He didn’t bother with church. It took him two hours, but he eventually wound up at Cate’s parents’ house. As several other family members were arriving, he slipped in behind them. Cate was the last to enter, and if possible, she looked even less happy than she had before leaving her flat. Iain’s shoulders slumped. He wanted to tell her he was right there, but she wouldn’t have heard him.
Cate’s mother appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. “Where’s Iain?” she asked. “He wasn’t in church, either.”
“I have no idea, Mum.” Cate pinched the bridge of her nose. “He disappeared this morning before I left.” She said something else too quietly for her mother to hear, and Iain was certain she was delivering another angry insult.
“Perhaps he’s ill,” her mother suggested. “I’ll send some food home with you.”
“Not necessary,” Cate replied. When her mother’s back was turned, she muttered, “He can bloody well find his own food.” She followed it up with a string of very creative words for exactly what she thought of Iain.
He snarled, wishing he could tell her being invisible in nothing but his underpants was no day at the park, but as she couldn’t hear him, it would have been useless. He stomped after her, wondering why he’d bothered to show up.
The family sat down to eat, and as usual, there were several conversations, and no one was paying attention to the far end of the table. Elinor sat at the foot, pretending not to mind, and there was one remaining chair next to her. It was pulled out far enough Iain could slip into it without any trouble, though there was hardly a point in sitting in it when he wasn’t joining the meal anyway. It wasn’t as though he could pick up a fork. For a moment, he wondered if he would fall straight through the chair the way his hand had gone through the door earlier, but to his surprise, it held him. He propped his elbow on the table and rested his cheek on his fist.
Elinor poked at her vegetables. She looked as unhappy as he was. Not that he could blame her. Cate’s family currently had two topics going—football and Caroline’s wedding, which were not entirely separate points of discussion, given Rob’s profession. Rob was going on and on about something-or-other with another player, and even Caroline looked bored. Iain stole another glance at Elinor, his partner in crime.
She looked sideways, and their eyes met. Elinor jumped. “Iain!” she whispered. “What are you doing here? Everyone thinks you didn’t come. And why are you in your underpants?”
Iain’s eyes traveled downward. He yelped and leapt up from the table then ran for the loo. Unfortunately, he still couldn’t close doors, so the best he could do was try to hide between the sink and the toilet. A moment later, Elinor peeked around the door frame. She giggled.
“Are you going to answer my question?”
“No,” Iain said then thought better of it. “All right, fine. I seem to have gone invisible. You’re the only person who can see me so far. Earlier, I thought an old lady noticed me outside Cate’s flat, but she decided she was hearing things and left me there. It took me two hours to walk here because I can’t drive my car. I have no idea what I’m going to do about any of this.” He scowled. “And you probably don’t believe me.”
Elinor rolled her eyes. “I believe you. I read a lot, you know. I’m sure this has happened to someone else, sometime.”
Iain raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t disagree. “Do you know anything about removing invisibility spells? Because I’m going to need to reappear by tomorrow morning or I’m out of a job.”
She shrugged. “I’ll look it up, if you like.”
“Please,” he said. He sighed. “Your sister is pretty hacked off with me. The sooner we get this taken care of, the better.”
“Don’t worry,” Elinor replied. “I’m on it.”
She left him there, and he crept back out to the other room. There was no point in sitting at the table, so he sat on the couch and waited for Elinor to return with some of her books. In the meantime, Cate, who had finished her meal, flounced in and flopped into a chair. She pulled out Iain’s phone, and he groaned, hoping she wouldn’t find the not-so-innocent pictures Graeme had sent him. Her expression didn’t change, so he assumed she was either already too upset for anything she found to make it worse or else she hadn’t discovered them yet.
She hit something and held the phone to her ear. After a minute, she said, “Yes, hello. This is Cate, not Iain. Is this Graeme?”
Oh, God, no! Iain gripped his knees.
“Yes, well, that’s nice,” she said politely. “I was wondering if Iain was with you.” She paused. “No, he was supposed to be with me today, only he left my flat before church, apparently without his clothes or phone or keys. His car was still there, too, but he wasn’t.” Another pause. “I see. Well, should you see him, please give him a sound smack for me and tell him I’m going to burn the shite he left in my flat if he doesn’t have a sensible explanation.” Silence. “Yes, thank you.” She ended the call and left the room.
As soon as she was gone, Elinor emerged with a stack of books. “These are all the ones I have where someone goes invisible. In most of them, it’s on purpose, like they have a spell or a magic power or clothing or something. I haven’t found one for something like your case yet.”
She flipped through, and Iain relaxed onto the couch, wishing he knew what to do. If whatever it was didn’t wear off soon, he was going to be fired for not showing up at work. Of course, if he was invisible, perhaps he didn’t need a job. He wondered if he still needed to eat. It was possible he didn’t; he’d gone all day without a bite and didn’t feel hungry. That might have been due to stress, though. He sighed, and Elinor looked up from her book.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “All I can find is stuff about how whoever put the spell on you has to be the one to take it off. Do you know how it happened?”
He closed his eyes, going back over in his mind all the events since Friday afternoon. He wasn’t sure all of the details were appropriate to share with Elinor; she was only twelve, after all, and practically his sister. He opened his eyes.
“I’ve no clue. I felt a little funny on Friday night, and I thought I was coming down with something, but I was fine all day yesterday.”
“Okay,” she said. “Tell me what happened before you felt weird.”
“Let’s see…I bought a new pair of shoes for work, went to a pub called the Dusty Shoe with some friends, and went back to my boyfriend’s flat.” He flushed, but Elinor already knew about Graeme, if not the specifics of how things worked. She was a rather precocious child, and Cate had never bothered hiding their less conventional relationship from her family. They weren’t exactly traditionalists themselves.
“And did anything strange happen?”
“No…” Iain started. “Wait. Yeah, the shoe shop was…weird. It’s this tiny place called Cobbler’s Workshop which specializes in men’s shoes. The woman working there was a bit unusual. She had me answer all these questions about what I was looking for, and then she called me—” He pursed his lips. “She called me ‘invisible Iain.’ She gave me these shoes.” He lifted his foot for emphasis. “I couldn’t take them off at first, but I thought it was because they were too tight or something.”
“Well, you obviously need to go back there,” Elinor informed him.
“That’s not possible. I can’t drive, and it will take me hours to walk there.”
Elinor tilted her head. “That’s not a problem. Where is this shop?”
“On the High Street. Oh, hang on—it’s right next to the little used book shop Cate and I took you to last Christmas.”
“Good.” Elinor stood up. “Leave it to me.” She flounced out of the room.
In a short while, she returned, dragging Cate, who protested, “But why do you need to go today?”
“I have to have that book before someone else buys it!” Elinor insisted. She looked over her shoulder at Iain and nodded. “Besides,” she hissed, “do you really want to listen to Rob going on about how brilliant he is?”
“No,” Cate conceded. “Let me get my keys.”
Iain stood up and followed Cate and Elinor out to the car. Elinor opened the back for Iain to climb in then shut the door and sat in the front. Cate gave her a puzzled look.
“What are you doing?”
“Er…nothing,” Elinor said. “Checking for…something.”
Cate stuck out her tongue, but she didn’t say anything else. The drive was silent, Elinor still reading one of her books. When they arrived, she popped out and hauled open the rear door. Cate shot her another wary glance but said nothing. After assuring Cate she wouldn’t be long, Elinor disappeared into the book shop. Iain hurried to the Cobbler’s Workshop and stepped over the threshold, causing a tiny bell to sound.
He strode up to the counter and stood directly in front of Fawn. There was no doubt she could see him. He leaned in and said, “This is all your fault.”
“Hello again to you too,” she replied. “Nice shorts.”
“You had better do something to fix this,” he snarled.
Fawn shook her head, a tiny smile playing on her lips. “You haven’t had a chance to see how they work yet.”
“I have so seen!” he yowled. “This is not acceptable! And speaking of work, I’ll be out of it tomorrow when I don’t show up because I am bloody-freaking-invisible!”
“Clearly you are not,” Fawn pointed out. “You’re standing here talking to me, and I can see you just fine.”
Iain gripped his hair in both hands. “This is not happening,” he said. “I am not standing here talking to a…a…whatever-you-are about a pair of shoes and being invisible. I’m not.”
Fawn’s smile grew. “You need to give it some time,” she soothed. “Trust me. I’ve never steered a patron wrong.”
Iain bared his teeth at her then turned around and stormed out of the shop. He stood on the pavement, waiting for Elinor. A moment later, she reappeared with a book under her arm. She ran up to him, slightly out of breath.
“Well?” she asked. “What did you find out?”
“Not a damn thing,” he muttered then apologized for his language.
Elinor frowned. “She didn’t take the spell off?”
“No.” Iain harrumphed.
By that time, Cate had emerged from her car. She stood with her hands on her hips. “Elinor, who on earth are you talking to?”
Before Elinor could respond, a voice behind Iain said, “Cate?”
Iain turned his head. It was Graeme, and not far behind were Peter, Benny, and Elvis. Elinor took a step back, her book clutched to her chest, looking back and forth between Cate and Graeme.
She leaned in closer to Iain and said, “This is your boyfriend?”
He nodded, and Elinor acknowledged him. At the same moment, Iain discerned that an argument of sorts had broken out between Cate and Graeme. She was demanding to know what he was doing there, and he was trying to explain that he’d been worried after her phone call so he was checking out one of the pubs they frequented. Peter and Elvis had utterly bewildered expressions on their faces. Only Benny hung back. His head swiveled, and when he caught sight of Iain, his eyes popped.
“Iain?” he asked. “They seem to be having a row over you, but here you are. In your pants.” He squinted.
“Iain is invisible,” Elinor informed him. “Or, well, Cate and Graeme don’t seem to be able to see him.”
“Oh,” Benny replied and scratched his head. “Why?”
“I’ve no idea,” Iain said. He sighed. “This whole thing is weird.”
“Iain,” Elinor started, “just what exactly did the lady at the shoe place say when she called you invisible?”
Iain scrubbed his face, trying to recall her exact words. “Erm…we were talking about how I sometimes feel like people don’t really see me.” His face went hot. “More specifically, Cate and Graeme. And then she called me ‘invisible Iain’ and told me she could show me the pair of shoes I was looking for.”
Elinor and Benny exchanged glances, and Benny said, “I believe that explains quite a lot.”
“It does?” Iain asked.
“Well, yes, you see, because you’ve said the same thing to me. Remember how you said the other night I was the only one of us who really sees you?”
Elinor nodded. “You’ve said that to me too, when we’re out in the garden hiding from the rest of the family.”
It had gone quiet, and Cate, Graeme, Peter, and Elvis were all staring at Benny and Elinor. Very, very quietly, Graeme said, “Who are the pair of you talking to?”
“Iain,” Elinor said. “He’s standing next to me.” She turned to Iain. “I have an idea, but you’ll have to trust me.”
“Who will have to trust you?” Cate demanded. “I don’t even know this man!” She waved her hand at Benny.
“That’s Benny,” Graeme informed her.
“Lovely to meet you,” Cate said, but there was an edge to her voice which indicated it was the opposite. Benny shrank back.
“Likewise,” he squeaked.
“Will the lot of you be quiet?” Elinor demanded. “Iain, you need to talk to them.”
“Er…but…they won’t hear me,” he said.
“They will. Go on.”
Benny apparently cottoned on to whatever Elinor had in mind. “Right, then. Iain, speak up.”
Iain cleared his throat. “I’m right here,” he said. “I’ve been here all the time.”
Cate and Graeme exchanged a glance then she tilted her head and leaned forward, eyes narrowed. After a full minute she said, “Iain?”
“Yes.” Then louder, “Yes, it’s me.”
Cate flung her arms around him and buried her nose in his shoulder. “Oh, Iain!” she cried. When she let go, she wrinkled her nose. “Why are you in your underpants?”
He shrugged. “I went invisible when I was starkers. I tried to conjure clothes, and this was the best I could do.”
Graeme pulled him into a tight embrace. He murmured, “I was worried when Cate said you’d disappeared. I didn’t think she meant literally.”
“Neither would I have,” Iain agreed.
Benny nudged Elinor. “Let’s let them talk, yeah?”
They moved off, followed by Peter and Elvis, both of whom still looked confused. Once it was the three of them, they sat down in the doorway of the unused shop next to the Cobbler’s Workshop. Iain took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Mind telling us what’s going on?” Graeme asked.
I think…I think I’ve been trying to find a way to tell you this for ages, but I didn’t know how. Sometimes I feel a bit like a kid whose parents have split, you know? I’m always trying to please the pair of you, and perhaps I didn’t communicate to either of you what it is I need.” He looked first at Cate then at Graeme. “You didn’t seem to be paying attention to me, and I was feeling neglected.”
He leaned his head on Cate’s shoulder, and Graeme took his hand. He said, “What do you mean, love?”
Iain closed his eyes, picturing the way his night had gone with Graeme—so much like every other time they went out with the guys. He opened his eyes and locked them on Graeme. “It’s like how you always want to go out instead of having a quiet night in, or how when we do stay home, all you want to do is have sex. And does it have to be so aggressive? I mean, sometimes, a bloke wants to be cherished.” He blushed at that last one, but it needed to be said.
He turned to Cate. “And with you, it’s all football, all the time. I don’t even like sport! Don’t even get me started on how deadly boring sex has become between us. It’s like a horrible version of one of those romance novels you edit. I cannot be like the cover models.” He was picking up steam. “The pair of you never want me to talk about anything that’s important to me, including you. Graeme, you hide it from everyone, and Cate, even your sister knows—it’s not some big secret. You both avoid my flat like it’s contaminated, and I believe this is the first time I’ve ever had a conversation with both of you present, even after two years.” He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. His voice was small as he concluded with, “When was the last time any of us said ‘I love you’?”
When he was through, they were all silent. The only sound came from the occasional swish of a car passing by. At last Graeme let out a long sigh.
“I thought this was what you wanted,” he said. “I assumed you needed a bit of aggression, a bit of fun, something different from playing house with Cate’s family all the time.” He gave her an apologetic look.
“We don’t ‘play house,’ as you call it,” Cate said. “And I assumed you were all right with things as they are. I can’t help what my family’s like. You seemed to like what we were doing in the bedroom.”
“I do like those things—sometimes,” Iain admitted. “But I want variety, and I want to be included. Every once in a while, I’d like to be the one to pick what we do together.” He looked between them. “I want to read books and go to the theater and take in a concert.”
Graeme squeezed his fingers. “I would enjoy that too,” he said. It was his turn to have his cheeks go red. “I sometimes want to slow down when we have sex. I thought we were doing what you wanted.”
Iain shrugged. “I like both,” he acknowledged.
Cate laughed. “Boring? I thought I was the only one who felt that way! I kept wondering why the hell you never just threw me on the bed and had your way with me.” There was a wicked gleam in her eye. “Or the other way around.”
“You know,” Graeme said, “there’s a little troupe doing Shakespeare in the Park next weekend. Cliche, I know, but perhaps we could all go.” His eyes met Cate’s. “Maybe it’s time you and I got to know one another a bit.”
Cate nodded. “I would be all right with that.”
“Why didn’t we before?” Iain wondered aloud.
Graeme shrank down. “To be honest, I was always a bit worried if I Cate and I became friends, what would happen if we broke up.”
“Me too,” Cate admitted. “Not that I thought you’d leave me for Graeme, but there was always the possibility.”
Iain nodded. “I love you both, very much.” He turned first to Graeme and kissed him softly, running a finger down his cheek. Then he faced Cate and took her chin in his hand. He tilted her head and kissed her deeply, making full use of his tongue. Cate uttered a contented ah.
“You never kiss me that way at home,” she said, her cheeks flushed.
“I once overheard you and Caroline making fun of men who use too much tongue,” he said.
“Please do not ever again take your cues from Caro. She and Rob make us look like we’ve been having a wild time.”
“Speaking of,” Graeme interjected, “can we get back to planning our next outing?”
Iain relaxed. “It’s settled,” he said. Next weekend, Graeme and I will have a quiet night in, humping like rabbits. Then we’ll all go see Shakespeare, and I’ll go home with Cate to spend the rest of the evening in tender lovemaking. Yeah?”
“You’ve got it backwards, love,” Graeme informed him.
Iain frowned then laughed. “Ah, right. Graeme—soft and sweet. Cate—hump like rabbits. Better?”
“Quite,” Cate agreed.
She stood up and took his hand, pulling him to his feet. As soon as the three of them were up, Graeme waved to the others, who were standing in a semicircle several shops down. They returned to join Iain, Graeme, and Cate.
“Did you settle things?” Elinor asked.
“We did,” Iain assured her. “I don’t believe I shall be going invisible again in the near future, thanks to you lot.”
“Good.” Benny grinned.
Cate leaned up and kissed his cheek. “I’ve got to drive Elinor home. Can you ride with one of the others?”
“Yes, of course.” Iain kissed her back.
Elinor climbed in beside Cate and waved as they drove off. Peter and Elvis still seemed confused, so Iain turned to them. “Is this a good time to tell you I’m seeing both Graeme and Cate?”
Elvis shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me, mate. Can’t say I understand the appeal, but whatever works for you.”
Peter nodded his agreement. “What, did you think we’d be complete wankers about it? Even you deserve to be happy.”
“Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but thanks, I suppose.” Iain eyed Benny, but Benny gave a small shake of his head. If he wasn’t ready to tell them, Iain wouldn’t push. He hoped they would be as understanding as they were about Cate, but there was no guarantee. Iain nodded.
Peter, Benny, and Elvis bid the others goodbye and dispersed, leaving Iain only with Graeme. It finally occurred to him he’d spent the previous thirty minutes standing on public pavement in his underpants, and he wrapped his arms around his middle.
“Can we leave? I’m not anxious for someone to ring the police about my indecent exposure here.”
Graeme laughed. “Well, I like it, hideous pattern aside, but I don’t much feel like sharing. Come on, I’ll drive you back to Cate’s to pick up your car.”
He took off his outer shirt, and Iain pulled it over his head. Iain was sure they made quite the spectacle, both of them half-dressed and not entirely appropriate for public consumption. Before they set off, Iain looked up at the sign above the Cobbler’s Workshop. Fawn had been right—the shoes had done their job, at least for the time being. He peered down at his feet and wiggled his toes inside the shoes. What they would bring come Monday morning at his new job was anyone’s guess, though he supposed it couldn’t be any worse than spending most of a day invisible.
With a last chuckle and shake of his head, Iain slipped his hand into Graeme’s and walked side by side with him to the car.