“I know,” Jake admitted, “a cemetery isn’t really the ordinary sort of place to take a girl on a date. But I figured, you’re not an ordinary sort of girl, and, really, I’m not really all that normal myself, so why would we go on an ordinary date? Besides,” he added, with amused candor, “there’s nothing good at the movie theatre, my friends can be a pain and they tend to eat at the diner nights like this, and if I’m going to go for moonlight and stars, the park’s more likely to have kids smoking weed and the cops like to check out the playground.”
Beryl grinned at him and made sure he saw it. “That sounds like very good logic. What would you have done, though, if I was the sort to get creeped out by cemeteries?”
“Apologize profusely for misjudging you and take you out for ice cream? And then maybe down to the creek. It’s pretty this time of year, too.”
“This time of year, almost everything is pretty.” She was teasing him a little bit. She couldn’t help herself.
“Yeah? Except you. You’re pretty all year ‘round.”
It was so sweet it left her staring at him, blushing, stammering. “you… oh, you…”
“That’s me,” he agreed. “Honest to a fault.”
She punched him, lightly and pulling her punch the way Chalce did, because she really didn’t have anything else to day to that. “You!”
“You know,” he teased, as he rubbed his arm as if it had really hurt, “if I knew I’d get punched for complimenting you…”
“You’d have started a long time ago?” She smiled sweetly at him and patted his shoulder. “At least I didn’t hex you.”
He pulled up to a stoplight, quiet for a moment, and suddenly Beryl was calculating the distance home and if she should call her dad again. “Can you do that?” He’d turned half in his seat to look at her. “Hex people? I mean, I know nobody messes with your family in school, but there’s a lot of you. Pull Bellamy’s hair in homeroom and by lunchtime six people are explaining to you why you don’t touch their cousin.”
Beryl remembered that one. The idiot had been trying to be friendly, too. One of Beryl’s more bright cousins had held the idiot down, dumped ice down his shirt, and told him “Buy her flowers, you moron.”
It had worked out, more or less. At least, Bellamy seemed happy, and that’s how Beryl had to judge these sorts of things.
Jake was looking at her. She cleared her throat. “I think,” she tried, “this is where I’m supposed to say something mysterious, like, oh, ‘that sort of thing only works if you don’t know it’s coming’, right?”
“That sounds like Bellamy,” he complained. The light turned green, which gave Beryl a minute to think about things.
“There’s going to be a lot about us that sounds similar. I mean, we’re all raised together, our parents were all raised together, and we end up all hanging out on the holidays learning the same lessons. but, um. You didn’t ask Bellamy to go to the cemetery with you.”
“No.” He ducked his head and looked a little embarrassed, not quite looking at her. “I don’t want to go on a date with your cousin. With any of your cousins. Just you.” He put his hand carefully on her leg, just above her knee.
She left it there. It felt nice, warm, like it was almost burning her. “Good. I don’t want to bring them on this date, either. Just you and me…” and the ghosts of her family. Well, that couldn’t be helped, unless she was going to run away from home to someplace nobody had ever heard of her.
Tempting, except home had Jake in it.
“Agreed, then. Just us on the date. And you’re not going to hex me?”
She snorted. “Okay. Since you’re being pretty chill about everything – including my cat, and my dad – and you’re a nice guy and I like you-”
“Oh, phew. I was worried you just wanted me for my truck.” He smirked sidelong at her. She couldn’t help but smile back.
“Well, it is a really nice truck…”
“Gee, thanks. Now I’m not reassured at all.” He didn’t look worried, more like he was proud. It was a really nice truck. Beryl didn’t blame him for being proud.
“Like I was saying. Since I really like you, and your truck. Yeah. I could do something that someone might call a hex. Most of us can – I mean, most of the women in the family-”
“-just the women?”
“And Stone.” And maybe a couple others, but if they didn’t want to be out of the closet, that wasn’t Beryl’s job. “That’s one thing. Ah. I don’t want to act like I think this is more than it is, but that’s a thing about my family and gender roles.”
“Women hex, men wash dishes?”
“I see you’ve been talking to my relatives.” She smiled crookedly at him, but she wasn’t sure that was a good thing, not really. “Right. So, I could hex you, but I wouldn’t.”
“Because you like me?”
”Well, among other reasons. I mean, that’s the most important one, for us, you and me. But for us, my family, the most important reasons is somewhere between like begets like and you don’t want to be the crazy lady in the witch house with this side order of, uh you’re too young for that sort of thing.”
“So, um. You could hex me but your grandmother could get away with it?”
“Or my Aunt Eva. Yeah. But I don’t want to hex anyone and this is entirely too surreal a conversation to be had while we’re on a date, our first date no less. We can talk about magical theory on, say, the third date.”
“Am I getting a third date, then?” He sounded curious. And interested. If her family – or her necklace, or her cat – ruined this for her, Beryl was going to hex them.
“As long as I don’t have to walk home tonight, probably.” She smiled so he knew she wasn’t too serious, even though the walking-home really had been a bit of a concern.
“Then I’ll ask you then. Here we are.” He pulled in, stopped, got out of his truck, and pushed a wide, ancient wrought-iron gate open before hopping back in his truck. Ahead was a winding road up a hill well-sprinkled with trees, the evening sun making the place look like a photograph. “Just a little ways up. My uncle’s the caretaker here.”
“It’s nice to have family,” Beryl teased. He blushed, which told her she had probably calibrated the teasing just about right.
“We’re going to park over here. It’s the old Gleason tomb. Not the big one – that’s up in the city – this is the one from before they were famous but were still a little rich.” He parked next to a lovely mausoleum with stained-glass windows. “People rub the doorknob for luck and wealth.”
Beryl looked at the doorknob, and then really looked at it. She could see the residue of hopes of luck and wealth, and the small charms that came from generations of such hopes. “I bet it works,” she murmured. She brushed her fingers across the knob, just to feel the magic there. “But – oh.” There was a lot of magic somewhere else nearby. She turned in a slow circle. “Oh!” On the hill was a tower, a tower which absolutely gleamed with magic. “That-”
“Yeah. Wait till we get up to the top.” Jake smiled broadly, clearly very proud of himself. “Come on! Up we go, unless you need a little more wealth?”
“Oh, I think I’m lucky enough tonight,” she smiled. She let him lead her into the tower and up the spiraling staircase, which twisted up and up past bronze plaques with names. Many of the plaques had been rubbed shiny with fingers over the years, and many of them shone with hope and love and affection, but none of that explained the brilliance of the magic the tower was showing.
“Just a little further,” he urged. “Oh..” he stopped, looking at her face. “It’s not the stairs.”
“Not the stairs,” she agreed, and then, more slowly — “well, technically, it is the stairs. Not how you meant, though It’s, well, hrrm. This was definitely a good place for a date,” she hurried to add, and caught up with him on the stairs.
Every step had magic woven into it and, like a prayer wheel, every time someone walked all the way up, they worked the magic. It felt benign, but it felt very, very strong.
She squeezed his hand, because she could. Her date. Her boyfriend. She felt a warm, waide smile crossing her lips. Her boyfriend.
The stairs had a want to them. She could almost read it. She closed her eyes and let her hand run up the railing as she walked, but it didn’t, quite, want to be known.
“Almost there,” Jake murmured, and she felt the stairs echo the same. All right, then. “This place is — it’s — wow. Who builds a giant tower in the middle of the cemetery?”
“Nobody knows. My uncle says there are records for everything here — graves and the crematorium and the fence and the benches — but there’s nothing at all on the tower. On the map, this is listed just as a circle. It’s a mystery.” He turned and shot her a smile that was at once teasing and hopeful. “Wait until you see the top.”
“I can’t wait,” she told him, and meant it. The feeling of footsteps-trod lessened as they reached the top, but the magic did not: if anything, it seemed to be strengthening. The last step was so powerful it took her breath away.
Jake caught her hands and guided her up to the top. Like a castle, it had little crenelations around the sides, making a protective fence that came to her chest at the highest.
Beryl barely saw the walls. She turned on a circle, one hand then the other trailing over Jake’s arm for balance. The magic spread out from the tower over the whole cemetary. “…Wow,” she gasped.
“This is why you have to come at night,” he explained. “The lights show up so much better. You see them?”
Long sparkling lines of light, reaching out from the tower to touch every grave in the ancient cemetary. “I see them. It’s — wow.” SHe blinked a few times and glanced over at Jake. “You see them too?”
“Flickers and sparks, almost like I’m missing half the picture,” he admitted. “But I knew it was magical.”
“It’s…” She found herself smiling brightly. “It says live. Live, and they are at peace and remember them with joy, but mostly just live. It’s for the living,” she clarified quickly. “The dead, they — well, they mostly don’t need reminders. I’m told —” She shut herself up before she could wander into creepy. “It says live,” she repeated, and kissd Jake.
The kiss took some time to do right, and then, when that was done, he kissed her. She pressed against him, feeling his heartbeat, feeling her heartbeat. Live. “This,” she told him, “was the perfect place for a date.”