"You took a long time," Jack observed.
"Are you jealous?" I asked playfully, trying to be casual. I noticed however that my heart wasn't in it. I sighed in resignation.
"I was about to say yes, but something's wrong, so no, of course not - I'd only say yes as a joke. What's the problem, darling?"
It was strange how I'd forgotten our relationship existed. "Nothing, Jack, I'm just tired. Something weird's going on in my head, too. It feels like my subconscious is ruling my mind."
"Oh, that doesn't sound too good."
"No... Do you have a spell for it?"
"You want me to cast a spell on you? I've never used magic on you before. I always felt it would be improper to interfere with my lover's life."
"Well, you're going to be making me feel better, so it's okay."
"All right then," he said dubiously. He pulled out his amber. "Um, let's see now... Subconscious thoughts to depths return, so fires of consciousness can burn. I think that should do it."
I felt much more awake but sort of...fuzzier about the world. There were more grey areas than the black and white I'd been viewing a minute ago. I knew that I still loved Jack but was less sure about my feelings for Ross. This felt about right for my mind in the circumstances and I smiled at Jack to show my appreciation.
He smiled back.
There was a brief silence during which no one really knew what to say.
"Is Ross your kingfisher?" Jack blurted out suddenly.
I wasn't ready for this, so I lied. "No."
"It's just that you did spend an awful long time in his room."
"Don't worry. I love you."
"But, something's changed, hasn't it? You're not the Rosa who was kissing me earlier today."
"Well, I know about witches, now."
"There's something else, though. You seem to have changed as a person."
I sighed again. "I think I have. But that doesn't matter. What matters is you have the best birthday possible. We still have to give you your other birthday present."
I was surprised that it was only midday as I glanced at a clock on our way out. It felt like years had passed.
The other birthday present was a stroll along the riverside in the park, followed by dinner in a restaurant. During the stroll, the weather was almost summer-like, with the warm, bright sun blazing down from a cloudless sky.
"It's funny," I mused, not really concentrating on what I was saying. "I never thought Ross would be capable of love. It sounds quite harsh, but I was dead surprised."
"Who does he love then?" Jack asked, looking puzzled. "He must have really gotten over his differences with you if he told you something he hasn't told his best friend."
I blushed. "Um, no one."
Jack frowned. "But, the way you said that..."
"I meant it in the caring sense rather than the romantic one," I lied. "I was surprised by the way he cared if your cake got dropped." I stopped. "Your cake!"
"It's okay, Rosa," Jack laughed. "Ross put it back in the fridge when you fainted."
"Really? Oh, that was good of him. But then I suppose, he can be very lovely."
Jack snorted. "Has he brainwashed you?"
"Yeah," I replied unthinkingly, likely to say any random time while I wasn't focusing properly.
"What?" Jack sounded amused. "He used his sapphire?"
"No, his charm." I quickly clamped my mouth shut, horrified at my lapse in logical thinking.
Luckily, witches seemed to use charms. "Which one?"
"Does it matter?" I asked evasively.
"Yes, if we're going to undo it. I'm going to give him a really good telling off when we get back. The sheer cheek of it."
"Well, er, I don't know which one it was. It was just ... mesmerising."
"Oh, that's too bad. We'll have to wait for the effects to fade then. I'm sorry. I can't believe he'd do something like that, though."
"Maybe if we popped back to see him, he'd undo it. Then we could also do the cake." I was shocked at what I was thinking while I said this. Even though my subconscious was no longer ruling over my thoughts, I was imagining myself kissing Ross.
"That's a good idea." For one second, my heart lurched and I thought he was responding to my desire to kiss his best friend behind his back when I realised he meant about going home to undo this magic spell I'd invented.
At Jack's house, I rushed in and found Ross on the couch. I ran to him and sat down quickly beside him. He looked startled. I touched his arm and thought hurriedly, ‘I've told Jack you've brainwashed me with a charm. He thinks you're going to undo it.'
What? Slow down, Rosa. Why did you tell him you're brainwashed?
‘Er, I was being random. Perhaps, because, in a sense, you have put a spell on me.'
Well, that wasn't very clever of you. I'm tempted to put a real spell on you while I'm pretending to take this fake one off.
Wasn't joking, darling.
I looked at him, appalled. He was just grinning.
What sort of spell should I cast?
‘A love spell,' I thought helplessly as I was suddenly caught and transfixed by his dancing eyes. I felt my appalled look disappearing to be replaced by one of dreamy serenity.
You obviously don't need that. Though I could make you totally infatuated with Jack for the evening so it's more pleasurable.
‘Oh, that's so lovely.'
Hardly. You'd be totally incoherent and perhaps a bit embarrassing. You wouldn't be able to take your eyes off him.
‘I don't mind. I feel really bad for being your rose-dove.'
You want me to, then?
‘Yup. And if it goes badly, that can be my punishment for being stupid.'
Right. Oh, er, you might want to stop stroking my arm before Jack comes in.
I blushed as I stopped caressing his arm, something I hadn't even noticed I was doing. I awkwardly placed my hand in my lap.
"Strange how good that felt," he muttered.
Jack walked in, looking thoroughly amused by my speedy entrance. His brow furrowed when he saw Ross, though.
"Ross, what were you doing brainwashing Rosa?"
Ross shrugged. "I was testing a theory."
"You could've undone it. She's going to be really humiliated by the things you made her say when she regains full control of her thoughts and feelings."
"What did she say?"
"It's not funny, you know."
"I know." Ross fought back a smile. "What did she say?"
"She said you were very lovely."
"Well, that's a lie."
"I know. That's why we've come here to get the spell undone. Which charm did you use, by the way?"
"Oh, the will overpowering one, of course. Thyme and meadow grass were its constituents, I think. But I can use my sapphire to undo it."
"I don't care how you undo it: just do it."
"Okay, okay, I'm on it."
He pulled out a brilliant blue gemstone which glittered in the light. He turned off the TV using the remote and pointed the sapphire at me.
"You shouldn't even have used magic on my girlfriend in the first place," Jack muttered.
"Are you finished? I'm trying to do a spell here."
He gave me a quick smile before chanting, "Let Rosa's will no longer be found, to the will of this Fire witch bound."
I felt completely the same as before. This annoyingly meant that I still longed to be wrapping my arms around him and kissing him, regardless of the fact Jack was there. I lightly brushed my fingers against Ross's hand, in a movement so subtle that Jack didn't see it. ‘Help with my love for you too, please.'
Nope, I'm leaving that as it is. Keep the contact a second.
‘Let Rosa be found starry-eyed whenever she's at Jack's side.'
I stopped touching his arm and smiled thankfully at him. He rolled his eyes. He briefly touched my hand. ‘That was meant to be punishment, remember?'
I rolled my eyes before standing and heading to the kitchen to fetch Jack's cake.
Ross and I sang ‘Happy Birthday' to Jack before he blew out the candles and we all had a slice of the delicious chocolate cake.
Jack and I left the house a little later to go to the restaurant. When I was near him, I felt wondrously breath-taken and a little dizzy from exhilaration at being close to him. He seemed to notice this almost straight away.
"Rosa, you're staring," he murmured as we sat down in the restaurant. He was flattered but totally bemused.
"D-do you want me to stop?" I was finding it difficult to breathe, so it was almost impossible to talk.
Jack failed in fighting the smile appearing on his face. "Why are you suddenly so ... infatuated?" he asked quietly, trying not to laugh.
"Er... I ... d-don't know..." I had a sudden urge to reach across the table and stroke his cheek. I sat on my hands and fidgeted.
"You look lovestruck, darling, and it's flattering, baby, it really is, but people are going to start to notice and you don't want to feel embarrassed, do you?"
"Um..." I'd lost track of what he'd been saying while staring into his warm brown eyes.
"Rosa, stop," he chuckled. "Or I'll have to get out my amber, and I really don't want to do that."
"You don't need your amber," I said breathlessly. "I'm under your spell already."
"No, darling, I was going to use it to help you with your self-control. You know you're stroking my hand under the table, don't you?"
"Oh, that's why I'm so happy," I murmured, gazing lovingly at the features of his perfect face. This felt so natural: it was like I'd been born to be infatuated by Jack.
"And you're sending me your thoughts! Oh, please stop, Rosa, or we'll have to leave."
"What?" I was momentarily distracted. "I'm not telepathic though."
"No, but you're shouting your thoughts, and I can tell they're directed at me."
"Ah, well, I can't even tell I'm doing it. I can't stop, Jack. Sorry, darling."
"Rosa, we might have to go. The waiter's staring at us."
"What am I doing?"
"You're just staring at me with a look of wonder on your face. And such love. The sort of love you show me when it's just the two of us. To be honest, you look hypnotised."
"Enchanted..., bewitched..." I said, finding words to describe my condition.
"And very uninhibited. You sound drunk, Rosa. I really think we'll have to leave."
"As long as you're with me the whole time. I'd dive into shark-infested waters if you were by my side."
"And then you'd die in agony. Snap out of it, Rosa." He was imploring me with his eyes and I so desired to please him and do as he said, but I was completely overpowered by my love for him.
"I'd die in immeasurable bliss."
"Rosa, we're leaving now." He stood up, and chuckling, pulled me to my feet. His arms were around my waist to steady me but they had quite the opposite effect. He was holding me! I collapsed, my knees literally just falling out from underneath me.
"Rosa! I'll have to carry you, sweetheart."
"Oh, please do! I'll faint either way."
"Faint?! Rosa, what's happened to you?" He picked me up, much to the bemusement of all the other people in the restaurant. I didn't care. I was in love. I was soaring through skies where nothing could touch me, least of all embarrassment. He took me out of the restaurant, looking extremely self-conscious.
"Was that cake alcoholic?" he asked me, as we stepped out into the night. The cool air woke me up slightly. I'd been feeling light-headed, as if I couldn't get enough air.
"No. I think you're intoxicating enough without having had a drink."
Jack placed me down on the grass of the field outside the restaurant. My knees buckled again and I was sitting on the ground.
"Rosa! What is this?"
I pulled him down. He knelt before me and gazed searchingly into my eyes, now more concerned than entertained.
"It's love, Jack," I said dramatically. I even sounded drunk to myself.
"I suspect magic," he murmured.
"Whatever it is, it's a good thing," I said.
"Well, darling, I'm not sure it is. You're besotted."
"So, what if I am? I just want you to hold me tonight and make me forget everything else in the world."
"I think you've done that yourself. Rosa, please..." But he couldn't finish because I was pulling him down towards me and kissing him. I ran my fingers through his hair, delighting in the feeling of his soft hair under my skin, and stroked his cheek. We sat there and kissed for what could've been hours for all I cared.
Jack dropped me off at my house. I had stopped being starry-eyed by then so I could think properly.
I walked in, saw my parents and remembered today's shocking revelation. I decided to pretend everything was normal for a while, to see if they were going to tell me themselves.
"How was your day, Rosa?" my mother asked from the sofa. She looked exhausted. I didn't blame her. She tried to juggle her job, housework and trips to the gym and rarely had enough energy to do anything but sleep the rest of the time.
"Um, it was good," I answered. "I was interested by the fact that Jack owns some amber."
My mother straightened up a bit. Her chance to tell me herself about witches was approaching.
My dad, who'd been working on the computer, turned to face me. "And why did he say he had that?"
I shrugged. "I just noticed he had it. He didn't really talk much about it."
Both parents looked slightly relieved. They obviously hadn't planned on telling me yet.
"Well, amber's a nice stone," my mum said, smiling.
I crossed my arms. "When were you going to tell me about witches?"
My mum almost jumped off her seat.
"Who told you?" my dad asked angrily.
"Oh, so it's true then? That magic and things are real? And you were just going to keep it a secret from me? Why?"
"Honey, we didn't want to preoccupy you." Mum answered. "You might have become distant from your friends or your work might have suffered. We wanted you to have as normal a life as possible."
"When were you going to tell me?!"
"After you'd finished school. That's why we were always urging you to take a gap year. So you could have time to deal with it in your own way."
She sounded so caring, so sincere, that I was almost tempted to stop being angry. But they'd lied to me. My own parents.
"Who told you?" my dad repeated.
"Ross," I answered. "But don't you dare tell him off. I'm glad I know now."
My dad turned to my mum, mystified.
"Why would Ross tell her? She hates him."
"Are you two witches?" I asked, ignoring the comment.
My dad nodded. "Your mum was born a human but then she took a potion that would make her a witch so she aged at the same rate as me. I was born a witch."
"Another reason we didn't tell you was that we knew you weren't going to be a witch yourself. While I have witch powers, I still have the human gene and there's no history of witches in my family so you were never going to be one," my mum said.
"I don't care. I still had a right to know."
"Why did Ross tell you?" my dad asked musingly.
"That's another thing I want to know about. He said something about a rose-dove. He told me the rose-dove is destined to love the kingfisher."
Mum paled. "He's your kingfisher?
I nodded. "I guess."
Dad frowned. "But you hate him, don't you?"
"I don't think that makes a difference, Tim," my mother murmured. "I mean, you tried to make me forget when we found out."
"What?" I asked, confused.
"Well, your father and I are kingfisher and rose-dove, honey. He tried to make me forget because he was really against the idea."
"And we can help you forget too," Dad added. "If you don't like Ross."
"But, why would you want to do that? We're meant to be lovers."
"We know, but if either of you aren't ready for love, or you still wanted to be with Jack, then it might be a good thing. What are you going to say to him?"
I frowned. "Well, I was going to think about it tonight. I don't want to forget, though."
"Are you okay, Rosa?" my mum asked gently. "We know you don't like Ross."
"Well, actually, that changed today," I replied. "He's all right."
"And how did he respond to this discovery?" Dad asked.
"Well, he was okay with it. He just told me not to be affectionate or over-soppy with him."
"Well, if he's what you want, then have a great relationship with him. Sorry about Jack." My mum looked truly apologetic.
"Just be careful," my dad murmured. "I've heard he's not the nicest guy."
I went to bed that night feeling confused and sad. I wondered what else in the world was different than previously thought. I was strangely calm about the way everything had been thrown into question. Perhaps it was because I was blessedly too tired to think straight.
The great mystery in my life... Solved. And it was nothing that I could have previously conceived...
I loved Jack - of course I did. The guy I'd been best friends with since we'd started going to school together. The guy who had taken me out into the garden on my 16th birthday and started our relationship in the most romantic way. A lump rose in my throat. How could I have kissed Ross today? Was I out of my mind? And tonight. I wish I'd been lovestruck every second of every day I had spent with Jack, just to prove how much I was in love with him and how I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life. I remembered a daydream I had once had about us getting married. I'd always hoped he'd be the one. Ross had never crossed my mind as a potential husband, ever. He still didn't. I couldn't see him in any sort of suit at any sort of formal event, and marriage was a rite of a passage that I so wanted to go through.
Maybe I should forget about him, I said to myself. He tried to see my soul today. That wasn't right. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with that. What if he ignores my wishes again?
But even my parents seemed to think that a relationship with him was inevitable. And that part of me deep within had wanted to love Ross more than Jack and had wanted me to forget about my boyfriend. It had proved that much when I'd kissed him. I'd kissed him, not the other way around.
But Jack... I'd miss him so much! How could I live without him by my side? Even before we'd started going out, I'd loved him: as a brother when we were young and romantically when I'd first started being interested in love.
And, there was another thing! Ross was 21! It was weird. How could I date someone who looked my age but was actually 5 years older than me?
I fell asleep, my head spinning from the arguments in my head.
What a great day it had been. Presents in the morning, lunch at my favourite Chinese restaurant and then bowling in the afternoon. My friends had all gone home, except from Jack. He, Ross and I were sitting in the living room, talking and eating the cake that hadn't been given out to my other friends. Ross had his usual bored expression on. I wouldn't have invited him if he hadn't been Jack's best friend. It was about 6 o'clock, so it was dark outside (it being November). I found it strange, then, when Jack asked me if we could step into the back garden for a moment. I said yes, though I was puzzled, and grabbed a coat and put on boots before we walked out of the back door into the cool night air.
Jack gazed up at the stars, before looking down at me, smiling mysteriously. "They're really pretty, aren't they?"
"Yeah," I murmured, wondering if he'd just wanted to come outside to talk about stars.
"I love the night. It's so beautiful. Especially when the moon shines down and casts that pale, slivery glow over everything. And the stars seem to twinkle in that wide expanse which stretches your imagination. I think you're like the night, Rosa."
"In what way?" I asked, puzzled.
"Well, aside from being beautiful..." He grinned as I blushed. "Everyone around you is touched by your heart, your tenderness and ability to see the best in people. In the same way that the moon illuminates things, people feel warm and as if they know more when your kindness shines upon them."
A tear came to my eye at his wonderful words. If only he knew how I adored his charm.
"Thank you," I murmured, sighing slightly as my heart tried to tuck away its longing to beat only for him.
"Oh, Rosa, you think I'm only saying these things to be nice..."
He rested his hands on my shoulders and stared deep into my eyes, melting my heart with those warm brown eyes. Under the soft moonlight, his brown hair was darker, but it still retained that soft look which always made me want to twine my fingers in it. I'm losing myself in him, I thought as my heart pounded and my breath caught in my throat.
"Do you know what you mean to me?" he asked quietly.
What was he talking about? I shook my head, more confused than ever.
"Oh, Rosa, I thought you knew." He lifted one of his hands to brush his finger down my cheek.
"Kn-knew what?" I stammered, startled by the intensity of his gaze.
"That you're everything to me," he replied, before leaning down to kiss me.
He felt the same? He felt the same! Oh my! He loved me too.
Jack broke away, looking alarmed. "You're crying! Rosa? Have I done something wrong? Did you not want me to do that? I was so sure you felt the same..."
"I do," I said breathlessly. "That's why I'm crying. I'm elated. I never guessed someone as amazing as you could love me. I always thought you were too good for me. I longed for you to love me..." But I wasn't able to finish because Jack was kissing me again. I could feel his delight and simultaneous desire to protect and care for me in every expression of joy and love that was another kiss. I kissed him back, overwhelmed by happiness. My heart released all its inhibitions as it expressed its want to belong to Jack. It truly would only beat properly when around him.
I woke up crying. Tears ran down my cheek relentlessly. It was the middle of the night, but I couldn't return to sleep for fear of my heart being tortured in that way again. Stupid rose-dove thing, I thought as I tried to stop the unrelenting tears. For, however much I loved Jack, I knew it was Ross who was going to own my heart from tomorrow onwards. It was just the way things had to be. No sulking, no tantrums (though I did so want to throw one), I was meant to be with the dark mystery who I'd never found attractive before. I hated myself for seeing things so clearly, but when a decision's been made, a decision's been made. But, oh, I was going to miss Jack. I wondered how much of my heart was going to break tomorrow. The whole thing, I reckoned.