Read Part One Here
Terese’s gaze narrowed. This was the weirdest date she’d ever been on. She stiffened indignantly. “So when I said that I like to move slowly, you thought the first date would be the best time to try to get me into bed?” Had she not been listening at all?
Ren shook her head. “I’m not trying to get into your bed.” She picked up her tea and took a sip. “I’m trying to get into your head.”
Uh-huh. Instinctively, Terese snorted and took a sip from her own cup.
But the second the sweet brew touched her tongue, the world changed. The black and white café burst into brilliant color. The backs of varnished wood chairs bloomed into looming, leafy trees that canopied over the café. Even the scent of the place was different, the aroma of coffee and pastries mixing with more earthy smells like rain, mud, and growth. The soft jazz music that had been playing over speakers stopped, silencing itself for the sound of live music playing. It reminded Terese of whatever flowing song Ren had played before, echoing not just in her eardrum but in her soul.
The voices in the café had changed as well. The voices, that had been a quiet hum, became a strange harmony of sounds, some higher or lower than the human voice ought to be capable of. Some spoke languages Terese didn’t recognize. She looked around. The business execs in suits were all gone and, in their place, were people with scales and fur and feathers chatting to each other or on phones. The student who’d been bobbing her head to music streaming through headphones while nose-deep in a book suddenly had wings that fluttered to the beat in her head.
A strange sound made Terese turn. Gawking, she watched a gargoyle—this small, gray, compact creature that looked so stony they shouldn’t have been able to move—in an apron, of all things, climb the wall of trees that rimmed the room, clawing, swinging, and gliding from branch to branch while they grabbed leaves and fruit.
“Try not to stare.”
Terese dropped her gaze immediately. Closing her eyes, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to see more anyway. “So everyone here is…”
“Magical?” Ren’s voice sounded tired and a little sad. “Mostly. There are quite a few staff who are half-human, like me, and at least one person I know of who is fully human. But he’s not on shift today, I don’t think. But, like I said, this is a haven place—a place for magical people to be who they are without worry. We don’t have to wear glamours or hide here because the whole place is hidden from everyone but us.”
Shakily, Terese let the cup and saucer drop to the table with a soft clank as she blinked blankly at the table. Magic. This was magic.
“And the tea?”
There was a pause. “Is part of a seeing spell. So you can see the world as it is.” Another pause. “So you can see me as I am.”
Mentally, in her head, Terese ran through all the pictures on Ren’s profile. Her hat. Her sparkling eyes. The wild twist of her hair. The blush of her cheeks. And that smile. She thought about every email and message and chat they’d shared. Every fandom they gushed over. Every memory—family moments, past relationship stories, exchanges with friends—they’d shared. She thought about every time she’d imagined what Ren might be like in the moments building up to this date.
Swallowing hard, Terese looked over at Ren, who’d taken off her hat and coat and was shaking out her curls. Two slim, short, blunted horns peeked out from the silken cloud atop her head. Her shoulders and arms were covered in soft-looking wool a shade or two lighter than her hair. Her eyes, that had been dark brown before, seemed more like dusk falling over the city. Dark, endless umber burned and blended with plums and wine, while the promise of sunlight hid beneath the dark.
Shyly, Ren smiled, the expression on her face like a resigned ta-da. She tousled her bronze hair nervously. “Hi.”
Terese bit her lip and felt her stomach clench, not unpleasantly. Though still a bit weakly, unsurely, she smiled back. “Hi.”
Ren coughed and rubbed her arms, disturbing the tight, short curls, too casually. “Not too weird?”
Terese sat and took in the woman sitting across from her. From the worn Birds of Prey tank top to the way, despite her visible insecurity, her shoulders were still thrown back almost in defiance.
Sure, Ren did not look the way she had in her profile pics. But, even with her limited dating history, Terese knew that was true of most non-magical people too. And, while she didn’t look the way Terese had expected—at all—somehow, she looked exactly how she should.
This was Ren.
So, Terese shook her head. “Not too weird.”
Ren gave a small laugh, her shoulders sinking a bit in relief. “You say that now.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Want to see if that’s still true after ten years or so?”
Terese tilted her head curiously. “You can do that?”
Ren nodded. She reached her hands out and laid them palms-up on the table. “If you want to.”
Did she? Terese stared at those hands, so inviting and tempting. “It won’t be real though, right?” They’d only just met. She’d heard of lesbians rushing things too quickly, but this seemed like taking that to a new level.
Ren leaned one way and then the other thoughtfully. “It’ll just be in our heads, but it’ll let us see what our future could be like, if we were to go down that path.”
Did she want to go down that path? Even just imaginatively?
They’d just met but, if she did this, Terese would get to see what getting to know Ren would be like. She’d literally get to know, on the first date, whether things would work out or not.
Terese held the bespelled tea cup in her hands. “The magic only lasts an hour?”
Ren nodded. “After that, your world goes back to the way it was.”
She could do this. See what it was like. A part of her—a part she rarely let herself listen to—always wondered if there was a scenario, was a person and a connection, that would feel intimate enough. If she’d ever feel the kind of love she longed for. If it even existed.
If there was ever a chance to take a leap of faith, wasn’t this it? Looking around the strange, beautiful, amazing café, how could she not at least want to believe?
So, taking a deep breath, Terese sat up straight. She reached out held out her hands, so clammy and cold she wanted to apologize. But instead, she pressed her palms against Ren’s and said, “Show me.”
It was the curse of threes.
Ren shook her head at Terese, wondering how the other woman could still be so nervous with her after three months of dating. Terese worried her bottom lip between her teeth and crinkled the menu in her shaking hands. She’d been like this on their third date too.
Wondering if they’d have an awkward three-year anniversary dinner as well, Ren sat back.
Now that was a thought. Honestly, she didn’t think she could handle if, three years later, they were still dealing with this.
Because, underneath the neurotic worry over numbers, she knew the real underlying anxiety.
Apparently, in the dating world, every milestone happened in threes.
After their third date, Terese had been terrified that Ren would be expecting the traditional Third Date Kiss.
Instead, very aware of her fears, Ren had spent the whole night warming Terese’s cold, clammy hands in hers. It hadn’t been that Ren hadn’t wanted to kiss Terese. She had. But watching the credits roll with Terese’s warm, soft hand in hers had felt incredibly intimate, more so than most of the kisses she’d shared.
She’d hoped that it would have wordlessly reminded Terese that they weren’t on a timetable. They didn’t have to play by anyone’s traditions.
Yet, three months later, here they were.
Sighing, Ren pried the menu from Terese.
Ren had deliberately picked a restaurant they’d been to several times. A familiar space that might not be their place, but could be one day. She looked at Terese. “You know what you want. You always get the club sandwich, light mayo, with tater tots instead of fries and either a strawberry shake or a Coke.” She shook her head. “Either way, you’ve been looking at that menu too hard for too long.” She reached out and lay her hand palm-up to her. “Talk to me.”
Terese frowned and stared at Ren’s hand unsure. “I know that you said we’re okay.” She swallowed and clutched her hands together tightly. “That you’re okay, but...” She shook her head.
After years of being told the opposite, it would be hard for someone like her to believe.
Ren pursed her lips, reached for her drink, and nodded. She took a sip of her soda and bit the straw while she thought. She tilted her head. “What are you afraid of?” Because she clearly was.
Terese scoffed. “What?”
Ren shrugged. “What are you afraid of?” She reached for the easy answer. “That I’ll leave, if we don’t follow some arbitrary timetable sold to us by romance novels and Cosmo?”
Terese snorted, the amused sound bubbling out before she could clap her hand over her mouth. “So we’re okay?”
Ren smiled. “We’re okay.”
“And you’re not disappointed by waiting?”
You’re not disappointed by me?
Ren could hear the unasked question hang over them. How to answer? She didn’t want to lie, but the truth felt terribly complicated. She laid her hand on the table again, open and inviting. She waited until Terese took it, pressed together palm-to-palm, before smiling. “I want to kiss you, Terese. I want to hold you and caress you and, yes, I want to sleep with you. And I have since we were just avatars on a dating site to each other.”
Terese’s face scrunched and she tried to slip her hand away.
But Ren held firm. Still gentle yet with purpose. She held still and waited while Terese decided whether to tug her hand away or stay. She was glad when Terese took a steadying breath, held her hand, and looked into her eyes. Ren smiled. “But, more than that, I want you to want that.” That was the truth. She felt it, fully, in every word. She let her thumb caress circles over the back of Terese’s hand, feeling her fragile bones held together beneath the soft, resilient skin. “I want to wait for that.”
For a moment, Terese’s hand tensed. She winced. “What if that never happens?” Her voice was so quiet.
Because that was what really scared Terese.
Oddly, it didn’t scare Ren.
Maybe it should. There were no guarantees that it would happen.
But it could.
And neither of them could know.
Until they did.
Ren swallowed. Okay, yeah, that was a little scary.
But that just meant it mattered.
And that was good, right?
Ren looked at their entwined hands. Yeah, this was pretty good. “I’m willing to stick around to find out.” She wrapped both their hands with her other one. “Are you?”
Terese bit her lip, but nodded and smiled. “We’re okay.”
Sitting on the couch, both lounging over the overstuffed armrests, with the TV on, Terese could tell Ren’s mind was not on the show. So she turned to sit cross-legged on the broken-in cushion and faced the woman on the other side of the sofa. “What are you thinking?”
Ren shook her head. “Nothing. Just a weird thought.”
Terese arched an eyebrow. “About what?”
Ren rolled her eyes. “You really want to know?”
Terese nodded, but held her breath when Ren sighed.
The other woman shrugged her shoulders awkwardly before turning to face Terese too. “I need more from our relationship.”
More? Terese blinked blankly. She shouldn’t have been surprised. Ren had lasted longer than most. Had been beyond more patient than anyone else Terese had known. She shouldn’t be surprised. This shouldn’t hurt.
Ren held out her hands. “Don’t get me wrong. I like being with you and I don’t want to change or rush you.” She sighed and slumped her shoulders. “But I need something more. I need to know that we’re moving forward. That, no matter how nice this is, there’s more for us. I’d like to see if we can come up with some kind of compromise.”
Terese crossed her arms over her chest, having heard this all before. With a disbelieving scoff in her voice, she asked, “Like what?” Did Ren want to see, to sleep with, other people? Did she want to just try sex, sure that, while in the moment, Terese would feel differently about it? Did she want her to push past her reservations and just fake it till you make it her way through sex?
“Do you touch yourself?”
Terese straightened. “What?”
Ren blushed, but repeated, “Do you touch yourself?” She flinched and added, “And not just, you know, here.” She made sweeping gestures over her torso, from breasts to lap. “But everywhere.”
“I…” Terese felt her cheeks flush. “I’m not really comfortable with that.”
“With talking about it?” Ren leaned forward. “Or doing it?”
Terese shrugged. “All of it.”
Ren bit her lip and nodded, like she’d been expecting that answer. “You told me that you aren’t comfortable getting intimate with someone unless you really know them, right?”
Ren lifted a shoulder. “Then don’t you want to really get to know yourself?” Her hands fisted and she dropped her gaze. “I’m afraid to touch you. Because I don’t want to cross any boundaries for you. I keep waiting for you to tell me what you’re comfortable with, but I guess it just occurred to me that maybe you don’t know. And both of us not knowing what feels good to you isn’t a great place to build intimacy, right? I hate the idea of having you have to tell me if something I’ve done feels wrong; I’d rather hear you ask me for what feels right.” She shook her head and shrugged. “I mean, wouldn’t you like to know what feels good to you?” She peeked up at Terese. “I know I would.”
Terese opened her mouth, but promptly shut it. She’d never really thought of it like that. For so long, touching herself, like so many other things, had felt like one more expectation, one more obligation, she couldn’t meet. One more so-called natural, normal part of being human that she didn’t understand.
Sure, she’d tried it before and felt more confused and frustrated by the whole thing than anything. So she’d stopped.
But maybe instead of thinking of it as trying to figure out what the fuss was, what other people got out of it, maybe she ought to just think of it as trying to understand herself more. Think of it as getting to know herself.
“No pressure.” Ren sat back and paid attention to the screen again. “We don’t have to do anything right now. Like I said, it was just a random thought.”
One that, without the pressure or baggage weighing it down, Terese thought might be worth exploring. She sat back on the couch and stared at the TV screen. Maybe. She bit her lip. Without turning away from the show, she cleared her throat. “I’m not sure how I like to be touched.” But, Ren was right, she would like to know. And that would take time and thought on her part. “But, until I do…” She took a deep breath. “Can I, maybe, touch you?”
She could feel the cushions shift beneath her as Ren straightened on the couch. “How would you like to?”
Terese felt her face burn with awkward embarrassment. Why was this so difficult? This was why she’d always avoided these kinds of conversations. But, Ren was right, nothing would ever change unless she did. “I like holding your hand.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ren reach out her hand to her.
Terese grasped it and twined her fingers with Ren’s, feeling the tension between them begin to ease. Yes, she liked this. “This is okay?” She knew Ren wanted more, needed more. But this was something, a step forward; the question was whether it was enough.
Ren squeezed her hand. “It’s great.”
Ren tapped the rhythm of the song playing through her headphones against the sole of Terese’s foot.
“Hey!” Terese yanked her foot back. “Massages, not tickles.”
Ren smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, you know me and really good refrains; I lose my head.”
Terese rolled her eyes. “Now I’ve lost my place in my book.” She swiped her finger across her tablet, trying to find her way through her story. But, even as she grumbled impatiently, she straightened her leg, so her foot fell into Ren’s waiting hands. A not so subtle sign.
Well, yes, ma’am.
So Ren resumed rubbing the supple, yet resilient flesh, feeling the stress of Terese’s day melt in her hands. She smiled when Terese moaned as she worked a particularly stubborn knot. The sound shouldn’t have been a big deal. It was just a foot rub. But that small sound—accompanied by the tensing then loosening of Terese’s muscles, in the rapid, pleasure-filled shutter of her eyes—hit her hard.
It was such a small thing. A comfortable kind of closeness. Almost an insignificant intimacy. With any other person, Ren would have taken it for granted.
But, with Terese, it felt different. Like a treasure discovered or a truth known. Ren knew that she was the one with magic running through her veins, but somehow being with Terese felt more miraculous than just about anything else.
Terese cringed and trailed Ren by a few steps as they headed back to the car from Faere Trade.
Ren crushed her hat to her head and made a disgusted snort. “I told you that would be a bad idea.”
Terese sighed. Yeah, that did not go the way she’d thought it would. “I just wanted my friends to see your world, so they’d stop being so worried about me.”
Ren shook her head. “Well, that worked wonderfully.”
Wincing, Terese couldn’t argue with her cutting sarcasm. Maude and Richard meant well. They knew that Terese didn’t have a lot of dating experience and had next to no experience with the magical community, so obviously they wanted to be able to see for themselves that she wasn’t in over her head.
“Your friend couldn’t stop staring at everyone—including me—like we were some kind of exhibit at a zoo or a circus. And her boyfriend kept accusing me of the worst stereotypes.”
Yeah, Richard had not been happy about having to drink the tea in order to see past the magic. He kept asking about ingredients and FDA ratings, worried that maybe magic was nothing more than being slipped a mickey.
Ren turned on Terese. “What did you tell them about me?” She shook her head. “They practically accused me of abducting you, drugging you.” She put a distancing step between them, holding her hands up against the very idea. “Raping you.” She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing them self-consciously. “Questioning why someone like me was even with someone like you when, ‘everyone knows what pucks like to do.’ As if all I am is a pair of horns and an out-of-control sex drive.” She shook her head. “Maude is your best friend and that’s what she thinks of me. How is it that all they see when they look at me is bad storytelling and fear-based folklore?” Her gaze narrowed on Terese, her jaw set and her eyes watery. “And, if that’s all they see, how do I not wonder, when you look at me, what exactly you see?”
Terese frowned. “I’m sorry.” God, hindsight was 20/20. “I should have listened to you.” She’d talked to Maude about Ren. Of course, she had; Maude was her best friend and Ren was important to her. Of course, she’d told Maude everything. How much fun they had together. How sweet and funny and talented Ren was. How patient Ren had been with her. How comfortable—even eager—she made Terese feel. How so many things, like holding hands or kissing or cuddling, that had in the past seemed obligatory or tedious or even nerve-wracking, felt right with Ren.
And she’d thought that Maude understood. She’d said that she did. She’d been excited and happy for her.
But somewhere between suspicions over spell spiked tea and seeing gargoyles and fairies and pucks on display for the first time, all that happy excitement had mixed with all the supernatural-panic news stories and human-first political rhetoric bombarding them from the media.
Ren had told her that would happen.
She’d assured her that Maude and Richard were different.
That she was different. That she could make it different.
She sighed as they approached the car. “I’m so sorry.”
Wordlessly, Ren walked over to the driver’s side door. “I just want to go home.”
She didn’t say it. She didn’t have to.
Terese bit her lip. “A musician.”
Ren looked up from her keys. “What?”
“You asked what I see when I look at you.” She stepped up and leaned against the car. “I see a musician who can make me laugh or cry or wonder with a song. I see a geek who loves space operas over superheroes, because stuffing old mythology into capes and spandex doesn’t make tired stories new. And I see a woman who’s loved me for months now, but never pressured me while I figure out what love-for-me means.” She smiled, her own eyes beginning to tear up. “When I look at you, I see my girlfriend, who I’m excited to see, to talk and listen to and be with, everyday. And I’m so sorry I couldn’t make them see that too.” She’d messed up today. She would try harder tomorrow. Because Ren mattered. And Terese had never been with anyone who had before. She was worth the effort. So Terese would, for Ren, do better tomorrow.
If Ren let her.
For a long moment, the other woman just looked at her. Terese fought not to squirm, suddenly very curious what Ren saw when she looked at her. Wondered whether, given everything—from tonight to Terese’s slow-pace style of dating—Ren thought Terese was worth the effort.
But then Ren smiled. She opened the car door and unlocked the passenger side. “C’mon, let’s go home.”
Ren opened her eyes on a curious murmur. “Good morning.”
Terese was touching the vale between Ren’s breasts, where her wool was naturally thin, more a soft peach fuzz than the full curls that covered most of the rest of her body. The unprotected skin there was sensitive and tingled with each brush of Terese’s lazy fingers.
Ren smiled and stretched, wriggling beneath the other woman’s slow tease. “What are you thinking for breakfast?”
Terese paused thoughtfully before pressing her lips to Ren’s shoulder. “Pancakes?”
Ren swallowed hard when she felt Terese’s hands stroked down her belly. “With bacon?”
“Mmmm.” Terese’s soft lips followed the trail her hands had made. “And eggs.”
Beginning to pant, Ren’s eyes fluttered shut at the sweetly insisting feel of Terese parting her thighs, making room for herself between Ren’s legs. “Scrambled?”
Terese shook her head then nipped at Ren’s thigh, the spot on her inner, upper thigh, just at the wool-line. The spot that she knew drove Ren crazy. “Poached.” She licked that sensitive bit of skin. “Just a little runny.”
Ren bit back a groan. “Hash browns would go better with that than pancakes.” She imagined the thick, flowing yolk soak the warm potatoes in her head, practically feeling, tasting, it on her tongue.
Terese placed a kiss below her belly, just above her mound. “But I’m craving something sweet.” She nuzzled the thicker, coarser curls between her legs. “All that melted butter and warm syrup.” She made a low hungry sound.
Ren gripped the sheets at her sides. That did sound good.
The tip of Terese’s tongue dipped between the folds of Ren’s labia, teasing the ready flesh. Ren groaned, her head thrown back deeper into the plush of her pillows. Even after all this time, Ren was still marveled by Terese’s touch.
How could this woman have ever worried that she was frigid? With the slightest touch, she left Ren burning from the inside out. It’d taken a long time to get here. But, as Terese slipped a finger deep inside her, Ren knew it’d been worth it.
She sank into the woman’s touch as Terese licked and nipped at her, as she thrust within her. Heat bubbled throughout Ren’s whole body, spilling from her in aching sounds from her throat and liquid heat from her core. Pressure built and built inside her, threatening to snap.
And then it did.
Sensation flowed and rushed through her, overwhelming her. Her body shook and shuddered as pleasure stole her breath. The intensity of it, like a psychic burst inside her, was so much, she felt lost within it.
Until Terese’s arms wrapped around her and her gentle weight settled on Ren’s chest, grounding her to the bed. Ren clutched Terese to her, clinging to her soft steadiness, while her rocked world settled.
With a smug smile on her face, Terese smacked a kiss to Terese’s lips. “Now that’s a good morning.”
Ren laughed and kissed her back. She hugged her tight around the waist, squeezing an excited squeak from those sweet lips. “Yeah, well, you certainly do know what pucks love.”
Terese blinked, her eyes now blindly staring at the café again. Her heart was pounding while her mind raced. She could still feel everything. Her emotions. Ren’s emotions. The fullness of their life together. Even as the memories, the exact details of it all, began to fade.
She wanted to shout. Wanted to cling to the memories. Wanted to fight to keep them.
But, no matter how hard she tried to focus her mind, she couldn’t.
“Why can’t I remember it?” It was so frustrating to be able to remember the feelings the experience evoked, but not the experience itself. It was like having something that was never really hers stolen from her. It shouldn’t hurt, but damned if it wasn’t tearing her apart.
Ren rubbed the back of Terese’s hands, making small, caressing circles across the sensitive skin. “It’s easy to create a fantasy.” She shrugged wistfully. “Much harder to live it.”
Terese frowned. “Was any of it real?” It’d felt real. Almost more real than the rest of her life. But now... Her mind felt so muddled. “Was that really you? Really me?”
Ren nodded. “My sight lets me see and show potential futures. It shows what, given the two of us together, might happen. It was really you, really me.” She tilted her head hopefully, her hair shifting to show more of her horns beneath the curls. “And, if you want, it—or something like it—could be real.”
Terese nodded back. Okay. She took a sip of her tea, more to give her hands and lips something to do while her mind tried to puzzle this all together. Okay. She set down the cup. “That all happened in less than an hour.”
The corners of Ren’s lips lifted a bit wryly. “A whole lifetime in less than twenty minutes.”
“You know that it likely won’t happen that fast in real time, right?” It wasn’t like, warm feelings aside, anything had concretely changed. They were still virtually strangers. In the fantasy, they may have known everything about each other. In reality, they still didn’t. “You know that, even after all that, it still might take me awhile to get to that point.” She didn’t want to say how long because she didn’t really know—it just had to feel right—and she didn’t want to scare Ren away. But she also didn’t want to make promises that she couldn’t keep. With a laugh that sought to make things feel lighter, she shrugged. “And you know what pucks like to do.”
Ren nodded and looked at her, really looked at her. She gripped Terese’s hands in hers tightly. “Yeah, you.”
FORGIVE ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED!
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