people existed in the world. I forgot about that.
Sam pulled away slowly, but didn’t turn to face our audience. Instead she sort of shifted away till she was facing the fridge, head bowed as if . . . Was it embarrassment at being caught, or shame over kissing me? I could live with one, but the other threatened to gut me.
Vanessa looked everywhere but at me and Sam as she held out a large piece of drawing paper. “So, I’m done with the sketch.”
I reached out and took it. The paper held an incredible portrait. The shading made it look like a real person looking back at you. And it was definitely Silas, right down to the shape of his ears. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, this is perfect. You really are a miracle worker.” I held the paper out to Sam, still leaning against the fridge with her back to me and Vanessa. “Take a look, Babe. What do you think?”
Sam held out a hand, and I placed the paper in it. She glanced at it and handed it back. “Yep, that’s definitely Silas.”
“Okay, great,” Vanessa said lightly, swinging her arms. “Well, I’ll just head back to my studio, then.”
She wiggled her eyebrows at me and I grinned as she disappeared. At the sound of her door closing, Sam turned as if nothing had happened. “You should probably go.” She moved past me into the living room, two small rosy patches in the middle of her cheeks the only sign of our previous activity.
I followed her into the living room but stopped, making her come back for me. I tipped my head and tapped my chin. “Okay, let me think for a second. We kissed for what, maybe two and a half minutes? So that means maybe another three weeks to you not talking to me? Or should I count it by the number of kisses?”
Sam’s eyes lit and she crossed the space to me in a moment, her very presence like a thunderstorm. “What do you want from me?”
“You. I just want to know if I can ever have you. It’s fine if you need more time, if you’re not ready. Just tell me this isn’t in my head. Tell me if I wait, someday you’ll pick me. You’ll want me.”
Sam bit her lip, still swollen from our kisses, and turned away.
It felt like something stabbed into my chest. She couldn’t even give me a someday?
“Is this it then?” I asked, raising my hands in the air. “Is this the end of us? I move all the way out here just for you to put a stop to us?”
She took three big steps forward and punched me in the arm. “I never asked you to move out here.”
I shook out my arm. It hurt, but not really. She wasn’t trying to hurt me. “You said you wanted to be closer, wished we were at the same school. Did that change?”
“No, I just—”
“Just what? Talk to me, please.”
She shook her head. “You can want something, and also not know how to deal with it when you get it.”
“So what? I’m a regret? You asked for a puppy for Christmas and then forgot you have to pick up its poop and spend time with it?”
Sam blew out her frustration through her nose like an angry dragon. “Look, it’s not like I’m the only damaged one here. What’s your credit card debt up to now?”
“Oh please, don’t start on that. What does debt matter when we’re just gonna disappear from the illusion one day and never look back?”
“See? You never take anything seriously. How am I supposed to take anything you say for real when you’re just as likely to recite a love ballad as tell me about the latest MLM?”
I scoffed. “Oh, come on, you know that was a joke. I’m not really gonna start selling leggings.”
“You sent me a catalog and a recruiting video.”
“As a joke!”
“Well, you sounded very serious.” Sam crossed her arms.
“Yeah, because the joke is always funnier when you make people think it’s serious.”
“Exactly!” Sam poked me in the chest with one long finger. “That’s it exactly, Kirk. How am I supposed to believe you when you say I’m your dream girl when everything you say turns into a joke?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Was she serious?
“See?” Sam said with a scoff. “Do you really want me or am I just convenient to flirt with?”
I shook my head.
My entire life I’d been blessed with always having the right words, but in this moment I hesitated. Now, more than ever before, what I said next was crucial.
I took a half step forward till we were inches apart and met her shining black eyes, so guarded and full of mistrust.
“When I was twelve, it was just a crush,” I started. “You know how I felt about Mulan, and then there was you, a real life badass princess.”
Sam rolled her eyes, but they came back to mine, a glimmer of something like hope in them.
“But I have been in love with you, at least since we were fifteen,” I said, and Sam’s eyes glowed. “You remember that day? We were at that shady roadside inn, and Christopher was in the restroom. A mercenary tried to pick a fight with us and I told him to pick on someone his own size, then you pulled your sword and threatened to make him a little shorter if he preferred to stay.” Sam smiled at the memory, and I grinned too. “That was the moment. I knew I loved you, and I knew I had to do anything I could to keep you in my life.”
Sam tackled me. It was an excellent take down. I landed perfectly on the couch, her body on top of me, and we kissed.
Elodie Harper trudged up the steps of the home she shared with her three best friends, and put her key in the lock. Turning it, she discovered the lock was already open. Strange. They usually locked it even while at home.
She took a few careful steps into the house, her backpack weighing heavy on her shoulder. An odd out-of-place sound came from the living room, and Elodie carefully peered around the doorway. She blinked, and her cheeks instantly blushed.
She had to take a second peek just to be sure who she’d seen. That was Sam alright, and with relief, she was sure that was Kirk she was mauling.
Elodie quietly tiptoed past the living room and up the stairs to her room. She was glad Sam and Kirk had worked out at least part of their issues. They were cute together, and as much as Sam pretended otherwise, they were obviously in love.
But for Sam, sometimes it was hard to let herself feel things. Elodie knew how that was better than most as she unpacked her backpack and shoved any longing and jealousy deep, deep down. She wasn’t jealous of Sam or Kirk, just of what they had for each other. But thinking about that wouldn’t make her homework any easier.
She was in the middle of trying to remember a fact about ancient agriculture she’d read about the night before when a soft knock on her door was followed by Vanessa slipping in.
“Is Kirk still here?” Elodie whispered, her eyes big.
Vanessa laughed. “No, he’s walking Sam to her night class.”
“Oh good,” Elodie said at a normal volume. “It looks like he and Sam worked out their problems?”
“Somehow that feels like an understatement,” Vanessa said, and they laughed. “So, before all the macking started, Kirk asked me to draw him a picture for some t-shirt he’s making.” Vanessa said this casually, but something seemed a little off. She was grinning a little too much, and the glint in her eyes made her look positively evil.
“Okaay?” Elodie said, not understanding the point.
Vanessa pulled out an oversized folder like she would usually hold her sketches in. “Annnd, I just thought I would give you a copy, you know, just because.”
Elodie held out her hand, but Vanessa set the folder on her bed just out of reach.
“Well, I’m gonna go now,” Vanessa said, and she darted out of the room before Elodie could get to her feet.
Shaking her head at her best friend’s weird behavior, Elodie reached for the folder and opened it. She inhaled a sharp breath and held it as she looked down at Silas, smirking up at her.
It was a long time before she looked away, and when she did, it was to the dried flower sitting in a vase on her dresser, a flower given to her by the man in the picture. She wished with all of her might the flower would glow gently in its vase. If it glowed, it would mean the magic of her world was close, and she would have just a chance to step through to her world.
But the flower stayed dim.
My phone buzzed in my pocket and I slid it out covertly. Professor Roffer wasn’t a stickler for no phones, but it still felt disrespectful to be obvious, and I liked the professor.
I glanced at the message from My Sun And Moon.
>Are we still on for tonight?
I grinned and typed back.
>Raging bochnid couldn’t keep me away. Meet you outside of your class.
Then I sent about a hundred kissy face emoji.
My phone buzzed a moment later with an emoji rolling its eyes into the back of its head.
I smiled. Yeah, she loved me.
When the professor called the end of the lecture, I was the first one out, speed walking across campus to Sam’s lecture hall, which was always a little later to release than my own.
I felt something dragging against the back of my leg and tugged on the green fabric hanging through my belt loop till it hung even, less likely to fall out.
Getting a t-shirt printed with Vanessa’s sketch had been insanely easy. My roommate Jim was dating an art major, and she has access to all the equipment. I agreed to buy her a bunch of supplies she needed for a special project, all charged on one of my many credit cards, and she was happy to screen print me up a shirt. I picked bright green because it matched Silas’s eyes and felt right.
Keeping the shirt on me so I would have it any time the magic might come for me was harder. Running the t-shirt through a belt loop seemed like the best solution during the day. At night, I tied it around my ankle. A few people had asked if it was a gang thing. Another good reason I’d gone with green as that wasn’t the colors of any of the locals. After a few weeks, I’d started noticing other guys carrying shirts in the same way, as if it was a new trend I’d started. I’d pointed it out to Sam, who said I was crazy.
I reached the lawn outside of Sam’s class and leaned against our usual meeting tree. The area was mostly empty, no classes having recently ended. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the recent messages from Sam.
It had been six weeks since we’d gotten things out into the open, and she’d been opening up more and more. She’d even started using heart emojis when she was feeling particularly lovey. She wasn’t into PDA, which I respected, even if my impulse every time I saw her was to dip her into a big romantic kiss. Instead, we were taking things slow, and tried being open and honest about what we wanted, and most of all, our doubts and fears.
I mean, it had taken a lot for me to admit my fear about her ditching me for someone a few inches taller, but she’d laughed in my face and kissed my forehead.
In exchange, I told her every day that I loved her, usually in the most embarrassing moments possible, just to keep things interesting. Slowly, day by day, I’d noticed her leaning into those moments. Enjoying them for what they were, and blushing less and less as she accepted what life with me would really be.
The doors to Sam’s building let out, and I recognised a few people from her class. I tried to adopt a smolder and leaned against the tree in a pose that felt tough. A moment later, the light of my life stepped out of the building and her eyes fell right to me. She grinned and shook her head with a laugh as she moved through the crowd. I adjusted my smolder for ultimate allure and bit my lip. She bent over laughing and my heart bubbled up in my chest.
Unfortunately, she was laughing so hard I don’t think she even noticed as the shimmer surrounded her. As if kicked up by the passing students, it swirled in the air and overcame her. I pushed off the tree, but she was gone before I reached the place she’d been, and the lingering ruakh, the magic of my world, was faint and unwilling to take me with her.
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair.
I waited by the tree for a half hour, hoping it would be a quick trip on this side, but Sam didn’t reappear. I sighed and pulled out my phone.
>Text me when you’re back.
I sent the message into the ether hoping Sam would have her phone when she returned, and went to get dinner. Enough for two. After an hour at the restaurant, I took the food to go and went back to my apartment. My roommate and his girlfriend ate Sam’s share while I put on headphones and read The Witcher in the original Polish. It was so much better than the translation.
I wished I could have followed Sam into the Twoshy. I get why Elodie was always so mopey on the subject. I hadn’t traveled in eight months, and it was like something was missing from my life. Or someone.
Christopher was still dodging my calls, and only replying with one-word answers to my most desperate texts asking for proof of life.
I didn’t get what was up. I wasn’t super happy about living in a different country, but it wasn’t like this was our first time. We hadn’t even known the other existed before we were six and both traveled for the first time. I’d landed on the cobblestones, my mirror image landing next to me. Eventually we’d been old enough to figure out email, but for years the only time we’d ever spent together had been in the Twoshy. The last three years had been our only time living together in this world.
Jim’s girlfriend left at last, and I got ready for bed. Jim shook his head as if he’d been stuck with the weirdest roommate ever while I tied the green Silas shirt to my leg with some twine.
He left for the bathroom and I closed my eyes and stretched with a big groan before flopping onto my bed.
Unfortunately my bed didn’t catch me. Instead I was pulled suddenly and violently to the left, and tumbled through an endless night. As my body twisted and tumbled I forced my mind to relax, not to panic and tense up, and in the next moment I landed on hard packed dirt, a second impact and groan right beside me. I’d relaxed as best I could, but it hadn’t stopped the wind from getting knocked out of me. After a long breathless moment I coughed and inhaled sharply. I pressed a fist against my chest and forced myself to breathe through it. As the pain eased a hand reached down for me and I gripped it. Christopher pulled me to my feet, and we fell into a tight hug. We stood like that for a long moment, embracing and breathing in each other’s scent while the world balanced around us.
Eventually, I remembered I was mad and pushed off of Christopher.
“What the hell, man? Why have you been ignoring me?”
He frowned and ignored me while he dusted off his arms. He was in a deep blue dress shirt, tucked into black slacks, a thin tie handing from his neck. He looked good, and I internally made note of the outfit for a day I wanted to impress Sam.
I rubbed my head. It had been just past midnight for me, so Christopher would have been on his way into the security firm he interned at. I looked down at our feet. He was in Italian leather black shoes, while I was barefoot.
Yeah, this would be fun.
My only clothes were a t-shirt and boxers. I still had my green Silas shirt tied to my ankle, but that wouldn’t help. I untied the shirt so it wouldn’t drag in the dirt. I would just have to carry it for now.
I glanced back up at Christopher to see what the plan was, but he was ignoring me, assessing our surroundings.
“Are you seriously pissed at me right now?” I asked. “You’re the one who’s been dodging my calls for weeks. I’m the one who’s supposed to be pissed.”
He crossed his arms and glared at me. Yep, our weird twin telepathic magic thing was working exactly as it always had.
“Sick of my shit?” I asked him. “What do you mean, you’re sick of my shit? You haven’t smelt my shit in months!” Okay, probably not the best metaphor, but I was on a roll.
“You know what? I’m done. If you don’t wanna be around me, then don’t.” I turned and started walking down the road. But turned back to keep yelling. “It’s not like I missed you a lot or anything!”
He rolled his eyes and turned, walking in the opposite direction.
“Where are you even going? That’s the wrong way!” I shouted.
Christopher didn’t stop walking but just lifted his arm and flipped me off.
Right. I was the one going the wrong direction.
I turned and started down the road toward Christopher, but didn’t bother walking fast enough to catch up. There was a waystation on the right, and as we grew close, I left the road and walked into the tavern on the bottom floor. It was morning and a few people sat around eating eggs or oatmeal. No one looked up when I entered, which didn’t exactly help.
“Hello friends,” I announced loudly. Everyone was looking now. “I’m one of the Misplaced, and obviously lacking some essentials.” A woman with a nasty-looking battle axe a table away snickered at me. “Anyone have some boots or breeches I could have?” A few people groaned and looked away.
It was the plight of the misplaced to always be appearing and disappearing, and the plight of those left in the Twoshy to help them as they could.
The tavern owner presented me with the lost and found box, and I rounded up a pair of breeches a bit too long, and some boots that smelled like corn chips. I thanked the man, dressed, and left the inn.
Christopher waited just down the road, but started walking again when he saw me.
After a half hour of walking at our usual pace, I caught up, as Christoper slowed his steps for me. I begrudgingly matched his pace, and we walked side by side. We said nothing else as we reached the outskirts of Pundica and approached our cousin’s town house.
Christopher let out a breath.
“I know, but where else do we have to go?” I asked. “I’m beat.”
Our cousin Mathias, or second cousin or whatever, wasn’t exactly our favorite person, but he was an okay dude. He’d done a lot for us over the years, even if his fortune would have originally been granted to us had we not become misplaced.
“I need a few hours’ rest at least. Then we can head out.” I came to a stop, and Christopher stopped next to me. “I had planned to take this to Tross,” I said, holding up the shirt. I’d sent him a picture of it a few weeks ago, which he’d ignored. “I know you might not want to come with me, but know you’re welcome to.”
I looked down at my feet when I said it, but Christoper walked off.
“What? I didn’t want to assume you would come if you’re mad at me.” But Christopher didn’t say anything, and I sighed and caught up with my brother on the steps of the giant townhouse.
“You’re timing couldn’t be better,” Mathias proclaimed as he welcomed us inside, after a house maid had fetched him when the new butler didn’t believe we were who we said we were and didn’t want to let us through the door. “I have a house party in full swing and there are plenty of eligible Ladies and Lords I can introduce you to. It’s a full house, but don’t worry, I always save a room for you two, just in case. You don’t mind telling a tale tonight, do you, Kirk?”
I smiled and opened my mouth, but Christopher elbowed me.
“We can’t stay long. We have a mission in Aluna we need to get to as soon as possible.”
“Leaving so soon?” Mathias asked with a disappointed look. “You can stay at least one night, can’t you?”
I glanced at Christopher. He didn’t want to stay one night. One night would mean socializing. One night would mean dancing. One night would mean flirting and one night would be very very uncomfortable for him. Unfortunately, I didn’t think we could get away with leaving tonight. We needed horses and as kind and giving as Mathias had always been to us, that kindness hadn’t always felt exactly free. If we didn’t give a little, there probably wouldn’t be any horses available when we set out to Tross.
I told this to Christopher with a look and his shoulders dropped a millimeter.
Tonight would be easy for me. It wouldn’t exactly be enjoyable, but I could make the best of any situation. “Yeah, Mathias, we can delay tonight and leave first thing in the morning.”
Mathias’s face and posture shifted. “Excellent, excellent! I’m so excited! Kalriki from Duum has been asking about you all week and was so disappointed to learn you weren’t in residence. I’ve been trying to work a trade deal with her, and I think one of your tales is just what we need to soften the deal.”
“I’m happy to tell as many tales as you need tonight, cousin,” I clapped the older man on the shoulder and he bowed his head in appreciation. “Say, when we set out tomorrow, do you think you have a pair of horses we could borrow for the trip?”
“Ah, yes, of course. I’ll have to check with the stables. We should have a few spares we can stand to lose but with the party, things have been in such chaos. Let me check with the stable hands and I will get back to you.”
I don’t have to glance at Christopher to know his thoughts reflected my own. We’d need to make sure that trade deal went very well indeed or we might walk to Aluna.
“Thank you cousin, we appreciate it.”
“Thank you,” Christopher echoed.
“Of course! What is family for?”
A servant showed us to our room, and I immediately flopped onto my bed. By my count it was close to two AM my time, and sleep came quickly.
I awoke to a commotion at the door.
“Lords Christopher and Kirk, please. Lord Mathias sent us to make sure you were properly outfitted for the party tonight.”
“My brother is sleeping. Please allow me to stand fittings for both,” Christopher said.
“Absolutely not,” a crusty sounding stiff pants said. “We must ensure a perfect fit. It would be a disgrace for our garments to be worn by any they were not fit for.”
I rolled over on my side and bellowed at the door. “It’s fine, we’re identical. We’re the same size.”
“Lord, I must fit you both,” the man said, clearly not sure which of us was which.
“Look man, I didn’t get any sleep last night. If I’m expected to tell tales tonight, I need a few hours. Just fit my brother for both of us. I’m begging you.”
There was a long pause, and I almost drifted back to sleep.
“Well, I suppose I can make an exception this once.”
“Perfect. Can you also throw in some extra travel clothes? I arrived in pants I think someone died in.”
I didn’t wait to hear the man’s reply, but turned over and promptly fell back to sleep.
When I awoke again, I felt human.
I rolled over to see what woke me to find a servant placing a covered platter just inside the room and exiting. I sat up blurry eyed and blinked at Christoper. “Did you call the kitchens?”
“We never end up eating at these dinner parties, and you skipped lunch,” my brother said to me.
He didn’t reply, but dragged the tray closer to my bed. We sat side by side on my bed and dug in. When the food was gone, I took a steaming hot shower, thankful for the magical enhancements to plumbing that had graced the Twoshy in the last few decades.
A maid dropped off two stacks of dress clothes, and Christopher and I dressed in matching outfits. His was a deep blue shirt and brown doublet, mine a brown shirt and blue doublet. Looking at Christoper, I imagined for a moment this was how life would have been had we grown up in the same house, our mom dressing us in matching twin outfits for family pictures.
Christopher grinned and clapped my arm, wondering if they would have given us designated colors to help tell us apart.
We grinned and headed down to the ballroom.
The evening was long, but I was well rested and bore it with good spirits. Christopher was crawling out of his skin, waiting for an appropriate time to excuse himself back to our rooms. Not that anyone else would have noticed by looking at him. Christopher appeared hard and aloof. Someone on a different level than those around him. Maybe not rich, but dangerous and worthy of respect. I didn’t even know how, but while I was napping, Christoper had found three daggers, now hidden among his person. He never felt quite safe without weapons, and had complained on multiple occasions that the cyber security firm he worked for had extensive security checks. Not that it was all around smart to carry knives in the illusion, but that rarely stopped him.
I told six tales at the evening’s festivities. Two were classic love stories, always a crowd favorite, one was an action movie, and the last three were a popular fantasy trilogy in the illusion.
There was dancing between each tale, and I danced twice with Lady Kalriki. She was a gorgeous older woman in her sixties with golden eyes and a deep brown complexion. She wore lilac silk, danced with dazzling grace, and absolutely insisted I visit her in Duun to meet her granddaughter. I told her my heart was promised to another. She sighed and pat my shoulder. “The good ones always are,” she informed me.
After my last tale I accepted a warm cup of tea with lots of honey from a servant and sipped it slowly, willing the ache in my throat to ease as I made my way to my brother.
He gave me a look.
“Maybe another half hour and you can escape.” I glanced at Mathias and Lady Kalriki. “Things seem to be going well, but I will stay to be sure.”
A lady approached our hidden corner from the dance floor and curtseyed, eyeing up Christopher as ladies sometimes did when they preferred a challenge. Christopher and I bowed in return.
I asked her to dance before she could sink her claws into Christopher, and we headed off to the dance floor.
My brother defended me from most harm, but in this small way, I could shield him.
In the morning, Mathias was sad to see us go, but he reassured us the deal with Duun had gone through, which would likely double his fortune over the next year. He made small noises about saving purses for us for when the spell was broken, as he saw us off, but I put little stock in it. Mathias was the sort to promise or suggest lots of kind things that never really happened.
He did, however, find us horses, and that was enough.
Christopher and I set off from Pundica toward the Great Highway branching out from the city. I turned my horse east, and Christopher shot me a glance.
“Hey, don’t give me any of that. Of course, we’re going to follow the Great Highway and cut through Leronia. You know you don’t want to take the south road either.”
Christopher’s eyes rolled.
“Yeah, it’s more direct, but this time of year you know Oskela’s roads are terrible. It’ll take us three extra weeks and we’ll be covered in mud by the time we get there. I’m not following the Great Highway just to look for Sam. It’s just a perk.”
Christopher didn’t believe me for a second, but he also didn’t argue.
“You know I can’t live without you in my life, right?”
Christopher didn’t respond, and at the moment I couldn’t hear his true feelings, as if he’d closed his mind off to me, but I didn’t think that was even possible.
I encouraged my horse to move a little faster, so turning in my saddle, I could get a better view of his face.
“Hey, talk to me here.”
He was silent for a long time, but I waited.
“It’s fine for you to pick her over me,” Christopher said, and it felt like he stuck one of his daggers into my chest. “That’s the natural order of things, isn’t it? We grow up, find love and leave our families.”
I shook my head, disagreeing with every piece of my heart. “I had to leave this semester and be with her. I couldn’t take that back-and-forth game we kept playing, and I needed to know where we stood. It was more urgent than staying with you, but you will always be just as important to me as she is.”
Christopher shook his head. “That isn’t how it works.”
“I’m in love with her and want to spend the rest of my life with her, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you there as well. I don’t see why I should have to choose. Things are hard right now with school and the illusion, but once all that is over, why can’t we just be one big happy family? As long as whoever you end up finding can agree with Sam on a place to live, you know we’ll go along with whatever.” I grinned as I said it, and the side of his mouth tipped slightly. All the forgiveness of the world in that one muscle of his lip.
This wouldn’t be the last talk we had. I would still need to prove to him we could make it work, but that would only come one day at a time.
Sam wasn’t in Leronia. They had seen her two seasons ago, but she’d headed to Pundica, in search of Kat, they said. Neither Kat nor Sam had been in Pundica. Christopher had checked the university before we set out, and only Allen had been in residence.
Over the weeks on the road, Christoper and I reconnected. We spent each night in a roadside inn, with full bellies and warm beds, after I told a tale or two for payment.
Our trip to Aluna was uneventful. When we reached the city gates, I pulled out the weather worn green t-shirt and pulled it on. We gave our names to a stable hand and Sir Silas of Tate and Steward of Aluna met us in the entry room of the castle. Generous of him, given we weren’t exactly flashy guests.
I bowed to the steward, ending with a little flourish to show off the t-shirt, and Christopher nodded his head in greeting. Silas stood with his arms crossed, his biceps pulling against the fabric of his tunic, and frowned at my shirt.
“I think this is one of those things you are going to need to explain the cultural significance of for me to understand,” he said.
I deflated a little and punched him in the arm, which hurt because the man is basically made of stone. “Come on, remember how I said I’d get your face on a t-shirt if you killed Byron? I even got Vanessa, Elodie’s best friend, to do the sketch.”
Silas fiddled with a silver chain on his wrist, his eyebrows furrowed with something like frustration and maybe a little sadness. “And you went through this for a joke?”
“Right.” He blew out a deep breath and turned to Christopher. “You are both welcome to stay as long as you would like. I have adjoining rooms being made up now for you.” He trailed off as a clamor of footsteps rushed down the hall. I turned to see the light of my life rushing to meet me, Kat a short distance behind.
Sam even squealed as she ran to me . . . and past me. She smacked into Christopher and gave him a bone breaking hug.
“I missed you so much!” she said.
“Uh, babe, I think you missed me.”
Kat arrived a moment later laughing, and I pulled her in for a hug.
Sam glanced over Christopher’s shoulder at me and rolled her eyes. “Why would I miss you? I see you all the time. I haven’t seen Christopher in like two years.”
Breaking apart, Christopher and she shared a smile, and Sam turned to me at last.
She punched me in the shoulder.
“Hi honey, how was your trip?” she asked while I rubbed my shoulder.
“Not too bad. I left like six hours after you.” I turned to Kat. “What are you two doing in Tross?”
“I’ll leave you to the catching up,” Silas said. “If you need anything, send a messenger.” The Steward turned and walked down a corridor. Sam, Kat, and I all watched him go.
What can I say, the man was built. We’re talking stacks on stacks on stacks of muscles. But the most impressive bit was that he didn’t walk like a muscle head. You know, those dudes who power lift but never stretch, so their arms hang out away from their body? They can’t scratch their own back, and they have to turn sideways through a doorway. Instead, Silas was nimble.
Sam looked away first and punched me again in the exact same spot. “Ouch! Babe! I bruise easy.”
“Awe,” she said, leaning in close. “Does that make you my little peach?”
“Yeah, Babe. I’ll be your peach. You wanna take a bite?”
Sam rolled her eyes, but she kissed my nose before pulling away. It was more PDA than she usually showed.
I knew she missed me.
“Come on, let me show you the brilliant project Kat’s been working on.”
I was already grinning as she took my hand, and I let her pull me deeper into the castle. Christopher and Kat followed in good spirits.
You can order anywhere that sells books including your local library, a student’s library, or your local independent book store. To vide on amazon, check out this link.
Signup to know when new books and book related content or events becomes available.