Too Many Dates For Today

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Going to a date with Liza, a cute young woman that he met just few days ago, Dave Larsen, an ordinary student of the Academy of Magic, didn't expect how it would end. Well, he got an invitation to
a next date... just not with Liza. Now, he has to make friends with a resident ice queen while sorting out his own feelings.

Submitted: March 17, 2018

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Submitted: March 17, 2018

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Tanya's pencil suddenly stopped its flight over her notebook's pages. 

"Dave, what's LP mean? Do you know?" 

Dave, with obvious disappointment, turned out of the window to his friend. Before Tanya called him, he was staying and watching the wind playing with a little red balloon outside. The wind was trying to lift the balloon and to throw it under wheels of dragon cars that were driving on the Merlin's street, where windows of the Academy of Magic’s Hall of Lights were providing view. The balloon was winning so far. 

“LP? Where did you see that?” 

The first-year student of the Academy pointed at the line of the class timetable with back of her pencil.

“Here. There is written, LP Physics. Do you know what’s that?” 

Dave shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe, it stands for, “Let’s skip that class and Play instead”?” 

Tanya angrily turned her head to Dave. Her dark-brown hair fell on her eyes, and she pushed it away with her hand, still with the pencil in it. Dave noted that the color of her hair suited her ivory-colored sweater with Academy’s emblem quite well. 

“Dave, can you think not of skipping classes for a moment?” 

“I can.” 

“Really? And what are you thinking about right now?” 

“Well,” Dave smiled, “of many things. For example, that your skirt could be two inches shorter.” 

Tanya sighed.

“Only the fact that you are my best friend saves you now,” she warned him. “But one more joke like that, and you can lose the title of my best friend.” 

“It wasn’t a joke. It really…” 

Tanya waived her hand. 

“Whatever,” she returned to copying the timetable to her notebook. She had copied only the schedule for Monday and Tuesday and had four more days to copy. And she didn’t really have a time to argue with Dave. Sometimes she wondered how she had ended up being friends with him. Dave Larsen was the most childish, the most unashamed guy she ever knew. However, Dave was also smart, brave, interesting, funny and reliable – and they had been together since the junior school. In fact, although Tanya hardly would admit it out loud, she was happy they could study together in the Academy. It was one chance of thousands they could. Magic was a common thing at planet Homeland, where they lived, and magicians were the most important persons here… but actually, all they could do was to communicate with magic wands, small black or brown cylinders made of wood of certain trees growing at Homeland. These wands – nobody knew why – could understand images people sent to them. And, if you imagine your wish in full detail, the wand can make it to come true, if it really makes you happy. But only one man from thousand can communicate with these wands, and even less people can actually use magic of them. Every person on Homeland was tested in high school for his or her magic abilities, and was assigned to a certain rank, based on the results, from N – None, to G – Good. Dave was ranked with “G” rank. Tanya had the “E” rank – “Excellent”. 

Tanya smiled. No, she was definitely glad they could study in the Academy together.

Her pencil resumed his flight over the yellow paper. 

“Still,” she muttered, “what does “LP” mean?..” 

“I guess, it stands for “Lab Practice””, young magician heard a female voice. She turned around to see who was there.

“Hi, Marissa,” said Dave. 

Marissa Cartwright, a rather pretty woman with hazel hair, brown eyes and a small straight nose, was standing near the glass dome covering the small fountain in the hall. Her lips were forming a polite half-smile. The small yellow badge with a ruler and a divider was at its usual place on her Academy’s sweater, near the Academy’s emblem. Dave always wanted to know where this badge was from, but constantly forgot to ask.

“Hello, Dave, good afternoon, Tanya,” Marissa said.

“We have already seen each other this morning”, Tanya reminded. 

“Maybe,” Marissa said politely and tilted her head slightly to the right. “But a greeting is still a greeting, right?” 

Tanya blinked.

“Khm,” she said. “Anyway… how are you?” 

“Fine,” Marissa replied. “Actually, I’m here to ask Dave about something. I would be really glad if he could help me.” 

“I’ll try to do my best,” Larsen grinned. “What is your problem? You should warn it that I am going to fight it!” 

“It’s not a problem,” Marissa opened her purse and drew a standard rectangular envelope for the owl post. Dave noticed three colorful post stamps on its right top corner instead of usual two, probably because it was an international mail. “I just wanted to ask you to take this letter to the post office and send it. Chen has asked me to help with cleaning, and I think I won’t make it in time if I go to the post.” 

“Of course, Marissa,” Dave said. He took the envelope carefully.  “No problem.” 

“Be careful with it, please,” Marissa said. “The letter there is rather important for me.” 

“Don’t worry, I’ll do it right,” Dave said. 

“Thank you,” Marissa smiled sincerely. “Thank you, Dave.” 

“My pleasure,” Dave shrugged with a grin.

“I have to go,” Marissa said. “Chen must be waiting me now. So, have a nice day!” 

When she leaved the hall, Tanya turned to Dave. 

“Congratulations,” she said. “Now you have been officially increased in rank to people Marissa actually talks first.” 

“Hm?” Dave raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?” 

“Well, have you noticed she is quite distant with people?” 

“Of course I’ve noticed… Wait, she’s distant???” 

Tanya sighed. 

“You never change, Dave,” she said. 

“It’s because I’m already perfect. But why do you think she’s distant?” 

“Well, it’s been two weeks since we started studying, and she seems to still not have any friends here. I mean, she always seats alone in classes, she always comes and goes alone, and when you talk with her, she always replies to you with polite, but quite reserved answers. The only people she seems to have any interests at all are Chen, Ollie and now, you. What have you done to deserve that kind of attention from her?” she tried to make the last part sounded like a joke, but her grey eyes suggested she meant it serious. 

“Nothing unusual,” Dave said. “I helped her to find her dorm in the first day. Maybe it helped. Or maybe it’s because I’m such a great person that even ice queens fall in love with me.” 

“There is a great distance between asking to send a letter and love,” Tanya noted. “Well, back to the timetable… where I have stopped…” 

“Ok,” Dave nodded and returned to the window. To his disappointment, the balloon was never to be seen. Probably, the wind had won in the end. “Will you go with me to the post office?” 

“No,” Tanya replied not stopping to write the timetable. “I still have to write the essay for English. Why this Academy is called Academy of Magic if there are so little magic we study in the classes?..” 

When they opened the door outside, a burst of a cold wind made Dave shiver. The evening had started its descent to Seinar-Sa, and the sky was colored with incredible cold-blue colors. Blue and pink clouds were drifting lazily high above. The wind was playing its song in trees that grown in the Academy’s park and was rolling empty beer bottles on the park’s roads. Tanya stopped on the top step of the main stairway from a white stone that leaded to the main road towards the gate and the stop of dragon’s buses. 

“It’s cold,” she stated obvious. 

“Yes,” Dave agreed. “Still don’t want to walk with me to the post?” 

“No”, the young magician shook her head.

“Ok,” Larsen said. “Can I copy your essay then?” 

“What?” Tanya rolled her eyes. “Dave, are you serious? What do you think will happen when Ms. Andrews checks your work and notices that it’s exactly like mine?” 

“Well, if I’m lucky, she will check my work first,” Dave grinned.

Tanya looked upwards in silent irritation. 

“Why should I write an essay for you anyway? What about you writing it for me?” 

“Well, it’s because you are smart and responsible,” Dave said. “Relax, I was just teasing. I’ll write mine myself.” 

“Thank you,” Tanya said coldly. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still with you.” 

“Well,” Dave shrugged, “as I said, because you are smart and responsible.” 

Tanya chuckled. 

“Maybe you’re right,” she said with a smile.

“I am,” Dave confirmed. “So, shall we go to the bus stop?” 

“One second,” Tanya made a step to Dave and adjusted the collar of his shirt that was hiding behind his sweater. Then, she fastened his top button. “That’s better,” she made a step back and looked at Dave as she slightly tilted her head. It seemed she was satisfied with her work. “Now, let’s go.”

“Yeah?” Dave said. He was slightly baffled by Tanya’s attention to his clothes. “Well… let’s go then.” 

The bus stop was right next to the main gate of the Academy. Tanya sat down on the bench under the short green roof that could protect from exactly nothing and put her purse next to her. Dave sat down near Tanya. Usually, they walked to Tanya’s home by their feet, but today was too cold for that. 

Tanya looked at her watch. The bus would arrive in next five minutes, according to the schedule. Or, more realistically, in next ten. She shivered from the cold air. 

“It’s cold,” she said again.

“It’s not,” Dave disagreed, “rather nice autumn weather.” 

“How can you not feel the cold when you are only in a shirt and a sweater?” 

“I just can. I’m sure it’s because I have something… oh, forgot the right word… something with my stomach? No, it wasn’t like that… With my blood?.. Well, I don’t know, but Ann has explained me once that it’s a feature of the body. Someone feels cold, someone doesn’t.” 

“It looks like her,” Tanya smiled. Ann was her friend from the department of Magical Medicine.

“How’s her, by the way? I haven’t see her with you for a while. Maybe we should invite her to, say, a picnic this weekend.” 

“Why do you want to invite her?” Tanya said with suspicion.

“I just like her, why not?” 

“Well, don’t even think about her,” the young woman said, “she’s in love, but not with you, Dave.” 

“I’m ok with that,” Larsen shrugged. “Why can’t a man just like a girl like a friend?” 

“He can,” Tanya agreed, “but I doubt Ann would notice you anyway. She has her mind set on her loved one. She even forgets about me when she sees her precious one.” 

“Aha,” Dave said, “so it’s you who are jealous.” 

“I’m not jealous!” Tanya said angrily. “I just don’t think it should be that way! Besides, as far as I know, Ollie thinks of her as just a friend. She wags her tail like a puppy every time she meets him, and he doesn’t even notice! Men can be so blind sometimes.” 

“Well, I’m sure, if a girl wags her tail, I’ll notice,” Dave said. “I mean, it’s hard to not notice a dog-woman.” 

Tanya sighed. 

“You know what I meant, Dave,” she said. “He doesn’t love her, and she wastes her time. She deserves someone better. Oh, here’s the bus!”

The wagon pulled by a green two-legged animal looked like a dragon from old tales stopped right against the bench. The windows and the walls of the wagon were covered with dirt so it took a lot of attention to notice that the wagon was yellow and not grey. Only the route card on the side was clean. The bus conductor opened the door and looked at Tanya and Dave rather angrily.

“Goodbye, Dave,” Tanya said as she stood up. She jumped into the bus and waved her hand to her friend. “Have a nice day! And don’t get cold!” 

“Goodbye!” Larsen said before the door was closed and the wagon continued its way to the Flower Street where Tanya’s house was. 

When the wagon went out of sight, Dave stood up. The evening today was really chilly, and the wind made him think that he’d better have a jacket too. He made a few quick steps towards the Academy before realized that he actually forgot something… Right, the Marisa’s letter. It must be rather important for Marissa if she couldn’t wait and send it tomorrow. That meant, if he didn’t want to gain a reputation of an unreliable man – and he didn’t – he had to go to the post office. Right now. Dave stopped, turned around and almost bumped into a young woman that stayed behind him. 

“Um…” the woman said quietly and a bit uneasy. “Hello?” 

“Oh!” Dave exclaimed. “I am sorry! I should be more careful. Are you ok?” 

She nodded and looked aside, as if she was shy. Dave looked at her. She was rather cute, he had to admit. Her round face was almost perfect, with small nose and big brown eyes. The wind was gently playing with her long ginger hair. Her arms were holding her purse in front of her ivory-colored Academy-issued sweater and dark blue skirt. Dave noticed a big purple bow-tie on her neck. The tie wasn’t a part of the uniform, but it suited her quite nicely.

“I am sorry,” Dave said again, not knowing what to say. 

“Eh?” She looked at him. “No, no, I am fine…” she added rapidly. “I just… I…” she blushed. “I just saw you and…” 

“Khm,” Dave said, baffled. “Do I know you, by any chance?” 

“No,” she answered. “Liza,” she added quietly. 

“Liza?” Dave repeated, not sure that he heard correctly. 

“Liza. That’s my name.” 

“I see. Nice to meet you, Liza. I’m Dave.” 

“I know,” she said and blushed again. “I often see you.” 

Dave looked at her again. So she knew him but he didn’t know her? How could it happen? 

“I see,” he said. “So you must be a student in the academy, right?” 

“Yes, that’s right,” she looked at Dave, clearly amazed. “How did you know?” 

Dave pointed at her sweater with the Academy’s emblem. She followed his sight and looked at where he pointed. Then, she realized what he meant and giggled embarrassedly. 

“Ah,” she said, “silly me.” 

Dave smiled. She definitely was cute. 

A rather cold gust of wind made Dave shiver. If he wanted to return home before it became too cold, he needed go to the post office as soon as possible. 

“Anyway,” he said, “it was nice to meet you but I really have to go.” 

“I see! Where to?” Liza asked surprisingly enthusiastically, but then looked aside, embarrassed. “Oh. I shouldn’t have asked this… I think…,” she added. 

“No problem,” Dave smiled. “I need to send some mail.” He showed her the envelope that he was holding by its right top corner. The envelope was slightly trembled by the wind. “It’s not like a secret or something.” 

“I see,” she nodded. Then, she raised her head and looked at Dave, with hope in her eyes, her hands still holding her purse tightly. “Dave…” she paused. 

“Yes, Liza?” 

“May I… May I see you again?” 

Dave laughed. She was definitely a cute shy. 

“Of course, Liza. Any time!” 

“Good then,” she nodded. “See you next time, Dave!” 

Dave smiled and waved goodbye to her. Then, he started to walk towards the post office. He had to walk a few hundred meters to the zebra crossing and then go northeast in direction to the Summer street. When he crossed the street, Liza was still staying and looking at him. 

 

The next morning, at 8.15, full of tea and desperately wishing to sleep, Dave opened the door of the Academy’s lecture hall 202, on the second floor.

The room was already quite crowded. Today’s lecture of magical statistics was for almost all groups that were studying in the department of Common Magic, and that meant that in next 15 minutes, all 9 rows of benches in the hall would be full. In fact, the first row was occupied already – the row for future best students, those who wanted to make a good impression on teachers and for those with bad vision. Dave was neither, so he usually sat in the 5th row. It was a perfect position to draw something in the notebook, to copy a homework or to exchange messages with Tanya who sat near him. And, in rare cases, a good position to actually write down the lecture. 

Today, Tanya was already there. Dave made a step and entered the room. Everything was as usual. Yellow light of magic lamps was blending with the pale morning sunlight. A few meters above and to the right, wooden shatters were slightly trembling by the wind from the opened window. The blackboard that actually was green was already clean and prepared for the lecture, if not counting a small picture of a snail in a wizard hat drawn with a chalk. It was still 15 minutes before the lecture, and the room was full of noises of chatting first-year students. Dave noticed Marissa staying near the first row of desks. She was chatting with her friend Ollie. As Dave passed her, he could hear some of their conversation: 

“…it’s possible in theory, but I think, right now they are too heavy for flight. After all, the boiler is a dead weight, frankly,” Marissa was speaking in her usual soft and polite voice.

“Yes, but what about the magic heating?” That was Ollie. “I’ve heard that there were some experiments.” 

“Hm, to be honest, I’ve never read any article about that. It would solve the problem without doubts but…” Marissa didn’t finish as she saw Dave. “Good morning, Dave!” she turned to him and tilted her head slightly to the side. “How are you today?” 

“Hi,” Dave nodded. “Hello, Ollie.” Ollie nodded in response too. “Do you need an honest answer or a socially acceptable one?” 

“Good answer, I should remember that,” she said. “How was yesterday? Did you send the letter?” 

“I did,” Dave said.

“Thank you very much,” Marissa smiled warmly. “I owe you now. You are a good friend.” 

“Well, it was not a big deal,” Dave replied. 

“Still, thank you anyway,” Marissa said. She turned back to Ollie. “So, as I said, I know not much about magic heating. Could you please…” 

Dave shrugged and walked up to the fifth row. 

Tanya had already put her notebook and pens and pencils at the desk. Now, she was looking for something in her purse. 

“Hi, Tanya,” Dave said. 

Tanya raised her head to great him. 

“Hello, Dave,” she said. “How are you?” 

“Lost something?” Dave asked. 

“Yes,” Tanya said as she resumed the search in her purse. “My pen.” 

“They are on the desk,” Dave pointed. 

“No. It’s blue, and I need a green one, to mark definitions and important words.” 

“To mark definitions? What for?” Dave asked. 

Tanya paused the search and looked at him, astonished that he didn’t understand such simple things. 

“What do you mean, what for?! To look good!” 

Dave rolled his eyes. 

“Women are so women,” he shook his head. “There are much more important things than marking each subject in green in the notebook.” 

“At least, everything is nice and clear and in good order in my notebook,” Tanya replied. “And, by the way, I use orange to mark subjects. Well… where is it anyway…” 

“Oh yes, orange changes everything,” Dave said. 

“You are hopeless,” Tanya chuckled. “Ah, here it is!” she exclaimed and showed the green pen to Dave. “It was… ah, never mind.” 

“Great,” Dave muttered. “Now, it’s the time to find the orange one.” 

Tanya just sighed and answered nothing. Instead, she opened her notebook and started to review her notes from the previous lecture. Dave thought that maybe he’d better to review it too. Magical statistics and its tutor were among the scariest things in the Academy.

“Hello, Dave,” his classmate said to him passed by to the next row of seats. “There’s someone who wants to talk with you.” 

“Who?” Dave asked. 

“She said not to tell you,” the classmate chuckled. “Anyway, good luck. Tell me how it went afterwards.” 

“Went what?” Dave asked, confused, but his classmate already went away to his seat. Dave looked at the door and saw Liza, smiling and waving to him. 

“Uh-uh,” Tanya turned to Dave and said playfully, “She? Seems you are becoming a girls’ magnet, Dave.” 

“It’s not like that,” Dave replied rather grumpily. “I don’t know her, and I don’t know what she needs.” 

“Well, then go and find out?” Tanya suggested and laughed. “Just be careful. Who knows, maybe ice queens can be jealous too.” 

“Very funny,” Dave said and stood up. He looked at his wristwatch. 5 minutes before the lecture starts. Whatever Liza needed from him, she’d better be quick. He quickly went downstairs. 

Liza was still waiting for him near the door. 

“Hi!” she said with a big smile when she saw him. “Good morning, Dave!” 

“What happened?” Dave was straightforward. 

“Eh?” She opened her eyes wide.

“I was told you wanted to talk with me.” 

“Uh, well, yes,” she put her index finger on her chin. “I just… I just wanted to see you, Dave.” 

Dave looked at the watch. 4 minutes. She was cute, but it wasn’t the time. Not before the lecture by the Fear and Terror of the Common Magic department herself, Mrs. Henrietta Marisue! 

“Now you saw me,” he said bluntly. “May I go now? I have to prepare for the lecture.” 

“Oh,” she said in horror, “I am so so so sorry! Dave, I didn’t think… I… I…” 

Dave looked at her and suddenly felt guilty. Probably, he was a bit too harsh now. He smiled and said, “Don’t be sorry. I am just a bit busy now, that’s all. It’s ok. I apologize if I sounded too rude.” 

Liza opened her mouth. 

“Oh…” she said. “I understand.” Then a bright smile suddenly appeared on her face. “Then maybe we can meet later?” 

“Later?” Dave said, a bit confused. “But what for?” 

“Um…” she blushed, “well… I…” She made a deep breath and said as fast as she could: “I just have to do something and I thought you could help me!” She paused, then looked at Dave with puppy eyes: “Please!” 

“Uhm… well…” Dave scratched his head. “Ok. When?” 

“You will help me?” she said happily. “Dave, you are the best!” 

Dave sighed. 

“When, Liza?” he repeated. 

“Eh? Ah, silly me,” she laughed uneasy. “What about this Saturday, after 4?” 

“Saturday?” Dave pondered for a moment. “Ok, good enough.” 

“Great!” she said enthusiastically. “Meet me at the main entrance then!” 

“I will,” Dave said. “Listen, I have to go…” he started. 

“Ok!” Liza smiled and waved him goodbye. “See ya!” She turned around and ran to the passageway. Dave sighed, shrugged and went back to his seat. It was 1 minute to the lecture start. 

“Girls magnet?” he muttered to himself quietly. “Really?” 

 

The Academy always was a busy place. At least, during the school season. The Academy’s parking was full of bicycles, the hallways were full of students, and even lecture halls were usually crowded – except when professor Hinky, who also was the Dean of the Department of the Common Magic, was the lector. But on Saturdays, the Academy became an entirely different place. Technically, there were some classes on Saturdays, but usually they ended long before noon. On Saturdays, the usually noisy building was quiet as never, it was possible to go from the Section 1 to Section 5 and not meet anyone, and it was even possible to go to the cafeteria and buy some food without staying in the line for 10 minutes. Even the Academy Security officers weren’t at their usual places on Saturday. Dave had been staying right next to the security booth near the main entrance for half an hour, and from his eyes, nobody was there. Well, maybe they were just that good in disguising themselves, who knows? 

It was already 4.05 pm. The autumn sun was still shining over the city buildings, but the weather was chilly. The air was cold and clear. The sky was almost cloudless, having that specific shade of blue that was distinctive only for September weather in Seinar-Sa. Dave looked at his wristwatch. Maybe he should wait for another ten minutes and then go home… 

“Hiiii!”

Dave turned his head and saw Liza. She was standing near the security booth and smiling wide. Appropriately to the weather, today she was in a dark-blue wool jacket with wide collar, white knee-high white dress underneath and high boots. Dave noticed that she didn’t wear her ribbon today.

“Hello, Liza,” he said. 

“Sorry for being late,” she apologized. “Hope you haven’t been waiting me for long.” 

“No problem,” Dave replied. “I didn’t even got bored.” 

She laughed happily. 

“You are so funny, Dave!” she said. “Well… let’s go?” 

“I don’t mind, but… where to?” Dave asked, with a bit of irritation in his voice. 

“Eh?” she blinked. “Ah. To be honest, I am a bit hungry, so I hoped…” she looked down and blushed “we could… have dinner together… I think.” 

“Sounds good to me,” Dave said.

“Really?” she looked at him with hope. “Then let’s go! I know a very good place nearby!” 

“Let’s go then,” Dave agreed. Whatever problem Liza had for him to solve, it was better to do when not being hungry. 

Dave thought he knew every good place to eat near the Academy. But Liza brought him to the building he had never been in. It was an old two-store red brick house, rather narrow, with red tiled roof and dark-brown windows. A bit window on the first floor near the door had a name of the restaurant, “Pinocchio”. Liza pushed the glass door, and they entered inside. 

It was rather dark inside. And narrow. First thing Dave saw was a white spiral stairway leading to the second floor. Under the stairway, there were two rows of white tables with red diamonds of tablecloths on them. Almost all of them were occupied, and all of them have small candles on them – white, red, yellow. Dark wooden walls had many small pictures in frames – mostly drawings of buildings and bridges. A big bar with numbers of wine bottles and glasses was to the right of the door. A tall waiter in white shirt, black trousers and blue apron was staying nearby it. When he saw Dave and Liza, he went to them and said: 

“Buongiorno! Nice to see you again, miss Liza. You are with your friend today?” 

“Yes, mister Paulo,” she nodded with a smile, “Nice to see you too. Do you have a table for us?” 

“There should be one on the second floor. Let me guide you.” 

The stairway was old and, as everything in this restaurant, not too wide. In addition, the steps were rather high, so Dave had to watch his steps carefully. He could feel the entire stairway vibrating under him, and he didn’t like that. But in the end, it was worth that, because the second floor was much better than the first one. It was big. And spacious. And full of light from the setting sun going from the big windows. And, the most important, there were much more free tables.

“Please, sit here,” Mister Paulo pointed at one of the tables that was near the side wall. “I’ll bring you the menus in a minute.” With those words, he went back to the first floor. 

“Thank you,” Liza said. She removed her jacket and put it on a coat hanger near the stairway. Then, she proceed to the table. Dave followed her. When he passed a free table near the window, he noticed a black card set on it. “This table is waiting for its soulmate,” it said. Dave chuckled. People in this restaurant seemed to have a sense of humor. 

When they sat down, mister Paolo brought them the menu. Dave took a big folder made from a dark-red leather with half-faded gold letters on it. “Pinocchio” it said. He opened the menu, a bit afraid to see prices enough to buy a small house. But the first page prove him wrong. Sure, meals here costed more than in the Academy’s cafeteria, but it seemed he could afford a small dinner here without spending his annual budget. Just a weekly one. Maybe he could even pay for Liza if needed. With those reassuring thoughts, Dave started to familiarize himself with the menu. In the meantime, Liza already opened the folder on a page in the middle, quickly looked at the content and closed the menu, ready to order. 

“It seems you’ve often been here,” Dave said. 

“Ah?” she looked at him, then smiled. “Yes. My dad used to bring me here when I was in high school. It was not often, but I liked that very much.” 

“I see,” Dave said. “Then, maybe you could help me with the choice of meals.” 

She made a small laugh. “My pleasure, Dave. I’d recommend you to order a steak. They made delicious steaks here.” 

“Okay…” Dave said. He turned a page trying to find what steaks they offer. He heard that many people liked to eat steaks but had never tried them before. 

Mister Paolo appeared near their table, as unnoticeable as expected from a high-class waiter. 

“Have you made your choice, sir?” he asked Dave.

“Uhm… do you have steaks?” 

“Yes, sir. I would recommend you our steak striploin, with herbs and fried potatoes as a garnish.” 

“Ok, I’ll take it then.” 

“Would you like well-done, medium or rare?” 

Dave coughed. They meant, not all steaks were well done here? 

“Well-done, please” he said as firmly as he could. 

“Congratulations, Dave” Liza laughed, “you’ve just spoiled a piece of a good beef!” 

Dave looked at her, not understanding what she meant. 

“I’ll explain you later,” she put a hand over her mouth to hide her smile. 

Mister Paolo wrote Dave’s order down in his small notebook. 

“What would you like for a drink?” he asked. “I could recommend you a good red chianti. It…” 

“Ok, I’ll take it too. One glass please,” Dave said quickly, afraid to make another wrong order. He looked at Liza discreetly, but seemed she was satisfied with his choice of drinks. 

“And what would you like to order today, miss Liza?” mister Paolo said. 

“Steak rib eye for me, please. Rare,” she ordered in a routine business-like manner. “Fries with BBQ sauce. And a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, chilled please.” 

“Yes, miss Liza,” mister Paolo closed his notebook. “Something else?” 

“No, thank you,” Liza smiled to him.

“My pleasure. Please enjoy the evening!” he said with a small bow and went away from the table. 

“You really know what to order here,” Dave said, amazed. 

“Yes, that’s true,” she replied.

“I see,” Dave said. “Obviously you know what do those medium and well-made settings mean?” 

“Of course I do,” she winked. “It’s how it’s cooked basically. Medium is pink and soft and with some juice inside. Well-done is dry and not soft at all. That’s why they say that those who order well-done just spoil a peace of a very rare and good meat.” 

“Oh… now I see,” Dave nodded. 

“But some like well-done steaks anyway,” she added. Maybe to cheer Dave up. 

“And what does “rare” mean?” Dave asked. 

“It means, with blood,” she smiled. 

Dave opened his eyes a bit wide. He shook his head.

“Seems you know a lot about steaks,” he said to change the subject. 

She nodded. 

“All thanks to my dad. He taught me everything about restaurants, steaks and proper choice of wine.” 

“I see,” Dave said. “Your dad should be a good man.” 

“He is an incredible man! When he was young, his family often didn’t even have money to buy some bread! So he couldn’t enter the college after school as he wanted. But he took a job as a janitor in a school library, and after work, he spent hours reading books and preparing for exams. And the next year, he scored the second best result on the entrance exams and got a scholarship. Now he’s one of the best architect in the city. I wish I could be like him!” 

“I see…” Dave said. “Do you still visit this restaurant with him?” 

“No,” she sighed. “He’s now working in Ark-Traimen. They are working on the new skyscraper. It will be 12 floors tall, could you imagine that! I miss him very much, but we have to pay for my education, so…” 

“Oh,” Dave said. Her family has to pay for her education, that meant, she couldn’t be “E” or “G” rank, like him or Tanya. 

“What rank are you, by the way?” he asked. 

“Eh?” she leaned a bit forward in surprise. “Why do you ask?” 

“I am just curious,” Dave said. 

“Well, if you want to know… I am M3”, she admitted. “And you are G2, right?” 

“Y-yes,” Dave nodded. “You are quite well-informed.” 

She smiled teasingly. 

“I have my sources,” she said. 

Dave was going to answer, but another waiter approached their table. He was holding a black round tray with two rather large wine glasses on it, 1/3rd full. The waiter put a glass for Liza on the table, then another one for Dave. 

“Thank you,” Liza said with a smile and a slight nod. She took a glass and made a small sip. She held the wine in her mouth for a while, then nodded in appreciation and swallowed it. Dave looked at his glass in uncertainty. He had never been in such restaurants before and didn’t know how it was expected to drink wine here. He was only sure that he’d better not to make it with one gulp.

Liza put her arm under her chin and looked at Dave teasingly. 

“Seems this wine is not good enough for you,” she made a small laugh. 

Dave’s opinion was that rather, he wasn’t good enough for this wine.

“I think I should reserve it for the steak,” he said. 

“Ok,” Liza agreed easily. “So, do you like this place?” 

“It looks nice,” Dave said. “Maybe I should go there for lunches instead the cafeteria.” 

“No-no,” she exclaimed, “this place is for special occasions only! No lunches!” 

Dave shrugged. “Well, I can’t afford them here anyway. So, what is your business that you need my help with?” 

She pouted. 

“Dave, who so straightforward? Don’t you like to just enjoy the dinner here and not to think about problems?” 

“I do, but you asked me for help.” 

“Well, then help me to make this dinner the best in my life,” she said teasingly. 

Dave coughed. He didn’t know what to answer. To buy some time, he took his glass and made a sip too. He expected something wonderful, but the dark liquid was far from. It was a bit oily and quite bitter, to his taste. He swallowed it with a wry face. Well, maybe he should have choose… what was that wine Liza had?

Liza was still looking at him, waiting for his reply, leaned forward with her arms supporting her chin.

“Khm,” Dave said, “well… I will try.” 

“Oh Dave,” she sighed, “Do. Or do not. There is no try!” She smiled teasingly again. “Still, it’s a right attitude! So, let’s start from now, ok?” 

Dave scratched his forehead. Sure, he had dreamed before about meeting a girl who would love him from the first site and would be nice and sweet and charming and in love. But right now, Liza made him feel not very comfortable near her. Especially because he didn’t even know her enough for any kind of feelings! 

“Uhm,” he said. “Well… so… how was your day?” 

“It was great!” she answered immediately. “And now, it’s even greater! And yours?” 

“Hm, well, you know, any day that I don’t have to spend in the Academy is nice.” 

“You don’t like the classes?” she seemed surprised. “I thought you were one of the best students.” 

“Who, me? Nah, it’s for someone like Tanya.” Dave said. “What about you?” 

“Eh? Well… I am trying to… but seems the classes are so hard!” 

“Do you need my help because of your studying, by any chance?” Dave asked with a sudden insight.

“What?? No, no,” she said rapidly, “not at all! I know you are busy with your homework and studying, and I don’t want to bother you even more, and... although… maybe in the future… But it’s not what I need today from you! No!” 

“I see.” Dave had an urge to ask what did she need from him, but he was sure she wouldn’t answer anyway. Instead, he asked: “What is your field of study?”

“Complex spells,” she answered. 

“Wow!” Dave said. Complex spells were one of the hardest specialization in the Academy. Not because of the level of magic required - everyone could imagine a simple object like a ball or a cube. But complex spells didn’t deal with one object – they operated with dozens if not hundreds of them. And it was much, much harder. Not many people chose this specialization, even less people were able to graduate, but who were usually got quite nice jobs in military and civil engineering. After all, you won’t pay too little to a person who can control rain in clouds. 

“So, how is it?” he asked. 

“Hard,” she admitted. “Very. You know, we haven’t had practice yet, just the basic theory, but… I mean, there’s too much new things that just don’t want to go into my head! But I’m trying!” 

Dave smiled. 

"It's ok," he said, "I guess most students have the same problem. If they can graduate, so can you. At least, this is what I tell to myself all the time," he added. 

She laughed. 

"You are so funny, Dave! Funny and cute." 

Dave raised his eyebrows. Cute? What did she mean by that? He realized he didn't understand her. She could be shy and quiet at one moment, but self-confident and assertive by the next second. He heard once that every woman was a mystery. Well, Liza surely was one. 

"What are you thinking of?" Liza's voice woke his up from his trail of thoughts. 

"Um... About you," Dave gave her an honest answer.

She blushed instantly. She looked aside and to the floor. 

"So... that means I mean something for you?" She asked quietly. 

Dave opened his mouth only to discover he didn't know right words for answer.

"Liza... um... I know you for a few days," he said after a long pause. "For me, it's a too short time to make my mind. But surely you are a nice girl and I would like to know you more." 

"I see!" She said cheerfully. "Well, then you just must know me more! Ok?!" She winced. 

Dave laughed. 

"Ok," he said. 

Mr. Paolo approached their table with two big wooden boards with steaks for them. Steak rib eye for Liza and steak striploin for Dave. Rare and well-done, as ordered. 

 

"Did you like everything?" 

"Ah? Oh, yes, it was good." 

"I see. I enjoyed it too, Dave. But next time, you should try a proper steak. At least medium-well." 

"Ok," Dave smiled. They had already left the restaurant and was walking on the city streets. Dave didn't know where to exactly. It was already evening. The setting sun was hidden in light clouds on the blue sky. The air was clear. It was a part of the city with a lot of small and simple wooden houses, and Dave could see fruit trees growing in their gardens, feel the familiar smell of coal smoke from chimneys and hear dog barking somewhere far. In a word, it was a nice autumn evening. 

"Where are we going?" He asked Liza. 

"Just wait a bit, and you will see," she said teasingly. "We are almost there." 

"It's related to the thing you need my help with?" 

"Dave," she pouted, "why are you so boring?" 

"I'm not! It's just that it's already evening, and..." 

"As I said, boring," she said. "Dave, it's so good to walk here, and the weather is so  nice! Don't you like? It's so wonderful!" 

Dave thought that he had to agree with her. This kind of weather was a rarity here. Usually, autumn means long rains, dark clouds and freezing wind. 

"And about the business..." She added. "Don't worry, we still have time for it. Here, turn left," she said as she walked to a narrow street between two fences to the left of the main road. "We need to go to the end and then to the right and there is our destination!" 

"Liza," Dave said as he followed her, "It's nice to see the narrowest street in the whole kingdom, but maybe there is another way to this... destination?" 

"There is," she nodded, "but this is the fastest. Come on, it's safe!" 

"Okay..." He said. Seemed he had to follow her. He wasn't familiar with this part of town, and he doubted he could navigate here by himself. Liza, on the contrary, knew every corner here. In a few minutes, they passed this alley and walked out to a wide prospect. On the other side, Dave saw a high and long fence made from black iron cast bars. Behind the fence, there was a park with green trees, neat roads made from white bricks, black lampposts and a white mason house with a balcony at a distance. He could hear music playing in this park by a live light orchestra. 

“We are going there?” he asked already knowing the answer. 

“Yes!” Liza said cheerfully. “It’s my favorite park! It’s nice but not too crowded so there are always free benches to seat!” 

“I see… I didn’t know they have a park here.” 

“Maybe that’s why it’s not crowded,” Liza said. “Let’s go! The entrance is on that corner!” 

They passed the entrance gate, as wide and high as the fence itself, and walked out to a round square with a fountain in the middle. The fountain was round and not working. A few benches to the side of the square were occupied by couples and old ladies. A young woman in light-blue uniform was standing near the entrance behind the white box and selling ice cream. When she saw Dave and Liza, she smiled to them. Three roads were starting from the square. Liza chose the left one that went somewhere to the deep corners of the park. 

They stopped at one of those corners. The main road was going somewhere further, but there was a small walkway starting from it, almost unnoticeable as it was already covered with autumn red and orange leaves. Liza took Dave’s hand in her hand and led him on this walkway. It ended in few meters near a small pond surrounded by high trees and bushes. A few grey and green ducks were swimming there. Liza sat down on the only bench there and invited Dave to seat near her. 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she said. 

“Yes,” Dave admitted as he sat down on the bench. “So peaceful here.” 

“Yes…” Liza looked at Dave. “In place like this, in a weather like this... with you…” She moved herself a bit close to Dave. “It’s so romantic!” 

“Maybe,” Dave said, not knowing what to say. 

She smiled and looked at her wristwatch. Then, she put her left hand on Dave’s right hand. Dave could feel a warmth of her palm. For some time, they were just sitting like this, keeping silence, watching the sky and the trees and the ducks. Dave could hear distant sounds of a violin piece behind the whispering wind. He didn’t know why but he enjoyed those moments. And he didn’t want them to stop. 

“Dave,” Liza said suddenly. 

“Ah?” 

She laughed a bit. 

“Nothing. I just remembered, my mom said that if you are near the right person, even the silence becomes wonderful.” 

“She really said that?” Dave asked in surprise. 

Liza laughed.

“Of course she did, why do you doubt? You are funny, Dave.”

“Really?” Dave said, quite confused.

Liza leaned a bit closer to him and looked into his eyes.

“Dave, could I ask you something? Do you enjoy our time together?”

“Well… yes? Why?”

“Do you… like me?”

“Khm,” Dave coughed. “Liza… Well… You are nice girl… And…”

“So… do you, Dave?” she looked at him with puppy eyes.

“Liza…” Dave moved slightly from her without even noticing. “I… khm… I like to be with you but…”

“But…” Liza sighed and lowered her head. Her voice dropped. “But… it means you don’t like me…” She removed her hand from Dave’s one and slowly turned her head away. Her shoulders started shaking. Dave suddenly realized that she was crying silently.

“Liza…” he said quickly. ”It is not like that! I don’t mean that I don’t like you! I just… I mean…”

“It’s ok…” she said weakly. “I… un… unders…” she didn’t finish as she gasped heavily from tears. She drew a tissue from her handbag and carefully wiped her eyes.

“But it’s not like that!” Dave exclaimed. “I like you, I really do! Just please… please don’t cry!”

“It’s… it’s ok,” she said. “I… I just…”

She was on the verge of crying. And all because of him, Dave. He had to do something, but what? From a pure instinct, Dave reached for Liza, and put his hands on her shoulders. When she turned to him and looked at him in surprise, he hugged her. He hugged her tightly.

“It’s okay, Liza,” he said gently, as his hand was stroking her back. “It’s ok. I like you. Don’t worry. I like you.”

She raised her head. Theirs eyes met.

“Really?!” she said with hope. “You like me?”

“Yes,” Dave said.

“And what will you do to prove it?” she asked.

“Anything you like,” Dave smiled. Right now, he really would do anything just to make Liza smile again.

“Okay,” she said happily. “You promised!” She restrained from Dave, wiped her eyes again and then drew a pocket mirror from the purse to check the damage. Apparently, it was not serious, because she folded the mirror and put it back. “And you are a man of your word, right, Dave?”

 “Hm,” Dave was puzzled by this sudden change. “Yes.” 

“I know,” Liza said. Now, she was back to normal. Probably, nobody would tell now that she was crying just a few moments ago. “I have one request for you. Will you do it for me? To prove that you like me?”

“Liza…” Dave said.

“You promised!” she winked. “It’s about a friend of mine, Chen. Do you know Chen?” 

“No,” Dave replied. 

“She’s a roommate of Marisa Cartwright. Do you know Marisa?” 

“Yes,” Dave nodded.

“Good,” Liza said. “You see, I am a bit worried about Chen. We don’t speak about that often, but sometimes she tells me about Marisa, and I feel there is something not right about her.” 

“About who?” Dave asked. “Chen?” 

“No,” Liza answered very seriously, “Marisa. You see, I think that she – I mean, Marisa – may be a foreign spy.” 

“A spy?” Dave raised his eyebrows. “Liza, you are not serious, right?” 

“I know it sounds weird, but listen to me for a moment. Have you ever thought that Marissa acts strangely?” 

“Strangely?” Dave pondered for a moment. “Hm… I think no. I mean, sometimes all girls act strange, right?” 

“I see,” Liza said. “Well, did you know she’s from another kingdom?” 

Dave blinked. She was? 

“No,” he said.

“Yes. From the Valkyrie Kingdom to be precise. Our enemies.” 

“You should be kidding me,” Dave said quietly. 

“Don’t believe me? Ask any teacher, they will confirm.” 

“Ok…” Dave said slowly. “Maybe she is. But it doesn’t make her a spy automatically, right?” 

“That alone – no, but if you consider other things about her… For example, her behavior. She is always very quiet, very reserved. She always just stays and listens. Isn’t it what a spy would do?” 

“Maybe she’s just like that,” Dave said in Marissa’s defense.

“And she’s also 4 years older than us. Why would you study magic that late? And in another kingdom?” 

“Well, there could be many reasons… Wait, she’s really 4 years older than us?” 

Liza nodded. 

“She’s 22. You should’ve known that, Dave. She claims that it’s she has a “W”-rank and they don’t take students with that rank, but… really? Magicians are rare, nobody would reject someone just because of W-rank.” 

“Well…” Dave shrugged not knowing what to answer. But Marisa’s kingdom may have different rules, right? 

“Anyway, she always like hiding something,” Liza continued. “She never gives a straight answer. Chen told me that she had asked her once what kind of music she liked, and she replied: “Both”!” 

“That’s strange,” Dave had to admit. 

“And besides, every 3-4 days, she sends a letter to someone,” Liza said. “You should remember, a few days ago she asked you to send her letter because she was busy.” 

“You were watching us that day?” Dave asked angrily. 

“Of course I was. I watched her, actually. Anyway, these letters are very important for her, and she doesn’t allow anyone to see what’s inside. When Chen tried to ask her what was on those letters, Marissa unexpectedly got angry and told Chen that it wasn’t Chen’s business. A rather emotional reaction from an ice queen, don’t you find?” 

“So what?” Dave said. “It could be personal.” 

“Yes, but Chen saw the address, and it was some university in Deimur-Town. Their capital city.” 

“Oh…” Dave said. “I see.  Still, it doesn’t make her a spy.” 

“But you should agree, she’s rather suspicious,” Liza said. “I can’t just leave it like that! My friend can be in danger!” 

Dave tilted his head slightly.

“I am sure she’s not in danger,” he answered. “I mean, Marisa wouldn’t harm her even if she was a spy… right?” 

“I hope so,” Liza agreed. “But still… Until we can’t be sure, I will be worried. I can’t not to, Dave, when it’s about my friends!” 

“I understand,” Dave said. “But how can I help you?” 

“I was going to move to that,” Liza said. “I think we need to know more about Marisa. So I want you to go on a date to her.” 

For a moment, Dave was stunned. 

“A date?..” he said finally. 

“Yes,” Liza said simply. 

“But… but we aren’t even close to each other!” 

“Dave,” Liza looked at Dave like a teacher looks at a not too bright kid in the class. “It’s what dates are for, to know each other closer. Besides, she already treats you differently from other students, don’t you find?” 

“Well… maybe… I guess…” Dave said, unsure. 

“So a date is a best way to know her more,” Liza continued. “You can observe her, ask questions about her past, and about her country, and about her hobbies, and she won’t even suspect anything because it’s what you do on dates!” 

“You think?” Dave said in doubts. 

“It’s easy, Dave! I’ll teach you what to ask, what to look at, and you will tell me what she replied. We will be like Holmes and Watson… no, like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.” 

“Who??” Dave was confused completely. 

“Ah?” Liza said. “Ah, silly me. You probably haven't read this book. So, will you help me?”

Dave pondered for a moment. Despite everything that Ann said, he wasn’t really convinced. Marisa’s a spy? Seriously? But on the other hand, she really acted quite strange. Probably, it would be really better to investigate. Maybe, he would even get some award from the magical security after that. Just like in those books about kid detectives that he and Tanya liked to read when they were in 8th grade.

Liza noticed his doubts. 

 “Dave,” she leaned to him, “please… Don’t leave me and Chen. You promised!” 

Dave looked aside. She knew his weak spot. He may have many not good qualities and lot of bad habits, but he never could leave a girl without help. 

“Okay,” he said. “I will.” 

“I know you are a kind and brave and honest man,” she said. “A man of his word and, besides, your hugs feel so good! Should I say all that to Tanya?” she added with a teasing smile. 

“The latter was completely unnecessary!” Dave exclaimed. 

“Why? It’s true!” Liza said. “So, will you help to me and Chen? Please! Just go to a couple dates with Marisa. If you find out that she’s not a spy, that’s great, means, that I worried for nothing. But if we find that she may be a spy, then we will save our kingdom!” 

“I know,” Dave said.

Liza put her hand over his hand softly. Her hand was warm and felt nice. 

“I believe in you, Dave,” she said. “And Chen too.” She smiled, then instantly became serious. “Ok, let’s meet tomorrow here? 3 pm is ok for you? We will discuss everything in detail. You don’t mind? Right now, it’s a bit late for all that.” 

“Well, but…” Dave said. He had his plans for Sunday, and meeting at 3 pm wasn’t included in them. 

“Ok, deal,” she said as she stood up. ”So, tomorrow, here, 3 p.m., okay? And remember, you promised!” 

And before Dave had a chance to answer, she disappeared into the park. 

 

Monday morning, Dave Larsen rushed under the roof of the Academy’s entrance and closed his black umbrella, shaking it a bit to drop some water. Normally, his umbrella was good to protect him from a rain, but today it wasn’t a simple rain. It was a rainstorm. Heavy-grey clouds were pouring rain, and the famous wind of Seinar-Sa was blowing in circles to make sure that everyone would get wet despite all umbrellas and raincoats. Dave shivered from a cold weather. He liked Seinar-Sa, but every autumn, he often thought that he would prefer to live in a place with a bit less rain. 

He clasped his umbrella tightly and opened the door. 

The Academy hallways were full of students, crowdy and noisy as usual. Dave went downstairs, had to wait in a long queue to the wardrobe before he could leave his jacket and umbrella there and only after that, he could go to the hall right next to the dean’s office, to check the timetable for today. In the Academy, it was always better to check the timetable – who knows what sudden changes they had introduced to it again. 

Besides, he had an appointment with Liza there. 

It was bright in the hall, thanks to big windows and magical lamps. Dave had to close his eyes for a moment after a poorly lit hallway before he could adjust to that. There were quite a lot of students too, most of them were either standing near the timetable boxes on the wall to the left from Dave, or on benches near another wall. A few groups of female students were standing near the glass dome of the fountain in the center of the hall and were chatting about something – a bit strange for Dave, because the fountain was quite noisy even under a dome. To the right from Dave, in a small niche, two other students were staying in a queue to the big door covered with black leather and with a card saying “The Dean’s office. Explosive.” Dave looked around and saw no sign of Liza. Probably, she was late. 

He sighed and went to the timetable box. 

There was a few people around it, so Dave had to squeeze through them. He stopped in front of a box with the timetable for his group, next to another guy who put his notebook against the glass and tried to copy the schedule. What this guy didn’t know that this position was not good for his ballpoint pen, as it constantly refused to write and caused him to curse and shake it in hopes to make the pen work. Dave looked at him, thinking to give him a pencil, but decided not to. Ok, so today was Monday and that meant they would have a class of English literature, then a practice for the theory of magic wands, and then the lecture for all groups devoted to health and safety practices in magic. A quite useful class if only the teacher did not talk that much about tsunami and dangers of meat diets. 

Somebody patted him on the shoulder.

“Hi, Dave,” Liza said with a gentle smile. 

Dave turned around. 

“Hi, Liza,” he said. “How are you?” 

“Oh, not here,” Liza winked to him. “Let’s go to the something more… intimate.” 

“Intimate?.. What do you…” But Liza already pulled him towards the exit to the stairway. She went downstairs for two floors until they reached the basement level.

Liza looked around and didn’t see anything except the emergency exit door. 

“Ok, good enough,” she said. “But still, we should be careful. Nobody should know about this.” 

“Um… okay” Dave said in response. “So, what do you want to talk about?” 

“Guess,” she winked. “I just want to know what is your plan.” 

“Plan? What plan?” 

She looked at him angrily. 

“Dave, you can’t be that dumb! You just can’t! Please tell me that you are just joking.” 

“Ok, I am joking,” Dave said. “You are about Marissa, right?” 

“Shush!” she put her index finger to her mouth in a well-known gesture. Her eyes glared angrily. Dave raised hands.

“Ok, ok, we should be careful, I understand.” 

“You’d better to,” Liza said meaningfully. “Ok, so what is your plan? When will you meet Mar… the target? Today?” 

“Hm, yes,” Dave confirmed. “Maybe after the lecture.” 

“Good,” Liza nodded. “How do you plan to invite her?” 

“Well, I will just ask her,” Dave said.

“Yes, but how exactly? It is important, Dave. We can’t afford that she will get a bad impression of you.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” Dave shrugged. “I will just see how it will go and follow the flow, you know.” 

“Oh, here we go again,” Liza said. “We’ve spent all Sunday discussing this, and now you say that you will just follow the flow. After all that things that I’ve taught you!” 

“Well, but I did well in the end, right?” Dave said. They really did spend most of the Sunday discussing things; most of them were Liza trying to teach him how to date, despite all Dave’s effort to convince her that he knew everything about dates. Liza cut them down easily by saying “Yeah? And when did you have the last date, Dave?” “Yesterday,” Dave honestly replied. “I mean, except that,” Liza said. Dave shrugged and said nothing. “I thought so,” Liza said and looked at him like a teacher at a bad student. And so, his long training session had begun. At first, Liza asked him to imagine her to be Marisa and to invite her on a date. After a few attempts (“A for approach, F for invitation, and you didn’t score on exit as you haven’t exited yet… Try again, Dave!”) Liza gave up and decided to give him some advices about dating. Well, they were quite good advices, Dave had to admit. That he had to act confident but not bold. That it’s good to make the girl interested in him before asking for a date (“It’s good that Marisa is already interested in you, Dave.”). That he should to know what Marisa liked and what she didn’t like, what were her favorite things, places, food and activities, but he should mostly observe and not to ask her, or it would look as a police investigation. That for the date, he should wear clean and neat clothes, ideally that match Marisa’s dress (“And make sure your shoes are clean and polished, Dave. You guys always forgot about that, and it ruins all impression”) She also gave some psychological advices to him, like that he should look interested in Marisa but not too interested… wait, or he just made this advice up? Liza was talking so much yesterday! Anyway, she seemed to be satisfied with his last date rehearsal. She even said that it was a step in a right direction, and it meant something, right? 

“Ok,” he said, “if you want to know, I will come to her and say: “Marissa, could I have a word?” And she will, like: “Hello, Dave, sure, go ahead.” And I: “You are beautiful today.” And she will: “Thank you, Dave, you are sweet. If only I can date a guy like you.” And I will say: “Sorry, but I date only foreign spies.” And she: “But I am a foreign spy, Dave.” And I: “Prove it.” And then, she will give me all proofs and we will live happily ever after.” 

“You are impossible, Dave,” Lisa shook her head.

“You are welcome,” Dave shrugged.

“At least, tell me that you have planned where to go with her.” Liza almost begged as she looked at Dave. 

“Well, actually, I have. We will go to a small café near the Academy and will have a romantic dinner and will have a good time. What do you think?” 

Liza sighed. 

“I should have guessed that you had something like that in mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good start but it’s not enough. Wait a second…” She opened her purse and, after a short search, pulled two small pieces of paper. “Here,” she said as she gave them to Dave. “I have a better idea.” 

“Tickets to amusement park??” Dave said, a bit surprised, as he took the papers and read the text on them. 

“Believe me, she will love it,” Liza winked to him. She looked at her wristwatch. “Ok, Dave, I have to go now. Bye! And tell me how it went, ok?” 

“I will,” Dave nodded. 

When he arrived to the classroom, it was 3 minutes left to the start of the class. Tanya looked at him with curiosity as he started to unload his books, notepads and pens from his backpack. 

“Something happened, Dave?” she asked. “You are late today.” 

“Umm… no”, he replied not looking at Tanya. He was still busy with unloading. “Just the rain, that’s it.” 

“I see.” Tanya nodded. She paused for a moment, thinking if she should ask or not, and finally decided to ask. “So, how was your date with Liza?” 

Dave suddenly stopped and turned to Tanya. 

“How do you know?” 

“Don’t know, it is something in the air,” her eyes were smiling teasingly. Dave’s eyes widened in horror. Did everyone know about their date? “Ann told me,” Tanya explained after a pause. 

“Well, how did she know?” Dave still worried. 

“I don’t know exactly,” Tanya shrugged. “Apparently, they are friends with Liza. So, how did it go?” 

“Well…” A corner of Dave’s lips moved up. “It wasn’t a date, actually. She just wanted me to help her with her homework. Magical statistics, that kind of things.” 

“I see,” Tanya said. “And did you help?” 

Dave shrugged. 

“At least, I tried. Why?” 

“I am just curious,” Tanya explained. She turned to the blackboard and adjusted her skirt. “You know, sometimes I think that you help others too much.” 

“What do you mean?” Dave enquired. 

“Nothing,” Tanya said.

“Tell me,” Dave insisted. But then, he heard sounds of chairs banging on the floor as students were standing up and pushing them away, and the familiar “Hello all!” of Mrs. Vanessa Yui, their English teacher. The class just started.

Next few hours passed quickly, as Dave got very busy during the first two classes. The English class had the task to describe a small process, like a blow of wind, and then discuss and improve it with the entire group. Hard but, as Dave had to admit, quite useful for making new spells, because you would have to image what you want in smallest details, or the wand wouldn’t understand you. And the next class, they had training sessions in pairs. In fact, Dave even forgot to ask Tanya what did she meant. He recalled it only at the end of the boring health and safety lecture. 

“…and, please, read the paragraphs 43 to 56 in the textbook. Ok, the class is over for today. Good bye.” 

It appeared to Dave that after this phrase of the teacher, everyone in the room sighed in relief. One hour and a half of very important information about how to behave in case of a forest fire was over. Probably, it was even useful but what was its relation to magic? Dave didn’t know. 

“Dave.... Da-a-a-ve! Will you come?” he heard Tanya’s voice.

“Ah?” Dave raised his head. Tanya was standing near him, her things already packed, and was waiting for his response. “Um… Actually, I have some business here. You can not wait me, it could be for a long time.” 

“Ah, Liza again?” Tanya said teasingly. “Ok, no problem then. Just be careful, I don’t want you to solve every assignment for her.” 

“It’s ok,” Dave said, “More practice is always good.” 

“Whatever,” she shrugged and went down to the exit. 

Dave started to pack his things, looked around. Seemed that Marisa was still there. She was standing near the blackboard and discussing something with the teacher. Dave saw that the teacher drew a big wave on the board, then she pointed at its basement, and the teacher started to explain her something that Dave couldn’t hear. When Dave finally packed his things and went down to the first row, Marisa and the teacher already finished their discussion, and she was on the way to the exit. 

“Marisa!” Dave called her. She stopped and looked at him. 

“Hello, Dave,” Marisa said with her usual polite half-smile. “Do you need something?” 

“Nah, just wanted to say hello,” Dave said. “I saw you were discussing something with the teacher?” 

“Yes,” she nodded. “I was just curious why tsunami becomes so big and Mr. Rowling was kind enough to explain me.” 

“I see,” Dave nodded. “Seems you like to know everything to the dot.” 

She tilted her head slightly to the left. 

“I would love to,” she said. “After magic, science is my second passion since childhood.” 

“Wow,” Dave said.

“Maybe we should go?” Marissa reminded him. “I guess, it’s not polite to block the exit.” 

“Ah? Yes, of course, you are right,” Dave made a step forward and opened the door for her.

“Aww, thank you,” she said with a short laugh. They exited the class and went towards the stairs. 

“Actually, there is something I wanted to ask you,” Dave said when they went far enough from other students who could hear their conversation. Marisa tilted her head again, waiting for continue.

“I am listening,” she said when the pause went too long. 

Dave made a deep breath. It was now or never. He should say something to her, something like Liza taught him. Something nice and charming and… 

“Marisa,” he said, “Would you mind to go to a date with me?” 

She slowed down and looked at him with interest. 

“Ok,” she said after a small pondering. “Invitation accepted. May I ask you where and when?” 

 

When Dave arrived at the gate of the amusement park, Marisa already was there. She was staying under big red letters forming "The Magic World" name and looking at the big rollercoaster in a distance. As usual, her choice of clothes suited the situation. Marisa was in a graphite-colored raincoat, black classical trousers, a white shirt under a cream Academy sweater, and in a trainer shoes. Good enough for date as well as for rides. Dave looked at his clothes, feeling a bit uncomfortable. Not because of a date, no. For some reason, Liza insisted that he wore a white shirt with a maroon tie and well-pressed trousers, and he felt it was a bit too formal for him. But, maybe Liza was right. At least, he didn't look weird near Marisa.

He adjusted... well, at least tried to adjust his hair with his hands and stepped to Marisa. 

"Watching the rollercoaster?" He said as he approached her. 

"Yes," she said and turned to him. "I was just curious how it works." 

"I see. And how?" 

"Apparently, they use a steam engine to lift the cars up to the highest point, but after that, it's just gravity. Very clever." 

"Okay," Dave said not knowing what to say. "Do you want to try this?" 

"Sure. What about you?" She smiled softly. 

"Well..." Dave swallowed, a bit uncomfortably. "If you want so. Okay, so, let's go?" 

She nodded. 

They started to walk towards the entrance booth. Dave hesitated for a moment, but eventually took her hand in his. After all, they were on the date.

After the entrance booth, there was a rather long passageway with lots of small shops. Souvenirs, ice creams, soft drinks, fried potatoes – they were selling everything. The pavement they were walking at was made from yellow bricks. Black lampposts on the sides of the walkway were decorated with nice forged patterns. It was just Tuesday, not the main day for an amusement park like this, but still, there were quite a lot of kids with their parents, school students and, of course, couples.

"Thank you for going with me," Dave said as they passed another ice cream shop. "I really thought you wouldn't accept this invitation." 

"Why?" Marisa was a bit surprised. 

"Well... you see... you make such impression... I mean..." Dave paused for a moment, tried to pick the words carefully. "I mean, you obviously wouldn't go to a date with just a random guy, right?" 

She smiled. 

"To be honest, I like dates, Dave," she said. "It's a nice opportunity to meet new people and visit places I wouldn't visit otherwise. Like this amusement park." 

Dave coughed. He didn't expect to hear something like this from Marisa. 

"Khmm... okay," he said. For a moment, his mood dropped a bit. She liked dates, did it mean that she would like to go to a date with everyone? And for her, he was nothing but an excuse to visit the Magic World? Well, he went to this date only to investigate if she was a spy and wasn't going to win her heart, but still...

"But I am certainly wouldn't date with just a random guy," Marissa continued. "Only with people I really like and can enjoy the time with." 

"Ah, I see," Dave smiled wide. "Thank you." 

"You are welcome," Marisa tilted her head to the left. 

They are reached the stairway that led to the main area of the park below. They could see the entire park from this point. It was big, green and full of people. An artificial river divided the park into several islands connected by beautiful old style bridges, before becoming a big lake to the left from the stairs. Dave could see several small paddle boats floating around. A row of such boats were parked near the wooden pier under the shadow of the high and wide tree. On the end of the pier, a few kids with their parents were standing and throwing something to the lake – most likely, to feed fish. The main twisted road started right from the stairway and was going through all the island, passing merry-go-arounds of different kinds, swings, pedal cars, boxing machines, various shooting ranges and finally arriving to the observation wheel and the main thing – the Fast and Furious Hills, the highest rollercoaster in the kingdom. 

“Okay,” he turned to Marisa. “What ride do you prefer for a start?” 

“Well, I trust your choice,” she said. 

“I mean, maybe you like some rides more, or less, than others?” 

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried any ride, to be honest.” 

“Really?” Dave was surprised. “Your kingdom don’t have any amusement parks?” 

“Oh, it has, obviously. But I’ve never been there.” 

“I see,” Dave noted that she didn’t deny that she was from another kingdom. “Well, you’ve missed a lot of fun then.” 

“It’s possible,” she said politely. “So, what would you recommend me for a start? I would like to try everything.” 

Two hours later, as another merry-go-round-like thing was slowly stopping, and he finally could release the metal handle he was holding hard to be not thrown out, Dave realized that she probably really wanted to try every ride here. And that his stomach was very upset with rides like that. He could handle the classical merry-go-around for once, but when this big disk with benches around the edge and no protection except metal handles was rotating fast back and forward and also tilting from side to side like a barge in a storm… well, it was too much for him.

The disk finally stopped, and everyone started to get up from benches. Dave stood up and went to the exit, trying to walk straight. When Marisa left the ride, he was already sitting on the bench nearby, his eyes closed, breathing deeply. 

“Are you okay, Dave?” Marisa asked. 

“What?” he opened his eyes. “Ow…” Dave put his hand on his forehead. “I am fine… I just… just need to rest a bit, okay?” 

She sat down near him.

“I am sorry,” she said. Seemed the merry-go-round did not affect her much. “Probably we shouldn’t go to the next ride.” 

“No, I am okay,” Dave said. “I am fine.” 

Marisa raised her eyebrows.

“But you’d better rest,” she said softly. 

“How much time we have?” Dave asked instead. He still could feel dizziness, but it wasn’t as severe as a few minutes ago. He could even stand a rollercoaster now… maybe. 

She looked at her small and elegant silver watch. 

“56 minutes before closing time,” she said. 

“Okay,” Dave tried to stand up, and succeeded without much yawing. “So we still have time for the big wheel and rollercoaster. I just need a glass of cold water, and will be fine.” 

She looked at him doubtingly but said nothing. 

To reach the observation wheel, they had to walk about 10 minutes on the wide road to the final island, with many stalls on the side. Dave stopped near the first one to by a bottle of a cold water. Sun started to set already, he could feel small and chilly evening breeze, and the air in the sky seemed clear and cold, as it only could be in autumn in Seinar-Sa. One of those rare days without rains here. 

Marisa bought a cup of hot coffee and a bread roll, and they went to small folding chairs and tables nearby. 

“Nice weather,” Dave said as he sipped from his bottle.

“Uh-uh,” Marisa agreed. She blew the steam away from her coffee.

For some time, they were just sitting there, saying no words, in the long shadow from the trees behind them. The breeze brought distant sounds of the cheerful music from the rides of the next island. Rare couples were passing by. Dave put the cold and still wet from the melted ice bottle to his forehead. It helped a bit. He felt less dizzy now. He looked at Marisa. She was still eating her bread roll, sipping her coffee from time to time, concentrated to not make a spot at her clothes. But Dave felt she still noticed everything around them. 

“Do you like the rides?” he asked. 

“Ah, yes. I like it very very much!” she smiled. “Thank you.”

“Good to hear,” Dave said.

Marisa moved her shoulder slightly as in “If you say so” gesture. 

“How are you, Dave?” she asked in concerned voice. “Are you ok? If you aren’t, we’d better return home.” 

“I told you, I am fine,” he replied and removed the bottle from his forehead.

Marisa tilted her head to the left and looked at him closely. 

“Well…” she said after examining him, “probably you are indeed fine.” And returned to her coffee and bread roll. 

Dave opened his mouth to say something, but couldn’t pick words. He coughed and shook his head, almost causing another round of dizziness in the process.

Marisa finished her coffee, went to the nearest trashcan to throw the paper cup and returned to Dave. 

“I am ready,” she said. “If you are ready too, let’s go.” 

Dave nodded, stood up and picked the bottle from the table. 

While they were walking on the main road, passing by the other stalls, Dave was thinking about today’s date. And Marisa. During last few hours, it seemed that she enjoyed rides and the park quite honestly, and she was eager to try new rides and new things. And Dave was sure she also enjoyed time with him as well. Yet, there still was something else, that made him feel she wasn’t quite open to him. Something that she preferred to hide. Even when she was talking to Dave, he had a feeling that she tried to say as little as possible. Why did she act like this? What secrets did she hide?

They were passing the row of shooting range tents when Dave pulled Marisa by her hand.

“Ow!” she exclaimed, clearly not expecting the sudden stop. “Something happened, Dave?” she asked in concerned tone. 

“No, no,” Dave said. “I just noticed those toys and thought that maybe we could try to win them,” he pointed at stuffed toys at the sides of the tent. “Would you like to try, Marisa? Are you good at shooting?” 

“Shooting?” she repeated the question. “Don’t know, I’ve never tried.” 

“So, will you try?” Dave said. Actually, he wanted to test her shooting skills. If she really was a spy, they must’ve teach her how to shoot, right? She shrugged. 

“Well, why not?” she said.

“Great!” Dave made a step to the owner of the stall. The owner, a fat man in camouflage T-shirt and trousers, stood up from his seat and waved to Dave cheerfully. Ten meters behind him, Dave saw a row of 5 small metal circles, each about 5 cm in diameter – the targets.

“Want to shoot?” he said. “Come here, don’t be shy! Score three, small toy for free! Want some bigger – just pull the trigger! Are you ready to hit all 5 targets, young boy?” 

“Actually, my friend wants to shoot first,” Dave said. 

“Well, if the lady knows how to shoot, it’s dangerous to not let her, right?” The man winked. “50 plates, please.” 

While Dave was giving him money and receiving the change, Marisa had already come close to the stall and now was investigating the long barrel gun to shoot from. She looked both interested and a bit confused.

"So, how it works?" She asked the owner. 

"It's simple," the camouflage t-shirt man took the gun, put a small red cap on the end of the barrel, then pulled a leaver. "Load it like this, then aim," he aimed at one of the targets, "and pull the trigger." With a popping sound, the cap went to the target and hit it with a metal "clink." "Like this," the owner returned the gun to Marisa.

"Well... okay..." Marisa said.

"You need to hit 3 target to win a small toy, and hit 5 to win a big one," the owner explained. "You will have 5 shots. Start when you're ready." 

"Ok, Marisa," Dave smiled, "What toy would you like to win? Maybe this?" He pointed at a small stuffed owl toy. "Or this?" His finger moved to point at a green cartoonish-looking frog with big eyes. 

"No," she shook her head. "This!"

"This?" Dave looked at the toy she chose. It was a big ginger cat with black stripes and big round green eyes, sitting on his back paws and having a cute white and blue scarf on his neck. He looked incredible cute. "Seems you will have to shoot five targets then!" 

"Ow," she said. "Okay, let's try..." She took a gun, put it against her shoulder, closed her left eye... 

"Puff", the bullet left the barrel and hit something well above the targets. Marisa lowered the gun. 

"I didn't hit?" She asked. 

"No," the owner said. 

"Oh. Seems no cat for me then," Marisa said.

"You still have 4 shots, maybe you can win a small toy," the owner cheered her. Marisa replied nothing, she just inserted a cap in the barrel and pulled the lever. 

"Puff!" This time, the bullet went lower. Dave looked at Marisa. With a serious look at her face, she loaded the gun again and tried to aim the target very carefully... 

"Puff!" And another miss.

Marisa clenched her teeth and loaded the gun again. Dave hold his breath. 

"Puff!" This time, the bullet hit the wooden plank a few centimeters to the right from a target.

"Damn!" Marisa said. "Almost!" 

 She took another – the final – bullet and pulled the lever again. 

This time, she was aiming for quite a long time, maybe more than one minute. Dave was looking at her, a bit worried. Seemed she took this shooting challenge quite seriously.

"Puff!"

"Sorry, a miss again," the owner said. "Your time is up, young miss. But don't be upset, you will get lucky the next time!"

Marisa put the gun on the shelve and turned to Dave. She was clearly upset. 

“Aw,” Dave said, “don’t be sad, Marisa. I will win this toy for you now!”

He gave the owner another 50 plates and took the gun. He put it firmly against his shoulder. Actually, when he was in middle school, they were taught how to shoot from air guns. But it was long time ago, and those guns were quite different from the one here. Still, he hoped that the differences were not that important for aiming. He pointed the gun at the first target, held his breath, and tried to pull the trigger smoothly … 

“Puff!” The first shot went a bit too left from the target. Dave cursed, took another bullet and reloaded. His second shot was much better. The red cap used as a bullet hit the target right in the middle, and it felt down. 

“Yeah!” Dave raised his arm with a gun in a victory gesture, but quickly lowered it and made a serious look again. He tried to look at Marisa not turning his head, by his side vision. From what he could see, she was amazed. 

“Wow!” Marisa said in admiration. 

Dave nodded, as this shot was nothing unusual to him, and loaded the gun again. 

The next shot scored another hit. Dave cheered up. Probably, he would win a small toy today. He pointed the gun to the next target and pulled the trigger… but this time, he did it a bit too quickly so the bullet went a bit off and missed the target. Damn. Still, he had the one shot left, and he still could win. Dave made a deep breath, loaded the gun again, put it firmly against his shoulder and aimed at the target again…

He held the gun for about half a minute before pulling a trigger. 

“Puff!” The red cap left the barrel. Dave’s heart skipped a beat. Then, he heard a “clink” sound meaning that the bullet hit the target. But… the target didn’t went down as before. It stood still. Seemed the bullet fled a bit lower than before and its momentum was not enough to make the target drop. 

“Damn!” Dave made a wry face. He was that close! 

“But… but it hit the target, right?” Marisa said with hope in her voice. 

“Sorry,” the owner shook his head. “The rules are, the target has to fall down. But still, it was an incredible shooting. Maybe, you want to try again?” 

Dave looked at Marisa, but she shook her head rather energetically. Dave raised his eyebrows, and she pointed at her watch. Ah. Indeed, they might not have enough time before the park would be closed. 

“Sorry,” Dave said, “Maybe next time.” 

“Ok,” the owner said and gave Dave and Marisa two lollipops. “A consolation prize for your shooting! Come again soon!” 

“Thank you,” Dave said. “We will. So, let’s go, Marisa?” 

For a few minutes, they were walking in silence. The stalls with shooting ranges, soda waters, toys and ice creams hid behind a road’s turn. Now, they were approaching a nice arch bridge across the river to the island with the observation wheel and roller coaster. When they passed the statues of white fat cats with their paws up, which were placed on the gray stone pillars of the bridge walls, Dave looked at Marisa. She was stepping absentmindedly, her eyes looking down, her lips closed tightly.

“Marisa… are you ok?” Dave asked. “Are you upset because of this shooting?” 

She turned her head slightly to Dave. She sighed. 

“It’s ok,” she said. “It’s not the first thing I have failed.” 

“But you look sad,” Dave said. 

“Of course,” she continued seemingly ignoring Dave’s words, “it was my first time at shooting, so it would be highly unlikely for me to win right away. Besides, shooting all five targets in a shooting range like this should be difficult, as they need it to be difficult. Otherwise, too many people would win toys and they would have no profit. Logically, I don’t have any reasons to be upset that we didn’t win any toy. It is not reasonable to expect to win a toy considering all that factors. So it is not reasonable to feel any sad feelings if we don’t win. It was the most likely outcome.” 

“You are definitely upset,” Dave concluded. 

She sighed. 

“I just really liked that cat, that is,” she said. “But you were really good! Or maybe you used magic to hit those targets?”

“Hm, no, I didn’t,” Dave said. “It’s actually not possible because of timing. You would need to synchronize the moment the bullet leaves the barrel and the moment when the magic starts to… although…” he stopped short and pondered for few moments. “Well, if I… No, it won’t work. But probably, if we manage to make a spell on the target that will attract bullets… yes, probably, it should be a triggered spell to make it work… And of course, it should be triggered only in a very close area to the target… Marisa, you are genius!” 

“What?” Marisa stared at Dave. “But I didn’t do anything!” 

“Doesn’t matter,” Dave waved his hand, “your idea is brilliant! We could create this aiming spell and win all the toys here!” 

“Dave,” Marisa said, “I am pretty sure that they have some kind of protection against this spell. If this spell is even possible.” 

“Nah, I bet they haven’t even thought about this,” Dave dismissed Marisa’s note. “And you really want this cat toy.” 

“Not that much,” she replied. “And besides, it is not fair to cheat like that.” 

“Why?” Dave asked. “Do you what, always play by rules?” 

She paused before answering. 

“No,” Marisa said dryly. “But I am really trying.” 

Dave opened his mouth to say something, but decided not to. He looked at Marisa in a mix of curiosity and respect.

“I see,” he finally said.

After the bridge, the road made its final turn, and they finally saw the observation wheel and the rollercoaster in full view. Of course, Dave knew the observation wheel was big – after all, they could see right from the entrance, - but he didn’t imagine it was that big. Good 30 m in diameter, white and blue, with colorful open cabins, it was probably the tallest structure in the Seinar-sa. Or, maybe, the second tallest after the rollercoaster. It was behind the observation wheel and looked just as high. Just to take a seat in the wagon, they would have to go upstairs to the platform about five meters above the ground, and it was just the beginning. From the platform, the rail of the rollercoaster was going up with a relative small incline, but then, it made an 180-degrees turn into a maybe 30-degrees slope that ended at the highest point of the rollercoaster. After that, rails went straight down, almost to the ground, to go through a loop-a-loop and then, through a series of hills and sharp turns to the final spiral at the probably 25 meters. After the spiral, the rail went down just to make the final raise to the platform. The cheerful music was mixing with the metal noise of the wagons going up and down at full speed and with excited and scared yells of the riders. Compared to that, the slowly rotated wheel was peaceful and quiet. It was already twilight, and hundreds of magic lamps were illuminating the wheel and the rollercoaster ride. 

“So, what will we try first?” Dave asked Marisa. “The observation wheel or the rollercoaster?” 

“You are the man, Dave,” she shrugged, “you decide.” 

“Well, but I want to know your opinion,” Dave said. 

She pondered for a moment. 

“In that case, it’s the observation wheel. I believe you need more rest before the rollercoaster.” 

“But I am fine!” 

“And you wanted to know my opinion. Now you know,” Marisa said with a soft smile. 

“Ok,” Dave laughed, “Let’s go.” 

They went to the observation wheel. There was a small queue to the entrance, about 7 or 8 people. The wheel was slowly rotating, not stopping for loading and unloading, so passengers had to enter or leave the cabin in the time while it was near the loading platform. Now, when they were standing so close to the wheel, Dave could hear mechanical noises of rotating gears that powered it.

“I wonder, how this thing is powered,” he muttered. “Magic?” 

“No,” Marisa corrected him, “a steam engine.” 

“Really?” 

“Could you see this small booth between pillars?”

“This one? Yes.” Dave looked at the booth between massive pillars forming the triangle support structure of the wheel. Now he could see the massive belt going from the big box on the ground to the wheel’s axis above.

“I think, there is a steam engine inside. At least, I hear noises that are usual for steam engines. It powers the main gear that, through the gear box and some kind of transmission, rotates the wheel itself.” 

“Hmm… but if there is a steam engine, then why we don’t see the smoke?” 

“Good question. Do you see this pipe in the back? I believe it’s the steam pipe. They must have a central boiler somewhere in the park, maybe in the service area, and this boiler produces steam for all rides. Clever.” 

“I see,” Dave looked at Marisa with admiration. “How do you know all that? Are you a closet steam engine fan?” 

“No,” Marisa said, “I just had studied all about steam engines and engineering in general for three years.” 

The couple in front of them already jumped in the wheel cabin. It was their turn now. Dave climbed in the next cabin and lend a hand to Marisa to help her. She thanked him with a polite nod and closed the chain that protected them from falling off. 

“You’ve studied engineering magic?” Dave asked. 

“Yes,” Marisa said as she looked at the view from the cabin. The wheel was rotating slowly, so they still were below the trees. “I was graduated from the Royal Institute of Engineering Magic this spring,” she touched her pin at her sweater. 

“Wow,” Dave said. “So this pin is from this institute? And what is your specialty?” 

“Railroad engineer,” she answered. “At least, according to my papers.” 

"Wow! You must be really interested in steam engines!" 

"Not that much," she said. "Actually, I became an engineer because of my dad. Our family owns a transportation company, rather large in fact, and recently we entered into the railroads business. So my dad decided that having a railroad engineer in the family would be helpful." 

"I see. But what about you? Did you want to become one?" 

"Well," Marisa turned her head to see the view to the left of the cabin. They already were above trees, halfway to the top. "Studying in the institute was quite useful to me. I've learned a lot of things there." 

"But it's not what I asked," Dave said. 

Marisa smiled. 

"I always wanted to be a magician, Dave," she said. "But I am glad that I studied engineering magic too." 

"I see", Dave said. 

Their cabin now was almost at the top. Seinar-sa was below them, in the lights of the setting sun, with all its houses, streets, avenues and alleys. Dave could see the 7-floor-tall skyscraper of the city hall rising above the rows of small houses, the wide diagonal street crossing the entire city, the river far away and a red half-arch of the new bridge under construction, the Key hill where all rich and famous people of Seinar-sa lived... He tried to locate the Academy but its pentagonal building was hid behind the forests and houses nearby. Dave turned his head to the right and saw the rollercoaster train going down the rails at the high speed with grinding noise and excited screams of its passengers. The cabin started to be shaken slightly, with the squeaky sound of the joints attaching the cabin to the wheel's frame. The wind here was much stronger than on the ground level. Dave looked at the roof of the cabin with concern. He suddenly realized that they were 30 meters above the ground, with only the metal chains and the cabin's low walls preventing them from falling off. And if suddenly, those chains broke, or the wind made the cabin tilt too much, he probably wouldn't have enough time to cast a spell that could break the fall. He swallowed nervously. 

Marisa seemed to be not bothered by such thoughts. She was looking at the city below with interest, even leaning to the cabin wall to see more. Dave's heart skipped a bit. Everything inside him was screaming to pull her off the wall! What was she doing? She could fall off! 

"Marisa!" He yelled, his throat suddenly dry. 

"Yes, Dave?" She turned to him. 

"Could you please not lean on this wall?" He said as politely as he could. "I worry that it's not safe." 

Marisa pondered for a moment. 

"Ok," she nodded and sat straight, then smiled. "Thank you for your concern, Dave." 

"I was just afraid that you could fall off," Dave said, confused, in his defense. "That's all." 

"I understand," she said. "It was really nice of you. Thank you." 

"The wall is just too low..." Dave added. 

"Yes, probably," she said. Then, she looked at Dave with curiosity. "Dave, do you have a fear of heights?" 

Dave looked uneasy, then turned his head aside. 

"I... I don't fear heights. It just makes me a bit nervous, that's all," he finally said. 

Marisa tilted her head slightly and smiled. She said nothing. 

Their cabin passed the highest point and the wheel was slowly bringing them down now.

When they approached the platform, Marisa jumped out first. She lent Dave a hand to help him to get out. Dave nodded in a sign of thankfulness. They opened the exit gate and went along the road, passing a line of late visitors who still hoped for a ride on the wheel. It was 15 minutes before closing time. 

“How do you like the ride?” Dave asked Marisa. 

“It was beautiful,” she said. “Your city looks so green from above, and so good. And I like you don’t have much tall buildings. It’s very different from our cities.” 

“Your cities?” Dave asked. 

“Yes,” she said. “We own many cities, didn’t you know? I personally have three hundred and forty four. But my dad promised me to buy missing fifty six when I graduate.” 

Dave coughed. He knew that she was from another kingdom, but didn’t expect the life there was that much different. Was she serious? 

“Actually, I am thinking to buy Seinar Sa,” she continued with a serious face. “But don’t know who is in charge of such matters in your government. Could you help me with that, Dave?” 

“Marisa…” 

“Don’t worry, I won’t demolish any buildings here. Maybe except my dormitory. It needs a good redecoration. And maybe I will move it closer to the academy. Hate to get up early to go to classes.” 

“Are you serious?” Dave said. 

“I am,” she replied deadpan. “I really hate to get up early.” 

Dave blinked and stared at her. She burst into laughs. 

“My god, you fell for that, didn’t you? Did you?” Her eyes were smiling. “Of course I was joking Dave. In my country, nobody can own a city. Except mayors.” 

“Funny,” Dave said.

“I hope you weren’t offended,” she said, still with a smile. “I am usually not good at jokes. But I just couldn’t resist.” 

“It’s ok,” Dave assured her, “I am open to any new things, being it jokes or owning cities. So, let’s go to the final ride?” 

“If you ready, Dave.” 

“I am always ready,” he said firmly. 

But when the rollercoaster’s car they were in started to slowly climb to the highest point of the rails, he realized that probably he had overestimated his confidence.

“Exciting, isn’t it?” Marisa turned to him.

“Yeah,” Dave said without any excitement in his voice.The car was halfway to the top now, but for Dave, it was already way too high. With the angle of the rails, he could see only small clouds in a sunset light. Marisa looked at him with concern but said nothing. 

The train reached the highest point and suddenly stopped. Dave realized that he couldn’t hear the metal clicking sound of steam wrench anymore. What happened? Did they got stuck at the top? But before he could say a word, he heard a hissing sound underneath and then the train went down on rails with incredible speed.

“Aaaaaaaaaaa!” Dave yelled, scared. His fists grabbed the railing in front of him as hard as he could. He heard Marisa laughing near him. The grass and small trees below were approaching him with a dangerous speed. But before they hit the ground, the train suddenly went up. They entered the loop-a-loop section.

“Yahoo!” Marisa yelled near him.

The rest of the ride was a blur for Dave. Slowing down, accelerating, a sharp turn that made him hit the car side every time… The ride ended as suddenly as it started. When the train stopped near the boarding platform, Marisa gently touched Dave’s arm. 

They took their things from the locker at the platform. The park’s officer guided them to the exit. Behind them, another officer just closed the entry gate. Their ride was second to last ride of the day. 

“It was so exiting,” Marisa said as they were going down the stairway from the platform. “But it ended too fast. Wish we could have a second ride!” 

“Uh-uh,” Dave nodded without much enthusiasm. He wasn’t sure it was that exciting. More like scary. 

“So, what will we do next?” he asked. “Maybe we should have a dinner?” 

Marisa looked at her watch. 

“I would rather prefer to go to my dorm,” she said. “Not much time left to do my homework.” 

“Ah. Ok. Maybe next time then.” 

“Maybe,” she said politely. 

The dragon bus stop near the exit of the park was almost empty. The evening wind had become quite chilly now. Its bursts made an empty bottle lying near the garbage can rattle against the metal frame of the stop. Dave lifted the bottle and put it to the garbage can.

He looked at the route map on the wall. 

“Seems we need a bus #37,” he said, “it goes straight to the Merlin street.” 

“Well…” Marisa made a step to the map, “actually, I need to go to another place before dorm.” 

“I see. Should I accompany you?” 

“I am afraid it would be inconvenient for you,” Marisa said. “It’s already quite late.” 

“It’s ok,” Dave reassured her. 

“Still, better not,” she said politely but firmly.

“Okay,” Dave said, trying to hide his disappointment. Seemed that after all this time in the park, he didn’t make good enough impression on her. Or maybe, she didn’t trust him enough? If she was a spy, she had to be careful who to trust and who not to trust, right? 

Marisa smiled. 

“Dave, I enjoyed the time with you today,” she said. “Thank you. It was a nice experience for me. I would like to repeat it again. Shall we?” 

 

“She said exactly that?” Liza asked with excitement in her voice. “That’s great! It means that she wants a second date!” 

“Really?” Dave scratched his nose. He wasn’t sure that Marisa meant another date with him. In fact, he wasn’t sure almost in everything he thought about Marisa. Or about Liza, to be honest. The next day after the date, Liza intercepted him when he was going to the cafeteria after the lecture and pulled him to the now familiar place under the stairs in the basement.

“Well, how was it?” she said with impatience, almost jumping on her foot like a puppy. 

“Was what? My lunch?” Dave said rather grumpily. He was hungry. 

“No, dummy! Your date with Marisa!” 

“Could it wait until I have my lunch?” 

“Well,” she said with a smug smile, “it could but there should be already a huge line in the cafeteria, so… you could as well talk with me. If, of course, you want me to help you skip the line.” 

“And how will you do that?” Dave asked with curiosity.

“I have my means,” she answered. “So, how was it?” 

Dave sighed and started to talk. Liza was listening him carefully, sometimes interrupting him with questions to clarify some moments. She was especially interested with what Marisa had done or said during the date. For most of the time, Liza looked not quite satisfied, until he mentioned what Marisa had said at the bus stop.

“Of course, she wants a second date!” Liza replied to Dave’s “Really.” “What else could she mean?” 

“That she wanted to go to the Magic World again?” Dave guessed. Liza looked at him as if he just said a very silly thing. 

“Dave, don’t be stupid. It’s obvious. She liked you and she doesn’t mind to spend time with you again. So, what do you have to do now?” 

“I guess, lunch,” Dave replied coldly.

Liza sighed and shook her head. 

“No, Dave, you need to ask her for a second date. Not today, of course, we shouldn’t hurry. Maybe right before weekend. Yes, should be fine. So, Dave, you will ask her for a date on Friday. Questions?” 

“Well…” Dave said, “I am still not sure. She was still quite reserved during this date. I think she probably has friendly feelings to me, but nothing more.” 

“That’s good,” Liza said, “Friendly feelings are a good starting point for relationships. And, we date her to collect evidence that she’s a spy. Or you want to date her for real, Dave?..” she teased. 

“Very funny,” Dave said, “shall we go to lunch at last?” 

But on the way to the second floor, Dave was thinking about Marisa, about their date and about their relationship. Sure, she was quite reserved during their date, and she didn’t want him to walk her home… but she also was open with him about her family and her interest in science and magic. And she was so cheerful at the rollercoaster, like a cute little girl. And her disappointment when they failed to win the cat in a scarf… Dave suddenly thought that she reminded him a young princess from a book who spent her childhood in preparations for her royal duties but missed fun and joy of normal kids. He remembered their conversation, when she told him why she had studied engineering magic. She was smiling that time, but Dave was sure there was a hidden sadness in her eyes. There was a certain mystery in Marisa for him. He couldn’t fully understand it, but he felt that she was different from Liza, or Tanya, or any other woman.

Maybe, he chuckled in his thoughts, she was different because she really was a spy? Who knows? 

The cafeteria was already full, as expected. Liza and Dave passed by the end of the queue starting almost at the stairs and entered the cafeteria. It was a rather small room, maybe too small to fit all students of the Academy. Three rows of white tables with five tables in a row reminded him of another class room – well, probably, because it had been a class room before. Dirty-red curtains on the windows desperately tried to protect the cafeteria from sunlight. The poster on the left wall asked people to drink iced tea – judging by the price on the poster, this tea was already a few years old. There were similar posters on the wall behind Dave, but they were hidden by the wide queue of hungry students standing around the wall and slowly moving to the cash register, where they would order and get their meals. Dave already started looking at the view in windows, but Liza pulled him somewhere to the middle of the queue. 

“Hello, Chen!” she greeted her friend. “May we join?” 

Chen, a rather short girl with black hair and somewhat unusually looked brown eyes, turned to them. 

“Sure,” she stepped to the right to give them a place. 

“Thank you,” Liza smiled, “by the way, he’s Dave.” 

“Is it your promised way to skip the line?” Dave enquired. “Not that much skip, as for me.” 

 “Dave,” Liza said with a sweet smile, “if you are not satisfied with that, the queue starts right from there,” and she pointed to the exit. 

After buying their meals, they took their trays and went to the table near the window. Ann was sitting there, copying something from a notebook in front of her, her pen flying over the pages.

“Hi, Ann,” Liza said. Ann raised her head.

“Oh! Hi!” she said. “Dave, I didn’t know that you’re dating Liza now. Is Tanya all right with that?”

“I don’t date…” Dave started but Liza quickly closed his mouth with her palm. Dave looked at her angrily. Ann laughed. Chen just shook her head in mild disbelief.

“We brought you food,” She said as she put her tray near Ann. 

“Ah… Thank you,” Ann said and returned to her writing.

“Still copying?” Chen asked as they sat down. 

“Uh-uh,” Ann nodded. “Just the hardest part left… ” She wrote something on a napkin and moved it to Chen. “Does it look similar?” 

“Umm… yes.” 

“Great! Thank you, Chen…” Ann squeezed the pen hard and started to move it slowly in the notebook. 

“Hm?” Dave said, confused. “What are you doing?” 

“Copying the signature of professor Chub,” Chen said instead of Ann. Dave raised his eyebrows. “Well, he doesn’t like that not many students visit his lectures…” 

“’Cos they are boring as hell…” Ann muttered as if she was singing. 

“Yes,” Chen chuckled. “So, on the last lecture, he just collected the notebooks, signed every notes of his lectures and said that everyone who doesn’t have all signatures will not get the A on exams.” 

“I see,” Dave said. “Seems you weren’t among those on the lectures?” 

“Uh-uh,” Ann admitted. “Finished!” she said and showed the result of her work. Dave looked at the signature she copied, then to the original. He had to admit, the copy was very close. 

“Where did you learn to forge signatures? You never told me!” he said in amazement. Ann winked.

“She’s really good at imitating handwriting,” Chen said proudly. 

“I am,” Ann confirmed as she closed the notebook and put it to her bag. “Let’s eat for that!” 

Dave was glad to follow this suggestion. 

The meal today was as always – not too good, but tolerable, at least for hungry students. There were rumors that some time ago, when this cafeteria just opened in the Academy, the food here had been cheap and good, and it got worse only recently. But Dave didn’t believe. For him, the quality of meals here was one of world constants, like magic, taxes and the Academy itself – he couldn’t imagine it could be different. 

“So, how is Ollie?” Liza asked Ann as she was eating her sandwich. “Did you ask him?” 

“Ah,” Ann sighed, “don’t ask. I waited for him for the entire break, but he didn’t appear! Guess what, they’d changed the classroom, and I stayed for 10 minutes near the wrong room like a fool, and he hadn’t even warned me!” 

“But did you meet him?” 

“Oh, yes, yes,” Ann waived her hand with a knife in it, that she used to cut her chicken nuggets. Good that the knife was not sharp, Dave thought.

“And how it was?” Liza was rather curious today. 

“Oh, it was smooth as silk! First, I told him that I wanted to tell him something, and he was, like, oh I am busy now. But I said that I was so grateful for his help, and that I wanted to thank him, and that I was going to invite him for my birthday! Gosh, wish you could see his face! He was so surprised!” 

“I bet, and what did he do?” 

“Well, he just said that it was really a surprise and all and he would be surely glad to go,” Ann smiled. ”And I asked him if he was going to attend my birthday, and he promised!” 

“Wow! That’s great! You see, that’s what I was talking about. He will be yours, just you’ll see!” 

“Yes!” Ann exclaimed, but then sighed. “But still… I am not sure. What if it’s nothing? What if he does that only because he’s nice? What if I am just a another friend for him?..” 

“Don’t think about that,” Liza assured. “He will be yours, but it’s a tough battle. Just take time.” 

“Oh, I wish you are right,” Ann said. “But hope when he sees me in my best dress!.. Oh, by the way, remember that dress that we saw last weekend? They have a big discount on it now! Just 10?000, can you believe?” 

“Where?!” Liza enquired with enthusiasm, and their conversation completely switched to clothes, shoes, hats and maybe some other staff that Dave’s brain filtered from their conversation automatically. To save his brain, he decided to talk with Chen about something meaningful. 

“You are roommates with Marisa?” he asked Chen. She nodded with a bit surprised look. Or maybe it was just her eyes.

“And how is it, to live with her?” 

Chen shrugged. 

“As with any other roommate, I guess. I don’t know.” 

“I see. Marisa is an unusual person,” Dave said. 

Small smile appeared on Chen face. 

“Yeah, probably. I think you can say that.” 

“I see,” Dave thought that Chen was somewhat like Marisa. Also hard to get into a conversation. “You know, I went to the Magic World with her yesterday,” he made another attempt. 

“Really?” Chen asked, slightly surprised. “She didn’t tell me about that.” 

“She didn’t?” It was Dave’s turn to be surprised now.

“No. She returned late yesterday, that’s true, but she just went to do her homework.” 

“Did she tell you why she was that late?” Dave leaned forward with interests.

“No,” Chen shook her head. “She’s usually quiet and doesn’t talk much, you know.” 

“I see,” Dave said. “I wonder why she didn’t tell about the park.” 

“Me too,” Chen said, “I would like to listen what were her impressions from there.” 

“Well,” Liza winked, “Not hard to guess. Probably something like that.” She straightened her back, leaned her head slightly to left and made a polite half-smile.

“As you know,” she said in completely different voice than her own. It was slower, sharper, and even her accent changed to imitate Marisa’s one. It was a complete transformation. Dave couldn’t believe that Liza could imitate Marisa that close. “As you know, I was in the amusement park today. To be honest…” Ann spluttered with laughter. “To be honest,” Liza continued, completely unfazed. ”I don’t understand why it’s called the amusement park. I was not amused!” 

Ann laughed and clasped her hands. Chen smiled and nodded her head.

“Yes, it sounds like her,” she admitted. 

Liza slowly adjusted her bowtie as it was very important, then made a short bow. 

“Thank you,” she said with a serious face but hardly suppressing a wide smile. “No need for applause. Thank you.” 

“Seriously, how do you do this?” Ann exclaimed. “It’s amazing.” 

“Well,” Liza shrugged, “I don’t know, it’s just goes by itself.” 

The loud sound of bell announced that the lunch break is over. Ann jumped on her feet quickly and grabbed her bag. Chen stood up after her. 

“We have to go,” Ann said. “Talk to you later!”

 “Bye!” Chen added. 

“Oh, actually, me too,” Liza said. “Bye, Dave! And, don’t forget what we were talking about!” 

Before Dave opened his mouth for the answer, the young women were already gone. 

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, “whatever.” 

 

Dave caught Marisa at the main doors of the university, when she was almost ready to leave. 

“Ufff, just in time,” he said, catching his breath. He had to run on the stairs. “Hi, Marisa!” 

“Good afternoon, Dave” she said in her usual nice voice. She was staying half-turned to Dave, already in her elegant dark-blue coat with a silver butterfly on its lapel, her hand on the door handle. Dave noticed her brown handbag on her shoulder and wondered how all textbooks and notebooks can fit in such middle-size bag. Women’s magic, apparently. “Something happened?” 

“No-no,” Dave quickly shook his head. “You are already leaving?” 

“Yes,” she confirmed, “I was going to go to the Science District. Would you like to join?” 

“Ah? Me? Oh, yes, of course,” Dave nodded. 

“Good then,” she opened the door. “We may as well talk on our way to the bus stop.”

Dave nodded again, and they exited the Academy. 

“What brings you in the Science District?” Dave asked when they were walking through the Academy park. The weather was more or less good today, not too chilly and only slightly windy. The only think that troubled Dave were grey clouds on the sky. But from his experience, they would need to be much more darker to bring a serious rain, so probably it was fine. “Did you get a job offer there or something?” 

“No,” Marisa answered simply. “In fact, I am going to visit the Royal Botanic Garden there. I thought to go alone, but it will be much nicer with you, I suppose.” 

“Well, I am glad that you think so,” Dave said with a proud grin at his face. 

“I do think so,” Marisa confirmed, “because I am sure you can help me to navigate there. I have a map but it’s too huge to be handy.” 

“Ah. I see.” The grin disappeared from Dave’s face. “Do you need to visit it for some studying?” 

“No, I just want to walk there,” she said. “I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place.” 

“Yes,” Dave confirmed. “Like the science district itself. When it was built, it was a separate town actually, because they wanted to make a perfect place for scientists. Only in following years, it became a part of Seinar-Sa. Did you know that?” 

“No. The perfect place for scientists… wish I could be a part of that,” Marisa said. 

“Well,” Dave shrugged, “with your talents, all you have to do for that is to make a good PhD here.” 

“My talents…” Marisa muttered and sighed.

The science district was located in a middle of the Mysterious Forest, where the river Seinar-Creek divided into two by a long island without a name. It was 10 kilometers from the Seinar-Sa city center, about an hour on a bicycle, or, if you are lucky, about the same time on a dragon bus. Dragon buses were generally faster than bicycles but they compensated it by long waiting on bus stops. When Marisa and Dave reached the Botanical Garden, it was already 5 pm. They paid for the entrance at the small booth near the gate (50 plates for Dave and 100 for Marisa, because she was a foreigner), showed tickets to a bored guard and finally, entered the garden itself.

In the garden, it was quiet. The air was chilly and fresh but not too cold. Dave and Marisa were walking on a paved road with high trees, bushes and ferns on the both sides. Yellow autumn leaves rustled under their feet as a carpet. A bird that Dave didn’t know was chirping somewhere in the forest. Even in a sunny day, the road would probably be in shadows, but right now, with heavy and low clouds in the sky, it looked like it was dusk already.

A bit scary… and exciting at the same time. 

“Seems this place is not popular,” Marisa broke the silence.

“Ah?” Dave didn’t expect that. “Probably. It’s a bit expensive to enter here.” 

“I see,” Marisa said. After a pause, she added, “They should be very well trained at the ticket booth to recognize foreigners.” 

“I doubt they are,” Dave said. “If you didn’t pay them the price for foreigners, they probably would ask you the normal price.” 

“But it wouldn’t be fair,” Marisa countered. 

“You are too honest,” Dave said.

“It could be,” Marisa tilted her head slightly. 

“Besides,” Dave continued, “most visitors here enter through a hole in a fence from the forest side. It’s in the other end of the garden. Completely free of charge.” 

“Ah,” Marisa nodded. “Probably it explains why this road is empty.” 

But after they passed the last turn of the road, they were not alone anymore. The garden they saw was big. No, vast. And it was full of different flowers. Blue, red, yellow, orange, violet, they formed circular rows in the garden, separated by paved walkways. Some flowers were dense, some high, and some looked like a live carpet. Four tall masts with shiny reflectors of the magical floodlight were located evenly on the external row of flowers, to ensure that even in the dark, visitors could see flowers in their full beauty. The main road crossed the garden just to bypass a tall white gazebo in the middle and to continue to the other side, where it went to the flower tunnel in the high green hedge. Behind the ledge, they could see a white and blue tile roof of the building in the other part of the garden. The King and Queen’s residence. 

And on every walkway and every road, there was a lot of people. Men in white shirts and shiny suits. Young women in long white or blue or yellow or pink or whatever colors dresses. Kids running and chasing each other, or swinging on a swing set near the tunnel. Group of older people sitting in the gazebo and holding wine glasses. And, looking almost alien here, several couples in casual dress actually enjoying flowers.

“Oh,” Marisa said. Dave turned to her and noticed a slightly upset face of her. 

“Don’t like that much people?” Dave asked. 

“I just didn’t expect that there will be that much,” she said.

“This place is quite popular to celebrate weddings,” Dave explained.

“In the King’s garden?” 

“Why not? It’s a public place, and they earn quite a lot on weddings.” 

“I see,” Marisa said, in a low voice.

“But they usually celebrate weddings here and near the palace,” Dave added. “We can go to the tropical flowers pavilion, it’s in another part of the garden. Should be much less people there.” 

“Ah, that’s good,” Marisa slightly raised her head. “Let’s go there then!” 

Her voice was more cheerful now, and Dave couldn’t help but think that she should’ve really disliked crowded places. He wondered why. Should spies be more open to people? But then, he realized that some things in spy work required privacy, such as secret messages or drop-points. Maybe that’s why she wasn’t feeling safe in a crowd?

They crossed the garden and entered the flowers tunnel. It was made from a thin wire that just acted like guidance lines for climbing plants. Some kind of vines were hanging from the ceiling, and Dave who was in front had to carefully deflect them, to not hit Marisa behind. He hoped those plants were not poisonous. Thankfully, the tunnel was not long, and soon they were on the other side of the garden.

Dave was right that there were not much people in the tropical pavilion. It was a tall hangar-like building with big and heavy double doors, to protect flowers from the cold of Seinar-Sa winter. From outside, the building itself didn’t look too spacious, but when Dave entered inside, he was amazed. Somehow, they managed to fit there an entire tropical forest. First thing that visitors saw when they entered was a flowerbed with colorful flowers around small trees. Behind them, a few tall palm trees were raising up to the ceiling, where green vines hanged from the roof beams and rainbow-colored birds singed their songs. But the main thing was in the back of the hangar. A waterfall. With loud noise, water was falling from the tall artificial rock to the small pond below. A sand walkway with natural rock border started from the entrance and made an S-turn before approaching the waterfall and then crossing a pond channel to the exit at the other side. Dave had heard a lot about this pavilion but couldn’t imagine that it would be that impressive. 

“Is it always like this here?” Marisa said behind Dave as she was looking around. “Even in winter?” 

“Ah? Yes, I think.” 

“Good,” Marisa said. “I may visit it often then. I always wanted my own door to summer.” She stopped near small brown and orange flowers and sat down to see them closer. “I wonder how they manage to keep it warm in winter,” she muttered to herself. 

“By magic,” Dave guessed. 

“Yes, probably,” she agreed. She stood up and straightened her coat. Looked at the name card on a thick and tall wire inserted into the ground. “Don’t like winter,” she said before moving forward, to the next flowers. 

“Yeah…” Dave muttered. “Who does?” 

They really have a wonderful collection of tropical flowers here. Dave tried to count how much different kind of flowers they had but lost count after fifty. Some plants, he could recognize, but most of them, he saw for the first time. To be honest, he wasn’t good at recognizing flowers… and frankly, wasn’t going to be. After all, there were much more important things to know. Still, it was hard to accept that Marisa was better at that than him. She wasn’t 100% correct all the time, and most of the time, she just watched flowers in silence, but when she tried to name a plant before looking at the information card, she often got it right. When Dave asked how she did know all of that, she smiled softly and said: “Well, when I was young, we had a garden in our countryside home, and my mom tried to grow many flowers like here. She tried to teach me which was which, but I forgot most of it since.” 

“I see,” Dave said, as usual when he didn’t know what to answer. “Your country is a tropical one?” 

“Not where we live. I am from north,” she said. “We have rather strong winters.” 

“So, how could you grow tropical flowers?” 

“Well, some of them actually were quite strong to survive in our climate. But most of them, we have to grow in a greenhouse.” 

“I see,” Dave said again. “Silly me.” 

Marisa looked at him, slightly surprised, but didn’t say nothing. 

They stopped near the waterfall. The air here was cold and humid. Dave could feel small water drops from the falling from the 10 meters tall rock water hitting his face. The rock made from something like light-grey concrete was located on an island in the small, maybe 5 or 6 meters in diameter, pond. The bottom of this rock was covered with ferns and moss. A tall palm tree on the left side of the island, wet from the drizzle, tried to cover flowers under it from falling water. Water lilies in the pond were dancing on the waves. Marisa stopped next to the bridge crossing the pond and looked at the water. Dave though that she probably was guessing what made water here falling from the 10 meters high rock to the pond and then returning back to the top. Magic? Or steam engine? 

As it turned out, Marisa was interested by a completely different thing. 

“Look!” she exclaimed in excited voice, “Fish!” 

Dave looked down. He saw several barb fish, orange, silver and black. And they were big. For a fish, maybe even enormous. They floated in the shallow water back and forth, chasing each other, diving to the bottom to check for some food, sometimes emerging on the surface as if they needed a breath of air.

“Look here, Dave!” Marisa pointed at one fish. The pond there was quite shallow, and the fish almost touched the bottom as it swam over this place. If the pond were a bit shallower, the fish would probably need to swim sideways. 

“They are quite close to the surface,” Dave stated as he came to Marisa. “I wonder, if I can touch them?” He waited for another black fish passing this shallow part of the pond and put his arm in the water, trying to touch the fish. He didn’t think he would succeed; he expected the fish to swim away from his arms. But the fish didn’t. Instead, it swam to Dave and tried to taste Dave’s finger by its toothless mouth. 

Dave quickly drew his arm back. 

“Wow!” he said. “This fish just tried to bite me!” 

“How?” Marisa rushed to him. She looked at his arm and, not noticing any sign of blood or teeth marks, said in a bit calmer tone: “You got hurt?” 

“No, but it was quite unexpected,” Dave said. “I thought it would just swim away, but… Look!” he put his hand back in the pond, just to pull it away quickly as the fish tried to bite his finger. “You see?” 

Marisa laughed. 

“Brave fish,” she said. 

“Or hungry,” Dave added. 

“Probably. Maybe we should feed it?” 

“Do you have anything to feed?” 

“I don’t know.” Dave looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “I don’t know what those fish eat,” she explained. 

“Good point,” Dave said. He saw a fallen leaf on the road, thin and long, like a razor. Dave grabbed the leaf and put it into the water, carefully holding it by his fingertips. 

“Do you think they eat leaves?” Marisa doubted.

“Who knows?” Dave said as he started to move the leaf up and down. When the leaf went into the water for another time, the black fish emerged on the surface and bit the leaf, only to release it in the next second.

“Seems they don’t,” Marisa commented as the fish swam away.

“Apparently,” Dave threw the leaf into the water and stood up.

They went to the bridge and stood at the highest point of the arc. Marisa leaned on the wooden railing to see fish swimming under the bridge. Dave stood next to her. He looked at Marisa. Right now, she enjoyed watching fish, relaxed and happy. Dave caught himself thinking that she was so different here from her image she maintained in the Academy. She was excited here. Open. Natural. Quite far from what her classmates usually saw. An ice queen? A distant woman hiding her real self behind a polite half-smile? Dave could bet that if any of her classmates could see her now, they would change their mind about Marisa.

Yeah, but who of them would have a chance to see her like that?

Marisa looked at her wrist watch. Sighed.

“Well,” she said, “it’s nice here but I guess we should move on. Do they have more places to visit here?”

“Ah?” Dave woke up from his thoughts. “Oh, yes, obviously.”

“Then,” she smiled softly, “Dave, please lead on.”

 

Despite a rather chilly and gloomy weather, the café in the garden was still open. It was not far from the tropical pavilion, near a lake, and a chain of white tables with red umbrellas was right next to a stone border that separated water from the ground. Yellow and red autumn leaves were dancing on small waves that a light breeze was making on the black water of lake. Two ducks with green heads and brown beaks were swimming in water lilies near the shore, just slightly to the left from the table where Marisa and Dave were sitting. There were other tables that could provide a great view to the king palace, to the right from the lake, but Marisa deliberately chose this, right in the center, opposite to the pine forest on the other side. From this table, it looked that there were only the lake, and the forest, and ducks, and nothing else.

A waitress in a brown shirt, dark-blue jeans and black apron took two cups from her tray and carefully put it on the table. Coffee for Marisa, tea for Dave.

Marisa thanked the waitress with a nod. Took a sip from her coffee.

“Ummm… Quite good,” she said. “Didn’t expect. Would you like to try, Dave?”

“No,” Dave replied. “I don’t like coffee. I prefer tea.”

“Ok,” she made another sip. “Will have that in mind.”

“Seems you like coffee very much,” Dave said as he tried his tea. He had to admit that Marisa’s coffee smelled quite better.

“I do,” she agreed. “Can’t imagine me without it. It’s one of things that make life better. Sometimes when I feel too tired after a class, nothing is better than to seat on the roof of the Academy and to look at the city while having coffee from my thermos.” She made another sip from her cup.

“You have been at the roof of the Academy? I thought all exists there are closed.”

“They are. But there is a hatch with a broken lock that they still haven’t fixed. I found it on the first week when I tried to find how to go to the section 4.”

“I see,” Dave said. “Probably you were the first student who tried to go to the section 4 through a roof.”

“I like to be the first,” she said with a smile.

“Still, what you will do if they fix this lock?”

“I don’t know,” she made another sip of her coffee, “but I doubt they will notice that anytime soon. And if they do… well, this kind of lock is not that hard to break.”

“I didn’t know that you can pick a lock,” Dave said.

“I can’t,” she admitted. “But if there is a lock between me and my wonderful time at the roof alone and with coffee… Guess I can learn.”

“That’s a determination,” Dave said.

“Well,” she smiled teasingly, “as I said, I really like coffee that much.”

“And being alone?” Dave teased her back.

“Hmm… sometimes” she frowned. “Why?”

“I noticed that you prefer to be alone.” Dave said, “I mean, at the academy, and today too.”

“I guess, everybody sometimes wants to be alone, no?” she put her coffee cup on the table and looked at Dave.

“But not in such quantities,” Dave countered. “You don’t chat much at the academy, you always walk alone, and there are rumors that being a person you speak first with is a great honor. Quite unusual for everybody, don’t you think?”

“Well, it’s likely,” she said simply.

“What’s likely?” Dave insisted.

“That’s it’s quite unusual,” corner of her lips raised in a smile.

“Oh, I forgot to add,” Dave said sarcastically, “that you like evasive answers like this. Very like you.”

She tilted her head to the left.

“I don’t understand what you want, Dave,” she said.

“What do I want?” Actually, quite a good question, he thought. “I want to understand why you are like this. To know your better.”

“To know me better?” she repeated. “And how it will help?”

“Khm,” Dave coughed. Marisa got him, he didn’t know what to answer. “Help in what?”

“Well, but you want to know me better for something, so it has some purpose, right?”

“No!” Dave said. “You know, I just…” He paused and wave his right hand, trying to pick words. “I just want to understand you. You see, you are beautiful. Smart. You know a lot about steam engine, science and god knows what else. You are caring and fun when you like to. If you wanted, you could be the best person in any company, surrounded by friends and maybe even by more than friends. So I just don’t understand why instead you maintain this ice queen image. Why?”

She chuckled.

“I am an ice queen?”

“Seems it’s what you want to be,” Dave said.

She laughed easily and shook her head.

“No-no-no,” she said. “Never wanted to be a queen and never liked ice. Maybe ice princess? Anyway, do I really act like an ice queen?”

“Not with me,” Dave admitted, “but when in academy…”

“But I never tried to pretend an ice queen,” she said in a slightly surprised tone. “I always do like I am. I try to be always polite, to not bother anyone without necessity, and to be helpful to everyone. Well, except those who don’t deserve a good treatment, but I haven’t met such persons in the Academy yet. Is it what makes me an ice queen?”

Dave made a deep breath before answering.

“Seems yes,” he answered.

“Oh,” She raised her eyebrows. Tilted her head in another side. “Well… I will have it in mind. Thank you, Dave.”

“You are welcome,” Dave said rather grumpily. “But still, you can do it without trying to be always alone.”

“I am not always alone,” she shrugged. “But… I guess, you somewhat right, I feel more comfortable when alone. It’s not that I disliked people. I like, but sometimes I feel like I am tired of them. Generally, people often are not nice, Dave. Including me.”

“Can’t believe you can be not nice,” Dave said.

“I can, Dave. I have done many things I regret,” she replied seriously. “Anyway, I know that people can be not nice. They can laugh at you. Lie. Let you down. Betray. Not everyone, obviously, and not in that order. But I know that, and I try not to be like that.”

“I see,” Dave said. They can laugh at you. Let you down. Betray. What had happened to Marisa if she thought like that? What she had to live through? Now he understood why she tried to be distant and reserved. If she had that opinion of people, how could she trust anyone? But, despite all this, she still had strength to be kind and caring. He suddenly wanted to hug her. “How do you live with that?” he said.

“With what?” Marisa looked at him confused, then realized. “Ah. Don’t worry, I don’t think that people are always bad or something. Most of them are good and some wonderful. It’s just that I know that sometimes they can be not up to the best, that’s all. When you know that, you can adapt and avoid most of the problems. You know, like in an engineering task, when you know strong and weak points of each element, you can make strong points shine and weak disappear. Sometimes you can even turn weak points into strong.” She smiled. “That’s what I try to do.”

“I see,” Dave said. “So, when you were with me in the park, you treated me like an engineering task too?”

“No,” she said. “You are different. You, Ollie, Chen, several other people… I know that I can trust them. And I feel I can trust you.”

Dave blushed slightly and lowered his head to hide that. He picked up his cup with tea and made a big sip.

“You know me only for a few weeks,” he said.

“It’s enough,” she replied. “Or do you mean that I shouldn’t trust you?” she added playfully. “Do you plan something despicable, Dave? Or have bad intentions? Or maybe you hate me?”

“Of course no,” Dave said. “I usually don’t date someone whom I hate.”

“Good to know,” she leaned forward. “But good that you mentioned dating, because there is something that I would like to know. May I ask you a question, Dave?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Why do you date me?”

Dave coughed.

“What kind of question is that?” he said while thinking quickly what to answer. What should he say? Because we think that you are a spy? Actually, in case of Marisa, it could be quite a good answer. Especially if to say it in right tone.

“The kind that requires honest and detailed answer,” she said.

“Well, usually people date because they like each other, no?” Well done, Dave, you didn’t even lie in this answer.

“That’s true,” she said. “But it doesn’t answer why you date me.”

“Well, because I like you and want to know you more?” Not a lie either.

“Answer accepted,” she said. “So you date Liza for that reason too?”

It seemed to Dave that the weather suddenly became colder. Of all questions, of all things she could ask him today, it was the most unexpected and most dangerous.

“How do you know about Liza?” It was no point to deny right now.

“I have eyes and ears, Dave,” Marisa said flatly. “Do you like her too? Or you just try to date with every girl in the Academy?”

 “I don’t,” Dave replied grumpily. “And, actually, I don’t date Liza. She just asked me to help with studying. I helped. Is it illegal?”

“Only helped?” Marisa inquired. “Nothing else?”

“Well, we are not lovers or something, if you mean that,” Dave crossed his arms on his chest. “We are just friends. What’s wrong with being friends now?”

“Nothing,” Marisa tilted her head to the right. “And what about Tanya? Just friends as well?”

“Tanya? Why do you mention her?”

“From what I have seen, it looks like you have feelings to her,” she said simply. “I just want to clarify.”

Dave stared at her angrily.

“You know, Marisa,” he said, “You can say whatever you want. About Liza and everything. But. You. Should. Not. Touch. Tanya!”

Marisa almost jumped back under his heavy glance. She looked not scared though, but concerned.

“Oh,” she said in a sorry voice. “I… I’m sorry, Dave. I didn’t realize that it is a sensitive subject for you. I shouldn’t have asked. I apologize.”

“What??” Dave said, not understanding anything. One minute ago, she was accusing him in dating every girl in the academy, and now she’s apologizing? What did just happen?

She opened her mouth and looked at him as if not believing what he just said. A heavy silence was in the air for several moments.

“So… you won’t take my apologies then?” she finally said weakly, her head looking down.

“What are you talking about?” Dave was confused. “What apologies?”

She sighed heavily. Made a deep breath, then raised her head.

“I asked you something that I had no right to ask,” she said firmly. “I shouldn’t have. I beg you to accept my apology, Dave. But if I did something unacceptable and you will not forgive me, I will understand.”

“What?” Dave laughed. “Marisa, it’s ok. I am not angry at you. Everything fine. It’s ok.”

“But you reacted rather violently when I asked you about Tanya,” she said.

“Hm? Ah,” Dave waived his hand and laughed uneasily. “Well.. I am sorry for that too. Just you see, Tanya means a lot to me. We have been friends since… well, since forever. I care much about her. So, maybe, I reacted inappropriately when I heard her name.”

“I see…” she replied. “I should have knew better.”

“No, it’s ok,” Dave said. “I guess we just didn’t understand each other, that’s all. Nothing bad happened. Right?”

“Right,” she agreed. “It seems Tanya is very important for you…”

“Yes,” he nodded.

Marisa smiled, but with sadness in her eyes.

“She’s lucky then,” she said. And added in a quiet voice, “Maybe I should envy her.”

“What do you mean?” Dave asked.

“She will have a good partner in you.”

“Oh, you mean that? Well…” Dave sighed. “I guess, she wouldn’t agree with you. For her, I am still a small boy that needs to be looked after. Of us two, she is the smart and responsible… and I am just a troublemaker. Sure we are good friends, but I guess, that’s all.”

“I see,” Marisa looked at him compassionately. “Well… maybe she thinks better about you than you think.”

“I doubt,” Dave said. “As I said, she is smart and responsible.”

Marisa chuckled.

“Still, wish you luck with her, Dave.”

“Thank you. But why? Does it mean that you don’t want me?” Dave joked.

“Well…” Marisa turned away again. “You know, Dave… If you love someone, if you want to be with her… Tell her now. Because if you don’t do it now, one day it could be too late. So… Do it while you still have time.” She paused and muttered very quietly so that Dave could not hear her. “Don’t repeat my mistakes.”

“I…” Dave didn’t know what to answer. “Maybe I will. Thanks for advice, Marisa.”

“My pleasure,” she said. “I just want people to be happy. Good people, at least.”

“But what about you?” Dave said.

“About me?” she replied as if she didn’t understand the question. “Well, as long as you are happy and I have my coffee, I am fine. Don’t worry.”

Dave looked at her. Shook his head.

“You know, you’re quite…” he started but stopped short.

“Strange?” Marisa continued.

“Unusual,” Dave said, cursing himself for saying the previous words out loud.

Marisa tilted her head slightly.

“Well, I guess, you’re right,” she said. “I know I am a bit not like others. I know that since my childhood and I have accepted that long time ago. But,” she chuckled a bit, “interestingly, I also often feel that I am the most ordinary person in the world.”

“I don’t think you are ordinary,” Dave said.

Marisa smiled, but her eyes still looked serious.

“I will take it as a compliment,” she said. “But you see… all my life, I was in places where people around me were better than me. Sometimes much better. They were smarter, more talented, more devoted to their profession. They often knew things I wasn’t even aware of. You know, Dave, when I went to the Institute of the Engineering Magic, I thought it would be not much difficult to me. After all, I was the first in my class at school, pride of all teachers and my dad. And I was good at science classes too. After just a month, I realized that it was not like I had imagined. To be honest, I was not a bad student. I did all my homework to the best of my talents, and eventually, I was able to solve every task I was given. But compared to others… The problem that took a day for me to solve they solved in minutes. I studied engineering, they lived engineering. They knew latest news in our field. They discussed benefits of compound machines versus uniflow engines on lunches while I didn’t even know what were those machines. They could grasped new things instantaneously, solve hard engineering tasks in a matter of minutes, find weak spots in engineering designs just by looking at it. They could even solve equations much faster than me because they knew some special methods that we hadn’t been taught yet. No matter how hard I studied, there was always someone smarter. Better. Knowing more. They were talented specialists, future elite of our kingdom, almost like magicians. And I… I was just an ordinary student that fought hard with each physical equation and still had to check my solutions carefully because there was always at least one silly error.” She paused for a moment. “Maybe it was one of the reason why I decided to become a magician instead,” she said with a smile.

“It’s possible to make silly errors in magic too,” Dave said.

Marisa shrugged as she made a sip of coffee.

“At least, it doesn’t involve math,” she said.

“Good point,” Dave said as he took his teacup from the table. “Still, if you like magic more, why you have chosen engineering institute?”

Marisa smiled enigmatically..

“There were many reasons. The main, however, was probably that back then, I didn’t know how to say “No.” She finished her cup of coffee in one gulp, put it on the table and stood up. “It’s getting late, Dave. Maybe we should go?”

“Ok,” Dave said as he was finishing his tea hastily. “If you want so.”

When they left the bus at the bus stop near the Academy, it was already dark. The sky still was in heavy clouds, as low that they almost touched rooftops of the neighbor houses, and it looked like they were formed by the chimneys’ smoke. The Academy’s park was quiet and dark, and orange magical lanterns by the sides of the road made not much light but long shadows. The night was going to be cold.

Dave looked at Marisa. She was staying near the bench at the bus stop, waiting for him.

“Do you want me to walk you home?” he said. He didn’t expect her to agree though, he asked just to be polite.

“Well, yes, it would be kind from you,” she replied. “But I guess you already have walked a lot with me today…”

“It’s okay…”

“…and I believe the last bus to your home should arrive in few minutes,” she continued, then looked at him. “I am afraid that you can miss it if you go with me.”

“It’s not a big problem, I can walk to my home.”

She tilted her head slightly:

“Walking again, huh? Well, it’s already dark, and I will worry for you. So probably, better not.”

“Don’t worry, I am a magician,” Dave laughed. “What bad could happen with me?” But a burst of cold wind made him shiver and turn up his collar.

“Well, with the wind that cold, you may catch a cold, for example. And,” Marisa pointed to the far end of the street where two small orange lights appeared, “seems your bus is already coming.”

Dave looked in the direction Marisa pointed. Indeed, it looked like a bus was approaching from there. He turned to Marisa, not sure what he had to do. It would be nice to walk her home, to her dorm, but she was right about the last bus, and the night was too cold for a nice walk... And her dorm was not too far, so probably it was not dangerous for her to walk… right?

“Your bus, Dave,” she said with a soft smile. “Don’t worry, I will be fine.”

“But I…” Dave was still not sure.

“It’s ok,” she said, “I will feel better if you go on a bus.”

The bus already was near the bus stop. Now, Dave could see the dragon, two-legged animal that was pulling the bus wagon. Two magical lanterns were swaying on sides of its collar. The wagon stopped, the bus attendant opened the door and looked at Dave grumpily, as if asking would he jump in or not. Dave looked at Marisa. She nodded.

“Ok,” he said, “Goodbye and goodnight then! Be safe.”

“You too,” she said in return.

“You sound like Tanya now,” Dave noted.

“I will take it as a compliment,” Marisa tilted her head to the left. “Please, go now!”

“Ok,” Dave smiled and jumped in the bus just when the attendant reached for the door handle. “Goodbye!”

Marisa waved to him with a smile. The attendant touched the dragon up, the door closed with a loud “clink” sound, and the bus started to move. When Dave sat down and looked in the window, he saw Marisa. She was walking fast on the road to the park, her four shadows from the lanterns following her, elegant and self-assured as usual. She could be not an ice queen, but there still was something royal in her.

 

Dave was reviewing his notes about magical statistics when Tanya tapped on his shoulder. She was angry.

“Dave! We need to talk. Now!”

Dave raised his head in bewilderment. It was 8.11. The lecture hall was already quite crowded and noisy. Students were sitting, chatting, finding a place to seat, preparing for the lecture. In fact, Dave was preparing too because he already knew that one shouldn’t mess with magical statistic. So what did Tanya wanted from him? And why was she angry?

“Hello Tanya,” he said. “Sure. Something happened? Did you lose your pen again?”

“I don’t have time for your silly jokes,” she said coldly. She made a step down on the steps that led towards the exit. “Come on!”

“Come on? Maybe you can explain what happened first?”

“Oh, I will explain,” she promised with a threat in her voice, “I will explain that you will never forget. And now, get up and follow me!”

Dave looked at her and decided not to argue.

They went to the stairway and went down to the platform between the first and the second floors. Dave stopped near the dirty window, turned to Tanya… and she almost slammed him to the wall.

“What are you fucking doing, Dave?!” she yelled.

“Hm? What are you talking about, Tanya?” Dave exclaimed.

“Don’t pretend that you don’t understand!” Tanya said menacingly. She was almost leaning on Dave, and he felt quite scared and uncomfortably.

“Tanya,” he said in a tone that students usually use to talk with a furious teacher, “I really don’t understand. I never had any intention to make you angry, but if I accidentally did so, I really apologize. Maybe now we all will calm down and try to resolve the situation peacefully and reasonably?”

“Made me angry?!” Tanya exclaimed. “When did it come to me? You date both Liza and Marisa at the same time!”

Dave raised his eyebrows.

“Ah, so that’s it,” he sighed in relief. “So?”

“So?! So?! You really are that silly or pretending?!” Tanya yelled at him.

“Be quiet, please,” Dave asked, “or you will be heard by all people in the Academy.”

“I. Don’t. Care! Dave, do you really don’t understand that you can’t do that?”

“Do what?”

Tanya rolled her eyes.

“Date two girls at the same time, Dave!”

“Well, first of all, I don’t date Liza,” Dave stated. “I just help her with magical statistics, that’s all.”

“Oh yes, well, helping her,” Tanya said sarcastically. “But you aren’t denying that you date Marisa, are you?”

“Yes I did,” Dave confirmed, “so what? Is there a law against it?”

 “You can’t date a girl when you date another!”

“Why?”

Tanya sighed.

“Because it’s unfair!”

“But why? I don’t promise anything to them. Don’t use them. Don’t lie to them. I just hang with them to know them better and, who knows, maybe to find the one that is my soulmate. Isn’t that what all people do?”

“But they don’t do it with two girls at the same time!”

“Why not?” Dave said bluntly.

“Because you give them false hope! Imagine that Marisa will fell in love with her. What will you do?”

“Why, well,” Dave shrugged, “maybe I will love her in return and we will live happily ever after.”

“But you don’t love her, Dave,” Tanya shook her head. “Because if you did, you wouldn’t date Liza.”

“I didn’t date Liza!”

“Whatever. I mean, imagine that Marisa loves you. But you don’t love her in return. I know, you would be nice with her, and you would try to explain her… but she would suffer anyway, because you couldn’t give her love. She would be sad, maybe even depressed. And for long time, she would not love anyone else. All because you gave her a false hope, Dave.”

“I doubt that she will fall in love with me,” Dave said. “And, by the way, why Marisa? What about Liza?”

“Who?” Tanya got slightly confused. “Ah, Liza… I don’t think that she may have any problems because of you. The other way, maybe… Anyway, I wanted to say you, Dave, that you need to be serious about that. It’s not a game. If you are not sure that you are ready to live with the girl you date for the rest of your days, don’t date her. Don’t give her false hopes.”

“But what if I still want to be friends with her?” Dave asked.

“It won’t work,” Tanya shook her head. “If she has feelings to you, Dave, and you don’t, better to break up. Or you will hurt both you and her.”

“I don’t want to hurt Marisa,” Dave assured.

She walked away from Dave to the stairs. At the second step, she stopped and turned to him.

“Then,” Tanya said, “you should think about what I said, Dave.”

And with that words, she left Dave and walked upstairs.

 

It took a while for Dave to find the room 3-118b, but he got lucky. Liza was still there, packing her lecture books, notebooks and pencils after a class of special chapters of spells, charms and sorcery. Unlike his specialization, she had this class on her first year. She was quite surprised to see Dave.

“Hi,” he said simply.

“Um, hi, Dave,” she replied. “Um… You have a class here too?”

“No, I just want to talk with you, Liza.”

“Ah,” she blushed, “Silly me. Um…” she hastily picked all four remaining pens from her desk and made several attempts to put them into a case, only for them to constantly form a hedgehog between her fingers. “Listen… I am kind of in a middle of something… so…”

“Liza,” Dave said firmly, “We need to talk. Now.”

“Ow,” she said. She finally looked at pens in her hands and put them back to the desk, then started to pick them one by one. This strategy worked better, as Dave could see. “But… can it wait?”

“It’s about Marisa,” Dave said.

When she heard “Marisa”, she almost jumped out from a surprise.

“Shh!” Liza pressed her finger against her lips. “Others may hear!”

“Liza,” Dave repeated calmly, “We need to talk. Outside. Now. It’s urgent.”

“Okay, okay,” she nodded. All her pens were finally in the case. She closed it with a quite loud “click” and threw into her bag. “If it’s urgent, then… let’s go.”

They went to the nearest stairway – the best place to discuss secrets in the Academy since this month – and walked downstairs.

“So, what’s the urgent news?” Liza asked when they stopped at the basement floor, under a wide pipe that went from one wall to another above the door frame. It was quite dark here. Dim orange light from the hallway made sharp and deep shadows in the stairwell.  The air smelled wet and mold. Water in the pipe whimpered quietly.

Before answering, Dave took a deep breath. He already made a decision, but one thing is to make it and another thing is to voice that decision to Liza.

“Liza,” he said finally, “it’s over. I will not date Marisa anymore.”

“Oh,” she said and put a hand under her chin. “Why? She broke up? You did something silly and she got offended? What happened between you and her, Dave?”

“No,” Dave shook his head, “You don’t understand. I am not going to date her. It’s my decision.”

“You are not going to date her?” she repeated in a surprised voice. “Why?”

“Because I think it is not fair,” Dave said.

“But you promised, Dave!” she exclaimed. “You said that you would do that, for me. For Chen! You can’t just say no now!”

“Why not?” Dave asked bluntly.

“Because you pro... Because she can be a spy, that’s why! Don’t you remember, all we talked about in the park? And after? You just can’t leave us alone, with her!”

“Oh, come on, a spy from her is like a…” Dave paused, trying to pick the right comparison, “a bus attendant from me!”

“Well,” Liza looked at him with evaluating look, “actually, you can make quite a good bus attendant.”

“Very funny, but it’s not the point. I mean, she is clearly not a spy! She’s just a...” Dave was going to say something like “a nice young woman that just had a rough life” but stopped half-word. He realized that he had no rights to share what Marisa told him. It would be a betrayal from his side. “She’s just a transfer student from another kingdom, that’s why she seems a bit cold and unusual for us. That’s all!”

“All spies have to have a good cover story,” Liza countered. “Why not like that?”

“Because I have been with her, and I saw her, and I know she is not a spy.”

“Really, Dave?” she put her arms on her hips. “Are you 100 percent sure?”

“Well,” he shrugged, “maybe not 100 but…”

“I see, Dave,” Liza said. “Do you like her?”

“Khm… Yes. Yes, I like her. She is quite nice, and interesting.”

“Then why not to continue dating her?” she asked innocently. “You like her, and she seems to like you.”

“Because it wouldn’t be fair!” Dave exclaimed. “Besides, there are rumors…”

“Which rumors?” she leaned forward, curious.

“About you, and me, and Marisa.”

“Is that so?” she said quickly, quite concerned. “What do they say?”

“Well, that I date you and now date Marisa and that maybe we are in… I mean… Something like that.”

“Ah,” she exhaled in relief and relaxed, “Nothing dangerous for me… I mean, for us then.”

“Nothing dangerous for you?” Dave frowned.

“And for you too,” she quickly assured him. “Anyway… so what about continuing dating her? Will you, Dave?”

“I already said, no!” Dave started to get annoyed.

“Because you are sure that she is not a spy?”

“You got it right,” Dave crossed arms on his chest.

“It means that you trust her, Dave? That you know her well?”

“I do.”

“And she always was honest with you, right?”

“What do you mean?” Dave asked suspiciously. She clearly had something in her mind… but what exactly?

“Just answer yes or no,” she demanded.

“Well, yes, but…”

“Yes,” she nodded. “Okay. Just as I thought. So,” she opened her bag and, after some quick search, got an envelope from it and gave it to Dave, “how would you explain this?”

Dave looked at the envelope. It was a quite usual envelope of the owl post, rectangular, from blueish-white paper. He noticed two color postal stamps, both having a picture of the King’s palace on them. Then, his look moved to the address. Dark-blue lines of elegant handwriting were written by a fountain pen. “To: Mr. H. Y. Cartwright 321 Potter Avenue, Deimur-Town, Hourn Kingdom. From: Marisa Cartwright.” The envelope was sealed but somebody already opened it with a knife.

“Marisa’s letter? Where did you get this?”

“Chen got it,” Liza explained, “when Marisa asked her to send this. Just like you, remember?”

“You know that it’s her personal letter, right?” Dave said angrily.

“Just open it,” Liza smiled.

“I won’t do that,” Dave returned the envelope back to Liza. “It’s her personal letter. I won’t read it without her permission.”

“Good boy,” she said with a hint of sarcasm. “The only problem…” she pulled a folded piece of paper from the envelope, “it’s nothing like a personal letter.”

“What do you mean?” Dave asked.

“See for yourself,” she unfolded the paper and gave it back to Dave. But before taking it, Dave already could see what was her point. The entire piece of paper was full of 5-digits numbers. Nothing but 5-digit numbers written in elegant Marisa’s handwriting.

“I see,” Dave said slowly. “Can I see the envelope again?”

“Okay,” she shrugged and gave him the envelope back. “So, what will you say now? How could you explain that if she is not a spy?”

Dave looked at the paper for quite a long time. Then, he carefully folded it back, put it in the envelope and, in turn, put the envelope in his bag. Liza was watching all this with a confused and baffled expression on her face.

“Thank you, Liza,” Dave said. “Now, I’m sorry but I have to leave. I have some questions to ask and I guess it can’t wait.”

“Hey!” Liza exclaimed. But Dave was already running upstairs. “The letter!”

 

The Academy’s building was found so many years ago and had had so many redecorations, repairs, extensions and reconstructions that probably there was no person in the world who knew every place and every secrets of the Academy. An average student would probably see most of the rooms of the main 3 floors during the study; more curious ones could visit those parts of the basement that were accessible from the stairs. Maybe some even could see by luck of accident the places that generally were only for stuff and important persons: accounting department, health and safety office, workshops, even the elevator’s maintenance room. But the roof of the Academy was the most secret and the least known of them all. Twenty meters from the ground, guarded by one meter tall wall to protect from accidental fallings and from accidental looks from behind, with all doors and hatches locked and the keys being only in the building’s manager office, the roof was the place that an average person could never see.

Marisa Cartwright was quite glad to that fact.

Not that it was something worth seeing on the roof. It was a normal flat roof, with vent ducts, chimneys and steam pipes in apparently random places and with high walls dividing it into sectors. The view from the roof was not spectacular either. The park below was mostly hidden by the protective walls; the forest nearby, orange and red from autumn leaves, was nice but far from stunning; and the most of the houses nearby were quite high by themselves. Probably, if some wanted to see Seinar-Sa from a high point, then the observation wheel or the 7-storey skyscraper on the Four Seasons square would be much better. Marisa liked to stay at the roof not because of the view neither because she was interested in the steam pipes of the Academy. But it was one of a very few places where she could be truly alone. She knew that she could stay here, drink her coffee from her black metal thermos and nobody would ever bother her there. Just Marisa, coffee, and Seinar-Sa. The perfect combination.

This day, Marisa also was there, at her favorite place. She was staying near the wall, her coffee cup in her hand, and was looking at Merlin Street. The air was cold and clear. The sun today decided to hide behind light-gray clouds. The wind, actually quite strong on this height, was trying to blow the steam away from Marisa’s coffee but with little success, as the steam continued to rise. A nice autumn day, in Marisa’s view. She smiled and made another sip from her coffee cup, when she heard something unusual. A sound of the opening door behind her.

“Here you are!” she heard a familiar but quite angry, maybe even furious, voice. “I think you have to explain me something.”

Marisa turned around to see who her unexpected visitor was.

“Good afternoon, Dave,” she said with a polite nod. “Do you want coffee?”

“Hm, no,” Dave said, slightly baffled by her polite voice. “I don’t like coffee.”

“I know,” she replied. “If I knew you wanted to join me here, I’d take some tee with me for you.”

“How nice of you,” he said sarcastically. “Listen, if you think that you can distract me with polite speeches…”

“No, not at all,” she said, “only with polite cup of coffee. Something happened, Dave?”

“Yes,” he said firmly, “a lot. You hid something from me, Marisa. Something very very important.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“Interesting,” she said. “May I know how did you come to this conclusion?”

“I must admit, you are quite a good actress,” he continued. “You played a nice, sincere and honest woman so well that I almost believed you. Congratulations. Well, I guess, it’s a must for a spy from your kingdom, right? A perfect cover story: just a young student who wants to study magic in our Academy. Observant, quiet, nice woman who prefers to listen and not to speak… but also quite curious about new places. Scientific district, ha. And who knows, maybe she will make good friends with people who will become valuable magicians and key figures in the future. That was your task, Marisa, wasn’t it?”

Marisa looked at Dave for several seconds.

“So you think I am a spy?” she said with curiosity.

“You aren’t?” Dave asked in return.

“As far as I am aware, no,” she said. “Although, if I were, I would give the same answer, so…” she shrugged and made another sip of coffee. “Are you sure you don’t want some coffee, Dave?”

“No,” he shook his head. “So you say you are not a spy? Then how would you explain this?” He pulled the letter that Liza gave him from his bag and showed to Marisa.

“What is it?” Marisa asked. She put the cup on the wall and leaned forward to see closer what Dave had in his hand.

“Is it your letter?” Dave inquired.

“Hmm… Looks like mine, but… Where did you get it, Dave?”

“It doesn’t matter now. So, if it’s your letter, then this one is also written by you?” he showed her the paper with 5-digits numbers.

Marisa took the paper from Dave. Her eyes were scanning the lines.

“Hmm… Strange. It looks like my handwritings, but I can assure that I’ve never written something like that.”

“But it’s your handwriting,” Dave stated.

“At least it is very similar to mine…. But how?” she looked honestly confused. “Dave, may I look at the envelope again?”

“Sure,” Dave said. He showed it to Marisa again, but when Marisa reached to grab it, pulled the envelope away. “No-no, don’t try to make any tricks!”

“Dave,” Marisa reminded politely but firmly, “you already gave me to see the letter itself, so if I wanted to destroy it, I would already do.”

“Ow,” he opened his mouth wide as he realized his mistake.

“Now, can I have the envelope please?” she demanded. “Thank you.” She took it  from Dave’s hands and started to investigate it very thoroughly.

“What are you looking for?” Dave asked. “It’s your handwriting, and the address is the same that was on that letter that you gave me the other day. So it must be yours!”

“Well, it looks like mine, and that’s strange,” she said. “I know that I never wrote that. And I usually send mails to my father the same day that I write them, except that day when I had to ask you, so I don’t understand how did you get that envelope… if only you didn’t send that mail. Did you?”

“What’s that accusation?” Dave got offended. “I did. The same day as you asked!”

“I know,” she nodded, “because my father mentioned what I wrote in that mail later, so it was sent. Still, how could you get this envelope…” she muttered as she continued scanning the envelope. Then, suddenly, she raised her head and looked at Dave. “This letter is fake, Dave.”

“How so?” he said with distrust. “Numbers in wrong order?” he added sarcastically.

“The stamps,” she said simply.

“Stamps?”

“Look at them. There is only two. For international mail, there should be three. This mail is a fake, Dave, made by someone who could copy my handwriting and who could see the address but didn’t know about stamps.”

“So I have to believe you that it’s a fake just because of stamps?” Dave said.

“Dave,” she said calmly, “you need three stamps to send the mail to another kingdom, not two. Two are for local mail. I know that because I have sent them many times. Wherever you got this envelope, you can’t get it from my mails.”

“Oh, really?” But then, Dave remembered the envelope she gave him few weeks ago, and that he instantly noticed three post stamps on it instead of normal two. She was right. And he was a fool. “Oh. So it’s really must be a fake. I’m sorry, Marisa. I apologize.”

“Now you see that I am not a spy?” she said. “So, where did you get this mail?”

“Liza gave it to me,” Dave admitted.

“Liza?”

“Yes. Actually… she was quite convinced that you were a spy.”

“And to convince you, she forged this mail?” Marisa stated matter-of-factly.

“Maybe… but how she did it?”

“Well, all she needed were my address and samples of my handwriting. Do you know if she had them?”

“Not your handwriting, probably. And I am not sure she can copy it too. Your handwriting is quite hard to copy… it’s too elegant.”

“Nice to know that it comes handy,” she nodded.

“Ann would be able to copy it,” Dave was pondering. “But why Ann would make this fake? And where can Liza get your address? From Chen?”

“Chen?” Marisa was surprised. “I doubt. First of all, they are not friends, and secondly, Chen saw my mails several times. She would know about three stamps.”

“Oh. I see. Can anybody else know the address?”

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But probably all of them would know about those stamps.”

“I see,” Dave said. “Then, where did she see it...” And then, he also remembered how he showed the envelope to Liza on the first day when they met. “I guess, I know. She could see it when she saw me with your letter. I think I hold it by the top right corner, so she could not notice that there were three stamps.”

“It could be,” Marisa nodded in agreement. “But I just don’t get it… why does she need to convince you that I am a spy? Because she was jealous?”

“I don’t think so,” Dave started. He was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. Dave turned to the door.

“Dave?” he heard Liza’s voice. She was standing in the door frame, holding the door by her left hand. “Finally! What are you doing…” her voice got weaker as she noticed Marisa behind Dave. “Oh. I probably should go,” she said as she slowly was moving backwards.

“STOP!” Marisa ordered with steel in her voice. Liza froze in the door frame abidingly, probably pure out of instinct. Dave didn’t even expect that Marisa had such a commanding voice. “Would you mind to join us?” Marisa continued politely. “We have been discussing something, and we would like to hear your opinion as well. Or perhaps, explanation is a better word.”

“Explanation?” Liza said in low voice, her eyes widened from fear.

“Yes, explanations,” Marisa nodded. “In particular, I and Dave would like to know why you want to convince him that I am a spy.”

“A spy?” Liza repeated. “Dave?! You tell her about…” she stopped short.

Marisa tilted her head, as a teacher just heard something very interesting from a student.

“Oh, please continue,” she asked. “Tell me what about?”

“Um…” Liza nervously laughed. “Nothing. Silly me, you know… Nothing.”

Marisa turned to Dave.

“What about, Dave?” she asked. Ice was in her eyes and her voice.

“Well, that she told me that you are a spy?” he guessed as he crossed his arms on his chest.

“But it was a joke, Dave!” Liza exclaimed. “We were joking that Marisa should be a spy, because… because she is from another kingdom, that’s all! Right?” she looked at Dave with a puppy eye.

“And this letter was also a part of the joke?” Marisa showed the envelope with two post stamps.

“This… letter?” Liza asked.

“Yes,” Dave inquired. “With a faked code message that you gave me today and said that it is from Marisa!”

“But… but… there should be a some misunderstanding…” Liza said. “I didn’t say it was from Marisa. I just… I… Listen, maybe we can sort it out now? I mean… it was just a joke, nobody was harmed, so maybe we just laugh and forget about all that? Right?”

“Nobody was harmed?!” Dave said. “You made me think that Marisa was a spy!”

“But it was a joke, Dave! It’s not my fault that you don’t get jokes!”

“Oh yes, and what you told me in a park? Also a joke? And in the Academy? And two tickets you gave me to invite Marisa to a date? Joke too?”

“Um…” Liza lowered her head.

“Two tickets?” Marisa got curious. She turned back to Dave. “The tickets for the Magic World? It was from her?”

Dave paused. He realized that he probably said too much. If Marisa realized that he was on dates with her because Liza convinced him that it was the best way to collect the information about her… For a second, he had a thought that he could make up a story that he just asked her for advice and…

He sighed deeply.

“Well… yes,” he admitted. “She asked me to invite you for a date. She said that we could learn more about you that way. I am sorry, Marisa”

“Really?” Marisa said. “Is it true?” She looked and Liza. Liza nodded quickly.

Marisa chuckled.

“Well,” she said, “probably it’s the first time I got a date because somebody thought I was a spy.”

“I am sorry,” Dave repeated. He looked down at his shoes. “If you are angry and won’t forgive me, I understand.”

“I am not angry,” Marisa said. “So, that date was a joke too?”

Liza nodded twice in quick succession.

“Well, tickets, fake letter, several meetings with Dave… Isn’t it a bit too much for a joke?” Marisa said as she was thinking. “And seems you really convinced Dave… You should have some intentions. But why? What would you get by naming me a spy?”

“It was a joke!” Liza exclaimed again. “I never tell anyone that you are a spy. Only to Dave!”

“So, it was only for Dave?” Marisa was curious. “What for? If only Dave was thinking that I am a spy, and not others… what would be achieved for that?”

Dave shrugged.

“I don’t know… Can’t see any sense. Seems she would get nothing from that… except from me dating you.”

“Did she insist that you should date me?” Marisa asked.

“It was only a…” Liza started. Both Marisa and Dave turned to her and synchronously exclaimed “Shut up!”

“Yes, she was really serious about that, she even got me a lesson what to do and what not to do on dates,” Dave said.

“I see,” Marisa nodded. “Does she have a boyfriend?”

“I don’t!” Liza said. “And don’t talk like I am not here!”

Marisa exchanged looks with Dave.

“Then, if she doesn’t have a boyfriend…” she said.

“Yes,” Dave scratched his forehead. He remembered Ann, when she was forging the signature the other day. They were speaking about something with Liza… What was it about? Classes? Clothes? No, it was something before… Then he remembered. They were talking about Ollie’s birthday. That meant… “But Ann does!” he exclaimed.

“Ann?”

“The one who could forge your letter. She is in love with Ollie, I think. I remember that Liza cheered her up about Ollie when they were talking about her birthday.”

“Oh. That explains everything!” Marisa said.

“I don’t understand what are you talking about!” Liza complained.

“Well, you tried to convince Dave that I am a spy to make him date me,” Marisa explained politely. “However, the spying accusation seems to not achieve anything. So I must conclude that it was the dating part that you were interesting in. But why a woman would like the guy to date another woman? One reason could be to push him away, except that apparently, you were the one who initiated your relationships with Dave. Therefore this reason is not likely. Another reason is that you wanted to distract me from someone. Whom from? Initially I thought that from your boyfriend, but you said that you didn’t have one. However, your friend Ann is in love with Ollie. I guess she might think that I was a threat to her love because I and Ollie often chat with each other, and she could misinterpret that Ollie is interested in me. I believe you know about me and Ollie, and you wanted to help your friend, so you invented this scheme to make Dave date me and to distract me from Ollie. Maybe you even hoped that I and Dave will fall in love with each other, thus eliminated me completely. Quite cunning, I should say.”

“Um…” Liza was looking at Marisa with mixture of fear and awe.

“Am I right?” Marisa said. “Or I got something wrong?”

“Marisa,” Dave said, “do you really believe that she could do that to distract you from Ollie? And not even for herself but for her friend? I don’t think that she can care about anyone but yourself…”

“Shut up!” Liza yelled. “You understand nothing! Yes, I did that to help my friend, because I know what is to be rejected! Ann is a wonderful person and she has every right to get her love, not this cold arrogant pretentious ice queen who doesn’t even have friends! And you, Dave, don’t judge others because you know nothing! You don’t even have your own opinion, just follow Tanya’s or Marisa’s! Look at you two, you both deserve each other! Ha!” She pushed the door angrily by her hand, but it swung back heavily and hit her arm. “Aww!” she exclaimed, stepped forward and almost fell down. “It hurts!”

  “Oh!” Marisa got a concerned face. She stepped to Liza and sat down near her. She gently took Liza’s arm to look the wound. “Where it hurts, here?”

Liza nodded.

“Let me see,” Marisa quickly pulled the sleeve of Liza’s sweater and shirt and examined where the door hit. “Seems you got a bruise… good that there is no blood, but it’s a big one. Let me think…” she reached for her purse and grabbed a wallet, then pullet some coins from it. She raised her arm with one of the coins and closed her eyes. In a matter of seconds, the coin got magically covered with ice. Marisa lowered the arm, put the coin in her white handkerchief and folded it several times to cover the coin. Then, she put the folded handkerchief on Liza’s arm.

“Ah!” Liza shivered. “It’s cold!”

“It should help,” Marisa explained quickly. “It should decrease the pain. Probably, you should visit a medic too, but I don’t think it is necessary. Just hold it for some time.”

“Ah…” Liza nodded. “Um… thank you.”

“Glad that even a cold arrogant ice queen could help,” Marisa said with a warm smile. “ Ok, let’s go from here,” Marisa said and stood up. “It’s getting colder and you need a rest. Ok?”

Liza nodded. Marisa lend her a hand and helped to stood up. They carefully went downstairs, Liza’s right arm holding Marisa’s handkerchief on her left arm, and Marisa carefully holding the door for her. Then, she followed Liza too. The door closed with a loud rattling sound. “And you know,” Dave heard Marisa voice from behind the door, “you were too harsh about Dave. He is a nice person, just needs some experience and guidance…”

Dave looked at the door. He shrugged, then sighed and approached the wall that separated the roof from the outside world. Marisa’s cup of coffee was still there, emitting hot smoke. Her thermos was laying on the floor. Dave took it. It was cold outside but, apparently, hot inside. Just like Marisa.

He shrugged, took the cup and made a sip, only to instantly spit it out.

Dave never liked cold coffee.

 

This Sunday was probably one of the coldest in history. There was not a single cloud on the sky, but the pale sun just didn't want to share any warm with citizens of Seinar-Sa today. Bursts of strong and freezing wind were blowing all dust, garbage and old yellow leaves from roads straight into the air. Dave made a step out of a safe corner behind a building, waited until a pause in the wind bursts and rushed as fast as his bag allowed him to the a two-story house across the road. He barely made it. He was closing the door when the wind blew a new dust cloud behind it. The “Open” sign under “Coffee Point. Best coffee for mornings and evenings” text written at the door swung slightly as Dave closed the door tightly and removed his gloves.

Marisa already was there. She was eating a chocolate dessert. Her cup of cappuccino, white with a picture of a coffee bean, was at her table near her right hand.

“Hi, Marisa,” Dave said. 

She raised her head to look at him.

“Good afternoon, Dave. Weather today is quite crazy, isn't it?”

“Definitely”. Dave opened his bag, reached for a cardboard box tied with a golden ribbon and gave this box to Marisa. “It's for you. Take, please.”

“What is it?” she asked with curiosity as she took the box.

“Open it.”

Marisa nodded and quickly untied the box. She reminded Dave a kid who just got a gift for Christmas and is eager to know what is inside. She removed the cover and an expression of surprise appeared on her face. A pleasant surprise, as Dave could see. Inside the box, there was a ginger toy cat with a blue scarf with white strips.

“Aww,” she said with a wide smile. “Thank you so much! Did you really win this cat?”

“I wish I could but no. I just saw it in a shop that I passed by and decided to make you a gift.”

“You didn't have to,” she said. “But still, thank you! It is so cute! Oh, just look at his paws. So soft!”

“Well,” Dave smiled. He sat down across Marisa. “I guess it's the least I can do to apologize.”

“Apologize? What for?”

“Well, for that spying story,” Dave explained.

“Ah, don’t worry about that,” Marisa waved her hand. “No harm is done, and I even had fun.”

“Really?” Dave looked at her with suspicion.

“I swear by my cloak and dagger”, she smiled. “By the way, how is Liza?”

“I don't know,” Dave shrugged. “I haven't chat with her since. Don't want to meet her again.”

“Because she successfully manipulated you?”

“Because she did something unethical, wrong and bad!” Dave replied rather grumpy. “I think she ought to apologize to you, at least.”

“I doubt that she even had a thought about apologizing,” Marisa said. “Guess she doesn't see what she did bad. Besides, she didn't make any real harm to anyone… except maybe your pride. And her intentions were rather noble, to help her friend.”

“Are you trying to defend her?”

“Just trying to understand,” Marisa smiled.

“Well, but she make me to think that you are a spy! And to do some other things!”

“More things like fake dates?” Marisa winked.

“Well… That wasn't really fake dates!” Dave retorted.

“So what was it then?” Marisa asked.

A waitress approached them and put a cup of tea for Dave on the table, saving him from answering to Marisa. He took the cup and made a small sip.

“Did you order it for me?”

“Yes, while was waiting. Do you like? I asked for pure black tea.”

“Yes, it's quite good, thank you,” Dave made another sip.

“So, what about our dates, Dave?” Marisa repeated firmly.

“Well, I didn't date you just because Liza said so,” Dave replied. “I enjoyed the time with you. Honestly!”

“Me too,” she said simply. “But was it real? Do you have some feelings to me?”

“Do you?” Dave asked in return.

His question made Marisa to ponder for a quite long time.

“Well…” she replied. “You are quite funny, handsome, trying to keep your promises and care about others. I guess you are a good friend to me, Dave. Maybe in another time, another world, we could be more than friends. But you have feelings for Tanya.”

“Yes,” Dave confirmed. “But you also are quite special to me. There's some mystery in you that I don't know but want to understand. So maybe I am not in love with you, but I still want to be your friend.”

“Even if I am a spy?” she teased.

“I know that you are not,” Dave said.

“Well, maybe there will be another Liza to convince you that I am,” she said playfully.

“Don't mention Liza,” he made a wry face. “She won't catch me again.”

“Well, never say never,” Marisa smiled. “You are sometimes too nice and willing to help, Dave. People like Liza could use that in their interests.”

“Maybe,” Dave said. “But how should I do?”

“I think,” she tilted her head slightly to her left, “maybe you should learn how to say No.”

“I already know how to say “No”,” Dave said.  

“But you are too nice to say that,” Marisa said. “I know that you are kind, Dave. But sometimes being nice is the worst kind of cruelty.”

“Tanya told me something similar,” Dave sighed. “Is it something like a female thing, to tell me that?”

“Maybe?” she winked. “So, what should we do about us?”

Dave made a sip from his cup of tea.

“You mean, should we break up or not?” he asked.

“It’s quite blunt to say that,” Marisa said. “But in short, it is the question.”

“But do we really need to break up?” Dave said. “I mean, we like each other, and we have had good time together, and… Do we?”

“Maybe it is the right thing to do?” Marisa said.

“Maybe it is,” Dave agreed. “But what if I don’t want to do this right thing? I know we may not be in love with each other. But I know that you are quite special for me, that we have…” he paused to pick a right word, “sort of a connection between you and me. And I am not ready to break it. Not now.”

“I am glad to hear that,” she said. “You are also quite special to me, Dave. And I don’t want to break that connection too… even if we both have feelings for someone else.”

“So, deal?” Dave smiled widely.

“Deal!” She raised her coffee cup like in a toast. “Just one thing, Dave… What if I really asked you to do the right thing now?” she looked at him teasingly.

“Well,” he replied with a grin, “what if I say “No”?”

Marisa laughed.

“You’re learning,” she said with a proud smile.


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