Franny still smelled like lavender cookies and I took a deep breath in the crook of her neck to drink it in like it was ambrosia. When I was a teen, I was convinced that the fragrance was so ingrained in her clothes that she no longer needed to bake them for me to smell them on her. It was a scent of warmth, and love, and home, and probably Franny’s natural perfume at this point. God it was good to be home, to her.
After a long hug, we pulled away from each other. Franny held me away from her again, studying me. She had a slight frown on her face after a moment and she was rubbing my arms up and down. Hearing the tread of steps coming up the stairs, Jess came beside us and placed my suitcase down.
Franny looked to him.
“Will okay? He raced past here a few minutes ago looking like he was on a mission.”
He scratched the back of his head.
“I don’t know, honestly. But it wouldn’t be a day endin in ‘y’ if something wasn’t botherin him or he had something important to do, ya know?”
“Well, let him know the elders want to start soon since it’s nearly dark, would you? And if he could lose the mood, it would probably be better.”
Jess tipped two fingers to his forehead and saluted Francis.
“Do my best.” He turned and looked to me “Nice to meet you, and sorry for the deer thing.”
I nodded my head with a smile.
“Don’t let those Does get you down, and thanks for the pick up.”
He gave a little wave and walked down the steps and into his jeep, crossing the little hill to the guest cabin.
I turned back to Franny, who still had my arms in her hands. She still wore that frown.
“The deer thing?”
“Oh you know, windy, blustery, snow day, high speeds in a crappy jeep, worst possible time for an accident, then a deer wants what it wants. Same ole story.” I shrugged my shoulders as in a ‘what-can-you-do’ expression. She fell silent and started carefully looking me down, her eyes studying my every feature.
“Kelly, what’s wrong?” Her voice was full of concern and asked in a way when you expect someone to tell them you are terminally ill. Her hands gripped me tighter. She was really worried. I mirrored her hands, grabbing her arms.
“Francis, I’m okay, really. I have a wicked hangover today, but nothing is wrong like what you’re thinking.” I let go of one of her arms and wrapped the other around her waist, leading her into the house and to the foyer.
With its old polished wood furniture and leather trimmings, it always appeared that the Wardwells pulled their style right out of an old bachelor catalog. But there were little feminine pieces placed all around the room that made it clear the house was matriarchal. A purple silk scarf hung over the back of the chaise, a fruity cocktail shaker on the bar cart, a few Wiccan art pieces for fertility on any one of the side tables. As far as I was aware, there were currently no husbands or sons living in the main house, so the ladies had their choice with styling the home.
I walked my aunt over to the large leather couch, years of wear evident in the smoothness of its cushions, and sat in the middle with her. Franny still wore her worried expression and was still rubbing my arm.
“Why, what do you sense?” I asked. Francis would never call herself an empath, she stuck strictly to the future. It was how she became the richest woman on the commune, and hell, the county, unbeknownst to most. Her psychic hotline was not advertised in the usual channels of late night advertisements or spam on the side of websites. Franny’s ‘hotline’ was only advertised by word of mouth, and only to those she approved, and more importantly, to those who could afford it. Francis’ predictions had made a lot of the right people a lot of money in her time and she made sure she got a cut of it, and then dispensed of it to the commune or other charities in need at the time.
So although she wasn’t an empath, Franny was something special and always told me that when it came to close family, she saw ‘past the future and to the person’, whatever the hell that meant.
She held my hand and looked to its palm, tracing my lines.
“I don’t know. You’re definitely not the same as when I last saw you.” Her eyes rose to my face, looking around the curve of my chin. My heart shaped face hadn’t changed much, but I am sure there were more wrinkles around my eyes, and all the drinking of the last three days probably hadn’t helped my complexion.
“It’s almost like, like I can’t see the edges of you, or something.” I gave her a look to convey the level of crazy she was spouting. She caught it and seemed to be frustrated.
“Look, I don’t know, okay? There is just something more with you. You really don’t feel anything?”
I pursed my lips in concentration. I did feel different. I felt like total shit, but I didn’t think that’s what she meant and kept it to myself.
“Honestly, no. I mean since that anger fest on Tuesday, I have been pretty much three sheets drunk, even through my last class. I’m sporting the worst hangover of my life today and feel like the chills of a flu are on the way, so I’m not totally sure I would totally notice if anything was off.”
Franny was still holding my hand tracing my lines, eyes closed as if she didn’t need to see them to foretell my future.
“Look, maybe you’re feeling my new found resolve. I did discover my inner Hulk the other day. And I’ve pledged that I’m no longer going to be a pushover when it comes to men, or in general. No more just ‘giving and no taking’. That asshole Chad was the last passenger on the Kelly-gives-freely train.” I gave her my best smile and squelched the headache.
She sighed and opened her eyes, still holding my hand.
“Maybe you’re right. After all, it has been two years since I’ve seen you and I can’t pinpoint anything, maybe it’s just that you finally went through your first real heartache.”
She pushed my hair behind my ear and plastered a fake smile on.
“But you’re home now, and it’s gonna be okay. We are going to have a few drinks, a good time, look at some attractive males, then talk about when you are moving back home.”
I chuckled at her sliding in the males remark.
“Well, the one I’ve seen wasn’t too bad, a little young for me, so, yeah, line em up for a sexy parade, if you please.”
I looked around the familiar living room, it was eerily quiet despite the high level of activity in the Ring below.
“Is anyone else home?”
She shook her head.
“Weren’t you listening? The dinner and signing are nearly happening. Everyone is down at the barn by now. Are you coming to eat?”
“No, apparently I need to take a better, more vigorous shower before I join a bunch of super freak werewolves. But I’ll come down for the party and bonfire. Maybe hair of the wolf will cure the fire alarm in my head.”
She gave a knowing look and leaned in to give me another long hug.
“I’ve missed you, Kel. I’ve been lonely here without your stupid jokes and terrible baking.”
“Me too, Franny, I can’t say how I have missed your inner drama queen and penchant for hippy theatrics.”
She threw her head back for a belly laugh and wiped a tear from her eye.
She suddenly stopped laughing and looked across the living room towards the main library that seconded as an office.
“Ugh, look, I’m going to take this call in a moment. But your room and bathroom is all ready for you. Tylenol is still in your cupboard I believe. If I’ve finished this call before you get out, I’ll meet you down at the barn, kay?”
I gave her another big hug and squeeze, lavender cookies to her bones.
“Thanks Franny, for everything. We have the next month together, so remember all the nice things you just said when I’m annoying the shit out of you, yeah?”
She gave me a smile and began to walk across the living room, I grabbed my suitcase from next to the front door and followed her since my old bedroom was on the east side of the building as well. On cue, the old landline in the office began to ring. Through the doorway I heard Franny pick it up on the second ring and immediately answer in a chastising manner.
“Well, Fred, you did exactly what I told you not to, huh?” Her voice trailed off as she listened to whatever excuse poor Fred was giving her on the other end.
Opening up my old bedroom, the smell of my vanilla perfume wafted across the open door. Nostalgia surged in my chest and I remembered everything I loved about this place. Most of what I loved was tied up in Franny or my family, but I grew up here and there were the ups and downs I had with my parents, but no one could deny the commune was beautiful.
I looked into my en suite to find it cleaned and stocked with towels. Franny was seriously the best. The shower in the house never had the best pressure, but you could always count on it to be hot and endless. After downing two Tylenol, I stood under the hot stream and let it run over me before vigorous scrubbing.
I came out to examine my old closet, still filled with a mix of teenage Kelly clothes and those I had left here on any one of my trips back home.
Holy shit, there were a lot of florals. And skirts. I most certainly had a style when I was younger. Always wanting to fit in with the other commune kids who were somehow always stereotypically dressed for some kind of Wiccan orgy, I had occasionally conformed, or tried. I snorted at the idea of my cousin Diana’s favorite crepe-styled mustard skirt that she had worn religiously when we were eighteen. If I ever saw that thing again I would burn it.
I fingered through the clothes. Florals and skirts were nice, but they were soft and feminine. They screamed something that I didn’t want to be anymore. No more loving, forgiving, Kelly, runt of the coven litter. I was loved, but no one had ever thought of me as a Wardwell force of nature. That was probably my own fault, but it was going to change. I might as well start now since this was the first time I had seen the coven in a long time. Like a kid at a new school, reinventing themselves.
Ignoring the closet, I turned to my suitcase. A plain white tee and jeans with Bec’s leather jacket should put enough of a message across.
Slipping on ankle boots, I dried the rest of my hair, admiring that the new blonde stiffness had died down some and it looked a little more natural than the day before. Not bothering with makeup, but not being able to resist my familiar vanilla oil, I left my room and moved through the house. Franny was nowhere to be seen, and the dinner must nearly be over by now, since I had taken so long.
The front door had been left open and again I marveled that the rest of the state could be three feet in snow and the Ring would always be protected to as much as the elemental witches wanted. That was real power, to give the finger to mother nature and tell her it was going to be a nice spring day when all she wanted to do was rage snow. Of course it didn’t really work like that, but I liked the imagery in my head. A slight breeze wafted across the porch, but the thick leather jacket Bec had loaned me would be sufficient if I was near the large bonfire.
From the porch, I could nearly see straight across the Ring to the one road entrance. In the center, a lone torch could be seen walking slowly across what I assumed was the open space for ceremonies. It suddenly disappeared, hidden behind something I couldn’t see in the dark, only to reappear just as quick when the large pyre for the bonfire was ignited and the faint cheer and howls of witches and werewolves were sent into the air. I gave a big smile as I remembered why I loved these people, they were so fucking crazy.