Read The Rules of Magic Online

Authors: Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic (6 page)

April continued to pat her ferret, which she referred to as her
familiar,
implying he was more of a soul mate than a pet. Such things occurred when creatures of different species were drawn to one another and were so intimate in their relationship they could read each other's minds.

“He knows what you're thinking,” she assured her wide-eyed cousins.

“Unlikely,” Franny responded. There was no scientific proof to suggest such a thing was possible.

“Well, he just let me know you pretend to have no feelings but you really care much more than you let on. I agree with him.”

“You're both wrong.” Franny sulked, though she worried that she had somehow revealed her innermost self to a member of the weasel family.

“Well, wrong or right, my parents plan to kill Henry,” April said matter-of-factly. The ferret was surprisingly docile with bright, unblinking eyes, reminiscent of April's. “They think we have an unhealthy relationship. If they ever dare to do so, I plan to get back at them any way I can. I suggest you do the same when the need arises. Our parents want to keep us locked up. Remember, it's us against them. In fact, don't trust anyone.”

“Not anyone?” Jet said, distraught.

April studied her cousins, shaking her head. They clearly knew nothing.

“There are people in this world who wish us harm. Especially in this town. It's been that way since the 1600s.” April sprawled back and made herself comfortable. “I'll need to have one of the beds. Bad back. Ballet accident. Who gets to sleep on the floor?” she said with the authority of one who had been a guest the summer before. “And I get all of the down pillows.”

The sisters exchanged a fleeting look. If they didn't watch out their cousin would take over. They excused themselves and went directly to Aunt Isabelle to ask if April could sleep downstairs in the extra guest room. It was so much larger, they explained, plus April had informed them that she snored, so it would be far better for the sisters to have the attic to themselves. Also, it was possible that they were allergic to the ferret.

When they told April that she wouldn't be sleeping in the attic, she had the nerve to thank them. “Reverse psychology,” she said with a grin. “I wanted the downstairs bedroom. More privacy.”

Franny narrowed her eyes. “We're not susceptible to reverse psychology. We know all about it. Our father is a psychiatrist.”

“I've been to more headshrinkers than you'll ever meet,” April informed them. “Tell them you can't sleep and your parents don't understand you and you can pretty much get any drug that you want.”

Vincent heard voices and came to the topmost stair.

“Well, well,” April said when he appeared on the attic landing. “Aren't you gorgeous.”

It was not a question, and so there was no need to answer. Vincent shrugged, but he didn't disagree.

“An Owens man is bound to have more power than the seventh son of a seventh son. I suspect you're a wizard.”

“Well, thank you,” Vincent responded, pleased by her attentions.

“He's hardly a man,” Franny said dismissively. “He's fourteen. And learning magic out of a book does not make him a wizard.”

April gave Franny the once-over. Perhaps she had met her match, but she doubted it. Franny had a hard exterior, but she was also quite innocent.

By now, Jet and Vincent were drawn in by their cousin's brash glamour as April held forth, enlightening her younger cousins. She told them how to slip out the window and climb down the drainpipe if they wished to sneak out, and warned that there were mice hiding in the bureau drawers and beneath the beds.

“Watch out for the beehive,” she recommended. “The honey is so sweet anyone who eats it immediately wants to have sex.”

Jet and Franny exchanged mortified glances, while Vincent grinned and asked, “How do you know?”

April threw him a world-weary look. “I've tried it,” she said.

“Sex or the honey?” Vincent teased.

“What do you think?” April stared at him with such intensity that he shrugged and gave up. She'd won that round. “You do understand that we're different from other people.” When met with silence April knew she had them in thrall. “I can't believe how naïve you all are. Where do you think your power comes from? We're bloodline witches. Which means we have no choice in the matter. It's a genetic factor. Like blue eyes or red hair. It's who you
are.

“Don't tell
me
who
I
am,” Franny shot back.

“You can argue all you want,” Vincent said. “I don't care where it comes from, as long as I have it. While you debate, I'm actually going out to live my life, wizard or not.”

He took the narrow stairs two at a time all the way to the first floor. He then went out through the kitchen, letting the screen door slam behind him. They could hear his boots clattering on the porch steps. The girls went to the window to watch him stride down Magnolia Street.

“Headed for trouble,” April said cheerfully.

“How do you know that?” Jet wondered.

April grinned. There was definitely a family resemblance. “Because I'm headed for the very same place.”

During the time April stayed with them, she and Vincent left the house together each morning. They said they had taken up running, which they vowed would become a huge trend someday. But whenever they returned they were wearing their black clothes and boots and they clearly hadn't broken a sweat. Jet and Franny both resented being cut out of their mysterious doings. Franny was jealous of the time Vincent spent away from them, but it was April whom Jet wanted to know better, if only to borrow some of her cousin's fabulous clothes.

Still, each day April and Vincent continued to disappear without a trace, clearly looking for the trouble they would one day find. At last Franny spied them in the rare book room at the library, intent on
The Magus.
The two of them had gleefully set the glass-drop chandeliers to shaking, which had the librarians frantically calling town hall to see if there had been an earthquake. The cousins were so engrossed they didn't notice that Franny had entered the room until she threw herself into a chair directly across from them. Then they looked up, blinking, caught in the act. They were glad they had earlier set a spell on Franny so she would never know what they were up to.

“Brilliant,” Franny scolded. Her eyesight was fuzzy, as if she couldn't quite see the trouble they were brewing. “Practicing the dark arts in a public place. That will make the locals love us.”

“Screw the locals,” April responded. “Did you know this
was the spot where the old jail stood? Maria Owens sat here in chains. It has enormous power.”

“It's a library. Somehow I didn't think of you two as library hounds.”

“I am not a hound,” Vincent said.

“I can't believe this is where you spend your time,” Franny said.

“We also smoke pot at the lake,” April cheerfully revealed.


Our
lake?” Franny said to Vincent, truly hurt now.

“We don't own it. April has a right to go there.” Vincent seemed even more reckless than usual. “And we only go there occasionally.”

“So what
are
you up to?” Franny asked her brother.

“What trouble could happen in a library?” When Vincent's languid smile spread across his face Franny nearly forgave him for sharing secrets with April. But not quite.

“If you're with her,” Franny said, nodding to their cousin, “plenty. Just be aware that April is a narcissist.” She'd heard her father use this term for many of his patients, devil-may-care people who never thought about anyone but themselves. “I think you'll regret this alliance,” she told her brother.

“He won't,” April said. “And you're not the first one to tag me with that diagnosis. I'm disappointed in you, Franny. I thought you were more original. If you're doing so much research here, did you find out anything about the secret?”

“What secret?” Franny said.

“If I knew, it wouldn't be a secret,” April said smugly. “I've heard my parents whispering about it. It's probably something horrible and unexpected. I suppose it will hijack us when we least expect it. It has something to do with the curse. Some dark
past that everyone wants to forget. So it looks like you don't know as much as you think you do.”

After that Franny had nothing to do with April. Jet, on the other hand, continued to find their cousin fascinating. She loved to try on April's miniskirts and skintight jeans and lacy dresses. When Jet dressed up in them she looked like someone completely different, and she liked what she saw.

One night, when thunder was rolling across the sky, Jet looked out the window to spy April and Vincent playing strip poker in the garden, laughing and tossing off shirts and shoes. Not even the rain stopped them. April certainly didn't seem Vincent's type, yet they were thick as thieves. Those two instinctively knew how to have fun, something at which Jet and Franny were both painfully inept.

There came a hot morning when Vincent was sleeping late and Franny was at the library when April knocked on the attic door. Jet was in bed reading an annotated copy of Emily Dickinson's poems that she'd found on a bookshelf in the parlor.

April grabbed the embossed edition from Jet's hands. “Let's get out of here.” When Jet hesitated, April made a face. “You can't read and pull weeds for the rest of your life. Try doing as you please and see how it feels.”

If this was an offer of friendship, who was Jet to decline? So off they went to Leech Lake on a whim, with a cooler of beers bought at the corner store thanks to a fake ID April had obtained in Harvard Square for twenty dollars and the promise of a kiss that was never granted.

When they reached the lake, Jet undressed behind some shrubbery. She was wearing her old black bathing suit under her dress, but was still modest. April, however, hadn't bothered with a suit. She merely slipped off her clothes, dropping them onto the grass. She was even more beautiful naked, a pale exotic creature so daring she climbed to the highest rock, then dove in without a moment of hesitation. Like the siblings, she floated right back up to the surface. She shook her fist in the air. “Just try to drown me!” she called out to some invisible enemy. “Oh, come on,” she crooned, when Jet looked scandalized. “Don't be such a baby.”

Later, while they dried off in the sun, April unbraided her hair, which looked like snow as it fell down her back. There was a smear of mud on her face, and she had a lost expression, appearing more thoughtful than usual. “I can see the future, and I thought that would help me know my path, but I keep walking right into every mistake.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Jet said. “It's part of being human.”

April gave her a contrary look. “That's not exactly what we are. Or don't you get that?”

“We're human enough.”

“You must have a special talent.”

“I can tell what people are thinking,” Jet admitted. April was the first person other than Franny to whom Jet had confided this skill. She was always embarrassed to be anything other than normal, as if she were proving those dreadful girls at the Starling School right.

“Really?” April's interest in her cousin was piqued. Perhaps Jet wasn't as mousy as she seemed.

“I don't
want
to know. It's so intrusive, it seems morally
wrong, but I can't seem to stop it unless the person blocks me by putting up a force field around her mind. Franny's good at that. She just shuts down emotionally. She never lets anyone in. I guess that's her strength.”

“Try with me,” April insisted. “I won't block you. What am I thinking right now?”

Jet knew this was dangerous business. She kept her eyes downcast. “You wish you could stay here,” she said in a consoling voice.

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