The loop of yarn slithered off between the tips of her two needles and disappeared into the weave.
April stared in despair at the uneven, gappy strip of knitting that it had taken her four hours to make. Four hours and it still looked more like a baggy, uneven lace than a cohesive fabric. No way would this ever be good for anything other than burning.
She couldn’t dress her baby in this.
“Oh my goodness, look at this load of shit!” she whispered, picking at the loose strand. “I can’t do this. What am I doing wrong? Oh no! Why is it all falling to bits?!”
“Hey, it’s all right. We can fix it,” Melinda said calmly, taking April’s hand and guiding her, showing her how to pick up the dropped stitch and weave it back through the rows it had fallen through. As she slipped the stitch back on to April’s working needle, she smiled. “There. Perfect. You’re doing just fine, April.”
Lilith had slipped into the house silently. She had walked the perimeter a few times beforehand, looking for signs of life and surveying her surroundings carefully. Chuck was watching her, diligently, from the car, but had obeyed her instruction not to follow until she said it was safe to do so.
It had been impossible for her to determine who was in the cottage from her position outside, so she’d opted for the ‘ambush-and-hope-for-the best’ method. It should work, as long as Faith wasn’t the first occupant she encountered.
Residing here for over a century had meant that there was no nook or cranny she didn’t know in this shale shack; she was confident there would be no surprises.
She was wrong.
Lilith watched this scene unfolding for a while, waiting for one of the girls to notice her. But as April curled her fingers around Melinda’s hand and leaned in it became obvious that they weren’t going to.
She cleared her throat and almost instantly, as if she’d inserted a rocket into each girl’s backside, they both shot, guiltily, from the sofa.
“Is Caleb not home?” Lilith asked, sweetly. “I’m your new neighbour; I’ve come to borrow some sugar.”
She had played out this scenario constantly in her head during the drive over here. She expected resistance to her being there, anger perhaps from Faith, but a general acceptance to her being willing to track them down and make amends.
So, when Melinda ran over, Lilith did not have her guard up.
“Where’s my dad?!” she demanded. “What did you do to him?!”
“Nothing! OK, I drank a tiny bit from him,” Lilith admitted, startled. “But only because I was absolutely desperate thanks to somebody clearing out my stock. And he’s fine, honestly. He recovered well after Seth’s knife attack. I stitched him up, he went home to Babs and—“
“You drank from him?!” Melinda screamed, ignoring all the good work Lilith did. “To get back at me? We only left because you attacked Caleb! I knew it! I knew all this humane, good vampire stuff was just bullpoop! An act! How dare you just waltz in here after everything!” she hissed, baring her teeth as she waved her finger in Lilith’s face.
“Melinda, please. I’m not here for any reason other than to help.”
“You controlled Caleb for centuries, tried to control April, tried to keep Faith from Seth; you tried to rip Caleb’s fudging face off for Pete’s sake! And you know what the worst part is?”
“I totally understand why,” Melinda suddenly sobbed, throwing herself into Lilith’s arms. “I understand why. Oh my goodness, I totally understand. How have you put up with that pair of fopdoodles for three hundred years, Lilith? I’m literally going insane after five days. Caleb is a huge idiot who screws up everything, he’s done something to April’s brain, she might be pregnant, there’s a kid locked in the basement and Faith is about to run off with Seth the Sociopath who is a huge, stinking potato.”
Lilith gently patted Melinda’s back as the girl cried, unsure what to do.
“Please take me back!” Melinda wept. “I understand that you’re trying to help in an impossible situation. And after we robbed all your stock and took your brother and left a load of plasma bags in a fancy hotel room we didn’t pay for, probably incriminating you, you’re still here, trying to help us.”
“You did what?”
“Is he really OK?” Melinda hiccupped. “Is Dad really OK?”
“He is,” Lilith said through gritted teeth, her eye still twitching. “He’s outside, waiting in the car.”
“He is?” Melinda gasped. “Does he know about—“
“He does,” Lilith said, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice. “He’s still coming to terms with it but you are so lucky Melinda; he’s willing to accept it. All of it,” she murmured, inclining her head towards April.
“Shouldn’t we invite him in?” April asked. “Offer him refreshment? Does he like soup?”
“Is it safe to?” Melinda asked Lilith, excitedly. “It’s just us two; Caleb’s at work and Faith’s still out with Seth.”
“You can,” Lilith smiled, trying not to lose her cool thinking about where the other vampires were. “You’ve both drank recently, yes?” the girls nodded. “OK, that reduces the risk somewhat. But promise me that you won’t touch him, all right? However tempting it might be… don’t.”
“I promise,” Melinda said, grinning.
“So do I,” April gushed, clapping her hands.
“Oh my gosh!” Melinda gasped as Lilith went to summon Chuck. “I never thought I’d see him again! There’s hope now, April! There’s really hope!”
Travelling the mortal way was sure tiring, but Sage couldn’t risk teleporting into the store in front of a non-witch. It had just gone 4 pm when she finally arrived back at her shop and immediately noticed that it was closed.
Not a great surprise. She hadn’t expected Wyatt to keep the place open a minute longer than he’d had to. He was probably already downstairs in his bedroom.
Sage subtly unlocked the door without a key and slipped into the dark store. It had been a long day and she was very much looking forward to a soak in the tub with a big glass of wine and a good book.
She was a patient woman, tolerant of even the most trying individuals, and it was a skill that she had never used more than in the hours she’d been sitting at her well-earned seat at the meeting table, in the High Priestess’s basement today.
Her fellow senior witch and the only person Sage knew who could talk about themselves, non-stop, for hours. Which was quite a skill when one considered how average Claudia was in terms of magical ability, general wisdom and conversational prowess. She had constantly derailed the meeting, with her boasts and silly questions, and made everything five times more effort than it needed to be.
By the end of it, even the High Priestess herself was losing her unmatched cool.
Sage had wandered downstairs into the basement and into the small apartment she shared with her son. She wanted to ask how Thor settled in; she could see that quite a number of bouquets had been sold today! But more so, she could hardly wait to update him on the developments; the coven had finally decided that he was mature enough to start practicing to cast.
Sage knew that Wyatt sneakily tried to cast spells every now and then, but she couldn’t wait to teach him the basics that most witches would have usually learned in their thirties; how to correctly draw and handle his energy to prevent overcharge, and a few practical little spells he could use, freely now, day-to-day.
She rapped her knuckles on his bedroom door, easing it open when there was no answer.
The first thing that hit her was the smell; that concentrated musty stench that lingered in the living quarters of most teenaged boys, even magically-inclined, seventy-six-year-old ones. Sage rarely ventured into this room, Wyatt needed his privacy and she could at least give him that, but she’d certainly be having a word with him about his lax housekeeping.
Although, if she was honest, her whole apartment would probably look – and smell – like this if she wasn’t allowed to use magic, too. Scruberoo was definitely going to be the first spell she taught him, she thought, wrinkling her nose. Pooh!
He definitely wasn’t home, which was a little odd this early in the afternoon. Sage had a vague recollection of him telling her where he’d be this evening:
“… to Becky’s … later.”
If he’d already gone there this soon after work, he must be keen on this Becky. Unless he was simply desperate to talk to someone. Wyatt loved to chat and she couldn’t imagine that Thor would have been very good company, if he’d stayed at all, being overwhelmed, as he was, with revulsion.
Poor Wyatt. The potion would be wearing off in an hour or two, but Sage very much hoped that Becky was not a love interest or, if she was, that she wouldn’t be too repulsed…
He was not a man renowned for his judgement, but even Caleb knew that he probably shouldn’t be here. He’d stopped seeing everything in kaleidoscope vision during the bus ride over – he had never been on a bus before; now that had been trippy – but Wyatt had had to tell him to get off the floor a few times. He couldn’t help it; lying on the ground just felt so damn hedonistic.
Caleb had never taken drugs before, other than alcohol. Oh, there was that time he’d fed from an addict, but that had only made him sick, so he wasn’t really sure if the basement he was in was actually this colourful and full of bizarre artefacts, or of he was having a second wave of psychosis.
But he was digging it.
“Dude, sorry about that,” Wyatt muttered again. “Becky’s not usually so weirded out. Maybe she had some bad stuff. Hopefully when she’s done throwing up, she’ll come down and introduce herself properly.”
Caleb nodded. The lady he was referring to, the owner of this very large, run-down house with a crazy basement, had barely breathed in Wyatt’s unusual aroma before she’d started retching into a nearby plant pot. Caleb could relate. Every time he got within about three feet of his new colleague, he felt like he needed run in the opposite direction.
Wyatt was a total assault to all of his amplified vampiric senses. Shame, because he was otherwise quite likeable.
“Why if it isn’t Wy!” a lilted, cotton candy voice called from across the room, immediately catching Caleb’s attention. “Long time, no see!”
The woman who was speaking appeared in Caleb’s spinning line of sight and he gasped. Pretty. She made a beeline for Wyatt, arms outstretched but stopped a few feet away. “Watcher!” she gasped, wafting the air near her face. “Wy, you could’ve showered!”
Wyatt, who had been standing, arms wide to welcome this gorgeous creature into his embrace, sniffed at his armpit. “Wha—? I did, I— oh, right, yeah. It’s the apples,” he said.
This almost made sense to Caleb, addled as he was, but the young woman with her golden tresses and teasing flash of midriff looked confused. “Apples?” she asked. “How do apples make you stink?”
Wyatt sighed, scuffing his shoe into the carpet. “They, um, give me gas. Apples give me real bad gas.”
The woman tilted her head in a way that made her look so cute that Caleb had to fight the urge to reach out and touch her lovely face.
“That’s disgusting, Wyatt,” she tutted. “I did not need to know that. Still, I can handle it. Occupational hazard,” she explained, gagging only slightly as she reached over to pat Wyatt’s shoulder. “Is Hoggy with you?”
“Nah, he’s on one of his studying kicks,” Wyatt explained. “But I got a new buddy; this is Thor. Thor, this is Roxie.”
Roxie turned to face him. Caleb felt the floor fall out from beneath him as he was drunk in by those big, brown eyes of hers. He took a moment to marvel at the perfect symmetry of her face. He’d never been so drawn to anyone and, dangerously, the feeling appeared to be mutual.
Caleb swallowed back the huge lump in his throat and smiled at her in what he hoped was a non-creepy way. “Hello Roxie.”
“Hi Thor,” she whispered back, under her breath. She pouted and looked at him a strange way. What did that look mean? “Do I know you?” she asked. “You look so familiar.” She tapped her chin, looking a little embarrassed when she’d placed him. “You wouldn’t know Hook Corner by any chance? On the border between Glimmerbrook and Forgotten Hollow, big fish billboard—“
“Woah, Roxie!” Wyatt exclaimed. “I don’t know who you’re thinking of but Thor here’s only seventeen. He’s definitely not one of your perverts.”
“Seventeen?” Roxie repeated, looking as disappointed as Caleb felt. “My mistake. Watcher, I’ve had two beers and I’m hitting on kids, what’s wrong with me?” she laughed, the trill noise feeling like blades through Caleb’s heart.
“Don’t mind her,” Wyatt muttered. “She sells smut for a living.”
“Excuse me!” Roxie tutted playfully. “I provide a valuable service. Not every needy man can be as good-looking as seventeen-year-old Thor here.” She paused, pouting in a sad way that was making Caleb ache with the need to hold her. “So, what’s your poison tonight, both? Bar’s open, bubbles are on and those cookies Becky made are something else. Alan had one and he was giggling for an hour.”
“Who’s Alan?” Wyatt asked, looking around.
“Oh, is it ‘Adam’? I can never remember.”
“Bubbles? As in, blowing bubbles?” Caleb asked as he looked over at the big, shiny machine that was emitting tantalising, iridescent spheres.
“I’ll try that,” he decided, thinking that they sounded like the least dangerous option and longing to watch Roxie’s glossy lips as she blew. Bubbles.
Roxie smiled, extending her hand towards him. “They’re my favourite! Come with me, Thor. Cosmic Encounter OK for you?”
Caleb had no idea what that was, but it sounded epic. He nodded keenly and placed his hand in hers. She didn’t even shiver. Holy hell, her hands were so soft and she smelled good. Really good. Especially compared to Wyatt. She was an assault to the senses in all the right ways. And her skin had so many pores and freckles and was a bit shiny. And she smelled really bloody good, did he mention that?
He wondered how she’d taste…
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Wyatt mumbled to Roxie as she passed. “He had, like, one sip of tea earlier and has only just started seeing straight. Plus, he’s been a bit down.”
Roxie was still staring at Caleb’s face, which was now aching like hell from his afternoon of incessant grinning.
“Down? Pfft! I always told you; you make that brew way too strong! He’ll be fine,” Roxie purred, tugging Caleb towards the bubble machine. “I’ll take really good care of him.”