Authors: TJ Nichols
The water stopped. Kyle picked up his shorts and tugged them on.
There was no harm in fooling around for another week. A week-long fling was very different to one night. Maybe Roone would walk out and not come back now he’d gotten laid. That would make life easier. And duller.
The man with the pointed ears walked back into the living room, the gaudy red-and-yellow beach towel slung low around his hips. Roone grinned as though there was nothing amiss in the world.
He didn’t seem to be in a rush to put his shorts on either. Kyle had to keep dragging his eyes up from the curve of muscle that beckoned his gaze to wander lower. Roone was too tempting. When he left in a week there was going to be a hole that would hurt for a long time. Kyle’s shell was cracking, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Kyle picked up a handful of takeout menus. “Have a flick through and see what you want to eat.” Hopefully something spicy, he didn’t want pizza or pasta or even fish and chips. “I’m going to rinse off.”
He didn’t want to wash the scent of his lover off his skin, but his skin was sticky, and he needed the space to seal up the cracks, to try to keep himself from getting hurt.
Maybe he should’ve told Roone to leave instead of inviting him to stay for dinner. After all, what was the point of continuing when it was going nowhere? It was the kind of relationship he usually liked. Short. Maybe he was incapable of making anything last.
He showered and dressed. Would Roone still be here, or would he have taken off? Kyle sucked in a breath, ready to face an empty flat. But nope, Roone was sitting outside on an outdoor chair—fortunately wearing his shorts. The towel was hanging up on the balcony. For a moment Kyle stood there and just looked at him.
Roone was too perfect and pretty. Too self-assured and calm.
Kyle had no idea what to say to a man like that. He had no impressive travel tales. No secret family business to join. He was a nobody who’d done nothing with his life. And he usually saw guys who were much like him. He didn’t want to spend time with them, so he had no idea what Roone saw.
A short-term screw was the easy answer. A last holiday fling. But Kyle was glad that he’d stayed.
“Did you want a beer?” Kyle called out as he went to the fridge.
Roone half turned, the point of his ear more visible. How had he never noticed before? Or was it obvious now he’d noticed?
“Yep. That would be great.”
Kyle tossed the lids in the bin and took them outside. It was a nice evening, perfect for sitting out. He didn’t do that very often. Mostly because he had no one to sit with, and it felt kind of lame to be sitting alone on the balcony in full view of everyone.
“What did you want for dinner?” He swallowed. “Are you staying for dinner?”
“Thai?” Roone held up the yellow piece of paper to answer both questions.
Excellent. Fishcakes, curry, and a pile of noodles were exactly what he’d wanted. But they were his favorites. “What do you like?”
They ended up ordering two different curries, prawn toasts as well as all of his favorites. With luck there’d be enough left over for lunch tomorrow.
Now they had half an hour to kill. Roone glanced at him. Kyle tried not to look at his ears. The tips peeked from beneath his dark hair. As dusk settled, his blue eyes became bottomless pools of ink. If Kyle wasn’t careful he was going to end up drowning in them, and that would be bad.
“So… are you going to join the family business?” He was itching to know what it was.
Roone frowned and sipped his beer. “I have no idea. I should know by now. I’m supposed to feel it like a calling or something, and I’ve got nothing.”
“You aren’t going to tell me what it is, are you?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I did.” That impish grin was back.
Had he ever known anyone to smile as readily as Roone? The ground beneath his feet was getting slippery with black ice. He was going to lose control and crash badly when Roone left. However Kyle couldn’t help himself. He wanted to know what it was like to be in love just once, and this might be the only chance. He’d never found anyone he could talk to so easily.
Roone tilted his head; then he shook it as if dismissing the notion.
That only spiked Kyle’s curiosity. Roone liked to talk and share.
“Are you not allowed to tell?”
“It’s nothing like that. I won’t have to kill you after telling you.” Roone flicked a piece of ice off his bottle. Delicate ice crystals swept up the side of the bottle in swirls like the curl of a fern frond.
Kyle glanced at his. All he had was beads of condensation. He didn’t recall there being ice on the bottles. They’d been in the door of the fridge, not up the back. His fridge wasn’t known for its ice art, only for icing up anything that wound up at the back.
Someone rapped on the front door, and Kyle got up. He smelled the food before he even opened the door. His stomach gave a grumble as he handed over the money. He put the bag down outside and grabbed a couple of plates and forks.
Roone handed over some bills. “I’ll get it.”
Kyle hesitated. “It’s okay.”
“I want to. You taught me to surf. You’re being a friend to a lonely traveler.”
“You do that with all your friends?” He didn’t like taking handouts. His life wasn’t a mess; it just wasn’t glamorous or exciting.
“No. But I want to and I want to see you again.”
They were not dating. There was no point, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it and he couldn’t refuse Roone’s money without being a dick about it. Kyle put the bills in his pocket. “Thank you. We could go for a morning surf?”
Or was that suggesting way too much, too soon?
Roone leaned back with a smile curving his lips. “That sounds good. I spent most of the first lesson trying to figure out if you liked men.”
“Yeah? Now that I had to keep secret until I moved out.” Kyle hadn’t wanted to give the family he was with any reason to kick him out, because he liked the friends he’d made at school and he liked living near the beach. He hated all the rules that the family made, but that was the trade-off.
“Foster parents… by the time I was a teenager it was like the system couldn’t wait to spit me out. So I studied as best I could and got a job.” He hadn’t expected to be doing the same job seven years later. Working in the surf store between teaching lessons. But it was easy work, and he liked surfing.
“What would you do if you could do anything?” Roone piled his plate with curry, as though he didn’t really care where the calories went. They certainly didn’t stick to him, as he was all lean muscle. Really, he could do with a bit more.
“I don’t know.” Kyle had thought about it, but changing jobs meant studying, and he didn’t want the time off work. “I was never that good at school. Guess my foster parents never noticed or cared, so I slipped through.” And by the time he was old enough to notice and care, it had all felt too hard.
Roone shook his head. “I’m sorry you had a crappy family.”
“More than one.” He was about to start talking about them, but he stopped and filled his mouth with noodles instead.
Roone looked at him for a moment. His skin was almost luminescent in the dark, his eyes black. He didn’t seem real, like he didn’t belong in this world.
“I have two sisters. Both younger. My parents both work the family business. I think my mother expects me to leave. My father expects me to return.” He shrugged, but there was tension in the pinch of his eyebrows. “It’s such an important thing, and I don’t want to screw it up.”
“What would happen if you didn’t go back?”
“I get limited funds for two years. Then I’m on my own.” Roone hesitated as though he was going to say something else, but he went silent and ate.
“And if you did go back?”
“Then I get to do what I like, but I don’t get to travel either. No more surfing or summer.”
“So what do you do for fun?”
“Snowboard. Ski… winter sports.” He was smiling again.
“You have family that cares, a job waiting for you. Why is it even a dilemma?” If Kyle had that on offer, he’d be packing up and leaving on the next plane.
“Because part of me thinks I should be here living
life, not the one I’m expected to be living.” He ruffled his hair, a deeper frown forming. “The thing is, I’m worried that if I go back I won’t be me, I’ll be who they expect me to be.”
“And who does your family expect you to be?”
The pointed ears were obvious now, the pale tips catching the light. There was something about him… something that woke a part of him that had been dormant for over twenty years. He felt as though he should know who Roone was.
“Do you believe in magic, Kyle?” For the first time, Roone looked deadly serious.
The sharpness of his cheekbones and the line of his nose were impossibly perfect. Was the moonlight making him more beautiful? Maybe he’d had one too many beers. Or worse, he was falling hard.
“Like magicians?” He laughed, trying to take away the serious edge that was forming. He’d seen the TV shows explaining how the tricks were done. It was all sleight of hand and misdirection.
“No, like real magic. Things that shouldn’t be and yet they are if you believe.” Roone reached out and touched Kyle’s beer bottle. The condensation froze, and the ice spirals wrapped around the dark glass.
Kyle’s mouth popped open.
“You see it, don’t you? The ice patterns.” Roone was watching him closely.
He nodded. “What did you do?”
“Magic. I did it at the pizza shop and you saw nothing. You also noticed my ears for the first time tonight.”
“So usually only children notice. Adults don’t because they don’t believe.”
“Believe in what?” The night air seemed to chill around him, and the hair on his arms pulled tight. “Magic?”
Roone said nothing. No. It wasn’t magic. It was bigger than that. Kyle touched the ice on the bottle, and it melted beneath his fingers. It couldn’t be real. Magic wasn’t real, and there was no way Roone could’ve done that. He blinked, and for a moment the ice was gone and Roone looked normal… less pale and beautiful and with no pointed ears. Then he blinked again and the ice was there, and Roone, with his pointed ears and dark eyes, was watching him.
That was seriously weird. “What’s going on? How are you doing it?”
“I’m not doing anything. I am just being me…. You are starting to see me as I really am, though. So few do.” He glanced away as though studying the horizon.
Kyle studied his bottle again. There was something very odd happening. His nice simple life was suddenly becoming strange. He glanced at Roone. “Why the change?”
He shrugged. “You said your parents burst your bubble, but maybe you really do want to believe. Maybe that’s why you started looking at me harder.”
“My parents?” What did they have to do with anything? He didn’t believe in anything because there was nothing to believe in. “There is no such thing as magic, or the tooth fairy or Santa.”
Roone’s lips turned down. The luminescence that had surrounded him was gone. Then it shimmered back before fading again. It was like Kyle had taken a bad trip. Was it something in the food, or had Roone put something in his drink? He’d let himself get sucked in and had dropped his guard.
“Don’t say that or you might start to believe those words again.” Roone’s voice was soft. “I want to be able to share the magic. That’s why I don’t want to go home. But if I stay I will lose the magic.”
None of this was making any sense. “What magic?”
“I’m an elf.”
Silence. Kyle could hear the cars on the street below. An overly excited cricket chirped away. Someone in another flat was singing out of tune to the radio. He stared at Roone, at his ears, then at his hands, still wrapped around the icy beer bottle. “As in Christmas?”
Roone nodded. “That’s one part.”
“That’s your family business?”
He nodded again.
“Well, your family business is shit, or I was always on the naughty list.” He hadn’t been a bad kid, but he hadn’t been the best either.
“There is no naughty list. Just those that don’t believe.”
Kyle started laughing; he couldn’t help it. “No. I refuse to believe in that. You’ve spun a very nice story, and you really had me going for a while. But no.” The crack that had been opened, the part of him that thought Roone was telling the truth, refused to close. His vision kept swimming, as though flicking between two different realities. Human Roone versus the elf with pointed ears. There was no smile on the lips of either version.
Roone stood up. “I’m going.”
“That’s a good idea.”
down the sidewalk. He had no idea where he was, but he knew that a taxi would come by and he’d be able to get home. Sure enough, only a few minutes later one did. His mood didn’t lighten.
He’d thought that Kyle had been ready to hear the truth since he was seeing it.
Obviously Roone had been wrong. There was a reason most adults couldn’t believe in magic and elves. And while countless books had been written about positive thinking, it was more than a thought. Belief came from the heart.
Kyle’s heart had been open to him… before it had slammed shut.
He paid the driver and went back to the hostel where he was staying. He could have stayed in a hotel and had a room to himself, but what would be the point of that when he wanted to meet people?
He spent a restless night, but in the morning he knew what he needed to do. He would make Kyle realize that there was magic. He went to the shops and bought Kyle a stocking to hang up on Christmas Eve. Then he went back to the beach, hoping that Kyle would be there.
He was, and when Roone walked up, the hot sand burning his toes, he didn’t look happy to see him.
“What do you want?”
“I came to give you something, that’s all.” Roone held out the gift-wrapped stocking.
“I don’t want it.” But Kyle’s gaze darted to the present.
“I think you do. You want to know if I was telling the truth.” Roone was praying that Kyle hadn’t locked his heart overnight and was now seeing nothing odd. He reached out and brushed the back of Kyle’s hand, needing to touch him and needing to be sure. The water droplets froze on his skin, creating delicate patterns.