I wait peeking through the kitchen window, watching but nothing happens. No one follows me. No one comes up the walk. It’s just me in a house that is oh, so quiet. It was nothing. “Nothing,” I whisper hoping the spoken words make it true. An imagined sound comes to my ear and I crane my head to listen but the house remains silent.
A glance at the clock reveals Anna won’t be home for hours. I push away thoughts of the magazine and the bottle caps as I push away from the door and walk through the kitchen turning on lights as I go down the hall trying to slip the unnerving thoughts that won’t leave my head.
I step into my room where the window looms staring and I rush to grab the string and jerk the blinds closed. Then I stand for a moment listening to a house that is much too quiet before I sit on the edge of my bed and wish again that mom was home. I drop my purse and keys on the table and pull my laptop into my lap. The screen brightens and I wait for the browser to load as imagined noises from the other room catch my ear. The internet connection lags and suddenly I have no patience as the space of my room becomes way too small. I decide to wait for Anna in the kitchen and I grab the green faery book and carry it out to the table.
The kitchen is small too, but its three exits reassure me as I put my back to the wall and open the book. I brush my eyes over the text but the pages can’t hold my attention. After a few moments, I give up and put it down. When I look up, I see that the sun is setting. I pause at the window to watch the transformation. The view holds my attention for several minutes. Then the refrigerator becomes vastly more interesting. I open the door and lean in only to stare at the contents. After a moment I discover that it holds no temptations, so I just close the door again and as I turn away, I run my eyes over the clock on the wall. I sigh when I see that its hands have barely moved since the last time I read its face.
On my way back to the table, a deck of my tarot cards catch my eye. I grab them up thinking a reading is the perfect distraction. I slip the cards from the box and hold them in my hands as I close my eyes and tune in to their vibration. Then I shuffle, sliding the cards together, splitting them apart, before sliding them together again. I do this over and over, and when they feel ready, I lay the deck on the table.
The deck looms as I reach to cut it into three stacks. I draw an expectant breath as I stack them back together again. Then I pull a card and place it in the first position.
The Tower—change that is forced—stares up at me…I let out my breath as I gaze down at the frightening image of a tower that has been struck by lightning as a man and a woman plummet, head down, toward the rocks below. I frown. This is the card of catastrophe, sweeping change that takes down the old so the new can replace it.
It’s only change, I tell myself. I can deal with change, even forced change because nothing can stay the same without becoming stagnant. Reassured, I run my fingers over the cards, willing a positive message to the top before I draw another. I lay the card across the Tower and quirk my lips as I gaze down at the Ten of Swords and the image of a man lying face down in the dirt with ten swords stabbed through his back. Wonderful, forced change and the card of suffering and betrayal. On the bright side, it can only get better since I've managed to draw two of the darkest cards in the deck.
I pull another and this time I close my eyes as I press it down into the crowning position, the position of overhead influences. I open my eyes and take in the Seven of Sword, the card of caution. The message is clear from this one. ‘You have the upper hand now but be warned, nothing is quite what it seems. Some crafty maneuvering on your part is called for if you want to stay on top.’
With a sense of urgency I draw the next card, the foundation card, hoping that this card will shine some positive light on the others. My thoughts begin to race as I place the Moon on the table. The moon is the card of instinct and intuition, but this night side card is also the card of illusion. If I were reading for someone else I would look at all the cards in context and warn: you are being deceived. Someone is trying to take advantage of you. Beware all is not what it seems… But just what did this mean for me?
A small crash sounds in the next room setting scenes from a dozen horror movies to spring up fresh in my mind. My head comes up, eyes going everywhere as I listen hard. The house is quiet, almost too quiet. I shiver hard and watch.
Again all is still. There is nothing to see. I garb up my phone, press in Anna’s number and listen to the dial tone repeat. The call goes through to voice mail and I disconnect. My eyes are on the phone in my hand when a sound behind me makes my heart leap out of my chest. I whirl around only to find nothing…There is nothing to see, only an empty chair in a deserted room and me standing frozen is a silent house listening to the shadows.
I am still holding my breath, listening to the quiet, when I spot a tiny movement in the mirror across the hall. I focus hard and my heart freezes when I see Sara crunched down behind the chair, blond hair tucked neatly behind her ear, as she waits for my reaction. I let my sight go fuzzy again before she can see that I’ve spotted her. I try to stay cool as I restack the cards and slide them back into their box but my heart is beating like mad because after I watched her transform at Anna's I have no idea what she wants or what she is even capable of. The only thing I know for sure is that I have to get out of the house.
I feel my pockets for my keys even as I remember dumping my purse and keys on the table in my room. So if I'm fleeing it’s going to be on foot. I draw a steadying breath as I begin to devise a simple plan knowing all I need is a momentary distraction. Then take my phone and punch in the number to our landline. When the phone behind Sara begins to chirp, I pull open the door to the refrigerator to block her view. Mother's voice comes over the answering machine, and as she’s talks about leaving a message, I ease open the front door and, as quiet as a cat, step out onto the porch. I close the door hoping, that like before, Sara is bound to the house and cannot follow.
As the door clicks closed, I take my cell like it is my only lifeline. Who should I call? Who should I call? I wish again that Mom was here as I scroll through my contacts. I settle on Patrick.
“The cell phone you are calling is no longer in service,” says an electronic voice in my ear.
I'm am damning Patrick's prepaid plan and disconnecting when a voice behind me causes my heart to leap. “And just where are you going off to?” I drop my phone on the cement where it explodes into pieces.
I whirl around to see Sean Waverly standing in the shadows. He looks like he's been up for days. His usual artful hair is a mess and I'm pretty sure he's wearing the same clothes he had on the day before. “Sean? What are you doing here?” I kneel to collect the pieces of my cell phone.
He steps into the light and I am shocked by his appearance, he looks exhausted. He is so thin and worn, like he's just come back from a weeklong road trip of hitchhiking and sleeping on the streets. I am still fixed on his ragged appearance when he whispers, “Waiting for you.”
I rise from the ground and step back. “Are you alright?”
“No, Rachel, there is something wrong with me.” He reaches out and pulls me into a rough hug as he presses kisses to my hair.
Now I've had several daydreams about kissing Sean but none of them were ever like this and I'm wondering if things can get any weirder when he pulls back to look into my eyes. “I can't get you out of my head.” He presses his face to my hair and breathes in my scent. “That smell, it’s like vanilla ice cream.”
Then he kisses me hard, his mouth, insistent and hungry. There is so much tension in his body, so much need, it begins to scare me. “Sean.” He pulls away his eyes searching mine, before he leans in to press a trail of hard kisses down my neck. “Sean,” I plead but it’s like he can’t hear me. Then fear grips me coldly as his fingers fumble with the buttons on my shirt.
I tug out of his embrace and try to keep the conversation going. “Really Sean? You like me?”
He draws a soft breath. “I've always liked you Rachel…I know you don't feel the same about me.”
“Why would you say that? Of course I like you, Sean.”
He looks into my eyes and the intensity shining in their depth is chilling. “You do? Then why didn't you ever say yes when I asked you out?”
I cock my head. “You asked me out?”
“Sure a couple of times. Oh, I know you're too good for me but I still took a chance and asked.”
“Too good for you? What are you talking about? You're one of the most popular guys in school. Everyone loves you.”
“Do you Rachel?” He pulls me to him and kisses me hard. “Do you love me? I've liked you since the first moment we met. Then last week it’s like my heart just opened up and now I can't get you out of my head. It’s like your very existence haunts me.”
The moment swells as his words crash over me and Oh no, is all I can think, Oh no, as my thoughts fly to the magick I'd been played with. My stomach is suddenly hollow as my thoughts return to the spell I’d worked with Anna and the afternoon at school when I broadcasted my desire to be noticed by him. Horror fills me as I remember how I’d felt when magick had made me a slave to my emotions. I was a wreck until Anna had help to set it right. Oh god, oh god, oh god. I look at Sean and the conversation I had with Will comes back like a slap in the face. Pressing your will on the will of another is not very smart or very kind.
“I love you, Rachel.” His stomach growls loud.
“Sean, when was the last time you ate?” I look at him, really look. His features are sharp as a new haggardness shapes his face marked by dark circles under exhausted, bloodshot eyes. “God, it looks like you haven't slept for a week.”
He sighs. “Not since Tuesday, I think?”
His words knife through my heart. “You're kidding, right?” Guilt floods through me because I know that I caused this. Me. I caused this anguish, this horrible injustice. I have to fix this. Think! I run through everything I know about magick and how I might lift my intention or maybe cancel it out.
I’m still studying his face when his voice cracks into pieces, “Why is this happening to me.” Then he's kissing me again with an intensity so fierce it’s frightening. I am powerless as I stand there with just my thoughts. I search for anything that might distract him. If ever there was a time for me to be clever, it’s now, so why is my mind completely blank? Then I see him, the little grasshopper man, peering at me from the leaves of the cheeping fig that climbs the beams of our porch, and when our eyes meet he hisses, “Soak him with earth energy.” I must look puzzled because he adds, “Draw it up through the roots of your feet and ground him.”
Ah, a grounding meditation, I can do that. I close my eyes and visualize roots shooting out from the bottom of my feet to reach down to the pools of cool energy stored in the earth. I draw the cool energy up and run it through my chakras. Then I push it up to flow out of my crown so it washes over both of us on its way back into the earth. While Sean kisses me, I work to wrap the grounding earth energy around us and run it until it infuses our auras into a soothing earth tone.
His kisses become lighter and less demanding. I draw a breath and test my work. “Sean?” He pulls back to look at me. “Want to go inside?”
His eyes fill as they focus on me. When he gives a small nod, I step back. He lets me pull out of his arms and I turn to open the door and guide him around me into the house. Then I flip the lock and close it quick.
“Now run!” the grasshopperman hisses.
Then I am gone, racing through the dark as I bolt to the street and around the fence. Behind me I hear the door open and Sean call out my name. I freeze and fall behind a hedge.
“Rachel!... Rachel! Where are you?”
I press my hand to my racing heart as I listen hard. I catch the slam of a car door and I scramble forward, sprinting hard down the road, feet slapping the pavement. I round the corner and dart into the first alley I come to.
My thoughts are full as I flee. Where should I go? What should I do? Oh, Sean. Sean, I am so sorry. I make my escape, feet slapping loud on the earth. I run as my emotions surge and tears blur my vision. A full moon hangs low and the cards I pulled and their messages whisper in my thoughts…nothing is as it seems…
Car lights flash and I freeze and press back into the shadows. I watch from darkness as Sean's jeep drives by. Voices drift up from the street and I quiet my breath and turn my head to listen. The next second I spot my neighbor, Tom, walk past the alley entrance with two large street people at his side. One of them pauses just in my line of sight to lift his nose and I swear it looks as if he is scenting the air and suddenly the man looks a lot more like a troll. I catch my breath and stay absolutely still until he moves out of sight.
I’m several blocks from home and not sure what to do or where to go so I stay in the shadows, taking the alleys until the one I’m walking ends at a street. I pause at the corner to take out the pieces of my phone and try to push them back together but the light is bad and the pieces won’t cooperate. I give up, sure that I've broken it for good this time and tuck the pieces into my pocket before I zig across a street and follow the walk to the street beyond.
I'm trembling and jumping at every sound sure that Sean or maybe even Sara is about to come into view. I'm hesitant to step out of the shadows, when across the street, I spot Jared leaning against the bus stop bench talking to a guy who is the spitting image of Danny Devito.
“Jared!” I lift my arm and wave big.
He pulls himself up straight when he sees me. Then he comes alive, stretching his arm wide to motion for me to cross the street. The sound of a siren pulls my attention and I glance down the block to see an ambulance heading my direction. I pause to gauge its approach. Then it’s there, bright lights flashing, siren blaring and as it flashes past, I dart across the street to find Jared waiting alone.
I'm on the verge of tears and struggling to catch my breath as I fall against him. He pulls me into a rough hug. “Rachel. What's the matter? Are you alright?”
His concern starts the tears to spill from my eyes. “Sara was at my house—” I gasp. “And Sean. He's been stalking me. Can you believe it? I think I accidently enchanted him or something.” I blink hard stalling most of the tears.
Jared’s hands fix on my arms to hold me back. He is not smiling when he looks down into my face. “Who's Sean?”
The look of Sean’s face, gaunt and weary, fills my mind and guilt crashes over me anew. I feel the weight of Jared’s gaze as he takes in my mused hair and my bruised lips, but I cannot meet his eyes. “Did he hurt you?”
“No. A grasshopper…” I gasp as I hear the words as they come out of my mouth...a ghost and a grasshopperman? Could I possibly sound anymore crazy?... No way am I going to tell him about the grasshopperman.
“Rachel, did he hurt you?” his voice is sharp, insistent.
“No, he didn’t hurt me.” I wipe my face and grasp for something else. “I tricked him. Locked him inside my house and I ran.” I run my hand over my face again. “Oh god, I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Shush little one.” Jared pulls me close. His chest is warm, his arms strong, and I cling to him breathing deep the ever-present pine scent of him. I lift my eyes to find that he is gazing down at me, and there is such compassion on his features, my guilt blooms fresh. Jared’s voice is soft in my ear, “Relax, little bird. You are safe now.”
Tears begin a silent rain down my face. I pull away and swipe at them with my sleeve. “Sorry. Things have just been so weird lately.” I draw a deep breath and run my hand over my cheek. When I look up again I realize we are alone. “Where'd your friend go?”
He gives me a quizzical glance. “What friend?”
“The guy you were talking to. The one that looks like Danny Devito?”
“Danny Devito? You saw me talking to a guy that looks like Danny Devito?” He tills back his head and laughs. “That figures.” I'm confused by his reaction, confused by everything that’s gone on this night. I don't resist when he takes my arm and guides me to the café next door. “What do you say we talk over coffee? You can tell me all about this enchantment that you cast.”
My cheeks flare with embarrassment because I know I'm guilty as charged. “It’s too late for coffee,” I grumble.
“Okay, decaf tea, then. You do like tea. Right?
The waitress shows us to a table. As we settle in I remember that Sara might still be at the house waiting to attack an unsuspecting Anna and my heart starts to race. “Oh my god, I have to warn Anna.”
“So call her.”
The image of Sean startling me and my phone falling to break into pieces springs to the front of my thoughts. I answer, almost moan, “I can’t I broke my phone.”
Jared reaches out his hand. “Let me see it.”
“But it’s broken,” I say again knowing it is in pieces now, that there is no way it will ever work again.
He fixes me with a steady look as he holds out his open palm.
“Fine.” I pull the pieces from my pocket and drop them into his waiting hand.
He tinkers with it a moment. I watch as he slips the battery in and clicks it back together whole. “There you go.” He presses the button and the phone comes to life in his hand.
I look at it mystified. “That can't be. It was in pieces!” My frown deepens as I stare at the glowing screen.
His smile is a smirk. “Appearances can be deceiving. You were upset. Here call her.” I just look at the phone in his outstretched hand as doubt and confusion muddle my thoughts. “Go ahead. Clear you conscience,” he urges. “Call your friend.”
I take the phone and press in Anna's number. The waitress comes back to our table. I turn away, urgent words on my lips. I have to warn her about Sara… and tell her about Sean! But the call goes to voicemail on the second ring. “Anna, call me when you get this message,” I begin. “Watch out! Sarah is in the house!” I stall not sure what else I should say. I needed to talk to her not leave some goofy sounding message. “Uh, Anna? I have a lot to tell you. It’s been a really crazy night. Call me when you get this? Please, Anna?”
We are seated in a corner booth away from the windows and out of sight of the street. There is no way anyone can spot me in here. Besides I'm with Jared now, so even if they do, he will protect me, right? I relax and exhaustion creeps over me as the tendrils of fear release their hold and slip away. The waitress returns with mugs of hot drinks that I don't remember ordering.
I thank her and take my mug, curling my hands around it drawing comfort from its warmth. When I glance up I find Jared watching me with solemn eyes. His good looks wash over me with their full power and I shiver at his nearness as I slide my eyes down the curve of his strong jaw and let them rest on his lovely mouth. God he is so attractive. Memory of our movie night runs through my thoughts followed quickly with the way he'd disappeared and I suddenly understand. Of course! He has zero interest in me. I'd be kidding myself to think he did. The only reason he is here is right now is because of what happened to me tonight. He's just being nice.
I mean, god look at him. He's gorgeous and he must be at least twenty-three or twenty-four. Of course someone like him would have no interest in some plain someone like me…
I watch as his lips quirk in a beautiful smile and in that moment I'd like nothing more than to lift my chin and plant a kiss on that gorgeous mouth. Heat surges through me warm and delicious. I drop my eyes to the table as the tingling warmth spreads from my pelvis up to the tops of my ears. I take a deep breath and when I look up again I am stunned as his lips are right there close leaning in to brush mine. Wait? What? Did that really just happen?
I blink up at him as he pulls back to look into my eyes and I can only watch his lips move, “Rachel, you are far from plain.” I blink. Then I hear his words and my face super heats as every detail of the moment grows sharp. “Would that it could be any other way…” He drops his eyes to the table as his mouth pulls tight.
His words are a puzzle I cannot unlock. “What are you saying?”
He does not move so I just sit there and look at him until he looks back and when I read the anguish shining in his eye, my voice becomes a moan, “What are you saying?”
His voice is rough. “Just drink your tea.”
“Jared?” At the sound of his name, he turns away. I wrap my fingers tight around my mug and try to puzzle out what is happening. Be any other way? What does that mean? His words make no sense. I am starting to think that I must have not heard him right. “Jared?”
He turns. His eyes hold so much pain when he looks at me. “No matter what happens next, Little Bird, know that you can survive it.”
His words begin to scare me a little. I blink up at him as the message of the cards roll through my mind, Appearances can be deceiving. Suddenly I am sharply aware that I don't know anything about him other than what he's told me. I blink at him for a long moment. “Where have you been, Jared?”
He gazes at me so long before he answers I get frustrated trying to read him and I turn my attention to my tea. I take a deep drink hoping he finds his voice. When I glance back up at him he is gazing down at the table. “Jared?”
His face is a mask of regret. His eyes slide this way and that as if he doesn’t want me to see what they hold. “I've been trying to work it out…to find a way to a different end to this thing. One that does end with me forfeiting my life…”
I set down my mug. “Your life?”
He drops his head and his hair falls to veil his face. “I'm sorry Rachel. Sorry that I can't be more gallant.”
What is this? What is he saying? Is it real or just lies? Suddenly I am so very tired. I can’t take anymore of drama and I want nothing more than for all of the strangeness to end. I push it away but my traitorous thoughts have other plans and pull the conversation I had with the waiter about our dinner at the waterfront restaurant out into the light. He set the whole thing up. My eyes flash open. Just more lies? I look to see he is looking back at me and I look him square in the eyes. “I ran into the guy who waited on us the day we met and he told me that you'd set the whole thing up.”
He blinks at me.
“The dinner, Jared? He said you set it up.”
“So did you or didn't you, Jared? I want to know because it’s weird. Only a weirdo would do something like that.”
He fastens me with a look and I can tell that it is true. He did go to the restaurant before hand and plan our evening. What I couldn't understand was why. Why go to the trouble? He must read my confusion because he replies, “I had to be sure that everything went according to plan.”
“Plan? What are you talking about? You just look at the menu and order.”
“The plan, Rachel. The reason I am here. I didn’t want to use anything that might have lasting effects so I use food to open you to a gentler, subtle magick.”
I can hear his voice clearly, but his words aren't making any sense. I try to listen harder “Magick?”
“Wine, dates and figs all have very strong magical correspondences.”
I squeeze my eyes closed. “I don't understand.”
“You should, it seems you've been playing at it yourself lately.”
The room starts to dim and suddenly I am oh so tired. I let my head rest back against the booth not really caring what Jared might or might not have done as each troubling thought begins to loosen and slip from my mind…I don't know how much time has passed when I feel him pull me toward him as he gathers me up into his arms. I lift my eyelids to peek at his lovely face again. He is close and he looks so beautiful. I watch as his lips twist into a sad smile. A stray lock of hair has tumbled down over his brow but it can't hide the endearing twinkle in his eye. “Feeling better?”
His voice has taken on an odd quality but I nod, or try to nod, but the action seems too complex to pull off. I squeeze my eyes shut before I decide to answer and when I lift my chin to speak I find that something has happened to the muscles in my face and neck. My smile slips when I realize that the use of all of my muscles seems to have gone away. “Jared, Jared...” I try to say but my tongue is thick and strange in my mouth.
He puts his lips to my ear and whispers. “Shhh, listen, little one. Things are going to happen now. Unavoidable, terrible things but I know that you can endure them to the end. From here forward, don't accept the first glamour you see when you come upon those like the one you call Devito and Sara. Use your inner sight to see the flame that is hidden within.” His voice sounds hollow and faraway. I try to cling to his words but my eyes grow so heavy I can't keep them open, and as they close, all of my worries slip away…
Then we are moving. A surge of fear bolts through me as I realize that something is terribly wrong. I fight back the dark long enough to come back to realty and open my eyes to see the waitress open the door to let us go through. I try to speak but all I can manage is a kind of growl which seems to make her smile. She turns to Jared and I think I hear her say, “Sugar, you got it from here?” The last thing I see is him nod then my weighted eyes close and I am gone.