Music boomed and lights twinkled. Strands of magic floated effortlessly through the air, only to be soaked up by the ancient stone walls now festooned with tensile and evergreen.
The Christmas Dance.
The one Magik Prep Academy function I’d been dreaming of for weeks. Tonight was the night Tyler Crawson would notice me.
I’d had a crush on him for ages but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Not tonight.
With my best friend Aida next to me and her pep talk still ringing in my ears, I gulped, trying to calm my frantic heartbeat.
“You’ve got this, Girl.” Aida winked at me. The flashing red and green lights bounced off her caramel-colored skin. Her ebony hair, curled tight like tiny springs, absorbed the lights and shadows alike. I wished it would absorb my anxiety.
“Breathe, Lainie.” She looked me over once more and nodded in satisfaction. “That red sequin dress is perfect. You sparkle like fairy dust.” Her lips pursed and she reached behind me and plucked a thread of opalescent magic from the air and swished it around the bottom of my dress. “There. Now you’re radiant.”
A bronze head bobbed on the other side of the room. My heart seized.
My knees knocked and sweat ghosted my palms.
“I’m going to go make sure the werewolves haven’t spiked the punch.” Aida was on the social committee. The werewolves generally liked to party…alternatively to committee plans. With a final squeeze to my shoulder she was off, and I was left staring at Tyler’s head as it dipped and weaved about the crowd.
The music was loud. Too loud. It vibrated up my legs.
I swept up a handful of my shimmery skirt so my feet wouldn’t tangle in the hem. The opalescent string of magic soaked into my dress, straightening my back and giving me confidence.
I’d only gone a few bodies deep into the crowd when a hand reached out and snatched mine.
“Kieran!” I gasped as my other best friend released me.
“Lainie. Wow. You look…” he trailed off as his eyebrows rose to his dark hairline. I couldn’t tell if it was the red lights or if the points of his ears colored slightly.
Searching the crowd again, I found Tyler’s head. He was only a few yards to my right.
“Looking for Tyler?” Kieran’s broke in dryly.
“Yes. Tonight he’s finally going to see me as more than the smart girl in math class,” I practically hissed between my teeth.
Kieran’s expression soured.
“You don’t want him, Lainie. You really don’t.”
Anger and the sting of unintended betrayal crept into my belly. I glared at Kieran.
“Laine? Wow, looking hot, babe!”
The voice froze my blood and Kieran could probably see the whites of my eyes.
Plastering a smile on my face that I hoped didn’t look deranged, I turned.
“Hey, Tyler.” My voice came out higher than it should have. Maybe he didn’t notice over the rumble of the music.
Without any preamble, Tyler grabbed my hand and put his other low on my waist and swung me onto the dance floor.
We danced for long glorious moments. I was in ecstasy. The song wasn’t particularly slow, but it wasn’t fast. We moved together, faster than a slow dance, but no weird gyrating. Which was fine, because it let me savor every second of Tyler’s hands on my waist.
When the song ended, Tyler’s copper-colored eyes gazed into mine. My hand fisted into his lapel without my permission. A smile crooked his lips as his eyes roved over my face and one eyebrow rose.
Slowly he leaned down and his lips caressed my cheek and sent figurative fireworks shooting out my ears.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he whispered huskily against my ear. “I’ll be back in a few.”
I’m pretty sure I grew roots right there on the parquet floor.
I don’t know how long I stood there like an idiot in the middle of the room, but I came to when Kieran tugged on my hand.
“Kieran, did you see?” I sighed. “He’s glorious.”
Kieran snorted, his dark elf side showing in his pessimism.
“You need to see something,” he muttered as he pulled me through the throng of students and out the arched doorway into the quiet corridor.
Kieran stopped us beside one of the heavy tapestries that lined the hallways outside the ballroom.
“Look. I…” he trailed off and ran a hand through his black hair. “I don’t want to show you this but consider the truth my Christmas gift to you this year.”
My eyebrows drew together as he pulled me down the passageway. We crept to the end where it was deserted. He motioned with his head for me to look around the corner.
Unsure, I peeked out just enough to get an eyeful.
My hand flew to my silent mouth.
There was the boy who’d kissed me moments before. Who had looked at me like I was the center of the world. The boy on whom I’d hung my hopes.
He was necking a gorgeous red-head. And his hands…were not in appropriate places. My eyes burned.
I sagged to a stone bench once we were far away from the snogging couple. Kieran sat beside me.
“I’m sorry, Lainie. He doesn’t see you. Doesn’t know how special you are.” He hesitated. “Maybe you should look at someone who has seen you all along.”
The sincerity in his tone jerked my gaze to his. His chocolate brown eyes swam with vulnerability, and I felt my heart lurch painfully in my chest.
Because he did see me.
Kieran had always seen me. He’d seen me when I was all awkward limbs and angles. When I won the science award. When I burned my bangs off with a spell gone wrong. When I dropped chocolate frosting all down my shirt. When my Gran passed away. He’d seen me.
And for the first time, I saw him, too.
Check in again next week to see what happens to Aida when she goes to check on the punch…