The LOVE STORY Series Selection
By Angelaine Espinosa
Copyright 2017 Angelaine Espinosa
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, places and events is purely coincidental. Furthermore, this is an extended version of a story in the anthology entitled “The LOVE STORY Series” by the same author.
Although this story does not contain exceedingly graphic scenes, it does contain events and situations that may be considered ‘adult.’
Table of Contents
His ordinary morning
Sidiro Cantilena eased into the mud-beige shirt of his uniform and put on the brown fedora hat that had hung on the hat stand by the door. He viewed himself in the hallway mirror, and stepped into his black leather boots before walking out of his house. Making his way to the park just in front of the joint row houses where his own was located, he was well aware of the stares he was getting.
Who wouldn’t? Looking like a forest ranger while being employed as a guide for the Sparrow Community Park Petting Zoo wasn’t exactly a typical day job. But in order to support his other passion as an artist, he had to have some extra income for buying his materials. With Sid’s charm and muscleman built, nobody easily believed that he was an artist. Others had mistaken him for an actor or stuntman because of the roped muscles and wide chest above a sinewy waist.
Acting the guide at the petting zoo wasn’t all that bad. Actually, it was wonderful spending time with kids who adored animals. The same animal-lover kids were usually accompanied by nannies, and said nannies looked at him more than they would the animals in their pens. From the way they ogled him, it was as if Sid was more the main attraction of the zoo. Ever since Sid and his cousin Jeremy took up jobs at Sparrow Community’s park, there had been an increase in visitors, especially female visitors.
Sidiro approached the gate to the zoo and at once noticed Jeremy sitting above the railings of the goat pen. Like him, Jer had a square jaw, short hair cut straight at the back of the neck, widow’s peak and damask-tinted lips. This was due to the fact that they were cousins from the same side of a long and complicated family tree. But whereas Jeremy had light walnut hair and dark brown eyes giving him a bronze look, Sid had platinum gray hair and frost blue eyes, recessive traits of his other form: a Northern Puma.
Yes, Sid could change into a puma, for he was a full-blooded jinni. Jeremy was one too and also had the ability to shift into said same animal, albeit brown at the back and tan on his belly. But because they had never intended to expose their true identities, they were content to live as average human beings. Aside from each other, only Jeremy’s girlfriend and resident zoo veterinarian Aisha knew about him.
“Hey Sid!” Jeremy called as he clambered down the railings. Sidiro noticed the worry on his cousin’s face.
“What’s up?” he clapped him on the shoulder. “And why aren’t you in your costume yet?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. He sometimes hated being the Park’s resident magician, but he had to pay for his new house one way or another. He looked over his shoulder before snapping his fingers. Instantly, his baggy shirt and khaki jeans turned into a crisp polo and sleek black pants. A top hat appeared on his head and a black jacket with long tails was draped on his forearm.
“You know we agreed not to use magic where it can be seen.”
“Anyway,” Jeremy chose to ignore the reprimand, “Aisha came early today, with a little something you might be interested in.”
“What does she have now? Another chipmunk with a limp?” Sidiro joked. Normally, Aisha left the smaller and less injured animals to his care. Some of them had even stayed overnight at his house.
It wasn’t exactly against the rules. The clinic’s purpose was to provide animals with the best care it possibly could. It often accepted volunteers who could foster the smaller domestic animals when the facilities or the staff couldn’t accommodate more. Sid was always a welcome volunteer, because he simply had a way with animals – with or without the use of his powers.
“No man, something more serious. She found a cat in one of the dumpsters down town, just yesterday.” Jeremy contradicted. “She says it’s a jinni!”
“A jinni?” Sid scoffed. “Have you been out drinking last night?”
“No, I have not been out drinking last night. That was last Tuesday. And I was with Aisha, who drove us home without incident.” Jeremy supplied before grabbing him by the elbow. Sid was dragged in the direction of the clinic.
Sidiro rolled his eyes heavenward. “I don’t like jokes like these, Jer. You know that. Nobody just mistakes a jinni for a cat.”
“Not everyone has as much power and knowledge as we do. You know that, right? You’ve seen how crazy humans can get – even Aisha. After all, we’ve been on this earth for nearly a hundred years.”
His unexpected pet
“Okay Aisha, what have you got?” Sidiro barreled into the clinic, followed by Jeremy who was just putting on his jacket. The pair would have come to the clinic earlier, but they were detained by Jeremy’s many little fans, all ready to witness his ever ready street magic acts. Little did they know that Jeremy was using a bit of his real magic during his performances.
Jeremy could whip up a fresh bouquet of roses from his front pocket, or even release a flock of multi-colored pigeons from the back of his coat. Sid had seen him do those tricks, and more. In conclusion, Jeremy was just as powerful as the jinniyan princes of the maggickal realm. However, the realm that they called their other home, appealed to neither of them. It was especially distant from Jeremy, whose smart and attractive girlfriend appealed more than anything that other realm could offer.
Aisha looked up from her work table and gestured for the two to come closer. The young vet planted a kiss on Jeremy’s cheek, but that did nothing to hide the concern that was framed behind her round-rimmed glasses. “Follow me, boys.”
She rounded the work table and took out a chain of keys from the pocket of her white lab coat. The biggest of the keys, as Sid and Jer already knew, allowed access to the back room where all the injured animals were temporarily kept. The smaller keys were those that unlocked the several cages inside the said room. There were two levels of cages. The bigger cages below the smaller ones housed the four-legged larger animals. The smaller ones above were used for holding pets.
Sidiro and his cousin followed closely, making sure not to make too much noise lest they disturb any of the sleeping animals. Aisha groped for the on-switch that activated the lights. When she found and clicked it, the glass globe above them glowed. The amount of light wasn’t too bright – more of a soft orange – so that it wouldn’t startle the resting creatures.
Not all the cages were occupied, though. From what Sid could see, there were only three animals inside. The young lamb that had a limp in one front leg was in the lower cage nearest the door. In the upper right cage close to the lamb, a puppy – owned by one of the kids who visited the zoo regularly – had been given a vaccine shot and was to be picked up later in the afternoon. The third animal, however, was kept in the cage at the end of the column, and was almost invisible because the light wasn’t strong enough to illuminate the whole of the room. From what Sid could make of its silhouette, the animal looked like a big domestic cat, about twenty-two inches long.
Aisha put a finger in front of her lips, telling them to keep silent. Unfortunately they weren’t quiet enough. The moment that Aisha opened the gate to the cage, the cat startled awake and cowered. In fact, it shook so violently that Sidiro thought the poor animal alone could break the cage by just shaking.
“So, what do you think?” Aisha asked, trying unsuccessfully to draw the cat forward with a piece of biscuit. “I feel a weird tingling whenever I’m near her. Sort of like the tingle I feel when one of you comes near me. Is she something like you?”
“I think,” Jeremy said, “that she is one. Though I’m not sure if she even knows it. Sid? What about you?”
The moment Sidiro traded gazes with the animal, he felt a weird tingling vibration. It was sort of like the tingle he could feel when Jeremy was close by, but not quite. This kind of tingle started from his lips and went down all the way to his toes, sort of like he’d been kissed by a sudden bolt of electricity. This was really weird. This had never happened with any other jinni before, not even his brother. But he was sure that, despite the different kind of tingle, he was standing in front of a jinniyah, a female of his kind.
“What animal is she?” Sid asked, taking a step closer and standing in front of the cage, the opening of which was directly leveled with his shoulders. From this angle and with his big body blocking the light, all he could see was a pair of amber eyes that glowed in the darkness.
“A jaguarondi or otter cat,” Aisha replied, giving up on the biscuit trick.
“Ja-gua-ron-di? Otter cat’s easier to pronounce. Where did you find her again?”
“She was inside a plastic bag. In a dumpster behind the fast food junction that my cousin works in. When I took her out, she tried to get away from me. But it was obvious she was starving. She could barely run away. Even lift a paw to scratch me. I took her home, but she wouldn’t eat anything I gave her.”
Sidiro peered into the cage again, trying to get a feel of the animal. Yup, she was scared. Sidiro took a deep breath and let it out, trying to muster a gentle face. But inside he was seething. Who would be that cruel? Wrapping up a live animal like it was yesterday’s garbage? She was so thin that he estimated she weighed little more than a cub. “Hey there, cubby. How are you doing?”
Sidiro thought he heard a whimper. He stretched out one hand inside of the cage and opened his palm. “Hi there. I’m Sidiro. Would you like to come out?”
Still no reply. However, he noticed that the silhouette had stopped shaking.
“Hey that’s good,” Jeremy whispered. “Whatever it is you’re doing Sid, keep at it. I think she’s listening.”
Sid resumed his sweet-talking, hoping that the jinniyah understood English. “Do you understand me? I’d really like it if you’d come out into the light. That way I can see you close up. Don’t worry, I won’t bite. I just wanna meet you.” Then, as if somebody had put the thought in his mind, he said “I promise I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
The cat had in the meantime come closer. Eventually Sid could see the gray face, then the front paws and then the whole body, as if she had materialized from shadow. She was beautiful! Her coat was dove gray instead of dull, sprinkled with short hairs of blue. Her bushy tail swished on the cage floor and her slender body emanated the magic that was part of her.
The moment Sidiro looked into the cat’s eyes, his breath caught in his throat. The cat looked at him as if she could read his soul, as if she did trust him. If their roles were switched, his normal reaction to an invading human would have been to withdraw. The cat didn’t seem to share that reaction. In fact, he found it amazing that it – she had decided to trust him. He could do nothing, even move, as the cat resumed her approach and eventually rubbed her side to his forearm.
“Well, what do you know?” Aisha whispered. “I think she likes you, Sid. You think you could take her for a while? Normally I’d contact the department about an endangered species found in the dumpster, but she’s not an ordinary animal.”
“You think she knows how to shift, Sid?” Jeremy asked.
“From the looks of it,” Sidiro replied while scratching behind the animal’s ear, “I think she was born a cat. She seems more comfortable in this form she’s in now.”
Sidiro held the cat in his arms as he walked out the park. He had one hand below the feline’s body and another stroking the side that was turned up to him. She was light… and soft. He continued talking to her in a droning voice, trying to distract her from the honking cars and the squealing children on the street. When they were standing just in front of his house, the cat purred contentedly. And by the time that Sid had opened his bedroom door and turned up the coverlet, she was sound asleep.
His panicky housemate
The mattress dented as Sidiro turned on his side of the bed. He lifted his sleep-laden eyelids and yawned. He stretched his arms, but he was not able to extend them to their full length because that was when he noticed the lump of fur looking at him.
The cat was staring at him with a look that he thought was curious and doubting. For a moment, Sidiro just lay there and stared back at her. When he finally sat up and scratched the back of his head, the cat bent her head to the left as she continued to observe him, one ear perked up in interest.
“I can’t say you haven’t greeted me good morning,” he said. “I think you already beat me to it.”
The cat blinked, then uncrossed its front paws and sat on its haunches.
“You up for breakfast?”
Sidiro got up, finally stretched his arms over his head and swung them around to loosen his muscles. Next tried to coax his kitty out of the bed, but she kept looking daggers at the door, as if it was something evil. He gave up on trying to lead her to the kitchen a while later, and instead brought his own bowl of cereal and a pack of biscuits into the bedroom. As he spooned the cereal to his mouth, he kept stealing glances at the animal beside him.
The cat had wide ochre eyes and delicate white whiskers. She also had wide ears that twitched this way and that. Her bushy tail swished above the mattress, like that of a little girl’s pendulous ponytail that swings when she’s skipping. She devoured her biscuit breakfast with as much finesse as she could, though it was easy to tell that she’d been hungry for a while. After she devoured one biscuit, she immediately pawed out another one from the bag and nibbled until the crumbs scattered about her. Then she lapped up the crumbs, leaving the coverlet spotless.
“I bet you won’t be able to walk after you eat that much!” Sidiro joked. The exasperated cat looked at him, and then resumed her meal in silence.
It was strange. The jaguarondi seemed to understand what he was saying, but did little to nothing to acknowledge that she just heard. And why wasn’t she shifting? Surely she knew he could be trusted by now. Maybe…
The phone on the bedside table rang, causing the cat to stare wide-eyed at the contraption, before darting to her feet and to the corner of the room. In all of Sidiro’s life he had never seen a cat cower because of a phone before. This animal seemed to be afraid of almost everything, from doors to phones to kind people. But then again, she was a jinniyah. And she may not be well adapted to the human world yet.
Sidiro moved to the edge of the bed. “It’s all right, cubby. It’s just a phone, see? Can’t harm you or anything else.”
The caller ID identified Jeremy as the reason for this early morning disturbance.
“Hey Sid, how’s it going?”
“Nothing wrong here,” Sidiro said. “Just a cat with a biscuit addiction.”
“Speaking of that cat, Aisha and I hunted about downtown yesterday.”
“Did you find anything?” Sidiro strode to the front of his mirror and tried his best to hand-comb his short hair.
“Well, we have met a family who says they let go of a cat just a week ago. They said it was beginning to become a burden having so many pet animals in the house. Believe me, if they would have known she was a jinniyah they never would have tried to get rid of her.”
“Rewind, Jer. You said ‘if they would have known.’ Does that mean they didn’t really know what she was? They haven’t seen her shift into human.”
“That could be,” Jeremy said, “or it could be something else. It could be that she doesn’t know how to shift into human.”
“ARE YOU CRAZY?!” Sidiro stormed, almost dropping the phone that he held in his hand. “All jinni know how to shift. Everybody knows that.”
“You could be wrong there, Sid. I mean, if she knows how to shift, then she would have done so by now. She would have walked out of your house before you could even stop her. But try to see clearly. She hasn’t shifted in your place, not once. Otherwise you would have felt some seep of her magic. Sid, what if she was deliberately born in animal form?”
“Why would a jinniyah want to bear its young in animal form?”
There was a long pause, followed by a frustrated sigh.
“Beats me,” Jeremy concluded, “but I think she needs to shift as soon as possible. The earlier you teach her how to shift the better.”
“Me?” Sid accused. “Why do I have to teach her how to shift?”
“Because she already trusts you, stupid. And besides, what are the kids at the park gonna say when they see me pull a wild animal out of my hat instead of a rabbit?”
There was a clatter on the other end of the line. It seemed like Jeremy had handed over the phone to someone else. Or that someone else rather, had pried the phone out of Jer’s hand. After the noise stopped, a familiar female voice took charge of the conversation. “Sid?”
“Aisha? What are you doing at Jer’s house? And this early in the morning?”
“Long story. Anyway, I want you to make her as comfortable as possible. Make her forget whatever it is that’s been scaring her for the last few days. Just explain to her that she’s a jinni, you’re a jinni and that most of the time you’re supposed to look human. I think she’ll turn around after a while.”
“Says the folklore know-it-all,” Jeremy interrupted via another phone somewhere in his house. “Sid, are you buying this?”
Sidiro looked across the room to the far corner, where the cat was pressed against the intersection of the north and west wall. She was staring at him again. And this time, it looked like she understood everything that he was saying. And she was shaking like a leaf! “From the looks of everything, I think I can give it a shot. But I think it’ll take the whole day for this.”
“Don’t worry,” Aisha said. “I can call you in sick to the management. They’ll understand.”
Sid hung up and put the phone back on its cradle. He crossed the room and reached the cat. But when he tried to bend and pick her up, she darted through his feet to the other corner.
“Hey, you alright?” Sid called after her, going again towards her, this time with one hand outstretched. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”
The cat hissed. Confusion and fright were clearly in her eyes. Then she lunged to the right and ran alongside the wall before huddling under the folds of the bed.
Sid was inwardly frustrated. The cat had trusted him a while ago. But when she heard that he had plans to make her shift into human form, everything had changed. Really? What was so frightening about being human? “Come on now, cubby. You can’t hide for long.”
At these words, the cat’s nose appeared from under the bed. A mewl was muffled under the heavy sheets, but it was audible enough for Sidiro to know that the animal was mulling over his words.
A crazy thought entered Sid’s head. It was highly improbable, but it was the only thing he could think of. After all, there had to be a reason why this jinniyah had been born in the form she was.
“Is that what you’re doing?” he guessed. “You’re hiding from someone? Is that why you won’t shift?”
The cat slipped out from under the bed and, still shaking, leapt onto the covers and pulled herself up top. She lay on her belly and hid her face under one paw. Sid sat close by and, after telling himself it was better than nothing, reached out to stroke the cat’s head. The fur was silky soft, yielding easily to the caress of his hand. “Is that why you can’t shift? Because somebody else told you not to? So that you can hide?”
A louder, more affirmative mewl came from the animal. It would have been heard as a normal meow to the untrained ear, but years of being half-cat himself told Sid that this was a desperate plea. It was plain anguish, something that only the most troubled of hearts could make. Whatever the cat was hiding, it was terrible enough to make her agree to be a cat forever.
“Don’t worry,” Sid said, pulling her from the softness of the covers and pocketing her in the cover of his arms. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. After we figure out how to make you shift and after you tell me what’s wrong, you let me worry about the rest. You’ll see.”
The cat placed two paws on his right shoulder and laid her head in the space between his jaw and collar bone. Sid continued stroking the cat’s back until her shaking stopped. And when he closed his eyes, he caught a sudden whiff of her scent. Strangely, she was already beginning to smell like human.
His housemate’s identity
Sidiro had just finished running a comb through his hair and knotting a bleached towel around his hips when a crash came from outside the master bathroom’s door.
“Cubby? You still out there?”
He waited for a reply, a soft mewl or even just a tiny scratch in response. But he heard nothing from the outside. Sid stuck his head around the door.
The cat was supposed to be there, just by the door, like she had been earlier that morning! But the cat wasn’t anywhere in the bedroom! And if she wasn’t in the bedroom, then where was-
Sid raced to the kitchen… and almost stepped on a bowl-turned-thousand-piece-puzzle on the floor. The place was a catastrophe, with pastry crumbs scattered all over the counter and spilled orange juice on the dining table. Then Sidiro suddenly remembered the cutting board and the knife beside the sink. “Oh no. Didn’t I tell you not to stray into the kitchen?”
By the time he rounded the end of the counter that partitioned the kitchen into separate cooking and dining areas, he had already heard the slight whimper of pain. He prepared himself for the sight of a stubborn and accidentally injured cat.
He certainly hadn’t been prepared to discover a naked, bleeding woman huddled like a scared child on his tiled floor.
For a moment, Sidiro stood smack still, staring wide-eyed at her. The plush fur had been replaced by pearly skin, flawless from head to toe. The cat – or rather woman’s hair – was a swirl of silver and ivory locks that fell straight and curved inwards at the tips. Amber eyes searched his, and blood-red lips trembled in surprise. Her hands were minute, as was her whole supple body. And speaking of her hands, one was already trickling tiny red splotches on the tiles.
“Sweet Satan!” Sid snapped out of his reverie and grabbed a dish towel from a rack near the sink, so he could dab at the cut on her palm. “What happened to you?!”
The woman sunk further into the bend of the counter and tried to hide her bleeding hand behind her folded legs – legs that, Sidiro noticed, were slender and inviting a man’s touch. Come on Sid, snap out of it! Never mind that she’s the sexiest bare woman you’ve ever seen. She’s bleeding, for heaven’s sake!
He inhaled and reached out to touch her knee, painstakingly trying to avoid the display of provocative flesh she had all over her. “Hey, I didn’t mean to snap at you. But you’re wounded and that’s why I’m worried. I’m Sidiro, by the way. In case you’ve forgotten that little detail. Want me to look at that cut?”
The girl seemed to relax when he ran his thumb over the joint of her leg. She held out her injured palm, and Sidiro carefully clutched it in his, examining it carefully. “It’s just a small cut. The knife sliced only the top of your flesh. You’re pretty lucky because I can fix that for you.”
Sidiro pressed his other palm, the one with the dish towel, over hers, sandwiching her hand in the warmth of his magic. At once, splices of gold light cut through their fingers, like sunlight cutting through the leaves of trees. When Sidiro felt that the wound had completely closed, he loosened his grasp on her. But the girl held on to him. And when their eyes met for the first time as humans, Sidiro felt another wave of tingles through his body. “Do you – do you have a name?”
It was a short reply, but Sid figured it was better than nothing. “What were you doing here?”
“I was… hungry. Then – then… I was walking on all fours and trying to get the cupcakes. And then I – I remember being dizzy… and falling. I wanted to pull myself up, but my hand touched something pointy beside the sink.”
“So you shifted? You did know how?”
Sid found the truthfulness in her eyes. “But how did you shift without knowing how to do it at all?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oookay. Alright.” Sidiro finally said after waiting for an unforthcoming answer. “First off, we need to get you some clothes.”
The splotches of red on Tava’s face told Sid that she knew a thing or two about modesty despite her previous life as a cat. It was a good thing that he was a jinni, for he could weave an endless supply of trendy shirts and pants from thin air. “Let’s go over to my room and I’ll see what I can make for you. Got a color you like?”
She hesitated, but finally drew up enough courage to whisper. “Lavender… and periwinkle.”
“Good choices,” Sidiro stood up. “Well, what are you sitting there for?”
Tava looked at him, hesitation obvious in the mouth that was drawn in a taut line. Then Sid, like realizing a solution to the problem had been before his eyes the whole time, smacked his head and wiped an imaginary layer of his face off. “But of course. It’s your first time to shift. You can’t walk like a human yet, can you?”
Sid bent and scooped her up from the floor, then carried her all the way back to his room. He finally tucked her under two layers of his bed sheets. And before he could completely lose his senses, he snapped his fingers and magically clothed himself in loose jeans and a plain white shirt.
“Okay,” he tried to neutralize their embarrassing first encounter into something resembling normalcy. “I can make a few decent dresses for you. What colors again?”
“Lavender and periwinkle,” she replied with a shy smile.
“Okay then,” Sid interlocked his fingers and cracked them. “Cubby, also known as Miss Tava, your wish is my command.”
His delightful jinniyah
“Come on. You can do it.” The man, or rather the jinni named Sidiro, called from the other side of the living room.
Tava squared her shoulders and nodded, set a determined look on her face, and concentrated on her first step. One. So far so good.
Two. She could get the hang of this. Three.
Suddenly her knee jerked. Once again she forgot that she had no front paw and that she had to shift her weight. Her knee hadn’t locked, and as a result she fell into a sitting position on the floor.
Golly. This was embarrassing. As a cat she’d had a good view of people walking in front of her. And now that she actually was one, her face was beet red from trying to wobble like a toddler. Oh if her mother saw her like this she’d be laughing her guts out… or she’d be ranting at her disobedience. She sighed. Her mother had not taught her how to shift, and had never planned on teaching her, so she had no idea just why and how she had. “Please help me up.”
She could barely look at Sidiro as he strode perfectly towards her and scooped her up effortlessly. As he did so, she felt a tingle at her back and behind her knees where his arms touched. This situation – or rather position – really was very queer, because it reminded her of the first day she had been accepted into that downtown family’s house.
The husband had carried his wife and twirled her around while she giggled and happily screamed for him to put her down. And the children had all been laughing. And the other pets had watched cheerfully. And she had… she had hidden under the couch and tried to stay away as much as possible, knowing that that kind of happiness would not come into her life. She knew she was different. The other pets had known she wasn’t like them, and they’d stayed away from her.
Tava was so deep in thought that only when she was seated at the kitchen table did she realize Sidiro meant for her to eat dinner.
“Oh,” she gasped, clutching the periwinkle-laced hem of her lavender knee-length day-dress. And when she realized she was pawing at her own garment, she quickly clenched her fists closed and settled them stiffly on her lap.
“Okay then. What would you like on the menu?” Sidiro asked, coming to her side of the table and laying out a plate, knife and fork.
“I don’t know.”
“Mashed potatoes? Fried chicken?”
“Alright,” She looked up and noticed the disappointment in his eyes. Oh great.
He had expected her to cook, then. “I’m sorry. If I really did know how to cook, then you wouldn’t be feeding me.”
Sidiro looked at her with a curious expression. What had got into her head? Sure he’d done the service of carrying her around the house for the rest of the day – something he really didn’t mind doing since he got to touch all that flawless skin – stop being a dirty pervert Sid! – but he had no intention of turning her into a house slave. “Why would I expect you to cook for me?”
“Well,” she cleared her throat, “where I came from, the wife cooked for her husband and children.”
“Whoa. Wait a minute.” Sidiro almost choked, even though he hadn’t had his first bite of dinner yet. “I’m not your husband. You do know that, right?”
“But the woman always cooked for her man. That’s what I saw.”
“Not this time,” he stated. “In my house, you don’t need to do anything for me. Besides, why would we need to cook when I can just magically pop out anything you’d like to gobble?”
And as if to prove his point, he waved his hand in the air and the empty table automatically filled with soups and cakes and casseroles. “Now just pick out anything you’d like to have and put it on your plate.”
He was about to sit at his own place, but her abrupt giggle stopped him. He looked at her, just one tiny look, and thought that the world around him was beginning to move in slow motion. She was beautiful when she laughed. Her ochre eyes glinted like the shiniest of amber-hued jewels. She bit her luscious lips to stop the laughter from coming out. Somehow that action almost made his jaw drop. He suddenly craved for a free sample of those kissers. “What – what are you laughing about?”
“You asked me if I wanted mashed potatoes and chicken, yet I see you didn’t make them appear.”
He cleared his throat and grinned, now more in control of himself. “Do you still want some?”
“Then your wish is my command,” He twirled a finger in the air and all at once a leg of fried chicken and a mound of mashed potatoes appeared on her plate. Sidiro saw the delight in her eyes before she dissolved into another round of giggles and happily dug into her dinner. Never mind that she was using her hands. She’d just have to learn to use silverware another time.
His jinniyah’s nightmare
It was around one in the early morning when the rain began pouring in a loud, gushing torrent over Sparrow. Sidiro groaned, rolling to his other side on the mattress in the spare room. His inner hate for rain ran high, probably because his other form was a cat. But no matter. He’d sleep it all away. A spark of lightning brightened the room before returning it to darkness. This was followed by loud thunder. Then another. And another. And another. Then succeeded by what seemed like the screech of a banshee.
Sidiro sat up alert, automatically knowing without further evidence that it had come from the master bedroom. He sprang to his feet and ran towards the bedroom door, before flinging it to the side with a loud bang.
There on the bed was Tava – in otter cat form – looking more scared than she’d ever been in the last two days. She was shaking and mewling, clawing at the fabric of his bedclothes frantically, as if she was trying to dig up something that was supposed to be buried there. “Tava? Are you okay?”
She looked at him. Her eyes widened before she refocused on tearing his sheets apart again. “Tava, cubby, what’s wrong with you? Are you dreaming?”
She must be dreaming. He moved to come closer to her. To his surprise, she hissed at him furiously and backed a step, then resumed her scratching and mewling. A bright flash of lightning and a fresh round of thunder didn’t help, since it only caused her to wail louder. And right now, he didn’t know if his presence could help too.
That’s it! Why didn’t he think of it before?! She was afraid of doors and phones because they were where humans came from. A door led a human into a room. A phone signaled a human voice.
Okay. Time for a new strategy. Sidiro held his breath and crossed his fingers behind his back before crawling on all fours. Then he willed himself to change into a puma. She was afraid of humans. Certainly she wouldn’t be afraid of a cat like her.
Sidiro felt the corded muscles of his legs and stretched. HeHe extended and retracted his claws into his padded paws. He purred loudly and sniffed, hoping to catch the attention of the cat on his bed. Sure enough, she stopped and peered at him.
I’m not going to hurt you, he mentally voiced, hoping that somehow she’d read his words through his eyes.
She seemed to understand, to be awake, for she sat and waited for what he meant to do. Then, as if recognizing who he was, Tava launched from the bed and towards him. She happily tucked her head under his chin, her whiskers tickling the front of his neck. But he didn’t mind. This reaction was so opposite of what she had done earlier that he found it highly pleasurable. That tingling came again, from the edge of his nose to the tip of his tail this time. Sidiro nudged at her side and sniffed, noting that she smelled pleasantly of wild meadow and daisies. It was amazing how one’s animal smell differed from the human one.
He had her now, and he wasted no time in leading her back on the bed. He misspent no effort in leaping up himself and nudging again at her side, telling her to make some room for him. Eventually, she settled a little to the left of the bed. He reacted with no hesitation, curling his body around hers in an effort to keep her warm. They settled like two peas in a pod, as if his cat had been molded to curl around her, and that hers had been shaped to fit into his.
She looked so small and fragile compared to the big form of his puma, so cute that he just had to lick the corner of her ear. She responded by burying her head in the fur of his shoulder. He purred before settling beside her and into a nice deep sleep.
His lady’s secret
Sidiro awoke to the repeating beat of his alarm clock. It was Sunday, time for another day of work. And since it was a weekend, there would be more visitors at the park. He rolled over on his back and reached out with his left hand to slap the noisy alarm on the bedside table. And once that was done, he rolled back on to his stomach to resume his previous position, which was being curled around a sleeping jaguarondi.
Only, the cat wasn’t there anymore. Tava’s absence had him fully awake and scanning the room with both eyes. It was when he looked towards the window that he realized she was still in the room, looking out onto the street.
“Well what do you know? You walked over there by yourself… What are you doing up?” he asked, at the same time rising and combing through his platinum hair. “It’s only five in the morning. You don’t have to get up at the same time as I do. Did you sleep well, by the way? Last night, I thought for a moment that-”
Sidiro stopped rambling after realizing that Tava wasn’t even listening to what he was saying. “Tava? Tava, what’s wrong?”
Taking both her shoulders, he turned her around. Then Sidiro saw the path of tears that marred her otherwise flawless face. Her eyes were ringed with red, and it was obvious that she had been up for quite some time since her shoulders drooped from tiredness. “Cubby, what’s wrong? Didn’t you get some sleep?”
She sniffled, barely meeting his eyes. Tava looked all puffy, like she was about to cry again. And she did! “I’m going to get you in trouble! That’s what’s wrong!”
“Oh Tava, what are you talking about?” he asked, wrapping both arms around her and laying his chin on the top of her head. Whatever Tava was talking about, it was enough to make her upset. “You did nothing wrong. How should I be able to get into trouble if you didn’t do anything wrong?”
“You’re not – listening! Somebody’s after me, and if I – if I don’t get out of your house, they’re going to track me down, and – and you’ll get hurt. You’ve been very nice to me, – and I don’t want you to get hurt. I have to go.”
“Tava, look at me. Come on cubby, look at me.” Sidiro framed her face in both of his hands and tipped it up so that they looked directly at each other. “If somebody’s after you, then that’s a good reason to keep you here with me. The moment I let you into my house, I took responsibility for you. Whoever tries to hurt you will be my enemy. We’re not running away. We’re facing this together. Now, why don’t you take a deep breath, and tell me who’s after you.”
Tava looked up into his eyes and saw the sincerity in them. Sid was trying to be brave for the both of them, that much she could tell. His hands were warm and firm on her face, yet gentle like the caress of… she’d never been caressed so gently like that before. Sidiro was so enchanting that she did not even realize her hands had automatically rested on his chest, the muscles of which felt warm and compact beneath his silk pajama top.
Concentrate, she scolded herself, this may be your last and only chance to get help. “When my mother was still pregnant with me, my father lost everything in a gamble he had with his friend. My father’s friend, Sinfari Grenada, got everything. He had our house, our money… and me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Father was addicted to the gambling den. Even when he had very little cash, he would always find something to use as a wager. In his last game with Sinfari and his brothers, he had nothing else to offer. And then he bet his unborn daughter. To become the bride of the Grenada brothers.
“When my mother found out, she purposely shifted into a jaguarondi so that I may be born in animal form. It would prove the brothers more difficult to find me. When my father hanged himself for losing the game, my mother fled into this country so that they would not trace us. But they did, eventually. They were on our tail, and my mother found it harder and harder to hide. She confronted them, herself against all three brothers. And she died for me.
“I had nowhere to go, save into a tiny downtown home where, after much hiding, I was eventually kicked out. I was so scared that at some point I even considered giving myself in to Sinfari. But I couldn’t. I don’t feel anything for any one of them. If I get caught, they’re going to force me. Force me down and – and – I can’t imagine being with three different men every night, taking them – sleeping – I just – I can’t-”
“And I won’t let you,” Sidiro said with finality, tucking her back into his embrace and squeezing so tight that almost all of Tava’s worries momentarily faded. He breathed in her scent, acknowledging her importance to him, and kissed the top of her head. Not quite ready to release her yet, he cradled both of her hands in his and looked straight into her eyes. “We’re going to get through this. I’m going to get help and we’re getting rid of those brothers once and for all. But right now, I think the best thing for you to do is get some rest, okay? I’ll leave breakfast in the kitchen and draw a hot bath, so all you’ll have to do after getting some shut-eye is relax.”
“Will you be gone for long?” Tava asked, gripping his hands more firmly to keep him from escaping too early.
“I work nine hours a day, but since you’re here I’ll be back for lunch. Don’t worry, Tava. I work in the park just in front of this house. But I don’t want you running out and trying to cross the road. It’s too dangerous, do you understand?”
“Yes. I’ll be good.”
Sidiro tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. The sun hit her at just the right angle, giving her yellow-white hair a halo effect and her eyes the illusion of luminosity. As he made his way to the kitchen, he debated whether to finish his current exhibit piece or start a new one. She’d make a beautiful subject. No wonder the Grenada brothers want to have her. Her mother must have been stunning.
Sidiro needed to solve this problem once and for all. He was smart, though he didn’t brag about it; Jeremy and Aisha were also cunning. They could make bold plans and get away with them. If the three of them combined their heads, they were sure to be able to help Tava. They didn’t need to call the cavalry in just yet.
His friends’ suggestion
“Hmm. This is a very tricky situation.” Jeremy rubbed the side of his index finger under his chin. He looked seriously at the work table of the veterinary clinic, as if it held all the answers to their predicament. It obviously didn’t.
“Tell me about it,” Sidiro said, loosening the top buttons of his shirt so that more air could hit the skin of his neck. He needed to keep a cool head to think out what they would be able to do. He paced back and forth in front of the doorframe, turning about when he reached the corners of the small room. To his right, Aisha sat on top of the work table and tapped its white tile surface with the tips of her nails.
Aisha frowned at the green tiles on the floor beneath her feet. Three men were after the jinniyah. Sure Jer and Sid could try to bash the men’s heads any time of the day, but murder was not taken lightly in the present. There had to be a way to clean this up without having to make a bloody mess. She looked up from her downcast gaze and stared at the two men. The two of them were not primed to violence, but they would not hesitate killing someone for doing a bad thing. Hell, both of them were almost alike in so many ways except for minor physical attributes.
They both tied in handsomeness and courage, but she’d been drawn to Jeremy with his warm and friendly outer appearance – a really fit persona for a street magician. Sid was a little colder, but it didn’t mean that he never cared. In fact, she could detect hints of compassion in him despite the very few opportunities she had of seeing his private life. Aisha had a knack for looking into a person and knowing what kind he or she was. From what she currently knew of Sid, he was one of the silently doting types. Maybe if…
“Sid?” she asked as casually as she could, “Have you asked how old Tava is?”
“I think she’s near sixty-five.”
“Not jinni years, silly. I meant human years.”
“I think twenty-one or twenty-two. Why?”
“That’s old enough to get married, you know. I think the best way to scare off the brothers without having to hurt anybody is by getting Tava married as quickly as possible.”
“Aisha, are you crazy?!” Jeremy sprang from his chair as fast as lightning and stood before Aisha, giving her a little shake by holding onto her shoulders. “It’s a good plan, but we can’t do that.”
“You got any better ideas?” When Jeremy didn’t answer she continued. “My Aunt’s friend is a judge who works in town. He’s such a close acquaintance of ours that he agrees to almost anything my Aunt asks of him. If we can find someone who’ll be able to take care of her, then we marry them off and the brothers are sure to back away. They’d know better than to trifle with our laws. Besides, who would believe them if they insist that sixty-five years ago a man agreed to let them marry his daughter?”
“And where will you find a man to marry Tava? Huh?”
“Yeah,” Sidiro had stopped pacing and rubbed the side of his head, indicating that he too was running out of ideas. “I seem to remember that the first time you realized Jeremy had supernatural powers, you almost passed out. Imagine what would happen if some guy finds out he just married an otherworldly being.”
Aisha grinned impishly, her puckish gaze boring straight through her glasses and to Jeremy’s tight face. “Jer, how old is Sidiro again?”
“Eighty jinni years just like me. A little older by a couple of months – Oh! I get it. I think I know what you’re thinking, babe.”
“No way!” Sid shoved Jeremy aside to point an annoying finger at Aisha. Setting him up with Tava was not a good solution. Yeah, it didn’t sound so bad considering the fact that he was deathly attracted to her. But it wasn’t fair for Tava, who was still young and had plenty of opportunities open to her. “I am not getting hitched to Tava.”
“But Sid!” Aisha and Jeremy protested at the same time. Sometimes those two acted so alike it made Sidiro want to pull his hair out of his head. It was a good thing he was made of cooler mettle; else they would have tasted his unpalatable fury.
“Sid,” Aisha prodded carefully, “you’re the only jinni Tava has been with after shifting into human. This could mean she has formed some sort of attachment to you. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to be the only jinni she’ll ever trust completely. Plus, you already have a good-paying job here in the park and your art career is climbing great heights already. Didn’t you just complete three commissions last month?
“And aside from Jeremy, you’re the only other jinni I know. And judging by the fact that Jeremy’s form when he shifts is marvelous, I’m sure you’ll have no problem defending Tava from Sinfari. Please, Sid. You may be our only chance to defeat those brothers.”
“But what the hell do I say to Tava? I can’t just go back to the house and say ‘Hey, Tava, what’s up? By the way, I decided to get married to you’.”
“You are gonna do exactly that, Sid.” Jeremy put his finger on top of the desk to drive the decision home. “You haven’t dated in a while ever since meeting that faint-hearted genteel what’s-her-name fifty years ago.”
“He did?” Aisha asked curiously.
“Yes, he did. And trust me that relationship was beyond ideal. How that girl managed to survive a heart attack after seeing Sidiro shift into a puma, I’ll never know. Trust me, only a jinniyah could match what I call Sid’s glacial charms.”
Sidiro clenched his jaw. The two idiots didn’t see his point. No way would he force that bubbly, sweet Tava into marrying him. If he wanted to consider marriage, he wanted the real thing. And the real thing meant that he wanted his wife to love him. He’d made a big mistake all those years ago, assuming any woman would fall at his feet.
Well… that last one did, but the fall had been from shock. Either way, gone was his daydream that romance alone was enough to keep a relationship strong. Trust, honesty and genuine affection were just as important. It was all about how the other party felt about being with him.
“So, what do you say Sid?” Aisha prompted him.
“It looks like I’m going to find a solution to Tava’s problem all on my own.”
“Stop it, you guys. My brain’s starting to hurt from all this thinking. I’m going home, and hopefully when I come back, the both of you will be reasonable enough to realize that this is a very bad idea.”
His surprising decision
The sun was being unbearably cruel to Sid. And so were the exhaust fumes of the cars that sped in front of him. And so was the pressure of being put in a situation he had no control over.
He crossed the road, and kept at a leisurely pace while walking towards his house at the other end of the pavement. His thoughts kept returning to the option that Jeremy and Aisha had given him. On one side, it felt really good for his ego to be nominated as the sole person capable of protecting Tava. On the other, the option would appear oppressive to and for Tava. Oh, Sid knew that she’d agree, but he did not want the jinniyah to agree out of pure fear.
He was rattled to the bone, torn between actually racing to that judge with Tava in tow or going off on a murder spree. The second choice was, though tempting, a definite no-go at this place in time. If they were, say, in the maggickal realm, there was no force that would have stopped him from doing just that. But in the human world? Oh, he would not do something as stupid as trying to hunt down Sinfari and his kin. He’d have to wait for them to come to him, which was a terrifying prospect for him and Tava.
Suddenly, as if by intuition, Sid began walking faster, then sprinting. Something was definitely wrong. He could feel it in his bones – even in the ligaments between his bones! Somebody was in the house!
He hopped on his front porch just in time to hear a loud crash from the inside. He glanced at the broken window at the front of his house and his aggressive stance kicked up automatically. He felt ripples of magic unfurl from inside him and he kicked the door, sending it slamming on the wall and knocking the hat stand down. He transformed into a puma in a wink.
As if the intruder sensed that Sid had entered unannounced, everything became deathly quiet. A heavy rumble tried to crawl out of Sid’s vocal cords, but he suppressed it. He did not want the intruder to know where he was just yet, that he was prowling through the hallway on padded paws.
He felt that sense of alarm again, this time more urgent. He couldn’t exactly hear Tava, but he felt her calling for him. She was unconsciously using her magic to lure him, and it was driving him insane not to go immediately to her and protect her. He had to first find the intruder before said intruder found her.
Another crash came from the back of the house. Sidiro rushed to the back hall, but found nothing there except a mess of splinters and glass fragments. It appeared that some heavy body had broken through his glass window and into the garden. Sidiro crept carefully over the rubble, avoiding any of the shards, so that he could peep out. There was one set of evenly spaced paw-prints over the grass.
Good. Sid backed quickly into the hall. There had been only one attacker in the house. But if that attacker was a bigger animal, then Tava – He craned his neck towards the broken window that faced the public garden behind his lot.
Sid moved from the corridor and into the kitchen, directly to the other side of the counter where he felt Tava had hidden. He just knew she was there. It was the only place in the house that was out of sight from the room’s door. If he had not come in time, the man or beast would have taken the chance to poke his head behind the counter and then discover where Tava was. Sid purred softly, coaxing Tava to come out of her hiding place now that the threat was nowhere in sight. Perhaps Tava had heard him, or had sensed that he was now in the house, because she immediately darted out from her hiding place and without hesitation bounded into him.
He noticed that, despite her obvious relief at being safe with him, she was wobbly all over – just like the first morning she was here. He licked and sniffed her all over to reassure her, something he would never have done if they were both human. Oh gosh, he thought as he nuzzled the top of her head with his jaw. Call me crazy for thinking it at a time like this, but you smell more wonderful than last time.
When he finished and returned to human form, Tava followed suit, not breaking the hold she had on his shirt. “You came! You actually came!”
Her lower lip started to tremble, and with very little restraint, Sid framed her face in his big hands. “I told you I’d be back for lunch. Who was it?”
“It was one of Sinfari’s brothers. I don’t know how he found out I was here, but he did.”
“Are you alright?”
“He didn’t see me. But I know that he’ll be back again. And maybe next time, Sinfari will be there. Oh Sid, I don’t know what to do.”
Sid clenched his jaw. It looked like the Grenada brothers were taking their own sweet time to scare Tava into more vulnerable territory. Well, if Sid had anything to say about it, it was that they were done playing games. He took Tava by the hands and pulled her close. Touching foreheads, he whispered what he had not thought he would for at least another hundred years. “I know what you can do, cubby. Marry me.”
His timely wedding
Could it have been that easy? Two days ago he was standing in front of Tava, convincing her that this was for the best, for her protection. And just like that she had agreed, although a bit reluctantly. After she said ‘yes,’ they’d began walking on eggshells around each other in the house, as if any little physical encounter between them would lead to bad luck. Just an hour ago, they had stood in front of a judge. Jeremy and Aisha had been in attendance as witnesses.
And from the loopy grins on their faces, they were pretty much pleased that everything had gone well. Before heading home, Aisha had even pulled him to a corner and talked. “She’ll be good for you. Pretty besides. I’ve got a feeling that everything’s going to go smoothly.”
But from the way Tava now stood apprehensively before him, Sid wasn’t quite sure about Aisha’s forecast. The tension between them was so palpable, not even a rocket blasting off at full force could compare. He cleared his throat and smiled, hoping it was convincing enough to a wary jinniyah. “Well, we’re married now.”
Tava’s imitation of his swallow-and-smile was the only response he got.
“Alright,” he breathed. “You hungry?”
Okay, now that wasn’t the best question to ask, as Tava visibly paled. “Or-or-or what about you watch some TV? I can see on your face that you’re quite – not – tempted into food, and you’re not that sleepy yet. What do you say?”
Tava paced like lightning into the living room and took it upon herself to hog over the remote, which was fine by Sidiro. He found her delicate face more interesting than the telly anyway. Several random thoughts popped in and out of his head as he stared at her discreetly.
Too bad it had only been a judge wedding. There had been no pretty flower-decorated altar and no reception, not even a lunch out since Aisha and Jeremy had their own rehearsal and dinner to plan out with Aisha’s aunt tonight. There had even been no kiss, since the ceremony hadn’t required it.
Just staring at Tava’s face made him want to know what it was like to kiss her. Oh he’d bet big money she was as sweet as what her red lips hinted her to be. She still had on her white flowing evening dress, with sleeveless lavender straps baring her shoulders and a slit on the left that showed just enough leg to make him salivate discreetly. From the looks of it, Sid realized that he wouldn’t stop at just one kiss. Hell, he would need plenty more than an infinite amount of kisses before finally getting rid of an attraction to her. But that was just it, an attraction right?
That’s not it at all, you big dope. You’re in love with her…
Sidiro snapped straight up on the couch, causing Tava to notice him.
“Is anything wrong?” the way she asked him with both brows raised in alarm, as if asking if he felt any of their enemies coming, had him settling back into the couch quickly. It would be disastrous if Tava found out about how he felt. She had wed him for his protection, not his love. “No – nothing’s wrong. You just enjoy watching whatever you like. I’ll sleep in the guest room tonight.”
“You could sleep in your room and I could that one,” Tava said.
“Tava-” he stopped, mentally chastising himself for almost adding the nickname ‘cubby.’ It was one thing to call her cubby when he was teaching her the ropes to being a human, and completely another when they were married in paper only. “Tava, you’re the lady in this house and you’ll squash my chivalry if you don’t sleep in the better room. The guest room’s as empty as a can and as cold.”
“But I’ve been a cat all my life. I’m used to sleeping on cold floors.”
“As my wife you won’t. Now be a good jinniyah and please… do as I say. And – and I don’t mean that in a patronizing way. I’m talking about this from a practical point of view. I can magically pop up a bed in the room if I get that uncomfortable, whereas you can’t yet.”
He stood up and stretched, then came to her and cautiously kissed the top of her head before walking back to the hall. He said “Goodnight” over his shoulder before continuing.
Problem was, as soon as he entered the guestroom and popped out a mattress from thin air, he couldn’t get to sleep. The moment he shut his eyes the first image that came to his mind was Tava. Tava smiling. Tava taking her first steps. Then it was Tava being mauled to death by three distorted shadows. After that last part, he had no intention of sleeping. He rolled over on his stomach, then onto to his back, sat up, stood up, squatted down, curled into a fetal position, and then stretched out before finally deciding that moping around wasn’t going to do him any good.
He crawled out from under the covers and bounded back into the living room. It was then that he realized he had spent about two and a half hours completely doing nothing in the guest room. And by that time, Tava had fallen asleep on the couch. He knew that the position wasn’t as comfortable as being tucked up in bed, but he didn’t think Tava would appreciate waking up to being carried into his room. Most likely she’d turn into a cat and scratch his face before she realized he was only putting her to bed.
Sidiro sat on the armchair opposite the couch and turned the TV off with a bit of magic. He toned down the lights with the same use of power. Then he just… sat there, looking at her as if he’d never seen her before.
Really, he never had seen her like this before. All soft and pliant and peaceful. The furrow of worry that had been between her eyes the whole day was noticeably gone.
Tava’s light blonde hair shone like silver in the glow of the soft lamp. Her eyelids were sealed shut, long lashes concealing those beautiful ochre eyes, and red lips parted. It was sleeping beauty waiting for her prince’s kiss. Sidiro stared, mesmerized by such a small beauty in front of him. Then he got up and, from the cabinet that stood in the corner, pulled out a sketch pad.
His untimely confession
Tava woke up to the sound of light snoring. The crick in her neck told her that she had fallen asleep in the middle of a late night comedy, the kind that her former self-assigned foster family watched on Tuesday and Friday nights. At those times, she had fallen asleep too, but as a cat. This time, she was a human – and too aware of another human that dozed off close to her.
Sidiro was slumped in the chair, head listed to his left, and hands loosely clutching what seemed to be a thin book with very white paper. Tava got up and tiptoed quietly towards him. She stepped on what could only be a pencil that had rolled onto the floor. She wasn’t sure, but the dim light from the lamp beside the couch did make out a long wooden object with a very fine point at one end.
Once she reached Sid’s side, she leaned on the arm rest and peered at what the book contained. Since she’d been a cat until just recently, she had never learned how to read. Sid had promised to teach her just yesterday, and perhaps he was trying to pick out something to teach her the next day just before he had fallen asleep.
But what she saw on the page wasn’t a jumble of letters that got grouped into words. What she saw on the paper was her face!
So Sid had been drawing her while she was asleep. Except in the picture, she wasn’t sleeping. In the drawing, she was wide awake and smiling. There was a sparkle in her eyes and a sweet rise to the corner of her smile. Her cheeks looked real and really soft, and her hair flung backwards as if being caressed by the wind. It was all she could do not to touch the picture lest he wake up. But as she tried to straighten and leave, her slipper loosened enough to make her trip and fall backward – straight into Sidiro’s lap!
The sketch pad dropped to the floor and a very disoriented Sidiro woke up to an equally disconcerted Tava, whose left arm that was flailing just a while ago had hooked behind his neck. “What the – what happened?!”
Tava slugged an imaginary lump in her throat and whispered, “I – I tripped…”
“Right into my arms?” Sid asked, his voice all throaty and heavy from sleep.
“Right into… your… arms…” Tava breathed.
He didn’t say anything more, just blinked continually, until Tava became too aware that only very little space was between them. Strangely, not one of them bothered to go anywhere. In fact, Tava noticed too that Sidiro was actually leaning towards her.
She did not know how it happened. One moment he was staring at her with wonder in his eyes, the next he was actually kissing her.
His lips brushed against hers, gentle yet passionate at the same time. He moved over her, enthralling her with the newness of such an intimate contact. He coaxed her, and encouraged her and pleased her.
And it felt so good, that Tava just had to run her fingers through his long hair, just had to raise herself slightly to feel more of his lips, more of his warmth. A tingle shot through her body as he deepened the kiss and brushed his hands lightly on her back. It was a moan-insinuating, toe-curling tingle, and she could not help but moan softly and curl her toes indeed.
Sidiro pulled back, breathless and flushing, but never leaving more than two inches between their noses. He looked into her shining eyes and saw tiny flecks of gold, as well as attraction so strong he lost his mind completely. He had awakened to an angel sitting on his lap. And when that angel had opened her lips, he knew he was a goner. I love you, his heart cried out.
“You do?” Tava asked. A smile and twin blushes formed on her face.
“I… I do?”
Oh great. Sid gulped. Did I just blow my cover?
“I – well, I-” Did he really say those words out loud? How was he going to stop himself around her now? She really didn’t need any more pressure. But she was smiling. And she was blushing. Did that mean something?
“Sid, do you really love me?” she asked again. Something very promising sparked in her ochre eyes. Was it hope? Desire? Was it – dare he even say it – but was it…
Sidiro swallowed. This had not been part of the plan, but he had to tell the truth. He owed it to Tava to tell her the truth, because he was the only one whom she trusted. He would never break that trust for anything.
“I… yeah,” It was a pathetic confession, but his throat was too tight to croak out anything else.
Then the most remarkable thing happened. She smiled tremulously, as if she’d just witnessed the sun shining after a heavy storm. “You love me? You love me.”
“I, um, did say that-”
“Oh my goodness, you love me!”
“Yes, I do – oh!” Sid fell back onto the back of the seat when Tava sprung up and hugged him tightly around the neck. It was awkward at first, but soon he got the hang of it. Wrapping his arms around her, he gripped her tightly and inhaled her human scent, very different from her jaguarondi but Tava all the same. She chuckled and cried and scattered little pecks all over his face like an eager puppy.
“Sid, why didn’t you tell me?!” she demanded with a grin on her face, almost breathless from the pleasure of canoodling him.
“Of course I didn’t tell you. You were practically avoiding me since my proposal.”
“I was avoiding you?! You barely glanced in my direction! What else was I supposed to do, thinking that you never wanted anything to do with me?”
“Why the hell would I not want to have anything to do with you?”
Tava leaned into his shoulder, face hidden by his neck and collarbone. “Because I was thinking I may have become a burden. I was thinking ‘poor Sid, being forced to marry somebody he barely knows, having to be stuck for life to the girl who doesn’t meet his expectations.’ I’m not good enough for you, you know.”
At this, Sid laughed and hugged her tight, then sat more comfortably and stroked her leg that was draped over his. “You, cubby, are more than enough for me. You practically almost killed me with your kisses. I could die a happy jinni.”
“Don’t you dare die on me, Sidiro Cantilena. I need you to keep me safe.”
“That you do, love. Your wish is my command.” Sid stood up, forgetting all about his sketch pad and the pencil that he had dropped. He was far too concerned about Tava being uncomfortable by sleeping on the couch for such a long time. “Okay cubby, let’s get you to bed.”
She raised her head. “As husband and wife?”
Sid paused midway between the couch and the door. Now that was a thought worth mulling over. “Tava, do you know what you’re saying?”
Tava rolled her eyes. It was really chivalrous and conventional of him. “I may have been a cat, but I’m not ignorant. Sooo… stop looking at me like I’m an innocent. I’ve watched enough TV in sixty-years, Sid. Don’t tell me you haven’t.”
She knew the exact moment her words took effect on him. She felt his grip tighten on her thigh. She sensed the pads of his fingers readjust over her ribs, stopping just beneath her breast. His breathing increased and his eyes smoldered with intent.
“You started this. And you do realize that I’m not liable to stop it, minx.”
Tava did not miss the impish way his smirk formed on his face. “I don’t intend on stopping you.”
She waited patiently as Sid hoisted her like a fragile china doll through the hallway while turning off lights with the mere wink of his eye. She hoped she’d be able to catch up to his magic tricks some day.
“By the way,” she said when they finally stood in front of the door to his room.
“I forgot to tell you something.”
“I love you,” she whispered.
His extraordinary morning
Sid rolled onto his back and reached out to again slap the alarm that had just gone off at five a.m. that morning. In all the excitement last night, he had forgotten to turn off the clock. Aisha had promised to file for his leave after the wedding, although at the time he did not consider not working after the ceremony that important. Now he was grateful he didn’t win over Aisha on that one.
He turned and pulled Tava’s pliant body to him, smiling a little as she muttered incoherent words in sleep, as if she was annoyed of being bothered so early in the morning. Her shoulders hunched, and a dented line formed between her brows. Sid braced himself on one elbow and smoothed the tension off her bare shoulder, then followed the action with a thorough kiss on the same spot. And Tava’s shoulders eased. Her brows smoothed and her eyelids fluttered open.
“Good morning,” Sidiro said.
Tava wiggled a bit and turned towards him, placing one hand on the exposed chest beside hers. He was hers. All of him. And this thought triggered a radiant smile to form on her lips. “Shouldn’t you be up and getting ready for work?”
Her throaty morning voice appealed to him more than work. “I’ve been married barely twelve hours and already she’s acting like a nagging wife.”
Tava slapped him playfully on the face, and then pecked him over the same offended spot on his cheek.
“Now I made her angry. I guess I’m going to have to buy diamonds to please her.” he mumbled, a faint trace of a smile going with it.
“Don’t go pretending to be an overindulgent husband.”
“Did I not indulge you enough last night?”
Tava blushed furiously and Sid doubled up laughing. Based on the hours he’d been married to Tava, he was ready to conclude that marriage was agreeing with him.
“Are you making fun of me?!” she squealed before climbing over him so she could tickle his sides.
“You know what? You look cute when you’re embarrassed.” He managed to breathe between bouts of laughter. He also managed to roll over, so that that he could pin his wife’s hands to either side of her head. Lastly, he managed to bestow a big wet kiss upon her lips, sickly-sweet enough to make her grin from ear to ear.
“I won’t be going to work today,” he finally said after laughing tears off his eyes, “So I can spend the day with you. Now why don’t you go into the kitchen and wait for me while I get this bedroom back in order. I’ll set up breakfast as soon as I’m done.”
“Alright,” Tava said. She removed herself from the bed and grabbed one of the flannel robes from Sid’s closet, tripping a little on her feet.
Sid smiled warmly at her when she looked over her shoulder before she left. Then he too sat up and stretched. He grabbed the matching flannel robe to Tava’s and waved a hand in the air to reorder the mess that they’d created. But before he even managed to straighten the sheets and coverlet, a horrified scream came from the kitchen.
“Tava!” he swerved and dashed right out of the bedroom, leaving the suspended covers to fall by themselves to the floor. His feet brought him to the kitchen, where Tava was trapped beside the counter and three snarling hyenas had cornered her in. “Who are you?!”
The hyenas turned their heads in unison towards him. The two striped brown ones on the sides started barking at him, but the grey spotted one in the middle just glared, its black eyes deciding whether attacking was worth the effort or no.
Sid sensed the stand-off and the indecision, so he chose to warn the three beforehand. “If you touch one hair on her, I swear I won’t regret murdering you three on this very floor. And if you think you can take out a full-grown puma with a lot of magic at his sleeves, I won’t hesitate to call on my cousin for help.”
And as if the lead hyena understood that there was very little chance of winning against a strong opponent in his prime, he shifted into human form. His companions, after seeing that their brother decided to change tactics, returned to their human forms as well.
“If I’m not mistaken,” Sid said as they danced around the table warily, “you’re Sinfari Grenada. And those two loons must be your brothers.”
Soon, their positions were reversed, with the Grenada brothers close to the door and Sid, by the counter, blocking Tava from any surprise head-on attacks. “I understand that Tava was promised to you upon winning a long-time-ago challenge. But as you can see, she’s already married.”
Sidiro glared at the three men opposite him. Like his two brothers, Sinfari was tall and lanky, with coal black hair that curled past his shoulders, glints of silver sticking out between locks attesting to his older age. He wore a grey sweatshirt over black pants and shoes that seemed to have been in style a century ago. A sinister mustache that twisted at the ends made him look like a common bandit. The overall package wasn’t that impressive, even with the twin brothers included, but it was enough of a threat to Tava. Only the heavens knew what Tava had endured running away from them.
“Who, may I ask, is the girl married to?” Sinfari asked.
“She’s married to me,” Sid said through his tight jaw, “and I don’t appreciate my wife being assaulted in her own house.”
“How long have you been married to her, boy?”
“We were married just yesterday, under the laws of the state and modern government of Sparrow, which, I seem to remember, includes an oath of fidelity and monogamy. As you can see, your wooing is no longer acceptable.”
“She was promised to us by her father, who gave us his word that she was to come to us and only us.”
“Her father is dead,” Sid answered flatly.
“But we have the paper with her father’s signature, and it states that Tava is to be our wife. Surely you will not go against the agreement. We can go to the jinniyan council right now and I can sue you for breaking a contract of magic.”
Sid heard Tava gasp.
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered over his shoulder. Then, loud enough for Sinfari and his brothers to hear, “Then I suppose it will be alright if I sue you for murder. After all, I have information that my late mother-in-law was killed by three Grenada kin.”
Sid had barely said the last word when the three brothers shifted back into hyenas and charged at him. But Sid was fast enough to shift himself, and before long he was a gigantic puma fighting and biting against three rogue dogs. He forced himself to concentrate on his opponents, instead of Tava’s petrified shouting. He wanted to make her stop screaming and fold her in his arms, assure her that nothing was going to hurt him, but his paws were full from fighting off three agile animals at the same time.
They rolled and wrestled on the floor, the Grenada’s claws digging at Sidiro’s fur. But scratches were not enough to stop him from biting at them with his razor-sharp fangs. Blood was already oozing out of Sinfari’s neck and the other two had gaping bite marks on their sides. The claws continued scratching on Sidiro’s flank. If he did not end the fight soon, he too would be bleeding profusely instead of just letting out small slithers of red. And then where would Tava be?
He scampered across the hallway and into the living room to get the fight as far away from Tava as possible. She should not have seen the brawl. Sid launched himself over the couch and waited for the brothers to follow, and landed on them when they did. He knocked the other two to the side with a swipe of his front paws, sending them sprawling unconscious on the floor. Then he set his eyes on Sinfari, whose body was shaking with admitted defeat. But before he could deliver his killing blow – a large bite to the neck – he heard the distinct clicking sound of a gun.
His lady’s courage
It took Tava all of five minutes to gather and brace herself together before heading for the living room. Sid needed help. And if she had to shift into an animal then so be it. She would fight fearlessly with Sid, murder accusation or no. But just in case, she pulled out a cutting knife from the rack on the counter top and took a deep breath.
Then she ran to the living room.
She almost ran straight into the room, if it were not from the voices that she heard from the inside. From what she could hear, there were at least ten people in the room. She clutched the knife to her chest and hid behind the door frame. She needed to get to Sid and see if he was okay, so she peered around the doorframe and checked. There, amidst the tumble of furniture and the blood splatters on the floor, several tall and armed men surrounded Sidiro and the Grenada brothers, the latter three tied up like hogs captured in a rodeo.
Tava looked from one man to the next, hoping there was somebody she would recognize. Then out of the group she found Sid and his cousin. “Jeremy? Sid?”
The knife dropped to the floor, quickly abandoned when Sid beamed at her and opened his arms in an invitation for an embrace.
“Oh thank you. Thank you. I thought you were hurt!” She said, forcing her legs steady as she made her way through the small crowd. They were small scratches on his arms and a few tears on the robe that had loosened during the fight. The other three weren’t as lucky, especially Sinfari, what with the long gash that ran over his throat.
She was almost at Sid’s side, in his arms that were ready to enfold her within them. She could feel tears forming at the corner of her eyes. In that moment she knew that she loved him deeply. It was not because he’d protected her from the start – it was neither gratitude nor need. It was because he made her want to be stronger and braver, so that someday she could protect him. “Thank goodness you are…”
Their happily ever after
Tava recalled being swept up in two strong arms and voices shouting, followed by the feeling of being wrapped in something soft. Then she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. She barely noticed the kiss on her forehead before the application of something cold on her temple, causing her to awaken.
Tava blinked against the setting rays of the sun that penetrated the curtains on the bedroom window. She turned her head, and her eyes landed on a very worried Sidiro. He was holding her hand, idly stroking his thumb over the veins of her knuckle.
“What happened?” she croaked, her throat feeling parched. “Water?”
Sid smiled and went to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water for her. When he returned, she tried to get up, but was quickly prevented from doing so alone by Sid’s hands on her arms. “Steady now. You haven’t eaten anything since lunch yesterday.”
“How long have I been out?” she asked after taking a sip of the liquid.
“You fell asleep after fainting this morning. It’s almost four-thirty.”
“Golly!” she exclaimed, “I was asleep that long?”
Sid chucked her softly under the chin. “Yes, you were asleep that long. Jeremy left a while ago to get back to Aisha’s house.”
When Sid said nothing else, Tava took a deep breath. “Those men, in the living room, who were they?”
“The jinniyan council,” He said softly, perching on the side of the bed while running long fingers though her hair. “Sort of like the government officials of jinni. They also double as the magical police force. They arrested Sinfari and his brothers. Right now, they’re in the maggickal realm rotting away in jail – for life.”
“Thank goodness it’s all over,” She sighed, closing her eyes against the light of the window. “They should not have attacked you.”
“You’re right, but… the jinniyan prince can take on anything.”
“What?” Tava’s eyes snapped open. “I don’t understand.”
A serious look came over Sid’s face. All at once, Tava realized that there was more to the man than meets the eye. She realized just why Sidiro had been so compelling, why she’d felt such power and protection emanate from him. It wasn’t just because he was brave and strong from the onset. Royal blood was known for bestowing courage and justice, and Sid seemed to have them in spades.
“Tava, I know you trust me very much. And you should know that, in return, I trust you.” Sidiro took a deep breath, and once again he took her hand in his. “There’s something I must tell you.”
He didn’t need to tell her anything, really. If Sid was saying what she thought he was saying, then he was – she was – her husband was… She didn’t even know it could be possible! Sidiro? Jinniyan prince? “But I thought your name was Cantilena!”
“It is. It’s my mother’s surname after marrying her second husband. My full name is Sidiro Realeza Cantilena, and my brother is king of the jinniyan kingdom of the maggickal realm.”
“But how? Why?”
“It’s a long, complicated story. Bottom line, my father died at war and my mother felt that she was too old to carry the responsibilities of the throne. So she left my hundred-year-old brother in charge and married a jinni who lived on this earth. She towed me along since I was only two.”
“So it was your brother who sent the council here? How did they know that we were in danger?”
“You were calling me again, while I was fighting. Your voice was screaming my name in my head. Somehow your concern for my safety reached my brother’s intuition too. In other words, you saved me.”
Tava turned her hand over, and Sid clasped it in his fingers. Their grip on each other was gentle yet strong. It was sure. “We saved each other.”
“Mhmm,” Sid said before moving closer to her side. “Listen. I got to talk to my brother, and he said he’d like to meet you. He wants to know the girl who finally made me right in the head.”
“You’re brother’s a wise man,” she teased.
Sid snorted. “Ha! Like he’s one to talk. Do you wanna know how he fared in the love department?”
The rest of the day, Tava listened to tales of Sidiro’s encounters with his brother, all the while munching on a sandwich that he had given her. Who would have thought that she had ended up married to a jinniyan prince?! It was really hard to believe that a man like Sid, given his royal background, was content with living in the human world and going through life like an average citizen.
Strangely, the thought of his living in the human world appealed to her more than the fact that he had royal blood. Perhaps this was because she had been searching for a safe home for so long that even one as simple as Sid’s was wonderful enough. Or perhaps it was just because she loved him with all her heart.
Maybe someday, when she wasn’t so overwhelmed with magical powers anymore, she would visit the maggickal realm and meet the rest of Sidiro’s family there. She would love to meet his king brother, said brother’s fiancé and all the other cousins from Sid’s complicated family history. It was a pity to discover that his mother had passed away two decades ago. However, Tava was certain that the woman continuously watched over them, just like her own mother would.
Suddenly, in the middle of listening to Sid’s voice, a thought entered her head. “Sid, forgive me, but… does this mean I’m a princess?”
Sid looked her in the eyes and smiled. She was his jinniyah, his one and only. He fell in love with her the first moment he saw her scared and trembling in that cage. It only intensified when she shifted. It blossomed when she had confessed her own love, and strengthened when he saw that she had braved to fight to the death alongside him. She had more courage than anyone he knew, and she was all his.
“Yes, cubby.” he said. “You are a princess. Princess Tava Realeza Cantilena. And even if I weren’t a prince but just an ordinary jinni, you’d still be my princess.”
No words had ever made her happier. “Oh Sid,” she crawled over and embraced him, blissfully happy that he returned the latter gesture. “You’re too good to be true… and I’m glad you are. I want to stay with you forever.”
“Your wish, my love, is my command,” he said earnestly. His hands remained around her, and Tava leaned into him.
They did stay together forever, and they lived happily ever after.
Angelaine Espinosa is currently a third-year medical student and part-time writer. She presently lives on a little island region in the Philippines, with her parents and a younger brother. She enjoys reading, singing, drawing and, of course, writing. Follow her on Twitter via @AngieNovelist, or Visit espinosaangelaine.wix.com/officialsite.
Angelaine Espinosa would like to thank arijitrex for providing the original photograph/picture/art for this book.
It was supposed to be just another ordinary day for Sidiro Cantilena, a jinni who chose to live in the human world. He was supposed to work, eat lunch, get back to work, and then spend the rest of the day on an artistic masterpiece. Little did he know that on this day of all days, the wheels of fate would turn. Little did he know that on such an ordinary day, love would come knocking on his door - in the form of a mysterious feline. This is the extended version of Angelaine's short story with the same title. "A Jinni's Love Story" is included in the anthology entitled "The LOVE STORY Series."