April 2nd, 2036
Dictys woke to the scent of happiness; a trace of his girlfriend’s shampoo across the pillow, spotted with drool (she insisted before, not mine), and the bubbling of lemon pancakes. He joined her in the kitchen, brushing her shoulder with fondness. “Good morning, my love.”
A plate appeared, stacked full, and Hedwig wore a smile. “Morning.” He could forget that he was currently between jobs. That there were things he did not know how to say or rather, did not know how to ask. It was not a selflessness.
Growing up, Dictys didn’t have birthdays the way other children did. He and Perpetua fashioned presents from old toys or their imagination. From ages 6 to 8, he received exactly: one doll missing an eye, a yoyo that was originally his, and sugared lemon zest, a treat from citrus filched from the bar below. Now twenty-four, Dictys raised his hand, the lazy sun casting memory, the sweetness of tiny sugar crystals against unmarred skin.
“I’ve got to head to work,” said Hedwig to the human and the dog. Carl, Sr. Mgr, had taken to yowling on the streets during mornings. The bulldog leapt from the sofa, crowded her feet, and attempted to climb into her open purse, but Dictys, a quick pop—
He kissed her against the fireplace, fingers over the dimples on her back but lingering in a warmth that was more than heat. He could not let go.
“Dictys!” she laughed. “I’ll be back later.” And Hedwig kissed him in return. “Brush your teeth.” Heels licked with a green fire; she was gone.
By the fourteenth hour of his birthday, Dictys had considered the production of two weeks. The first had not been so boring, considering the feverish apartment cleaning, duel with Rina, mini-holiday on a cool beach, second duel with Rina, and dog shoe shopping. The second sank its teeth in books, romance and dirty; an impulse buy at the shop, a secondhand habit from younger days. He was a passerby in the world. Sprawled on the sofa, twenty pounds of Oopsy sprawled on him, Dictys paused in the midst of Charmed Ever After (Book 2)’s saucy bonus chapter for Book 3 and glanced at the yellowing cactus plant under the coffee table, its form side-eyeing him.
“Fine.” Oopsy’s ears perked up. “Fine.”
Ten minutes later, Dictys arrived at Belladonna in Knockturn Alley with a dog and a half-dead cactus in tow. Hair windswept to whipped cream stiffness, flowerprint button-up loosely rolled to his elbows, and the adrenaline hollowing his bones, Dictys moved with a lightness undeserving of such occasion. He wandered farther into the flower shop’s wilderness, stopped at a distance by a rough-looking man of about thirty.
“Yo Ator, Belladonna’s busy.” Hard blue eyes drilled into him.
Neither he nor Oopsy could keep still, but a gentle memory passed in the fickle sun. “Ace?” The man looked sheepish as he scratched his shaved head. “Seriously?” An old friend in old places. Emboldened, Dictys pressed forward. “Cacti emergency.”
“The cactus can wait, geez, id-iot. Belladonna’s engaged. Oh no, still walking by. We’ll see who’s the punk.” Two enormous plants, the leaves in deep raisin with green blemishes, flashed sizeable stingers hidden in thick petals. They sat firmly in front of two doors, seemingly growing larger, until Ace belted out, “I’ve got a cauldron full of hot, strong love, and it’s bubbling for you – oh this ain’t the worst of it, bro – say incendio but that’s spell’s not hot as my special witch’s brew!” The guards relaxed and pulled their pots aside. “Go on then. She’s probably expecting you. That swarmy git.”
Still laughing as if he’d been slipped daydream charms, Dictys ascended to the next floor where he encountered a bubblegum-chewing tomboy, a goblin with a pocketknife, and Old Nan (Old Nan?!). This lacked the conclusion of a joke. The beats came evenly, softened like the spots on the leather couch. He smelled tea and biscuits. As Oopsy jumped at Old Nan’s feet, begging for slices of apple, the other intruder proceeded to what he assumed to be Belladonna’s office, given away by the sign that read FLIRT. Dictys knocked on the pink frosted window. Someone sighed behind him, and he knocked once more.
Dictys opened the door and immediately understood that Wilbur appeared deep in conversation. A cackling from behind.
“Jusk a biff, kay?” mumbled Wilbur after the squeaking of a chair.
Dictys shut the door. It seemed a series of crazy events had led him here; a mooning, increments of weeks, then book numbers, and minutes upon minutes. At last, the office door opened and Wilbur threw a grin to the room. “An associate of Noon and The Poet.” He waved vaguely at the wizard leaving. “Never mind those villains for another time.” He followed the man into the office, careful not to touch anything. “What can I do for you, Hottie?”
“I know the first world that ever mattered like my home.” The former Auror spoke the words that had lived in his memory, taking root.
“If you are looking for a position whose job requirement involves frequently mooning their boss,” Wilbur grinned all bright white teeth. “I have just the one for you.”
Dictys looked wildly unimpressed.
“Well, can’t get lucky all the time.”
“I have just the question for you then,” Dictys interrupted, brown eyes unfaltering. “What happened to the woman? Charlotte’s Flowers, right? Owner back then.”
Wilbur did not change his stance; open, straight-backed, and grinning, proud, there was a flicker in this. “If you’re asking if I’ve killed her, no. But my sister died here, an accident.” He reached for the cactus and clicked his tongue. “I took a risk and now we’re here.” Wilbur pulled on thick gloves, kneeling to examine the potted plant. “My sister liked to say: to make the best with what you have, you’ve got to be willing to risk your best. Are you?”
There were things Dictys did not know how to say or rather, did not know how to ask. It was not a selflessness. A glittering sweetness in his chest; will it burn? “Yes.”
Belladonna clapped her hands together; a muffled sound.
“Welcome to the Beautification Club, Dictys.”