One, Scottie is up and walking around, checking out the place, like she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. The other is, I’m getting my first lesson in magic.
It all happened so fast. I just told Bea everything about Anna and how I came to find this place. I’ve never seen anyone listen the way that woman does. I swear, she was listening with her eyes, ears, fingers and toes. Maybe even the length of her spine. She got it all on the first take, no explanations needed. Even Jake seemed to need no further information than what I gave. And it’s not like they were not interested. You could have heard a crow caw, which we did, quite often in fact.
So when I was done talking, and Scottie was handed to me with a “That should do it,” Bea just stood up and said we should get on with seeing if I could learn magic. Since it was gifted to me, she said, it wasn’t a sure thing I would take to it, or even want it. Better find out sooner rather than later, she said, and so I stood, too.
“Start with your posture,” she says, looking me over once again. I’m not sure if she means to stand up straight, like one of my step-mothers always used to always say, or throw out my chest, like another of them advised. I do a little of both, which only makes Jake laugh.
“Feet shoulder width apart,” she says, using some kind of twisted vine-like walking stick to move my left foot a little more left. “Shoulders back, knees slightly bent.”
I do as I’m told. It’s a little weird having Jake watch. Or rather, gawk. He’s looking at me like I’m some sort of combination of a goddess and lunch.
“Now, tilt your pelvis forward. No, no. Tuck your butt in.” She puts one hand on the small of my back, and pushes forward, and the other on my belly to make sure it doesn’t move. The white lightning goes through me, making me shiver. “Now your spine is straight, and you’re in a grounded position.”
“For what?” I ask.
“To blow the tarnations out of anything you want,” she says, cackling.
“Say here Jake is bothering you, pestering you like a little brother.”
Jake frowns and growls, which makes Scottie perk up in concern.
“Or anyone else getting in your way. You want some power to get ‘em out of the way, right?’
“Sure,” I say, adding an “anyone else, I mean” to comfort Jake. You can tell he really wants to impress me, and I keep wanting to tell him he doesn’t have to work that hard. He’s pretty impressive, just standing there without a shirt.
“Now you start breathing up the earth,” Bea says, breathing deep to show me, “only from inside the soles of your feet. Just like they were lungs, only the air is energy, and it’s coming from your feet, not your nose. If you use your breathing to keep the rhythm up at the same time, it’s easier to imagine. And you’ve got to imagine it, or it won’t work.”
I try to imagine breathing through my feet without feeling totally stupid. I look to Jake to see if she’s just pulling one over on me, but he seems to think this is perfectly normal.
“Don’t get distracted, or the energy will go all over the place, and you want it in your belly. That’s right,” Bea says, though I don’t know how she could know if I’m doing it right or not, “now pull the magic in.”
“What magic?” I dare ask.
“Same magic that makes seeds sprout in the dark of the earth. What makes gardens grow and fruit pop out of trees. Isn’t that magic?”
“I’ve never thought about it that way,” I say honestly.
“Well, think about it that way,” she sends back.
I do as I’m told. It takes a little while to coordinate, and truthfully, I don’t feel an ounce of magic. But I don’t mind doing it.
“Okay, that’s enough for today,” she says, thumping her twisted stick on the ground three times. I’m reminded of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz clicking her heels three times to magically transport herself home, and try not to feel like an utter fool.
“That’s all?” I say.
Bea laughs, and Jake too. “Just see for yourself if ‘that’s all,’ next time you get mad at someone. Do that often enough, fill up that belly, and you’ll find you are a force to reckon with.”
I don’t see how breathing through my feet is going to do anything, let alone make me a force to be reckoned with. But I also don’t see how saying so will do anything but get Bea mad at me. And I do believe she would be a force to be reckoned with.
“Is that how you healed Scottie… with the earth through your feet?
“Dear child, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The magic we carry takes years to learn and perfect. This is baby steps. We are just testing the waters, to see how much of what I teach you, combined with what Anna gave you, can do.”
“Yea, so I don’t get that part,” I say, feeling an ounce more bravery in my filled belly. “What does it mean, Anna gave me her magic? I mean, she needs it, if she’s going to get out of there, right?”
Bea sighs, and looks truly disheartened. “She won’t get out of there. Not so long as Helene is alive.”
“But why would her own daughter want her in a nursing home? I mean, that’s so cruel. So totally, utterly cruel.”
I feel my heart grow heavy, then angry. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the thing we just did with my feet, but it feels powerful, like Bea felt powerful, out on the beach. Well, not nearly so strong, but still…
“Have you ever heard the term ‘dysfunctional family’ before?” Bea asks.
She’s kidding, right? “I have the equivalent of a PhD in the topic,” I say, as dry as I possibly can.
“Then you understand how little things can become big things, even in normal situations.”
“So think of that, then add magic. Add layers, and levels, and lifetimes of deceit, betrayal, jealousy, and power. Add countries and continents, mythologies and cultures, religions and rebellions and fortunes won and lost. Add everything else you can imagine to complicate a family. Helene’s taken it upon herself to end it all, by ending the magic—as if that could happen! She thinks she is being heroic, virtuous, and crafty, all at once. She’s powerful enough to generate gold, and that buys anything money can buy, which includes people who will help her.”
Her words hit me hard, like this isn’t a game, and I was an idiot to think otherwise.
“Anna is where she is, and must stay where she is, to protect the only ones capable of continuing the succession of magic. Now, I’ll bet your friend is losing his patience waiting,” she says, nodding toward the beach.
I’d almost forgotten Rod is waiting. Even if he isn’t getting ticked off, which I know he is, I get that this is my invitation to be heading out. Not only can I take a hint, I think I want to.
I’d ask about coming back, but I want to talk to Anna before I do. It would be good to know more about what I’m getting myself into here. A lot more.
“Well then, thank you,” I say, but Bea is already turned to walk into her house. She lifts a hand to wave without turning back, and I remember she’s an old lady, and old ladies often do that. Like time is too short to waste on the obvious.
I scoop up Scottie, still amazed and beyond grateful that she’s fine. And then I remember I don’t know what made her sick.
“Wait… Mrs. Bayless… Bea?” I call after her.
“Don’t bother,” Jake says, looking like he’s going to join me in my short walk back to the beach. “She can’t hear.”
“Why? It’s not like that house is going to be well insulted.”
“She’s deaf,” he says.
“I don’t understand. We just had a perfectly normal conversation.”
“Well, that’s the magic. She can hear when she wants to. But she’s still deaf. Literally.”
“You do realize how entirely insane that sounds, right?”
He laughs. “I guess. I’m just used to it.”
I stop and turn to him. I can’t say I’m not arrested by his strong scent, which is some kind of musty male wow. But I can attempt to pretend I’m not.
“What, exactly, are you used to Jake? I mean, what’s going on out here? What, in the context of the ‘Bayless family,’ is magic?”
“I wondered when you were going to get around to asking me that, instead of her.”
He steps nearer to me, like he’s the one I should get close to. I remember what Bea just said about family politics, and step back.
“That doesn’t answer anything.” My step back is not far enough. I take another, but this only gives me a better look at his six-pack belly gleaming in the sunlight. I wonder if he got those from that feet and belly thing?
“Anna’s my Great-Grandmother, and Bea is my Great, Great Aunt. I’m here because I started learning magic when I was eleven, which everyone says is way too young, but what choice did we have? You heard her. I’m the last one to have a chance to learn it. Well, there’s Michael, but he can’t yet.”
“Who is Michael?”
“That’s a long story,” he says, moving closer.
“Okay. But what is the magic? I mean, what kind of magic?”
Other than the obvious something he has making me feel all weird, standing so close. He is totally getting to me. But is he trying?
“You sure you want to know?” he asks. I swear, his voice dropped, making him sound about ten years older. “Because just knowing does stuff to you. And once it starts, you really can’t stop.”
It sure does do something to you, I think, staring at him like I’m an animal now, too.
Wait, no, I will not be suckered in, just because he’s a hot guy and I’ve never had a boyfriend. This has to be more important. I have to get a hold of whatever fuse of dynamite has been lit inside me and go slow here. I have to consider. What was the question? Oh yes, do I really want to know….what?
“See,” he says, “you’re not ready.”
“How do you know?” I defend, fuse ready to ignite of its own accord. Who is he to tell me…?
“Because I live it, Mayden. I live the magic. You get power, sure. But that doesn’t make things easier. Not even close to easier.”
His words really hit me. I just stare at him, wondering what that could mean. What could it mean that you live magic, and have since you were eleven, and you’re the last in line? I start walking again, because I’d rather have some time to think about it, on my own. I need to get away.
“I will tell you this,” he says, touching my arm. Another white hot jolt goes through me, like Anna’s, like Bea’s. And again I get the sense I know this person, from sometime or some place, maybe a million years ago and a million miles away. It’s more than liking him because he’s so… whatever. I’m sure of that.
“Tell me,” I say.
“You can trust Bea completely, as far as good intentions go. But she’s not always herself, and when she’s not, she’s not reliable. Sometimes she’s even dangerous. And you never know when that will be.”
I nod, remembering Anna said coming here could be dangerous. “Good to know.”
“As far as Scottie goes? It’s the cook at your house. Your cook is poisoning her. Intentionally.”
“What?” I nearly yell. No way. Then again, Mrs. Hamilton always has hated…
“The magic lets you see things. I saw that you wanted to ask Bea about it. And before that, when she was doing the work on Scottie, I saw the cook. You can test me on this. In fact, you should.”