The hood of the car slammed shut and once again I was woken up with my face against a window. A little drool was hanging from my lips and I blinked my eyes against the outside snow glare. Hearing the engine turning over and this time catching on, I looked to see Jess give a thumbs up to the front of the car. An old blue Ford pick up was parked in front of us and I caught a glimpse of the back of a well toned man with the same shaggy hair as Jess retreating into it. Woah, if that back and slight profile I got to glimpse was an indication, Franny was right, they were very nice to look at.
I sat up and rubbed my eyes. The pickup started to pull away onto the road to start the drive back to the commune.
“All good?” I asked Jess, rubbing my eyes awake.
He grunted affirmatively and began to follow the pickup, it eventually speeding ahead of us.
“Your brother must be pretty knowledgeable, that didn’t take too long. I always thought a mechanic in the family would come in handy.”
Jess’ eyebrow perked up and he looked to me.
“You thinking about adding him to your family?”
I gave him a smile for the effort and looked out the window, watching the familiar drive roll past.
“It’s an expression, kid. And no, I refer you to my recent breakup hair.”
“Don’t be quick to say no, Will is gonna officially be chief one day soon. He pretty much takes care of us all now tho, with our dad being sick. And I refer you to me being twenty four. Not a kid,” adding some sass to his quip.
I looked over again to see a slight frown on his face. He must get the age thing a lot with an older brother in power. Remembering that he was doing me a favor, I didn’t know him well enough, and that Weres supposedly had pretty strong testosterone issues, I turned to him.
“Sorry. Again, it’s just an expression. And I’m sure you’re brother is great. I’m just about two eons away from thinking about that sort of stuff with my recent...thing. Plus, with being chief, he is probably way out of my league, another ball park even.” I gave him my best apology smile and he glanced over.
“Meh, don’t worry, and you’re probably in the same league, Doctor Kelly. It may be the other way actually, he was pretty sour when he came to help us. Like all smiles getting out of the pickup, then he saw the tiny bit of damage and then gets into his panties in a twist and gives the silent treatment.” He gave one of my classic sighs and added. “Families are complicated.”
“Amen.” I replied.
Pulling off the small public road and into the commune entrance, the old green gate was wide open and waiting. No active wards it seemed, which made sense if people were coming and going, getting ready for tonight. The gate entrance shifted into a long winding packed dirt road, winding through patches of thick trees and we began the final two minutes down to the main housing area of the compound, most of it through low lying woods.
Even though the commune land was near a hundred hectares, some of which bordered on the Colombia river, most of the families chose to live close to one another, about half a mile from the river.
Divided equally between each of the ten founding families, land was used for whatever individual families pleased. Most of it was shared labor and shared gain with other members, but if one of the (usually younger, more energetic) members of a family wanted to use their land for more ambitious projects, they were usually on their own until it turned a profit. Somewhere on this land, I had my own hectare or two to do with what I pleased. I hadn’t given up the rights to it, but allowed my cousin, Diana, to borrow it for the time being.
Jess’ jeep emerged from the small woods and into a large clearing of open field and hillocks that enclosed many of the houses or temporary trailers. About a mile in diameter, most of the ten families had anywhere from two to four houses in the circle of what we simply called ‘the Ring’. In the center of the Ring was a large open area meant for any one of the rituals with a large barn standing close to the open space, intended for use in poor weather.
As soon the trees cleared it was evident that there was a special occasion occurring. Pop up tents and RVs had been placed around and between houses, presumably where the visiting Weres were sleeping. There were a few nicely made modern guest houses kept on the far side of the Ring, but certainly not enough to accommodate an entire pack.
Jess drove on the dirt road leading through the middle of the space, as the Wardwell houses were closer to the river and on the outer edge. Passing close to the barn, I could see a long dinner table had been set up going right through the middle and nearly clear out of either side. Enough space for the hundred coven members and how many the Weres had brought. Lamps could be seen hanging down on the inside and it seemed that the families were in the last stages of setting up the table. In the outside space was a large stack of wood, fashioned into the traditional bonfire pyre.
Jess wound towards the far outer edge and familiar faces started to appear outside the window, as the neighbors I grew up with could be seen coming in and out of their houses. The Wardwell main house came into view over a little hillock that provided a little privacy and Jess pulled right up to it. A large dwelling with a wrap around porch, the ranch style house could have been taken from somewhere like Texas. Elevated a few feet off the ground, wide steps led up to the porch and straight to the front door. My great grandfather, Elias Wardwell, had a wife from El Paso and apparently it was his way of negotiating them to stay on the commune.
Where Jess had pulled up, I could see the blue pick up of his brother parked some 200 feet behind the house and on the left, right next to the main guest house. Getting out of the car, it was immediately noticeable that the wind was less and there was no snow on the ground. Goddess bless those elemental witches who are always thinking ahead. Casting for rain was useful at times, but bless the witch that could keep the fricken arctic wind from seeping through to my bones.
My attention was stolen when out of the front door came a woman around fifty, dressed in a ridiculous long dark purple cloak and dark slacks. A bun full of brown hair was peppered with streaks of silver around her temples and her face was etched with deep lines everywhere. She gave a large smile and opened her arms wide.
I dropped my satchel and raced up the steps two at a time. Before I could hug her, she grabbed my shoulders and held me about two feet away, studying me. She looked me up and down and stopped at my hair.
“Well, it’s certainly a look.”
“Just as is crazy old witch,” I retorted looking her up and down and gesturing to the cloak.
She gave another smile and pulled me in for a type of hug to heal heartbreak.