My head thumped against the window as the bus bumped over a pothole, forcing me awake. I grimaced in moderate pain. Even if the bus window didn’t damage my head, the hangover I forced upon myself was certainly trying its best.
‘Oomph’ I mumbled, taking a sip of water from the bottle between my legs. We had to be close to my stop for Hunter Valley, my watch guesstimated another twenty minutes. I peeked at my phone in my purse to see two picture texts Ben had sent while I was asleep. The first was a blonde standing on a bar stool with a drink in hand, held high above her head, toasting to something. Her hair was hiding her face, but her plain white shirt was riding up, displaying a soft, curvy stomach above some black skinny jeans. I blinked at the photo. Holy shit, that was me. The second photo was also of me kissing an attractive brunette man in jeans and a leather jacket. Also in the picture to the side was Chuck, looking amused. I did not remember any of this. I quickly texted back.
Delete delete delete and forget, just like I have
No wonder my head and body hurt today. Day drinking at a seedy university bar leading into the evening had never been my forte but I gave it the old college try yesterday when the semester officially ended and Bec had transformed me into a blonde. After a breakup, it seemed that my body needed more alcohol than usual to even get a buzz, and an obscene amount had passed my lips in order to get me there. Ben immediately replied.
Never. I like sexy, blonde, bar hopping Kelly. So do her randoms.
I rolled my eyes and threw the phone back into my purse. Blonde Kelly certainly did get a lot more attention that’s for sure. Though she was now single Kelly, and went on drinking benders with friends, so who really knew the reason for her new popularity? There was a certain amount of freedom with the new persona and look. It was a nice feeling to not be the cliche broken hearted woman for a few hours.
As predicted, the driver announced Hunter as the next stop. Watching the town roll past, it didn’t just look cold outside, it looked goddamn freezing. There had been some light snow last night and it was enough for an inch to stick to the ground. But what really made me grimace was the wind. Watching the passing trees being shaken to their trunks, it seemed miserable outside the safety of the bus. I hugged my rain trench around my chest and hoped the fleece underneath would be enough.
The bus came to a stop and standing up, I grabbed my satchel and signaled to the driver I had a bag underneath. He nodded and hopped out before me. My feet hit the pavement and the breath was knocked out of me by the sharp, biting wind. It was merciless. Grabbing the bag from the returning driver, I turned around to look at the half-empty parking lot of the Denny’s the bus stop adjoined.
A young man in a Corduroy Sherpa jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots was walking towards the now departing bus. I didn’t recognize him from the commune so I started to walk to the restaurant to wait inside. He suddenly moved to block my path, holding his hands up to pause me. He looked me up and down and searched around the bus stop once more.
“I’m your ride.”
I paused and checked his face again to make sure I didn’t know him. Just then the wind blew a miserable gust that howled and broke through my fleece, all I could do was nod at him. He motioned to an old hardtop Jeep Wrangler and together we moved to the car. He grabbed my small suitcase and gestured for me to get in where I happily jumped into the passenger seat. Quickly huddling into a ball, I breathed heat onto my hands. They were shaking with cold and I balled them in and out to keep the feeling.
A moment later the man climbed on in and quickly started the engine up, it eventually wheezing to life. Heat blasted onto the front seats. Holding my hands up to the vent, we examined each other. Him pointedly looking at my hair.
“She said you were a redhead. Though she did say you were going through something and I should expect anything from ‘Harpy to Siren’.”
I gave him a grin. Oh, Franny.
“Umm, well up until 36 hours ago, I was red. Call it... reckless life decisions.”
He gave me another puzzled look that asked for an explanation. I grabbed a lock of my new blonde hair and commented.
Another moment later it clicked for him and he gave a small chuckle and a dazzling smile full of perfect teeth. I looked at him again. Strong jaw, soft hazel eyes, dark skin, clean shaven, at least six foot tall. A grey wool beanie seemed to be hiding wavy, ear length, black hair, Whomever he was, he was gorgeous in a boy next door kind of way, definitely younger than me. He pulled the car out of the parking lot and started the drive to the commune.
“You can’t be the Jameson kid all grown up, are you? There is no way you are only sixteen?”
He smiled again, keeping his eyes on the road.
“No, I’m Jess, twenty four and a Virgo, and not from your commune. I’m one of the visitors from the Res. Everyone else was busy preparing for the ceremony tonight and the party tomorrow. Francis requisitioned me when she saw me sitting down.”
My eyes widened fractionally.
“You’re a Were?”
He grinned and looked aside at me.
“Born and raised.” Oh man, Franny was right, they were very nice to look at. Silence filled the cab as I thought of what to say. Our lands bordered on each other’s for the last few hundred years, separated by the river, but since I went to middle and high school in the town twenty minutes away, and then straight to college, I hadn’t ever actually met our ‘neighbors’ on the few occasions they joined.
What did one say to a guy who could turn into a dog? My first thought was why wasn’t he one now? Wasn’t it the first day of the full moon? For the first time, I wished I would have listened more to Aunt Vonda’s stories instead of tuning them out for something more interesting, or more relevant to my selfish teenage ears.
Obviously wanting to fill the silence, Jess commented,
“So, your mom is something else, huh?”
I looked at him quizzically.
“Francis...?” It clicked.
“Oh, right! Yeah, not my mother, but my aunt and adopted parent, and yes, 'something else' is definitely correct.” Francis was a force when she got going, she had inherited it from her mother, and hers before.
He kept the puzzled face.
“You’re not a Wardwell?” He asked, referring to my mother’s maiden name, a powerful lineage of witches since the Salem trials. The name itself was well known among witch enthusiasts but was pretty common still in the public.
“Yes, well, no... my mother was a Wardwell and Francis’ sister but I have my father’s name, Jones.”
“So your parents are...”
“Quite dead, about 14 years ago.”
He grimaced and muttered a ‘sorry’. Leaving the town, the snow on the side of the main road increased as did the density of the tree line. I took in the familiar sight and inhaled a deep breath as if I could smell the firs from between the wailing wind and the car window.
Jesse spoke up after a few minutes.
“You didn’t want to take your mom’s name? I mean Wardwell is a pretty known name, yeah? For witches, anyway”
I broke my gaze from the trees to look over to him, his eyes still on the road. He wasn’t wrong, in the Wiccan and witch circles, Wardwell was a name associated with the trials, and in the last few hundred years, it was known for its strong women leaders. One thing was undeniable about my family, they were badasses. Well, up until me, that is.
“My mom and I... well, it’s complicated. I didn’t want to do that to my father’s memory.”
He glanced at me and grunted in response, “Family can be complicated.” He looked back to the road and suddenly hollered, “Shit!“, swerving the car to avoid the deer that had jumped onto the road.
I grabbed the Jesus handle above as Jess hit the brakes, the car lurching to the side and brought to a halt in the roadside ditch. I let out an ‘umph’ as my seat belt squeezed my chest and my hangover made an angry comeback inside my head.
After a few moments of heavy breathing, Jess and I looked out his side window. The doe that we swerved for calmly walked past us, in perfect health, not a care in the world. She continued her amble down the road a few more meters until she turned off it and moved into the tree line.
Looking at each other in shock, we both started to chuckle until we were heartily laughing.
“Oh god, I forgot how much I hate deer,” I said in between laughs.
“I mean, I love them, but oh god, what bitches, you know?” I wiped a tear from my eyes as our laughter died. Jess sighed and hopped out of the cab and rounded the front of the Jeep, wind tussling the hair around his ears.
He came back in after a moment of inspecting the front and back.
“We should be right... ,” he said while turning the key. The engine wheezed as it did before, but this time, didn’t turn over.
“...if this wasn’t a piece of shit car, that is”
He placed his head over on the steering wheel and tried the key one more time without success. Raising his head to me,
“Can you fix this?”
I quirked an eyebrow at his request.
“Oh heavens no, don’t know the first thing about engines, sorry.” He gave a curious stare.
“No, I mean can you fixxxxx this?” And he waved his fingers towards the engine in a manner of a magician doing a trick.
After a second I got it and laughed hard.
“You think that’s what witches do? Fix cars?” I continued to laugh and after a moment, Jess looked sheepish at the suggestion. Once I calmed down and wiped tears from my eyes, I replied more seriously,
“Ahhh, no, sorry, I guess you haven’t heard the commune gossip yet, but I’m like the family joke and the only nonmagic member for this generation. But in any case, that’s not really a thing I think any witch can do, especially me. We need mechanics just like everyone else I'm afraid.”
Making a face of defeat and grumbling, he pulled out a phone from his pocket. I checked around the car and could see Folsom Creek Bend up ahead, which meant we were still ten minutes away from the commune. I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples, Along with the headache, my body was beginning to feel like it was getting sick, chills and aches felt on their way. Tequila, never again, I vowed.
I heard Jess speak with someone on the phone and he hung up saying his brother was on his way.
I peeked an eye open.
“We changing cars?”
“Nope, Will knows cars. Not mechanic worthy, but he comes good on most things. Most likely he can get it started.”
I grunted positively and leaned back on the headrest.
“So, you’re not a Wardwell, you don’t live on the commune and you’re not ‘all powerful’, so what do you do?”
Without opening my eyes in hopes of keeping my headache at bay, I replied.
“I’m a scientist.”
“A scientist?” Jess retorted, sounding skeptical.
I couldn’t help but smile. Probably the image of a blonde, shapely female with a hangover who swore like a sailor wasn’t typical for what people usually thought of.
“Not what you had in mind?”
“No, I guess not. You’re like a real one?”
“Well, I’ll be a Doctor of Earth Sciences in about six months when I finish my research.”
“Research on what?”
I looked over to him, my head still pounding. His eyes were intent on me, his body turned around to face me. He was only a few years younger, but somehow he seemed so much boyish with his soft eyes and ear length hair. I took a sip of my water bottle and mirrored his body to face him.
“Cliff notes? It’s about the regeneration of soil composites after they have been polluted"
His eyebrows quirked together in surprise,
I gave a hearty laugh at the simplicity of the sentence,
“Pretty much, but I don't have long left on it, and if I can put it into practice, it will definitely help the commune land for future farming." I suddenly had a surge of pain in my temple, my hangover making an angry comeback, and Jess looked ready to ask another question.
“Honestly, Jess. I have the hangover from hell, if it’s okay with you, I’m gonna just rest my eyes for a few mins, yeah?”
His brow smoothed out in understanding and he gave me one of those big grins and a chuckle.
“Sure dude, sorry, I thought you might have tied one on last night from the smell.”
I feigned shock, “I do not smell! I had at least a 10 minute shower this morning.”
He pointed to his nose.
“Were smelling trumps shower every time. I smelt the tequila first and maybe a hint of men’s cologne??”
“Dang, okay, longer showers this weekend,” I mumbled before tuning him out. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the windowpane, trying my best to shut out the sounds around the car while my head was imploding.