Of the four of us, the only one who could never stay in one place was
Fiona. She said it would take an act of the gods for her to come
home. This was the kind of statement that usually got her into
trouble. – Avery Ryan
“So this isn’t how I expected us to be together again.” Waverly Ryan rubbed at her
arms and looked around the room.
As much as Fiona wanted to say, “Yeah, well I bet Emma did,” she kept her
thoughts to herself and mirrored her friend’s actions. It was colder than she
expected for April in Nebraska. She was usually in Paris this time of year, not
dressed in black standing in the bleak living room of her father’s old farmhouse
with other mourners.
In a way, she did expect to be here for this very reason. She was almost surprised
her father had lasted this long, considering his habits. She didn’t say so, of course.
But she knew Waverly’s sister, Avery, saw right through her. Even though Fiona
Shaw had perfected the art of the poker face, it didn’t matter because Avery could
sense and calm her emotions, a talent strangely at odds with her detached,
Even without broadcasting her thoughts, Fiona could tell Avery knew exactly how
she felt. The problem was, so could Waverly, the circle’s token empath. It was a
talent that often got her into trouble because Waverly received so many emotions
that in some cases, she couldn’t handle it.
Fortunately, Avery also had a talent for mitigating the emotional effect on her sister
and directing the conversation in a way that deflected any awkwardness. Rather
than comment on the funeral or the rather tedious reception, she asked, “How long
will you stay?”
Fiona shot her a grim smile of relief. “As long as it takes to settle things, I guess.”
She shrugged and ran her hands through her short, red hair. She couldn’t manage
to tame it even at her father’s funeral, but it hardly mattered now. He was gone and
she was standing on the first floor of her house, surrounded by people she hadn’t
expected to see again, like neighbors and her father’s coworkers.
Sure, she expected
to see her best friends one of these days, but not the rest of the people there.
“So maybe the circle can be complete again,” Waverly ventured. “At least for a little
while. I mean, estates take some time to settle, right? And I’m sure you’ve got to
deal with things like insurance and the house…” She trailed off when Avery shook
her head at her.
“Talking about business right now? No,” Avery scolded her sister. “Fiona needs time
Fiona looked at her friends, so different and so dear to her. Waverly was the fretful
one, often toying with her long brown hair and showing far more emotion than her
thoughtful sister, Avery. Some might go so far as to mistake Avery’s cool blonde
beauty for disinterest, but she wasn’t heartless – just methodical. And then there
was Emma – gorgeous, steady, ravenhaired
Here they were, in their mid to late twenties, their lives so different than when they
met in high school. All of them had jobs and Emma was settled down in a serious
relationship. Fiona glanced over at Crystal, Emma’s partner of seven years. She
stood at the punch bowl, nodding as she spoke with Emma’s mother.
“How is Crystal doing?” Fiona asked.
“She’s good.” Emma’s answer lacked enthusiasm and Fiona decided not to pursue
the topic. Her fellow witches weren’t the only ones who could read emotions.
“And how is Sara?” Waverly asked, drawing Fiona’s attention back to her.
“Who?” Fiona blinked as she tried to recall who Waverly meant.
“Sara. Wasn’t that the cutie you hooked up with in London?”
“Ohhh…” To be honest, Fiona hardly remembered. London was before Paris, before
Adaline, but after Helen in Athens, right? Sometimes her travels were a blur in her
mind and so were her socalled
“girlfriends” from one country to the next. As far as
she was concerned, all that mattered was getting her story, immersing herself in
whatever she was writing, enjoying a warm snuggle with a lovely lady, and then
getting on her way. How was she supposed to remember the names of all those
women? They were different every time.
Avery put her hand on Fiona’s arm and said to their friends, “I’m sure Fiona’s
lovers are the last thing on her mind today.”
Grateful for Avery’s intuitive intervention once more, Fiona dipped her gaze to her
feet. Shoes said a lot about a person or people, in this case. Emma’s were sensible
shoes. Waverly’s were a little too strappy for the spring, let alone a
funeral, and Avery’s were cute, classic Mary Janes.
Fiona remembered when she first met her friends. Their circle of three had been
bonded as a magick circle, but incomplete. Earth, air, and water needed her fire to
inspire their actions. And as part of a small handful of gay residents in their tiny
community of Ashland, Nebraska, they gave each other muchneeded
Fiona’s wanderlust wasn’t the town’s fault, though. She liked Ashland well enough,
but she’d moved so often until she turned seventeen, it felt natural to always be on
the go. Heck, she hadn’t even stayed at the same college for four years. Though she
did manage to graduate and move immediately into a coveted job writing for The
New Yorker. Briefly, anyway.
“You could just stay,” Emma said and shrugged as if it were that easy.
Fiona bit back a scoff. Staying in one town, living in the same house was easy for
Emma, the everdependable
earth witch. She had Crystal and her store and her
family intact. Emma had perfected the art of adulting even before it became
fashionable to use “adult” as a verb. They jokingly referred to her as “the coven
Maybe it helped that she was a clairvoyant and knew what life would toss her way.
Having an idea of what to expect would certainly make it easier to move through
life, accept the positive, and work through the negative.
But Fiona would have hated that talent. She wanted life to be unpredictable and
interesting, to live with a “come what may” attitude. She didn’t need security
because things always went her way. And if they didn’t go her way, she had the
power to change that.
Except this. This was the one instance where she couldn’t manifest something into
being. Well, maybe she could, but she knew as well as her friends that disturbing
the dead was a dangerous business. Besides, it was for the best in this case. Sure,
her dad was an alcoholic. Sure, driving after drinking was a risk he took. It was no
one’s responsibility but his own. But, still…
She dipped her gaze to the circle of shoes again and let out a long breath. “I have to
settle his estate and that will probably take some time,” she admitted. “So I’m not
going anywhere too soon. Besides, I’m between assignments at the moment. I’m
sure if I need to work, I can take something local to keep me busy once I figure out
what I need to do here.”
Fiona could see it in the way Waverly tensed up. The brunette wanted to squeal and
jump up and down, but she managed to restrain herself. Thank goodness. A funeral
reception was no place for Waverly to go all perky cheerleader on her, especially at
“Let us know if we can help you at all,” Avery said, reaching up to give Fiona’s arm
a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “We’re all here for you. We always have been.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Fiona smoothed her hands down the front of her black
blazer and glanced around the room. “I should probably make the rounds. You
know, other people are going to want to talk to me, I’m sure.”
“Of course. We shouldn’t monopolize the daughter of the deceased.” Avery nodded
and glared at both Waverly and Emma until they nodded too. “We’ll stay and help
tidy up after everyone leaves if you’d like.”
Fiona waved them away as she took a step back. “There’s no need. Besides, Emma
has Crystal with her, and I’m sure all of you have work in the morning.”
“Fiona, remember, we’re a circle and we’re here for you.”
Avery’s words stopped her in her tracks. Wasn’t that what they had pledged over
ten years ago when they were teenagers? They would always be there for one
another. Even distance wouldn’t get in the way of their bond. That was the promise.
The only two who bothered with distance were Fiona and Avery, though. Both
Waverly and Emma went to college locally, while Avery went to the west coast and
Fiona went to the east coast. She still didn’t know what brought Avery back to their
tiny town, considering she could work anywhere. Why would she settle for living in
rural Ashland and working in Omaha, when she could have been huge in L.A.?
“I appreciate that,” Fiona acknowledged. “Let me just see my other guests.” She
turned away and glanced around the room.
The house was large enough to hold quite a crowd and as much as Fiona wanted
everyone to leave, she knew it would feel empty when everyone was gone. For the
moment, however, claustrophobia set in and she had to take a long, deep breath.
She had her reasons for only visiting once or twice a year since college, and being
swept up in a life of wandering and writing had been her escape from all of that.
As far as the house was concerned, she hoped she could sell it quickly and move on
with her life.
There was nothing like moving through a crowd of people who were halfacquaintances
and remembered her as a seventeenyearold.
It felt like walking
underwater. Fiona’s feet were leaden as she moved from person to person, thanking
them for attending. All of them had a few words to say about her father, of course –
how much they missed him, how hard working he was, how helpful.
Yup, that was her father, Mr. Helpful. Also, the town drunk, which was what forced
Fiona to cut her trip short, come home, identify his body, and arrange a funeral.
She expected it would be simple to settle things, at least financially – sell the house,
pay the final bills, and move on with her life. If there was anything she could be
thankful for in this situation, it was that her dad had life insurance through his
employer. It was some small comfort.
It took longer than she wanted to speak to her guests, but she had to do it. Her
parents had divorced long ago, her father’s parents were deceased, as were two of
his three siblings, while the third was too ill to make the trip all the way from
Boston. So there was no one else to handle these duties.
After the last guest left, Fiona found her friends lingering in the living room. They
turned to her, faces filled with expectation. How long could she give them, how
much of her time? A few days? A few weeks? She just didn’t know yet.
And as much as she loved her friends, nothing mattered to her but freedom from the
reminder of the man who had pulled one hell of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act on her
when she left for college. Did that even matter anymore, ten years later, now that
he was gone? She didn’t know.
One thing she did know, though, was that she was exhausted. The flight home, the
cold shock of seeing her deceased father, and the whirlwind of planning the funeral
– all of it caught up with her and she folded in on herself.
Of course, Waverly was the first to move to console her, followed by Emma, who
wrapped her in a motherly embrace.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Fiona said with a sob.
“Well, I can refer you to a local probate attorney,” Emma soothed. “He’ll guide you
through the process.”
Fiona sniffled and nodded. That would be good. The last thing she needed was the
complexities of administering an estate to trip her up when everything else in her
life was going so well.
“I’d appreciate that,” she said.
“And we’ll have a circle for healing,” Waverly added. “There’s a waning moon next
weekend, a good time for releasing.”
Fiona bit back a laugh. Any socalled
releasing was going to be a long process for
her. “That sounds nice,” she whispered.
Avery looked at her, doubt clearly written in the way she furrowed her brow. But a
moment later, she joined the circle of friends, the circle of witches who had once
pledged to stand by one another no matter what.
Leaving the lawyer’s office with Emma should have felt like a relief to Fiona, but it
didn’t. She was supposed to be glad there was a person to guide her through the
probate process, be glad there was a Will that was very specific about her father’s
wishes. The attorney told her it should be a very tidy estate since her father had all
his ducks in a row. Amazing, considering her father spent the past ten years getting
blind drunk night after night.
“Hey,” Emma said, “let’s go to Cheri O’s for lunch.”
Fiona shrugged and nodded. They were walking down Silver Street anyway. It only
made sense that they go to the restaurant that was a longstanding
“Sounds good,” she finally said, watching the sidewalk pass beneath her feet. “Why
is it that even after we grow up, we try to skip the cracks?”
“What?” Emma looked at her and then down. “Oh, I don’t know. One of those habits
we form as kids, I suppose, and never really let go of.” Since Emma owned a local
shop, she was the one who drew the short straw when it came to babysitting Fiona
at the lawyer’s office.
But Fiona was glad her first oneonone
time would be with Emma. Avery
would have been even better. Just as long as it wasn’t Waverly and her constant
fretful chatter. It wasn’t that Fiona didn’t like Waverly. It was just that fire and
water didn’t mix very well. They needed a third person there to balance them out,
like Emma’s earthy, calming influence, or Avery’s airy logic.
“Here we are.” Emma held the door for her and greeted the server by name as they
sat down. As soon as they each had their soda – Fiona never had acquired the
Midwestern habit of referring to it as “pop” – Emma lifted her glass. “To you.”
“Why me?” Fiona asked as she clinked her glass against Emma’s.
Emma set her glass on the table and shrugged. “Because you’re doing exactly what
you want with your life, Fi. How lucky are you? Me? I’m still stuck in this same
town, still living across the street from my parents.”
Fiona couldn’t stop the snort that escaped her. “How can you be stuck here when
you purposely chose to start a business and settle down with someone local?”
All those years ago when Fiona’s father moved them to Ashland, she hadn’t been
thrilled with the idea. After spending the majority of her young life in the Boston
area, Nebraska just seemed flat, both geographically and culturally. Add in the fact
that Ashland had fewer than twentyfive
hundred people in it, and Fiona was pretty
sure she would go crazy.
In truth, she hadn’t. The town was lovely and Omaha had nearly the same cultural
amenities as Boston. Still, Fiona was accustomed to wandering and staying in one
place was hard on her. It was the circle that kept her sane, the first friends she fit
in with for a long time. But the idea of Ashland as her home hadn’t quite stuck.
“You know what I mean. You had a dream and you followed it. We’re all really
proud of you, even if we never tell you so.” Emma folded her arms and leaned
forward just a bit. In a lower voice, she said, “I think the girls are a little jealous
sometimes. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t. You’re living an exciting life.”
“Em, you’re the smartest person I know, besides Avery. Why did you decide to stay
if you really don’t want to be here?” Fiona asked. She sipped at her soda and sighed
at the taste. She generally avoided empty calories, so the occasional soft drink was a
Emma propped her elbow on the table and thrust her fingers under her heavy black
hair. She turned away, her brown eyes focusing on some point in the distance that
Fiona couldn’t identify. Then Emma blinked and turned back to her with a little
shake of her head. “Things will change soon,” she said.
“I know that look.” Fiona tilted her head as she tried to figure out what Emma was
thinking. Unfortunately, Emma was serene and about as easy to read as a stone.
She’d had one of her visions – that much was obvious in the way the conversation
paused and her gaze fixed elsewhere. But she didn’t want to talk about it.
At least Emma would share if it had anything to do with Fiona, but since it didn’t
seem to involve her, Fiona didn’t pry. Those visions were subjective anyway, she
knew. They were usually indicative of a catalyst for some potential event. It could
be avoided and how one proceeded was their own choice. Clairvoyance didn’t
circumvent free will. It just let Emma know what the universe might throw in
The server returned, saving Fiona from finding a way to fill the awkward silence.
The woman set the platters with their lunch wraps in front of them and pulled a
bottle of ketchup from her apron. Emma immediately poured a dollop of the ketchup
on the plate next to her French fries. Ever the safe, predictable earth witch, Fiona
mused as she drummed her fingers against the tabletop.
“The more things change,” she muttered.
“The more they stay the same.” Emma completed the cliché and gave her a small
smile as she put the ketchup bottle back in the center of the table. “Maybe that’s the
That was it, Fiona knew. All Emma was going to give her. Whatever vision she’d
had, it was for Emma to work out for herself. And she would do it thoughtfully,
methodically, careful not to harm anyone, as long as she could help it.
Rather than wonder, Fiona gave Emma the thing she knew her friend wanted – the
goods on her meeting with the attorney. “Well, the lawyer thinks the estate should
be pretty straightforward. For an alcoholic, Dad was surprisingly organized.”
“That’s good to hear. I mean, if you have to deal with something like this, I guess.
Even the bleakest cloud can have a silver lining.”
“Right?” Fiona still had difficulty talking about her father in the past tense, but she
supposed that was only natural whether a passing was sudden or expected. “The life
insurance should be more than enough to pay for the funeral and have money left
over to pay any bills. I’ll have to spend the week gathering all that I can, though,
like bills, bank statements, and more, so I know what Dad has for debts and assets.”
“Do you think you’re up for going through the house on your own?” Emma asked.
Fiona’s heart felt like it dropped and she poked at the wrap on her plate. She didn’t
have much of an appetite, especially when discussing her father.
“I’d like some help,” she confessed. “I don’t like being alone in the house as it is. It’s
just too weird for me, you know? Dad was always home. He never changed his
habits. He just went to work, maybe to the bar on a Friday or Saturday night, and
then fishing on weekend mornings. I’ve never lived in that house alone. The biggest
place I’ve ever been alone in is a hotel suite.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how long do you think you’ll be here?”
“At least a week, but probably longer.” That was the thing about Fiona’s lifestyle. It
wasn’t like she had to rush back to a home or a job. Her home was the world and
her job was wherever she found an assignment that suited her. “I thought I might
stick around a little while longer, because of all the places I’ve written about, I’ve
never done anything on our town.”
“Really?” Emma looked surprised. “You actually think about it as our town? I mean,
as your town? What about all the writing projects and articles you used for your
first portfolio? What were they about?”
Fiona felt a little better talking about her career. She loved writing. Traveling
around the world, capturing people, places, and events meant everything to her.
Her innate element of fire was in everything and everyone – how the world moved
and changed. Most of that movement and change tended to be in metropolitan
areas, but there was something that made her wonder if she could find merit in
sharing her thoughts about a place like Ashland.
“Those articles were from Boston and Omaha,” she admitted. “I never really
considered doing anything rural, but over the years I’ve been thinking about it.
Maybe something showcasing the prairies. It’s just a thought.”
“It’s a nice thought.” Emma bit into her wrap and Fiona finally felt the urge to do
the same. Talking about her love of travel and documenting it with her articles was
an infinitely better subject than her father. Sure, she had loved him with all her
heart. Even as an alcoholic, he’d never abused her or neglected her. Heck, the man
hadn’t even yelled at her when she misbehaved.
It was just that one time…
But that was enough.
It was only after Fiona left for college that her father started going downhill with
his drinking. The three or four beer bottles she saw in the trash every morning
when she was an adolescent became vodka bottles she noticed when she was home
for her breaks. The father who loved her and cared for her, who raised her when her
mother didn’t want to, compensated for her absence by drinking harder and more
Worse than that was the resentment with which he treated her every time she came
home on school break. After nearrepeats
of the horrible scene he’d put her through
the first time she left, she started staying on campus during both summer and
winter. Instead, she worked and that was her excuse for not being able to come
home for longer than a few days.
She traveled in large part because she was compelled to see what would happen if
she simply went wherever there was a story to be told, but she would be lying to
herself if she didn’t admit there was another side to it. That as much as she liked to
think she didn’t feel stifled in the small town she, in fact, did. Fiona was too restless
to stay in one place long, but some places were less “right” for her than others. This
was one of them.
“You don’t have to circle with us you know, if you don’t want to.”
Fiona blinked at Emma. “What?”
“Waverly and that whole healing circle idea? You don’t have to do that.”
“I know.” Fiona realized Emma had already eaten half her wrap and she’d hardly
touched her own. She took several bites and washed them down with the soda.
Emma knew. Fiona could feel it. That was one witch whose intuition worked
overtime. But Emma was also sensible enough to let it rest unless Fiona wanted to
“So, how’s the shop?”
“The shop is good.” Even though Emma answered evenly, Fiona realized she didn’t
want her to pursue the inevitable line of questioning. It looked like both of them
were dancing around uncomfortable topics. What was going on with her friend?
Despite her curiosity, Fiona took Emma’s reticence as a cue to change the subject.
“And how about Waverly?”
Emma let out a chuckle and waved her hand in the air. “Still the same Waverly –
she can’t stop worrying about this or that unless there’s music to distract her. She
should have gone to New York while she had the chance. She is still the most
amazing ballerina I have ever seen.”
“True, but do you think she would have been able to hack it there?”
“At worst, she would have spent her best years dancing in the chorus, but at least
she would have done something she loved.” Emma turned her plate around and
picked up a fry. “I don’t know if it would have made her less timid, but I think it
would have been a good experience for her, at least for strengthening her emotional
shields. But she seems happy enough teaching tiny ballerinas, so I guess everything
It was too bad Waverly hadn’t danced her way out of town and to the east coast,
Fiona had to agree. Even though Fiona had no interest in dance, the few times she
had seen Waverly in a show, she had to admit she was beyond impressed. Teaching
seemed like a waste of her talents. “Does she have a girlfriend?”
“No, and never will at this rate. She can’t bring herself to approach women. She did
just fine getting dates in college. I’m not sure what changed after graduation.
Maybe everything that comes with a relationship was just too much for her.”
Fiona pursed her lips and looked down at the wrap. If approaching women was the
reason Waverly wasn’t in a relationship, Fiona had the opposite problem. When
someone caught her eye, she always made the attempt.
“And that just leaves Avery,” she pointed out.
“Ah, Avery. You know how she is.”
“In her own world,” Fiona confirmed, “where all the people add up and everything
“Exactly.” Emma nodded, her eyes twinkling a bit. Everyone loved Avery, but Avery
didn’t show love for anyone. “Her job is going great. She works at some big
marketing agency in Omaha and loves it. Even though she won’t admit it, I know
her power goes into everything she does. She can’t help it. If you’ve ever seen one of
her ad campaigns, you’d know it. No one can compel a person to feel the story the
way she can.”
“Well, just because she can sell stuff doesn’t mean she can sell herself. Girlfriend
“Single. She always seems too busy for that sort of thing and when she does meet a
woman, they usually run away screaming. That whole intellect before emotion
thing. She’s just never been keen on showing affection.”
The wrap on Fiona’s plate was finally gone and she picked at her fries as she
pondered Emma’s words. Avery was her complete opposite, of course. Where the air
witch didn’t express herself in love, Fiona would fall headoverheels
lust with a beautiful woman – preferably in another country or on a different coast
– and then stay with them a few days before continuing her travels. She returned to
them sometimes. And sometimes there were others. There was always a reason to
go back to London, Paris, Rome, or any of the other places where she had met and
loved a woman.
And that was the one way in which she and Avery were so alike. Their hearts
refused to be bound to someone else.
“What are you thinking?” Emma asked.
Fiona scrunched her nose a bit. There were some things she’d rather not say, even
to her best friends. But this was safe enough. “I was thinking that I could have had
a shot with Avery. Goodness knows I wanted her when we were in high school.”
The laugh Emma barked out surprised her. “Didn’t everyone want Avery, though?
You, me, and anyone else with a pulse?”
This was true. Avery was more than the tall, cool, analytical blonde beauty. She
was smart and sporty. She could hang with the girls or the guys. That cleancut
girl mystique came to her naturally and everyone found it attractive.
As she ran her hand through her short red waves, Fiona remembered again why she
didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere. She was the girl who wore combat boots her first
day of school and glared at anyone who looked at her, even if there was only friendly
curiosity in their stare. How Avery had worked up the courage to approach her, she
never did figure out. But the point was Avery did approach her and invited her to
sit at the table with herself, Waverly, and Emma. All it took was one handshake for
Fiona to know she was there to make their little trio a complete circle.
“Well, how about tonight we get together for a housecleaning
suggested, dragging her back to the present.
Fiona thought about the offer. She was going to have to decline, she realized. “Not
just yet. I mean, I appreciate the suggestion – you know that. But I feel like as
weird as it is to be alone in the house, I should go through it by myself first. There
could just be personal stuff that I don’t want anyone else to see. Heck, there’s
probably stuff there I don’t want to see.”
“True, but what if you find something you can’t handle on your own?”
Fiona didn’t know what that could possibly mean. She was the feisty, scrappy one of
their quartet, after all. But she supposed Emma had a point. “Well, all of you are
within five minutes of the house, so if I see something I’m not sure I want to deal
with by myself, I’ll call somebody.”
“Promise?” Emma asked. Her nurturing aura came naturally to her. She couldn’t
help but mother the people she cared about and Fiona loved her for it.
“I promise. Also, it’s a weekday and I know all of you have to work tomorrow. Why
don’t we do the cleaning party on Saturday, if you don’t mind? By then, I think I’ll
have sorted through Dad’s papers and then be ready to do actual cleaning – you
know, maybe set aside stuff for a garage sale.”
She watched as Emma slid her hand across the table and picked up the check.
Those slow, deliberate movements told her Emma was processing her statement.
“You aren’t staying,” her friend finally said. “Why not?”
“Well, I can’t stay here forever. I’ve got work to do.” Old reliable. It was the same
excuse she’d used to avoid Ashland since graduating from college.
“Are you on assignment or under contract, or working for a particular news agency
or magazine?” Emma asked as she examined the check.
“Not at the moment, no.” Fiona was completely freelance and she loved it. Sure,
publishers pursued her for certain types of stories, but she got to pick and choose
Emma nodded once. “Do you have a home to get back to – an apartment somewhere
“Here in the U.S.?”
“No, no apartment or home.” Fiona folded her arms over her chest and leaned back
in her chair. “I know what you’re trying to do, Em.”
“That’s good because I’m certainly not hiding anything.” Emma dug into her wallet
and set a couple twenty dollar bills on the table. “I’ve got lunch and the tip. Don’t
argue with me. We never see you, so I want to treat you. And as for my questions,
I’m asking because I’d like you to consider keeping the house. Not that you have to
live there, but it might be nice for you to have a home base when you need a rest
from the nomadic life. Depending on what your father owes on the mortgage, you
could have an asset on your hands.”
Fiona snorted and rolled her eyes. “I’m sure the last thing I want is to be tied down
to a mortgage. I’m twentyeight,
Emma. For me, that means I’m still young enough
to travel and enjoy the world. Heck, look at amazing women like Jane Goodall. She’s
over eighty years old and she still follows her passion. So whether I’m twentyeight
I don’t see myself settling down.”
They rose from the table and Emma got that distant, hazy look in her eyes again.
She hesitated and Fiona saw her fingers curl over the top of her chair before her
“Well then,” Emma said, giving her shoulders a little shake, “I’d suggest you avoid
women with red lips.”
FIONA STOOD IN THE doorway of her father’s house and took a deep breath. How was
she going to tackle this alone? Maybe she should have taken Emma up on the offer
to help. At the very least, she could use some kind of Hollywood witchcraft that
would instantaneously gather every single bit of paper in the house and pile it on
the living room floor for her.
Still, there couldn’t be that many places she would have to dig for papers. It was a
story farmhouse from the early 1900s. While it wasn’t necessarily
historic, it did have that old west vibe Fiona loved. She took a deep breath and told
herself that even though the windows were wide open, letting in the spring breeze,
there was still the slightest hint of a smell that she could only describe as old. Not
musty, but pleasantly vintage.
When she stepped upstairs, she realized she wasn’t totally alone. The litter box in
the upstairs bathroom reminded her that there was a cat somewhere, a cat she kept
forgetting existed. What was his name again? Fiona crouched in front of the box and
realized it only had a couple of clumps in it. The cat must be an indooroutdoor
She’d have to keep an eye out for it.
She peeked into her father’s bedroom next. It was tidy, the furniture sparse – just a
bed and a dresser. Still, she knew she had to step inside and start digging, so she
did. Sidestepping a discarded denim jacket, she reached the dresser and gathered
all of the papers from atop it. As much as she hated poking around in anyone’s
personal things, she opened each drawer to check for papers. She found nothing but
Once her inspection of the bedroom was done, she picked up a picture frame and
looked at the photographs. There was her senior year picture from high school on
one side and a gray tabby cat on the other. Great. At least she knew what kind of
cat lived in her father’s house, if the cat ever showed up.
She set the frame back down on the dresser and walked into the next bedroom, the
pile of papers in hand. This was her room, so she knew there wasn’t much of
anything in here since she lived her life out of her suitcase. Still, she lingered in the
doorway and glanced around her old bedroom. She tried to refrain from mentally
cataloging her belongings, but she couldn’t help it. Bed, dresser, prom dress that
was ten years out of style…
There was no place for any of it in her life. No home of her own to put the stuff in,
permanently or temporarily.
Fiona trotted back downstairs and set the stack of papers on the coffee table. Her
father hadn’t been one for collecting much by way of knickknacks,
books, other than some hideous figurines in the den. No need for an estate sale. A
plain old garage sale should do the trick to empty the house so she could put it on
She went through the small dining room, checking the hutch to see if her father
stored any papers in it. The few she found in the drawers went into the small pile
on the coffee table. Then she checked the kitchen, where she found a few more.
Some, she saw, were as basic as a partial grocery list or receipt, but she gathered
There was a third bedroom at the back of the house, which her father used as a den.
It seemed funny to think he would have a desk and computer but, to her surprise,
he had a fairly new looking Mac in there. There was another framed picture of the
cat and then one of her hanging on the wall, matted and framed professionally,
alongside a magazine article.
Fiona clasped her hands behind her back as she looked at the frame hanging on the
wall. It was the first article she ever had published in The New Yorker. She was
surprised she never noticed it when she visited before, but then again she didn’t
poke around her dad’s office. Nosing around into his personal life would have only
exacerbated the animosity between them.
She went to the desk and gathered the papers on the blotter and in the drawers.
Even with the sophisticated computer, the office still seemed dark and oldfashioned.
Though she hated to get into her father’s personal business, she turned
on the computer. Once she was in, she started going through his software and files.
She almost breathed a sigh of relief when she realized he hadn’t done any
bookkeeping or electronic bill paying. All of that still seemed to be done on paper
and with checks. He didn’t appear to have any social media accounts she needed to
close, so that was one less complication in her life.
The browser favorites and cache were either articles written by Fiona, or weather,
and local agricultural and fishing news. “So you just used the computer to keep up
with me. I never knew.” Fiona rested her chin on her hand and stared at the screen.
Her own picture, alongside her most recentlypublished
article, stared back at her.
It was heartwarming to know her dad had bought a computer just to keep up with
her work. Even the few emails he exchanged with people mentioned how proud he
was of her. Cousins, back home in Massachusetts, Fiona guessed, since their last
names were all Shaw.
She shut the computer down and brought the rest of the paperwork into the living
room. After sinking down onto the couch, she propped her elbows on her knees and
stared at the pile on the coffee table. It wasn’t much, but she still had to organize it.
The lawyer already had the obvious stuff – the Will, the life insurance policy and
paperwork, and the funeral statement. This was the everyday minutiae that Fiona
needed to make sense of, so she could settle what remained of her father’s life.
“Holy shit, this is depressing,” she muttered and scrubbed her hands over her face.
“I’m not even sure I can do this right now.”
A gentle scratching sound at the front door caught her attention and she rose from
the couch. That had to be the cat, right? She crossed the front hall and opened the
Sure enough, a gray tabby stood on the porch staring up at her, blinking its wide
“Hey there,” she said, feeling a little foolish that she was talking to a cat. “Um,
sorry, but I don’t even know your name.”
The cat sauntered in with what appeared to be a shrug and then twined itself
around her legs, slinking and flowing in that sinuous manner felines had. Fiona
bent down to pet him and her fingers encountered the collar around his neck.
“Wow, you have a tag and everything. I guess Dad wanted to make sure people
knew where you belonged.” She looked at the small round charm hanging from the
green collar. “Scrappy. That’s not a very creative name, you know. My friends call
me that sometimes.”
The cat blinked at her, apparently unfazed by its own mediocrity.
“Whatever. I guess you’re kind of stuck with me at the moment.” Fiona smoothed
her hand along the short fur of Scrappy’s back. “I used to really want a kitten, but
Dad never got me one. I guess he got you to replace me, sort of.”
Scrappy pushed his head into her palm and purred when she complied with the
petting he demanded.
“Fine, then. Let’s see if there’s any food for you.” Fiona unfolded herself from her
crouch and walked into the kitchen, the gray tabby trotting along at her heels. She
found a bag of dry cat food and filled his bowl, then refilled his water dish. “Just do
me a favor and don’t have fleas or anything. That’d suck.”
Scrappy ignored her, instead lowering his face to the bowl to lap at the water.
With a shrug, Fiona went back to the living room and resumed her helpless posture
on the couch. “And I’m talking to a cat,” she told herself. “I think I need to get out of
A glance at her watch told her it was too early for dinner. She certainly wasn’t
hungry just yet, but she also wasn’t in the mood to sit there sifting through papers.
After a few moments of internal debate, she forced herself to begin the task at hand.
Sorting the papers wasn’t difficult. It was just tedious. Fiona wasn’t one to
categorize and arrange. That was Avery and Emma. What Fiona did was make
things happen – a date, a job, even something as mundane as finding the perfect
parking spot. That was her talent. Too bad it wouldn’t help her here.
By the time she was done, she could justify going out for dinner. There was a bar
nearby and the thought of a cold beer also sounded pretty good to her.
She left the papers in their organized piles on the coffee table and drove across
town. Fiona wasn’t really one to go to bars and neither were her friends, but they
had gone there once to celebrate after college graduation.
After sitting in the parking lot for a moment, she got out of her car and walked into
the place. It was exactly how she remembered it – dimlylit
and classic Nebraska
paraphernalia decorating the walls. It felt like a good place to disappear into her
own sorrows, to let go of the weight of the past couple of days.
Rather than take up an entire booth or table, she sat at the bar and lifted her gaze
to the menu. The place was already busy and she let the pleasant hum of customer
chatter distract her from her thoughts.
“Hey, honey, what can I get you?” The bartender placed a square white napkin in
front of her and leaned on the bar, hands braced apart as she waited.
Fiona barely spared her a glance. She was too busy checking out the menu hanging
on the wall. When it took her a second longer to decide, she could feel the
impatience radiating from the bartender’s tense body. “I’ll try the taco special and a
Corona,” she finally said.
“Lime in that Corona?” The woman reached below the bar and then placed a bottle
atop the square napkin. She flipped the cap off before Fiona could blink.
The woman moved away from her, her strides long and purposeful. Fiona watched
her, unable to stop the mental assessment. Lean legs encased in tight, dark blue
jeans. Upper body wrapped in a black bustier with wide shoulder straps. The
woman turned and Fiona’s mind registered cleavage. Or the lack thereof. Even
though the outfit was tight and borderline biker babe, it wasn’t all that revealing. It
moved with her body like a second skin and Fiona supposed she had nailed that
cross between sexy and efficient.
She finally looked at the bartender’s face as the woman returned to pop a slice of
lime down into her bottle.
“Holy shit.” The words came out before she could filter them. It was the kind of
verbal gaffe that usually got her into trouble and gave her a reason to recover by
charming the pants off of someone.
“I’m sorry?” The bartender cocked her eyebrow at her and Fiona shook her head, her
mouth twisting in a grim line.
“Sorry. I just didn’t realize you were so beautiful.”
The bartender let out a laugh and shrugged as if it was nothing. “No need to
apologize.” She stepped away and Fiona blinked, trying to remember the face she
had just seen.
In the low light, she could tell the bartender’s hair was a long, wavy amber blonde,
the same color as the waves of wheat on the prairies. Her eyes were a pale slate
gray, lined in black and fringed with dark lashes. Fiona tried not to stare. Straight
nose, sculpted eyebrows, makeup minimal but polished.
“So, are you just passing through?”
“What?” Fiona looked up at the bartender, who stood facing her again. Those gray
eyes focused on her and Fiona couldn’t catch her breath. “Uh, no, I live here,” she
“Really? I haven’t seen you around. Did you just turn twentyone
“I mean… I don’t… that is, I don’t live here, but I used to before college.” Fiona
placed her hands on either side of the Corona and ran them up the sides of the
glass, gathering the condensation off the exterior of the bottle. “My dad just died
and I came home because of that.”
“Oh, shit.” The bartender winced. “Are you Denny Shaw’s daughter?”
Now Fiona didn’t fight the urge to do a double take. “Yeah, I am. Did you know
The woman sighed and tapped her fist against the top of the bar. “Yeah. He came in
a couple times a week, drank some beers, and made small talk. If it’s any
consolation, he wasn’t a jerk like some of the guys we get in here, you know? He was
always really courteous, really nice. It’s awful, what happened that night.”
Fiona wasn’t sure to how to respond to that. No one had ever complimented her
father to her before, except at the funeral. What could she say? She settled on
“Thanks” and picked up her beer.
The bartender looked like she wanted to say something more, but instead she
compressed her lips, turned, and went around to the back. When she returned, she
slid a platter of tacos down in front of Fiona. “On the house,” she said.
“What? No. That’s not necessary.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” The bartender turned and walked away to tend to another
customer, leaving Fiona with a beer, a platter of tacos, and a strange breathless
sensation that just would not quit.
It was only after she left the bar that Fiona realized something, something
connected to her lunch with Emma.
The bartender had red lips. Full, velvety, very red lips.
“So fuck you, you and your fortunetelling
abilities,” Fiona concluded.
The trio of witches sitting in her living room laughed. Fiona had to admit she had
delivered a particularly colorful rant, but she didn’t expect them to laugh at her for
it. Waverly and Avery both nudged each other, practically helpless with a severe
case of the giggles. The fact that their laughter was fueled by copious amounts of
tequila probably only exacerbated the situation.
“Oh yeah, yuck it up, you clowns.” Fiona threw her hands in the air and rolled her
eyes. No one seemed to understand the gravity of her situation. She pondered
tossing lime slices at the girls to shut them up.
“Hey.” Waverly pointed at her, the gesturing hand holding a shot glass that
threatened to slosh amber liquid on the hardwood floor. “Em warned you. She told
you so. Haven’t you learned by now that you ignore her at your peril?”
Fiona blew a raspberry at Waverly and refilled her own shot glass. “That’s exactly
what worries me. The only thing she told me was to avoid women with red lips. How
could I know I’d run into one? And now that I have, how am I going to get away
from the inevitable?” She shook the salt onto her hand, licked it off, knocked back
the shot, and then bit into a piece of lime.
“Knowledge is power.” Emma had only done one tequila shot which, Fiona knew,
was all she would do. The earth witch was looking through the pile of papers
assigned to her and sorting them by date. Dependable Emma, always on the job.
Waverly had the easiest task – going through the slips of paper that appeared to be
worthless, like receipts and flyers – which was a good thing, because she was a
lightweight. Only two shots in and she was already acting like a teenager. Fiona
wondered if she should have served plain water instead to keep everyone on task.
Then again, Fiona supposed all of them needed those teenage moments. It kept
everything from seeming so serious and she needed the levity after a handful of
miserable days. She glanced at Emma, who merely shrugged at her.
“Tell me,” Avery piped up, “what’s so inevitable?”
Fiona pointed an accusing finger at Emma. “She knows. She always knows.”
Emma put her own hands up defensively. “I know only what I saw in my vision. I
warned you and you just admitted that in front of two other witnesses, so any
actions that followed are your own. The decision that brought you to where you are
now is entirely your responsibility.”
“But you had a reason for telling me to avoid her, so spill. Don’t give me that
nebulous ‘my visions are subjective’ or ‘based on other’s decisions’ bullshit.”
Lips clamped together, Emma shook her head.
“That’s all I get?” Fiona asked. “Nothing more?”
“I think you can figure out what’s going to happen next. You said yourself it was
inevitable. You don’t need clairvoyance to see what you’ve already figured out.”
“And what is that?”
Avery chortled and set her shot glass down on the coffee table. “First of all,
constantly badgering Emma to answer your questions won’t work. You know that.
Second, the answer is to see that you like she of the ohsored
lips. You wouldn’t be
telling us about her if you didn’t, considering you never tell us about the other
women in your life. And you certainly wouldn’t be panicking if you didn’t feel
something about the encounter.”
“Excuse me, but apparently I told you about the other women in my life, so this one
isn’t exactly different or special.”
“Correction: you never told us much about them at all,” Avery amended. “You would
email us things like, ‘Having a lovely time in London. Met a babe named Sara.’ Or
‘Topless time on the Riviera – hoping to score with Francesca.’ But that was it. A
sentence or two at most. You’ve talked about this one specific chick for a good halfhour
“Well… that’s because…” Fiona looked around the room. “Someone give me
something to work with here.”
“You said you didn’t want to be alone in the house,” Emma supplied. “So the
universe sent you someone, so you won’t have to be alone here. It’s pretty obvious.”
Fiona bent her head to hide the furrow of her brow. Was Emma right? She did have
a tendency to receive things, both intentionally and unintentionally. If she didn’t
watch it, her manifesting talents had a mind of their own. She was a walking “Be
careful what you wish for” cliché, as Avery often liked to remind her. Was the
appearance of this unearthly gorgeous woman in her life a response to that desire?
If it was, could she just give in to her lust and then be on her way, as she did with
all the other women she met?
“I hoped I would have figured out how to control it by now.” Fiona tried not to feel
dejected as she stared down at the papers in front of her. “I’m twentyeightyearsold.
My powers should respond to me when I want them to, not try to run my life.”
“I think it’s going to be a lifelong work in progress to truly master them, rather than
having them master you. But I find that it’s like it is for all of us.” Emma reached
over and rubbed Fiona’s back. “Trust me, if I could control my visions, I would, but I
can’t so I’ve learned how to work with what I get.”
“I know, I know,” Fiona groaned. “But I should be able to control this. I shouldn’t
have the universe just taking charge wherever it wants to play with my life.”
Waverly pointed at her. “You know nature abhors a vacuum. You pretty much
invited it to fill what you deemed a void, an empty space in need of something to
make it not empty. So what if you end up with a little side piece here in Ashland?
It’s not the end of the world.”
“Side piece? Really?” Avery poked her sister and shook her head. “Who are you and
what have you done with Waverly?”
The elder sister simply giggled and bit into a slice of lime.
“Besides your ridiculous use of slang, keep in mind Fi doesn’t have a piece, which
means she can’t have a side piece.”
“Or does she have many pieces?” Emma pointed out as she discarded an empty
envelope into the small trash container next to the coffee table. “Think about it –
she writes to us at least once a month about the exotic beauties she meets, but do
any of them last?”
All eyes turned to Fiona, who glared back.
“Hey,” she said defensively, “I don’t have time for a relationship or a commitment or
even romance. I’m a busy woman.”
“Busy, but not too busy to get some between assignments.” Emma’s look wasn’t
reproachful – just matteroffact.
Fiona put her head in her hands. “What am I going to do? She’s the hottest woman
I’ve ever seen and it’s kind of messing with my head.”
The girls exchanged glances. “Do you need to do something?” Emma asked.
That was a better question, Fiona realized, and she shook her head. “Yes, I need to
do something, because I think I like her as more than a quickie.”
“Interesting. I have to see this redlipped
siren for myself. Which bar?” Avery asked.
“That saloon place on the other side of town – the one we went to when we
celebrated graduation. Remember?”
“Oh. That one.” Avery looked at Emma, but neither of them spoke.
“That’s where your dad was the night of the accident, you know.” Waverly went on,
oblivious to the “cut it out” gestures both Avery and Emma directed her way. “Your
hot babe could have served him his last drink. Wouldn’t that be weird? Or would it
be ironic? Or morbid? I can’t remember anymore. I feel dizzy.”
Fiona sat up straighter, not sure how to respond. The dryness in her mouth told her
everything she needed to know. This was why she refused to read the police report.
She didn’t want to assign blame when she knew full well it was her father’s decision
to drink and drive. She didn’t want to read the description of the accident. It was
enough that she had seen her father for herself. It was enough that every night
when she lay down in her old bed in the empty house, she cried for her loss.
“Oh gods, I feel sick.” Waverly struggled to her feet and stumbled to the bathroom.
The sound of her retching followed and Avery rolled her eyes.
“Sorry about that. We told her not to drink. She still doesn’t hold her liquor very
Although she knew it was true, Fiona didn’t need Avery to excuse her older sister’s
behavior. It wasn’t Waverly she was angry at now. It was the bartender for the ohsosubtle
way she talked about Denny, as if he hadn’t come in that night, gotten
drunk, and then plowed his car into a tree.
“Fiona?” Emma laid her hand on her arm, but Fiona pulled away.
“I’m fine,” she bit out. “I’m not mad at Wave. I’ve spent every night since the funeral
crying about Dad and I thought it might be easier tonight, but I guess not.”
“You might not be mad at her, but you are mad. We can all see it. It’s hard to hide
that kind of anger from anyone. Is there anything we can do?”
Fiona clamped her lips together and tried to think. Bring my father back, even
though he was an asshole to me when I left and we never really fixed our
No. If she spoke, she knew she would do it in anger. She might say something she
would regret, which was pretty much how her temperament worked. Fucking fire,
always burning so hot, so ready to fight.
“She wants us to leave her alone,” Avery said, pushing herself to her feet and going
to the bathroom. At least she had the grace not to try to placate Fiona by
manipulating her emotions. Unlike her sister, Avery knew when to leave something
alone. “I’ll collect Ms. Big Mouth.”
When they were alone together, Emma looked at Fiona, her brown eyes soft with
tears. “Whatever happened that night, you don’t have to go back to it, don’t have to
try to see it through his eyes. He’s gone and it was too soon.”
“I know,” Fiona whispered, still sitting on the couch, elbows propped on her knees
and fingers laced together in front of her. “I know.” Even though she repeated it, she
also knew this wasn’t something she could or would let go.
The idea that her father went to a bar and took his last drink there enraged her.
Surely they would have seen that he was too drunk to drive. They should have
called him a cab, taken his keys, not let him go. He might still be here, then. Sure,
their relationship would still be broken with neither of them making the attempt to
repair it, but at least there would be a chance.
Avery led Waverly into the living room to gather their purses and tilted her head at
Emma. “Heading home?” she asked.
“Yeah. I guess Crystal will be wanting me home soon, anyway.” She brushed her
hands over her thighs and rose to her feet. Fiona felt Emma’s hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t go there or there’s no going back,” was all she said, before leaving the house.
When the door shut behind her friends, Fiona buried her face in her hands and let
the grief claim her as it had the past few nights. Hot tears spilled over her palms
and she wept so loudly, she couldn’t hear herself think. Each sob echoed in her own
ears. She was only vaguely aware of Scrappy rubbing against her legs. Knowing her
father’s cat was trying to comfort her just made her cry harder.
How had a housecleaning
party gone so wrong? Why couldn’t Waverly just keep her
mouth shut? And would Fiona ever feel like she could get through another day
without crying herself to sleep?
For once, Emma was only halfright
because Fiona knew the truth.
There already was no going back.
Fiona couldn’t remember the last time she slept so long and deeply. Even though
she had cried herself to sleep night after night since returning to Ashland, this had
been the worst. A neverending
river of hot tears would do that to a person, she
guessed – make them sleep like the dead they were grieving.
It took most of her morning to get the papers sorted and in folders to keep each
batch separate. At least the girls had helped with that last night. They left her with
less work to do to get everything organized. She dropped them off at the lawyer’s
office just after lunchtime and then sat in her car, fingers curled around the
steering wheel as she stared down the street.
It wouldn’t take long to drive to the saloon and talk to people there. They were open
and she could have lunch. She could see the bartender again. She could…
Fiona bowed her head and closed her eyes. What could she do – interview them the
way the police probably already did? What would that even consist of? And what if
the bartender was on shift right now. What would she even say to her?
Were you here the night my dad died? Did you serve him alcohol? Do you realize
drunk driving is against the law?
More questions floated in and out of her mind, more things she probably didn’t want
to know the answers to, but that nagged at her nonetheless.
Even though Emma had told her not to, Fiona shifted her car into drive and went to
the bar. She could eat lunch and toast her dad’s memory, get some closure, and
leave it at that. Nothing more. At least, that’s what she convinced herself she would
do if her resolve didn’t falter.
Most of the lunch crowd was gone by the time she arrived, but she still chose to sit
at the bar instead of a table.
And there she was – that bartender. Long, wavy amber blonde hair in a low
ponytail, eyebrows sculpted to perfection, and full red lips begging to be kissed. She
did everything with confidence. From pouring a glass of alcohol to serving a platter
of food, she modeled poise and grace in all that she did. She had to be older, Fiona
decided, because there was nothing giggly or flirtatious about the way she spoke
with the patrons. She was all business.
When she strode over to Fiona, recognition sparked in her gray eyes. “Hey there.” It
was a gentler greeting than their first time, now that she knew who Fiona was.
“Hey. Could I get a burger with fries and a Sam Adams?”
“Drinking this early in the day? You must be having a rough one.” She reached
under the bar, set a bottle upon it, flipped the cap off with her opener, and then
extended her hand. “If you’re going to be frequenting this establishment, we really
should introduce ourselves. I’m Gabe,” she said.
Fiona looked at the hand, not sure if she wanted to touch it. What would she feel if
she did? Equal parts grief and lust fought for dominance. She finally took it and
exchanged a firm handshake. “I’m Fiona. Did your parents seriously name you
“Gabrielle, actually. My full name is Gabrielle Sylvie Marchand in all its French
glory. Awful, isn’t it? They called me Gabby, but I hate that even more. It sounds so
young and froufrou,
and I’m neither. So I prefer to go by Gabe.”
“Understandable.” Fiona realized Gabe was watching her, but she didn’t say
anything more. The bartender finally left to place the food order and Fiona picked
up the beer. Muttering, “Here’s to you, Dad,” she drank to her father’s memory.
Gabe mercifully left her alone until she served the burger. Then she leaned against
the bar, the neckline of her black tshirt
dipping just enough to give Fiona a
shadowed view of her cleavage. “I’m really sorry about your father,” she said. “I
know you don’t know me, but if there’s anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask. I
sincerely meant it when I told you he was a good guy.”
A number of responses rolled through Fiona’s mind, all of them completely
inappropriate one way or the other. She finally settled on, “Thanks. I appreciate
that.” Then she picked up the burger to indicate that the conversation was done.
She ate without interruption, left her payment and tip on the bar, and turned to
walk out the door.
“Hey!” When Fiona turned, she saw Gabe trotting toward her. She looked too
perfect in her tight jeans and long, lean black tshirt.
It gave Fiona heart
palpitations to see such a gorgeous woman chasing her down.
“Thanks for lunch,” Fiona said, her voice shaky. She had to get out of here before
her emotions went haywire.
“Wait.” Gabe took her hand, which surprised Fiona, and placed something in it. “I
want you to have this. Your father gave it to me one night. He told me it was once
yours, but you left it behind figuring you didn’t need to take it with you to college or
something. But now that you’re home, it feels like it should go back to you.”
“…the hell…” Fiona unfolded her fingers and looked at the circle of metal in it. “My
“Yeah.” Gabe thrust her hands into her back pockets and shook her head. “I mean,
I’m Pagan and a witch anyway, but that’s not mine. It’s yours, so you should have it
Fiona blinked down at the piece of jewelry. “What made him think to give this to
“I don’t know, exactly. I guess because one day I mentioned how annoying some
customers can be – kind of rude and grabby with female bartenders, you know? So
he brought that in the following week and told me I should always carry it with me.
He said he didn’t believe in that sort of stuff, but maybe it would protect me.”
“But to give you this?” Fiona asked, holding the pentacle up by the small circle
meant to hold it on a necklace. “Why this?”
“I guess because…” Gabe turned and tugged the back of her shirt down slightly,
then pulled her hair aside. Just below her neck was a tattoo of a pentagram with a
stylized bird on either side of it. Everything was done in plain black ink, but the
tattoo still managed to be rich and beautiful on her pale skin.
When Gabe turned back to her, Fiona realized she was staring at the blonde.
“Air sign,” she said with a shrug, letting her ponytail fall back into place. “Hence
the birds. I suppose being a fire witch, you just get in fistfights and sort things out
“You know…” Fiona struggled to find words that didn’t sound awkward. “Most
people don’t recognize me for what I am. For a bartender, you surprise me.”
“Good. I like surprising people.”
The grin that crossed Gabe’s face was both playful and adorable, and Fiona dipped
her head to hide the blush that flamed within her cheeks.
“Well, seriously,” Gabe continued. “Most of the time, I don’t care what people think
of me. It’s enough to know they’re off balance in my presence. But I’d really like to
know what about me surprises you so much. Why don’t we talk about it over dinner
“Dinner.” Fiona shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She was accustomed
to being the pursuer in matters of lust, not the pursued. This was certainly
different. “Tonight is Friday, I think. Don’t you have to work or something?”
Gabe shook her head. “I don’t work on Fridays. I suppose I should, considering the
tips are better. But the crowd is also a little rougher, so I tend not to work on
weekend nights unless I really need the money.”
It was the first time Fiona had thought about Gabe as more than a bartender. What
was she like outside of her job? Was her tough, efficient attitude just a persona or
was that how she was every day? Where did she live? What did she like to do? Was
she asking her on a date or just being friendly because she felt some sense of
responsibility toward Fiona?
“Okay, if you’re not interested in dinner, maybe we could just take a walk? Coffee?
Throw me a bone here. I mean, I’m not used to getting turned down when I ask
Fiona had to admit to herself that Gabe was damn cute when she looked sheepish,
her hands still stuffed in her back pockets, her shoulders just slightly hunched.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here,” Fiona finally said. “Now that I’ve
turned everything in to the attorney for my dad’s estate, I think I’ll be getting on my
way pretty soon.”
“So is that your roundabout way of turning me down or letting me know not to
expect anything? Because I can handle the second one, but I hope you’re not doing
the first one.”
It was like a punch to her gut. Most women played coy with her, acted cutely, and
tried to get her attention once they knew who she was and that she was interested
in them. Gabe was straightforward about her interest, not emotional or sulky or
wheedling. Every time Fiona returned to one of her lovers in Europe, they would
pout and cling to her, and demand to know when she would be back after their few
nights together. Gabe didn’t seem like the type to do that. Could she really
understand Fiona’s expectations, though? That she was the kind of woman who had
to live without strings attached? That she shouldn’t expect Fiona to turn into some
giddy girl over the idea of love and romance?
More to the point, could Fiona reconcile herself with the idea of dating a woman
who knew her father? Someone her father was fond enough of to give her a
“Okay, you’re taking too long to answer and I’m standing here like an idiot, waiting
for you to say something.” Gabe indicated over her shoulder with her thumb and
said, “I’m just going to go, now.”
“No. Wait.” Fiona didn’t know what she was about to do, let alone what she should
do. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could think. “Dinner sounds
“Great. But let’s go anywhere but here. Care for anything specific?”
Fiona tried to think about other restaurants in the area, but it had been so long
since she lived there…
“Tell you what – I’ll pick something and pick you up if that’s okay with you. Can I
pick you up at your dad’s place?”
“How do you know where he lived?” Fiona asked.
“I’m a bartender. There isn’t much I don’t know.” Gabe’s stance relaxed and she
smiled. “Besides, there’s this little thing called a phone book that lists everyone’s
addresses in it. Very handy in a small town.”
Relief flooded Fiona. Everything Gabe said made perfect sense. Her answers were
logical, not emotional. Fiona was the one letting emotions get the better of her.
“Right. That works for me, though…” She shifted uncomfortably, aware that Gabe
was staring at her.
“What is it?” Gabe finally asked.
“I mean… you’re… so gorgeous. How is it that you’re a lesbian? I figure you know
I’m one because you knew my father, so he probably told you. But… I mean, are you
Gabe let out a laugh that was rich and full. “I’m such a lesbian,” she said, still
chuckling. “And thank you for the compliment. When I turned forty, I wasn’t so sure
about my looks, but I appreciate that.”
Fiona swept her gaze over Gabe, hardly believing what she just said. “Forty?” she
“I know, right? But, yeah, I’m forty and there are other things. Like the fact that
I’ve got two grown kids.”
“What?” Fiona couldn’t help it. She shouted the question and took a step back,
looking at Gabe again from head to toe. Jeans, black tshirt
– didn’t mothers wear
their parenthood somewhere on them?
The laughter that followed was a little softer. “Trust me. I wear black because it
hides a multitude of tummy sins. And like I said, the kids are grown, so don’t worry
about that. Just let me take you out to dinner and we’ll talk. Will you do that?”
Fiona nodded, feeling like she shouldn’t open her mouth again. At least, not until
she knew Gabe better.
Waverly sat on the edge of the bed, head tilted and fingers pressed to her mouth as
she inspected the outfit Fiona was modeling for her.
“Come on, if you have nothing to say, I know it sucks.” Fiona sighed and unzipped
the floral sundress.
“It’s not that it sucks. The dress is dreamy.” Waverly picked it up off the floor and
held it to her chest. “It’s just that the pattern and colors aren’t right for you. Too
much red. It makes you look like one big walking… something. Try the green one,
instead, and let me keep the red dress.”
Fiona turned back to her suitcase and the pale green dress draped across it. It was
her favorite dress and, really, her goto
date dress. She wore it when she wanted to
get lucky because it had its own magick. Not that she had infused it with magick.
No. That wouldn’t be ethical. But the dress just seemed capable of closing the deal
all on its own.
“I can’t wear that dress,” she said. “It’s the dress.”
“And I can’t believe you forgave me for the other night.” Waverly set the red floral
dress aside and clasped her hands in her lap. “I’m real sorry about that.”
“It’s fine. I talked to Gabe about it. I couldn’t help. You know how I am. She wasn’t
actually there that night.” Fiona plopped down on the bed next to Waverly and
ducked her head. “Though that doesn’t make it any less awkward or complicated to
be dating the bartender who knew my dad.”
Waverly hummed and patted the red dress.
“You like it. Just take it.” Fiona waved as she rose once again and looked at the
options in her suitcase. She traveled light in many ways, she realized – not just
when it came to clothes and living situations, but when it came to people, too. Now
when she wanted to be able to just reach into a closet and have the right thing to
wear, she couldn’t. That was the downside of living out of a suitcase.
As if guessing the direction of her thoughts, Waverly asked, “Do you have anything
in the closet?”
“Maybe.” Fiona’s size hadn’t changed much since high school and she had left some
clothes behind, but the styles would be woefully outdated. She finally settled on a
pair of jeans and one of her favorite blouses. After all, she couldn’t imagine Gabe
taking her anywhere fancy just yet. She was just a bartender, after all, and…
Fiona squeezed her eyes shut and blew out a breath. “I’m such a judgmental jerk.”
“What? Why would you say that?”
She turned to Waverly and flapped her hands at her sides like a bird with useless
wings. “Gabe is fortyyearsold.
She has two grown kids. She’s a bartender. She
works at the place my dad used to go to get drunk, all so he could smash into a tree
one night. Maybe it’s too much for me to handle right now.”
“Much complication,” Waverly agreed, her mouth an O of awe. “Wow, kids… I mean,
the forty thing isn’t a big deal. Forty is the new thirty and we’re almost thirty.”
“What the hell does that even mean? It’s almost as bad as that stupid ‘living the
dream’ phrase. Whose dream is it anyway and why does it matter if we’re living it?”
This time when Fiona sat down on the bed, she fell back and stared up at the
ceiling. “I mean, I admit we have to rethink what it means to be certain ages. I
know plenty of fortyyearold
women who play video games and enjoy things other
people might not expect. I think age is just about knowing better at a certain point.
Or hoping you know better.”
“What I know is that you have to do what’s right for you,” Waverly told her. “If this
feels right, go. If it doesn’t, don’t.”
Fiona let out a delicate snort and rolled over on her side, propped her head on her
hand, and looked at Waverly. “Have you ever dated someone much older or younger
“No.” Waverly fiddled with the comforter on the bed. “I don’t really date, but Crystal
is five years younger than Emma. It drives her nuts sometimes that she doesn’t
seem to grow up.”
“I think that has more to do with personality than age, though. Emma has always
been more grownup
than anyone I know.” Fiona pushed herself upright and leaned
into Waverly. “And what about Avery?”
“Avery is Avery, and no one knows what to make of her.” That was all Waverly
needed to say. “What about all of your various exotic ladies around the world?
Surely some of them are older or younger than you by several years.”
Fiona’s thoughts drifted to Europe and she let out a sigh. “Well, I don’t think I’ve
spent enough time with them to really determine that, but I guess there was
Constanta,” she finally said.
“Ooh, what a beautiful name. Tell me more about her.”
“That’s just the thing. I don’t know much about her or any of my lovers.” Fiona
stood in front of the mirror and turned in a slow circle, checking the lines of her
jeans and blouse. “Constanta is maybe fifty or so, an incredibly beautiful woman in
Spain. She’s not just my lover. She’s a role model to me.”
“I’m intrigued.” Waverly leaned forward, an eager gleam in her eye. “Details, girl.”
“Like I said, I don’t really know. When I meet these women, I get to know them so
superficially. After all, I’m in town maybe a week at most. They’re lovely and
available, they say something interesting, and then I try to get them into bed.”
Fiona leaned against the wall next to the mirror and shook her head. “It’s not
intentional. It’s just that my work doesn’t give me a chance to settle in and really
get to know a person.”
Waverly looked at her with a sympathetic grimace. “I guess that makes sense. It
sucks, but it makes sense. So if you don’t get to know these women, why is
Constanta your role model?”
Now it was Fiona’s turn to grimace. Like her, Waverly tended to just say whatever
came into her mind. If Avery or Emma were there, they would have questioned her
more gently. Still, that was why she called Waverly to hang out while she picked
her outfit – because she needed someone who would get excited about the date and
give her straightforward, visceral reactions to not just how she looked, but anything
she had to say about Gabe.
“Well, Constanta is a journalist and she’s welltraveled.
She has this amazing
wisdom accumulated from her experiences, you know? I want to be that woman
someday.” Fiona plucked at a piece of fuzz off of her blouse. “I know it’s weird to say
‘I want to be fifty,’ but it’s more than an age or a number. I think being worldly and
sophisticated is what impresses me in a person – any person.”
“Which is why you never were comfortable here.” Waverly bowed her head, but not
before Fiona saw the tears in her eyes. “Your personality, your ambitions, and your
power are just too big for little ol’ Ashland, I guess. We all knew that, but
sometimes it still makes me cry to know we might not see you for another five or
ten, or even twenty years, if ever.”
“What? Oh, sweetie.” Fiona sat on the bed and put her arms around Waverly. “You
know you guys are my best friends. I always come back to see you.”
The slim shoulders under her hands heaved and shook with Waverly’s hiccupping
sobs. “I know, but how can we stay best friends by email? You visit once a year at
most and then get out of Dodge. Your emails are super short – like these mini
episodes of your life. Digital communication is no substitute for real intimacy, the
kind friends should have.”
Fiona rubbed Waverly’s back and sighed. “I’m not good at relationships. You know
Even as she said it, she knew she was lying. She was perfectly at ease here in
Ashland, among her fellow witches. She had to admit, to herself at least, that she
thought of them often. Even when she was visiting the ruins of Greece or the cafes
in France, her friends were on her mind. It was a connection she couldn’t shake.
It was a connection she also feared sharing with another woman. How could anyone
understand her friendship with the ones back home or the fact that they were not
just friends, but her sisterwitches?
“No other woman could understand me like you guys do,” Fiona finally said. “My
only real attachments are here.”
Waverly looked up at her, redeyed,
and nodded. Where Fiona was a temperamental
blabbermouth, Waverly was a weepy one. Fiona laughed and pulled her into a tight
hug against her side. Her embrace loosened after a moment and she glanced at the
“She’ll be here in six seconds.”
“How can you tell? You don’t even have a clock in this room.”
As if responding to her question, a vehicle stopped and idled outside the house, then
the engine turned off and they heard a door open and close.
“You always could do that.” Waverly shook her head and gave Fiona a squeeze.
“Can I meet her?”
“I feel like it’s inevitable, because if I say no, you’re just going to sneak down the
stairs after me. So, yeah. Come on.” Fiona stood and smoothed her blouse one last
time. She walked down the stairs with Waverly just a few steps behind her. Even
Scrappy came trotting out of the kitchen, away from his nightly serving of cat food,
to see what all the fuss was about.
“It’s nothing,” Fiona heard Waverly tell the cat. “She’s just got a date.”
Fiona glanced back in time to see Scrappy give the equivalent of a disinterested
feline shrug and saunter back into the kitchen. “Okay, and how can you tell he’s
even wondering about tonight?”
With a wink, Waverly said, “You have your ways and I have mine.”
“Oh jeez.” Fiona turned and opened the door, not sure what to expect.
Gabe stood there in her usual tight jeans, but she was wearing a black blouse
instead of a bustier or tshirt.
Her blonde hair was loose around her shoulders and
earrings hung from her ears.
Now that they were away from the bar Fiona associated Gabe with, she could look
at her as just another woman. There were subtle lines on her face, mostly around
her mouth and eyes. That told Fiona she smiled often. That was damn nice.
“Hi there,” Gabe said with a small wave. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thanks. I had help.” Fiona gestured behind her and said, “Gabe, this is Waverly
Ryan. We’ve been friends since high school. Waverly, this is Gabrielle Marchand.
She works at K.C.’s.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Even though Waverly was generally the friendliest person of
their group, she kept a respectful distance. Fiona was grateful. It wasn’t that Wave
made a bad impression, but she could be overenthusiastic
in how she responded to
people and situations. The last thing she needed was someone scaring off the first
date she’d had in America since… Wait – did a onenightstand
in New York City
last year count?
Gabe looked Fiona up and down and then smiled at her. “Well, the help was worth
it, though I think you would probably look beautiful in a potato sack.”
“Wow. It’s been a long time since I got a Midwestern compliment.” Fiona leaned
against the doorway, not sure why she couldn’t get her feet to move.
“Go on,” Waverly encouraged. “I’ll make sure Scrappy has plenty of water and then
I’ll lock up.”
Fiona refrained from snorting. Locking up in their town was unnecessary. Nothing
ever happened in Ashland. Besides, if someone came along and stole something,
they would be doing her a favor. One less thing to sell.
“Ready?” Gabe asked.
“Yup.” Fiona followed her onto the porch, pausing only to glance over her shoulder
at Waverly, who made a shooing motion at her.
Fiona gave her a Vulcan salute and then followed Gabe to the car.
“The city sure hasn’t changed,” Fiona observed. Omaha was still a network of
crisscrossing highways, old factories, and tall buildings. Gabe had taken her to the
historic Old Market for dinner, a place Fiona hadn’t visited for as long as she could
“When was the last time you visited Omaha?” The way Gabe looked at her over the
menu, Fiona almost felt guilty for the admission she had to make.
“Before I left for college, I think. Whenever I came home to see my dad, I passed
through Eppley, of course, but I didn’t actually go to Omaha for any reason.”
Gabe tilted her head and blinked at her. “You think the last time was ten years ago?
What about all the times you visited home during summer breaks or took time off
“Um…” How could she possibly confess to this beautiful woman, a woman who
clearly loved the area, that she avoided coming home as much as possible? “I mean,
I came home for part of my summers, sure, but I never really took time off from
work. So I’d fly into Eppley, spend a day visiting my father and friends, spend the
night at a hotel, and then leave again.”
“Okay, so that begs the inevitable question – why not stick around longer?” Gabe
closed the menu and folded her hands atop it. “I know your father was very proud of
you and your work. You’re a journalist, right?”
“Sort of.” Fiona squirmed in her chair. No other date had made her feel more
uncomfortable or guarded about answering questions. She felt like confessing to
this woman about how she lived her life would open her up to all sorts of judgment.
Women in Europe were different. There was something cosmopolitan about them,
something worldly and accepting of her flitting in and out of their lives.
The server approached, so Fiona turned her attention back to the menu. At least it
was a basic, casual American eatery – nothing super fancy. “The beer battered fish
is good,” Gabe suggested, “though I’m sure you’ve had better in actual coastal
Fiona smiled and ordered the fish anyway. It wasn’t worth it to say something
about the kind of fish she’d eaten in places like England, Spain, Greece, or Italy.
That would just be arrogant of her and the last thing she wanted to do was come
across as a jerk.
“If you recommend it, then I trust you,” she said after handing her menu over to
their server. “Fresh, local fish is nice and all, but sometimes you get what you get.”
Gabe laced her fingers together and rested her chin on the backs of her hands.
“True. And I feel like the real story here isn’t you being a globetrotting
Fiona. It’s something else. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
No one had ever asked her these questions before, or at least in that manner. Her
friends would nag a bit, lovingly, and then back off. But Gabe looked like a woman
on a mission, her mouth quirked in a halfsmile
and her eyes narrowed just a bit.
Those beautiful gray eyes of hers had subtle wrinkles at the corners and Fiona
couldn’t help but smile back.
She ducked her head and tried to sound nonchalant when she answered, even
though butterflies were fluttering in her tummy. “It’s just what I do. That’s all there
is to it. I think I’m going to head to the restroom.”
“I have to go, too. Mind if I join you?”
Fiona let out a short laugh. “That’s not too cliché, is it?”
“I guess it depends. If we go in there to dab on some mascara and giggle about boys,
it’s very cliché. But if we go in there for other reasons…” Gabe’s shoulder lifted in a
hint of a shrug. “It’s nature. No sense in fighting it.”
They both rose from the table and, for once, Fiona realized she felt flustered. Most
women she encountered understood where she was coming from – she was in town
for a few nights and open to sharing those nights in a sexual way. The end. But
Gabe wanted to know why that was how she played it.
As she entered a stall and locked the door behind her, Fiona sat down and tried to
make sense of the jumble of thoughts.
Why did she live her life like that? Because guys could do it without censure, so why
not? And she had a right to live her life, her way. Work was her passion and she
was committed to that first. That passion meant she didn’t stay in one place, so
getting attached was never a good idea. Besides, she’d learned the hard way as a
child that attachments led to pain.
When Fiona stepped out of the stall and placed her hands under the spigot to wash
them, she felt heat rise to her cheeks.
Fire, fire, burning bright, help me make it through this night.
That was the chant Avery had taught her long ago when the circle agreed that
Fiona’s temper and big mouth were getting her into trouble – and detention – far
too often. She had carried it with her ever since and used it whenever she needed a
focus that would dial back her emotions.
She lifted her gaze and met Gabe’s in the mirror. Those damn butterflies started all
over again, making her anxious. Gabe was taller than her. How come she hadn’t
noticed that earlier? The stately blonde could rest her chin on Fiona’s head. The
disparity made her feel shorter than usual.
Fuck being petite, Fiona snarled internally. Short, but scrappy. That was how both
friends and peers labeled her. But next to Gabe’s statuesque beauty and intense
scrutiny, she felt more short than scrappy. And then there was the disparity in their
shapes – Gabe so slender and Fiona with soft curves, including a rounded tummy. It
was the first time she felt any shame about her body in front of another woman.
Gabe’s arm shot out, her hand making contact with Fiona’s shoulder as she backed
her against the wall. Those perfect red lips came down on Fiona’s, molding to them
firmly. Fiona closed her eyes as her arms lifted up and then settled around Gabe’s
Maybe the bartender would be content with just being her Nebraska lover, once
Fiona left. Someone she could come back to once a year for dinner and a hot night
together. Maybe that was what Gabe wanted after all.
And then she leaned back and whispered, “If you want more of that, you’re going to
have to come clean with me, Fiona.”
Fiona’s eyes fluttered open and she stared up at her. “What?”
“You heard me. I’m here because I like you, because I want to get to know you and
see if I’m right to feel this way. This isn’t a hookup.
It’s a date. I’m not a oneanddone
woman, so if you like me too, you’re going to have to meet me halfway.”
“Ultimatums on the first date?” Fiona wasn’t sure if she felt curious or furious at
But the blonde simply shook her head and smiled down at her. “No ultimatum. Just
laying it out for you up front, so you don’t waste your time if you can’t give me what
I want. And vice versa, of course.”
“What about what I want?” After all, it was her date too, and Fiona’s life revolved
around doing things her way.
“I have a feeling that’s something you either haven’t figured out or need to readdress
in your life. Why don’t you let me know if I’m on track with that
assessment?” Gabe winked at her and then nodded her head toward the door.
“Come on. The food is probably waiting for us.”
Fiona turned and opened the door, her eyes cast down on the floor as she walked to
the table. That was one thing she didn’t miss about the Midwest – how
straightforward most people were. They had no refinement when it came to, well,
The food was there, just as Gabe predicted. Fiona sat down and Gabe followed a
moment later. She’d probably smeared her lipstick and Fiona raised her hand to her
lips, wondering if she had any on her mouth.
“Don’t worry. Once you start eating, it’ll wear off.” Gabe still had that smirk on her
face. “Why don’t we turn things around a bit? Maybe that will help.”
“Sure.” Fiona would appreciate anything that helped her focus her thoughts
“So, like I said, I’m forty and I’ve got two grown kids. They have the same dad,
though I’ve never been married. I grew up in South Dakota and moved to Gretna
when the kids were ready to start school. I wanted to give them stability, so I’ve
lived in the same house since before they went to kindergarten. Now they’re both in
college. I worked at their school until they were old enough to stay home alone at
night and then finally became a bartender, which was what I really wanted to do.”
Even though Fiona was eating her food, she felt impatience needling at her. She
wanted to ask a question, but she didn’t want to cover her mouth just to speak. It
was a bad habit of hers – giving in to the need to speak immediately – and one she
was still trying to break herself of. Fortunately, Gabe seemed content to let the
silence be, so as soon as Fiona swallowed, she got the question out.
“You wanted to be a bartender?”
“Yup. Is that so hard to believe?”
Fiona picked up her water and sipped at it as she considered the question. “I mean,
I didn’t realize that was something anyone aspired to, and I know that’s coming
“No, I get what you mean. It’s like finding out someone wanted to be a garbage man
or a janitor or work at the DMV.” Gabe cut her fish into small, bitesized
seemingly content to carry the conversation. “Yes, I actually wanted to be a
bartender since I was sixteen, but then I got pregnant in high school right before
graduation. Then I reconnected with the guy and even though I’m smart enough to
know better, I secretly wanted another baby. So voila – my kids. I decided a young,
single mom really needed a stable day job with normal hours and normal daycare.”
“Wow, if you got pregnant that young, didn’t your parents help you out?”
She watched as Gabe speared a bite of fish with her fork. The straightshooter
apparently didn’t like questions along those lines, because her answer came much
slower than her previous ones. “My parents are the main reason I left South Dakota
to come here. Living near Omaha has its advantages, of course. It was an easy place
for me to settle into after number two was born – plenty of job opportunities and
housing, and just far enough from family to keep them out of my life.”
“So I’m not the only one with a story.” Turning the tables should have felt sweet,
but the way Gabe grimaced told Fiona that was a story her date just wasn’t ready to
“I’ve been very honest and forthcoming with you about where I am in my life, but as
far as where I came from, that will take time. I still need to make my own peace
with it.” Gabe lifted her gaze to Fiona’s. “Maybe that’s what I see in you – someone
who also has a conflicted past that she needs to reckon with. Just tell me if I’m
close. That’s all I ask.”
Fiona closed her eyes for a moment and let Gabe’s words sink in. Close didn’t even
begin to describe the assessment. It was deadon,
but after years of cultivating a life
around her dreams, Fiona would be damned if she was going to revisit the pain that
got her here. Her father’s death was enough to deal with right now.
“You’re going through a rough time and I realize that.” Gabe’s statement pulled
Fiona from her thoughts and she opened her eyes to see the gorgeous woman
watching her. “But I want you to know that you aren’t unique in having a past
that’s painful. Everyone has their ghosts. It’s how we handle them that determines
whether we grow and thrive, or stagnate and never move on. Sooner or later, we all
have to decide which of those will serve us best.”
“The way I work it, this place will be gone within the hour,” Fiona said confidently
as she stood in the doorway, watching the real estate agent hammer the “For Sale”
sign into the ground. “Just watch me manifest a sale and badaboom!
will be gone and I’ll be free to move on with my life. Maybe I’ll even leave with some
extra cash in my pocket. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“If you say so.” Emma didn’t sound quite convinced and Fiona narrowed her eyes.
“Are you saying my power is rusty? Or is there something else on your mind, Em?”
Emma looked unconcerned with Fiona’s scrutiny. Instead, she leaned back on the
sofa and sipped at her coffee. “Could be one or the other. How often do you use your
manifesting to get things you want?”
“Often enough. If you want a list, I’m sure I could give you one, mostly involving
“Manifesting the good assignments, eh, and then a house sale? That’s so selfserving.”
Fiona rolled her eyes and leaned back into the house. “Shut up. It’s not like I’m
taking anything away from anyone else. I just ask for the perfect situation for what
I need at the moment. That’s all.”
“Mmhm.” Emma sipped at the coffee in her hand. “So how about a postmortem
the date? Did you manifest her into bed? You know Waverly is going to want details
next time you see her, if not sooner.”
The date. A shiver shook Fiona, even though it was a warm day. She waved goodbye
to the realtor and then turned back to Emma. “There aren’t many details to share. I
want her, but I’m not sure I can handle her.”
“Oh, my. Care to tell me what that means?” Emma looked amused, like she had a
secret joke to which only she knew the punchline. Fiona most definitely was not
amused. At all. Nothing was more frustrating than having to admit there was a
woman she couldn’t smooth talk into bed. That there was a woman who wanted
something Fiona couldn’t give her.
“Well, she doesn’t put up with my crap, that’s for sure.”
“She’s a bartender. Tough love is a necessary skill. That and being able to break
faces, I think.”
Fiona turned back into the house and hesitated just inside the doorway. A pang of
regret filled her and she leaned back against the wall, then sank down to the floor.
“She asked me questions about things only you guys could understand,” she
whispered. “When I tell her I’ve put the house up for sale, she’ll question me about
that, too. But it’s not my house. It’s never been my house. It’s my dad’s house.”
“It’s not that we understand so much as love you just the way you are,” Emma said.
“Honestly…” She slipped off the sofa, folded her legs, and sat on the floor across
from Fiona. “We wish you’d reconsider. This is a great old farmhouse and a great
community. I know you say you’re too busy to visit, but you’ve been here over a
week now, so the busy thing is just an excuse. Anyone with half a brain can see
“Shut up.” Fiona rolled her head against the wall and glared past Emma into the
“First of all, stop telling me to shut up. And another thing – you don’t even have an
American home base. Is it really worth spending the money to stay in hotels all the
time? You would probably spend less money if you at least maintained an
apartment somewhere. Anywhere.”
Travel was part of her outofpocket
expenses, Fiona had to admit. Unless she was
specifically on assignment, rather than working freelance, her job wasn’t exactly
lucrative. But she loved it. Sure, she could stand to cut back on some trips and do
more of her writing from one place. It wasn’t like traveling altered her perspective
on a topic or world event. It was just that…
“Fire can’t be contained. That’s not what I’m trying to do here.” Emma reached
across the space that divided them and took Fiona’s hand in hers. “It’s just that I’m
afraid you’re burning yourself out and that it’s not for love. It’s because you’re
running away from something like you always have.”
Fiona looked at the hand around hers, Emma’s skin darker against her pale white
fingers. “It’s easy for you,” Fiona whispered. “You just face everything headon
you have an entire family here to support you.”
Emma’s hand tightened around hers. “No, I don’t face everything headon.
avoiding something right now, too, and you know it. Everyone knows. But what I
also know is that as a circle, we can achieve anything. That includes looking back
and making peace with whatever shaped the people we are today. I think you need
to stay in Ashland, at least for a little while.”
“Are you telling me this because of something you’ve seen in a vision or as a friend
who wants me to stick around?”
“Neither.” Emma edged closer to Fiona, set her coffee cup aside, and pulled her into
a hug. Fiona sagged against her friend and her entire world felt right again, like
there was someone there to support her, to keep her from somehow falling off the
face of the earth. Because Emma was earth incarnate – steady and solid and
reliable. She was that friend, the one who questioned, but never judged.
“It feels weird, doesn’t it?” Emma asked.
Fiona felt Emma shake with gentle laughter. “Wanting to get attached to someone,
even though all your instincts still tell you to run.”
Burying her face down against Emma’s shoulder, Fiona squeezed her eyes shut and
said nothing. What could she say?
“It hurts to lose someone, the way you’ve lost people since you were a kid. But it
hurts more to never know the joy of having them in your life to begin with. Couldn’t
you open up to that idea?”
“No.” Fiona’s voice was muffled against Emma’s shoulder. When they separated, she
repeated, “No. I can’t do that.”
“But you have no problem with being attached to us.”
“Ugh.” Fiona blinked the wetness from her eyes, but it didn’t stop a tear from
rolling down her cheek. “You guys are different.”
Emma picked up her coffee and cradled it between both hands. “How are we
different than anyone else?”
It wasn’t just their complementary energies and powers, Fiona knew. It was
something much simpler than that. “You’re my friends. I’ve never been in love with
any of you or wanted to date you. I mean, you and I both thought Avery was hot, but
our feelings for her were never romantic beyond that.”
“Right. She’s just that girl with that certain something everyone goes gaga over,
regardless of sexual orientation.” Emma angled her body so she could stretch her
legs out in front of her and lean back against the wall next to Fiona. “So what is it,
then? How do you find it so easy to be with us, but not anyone else – even your own
This was the part she hadn’t told anyone – how angry her father was at her for
going to college out of state. It was something she’d held back from even her very
best friends. She tipped her head back against the wall as she thought back to the
day she walked through that door with nothing but two suitcases while her father
glowered at her. Not once in her entire childhood had her father struck her, abused
her, or yelled at her. But the moment she declared her independence, her intention
to follow her dream, her father’s treatment of her had gone from that of paternal
affection to bitter codependent.
“Fi. What happened?” Emma’s brows drew together and she looked more worried
than Fiona had ever seen her. “I mean, when you got to Ashland, you were that cool,
distant, weirdish new girl. But now you’re not just distant. You’re in pain.
Seriously, something went down. What was it?”
“Are you telling me you didn’t see it before it happened?” Fiona asked.
Emma shook her head. “That’s not how premonitions work. I can’t control them and
I can’t peek at people individually. They come when they come. As far as you after
high school, I got nothing until this week. I know you trust me. Can’t you talk to
Fiona heaved a sigh and shifted on the floor. The hardwood was putting her butt to
sleep, and having her entire focus on that body part wasn’t exactly conducive to
carrying on a serious conversation. “I feel like if I’m going to tell you, I should tell
the circle. I owe all of you an explanation and I guess now’s the time to get it out.”
They both lifted their gazes to the calendar hanging on the wall just outside the
kitchen. “Remember what Waverly said about the waning moon?” Emma asked.
“There’s no time like the present to let things go.”
Fiona licked her lips as she considered Emma’s words. “If I jump, I need someone to
go with me.”
“That won’t be a problem. I think after ten years, all four of us have things we need
to acknowledge and release, and this is the perfect time to do it. I’ll call the girls.
We’ll go to the usual place.” Emma pushed herself to her feet and dusted the
backside of her jeans. “Also, this floor needs vacuuming.”
“Yeah, I know.” Fiona stood and followed Emma outside. The “For Sale” sign
taunted her from its position on the lawn, near the sidewalk. Regret shot through
her once more and she wrapped her arms around herself.
Emma must have noticed the gesture or the change in mood, because she squinted
at the sign and said, “You know, you can change your mind. You aren’t committed
to this course of action.”
“I know, but as hard as it is to let things go, I’m not sure I’m ready to stay, either.”
“Right. Well…” Emma looked back at Fiona. “Maybe you need to invite Gabe to the
“What? Why would I do that when I hardly know her?”
“You said she’s a witch, too. Maybe it would be easier for you to kill two birds with
one stone – release what’s holding you back and hurting you, and let her know why
you’re so cagey about relationships.”
As much as Fiona didn’t want to acknowledge the past pain to her friends, she
dreaded sharing it with Gabe. Talking about it was going to make it real and shed a
new light on her father, a light she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone to see him in. It
felt odd to protect him, but she wondered if her loyalty to his memory was
misguided. There was nothing wrong with telling everyone the truth, right?
“Let’s not have her at one of our rituals just yet,” she said. “First of all, I don’t know
her well enough to invite her to something I’m used to doing with intimate friends.
Second, I’m not sure I want to ruin my opportunity to have another date with her if
I haven’t ruined it already.”
“No problem. I understand and respect your decision. So as far as the release ritual,
I’ll set it up.” Emma turned and sauntered toward the sidewalk, then glanced back
and said, “By the way, she’s an incredible kisser, isn’t she?”
Fiona clenched her fists at her side. “How did you–”
“Please. Don’t finish that question. I knew the answer when I told you to avoid her
in the first place. You can thank me and my clairvoyance later.” Emma wagged her
fingers at Fiona, then turned and continued on her merry way down the street and
With a grumble, Fiona walked back into the house and tugged the vacuum out of
the front closet. Emma was right about all the important things.
The house needed vacuuming.
Fiona needed to face and release her past.
And, yes, Gabe was an incredible kisser.
Fiona couldn’t forget Gabe’s words from the other night. Or that kiss. Or the way
she looked. Who was this tall, lithe, nobullshit
woman who spoke with so much
wisdom about life and who questioned Fiona about hers? Considering what Gabe
had shared about her past as a teenage mother, Fiona was surprised she didn’t have
a grudge against her family. After all, shouldn’t her family have been there to help
her raise two small children? Then again, Gabe must have had a reason for leaving
If Gabe had issues of her own, how could she expect Fiona turn to her for help? To
share the intimate details of her life and how she became the person she was today?
The questions plagued her as she stood outside the bar, debating whether or not to
go inside. Without making a conscious decision, she placed her hand on the door
and entered. She just had to see the woman who made her tummy flutter
uncontrollably, after all.
As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she saw Gabe there, behind the bar with a
younger guy Fiona hadn’t seen previously. They were chatting amiably as they
restocked bottles behind the bar and Fiona lingered by the door, not sure she
wanted to disrupt their work.
Gabe caught her eye across the room, leaned over to say something to the guy, and
then walked around the bar. “Hey there. I’m glad you came in today. How are you?”
Fiona tried to pull her energy into her center. Why did she feel so… scattered
around Gabe? Where was the confidence of the worldtraveling
writer who had a
woman in every major city?
“I’m doing well. I thought you might want to grab a late lunch if you have a break
Those perfect red lips curved into a smile and she nodded. “But first, I need to do
this.” Gabe cupped Fiona’s face in her hands, tilted it upright, and kissed her. Her
lips were velvety soft against Fiona’s, yet firm and searching. Fiona allowed herself
to get lost in the moment. She felt small next to Gabe – short, a little too buxom,
and entirely off balance. It was so different than how she felt with the other women
she kept in her life.
“Mm,” Gabe murmured as they parted. “I think we’re going to have to find
somewhere private and do that again and again.”
“Yes, please,” Fiona said breathlessly. The energy in and around her coalesced,
finally finding her center, filling it with heat. It was Gabe’s touch that realigned
her and she blinked up at her wonderingly. Gabe was an air sign, which fanned her
flame, rather than diminished it. For once, Fiona didn’t feel the need to run from
something another woman had to offer her.
“Come on.” Gabe nudged her into motion and they walked outside into the spring
warmth. “Wow, it is a beautiful today, isn’t it? I love May. It’s my favorite month of
“Spoken like a true air sign.”
Gabe let out a chuckle. “And yours is October, I bet, when the trees are covered with
fiery red leaves and the air smells like smoke.”
“How did you guess?”
“You’re not the only witch in Ashland, remember?” Gabe tilted her head and
squinted up at the sun. “I mean, not that I live here, but I’m here often enough that
I think that should count for something. There’s five of you, right? Do you know
“Yeah, I went to high school with them. You met Waverly and then there’s her
sister and another friend and her girlfriend.”
“Very nice. Do the four of you function as a coven?”
It was the first time anyone she dated brought up the subject of witchcraft. Then
again, Gabe was the first witch Fiona had met and liked, other than her friends.
“You could say that. We each hold the power of a key element, so our energy
complements each other’s. When we’re together, we can work some powerful
magick, but we have individual talents, too.”
They sauntered down the street, Gabe’s thumbs hooked in the pockets of her jeans
and Fiona feeling conspicuous next to her. Gabe stood out with her height, her
perfect hair and makeup,
the tight jeans, and the black bustier. But she rocked it.
Fiona glanced down at her own curvy body and sighed.
“I’d throw all of that off balance, so I don’t anticipate ever being invited to one of
“That’s not true. Crystal is our fifth sometimes and she doesn’t throw anything off
balance. You’d be welcome to come.” Fiona pursed her lips and then added, “I mean
if I was here.”
“But you don’t plan on staying, do you? I figured that out last night. You already
put your dad’s house on the market. That’s too bad – it’s a cute house.”
“It is,” Fiona agreed, “but even if I stayed in Ashland, I wouldn’t choose to stay at
Fiona squeezed her eyes shut. Before she could formulate an answer, she heard
someone call her name. When she opened her eyes, she let out a sigh of relief.
“Emma. What are you doing here?”
“Working, of course. You’re on Silver Street. This is my turf. What are you up to
today?” Emma was standing there holding a large bouquet of flowers and her gaze
bounced from Fiona to Gabe, then back to Fiona.
“Just taking a walk. Emma, this is Gabrielle Marchand. Gabe, this is one of my old
friends from high school, Emma Hanson.”
She watched as the women shook hands, both smiling. “It’s nice to meet another one
of Fiona’s friends,” Gabe said. “Maybe you can tell me some embarrassing secrets
about her later.”
Emma winked and said, “You know a loyal friend would never do that. Come on in.
I was just changing out the flowers. I think you’ve been in here a few times, Gabe.”
“I have. I go up to New Millennium in Omaha, too. It’s hard to decide which space is
my favorite, though.”
“This one, I hope. Of course, I’m biased.”
When Emma held the door to the shop they were standing in front of open for them,
that was when Fiona realized where they were.
When was the last time she had been in Emma’s store? She didn’t remember. And it
certainly hadn’t been with a woman she liked. Those women were anywhere but
here. Usually. But now there was someone. Someone here, in what had only become
her hometown because of her best friends.
Fiona lingered by the incense display and watched as Gabe chatted with Emma,
while Emma put the flowers in small vases around the shop. They seemed to settle
into easy conversation, almost like old friends themselves. The energy around her,
she realized, was right. Not just right, but harmonious. Gabe was all that was
positive about an air sign – open, curious, and wise.
What were the odds of finding someone like her so close to the only place she even
remotely considered home? The whole reason she left was because she couldn’t
stand just staying in one place. There was nothing for her here, except maybe a job
at the newspaper. And there was nothing interesting about that, as far as she was
Not that Nebraska was anything like the drab Kansas landscape shown in The
Wizard of Oz. It was just that Fiona knew there was nothing here for her.
At least, there was nothing then. But what if things changed?
“How about a reading?” Emma asked, jolting Fiona out of her musings.
Emma laughed and gestured to the back of the store. “Would you like a tarot
reading for the both of you? Crystal is very good and she doesn’t have any
appointments scheduled right now.”
That was the last thing Fiona wanted. Emma knew Crystal was incredibly
intuitive. As a water sign, Crystal was a lot like Waverly – highly emotional and
sensitive. The reading would reveal too much. It might even bring up things she
wasn’t ready to discuss with Gabe, let alone face herself just yet.
So she shook her head. “Another time,” she demurred.
“I understand.” Emma turned back to Gabe to answer her question about a
particular herb, and Fiona took the opportunity to retreat into the corner where the
messenger bags hung on the wall. She turned and stared at the fabric, the patterns
and colors blurring.
Fiona jumped when Gabe’s hand patted her shoulder.
“Oh jeez, are you okay?”
“No. This…” Fiona pressed her hand over her heart, which was beating so fast, she
couldn’t breathe. “The room is spinning.”
“Okay, you need to sit down.” Gabe pushed down on Fiona’s shoulders until Fiona
folded her legs and sat on the floor. Then Gabe crouched in front of her and held her
gaze. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Too fast,” Fiona said.
Fiona pressed her hands to her face. “I think this is moving too fast.”
“We had one date, Fi. One kiss.”
“Fine. Two kisses. How is that too fast? Besides, you came to see me today, not the
other way around.” Gabe gently wrapped her fingers around Fiona’s wrists and
drew her hands away from her face. “I know there’s something about you that I’m
missing. I just don’t know what it is. Why don’t you tell me?”
Fiona shook her head, which only nauseated her. “Not yet.”
“Not yet. Meaning there’s still a chance?”
“I think that’s what scares me,” Fiona admitted, sure she would babble if she tried
to say more than a few words. How had she gone from recognizing the balanced
energy around her to a panic attack?
Gabe narrowed her eyes, then reached up to take the bottle of water Emma offered.
She handed it to Fiona, who sipped at it. Fiona felt like an idiot, sitting there on the
floor of her best friend’s store while the most beautiful woman in the world crouched
in front of her. What was wrong with her?
Control. I need control. I’ve had control and now it’s gone. My dad died. I turned my
life upside down to be here. Why did I meet her?
Her thoughts raced and Fiona tried not to gulp the water, but at least it quenched
the heat. Somewhat. As long as Gabe existed there in Ashland, Fiona would never
be satisfied with leaving it again. She knew that, now.
“It’s not you, Gabe,” Emma said, her voice gentle. “It’s her. She’s been through a lot
and this is new to her. It’s the first time anyone else’s energy has aligned with hers.
She’s not used to it.”
“Yeah, I kind of gleaned that the love thing hadn’t happened for her yet and there’s
a story here. A long one, I’m betting.”
“Trust me, so are we. We’ve known her for over ten years and I’m sure we only know
half of her story. She doesn’t let many people in.”
Fiona watched as Emma and Gabe exchanged glances, then Gabe turned back to
her. “Your friends don’t even know what’s up with you?”
Emma added. “It’s like an impenetrable wall around her.”
Gabe nodded wordlessly.
“Stop talking about me like I’m not even here,” Fiona finally interjected now that
the whirlwind of thought had settled into a coherent stream. “My father just died,
for fuck’s sake. Isn’t that enough?”
“We know that, sweetie.” Emma radiated sincerity. “No one is telling you not to
have a freakout, but you can’t continue to keep it inside or things like this will keep
happening. Has this happened to you when you traveled?”
“No. Only with…” Fiona hated to place blame or point fingers. But she looked at
Gabe and shook her head. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t what I expected to happen today.
But seeing you looking so comfortable in here and realizing you fit into my world
really freaked me out.”
Gabe’s brow furrowed and Fiona regretted her words. Honesty wasn’t always the
best policy, she guessed.
“I think I get it. I’ll tell you what – I’m going to head back to work. You stay here
and let your friends take care of you. We’ll get together when you’re ready.”
Watching Gabe’s retreating figure was even harder than having her close. “Wait!”
Fiona called. “When will that be?”
Gabe glanced back from where she stood in the doorway. “I don’t know yet, but I
have a feeling we’ll both know when the time is right.”
As she left, Fiona felt the energy inside her clench with frustration. She turned her
gaze to Emma. “I’ve ruined everything.”
“No, you haven’t. I think she understands. She and I both do.”
“Oh really.” Fiona twisted her hand around the top of the bottle. “And what do you
both think you understand?”
“That you looked at her and realized it feels nice to have her around, that
everything feels right in this moment, and this finally feels like home to you,
especially with Gabe here. So you freaked out.”
Fiona’s throat went dry and she had to swallow more water just to speak again.
“More like lost my shit, I guess.”
“Is that a confirmation?”
“Can I plead the fifth?”
“Sure.” Emma’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “But as this isn’t a criminal case, I
think you should just accept the sentence we’ve handed down and serve your time.”
“Really? And what would that be?”
Emma put her hand on her hip and lifted the other to one of the buds she had put in
the vase on the counter next to the rack of messenger bags. Before Fiona’s eyes, the
buds opened and the petals unfurled into a full blossom – perfect red roses.
“Life in Ashland with Gabe, with no possibility of parole.”
The circle gathered AT the same place they had as teenagers – out behind an old,
abandoned house with a dilapidated barn. Back when they were younger, it felt
deliciously forbidden to trespass on that property, even if no one else was using it.
But the land itself was so beautiful, that it had – as Emma put it – called to her.
In the spring, it was bordered with lilacs, the air perfumed when the blooms
opened. It was the perfect place for outdoor rituals, even when it meant shivering in
their coats in the winter just to see the sunrise for the Solstice. Tonight, though,
they could relax. It was warm enough to be outdoors and Emma brought something
extra to keep them cozy.
“Do you just carry this around in your truck for occasions like this?” Waverly asked
as she stared down at the pile of cut logs.
“Of course not. I just planned well for tonight. That’s all.” Emma knelt and started
arranging them in a deep pit in the ground and then Avery dropped another armful
of firewood next to it. Fiona stood at Emma’s pickup
truck, gathering more.
Fiona was grateful. Even though the cold weather didn’t affect her, fire did. It made
her feel safe and secure. Like she could conquer anything that stood in her way. She
set her pile of logs next to the fire pit and then knelt. She felt her friends’ gazes on
her as she held her hands over the wood in the pit and drew on the energy of the
fire inside of her. It took only a moment for the logs to catch light and for the flame
to crackle to life. The pit was deep enough that they could still see each other across
it, over the flames, but shallow enough that the heat rose and kept everyone warm,
as long as they stayed within its golden circle of light.
Everyone sat on the ground around the flickering fire. “You haven’t lost your touch,”
Avery commented as she took her place on the east side of the circle.
“No, she’s only honed it.” Waverly glared at Fiona as she stood on the west side and
kicked at the ground. “It’s kind of dry out here and we haven’t had much rain this
May. Are you sure this will be okay?”
“There’s rain in the forecast tonight,” Emma told her. “It’ll come after we leave.
Besides, there’s nothing but dirt and sand around this thing, and then there are the
rocks bordering the pit. It’ll be fine, worrywart.”
“Jeez, how we would explain that?” Avery held her hand to her ear, miming a phone
call. “Um, yes, fire department? We were practicing witchcraft and burned the old
Waverly and Emma giggled, and Fiona finally cracked a smile. What was it about
circles that brought out the goofiest in them? And the best, too…
“Well, Fiona called this circle, so she should open it.” Emma nodded at her.
Right. She was on. Fiona looked into the flames and took a deep breath, aligning
herself with the strength of the fire. “First, I want to apologize for not visiting more
often. It’s not your fault. You’re my best friends, like sisters to me. My avoidance of
Ashland has nothing to do with you.”
“We know that,” Waverly assured her. “We never assumed you were avoiding us.”
“Good.” Fiona straightened and set her palms atop her knees. “It was my dad. When
I told him I was leaving to go to school on the east coast, he got angry and I felt like
I couldn’t come back after that. I mean, he knew I planned to go to college, but he
thought I would just go to UNO. When I broke it to him that I was going to Boston,
he flipped his shit.”
“Your dad? Angry?” Avery tossed her hair and leaned back, bracing her hands
against the earth. “I never saw him angry in his life.”
“Yeah, well.” The memory made Fiona wince. “It wasn’t pretty, especially since he
was drunk at the time.”
The girls let out a simultaneous muttered, “Oh, shit.”
“What happened?” Waverly asked.
Fiona closed her eyes. “You know we moved a lot when I was a kid. Not to different
towns – just within the Boston area until we moved out here. I never figured out
why Dad was always changing apartments and phone numbers. I was too busy
being unhappy, anyway. The kids thought I was weird and they teased me for not
having a mother. It wasn’t a great childhood, but I never cared what anyone else
thought about me. Dad taught me that and I want to say that I have a lot of
gratitude toward him for the way he raised me.”
The darkness behind her eyelids shifted and she saw herself entering the cafeteria
High School. The three girls at the table in the corner had
drawn her attention without even saying a word, their energy pulling her to them.
It was Avery who ultimately had the courage to approach her. Since Fiona was the
token weird new girl, none of the other students would dare.
“Everything got better when I came here.” She opened her eyes and smiled at
Avery, then Emma, and finally Waverly. “You made me feel at home and I knew
this was where I belonged. But I still couldn’t stay with my dad. I wanted to see the
world and then maybe come back here in ten years and write a book or something.
Dad made that impossible for me.”
“How?” Waverly leaned toward her and took Fiona’s hand. There was something
calming about her water energy, something that leveled out the fire within.
“He yelled at me when he realized the college thing was a reality. Told me I was an
ungrateful bitch and that he disowned me. He must have repeated it three or four
times as I walked out the door. That and he told me to just take my shit and go. It
“Oh my gods, that’s harsh. I never knew he was capable of that kind of behavior.”
Fiona nodded as tears streaked down her face. Outside of the intense personal loss
she’d suffered in the past month, it wasn’t often that she cried, but something about
being among her friends helped. She gave into the tears that were long overdue.
These weren’t tears of grief for her father’s death, though, but for the loss of their
relationship long before that day.
“He said other hateful things and I resolved not to come back if I could help it. The
problem was Ashland was the one place that felt like home, but I didn’t want to set
foot under his roof again.”
“Fi.” Waverly rose up on her knees and hugged her. Waverly’s strong, wiry arms
were tight around Fiona, but comforting as they squeezed her. “We love you,” she
“I know you do.” Fiona returned the hug, even though she knew her tears were
soaking Waverly’s shoulder. When they separated, she accepted the tissue Avery
offered her. “When I got some distance that was when I realized my dad was codependent.
It was blatantly obvious that all he wanted to do was manipulate me
into staying here by treating me like shit. Seems counterintuitive to me, because all
I did was take steps to move farther and farther away. Every time I came back to
visit, he still treated me like crap.”
“It’s a strange dichotomy,” Emma said. “Abusers use words to make someone feel
bad in order to take away their power and keep them around. And many of the
victims believe those words, believe they’re worthless and no one else will love
them, or that they can’t handle life on their own. So they stay. You were able not to
get caught up in that cycle and I’m proud of you for leaving.”
Fiona blew her nose and nodded. “I never thought of my dad as an abuser. He was a
functional alcoholic from the time I was born until I graduated from high school.
But the moment I set my foot out the door with no intention of returning for several
months, he was absolutely pissed. Honestly, I…”
As she broke into fresh sobs, Fiona doubled over while Waverly rubbed her back.
“I hate,” she tried again, “thinking of him as an abuser. Because when I was a kid,
he was great. He took me camping, bought treats when I showed him good report
cards, and stuff like that. You know? He never spanked me, never yelled at me, and
then this one moment just destroyed our relationship for the next ten years. I didn’t
“None of us did,” Emma said. “Or we would have said something to you.”
Fiona nodded, well aware of what Emma meant. “I know you would have. Anyway, I
think traveling wasn’t just to satisfy my wanderlust. It was to stay as far away as I
could with the most plausible excuse possible.”
“Work,” Avery acknowledged. “You were always working, or at least pretending to.”
“And all this time, we had no idea.” Waverly’s body sagged. “I wish you’d told us.”
“And what would you have done about it?” Fiona asked.
A long, silent moment passed, and then Waverly shook her head. “I don’t know, but
at the very least we would have been here for you. Thank you for telling us the
“Thank you for letting me tell it.” Fiona had to admit it felt good to get it out of her
“Where does that leave you now?” Avery reached out and patted Fiona’s shoulder.
“Well.” Fiona looked up at the night sky, marveling for a moment at how clear it
was. That was the thing about rural Nebraska. Unlike being in the city, you could
actually see the stars here. “I feel like I’ve made peace with Dad’s role in being the
abuser and me being a victim, even if it was just that one moment. All the times I
came back to visit were really tense, which is why I’d only stay for a day or two, and
never at my dad’s house.”
Avery blinked across the way at Waverly, and then at Emma. “You could have
fooled us. We thought you stayed at his house during your visits.”
“Nah. I stayed at a hotel by Eppley. It was too weird to stay at Dad’s house.”
“I can’t imagine what that must have been like.” Avery bowed her head and Fiona
knew she was chastising herself for not noticing anything wrong.
“Hey, don’t do that,” Fiona scolded her. “No one knew. I thought I would take this to
my grave until…” Nausea assailed her and she doubled over.
As with the panic attack at Emma’s store, someone was there to offer her a bottle of
water, to rub her back, and give her a moment to collect herself.
“Why is this happening to me?” she muttered.
“It’s happening because you need to release it,” she heard Emma say.
“No. That’s not why.” This time it was Waverly who spoke. Her hand, Fiona
realized, had never left her back. “It’s because she’s holding on to something else
entirely. It’s not the past that’s making her sick. It’s the present.”
When Fiona looked up, she saw the way Waverly’s gaze went misty and distant. It
wasn’t often that Waverly needed to search deep to use her power. Most people’s
emotions bubbled near the surface. But everyone knew Fiona worked hard to bury
“You need to decide who is really to blame for what happened to your father,”
Waverly said in a quavering voice. “And when you realize and accept the truth, then
that is when you’ll release it. But until you do, it’s going to make you sick inside.”
Fiona held Waverly’s gaze, her entire body trembling. “I want to release it,” she
“Then you need to start at the surface and work your way down.”
From across the circle, Fiona heard Emma whisper, “So mote it be.”
“Are you sure you aren’t trying to force this?” Gabe asked as they sat in the movie
theater. “I just want to be sure you’re ready, especially since I already laid it on the
line for you.”
“I don’t know what I’m trying to do, but if asking you out to the movies is trying to
force myself to get over something, then so be it. All that matters to me at the
moment is the butter.” The popcorn smelled wonderful and Fiona took a fistful of it
out of the bucket. Of course, she hadn’t eaten all day…
Gabe looked skeptical as she watched her. “Well, I’ve already figured out you have a
healthy appetite, which I admire. But a date at the movies is just an excuse not to
have to talk,” she said, a halfsmile
quirking at her lips.
“What makes you say that?” Fiona reached for another handful and tried to be
delicate about how she ate it, but there really was no polite way to eat popcorn and
“Years of bartending teaches you a thing or two about human nature.” Gabe
shrugged and accepted the popcorn bucket that Fiona angled her way. “So, popcorn,
but no pop? Isn’t your throat going to get awfully dry?”
Fiona shook her head. “Drinking at the movies is a bad idea. Soda makes you have
to pee and it always happens at the worst possible time during the movie. So you sit
and hold it, thinking you can make it to the end, and then get up to go anyway. But
it turns out the most crucial part wasn’t going to happen when you initially felt the
urge to pee. It happens when you can’t wait anymore and just have to go. So I never
drink anything at the movies.”
“And my friends back home thought I was a weird girl.” Gabe snorted and leaned
back in the seat. It reclined and she let out a long sigh. “I spend too much time on
my feet. This feels really nice.”
“Yeah, I love these seats,” Fiona agreed. “Hard to believe a theater can feel kind of
luxurious, but I suppose it must after standing behind a bar day after day.”
“Well, I’d rather spend my time with you anyway. And preferably not upright.”
When Gabe rolled her head to look at her, Fiona felt her heart skip a beat. With her
flawless skin and tinted lips, Gabe looked like a movie star. Fiona imagined if she
replaced the jeans and black top with an evening gown, she would make a very
convincing 1930s femme fatale. Damn, she was hot.
“The movie is starting,” Fiona said softly as the lights dimmed and the speakers
started to hum.
Gabe leaned across the seats and kissed her, taking what remained of her breath.
“That’s to give you something to think about for later,” she whispered.
The seat was plush and Fiona was glad to lean back and think about the kiss
throughout the advertisements and the previews. She thought about it at the start
of the movie and then at the middle part where she realized she had to go to the
bathroom after all, even after eschewing beverages. When she got back and saw
Gabe’s lithe form stretched comfortably on the reclining seats, she thought about
kissing her in return in the flickering light the screen cast over the theater.
As soon as the movie ended, she rolled toward Gabe and pressed her lips to hers. It
was the first time Fiona had taken the initiative with her and it felt good. Not as
good as when Gabe did it, but certainly better than she had felt waiting to make her
Gabe’s lips moved beneath hers and then parted. Something shifted around them.
Not the lights or the music, but something more substantial. As the kiss deepened,
Fiona knew she wanted to stay in Ashland and find out where this would go.
Fiona pulled away, but she didn’t open her eyes.
“It’s still not right,” Gabe whispered.
“No, it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It is,” Fiona insisted, opening her eyes. “It is so right. There are just things we
have to talk about first. But isn’t that what dating is – getting to know each other?”
They both sat up and Fiona realized the theater had emptied, the last of the moviegoers
filtered out the double doors. A young man stood by with a broom and
dustpan, waiting to clean the floors.
“Let’s go. We’re holding up the kid from his work.” Gabe stood and pulled Fiona
along with her. The sunlight was too bright after two hours in a dark theater and
Fiona blinked until her vision adjusted. When she turned to Gabe, she tried not to
As always, she looked luminous whether she was in the dark or the light. How did a
woman manage to look like that?
“What is it?” Gabe asked, glancing sideways at her.
“Just you.” Fiona took her by the elbow and stopped her. “So you weren’t working at
the bar the night my father had his accident?”
Gabe looked down at her, scrunching her brow. “I told you I wasn’t. Why do you
have to keep asking me about that?”
The breath Fiona let out was long and louder than she intended. She raked both
hands through her short, wavy red hair and glanced around. The hustle and bustle
of Omaha wasn’t enough of a distraction from the thoughts careening through her
“I’m attracted to you, Gabe. I think that’s obvious. But I’m angry, too. I don’t know
what to think about what happened to Dad that night – if the wrong person was
working at the bar and gave him one drink too many. Don’t bars have rules about
things like that?”
“Actually yes, there are state laws about serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated
person.” Gabe turned to face her, arms folded, and face like stone. “Look, I didn’t
want to throw this back at you, but if you’re going to keep asking, I have to ask you
this. Have you read the police report?”
“No.” Fiona mirrored her pose. “Why does that even matter?”
Gabe closed her eyes for a moment and Fiona saw her swallow. Then Gabe looked at
her and said, “The police found an empty bottle of vodka in your dad’s car. The time
he left the bar was early – only seven that night. The accident happened an hour
later. Your father was drunk, but he didn’t get drunk at any of the bars in town.”
Fiona frowned and looked down at the sidewalk. “It takes five minutes to get home
from the bar, so you’re saying he went home and got drunk, and then went out
“Or he sat in the parking lot drinking or went somewhere else and drank that
bottle. Whatever happened, no one served him the drinks that got him intoxicated.
The accident happened on the other side of town, too, so my guess is he found an
empty parking lot, got totally hammered, and then tried to drive home like that. Or
maybe he was drinking at home and then decided to go somewhere. Either way, my
aren’t to blame and you need to let it go. Okay?”
“Shit.” Fiona hid her face in her hands and shook her head. She hated wondering
and she hated saying something that sounded like an accusation. Maybe asking
wasn’t as much of a relief as she thought it would be.
“Look, all of us know the laws about us serving or selling alcohol to a person who is
obviously drunk. Our bartender on staff that night told the police he cut your father
off after three drinks like he always did. But his blood alcohol level was through the
roof – not consistent with just three beers or three shots. Trust me on this. I know
you probably don’t want to read the police report and that’s why you’re asking me
these questions, but it’s not going to feel good whichever way you go about getting
A semi drove by, its horn blaring. Fiona looked and watched two young guys scurry
out of the street, onto the sidewalk, yelling at the driver. Then she turned back to
Gabe. A raindrop fell from the sky. She lifted her gaze to the gathering clouds
overhead, blanketing the sky with gray. The gray resembled her mood, she decided
– dark and hopeless, and the raindrops were like tears from the sky.
“Fiona, please look at me.” Gabe’s voice was imploring and Fiona met her gaze once
more. “We can only do so much as bartenders. We have many alcoholics who come
in to drink and, unfortunately, they have to take agency for their own actions. Over
the years a bartender becomes more than just someone who serves alcohol, though.
I might be an air sign, but I’ve learned how to read people and give them the
empathy they need, even if I don’t feel what they feel.”
Tears burned at the corners of Fiona’s eyes, but she blinked them away and glanced
back at the busy street. “Yeah, well, I guess I just feel too much then.”
“And I like that about you, Fiona. Your fire is what draws me to you. I feel like
having you around is going to make life interesting, if only you’ll stay.”
Fiona swallowed and squeezed her eyes shut. “At first I wasn’t sure I was ready to
do that, but now I think I am.”
“I’ve figured out that you travel to run away and I admire you for stopping and
trying to face it.”
Blinking at Gabe, Fiona took in a ragged breath. “You do?”
“Oh, hell yeah. I’ve run away from things. Who hasn’t? And while it served me well
at the time, I learned later that sometimes we have to face those things. Otherwise,
they’re always going to haunt us. I think what I see is a kindred spirit in you.”
That was a comforting thought. Pain felt like such a unique concept, something
carried by the individual and that no one else could understand. The idea that
someone might have some inkling of what Fiona had felt over the years made her
resolve soften, just a little.
“So won’t you tell me what you are running away from?”
Fiona shook her head, a shiver going through her. Though she knew Gabe was
sincere, they were still relative strangers. “I’m not sure you would understand.”
“Try me. I might surprise you.” Gabe took a step closer and smoothed Fiona’s hair
with a little sigh. “Your hair is as wild as you are, but that’s part of what makes it
Fiona didn’t know what to say to that, so she just looked up at her and held her
breath. Having her so close made her want to lean in and run in the opposite
direction at the same time. What was it about the confidence Gabe radiated that
made Fiona feel so small next to her?
Gabe glanced up and down the street and said, “Come on. Maybe it’ll make you feel
better if I show you mine. Then you can show me yours.”
More fat raindrops fell from the sky, splashing against the sidewalk and leaving
dark splotches on the pavement around them. “This isn’t the time to make a sexual
joke,” Fiona said, ducking her head as the rainfall increased.
“Maybe not, but I’m serious. I think you need proof that someone else might
empathize with your pain.” Gabe offered her hand and nodded her head toward one
of the restaurants along the sidewalk. “Come on, before we end up soaking wet.”
Fiona waited a moment, her heart pounding in her chest.
“I know you’re going through a lot, but you’re not going to work it out standing here
in the rain or even in an afternoon chatting with me. But hang out with me a little
longer. Even if you’re not ready to be with me yet, we can at least start as friends
and see where it goes from there.”
The rain continued to get heavier and Fiona finally took Gabe’s hand. If she found
the courage to tell her friends about how she and her father had left their
relationship, then maybe telling someone who wanted to be her friend would help
her get past it.
“I still can’t believe the look on your face.” Fiona shook her head and picked up a
crab rangoon. “Seriously. What’s so funny about ordering a pu pu platter? I just
happened to forget they don’t call them that here.”
Gabe chuckled as she piled several appetizers on the plate in front of her. “Um,
maybe the fact that they’re an east coast thing, not a Midwestern thing. The waiter
looked so confused when you asked about them.”
“Well, I’m from Boston, you know. Old habits and all that. Besides, I’ve been getting
most of my Chinese food on the east coast again, these days.”
“It’s clear you never fully assimilated here,” Gabe concluded. “What with calling pop
‘soda’ and asking for a pu pu platter.”
“We’re just in the wrong restaurant. Plenty of the other ones in Omaha call them
that.” Fiona looked at the assortment of appetizers arranged on the table.
Their plates were heaped with absolute deliciousness – not just crab rangoon, but
egg rolls, teriyaki beef, chicken fingers, and jumbo shrimp. Fiona sipped at her soda
and wondered how much she could eat. Then again, how much should she eat? It
was a tough call on a date, but since Gabe had already complimented her appetite,
Fiona decided she was free to indulge.
“I actually do love the Midwest, but I was sixteen when I moved here. My
Massachusetts habits were already ingrained in me by then.”
“Fine. I accept your excuse.” Gabe waved at the air dismissively and then her
expression softened into a smile. “So, why don’t you tell me how you ended up
“I guess I never got into that.” Fiona dipped her egg roll in the duck sauce and
watched it drip off the end, onto her plate, before taking a bite. “My parents
divorced when I was about four. From what I understand, my mother went to
California. My dad stayed in the same town after she left, but he moved us around
from apartment to apartment, changed our phone number all the time. I don’t know
why, but I didn’t question it much because I didn’t have to change schools. He
always rewarded me for good reports cards, took me camping every summer, and
was generally a good father.”
She watched Gabe bob her head up and down, and then lick a bit of sauce off one of
her fingers. The gesture was strangely alluring and Fiona had to drag her mind
back to the present when Gabe said, “Well, that seems weird to me. I wonder why
he moved you around so much.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he was looking for a better deal on rent every time. Anyway,
we moved here and that was that. I got pretty cozy with the friends I made in my
junior year of high school – Avery, Waverly, and Emma. Leaving them was one of
the hardest things I’ve ever done.” Fiona leaned back as the server set two bowls of
egg drop soup on the table.
“Why did you leave, then?” Gabe asked as she picked up her soup spoon.
Fiona grinned, recalling her experiences over the past ten years. As much as she
used her work to escape, she also loved every moment of her travels. “Because I
couldn’t stay. I felt compelled to see the world. I had to go to college back on the east
coast or travel and write about it. The only time I yearned for home was when I
thought of my friends. But my dad and I didn’t part on the best of terms when I left
for college, so I came back to see them – not him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Crossing her arms over the edge of the table, Fiona leaned forward and said, “But
as I recall, you told me your parents were the main reason you left South Dakota to
come here. So I guess you were on to something as far as knowing I had issues of
When Gabe tilted her head, Fiona had to catch her breath. She looked so sure of
herself. Why couldn’t Fiona feel that way in her presence? What was it about being
back here that killed her own selfconfidence?
“My family hated me for being gay,” Gabe finally said. “It was as simple as that.”
“How did they even know? You had a boyfriend and two children with him.”
“Mm.” Gabe stirred her soup, a slight grimace on her face. “I did that in an attempt
to be normal and because I really wanted children. Being normal is pretty
important in the Dakotas. Not like Boston where you can let your freak flag fly.”
“That sucks,” Fiona said heatedly. It didn’t surprise her that she felt her own
energy rising and swirling within her in response to Gabe’s words. Individuality
was of the utmost importance, as far as Fiona was concerned. When someone didn’t
respect another person’s right to simply be themselves, it set her off. “Hate is a
strong word, though,” she finally said.
“Yes, and a strong reaction, too, but that’s how they feel about me. It didn’t help
that I was a witch, something very much against their socalled
Fiona dipped another egg roll in her sauce and bit off the end of it. “How did they
react when you got pregnant?”
“They tried to convince me to get married to the father. I told them I wasn’t ready.
Then the second baby happened and they were adamant that I needed to have a
normal, respectable life. Their ultimatum was get married or get out, so I left.” The
way Gabe shrugged told Fiona she didn’t want to treat it like a big deal, but just as
a fact of her life. “I couldn’t please them without compromising myself and I refused
to let them try to impose the same prejudices on my kids, so that’s why I came to
Omaha. Not that Nebraska is a bastion of liberalism and tolerance – far from it –
but this city has been good to me.”
The food was slowly dwindling, but the conversation certainly wasn’t. And neither
were Fiona’s feelings. If anything, they were growing as she sat there and got her
first glimpse beyond the rubyred
lips of the woman she was coming to admire.
“You know, these aren’t the kinds of conversations I normally have with women,”
“Oh? What kinds of conversations you normally have?”
Gabe stared at her in a way that told Fiona she was very curious and, perhaps, a
little amused. Wondering what she expected, Fiona said, “The kinds that land me in
bed with them. European women aren’t complicated. They know what they want
and that’s that.”
“As opposed to American women who overcomplicate
everything.” Gabe leaned
forward and winked at her. “But I can promise you, I know what I want and that’s
that as far as I’m concerned.”
“American women don’t work like that.” Even as she said it, Fiona knew in her
heart that Gabe was the exception, not the rule. Maybe it was the fact that she was
older or maybe it was her life experiences. Either way, Gabe had all the grace of a
mature woman, as well as an air sign, which only made Fiona want her even more.
She looked at the food that remained on her plate and tried not to get too lost in her
thoughts as she ate it.
“Did your father always know you were a witch?”
The question caught Fiona off guard and she blinked across the table at Gabe. “I
think he did, but he didn’t talk about it. I mean, it wasn’t a problem for us. Dad was
agnostic and my magick abilities didn’t affect our relationship. They really affected
just me. What about you?”
“I think what you know about my parents is enough to tell you what they thought
about me being a witch.” Gabe finished the last of her soup and poked at the
appetizers still on her plate. “They weren’t thrilled, so bringing my gifts elsewhere
was for the best.”
If there was one thing Fiona hated to do, it was stereotype people. But she knew in
her heart that Gabe’s parents fit every stereotype she disagreed with and Gabe
wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
“My father was a functional alcoholic when I was a kid,” Fiona finally said, “but not
so much after I left the house. When I say my father and I didn’t part on the best of
terms, that’s putting it as kindly as possible.”
Gabe dipped her head as if acknowledging the admission, leaving it up to Fiona to
decide whether or not she would continue.
“We had a fight. Well…” Fiona hesitated and canted her head to one side. “He
fought. I just stood there and cried while he yelled all kinds of horrible things at me.
It was the first time he ever yelled at me or said anything less than loving.”
“Why didn’t you do or say something at the time?” Gabe asked. Her hand slid across
the table and curled around Fiona’s. Something about their joined hands gave Fiona
the courage to continue, to tell someone who was still practically a stranger these
kinds of personal things.
“I wanted to, but I couldn’t because I was afraid of hurting him.” It was another
confession she hated to put out there, but there it was. “My temper isn’t under
perfect control at the best of times. That night, I knew if I yelled back, I might do
something I’d regret. But I was too surprised to know how to respond, either. I
mean, what do you do when your parent hasn’t lifted a finger against you or raised
his voice in eighteen years?”
The breath Gabe let out seemed to make her entire body sag and she shook her
head helplessly. “I don’t know, Fiona. My parents let me know I was defective the
moment I showed any signs of not being their perfect little girl. So I’m not sure
what’s worse – growing up with that and deciding to escape it, or having what
seems like a fairly normal life and then realizing there was something awful
underneath it all along.”
“There were other things, things I didn’t realize were signs of a problem until I was
The expression on Gabe’s face encouraged her to continue. Her lovely features were
soft with interest and concern, her eyes misty with tears. Tears for Fiona. No one
had ever cried for her before, except maybe her friends when she told them she was
“I told you we moved from one apartment to another back in Boston. I thought
maybe he was looking for a better apartment or a better deal, but I’ve started to
wonder…” Fiona looked at their joined hands and felt strength flow from the
connection. “My parents divorced when I was four. I never heard from my mother
after that. Dad told me she went to California.”
“Do you think there’s a connection between the divorce and the moving?” It was a
legitimate question and one Fiona had pondered more often than not since getting
some distance from her father.
She looked at the empty plates on the table. “I think getting out of the house
brought clarity,” she finally said, “but I still haven’t put all the pieces of the puzzle
Fiona moved her gaze to their hands and then up along Gabe’s bare arm. Her pale
skin was perfect, the muscles in her upper arm sinuous and lean. She couldn’t help
but let her gaze drift along Gabe’s collarbone and to her breasts, covered by that
but pressing against it with distinct curves.
“I’ll just hurt you,” she announced before she could stop herself.
Even though she hated to do it, Fiona lifted her gaze to Gabe’s face. “I don’t want to
get involved. It’s something I just don’t do because I won’t be here once this is all
said and done. You were right. I’m not ready.”
“By ‘this’ you mean your father’s estate? Selling the house?” Gabe clarified. Even
though Fiona expected her to break her hold, she didn’t. Those strong fingers
remained clasped around her hand.
“Yeah. That’s what I mean. My work takes me all over the world. I can’t stay in one
“Can’t,” Gabe asked, “or won’t?”
Fiona was ankle deep in her father’s things when she found the letters.
Not that she meant to, of course. She was pulling things off the shelf in his closet
when she discovered them. It was unexpected, considering the things she had tossed
into a box so far – a pair of dress shoes he had probably only worn once, a vintage
pocket knife from his boyhood, and an old deck of playing cards. So the shoebox full
of cards and letters came as a surprise to her.
At first when she flipped through them, she saw that they were addressed to him
from family members. There were childhood birthday and holiday cards, and then a
bundle of letters wrapped with twine that she pulled out and looked at. They were
letters between her grandparents, she realized, dated throughout World War II.
Further in were cards congratulating him on his marriage and then fatherhood.
And then there were the cards from her to him for Father’s Day and birthdays. Her
name was scrawled on them in childish handwriting – “Love, Fiona.” Tucked
between them were other mementos, like photos of her and paper ornaments she
had made in school.
After that was when she found the recent letters. The letters to her, from him.
Never once in her life had she received a letter from her father, so she looked at the
date of the first one. He wrote it the day she left for college. Blinking in surprise,
she skimmed the page. Even with the old stereo turned up loud, the classic rock
drowning out her thoughts, she couldn’t help but catch a few words that made her
Out of every room in the house, the bedroom was the last place she wanted to clean,
because it felt too personal. After all, her father had slept there, woken up in there,
gotten dressed, and did all the other things people did in their bedrooms. She really
didn’t want to contemplate what those other things might be, but she knew if
someone went through her bedroom – even though she didn’t exactly have one – she
would feel weird.
She sank down onto the edge of her father’s bed, among the boxes of clothes she was
sorting into those fit to donate and those she could trash. The dates on the letters
were all between the time she left for college and just until last month. Ten years’
worth of letters. Even though it wasn’t a thick sheaf of paper, it was enough to fill
All of the letters were addressed to her in her father’s blocky handwriting, yet she
had never seen them before in her life. The first letter expressed his sadness about
her departure and his regret at how he had treated her the previous night and as
she got in her car to leave. The second shared his frustration with her for leaving,
asking how she could do that to him.
After that, the letters got increasingly angrier, the handwriting more cramped and
shaky. They were written, she realized, when he was drunk. Sometimes the paper
was wrinkled in places as if dotted with tears at one point. And if the frequency of
some of the letters was any indication, he was inebriated and weepy more often
“Holy shit…” Fiona put her fingers to her lips as if she could hold in the words, but
it was too late. After staring at the letters in shock, she set them on the bed and
tried to catch her breath. Up until nearly his dying day, her father had harbored
this resentment toward her and put it on paper, but why not mail them? Did he
hope someday she would find them or did he think he might forgive her one day and
then get rid of them?
No matter what, it hurt to know the depth of his anger with her.
“Hey, Fi?” a familiar voice called from downstairs. “Fi, I brought some more boxes.
Do you still need them?”
There were footsteps coming up the stairs and then Emma appeared in the hallway.
“Oh, my… What happened?” Emma bustled into the room and dropped an empty
box in the corner before sitting next to Fiona on the bed and patting her knee.
“It’s my fault.” The words came out haltingly, thickly as Fiona’s throat closed up
with tears. “Dad died because I wasn’t here. If I’d been here, I could have stopped
this. All these years of him wasting away and being miserable.”
“That’s bullshit.” It wasn’t often that Emma swore, but this one came out with such
feeling, Fiona would have jumped if she didn’t feel so heavy with sorrow. Those
warm arms of hers went around Fiona, drawing her into an embrace. “Jeez, he
drank and drank and drank after you left. Everyone saw that. No one could have
changed that. All the love and magick in the world couldn’t have changed that
because he didn’t love himself. He didn’t know how to love, Fiona.”
Fiona remained stiff in her friend’s hold. “I could have saved him. Maybe I couldn’t
have changed him, but I could have kept him from becoming what he became.” The
heat was building in and around her, threatening to break her control. She’d held
onto it for so long – this power to make things happen – and now it felt like too
much to contain.
“What the…” Emma drew away and jumped off the bed, shaking out her arms. “You
burned me, Fi.”
“Yeah? Good. I’m glad I burned you, because that’s what I do – I burn people,
especially the ones I love. Maybe if you stay away, I won’t hurt you the way I hurt
Dad. Or the other people in my life, just by existing and then leaving them when
they need me most. Just the way my mother did to me.” Fiona continued to stare
ahead without acknowledging her friend. She just wanted her to go away.
“I had a feeling this was what all of this went back to – your mom.”
“You don’t know a damn thing,” Fiona ground out, her hands clenching around the
edge of the mattress.
“I know losing a parent is hard, because I spent the last year nursing my mom back
to health after she battled breast cancer. Did you ever think about that?”
Fiona didn’t respond. How could she? There was no comparison between having a
mother your entire life and being abandoned by the one person who was supposed to
love and protect you, only to then abandon your father in his time of need.
“No, you don’t think about other people. You only think about your own pain and
you refuse to share it with others because you think we can’t possibly understand.
But newsflash – we’re all as human as you are, and we understand.”
Fiona let the silence speak for itself.
“You really want me to go away? Fine. I will.” Emma kicked at the boxes on the
floor in a rare display of temper. “But you know what? You’re too easily set off.
Think this through logically and stop jumping to conclusions.”
“I’m not jumping to conclusions. It’s right there for me to see in Dad’s handwriting.
Read the letters if you don’t believe me.”
Emma folded her arms and glared down at her. “I don’t have to. I heard it every day
from him when you were gone.”
“What?” Fiona finally turned her head and stared back at her. “What did you say?”
“I said every damn day. Whenever he could manage to find me walking down the
street, he’d tell me how proud he was of you. And then his tune would change. He
knew I could see right through him, so it would all come out – how angry he was
that you left, but how sad, too.”
“You knew.” Fiona clambered up off the bed and stood to face Emma, arms folded,
mirroring her pose. She felt the lightbulb behind her quiver in response to the fiery
energy radiating off of her, but she didn’t care. The explosion was inevitable. “Why
didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, and shit on your perfect life? Yeah, that’s what a friend does. Right. He
dumped it on me, so it was my burden to bear. I was being a friend by not telling
The lightbulb shattered with a sizzle, but Fiona ignored it. “No, that isn’t what a
friend does, Emma. She tells someone when their loved one is in pain or suffering.”
“And what would you have done if I told you every time I saw your father, he reeked
of alcohol or that his eyes were so red, there were no whites left anymore? What
would you have done, Fiona – come home after all the time you spent resisting it?”
“No.” Emma slashed at the air with her hand. “Hell no. You are a smart woman and
a talented writer. I couldn’t let you waste your life here.”
Fiona rubbed her hands over her face and turned away, her shoulders shaking as
the tears finally fell. “How come I didn’t notice any of this when I visited?”
“Because you didn’t want to.”
“It’s my fault.”
“Nothing is your fault. You had to follow your own path.” Emma maintained her
distance, but she didn’t leave the room. “Look, you had a decent childhood, even
with the moving around and not having a mother in your life. Heck, I think all of
that is part of the reason you were so determined to get out of here. You had the
drive and ambition to do something with your life. Your father wanted you to go out
there and do it too, even though he couldn’t live without someone to care for in his
own unhealthy way.”
Fiona turned and glared at her, the fury still radiating from her, even though tears
streaked down her cheeks. “I spent years,” Fiona hissed, “years blaming my father
for being codependent,
for being weak and helpless to his impulses. And now I see
that he blamed me. What if he’s right? If I’d stayed, he would be alive.”
“Yes, but would you be the person you were supposed to become?”
“Just do me a favor and leave.”
“Really, Fi? Really?” Emma shook her head and then brushed past her to enter the
hall. She turned back, her fists clenched and her arms straight at her sides. “Fine,
kick me out, but don’t take this on yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong but
decide to live the life you were given. You didn’t owe your father anything. You
came into this world for your own purposes, not someone else’s.”
Fiona’s entire body shook as she took a breath. “Get out. I don’t need your woowoo
“Funny. You can manifest anything you want with just a thought, but you don’t
need my woowoo
bullshit. At least call Gabe. Maybe she can talk some sense into
“When you said there’s no going back, I thought you meant to blissful ignorance
about my dad – not this!” Fiona cried frantically. “And I can’t call Gabe. I don’t want
that kind of a relationship with her! I’ll just hurt her!”
Emma shrugged. “Then don’t have one. Just make a friend since you won’t let us be
your friends anymore.”
“That’s not what I…” Fiona curled her fingers into her hair and shook her head. “I
don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to hurt her, either!”
“Then don’t hurt anyone.”
“I can’t have it both ways!”
The expression on Emma’s face was set in anger. “Then pick a way. See you later,
Fiona. I’ll let you deal with this, but the girls and I are only a phone call away if you
When she was finally alone in the house again, Fiona sank back down onto the edge
of the bed and stared down the hall. “Yeah, my friends sure were there for me. They
didn’t even find it in them to tell me just how bad off my father was. Great.
There was one person she knew wouldn’t try to placate her, though, so she picked
up her phone and dialed the number Gabe had given her.
“Shit.” Gabe rubbed her hand across her chin and set the last letter back down on
the countertop, then looked at Fiona.
Gabe’s house in Gretna was spacious and airy. The stylish black and white kitchen
smelled of coffee and Fiona clasped her hands around her cup as she perched on her
stool at the island. “So that sucks,” she whispered against the rim of the coffee cup.
“Finding all of that, I mean, and then the way I treated Emma.”
“Yeah, I know it does.” Gabe propped her elbow on the counter and rested her chin
in her hand as she looked at her. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know.” The coffee scorched a trail of fire down her throat and Fiona coughed
a bit. It felt good, though, that internal heat.
“Have you considered performing a ritual?”
The expression on Gabe’s face was one of disbelief as her eyebrows lifted. “You’re a
powerful witch, your father’s dead so you can’t exactly work things out with him,
and you haven’t considered a ritual to release all of this negativity?”
“We had a ritual to release it, but I just felt worse after. Plus, I’ve avoided magick
for a while.”
“Why would you do that?”
Fiona fluffed her hair as she thought about the question. How did she find herself
telling this woman all of her innermost thoughts yet again? “First it was because I
had too little control when I was younger,” she finally said. “I thought my control
would get better when I was an adult and it did. Too good, actually. For example, I
can manifest the charm to get laid wherever I go. That’s not exactly the most
responsible use of my power, not that I’m complaining.”
Gabe’s laughter filled the air and Fiona was surprised to see her double over with
“That’s… not exactly flattering, you know. I don’t think you should laugh at me just
because I can get women into bed easily.”
“I know, I know.” Gabe straightened and wiped tears from her eyes, then smiled at
her. “I’m sure you’ve manifested other things without realizing it, like jobs and
money, or a place to stay when you needed it.”
“Sure, practical things, absolutely.”
“So.” Gabe pointed at the letters. “Forgiving both your father and yourself is
practical, don’t you think?”
A chill rippled through her. “So you think I’m to blame, too.”
“Not at all. But I think thinking you’re to blame is a natural reaction.” The other
woman’s fingers stroked the inside of Fiona’s wrist and then stilled over her pulse.
“Yes, you have a heartbeat, so clearly you’re human. And being human means
taking things personally sometimes.”
Warmth replaced the chill, heat drove away the cold, and Fiona knew…
“Ah, there it is.” Gabe leaned across the counter and molded her lips to Fiona’s. The
hunger in the kiss drew Fiona up from the stool and she wrapped her arms around
Gabe. This gorgeous woman had to know by now how Fiona felt about her, that she
wanted her. Fiona put every ounce of heat into that kiss until Gabe tore her mouth
away to catch her breath.
“What if I had stayed, though?” Fiona whispered. “Would he have gotten worse or
stayed the same?”
“Honey.” Gabe lifted her hand and stroked Fiona’s hair away from her face. “You
couldn’t have fixed him, no matter what you did. You needed your experiences to
make you the person you are and you cannot take agency for anyone’s decisions but
Fiona dipped her gaze to the floor, but the pressure of Gabe’s fingers on her chin
forced her to lift it again, to meet those slate gray eyes.
“Alcoholism is an illness and only a professional could have treated it. Your father
didn’t want to be treated and he didn’t want a support system or functional
relationships. He couldn’t function on his own, so he organized his behavior around
you after your mother divorced him. And after you left, he couldn’t function at all, so
he organized his behavior around even more alcohol. Does that mean it’s your
Fiona felt her breath catch and then hold.
“No, it’s not because it’s part of his addiction. You staying would just enable it. You
leaving didn’t make it worse, though. He chose to get worse instead of getting help.
And trust me, whenever I saw him at the bar, I tried to encourage him to get
treatment because I knew what he was. He told me he knew he had a problem, but
he refused to use the resources available to him.”
“He told you he knew?” Fiona asked, her breath finally releasing. “He knew he was
“Yes, Fiona, he knew. He acknowledged it often. Maybe not to you or your friends,
but he said it to me.” Something flashed in Gabe’s eyes – unshed tears she blinked
away quickly. “We get that a lot, you know. Sometimes a person just feels better
talking to a bartender, because we aren’t there to judge. Even when we withhold
service because we think someone is inebriated, we still don’t judge. In a way, we
offer a safe space. Unfortunately, your father chose not to take the next step and
find his place in a safe space that would help him function again. So no matter what
you think, I hope you realize he knew it was his problem, not yours.”
If Gabe hadn’t been holding her, Fiona thought she would fall back on the stool. The
tension filtered out of her body, replaced instead by that same pleasantly restless
feeling she often felt when she had a new adventure planned.
“You can’t hold on to the guilt. It’s not yours to bear,” Gabe insisted. She drew Fiona
around the island and pulled her close, their bodies fitting together softly. The heat
that radiated from Fiona wrapped around them. If she expected that same anxiety
she’d felt in the store when she realized how right it felt to be with Gabe, it never
Instead, Fiona pressed her lips to Gabe’s and shared another passionate kiss with
her. That was what she needed. Connection, warmth, understanding. Gabe had all
of that and so much more. Before Fiona knew what she was doing, she felt
something hard behind her hands. Her fingers and palms pushed against the wall
on either side of Gabe’s head and her body surged against the bartender’s to hold
her in place.
The last time she wanted a woman so badly was… New York? Paris? London?
No. The other women paled in comparison to Gabe. Fiona didn’t think she had ever
wanted someone this intensely. There was only this moment, no memory of other
women or other moments. One of Fiona’s hands drifted down over Gabe’s shoulder,
along her arm, then to one of her breasts. It filled Fiona’s cupping hand, overflowing
it just slightly. Just enough.
Gabe tilted her head to deepen the kiss and her own hands slid down to clasp
around Fiona’s backside. They stood tangled up in one another as realization
crashed through the sensual haze.
I want to be here. I have no reason to run.
For once, the anticipation of a conquest wasn’t laced with fear. It was full of
excitement. Fiona dropped her mouth to Gabe’s neck and trailed kisses along it.
“Hell yeah.” It came out on a sigh as Gabe tipped her head back against the wall
and rubbed her lower body against Fiona.
It was the sharp sound of a door closing that stopped Fiona from going any further.
“Hey Mom, hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got a shit ton of…” The voice had
approached and then stopped. A heartbeat passed as Fiona stared at Gabe, who
looked over her head with a smile. “You have company. I’m sorry.”
“Are you kidding? My own daughter shouldn’t be sorry for coming home, even if it is
to do laundry.” Gabe turned Fiona around and linked their arms together, still
keeping her close. “Fiona, this is Katharine, my youngest. Kate, this is Fiona.”
Kate had the same honey blonde hair as her mother, but her eyes were green and
facial features not nearly as mature. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, approaching
with her hand extended and a smile. “Sorry for barging in like that.”
“It’s fine.” Fiona shook Kate’s hand and glanced at Gabe. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect
your mother to give her kids such traditional names. Katharine is one of my
“Oh, James and I aren’t named for anything traditional, unless 1930s movie stars
count.” Kate pointed at her mother. “This one was obsessed with The Philadelphia
Story when we were born. James is lucky he didn’t end up being a Cary, instead.
“Hey.” Gabe wrapped her arms around Fiona’s waist to keep her close, much to
Fiona’s surprise. “That movie is a trifecta of Hollywood royalty. Don’t knock it.”
Kate waved the comment off and walked back toward the front door. “I’ve got three
baskets of laundry, so I hope you don’t mind.”
“Never. We’ll do pizza since it’s an auspicious occasion.” Gabe looked at Fiona.
“What do you think?”
It was the first time Fiona had dated someone with children. At least, that she
knew of. What was the protocol here? How was she supposed to behave with Gabe
in front of her obviously adult daughter?
And when was she going to apologize to Emma for the way she treated her earlier,
when all she wanted to do was help? Her awful behavior from before lingered in her
mind and her heart gave an extra leap. She had all of these wonderful women
around her who just wanted to support and love her in her time of need. She didn’t
“I think pizza sounds great,” Fiona finally said.
“Don’t feel intimidated. She’s twentyyearsold.
She can handle seeing her mom
dating.” Gabe finally released Fiona and moved to the freezer. “James is twentytwo,
so he can handle it too, but the odds of him dropping in are much lower. He
goes to UNL. Kate is at UNO.”
“Oh, what’s she studying?”
The thump of a laundry basket just inside the kitchen was followed by, “Library
science. James is studying engineering. You decide who the bigger nerd is. Mom
can’t make up her mind, but as long as I’m here, she’ll tell me I’m the nerdy one. If
James is here, she’ll tease him. If we’re both here, then we get to team up against
Gabe let out that wonderful laugh of hers and Fiona finally relaxed. When she
glanced at Gabe, the gorgeous blonde winked at her.
“They know I love them and I’m ridiculously proud of them. All I ever wanted was
for my kids to pursue their passions. If I get to be a bartender, then they sure as
hell get to be whatever they want.”
“Don’t let her fool you.” Kate sat on one of the stools and hooked her feet around the
legs. “She really wanted us to be artists or musicians. It hurt to break it to her that
we’re just not that cool.”
Any remaining tension dissipated and Fiona laughed. “Well, I think your mom is on
the right track with how she’s raising you.”
“That remains to be seen.” Kate pursed her lips and tilted her head. “I feel like I
know you from somewhere. Are you from Gretna or did you go to UNO?”
“I’m from Ashland and I went to school on the east coast.”
“Oh.” Kate narrowed her eyes. “But I do recognize you.” She stared at Fiona another
moment longer, then shrugged and bounced off the stool.
“Where are you going?” Gabe asked. She was holding a frozen pizza between both
hands like an offering.
“Starting the laundry and getting some more shit out of my car.”
“Please. What are you doing driving around with shit in your car?”
The way Kate rolled her eyes reminded Fiona of how she would react to her own
puns. That was how she wanted to remember him, she
realized. As she turned away to scoop up those very hurtful, personal letters and
stuff them into her purse, she listened to the banter between Kate and Gabe. It
reminded her so much of her adolescence before everything went wrong. Before the
inevitable adulthood she couldn’t – and wouldn’t – stop just to make her father
When Kate went to the basement to start her first load of laundry, Gabe sighed and
squinted at Fiona. “Sorry. I didn’t expect her, but I hope you don’t feel weird with
“No, I don’t. I mean, I’ve never been in this situation before, but it feels okay to me.
Do your kids visit often?”
“Not often enough to justify the size of this house.” Gabe’s gaze shifted from corner
to corner, from kitchen to dining room to living room. “When they were little, they
ran around like crazy. I needed the space. Now it’s too big, like an empty nest.”
“I knew it!” The triumphant shout made Fiona and Gabe turn to look at Kate as she
bounded into the room, a magazine curled in her hand. Fiona recognized the yellow
border on the cover and felt a blush creep into her cheeks.
Kate placed the magazine on the island and opened it to the page that showed a
picture of Fiona standing on a mountainside in Tibet. It was her last published
article before she’d come home to handle her father’s affairs.
“I should have told you I was dating a writer,” Gabe said casually as she discarded
the pizza box and slid the contents into the oven.
“A writer? Mom, this is freakin’ legit.” Kate folded her hands on the counter and
stared at Fiona. “What’s it like to travel all over the world?”
“Well…” Fiona looked at Gabe for help, and that’s when she felt it. Whatever had
thrown her so offkilter
in Gabe’s presence solidified. The world no longer tilted on
Everything was back on the right track.
“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” Gabe asked.
The way Fiona clutched the letters to her chest, she wondered the same thing
herself. But she nodded. Something had to be done. It was finally time. “I have to do
“Well, I’m here.” Gabe’s hand encircled hers, strong and sure. “And so are they.”
Fiona looked ahead to the clearing, where the flames of the fire leaped and danced.
How long had she been here in Ashland now – about two weeks, going on three? It
felt like so much longer, considering the ups and downs of everything she had gone
through. She flew in for a funeral and stayed to date a woman who made her feel
like she was strong enough to deal with anything that came her way. Like she could
finally deal with the unexpected discoveries and realizations about her toxic
relationship with her father.
The figures around the fire became more distinct as she approached the circle. Long
shadows spilled onto the ground in front of Avery, Waverly, and Emma. The heat
drew Fiona closer and she turned to Gabe. “Are you ready to meet all of my friends
together at the same time?”
“A circle of witches? I’m delighted,” Gabe drawled. “Besides, I’ve already met two, so
that really just leaves one more.”
It was Waverly who stepped out first to greet them and Fiona was happy that the
circle welcomed Gabe readily. Waverly introduced Gabe to Avery, so Fiona turned to
Emma and gave her a tentative halfsmile.
“I’m sorry for being an asshole to you the other day,” Fiona said. “You were just
trying to help and I treated you like crap.”
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see it coming. You’ve been under a lot of stress and I
think reaching a breaking point was inevitable. I didn’t need to have a vision to see
that.” They stepped toward each other and into a hug, embracing each other tightly.
“But what are friends for if not to see you at your worst and still love you? Now you
can add Gabe to that list.”
“Well, there’s more.” Fiona bowed her head, her gaze fixed on the ground. “I didn’t
pay any attention to the fact that your mother was dealing with cancer or that you
were the one caring for her all this time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve not been paying
attention for the past ten years to what any of you have been going through. I suck
as a friend.”
Emma squeezed her shoulder. “You don’t suck. Your journey just took you
elsewhere and you couldn’t keep up with everything back here. So stop beating
yourself up and let’s move on together.”
“Em…” Fiona clamped her lips together and glanced over her shoulder, where Gabe
was chatting with Avery and Waverly.
“No worries, friend. I mean it. The past is in the past. We’ll take this step by step.
The first step is to release everything that’s holding you back so you can embrace
the future.” Emma gave her arm another reassuring press and then took her place
on the north side of the circle. Fiona moved to the south and smiled when Gabe
went with Avery to stand on the east side. What was it about her air witch friends
who helped balance everything and make it feel right again, especially Gabe?
She glanced toward the west, where Waverly stood. “Are we doing a full, formal
ritual this time?” the water witch asked.
“Full, formal ritual,” Emma affirmed. Her gaze was fastened on the fire in the
center as she spoke, casting the circle around them.
How long had it been since Fiona actually practiced ritual and magick? High school,
she realized. Other than manifesting her needs on her own, she hadn’t used formal
ritual as a tool for anything in ten years. Even though her manifesting was strong,
it was no substitute for setting and speaking her intentions with the universe, and
then following through with action.
After Emma cast the circle, called the quarters, and spoke the invocations, Fiona
held out the unsent letters her father had written to her.
“Everyone here knows me. Most of you have known me since I was sixteen. One of
you only met me a couple of weeks ago, but I feel like you know me almost as well
as these old friends of mine do.” Fiona shared a smile with everyone around the
circle, her gaze lingering on Gabe. “There was one thing I never told anyone and
that was how my father yelled at me the day I left for college. He said all kinds of
horrible things in the heat of the moment and then his resentment of me festered
inside of him.”
Tears shined on Waverly’s face and she patted Fiona’s arm.
“That’s the worst thing about anger, I think.” Fiona held the letters higher. “If we
don’t forgive, it destroys us from the inside out. I know that’s what happened to my
father. It wasn’t a drink’s fault or a server’s fault or my fault that I lost him. It was
his own fault and his decision. I do not and will not bear any responsibility for my
father’s choices. In the end, he lost himself.”
Fiona let the papers flutter from her fingers and watched them drift down into the
fire, page by page. As each letter met the flames, it lit and became ashes in a matter
of moments. Fiona unleashed her energy with each letter and watched as a spiral of
flame shot upward to engulf the last of the pages.
She threw her head back and looked up at the stars, and repeated her last
statement. “I do not and will not bear any responsibility for my father’s choices. I
will not forget, but I do forgive the way our relationship changed when I left for
college. And I will remember the good times, the times he loved me and cared for me
and was responsible for me. May I learn and grow from all of this, and not repeat
either of my parents’ mistakes.”
When she looked at the circle again, Fiona realized Waverly wasn’t the only one
crying. Even Emma and Avery were moved to tears by her spell. Gabe’s eyes were
glistening with tears, as well as pride.
“I’m back,” Fiona whispered and clenched her fist. “I’m back.”
After Emma closed the circle, they sat and shared food, drinks, and conversation.
“Wow, this is amazing,” Emma said as she passed the bottle of wine to her right, so
Avery could pour a cup. “Have you been saving this for a special occasion, Wave?”
Waverly grinned. “Actually, yes.” Since she was the water sign, it was always her
job to provide the libations. “I’ve been holding onto that bottle since I got my first
paycheck after college. I just knew it was right for when the coven was complete
again. Now it’s not just complete – it’s growing.”
“Hold up.” Fiona raised her palm and waved it in an arc in front of her friends.
“Don’t jump the gun. Gabe and I have only been on two dates. We’re still getting to
know each other.”
Waverly looked across the circle and smirked. “Well, I’d like to hear Gabe’s
perspective on your relationship and where it stands.”
The way Gabe’s laugh rang through the air made Fiona flush and dip her head. “My
perspective. That’s interesting.” Gabe poured her cup and passed the bottle on to
Fiona. “I’m with Fiona on this. We’ve been on two dates. We’ve also had a stroll and
she’s been to my house, even met one of my kids. I’d say things are going well, but
we’re both adults here. There’s no need to rush things.”
“And why do you say that?”
“Waverly, please don’t get drunk again,” Avery interjected, glaring at her sister.
“No, no, she’s fine.” Gabe smiled at Avery and then looked back at Waverly. “I say
that because Fiona’s not going anywhere. We have all the time in the world.
Besides, I have a feeling she’s got some other ghosts to address, though I hope we’ll
meet them together.”
It was a peculiar statement coming from Gabe and Fiona glanced across the circle.
Emma lowered her gaze and appeared to be very interested in the seam of her
Avery redirected the conversation smoothly, moving on to work matters. Fiona
noticed how Waverly squirmed when her sister glared at her across the fire pit. It
seemed like the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Emma was
settled, but uncomfortable even discussing it. Waverly was as emotional as ever,
even as she approached thirty. And Avery? She was the same logical young woman,
but now she was applying that analytical side to a marketing career.
The fire dimmed throughout the night and Fiona spoke less and observed more.
When there was a lull in the conversation, she said, “You guys, I have to apologize
to all of you.”
“Why is that?” Avery asked.
Fiona inhaled the cool, spring air through her nose and lifted her gaze to the stars
once more. “It’s funny to think that stars are little balls of fire far away from us, you
know? They change their position and sometimes they even expand and collapse
upon themselves, but then there’s always a new star to takes its place.”
“Is… this analogy… something?” The uncertainty in Waverly’s voice was so typical
of her and Fiona had to laugh.
“Yeah, it’s something. Eventually, a star has to die, like us. But that ball of fire is
made up of so many different things and it’s those different things that make it
brilliant. When I left here, I went in search of different things and I had moments
when I shined so brightly, I thought I might burst from the excitement of it.” Fiona
tilted her head, a fond smile lifting the corner of her lips. “But in the end, the things
that made me brilliant were right here in Ashland. The reason I have to apologize is
because I left, but when I visited, I never really came back. We’d go to lunch or
dinner or hang out together at Emma’s house, but I wasn’t present, the way I
should have been.”
Fiona shook her head at Emma. “No, please. All of you deserve this apology from
me. I knew Emma and Crystal were together and settled. I knew you owned the
shop. I knew Waverly was working as a dance teacher. I knew Avery was working
in marketing. But as far as the ups and downs of your lives, I never paid close
attention. I wanted to be the special one – the one everyone in our town looked at
and thought, ‘Wow, she really made something of herself.’ But I realize I was
nobody without my friends.”
“Ohhh.” Emma rose and circled the fire, so she could sit next to Fiona and hug her.
“You were always somebody, with or without us. But we’re glad you’re home.”
“What about your father’s house?” Avery asked. “If you’re staying, are you still
going to sell it?”
When Emma released Fiona, Fiona nodded. “Yeah. I can’t hold on to it. I don’t want
to hold on to it. I’ll find my own place to live.”
“You should start looking now,” Emma suggested. “There are a few cute houses for
sale if you want to stay in Ashland.”
“I do and I definitely want to buy another house, not stay in an apartment.”
Drawing her knees in and wrapping her arms around them, Fiona glanced at Gabe.
“I figure I can do some local writing. Maybe even get a gig for a magazine here. But
at least I can continue freelancing.”
Her friends all exchanged glances, then smiles, and finally squeals as they piled on
her in a group hug. Fiona managed to peek past them and saw Gabe still sitting
next to the fire, looking amused.
As they cleaned up the area, Fiona helped Emma tidy up the bed of her pickup
“You know,” Emma said as she shut the tailgate, “you have the ability to manifest
what you want or need in life.”
There was a point. Fiona knew there was, so she waited patiently for it.
“But what you want and need, whether you realize it, is true love.”
Fiona scoffed and kicked at the ground. “I don’t think it exists.”
“I know.” Emma turned and laid the tip of her finger on Fiona’s nose. “No worries,
though. The universe is out to prove you wrong through one of the sexiest air
witches I’ve ever seen. Hold on to her. She’s the person who’s going to help you
make even more breakthroughs.”
Selling the house would be the easy part, Fiona decided as she hefted an end table
up off the living room floor and walked down the front steps with it. Buying one she
liked would be harder, considering how small the town was and the limited
selection of homes on the market.
“You’re still on a cleaning spree, aren’t you?” Gabe grunted from behind her,
carrying a matching end table through the front door. “Getting rid of everything you
associate with your past, letting all of it go.”
Fiona set her table down on the lawn and stepped aside to let Gabe place the other
next to it. The matched set was in good shape and she priced it cheap. She imagined
herself in a used car lot advertisement – everything had to go!
“You bet. I’m so done. Don’t get me wrong, my childhood was good and I will always
look back at it fondly, despite my parents’ divorce. Dad did the best he could raising
me. My transition to adulthood was rocky, but I need to let that go. Like Emma
said, the past is in the past. I’ve faced it and acknowledged it, and now I need to
move on with my life. I’m a twentyeightyearold
woman, not a kid.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun in your life, too. You still have a
lot of years left to live, young lady.” Gabe approached her and clasped her hands
around Fiona’s waist, pulling her in for a kiss.
“Mm,” Fiona murmured against those soft, red lips. When they parted, she said, “So
I have a feeling you’re proposing the kind of fun that I’m going to appreciate after a
long, hard day of putting together a big garage sale.”
“Oh, I think so. In fact, I know you’re going to need something to relax you.”
After another heartbeat, Fiona tilted her head and grinned. “You do realize you’re
twelve years older than me, right? While you were rocking flannel shirts, listening
to Nirvana, and perfecting the art of teen rebellion, I was learning how to walk and
talk, and throwing tantrums.”
“Yes, I know. It’s terribly forbidden.” Gabe wagged her eyebrows up and down
comically until Fiona let out a snort of laughter.
“Shut up. You’re so sarcastic.”
Gabe’s low, husky laugh sent Fiona’s pulse into overdrive. It felt like they had
danced around the idea of a relationship more than anything during the past month
and now all she wanted to do was find out exactly what Gabe meant by relaxing.
“Yeah, well, the age difference isn’t really that big a deal,” Gabe said. “Maybe if you
were a little younger, it would be, but by the time a woman is around twentyseven
or so, she’s pretty well figured herself out. Thank the Saturn return for that.”
Saturn return. Why hadn’t Fiona remembered that? “Everyone’s favorite powerful
astrological time when Saturn stations in the same place it was in the heavens
when we were born.”
“Exactly. This is when most women hit their stride in life, career, and family. This
is when it all comes together.” Gabe seemed to consider her words and added, “Only
to fall apart when you turn thirtyfive,
“What?” Fiona drew back and put her hands on her hips. “Are you kidding me?”
“Don’t worry. It just seems like a Saturn return resonates for several years and
finally smooths out by around thirtyseven.
But I’m more than willing to join you on
this bumpy ride if you’ll let me.”
Fiona folded her arms and compressed her lips. What more bumpiness could there
be now that she finally felt like she was home, where she belonged? Once she sold
the house and moved into one of her own, she just wanted to move forward with her
life. She didn’t need mystical curveballs tossed her way.
“Okay,” Gabe said. “Let’s focus on the garage sale. I know you want this stuff gone
and the vultures will descend soon enough to try to wheedle you into selling them a
cent book for a dime.”
“Right? That’s the fun part. Everyone wants to play Let’s Make A Deal. Hey, thanks
so much for your help this morning. I know it’s early and early mornings aren’t your
cup of tea.”
“That’s what friends and potential girlfriends are for.”
Fiona tried to ignore the hammering of her heart as she turned and strode back into
the house, aware Gabe was behind her. Potential girlfriend? She needed to ponder
that remark later since the yard sale was set to begin at eight and it was already
It wouldn’t be long before cars lined up along the street.
“Let’s take the sofa out of here. It shouldn’t be too heavy,” Fiona said, crouching on
one side of the loveseat to curl her fingers underneath it.
By the time the sun climbed over the trees, the yard was full of furniture, books,
clothes, household goods, and plenty of bargainhunters.
Despite her earlier
sarcasm, Fiona was more than happy to negotiate and get rid of everything. She
would rather part with items she had no interest in for a dime than quibble over
another fifteen cents.
“Whoa. Hold on.” Gabe turned to face her, holding a dress against herself. “Was this
your prom dress?”
“Yeah. It’s beyond out of style, but I’m sure someone with talent can make it look
good.” Fiona looked at the money box on her small folding table. It was almost
overflowing with cash and coins, money she would set aside for furnishing her own
“Excuse me, Fiona, but I have a question.”
Fiona looked up and smiled at the woman who had spoken. “Good morning, Miss
Martha. How are you?” The woman was in her sixties and had been her father’s
next door neighbor since he moved in.
“I’m doing well. How are you?”
“Not bad.” Fiona slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans and shrugged. “It’s
weird being here without my father, but it’s time to let all of this go. It’s not to my
“Well, I’m sorry to lose a good neighbor. Your father was always quiet, never any
trouble. Sure, he played some loud music now and then, but he was generally
helpful.” Martha smiled in a motherly way and her glance drifted over the items in
the yard before returning to Fiona’s face. “I was wondering if you were willing to
sell that lovely hutch of his – the one he kept in the den.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, no. That’s the one thing I’m keeping. It belonged to my greatgrandmother,
so it’s a family heirloom. I’d like to hold on to it, but thank you for
A look of confusion crossed Martha’s face. “Do you have siblings?”
Now it was Fiona’s turn to feel confused about her neighbor’s question as she shook
her head. “No, it’s just me.”
“Ah. So there aren’t any nieces or nephews to pass the piece onto?”
“No…” Fiona furrowed her brow and asked, “Do you mind telling me what you’re
getting at, Miss Martha?”
“Well, knowing you’re gay and all, you’re not intending to have children, right? I
mean, technically you can’t make children with another woman.” Martha lifted her
hand and said, “Of course, I’m not implying there’s a problem with you being gay.
Not at all.”
“No, I know you’re not. I realize that. But…” Fiona glanced back at the front door of
the house. “You’re wondering why I want to hold on to a family heirloom when I
have no one to pass it on to and odds are I never will.”
The words left Fiona wondering the same thing. She knew why she wanted it – to
enjoy and appreciate its existence and the history that came with it. But would she
have a child someday to tell about it, to say, “This belonged to your greatgreatgrandmother”
to? Or someday when she was gone, would it go to a stranger in an
She looked at Gabe and felt her chest tighten. There were things she still wanted in
her life, regardless of who she loved. And that meant the hutch was hers to keep, as
far as she was concerned.
“Because,” she said, looking back at Martha, “I do have a family and I’d like to keep
the hutch in it for now. But if that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know.” Fiona did
her best to be polite, even though she knew she sounded adamant about her
“Well, then.” Martha lifted up on her toes a bit and smiled. “I understand and I
won’t ask again. I’ve been coveting those Hummel figurines of your father’s. I better
buy them before someone else does. They’re quite a treasure.”
“Yes, please do. I understand they can be quite valuable.” Turning, Fiona watched
Martha stride across the lawn to inspect the figurines in question.
Gabe approached her and whispered, “I hope she buys those things. They’re so ugly.
I never want to see them again.”
“Yeah, me too. She wanted to buy the one thing I wasn’t willing to get rid of, so I’m
glad there’s something else she could find out here.”
“Since you’re getting rid of everything. What are you going to do for furniture?”
A few shoppers converged on them and Fiona stepped aside to negotiate their
transactions. As soon as it was quiet again, she turned to Gabe. “I’ll buy some when
I have a house to put it in,” she said.
“Furniture can be pretty expensive.”
“I know and I’ve got some money saved, but…” Fiona ran her fingers through her
hair. “One step at a time, you know? First I have to find a house I like, sell this one,
buy another one – there are still quite a few things to do between now and the time
when I’ll actually need furniture. I did keep a few things, like my bedroom set and
“Just what every house needs to be complete.” Gabe gestured to the dining room set
that two people were loading into a pickup truck. “After all, who needs a table when
you can eat on the floor?”
Fiona chuckled and tapped her finger against the money box. “I just sold that set for
a cool hundred. I’m not about to complain that I have to sit on a floor to eat for a few
Even as she spoke, she knew the wheels were turning in Gabe’s mind. After a
month of dating her, she could tell. Gabe’s eyes would narrow and she would focus
her gaze on something in the distance, pondering whatever was on her mind. It was
one of the most endearing things about her – how she analyzed things so intently.
“Whatever you’re planning, stop. Don’t worry about me,” Fiona insisted. “I’m a big
girl. I think I can handle selling and buying a house, and putting furniture in it. But
I promise to let you know if I need any help.”
“I know you can do all of it on your own. I was just thinking about something else.”
Gabe leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I better get to work. I’m opening and
taking deliveries today. Good luck with the garage sale. I hope everything sells.”
“Me too. I’m excited about making a fresh start in my life. College was supposed to
be it, you know? But it was kind of tainted by the sendoff
I got from my dad.”
Gabe rubbed her arm and gave her a rueful smile. “I can understand that. It was
supposed to be your big day after working so hard for it and he ruined it. But I’m
glad you’re able to release it and start again. Trust me, you’ll find yourself starting
over again and again in life, even at my age. Even older than that. It’s just how this
of existence goes, I think.” Gabe leaned in for one more kiss and
then strode to her car, those long legs of hers covering the distance quickly.
Fiona wanted to do more than exchange a couple of chaste kisses, but she watched
Gabe go, waved at her when she got in the car, and then turned to negotiate with
Martha about those hideous Hummels.
The empty house felt far more peaceful than it ever had. Not just quiet but truly
peaceful. Fiona surveyed it from the front door before turning and leaving. She and
Gabe finally had a third date scheduled.
With every mile that rolled by, bringing her closer to Gabe’s house, Fiona felt
anticipation tingle through her. Her palms were hot against the steering wheel as
she wondered what Gabe had in mind for tonight. What Fiona really wanted was to
take the next step in their relationship, to move past those thrilling kisses into
something more intimate. Could someone plan on having sex? Sure. Would it go as
planned? That, Fiona didn’t know.
But she knew her intention was to make love to Gabe tonight. Every thought in her
mind was of seducing the beautiful woman she had opened herself up to over the
past few weeks. A night out at a dance club was the perfect way to do that.
There was only one car in Gabe’s driveway – her black sedan. Good. Fiona didn’t
need to face children, even adult children, when her mind was on…
Gabe stepped out and turned to lock the front door. When she turned back to
Fiona’s car and waved, Fiona felt her heart leap.
She was so fucking gorgeous.
woman made her way to the car with long, graceful strides that
again reminded Fiona of what she lacked in that department. But Gabe seemed to
like her just the way she was – short, buxom, and scrappy.
Fiona had slept with older women before, like her dear friend Constanta, which was
why she looked forward to tonight. She loved how women in their forties and fifties
radiated confidence. Out of all her lovers, they were the least inhibited in bed. They
had earned their status through years of trial and error and carried wisdom without
arrogance. It was a far cry from the younger women she’d slept with.
“Hey, you.” Gabe slid into the passenger seat and leaned across the console to kiss
her. The hunger in the kiss warmed Fiona all over and she moaned into it. “So I
think we both have the same thing in mind for tonight,” Gabe said raspily as she
“Yeah, maybe.” Fiona licked her lips, tasting Gabe’s cinnamon lip gloss on them.
“Do you want to skip the club?”
Fiona shook her head. “Definitely not. I think we should go.”
Gabe traced her finger along Fiona’s lips and her body sagged as she sighed. “Fine,
but we really don’t have to. Our third date could happen right here at my place.”
The more Gabe tried to convince her, the more Fiona decided going out was a good
idea. If Gabe desired Fiona the way Fiona desired her, then she wanted to draw out
the sensation. She turned the key in the ignition and smiled. “Why don’t we
consider this foreplay?”
Even though she’d never been much for clubs, Fiona took Gabe into the heart of
Omaha for some fun. It was a very different atmosphere from the rural bar. They
could easily get caught up in the flashing lights, thumping techno music, and
dancing amid the throng of primarily gay couples. Instead of beer, they indulged in
drinks with fun names. When Fiona served two tall glasses of
cloudy pink liquid to Gabe, the blonde lifted her eyebrows.
“Do you know what this is?”
“Yes and you might like it,” Fiona told her.
“I don’t know.” Gabe lifted the glass and inspected the liquid inside. “I don’t tend to
drink the froufrou
Fiona barked out a laugh. “Just like you don’t like having a froufrou
Considering your South Dakota origins, I’d say Gabrielle is a pretty progressive
name. Besides, I like your name. It’s pretty, like you.”
“Sure, but I like Gabe, too, because it’s tough, like you.”
Gabe rolled her eyes and raised the glass. “So you like everything about me. That’s
something to celebrate. Cheers, then.”
As they drank, Fiona watched her date over the rim of her glass. When they set
them down on the high pub stand, she asked, “So, do you dance?”
“Believe it or not, yes.” With joined hands, Gabe and Fiona walked onto the dance
floor and began moving to the music. The frantic tempo of club music wasn’t
something Fiona liked listening to, but every so often she was in the right mood to
get lost in the sharp, staccato beat.
Fiona spun and then Gabe was behind her, hands on her hips. They synchronized
their movements until it seemed like their bodies were united. Then Fiona looked
over her shoulder and kissed Gabe lightly. That brush of lips was gentle, but it set
her blood on fire.
“You’re going to get so lucky tonight,” Gabe whispered against her mouth.
“I’m counting on it.” Regaining control of her desire, Fiona spun in Gabe’s arms and
clasped her shoulders. For the first time in her life since college, she gave into a
very passionate, very public kiss. The way Gabe slanted her mouth over hers, her
tongue searching, left Fiona breathless. Even in gay clubs, she tended to keep her
hands to herself, but all she wanted to do was touch Gabe.
“Coming here was a good idea after all,” Gabe told her. “You’re right about the
foreplay. It’s pretty sexy.”
“Well, I aim to please.” The pulse of the music changed and Fiona followed it,
grinding against Gabe.
“That, or you’ve got the moves.” Gabe followed along, her pelvis meeting Fiona’s.
She threw back her head and laughed. “I never go to these places. Why haven’t I
done this before now?”
Fiona guessed the answer to that was pretty clear – why would a bartender want to
go to another bar or a nightclub, after spending five days a week in one? Even for
Fiona, clubbing was only a onceinawhile
“You’re here now,” she said.
“I’m here with you,” Gabe answered, looking at her again. “And that’s how I want it
to be.” They stayed that way for a long time, Gabe’s arms draped over her
shoulders, Fiona’s hands on either side of her ribcage, and gazes locked.
By the time they arrived back at Gabe’s house, Fiona knew how the night would
end. The moment she slipped the key from the ignition, Gabe’s lips were on hers –
kissing, tasting, demanding a response.
Fiona leaned back under her and moaned against her supple lips.
“Hey,” Gabe whispered. “There’s something I always wanted to do but never tried. I
want you to indulge me.”
“Anything,” Fiona responded, unable to catch her breath.
The wicked grin Gabe gave her made her heart leap. Then Gabe opened the door,
got out of the car, and pulled Fiona into the passenger seat. “I’m so glad you wore a
“I have a feeling I’m going to be glad too.” Fiona’s voice was husky with desire as
she lay back and watched Gabe’s hands on her knees, pressing them open. “Are you
serious? Someone might see us.”
“Nobody is going to see us.” The confidence in Gabe’s voice was somewhat
reassuring, but Fiona knew part of the thrill was the possibility of getting caught.
So she watched Gabe’s every move as the blonde woman lowered her head and lifted
Fiona’s black pleated skirt. Cool air danced over her hot skin, followed by warm lips
working their way up her inner thigh.
The panties Fiona wore were no more than a scrap of lace, meant to look sexy for a
moment and then slide down her legs, which was exactly what Gabe did with them.
Now she really was exposed and she squirmed at the thought of it.
Then Gabe’s lips descended on her clit and Fiona had to cling to the seat to remind
herself she was still a sapient human being, not just an indistinct cluster of feeling.
With each long, slow lick of Gabe’s tongue between her aching lips, each firm pass
over that sensitive flesh, Fiona shivered and moaned.
At one point, Gabe’s hands glided up her torso and then cupped her breasts. When
those strong fingers clutched at Fiona with need, she groaned and lifted up into
Gabe’s hold. She saw her legs draped over Gabe’s shoulders and that blonde head
between her thighs, moving up and down with the motion of her tongue.
“Holy…” Fiona felt her eyes roll back in her head as she orgasmed, the sensual
tension inside her uncoiling at last. The waiting had been worth it and this, she
knew, was only the beginning.
As she collapsed back against the seat, she felt Gabe still lapping at her flesh with
“Stop that,” she moaned and batted at Gabe’s head.
“But you taste so good, especially after coming.” Gabe’s voice was muffled, her lips
moving against Fiona’s skin. “I could stay down here all night.”
“I’m…” Fiona shuddered and then ground out, “Sensitive.”
“I know. I love that. You’ve got to let me just keep going.”
Even though little aftershocks shook her, Fiona tried again to find her voice.
“Mmhm,” Gabe murmured, the sound vibrating Fiona’s lower body. “Just a little
Fiona gave up trying to push Gabe away from her. Now that magic tongue was
dragging up and down her valley, taking up the nectar there and then swirling
around her clit until Fiona felt her body shake with orgasm again. There was no
stopping it and she gave into the second, less earthshattering
release with a little
“Okay, that was enough,” she whispered.
Now Gabe was sucking at her with long, drawnout
pulls on her lips and
clit. Fiona squeezed her eyes shut and reached down with one hand, surprised at
how hard she clutched at Gabe’s hair. At first, she thought it was to push her away,
but she couldn’t help herself – she held her in place and rode out yet another
orgasm, this time with a low and keening wail of ecstasy.
Her entire body finally fell back and she blinked as Gabe emerged into view.
“Now that was enough.” Gabe settled atop her and Fiona gave her a small nod, then
opened her mouth to accept the kiss. Everything she smelled and tasted was
intoxicating, a heady mix of herself and Gabe together.
“More,” Fiona whispered when Gabe held herself above her.
A smile curved Gabe’s lips and she took Fiona by both hands. Even though she was
weak at the knees, Fiona made it into the house and to the bedroom. She didn’t
have time to appreciate anything about the house, though, because Gabe was
stripping naked. The only thing Fiona wanted to see was this beautiful woman
without any clothing.
So she sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her. She was tall, yes, with that
face. But there were faded stretch marks across her belly,
almost as subtle as the delicate laugh lines around her eyes. Fiona reached out her
hands and traced them with her fingers.
“They’re in the shape of a phoenix,” she marveled.
“I know. They came from my second pregnancy. That was the one when I decided I
wasn’t going to change to please anyone. I was just going to be myself,
Fiona placed her hands on either side of Gabe’s waist and looked up at her. “That’s
beautiful.” Those breasts, too, turned out to be notsoperfect.
But even though they
drooped just a bit, they were still full and soft.
“Again, babies.” Gabe tilted her head a bit and grinned wryly. “And age, I guess.”
“Your age is beautiful,” Fiona told her, then rose to her feet to lift her shirt up over
her head. Her own breasts remained perky and round, bobbing when she unclasped
her bra. Then she shimmied her skirt down over her hips, biting her lip when it
caught for a brief moment over her belly. “I… I’m not as…”
“You’re perfect,” Gabe told her and knelt to kiss Fiona’s soft tummy. “Our perfection
isn’t in how we look. It’s in how we love. Besides.” She straightened her legs and
rested her chin on the top of Fiona’s head. “I like that you’re short enough for me to
do this to you.”
“Oh, do you?” With that question, Fiona turned and moved her lips along the warm
skin of Gabe’s neck, then down across her shoulders.
She felt Gabe’s arms settle around her, felt her sigh with pleasure. “Yes, I do. You’re
the perfect height, but maybe…” Fiona turned her face up to Gabe, who smoothed
her wavy red hair away from it and looked down at her. “Maybe we need to kick
‘perfect’ out of our vocabulary. It’s in the eye of the beholder, anyway, like you said.
And what I behold right now is the woman who feels so right in my arms.”
Gabe was articulating the feeling Fiona had fought from their first meeting. Now,
Fiona gave into it as she turned Gabe toward the bed and kissed her until she fell
back onto it.
“I believe it’s my turn to make you wiggle until you can’t take it anymore,” Fiona
“Okay, you’ve been here an entire month and not once have we gotten together
without the girls tagging along. It’s my turn now.” Avery crossed her legs and
leaned back in her chair.
As far as Fiona was concerned, her friend looked quite at home in her office. The
marketing firm where she worked was posh and modern, in a towering professional
building at the heart of Omaha. The atmosphere was exactly what Fiona envisioned
– harried creatives running back and forth in their effort to meet deadlines for their
“How can you just sit back while they’re scurrying around out there like chickens
with their heads cut off?” Fiona gestured toward the large window that showed the
rest of the firm outside of Avery’s office. “It must be nice being a director, just
sitting back and watching all of the chaos. You look like a queen overseeing her
Avery’s laugh was far too similar to the Wicked Witch of the West’s and Fiona put
her hands over her ears. “Oh, I was kidding,” Avery said, slapping her hands down
on her desk. “That was just for effect.”
“Fine.” Fiona dropped her hands. “So, yeah, we haven’t really gotten together except
for circles and a bit of house cleaning. How is everything?”
“It’s good. Busy, you know. You’re used to this sort of thing, right?”
“Only when I visit a newspaper or magazine. Newsrooms are crazy but in a good
way.” Fiona reached forward to lift the first ball in the Newton’s cradle on Avery’s
desk and let it go. As the balls bounced back and forth off of each other, she said, “I
kind of miss it. I mean, traveling was fabulous, but I like the bustle of the office. It’s
fun in a weird way. What about you?”
The way Avery spun back and forth in her chair, Fiona knew she was stalling for
time. “Work is good.”
“And?” Fiona pressed, waving her hand in the air. “What about your life?”
“And that’s my life. Work.” Avery shrugged. “Just work. Besides, you’re the one with
the gorgeous girlfriend, so if anyone has anything to tell, it’s you. What’s happening
“Ah ha ha.” Butterflies filled her stomach and Fiona leaned back, covering her face
with her hands, remembering her night with Gabe. “Everything is happening
“Everything? So, I take it dating has turned into something more?”
Fiona nodded and compressed her lips. Gabe was the kind of woman she wanted to
tell everyone about. She was infinitely cool, smart, and had a low tolerance for
bullshit. They shared a love for movie nights and popcorn, and…
“Are you going to give me details?” Avery derailed her train of thought with just
“Sorry, yeah.” Dipping her head, Fiona tried to think of something suitable to tell
her friend. There were the nights the spent tangled in each other’s legs and arms,
heat radiating from their bodies after lovemaking.
She discarded that thought and
tried to find another, more suitable one to share.
Avery rose from her desk, her heels clacking against the floor, and circled it to fold
her arms and look down at Fiona. “You’re getting busy, aren’t you?”
“It’s kind of inevitable when people date steadily and realize they like each other.”
“Is it? Do tell.” Avery perched on the desk, looking very formidable in her sleek
turquoise blouse and black pants.
“What is there to tell? You’ve dated. You know how it goes when you’re with a girl
To Fiona’s surprise, her friend shook her head. “Not exactly. I haven’t had a date
or…” Avery rolled her eyes toward the window and then lowered her voice. “Or sex
“No sex since college?”
“Keep it down,” Avery told her through gritted teeth. “I’m not exactly proud of the
fact that I’ve been practically celibate for the past six years.”
“But, why? How could that be? I mean…” Fiona held out her hands. “You’re so
beautiful and successful and…” Words failed her. How could Avery drop this
on her here and now? How was she supposed to react?
The blonde let out a sigh and slithered off the desk, then walked back around
behind it. “I think that’s part of the problem. I’m successful, which takes hard work.
Hard work means I don’t have time to meet women. So being beautiful is
meaningless. Granted, I worked hard in college, but it was a lot easier to find a good
time then, too. I had some wild times. Not a whole bunch of lovers like you, but a
few. Sometimes a few in my room at the same time, not going to lie.”
Fiona straightened in the chair and watched as Avery sat behind her desk. She
certainly did look gorgeous and intimidating there, like a woman who kept her cool
at all times. A lot like Gabe, really.
“But I think I did that more for efficiency’s sake – not because I was craving
intimacy or attachment. It’s just never been something I need in my life.”
“Maybe not, but you deserve to be happy,” Fiona said, glancing down at the
Newton’s cradle. The metal balls had finally clicked to a stop.
“I appreciate that, but I don’t think I need to get attached to someone to be happy.
Maybe love just isn’t in the cards for me and I’m fine with that.”
“Have you asked Emma? She says Crystal gives great tarot readings.”
Avery shook her head, her long, straight blonde hair cascading around her
shoulders. “Are you kidding? I’m not going to ask her or Crystal to get all
clairvoyant for me when they’ve got relationship problems of their own.”
So that was why Emma was reluctant to talk about Crystal or much at all about her
home life. Fiona realized her mouth must have been hanging open because a
knowing smile crossed Avery’s face.
“You didn’t notice it, but you did notice something was off kilter, I bet. It’s the one
thing she doesn’t hide well.”
“But what is going on with those two? I thought they were happy together. They’ve
been living together for almost seven years now.” Leaning forward, Fiona poked at a
stack of multicolored
notes on the desk and looked at the huge whiteboard
on the wall to her left. It was covered with various colors of Postits
“If you haven’t figured it out, it’s not for me to tell,” Avery demurred.
“Oh, I sort of figured it out the day of my father’s funeral when Emma didn’t want
to talk about Crystal. But why won’t she? Can’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“I can tell you what I think is going on. My best guess is they’re suffering from the
itch. They got together toward the end of high school for
Crystal and right after Emma graduated from college, you know? And they both
shared a dream to open a shop, but I think they’ve drifted apart since then. Here.”
Avery slid something metallic across the desk. “Fidget with that.”
Fiona picked it up and realized it was some kind of puzzle – a cube with a gear
stuck in it. She started turning and rotating it, playing with it as they talked. “Well,
that sucks. I hope they sort it out.”
“Me too. They seemed like the perfect couple for a while, but maybe it’s just time for
them to look elsewhere or work harder on their relationship. I just don’t know.”
That was no surprise to Fiona. Relationships weren’t exactly Avery’s forte, as the
air witch had already explained. “So what about your analysis of Waverly, then?”
“She’s much harder to pin down. Isn’t that weird?” Avery clucked her tongue
against her teeth and shook her head. “Then again, my sister has always been
really adept at keeping a little distance between us. Even though she’s the
emotional one, she won’t reveal what’s eating at her. There’s something there,
though. I just know there is. My guess is she’s having the opposite problem I am –
she’s lonely and yearning to change that.”
“Jeez, I feel bad.” Fiona continued to spin the gear from one hole to the next,
rotating the cube as she did so. “I never really kept up with any of you, you know?
Even with things like email and social media, I just didn’t bother to pay attention.”
Avery let out a low, sultry laugh. “Trust me, there was nothing to pay attention to
on social media. We’re far from the days of vaguebooking about ourselves, after all.”
She propped her elbow on the desk and tilted her head to rest against her palm.
“You never saw any drunken ‘I can’t believe it – what should I do?’ posts from any of
us, because they don’t exist. The girls have all played it very close to the vest
“Still, we should have been in contact with each other. Friends should be able to tell
each other their darkest concerns and share their hardest problems.” With one more
turn, the gear pulled free of the cube and Fiona set both pieces on the desk.
Avery reached across her desk and took the parts, examining them. “Good job. I got
that from Waverly for my last birthday and I never figured it out. I kind of kept it
as a reminder that maybe some things just aren’t meant to be solved, no matter how
hard I try.”
“But I solved it,” Fiona pointed out.
“You did and without even trying. Maybe there’s a lesson in that for me.” Avery
nodded, still looking at the pieces in her hands. Then she looked up at Fiona with a
grin. “I’m glad you’re back to stay. I think having you home and letting us be there
for you as you went through releasing the crap from your past will help all of us
“Break through what?” Avery wasn’t usually the cryptic one in the group. She
tended to leave that to Emma, so Fiona was having a hard time following her.
Whatever was on her mind, it seemed personal. The problem was Avery was also
the last person to ever admit to having a dilemma. She kept her fears, worries, and
sadness to herself.
The grin faded and Avery’s brow smoothed out as she laid the separated metal
pieces in a drawer. “Whatever is holding us back these days. It hasn’t been the same
without you, Fiona. We were missing a vital piece of the puzzle for a really long
time. We didn’t realize it until you came back and stayed long enough to make a
difference. Now we know the truth.”
The truth? “Which is?”
“Witches.” Avery folded her hands on the desk and held her gaze. “That’s all there is
to it. When we give up a piece of ourselves, thinking it will bring true love, it won’t.
When we are honest with ourselves, everything else falls into place.” Avery blinked
and looked down, then swiped at her pants leg with her palm. “I really should learn
to take my own advice.”
Fiona didn’t know why, but she knew her heart was racing as the words sank in.
Was her departure really that bad for everyone else? Would they ever get over it?
“I’m sorry if I hurt any of you in any way. That wasn’t my intention.”
“Of course it wasn’t.” When Avery looked at her again, the smile had slid back into
place. “Your intention was to distance yourself from your father and everything
here that made you feel like something was holding you back. You did that. No one
blames you for that, especially after your ritual of release. We knew everything
would cycle back around, somehow.”
“Cycle back around to what?” Fiona asked.
“Ah, that is what we wonder, too.” As Fiona watched, Avery turned to look at the
calendar hanging on the wall. “There’s something bigger than us out there,
something that keeps everything together, keeps us from coming undone. Do you
know what I mean?”
“I know you’re pulling an Emma on me.” Fiona looked at the calendar too, but she
didn’t see anything on it that indicated what Avery meant.
Avery let out a soft “pfft” and shook her head. She said nothing more and Fiona left
wondering if the whole reason she felt ready to stay in Ashland had less to do with
her own needs and more to do with her friends.
Selling the house WAS the easy part. Finding one took more work and as Fiona stood
in front of another available house, she shook her head. “This one is way too big,”
she told the realtor. “I mean, it’s really cute, but it’s more house than I need.”
“I understand.” The realtor marked something off on her clipboard and shrugged.
“It’s a much smaller market here in Ashland than elsewhere. Have you considered
looking at other towns in Saunders County or maybe out in Sarpy County?”
“No. I plan to stay in Ashland.” Fiona shook her head, which at least helped fan her
a bit. That late spring heat had blazed in like she remembered it doing in other
years. Nebraska enjoyed a brief spring before summer launched a sultry assault
that left everyone reaching for their air conditioners.
“Well, I’m afraid I don’t know what else to show you right now.” The realtor looked
at her papers and said, “I think we’ve been to every house in town. The longer you
wait to buy one, the longer you make your buyers wait.”
Pressure. Fiona didn’t appreciate having it heaped on her, but she thrived on it. “I’ll
figure it out by the end of the week,” she assured the realtor. “The right one will
come along. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another appointment.”
She waved goodbye to the woman and then hurried along the sidewalk until she
reached the bar. It was a jarring change from being outside in the sunlight and
Fiona stood on the threshold of the building until her sight adjusted.
There she was – the most gorgeous woman in all of Nebraska. Maybe even the
world. And she was Fiona’s.
Fiona approached the bar and watched Gabe work. What was it about her
girlfriend’s favorite uniform of jeans and a black top that was so sexy? Or about the
way she moved so efficiently through her duties? Even though her clothing wasn’t
particularly revealing and her behavior with the customers wasn’t flirtatious,
everything about Gabe was just right. Two months into being home and Fiona
couldn’t believe she had a girlfriend, much less one as stunning as Gabe.
She sat on a barstool and waited until the blonde noticed her. “Hey shorty,” Gabe
said in greeting, leaning across the bar to kiss her.
“Mm, I told you never to call me that.”
“Well, you are short and adorable.”
“Kittens are short and adorable.”
Gabe made a face. “Yes, but I’d never refer to you as ‘Kitten.’ This isn’t a bad 1950s
beach movie. Unless you want to rethink your look – go the rockabilly route? You’d
look cute in those dresses and then I’d be totally justified in calling you ‘Kitten’.”
With a roll of her eyes, Fiona opened her purse and said, “Okay, that is quite
enough of that. I admire the gorgeous women who can pull off that look, but I’m
definitely not one of them.”
“No, think about it.” Gabe pointed to a print hanging on the wall next to the
dartboard. “You could do the whole sweet, wholesome pinup
look, like that. It’d be
fabulous on you.”
Fiona loved that Gabe thought she would look gorgeous in a corset, with her hair
curled and her lips red and pouting. The idea was almost enticing enough to get her
to try it, but she shook her head. “I appreciate that, but it’s not my style, any more
than an evening gown is yours.”
“Oh? And how do you know that?” Gabe lifted her eyebrows in mock reproach and
braced herself against the bar. “I’ll have you know I do the Bond babe look very
“Fine. I believe you. Anyway, just do me a favor and stop calling me short. I know
you like it, but you don’t need to remind me every time I see you.”
“Aw, but I think you’re so cute.” Gabe ruffled her hair and winked.
Fiona melted all over again, the way she did when she saw her girlfriend. They’d
stopped counting dates after the fifth, after declaring their desire to be
monogamous. It scared Fiona a little bit – she had to admit that. The way
everything fell into place usually did, though.
She knew it was her own power, that uncanny ability she had to manifest whatever
she wanted and needed. What she needed to do was learn to channel it with
intention. Gabe, she knew, was intentional. Fiona had gone home after their fourth
date and stated her intention to be open to true love. The universe answered, as she
expected – with Gabe suggesting they date exclusively and Fiona agreeing to it
Now she pulled out another reminder that intention was powerful. As soon as her
fingers touched the paper, they went hot and tingly with energy. “I got a job offer
this morning before I went to see the latest house,” she told Gabe.
“Oh yeah? Is it writing for the Omaha World Herald?”
“No, I didn’t apply there yet, though it was on my list. Here.” Fiona passed the
paper across the bar. Gabe picked it up, her eyes scanning the offer.
“Wow, Nebraska Life Magazine. They want you to be a staff writer covering
Saunders County. It’s pretty rural out here, you know. Are you sure that’s your
thing?” Gabe handed the paper back to Fiona.
“Rural doesn’t mean there’s nothing to write about. I think I can make it work. They
must think I can, too, because I had to interview twice and give them several
“They only publish six times a year,” Gabe pointed out. “That can’t be much of an
Fiona bobbed her head in acknowledgment. “I thought I would still continue writing
freelance pieces, too. I’m already working on a series about local ghost towns. Not in
way, but about the socioeconomics
that made the people abandon certain
“Ah. You mean when the railroad came through some towns and bypassed others?”
“Basically.” Fiona could have told another person what she was writing and they
might have just scratched their heads and shrugged, but Gabe was on the ball. “So
I’m here for dinner, as promised. Though it’s not much of a date since you’re
“I know, but it’s nice just to have you around. Early in the week is always so slow. It
gets boring.” The way Gabe leaned against the counter and lengthened her already
lithe body made Fiona just want to kiss her again. Instead, she looked at the menu.
Someone called to Gabe from the backroom and she sighed. “I’ll be back to take your
order,” she told Fiona.
While she was gone, Fiona glanced around the bar. It felt strange to spend so much
time at the place where her father was a regular. She wondered if she was in
danger of becoming like him, but dismissed that fear. The last thing she wanted
was to be drunk, let alone all the time. After her first drunken experience in college,
she never wanted to feel that wretched again.
When Gabe returned to the bar, Fiona said, “Isn’t it awful to think about what
people miss when they are entirely focused on alleviating the pain of living?”
Gabe’s expression softened and she nodded. “Yeah. It hurts to watch, especially
when it’s someone you love. Is that our deep thought for the night?”
“I think so.” Fiona closed the menu and put it back in its stand. “Well, how about a
burger and some chili cheese fries, and a Sprite.”
“Ooh, living on the edge? We don’t keep Tums in the backroom. Just giving you a
“I think I’ll survive. Let’s give it a try.” Fiona closed her eyes as Gabe kissed her and
then watched her sashay back into the kitchen to place the order. Her gaze
wandered to the flyercovered
corkboard near the door and then to a discarded
newspaper on the bar. Pinging echoed from her purse, so she pulled out her phone
to look at the notification.
“Hey, you shouldn’t work over dinner,” Gabe said as she walked by to serve a patron
at the other end of the bar.
“No, it’s not that.” Fiona blinked at the screen and scrolled down to read the entire
email. “It’s my realtor,” she said as Gabe walked by again. “She took me to see a
house this morning and I said no to her, and then I told her the right one would
come along before the end of the week.”
The way her girlfriend scoffed was comical. “Are you still torturing the lady? Just
pick a house, Fi.”
“I can’t. None of them feel right. But she just sent me a new listing. It’s…” Fiona
turned the phone so Gabe could see the screen. “What do you think?”
Gabe paused and looked, two glasses clutched in one hand, two bottles of beer in the
other. Even though she vibrated with energy, she settled in that pose for a moment.
“Wow, it’s… it’s you, Fiona. I mean, the house looks perfect for you.”
Fiona turned the screen back to look again and felt a swell of heat spiral through
and around her. It pulled at her, urged her toward the door. “I know,” she said
hesitantly, “but it seems big for me…”
“Look, I don’t have time to chat about it, but here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.
You’ve got all the money coming in from the sale of your father’s house. His life
insurance more than covered any remaining bills and debts. Buy the beautiful
house, if it feels right. So what if it’s too big? Something will fill it.”
“I don’t know, but I have a feeling you’ll figure it out. You probably called this house
to you just by saying the right one would come your way. Set up an appointment to
see it. And stop torturing your poor realtor by being impossible to please. I have to
Gabe held the hand with the beers up, strode to a table where two young guys were
seated, set the drinks down, took their order, went back to the kitchen, and then
finally stood in front of Fiona with her order of chili cheese fries.
“I’ll tell you what,” Gabe said as she set the plates on the bar in front of Fiona. “If
you want, I’ll go see it with you. Schedule a tour with your realtor any day before
and I’ll be there, rain or shine.”
“That’d be great.” The fries on the plate were steaming hot and Fiona picked one up,
glad to know she would have company. Ever since she began looking at houses, it
felt like a lonely process. Sure, the realtor was there, but there was something
weird and personal about looking at houses. The only person Fiona wanted judging
her potential living space was, well, herself. Not the person who stood to make a
commission off the sale of Fiona’s father’s house.
She nibbled at the fries, looping the long strands of melted cheese around each one
she plucked off the plate. After a sip of her soda, she emailed the realtor back to
request a showing of the newlyavailable
house. She had her answer the moment
her burger came out.
“She wants to know if we want to see it tomorrow morning at nine,” Fiona told
“So soon? Yes. That’d be great.” Her girlfriend reached across the bar and laced her
fingers with Fiona’s. “How about I meet you at your house and take you to the
The funny thing was it was no longer Fiona’s house. Not that it really had been. It
was her dad’s house and it was already under contract to another family, a family
that she knew would be right at home in it.
Now Fiona just had to find a place where she would feel right at home.
“That would be wonderful,” she told Gabe. “Thank you for doing this with me.”
With every rotation of the wheels, every moment that brought them closer to the
house they were supposed to see, Fiona felt her pulse skitter and her heart race.
She sensed an invisible thread connecting her to something in the distance and
knew without even analyzing it that it was the house.
“You held out for a reason,” Gabe reassured her. “Maybe this is it.”
The moment they pulled up in front of the house, Fiona didn’t need to look up from
the road to know. “This is it,” she said. “It’s been waiting for me. Come on.”
They got out of the car and Fiona greeted her realtor, whose mouth was twisted in a
grimace. Fiona could imagine what she was thinking. The woman had shown her a
dozen houses in her price range and Fiona had vetoed every single one, and then
rejected the idea of looking one county over at other options. She imagined her
realtor’s patience was wearing quite thin.
With a huff, the woman unlocked the front door. “This one has been standing here
empty for a while now,” the realtor told her. “There was a dispute over the property
and they had to settle it in court – messy divorce or something. But now that’s
resolved, so they can finally sell the place.”
Fiona took a deep breath, able to ignore the fact that the air in the house was a
little musty. Even though it was an Edwardianstyle
home, the layout was open and
airy, not dark like her father’s oldfashioned
farmhouse. Fiona already liked the
white exterior with its wraparound porch and black trim. She ignored the realtor’s
prattling about details and went straight for the back door. It led into a fourseason
room with a view of a large backyard bordered by privacy hedges on all sides.
Beyond the hedges were woods and Fiona squinted at them, familiar with the
energy that radiated from the land.
“I know those woods,” she told Gabe as her girlfriend sidled up to her. “That’s where
we have our rituals.”
“You mean this property backs up to the other side of the clearing?”
A laugh bubbled to Fiona’s lips and she turned, nodding. “Yeah, I think it does.” She
saw the realtor just beyond Gabe’s shoulder and as compelled as she felt to ask,
“Where do I sign?” she took a deep breath. This was a process she had to take one
step at a time, just like everything else since her return to Ashland. It wasn’t an
impulse purchase, like new shoes or a stylish purse. It was an investment.
“Are you going to be okay?” Gabe asked, placing a hand on her shoulder. Concern
creased her forehead, but Fiona nodded.
“Let me center myself. I just need a moment. Could you make sure she doesn’t
barge in on me?”
Without a word, Gabe turned and approached the realtor to ask her a question.
Fiona didn’t pay attention to anything they said. She just turned and lifted her
arms to the window that gave her a view of the backyard. It was southfacing,
the way she liked it. But that wasn’t the true test.
Fiona turned back into the house and hurried up the stairs to the second floor.
There was a long hallway and at the very end of it, on the south side of the house,
was the largest bedroom. The master bedroom. She stepped into it and closed her
eyes. She didn’t need to open them to see the bay window or the builtin
bookshelves, not to mention the view of the familiar woods beyond.
When she opened her eyes again, she saw sparks of gold showering down in front of
her. A trick of the light, she told herself, from closing her eyes so tightly and then
opening them again to look directly where the sun was shining.
“And up here is the… Oh. She’s already found it.” The realtor walked down the hall
and Fiona turned to see Gabe trailing behind her. “We just saw the basement. It’s a
rarity, you know – finished with a full bathroom and –”
“Where do I sign?” Fiona asked.
“Here’s to your new house.” Gabe lifted a glass of red wine and clinked it against
Fiona’s. The crystal chimed like a bell.
“My new house.” Contentment settled over Fiona as she tipped the glass to her lips,
inhaling the wine’s fragrance before taking a sip. It seemed strange to stand in the
empty kitchen of her adolescent home, to celebrate selling it and buying another,
but she knew it was the right thing to do.
“Maybe this is a bad time to ask this question, but what would your father think of
you selling this place?”
Fiona thought back to the framed article hanging in the den and smiled. “I think as
misplaced as his love could be at times, Dad would be proud of me. He really did
love me. He couldn’t help it if an illness kept him from having healthy relationships.
It was his decision to let the illness run his life. But underneath it, he still loved
There was a crash near the back of the house and Fiona set her glass down on the
counter to find the source of the noise. To her dismay, the picture frame with her
article had fallen to the floor of the den and shattered.
“I’ll get the broom,” Gabe muttered from behind her and Fiona heard her footsteps
retreating toward the kitchen.
“Shit.” Reaching down to pick up the larger remnants of the frame and the glass,
Fiona sighed and finally settled for pulling the paper out of the mess. The heavy
mat must have protected it because the paper came away cleanly. As she tugged it
to her, a smaller piece of paper fluttered to the ground among the shards of glass.
She hesitated for a mere moment before picking it up off the floor and rising to her
“Gabe,” she said as her girlfriend returned with the broom and dustpan. “Take a
look at this.”
The blonde sidled up to her and looked down at the piece of paper Fiona held out for
her inspection. “Who is Donna Blake?”
Fiona let out a shaky breath, her chest tightening. “My mother.”
“Where did you find that?”
“It was behind the article, tucked between that and the backing of the frame.” Fiona
turned the small piece of paper with her father’s familiar handwriting over and
read the back. Even though the pencil was faded on both sides, it remained legible.
“Someday you’ll want to see her,” she read.
“How long do you think it was back there?” Gabe asked, sweeping the shards into a
Fiona shook her head. “I don’t know. My first big magazine article was about six,
seven years ago, but this paper looks older than that. Dad must have had it for a
while. I wonder why he shoved it back there when he had the article framed.”
“Probably so he wouldn’t lose it or so you would find it when the time was right.”
When she crouched to pick up the dustpan and sweep the glass into it, Gabe looked
up at Fiona. “Your father knew you were a witch. He knew someday you’d find that
if you were meant to.”
“I have a feeling it wasn’t me at work here. More like I just got my father’s approval
to move on with my life.”
Gabe chuckled and bent her head to focus on her task. “Well, I didn’t want to put it
that way. Kind of thought you wouldn’t fancy the notion of his spirit lingering.”
After a few breaths, Fiona felt clarity sink in. “I can’t really make peace with my
past and move forward with my life if I don’t talk to her. I mean… crap, she
abandoned me, after all. I have to know why if I’m going to release this, too.”
“That’s a fair assessment, I think.” Gabe lifted the dustpan full of gleaming shards.
“I think I got all of it, but I’ll dab the floor with wet paper towels to be sure.”
Fiona nodded and let her girlfriend handle the cleanup.
She was still stunned by
the find. It wasn’t that her father had hidden it from her. It was that it came now,
after all this time. When was the last time she saw her mother? She was about fouryearsold
and the final departure happened in a tearful scene at Logan Airport.
Although the memory was vague, it still pained her to recall it. Tears pricked at her
eyes and Fiona pressed the piece of paper to her chest.
How could she see her mother after over twentyfour
years? What would she say to
the woman who hadn’t bothered to write to her or seek her out online? It was easy
enough to find a person on Facebook. Then again, what if her name had changed?
What if she had remarried? Blake was her maiden name, so that might explain why
Fiona never found her those few times she conducted her own searches. Her mother
might also intentionally have chosen to avoid social media, to avoid being found in
the internet age.
“Are you okay?” Gabe asked gently. “You’re being so quiet.”
“I just have so many questions.” Fiona sank to the floor and let her head loll against
the wall. “Like whether or not I should try writing to this address or finding a
phone number for it, or if I should just pop in and see if she still lives there. She
can’t avoid me if I do that.”
“Well, why did she leave your father?”
“I don’t know. He never talked about it other than to say it wasn’t working out.
Then he told me she went off to California to be with family, which was why the
judge gave him custody of me. Staying in Boston gave me more stability, especially
since my dad had a support system there, you know? He already had a good job, a
place to live, and his parents and two of his siblings lived there. The judge wasn’t
about to send a fouryearold
after a divorce.”
Gabe reached out and rubbed Fiona’s shoulders, then drew her close so Fiona could
rest her head against Gabe’s. “It sounds complicated. I guess I should ask why you
want to see your mother. What would be your reason for it, other than releasing the
“I don’t know.” Fiona’s voice sounded as hollow as her chest felt. “I guess I want to
know why they got divorced and why she never tried to find me or contact me.”
“Do you think your dad always moving from apartment to apartment had something
to do with it? I mean, maybe your mother wasn’t the only one who wanted to make
it hard for someone to find her, which is why she told your father she went to
California, but she ultimately ended up in New Hampshire, according to this.”
That brought up even more questions and Fiona felt herself sagging against Gabe.
“I have to take it one thing at a time,” she said tiredly. “But I need a second to
“Take all the time you need. You’re a smart, confident woman and you know what
Smart. Confident. In everything but relationships, Fiona realized now. I’m so
fucked up when it comes to connecting with people and this is why. Because the one
person who was supposed to be a constant in my life abandoned me. I have to know
why she did that to me.
She turned to Gabe and gave her a watery smile. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”
Gabe smoothed her hair back from her face and gave her a kiss. “Hey, I support the
idea of you going to see her. You’ve let go of one thing from your past, but you still
have another parental relationship to resolve. I want a girlfriend who is happy and
healthy. And if you disagree – if you feel like this won’t give you happiness – then
don’t do it. Do you think you should sleep on it?”
“I think…” Fiona felt drowsy with Gabe stroking her hair. “I think I should sleep on
“That might work too.”
The warm night air caressed Fiona’s skin as she lay back on the blanket, looking up
at the sky. Once again, she marveled at how clear the night was and how easily she
could identify the constellations that twinkled above her.
“When I was a kid, I thought every time I blinked, the stars blinked back,” she told
Gabe. “We lived in a nice house when I was little and you could actually see the
stars at night.”
“That’s what I love about being here.” Gabe stretched next to her and then folded
her hands behind her head. “It’s easy to get away from the city lights if you drive
just a few miles down the road. Even around the towns in Sarpy County, you can
see how Nebraska retains its character – cornfields and wide open spaces. It’s
pretty cool. Then again, I could just be a Midwestern sap.”
“No, you’re right. It’s cool.” Fiona knew the other thing making her feel so warm, so
drowsy and contented, was her girlfriend’s presence. Just lying next to her on the
blanket, barely touching each other while looking up at the night sky, made her
happy. “I bet South Dakota is perfect for stargazing, too.”
“It is, but that’s pretty much what we do with our days, too.” Gabe let out a soft
sigh. “We stargaze. We look and wonder about life beyond those empty spaces and
the people who want us to conform.”
“I know not everyone there is like that. Just a few people you knew.”
“Yeah.” The blanket rustled against the grass as Gabe shook her head. “Not
everyone. But enough people that I couldn’t tolerate the intolerance. Actually, I
used to take the kids up there for vacations. We’d go camping up in the Black Hills
National Forest and they loved it.”
After seeing the world, Fiona knew she loved Nebraska and she imagined she would
like seeing the Black Hills, too. She finally had a basis for comparison and could
make a decision about where she wanted to be. “Home is where my heart is,” she
“And what is home to you?” Gabe asked, still not looking at her.
“It’s right here.” Fiona rolled onto her side and nuzzled at Gabe’s ear, then draped
her arm over her girlfriend to hold her close.
Gabe’s soft giggles spurred her on and Fiona wiggled closer so she could tangle her
leg with the lanky blonde’s. “Ah, don’t stop,” Gabe told her.
“I don’t plan to.” Fiona continued to rub herself against her, working her lips along
Gabe’s cheek, down to her chin, then her neck, and across her shoulder. The woman
next to her moaned, which only turned Fiona on even more. Giving her pleasure
was the only thing on Fiona’s mind. This seemed like the best way to spend what
would be one of her last few nights in her father’s house before she moved into the
new one. She wanted to leave it with good memories of love and laughter.
She rose up over Gabe and looked down at her, into those gray eyes that glinted
silvery in the moonlight. A thread of energy weaved around them, an ethereal
strand as silver as Gabe’s eyes and as gossamer as the wispy clouds in the inky
“Do you know how much I love you?” Fiona asked.
“Yes, I know. But I don’t know why you love me.”
Fiona tilted her head and halfsmiled.
“It started with lust. You’re beautiful and you
know it. And then it built into something more than chemistry and first
impressions. I love you for being wise and willing to share that wisdom, but in a
gentle way. I love that you speak your mind without hurting people’s feelings. And I
love how we laugh at the same things, how cool you are when I’m hottempered,
how we can both watch the same movie and see different things in it. When I’m not
with you, I even love that I miss you.”
“Sweetheart…” Gabe lifted her head to kiss her, those full lips of hers like velvet
against Fiona’s. Everything in that kiss reinforced what she already knew. This was
where her heart was all along. She just needed to find the right person to give her a
reason to stay, to make it feel like a home.
They rolled over, Gabe asserting herself by grasping Fiona’s shoulders and
deepening the kiss. Fiona loved her confidence and her fearlessness in bed. Years of
experience, she mused, were to thank for how comfortable Gabe was with her body
and with pleasing her partner. Each time they were together, Fiona saw another
reminder of the twelve years that separated them in age.
And every reminder, be it a wrinkle she had never noticed before or the way Gabe
referred to something before Fiona was old enough to care about pop culture, made
her heart swell with even more love.
Better yet, Gabe listened to Fiona. She valued her ideas and opinions, and wanted
to hear them. Millennial or Generation X, it didn’t matter. They were bound by
something more important than age or status.
They were bound by their hearts.
Fiona let her head fall back as Gabe touched her, those slender fingers dancing over
her collarbone and chest, then lowering further to caress her pelvis. Everywhere
Gabe touched left a trail of sensation, consuming Fiona with lust.
“I swear if you tease me tonight…”
“You’ll what?” Gabe let out another of her low chuckles as her hand drifted down
between Fiona’s thighs, stroking along the bare skin there. Dresses and skirts were
going to be the death of her, Fiona decided, but what a sweet death it would be.
Gabe certainly was teasing her, the pads of her fingers lightly skimming along her
inner thighs, back and forth, up and down. Fiona felt liquid heat gathering at her
entrance. She didn’t think she could wait much longer to make love, but it seemed
Gabe hadn’t gotten the memo.
Rather than drifting higher, those fingers moved lower until Gabe slipped Fiona’s
flats off to massage her feet.
Fiona propped herself up on her elbows and glared at her. “Are you serious? You’re
giving me a foot rub at a time like this?”
“Come on. It feels good, doesn’t it?” Gabe coaxed. Her long, strong fingers kneaded
the soles of Fiona’s feet and then the tops with firm, even strokes.
“Well, yes, but it would feel good if you touched other parts of me.” Fiona let out a
low moan as Gabe pressed hard on the bottom of her foot.
The wicked grin that followed sent a shiver through her. “I’m sure it would, but
don’t underestimate the power of the entire body to behave as an erogenous zone.”
Gabe pressed the tips of her fingers just beneath the undersides of Fiona’s toes.
“That and a foot rub is very relaxing.”
“I don’t think I need to be any more relaxed than I already am,” Fiona told her, but
she still watched her girlfriend’s movements with interest. The most exotic thing
she’d done with a lover was go skinnydipping
in the ocean at night. Her European
women had all been enthusiastic in bed, but not very creative, other than the one
who wanted to paint a portrait of her. Naked. Fiona had declined. She would rather
not be immortalized as a nude on canvas and have someone recognize her.
Gabe, however, played her like a musical instrument, finetuning
until Fiona found it difficult to remove herself from her embrace. She hated that
they lived apart, that in the morning, she had to leave Gabe’s bed and go home.
She watched Gabe switch to her other foot, each touch sending tingles up her leg
and to other places she hoped her girlfriend would soon touch. Despite her
eagerness, Fiona realized every moment Gabe spent caressing her was another
second they could spend together. Especially since they both knew there might be a
temporary interruption in their time together soon.
Fiona knew confirmation of her mother’s address could come to her any day. It
could be waiting in her email
at this very moment and as soon as she had it, she
knew what she planned to do. Gabe knew, too, so maybe that was why she chose
tonight to explore every inch of Fiona’s body. To memorize her, to commit her to
memory during the short time they would inevitably be parted from one another.
Those talented hands finally slid up to her thighs once more and then parted them
slightly. Fiona arched at the contact as Gabe’s tongue met her fiery flesh. With long,
slow strokes, Gabe brought her from hazy, relaxed lust to the edge of ecstasy. And
then she backed off, leaving Fiona panting for breath, desperate for release.
Gabe did this several times until Fiona grabbed at her hair and whispered, “Don’t
The low laughter vibrated against her pussy, sending yet another shockwave of
pleasure through her. Fiona was so close and all Gabe seemed to want to do was
play with her. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t…
At last it came, the explosion of rapture that had Fiona twisting and grabbing onto
the blanket as her entire body shuddered with bliss. Gabe held onto her, keeping
her anchored, even as she was lost in the moment.
And then she collapsed to her back and blinked as awareness seeped into her mind
again. Gabe stretched out alongside her and drew her close, sharing warmth. “I
know you’ll leave as soon as you can,” Gabe told her. “So I wanted to give you
something to remember me by, something you can look forward to coming home to.”
“Mmhm,” Fiona murmured sleepily. “You did, and if you give me a few minutes, I’ll
give you a reason to welcome me home.”
“You’re on,” Gabe told her.
So, once she recovered, Fiona rolled her girlfriend over to give her the same sensual
torture. Only she didn’t go anywhere near Gabe’s feet. Instead, Fiona shimmed
those tight blue jeans off her girlfriend’s body, then pulled her panties off, and
rolled her over on the blanket.
“Do I want to ask what you’re doing back there?” The blonde peeked over her
“I’m sure you do want to ask, but you’ll feel it soon enough.” Fiona straddled one of
Gabe’s legs and slid her hand beneath her. The way Gabe’s head tipped back and
she let out a breathy “Oh my” told Fiona she did, indeed, feel it.
Fiona used her thumb and middle finger to part Gabe’s soft lips. Then with light
strokes of her index finger, she feathered teasing touches down Gabe’s clit and
along her dewy valley. The accumulating nectar on the tip of her finger made it
glide easily over that hot flesh and she felt Gabe’s breath finally catch.
Grinning to herself, Fiona changed the motion to firm circles on the clitoris. To her
delight, Gabe bowed her head and lifted her backside slightly to give her easier
Keeping her fingers in place, Fiona leaned over Gabe’s back and whispered, “I want
to see you lose control of yourself for once. I want to drive you crazy tonight.”
As she spoke, she slid her thumb inside Gabe’s warmth, while using both her index
and middle fingers to strum at her sensitive nub. Her girlfriend rewarded her by
lifting and dropping her hips, panting for breath as she clutched the blanket. Fiona
shifted her body so she was kneeling between Gabe’s legs and slid her other hand
beneath her shuddering body.
It took only a moment to switch to inserting two fingers from one hand and then
using the fingers of her other to circle that slightly tense clit. Gabe met her hands,
thrusting against them, grinding into Fiona’s firm touch.
In another moment, Gabe let go, her screams of pleasure muffled against the
blanket as Fiona rubbed her to orgasm.
“And that,” she whispered in Gabe’s ear, “was just the beginning of what we’re
going to do tonight.”
As predicted, Fiona left for Boston within only a couple of days. As she told Gabe
when she found her mother’s address, she would take it step by step.
Step one was easy. Fiona tried searching online for her mother yet again and, as
before, came up with nothing. So she reached out to one of her journalist friends in
New York. Even though she hated asking for favors, she knew he would
understand. Sure enough, he put his investigative skills to work and got what she
hadn’t been able to find. He called her back, confirmed the address, and gave her an
additional address to try.
“It looks like she’s remarried,” he told her. “The name isn’t Blake anymore, though
it’s listed on older directories that way. Now I find a Donna Sprague at that address
and then another Donna Sprague at a business address in the same town. Looks
like a bookstore called A Charmed Life. Does that sound like who you’re looking
Who but a witch would name a shop something like that? “I think it does. I can at
least check it out. Thanks for the help, Justin.”
And before she knew it, Fiona was on step two – a passenger on a plane to Boston.
After tossing and turning all night at her hotel near the airport, she got in her
rental car and drove north to New Hampshire. It took nearly four hours and too
many tolls, but she finally parked on the main street of a small northern New
Hampshire town. It wasn’t difficult to find street parking in front of the quaint
shops and she looked up at the oldfashioned
signs hanging over the doors along the
A Charmed Life was right in front of her. She closed her eyes and took a moment to
center herself. The faint tingle of magick was certainly present in the area, but
whether it emanated from the shop or something else, she couldn’t quite discern. It
was one talent she hadn’t honed – her ability to pinpoint the source of energy.
“Here goes nothing,” Fiona muttered to herself and pushed the car door open.
A bell chimed as she entered the store. A woman stood at the front, bent over a
stack of books. Her long skirt swayed around her ankles and her loose tunic gave
her plenty of room to move as she stooped, then turned and reached to place a book
on one of the higher shelves.
Fiona stared at the woman. She had long, cascading waves of blonde hair, hazel
eyes, and a short, compact body that moved with purpose among the stacks.
Brow furrowed, Fiona followed her movements until she found her voice. “Mom?”
“Well.” The woman straightened and looked her over. “It’s about time you came to
see me, Fiona.” She extended her hand and Fiona reached toward her.
When their fingers met in a tentative touch, the air crackled between them and
Fiona stared in wonder at where their skin touched.
Her mother’s gentle smile made her eyes crinkle with joy. “I guess the apple doesn’t
fall far from the tree, though your fire is obviously stronger than mine. I’m glad to
see that. How is my little witch?”
“I have to admit I’m at a loss.” Fiona shifted her weight and glanced around the
shop. “Have you been here all this time?”
“In the store? As much as I love my work, if I did that, I think I’d go insane.”
“No. I mean…” Fiona closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind.
“You mean here in New Hampshire.”
When Fiona opened her eyes again, her mother was smiling at her. “What do you
“I think you have a lot of explaining to do.” Fiona hoped she didn’t sound angry or
combative, but merely curious. “I just found your address and I’m here because I
think I have a right to know why you weren’t a part of my life.”
“I know. And I owe you much more than just an explanation. Well, let’s get to it.”
Donna gestured for Fiona to follow her deeper into the shop. It was dark, tall
shelves of books blocking out any light. The books, Fiona realized, were all used and
it seemed many were heavy, vintage tomes.
There was a sitting area in the back with three cushy armchairs. Donna curled up
on one of them and gestured for her to choose another.
“Don’t worry if you didn’t lock your car. No one is going to break into it here,” her
mother said. “And it’s the quiet part of the day, so I expect we won’t see any
customers for a while.”
“Right.” Fiona sat in the chair that faced her mother’s and crossed her legs, folding
her hands over her knee. It felt so surreal to be sitting there, facing a woman she
only remembered in vague, hazy flashes from her early childhood.
Her mother let out a laugh and shook her head. “You’re so formal,” she said. “This
isn’t what I expected from my little fire witch.”
“Then what did you expect?” Fiona shot back. Was her mother judging her? Who
was she to judge Fiona, after abandoning her all those years ago?
“No, it suits you, makes you look formidable, not that you need any help in that
area.” Donna waved off the remark as if she were swatting a fly. “Don’t take
everything so seriously, especially the past.”
“But I came here to learn about the past. There’s so much I need to understand
and…” Fiona hesitated and squirmed in the chair, but only for a moment. “I feel like
you owe me that. I’m not here to judge you or ask you to be a part of my life if
there’s a reason you can’t be. I just want to know what happened, so I can move on.”
“Why I lost a mother when I needed her most.”
Her mother was still for a long moment and this time Fiona knew she was judging
her, assessing her words. “Holding onto the past is destructive, Fiona.”
“So is moving forward without learning from it. I was just a little girl. I needed you
and you left me. Like I said, I’m not here to judge you for that. I just want to
understand your reasons.”
Her mother finally smiled and nodded. “Then you’re ready for the talk. But not just
yet. First, tell me how you’re doing.”
Fiona yearned to let her mother do the talking, especially since she traveled all this
way to finally get the truth about her parents’ split. They couldn’t just skip the past
years as if they didn’t happen. That wasn’t right. But she also knew
people couldn’t be forced into giving up what they didn’t want to give up. Blowing
out a breath, she focused on bringing her frustration under control and tried to
think of the best way to tell her mother about the past couple of months.
“I guess I’m okay, considering everything I’ve gone through lately. Dad died two
Her mother was quiet, then leaned forward, held her hand over a votive candle in a
holder on the low coffee table, and snapped her fingers. The flame popped into
existence and she shut her eyes. “I knew he passed,” she said, “but it’s nice that
someone finally decided to come and tell me in person.”
“Did you still love him?” It was a hard question, Fiona knew, but she felt like she
had to ask it.
“No, but I had compassion for him.” Her mother opened her eyes again and looked
at her. “He chose his own path. It was no one’s fault but his own.”
“Yeah. I know.” Fiona bobbed her head and watched the candle flame flicker and
“But you had a hard time with it for a while. You wanted to blame someone else or
even yourself until you realized the only person to blame was the one who took his
own life into his own hands.”
Fiona put her hands up and said, “Look, are you one of those woowoo
witches, because I didn’t come here for that.”
“Not at all. I’ve just learned a lot from my past experiences.” Donna settled back in
her chair and rested her hands on the arms. “Other than that, how are you doing?
I’ve seen your articles. You do great work. I’m really proud of you.”
“Thanks.” It felt strange to have her absentee mother say that to her and Fiona
hesitated, not sure what to say or ask next. Did her mother even have a right to feel
proud of her?
“Maybe I don’t have a right to tell you that.” Her mother responded as if Fiona had
spoken aloud. “But I really am proud of what you’ve accomplished. You did all the
things I didn’t do when I was eighteen. You went to college, you graduated, and
then you followed your dreams. I got pregnant, got married, and then realized…”
She turned, her gaze focused on something in the distance. Maybe she was looking
at nothing tangible, Fiona realized, but instead remembering the past. Or maybe
she didn’t want to say something that came out sounding wrong.
So Fiona beat her to it. “Was I a mistake?”
“Definitely not.” Donna turned back to her and gave a oneshouldered
shrug. “It was
March. We were making out in Denny’s car and just found a way to keep warm
together. We knew what could happen and we probably wanted it to happen.”
“So I was unintentionally intentional?”
“Something like that.” Her mother leaned forward again, this time to stretch and
reposition her legs. “It’s a bad habit of mine,” she said. “Sitting on my legs, I mean.
Not necking in cars.”
“I do it too. Sit on my legs, that is.”
The smile that crossed her mother’s face was knowing. “I bet you do. Well, are you
staying in Nebraska or continuing your world travels?”
“I plan to stay. I sold Dad’s house, bought a new one, and I think I’m ready to settle
“Got that wanderlust out of you? I figured you would, sooner or later. It was a
symptom of your upbringing more than anything.”
“What does that mean?”
The silence that hung between them while Donna appeared to mull over her
question was no longer tense. It still felt heavy, but this time with promise, with all
that was unspoken and waiting to be resolved.
“Your father moved you around from place to place in Boston after we divorced. He
feared that one day I would come back and try to take you away. But I never came
back or even visited, and you wonder why. You also wonder why you could never
settle down in a relationship – why the moment someone got close to you, or at least
tried to, you would use your job as an excuse to go. Am I getting warm?”
Fiona glanced at the clock on the wall. “You’re a complete stranger to me,” she told
Donna as she returned her gaze to her mother. “What am I supposed to do – admit
things like that to someone I don’t even know anymore?”
“If you like, but you don’t have to. I already know.” Donna canted her head to one
side, that enigmatic smile still on her face. “You use bullshit excuses to not get close
to people. The problem you have is a fear of intimacy, which goes back to me pretty
much abandoning you and then your father moving you around from apartment to
“Um, thanks for the diagnosis, but I already figured all of that out a long time ago.”
“Of course and you’ve even acknowledged it. But you need me to do the same for
Fiona stared at her mother as the woman rose from the armchair and walked to the
back of her shop, through a narrow doorway. When she returned, she handed Fiona
a can of soda. “You know, I didn’t come here for you to judge me.”
“I’m not judging you. I’m acknowledging that I screwed up and your father didn’t
help matters.” Her mother popped her own can of soda open and took a long drink.
“Where are you staying while you’re here?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.” Fiona tapped the top of her can, not sure she was in
the mood for a soda, but not wanting to be ungracious. She still wasn’t quite sure
how to behave with her mother.
“Then you can stay with me,” Donna announced.
She lived in what used to be a schoolhouse and it was breathtaking. Fiona stood
outside the white shingled building and stared up at it. There was even a narrow
at the top. This, she thought, was something to write about. Someday.
“Come on.” Her mother gestured for her to follow. “I know you’re going to want to
meet Ron and the cats.”
“Why would I want to meet the cats?” Fiona asked as she hefted her suitcase out of
the trunk of the car.
“Are you telling me you don’t like cats? No selfrespecting
witch dislikes cats.” As if
in response to her words, two cats appeared on the front porch. One sauntered
through the front door and then sat at the top of the steps, licking its forepaws. The
other dashed down the steps and across the yard to greet them, slinking around
Fiona thought about Scrappy, who was currently in Emma’s care. She was
becoming more affectionate toward the cat, she had to admit. She almost missed
him the way she missed her friends and Gabe. So she bent to give the attentive cat
a gentle pat on the head.
“That’s Peanut and the one who refuses to interact is Snowball. Come on. Ron is
looking forward to meeting you.”
“How do you know that?” Fiona asked.
“Because when I married him a few years ago and told him I had a daughter, his
exact words were, ‘Oh, I’m looking forward to meeting her’.” Donna waved for her to
follow her into the house.
It was typical of most historic New England buildings, with wood floors that looked
like they could survive anything and dark woodwork framing pristine white walls.
It reminded Fiona of the house she had chosen and she hesitated in the living room
to look at the photographs. There were some of her mother, some of her with a man
she assumed was her husband, and then some of Fiona herself as an infant and
Donna stopped and turned to join her. “Your baby pictures are all that I could
salvage from the house when I left. That was all I had of you until the internet came
along. After that, finding you was easy.”
“Well, you didn’t make it easy for me to find you.”
“No, I didn’t. But I knew you would when the time was right.”
“Yeah, and who were you to let it be that way?” Fiona asked. “Seriously, I’ve been a
child for the majority of my life and you just let me wonder about you. For at least
fourteen years, it was your responsibility to find me. Not the other way around.”
Sadness creased Donna’s features and she bowed her head. “I know. I failed you as
a mother, but the more time and space there was between me and your father, the
easier it was to avoid him. He wasn’t an easy person to live with, but you know
Fiona knew. Oh, how she knew. She turned to the pictures and bit back her
response. People had their reasons for doing things. She was going to have to accept
that sometimes she just wouldn’t understand those reasons.
“Here.” Her mother held out her hand and unfurled her fingers. When Fiona looked
down at her palm, she saw a gold link bracelet with a heart charm attached. “I wore
this every day after I left, thinking of you. You can have it now.”
Fiona plucked the bracelet from her mother’s hand and realized the heart was a
locket. She opened it and looked at the small picture of herself as an infant
“I didn’t want to leave you, but I really couldn’t deal with your father. Our divorce
was not a friendly one and our marriage wasn’t at all what I expected. He couldn’t
or wouldn’t stop drinking, and I wouldn’t live with that behavior. It wasn’t good for
you to hear us fighting night after night.”
“Yeah. I know you meant well and I understand why you left him.” Fiona curled her
fingers around the locket and nodded. “It means a lot to me to hear you say that.
This entire time, I didn’t know what to think. I thought if I was a mother, I’d never
be able to abandon my child, even if I couldn’t deal with the other parent. I still
don’t understand why you left me.”
“Maybe some women are just stronger than me.” Donna lifted her hand to Fiona’s
chin, turning it just a bit. “I’m stubborn, but I’m not strong. Mine is the fire that
doesn’t have a sturdy structure to feed off of. That’s Aries for you. We’re quick to
burn but just as quick to crumble. Your fire, though, is built on something far more
concrete. You’re strong – Sagittarius strong.”
Fiona couldn’t help it. She snorted with laughter and said, “You should put that on
Mom.” It was the first time she had spoken the word “mom” to her mother
years and she suddenly wondered if it was the wrong thing to do.
But Donna smiled and said, “I like hearing that again. Oh, why did I wait? I’m so
sorry, Fiona.” She pulled her into her embrace, and Fiona knew she wouldn’t be
able to stop the tears that rushed to her eyes. So she let them fall as she clung to
If the releasing ritual had been freeing, this was cathartic. Every bit of pain and
disappointment over the past twentyfour
years welled to the surface and was shed
in those tears. Things wouldn’t be perfect between them, Fiona knew. There was no
recapturing what they both lost in their relationship. Things wouldn’t even change
all that much. But now at least she had some answers and maybe, just maybe, a
mother in her life.
“And then I told him, ‘Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, but not that kind of a doctor’.”
Both Fiona and her mother burst into laughter and pounded the table. Fiona wiped
tears of mirth out of her eyes and shook her head. “Doesn’t he realize there’s a huge
difference between internal medicine and proctology?”
“No, Fiona, to him proctology is as internal as it gets.” Ron shook his head and
looked at his wife. “Please tell me there are more potatoes.”
Even though she’d just met him, Fiona decided she liked Ron. It was strange to
realize she had a stepfather and even stranger that he was a portly, affable man.
But he looked at Donna like he adored her and there was a calming vibe that
emanated from him. It was easy to see he was a good person.
“There are plenty more,” Donna said, “but if you don’t mind, Fiona and I are going
to take a walk alone.”
“Sure, go ahead. I’ll take care of the dishes.”
Fiona looked at her plate and even though she was overfull, she wanted to try to eat
more potatoes too. They were perfect – fluffy, buttery, and with a hint of garlic. But
she knew she would regret it, so she pushed away from the table and followed her
mother through the kitchen, into the backyard.
“Do you smell that?” Donna asked as they crossed the lawn. “Summer’s almost
Lifting her nose to the air, Fiona had to admit her mother had keen senses. The air
definitely carried that sultry quality that announced summer’s arrival. Fiona
glanced back at her mother. “Does that mean fewer people in the bookstore?”
“Maybe. Or more if they want books for their vacations. It can go either way from
month to month.” Donna nudged her and said, “Speaking of summer vacations, are
you taking one?”
“This is it, I think. Being here, I mean. It feels like a vacation after dealing with a
funeral, an estate, getting a job, and selling and buying a house. That’s a crazy
amount of work in a short span of time.”
“It is,” her mother agreed. “So since you’re settling down in Nebraska, what’s next
for you? What’s this job and is there someone special you’re seeing?”
Fiona bit her lip, not sure how her mother would react to the truth. “The job is
writing for a local magazine and I am seeing someone, yes,” she finally said.
“When does the job start?”
“Actually, it started a few weeks ago. I’m the Saunders County staff writer for
Nebraska Life Magazine. The entire county where I live is mostly rural and really
pretty. There’s plenty of history, as well as current events to highlight and share. So
that’s what I’m writing about six times a year.”
“Good. And will you tell me about the girlfriend?”
Fiona whipped her head around to stare at her mother, her heart racing. “How…
did you know?”
“It wasn’t too difficult to figure out. Whenever I’ve seen you photographed, it’s been
with a woman. Usually in Europe. Remember, I work in a bookstore. I’m a reader of
many things, including magazines and newspapers. Even foreign ones.”
“The women in those pictures could be my friends,” Fiona pointed out.
“True, or they could be something more, considering the way you look at each other
in those photos.” Her mother lifted her hands and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not like
there are that many pictures of you out there. But there are a few. You certainly
run with a beautiful crowd on your European jaunts.”
Lifting her gaze to the stillblue
sky, Fiona supposed her mother was right. She had
an affinity for beautiful people and beautiful things. But not too much of either,
because then it just became life clutter.
“You came here for answers and the truth is I regret leaving you.” The conversation
shifted, just like that, and Donna continued. “But I was young and unprepared for
everything that came with being married and being a mother.”
With a nod, Fiona said, “It looks like I did okay without having a mother figure, but
it still would have helped to have you around. The strongest memory I have of you
is of you leaving for the last time.”
Tears sprung into her mother’s eyes. “That’s the strongest memory I have of you,
I’m sorry to say. I’d like to replace it with something else if that’s possible.”
Unbidden, the waterworks started again as they embraced. Only this time, Fiona’s
mother was crying too. They stayed that way for a long time and when they stepped
apart, the sun had almost set. With joined hands, Fiona and her mother continued
walking across the yard, toward the tree line.
“On the other side of the trees, you’d be in Canada.”
“Wow, really?” They stopped and Fiona stared at the evergreens, then lifted her
gaze to the sky above them. “Did you know I’d turn out to be a witch?”
Her mother let out a low laugh. “Yes, baby, I did. You showed you talent at a very
young age. I should have been there to teach you how to use it, but I think you
figured it out pretty well for yourself.”
“I did my best. Dad wasn’t exactly thrilled when I tried practicing on our gas stove.”
Fiona let out a breath. “Though he was less thrilled when I left for college.”
“Denny was like that – stubborn and thought everyone in his life owed him
something. I’m not sure where that came from, but I couldn’t change him. Goodness
knows I tried. I thought maybe he’d let go of that selfishness when you came along,
but it only got worse. I finally divorced him so you wouldn’t have to listen to us
yelling at each other every night.”
Fiona dabbed at the wetness on her face. “I remember that,” she said. “The yelling.
Is that why you went all the way to California?”
“Partly. My mother – your grandmother – was living there at the time. But she
moved back here a few years later, and so did I.”
“Oh, right…” Fiona turned to face Donna. “I have an entire family, right? I mean,
your sister, your brothers, and my grandmother. They’re all still around, aren’t
Donna rested her hands on Fiona’s shoulder and smiled. “My little witch, would you
like to meet them?”
“What do you think of visiting New Hampshire this summer?” Fiona tucked the
ends of the packing paper in and set the wrapped item in the box, then reached for
the next vase. There weren’t many delicate knickknacks
in her father’s den since
the garage sale. Then again, there weren’t many things left at all in the house, and
she was relieved that she could pack light for her move.
“Do you mean for me to meet your family?” Gabe asked. She was setting books in
shallow boxes, emptying the one set of bookshelves in the den.
Fiona hummed in the affirmative as she added some lighter items over the wrapped
vases. “Once I’m settled in with the job and house, my mother was hoping to see me
“I’m glad you had a good visit with her. Do you think you’re really ready to
introduce me to your family, though? You just met them.”
“After two months of dating? I’m pretty sure we’re ready for that step.”
The expression that crossed Gabe’s face was a grimace of distaste. “I’m not exactly
keen on family gatherings, for reasons I’m sure you’ll understand. But I think you
should go and have fun. Who will be there?”
Fiona crouched back on her heels and closed her eyes as she tried to remember.
“There’s my grandmother, two uncles, an aunt, and about a zillion cousins, I think.
My grandfather and grandmother are divorced and he lives on the west coast. It
should be a pretty big gathering. My first cousins are mostly around my age,
married with kids except maybe two of them. And I figure I can visit my dad’s sister
in Boston, too. She’s not doing so well, which was why she didn’t come out for his
“Is your mother’s side nice?”
“I don’t remember any of them very well, but I started connecting with them on
Facebook and so far they seem to be.” Fiona was glad she had gotten rid of her
father’s heavy desk. She didn’t relish the idea of trying to move that. But she’d kept
the Mac since all she had was a laptop. She picked the office supplies up off the floor
and tossed them in the box.
“You should go. It’s pretty personal, anyway, not really the best time to introduce
everyone to your girlfriend. Just keep in touch while you’re gone. When do you
think you’re going?” Gabe sounded nonchalant, but there was a catch in her voice
that kept Fiona from feeling entirely comfortable.
Before she could respond, she heard Waverly call, “Hey ladies, I’ve got more paper.”
The brunette stood in the doorway, a roll of brown packing paper between her
hands. “Where do you want me to put it?”
“I’ll take it. Thanks.” Gabe leaped to her feet and took the roll. “I’ll go work on the
kitchen since the den is almost finished.”
As soon as she was out of earshot, Waverly turned to Fiona and whispered, “Why is
she so on edge?”
“You could tell, huh?”
Waverly pointed at herself. “I’m an empath. Duh. What’s going on? Did you two
have a fight in the past ten minutes? I don’t think I was even gone that long.”
“Not exactly a fight, no. I don’t think she’s stoked about the idea of meeting my
mother and my family on that side.” The thought of that hurt. Fiona was more than
thrilled to finally have the rest of her family back in her life, yet her girlfriend was
rejecting them without even meeting them first.
“Oof. Do you think it’s because of her experiences with her family when she was
Fiona shrugged and folded down the flaps of the box she was working on. “I can’t
say, but that sounds like a reasonable guess.”
“Yeah. You’re not the only one in this relationship with family issues holding you
back. At least you’ve been working through yours, though.” Waverly crouched by the
box of books and poked at it. “Maybe the family she ought to visit is her own, not
“Do you think that would help the situation?”
“It might. It helped you.” Waverly met Fiona’s gaze, glanced toward the doorway,
and then lowered her voice. “I know she comes off all strong and everything, but
even a woman her age can benefit from looking at the past, seeing what’s holding
her back, and then letting it go. All of us have our baggage. Some of us just have
more than others. And some of us need to learn to chuck those suckers onto another
flight and wish them bon voyage.”
As serious as the situation was, Fiona couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m sure this is the
kind of discussion that will get me laid tonight.”
“Some things are more important than sex.”
“Wave, why weren’t you a social worker or counselor or something?” Fiona asked.
Even though she usually thought of Waverly as a spastic worrier, she knew her
heart was in the right place. And once in a while, she shared a nugget of undeniable
Her friend dropped her gaze and bit her lip. “Even I have my limits. Empathy isn’t
all fun and games. It can be exhausting always feeling other people’s emotions. If I’d
exposed myself to that kind of work right out of college, I never would have
“I’m sure you would have done just fine,” Fiona reassured her.
“No.” Waverly raised her eyes to Fiona’s. “I mean I literally would not have
survived. I would have killed myself rather than deal with the constant
bombardment of negativity. Shielding is exhausting, too, but there is one other
thing that keeps everyone else’s emotions out and that’s music. That’s why I’m a
dancer. It helps me and teaching it helps others. Just not in the way you think I
ought to help them.”
“Jeez, that’s heavy,” Fiona whispered. The idea that Waverly had even
contemplated suicide made her shudder. How could she not know her friend
suffered so terribly because of her empathy? It sounded more like a curse than a
witchy talent when she put it that way.
“I’m sorry. It’s not like you need more heaviness in your life after the past couple of
months. It’s okay, though. I’m okay. I have much more control over my power now,
but back when I was a teenager it was pretty awful, especially with all the raging
hormones. That’s why I was weepy all the time. I couldn’t sort out which emotions
were mine and which were other people’s outofcontrol
Fiona leaned over her box and hugged Waverly. “I’m glad you’re doing what’s right
for you and I’m sorry I was too dense to realize what you were going through all this
“Thanks, and it’s okay. We’ve all been a little more secretive than maybe we should
have been.” Her friend glanced back over her shoulder and sighed. “As for
relationships, I’m no help in that area, but I think it’s only fair for you to have that
discussion with Gabe – about working through her issues, I mean.”
“What a role reversal.” Fiona looked down at the box in front of her as she mulled
over Waverly’s words. It was true that Gabe gave advice freely. Freely and gently,
which was part of her charm. Her input was always logical, which was why Fiona
took it. But when it came to taking her own advice, Gabe tended to be far more
stubborn. Maybe what Fiona saw as confidence was actually a wall meant to keep
certain things out of her girlfriend’s life.
Waverly was right. It wouldn’t be completely unreasonable for Fiona to dig a little
deeper and learn why Gabe didn’t want to meet her family. After all, just because
Gabe had issues with her own family didn’t mean all families were like that. Fiona
could certainly use her support as she progressed with her own growth, but maybe
Gabe needed support as well. She just didn’t voice it as readily as Fiona. Typical air
witch – all logic and no emotion, unwilling to reach out to or rely upon another
“It’s the end of an era,” Avery announced from the living room.
Fiona and Waverly both rose to their feet and turned. Emma was there too and
Gabe emerged from the kitchen looking pleased.
“Ladies, it was over twelve years ago that we met,” Avery said, holding up a bottle
of unopened wine. “Except for Gabe, who graced us with her presence two months
ago and then became a part of our circle. We love anyone who loves our impossible,
fiery Fiona. You have worked wonders with her and we appreciate it.
She needs someone to love who loves her back, so thank you for that.”
Gabe tilted her head and blew Avery an exaggerated kiss.
“Thank you, thank you.” Avery turned to Fiona and pointed at her with the bottle of
wine. “We had sleepovers nearly every week in this house, but somehow we never
drove your dad nuts with our staying up late and giggling. We conducted many
rituals in the field and managed to never set it on fire. Now you’re claiming your
independence as an adult by moving out of this house and into your own gorgeous
place that is all your own. And all I can say is… damn it, can I have a key?”
Everyone laughed as Avery continued her speech.
“Seriously. I’m kind of sick of rooming with Waverly. I’ve known her my entire life.
It’s time for a change.”
“Well, as much as I’d enjoy having company, I have another person in mind to give a
key to,” Fiona acknowledged. She turned to Gabe and said, “That is if you were
serious when you said your house is too big for you without the kids.”
“Remember when you told me your house is too big and it feels like an empty nest?
Well, I was thinking you could share my nest, so to speak.” It was a huge step for
Fiona and she felt her heart swell up in her chest at the thought of having this
woman live with her, of waking up next to her every day and falling asleep with her
Gabe glanced at the assembled women and then narrowed her eyes. “Can we talk
about this later, Fi?”
“Why?” Fiona approached her and laced her fingers with her girlfriend’s. “There’s no
reason for you to live so far away and my new place has plenty of room for James
and Kate during school breaks, and even in the future when they marry and have
kids, and want to visit.”
Gabe was shaking her head imperceptibly and a chill shot through Fiona. This was
not the response she’d expected.
“Fine, then. Why not?” Fiona whispered.
“I’m not just ready for that step.” The refusal was gentle but firm.
“But…” Fiona blinked rapidly to fight tears. “It’s the perfect place for a family.
Look, at first when we got together, I had commitment issues. You know that. I
didn’t want a relationship. Holy shit, I really didn’t, but now I know what I want
and I’m all in.”
The warmth of Gabe’s hands left hers as the woman backed away from her,
breaking contact. “Sorry, Fi, but I’m… I’m just not.”
“You’re not all in or you’re not ready to move in together? If it’s the first, we’ve got a
problem. If it’s the second, I can wait.” Fiona pressed her hands to her chest as she
stared at Gabe beseechingly. “I can wait,” she repeated.
“Yeah, well, don’t hold your breath.” Gabe nodded to the other women in the room.
“I’m sorry.” With that, she turned and strode out the door, leaving Fiona stunned
and her friends looking on.
Before she could even break down, they were there for her – her three best friends
with supportive arms and words of comfort.
But none of that could alleviate her confusion.
Fiona felt numb through the entire closing process. It should have been a happy day
for her, selling her father’s house and then buying her own, but she just wanted to
go back two nights and have a doover.
The new house keys were cold and heavy in
her hand. It was a special moment, one she expected to share with her girlfriend,
and she felt like Gabe had ruined it for her.
When she left the realtor’s office, she got in her car and drove down the street to her
new house. It was still gorgeous – pristine white and calling to her with its energy.
The girls were already there, along with Scrappy yowling in annoyance in his
carrier, just waiting to be let into the new place.
“You did well,” Emma told Fiona as she unlocked the front door. “This place really is
beautiful. I’m jealous.”
Fiona bit back a scoff. What good would a beautiful house do her if she had no one
to share it with? Emma must have sensed the direction of her thoughts because she
rested her hand on Fiona’s shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile.
Of course, it was Waverly who asked, “Have you tried calling her?”
“Not yet,” Fiona answered shortly. “I want to wait until I’m settled, and then I’ll
figure out things with Gabe.”
“Just how broken up are you?”
“Shut up, Wave,” Avery interjected. “They aren’t at all broken up. It’s just
something they need to talk about.” The blonde hesitated with the box she had
picked up off the porch and looked at Fiona. “I’m right, right?”
“I just don’t know right now.” Fiona stepped across the threshold and, as dejected as
she felt, couldn’t help but notice how the house lifted her spirits. The southfacing
kitchen and fourseason
room, the prospect of her new bedroom, and the coven there
to help her move into the place. It wasn’t so bad, after all. It could be better, yes, but
she knew Avery was right. She and Gabe just needed to talk. They weren’t broken
up. They were just going through a rough moment. Life, she knew, was filled with
rough moments. One bump in the road was no reason to act tragic.
So she took a deep breath, turned, and brushed past her friends. “If you girls are
willing to unload Emma’s truck, I’ll empty my car.”
All three of them murmured their assent as Fiona scurried across the front lawn to
her car. She popped the trunk and then stood in its shadow, just out of view. When
she pulled out her phone to contact Gabe, she realized there was a recent text
message from her. She opened it and smiled at the oneword
Her frustration evaporated. Fiona already knew this was partially her fault for
ambushing Gabe with a very public invitation to move in together. Smiling, she
typed back what she hoped was a playful reply. You’re a mindreader.
Public or private?
That was a good question. Fiona knew a discussion between them wouldn’t erupt
into any sort of scene or argument. But she also knew she needed to be able to
approach Gabe with the same tough love Gabe dished out as a bartender. Since she
didn’t want to have her first memory of Gabe in the new house to be a potential
disagreement, she wrote back, Public. Somewhere quiet, though.
I know just the place, Gabe responded a few seconds later.
Fiona nodded at the phone and then another notification popped up.
Meet me at the bar at seven.
That sounded reasonable, especially for the middle of the week. It wouldn’t be
crowded there and this was Gabe’s night off. Maybe being in familiar territory
would make her feel better, so Fiona texted back an acceptance of the date and
stuffed her phone back into her purse.
Today was supposed to be a happy day for her, so she took a deep breath.
Everything would be resolved tonight. It had to be. She would apologize for the
inappropriate timing of her proposal and Gabe would…
She doubted Gabe would acknowledge the need to deal with her issues, but she
decided it was better to hope for the best than to assume one way or the other.
“Hiding on us?”
Fiona jumped as she turned to see Emma walking toward her, trying to carry what
looked like a heavy box.
“Seriously, it’s your house. Don’t make us do all the work, Fi.”
“I’m sorry.” Fiona plucked her suitcase out of the trunk and followed Emma into the
“Don’t apologize. I can guess what you were doing. Girlfriends need attention, kind
of like plants.”
“Oh? Should I water her daily?” Fiona felt her spirits lift as she spoke.
“Yes, and don’t forget to add plenty of compost to keep the soil rich and mulch to
keep the plant weedfree.”
Emma chuckled at her own silliness and said, “This box
says ‘Books.’ Where does it go?”
The books. Gabe had packed those. Just like that, Fiona’s spirits plummeted again.
Was she going to be like this all day, until she finally saw Gabe again and got a
chance to talk to her? “Would you put them in the small bedroom at the end of the
hall, next to the master bedroom?” she asked. “I’m making that my office.”
“You get a writing space all your own? Nice. How many bedrooms total?” Emma
hefted the box and set her foot on the first step.
“Three bedrooms upstairs and then one in the finished basement. And the rooms in
the basement are really nice, too. Not some kind of dark, awful subterranean
dwelling, you know? The bedroom and rec room have wide windows that open out.
They let in a lot of natural light.”
“Augh, I’m jealous. Crystal and I live in one of the dark old farmhouses, like what
your dad had. I’d kind of like to move into something brighter or more modern, but
she’s not into the idea.” Emma managed to make it down the hall and set the box of
books in the room, while Fiona put her suitcase in the master bedroom.
It was a bedroom she’d hoped to share with Gabe, but as she looked around, she
wondered if Gabe would even stay the night. We’re not broken up, she reminded
herself again. We just have some things to work out with each other and we’ll do that
“Fi, are you going to be okay?” Emma stood in the doorway, her brow creased with
“I think so. It’s just the other night – that wasn’t the reaction I expected from her.”
Emma let out a little groan and stepped forward to pat her shoulder. “I know. That
was a tricky situation. I think all of us were thrown by what you asked and how it
played out. Maybe it wasn’t the right time to ask her to move in with you.”
“Wha… This is my fault?” Fiona stared at her friend, openmouthed.
Emma did a
and Fiona chuckled. “I’m kidding. After I thought about it, I realized it
was probably not the best time or place to ask her to move in with me.”
“Thank goodness.” Emma pressed her hands to her chest. “You know I’m not one to
assign blame, ever. But I definitely agree that it might have gone better if you kept
it private. That’s all. It sounds like you two have things to discuss, and none of us
should be involved in that. It’s personal, you know, and we respect your privacy and
Even though she knew Emma was being nice, the last thing Fiona wanted was
someone to play devil’s advocate and reaffirm that she had screwed up. “Look, I
already said I knew I probably messed up with the timing and everything, but if you
don’t mind I could really use a friend who’s on my side – not someone letting me
know I did something wrong.”
Emma winced, but she nodded. “You’re right. Too often, I’m the person who sees all
sides and doesn’t give as much sympathy to one or the other. You don’t need that
right now. You need someone to support you through this. It’s something I know I
have to work on. I’ll just say that I hope everything works out for you and Gabe.”
It was, but Fiona wasn’t about to harp on it. Instead, she turned into Emma’s hug
and said, “Thank you.”
Her friends made short work of the move, especially since Fiona had sold everything
in the yard sale. It was barely afternoon when they gathered in the living room of
the new house.
“Well, there’s not much furniture, but this is my home now,” Fiona declared.
“It will be even more yours once we do this.” Avery opened her messenger bag and
took out four bundles of white sage. She handed them out to everyone and then lit
each one. They started at the front door and smudged the house from top to bottom,
offering blessings for Fiona’s life there as they went.
“And love,” Waverly finished when they returned to where they had started. “May
this house be filled with it forever more.”
“Thanks, guys.” Fiona smiled and held the smoldering smudge stick between her
hands. “As long as we are friends, I know there will always be light and love and
laughter in my life.”
Waverly leaned sideways to hug her with one arm. “We’re just glad you stayed here
in Ashland. Our talents balance and complement one another’s. We’re stronger
“But learning personal strength is important too,” Fiona pointed out as she swirled
her sage around with a flourish.
“And having friends gives us the courage to find our own strength.” Emma leaned in
to join the hug. Rolling her eyes, Avery stepped forward too.
“You guys are such sappy nerds,” she said.
“Yeah, but we’re sappy nerds who have each other,” her sister answered.
Fiona bowed her head and nodded. That was what mattered. Now if only the
woman she loved would come back to her, everything would be as it should. Her
heart would be whole and nothing would be able to stop her.
“It’s not you,” Gabe told her. “It’s me and that’s the cliché truth. I know you’re
impulsive and I love that about you, but I definitely am not blaming you for any of
this. I’ll admit I hoped you would ask me and then when it happened, I panicked.”
They were finally settled together at a table in a quiet corner of the bar. There were
two bottles of beer in front of them and the low music masked their conversation.
The few people there for a midweek drink were on the other side, closer to the bar.
“Ever since I was a teenager, my family let me know I was pretty much an
abomination to them. They found things that let them know I wasn’t what they
expected – not a good Christian daughter who would marry a man and bear good
Christian babies. They threw it in my face constantly.”
It was an awful story, the kind of horrifying stereotype too many gay people
endured when it came to unsupportive families. Fiona knew how fortunate she was
that her father never judged her for being a lesbian or a witch, but she also knew
many people weren’t so lucky.
“The only concept of family I’ve been able to make peace with is the one I created for
myself with my kids. It works for me. I love them unconditionally, as I believe
parents should. I’m just not sure I want to change that by moving in with someone,
“I’m not asking to be a second mom to your kids or ruin your family dynamic,” Fiona
said, curling her fingers around the icecold
bottle of beer. Condensation was
beginning to form on the outside and her fingers slipped up and down the glass.
They lifted their bottles for simultaneous sips.
“I know you’re not,” Gabe said as she set her bottle back on the table with a clink.
“But I’m concerned about things going bad and not having a place of my own to
escape to. When I left South Dakota with a toddler and a baby, I had nothing to my
name. My only saving grace was a high school friend whose family had moved down
here and was willing to give me a place to live while I got on my feet. And even
though they were a wonderful family, I was too damn skittish to let them do much
for me. I didn’t want to feel like I owed them anything.”
Fiona nodded and leaned back in her chair. “Do you feel like you owe your parents
“I don’t think so anymore, but I think they wanted me to feel that way. I’ve been on
my own for over twenty years now, so I would like to think I’m over it. But when I
even imagine visiting them…” A delicate shudder wracked Gabe’s slender body and
she turned away to look across the bar.
It was terrible, Fiona realized, how the pain of the past could resonate so strongly in
the present. Even now at fortyyearsold,
with her own house and two intelligent,
capable adult children, Gabe lacked confidence when it came to her own parents.
“I have a feeling we never really ‘get over’ our families or our upbringing. I think all
we can do is make a decision about how we want to be as adults and when we have
kids. Is this why you don’t want to come meet my family?” Fiona asked. “Because
you had such an awful time with yours?”
It took only one nod to answer her question.
“Wow. I don’t know what to say.” Fiona rubbed at the smooth surface of the table
with the palm of her hand. “It pisses me off that the negative things from our
childhood have such a ripple effect in our lives and on the lives of others. Even when
we learn from them and say we won’t repeat our parents’ mistakes, we still can’t
bring ourselves to actually face the people who were such a part of making us who
we are. It sucks.”
“It does suck,” Gabe agreed. “I want to move forward. I want to have functional
relationships and be part of a family with you.”
Be part of a family with you.
Fiona lifted her gaze. “You do?” she asked breathlessly.
“I do because I love you.” Gabe’s hand inched across the table until it met Fiona’s.
“I’ve never said that to any other woman I’ve dated, but you’re the one, Fiona.”
“You’re my one.” Fiona’s voice caught and as dry as her throat was, she knew now
was not the time for a drink. “I love you and I will support any decisions you make.
If that means we continue to live apart for now, I understand.”
“Thank you.” Gabe rose from her chair and Fiona mirrored her, standing so they
could exchange a sweet, gentle kiss. When they sat again, they left their hands
linked, but both reached for their beers again.
It was a step in the right direction, Fiona knew. They were human, after all. Even
witches weren’t immune to the emotions of fear or rejection.
“You know, for years I’ve had this wild idea that I’d go see them, confront them and
let them know I can stand on my own two feet.”
“Hm?” Fiona blinked at Gabe. “See who?”
“My parents. I’ve thought about it. We don’t keep in touch at all. No emails, no
letters, not even birthday cards.”
“Wow, that bad?”
With a chuckle, Gabe dipped her head. “That bad. I didn’t even want them buying
birthday presents for my kids. I just didn’t want them to do anything that they
could throw back into my face as something that made me beholden to them. I know
it sounds weird.”
“Actually, I can relate in a different way.” Fiona took another sip of her beer before
continuing. “When I left for college, it only took a couple of months to realize that’s
how my dad felt – that he had given me life and a roof over my head, and I somehow
owed him something for that. In his case, it was my presence. I didn’t have to
change as a person, but I just had to always be there for him to depend on, to give
him a reason to go on existing.” Fiona shrugged and shook her head. “I couldn’t do
that. I became an adult and it was time to move on. He was the one who needed to
learn to stand on his own two feet, not the other way around, and I think he hated
“Man.” Gabe propped her chin on her palm and smiled. “Wouldn’t it be nice if just
turning eighteen solved everything? If there was some kind of magic line between
childhood and adulthood, it would be so much easier. But there isn’t.”
“No, there isn’t,” Fiona agreed. In those few moments, the fear that filled her over
the past couple of days dissipated. They were going to be just fine together. She
could tell and now all she wanted to do was curl up close to Gabe, to love her and let
her know she would always be there for her.
Gabe must have picked up on the same vibe because she hand relaxed back against
her chair and took another sip of her beer. “I’m fucked up, I know that.”
“If you’re fucked up, then I’d like to think we’re both in good company when we’re
The soft snort Gabe let out made Fiona chuckle. “That’s another thing – why can’t
turning forty mean you finally have it all figured out?”
“Oh, I think you’ve got it figured out,” Fiona told her. “In fact, I think you always
had it figured out. Dealing with other people is the hard part.”
“Yeah.” As Fiona watched, Gabe tapped on her beer bottle and whistled. After
another moment, she said, “Maybe it’s time I went up there. I’ve been stalling about
it for years now and I can’t think of a better time to face my fears.”
It sounded like a good plan to Fiona, but she had to rein in her urge to tell Gabe to
go for it. Instead, she asked, “What are your fears?”
Gabe let out an audible breath. “Well, let’s see… My parents not loving me is
number one, I guess. You would think by now I would be over that, but that kind of
disapproval leaves lasting scars. So feeling like they hate me or regret having me is
the one lingering fear.”
“You think they regret having you? That’s harsh.”
“Harsh, but I can’t discount the possibility.” The way Gabe shrugged told Fiona she
wasn’t addressing it in an emotional sense, as much as an analytical one. “Logically
speaking, it’s a possibility because anything is possible.”
“Spoken like a true air witch.” Fiona raised her bottle as if in salute to her
“Oh, and that’s another thing – the witch thing. If there’s no delesbianing
there’s certainly no dewitching
As far as Fiona was concerned, if anyone tried to do either to Gabe, she could
imagine Gabe stopping them in their tracks with a withering glare. But parents,
she knew, were a very different challenge.
“So how are you going to face your fears?” Fiona asked.
“I’ll go back to my hometown and I’m hoping you’ll come with me.” Silence
descended between them and as Fiona opened her mouth, Gabe waved both hands
in front of her face. “I don’t mean to flaunt you in front of them,” she explained. “I
mean as support – as someone who loves me and will stand by me.”
Fiona reached out and took the flailing hands between her own. “I would be honored
to do that, for you. It means you’re putting a lot of trust in me and that makes me
feel incredible, Gabe.”
The bartender’s gaze softened and her entire body relaxed. “Thank you. The fact
that you would come means a lot to me, too.”
They sat like that for a long moment, Fiona holding and stroking Gabe’s hands
while Gabe just smiled at her. Finally, Fiona said, “Hey, I got moved into my new
“Did you? I can’t wait to see it again.”
“Well, there’s not much to see. Just the hutch and a few boxes downstairs, and then
my old bedroom set, the books, and the computer upstairs.”
“A bed, eh?” Gabe lifted her eyebrows up and down several times. “Well, then, that’s
all we need.”
Fiona giggled and shoved at her girlfriend’s hands. “Shut up, you.” After a moment,
she sobered and resumed rubbing her thumb along Gabe’s palm.
“What is it?”
“Just wondering – do you think actually visiting your parents is what you need to do
or would a ritual suffice? It’s easy enough to banish things, especially with a full
circle to lend you their energy.”
“I know, but…” Gabe inhaled and compressed her lips. “Yeah, I need to do this the
human way. I either need to confirm that my parents will never be in my life or see
if there’s a chance for them to open their hearts to me.”
The thought of them driving to South Dakota, only to have Gabe’s parents reject
her, made Fiona wince. But if it’s what she felt she had to do, then Fiona would
stand by her, just as she promised. “I hate to see you get hurt, but I want you to
follow your heart.”
“Thanks. I hate to take the chance, but I know I’ve got to. Sometimes healing comes
from facing our problems. Speaking of which, how are things with your mother?”
“Surprisingly good. Really, the whole family has just been very welcoming.
Everyone wondered where I was all these years, what became of me, and are really
glad to have me in their lives.” Fiona tilted her head and halfsmiled.
“It feels right,
like I found what was missing. Part of me would like to move closer to everyone, but
I belong here.”
“Did you ever think you would find your mother?”
“Honestly? No.” Fiona thought back to all the times she had tried and failed. “She
should have been easier to find than she was, but part of me thinks she used magick
to cover her tracks, at least a little. She really wanted to avoid my father.”
Gabe looked sympathetic as she reached for her beer bottle. “I feel bad for Denny. I
mean, other than his inability to have healthy relationships, he was generally a
“He was and I hope the things I’ve said about him didn’t vilify him in any way.”
“No, all you did was reveal that he was human, like us. He had strengths and
weaknesses. The way he treated you when you left was a huge moment of
weakness. Can you forgive him for it?”
Considering the question, Fiona glanced around the bar. Her gaze lingered on the
few people in the building, then returned to Gabe. “Yeah,” she said, “I already
“Then you have just revealed one of your biggest strengths.” Gabe lifted her beer
and said, “Here’s to absent parents. They aren’t always perfect, but at least they
“Hear, hear,” Fiona agreed.
As their bottles clinked, she hoped Gabe’s parents would prove their own daughter
Even though it was only a few hours’ drive north to get to South Dakota, each mile
felt like many. Maybe it was because Gabe was the one driving and she had a thing
for obeying the speed limit. “Going five over is a stupid myth,” she told Fiona.
“Besides, we don’t need to break the law. I’m in no hurry to see those people.”
Fiona couldn’t blame her. She certainly wouldn’t be rushing to visit intolerant
bigots, just to see if maybe they had changed in twenty years. But she respected
Gabe’s decision and the strength she had to see it through.
Besides, every instinct in her was telling her this was the right thing to do. As the
fields rolled by, Fiona watched the scenery. Something about the golden fields of the
Midwest awakened her energy, drew on her magick and lent an ethereal shimmer
That or maybe it was Gabe’s presence. Fiona certainly couldn’t miss the swirl of
yellow energy that twined with her own and danced along the road as their wheels
turned. Yes, if their magick was in perfect harmony, they were doing what they
needed to do.
“Who taught you how to be a witch?” The words tumbled from her lips before she
could stop them.
“What do you mean?” Gabe asked.
Fiona turned and looked at her. She wished her profile was as perfect as Gabe’s –
strong brow, straight nose, and defined lips. Fiona wriggled her nose and fluffed her
hair. “I mean, who helped you learn how to use your powers?”
“No one. I had to figure them out for myself. What about you?”
“Same. My mother would have, I guess, but obviously she wasn’t around.” Fiona
reached up to poke at the fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror. “These are the
cheesiest things in the world.”
“And you know you love them. Stop that.” Gabe swatted at her hand, then returned
hers to the steering wheel. “Is that something all witches deal with, you think – the
absence of someone to teach them?”
In all her travels, Fiona had studied witchcraft from country to country. It was one
of the reasons she chose to see the world, so she could better understand her
powers, where they came from, and how to use them. But there was never anything
about families or lack thereof.
“I don’t think so. I mean, Avery and Waverly are sisters, but they had to figure a lot
of it out on their own. Their parents aren’t witches. I think it came from their
grandparents or someone like that. Emma was the exception. Her mom trained her.
Other than that, what we are and why we exist is a mystery. I’ve studied it for
years now, but have come up with pretty much nothing so far.”
“Well, that kind of sucks.”
That was putting it mildly. “Yeah,” Fiona agreed. “It also kind of sucks that we
never get to fully use our abilities, like heroines in some kind of cool urban fantasy.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Heroine implies you’d have to fight something
or someone, and that means danger. I don’t think I like the idea of you being in
Fiona laughed. “You like your witchcraft on the mundane side, I take it?”
Gabe shot her way only made her laugh even more. “On the gentle
side, if you please, and yes, I do. Personally, I’m glad this world isn’t full of
werewolves and vampires and… Or is it?”
Wagging her finger, Fiona said, “I can’t tell you those kinds of secrets without a
Gabe scoffed and gripped the wheel tighter. “You’re the one who’s been all over the
world. I’m sure you ran into other witches in Europe.”
“I did, actually, yeah.” It took a moment of thought, but Fiona recalled at least a
handful. “They still take on more of the village wisewoman
role there. It’s really
sweet, how their communities embrace them. We need more wisewomen
“As opposed to wise guys, like you?”
If they hadn’t been in a moving vehicle, Fiona might have chucked something soft at
her or tickled her, but she kept her hands to herself. “Something like that.”
They pulled off the highway and Fiona noticed Gabe’s knuckles whiten. The joyful
energy that had emanated from her drew in until it was no more than a faint golden
glimmer mingled with her aura. “We’re nearly there,” Gabe said.
She didn’t need to tell Fiona. It was easy enough to sense the tension dragging her
girlfriend’s mood down.
They turned onto a shoplined
main street and then made another turn into a
residential area. The houses along the road were large with even larger fencedin
yards. It wasn’t necessarily an affluentlooking
town, but it was tidy and wellmaintained.
Gabe pulled over and nodded toward a house across the street. “That’s it,” she told
Fiona. “Where I grew up and realized I needed to be anywhere but here.”
Now it was Fiona’s turn to look. Leaning forward, she looked past her girlfriend at
brick house with the white picket fence around the front yard. “Do you
think they still live there?”
“Yeah. I checked first. No surprise. They’ve lived in that house since long before I
was born. They bought it as soon as they got married and then went on to have two
and a half kids.”
“Two and a half?” Fiona lifted her eyebrows.
“I’d be the half.” After a heartbeat, Gabe clarified, “Well, the third one who turned
out to be not quite the perfect child.”
Fiona couldn’t imagine the pressure to be perfect, let alone whatever it was Gabe’s
parents wanted her to be. “You’re not a half,” she told her. “You’re a complete
human who deserves the same love, compassion, and respect as most people do.”
“I appreciate that. It would be nice if other people agreed with you.”
“Well, the upside is most people do.”
Gabe rolled her eyes. “You have more faith in humanity than I do.”
A long moment passed and they both watched the house. Nothing changed. There
wasn’t even a breeze.
“You know what,” Fiona whispered, “I do have a lot of faith in humanity. I’ve been
all over this world and for the most part, everyone wants the same things. The
problem is we all have different perceptions of the incidental shit, like gender and
sexual orientation and religion and more. It’s when we let that stuff go and just
connect as humans that we’re happiest.”
Gabe leaned across the seat and hugged her. Those arms wrapped so tightly around
Fiona, she thought Gabe would never let go. But she ultimately did and then pulled
down the visor to check herself in the mirror.
“They’re going to hate the way I look. I don’t know why I bother.” With a shrug,
Gabe flipped the visor back into place.
Fiona couldn’t imagine anyone hating the way Gabe looked, any more than she
could imagine parents hating their own child. Then again, she was biased and
happy to admit that Gabe’s fire engine red lips still gave her flutters in her belly.
With a huff of breath, Gabe pushed open the driver’s side door. Fiona emerged from
the other side and looked over the roof of the car at her. “Do you want me to come
with you or wait here?”
She watched as Gabe looked at the house, back at her, and then at the house again.
“Either way, I’m screwed. It might as well be with you. At least then I’ll have
confirmation that I’m not crazy – that they’re just as awful as I’ve remembered for
the past twenty years.”
Gabe extended her hand and Fiona walked around the car to take it. As they made
their way across the street and up the driveway, Fiona ran through a chant in her
head – a ward to protect Gabe from feeling any more hurt, pain, or negativity from
the whole experience, however it turned out.
The pristine white door stood out against the red brick and Fiona stared at the
number twelve nailed to it. Everything about the house was mundane, so neat and
normal. It was a place she could already tell was stifling for someone like Gabe.
After another heartbeat, Gabe finally pressed her finger into the doorbell, then
squeezed Fiona’s hand. When the door opened, Fiona looked up at a woman whose
eyes were very much like Gabe’s – that same slate gray, though this woman had
lost her beauty some years ago. Unlike Gabe, she didn’t have laugh or smile lines
around her eyes. Instead, her mouth was pinched, with two vertical lines on either
side of it.
The woman let out a low choking sound and asked, “Gabrielle?”
“Hello, Mom. I thought I would check and see how you and Dad are doing.”
No one made another sound after that and Fiona wondered how long Gabe’s mother
would wait to even react. Her expression had become stony, even though something
glistened in her eyes. “We haven’t heard a word from you in twenty years and you
came to see how we’re doing?” she finally asked.
“Yes.” Gabe’s answer was short and she offered no other explanation. Considering
just how much determination it took for her to get this far, Fiona figured it was a
“Well, as you can see I’m doing just fine. I’m alive, anyway. Your father is too. I will
let him know you stopped by to inquire.”
The door started to close and Gabe said, “Great. I’ll let the kids know you’re both
To Fiona’s surprise, the door swung open again and Gabe’s mother stepped back
into view, arms folded. “Well, isn’t that nice. I suppose they’re all grown up now, my
own grandkids with no knowledge of who I am.”
“That’s right.” Gabe lifted her chin slightly and Fiona silently applauded her
“Children should know their own family.”
“They do know their family. They know me.” Gabe pointed to herself and then
wrapped her arm around Fiona. “And they know love, so that’s what matters. Blood
isn’t everything, Mom, but I wanted you to know that I ended up happy, even if you
didn’t want that for me.”
Her mother’s gaze bounced back and forth between Gabe and Fiona, then settled on
Gabe. “I did want you to be happy, the right way.”
“No. You wanted me to be happy your way. There is no one right way. Look…” Gabe
reached into her pocket and pulled out a small card. “I just want you to know that if
you ever want to email me, you can, but only if it’s to have a real conversation – not
tell me I’m doing things wrong.”
“I’d rather go on as things were, if you don’t mind.” Her mother stared at the card
like it was some kind of vicious animal. “Though you really ought to put James and
Katharine into contact with me, so I can make sure they know right from wrong.”
Gabe stuffed the card back in her pocket and Fiona felt a squeeze on her hand. This
conversation was clearly over, as far as her girlfriend was concerned.
“I’ll tell them you feel that way. Goodbye, Mom. I’m sorry for disturbing you.”
“So that was a real treat, wasn’t it?” Gabe asked. “‘You really ought to put James
and Katharine into contact with me, so I can make sure they know right from
wrong.’ Have you ever heard anyone say something so obnoxious? Jeez.”
Fiona tried not to laugh as she bit into her burger. Sarcasm was the best medicine
and Gabe liked to give extra doses of it when she was feeling extra sassy. Despite
the failed reunion, everything still felt all right. Better than all right. Gabe was
chuckling and shaking her head, and they were both famished. Fiona might have
attributed their giddiness to hunger, but even after eating two appetizers, Gabe was
still on a roll.
“Do you have any idea what Kate and James would say to that? They would crucify
that woman, no pun intended. James is into science and Kate is so wellread,
would both drive her crazy if she tried to get all religious on them.”
“Are you going to tell them about the visit?” Fiona asked.
“Oh yeah.” Gabe nodded and picked up her milkshake. “I’ve never denied them the
opportunity to reach out to their grandparents. I just didn’t want their
grandparents connecting with them, if that makes sense. I want James and Kate to
live their lives on their own terms.”
Gabe put her lips around the straw and before Fiona could ask another question, a
shadow shifted over their table.
“Excuse me, ladies.”
Fiona looked up and out of the corner of her eye saw Gabe set her milkshake down
and wipe her hands on a napkin.
“I’m very sorry for interrupting your lunch,” the middleaged
man standing at their
table said, “but I heard a rumor that my daughter was in town. I was hoping to get
a hug from her before she leaves again for parts unknown.”
“Dad.” Gabe stood up from the table so quickly, it tilted and the plates clattered.
Fiona steadied it and watched as her girlfriend hugged the man. “What are you
doing here, Dad?”
“Well, I’m having something to eat, if you don’t mind me joining you.”
“Sure.” Gabe slid back into the booth and scooted toward the window to make room
for her father. “How did you find us?”
He jerked his thumb toward the window. “It was easy. I saw you through the
window. You haven’t changed much, except for getting a little older.” He looked at
Fiona across the table, his eyes kind, and Fiona realized Gabe’s mother certainly
hadn’t spoken on behalf of her father. This man looked not just affable, but
downright jovial. She couldn’t understand the difference. Gabe’s parents were like
night and day.
“Fiona, this is my dad, Mr. Marchand.”
Fiona reached across the table to shake his hand. “It’s nice to meet you,” she told
him. Internally, though, she couldn’t wait for an explanation of how this seemingly
nice man had played a role in Gabe’s difficult upbringing.
“Nice to meet you too. You look like a nice girl, the kind I always hoped my
Gabrielle would end up with. That is, are you two together?”
“Yes, Dad,” Gabe said with a grin. “We are very much together.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that.” He gestured to the waitress and ordered a slice of pie
and a coffee. “I already had my lunch,” he explained. “In fact, I was eating when you
came to the door. Of course, Muriel wouldn’t tell me who was there until after you
pulled away. You know how she is.”
His appearance at the diner seemed surreal to Fiona, but as much as she
questioned it, she knew she would have to wait for a better understanding.
Everything around her was still humming with harmony, letting her know things
were proceeding as they should. She just had to let the conversation take its course,
“So…” Gabe picked up her burger and took a bite.
“So I’ve had a lot of time to think since you left. More than twenty years, in fact.”
Mr. Marchand rubbed his hand over his closecut
dark gray hair. “That gives a
person time to really consider their past actions, you know? And the way we treated
you just wasn’t right.”
“Mom doesn’t share your sentiments,” Gabe said after swallowing her bite and
washing it down with a drink of her milkshake. “I think she still thinks I’m the
devil or going to hell or something like that.”
There was a long pause as the waitress set the pie and coffee on the table. Fiona
simply ate her meal without saying another word. This was for Gabe to work out
with her father, just as Gabe let her figure things out with her own family.
“No, she doesn’t. I’m not saying I haven’t changed my beliefs about certain things,
like my faith. But as parents, we had certain duties to you and we failed in those.
We forgot to love you the way we should and instead let our beliefs get in the way.
What I thought I gained in closeness to God meant I lost a daughter, and I realized
God wouldn’t want that. I’ve learned that love is love. I truly believe that in my
heart now, and as long as you’re happy, I’m happy for you.”
Fiona watched Gabe, who was watching her father, tears shining in her eyes. “I am
happy, Dad,” she finally said.
“Good. Then that settles that.” He raised the coffee cup to his mouth and winked at
Fiona. “And will you tell me more about this pretty lady?”
“There isn’t much to tell,” Fiona said. “I’m Gabe’s girlfriend.”
“I see you’re a witch too.”
“Uh…” Fiona glanced at Gabe, who simply shrugged and shook her head.
Mr. Marchand chuckled, a laugh surprisingly similar to Gabe’s. “Of course my wife
didn’t want to hear of it, but Gabrielle got it from my side of the family. My mother,
actually. Not much you can do about that, just like you can’t change who people fall
in love with. It’s hard to explain that to some people, though.”
“Dad, you never told me.” Gabe glared at him, her eyes narrowed. “You could have
“I wanted to, but your mother was against it. She thought it would put ideas into
your head or legitimize your – what did she call it? – unholy talents. I’m sure that’s
just one of the many reasons why your mother didn’t get along with my mother.”
Both Fiona and Gabe burst out laughing at this. Fiona had to admit it was funny to
hear their powers described that way and she laughed until tears streamed down
“Oh Dad,” Gabe said, wiping the moisture from her eyes, “if I ever start a garage
band, I’m calling us the Unholy Talents.”
Mr. Marchand’s mouth quirked into a smile and he said, “Glad you approve,” before
eating a bite of the pie. “So tell me about the kids. They’re adults now. I can’t
imagine what they look like compared to when they were babies.”
Gabe took her phone out of her purse and started scrolling through photographs for
her father, telling him about what the kids were pursuing and which colleges they
Fiona watched as they talked, pleasantly surprised at how easily Gabe interacted
with her father. As the conversation ended and Mr. Marchand got up to leave, he
took the card with Gabe’s email address and hugged her once more. Gabe promised
to ask her kids if they would be willing to reach out to him and then…
That was it. The two of them sat in silence, watching Mr. Marchand through the
window of the diner as he got into his car and drove away.
“So, what do you think?” Fiona asked.
She watched the way Gabe’s chest rose and fell, the way the color that filled her
cheeks when she had an animated conversation returned to normal. “I think he was
sincere,” she said. “I really do.”
“But couldn’t he have stood up for you when you were younger?”
“I don’t think so. He seems to have changed quite a bit. Even coming from a
background of witchcraft himself, my guess is he learned to blend in rather than
stand out. I’m sure the values he tried to teach me were an attempt to protect me,
in a way. Besides, he doesn’t have any magickal talents of his own, so he probably
found it easier to pass himself off as a normal person. I’m sure my grandmother
didn’t exactly run around telling people she was a witch back then, either. But she
died when I was very young, so I don’t know what the dynamic was like.”
“Is it fair, though?” Fiona tried to sort out her thoughts and clarified, “I mean is it
fair that he just stood back and let your mother be so harsh with you for so many
A small frown creased Gabe’s brow and then smoothed out. “I don’t think it’s fair,
no, but I also think he’s sorry for that. I’m not going to just forgive everything in one
conversation, goodness knows. But it’s a step in the right direction and I think
that’s something, at least. Don’t you?”
Fiona wanted to admit she didn’t agree, but that was the fire in her. She wanted
fairness and justice, an apology for Gabe from her parents. However, she also knew
it wasn’t her fight.
“It’s something,” she agreed. “And since it’s not my business to judge anyone, I’m
going to just keep standing by you, because that’s what I came here to do.”
“Thank you for that.” Gabe picked up her milkshake and grimaced. “It’s almost
gone. That’s so unfair. What do you think about getting seconds?”
Fiona checked her milkshake. “Seconds and possibly thirds.”
They pulled into Fiona’s driveway just after sunset. It was a long day in the car for
little payoff, but Gabe seemed happy and that was what mattered.
“Do you want to stay over tonight?” Fiona asked, reluctant to get out of the car.
Even though they’d spent the entire day together, she wasn’t ready for it to end just
yet. They needed to bring it back full circle, she knew, back to the two of them,
because that was where it all began. When one grieving daughter met one wise
bartender and fell in love.
“I’d love to.” Gabe reached out to smooth her hand over Fiona’s face and then tucked
her hair behind her ear. “I want to see you with the morning light on your face, and
I want to see that every day from here on out.”
“You do?” Breathless, all Fiona could do was sit and watch Gabe, lean her head into
the caress and silently ask for more.
The nod she received in response made her heart leap.
“Yeah, I do. I said it myself, my house is too big for me. Yours is perfect for the both
of us, and still has enough room to give James and Kate their own rooms, if they
want. Or guest rooms so they can drop in anytime. I mean, I’d like to talk it over
with the two of them. I’m not about to pull the rug out from under them, but my
answer to moving in is yes.”
“Yes, contingent upon approval from James and Kate. That’s reasonable. Their
input is important because my home would become their home, too,” Fiona agreed.
“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t ready to take that step.”
Gabe let out a low laugh. “You wouldn’t feel that way if they were still infants with
stinky diapers, spitting up all the time, or if they were sassy preteens
to you, trust me.”
“Oh, please. You have the perfect children.”
“That’s only because they’re adults living on their own now. Absence makes the
heart grow fonder.” Gabe winked at her. “Trust me, they still have their moments,
but I love them anyway.”
It was Fiona’s turn to thread her fingers through Gabe’s long, exquisite hair and tug
her close. “That’s because you’re a wonderful person,” she whispered before molding
her mouth to Gabe’s. It was a long, passionate kiss, an exchange of heat and
“None of this,” Gabe said, “would have been possible without you.”
“None of what?” Fiona clung to her, dizzy with need. The last thing she wanted to
do now was talk, especially about children or family. But that seemed to be exactly
what her girlfriend wanted to do for the moment.
“Everything. I waited so long to see my parents and I’m glad I finally did it, even if
it wasn’t what I hoped. At least my dad seems to have come around.”
Talking about parents at a time like this? Fiona was at a loss. Right now all she
wanted was to be tangled around Gabe in bed. Those cool sheets were waiting for
her in her very own bedroom, a bedroom she hoped to share with Gabe for a long
time to come.
“I’m sure…” Fiona tried, licked her lips, and then spoke again. “What needs to
happen will happen. For both of us.”
“Yes. For both of us.” Gabe continued to stroke her face, but she didn’t move in for
another kiss. Every touch was driving Fiona crazy. They were here at last, both of
them willing to make a commitment. She wanted to celebrate it, not reflect on the
road they had traveled together. There was time to do that in the future.
So she leaned in to press her lips to Gabe’s again, only to hear a low, gentle laugh.
Gabe pulled back, a sly smile on her face. “What’s this? Why are you so impatient?”
“You’re impossible,” Fiona grumbled. “I just want to go inside and snuggle with you.
We’ve been in this damn car all day.”
“I know, but I want to savor this moment. I mean, I finally did something I’ve been
putting off for nearly two decades. It’s a big deal to me.”
Fiona pulled Gabe back across the console into a tight hug. “Yes, you did it. I know
it was difficult for you, so I’m really proud of you.”
“You gave me the strength to do it, you know. We did it together.” Gabe’s voice was
muffled against her hair as they embraced and Fiona closed her eyes, losing herself
in the moment.
When had they actually stopped to celebrate everything they had done this spring?
Gabe was right. They needed to savor it. Fiona had laid her father to rest, yes. But
then she made peace with her past, bought a house, found her mother. And what
about Gabe? Facing parents who made you feel like they wish they never had you
was a horrible thought, but she had done it.
Of course Fiona wanted to celebrate those triumphs, but it seemed Gabe wanted to
dwell on them for at least a moment longer. So Fiona followed her lead because she
knew it wasn’t just her on this journey anymore. It was the both of them.
“There.” Gabe finally straightened and smiled at her. “I needed that.”
“I’m sure I could have given you a much better hug inside the house,” Fiona pointed
out. “We have car stuff in our way.”
“Yeah, well, you’re going to.” Gabe pushed the car door open. Fiona was glad to get
out and stretch her legs. She shook them a bit as she walked up the front steps and
to the door. Pulling out her keys, she glanced at Gabe and jingled them.
“Are you sure you want one of these? Once I give something like this out, I don’t
expect it back.”
That wicked grin continued to tug at Gabe’s lips. “Oh please, how many times have
you given out a key to your place?”
“Never, because I never had a place and if I did, I can’t think of one woman in my
past who would have gotten a key.” Fiona unlocked the door and opened it. The
downstairs was still fairly bare, but she knew she left it that way intentionally,
hoping Gabe would share her life with Fiona.
“And now you have both a place and a woman who deserves a key.” As soon as Gabe
closed the door behind her, they were in each other’s arms again. Only this time
there was no gear shift poking between them and Fiona’s bed was just upstairs.
This was home, Fiona knew, in more ways than one. She hadn’t just found a place
to live. She’d finally found a place to belong. Ashland was that place all along, but
something had blocked her from seeing that until now.
They stumbled up the stairs, embracing, kissing, and bumping into walls like overeager
teenagers. Fiona loved the feeling of Gabe’s hands on either side of her face,
holding her in place as those soft red lips met hers. It was the first time she had
been with a woman she wanted to spend time with, not just hump and leave.
Passionate affairs with exotic women were all well and good, but simply being near
Gabe was enough for her.
Somehow they made it into Fiona’s bedroom without hurting themselves. And then
they managed to get undressed with only a few mishaps. They even managed to
laugh about Fiona lightly stubbing her toe into the foot of the bed, but after that, it
Fiona didn’t know how many times she made Gabe orgasm in the time she spent
caressing her, thrusting her fingers into her, kissing, and licking her. They certainly
seemed like the most intense releases Gabe had in their time together – uninhibited
and full of joy.
When she rolled Fiona onto her back and slanted her mouth down over hers, Fiona
thought she would lose it then and there. There was something even fiercer in the
way Gabe made love to her tonight. It was as if something had held her back all
those others times, but now she was free to give in to it.
They continued long into the night, snuggling and snoozing only briefly before
waking up to do it again. At one point, Fiona crept downstairs to put together some
snacks for them, only to have the food somehow included in their lovemaking.
By the time the sun filtered through her window and danced across her closed
eyelids, Fiona had no strength left.
She took a moment to adjust and let her eyes flutter open in the brilliance. Gabe’s
face was only inches away, sharing the same pillow. Her eyes were closed, her
eyelashes making dark fans against her skin. Everything about her glowed in that
bedroom, with the morning sun peeking in as it made its way across
the sky. The bedroom would be hot in the summertime, just the way Fiona liked it.
But for now, she was captivated by the beauty in front of her. Gabe’s potent air
magick clung to her in brilliant motes of energy that dappled her entire form.
Fiona recalled what she’d said about the village wisewomen
and needing more of
them, then smiled. Gabe was most certainly their village wisewoman.
practiced her magick every day in a way that helped those willing to accept it. She
had certainly helped Fiona with it, even if she didn’t realize magick was at work at
Reluctant to wake her, Fiona rested her head on the pillow and snuggled a little
closer to capture Gabe’s warmth. There was so much to do now that they had made
the decision to move in together. Did this make Gabe her girlfriend or her partner
now? What about other possibilities? What would the kids say when Gabe told
Questions buzzed through her mind, but soon settled as Fiona’s eyes fluttered shut
again and her breathing evened out.
They had plenty of time to answer those questions later.
“So if your return started with a funeral, what are the odds it will end with a
wedding?” Waverly asked.
“End?” Fiona snorted and clutched her glass of champagne. “So that’s it – I have to
propose to Gabe and then die?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. Argh.” Waverly covered her face with her hands, while
everyone around her laughed.
It was Avery as usual who moved them on from her sister’s verbal slipup.
we’re just so happy for you that you two finally made the leap, marriage or not.
Another one settles down.”
“That’s right.” Fiona raised her glass with the others and glanced around the circle.
Her heart beat fast, even though she was just standing there. Holding her breath,
she looked from one familiar face to another and then to the one they had added.
This was, she knew, the person she had been waiting for. It didn’t matter that she
spent the last several years doing one thing and then just suddenly… stopped. It
was because everything was here for her, here at the home she never recognized she
“I spent years afraid to fall in love,” she said. “Too many years. And then I met you,
Gabrielle. Here we are, together at last.”
Gabe acknowledge her words with a smile. “Together at last,” she agreed.
“I hope that’s the way it will stay.” Fiona wrapped her arm around Gabe’s waist to
pull her close and sipped at her champagne. Was there a wedding in their future, as
Waverly asked? Possibly, but she wanted to give it some time. After all, they had
only just moved in together. She wanted to take it one step at a time.
They had already accomplished so much, inspired each other to face their ghosts
and either make friends with them or banish them. That was the wonderful thing
about adding her partner to a circle of such dear friends. All of them were stronger
together while learning to be powerful as individuals.
“Speaking of settling down, what about you?” Waverly turned to Emma. “Are you
ever going to pop the question to Crystal? If Fiona and Gabe aren’t getting married,
we need our circle mom to set a good example for them.”
Emma looked down at her champagne flute and ran her finger around the rim of it.
A sure sign, Fiona knew, that she was uncomfortable with the question. “Crystal
and I aren’t ready to take that step.”
“What? After almost seven years? Of course you are. You’ve been living together
Avery placed her hand on Waverly’s arm and shook her head. “She said no. Let it
“But Crystal isn’t even here to celebrate with us and she should be. What’s with
“Wave.” Fiona saw Avery’s hand tighten around her sister’s wrist. “No,” she
Waverly tossed her hair and blinked the shimmer of tears out of her eyes, but she
lifted her glass to her lips as if to disguise her annoyance.
It was a valid question, but Fiona knew Emma didn’t want to pursue it. Instead,
she asked, “Hey, what is everyone’s plans for Midsummer? It’s coming soon.”
“Oh, we kind of skipped Beltane, didn’t we?” Avery asked.
“Kind of. We’re bad witches.”
Everyone glanced toward the back of the house, the south side and the windows
that opened up to the large backyard, with the woods beyond. “I think we know
where we’re going to be,” Avery said. “After all, you bought the perfect property. We
don’t need to go to that field anymore. You’ve got a big, private yard. We could have
rituals right here if you’re okay with that.”
“More than okay with that.” Fiona looked up at Gabe and rubbed her back. “Honey,
what do you think about hosting rituals here?”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea.” The gentle nudge of Gabe’s hip emphasized her
declaration. “Meanwhile, can all of you work some magick to speed up the sale of
my house in Gretna? It would be nice to get it off my hands.”
Everyone laughed and they sauntered toward the back door, chattering along the
way. Fiona was the last one out. She stood for a moment in the doorway, savoring
the sight before her. Five witches, four best friends, one partner in life, love, and
She couldn’t ask for more than that.
Something About You
Must Love Chickens
Meant to Be
Game of Hearts
All For Love
A Vote for Love
A Brief History of Longing
Lady in Waiting
Fire on Ice
League of Lesbians: Origins – with Em Stevens
League of Lesbians: Frankie – with Em Stevens
League of Lesbians: Lil – with Em Stevens
A Charmed Life: The Ashland Witches, Book 1
A Garden Dream: The Ashland Witches, Book 2
A Magick Dance: The Ashland Witches, Book 3
A Prairie Love: The Ashland Witches, Book 4 (coming spring 2018)