Read The Rules of Magic Online

Authors: Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic (7 page)

“Anyone could guess that. Tell me something no one else would know. Show me your talent.”

They were sitting across from each other. The rest of the world dropped away when they took each other's hands and looked into each other's eyes. They both cleared their minds. They could hear bees in the tall grass and the flickering of birds that skimmed over the lake, and then, all at once, they couldn't. Everything around them fell silent. It was just the two of them, and as April's mind opened to her cousin, Jet gasped, startled by April's deepest thoughts. By now she had realized that people were surprising creatures. Still, she would have never guessed Vincent was the problem.

Jet thought it best not to reveal too much. Beneath all the bluster and sophistication, April was terribly vulnerable. Jet realized that when April left, she would miss her cousin. To avoid any embarrassments, she simply said, “You wish you could come back to New York with us. You asked Vincent, but he said it was impossible.”

Tears rimmed April's eyes. “You know. I can tell that you do.”

“I wish I could help you.” Jet had never wanted the sight less than she did right now.

April shrugged. “It doesn't matter. My parents would never let me go. They want me to be like everyone else. My mother says I don't apply myself and that's why I don't fit in. She doesn't believe it, but I've tried to be like other people. It doesn't work.” April's skin was hot and flushed, her usually perfect complexion blotchy. “It's very difficult to live with parents who disapprove of your every thought and deed.”

“You'll get away from them,” Jet assured her. “Just not yet.”

“I'm fated to lose everyone I ever love,” April said. “I already know that.”

“Of course you are,” Jet responded in her calm, measured tone. “That's what it means to be alive.”

The next morning a long, black car pulled up in front of the house. April's parents had hired a driver, sent to retrieve her and bring her back home. The horn honked several times and an annoyed Isabelle went out to make sure the driver hushed, which of course he did as soon as he set eyes on her. April could have made the departure difficult; she might have hidden in the cellar or run out the back door and found her way into the woods. But in the end her fate had come to meet her and it always would.

“Here I go. Back to Beantown, where I'll never hear the end of my failures.” She took Henry and went to pack, running into Franny in the hall. The ferret looked especially sad, as if he knew his fate as well. “We'll always be involved with each other,” April told Franny. “You know that, don't you?”

Franny had the sense that her cousin was right, still she said, “I doubt it. We live in different worlds.”

“Actually, Franny, we don't.”

Because of the sad tone of her cousin's voice, Franny offered to carry her suitcase to the door.

“The next time I see you everything will be different,” April mused.

“Isn't it always?” Franny said, sounding harsher than she felt.

“I suppose your brother can't be bothered with saying good-bye,” April said.

“Vincent does as he pleases,” Franny remarked. “Anyone who truly knows him knows that.”

When Jet came to say her good-byes, she and April lingered near the green-tinged windows. From this vantage point, they could see through the glass into the garden. Vincent was out there, dozing in the hammock. He picked up his head when the horn beeped again, gazing at the limo with disinterest before resuming his nap.

April turned away from the window. “What's done is done.”

Jet went to embrace her cousin, for she knew what April was thinking.
He couldn't even say good-bye.
April certainly wasn't the first person to have fallen for Vincent, or the first to be wounded by his indifference. She'd been new and daring and exciting, but that had faded as time went on. Now she was just a girl who could easily be hurt.

“Good luck,” Jet said.

“Thank you.” April's eyes were filling with tears. Not everyone was who she pretended to be, including their out-of-control cousin. “Good luck to you, too.”

Franny and Jet continued to work in the garden early in the mornings, before the heat of the day was upon them. They wore heavy gloves so they could tear out the poisonous plants that grew wild: jimsonweed, holly, foxglove, nightshade, mandrake, rue. While they sweated, Vincent lay in the hammock strumming his guitar. He had been composing a song about April. Called “The Girl from Boston,” the ballad was about a young woman who will do anything to win her freedom. In the end she drowns in Leech Lake, sinking into the green water.

“Can't it end differently?” Jet asked her brother. “Can't love conquer all?”

“I think it's a perfect ending,” Franny piped up. “She should get her comeuppance.”

“A song is what it is.” Vincent shrugged. “This one's tragic.”

Despite the warning girls in town had been given by their mothers, many of them came to peer over the iron fence, enthralled by the handsome young stranger, won over by his long, dark hair and his pure, expressive voice and his tender rendition of “The Girl from Boston.” Vincent would occasionally wave, which sent his fans into hails of giggles. The girls applauded and shrieked as if they were in the presence of a star.

“Don't they have anything better to do?” Vincent muttered.

“You know this town,” Franny answered. “Apparently not.”

Vincent was beginning to wish he could be released from his own rakish charms. His reputation had reached fever pitch, with increasing crowds of high school girls circling the house. Finally he gave in and let them have him. He tried one girl after another, but none held his interest. In the end he couldn't tolerate their foolish notions. The locals seemed silly and unsophisticated.
When it came down to it, he simply didn't feel anything for them; they barely registered.

Then came an evening he was seduced by someone far more experienced, a neighbor who'd come to buy Aunt Isabelle's black soap, the very stuff their mother used every night. When Mrs. Russell spied Vincent in the kitchen she was instantly in thrall. How lazy and gorgeous he was, so tall and darkly charismatic. As soon as Isabelle left the room to fetch the soap, the neighbor went right over to Vincent to whisper in his ear, saying she would make his dreams come true. She slipped one hand down his jeans to entice him. No one could call her subtle, but Vincent was drawn to rule breakers. Who was he to deny her the opportunity to defile him? She told him it was only an inappropriate flirtation; no one could fault them for that. After all, she had a son his age who was away at summer camp.

Vincent began climbing into their neighbor's window at night. He learned far more about sex on this summer vacation than most fourteen-year-old boys learn in a lifetime, for Mrs. Russell seemed insatiable. Vincent tolerated her because when he closed his eyes, she might have been someone entirely different, and sometimes he was surprised by his own imaginings. All the same, he considered his escapades to be an education, nothing more.

When Mrs. Russell's husband went on a business trip, Vincent was convinced to spend the night and then it went too far. She'd suddenly said something about being in love. Fear coursed through him at the very idea. Mrs. Russell was in her late thirties, the age of his mother. He realized how old she was when he stayed all night and saw her in the glare of the bright morning sun. It was something of a shock. She was haggard and
dull, with sagging breasts. Her nose appeared to be crooked, and there were hairs in her chin he hadn't noticed before. If anything, she reminded him of a very large rabbit.

Vincent came to his senses all at once. This was not what he wanted. He climbed out the window in a panic, not bothering to dress, while Mrs. Russell slept on unawares, snoring softly. Vincent fled in shame, clothes in hand, desperate to get away. To his chagrin, he bumped into Aunt Isabelle on the porch. He was stark naked and mortified, thankful the vines cast shadows in which he could hide himself, at least a bit, from the spotlight of his aunt's fierce glance.

“Your fling not what you thought it would be?” she asked in a knowing tone.

Though Aunt Isabelle had a sober expression, Vincent could tell his exploits were a source of amusement for her. She turned her back while he dressed, then brought him out to the greenhouse, where there were dusty pots of Spanish garlic and rosemary. In a corner there grew lemon thyme and lemon balm and lemon verbena. Vincent had already broken in and explored and it was here that he and April had often come to smoke marijuana.

There were varieties of plants that needed special care on the shelves, including night-blooming cereus, jasmine, foxglove, miracle leaf, angel trumpet, and comfrey. From beneath the rows of plants, Isabelle looked through a heavy black book Vincent hadn't previously noticed.

Isabelle opened the book. “It's easy to bring love to you,” she told him, “but getting rid of it is another matter entirely. If you can call whatever just went on love.”

“I wouldn't call it that,” Vincent admitted.

“I'd agree with you there.” She leafed through the book. “There are rules to all this, you know. First, do no harm. You need to remember that.”

“I'll try,” Vincent said.

“Trying is not quite good enough.” Isabelle turned to a page marked
Protection.

Black cloth, red thread, clove, blackthorn.

When Mrs. Russell woke to find Vincent gone, she had rushed after him, not caring if she caused a scandal. She was enchanted; much like the nurse who had tried to kidnap him hours after his birth, when her attraction to him was impossible to fight. They could hear her on the porch, banging on the door so hard the sound echoed across the garden. She really had no shame. Isabelle muttered a few words, which forced their neighbor to retreat to her own home. Then Vincent's aunt turned to him. “You seem to be addictive, so you'd better learn to deal with the problem now. I assume you already know your fate. Or do you fear knowing?”

“I don't fear it,” Vincent said, bravely, but in fact he did.

Isabelle reached for the black cloth that covered an object stored on the floor beside the potting soil and the bulbs which would be planted in autumn. There stood a three-sided mirror, the glass painted black. There were no mirrors in the old house, and when he now spied his image he understood why. Members of their family saw not only their current reflections but also the images of what was to come. There in the greenhouse, on this cool morning, Vincent saw his future before him. It was a twist of fate he had guessed at before. But seeing it so clearly, he turned chalk white.

Aunt Isabelle offered him a glass of water, but he shook his head and continued to stare. There were blurred images of a
little girl on the grass and of a man on a hillside and of a park he didn't recognize where the paths were made of stone. And larger than any of these images there was the shadowy twin he had caught sight of throughout his life, whenever he peered into mirrors or passed by store windows. A self inside him, one he'd done all he could to avoid. Now, however, he had no choice but to look. In doing so, he understood who he was. In that moment, in his aunt's greenhouse, he felt more alone than ever.

Isabelle made the charm for him, sewing so quickly her fingers seemed to fly. Vincent had to wait through the day, for he was told to leave the amulet on Mrs. Russell's porch when the moon was waning, then he must draw a circle around himself in the dust and stand in place until he knew it was time to go.

“How will I know?” he asked.

Isabelle laughed. “You'll know.”

Vincent kissed his aunt, thanking her.

He lay low for the day, holed up in the greenhouse, ignoring his sisters when they called to him. At last it was time. As he walked back to the neighbor's he realized that the magic tricks he'd taught himself were childish foolishness. What mattered was the blood that ran through him, the same blood that had flowed through Maria Owens. Once, when he'd cut himself in a tangle of brambles on the way to the lake, drops of his blood had burned through the fabric of his shirt. This was what bloodline magic was. It was inside him.

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