March 21, 5:24 p.m.To say that my life is full of stark contrasts these days would be a gross understatement.
As I hopped off the DART bus at Lakeshore Drive and took off at a brisk walk, I pondered that fact. I’d had a good day down in Pleasant Grove, helping out at a couple of churches in one of the worst neighborhoods in Dallas and talking to folks at a day labor center. Now, I was making my way through Lakewood Heights, surrounded by 6-figure homes, and Barbara had promised to make dinner tonight in the huge kitchen of her own 5,000 square foot home.
The imposing houses in the neighborhood didn’t intimidate me any more – as opposed to the first time Barb showed me her house. That’s just not a level of comfort and size that I’ve ever experienced before. Aside from a few odd glances from people hand-watering their lawns and gardens early on, I really hadn’t encountered any problems (well, except that one night the cops got called on me. I came in late, and looking like I do in this neighborhood caused some panic, apparently). Now, I was a more familiar face, greeting some of the people on her street and receiving greetings in return.
I trotted up the front steps and unlocked the door with my key, whispering the “passkey” for her wards. Her car was in the driveway, and the now very familiar scents of Mexican (not Tex-Mex, but real Comida Jalisciense) cooking greeted me as I opened the door. “Hey, babe – it’s me…”
From the back of the house I heard the noises of cooking. “Come on in! You know where to find me – but ditch your shoes!”
I grinned and shook my head as I kicked off my well-worn (but barely two-month old) sneakers and neatly placed them on the mat next to the front door. About time for a new pair, again. I set my pack down next to them and padded back to the kitchen.
I finished putting a few dishes away as the sink drained. I suspected that she must really like me the first time a very small plate of shredded yellow cheese and a dollop of sour cream appeared with dinner. Those are complete no-nos in Jalisco cuisine, but these days, she barely even rolls her eyes at me when I put them on my food.
I could hear Barbara humming contentedly as she went about whatever she was doing elsewhere in the house, getting things ready for “movie night.” I’d questioned her the first time she proposed it, knowing that my magical power would wreak havoc with her A/V setup. That was when she introduced me to Dexter.
Some years ago (shortly after she and Belle met), Barb got tired of her Freakshow friends blowing out her stuff when they came to visit. To help with that, she and Belle crafted “Dexter” – a pink and purple Snuggie specifically enchanted to suppress magical abilities. Any caster wearing it would have to put a lot of effort into making an intentional spell effect, and hexing just doesn’t happen at all.
It’s a personal threshold – that encourages snuggling. That’s a better than even trade in my book. I smiled to myself as finished up in the kitchen, and grabbed “Dexter” off the hook in the hallway as I made my way up to the media room.
“It’s … interesting.”
Barbara sat up and turned from where we’d been snuggled on the couch. She arched an eyebrow as she glared at me. “Interesting?”
I managed to avoid raising my hands, but still went on the defensive. “You’ve shown me one episode! I’ll admit to being intrigued by the concept that anime is an adult entertainment form, despite growing up seeing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh on Saturday mornings, but can’t seriously except me to have an informed opinion…” I trailed off. “What?”
The glare broke, and her eyebrow arch became inquisitive.
I sighed. “You really enjoy doing that to me, don’t you.”
Now her usual charming smile returned. “You make it too easy for me. If I get serious about it, you’ll do almost anything I ask.”
I gathered her back into my arms. “And you know that doesn’t take a guilt trip.”
“So, you liked it?” She gazed into my eyes very intently.
She nodded hesitantly.
“Like I said – it’s interesting. One half-hour episode of Witch Hunter Robin doesn’t give me enough to make a like/dislike call.”
“So you’ll watch more?” Her question was more earnest than I anticipated, and I was aware that she was tense.
“Well, sure. Why wouldn’t I?”
I felt her relax, and she hugged me tightly. Given the reverence with which she’d brought the boxed set of DVDs out of her bedroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We’ve been dating for eight months now, and the fact that Barbara was a closet cartoon – er, anime – fan wasn’t even on my radar. But the show was intriguing, and seemed that it would have some interesting parallels to our own lives. I was also coming to the realization that she’d shown me something very private – and that I’d reacted appropriately.
She flicked off the DVD player and TV. “We’ll take it slowly, then. Ease you into it. Better than the head-first dive I experienced.”
I nodded sagely, knowing she’d divulge that when the time was right. We settled back into the couch, and I moved on to other topics. “So, your shindig is tomorrow?”
She punched me lightly in the arm. “It’s a networking event, and you’re coming.”
“Explain this to me again?”
She sighed. “On a purely business note, you’re helping me. A distraction for casual conversations.”
I grinned. “Uh-huh.”
“And … it’s a nice evening out for us, an excuse to get dressed up. You might even make some new contacts while you’re at it.”
I nodded. I appreciated her honesty about my role in the evening – and the mutli-purpose aspects. “But do I really have to get a new suit?”
“Corazon, your collarino would really stand out, and while I’m impressed that you still fit into the suit you wore for high school and college graduation, it’s pretty threadbare.”
I sighed. Despite the look, collarinos actually are pretty roomy in the neck. Ties, on the other hand…
March 22, 11:53 a.m.
I blushed a little as I stood in my skivvies in a private fitting area at Nordstrom’s. Barbara was giving me one of those appraising looks as I waited for “Ferdinand” to return with a selection of clothing for me to try on. “He was really thorough in his measurements.”
She smirked. “Nothing to be ashamed of,” she bantered. “Trust me on this – you’ll never go back to an off-the-rack suit when he’s done with you.”
My blush deepened and Ferdinand returned, and slyly gave me an appraising look like Barbara had for a fraction of a second before his face snapped back to business. He presented me with three shirts – silk! – and two suits. As much as I liked the initial look of the three piece suit, it didn’t look quite right on me, and we settled on a navy blue two-piece suit, two shirts – one lavender and one yellow – and two ties – one each specific to the shirts. He deftly made a smattering of markings on the suit with his chalk and whisked them off to his work area to make the alterations.
I sat down on the step of the mirrored fitting stage to await his return. My meeting with the Reverend earlier had gone well – despite the third degree that I received from a visiting deacon from a church out in New Mexico. It wasn’t the first such “interview” that I’d had – apparently whatever order the Reverend was part of was very interested in me, my activities, my friends – and Barbara.
As we waited, I talked with Barbara about the questions I’d gotten. She was offended – and rightly so – by the nature and tenor of the questions I’d been asked. “As if I’d traffic in poisons and voodoo – those old goats just don’t understand the South American traditions!”
I held up my hands to appease her. “I know, I know! I’ve explained it to the Reverend – and honestly, he doesn’t seem to have issues with the Bruja tradition. Others have apparently seen the darker sides of the ‘native’ traditions.” I air-quoted for emphasis.
She settled back. “Si, Si… but how many more of these are you going to be subjected to?”
I shrugged. “No idea. The Reverend has been vague about his order, and frankly, I’m not overly concerned about it at this point. We’re dealing with worse things than a few old Catholic priests that want to quiz me about supernatural life in the Metroplex.”
She sat back, mollified, and we continued to chat – mostly about the event that evening. It wasn’t until later that I realized my comfort level with her – I’d forgotten that I was still in just my underwear for the duration of the conversation.
We pulled up in front of the Mansion on Turtle Creek, and Barbara slowed down as she approached the valet station. I couldn’t help my jaw dropping. I couldn’t even begin to describe the sheer opulence of this “hotel,” and I use that term loosely. It’s a converted mansion that deserves its five-star rating.
I turned away from the window. “Wow.”
She smiled. “A little different than your usual haunts?”
“That’s an understatement.” We both exited the car as the valet took over, and I took the claim ticket. Barbara had put me in charge of money and such for the evening so that she didn’t have to carry a purse, and her attire for the evening distinctly lacked pockets. She was in a revealingly cut black dress with grey pinstripes, somehow threading that fine balance between sexy and business. I marveled again at the blessing of having her in my life as she took my arm and we made our way into the hotel.
As much as I felt out of place due to the circles I normally ran in, at least I didn’t look out of place. The suit that we’d gotten that morning fit like a glove – Ferdinand was a more than capable tailor, and it was of high quality. I had my hair combed nicely – an oddity for me that I usually didn’t worry about, and since none of my tattoos came above my neck or below my wrists, I looked fairly average.
Fitting in visually worked to both of our advantages as the evening progressed. Those that knew Barbara (or at least knew of her) expected the man on her arm to be a high-roller in some form or fashion, and we kept quite a few people off-balance with the revelation of my vocational calling. It made for some very interesting conversation, and more than a few openings for Barbara to break past their “party faces” and get some real networking business accomplished. I kept half an ear on her conversations as I talked to people, marveling at how deftly she was able to steer things once she had control.
To my pleasant surprise, not all the movers and shakers at the party were as aloof and snobby as I expected. Many were more than cordial, and a fair number engaged me quite deeply on my work in Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove, and I was able to direct offers of charitable donations to a number of my regular stops in those areas.
There was an interesting interaction towards the end of the event. I’m not sure quite how to explain it, but it’s stuck in my mind. Barbara and I had stopped at the refreshment table to grab a little food when the “buzz” in the room increased significantly right as I got a burning sensation on my right arm. It hadn’t happened often, so it took me a couple of seconds to realize that something was going on with my Eye of Thoth tattoo. Frowning, I rubbed at it, and Barbara caught the movement.
“Are you ok?”
I nodded once. “Yeah – my tattoo is bugging me,” I explained in a low tone.
She cocked her head with a smirk. “Which one-” She cut off as she noted where my hand was. “Oh, that one.”
I nodded again as I looked around. I’d only experienced that sensation before when I was utilizing my supernatural abilities, but nothing in the room really stood out, other than the increased noise. “What’s all the buzz about?”
We moved away from the food as she took in the room. “Someone new just got here – oh. Oh! He came!”
She began pulling me through the crowd – the intensity and excitement in her voice told me a bit, but my tattoo just kept burning. “Whoa, whoa – who?” I inquired quietly.
“Manny Trujillo! He’s a developer. Huge accounts on the coasts, and just opened an office in Downtown.” She looked back at me. “It would be a huge coup if I got to just talk to him. You ok?”
I dropped my hand from messing with my tattoo. The sensation continued, but I ignored it for the moment. “I’ll be ok. Let’s go meet him.”
We navigated the crowd, and suddenly we hit an opening and I got my first look at him. He was older than I expected, with a rough face that spoke of a hard upbringing and equally hard adulthood. Despite his success, he hadn’t let it completely go to his vanity – plastic surgeons were famous for cleaning up complexions like his. Despite that, he had a winning smile and an easy manner. As we approached, I started to be able to hear his voice – it wasn’t deep, but had a good timbre with just a hint of a Latin accent. My tattoo was still burning like the Dickens, so I narrowed my eyes and stretched out my supernatural senses… but other than Barbara, there wasn’t another talent or critter in the room that I could detect. Under my breath, I muttered. “Ok, cut it out. I’ll keep my Eye open!” To my surprise, the sensation lessened to where it was noticeable, but no longer uncomfortable.
Barbara got up to Mr. Trujillo and introduced herself. Since I was a step or two behind and she hadn’t had a chance to introduce me, he immediately shifted to Spanish, isolating themselves from the other obviously white people around them. “Ms. Perez. I’ve heard your name a number of times since my arrival, but none of my contacts mentioned how beautiful you are.”
Barbara laughed politely as he kissed her hand. “Why, aren’t you the charmer.” My hackles went up, but I wasn’t sure if it was just jealousy or something more from my tattoo. I chose to maintain some light conversation with those surrounding us, allowing me to keep an ear on their dialogue. “But this event, being what it is – I was hoping to discuss some business.”
“Of course, of course.” He advanced past her, while maintaining a light touch on her hand so that she turned with him. “Allow me to get you a drink.”
I grinned a little. This happened a couple of other times during the evening, and I politely ended my conversation as Barbara created an opening for me. “That sounds great. Perhaps we can make room for one more?” She shifted smoothly from Spanish to English. “Matthew?”
I turned equally smoothly, fully on my guard as I approached them, and extended my hand. “Mr. Trujillo? I’m Matthew Consprite – it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
There was a flash in his eyes as he caught onto the play, but covered it quickly as he reached out instinctively, and then winced. At my inquisitive look, he smiled apologetically. “I’m having to be careful this evening.” He opened his palm to me, revealing a nasty looking crosswise bruise. “I had a little trouble on the golf course today.”
I nodded, retracting my hand. “I understand – that looks painful.”
He nodded appreciatively. “Consprite…” He paused, raising his eyes thoughtfully. “You’re the street preacher? 23?”
It was my turn to be surprised. “That’s right.” I gave him an appraising look. “I’ll admit to being impressed. You’re the first person I’ve run into who’s aware of my ministry.”
He motioned us over to a table where Barbara was already arriving with drinks in hand. “I’m looking at some locations in Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove for my business.” He grinned, and my tattoo flared as he did. “You have quite the … reputation.”
My hackles were definitely up now, but I fought to keep a straight face. “All good, I hope? I just try to help out where I can.”
“Indeed.” He looked over at Barbara, shifting back to Spanish. “He’s with you? I expected a little more for someone of your stature and reputation.”
I bristled, but held my tongue – Barbara would let me know when to reveal that I understood. She looked offended enough for me, anyway. “As a developer, you know better than anyone to look beneath the surface.”
“Very true, very true.” He grinned again, and drew me back into the conversation. “My apologies to you. I’ve been on the northern coasts recently, and it’s good to speak my mother tongue again.”
I caught a nod from Barbara. “Then by all means, don’t stop on my account.”
His eyes widened, and Barbara ran the conversation for the rest of the evening. My tattoo didn’t stop burning until after the event finished, but without being able to bring my magic to bear (and ruining the evening), I haven’t been able to figure out why.
The party wrapped up at 11, but Barb had one more surprise for me – we were staying the night at the Mansion, complete with a couples’ massage in the morning! She’d packed a suitcase with changes of clothes for both of us that had been delivered after the valet took the car, so it was a complete surprise. Clever girl.
We talked for a little while afterwards about the party, and we both sat and made notes about the contacts we’d made – me in my journal with a pen, while wrapped up in “Dexter” so Barb could work on her laptop. The room was amazingly lush, and the bed… let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to going back to my downtown loft the next night.
But that’s kind of how my life is these days. Stark contrasts, and I seem less and less able to separate the supernatural from the mundane. The funny part is –I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Player Notes: I’ve had a couple of these “slice of life” scenes for Matthew and Barbara rattling around for awhile – they just haven’t fit into my other webisodes. So, I finally cobbled them together for a little lighter scene, advancing Matthew and Barbara’s relationship.
And for those that want to know – here’s the stats on how “Dexter” was crafted:
Belle was the primary caster, with her home/hearth element (Conviction:4, Discipline:4, Lore:5+1), and Barbara has sufficient Conviction to contribute to the powering phase.
- Complexity: 16
- Block:6 against hexing (enough to place the sticky aspect “De-hexer” on someone with Conviction up to +5, solidly preventing compels to hex for anyone in the Freakshow)
- Duration: A Decade (+10 time increments – it’s a ward, so it starts at “a day”)
- Meeting Complexity:
- Belle’s No-Prep Lore: 6
- Belle – Craftsmanship Declaration: “Handmade” (2)
- Belle – Minor Consequence “Deep Bleeding Cut” (2)
- Barbara – Resources Declaration “High Quality Materials” (2)
- Belle – Empathy Declaration “Barb’s favorite colors/shape/etc.” (2)
- Extra Time – 2 increments (2)
- 3 declarations means 3 time increments on top of no-prep, plus the 2 increments of extra time (so, “15 minutes” of prep time)
- Obviously, being “Handmade” of “High-Quality Materials” would take more than 15 minutes. Realistically, this would take at least “a few hours” if not “an afternoon” or “a day” Adding those 3-5 time increments gives shifts of complexity that could be used to eliminate declarations/consequences, increase the strength of the block, add other effects, or extend the duration, if desired.
- Belle can bring 4 shifts per exchange for up to 4 exchanges.
- Barbara can contribute 2 shifts per exchange for up to 4 exchanges
- So, in 3 exchanges, the pair can pull 18 shifts (or “15 Minutes” Casting Time)
As noted, this example isn’t optimal:
- You could take advantage of 4 time increments in the Meeting Complexity phase, and drop the Consequence and one of the declarations
- Then in the powering phase, inflect Minor “Deep Bleeding Cut” consequences on both Barbara and Belle to drop the Casting Time to 2 exchanges (“A few minutes”)
That said, a little inefficiency for the sake of “the story of the spell” is ok.