The bell rings over the shop door, immediately followed by the sound of Kizzy’s head smacking into the counter.
There’s more muffled cursing before she springs out from beneath the counter, rubbing the new lump forming on the top of her head.
“Welcome to Persephone, home of the magical, the mystical, and the downright awesome. How can I help you?”
The young woman is skimming her hand along the spines of books regarding crystal work when she turns to Kizzy. It’s the freckles Kizzy notices first, hundreds of constellations drawn on the apples of her brown cheeks – Ursa Major, Aquila, Lyra, Cassiopeia. A cerulean hijab covers the woman’s head, revealing only the moon of her face.
“Can you make any recommendations on any literature on alternative healing?” She asks.
Kizzy grinned, almost hungry. “But, of course! That is my specialty, after all.”
It’s actually a struggle for her to keep from lecturing her new customer on the healing properties of minerals, how certain structures within crystals create different effects, and the herb combinations best suited for curing the common cold. The woman’s expression speaks of real interest, though that might mean nothing. Kizzy is notoriously bad at reading facial and body cues, particularly those of humans. However, the woman’s aura remains pleasantly orange and tinged with cinnamon, classic signs of curiosity. Kizzy barrels on.
“So, if you’re looking for something regarding flora, I recommend Ursula Remy’s book on garden herbs and medicinal teas. If you’re thinking of something with less plants, then Crystallogy is a great place to start.”
The star-faced girl smiles, and Kizzy feels a flutter deep in her stomach.
“I think the book on herbs will do just wonderfully,” she confirms. “You’ve been very helpful.”
The transaction proceeds without incident and, as the woman leaves the shop, she doesn’t see the light flicker over her head as if waving goodbye. The door shuts, and the bell continues to ring.
“This is not what I need,” Kizzy mutters, running her hands through her mess of curls, currently wavering between purple and neon pink. “Like, not even remotely.”
In the age of the smartphone and Twitter, there were no longer any fears of being burned at the stake simply for being a witch. Even the most paranoid magic user scoffed at the idea of witch hunts; they were far more likely to be targeted for normal types of bigotry, like for being a person of color or disabled or queer. Kizzy’s mother had been a traditionalist, making sure that her daughter’s abilities were kept secret and safe, and her natural wariness of others, ingrained in the Roma people for very good reason, made her increasingly paranoid for her daughter’s well-being. This evolved into the much beloved and incredibly exasperating overprotectiveness that Kizzy had been able to avoid once she was able to sign her own lease.
But, the thing with magic is that it’s less supernatural than it may seem. Magic is like another sense or limb, a bodily extension even if it’s usually unseen. So, when Kizzy had her first crush on Maggie Winters in the 6th grade, her mother instantly knew by the way bubbles would float from her mouth every time Kizzy said Maggie’s name. When Kizzy got drunk for the first time, her vomit was the colorful ripple of an oil slick, gleaming rainbow. And, when her mother nearly died from cancer, a chill followed Kizzy for weeks, frost creeping from wherever she touched.
It’s not that Kizzy didn’t try to keep control. As a twenty-something (code word for someone who’s no longer early twenties), she no longer had tantrums that resulted in rolling thunder or excitement blooming flowers in her hair. She was just the owner of a little mystical shop, catering to the small community of pagans and witches and fantastical creatures that lived quietly among the rest of humankind.
She wouldn’t risk everything for a girl with stars mapped on her cheeks.
Kizzy had nearly forgotten about the incident until two weeks later, when she nearly fell off the step stool when the bell above the door started ringing four chord harmonies.
“Eep!” She grips the shelf, having just enough wherewithal to flick a finger at the offending bell and cutting it off mid-song.
“Are you alright?”
Kizzy scurries down the ladder, brushing off her jeans and desperately trying not to stare at the stars.
“I’m fine,” she assures the customer (the customer, she is a customer for Diana’s sake). “Welcome to Persephone. May I help you?”
The woman smiles; the Milky Way shifts on her cheekbones. “I don’t know if you remember me; I was in here a few weeks ago? I bought the book on garden herbs.”
Kizzy remembers, of course. “Indeed I do. I hope it’s been helpful.”
“Very. I’m actually hoping to expand a little bit. Do you have anything for maybe the next level up?”
They search for about fifteen minutes, chatting about the woman’s garden (full of verbena and mint and daisies and gardenias) and the teas she’d been infusing and her interest in keeping bees. Kizzy can feel electricity running over her skin, little jumps of static that had her hair on edge. She makes sure to keep her distance so lightning wouldn’t strike.
“I think this will work very well,” the star-faced girl says. “Thank you so much.”
A spark zips its way up Kizzy’s spine. “Let’s get you checked out.”
She prays to every deity she could think of that she wouldn’t short circuit the card reader as she completes the transaction. It is only a few short seconds, but the card goes through and nothing explodes. She sighs relief as the receipt prints, smiling as she hands it over.
The moment their hands touch, Kizzy sees the nearly dead orchid on the window sill blooming out of the corner of the eye.
Please Goddess, don’t let her see that and freak out.
“By the way-“ Kizzy is suddenly caught up in honey-colored eyes “-my name’s Hala.”
She can hear the pen beginning to rattle on the countertop; she lays her hand over it.
“Nice to meet you, Hala,” she replies. “Call me Kizzy.”
Thus began the most obnoxiously obvious crush of all crushes.
Hala Mohammed became a regular customer, dropping in two to three times a week to pick up herbs or an amulet or just to bring Kizzy a white chocolate mocha from the local coffee shop (run by a dragon who thought the whole situation was hilarious). Every time Hala appeared, Kizzy had a hell of a time trying to keep paper clips from levitating or the lights from turning pink or flowers from spontaneously blooming from cracks in the walls.
One time Hala laughed, and the glittery feeling in Kizzy’s chest was abruptly ruined by a light bulb exploding.
It was all very inconvenient, and it was even worse because Kizzy was pretty sure that every time Hala smiled or giggled or listened like she cared that the annoying little crush was beginning to veer straight into full-on, balls-to-the-wall love.
“Why couldn’t you serve alcohol?” She moans into her flat white coffee.
Issa laughs, teeth pearlescent white against the coal-black of her skin. Her eyes flash, red as embers for a heated second, before becoming human again.
“Here’s an idea, Miss Kesaiya,” the dragon teases. “Why don’t you just tell her how you feel?”
“That’s the worst idea in the history of ideas.”
Issa snorts; smoke curls from her nostrils. “Well, then, continue suffering. One day you’re going to set something on fire with all the pining you’re doing.”
Kizzy takes a swig of her coffee, scowling. “I’m not pining.”
“Uh huh.” Issa rolls her eyes. “Is that why you’re making it rain like we’re on a bleak English moor?”
Twisting in her seat, Kizzy takes in the rolling gray that was suddenly smearing past the windows of the coffee shop. It had been sunny moments before. When she turns back to Issa, it is with a look of utter horror on her face.
“I’m in love with her, aren’t I?”
Issa just nods, smirking.
It is all Kizzy can think about at work the next day. She can barely manage her tasks, her thoughts wandering to Hala, who loved brightly-colored hijabs and wrinkled her nose when she was confused and was just starting to keep bees. She had been so excited to tell Kizzy about her first hive, enthusiasm glittering in the air around her, and Kizzy had wanted to taste that excitement straight from the source, draw it from her mouth like honey.
The bell tinkles over the door.
“Welcome to Perseph-” Kizzy trails off when she sees her star-faced girl. There are dark circles beneath her amber eyes, and her aura ripples with purple, virulent with fear.
“Oh Goddess,” she gasps, rushing over and taking Hala’s hands in her own. “Are you alright? What’s wrong?”
Hala’s mouth quirks. “You always know when something’s the matter. No one can read me like you can.”
Something warm flares between her ribs, but Kizzy ignores it, leading Hala over to a set of chairs.
Hala fiddles with the edge of her sleeve, twisting a loose thread around her finger.
“It was little things at first,” she begins. “I would notice something out of the corner of my eye. A light flickering. A bell ringing. The wind picking up for no reason.”
Guilt like nausea roils through her; Kizzy swallows it down.
“And, then it was other things. My flowers began blooming out of season. I had fresh daffodils through September.” Hala huffs a laugh like a secret. “September! They should have been gone by early June, but somehow… And then there’s the music.”
Hala nods. “Like, I’ll be walking down the street and suddenly I hear the sweetest melody, but when I look around there’s no one playing. There shouldn’t be any music, but I can still hear it.”
Kizzy is nearly doubled over in guilt, cursing to every god and goddess she knows. How could she have been so reckless? Why can’t she keep herself under control?!
“I think I’m haunted.”
Kizzy looks up.
“I think I’m being haunted,” Hala whispers again. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but, Allah save me, I’m sure of it!”
“Oh, please don’t laugh, Kizzy.” Hala’s hand moves as if to take her own, but they stop halfway. Hala blushes. “I know it seems silly, even to someone like you.”
“Like me?” Kizzy is distracted by the rose flush on Hala’s cheeks, a nebula curling with constellations.
Hala smiles down at her hands, almost shy. “You seem like you’re from another world. Like, of all the things in this shop, you are what seems the most magical.”
Kizzy’s heart nearly stops in her chest, sunlight pouring through the spaces between her ribs. A breeze rolls through the shop, smelling of honeysuckle and citrus. She’s nearly drunk on it.
There’s a gasp, and Hala stands up, glancing around her.
“Like that!” She declares. “Do you feel that? Like it’s suddenly summer?”
Looking up at Hala, at her star-faced girl, Kizzy realizes that she hasn’t told anyone the truth since she was eight years old and blurted it out to her best friend, who had called her a liar and refused to see her again. She remembers her mother’s warnings (Kesiaya, my heart’s flower, you cannot tell such a thing – they will only hate you) and how her tongue would shrivel up every time she thought about revealing herself. She remembers how empty her bed has been and how she has started buying local honey for her tea every morning.
“Dragă, my dearest,” she begins, rising to her feet. The words seem to bloom from her mouth like flowers. “I am sorry that I made you scared. It was not my intention; I would never mean to do such a thing.”
Hala stares at her, nose wrinkled. “What are you talking about, Kizzy?”
“There is no ghost,” she continues. “You aren’t being haunted. I promise you that.”
“Then, what is it?”
In the end, it is as easy as summer.
“The thing is, I’m a witch, and I’m in love with you.”
Silence. There is no golden chorus, no fanfare of trumpets or bursts of song. It is just quiet, and Kizzy keeps forgetting how to breathe. She’s caught in Hala’s honey-colored eyes, hanging onto hope like a thread.
Hala’s aura shimmers, the violet of fear fading before blossoming into radiant gold.
Kizzy smiles, reaching out her hand. “Yes, I am.”
There’s a moment like a bell ringing and, when Hala takes her hand, the store erupts. Wisteria and morning glories crawl through the bookcases while music echoes from the rafters. Fireflies emerge from streams of light to dance around them, the sweet scent of honey warm in the air.
Hala’s close now, close enough that Kizzy can feel the warmth of her against her skin; she can see the flecks of blue within the amber of her eyes.
“Is this what it’s like?” Hala whispers. “To be loved by someone who’s magic?”
Kizzy smiles. “No. This is what it’s like to be loved by me.”
In a small apartment above a little shop, there are jars of herbs organized by magical uses and candles of every color. There are too many throw pillows and half-knitted scarves waiting to be finished. On the roof, there’s a garden full of verbena and mint and daisies and gardenias, the haven for three hives of bees. Sometimes, the lights flicker for no reason and music always seems to be pouring from the windows along with trails of honeysuckle.
And, every time Hala kisses her, Kizzy swears it’s like magic.