“Yes, you’re being released, but you haven’t been released until you’re in that car and it is moving. Until then you have to follow directions, and that includes taking this final wheelchair ride.”
Patton felt he was fully capable of walking the few feet to the waiting Coven Mobile but he let Nurse Ratchet (as he liked to think of her) push him down the hall. He grumbled all the way, to which the nurse paid no attention. It was all part of the ritual.
The witches were all waiting at the minivan, chatting with Dr. Feeley as Patton was wheeled out the doors. There were hugs all around — Patton even hugged Nurse Ratchet goodbye, startling her — then the witches stuffed him into the back seat and they were on their way. Home.
The trip back to Henrietta and Patton’s house seemed strangely quiet to Patton, like a death. He knew that what awaited him at the end of the journey was a new life, that in many ways life as he’d known it was gone, never to return, but the new life before him was a mystery. His preparations were woefully inadequate, but what could he do? His old life was gone! Dead and gone, and he’d missed the funeral.
He wondered how painful the birth was going to be.
The sisters were chattering all around him, chasing away their fear and worry with meaningless talk about nothing, to which he paid no attention. He could hear the noise in his ears but it couldn’t penetrate the silence in his brain. He could feel their auras wash against his, blending around the edges, and he was grateful for the hurt they gently leeched from his soul, but that healing was minor compared to the trauma he’d suffered. He’d been released from the clinic it was true, but the actual healing was just beginning. He hoped the band-aids would come away cleanly.
It was the pop and grind of gravel under the van’s tires that pulled Patton out of his reverie. “We’re here,” said Yvonne, who was sitting in the back seat next to him. “You can stop brooding now.”
“I was brooding? I guess that means I really am a wizard.” His attempt at humor was met by a feeble smile.
Patton was let out where the paved walk met the unpaved driveway. He looked down the side of the house toward the kitchen. So far things looked normal, but everything felt different, strange somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on it.
“We’re going to have to go in the back,” said Margaret as she took his elbow and gently guided him to the patio. There was a dirty sheet of plywood covering the access hole to the septic tank, which sounded dully hollow as they walked over it. It captured his attention for a moment, directing it to the back yard where the excavation remained just as when he’d left. That wasn’t quite right — the machinery was gone, leaving the piles of dirt and debris slowly sinking into the driveway by themselves.
Elaine saw where he was looking. “They said they’d resume once you were home from the hospital. They didn’t want to complete the work and then have to wait an unknown length of time before getting paid. Rich said there’s nothing we can do but wait. Where’d you find those losers?”
“The Internet.” Patton’s voice felt dusty and unused. He’d never been really chatty, but his time in the clinic had required even less talk than usual, and the vocal machinery felt like it needed oiling. Lubrication. That’s what he needed, a beer!
Yvonne opened the patio door and led the way into the house.
“You’ve been cleaning! You shouldn’t have!” Patton’s eyes scanned the house, and everything he could see from here was impossibly neat and tidy. He doubted he’d be able to find anything ever again.
“We didn’t,” replied Margaret. “We got you some brownies.”
“What are brownies?”
“Brownies are little magical housekeepers,” instructed Elaine, “a species that has coexisted with humans quite well for thousands of years, mostly in Northern Europe. Civilization is killing them. They prefer to live in the nooks and crannies of houses, but modern construction techniques are building the houses too tight for them. In addition there’s a type of ant that somebody brought to this continent that’s poisonous to them. They need protection from the ants, which they get from sprites.”
“You mean those foul-mouthed insects are actually useful?”
“Certainly! The brownies will make sure the sprites stay out of the house, but they are a necessary part of the magical ecosystem.”
Patton absentmindedly headed toward the kitchen, amazed at the turn his life had taken. I don’t have a job, but I have housekeepers! Isn’t magic wonderful! He almost tripped over the half sheet of plywood that was nailed across the doorway.
“Watch yourself!” called Margaret.
The difference on the other side of the doorway was shocking. Where he stood was neat, clean, and orderly. The kitchen was quite literally a war zone. All that was missing was the stench of cordite. The windows and the outside door were replaced by sheets of plywood, but other than than the damage was just as it had been since the explosion.
Patton stared down at the pile of rubble in the basement and his heart sank. How in the world am I going to recover from this! I can’t even afford to get my toilets working! How will I be able to fix this?
Yvonne sensed his distress and came to stand next to him. “You need to pack a suitcase.”
“Why?” His gaze was captivated by the hole before him, lit only by the light coming through the doorway in which he stood. The lighting matched his mood.
“You’re going to be staying with us for a while.”
Elaine came and joined them. “At least until your toilets are working again and you can take a shower here.”
“We’d really like you to stay until your kitchen is fixed, but I doubt it would improve your cooking any,” added Margaret. He turned to her.
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to put a crimp in your relations with Rich.”
She took his hand and started leading him away from the kitchen disaster and toward the stairs up to his bedroom. “I already warned him, and anyway, he expected it, seeing as you are our Staff. He knows that means you’re now part of our family, and he understands family obligations.” She continued chatting at him and with him, talking him through the motions of picking out clothes and stuffing them into a suitcase along with bathroom stuff and his laptop, and keeping his mind away from the destruction his house and life had both suffered.
When they got back downstairs with the suitcase Patton was surprised to see that Yvonne had on his spare motorcycle helmet. “What’s up with that?”
“Well, you’re going to need your own transportation, and the weather is much too nice for you to be driving that stink machine you call a car, and you’re still not in condition to ride alone, so I’m coming on your motorcycle with you!”
“Are you sure you can hang on?”
“Hey, Lover Boy! I’ll have you know I did a stint as a motorcycle messenger during the War!”
Elaine leaned in. “She means World War II,” she said, reminding Patton that, even though she looked barely old enough to drink, Yvonne had had a long and interesting life before he was even born. They all had.
“Great. Let’s go!”
“Enough with the free ride, Buddy Boy. It’s time you get to work!” Margaret threw an apron at him as Patton stepped out onto the patio at the Coven House.
“Let me guess. You expect me to cook something, right? After the way you slammed my cooking back at my house?”
“Nonsense! I know better than that! You’re a ‘real man’ and ‘real men’ don’t cook, they grill. So hop to it!” She pointed him at the gas grill over on the edge of the patio where Yvonne was putting trays of stuff on the table next to it. Patton walked over and inspected the set-up while putting on the apron.
“I see two problems here,” he said. “First off, you have the wrong kind of stuff to grill. What is this, chicken? Shrimp? Vegetables? It’s all way too healthy! What we need here is beef!” He started threading chunks of peppers, onions, chicken and shrimp onto skewers, muttering under his breath all the while. Occasionally words like “rabbit food” and “salad” and “tofu” could be made out, but that was it.
Margaret watched him for a minute or two then said, “You said there were two problems here. What’s the other problem?”
“Beer!” he yelled. “Woman, bring me a beer!” She chuckled and went inside for the requested brew.
Elaine surprised Patton as they headed inside after dinner. “No shoes on in the house!”
“You’re a member of the family now. We’ve let you cook for us.”
“And you didn’t poison us, so I guess that means you’re one of us,” added Margaret.
Yvonne threw in, “So you have to abide by the house rules, and that means no shoes in the house unless we’re entertaining!”
“I find you pretty entertaining!”
“Shoes, mister!” repeated Elaine. Patton took off his shoes and placed them neatly just inside the door.
“Oh, good, he’s trainable!” quipped Yvonne.
“I just hope he’s housebroken,” sniped Margaret.
“Now come with me, I need to show you around.” Elaine gave him a brief tour of the parts of the house he hadn’t already seen, culminating in the fourth bedroom all the way at the end of the hall. It was the master bedroom, largest in the house and complete with its own decadent bath. The strange thing about it was there was no western furniture in it, just a huge mattress on the floor, larger than any king size bed Patton had ever seen. There were piles of pillows scattered around, and what looked like a multi-tiered plant stand in one corner, loaded with candles. Drapes covered the walls and fabric hung from the ceiling, turning the room into a theatrical version of an Arabian tent.
Margaret and Yvonne were sitting on the bed, dressed in formal silk pajamas and surrounded by pillows.
“Pajama party? For me?”
“Yes, but first you must get in costume. Your pajamas are in the bathroom. Now go change!” She chased him into the bathroom, where he found a set of silk pajamas and a matching robe waiting for him.
When he emerged from the bathroom he saw that Elaine had changed as well, and someone had placed a couple of trays on either side of the bed. One had several bottles of wine and glasses while the other had platters of grapes and hors d’oeuvres.
Elaine stuck a glass of wine in his hand. “First, a toast. To Scotty — welcome home!” They all raised their glasses and drank. When Elaine saw there was still wine left in his glass she scolded him. “Don’t insult us, drink it down!”
“All of it?” She glared at him, so he drained the glass. “Happy now?” She gave him a shove that toppled him onto the mattress. The girls all descended on him to hold him there.
“Now I am,” she said, and commenced to tickle him.
Patton had never been to a party like this before. It was an exquisitely slow and delightful way to get everyone drunk and naked in bed together.
There was unseen music playing softly that always matched the mood of the moment. The candles likewise seemed to burn brighter when more light was needed, or dimmed down when the mood required.
Conversation was king. Story telling drifted into question and answer sessions into more stories and snatches of song. Occasionally someone would jump up to pantomime a bit of the current story, or an improvised dance would break out. And more singing and stories and questions and answers. Patton got to know the sisters and the magical community better than ever before, and they delved into many of his darkest secrets.
And there was drinking and eating and more drinking. For a while every time he opened his mouth someone would stuff a grape into it or pour wine down his throat. Things came to a head, however, when he got up for a bathroom break.
“What you do in there?” asked Margaret on his return.
“What do you think I did? I peed.”
“You stagger’d bit when you got up, but you come back here sober as judge lookin’.” Her speech wasn’t quite sober.
“I didn’t do anything! I admit I don’t feel one bit drunk, but I didn’t do anything unusual in the bathroom except use the toilet.”
Margaret sniffed his breath suspiciously, then said “I give up,” and turned to Yvonne who had fallen asleep while Patton was out of the room. “Move over,” she said, and curled up next to her sister.
“I guess it’s just you and me, Lover Boy,” said Elaine, and she pulled Patton down next to her.