Cars filled the little parking lot outside the cave a month later. Witches of all sorts milled around the entrance, their children in tow. Laura and David recognized Robert and raced to him.
“Hey,” he said. He wrapped an arm around each of them. “Nice to see you two.”
“Where’s Padma?” Laura asked.
“Inside, getting ready for the ceremony.”
Laura wanted to squeeze into the opening of the cave, but it teemed with people, all come to find out if Matthew would develop any witch powers upon turning sixteen. It seemed wrong, somehow, that his birthday should draw so many curious onlookers. Had they come because of his reptile DNA, or because of his exotic origin in the sixteenth century? It didn’t matter. She resented them. He was her boyfriend.
“Matthew went for a walk to clear his head,” Robert said. “Let’s go find him.”
They started up the cliff edge. Laura heard a noise behind them and turned to find Wendy. “Get lost,” she said, hissing at her roommate. Wendy drove her nuts. Until yesterday, when she found out that the big event today would feature Laura’s boyfriend, she had never spoken nicely to her or her brother. Now, of course, she wanted into the inner circle.
“But Laura,” Wendy protested, “I’m your sister.”
“No,” Laura said, “go back. Matthew needs his loved ones, not someone he has never met.”
“You will pay for this,” Wendy said. She shook her curls and turned down the hill.
Laura watched her leave and sighed. She didn’t need another enemy.
Robert put his hand on her shoulder. “Poor Heather and George. We all hope she will grow out of her self-centered phase.”
“She needs more than hope,” Laura said. “In two years – “
“Yes, we know. The local coven put in a request for help. After the holidays I will take her to Melbourne. My wife, a world-renowned child psychiatrist, knows how to help troubled children. Wendy is a good kid, but she’s bored and insecure. You’ll see. When she returns to England, Wendy will act very differently.”
Matthew had perched himself on a rock. His eyes looked at them, nearly black from the stress of waiting. “What if I don’t turn?” he asked. “All those witches down there won’t let me marry you, Laura.”
Laura drew herself to her full height of five feet ten inches. She had grown another half-inch in the past two months, but hadn’t put on a pound. “I decide who I marry. You know that. Stop fretting.”
David’s little voice piped up. “As the man of the family, if Laura wants to marry you, I approve.”
“Nobody will marry anyone anytime soon,” Robert interrupted them. “Modern people don’t marry before eighteen.”
They grew quiet at that pronouncement. Laura leaned into Matthew and rubbed his hair. She had only seen him without a hat once or twice before. He had cut it short. She marveled at its thick bushiness. He smiled, sadly, at her. “I miss you,” he said.
“I know,” she said.
“Hey,” David said, “you have to see her new watch.” He pulled up Laura’s sleeve on her left arm, to reveal a pink band and large watch face. “I can tell time,” he said, excitedly. “Let’s see, it’s,” he counted silently, his lips moving, “ten minutes to three.”
“We’d better go down. According to Padma, you were born at three fourteen,” Laura said.
Matthew shook his head, “I haven’t shown one sign of magic. I won’t turn into a witch. I think that I’d rather stay up here.”
David grinned. “You haven’t looked at your fingernails, have you?”
Sure enough, a faint green glow emanated from them. Matthew jumped: “holy mother of god,” he said.
Laura squeezed him and kissed his cheek, then blushed. She knew by now that kids her age did far more than cheek kissing, but she’d never dared even hug him back in their village where women didn’t touch men unless they were married to them.
He smiled at her, his eyes sparkling. “Guess Bethany got it right when she smelled witch in me.”
The crowd parted to let their group pass through the narrow passage into the living room. Someone had baked a cake, with “Happy Birthday Matthew,” written on it. Colorful balloons and paper twists hung from the walls. Samantha hugged him, then Padma came forward. “Almost time,” she said, then saw his hands. The green had spread down his fingers. “Welcome.” Her eyes crinkled upward and her lips pressed hard together. Padma tried, but she couldn’t hide her pleasure.
Heather leaned forward and lit sixteen candles. The group sang a song Laura didn’t recognize. When they finished, they counted from one to sixteen.
“Blow out the candles,” Padma urged. When Matthew did, sparks flew out of his mouth. Everyone in the cave laughed, and crowded around to congratulate him.
Wendy appeared at Laura’s side. “Looks like your boyfriend made it into the club,” she said, sarcastically. “He’s cute, but isn’t he a little short for you?”
“Just wait,” Laura said. “You should have seen his father. Come, let me introduce you.”
“No thanks,” Wendy said. She turned on her heels and took a step. “All this stupid witch stuff annoys me.”
“Come on,” Laura said. She wished that she had better words to convince Wendy to let down her act for just a minute. “You can make fun of his accent.”
“Okay,” Wendy said. Her sudden capitulation surprised Laura.
Wendy surprised her even more when she introduced her to Padma. She said hello politely and asked thoughtful questions about Padma’s life in India. Admittedly, Padma glowed with an exotic beauty that drew everyone out of their shells. But when Wendy said hello to Matthew, and asked all about his life in the cave, Laura was incredulous and irritated. Why couldn’t Wendy ever be nice to her?
Samantha pulled Laura away from the knot of people gathered around Matthew. “That little minx,” Samantha said. “She always has to be the center of attention.”
“Oh, so that’s it,” Laura said, understanding her ‘sister’ a little better.
“I want your opinion on something.,” Samantha said. She explained that Matthew could stay here at the cave, with his teachers, or move in with a family in York. Since that he had turned into a witch, he could be fostered by a witch family. He could either move in with an older couple who had a little reptile blood, or a young family who had no reptile heritage, but who had a boy near Matthew’s age.
She met the young family first. The teen boy, Jeremy, who was sixteen also, immediately included her in his circle of other young witches, inviting her to their monthly meet-ups. He had an easy manner that told her Matthew would get along well with him. A boy could teach him about the world of teenagers and technology in a way that adults could not. However, Jeremy’s parents seemed distracted. They admitted that, with three younger children and their jobs, they had little spare time.
The Drs. Springer, the older couple, in their late-forties, both taught at the University. Their children were grown. They struck Laura as intelligent, energetic, and caring. They clearly had the time and energy to raise a mixed heritage teen from the sixteenth century. They immediately talked to her about the difficulties inherent in being a witch with reptile blood. “Our daughter struggled with it more than our son, but it turned out to be a blessing for her,” the wife explained. “She deals with the complexities of a world run by reptiles better than most witches.”
Laura frowned at that last statement and tucked it away to ponder. She hoped she would see more of this thoughtful woman. “They’re a better choice,” she told Samantha.
When they finally managed to drag Matthew away from his well-wishers, he agreed with Laura. When he tried to talk to Jeremy’s parents, he could hardly get through a sentence before they raced off to prevent their younger children from hurting themselves. How could he learn anything from them? On the other hand, he liked the Springers. They were easy to talk to, happy to answer his questions, and curious about his former life.
“Why don’t you live with the Springers, and I’ll visit every Saturday?” Jeremy suggested. “It’s easy to get there on the bus from my house.”
Someone thrust plates of cake into their hands. The witches turned on music, and the party began. Matthew pulled Laura into a corner. They ate and talked, their eyes meeting, until Laura had to leave. “I’m glad you’re a witch,” she said, kissing him on the cheek again, and feeling the glow from that touch fill her body.