Unfortunately for Kallima, the library became more and more crowded with each day that passed. Impressed by her first test, Ignatius agreed to help her study by giving her a new test on the remaining Fridays and Monday. The very last Friday before final exams, Ignatius insisted that she take her mock test in his room rather than subject them both to the clots of students forming in the book-lined veins. The result was an awkward hour that Kallima spent trying to recall facts while also struggling not to be buried under the stacks of books around her.
“You’re doing better each time,” Ignatius said when she finished. He squinted at her paper, smiled, and added, “I think you might be able to pull off a perfect score.”
“Brilliant,” Kallima groaned. “Now if I can manage with Literature, I’ll be happy.”
Ignatius frowned and asked, “Why? What’s got you tripped up?”
“The allusions!” Kallima said. “Jormungdar says the test will be on this play we were supposed to read with all these references to the Century War and the strain it put on the metal supply and how Madeline’s actions were symbolic of the expectations the government had of the people and- and...”
Raising a brow, Ignatius asked, “And?”
“And I know this. Bloody hell, I actually know this!” Kallima realized.
“Of course you do. I’m a good teacher.”
“Oh, my God, Iggy, you are,” the girl gasped, grabbing the boy’s shoulders and hugging him. “Thank you; thank you so much! You’re brilliant!”
“I know. Don’t let your boyfriend catch you hugging me.”
Kallima smiled and released the spiky-haired senior, who tugged his ear nervously. She shouldered her bag, shook Ignatius’ hand, and bid him a good night. In accordance with the duo’s custom, he returned the parting with “farewell, daughter of Satu,” and opened the door for her. After she left, he withdrew silently into his room. Kallima hurried down the hall and through the senior lounge, trying to ignore the leers of the boys in the hallway. One dwarf found the nerve to blow a wolf whistle her way but regretted the action almost straight away when the girl shot him a poisonous glare. He apologized and scurried away without any fuss. Two young elven women in the lobby glanced at the redhead with condescending snickers as they attempted to hide behind hands of cards before they resumed their game. Surely they did not believe, Kallima thought to herself, that she and Ignatius had hooked up. After all, she was dating Gabriel, a fact that she was acutely aware the whole school knew. She shook her head in disgust.
“Fae really do have loose morals,” she said, mostly to herself.
A wave of relief crashed over her when she entered the empty freshman girl’s lobby. Her absence was well-established with her peers, and, granted, they had no idea she had been with Ignatius, in his room, alone. Still, it was good to know she would be able to avoid any potentially judgmental eyes. Room four-o-seven greeted her warmly, even though her roommates were absent. A note on one desk told her that Jasmine would be in the lunch hall for a slumber-study consisting of at least half the student body. As usual, Gavin had earlier whisked Sable off to his house, unconcerned with how well she performed on her exams as long as she cleaned his house. Kallima, no longer worried about studying, at least not as much as before, focused instead on looking the best she could for the night’s coming events, events Gabriel promised would be breathtaking.
After a long, scalding hot shower in which she scraped every bit of dead skin off her body and shaved, she slipped into a floor-length orange gown, tying the red bow behind her and admiring the endless layers of smooth cotton and sheer fabric. She had to admit, the illusion of actual hips pleased her, hiding her slightly boyish frame under the waistline that puffed out under the sash. Satisfied, she moved to the bathroom to begin work on her face. Her lips twisted into a snarl as she examined her eyebrows in the bathroom mirror. She plucked and pruned the rebellious hair until her brow line was red and raw but they looked, she believed, normal. Wiping her eyes, she covered the tender skin with foundation and blended it into the rest of her face. Dark red eye-shadow, black liner, and mascara made her grey eyes appear almost blue. She chuckled gently at the amount of shadow and lipstick she wore, remembering Satu once calling a woman a tramp for the amount of makeup she wore. Kallima sighed. Then she dabbed some of the red off, lightening the heavy, seductive colors to a more subtle and sweet tone.
Once she brushed her hair, inserted her three pairs of earrings, and threw a thin, white jacket over her dress, she checked her look in the mirror one last time. The only word she could think of was “radiant.” The teen felt like a new person with all the makeup she had applied. Fixing her brows did wonders for her esteem as well. Slipping on a pair of white flats, she departed with high hopes for her evening with Gabriel, who waited just outside the lobby for her.
The sylph gaped then smiled widely at the young woman as she revealed herself.
“Look at you!” he laughed. “What did you do to your eyebrows?”
“I tweezed them,” she said.
“For me? Wow, you look beautiful.”
“Aw, thank you!” The redhead pecked the boy’s lips and took his hand, asking, “So, what have you got in store for us tonight?”
Gabriel only beamed and led her away from the dorms. Shoving her into a closet, the sylph spun her around and kissed her feverishly.
“I’ve been planning this,” he told her between kisses, “for almost a month.”
“Should I be scared?”
“No no no. Just- here.”
Gabriel pressed Kallima’s palms against the door, overlapping her fingers with his own. The fiery-haired girl blushed as he kissed her neck.
“Make us a door,” he whispered. “I know where we’re going.”
Kallima’s red face deepened, and she bit her lip in anxious expectation. Taunted by her boyfriend’s surprise outing, she focused her energy and transformed the door to take them out of the school. Gabriel stepped aside and opened the door for her. The dream fae gasped.
The hallway had vanished and been replaced by a very regal-seeming restaurant. Kallima gawked at the rich, red walls and black tablecloths. A willowy dryad bowed in greeting, tugging at his collar, and asked if they had reservations.
“Yes, they’ll be under Tucker. Madison Tucker.”
“Ah, yes, Lord Tucker. Right this way, Sir,” the dryad said, bowing again.
Kallima hugged Gabriel’s arm as the followed the dryad.
“Your table, Sir,” the dryad said.
“Thank you, William,” Gabriel said, pulling a chair out for Kallima.
Kallima laughed as the Maitre d’ left them, saying, “Well, aren’t you just full of surprises? What next, a ballet?”
“Why don’t we eat first?” the sylph said. “Father’s paying for everything tonight. A gift, he says, for how well I’ve done this semester.”
“Hmm. Finals don’t start until Monday.”
“True, but there’s no reason to think I won’t do well. Besides, how am I going to take you out next week? You’ll be in an entirely different dimension,” Gabriel said.
“Fair enough,” Kallima conceded.
“Good evening, Sir, Ma’am,” a young woman said as she clopped to the table. “I’m Laura, and I’ll be your waitress today. Can I get you anything to drink? We have a wonderful faux champagne that’s very popular with minors.”
Kallima ripped her eyes away from the goat-like legs of the woman to peek at her menu. Gabriel folded his fingers together with a grin.
“I think I’ll have the Earl Grey. Kali?” he asked.
“Coffee. Er, with a lot of cream, please.”
“Of course! Sugar?”
Gabriel nodded and said, “We’d like the stuffed mushrooms.”
“Very good. I’ll be back with your drinks in a moment.”
“So,” Gabriel asked, leaning in again as the satyr trotted away, “are you worried about any of your courses?”
Kallima sighed and repeated her concerns about literature to Gabriel, glazing over Ignatius’ assistance and instead joking what a happy coincidence it was that the senior had taught her some history and not just government. Then she confessed worry over Sable’s math test.
“She just doesn’t understand it. Which is odd. It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense to me,” the girl said.
“Yeah, but what can you do?” Gabriel sighed. “If she doesn’t get it, she doesn’t get it. Don’t concern yourself with it.”
“I just... I don’t want her fail. What if her uncle pulls her out of school for it?”
“Oh, he certainly will. But it’s for the best, Kali. She’s a nice addition to the table, but let those with promise get the attention.”
Kallima furrowed her brow and said, “Trouble with one subject does not mean she doesn’t have promise, Gabriel.”
“But she doesn’t struggle with one subject, Kali,” Gabriel replied. “Shay told me. She’s next to useless in a fight, has the lowest scores in gymnasium, can barely focus her power. Really, Sweetie, have you ever seen her do anything even remotely magical? All she does is freeze up and turn to stone.”
Kallima stared at the long-haired boy in shock and was about to respond when the waitress returned with drinks. The redhead busied herself with her coffee as Gabriel ordered his dinner. Kallima decided quickly on a roast venison dish. The boy across from her sighed as Laura left with their ticket.
“You’re mad at me,” he said.
“Yes,” Kallima spat before sipping her coffee.
“Don’t be mad at me.”
“Come on, Kali. It’s not like I want her to leave. I’m just very aware of the fact that she most likely will.”
“You can’t fix it.”
“I can try.”
Gabriel moved as though ready to protest then placed a hand on his chin and nodded.
“You can try. I hope you succeed. Not many people are as determined as you, Kali. I admire that in you.”
Kallima smiled and silently forgave the boy. Dinner went without another hitch.
After a delicate strawberry mousse, though, Gabriel placed an envelope and a large tip on the table and ushered his date outside. Kallima chuckled nervously.
“What, we aren’t going back yet?”
“Of course not,” the sylph said. “I need to pick something up quick, then we have a show to get to.”
“A- a show? What show?”
“Have you ever been to an opera, Kali?”
“I- I watched a high school performance of ‘Les Miserables’ once,” Kallima said.
“This is ’Deus Mech Operata,’” Gabriel told her. “It’s about a fae who gets trapped in the Mortal Realm with no way to get home. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
With a quick peck on the cheek, Gabriel ducked into a small, dingy-appearing store, leaving Kallima alone in the chilly winter air. She shivered and pulled her jacket closer, wishing she had taken the December weather more seriously. After several frigid minutes, Gabriel emerged empty-handed.
“Didn’t have it?” Kallima asked.
Gabriel laughed and said, “No, no, they had it. They always keep some on hand. So impatient. Don’t worry about it, Kali. Here.”
The sylph draped his jacket over the girl and pulled her close. Despite the added warmth, Kallima wished that Ignatius or Blaze were around to drive back the cold.
“So, ’Deus Mech Operata?” Kallima repeated, trying not to let her teeth chatter.
“I think you’ll like it.”
The theatre was crammed with patrons, but Gabriel again surprised his date and tipped a man who led them to a pair of seats on a balcony and gave each a pair of viewing glasses. The opera started a few moments later, and Kallima was shocked at how well the actors portrayed humans on stage. The magical flourishes added a cinematic depth, making the redhead tear when the lead actor, Angelou, became trapped by mortals and impregnated by one of the captors. She trembled when it was revealed that the half-fae fetus died before it could be born. When Angelou finally succumbed to the Fever, Kallima joined the audience in sorrowful applauds.
“So you did like it?” Gabriel asked as Kallima turned another closet door into a portal back to school.
“I liked the story,” she said. “The Mortal Realm is really nothing like that, though. Humans are a lot nicer than that.”
“So you think I could just go over and be fine?”
“Well, no, I mean that Angelou could pass for human. She just showed off too much.”
“What, she brought it on herself?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Mum was just really, very lucky,” Kallima sighed, opening the door and stepping into her room.
Gabriel followed, looking around.
“I know Sable’s gone,” he said, “but what about the others?”
“It’s only three of us, and Jazz is at the group study party,” Kallima told him, slipping out of her jacket.
Gabriel pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it, revealing two thumb-sized vials of liquid. He passed the gold one to Kallima and took the red one for himself. Kallima stared at the tube, tipping it back and forth between her hands, as Gabriel uncorked his.
“Bottoms up,” he chuckled, then emptied the vial into his mouth.
“What is it?”
“Hmm? Oh, nothing bad. It’ll help you relax.”
“No, no! Not alcohol,” Gabriel assured her. “It takes the worry out of what comes next.”
“And, er, what comes next?”
Gabriel took the vial from her and uncorked it. Then he tipped her chin up, and his sad, amber eyes locked with hers.
“I love you, Kallima Satudotter.”
“I- I love you, too, Gabriel. I just-”
“Don’t trust me?”
“Of course I do!”
“Drink. You’ll thank me.”
The sylph pressed the lip of the vial against Kallima’s. The redhead opened her mouth just slightly and allowed Gabriel to tip the contents in. Thankfully, it did not taste or smell like alcohol, as promised. It actually tasted quite sweet. Kallima obediently drank the thick liquid. She wiped her lip as her boyfriend set the empty tubes on the desk she shared with Sable.
“So... What comes next, then?” she asked.
Gabriel chuckled and began to unbutton his shirt.
“The fun part,” he said, a dark glint crossing his eyes.