by Michael Kingswood
“You know Cupid?”
The young fairy who asked the question beamed at me through eyes grown wide with amazement. Her cheeks seemed to sink as her jaw dropped open in time with the expanding of her eyelids, and the cute little dimple just above her jaw vanished before the sudden tension in her skin.
She was the typical fairy. Slender, but curved. Dressed in a skin-tight leotard; this one of blue trimmed with white. Gossamer wings extruding from the back of her shoulders; hers were tinged blue to match her leotard…of course. Tussled hair that had to have been styled that way to be so appealing in a “Oh I just came out of bed and didn’t bother to do anything with it” kind of way. Except that I’d never seen or heard of a fairy spending any time on it at all to get that effect.
Hers was, of course, black, fading to blue at the fringes.
And of course her eyes were blue as well.
She exuded a fragrance that reminded me of mint chocolate chip ice cream, though that didn’t quite do it justice. It was more subtly appealing, but not in the way that would make your mouth water. More like the feeling of having just finished a splendid meal, and wouldn’t it be great to kick back with a nice desert, followed by brandy and cigars?
The effect was ruined by the way she completely didn’t look at me. Just at the doorway behind me, where Cupid had a few minutes ago shoved through into his own private locker room.
I sighed. For the millionth time.
Seemed I had to answer this question for every newly-matured fairy who came to work here at Valentine Hall.
“Yes, I’m Cupid’s assistant,” I said, keeping my tone level and polite, if slightly cool. “And no, you can’t meet him. He’s a very busy man.”
“But – “
“No exceptions,” I said. I watched as her awed expression faded, turning to one of chagrin, then petulance. I knew what would come next, so I cut her off at the pass. “Good day, miss.”
Then I pushed my chair backwards, away from her, and slid shut the white and pink-painted panel that separated my desk, and the rest of Cupid’s antechamber, from the remainder of Valentine Hall.
It wasn’t part of the initial design. But after the first six months of being harassed by the young and hormonal fairies working here, I’d put in a request to management, and they’d consented to enclosing my desk behind a closable boundary, both for my and for Cupid’s privacy.
Not that it did him that much good.
“But – ” the young fairy’s voice was crunched out by the solid clack of the privacy panel sliding home, and I pushed back from my desk, the casters on the bottom of my chair squeaking slightly as they carried me away from the panel; and the consternation beyond.
I breathed out an exhausted sigh, then pressed my hands onto the arms of my chair and pushed myself upwards.
My knees popped, and I winced in anticipation of the usual ache as they came to accept my full weight. But wonder of wonders, today my joints were lubed enough that I only felt a momentary twinge.
I didn’t pause to wonder at my good fortune today. I just pulled the scarlet doublet I was wearing down over my hips, Picard style, and pushed the door open to Cupid’s locker room.
My office space was small. Tiny, in fact. Barely enough to stand up and turn around in. But that’s what an assistant rates in Valentine Hall, and I didn’t begrudge it.
My wings never fully formed; all I had were lumps on the backs of my shoulders where they should have been. I was full-blooded fairy, but one of the occasional few who didn’t manifest with all of the fey traits. It was a good thing I grew up with Cupid, and we’d been fast friends since we could only just walk; decades before puberty, when our wings were supposed to grow in.
When my disability became clear, he shielded me. Insisted that I be made his assistant.
He made sure I never had to worry about being kicked out of the faerealm for lack of manifestation. And I would never be able to repay that act of loyalty.
Still, the last few years….had been trying.
The door swung shut behind me, and all I heard from him was a grunt. A grumpy grunt.
Which was par for the course. But something about today’s utterance made it seem especially unpleasant.
The locker room was well more than twice the size of my little work area. More like three or four times as big. The floors were polished white marble, and the walls were the same. Cupid had a private shower at the rear of the space with twin nozzles on either side of the enclosure that were specifically measured to meet at the exact correct angle so as to moisten the entirety of his body without having to move an inch away from the drain at its center.
He had a private sauna to the left of the shower area. And a quartet of large lockers to store his personal possessions, as well as his work attire, to the right.
Toward the front, where I came in, was his desk, carved from mahogany, where he had a state of the art computer and, above it, a huge flatscreen that management kept scrolling with feeds about the romance quotients in all of the various regions of the world. If he liked, he could scroll down to display stats down to the neighborhood.
But he almost never did that. That was my job.
Off to the left was a grey-white leather upholstered couch behind a black steel coffee table topped by a clear piece of glass. A darkly-stained humidor sat atop the coffee table, with a double-bladed guillotine cutter and a three-burner torch lying next to it, along with a black-stained porcelain ashtray.
Along with everything else, it was my job to make sure the ashtray was empty, the torch fully fueled, and the humidor fully stocked. And I was happy to do it.
But damn if I didn’t wish he would share more often.
As I walked in, Cupid was emerging from the shower, a white towel wrapped around his waist. His wings, seemingly wilted from the water impacting their feathers, were tucked in tight to his back and his round face was red from the warmth of the shower.
But he wore a scowl, nonetheless.
“How’d it go, C?” He had preferred I use the diminutive since we were little.
Cupid grunted and made a little shrug of his shoulders, then moved over to the couch and settled down. The towel parted, but thankfully this time not enough for me to see what I didn’t want to see.
“A wedding on Valentine’s Day,” he said, shaking his head. “Only humans could be so stupid.”
He opened the humidor and pulled out a long, thick cigar. I recognized the wrapper. La Gloria Cubana, Serie R, No 7. His favorite.
As he clipped the end and lit it, sending the fragrant smoke into the space around us, I cleared my throat. “It didn’t go well?”
Cupid sucked on the stick, and the end flared red, then he settled back into the couch, blowing the grey-black smoke out from his mouth. He shook his head.
“Went fine. I shot up the third groomsmen and the second bridesmaid. They’re boning as we speak.” He shook his head, an expression of near disgust on his face. “But the married couple will be divorced in two years. Tops.”
“How do you know that?”
Cupid raised an eyebrow at me, then snorted. “Long as I’ve been doing this? I know.” He sucked on his cigar again, then as he was blowing out, he said, “Do yourself a favor, Lorian. Never get married.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything. When he was in a mood like this, there was nothing really to say.
Cupid looked to his right, where I had, at his insistence, installed a shelf holding a myriad of alcoholic beverages.
“Get The Macallan 18,” he said. Then he gestured toward the humidor. “And grab yourself a smoke.”
It was going to be a long, long night.
* * * * *
My head hurt.
But that was the price to be paid for such a night.
I’d had many of them with Cupid, going way back to before he landed his current gig. Lots of booze and cigars and extravagance…but no women.
Not for him anyway.
I’d met a few girls, and had a couple relationships. One lasted almost a year. But in the end they all faded, because Cupid was always on the move, always working, and I had to be there to support his endeavors. Otherwise humankind would lose romance forever, and then cease to exist.
There were plenty of fairies breeding, every day. Too many, in fact, based on the FaeRealm’s recent decrees about family size. So I didn’t feel like I was shirking on my responsibilities or anything. Still, it would have been nice to settle down.
But C? He relished not having a wife, or kids. And never mind the conflict with his job for the humans.
Or maybe it was because of his job.
Regardless, we both were bachelors. But he got all the propositions from the fairy women at large.
So I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard a gentle clearing of a throat behind me as I made my way to work, my head feeling like it was going to explode while I secretly prayed it would do so, to spare me the misery of my hangover.
I knew immediately what the girl wanted, before I saw her. And I really didn’t want to deal with this crap. But it was part of my job, so I squared my shoulders and turned around.
“Look, miss,” I said, “Cupid is – “
I lost my words when I beheld the fairy behind me. The same one who had come by my desk the previous day, blue leotard and all.
Please, Lord, let them have more than one pair of clothes.
I wasn’t sure who I was praying to, but it was a valid, true prayer, and –
“I’m not here for me,” the fairy said, and the prayer halted in my mind.
I raised an eyebrow at her.
She smiled, and that cute dimple I’d seen yesterday renewed with a deepening flare that I would have sworn was impossible before it just happened.
“Oh, Cupid’s cute enough, I suppose,” she said, “and certainly he is rich and famous. But he’s not my type.” She gestured to her left. “My friend, though…”
She left the rest unsaid, her words trailing into silence as the leaves of a nearby orchid parted and a second fairy came into view.
She looked embarrassed, like the orchid had revealed her without her wanting it to. And it may have, at that. Orchids were notoriously mischievous.
But whether it had or not was immaterial. I could not take my eyes off her.
All fairies are slender and shapely. But she was long, lean, and powerful. But also feminine, with an expansive bust and curvy thighs, and wings that held her aloft with only a beat every three or four seconds, so powerful were the muscles driving them. Her leotard, hair, and eyes were green, and her lips were rose red, with a hint of orange at the edges.
I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t help it. My eyes grew wide with astonishment at her beauty for a moment, then the shiver going down my spine brought me to my senses, and I shook my head.
Looking back at the fairy from the day before, she had a knowing expression on her face. Her lips turned upward slightly.
“Most men have that reaction,” she said. Then she pursed her lips. “But not Cupid. Madeline has a heart only for him, but he’s never looked at her twice. Never said more than a word to her.”
I glanced back at Madeline, and had to look away for fear of being embarrassed by my body’s reaction. “She’s a grown woman. Can she not let her feelings be known?”
“She has tried,” said the blue fairy, drawing my eyes back to her. “Many times. But Cupid will not hear her.”
I shrugged. This was nothing new, and she and Madeline should have seen it already, and moved on.
“Cupid is an avowed bachelor. He’s seen too much strife and pain from marriage and the like. He’s vowed to take no part in it.”
The blue fairy gasped and recoiled slightly, pressing a hand to her mouth. Her eyes were widened in disbelief.
Before she could ask, I nodded. “It’s true; I do not jest. Tell Madeline she will be better off looking elsewhere.”
Blue looked over my shoulder toward her friend, and it seemed to me they were communicating, though I couldn’t hear a word being said.
I glanced behind to see Madeline returning blue’s stare. And it seemed she was not blinking.
I was just swallowing down a sudden case of nerves when Blue spoke again.
I raised an eyebrow at her.
“Madeline has pledged her heart to Cupid. If he will not return it, she will die.”
Oh for the love of…. Not this tripe again.
“Look, blue – “
“My name is Holympa.”
I drew a breath. “Look here, Holympa. I’ve heard that a dozen times in the last two years. Know how many really meant it?”
Holympa shook her head.
“None. And I don’t believe Madeline does either. So don’t try to play me.”
She recoiled, and I saw her jaw working. Her eyes danced from side to side, as she obviously was trying to work out her next move on behalf of her friend. Clearly she hadn’t expected that obvious bit of manipulation to fail.
Rolling my eyes at the pathetic plight of amateurs, I took a half-step toward her.
“Look. I think C’s in a bad place too, and I want him to get better. Find someone, and be happy. But I’m not going to sell him out or play games with him. If that’s what you and she are looking for, piss off.” I glanced between the two of them, then raised my finger to my brow in a half salute. “Good day.”
I’d gone three paces when a different voice, deeper and more powerful but still female, called out to me. “Wait.”
I stopped and turned around, and found Madeline hovering in the air not ten feet in front of me. She was flushed, but her expression was hard, determined. Though her eyes betrayed a trace of tenderness, a silent fear of rejection.
And seeing that, I knew her intentions were true.
* * * * *
If Cupid is out on a mission, I stay until he gets back, and then we have a debriefing. Most times formal, with Management. Sometimes, just the two of us, and that’s when I get to have a stogie. Depends on the rank of his targets for that particular mission.
But on the days that he doesn’t have a mission, our routine is far less structured. There are days when he kicks me out right after lunch. And there are others when he insists I stay with him until well after sundown, to the kind of hour where, if I were married, I would have to object and perhaps bring a complaint to management.
I never did though. And I never will, since we’ve been friends so long.
But on this particular evening, I felt the lack of his permission to withdraw like a spike through my belly.
Not that I wanted to go home.
No, quite the opposite. Holympa and I had planned this evening’s events out to the T, and I didn’t want to mess them up. But they required me to be here, at work, after C went home for the night.
And it looked like he was never going to.
As I sat at my desk, doing meaningless paperwork that I’d been blowing off for weeks—because what was Management going to do to Cupid if he didn’t turn in the stupid forms, fire him? Please.—I counted down the minutes in my mind, and prayed with each minute’s passing that Cupid would finally get done with his work for the day, and get gone.
So I could do my own work for the night.
But the hours stretched on, and still he didn’t leave, and I began to despair that he never would, and our window of opportunity would close.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a gentle squeeze.
I recognized the squeeze as coming from Cupid, but still I gave a little jerk of surprise, so engrossed was I in the fake, useless document in front of me, that still somehow managed to be compelling despite its utter triviality.
“Whoa,” said Cupid. “You ok, L?”
I looked back at him and nodded, adding the best little grin I could manage. “Yeah. You just startled me, is all.”
Which was completely true. And yet not entirely.
He looked at me for a couple seconds, then returned my grin and nodded as well. “Well, I’m heading out.” His grin broadened a bit. “Don’t stay here too late, ok?”
We shared a chuckle, and he exited through the back door—the better to avoid groupies—and headed home.
I waited for ten minutes, to be sure he was gone. Then I shut down my office equipment and turned around. As I expected, he’d left his doorway into his private locker room unlocked.
Of course he did. He trusted me to lock up, and not mess around with anything, or do him wrong.
For a second, I felt a flare of almost-guilt. I shoved it down. I wasn’t out to do him wrong tonight.
I was hoping to do him some good, actually.
So I slipped into his locker room, then padded across to the lockers on the right side of the room from the shower.
The two closest the shower held his personal and professional clothing. Then came two more, in which he stored his on-the-job equipment.
And one piece of equipment, in particular, that I needed.
I knew the combination, so I set about dialing it into the locker’s lock.
* * * * *
Cupid’s condo is on the far side of a pretty large park from Valentine Hall. He didn’t own a car because he hated to drive, so he always walked through the park to get home. Depending on the day—his pace, and how many people were in the park—the walk took anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.
When I finished with the locker room, I figured I was about fifteen minutes behind him.
Plenty of time to get to the opposite side of the park via cab, and get in position. All things being equal, that is.
Unfortunately, all things are almost never equal. But this time, as a once in a lifetime turn, the winds of fate were actually with me.
So instead of getting there in 10 minutes, I got there in 5. So just within the minimum window for Cupid to pass through the park.
In fact, I ended up waiting ten minutes for Madeline to make her move.
The sun had long since set, and the moon was a crescent sitting a third of the way up in the sky. Its faint light combined with the stars to offer only a dim illumination of the park’s hedges and flowerbeds, but it was enough to see Cupid trudging down the dirt path he usually took on his way to his home.
He could have flown, of course. His wings, though small, were strong enough to carry him. But as long as I’d known him, if he wasn’t on the job, he preferred to walk.
So he trudged along, in his civilian attire. Gone was the white toga, and the silly sandals. He wore a collared shirt and slacks, and he walked with his hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks and his eyes cast down onto the path in front of him.
Madeline waited for him near the edge of a rosebush, and monkish though he was, Cupid was still male. No man could miss a female presence such as hers; and even if he determinedly didn’t see her, the gently-subtle perfume of her presence would have been enough to halt a man in his tracks.
Cupid, of course, stopped, and raised his head to look at her.
From my position, a good thirty feet away, I could see the annoyance on his face. She was a lovely woman, but he had sworn off that particular passion long ago. And anyway, it was late.
Still, when she spoke, he halted to listen to her.
I couldn’t make out her words, but I could see his features relax a tad. But only a tad. He made a shake of his head, then he spoke a quick reply that again didn’t reach my ears.
Her charms alone weren’t cutting it; not with his armor up.
Which was why I brought a bit of backup.
I’d seen the bow, of course. Helped oil and clean it in between missions. Replaced the bowstring when the old one was worn or frayed.
I’d helped him procure the materials for the arrows, and kept them well fletched and ready to go.
But I’d never drawn the bow myself.
As I drew the string back, I was reminded of the Odyssey, how Odysseus’ wife used his bow as a means to keep suitors away, because no one was strong enough to draw it.
Now I’m no little guy. But I could not get the bow to its full draw. I’m told a good archer brings the string back to his ear. I could barely get it back to my nose. And even then, my arm shook.
I looked down the length of the white arrow with its pinkish-red, heart-shaped head, and watched as the missile bounced around against the silhouette of my friend.
I didn’t have to hit the heart; I knew that. But I also knew it would be more potent if I did. So I held on, trying to aim.
I lost my grip, and the string snapped to, sending the arrow flying.
It flew long and high, well to the right of both Cupid and Madeline, landing somewhere off in the dark, its magic spent uselessly.
I cursed myself, because Cupid was turning away from her, clearly done with the conversation, and with her.
She had a look of frustration and despondence on her face, and I knew the window would close in just a few seconds.
So I drew again. With more determination, I drew. And this time, I got the string back a more respectable distance.
My arm still shook, but I knew the pattern of it now, so I watched carefully as Cupid finished his turn and began to walk away.
Madeline lowered her head and began to leave as well.
And I loosed.
The arrow rose as it left the bow. I heard it make a soft whistle as it passed through the air. For a second I thought I’d missed again.
But then Cupid gave a little jerk. His eyes went wide, and he froze in place.
Then he spun around on his heel until he was once again facing the lovely fairy maiden.
He said something. Her name, I have to believe, and she stopped her own turn.
Her expression when she looked back at him was curious, then confused.
Then joyous, as he closed the distance between them and took her by the hand.
* * * * *
When Holympa came to see me, I was closing up Cupid’s shop. He’d taken off early for the day, the better to meet Madeline for an early dinner.
He’d been doing that almost daily since their meeting in the park, and my little assist. And I have to say I’d never seen him happier. He had a renewed spring in his step, and when he went out on missions…
Well, the romance stats that management recorded and reported for the human populace hadn’t looked that positive in as long as I could remember.
More people everywhere were falling in love. And I got an inkling of what it must have felt like to be Cupid, as he watched the fruits of his own labors.
Holympa looked happy as well when she reached the boundary that separate our office space from the rest of Valentine Hall. She gave me a grin, and as usual that cute dimple sprang to full life. “How you doing, Lorian?”
I returned her smile. “I can’t remember when things have been so good around here.”
“Glad to hear it.” She looked down for a second. “I just wanted to thank you. Madeline is so happy, and…” She trailed off, then looked back up and gave me a little shrug.
I understood what she meant. It was great to see your friend thriving, and knowing you had a little something to do with it. “You don’t have to thank me.”
She opened her mouth. To protest, I was sure. So I beat her to the punch.
“But you’re welcome, all the same.”
She stopped, cocked her head at me, then shut her mouth again, grinning all the broader. Then she gave a little fairy curtsy and turned away.
Before I realized what I was doing, I said on an impulse, “Do you want to get dinner tonight?”
She stopped mid-turn, then looked back at me. I could feel her gaze as her eyes swept down my body and back up, and was tempted to cringe as I felt my lack of fully-formed wings. But then her grin broadened into a full-on smile, and she nodded.
“I’d love to.”
And just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, it did.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: