The wind seems to carry word of Rose’s distress through the open window, rustling the attic curtains as if waving to Esme. She runs to the window to look out just in time to see Rose rushing through the garden. Esme races downstairs to meet her cousin. Grandma Gwen has mysteriously disappeared, which isn’t outside of her character. And while rose could use advice from her grandmother just now, but she also realizes she may have just practiced some form of dark and tasteless magic on a mortal boy…
“I went to charge your sigil and… I think I’ve killed him,” Rose gasps, holding onto the railing of the staircase for support.
“The gardener?” Esme asks, following her cousin back into the garden and the shed beyond. “Did he have a heart condition?” Esme ponders when they reach Dean, leaning over and pressing her fingers to the side of his neck.
She doesn’t need to feel for a pulse to know the boy is dead. His skin is almost glisteningly white and his chest neither rises nor falls in the slightest.
“I don’t know,” Rose shakes her head. “He seemed very healthy…” She runs her fingers through her hair in an aggressive manner. “Fuck! What have I done? What do I do?”
Esme wants to remind Rose she is a year younger and doesn’t know any better at all. Instead, she begins to list their options. “We can’t resurrect him.”
“No, no. Absolutely not.”
Both girls are aware that resurrection spells never bring back who you intend.
“We can’t get a doctor, because as far as we know this was a healthy young man…” Esme continues.
The Soricelle Women had been through too many scandals to disrupt this time of peace, as selfish as it was to say. If even a hint of gossip spread that one of them was relatively near a person who perished they could lose everything, as their ancestors had done in the past.
“He is definitely dead,” Esme grimaces, nudging his shoulder with her toe, having stood once more.
“He’s not a sack of potatoes…” Rose mutters. “Stop it with the foot, please.”
“What, you think he can smell my foot? I guarantee this dude cannot smell my foot right now.”
Rose rolls her eyes.
“It just smells like sex in here anyway.”
“Well soon it’s gonna smell like a rotting corpse!”
“Calm down. Go outside and take a deep breath. We’ll… we’ll get the wheelbarrow.” Esme begins making this up as she goes. “And we’ll… tie him to some rocks and throw him in the lake. He won’t resurface, and the fish will -”
“Stop - stop. I don’t need to hear what the fish will do.” Rose steps outside to breathe deeply. Her hands are trembling uncontrollably.
Esme stares down at the beautiful gardener. He really is quite the specimen as far as men go… When she’s turned around again Rose is already pushing the wheelbarrow over, her brow glistening, but furrowed.
Esme and Rose stand on either side of Dean, lifting him with magick and difficulty.
“Shouldn’t this be easier?” Esme struggles.
“I haven’t exactly been practicing at school,” Rose grunts.
His long limbs flop outside the wheelbarrow when they push and pull it alongside the back fence of the garden. The lake, which is visible from the driveway, is a little trickier. The girls have no idea where Gwen has gone, but feel Rose’s mother growing nearer and nearer the house.
“Do you know anything about him?” Esme asks. “Does he have family to look for him?”
“I know his name, and that he works several jobs, and what he looks like naked,” Rose replies.
It is painstakingly slowly that they move the body across the yard and into the thinned woods around the lake.
Twilight has fallen, painting the sky the dusty hues of a powdered bruise. It’s darker under the cover of the tall trees, too.
Rose hasn’t seen the lake up close since last summer. The colors of the sky make the water look like a painting, and give the impression of indiscernible depths.
“I’ll go get some rope,” Rose says, watching Esme scout out nearby rocks.
As Rose returns to the shed she becomes lost in chaotic thoughts. Surely she wasn’t responsible for Dean’s death. Surely he had a heart condition? Or some underlying medical phenomena occurred? If she was responsible, wouldn’t her family have warned her this might happen? I mean, they sent her off to school surrounded by young, eligible men, and didn’t think to tell her this might happen during an entanglement…
As Rose returns to the lake with a length of rope why none of the other boys she’d been with had such a reaction.
Esme’s mind is elsewhere. She’s been observing the still body of the man and thinking thoughts of her own about what to do next. She hesitates for a long moment before bringing it up to Rose, but finally her words spill out.
“Are you sure you want to leave him in the lake? This is a perfectly intact human. We can’t bring him back, but we could reanimate him! We could practice magick we never get a chance to try without hurting anyone! We could turn him into someone new - not anyone, actually, but something.”
Of course there were tales of magickal families adopting the dead. They made them into marionette people - used them as butlers, and drivers and in olde days, as soldiers to fight their wars. They weren’t really people anymore, but they weren’t really dead. It was one of the less risky ways to use a dead body, but it was also incredibly outdated, and widely thought of as unethical and tactless.
Rose hesitates. Her Grandma might be upset she’d killed her gardener. But would Gwen really want a reanimated human tending the roses?
“Esme, you know we can’t. We’d have to involve the family and I just don’t want any trouble for anyone. We should just put him in the lake.”
So it is with exhausted extremities the girls tie two large rocks to the gardener’s ankles and drag him into the cool water. Their feet sink into the mud under the weight of the rocks and the corpse, but they don’t stop trudging until they’ve made it as far into the center as they dare go, their shoulders invisible in the depths.
“Blessed Be,” Rose whispers.
“Blessed Be,” Esme echoes.
They release the body and use magick to push him just a little further, red-faced and sweaty. The top of his head looks like a turtle floating on the water.
“Water level’s lower than it’s been in awhile…” Esme mutters as they watch his head bob a few feet away.
“We can fix that,” Rose says.
When they return to shore a rain begins to fall straight down. Anyone looking might see an odd sight - the shower only pouring into the lake and washing the still water off the young women as they stare at that head until it has vanished from sight. Then the precipitation halts abruptly.
“Now let’s just hope the lake doesn’t actually have healing properties Grandma Gwen claims it does,” Esme sighs.
Without another word the girls drip across the grass and go upstairs to their grandmother’s ensuite. They draw a hot bath in their grandmother’s enormous tub. A towel dances behind them, soaking up their footsteps as they travel. The girls undress and slip into the tub together, at opposite ends. They wash each others hair in silence and have a long soak, then hear the front door open and shut downstairs.
“Rose? Mother’s home!” Iris calls up to her daughter.
Rose massages her temples for a long moment, then rises from the bath, her features set as if going into battle.
Iris is the type of woman you take orders from. She commands a room with ease and grace. She’s the one who took over the family apothecary and turned it into a full scale, recognizable brand, complete with an aesthetically pleasing Instagram and a fully operational online shop.
The last time Rose heard from her mother she was in L.A. hiring authentic representation for the brand and looking into opening another location.
Now, Rose dresses and trots down the stairs, surprised to see her grandmother in the breakfast nook chatting with Iris.
Iris has the same golden hair as her daughter, but her own falls in posh waves past her shoulders, framing a beautiful face of chiseled bone structure and sharp, bright eyes.
“My darling,” she coos, standing to greet her daughter. “How’s my little college student?” she asks, squeezing Rose around the middle.
“Happy to be home. How was Los Angeles?”
“Hot,” Iris shrugs. “But so many beautiful witches,” she adds, smiling. “But I just couldn’t stay away. I felt I had to immediately jump on a plane and come see you. And darling, I have so many new ideas for your baptism dress. Come, sit. I have pictures.”
Rose can barely keep her head straight. She hasn’t thought of being baptized since arriving to the house, and it was supposed to be her main focus. She offers gentle exclamations as Iris produces images of several dresses she spotted in L.A, but she can’t force herself to care. She just keeps thinking about Dean, bobbing up and down under the high water level of the Soricelle Lake… and his hands on her body… and his mouth on her neck…
“Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry. I think I’m getting hungry. Should we cook?”
The household feels more complete with Iris in it, and soon all the women are enchanting the oven and dishes, and even the food they will eat for their late dinner. Esme sits at the breakfast bar working on her knife skills, her tongue poked out the side of her mouth as she concentrates on getting the blade to mince garlic. Iris is braising beef, and Gwen is preparing a salad by tossing the ingredients in midair.
“Get me some things from the garden, Rose,” Gwen commands. “And don’t forget mint for juleps.”
Rose is thankful for the respite. She takes a deep breath in the black stillness of the garden once her arms are full of vegetables and looks up at the starlit sky. She gazes at the tree-line too, that is so pitch black the water of the lake looks like swirling aether beyond. Is it a trick of the light, or does she see one of the trees move?
“Ouch,” she exclaims, dropping a few vegetables as she returns her attention to the garden.
Something has stabbed her ankle. She casts a swirling glow about herself with a flick of the wrist just in time to see the tail of a snake slinking off into the buttercrunch lettuce.
“Rose?” Iris is rushing to her daughter’s side, the other women in quick pursuit. “What happened? You’re hurt?”
“A snake just… bit me?” Rose mutters, unable to be certain what just happened.
All the women cast colorful swirling lights to dance among the vegetables. Esme squats to pick up a garter snake holding it high by its neck and supporting it’s body with her other hand. She stares at the snake with narrowed eyes.
“You must have stepped on it,” she says, stroking the top of its head.
“Inside, girls,” Iris says. “And bring the snake.” She peers into the darkness at the tree-line too.
Rose wonders if she can see him. But if anyone can see him, it would be Grandmother Gwen, and she is just gathering up the vegetables Rose has dropped and heading back towards the house in her casual manner.
Once inside again the dinner is paused - steam raising off the beef and hanging still in the air. Iris holds Rose’s ankle in her lap, turning it this way and that. The bruising is spreading rapidly, discolored veins reaching out from the spot the fangs penetrated.
“It feels like it’s on fire,” Rose says through clinched teeth.
She knows this is punishment - karma’s way of slapping her on the wrist. Snakes do not usually bite witches. But her mother is more confused.
Esme holds the garter snake lovingly now, allowing it to play on her wrists and in her lap.
“Hand me that, would you?” Iris asks, taking the snake into her own hands. She looks deeply into its little eyes and shakes her head. “This was not the snake that bit you. That snake is long gone. Would you return our friend to the garden, Esme?”
Gwen brings a serum from the medicine cabinet in the attic and they smear it onto Rose’s wound. Then Iris holds one hand over the area and closes her eyes, lifting the venom from Rose’s ankle as if her hand is a magnet and it is nothing but shards of metal.
Rose gasps as the burning worsens, then becomes no more than an icy sting as if from peppermint oil.
Iris holds the venom in her hand, suspended just above her palm in a swirling ball of glittery black smoke. Then she places the ball in a jar, where it returns to liquid. She seals it up tightly and stares at the jar.
“What is it?” Rose asks, massaging her ankle.
But Rose notices Iris take the jar to her own room for safekeeping before dinner.
The next morning the girls are all sleepy from eating and drinking too much the night before. Rose is surprised she didn’t astral project to the lake, but instead, fell into a deep, much needed slumber. Breakfast cocktails are served by Iris who insists they toast once more to being together again.
Iris didn’t sleep all that well. She returned home when she sensed signs of trouble on the horizon, and now her daughter has been bitten by… what? That was no snake bite. Someone cursed a snake, or shaped a curse to look like the slithering creature. Someone was attempting to cause harm to her daughter.
Rose drops her cocktail in the middle of the kitchen floor with a crash. Esme is nearest. She peers out the window through which Rose is looking and her jaw drops. Iris hurries to see what the fuss is. Then she spots him.
The gardener is tall and lean with rippled muscular arms. He has tan skin and dark hair and wears a tank top with sweat already forming patterns on his back. Iris laughs.
“Didn’t get your fill at school, huh?” With a quick motion she recovers the cocktail and smashed glass to its original form, handing it to her daughter again. “You take after me.” She pecks her on the cheek.
Iris’ current theory about the bite is that Rose perhaps brought some dark magick home with her from school - some negative classmate’s inadvertent negativity or a less benevolent witch’s malice.
“Tell me more about school, Rose. Did you meet any other witches?”
“Sure,” Rose is obviously trying to pull herself out of the daze this gardener put her in. “There’s actually a club for them on campus. But, I mean, none like us.”
“When I went there were a few like us at every school,” Iris ponders. “More in Mother’s day.”
Gwen nods. “Too many for my taste. I prefer to fancy myself as a singular entity. Makes me feel special.”
“I think I’m going to take a… shower,” Rose mutters, strolling past her full plate of breakfast. “I just feel… I need…” She wanders off, muttering.
“Would you look at that,” Gwen says, staring into the nearly empty cup of tea before herself. “A visitor is coming!”
“Male or female?” Iris asks.
“Male, definitely.” Gwen stands from the table and takes her cup to the sink. “Hopefully he’s as nice to look at as my new gardener.”
Esme trots up the stairs after Rose, finding her in the attic. Rose is pacing, her eyes wide.
“I thought you said he was human!” Esme accuses.
“He was human! At least… he seemed very human while we were… doing human things…”
“Rose! You aren’t sure whether he was human?”
“I didn’t know him all that well!” Rose defends herself.
“Okay, okay,” Esme continues, massaging her temples. “So what do we know? We know this person definitely lost consciousness - no - we know this person had no fucking pulse yesterday. He was definitely dead.”
“So we put him in the lake, where he stayed under water all night…”
“Well, we don’t know he stayed there all night. We didn’t exactly check on him, did we?”
“Fine. That’s fair. He stayed there at least until we’d returned to the house. Then… what? He untied the boulders from his feet and… rose again?”
“He could be something else now. What if a demon got to his body in time? Or a spirit in the lake inhabited him?”
“How would they know to start gardening?” Esme poses. “And are we even sure there are demons allowed on this property? I thought there were enchantments on the Soricelle land.”
“The only way to know if he’s really himself is to… go talk to him, I guess.” Rose is unenthused at the thought. “We should mix up some potions though before we go out there. A Truth Serum, at least.”
“It won’t work if he’s a demon.”
“True, but he’ll also taste it if he’s a demon. He won’t if he’s human. What about spirits?” Esme bites her nails.
“I can never remember if spirits can’t taste it and it doesn’t work, or if they can taste it and it does work. It’s probably in one of these books.”
“Well the longer we stand around talking about him the longer he’s just chilling in our yard. We need to go figure this out.”
Esme and Rose stay in step with each other when traveling down the stairs and out the front door. Rose carries the dosed lemonade, which drips condensation down her skin.
There he is in all his glory, glistening in the late morning sun. Dean turns slowly, wiping his brow with a dirty gardening glove, then locks eyes with Rose. He smiles in a genuine manner, and nears her.
“Good morning,” he says to Rose.
“Morning,” Rose croaks.
Esme glances between them then says, “Hi.”
Neither acknowledge her.
Rose realizes she hasn’t even the slightest idea what questions she should ask. “Um…”
“How are you today?” Dean asks her.
Esme still glances between the two, wondering if Dean can even see her.
“Fine,” Rose says. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine,” he grins. “Better now.”
He is dripping with not only sweat but adoration for the young witch. He reaches for her hand and she puts a glass of lemonade in his grip.
Esme wonders if Rose can also tell something is wrong. Rose certainly can.
“More of your love potions, huh?” he asks Rose.
“Something like that,” she agrees.
He tips back the glass and swallows the whole thing in four gulps, licking his lips. They search for a shift in his expression, or a change in his gaze. Nothing happens. He simply returns the empty glass and thanks her.
“So Dean, um, where are you staying right now?”
“A studio apartment, down by the pier.”
Rose nods, glancing at Esme.
“And what other jobs are you doing?”
“Just this,” he lifts the shovel he holds.
Still he is smiling, his face sort of expressionlessly pleasant.
“What about Luigi’s? And everywhere else you work?”
“This morning I realized I need to stay here.”
“Who told you that?”
“Your Grandmother. She said I’m going to stay here for awhile.” He smiles again. “But I don’t mind so much. That way I can be close to you.” He reaches out to stroke her arm with a finger.
Hairs stand on the back of Rose’s neck. Her eyes squint at him. “What do you think I am?”
“A beautiful woman,” he says. “Hopefully someday, I’ll call you my beautiful woman. If I can ever be worthy of you.”
Esme’s eyes are as round as saucers. She releases a little whine of discomfort.
“Do you remember what happened last night?” Rose finally asks, realizing she isn’t speaking to the same person she met the days before.
“Sure,” he chuckles, leaning in. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
“Do you remember going back to your apartment after?”
He squints, shaking his head. “Um, I mean… I guess I… I think maybe I was in such a daze I just…”
He doesn’t remember, Rose realizes. He doesn’t know he died.
Esme interjects. “Dean?”
Dean doesn’t budge.
“Um, hi there? Dean?”
He finally notices her. “Oh! Hi! I didn’t see you there!”
“Which is totally normal,” Esme mutters. “Um, when did our Grandma tell you you’re going to stay here awhile?”
“This morning. We took a walk by the lake.”
The girls exchange a wide eyed glance, then excuse themselves, despite Dean’s insistence Rose should stay.
“Where does she even go?” Esme asks, exasperated, returning down the stairs for the third time in as many minutes. “I can’t find her anywhere!”
“She’s always done this ever since I can remember.”
“Looking for my mother?” Iris asks from her spot in the sunroom, peeking out behind an enormous book. “Good luck to you girls. You know she appears whenever she likes. I saw you giving the gardener something… a potion perhaps?”
“Truth Serum,” Rose admits. She sits before her mother and sighs. “Mom, I think I’ve done something terrible.”
“Hopefully nothing too terrible,” she smiles. “Your best friend would never forgive you for going to jail.”
Rose stands suddenly, realizing there is someone coming up the porch steps. She bounds towards the front door, opening it just as he’s about to knock.
“Ben!” she exclaims.
There stands a handsome young man with brown hair and glasses, smiling at her from behind a bouquet of sunflowers. His shoulders are a little broader than last year, and he’s gained enough weight to not resemble as much as a bean pole. She wraps him in a tight hug and invites him into the house.
“I wanted to give you a minute to get settled,” he says, greeting the other women with equally warm embraces.
“How was the semester?” Rose asks.
“Good. I really like Washington. Yours?”
“Good. Really good. I’m happy to be home though. Are you working with your dad through the summer?”
“Yep. Picking up whatever hours he can give me. I thought about an internship, but couldn’t find one in time. You at Luigi’s this summer?”
“Yep. I just… still haven’t chosen a major. So an internship didn’t make sense for me.”
“You have time,” Ben shrugs.
Rose’s stomach flip flops when he smiles that half smile. The freckles across his nose are barely visible at the moment, but she knows they’ll pop up like a field of wildflowers if they spend a single day on the beach together.
“Hey, um, by the way, is that that Dean Row in your garden?”
“You guys know he’s like, a super shady character, right? He used to go to high school around here. I knew a girl who dated him. Remember Sandy?”
“Sure… She dated him?”
“Her cousin did, a few years ago and…”
“Wait. Didn’t Sandy’s cousin run away when she was like fifteen?”
Iris closes her book and places it on the ottoman, folding her hands in her lap and raising her eyebrows. “Go on.”
“Yeah, well, I guess the story is they ran away together. He was into some dark stuff, and ran around with really weird people. They were supposed to go get married but nobody ever heard from Sandy again. Guess he found his way back here, close to home.”
“Dark stuff and weird people aren’t necessarily bad,” Iris offers, winking at the young man. “You yourself keep sordid company.”
Ben laughs. “I’d hardly consider you all sordid. But, yeah, just be careful with him being so close to all you girls. Maybe ask Gwen to think about another gardener.”
“Gwen is going to do whatever Gwen wants to do,” Iris says, standing. “Can I make you something to eat or drink?”
Ben stays for awhile, leaving when Rose follows him down the driveway, headed to her shift at the restaurant. He turns the opposite direction, and as she’s cresting the hill she passes an old lady in a rusty car. The woman has wild grey hair and pale eyes. She slows, staring at Rose with empty eyes and a haunted expression. A chill runs up Rose’s spine.
At the restaurant Rose is distracted. No one knows Dean has been working for her grandmother, so when Dean doesn’t show up for his shift, no one thinks to ask her where he might be. When she returns home, however, his truck and tools are gone. Rose decides it’s time to find Grandma Gwen and ask her some questions.
Gwen is at the kitchen table drinking tea with Iris when Rose walks in.
“There you are,” Rose sighs. “I’ve been looking for you all day. What can you tell me about the -” She stops short.
At the end of the kitchen table is a police officer, a steaming cup of tea before him.
“About the… the… headlights in my jeep? Um, I think they need cleaned? I didn’t notice at school but they must have gotten pretty dirty on the trip home. Hello.”
“Hi there. I’m officer Alex Lopez.” The handsome man in his thirties stands to shake Rose’s hand.
“I was just speaking to your mother and sister about -”
“Mother,” Iris corrects him.
“Grandmother,” Gwen says.
He is genuinely taken aback - but this is a common mistake. “Oh… Oh, right. I’m sorry about that. Um - we’re looking for a young man named Dean Row. Would you happen to know anything?”
Rose’s mouth goes dry. She shakes her head. “I’ve met him. But I wouldn’t say we’re closely aquatinted. Why are you asking us?”
“We found a few pictures that suggested he had some interest in this family.”
“Pictures? Like, photographs?” Rose asks, realizing gradually what he’s implying. “Wait, are you saying he was watching us?”
Officer Lopez pauses a beat. “Was?”
Rose’s heart plummets to the pits of her stomach. She tries to open her mouth to backtrack, but no words will come out. She touches her throat, realizing her mother is holding it shut.
“Rose, why don’t you go clean yourself up after your shift, dear,” Iris says. “And mother, don’t feel like you need to entertain us. Feel free to take your soak for your arthritis.”
“I suppose I am a bit stiff,” Gwen mutters, ushering her granddaughter up the steps.
“Grandma,” Rose whispers, when they reach the third floor where the bedrooms are. “What happened? How was Dean here today? You found him, didn’t you?”
“Why wouldn’t he be here today?” she raises a brow, her hand on her doorknob.
Rose opens and shuts her mouth again and again. Does she confess? Does Gwen already know?
Gwen stands on her tiptoes to kiss her granddaughter’s forehead. “I think I’ll have that soak now.”
Rose begins to realize Gwen didn’t seem the least bit surprised that Dean might have had nefarious intentions.