“You Will Not Be Welcomed

story by Mabel Harper & Cassidy Webb
written by Cassidy Webb

Content Warning: MISGENDERING, TRANSPHOBIA, DEADNAMING, FATPHOBIA, HOMOPHOBIC LANGUAGE

Leshayva Wade-Weyland lay on her stomach on the oriental rug in the “fun room,” as she and Grandpa Levi called it—the room in the east wing of Annwyn, the rambling Weyland estate, that had been set aside expressly for her entertainment whenever she came to visit and had been reliably outfitted over the years with just about everything Dad had mentioned offhand to Grandpa that a girl Shay’s age might enjoy. Now that she was twelve, it was every kind of video-game console imaginable, and a state-of-the-art stereo system, and a bunch of posters of her favorite actors and musicians (mostly hot boys), and an Apple computer that had a webcam and lots of graphic design software, because Shay liked art.

She could hear the crooning of old jazz standards way off down the hall, where the grownups’ party was going on. Two members of her school crew had come with their parents and were hanging out in the fun room with her—her second cousin, Colin Lockwood, who by now had wormed his way out of his stiffly starched tuxedo jacket and was busy installing Skype on her Mac, and her Academy friend Meagan Mounce, who was sitting barefoot and pretzel-legged on the floor in her sparkly tulle dress, playing Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on PS3.

Shay herself was busy doodling on her sketchpad, and getting steadily more and more irritated with herself because she couldn’t stop screwing up the eyes. Jules Nimri had the perfectest eyes, all sleek and black and velvety, and her stupid donkey fingers just wouldn’t stop butchering them.

“Done!” Colin announced, triumphant, from his seat at the computer. The speakers gave a loud bloop-bloop as he logged onto Skype. “Who wants to talk to Kitty?”

Shay jumped up, clutching her sketchpad, and hurried over. The fourth and last member of her Arcanus Academy entourage, Kitty Devereaux, appeared onscreen after a couple of synthesized brrrrrings, her orange hair looking dark red and her freckled skin blue in the light from the computer monitor in her bedroom. “Kittyyyyyy!” squealed Shay, draping herself over Colin’s shoulders.

“Hey, Shay.” Kitty smiled her shy smile and waved. “Where’s Meagan?”

“Meagan, get your bony ass over here!” Leshayva barked at her other girl-friend.

“Dude, I’m in the middle of a really big fight,” Meagan whined. “And I’m poisoned.”

“Don’t you carry any potions of Cure Poison, ya dumb-butt? And you know you can pause the freaking game, girl. Just get over here!”

Meagan’s only response was a growl of frustration.

“It’s okay. Really,” giggled Kitty. “Hi, Colin.”

“Hi, Kitty.” Colin waved.

“Man, I so wish you were here,” pouted Shay.

“Me too,” said Kitty. It was Leshayva’s dad’s birthday party they were having here tonight at Grandpa’s house, and Shay’s parents didn’t know Kitty’s parents very well, so the Devereauxs hadn’t been invited. “What are you drawing?”

“Jules Nimri.” Shay proudly displayed her sketch to the webcam.

“That’s sooo good!” Kitty gasped.

“I wanna see,” said Colin. Shay turned the pad to face him. “Oh, wow. That really is good, Shay.”

“Eh. The eyes are wrong.” Shay surveyed the picture for a moment. “Ooh, you know what, wait—maybe the problem’s not the eyes. Maybe it’s the eyebrows.” She bit down on her tongue and set to work erasing.

“Jules is awesome,” Colin went on. “I really miss when she used to hang out at my house all the time. I mean—he. Dammit. I always mix it up.” He hunched his sloped shoulders guiltily. “It doesn’t help that Mom and Hunter never get it right.”

“How’s your dad’s party, Shay?” Kitty asked.

“Weird.” Shay shrugged. “But everything’s weird now. You know how it is.”

“Yeah,” said Kitty, with an unhappy twist of her mouth. She knew better than any of them. Kids had been really terrible to her lately at school because of her belonging to the Hermetic Order of Khmun, and she’d told Shay in secret she could hardly sleep anymore at night ever since she’d overheard her parents saying they’d gotten death threats at their jobs at the Enclave. It all really pissed Leshayva off, because Kitty was the sweetest girl on earth. Her family might dress differently and believe different things, but they were nice, and they really weren’t that different from everyone else—not in any of the ways that mattered. Shay’s own family was pretty different from most other people’s, too, and that was what made them great. To Shay, it was the most obvious thing ever that the Devereauxs couldn’t have had anything to do with the attack. But most people were too stupid and mean to get that, even grownups—something that was becoming more and more plain to Leshayva every day.

“Whattup, freaks,” came a voice from the doorway.

Leshayva recognized Rupert Greydale’s pubescent growl and stiffened. “Who told you you could come in here, asswipe?” She turned slowly on her heel.

Rupert, her sworn nemesis from school, stood a few paces in front of the doorway, hands jammed deep in his tuxedo pockets. He surveyed his surroundings with his usual smarmy smirk. Algernon Eads hovered behind him like a hired goon, a nasty smile of his own dimpling his apple-shaped face.

“Your grandpa,” replied Rupert, with a smug upward tilt of his brows. 

Dammit, Grandpa. Shay held in a sigh. “Well,” she said haughtily, “I guess I forgot to tell Grandpa this is a no-asswipe zone.”

“Good one.” Rupert moved farther into the room. “Did your traitor father write that for you?”

“What … ?” Leshayva stared at him. Nobody talked about her dad like that. Ever.

Rupert strolled between Meagan and the TV. “Move!” said Meagan.

He came to a halt right in front of her. “What are you even doing, nerd? Girls don’t game.”

“Uh, they do, and I am.” Meagan let out an indignant “Hey!” as Algernon unplugged her controller.

“Oh, look.” Rupert scowled at the computer screen. “It’s your ‘zealot’ friend, Kitty Devereaux. Sic a golem on anybody lately, you terrorist bitch? Why don’t you go back to Egypt?”

“I’m from Alabama,” Kitty fired back. Her lower lip gave a tiny quiver.

“Hang up, Kitty,” said Leshayva through clenched teeth. She stared Rupert hard in the eyes. “We’ll call you back after I get rid of this asshole.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Rupert sauntered over and fell back onto the couch, limbs splayed. “I think I’m gonna hang out right here tonight. This room’s pretty sweet. You dorks have Gears of War 2?”

“I’m telling my grandpa.” Shay started for the door.

“No one’s gonna give a fuck about your grandpa soon enough,” said Rupert.

“What the hell does that mean?” Leshayva stopped short, turned.

Rupert grinned. “It means you Weylands are going down.”

Shay stared at him. No one had ever said anything like that to her before. It was treasonous. “How … dare you.” She took a step toward him.

“Just wait,” Rupert added. “Once everybody finds out about your dad, it is over for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. About him being in cahoots.”

“‘In cahoots’?” Shay screwed up her eyebrows. “What the hell does that mean?”

Rupert shrugged. “It’s what my dad said. That the Prefect’s in cahoots, him and that Nimri freak, with High Servant Karamat. He said they set up the whole attack at the council meeting so they could make themselves look good.”

Leshayva stared at him blankly for a moment. Then, “Your dad said that?” she exploded. “What is he, high? They already caught the guy who did the attack.”

“Yeah, and he’s your dad’s assistant. And they’ve had him locked up for days without telling anybody what’s going on. Which prob’ly means your dad’s busy pulling strings, making sure the guy doesn’t go and rat him out to everybody for being the person who’s really behind the whole thing.” When Leshayva couldn’t think of a response to this, Rupert grinned. “See, my dad says Hunter Lockwood wants to take Ordo Arcanus back to when we had real power, and nobody could push us around. And Karamat loves pushing us around, so she really wants to stop that from happening. And you Weylands are such a bunch of pussies that you’re scared of pissing her off, plus, your dad and Juliana Nimri really hate Hunter. So they’re working together—get it? Trying to keep him from getting elected.”

“That’s not true,” said Colin quietly, over the back of his chair at the computer desk. His doughy face was locked in a scowl, his small blue eyes glaring daggers at Rupert. “Jules wouldn’t do that. Neither would Prefect Weyland.”

Rupert sneered at him. “You’re a disgrace to your house, you fat little faggot.”

“Don’t you talk to him like that,” Leshayva flared. “And don’t you ever—ever—say that word in front of me.”

“What word? ‘Faggot’?” Rupert grinned. “Why? … Does it remind you of somebody you know?”

You wouldn’t dare, Leshayva thought, her blood pounding. You wouldn’t. Fucking. Dare.

“What’re you gonna do about it, anyway? Go running to your traitor dad?” Rupert laughed. “Jesus; everybody’s so sick of you and your freak family. We all can’t wait to see you people in iron masks.”

Leshayva struck without thinking. It was one of the hand-to-hand forms she’d learned from her mom—a showier, more energy-intensive move than the situation called for, seeing as Rupert was seated and completely off his guard, but she felt a need to lash out with the full force of her rage. She sprang up in the air like a cat and twisted her body, unfurling her leg as she spun in a roundhouse kick. Her silk slipper smacked Rupert upside his overlarge head, eliciting a high-pitched yelp of pain and surprise.

“Whoa!” Colin jumped up from his seat.

“Shay, look out!” came Meagan’s voice.

Leshayva dodged just as Algernon made a grab for her. She dropped to a crouch and swept her leg, knocking both of his out from under him, which sent his large frame crashing to the ground.

Shay straightened and smoothed her dress, panting. Rupert was curled up on one end of the couch, whimpering and clutching his head. Meagan stood over Algernon with a folding chair in her hands. “I dare you to get up, asshole,” she said.

“Guys, what’s going on?” came Kitty’s frantic voice. “Is everybody okay?”

“I’m gonna tell on you,” Rupert hissed at Shay.

“Do it!” Shay planted her fists on her hips and laughed loudly. “Go tell your big, tough-talking daddy how you just got your ass handed to you by a girl.”

Rupert grimaced, then gave a bitter sigh of defeat. Unevenly, he pushed himself to his feet. “Come on, Alge,” he muttered to his lackey. Meagan brandished her chair warningly as Algernon got up and shuffled after him. “You people are crazy,” Rupert flung back as they vanished into the hall.

Leshayva slammed the door and locked it behind them. She felt like she was flying. Her heart was bouncing like crazy against her ribs.

“They’re gonna try to murder you now,” came Kitty’s voice. “You really have to be careful from now on, Shay.”

“I’m a Wade,” Leshayva replied, with an imperious tilt of her chin. “They don’t scare me.”

“That was amazing, Shay,” said Colin.

Leshayva breathed on her sparkly green fingernails and buffed them on her nonexistent collar. “Thanks, Col.” She picked up her sketchpad and flung herself down luxuriantly on the couch. “Now … where were we, my pretty, pretty prince? Ah—oui! Ze eyebrows,” she concluded, effecting a French accent, as she went back to work.

“I can’t believe what they’re saying about Philosopher Nimri and your dad,” said Kitty, as Meagan plugged in her controller and continued her game.

“I can,” grunted Shay. “’Cause people are freaking stupid.”

The doorknob gave a jiggle. Everybody looked up, suddenly alert.

After a silence—“Don’t think I won’t kick you in your stupid head again, Rupert Greydale!” Leshayva called out.

“Now who ever taught you to talk to people like that, Miss Thing?” came Daddy DeShay’s voice. “And why in the world is this door locked?”

Leshayva flinched. She jumped up from her perch and hurried to let Daddy in. “Sorry,” she mumbled up at him. “I thought you were Rupert. He was in here just now being a major jerk.”

“You better not be going around kicking no boys in their heads. I don’t care how majorly they be jerking,” said DeShay as he glided into the room. He was dressed in a white tuxedo with matching scarf and a lavender shirt and tie that set off the cool, dark hue of his skin. He looked dashing as always, but more than a little tired, which was normal for him lately. He’d been working extra-long hours in Medicinal Magic ever since the attack. “Hello there, Miss Meagan, Mister Colin. Ooh, is that Miss Catherine Devereaux I see on the computer there? My, my, what a world we live in. Are you kids having fun here in the fun room tonight?”

“Yes, Mr. Wade,” Leshayva’s friends replied.

“Your momma’s here,” DeShay told Leshayva. “And your Grandma Suellen. You wanna come say hi?”

“I’ll be back, guys,” Shay tossed over her shoulder as she followed him into the hall. Her friends acknowledged her with nods and waves, except for Meagan, whose eyes were once more glued to the TV screen.

Leshayva and Daddy padded across the ornate carpet of the corridor together, beneath the long line of twinkling chandeliers. Grandpa Levi’s estate was the largest in Delphi (except for probably Laconia, where the Lockwoods lived). Annwyn was a sprawling gothic-style mansion—practically a castle—and had been in the Weyland family ever since it had been built in the 1800’s. It was three stories throughout, with gargoyle-festooned watchtowers looming at each of the four cardinal points. It had a massive courtyard; a number of ritual chambers; a planetarium; a ballroom; three libraries. Leshayva had always found it strange that her grandfather lived in a place like this all by himself. She had gotten lost exploring its halls on several occasions.

“Who’s your new boyfriend, honey badger?” Daddy squinted at Shay’s sketchpad, which she was still clutching at her side.

“Jules Nimri,” she beamed, holding it up for him to see.

“Ooooh!” He peered at it. “Has our little home-grown hero bumped that Patterson boy out of the number one spot?”

“Pat-tin-son, Daddy.” Shay gave a goodnatured roll of her eyes. “And I’d say they’re tied for first.”

“They gonna hafta fight over you, huh?” said DeShay, as together they turned the corner into the hall adjacent to the crowded reception room. “Alchemy Boy versus Vampire Boy … I’mma put my money on Alchemy Boy. You know he’s packing that Greek fire, so that Patterson boy’s about to be toast.”

“Pat-tin-son, Daddy. God.”

DeShay led the way into the huge reception room, where the dull roar of chatter greeted them. Pretty much all of Delphi’s First-House magi, as well as those from Rising Houses who held important positions at the Enclave, were present and decked out in their finest, while servants flitted here and there throughout the room carrying silver trays full of drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Annwyn parties were always stuffy affairs—which was why Shay and her friends mostly spent them hanging out in the fun room. Shay knew for a fact her dads didn’t care for these parties any more than she did, and she was pretty sure even Grandpa Levi didn’t like them all that much. Still, he threw them every year, on the appropriate occasions, like clockwork, because people expected it. When you were in politics, Dad was constantly explaining to Shay, you had to worry a lot about giving people what they expected. This was more important than ever right now, he had told her, because everyone was feeling scared after the attack. They needed reassurance that their world hadn’t changed as much as they were afraid it had. Tonight was Dad’s birthday party, supposedly, but really, it was for just about everyone except Dad, because there were ways things were usually done, and always doing them in those same ways was comforting to people, and they really, really didn’t like it when you shook things up. 

… Which Dad himself had done, Shay never failed to point out, by marrying Daddy. Because Daddy was a man, and because he was Rising-House, and because he was Black. To which Elisha had finally replied one day, after a few seconds’ thoughtful silence: “Sometimes, you just gotta say screw ’em.”

Leshayva and Daddy found Mom and Grandma Suellen off to themselves by the fireplace, drinking and talking and laughing louder than everyone else like they always did. Grandma was wearing a shoulder-padded, sequined blue sheath, her cottony gray hair wound in a knot. Mom had on the same strappy black dress she always wore to these things, which looked great on her and showed off the tight cords of muscle in her arms and back, but which also looked wrong on her somehow, like she’d rather be wearing her Enforcement uniform. Ogo-uire hovered loyally above her left shoulder, like a ball of lightning, crackling and throwing off sparks. The daemon weapon was an heirloom, passed down through the Wade family since before they’d even had the name Wade. It never left its master’s side. Only its past, present, and intended future masters could see it in its true, spectral form. It had been Grandma Suellen’s before it had been Mom’s, and it would become Leshayva’s one day, once Mom retired from the Order of Martial Magi.

“There she is. Hey, girly-girl.” Mom grinned as she spotted Shay. Leshayva gave her a hug—though hugging Mom was always a little bit awkward. Mom never had been much of a hugger. “You been practicing your combat forms?”

Leshayva nodded proudly. “I was practicing just now.” She stole a sidelong glance at Daddy. “In the fun room.”

Daddy arched one long eyebrow.

“Yeah? Let’s see what you got.” Mom passed Grandma her champagne flute and lowered herself into a defensive stance.

Shay handed off her sketchpad to Daddy and mimicked her mother’s pose: feet apart, knees bent, forearms protecting her torso and face. Mother and daughter began to circle one another. Daddy and Grandma backed up to give them space. A few of the more fuddy-duddy-ish guests watched with looks of disapproval.

Leshayva feinted several times, trying to get Mom to break her guard—as always, without success. When she got tired of waiting, she finally lashed out with a kick. Mom dodged easily, then caught Shay’s leg midair. Her foot knocked Shay’s standing leg out from under her, while her forearm struck her in the chest, knocking her to the floor.

The next thing Shay knew, Mom was more or less sitting on top of her and had her kicking leg braced in a leg-lock. “You are too impatient, girl!” Devisha chuckled, as Leshayva squirmed uselessly beneath her. “How many times I gotta tell you, you wait till you have an opening.”

Shay was pretty sure everyone could see up her dress right now. And there were now a lot of people watching.

… Including, she realized with a jolt of horror, Jules Nimri.

“Mom, let me go!” she whined, beating on the floor.

Devisha gave her a slap on the rump as she released her. Leshayva stared at the Grand Philosopher, hot-faced, as she got to her feet and scrambled to smooth down her dress. He had on a black tux with a white scarf—no glasses tonight—and looked so perfect it made Shay want to die. A slight smile curved his lips before he turned away and resumed his conversation with Agatha and Wendell Mounce.

He was laughing at me. “Dammit, Mom!” Leshayva growled.

“Language, young woman!” said DeShay.

Devisha just grinned and gave her low, infuriating chuckle. Leshayva stalked off, fists balled at her sides. 

She stomped across the reception room; past the wing-backed chair where Magistrate Kher sat in his Weezer tee and Crocs, an open comic book floating in the air in front of his face; past Cousin Hunter and his girlfriend, Mercy, who were posing like a glamor couple at the center of a ring of his cronies; past Old Lady Shakesheave in her creaky wooden wheelchair, surrounded by her horde of great-grandkids; past Magistrate and Mrs. Nimri; past Professor Vipond and her husband; past Cousin Nigella, who was deep in conversation with Seer Oliphas, who always looked royally pissed off about something.

Shay slowed her charge at last as she spied Dad and Grandpa Levi near the bar, talking to Gordon and Beatrix Greydale—Rupert’s parents. She narrowed her eyes, remembering what Rupert had said in the fun room, and marched over, taking up a post by her father’s side, arms crossed over her chest.

“Hey, pumpkin pie.” Dad pulled Shay into a side-hug and squeezed her shoulder affectionately. 

Grandpa smiled down at Shay, crow’s feet splitting his weathered cheeks. But his brow furrowed slightly when he saw the scowl on her face. “Is everything all right, dear?”

Shay said nothing, and fixed Gordon Greydale with a stony stare. Dad and Grandpa exchanged glances.

“What’s wrong, pie?” Elisha asked. 

Leshayva continued to glare at Gordon Greydale and shrugged.

“As I was saying, Prefect,” began Master-Savant Greydale, shooting her a puzzled glance, “I’ve no doubt I can wrangle those tickets for you. And for you, I’ll make sure they’re nothing less than the very best seats in the house. Your family is sure to enjoy the show immensely. Trix here just adored it, didn’t you, dear?”

“That’s a good man.” Elisha grinned and clapped Gordon on the arm. “I know Shay here would just love to see Wicked. Wouldn’t you, pie?”

“No,” said Shay.

Her father blinked at her. “Leshayva, what’s gotten into you?”

“I don’t want anything from you,” Shay told Gordon Greydale. “Ever.”

“I … beg your pardon.” Greydale arched his salt-and-pepper eyebrows.

“All you’re doing is kissing ass,” Shay spat.

Beatrix Greydale let out a gasp, laid a richly jeweled hand across her sun-spotted cleavage.

“Prefect, whatever has gotten into this girl of yours?” scowled Gordon.

“Shay, what the heck?” Dad frowned. Grandpa Levi looked perplexed.

Shay jabbed her index finger toward Master-Savant Greydale. “He said,” she informed her father, “that you and Philosopher Nimri are ‘in cahoots;’ you and him and High Servant Karamat. He said the reason nobody knows what’s going on with Duncan Harper is because you’re busy ‘pulling strings,’ trying to make sure no one finds out it was really you behind the attack. He told all that to Rupert, and Rupert told me just now, in the fun room.”

A deathly silence fell over the group. “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin seemed to warble too loudly from the antique turntable nearby.

After several seconds, Master-Savant Greydale swallowed noisily. Leshayva could see tiny beads of sweat glistening on his ribbed forehead. “Prefect,” he began hoarsely. “Please, let me assure you, I never said any such thing.”

Dad and Grandpa looked at him blankly. Beatrix stared down at her hands.

“Trix and I were merely … flouting all the cockamamy rumors we’ve heard bandied about at the Enclave these past several days,” Gordon went on, with a wobbly chuckle. “If Rupert told your daughter I endorsed any of that claptrap, he gravely misconstrued my words.”

More awkward silence followed. Elisha nodded slowly and stared off, his expression inscrutable.

At last, Grandpa Levi cleared his throat, and everyone looked at him. “Well, Gordon.” Grandpa bent his bearded mouth in a thin-lipped smile. “Naturally, everyone here knows you’re far too circumspect to entertain such outrageous notions.” He eyed Gordon, his gray gaze glittering shrewdly. “I don’t doubt your word in the slightest when you say your boy misheard you; and, therefore, I take it we should expect no further slander out of Rupert, whether against my son or the courageous young man who nearly gave his life saving countless others’ the night of the attack.” He inclined his head and arched his eyebrows. “Would I be correct?”

Gordon Greydale bowed his head. “Indubitably, Your Honor.”

“If you’ll kindly excuse us, Your Honor,” Beatrix cut in. “Gordon and I really should collect Rupert and be on our way. I seem to remember we have another engagement in a half-hour—don’t we, my dear?” She gripped her husband’s arm a little too tightly, and favored the Weylands with a smile. “Let us once more wish you a very happy birthday, Prefect, and please accept our sincerest apologies for Rupert’s impertinence. Children will be children, you know.”

“Don’t even mention it, Trix dear,” Elisha answered with a chilly smile. “It’s as good as forgotten.”

Beatrix Greydale smiled thinly and gave a curt nod. “Gordon.” She summoned her husband with a tilt of her head.

Gordon shook hands with Dad and Grandpa, then hurried to join his wife as she melted into the crowd.

“They were lying,” said Leshayva to her father, through gritted teeth. “I could tell.”

“Was tonight the first time you’d heard this rumor, my dear?” Grandpa Levi asked.

“This one, yeah,” said Shay. “But Rupert and everybody have been saying all kinds of things at school, especially about Khmun—saying how they all hate us, and it was them who sent the golem, and Duncan Harper was their spy. But that’s stupid, Grandpa. They definitely don’t hate us. Kitty Devereaux is my best friend in the whole world, and she’s so nice she won’t even step on a freaking bug. And people have been bullying her a lot at school lately. It’s so bad she goes home crying almost every day. I’m sick of it. People keep telling her if Hunter gets elected she won’t get to go to the Academy anymore, ’cause her family will have to leave Delphi. Is that true, Grandpa? Can Hunter really do that?”

Grandpa and Dad exchanged glances. “Who all’s been saying this stuff, pie?” Dad asked.

“Everybody. Everybody except my friends who know Kitty, ’cause they know better.” Leshayva searched both their faces. “He can’t really do that, can he—Hunter?”

Elisha exhaled through his nose. “No, honey. He can’t. Don’t worry.” He scrunched Leshayva’s bushy updo. “Even if Hunter gets elected—which he won’t—a magistrate can’t do a thing like that by himself. You understand? He’d need most of us in the eldership to agree with him. And we don’t. He’s just sounding off.”

Leshayva heaved a sigh of relief and nodded. “I just wish people would stop picking on Kitty. It’s really, really bad. And the teachers won’t do anything about it.”

“Tell your friend to keep a journal of these incidents,” said Grandpa Levi, with a secretive wink. “I’ll arrange a little visit with Headmaster Braithwaite. Ensure that she’s aware and is addressing the problem.”

“Thank you, Grandpa.” Leshayva burrowed into his chest.

He chuckled and kissed her on the top of her head. “What are grandfathers for, if not to keep smiles on granddaughters’ faces?”

Dad looked on, smiling, then suddenly frowned and patted his breast pocket. It seemed to Leshayva that the little chain tethering his pocket watch to his vest gave the tiniest shudder.

“What’s the matter, Dad?” she asked.

“Nuttin’, honey.” Her father’s smile was back. He made a show of rubbing his belly. “Just, uh, got a little bit of a rumbly in my tumbly. Too much birthday cake, I guess.” She saw his eyes dart toward Grandpa, and a flicker of something passed between them. “I’m gonna step to the boys’ room for a minute. Be right back.”

She watched him take off toward the hall, saw him pull the pocket watch out of his pocket and glance down at its face.

A look back at Grandpa revealed that he, too, was watching Dad, a sober expression in his eyes.

“Why did he look at his watch?” Shay asked.

“Did he? Habit, I suppose,” Grandpa murmured. Then, he seemed to remember himself and smiled down at her. “I should get back to my hobnobbing, dear. Why don’t you run along back to the fun room?”

Leshayva eyed him uncertainly and nodded.

She shuffled out into the hall in time to glimpse Dad disappearing around the corner. On a hunch, after a moment’s hesitation, she followed after him with silent steps.

She peered around the corner and saw him slipping into one of the guest bedrooms … one she’d stayed in enough times to know there was no bathroom attached.

The door shut behind him. The lock clicked.

Why’d he go in there? Shay’s heart plunged into her shoes. Did he lie to me just now? Dad had never lied to Shay before, not ever … as far as she knew.

Next came an even more shattering thought: What if he is in cahoots?

Shay shifted her weight uncertainly, part of her not wanting to find out what was going on behind that door, in case it ended up changing her world forever.

But finally, resolutely, she tiptoed over to the locked door and got down on her knees in front of it.

He’s not in cahoots, she reassured herself, taking a deep breath as she closed one eye and squinted through the old-fashioned keyhole. I know he’s not. So whatever I see now is just gonna prove it.

The dresser in the guest room had one of those old-fashioned mirrors attached to it, the kind that was round and like a globe in that you could angle it this way and that. Shay saw Dad pull closed the curtains on one of the windows and stand in front of it like it was a backdrop, then angle the mirror to face him. He pulled a ring from his pocket and slipped it onto his left forefinger.

Leshayva clapped her hands over her mouth as Dad’s whole appearance changed—into a that of a grotesque, hairless man with a droopy mouth and eyes.

A glamor? she mouthed to herself, her gut giving a twist.

Dad fished a little bottle of sigil paint out of his pocket and dipped his finger in it, tracing what could only be a Sigil of Summons on the glass of the mirror. Seconds later, the light the mirror had been reflecting on his craggy face changed and turned dim.

“You got ’er?” he pronounced, in a gruff, accented voice that was nothing like his normal voice.

“Yep, up here in Chicago,” a voice replied. “And you’re in luck, old man. She’s alone.” With the mirror angled away from her, Leshayva couldn’t see who was talking, but they sounded like either a woman or a teenage boy. “You want the address?”

“Text it to my cell,” said Dad in his put-on voice. “I’m about to head up your way. In the meantime, stay on ’er. I’ll make sure to sweeten the deal for ya if this goes well.”

“Sounds peachy. See you soon.”

Elisha drew another sigil—the Sigil of Annulment; Leshayva knew it from school—and the light on his face shifted back to its normal brightness and hue. He whipped out his handkerchief and wiped the mirror clean, then pulled off the glamor ring and dropped it back in his pocket.

Then, suddenly, he was walking right toward her.

Leshayva tore off down the hall and dove out of sight in the next room down. She huddled there in the darkness, chest heaving, and waited till he’d passed.

After what felt like a safe amount of time, she darted back into the hall and hurried after him.

She arrived in the reception room just in time to see him exchange a few words with Grandpa Levi, then walk out.

Again, she followed—not through the reception room where Grandpa or somebody else might see, but by hurrying through the surrounding hallways till she saw Dad emerge into the foyer. She watched from a distance as he picked up his wallet and keys from one of the servants and headed out the front door.

Leshayva dashed into a front-facing parlor room and peered out through a crack in the curtains. She saw the valet bring around Dad’s car. 

He isn’t in cahoots, she told herself again, as the Cadillac’s taillights grew smaller and smaller on the drive. I just don’t believe it.

She turned away from the window after he’d gone. Stood there stupidly a moment, not knowing what to do.

Finally, she trudged back out into the hallway; shuffled along, zoning out on the busy floral patterns in the carpet, trailing her fingers absently along the chair rail. Several oil portraits hung on the wall in this little stretch of corridor near the entry hall, including more than a few of Dad from when he’d been a kid. Shay had always enjoyed looking at these when she visited Grandpa. Now, she found herself studying them, wondering if she was looking at a stranger.

No, she told herself again, feeling a stab of guilt for even thinking a thing like that. He’s my dad. He’s a good man, I know it. Slowly, she knotted her fists and gritted her teeth. I just need to find a way to prove it one hundred percent.

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Support Form and Void on Patreon