Leaving the shop, Aidan looks for the girl and finds only an empty bench. The back of her neck prickles briefly. She shakes it off in favor of concentrating on Corey.
Walking back down the charming street in the darkness seems much more pleasant than earlier. Aidan and Corey return to their places behind Celia and Jason in the procession, once more watching them walk hand in hand ahead.
Now, the distance between Aidan and Corey is not as large as it had been. The fabric of their jackets keeps brushing each other at their elbows. They both have their hands shoved in pockets. Aidan fingers the key ring, warming the silver.
The streetlights are modeled after old fashion lamps. Circles of light illumine cobbles beneath them. Flowers circle most of them. A few have ivy crawling up their posts. This strip is like a setting from a fairy tale, especially after sunset. When it is quiet, you can hear the river below, small boats bumping on the docks and occasionally the low horn of barges.
Aidan listens to Celia and Jason ahead. But they have a rhythm and move farther ahead, their voices low. Aidan cannot make out what they are talking about.
“A book store, huh? Are you the male version of the creepy librarian?”
“This coming from the nerd researching magic?”
“Fair enough. We are both a little weird, I guess.”
Their steps clunk on the cobblestones in the silence.
“Not your idea of a first date, huh?”
“It’s not a date,” she responds immediately.
“Do you want to do this again?”
“You’re gonna ask me to help you with Mr. Morgan’s bookstore. I figure we’ll be walking from my house to here quite a bit in the future.”
Corey looks at her, watches her ponytail dance, her eyes focus on the street before her. She is not even aware of his gaze.
“So is that your way of putting me in the friend zone?”
She mulls over his words. She lets the silence drag on until he is not sure she is going to answer.
“Let me think about it,” she says. She does not look at him.
While this may have deterred lesser guys, Corey made up his mind that very moment that they were going to be more than friends whether she liked it or not.
“So why don’t you like Mr. Morgan.” He thinks this is a safer topic.
“I don’t not like Mr. Morgan. Why does everyone keep asking me that?” She shakes her head. Her fingers tighten around the silver symbol in her pocket.
“Because the every time you hear his name or see him, a little vein in your temple ticks.”
She doesn’t respond.
“OK. What would you like to talk about?”
“Nothing.” The vein in her temple jumps.
The streetlights are not the only illumination. It is still early, and a few stores are still open.
They move from the shadows of Thumbalina’s into the light of the Leprechaun. Sparkly things always catch her eye.
Aidan slows and peers through the windows. Bracelets, earrings and necklaces lay artfully amid piles of black, white and blue velvet.
Corey stands just a little behind her, as she catalogs the gems.
“Tell me what you see.”
“I see diamonds and emeralds.”
He yawns dramatically.
“I see jasper and tiger eye.”
“I see jade and amber.”
“Do you remember what they are for?”
“Emeralds are spring, renewal, fertility. Jasper for relaxing.” Aidan closes her eyes, trying to remember. “Jade for prosperity. Tiger eye….tiger eye… I can’t remember that one.”
“Tiger eye for practicality,” he says patiently, taking her elbow and guiding her through the door. “Amber for health, history and touching the earth.”
Aidan glances down the street. Jason and Celia are lost in each other. They don’t notice Corey’s detour. She allows Corey to lead her inside. The bell above the door tinkles.
Silver and gold gleam in the light. She moves from one glass case to another, hands inches above the top, trying not to smudge. Mr. and Mrs. Patrick must have cleaned for the last couple of hours to remove the evidence of today’s customers. She does not want to mess that up.
Mr. Patrick appears from behind the curtain that leads to the back. He rubs his hands together. “What can I help you with tonight?”
Corey says, “We are just kind of looking.” He nods to Aidan bent staring up through the glass shelves along the wall. Each shelf has its own light to shine down on the jewelry-covered velvet.
“Just seeing what’s new Samuel,” she calls without looking up.
“You’re in luck, I’m opening a new shipment just now. And there’s something I want you to see.” He pushes back through the curtain and Aidan is not sure she hears what he says next. It sounds like, “Reminds me of your mother.”
She frowns just a little and returns to her systematic evaluation of the glass cases.
They hear mumbles through the curtain, male and female bantering. A woman, tall and slender glides through the curtain.
“Aidan! We haven’t seen you in a while. How is your father?”
“He’s fine, Gemma. He’s in Memphis this week.”
“I still can’t believe you’re old enough for him to leave you alone so much. How are you doing in that big, empty house?” She glides closer to Aidan and takes her hand.
“I’m fine knowing you’re just around the corner.”
“You know that if you need anything you can always ask.”
“Yes, ma’am, I know.” Aidan slides her hand from the woman’s.
“And your mother?”
“Sorry to hear that, dear. We’re all praying for her, you know.”
“Samuel!” Mrs. Patrick calls over her shoulder. “Did you find it?”
Her husband appears at the curtain, a chain dangling from his fingers. “Yes, dear. I found it. I was just trying to clean it up a bit.”
“It’s fine. I ran it through the solution earlier.” She reaches over and takes the chain from Samuel with one hand. With other, she reaches below the counter and brings up a velvet form for draping necklaces. Expertly she arranges the piece for Aidan.
Instead of a necklace, it is a bracelet. Silver wraps around light purple and mottled blue stones alternating in each link.
“Your mother wore something similar before she met your father,” Gemma says.
“That’s right,” adds Samuel. “That’s why it made me think of her.”
“Amethyst,” says Corey, “and turquoise.”
Aidan’s eyes lose focus as she thinks. “Clarity and strength, amethyst. And protection, spiritual enlightenment, and balance, turquoise.”
Corey nods. “Yup.” He looks pointedly at Samuel while Aidan admires the bracelet. Samuel nods and slips behind the curtain.
“Thank you for showing it to me,” Aidan says.
“No problem, dear. You should come by more often.”
“I will,” she promises. “We should really catch up with Celia,” she says to Corey.
“We will.” He takes her shoulders and guides her through the glittering jewelry to the front door.
Once outside, the chill pulls their hands to their pockets once again. They fall into a rhythm faster than before and catch up to Celia and Jason just before they turn the corner.
Once back home, Jason pulls Celia to his car. He whispers in her ear, “I think it’s going better than you expected.” He nods to Aidan and Corey.
Corey has walked her up the porch steps and to the door.
“We should leave them alone,” Celia says happily.
“We should,” Jason agrees. He starts up the car and pulls out of the driveway before anyone can do more than wave.
“It’s still early,” Corey says.
“So…have a seat,” Aidan motions to the quaint little bench beside the door.
They are silent for a long time, listening to dogs bark and cars drive by.
“So I’ve been thinking,” Corey starts.
“Are you still thinking?” Aidan asks when his pause goes on a bit too long.
“Yes and no. No, because I’ve made up my mind.”
“Yes, because I’m looking for the right way to say it.”
“Usually words work.”
Corey’s lips twitch. “I’m looking for that magical combination of words that will sweep you off your feet.”
“You think you’re Prince Charming and I need to be swept off my feet?”
“I’m about to do something stupidly romantic and I’m wondering if you are worth it.”
Aidan laughs at this.
“Glad you think this is funny. I’m nervous as hell.”
“Just say what you want to say.”
Corey lifts one hand. The bracelet shines in the porch light.
“Oh,” she says grasping for a breath, “you really didn’t have to do that.”
“Take it. My big romantic gestures don’t come very often.”
“It’s only our first date.”
Corey grins. With his free hand, he reaches out for her. The moment his fingers brush along the chill flesh of her cheek, a humming thrums through his fingers runs up his arms and wriggles through his body. With it comes the slight burn of electricity. He leans in and pulls her close.
Their lips meet and the feeling intensifies. His entire body vibrates.
Aidan feels it too. Something she has never felt before, something that screams meant to be, destiny and fate.
When they part, she says, “I think you missed the friend zone.”