"Are you sure about this?" Theo asked me nervously, his green eyes darting around the dim, dinky little shop which was swathed with dramatically purple, red and pink satin cloth.
"Yes." I said, much more confident that I truly sounded and felt much more comforted when he slipped a protective arm around my waist and drew me closer against his warm body. "I've been here before."
He shot me a sarcastic look that told me that he did not believe my words at all. I had indeed been here before. Well, okay, maybe just once... and also maybe from across the street as I waited for my brothers to finish topping up the car's petrol tank. This shop was after all, just a tiny little shop tucked in between a brightly-lit bookstore and a glitzy manicurist. Its tiny display window was dusty and was swallowed up by the gloom of shadows brought about around this time of the evening. The signboard hanging precariously on rusty chains just above the plain grey door proclaimed "Ye Olde Magicks" in fading bold, black, curving script. I had been doubtful at first when I saw the shop from outside and this doubt only hardened all the more when Theo and I stepped in its inky interior. There were shelves lining the two side walls of the small front part of the shop, with various ornaments and weird magic stuff placed upon them. They looked dusty and grimy, as if nobody had touched or even looked at them in a long time. The back of the shop was sealed off by a long, dark brown counter and the entrance was covered by a thick, black, heavy curtain. When we entered, there had been a tinkling of a bell above our heads.
I pursed my lips and gazed up at Theo. He looked down at me and smiled reassuringly, causing his green eyes to twinkle even now in these dark conditions. His damp dark hair hung down to his ears and curled up just a little when they reached the tip of his ears. He had taken a bath earlier just after football practice when I complained loudly and whiningly about the sweat stench. He had finally agreed to see the woman I supposedly knew but we all knew that I had just been exaggerating a teensy little bit. Just this much. Chase had not been happy to let me go off with Theo, especially when I told him to tell the others that I was going to miss dinner. Of course, I had already informed Tessa and she had agreed to distract Chase by flirting with a bunch of other guys. We read his actions like an open book and knew that he would storm over jealously to her sooner or later. Ta-dah! So here I was with Theodore, standing in the midst of a tiny shop that claimed to sell magic. Maybe this was a complete mistake. I could just picture Theo's smug smirk and shaking his head patronizingly. Then a woman appeared from behind the black curtain.
"Come in, come in!" she boomed theatrically, flinging open her arms and causing the many bangles she had on her arms and beads she had around her neck to collide with chaotic clinks. "Don't just stand there!"
I had to stifle a snicker. The woman looked around her thirties or so, with white-blonde hair fixed up in a bun at the very top of her head with chopsticks stabbed through it. Her clothes were vibrantly colored and hung to her loosely while her brown eyes were horribly magnified by her strange, oversized glasses that sat on the very end of her crooked nose. Theo tugged on my hand with a snort of amusement and we walked closer towards the woman as she splayed her hands onto the counter and stared at us.
"Yes, yes. What will it be?" she asked, waving her hands impatiently. "A contraceptive potion? A fortune telling? A romance telling?"
"You sell contraceptive potions?" Theo interrupted incredulously, now sounding as if he was seriously going to burst out laughing.
"Well, yes. Surely such a young, attractive couple like yourselves is sexually active?" she raised an eyebrow in question. "My potions have been medically proven as safe. Here, take a sample."
She reached from under the counter before either of us could deny being a couple and produced a test tube-like contained in which a creepy, acid-green, bubbly liquid swirled. Theo gave a snort and when I glanced at him sharply, I saw that he had a hand clapped tightly over his mouth as the ends of his eyes crinkled with poorly suppressed hilarity. I stamped on his right foot and tears gushed to his eyes as he tried now to suppress his pain. Well, we could not have the only woman I knew of who could possibly help us offended by Theo's insensitivity. I turned back to the woman and smiled awkwardly as she watched curiously, her head cocked. I detached myself from Theo's side and walked towards her, searching in my head for the right words to say to her without her thinking what a completely loony I was. Then I remembered just who it was I was trying to approach and felt incredibly idiotic. It was amazing just how some people could make themselves feel stupid, like me.
"We're here for some... uh..." I fished around for the word desperately as she straightened and raised her eyebrows above her disturbingly large eyes.
"Magic advice." Theo offered when he seemed to have recovered and placed his arm around my waist once more, tugging me snugly against him.
"Ah..." she nodded briskly. "It'll be thirty bucks an hour. Head this way please."
She gestured to the little space at the end of the counter we had to pass through to get behind it. I looked at Theo and he merely looked disgruntled that he had to fork out thirty bucks to pay some kook who might not even be for real. I rolled my eyes and reminded myself to pay him back my half of the sum. I ran my hand over the smooth worn wood of the counter, liking the feeling of it running under my fingers like water, as I walked along it towards the so-called entrance. I followed the woman as she pushed past the curtain and entered the room beyond. I stood in the doorway, holding the musty-smelling curtain away as I gazed in awe at the room. If the main store could have possibly cast doubt on this woman's "magical" ability, the backroom sure was doing a good job of changing my opinion of her. Half of the roof was glass and on a raised podium at the very back of the room was a shiny, silver telescope. Before the podium was a small round table covered with a long, sequined red tablecloth and a crystal ball held court there. The walls were lined with shelves similar to the ones outside, except that these were crammed with books, mostly with cracked, leather spines. I breathed in deeply and the calming, flowery scent of something engulfed my senses. This place was amazing.
"Over here, Essa." she said, waving at me. "Don't be shy now."
I smiled and walked over to where she was at a table near the left shelf of books. An unlit candle sat in the middle, a stump of melted white wax that looked strangely melancholic. I sat across from her and Theo sat next to me, looking around with intrigue.
"My name's Vivian." she smiled. "Now, what advice would you like to ask of me?"
I exchanged a look with Theo. He shrugged.
"Well... Um... Do you believe in out-of-body experiences?" I asked hesitantly.
"Of course. My philosophy is to believe in everything until there is significant doubt cast upon it." she said smartly.
"Um, to put it simply... the two of us are having... out-of-body experiences." I hedged, wringing my hands under the table.
"Into each other's body." Theo added helpfully.
"You're saying... that the two of you... switch bodies?" her eyes became far larger and I was relieved that she herself whipped the glasses off before I resisted the urge to assist her in taking them off. "That's amazing! How do you go about doing it?"
"When we kiss."
"On the lips." Theo added, once more extremely helpfully.
I gave him a look and he shrugged with a little smirk.
"I have read about such cases!" Vivian rose from her seat in a flurry of excitement, toppling over the candle, to rush over to the wall of books on the other side of the room. "Could you just wait a minute please? I remember it being here! Oh, where is Benjie when you need him?!"
I blinked in slight surprise as Theo grabbed my hand and turned me towards him, asking me once more, "Are you sure about this?" I gestured to the room and replied, "Can I be wrong?" He sighed and rolled his eyes, sinking forwards to place his forehead against my right shoulder. I smiled and placed a hand on the back of his head, mingling my fingers among his thick, damp, dark curls. My mind wandered back compellingly to what had conspired this afternoon outside of the General Office. Just why was Theo so vague about what he had been doing earlier? It was exasperating how it was plain that he was avoiding me and yet he denied it point-blank. Why could I not ask? It was so incredibly annoying now that I was thinking about it. I thought Theo and I were close now, in so many more ways than one. We were very, very, very close, were we not? Or was it all in my own imagination? I was a nosy person, I knew it, and Theo, my friend, not telling me something bothered me a fair bit. I took a deep breath and tried not to care. It was his own business what he did. He had no obligation to tell me whatever I wanted to know on a whim.
He lifted his head then and our eyes met. He smiled and I returned it, feeling the warmth enveloping me as a hot flush started to spread over my skin. He leaned forwards and I inhaled deeply the scent of his deodorant. His lips brushed my left cheek and foreign sensations rocked through my body, eliciting pleasure sensors I never knew existed. My smile grew in a giddy, silly grin. He was grinning as well, his tongue licking his lips, when he sat back. Inexorably, I remembered the kiss he planted on me that night when he dropped me off at home. My face felt as if it was on fire and could only be glad when Vivian broke our concentration on each other by shrieking when an enormous "BANG!" sounded. We whirled around to see her hanging precariously with her fingertips on the topmost shelf as the wooden stepladder lay below her swinging feet. I gasped in horror and the two of us started forwards at the same moment. It was too late; she lost her grip. The next thing I knew she was cradled in the arms of a handsome older Asian man who looked about in his fifties.
"Benjie! About time you got here!" Vivian chided as if what she had been doing was what happened everyday. "I can't that book! That one about-"
"What did I tell you about getting books on the top shelf?" his voice rumbled as he set her down gently. "I believe I told you to wait for me to get it for you."
"Well, I can't wait with you gone like that!" she cried, flinging her hand out at Theo and I. "I have customers. Some very, very interesting customers."
"You wanted grapes all of a sudden. I was just getting them for you." he said patiently. "Calm down. I understand your interest but you might affect the baby."
It was then that I realized with a hard, heavy thump that made me feel like an utter moron that under all those layers of loose, baggy clothes, Vivian was pregnant. I blinked rapidly. I felt I had but a vapid wisp of brain matter residing in my cranium. The man turned to us and gave us a nod, saying, "Welcome. My name is Zhen Li."
"He's my husband. I rescued him from that awful so-called Lord Huang Jixiang." Vivian wrinkled her nose with a grin as she patted the bump under her clothes affectionately. "It's been... over fifteen years, hasn't it, Li?"
"You're only confusing them, Vivian." her husband shook his head in amusement as he took her elbow and led her over to the chair. "Don't be scared of her. She's mainly harmless."
"Harmless!" she echoed, throwing him a glare as he righted the stepladder and picked up the book. "I'll show you harmless once the baby comes out!"
Then she looked at us and saw us still standing with some surprise. "Why the heck are the two of you standing? Sit, sit!"
Feeling more and more bemused, Theo and I sat down with more than just some apprehension. Li handed his eccentric wife the book and she took it hurriedly, flipping through the pages rapidly before coming to a page she wanted with a cry and slamming it in front of the two of us. The candle rolled off the table with a clatter though she appeared not to notice at all. Li picked it and placed it on the table with a shake of his head and a smile. Theo and I peered at the page. It was in Latin. Vivian realized then and groaned, rolling her eyes.
"I'll read it then!" she said, turning the book back to her. "Let's see... what's important. Ah, yes! Here it is... There are spells in existence which are known to be able to transfer one's soul from one host to another. You didn't cast a spell- No? Okay then. Charms? No again? Hmmm... In the first place, it takes some very strong and major magic with roots strongly in the magicks of the universe to actually perform this act. You two don't look much like Starbinders. Besides, I don't think there are any magic user in this town but me and Li and we're both Travelers. Strange..."
I could feel Theo's hand squeezing mine very tightly. I was sure now that he was certain this woman was nothing but a kook, a pregnant woman who had gone out of her mind and her poor husband who could only accommodate her at this stage. Yet... everything seemed possible now that I actually was able to switch bodies with him. How could magic not exist? It seemed so wholly possible. So impossibly possible, the biggest paradox I had ever encountered.
"Right, Essa! Tell me how this happened."
"I made a wish upon a falling star one night." I said.
"Psh." Vivian waved her hand. "Falling stars do not grant wishes. They're just loose stars the Starbinders decided to cast off."
She frowned and stared down at the book while her husband massaged her neck gently. Suddenly, her head snapped up and she stared at Theo with an almost accusatory glare.
"Theodore! What-" she cut herself off by falling silent.
After a while as she stared at Theo's now blank, impenetrable face, she shook her head and her face visibly paled. "I'm wrong. How can I possibly not know?! YOU! You are-"
"Let's go, Essa." Theo suddenly surged up his seat, dragging me along with him. "Time to go."
"No! What is it?" I protested, tugging at my hand insistently. "Theodore!"
"LET'S GO, ESSA!" he roared, a redness rising in his neck as he began to pull me behind him as he strode towards the black curtain.
"LET GO OF ME! I WANT TO STAY!" I screamed with about as much stubbornness as my heart jolted in shock at his sudden outburst.
"You won't get away with what you did by masquerading yourself in this town, Ciardha!" Vivian shrieked after us as the black curtain flapped shut behind us. "She can't hide you forever! She's just human!"
My heart was thudding in my ribcage as Theo dragged me through the small space at the end I caught my hip against the edge of the counter. I gasped in pain as he continued to pull me along even when we emerged in the chilly, night air. The moon was now out and the streetlights were on. I stumbled over my feet as he began to walk faster, only stopping when we came to his car. Then he unlocked the car door and held it open for me silently.
"Get in." he said brusquely, not meeting my eyes.
"NO!" I screamed, ripping the door from under his hand and slamming it shut. "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON, THEODORE?!"
"I can't tell you." he said tersely. "I can't."
"YES, YOU CAN! TELL ME DAMN IT!" I was beginning to lose my temper, feeling myself twirling and swirling around in the unraveling ribbons of my good mood. "TELL ME!"
"I CAN'T!" he bellowed back. "STOP ASKING THESE FUCKING QUESTIONS!"
"OH YEAH?! WHY CAN'T I? YOU DRAGGED ME OUT OF A SHOP WHEN WE'RE FINALLY GETTING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS PROBLEM OF OURS AND I DON'T GET EVEN THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION?!" I was screaming, my fists clenched very tightly. "I DEMAND ONE RIGHT NOW!"
"YOU WON'T GETTING ONE SO GET INTO THE FUCKING CAR!" he grabbed the door handle and pulled it open, practically wrenching the car door out.
"I'll walk then." I said coldly and pushed past him.
I began to stride down the sidewalk, leaving him gaping in disbelief behind me.
Thank you very much. ^_^
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