I stood by myself on the playground, pretending to be interested in the rocks I dug my sneakers in. The group of girls was just far enough away I couldn’t turn their whispered sounds into words, but their glances and louder giggles convinced me of what I already knew. They were laughing at me.
I kicked at the rocks. I wanted to pick the rocks up, throw them at the girls. I imagined the weight in my hand; let my eyes follow the arc the rock would make till they settled on the head of the tallest girl. Our eyes met and she shifted uneasily. Her voice was louder now. “Come on girls. We’re being watched.”She spoke with the authority of one used to being obeyed. But even as she turned her back on me her eyes were wide and wary. I dropped my eyes to the rocks. I didn’t want them to be afraid of me.
I glanced up at the sound of my name. His too long hair fell partially over his eyes and he looked at me through this fringe, his mouth turned up ever so slightly at the corners in a soft smile of encouragement. His outstretched hand held a flower – a weed actually – small and white. It was beautiful in its simplicity and it all melted away. There was no laughter, no fearful faces and I smiled back at him as I reached for the flower.
I was transported from the dream to waking with a suddenness that left me gasping for breath – as though someone had pressed violently on my chest while I lay sleeping. There was no one there of course. It was the same every time. Before I could say his name I would wake in the same fashion every time, since I was a small girl. Who was he?
But I knew who he was. It was the one I was spoken for – the one stolen from us in infancy. The one whose name my soul seemed to know but my mind did not. My missing groom. I shook myself and the blanket slipped from my shoulders and fell in a soft heap around my waist. No thank you. Let them keep him. Marriage was not on my to-do list.
Keira kicked off the covers and sat up. “Get out of my head,” she said aloud, then looked around quickly. The room was empty. She stood up and stretched, rolling her shoulders and shaking out her arms and legs. This mystery man she was supposed to be fated for was the last person she wanted to think about. Unfortunately her 18th birthday was in three days and the meant-to-be union seemed to be all anyone wanted to talk about. Not directly, of course. Everyone knew how against even the thought of marriage Keira was. But she caught them whispering and staring when they thought she wasn’t looking. And it had really begun to annoy her. But, he was gone – spirited away by her aunt and cousin, be-spelled for life. “Hah,” she said aloud and splashed water on her face. That settled the matter. If he was lost, and she was fated for him, then she would never have to marry.
She felt another consciousness in the room with her. It came slowly sliding across the floor and creeped over her, like a blanket being pulled up around her. She stood still, pretending to survey her face in the mirror, drying her hands on the towel and waited for it to connect fully with her. Keira fought back a smile. Her younger sister, Haven. Keira turned on her heel suddenly and sped across the room. She could move faster than else in the coven when she wanted to. Throwing wide the partially closed bathroom door she exposed Haven standing in the open space of the bedroom. Haven squeaked. “How do you always catch me?” she pouted. Keira opened her mouth to speak, and hesitated. Haven really had been working so hard on her studies lately. The girl was just no good at cloaking.
“Don’t worry about it, Haven,” she said instead. “We’re sisters. I couldn’t miss you if I tried.” Haven smiled up at her. The twelve-year-old was as blonde as Keira was dark and when she smiled like this she really did look just like a haven – like around her no evil thing would dare to linger for fear of being struck blind by her light and rendered impotent by calm grace. And it was mostly true. Just a few minutes in Haven’s presence and one couldn’t help feeling at peace with whatever may have been bothering them. And it didn’t hurt that Haven thought Keira was the most awesome witch she knew. Keira laughed and hugged Haven. Haven’s smooth brow wrinkled slightly as she pulled away from Keira.
“You’re missing Shamus though. He wants to see you in the yard. There’s already a group gathered,” Haven told her. That must have been what woke her, Keira thought. She really didn’t want to go. There was only one thing he would be giving a speech about today. But maybe Shamus would declare the obvious. Maybe that was why he was insistent on her being there. He wanted to be sure everyone knew that Keira would be excluded from this year’s marriage games. She sighed. Whatever he had to say she had to go. No one ignored a summons from Shamus. He was their head, both over the coven and the city, which was really one and the same. Shamus was also her uncle. Keira felt a sudden sense of urgency, an outside push that was not her own. She groaned out loud and shared a look with her little sister.
“Mom,” they said in unison. Giggling they ran outside and through the streets to the city center, the yard as it was known. Keira kept pace with Haven, who couldn’t move near as fast. The ‘yard’ was in the center of the city. A stone amphitheatre surrounded on all sides by green grass. Because of their mother’s status as healer their house was near the city center. It wasn’t the largest house and nearly every inch of it was taken up with various bottles and vials, hanging herbs and potted plants. But it was one of the oldest and most beautiful with woodwork inside and out lovingly hand carved decades before any of them ever set foot inside of it. It was purposefully carved too. At an early age the girls had learned that each carved notch represented a different spell, mostly protection and peace spells to keep those who inhabited the house safe from harm and filled with calm. A home built for a healer and it served their mother well in her work. It was said the house protected Keira, then a swaddled infant tucked deep in its center-most room, when her aunt rebelled all those years ago.