Part OneTerese Nahali’s feet crunched the dry, vibrantly-colored leaves on the unswept sidewalk outside the place her date had told her to meet at. Wrinkling her brow, she cocked her head at the building’s sign.
It was an odd name, blandly written in block letters over a plain door. This place didn’t look like a café. With no windows and blank, stucco walls, it looked like storage space. Truthfully, it gave her a bit of pause, wondering exactly what she was doing at this hole in the wall.
She sighed and shook her head. She hated first dates. Kinda hated the whole dating process as a whole. But, like it or not, there really wasn’t another way that she knew of to do this whole love business.
Not that it really seemed to be working well anyway.
She’d been doing the dating dance for a few years now and she just didn’t get it. In high school, it’d all just seemed like a waste of time; how likely was she to actually find the love of her life at sixteen, so what had been the point of looking? In college, no one really seemed to be looking for what she was. Everyone, especially the women who’d caught her eye, had been more preoccupied with just enjoying the moment or finding themselves. And, call her old-fashioned but, if forever wasn’t even a vague goal, Terese couldn’t see how it was worth the effort.
Then, without her really noticing, suddenly, she’d been twenty-two and had never been on a proper date.
And then, she’d been twenty-four and had never been in a long-term relationship that had lasted longer than a few months.
Now, she was twenty-seven and her most serious relationship had been with Chloe, a research assistant whose curiosity in Terese had lasted nine months before her frustration in a lack of proper results forced Chloe to give up the experiment.
Terese didn’t blame her. Not really. They’d only had sex, or really any kind of intense physical intimacy, a handful of times in the tail-end of those nine months and usually only when Chloe’s need had turned to desperation. Not the most intimate or romantic of settings.
But Terese just didn’t understand. How did you go from a stranger to a soulmate after a few dates, or a few weeks, or even a few months? Shouldn’t it take more time, more effort, more...something, to truly know someone enough, to trust someone enough, to mate souls?
So, yeah, staring at Faere Trade’s white-painted walls, Terese doubted the answer to her problems lay behind that door.
But what other choice did she have? It was either this or give in to the secret fear that the kind of love she craved, the love she needed, just didn’t exist.
And she wasn’t ready to give up hope yet. So, she pushed open the door and entered into the clean, gleaming café. Her heels clicked on the shined white tile floor as she walked past pale, varnished wood tables and white cushioned chairs. Happy hour businessfolk and studious college students milled about, filling seats and sipping drinks. The walls were white too, filled with tasteful but bland black-and-white photos of the city. The whole room felt forgettable, bordering on boring.
It would have felt like just another chain coffeeshop, except for the pretty flute music lilting through the space. She looked around the café and spotted Ren Watteau, seated on a stool at the lip of a small stage. The woman’s thin, pink lips pursed over an antique-looking pan flute, breathing life and song into the woodwind. For a moment, Terese just studied her, from her seemingly omni-present page boy hat that sat over her golden brown curls, floppy and familiar from every photo she’d shared on the dating app, to her black-booted feet tapping in time to the music.
Terese knew that Ren loved music; it was all over her dating profile. But hearing her, seeing her, play was amazing. The other woman threw herself into the melody, swaying with the song’s swell and flow. It was like hearing her soul.
Somehow, it put Terese a bit at ease. Reminded her that she wasn’t just going on some date. She was meeting Ren, a musician she’d been talking to online for weeks now. A sci-fi fan with a wicked sense of humor and a similar outsider outlook on life as Terese. They’d connected online, the correspondence flowing easily.
God, Terese hoped it would do so in person as well. She knew from experience, it didn’t always.
At the end of the song, she took a deep breath and made her way to the stage. “Ren?”
The woman looked up, her dark brown eyes bright with recognition. She smiled and hopped down off the stage in a graceful move. “Terese.”
With a nod, Terese took the other woman’s outstretched hand. She looked around again. “You know, I used to work not far from here and I never even knew this place existed.”
Ren’s face flushed, while she fiddled with her hat. “Well, it’s not easy to find unless you know where it is.” She coughed and led the way to a table in the back before pulling out a chair for Terese. “Can I get you a drink?”
Café date. Drink. Right. “Umm.” Terese bit her lip and sat down. “Whatever you’re getting is fine.”
When Ren came back from the order counter, she was carrying a small tray with a lime green teapot and two matching teacups resting on pretty saucers. She set the tray with the beautiful tea set on the bland, white table. “Do you mind if I pour?”
Terese shook her head. “Please.” More used to Starbucks, she was a little intimidated by the fragile-looking ware.
Without sitting down, Ren picked up the teapot and filled each cup with the delicious smelling tea. Terese reached for one of the cups, but the other woman held on to it. Terese gave her a questioning glance before Ren sighed and sat down. “So, there’s something that I want to talk to you about before we go any further.”
That didn’t sound good.
But, she supposed that she’d learned that it was best to just lay out all your limits and baggage at the start. So Terese nodded.
Ren’s fingers tensed over the saucer for a moment before pushing the cup toward Terese. Terese breathed deep, the aroma sweet and familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. “What is it?”
That was it! Terese sniffed the tea again. Yes, it smelled exactly like a pistachio cookie. With that scent alone, she could almost taste the buttery, sweet treat. Could practically feel the flaky cookie crumble in her mouth. Her hands, as if drawn, wrapped around the warmed cup to pull it closer.
Terese looked up, feeling dazed, as if she were waking from a dream. She pushed the teacup away. “That’s not tea.”
Ren picked up her own cup and took a lengthy sip. “It is.” She set the cup down on the saucer. “And it’s not.”
Terese shook her head. “What does that mean?”
The other woman took a deep breath before saying. “The reason you never noticed this place before I invited you is because this is a haven place.”
Terese’s spine straightened. She blinked and glanced around. A haven place, huh? She’d heard the term talked about on the news and in passing, but she’d never known anyone who’d actually been to one, much less seen one herself. “So everyone else here…”
“Is magical?” Ren tilted her head. “Not all of them, but, “ she shrugged and said, “yeah.”
Terese narrowed her gaze. “Which means you are…”
Ren nodded. Then shrugged. “Half.” She smiled sadly. “My mom was human.”
“And the rest?”
Ren winced. “My father is puck.”
“Puck? Like Puck puck?”
Ren gave a wry smile. “The myth of Puck is…” She gave a slightly tired sigh. “It’s somewhat based on actual pucks, but in the same way Kung-fu movies aren’t a perfect picture of Asian culture or cowboy Westerns aren’t exact American culture…you know.”
Terese cringed. “Of course.” It wasn’t as if, as an Indian American, she wanted people to think she lived her life like a Bollywood film. “Sorry.”
“No.” Ren grimaced. “I mean, I don’t even…” She pursed her lips and tilted her head, awkwardly. “I grew up with my mom for most of my life but, when she died when I was sixteen, I moved in with my dad.”
Terese’s dad had a heart attack last year and she’d almost lost him; it’d been one of the scariest moments of her life. She couldn’t even imagine losing a parent that young. “I’m sorry about your mother.”
Ren nodded. “Thank you. But I just mean, I’m part puck, but I was raised pretty human.”
Terese got that. “My parents raised me and my brother pretty American too; most of what we know about our parents’ culture is from school reports and recipes.”
Ren let out a breath of relief. “So you’re…” She shrugged. “Okay with it?”
Terese shrugged. Sure. “Of course.” Why not? “My friend dated a fairy once.”
Ren wrinkled her nose. “It’s, uh, not quite the same.”
Oh God. Terese held out her hands. “No, of course not.” It wasn’t as if she thought all magical beings were the same. “That’s not what I meant.” She felt her face redden. “I just mean that I don’t judge.”
She wanted to roll her eyes. God, was this what this conversation felt like on the other side? She suddenly felt a wave of sympathy for every white person who’d ever stuck their foot in their mouth around her. There was such a difference between knowing what not to say and knowing what to say. And, Lord knew she had no clue about any of it, so it was hard to not trip over all the inappropriate words she did know, no matter how hard she tried to avoid them.
She coughed. “So this tea then?” She turned the cup in her hand. “It’s enchanted?”
Ren nodded. “It’ll allow a human to see behind the veil of magic for about an hour or so.”
Terese wrapped her hands around the cup again, still staring at the cup a little warily. Okay. She could do this.
But before she did… “There’s probably something I should tell you too.”
Ren held her breath.
She knew what was coming next.
Some Midsummer Night’s Dream fantasy. Or some humanity-first philosophy.
It was the world she lived in and she’d long since learned to brace herself for it.
Ren watched Terese’s grip on the tea tighten, her long, teak fingers tapping against the vibrant green. The woman took a steadying breath. “I like to take relationships slowly.” She looked up at Ren, her dark eyes wide and impossibly vulnerable. “Like really slowly.”
What did that mean? Ren couldn’t even guess. “Explain that to me.”
She watched the other woman shift in her seat, the long, thick side braid she had her hair in swaying a bit against her shoulder. Her teeth bit down on her bottom lip, worrying the full flesh. She sighed and shot Ren a clearly fuck it expression. “Since we’re laying it all out there, I guess, you should know that pretty much every relationship I’ve ever been in has ended because I never feel comfortable getting…physically intimate with someone until I know them well.”
Ren blinked blankly and felt herself blush again. “Look, I know that there’s a stereotype about pucks and sex. The whole ‘you know what pucks like to do’ thing, but I don’t really—”
Terese sat straighter and shook her head. “Oh no! That’s not what I meant at all. I didn’t mean that you…” She swallowed hard. “I just mean that I…” She took a breath. “It sounds bad, but this really is a case of ‘It’s not you; it’s me.’ ” She shrugged. “Truth is, I’ve never really felt like I’ve known anyone, so, you know, intimacy—all kinds, not just sex—and me just…” She frowned.
Ren fought to freeze her face, not wanting to show her shock. “So…” How to phrase this? “You’ve never…”
Terese gave a humorless laugh. “I have; it was just…” She wrinkled her nose. “Uncomfortable.”
Ren sat back thoughtfully. Okay. “So how well do you need to know someone?”
Terese leaned on the table, resting her face in her hands as she stared into the tea pensively. “Well, the idea of sex never really sounded all that appealing to me. Truth be told, I often wonder what possessed the first people to even try it. It just sounds…messy and awkward and likely, if everything I’ve heard is true, often more work than it’s worth.”
Ren frowned. She wasn’t the stereotype people thought pucks were, some sex-crazed creature constantly in heat. But she did like sex. A lot. And intimacy in general. She enjoyed kissing and cuddling and holding hands. She couldn’t imagine being in a relationship without those things.
Terese looked up, her dark eyes a little hopeful. “But the idea of making love…” She lifted her shoulder a bit, smiling sweetly. “That sounds like it could be nice. Like a physical manifestation of that feeling.” Then her shoulders slumped. “But then it kinda necessitates that you be in love to make it, right?”
Ren didn’t believe that sex had to come packaged with love, but she understood the sentiment. She’d had enough bad romantic and sexual encounters to know that, even if it wasn’t love per se, sex went down better with at least affection and trust.
And a little foresight, if one could find it, never killed anyone.
So she bit her lip. “I think I might have an idea about that.”
Terese arched her eyebrow. “About what?”
“About knowing someone.” Ren smiled, thinking that, for all its troubles some days, being puck had its advantages too.
The other woman’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What do you mean?”
Ren rolled her shoulders, a bit uncomfortably. “Pucks and pans have some prophetic abilities.” She held up her hands. “I’m not great at it but, if you want, I could show you.”
Doubt still sharpened her gaze, but Terese leaned in with interest. “Show me what?”
She would like this, Ren was sure of it. She just had to give it a chance. Grinning, Ren cocked her head invitingly. “What it’s like to make love to someone...”
Read Part Two Here