Tilly looked up to see her bartender, looking down at her and the pad of paper in-front of her. After sitting down at the bar and waiting for him to finish with the other orders he was taking, she let her gaze roam the room, admiring the bar's ambiance. It felt very similar to the bar she helped keep up in England, which put her right at ease. Visiting the US, it was fun to explore a new place, take in a new setting, and for a while pretend she was native to the area. Blue jeans, a white top under a leather jacket, and flats seem to match the local college town dress code, though the jacket may have suggested time spent where summers were cooler. Her bartender oddly enough sensed that.
"What makes you think I'm a Brit?" she maintained her Midwestern American-sounding accent in a low voice, matching the bartender's.
He brought a pen from behind the bar, and pointed to some words on her notebook, specifically the word "specialise." She smiled at the connection made, his finger pointing to some newspaper memorabilia at the other end of the bar, with the same word written in big, black bold letters, spelled "specialize."
"Things are spelled differently here, Brit."
"Though you know better, of course," she spoke in her natural English voice, lowering her sunglasses and exposing him to familiar blue eyes.
"Of course," he volleyed back in his own passable English accent, fighting but failing to conceal his smile any longer.
He watched the young, blonde, smiling patron stroll to the bar's counter flap, flip it open, and presumptuously walk in. Anyone watching them would've been surprised to see the bartender walk to the counter flap and give her a big hug instead of stopping her. It'd been almost a year since either had seen each other, and Vern was surprised how he didn't run from behind the bar and embrace Tilly in a similar hug the moment he laid eyes on her. But it was fun to play up the nostalgia of the past, almost verbatim their original introduction at her bar.
Vern found himself pulling back from the hug, trying to keep it cordial with an old friend, before the scent of her drove his hormones and imagination to some way-beyond-friends places.
"Miss Tilly," he said fondly, trying to sound annoyed.
"My little Vernie," she teased him with his own pet name, endearingly, giggling at the disapproving smirk she missed.
"Still can't let that one go, eh?"
"I can think of a lot worse pet names to give you; you're lucky that one sounds too cute not to use."
She hadn't lost her edge with teasing in the slightest, and he hated how much it still got to him in the most accepting of ways.
"Bar keep! How about one of them Nigels?"
The order from across the bar reminded him or work he still had work to do, and made Tilly's quizzical eyebrow raise in fascination, hearing the man speak the English name with an attempted accent.
"Be right back," he whispered. "Sorry, Maury, not on tap tonight. We've still got your usual."
"It's never on tap..." the already-tipsy man complained laughingly. Tilly rarely got to enjoy bar atmosphere and antics while not being behind it to take orders, but she was especially cherishing it that night, watching her old flame take orders and handle customers with charismatic ease. Watching all the unplanned job training he'd received with Tilly extend past her supervision, combined with his slightly more muscular frame from making workouts a habit, made her nearly swell with pride, and other growing feelings. She was looking forward to be giving orders Vern dutifully fulfilled.
To her further surprise, before she could give her first, he'd already handed her a drink resembling what she'd wanted.
A sip of her drink elicited a pleased noise from Tilly's lips, a lovely memory coming back to her.
"Mmm, sweet vermouth from sweet Vernon. Someone's got a good memory."
"Arguably someone made a pretty good impression on someone else the last time there was a bar between us."
Neither realized right-away how they were subconsciously inching toward each other over the bar, until Tilly started muttering something.
"Bar...between..." Her head suddenly fell in an attempt to keep her hysterics quiet and to herself.
""What?" was written all-over Vern's face.
"Remember that night you got really, really drunk? So drunk, you thought it'd be funny to sit on my bar to make that joke?"
Vern tried remembering the act she referred to, and suddenly remember he had bar duties as the memory returned, too embarrassed to even look at Tilly.
"No, I don't think I recall that one," he scrubbed the bar down without making eye-contact.
"Are you sure? You're scrubbing the bar down like my bar needed during your little stunt."
"Don't you mean sanitizing?" he said to himself, unfortunately audibly.
"Aha! I knew you'd remembered; 'Hey Miss Tilly! See how happy I am to see you?' he yelled with a bar between his legs. "
"I won't be dignifying that with any confirmation it happened, but I'll blame you for it anyway...
"No denying from me, thanks. Mine's more pride; I've made men hard before, but I guess I outdid myself with you," sighing seductively, she ran a tantalizing finger along the bar like she would a lover's erogenous zone, happy to see his eyes follow the movement without fail. Abruptly, she stopped to move his gaze back to her expectantly grinning one, and they both snickered in soft laughter.
"Nice to know some of us don't change that much as the years, or year, goes by."
"I hope we haven't changed that much," Tilly downed the last of her drink.
"Hey, some of us might have..."
Vern's look implying Tilly changing produced a blonde eyebrow raised.
"Tilly got on a plane and traveled somewhere. I'm just surprised you left your comfort zone of British-English, but nice to see you branching out, exploring newer, or better ways."
"I guess it would surprise you to reveal my secret of being a British-English ambassador, bringing diplomacy and correct English to the world before Americans take over everything."
"Ambassador? I would've guessed missionary."
"That would be worse for those stubborn like you, facing the more committed, the infectiously devout like me, who have a special talent for converting wayward beliefs. Though to be fair, I never heard you complaining. It sounded oddly like something else..."
"It sounds like you chose the right major; Psychology suits you better than English."
Tilly's smile was unmistakable, signaling how much she loved their back-and-forth, Vern's smile admitting he missed their jousting too, when she wasn't mystifying him.
"So what brings you across the pond?"
"Visiting an old friend; he told me I should look him up if I was ever in-town. And I thought after so long, he might be missing my company."
Tilly didn't seem to notice, or react to the strange half-smile crossing his face while he refilled her drink.
"Sorry to say I can't give you a hard time about bartending since you do seem to be doing a bang-up job. You make your teacher proud."
"Well, I'm sure you'll get to judge me more critically as I'll be tending to a small, incoming party along with the rest of the bar soon."
"Oh, somebody celebrating a birthday or something?"
"Going-away party, I believe."
"Someone you know?" The tone of her voice was almost apprehensive, afraid of what he might say. It was then that a group of three walked into the bar, the same college ages as Vern and Tilly, carrying "congratulations" decorations and wearing party hats. Tilly noticed it was two men, and a young woman who eyed Tilly leaning towards Vern the most inquisitively of the three. Vern waved them over to the bar, and waved downwards to remind them to be silent instead of boisterous in their celebrating.
"Hey guys," Vern greeted his friends seating themselves all at the bar, around where Tilly sat. "I hope you brought an extra party hat; I've got a plus one for the party."
"Only if you'd kindly introduce us to your new friend," Hilga, the dark-haired, dual-braided woman friend spoke with pure curiosity.
"Old friend, really. Everyone, this is Tilly from England. Tilly, this is Hilga, and my old roommates Rick and Bernie."
"A pleasure," Tilly shook everyone's hands, noticing Hilga's curiosity, Rick's friendly handshake, and Bernie's interested glance only gently acknowledged.
"So what's the celebration I'm joining?"
"Vern's adulting success," Rick proudly announced. "Graduating early, AND already got a prestigious job lined up; so ahead of the game he's making all of us look bad.
"And inspiring others," Hilga commented, handing out the cone-shaped party hats to the five party-goers. "With my recovered credits, I might be second place in this race."
"I'll definitely try to be around for that one," Vern said proudly.
"Congrats to all of you whenever you finish," Tilly raised her glass to Vern and his friends. "Hopefully I'll be amongst you in the graduation race, even if last place."
"To college, and beyond."
"Hear hear," the group clinked glasses.
"So where's this prestigious job, Vernie?" Tilly asked the man of the hour.
He gave her an honest glance, before looking down.
"A college in England, looking for English teachers."
His eyes drifted up to watch her reaction, saddened that he wasn't able to surprise her at her bar out of the blue like she did at his. Her eyes widened slowly in unison with her smile, chuckling to herself. "How interesting."
Everyone else watched the two regarding each other, curiosity filling their heads at what kind of "old friends" they were, noting a subtle chemistry between them.
It didn't take long before Tilly felt like the long-lost companion their group needed, they all seemed to love her. Her stories about bartending overseas, meeting Vern, toying with him every chance she got, even revealing some stories he'd thought were bad enough mentioned once in one night.
"'A bar between my legs.' What the hell were you drinking that night?" Rick asked as it got harder for the group to hold back the laughter.
"Whatever it was, a lot of it," Vern mumbled, taking care of new customers incoming.
"Where was this Vern at? The most sober amongst us sounds like the best time ever when he drinks," Bernie complained.
"Maybe cause I don't want to turn my friends into extortionists," Vern gave pointed looks to his friends.
"Well, despite the embarrassing exaggerating in Old England," Bernie avoided Vern's narrowed gaze. "If you're ever looking for some New England..."
"Down, Bernie. Down," Vern half-joked, knowing his propensity for forwardness with women, especially blondes.
"Only if there's a Nigel in my future,"
"Our futures," Rick corrected, jumping on the bandwagon request with Hilga.
"Did I hear 'Nigel' over there barkeep?" a voice from the other end of the bar.
"Of course your hearing gets super when that one is uttered, Maury," Vern told the resident barfly. "Where's that hearing for the words 'last call' and 'tab's due'?"
"Gah, my kryptonie!" He joked with hands over his ears, which got a laugh out of everyone in the sparsely-populated bar.
Looking around, knowing it was being requested on the slowest night, he gave in.
"Aw hell, a round of Nigels for everyone." Every patron cheered, the almost two dozen patrons each got their drinks refilled, except Tilly, who waved off his offer with a glum smile.
"I thought a Nigel was some kind of special drink instead of just a strange way of saying 'refill' around here."
"Hey, nothing tastes better than the generosity of others," Bernie said, downing his drink quickly. "Cause I hope Vernie here is as generous as he is Nigel tonight."
"I said 'a round,' you drunk."
"Please sir, may I have some more," Bernie attempted the poorest, funniest Oliver Twist impression Vern and Tilly ever heard. "Or maybe I should be addressing Nigel instead. Where's that guy? I've missed him."
"Wait, Nigel is a drink AND a person here?"
Vern was tight-lipped as his local friends snickered to themselves.
"You could argue they're one in the same, Tilly," Hilga replied. "Nine or ten months ago, Vernie here got so drunk, he somehow became an Englishman. Some high-minded professor type going on about the joys of English stuff, happy to keep the drinks flowing for a packed bar. He was quite the show, and everyone keeps hoping he'll be back, or the drinks will." Hilga's pointed look at Vern was met with narrowed, disapproving eyes stating said Englishman would never be back if Vern had anything to say about it.
"Say, Tilly, you're an Englishwoman. Any recommendations for getting one of your countrymen back for one last appearance?" Bernie questioned.
"I'd have better luck as a psych major than as an Englishwoman," Tilly admitted.
"Psych? Maybe you can hypnotize him or something," Rick supplied.
"Maybe I could," Tilly uttered absently before Vern could shut the possibility down.
"I'm not sure about thoroughly; I know a few tricks for testing suggestibility, to see how hypnotized someone might be. In fact, if you're all interested, I can give everyone a first-hand introduction to some hypnosis."
Rick, Bernie, and Hilga seemed to agree amongst each other to it, noticing no apprehension from Vern who vaguely remembered being hypnotized by her the months ago. He looked around the bar to make sure no one else looked like they needed anything before he could partake; Tilly's knowing look signified she understood if an interruption came up that he'd have to handle.
"Ok, so what I'd like everyone to do is bring their elbows to rest on top of the bar, and bring your hands together in-front of your face, fingers interlocked except for your indexes. Those should be pointed straight up, with a nice gap between them until they almost resemble a V-shape."
Tilly waited patiently for everyone to assume the suggested position.
"Very good. Now, as you sit there as instructed, I'd like you to watch the space between your fingers, stare into the space like you're literally staring into space, random thoughts flitting and filtering through your mind. And while that happens, take three really deep breaths. At your own pace, inhaling and exhaling at your own comfort, just as I am right now."
The softly-smiling hypnotist noted their eyes focusing forward in their finger spaces, while subconsciously and probably through peripheral vision, perfectly matched the rhythm of her deep breaths.
"Slowly in, and slowly out, very good. Slowly in, and slowly out. And as you take that last, lasting breath, you'll start to notice the tension fading from your body, like the release valve for tension has been turned by my words, and it drains noticeably from out of you, remaining only in the form of the energy it takes to comfortably and safely remain on your stools, and the energy that begins to pool into those index fingers. The sensation in them is quite palpable, compelling, and magnetic. And the longer you stare at the shrinking space between your fingers, you'll know that nothing describes this sensation better than magnetic. Your fingers so very attracted to each other, desperate to connect, narrowing in distance and focus. They connect like you connect to my words; they're attractive enough to make your fingers attracted to themselves."
Each volunteer complied and were fascinated with their concentrated focus to one degree or another. Rick and Bernie determined to fight it futilely, Higla seemed very lost in the space. But Vern was as good a subject as ever, considerably deep before the gap really closed, unaware of Tilly coming over to his side of the bar to guide him physically and with soft, individual whispers meant only for him.
"No use fighting it, the connection is inevitable. Because your body wants it, because it knows the moment they connect is the moment you can let go, body softly sturdy in place, but head lolling forward, slightly heavy, and very happy."
One by one, each felt their magnetized trances come to fruition, heads leaning down forward, Tilly ensuring everyone was sturdily rooted in place with a suggestively helping hand on their shoulder.
Surveying her receptive collective, she reveled in proving herself the most intoxicating force in a bar yet again, thinking to herself where their imaginations might be taken soon.
Blinking eyes helped the bar attendant come back to himself abruptly, chastising himself for forgetfulness before Tilly set him off to deliver his order.
"Good evening," he greeted his table in a thick English accent, that caught everyone but him off-guard. Handing out the appropriate drinks, he wondered why everyone was staring at him strangely. Confusion continued into smiles as they glanced at his serving apron.
"So, what's up with the accent?" One of them asked.
A confused, suave smirk crossed his lips with the strange question was posed to him.
"I'm just speaking as intended," he answered honestly.
"With an English accent?"
"The accent to match the language we're speaking."
No one at the table knew what the questioner's reaction would be, but the calm smile never left his face, which helped to give way to subtle chuckling from everyone.
"Touche. But I thought you were American this whole time."
"Bloody brilliant disguise if I say so myself."
"Disguise? What are you, a spy?"
"I'm chuffed to bits you all think I could be that kind of professional. But no, I'm a professor. Professor Nigel Hawthorne."
Vern's claim of being Nigel left them so confused to his true identity, they found themselves barely questioning what he was telling them.
"Professor of what?"
They all paused momentarily, wondering how cheeky an answer it was meant to be. Small chuckles released as their server still played it straight.
"I've been part of a few universities already, and after a bit of social experimentation here, I'm looking to establish a new institution."
"Yes, slowly bringing British English back into the lexicon. If phrases like 'I'm knackered,' 'Bob's your uncle," or 'give you a bell,' become popularised, you can thank us later."
"The Headmistress and I," Nigel gestured over to Tilly behind the bar, who waved back as if hearing the whole exchange.
The whole table soon erupted in laughter, highly entertained at the seemingly fictitious reveals.
"And what's this institution called?"
"'God Save the British-English,' is our tentative title. I suspect it derived from my Headmistress making me say 'God Save the British Empress' all the time. But we're making headway. We even have a mission statement."
"Oh yeah? How's that go?"
Nigel cleared his throat, standing tall to make a proclamation.
"Those who colonise educated minds should also analyse their students, modernise their approach, help them prioritise sage instruction that will hypnotise their focus, so that they must capitalise on visions of a bright future that will tranquilise doubt, mesmerise success, and finalise understanding impressed upon them."
By itself, the litany would've sounded like nonsense, but delivered with Shakespearean-acting enthusiasm and devoted belief gave it weird context, especially with the way some words were spoken with emphasis, as if affecting the speaker more than the receivers.
From the bar, taking a few orders herself, Tilly was beside herself at the display she was barely within earshot of. The table Vern was speaking with seemed captivated by what he had to say, helped by the fact that everyone but him saw the "ask me about being English" sign written on his apron. It excited her in primal ways to hear Nigel's near-perfected accent charm a crowd the way hers charmed Vern, no matter how much time had passed. Both personas were two sides of the same coin, kept snug in Tilly's pocket, flipped and used at her whim. She was keeping herself equally amused taking care of Vern's friends still sitting clustered together. Tilly, Hilga, and Bernie were chuckling at Rick's humorous intoxication. He seemed quite funny, the more intoxicated he got.
"H-hey, why is that English-Amer-merica-can over there sp-speaking English? Isn't he..American?" Rick found Vern's accent exciting like the rest of them, elated to have Tilly's hypnosis demonstration unlock the character they'd all missed.
"C'mon, buddy," Bernie tried to not laugh at his friend getting hammered on tap water. "Same difference. Either way, we've got the most entertaining Vern tonight. Live it up, like you obviously are."
"Entertaining is right. I can't believe you got him back," Hilga regarded her new friend behind the bar. "It's been so long since we saw him, I might've thought it never happened."
"Oh, I believe it did happen," Tilly commented, refilling everyone's drinks. "His English side was begging to come out, so much so, I think all it would've really taken was a *CLICK* of fingers to make it happen."
Rick's eyes blinked hard, his hypnotically-induced inebriated state lifted instantly, surprised to be back to normal, looking at Tilly and Hilga who were watching him and Bernie carefully.
Suddenly Bernie was giggling without reservation. "That snap felt...funny, heh."
"That wasn't a snap, Bernie. That was a click. Snaps might feel more like the state you just left, like snapping back to it."
"Hey, someone calls them 'clicks,'" Hilga replied. "That's cool. Around here, I'd call that...refreshing."
Both men took a long sip of water from their glasses, and found their previous states had returned, except more emphasized. Rick felt drunker than before, and Bernie felt more soberly aware than before.
"Now clicks on the other hand, something might feel unique about it, like an idea or a suggestion in your head that *CLICK* into place."
The sound from Tilly's fingers shifted their states yet again, both mystified why and how everything Tilly suggested they did or didn't remember happened without fail, as long as they remained in their seats.
"Where have you been all this time, Tilly?" Hilga asked more amused than she could ever remember being. Having another female in our click...heh, feels so refreshing."
Two more simultaneous sips elicited, and Bernie became very cognizant of how drunk he felt off of water. "Now that's just cruel, ladies. Most potent drinks of my life for getting sloshed tasting so bland."
"Then how lucky are you that the 'slosh' you're looking for is just a *CLICK* away."
Bernie giggled, his addled mind felt nicely overcome, and Rick just stared bewildered, afraid of saying anything to make either woman say something to turn the tide.
"Don't worry Rick, we'll take a break and let you keep your own wits. For now," Hilga smiled mischievously, laughingly.
"Earlier than now," Tilly finally got around to answering Hilga's question. "I've been learning how to be as good as I am. Takes time, but time well-spent," was the simple reply, noticing Nigel coming back to get more drinks to serve. Hilga showed Tilly something she'd written down; Tilly smiled at it, nodding at the contribution he had for suggesting what could be done to the server a little more. He barely noticed as his gaze honed in on his Headmistress approving expression.
"You sure you can't stay? This is too fun to switch between Nigel and Vern...I mean Vernon."
A few blinks gave way to an oblivious, normal-speaking server.
"Huh? Nigel? I'm Vern, Hilga. I don't believe you'll find an Englishman in this bar right now."
"Belief? Debatable," Tilly countered. "I mean, if I were to say 'God Save the British Empress,' do you know what you'd believe?"
Rapid blinks showed the passing of externally-selected mental processes shifting back to Nigel.
"I'd believe in professing the tenants you set, Headmistress."
"Now that doesn't sound debatable at all. Table 6, Professor."
Every table that night had the pleasure to be regaled with the service and any answers Nigel provided when questions were posed thanks to prior experience with Vern, or just how curiosity stemming from what other tables were graced with. He was happy to speak with enthusiasm, drawing ears and attention. The bar was fuller than expected, as even the barhopping patrons remained at Vern's the whole night to be fascinated by Nigel's returning and final appearance at his bar, convincing almost everyone they had a crafty Brit posing as an American the whole time, something bringing Tilly's and Vern's friends endless enjoyment.
By last call, everyone was sad to go, wishing they could spend more time with the English duo. Maury was the last to go, the hardest to convince to leave as usual, until Tilly made a convincing argument for him to catch the next cab he could to sleep off his last night of Nigel. When the doors were locked, only Tilly, Hilga, Vern and Nigel remained.
"So one really isn't aware of the other?" Hilga asked in rapt fascination.
"Kind of," Tilly answered, enjoying another sweet vermouth as her favorite bartender started his closing duties.
"I've likened it to a part of Vern thinking that Nigel is just a role he's playing, and Nigel thinking the same in the sense. They both know they're the same person, they're just committed to acting what feels natural to each, like one being from the American Midwest, the other being from some sleepy village in England, approaching things the same way, with all the same acquaintances regarding them the same, mostly."
"I never knew that could be a thing."
"Psychology, especially hypnosis, is deeper than a lot of people realize. The things you can understand or influence, once you really delve deep, is limitless. And bloody fun to explore."
"I can imagine," Hilga admitted.
"I think you can more than imagine after tonight," Tilly noted.
"True," the dark-haired friend laughed. "It's a lot to take in."
"True," Tilly admitted, "I'm still in awe of it all. Vern got a taste of it back home, and I think we were both surprised how far things could go. Granted, he's an amazing subject, and I've been told I'm pretty great, but there's just so much to try out. I wasn't really considering changing my major or anything, so deep into getting to graduation, but I feel wired in now, with having first hand knowledge of the stuff I'm studying."
"Yeah, unfortunately tonight is making me re-think my major. Being able to do this is..." Hilga almost got lost in thinking of the right words for it, leading her back to the memory of feeling particularly lost.
"What's your major?"
"Graphic design, short-circuited by my need to be in the thick of professional artistry before finishing school, currently doing henna."
"No, I love it, it's just...improbably just impatient about where I want to be now. But tonight....can I see a little...?
"More?" Tilly guessed, watching her new friend nod with an eagerness she was obviously trying to hold back.
"Professor," the sing-song crossed the bar like a siren's song, and Nigel floated along until he ended standing in-front of his Headmistress.
"I did, my professor, because sometimes, a Headmistress like me just likes professing such a wonderful mind like yours chooses to be a professor of what I believe. Of course, such a mind might wonder and wander from time to time, thinking if choices were yours to make, or if a Headmistress professing created automatic agreement. If professings are often parallel, why should they detract from a path of positively perfect professing of beliefs they believe in? What should be the difference between a Headmistress and a professor, with one helpfully ahead of another, leading them? What should be the difference between professings that match, meet, and march to the same beat toward the same goal. Why shouldn't the professor profess what his Headmistress wants, what I want him to profess? Was it not his choice to profess my professings? Was choice really needed when two minds are of one thought process?"
Tilly's hands covered Nigel's throughout her confusion induction, anchoring him to the state she desired him in with gentle, rhythmic strokes of her thumbs atop his hand. He looked as Hilga sounded on the stool next to hear, softly breathing, taken by a professing neither saw coming. Tilly's smile widened at what she imagined might happen coming true.
"I profess all is as it should be. What does the professor profess? What do you profess?"
It looked like he wanted to say something, to articulate what his expression already did, how he professed what she would, but needed to wait for her to say it.
"Do you profess what I do?"
"Yessss....." the soft utterance gave the hypnotist goosebumps.
"If professings and hand coverings warmed the professed, would they find themselves inclined to profess what I do?"
The echo felt wonderful to Nigel and Hilga, hands covered, blanketed like their minds were.
"Then my next professing is to have you come back to wakefulness if your hand is covered."
Tilly removed her hand from Nigel's, and Higla blinked her way back to consciousness slowly.
"Holy shit, that's amazing. Now I really wish I'd paid more attention to psychology or hypnosis freshman year."
"You don't necessarily need school for this. Just interest, an open mind, good teachings, and I think a knack for this. How lucky you are, being 4 for 4."
An eager smiled faded under sudden confusion. "Wait. But...I've never..."
"Good hypnotic subjects and make for great hypnotists if they're inclined. If you don't remember this..."
Tilly produced Hilga's notepad she'd been writing on since Nigel was revived; scrolled all over it were all the repeated suggestions Hilga thought she contributed to Nigel's behavior.
It perplexed her as she noticed several lines with the same sequence of words, but some where American, and other lines were British English.
She honestly believed she'd written things of substance, sentences of suggestions. But the more she read her own writing, the more suggestible she felt, affected by each full sequence. Tingles of hypnotic pleasure flowed through her, as the importance of those words grew, but not the why. The search for why led her to things she felt she...used to do. She looked at Vern, standing stark still, in-front of both women instead of behind the bar; the sight of him tugged at her lips, urging her to say something...
Hilga heard the words. They weren't her own, but uttered with deep fervor, accented, and seductively in-control. She gasped as she saw her own writing, in Henna ink, written on his back, matching it on her page. From her seat, Tilly gestured softly to Vern with her hands, twirling her fingers to make him spin and show off more of her writing on his slightly muscular chest. The back was filled with the American version of the words, and his front with the British.
"Look at how beautiful you've made him, Hilga. This is a week old?"
"Yes," it was easy to answer, honestly and automatically.
"Has the memory of how many times you've drawn this on him come back to you?"
"Let's see if we can refresh that memory then. 'God save the British Empress.'"
Hilga could see Vern's body react, then soften as Tilly touched his shoulders and whispered into his ear, pulling his strings and making his quivering lips move.
"Those who colonise educated minds should also analyse their students, modernise their approach, help them prioritise sage instruction that will hypnotise their focus, so that they must capitalise on visions of a bright future that will tranquilise doubt, mesmerise success, and finalise understanding impressed upon them."
The repeating, echoing mantra ringing through the bar all night from Nigel's lips burrowed itself into Hilga's mind, beginning drawing straight lines down Vern's back, while Tilly drew straight lines down his front chest simultaneously. Thoughtless touches and words drew both subjects into weakened, controlled states, devoid of anything but standing with head's down, thinking only of the words and sensations that drew them deeper into Tilly's power.
Hilga didn't know how long this went on; she wouldn't have minded if it endured forever, but a simple phrase cut through the hypnotic, clouding fog.
"Remembrance is key."
The fog faded and Hilga found herself taken on a ride back in time, watching memories unfold past the night. She thought she and Vern dated briefly, but it was only called that, as Hilga personally assisted in deepening Tilly's control over Vern, with Tilly supervising remotely. The whole time they were just friends, as was Tilly after being introduced to her by Vern. Hilga was strangely curious about Vern's suggested devotion to a woman a whole continent away, and Tilly indulged that curiosity, exposing her to the cause of this devotion, from both sides. Getting to know each other after many conversations, Tilly even sought to have Vern and herself push for success in other facets of her life, like re-enrolling back in school and finishing. Hilga gave Tilly a big hug when they'd first met face-to-face, thankful for meeting such an exciting friend. Her independent studies of hypnosis got her to imagine the possibilities of many things, including the elated opportunity to have an amnesiatic experience fulfilled, lasting up to that very moment when the ride ended.
"Oh wow," Hilga took a seat, helped to it by Tilly. "Trippy doesn't even begin to describe..."
"Like I said, limitless possibilities."
"I...I really didn't remember anything. It felt all brand-new to me."
"Vern's felt that a few times, and loved it every time."
"So would I, and will I, on the giving side."
"That new boyfriend? The one you've had your eye on for a while?"
"Blake? Oh yeah, and the one I was able to get thanks to what I can only assume is an anonymous confidence boost."
"I'm sure they were just happy to help," Tilly smiled knowingly.
"Just as long as they keep helping me work on my technique," Hilga smiled, hugging her mentoring hypnotist again.
"Of course. But I'm sure you'll be awesome when the time comes. Your words etched into his mind like..." Both sets of eyes drifted back to the still immobile Vern, waiting for some command to be uttered.
"I've always wanted Blake, even before Vern came into my shop, but your guy is pretty damn attractive, especially right now. I can't believe you let me play with that."
"Supervised play, my dear. Supervised play." Tilly noted with a finger swinging in the space around Hilga's face. "As long as you two follow my lead, follow my lead, follow my lead....*CLICK*"
The sharp sound woke the brunette before she could sink again.
"...I don't have any problem."
"Territorial, aren't we?" Hilga spoke as unchallenging as possible.
"Quite so. I didn't know how much I wanted him until he left last year; even with the distance, it was fun to reassert control. But knowing he missed it, and me, too, I guess we just made our long-distance thing work, until it didn't have to be."
Her lips so close to his ear, she finally released him from the enduring spell.
"Remembrance is key."
Hilga marveled at the same effect taking hold in him, until he shook his head a little, obviously more used to feeling trance than either woman, and pulled the blonde into a deep, reciprocated kiss.
Envy took hold a little in Hilga, until lights from outside the bar told her Blake's car had arrived to pick her up.
"I'm really gonna miss you guys."
"We'll see each other before the flight, and well after, don't worry," Vern told her, grinning like he was still half in trance.
"Or maybe we'll fly you two out to visit," Tilly suggested, looking knowingly at Vern, who's family money could easily afford a trip or two.
After Vern put his shirt back on, everyone got one last hug before she departed, and before Vern pulled Tilly into another hot embrace, lifting her onto the bar to kiss. Their embrace would've gone on longer, until Tilly pulled back and looked at him pointedly.
The command to give his on-the-spot feelings without holding back moved his lips. "I don't know what's hotter between you manipulating me for a whole year until you kidnapped me and put me in exactly the kind of job I wanted out of college, near you. Or that you made me forget about the whole thing, and how hot it was."
"So hot, isn't it?"
"Yeah. And as much as I appreciated having a proxy there for feeling your touch, I knew it wasn't you and always wished like hell that it was."
Her face moved closer to his, but detoured from his lips to his ear. He would've asked why, but the Z drawn by her finger on his back set him into deep drowsiness, waiting for that finger to draw an S on his chest and finish him off.
He could tell the slumber wasn't very long, and drew her into a big hug for the gift he'd long hoped for.
"Any more truths you'd like me to know?"
Vern thought for a bit, and smiled, moving up to join Tilly atop the bar, putting his legs between it in symbolic fashion to make her grin lewdly.
"Can I ask for your honesty, Tilly?"
"Of course, Vernie."
"What's going to be the most...me? Vern, Vernie, or...Nigel?"
"Vern, of course...probably." Narrowing eyes searched her face.
"And Nigel? Nigel Hawthorne? Really?"
"How fun it is to have an American boyfriend somehow more English than me."
"Please don't make him the habit, I beg of you."
"What a fun habit that will be. But don't worry so much; they're all the same guy really, aren't they little Vernie?"
"Yes Miss Tilly."
"And any form of Vernie loves hearing 'God Save the British Empress,' doesn't he?"
"See, Vernon? All the same."
Head cocked to the side, he knew he was going to have to adapt and enjoy the ride. "Just try not to wear those out."
"No promises," she giggled.
"Did you always know I was still going to be yours when I left?"
"I...didn't feel like replicating what I had with you when I left. Didn't want to, without you. Yes, you're mine, and I think you always will be."
"Thank you, Headmistress Tilly," left his lips without pause, interrupted only by Tilly pouncing atop him so they embraced on the bartop, stopping just short of pulling their pants down. Vern was happy Tilly understood not wanting to have to re-clean the surface too much. Getting off the bar, he scooped up his owner up off her feet to chivalrously carry her to his car, to his soon-to-be-former apartment.
"Remind me again, how it became Headmistress and not Empress, Queen, or something regal?" she tried feigning ignorance.
"For some reason, seemed more fitting."
"But...why," she batted her eyes.
"Because you're in my head, Mistress," he carried her off to their passionate night, and life, ahead.