They sat on the bed, legs swinging over the side. Shining orbs glided through the air. With a faint “pop,” a new one swelled from Damon’s fingertip. Annie tracked it with wet eyes.
“Why don’t you want to?” he asked. He sent forth another orb and watched it float away.
She sniffled, wiping her nose on the back of her hand.
“Are you waiting until marriage?”
“No!” she scoffed, laughing drily.
“I won’t judge you, Annie. I don’t mind waiting. I just don’t understand.”
She stared at her lap. Tears ran down her cheeks, splashing on her jeans. The expensive ones with the pre-worn hole in the knee. He never understood that.
“I’m a bad person,” she said.
Damon frowned. There was a clicking sound in the back of his mind. A scrabbling memory. “No, you aren’t. I love you.”
Her tears fell faster now. She turned to caress his unshaven cheek, eyes inured with pain. He placed his hand over hers and squeezed hard. He would give anything to fix it.
To know why.
She sobbed, folding over, putting her head between her knees. “I wish you’d never met me,” she whispered.
He stiffened. Answered, barely above a whisper, “No.”
“Yes.” She wept into her jeans without looking up. “I’m so sorry. Please go.”
Shaking, he stood. He walked to the hall, grabbed his coat. Swung it over his shoulder as he left. Her sobs cut off as the front door slammed shut.
The autumn frost pinched at his cheeks. He strolled, aimless, until he found a lonely tree and squatted beside it, lighting a cigarette.
I wish you’d never met me.
Eight months, and this was how it ended.
Damon lifted a finger and let a shining orb pop out, translucent and oily, like a soap bubble.
He popped it with the cigarette.
They wandered down the pathways of the park. Shivering, Damon shoved his hands into his pockets. He was always cold, even in the summer. It was warmer where he came from.
Annie stopped before a plot of mottled yellow roses. “These ones are supposed to smell like grapefruit,” she said, smiling at him. Testing the waters. “They’re called Jude the Obscure.”
He regarded them with a grim expression. “That’s a ridiculous name for a rose.”
“Oh? And what would you call them?”
She giggled and ducked her head. Despite himself, he wanted to touch her, to run his fingers through her hair, brush his thumb over her lips. He hated it.
He hated her.
Dourly, he raised a hand, conjuring a flock of miniature bluebirds to flutter away over the rose garden. She watched them fly with wonder sparkling in her eyes.
“They’re beautiful,” she said.
“Of course they are. They’re free.”
Annie looked at him like he’d slapped her, shrinking away — guilty or ashamed or maybe just feeling sorry for herself. Damon watched her, unblinking. Let her feel it. Let her bear some of his pain.
She cupped a Jude the Obscure — stupid name — in her hand. “I wish you’d forget how things got this way,” she muttered.
He gaped at her. “No,” he said, shaking his head.
Damon kept watching her. Disbelieving. Disgusted.
She looked up and met his eye. “You have to.”
There was a long pause.
Damon lifted his hand and sent forth a shimmering orb.
His eyes never left hers as he popped it.
They stood on opposite sides of the storage unit. Sizing each other up.
“What are you?” the woman said.
Damon’s appraising gaze roved over her. He didn’t know the fashions of the day yet — he’d only just arrived — but her clothes looked finely made. Tailored, high-quality fabric. Her face was hauntingly familiar.
“You’re related to him, aren’t you?” he said. “To Tolliver?”
“Yes,” she stuttered, her eyes round, childlike. “He’s my grandfather. Th-this was his storage unit.”
“Good,” he spat. No doubt Damon was the reason this little princess could afford those nice clothes. The family fortune.
“What are you?” she repeated quietly, like she was afraid she might startle him.
“You haven’t guessed?” He waved a hand at the tarnished silver vessel, discarded on the floor from when she’d dropped it in surprise.
She took a tentative step toward him. “You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you. Can we get this over with?” Damon only hoped she wouldn’t spread her wishes over half a lifetime like her bastard of a progenitor.
“I — I have to think.” She gazed at the floor a long time, doe-eyed, processing her good luck. “I’m Annie, by the way.”
“Damon. Can’t say I’m pleased to meet you.”
She grinned. It was shy. Almost flirtatious.
Then she made her first wish.
Damon didn’t move.
“It won’t work the way you want,” he said under his breath. A warning tone. “I’ll know it’s false. The feelings won’t become real with time.”
“Please,” she said, her eyes glistening. Begging him. “I’m so alone.”
“You will regret it,” he said softly.
She was resolute. Unbudging.
Damon lifted a hand over his head, fresh loathing coursing through him. “I won’t ever forgive you for this.”
An orb issued forth from his fingers. He winced as he popped it with the tip of his nail.
Warily, he opened his eyes.
Before him was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Amanda Helander is a paralegal and fantasy writer residing in Seattle, WA. She is on Twitter as @helander_amanda.