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Senior Trip

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NEW YORK

“Neets?”

“Huh?” Nita shook her head and blinked. She’d been falling asleep on Kit’s shoulder. How she had managed this, she wasn’t entirely sure, since they were both sitting on the standard impossibly uncomfortable departure gate seating at JFK, waiting for the redeye to Dublin.

“They just updated us on our flight,” Kit said, bouncing slightly in his seat. A couple of guidebooks were open on his lap, nested inside each other, with a pencil and some flyers marking his place. “Boarding starts in ten minutes.”

Nita rubbed her eyes. “Thanks,” she said. How he had the energy to be so enthusiastic, she had no idea. Granted, he’d probably been packed for weeks, whereas Nita had assembled most of the contents of her backpack in an all-nighter. Despite their solemn agreement to try this without wizardry, she’d been sorely tempted to do a spell to make her backpack bigger on the inside. She probably would have, if she had found one that would get rid of the weight of the items as well as the bulk.

Kit stretched, shifting in his seat, and one of the pamphlets fluttered to the ground. Nita caught a glimpse of Cornell’s seal. “What’s that?” she asked.

Kit spread out the pamphlet to reveal a map of the world, with inset images of specific locations. Nita recognized the London Eye, the Coliseum, and the Great Wall of China. “Study abroad locations!” Kit said. “Cornell has a great program. I could even design my own research project and get funded to do it!”

Nita smiled and said, “That’s really cool,” trying to cover up the sudden unsettled feeling in her stomach. As if going to college five hours apart wasn’t enough. He was already thinking of ways to get even further away. They’d agreed not to worry about it until they’d gotten through their senior trip, but ever since then she’d found that agreeing not to worry just made her worry worse. In less than three months, they would stop living around the corner from each other. They wouldn’t even be living in the same state. It wasn’t that Nita regretted her decision to attend Carnegie Mellon, and it wasn’t that she resented Kit’s decision to go to Cornell. It was that she had no idea what those choices were going to mean for their partnership, and Kit didn’t seem to want to talk about it.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Kit said. “I figure if we have time, I can check out some of the European campuses Cornell works with. Get a head start figuring out which ones I might like.”

Nita mumbled a sarcastic comment about Kit planning a little too far in advance, but her stomach just kept turning over. She knew they were wizards, she knew distance was nothing, but Earth wasn’t astahfrith yet, and people would ask questions if she managed to see her boyfriend so much when he lived five hours away by car and she didn’t even have a car. The other option was not to talk about it, but Kit was such a big part of her life, she couldn’t imagine keeping him secret. And all of that was assuming Kit still wanted to keep this up. Nita knew if she told anyone who knew them that she was worried, she would be scoffed at, but why hadn’t Kit wanted to talk about how they would manage long-distance before they left on this trip?

One month, no wizardry, just the two of them, backpacking through Europe, like Kit had always dreamed of doing. It would be amazing—provided it wasn’t a total disaster.

Nita felt Kit take her hand, and she looked at him just in time to see him raise it to his lips and kiss it. “I love you,” he said. “And this is going to be great.”

 

BRAY

Kit had been waiting outside the bookshop on the high street for about ten minutes when Ronan emerged. “Hey, long time no see!” Kit said, grabbing his friend in a one-armed hug.

“You’re one to talk,” Ronan said, returning the hug. “It’s not like you don’t know where to find me.”

Kit laughed at the note of accusation in Ronan’s voice, even though he knew Ronan had every reason to mean it. Between school, wizardry, and keeping up his relationship with Nita, the past couple of years had been pretty busy for Kit—and the past year especially, what with college applications and Advanced Placement examinations—and he hadn’t exactly been the best friend. “We can’t all be done with school and living the good life,” Kit said.

Ronan had been out of high school for over a year now, and he was still living at home and working in town, trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in college—or “uni” as he called it—but from what Kit understood, college in Ireland worked a bit differently from college in the States. You had to apply to study a specific subject and you couldn’t just change your major once you started. “I’ve no idea what I want to study,” Ronan had said, “and there’s no point going through the hassle of starting on a course only to find out it’s not for me. I’ll take a couple of years, save up some money, and figure out what I really want to do.” While Kit thought Ronan had probably made the right choice, he also thought Ronan was probably a little lonely. He had been seeing a girl named Majella for a bit, but as far as Kit knew it hadn’t been serious, and they’d ended it when she moved to London to start her BA. Lots of his friends had gone away to uni, or had moved into Dublin to find jobs. Only Ronan was still in Bray.

“The good life,” Ronan scoffed. “I think the Powers are afraid that if I have too much free time I won’t know what to do with myself, so they’ve been keeping me busy.”

Kit had at least kept up with Ronan’s wizardly activity in the Manual, and the details there seemed to confirm his friend’s frustration. “That last intervention looked intense,” he said. “Sorry I couldn’t help out.”

“What makes you think I needed your help?” Ronan asked.

“Uh, you called me?” Kit said.

“Oh, right,” Ronan said, and laughed.

Nita was still catching up with her aunt, and would be joining Kit and Ronan in a bit, but in the meantime the two of them wandered slowly through the town, dodging locals and holidaymakers alike as they wound their way toward the beach, and catching up. “So how’re you holding up?” Kit asked. “Aside from errantry, I mean.”

Ronan shrugged. “Not much else to do, is there,” he said. “The job’s good. My folks are alright. But it’s murder, not feeling like I can run my own life. I can’t complain, I know it’s not a bad deal, but they notice when I’m gone on errantry and they’re starting to ask questions. They’re worse about it than my boss!”

“You could tell them,” Kit suggested.

“I’d rather just move out,” Ronan said.

Kit grimaced. “That bad?”

They had made it to the far edge of the beach, and Ronan scuffed one of his trainers in the sand. “You try being an only child sometime. It’s like I’m their hobby or something. I’ve been meaning to get away for a while, but it’s not as fun going traveling alone.”

And then, just as Kit saw Nita approaching, Ronan’s eyes lit up and he said, “I could go off for a bit with you two!”

Kit felt his heart sink. He had been looking forward to spending quality time with Nita for the next month, just the two of them. He figured if they could survive this together, they could probably survive anything, even college in different states. Not that it was a test—well, not exactly—but he couldn’t help but feel like having Ronan along would be cheating.

And yet in that moment he could not say no.

“Ronan!” Nita said, coming up and clapping him on the back. “How’s it going?”

“Just smashing,” Ronan said, a wide grin on his face. “I’ve decided that what you and Kit need for your European journeys is a guide, and who better than yours truly?”

Kit felt Nita’s thought brush against his as she forced a smile: Tell me this is just his idea of a joke.

*

It wasn’t.

 

LONDON

Before they had left on this trip, Nita had mostly found Kit’s planning excessive. He had read every guidebook, website, and manual entry he could and made list after list of travel tips and potential destinations. But now that they were actually on the move, she found it was comforting to know that at least one member of their party would never get lost and never be at a loss for things to do. For the most part, he gave Nita and Ronan options and they made decisions together, but about some things, Kit was rather adamant.

Unsurprisingly, Shakespeare was one of them. Kit had absolutely insisted that the three of them go see The Tempest at the reconstructed Globe theatre. They started the morning at St. Paul’s, where Nita joined Kit, ever the heights junkie, in climbing up to the top of the dome. It was a bit of a slog but the view of London spread out beneath them, with the river shimmering in the morning light, was worth it. They leaned on the railing next to each other for a few minutes, looking south across the Thames. Kit took Nita’s hand. “I’m so glad I’m seeing this with you,” he said, and Nita smiled and felt warmed from the inside against the gusting wind.

“Me too,” she said, leaning into him.

After a bit longer they descended into the crypt, where Ronan had been puttering around, checking out the names on the tombs, and together they crossed the Thames on Millennium Bridge, a sleek silver footbridge that looked like something out of the future. Kit, in tour-guide mode, told them that when the bridge had first been opened, it had swayed slightly underfoot; the architect, asked to fix the design, had stubbornly maintained that his design wasn’t at fault, Londoners just walked too forcefully.

The closer they got to the Globe, the faster Kit walked, till he was almost visibly jittering with excitement. They picked up their tickets from Will Call and got into a line in the courtyard that surrounded the theater proper. Kit was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, tapping his toes, unable to keep still.

“Don’t waste all your energy yet,” Nita said. “You’ve still got a whole Shakespeare play to stand through.”

“Remind me why we’re standing?” Ronan asked.

“Did you want to pay thirty quid for a seat?” Kit said, trying to stay still for a moment and failing.

Nita rolled her eyes at Kit’s attempt to sound British. She caught a glimpse of Ronan mouthing “quid?” and shaking his head.

“Besides,” Kit said, ignoring them, “it’ll be great—seeing the play the way people saw it over four hundred years ago, on our feet!” And then he was off on another speech, rattling out details about the theatrical culture of the English Renaissance.

Nita met Ronan’s raised eyebrow with one of her own, and when they both turned away from each other to shake their heads derisively at Kit, Nita was smiling. Maybe having Ronan along wouldn’t be so bad after all.

 

PARIS

Ronan took one look at the tiny hostel dorm and said, “Well, I need a drink.”

“Oh come on,” Kit said, “I’ve seen worse.” So it smelled a bit stale and the mattresses on the rickety bunk beds seemed a little lumpy and the carpet probably hadn’t started out being that shade of brown, but wasn’t that what you were supposed to expect from hostels?

Ronan slung his bag down on the bottom bunk in the corner, looked around him as though checking that the coast was clear, and then said a few words in the Speech under his breath. A glowing tab like you’d find on a zipper appeared in the air at about waist height, and Ronan slid it to the side, opening his personal claudication. He lifted his bag and neatly deposited it inside.

Kit watched it disappear from view with no small amount of envy, but he was committed to doing this without wizardry. With a sigh, he headed over to the bank of lockers along one end of the room and started the process of squeezing his backpack inside.

He had just managed to get the locker shut and secured with a heavy-duty combo lock when Nita entered.

“Hey, no girls allowed,” Ronan said mockingly.

“What, afraid I’ll give you cooties?” Nita replied. There was a laugh in her eyes and a smile on her face and Kit was struck, as he was on a regular basis, by just how beautiful she was, halfway through a laugh and ready for adventure. His Nita.

She caught him staring and blushed like they were still awkward teenagers trying to fool themselves into believing this relationship was anything other than inevitable. “Do we have any plans?” she asked.

Kit shot a glance at Ronan, who said, “I’m off for drinks with a couple of guys I met on errantry a while back. Don’t wait up,” he said, winking at Kit before sliding past Nita and out the door.

Nita raised an eyebrow in Kit’s direction. “Alright,” she said, “what’s going on?”

Kit reached out and caught up both of Nita’s hands with his and squeezed them lightly. “We,” he said, “are going on a date.”

*

Kit had planned everything out well in advance. They were going to go to a small restaurant in Montmartre that he had found through one of his guidebooks, and where he had already made reservations; then for dessert they would walk down the street to a hole-in-the-wall crêperie; and then with their crêpes they would climb the steps up to Sacre Coeur and watch the late summer sun set over the roofs of Paris. It would be perfect. He knew he couldn’t make up for all the times he’d been too busy with school to give their relationship the attention it deserved, but he figured this was a pretty good start.

The restaurant took up two floors of a narrow building, and the second story had a narrow outdoor terrace with views of Sacre Coeur. The view was beautiful, but Kit was paying too much attention to the delighted look on Nita’s face as the waiter seated them to notice much else. “This is amazing,” she said, turning slowly around and taking it all in. “How did you find this place?”

“A gentleman never reveals his secrets,” Kit joked. (It had actually been in a Rick Steves guidebook, which Carmela said was proof that Kit’s transformation into a middle-aged woman was complete.)

The dinner went just as perfectly as Kit could have hoped. They talked about everything and nothing, and Kit reveled in just being able to sit and talk and savor a good meal with his girlfriend—with his partner—without having to worry about studying for tests or getting called out on errantry.

“I’m sorry about the whole thing with Ronan,” Kit said after the waiter had cleared their plates. “I know this was supposed to be just the two of us.”

Nita shrugged. “It’s not like it’s your fault,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have had the heart to uninvite him.”

“I mean, me neither,” Kit said, reaching across the small table and taking one of Nita’s hands in his own. “But I still want to spend some time together, just us.”

“Yeah,” Nita said. She smiled, and tilted her head the way she did sometimes when she was thinking about something. “Is he alright, you think?”

Kit shrugged. “Just lonely,” he said. “I think he just needs something to do. Especially now that Majella’s in London.”

“Oh,” Nita said, “I didn’t realize. Well, at least it’s not too long of a long-distance thing. He can probably get out to see her often enough.”

Kit shook his head. “They split,” he said. “She doesn’t know about his wizardry, and even if she did, the overlays are still bad enough that he’d have a hard time transiting over to see her too often.” Ronan and Kit had talked about it, a bit, and Ronan hadn’t seemed too upset, though Kit wasn’t sure how much of that was real and how much was a result of Ronan’s commitment to appearing implacable. “Besides,” he added, “I don’t think she wanted to start college and still be with her high school boyfriend. Something about not wanting to be tied down.” Kit shrugged. “But Ronan’ll be alright, once he’s got something to keep him busy.”

He looked over at Nita and was surprised to find her sitting there looking absolutely stricken. “Neets? You okay?”

She blinked, twice, and shook her head slightly. “Yeah,” she said, “just something in my eye. I’m gonna see if there’s a bathroom where I can wash it out.”

 

BARCELONA

Paris had been a whirlwind of museums and cathedrals, and Nita had tried to let herself get caught up in the beauty and grandeur of the European capital, but every time she had a moment to herself, what Kit had said that night at the restaurant resurfaced in her head. Not wanting to be tied down. How could Kit talk so glibly about Ronan’s decision? Did he think there was something wrong with starting college still in a relationship with your high school girlfriend? It wasn’t like London and Bray were so far away, wasn’t like Ronan could have made it work out, if he wanted to. Was this one of those times when talking about “a friend” was just a cover?  She was on the brink, several times, of just asking him, but each time she bumped up against their promise not to talk about it until their trip was over.

So they didn’t talk about it. They didn’t talk about much of anything for the next few days. They left Paris for Barcelona, and Kit was still prepared with his constant stream of things to do—walking tours, museums, parks, cathedrals—and Ronan either had no idea that anything was wrong, or possessed more tact than Nita had suspected and was just not bringing it up. She’d been frustrated when he had first invited himself along, but now he was mostly a source of relief. He was the perfect buffer, cutting the tension with a joke or keeping the conversation going when it faltered.

But there were times when having him with made things more difficult. There were only so many trains that would accept both Ronan’s Interrail pass and Kit and Nita’s Eurail passes, and much to everyone’s frustration (except, it seemed, Ronan’s), the next leg of their journey—which would land them in Berlin—would take over twenty-four hours of train travel, not to mention several hours’ worth of stopovers in certain cities along the way.

Their first train left Barcelona a little after 5AM, and Nita thought the best idea would be to turn in early the night before, but Ronan had other plans.

“What’s the point in sleeping?” he said. “You can sleep on the train. What you can’t do on the train is get out and experience the Barcelona nightlife!”

Kit shrugged. “Your choice,” he said, “but if you’re late, we’re taking the train without you.”

“Oh, come on, Kit!” Ronan said. “Come out for a drink!”

Nita found herself wishing he would. It was getting difficult to have to pretend that things were okay between them. She wouldn’t mind a couple of quiet hours to sit in the hostel’s lounge and read one of the cheap paperbacks she’d brought along for the trip.

But Kit shook his head. “I’m staying in,” he said.

Ronan let out an exaggerated sigh, then turned to Nita. “What about you, Miss Neets?” he asked. “Think you can convince your boyfriend to ditch the old man routine?”

And Nita, completely to her own surprise, found herself saying, “If he wants to stay in, I’m not gonna try talking him out of it, but I’ll tag along for a drink.”

*

They ended up in a tiny bar jammed full of people about a ten-minute walk from their hostel. It was louder than Nita normally would’ve liked, but nothing about this was normal, and she didn’t mind that the insistent beat of the speaker system kept her from thinking too hard about the look on Kit’s face when she’d said that he could stay behind. God, what was she doing?

By some miracle, Ronan had found seats at one end of the crowded bar. “What’re you having?” Ronan asked.

Nita shrugged. “I don’t know, you’re the one who drinks.”

“You make me sound like an alcoholic,” Ronan said, but he got the attention of a woman behind the bar and ordered two of something, Nita couldn’t quite hear what. She fished around in her pocket for some cash, but Ronan put a hand up. “This one’s on me,” he said.

Nita watched as the bartender put sugar and fresh mint leaves into the bottom of two tall glasses. She crushed the mint with the flat end of a blunt cylindrical object, then added a generous measure of clear liquor, a squeeze of lime, and topped it off with a dash of soda before pushing the glasses toward them. Ronan took one, nodded appreciatively at the bartender, and Nita watched him leave a generous tip.

Nita picked up her drink and tried not to think about the fact that it was late at night and she was in a bar in a foreign country with a boy she’d kissed once, before she knew better. Her first sip was tentative, and she grimaced a bit at the taste of the alcohol, but the mint and the lime made the drink taste cool and refreshing, and her second sip was a bit more assured. She could get used to this.

Ronan said something Nita couldn’t hear. “What?” she said, and leaned closer. He repeated himself, but it was still too loud for Nita to make out what he was saying. “I can’t hear you!” she said.

Ronan rolled his eyes, muttered something, and suddenly the noise level around them started to decrease, like someone had turned down the volume on the bar.

“We agreed not to use wizardry,” Nita said.

“No,” Ronan said, taking a sip of his drink, “you agreed not to use wizardry. I made no such promise. In fact, I think it’s a rubbish idea.”

Nita scrunched up her nose. “Me, too,” she admitted. “But it’s not so bad, I guess.”

“Did you ever tell Kit that?” Ronan raised an eyebrow at Nita’s shrug of a response. “Look. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert when it comes to relationships. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that you have to be honest. Especially when it comes to things you think the other person won’t want to hear.” He sounded almost shockingly sincere. Nita took another sip of her drink to hide the fact that she didn’t know how to respond. Her thoughts turned back to the fight with Kit. For all her frustration, had she actually told him what she needed him to know?

“It’s just hard sometimes,” Nita admitted, leaning her forearms on the bar and taking a long drink. “He gets these ideas into his head and I just feel so bad about it if I don’t go along with them.”

“That sounds like a real healthy way to run a relationship,” Ronan said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

“Look, I can’t be perfect,” Nita said.

“But you can tell him when something bothers you,” Ronan said. “If not for your sake, then for mine. It’s been murder trying to keep up some semblance of normalcy this past week. What happened, anyway?”

Nita should have felt embarrassed. Instead, she just felt relieved. She needed to talk to someone about this. “I don’t know if Kit wants to stay together in college,” she said. “And we promised not to talk about it until after this trip is over, but he said something about you and Majella splitting up, because of the distance—and because no one wants to be tied down to their high school partner when they start college—”

“And you thought he was talking about you?” Ronan sounded thoroughly incredulous.

“I just don’t know,” Nita said, looking away. “I know it sounds stupid. But we haven’t talked at all about what’s going to happen in the fall. In fact we promised we wouldn’t until this trip was over. And it’s just eating away at me. What if he doesn’t want to keep this up?”

She looked back at Ronan. He had a hand over his face and was shaking his head. “You two are the biggest pair of idiots I have ever had the privilege to meet,” he said. “If you want this to work out, you’re going to have to tell each other what you’re thinking, when you’re thinking it. None of this ‘but we promised’ rubbish. I bet you anything Kit doesn’t remember that promise.”

“He remembers the one about not doing any wizardry,” Nita muttered.

“Nita, listen to yourself!” Ronan said. “You need to talk to him, and you need to tell him what you’re really thinking. Because right now, I guarantee you the Lone One is sitting with a big bowl of popcorn watching you tear yourself up from the inside!”

Nita winced. That last image had hit a nerve. Especially when she wasn’t using wizardry on a daily basis, it was so easy to forget the way That One was at work, even in the small things. It had played Nita and Kit against each other before. She ought to have learned from that well enough not to enact the same scenario without Its aid.

“You give good advice,” Nita said, looking at Ronan with a newfound respect. She held up her glass to toast him.

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Ronan said, clinking his glass against hers. “I had the One’s Champion sharing my headspace for the better part of a couple of years. Longest relationship I’ve ever been in. I never knew what It was thinking, or planning, and it near well drove me mad!”

Nita laughed out loud. “That is the last reason I expected,” she said, shaking her head. “Still, it’s good advice.”

The proud smile flickered on Ronan’s face for just a moment, but there was no denying it had been there. “Right, then,” he said. “I’ve helped you solve your problems. Now I need your help with mine.”

“Hm?”

“I am not going to leave this bar without at least attempting to get the attractive lady bartender to join me in a dance,” Ronan said, “and I need a wingman.”

Nita raised an eyebrow. “I think I’m going to need another drink to pull that off,” she said.

 

IN TRANSIT

When Nita and Ronan had stumbled into the hostel five minutes before the time they had to leave in order to catch their train, arm in arm and obviously still a little drunk, it had taken all the self-control Kit possessed not to break his promise to disavow wizardry and just teleport Ronan right back to Ireland. Instead of retaliating, he had said nothing, leading them in near silence to the train station and making sure they got on board without any incident.

The truth was that Nita had been distant for the past few days, and he had no idea what was going on. He had replayed their interactions in the early days of the trip, trying to figure out where he could have messed up, and he kept coming up empty. He knew he could just ask her, but he felt sheepish about having to do so—wasn’t he supposed to know her well enough, to realize when things were bothering her and to fix them? He must have done something wrong. She hadn’t laughed with him like that in almost a week.

She was asleep now, her head lolling with the movement of the train. They had crossed the French border about an hour after sunrise, changed trains twice, and she and Ronan had fallen back asleep after each of those transfers. Kit had tried to sleep, then tried to distract himself with the landscape that rolled past outside the train, but neither had worked, and he had been left to wonder what exactly the two of them had gotten up to last night, and why Ronan could make Nita laugh when he couldn’t.

At a stop just past the German border, the bustle of some passengers disembarking and others boarding the train was enough to rouse Ronan from his sleep. “Are we there yet?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.

“We just crossed into Germany,” Kit said. “Still a way to go.” He was upset that Ronan was the one who had awoken first. If there was one person he didn’t want to talk to, it was him.

Ronan, however, seemed to have another idea. After a few moments of stretching, rubbing at his face, and generally going through the motions of waking up after a long night, Ronan looked over at the sleeping Nita, then at Kit, and said, in a low voice, “We need to talk.”

“I don’t want to wake her up,” Kit said.

Ronan nodded, muttered a few words in the Speech. Kit felt the silence close in around them. “There,” he said. “No one else can hear us now.”

Kit’s stomach twitched at the precaution. What did Ronan need to tell him that he couldn’t let Nita hear? “Look, it’s fine, I’m glad you guys had a good time last night,” he said, trying to head Ronan off. “But someone needed to be the responsible one and make sure we didn’t miss our trains today, and that obviously wasn’t going to be you.”

“You never asked for our help,” Ronan said, and shook his head. “How you and Neets have made it so long without killing each other, I have no idea.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kit said. He could feel himself getting angry. It would be so satisfying to just hit Ronan, before he knew what was coming. Ronan could probably take him in a fight, but at least Kit could get in the first punch.

“You know why Nita went out with me last night?” Ronan said. “She didn’t think she could talk to you about something you said that upset her. I told her she was being an idiot for not just telling you, but I also think you’re an idiot for not asking. Something’s been bothering her, and you haven’t even asked what it is, have you.”

“She said it was nothing,” Kit said, even though he knew how lame that was as a defense.

“Obviously it’s not,” Ronan said.

Kit let his face drop into his hands. He was still angry at Ronan—this wasn’t his relationship, so it wasn’t his business—but only because it was easier than being angry with himself. “I just don’t want to screw things up,” he muttered.

“Might be too late for that,” Ronan said. “But not too late to make things right.”

Kit leaned back in his seat and squeezed his eyes closed. He could hear Ronan muttering something, and he felt the silencing spell disengage. In the seat next to his, Nita stirred in her sleep and mumbled something unintelligible.

Kit sat for a few minutes, feeling like an idiot, and wondering what to do next. He had made so many plans for this trip, he had been so sure nothing would go wrong, but things had gone wrong anyway.  

He was jarred out of his thoughts by the chime of the train’s PA system. Listening through the Speech to the announcement—made in German and repeated in French—Kit felt his heart sink. As if his day could have gotten any worse.

He tapped Nita’s shoulder, then nudged her a bit harder until she blinked her eyes open. “Get up,” he said. “There’s a problem with the train. We have to get off.”

 

SOMEWHERE IN GERMANY

They’d gathered their things and gotten off the train, Nita still tired and with a bit of a headache—either last night’s drinks had been stronger than expected or she was more of a lightweight than she’d thought. For a while they had waited on the platform, Nita in drowsy silence, Ronan trying to figure out when the next train was coming, Kit grumbling about lost reservation fees for the final leg of their trip and trying to cancel their hostel reservations in Berlin. The air of frustration was so palpable that Nita almost wasn’t surprised when they found out there would be no more trains until the morning. It just seemed like the direction their luck had been going in.

The town they had ended up in was small, apparently somewhat popular for winter sports but practically deserted in the height of summer. They passed by a few small shops that weren’t even open for the season, and at 8pm, half the other shops on the main street were already closed.

They at least managed to find beds for the night—well, one full bed in a room just big enough to also fit a folding cot, if they weren’t all trying to stand up at the same time. In the cramped space, Nita felt the pressure of the last week’s unspoken thoughts building up like steam in a boiler.

Ronan looked at Nita, then at Kit, and said, “I’m going to have a walk, see if anything’s still open,” he said.

Nita wanted nothing more than to head out with him, find something for dinner that wasn’t sandwiches prepared two countries ago, and laugh about the vagaries of overground travel, but she knew he was giving her an opening to talk to Kit, and she couldn’t pass it up, no matter how much she might want to.

Kit was sitting on the edge of the bed, so Nita settled down on the edge of the cot. She fiddled with a loose thread on the quilt, not quite able to look at him when she said, “Kit, I know we promised we wouldn’t worry about this until after we got home, but I can’t not worry. I need to know. When we go to college—do you want to stay together?”

The springs on the bed groaned as Kit shifted, but he was silent.

“I’m sorry,” Nita said, feeling like she had to fight through that silence somehow, “I know you didn’t want to ruin the trip with this, but I can’t stop thinking about how we’re gonna manage the distance. And what you said, about Ronan and Majella—I know we’re wizards, but it’s going to be hard. And I feel like I should be the good girlfriend and tell you that if you don’t want to be tied down when you start college, then you shouldn’t have to be, and we can take a break for a while, but I can’t tell you that because it would be a lie. I can’t do this without you, Kit!” She forced herself to look at him, then, despite the tears that were forming in her eyes and the quiver of her lip she was powerless to stop.

Kit looked stricken. “Neets,” he said, getting off the bed and sitting down beside her on the cot. “That’s not what I meant at all! I didn’t realize—god, I’m such an idiot—of course I don’t want to break up! I can’t imagine not being your partner. The whole reason I wanted to go on this trip was to spend time with you, without school or errantry getting in the way!” He shook his head. “I wanted to have a normal senior trip—so we could be normal kids, and not have to worry about being wizards, and just get to be us for a while and figure this all out.”

Nita sat back for a minute and just let the relief wash over her. He didn’t want to split up. He thought they could make this work. But—“Normal?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Kit. We’re not normal.”

“I know,” Kit said, sounding sheepish. “I know. It was stupid. But I was worried that being partners was getting in the way of us being in a relationship—I mean, sometimes it feels like the only time we spend together is time on errantry—and that doesn’t feel like it should count.”

“Of course it counts!” Nita said. “Kit, I wouldn’t have fallen for you without errantry! Doing wizardry with you—it’s one of the best parts of this relationship, for me. Being with you, and being part of something so much bigger, but something that only works because we’re in it together.”

 “I just feel bad sometimes that all we do together is wizardry, and recovery in the aftermath,” Kit said.

Nita laughed, weakly. “One of my favorite things to do with you,” she said, “is to lie on the couch, exhausted after a big wizardry, and cuddle a bit, and fall asleep with you holding me.”

“Really?” Kit said, sounding surprised.

“Really,” Nita said.

Kit looked like he was going to die from embarrassment. “That’s one of my favorite things too,” he said.

“We are idiots,” Nita said, leaning up against him, feeling relieved but also exhausted.

“But at least we’re idiots together?” Kit said.

Nita took his hand and threaded her fingers through his. “Always,” she said. “We may never have a normal relationship…but I don’t want one.”

“Me neither,” Kit said.

They sat like that for a while, just being quiet together, reassuring each other with gentle nudges of their minds that everything would be okay.

The silence was broken when Nita’s stomach growled, rather loudly. She laughed. “I wouldn’t mind joining Ronan for dinner,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I owe him one.

“Me, too,” Kit said. “I was pretty angry when he decided to tag along. But without him…”

“Yeah,” Nita said, standing up, and drawing Kit with her. “Let’s go say thanks.”

“And eat some currywurst,” Kit said.

Nita snorted. “You and your spicy fast-food sausage,” she said. “Some of us have more refined tastes.”

“Well, I’m totally craving some gelato for dessert,” Kit said as the room door shut behind them.

“I think you’re in the wrong country for that,” Nita said.

Kit smiled. “For now.”

 

ROME

Half an hour and a few German sausages later, they were sitting at a small table in Piazza Navona, Nita and Kit arguing playfully about the merits of various flavors of gelato (Nita was all for straciatella, with its simple blend of creamy vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings, but Kit stood firmly by the death-by-chocolate tartufo, so rich it stained his tongue and lips brown as he ate it), while Ronan leaned back and sipped slowly at his icy lemon-and-mint granita. Light as a breeze in the muggy Roman night, he heard the Knowledge whisper in his ear, Well done, cousin, and he smiled.