The Weird Girls Page 3

Shayna crossed her arms around herself protectively. She leaned back into the seat to stare out at the water, no doubt thinking about the cruelty we’d been forced to endure in our childhood and how it always managed to find its way into our adult lives. Emme had returned to analyzing the creases of her small palms. Taran just fumed, hard enough for a spark of blue and white to sizzle above her dark hair. I paused, taking a moment to settle my beast and the whirlwind of emotions spinning my insides. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me believe it was all about the damn paper towel?”

“I didn’t think you needed reminding what freaks we all are.” Taran gave me a one-shoulder shrug. “Especially seeing how you’ve had a harder time than the rest of us.”

Harder time? I guess she had a point. I was nine when our parents were killed—too young to take on the parental role suddenly thrust into my arms. And yet I had.

Although we were all born “different,” my sisters’ powers didn’t manifest until puberty. I’d obtained added strength and my first change at age eight. Looking back, it was probably God’s way of assigning me as their protector. After all, the spell our wicked aunt cast upon our mother for marrying outside her race condemned our parents with short lives—a curse which came to fruition the night our home was burglarized. The other part of the curse? The one meant to damn any child conceived from their union with sickness and frailty? That one somehow backfired and made us strong, and so unique; nothing like us existed on earth.

I covered my face with my hands trying to push away the memories of our parent’s deaths . . . and everything that followed their passing.

I’m not sure how many more breaths I took before I could angle the car back onto the road. I barely saw the street, the lake, the wall of thick pines hugging the edge of the road, or the lights of the oncoming cars. All that clouded my vision were the nameless faces of the kids who had been mean to us. With the exception of our parents, then our foster mother, the adults we’d encountered hadn’t been any nicer. Taran was right, we were freaks . . . ones who had never fit in. And having a last name like Wird gave others the pleasure of nicknaming us the “weird girls”. The moniker followed us no matter where we ended up. I hated school, and spent most of my afternoons in detention for fighting those who targeted my sisters. Funny how in some ways I remained that kid in detention, seething and exhausted, knowing another day of trouble lay ahead with no end in sight.

None of us spoke the rest of the way to our new home in Dollar Point. I pulled into the driveway and stared at the beautiful blue custom Colonial. We thought we’d finally found a home where we could be safe. Had we been fools to believe it?

I cut the engine. No one moved or made an effort to get out. In the silence, a multitude of worst-case scenarios played like a movie trailer in my mind. Taran twisted her body to face me. “You would have done the same, Celia,” she said. Her voice grew more and more defensive. “And you damn well know it.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But there’s one difference.”

Taran glared. “Oh, yeah? And what’s that?”

I met Taran’s stare. Although she knew I’d never hurt her, she still feared the power of my beast. She dropped her gaze but not her attitude. I sighed. “Because in high school, the homecoming queen would have retaliated with snide remarks, not magic. You pissed off a witch, Taran. That means her entire coven will come after us.”

Chapter Three

My bare feet padded along the cold driveway. I adjusted my thick white cotton robe before bending over and retrieving the morning paper. Right smack on the front page was a picture highlighting our oh-so-thrilling night. The hellish inferno, a.k.a. Club Ooo-La-La, sat larger than life before my bloodshot eyes. I groaned, convinced the flames resembled one giant middle finger in “F-You” tribute to the Wird girls. My stomach churned as I read on. Patrons credited the neckless bouncer with saving the day. He’d been the last one to leave after ensuring everyone had exited, one party-hopper stated. He’d even admitted to trying to bat out the flames with his shirt. Yeah, right. I guess he had to explain his last-minute appearance and missing shirt.

Rats chewing on gas lines were blamed, leaving us thankfully free of the much anticipated arson charge. I threw out the paper almost immediately, grateful our mug shots hadn’t made the front cover.

Emme handed me a plate of food, piled high with eggs and sausage. I barely ate. Our lack of prison time, while comforting, did little to ease my retaliation worries. The witches would find us. Covens were a lot like tight-knit families. Take on one, take on the entire spell-wielding cheer squad. I could relate. Still, that didn’t mean I looked forward to the showdown.

“Did you notice anything different?” Shayna asked. Four knives the length of chair legs sat tucked into the leather belt fastened around her nightie. She usually slept with a knife under her pillow, but the mercenary-for-hire getup was excessive attire even for her. Thankfully, we’d learned long ago to knock before disturbing her sleep.

“No. Nothing at all.”

Taran sipped her tea. “Well, maybe those wenches realize we’re not going to take their shit.”

Emme shot me an optimistic glance. I didn’t comment, refusing to give them false hope. Taran knew the witches wouldn’t back down. Her attempt was made to ease our sisters’ fears. But as much as I hated them being on edge, the tension would keep their guard up, and hopefully keep them safe.

I retreated to my bedroom, my brain muddled with how to handle the witches and their flying monkeys of doom. Beings of magic guarded their proprietary secrets carefully. It’s not like a “Wicked Spell-Casters R Us” website awaited us with answers. Who could I call? Danny, my dear friend and genius extraordinaire, had become enthralled by the supernatural world after I helped protect him and his father against Mafioso-like vampires years ago. Since then, he’d researched the mystical world just for fun, shocking the bejeebers out of me. Personally, I thought he’d take up knitting a strait jacket after that nightmare experience. If anything, his near-death occurrence fueled his curiosity about the superbeasties and what made them go bump in the night.

Danny and I had dated briefly as teens. He’d ended our relationship just before he left Jersey for Stanford, claiming he wasn’t what I needed. It took me a long time to understand what he’d meant, and even longer to admit he’d been right. We’d stayed in touch because aside from my sisters, he’d been my one true friend, and one I could trust with our lives.

My sisters and I, while technically supernatural, didn’t fall under any mystical category. Therefore, we didn’t quite belong . . . anywhere. And although mortal, once the backfired curse kicked in, we no longer thought of ourselves as fully human. We resigned to fly under the radar, as much as our uniqueness would allow. And even though Danny was human, he knew more than us and was frequently our go-to guy when we had questions about the world we’d done our best to avoid. I called him so he could ease my fears, tell me my concerns were ridiculous, accuse me of being neurotic.

Danny answered my call on the second ring. It surprised me given he was immersed in his doctoral studies at Stanford. “Hey, Celia! How’s it going, pretty girl?”

“Taran picked a fight with a witch last night in a public bathroom. We destroyed her talisman and burned down the building. I think her coven plans to retaliate and turn us into gophers . . . or kill us. One of the two, for sure.”

A long, long pause was followed by: “Holy crap. Celia, you have to get out of there!”

So much for easing my worries. “We can’t, Danny. This is home now.” I stood and paced my bedroom suite, spilling the details of our rip-roaring night. “What can we expect?”

“Hang on.” Fumbling ensued on the other end followed by what sounded like books falling from high places and pages flipping open. “According to The Brown Book of Magic, in destroying the witch’s talisman, you’ve cut her power by half.”

“Oh, well, that’s good.”

The pause on the other end told me I was very much mistaken. “Ah, Celia, witches are born with magic in them.”

“I know, Danny. That’s what differentiates them from humans.”

More pausing. More trouble, I presumed. “They spend their lives building their magic into their talismans—staffs, rings, necklaces, etc., to amplify the magic they’re born with. Apparently it’s a lot of work and takes years of grueling effort.”

I stopped pacing. “Um. Okay. So what does that mean?”

“Ah, well, you basically stripped her of her position and she will likely never regain the power she’s lost. It’s the equivalent of a general being reduced to private status.”

“Well, that’s not too bad—”

“After he’s publically whipped before the entire army.”

“Um, no one saw—”

“And peed on by feral dogs.”

It was my turn to pause. “So, there’s nothing we can do. Her coven will come after us?”

Danny’s shaky breath answered for him. So did his ominous tone. “They’ll basically form a circle around the witch who provoked you at the next gathering. She’ll focus on your or Taran’s face. They’ll call forth a location spell and find you to answer for the insult.”

“But she came after us.”

“Even if you could prove to the head witch she started the trouble, it would likely only earn her a slap on the wrist. After all, she technically kept the fight shadowed from the patrons. And while that bouncer walked in on everything, she could have easily altered his memories with a simple spell.” He flipped through more pages. “Hmm.”

“Good hmm, or bad hmm?” He didn’t answer. “Danny?”

“There is something that may protect your family, but I’m not crazy about the idea.”

“Like a weapon or something?”

“Uh, you can say that.” More pages flipped. He groaned. “Yeah, really not crazy about this, Celia.”

I tapped my fingers against my dresser. “Danny, they’re my family. I have to do something.”

“I know you do, Celia.” He sighed. “Look, as head of the family, you can challenge their head witch to a duel. It’s called ‘invoking the Ninth Law’. Your sisters will be spared from any retaliation, whether you win or not.”

A trickle of cold sweat found its way down my spine. I didn’t want to have to kill . . . again. Danny must have sensed my fear. “No one has to die, Celia. It’s more like whoever cries misericordia —or ‘mercy’—first, loses. But keep in mind, as head witch, she’ll be a lot stronger than the witch you faced.”

I swore under my breath, thinking back to the rats. But what choice did I have? “I know, but—it’s fine. I’ll do it.”

“I still think it’s wiser to move.”

My mind flashed with images of our house. We’d purchased it at auction. The previous owners had wrecked it—the carpet had been torn up, angry fists had punched through the sheetrock, and yellow paint had been splashed over the beautiful hardwood floors. Still, they hadn’t robbed the 3,500-square-foot colonial of its heart. We had big plans to make it so warm, so endearing. I couldn’t think to abandon something we’d yearned for all our lives. “We’re not going anywhere, Danny.”

I heard Danny shut the book and place it down. “Celia, please think this through. Just because the rules say no one has to die, that doesn’t mean the head witch won’t try to kill you.”

Chapter Four

I didn’t share my “duel until someone cries ‘uncle’ ” conversation with my sisters. They’d go ape, and there was no sense in worrying them until I had to. So we waited for the witches to contact us. I expected something dramatic—a raven perhaps delivering the “I’ll get you, my pretties, and your little dog, too,” papers, or maybe something more technologically advanced like a curse via email. It seemed, though, even that was too much to hope for.

I ran along the snowy beach of Lake Tahoe, dressed in black spandex running pants with a matching long-sleeved top. The bitter morning wind slapped against my hot cheeks. Sweat trickled between my br**sts. And my buttocks and thighs tightened like flesh-covered stone. It all felt so damn good, especially with the caress of Tahoe’s magic encouraging me forward. The ten miles I’d run would have drained most. Instead it enlivened my spirit and made my tigress beg for more. If she couldn’t fight, she needed to run, or else the predator would choose to hunt those who threatened the ones we loved.

My ears and senses remained vigilant, seeking out any unusual scent, sound, and presence. Several days had passed without incident. We’d returned to our nursing jobs, grocery shopping, and laundry duties. And yet while no one mentioned it, we didn’t exactly return to a sense of normalcy. I finished my run and cut through the snow-covered path back to our development. The firs and rhododendrons covered by a thick blanket of snow parted just a few yards away, revealing the house closest to the path. Our neighbors were virtually nonexistent, with the exception of one.

Mrs. Mancuso hadn’t liked four young, single women moving in next door. The first day we’d moved in she banged on our door. Emme mistakenly thought some kind, neighborly soul had arrived to bring us ‘Welcome to Tahoe’ cookies. There were no cookies, just a whole lot of attitude and a great deal of neck skin.

“This is a family neighborhood,” Mrs. Mancuso had huffed. “They’ll be no whorin’ under my watch.”

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