Darlene’s eyes moved from Lum’s face to his hips and then went back up to settle on his breasts. She opened her mouth and closed it again without saying anything.
“May I come in?” Lum said.
“Yes, of course. Sorry, I just… Come in, Luminous, please come in.”
Walking into the foyer and standing next to Darlene, Lum said, “Too much too soon?”
“No, never.” Darlene shook her head and smiled. “It’s just… startling.” She touched the strap of Lum’s dress and shifted her hand towards his chest, stopping over his left breast and pressing warm fingertips against the swell of his cleavage. “They feel real.”
“They are,” Lum said, keeping his voice low.
“But you are…”
“A man,” he finished for her. “And my maleness is of flesh and spirit most days of each month… except when the full moon decides differently.”
She continued examining the reality of Lum’s breasts. “How?”
“It’s a long faery tale, Darlene. Complicated by three wild-headed older sisters and a grandmother who believed everyone should learn by doing.” Lum placed a hand over the fingers Darlene still held over his chest. “And there was an arrogant and foolish young man. There is always one of those at the heart of the best faery tales, isn’t there?”
“I’ve always been annoyed by people in magical stories,” Darlene said. “The humans, I mean.”
Lum blinked. “Excuse me?”
Darlene grabbed him by the hand and guided him towards the kitchen. “You know.” She lowered her voice when they walked by Quinn’s door. “I’m talking about those people who spend most of their lives wishing for the impossible to be real. Then they find it, just to spend the rest of their lives trying to prove that the magic in front of their eyes is impossible.” She stopped under the threshold to face him. “I won’t be that human. I’ll believe in a full moon that gives smoothness to your limbs, fills your breasts and hips, and adds a female quality to your voice that I find surprisingly sexy.”
Lum laughed. “You are a strange woman, Darlene Juliana Tapia.”
“Not—” Darlene began to say, but the ring of her cell phone cut her off. “Do you mind?” she said to Lum, brandishing the phone in front of her.
Lum shook his head.
“Hi Daddy,” Darlene said.
“It’s your Aunt Juliana,” Lum overheard the person on the other end of the line say. He began to walk away to give Darlene some privacy, but she held his hand and mouthed that it was okay. “This phone’s dying… I’m just calling to apologize.”
Darlene frowned. “Oh… Okay.”
“You can come over and get the invitation.” Her aunt paused. “You were right. You should be the one to go to The Guild’s winter festivities.”
Darlene removed the phone from her ear and put it on speaker. “Are you sure, Auntie? They might not—”
“It’s the right thing to do. If The General sees you, he will notice how well you’ve adhered to his last mandate. He might even shorten your punishment.”
“I should go alone, you think?”
“Better take Ava, like you said you wanted to.”
“Okay, Auntie. Ava is already in bed. We’ll stop by in the morning to get the invitation. She will be—”
“Come tonight. Please, Darlene. I… I’ll be busy tomorrow.”
“Okay, Auntie. I’ll make arrangements for Ava. She’s tired and I don’t want to wake her. I’ll be there in an hour.”
“See you then,” her aunt said, and ended the call.
Darlene stared at the phone.
“Is everything all right?” Lum said.
“I don’t think so. My aunt gave me that invitation a few hours ago.”
“Maybe it escaped her mind?”
“No, Luminous, it didn’t.” Darlene touched her phone screen. “Hi Boadicea,” she said to the woman who answered the call. “I was wondering if you and Melvin would mind coming over tonight. Something came up. I need to go to my father’s.”
“We’ll be there in fifteen,” the other woman said. “I was missing my Quinn anyway. I wanted to sleep over, but she needed to rest. Now I can blame my inconsiderate neediness on you.”
When the call ended, Lum said, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know… but something seems to be really wrong at my father’s house.”
Lum and Darlene left the apartment the moment Boadicea FitzClarence, Quinn’s girlfriend, arrived.
Darlene drove without speaking, and Lum let the silence stand.
“I’m not sure what’s happening,” Darlene said after pulling over in front of a house. “But my aunt seems to think that I need your help.”
“I thought she said Quinn would be—”
Darlene turned to look at Lum. “No, she said Ava. No one calls Quinn by her first name, my aunt knows that. She also knows that I was going to ask you to go with me to The Guild’s winter party.”
“Your family knows about me?”
“They know a friend helped keep Little Bear’s bullet out of my skull.” She looked away. “I told them I trust you to watch my back, but you don’t have—”
“Just tell me what you need me to do, Darlene.”
She nodded, and they got out of the car.
Darlene had parked a couple of blocks away from her father’s house, in case someone was watching the place. “See that window over there?” she said, pointing at the second level of a single family house. “That’s my aunt’s kitchen. The blinds are shut, but she never locks the window.” Darlene looked at Lum. “The day we met, you sneaked—”
“I can climb up there without getting spotted,” Lum told her. “Then what?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll play it by ear. Who knows, I might just be paranoid.”
Lum moved closer to Darlene, touched her cheek with his, and said, “We’ll figure it—”
“Look, guys,” said a male voice full of laughter, “Luminous is consoling a wench.”
“Stay very still,” Lum whispered into Darlene’s ear. Then he turned around slowly, keeping her at his back, while addressing the closest of the newcomers with an ease he wasn’t feeling. “Here I was, Ryelord, about to feel sorry for myself.” Lum chuckled. “It’s not often that I get all dressed up in killer heels with no one in mind to make my outfit true.”
“Luminous?” Darlene said, and he felt her hand reaching for one of the blades she kept sheathed in her corset.
“Let me handle this,” he said softly.
“Go on, little warrior,” Ryelord said, taking a step towards Lum and Darlene. He was muscular and tall. If he hadn’t been blond and his features weren’t shadowed by an everlasting sneer, he would have been identical to his siblings. “Just introduce us to your wench, and I give my word that we’ll leave.” He bowed. “Unless you’re afraid we’ll tell her about the little secret that’ll pop between your legs tomorrow night?”
Lum glimpsed at a small chance to end the unfortunate meeting without unnecessary bloodshed, and took it. He wished things had happened differently—perhaps at a later time or elsewhere. But Fate has never been the most accommodating of hostesses. Holding on to that thought and hoping for better than the worst, Lum said, “Meet my older sisters, Darlene.”
Part One: “Luminous Changes with the Moon”
Part three soon…
Red and Black Christian Louboutin [killer] Heels