Translation by Kristin Schöllkopf.
That’s how long I’d been sitting here, waiting.
Thirteen long minutes that I’d spent thinking about my own foolishness. Had I honestly expected to find friends online? Suddenly the idea seemed absurd and I felt stupid for even having considered it.
I snorted and shook my head. This was ridiculous. What the hell was I doing here? I grabbed my purse and slid off my stool at the bar, waving at the bartender. She was talking to another customer and held up her hand in my direction, gesturing for me to wait. With a sigh, I slid back onto my chair and propped my elbows up on the counter. It looked like I had a few more minutes to think about my own foolishness. I let my face sink into my palms and stared at the dark wood.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone enter the room through the door behind the bar. He exchanged a couple of words with the bartender, making her laugh. It was a happy, carefree sound that made me cringe.
Why was everyone having fun tonight but me?
It was a Saturday night and I was being pathetic.
Oh, great, I thought to myself. Self-pity is really helpful right now.
“What can I do for you?” I heard a male voice say.
“Not interested,” I told him, without raising my head. I waved my hand in a dismissive manner to make sure he got the message, just in case my words hadn’t been clear enough.
“Bad night?” he asked and I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Bad year,” I replied before I could stop myself. I pressed my lips together and let my face sink even lower. Maybe he hadn’t heard me? Of course he had.
His laugh was dark.
“What can I do for you?” he repeated and this time, I raised my head in irritation.
Why wouldn’t he just leave me alone?
“I am not interested…” I shut up when I laid eyes on him. It was not his good looks or his sparkling blue eyes, his golden hair or his full lips. No. It were the words The Underworld, the name of the club, stitched into his shirt––which, by the way, clung to every single muscle of his perfect chest. He seemed to be the replacement of the bartender, who’d just left.
“Uhm…” I stuttered. Why did my voice have to sound all squeaky all of a sudden? I cleared my throat.
The bartender’s eyes flashed with amusement as his gaze slid over my face and exposed arms. He licked his lips and I inhaled sharply. It was an involuntary reaction, he could tell. His mouth curved up into a smile, just before he pursed his lips and looked at me expectantly.
“I’d like to pay for my drink,” I told him and although I made an effort to sound confident and smart, I was breathless. At least my voice didn’t sound squeaky anymore. I’d learned to appreciate the small things in life.
“Sure,” he answered, nodding. His gaze slid from my eyes to my lips and down my body.
I crossed my arms. Suddenly I felt as if he could look past my clothes, right into that deep, hidden place. The place where I kept all those dark thoughts and memories no one was supposed to see.
I fidgeted in my seat as he briefly closed his eyes, before turning around and walking toward the register.
As soon as his gaze left me, I exhaled and immediately felt ten pounds lighter. How had he done that to me? How had he made me feel so exposed and thrilled at the same time?
Before I could figure it out he was back, putting a glass filled with golden liquid in front of me.
“I didn’t order anything,” I clarified.
“My treat.” He looked at me again.
“No, thank you.”
He leaned back a little, his arms akimbo. He was studying me with a spark in his blue eyes.
Well, I thought. What the hell? Why not? It was Saturday night and I was in a bar all by myself. I deserved a drink.
I grabbed the glass, nodded at him, then downed the whole drink at once. Tears sprang to my eyes as the liquid burned my throat and I had to cough.
One of his eyebrows shot up and I could see the amusement in his eyes. He tilted his head slightly, looking at me with curiosity in his eyes as if I was a riddle he had trouble solving. A second later, his gaze cleared and he smiled.
“Another one?” he asked and before I could stop myself, I nodded.
His smile widened and he turned around. A minute later, he put a new glass on the counter, filling it with the same golden liquid.
I didn’t know the first thing about alcohol and since I couldn’t read the label on the bottle, I had no idea what he was serving me. But the first drink still burned pleasantly in my stomach and I raised the second glass, about to empty it just as quickly when I saw the look in his eyes.
“Careful,” he warned, leaning toward me. His eyes narrowed and a look of fierce concentration crossed his face, just before he put his hand on mine.
A tingling sensation spread from my hand to my arm, just to take over the rest of my body. I stared at him in complete fascination. He pulled his hand back, still holding my gaze. His forehead was creased and his pupils dilated, the blue of his irises almost invisible. My gaze fell to his throat, where I could see the hammering pulse underneath his sun-kissed skin. Before I could let my eyes drift lower I closed them. I had to force myself to focus on his face again.
He was still staring at me with a mixture of fascination and incomprehension in his gaze.
“What’s your name?” he asked and his voice sounded rough and sensual. Goosebumps spread over my arms.
“Ebby,” I told him. Why was I whispering?
He nodded and looked at my hand. Then, very gently, he put his fingers on mine once again. And just like before, the tingling sensation spread through my veins. He frowned and tilted his head to the side.
“Strange,” he murmured, before letting his hand drop and closing his eyes. He slowly shook his head as if to clear his thoughts.
When he opened them again, his pupils had shrunk back to their normal size and his eyes were of a bright blue again.
“Ebby,” he said. “Nice to meet you. You should drink more slowly.” He winked at me, before turning around, and I stared at him, mouth hanging open wide. He walked away and stopped next to the sink to clean a few glasses.
You should drink more slowly. Who did he think he was? I could drink as fast and as much as I wanted.
To prove it, I emptied the second glass in one big gulp and put it down on the counter with a little too much force. I coughed when the burning liquid ran down my throat and saw his shoulders shake in silent laughter.
Jerk, I thought and grabbed my purse as I jumped down from my barstool. I felt lightheaded for a moment and had to reach for the counter to steady myself. Maybe I should have taken his advice.
“Ebby?” I heard a clear voice right next to me say and turned my head.
A small, slender woman stood right beside me. She was about half a foot shorter than me, with dark, wavy hair reaching down to her shoulders. She was wearing tight, black jeans, bright red high heels, and a green halter top with a deep V-neck. Big, silver hoops dangled from her earlobes, sparkling in the dim light.
When I didn’t answer, she put her hands on her hips. Then she smiled a radiant smile. “I’m Ashley. I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
Instantly, it came back to me why I’d come here in the first place. I had waited for her to arrive for thirteen minutes… No, probably longer. For some reason, all my anger had subsided.
“Nice to meet you,” I told her, and her smile grew even wider. Without a warning, she grabbed my hand and pulled me back to the bar.
“Jess and Sam are waiting somewhere over there.” She made a vague gesture behind her back, before waving at the bartender. He came over, his gaze never leaving my face. When he stopped right in front of us, he finally looked at Ashley.
“Three beers and…” She looked at me, but the bartender had turned around already. He came back only moments later with three bottles and another glass of golden liquid in hand.
“Fifteen,” he said to Ashley, who dug into her pocket and pulled out a bundle of dollar bills to put on the counter in front of him.
I took my wallet out of my purse, but he shook his head, holding up his hands. “Enjoy your night,” he said with a wink and turned around to take someone else’s order.
Ashley stared at me, her eyes wide, and I shrugged. This seemed to be answer enough. She grabbed the bottles and started walking to the dance floor. “Follow me,” she instructed over her shoulder. I hesitated and looked at the bar again. My gaze was not longing, I told myself, but curious. The bartender made me curious.
I followed Ashley a second later. That’s when I realized, he had never told me his name.
Two hours and numerous drinks later I was having the best time of my life. Sam, Jess, and Ashley were warm, welcoming people. Talking to them was easy. I guessed it was thanks to Ashley asking me one question after the other. Sometimes, she didn’t even give me the chance to answer.
“And we are the first witches you have ever met?” she’d just asked.
“At least, the first ones willing to talk to me,” I told her honestly. “I’m pretty sure I met another witch a little while ago, in a little store in Manhattan. But she wasn’t interested in talking. Although…she helped me find you guys.”
It was unbelievably difficult to find reliable information on genuine witches on the internet.
I’d woken up one night last April, wanting to get a drink, and the light had turned on, without me even touching the switch. I hadn’t given it a second thought. I’d been very tired after all. Maybe I had switched the light on without noticing. That wouldn’t have been the first time. Thinking back on it now, it really might not have been the first time my powers had presented themselves to me.
Later, when the water bottle had flown into my hand from the other end of the kitchen counter, even I couldn’t blame that on my tiredness. I had simply pointed at it. Something was happening to me. Something weird and inexplicable.
And what does one do when coming across something unknown? Exactly, one turns to the internet for help.
Unfortunately, the internet was full of false information––who would have thought––and it was almost impossible to find real witches. Most people only claimed to have magical abilities.
And while I totally supported the idea of moon rituals and mixing herbal tinctures, these people were of no help to me, since I was able to make water bottles fly––and other things as I had recently discovered. Which meant that I had some sort of real powers.
I had met with a couple of people, but as it turned out, none of them were real witches. The meetings didn’t help me in the slightest, leaving me frustrated. I had been about to give up on finding real witches.
Then, one day, I’d wandered into a little store in East Harlem, specialized in esoteric teaching. The owner had shot me a look and recommended a website. I was supposed to let the administrators know that Gigi sent me to get access to the “interesting” websites.
Of course, I had bombarded her with hundreds of questions. But she had been quite blunt in telling me she had neither the time nor the patience to take care of a fledgling witch like myself.
The website was a fountain of knowledge and I inhaled every single piece of information I could find. But a meeting with other witches was what I really wanted. No matter how useful the websites were when it came to chatting with others, it was no replacement for real, personal contact. And most witches weren’t willing to give up important information online. Therefore, my knowledge of spells had been limited. And I’d desperately needed a teacher, someone to help me master my powers and teach me how to use them responsibly.
Then Jess had sent me a private message on the website, asking me to meet up with her and her two cousins, Ashley and Sam. Well, we all lived in Manhattan, so this should be easily arranged. And now here we were, two days later, and it was better than I could have imagined.
I traced the rim of my glass with my right index finger and was wondering if I should get another drink. I looked over at the bar, which was hidden behind the crowd on the dance floor.
“And you had no idea you were a witch?” Ashley asked, looking into her empty beer bottle with one eye. She shot Jess an expectant look, but her cousin only shook her head in irritation. Ashley wrinkled her nose but said nothing.
“No. Absolutely not,” I answered.
“Fascinating,” Jess said and I shrugged.
“Wicked,” Ashley murmured, holding her empty beer bottle in front of Sam’s face. Sam shook her head once, shooting an irritated look at Ashley, before turning back to me.
I nodded. This was the third time in the last two hours that we had exactly the same conversation. But it didn’t bother me. How could it? It was the first time in the last year that I had someone to discuss these things with.
“How hard it must have been for you to grow up without a mother,” Sam said, interrupting my thoughts. My heart skipped a beat as I clenched my teeth, my whole body suddenly tense. I tried not to let my emotions show on my face as I nodded again.
I saw sympathy in Sam’s eyes and stared at the wall behind Jess. I didn’t want to talk about the loss of my parents. Although it had been thirteen years since they had both died in a car crash, I still wasn’t able to talk about them. Not about the loss and especially not about the years that had followed.
My throat felt too dry and my chest tightened. All of a sudden Ashley grabbed my hand and I stared at her in bewilderment. There was a hint of sympathy in her eyes, which made way for a dazzling smile only seconds later. She pulled me out of my chair.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re done talking for now. That’s our song.”
Jess jumped up, clapping her hands, and Sam pushed her own chair back, grinning at me.
I tried to figure out what song was playing, but I didn’t think I had heard it before.
“Every song is our song,” Ashley explained, winking at me. Then she pulled me onto the dance floor.
I had no idea how much time we spent dancing, but it felt strangely liberating. And wasn’t it ironic that it needed three witches for me to feel normal?
Sometime later, my feet started to hurt from the unfamiliar dance moves. I pointed at my feet and then at the bar. Sam nodded sympathetically, holding up both of her thumbs, before turning to her cousins. All three of them threw their arms in the air when a new song started playing.
I squeezed through the crowd of people to get to the counter and slid onto a barstool, grateful to be off my feet.
I bent down to open my sandals, which fell to the floor a second later. The metal chair felt great to the bare soles of my sore feet. I sighed in relief as I leaned back against the counter, watching my new friends in the crowd on the dance floor.
“Tired already?” a dark voice asked behind my right shoulder and I turned my head. The bartender was standing next to me, his arms propped up on the counter. He was leaning forward so his face was right next to mine.
“Taking a break,” I told him and my voice sounded off for no apparent reason.
He pressed his lips together and nodded, without looking at me. He was staring into the crowd. Then he pointed his chin in the direction of the dance floor.
“Who are your friends?” he asked and I followed his gaze.
Ashley had lifted her arms above her head, her belly button visible underneath her short top. Her head moved from one shoulder to the other and her face was frozen in an expression of pure ecstasy. She kept swaying from side to side, in tune with the music.
The bartender followed her every move with his eyes and his teeth bit his lower lip.
“No one,” I answered, my voice too harsh. I had no idea why I’d said it. He raised his eyebrows, without taking his eyes off Ashley. “New friends,” I added, trying to make my voice sound lighter. Jess and Sam were bumping their hips together, blowing air kisses at each other. A little circle had formed around them, some of the men were bellowing loudly.
I liked the three of them, didn’t I?
Yes, I did, I reminded myself. I turned to the side, looking at the man on the other side of the counter, who was still watching my friends. His face was stern and a muscle in his jaw was twitching. As if he felt my gaze on him, he turned his head to look back at me. His eyes narrowed the tiniest bit as his gaze raked over my body. Once again, I felt as if I had to cross my arms over my chest to prevent him from seeing right into my soul.
It was ridiculous, of course. No one was able to look inside a person. But it still took all my willpower to keep my arms at my sides. In the end, I made do with intertwining my fingers in my lap. I only realized the mistake of that gesture when his gaze fell to my hands and the top of my thighs. Warmth spread through me and a tingling sensation erupted in my belly, crawling downward.
I sucked in a breath and his gaze fell to my lips.
His pupils were wide and his gaze intense. I bit my lower lip and slowly, oh so slowly, he lifted his head to look into my eyes.
For a little while, or an eternity, but definitely longer than thirteen minutes, time seemed to stand still while we just stared at each other.
And I wished I was prettier, more seductive, or just not myself. If I weren’t, this moment could have been unbelievably sexy. Instead, I ruined it by leaning over too far, losing my balance, and almost falling off my chair. One of his hands shot out and his fingers closed around my arm.
“Careful,” he warned, holding me upright. His touch left a tingling sensation on my skin.
“Thanks,” I muttered, feeling heat creep into my cheeks. I was sure they had turned a bright shade of red.
“My pleasure,” he said, smiling again.
“I should go.” I lowered my gaze, and started walking back to the dance floor. I hoped to escape this embarrassing moment as soon as possible when I heard his voice.
“Your shoes,” he said and I stopped, grimacing when I noticed my bare feet.
I turned around, without looking at him. Then I bent down and grabbed my shoes off the floor. When I was back upright, I aimed for the crowd of people.
I heard him laugh as I walked away.
Ebby Scarborough, embarrassing herself since 1991, I thought bitterly.
“Sam is the oldest, Jess is the middle child, and I am the baby of the family,” Ashley explained. I nodded to reassure her that I understood. Sam rolled her eyes and Jess shook her head.
“Apparently baby means something different in your world,” Jess muttered and Ashley shrugged.
“In my world there are no misunderstandings. One word, one meaning,” she answered, grinning at her cousins.
They looked at each other meaningfully, before all three burst into laughter.
“So you grew up practicing magic?” I asked them.
“Yep.” Jess nodded.
Their mothers were sisters and had raised the three girls––who actually had all been born within the same month––together. I hadn’t asked about their fathers and it seemed that the men had never played a big role in their daughters’ lives.
“Every witch should grow up with a mother,” Ashley said, shooting me a look of pity.
“Or a magical role model of any other gender,” Jess added.
Ashley made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “The word mother is gender neutral to me.”
While diving into my research, I’d found out that most witches were female. But still, magic was not female exclusive.
“How far are your abilities developed?” Sam asked. She put her elbows on the table and leaned forward.
“Uhm…,” I started, suddenly self-conscious. These women seemed to be talented witches who had practiced magic for all their lives. How could I admit that most of the time I even failed at simple spells?
As if reading my mind, Sam put her hand on my arm and smiled at me. “We are more than happy to help you. No one should have to learn this by themselves.”
Ashley nodded eagerly. “Tomorrow, you’ll come over to our place and we’ll practice together.”
Her cousins nodded.
It seemed to be decided. All of a sudden I felt relieved. I exhaled and looked at them gratefully.
It was at this moment that I realized how hard and lonely the last year had been.
The years before hadn’t been any easier. But since I’d found out about my magical powers, I wasn’t simply lonely. I was alone with all my questions, with powers I didn’t understand. And now, for the first time, I had people in my life who wanted to help me––who might even want to be my friends.
A smile spread across my face. The most honest one in years.