Ursa, Layla and Vix arrive home and an argument breaks out between Ursa and their mother. Do not forget that their mother, Cassandra, is a witch with a temper.
The car died as soon as their house came into view, and, rather than charging the battery again, Ursa and Vix got out and pushed.
Layla sighed when she noticed their mother leaning out the front door. The woman was batty as hell. Layla loved her mother, but she drove Layla crazy. She was taller than any of them, with rich, curly black hair and eyes almost as dark. She always wore flowing, earthy clothing and actually liked being compared to a gypsy. Who knew, maybe she was one.
Their house was dark and unwelcoming on the outside, but the inside was marvelously comfortable and colorful. They had too many possessions for the small house, but it was the right type of abundance: too many pillows on the sofas and chairs, too many interesting knick-knacks on the mantle, too many chairs wedged around the circular dining table, too many books shelved, or stacked beside the shelves, or in piles on the end tables, and too many flowing curtains on the rods over the windows. They had too many clothes stuffed into their closets and dressers and Cassandra stocked too many bottles in the liquor cabinet.
That was one thing that Layla really liked about her mother: her willingness to share her liquor. With all of them. Cassandra was a very free type. She didn't care to punish; she insisted that children learn better from mistakes than from a spanking or grounding. Layla didn't know about that, but she did wish that Cassandra was more inclined toward giving advice than her "whatever will be, will be" philosophy.
Layla thought her mother lazy, and Layla knew lazy. Cassandra was the type of lazy that floated away when hard times came near. Layla was the type of lazy that floated through life until met with hard times; then she buckled down and worked.
Layla was a procrastinator of the finest sort. She would ignore homework or a project on her calendar as though it were a minor holiday until the night before the deadline. Then she would attack it. For someone so slow, her speed on such occasions was startling. Her mother and sisters knew to keep out of her way unless Layla shouted for someone to get her something or to do something urgently. They didn't think of declining. Layla almost never asked for anything until these occasions. Cassandra would pass any item to Vix for delivery and often retreated to her upstairs bedroom whenever possible. She didn't like stress and shut down in its presence. Layla, amazingly, thrived on it. It was such a foreign thing to her that, when it appeared, she behaved much like white blood cells on a virus.
Now, Cassandra peered out from the front door and watched as her daughters struggled to force the giant vehicle down the driveway next to her own tattered, light green, Pontiac. When it was parked, she stepped down from the brick stairs and said, "I was worried."
"We're fine, mom," Ursa said as she passed, sounding exasperated. Layla guessed it had something to do with ol' Daughtry. Ursa was always short with their mother after she saw Daughtry. Layla really couldn't fathom Ursa's attraction to the man. He was nice, yeah, and kinda handsome, but he was too old for her. Besides, Ursa was a beautiful, young woman, even with her (in Layla's opinion) radical new haircut.
Layla didn't like short hair on any woman. She couldn't say why; it was just grating to her. She so pitied chemo patients. Vix's infamous haircut of two years prior had happened after she and Layla had gotten into a fight. Layla hadn't spoken to Vix for more than a week after that, she was so furious with her. Vix repented so pathetically for her mistake that Layla finally forgave her. She also gave her a cute cap to wear around and insisted that she did. Ursa, on the other hand, had cut her hair to look more mature. Layla didn't really think it worked, but she knew that some guys went for that look. Unfortunately for Ursa, all four Rehmert women knew that Daughtry went for the dark, curly-haired, older woman type. And unfortunately for Erik Daughtry, Cassandra didn't think about him much at all.
Cassandra wasn't a flirt; that was another point in her favor. She easily could be, but wasn't. She was very picky with her men and even when she met someone she liked, she didn't make a move. As far as the girls knew, their mother hadn't been involved with any man since Vix's dad. Maybe when the third time wasn't the charm, she'd given up.
"Erik Daughtry called a few minutes ago and said he gave you a jump," Cassandra said. She directed this comment toward Vix, but Ursa turned to look back at Cassandra with a dangerous glint in her brown eyes.
Layla waited and her lips curled into a grin. She liked this sort of tension.
Vix smiled for a different reason. "Yep, and he told me to come work for him if I want to."
Cassandra's full lips pursed as though she wanted to frown but she fought through it. "That's nice, honey."
Vix's smile turned wary and she walked around their mother and up into the house.
"So, what else did Daughtry say?" Ursa asked, trying to sound casual.
Cassandra turned to look at Ursa with a brow arched. She'd obviously thought her oldest daughter had already gone inside. "Oh, that you'd be taking your car in tomorrow and that he's more and more impressed with Vixen. And that Layla looked all grown up."
Ursa shot an incredulous look at Layla and back to her mother. "Layla looks all grown up? Layla?"
Cassandra looked at her daughter, confused and hurt from Ursa's harsh tone, and Layla had a potentially disastrous urge to laugh.
"What did he say about me, mom?" Ursa demanded.
Finally, Cassandra understood. "Oh, honey," she said sympathetically. "Erik Daughtry? That's a terrible idea."
Ursa threw up her hands. "He's not too old for me, mom."
"It's not that. You and he are practically related."
Layla and Ursa both stared at their mother, who had apparently had enough of the conversation because she was drifting into the house. The sisters looked at each other. "What the hell does that mean?" Ursa shouted at the screen door that was already swinging closed. Layla grinned as she followed Ursa inside. "Mom!" Ursa yelled through the house; then decisively stormed up to the second floor. Layla was right behind her.
Cassandra's bedroom was "ordered chaos" as she liked to say. Her dresser was covered with scarves, mostly silk. Her closet was overflowing, and dresses covered a stuffed chair by her bed, which was unmade. Then, there was her workstation, which actually oozed over most of the room. Her sewing machine stood beside her desk which was filled and covered with supplies. Cassandra's small clothing shop in town was stocked with one-of-a-kind items made right here in her bedroom. It was a small miracle that the dinky place had kept them all afloat for so many years.
Cassandra sat at the sewing machine now, and it whirred away as she ran a sheer brown sleeve through it.
"Mom!" Ursa yelled, unnecessarily. "Don't avoid me this time, damn it! Tell me what you meant!" Layla liked the way Ursa looked right now. She looked tough. Ursa was most likely to cause a scene. Vix was a far second.
"Meant about what, honey?" Cassandra asked loftily. Anyone else might think that the dark-haired woman was simply lost in thought or caught up in her work, but Layla and Ursa knew that she was trying very hard not to talk about what had slipped out of her mouth.
Ursa walked over and crouched by the sewing machine to look directly into her mother's face. "How are Erik Daughtry and I 'practically related'?"
Cassandra looked uneasily toward Layla and back to Ursa. "I'd rather not say."
"Mom!" Ursa cried in frustration.
"Don't push me on this, Ursa." The warning hit with Cassandra's deadly glare. It rarely appeared, but when it did, it terrified her children. When that gaze was ignored, strange things happened in the house. Bad things.
Ursa bowed her head. "Mom, I'm begging you. It's important. I'm going to his shop tomorrow." Ursa looked up at her mother.
Cassandra had her eyes closed, so her daughters didn't know whether she was in a rage or considering Ursa's plea.
Then, finally, Cassandra opened her eyes. "Erik is Layla's cousin. Once removed."
Layla slowly stepped forward. More than anything, she was fascinated with information about her father. "My dad's cousin?" she asked softly.
Cassandra frowned at Layla. "Yes. Your father's cousin."
Layla thought about Daughtry and wondered. She supposed she could piece together a resemblance between herself and the mechanic. Thank God Ursa was the one with the crush, not Layla.
Ursa was making a terrible face and her short dandelion fluff hair was sticking out wildly. "Well he's not related to me. So don't try and stop me from going after him."
Cassandra gazed at Ursa dangerously. "I don't like it, so you're not doing it."
Ursa looked back just as hard. "I. Don't. Give a shit."
Layla braced herself. It was a very bad idea to taunt their mother. "Ursa..." she warned gently.
"No," Ursa growled to her sister. "She always gets her way. Well this is my life and I'm sick of bowing down to this old witch!"
Cassandra stood, towering over Ursa with her body and her will. "Witch?"
"Oh..." Layla moaned, stepping backward. If her mother was mad, she was not going to stick around.
But Ursa was dangerously past her fear of Cassandra. "Yes. Witch! You are a witch, mom. You can do things with your mind and you push us around like little..."
Cassandra snapped her hand closed near Ursa's mouth and her daughter's lips worked silently. "Do you want me to show you a WITCH?" their mother screamed shrilly.
Ursa's eyes widened. The fear had finally found her. Layla watched, helplessly. Vix peeked around the top of the banister, her green eyes terrified.
Their mother stepped forward and put one had behind Ursa's head. With the other she placed a finger between Ursa's wild eyes.
Layla clenched her fists over and over and Vix squeezed the top of the banister. It was the first time any of them had said the word, "witch"—in the house or outside of it.
Cassandra's dragged her finger slowly over the skin of Ursa's forehead in a strange, jagged shape and murmured darkly, "Child. You don't know what I'm capable of."
Ursa's eyes rolled up and her eyelids fluttered. Cassandra caught her as she fell.
"Mom." Layla said, and when her mother rubbed her hand over Ursa's mouth roughly, she repeated, "Mom!"
Cassandra's eyes snapped to Layla, who stiffened.
Vix was next to speak. "Mom, stop."
Cassandra glared at her youngest daughter. There her gaze softened. "Oh," she said. She looked down at Ursa, unconscious in her arms. "Oh..." She sank to the floor and cradled Ursa in her lap. Layla and Vix watched in fascination as Cassandra hummed softly.
Slowly, the two youngest daughters came closer and sat around their mother and sister. Vix hummed along and reached out to touch Ursa's head where Cassandra's finger had left a mark.
"What did you do?" Layla asked gently.
Cassandra kept humming for a moment and looked up at Layla. "I only took away her love for Erik. That's all. I didn't hurt her."
Layla and Vix stared at their mother, who went back to humming and cradling Ursa lovingly.
"Mom," Vix said. "Daughtry's a good guy."
"Mmm-hmm," Cassandra replied. Then, with a strength that should not belong to a woman at the end of her thirties, she lifted Ursa and started toward the stairs.
Layla stared at Vix, feeling revolted. Then, they followed their mother down the stairs and into Ursa's room, where Cassandra tucked their older sister into bed and gently caressed her cheek.
That night, Vix had a disturbing dream in which her mother pulled all the happiness from her forehead and turned her into a baby. Her mother coddled her and placed her in a crib; then spun a mobile above. The mobile was four witches flying around a tree.
Vix woke up early as usual. She hated it, but she was never able to sleep in like the rest of her family. She got out of bed in the twilight and started the coffee pot for her mother and Ursa. Then she sat at the table and stared at her hands. What was that last night? Sure, she'd always entertained thoughts of her mother being a witch, but a natural witch. One that did things purely by accident. But her mother had basically admitted to knowing that she was, and had put a spell on Ursa.
Had her mother put a spell on Vix? Or many spells? Had she changed their minds about anything they disagreed on?
Vix focused on breathing. Did that actually happen last night? Maybe she had only dreamt it.
She sat like that for a long time as the sun slowly rose and the kitchen filled with golden light.
Ursa was the second to wake, also as usual. She headed for the coffee pot and murmured, "Thanks Vix," as she poured herself a cup.
"Sure," Vix said, watching her sister carefully. So far nothing seemed strange. "Are you taking the car in today?"
Ursa paused for more than a few seconds and finally said, "I guess so. I was hoping that maybe Layla could take it in, but the mechanic said, 'The sooner, the better.'"
Vix stared at the back of Ursa's head, a cold dread filling her stomach. "The mechanic? You're talking about Erik Daughtry?"
"Mmm-hmm," Ursa replied loftily, bringing her cup to her lips. She turned toward Vix. "Too bad you have school. I bet you could fix it just as well." Ursa smiled at her sister.
Vix, though taken with the compliment, grimaced at Ursa. "Ursa?" she asked. She wanted her sister to snap out of it; to gush about Erik as she always did.
Ursa sat down at the table and sighed into her cup. "Good coffee."
It was then that Cassandra came into the kitchen. "Good morning, girls."
Vix murmured, "Good morning," half-heartedly.
"Morning, mom." Ursa said, merrily.
Cassandra petted Ursa's short hair lovingly; then grabbed the coffee pot. "I stayed up too late," she said and sighed.
Ursa hummed contentedly, drinking her coffee; then stood and rinsed her cup in the sink. "Will you need help at the store later?" she asked her mother.
Cassandra smiled. "That would be wonderful. Sharon Cromwell had three dresses taken in and she wanted them delivered today. I didn't think I'd have time 'til tonight."
"I'll come by after the wagon's fixed," Ursa said.
Vix tore her eyes away from the bizarre scene in front of her. "I need to wake Layla up," she muttered before leaving the kitchen.
It appeared that Ursa's love for Erik was indeed gone, and that love had been causing more of a rift between Ursa and their mother than anyone realized.
Layla woke with a start, and stared up into Vix's green eyes in a crazed way. She sat up quickly. She'd been dreaming about the forest again. She'd dreamt of her mother and three other women circling a tree, laughing drunkenly.
Vix shot a nervous glance toward Layla's bedroom door before saying, "Ursa's weird today."
Layla was still in a filmy reality, only a few shades away from sleep. "Weird, huh?" She rubbed her face roughly. It didn't help much. She swung her legs out of bed and to the floor. "Hey, Vix? You ever dream about that forest?"
Vix looked uncomfortable. "...yes."
Layla nodded. The thick layer of sleep kept sliding over her vision and comprehension. She yawned. "Mom's a witch." After she'd spoken the words, she clapped her hand to her mouth. The two sisters stared at each other.
Vix shifted her feet and then said in a whisper, "Do you think she's done that to us?"
Layla shook her head. "Dunno."