I spent the whole of the rest of my evening fuming and avoiding my mother, in that order. I think she must have been feeling the same way because we only bumped into each other once in the kitchen. I did ten minutes of my covenly duty at the party before heading for my room. I tried not to feel sorry for myself when I felt the rush of departing magic when Dad went home to Demonicon. It totally sucked. We didn’t get a whole lot of time with him anyway. It took so much energy to bring him across that his visits were short and usually scheduled. And I’d missed most of it.
Mom came up from the basement while I headed for the stairs. Neither of us said a word. I have no idea if she tried to make eye contact because I absolutely refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing I cared if she looked or not. Yes, I know, childish. If that was what it took.
I didn’t even have the distraction of soccer. My team wasn’t playing which meant I was stuck for an excuse to get out of the house.
There’s only one problem with moping in your room for a whole day with no one to talk to. You have no one to talk to. Seeing as Meira was also avoiding me and I didn’t have any friends to speak of in our new town, it left me, myself, and I with no other company than my rapidly deteriorating thoughts.
I was never so happy to pull the covers over my head and call it a day. I felt way sorrier for myself than I ever had before. Not to say I cried myself to sleep, but there were definitely tears involved in the whole pathetic process.
My life was so unfair it made me want to break something.
I was startled out of my mourning by a weight landing on the bed, followed by a loud hiss barely preceding something sharp catching the sleeve of my pajamas. A heavy, fluffy tail whacked me full in the face as the claws retracted and let me go. I spit out fur and hit the light by my bed, relieved to have something to finally laugh about as the offended party huffed and snarled next to me.
The lamp flared to life. I stifled a giggle behind my hands. My silver Persian, Sassafras, hunched in an undignified heap next to me. His plush, silky fur stood on end, pushed-in nose glistened between eyes snapping anger, plume of a tail thrashing against the patchwork quilt as he growled at me.
“I go away for one day and you lose it!” Sassafras swiped at me with one paw.
I rolled over onto my side and tried to pet him. “Maybe if you were here, Sassy, none of this would have happened.”
I pulled back and sucked on the finger he scratched.
“Don’t you even suggest this is my fault!”
“Can we please let it go? I’m tired of the whole conversation.” I wasn’t in the mood to argue with my cat.
“I happen to be trapped in this stupid cat body, in case you’ve forgotten,” he said, gaze flashing red fire as the spirit within him kindled. “Stuck in this house with you. And you’re making me look bad. How am I supposed to convince them to let me go back if you won’t smarten up?”
Sassafras was, in reality, a demon teenager, a boy so horrible the demon elders punished him by placing him in the body of an ordinary house cat. Okay, maybe not ordinary. He was a Persian, after all. As much as I wanted to know why and how he was forced into it, he never said. Not to me and not to the generations of Hayle witches who had the pleasure of Sassafras for company over the decades.
“So after what, 150 years or so, they were finally going to let you out, but because I had a fight with my parents it’s a no-go? Sass, I’m hurt you didn’t tell me.”
I probably shouldn’t have been teasing him, but it was way too easy. Sass’s ears flattened to his skull. “Oh, shut up.”
Truth was, I don’t think they ever planned to let him out. Which made me feel guilty for being mean to him.
“I’m sorry, Sassy.”
He hissed at me, fat cat body relaxing somewhat as the initial reaction wore off. The tail continued its thrashing against the covers.
“Don’t call me Sassy.”
I grabbed him and hugged him to me, burying my face in his soft, thick fur, trapping him in my arms. I grinned as he struggled, snuggling him closer.
“Oh Sassy,” I said in my cutest little girl voice, “you’re my bestest friend ever!”
When I released him, he spun around, shaking with anger. I tried really hard not to laugh, but it was next to impossible with him staring me down, pushed-in face a study in crankiness, fluffy fur quivering. I simply couldn’t take Sass seriously.
The worst part? Sassafras knew it and despised it. Was being punished with it. I certainly wasn’t helping matters any.
I pulled myself under control and tried to make amends.
“Seriously, Sass, I’m sorry. But I didn’t have a choice. They backed me into a corner.”
He huffed a breath and wrapped his tail around his paws, deep in his haughty cat manner. The tip of his tail continued to twitch, but the rest of him appeared under control.
“You always have a choice,” he said. “And now I’m suffering the consequences.”
“Like what?” I felt less than sympathetic.
“Like spending the last two hours comforting your traumatized sister.”
“She won’t talk to me.” I wasn’t proud of it, but there it was.
“Can you blame her?”
“No,” I said, falling back into miserable. “I didn’t want to have that talk in front of her, but… they wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t think it would hurt her that much.”
“Now, that’s hardly surprising,” he said. “Thinking isn’t exactly your strong suit, is it, Sydlynn?”
Sass lifted one forepaw and began to lick it with delicate strokes of his very pink tongue. I think his show of superiority calmed his nerves. I wrinkled my nose at him and rested my head on my arm. There was something about the act of watching him I found soothing.
“Not last night, at least.” I reached out one hand and touched his tail. He batted at me out of principle and started washing his other paw.
“Both feet in your mouth this time?”
Sometimes his arrogance pissed me off. Not tonight. He was right and we both knew it. Instead of giving him the satisfaction of a reply, I kept watching him. “You are so cute when you do that.”
Sass froze and glared, dropping his paw with a flicker of guilt in the twitch of his whiskers.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He stalked down the bed, back to me. “There’s nothing cute about me.”
I stifled a giggle as the offending paw came up again. He compulsively licked away at the imaginary dirt.
“Oh Sass, I needed this. Thanks.”
Sassafras turned back to me, curious.
“Tell me you didn’t make your mother cry?”
I buried my face in the quilt. Sass groaned, large ears twitching as he made his way back up the bed to me.
“I didn’t mean to,” I said, muffled by the heavy blanket. “She’s just… so… ah!”
“You never mean to, Syd.” His voice was soft by my ear.
I turned my head and we were eye to eye. “Yeah. I know. Maybe if she’d drop the company line we’d stop using each other for target practice.”
Sassafras curled up next to me, tail swept tightly to his round cat body, eyes careful.
“You know you can’t keep doing this. You need to accept who you are and take responsibility for your actions. You’re almost a grown woman. No one is feeling sorry for you anymore.”
“You’re awfully opinionated for a fur ball, Sass.”
“I have been guiding Hayle witches for generations,” he reminded me at his most haughty. “You are the only one who refuses to pay attention and take her rightful place.”
“With all the joy that implies,” I said.
“It’s your birthright,” he said. “There is no one else, Syd.”
“Meira is more than strong enough. And she’s willing. So there, cat.”
Sass growled low in his throat, glaring at me, tail twitching again. “Do you really think they will allow a witch with a physical manifestation to take over the coven?”
“Sorry?” I felt goose bumps rise on my arms as his power snapped in anger.
“Honestly, Sydlynn,” he said, “you are so out of touch with the network.”
“Duh. My point exactly.”
His amber eyes fixed on me unblinking in his cat way that made me squirm in discomfort.
“Your sister will never lead this family,” Sass told me, so matter-of-fact I was forced to listen. “If you choose to step aside, the coven will leave Hayle control forever.”
“As if. Sass, you are so paranoid.”
“I know them far better than you do,” he said with some bitterness. “Witches do not accept outsiders easily and resist any change to their natural order.”
“So? I don’t care, remember? I want out.”
“Then you are effectively handing over the strength of the most powerful coven in the West to whoever is deemed worthy at the time,” he said. “Do you understand what that means?”
“You’re obviously going to fill me in.”
“You’ll be cutting your mother’s throat,” he said. “And any other Hayle witch remaining alive.”
I made a face at him. “They would never hurt her. You’re so full of crap.”
I started to get up, but his paw hooked my sleeve and pulled me back down.
“Have you ever seen a witch stripped?” His face turned intense, even for a Persian, eyes glowing. “Cleaned out, reduced to nothing?”
“I have,” he said, “the last time the magic changed hands. To your family.”
I settled back on the bed, curious. “You were here with the Tremere’s?” Even I knew basic history. But, I always thought Sass was a Hayle addition.
He snorted. “You have no idea.” He pulled his paw back. “None. Of what they can do, what they are capable of. Of the interference a change in power can attract from the High Council. Of the disruption it can cause in our world and to the normals. It’s not a small thing, Syd. Not a trifle, not something to be tossed away simply because you don’t want it. There are far more serious repercussions in this than your parents have been willing to tell you.”
Okay. He had me curious, I was willing to admit it. And a little afraid, to be honest. “Then fill me in.”
He glared at me again, silent. Sassafras stood and turned away, curling up with his back to me.
“I thought you weren’t interested.”
I groaned. Stupid cat.
“Forget it,” he said. “Go on your merry way and forget we all exist. Let your coven fall to ruin, your family be stripped bare and left to pick the bones of its own carcass. You’ve always been selfish, Sydlynn. Why change now?”
“Selfish!” I gave his tail a firm tug, so hard he leapt up and spun on me. “You rotten little fuzz ball!”
“Selfish! Petulant, childish, ignorant, arrogant—“
“Oh, I’m arrogant!” How dare he, the puffed up, self-important snot? “I just want to be normal. Unlike you, mister nose-in-the-air, better than anyone else!”
Sass sat and wrapped his thick tail around himself, pulling his best perfect Persian.
“It’s in the breeding,” he said. “Obviously, you were a throw-back. Pity, really.”
“Like you even give a crap,” I said. “You know how using my magic makes me feel.” My hand went instinctively to my stomach as memory flashed and my stomach tightened in answer.
“Ah, yes.” He flicked his ears at me. “Poor Sydlynn’s dear tummy troubles. Tell me, little girl, do you need your mommy?”
If I could have, if I thought I would get away with it, I would have dunked his fluffy butt in a full tub of water just to see that smug smirk wiped from his face. But, he would use magic on me and we’d end up attracting unwanted attention over a stupid fight I knew I couldn’t win.
Instead, I chose a subtler means of attack. I reached out and gently stroked his fur from head to tail.
His gaze widened a little, narrowed, lids drooping as I found a sensitive place to scratch. A soft purr escaped him. His eyes half closed. They snapped open a moment later and the purr stopped.
“Don’t try to change the subject.”
“Would I do that?” I continued to stroke him, my fingers finding the itchy place behind his left ear. The purr started up again, rumbling louder. His lids closed all the way. I smiled as he leaned into my fingers while trying to continue the conversation.
“Your mother… knows what’s best for… little to the right, please, yes perfect… for the family… for you… the chin is really bothersome tonight, could you…?”
I grinned and followed his instructions. His body relaxed completely. He half rolled onto his back so I could rub his furry tummy. His whole posture was a study in pure contentment. His eyes drifted open and closed, clouded by pleasure.
I couldn’t help it. I giggled. Sass snapped back to himself and twisted free, pinning me with his hot demon glare.
“Damned cat body.”
It really was impossible to resist. I giggled some more.
Sassafras leapt to his feet and sniffed at me, at his most pompous.
“Fine,” he said, “be a child. Betray your family, your history, but don’t come crying to us when you change your mind and nothing can be done.”
Sassafras gathered himself up and jumped from the end of the bed. I watched him sashay across the carpet to the closed door. He paused, staring at it. I stifled a huge grin. He sighed with great regret, not looking at me.
“If you don’t mind,” he said. “It’s very hard to make an exit when I can’t reach the door knob.”
“How’d you get in?” I knew the answer. His glare turned flat and chilly. “Use your magic,” I said at my most innocent.
He growled softly under his breath. “You know it’s against the rules,” he said very slowly, very carefully.
He was so transparent. Heaven forbid I ever see him do magic. He used the excuse he wasn’t allowed, which was kind of true seeing as pure demon magic interfered with ours, but I knew the truth. From what I had been able to get out of my mother, the act of using his power put him in an embarrassing physical position. He was, after all, a cat, not a demon anymore. The idea of it often kept me up nights, devoured by curiosity, but I had never been able to catch him at it.
I went to the door and opened it for him, still trying not to laugh.
“Thank you,” he said at his most aloof.
Head high, tail at full mast, and with as much dignity as he could gather around him, Sassafras waddled his fat cat body out of my room.
I barely had time to close the door and fling myself onto my bed, before breaking into laughter, smothering most of it in my pillow.
I laughed for a good minute, tears soaking into the cotton case as I let the last of the tension leave me completely. I rolled over onto my back when I regained control and let go of a cleansing breath, staring at the hideous light fixture my mother hung for me despite my protests. Stupid pink chandelier with its stupid pink crystals and sparkly stars. Who did she think I was? I really hated it, I think more so because Mom insisted. The story of my life with the Hayle coven. Do what’s good for you because we said so. The more I turned it over in my mind the more I totally understood it wasn’t so much my ability but the absolute weight of expectation, a literal force of gravity on my shoulders, pushing me down into a mold of their making.
I had a chill at the thought of my family reduced to nothing because of my decisions. I finally shook it off. Sass just exaggerated to try to make me feel bad.
At least, that was what I told myself.