The Sandman’s Lover
by Sarina Dorie
I checked the address on my scroll as I floated through the wall of the orphanage, incorporeal and invisible to humans. The elegant curving script on my parchment said my clients imbibed Mountain Dew before bedtime. The group of preteen girls chattering away in the corner yawned and became droopy-eyed as I approached. Had I chosen to be visible, I would have scared them with my long, brown robes, and my face obscured like some kind of reaper. My black raven wings probably wouldn’t have helped with the stereotype. Which is why we immortals rarely show ourselves to our clients.
I sprinkled a pinch of sleep dust over each of them. A couple of them left the corner and trudged to their beds. Others dropped off into slumber where they sat, nestling into the blankets, peaceful expressions melting over their faces. I smiled. It always felt rewarding to help humans fall asleep like this.
The nearest girl’s eyelashes fluttered, the sign she had entered R.E.M. sleep. I reached inside my linen robes for the marble canopic jar in my pocket. Like plumes of smoke, wisps of dream drifted from her nose and mouth as she exhaled. I hovered over her, collecting my prize for another two minutes while the dreams were at their most potent stage. Discarded dreams are a small price to pay for the gift of sleep I grant the fortunate humans on my list. A guilty thought crossed my mind that I had been visiting those not on my list of late. Specifically, I had dropped in on Marissa twice this week. The very thought of her cherub lips and fluttering eyelashes made my heart skip a beat.
I shook the thought from my head and approached the next girl, jar in hand.
With a bang and a crash, something exploded into the far side of the room. I jumped as a rocking horse toppled into a doll house, a Barbie car flew into a tower of Legos and something landed in a heap of toys. As a magical being of night, I usually have no trouble making out details in the dark, but this thing moved so fast it was a blur. I looked at the children. My dust kept them deep in slumber.
When the thing stood, I realized it was a she—a fairy slightly smaller than I, though she looked like no immortal I had ever seen. For one thing, she had hot-pink hair so wild and spiky it poked out every which way. For another, she wore patent leather boots that reached her thighs, with a matching corset and a tiny black tutu. Her Goth makeup was caked so thick it was difficult to distinguish any features of her face other than her violet eyes.
She straightened her tutu and brushed herself off. I was still in too much shock to react as she approached the bed of the nearest girl. She nudged the child with the star on the end of her wand. “Wakey wakey.”
The girl yawned and sat up. The fairy’s hot-pink wings fluttered, looking a little too shimmery and shiny to be real. They were probably implants—not that I was staring. She jumped onto the next bed and woke another child by tapping her on the head with her wand.
“Excuse me. What are you doing?” I asked, the deep grumble of my voice tainted with annoyance.
The fairy’s florescent lips formed a little “O,” her brow crinkling. “I didn’t know anyone else was here. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Vivian.” She handed me her card, pink ink on glossy, black paper.
Vivian, the Insomnia Fairy
Does slumber parties, math classes and bar mitzvahs
“Insomnia fairy? You just disturbed my clients as I was putting them to sleep.”
“Did I?” She turned to the children with feigned innocence. All five of them were now awake and resuming their conversation about Justin Bieber or some other such nonsense.
Disgusted with the freaky fairy, I sprinkled more sleep dust on the children.
“Hey, I just woke them up!”
I turned my back on her. “I’m just doing my job.”
“And I’m doing my job, too!” She elbowed me out of the way and prodded a girl in flannel pajamas with her wand. The girl lifted her head.
I sprinkled more dust on the girl. “I was here first.”
The child dropped her head on her pillows again.
“Yeah? Well, I have orders from Fairy Corporate Headquarters.” She unlatched a pager-like device from the black belt at her waist. She held it out so I could view the screen. On it was displayed the address of Sunnyside Orphanage, Room B.
I pulled the scroll out of my belt.
“Paper? How archaic.” She rolled her eyes.
The elegant script listed the same address and ward.
“Obviously, there must be some kind of mistake,” I said. “You should go back and report this to your supervisor.”
She crossed her arms. “No, you go back to your supervisor and tell him there was an error.”
I wondered if all insomnia fairies were this difficult.
“Look,” I said, trying to reason with her. “These are children. They need to get to sleep so they can go to school tomorrow.”
The insomnia fairy’s gaze swept over my brown robes, her eyes narrowing. “Uh huh. You need to put them to sleep… and they’re just going to wake up in the morning. I don’t buy it.” A wicked grin spread across her face. “Tomorrow is a snow day.”
I pointed to the window which showed a view of the lamp-lit street. It was free of snow. “It’s almost April and this is Oregon. Tomorrow isn’t going to be a snow day.”
The insomnia fairy didn’t budge. “I am staying here to keep these children up all night. You go visit someone else.”
I threw up my hands in disgust and walked through the wall to the frigid street outside. A single snowflake drifted down and touched my nose.
The rich aroma of coffee greeted me as I entered the pleasantly warm coffee shop at my usual evening time. I stood on tiptoe to see over the long line of people bundled up in heavy coats and scarves. How curious to find a crowd so late in the day—at the hour that I was just beginning mine. But then, the weather probably brought people in from the cold.
I tried not to dwell on the slush of melting snow at the door.
My heart skipped a beat when I caught sight of Marissa working the register, her long blonde curls cascading over the front of her apron. I knew I wasn’t the only one in love with her. The other humans her age—and older ones as well—drooled as they ordered. I was sure Marissa would fall in love with me if only she didn’t suffer from narcolepsy every time we went on a date.
When it was my turn, Marissa’s eyes was still fixed on the till where she rearranged twenties underneath the plastic tray.
“I’ll have a tall, quad-shot, hazelnut mocha with extra Marissa,” I said.
“John!” Marissa’s eyes sparkled and she squealed. Never before had a girl hopped up onto a counter to throw her arms around me and kiss me. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t because I was from the fairy dimension and radiated extreme hotness no mortal could resist. It had to be because Marissa and I were meant to be together.
Marissa sat on the counter, nudging her coworker’s shoulder with her ratty white sneaker. “It’s time for my break. Take over for me, will ya?”
Simon, the other barista, sported a green mohawk and multiple facial piercings. He rolled his eyes. “You just took a break half an hour ago.”
As Marissa hopped down on my side of the counter, I gave Simon my most apologetic smile. I left a ten on the counter, knowing he would fill my order and keep the rest as a tip. I didn’t mind, considering the nuisance my arrival caused him on a daily basis.
Marissa laced her arm through mine. She leaned in close to my ear. “Today was so busy. I’m glad you showed up when you did. I was starting to wonder if the snow was going to keep you from your afternoon caffeine fix.”
I loved how she was tall enough I didn’t have to stoop for her to whisper in my ear or kiss me on the cheek. It was a nice change from fairies who rarely made it past my shoulder.
“Weather wouldn’t stop me from the best cafe in Portland,” I said. Even the coffee in my realm couldn’t compete. And as a sandman working with sleep dust, caffeine was a must.
Marissa tugged me over to our booth in the corner, her eyelids already drooping with fatigue.
“I don’t want to keep you long,” I said, nodding at the line that was now out the door. “If you think your boss might get mad—”
“It’s not a problem. Julie’s in the back washing dishes. She can help Simon.” She rested her head on my shoulder. I found it endearing the way she stifled a yawn with her pouty lips.
Simon brought my drink, sploshing some of it on my lap in his hurry to get back to the counter. Even when I flinched, Marissa only briefly stirred, her head remaining on my shoulder. I had showered twice; once before I’d gone to bed in the wee hours after my night shift ended, and once this afternoon when I’d woken up. Still, the magic dust clung to my skin and hair, and I’d unintentionally transferred it to her again. More than anything, I wished I could tell her what I was, to share with her the magic of my realm—but telling a mortal of the fairy realm would be considered even worse than dating a mortal.
I’d always stayed away from humans in social settings, agreeing with the Fairy Council it was best not to grow too close to humans. Yet the thing that attracted me to Marissa the first time I’d seen her behind the counter wasn’t the innocent beauty of youth, though she was as striking as an angel—I would know, I dated one a thousand years ago. What began it all was that she had confessed she was an insomniac. I had thought that maybe because she worked here, the caffeine seeping into her pores all day plus the triple-shot mochas she drank would counteract the effects of my magic. That, and she was beautiful and vulnerable as only a mortal could be. I found my heart aching every time I gazed upon her.
To my disappointment, on our first date Marissa yawned repeatedly during dinner. Midway through dessert she fell asleep.
I tried to remind myself I wasn’t boring. It was just my magic that made mortals sleepy. Still, it’s a blow to your self-esteem when you’re making out with a beautiful woman and she falls asleep on you. That was date number three.
I should have stopped myself after that, but I had given it another try, hoping that more stimulation might be the key. Sticking to the limitations of the human world, I selected activities likely to keep her awake: rollercoaster rides, a heavy metal concert, and tango lessons. Even combined with huge doses of caffeine, none of these kept her from getting sleepy. The problem was, by date number ten, I was so in love I couldn’t give her up.
So there I was, in the coffee shop where she worked, addicted to Marissa as well as her coffee.
“I’m really sorry. I don’t know what came over me,” Marissa said, snuggling into my fleece jacket. Her spidery lashes blinked twice and then came to rest against her porcelain cheeks. If only there was something I could do to make her stay awake. I was willing to try anything. My heart clenched every time I thought about not being with her.
Staring at the dirty globs of snow at the entrance reminded me of Vivian and her weather prediction. Vivian, the insomnia fairy. A smile spread across my lips as I considered there might be a solution to my problem after all.
After my shift was over in the wee hours of morning, I met Vivian at a pancake house. I used glamour to hide my sandman robe, blending in with a pair of khaki pants and a button-up shirt.
A gust of wind blew in, and in with it came Vivian. Just as before, she was dressed like some kind of funk-punk fairy. Today she wore black and fuchsia striped legwarmers under her tutu and a raspberry colored fur coat. It being Portland, I assumed no one would stare too much. At least the humans couldn’t see her wings.
The insomnia fairy scanned the elderly customers peppered throughout the pancake house. I stood and waved. She wouldn’t recognize me without my work uniform. She flashed a smile a tooth fairy would have been proud of and skipped over, her four-inch platform boots clunking loudly against the tile floor. The elderly customers stared at her.
One old man muttered, “That’s the darned strangest ballerina I’ve ever seen.”
Vivian stopped before me. “You’re John? That grim reaper guy?”
I brought my finger to my lips. “Shh! Someone will hear you. And I’m a sandman, not a reaper.”
She plopped into the booth across from me and picked up a menu. “Oh, I had wondered why you didn’t have a sickle.”
I pushed the envelope of cash toward her, wanting this to be over as quickly as possible. “I have two hundred dollars here. How much insomnia magic is that going to get me?”
She flipped through her menu, ignoring the envelope. “I never discuss business on an empty stomach. Oooh, the marionberry crepes look tasty.”
Not wanting the waitress to see my envelope of money and think I was a drug dealer, I stashed it in my pocket. I had to endure the stares of more elderly patrons coming in for the early bird special while we waited for Vivian’s crepe. I sipped the tepid, burnt coffee, studying the rings of moisture the water glasses left on the table. I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t incriminate myself.
“Do you, um, well, are you… how was work tonight?” I did my best to smile like an immortal who didn’t have something to hide.
Her eyes twinkled with mischief. “So are you going to tell me about this person you need insomnia magic for?”
“No.” It came out more quickly than I intended.
“I see. It must be a lady friend.” She leaned forward with interest. “How long have you known her? What’s her name?”
I crossed my arms. “How are you going to get me the insomnia magic? Does it come in a dust form? Or is it transferred wand to wand?”
“No, it doesn’t work like that. You’re paying for my services. I’ll make sure she stays awake while I’m there. Oh, goody, my crepe is here!” She slid her glass over so the waitress could set down her plate. “They have the best crepes ever. Do you want a bite?”
I shook my head. My grand plan to make Marissa stay awake already seemed doomed to fail. I tried to think of a way around the insomnia fairy seeing Marissa. “I’m a trained professional in sleep enchantment. I’m sure I can handle insomnia magic. Your services aren’t necessary. I just need the magic so she’ll stay awake when she’s around me.”
“Why can’t she stay awake when she’s around you? Most immortals can use magic to repel sleep and anti-sleep spells. Unless she’s also a sandwoman, then maybe there’s too much dust in her system and you’re overloading her…”
“She isn’t a sandwoman. She just can’t repel my sleep magic.” I twisted my cloth napkin in my lap. “I only want to buy some of that stuff you sprinkle on people to keep them awake.”
“It’s a presence job, not a sprinkling job. I have to radiate energy.” She set her fork down, her expression growing thoughtful. “Hey, is she a tooth fairy? I hear they’re so overworked and underpaid they don’t have the energy to stay awake, and they can’t afford top-quality magic to repel spells.”
Why did she have to be so nosy? “Um, no, she isn’t a tooth fairy. Isn’t there any way I can use magic to make her stay awake? Do you have to be present?”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t have to know I’m there. I can use glamour or I can stick to the layers between worlds. As long as she doesn’t try to transport out of there, she won’t see me.”
“Transporting isn’t the problem.”
The long expression on my face must have shown because she scooted her plate aside and patted my arm. “Sometimes narcolepsy can be a symptom of a bigger problem in fairies; a magical ailment, a Sleeping Beauty curse, a Rip Van Winkle ancestry. Have you talked to her about her problem? A relationship without communication—”
“Nothing is wrong with her. She’s a perfectly normal woman.” There was no way I could take Vivian on a date. She’d find out Marissa was a human and then report me to the Fairy Council for trying to seduce a mortal. I stood. “I can see I’ve wasted your time. I apologize. I’ll get the bill.” I bowed.
“No, it’s okay. I’ve done stuff like this before. I can give you a list of references.” She hopped to her feet, blocking my path. “If you want to have sex with her or something, I’ll just sit on the other side of a wall. You won’t even know I’m there.”
I put a twenty down on the table, more than enough to cover her crepe, my coffee and the tip. Vivian’s forehead crinkled as she glanced at her breakfast. I pushed past her, heading toward the door. Vivian clunked after me.
“Wait a minute? When you say she’s a perfectly normal woman, do you mean…?” She lowered her voice. “She isn’t a human, is she?”
“No, that’s not it at all.” I walked out into the chilly night air. Our feet crunched over patches of snow.
Vivian latched onto my arm, shaking it. “She is, isn’t she? Are you an idiot? You could lose your job.”
“I know,” I said, continuing on. As much as I loved being a sandman, I was certain Marissa was worth the risk.
She hugged her coat around herself. “They could force you to work as a toilet fairy. Or they might expel you and take away all your magic so that you would have to work on the dark side to stay immortal.”
Insulted, I halted. My breath was so heavy, I could barely speak. “I would never become a demon. I’d sooner lose all my magic and become human.”
“You would give up your wings, chocolate fountains in the workplace, and freedom from taxes, all for this girl? That’s so…” I thought
she was going to say stupid, but instead her face softened and she said with a sigh, “romantic.”
I stood in line at the theater, Marissa leaning her weight against me, eyelids drooping. I had eagerly awaited my night off all week. I hoped Vivian would find us. When she didn’t, I stalled inside, ordering snacks, going to the restroom, and pointing to movie posters. Marissa yawned. I wondered if Vivian had changed her mind. She might not want to be an accomplice to my crime. She might have decided to report me. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck.
Just when I began to give up hope, a hot-pink blur shot through the door and stopped next to Marissa. Vivian was dressed in her usual attire. Fortunately, none of the humans could see her. Still, I wondered if I should have paid for three tickets, not two, so she could grab an extra seat.
“Sorry I’m late. I had a gig with Northwest Airlines.” She prodded Marissa with her wand.
Marissa stood a little taller and no longer leaned on me as we walked down the hallway to find our movie. She actually initiated a conversation, something I suspected she’d always been too tired to do in the past. “Did you see the preview for the movie? They made it look so epic. I don’t know if it can possibly live up to that. Let’s hurry. The trailers are my favorite part.”
Vivian winked at me. A smirk laced her hot-pink lips.
During the movie, I suspected something wasn’t quite right. Marissa fidgeted constantly, didn’t stop talking all through the previews, and her fingers tapped the armrest like she had too much energy.
Vivian sat on the edge of her seat directly behind Marissa. She leaned forward when she noticed me looking at her.
“Do you have to sit so close?” I mouthed, certain her insomnia energy was making my date restless.
“What did you say?” Marissa turned to look behind her, but saw no one.
“Nothing. I was just yawning,” I said.
When the theater darkened and the opening credits rolled, something hard and spiky prickled against the side of my face. A rush of warm breath tickled my ear. “Can I have some of your popcorn? I didn’t have time to grab any breakfast between gigs.”
I leaned away from Vivian’s spikes of hair and set the popcorn in the empty seat away from Marissa. I hoped Marissa wouldn’t notice. I watched my date out of the corner of my eye as Vivian reached over the seat and dug in. Marissa stared at the screen, laughing loudly.
During the movie, Marissa constantly fidgeted and whispered excitedly to me, telling me who she thought the killer was. Between her talking and Vivian munching away at my popcorn just behind me, it was difficult to concentrate. I wasn’t sure which was worse: when Marissa had been so sleepy she couldn’t participate in a conversation, or her new insomnia-fairy-induced hyperactivity.
After the movie, I was relieved for the opportunity to talk to Vivian when Marissa went off to use the lady’s restroom. I considered how to diplomatically let her know she was coming on too strong.
Vivian spoke first. “What did you think of the movie? It was better than I expected a murder mystery comedy would be.”
I clenched my teeth. “I couldn’t concentrate.”
Vivian laughed. “Yeah, your girlfriend is a talker, isn’t she?”
“You were sitting too close to her. Your magic is making her hyper.”
Vivian crossed her arms. “Nuh-uh. If I stand any farther away from her, you’re going to make her sleepy.”
“Hey, what are you doing?” Marissa asked, coming up from behind me.
I suppose talking to what appeared to be thin air might be deemed a red flag for a date. “Um, I was… um, singing.”
“Really? I like to sing too. We should go do some karaoke sometime.” Her excitement was contagious. I found myself smiling and nodding even though I didn’t even like singing in front of people.
We took the city trolley to the Italian restaurant, as I couldn’t resort to the convenience of flying with Marissa. How I wished to share the sensation of the world rushing past, wind whistling against unfolded wings as I held hands with the one I loved.
During our time on the trolley, as well as at the restaurant, I noticed Vivian experimenting with distance. Every time she moved too far away, Marissa yawned and slumped over. When she came closer, Marissa fidgeted with her silverware and shifted in her seat. For a while, Vivian sat at the table behind Marissa, but the restaurant was crowded and soon that table filled up. I expected her to become immaterial as well as invisible. Instead, Vivian seated herself on the floor between us. Her intentions for doing so became apparent when I noticed her steal a roll from the table. As if that wasn’t distracting enough, I also had to avoid kicking her every time I shifted my feet. But at least she wasn’t attracting Marissa’s attention.
Marissa drummed her slender fingers against the silverware in front of her. “That was great going to the theater. I’ve been so busy with college, I haven’t had time to do anything like that for the last couple months. What was your favorite part of the movie?”
I tried to remember any detail from the movie. “Well, I suppose I liked the funny parts.”
“Can you hand me another roll?” Vivian whispered.
“I loved the skydiving part. I’ve always wanted to try. Have you ever done it? It would be like flying.”
I smiled and took her hand. If only she could know what flying would really be like.
I felt my shoe being pulled off. I swatted Vivian away. She tickled the sole of my foot. I burst out laughing, kicking my knee against the table. Amazingly, Marissa didn’t stop talking, or even notice. The people at the table next to us did, their expressions somewhere between amused and confused. I hoped Marissa didn’t always have the attention span of a six-year-old.
“Hand me a roll or I’m holding your foot for ransom,” Vivian said, fingers brushing over my ticklish spot. As soon as I handed her a roll she stopped.
“Wow, I can’t believe how awesome I feel tonight,” Marissa said, talking so fast I could barely keep up. “The last couple months I’ve been getting tired each afternoon at work. By the time you come in, I need a nap. I was starting to think I had mono or something. Then, well, I’m ashamed to admit this, but I thought I was getting sleepy every time we went out on a date.”
The insomnia fairy snickered from under the table.
Marissa went on, thankfully not hearing her. “I thought you were putting something in my coffee, like drugs or something. But you didn’t ever try to take advantage of me, so I figured it couldn’t be that.”
My heart ached at the idea of an immortal doing such a deed to an innocent, vulnerable human like Marissa. The fairy council had created rigid restrictions on our relationships with humans for that very reason. I wasn’t one of those immortals who ill-used humans and then discarded them.
I took Marissa’s hand in mine, trying to think of something witty to say to lighten the mood. “And here I had thought I was boring you.”
Vivian laughed so loud she snorted. I nudged her with my foot. The couple at the table nearest glanced over, no doubt surprised at not seeing where the snickering came from. Vivian should have stolen her breadsticks and made herself intangible so she wouldn’t risk being found out. Again, I was relieved Marissa’s hyperactivity made her completely oblivious.
On the other hand, the other diners nearest to Vivian didn’t behave as though they had drunk a quad-shot latte. Perhaps Marissa was just sensitive to magic. And the way she didn’t even know which fork was her salad fork, well, I could overlook that. No one’s perfect, after all.
As we exited the restaurant it was nearly ten o’clock. Marissa skipped along beside me. “Do you want to go sing karaoke? I know a good place a few blocks from here.”
“I’m starting to get tired,” I lied. By this point, I’d had enough of the insomnia fairy’s magic for one evening.
“How can you be tired?” Vivian asked. “I’m the insomnia fairy. No one gets tired around me.”
I ignored her. “I’ll walk you home.”
Marissa bounded along beside me, chattering away. She hardly stopped long enough to let me get a word in. When we arrived at her door, she asked, “Do you want to come in for coffee?”
“How much coffee have you already had today? You don’t need any more caffeine, do you?” Part of the reason she had trouble sleeping at night was probably because she ingested too much caffeine late in the day.
“That’s a euphemism for sex,” Vivian whispered, an unnecessary gesture considering Marissa couldn’t hear her. “Say yes.”
Marissa curled a strand of her long blonde hair around her finger, giving me come-hither eyes. “I’ll probably just drink some OJ, but I can make coffee for you if you want.”
Juice, at night? There was no way she was going to get to sleep. I shook the thought out of my head. I was not at work. She was no longer my client. I had to stop analyzing her sleep habits.
“What are you waiting for? She just invited you in.” Vivian swatted me in the rear with her wand, causing me to jump and stumble. Marissa’s brow furrowed. No doubt she now thought I was a klutz.
Despite the fact that I hadn’t slept with a woman in over fifty years, I hesitated to accept the invitation. Marissa’s twenty years made her a child compared to my thousands. As much as I admired her youthful energy and was drawn to her innocence, the idea of bedding her felt wrong after having only courted her for a few months. If I lost control of my magic and let her see my true self as an immortal, she would forever be bound to love me and would pine for my love if she didn’t have it.
Considering Vivian would have to be in the next room contributed to my apprehension. It didn’t help that I hadn’t enjoyed the evening with Marissa as much as I had hoped. Then again, perhaps it was just Vivian’s energy coursing through her that made her such a spaz.
“Maybe next time,” I said.
Marissa stood there in her doorway staring into my eyes. For once this evening she was silent. Perhaps it was because Vivian was behind me and I was blocking her insomnia radiation. I’d have to suggest she do more of that next time.
“She’s waiting for you to kiss her goodnight,” Vivian whispered. “How long have you dated her? You have kissed her before, right?”
“Oh,” I said. I leaned in and kissed Marissa, my cheeks flushing with heat. She broke away after a moment, a smile curving her lips upward as she entered her apartment.
“That was fun,” Vivian said. “When do we get to do that again?”
The next date was worse even though Vivian tried to stay behind me. Marissa had so much energy she wanted to go dancing. At first I was excited; I hadn’t been dancing in ages. But when we arrived at the dark bar with thumping music and strobe lights, I realized she wasn’t talking about Viennese waltzing. I tried to dance, but I couldn’t make a foxtrot or a samba match the music. To make matters worse, Marissa got drunk and then threw up, mostly on me. I tried to remember Marissa was only twenty-two. She hadn’t lived a thousand years like I had. She didn’t have all the experiences that built wisdom.
I waited with Marissa for the taxi I had called to take her home, standing under a miniscule awning that did little to shield us from the rain.
Vivian sighed wistfully. “That was so chivalrous how you held her hair so it didn’t get in the toilet at that dirty club. She’s so lucky to have such a gentleman for a boyfriend.”
“Mmm,” I said, glancing at Marissa as she leaned against me, giggling.
“And you kissed her even though she had puke breath!” Vivian squealed. “I feel like I’m playing fairy godmother.”
I didn’t mention how gross it was.
“By the way, when are you taking her out again?”
I whispered, “This just isn’t working. She has too much energy with you around. She doesn’t act, well, responsible. Either that, or we aren’t as right for each other as I thought.”
“No way! You said you’d give up immortality for this girl.” Despite the amount of makeup caked around Vivian’s violet eyes, it was easy to see how they changed shape, her forehead crinkling up in concern. “It’s my fault. I’ll try to stay farther away when you two go out next.”
I didn’t expect the date the following weekend to go any better. When Marissa called me to cancel, I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. “Sorry, I gotta work the evening shift,” she said. “You can still stop by, though.”
I didn’t usually go to the coffee shop on weekends because I had those days off and didn’t need the caffeine. But I visited Marissa during her break and brought her a raspberry fritter from the donut shop I had planned to take her to that night. Vivian was already sitting inside when I arrived. Though in her usual attire, she looked downright discreet compared to the other punk-looking coffee-goers with their tattoos, wild hair and facial piercings.
“Sorry, I won’t I need your services long tonight,” I said. “Just during Marissa’s break.”
Vivian’s face dropped. “Oh. I was looking forward to tonight.” I wanted to pat her spiky pink hair as apology, but there was no way I could do so without attracting attention, as she was invisible.
Simon, sporting two green mohawks this evening, greeted me with a roll of his eyes. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Wonderful. I’ll get Marissa from the bathroom. She’s on toilet duty.”
I had remembered Marissa once telling me that she refused to do it. “I thought Marissa said it was one of your duties.”
Simon crossed his arms, lifting his nose in the air. “It is. But I told Marissa she has to do it or I won’t cover her when she takes a break to make goo-goo eyes at you.”
My heart melted. She did toilet duty so she could spend time with me? How sweet.
To my surprise, Marissa was awake and alert but not overly jittery. Vivian sat across from us, her eyes closed and brow furrowed in concentration. I only visited with Marissa for half an hour, but it was long enough to notice something had changed in the insomnia magic.
As Marissa turned away to rejoin her coworker behind the counter, I asked Vivian, “What did you do?”
“I can’t tell you here,” she said, glancing at the punk-looking humans in the shop. “People will think you’re talking to yourself.” She laced her arm through mine. “C’mon, let’s get some coffee at a real café.”
Real coffee? She had to be joking. Nothing could be better than my favorite coffee shop.
Sunlight spilled down on us as we sat outside the café, sipping our espresso. The weather in Italy certainly beat Portland this time of year. And though the coffee wasn’t what I was used to, it was strong. That was the one perk of that evening; discovering a new coffee shop.
“I’ve been reading up on how to not radiate so much energy,” Vivian said. “I have to imagine my personal bubble getting smaller so my magic doesn’t shine so strongly on the mortals around me.”
I nodded. That made sense.
“And there’s more to it than that. Another insomnia fairy told me he heard of someone remotely using his magic on a human while he was in the fairy world. That means I might be able to use it from a distance to help you and Marissa so you can have some privacy.” She leaned forward with excitement, her cheeks flushing nearly as pink as her hair. I couldn’t help laughing at her enthusiasm.
For an hour, Vivian and I discussed other applications of magic that we hadn’t considered. She had certainly been doing her research. It was also nice to have someone to talk about my relationship with. I couldn’t exactly tell my sandman friends about Marissa.
Checking her watch, Vivian rose. “I gotta get to work. I’m working I-5 tonight, making sure no one falls asleep at the wheel.”
It occurred to me how noble her job was, perhaps even more so than mine. She was just as passionate about her work, though I had discovered that upon our first encounter. I considered what would happen should the Fairy Council discover I was dating a mortal. If they caught me, they would most likely banish me and turn me into a mortal. I hated to imagine what would happen if they found out Vivian was helping me.
I stood up as well. “Do you have a minute? I still have to pay you for your services.”
She shook her head, pink spikes of hair staying perfectly in place. “No, I wouldn’t feel right about taking money for just hanging out. It’s been too fun.”
“Really, I don’t mind. I said I’d pay you.”
She bit her lip. “What I’d really like is some sleeping powder. I don’t know if I’m immune to sandman magic, but my guess is it would work better than Ambien or Benadryl. I hate how human medications make my wings twitch.”
“What do you mean? Do you have trouble sleeping?”
A hot-pink eyebrow shot up. “Well, yeah. I’m the insomnia fairy. I don’t sleep at all.”
“Oh.” I’d been too busy focusing on the effects of my magic on my love life to consider what kind of problems her magic might cause her.
I waited again at the pancake house after my shift. This time it was Vivian’s day off. Marissa and I had just had our first evening without Vivian’s presence. I could barely contain my excitement as I waited to tell her that her remote magic had worked. I was surprised at how I’d missed her presence, the way she giggled at my jokes and whispered twenty-first century dating tips.
The sunrise along the skyline painted the clouds with warm, pastel hues that could hardly compare to the brilliance of the fairy realm. I sipped my orange juice, forgoing the burnt coffee entirely this time. A young woman pushed through the door. Taking her for a human, I started when she slid into the booth across from me.
Her hair was a slightly mellower shade of hot pink, if such a thing were possible. Instead of spiky hair and raccoon-like eyes, she wore her hair down to her shoulder like a normal woman would. Her face looked soft and pretty without her excess of makeup. Instead of patent leather, Vivian wore an oversized black sweater over a polka-dot skirt. She still wore striped legwarmers. She managed to fit into the Portland punk ambience, but in a more subtle way than before.
“What happened to your tutu?” I asked.
Vivian rolled her eyes. “That’s just for work. You don’t really think I’d wear my uniform on my day off, do you?”
I hadn’t ever thought about it, I was so used to seeing her dressed that way.
“So? Did she fall asleep on you or did you two finally…?” she raised an eyebrow, the corners of her mouth quirking up into a mischievous smile.
My face flushed with heat. I had intended to stay the night at Marissa’s. But when I sat with her on the couch making out with her, I’d started to think about the consequences of my actions. If I bedded this mortal, she’d likely fall irreversibly in love with me—and my magic. The more I kissed her, the more I wondered if my magic had seduced her, not my charming personality. Guilt churned my insides as I gazed upon her youthful face and those large, trusting eyes. When she removed her blouse, my stomach cramped. She was so young, a child compared to my numerous years. How could I do this? I had sworn to protect humans, not seduce them and potentially harm their fragile psyche like a Lower Worlder would do.
“Don’t kiss and tell?” Vivian prompted.
I was saved from answering by the arrival of the waitress.
Vivian ordered a crepe with marionberries. I looked away in embarrassment, remembering how she hadn’t been able to finish it last time because I’d been in such haste to leave. After I tasted my own crepe, I realized why this was Vivian’s favorite restaurant. For food prepared by humans, I couldn’t imagine riper berries or a crepe more richly flavored. I savored each bite, waiting for Vivian to finish before I handed her the pouch of sleep dust. I had shaken dust from my robes for two weeks, and when that still wasn’t enough, I had scrimped a little from the work pouch. I wasn’t really supposed to do that, but if anyone needed a night of sleep more than one of my clients, it was an insomnia fairy.
“You only need a pinch,” I said. “And you’ll probably want to sprinkle it over yourself when you’re in bed. If you do it someplace like your kitchen, the leftover dust will give you narcolepsy every time you try to make yourself dinner.”
She laughed. “My kitchen is already a dangerous enough place considering how much I experiment in there.” Her smile faded into a thoughtful expression. “Say… you wouldn’t by any chance want to do something after this, would you? I was thinking about going dancing this morning.”
I shook my head. “I’ve tried enough of that for a while. I’m a little behind in the times.”
She waved me off dismissively. “So am I. This is ballroom dancing. Today they’re focusing on the waltz.”
My eyebrows rose with interest. That was my kind of dancing! And it wasn’t like Marissa had expressed interest when I’d suggested it before. I imagined Vivian was going to lead me along the pathway between realms to somewhere it was evening in the world, perhaps Britain, or maybe even the fairy dimension where waltzing had never gone out of fashion. Instead, we walked along human roads, breath puffing out in clouds as it met the cool morning air. After several twists and turns, we came to a community center nestled in a park. Dewdrops on blades of grass glistened in the glow of early morning light. I could hardly imagine anywhere in the human world that would have dancing at this hour.
I followed Vivian inside, finding a dance studio full of elderly men and women.
“You are going to be so popular with the ladies,” Vivian said, eyes twinkling in a way that brightened her face.
Considering there were only two other men and the other fourteen were women, she was right. It had been a long time since I had waltzed with anyone, let alone anyone proficient at it. I was amazed to find most of my partners knew how to dance, and even more surprised to discover we shared the same interests in music and preferred the theatre to the theater. I felt completely at ease in this crowd. As I waltzed around the room with partner after partner, I snuck glances at Vivian. She took turns dancing with the old men as well as the women, a faint pink glow shimmering off her magenta wings that only I could see. The elderly perked up in her presence. I would swear she was giving them something more than wakefulness. She made them vibrant and young at heart.
She caught my eye and winked. “I better take you off those ladies’ hands, otherwise you’re going to put them all to sleep.”
In truth, a few of them had dozed off in the seats lining the walls.
When she danced with me again, I teased her. “You’re going to give one of those old men a heart attack with all the energy you rub off on them.”
She laughed. “I will not!” She stood on tiptoe, her tone a hush intended only for my ears. The whisper of her breath tickled my cheek and made my stomach flutter. “Do you remember how I told you I had thought you were a grim reaper that first time I met you? It was the robes. And the hood. When you said you were going to ‘put your clients to sleep,’ I thought that meant forever. I didn’t believe you when you said they were going to wake up in the morning. I stayed there all night to make sure you didn’t come back.”
I stared down into her violet eyes in awe. She had thought I was a grim reaper and stood her ground? I had no idea Vivian was so brave. I wasn’t certain I would have been able to stand up to a messenger of death.
After dancing, I walked her back to her home in the fairy realm, a Victorian-era cottage with whitewashed walls and magenta roses growing out front.
“I’m not going to ask you in,” Vivian said. “My brain is still stuck in the nineteenth century. I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl.”
I felt my eyes widen. Did she think this was a date? Was this a date? I had taken her out to dinner; well, breakfast. Then we’d gone dancing. I’d enjoyed myself. Certainly, I’d laughed more than I had in a long time and had a real conversation with a mature woman who understood my world. She’d neither fallen asleep on me, nor talked nonstop. If anything, I’d enjoyed spending time with her more than I had… with Marissa. I cringed at the realization.
Now her eyes went wide. “I mean—oh, I didn’t mean to imply this was a…” Her cheeks turned nearly as pink as her hair.
I hated the idea of her feeling embarrassment.
My palms suddenly felt clammy. I blurted out, “Would you like to go out again tomorrow?”
“I need to tell you something.” I sat beside Marissa on her couch the following weekend, keeping a gentlemanly amount of distance between the two of us as not to lead her on. I sucked in a deep breath, hoping I hadn’t let her see so much of myself that she wouldn’t be able to recover. “I believe that when two people are courting, er, dating, they should only be with that one person and not think about other people, or date other people. Do you know what I mean?” I wasn’t sure she did. Mortals in this modern day and age treated courtship so cavalierly. It was possible she might not even care that I’d seen another woman thrice this week—not that I’d done anything other than converse and dance with Vivian.
“Are you saying you want to date exclusively?” A tentative smile stole over Marissa’s cherub-like lips. More than ever, she looked the model of childish innocence. More than ever, I felt like the wicked rake taking advantage of a mortal.
“I met someone and have started to have thoughts about—” I wasn’t even able to finish my sentence.
Marissa burst into tears. “No, I’ve never loved anyone as much as I’ve loved you! And you love me. You can’t do this. We’re meant to be together.” She flung her arms around my waist and buried her face against my neck.
I’d done my best to use glamour to mask my complete self and what I was from her. But I should have known that if my sandman dust affected her so strongly, so might my own magic. Despite my attempts, it was just as I had feared. I’d seduced a mortal with my magic. I could never forgive myself for my recklessness.
“Please don’t leave me,” Marissa begged.
My heart sank. I knew what the right thing to do was. I couldn’t make a mortal pine away for me.
“No, I won’t leave you,” I said. I had to live with the consequences, no matter what my heart wished. And if I was caught and turned mortal, so be it.
I sat with Marissa in the coffee shop, my latte untouched. Simon stood behind the counter, shooting me occasional glares when he wasn’t helping customers. Marissa dozed against my shoulder. I hadn’t bothered to ask Vivian to use her magic on our dates anymore. I’d told her it was too hard, knowing I’d rather spend time with her than the mortal who would pine away if she didn’t have my love.
Marissa gasped and sat bolt upright. I glanced over my shoulder, noticing Vivian as she walked through the wall. Marissa stared at Simon behind the counter, who pointed to his watch and then back at me.
“It’s all right if you have to get back to work.” I avoided Vivian’s gaze.
Marissa bit her lip, staring at Simon again. She placed her hand on her heart and sighed.
“Are you feeling unwell?” I asked.
That’s when I saw the man on the other side of the room, eyes intent on Marissa. His wings were white and downy, he wore a diaper and held a bow in his hands. Had she just been shot by a cupid love arrow? I didn’t see an arrow in her chest, but cupid magic tended to be invisible to other immortals.
Marissa rose from my side and shuffled toward her coworker. I was close enough I could hear her ask, “You’re jealous, aren’t you? That’s why you make it so hard for me to take a break when John’s here.”
His voice was lost in the roar of the coffee grinder as he pressed a button. Wait a minute. Was the reason Simon glared at me so much not because I was stealing his coworker from her shift but because I was stealing the heart of the woman he loved?
Marissa placed her hand on Simon’s arm. Even from my booth I could see the raw pain in his eyes. She glanced at me and tugged him behind the mammoth espresso machine where I couldn’t see them.
I turned to Vivian. I wanted to feel relief at what she’d done, intervening and asking a cupid to solve the mess that I’d made, but I couldn’t. Marissa was my responsibility. “You can’t just set her up with any human. They might be horrible for each other. And the arrow might be a temporary crush arrow, and then she’ll go back to pining for me.”
The cupid strode forward, looking down his aquiline nose at me. “You’re lucky I don’t report you for messing with my clients.”
I stood up. “What do you mean, your clients?”
Marissa rounded the counter, heading directly to me. “I need to talk to you.”
The cupid and Vivian stepped back.
Marissa took my hands in hers. “I don’t know if you knew this, but Simon and I used to, um, date. We were together for about a year. It was before I met you. But I had this realization. I’m still in love with him. I’m sorry to tell you like this.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “What? Really?” Had I been the reason they broke up? No wonder he always glared at me.
Marissa gave me a quick platonic hug. “I hope you won’t hate me.”
I turned back to the cupid, but he was gone. Vivian toed the grit of cookie crumbs with her patent platform boot. I should have been mad at her for interfering and telling someone about my secret, but at the same time, I was too relieved. I couldn’t believe she’d tracked down not just any cupid, but Marissa’s cupid. She certainly was the spunky go-getter.
That meant I was free to court immortals again. I was free to court her.
My relief was short-lived. “That cupid looked pretty angry. He’ll probably report me.”
She shook her head. “No, he won’t. He gave me his word. And… ahem, I bribed him with a bag of sandman magic.”
I blinked. “The magic I gave you so you could sleep?”
A small, sad smile laced her lips. “There are some things worth losing sleep over.”