To kelkyag‘s commissioned continuation of Older Witches, etc.
The boy in front of her – the teenaged young man in front of Eva – was licking his lips drumming his hands on his lap. “This is what we’re going to do.” She leaned forward a little, just enough to read as serious as possibly. “There’s a second place on the property. Technically, it’s on my sister’s land, a cottage. And since my sister is a happily married matron with a passel of kids, she isn’t going to be the sort of person people raise eyebrows at.”
Robby blinked at her. “You’re – what? Giving me a place to crash when it gets bad?”
“I’m giving you a place to live. Rent-fee until you graduate from school, and then we’ll negotiate.”
“A place to live? He stared at her, mouth open. Eva waited. He was, to all reports or at least the words between the lines of the reports, a smart guy. He’d put all the pieces together. “What about my dad? I mean, I’m still a minor. He owns me until I’m eighteen.”
Now, Eva allowed herself to smile. “I am a witch, dear. I’ll have a nice long quiet talk with your father, and he’ll sign the appropriate paperwork, and then I’ll talk to the judge, and she’ll sign all the right papers.”
“You can really do that? I thought all the witch stuff was like… dancing naked under the full moon and, I don’t know praying to the Horned God or something, reading the Tarot cards.”
“Only on weekends.” She smiled, and let him guess if she was joking or not. “Yes. I can get that done. It’s not that hard, and even excluding the witch stuff, my family has quite a bit of power in this town.”
“But…” He shook his head. “Why would you do that for me? Because you want to… no. Girls don’t do that.”
“Girls don’t, but women sometimes do – actually, you’d be surprised at the girls in my family. And witches… but that’s beside the point.” Eva smiled. She couldn’t help it; she was having fun with this. “I’m not doing it because I think you’re attractive.” She’d nearly said cute. Cute was a high-school girl word, and that wasn’t quite the impression she wanted to be giving right now. “I’m doing this because you intrigue me, and I don’t want to see you stuck in an untenable situation any longer than you have to.” She took a breath. “And since I’m the Aunt of this Family, I say that right now is as long as you have to be stuck there.” She stood up. “I’ll go have that talk with your father…” The pause wasn’t quite dramatic. She didn’t really want to worry him. “If you like the plan.”
“I… I mean, yeah. I will totally take a place to live that isn’t my father’s roof, but I mean, you can really do it? And you really will? And you won’t get in trouble with your family? The old lady here, she was… I mean, sorry, not to speak ill of the dead, but she was sort of a pushover.”
“We have those, every few generations. That’s not me.” And now she knew the other reason she was doing this. “That’s not me at all. They gave me this house. If I say It Shall Be Done, it freaking shall be done.”
She half-expected thunder. It was the sort of line that really deserved thunder. What she got instead was the boy looking at her, his jaw dropping a little.
“You’re a little bit scary, you know that?”
She smiled, showing all of her teeth. “That’s the idea.” She leaned back and let the smile relax into something more casual, more friendly. “That’s the secret, Robby, the one they don’t want you – anyone, really – to know. The family is supposed to be scary. We’re supposed to be intimidating – the Aunt, at least.”
That wasn’t something the Grannies had told her, and it wasn’t something Aunt Asta[Check] had told her, either. Robby was right – Asta had been a pushover.
The Grannies liked pushovers, and that was something Evangaline was coming to learn was not just a function of their particular branch. Every Granny everywhere had some feeling that they should have been the Aunt, would have been better as the Aunt. And every Granny everywhere wanted a piece of the power.
She cleared her throat. Now was not the time to wool-gather, not with a worried, nervous boy sitting in front of her. “That’s a story I might tell you another time. But, yes. The goal of the family has always been that our Aunts a wee bit terrifying. Because human fear is a much more potent weapon than anything else we could wield.”
She’d wool-gathered long enough that he’d collected himself. “So, um. Are you planning on scaring my … the old man? Because he’s not scared of anything?”
She let the sharp-edged smile come back. “Oh, no. Him, him I was planning on hexing. It’s a lot quicker, and it does, as a side effect, tend to lead to nice amounts of fear.”
Robby swallowed. Had she gone too far? Well, if he bolted, she still knew where he lived – and quite a bit more about him, too. “Okay. Okay, you’re really scary. But if you’re for real…”
“Then… yeah. As long as it won’t, you know, cost me my soul or anything.”
Eva smiled. “We hardly deal in anything as banal as souls.” And here was hoping he never found the exceptions to that rule.
It wasn’t as simple as she’d made it sound, of course – nothing worth doing ever was, and she’d determined this was well worth doing.
First, she had to convince her sister that the Spare Cottage should be used for its intended purpose, in this case for Eva’s specific intended purpose.
That took three cups of expensive coffee, a fruit basket, and an agreement to wiggle things a little bit with Chalce’s Calc teacher, who was being insufficiently intimidated by a family of witches and insufficiently concerned with Chalce’s college prospects.
THEN she had to actually clean out the Spare Cottage, which hadn’t been used for anything like its intended purpose in well over a decade. To her surprise and gratification, not only to Robby stop by, upon seeing her airing out the place, and help her haul out the family junk and dust out the cobwebs, but all three of Hadelai’s older children – Beryl, Chalce, and Stone – stopped by to help as well.
It surprised Eva, although perhaps it shouldn’t, that none of the children mentioned Robby’s split lip – and that none of them hassled him, in any way, about moving in that close.
Indeed, she caught Chalce giving him a speculative look, once – she was pretty sure Robby missed it – which immediately turned guilty when she noticed Eva watching. She gestured in the family hand sign for “all yours,” which amused Eva more than anything, and nothing at all was said on the matter.
So. Interesting to note that particular deviation from family tradition.
Once they had the Spare Cottage cleaned out, then they had to refresh all of its everything – linens, food, in some cases furniture – which led to an argument she also hadn’t been expecting, with Robby.
At the rate she was missing things she should have been anticipating, Eva was thinking she might want to hang up the Aunt hat and let a more capable witch handle things.
Robby, it turned out, did not want anyone spending money on him. “I already owe you enough. I don’t want to owe you anything else.”
Eva, whose family used money-spending as a benign weapon, could both understand the feeling and simultaneously be offended by the suggestion that she was doing that.
It turned into a shouting match in the middle of Sears, a shouting match which Beryl delicately defused. “Look.” She slapped down hands on both of their shoulders. “We’ve got to get the Spare Cottage up to snuff. It’s a shame that Aunt Asta let it go like that – but Aunt Asta didn’t like people. But the couch is still sound, right? Look, slipcover. We can buy a new couch later.”
Eva sat down on the couch, defeated and not entirely sure it was a bad thing. “All right. It’s a nice slipcover. Robby?”
She was the Aunt. She was supposed to be in charge.
Robby flopped down on the matching chair. They would have looked really nice in the Spare Cottage, with its view of the wisteria and magnolia out its living room window. “Slipcover makes sense.” He looked from Beryl to Eva, with a flash of something that looked as defeated as Eva felt. “I don’t need vases, though.”
“No, I can imagine you don’t.” She patted the couch, and offered the closest she could to an apology. “I’ve lived in Family houses my whole life. Never had a chance to buy furniture.”
“That explains that couch.” He grinned at her, and she could tell the worst of the shouting was over. “Maybe you ought to buy this for you.”
Eva couldn’t help but grin back. “Nah, if I buy something for the house, it’s got to have a sofa bed built in.”
“That house has, what, seventeen guest rooms?”
“Four. Five if you count the Florida Room, and six if you count the former stable-keeper’s apartment over the barn. But the house has to be able to fit most of the family, if not all of it, at one time.”
“For, what?” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “The dancing around naked part?”
“Well, mostly baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, funerals, and garage sales. But the naked part, too.” She shot Beryl a smile. The kid was good with this.
In the end, they ended up with more than Robby was really comfortable with, less than Eva felt was reasonable, and enough that, should a family member pop their head in, the house would look as it was supposed to.
In something that didn’t seem like a compromise but seemed to placate both Beryl and Robby, they also bought a new spread for Eva’s bed, a new chair for her living room, and a new tablecloth for the grand family table in the dining room.
Afterwards, they sat in the mall Olive Garden, eating far too many breadsticks and looking at each other in a thoughtful triangle.
“I figured it would be Chalce.” Beryl popped a breadstick in her mouth, finished it, and continued as if she wasn’t dropping bombs. “Or Lillian or Hazel, maybe, one of the far-cousins.”
“Hazel’s your cousin?“ Robby chose that to pick up on, of course. “She’s…”
Pneumatic, gorgeous, beautiful, Eva filled in.
Sometimes, it seemed, her niece was more attentive than she was. “Boring. Mundane?”
“Yeah, exactly.” He paused, breadstick halfway to his mouth. “Wait. You figured it was Hazel who what?”
Beryl’s smile had a lot in common with Radar’s, right then. “Who’d hook you into the family. What?” She looked between the two of them mock-innocently. “It’s obvious he’s Family material.”
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