Authors: Bethany M. Sefchick
The Magic of Christmas
By Bethany M. Sefchick
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Bethany M. Sefchick
All rights reserved
Drake Vale looked out his dressing room window, peering into the blackness and expecting to see the worst of a winter traveler's nightmares - snow. Seeing nothing, he flopped back into his chair with a sigh and took a healthy swig of water from the cut-crystal tumbler that was hanging almost lazily from his fingers. An open bottle of what appeared to be vodka sat on the table next to him within easy reach if he wanted a refill. He was the only person who knew the bottle really contained sparkling water. He also planned to keep it that way.
Just beyond the old theater's walls, he could hear the shuffle of sneakers and boots on wet sidewalk, people traversing the alley behind the theater. Doors opened and closed in the distance within the building itself as his crew prepared for his show, which was scheduled to begin in only a few minutes. The hum and rustle of the audience beyond the stage blended with the ancient heating system in the old building producing a low hum that nearly lulled him to sleep.
He could feel the soft brush of the crushed red velvet of his antique lounging chair beneath his fingertips. If he moved his fingers ever so slightly, he could feel the cool slide of highly polished cherry wood as well. His black silk shirt slid over his chest like a lover's caress, and his gaze was full of the old-world opulence inherent in the room around him.
The wallpaper was a flocked gold and burgundy pattern, almost more like something from a bordello than an opulent, turn-of-the-century theater that had once hosted the biggest names in show business. Gold gilt mirrors were framed by filigreed wall sconces, once probably lit by oil but now powered by regular electricity. Other pieces of antique furniture, including a long fainting couch were placed around the room, making it feel both cozy and yet somehow foreign at the same time.
The mirror at his dressing table had been recently polished and someone, probably an over-eager fan had sent him a small box, probably with a trinket of some type inside. Or, given his reputation as a ladies' man, a pair of panties. Not that he was even interested in looking. Not tonight anyway, though in another time and place, he would have undoubtedly sought out the sender of the gift and, if she was to his taste, offered her a night of pure pleasure in his bed.
But that was for another night. Not here and not now.
Now, the smell of oil and greasepaint mixed with the musky scent of his well-worn leather pants and for a moment, he almost imaged that he was living in another time and another place, a time when the old Orpheum Theater had been home to such legends as George Burns and Bing Crosby. Or, in this area, perhaps Fred Waring.
Now, Drake closed his eyes and titled his head back to rest against the plush red velvet of the chair. This was not how he had planned to spend the final Friday night before Christmas, but then, as he had learned early on in life, nothing ever went the way he planned. Then again, when one lived a life where nothing was real, what could one expect?
As a professional magician, or rather illusionist, Drake was accustomed to living in a world where perception was reality and reality was a very fluid thing. What people thought they saw became the truth, even if it was really a lie. The truth, such as it was, didn't matter, usually because it was disappointing. Reality often was. At least in his experience.
The drink in his hand? People assumed it was vodka because that was the illusion of himself that he chose to project, one of a hard-partying and sophisticated man of the world. The tight black clothes covering his well-muscled and much-photographed body, making him appear an over-sexed playboy? The bleached blonde, spiked hair and specialty contact lenses that deepened his normally brown-gold eyes to pure black? Merely a role he played because it made him money. Not David Copperfield wealthy, of course, but close enough.
The real illusion, however, was that Drake was somehow in control of everything, that his life was as perfect - and perfectly sexy - as the tabloids made it out to be. He might drive sexy, exotic sports cars and he might date supermodels and throw erotic parties, but, at his heart, he was still the little boy from the wrong side of the tracks and no amount of magic and illusion could change that. Not if he was being honest with himself anyway. Which was why, long ago, he had preferred to hide behind illusions rather than admit that reality was extremely disappointing. But he could only hide for so long. Eventually, reality intruded whether one wanted it to or not.
That was also why when his old mentor and current owner of The Orpheum, Mr. Corbin, had called Drake and inquired about the possibility of Drake ending the winter portion of his national tour at the old theater, Drake hadn't been able to say no. He hadn't planned on ending his tour in his former hometown. Instead, he had been thinking more of Las Vegas or someplace in Florida, a place where he might spend the winter and give serious consideration to setting up a permanent show at a nice little theater rather than keeping up the grueling tour schedule he had embarked on five years ago.
Drake was popular now, certainly popular enough to headline his own show in one of the flashy Vegas casinos. However, he was also smart enough to know that such a move would force him to give up some of his precious control - not just over his show but over his life. A smaller, regional theater might be more to his taste. Still, it would be a change and changes came with consequences. Every action had a reaction. That was life. Such a decision wasn't one to be made lightly and Drake knew that he needed time to think.
Then Corbin's call had come and because Drake could not bring himself to say no to the man who had first introduced him to the arts of magic and illusion, he now found himself backstage at the man's theater, waiting to entertain a crowd who, if they knew who he truly was, would want nothing to do with him.
No, Drake Vale was an illusion to everyone, but especially to the people of College Heights, Pennsylvania. However, the child he had once been, the little boy named Logan Valliente was all too real. Especially to one prominent local family in particular - the Lindens.
And it was that family that Drake was hoping to avoid for the duration of his stay in town. It was also why he planed to leave town the moment his show that evening ended. He didn't need the complications the Lindens brought to his life - or rather, one Linden in particular - filling his head with confusion and want when there were life-changing decisions to be made.
Drake had learned long ago to make those kinds of decisions with a clear head or not at all. Seeing familiar old faces would only cloud his judgment, making him long for things he could not have.
That was another lesson he had learned as a child. It was better not to want anything. That way, you wouldn't be disappointed when you didn't get it. Hope led to pain. Wanting led to pain. Better to seal yourself off from everyone and everything. That way, he would never hurt. Not again, anyway.
Growing up, the little boy who had been known as Logan was often ignored by his alcoholic mother and beaten by his overbearing stepfather. Even now, Drake had no idea who his biological father had been, other than a man who had been "passing through," which wasn't all that unusual in a college town, and caught the eye of his mother. If his mother
know his father's identity, she had certainly never shared it with him.
Secretly, Drake had always believed that his father had been a student or a professor. There could be no other explanation for his near-genius IQ and exceptionally quick mind. His teachers had often remarked that he was the smartest child in the class, if only he could learn to be still once in awhile and take direction. They had called him "gifted and possibly exceptional." But none of that had mattered to Maria Valliente.
All she had cared about was where her next drink was coming from and how quiet Logan could be while she was "entertaining," or rather whoring herself out to men who would gladly pay for her services. Logan and his mother had lived at the far end of a run-down trailer park with occasional electricity - when his mother remembered to pay the bill - and even less occasional running water, since water was more expensive than power by quite a bit.
To say that he had grown up fast was an understatement, and he probably would have turned into a very different adult if not for the intervention of William Linden, his fifth grade teacher.
One day at school, after receiving a beating from his "occasional" stepfather for leaving the trailer to visit the local laundromat, William Linden had noticed Logan's black eye and intervened. He hadn't been able to immediately have Logan removed from his mother's care, but he had been able to help in other ways, including making sure that Logan was entered in mentoring programs, including ones at a special after-school program that allowed children like Logan to perform basic tasks like bathe and wash clothes.
It was through that program that Logan had met Josh Corbin, an amateur magician who sometimes performed at the decaying brick building that housed the program's facilities. All it had taken was one basic card trick and Logan had been hooked. For the first time, he encountered a field of study that challenged him and wasn't nearly as easy as it looked. It was also the first time Logan had been passionate about anything that might resemble a career.
From those early days of card tricks and sleight-of-hand, Drake Vale had been born. It had taken some time, of course, but at age thirteen after receiving another beating so severe that he landed in the hospital, his life had started on the break-neck course to adulthood. He had quickly been removed from his mother's home upon his release from the hospital and sent to live with an aunt in New Jersey. That process had moved at what sometimes seemed like the speed of light, especially in comparison to the torturously slow pace of earlier years.
Aunt Agatha had been horrified to learn about the inhumane treatment Logan had been subjected to and she had done everything in her power to give him all of the advantages he had missed out on a child. Including magic lessons from the best illusionists she could find who were willing to share their secrets with a young boy.
She also hired tutors to help him catch up with his schoolwork, only to find that he far exceeded most children his age. He could do complex math equations in his head and design intricate illusions that impressed everyone who saw him perform in his aunt's tiny living room.
His mind and his body finally freed from the chains of his trailer park upbringing, Logan had thrived, eventually skipping multiple grades in school and entering Princeton several years early, all the while still studying magic.
After Aunt Agatha passed on, Logan threw himself fully into the art of illusion, no longer having anything to tie him to a specific place. A few months after her death, he also legally changed his name to Drake Vale, forever closing the door on the little boy who had been Logan Valliente. Once Logan became Drake, he had never looked back, except to visit Aunt Agatha's grave once a year.
Or he had tried not to look back, instead creating a life for himself that, he had only recently come to realize, was built on nothing more than illusions. There was nothing real in his life, not since Aunt Agatha anyway. She had been his rock, his anchor, the single person who had kept him tethered to reality. Then, Corbin's call had come with an offer to end his tour in College Heights, and possibly set up a permanent home for his show in the old Orpheum.
At first, Drake had wanted to say no. The response was automatic. Logan was dead and buried. Returning to College Heights would only bring him - and the pain he had endured - back to life. Then, he had remembered that not everything in his hometown had been a nightmare. He had first learned about magic there. He had friends and mentors there, even though they were now all advanced in years because no one his own age had even wanted to talk to him let alone be his friend.
Except one - Cecilia Linden. William Linden's daughter and possibly the only true friend Logan Valliente had ever had. She was also the only woman, other than Aunt Agatha, he had ever truly cared about.
She had also been his first kiss, his first crush and the first woman to capture his heart. The only problem was, she had never given it back, probably because she didn't know she possessed it. And he had never found another woman he wanted to hold his heart other than his beloved Cecilia.
Cecilia was his Venus, his Helen of Troy, his Beatrice. Except that Drake was no Dante. He was just an illusionist. However Cecilia was still the woman he compared all others to and found them somehow lacking.
When he'd been a scared, abused teenager, she had been kind to him, but over the years, Drake knew he had built her into some kind of saint, even sneaking back into town to watch her from afar a few times, stalker-ish as that now seemed, even to him.
He knew that logically she couldn't possibly be as perfect as he remembered, but in his mind, it was difficult to separate the gentle little girl he had known from the woman she now most likely was. He hadn't seen her in nearly seven years, and even that had been from a great distance. Even so, in his mind, she was still impossibly beautiful and perfect. And single. Perpetually single, at least in his fantasies, and waiting for him to return and claim her heart.