Heather brought Jeremy’s dry clothes into the room. “You’re staying for dinner, aren’t you?” she asked. “I won’t have you going back out in this weather.”
He grinned. “I wouldn’t turn down your famous cooking.”
She snorted. “Won’t be mine, tonight. You and Laura are cooking.”
“Oh, really,” he said, turning to Laura. “And what is on the menu?”
Laura blushed. “Nothing special. Just a meat pie.”
“Which should be in the oven, if you’ll look at the time, missy,” Heather said. “Better get chopping. The crust is made, but the filling isn’t.” She left the room again.
Laura found Jeremy an apron. He dressed while she arranged the kitchen. With one cutting board on the table and the other on the counter, they made quick work of the vegetables and leftover meat.
“Tell me about Zeke,” Laura said. “You don’t trust him. Why?”
“He wanted to be president of the group and was upset that I won, that’s all.”
“I can tell there’s more to your dislike than that,” Laura said. She reached for his cutting board and scraped his carrots and onions into a large skillet. Adding her own bits, she shook salt and pepper into the mixture, stirred, then sauteed for a few minutes, before pouring it into the pie crust that had been waiting in the refrigerator. She had prepared a top crust too, which she carefully applied on top before slipping the pie into the oven. A picture jumped into her mind of a large man with dark black hair and big muscles. Zeke. He was an insecure bully, according to Jeremy’s thoughts. That image was followed by a fierce desire: Jeremy wanted to be fair, even to Zeke.
She turned away from him to check the oven, so that Jeremy wouldn’t see that his thoughts had betrayed him.
“You’ll meet him soon enough,” Jeremy said. “Just be careful, okay?”
The teens held their meetings at Lotus Yoga, a studio owned by two witches who were glad to open their doors to the kids. Laura, Matthew and Jeremy were the first ones to arrive: one of the owners let them in and pointed to the refreshments piled in the corner of their office. “Susan’s mother dropped them off earlier. Need any help setting up?” she asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“I heard that you have a fairy coming to speak to the group tonight.”
Laura gasped. Nowhere in the thoughts coming from Jeremy had there been anything about this. A real fairy? Maybe this meeting wouldn’t be too awful after all. “Really?” she turned to him.
“I’ve never met a fairy,” the yoga teacher said. “I wish I were able to stay.”
“You know the rules,” Jeremy said, very firmly. “No adults. The fairy would never appear if you stayed.” He frowned.
Laura heard his next thought: the fairy was only coming because she, Laura, needed to hear their story and they needed to evaluate her. She tensed. Would she pass muster? Did she even want to? What awaited her if she did?
“She isn’t a full blood fairy, anyway. She’s half human,” Jeremy said, bringing her thoughts back to the room.
“Close enough,” the yoga teacher said. “I’d still love to meet her. But I’ll leave and let you kids have the place to yourselves.”
Jeremy walked her to the door, and made sure she drove away. Then he instructed Laura and Matthew to set up the tables and food while he fussed with the screen projector, getting it synced with his computer.
The first witches arrived: their part-troll friend, and one of the girls from New Years Eve. They made excited noises when they saw Matthew, grabbed handfuls of the shortbread cookies he’d just set on the table and gathered around him. One of Laura’s fears faded. Matthew, with his open heart, always made friends wherever he went. Zeke and his faction would like him once they met him.
More kids arrived. They seemed a little shy of her, preferring to latch onto the group around Matthew. She was so used to being an outcast, that she didn’t notice at first, until one girl broke loose and came over to her.
“Let me help you,” the girl said.
Laura had been struggling to lift a huge barrel of punch onto her table. Together, they managed to raise the jug high enough to slip it over the edge and position it.
“You’re nice,” the girl said.
Laura realized that she hadn’t met her before. “You think so?” she said.
“We thought you’d be stuck up.”
“Why? And who is we?” Just then Laura felt a shadow on her back. Zeke. She sensed that she’d better turn around slowly and smile even though she wanted to frown at the ugly energy emanating from him. The dark forces already owned a sliver of his soul.
Words she didn’t recognize as her own jumped into her mind. They said: “Zeke is almost as powerful as you. We can’t afford to lose him to the dark side.” She blinked as she assimilated their meaning. Her father had often talked about his alliances with other Lords; he’d said it was important to make them your friends before they become your enemies. She felt her eyes grow wet, wishing he’d managed that with his own brother. Then she set her intention, and rotated to face the young man.
He stood with his hands in his pockets, analyzing her. Clearly, he had mind-reading abilities almost as good as her own, but she had shielded most of her thoughts before arriving at the meeting. He could only see what she wanted him to see. Was the same true for him? This witch business was complicated.
All of a sudden, he smiled at his friend. “Laura’s just a housekeeper. Why would she be stuck up?”
Laura nodded. She’d let him see that much of her history. “Plus,” she said, “I’m an orphan, a big sister, daughter of the Lord of the Manor, and a time traveler. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things. Nice to meet you, Zeke.”
He looked her up and down and then he started laughing. “You’re okay,” he said. “Now lets see about that reptile lover of yours.” He strode across the room to the group around Matthew.
That meeting didn’t go nearly as well. Perhaps Zeke could have let Matthew alone, if no one else liked him, but Laura felt a wave of jealousy run across the room and hit her. Zeke didn’t like Matthew’s popularity; he wanted to be the center of attention. She headed towards them, noticing Jeremy and three of Zeke’s friends also converging on the pair.