A Magical Match – Juliet Blackwell

The week had started out with such promise. But now my fiancé was in the slammer, my grandmother’s coven had gone missing, my supposed witch’s familiar was acting loopy, my powers appeared to have dissipated, and the future of my beloved adopted city of San Francisco was hanging in the balance. Oh, and a man had been murdered. Maybe I should start at the beginning. Not long ago I was a simple vintage-clothing-store owner feeling as if she needed to hire an event planner. My own rapidly approaching wedding was on my mind, plus I’d been working with my friend Bronwyn’s Welcome coven to plan a mother-daughter matching-outfit brunch, called the Magical Match, as a fund-raiser for the Haight Street women’s shelter. It was coming up this very Sunday, and yet it had taken us an hour to agree upon the newly designed flyers. At long last, we were moving on to item number two on the day’s agenda. We sat in a circle, breakfasting on homemade muffins and sipping strong cappuccinos and fragrant jasmine tea. Surrounding us was a cascade of crinolines and prom dresses, Jackie O hats and patent leather pumps—all part and parcel of the inventory of Aunt Cora’s Closet, my shop in San Francisco’s famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Oscar, my miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig—and ersatz witch’s familiar—snored faintly on his purple silk pillow on the floor. “My issue is, it feels a bit exclusive to restrict the party to mothers and daughters,” Bronwyn mused. “What about fathers and sons?” “True! After all, gender is fluid,” said a coven member formerly known as Amy. Recently Amy had changed her name to Wind Spirit, but I kept forgetting to call her that. “Or chosen families, for that matter?” interjected Starr, and several women nodded and mmm-hmmed in agreement.

“But I thought everyone was supposed to wear matching outfits,” said Wendy, getting back to the point. “How’s that going to work?” A spirited discussion among the members of the Welcome coven followed. This was the Bay Area, after all, and a lot of us who’d landed here were searching for a sense of family and community that reached beyond the lines of blood and tradition. Besides, the women of the Welcome coven were an inclusive bunch and didn’t want to leave anyone out. All of which made it hard to adhere to a talking point. Bronwyn Theadora Peters was a voluptuous fiftysomething Wiccan who favored gauzy purple tunics and chunky natural stone jewelry. Today her frizzy brown hair was crowned with a garland of now-wilting daisies and cornflowers. She ran an herb stand in one corner of Aunt Cora’s Closet but was much more than a coworker to me—truly she was one of my best friends. Bronwyn was one of the first people I’d met when I arrived in San Francisco, and she had welcomed me with a warm bear hug that blasted through my carefully cultivated reserve. Ever since then, Bronwyn had stuck with me through thick and thin, magical and mundane.

I adored her, appreciated her, and respected her. And sometimes she drove me crazy. This was one of those times. A pair of sweet polka-dot numbers that had come into the store a couple of months ago had reminded me of the early 1960s fad of matching mother-daughter dresses. The garments inspired me to suggest the Welcome coven sponsor a simple brunch fund-raiser for the Haight Street shelter and I offered to hold it at Aunt Cora’s Closet. The idea soon took on a life of its own, ballooning into a gala event with such complicated logistics that sometimes I wondered if we were organizing a simple tea or invading a small nation. Planning the event had already taken up far too much of my time and energy, in no small part because—although I loved the Welcome coven—their nonhierarchical structure and commitment to consensus didn’t lend itself to quick decisions. This was not our first meeting. The Magical Match Tea was only four days away, but we were still working out details, such as who was allowed to attend. I sneezed.

“Blessed be!” rang out around the room, accompanied by a few “Gesundheits” and a single “Bless you,” which engendered an animated debate over the proper Wiccan response to a sneeze. “Thank you,” I said, accepting Bronwyn’s offer of a tissue and sneaking a glance at my antique Tinker Bell wristwatch. I had a lot to do today, not the least of which was to prepare for the arrival of my grandmother and her coven of enchanting, effusive, but elderly witches. Ten days ago the thirteen women had climbed onto an old school bus and taken off on a road trip from Texas to California. Just this morning they had sent selfies to Bronwyn’s cell phone—I didn’t carry one, because I worried its energy would interfere with my magic—from an In-N-Out Burger drive-through in Salinas, California. I wasn’t entirely sure how they had ended up in Salinas, which was not on the most direct route from Texas to San Francisco, but thought it best not to ask. Miss Agatha, the designated driver of the ancient school bus, didn’t especially like driving but had the best eyesight of the bunch. Miss Agatha also had no sense of direction, and so a two-day road trip from Texas stretched into ten days as the busload of elderly witches zigzagged its way through the Western states to San Francisco. Still, Salinas was not far away, and barring any unforeseen problems or yet another spontaneous side trip—at one point they had veered off to see the Cadillac Ranch on Route 66, and they had lingered two whole days in Vegas—they were due to arrive this afternoon, at the latest. “Sorry?” I said when I realized Bronwyn had asked me a question.

“I saaaaaiiid,” Bronwyn teased with a smile, “did you ask Lucille about her progress on the matching outfits for those who couldn’t find something in the store that fits?” The tinkle of the bell over the front door was a welcome interruption. “I checked in with her yesterday morning,” my assistant, Maya, answered for me as she entered the shop, a to-go cup of steaming chai tea in her hand. “She hired a few extra helpers, so they’re on track, and still accepting some last-minute orders.” Maya’s mother, Lucille, had recently moved her small production team into the space next door to Aunt Cora’s Closet. Lucille’s Loft Designs specialized in reproducing vintage fashions, which was great since many women today could not fit into the older, typically more petite clothing. Chalk one up for good nutrition. Not to mention potato chips. “Oh, good. I’ll be sure to touch base with your mother,” I said, jotting down a note to myself. “Thanks for checking.

” “Guess who else was there when I stopped in,” continued Maya. “Renee Baker, the cupcake lady.” A chill ran down my spine. “I looooove those cupcakes!” said Amy—er, Wind Spirit. She was short, plump, and sweet-faced, favored ruffled baby-doll dresses, and never let a coven meeting go by without making sure there were ample baked goods available. “Hey, would it be too late to ask Renee about contributing to the Magical Match Tea? I’ll bet she wouldn’t mind donating a dozen or two.” “Honestly, I don’t think we need another thing to eat at this tea,” I asserted. It was hard to explain to one and all why I was wary of Renee Baker. But the truth was, the cupcake lady was dealing in more than sugar. “Or no one is going to fit into their dresses.

” No two ways about it: the Welcome coven had a sweet tooth. The circle of women was even now feasting on Wind Spirit’s chocolate macadamia “health biscuits,” which tasted a lot more like dessert than breakfast. “Sorry to barge in on you,” said Maya. “I thought the planning meeting was supposed to be over by nine thirty.” “Actually, it was,” I said, grateful for the excuse to wrap things up. “We need to bring this meeting to a close for today, I’m afraid. In fact, I think we’re just about set. We have a task force ready to move my inventory into Lucille’s shop on Saturday, the flyers are approved, and the refreshment committee has put together more food than we’ll know what to do with.” “That reminds me,” ventured Starr. “Do we think we should find a larger venue for the brunch? No offense, Lily—your store is darling, but it may be too small.

We’ve sold so many tickets already!” I sneezed again, prompting several suggestions for natural cold remedies. “Thanks, but it’s probably just allergies. I don’t get colds. So, back to the agenda . ” Wendy—my best ally in keeping the group on task—nodded. “You may be onto something, Starr. But it would be tough to find someplace at this juncture; the event’s coming up in a few days.” “What about Aidan’s place?” suggested Bronwyn. “Aidan . as in my Aidan?” My voice scaled upward.

“Yes! The wax museum would be perfect!” Aidan Rhodes was an important person in the Bay Area’s witchy community. He and I had had a few skirmishes in the past, and I still owed him a magical debt. Big-time. Aidan had been nice to me lately, but I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him and had been avoiding him, even though he and I were theoretical allies in the fight against a looming threat to our beloved San Francisco. Besides, I found wax museums a little . creepy. All those human-sized poppets, just begging to be brought to life. I shivered at the thought. Not long ago I darn near burned the whole place down. Not on purpose, of course—but still, I had played a pivotal role in the conflagration.

Aidan had only recently moved back into the museum from his temporary quarters in the iconic San Francisco Ferry Building. Apparently, the coven sisters didn’t share my opinion of wax museums. “What a great idea!” was the overwhelming response. “Bronwyn, would you be willing to ask Aidan?” asked Wendy. “I’ll do it,” I offered, a little too loudly. “I mean, I have to see him about something else today, anyway. But I doubt he’ll be much help; Aidan doesn’t own the wax museum, after all. He just keeps an office there. Besides, we’re talking about an event happening in four days.” “Roger that,” Wendy said.

“Okay, Lily will talk to Aidan, but if that doesn’t work out, we’ll just have to make do right here. Everything’s set to move all the merchandise next door to Lucille’s, right?” “She’s ready for the onslaught,” said Maya. “One final thing before we go,” said Starr. “We need to take a formal vote on whether all are welcome to the brunch, or just mothers and daughters.” I’m no mind reader, but I could have predicted the outcome of this vote: Yes, all were welcome as long as the spirit of the mother-daughter bond was in some way honored. The women stood, gathered folding chairs, and swept up muffin crumbs, chattering excitedly and thanking me for hosting them. I assured one and all that I was pleased to offer my hospitality, and gently shooed them out the door, waving good-bye as they departed and nodding my thanks for several more suggestions of home remedies to stave off colds. “Pay no attention to what they say,” Bronwyn said as she started gathering her things. “All you need is eucalyptus oil, hot honey lemonade, and the right attitude.” I laughed.

“It’s all about attitude, is it? Anyway, I don’t have a cold. I don’t get colds.” “Yes, just like that! Perfect attitude.” Bronwyn gave me an enveloping vanilla-scented hug and swept out to meet her boyfriend, Duke, who was driving her to Petaluma for a day of antiquing, with a quick stop at the seed bank for heirloom tomato starts. Amy—Wind Spirit, I reminded myself—lagged behind. “Lily, I hope this isn’t too presumptuous, but I came across this wedding dress the other day, and I thought, just maybe . ” She handed me a huge paper bag. Poufy clouds of white satin, netting, and lace spilled out from the top. “Oh, aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” I said. Bronwyn must have mentioned that I had been searching for the perfect wedding dress for my upcoming nuptials.

As owner of a vintage clothing store, I was feeling even more pressure to find just the right dress than the average jittery bride. “It’s probably not what you’re looking for, but Lucille’s so good with alterations, and you should feel free to change it any way you see fit. It was my aunt’s, but she got divorced years ago and it’s just been sitting in the back of the closet, so no worries at all about cutting it up.” “This is so thoughtful of you. Truly.” “No problem. See you later!” As the door closed behind her, blessed silence descended over Aunt Cora’s Closet. I leaned back against the door and sighed. Maya met my eyes and smiled. “They’re wonderful,” I said as I brought the bag with the wedding dress over to the counter.

“They are,” Maya replied. “And it’s a great cause.” “It is.” She nodded, spraying the glass countertop with my homemade vinegar and lemon verbena all-purpose cleaner. A lovely citrus fragrance filled the air. “And they wear me out.” “They do.” We shared a laugh. “Do you think the wedding dress will work for you? It was so sweet of Wind Spirit to bring it.” “It looks a little .

eighties,” I said as I extracted the wrinkled heap from the bag. It was made of inexpensive materials that felt unpleasant to the touch. “Not exactly your favorite fashion era, the eighties,” Maya said with a nod. “Still, it was thoughtful.” “It was. And you never know. Your mother’s pure magic with a needle.” “So, where are the grandmas this morning?” Maya asked, stashing the cleaning materials under the counter and turning to the large paper map of the western United States that we had tacked up to a bulletin board behind the register. What had started out as a joke had developed into a morning ritual: putting a tack in the map to indicate the progress of the busload of witches heading to San Francisco from my hometown of Jarod, Texas. We traced their zigzag route with red string, linking one thumbtack to the next.

I told Maya their most recently reported location was Salinas, and she pushed another tack into the soft cork. “I can’t wait to meet them.” “Yes, they’re . characters, all right,” I said, applying the nozzle of the steam machine to a 1950s ecru linen blouse and watching the wrinkles miraculously disappear. Stifling yet another sneeze, I concentrated on my breathing and tried to project an air of calm, because, deep down, I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. As if the imminent arrival of my grandmother and her coven sisters weren’t enough, my mother was also on that bus. My mother and I had . issues. First, she had sent me away to live with my grandmother Graciela at the age of eight. Then, when I was seventeen, she tried to “save” me during a nightmarish snake-handling revival meeting designed to drive out the demons she believed to be responsible for my strange powers.

Things got out of hand, people got hurt, and I was essentially run out of my small hometown on a rail. I sent my mother a check every month to help with her expenses, and very occasionally we exchanged an awkward phone call. But I hadn’t seen her since that awful day. “Did you figure out where everyone will be staying?” asked Maya. “Calypso agreed to have them at her place, thanks be to the heavens. She actually sounds pretty excited about it. Graciela’s coven sisters are a font of arcane knowledge about healing herbs and botanicals, so they’ll have a lot to talk about.” Calypso Cafaro was an expert in botanicals who lived in a large farmhouse outside Bolinas, about half an hour’s drive up the California coast. Calypso had also offered to let me and Sailor have our nuptials in her lush garden surrounded by redwood groves. It would be an enchanted place for a handfasting—a witchy wedding.

Bronwyn had sent away for her license to officiate, and if it got here on time, she would be able to legally marry us. My heart fluttered at the thought: part eager anticipation, part pure nerves. “Oh, good,” Maya said with a quiet chuckle. “I kept imagining them all snoozing on yoga mats here in the store.” “You don’t know how close we came to that.” I winced at the thought of having thirteen elderly witches—and my mother—literally underfoot. “How long will they be staying?” “I’m not sure, but they want to be here for the wedding.” On the one hand, it felt as though Sailor and I were rushing into this. On the other hand . it meant a lot to me that Graciela, her coven, and my mother would be there.

At the very least we could have an unofficial handfasting with them all in attendance, and later make it legal at city hall. I wanted—I needed—the strength of my womenfolk around me as I embarked on this new phase of my life. I sniffed loudly. “You’re sure you’re not getting a cold?” Maya asked. “I don’t get colds.” “Lucky you. Is that a witch thing?” “I’m not sure, actually,” I said with a smile. I had a hard time distinguishing my own idiosyncratic weirdness from the traits I had inherited from my witchy foremothers. “But I’ve never gotten a cold. I’ll try some hot honey lemonade later, just to be sure.

” “Hey, that reminds me,” Maya said. “I stopped by an herb store in Chinatown yesterday to get some ginseng, and ran into Sailor. He hardly even acknowledged me, which was weird. Is everything okay? Did I do something to offend him?” Sailor is my boyfriend. Correction . Sailor is my fiancé. Lordy, that was a hard idea to get used to. Still, the thought made me all warm and cozy somewhere deep within me. On his best days Sailor had a tendency to simmer and to brood. On his worst, he was sullen and irritable and not prone to social niceties.

But he liked Maya, and it would be out of character for him to ignore her. Plus, it was hard to imagine what well-mannered Maya could do to offend anyone. “As far as I know, everything’s fine,” I said. “When was this, exactly?” “Yesterday, a little after four.” “That’s strange. When I saw him last night, he told me he had been training with his cousin all afternoon, which is on the other side of town. You’re sure about the timing?” When she nodded, the beads woven into her locks made a soft clacking sound. “I went right after my drawing class.” “Huh,” I said. “He probably just stopped by, and had other things on his mind.

” Maya and I had been working together for a while now, and she knew me pretty well. Not to mention she was no fool. She could tell the story bothered me. I had landed in San Francisco without family or friends, and though I had been working hard to learn to develop emotional bonds, it wasn’t easy to shake my loner ways. My childhood hadn’t exactly taught me to trust others. If it hadn’t been for my grandmother Graciela, I wouldn’t have known any stability—much less love—at all. So when Sailor actually proposed marriage to the likes of little ol’ me, I was stunned. Over-the-moon happy and excited, but stunned. I still couldn’t quite believe it was real. I gazed at the ring he had given me.

It glittered in a rainbow of green and blue, pink and orange. The stone, set in antique filigreed silver, wasn’t a diamond but a teardropshaped druzy, which was the inside of an agate, whose tiny crystals reflected the colorful mineral underneath. I told myself it was just a hunk of metal and rock, not a magical talisman. And yet . with every sparkle it reminded me that Sailor loved me. Me, Lily Ivory. The outsider, the weirdo, the witch nobody even liked, much less loved. All of which made it harder to understand why Sailor would lie to me about what he had done yesterday. It wasn’t a lie, I assured myself. Probably just a misunderstanding.

Sailor must have taken a break to run a quick errand to the store, just like Maya had. No big deal. No reason to even mention it. Except . Sailor’s teacher in the psychic arts was Patience Blix. Patience was Sailor’s gorgeous “cousin,” but it turned out they weren’t actually related by blood. According to Sailor, it was a Rom thing. Patience possessed an hourglass figure, a mass of black curls, and flashing dark eyes, and she took her role of fortune-teller seriously—particularly in the wardrobe department. She was a talented seer, but we weren’t exactly buddies. In fact, I felt like her first name must have been meant ironically, because the truth was, Patience trod on my last nerve.

“Lily? Everything all right?” asked Maya. For the second time this morning, I had lost track of the conversation. Not a good habit to develop. Given the way my life had unfolded, I needed to keep on my toes. “Yes, um . sorry. Too much on my mind, I guess.” Without meaning to, I had been squeezing the mint green satin jacket in my hands until it was a wrinkled mess. I tried to smooth it out, but no luck. “Darn it.

I’ll have to steam this again. Let me just—” Oscar awoke with a loud snort and bolted into the workroom at the back of the store. The nape of my neck tingled. I turned to see a man lurking on the sidewalk in front of the shop door. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair and pale, almost colorless eyes. He wasn’t trying to o p e n t h e d o o r— h e sim ply s t o o d t h e r e , s t a rin g in t h r o u g h t h e gla s s. L o o min g. Threatening. He looked familiar. Dangitall.

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