Jeremy stopped by Laura’s house the afternoon of the February Teen Witch Meeting. Thick dark clouds had been hanging over the city all day, threatening rain, which appeared just before his last class of the week let out. He pulled his coat tightly around his shoulders as he ran from one bus to the next until he finally stepped off at her stop. He’d never been to her house before. He had a difficult time picking it out of the row of similar cottages. By the time he knocked on the door, he was soaked.
“Lordy,” Heather exclaimed, when she saw him. “You’ll catch your death of cold. Whatever persuaded you to brave this storm? You could have phoned. I would have picked you up.”
“No, no, Mrs. Primrose, that’s alright. I need to talk to Laura before the meeting tonight.”
“She’s upstairs in her room, studying. But you can’t go up there. You’ll drip water everywhere. I”ll put on the kettle and fetch you a towel to dry yourself. I have just the right herb blend to warm you up. Once you’ve had a cup, I’ll fetch the girl.”
“No need,” Laura said, coming down the stairs. “I heard the ruckus. Hi, Jeremy.”
“Ah, Laura, you can fetch him the towels. I’ll get the tea. The damp is eating into my bones; we should all have a cup. Preventative is the best way.”
“Can’t we just say a spell and make him dry?”
Heather gave her the stink eye. “You tell her, Jeremy. I don’t have the patience for her right now.”
“Gotta practice our human skills. We can’t be casting spells in public.”
“”Oh, and get the mop. That puddle under him is the size of Loch Lomand and growing. We’ll all drown soon.”
Laura grimaced, but she ran off.
“Don’t you dare move, young man,” Heather said. She left him alone.
He stood, bemused, in the foyer, his errand nearly forgotten. It occurred to him that he was awfully wet and cold. He slipped his shoes off, wondering why on earth he’d forgotten his boots and his hat that morning.
“Here,” Laura said, reappearing and handing him a towel. He rubbed his hair, then his feet. She took the wet towel and gave him a second one, then left again, leaving him plenty to think about. When she’d held out the second towel, he’d touched her hand and once again felt the burning sensation. Either that girl had so much magic that she could burn anyone with her touch, or they were meant to mate. That thought pleased him more than it should. What about his friend, Matthew? He gritted his teeth. He couldn’t fall for Laura: she was taken.
By the time he’d made himself semi-dry, Laura had mopped the floor. She led him to the warm kitchen, where a familiar smell greeted them: strong herbs intended to ward off colds. A plate of oatmeal cookies with raisins sat on the table to ameliorate the bitterness of the herbs.
“Take off your outer things,” Heather advised, setting a large mug of the tea in front of him. “I’ll throw them in the dryer while you two talk. I assume you come on urgent business about tonight, or you wouldn’t have ventured out in this flood.”
He nodded and stood to strip. He wore long underwear, so he peeled everything else off and sat down quickly before Laura could laugh at him.
“Socks, too.” Heather pointed at his feet. “I’ll find some slippers for you, but it’s warm enough in here to cook a bird, so you’ll be fine.”
Gathering his wet things, she trundled away.
“I wish my own mom was so, um, motherly,” he said, looking down at his mug so that he wouldn’t have to meet Laura’s eyes.
“Yes, she’s a good one.” Laura poured herself a cup of the tea, grabbed a cookie, and sat across from him.
“So,” he said. He cupped the mug, letting the warmth enter his hands.
“What are you doing here?”
“I need advice on how to handle tonight. You know Matthew better than anyone,” he glanced at her, then quickly looked away. In her bright eyes he thought he saw a shadow. He wondered if there were issues between her and Matthew. The thought made his heart race. He warned himself once again not to go there.
She took her time responding. After a long silence, she asked: “will there be trouble? Matthew doesn’t want to come. He doesn’t want to cause conflict.”
“He has to. I’m to to ensure he shakes the hand and smiles at every single one of those jackasses. They’re all coming. They must be convinced that their fears are groundless.”
“But you’re afraid they won’t.”
He sighed. He didn’t trust Zeke at all.
“Didn’t they all promise to give Matthew a chance?” Laura asked.
“Sure, but – “
“Matthew will win them over, especially their leader.”
He started. She’d been reading his mind. She wasn’t supposed to do that. Unless she couldn’t help it. The possibility that she was his mate surfaced again in his mind. He looked over at her, trying to assess what he thought of her. Just in case, he told himself.
She blushed. So he was right: she was reading his mind.
“Sorry,” she said. “I can’t help it. I try to shut your thoughts out, but they shout at me. You’re not reading mine, so you’re probably wrong. About us, I mean.”
“Do you have that happen with anyone else?”
She nodded. “Heather sometimes. David, almost always.”
“Must be weird.”
She shook her head. “It did at first, but I’m getting used to it.”
“Well,” he said, closing his eyes and taking a big breath to send the thought of making love to her far away, “back to tonight.”
She stood and walked around the kitchen, picking up objects and setting them down again.
He watched her, realizing that she was nervous. This wasn’t only about Matthew. She would be judged, too.
She spun sharply and stared him in the eyes. “Everyone in our village loved Matthew. He used to run errands for all of the old people. He babysat the little ones. He often had a group of toddlers following him. That’s why I love him. He saved David’s life one time, when he fell in the fire. How can anyone think that Matthew has even one tiny speck of evil in him?”
“So he’ll charm them all?”
She nodded, and picked at her shirt. “You knew that. You’ve seen him do it. I’m a different matter. That’s what you’re really worried about, isn’t it?”
She was right. He hadn’t realized it until just now. He bit into another cookie and chewed.
“I’m a threat. I have more power than any of them, and I was brought forward in time to use it. To lead. I’m to be their queen.”
“Maybe,” he said.
“Right. If I pass muster and all that. But still, I’m not like them. I’m less like them than Matthew. And I’m a little aloof. I’ve been hurt too much to make friends easily.”
“That’s it!” he said, excited that she had articulated the problem. The council worried about Zeke, who had a cousin who had gone over to the dark side, but Laura was the real concern. Heather had reported that Laura kept to herself most of the time, and could be quick to judge with her sharp tongue. That wouldn’t help her win the allegiances she was going to need.
She studied her hands and then his face. He saw her stiffen her spine, then a slow smile spread across her face. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Before my parent’s were arrested, I learned the social graces. I’m sure that they still apply. Plus, Heather’s taught me a lot about kindness. I will put them at ease.”
“Do more than that,” he said. “Woo them.”
She grinned mischievously and saluted. “Aye, aye, captain. Wooing it is.”