Twenty minutes later, Will and I climbed the stairs to the porch and entered the house, the smell of creamy chicken rice greeting us. Diana was home. I closed the door behind Will and grabbed his hand, dragging him to the back of the house, where I knew she would be planted in front of the stove.
“Dee? I’m home!”
“We are back here!” A voice called out and Penny’s head popped out of the kitchen doorway.
We entered the kitchen to see petite Penny sitting at the small dine-in table with a very pregnant Diana at the stove as I predicted, stirring a pot.
“Oh my god, you are ready to pop!”
She gave a malignant look and held the stirring spoon threateningly in my direction.
“Hi, Kelly, nice to see you too. How have you been these last two months? I really missed you as well.”
I held up my hands in apology. I had forgotten how cranky pregnant women could be, or specifically how cranky Diana had been in the past pregnancies.
“Sorry, sorry. I guess I never saw you this close to the end with Amira and Scarlett.”
Diana turned back to her pot and Will and I took a seat at the little kitchen table, Penny scooting for us.
“Apology accepted, and actually, I am still a month away. Though, if my shadow here allowed me to go into the town hospital for a scheduled C-section, we could get this kid out in two weeks.” Diana swung her head dramatically and gave a pointed stare at Penny.
“Hey, we agreed on this a long time ago. Don’t get angry with me because you made a terrible plan six months ago and forced me, your Midwife and best friend, to swear by it.”
Diana shook her head and glared down at the pot on the stove.
“Yeah yeah, we only have one more run into town tomorrow to deliver some merchandise and then I am officially on pre baby-cation. No more work, standing, thinking, etcetera for the next month.”
Will’s head perked up at the mention of town and a frown formed on his face.
“You’re headed into town? Someone is going with you, right?”
Diana turned around and leaned back against the stove, looking over Will for the first time. He was still dressed in his moccasin and style that made him look more traditional then he would usually on a normal jeans and tee day. Her eyes roamed up and down his body and settled on his face.
“Penny and I are stuck like glue until the baby comes.”
Will took out his phone and started texting. “I’m arranging for one of my guys to accompany you,” he stated simply, giving no choice in the matter and quickly pocketed the phone.
Diana’s eyes switched to me, wondering why such a thing was necessary, giving me a cursory glance with a smile on her lips, she asked him,
“That’s...so nice. And who are you?”
He rose up to shake her hand and an amicable smile,
“I’m Will, I think I saw you at the signing, you were sitting close to the front of the table, yeah?”
Diana nodded quickly with her grin, he clearly hadn’t answered her question, so she looked to me tilting her head.
“Sooooo, who is he, KJ?”
Will sat back down, confused. I pursed my lips at her sass, she was going to make me say it and throwing in our teenage nicknames when we wanted to goad each other. She knew who he was, she had seen him, we spoke of him, she wanted me to admit it. I sighed and gestured between the two,
“Will, this is my cousin Diana, and you know Penny. Ladies, this is Will, my...boyfriend.”
These smug witches, both looking at Will knowingly, giving the commune gossip machine a well needed jump start. Will himself looked at me with a discontent look, probably not happy with the title of boyfriend, but Diana stole my attention.
“Nice to meet you, Will. But why do I need my own personal escort, again?”
Jumping up from the table, I motioned to Will.
“Fill them in would, you? I’m going to find that book from the library.”
Leaving the trio, I walked through the quiet house. Franny’s absence was noticeable. It was the smell. Her smell was gone. A few window shutters hadn’t been opened and the living room/entryway and her office area were noticeably darker. Franny liked the light. Light, warmth, and lavender.
I walked through her office and headed to the door on the right that held the adjoining library. Really a large bedroom that, once the Wardwell family had dwindled down after a few generations, wasn’t needed anymore and put to more scholarly pursuits. Now it’s walls were lined with built-in bookshelves and two large blue velvet cushioned chairs next to the bay window that oversaw the forest and guest cabin. Heading to the window, I saw the shelf Gran spoke of and picked up a dark green leather bound book. The cover held gold lettering ‘Fight or Flight’ with an engraved picture of a gold dragon and a small dove. Clever.
Clutching the book, I returned back into the office and noticed a large white envelope on the table with my name ‘Kelly Devon Jones’ in big black letters. It was lying on the side of the desk with some mail next to it.
Sitting in Franny’s chair, I looked to the mail first. Forwarded mail from my apartment, mostly from the university and similar. Nothing stood out and most of it went into the wastepaper basket by my leg before I picked up the big packet.
Pulling out A4 sized paper, it was easily recognizable as Francis’ last will and testament. Controlling my breath, my throat still constricted at the thought of Franny now dead to the point where her things were being given away. Assuming that Gran was her executor and left it for me, Franny must have mentioned me somewhere if I had a copy.
As I read through, most of the stereotypical legal jargon was in there, which seemed unusual that Francis went this route of professional lawyers. The Wardwell house belonged to anyone with the last name and who needed it. We lived on a commune, everyone stuff was everyone else’s. If your neighbor needed milk, they came to your fridge. If their child needed medicine from the town and they needed money, everyone helped. There was no tally system used, but no one ever really abused it. So why the hell did Francis’ need a will?
My eyes finally came to the section of beneficiaries of monies and miscellaneous. Seeing my name was no surprise. Francis and Margaret were close, daughter, and mother living together, but they were never best friends. Franny and I however, shared something, a similar sense of humor, a giving disposition, and love of nature. No, it wasn’t a surprise that she named me in her will instead of her mother.
What was the big surprise was seeing that she had appointed me as the inheritor of her $20 million dollar bank balance.
What. The. Fuck, Franny?
Where the hell did that come from? I fell back into the seat and exhaled.
I couldn’t think. This seemed bigger than what a 27 year old poor Grad student could handle. Franny had either been penny pinching for her entire life or those billionaires she had been phone consulting for the last few years were really generous. Jolene and Ewan had never been rich, at least in the time Ewan had been in America, but I had never wanted for anything. I inherited their land, my dad’s Harley that sat in Diana’s barn, and a bank account in the local town that I had never touched but seemed to hold a nice house deposit. My job at the university paid for my tuition, apartment, and a little extra for food, beer, and a night out every now and then, but I would never really splurge.
Holy shit. Twenty. Million. Dollars.
Diana’s loud voice sounded from the kitchen and drew my focus back to the room. What did people do in this situation, did they tell anyone, everyone? Gran obviously knew since she was in charge of giving everyone their entitlements, but had anyone asked about what happened to Francis’ money? Hell, did they know? Probably not. I was her adopted child and I had no clue. Deciding that silence was best right now, I resealed the packet with the will inside and returned to the kitchen with Gran’s book under my arm.
All were silent when I entered. Penny’s face was grim, Will’s guilty, and Diana’s aghast.
“What did I miss?”
Diana spoke first, slowly and hesitantly.
“You killed someone, and you’re half Were?”
My face turned to stone at her accusational attitude.
“I’m your cousin, godmother to your children, and have known you since you were born is what I am, Double D.”
She straightened up at the sound of her own teen nickname describing the time she stuck too many tissues in her bra.
“You really killed a man?” Penny now quietly asked.
I sat back down at the table, giving Will a dirty look. Too much ‘filling in’, thank you. He stood, gave a weak smile, and gestured his thumb behind him to the living room before moving to it.
“I’m going to try and find the bathroom in this place and wash up. Sorry, baby, but Weres don’t keep secrets.”
Sighing, I watched Will leave and laid the heavy book on the desk, thinking my answer through so I didn’t break down again.
“Yes. I did. I...just did it. It was almost instinctual. This guy was yanking me to a child molester white van, Jesse was running to me, but still far away, and I just...did it. It sounds horrible to say, but it was almost stupid easy as if I really did pull a gun on him.”
Penny and Diana looked to each other, worried, and I looked between them.
“Guys, Gran already gave me the spiel. I can’t do it, for some weird and mystical reason. Not that I want to ever be put in that situation again. She mentioned credit cards of some type, but to be honest, the previous explosive detail of being half Were kind of stole the show.”
Diana came and sat at the table between Penny and I, her face now a little angry.
“You skipped the ‘History of Magic’, from the book, didn’t you?”
I threw up my hands and raised my voice,
“I was doing a dissertation, Diaaaana! It was hard!” She gave me an eye roll. “Why does no one remember that? So yes, I skipped a few pages or a chapter here and there. Please give up the dramatics and just tell me why.”
Penny looked to Diana, seeming to ask her for permission with a look. Diana shook her head no and answered.
“Kel, there are some things that shouldn’t be talked about. Just read the book, okay?”
“Kellll… names have power, names and thoughts together have twice the power. Being who we are, you can’t just throw them around and expect nothing to happen.”
I slumped my head onto the table, exasperated. Witches were the biggest load of drama queens I had ever met. There had to be a way around this instead of me reading that entire thousand page book.
“Okay, can you at least tell me which section I am looking for?”
Penny answered without thought, “Where Witches’ powers come from, how we are different from humans.” Diana quickly slapped at her hand on her lap.
I quickly picked up Penny’s answer.
“Incantations, the sun, the moon. It’s in our DNA that these things can be manipulated.” Penny shook her head, clearly loving the chance to school someone else.
“Noooo, those are just the tools we use. Who put it in your DNA?” Diana moved onto kicking Penny under the table.
“Seriously, Pen, stop. She is a frickin sleuth.” Ignoring Diana, I furrowed my brow. Who could put stuff in our DNA? The first Witches, that passed down their knowledge, and I guess the blood. Who made Witches? I had never given it much thought if any? Weren’t we just...different from the start? But Penny was saying someone changed us. Who made people and things? Whatever you believed in really, Natural Evolution, God, The Devil. My eyes widened.
Fuck, was that for real? I always knew common knowledge of Witches and devil worship, but that had never been the reality in our coven, so I always took it for urban legends, good material for TV. As the sole person in the coven who always had to leave meetings, I assumed that I was missing out on important stuff, but was it this type of stuff? Talking about the evils of devil worshiping and how to not get drawn in? Diana saw the change in my expression and held a finger up to me.
“Stop. Right now. If you have really figured it out, then you’ll understand that we don’t mess around with that, our coven doesn’t mess with that. We never have. Other Witches might, but we never do. And now that you have made a human sacrifice, you’re on a list, cuz. You say some words and think some thoughts and someone is going to notice. Got it?”
Diana was serious. Shit. She was being for real. The devil made us and our coven had been avoiding him by not killing humans and animals? Witchcraft just got real dark, not the airy and light stuff that we had been practicing. We used the term Wiccan lightly, but we weren’t really Wiccans, we were just closer to their pagan ways than the traditional route. I never knew why or even thought on reasons why we did this. I guess I now knew better. But I needed to know the whole story, I had to read that book. Taking a deep breath, I nodded to her, showing that I was moving on.
“Right then, how about some useful spells? What would you recommend from the first three chapters of this bad boy?”
Penny leaned over to check out the book and Diana returned to her pot on the stove.
“Tryyyyy ‘the chameleon’, in the first chapter. Basically a camouflage. Hides an object or person as long as they don’t move.”
I perked my eyebrows.
“Super handy. Why did no one ever use this against Gran when she was looking for volunteers for making the pyres? I know I would have.” Diana turned to me at the stove, a big smile on her face.
“Why do you think Clem was never around for those? Of course Gran can feel the energy of a person, so she eventually caught on after a year or two. I think my sister still occasionally does it when I come around looking for someone to watch the kids.”
Penny and I laughed and I turned my attention to the Latin incantation and directions. It said I needed to focus on the space around me and recite. At the front door, there was a loud knock and I could hear Will answering it. Doing as the directions said, I focused and then recited, hoping my pronunciation was right.
“Et abscondas me in tempus abscondet me pernumerare curiosi.”
Opening my eyes, I looked at my hand on the table. Nope, still here. Penny however, clapped her hands in excitement.
“Perfect, and the first try! Now, just don’t move much, otherwise it breaks. If you are holding something, and you release it and then move, the thing will remain hidden while you appear.”
“Wait? It worked? For real, you can’t see me?”
Answering my question, Will walked into the kitchen with Smith trailing him. He looked straight through me to Penny.
“This is Smith. He is going to go into town with you tomorrow. What time were you thinking of heading out?”
Penny and Diana smiled at each other, in on the joke. This was another level, the amount of spying a girlfriend could get away with if one was inclined.
Penny stifled a laugh and replied to his question.
“Probably mid-morning, like ten-ish?”
Smith nodded, giving her a generous smile. “Great, I’ll be staying over in the guest house here, so just come and get me when you’re ready.”
Penny returned the smile to the gargantuan Were, and I nearly broke the incantation by giving a knowing head nod to her subtle flirtation. Will glanced behind him before asking,
“Where did Kel go? I’m going to talk to the Weres who came over the river in about 5 minutes.”
Lifting my hand from the table to break the spell, I gave a small wave.
Both Weres’ heads turned to the once empty space at the table, where I was now sitting on the seat. Will’s eyes widened while he looked to the spell book in front of me and he chuckled.
“Well, having a witch... girlfriend is certainly going to be interesting.”
“Isn’t it though?” I replied.
Stretching a hand out to me, he jerked his head towards the front door.
“Come on, we have to be down to the barn.”
“Uh, I’m just going to stay here and do some practice, I’ll see you when I get back.”
Will’s face frowned, his hand still reaching for me.
“We agreed, remember?”
“But I’m just two mins…” His face turned stern and I sighed, closing the book. “Sure, let’s go,” and took his hand.
I watched Will from the bleachers. He was different here, with his pack. Talking with fifteen or so young men, all dark skinned, all well built, and toned. These guys trained, it was obvious. That or either they had strict diets and fantastic genes. Probably both were true. Excluding Smith, they were all what I would have called ‘muscular lean’ like they were soccer players. Could sprint a mile before kicking the shit out of someone.
Will gestured to the map of the commune lands on the side of the barn wall, and I was vaguely listening, more interested in this new man than his words. He was directing them into routes and times. He didn’t smile, there were no jovial gestures, he even snapped at one or two of his guys when they whispered to each other. This must be the Will that I hadn’t met yet. Alpha Will, unforgiving, quick to fight, chief to people that needed to survive, had to fight for it even. I was fucking here for it.
I couldn’t feel anything from him, which must have meant that this was his normal. Normal, to command, direct, and obeyed. He strode across in front of them, folding his arms in front of his body and my eyes grazed his upper arms. He had taken off his jacket and his cotton shirt was stretched tight against the muscles in his chest. Right there would have been half of my schoolgirl fantasies and still accounted for about fifteen percent now. Our eyes briefly met and he said something to the men, causing most to turn and look at me on the other side of the barn. Smith was among those and kept his inscrutable stare a little longer than the others. A few more minutes of pointing to the map the group then broke apart, pairs leaving the barn together.
Standing and making my way down to the barn floor, one or two others had remained to speak with Will. Smith also hung back, examining the commune map and turned at my approach, dipping his head, almost in reverence.
“Luna,” he greeted me. I raised my eyebrows in confusion.
Smith gave a wide smile at my confusion.
“It’s what we call the Alpha female, Luna. Will just told us that you two were mates and your recent discovery. That must have been… a lot.”
“He told you?” I hadn’t even told my family yet, but here was Will blabbing to everyone who had an ear. Smith shook his head and ran his eyes down my neck, where Will’s bite was hidden beneath my shirt.
“You don’t keep secrets in a pack. It doesn’t breed trust or the other qualities needed. Will is our leader, and now you are too. You can’t keep something like that hidden, Will seems markedly different and it is good for us to know why. Anyway, it would have come out at the next full moon, in about two weeks, soooo, why wait?” Smith punctuated it with a shoulder shrug as if it was natural to just find out you were some kind of half species and peer pressure had a place among the group.
I grimaced, I had totally forgotten about the next full moon. Is this going to be my life now? Working around a full moon? I hadn’t made any steps into this new facet of myself, nor given it any thought, or even learned anything practical, but it already seemed to be dictating my calendar like an overly aggressive period.
“Well, can we just call me...you know, my actual name? Luna...sounds. God, I hate that. Just Kelly, okay?” Smith gave a conciliatory smile and clapped his hand on my shoulder, trying to show some sympathy and acting like he was going to ignore my request. He turned and left the barn, following the others.
Will’s two companions left at the same time and he walked over to me at the map, looking it over. The hundred hectares of land made a strange hexagonal shape around the river. If there were only fifteen men patrolling the boundary, and less than that if they were working on shifts, it was going to be extremely difficult and tiring.
The Wardwell family's land was on the northern boundary and had a small section of riverfront. Lightly touching the area on the map, my fingers hovered over my parents' house, simply shown as a small square. The ruins were still there, unchanged from the night it had burned down, unless nature had taken it back into her fold. It edged on a forest, so it was possible. My mind suddenly ran back to last night’s revelation. My mother could make fire, she could also put it out. Was the house fire too big for her to control?
“Want to head back to the house?” Will asked beside me, brushing my hair aside to kiss my neck, just above his bite.
“No, I have to go somewhere first. I assume you want to tag along?”
I felt a small nip at my neck that made me gasp.
“Jesus, you know, you could just swat my butt like a normal person?” I grabbed his hand and led him out of the barn, taking his truck keys from his back pocket, and surprising him by jumping in the driver’s seat.
As the bird flew, my parents' house, now mine, was not the farthest from the Ring. However, it was arguably the most remote, as the only road to get there had to weave around fields and through small wooded areas. I drove the car in silence, wondering what it would look like after all this time. I usually avoided the area each time I was on school vacation.
The closest I had come was a year ago, when I visited the construction site for Diana’s new house, and it stood visible across some fields. It had looked like a dilapidated monument in the quickly fading light. From what I could see then, there were a few vines growing up the sides, and the attic area had caved in, but the structure’s bones still stood tall and strong even after the fire and years of solitude and neglect.
We cleared the small patch of forest and came onto the Wardwell land, Diana’s driveway turning off to the left. Keeping straight, my own two hectares started and my cousin seemed to have planted a field of rosemary bushes, judging by their size, now into their second year. Another field showed some Bee’s balm flowers and chamomile plants, now waking up for the spring. Rounding a corner of another small batch of forest, my house came into view and I parked the truck a safe distance away.
Still about an hour of light, the setting sun was facing the front of the house, and was still well lit up inside. We sat in the cab, looking at the front of the house, Will hadn’t said a word since we left the barn, perhaps sensing that I needed silence. He was right, the vision of the house, even after all these years was painful to look upon. Remembering the nights on that porch, now half caved in, where my father and I used to swing in the seat watching the stars and moon, it was hard to get emotional. After a few minutes, he asked.
I sighed and exited the truck, him following suit and walking with me to the house.
“Well, there are two theories. The first, not so popular, my dad was having some drinks, passed out in bed and forgot to douse the fire in the living room. Sparks lit the stack of kindling next to it and the whole house went up. The second is that an electrical outlet in the hallway outside my parents' room shorted and started the fire.” I shrugged my shoulders indifferently. “Take your pick, same ending.”
Climbing the stairs to the lifted porch, the wood underneath still felt sturdy but gave some creaks and groans to show that it hadn’t been trialed in years. There was no longer an entry door, and Will and I walked in. From behind me, he asked.
“Where were you?”
“I was having a sleepover at my cousins which I often did, they lived over the other side of this forest, near the river." I moved around a hole in the floor near the old fireplace. “Be careful, there are a couple of holes in the floor that will drop you straight to the ground underneath.”
Will nodded and moved into what was once my old living room. Most of the furniture had been burned to just frames, and I surprisingly found that now I could still faintly smell smoke and char. I looked around the room with new eyes, every surface had scorch marks, every piece of furniture had been curled and twisted by heat. I couldn’t imagine either my mother or Gran being able to control every surface in this room enough to douse this much fire. And this was just one room of the wood-framed house.
No, once this house caught alight, it would have been like throwing a box of matches into an open fire pit. No saving anything.
Will moved through my past life with ease, assessing each room and stopping in the hallway, looking at a particularly scorched portion of the wall. He turned back to me.
“This was the outlet?”
I nodded to him.
“Who told you that your father was drunk?”
“The elders, once we had the coven meeting a few days after. They did their own little investigation to give everyone a piece of mind, I guess. They said they found some of my mother’s...remains in the hallway, so she must have tried to do something.” I didn’t want to think about this anymore, especially now I knew that my mother had probably tried to save herself and my father, but the fire was too much for her to control. It was too morbid.
Taking Will’s hand, I walked back down the hallway, not bothering to look into my old room, I knew what was in there. Burnt remnants of a preteen who loved flowers and reading Babysitters Club books. The only things left were painful memories and unanswered questions.
Walking to the porch, I twisted my head to look at the tree line, some 200 feet away. The markers for my parents were still there, several feet before the dense brush. The oak sapling had grown several feet higher since I last saw it, and the two small stone markers were still visible. A pop of color near my father’s stone caught my eye and I headed for it, Will trailing.
A small, clean cut bunch of roses had been placed in front of the spherical stone with the engraved ‘Ewan Jones’ on it. I picked them up to find they were only half decayed. One of my family members must have left them and placed some kind of preservation incantation on them to preserve them longer than natural. The stone marked ‘Jolene Jones’ sat two feet away, and although there were no flowers, the ground around it was nice and trimmed and the stone showed no signs of weathering.
Will’s arms came around my waist and his chin rested on my neck and I leaned into him.
“Why did they think your dad was drunk?” Will asked.
I hugged his hands and arms.
“I don’t know, from what I can remember, they found some bottles, and the state of his remains. Apparently a lot of alcohol in your system, ...well, it’s a good accelerator.” From behind me, I could feel Will shake his head.
“Kel, I don’t know how to say this, but it is literally impossible for a Were to be that drunk.”
I frowned to myself and twisted my head to him.
“Were’s high metabolism means that we burn off whatever buzz we get pretty fairly soon. Haven’t you noticed anything since your lightning strikes on the hill?” I thought it over. It was true, beer usually made me out of it, but I had a steady flow of it in my system when Jess and I were in the apartment with nothing happening.
I shook my head, this wasn’t about me now though,
“So, what are you saying? That my dad wasn’t drunk? What does it matter now?”
Will exhaled and looked irked.
“You’re right, it doesn’t mean anything now. But… just that I doubt your dad didn’t get out of the house because he wasn’t physically able. That’s all.” I pulled away from him and started to pace in front of their markers, thinking. He now watched me with worried eyes.
“But, his body was...it was a crisp. With my mom, there were still some...limbs remaining.”
Will held up his hands to defend himself.
“Babe, I don’t know. I am just saying that whoever came to the decision that he was drunk was mistaken. You had questions about your mom, I have answers about your dad.”
I ran my hands through my hair and stopped at the base of my neck. Jesus, my dad was sober when he was burned alive? My eyes welled with tears as if I was being told all over again about their death. Why didn’t he get out of the house? What was the reason that my mom stayed behind, or couldn’t control it before it got too big for her? This was a mistake coming here, rehashing something that had no relevance today, things that didn’t matter anymore to anyone except me.
If the things I had been told were lies, at least they were kind ones. Knowing that my dad had been passed out and probably felt little had actually been a comfort as a teenager. I knelt down at my dad’s stone and placed my forehead to it, allowing a few tears to fall. Will kept his distance and I appreciated it. Any excuse to curl into something soft and warm would probably let my dam of emotions break.
Instead, I stood and wiped my eyes. It was done, my parents were still dead. The house was clearly too much for my mother, and my dad for whatever reason, didn’t make it out. I was here, and the best I could do was remember them. Now, at least I could remember my mother with a kinder spirit and my father as more than just the drifter who was carried in from an accident.
Sensing that the worst was over, Will grabbed my hand from behind and pulled me away, wrapping an arm around my shoulders while we walked to the car. Taking one last look at the house, I rubbed the vestiges of tears from my face and resolved to knock the damn thing down once I had the chance. I’m sure a team of young Weres armed with sledgehammers could take it down over a weekend.
He jumped into the driver’s seat and I scooted in. He turned over the engine and looked to me, the light of the setting sun hitting me in the face.
“Back to the house?”
“Uhhh, yeah, actually, just pull into Diana’s place would you? I need to pick something up from the barn.”