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“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” –Wolfgang von Goethe
Maggie McCrae wandered around the house she had known all her life. Well, mansion really, but somehow it had always seemed comfortable and welcoming to her. So many memories…most of them wonderful and only a few that were not. It had been a good life.
Her great-grandparents had built this beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking Burrows Bay on Fidalgo Island. Part of the San Juan Islands north of Seattle, the views were amazing from almost every window. Tonight, she was out on the balcony that ran along the upstairs library. This is where she did her best thinking. And her most effective magic.
Maggie remembered being in this room with her grandmother, some seventy years earlier. She had taught her all about the plants and herbs, which formed the basis of their special powers. Maggie always said anyone could do what she did with enough study and effort. But tonight, she wondered if that were true. Could they learn? Would they be able to do it without her?
Too much pride! She chided herself yet again, for not reaching out to the girls earlier. They were grown women now. Not the young girls they should have been, when they learned how to use their powers. But it couldn’t be helped. She had foolishly thought they would have more time. Now, she realized even her abilities had limits as she had not seen this coming. The doctors had been very nice, but there was nothing to be done. Her days on this lovely island were almost over.
She watched the lights flashing out in the woods. They were just waiting. Waiting for her to die, so they could move in and bulldoze all that she loved…for money. The love of money was always the greatest evil, she believed. For four generations, her family had protected these woods and the cliffs overlooking the bay. If her girls were successful, they might yet save it. Her two lovely granddaughters, Gabriella and Moira. Cousins, who had spent so little time with each other and now, she was throwing them together. Sink or swim, she thought. There was no time for anything else.
She had taken care of all the legalities. Arthur, her oldest friend and solicitor, would be by in the morning. Bless him, she could always depend on Arthur especially at times like this. But there was one more thing she had to do. She’d put it off as long as she could, while she took one final day for herself. Thankful for the warm September weather, she had walked through the gardens and around the small vineyard, enjoyed her favorite views from the cliffs and finally, taken one last stroll through the woods. She’d come back to the house and prepared her favorite dinner, while playing the music that she and her beloved Patrick had listened to on their honeymoon. He’d been gone so long. She desperately hoped that she would see him on the other side. She smiled as she remembered the love of her life and how they had been everything to each other. She sighed and wished for one more night.
But there was simply no more time. She had to do it now. She hoped the Autumn Equinox would amplify her normal powers. The plants and herbs she had chosen from the garden were laid out on the table in front of her. As was the silver bowl. She said the words more for her own confidence than any actual benefits of the verse. They were from an old monk she had met near Tibet many years ago. It was the closest thing to a protection spell that she knew, and she prayed that it would work.
She placed the lavender and mint in the bowl, followed by the basil and rue, then the bit of tansy and other native plants that were written in the book. Finally, she added the sachet filled with spices collected by her grandmother. When all were carefully laid in the bowl, she took the wooden match and lit the candle. The vanilla fragrance filled the room and as she said the last line of the verse, the candle flared. Probably a draft, but she smiled at the drama of the moment. She would take it as a good sign.
She poured a bit of the wax on the herbs, then added the rum. She had forgotten the vodka, but the rum would have more meaning. She’d seen that in her mind’s eye and had decided to write it down in the book. They might enjoy that, when they discovered their heritage. At the last moment, she decided to take the bowl and candle out onto the balcony. The trespassers might appreciate the light show and she could use all the help she could get.
She waited until the herbs had wilted in the rum and then she took a breath as she readied herself. With a final look across the forest and bay, she began.
“This is for all who have come before and all who will come after,” she said, knowing these first words by heart. “For them and for myself, I ask that everything we love and everything we guard be protected by the ancient spirits of this island and the ancestors from our Scottish homeland.”
She looked up at the night sky and continued. “I offer all that I am and all that I will ever be to ensure that the children of my children find their way and be protected from the evils that walk the earth and dwell in the hearts of weaker beings.”
She took the candle and quickly lit the herbs, now soaked with rum. The flames jumped up and she took a step back, still watching the woods. “The evil that knows no limit, no fullness, only hunger. I ask that all that is good, light and helpful in this world watch over my children’s children and help them on their journey. Give them the time they need to learn, to grow and to become all they must to protect everything we know and love.”
As she spoke, she raised her arms out to her sides and then up to the sky. She could feel all her power, all her might, draining from her. But she kept going until the words were finished. As she watched, there was a glimmer in the night sky…or was it the final remnants of the aurora borealis that had shown itself this summer? She wasn’t sure, but she chose to believe it was a sign that the magic had worked. She hoped so. It had taken the last of her energy. She walked over to the chair by the fire, feeling her age for the first time. It had been a good life. A happy one, for the most part. She had regrets, but not many. And she had seen enough of the future to know there was a good chance it would all work out. She hoped it would. Too tired to go to bed, she put her feet on the ottoman, wrapped the throw around herself and slept.
The next morning, Arthur O’Reilly walked into the house, calling Maggie by name. “Come on, old girl, where are you? I thought you said coffee on the porch this morning?” He chuckled to himself, knowing she would give him grief about the old girl part. She was still lovely at seventy-four and he looked forward to calling on her. More a sister than anything, it was still a boost to the ego to be in her presence.
As he wandered upstairs, he correctly guessed she’d be in the library. It had always been her favorite room, not counting the conservatory. And she preferred the balcony upstairs, when it was nice enough to leave the doors open.
“Maggie, my dear, did you forget our breakfast date?” he joked as he walked into the room. Seeing her on the chair by the fire, he said, “No napping now, you’ve coffee to fix. It’s one of the main reasons I come to visit.”
As he came closer, he saw how pale she looked. Bending down, he grabbed her hand. “Maggie! Oh no. Maggie, talk to me. Talk to me!”
As she stirred, Arthur felt he could breathe again. “I can’t lose you, too. Not so soon after Lily,” he said, more to himself than to her. “Maggie, let me help you up.”
“No,” she said as she held out her hand. “I’m afraid I’m quite ill, Arthur. I should have told you sooner, but I knew you would only worry.”
“Just stay there, Maggie. I’ll get help.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1, praying they would get there quickly.
“Arthur, my granddaughters…” Maggie looked up at her friend. “I should have contacted them sooner.”
As she started to fade, Arthur reached down and checked her pulse. “Maggie, don’t leave. Hang on, my girl, hang on!”
But it was too late. She was gone. Arthur wiped his eyes and heard the sirens far off in the distance. Too late, he thought. Too late! The breeze blew through the doors to the balcony and he could have sworn he heard faint bells, then a soft whisper. “Don’t worry old friend, this is not the end. Be a help to them. They will need you.”
He shook his head, clearing it of such fanciful thoughts and went down to meet the ambulance.
Moira Dunbar couldn’t believe she had wasted eight months of her life on Craig Johnson. She shook her head again, her hair falling well past her shoulders. She was quietly pretty with her medium brown hair and slender build. The typical girl next door except for those green eyes, which lit up if she became excited or upset.
Today, it was upset. She had actually expected Craig to propose this afternoon. He had said there was big news and she should come over right away. He had applied to some of the largest law firms in the country since passing his bar exam. She knew because she had helped him with his resume. She was a great sounding board or so he’d said. Now, she wondered if he’d ever seen her as anything else.
“No one marries their sounding board,” she said under her breath as she drove the car back to her apartment. How could she have been so clueless? He had the champagne poured, when she walked into his condo and music playing in the background.
“Oh good, you’re here,” he’d said as she walked in. “I have something important to tell you.” Accepting the glass of champagne that he handed her, she sat down and waited for him to continue. “I got it! Moira, I got it. The job in Charleston.”
He was so excited, she smiled. “I knew you would get one of them. You did so well on your exam.”
As he passed her chair, he crouched down next to her and said, “I couldn’t have done it without you. You were my…well, my sounding board. Anytime, I wasn’t sure about something, talking to you seemed to clarify the situation.”
Sounding board? Hmm…inspiration would have been more romantic, but she’d work on that, she told herself.
“I’m so glad. Are you sure this is the one you want?” She knew the job in New York had been his first choice.
“New York went with someone else as did Austin, but Charleston was my third choice and I think it’s a good fit for me.”
Not us, me. This wasn’t going so well. “When do you plan to leave?” she asked.
“Next week. I can’t wait to get out of Billings. I’m so sick of snow.” Rolling his eyes, he continued, “Maybe it’s a good thing New York fell through. What about you?”
“I could get used to a shorter winter,” she replied, smiling.
“Moira, there’s something I want to ask you,” Craig said, leaning down, his breath brushing her hair.
“Yes?” she asked. She wondered if this was it. Was he going to propose? They had talked around it for the past few months and now she wasn’t sure if she wanted him to or not.
“Moira,” he repeated. “Do you think I should wear the blue suit or the gray one?”
She stared at him. “Um, I think either would look fine.”
“Good, because I want to look great, when we go out on the town to celebrate. It’s Saturday night and we should make the most of it.” He started walking towards the bedroom.
Moira glanced past him to the mess in the room. Craig was not a tidy person, but she didn’t really mind. As she looked a little closer, she saw a dark blue, satin nightgown hanging off the foot of the bed.
“Craig,” she said, rising out of her chair, “who does that nightgown belong to?”
Craig tried a nonchalant laugh, but it came out more as a croak. “Well, Stacy stopped by last night just to compare notes on her resume….and one thing led to another.” He stopped, suddenly finding an overwhelming interest in the lamp shade next to him.
“She stopped by,” Moira repeated. “And one thing led to another?’ She shook her head and began walking toward the door.
“Moira, wait.” He started after her. “It’s no big deal. It’s not like we’re married or anything.” He saw the look she gave him and stopped talking.
“No, we’re not. And I’m very glad I found out what type of person you really are before investing any more time into this relationship.”
She started to walk out, then stopped. “By the way,” she said over her shoulder, “the gray suit makes you look fat.”
Moira marched out of the condo, down the sidewalk and got into her car. She drove away and managed to make it almost ten blocks before pulling over to have a good cry. What was wrong with her? Was it too much to want to find someone, who had the sense of honor and integrity that only seemed to exist in books and old movies? She wiped her eyes and finished the drive back to her apartment.
As she walked in, her phone was ringing. “I do not want to talk to that man ever again,” she said out loud as she checked her caller ID. But it wasn’t Craig. It was her cousin Gabriella, who never called. Something was wrong.
Picking up the phone, Moira asked, “What happened?”
Gabriella McCrae heard the frustration in Moira’s voice. “Nice to talk to you, too, cuz,” she said, haughtily.
“Sorry,” replied Moira, “rough day.”
“I just called to see if you’d checked your mail today,” stated Gabriella.
“No. Why? Is something wrong, Gabriella?” Moira hoped not. It had already been a long day.
“Why don’t you go get your mail and find out?” As an afterthought, she added, “And you know I hate the name Gabriella, so please call me Gabbi.”
“As you wish,” replied Moira. “I’ll be right back.”
Since she was still carrying her phone, Gabbi could hear her walking down the steps and over to the row of mailboxes for the apartment complex.
“There’s a big manila envelope,” Moira informed her, “and it seems to be from a law firm. O’Reilly and Finch, Solicitors in Anacortes according to the return address.”
“That’s the one,” Gabbi said. “Guess what? We just inherited a house. An actual house.”
“Gran?” Moira asked, walking back to her apartment. She hadn’t known her grandmother very well but remembered her through the eyes of a six-year-old as someone magical and intriguing. “I didn’t know she was back in the country.”
“Apparently, she got back in June,” said Gabbi. “According to the letter, that’s when she updated her will. She leaves everything to us, her grandchildren.”
“Let me read through this and I’ll call you back,” Moira said, suddenly very tired. “Are you going to be home tomorrow?”
“I’ll be here after five. I’m working the lunch rush and most of the afternoon. Talk to you tomorrow,” Gabbi said, then hung up.
Moira slid down onto a stool at the kitchen counter and laid her head on the granite. It felt cold and suddenly, so did Moira. She started to cry. For so many reasons, but she hoped as much for Gran as for herself.
The next day, she called Gabbi back. Moira had spent the morning going over the paperwork and it was very clear that they were both expected to go to Anacortes for the reading of the will. She looked around her apartment. There was nothing keeping her here. Her job selling advertising space for her parents’ newspaper would be here if she returned. She rather hoped she would find a reason not to come back.
The little town just outside of Billings, Montana had never been her dream location. Too much snow and the summers were too hot. She had traveled to so many places, when she was young, but once her parents bought the paper, they were too busy to leave. Maybe an adventure and a new location were exactly what she needed. She was good at selling advertising and that was something she could do anywhere.
As Moira listened to Gabbi’s phone ring several times, she wondered if she should leave a message or call back in an hour. Just as she was about to hang up, Gabbi picked up the phone.
“What?” Gabbi demanded. “What is it?”
“Hi, it’s me. Moira. You said to call you back after five.” Moira hoped Gabbi wasn’t in a bad mood. Their relationship was difficult enough at the best of times.
Moira was surprised, when Gabbi said, “Just a minute. Hold on. It’s not you.”
“Okay,” Moira waited about ten seconds and when Gabbi came back, she was laughing. “I can’t believe I wasted my time on that loser!”
“Man troubles?” Moira asked.
“You could say that,” replied Gabbi. “Let me tell you what happened, when I came in the door this evening.”
Gabbi explained that she had come home after a long day at work to discover her boyfriend getting cozy with another woman. She had been letting Darryl stay on the couch, while he looked for a new apartment. Today, she told him to get out of her apartment and her life. When he just stared at her, she walked past him and started throwing his clothes out the second story window.
When Darryl said she’d be sorry to see him go, Gabbi responded by saying, “I won’t miss you or that permanent dent in my sofa.” She heard the front door slam and glanced out the window. She smiled as she watched him grab his clothes and throw them into his car. Gabbi admitted it was the first time she’d done anything like that, but she’d had enough of his freeloading. The last thing she saw was his car speeding away and a sock flying out the back window.
It felt good to laugh, thought Moira. And even better to laugh with her cousin. They had not done that in a long time.
“Today is Sunday. I can be there on Wednesday as that’s the day we’re supposed to meet with the attorney,” she told Gabbi. “I have to finish up a few things at work and then I can use my vacation time. I have two weeks saved up.”
“Don’t you still work for Mommy and Daddy?” Gabbi said in that voice Moira remembered all too well.
“Yes, I do,” she replied, “but work is the keyword in that sentence. As I said, I can fly over on Wednesday. Do you want to pick me up around ten in the morning or should I catch a flight to Anacortes?”
“I’ll pick you up,” replied Gabbi. “It will give us time to talk on the way. I have some ideas.”
Oh no, thought Moira. Gabbi’s ideas had gotten them both into trouble in the past. “Okay, I’ll see you, then. But it might be best not to spend the money until we actually see how much the house is worth.”
“Very funny,” Gabbi replied. As she hung up the phone, she wondered what Moira would say, when she found out that selling was the last thing she planned to do.
Gabriella was a little nervous about seeing Moira again. She could admit it to herself although, she’d never say it aloud. Moira got under her skin. She was too smart and always knew everything about, well everything. Too many books, Gabbi thought to herself.
As she paced around, waiting for the flight from Billings, Gabbi ran her hands through her long, dark brown hair. She usually felt very confident about her appearance, but seeing Moira always made her feel tall and gangly. Which was ridiculous. She wasn’t thirteen anymore.
Looking at the crowd of people, she realized a small part of her was secretly looking forward to seeing her cousin. They had never been close, but she was still family. Gabbi didn’t have many people she could count on and maybe she and Moira would finally find a way to bond. She’d always wanted a sister, and this might be her chance.
Not a good idea, she thought. Don’t get your hopes up. The reality is…people always let you down.
In the middle of this inner argument, she looked over and saw Moira scanning the crowd. “Gabriella!” she called out, waving at her.
If Moira took a little time with her looks, she would be so pretty, Gabbi thought to herself. Another reason not to like her. Or who knew, maybe a reason to take her shopping and try that bonding.
Gabbi braced herself as Moira ran up and hugged her. “It’s so good to see you! How do you like being a chef? Do you still want to open your own restaurant? We have so much to talk about and I don’t even know where to start.” Moira slowly ran down, but the big smile remained.
Gabbi smiled back, in spite of herself. Moira had always been a sweet kid until they found a reason to argue. Shaking her head, she realized Moira wasn’t a kid anymore…but she was still two years younger than Gabbi, who was twenty-nine.
After slowly untangling herself from the hug, Gabbi said, “Okay, let’s go find your luggage. I imagine you brought several suitcases.”
“Oh no,” replied Moira. “Just three. The letter said we might have to stay for more than a few days, so I had to bring the essentials.”
“How many books?” inquired Gabbi, smirking. “If I recall, you don’t go anywhere without your books.” Moira had forgotten how Gabbi’s blue eyes turned almost amethyst at times especially, when she was teasing her.
“Oh, just a few tucked in here and there,” Moira said as she waved her hand vaguely. “I can always buy more clothes, but it’s difficult to find really good books.” She could tell it sounded a bit snobbish, but she didn’t want to admit that one suitcase was almost full of books.
“I imagine your Daddy gave you a large check just for shopping?” Gabbi asked her voice dripping with saccharine. “We all know he can afford it.”
“No, I brought my own money,” Moira responded, defensively. “I know we don’t talk very often, but I’ve been working for the last four years and I’ve managed to save quite a bit.”
She didn’t add it was almost enough to buy a house of her own. At least the down payment for something small and charming with lots of windows and a yard for a dog. Not like the apartment she had been living in. She’d always wanted animals, but her parents never made room for anything that took time away from their careers. Or anyone, a little voice added. Ignoring it, she glared at Gabriella.
“Don’t get upset. If there are less than twenty books, I’ll apologize.” Gabbi smiled at her cousin, knowingly.
“Okay, I brought more than twenty, but they are all very important.” Then, Moira laughed and shook her head. “Why do we always end up getting on each other’s nerves?”
“That’s what cousins do,” responded Gabbi. “Come on, let’s go get your luggage and see if we can lift it into my car.”
Moira watched Gabbi as she drove. She loved her cousin, but always felt so average in her presence. Where Moira was 5’6” and saw herself as the girl next door, Gabbi was 5’9” with wavy, almost black hair and curves in all the right places. Moira smiled, remembering the way they’d played dress up as little girls. Before either of them had thought about hair color or curves.
Moira decided she liked Gabbi’s car. Especially, since it was a convertible. They had talked about putting the top down but decided against it. Gabbi said the top often stuck on her ’97 Jetta, when it started to rain. However, it was reliable, otherwise and the closest thing she could afford to her first love, a 1964 Corvette Stingray. At least the Jetta was red…and theoretically a convertible.
The traffic was crazy going through Seattle and Moira thought to herself she was quite happy to be the passenger. Nothing like this in Billings and she hadn’t really driven anywhere else. All the traveling she’d done with her parents had been when she was too young to drive. As an international correspondent and photographer, they made the perfect power couple and sometimes took her with them on assignment. Once they bought the newspaper, they were too busy to travel.
She’d decided to save money by going to the local university and staying at home. She had a talent for selling advertising. Her dad called it her “soft sell” and it was very effective. She had worked for the paper all through high school, college and full time since graduating. Montana State had a good program in marketing, but she’d spent more time in her history classes. She finally graduated with majors in both. One for her parents and one for herself. History was just like books. Wonderful stories about interesting people, living in exotic places…all having a more exciting life than she did. But it was fun to live through them if only for a little while.
Stop it, she told herself. This is the beginning of a new and exciting adventure. So, for once, be the main character in your own story.
Turning to Gabbi, she said, “Have you ever been to Anacortes?”
Gabbi nodded her head. “A couple of times. They have some really interesting shops and a few great festivals. But when you live in Seattle, there’s not much reason to go anywhere else…except maybe down to California. San Francisco has some of the best restaurants in the world or so my father tells me.” When I see him, Gabbi thought to herself. Ouch, she shouldn’t have gone there. Do not think about Dad. Not today and not with Moira.
Moira knew that was a sore subject since Gabriella’s parents had divorced, when she was about thirteen. She tried to lighten the mood. “Hey, I know,” Moira forced more enthusiasm than she felt into her voice. “Let’s go explore Anacortes. We have five hours before the lawyer is going to meet with us. We can wander around the town and have lunch. It’ll be fun!”
Gabbi looked over and sensed what Moira was trying to do and she had to admit, it was pretty nice. “Okay, sounds like a plan. But you’re buying lunch since I’m paying for gas.”
“Way ahead of you,” replied Moira. “In fact, let’s splurge and eat somewhere right on the water.”
Almost an hour later, they were still heading north on interstate 5 with the Cascade Mountains off to their right and Mount Baker straight ahead. They would keep traveling north until they reached Mt. Vernon and then take the short cut over to Highway 20 and Anacortes. The scenery was amazing with the evergreens all around them and azure blue skies. No rain today and it was a lovely drive.
Moira kept commenting on the beauty, but Gabbi told her, “Wait until we get to the water.”
As they worked their way toward Puget Sound, Moira kept looking for the water, but there were too many trees blocking her view. As they drove across the Twin Bridges connecting Fidalgo Island with the mainland, it was suddenly laid out before her.
“Oh!” she put her hand up to her mouth. “It’s beautiful! Just beautiful. How wonderful to live in such a magical place.”
Gabbi smiled. It doesn’t always feel so magical, when I’m in Seattle, but you’re right…this is beautiful.”
They drove through Anacortes, then out to the harbor and parked. Walking along the shore, they looked across the channel to Guemes Island. Gabbi noted the ferries and smaller boats were out in force with everyone enjoying these last warm days.
“It’s almost the end of September and the weather is perfect,” Moira said, seeming to read Gabbi’s thoughts. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day to start our big adventure.”
She stopped for a minute as her gaze traveled right to Samish Island, then back to the left and Cyprus Island. Looking out at the water, the trees and the sky, Moira was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.
“This was worth the trip,” she whispered to herself.
Gabbi smiled and punched her lightly in the arm. “There you go, cuz. Nice to see you enjoying something besides your books.”
Another reference to her books. Moira remembered how much Gabbi had teased her, when they were six and eight. She smiled. “Books can teach us a lot, but of course, you have to learn to read first. I imagine you mastered that some time ago.”
“Ouch!” Gabbi replied. “Kitty has claws.”
Moira turned back, “I should apologize…”
“No, you should not,” Gabbi said. “I think you’ve probably done that far too many times in your life, judging by that shapeless top you’re wearing.”
As Moira started to say something, Gabbi held up a hand. “I’m not saying that to be mean. Well not entirely, but you’re too pretty to wear that style. What I’m saying is let’s be honest with each other. If we are going to spend the next few days together, let’s start fresh. Not continue a fight we had over twenty years ago.”
Moira smiled and nodded. “Agreed. And you’re right. I do apologize too often, even when I’ve done nothing wrong. Standing here with this breathtaking view in front of me, I feel the need to say so.”
Gabbi looked at her for a moment, then smiled back. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet, cuz.”
“Let’s get something to eat,” suggested Moira. “I’m starving.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” replied Gabbi.
“How about there?” suggested Moira. “That restaurant has a spectacular view of the water.”
“Let’s just hope they have spectacular food,” muttered Gabbi, but she did have to admit the view was wonderful as they walked into the dining area.
“Something by the windows if you have it,” Moira told the pretty, young woman at the cash register.
She smiled at them. “You two just missed the rush, so sit wherever you like. I’ll be right over to take your order.”
They decided on prawn appetizers. How could they not? Moira thought to herself, smiling. She ordered garlic prawns, while Gabriella chose the spicy paprika prawns, which definitely suited her personality. They went back and forth on clam chowder but decided on a light salad instead. If you can call any salad, buried under luscious Dungeness crab, light.
They debated about white wine but settled on water with lemon.
“Are you gals up from Seattle?” asked the waitress. “We get a lot of tourists in the fall, who want to get out of the city and enjoy the last of the nice weather.”
Moira smiled and told her they were here on business. Gabbi tried not to pay attention, focusing on the ingredients in her prawn appetizer. She was pretty sure she could replicate it with a little trial and error.
“If you’re done with the welcoming committee, we should probably leave,” said Gabbi as the waitress went to check on her other tables. “We’re supposed to meet Gran’s lawyer in about twenty minutes.”
“Lead the way,” replied Moira.
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