Kyle left the house on the hill and cut through the graveyard, reaching the main road as a heavy rain shower moved in. Damn it, he thought, as rain droplets soaked his head and trickled down to his scalp. I should have brought my jacket.
A bright green Mini pulled over to the side of the road beside him. Tempest rolled down the window and popped his head out.
“Come on, little apprentice, get in,” Tempest sighed impatiently. “Don’t you know us witches melt in the rain?” He giggled at his own joke.
Should I get in the car with him? Robert didn’t exactly seem to love the guy, or consider him safe, but he seems harmless enough. He shrugged inwardly and climbed into the passenger seat, grateful to be out of the rain even if it did mean sharing a vehicle with the obnoxious and flamboyant Tempest.
“Don’t look so timid, little morsel,” Tempest said. “I’m not going to harm you.”
“Just warn me away from Robert, right?” Kyle said, sitting back in his seat.
“Oh, you wound me,” Tempest said, then dropped the theatrics. “You’re a sharp one, kid. Perhaps I underestimated you.”
“I’m not leaving,” Kyle said. “There’s nothing you can do or say to make me go back to my old life.”
“He killed his master, you know,” Tempest said. “Stabbed him through the heart while he slept.” He made a stabbing motion with his hand, as if acting out a play. “Such a tragic affair.”
“He told me about it,” Kyle said. “His master turned to dark magic and murdered a girl from town. He had no choice.”
Tempest bowed his head. “It’s all true,” he said. “I’m surprised he told you that. Perhaps he knew we would be having this conversation. He must wonder why all his students keep leaving.”
“Why are you trying to warn me off?” Kyle asked. “You want him, is that it?”
Tempest laughed as if he’d heard the funniest joke in the world. “That stiff old board? Oh, you crack me up.”
“He’s my friend,” Tempest said. “I don’t have many of those left. Us witches grow smaller in number year by year. I have to look out for him.”
“Look out for him? I’m not going to hurt him,” Kyle said. “I owe him a great deal. I respect him.”
“You respect him, you admire him, you want to learn from him… and you will, I can see it now,” Tempest said. “Perhaps you are the one after all.”
“The one?” Kyle asked. “What, am I the subject of some prophecy?”
Tempest broke into laughter again. “Oh, this one has an ego! Most amusing. No, boy, you’re not special. You’re not going to save the world. But you might save a man’s life.”
“Indeed,” Tempest said, and the humor was gone from his voice. “He’s been living to train a student. Once he passes on his knowledge, there’s no further need for him to continue living. At least, in his eyes. He wants to join his master, that man he loved so dearly. I can’t allow that to happen.”
“You mean, he’s going to commit suicide?” Kyle asked. He was waiting for a punchline, for Tempest’s bawdy laughter, but it never came.
“I believe so,” Tempest said, his voice as gentle as the breeze. “Unless he finds something or someone to anchor him to this world, to make him love life and magic again.”
“You think I’m the one to do that?” Kyle asked. “Look, like you said, I’m just a kid. I don’t know anything about your world. I can’t compete with Robert’s master!”
“Then learn,” Tempest said. “Learn the art of magic and draw him into your circle. Bring him as close to you as you can. A pretty boy like you likes men, right?”
“Hey, that’s none of your–”
“Raven is my friend,” Tempest said, “but I’m powerless, held at bay by the fact that I committed a terrible deed. Raven doesn’t know this, but his master didn’t love him the way he thought he did. Or he wouldn’t have slept with me.”
“Did you tell Robert this?” Kyle asked.
“It would drive him over the edge!” Tempest said. “Besides, Raven is a far better witch than I. I have no desire to be on the receiving end of his magic.”
“So what am I supposed to do about it?” Kyle asked. “Fall in love with him? Sleep with him? He’s thirty years older than me! I don’t even see him in that way!” Yet even as he said the words, he remembered how his heart had leapt when Robert had opened the door and he had laid eyes on him for the first time.
“Then go home,” Tempest said. “There will be others. Perhaps someday the one will come along to ease Raven’s heartache, and we’ll all be able to get this drama off our chests.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence, Tempest tapping the car wheel to an invisible beat. He pulled in front of the convenience store and stopped.
“I’m going back,” Kyle said. “To Robert, I mean. I won’t abandon him. I don’t know about love, I really don’t, but I’ll try to be a good friend to him. I won’t let anything happen to him.”
“You’re a good kid,” Tempest said. “Hurry on up and I’ll take you home.”
* * *
Kyle stepped into the convenience store to see his boss busy behind the counter. A long line of customers waited for cigarettes. His boss caught sight of him.
“Hey, get in uniform. You’re two hours late. Where the hell have you been?”
“I’m quitting,” Kyle said, laying the uniform shirts down on the counter.
“Where are you going, huh? Found another job? Funny, I haven’t had any calls.” He tossed a packet of cigarettes on the counter and snatched the money from the customer’s hand.
“I’m living with friends. They’re taking care of me.”
“Oh, the drug den deal. Good luck with that. Let me know how that all works out, with no health insurance and a need for rehab. Don’t expect me to pay bail for you, either. Far as I’m concerned, we never met.”
“It’s not like that!” Kyle said. “I don’t have to explain myself to you. I quit. Have a nice life.” He stalked out of the store and slammed the car door.
“Hey, hey, gentle with my baby now,” Tempest said.
“Sorry. My ex-boss accused me of going to live in a drug den.”
“Pah. Humans. They’re just jealous, kid. They’d love to give up their jobs, but they’re trapped by girlfriends and bills.” Tempest pulled out into traffic and was honked by a passer-by. He flipped the stranger off and Kyle laughed.
“Hey, don’t laugh, this is serious business,” Tempest said, and flashed Kyle a winning smirk.
I think he’s growing on me, Kyle thought. He’s got a certain charm, that’s for sure. Are all witches this fascinating?
Tempest pulled into the driveway. “Well, keep in mind what I said, kid. You need any advice, whisper it into the breeze and I’ll float on over.”
“Thanks,” Kyle said. He walked over the gravel driveway to the great front door and let himself in. He found Robert in the kitchen making dinner.
“You came back.” Robert tried to keep his voice even, but Kyle could feel the waves of emotion rippling beneath the words.
“Yeah, of course I did,” Kyle said.
“Dimitrius didn’t scare you off?” Seeing Kyle’s look of surprise, he gestured to the window where the raven sat perched outside on the ledge.
“You were watching me?” Kyle asked.
“My students have a habit of never coming back once they get some alone time with Dimitrius. Makes me wonder what he says. Of course, his car is magically soundproofed so I can’t hear a word, but…”
“He’s worried about you.” Kyle put his hands down on the counter. “That’s all.”
“Worried? Dimitrius? I don’t think he knows the meaning of the word, but thanks for trying to cheer me up.” Robert chopped some carrots and threw them into the dish.
“I mean it,” Kyle said. “Yeah, he tried to tell me about your master, and I told him I already knew. He’s worried that you’re depressed about everything.”
“So I guess, what, he wants you to keep an eye on me? No, that’s not Dimitrius. He has to have something far more dramatic planned. All the world’s a stage in that man’s eyes. Let’s see, he wants you to fall in love with me and heal my wounds through the power of romance?”
“That’s…” Kyle struggled for words and found none.
“Don’t get any ideas, Kyle. You’re my student, that’s all. I’m not interested in love any more. I had my chance and I lost it. I’ll see my master again someday, so I’m not brooding about it.”
Tempest was right, Kyle thought. Robert has given up on life. He watched Robert chopping the vegetables evenly, with no sign of breaking his calm. I’m the one who’s supposed to save him? It doesn’t seem likely.
Robert slipped with the knife and cut his finger. He cursed and grabbed a dishtowel.
“Kyle, could you get me a band-aid? First floor, on the right, there’s a medicine cabinet. In there.” Kyle left the kitchen and hurried upstairs.
Robert leaned against the counter. Damn you, Dimitrius. Why do you always have to interfere? Can’t you just let me pass on my knowledge and die in peace? This existence is torture without him, don’t you know that? Every day is a waking nightmare from which I can never awaken. I wish I had stabbed myself that night instead of him.
Kyle was back before he knew it, unwrapping the band aid and gently wrapping it around Robert’s finger.
“That’s okay, I can do it,” Robert said, pulling away sharply. “Thanks.”
“I think I’m going to study the Penumbra before dinner,” Kyle said.
“You do that. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
Kyle walked out and closed the door behind him, leaving Robert in the kitchen by himself. I shouldn’t have been so hard on him, Robert thought. It’s not his fault Dimitrius stuck his nose in where it wasn’t wanted. At this rate, Kyle will go home because of me, and I’ll be back to square one. Again.
* * *
Kyle sat in the library reading the Penumbra, but the words wouldn’t sink in. All he could see was Robert snatching his hand away in the kitchen.
I can’t do it, Tempest, Kyle thought. I’m nineteen, with next to no relationship experience at all. How the hell do you expect me to break through his walls, if you can’t? I want to keep him safe, of course I do, he saved me from a life of hell and brought me into this wonderful world and I owe him for that, but I can’t change the rules of love.
He turned the page of the Penumbra, the thick parchment almost creaking with age. On the next page were detailed ingredients for and descriptions of potions. He almost chuckled as he read some of the details. Toad Potion. Turn any foe into a toad for a day. Love Potion. Open the heart of any man.
Love Potion? Yeah, right. Bad idea. Kyle laughed as he thought about Robert prancing around the house under his spell. So ridiculous. Even Tempest wouldn’t stoop so low as a love potion. Right?