Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

36,757
04.03.2019

I decided to walk to meet Marcia at the restaurant she’d chosen rather than ride the subway to the next station. I’d only walked a couple of blocks when I noticed an elderly lady who seemed to be following me. I tried to ignore her and kept going on my way. That was one of the city survival lessons Marcia had taught me when I first moved to New York. I reached the restaurant and stepped inside to find Marcia already waiting in the foyer. “You’re right on time,” she said, greeting me with a hug. “They said our table should be ready in a moment.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but then a voice at my elbow said, “Well, now, aren’t you being rude today?”

I turned to see the lady who’d been following me. She stood next to me, looking at me as though she was astonished that I hadn’t recognized her. I mentally ran through every place I might have met someone during my time in New York so I could figure out why I might know her. No bells rang.

“I know you were angry with me,” she said, “but that’s no reason to snub me entirely.”

Only then did I notice her facial structure and put it together with her voice to recognize Ethelinda. So, that’s what the rest of the world saw. Without her wings, tiara, and layers of out-of-date evening wear, she looked like an entirely different person. It would have been nice if I could have ignored her, but I was afraid Ethelinda would make a scene. “I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t recognize you right away,” I said, frantically scrambling for an excuse to get rid of her.

“Who’s your friend?” Marcia asked.

“Oh, this is Ethel—” I cut myself off because Ethel was a perfectly reasonable, if a little old-fashioned, name, unlike Ethelinda. “She, uh, we…”

“I’m her fairy godmother,” Ethelinda declared proudly, putting an arm around my shoulders.

Seventeen

I froze. This wasn’t how I’d planned to tell my friends about magic. Then I tried to recover. “Ha, ha! Yeah, that’s what we call her at work. She’s like a fairy godmother to all of us in the office. She gives us such great advice on dating, relationships, and stuff like that.”

Marcia didn’t act like she’d noticed anything odd, which made me relax a little. “It’s nice to meet you, and you must be doing a good job, from what I’ve heard. It seems like Katie has found a good man.”

“The best,” Ethelinda said, beaming proudly, as though she had anything at all to do with it. “Now, if only we can make sure things work out for those two.”

“Yeah, well, everyone goes through that,” I said with a forced smile.

“Why don’t you join us for lunch?” Marcia asked. I groaned inwardly because there was nothing I could say to stop Ethelinda from joining us and it would have been rude to uninvite her.

The hostess returned to her station and glanced at us, then asked Marcia, “Wasn’t it just two in your party?”

“Our friend’s going to join us,” Marcia said.

The hostess then swept us back to our table. She plunked menus down and said, “Enjoy your lunch.”

Ethelinda grinned gleefully once we were all seated. “I haven’t had lunch with the girls like this in ages. Now, what romantic problems do you want help with?”

Marcia giggled nervously, then lined her silverware up in precise rows. “Funny you should mention it, but I did want to get some advice about something.”

“Isn’t that Gemma’s area?” I asked. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for Marcia to talk about her love life in front of Ethelinda, not if she didn’t want it completely screwed up.

“I definitely don’t want to talk to Gemma about this right now. Her view of relationships doesn’t always match mine, and you, well, you seem to be pretty level-headed.” She turned to Ethelinda and added with a smile, “And I’d appreciate any wisdom you’ve got, too.”

“What did you want to talk about?” Ethelinda asked.

“My boyfriend, Jeff. I thought for a while that he helped balance me. He’s a live-for-the-moment guy, and I’m Ms. Spreadsheet. I’m ambitious and driven. But there’s balance and then there’s functioning in different universes.” She looked at me and said, “You knew him before I met him. What do you know?”

All I knew was that he’d been sitting naked in Central Park, thinking he’d been turned into a frog when it was only an illusion because of a practical joke spell, until I’d kissed him and broken the spell. Unfortunately, the next effect of the spell was that he became obsessed with me until he met Marcia and fell for her. “I don’t really know much about him,” I confessed. “I’d just run into him around town a few times.”