Authors: Curtis Hox
Roxy left a message that she needs to speak with Josie.
Roxy didn’t say anything else.
Inside, Geri and Shawn are enjoying glasses of wine after dinner. Josie leaves them alone to enjoy each other. Their new-found harmony is a site to behold: something about their recovery makes her feel confident Husband Rehab will be a success. The shared smiles, sure, but also the genuine sense they are working well together.
The fancy Mercedes slows as it nears, a status symbol if there ever was one. She doesn’t know the model, but she recognizes enough details (like the fancy trim along the bottom) to know the car is expensive in a way Josie has never been able to afford. None of that matters to her, not one bit. What does matter is Roxy’s sudden desire to see her.
Josie stands as Roxy exits the vehicle. The stare coming from Roxy means trouble. With a few bangs flopping the wrong way, and one side of her collar askew, she looks as disheveled as she ever gets. However, in the gold sheen of the street lights, she still appears as if she’s ready for a night out in Atlanta. There’s nowhere to go around here, though.
“Josie Bran,” Roxy says as she enters the porch. She leans in for a fashionable kiss, as if all her friends do this, “We have something to discuss.”
“My husband …”
Roxy’s steely facade melts from her face. Josie doesn’t know the woman well. She’s one of the more visible witches, who’s always showing her skills. But she does know that Roxy Rhodes thinks of herself as a formidable woman, the kind of woman who would never let a man strike her, never let a man speak a mean word without a proper response. She’s the kind of woman who can bring home the bacon and make her man fry it up in a pan. Something in Roxy, though, appears to be eating at her.
“Husband Rehab on your mind?” Josie asks.
Roxy edges Josie over to the far end of the porch in front of a darkened window. They are hedged in by hip-high azaleas, trimmed off into a plane, a perfect place for hushed voices and dangerous words.
“My husband …” Roxy says. “He’s … never been in love
“With you?” Josie bites her bottom lip because that came out way too direct.
Everyone knows that Roxy’s husband is spellbound. She parades him around, almost as if he’s on a leash. He walks behind her, usually with his head down, sometimes his chin on his chest. Josie saw him a few weeks ago. She was in the grocery store. There Roxy was, walking up the aisle, her husband in tow. Mr. Rhodes, though, was pushing two grocery carts, carrying her purse, and even had a dozen or so helium balloons tied to his other arm. He appeared to be a human mule. The blank look, though, told the story. He has no agency, as her grandmother would have said. Everyone knows that Roxy plays loose with the rules of the coven.
“I mean,” Roxy says. “He does what I say.”
Roxy allows a wry smile to form, as if she might pursue Josie’s brazen statement, but thinks better of it, maybe to return to it later. “He’s a good husband in that sense. But, I need more.”
I bet you do. A slave is no fun when you want some sincerity, or something to truly love you.
“And you’re here because …?”
“I want a little help.”
“When Husband Rehab starts, send him along. I just need to prove it’ll work first.”
“Oh, I know it’ll work. Your little spells and potions will do the trick for most women.” Josie can’t miss the blatant condescension. Roxy doesn’t appear aware at how offensive she can be. It’s as if Josie should admit the truth and be happy about it. “I need something … subtler. My husband and I have a unique relationship. Think of him as dutiful.” Josie tries not to stare, but the lambent glow of the street lamp makes Roxy’s eyes glimmer with a seductive luminescence. “In fact, you can think of him as the kind of husband most women can only dream of. He does what I say, when I say, and how I say it.”
“And the problem?” Josie asks sarcastically.
“The problem, Miss Bran, is that … I’d like him—”
“—to love you?”
Roxy whimpers, for just a second. “Yes, that’s it.”
“Sorry, I don’t do that.”
Roxy shuffles in close, almost nose-to-nose. “Yes you do. I know your grandmother, the Lady Treadwell herself, brewed a love potion. It was very powerful.”
Josie steps back, her butt now up against the bushes. Any closer and she’ll get pricked. “I don’t turn men into slaves.”
Roxy grimaces, maybe thinking she might like to hit Josie, maybe thinking Josie’s sarcasm and intransigence needs to be adjusted. “Ah, is that it? The moral high ground for you, just like your grandmother.”
“That’s about it. Did you have another impossible request? Maybe you want me to make you a broom you can fly on?”
Roxy recovers with a dramatic swing of her long hair. “I had to ask. I’d think about it, if I were you.”
“I need to get inside. They’re going to be locking up soon …” Josie moves past her.
Roxy grabs her arm. “That potion … do you have one brewed?”
Josie yanks her arm away and walks away, swallowing the urge to tell Roxy off. She ignores Geri and Shawn watching
The Daily Show
in the living room. She heads to the back of the house, to the guest bedroom, a running conversation between her and Roxy playing out in her mind. Most of it consists of Josie declaiming she will never make a love potion for Roxy, even though she has one brewed, has had one since she was a little girl.
It’s in a hollowed out crystal shard her grandmother gave her. Said, anything she put inside would last forever ... better than gold, better than diamond, better than magic. Her grandmother showed her how to make the potion just before she died, as if her greatest gift needed to be passed down. Josie keeps the precious cobalt liquid refrigerated in her old room in the Birchall Mansion. It’s been there for years. No one knows but her.
Roxy will never get it. Never.
* * *
Josie and Aunt Emma sit in the posh waiting room of Christine Cruz’s Professional Counseling Center. They’re alone on the single couch. The room is modern, but comfortable, everything done in sleek lines and minimalist patterns. The cool air conditioning means Aunt Emma can stop swatting air at her neck. Even still, she appears nervous, as if she’s going before a judge.
Might as well, Josie thinks. Christine is about as critical as they come. With a single look she can make you feel like a screw-up. Ever since Josie first demonstrated skill in witchcraft, she has been failing to live up to her expectations.
Christine is the town’s resident psychiatrist, but also their leading elementalist. She has the earth and the sky at her fingertips, although she doesn’t mess with them much these days. Her abilities so far outshine Josie’s that they’re in different classes. Like someone who drives an Audi versus someone who drives a … Toyota.
Double mahogany doors open, and Christine Cruz, M.D., appears, all smiles, as if the world is hers to command. She’s a lean, middle-aged woman in an Anne Taylor navy-blue skirt suit who takes regular trips to the plastic surgeon. A bright crimson scarf with the sheen of silk wraps around her neck. Josie notes that she looks much like she’s always looked—just smoother in the face from subtle Botox application. No one knows for sure what she’s done because of her natural appearance. She’s never had a boob job, for sure. All her work is subtle and gradual. She barely has a belly, and her neck appears flawless. Josie is impressed that a woman in her mid-fifties can look so good.
“Ladies,” Christine says, “what’s this I hear about Shawn and Darryl’s sudden conversions to perfect husbands?” She steps aside so that her guests can enter. “Josie, I figured this had something to do with your return.”
The doors shut behind them.
Christine’s office is dominated by a far wall with full-length windows, beyond which manicured shrubs run in a line, blocking the parking lot. Plenty of light illuminates her desk, as well as a contemporary chaise lounge and matching chair where she listens to clients.
She moves behind her desk and points to two chairs.
Josie chooses one. Aunt Emma takes the other, her bottom lip trembling.
Great, Josie thinks, Aunt Emma’s going to lose it and start sobbing. All this old-world coven hierarchy needs to go. As a powerful priestess, Lady Cruz of the Night (as she’s rumored to be called) has been known to instill fear in the hearts of people who cross her. Aunt Emma’s a member of the coven, but not a priestess in the great mysteries of their craft. Josie, of course, doesn’t think of herself as religious, not at all. She’s not a priestess, not even a member. She’s way more rational and science-minded than most secular people she knows. She enjoys motorcycles and dubstep; she thinks geopolitics is important, although she’s no expert; and she thinks that hiding out in plain sight and not using one’s skills is so twentieth century. Christine, herself, has said more than once Josie is way too cavalier with her witchcraft.
Josie lifts her chin. “Those are both on me. How’s Lennox?”
Christine softens. “He misses you.”
Aunt Emma appears to relax with a rattling sigh. “Oh, he does, Josie. He talks about you all the time.”
“I’ll call him,” she says, trying to force a smile that refuses to form. “I just got back you know. His wife hates me. I hope she doesn’t pick up. I’d love to talk to him in peace.”
Both older women stare at her as if stating the obvious does no one any good. Josie left a few years ago for college after Christine’s son, Lennox, married Stella Spivey. It was Josie’s bad luck she’s had a secret crush on him since junior high. She had planned to finally do something about it the summer he met Stella and fell for her witchy charms. Josie left in a van with a bunch of wild musicians the next day on a southern circuit. By the time she returned, summer was over, and Lennox and Stella were an item. Josie ran off to UGA to study art history. Lennox was never far from her thoughts, even as she hopped through several boyfriends.
Christine steeples her hands beneath her chin. “You’ve been working your craft … because?”
Josie sits up straight. Better get it out in the open, she tells herself, let everyone in the coven know what I plan.
“They both had it coming, Christine,” Josie says. “Shawn’s a great guy, but he’s got a blind spot when it comes to smelly socks. You should so go over there and watch him. He comes home and drops them in the middle of the living room. Sometimes, yeah, no lie, he’ll leave his underwear on the bathroom floor after taking a shower. I whip up a little magic dust, and, yippee, he’s better. He’ll be good for—”
“—I know. It’ll be a few months before it wears off. You think the habit will stick.” Christine glares disbelief. “Don’t you?”
Josie expects a tongue lashing because the coven has been through this before. Apparently, every generation, some new upstart thinks the world is ready for help. It always ends in disaster, so she’s been told. However, Josie thinks the twenty-first century can stand some proactive intervention, especially for misguided husbands.
Christine sits back. The expected tirade doesn’t happen. Josie breathes easier.
Christine has been like an older sister to her, ever since her grandmother died. A few months later, Josie’s mother ran off to Texas with a biker named Harry, and her real older sister, Geri, kept herself occupied with school and a career. Christine promised Josie
s grandmother to watch out for her after her mother died in Texas. She and the former high priestess, old Lady Birchall, had been good friends. And Josie’s grandmother knew that Josie is talented. Josie, though, isn’t thirteen anymore. She doesn’t need a chaperone. She thinks of herself as independent. Even better, she thinks of herself as …
“You know, Josie, you just may be right,” Christine says.
“I prescribe all kinds of medication for clinically ill women. Those are hard cases, most of them. The talking cure works for others. But some women, and men, are in need of a simple push. I see it all the time. Nothing too big, maybe a small adjustment is needed, nothing so drastic as medication. I had a woman in here a few days ago whose husband won’t stop elbowing her at night while they sleep. He keeps waking her up, which puts her in a constant state of exhaustion. Her nerves never settle. I’d have to prescribe something heavy for her to sleep, which I don’t want to do. Solution?”
Aunt Emma stares wide eyed at Josie, begging Josie to answer so that she doesn’t have to.
“Two beds,” Josie says.
Christine smiles graciously. “Excellent suggestion, except they live in a one-bedroom apartment. The dogs sleep in the living room. I took her on through my counseling foundation. You know I help the needy. She couldn’t afford my regular rate, much less a house with two bedrooms. Another idea?”
“He sleeps on the couch?”
“The dogs, remember? Even without them, he’s got a bad back.” With a quick shake of her head, Christine stops Josie from suggesting the woman sleep on the couch. “So does she.”
“I’ve got a solution,” Josie says. “Has something to do with sleeping like a rock without the use of modern pharmaceuticals.”
“I bet you do.” Christine nods. “What have you got in mind?”
* * *
Former grand dame and high priestess, Lady Birchall sits in her drawing room, clearly perplexed. Josie hasn’t been to the Birchall Mansion in some time. She came often as a child, but she stopped visiting after her grandmother’s passing.
The high-ceilinged room is ringed in sofas. Lady Birchall, though, sits upright in an old bergère chair. It’s upholstered in tacky aqua bombazine with ornate, gold stitching of diamonds inside circles. It keeps her upright, but looks like a torture device. She’s attired today in a fine satin bonnet, as well as her customary buttoned up blouse and conservative skirt that nearly touches her pointy-toed boots. She’s as wrinkled as a raisin and about the sweetest old woman Josie knows.