Forest’s next date with Ali went wrong before it even started.
As he reached to give her a hug hello, she stepped back. “Forest, I don’t know how to say this, but I think we should break up.”
Not again. “What do you mean, break up? We’re doing great!” he said. There was an edge of frustration in his voice.
“If you think everything is great, then you haven’t been paying attention,” Ali said. Her voice sounded tired rather than angry. “I’ve been unhappy for a long time, and I’ve told you so.”
How could this happen? Her sun was supposed to rise and set in his eyes. The magic should have worked, and yet no matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to hold her.
He tried again. “Can’t we talk about this? I’m sure we can work it out.”
She shook her head sadly. “I already tried to talk about it. I can’t get through to you, and I’m done trying.”
Forest started to reach into his pocket for the doll, then froze. He had to face facts — the spell had stopped working. Every time he reapplied it, it was weaker than before. If he couldn’t persuade her to stay of her own accord, he couldn’t have her.
Pain flashed in Ali’s eyes. “Don’t you DARE talk about Adam like that!” she cried.
“No, no!” Forest said desperately. “I didn’t mean it like that. Look, Ali, I love you. You know I love you. I’d do anything to persuade you to stay. Anything. Just ask.”
She’d ask him about his job. He’d tell her everything, even underworld secrets. Ali was more important than they were anyway, and with her he had nothing left to lose.
But Ali shook her head. “We’re past that now. Please, Forest, don’t make this any harder for both of us than it had to be.”
Forest stared at her, struggling to accept that it was over. There was certainly another spell… but no. Anything stronger than what he was already using would bend her personality. He might be able to keep Ali with him, but she wouldn’t really be Ali anymore. If there was one thought Forest could bare less than living without Ali, it was a world without the true Ali in it.
This was it. Really it. Forest tried to open his mouth to finish the conversation, but his throat closed. He was horrified to realize that he might cry. Nobody, especially not Ali, would ever see that.
Glad that he could hide behind his glasses, he looked down without another word and brushed past her as he walked away.
It took a little while for Hunter to work up his nerve to go see Eliana after her graduation. Sure, they’d had this wonderful correspondence, but that didn’t mean it was going to turn into anything magical once they could go on a face-to-face date.
Eventually, and with much advice from Sky, he suggested that he drop by one afternoon before she headed off to work. Her father had referred her to some kind of clerical job, but it was at night.
Enigma went with Hunter for more support. Eliana was enthusiastic to see him, but when he showed up at her house, she was not alone.
The man who stood with her on her front porch immediately gave Hunter chills.
Both of them saw Hunter approach at the same time, and the man stepped away from her. He had the sudden uncomfortable sense that he’d been interrupting something.
“Uh, hello?” Hunter said uncertainly. “You said it was all right to come over?”
Eliana’s face lit up. “Hunter! I’m so glad to see you! Have you met my new boss, Sean Flynn? He just dropped by a little early to take me to work.”
Hunter turned uncertainly to Flynn. “Hello, sir.”
Flynn’s strange eyes seemed to flash. He didn’t answer, but he nodded his head in a sort of greeting.
Then he looked up and met Eliana’s eyes. The two of them stood transfixed for a moment. Hunter watched, feeling a confusing mix of embarrassment at walking in a personal moment between two lovers and the heartache of walking in on a personal moment between his lover and someone else.
Hunter was totally unprepared for what Eliana did next.
The scream was bloodcurdling and long. Then she turned and ran, stumbling through the snow, as if she were terrified for her life.
Hunter called her name and ran after her.
He caught up with her at the corner of the house. “Eliana! Are you all right?”
“Sure,” she said breathlessly. “No big deal. It’s just a big cold out, that’s all.”
“It’s what?” Hunter demanded, dumbfounded. “What did that guy do to you?”
“Do to me?” she asked. “You mean Mr. Flynn? I don’t know what you saw, but you must have misinterpreted it. Mr. Flynn is a very nice boss. Did I tell you he even picks me up for work?”
She abruptly glanced over Hunter’s shoulder and shuddered. He looked up to see Flynn strolling casually away into the snow-filled night.
Eliana shook off her air of dread again. “Oh dear!” she said. “I must have taken too long. Now I’ll have to find my own way to work!”
Hunter took her hand and studied her face.
“What?” Eliana said.
“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,” Hunter said carefully, “But I think you might be coming down with something. If Flynn’s such a nice boss, I’m sure he won’t mind if you call in sick.”
Eliana sighed. “Maybe you’re right,” she said. “I have been feeling kind of weak for the last few days.”
And now our spare plots get a little bit tangled up.
It turns out that the voodoo doll loses against the betrayal moodlet that Ali got pretty much the first moment that Flynn and Forest made overtures toward each other, so Forest finds himself kicked to the curb. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about Ali’s ensorcelment, but it turns out that she broke free all on her own.