LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
Dayle A. Dermatis eloped properly in Gretna Green, rode off on the back of a motorcycle, and hasn’t looked back since except to smile and sigh happily. Unsurprisingly, she writes romances that are sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, sometimes spooky, and sometimes funny, but will always make you smile and sigh happily. An unabashed romantic, she lives in a historic cottage in the verdant Pacific Northwest, and whenever she can, she travels the world for inspiration and loses herself in music. This is her fourth appearance in Heart’s Kiss
THIS IS THE WORLD CALLING
by Dayle A. Dermatis
Tansy felt as though her eyelids were lined with sandpaper. She hadn’t been able to sleep on the red-eye from LAX to Vienna—her kind wasn’t good with moving metal vehicles.
Contrary to popular belief, they couldn’t fly. Not even on broomsticks. Pity, that.
So she’d nibbled on candied ginger to keep her stomach from rebelling, cued up her playlist of Tibetan singing bowls, and closed her eyes. But then, all she did was fret over her research project for her Global Theory class at UC Santa Barbara.
The sky was just pinkening in the east as the town car whisked her through Vienna to the hotel. It had rained overnight, and the dark pavement glittered, wet, beneath the streetlights. She was sorry she wouldn’t have time to see anything of the city; she’d heard it was beautiful.
All she’d have time for was the conclave, and any moment she could sneak away from that, she’d be studying. A Masters in International Studies waited for no one, magic or not.
As the eldest, she’d have to run the family business one day.
She caught a brief glimpse of the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna’s famed giant ferris wheel, alit even at daybreak, before the sleek black car pulled up in front of the hotel where the high houses of witchcraft were meeting for their annual conclave. Heads of houses, spouses, heirs, apprentices, not to mention servants. There would be meetings, and endless suppers, and arguments. There would be schmoozing—and that really meant strengthening alliances and reaffirming who was on your side. The high houses of witchcraft were all about politics.
After all, they practically ruled the world, not that anyone else had a clue about that.
The hotel turned out to be a modern upscale one housed in the shell of a gorgeous, ancient grey stone façade. Tansy felt mildly disappointed by that; she was too exhausted to drum up real regret.
The vaulted-ceilinged, brightly lit lobby reminded her of a casino where you could never tell what time of day or night it was. The lights, after the near-darkness of the city, were jarring and made her headache flare. The lobby was dotted with sleek white leather sofas that looked supremely uncomfortable to sit in, although Tansy was so tired, she was sure she’d be able to sleep on one anyway.
The front desk clerks—there were three, even though she was the only person in the lobby other than the bellhop who’d retrieved her meager luggage from the chauffeur—were all smiles and perkiness despite the insanely early hour.
The pretty blond who helped her spoke perfect English with a delightful accent, and whisked her through check-in. Because the conclave had booked the entire hotel, it was as simple as giving her name and receiving her key card. Tansy tried not to stumble as she wearily followed the bellhop and his silent cart to her room.
The hallway smelled of magic—rosemary and lavender and woodsmoke and earthy mushrooms, all jumbled together—and she was glad when she could close the door to her room and open a window onto the dawn and the rainsoaked streets.
The room otherwise was a blur: bed, seating area, desk, lamps, black-and-white framed prints on the wall. Tansy washed her face, brushed her teeth—the peppermint soothed the last of her nausea—and started to pull off her shirt when she remembered the Do Not Disturb sign.
With a groan, she tugged her blouse back down and staggered to the door.
She opened it at the same time as the person across the hall opened his door to set out a room service tray.
“Good morning,” he said with a friendly smile as he straightened, and for a moment, in her beyond-tired state, all she could do was stare. Because—Whoa baby!—was he cute.
One heart-stopping moment later, she realized he looked vaguely familiar. Since the conclave had booked the entire hotel, it was likely she’d met him, or someone in his family, before.
Narrow face with almond-shaped, blue-grey eyes, and cheekbones that could cut glass. Silky straight black hair a shade too long for propriety. Tall, slender.
“Good night,” she managed, because even though it was morning her entire focus was on sleep, and closed the door, and then cursed all the way to the bed for sounding like an idiot.
Thankfully, by the time she’d stripped and crawled between the crisp white sheets and punched one of the five fluffy pillows into submission, she’d forgotten her indignity.
Because she was out faster than if she’d been hit with a lose-consciousness spell.
But not before she wondered, again, how she might know the hottie across the hall.
She didn’t sleep nearly as long as she wanted to, or as long as her body needed. But she had to force herself onto the right time schedule, and the only way to do that was force herself out of bed five hours later for lunch with her parents.
Then it was back to her room to study until the cocktail party that evening, followed by supper. “Casual enough,” her mother had said. “The conclave starts tomorrow; tonight is just schmoozing.”
Ah, that political schmoozing. With no formal meetings tonight, she could leave as soon as it was polite to after supper, get a few more hours of studying in, and maybe, finally, for the first time in as long as she could remember, get a full night’s sleep.
Hey, a girl could dream.
She’d told her parents that she might not even make it tonight, but she’d gotten farther ahead on her work than she’d expected. A glass of Riesling and some tasty Austrian sausage and cheese, and she’d be fortified for the rest of the night.
She dressed for the evening in a knee-length emerald green dress, sleeveless, with black lace trim along the low neckline, and her favorite mid-heeled Edwardian-inspired black shoes with their pointed toes and strap across the arch of her foot. She swept her hair back with a jeweled clip, grabbed a soft black lace shawl in case the banquet room was chilly (so many were) and a clutch purse (bigger on the inside), and was ready to go.
She was thinking of him again, the man across the hall, as she opened her door.
And there he was again, just exiting his room.
His hair was pulled back into a low, short ponytail, which somehow only served to make him hotter. But his suit, while clearly tailored to his slender form, seemed off. He didn’t seem the type.
Tansy forgot all that in the warm light of his smile.
“Hello there,” he said. “We meet again.”
Tired as she was, she still wasn’t as brain-dead as she’d been during their early-morning encounter. “Not a surprise, since we’re probably headed to the same function. Tansy Glass.” She reached out her hand.
At the same time, he held out his and said “Hideaki Pritchard—but everyone calls me Ki.”
It was a cliché to end all clichés, but as their hands touched, Tansy heard the name echoing in her brain, and she was assaulted by a series of almost-forgotten memories.
Memories of when she was a child, and a friend she played with during the conclaves then, a little boy she’d known as Key.
—sneaking off into the New Forest and casting a faery ring of acorns and pine cones and quartz, and watching the faeries come and dance—
—on the shores of Rhine, crafting a horn to call the Lorelei—
—racing through an Andean meadow in pursuit of something real or magical or maybe crafted from their own imaginations—
Tansy tried to drop Ki’s hand, but he wouldn’t let go. He was clearly having the same reaction; his pupils had dilated until his eyes appeared black.
“Tansy!” he said, and his smile, if possible, grew wider, warmer. “I can’t believe it—look at you!”
“Look at you,” she said.
It was true. The last time she’d seen Ki, they’d been what, thirteen? Still kids, really, awkward and acned and gangly.
No wonder she hadn’t recognized him, and yet had, deep down.
Then he pulled her into a hug, and the world went away again.
They’d hugged as kids, held hands, played, just been friends.
Now, her whole body shimmered with the feel of him against her, his arms around her and hers around him. She felt the strength in his slender form, the warmth of his body beneath the slate-grey silk shirt under his open jacket.
“How have you been?” he asked once he let her go (reluctantly, she hoped). “How long has it been?”
“Ten years, I think,” she said. “I stopped coming because I got too busy with school.”
“Me, too,” he said. “Grades became so important, and getting time off was harder.”
“It’s still hard,” she said. “I spent hours today working on a paper. But at least grad school is more flexible where classes are concerned.”
“I’m already working at the family firm,” Ki said, “but once I’ve got a foothold, I’ll go back for my PhD.”
“I’m exhausted just thinking about it,” she said with a laugh.
“I hear you,” he said. “I was up so early this morning because I couldn’t sleep—I flew in from Tokyo yesterday.”
“Los Angeles,” she said, doing the mental calculations. “Got you beat.”
It was surprisingly easy to fall into the familiarity, even with the new frisson of interacting as intelligent, attractive adults.
“We…should probably go,” Tansy said, because they still stood in the empty hallway, which probably meant the rest of the conclave members had already started schmoozing. She’d already been running late when she left her room.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, reluctance in his voice, and they started walking, their feet making no sound on the plush, deep red carpet bordered with a gold Greek key design.
Unfortunately, once they got within sight of anyone else, their conversation would have to come to an end.
The feud between the Glass and Pritchard families went back so many generations, nobody remembered exactly what started it. Long, long ago, someone from one family accused someone from the other family of screwing them over, and the other family cross-accused, and it had never been resolved. It’d only gotten worse over the centuries.
It was like the Hatfields and McCoys, only on an international business level. With magic.
The Pritchards had stopped briefly to say hello when Tansy had been having lunch with her parents. Nobody had been rude, but her parents and his parents had been about as distant and impersonal and cold as anybody could be.
She could only imagine how either set of parents would react if Tansy and Ki were caught actually being more than civil to each other.
She briefly contemplated taking the stairs while he took the elevator, but she didn’t want to stop talking to him just yet. They kept chatting about what they were focusing on (for him it was finance, although by the way he said it, she suspected it hadn’t been his choice, but what he’d been expected to study), and their favorite past conclave adventures, and then the elevator doors opened at the lobby and everything had changed.
In hindsight, Tansy wasn’t surprised that the change had happened then. Elevators were nether spaces, pockets where, if change was going to happen, it was going to happen there. The same was true of henges, certain pools, rings of fire, passageways like passage graves and yew tree walks and labyrinths, and some courtyards.
They didn’t realize something had happened until they got to the room for the cocktail party and it was empty. Actually, they didn’t realize it then, either, because they assumed they’d gone to the wrong room. But all the banquet and meeting rooms were empty.
And so was the lobby. And if there could be three people behind the check-in desk at four-thirty a.m., plus at least one bellhop and a concierge, there should be even more at seven o’clock in the evening.
There were none.
“Maybe there was a fire alarm, and we missed it somehow,” Ki suggested.
Tansy wasn’t sure how they could have missed a fire alarm that everyone else in the entire hotel and not only heard, but responded to by leaving, but it was as good a theory as they had.
They went outside into the cool Vienna evening air. The traffic noise hit them like a slap—it wasn’t particularly heavy or loud, but after the relative silence inside the empty hotel, it was startling. Restaurants were open, as well as a few shops across the street.
There were no guests spread out on the sidewalk, though, nor any kind of emergency vehicles.
As they went back inside, Tansy pulled her cell phone from her purse. That was when she realized her hands were shaking. She sat on one of the white leather sofas—it was as uncomfortable as it looked—and found her mother’s contact info.
Straight to voice mail. She didn’t bother to leave a message. She tried calling her father; same thing.
“My parents aren’t answering either,” Ki said, his eyes shadowed with concern.
Tansy finally voiced what she was fearing. “Nothing short of powerful magic could take out the entire conclave,” she said. “Who could’ve done it who isn’t here? And why weren’t we affected?”
“We were late to the cocktail party,” Ki noted. “Maybe we didn’t get swept up in it?”
For a brief moment, Tansy wondered if his parents were behind it. She wouldn’t put it past them. It was an uncharitable thought, though, and she dismissed it almost immediately. If the Pritchards wanted to take everyone out, why wouldn’t she have been caught up as well? And Ki seemed truly disturbed, too.
“I can’t believe nobody else was late,” she said. “And why would the hotel staff have been eliminated, too?”
“Like you said, if it was an outside force powerful enough to do this, then who?” Ki asked.
Neither of them could come up with an answer. Tansy wasn’t involved enough in the family business to really know the players in the witch community, and Ki couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to take everyone else down like this.
“The irony is, I was wishing we didn’t have to attend the conclave,” Ki admitted. He turned on the sofa to half face her, his knee brushing hers. “I wanted it to be like old times, when the two of us would just run off.”
“I’d been thinking the same thing,” Tansy admitted. “On the elevator…”
Their eyes met, and she knew the thought had hit both of them simultaneously.
Ki’s voice was low as he said, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of power.”
“I don’t either,” she said. “But…work with me here…maybe this isn’t direct magic. At least, not in the way we’re thinking.”
“So what is it, then?”
“Not to poke at the elephant that’s always in the room,” she said, “but our parents hate each other. Why in the world did they let us play together at every conclave for years?”
He blinked. “I…I’ve never thought about that.” His shoulders raised in a slow shrug. “We were kids.”
“We never thought about it while we were playing because we were kids,” she agreed. “We were off in our own little world. But when we came back, my parents never said anything—did yours?”
“No. Not a word. You’d think they…” His eyes widened, and he sat up straighter. His knee was still against Tansy’s, though, and despite everything, she liked having the physical contact with him. Not just because he was here and real and tangible in a moment where many others had disappeared, but because she liked how she felt when they touched.
It was Ki, comfortable and comforting…and somehow, now, more.
“Tansy, what did you just say?” he asked. “About us being in our own little world? What if it isn’t that everyone’s gone away…”
“…but that we’ve gone away from everyone,” Tansy breathed. The strands of her idea finally wove together into an obvious pattern. She shivered, and fumbled her shawl over her shoulders. Even though it was flimsy lace, it seemed to help.
“Maybe that’s what we’ve been doing all along,” he said. “Our parents didn’t even know we were playing together.”
“We were always back before someone wondered where we were,” she said. “The conclave has always been a safe place for kids to run off and play, but we were always back by supper, or nightfall, or whenever we might start to be missed.”
“Kind of,” he said. “We also went back when we were done playing. When we kind of looked up and realized we’d been gone and were hungry or whatever.”
“So how do we get back now?” Tansy wondered. “Just wish for it?”
They sat quietly for a moment. Tansy imagined her parents, tried to wish herself back with them. But nothing happened, and she didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved, and then Ki said, “Sorry, I don’t think I’m ready.”
Tansy felt a relieved laugh burble up from inside. “Oh, thank the gods! I was afraid I wasn’t able to wish hard enough!”
He laughed, too, and she was transported back to that feeling she’d had as a little girl, romping with her friend, not a care in the world.
How long had it been since she hadn’t been worried about something? The next test or paper or goal?
“I’m not sure it’s going to be as easy as wishing, anyway,” Ki said. “I think we have to go play until we’re done.”
“I think you’re right,” she said. “Because if we used to go back when we were hungry, we’d be back by now, because I’m starving.”
He grinned, a smile both boyish and devastatingly handsome, stood, and held out his hand. “Tansy Glass, will you do me the honor of having dinner with me?”
“Ki Pritchard,” she said, taking his hand and standing, “as long as there’s Wiener Schnitzel, it’s a date.”
After a brief spate of research on their phones, they chose a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. There was indeed Wiener Schnitzel, and Spätzle, and a variety of tasty Viennese pastries.
And there was Ki, with whom Tansy alternately felt completely comfortable with because she’d know him for years and completely awkward with because she hadn’t seen him for some time and now they were adults and it was different. But yet the same. She just hoped she hid any awkwardness well.
They talked about everything, it seemed: their studies, travel, the world. Movies, books (not that she had time to read for pleasure much, which she missed), magic. They decided that what they were doing—had been doing unconsciously since they were six or seven years old—was slipping out of time using their imaginations. Slipping sideways, somehow.
“I didn’t even know something like this was possible,” she admitted. “Now I want to go research it. Well, tomorrow I do. But imagine the implications!”
She took a sip of her Einspaenner coffee, another Viennese specialty, savoring the flavors of strong, bitter black coffee and the sweet whipped cream. A perfect balance. She hadn’t had balance in her life for a long time.
“I’m almost afraid to imagine anything,” Ki said with a laugh. “Who knows where we might end up!”
“Good point,” she said. “But right now, I like the idea that we can do whatever strikes our fancy. I think we can’t go back until we’re done playing.”
Ki handed the waiter his credit card. “Any suggestions?”
“Yep,” Tansy said. “I’m finally in Vienna, and I’ve always wanted to ride the Riesenrad.”
They changed clothes as they walked down the city streets to the 2nd District and the Prater amusement park. Just a subtle sheen of magic to keep anyone else from noticing. Tansy chose jeans, knee-high brown leather boots with a low heel, and a red sweater, because it was just getting chilly. Her clutch purse became a small cross-body bag. Ki switched his dress pants to jeans as well, and they fit him well, Tansy noted. He changed the suit jacket he hadn’t looked happy in anyway to a black peacoat that went well with his grey silk shirt.
He slid his hand into hers, and it felt comfortable, right. His long fingers fit well with hers, and his hand was warm.
She liked touching him.
She liked how she felt when she was touching him.
She had a brief, guilty thought about her parents—were they worried about her?—but she’d told them she might not make it tonight, and that she turned her phone off when she was studying. By now they were probably embroiled in some deep negotiations anyway.
And she had a brief, guilty thought about those lost studying hours tonight. But she felt confident that her and Ki’s theory was correct, that they wouldn’t get back to reality until they were good and ready.
“How did you even know about this?” Ki asked as they entered the amusement park. It was free to get in, so they just started wandering through, checking out the attractions and rides.
“My dad’s an old movie buff, and got me hooked,” she said. “The ferris wheel—Wiener Riesenrad—was featured in The Third Man. It was also the world’s tallest ferris wheel until 1985. It was almost a hundred years old then.”
“Well, let’s go, then.”
Tansy stopped, craned her neck to look up at it. “Let’s save it for last,” she said. “Let’s be kids again first.”
So they did. They went on the bumper cars and bumbled their way through the mirror maze. They played arcade games, and when Ki won a big stuffed banana, he gave it to a little kid. They rode the historic carousel and flew down the giant slide and posed for selfies with wax figures at Madame Tussauds, something Tansy never would have done in other circumstances. When they actually felt a little hungry again, they bought candy at the sweet shop.
They emphatically agreed that the bungee bounce was not on the itinerary.
“I hate things that fling you around,” Tansy admitted.
“Well, how about that roller coaster, then?” Ki pointed. “It’s for families.”
Tansy pursed her lips, eyeing it. “A baby coaster? Okay, I’m in.”
There wasn’t much of a line this late at night; there were fewer and fewer families wandering the park. As they drew closer, she squinted at the sign. “Dizzy Mouse?” she translated.
“The carts are mice, see?” Ki pointed.
“Yellow-and-red striped mice.”
“We’ve unconsciously magicked ourselves into our own private reality and you have issue with mice being unusually colored?”
“Actually,” Tansy said, “I’m more concerned with the fact that the mice go shooting into a giant cat’s mouth. Or to be more specific, I’m concerned about where they come out.”
“I don’t think we’re supposed to think too hard about that,” Ki said. “Too late to back out now.”
He was right, because they were next in line.
The round cart consisted ofa long red seat that could easily fit three adults, hard molded slick fiberglass. Tansy and Ki sat in the middle, close to each other. A bar came down across their laps.
At first, their cart followed the track normally: up a slow, short incline and then into a series of curves. A few dips and bumps that were actually kind of fun. She started giggling. And then they went around a hairpin curve and the cart started to spin.
Even with her feet braced, Tansy was shoved into Ki as she slid on the slippery seat. But a moment later, the spin reversed, and he was shoved into her. Then they shot into the darkness of the cat’s mouth, and it was ridiculous and stomach-lurching and crazy, and all she could do was laugh.
By the time they got to the end, she almost couldn’t breathe, she was laughing so hard.
“Um,” Ki said. “Do you want to go on it again? There’s no line.”
“That’s okay,” she gasped. “One trip through a feline digestive system is enough for me.”
She was probably bruised, but she didn’t care. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed like that, or been with someone who made her comfortable enough to howl with laughter.
His hair had come loose from the short ponytail he’d had it caught back in. Without thinking, she smoothed the dark, silky strands back from his face.
He smiled and caught her hand, pulled it down, pressed his lips against her knuckles.
Her breath caught, now for a different reason.
For a moment, they stared at each other.
“I’m still not ready to go back,” Ki said.
“Of course not,” Tansy said. “We still haven’t gone on the ferris wheel.”
The park was nearly empty, so they had the gondola to themselves. The enclosed cart could have easily fit ten people. It had wide, tall windows all around to afford the best views, with paneled wood walls beneath, and gold curtains that had been drawn back.
With a small lurch, the wheel began to turn. The gondola rocked gently. Tansy braced herself against the window, and Ki’s arm came around her back. Whether it was to help support her, support himself, or draw them slightly closer together, she didn’t know. Nor did she care, because if he hadn’t, she’d have done the same thing.
The cart slowly rose, and they watched the rides and games of the Prater grow smaller, and the city of Vienna spread out before them, the lights like a jumbled heap of jeweled necklaces sparkling in the dark. Below, people took photos of the famous Wiener Riesenrad.
“Remember the fireflies that last year, I think when the conclave was in Michigan?” Tansy asked. “Those flashes remind me of that.”
“I do remember,” Ki said. “It was at that hotel on an island. We found the fairies amongst the fireflies, and brought them bread soaked in milk so they’d dance for us.”
“The last thing they did was form the words thanks for the food,” Tansy said with a laugh. “I’d forgotten that until now. It was magical.”
She realized how ridiculous it was for a witch to say that, but that thought fled when Ki said, “It still is,” and kissed her.
It was a slow, gentle kiss, brief enough that she was sorry when it ended.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, and until he did, she hadn’t realized what she’d been holding back.
“I’m…everything is going so well,” she said. “Everything always went so well. We’ve always been so…comfortable together. Like we fit.”
“Like we belong together?”
“Yes, and that’s the problem.” She blew out a frustrated breath, looked out over the now-tiny city. “If there’s anything I hate in romance novels, it’s when the characters are somehow destined to be together. Where’s the challenge of making sure they’re right for each other? I don’t believe in that kind of destiny.”
“I don’t either,” Ki said, and she felt a weight lift off. “But you can’t deny we have a connection.” She started to speak, but he held up a hand. “I’m not assuming anything,” he went on. “Clearly our magic is compatible, which says something. But this isn’t about magic, or witchcraft or conclaves or business. This is about two people—us.”
“It’s an ‘us’ that I like so far,” Tansy said.
“Me, too,” he said, and his fingers gently flexed against her waist, pulling her just a tiny bit closer. “We still have a lot of catching up to do, though.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” she said, thinking of their parents, of politics, of business empires they were expected to take over someday.
“I certainly hope not,” he said, and that drew a startled laugh out of her. “Otherwise, like you said, where’s the challenge?”
She leaned into him then, thinking of childhood frolics and how easy it was to lose that joy when the real world intruded. She hadn’t realized until now that she wanted someone to navigate through the real world with, but also run away with. Just be with.
She didn’t know the adult Ki was now, but she knew the boy from the past. She’d liked him. She had no reason to believe he hadn’t grown into a man she liked, too. So far, that was true.
The ferris wheel looped down and back up again as they talked more, about everything under the sun and moon, until she realized the park was long quiet and magic had taken over the controls. The moment they wanted to leave, the wheel brought them down and stopped.
Hand-in-hand, they walked through the quiet, chill streets of Vienna to the hotel as the dawn hinted at the horizon. The lobby was empty as they entered, but Tansy knew, deep down in her bones where her magic lay, that soon, the worlds would be back together, and the staff and the conclave attendees would be everywhere.
The elevator dinged, letting them out on their floor. Perhaps the change had already happened, bringing them back, given that was where it had started. But at this hour, it was impossible to tell.
“We have a few hours before the conclave starts,” she noted.
“We could get some sleep,” Ki said.
“I wasn’t inviting you for sleep,” Tansy said.
“You know,” Ki said, “maybe we could use a little magic to stretch out the time just a little longer…”
As they walked down the hallway, Tansy realized she hadn’t felt so relaxed in what seemed like forever. Possibly not since the last time she’d run hand-in-hand through the fireflies and faeries with Ki.
She had a feeling they could make an amazing world together.
2014 by Dayle A. Dermatis.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.