Prequel: Dreams and Echoes
I loved the smell of the ocean, the crashing sound of the waves as they hit the pier with frothing, white enthusiasm. It had been years since we'd moved to a town with water for a back yard, so when Mom told me we'd be staying a while in Sable, New Jersey, I crossed my fingers, toes and every other body part, begging the elements to just make it so.
Our last town hadn't been anything to write about in my diary, mostly dull, quiet and all kinds of hum blah drum. That was, until a long-forgotten artifact came to life and tried to kill my little sister.
Mom was a bit temperamental when it came to Meira. Especially when the eight-year-old half- demon girl's life was in danger. Come to think of it, I felt the same way. The fact it had been my fault the little box I'd bought at the neighbor's yard sale turned out to be possessed by the spirit of a dark witch really didn't help matters.
The resulting brouhaha left our house in shambles, the neighborhood on high alert and our coven
running for the hills in the middle of the night.
I winced as I leaned over the wooden rail and looked down at the white-capped water. Mom did her best to put out the fires that cropped up from the battle, but the local fire department had been busy.
What was it about our family we couldn't just be freaking normal already? My stomach crawled with tension, ruining my happy seaside moment. My sneakers thudded hollowly on the boards, finally turning to the crunch of gravel as I crossed onto the asphalt path at landfall. Everything always had to be such a drama-soaked collapse into complete disaster.
According to the sullen whispers of the rest of the family, life hadn't always been like this. In fact, from what I could find out, it seemed we'd managed, at one point, to stay put for decades at a time all hunky dory, nothing to see here, life was a rainbow of light and pure happiness.
Until I came along.
I knew they blamed me for every move. My toe impacted a chunk of loose pavement and sent it scurrying as my mood dropped into familiar darkness. No matter what the cause, our moves always seemed to come back to me somehow.
And, to be honest, though I felt like their accusations were unfair, I also had a horrible feeling they were right. That I was some kind of trouble magnet.
Me, who only ever wanted to be ordinary in a family of insanity and magic.
Bummed out by my train of thought, no longer enraptured by the scent of salt, the warmth of the early summer sun on the Jersey shoreline, or the sight of the quaint little ocean town, I just wanted to go home and curl up under the covers. Forget everything and hide so the family could stay put a while.
The image of me, old and gray, living in the basement, smelling of mold and withered from neglect made me shudder. Maybe the coven would prefer such a scenario, but I couldn't change who I was.
Or pretend I was someone else.
Sydlynn. Mom's mental voice touched my mind along with the soft caress of her power, the family's magic whispering happily to me.
My stomach churned. Yeah? I hated using my power, even if it was only to talk to her in my head. I'd tried to convince Mom to use a cell phone, but she was as hopelessly inept with technology as I was with magic.
Dinner will be ready soon, she sent with a hint of irritation at my pert reply. Yeah. Really, Syd? You had to prod her when she was already pissed, didn't you? i***t.
Now, Syd. Mom's magic cut off abruptly, leaving me with goosebumps and a queasy stomach. I
didn't know why, but any use of power made me feel physically sick. Naturally, Mom and the others thought it was all in my head, that I was just being stubborn, but I knew better.
I wasn't supposed to be a witch.
I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans and, head drooping, plodded for home. A pair of giggling girls passed me, carrying ice cream cones, the smell of the waffle mix drifting out from the open door of a little shop. I glanced up and froze in my tracks.
The "help wanted" sign wasn't much to look at, but it gave me a happy quiver to replace my melancholy mood. Perfect, right? What could be more normal-and keep me away from the coven- than a summer job?
I didn't need to work. Mom gave me more than a generous allowance and, thanks to years of wealth management, the coven had access to the income of a small country. But it wasn't the cash which interested me.
If I had a job, a real job with normal people, I'd have co-workers. Who could possibly-maybe, hopefully, please that would be awesome-become friends.
Real friends. Sigh. My magic seemed to act like relationship repellent, driving normals away from me most times, leaving me alone and increasingly bitter about my situation. Without any witches close to my age in the coven, I'd spent most of my life with just my little sister for companionship.
Don't get me wrong, I loved Meira. But there were lots of kids her age growing up in our family. And with our eight-year age gap, it was hard to talk to her about things bothering me without feeling like I was punking on her childhood.
A job. My mind sang with the happy possibilities. Now, to convince Mom.
I found her in our new kitchen, dishing up casserole onto plates while Meira set the table with magic. No way had Mom cooked. Had to be an offering from one of the more domesticated coven members. The smell of chicken and spices made my mouth water as I helped my sister finish the job.
My furry, silver Persian, Sassafras, leaped onto the table at his place setting, amber eyes watching me as I set a dish of fresh tuna in front of him, a bowl of cold water beside it.
"You smell like the ocean," he said.
I grinned at the demon boy stuffed into the body of a cat and stroked his fur, eliciting a heavy purr. "I really like it here." I turned to Mom and found her smiling, too.
"I'm happy to hear it," she said, her long, black curls bouncing as she bent to kiss the top of my cat's head. Sass purred at her before diving into his tuna.
"There's a great park about three blocks from here," Meira said around a mouthful of noodles, her
red-tinted skin glowing with excitement. Tiny black horns peeked from hair matching my mother's, though my sister's eyes were the same shining amber as Sassafras's. "Maybe you can teach me to play soccer."
Thinking about my favorite sport, the only thing I was ever good at, crushed my mood all over again. I'd already checked to see if the summer league would accept new players, but no one was interested in having me on their team.
Just another reason to hate who I was.
"Sure, Meems," I said, toying with my food while Mom sighed.
Meira gobbled her dinner before running off to play with her friends, a quick kiss for first Sass, then me and finally our mother as she dashed away. Mom rose a short time later, walking to the counter to dish up another serving.
She'd be disappearing shortly, off to take food to my grandmother, and I'd lose the chance I had to ask her what I really wanted to ask. But the words stuck in my throat so long Mom had already walked past me, a glass of milk and more steaming casserole on a plate, before I managed to speak.
"I want to get a job." Blurting was one of my fortes. Mom stopped, turned to stare at me, a frown creasing her gorgeous face. She was the picture of traditional beauty, could easily have been a model or actress, skin smooth and creamy. But the line between her brows had become more noticeable over the years, and I knew I was to blame for it.
Sassafras snorted, swiping one paw over his nose several times before his tongue wet it again. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. "What do you need a job for? The family provides anything you could ever need or want."
Mom didn't say anything, just stood there and waited for my answer while I mentally grumbled. Not everything.
"I can't just sit around the house all summer," I said. "No soccer, no friends. For once, I'd like to actually have fun for a change."
My whiny attitude rarely got me anywhere and, though I kicked myself for being such a bratski, I watched Mom's hesitation with growing hope.
"Sweetheart," she said, "you'd be interacting with normals."
"I know," I said, doing my best to compress my excitement into something she wouldn't see as a source of anxiety. She hated the fact I wanted out of the coven. Just as much as I hated having to stay.
Just until I was eighteen. She promised. At least a job would give me some real life experience with normals, in prep for my future.
"Perhaps it is a good idea." Sassafras fixed me with his piercing cat gaze. He never told me-or any
other Hayle witch, as far as I knew-exactly why he'd been banished to our plane and trapped in the body of a fat Persian. I could only imagine his past was way worse than mine, so he really didn't get to judge me. Though that didn't stop him, did it?
Mom's brilliant blue eyes fixed on him, cheeks bright with two points of pink. "It is?" She sounded breathless, a little sad.
Why did wanting my freedom have to hurt my mom?
"It will be an opportunity for Sydlynn to see what the real world is like." His chuckle rang evil. "How difficult life is without magic." He leaned toward me, fluffy tail thrashing once before wrapping around his paws in a cloud of silver fur. "Finally shake some sense into her."
Mom's full lips pursed as she considered. I had no doubt Sassafras had every intention for me to suffer. But I had a feeling I was going to love it despite him.
Couldn't wait to find out.
Mom finally sighed and nodded once. "Very well," she said. Poked me with magic when I squealed and leaped from my seat to hug her. "But you must listen to me, Sydlynn Thaddea Hayle." I hated it when she used all three of my names, knowing it meant trouble, but not really caring this time since I was getting my way. "You will keep your magic under very tight wraps. I do not want to have to move this family because you refuse to learn to control your power."
Way to blame me like the rest of the coven, Mom. But I nodded anyway, hugged her quickly, then turned and dashed out the door before she could change her mind.
I was getting a job.
How normal was that?