We come home to relative peace. There is an every-increasing amount of business in the shop as the holidays approach and people are searching for the perfect gift. The first couple of weeks of December pass before I realize it—and I also realize that I have not seen anyone in the coven nor heard from Rhyssa. I am worried about Laurie since we haven’t heard from her either. I don’t know what she’s doing about her pregnancy but try not to let it get to me, since it’s not my choice.
Zeke convinces the doctor to x-ray his cast two weeks early—and gets it taken off because he’s quote, never seen anyone heal that fast, especially at ummm well, Zeke’s age, end quote. Zeke just smiles and tells him it’s the herbal supplements he’s been taking. When he gets home, he makes a point of doing exercises with that arm to strengthen it back up.
I am content to just let the time slip by even as I am dimly aware that things are moving to a climax. I admit that I am concerned that we haven’t heard anything more from John Robert, but a glance in the local paper shows that he has problems of his own. The press has gotten wind of his Paganism—and how he has hidden it from his partner for over 15 years—and for some reason has decided to make it a “human interest” story, with several installations.
Things don’t look good, based on the quotes they have from Barry Tisdale. They’ve even managed to drag poor Lilith’s * indiscretion * into the story, supposedly as an example of how her depraved, Satanist father has managed to lead her astray and onto a path of sexual degradation.
It probably sells a lot of papers but while it is strictly facts, it’s not exactly the whole truth and it really puts the local Pagan community in a bad light. There’s just no explaining to some people that Pagans and Satanists are NOT the same thing.
Zeke and I are discussing this when Rhyssa walks in the shop.
“Hey there, you guys.” She is apparently going to ignore the fact that she has not spoken to either of us in almost a month. I can do that, too.
“Hey Rhyssa. What’s up?”
“I just wanted to see if you all were going to come to Yule with us. We are having it out at Mike and Shelly’s.” Her voice drops. “Frankly, we won’t even have a full coven if you do attend. Eric is of course not allowed to come and Lilith has refused to participate without him. Dorie has gotten an attack of nerves with all the newspaper stuff and doesn’t want to ‘jeopardize their position in the community any more than it already has been’. Laurie is questionable as she disappears for days on end. Mike and Shelly are about out of their minds with her. Lord Candeur is not well, not well at all. He has asked me to manage all the details of the ritual, so here I am…” She looks at us expectantly.
I cannot get worked up about John Robert. I hope that however he is “not well” that it’s painful and involves boils on unmentionable parts. Maybe even a little case of the runs. I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to say to this woman who used to be my friend.
“I think we’ll have to pass on this one, Rhyssa.” Zeke answers for me. “I will not enter sacred space with that man.” Oh dear. Now he’s going to have an argument on his hands.
“What do you mean, ‘with that man’? Who are you talking about?” Rhyssa is genuinely confused. And Zeke is going to enlighten her. I move casually out of her range, like that display really needs adjusting right now.
“I mean John Robert Schmidt.” Zeke stops there and the look that goes across her face is almost ludicrous except that I can feel the anger growing in her.
“Is this about Mattie’s silly idea that he was trying to have sex with her? I thought that was all done with.”
“This is not about that, although it is a part of it. Rhyssa, I cannot—no, I will not—participate in a ritual with a man who cannot control himself or his appetites, who abuses his power and restrains others from following their own path.”
I can see her digesting these thoughts and getting more enraged by the moment.
“Who the hell are you to judge him? What proof do you have of him doing anything wrong? He doesn’t stop anyone from following their path, he leads them and helps guide them. Just what the hell are you getting at, Zeke?” By the end of this tirade, she is almost shrieking. I do not know this woman and she frightens me with the change.
“Rhyssa.” He is trying to reason with her but even I can see that she is beyond that. He must too because I watch him make the mental adjustment. “I’m sorry; I know that he is important to you. Please accept that the issues are mine to deal with, but you also need to understand that I will not go to any ritual with him. Please don’t ask me again.”
“Oh I won’t, believe me.” The sarcasm is deep. “I will never ask you to attend rituals with us. It’s obvious that you are jealous of him. I can’t believe this, I thought you were a friend. I guess I know better now.” And she stalks out, leaving the two of us looking at each other.
I begin to laugh and once started, cannot stop. Zeke just stares at me like I have lost my mind. I guess I have, but I still laugh. I finally slow down enough to tell him, “Oh gods, Zeke. You, jealous of HIM?”
He begins to laugh too and we end up holding each other helplessly until we can finally stop. He takes a deep breath and sighs.
“I think we have just lost a friend. Damn John Robert Schmidt to Hell.”
If we were Christians, I would have great doubts about his chances to get into Heaven.
We have just recovered from that drama when the door opens and Laurie walks in. She comes over to me but I am ringing up a sale so she stands and waits until the customer leaves.
“Hi, Mattie. I just wanted to let you know that I have been to Planned Parenthood and had my check-up. They have scheduled my ummm surgery for Monday at nine o’clock. Can you all go with me then?” I look up to see Zeke nod and I tell her that we will meet her here just a little before that time.
She thanks us profusely and then leaves. I hope that we are doing the right thing.
The weekend passes without any further excitement. I wake up early on Monday and slip out of bed to come downstairs and sit in the conservatory. Vader greets me on his way out; when he’s finished, he sits next to me. This is where Zeke finds us.
“Good morning. How’s come you’re down here?” He sits in the chair after giving me a kiss. “Thinking about today and Laurie?”
“Yes. I hope she never regrets this. I know that she has her reasons, but…”
“I know whatcha mean. Her life, her choices…her regrets if she does have them.”
“I suppose we ought to have some breakfast and get ready. She’ll be here in an hour.”
We go back upstairs and eat. We are dressed and in the entryway when she knocks on the door. Her father is standing there with her.
“Oh hi, Mattie! Hi, Zeke!” Her voice is falsely bright. “I am so ready for this class. I’ve been telling my dad about how we’re making incense.” She turns to him. “Thanks for bringing me. I’ll get a ride home.”
“Are you sure? I can wait.” He glances around and I am very aware that there are no other “students”.
“Oh Dad, I’m sure. You can go home, I’ll be fine!” I hope the anxiety in her voice is not as apparent to Mike as it is to me.
“Okay. But if you don’t get a ride, call me, okay?” Apparently not, as he heads out to the car and the three of us all breathe a little easier.
“I’m sorry, he wouldn’t let me drive, they need the car and he insisted.” Laurie is almost in tears.
“It’s fine, he’s gone and we’ll leave here in just a minute. Are you ready for this?” Zeke, practical as always. Thank the gods he’s so calm.
She nods, and we pull on our coats to pile in our car. We drive to the clinic without talking. Zeke parks and we all get out to walk up to the door. He has just put his hand on the knob when Mike Johnson runs up to us, his face red and his eyes blazing.
“What in the hell is going on here?” He turns on Laurie. “Why are they taking you here? You’d better start talking, girl!”
“Dad! Why are you following me? Just leave me alone. This has nothing to do with you!” Laurie is trying to hide behind Zeke which will work if he can get between her and her enraged father.
“You pregnant, girl? You been out whoring like your ma? Got to get rid of a problem?” His voice is strident enough that passersby are leaving us a large, clear space.
“Dad, it’s not like that. I love him, but I just can’t have a baby right now. Please stop! I have to do this. I didn’t want you to worry. Oh, please don’t!”
“You’re just like your mother. She was a whore, too. I won’t have it, do you hear me?” He raises his hand and before Zeke can stop him, he hits Laurie with an open, ringing slap across the face. She yelps and falls down. He raises his hand to hit her again and this time, Zeke stops him.
“That’s enough! That’s enough! STOP IT!” He pulls Mike to face him. “Go home. We will bring her back once her business here is done.”
“Oh, no, you’re not! She is not of age. She can’t sign any papers and you sure as hell aren’t signing them for her.” He looks at Laurie, huddled against my side and reaches for her. “Come here, whore. You’re going home now. You’re not going to be allowed to kill this baby. Get in that car!” He points to it.
She shakes her head, but he takes her wrist and begins to pull. Zeke steps in, but Mike stops him with his other hand. “I’m not kidding—she is a minor and my responsibility. You can’t stop me from taking her. Don’t even try it.”
The people from the clinic have come out by this point. Their office manager asks what’s going on and we try to explain it. She checks Mike’s ID and then Laurie’s. She has one of her staff go in to bring the paperwork that Laurie has filled out…and it has a parent’s signature. Mike goes even redder.
“That is NOT my writing. Little whore forged my name, Goddammit!” He starts to raise his hand to her again but something in Zeke’s face stops him. I am shaking and not sure what we can do if he has the law on his side. And by the look of the clinic worker, he does.
Sure enough, she admits that since Laurie forged the signature, they cannot do the procedure.
Mike grins in savage triumph until Zeke wipes it off his face with a mere whisper. “You do anything to hurt her and you will answer to me, do you understand me?”
Mike looks at him and decides that he must mean it. “I’m not going to hurt her. She’s carrying my grandchild.”
He drags Laurie to the car and she looks back, beseeching us until he closes the door and drives away. The last view I have is her face, looking back at us with tears running down her cheeks.
The clinic worker sighs. “We see this all the time. We try to explain to the girls that we have to do it this way. I mean, we can see them without contacting the parents, but surgery requires a parent’s signature. This state has the mandatory parental involvement law. She would have to go before a judge to be able to do it on her own.”
Damn. No wonder she forged the name. I hope that she won’t do something desperate even though her father has put her in a position where she just might feel that that’s her only choice.