Love Me Fender-Bender
by August Niehaus
Glida poked her Mazda Miata’s snout over the sidewalk and checked the oncoming traffic, a cheeseburger clutched in her mouth. While she waited for the city bus to roll past, she glowered at the gathering storm clouds. Just her luck—she’d put Betsy’s top down moments ago, so of course it was going to rain. Any tips she pocketed today would go to upholstery repairs—not culinary school.
She rested her hand protectively on the bag in the passenger’s seat, which was labeled “The ‘Craft Store” with its distinct pentagram-of-wands logo. On second thought… Glida rested the bag in her lap instead. It was the second premium love potion order this week, a rare occurrence even when Tante Darya had a deal up on Groupon. Glida wasn’t about to screw up a premium delivery. Not again.
Not with next quarter’s tuition on the line.
The burger plopped onto the potion bag, a perfect bite taken out of it. Glida squeaked, chewed hurriedly, and scooped the burger back into her mouth as she nosed the Miata out onto the main road. She flipped a U-turn and gunned it up the hill.
The streetlight blinked yellow and she groaned, slamming on the brakes. In the process, she bit down hard on the burger. Pickle juice squirted to the back of her mouth. It was so sour that she twitched.
The Saturn behind her hit the brakes and a slick patch of concrete at the same time.
The potion bag went flying off her lap as the Saturn slammed into Betsy.
Glida shuddered as the shock of the impact passed through her, mostly but not entirely absorbed by the car. When her body finished rocking, she found herself staring at her white knuckles and, through the spokes of the steering wheel, the potion flying free of the bag. It tumbled as if guided by a mischievous divine through the back of the Jeep her Miata was smooshed against and shattered all over the driver.
Thoughts crowded into Glida’s head like frantic bees. Another unsuccessful delivery. I’m gonna miss my fifth quarter and never get to start my food truck. AND Tante Darya is going to kill me. Dammit, my shirt is ruined. Dammit, my CAR is ruined. MY CAR!
Glida ran her hands over the steering wheel. “BETSY!” she moaned. Then the other thoughts crowded back in and she fumbled with the door. She staggered around the little car, checking herself and Betsy for wounds. Betsy’s fenders were bent, but—that’s what they’re for, she told herself, fighting back tears.
Then she ran to the driver’s door, realizing belatedly that running into traffic was perhaps not the brightest idea for a potential concussion patient. Nonetheless, she yanked the Jeep’s door open, because she could see the telltale green glitter of the potion all over the slumped driver.
Glida’s first thought was to shake him awake, so she gripped him by his considerable biceps. She recoiled as a fizzy warmth spread across her skin where she’d touched the love potion too.
Oh dear gods.
Glida whipped her head around to search the man’s face, frantically looking for signs of life. She found two beautiful brown eyes smiling back at her.
“Why hello,” the man said.
Oh dear gods, it’s taking hold already.
“Hi,” she said in a tiny voice. She could feel the effects of the premium potion, extreme and immediate, coursing through her blood like emotional fire. “I am so sorry.” Even as she apologized, she couldn’t look away from those walnut eyes.
“Didn’t look like your fault to me.” He smiled, tried to move, and then winced. “Ahh. Bruised my rib on the wheel, I think.”
Glida pushed off the Jeep’s running board with her knees, buffeted by the wind of a passing box truck. The breeze picked up, carrying a pungent promise of rain. She could hear the driver of the third vehicle squawking into his phone, trying to summon emergency services with his version of events.
“Someone’s already called 911,” Glida said, looking back at the Jeep’s driver. He’d eased himself around so he sat sideways in the seat, leaning forward to favor his rib.
“Good, good. Hopefully they get here soon.” But he seemed in no hurry. He looked down at his hands, which Glida now noticed were very strong and shapely, then squinted up at the sky. “Reckon those are rain clouds. You wanna stay dry?”
His smile made her heart flutter—or maybe it was the thoughtful lilt to his suggestion. Either way, Glida nodded vigorously until her neck ached, a distant fire roaring in her ears. She felt exceedingly silly, like her belly was full of soda bubbles and her hands were possessed by rowdy kittens.
Her eyes fell on the R.E.D. (“REALLY EFFIN’ DEADLY!!!”) label in the fragments of the potion bottle. What a powerful witch her aunt was.
Glida followed the man around the Jeep, unwilling to look at Betsy or the bag of fries her stomach snarled for. He went to stand under a low-hanging bough, the needles just brushing the top of his baseball cap, and Glida sidled up beside him. He was much taller than she’d first thought; the top of Glida’s head only came up to his chest.
Now there were just two North Face jackets and a half-inch of electrified air between them.
Glida nibbled the corner of her lip, casting about for something, anything to say. She could tell he wanted to talk, from the way he kept glancing just barely not at her. “I hope you weren’t going anywhere important,” she said finally. “Like, I don’t know, unicorn riding school.”
She wanted to wither away, she felt so stupid for saying it.
But he tilted sideways with a huge smile, like a forest king bending in the wind, and shot the pentagram-of-wands in her window a dubious look. “Something tells me you’re more likely to encounter a unicorn than I am.”
Glida thrust her phone into the air. “An app by any other name. I don’t see magical creatures, I get order notifications.” Instead of the existential dread she always felt when she tried to make small talk with a stranger, a funny warmth spread like a giggle through Glida.
At her laugh, he beamed. “Order notifications? I’ll admit, I’m disappointed in how mundane that is.”
Glida smirked. “You have no idea. What I’m really disappointed by is how cold those fries are going to be by the time I’ve handed out my insurance information.”
His eyes widened and brightened, shimmering with reflected hazard lights. “Fries? You’ve got fries? You’ve been holding out on me, girl!” He extended his hand. “I’m Freddie, by the way.”
She took it, and a charge passed between them. She had sudden flashes of running her hands through his hair, resting her head next to his on a single pillow, accepting a beautiful bouquet of flowers from those beautiful hands.
“I’m Glida,” she said, and it began to rain.
“Glida, did you take the third dose of anti-spell yet? Glida? GLIDA.”
Glida startled as Tante Darya’s disembodied voice billowed into the living room as a faint cloud of bluish smoke. She batted the voice-smoke away from her phone. “Yes! Geez! I’d taken it when you asked twenty minutes ago, too.”
Burning in to the phone’s screen, Freddie’s number sat above a washed-out selfie of the two of them soaked to the bone. Their faces gleamed red from the police lights.
Her aunt swept into the room, her voice reattaching itself to her as she crossed her arms. “Well, you were mooning twenty minutes ago, too. You’ve been fiddling with your phone for hours. Have you called him yet? Or are you just waiting for the mechanic to tell you Betsy’s all better?”
“Nooooooo,” Glida wailed. She buried her face in the couch pillow, mumbling something.
“Is that ‘no you haven’t called this Freddie boy,’ or ‘no you aren’t waiting on the mechanic’? Speak up,” Darya said, snapping her fingers.
The microspell might have been unintentional, but Darya was too powerful for it not to be effective. Glida’s head snapped up and her mouth moved involuntarily to speak the truth. “I know it was just a potion, but… it was so real, tante. Love at first sight. We talked for hours.”
“I’m fully aware of how long you were out.”
“Even after the cops were gone! We just…didn’t run out of things to talk about.” Glida sighed, feeling the microspell release her lips. “I still—he just—he hasn’t called me either, though,” she finished in a small voice.
Darya waved this off with a manicured hand. The stars on the tips of her long nails gleamed with inner light. “Well, then call him, or don’t. There’s no way to know if your anti-spell took or not without confronting the object of your desires face-to-face. Or at least on a phone call,” she added when Glida wailed again. “Glida, don’t fall into a trap of self-pity. You like this boy? Then you should own up to it. And have the courtesy to tell him so he can do something about it if he likes you too. And if it’s all the product of a very pricey and complicated love potion, well—we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. If.”
Glida blinked at her aunt. They were only two decades apart, but normally Glida felt a rift of a hundred years’ wisdom stood between them. But in that moment, she could tell her aunt had once been a young girl in love, too.
“Now,” Darya said in exactly the same tone, “please deliver the five stamina spells by the front door to the bachelor party at Central so that I can afford another order of seahorse powder. Take my car.”
Glida finally coaxed herself into pressing Call on her way back from the college. At least the Durango has a phone claw and I won’t die calling my crush—oh gods oh gods he is not a crush…
Freddie answered after the second ring. “Hi Glida. Would you believe me if I told you I had my thumb hovering over the button right as you called?”
Glida’s laugh rang brightly inside the spacious Durango, surprising her as much as it did Freddie. “I’d call you a liar in spirit. You couldn’t bring yourself to do it! You’re a chicken.”
“I admit, I was wrestling with a lion’s share of nerves, yes.”
“Well, you’re a very nice, honest chicken.”
“Could this honest chicken convince you to join him for dinner? I’m going to Gryphons tonight, whether you’re with me or not. But I’d really prefer you were there.”
“Hang on.” Glida turned the Durango into the empty parking lot of a gas station, missing Betsy fiercely, and flicked open her notifications. There were no delivery requests with the telltale pentagram. Her stomach lurched, and she thought of Tante Darya’s advice: Have the courtesy to tell him so he can do something about it if he likes you too.
She squeezed her eyes shut. “What time will the honest chicken be gracing Gryphons with his presence?” she asked all in a rush.
“Five-thirty. Or so. See you there?”
Glida didn’t hesitate. “Yeah. Definitely.”
“Oh! Great. Looking forward to it.”
After Freddie hung up, Glida turned off the Durango, dropped her hands in her lap and sighed. She rolled her neck, wincing as she encountered her soreness from the accident. As she rolled her head to look out the window, she spotted a couple walking towards her, holding hands. She couldn’t tell from the distance how old they were, but it didn’t matter; the eternity of their affection was evident in the way they tenderly kept each other close.
That was what she wanted, not the by-product of secondhand spells. Glida ran her hands down her face until she looked like The Scream in the rear-view mirror. Even after three big doses of Tante Darya’s anti-magic, she still couldn’t be sure that what she was feeling wasn’t a result of the undelivered potion. And gods only knew how much the brew had impacted Freddie. For all she knew, he was no longer in control of his own actions, and that made it likely that anything he said or did to her was…well, fake.
If it was fake or nothing with Freddie, then she’d have the courtesy to tell him so he could do something about it.
Resolutely, she fired up the engine.
When Glida stopped by The ‘Craft Store on her way to Gryphons, Tante Darya gave her niece no resistance. Darya vanished into the workshop and returned with exactly what Glida had asked for. “You must look him in the eyes when he drinks it,” she said without smiling. “That’s very important.”
Even with the detour, Glida got to Gryphons first, and now she sat in the pleasantly dark bar, pawing at the bottle in her purse. Her fingers thrummed where she touched it, and she repeated Tante Darya’s instructions to herself under her breath.
The waitress came by and Glida nervously ordered a double portion of house fries, occupying herself by studying the clever tin signs on the walls. She was putting four ketchup-tipped potatoes in her mouth when the door jangled and Freddie walked in.
Oh, dear gods.
Freddie had ironed his shirt and tucked it in. He was carrying a single lily, which he used to wave the waitress over. They giggled conspiratorially for a moment before she led him to Glida’s table.
The fries sat in Glida’s mouth, forgotten. Freddie came towards her like a sunbeam out of a dream. He was all smile and spectacular hair and twinkling eyes, and Glida was certain she still very much liked Freddie in the love potion way.
He dropped into the chair across from her, pressing his hand to his heart. “I—am so sorry to be late. I ran—limped, really—from the bus stop.” He seemed to remember the lily in his hand and gracefully flipped it so the blossom rested against his wrist, extending it to her stem-first.
Blushing and gulping down her mouthful of potato, Glida accepted the flower and lifted it to her nose without hesitation. “You told me ‘five-thirty or so.’ Ten minutes is still ‘or so.’ Wait… Bus stop? Did little Betsy send your Jeep to the shop?”
“He was due for a makeover anyway.”
“Your Jeep’s getting a makeover. And you still bussed down here to have dinner with me.”
There was that twinkle in Freddie’s eyes again, drawing Glida in. She could feel a physical challenge to her resistance. “Yes I did. I like you an awful lot.”
Tante Darya spoke into Glida’s mind’s-ear again as the waitress dropped an iced tea off for Freddie: Have the courtesy to tell him so he can do something about it.
Glida drew a shuddering breath, her guts tangling up in painful knots. She reached into her purse, felt the telltale warmth of the anti-spell.
“Freddie… There’s something I have to tell you.”
He was still all smiles, all sparkle. “I’m your captive audience.”
Slowly, because she really, really didn’t want to break the spell, Glida lifted the bottle out of the bag and set it on the table between them. It was only about the size of her hand, a gleaming aquamarine quartz. A distrustful line creased Freddie’s handsome face.
“Freddie,” Glida said seriously, “you know I deliver for The ‘Craft Store.” She kept her eyes glued to the anti-spell bottle, unable to meet his gaze now. “It’s my Tante Darya who’s magical, not me. I mean, clearly. I couldn’t even get a premium spell delivered without…without spilling it all over you.”
Freddie’s eyebrows shot up. “So that green goop was a spell?”
Glida sighed. “Yes. More specifically, it was a love potion.” Her heart dropped into her stomach, all her butterflies melting away into a wintry landscape. “The way you looked at me that first time, the—the hours we spent talking, all the things you might think you feel about me after just half a day? It can’t be real. It was the love potion.”
Freddie was shaking his head. At first, Glida thought he was horrified at her, and her heart leapt into her throat. But he just looked puzzled, not angry.
“No, no. It wasn’t the love potion. I really do like you, Glee.”
Every fiber of Glida’s being sang with the nickname as it left Freddie’s perfect lips. He reached across the table and gathered up her hands in both of us, leaning forward earnestly.
“My attraction to you—this is magic. I mean—not your Tante Darya’s kind of magic. Real magic.”
Glida half-laughed, half-sobbed at that, and she almost lost her resolve and dashed the anti-spell bottle on the floor.
She looked into Freddie’s eyes, just like Tante Darya had said. Reflected there, she saw all the things they could be: partners and lovers and co-conspirators and dreamers and best friends. And Glida knew she couldn’t build something so wonderful on a foundation of lies.
So she slipped her hands free of Freddie’s, biting back the tears, and handed him the anti-spell bottle. “Please,” she whispered. “Before you promise me anything. Drink this.”
He must have seen the desperation in her eyes, because he nodded, removed the stopper, and drank it in one big gulp.
Glida watched helplessly as Freddie’s eyes widened and he convulsed. He pressed his hand against his chest, like he was trying to free a belch. He winced. He twitched. Then he coughed, leaned over the table for a moment, and slowly raised his head. His features registered confusion as he studied her, and Glida’s heart sank.
She took a deep breath and let it out in a flurry of words. “Freddie, I’m the person who rear-ended you in the car accident earlier. I’m just some delivery girl who can’t drop anything off without dropping it entirely. I’m ridiculous and I’m annoying and I managed to spill a freaking love spell all over you so you already know both of those things are true.” She sucked in a breath. “But really, truly—thanks for an amazing afternoon, and a really great conversation. I’ll pay for your tea.”
She scooped up her purse and threw her coat over her shoulder, fixing her blurring vision on the cashier stand, sending up a desperate prayer that the tears would not flow before she could walk herself out of this poor stranger’s life.
“Glee, don’t go.”
The nickname stopped Glida in her tracks.
Slowly, she turned around. Freddie stood holding the lily he’d taken off the table where she’d left it. In his other hand was the aquamarine bottle.
He raised it towards the light and squinted at it. “You know this was, like, mouthwash, right?” The corners of his mouth danced—and Glida realized he was trying not to laugh.
Outrage made her straighten up. “Tante Darya—!” she squeaked. “She gave me—mouthwash?!”
Now Freddie laughed helplessly. “To be honest, she’s probably been pulling your leg for a while. Love potions don’t work for anyone but the person they’re made for. I mean, not beyond warming your hands a bit.” He grew a little shy. “I—thought you would have known, working for a magic shop and all. So maybe I jumped ahead of myself under that tree, if you were under the impression what you were feeling was artificial.”
He was so cute and so sweet, and so nervous that he’d overstepped his bounds, that Glida dropped her bag on a nearby table and threw her arms around his neck. She pressed her nose against his shirt and breathed in his rainy cinnamon smell.
“It’s really real,” she murmured into his ear, and when he kissed her she knew it was true.
Bottle image thanks to arbyreed