Milo Goddard, aka WastedWraith, chuckled at the woman’s response. Her obvious want to push him away, to disinterest him, had ended with a less subtle hook. Whereas she already held his attention the moment he had wandered onto her profile, he seemed to be slowly wiggling into her good graces.
He understood her paranoia, as so many of his friends had been that guy--the one that was interested solely in cybersex and naked webcam girls—but he had been there, done that and set that t-shirt on fire. Hell, one of the reasons he had bothered chatting her up in the first place was the impression he got from her profile that she was not that girl—the one that would ‘entertain’ his friends online or in person.
Yes, she was older, eight years so even, but he could care less. In fact, he really liked the idea of an older woman. He had, quite plainly, had enough of the women in his own peer group, the whiny, high maintenance, insecure lot of them. He wanted a partner, not a dependent.
So, yes, he was a little disappointed that her interest had faded to a handshake, that friendly but safely distant gesture. Yet she had cracked that door, that opportunity, open just enough that he was certain he could get her to change her mind.
A cold shiver rode up his spine, and Milo looked away from his computer screen. “Douglas, what have I told you about reading over my shoulders?”
“It’ll never work out,” the pale shadow moaned. He tilted his head and let out a low, sad sigh. “It never works out…she is just like all the rest…”
Milo waved him off. “You don’t know her. Hell, I don’t know her yet.”
The shade shook his head and flowed like a bulbous fog across the carpet in their apartment, pouring back into shape in the small kitchenette. He sighed again, the soft sound morphing into a moan. “Milo…there isn’t a woman out there who will love people like us for who we are…” a coffee cup hovered, tilted and turned into a dish cloth, with another litany of depressive moans, “all we can do is try…all we can give…all we can…”
“Oh, shut it already, Douglas. Don’t you have better things to do? I mean, what shade does dishes?”
The moaning began again, but Milo slipped on his headphones, cranked up a little metal, and went back to his network site. What to say to her now? She wasn’t a damsel in distress, no, that was rather clearly not the case here. She definitely knew who she was, or at least who she was right now.
She was pretty, a touch of Asian that could easily pass for Mexican here in Arizona, or even Navajo. Dark hair, dark eyes, a touch pale, but given her hobbies and favorite things, more geek than sun worshipper was to be expected. There was something about her, beyond the face, beyond the smile, that held his interest beyond the initial hook.
A cool hand drifted through his shoulder. Milo looked up again, and Douglas had done a better job of solidifying his shape. His features were more detailed, and he even blinked, once or twice, before the smoky slit of his mouth moved again. “The neighbors are going to notice.”
“Notice what?” Milo asked.
The shade exhaled a breath of smoke that distorted the other parts of his face. “The lights. You’re glowing again. It hurts my eyes.” And he drifted off to the darker corners of their living space.
Not completely true, Milo noted as he glanced at the nearby mirror. Just his head was glowing, the colors bouncing in the semi-dark of the living room to the beat of the music still coursing from his headphones. He pressed the mute button and watched as the room darkened, the colors faded and all that remained was the glow from his monitor.
I must be more tired than I thought. Awake, refreshed, he could have prevented such a slip, and the neighbors across the courtyard in the complex would not be wondering if he had a strobe light going in his apartment. Douglas had drifted back, most comfortable in the inky blackness, into the kitchen to the soothing sound of clinking dishes and running water.
Milo turned his computer off, leaned back in his computer chair and ran a hand over his bald head. It could not have been a good life, going from human to shade, but necromancers did not get the courtesy of becoming ghosts when they died, much less when they were devoured by ravenous harpy demons. All that bulging fat, stringy blonde hair, sharp-toothed maw…
The mage shuddered. There had been no saving him. No, Douglas had chosen death at her taloned hands as penance for summoning her forth in a hastily made circle of protection. One death to send her back, or set her loose upon the unprepared masses. Hence his choice and current state. However, since he enacted such black magic in this apartment—without asking Milo first, he had to add—he was stuck here. And here he would stay until the end of time. No Heaven. No beyond. Just this.
Milo could only hope there would enough water, dirty dishes and dish soap to last the rest of eternity.
The apartment was quiet, though his thoughts swirled in chaos. Douglas had long faded—literally—into the woodwork, the perpetual wallflower. Shades, they had discovered, shared one similarity with their fanged supernatural distant cousins: sunlight was verboten. And with dawn coming all too soon for Milo’s apparent insomnia, his friend preferred the cool darkness inside the walls.
He had tried to go to sleep, but he could feel a change coming. Sure, it was a new town, he had a new job, and that alone added to his almost giddy anticipation, but underneath it all, there was a current of something else altogether. A sudden surge of raw energy? A merging of magics? A fluxuation in the balance of the five elements?
All of it seemed to be tied to that woman he was talking to online, if you could count their meager emails a conversation. Speaking of which…He got out of bed with a resigned sigh. If he could not sleep, he might as well make use of his current mental state and reply to the woman’s message.
Milo stepped quietly out into the living room and opened the curtains. No sense in rousing his roommate. He grabbed a coffee energy drink out of the fridge and sat down in front of his computer. He popped open the can as the machine booted up, the tower’s interior LED light coloring his socks blue, and drained the entire contents. Extra caffeine always muted the outward appearance of his powers somehow, and while the sun was rising right into his windows, no sense in giving anyone a light show.
“What to say, what to say?” he muttered as he clicked his way through his browser to the networking site. He reread her last response and pondered his words. He had to be careful. Come on too strong, and she was going to write him off. Come off too passive, too blasé, and she was, well, going to write him off. How to sound interested in the proffered friendship without sounding too eager to push to something further?
The mage grinned and hit ‘reply’. Might as well continue with what was working for him.
Friendship sounds good. What kind of movies do you like?
Short and sweet, it left very little room for over analysis, or alternately more than enough room to keep her interest piqued and her emails coming. Sounded like a good enough plan to him. His little bout of pride was splintered as his cell phone sounded an alarm in his pajama pants pocket.
Time to get up.
He stretched his neck out, left and right, popping the bones with a satisfying crunch. Might as well get ready for work. He wiggled a finger at the coffee pot as he walked back to his bedroom, and the toggle flipped down and glowed red. Such a tiny expenditure of power for such wonderful results. He hopped into the shower, and as the water flowed hot and heavy over his head, he caught himself hoping that she answered before he headed out for the day.
Now, Milo did not believe in love at first sight, much less love at first picture, and to even suggest somewhere in his inner torment such a thing might exist, well, that was ludicrous. But as much effort as he was putting in to snag her, he had to admit he was equally intrigued.
There was that chance, he was aware, that she wasn’t the woman in the photo. Not so much the bait and switch photo scam, but maybe the ‘this is a picture of me when I was in my late teens, early twenties, but now I’m a giant behemoth with twelve kids living in a shack somewhere in Fry Town’ schtick? Though if he was right at all about the Asian thing, she probably looked pretty much like she did back then.
Plus, it was not as if she had tried to snag him. No cougar cries for attention. No, MagickalMayhem—her handle on the site—seemed to be very much WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get. And that just added to her appeal. No games, no drama, just laid out there for public purview.
He liked that.
“You’re going to be late…” Douglas’s voice interrupted his thoughts as he wrapped a towel around his waist.
The shade sighed. “Oh, I’m not even looking. Not that I would want to look. No sense in reminding myself of what else I lost. Or how much bigger you continue to be.” His groaning faded away.
Milo laughed and walked out of the bathroom.