Irvine , 2010s
“She’s been researching my famil y for forty years?” Gretchel asked. She had asked multiple versions of this question already. Many times.
When Eli told her that his parents were on their way to Irvine, he did his best to explain why, and he struggled to do it as delicately and diplomatically as he could.
Gretchel was still baffled, though, and Eli was beginning to imagine the many ways in which a meeting between Diana and Gretchel might go horribly, horribly wrong. At the moment, though, he needed to focus on helping Gretchel understand why Carlin Fitzgerald was the missing piece of a puzzle that his mother had been trying to put together for decades.
“I just don’t get why my family is worth studying, Eli. It doesn’t make sense that a bunch of wild country nobodies would be worthy of research. Is it because we’re witches?”
“Please, just trust me, Gretchel. It’s best if you let my mother give you the details herself.” This was probably true, since Eli had purposefully avoided knowing anything more than he had to about his mother’s obsession. But he was also reluctant to be the one who explained the role his mother’s meddling had played in his relationship with Gretchel. “The best thing you can do right now—the thing that would most help me—would be to gather up all the family documents you can find: b irth certificates, death certificates, marriage license, deeds, letters, diaries—everything.”
Gretchel narrowed her eyes, preparing to keep pushing for answers, but then she decided to give Eli a break. If she wanted him to be patient with her secrets—and she most certainly did—she needed to be patient with his. “All right. I’ll pull together everything I took when I came to the cottage, and then I’ll go see what I can dig up at the house on the hill.”
Gretchel was tugging on her jacket when she stopped, struck by a thought. “Eli, does this have anything to do with the prophecy, and why you left Carbondale?”
Eli smiled and kissed her gently. “It has everything to do with why I left Carbondale, and it has everything to do with the prophecy that kept me away from you.”
In her dream Gretchel was trekking through a garden of orange poppies. The scene was familiar. She was inside the painting she had made so long ago, just as she had been during the ‘shroom trip she took with Eli in college.
This was a sacred place. She had known magic here. But a shiver ran through her. A warning.
She reached the center of the garden and stopped. The power of the place was strongest here. She gently touched the petals of one of the poppies, and withdrew her hand with a gasp, her fingers burnt.
The poppies were flames now, and she was burning. This was familiar, too.
Eli tossed and turned, nervous about his parents’ arrival. When he finally did fall asleep, he dropped right into a nightmare. Gretchel was dancing naked in front of a fire. He could see her so clearly. She held out the loving cup to him, but he couldn’t reach it. His mother was holding him back. He saw a familiar snake slithering up to him. He couldn’t get to Gretchel, he couldn’t escape his mother, and he couldn’t get away from the snake.
He closed his eyes in the dream, and he felt fangs sinking into his thigh. He screamed, but the pain was good; it was right and proper, necessary for growth. He felt his mother release her grip on him and he moved toward Gretchel. Then he was jerked backward as his mother tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled.
H e woke up sweating and gasping.
Gretchel was shaking. She hadn’t eaten breakfast. She hadn’t even cooked. She was sitting on a chair in her bedroom facing the new full-length mirror Eli had put up the day before. Teddy finished tying up her hair with a vanilla scarf that matched her mid-length pencil skirt.