“Any volunteers?” My Gran asked of the Weres sitting in front of her. Holy shit, this was some next level cruel and unusual payback for me using her given name and sassing her under the bleachers.
I bolted up off my seat.
“Councilwoman Wardwell, that is unnecessary, and is not fair to ask the pack to do that.”
Will in the front bench turned my way, as he had done a few times in the meeting to look me up and down, this time with an incredulous look of what was being asked of him. He then turned back to the table, a little frustration in his tone.
“Councilwoman Wardwell, I have to agree, we are not personal guard dogs. And not to downplay what the coven suffered, but we were also attacked the other night. We need time to plan.” I sighed with relief. Although it might have stung that the Achilles I had mind blowing sex with didn’t jump at the chance, but having him resent me for such an inconvenience seemed worse.
One of the family heads, watching the little drama play out, raised a hand, and spoke.
“Marge, I would like to know what is happening with Kelly. Was that lightning show the reason why she was reassessed this morning?” I looked around to the other meeting members, who clearly were invested in the answer. Had Gran really told no one else about my ‘condition’, why didn’t they just ask me? They were intently staring at Gran. Same ole coven, still ignoring little Kelly Jones. Margaret and I locked eyes, and I knew she was asking me if it was okay to tell. I gave a short nod and walked forward to the end of the row on the first bench to join the group, a few seats down from Will and his Weres.
“Long story short? Kelly got her heart stomped on a few weeks ago and something in her brain changed. She is only half a hereditary witch, so it’s not easy to predict what is going to happen to them or when. Hers seemed to be tied up with when she is angry, which may be why it hasn’t manifested until now. Kelly was instructed by her parents early on to let go of anger, as her father was a pacifist in his later years. I guess her trigger was released last week and lightning was let out of the bottle, so to speak,” she looked across to meet my eyes and gave a grim smile.
Will also turned his neck to give me a hard stare. Shit. He was angry. Why was he angry at me?
He turned and asked.
“Councilwoman, after all I saw on the hill and heard here, Kelly is the last person on this commune who needs our protection. I can’t agree with your request to guard her for a whole month so far away from our reservation.”
Gran’s face narrowed and her eyes became daggers. Oh shit, Will was about to get his ass handed to him.
“First off, William, Kelly is unstable at this time and can’t control anything. One could argue she is the most vulnerable here, especially since those cameras got an eye full of her and probably what happened. Second, are you reneging on the treaty you just confirmed your allegiance to?”
He swore under his breath and muttered something about ‘guarding’.
“No, I agreed to the treaty, but the treaty hardly asks..”
“The treaty is very broad and vague with what it asks, William, as you well know. It was made to assist in any occasion, not for you to pick and choose. Is it not in your abilities to send someone with Kelly for a month while she settles her affairs?”
One of the Weres to the left of Will suddenly stood up. He was a little taller than Will, fair where he was dark, and much broader across the shoulders. If Will had the body of a lithe lumberjack, this dude was a bodybuilder swathed in a polo shirt.
“Alpha, I will volunteer to escort Ms. Jones for the month.” Will looked up at his pack member in surprise, then something else. Would he forbid someone else to help me? That kind of hurt a little more, not even caring about my safety, surely a one night stand would be given that much? Gran took the initiative to finish the meeting.
“Wonderful! Thank you...?”
“Thank you, Smith. We will be in contact to arrange it in the next week. Kelly will return to Seattle before the month is out.” Smith nodded and looked over to me, eyeing my face and giving me a broad, perfect, all American boy smile. Will looked over as well with something similar to shell shock that he had just been railroaded over, and I mouthed a ‘thank you’ to his stunned face.
Gran and I returned to the main house to find it was full of other Wardwells. I walked in the front door after Gran and was immediately pulled into a hug by my cousin, Diana. Her hair smelled of roses as per usual and her golden honey tone had darkened over the winter months.
I let out a big groan as she squeezed me and returned the hug. After Franny, Diana was whom I was closest to. A year younger than me, Dee and I had shared everything before her family had moved out of the main house and into their own outside the Ring and closer to the river. Secrets, clothes, even a boy once, though she swore he never got past her first base while I scored second. She now had her own husband and kids and from what we occasionally texted each other, I knew she was busy with her growing business. She pulled back and I took her in.
“You’re pregnant! Again!” I exclaimed.
She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“We practice too much, I guess. I was keeping it a surprise for you,” and I had to laugh. She stepped aside for my Aunt Vonda and her other daughters, Emily and Clementine, to give me hugs as well.
Clem held me away from her and said with vigor.
“I could have absolutely straight up smacked that councilwoman when she said that about you and Franny.”
“Clem! Who do you think put her up to it?” And I tipped my head towards Gran, now moving back to the kitchen. I moved to the couch and the three cousins followed. Clem’s eyes widened and her voice dropped to a loud whisper.
“Oh, you know, same ole Gran mind games to get the results she wants. I can’t believe she will now be my mentor for years.”
Emily, on my left with her legs curled up around asked.
“So, that lightning was you? You’re what, like the new Thor? Goddess of thunder and lightning?”
I gave an amused shrug and whispered conspiratorially. “I have no idea. All I know is that it has hurt like a bitch the two times it has happened. So, don’t tell her I said it, but it’s probably best if Gran teaches me how to control it before I Hulk out and shrivel into a ball and die.”
The girls nodded their heads in unison. Gran called out that late lunch was being served and we all stood. I gave the excuse that I was going to wash up first and Diana followed me back to my room.
I moved to my bathroom while she sat on my bed, fingering her long golden braid. I came back to the bed and picked up a sweater when she asked.
“So, you found her, huh?”
I exhaled and looked to my cousin. I often imagined Diana and I would have followed the same paths had I not been failed when I was twelve. Went to school on the commune, became a kitchen witch with my own hot house and plethora of plants and flowers. Found a nice young man in town who knew the commune was a little different, and was okay when he learned the truth. Had kids, started a successful business selling specialized shampoos, been happy.
Yes, I was definitely jealous of Diana, right down to her willowy figure and naturally golden hair. But she was like I had been, was now trying not to be, soft. And that’s why I decided not to tell her everything about Franny and the pain.
“Yeah, it was terrible.”
She nodded in agreement, thinking she understood what I saw, what it was like to have seen that.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She cautiously asked.
“Nope, not at all.” Again she nodded in understanding.
“Doooo you want to talk about that serious piece of tail you had sex with?” My head snapped through the sweater I was putting on to look at her smiling face.
“I saw you leave the bonfire with him, then I caught him coming out of the house yesterday.” She wiggled her eyebrows up and down.
I had to laugh, and a flash of Will above me, pinning me down passed in my brain. Shaking the stray thought away, I replied,
“Yes, nice and temporary. But yes, nine inches. Very nice,” I copied her wiggly eyebrows and she guffed. I looked down at her swollen belly.
“So, what is it and when will they be here?”
She looked down at her baby in her stomach, gently stroking the place where she imagined it would be sitting.
“Another girl in about three months.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. Diana was the youngest daughter of three of the youngest daughter of three sisters, my Aunt Vonda.
“You’re having a third daughter of a third daughter of a third daughter?” She grinned and I let out a low whistle.
“That girl is gonna be some serious Wiccan hocus pocus, huh? I bet she is gonna be a handful.”
Diana again shrugged her shoulders in nonchalance.
“Maybe, or maybe she won’t have any magic. And that would be okay, too,” she said and I knew she was referring to me. Diana had seen the anguish and frustration I had gone through when I had been more or less ostracized by the other families for ‘witch’ things. If there was anyone on this land who had an inkling of what it was like to be born non-magical, it was Diana by proxy.
I placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
“That’s very nice, but we both know her life would be much easier if she had at least a little something in this family.”
Diana looked up at me standing over her, a little teary, and agreed with a nod. She hugged me around the waist and for a moment we were silent. She let go after a moment and wiped a tear from her eyes.
“Well, I can’t say I envy your current situation. Being taught by Gran, I bet she still uses the cane.”
“Of course not, Diana,” Gran said in a smooth, unruffled voice pushing open the door and entering. “I upgraded to the whip decades ago.”
Diana cast her eyes down and muttered, “Sorry, Gran.”
She had changed from her plain black councilors robe into a flowy, foot length, dark blue, paisley dress. Whatever softness her dress exuded was canceled out by her hair up in a sharp, small, tight bun. In her hands, she carried a large binder and placed it down on my old desk. She was all business.
“You will have one month to finish whatever you need to do in Seattle, we expect you back by February 1st. Understand?”
I nodded meekly, recognizing that this was the equivalent of getting away with murder from my Gran. She handed me a piece of old parchment with a self injecting quill.
“Write down your committee members.”
I began to write the names of the five but paused halfway. “What are you going to do to them?”
“Sympathy, Kelly. I didn’t attend university, but I imagine you’re going to need a lot of it to finish six months early, yes?”
I nodded again and handed her the list. She pointed to the thick book on the desk. “Read that first, then we start. It will probably take you only a few days unless you waste time. Then we can start with a few practical lessons for basics before you return.” She turned her attention to Diana once more.
“Canes, Diana? Really?” She then left the room in the same manner she arrived.
We waited for a moment before bursting out laughing. I picked the thick book and flipped through it.
“Ugh, this is like remedial magic 101.”
Diana gave me a stare. “You’re behind, Kel, like fifteen years behind. What did you expect? Even if you still only study one kind of magic, you still need to know about all of them and their limits. Like a kitchen witch can’t travel like a hedge, but is still necessary because she has the roots and herbs to make it possible.” I gave her a dirty look as if she was on Gran’s side. She went quiet again as I browsed through the book.
“Kel, why are you doing this, going back to Seattle? Gran gave us the run down last night about what happened. Don’t you get it? Some group of psychos out there has your name, picture, and location.” I sighed and sat on the bed, running my hand through my hair.
She was right, it was pretty crazy, but I had to believe this group didn’t know everything about me and that I had pretty much been ignored until now. Digging my heels in for the independence I had earned was probably pretty stupid, but felt necessary.
“It’s hard to explain, Dee. But I’ve essentially been alone for a long time. I’m not blaming anyone, but it’s hard to live in a place but not be a part of it. When I moved, I was still alone, but I had something to work for there. Something I could do, instead of being asked to leave all the time. I had new friends, learning new stuff, seeing new places. It’s hard to just suddenly give all that up. Plus, the work I did will absolutely help our land at some point in time, I’m sure. This is, was, going to be my future, I still want to keep some of it.” She was still worryingly biting her lip.
“Also, I won’t be alone. I have my own personal Were escort coming with me.”
Her face lit up.
“That wolf is going to live with you for a month?”
“Nope, not that one. Actually, from what I can tell, we seem to be on the outs with the look he gave me once he found out that Gran is forcing one his pack to guard me.” My face must have dropped a little at the thought of Will’s animosity, cause Diana commented,
“Shame. But he was just a one night thing, yeah?”
I gave her a sly look.
“Well, two. But yeah, to quote his words, ’wham and bam and thank you kindly, madam.” Her eyes grew wide again and then let out a loud laugh.
“Gran told us we needed to let you rest and TO NOT visit you, and you were having your own sex visitors? I like this new Kelly that came home. And to think, she will nearly be Doctor Jones soon.”
I eyed the book, and sighed.
“From Doctor back to student, me and Gran are going to drive each other crazy.”
“Probably,” Diana agreed.
A voice from the living room called out for us to come to the dining room. Entering into the space, the remaining Wardwell family was all in attendance around the dining table. Aunt Vonda, a divorcée, my two older cousins, still single but dating, and Diana’s husband and their two little girls. Gran was at the table, and everyone was mostly through with lunch.
“Nice of you to join us. Diana, eat now please. We are going to have a little ceremony of our own out the front soon. To say goodbye. I’ve made it known to others so there might be some people joining us, so we will not be tardy.”
I blinked my eyes in confusion and stuttered a reply.
“Gran. It..it hasn’t even been two days. I am not ready for that,” Diana spoke up in support.
“She is right, Gran, I don’t think I am ready, either.”
Gran looked up from her plate with stern eyes.
“Unfortunately, it is not for you. It is for the community. You can take your time and say goodbye when you feel like it. Now, Diana, sit, and eat. Kelly, go and change into something more suitable.”
Diana and I looked at each other, her shrugging and sitting down next to her husband, Morris. I swiveled around and went back to my bedroom to change. I couldn’t believe that woman sometimes, her daughter just died, decapitated, and she was still stone cold. How she could remain so unattached boggled the mind.
Twenty minutes later, we all emerged from the house to see a small group of ten or so people outside in our outer yard. I had put on a suitable black dress at Gran’s request. Walking down, we could see a patch of grass 15 by 15 feet had been cut away to show the bare earth beneath it. Diana and I walked down, arm in arm, when I suddenly stopped.
That’s where Franny had been mutilated. We were planting a garden on the earth drenched in Franny’s blood. I did not know how to feel about this. Sickened, nauseous?
I took place on the bottom side of the hill, looking up. My eye caught Will’s blue pick up, still outside the guest cabin. Seeing the Wardwell family present, the attendees gathered around the square of bare earth. Gran went around to all with a bag of some kind of seeds and everyone dipped their hand in to take some.
Once finished, Gran began.
“Francis Wardwell, in the words of many people, 'was something else'. This was where her life was taken, but I refuse to let this spot in a garden that she loved, become a haunted memory of my daughter. So, we are planting here Francis’ favorites, peonies and lavender, and a Cherry Blossom. Before we start, would anyone like to share a memory of Francis?”
Oh Hell, my eyes had already begun to water. Gran might be all kinds of cold and stern, but she was definitely smart and had her share of good ideas. A garden for Franny, she would have loved it. One of Francis’ close friends started to speak, and I felt my heart starting to palpitate, I couldn’t listen to this.
My eye was distracted from the ceremony by the door of the guest house opening, and Smith and Will walking through. I briefly saw their faces as they were coming out. They were arguing. Once they noticed the congregation in the yard, they immediately stopped speaking and turned their attention towards it. Will leaned up against one of the posts for the cabin’s porch and crossed his arms in front of him. Smith did the same, except in the doorway.
Will and I locked eyes. In my peripheral hearing, I could hear Francis’ friends crying over time shared, I tuned them out, I had to. Otherwise I too would break down and who knows what would happen then. My eyes never left Will’s, his were growing perceptibly more frustrated as we continued our locked gaze. He probably thought we were having a showdown, but the reality was at this point, in a strange way, this was my lifeline. I couldn’t look down at the same spot I had tried in vain to save Francis, I couldn’t look at the faces of her friends, all I could do was be here in body, but eye fucking this man in spirit.
A tear rolled down my cheek after hearing one of the speakers mention her cookies. Eventually Will seemed to understand what I was doing, and still held my stare, but with kinder eyes.
After however many amounts of minutes, Diana nudged my arm and I broke our gaze. Franny's friends were throwing their seeds over the patch of ground. I threw mine on and watched as Diana’s husband shoveled dirt onto the entire patch, covering the seeds.
'Great', I thought to myself, only 5 months for the lavender, and 2 years to see the peonies. I was about to turn back to the house when Gran asked me quietly.
“Kelly, please come and stand next to me.” I moved myself to stand next to her and she said, “Your fingers are going to tingle with this, but it’s very normal, okay?” I nodded in agreement but had no clue what she was about to do.
She turned her attention to everyone.
“Please place your hands on the soil and dig your fingers in.” Everyone knelt down and did as asked, with very little space left on the sides. Gran, next to me, dug her hands in up to her wrists and closed her eyes. She began to hum to herself some kind of tune and then I felt it in my hands, a pulse. I had felt it before, two nights ago. When I was on the ground and felt like I was at a concert and the bass was pounding through me. Except this concert was under the ground and much more tame, controlled. It had more rhythm, someone was controlling it with skill.
On the patch of soil, shoots of the seeds began to sprout and I watched it in amazement. It was like watching a time lapse video, except the feedback was smooth. My fingers tingled exactly as she said they would and I closed my eyes to try and feel more underneath my hands. To my side, Gran’s voice simply said, “Don’t, Kelly,” and I opened my eyes to just watch the scene unfold.
The other attendees, all on their knees were watching the shoots spring to full plants, and then to blossoms, as the process spread out from Gran and across to the other side. Color erupted from the once bare ground and in the middle of the patch, a small sapling of a tree had sprouted and was growing higher than the peonies and lavender. Many of Francis’ friends had smiles coupled with tears, as they were remembering and saying goodbye.
Finally, when the last of the lavender on the other side had bloomed and the sapling was sturdy, Gran released her hands and came back to sit on her feet. I looked at her with wonder, she had never brought out a party trick close to that before. She turned to me and gave a wide uncharacteristic smile.
“We are going to have so much fun.”