“Technically, I don’t think they pay him. He just spends a lot of time there. Anyway, he and his wife, Andrea, are the only ones who can make decent coffee for humans. Jane’s coffee experiments have been known to convulse innocent bystanders, living or otherwise. She says it’s not her fault. She couldn’t cook before she was turned, either.”
Jane Jameson was a vampire?
“Oh, sure, she was turned about three years ago,” Miranda said in response to the question I hadn’t realized I’d asked out loud. That explained the memorial page. “Nice lady. Married to her sire, Gabriel. And she made her own vampire son earlier this year. Collin says I should call him a ‘childe,’ but when I call Jamie her son, it makes Gabriel’s eye twitch. And that’s way more fun.”
She slowed the car as we approached the one well-lit building on a sad, careworn street lined with dilapidated shops. Specialty Books was like a beacon, its bright windows and security lights accentuating the recent coat of sky-blue paint on the exterior brick. The inside appeared to be painted a darker purplish blue. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with light maple bookshelves. I could make out the shapes of four people sitting at a long polished bar, laughing and chatting. This was not what I expected.
Given the neighborhood and the state of Mr. Wainwright’s house, I’d expected the shop to be sort of beaten and half-finished. What had Ms. Jameson had to do to get the building into this condition? How much of the stock had she moved around?
“Are you sure you don’t want to stop in now?” Miranda asked, making me jump a bit. Apparently, the anxious expression on my face was coming across as eager. “They keep vampire hours, so customers are welcome any time of night.”
I shook my head, struggling to find words that wouldn’t set off Miranda’s bullshit sensor. Frankly, I was fighting the absurd urge to slink down in my seat so no one in the shop would see me. I wasn’t ready for this. I needed to prepare for my visit to the shop. I cleared my throat and reminded Miranda about the perishables we’d loaded into the car. “I’ll come back some other time, but thanks for showing me where to find it.”
Miranda shrugged and sped the car down the street. The farther we got from the store, the more I was able to relax. I leaned back against the seat and mulled over this latest development. My plans would have to change. I would need to do more research on Dick Cheney. I would need to change the way I approached Jane Jameson.
The woman who owned my grandfather’s shop was a vampire. That could make my life a lot more complicated.
Sleep didn’t come easily that night, and not just because of my faulty internal clock or the lingering possibility of small mammals scurrying about my bedroom while I slept. It was a combination of worries, including the fact that I was sleeping under the roof my grandfather once owned. Penny called it a “beautiful coincidence” that she’d found it on a Web site listing local rentals. It made me edgy and uncomfortable, for reasons I hadn’t quite pinned down yet. So I tossed and turned in my newly outfitted bed, thinking of Nana Fee and the night she died.
For a witch, Nana Fee died a shockingly normal death. Her heart was old and simply couldn’t give any more. When the body is unable to carry on, there’s only so much magic can do. She was tired of fighting nature and decided to let it take its course.
So on one unremarkable evening a few weeks ago, she sat propped up in her bed, the same one where she’d spent a lifetime alone, well aware that she was breathing her last. She sent everyone from her cozy little bedroom except me. My uncles, aunts, and cousins did as they were told, knowing it was likely the last time she’d boss them around, but they weren’t happy about it. Death was rarely a solitary event in the McGavock family. We were practically our own Greek chorus.
Nana tried to keep a stoic face through the whole affair. Although the family had never held an official election, Nana was definitely the leader. And somehow they’d gotten it into their heads that I was inheriting the position, no matter how much I pleaded for someone else to step in. Nana insisted that we dress her in the lavender bed jacket that Uncle Jack had given her for Christmas. Her snowy-white hair was piled high on her head. The fire was burned down to embers, giving her pale-blue eyes an unearthly glow. “It’s time,” she said, her voice steady but weak. “I made a mistake, putting it off for this long. He’s gone now.”
“Who’s gone?” I asked.
Moving slowly, she pointed to the foot of her bed, to the space between her mattress and box spring. I reached in and pulled out a well-worn manila envelope. She smiled, a slight lift of the corner of her mouth. “Your grandfather.”
“Gilbert Wainwright?” I read the address on the envelope, listing a resident in Half-Moon Hollow, Kentucky, and looked up at Nana, a million questions burning the tip of my tongue.
“He was a good man. Smart, just like my Nola.”
I emptied the envelope into my hand and found several black-and-white photos of a much younger Nana laughing into the camera, her arms slung around a slight man with light hair and dark eyes. He was grinning down at her, a look of fond admiration on his face.
“He didn’t love me,” she said. “But I didn’t care. I was young. A little foolish.”
“You got his name tattooed on your bum?” I asked, sniffing as I sorted through photos, letters, and what appeared to be Nana Fee’s journal.
“Impudent chit,” she muttered. “Shouldn’t have expected anything less from you.”
“You would worry if I was behaving any other way.”
“He has them,” she said, leaning back against the pillows. “Had them.”
“Them?” I stared at her, not comprehending. My eyes widened. “Them? Them them?”
“Yes. I gave them to him for safekeeping,” she said, tapping a photo in which Mr. Wainwright stood next to a packed motorcycle, giving the camera a sad little wave. “On the day he left.”
“Nana, the whole family has wound themselves up over this for decades. How could you—why would you? Why in God’s name would you—”
“Don’t curse at an old woman on her deathbed.”
“Stop calling it a deathbed!” I exclaimed.
“That’s what it is, sweetheart,” she said, squeezing my hand between her dry, brittle fingers. “No use pretending it’s not. It’s my time, you see, it’s run out. And your time is just coming. I’m sorry this has fallen to you, the responsibilities, the burden. But it couldn’t be helped.”
“Nana, I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Promise me,” she said. “Swear that you’ll go to America to retrieve them.”
“How do you even know he still had them? He could have lost them on the way back to America. What if he sold them?”
“He swore he would keep them safe. He knew how important it was. I contacted him every few years, to check on him. The last time I called, they told me he was gone.”
“And what if his family has sorted through his effects and sold them off?”
“He had no family.”
“He had a daughter and a granddaughter,” I snapped. I was immediately sorry for my tone and pushed a stray lock of hair away from Nana’s face.
“It was better this way, Nola,” she assured me. “There was no reason to tell him about your mother, although I know it caused her pain. I had all of the best bits of him, right here. How could I ask him for more? I couldn’t ask him to spend his life with someone he didn’t love. And if he knew there was a baby, he would have come back.”
“I’m sorry, Nana, I really am, but maybe it’s best just to leave the past in the past. There’s no reason for me to go halfway around the world and open old wounds—”
“If you don’t go to America and find the Elements before they do, the whole family will be bound. No magic, no healing, no more help for our neighbors when they need it. Have you seen what happens to a village when they’re suddenly without magic after generations have lived under its care and protection?”
“Let’s not talk about this now,” I told her.
“Oh, yes, we’ll talk about it some other time.” She sighed. “Let’s schedule an appointment next week. It will be so much more convenient after I die.”
I groaned, pressing my fingers against my eyelids. She pulled my hands away from my eyes and gave me a stern look. As weak as she was, it was still enough to make me sit up and speak plainly. “I don’t know if I’m up for this, Nana. I don’t know if I can do what you’re asking of me.”
“Magic won’t tolerate a practitioner who dances around it. You use your talents as you see fit, but there’s a price for it, Nola. And the price has to be paid. If you continue to live as half a witch, you’ll lose your gifts. Promise me that you’ll find them.”
“Nana . . .”
“Promise. Me,” she ground out, as if the very effort exhausted her. “Unless you want my spirit stuck on this plane with unfinished business. It won’t be pleasant haunting. Lots of flies. Portents of doom. Midnight wailing.”
“Fine. I promise,” I said. “Just lie back and get some rest, all right? I love you.”
“I love you, too, darling.” Nana closed her eyes and leaned back. Her breathing evened out, and her pulse went steady. Just before she fell asleep, her eyes fluttered open. “Nola, your mother . . .”
“Shh.” I leaned against the bed and whispered against her temple. “Don’t worry. Get some rest.”
When her breath evened out and faded into light snores, I went into the parlor to assure my family that she was resting comfortably. In other words, they should get out and let both of us rest, for pity’s sake. The next morning, I woke propped against the bedside with my hand still twined in Nana’s. The fire was out, and the room was cold and dark. I’d fallen asleep against the mattress, my face cradled against her journal. At some point, she’d taken off her great-grandmother’s wedding ring and closed my fingers over it. It had no magical significance. It was just an old family ring, passed from mother to daughter. I was the only one in Fiona McGavock’s line left to pass it along to.
And she was gone.
If you happen across a supernatural creature you don’t understand, do not do anything to attract its attention until you’re sure it’s friendly. Unless you’re comfortable operating with fewer appendages; if that’s the case, carry on.
—When, What, Witch, Were, and Why?
The Five W’s of Safe Interactions with the Paranormal
With my internal clock still all wonky, I ended up sitting in bed reading over my notes on the artifacts. The problem was, I was looking for four everyday objects: a candle, a clay plaque, a knife, and a bell. Apart from being old, they probably wouldn’t catch much attention at your average yard sale. And all supernatural clues from my grandmother had stopped the moment I decided to go to the States. That was maddeningly unhelpful.
I pored over the sketches Nana had left me, trying to memorize the symbols that had been painstakingly etched into the candle to represent protection. My head drooped over the papers until the landline rang, a sharp, shrieking jangle next to my ear. I jerked awake, blinking blearily at my new alarm clock to see that the numbers on its face were indecently low. I may have muttered a few obscenities into the receiver when I pressed it to my ear.
“Well, that’s a fine greeting for your favorite aunt.”
I sat up in bed, wiping at my eyes. “Pen, what the hell are you doing calling me at three in the morning?”
“Ah!” Penny cried. “Sorry, love, forgot about the time difference.”