A Fork in the Road…
I returned to my cottage home one evening after a day with the coven, just like any other day. Aunt Lilac wasn’t in the kitchen cooking dinner like normal. But I didn’t think much of it — she often stays out late for work.
I walked into my bedroom and screamed at the top of my lungs.
“NO!” I shook my head profusely — there was aunt Lilac — as a ghost. “NO, NO, NO,” I shook my head a thousand times in denial.
“Sweetie, it’s okay,” she attempted to consult me — reaching in for a hug on impulse, just to quickly realize that she can’t touch me anymore now that she’s a ghost.
“What happened!?” I collapsed onto my knees and burst into tears.
“I had an accident,” she sighed.
“An accident!?” My jaw dropped, “NO!” I threw my hands in the air, “an accident is like a paper cut or stubbing your toe against the wall — not death!”
“People accidentally die all the time,” she sighed.
“No, they don’t,” I continued to deny, picking myself off the floor and running to my bed to comfortably squeeze into fetal position.
“Please…” she gazed at me helplessly.
I was terrified. She was terrified. We were both frightened beyond belief. I took a few deep breaths and attempted to pull myself together.
“What… h-h-happened?” I stuttered, wiping the tears away from my puffy face.
“I was experimenting with a new herbal medicine… I must have miscalculated the dose… I did a taste-test and it killed me instantaneously,” she explained. “It was a painless death, though,” she attempted to force a smile.
“Ugh,” I moaned with my head in my heads. “This just happened? Where is your body? Can we still save you?” I jumped back up onto my feet.
“No,” she urged, “it happened very early this morning. I’m gone.”
“I was welcomed by my parents,” she let out a wide grin, “your grandparents. They were so excited to see me. It was absolutely incredible,” she gushed.
“You-you reunited with the family?”
“Yes!” She excitedly nodded, “my own grandparents and great-grandparents, my aunts and uncles, all of them. A few friends, too. It was like one, big, happy reunion.”
“My parents!” I squealed, “you saw my parents? Can you bring them to me!?” I jumped for joy at the thought of finally being able to make contact with them.
Aunt Lilac paused… which made me gulp.
“What is it?” I asked. “You… you didn’t see my parents? Not even my mom — your sister?”
Finally, she responded, “no… I’m afraid not.”
“Where are they!?” I shouted.
“As soon as I can find them, you’ll be the first one to know,” she promised.
Aunt Lilac stayed with me for the rest of the night and we talked about almost everything. At the very least, it was comforting to still be able to converse with her. But life would never be the same.
I faced the harsh reality that without aunt Lilac’s income, I’d have to provide for myself. That meant leaving the coven in order to work full-time. I could continue working at my booth, providing mediumship for the townspeople, but that wouldn’t be enough to keep up with all the bills. I’d have to sell the cottage.
My only other option would be to find a husband to provide for me. Seeking out a husband became tougher with age, as the ripest time for a woman to get “picked” was eighteen, freshly after finishing her school years. Of course, at twenty-three, I was still quite young — but I wasn’t getting any younger.
However, the more I thought about it, the more it disgusted me — being a wife. To lose my independence, to become a slave to a man, to revolve my world around babies and little kids — no thank you! What about my pride? What about my sense of accomplishment? What about my adventure and freedom?
I wouldn’t be able to go to parties anymore with the warlocks and the other witches. I wouldn’t be able to roam the forest aimlessly until the sun went down. I wouldn’t be able to learn something new every day.
Over the past several years, I had blossomed like a butterfly. I transformed from the quiet and antisocial girl at the little schoolhouse, to the bubbly and outgoing woman at the coven. Everything was perfect… until it all came crashing down.
I was packing up all my belongings, getting ready to move out, when I heard a knock at the door. I opened it up and had to blink a few times because I couldn’t believe my eyes — it was Annabella!
“Hey, Valerie,” she greeted with pity — which obviously revealed that she certainly heard about aunt Lilac’s passing.
“Uh…” I was severely taken aback, “hi, Annabella.”
“I am so sorry about your aunt.”
Yep, she knew. Is this the only reason she reached out to me after ten years of silence — pity? If that were the case, I wasn’t interested.
Annabella continued, “and I’m sorry I missed the funeral. Ugh, it’s been so hectic with the kids! I wanted to go, I really wanted to.”
“The funeral?” I furrowed my eyebrows, “that’s okay, I don’t think you were invited.”
“I can’t believe it’s been ten years!”
“Come in,” I offered, opening up the door. A part of me wanted to slam the door in her face. But the other part — the changed part of me who no longer held grudges — eagerly wanted to catch up with her.
I lit a fire and hung a kettle overhead, “you want some tea?” I offered.
“I’m leaving Jacob,” she blurted out.
“What!?” I nearly dropped my empty mug.
“I can’t do it anymore, Valerie. I got pregnant and married when I was only thirteen. Four babies later and I’m drowning. And Jacob is like a fifth kid — I do all his laundry, cook his meals, clean up after him. He’s a total slob. And he doesn’t appreciate me at all!” She vented.
“Wow,” I sighed, sitting down with her at the kitchen table, “that’s a lot to take in.”
“I know,” she sighed back, “I have no social life. I hardly even see my own family anymore. Meanwhile, Jacob is out every day going to work and seeing his friends. It’s so unfair.”
“What are you going to do?”
“We had a long talk and I decided to move back with my parents. My mom agreed to help take care of the kids. I’m going to work as an assistant school teacher, and hopefully someday, become a full time teacher.”
“That sounds great!” I nodded, trying to be supportive. But I was still in shock.
“Jacob and I will take turns with the kids.”
“How does he feel about it?”
“He’s upset — because he’s losing his personal maid! Still, he’s taking it fairly well. I’m sure a part of him is excited to be on his own and meet other women.”
“He’s been faithful to you, right?”
“That I know of,” Annabella casually shrugged, “I don’t even care at this point. I hope he finds someone else.”
“Wow,” I widened my eyes. The amount of carelessness and detachment in her face was concerning.
“How are you, though? I’m not here to talk about just me. You look incredible — all grown up.”
I smirked. I certainly felt much younger than the woman sitting in front of me — even though we were the same exact age. Annabella aged more than merely ten years. There were dark circles under her eyes, wrinkles already forming, and many grey hairs. Most of all, there was something about her aura that was grey, heavy, and gloomy. I was the one in mourning, yet she was the one who looked it.
“I’m just a kid,” I chuckled, “I don’t have any children, I don’t even have a job.”
“What have you been up to?”
“I’ve been studying at the coven…” I paused, “with Olivia.”
“The coven? Like, for witches? You and Olivia?”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “I also rent a booth in midtown some evenings and perform mediumship.”
“That’s incredible!” She gasped.
“But I have to quit, now that my aunt is gone. I need the money.”
“What about your mediumship? Don’t you charge for that?”
“I do, but I hardly break even. If I were to do it full time, perhaps, but not enough to afford this house. I’m selling it.”
“Oh, Valerie,” she whimpered for me.
“I might have to settle down and marry,” I sighed.
“Don’t settle for anyone,” Annabella urged, “you deserve more than any man could offer.”
“Thanks,” I forced a smile.
After Annabella and I caught up, I was now even more scared of marriage than ever. I always thought that thirteen was far too young to settle down, but a part of me had so much hope for Annabella and wanted to see her find her happy, fairytale ending. Although we parted ways on a sour note back then, I still always wanted the best for her. To find out how miserable she had become was devastating.