Authors: Jen McConnel
Tags: #teen, #young adult, #magic, #curses, #paranormal, #fantasy, #witch, #witches, #spells, #science fiction
As she went into the house, I looked at my dad. “What ceremony?” They couldn’t possibly know the details of last night, could they?
He looked up, surprised. “I think you do need to lie down! It’s all you’ve talked about for a month. You declared to the Green path last month, on the night before your birthday. I don’t think I want to know what you girls were doing last night if you can’t remember something as important as that!”
Shaking, I raced up the stairs to my room. I shut the door and looked around. The athame and the mirror sat side by side, right where I had left them. I dug through my backpack, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found the three pomegranate seeds in the bottom. Clearly, I wasn’t the one who was going crazy. With that thought, my relief left me. What in the world had happened? My parents were acting as if the last month had never happened, and what was worse, they seemed to have a whole different set of memories than I had. It was like I had stumbled into some kind of alternate universe.
I grabbed my phone and texted Justin a quick question. “What path do I follow?”
My phone buzzed almost immediately.
“Justin,” I answered quickly, “tell me.”
“Calm down, Darlena. What’s wrong?”
“Just tell me what kind of magic I practice.”
Justin paused. “I don’t know if that’s something I should say over the phone. What if she’s listening?”
“Can I come over?”
“Give me ten minutes, Darlena.”
“I’ll give you five.”
I hung up. I paused for a second, remembering that I still hadn’t showered. I didn’t want Justin seeing me after the mess in Atlanta. I shuddered when I thought of the truck driver and what had almost happened. Deciding that a few minutes wouldn’t make a difference, I sent a quick text and headed for the bathroom.
I turned the water up as hot as I could, letting it scald my skin as I tried to forget everything that had happened last night. Why in the world did my parents think I had declared to their path? It didn’t make any sense. Unless, I thought, not noticing the shampoo running into my eyes, someone had made them forget. But who would do that? And, a bigger question: why bother screwing with my parents’ memories but leaving mine intact?
Dad winked at me when I told him I was going to see Justin, and I tried to smile, but my stomach felt hollow. My mind was racing, but the streets were quiet. I realized that it was Sunday afternoon. Sundays in the South are like a whole summer vacation packed into one day, and I felt my steps slowing despite the frantic pounding of my heart. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the chill in the air that reminded me that fall should have already begun.
By the time I got to Justin’s house, I was feeling a lot less frantic. I hesitated for a minute, considering jumping the fence again, but I decided it was best if I acted like a normal person. I fought back a laugh at the thought; was anything normal anymore? I walked up the front steps, but Justin answered the door before I even touched the doorbell.
“What’s going on?” Worry filled his face as he pulled me inside. I shook my head, aware that we were in the open foyer and could be overheard. Once we were safely inside Justin’s room with the door sealed and warded, tears spilled out of my eyes.
“Darlena!” Justin’s shock was obvious; in all the time we’d know each other, he had never seen me cry. I sobbed harder, feeling the pent-up energy and fear of the past few weeks bubble to the surface without stopping. “Tell me what’s going on. What happened after I left last night? You never texted, and I was so worried that Hecate—” Justin broke off and pushed me into the chair at his desk. He knelt on the floor beside me, keeping hold of my hands.
“First,” I managed to say, “I need you to answer my question. What kind of magic do I practice?”
Justin’s eyebrows knit together. “Did something happen with Hecate? Is that what this is about?”
Hope rose in my throat, but I shook my head, refusing to speak until he confirmed what I thought I knew.
“You’re a Red Witch, Darlena. How could you forget that?”
The relief I felt at those words turned quickly to fear, and I began to cry harder. “My parents don’t know.”
Justin looked confused. “I thought they found out when you got kicked out of school. How have you managed to keep something like this a secret?”
I shook my head, frustrated. “I didn’t. They knew, they’ve known since the beginning. But this morning, it was like none of this had happened. They acted like I hadn’t run away.”
“What?” Justin exploded and stood up beside me. “You ran away? When did that happen?”
I waved my hand. “That doesn’t matter. My parents are acting like nothing has changed.”
Justin sat back down, frowning in thought. “Tell me exactly what happened after I walked you home last night.”
Taking a deep breath, I told him everything. He almost broke my hand when I talked about the trucker, and his mouth gaped open when I told him about my vow to Aphrodite, but he didn’t interrupt me. I didn’t tell him about finding Rochelle in the kitchen when I got home, or about the glamour and the mirror. My first lesson with Aphrodite came a little too close to the night we broke up, and I didn’t want to remind him of that. When I was done, I felt like I had run a marathon, and I collapsed against the back of the chair, totally drained.
For a long time, Justin didn’t say anything. He sat on the floor, holding my hand tightly and staring into space. I closed my eyes and let him think, relieved that I had told him. At least Justin knew I was a Red Witch; maybe I wasn’t going crazy. My brain felt empty, and I sat in silence, just happy to listen to Justin’s breathing beside me. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Justin shook himself like a dog after a swim and looked up at me. I opened my eyes and stared back.
“Darlena, the only thing I can think of is that someone altered reality for your parents.”
“But you know I’m still a Red, right?”
“I do.” He squeezed my hand and I felt a little better.
“So why would anyone wipe Mom and Dad’s memories, but leave yours?”
He paused, considering his words carefully. “Maybe they don’t want you to have any help.”
“But you’re helping me!” My voice shook, and I braced myself for his declaration that he didn’t want to have anything to do with my problems anymore.
He squeezed my hand again. “And I will keep helping you. But your Mom had offered even more help than me, and both your parents are sheltering you with the safety of your home. Maybe compared to that, my help didn’t seem like that much of a concern.”
“But who would be concerned that I was getting help?” It didn’t make any sense.
Justin looked at me intently. “Who would want you to feel isolated and out of control?”
And suddenly, I knew. I opened my mouth only to find Justin’s lips against mine. In my confusion, I kissed him back. He still tasted like vanilla and mint, and I closed my eyes, savoring the feel of his lips. Energy coursed through my veins, and I pulled him close, pressing my body against his solid warmth. I felt sparks dancing on my skin, and I knew that if I opened my eyes, I would be glowing like a coal.
I was starting to really get into the kiss when Justin broke away from me. I blushed, confused.
“Don’t say her name. You don’t want to attract any more attention from her.”
He’d only been kissing me to shut me up? I tried to get my emotions under control, and finally I nodded, not meeting his eyes. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have feelings for me. I was the one who was still hung up on him. He wasn’t trying to screw with me; he was just trying to keep me safe. I sighed. “So what do I do now?”
Justin sat back and a shadow crossed his face. “The question is, what don’t you do?” I must have looked confused, because he continued. “You don’t talk about Red magic anymore with anyone except me. You don’t draw attention to yourself. You don’t argue with your parents; let them think you’re a Green, let them believe you’re harmless, and hopefully they’ll stay safe.”
“That’ll be hard. I had really begun to depend on my mom for her support.”
Justin nodded. “I think that’s what she had in mind when she fixed your parents’ memories. She wants you to feel helpless so that you stop trying to control chaos. If you just sit back and let things happen, she’ll be happy.”
I clenched my fists. “But I won’t just sit back and let it happen. I don’t want to be the cause of any more tragedy!” The images of the flipped car shot through my mind, and I remembered Pele’s fiery eyes. “I don’t want to humor any crazy, bloodthirsty gods.”
“I know. But maybe you should take a break for the time being.”
I stared at him, surprised. “What are you saying?”
He looked at me earnestly. “Learn. You have a patron now. Let her teach you everything she can, and let anyone watching think that you have accepted your fate.”
I saw the value in his plan, even if it made my stomach churn. “But if I am in a position to avert disaster again—”
“I know you’ll have to act. But until then, don’t go looking for disaster. Let the gods think you are compliant; they’ll spend less time thinking about you if you don’t seem like a threat.”
“But even if I learn fast, how can I do this without help?” Tears welled up in my eyes again, and I blinked frantically.
There was a pause, and I felt the electric crackle of magic in the air. He leaned forward and kissed me again, gently. This time, I kept my eyes open, trying to watch him. His face was sweet and intense, and it looked like he was enjoying himself, too. All I knew for sure was he didn’t kiss me that time just to shut me up, and the thought made my heart leap.
When he pulled back, he traced my lips with his finger. “No matter what, Lena, I’ll always help you.”
I walked home in a daze, struggling to think coherently while still feeling the pressure of Justin’s lips on mine. I shivered in the twilight, giddy with adrenaline.
By the time I turned the corner onto my street, I had nearly convinced myself that my parents’ mind wipe was actually a good thing. Maybe this new development would be a blessing in disguise; if no one in my house knew what I really was, there wouldn’t be as much tension and fear as there had been.
“I’m home!” I yelled, happy to be able to walk in the front door without worrying what new issue I would find waiting for me.
“How’s Justin?” Mom looked up from her book with a smile. I smiled back, feeling really happy for the first time in weeks.
“He’s good. We didn’t do much, just hung out.”
“I know better than that!” My dad’s voice drifted around the corner from the kitchen, and Mom laughed.
“Stop teasing her, Richard. Darlena’s allowed to have some fun.” She looked at me and her expression darkened slightly. “Just not too much fun, right, sweetie?”
I nodded, embarrassed. It was a good thing she didn’t know that Justin wasn’t the one who wanted more in our relationship; she might have locked me in my room and thrown away the key if she’d had any inkling that I wasn’t the good little girl she thought I was. I kept my face blank, glad that Mom couldn’t read my mind the way Aphrodite seemed to.
Dad came into the living room with a glass in one hand and a dish towel in the other. “I’m glad you got home when you did. I wouldn’t want you to miss curfew on a school night.”
“A school night?” Confused, I looked at my parents. They smiled at me, and I felt a shiver run across my neck.
“It’s Sunday night, Lena. You can’t be so infatuated with Justin that you forgot what day it is, right?” Mom’s voice was light and teasing, but her eyes were fixed firmly on mine. I drew a deep breath.
“Right. School. I didn’t forget. I just … wish I didn’t have to go back tomorrow.”
“Now, sweetie, that’s no way to talk. I know it’s hard now that you’ve found your path”—Dad patted my shoulder consolingly with the dish towel—“but you still have to get your diploma. You never know when you’ll need it; magic isn’t enough to make a living!” He chuckled, and Mom smiled up at him.
“Lena’s a good student. I know she takes her studies very seriously.”