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The Tower

The Tower

Book excerpt

Chapter One - Rowyn

 I felt the skin-crawling sensation brought on by his energy before I saw him. Were it anyone else, I might have just chilled out in the diaper aisle, cursing my mother for sending me on errands until he found whatever fungus ointment he was looking for and moved on.  But no.  Not with Bobby Stecker.  Yeah, his name was actually Bobby. Legally.  Like this was a sock hop in 1954. Happily though, that meant his initials were BS, and I kind of enjoyed that a lot.

There really wasn’t any escaping, so I took a deep breath and prepared for whatever highbrow remarks he had for me today.  He lumbered down the aisle, never seeming coordinated enough for his large frame.  His hair was overgrown, and he smelled faintly of body odor once he got close enough for me to breathe in his stink.  Ah, swoon.

            “Hiya, Witch-Bitch.”  He grinned far too broadly about a term he’d coined in sixth grade.  He would be a senior this year, meaning he’d be allowed to vote; it made me seriously fear for the future of the country.

            “Yes, Bull Shit, very good. Those do rhyme.”  I cocked my head at him in as condescending a way as I could muster in order to hide how much he got under my skin.

            “Such language.  Very inappropriate for a family establishment,” he scolded, using probably the biggest word he knew to refer to the supermarket. 

            “You realize you just called me… I can’t even do this.  Get out of my way.”  His normal pink aura was tinged a bright orange, and I threw up a little in my mouth, not even wanting to imagine what had him feeling, ah, hormonally energized at that moment.

            “I just brought you a present.  I’d think you’d be grateful, geez.”

            Please just fall over and die.  Like, right now.  I didn’t think my spirit guides were into murder, but sometimes, a girl just had to ask.  He turned to reach behind him and grabbed a broom from housewares out of his cart that I’d somehow missed when he walked up.  He handed it to me, and like an idiot, I took it. I could not mentally grasp how people still found things like this amusing.  I rearranged my face to an expression of confusion.

            “Did you need help shoving it up your ass?”  The grin fell on his stupid face, and I was momentarily feeling victorious.  Until I saw the severe blond bob come around the corner attached to the pinched-face expression of his mother.  She might have been the only person I hated more than Bobby.

            “What a disgusting thing to say. Is that the language you people think is appropriate?” Ah.  You People.  The heathen devil worshippers that are all pagans and witches.

“Mrs. Stecker.”  I tried to get it out under the guise of a polite greeting, but my jaw was clenched far too tightly for that. 

 “Bobby, Amy Sue and I are ready to go.  I don’t even know what you’re doing conversing with…her.”  I gripped the cart, never wishing harder that I was the kind of witch who could wiggle her nose and turn someone into a donkey. 

“I was just trying to help her,” Bobby lied as they walked away.

“Well, that is admirable, but we can’t save everyone.  Some people are destined for hell, son, remember that.”  I saw red.  Well, actually, I saw brown, because that was the color of the woman’s aura.  I bit my lip to keep from swearing like a sailor.  The only silver lining I could possibly find in my rage was that Amy Sue hadn’t actually been there for that interaction.  Yep. Amy Sue Stecker.  ASS. I could not make this shit up. 

I counted to one hundred to make sure they’d be gone when I got to the checkout line, heaved the box of training diapers for Tristen into the cart, and pretended like I was going to let all of this roll off my back.

 

***

 

I paced in my room that evening with too many thoughts, attempting to put myself together.  By the time I reached the closet, I realized I needed a different pair of earrings, but when I looked in my jewelry box, all I could think about was fixing my hair.  Thankfully, Reed was sitting on the steps just outside my doorway, and he couldn’t give me crap for walking in circles like a mental patient. 

            No matter how many deep breaths I took, I couldn’t shake my anger. I flopped down on the unmade bed, needing a moment to temper my thoughts of murder.  Poisoning him might be more satisfying.  Seeing him slowly wither away. Morbidly, this was the only thought that helped me calm down. As I gazed at the ceiling, I heard my best friend sigh dramatically from the stairs and grinned in spite of myself.

I had always loved the pitched roof in my attic room.  I didn’t even care that it technically didn’t have a door, that my closet was almost non-existent, or that the heat was sometimes stifling in the summer.  The exposed beams with dangling lights made me feel like the space contained magic.  I breathed and focused on that instead.

Though I tried not to, I almost enjoyed the progression of Reed’s annoyance level as he waited for me to get ready. There was a predictable pattern of sighing, finger tapping, pacing, and lying on the steps before he totally lost it. Once I was able to think about one task at a time, I pulled out a cropped white top and my favorite gray skirt from the closet.  It was long and ruffled, and I had sewn a bell into it so I jingled when I walked.

“Could you possibly take longer?  I’m being totally serious, by the way. I love sitting on the stairs like I’m twelve and have never seen a girl in a bra before.”  I inadvertently cringed at the thought of Reed seeing any girl in her bra.  It wasn’t that I wanted him to see me in mine. It was just… whatever.

“Stop trying to talk me into letting you watch me get dressed.  You sound like a creeper.”  I cursed unceremoniously when my hair got caught on one of my seven bracelets.  Yes, seven.  Plus four necklaces, six rings, five earrings, and one tiny rhinestone in my nose.“Ow, ow, ow.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m coming in,” Reed announced before stomping up the stairs.  His dark, heavy-lidded eyes shone at my predicament.  In vain, I was attempting to disconnect my hair from a charm bracelet full of seemingly non-hazardous objects- a flower, a faery, a tree, a cat, and a pentagram.  I was not exactly certain which one had attached itself to my tornado of hair.  If I could have?  I would have had my hair committed.  It sincerely had a personality disorder.  Reed’s tall frame towered over me as he surveyed the damage, and a familiar scent of citrus and cedar came along with him.  Reed’s mom made over-priced soap as one of her many hobbies, meaning he always smelled sort of…delicious.  I would have never told him that, though; he thought highly enough of himself as it was.

“You could just cut your hair, you know?  You literally complain about it every single day. Since we were five. I’d still love you with no hair.” He made this absurd suggestion with a grin as he unwound coarse black strands from the tiny silver cat.  I glared at him even though he couldn’t see me.  I hoped he could feel it. “Maybe I’ll come in and cut it for you while you’re sleeping.”

My eyebrows reacted to the severity of his words. “I swear on my father’s grave that I would take your favorite boxing gloves and draw kittens on them with silver Sharpie.”  I could almost hear him break into a horrified expression at the thought.

“There are so many things wrong with that threat,” he complained, finally tugging my hair free.  I rushed to the mirror to see if there was anything to fix.  We looked like we could be related, Reed and me.  We had the same olive-toned skin, almost black eyes surrounded by thick lashes, and dark curly hair.  His worked for him a bit better than mine did for me.  To my credit though, I had boobs and nicer legs.  “One, your dad isn’t dead.”

“Yet,” I smiled sweetly, turning back to him.

Reed sighed.  “And two, you would never crush my soul by taking my lucky gloves.  Surely I’ve earned more loyalty than that. And I know you’re just still pissed about Stecker and the broom.”

“One, I think you seriously underestimate the kind of long-term emotional effects walking around with a power mullet would have on me. But fine. Two, do not mention his name in my presence. I’ve processed it, and I’m moving on.”

“Sure you have.  It’s a complete lie, but I like the commitment.” His dark eyes held his amusement, and thoughts of murder started to creep back up again.  It would have been hard to lie to him even if he wasn’t stupidly intuitive.  He’d known me for too long.

I sighed and tried to make my words be true.  It wasn’t that today had been anything new, it was exactly that today hadn’t been anything new.  I was so sick of existing within the small-minded boundaries of this town. At least the Full Moon would take my mind off of it.  The last one of the summer was always the most fun.

“Just be nice and don’t say dumb things. Can we go now?”

“Yeah, yeah.  With Rose out of town, there’s no one to yell at us for being late.”

“But who’s going to stop me from yelling at you when you try to flirt with girls you should not be flirting with?” The half smile he gave me suggested he knew exactly what I was talking about.  I just shook my head and started down the stairs. 

“Aw, Row, I promise I’ll only flirt with you all night.  There’ll be no need for yelling.”

“Not what I meant, Reed.” 

“You’re so hot when you feel misunderstood.”  I stopped short at the bottom of the stairs and elbowed him in the ribs a bit too hard for it just to be a joke.  He laughed it off anyway and followed me outside to leave for The Circle.

   
Chapter Two - Reed 

I almost wished someday she’d shoot me down outright and put me out of my misery.  It was impossible to resist when she let me flirt with her like that.  It had been a long time since just the two of us had gone, well, anywhere, without Rose, and it did feel like our referee was missing.  Well, tonight should be interesting anyway. 

“Can I drive?” Rowyn asked me with an innocent smile I wasn’t quite immune to as we walked outside her house.  It was surrounded by so many trees that the air just smelled green when the weather turned warm.

“Not a chance.”  My 1990 Jetta was sort of my most prized possession after my boxing gloves.  I’d put more work into it than maybe anything else I’d ever owned.   

“I’ll be your best friend.”

“You already are.” My smile came easily, knowing her pattern of begging well.  Next she would offer to read my cards for free, which she always did anyway, and I’d make an ill-advised joke about being willing to negotiate our terms. I walked around to the driver’s side of the car. 

“Fine. Next time I won’t make you sit on the stairs.” That was not expected.  I felt my face break into a grin that only accompanied highly inappropriate thoughts about being in her room.   I made an about-face and tossed the keys to her. She slid into the driver’s seat and wrapped her hands around the wheel.

“We could take your car, you know?”  I had to throw it out there just to irritate her and get her to do the thing where she bit her tongue in annoyance. She had her own car, but the little red Civic was rather temperamental, with the starting and the driving, so she didn’t take it out often. I didn’t get a response to that comment. “Okay then, try not to kill us.”

“Shut up.”  I just laughed as she shifted into reverse.  The crunch of the gravel driveway under the tires was a satisfying sound as we headed out.  Her house sat just outside of town, backed up to the woods, and I sometimes felt more at home there than at my own house.  Seeing her double check all of her mirrors before she pulled onto the two-lane highway made me love her a little bit more.

 

***

 

Once we pulled off the main road and drove back into the woods, I felt guilty about my earlier comment about getting there late. I forgot sometimes, how nice it was.

I grabbed Rowyn’s hand as we walked the well-worn path through the trees.  Tonight, she didn’t try to stop me.  The woods opened up into a meadow, and it looked like a gypsy caravan had arrived.  Well, it sort of had, being that most of our heritage could probably be traced to Romani travelers in the past century.  That was cool with me; it’s what I credited my dark and mysterious good looks to. Tables and chairs were haphazardly organized in groups, along with an informal altar set-up.  We considered ourselves witches- level business casual. Maybe beach casual as of late, since our parents’ insistence on our practice had waned in recent years.  Life got in the way sometimes, I guessed.  But tonight, the last Full Moon of summer, would be a good excuse to reconnect.  I always felt better after casting a circle. 

Rowyn dropped my hand to see if her mom needed help with Tristen, and I wandered to find my brother and his friends.  Well, I would have, had there not been food to distract me.  I could see my brother anytime, but homemade bread and rosemary chicken were less common. 

“Have you literally been eating this entire time?”  Rowyn came up behind me and pinched my sides.  I was on my third helping.

“I am a man in need of sustenance, Row.  You can’t deny nature.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Mary wants us to come clear energy for the kids before circle.  You’ll have to put down the bread though.  Probably.”

“I think I could absolutely use the bread to clear energy.”

“Just come help me already.”

“Okay, okay, I’m coming.”  I shoved the remainder of the loaf in my mouth and followed Rowyn to the actual circle part of The Circle.  The tree line carved out an almost perfect arc, creating a backdrop for spell work and rituals.  The moon was rising as we each lit our sage and began to clear the energy of the younger crowd who entered the space. 

 

 

Clear the mind of worry,

the heart of anger,

and the feet of wanderlust.

 Fill this soul with presence, love, and roots

as she enters our sacred circle.

 

I repeated this again and again as our circle formed, holding lit sage in my hand, the wisps of smoke spiraling into the pink sky. The lake was calm in the distance, and the feeling of summer was alive under the moon. A woman named Cecelia began the ritual, crystal wand in hand to direct the energy, calling Earth in the north, Air in the east, Fire in the south, Water in the west, and spirit in our center, lighting candles as she went.  Our circle was closed, and the magic settled in as the space became lit in silver and white to honor the moon.  I loved this feeling.  Ceremony, ritual, sensing everyone’s energy focused in one place at one time. That’s what magic was. 

I felt the reality of all of it- that we were all connected.  To each other, to the magic of the woods, to the stardust we came from.  I was feeling pretty philosophical gazing at the sunset and watching Rowyn think about whatever new beginning we were supposed to be concentrating on.  I could only see her.

The spell was broken when Cecilia opened the circle, so I used all of the energy coursing through me to heave Rowyn over my shoulder and throw her in the lake.

Thank me she did not, but it was worth it to see her dripping wet and a hot sort of angry.

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