It should have been so easy, Nita thought as she paged idly through her manual. After all, she and Kit had done the hard part, hadn't they? They'd saved the world - several of them, in fact. They'd vanquished the Lone Power yet again, and they'd admitted that they were more than just friends.
She flipped another page and sighed. Things ought to have been better between them since the problems on Mars had been resolved. She'd called Kit her boyfriend, and he'd seemed pleased, and for one wonderful moment everything had been all right, but since then - since then, it was another matter.
It was rather like those first awkward days of their partnership, when they hadn't quite known what to call one another. Except that this was even more awkward, because they were so much closer now than they had been. And older. Definitely older.
Kit hadn't been avoiding her. He was far too down to earth and honest for that. He'd been keeping her out of his mind, however; they'd mainly been communicating via the manual, and if his thoughts were anything like hers, she didn't blame him one bit.
The problem, she thought, was that she had all these feelings about Kit, and some were romantic and some weren't, but she had no clue how to express any of them. They were all tied up so closely with her feelings for him as her partner in wizardry - and since when had she needed to add that clarifying 'in wizardry'? They'd always been partners. It was just that now they were something else, as well. Maybe.
Pushing her hair back behind her ears, she stared at the manual, absently at first. Then she jumped, and looked more carefully.
She lowered her head onto the page, screwing her eyes shut in embarrassment. "So even wizardry knows about us?"
Becoming romantically involved with your partner: the manual read. Tips, tricks, and things you should know.
"Tricks," Nita said aloud. She wasn't sure she wanted to know how to trick Kit.
It's just a snazzy headline, the peridexis said in her head. Give the text a chance.
So she did.
1. You are not alone. Many wizards become romantically involved with one another. In some cases, this can be a wonderful bonus, because your fellow wizard understands all the complications of being a wizard. In other cases, the relationship is unsuccessful and this has an adverse effect on the partnership.
2. Honesty is preferred in almost all cases. If you are not certain of your feelings, it is better to be open with your partner regarding this. You may find that he or she is equally uncertain; whatever the revelation, you may decide jointly that it is best not to act on your feelings at this time.
Nita rolled her eyes. "I see this stuff in the school magazine advice column all the time," she said. "Everyone knows what you should do. And nobody ever acts on it."
That doesn't mean it isn't sensible. It was the peridexis again.
"I know, but..." Nita sighed. "Have you any idea how hard it is to talk about this? I mean, I love Kit, I trust him totally, and I think my feelings are genuine. I'm not afraid to let him know that. But we're so young! I've never had a boyfriend before." Ronan's dark eyes flashed through her mind. But she'd never thought of him as a boyfriend; he was...someone she'd had complicated feelings for.
Your feelings for Kit are pretty complicated.
Nita sighed. "They sure are."
I think you'll find it doesn't get any easier with experience, said the peridexis. Some wizards are still making odd decisions about romance when they get to sixty and beyond.
That brought Nita up short. "Really?" She had always assumed, somehow, that older wizards had this sort of thing figured out.
Nita considered this. Her parents had always seemed to have such a rock solid relationship that it was hard to believe they had ever been in her position. Of course, they'd had their spats, but there had never, to Nita's eyes, been a chance of them ever considering life without each other. Yet now, her dad was alone, and she was beginning to realize that he might not stay that way. The thought made her stomach twist: of course, she didn't want him to be lonely. But she hoped it would be a while before he started thinking about that.
If you're really worried, the peridexis said, talk to someone who knows.
Nita frowned. "You mean a wizard? Well, there's Tom and Carl..." She imagined attempting to navigate the waters of that unspoken relationship, and shook her head. "Irina? But she's too busy...Oh." She smiled. "You mean Aunt Annie."
He turned. She was doing that thing again, that kind of wiggle that drew his gaze irresistibly downward, and he hurriedly adjusted his clothing. "Hey, Neets." Had she always been this hot and he just hadn't noticed? Well, she was Neets; it wouldn't matter whether she was hot or not. But it did matter that he suddenly felt like tripping up every time she appeared. "What's up?"
She pouted, and as she moved closer he was reminded, in a most confusing way, of Aurilelde.
"Actually, I'm having a problem."
"Yeah." Her...her, argh, her chest was almost touching him. When had that started mattering?
"Uh." He spoke carefully. "What's the problem?"
She wrapped her arms around him, and now he could definitely feel her chest.
"It's an anatomical problem," she murmured.
Then she was kissing him, her lips soft and sweet, her hands running gently down his back, and it was wonderful, but also extremely disturbing, because his body was reacting and her body was doing nothing to discourage that.
"Neets," he muttered, pushing her away, "hey, Nita!"
Kit awoke, gasping, embarrassed, and confused. Had he enjoyed it, or hadn't he? Had that been the real Nita, or some horrible projection of Aurilelde in Nita's form, created by his imagination? Worst of all, had Nita somehow invaded his dreams, or was all this tumult a product of his own mind?
He was pretty sure Nita knew enough not to intrude on his dreams, especially not right now. But she had been in his dreams before; what if she'd landed there again accidentally and been caught up in some fantasy? Kit cringed just thinking about it. How would he ever face her? Thank goodness it was summer, so they didn't have to deal with school.
People were moving around downstairs; he caught the low rumble of his father's voice, and Helena's softer one, and sighed. He loved Helena; he did. But things were a lot more stressful around these parts with her at home.
Still, his mama was strict about family time when it came to meals, so he groped for his jeans, still pondering on Nita.
"Where's Nita been this past week?" Carmela demanded over breakfast.
"Busy," Kit said through a mouthful of cornflakes.
Carmela shot him a disbelieving look. "She's always busy. She's also always here. Have you two had another fight, or something?"
Kit shook his head, eyes down, willing Helena or his parents to change the subject. Irritatingly, they all seemed to be waiting for him to speak.
"Oh," said Carmela, and it sounded as if she'd just had a thousand ideas at once. "Oh!"
"What?" said Kit, exasperated.
"You two haven't had a fight at all, have you?" She grinned wolfishly. "You've had, like, the opposite of a fight!"
"Shut up, Mela," mumbled Kit. An image of Nita from his dream flitted through his mind and he blushed hotly.
"Oh my gosh." Carmela's eyes were bright with wonder. "You two finally did it, didn't you?"
"No, we did not!" retorted Kit. "Uh, whatever you mean by 'it'." He glanced at his mother, who could often be relied on to deflect awkward conversations, but she was looking from Carmela to Kit with an expression of pleased concern.
Their father looked blankly embarrassed, an expression that Kit was learning to dread.
The fifth person at the table gave a sudden, loud sniffle. All heads turned in the direction of the sound.
"I'm sorry," Helena said thickly. "It's just, I've been trying so hard to be brave about the break-up, and now even my mut- my baby brother has a girlfriend, and I just..." She flapped her hands in front of her face as if that was somehow going to stop the tears that were trickling down her cheeks. "I just...don't..." Shaking her head, she rose, backing away from the table, and whirled out of the room.
Kit's parents exchanged glances, and his mama rose to follow Helena.
Kit's father cleared his throat. "Uh, son, I hope-"
"Pop," Kit interrupted desperately, "we are not doing it, okay? Not even close. We haven't even..." He trailed off. Haven't even kissed. Haven't done anything. So why is this all such a big deal? He took a deep breath. "And like I told you before, I promise I already know everything you're thinking about telling me."
His father had flushed dark red. "Well, I'm glad to hear it." He glanced furtively at Carmela. "Just...let me know if that changes, hey?"
"I will." Kit picked up his empty cereal bowl and made his escape to the kitchen. Even doing the dishes was better than this.
"Aunt Annie?" Nita called through the open back door of the little farmhouse.
She heard footsteps, and then Aunt Annie's smiling face appeared. "Nita! How lovely to see you. You were quicker than I expected - let me put the kettle on."
Nita followed her into the large, cluttered kitchen. "You were expecting me?"
"The manual told me to expect you, yes." Her aunt picked up a teapot and began rinsing it.
"But even I didn't know I was coming until a few minutes ago," Nita said. "Daddy sends his love, by the way."
Aunt Annie's face softened. "Give him a hug from me, okay? Tell him it's time he returned my call. How is he?"
Nita frowned. "Not too bad. I mean, he's functioning; he's back at the shop, and stuff. But he's really sad all the time, and I hate that I can't make him better."
"You do make him better," Aunt Annie said firmly. "Just by existing." She patted Nita's arm. "Beyond that, you can only be responsible for your own happiness. Speaking of which - how are you?"
Nita frowned. "I guess it doesn't hurt so much, at least, not all the time," she said eventually. "But then sometimes..." She blinked away tears. "It hurts so much and I don't know what to do."
"Yes, loss is often like that," Aunt Annie said gently. "So what do you do? When it hurts, I mean."
Nita shrugged. "Talk to Mr. Millman - except we're not in school now, so I can't. Go to my room and cry. Get stuck into a really tough question in the Speech."
"All worthwhile things," Aunt Annie said with a brief smile. "Let me know if you need to add 'Talking to Aunt Annie' to that list."
"Thanks." Nita rested her head on her aunt's shoulder. "And, well, I suppose I'm here now, aren't I?"
"You are indeed." Aunt Annie raised her eyebrows. "So you wanted to talk to me about something else? What would that be, then?"
"I..." Sitting up again, Nita hesitated. She had so many thoughts whirling through her mind about Kit, about what their relationship might become, that it was hard to channel them into a coherent sentence. "I wondered what to do if I were to become...more than friends with another wizard."
Aunt Annie's face stilled for an instant. Then she poured out the tea and said in a neutral tone, "This other wizard - he wouldn't happen to be Ronan, would he?"
"Ronan?" Nita almost laughed with relief. At least the manual wasn't broadcasting the developments between her and Kit for all of wizardry to see. "No! No, it's not Ronan." She felt herself blushing. "It's Kit."
The corners of Aunt Annie's mouth turned up, but fell short of a smile. "Your partner."
"Yeah." Nita grinned ruefully. "And now I don't know what to do! I mean, he's my partner, and he's great, but we're so young! Who these days marries their first boyfriend? And yet, if we don't stay together, that could be the end of our partnership."
"I married my first boyfriend," Aunt Annie said abruptly. "Granted, that was thirty years ago, so not exactly 'these days'."
Nita fell silent, trying to figure out how to phrase the next question. "He was your partner, wasn't he?"
"Yes." Aunt Annie nodded. "We were very young when we met - not quite as young as you and Kit, but, well, I had a sheltered upbringing until wizardry found me." Her eyes brightened. "He swept me off my feet. So much was new to me, it was hard to know where he ended and wizardry started. It took me a while to figure that one out."
"Aunt Annie." Nita took a deep breath. "I don't want to intrude, so please, tell me if I'm going too far. But do you regret it?"
Aunt Annie slid her mug closer and wrapped her fingers around it. "Of course I do, sometimes." She laughed. "Don't look like that, I said 'sometimes'. We all have regrets, otherwise we wouldn't be human. But I'm here. This is my home." She extended an arm toward the window, through which the Sugarloaf was just visible. "These are my people; this is my life. Do I look like someone who's let one disappointment mar all of that?"
Nita shook her head. "You look like someone who's really happy," she said, although there was a lump in her throat. Her father was alone now, just as Aunt Annie was. And yet, Aunt Annie felt as solid and serene as her father seemed lost and fragile.
"But if you're asking me whether I think you'll regret turning your relationship with Kit into something more," her aunt said, stirring some sugar into her tea, "I can't answer that. Only the pair of you know how you feel, and not even you can predict the future. You might meet other people, or simply drift apart as you grow older. And of course, you're wizards." She patted Nita's hand. "It's not exactly the safest occupation on the planet."
Nita nodded. "I'm amazed we made it this far, really," she said. "So far we've survived the Song, the apocalypse and a vengeful Martian princess, and those are just the things that spring to mind."
Her aunt's hand stopped patting and squeezed instead. "Hey," she said, "plenty of us survive well into our twilight years, despite the dangers. Who else is going to keep you bright young stars in your orbits?"
Nita sighed. "I know. It's all the Lone Power, basically, even when it's a Martian princess trying to turn Kit into her old boyfriend."
Aunt Annie raised her brows. "Your latest? I'll have to look it up."
"Oh, it was silly, really." Nita shook her head. "Or it would have been if it hadn't also been a matter of life and death for two civilizations. Teenage stuff."
"And you're a teenager." Aunt Annie smiled. "Very suitable."
"I hate it," Nita said vehemently. "I hate all the not knowing, all the wondering if he wants to kiss me - and if he does, what does that mean? I wish we could skip past all that and just...just be. Together."
"Well," Aunt Annie said, "that's up to you, don't you think?"
He turned. She was wearing that t-shirt she loved, and although it was old and faded, she looked lovely in it. Hot, said a voice in his head, but he suppressed it. "Hey!" he answered.
Her smile exuded confidence, but he could feel the nervousness radiating from her in waves. She stepped closer. "So, I've been thinking a lot about things. About us."
"Me, too." It was the understatement to beat all understatements, but it was about all he was capable of saying, because she was still closing on him. He remembered his dream and embarrassment flashed through him.
Perhaps she felt it, because her smile faltered. But she was near enough to touch him now, and when she took his hand, her own hand was as warm as her eyes. "I just..." she said, and looked down. Her shoulders heaved as she took a breath. "I think...I..." And she kissed him.
Unlike in his dream, she leaned away immediately, eyes wide as she watched for his reaction. "There," she said.
He grinned, feeling suddenly lighter - which wasn't so surprising, given that they were in their favorite spot in the Mare Tranquillitatis. "There," he answered, and leaned forward to kiss her back. "Neets," he murmured, "you are hot when you're being brave."
She laughed shakily. "That was scarier than taking on Aurilelde." Her hand curled around his neck, tugging him in gently, and the last vestiges of the dream vanished. He was here, with Neets, his girlfriend, and it was the most comfortable feeling in the world. He kissed her again, a little longer this time, enjoying the softness of her lips against his, and the way her body gently moved against his own. This was going to be fun, he realized.
The next time they broke apart, she sighed. "I give us about two minutes before someone else decides to pop up here to tell us we're needed."
"Two minutes, huh?"
"Two minutes can be a long time." He leaned in again, and she gave a little sigh of pleasure, which was possibly the coolest sound he'd ever heard. He was going to make her do that a lot, he decided, and concentrated on doing precisely that, while around them the moon dust shimmered and spun.
This was going to be easy.