Is that why you asked me over?
Aurelia arrives at the address. It’s an utterly unremarkable apartment complex. Not particularly lavish or run-down. Just decently-maintained.
After getting beeped in the entry, there’s a stairway leading up to #7. Elithora opens the door looking, well, essentially the opposite of her usual appearance. She’s wearing very faded pink sweatpants, canary yellow socks with white toes and heels, and a somewhat too-large t-shirt with a print of a Far Side cartoon faded almost beyond recognition. She has her hair pushed back out of her eyes with two metal barrettes which are not really even.
Aurelia blinks in nonrecognition.
She claps with delight at seeing Aurelia and ushers her into her apartment. It’s a medium-largish studio with a bed against the back wall next to a walk-in closet. The furniture is more functional than stylish and is all somewhat old and worn at this point. Every flat surface, from her computer desk to the the coffee table to the small dining table against the wall to the dresser top with a big mirror to several places on the floor are covered with books about arcane topics and magazines about either arcane topics or fashion in japan or dead languages or makeup tips.
Mixed in everywhere with the books are pens, pencils, and more makeup than should be possible. It is extremely clear that all of Eli’s income goes to books and appearances.
Aurie is looking a bit less casual, in a sweater and wool skirt. “Hi Eli. I feel a little overdressed with you… this is a first.”
“No no, you look super cute! Don’t mind me. It’s my day off, right?”
Aurelia smiles genuinely, “Yeah, I suppose it is.”
“I really like the place! It’s cozy, I can see why you haven’t moved into the sanctum.”
Eli shrugs. “It’s just a place. Sometimes I think I’ve lived here too long. But thanks! Can I get you anything?”
Eli hops to it and pours water into a tea pot and turns on the stove with a click-click-click-foosh.
(Elithora) “So um. How are you? Like uh, how are you feeling I mean.”
“I’m… I’m alright I guess.” Aurelia kind of looks down.
“Hm,” Eli replies, unconvinced. She opens her cupboard. “Sleepy bear tea, mint tea, detox tea, mango tea, christmas tea, cramp tea, black tea, and fancy berry tea.”
“… Green tea?” Aurelia chuckles a little. “Or mango if you don’t have it. I rather like mangoes.”
Eli digs through a white porcelain mug, sorting through mismatched tea bags pilfered from breakfast tables at different hotels or academic conferences. “Green tea! Sorry about the slightly orientalist packaging.”
She tears it open, plops it in a mug, and sets the mug down while the water heats. She leads Aurie over the couch and pats to sit down.
Aurelia sets her bag down and sits. “So is this how our Eli lives? You ever use the bed?”
Aurelia grins conspiratorially
“Sometimes. Or the couch. I dunno if … oh. Yeah, no, it’s use is, uh. Cyclical.” Eli plops down onto the couch. “So. That was something of a night, huh?”
Aurelia blushes and nods.
(Elithora) “I know I gripe about the Libertines being … a little frivolous with information sometimes, but I have to give them credit. I forgot about the potential of … engineering a space like that. It gave me some ideas. Anyway … I feel like I was maybe a little impulsive in nudging you along but …”
She bites her lip and looks over. “No, I think… I think I needed the nudge. But… I still don’t know what I’m doing Eli!”
Eli moves her hands in two circles, like feet bicycling pedals. “Yeah, it’s … Kind of a big thing in a lot of ways? I mean like, when you said you hadn’t … I’m not sure if I understood that you meant never never or like, ‘legally’ never.”
Aurelia raises her eyebrows. “Legally?”
(Elithora) “You know what I mean. Some people think you know what or you know where don’t ‘count.’ But you meant never. Right?”
(Aurelia) “This is Canada, Eli! OH… Oh I see… no. never never. I mean, I’d kissed a boy… in high school. But I guess I’m a bit of a shrinking violet.”
“Hey, violets are … Oh! You don’t know you’re really pretty, I bet.” Eli nods to herself thoughtfully.
Aurelia blushes and then smiles a bit conspiratorially. “Though, and this is in confidence! Though it was a first for Valentina too. And do you really think I’m pretty? I mean… um…”
Aurelia starts turning red.
“Oh yeah, of course,” Eli announces with confidence. “A first for Valentina? I’d think she must get so much … ohhhhhh.”
(Elithora) “So how did you feel when it was actually happening?”
Aurelia fidgets. “It was incredible Eli… I mean… I’m not a complete prude I have uh… done some self exploration… but I mean emotionally and like physically with someone, another breathing living person with thoughts and wants and needs…”
It’s Eli’s turn for a conspiratorial grin. “I know, right?”
Aurelia smiles “I highly recommend it.”
“Yeah, I … dimly recall it being pretty agreeable. I wonder, with another mage though … huh.” Eli ponders for a moment and continues, “So you did have a good time, at least. But now you feel kinda …”
Aurelia looks down, blushing brightly. “I’m just going to um… just ask… Are you, are you interested in… in something like that? With me? Is that why you asked me over?”
The tea pot whistles!
Eli blinks! “Oh, I … I mean … I just thought you should have someone to talk to because … I mean I wasn’t trying to get in your pants.”
Eli seems slightly at a loss for words and hurries to the stove, switching it off. She pours out the tea and carries it back with small steps, careful not to spill any hot water.
Aurelia blinks “I’m not wearing pants… I mean… yes I do need someone to talk to. I mean how do you know… when someone, with the pants thing.”
“It’s … oh boy. It’s kind of an acquired art, I guess. It’s always a negotiation but it’s not always a verbal contract, exactly.” Eli sits down very, very gingerly, closer to Aurie, and very carefully hands her the mug.
“How can you tell if they’re um… interested? I mean, look at me. Between the nudging with Valentina and this… I clearly have no idea.” Aurelia takes the tea a bit nervously and sips it.
(Aurelia) “I mean, that was a no, wasn’t it?”
(Elithora) “I … I mean I really care about you but not like that. It’s the nicest no I can give you? I’ve never even … well, I guess there was that one time in college after the women’s zine conference. We were smoking pot and listening to Tori Amos but …”
Eli waves her hands. “The 90s were a different time. That’s not the point.”
“I think I am starting to understand better. Because there’s so many vague overlapping shades of affection, like … oh, I don’t know, it’s like a watercolor puddle.”
“This is why relationships are handy, I guess. You can define the parameters.”
Aurelia nods and sips her tea. “For me I think they’ve all been mixing into a single shade of ‘fuck me red’ lately. It’s kind of a confused colour.”
(Aurelia) “If you pardon the expression. Sorry.”
Eli laughs a loud “ha!” and covers her mouth. “I’ve heard worse. Clearly it’s a shade that agrees with many people. It’s not a crime to give off vibes, you know?”
Eli squeezes Aurie’s shoulder. “And it’s not a crime to misunderstand someone, either. That’s what relationships are for. You come to understand each other and you create spaces, like rooms for each other. A space for sharing, or emotions, or sex. Or kids! I mean, everything!”
Aurelia smiles looks up. “Do I give off vibes?”
(Elithora) “Well I mean, out of a roomful of hot people on drugs, Valentina was all over you, so yeah. I doubt she’s the only one who notices you in your life, too. And its not a crime to want sex. At all! But you have to know what you want. I mean it. I mean, take my word for it.”
(Elithora) “Do you know what you want? is it just getting laid? What is sex going to give you?”
Aurelia shrugs. “I don’t know if it’s just getting laid but… sex is fun. It is fun and there’s this closeness and its just sort of an incredibly good feeling. And I want that, I really do.”
(Aurelia) “I don’t think I want more from it than what it is.”
Aurelia sips her tea again. “But I do want more of it…” She uses the mug to hide her face as she says this.
(Elithora) “Eh, who doesn’t. But good: As long as you know yourself while you’re doing this you’ll be on the right track. You certainly uh, made quite an introduction to that world. Don’t take this the wrong way but every guy in the pentacle would lose his mind if he found out.”
Aurelia giggles and nods. “Yeah, think of what Han Yolo would say? Thanks, Eli. And… you can call me Lily. If you want. In private.”
Eli nods, taking a second before freezing as she realizes what Aurelia just said. “Oh. Oh wow.”
(Aurelia) “I’m opening up to you… may as well go all the way.”
Eli carefully takes the tea mug from Aurie, sets it on the table, gives her a really, really big hug, and then leans back with her hands on Aurie’s shoulders.
“Alex.” Eli looks at Aurie for a long moment, not saying anything at all.
“Alex? Like Alexandra?” Aurelia searches for a good place to put her hands, settling on her own lap.
“Alexandrine, actually. Alexandrine Dureux. But my friends just called me Alex. It almost feels weird to hear the name now.”
Aurelia smiles brightly. “Your friends call you Alex…” on the verge of tears.
Eli lets go. “I, uh. Wow.” Her eyes roam around the room nervously. “Oh, I found a poem about you!”
Eli’s cheeks are bright pink and she gets up a little nervously. She walks with purpose to one pile of books out of a two dozen, lifts four books, and retrieves the fifth book underneath.
She walks back and sits back down by Aurie so their legs and shoulders are gently touching. She flips the book open to one page which has been marked with a post-it note with a tiny smiley face drawn on.
She shows it to Aurelia but reads it out loud at the same time. Something in her voice shifts into the way she speaks when spellcasting.
“as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch
high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot —
no, not forgot: were unable to reach.”
Her voice trails off. “That’s it. That’s all that survived. It’s a fragment of Sappho.”
Aurelia reddens, smiling, then hugs Elithora. “Thanks, Alex. So I guess this makes me a ripe tart, huh?”
Eli laughs. “Ripe for the picking.” Her smile fades a little as she runs her fingers down the page. “Everything else in this poem was lost, which is so … But I mean! The words were lost but the loss created this space, you see?”
“It created an absence. And that’s not just a negative. It’s not just …” Eli looks at Aurie in open wonder. “Lily it made a space that you fit right into. It …”
(Elithora) “It’s not just erosion but forgetting could actually create …”
Aurelia nods. “It’s a meaning created by the space.” She beams brightly. “So many people fail to understand the linguistic meaning inherent in silence, in whitespace.”
Eli’s eyes are a little unfocused for a moment and she stops herself. “It’s … anyway. Oh, it’s getting so dark. I didn’t even notice the sun setting.”
(Aurelia) “Oh I… yeah I guess we can have an academic discussion later.”
(Elithora) “No I mean, I want to hear it I just … Hadn’t really considered … I … Listen.”
Eli touches Aurie’s hand gently. “Lily, do you want to cast a spell?”
Aurelia nods. “What kind of spell?”
“I don’t know what kind, exactly. I want to cast a spell for a friend that I didn’t realize how much I needed. A spell for right after she had sex for the first time and I made everything a little crazy for her right now. I think those kinds of spells are the most important, sometimes.”
Eli gets up and doesn’t bother to flick the lights on. She starts gathering an armful of white candles. “Let’s move the coffee table and push the sofa out of the way. We need a little room.”
They quickly push everything out of the way and Eli rolls up an Ikea rug to clear space on the wooden floor. She opens her closet and reaches up to tug the light on. For a moment she is almost enveloped in shimmering folds of black cloth — all of her dresses are hung up carefully, with everything else given whatever space was left over.
Eli stands up on her tip toes and pulls down a shoebox. She brings it back to Aurie and almost hesitates before showing it to her. It’s a regular old shoebox, covered with a collage of old fashion magazines and pictures from history books. Joan of Arc, Simone de Beauvoir, Drew Barrymore, and Kathleen Hanna have been cut out with their arms slightly intertwined, as if to make an imaginary coven glued to the box top.
Eli opens it, revealing an audio cassette labelled with a man’s handwriting, a thick stack of photographs — the old-fashioned shiny kind you used to get from supermarkets or pharmacies — and an ornate wooden box with a silver clasp.
(Aurelia) “Are you getting your high school diary?”
Aurelia smiles gently.
(Elithora) “Heh. I burned it after Brian broke up with me.”
Eli takes out the wooden box and sets it down nearby. She sets aside the shoebox and goes into her kitchen space. She quickly retrieves a lighter and a ziplock bag labelled “sea salt.”
Eli looks around, taking mental inventory. She sets everything down and gingerly opens the wooden box. Inside are tiny glass vials with etched glass stoppers. Each holds what must be her perfumes, each a different shade and with a different amount left. Without hesitation, she plucks one out, and sets the box aside. “Okay.”
Eli ushers Aurie into the opened up space and starts setting down candles in an unevenly-spaced circle. There are 9 behind Aurie and 7 behind Eli.
Aurelia is quietly trying to make sense of the ritual. (successful knowledge check is rolled)
(explanation given) Every perfume Eli has worn has been magical, and tied to time. When worn, the perfumes change. They smell like things moving in different directions through time — like blossoming flowers and dried flowers at once, or like soil with green shoots sprouting over an hour of realtime.
But there are no significant established Mysterium rotes that specifically use perfume in any significant way. There are numerous sensory foci out there, of course — incense, dried herbs and flowers are common, myrrh, and so on.
In Aurie’s well-educated opinion, Eli appears to be winging it.
Eli starts pouring a circle around the two of them with sea salt. “Yes, perfume. It’s one of my favorites but I don’t wear it that often.”
She hands over the lighter to Aurie and opens up the bag of salt. The air is already jittery with that tang of magic.
Eli carefully closes the circle with salt. “There.”
Aurelia is smiling in wonder. “And now?”
“Okay, light the candles and I think we’ll be all cozy in our circle.”
Aurelia is telling the little inner voice urging her to strip naked to shut up it’s not that kind of ritual. Aurelia lights the candles!
They sit down on the floor close enough that their knees are touching. Eli pours a tiny handful of salt out between them and pushes it into the Fate glyph.
Aurelia is looking around, still not sure what this is about but trusting her friend.
(Elithora) She picks up her tiny perfume vial. “I don’t know what we’re casting. I just want to make a space that is perfectly safe. I want you to be able to feel anything you need to feel because no one can stop it or hurt it right now. I want to be present, and here, and I want to stop using magic to hurt people for one night and just be with my friend.”
Eli takes a deep breath and the sound of traffic through her open window seems to go slowfast and become very slightly less distinct. She opens the stopper on the vial and holds it up for Aurie to smell.
Aurelia leans in to smell the perfume.
The smell is very faint at first. It smells like Aurelia has been on a long car trip all day, crossing empty fields. The windows of the car are rolled down and just on the edge of awareness is the salty smell of the ocean not yet visible.
Eli dabs a very generous splash of the perfume onto each of her wrists, then onto each of Aurie’s, and closes the vial.
She holds up one hand, causing a trickle of the perfume to wriggle down toward her elbow. She begins tracing a symbol to give Aurie the Sibyl’s Sight.
As the sight begins to settle on Aurie, she taps her own temple. “Link us?”
Aurelia stares at Elithora through fate, noticing something, then acting as she had already decided, leaning in to kiss Eli briefly, then immediately apologizing. “Sorry…” and as she connects a mental bridge Alex can feel a wave of mixed emotions from Lily. Muted lust and apology and a strong desire for friendship.
Eli just smiles at each of the emotions and feels the echoes of Aurie’s nervous system permeating the circle. She seems unperturbed by the near-kiss. Time slows a little further. The strands of Fate everywhere tie things together but a complex cat’s cradle of strands knots the two women together with a pattern that seems to become more complex the longer it is studied.
Eli gently takes Aurie’s hands and positions their arms so for each their wrists are touching. One wrist above on the right side, one wrist below on the left side.
The dampness of the perfume echoes in stereo through their twin perceptions and the splash of ocean air is instantly everywhere.
Aurelia is a bit slack jawed in wonder.
Alex begins rotating her wrists in very small circles against Lily’s. Her whisper is half-thought and half-breath. “Like this.”
She keeps rotating without breaking skin contact.
Aurelia begins rotating her wrists in the same manner
The movements are small but doubled. Their skin rubs the perfume into each other and warms it. The smell is of waves rushing over your knees, and thighs, and hips. The strands of Fate pulse slowly, like seaweed on top of the water.
Alex looks at Lily with only love. “You are safe. The things you want won’t hurt you in the end. You want the oldest knowledge.”
Lily nods, mouth hanging slightly open.
The sound of traffic is further washed out like a reel-to-reel dying underwater. The sound ebbs and flows like a tide. The sun has fully set and the stars are coming out, shyly. Their wrists move no swifter nor slower, but there is a dizzying sensation as if the floor beneath them were also water, churning against the sand.
Eli smiles a tender sphinx smile and the water is at once over their heads. The strands of fate ripple throughout the apartment. The candles’ flames pulse in slow unison. The smell of salt and sea and silt and millennia of currents dominates everything.
Eli whispers or perhaps thinks or perhaps said to Aurie years later, “It is the deepest place inside of us. The place we want every lover to reach inside and touch.”
Aurelia stares into Eli’s eyes, her face showing heartbreak and longing and yet also calm and hope.
Their wrists move as if pushed now by currents that had always been there; no faster nor slower.
(Elithora) "How do you feel about your hunger which guides you?
(Aurelia) “It is part of me… but I fear it will consume me. I want this… deepest intimacy and love. I need it. But I don’t want to hurt my friends. I don’t want to hurt you.”
(Aurelia) “It is like another person, but also myself. You understand?”
(Elithora) “It is an ancient person and she might always live inside you. Being hurt is a part of life. What if you make mistakes and only their hurt brings you the wisdom you will need that day?”
(Aurelia) “It is not hurting myself that I fear. It is hurting you. Hurting others. Is it worth the risk?”
(Elithora) “What if you need to hurt me to learn and I don’t love you any less?”
The sound and feeling of the waves grows further distant as the two sink deeper and deeper.
Aurelia looks on the verge of panic, tears in her eyes and Eli can feel her emotions rolling off of her like a strong current. Suddenly it seems to sweep her up, throwing her onto Eli and hugging her tightly.
Eli hugs her back just as tightly. As soon as their wrists part, the gravity of the ocean’s bottom lessens and the waves calm. Their perfume smells like a wind blasting from the ocean to the shore, fresh and sharp.
Eli pets her hair and murmurs “Sshh,” even this sound still touched by the ocean.
The little voice that was telling Aurelia to strip down wins out.
Eli watches the girl who smells like the same ocean as she does. She opens her mouth to say something, but says nothing at all.
Lily smiles shyly, thinking to Alex s thoughts are a jumble pulling back before suddenly rushing forward. Without a word, she reaches up and removes first one barrette, and then the other.