Glaring winter sun hit my face and I curled into the pillow. Peeking one eye open to the bedside clock. Holy shit, 11 am. I slept for clear on 13 hours. I sat up and took stock, I felt... better. I certainly didn’t feel worse for the sleep of the Valerian dead.
Okay, day one. What did people do one day one? Chad was my first long term boyfriend, the only one I had enough feelings to get upset over. Silver linings...? I didn’t have to clean so much I guess. Cooking for one was most certainly a plus, more wine in my fridge, more socializing, different men, no more excuses to not exercise. Oh god, this was going downhill fast.
Something nagged at my peripheral and I grabbed my phone. A missed call along with a text. Aunt Francis. Oh boy, here we go. I open the text to see a flurry of emojis and exclamation points assault the screen. I had to smile at the frantic face emoji, Franny had finally managed to look like an emotional sixteen-year old that had limited linguistic skills.
What the hell is going on!????! CALL ME ASAP HONEYCHILD!!!!!
I sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from my face, this was going to take some coffee first. A ‘just-inject-it-into-my-veins’ amount of caffeine.
After a quick trip downstairs to the corner coffee shop, five minutes later I was sitting on my couch with a cold brew and bagel. Looking hard at my phone, I could put it off for an hour. But no, she would definitely know, and I needed a favor. In and out, Kel.
Franny picked up immediately.
“Do I have to kill him?” she calmly answered. I smiled, Aunt Franny, always quick for the jugular.
“No, Franny, please don’t. How could I ever then parade his replacement in front of him if he is dead?” I quipped. She harrumphed as if this was an acceptable reason. Wonderful Franny, my surrogate mother of an aunt who took me in after my parents death. Too rich to be called crazy, she was the eccentric one of the two remaining sisters. Never married and happy for it, probably more so now if she had felt my pain from last night and knew exactly what it was. I then had the troubling thought.
“You felt it from there?”
“Honey, I always feel you, I mean, when it’s something big. Actually, I am not sure if I consciously keep tabs on you or maybe you get a little bit of your mother shining through when the tough times come. Oh gosh, I remember the night before your final exams a few years ago, I couldn’t sleep a wink, it was like all your caffeine had just transported itself into my blood!” My eyes widened in shock.
“You feel the big things? Like... how big?” Oh god, was my Aunt Francis now privy to my sexcapades?
“Oh calm down, I’m sure he wasn’t that ‘big’. And there weren’t that many of them, only the negative feelings is when I get the jolt. You are always so calm, and gentle by nature, it’s just a shock to the system when you feel something different. I swear only two or three times since you left the commune. But last night, woah, huh?”
I gave my now signature exhale and sigh.
“Yeah, it was..bad. I mean, as far as breakups go, ok, I guess. No public scenes, no throwing stuff, no violence. But man, it...it felt rough. I think I broke the bulb above me with some serious crying."
She tsked me and said my name with a chide.
“I know, I know Franny, but let up this time ok?” I paused, there was silence at the other end. “Franny,?”
“Yessss?” she replied. Lord, she was smiling, she knew what I was going to ask. Who was I kidding, Franny always knew everything before I did when she put her mind and thought into it. Even if she didn’t have her own skillset, she could probably Sherlock this one to its conclusion.
“I did actually want to ask if I could stay with you over the winter break? I know I haven’t come back in the last two years, and if you have given my room away, I get it. It...it would just be nice to see everyone.”
“Darling, your room has been empty for some time now. It will always be the ‘grove’ room. So, yes, come on home. What dates are you here?”
My body sagged in relief and my lips grinned at my name’s meaning.
“I’ve got another week and a half of classes, then I’ll be there for a month.”
She gave a short screech of excitement in a typical Franny squeal. “Right in time for the resigning of the treaty!”
“Our ten year resigning of the treaty with the Blue Moon Weres.” I answered with silence, the Weres from across the river would be there? She continued,
“I’m not surprised you don’t remember the last one, you were seventeen and you were in and out of the commune at that time of the year cause you were dating that townie from your school. Anyway, it wasn’t made a big thing last time, literally a two hour ceremony. But they have come into new leadership in the last few months and since it’s Winter Solstice and the last moon of the year, it’s now more like a two day party.” My mouth gaped.
“The Weres are coming onto our land? But... isn’t that what the treaty is for, to keep them off?”
She tsked me again.
“Goddess, sometimes I regret sending you to that townie school instead of here. It’s for the division of land, but it’s also for the protection of both. It’s like the brains and brawn protecting each other. We have some long-standing wards on their land that need updating every now and then, and every other year we just need some good old fashioned muscle. You know? Plus, they are not terrible to look at,” she added with some sauciness.
“Franny, they are werewolves, that’s something close to bestiality you’re talking about,” I chided, thinking about what that would even be like. Gross.
“Oh pssshaaa, they are men, they just occasionally take a break from that form.” She paused. “They are really nice to look at, Kel.”
Laughing, I conceded that usually, all native American men I had met in my life were usually quite handsome, with aquiline noses and usually nice in form. But I could see where Franny was headed with this.
“Don’t, Bec already tried that approximately one hour after Chad left.”
“I always liked her.”
I was starting to wear down, there was no way in heaven I was ready to think about other men, let alone werewolves. How did people function in finding someone else so soon? The thought of going through a plethora of potential dates, each with their own stories and small talk left me feeling exhausted.
“Will you please tell Aunt Vonda and the cousins that I’ll be coming?"
"Of course, I'm sure you will be put to work in the river forest promptly."
I gave a genuine laugh for the first time. “Happily. God, I miss the commune and the forest and my hikes. Seattle can be sooo... cement-y? You know?”
“Yes, I do remember sending the search parties for you, even if you don’t.”
“Thanks, Franny. Really.”
“No worries, darling. Let me know next week what bus you’ll be on, and I’ll send someone for you.”
“Okay, talk soon. Love you”. I listened to her hang up and stared at the screen. A picture of Chad and I at Halloween a few weeks ago was my current home screen. I gave it a groan of disgust and quickly changed it to a generic picture of a Washington forest.
This was going to take some time, purging him from my life. Looking around the apartment, he had moved out, but not really left. There was a beer opener on the fridge, when I never drank beer. A bunch of horror movies sitting next to my TV, when all I really wanted to watch were comedies. Little things like that, scattered all around, just to make sure I was never really alone in my mind, but totally alone in spirit.
I gave the experienced sigh and leaned my head back. God, I might even see him around campus. How the fuck did people live in the same state as their ex, let alone the same town? If I ever see him again, I was 98% sure I would not be the strong female I heralded myself to be, not the strong progeny from a long line of move-and-til-the-earth warrior witches. Nope, I would probably be a cliche and break down, maybe even beg.
I could not see Chad. Even in passing. I needed this trip home more than I realized. I might not be everything desirable to come out of the Hunter Valley Commune, but I still needed it. I might not have inherited any overt magical ability besides the occasional freak accident, such as the bulb, but it was still my home. They were my family and safe haven.
I gave a smile as I thought about my younger cousins and all the mischief they would get up to around Granny, and how she would simply flick her fingers to give them a whip from across the room. For the first time in 24 hours, I gave a real smile.
I was returning to my coven.