Jim took me to a Canian music lounge. The host seated us at a glossy, black table larger than we needed, especially since I sat as close to Jim as acceptable in public. I’d never imagined Jim in a place like this. They’d decorated the club all in black, white, and grey. The club owner kept an exciting aesthetic despite the muted color palette. Dark grey walls featured a pattern of interlocked white triangle outlines. The curtains framing the stage started white at the bottom and darkened to pitch black at the top. Sleek white instruments waited in front of a black backdrop for musicians to play them. Even the candles at the tables burned with grey flames.
Our server brought us black drinks in frosted white glasses. Even the food obeyed the theme. Somehow the chefs kept out any taste of the dye they used. The opening bands played well, but it was easy to tune them out in favor of talking to Jim. He told me about his idea of using wild magic to see through the invisibility spell I’d adapted. I agreed to help him, and he invited me to use the workshop at his place. We paused in our conversation when the host walked up to our table. Daniel and a redhead in a flawless, knee-length emerald dress followed close behind him.
“Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see you here, sir,” Jim apologized. “We can leave—”
“Nonsense, the table is big enough to share,” the redhead interrupted before Daniel could say anything. He didn’t seem to mind her making the decision for them.
“Of course, stay,” Daniel insisted.
“Okay,” Jim agreed, but I heard some hesitation in his tone. Our server immediately came for their drink order as Daniel and his date slid into the u-shaped booth with us.
“Aubrey, this is Dimitri, and you’ve already met Jim,” Daniel said. After they gave their drink orders.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, offering her a hand.
“Likewise,” she said. She took my hand, and I noticed a binding band on her wrist. The thick metal circle suppressed her natural ability to use magic. Someone decided for her it would be better to contain her power. “I love your suit. Who embroidered the vest for you?”
“Thank you. I got it at a boutique near my old job. I worked for Shaw’s Factory, if you know the area,” I told her. “They custom fit everything.”
“Oh, Perry’s shop. They do decent work there. If you’re ever looking for something new, you should visit my shop. I’ll give you a discount,” she offered with a wink. “Jim can bring you in.”
“Did you make your dress?” I asked. “I love the color and the fit.”
“Thanks, I did,” she confirmed. “I think I have some things in this fabric that would suit you. Definitely bring him by, Jim.”
“Just name the day,” he told me. He still seemed a little nervous. Our server returned with fresh drinks for Jim and me, along with Daniel’s and Aubrey’s orders. I put my hand on his thigh and gave him an encouraging squeeze.
“How are things coming with your shop, Dimitri?” Daniel asked.
“It’s slow going. I toured a few storefronts today, but none of them felt right,” I answered.
“You’re opening a business?” Aubrey asked.
“A custom watch shop,” I affirmed.
“He does superb work,” Daniel bragged as if I were a rare gem he’d discovered.
“Well, I wish you luck. It’s hard work going into business for yourself, but I’ve found it’s worthwhile,” Aubrey said and lifted her glass in a toast. We joined her and drank.
A new band came on stage, and we quieted as they started playing. They had a slow style that encouraged dancing slow and close. More people got up to dance for them than the previous musicians. I didn’t feel up to it yet. I enjoyed dancing at home, but I’d never done it in public. Occasionally, older students at the academy left campus and went to clubs, but the right person never asked me to join him. Maybe because the right person for me was never there, to begin with.
“You know, I might be able to help you find a space for your shop, Dimitri,” Daniel offered. I hesitated briefly. Hopefully, he didn’t notice.
“It couldn’t hurt to look. I’ve only seen the one building so far,” I said casually. I didn’t know exactly what Daniel did, but I knew it wasn’t legal. That I’d needed that morally grey connection to sell my sample watches. However, I didn’t know if it would be a good idea to rely too much on Daniel as I established my shop. He’d been nothing but kind to me since seeing my original enchantments. So maybe my hesitation wasn’t fair.
As a new song started, Jim took my hand and excused us to dance. Apprehension over people seeing me dance almost made me object. His firm grasp reassured me enough to take the chance. He led me to a wooden dance floor stained black to match the stage. I noticed that most of the patrons dressed in theme with the bar. That made my purple suit and Jim’s dark blue suit stand out as we joined the other dancers. Once he’d picked a spot for us, Jim pulled me closer and led me through a slow dance. As we moved through the steps, our magic spread from our entwined hands over the rest of our bodies. It took me until the middle of the second song to feel a pattern in the tingling sigils. The sensation traveled up and down my body in perfect sync with the music, changing to fit each new song.
All my lingering nervousness faded away. I felt graceful in Jim’s arms. And even if I looked like a fool to everyone else in the room, it didn’t matter because he looked at me like he wanted to stay like this all night. Soon the other patrons evanesced, and I only perceived Jim, our tangled magic, and the music we moved to. The rest of the world only came back into focus when the band finished their set. We returned to the table for another drink while the stage changed hands to a new group.
“You two look good out there,” Aubrey said as we slid back into the booth.
“Agreed,” Daniel said.
“Thank you.” I blushed at the praise and then harder in embarrassment.
The next band brought up the tempo. People returned to the dance floor with faster moves. Aubrey pulled Daniel’s hand and said, “This is more my speed.”
He followed her into the throng of dancers. Encouraged by their compliments and my enjoyment of the slow dances, I finished my drink quickly and went back to the dance floor. We found space near Aubrey and Daniel. As the night went on, Aubrey had us dancing more as a quartet than as separate couples. She taught me a few simple moves on the fly. Leaving Daniel and Jim to dance with each other. Aubrey and I giggled as Daniel led. Jim was easily the largest man on the dance floor and struggled to take cues from his shorter boss. Aubrey saved Jim, letting him lead with her for a while. Daniel spun me effortlessly into his arms and looked more comfortable as I let him guide me. I’d never have guessed when I first met him that this intimidating man would smile at me as we danced together. We swapped partners again, and I ended up back in Jim’s arms. We didn’t stop touching again for the rest of the night, eventually ending up tangled together in his bed, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.