Dean looks out of place in the attic, all shiny and new among the old musty clutter, but where else can bright, loud magick be done? Camilla has placed him in a chair in the center of the room, facing the Soricelle Grimoire. There is no need to tie the boy down, for he’s too dazed to move at this point.
The first spell they cast was a simple Reversal, so that whatever enchantments or protections he might be under (besides the binding of the property, of course) might simply fall off. But that didn’t work. Then they tried a Mental Clarity Potion along with the Truth of Tongue Draught. But it appeared whoever’d worked their magic on him before Rose was a powerful and secretive caster. Dean didn’t even know he was meant to retrieve information about the Soricelles.
“It could be a love potion…” Camilla taps her chin. “Let’s try a freedom spell to break whatever unauthentic bonds exist.”
“We’ve tried so much,” Rose sighs.
“Are you tired, Rose? Would you like to take a break?” Dean asks, suddenly invested once more.
“No, Dean, I’m fine,” she snaps.
The only words he’d said, between asking whether the room was spinning for anyone else, had been regarding Rose’s happiness and comfort. Never before had a sexual encounter cast this type of attachment, though she’d mainly kept her experiences to one night stands so as not to complicate friendships at college.
Esme interjects, also tired from practicing careful magick for hours on end. “Why don’t we let him rest? We can do the Breaking Bond Spell tomorrow, or just stew up an elixir overnight. That might be easier on his body. I mean, he still seems human and looks very much alive.”
“Knock knock,” Iris says, entering the attic. “Your grandmother has absolutely no plan of action. She figures if he means enough to someone, they’ll retrieve him, and she can confront them then. Otherwise, if they send more people to watch us, she’ll have a whole staff for free.” Iris shakes her head, exasperated.
The girls fill Iris in on their findings, or rather, their non-findings, tacking on the bit about Rose bedding the young man at the last.
“Always the last to know,” Iris sighs. “Well, I think you’re right in wanting to resume tomorrow. Mortals can only take so much. Girls, can I trust you to return him to the guesthouse unscathed?”
Rose rolls her eyes only when her mother has turned her back.
“I saw that,” Iris sings as she exits the attic.
Esme offers to take Dean to the guesthouse, though he doesn’t want to leave Rose.
“I have to go to work,” Rose mutters, eager to get away.
Rose is telling the truth. She has a shift at the restaurant to get to. And Esme is telling the truth, or most of it. She does want to stop practicing magic on the human man. She doesn’t, however, want to let him rest.
Once in the guesthouse Esme begins making him some rejuvenating tea with full moon water. As he sips it he asks her how she thinks Rose’s shift is going. Did she always want to be a waitress? He bets she’s so good at it. He wishes they’d gotten to work together longer at the restaurant.
“Okay, Romeo, calm down,” Esme mutters. “You know,” she begins. “Rose did mention she’s going to have a hard time focusing today…”
“Why is that?”
Esme bites her lip, well aware she should not be doing this.
“Well, apparently, a girl stole something from Rose. She needs it back.”
“What is it? What girl?” Dean is perched on the edge of his seat.
She’s placed him at the farmhouse table while she shuffles about the tiny kitchen. This used to be the landscapers cottage but Iris and Camilla turned it into a guesthouse despite the enormity of the main house. They’d kept it in as good a shape as any BnB in New England, had hosted many the wayward soul and lost magickal creature over the years. Now they were keeping a hostage.
“I think she said it’s an amulet?” Esme mutters, her eyebrows cinched in focus.
“I must return it to Rose!” Dean shouts, standing so abruptly his chair topples over. He places a hand to his temple and shakes his head, righting the chair to return to it.
Esme rolls her eyes before continuing the facade. “Oh… You couldn’t.” She sits the tea before him then lowers herself into the nearest chair.
“See, the girl goes to school with me. And I sensed it in her locker. But everyone is gone for the summer now…”
“I’m sure I could get into the school. Maybe tonight? After dark? If you tell me the locker number I will return Rose’s amulet to her!”
“Well, that’s another thing. She’d be so upset if she knew I put you in harm’s way…” Esme focuses on the mortal, her eyes squinting slightly as she watches a tendril of delicate light twist and sway towards his temple. It had, of course, come from her own.
“Hey!” He realized. “Why don’t we just put it under her bed or something? Make it seem like she just lost it? She wouldn’t have to know either of us were involved. We never have to mention it!”
Esme nods, smiling. “That might work.”
Dean has just as much energy after dark when Esme returns to the guesthouse. He’s wearing jeans and a black hoodie, and a vacant expression. She walks him back by the house to Rose’s jeep, loads him into the passenger side, and listens to his endless swooning over Rose.
Doubt and guilt crawl around inside of her stomach, but they’re nothing compared to the feeling of revenge and closure that will come when she finally holds that amulet in her hand once more. Besides, if Rose can fuck the gardener, then ask for help putting his dead body in the lake, Esme can take back a necklace that actually belongs to her. Yes, she tells herself, it’s no comparison.
The cool sea breeze calms Esme as she drives through the quaint little town of Crescent Hollow. The school parking lot has just one flickering light, but she pulls instead onto a side street, where the houses hang flags to support the football team. When she parks, she gives Dean a few instructions, then sends him off, watching as he flips up his hood like turning the first page of a book, and slips into the darkness.
Dean crosses the field like a stray cat, heading towards the cafeteria doors. Esme stares hard at those doors, which open for him easily. Esme shuts her eyes. If the door between the cafeteria and the hallways was previously secured, she’s confident it is now ajar. She can almost feel him slipping through the opening… counting the lockers… She can practically hear his footsteps echoing, feel his chin on his own chest in the way she suggested he keep his head down…
The clicking of Aimee’s locker opening for Dean causes Esme’s eyes to flick open. He can grab the amulet now. He can get out. But does the locker still smell like apple blossoms and strawberry chapstick?
A breeze sweeps through the car, brushing Esme’s short brown hair against her cheek. She startles, turning to face the dark slit between two houses, where she could swear she smells something familiar and rank. It is the scent of decay and mildew, like a basement. And something else… spices of some sort? Yes. There is definitely something between those houses… watching her - the tall figure of a man.
Esme places her fingers on the door handle but before she can get out and investigate the person Dean startles her by opening his own door.
“I got it,” he drops the cool gold object into her palm.
“Yes!” She holds the amulet to her heart.
“It’s just a locket?”
“No, it isn’t just a locket.” She smiles to herself and puts it on. “I’ll put it somewhere Rose will find it,” she lies.
“You’re a good cousin,” Dean smiles.
Esme isn’t so sure about that.
Before they leave she examines the place between the houses once more, but the smell is gone, and the darkness emptied.
That night, after Esme deposits Dean in the guesthouse she tucks herself into bed and falls asleep solidly, happy to be reunited with her keepsake. The moon shines bright despite being just a fingernail. It kisses the waves and dances through the windowpanes of The Soricelle House. It tries to wake Esme, blinking through the swaying treetops, flashing wildly on her papered walls. It tries to show her the black and purple ribbons of glittery dust which escape the amulet. But Esme does not stir. The black and purple particles inhabit her room, watching her sleep, slipping under the door to watch the other Soricelle Women. Each leaf they curl around in the sunroom immediately shrivels and falls to the floor.
It isn’t until the chain of the amulet has begun to tighten around Esme’s neck that her dreams thicken in her head, pooling where they should flow steadily. The chain is cutting into her neck by the time her eyes pop open. She sits straight up, coughing and sputtering, ripping the chain off of her and throwing the amulet to the floor. She can feel the deep, red groove in her skin.
Her first thought is that this is not her amulet; it has been replaced. Her second thought is that this is definitely her amulet, but it carries with it a dark magick she did not cast or invite.
“Bitch,” she spits, staring at the necklace on the floor which appears so harmless now. “You think you can curse a Soricelle Woman?”
She crawls to the amulet. It sits in her palm as heavy as the answer to a question. She uses her short plain nails to pry the locket open, and as she’s expected, the pictures of her parents are gone. They’ve been replaced with some ground up black and purple powder that falls onto the hardwood. She uses magick to lift every particle into a spare glass bottle on her desk and seals the amulet in another. Then she curls up and tries once more to fall alseep, wondering where that pictures had gone, and why Aimee would hate her so much that she would take that one precious thing away and replace it with black magick. What had she done to the rotten girl besides love her?
Rose mentions the feeling a storm is coming to Rhonda when she arrives for her double shift that Wednesday afternoon. Rhonda is already busy bossing everyone around, but takes a moment to listen to her employee, who has predicted these things before.
“From where I stand the tourists are already flowing in,” Rhonda tells Rose. “I don’t know if I can close the outdoor dining till we’re sure. But… tell me when you… know more.” Rhonda has been a friend to Rose and the other Soricelle Women for long enough to trust the way they just know when it will rain, or when the phone will ring, or whether a person might turn on you suddenly.
The sky remains clear and blue through Rose’s lunch shift and the beginning of her dinner shift. She takes a moment to herself, stepping outside before the rush. How could her mother think of opening the shop while they harbor a spy in their guesthouse? She can’t take her mind off Dean, who is doing someone else’s bidding, and perhaps only bedded her for that reason.
“You look deep in thought,” Jason says, taking a long drink from his water bottle and hanging his apron over the railing.
“Is it about the cop that’s here to see you?”
“What?” She turns abruptly, her hair whipping around in the warm wind.
There is Officer Alex Lopez, sitting at one of the outdoor tables, his sunglasses hiding his gaze.
She wrings her apron in her hands as she enters the little gate to the dining area. She nears him, readying herself to pull him away from the restaurant to practice magick more safely.
“Officer Lopez?” she greets him. “How can I help you?”
“There was a break in - Oh, would you sit?”
She sits across from him, her heart aflutter.
“There was a break in at your old high school last night.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But I’m in college now… Why are you telling me?”
“Because a neighbor spotted a black jeep parked outside her house around that same time… she said a person was in the driver seat and a person was in the passenger seat. The passenger got out of the car and we believe he took something from the school. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt but we have some footage that looks an awful lot like Dean Row.”
“Lots of people look like Dean Row. And lots of people have black jeeps.” Rose stares into her own reflection in The Officer’s glasses, noticing how worried she looks.
“I got to speak to your mother the other day but I didn’t really get to speak to you much… you don’t have anything else to tell me?”
“No. I don’t.”
Officer Lopez smacks his steering wheel when he returns to his car. Why can’t he force himself to return to The Soricelle House? Why can’t he seem to properly interrogate these women? His mind just turns to mush! It doesn’t help that the paperwork is mysteriously being shredded at the office, or crumpled up and tossed into other people’s trash cans. Good thing his superiors have very little resolve to hunt down Row or else his ass would be on the line. He just can’t shake the feeling Iris Soricelle did something to him, besides the obvious… He still can’t think clearly when it comes to these damned women and their house full of secrets. But something inside him just knows Dean is there - he just knows it!
A fat drop of rain falls onto Officer Lopez’s windshield. He looks past it to see Rose staring at him from the dining room. Another drop. And another. The sky opens up and it begins to pour. He can hardly see to exit the parking lot.
He drives by the B&B on his way home. There is a light on in Room #33, yet he can’t quite remember why he’s been watching Room #33 in the first place. Something to do with that missing Row boy. Something to do with the lady who saw Rose’s jeep outside of the school. Something to do with the Soricelles?
A dark figure comes to the window and peeks out, moving the curtains aside. There are broad shoulders, and a lanky quality to the shadowy shape.
Lopez’s foot lifts from the break pedal. He finds himself heading home before he’s even decided to do so.
Esme is unpacking boxes and lining the products up on the shelves of the little storefront when the rain comes. It darkens the shop and the whole street outside, turning dusk to midnight. She watches it for awhile, thinking about the locket on her desk.
“I knew I smelled rain,” Camilla says, watching the water streak down the glass.
Gwen sits on the front porch of The Soricelle House watching the storm pelt the roses, loosening petals until they fall, beaten, to the dirt which is quickly turning to mud. A car has clambered up the drive. She watches a young woman with cropped black hair step out of the drivers seat, then dive into the back to extract a little girl. Besides the child having bare arms she closely resembles the young woman, who is covered in tattoos. The mother runs towards the porch, noticing Gwen only when she’s climbed the few steps and sought the shelter of the roof.
Gwen smiles at her youngest daughter, who smiles back.
“Welcome home, Honey.”
“Thank you, mom.”
The two women embrace in a hug which seems to dry the daughters instantly.
The little girl shivers.
“Bath time, I think,” Gwen offers, kissing her granddaughter on the forehead. “You girls go on ahead up. Use my tub. You know it’s the best in the house.”
“You aren’t coming in, mom?”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
Gwen wraps herself tightly in her afghan and watches the roses and the angsty sky and the sea beyond, and then another car arrives. The rain has slowed a little - just enough so that The Reverend can use a small black umbrella and arrive to the porch steps relatively dry. Gwen would offer to peel the raindrops off him, but she knows he wouldn’t stand for even a sparkle of magick for his personal gain. He shakes off his umbrella and nods to Gwen. She doesn’t attempt to invite him in, nor does he attempt to explain why he cannot accept an invitation. They just sit together in the rocking chairs as they have done so many times before. A steaming cup of tea miraculously waits for him beside the woman, but he doesn’t ask where it came from.
“Always so hospitable,” he smiles, good-naturedly. “It is almost as if you knew I was coming before I’d even decided to start my car.”
“I am just an old woman.”
“And I am just an old man. Gwendolyn, I’m here because there’s something amiss. And I’ve made the mistake of investigating odd occurrences without asking you ladies, before. A waste of time, in my opinion.”
“True enough,” Gwen smiles, knowingly. “What is amiss, Johnathan?”
“I am a man of good and evil, as you well know.”
She did know.
“And there’s something in our town at the moment that is… not good. There is a surveillance of sorts I’ve noticed. Are you girls inviting something here? Enticing something?”
“I don’t care for that implication,” Gwen says, passively. “It takes light to cast shadows.”
“You know nothing of these shadows?” The Reverend probes.
“I sense them,” she nods. “I sense this surveillance of which you speak. I do not know who watches, but I know of the watching.”
“Will you promise to call upon me if you should need my kind of assistance? Or when you discover the dark force that has entered Crescent Hollow?”
“I promise,” Gwen smiles. “You’ll do the same?”
The two people smile at each other in a meaningful way, but The Reverend does not finish his tea before he goes. He knows she’ll only try to read the leaves.
Rose fills Esme in on what Lopez said, then prompts her. “Would you know anything about that?” Her stare bears into her cousin. Of course, she knows Esme did this. After all, she hasn’t forgotten the sigil work she attempted to help her with.
Selene and Sasha have arrived during a chaotic time, but Sasha is simply snacking at the breakfast bar, while the whole family gathers in the kitchen.
“I needed that amulet back and - ”
“The locket?” Iris realizes, eyeing her niece’s empty neck. “But no one can take that from you. It’s been blessed to protect you.”
“Well, she didn’t exactly take it - ”
“You gave your amulet away?” Camilla exclaims. “That’s unheard of! You know you shouldn’t do that, Esme!”
“What were you thinking?”
“You used Dean to get it back?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Esme covers her face and shakes her head. “I didn’t mean for anyone to find out. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”
Everyone falls silent. The only sound to be heard is Sasha munching loudly on the snacks. She gazes up at her cousins and aunts and grandmother not quite sure what’s happening.
“I gave it to Aimee and she wouldn’t give it back. And now there’s something wrong with it. I think it’s cursed.”
“Aimee Aldridge?” Rose inquires. “She’s not magickal. So she hired someone to curse your amulet? Why, and who? We’re the only magickal beings in Crescent Hollow, or for miles around.”
“Not anymore,” Gwen says. “Reverend McKinnon came by. He’s felt it too… a watching. A presence. We aren’t alone here anymore, and someone knows a hell of a lot more about us than we know about them.”
Everyone falls silent.
“Go get the amulet, Esme,” Camilla demands. “Perhaps we have a way of tracing it back to whomever, or whatever, would be dumb enough to attempt to harm a Soricelle Woman.”