Chapter Four

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Dinner the next night was a strained affair. I guess I could have stayed in my room. I always keep a stash of granola bars and dried fruit that I saved for whenever I can't bear to be around my parents (plus, eating after doing magic is one of the quickest ways to bring you back to reality), but I felt like I owed it to them to at least pretend to be their normal daughter for a bit longer. Besides, I hadn't really seen them since the day after Hecate's visit, and sooner or later, Mom was bound to come looking for me.

Mom's a vegetarian and she does the cooking, so I've grown up on tofu and lots of spices. Vegetarian food is great, but for some reason, I was craving a juicy, red steak. I'd never had a steak before, juicy or otherwise, so I thought this was pretty weird and didn't say anything. I just tucked into the chana masala Mom served, keeping my mouth as full as I could to avoid talking.

I was sopping up the last of the spicy orange sauce with a piece of freshly baked flatbread when Dad cleared his throat. He set down his glass of wine and looked at me. Mom paused, her fingers twitching with anticipation, and I looked at them both, too nervous to swallow the food that sat on my tongue.

Instead of the lecture I was expecting, Dad reached his arms across the table, clasping my hand and Mom's in his. Now was not when I would have expected Dad to start saying grace at the table. Besides, we were done with the meal. I looked at him curiously. Mom squeezed my other hand in hers, but didn't speak.

"Darlena," Dad began, "I know I may have sounded harsh yesterday. This—" He cleared his throat. "Your path has come as quite a shock to both your mother and me. However,"—he looked at Mom for a minute, and she nodded back at him gently—"we are your family. It's up to us to raise you, to shelter you, and to aid you, even in the face of something like this." He was staring at me intently, and I forced a small smile. I still didn't understand what Red magic entailed, but his words were the first real comfort I'd had since Hecate had appeared in the living room.

Mom began to speak. "There will be many things you can't tell us, and many things we might not want to know. But you need to know that we will support you, and if our actions can ease this burden you now bear, we will do what we can. We love you, Darlena." I looked at my beautiful mother, realizing that she suddenly looked years older than she should have. I suppressed the feeling of guilt that surged into my mind.

They both looked at me expectantly, and finally I asked the question that I had been struggling with. "Just what exactly have I chosen?"

They looked startled, so I hurried to explain. "I know I said I would practice Red magic." At the word 'Red', my mother blanched and my father looked angry, but I pushed on firmly, "But I didn't know what I was saying. I thought it didn't exist, but everyone seems to believe otherwise."

Dad raised his eyebrow. "You swore to follow a path as a joke?"

I shook my head. "That's not what I meant."

"You just said you didn't think it really existed. That sounds like some kind of ridiculous joke to me." He crossed his arms and gave me the look. My dad had always been the disciplinarian, and his look could usually make me apologize for whatever he thought I'd done, but I resisted the urge.

"She was pressuring me! I didn't know what I wanted; I still don't." I looked down, fiddling with the tablecloth. "I guess I thought that if I pledged to an imaginary path, everyone would back off for a while."

Mom looked stunned. "What do you mean, everyone?"

I didn't look up. "Ever since my birthday, it seems like everyone has been on my case about my stupid path."

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