A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT
ACT 1b: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS
Melissa walked into our apartment with purpose, carrying her witch’s broom. She does indeed ride one at times, but not by flying. She stands on the bristles and rides it like a segway. My roommate regarded our little group briefly before putting it away in the closet.
You should know that the first thing that strikes most people about Melissa is her height. She clocks in at only about five foot one, yet at the same time she manages to have quite a commanding presence when she chooses. Of particular note, her eyes are a piercing green, while her hair is a long, wavy, chestnut brown that nearly reaches her waist.
Without getting too detailed, while she’s not exactly someone who could make it as a model (outside of jeans, maybe… she can fill a pair nicely), by the standards of modern society these days, her appearance can turn heads. Many would even classify her as beautiful. She doesn’t try to play that up though, if anything doing the opposite, tending to go without makeup, and wearing slightly oversized shirts.
I stood up, preparing to do introductions. “Hi Melissa! My parents you already know, and this is…”
“Your mother’s replacement for me?” my roommate interrupted, closing the closet door before sizing Amy up more closely.
“Uh, Amy Lamkins,” I finished. “Friend of the family.”
“H-Hi,” Amy said, also rising, much more tentatively. She seemed unsure as to whether to extend a hand to shake or not.
“Old high school friend, in fact,” Melissa deduced. “Here with your parents, so no doubt also coming to your graduation tomorrow, and looking a bit out of place in those conservative clothes, but trying to make a good impression.”
There’s a reason Melissa can make a living as an investigator. She shifted her attention to my mother. “I suppose you could have picked a worse companion for your son. Were they also prom dates four years ago?”
“Melissa!” I yelped. For the record, Amy and I had, in fact, gone to high school prom together. But I didn’t see how that was relevant.
Melissa turned to look at me at my exclamation. “What?” she said, her tone very matter-of-fact. “You didn’t realize? Surely you saw something like this coming, James. Your parents have never really approved of our association.”
“Well…” Sometimes I hate it when Melissa’s right. Still, did we need to discuss this with my parents in the room? “Let’s at least keep things professional,” I said. “Amy’s here only because she has a job prospect.”
I heard my dad sigh.
“Oh, she’s here for more than that,” Melissa said, gesturing with one arm. “That’s why your dad is staring at the floor while Amy is looking sidelong at your mother and starting to blush.”
“Oh… oh, th-this was a bad idea,” Amy said, starting to stammer. “I didn’t mean… that is… okay, I need some air.” She quickly moved to push past Melissa and get to the door, calling back over her shoulder, “I’ll just be out front, it’s fine!”
My mother stood as Amy left, glowering at Melissa. The brunette witch was completely unfazed by this, and despite having to look up to see Helen in the eyes, seemed to have claimed the position of power in the room. It’s a skill that comes in handy with clients.
My mother, however, was not our client.
“Melissa Virga, I don’t know how you were raised, but by my standards that was incredibly rude and insensitive,” Helen snapped.
“I was cutting to the chase,” Melissa shot back. “Insensitive is needlessly playing with someone’s emotions, as you were with Amy’s.”
“Whoa! Wait,” I said, sometimes slow to catch on. Yes, I’d just been blindsided by the romantic angle. “You mean Amy has more than a professional interest here?”
My mother pressed two fingers to a temple. “See, this, this is exactly why you need to make more friends outside of your agency work, James. People in the real world, they’re not like Melissa. Some even have interests that extend beyond their jobs.”
Melissa sniffed. “Please. You speak as if I don’t find your son attractive. I do, and we’ve made out on several occasions.”
My mother’s eyes went wide, and there was a moment of silence. A moment during which I kind of wished invisibility cloaks were a real thing.
Melissa turned to look at me then. “I just gave them too much information, didn’t I,” she said, having the decency to sound a bit troubled for the first time in the conversation.
“I always thought this detective nonsense wasn’t strictly professional,” my father remarked, crossing his arms where he still sat on the couch.
“Okay, my God, time out!” I called out at this point, tapping my hands together desperately in the T-formation.
Exactly where was I supposed to start fixing this mess?
“Firstly, the nature of my relationship with Melissa is nobody’s business but ours. Okay? Secondly, Melissa, we’ve talked about tact? This is one of those times! And thirdly… thirdly, I think I need some air too, so I’m going to go and check on Amy. Can I trust you all not to kill each other for five minutes while I do that??”
My parents and Melissa exchanged glances. Melissa cleared her throat. “Thanks for visiting. Can I get anyone a drink, or just a glass of water?”
It sounded so rehearsed that I nearly facepalmed, though my dad stepped in again with, “A glass of water and a five minute mental break sounds like a solid plan.”
“I’ll be out of the kitchen in five minutes then,” Melissa concluded, heading for the adjacent room. She glanced back over her shoulder at me. “Oh, though speaking of parents, James, remind me that we need to talk along those lines at some point this weekend.”
“Yeeeeah,” I said slowly, watching as my mother sat herself back down on the couch. Her expression was becoming difficult to read.
It didn’t seem like anything was going to immediately explode here though, and truth be told, I was a little worried about the speed of Amy’s departure. So I headed out to look for her.
She had gone down as far as the fourth floor landing, where she was sitting on the stairs. She turned her head as she saw me approach, and smiled a wan, rather sad smile. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “The idea of me and you seeing each other again… that all went so differently in my head.”
“Yeah, well, Melissa’s a bit of an unpredictable wild card,” I offered. “She’s nice though. Really. Just very… focused.” I sat down next to Amy.
“I’m sure,” Amy affirmed. She leaned back on her palms, arcing her back slightly as she stared upwards. “So, have you ever thought back to those days? When we went to prom together? Or is it just me?”
“Truthfully? I haven’t thought about it,” I admitted, figuring it was best to be honest. (Granted, it could also be that some of Melissa’s attitude has rubbed off on me.) “I mean, for the prom, it was a matter of neither of us had dates, we were both in the band, and we wanted to fit in with the rest of the crowd. At least, that’s how I remember it.”
“Huh. I suppose that’s true,” Amy yielded. “And at the time, I admit I was more focused on simply being there, rather than on who I was with. But you were really nice, James – something I took for granted then, but have been forced to consider more and more now that I’m an minor internet celebrity.” She paused. “There’s a lot of weirdoes out there. Like, a LOT.”
“People who like you more for your internet persona than who you really are?” I guessed.
“That’s part of it,” she said, nodding. “So, I don’t know, maybe I’m looking for a return to the simpler days. Maybe I’m looking for something to help keep me grounded in the reality of the present. Or… maybe I’m looking to start a new chapter in my life, and feel like you could be a part of it.” She straightened her back again and turned to look at me. “Does any of that make sense?”
“Sort of,” I said. I mean, it didn’t make much sense to me personally, but I could empathize with the aspect of past, present and future colliding at a moment in time. “Thing is, I’ve changed. I’m not like I was back in high school.”
Amy grinned. “Could it be you’re less naïve?” she suggested.
I coughed. “That’s part of it,” I said, borrowing her phrase. “I hope. But more than that, I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of things in life that we’re… not generally aware of.”
“Related to that illuminati symbol on your apartment door?”
“Yeah. You know about that sort of thing?”
Amy shook her head. “Nope. Your dad said it was some new interest of yours, that’s all I know.”
I nodded. “Well, here, let me show you.” I fumbled in my pocket for my wallet, pulling out a small square of cardboard. “What colour is this?”
My old school friend shrugged. “Green.”
I nodded, then closed my hand around it. I concentrated, trying to remember the exact process that Melissa had taught to me, probably mumbling under my breath as I did so. I reopened my hand. “Now?”
“It’s yellow!” Amy said in shock. She then smirked and reached out, snatching it from my hand. “Dope, it’s green on one side and yellow on the…” Her voice trailed off as she flipped the card back and forth. “It’s… green on both sides. Wait, what? I thought it was…”
“Simple illusion,” I explained. “Which you disrupted by grabbing it from me. I don’t have Melissa’s control.”
“So you… made it appear yellow?” she said slowly, dubiously.
“Pretty much. Has to do with distorting the reflected light before you can perceive it. I don’t know all the details, science and magick are at odds with each other almost as much as they complement themselves.”
“Magic,” Amy repeated, obviously still unsure.
I took the card back and replaced it in my wallet. “Magick, hard ‘c’,” I corrected. “And you look about the same as I did four years ago. But being with Melissa forces one to come to terms with this sort of thing.”
She stared at me for a long moment. “Is being with Melissa something you’ve come to terms with then?” she asked at last.
I blinked back. “What?”
“Like, is she the one then?” Amy pressed. “Do you and her have magical adventures planned after your graduation? Because I’ll back right off, if that’s the case. I’m starting to realize I got a really distorted view of your life situation from your parents.”
“Ah. Well, uh…”
Again, there it was. What was I doing with my life, both professionally and personally? I mean, there was obviously something between Melissa and I, but what was it? Was it a professional relationship that had taken a few steps too far over the edge? Was it a whirlwind university romance, supplemented by a common interest in helping others, that ultimately couldn’t stand up to the test of time?
Or was there something more to it?