Why didn’t I kiss him? Why didn’t he kiss me? With his magic running along my body, it felt inevitable. The moment he pressed his palm to mine, every part of me woke up. Did he feel it too? Had he come as close to leaning in as I had? I wanted to open my door and go after him. But the warm tracing sigils faded from my skin, and uncertainty grew stronger. I’d drunk more than usual tonight. Maybe I’d imagined the intimacy between us. He’d stepped away first, after all. And he walked away while I silently pleaded for him to touch me again.
Cogton rubbed himself on my legs and the door frame, pulling me back to reality. I knelt down and scooped up my cat. He purred against my chest as I cradled him. The whole day started to seem like an unlikely memory. I cast the warming spell Jim taught me just to prove to myself that it happened. Cogton’s purrs grew louder, and he burrowed closer to me, appreciating the warmth. I locked the door and carried my cat to my bedroom. When I set him down at the end of the bed, I thought about leaving the warmth with him. As I stepped away, I cooled off. Cogton snuggled into the blanket, unconcerned with where I went as long as he kept that magical heat.
I sat on the bed and slumped against my headboard. I should get up and get ready for bed. Usually, I couldn’t get to sleep without my nightly routine, like a ritual that summoned slumber. But without even meaning to, I drifted off, thinking about Jim. My control over the warming spell slipped, and Cogton woke me briefly as he wiggled into my side. I dropped down into the bed and curled around my cat. I wished I had Jim to keep me warm. Soon enough, thoughts of him faded into dreams of him.
The next morning, I woke up groggier than usual. My head didn’t hurt, but I moved slowly as I got ready for my day. I didn’t look forward to another day of work at Shaw’s after Greg attacked me. Jim might not be around to rescue me if it happened again. I knew better than to think I’d win on my own. When I got to work and saw Greg’s bruised face, I wished Jim had taught me how to do his shocking spell. My confidence in using wild magic hadn’t grown enough to attempt it without plenty of practice. With how many tries it took to gain passable proficiency on the concealment and warming spells, I knew I wouldn’t get the shocking spell on the first go.
Greg wouldn’t confront me again while we worked, though. He’d have too many witnesses. He didn’t want to explain his after-hours activities any more than I did. His disdainful glares throughout the day tempted me to go to my supervisor and arrange to pay off the rest of my contract. Maybe he’d forget about me if I didn’t work here anymore. Keeping my watches a secret meant staying on until the end of my contract. Another month and a half at Shaw’s, and I’d be free by completely legitimate earnings. I still worried about getting audited if I left earlier than planned. If that happened, I wouldn’t be able to explain the gold, disenchanted watches, or unauthorized spell book they’d find in my apartment. I’d added the invisibility spell to my personal watch to avoid any confrontations off the factory floor. Between witnesses at work and stealth after hours, I could make it to the end of my contract and avoid another encounter with Greg.
My sluggishness followed me through my morning, but by the time I clocked out, I felt energized. I worried the extra energy might be a consequence of dabbling in wild magic, but then I remembered that I’d been feeling stronger before that. The boost started when I’d rushed the last of my custom watches. I’d have to talk to Jim about it the next time I saw him. Even if he didn’t have answers, he was the only person I could talk to about my private magic use. Having him as a sounding board might help me work things out, assuming he wanted to see me again.
“What are you doing tonight?” Virginia asked as we walked out together.
“Uh—” I planned on working on a watch for Daniel, but I couldn’t tell her that.
“Come to dinner,” she said before I came up with an acceptable lie.
“I’m not sure,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the factory. Greg came out, making me worry he’d timed his exit with mine.
“Lyle won’t be there,” she said. She still thought my crush on Lyle kept me from socializing after work. But I hadn’t felt that pull toward him at work today.
“All right,” I said. She looped her arm through mine and guided me as we turned a corner.
Virginia didn’t tell me where she wanted to eat, but I trusted her even as she led me onto a train leaving downtown. I’d been checking behind us as subtly as I could the whole way, but Greg hadn’t followed. When the train stopped, we got off on an empty platform, confirming that he wouldn’t confront me again around our coworkers. I didn’t recognize the area when we left the station. Virginia and I walked to an apartment building with a Purpurean restaurant on the ground floor.
“Dinner’s almost ready, Gin,” a woman called as we walked into Virginia’s apartment.
“I brought home a guest,” Virginia responded. She led me into the kitchen.
“You must be Dimitri! It’s lovely to meet you,” the woman said. She put down her spoon and hugged me.
“Dimitri, this is my partner, Mira,” Virginia said.
“Nice to meet you too,” I said, sinking into her hug. Her brawny arms reminded me of Jim’s as he helped me into my apartment the day before. Mira wasn’t as buff as Jim, but she still looked like someone to bet on in a fight.
“I hope you like Corcean food. I’m making one of my mother’s recipes,” Mira said as she let me go.
“Of course,” I said.
“We’ll set the table,” Virginia told her. She handed me silverware and led me out of the kitchen.
“Not that I don’t appreciate being invited over, but why now?” I asked once we made it to the dining room. I’d never been to Virginia’s home, and I didn’t know she had a partner. Whenever they invited me to their plans after work, she and Lyle went out.
“After you ran out on us at the Caster Bar, I thought this might be more your speed,” she said. “Plus, Mira has been asking to meet my friends.”
I smiled at the idea of her telling her partner about me. I’d underestimated the impact I’d had on her life. Mira was the second person to know me on sight from Virginia talking about me. I hadn’t thought much of it with Gwen at the Caster Bar. I’d kept Virginia at arm’s length because she and Lyle felt like a package deal. Her welcoming me into her home, though, warmed my spirit. I wondered if this was her way of showing I could trust her. What if I could? As we sat down to dinner, I gave more serious thought to asking her to join me when I left Shaw’s factory.