Heather returned without Matthew. “It got late,” she said, “so I dropped him at home. But we found his totem. He’ll hide it in a bag around his neck, with a lock of your hair. It will give him power.”
“What’s a totem?”
“It can be anything. Someday you’ll need to help others find theirs, and you may even need your own. You go to a holy spot, where the vegetation is thick, and call to the fairies. They search for the perfect object to focus your power. Sometimes it takes them months or years, and you have to keep going back until they drop it at your feet. Matthew was lucky. They must have been waiting for him, because his appeared instantly.”
“Did you see them do it?”
“No. The totem just fell out of the air.”
The fairies. There was that hint of another world, of these other beings. Later that night, Laura dreamt that they danced around her bed. At the breakfast table, she said, “I saw a fairy once, when I was about David’s age. I was with Mummy, gathering nuts in the forest. He looked straight into my eyes, then disappeared.”
“Are you sure it was a fairy?” George asked.
“Yes. He had wings, just like in the pictures. He left sparkly dust in the air when he dissolved. I didn’t tell Mum, because it’s bad luck to see one.”
“That’s a superstition,” Heather said. “They rarely let humanoids see them, though sometimes they make an exception for children.” She examined Laura carefully, then said: “huh.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing. I just remembered something, that’s all.”
“We gotta leave for school, mum,” Titus said, picking up his bag and swinging it against the wall.
“Righty-o,” she said. She always walked the boys to the bus in the morning and waited to make sure they got safely on board.
With his totem and Laura’s lock tucked in a leather bag around his neck, Matthew tried the basic spell again, one that would hide him from all eyes except witches and fairies. This time, the cloak appeared, though it only covered his feet. Laura laughed. “It looks like you’re floating, but your legs were chopped off.”
“Practice, Matthew,” Heather said. “Do it ten times while I work with Laura.”
Laura followed Heather into the house.
“Never,” Heather said, turning to her with a stern expression, “make fun of those who don’t have your abilities. Especially not Matthew. He wants and needs your respect more than anything. The power differential is hard enough on him.”
“But I can’t see and smell half as well.”
“That doesn’t matter. He feels inadequate because you have so much more magic. That’s a poor foundation for romantic love, or any love, for that matter. It’s only going to get worse as your full powers are revealed. If you don’t respect him, he will become your enemy. That’s true of anyone.”
Laura knew Heather spoke the truth, but it hurt. “How do I keep him? I’ve loved him my whole life. I’ve always dreamed we’d marry and have a large family.”
Heather took her in her arms. “Shush, little one. Love has to be nourished with trust, and little moments like the one that just happened take a bite out of that trust. Apologize and tell him your fears.”
Laura stepped out of her foster mother’s arms and nodded, brushing tears off her face. She started to open the door, but Heather put a hand out to stop her. “One more thing. Try not to be too disappointed if the passion between you cools.”
Laura nodded again. What could she say to this wise woman? She walked outside, and didn’t see Matthew. Had he left? She felt into the web. He was still in the middle of the yard. She grinned and ran to the spot where he hid. She waited. When he emerged, she apologized for laughing, and congratulated him. He did it again, to prove it hadn’t been a fluke. She laughed again, this time because he’d succeeded.
“He’s cast a perfect spell,” Heather said, walking out of the house. “You could learn from him, Laura. You tend to be a little sloppy. Sometimes, I can see a bit of your foot or an ear poking out.”
“Or an arm,” Matthew said, releasing his spell and pulling Laura to him. He kissed her full on the mouth for the first time, but she couldn’t quite enjoy the long-awaited embrace, thinking about the conversation with Heather.