The sounds of a car behind him made Jared stick his thumb out again. His legs weren’t about to give out from all of the walking, but they were going to collapse because the sun was going down and no one had so much as given a sympathetic honk on the horn. It probably didn’t help his situation that he hadn’t had a decent shower or shave all week, and according to the map the next city, a tiny collective called Alamosa, was still about twenty miles away. In between here and there was a whole lot of nothing.
It would have been perfect if he were a serial killer. Jared even thought about that for an hour or so. Serial killers could take care of themselves even if nobody stopped for them, or they could be a little more persuasive, or figure why people aren’t stopping and do something to make them stop, and why am I thinking about serial killers anyway?
On his backpack was a two side sign. To muggles, it would simply say Vegas, but to any witch or wizard it would say ‘fellow wizard’ and scroll through colored lights.
Jared opened the water bottle at his waist.
He tried the one on the pocket of his backpack just below his arm.
His last hope was in the water bottle in the cargo pocket of his pants.
He wish it had been empty. The one swallow of warm water burned down his throat. But, it was hydration, even if unpleasant.
“Let’s just hope that’s going to be enough to get me to a place to stay for the night.” He told the empty water bottle as he shoved it back in its pocket.
Jared stuck his thumb out again at the sounds of a passing car. Whatever car it was pulled over this time.
“Need a lift?” A girl’s voice called out. Two other girls laughed inside the car.
Jared raced up to the small yellow car and peered in. Four college girls were laughing about something.
“Where are you going?” The driver rolled down the co-pilot’s window.
“We should totally go to Vegas!” One of the girls in the back seat chimed in. “Let’s skip a couple of days and go.”
“No way, my parents would kill me.” the other replied. “We’re heading to Alamosa.”
“Good enough for tonight.”
The second girl from the back seat got out of the car and helped him put his bag in the trunk, then insisted that he sit in the middle of the back, and Jared wasn’t about to complain.
“Going to the University?” The driver asked as she peered through the rearview mirror.
Jared shook his head. “No, just passing through. I’ve got something to get in Vegas.”
“No, I mean in Alamosa. Varnath’s pretty much the only reason wizards come out here.”
“Wait, Varnath’s is here?”
“You’d look cute if we trimmed your beard.” The girl on Jared’s left turned Jared’s head to face her.
“And gave him an undercut.” The one on the other side turned him to face her.
“Oh, you two are twins.” Jared commented through squished cheeks, which drew laughter.
“Don’t pay attention to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. They’re witches, but they’re getting a muggle degree at ASU.”
“It’s a dual degree.” Both twins said at once.
“If we learn hairstyling-”
“then we can apply magic-”
“and create something even better.”
“And our names aren’t Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.” The one on the left touched Jared on the shoulder. “It’s Lyrianna and Dresden.”
“I’m Dresden.” The one on the right touched Jared’s other shoulder.
“Ooh, he squirms.” Lyrianna laughed. “Must be fresh out of high school.”
“Or fresh out of a girlfriend.” Dresden laughed.
“Where do you want us to drop you off?” The driver cut in.
“Anywhere’s fine.” Jared tried to shrink away from the twins.
“You should come to the party on campus.” Dresden proposed. “Southpaw Sphinx is playing.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ve been walking all day.”
“Well, here’s probably your best bet.” The driver pulled up in front of a grocery store. Jared tried to give her money for gas, but she refused.
“You look like you need it.” She motioned to his clothes and hair. “Take care of yourself.”
With a wave and another invitation to the party, the little yellow car disappeared into the night. Jared stuck the money in his back pocket and walked inside the grocery store. He bought a loaf of bread and refilled all of his water bottles. Outside, he sat at one of the picnic tables and set his backpack on top of it.
Out of the blue, a guy on a bicycle shot past and snatched his backpack off the table. Jared ran after him, but in the dark he quickly got lost. He still ran, hoping to find something. He couldn’t just whip his wand out and stop the kid. Police didn’t take too kindly to that. Thankfully, he could hear the old bicycle for longer than he could see it. The chase led from the grocery store an older part of town, all bungalows and alleyways. There was his backpack just around the corner in an alley.
All Jared could find was a scattering of his notebook, the wand lathe, and the items he had collected thus far. Most of the wand halves were still intact. The backpack had been cut through, his clothes were gone, all of his money except for the remnants of the twenty in his pocket, even his toothbrush was gone.
Jared clenched his teeth to stave off tears, then roared into the darkness when the tears came anyway. He kicked his destroyed backpack against the brick of a building, sending a shock up his leg.
He swore, but the rage had left him. Defeated, he picked up his backpack and, looking around first, repaired it with a spell. Then he picked up all of his things and shoved them inside. As he lowered himself to a sitting position against the brick wall, he considered what is options were, or if he had options other than to call home and ask for rescue. He shook those thoughts from his mind. He set his wand in front of him on the ground.
“Carpen Locato Lyrianna and Dresden.” The wand rose an inch off the ground with a reddish glow. It spun until it pointed off into the distance and changed to a greenish glow. Jared snatched his wand out of the air and raced into the night and, hopefully, towards help.
It didn’t take long for him to hear the sounds of a rock band, presumably Southpaw Sphinx. The campus of Varnath University lit up half the city. The sad part, Jared realized, is he wasn’t the worst looking kid in the crowd. There were some wizards and witches he swore were trying to win hermit of the year. Made him feel a little better.
Lyrianna and Dresden were in the center of the crowd. Well, Dresden was. Lyrianna was making an attempt to climb on the makeshift stage and shouting about having someone’s babies.
“Dresden!” Jared had to shout to get her attention.
“Hitchhiker!” She called back. “I thought you couldn’t make it.”
“What’s up?” Dresden called out as she sent blue sparks in the air after a particularly sweet guitar solo.
“I-I need a place to stay. Do you happen to know someone with a spare bit of floor I could crash in for the night?”
Dresden nodded. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got you covered.” Dresden smiled in a way that made Jared feel like he had just signed that one contract with that one devil. “Let me Get Lyrianna and we can go.”
Jared shook his head. “You don’t have to leave on my account.”
“Lyrianna will want to when she hears that you’re back. She couldn’t stop talking about you.” Dresden tapped her large earring then spoke into it.
Jared could see Lyrianna pause half on stage, then jump back down.
“We’re good. Come on.” Dresden led him through the crowd and across the street from campus to a two story house.
Lyrianna was already waiting for them. “Couldn’t leave without seeing me again?” She asked with her hands over her chest.
“Sort of.” Jared hugged his backpack.
Dresden studied Jared. “Something happened. What?” She watched him for a second. “Out with it now, or we’ll see if Mallory’s Veritaserum works.”
“I got robbed.” Jared nearly shouted. “I was sitting outside the grocery store with a loaf of bread and some guy on a bike rode past and took it and now my bread’s gone and so is my money and stuff and I don’t want to call home and have someone come and get me because then I’d look like I couldn’t do this thing and I really want to do this thing.”
The twins looked at each other in the silent conversation sort of way.
“Come inside.” Dresden pulled him up the steps and into their home.
“Yes!” Lyrianna practically bounced up the stairs behind them. “I’m going to cut your hair. Can I?” She raced past them into the house and disappeared behind a door that had been painted lime green.
“That sucks what happened to you, Hitchhiker.” Dresden sat him on a wheeled stool in the middle of the living room.
“It’s not something you think could happen to you.” Jared admitted as he scratched his beard. The room he found himself in couldn’t have been more divided if it had a bright yellow line dividing it in half. One side was neatly arranged with shades of blue while the other half exploded with different greens.
“Take off your shirt.” Dresden called from behind a counter.
“Excuse me?” Jared leaned back on the stool.
“We’re going to wash your hair. Then, Lyrianna has volunteered you to get a haircut.” Dresden pulled matching boxes out from a cupboard. “And I’ll trim your beard, or shave it if you’d like.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Jared stroked his beard.
“I know, that’s why it’s called kindness. Now, take off your shirt or Lyrianna will.”
“That sounds like permission.” Lyrianna stuck her head out from the green door.
Jared had his shirt off himself before Lyrianna had time to register what had happened. Lyrianna’s shoulders dropped.
“Now, what are you looking at as far your hair?” Dresden ran her hands through the mess of brown hair.
“A glass of water would be nice.” Jared looked up at the two of them.
“Oh, right. Sustenance. Totally more important than a hairstyle.” Dresden slapped her forehead. “I got carried away, I’m sorry.” She opened the fridge and returned with a muffin and a bottle of soda. “It’s not much, but our next paycheck doesn’t come in for a few days.”
“Breakfast of champions.” Jared raised the plastic bottle before drinking. Just the coldness of the bottle made him feel wonderful again.
“I still say we should give him an undercut.” Lyrianna opened one of the matching boxes and pulled out a pair of clippers.
“You can do whatever you want.” Jared said between chomps of muffin. “You’re already doing so much for me.”
Lyrianna cheered again. As soon as he was done with the muffin she placed her foot between his knees and pushed the stool over to a sink. If there was a more flirtatious way to wash hair, Jared had never heard of it. Not that Lyrianna had to try hard to get his attention. There was… a lot to appreciate about the bubbly twin, even before she started running her hands through his hair. Her clothes fit just right on her, her lips glistened just right no matter where she stood, her hair never even looked second out of place.
Once his hair had been cleaned, she set to work with a set of clippers. Jared couldn’t help noticing every time she brushed up against him or touched him. The sensation sent fire through him. He hardly remembered anything she said, but he could write a novel on every time they made contact.
“Hitchhiker!” Dresden had to shout to get his attention. “Look, we’re done. Go upstairs and shower.” She tossed a towel at his face.
“Oh, were you going to trim my beard?” Jared asked.
“She already did. We kind of double-teamed you. You were holding amazingly still.” Lyrianna cooed.
“Thank you, both of you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been so kind.”
“You’d have probably died.” Lyrianna said matter-of-factly as she organized her scissors back in her box. “But, we have rescued you from the pit of despair. Now go get cleaned up.”
Jared had forgotten how good hot water felt. Yes, he now smelled like lavender and rose hips, but if that’s all he had to deal with, it was nothing. He was sleeping indoors, maybe even on something resembling a bed, and there was real, well heavily processed and chock full of chemicals and artificial ingredients, but still food in his stomach.
“Your clothes are clean. The shirt wasn’t worth saving, so you can borrow one of Lyrianna’s.” A bag was tossed into the bathroom.
Jared stepped out of the shower and looked at the bag as he dried off. He could see the bright pink of Lyrianna’s shirt over the familiar gray of his jeans. The shirt read “don’t laugh, it’s your girlfriend’s shirt” and he had to wonder why Lyrianna would possess such a thing. It kind of killed some hopes. Maybe she hadn’t been flirting at all.
After getting dressed, Jared looked at himself in the mirror. And wondered who that stranger was staring back at him. He looked like something out of a fashion magazine. His beard perfectly blended up to his ears but stopped just above them where the hair had been shaved down almost to a buzz. But the hair on top was long and when he combed it all to one side looked pretty snazzy.
“I know, right?”
Lyrianna’s voice made him jump.
“Don’t worry, I’m not a peeping tom, though it was a lot harder in your case. Presentable?” Lyrianna pushed open the door with her elbow. She sat against the wall just outside the bathroom.
“Yeah, you and Dresden did a fantastic job. I hardly recognized myself.” Jared ran his fingers through his beard. “I might keep this look for awhile.”
“Oh, good. I always like to hear my work’s appreciated. Now,” Lyrianna got up and draped her hands around his neck, “got time for a little fun?”
In answer to his question, Lyrianna pulled his head towards hers and kissed him. And then pressed herself against him and directed his hand to her waist.
Jared to this day doesn’t know how long it had taken him to regain his senses. Only that he was suddenly in a violently green bedroom cuddling with Lyrianna.
Jared propped himself on one elbow. “Uhmmm… did we…?”
“No.” Lyrianna huffed. “No, we didn’t.”
Lyrianna sighed. “No, I guess it shouldn’t be. I don’t like having to have a doctor cast the Plan B spell again.”
Lyrianna groaned. “Finite incantatem.” Her whole body seemed to fade right in front of Jared. Her hair fell, her curves sank in, and a mole appeared on the back of her neck.
Jared flinched. “You cast a love spell on me?” He pulled himself away.
“No, I didn’t. I hate love spells. This was an intimacy spell. I already knew you were attracted to me from the car ride into town. I just figured I could step it up, make it better for both of us.” Lyrianna wiped a hand over her face.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to bring your deeper feelings out. Usually it works so well that even a kiss on the cheek feels amazing.” Lyrianna had to bite her lip before she continued.
“So, why didn’t the spell work on me?” Jared lowered himself back down.
“It did. That’s the problem.” Lyrianna crossed her arms over her chest.
“Still confused, then.”
“It brought out your deeper feelings, and boy, you had a lot of them. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have said you never had a girlfriend in your life.” Lyrianna laughed through her nose. “But things started going,” it was then that Jared noticed that Lyrianna wasn’t wearing her shirt, “and you said her name.”
“Uh, I don’t have a girlfriend. It’s been awhile.”
“Then who’s Prussia?”