The evening that followed my last day of school, aunt Lilac made me a special dinner. I feasted at the table but felt a little dreadful because I knew what she wanted to discuss — my future.
I squirmed as she finally began, “so, what’s next for you, Valerie?”
I despised talking about the future, let alone thinking about it. I didn’t know what was next, nor did I want to. I only wanted to live in the moment.
“I’m not sure,” I quietly muttered, still working on my dish.
“You know, many girls dropped out of school over the past three or four years to become wives and mothers.”
“I have to say that I’m proud of you for finishing your school years — of course I would’ve supported whichever path you chose.”
“Well, thanks,” I shrugged. “School was getting pretty hard though, so I’m glad it’s over,” I admitted with relief.
“Many ladies, once they finish school, decide to get married. Of course, you don’t have to. But I’m curious, is that something you are looking for?”
I awkwardly shrugged.
“There’s a special banquet they hold for the graduating class. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet your husband.”
“Hmm,” was all I responded with.
“There’s music and candles hanging everywhere. There’s harps, violens, pianos. You dress up nicely and wait for a young man to ask you to dance. If you like him, you go ahead and dance with him, and you could go on to marry.”
“It takes years to get to know someone. How can you marry a total stranger?”
“You don’t have to marry that night. You keep in touch, get to know one another, meet each other’s families. And then you make a promise to one another.”
The idea of having a man by my arm to adore me and take care of me felt so fantastic. But the reality of it made me cringe. What if he was weird and annoying? What if he chewed too loudly?
Over the past couple years, I had gotten to know boys on some level. Although I attended a girls-only school, many nights I would sneak out during a full moon. Aunt Lilac never noticed, or maybe she turned the other way because she so badly pitied the loss of my parents.
There was this spot that some teens would meet each other at to hang out with the opposite gender. After all, we were confined to same-sex schools, and this was the only way to learn about the other side. There were a couple of boys… maybe two, three, or four… who I met up with a few times.
It was fun, but I also knew it was wrong, which plagued me with guilt. I had silly fantasies about one of these boys coming to me and asking for my hand in marriage. But it wasn’t realistic. For whatever reason, I only found myself attracted to boys who weren’t interested in marriage. But maybe I wasn’t either. The whole thing was so confusing.
“Ugh,” I scoffed, “I’m really not sure about all that.”
“That’s perfectly fine!” Aunt Lilac assured, practically cheering with delight, “look at me — I never married and went on to have a fulfilling life.”
“But you got stuck with me,” I told her, half-joking.
Aunt Lilac went quiet for a moment. She was always so wrapped up in my pain of losing my parents — it rarely occurred to me that she was also experiencing her own pain: losing her sister and her brother-in-law.
“Don’t say that,” aunt Lilac finally spoke in a serious tone. “I would do anything to bring them back. But raising you was a blessing.”
I found that hard to completely believe. Aunt Lilac purposely chose to live her own life — not to ever be someone’s mother. I knew she loved me, but I always felt like a burden in her life, a reminder of her loss.
“Thanks,” I politely forced a smile.
“Anyway,” she continued, “if you don’t want to find a man to provide for you, then you must provide for yourself somehow. Some women go into gardening or sewing. I can help you find a job.”
“I don’t want a job,” I sighed, “I’m not smart enough, or tough enough. I couldn’t handle it.”
“Of course you are all those things! You survived all those years of schooling!”
“I wasn’t that great of a student,” I rolled my eyes.
“You just need to find something that you’re passionate about. You could study herbal medicine like I did.”
“Like I said,” I emphasized, “definitely not smart enough.”
“You’re a very, very smart girl!” She defended.
“Come on,” I urged, “I was the slowest learner in my class. And that’s because I spent most lessons staring into outer space and daydreaming.”
“Look,” aunt Lilac sighed in frustration, “you have to choose a path — do you want to get married or find yourself a career? You can’t sit still forever.”
I covered my face in dread. All I wanted to do was sit still.
I turned to Oats, my cat who was now living as a ghost, chasing around a ghost-mouse in the kitchen. “I wish I could be a cat like you, Oats,” I whined to him.
Aunt Lilac looked around aimlessly, for she couldn’t see ghosts like me.
“You obviously have a lot of special gifts,” she told me, referring to my abilities to see ghosts and talk to animals. “You could really harness that, you know.”
“There’s a coven you could join.”
“It’s a group of witches. They could help you learn how to do something with your powers.”
“I don’t really like to tell people about…” I used air quotes, “my powers.”
I went through all of my school years suppressing these eccentricities. Already feeling like an outcast, I didn’t want to put a target on my back. Even my childhood best friend, Annabella, had no idea.
“It’s something to be proud of. And, gosh, the coins you could earn living as a witch…” her face lit up, “how many people would come to you for spells and potions! How many people would ask you to connect them with their loved ones who’ve passed! You could make a fortune!”
“Uh…” I hesitated, “I don’t even know how to go about that.”
“The coven could teach you how to harness these gifts that you’ve felt so burdened by for your whole life. Not only that, you could find a sense of true connection to people who are just like you.”
I thought about it. Perhaps it was worth a shot. This was possibly my only chance to figure out how to find my parents. On top of that, it was a second chance at school. I could make friends this time, real friends, who would get to know the real me.
So, I went ahead and joined my local Coven. Aunt Lilac took me to town the following day and we found fliers hanging up about the group. They had written their meeting time and location. My heart raced with both excitement and fear.
It was sunrise. I walked through the woods, on my way to the building where the coven was held. As usual, I was stopped on the way by a ghost who looked lost and frightened.
“What happened to me?” They panicked, “how do I get back home?”
At this age, I was extremely skilled at ignoring them. I kept my gaze straight as I continued venturing forward. Immediately, the ghost gave up and fled.
Ghosts do this all the time to everyone. People die, and they have no idea what’s happening to them, or why they have become a ghost, so they run up to people asking for help. The only difference between me and everyone else, is that I can see them and hear them. As soon as I show any signal of acknowledgment, they cling to me and harass me, assuming that I have all the answers. But I’m just as clueless as they are.
I wondered, perhaps, if this coven would teach me how to help ghosts. I felt so cold and heartless ignoring them, but it was my only option. There was absolutely nothing I could do!
Finally, I arrived in front of a large building made of stone. Opening the creaky door to step inside, the hallway was so dark, merely lit by a few candles hanging on the walls. My footsteps echoed loudly.
I continued walking until I heard a group of women chattering in one of the rooms, all the way at the end of the hallway, to the left. The door was wide open, and above it was a large sign that read, “COVEN.” I sighed with some relief, knowing I had found the right place.
I walked in to see a large group of women — about fifty or so — of all ages. I must’ve been the youngest one in the room, as many of them looked old enough to be my mother, some of them old enough to be my grandmother, and a few looked old enough to be my great-grandmother.
Hoping to find someone new like me, I scanned the room. And then I saw her — Olivia! My jaw dropped. This couldn’t be.