Always a Witch - Chapter 2
“Does that look like the dress I put on hold?” Rowena asks the room out loud as I step across the threshold, holding the rose colored dress that Agatha had pronounced so perfect for Rowena’s wedding. “When I asked you to show me the dress that you’re wearing tomorrow for my wedding, I meant the dress that I picked out, the one on hold for you at Eidon. The one I instructed you to get. This one is rose colored. Rose. The one I picked out was silver.”
“Grey,” I mutter.
Rowena’s eyes narrow and she steps off the pedestal that she’s been standing on. Kicking her voluminous skirts aside, she marches toward me, “What?”
I squirm a little and flap one sleeve through the air. “Can’t I just wear this one? I mean no one is going to be looking at me anyway,” I say, striving to appeal to her vanity.
“No, you cannot just wear this one,” she says, her lip curling up as she glances at the wilted dress in my arms. “Where did you even get that thing?”
I probably shouldn’t mention that I got it at a thrift store. Rowena loathes thrift stores and she’s already regarding the dress as if it’s infested with fleas. “And what happened to the dress I sent you to get?”
“I didn’t buy it,” I say in a small voice even though that should have been completely obvious to her by now.
“What do you mean you didn’t buy it?” Rowena asks, holding her arms out. Aunt Lynnie makes a clucking noise, maybe because of all the pins she has clamped between her lips and exchanges a look with my white-faced mother who hovers in the background.
I shift from one foot to the other. “Um . . .”
“I asked you to do one simple thing for me, Tamsin. One simple thing and you couldn’t do it, could you?” My sister’s voice is rising. “This is my wedding. My wedding. My special day. And you had to mess it up for me. Because you’re Tamsin Greene and you think you’re above all the rules now.”
“That’s not what I think,” I say, stung.
“Rowena,” my mother protests. The veil in her hands twitches sharply. “That’s—”
“Don’t you defend her, Mother. Not this time.”
I blink. When has our mother ever defended me to Rowena? “I . . . it looked really awful on me,” I finish lamely, and then try to backtrack because one look at my sister’s reddening face tells me this wasn’t the best defense. “And it wasn’t my size—”
“So what?” she hisses. “We could have fixed it. Aunt Lynnie could have fixed it. I am the bride. I am the bride here.”
“No kidding,” I say, which only seems to inflame her more.
“Well, you’re going back to the city to get it—”
“Rowena, the wedding is tomorrow.”
“So what”’ Rowena snaps again. “Gabriel can drive her and—”
“Fine by me,” I say just as our mother says, “No.”
The word falls like an axe through the rest of Rowena’s sentence. The silence is broken only by Aunt Lynnie’s humming as she adjusts the last pin in the waistline of the dress.
“Your grandmother said that no one is to leave the property again.”
“What?” Rowena and I both say at once.
My mother shrugs. “She doesn’t want anyone leaving for the next few days.”
“Why?” I ask.
My mother massages her right temple as if trying to drive away a sudden pain. The lines between her eyebrows deepen into what seems lately like their permanent dent. “She wouldn’t say. Something she saw.”
Errant sparks fly from Aunt Lynnie’s hands and she exclaims softly, stepping back.
“Oh, for the elements’ sake,” Rowena says, swishing her skirts out of the way and examining them thoroughly. Aunt Lynnie wrings her offending hands in distress, but the ivory expanse of silk seems undamaged. My sister glares at me, then tromps to the door of her room and bellows down the hallway, “Silda. Silda, come here.” Whirling back, she hisses, “You will match with the other bridesmaids. You will if it’s the last thing I do!”
My mother and I exchange glances. “Ah, Ro,” I say doubtfully, “I think you’re taking this a little—”
“What is it?” Silda, our cousin, asks a little breathlessly as she enters the room. Tucking her wispy pale hair behind her ears, she glances first at me, then my mother, and last at Aunt Lynnie who is still shooting errant sparks from her hands. “What’s the problem?” She asks again, now in the tone that everyone seems to be adopting with Rowena lately. The “I’m not going to make any sudden moves and no eye contact” tone.
I’m suddenly thankful for the three final exams that kept me at boarding school until today.
“That,” Rowena says, pointing at me and my offensive rose dress. “That is what Tamsin thinks she is wearing in three days. To my wedding,” she emphasizes in case we’re not sure of the occasion that she’s referring to. “Even though everyone else’s dress is silver—”
“Concrete grey,” I mutter and as Rowena turns to glare at me, a smile slides across Silda’s face so fast that I’m not sure it was ever there to begin with.
“Since Tamsin is being so stubborn and since Mother wouldn’t dare send her back to the city to get the dress—”
“I need a favor from you,” Rowena continues, disregarding our mother’s protests. “I need you to change the dress to silver. Change it to match the others.”
A prickly silence fills the room. Silda can change the surface appearance of an object. Shoes into stones, pebbles into diamonds. I don’t know if she can manage a whole dress, but I sigh. If she can, then maybe we can avert this whole disaster that was admittedly of my own making.
Shrugging, I step forward and spread the skirts of my dress.
It stays the exact same shade of rose.
“Tamsin,” Rowena shrieks and I jump. “Stop it. I know what you’re doing and you’re to stop it right now.”
“What? What am I doing? I’m not doing anything,” I say. “Sorry, Silda, is it too much? Can you—”
“Just let her change the dress,” Rowena snaps, bustling forward, her cheeks turning the color of a brick. I stare at her for a second before realizing what she’s saying.
“She’s not stopping me,” Silda says softly and I turn to look at my cousin. If anything, her face is even more flushed than Rowena’s, but she meets my eyes steadily. “I haven’t tried to change the dress, because I don’t want her to try and stop me.”
We all stare at Silda for a second until I am the first to recover. “Of course,” I say bitterly. “You think I’m going to try and take your Talent.” It’s true that if someone tries to use his or her Talent against me three times, then I absorb it, but still, I would never do that to my own family member. Then I swallow sharply. I did do that to two of my own family members. One was Aunt Beatrice in 1939 and the second was an ancestor of mine who could throw fire in 1899. Still, it’s not like I took their Talents away from them in the process.
And now Silda drops her gaze to the floor, but her voice is fierce as she says, “It’s not right, Tamsin. It’s not right that you can do that.”
“I won’t,” I say. “I don’t want your stupid Talent,” I add coldly. “What good would it do me anyway?”
“Tamsin Greene,” my mother says reprovingly as Silda lifts her head to stare at me. I match her glare for glare. My cousin and I used to be friends or at least, friendly.
“That’s uncalled for,” Silda says, frost coating her voice.
“Funny. I could say the same thing to you,” I snap. “Sorry, Ro,” I say, still staring at Silda. “Looks like I’m wearing pink after all.”
“What? This is my wedding,” Rowena shrieks and we both jump. Then she takes a deep slow breath and says to Silda in a voice that is soaked in honey syrup “You will change her dress right now. You will change it to match the others and you will be delighted to do it.”
Silda blinks slowly and turns to me, her hand outstretched.
“Rowena,” my mother gasps.
“That’s right,” Rowena says to Silda, ignoring our mother. “You want to—”
“Oh, stop it,” I say irritably, and reaching out with my mind I pull hard in the way that I’ve learned. Suddenly the air in the room feels like winter as Silda blinks again and then steps back, her face pale. Her eyes dart to Rowena.
“You tried to compel me,” she accuses my sister. Turning to me, she whispers, “And you stopped her.”
“Don’t bother thanking me,” I mutter as I brush past her and out the door.
Darkness pours through the hallway of Grand Central Station, a darkness alleviated only by the occasional flash of lightning and by the four-faced clock, that is glowing with a cold white fire. Before my eyes, the clock begins to ripple and swell to five times its normal size.
Stop! I try to wake myself, shake myself out of this moment, but I can’t. I have to watch it play out.
One of the clock faces has now become a door that’s swinging open. And all the while the hands are still spinning, spinning backward, unraveling the moments and years.
Ten feet from the door, three figures seem locked in a strange kind of dance, arms and legs distorted by the clock’s bright glare. Alistair is pulling my sister toward the door and the complete blackness that waits beyond it, while Gabriel has latched onto her other arm. Rowena twists between them like a rag doll.
“Rowena!” I scream. Alistair’s eyes meet mine, chips of ice. “She’ll never be free. None of you will ever be free,” he hisses, his words carrying over the wind and the rain.
I jerk awake, my hands flailing outward as Rowena’s twisted face shimmers and then fades into the pre-dawn shadows of my bedroom. Only then do I let myself blink and fall back against my pillows. I stare up at my ceiling for a while before turning my head to look out the window. The fields and forest beyond are hushed with the last breath of night, that perfect stillness just before daybreak.
She’ll never be free. None of you will ever be free.
That last part’s new, I conclude after a second. Usually, the dream stops with Rowena stepping through the doorway. But this time Alistair’s words have taken on a deeper twist. None of you will ever be free.
I grind my knuckles into my eyes trying to rub away the last image of Rowena burning into a skeleton. This makes the third dream in a month. If this keeps up I’m considering asking my mother for one those sleeping potions that she regularly doles to Hedgerow’s needy residents.
I pull the sheet up to my chin and flip my pillow. If I had these dreams only at home, I could use it as the perfect excuse to not come home, but the last one before tonight happened at school. One minute, Alistair was wrenching my sister’s arm backward as he pulled her through the open clock, and she was withering away into smoke. Then in the next minute, Agatha, with a head full of curlers, was standing over me, swinging the mop (that we never use otherwise) through the air over our heads. Later, after we had stopped giggling, she told me that she had woken up to me screaming and thought that someone had broken into our dorm room. I don’t know if she was planning on scrubbing them to death or what. Poor Agatha. I can’t be the easiest roommate in the world.
I sigh and look through the window again. Frost glitters across the fields. Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice. Tomorrow Rowena marries James.
She’ll never be free. None of you will ever be free.
“Mrrr,” comes a small complaint from the corner of the room.
I flail upright again and then Hector, my grandmother’s cat leaps onto the bed. “Stupid cat,” I mutter. My heart is beating as fast as it did when I first woke up.
“It’s just a dream,” I say out loud to myself, petting Hector’s head a little too vigorously until he slaps at my hand with one paw. Luckily, he leaves his claws sheathed. “Just a dream,” I say again.
Hector yawns once, then regards me through half-closed yellow eyes.
“Yeah, I know. I’m not buying it either.” With my two index fingers, I rub small circles in my forehead, before standing up. “Milk,” I announce. “Hot milk will make me fall asleep. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.” And maybe Gabriel’s still awake and I can convince him to sit up with me.
At that thought, I smile and search out my pair of fuzzy bunny slippers that Agatha gave me as an early Christmas present. With their bulbous pink noses and goggly eyes, they’re ridiculous, but I need some kind of ridiculous right now.
I crack open my door and stick my head out. The whole house seems to be silent and still and—
I jump again. Apparently, Hector understands the word milk because he’s crept off the bed and is now winding around my ankles until I almost trip. “Alright, alright, I’ll feed you, even though it’s the middle of the freaking night,” I whisper, all too aware that I’m talking to a cat.
The stairs creak in their usual spots as I head down them. After one backward glance, Hector dashes ahead of me into the kitchen. I’m about to follow him when I stop, my head turned. A light is on in the small side parlor and a murmur of voices, too low for me to distinguish, tugs at my ear. The last I saw of Gabriel he was locked in what looked like an all-night poker game with a red eyed, grim faced Jerom who was insisting that he be allowed to wager his cuff links. Uncle Morris had apparently gambled away everything he had and then had conveniently fallen asleep over his cards. Why anyone continued to play cards with Gabriel was beyond me. I wouldn’t even play with him even thought I had the Talent to stop him from “finding” all the aces every single time.
But now I inch closer. It doesn’t sound like Gabriel or Jerom.
“No, I don’t remember that,” a voice says querulously and I recognize it as Aunt Beatrice’s. “Are you sure that happened, Morris? When did we say that? Now back in 1939 I remember seeing a girl who looked a lot like her, but I think she was—”
“Are you sure it was 1939?” Uncle Morris’s voice breaks in.
“Of course, I am,” Aunt Beatrice’s voice answers immediately. “I never forget a date!” Which is so patently untrue that I wait for Uncle Morris to laugh.
But he doesn’t.
Instead he says, “Of course you don’t. Here, have some more sherry, dear, and tell me—”
I tiptoe closer and peer through the half-open door to take in the scene before me. The parlor is lit by one slender red-fringed lamp and a dying fire in the hearth. The sliding doors that lead into the side garden are standing open and cold air swirls into the room, raising goose bumps on my skin.
Uncle Morris, wearing his usual rumpled suit, is sitting very close to Aunt Beatrice on the love seat. As I watch, he rolls to his feet and deftly hooks two fingers around the neck of an opened bottle of sherry. He refills Aunt Beatrice’s glass, but before handing it back to her he turns away and pulls something from his suit pocket. A tiny bottle that he swiftly unstoppers and tips backward into his own mouth. Aunt Beatrice huffs with impatience.
Frowning, I focus in on my uncle’s face. The way he moves, almost with a lazy catlike grace, is so unlike his usual puttering movements that I can only wonder if the change is something to do with whatever it was that he just drank. As I stare at the scene before me, all at once Alistair’s voice comes hissing back into my head.
None of you will ever be free.
“Here you are, love,” Uncle Morris purrs, leaning over my aunt.
Flinging the door open all the way, I scream, “Aunt Beatrice, stop. Don’t drink it!”
Both Uncle Morris and Aunt Beatrice jerk their heads up. The glass slips between their open fingers and falls to the floor, the liquid spraying out in a shining arc.
“Tamsin,” Aunt Beatrice snaps, her mouth working as if she’s not sure what to yell at me first for. But I can only stare at Uncle Morris as he leaps to his feet and grins at me, a wide un-Uncle Morris-like grin.
“Tamsin,” he echoes, drawing out my name. “The name suits you so much better than—”
Reaching out with my mind, I slam up against the force that is not Uncle Morris and yank hard. All at once, a shimmering twisting light pours from Uncle Morris’s chest and reforms itself into a tall man with a mass of lion-colored hair. He is wearing dark formal clothes from another time and as I stare at him, my mouth slightly open, he takes off his hat and tips it to me. “A pleasure to see you again,” he murmurs. “But I do wish you had waited for the proper time. Your charming aunt was just telling me so many fascinating things about you all.”
“Oh,” Aunt Beatrice murmurs, crumpling off the couch to land on the floor. She clutches the collar of her green silk robe to her throat with knotted fingers.
“Stay back, Aunt Beatrice,” I warn her and then stare at poor Uncle Morris’ body. “What have you done to him?” I hiss.
The man glances down at my uncle, smiles again. “Him? He’ll live. He might have even enjoyed the experience.” And with that he nudges my uncle’s body with one foot. Uncle Morris coughs faintly, but his eyes remain closed.
“Well, you won’t enjoy this,” I snap. Holding up one palm, I shoot a gust of fire directly at him.
At least I try to. Nothing happens. Not even a spark flutters out from under my skin.
The man lifts one eyebrow at me. “Impressive,” he murmurs. “Truly. And now, having confirmed what I needed to, I’ll be on my way.”
Stunned, I hold up my other hand and try again. I imagine a pure jet of flame knocking squarely into the man’s chest. But nothing happens.
“Aunt Beatrice,” I scream. “Freeze him.” I bolt forward as my aunt, who is now kneeling beside Uncle Morris, raises her head, gives me a doubtful glance and then tries to stand. But her feet are tangled up in her bathrobe sash and she tips sideways, giving a little whimper as she goes down.
The man clicks his tongue against his cheek and shakes his head in a mock sorrowful fashion. “And this is the legendary Greene family? How in the world did you people ever triumph over us?” he asks, spreading his hands to the ceiling as if seeking the answer there.
Not wasting any time with words, I shove my hand toward his forehead, intending to freeze him. But he sidesteps me easily, knocks my hand aside, and then captures both of them between his own. He pulls me up against him and we stare at each other, our faces inches apart. And even at this very inopportune moment, I notice that he has the most unusual eyes I have ever seen, pale grey with definite streaks of silver that wheel outward from his pupils.
Stop staring into his eyes, you idiot!
But still, I can’t look away and he seems to understand that judging by the way his full lips curve into a delighted smile. “It was such a pleasure,” he murmurs as if we’re alone in the room. “I do wish we could have gotten to know each other better.” Then he pauses, seems to consider. “Well, perhaps I do have a moment. And who could resist you?” And before I can even react, he leans down and kisses me fully on the mouth.
I struggle, but then suddenly the whole world narrows down to the feel of his mouth on mine. The hazy thought that I’ve never kissed someone with a moustache before enters my head, before a wave of cold clarity breaks over my skin. The usual reaction when someone is trying to use a Talent on me.
The next second he’s released me and I stumble backward. He smoothes the corners of his moustache, then says lightly, “Another time?” as if asking for a rain check.
“Oh, and please, don’t be angry with your young man. He did put up a very good fight after all. I’d hate to be the cause of a lover’s quarrel.”
I stare at him blankly for one second. Gabriel? What happened to him? Furious, I swing my hand at him again, but he steps sideways.
And vanishes in mid air.
The wind whips through the still open French doors, swirling through my hair.
“Oh, dear,” Aunt Beatrice whimpers. “I don’t think he was who I thought he was.”
I sink to the floor, next to Uncle Morris’s body. “No kidding,” I mutter, dragging the back of my hand against my lips.
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