Chapter 21: Round Midnight

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The Godmother's orange-colored carriage halted in front of Rob's townhouse. Whipping her long metal pen from inside her sleeve, she reached between where Rob and Maggie sat to rap against the carriage's front wall.

"Driver!" she called out. "Wait here until I tell you otherwise."

"Yes, ma'am," the driver said.

"Congratulations," the Godmother said, returning her attention to Rob. "You've succeeded in breaking the spell. It was that dance, you know, with the whole town looking on as you two indecently clung to each other. I don't believe there's a girl within shouting distance of the palace who imagines she might have a chance with you after that ugly show of affection."

"That's not nice," Rob said.

"Nor am I," the Godmother shot back. "But that's not why we're here. I was surprised how long you kept me guessing, doctor. Would you or wouldn't you, I asked myself all night, and when that Greta girl stormed off following your cousin's raucous entrance, I thought that was the end of you.

"Not that I approve of your choice, mind you," the Godmother added. "But at least the town can settle down as we move into harvest, and I don't have to find a new doctor."

"Serve you right if you did," Maggie said.

"Lucky for me, then. And doctor, did I hear you're thinking about expanding your medical college?"

Rob nodded. "Just some basic medical training, yes. I'd like to open it up to more people, though I don't want to infringe on the guild's territory. I know I can't take care of everyone all by myself anymore. I suppose I never could, but it's becoming more obvious every day."

The Godmother tapped her pen against the palm of her hand. "Our royal librarian was quite convincing on your behalf. Very well. You have my permission to proceed as far as the guilds are concerned, although you'll need the abbey on board as well."

"The Chancellor promised to work on that."

"The Chancellor, too? Well, well," she said. "You have friends in high places. Now. It's late, and you're safe at home. Let us part in peace, though I suspect we'll always have our difficulties. But for tonight, peace."

Rob stepped out of the carriage and helped Maggie, who was struggling within the unfamiliar confines of a dress, to safely reach the ground. "Good night, Godmother."

"Good night to you as well," she said, rapping her pen against the carriage. "Driver! Ride on!"

After the carriage had departed and they were, at last, alone, Maggie spoke softly to Rob. "This certainly isn't where I expected to end my day when I awoke this morning."

"Me neither. It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it?" Rob swung open the door. Inside all was quiet, and he shivered from a mix of nerves and anticipation.

"Are you cold?" Maggie said.

"No," Rob said. "I'm just a little bit nervous."

"Me, too," she said, kissing him before leading him inside.

* * *

Rob awoke to the sound of knocking. It was still dark; Maggie lay next to him, sleeping, but she began to stir as the knocking continued.

"What, what," Rob mumbled. "Who is it?"

The door opened wide enough for Zev to stick his head inside. "Dude, it's me. Are you awake?"

"I am now," Rob said. "What time is it?"

"Still nighty-night time. So," he said, his eyes darting around. "Whatchya think of our band?"

"Fine," Rob said, propping himself up on an elbow. "That was American Girl, right?"

"Bingo. I saw you guys out there cutting a rug. Is that Mags in your bed, or somebody else?"

"Zev—"

"Either way, score!" he said, his face lighting up, even in the dark. "Awesome sauce for you."

"All right, now get out of here." Rob rubbed his eyes. "With all the girls at the ball, I didn't expect you home tonight."

"You know, I just felt like some solo time," Zev said. "Hanging with Greta kind of threw me off my game."

"I'd say you're off your game if we both went to a party and I'm the one who came home with somebody."

"Dude, I still got laid, don't get me wrong. After Greta left the ball, Cyn was acting jealous enough to let me do her crazy like. Actually, it got weird; she was acting all sexy while bad-mouthing Greta, and in the end I nearly lost my wood. To make myself finish, I had to grab onto her—"

"Zev!" Rob cut in. "Please. Too much information, too late at night, okay?"

"Okay, cool. But I'm feeling wigged about the whole deal."

"Maybe you're feeling that way because you made Cynda feel bad."

"Are we talking about the same Cyn?" Zev laughed. "No way, dude. That cat doesn't scratch that way."

"Maybe you were worried how it might look to Greta."

"You think? Shit. I do kind of like her. Maybe I need to invite Greta out to my castle, show her a more serious side of me."

"I think we'd all appreciate seeing that, but not in the middle of the night, okay?"

"Yo, I'm baring my soul here and you're making fun."

Rob pushed the door closed just as Zev yanked his head back into the hallway, like a turtle tucking back into its shell.

"What was that all about?" Maggie murmured, her eyes still closed.

"Just Zev being Zev," Rob said. "You know, the thing about Zev is—"

"That he would never be here, sharing my bed?" Maggie finished for Rob as she wrapped her naked body around his. She felt deliciously warm; Rob hadn't been out from under the covers for long, but he'd cooled off more than he'd realized.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll keep being me, don't worry."

"He may not be my favorite person," Maggie added. "But I know it's not easy being different. My mother is odd in her own way, and I stick out like a sore tooth on a cold day."

"I wouldn't go that far. And you know, you'd probably fit right in where I come from."

"Honestly? I wonder what kind of place that could be."

"Maybe I'll show you someday."

"You did promise."

"I did. You and me, babe. Whatever happens, we do it together."

"But no more dances."

Rob laughed as he dug his head into the pillow. "I can live with that."

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