This will be part one, probably of two, as soon as I can pry it out of my skull–it’s being stubborn. If you want more explanation of the world, read any of the other short stories from my Witch of Atlas category–I couldn’t find a place to fit a lot of back story yet.
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The first time Neil saw Layla, she was surrounded by a glittering halo. The magenta-haired witch was in an open spot in a wooded corner of the park, a few minutes walk from the more popular areas. Her reason for seeking a little quiet was clear—she was practicing magic.
She sat on the grass, levitating pieces of confetti, holding each irregular metallic shape up with the power of a spell. Her face was tipped up to the sunlight, her eyes closed as she concentrated, confetti rotating and spinning in a complex constellation.
Somewhere, Neil knew, there was a magic glyph glowing brightly in the air. He wasn’t a witch, or a non-witch who could see magic but not cast it–he could only see the effects, like the hovering confetti.
He must have made a noise, because she opened her eyes. Her eyes were pools of dark chocolate, warm but unfocused. After a moment, her gaze settled on him and focused, and the sparkling stars orbiting her slowed but didn’t stop.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” he replied. “That’s pretty, what you’re doing.”
“Thanks,” she stretched and stood. The confetti rose with her and then stilled. She pulled a plastic bag out of her pocket, the confetti slid into the bag, and she tucked it back.
Neil managed not to be staring at her when she looked up again.
“It’s a dexterity exercise. I’m a shift witch,” she named the kind of witch that specialized in spells to move objects. “I’m Layla.”
Neil nodded. “I figured. I’m Neil. Do you come here often?” He blinked, hardly believing those words had come out of his mouth, as if he were picking her up at a bar.
Layla’s eyes sparkled. “Yes, I do. The outdoors are more challenging, with the wind and the distractions. But how often do you get stillness and silence when you really need them?”
Neil nodded. “Way more productive than my jog.”
“You were jogging?” She asked, taking in his appearance, which wasn’t sweaty or fatigued from exertion.
“I was, and I thought I saw something. You caught the light,” he made a vague circular motion above his shoulder, reminiscent of her glitter halo.
“I didn’t mean to distract you from your exercise,” Layla smiled at him.
Neil raked his fingers through his short brown hair, the strands just long enough to stand every which way from the gesture. He saw Layla looking at his hair, and made a half-hearted attempt to smooth it back down. “No big loss. I like where I ended up better.”
“Why, thanks,” Layla watched as he made one more pass over his hair, and laughed. “Stop, stop. You’re making it worse.”
Neil froze as she stepped closer, his green eyes fixed on her laughing face as she reached up, steadying herself on his shoulder with one hand while she repaired the damage he’d done. “Thanks,” he murmured.
“No problem,” she pulled back, still touching his shoulder, but no longer leaning on him.
Neil searched for something to say to prolong the moment, the silence stretching on uncomfortably. Her stomach rumbled audibly.
Layla blushed, the red faintly visible under her golden brown skin, and pressed her hands to her complaining stomach.
“There’s a great little taco place across the street,” Neil offered. “I’d be happy to keep you company.”
“I’d like that,” Layla said.