Apologies to contest winners, but CJ's internet is very spotty at the moment. You WILL get your prizes, but you may have to be a little patient until she's back online!
When I got the invite to join in this blog, and the prompt, it took me all of about 2 seconds to decide on a song. Firstly, I write mostly fantasy, so magic is always lurking in my brain. Plus, I was a huge Police fan in the dark and distant days of my youth. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic leapt into my brain. And with it came an image--a man watching a woman out of the window. A man watching a magic woman.
Note: This story contains Britishisms, including spellings and punctuation. For instance cell phones are instead mobiles, Blake's 7 is a British SF series from the seventies, the tube is in fact the underground railway in London. I think that's most of the really confusing ones, but if there's any clarification required, just ask! I love playing with the differences in UK/US English.
Rated um, PG? The ratings are different over here too!
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Heat level: Sweet
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.
On Monday, she was a petite blonde in tatty jeans. Tuesday, a statuesque redhead in a flowing silk dress. Wednesday she was Mediterranean-looking, filling her clothes in all the right places. Thursday she was boyishly slim, black bob pristine, her suit severe in a schoolmarmish way.
Today was Friday, five minutes till knocking off time, and I was looking for her. Every day, at five to five, a woman would stop briefly at the bench opposite my office. Every day she looked different. Not just clothes and hair, but build, height, face. And every day I became surer she was the same woman.
I’m not sure what it was about her that gave her away. Maybe the walk, the way she swung her hips as though in time to music only she could hear, despite the lack of ipod. Maybe it was her hair and, no matter the style or colour, the way she tucked a curl of it behind her ear.
Then again, maybe I’d just been working too hard. Too much stress. The business—architectural salvage if you’re interested, here’s my card—well, the business wasn’t going so well. I’d had to lay off my secretary, and it was looking like at least one of the lads in the yard was going to have to go too. I’d been spending too much time trying to scratch up business during the day, and too much money in the pub in the evening, pretending I wasn’t lonely.
I’d taken to staring out of the window, trying to think up crazy plans to keep myself solvent, and that’s how I’d noticed her, last week. She’d sauntered up the street in black skinny jeans that showed off her shape just right, topped with a battered biker’s jacket. Her hair had been strawberry blonde that day, all muzzed and wild from the motorbike helmet looped over her arm. It was probably that hair that made me notice her then, because that was the day I’d made my secretary redundant and I was dreaming about doing something wild, maybe running away somewhere and living a bohemian life in a shack, beachcombing rather than poring over accounts and firing people. I remember wondering whether I could work up the nerve to run out and ask her if I could hop on the back of her bike and we’d zoom off, wherever she liked. Anywhere that wasn’t here.
She’d paused by the bench, just for a minute, digging into a pocket, rearranging the helmet on her arm, curling a lock of wild hair behind her ear. She glanced my way, and I wished I did have the nerve. Yet the moment passed and I still had a lukewarm cup of coffee in my hand, still stood at the window, doing nothing about the dreams in my head. Then she was gone.
I didn’t think much more of it, until a few days later when a redhead strode down the street at five to five. She was wearing a trim little sundress, and the sunset shone through it, letting me see the slim shape of her legs. She stopped at the bench, fiddled with something in her handbag, curled a lock of the red hair that shone like a beacon. Glanced up at me, and was gone.
Nothing to link the pair, except the way she walked and that curl of her hair behind her ear. Stupid of me, probably, but I began to look out for her. Better than crying over my bank statements and dreaming dreams that would never be reality.
The next day, at five to five, there she was. An Asian girl in a pale blue sari, all trimmed in silver. Her face was regal this time, serene as though nothing could touch her, her smooth skin a dark gold and her eyes, when she glanced my way, liquid pools of midnight. She hooked her hair behind her ear and looked up under sooty eyelashes, right at me. Paused a moment at the bench, adjusting the way her sari hung. This time I worked up the nerve to run for the door, but when I got there my mind was blank of anything coherent to say. I mean, what would you think, a strange guy running up to you, babbling about seeing you before, only it wasn’t you and…
And by the time I’d decided to go for it and the door was open, she was gone. It was a Friday, and the thought of the whole blank weekend ahead of me with nothing much to fill it except trying not to go bankrupt, cajoling, lying and downright begging at customers, maybe watching some crappy telly or popping to the pub for a desultory game of darts and a pint—it seemed like torture. More so, because I wouldn’t see her till Monday, if she ever came again.
Somehow I got through the weekend but for the first time in weeks, I was eager to get to the office on Monday. I’d watched all week, her and her different faces, and now here I was. I was going to do it. Today. I couldn’t contain my impatience as I waited for five to five, and snapped at everyone. Even the bank manager when he rang. While I waited, and pretended I was doing something constructive, I ran words through my head. What could I say to her? Or more particularly, what could I say without sounding like I needed a shrink?
By the time it got to half four, I’d drunk all the coffee in the place and was seriously considering taking up smoking. My hands were shaking so badly, they looked blurred and I still hadn’t worked out what to say. Did I mention I’m hopeless at talking to women, about anything? I am, utterly hopeless. My throat freezes up, my ears burn and I start to stammer like an idiot. That secretary I had to let go? Male. I get the lads in the yard to deal with all the female customers, and they’re quite happy to. Everyone tells me I should talk to women as friends, not aliens. But the last time I got together with my mates, we spent several hours arguing which was cooler, Klingon Bird of Prey or Millennium Falcon? Try that once or twice with a girl, stammer it out and watch the way their eyes glaze over, you soon learn to stop.
This time, I was going to do it. No way I could get through another weekend without the thought I’d at least tried to talk to her. I decided to wait outside, so I wouldn’t miss her. Not that I could have done. When she came, she was tall and willowy, blonde bombshell style. Claudia Schiffer would have slid into insignificant plainness next to her. She came along the street, walking like she owned it with that little sway to her hips as though some great tune was bopping through her head. She stopped at the bench and now was my chance. Only my legs were jelly and my mind was utterly blank.
She curled a lock of her hair behind an ear and glanced up at my office window. A little frown marred her perfect forehead. Not because I wasn’t there, surely. She turned away and dug in her handbag for her mobile.
When the vibration started in my pocket I almost leapt out of my skin. Then the ringtone played out, only it wasn’t a ringtone I’d ever had on my phone. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.
I fumbled my mobile out of my pocket and picked up, just as Sting was telling me about losing his nerve. You and me both mate.
Her voice was soft honey in my ear, somehow like I’d known it would be. ‘Hello, Jim.’
I almost dropped the phone again, but I was watching her as she walked away, her voice echoing in my ear as she turned and smiled. When I lifted the phone up again, she’d disconnected. I ran after her, a few hesitant steps, but then she reached the entrance to the tube and was lost in the usual end-of-day crush.
Commuters buffeted me and muttered under their breath as I stood like an idiot at the top of the steps. The phone went again. Same song, different line—Sting asking why he was alone—but it cut off before I could answer it.
Good question, Sting. Bloody good question. Why am I alone? I took what little courage I had and plunged down the steps after her. The concourse was packed, naturally. Heaving with commuters, with tourists returning to their hotels, flustered women with their kids off school for the holidays. Which line would she go on? District or Piccadilly? And which direction?
I looked down at the phone. Missed call. I pushed the button to return it, wondering if I’d manage to gather the nerve to speak when she answered. I knew which way she’d gone almost immediately. Sting’s voice echoed up the tunnel, resolving to call her up quite a lot indeed, which was odd because usually I couldn’t get my mobile to work for love nor money once I was in there.
The ticket office had a line by it, as always. It would take roughly a thousand years to get a ticket that way, and the machines were no better.
She picked up on the other end of the phone. ‘Are you coming then, Jim?’ Her voice in my ear galvanised me, crystallized everything inside to one hard lump of ‘screw it’. I had nothing to lose but my sanity.
I jumped the barrier, ignored the shouts behind and barrelled my way down the tunnel. I still couldn’t see her and by now she was all I could think of. Her soft, honey voice, the way she walked, wondering what she’d look like tomorrow. A warm rush of air greeted me at the bottom, the whoosh of a train arriving, the sudden throng of people pushing against me, getting off, trying to get home. Back to their normal little lives, their families, their dinner, the telly. Normal little lives that were still a billion times better than mine, because they had someone to share it with. A young couple got off, laughing together, and the way they looked at each other, the shine in their eyes, speared me.
I couldn’t see her anywhere but she had to be on the train—there was nowhere else for her to go. I squeezed on just before the doors shut and stared at my phone. It wouldn’t work down here, no way it could. I pushed the button anyway.
Far away, just on the edge of hearing, Sting was working up the nerve for a proposal, the good old-fashioned way. I shoved my way along the carriage with the odd ‘excuse me’, ‘dreadfully sorry’, ‘beg pardon’ and ignored the general swearing in my direction.
She was in the next carriage. Not blonde now but dark haired with alabaster skin, sloe eyes and a dimple where she smiled at me through the glass before she turned away. The crowd swallowed her whole.
I could stand here like an idiot with my nose pressed to the glass, let her slip away like all those other women, the ones I could never gather up the courage to talk to. Or I could open this door and the next and follow her. Speak to her. Possibly even kiss her.
I rattled the doors open one after the other and stepped through the gap. Some upright chap in a three piece suit looked down his nose at me like I was mad, but I ignored him and pushed past.
She wasn’t there. Last carriage on the train, the only way to go was out into the black tunnels of the underground. I pressed my forehead on the glass before I slumped to one of the half seats that do little more than prop you up while you stand. I took to the phone again, returned the call again. And again. Nothing but the slightly tinny sound from the earphones on girl opposite me. She looked at me quizzically, silently asking a question.
‘I—er, sorry.’ I could feel my ears blushing. ‘Did you see a lady come this way?’
She frowned and smiled at the same time, the way people do when they aren’t sure of a question. She was very pretty, not in a Claudia Schiffer way but more the sort of girl who everyone at school would have wanted to be with. A girl who could live right down my road. A comforting prettiness of a pert grin, blonde hair left sort of wild, blue eyes like cornflowers.
‘A lady?’ Her voice had a soft burr to it, somewhere north, the Highlands maybe, a voice soothed with honey.
‘Yes, she—I.’ The way she looked at me, the way she curled her hair behind her ear made my throat dry up. Was it her? The same woman? ‘Do you have a phone?’
‘No, I don’t like mobiles. Always interrupt me.’ She took her headphones off, and the strains of ‘Every Little Thing She Does is Magic’ drifted out. ‘Are you all right?’
I was staring at the headphones, listening to Sting. He was losing his nerve again. I pushed the button on my phone. ‘The number you are calling is no longer valid. Please hang up or try again.’
Sting was telling the story of a thousand rainy days. I was still staring at the headphones. The girl put her book on her lap and leaned forward. ‘Listen, are you sure you’re all right? I’ve got some water—.’
The book was A Geek’s Guide to Blake’s 7. ‘I’m fine, really. Thanks.’
‘You look a bit pale.’ She looked up at all the people in the carriage, stuffed together whether they liked it or not, silent and blank-eyed. ‘Amazes me you know, how the tube turns everyone’s brains off. I’ll be glad to get home.’
My silent fears were gripping me, much as they were Sting over the headphones. I suspect no one has been more surprised than me when I said, without the hint of a stammer or blush, ‘Where’s that then?’ I almost fell off the chair.
She tucked a curl of hair behind her ear and looked up at me with a dimpled smile. ‘Scotland. I’m only down to try to find a gallery for my stuff. Sorry, I expect you’re not interested. No one else is.’
‘What sort of stuff?’ Two sentences, no stammers. This could be a record. My face was hot, but it wasn’t nerves, not really. It was looking at the curve of her cheek when she smiled at me, her soft way of talking and the Highland burr to it. The fact that I was talking to her, she was talking to me. That I had a funny feeling about her, a magic little thrill in my stomach.
She sighed and I felt it as a tingle in my fingers. ‘I make furniture, you know from driftwood, windfalls, whatever I can find on the beach. Salvage as furniture art. I tried a few places, but they pretty much laughed at me.’
I saw her then—the girl from outside my office. She was a reflection in the blank glass of the train as we whooshed through the ground. Her face changed even as I watched—strawberry blonde, redhead, Asian girl, schoolmarm brunette, but they were all smiling. I blinked and she was gone.
The little blonde opposite was looking at me, a bit shy now. Wondering if I was going to laugh at her perhaps.
‘I know a place that might help you out. Mine, actually. Furniture art would fit right in.’ I straightened my shoulders. It was now or never. Sting would have been proud of me. ‘Do you want to go for a drink and we can talk about it?’
Her face lit up, and I forgot about the woman outside my office, all her different faces. This face in front of me was the one that mattered.
And even if my life before was bloody tragic, I had a really good feeling about this.
Julia Knight writes fantasy and historical romance and has novels with Samhain Publishing and Carina Press. When she isn't writing, she's dreaming about her next hero. More information can be found on her website.