Magic for Lee (sweet gay romance), page 1
"Magic for Lee" copyright December 2013 by Hollis Shiloh. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from the author. All characters and events are fictitious, and any similarity to real people or events is coincidental.
Cover design by Melody Simmons. Cover image Content is being used for illustrative purposes only, and any person depicted in the Content is a model. (Human image from Istockphoto.com. All other cover images licensed from Canstockphoto.com.)
Copy-editing and proofreading by Martin O'Hearn.
About the story:
Peter runs a magic shop, quietly helping people with his magic, resigned to living alone—and trying to hide his crush on Lee, his baker friend. Then one day Lee asks him to make a special spell, a spell to reveal Lee's feelings to the person he loves. Peter never expected to have his crush returned, so he resigns himself to making the spell for Lee's beloved, in the meantime relishing the time Lee spends with him.
Dangerous magic comes to their peaceful neighborhood: a harmless, gentle neighbor is killed. The police consult briefly with Peter about it, though they don't tell him what happened or why. Peter and Lee wish they could investigate, but instead stay out of it as ordered. Or at least, they try to…
Magic for Lee
The bell tinkled over the door to Peter's shop. He looked up at the sound and stopped grinding herbs. A smile touched his mouth unwillingly and he pushed his glasses up; they'd been sliding down a bit, but it was mostly a nervous gesture.
"Hello!" called a cheery, familiar voice.
Peter's heart lifted. "Hello," he replied, moving away from his workbench and dusting his hands off on his apron. He cast Lee a hesitant smile and moved closer. Then he bumped his thigh on a table because he wasn't looking where he was going, and caught himself quickly, hoping Lee hadn't seen him looking like a fool.
No worry, though, the smiling bakery shopkeeper was giving him that bright, gorgeous, utterly distracting smile, the one that had ladies standing in line for his cupcakes when they could've gone down the street instead for a perfectly acceptable substitute. The one that had Peter's pulse fluttering like he was a boy of eighteen again.
"Hazelnut brownies!" said Lee with a big, proud smile, puffing his chest out a bit. He was a fit, lively man with short-cropped brown hair and dancing green eyes, who always looked utterly pleased to be with whatever company he kept. Now he held out a small, carefully wrapped packet that smelled delightfully of chocolate.
"That…that sounds delicious," said Peter, tripping over his feet in his hurry to reach Lee. In contrast to the handsome baker, Peter was a rather plain man whose red hair was mostly gray by now. He was close to forty but felt older.
Outside his little shop for magic help and consultation, the busy day carried on around them: vendors hawking wares, horses and carriages clopping past, and the occasional motorcar sputtering along, honking its thin, weak horn.
"Great! Do you have my mixing spoons ready?"
"Y-yes," Peter managed to force out, trying not to wince at the pain in his foot. One would think he could keep from humiliating himself during the five most important minutes of the day. He looked around, then snatched the brown-paper bundle that held three wooden spoons from Lee's kitchen, now fixed with the magic to make the user know exactly the right moment to stop stirring. It was a small spell, but a delicate and time-consuming one. He'd enjoyed it a great deal.
"Wonderful. Put it on my bill." Lee smiled, showing a little dimple. "I've got a bowl I think you could improve, too. Mind if I bring it round soon?"
"Th-that would be great." He accepted the gift of brownies, his mouth watering, and not just for the brownies. "Do you have time for a cup of coffee?" He motioned towards the little table where he held his consultations, removed slightly from the cluttered counters and tables and cupboards and sink. His shop was small, and he lived above it. Magical paraphernalia, herbs, and empty coffee cups cluttered his work surfaces.
"Um…sure." Lee glanced at his pocket-watch and gave him that dazzling smile again, the one that left Peter tongue-tied and stumble-footed. How could anyone be so appealing? He'd be a stuttering mass of bruises if Lee came to see him more often. It would, of course, be worth it.
"Do you have a coffeepot here?" Lee looked around.
"Oh, yes, somewhere," said Peter breathlessly. He smiled tightly, ashamed of his messiness. His nephew usually came and helped him clean the place up, but he was late this week. Peter had terrible organization skills. His sister always said it was a miracle he got anything done at all. But his mind, and his magic, worked better in a comfortable, busy environment that wasn't too brightly lit—far from the sterile, cold, too-bright conditions of his old workplace.
He shuddered at the memory. Research and development at a large medical supply company had been important work, or so he'd thought, but it had also burned him out and left him almost unable to do magic at all. The amount of pressure they put on researchers was absurd, and the conditions utterly impossible for him to handle long-term. Here, with his own little shop to putter around in and the freedom to set the hours and turn away any clients he didn't feel good about, he was so much happier. His magic worked properly again here.
He snapped his fingers, and the coffeepot scraped a few inches towards him across a marble surface on one of his countertops. Lee jumped and stared, looking impressed.
Peter walked (without tripping) over to fetch the coffeepot. It had been hidden behind a pot of herbs and a packet of spiced orange tea he used as a base for making simple magic transferrable to non-magically gifted people. It would have taken long minutes of rooting around to find the coffeepot the normal way.
He pried the lid off and took a sniff. The coffee smelled old and the pot was rusty. Wait, this was his second pot, wasn't it? The first one was upstairs. Well, never mind. He could use it now. Walking to the sink, he pulled a faint nudge of magic out of the air around him and ran it down his finger and over the rusty edges of the pot. The rust fell away as he walked, and he raised his voice to speak to Lee while he rinsed the pot clean in the sink. "How's business?"
"Good," said Lee. Peter jumped; the man was by his shoulder. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I just like to watch. Magic's so interesting!"
"Is it?" He smiled in earnest now, and pushed his glasses up again with damp fingers. He finished rinsing the coffeepot, put fresh water in it, and snapped his fingers again to find the beans. They were old beans, it transpired, but it didn't take much magic to freshen up their flavor. He set it on a heating element and flicked the switch. Heating elements were fashionable and convenient cookers for those who didn't have room for a stove or a fireplace, or just wanted a place to make coffee. A square of insulated brick held magic and could be used without risk of fire.
He switched it on to boil and turned back to his guest, smiling. "Will you have the brownies with me?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly. I'll bloat up like a balloon! Well, maybe just one." Lee moved back to the table, opened the packet, pinched free an edge of a brownie and popped it into his mouth. He gave Peter a naughty smile and licked his fingers.
Peter's mouth went dry and his lips parted as he watched. He caught himself staring and turned away, trying to hide his flushed face, his arousal. What was he thinking? Peter was young, gorgeous, and had plenty of prospects. Even if he did like men—which was by no means sure, despite a certain sparkle in his eyes at times—he could do much better than a pottering-around old magician like Peter.
"Will you sit down and eat with me?" asked Lee rather shyly, not looking at him now.
"Um…the coffee." He made a useless, jerky gesture towa
"The coffee can wait," said Lee. "I'll feel like less of a pig if we eat together."
Peter smiled, brushing back his rumpled hair self-consciously, and moved to sit opposite Lee. Sitting this way was like consulting a client, but far more intimate and friendly. Lee looked up from under his eyelashes and gave him a shy smile. "So…um…how's business? I don't really get to talk to you much."
He'd had his bake shop down the street for nearly two years now, but it was true; they barely spoke to one another outside of Lee stopping by to ask for help with bits of magic. Though Peter loved the man's baking, he was too shy to go and stand in line to buy things there very often.
"Business is going well," said Peter, picking up a brownie and fiddling with it, turning it around and holding it carefully, too nervous to actually eat in front of Lee. He was superstitiously certain he'd sprinkle crumbs all down his front, or drop it entirely, or get a big smear of chocolate around his mouth and not be able to wipe it away in time.
"This is nice," said Lee, looking around, smiling at the small, dark room with its crowded things and the spicy smell of herbs and potions. "I like it here. It's always so…so peaceful." He reached for another brownie, smiling shyly as he met Peter's gaze. "You're not eating. Don't you really like them?"
"I-I've never had chocolate-hazelnut brownies before," he admitted, and took a quick bite. "Mm." He covered his mouth as he chewed, and nodded awkwardly. The flavors burst in his mouth, like a kind of magic. "What did—" He cleared his throat, and wished miserably that he hadn't tried to eat and talk at the same time. Swallowing, he tried again. "What did you want done to the mixing bowl?"
"Oh, you know." Lee waved a hand around casually. "Whatever you think would help me make better desserts. I have to keep trying new things to stay afloat around here."
Very true; his major competitor was a bigger bake shop not far away. It had wide glass windows with displays in them and room for patrons to sit at fancy little tables. It was beautiful—but it didn't have Lee there.
"I'm sure you're doing well. But I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks. I appreciate it. Ah, by the way…" He reached across the table, cupping a hand over Peter's for a moment, light and warm. The touch made Peter's heart flutter, and he froze, hardly daring to breathe.
Lee withdrew and looked up at him apologetically, his cheeks heating slightly. His mouth twitched, as if he was trying to decide what to say. "Do you ever… ah… make love potions?" He grimaced, running a hand back over his short hair and leaning back in his chair.
"What?" Peter startled, staring at Lee as though just smacked for no reason. "I…of course not!" He pushed back his chair and hurried to the coffeepot, which was bubbling and steaming now, even hissing a little, filling the room with a glorious coffee aroma. Perhaps he'd added a little too much magic to take away the staleness of the grounds. "That's a wicked use of magic, trying to alter people's feelings and affections."
"Is it?" Lee sounded unnerved. "Oh. I thought it was…the sort of thing that just helped someone notice you liked them. That kind of magic."
"Ah." Peter's shoulders and stance relaxed. He moved back to the table, carrying the coffee pot carefully with two thick, colorfully embroidered potholders. They'd been payment from one of his poorer customers for her arthritis remedy; he rather liked the herb pattern she'd made for him. "I thought you meant—well, what you're asking about is an entirely different beast."
"Really? So it's not a misuse of magic after all?" Lee studied him closely.
"Well, a love potion manipulates. What you're talking about—an attraction spell—simply shows what's there. And sometimes people regret it, by the way." He smiled sheepishly. "If the person the spell is meant for doesn't want to notice, it can be…unpleasant. Like an unwanted marriage proposal, I suppose, embarrassing for everyone involved."
"Oh." Lee looked down at the wooden table with its lines and whorls and comfortingly smooth, familiar dark wood. He traced one of the knots with a fingertip. "I…I suppose I should have thought of that." He sounded choked up, really miserable.
Peter reached across to clasp a hand over his, giving it a warm squeeze. In that moment it felt natural and easy to offer comfort. "I'm sure you needn't worry. I can't imagine you liking anyone who wouldn't like you back."
Lee looked up, his eyes damp, his smile shining bright and full again. "You'd be surprised."
They looked at one another. It was a beautiful, very still moment. Peter could get lost in those precious green eyes. Such a gorgeous man. How could anyone not like him? He must have girls around the block interested in him, and surely any man would be too, if his preference lay in that direction.
Peter reminded himself sternly it was none of his business to speculate. Lee's beloved was likely a sweet little shopgirl too shy to notice his interest and flirt with him. Men like Lee—utterly perfect men—seemed to go for that sort of fragile femininity. Peter would start to think such men's smiles and bounciness and general kindness were an indication of something more, an interest, when really they were thinking all the time about some pretty young girl barely old enough to leave her mother's home. And here was Peter: ageing, strange, and unwanted.
He looked down at the table, sober now. "Excuse me. I forgot the coffee cups. I'll help you with an attraction spell if you like. Excuse me. I forgot the sugar too."
He moved away and puttered around till he could look reasonably cheerful again. Then he headed back carrying two newly cleaned mugs and a bowl of sugar. "I'm sorry. It appears as though ants have gotten into the sugar. I can fetch some fresh from my apartment upstairs, and perhaps some cream as well. I hope I have some fresh cream, though it's entirely possible I forgot about it and let it spoil. I do that sometimes." He smiled apologetically.
Lee, who was looking up at his face as if mesmerized, watching his mouth, ducked his gaze and cleared his throat. "Black is fine."
"That reminds me of something," said Peter, horrified to realize he was filling the silence with his chatter and apparently unable to stop. "I had a black man come to me once, asking me to change him to white. He said no one would give him a job because of the color of his skin."
He looked up to find Lee staring at him, cup halfway to his parted lips, watching him with worry in his eyes and fascination on his face. "What did you do?"
Peter stirred a spoonful of sugar into his coffee, then another, and then a third. He looked down, and noticed the ants swimming on top, and swallowed. Perhaps Lee wouldn't see what he'd done…
"Oh, ah, I had to tell him I can't do such things."
"But surely you can. You're strong enough magically. You could do anything!"
Peter blushed a little and smiled at the thought of Lee thinking so well of his abilities. "Well, hardly, but thank you. No, it's illegal to change someone's appearance that greatly. The police want to be able to keep track of people, and of course they're thinking of criminals, but it's still not legal for a person to change their skin color. Ridiculous if you ask me. I think changing someone's looks with their permission is far better than changing their feelings without their permission. But they're both prosecuted in the same way—abuse of magic." He took a sip of his coffee, grimaced at the taste of ants, and put the mug down hurriedly so he wouldn't make that mistake again.
"So you told him no." Lee watched him, looking sympathetic.
"Yes, I told him no, and I gave him a different sort of spell, a charm I put some magic into to make people look at him twice and see the real man, not just his appearance." He smiled sadly. "He truly did need to be judged on his merits and not his looks—he came back the next week and thanked me profusely. He'd finally gotten a decent job. He still wears my charm all the time, and sends his friends to get them now, too. They shouldn't be necessary in this day and age." It was 1903, for pity's sake: the age of steam, and ne
He frowned down into his ant-covered coffee again, wondered if scraping them off the top would help. Some of them were still swimming: sharp-tasting, bitter-hearted little creatures. Even having all the sugar they'd wanted hadn't made them sweet-tempered. He clasped his hands together to keep from eating anything more or fidgeting with them.
"See?" Lee's smile turned triumphant and proud, his eyes warm and approving. "You can do anything!" He took a quick gulp of his cooling coffee, and his brows rose. "Wow! This is the best coffee I've ever had!"
Peter bit his lip. "I'm sorry. I think I put a bit too much magic in it."
"Are you kidding? It's amazing! I'll never want to go back to the regular kind." He drank more and regarded Peter over the rim of the mug, looking shy, utterly gorgeous—and just a bit naughty. He straightened suddenly as if coming to a decision. "D'you mind if I have a cigar? I can't smoke at work or the smell gets into everything, and I'm dying for a fag."
Peter nodded, blushing a little.
"Of course. Of course you may. No one will never notice the smell of it over all my herbs and concoctions." He waved a hand around the crowded room. "And I can always get rid of it, of course, if it does." In reality, he hoped the scent would linger for weeks if it reminded him of Lee. A man could live on dreams, if that was all he had.
Lee leaned back, smiling a little, and took a thick-rolled cigar from his waistcoat pocket. "Thanks. I do love a good fag."
Peter stared down into his coffee, stirring the ants in with a pencil from the table. "Did you want me to make that attraction spell for you?" he asked quietly.
"Um. Yes." Peter cleared his throat and puffed gently on the now-lit cigar. "I think I really would."
In his dreams, Lee was there. Sitting on the settee, leaning back and spreading his legs. Peter didn't know what Lee looked like naked, but his imagination helpfully supplied intricate details. Dream-Lee had soft hair up and down his legs, not too much and not too little. He was well-endowed, and his smile was broad and encouraging as he reached down to casually stroke himself, looking at Peter all the while. In his other hand, he held a very large cigar….
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