Eventually the lights started to fade. The half-globes studded in the walls dimmed to nothing as the crowd murmured and tsked. Fans flapped through the choking air and attendants offered glasses of cool water, brandy, and gin.
The Magician strode onto the stage, her coat-tails streaming behind her. She lifted her hands to quell the applause, shaking back the black braids that tumbled past her shoulders. The crowd leaned forward as one, any annoyance over the twenty minutes she’d kept them waiting forgotten. Drinks were set down and fans stilled.
Finally. Vessa stepped towards the theatre doors, which stood open to let any hint of a breeze inside. The doorway was packed, and she had to shoulder her way through the masses of people who couldn’t afford seats or fans and drinks. It didn’t matter to them. They’d stand for hours if they had to.
Once outside, Vessa made her way to the back of the theatre. It was blessedly cooler in the fresh air, with the sun almost sunk and the streets practically empty. Everyone in this quarter of the city was inside the theatre. Vessa didn’t have to cling to the shadows as she found the back entrance, since no one was around to see her.
The stage door was locked, but unguarded. Vessa knew every one of the spells the Magician used and how to get by them. After a few moments with a bobby pin, she slid the door open. It squealed like a pig being slaughtered, though the noise was drowned out by applause.
She slipped inside and shut the door, then stood still as she let her eyes adjust to the darkness. A narrow corridor led to a costume closet on the right, and a props room on the left. Straight ahead was the green room.
The smell of burning thyme, rosemary, and lavender drifted towards Vessa, and she let it wash over her. Even from there, she could feel the Magician’s power. She’d stood agog with the crowd plenty of times, years ago, drunk on that smell.
Vessa brushed a hand over her face and walked into the green room. Half a dozen suits hung on the racks, two prop trunks threatening to explode in one corner, and papers strewn across every available space. Writing scrawled across the pages, tangled and dark. Of course the Magician had kept them waiting twenty minutes because of her writing.
Vessa ignored the papers and the trunks, and started searching through the pockets of the suits. One was made from a creamy white silk, so soft it felt like water. That one held nothing more than a coin for some trick and an unhatched egg. Another was a deep blue velvet, with a long cape attached by a silver pin, and it had no pockets. A third was grey pinstripes with dozens of pockets, each holding a tiny gem or ring which Vessa discarded until--The necklace was little more than a gold chain, the pendant so small and gray that it faded into the suit. Vessa let her eyelids fall as she slipped the necklace into her pocket.
“Thieving, now? Really?”
The Magician’s voice sounded so close to Vessa’s ear that she flinched. Low and amused as always.
“I expected better of you.”
When Vessa opened her eyes she could see the Magician leaning against the wall. Arms crossed, slight smirk firmly in place.
“It’s not thieving if the item belonged to me in the first place,” Vessa said. “I’m just taking it back.”
The Magician curled the end of a braid around her finger.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to take back gifts.”
The audience broke into applause, and Vessa slid the necklace around her neck.
“Don’t you have a show to be performing?” she asked. The pendant rested just above her collarbone, and she could breathe once the slight weight was back in place.
“It’s all under control,” the Magician said with a wave of her hand.
As if Vessa was that easy to fool. The Magician might look at ease, but appearing to be in two places at once would take its toll. Vessa wondered which would be harder: maintaining a self-projection in front of an audience of hundreds, or in front of her.
The audience erupted again, the floorboards shaking as the standing crowd stomped their feet to show their approval. The dragon illusion, probably. Everyone loved a good dragon.
“I can’t let you walk out of here, you know,” the Magician said. “That necklace is part of my act.”
“I think you’ll manage,” Vessa said. She took a step towards the corridor, and the Magician didn’t move. “You’ll improvise, or something.”
She’d expected to feel angry, when she saw her. Or confused, or sad, or bitter. But not annoyed. It welled in her chest like an itch. It was the braids, she decided. The Magician had always had her hair free, before, in a massive cloud of curls that made her seem half a foot taller. The braids were new.
“You could have just asked for the necklace back,” the Magician said. She unfolded from the wall, and Vessa reached up to rub the pendant.
“And you’d have given it?”
“Well, no.” She was nearer now, and Vessa had to look up to meet her eyes. They were the color of rich amber, startlingly light against her dark skin.
“I saved us a pointless conversation, then.” The itch in her chest grew stronger, and Vessa tried not to back away. This close, the smell of thyme and lavender was overwhelming.
“No conversation with you is pointless,” the Magician said, the words so honey smooth that Vessa snorted.
And like that, the spell was broken. Vessa blinked, and her hand fell from the pendant she’d been rubbing. She’d been so strict with herself. Gen was just the Magician now; nothing more, nothing less.
“Stop it,” she said sharply.
Gen saw-- no, the Magician saw the shift in her eyes. The flirtatious smirk disappeared, and for once she stopped smiling.
“I’ll be taking this,” she said, and tugged on Vessa’s necklace. It unclasped and flew into the Magician’s pocket without a fight.
Vessa lifted a hand to reach for it, and was met with a gust of wind so icy that she nearly lost her balance. The Magician folded her arms again.
“Why do you even want it?” Vessa asked.
The Magician shrugged. “A keepsake,” she said. “Something to remember you by.”
Sure, it had nothing to do with the pendant’s peculiar power that the Magician had coveted ever since she saw the necklace on Vessa’s chest.
“You’re the one who fired me,” Vessa reminded her. “You don’t get to ask for keepsakes.”
The Magician closed the distance between them with a step. “I thought you’d be happy to hear you finished your apprenticeship,” she said. “Now you can move on and start your own--”
“Right, I get it.”
Vessa caught the Magician’s wrist in her hand. Gen had been about to tuck back the stray piece of hair that always fell in Vessa’s face, something she did whenever she wanted to turn the conversation in another direction.
“Now I can move on and away from you. You made that pretty clear.”
The Magician didn’t deny it, just stood there with her hands limp at her sides. Vessa turned and walked down the corridor without another word. Behind her, the crowd erupted into cheers. She yanked open the stage door and was engulfed by slightly cooler air. She tried to breathe.
The sun had disappeared, and a few stars balanced on the horizon.
Applause thundered again, and Vessa imagined the Magician changing into her pinstriped suit, ready for the next act.
She couldn’t help but smile. She took the necklace out of her pocket and let the pendant dangle between her fingers. It was so small, it had been easy to switch for the fake she’d brought with her. The Magician had let Vessa walk out with the real necklace after all.
Something glinted in her pocket, and Vessa reached in to find a scrap of paper. It hadn’t been there before, she was sure. She turned the blank piece over and groaned as words began appearing in a familiar, messy scrawl.
I would have given you the necklace, idiot, it read. Vessa pinched the bridge of her nose. Of course she hadn’t fooled the Magician. But that would have saved us this pointless conversation.
Vessa stared at the paper, but no more words appeared. She shoved it back into her pocket with a sigh and slipped the necklace over her head.
Behind her, the audience clamored for more. Vessa walked into the city and rubbed the pendant, which smelled like lavender and thyme.
is a musician and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. She holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and The Hartt School, and she has had poetry and prose published in Aerie Literary Journal. In her spare time she bakes desserts and climbs trees.