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First pages

Chapter One

Helen faltered in arranging glasses at the last place setting. Past the dining room windows a few bare branches tangled against the dull light of the November afternoon. Bleak was the word. A perfect fit for her mood – and for a family holiday without a family. Far from bringing her closer to loved ones, Thanksgiving only reminded her of the one person who should be here and wasn't. Jeff.

Maybe she should have gone back to her parents in Boston after the funeral two years ago, but South Minneapolis had become her home. She’d lived here with Jeff. Death hadn't stopped her from loving the man she'd married, and this place where they'd been happy together remained now as a memento of the life they’d shared.

Stop it, she told herself for the umpteenth time. She’d grown weary of mourning, sick of regrets. Things would be different this year. Thanksgiving had once been her favorite holiday. Remembering the dearest people and things in her life had given her a sense of contentment. She wanted that back; she needed to embrace her blessings again. She still had so much to be thankful for. All the more to lose, her broken heart whispered, but she shushed it, adjusted the position of the wineglass beside a tumbler, and surveyed the room: everything fresh and clean, dinnerware laid out and sparkling under the chandelier, built-in sideboard cupboards polished and ready for the serving dishes, candlesticks ready for the flame.

This home counted as a blessing. She and Jeff had bought it together. Jeff had loved the ample yard and garden. They had worked together to sand and refinish these floors where the maple still shone like rippled honey. They'd intended to stay here for more than a few years. She'd had children in mind for the two smaller bedrooms upstairs, though Jeff had claimed one for his office. It hadn't become an issue before it became moot.

The aroma of Thanksgiving filled the house: roasting turkey and simmering cinnamon-spiced cider. The turkey scent had kept Sissy, the World's Most Cowardly Cat lurking underfoot until she got a small dish of drippings over her dry food. Then of course the feline had hidden herself away for a nap. Moving to the kitchen, Helen took down the big tray. As hostess for this Thanksgiving feast, she’d been bustling between kitchen and dining room all morning.

She was thankful for the garden that only looked barren now, in late November. She'd had to learn to take spring on faith through the long, frigid Minnesota winters. By mid-April, half those bare branches would be covered in lilacs.

She was thankful for her health. The accident that killed Jeff had left her with only minor injuries, long since healed, and a single jagged scar on her thigh as evidence of the disaster. She hadn’t been the one in the passenger’s seat when a truck plowed into them from the side. She was lucky to be alive – even if she hadn't appreciated the fact at first.

Being in one piece counted as a blessing, even if she couldn’t say as much for her heart. Surely half of it had gone to the grave with Jeff. Her grief had overwhelmed her for months, she’d mourned for these past two years. That had to change; she had to make more of an effort to move on. Tonight's gathering represented a step in the right direction. The Single Women’s Holiday Club had been conceived to make being alone during the traditional family holidays easier for her and her four single women friends who formed the group.

Guitar chords sounded faintly from above. She was thankful for Lenore. The laconic brunette might be quiet in that ‘still waters running deep’ way of hers, and occasionally late with the rent on her apartment in the finished attic space upstairs, but she was a good listener and a great teacher. Her voice lessons had not only given Helen the confidence to join the holiday choir at the Pepperidge Community Center, but had taught her to hear the subtle depths of emotion in her own voice. Not to mention how Lenore's presence in the house kept it feeling like a home.

She counted herself lucky to have Lenore, and Kaye, Cheyenne and Marly as her friends – her life savers. The guests due soon were friends rather than family, but friends counted for a great deal. These friendships had lifted her up and carried her through the worst of the loneliness once she’d decided she had to go on living.

After the accident, there’d been enough insurance so that Helen hadn’t had to work immediately, but she’d soon returned to teaching her nutrition and cooking classes at Pepperidge where she’d met tonight’s guests.

One of the benefits of teaching at the center was the discount when it came to taking classes. Besides Lenore’s voice lessons, Helen had taken Kaye’s Computer Basics class and Cheyenne’s Design Your Own Web Page class. She’d loved Marly’s classes in silver-working. She’d taken a lot of other classes as well, but these were the teachers with whom she’d found common interests, and with whom she’d formed their small sub-group of single women involved in the learning community at the Center.

She stirred the kettle of spiced cider on its back burner. The apple and pecan pies sat on the table waiting for their turn in the oven. Minced cranberry relish chilled in the fridge. There’d be plenty to eat, considering everyone else would bring a dish to add to the spread. She just needed to pop the whole grain rolls in the oven as soon as the turkey came out, and make the gravy once she’d drained the roasting pan.

Lenore had put in a brief appearance early in the day to fix a boiled egg for her breakfast, but stayed otherwise secluded in her attic apartment. “I don’t want to be in your way while you’re all manic in the kitchen,” she’d said.

Helen couldn’t defend herself on that count. Cooking became a kind of performance art for her, if not contact sport. She often got caught up in its movements. Maybe she wasn’t at her most sociable at those times, but it wasn’t like she shoved people out of her way – well, hardly ever. There’d been the time Jeff got between her and a skillet of smoking bacon – but a grease fire would have erupted any second if she hadn't shoved past him. He’d never let her forget it. He took to yelling, ‘Watch out! It’s Helen Wheels!’ – and they would laugh like maniacs…

The doorbell drew her back to the present.

Every silver hair in place, Kaye stood framed in the glass panel in the front door. Her patience and gentleness as a teacher had left Helen half-wishing she could have had Kaye for a mother.

“Happy Thanksgiving.” She greeted Helen, carrying a covered terra cotta casserole dish in her suede-gloved hands. “I’ve got sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Where should I put them?”

“On the sideboard.” Helen pointed to where the punch bowl sat awaiting the cider.

Helen hung Kaye's stylish black coat in the closet. “There’ll be room in the oven once the turkey comes out.”

“What smells so good?”

Helen waved a hand toward the kitchen. “Might be the cider. Might be the stuffing; there's cinnamon in both.”

“Everything looks beautiful,” Kaye exclaimed over the table.

The Irish lace tablecloth had been Helen's grandmother's, passed down as a wedding present. The china and crystal had been Jeff’s parents' gift. Beautiful, yes… but she couldn’t decide whether the memories made the beauty more bitter than sweet.

“Thanks. And don’t you look great!” Helen replied. “Have you been keeping up with that walking program you mentioned?”

“Yes. Every day.” Pink from the chill November air touched Kaye's cheeks. If not for the silver hair, she'd think her friend no older than mid-forties, but Kaye seemed to take pride in her maturity and certainly in the intelligence that made her successful as a network administrator.

“Am I the first one here? Can I help you with anything?” Kaye followed Helen back to the kitchen.

“You’re first unless you count Lenore. She’s still upstairs.” Helen quelled her instincts to insist she could do everything herself. “How do you feel about slicing vegetables for the relish tray?”

“Show me the knives.”

She put Kaye to work at the table with chopping block and carrots.

When the doorbell rang again, “Will you get that?” Helen asked, her hands full moving the turkey onto the platter.

“I’ve got it!” Lenore yelled from the hallway.

Helen finished draining the roaster and set the empty pan in the sink, then gave the cider a final stir before turning the heat down.

Lenore poked her head around the kitchen door. “It’s Cheyenne. Oh, Kaye! Hi! Oops – that was supposed to be my job. Sorry.”

“I don’t mind.” Kaye split another carrot into precise, lengthwise quarters. “I like to have something to do with my hands.”

“Hi!” Cheyenne appeared behind Lenore, with her roses and cream complexion and warm smile softening the keenness of her cornflower eyes. “Where should I put this?”

Helen couldn’t see what she held, but trusted Chy to have brought something rich and sweet. “We’re putting everything on the sideboard.”

Chy spun back to the dining room, a flattering, flowing top swirling out around her zaftig figure. Helen had always admired the artistic flair Chy brought to everything she did.

“How long before dinner?” Lenore asked.

“About half an hour. Or longer if Marly's not here yet.” Time for the rolls to bake while she fixed the gravy…

Marly, with her blonde-touched curls, tawny coloring and effervescent- spirits would fill out their number at five. A small gathering, but infinitely better than being alone for the holiday.

“Oh right. She came earlier. You were busy." Lenore's dark French braid fell forward over her shoulder as she leaned into the kitchen. She flipped it back. "We’ve been visiting up in my space.”

Helen shook her head. It didn’t pay to second-guess Marly,who might just as likely have decided to take her houseboat downriver to the next artisan fair as to show up for the group's dinner.

Everyone was here.

Tonight she was grateful to all of them simply for their presence.

“A half hour then. Why don’t you get everyone settled? I’ll be out in a minute, and meanwhile there’s coffee for those who want it, or hot tea, or cider. Help yourselves.”

~ * ~

Later, after plenty of good food, talk of their blessings and of classes at the community center, after Lenore performed her latest composition – a Thanksgiving song dedicated to them all – Marly rose from the table. Flitting ahead, she gestured like a prize-show hostess for them all to follow, excitement sparkling in her tone. “Shall we adjourn to the living room? I’ve got something I wanted to talk to you all about.”

Helen rose, too. “Just let me make sure all the food is covered.” She carried a depleted bowl of green beans to the kitchen. By the time she’d finished putting the leftovers into containers, the others had settled in the living room.

Helen helped herself to a cup of the hot cider. The aroma of cooling pies wafted from the kitchen but no one else showed any inclination yet for dessert, and she wanted at least another hour to make room for more food. They’d left Helen’s comfy chair free for her. The sewing basket beside it, piled with bright swatches of fabric, made it easy for anyone to identify her favorite spot.

“I was thinking. About us.” As soon as Helen was seated Marly stood, twirling in place to face them each in turn. “We’re all strong, independent women, with fulfilling lives, but – am I right in supposing we’re all open to more romance? that none of us is dead-set on staying single?”

“That’s a diplomatic way of putting it.” Cheyenne commented from her wing chair by the fireplace. She fed a stick of kindling to the low flames. “But I’m not counting on romance in a world where the majority of males don’t give a second look to someone my size.”

“It’s not something I think about anymore,” said Kaye. “I’m past the point in my life where I expect to find any lasting sort of love. It’s hard even to imagine.”

Lenore lounged in a corner of the couch, long, jeans-clad legs stretched out across the remaining cushions. “I’m okay with my life as it is, but I wouldn’t complain if the right guy came along.”

“It would be asking for too much, to have true love twice in one lifetime,” Helen ventured, uncomfortable at the suggestion she might ever feel as much for another man as she’d felt for Jeff. She had made an effort, honestly trying to imagine it with a few attractive guys she’d met recently. Her imagination had failed at the task.

“You're not even thirty yet. What if you live another forty or fifty years? Would you want to be alone for the rest of your life?” Chy asked.

Helen didn’t answer. The thought of a lonely lifetime stretching before her only deepened her discomfort. She had friendship and fulfilling work. She had her home. She had more blessings than she could count. She refused to diminish the value of any of it by wishing for more.

“I’m not talking about what you believe is possible, or likely, or should be.” Marly stood in the middle of their rough circle, barefoot on the thick carpet. “I’m talking about our hearts’ desires. Hearts need fulfillment. Never mind what we think possible, and never mind what we tell ourselves about how much else we have to be grateful for.”

A moment of silence followed this. Helen cupped her hands around the warmth of her cider mug. If her heart were a fist, she'd have clenched it. She felt exposed. As if her friend had read her mind – or her heart.

“What’s the point of bringing this up?” It still hurt to remember what she'd had and lost. She couldn't afford to think about what she still desired – in the face of all rational thought – she'd break herself beating against the walls of reality in hope of some impossible dream.

“Yeah.” Cheyenne’s cheeks turned a deep cherry-blossom pink. “I like to focus on the positives, the things I can control, which, the evidence suggests, does not include the hearts of men."

Kaye sat very still, looking at her age-spotted hands.

Lenore just gave Marly an inquiring look.

“The point is,” said Marly, “while we can’t control how others feel about us, we have some influence on the paths our lives take. In any case, why not do what we can do to reach our hearts desires?”

“What on Earth are you suggesting?” Kaye asked.

“My grandmother,” Marly replied, “offered me a gift of magic for my coming-of-age. I’d like to use it for all our sakes.’” She waited, as if for more of a reaction than their puzzled looks. “Oh, right – I never told you about her... Grandma is a fairy godmother.”

Chapter Two

Helen sat stricken to stillness during the flurry of questions and comments following Marly’s announcement. Did she seriously expect them to believe she had a fairy godmother in her family? Remarks passed about both Marly’s sense of humor and her sanity. Marly’s humor did sometimes strayed oddly far afield and she'd been known to let her imagination carry her away. She had to be playing some sort of game. She wouldn’t mean any harm by it –probably intended only to brighten their spirits.

But then again, she’d always had a fey look about her – as if she might have pointed ears if you caught her in the right light. The suggestion of a fairy godmother in her family tree didn’t seem as strange coming from Marly as it might from anyone else.

When the others grew quiet again, Marly continued. “Grandma says the nature of time and space and the material world are more mutable than people suppose. Our minds and beliefs have power to shape reality. This power is what we call magic.”

“Well, of course we can change reality.” Kaye said. “Everything anyone does, from making toast in the morning to painting the Sistine Chapel changes the world. But we have to work with things as they are.”

“‘Things as they are’ includes more than we know,” said Marly. “Have you heard of alternate realities?”

“Yes,” said Kaye and Cheyenne. Lenore nodded.

“No,” said Helen. It sounded like something Jeff would know about, too sciffy for her.

“When decisions could go two different ways, they do,” Marly explained, gesturing in broad sweeps of her arms to illustrate. “For every point in time when a choice is made, the universe branches – we follow one branch or the other, so we don’t notice the split. Magic provides a way of traveling the branches more deliberately – choosing which paths we take, which possibilities to follow, shifting between them.”

“Hmmm,” said Helen, making the leap closest to her heart. “You mean, if a person died in an accident there might be another branch of the universe where he lived?”

“Exactly. There could be many branches where he lived,” Marly assured her. “There could be branches where the North lost the Civil War, where the Vikings settled America long before Columbus arrived, where tiny cephalopods occupy the ecological niche held here by shrimp…”

“A world without shrimp? Not likely. But, you’re saying there could be anything?” Lenore leaned forward with an intensity she rarely showed, watching Marly like Sissy-cat watched the red dot of a laser pointer.

“There are more possible worlds than there are stars in the sky. We need guidance to find the way to the worlds where we can fulfill our hearts’ desires,” Marly cautioned.

Helen considered that. “I don’t know about you, but I believe there’s a higher wisdom than our own. Maybe things are as they should be – even if it breaks our hearts.”

“And maybe,” said Marly, “our ability to make changes nearer to our hearts' desires is also as it should be.”

Kaye sat on the edge of her couch cushion. “This sounds entirely theoretical, and you still haven’t said what, exactly, you want to do.”

“Lenore and I were talking earlier.” Marly moved around the circle again. “About how magic works. It’s stronger to unite the energies of a group than to apply one person’s energy alone – even a fairy godmother’s.”

“Ah,” said Cheyenne, imitating Yoda's voice. “Why, in the first place, did you not say so?”

Helen chuckled and the mood lightened with Chy's humorous tone.

“I wanted everyone to understand the goal here.” Marly gave her a grin. “Understanding helps belief. Belief helps the process.”

“Well, I’m afraid I’d be a liability then,” said Kaye. “I just don’t believe in this woo-woo magical-thinking stuff.”

“Don’t you have enough scientific objectivity to withhold judgment until the results of the experiment are in?” Marly teased.

Kaye allowed them a smile. “When you put it that way, I suppose I can suspend disbelief for the sake of not spoiling the fun.”

~ * ~

They gathered in Lenore’s attic apartment where Marly and Lenore had made preparations. A curtained-off bed occupied one dormer, and a desk and chair sat under another window. Above, a broad bladed ceiling fan stood still. The rug had been rolled back and a large circle was chalked on the bare floor boards.

Would that come out? Helen wondered. She had brought up her silver candlesticks. Now Marly lit the candles before setting them up at each of the four sides of the room.

There weren’t quite enough floor cushions to go around so Lenore shared them out to the others and sat on her pillow. “Better my butt here than anyone else’s!” she laughed.

“We start with a minute of silent reflection.” Marly explained, the only one still standing. “We need to listen to our hearts and consider what they’re telling us about what we need in our love lives. And we need to consider what we can bring to a love relationship.” She passed around a handful of ribbons and marking pens.

“And then?” asked Kaye.

“Like I said earlier,” Marly continued, “Belief is a big part of magic – but belief isn’t necessarily what we say or think is true – it goes deeper. It’s the foundation underlying our actions.

“Belief is what we act upon. If we believe there’s a pit in front of us, we step aside, even if it’s an imaginary pit. If we believe we can have our hearts’ desires we’ll move toward them even if logic says there's no way.”

Marly continued. “We'll shape our magic with some play-acting, using symbols and actions to build the belief that gives the magic its direction. We’ll invoke the powers of love to aid us, as well as to guide us, in making it a reality.”

Lenore started some soft music playing: a sprinkling of notes from a harp, the soothing murmur of a flute. Marly turned off the overhead light, so only the soft glow of candles lit the room. No light from beyond penetrated the curtains covering the windows.

This might be silly, Helen thought, but Marly had set the stage well: the candles shining in the shadowed room, the chalked circle, the quiet music of the harp, like a hidden woodland stream, the sparkling scent, all combining to create a dreamlike atmosphere. It reminded Helen of the first time she'd seen 'Peter Pan', before she'd started grade school. The children sprinkled with fairy dust, learning to fly, the antics of Tinkerbell, it had all been so wondrous then. Here and now a sense of wonder lurked somewhere near – in the ill-defined shadows, between or behind musical notes, in the hushed voices and giggles as the friends all settled in their places.

Marly sat and bowed her head.

Helen bowed hers. She might not be the cynic Kaye professed herself to be, but she'd never taken Marly entirely seriously. The fey young woman was such a sweetheart, as kind and warm as she might seem silly at times, that Helen didn't mind her fantasies of magical power, or her New Age fascinations with crystals and the phases of the moon. The self-declared fairy-godmother’s granddaughter appeared so earnest tonight. Helen swallowed her doubts, determined to give this "magic" a chance.

The quiet music played on, formless as the sound of a breeze through leaves.

She should start thinking about being in a relationship again. She couldn’t live her whole life in memory of what had been. In retrospect, she couldn’t ask for any more than she’d had with Jeff: he’d seen her as she was, and brought out her best, he’d loved her easily and naturally. Jeff had been sexy as hell, yet made her feel perfectly safe in his arms. He had enjoyed talking and laughing as much as anything else they did together. So what if he obsessed about watching football and left hair in the sink? She would clean up his hair for the rest of her life if only... But, no. She shouldn’t dwell on the past. Think of new love, however impossible that seemed. Think of possibilities.

She needed someone to be here with her, someone who would appreciate what she had to give. And that wasn’t too shabby. She was still young. She wasn’t a super model, but she was in reasonably good shape. The person in the mirror looked like a nice person – like someone she’d want for a friend. She’d make a good mother, wouldn’t she? Maybe she wasn’t exactly the most exciting person in the world, but she was usually happy enough to try something new. And she was the kind of person to stick by her partner through thick and thin. She’d be ready to lend her support and encouragement where needed. And she knew how to make a house a homey place to be.

Half-dreaming, Helen followed along as Marly directed them to write a few key words ‘to set your intentions’ on the ribbons. Memories of Jeff arose again and Helen wrote: “someone easy to talk and laugh with, easy to love.”

“Now let’s all clasp hands and picture light flowing around the circle of our joined hands,” Marly continued. “It flows around the circle, around and through us. It grows brighter and stronger and rises up to form a cone of light above us. The light combines our power. It reaches into the realms beyond time. It will guide us on the path to our hearts’ desires. Let your intentions flow into the light.”

“Is that it?” asked Kaye.

“Now comes the play acting,” said Lenore. She produced a small round basket that jingled as she held it out. “We need to each choose one of these bells."

Helen reached into the basket as it was passed to her, and groped among the cool rounded shapes. She shook one of the smaller ones – too high and tinkly. She found another, the metal sleek as silk. The tone rang clear, neither too high or too deep.

"Now tie your bell to one end of your ribbon. Each sounds different from the rest. Listen to the sound of your bell – you’ll need to tell it apart from the others.”

Marly pointed above them. “Lenore and I tied strings around the blades of the ceiling fan earlier. The next step is to tie the other end of your ribbon to one of those, so your bell hangs down from the fan.”

While they did as instructed, Marly continued. “The paths we seek lie through the lands beyond time. Not paths seen by the eyes, they are sensed only with the heart.”

She dropped something into the brass bowl sitting in the center of their circle. A mist began to rise from the bowl, clouding the room in its vapor.

“What’s that?” whispered Cheyenne.

“Dry ice,” Lenore whispered back.

“I feel silly,” said Kaye with a giggle.

Had she ever heard serious, mature Kaye giggle before? The mist grew thicker, turning the candle flames to glowing orbs that did more to dazzle than illuminate, and turning the shadows to dense fog, making it impossible to see her nearest neighbor.

“The realms of probability are like this fog,” said Marly. “There is no certainty but the world immediate to us. The mist represents the formlessness of possibility. We can give it the shape we choose, reaching out to bring it forth, but we must let our hearts lead the way, otherwise we end up lost and wandering.”

Nothing remained visible but the mist and glowing orbs of candlelight. A breeze stirred. Someone had turned on the overhead fan. The bells made small jingles and tinkling sounds as they moved.

Then the fan stilled again. Helen had no idea where her bell might be. For the next few minutes everyone moved blindly through the mist. She groped above, setting a bell jingling. At the same time, she recognized the tone of the one she'd chosen – there, across the circle. Someone else must have jostled it. She’d only taken a step before she bumped into somebody – Chy, judging by her laughter as they edged around one another. She brushed past another someone – Kaye? – touching her arm to guide her past. She put out her hand and waved it cautiously before her in the air, took another careful step, brushed the edge of the central bowl with her foot and moved around it.

A couple more careful steps and Helen’s waving arm caught a ribbon and set a bell tinkling again. Not hers. She reached for the next.

Around her, the other bells tinkled, her friends giggled.

The next bell she brushed sounded exactly right. Unreasonably elated – this was just a silly game, wasn’t it? – Helen announced, “I’ve got it!” and was echoed immediately by Kaye and Lenore. The next moment Marly and Chy called out, too.

The mist settled slowly. Helen made out the figures of her friends only as vague shadows.

Marly moved to stand beside the central bowl. “So let our hearts lead us to our loves.” She spoke in oddly echoing tones, “Let the circle be opened, but unbroken.” Turning to each of the gathered friends, “That should do it. We’ve established our intention and sent the magic out to show us the way to the love we seek.”

Helen blinked as the lights came back on. Bemused, she hardly knew what to make of the odd ceremony. Some kind of self-esteem exercise? an affirmation of their readiness to let love into their lives?

“Cool,” said Lenore. “I’m about ready for some pie now.”

Chapter Three

Marly winched up each of the four anchors of her houseboat, the Silvery Moon,in turn. Praise the heavenly stars and moon, the snow had held off and her intake pipes hadn’t frozen. She had wanted to stay in the Twin Cities for Thanksgiving and had delayed her departure downriver until nearly too late in the season. The wind along the Mississippi’s broad course blew cold enough that she’d wrapped her head in scarves and wore her winter gloves. The predawn light, silhouetting the dark mass of trees along the river’s banks, provided barely enough illumination for her task.

Ice had formed overnight on the forward winch so she had to knock it free with her hammer before she could get it to turn. Thank all good powers for the automatic mechanism – she might be strong, but the anchor was more than she could lift by herself, and she didn’t want to call on her houseboat guests for help so early. Returning hammer to tool belt, she moved to the starboard winch.

And praise be, she’d finally gotten the wind turbine and new electric engine she’d been saving for over the past few years. Engine failures were no joke. She still had nightmares about a family whose engines had stalled right before the Hastings dam so their houseboat had been dragged over despite all efforts to turn her – smashed against rocks and beaten to kindling. It was a blessing no one had been killed – but what an awful way to lose one’s home.

At least her nice new engine had performed perfectly at this morning’s equipment-check. This time of year there’d be no lack of wind to power her turbine, so no more worries about that five-hundred-mile stretch of the lower river with no place to refuel. The new turbine and the solar panels were sufficient to her small power needs.

With the last anchor up, the Silvery Moon began to drift. Marly rushed up the external ladder – wary of ice on the wooden steps – to the glassed-in pilot house, flipped the engine into gear and steered her vessel at a shallow angle away from the banks, but not too far out. None of the usual barge traffic appeared at this early hour, but she wanted to stay out of their lanes.

While flowing water might be no impediment to her grandmother, it kept the other, darker elements of the fae at bay. Marly didn’t feel safe making contact until the current flowed strongly around her and it took only touches of the wheel to keep the pontoon hull of the Moon steady in its course. She sat back in the pilot’s chair, surveying her surroundings as daylight grew, bringing color to blossom among the bare treetops lining the shores.

“Grammy?” she called softly.

“Marlinda, darlin’!” Her fairy-godmother grandma’s soft southern accent sounded before she appeared, sitting relaxed in the co-pilot’s chair. “Have you decided how to use your birthday gift?”

Marly left her post long enough to wrap a warm hug around her grandma’s shoulders. “Yes and thank you again! I wanted to do something for my friends. We gathered some extra energy for the work last night – see?” She held out the crystal she’d used for a focus during the ceremony. It shone with a light she and her grandmother could see but not many others would.

Grammy took it into her hand, peering closely into the tourmaline depths. “Oh, well done, Marly! You’ve gathered enough energy here to focus and boost my gift well beyond its original extent.”

“Oh good! I really want this to work.”

“Be assured, it shall, child.”

Grammy handed the emptied crystal back, and raised her arms in a practiced flourish sending the energy in a direction Marly could scarcely follow.

“The magic is at work. In this plane the results will be revealed only slowly, moving first from one and then to another of your friends – staying with each for perhaps a fortnight."


“Magic doesn’t subscribe to human weights and measures. It adjusts itself to its own landscape.”

“As long as it works.” A glow warmed her that might or might not be part of the workings of the magic. “I want my friends to be happy.”

“That desire is your true strength. You’ll grow into your own full powers soon enough, darlin’ child.”

~ * ~

Helen had planned to sleep in, given the Center was closed for classes over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, and her usual Friday morning presentation through the school district was canceled – but she woke at her usual time. After last night’s feast, she’d swear she could go another week without eating again. With no pressing duty, she lingered in bed reading the latest James Patterson, to which she’d gone to sleep last night. Reading thrillers was one of the interests she and Jeff had shared. He’d minored in English Lit and had always wanted to write a thriller of his own.

“Why wait?” Helen had asked him when he first mentioned it.

“You know how I am. I'm not waiting, I'm slow.”

“One of your best qualities," she'd teased. "I like a man who takes his time."

“You mean like this, right?” He’d kissed her, taking his time about it, and made her forget what they'd been talking about.

And it was true, he hadn’t waited. He’d been working on a manuscript off and on during odd moments ever since she’d known him.

Helen sighed and turned back to her book, but Sissy cat thrust her nose in the way, looking for attention. Sissy had vanished like a phantom when there were guests in the house yesterday, but she seemed to take it as her duty to remind her human of the importance of a good breakfast.


About me

Naomi Stone's previous books are available on Amazon: modern fairy tales of romance and magic, where you may meet fairy godmothers, magical djinn or super heroes. Check out her Author Page to learn more!

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
Five single women form a holiday club so they won’t have to spend the traditional family celebrations alone. A little fairy godmother magic will change each of their lives forever. All five heroines have known loss – and have gone on to choose paths that affirm life and friendship and caring.

Next in:
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Younger Men. Older Hayley. Trouble.
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Prince Charming... Soulmate or Killer?
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Art, love and mistaken identity collide.