SECRETS • by Fadzlishah Johanabas

“Is it too much?” Stefan whispered into her left ear, his warm breath making her auburn curls dance. He was standing behind her with one arm enfolding her waist, and the other holding the red silk blindfold that just moments before had wrapped her in its soft darkness.

Isabel was close to tears. Never in her twenty-four years of life had anyone gone to this extent.

She leaned back and rested her head against his broad shoulder, feeling the muscles under the smooth black shirt. She could not look away from the sight that greeted her. The roof of Stefan’s apartment building looked different, transformed into a vision of a dream. A circular table stood with its full-length drape billowing in the night breeze, a ballroom dancer twirling with silent grace. Two sets of plates and silverware were arranged opposite one another, with high-backed chairs waiting to be sat upon. The centerpiece was an unlit scarlet candle set on a delicate candelabra shaped like a silver vine. Surrounding the table, bridging four makeshift wooden pillars, were fairy lights, replacing the stars of the too-bright city sky.

“It’s beautiful, Stefan.” Isabel heard her voice breaking, but she didn’t care.

“I want your birthday to be special.”

Isabel looked up and kissed Stefan’s shaven jaw. “Thank you.”

“Well,” he said, smiling at her. “I’m kinda hoping the decoration will take your mind away from my cooking. I know I promised,” he added when she grinned at him, “but I’m sure you won’t ask me to cook for you again after tonight.”

Isabel took his hand and led him to the table. Stefan pulled the chair for her and, after making sure Isabel was comfortable, went to one corner and turned on the stereo. Soft music floated in the gentle breeze.

“It’s French,” Stefan said. “I don’t understand a word, but the music’s great.” He came back to the table with a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. “This is all I can come up with.”

“It looks wonderful,” Isabel said as Stefan filled both plates.

“It’s too dark.” Stefan pinched the wick of the candle, and when he let go, a tiny flame flared to life.

Isabel gasped.

“A little trick I learned when I was a teenager.”

“You never cease to amaze me.” Isabel gave a delighted clap and reached out to hold Stefan’s right hand.

The night was perfect.

Until a shriek that threatened to burst Isabel’s eardrums drowned the French music.

Both Isabel and Stefan looked up to find the source of the cry. Overhead, with great wings flapping in a lazy rhythm, were silhouettes of two humanoid creatures. The wing membranes were almost translucent; moonlight shone through the wings, outlining tendril-like veins.

“Dammit!” Stefan overturned the table with a loud clatter and pulled Isabel close. “I’m sorry, Isabel. I really am.”

Another shriek stopped Isabel’s questions. One of the creatures dived straight toward them. Stefan held out his left hand, fingers fanned out. The winged creature crashed into an invisible barrier and bounced backward, as if jumping on a trampoline.

Stefan looked at his hand and blinked. “That wasn’t — ” He looked at Isabel. “You?”

Isabel nodded.

“You’re a witch?”

“Put your eyes back in their sockets. You’re a witch too.”

“How did you — ”

“Find out? When you lit the candle. I felt the Power.” Isabel gave him the sternest look she could muster, but a moment later she looked up, over Stefan’s head. “Watch out, another one!”

Stefan whirled back and fanned out his fingers again. Orange globes of fire burst out of his fingertips and sped toward the winged creature. It stumbled backward, singed at the chest and stunned but otherwise unharmed.

“Why are the Laserak demons after you?”

“Remember last month, when I told you I had a business trip? My brothers and I were assigned to wipe out a Laserak nest.”

Isabel huffed. “I guess you messed things up.”

“A few got away, okay? Sheesh, sorry I’m a disappointment.”

Isabel’s face immediately softened. “You? Never.” She stood up, brushed dust off her dark-blue satin dress, and held out a manicured hand to Stefan. “You take offense, I take defense?”

Stefan took her hand and stood up. “Sure. I suck at defensive magic, anyway.”

They stood back to back and faced the winged demons. Both creatures dived at the same time from opposite directions. Isabel raised both hands, which started to glow a brilliant blue. The Laserak demons hung motionless a few feet away from them. Their stench was overwhelming; Isabel gagged in protest.

Stefan chanted a string of words familiar to Isabel, but the spell itself was new to her. Three-colored flames, larger than the previous ones, surged out of Stefan’s palms and engulfed the demons. They would have easily dodged the flames had they not been held suspended in mid-air by Isabel’s spell. Their shrieks lingered as they burned out of existence.

Isabel gagged again at the stench of burning rotten meat. “What a way to lose my appetite.”

“You’re just saying that so you don’t have to eat my spaghetti.”

Isabel turned to face Stefan. Despite his banter, his face was lined with worry. Since she’d started going out with him eight months back, this was the first time she’d seen his insecurity. It made his handsome face more appealing.

“Are you mad at me?”

Isabel cocked her head, keeping her eyes locked with his. “For?”

“Not telling you.”

“Our gift is not something we can share with just anyone. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

Stefan pulled her closer. “I’ll forgive you if you teach me that bouncing shield spell.”

“Only if you teach me that fireball spell first.”

“Deal.” Stefan eased Isabel’s chin upward and kissed her until they were both out of breath.

“Deal,” Isabel echoed, smiling as she kissed him back.

Fadzlishah Johanabas: an MD by profession, a writer/photographer/illustrator by passion.

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