Chapter One - Hidden Library
“You look beautiful when you dance.”
My back straightened when I heard those words from the other side of the practice room. I hadn’t heard Antony enter. If I had, I would have stopped practicing. I glanced at the stereo system in the corner. My music had not been loud, yet the gentle melody had covered the sound of his arrival.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” I said, lowering my heels so they touched the mat under my feet.
“Your pirouette is really coming along. Four turns now?”
My skin burned. I had secretly mastered doing four turns, but I hadn’t done it that day. How long had he been watching me, and for how many days?
“You might announce yourself before coming in,” I said coldly.
“You would stop dancing if I did that,” Antony said, standing behind me, so we could see ourselves together in the practice mirror.
The sight was very nostalgic for me. Once, we had been children in the same dance class. He had stopped dancing in his late boyhood, declaring it hurt his masculinity to prance. As he stood behind me in the present, he regretted the decision because it meant he could not dance with me.
I, on the other hand, rejoiced. When he quit, Antony had not known how, one day, he would fumble and grasp for opportunities to interact with me. His regrets about quitting ballet were unfounded. No contact, no closeness would ever draw me to accept a romance with him.
His reflection in the mirror showed his features and his mood. The light in his eyes showed boiling lust, bubbling, and overflowing. For that moment, he could not conceal his feelings. That indescribable feeling of wanting what he could not have might have meant something wonderful to me on another’s man’s face. On Antony’s features, half of which mirrored mine, it was horrifying. He could have been my brother instead of my cousin.
His blue eyes settled on my brown ones in the mirror as he placed his forefinger on his temple and cradled his elbow in his other hand.
The sight of his hands on himself and not loose or poised to touch me helped me relax ever so slightly. “What are you doing here, Antony? I thought you only came to the school to play chess and that’s over until the fall.”
“You know the school feels like home to me,” he said.
I didn’t know that. The school was like an extension of home for me, but that had never been true for him. The truth was that he knew I would be practicing my ballet and he came deliberately to see me.
His hands remained where I could see them, but I could have sworn I felt something brush up against my thigh. He was standing apart from me. He couldn’t have brushed up against me accidentally. Nor could he have touched me with his hands where I could see them, but the contact continued like two fingers moving up the side of my thigh to my hip.
“Don’t touch me,” I hissed with a glare.
“I’m not touching you,” he insisted, holding his hands out where I could see them.
The feeling did not stop, and I felt a whole hand grasp my waist.
“I have to go,” I said, sweeping the air around me to brush off the invisible fingers. The feeling dispersed as I moved away from the mirror. I grabbed my bag, which was sitting just inside the door.
He rushed after me. “Wait. Why are you angry?”
“You know what you did. Trying your magic on me.”
He stopped and gazed innocently at me. “I didn’t do any magic.”
“You’re better at magic than you are at lying,” I said, moving past him.
He called after me, but the blood pounding in my ears prevented me from hearing him.
The doors fell shut between us and I stopped in the atrium of the school and contemplated wearing my ballet slippers outdoors just so I wouldn’t have to pause to remove them. I hated the idea of ruining them on the concrete outside. I commanded myself to calm down and sit on the stairs. Slowly I worked my way out of my slippers. I had other shoes in my bag.
Alone, with the air echoing around me, I told myself a story like I was casting a spell. I reminded myself that Antony was my cousin. I had played with him as a child. I had to be misinterpreting his signals. He couldn’t be dangerous. He had never hurt me, not even in a game, and I had known him all my life. I told myself a story about him letting me win at chess, even though he was so good at chess that he rarely lost. He never beat me. Not because he couldn’t, but because he wouldn’t. When I was around, he was like a tiger with no roar, no bite, and no empty stomach to fill.
That was, until recently.
The story, like a spell, almost worked, but the calmness was interrupted by the contrast of his more recent attitude. Something had broken inside him. It was almost as if he had realized he no longer needed my consent. He looked at me, felt something catch fire inside him, and proceeded without asking for permission. Our interaction in the practice room was a sample of the way he had begun making my skin crawl. I rubbed my thigh. My skin wouldn’t stop crawling.
In our world, there was a grand minority of men who could work magic. Antony was desirable based on scarcity. He never had to be on his best behavior, because he was handsome and his magic was rare as a blue moon. He thought all witches suffered, waiting for the moment they could pair up with a mage because that was the only way any of them could partake in a romantic adventure that wasn’t doomed to end. After all, how much fun could it be to date an ordinary young man when there was a boy who could build a fairy tale around you, make you a princess, and give you your happily-ever-after?
My family made magic spell books, where if a reader opened the cover, they would be drawn into a world of magic and starlight. Inside the book, you could be a knight single-handedly fighting an army and as long as you didn’t drop your sword, you would win. It could be a romance that left the reader breathless, and slightly insane because the love was levels above what could happen in real life. The story could let you play a game or solve a puzzle or have an adventure. Anything.
I wanted to write the spell books treasured by the Fastille and Borage families. They were kept in the hidden library in our family’s school. The Borage School for Deportment was not a school where classes in magic were held. It was a finishing school for the children of the rich who were not as elegant as their parents had hoped. A small number of houses in the neighborhood belonged to my family. Most of my aunts taught at the school and there were handfuls of extended family members everywhere. They taught classes in table manners, coaching students to eat navel oranges with a knife and fork. There were lessons in wine, lessons in dancing, music, and elocution. Anything was available for someone who wanted to smooth the edges of a rough child. I taught there too, as a tutor. On its face, it was a school, but under the skin of it, it was our church, and it had its holy places.
For me, the holiest place was the hidden library.
It was in plain view. When visitors toured the school, June would smile and introduce the room by explaining that she was about to show them something spectacular. Then, she would open the door and beckon the curious visitors in.
The room was nothing short of breathtaking. Perched within the high, mirrored walls were three giant trees. Made of white stone and studded with shining, golden leaves, the three trees appeared to dance in a circle on their twisted, exposed roots. A half-moon skylight in the circular room let in the sunshine and set the gold and milky stone aglow. This heavenly sight seduced many patrons, practically guaranteeing enrollment in the school.
If you were to duck under the blue velvet rope that encircled the magnificent trees and stand between the tree trunks, you would discover the truth. Each tree was actually a cabinet. Inside were five shelves and each shelf could hold seven to eight books. The library did not hold books that had been published by the world for money. They were spell books.
These lustrous trees and several of the magical books within them were created by none other than my shunned witch cousin, Emi.
Emi was my second cousin, and as a little girl, there was no one I looked up to more than her. Sometimes, she had lived at my house with June and me, because we lived across the street from her studio space at the school. She had worn black and since she was working with white stone, she would come home dusted in it. She was my guide for what kind of witch I wanted to be, growing my hair long, and eventually also choosing to wear all black, exactly like her.
Emi made everything, but her best creations were her spell books. She was the one who taught me about them.
She showed me how some of them recorded what you did when you were inside them, and could be experienced only once. With that one experience, whatever the author originally wrote would be replaced with the thoughts, actions, and words of the person who read it. When the book was complete, it almost became a journal, except more private, because the reader didn’t control what was written about them. The magic wrote the story, so the reader couldn’t filter or edit what was recorded. Most of them have been burned.
Other spell books could be read over and over.
She let the children read one of the spell books she made. It was about a tea kettle who was trying to steal your teacup in a giant world of a never-ending tea party. It was more real than real life, but pure magic. You had to steal the tea cozy and the kettle would promise to leave you alone if you gave it back. Then you drank your tea in peace before you got booted out of the book. It was completely charming, like Emi.
Because I loved Emi more than the others, losing her crushed my heart like nothing else. I had already lost so much, losing her felt like the end of the world.
I was eleven when she was banished from our coven. She did not sneak away in the night. She packed her belongings, sat on her suitcase in the yard, and waited for her fiance to retrieve her. Her parents circled her, threatening her, crying, throwing spells, and moaning. Emi’s face was so clear of distress, I wondered if she could hear them. It was like she had blocked her ears and put blinders on her eyes so she could only see the life she would have with him. His name was Vincent Chaney. He pulled up in his car and when he stepped from the vehicle, I was astounded. I didn’t know men were made that attractive. He was like a modern fairy-tale. Yes, he was handsome, but that was not the thing that I remembered most about him. It was the love all over him, more obvious than a glamor spell. It was love that had nothing to do with magic. I had never seen such a thing before. I remembered all of it. How he looked as he rushed from the driver’s side of the car, the eagerness in his arms as he reached for her, the relief when he felt her forehead on his cheek, and at last, the disappointment as he regarded her parents. Emi placed a finger on her lips and shook her head. There was nothing he could say or do that would change their feelings about her marrying a man with no magical talent. He put her luggage in the back of his car and guided her to the passenger seat.
Emi waved goodbye to her family like it wasn’t forever, but rather like she was going on holiday, and they would all be together soon. I never forgot the look on her face, because to us, she was forever dead and could never return. She looked calm, easy, happy even.
The banishment was permanent and no one’s anger cooled in the years that followed. It didn’t even cool when her mother died, and then her father. The remainder of her close relatives slowly moved away. She never bid them farewell, and they refused to tell her when they moved away. Once they were gone, it was hard to tell who was keeping the grudge going. Were we such a strong witch coven that we could afford to forgo the talents of a brilliant witch, no matter who she chose to marry?
Later, when June showed visitors the hidden library, she would tell them that one of the school’s alumni had made it. Her name was Emi Borage before she was married, and now she worked at the art gallery downtown.
With Emi gone, her books sat with the others in the hidden library. Most of the books were forbidden to children under eighteen. They were not books you could drop if they offended you and many of them were not safe. I wanted to read all the books, no matter what horrors lurked between their covers. I had to wait, as I still had a month until the birthday that would turn me into an adult. The only spell book I had ever been allowed to read was the one Emi made about the tea kettle. New books were extremely rare. Emi had been the last one to contribute a book to the library and that was ten years ago.
This is where Salinger Meriwa enters the story.
In my coven, there weren’t many men. In all our houses that surrounded the school, there were only four. One was my cousin, Antony. The second was his father. The third was my cousin Pearl’s father. The fourth was my great uncle Lester who lost his mind years ago, but he still had good legs, so he wandered the neighborhood in a loop. Finding men for me and my four female cousins was going to be tricky.
The only other magical family we had a decent relationship with was the Meriwa family that lived in Whitehorse. Since they were so far away from Edmonton, I had never met any of them, but my girl cousins wrote emails and texted the three boys of the family constantly. They wrote, hoping to catch the eye of the oldest brother, Salinger.
I wouldn’t write to Salinger or his brothers. I didn’t need him to live the life I had laid out for myself.
I was a princess in black lace with black curls and black smudges on my fingertips from where I used charcoal that morning. In my free time, instead of fighting with a pack of beautiful (but evil) cousins, I tried to write a spell book. Like Emi, I was going to write books and fill that library. Let Salinger be hanged along with Antony.
Except, of course, he wouldn’t be hanged. Instead, he was the first person in ten years to complete a spell book that was magical enough to add to our library. He was coming to show us his work and see if we were worthy of housing his creation.
The cousins were a flurry of excitement and in truth… so was I.
Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! This book is a sequel of sorts to my novel 'Behind His Mask', which is available to read here on Inkitt. You don't have to read it in order to read this book. The stories are not tightly connected, but reading 'Behind His Mask' might help you enjoy this book more.
As some of you may have noticed, this book was an excerpt for a long time. Well, no more! Starting today, I'm going to start adding chapters on my regular schedule. Today, you get chapter two!