Ch 37 - Doubting Soul

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Gretch crept down the stairs this time, making as little noise as possible. She'd thought the book might have some kind of spell to make friends with Kasubia, but this was much bigger than just making friends with the horse. She'd shown her confident face to Raisen, but she was filled with doubt. What if she wasn't strong enough? What if it didn't work? What if it did?

From the third step, she peeked around the corner into the kitchen to make sure the coast was clear. Nyssa was still the only one in the room, preparing snacks at the counter. Gretch breathed a sigh and walked down the rest of the stairs into the room. 

This was too crucial of a moment. And it was exactly the kind of moment that her mother or her cousin tended to swoop in and ruin things. But they were obviously far too worried about someone else's kid and the drama of the living room. Mom would thrive on the gossip material provided by this evening for weeks to come, and Sheriff Ettie Sampson had a job to do that didn't involve her cousin Gretch.

Gretch casually opened a few drawers and slipped the sharpest knife she could find into her back pack.

Nyssa didn't look up from her task. She popped open a jar of maraschino cherries and sniffed it. The Fetch shrugged and poured them into a bowl. Another dish of butter pickles sat off to the side.

"I'm supposed to be getting more snacks." Nyssa sucked the cherry juice off her thumb. "Does this seem appropriate?"

"Just missing the ice cream," Gretch said with a laugh.

"Of course." Nyssa nodded as if she had known all along and opened the freezer.

She didn't have time to tell her she was joking. She set her bag with the book in it by the door and shoved bare feet into her Converse low tops without untying the laces.

"Just keep them occupied and make sure they don't go looking upstairs. Especially my mom or the sheriff." Maybe her mom would see the pickles and ice cream and start to probe 'Gran' for more gossip.

"I'll do my best. You make sure you come back safe." Nyssa gave her a meaningful look as she arranged the dishes on a serving tray.

"I'll do my best." Gretch paused by the door. This was it. She was about to go to Fairy and maybe never come back. If she didn't Raisen would be heartbroken three times over, and all alone.

Her heart clenched as she imagined her friend walking to school by herself, eating by herself--worse, being that kid the teacher had to choose a lab partner for because she had no friends.

Don't think that way, she chided herself.

"Bring a dish of ice cream and cherries up to Raisen," Gretch said, blinking the tears from her eyes.

"Pickles?"

"Skip the pickles." With that she pushed the screen door open quietly, wincing at the squeak and then closed it slowly behind her. Darkness and humidity closed in on her heavily as she stepped onto the covered porch. Just past the overhang, the wooden steps glowed silver in the light of a full moon. Gretch didn't feel much like dancing tonight.

Before she reached the steps, the porch swing creaked and a flashlight clicked on. The light was so blinding she knew instantly who it was. A standard issue halogen, blind-the-perps, cop's flashlight.

"How did you know?" She stuck her chin out in her most stubborn expression, setting her feet firmly apart as though getting ready to be pushed bodily back into the house.

"I know my cousin." Sheriff Sampson chuckled.

"You don't know anything about me!" She shaded her eyes, her blood surging angrily until she felt like her heart was beating in her face. She struggled to keep her voice to a hoarse whisper. "All those times you acted like you'd 'been there' or something, like you knew anything about my life--but you didn't. You still don't."

The flashlight clicked off and there was Ettie Sampson. She'd come off duty, wearing rolled up jeans and a light cotton shirt. She never looked like a sheriff when she was off duty. That always seemed wrong to Gretch. Like it was unfair to anyone who happened to be getting up to minor mischief and accidentally let it slip within earshot of Ettie--then all their fun would be spoiled, even if it was harmless.

"Ok, Gretchen. Then tell me." She set the flashlight down on the porch rail and crossed her arms.

Gretch was caught off-guard. After her dad died, cousin Ettie had gone from occasional babysitter to second mother, then grown up to become sheriff and left her to fend for herself. She'd wanted to tell her so many things since then, but she always felt vaguely like any confessions would be risking jail, or at least being grounded.

She took a breath and reminded herself that religion and beliefs were not jailable offenses--grounding perhaps, but she was long past caring about being grounded.

"Fine. I'm a Witch. I pray to Goddesses and land spirits. I cast spells to help people. I am going to help my friend come home and you can't stop me."

"I can't believe it."

Gretch winced.

"I can't believe you wouldn't share something that big with me? Don't you know you can tell me anything?" Ettie clasped her hands under her chin. It was too dark to see her expression but sorrow filled the gaps between her words.

"You don't hate me?"

"How could I--Grouchy Bear, I will always love you. No matter what."

Gretch wiped tears from her eyes before they could fall. "You know I hate that nickname," she said. But she had really missed it.

"Come here." Ettie opened her arms and met Gretch halfway for a hug. How many years had it been since she'd had a real hug from her cousin?

"Don't tell mom."

"She won't care."

"Ha! Do you really believe that?"

"Actually, strike that. She will love it. Can you imagine how much she is going to love talking to all the old biddies at work about this? She will be the cool mom who has a pagan for a daughter. She couldn't be happier than if you were gay."

Gretch's breath caught.

Ettie shifted, trying to see her in the dark. "What, you're gay too?"

She snorted. "Not me. Jenny and Raisen."

"Ohhhh, yeah that makes sense." Ettie nodded in the darkness.

"Really? I didn't see it coming."

Ettie hugged her again and then ruffled the hair on top of her head until it was a complete mess. "It's ok. Sometimes it's hard to be a perfect friend when you got a lot going on in your own life. Just cuz your not perfect doesn't mean your not still friends, right?"

"I guess." Gretch tried to fix her ruined hair. This was the Ettie she didn't miss. "But Ettie, you can't stop me. I mean it. I have to do this. If you know me, you know you can trust me. And you know I can take care of myself."

Ettie didn't say anything for a long time. Gretch resisted the urge to say more. Now it was a battle of who was more stubborn--they'd had this show down many times when she was growing up, over bedtimes, candy before dinner, and who would be stuck with doing the dishes before mom came home. There was only one rule: she who spoke first, lost.

"Promise you won't get lost," Ettie said, at last.

"I swear I won't."

Ettie picked up her flashlight and stepped down off the porch and started to wander away, feet crunching on gravel. "I just took a stroll to get a break from the parents. I didn't see anyone. Not a soul."

Gretch sighed in relief, and at the same time felt a cold dread in the pit of her stomach. Not a soul. It sounded prophetic, considering what she was about to do.

She pushed away her those thoughts. The Soul Merge spell was not one of the cheap tricks she'd been doing up till now. It was serious business that would take every ounce of her will and intention.

She couldn't afford doubts.

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