Out

Jess had wondered sometimes what exactly it was about him that made her so quick to adopt him into her inner circle when, about a year into their friendship, the epiphany hit her smack in the face with Lucy pulling her aside during a routine pub crawl and asking, “What do you think of Jason?”

 

It hit Jess at that moment what the attraction of Jason was. Dry wit, heavy reader, a little nerdy-but-cool-about-it, a head firmly in the clouds. He was Lucy’s ideal man, especially when you factored in the fact that she was drawn to the bear-like. Lucy’s singlehood was always a burr in Jess’s sandals, and she had found a solution without even knowing it.

 

Despite the fact that she was swamped with school, Jess took an hour to schedule a lunch date with Jason.

 

“What’s the occasion?” he asked as he perused the May’s Café menu. “You have a big paper due.”

 

“No occasion,” she replied, nearly exploding with anticipation. “I just thought we never get to spend time alone anymore.”

 

The waitress appeared, and he ordered a patty melt and an iced tea, and she ordered a Caesar salad with grilled chicken and a water.

 

“Seriously,” he demanded, “what is it?”

 

“Nothing!”

 

“You’re squirming like you have to go to the bathroom. Spit it out. Why am I here?”

 

She held her breath for a moment and blew it out. “Okay, fine. What do you think about Lucy?”

 

He groaned and slammed his head on the tabletop, which was not the reaction she was expecting. “I’m not asking Lucy out.”

 

That brought her momentum to a halt. “Why not? She’s cute!”

 

“I know she’s cute. I’m …” Something caught in his throat, and he clearly decided to go with the easier thing to say. “She’s not my type.”

 

“What do you mean, she’s not your type?” Jess yelped. “She is the dictionary definition of your type. You guys have great chemistry, you’re always looking out for her, she’s into the same things you are–” And then something hit her. Only one thing would keep a single man like him from a catch like Lucy: a bigger catch. “You’re in love with someone else.”

 

He gave her a look like she had just given him a cookie recipe in Esperanto, and he laughed. “What?”

 

That’s when it all became crystal clear. “It’s me. You’re in love with me.”

 

He laughed again and repeated, “What?”

 

“Goddammit!” she snapped. “You promised! You promised! Were you lying to me when you said you were never going to fall in love with me? Was that pinky swear full of shit? Was that pinky swear just an excuse to touch me? How long have you been hanging out with me, waiting for me to realize that my true love was just under my nose? How many times did you look at me and picture us fucking–sorry, ‘making love.’ How dare you! I thought you were different! I really thought you were different! I trusted you!”

 

“Relax, woman,” he told her, “I’m not in love with you.”

 

“Why not?” she replied. “I’m hot, I’m flirty, I’m smart, I’m attentive, and we are good together. All men fall in love with me!”

 

“Not me.”

 

“Why not?”

 

He set his jaw. “I’m not in love with anybody.”

 

“How could you not be in love with anybody? You’re such a gooey, romantic of a man.” She had more to say, but she needed him to explain himself.

 

He took several deep breaths and studied the complimentary water glass on the table. He turned his eyes to the iced tea when the waitress dropped it off during their silence.

 

“Talk, Jason,” she growled.

 

Without looking up, he mumbled, “I’m asexual.”

 

Jess frowned. “What does that even mean?”

 

“<i>A</i> is a prefix meaning <i>not</i>. <i>A</i>sexual.”

 

She wasn’t buying it. “Nobody’s not sexual.”

 

“What do you call people who are attracted to the opposite sex?” he asked, finally raising his eyes to look at hers.

 

She didn’t know where he was going with this, but she figured if she played along, he’d get her there eventually. “Heterosexual.”

 

“And what do you call people who are attracted to the same sex?”

 

“Homosexual.”

 

“And both?”

 

“Bisexual.” She both did and didn’t know where he was going with this now.

 

“And people who are attracted to neither are asexual. It’s a sexuality, like the others. There are subcategories, a flag, and a whole culture. It’s a real thing.”

 

“You’re lying.”

 

He gritted his teeth and glared at her. He spoke no words, but his expression said, “How dare you?”

 

“I don’t think you’re lying about asexuality being a sexuality,” she said by way of clarification. “There’s a lot I don’t know about how people do or don’t do it. What you’re lying about is you being asexual. I catch you checking me out constantly.”

 

“That’s because your body is a work of art,” he replied.

 

Shyly, she shrugged.

 

“The human body is something I really like looking at,” he explained, “particularly the female body. But I in no way want to fuck it. Yours is pretty amazing, and I’ve always wanted to tell you, buy nobody in this society can separate the aesthetic value of the body from the sexuality of it, and I didn’t want to tell you because I’d have to tell you that I’m asexual.”

 

“Why wouldn’t you tell me? We’ve been good friends for a year.”

 

“Yes,” he agreed, “and I consider you my best friend, but asexuality is weird. Also, I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

 

Yeah, she wasn’t sure if she believed him, but she needed to say, “Sexuality isn’t weird, whatever it is. But how would you know if you don’t like sex if you don’t have it?”

 

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Jess, I’m twenty-seven years old. I’ve had sex. I just never had much of a sex drive, and it just got less and less. My last girlfriend five years ago blamed herself when it went away entirely. And then she decided I was cheating on her. I really hurt her.” He seemed so sincere in his guilt.

 

While, she wasn’t convinced that his asexuality was a thing, she knew that he believed it. “If this is the way you are, you can’t blame yourself.”

 

“I still blame myself.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

The waitress seemed to have been waiting for their conversation to hit a lull because she arrived then with their food.

 

Jason shook his ketchup bottle and poured it onto his fries. “Don’t tell Lucy. Don’t tell anybody. This is between you and me.”

 

“What am I supposed to tell her then?”

 

“The truth,” he replied. “I’m just not into her.”

 

“She’ll assume that means you’re into me,” Jess muttered and speared some lettuce with her fork. “It’s happened twice already.” She shoved the greens in her mouth and chewed. Swallowing, she added, “I’ll think of something. Your secret’s safe with me.”

 

If he really was not sexual at all, that opened up a lot of doors for her. She’d know that he was really listening when she talked and not thinking about how to convince her to love him back. She could flirt with him and not get it taken as invitation. She could go bra shopping with a guy who worshipped her body and didn’t want to stick his penis in it.

 

“I’m serious,” he repeated, “don’t tell anybody. Don’t let it slip out when you’re drunk, don’t make any winking jokes about how I’m not getting any. I’m trusting you with this. I haven’t trusted anybody with this since I realized what was going on with me.”

 

He was genuinely scared about this getting out. He was genuinely scared to trust. This was a lot of responsibility to put on her. He shouldn’t be trusting her. She was a garbage person, especially the way she treated men, and the way she treated her girlfriends when it came to men. Sex brought out the worst in her. This, if true, was an opportunity to remove sex from the table, and without it, she could be the best Jessica she could be.

 

She didn’t stop to consider that the absence of sex was merely another degree of sex.

 

“I promise,” she concluded. “Pinky swear?”

 

“If we touch pinkies,” he asked, “will that guarantee that you will never tell?”

 

“No, Jason, I promise I won’t ever tell even if we don’t touch pinkies. I won’t tell, even if you were to get up and walk out of this diner and never see me again. You promised you wouldn’t fall in love with me, and even though this is kind of cheating, you still kept your promise. I vow to do the same.”

 

He held up his little finger, and they wrapped them around each other. Sighing, he said, “We just broke down my big, scary secret, and we have untouched lunches, and now we have nothing to talk about.”

 

She chewed a mouthful of lettuce while he took a bite out of his patty melt. She asked, “You consider men’s bodies art too?”

 

He shrugged. “Yeah, but there’s not a lot out there for me to look at. I don’t like big muscles, and that’s all there is.”

 

“So you’re into twinks.”

 

Thoughtfully, he frowned off into space. “I guess I do like twinks.”

 

She snorted. “Yuck. Give me a shirtless Blake Miller any day. Like that creek fight in Renegade Master.” She purred.

 

“Hairless caveman.”

 

She sighed contentedly. “Hairless cavemen.”

 

They laughed, not because “hairless cavemen” was particularly funny, but because he’d been sitting on this secret for far too long, and she’d been waiting for a shoe to drop that was never going to, and now both of them were free.

 

As long as they were together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost the Plot

Lucy Kim glared at her salmon risotto. She respected chefs who experimented with their dishes, but there was such a thing as too much curry. Lifting her eyes to call the waiter, she found her vision occupied by a subdued-yet-expensive business suit, tailored to fit something in the shape of a mummified corpse. “What,” she whispered.

The hairless head attached to the shriveled body resembled one of a living human being, but only barely. Somewhere in hollow sockets, a pair of dark pupils focused on her, and dry lips separated from teeth so perfect they had to be dentures. “Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Actually I do.”

The man pulled out a chair and made himself as comfortable as a skeleton possibly could be. “Thank you.”

“I said I–“

“I heard what you said,” the man replied, “and I chose to ignore it.”

“Do you know who I am?”

“You’re Lucy Kim, founder, president, and CEO of Encre Noire Capital and director of the Ingkeu lobbying firm.”

“Then you know I own 40 percent of this restaurant.”

“I do.”

“I’ll have the maitre d’ escort you out.” She signaled the closest waiter, but he didn’t seem to notice her. In fact, he looked directly at her before rushing by. With an impatient sneer, she grabbed his arm, causing him to spill his drinks.

“Crap!” he hissed. “Crap! Crap! Crap!” Ignoring her, he crouched to retrieve the shattered remains of her sabotage.

“Are you even paying attention to me?” she shrieked.

The thin man cleared his throat. “You can’t make a scene, Ms. Kim.”

“Between you and this idiot right here, I think I’m damn well entitled!”

The man’s mouth creased. This may or may not have been a smile. “I didn’t tell you that you shouldn’t make a scene; I said you can’t–as in, ‘You are incapable of making a scene, Ms. Kim.'”

“Then what do you call this?” She shoved the waiter, who flopped onto the floor.

“What the hell is wrong with me today?” he muttered before righting himself and resuming his cleanup.

“Needlessly cruel,” the man said to her.

“What is wrong with him today?”

“He caught his elbow on a chair? He developed a sudden cramp? His blood sugar is low? He’ll come up with something. Exploiting man’s instinct for making excuses is the reason we magic users are able to function freely.”

“That doesn’t explain–“

“A handful of spells have been cast over this room,” the man told her. “Everyone but the two of us are incapable of acknowledging your existence. It’s complicated and exhausting, but you are more than worth the effort.”

“Magic spells?” she laughed. “You bribed him, didn’t you.” To the waiter, she shouted, “You’re fired, idiot!”

“Please, Ms. Kim, stop wasting my time.”

In resignation, she sighed. “You have me at your mercy, Mr….?”

“Sager.” He stretched out his hand cordially, and she shook it, also cordially. “Mr. Alvin Sager. I’m a high-ranking official in a business run by Nasir Hamad. Are you familiar with Mr. Hamad?”

“I can’t say that I am.”

“Excellent,” Mr. Sager said. “He has several people working around the clock to ensure his anonymity–anti-public relations, if you will. I’m pleased hear they’re meeting their goals.”

“What is this about, Mr. Sager?”

“It’s about ambition, Ms. Kim,” he replied.

“Mine?”

“Naturally.” If he was annoyed by the obviousness of the question, he didn’t show it. “You’re a clever woman, so I assume you’ve surmised the questionable legality of Mr. Hamad’s enterprise.”

She nodded.

“Given the supernatural nature of his business, Mr. Hamad is able to avoid the secular laws of the United States. However, there is one authority he cannot avoid.”

“The corporation,” she breathed.

Mr. Sager tilted his head. “So you’re aware of them.”

“Of course.”

His face creased again. “That makes your work much more, to quote the vernacular, ballsy.”

“Thank you,” she replied. “But what does the corporation have to do with me?”

“To understand this,” he began, “you’re going to need to know a little bit of their history.”

She poured herself a glass of wine and leaned back in her chair. “You have my full attention.”

He folded his hands and sat as still as the cadaver he resembled. “In the late eighteenth century, the corporation was a loose confederation of five merchant families from Europe. Because profit was their raison d’etre, they didn’t pay much attention to the magical goings on of non-landowners, which allowed a pair of warlocks in New Jersey to consolidate inconceivable of mystical strength. The confederation recognized their level of threat and gathered a militia of witches to sort out this matter. The ensuing battle eliminated hundreds of people, acres of Northeastern forest, two indigenous tribes, the capital city of Richardsburg, Pennslyvania, and April 31–as well as tearing a hole in reality that can never be properly sealed.”

“April thirty-first? Now you’re just messing with me.”

He glared at her. “Every single event that took place on that day–every birth, every death–was wiped from existence. History prior to 1789 was very, very different. Even the most educated of us can’t grasp the enormity of damage caused.”

“Mr. Sager,” she asked, “why are you telling me all this?”

“Ms. Kim,” he replied, “I think you know why.”

She bolted to her feet, waved her arms, positioned her fingers, and shouted, “Ttang-ui yulyeong i saengmul e bul-eul kaeseuting!.”

Nothing happened.

Mr. Sager removed from his jacket a large iron coin, onto which was scratched a complicated sigil. “Sit down, Ms. Kim,” he said as he returned it to his pocket. “Clearly you don’t know why I’m telling you all of this.”

She obeyed him and asked, “Are you saying I’m capable of removing another day from the calendar?”

“It’s a possibility.”

She gulped down the remainder of the wine in her glass and poured herself another.

“Lucy Kim,” he told her, “you grew up unremarkable, until you found a magic spell that altered probability enough to win a modest jackpot in a convenience-store lottery. You invested the money and used magic of escalating force to manipulate the stock market to your favor, buy and sell several small companies, and eventually wield enough financial strength to purchase state and federal legislators from both political parties. What makes you even more remarkable is that you managed to do all of this without drawing attention to your incredible rags-to-riches narrative.

“The corporation almost didn’t notice you. But what you’re doing is bending reality, almost to the breaking point.”

“What does all this mean?”

“The corporation has an agreement with Mr. Hamad,” he replied. “As long as we don’t get too ambitious, they allow us to carry on with our activities. However, when someone frightens them–someone like you, Ms. Kim–we’re expected to intercede. I haven’t had to do this since 1939, so clearly you’re exceptional.”

“Are you going to kill me?”

“It was how things were done then,” he said, “but this is the twenty-first century. We prefer to think of ourselves as more pragmatic. However, your lucky streak ends today.”

“And if I say no?”

“Then pragmatism would dictate murder.”

“You’d really do that?” she asked.

“Easily.”

She massaged her temples. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Resign from Encre Noire Capital,” he told her. “Dismantle the lobbying firm. Tithe both the corporation and Mr. Hamad’s business. Retire to a tropical island–I don’t care which one. Relax and fuck a cabana boy if that’s something you’d enjoy doing. And never, ever practice magic again.”

It took less than five seconds for Lucy Kim to agree to Alvin Sager’s terms.