Authors: Loretta Nyhan
took the basement stairs two at a time, excitement humming in my veins. But when I reached the small hallway leading to Dobra’s garden, I stopped cold.
What, exactly, was I excited about? Training with Miro or finally seeing Brandon after so many months?
I’d kissed Miro. It didn’t matter that his lips had found my skin first; my desire had drawn him to me. My body still trembled from its strength. Part of me wrote my feelings off as the force of the transition, but another part of me had known something was between us since the moment he’d first said my name in the alley by Belladonna’s. I’d been taught to distrust strangers, yet I wanted Miro close to me. I could tell myself I was simply looking for comfort, that for a few seconds I could forget my situation, but that would be a lie. I was curious. Miro did everything with such incredibly focused intensity. I wanted to know what that energy felt like. I wanted to drink it up. I wanted it to be
A week ago I would have harshly judged a girl who’d acted as I had. My parents were missing. I had a boyfriend.
Technically. The thought of seeing Brandon filled me with just as many confusing emotions. In some ways I couldn’t wait to see him. He was home and I desperately wanted to be transported back to the safety of my coven, even if it was just to smell the forest in his hair, to see the light of a thousand candles in his eyes. If Brandon knew what Gavin was up to, he’d tell me. I’d bet my life on it.
I stood in the shadow of the doorway leading outside. Miro paced a small circle in the middle of the garden, lost in thought. Unaware he was being watched, his face showed worry, concentration, and something I wasn’t accustomed to seeing—fear.
Was he afraid of what I might do, or what the training might do to me? It was hard to imagine me sparking fear in anyone, but things had changed since I’d arrived in Chicago.
I paused, thinking about what I’d thought about myself, and the people I loved, before coming here. The past few days should have taught me better about making assumptions. And if I was capable of causing harm, I had to accept the possibility that Brandon was, too.
With a heavy heart, I stepped into Dobra’s garden. The ground was spongy beneath my feet after the rain, but the earth’s scent, clean and new, lifted my senses. “Miro?”
He’d disappeared. I continued slowly down a stone path, toward a small ceremonial fire pit surrounded by lawn chairs. This part of the garden still held tightly on to winter; not one green shoot pushed from the ground.
A noise—metal against stone—was my only warning as a chair lifted from the ground. It flew toward me, crashing against my shoulder. “What the hell?” Another hit my shin. “Cut it out!”
My shoulder stung and I rubbed at the muscles. The pain began to subside, but my anger didn’t. It was rabid, tearing through my veins like a wild dog. “Where are you? Show yourself!”
In response, a garden gnome careened toward my head. I raised my hand to swat it away, but it stopped midair before tumbling into the ashy fire pit.
Had I done that?
I had. The magic brought me to my knees. My lungs deflated, the air rushing from them in one cruelly forced exhale. The world around me blurred and spun, only stopping once it had transported me to another time, another place.
“What if we get caught?” Brandon knocked on the trunk of the giant redwood. The hollow sound reverberated through my body as if he’d plucked a nerve.
“I used to hide here when I was little,” I said. “No one but Sonya could ever find me.” I crouched down and slid my body into the small cavern. “We can both fit if we hold our breaths.”
Brandon stuck his head inside. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, but crawled in anyway. We wrapped our legs around each other, twisting and turning until we’d disappeared into the depths of the tree. It was dark and cool. I could barely see Brandon’s face, though it was so close his warm breath tickled my cheek. In the dim light our skin, hair, eyes were the same shade of gray.
I’d never kissed Brandon first. Shyness and insecurity kept me always waiting for him. But the redwood tree was my territory.
I tilted my head forward and found his lips. I led the kiss, a feeling of confidence rushing through me like liquid gold. In the small space, with our bodies pressed together, we were equal.
“Wow,” Brandon said when we finally came up for air. “Now I know you feel the same way about me that I feel about you.”
“You weren’t sure?” I said, nearly laughing with disbelief.
“I’m never sure,” he said. “About anything.”
I kissed him again.
“Breathe. Come on, Breeda.”
I opened my eyes, expecting to see the outlines of Brandon’s face. Instead of finding the soft blue of Brandon’s eyes, I stared into the browns and greens of the forest. Miro was crouched over me. When I blinked my understanding, he called out to Shelley. Then he lifted me from the ground, resting my cheek on his broad shoulder. “Pretend you’re breathing through a straw. Slowly, slowly,” he said.
I tried. The air stalled, as though someone had erected a brick wall in my throat.
“Picture it,” he said gently. “Create the opening with your mind.”
I saw it clearly, the oversized, red-striped straw given at the Burger-Town back in Oregon. Sonya and I made a pilgrimage there every Saturday, walking for miles until we hit the outskirts of town. The image clear in my mind, I pursed my lips and drew the air in, slow and steady like I was sucking down a peanut-butter-and-chocolate shake. It worked.
“You’re an ass,” I whispered once my breathing steadied.
an ass,” Shelley agreed, suddenly standing over both of us. She kneeled and tilted my head back carefully, drawing a tisane to my open mouth. I drank, the hot liquid both burning and soothing. “The tisane was barely done,” she said, addressing Miro sharply. “Give me more warning the next time you plan to do this.”
“Don’t count on a next time,” I croaked.
“Smart girl,” Shelley said, glaring at Miro.
He ignored her, and gestured toward the apartment. “Bye, Shelley.”
“Be nice,” she said. There was a dark warning in her tone. I thought maybe she’d stay, but she didn’t. She placed the tisane on the ground next to me before heading back inside.
Miro helped me sit upright, settling my back against the wall of the fire pit. He sat across from me, his long legs bent underneath his body.
“Why did you do that?” My voice sounded lower than usual, and outlined in menace. I thought of Evie’s growl and shuddered.
Miro didn’t answer right away. Instead, he brushed the stray hairs from my eyes and used his thumb to smooth the creases anger had etched into my forehead. The effect was soothing, and I felt the fury drain from my body into the soil beneath me. “During the first phase of the transition, the fastest way to bring on the full force of your magic is to attack you,” he explained. “I couldn’t warn you, or it might have failed.”
“Oh, it definitely worked.”
He smiled and for once I didn’t catch one trace of a sneer. “The core of what makes you live—your heart, your breath, your brain—they all become overstimulated during a witch’s transition. We have to calm them with remedies from the earth—the herbs and roots from the places our ancestors come from are like a tonic.” He paused. “I sound like a textbook. Or my dad.”
“I need to know this stuff,” I said. “Keep going.”
“You don’t have ties to any one bloodline that we know of, so all bets are off with you. Shelley’s tisanes help, but probably not for long.” He paused. “Especially without a talisman.”
I wanted to say I would have one soon, but that was naive. I had to accept the possibility of never having a conductor for my magic.
“So what do I do?” I said after a moment. “How do I control it?”
“With the only weapon you have—your mind. Self-hypnosis is the only thing I can think of. Sometimes we’re our own best medicine.”
I tried to hide my skepticism. I had no other options, and if he was truly trying to help me like I thought he was, I didn’t want to insult him. “Okay, how do I hypnotize myself?”
“You’ve only been reacting so far,” he replied. “That’s fine, but you’re too impulsive. You’re not thinking first.”
“Yeah, well, it’s kind of hard to think when a chair is careening toward you.”
Miro laughed. “Once you really learn to control your magic, your thought process will take a fraction of a second. You need to learn to meet magic with magic, not with uncontrolled emotion.” He leaned toward me. “What gifts have you collected so far?”
I didn’t want to think of it that way. “I’ve watched my mother open anything hundreds of times, so I can now, too. Evie’s neighbor, Sandy, directed electricity in front of me. I watched Vadim break a cement block in two. And I saw Shelley in the alley by Belladonna’s, so I can manipulate fire.” I paused.
“And you have my gift of levitation,” Miro said mildly.
I thought of the cartoon in
The Mysteries of the Unmarked
, of the gluttonous, thieving witch. My face grew hot.
Miro stood. “As far as I’m concerned you didn’t take anything from me, so stop worrying. You simply made a copy, and a cheap copy at that. You’ll never be as good as I am at levitation.” He walked over to the side of the garage and picked up a snow shovel leaning against it. “Get up,” he ordered. “This is coming toward your head in a second.”
I jumped to my feet, my lungs throbbing. Miro brought one hand to his light blue talisman. He raised the shovel slowly, giving me time. “Ready?” he asked.
I wanted to scream. I knew what was coming this time, so there was no anger, only fear darting around inside me. Was I supposed to ask my magic to help? How did I do that?
The shovel circled once, twice, then traced the perimeter of the garden and drew nearer with each pass. Miro stared at me, waiting.
I closed my eyes.
Come to me,
I thought, calling my magic, feeling slightly awkward with him watching.
I need you.
I pictured a branch before I opened my eyes. The branch poking out of the fire pit, probably used to stir the ashes.
Miro’s snow shovel stopped its circling, hovered for a second, then hurtled toward my skull.
Only it didn’t make it halfway across the yard. The branch I’d envisioned stopped the shovel in its path, making a clanging cross above our heads in the air. I held on to the magic, my hand grasping at my useless talisman. I felt just as I did standing in the alley by Belladonna’s last night—the magic, active and alive, electrified every cell in my body.
“That’s it, Breeda!” Miro shouted. “Hold on as long as you can!”
I had no idea
I was holding on. Force of will?
My lungs pulsed once, twice, and a ragged inhale broke the strength of my hold. The branch fell, sending the shovel straight for my forehead. Too fast to duck.
The shovel stopped just as it brushed my nose, and fell to the ground.
But I had no time for relief.
“That’s too shallow,” my dad said. “Dig a little deeper, girls.”
Sonya and I pushed into the unyielding soil with our shovels. We were little and it was hard work, but after a while we managed another half a foot. “Are we done yet?” I asked. Sweat stained our T-shirts and dampened our hair.