"If you think that's funny, no one's laughing."
Jack stood up and glared at Ross. "Mr and Mrs Foxtail told us not to tell her."
"Jack, don't be stupid," I said. "Ross is being a jerk." Something deep inside me was strangely annoyed at my insult. That was new. I hated Ross.
"Well she would have found out one day, wouldn't she? I mean, I heard they were going to buy her a beryl on her 18th and explain everything after she'd finished school." I turned to look at Ross while he was speaking. He looked dead serious.
"But she's 16, not 18." Jack was glaring.
"Ah but I have to practise telling humans this sort of thing, Jack. For when I'm a kingfisher." There was some subtle other meaning behind his last statement (which didn't make sense anyway), but he kept it well hidden.
"Perhaps. But not someone whose parents made us promise not to."
"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" I shouted.
"I will," Ross offered, putting his hand up like a child answering a teacher's question.
"You won't," Jack snarled. I'd never seen him look so angry before.
"Jack darling, don't get mad," I murmured, reaching out to hold his hand.
He glanced down at me. His look was still imploring. "Please, Rosa. Don't pursue this. You like a simple life, remember? That's what you told me when we went out on our first date."
My brow furrowed. "So, this will complicate things?"
Jack nodded. "And you won't like it, baby, so don't ask any more questions."
Something inside me was restless when he called me baby, as if it was longing for something else, not something that was more, but something that was different. It was strange. This deeper part of me seemed to have awakened when I'd been alone with Ross.
"Stop sheltering her, Jack," Ross said.
"I'm fine being sheltered," I said quickly. "I don't want to upset you Jack." I smiled at him, but felt awkward, as if it was wrong for me to act as though I loved him. But I do love him, I told myself. I've loved him for years.
"Come to my room with me, Rosa," Ross murmured. "Then Jack can pretend I'm not telling you."
His words tugged at the new part of me. The new part seemed drawn to him for some reason. I couldn't understand why it was overjoyed at the thought of being alone with him.
I felt myself stand up.
"What are you doing?" Jack looked horrified, as if I'd just told him I was going to assassinate someone.
"I... don't know," I said truthfully as I walked towards Ross. "At least you can pretend this never happened."
Jack glared at Ross. "Are you using your sapphire on her?"
Ross looked puzzled by the fact I wasn't arguing further. "Um, no. I don't know why she wants to come with me either."
As I reached Ross, I said to Jack, "I love you."
Ross frowned. "Um, did she just try to convince herself she meant that?"
Jack scowled in a very un-Jack-like way. "I don't read her thoughts."
Ross shrugged. "Okay. I won't keep her too long."
The strange part of me frowned. It wanted Ross to keep me too long.
In Ross's room, I sat on the bed while Ross sat on an office chair. He smiled at me.
"What am I doing here?" I wondered aloud. "You tried to invade my mind."
Ross cringed. "Succeeded actually. I'm sorry. I probably wasn't meant to do that."
"No, I don't think you were."
"At least I know now."
"You're my rose-dove," he said matter-of-factly.
"Are you going to tell me what that means?"
Ross nodded. "Yup. You and I are destined to be lovers."
I snorted. "No, the truth, please."
"I wasn't lying. We won't ever be whole without each other."
The annoying part of me was nodding in agreement. It seemed to know this.
"Prove it," I said, humouring him.
"Okay." Ross stood up. He wandered over to his chest of drawers, opened it and pulled out a packet of what looked like some dried flower. He came over to me and handed it to me. "This is dried foxglove. Take some out and then cast a spell."
"Cast a spell? What: like magic? Will my fairy godmother appear?" I asked sarcastically.
Ross shrugged. "Depends. And it's exactly like magic. Um, try saying... ‘Let someone I know appear, who'd help me if I e'er felt fear.'"
He smiled encouragingly at me. I wondered if he'd gone crazy. He was never this smiley and what he was saying sounded insane.
I thought I might as well go along with it though. I pulled out some foxglove and half-heartedly muttered, "Let someone I know appear, who'd help me if I e'er felt fear."
Suddenly, Jack appeared. He glanced around and looked bewildered. He saw me and his eyes widened in surprise.
"Is she holding foxglove?"
I puzzled over how he had appeared and wondered what foxglove had to do with any of this.
Ross nodded. "She must be someone's rose-dove. Maybe yours."
I frowned slightly as he lied, but Jack was beaming. "Oh, that's wonderful."
He took me up in his arms and began to kiss me, pausing every so often to tuck a stray hair behind my ear and whisper, "I love you."
Earlier today, I would have felt wonderful. I loved it when he kissed me. But now, I felt impatient, as if I wanted him to stop.
I pushed him away. "How did you get here?"
Jack sighed, gently putting me back on the bed (to the relief of the deeper part within me). "It's true, I'm afraid. Magic exists."
"But, but, how?" I spluttered.
"Well, I don't think anyone could tell you that."
"Why haven't you told me this before?!"
"Because your parents told me not to. I'm sorry. I think they didn't want to alarm you."
"They shouldn't have lied to me."
"I'm sure they had a good reason for it."
"Oh, go away. You're both crazy."
"We're telling the truth, Rosa. Would I really have appeared out of thin air if magic didn't exist?"
I deflated, unable to answer him.
"Well, I won't say any more on the subject."
Jack turned to frown at Ross. "And I don't think she's my rose-dove, by the way."
"Ah, too bad. Hopefully she won't find the guy who is."
Jack shrugged. "Hopefully," he said half-heartedly.
He left the room, sighing and looking slightly sad.
"Now, we've proved you're my rose-dove. You can't deny it after Jack said there was such a thing."
"Why did you lie to him?" I asked.
"Well, he's my best friend. I didn't want to depress him if you needed more time as his girlfriend before we got together."
"Well, the rest of my life should do it," I said. "I don't want us to get together. I don't even understand why we would."
"I don't mind. I've not felt any particular longing for you to be mine, yet."
I felt a pang deep within me. "Oh, that's so annoying!" I muttered.
"Nothing. I suppose we've also proved that magic exists as well, haven't we?" I sighed, shaking my head at the tattered ruins that my world had become.
"Yup. Now, you can ask me whatever questions you like. After all, both Jack and I are witches."
I laughed. "Ha. Funny."
"I was serious. That's what we were talking about when we mentioned your thoughts."
I paled. "Witches are real?!"
"That's what I've been trying to say. Come on! You've just learned that magic is real! Why can't witches be?"
I spluttered out incoherent phrases. "But you can't be witches! I've known you both since I was like 2! I would have noticed!"
"Would you have, though? Did you ever go outside at night with Jack?"
"Yes, but nothing was different... What should have happened?"
"Oh, we just look slightly different by night. Well, I do. Jack's a bit of an oddity because he's a human with witch traits... I suppose he's technically human because none of his grandparents were witches and the witch gene skips a generation but he's been exposed to a lot of magic so he has a few special abilities that only witches have. He can use a birthstone and read minds but while taking the normal length of time to age..."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, back it up right there for a second! I don't get you! Reading minds? Mucked up ageing?"
"Oh, yeah. Witches are psychic. And you might have noticed I don't take as long to age as Jack does - as you do."
"Oh." It suddenly made sense. The way he had gradually looked the same age as Jack until he looked younger. "How old are you?"
"Well, I'm not 18."
"NO! You can't be!"
My parents have some explaining to do, I thought grimly. Keeping this from me. "Wait! Why did my parents know about witches?"
Ross winced. "Your dad's a witch, Rosa. And your mum is too, though I reckon she used to be human."
"And they just kept this stuff from me?! How could they? When it's so important for me to know! When I get home tonight..."
"You'll keep your mouth shut unless you want Jack to get into trouble. Or maybe..."
"Maybe what?! I need to shout at them Ross, or I'll go mad."
"You could say you got told this stuff because you found your kingfisher..." He paused.
I crossed my arms, waiting for an explanation. Was I supposed to understand?
"But then, you'd have to accept you were my rose-dove," Ross added.
"Can you tell me a bit more about the rose-dove thing? You said we were meant to be lovers. And why did the foxglove prove I was one?"
"Well, basically, the rose-dove or the kingfisher, depending on gender, is the love of a witch's life. The rose-dove and kingfisher are two halves of the same heart. They belong to each other. And the foxglove proves you're a rose-dove because it aided you in casting a spell. There's this poem about rose-doves and kingfishers which says that foxglove favours the rose-dove, which means that even if she doesn't have magical powers, she can cast a spell when in possession of it."
"But why am I yours? I have a boyfriend, who I love and wish to marry."
Ross looked startled. "Marry?! You can't do that! You'll regret it so much."
"Is that a threat?"
"No, that's the truth. It's in the poem. Rose-doves and kingfishers can't be apart."
"Well, that's a silly poem."
"Everything the poem said has come true. I talked to Lily about it and she said she knew a couple who had experienced everything in the poem. Come to think of it, the couple was your parents."
"My parents have experienced this?!"
If I hadn't been sitting down, my knees would have buckled.
"Yes. I suppose they didn't tell you because no one really wants to hear their parents' love story."
"Yeah, I suppose so actually. So, what showed you first that we were ... destined for each other?"I asked hesitantly.
"The psychic link at physical contact," he replied calmly. "That's something only we can make each other feel."
"I don't get it. I mean, it's a nice idea, but ... I don't love you."
Ross gazed out of his window with a slightly wistful expression. "Don't you?" he murmured, before turning back to me.
"Er, no. I'd know, wouldn't I?"
"Well I reckon the answer should be yes, but you're not analysing your feelings, so in this case, no."
"Are you analysing my feelings?"
"And...?" I prompted.
Ross frowned. "You want me to tell you about your feelings?"
I nodded. "Yes, please, 'cause I sure don't know what they're telling me."
"Okay then. There's a part deep within you, I sense, that is definitely in love with me. It's revealed itself a few times today. When Jack called you ‘baby', it was restless and then it was annoyed when you called me a jerk; it was drawn to me which was what made you come up here with me; you sounded like you were trying to convince yourself you loved Jack when we left him in the living room when you should have been sure of your feelings for him and it wasn't happy when I said I wouldn't keep you too long."
"It seemed to agree with you when you told me we were destined for each other as if it knew that already; it felt a pang when you told me you didn't long for me to be your lover and it was impatient when I kissed Jack," I added, recognising the common factor in all these things as that strange part of me deep within that had awoken at Ross's first touch.
"What that's telling you," Ross continued, "is that..."
"I do, in fact, love you," I finished, grimacing, "and that Jack is going to be devastated since it's his birthday."
"Don't tell him! At least, not today. You need to be sure you can take that step, first."
"Take what step?"
"Fully accepting your love for me and actually wanting to be in a relationship with me. Do you?"
I sighed. "I'm ... not sure, Ross. I obviously love you, but it's more subconsciously than anything."
Ross stood up and came over to sit beside me on the bed. He gazed deep into my eyes. I noticed, for the first time, that they were a lovely cerulean blue. I could picture them darkening and reflecting the turmoil of the sea during a storm, but right now, they were calming. I was reminded of the beach, because his hair was blond and reminded me of sand while his eyes were the cloudless skies above. I felt myself leaning in towards him to brush my lips against his briefly, before I was totally drawn in. It was as if all other thoughts had been swept away. I rested my hands on the bed to steady myself as I kissed him passionately, almost falling on him from the force I was putting into my kisses. I could feel him kissing back, not as passionately, since he was trying not to force me to make a decision too soon, but in a way that would make me realise he loved me too. I felt his thoughts. They were all tinged with coldness. Yes, he was happy and yes, he loved me, but there was still darkness there.
So, you probably think I'm all cuddly and gentle now. I'm really not. Today, I was taken by surprise. Normally, I'm cold and dispassionate. But you probably noticed that, didn't you? That I distance myself from other people and am usually bored, exasperated or just plain heartless.
‘I don't believe you're totally heartless,' I thought to him, while simultaneously feeling awe at the ability to communicate with him like this.
No, me neither. But don't start buying my heart-shaped cushions. Valentine's Day is not a date in my calendar.
I laughed in my head at the absurdity of the thought of buying Ross something that conjured up the words ‘tender' and ‘romantic'. It just wasn't something you'd do in a relationship with him.
‘Love is more than what you buy someone, anyway,' I told him. ‘It's about the deeper emotions which create a bond between you and your lover. Kind of like this. This is slightly unnecessary, really.'
‘Really. When you love someone, you see it when you look into their eyes and see straight into their heart. You just open up to each other.'
I think I prefer this.
I laughed in my head. ‘This is opening up to each other, silly.'
‘Don't get affectionate with me,' he warned.
‘Why not? I know now that I won't be able to love Jack like this. He's great, but this is just so much more... intimate.'
You're making me feel ill, Rosa.
‘Good. I want to get you back for all the times you annoyed me.'
Are you feeling okay? You seem really ... happy. Unnaturally so. You were really mad when I tried to see your soul.
I stopped kissing him. "You what?" I whispered.
"That's what I was doing when you wanted to give Jack his cake."
"Why? That's like... the deepest part of me. You can't just barge in there without my permission. I hope you failed."
"No, actually, I saw it. I'm really sorry."
"Oh, Ross, but why?! Why would you do that?! I was terrified when you invaded my mind, I probably would have died of shock if I'd known that was your intention."
"I know and I'm sorry. It was just something that would prove you were my rose-dove."
I stood up. "I probably would have let you see it if we'd gotten to this point before."
"Are you leaving?" I could hear the pain in his voice, the longing for me to sit back down and start kissing him again.
I turned to face him. "I think I need some time to mull things over, Ross. I shouldn't have been so quick to make a decision. And I'm not feeling okay. I'm getting hysterical and letting my subconscious intentions overpower my natural ones. I don't think you should have forced my defences down."
He nodded. "I agree. But, don't you feel like something is tugging at your heart?" He said this as if he was discussing a fact - I was sure he'd never be the romantic type.
"Oh, of course - it's almost impossible to resist. But, as much as I'd love to stay here and kiss you and allow myself to be enveloped by your thoughts..." I paused, surprised by how much I did want that, "I have to go. If I stay any longer, I'll completely lose myself in you and then I won't be in the right state to talk to Jack."
Ross nodded again. "I ... won't be down for a while. Tell Jack I hope he has a brilliant day."
"I love you, Rosa," he murmured sincerely.
"I love you too, Ross."
It took a lot of effort not to fling myself into his arms and start kissing him again, and inside I was crying, but I wrenched myself away from his solemn eyes and walked out the door. It had been the hardest thing I'd had to do in my life.