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Sixteen-year-old Magnificent Maggie Fontaine is close to giving up on her oh-so-wrecked life. When she accidentally runs away from home, she doesn’t even expect to make it very far before something worse happens. But running away might actually bring her closer to home, and when all hope is lost, a little bit of forbidden magic can change everything.

Aunt Fabulous and the Malevolent Musician

by Valerie Brook

Copyright © 2016 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2016 by Kickit Press

Cover Art Copyright: sleepwalker/shutterstock.com

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.

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STORM CLOUDS BURST OPEN in the midnight sky on the gloomy night that sixteen-year-old Magnificent Maggie Fontanne was destined to meet her Aunt Fabulous. 

And she happened to run away from home, too.

Actually, Mag hadn’t meant to run away. It happened accidently—in the same way no one ever means to trip on a garden hoe, or bump their head on a chandelier, or eat liver. 

And she kinda stole a cello as well.

That had been even more of a ridiculous and regrettable decision—and now Mag realized how awkward it was to run along the sidewalk, her arms skinny as a toothpick, dragging a mammoth case on little wheels that pitched and rocked and threatened to topple on its side.

But what was done was done. 

In the swampy fogginess of the city of Arcata on the Californian coast, sewing machine needles of rain fell fast, stitching a wet shower curtain of cold, plastic numbness over her skin. The black night swirled through jaundiced streetlamps, silvery rain flashing like schools of fish darting everywhere.

A strange February wind kicked up, a backward and then forward pull, an I love you, I love you not reversal that swooshed her stick-straight hair into a bird’s nest mess.

The salty air tasted like oysters and woodsmoke.

Mag ran up the hill, clomp clomp along the sidewalk, toward the shelter of the corner bus stop aglow in red neon buzz of the convenience shop Closed sign—her knee-high, metal studded, New Rock platform boots echoing up the stairs of mildly dilapidated Victorian homes, the boot zipper on the left foot decidedly non-waterproof, her left sock fast becoming a floppy sponge. 

Her black pleated skirt and pink spaghetti-strap camisole, underneath her black velvet hoodie, grew even blacker polka-dots at an alarming rate, like fabric with a bacterial disease.

Oh, bother. 

Why hadn’t she grabbed her warm wool jacket when she’d decided to rebel? This whole night had gone terribly wrong. Acting out in anger was overrated. She could be curled up under the covers asleep right now. Instead, she was outside shivering.

A car approached, headlights crawling along the shiny street like the feelers of a mechanical insect. 

Mag yanked the awkward string instrument into the glass-enclosed bus stop, escaping the wind and rain, but not the glare of the headlights as they washed over the fishbowl of her narrow rectangular enclosure.

Every raindrop fractured into a rainbow.

Mag felt her arms and legs lock in dread—a heavy drop of water sliced down her nose, tickled her lips, then zoomed off her chin into space. But the sleepy stranger drove past, uncaring, unconcerned—and Mag’s appendages flooded with relief and burst into more goose bumps than before.

The fishbowl rainbows scattered and the cold night came back with a slap.

Mag leaned the big black case against a stained wooden bench and plunked down beside it next to a McDonald’s hamburger wrapper folded into an artistic origami elephant. Wow, someone who rode the bus was really talented. 

A drop of water rolled off Mag’s elbow and hit the elephant between the eyes. It tumbled onto the dirty concrete and lodged next to a blob of sticky purple Slurpee.

I wreck everything, Mag thought.

Her hand trembled. She flexed her wrist, glanced left and right to double-check her aloneness, pointed her palm at the saddened elephant, and levitated it back to the bench seat just as it had been.

Mom had made Mag promise a billion times to follow the Statutes. Never use magic in public. Never: as in never.

But the elephant seemed happier on the bench and Mom was dead. Buried back in Chicago two months ago under the deep snow. 

A stranger she’d never met, an Uncle Daniel, had appeared out of nowhere with Mom’s final will and presto! Mag now legally belonged to him, and this dreadfully gloomy coastal city, and her whole life was over.

Mom had never even mentioned the Uncle. In fact, Mom had said our friends were our true family—and any glance though Mag’s digital photo albums showed a lot of friendly Chicagoan smiles.

Back in Chicago, when Daniel’s intelligent brown eyes, polished as stone, had probed Mag’s face under the impersonal fluorescent lights of a public hallway when they first met in the county courthouse to sign legal paperwork, Mag had been lambasted with a cruel reality. 

Uncle Daniel was clearly a real uncle. 

And the new Uncle and Niece had the same willful eyebrows, and the same conniving chin. And when they smiled (though not at each other), the right eye got smaller.

It was genetic, obviously.

In her youth, Mag had asked all the normal questions kids ask when they get old enough to realize there should be other familial units in the family—where the heck is the dad, the grandparents, maybe a cousin or two? Mom’s answers had all made sense: military father lost overseas, deceased grandparents, answers like that. 

Those answers had been good. 

Now, they were not good. Because Mom wouldn’t do this to Mag—wouldn’t leave emergency custody to an estranged brother she had hid her daughter from all her life. An uncle who appeared out of nowhere, maybe had forged a fake will, and the reasons behind acquiring custody of Mag for two more years until she turned eighteen were all totally oblique.

Mag chewed her lip and fought back the tears because seriously she didn’t want to cry right now. Crying was so overrated. It fixed nothing. It just opened a hole in her stomach and burned and burned.

She’d lost so much weight. A connection suddenly clicked in her brain: maybe the burning in her stomach was less existential and more of a real ulcer? She made a mental note to Google ulceric symptoms later.

The temperature in the bus stop dropped. 

Mag wrapped her arms in a hug around her chest and vigorously rubbed her upper arms. The rain went from full-blast sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on the glass to a softer, more librarian-type musical drizzle.

Mag’s lips stuck together. She moistened them. The neon signage in the junk food window behind her zapped and clicked. The thoughts in her head widened into a shotgun spray of possibility.

The Uncle would notice the stolen cello and call the police. 

The Uncle would notice the stolen cello and send his sycophantic cult friends after her.

The Uncle would notice the stolen cello and come after her and kidnap her and kill her and hide the body (her body) somewhere in the redwood forest it would never be found.

A fit of big shivers wracked Mag. 

Actually, it was only half shivers and the rest dread. She turned her head to peer back the way she’d come, yes—her first time running away from him and she’d only made it one block. Most genuine runaways probably made it much farther by now, right? 

So much for bravery. 

Though in fairness, she still hadn’t learned her way around in this new town, except the route to walk to Arcata High, as a nearly invisible Chicagoen transplant, in a town that couldn’t bother to notice she even existed.

She was still just a wannabe badass in bulky, seven-buckled, metal-spiked gothic boots. (Mom would have loved these.)

Mag stood up and kicked the metal doorway of the shelter, just to practice being more badass. If you want to be good at something you always have to practice, practice, practice.

At least her new boots were cool. Even if Mag froze to death right here at the bus stop, the medical examiner would be like, well—it sure was a tragedy, this loss of a young life, but she wore really cool boots.

Mag could still see the murky outline of the powdery-blue Queen Anne at the top of the hill—where she’d lived all of one whole grief-stricken month, bunkered down in a mattress on the tiled laundry room floor, complete with said laundry machines and complementary sneezy dust mites—the historical Victorian home—all elegantly decorated gables, gingerbread spandrel panels, and a sweeping front porch like Gone With The Damn Wind.

Seriously, those rich people had slaves. Let’s be real.

Slavery is not cool.

And speaking of wind, the crabapple tree had branches that clickity-clacked in all forms of atmospheric flatulence and scared the bejeebers out of her when the tar-black shadows and full moon were just right. 

Yes, there really was a wrought iron fence, too. The house was creepy central.

Looking out from the inside of the bus shelter right now, Mag could just make out a buttery golden glow around the edges of the barred window in the round tower—the Uncle’s private office, locked at the top of a wrought iron spiral staircase. (Because wrought iron is a theme with the Victorians). 

Most the rooms in the house were locked, but that room was locked behind a solid redwood door, decorated with carved gnomish faces with creepy hollow eyes, pointed noses, and beards that coiled into geometric symbols.

Faces that almost seemed to sneer when you looked at them—almost seemed to displace a single hair on an eyebrow, or flare a nostril ever-so-slightly, or follow your movements with their wooden eyeballs and then act like they didn’t.

Mag knew a magical door when she saw one. 

The Uncle wasn’t just a tax attorney and a cello player in a jazz band. He belonged to some kind of secret group, and they weren’t like bird watchers, or golfers, or even classic car reconstructionists—it was a dark group.

He could fool all the fools in this sleepy town.

But he didn’t fool Mag. And maybe the biggest clue was that he didn’t seem to like her at all. And Mag was completely friendly and totally likeable and everybody else in the whole world said that about her.

The Uncle had spoken no more than three complete sentences to Mag since she’d arrived in the airport shuttle with four suitcases of everything she owned (most of it between two covers and a spine). 

Mag had thought: Oh how gracious of you, Daniel, my new guardian so lawfully appointed by the kangaroo courts, to tell me where my laundry-bedroom is, and the address of my new high school that I had to Google, and the nightly curfew: sharp at I-don’t-give-a-shit eleven o’clock.

Mag heard the left side of her jaw pop. 

She released her clenched teeth. (That reminded her that her prescribed dental night guard had been missing since Chicago. Oh well, she hated it anyway.)

She turned her head and stared at the stolen cello. Stupid cello. The Uncle kept it with his musical gear in the alcove near the front door. His beautiful, enshrined, holier-than-thou beloved instrument that he practiced with in the music room with his three jazzy (if sycophantic) bandmates: Mr. Saxophone, Mr. Keyboard, and Mr. Trumpet.

Why do evil people have the same right as everybody else to look normal? 

Mag looked back up the hill toward the Queen Anne. 

Daniel stood in the tower window, staring straight toward Mag in the bus shelter—his body a dark silhouette against the buttery lamplight of his room. 

Square shoulders, long face, and the black outline of a John Bull top hat on his head.

Mag gasped. 

Cold air shot down her airway and punctured her lungs, deflating her vital breath—as if Daniel’s stare could drain her life force from a distance, just from willing it.

Mag had never seen that hat before. What did the hat mean?

In the corner of her eye she caught the digital temperature on the bank across the street fall again: from 58˚ to 57˚. The time blinked 12:23 a.m. in red. The rain stopped.

Did the Uncle even care that she was out on the streets past curfew? That she was lonely as hell? That she was willfully disobeying him for the first time, that she would not be ignored and treated like a free-to-leave prisoner in his house of locked doors? (If that even made sense.)

Daniel spread his hands out at waist level, almost like an invitation, no—more like a dare. What’ve you got next, or is this all you can do?

Mag’s jaw popped again. Her toes curled up in her New Rock boots. (The New Rocks had an amazing toe box. Seriously, a person could do toe calisthenics and never feel restrained.) Mag glanced over at the cello. 

Then back up at Daniel.

The song: “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” by Nancy Sinatra. It flashed through Mag’s mind as she stood up and intentionally clomped out into the middle of the empty street. Wow, people really slept soundly in this town. Mag mimicked Daniel in pose, spreading her own arms out like a more gigantic suggestion of what do you have next?

Her level of badassedness was increased by the fact that he was super far away in a tower and she couldn’t see his stony eyes.

Daniel put his arms down, resting them lawyerly by his side.

Mag did the same.

Then the ordinary cello did a weird thing: it fell down on its face. The case just slid right along the bench seat and then bong! on the ground. The enclosed bus stop even echoed like a bell.

This act of gravity gave Mag a bad idea.

Daniel had taken her away from her beloved Chicago. An eye for an eye, right? 

She intentionally clomped back to the cello, and with her hands tremoring like a personal earthquake, she unfastened the fasteners and snatched the polished wooden instrument by the neck. The four strings squirmed under her fingers. The instrument yanked out of the velvety orange liner with a choked objection—if wood can choke.

It took Mag two hands to waddle it back into the middle of the street. “I’ll smash it,” she yelled.

Of course the Uncle couldn’t hear the threat, but she was lying anyway. (Because her bad-ass-ometer was blinking in the red right now, a full-on Star Trek Enterprise red alert. This was a beautiful instrument, and that would be one angry uncle.)

A pair of headlights crested the hill behind Mag’s legs and her own black shadow leapt out of her body like spilled ink and grew longer and longer. 

Mag stumbled to the side of the road, trying not to scratch the bottom of the cello.

Someone was driving a multi-rust-colored 1980’s Ford Escort like a submarine navigating an underwater channel in the deep trenches of the ocean, a little to the left, a little to the right, now straight ahead again.

The Escort navigated up over the curb with a bounce, heading straight toward wiping out the glass bus shelter and Mag with it.

“Ahhhhh,” she screamed.

The Escort hiccupped to a stop at her kneecaps. The driver’s window rolled down in fits and bursts. “Hey, is that you, the new girl?”

The headlights blinded her eyes like a supernova. Mag organized her legs, feet, and New Rock boots to move out of the glare, but something went terribly wrong and she tripped. The cello swung out and walloped against the metal frame of the bus shelter, emitting a wooden crack akin to a cry of murder!

Oh, bother. This was bad. 

Mag couldn’t bear to look at what she’d accidentally done to the instrument. Instead, she looked up to see Sherman from fourth period English class halfway hanging out the driver’s window. His tropical-island-blue eyes were bloodshot. Even puffy, like he’d been crying just a few minutes ago. 

Mag approached the driver’s door. 

“Sorry, I meant to brake a little sooner, but this shifty is clutch,” he slurred. “Sorry ’bout that,” he added with a cockeyed smile.

Mag nodded with that talk-therapist slow nod: the super-supportive, but I-still-know-you’re-off-your-rocker, professional nod.

“Scoot over,” Mag said. “You live on J Street? I’ve followed you home before. I mean, just coincidentally.”

While Sherman took a moment to remember his home address, Mag glanced quickly back at the Queen Anne. The tower hulked in darkness, lights out. A hobbling figure approached along the sidewalk toward the bus shelter, pushing something on wheels, out of reach of the nearest pale glow of a street lamp.

The figure suddenly called out, a sentence garbled by distance. Or garbled by—because that wasn’t English?

Mag squinted into the dark, trying to discern fact from shadow, even as the sidewalk squiggled with shadow and the facts scattered.

“Scoot over.” Mag turned back to Sherman, therapist-patted his shoulder, and said louder, “Now.”

Sherman remained as unmoving as a person turned to stone and lost in translation.

Mag pulled the trunk release. Then she walked around behind the Ford and opened the trunk. Tossed in the offended cello. Shut the trunk. Opened the driver’s door. Pushed Sherman’s muscly torso toward the passenger seat. He smelled bad, like warm beer and teenage body odor. He bent at the hips like an over-lubed hinge, his butt nailed to the seat. “Seriously, come on,” she persisted, rocking him back and forth. “I’m trying to run away here.”

The person pushing—it was a bicycle—got closer.

Somehow the lanky, drunk Junior managed to rotate onto his back on the passenger seat, his thighs pointed straight up to the clouds, his knees bent over the headrest. “Hey, it’s like a bed in here,” he said.

That would work.

Mag jumped into his vacated position, slid the seat forward on rails, put the gear shift into reverse, and accidentally squealed off the curb with such intense velocity she cracked her head on the steering wheel, bucked the clutch, and killed the engine.

Oh yeah, seatbelts.

Click. One belt done. Negatory on the second click: unless Sherman wanted to be secured to the seat in a crash by his nuts. Which, had he been sober, was a likely no.

Mag swung the wheel in a circle and accelerated more gently. The left wheel sank into a pothole and bounced playfully back out.

A tape in the cassette player randomly popped into the deck, AC/DC’s heavy metal Back in Black. Wow, that was loud. Mag stabbed at the eject button but the cassette wouldn’t eject. Didn’t these things used to eject?

In the rearview mirror, the figure with the bicycle loomed large, now high on the seat, still shadowed but pedaling toward the center of the road as if in pursuit. 

“No you don’t, whoever you are,” Mag whispered at the rearview. “Because engines are way faster than pedals.”

With the music still blasting, and Sherman strumming electric air guitar with gusto, Mag accelerated away from the Queen Anne. Cold air brushed Mag’s cheeks through the open window. The bicycle got smaller in the rearview. Mag actually made it one more block before having to depress, and then stomp, on the brake pedal to stop at a red light. 

The cars tires skidded and the Ford rocked back and forth on squeaky springs.

Well, that proved this crappy old rust-trap was a book you could read by its cover. The engine was just as run down as the paint.

Okay, maybe it proved she didn’t have her driver’s license yet.

Mag flicked the cassette volume to zero and then realized Sherman was singing the lyrics into his fist and his volume was also at the level of a fingernail-on-chalkboard screech. Mag reached out and yanked up the hem of Sherman’s T-shirt, pulling the whole thing up over his head. 

“Hey,” he protested, immediately distracted with trying to pull it off.

Green light. Mag turned left and accelerated. 

Shadowy residential homes slumbered on concrete haunches. The rain-slickened streets winked with soft porch-light reflections. A white cat ran across the road up ahead, slinking under a row of parked cars.

Suddenly, the bike rolled right up to the Ford’s trunk as if it had a burst of speed. In the little rectangle of the rearview mirror, Mag caught a flash: blue-tinted goggles, wiry silver hair stuffed into a brown aviator’s leather cap complete with wool trim and a chin strap, and a chromed-up bicycle and ape-hanger handlebars that made the bike look like a skinny Harley-Davidson motorcycle without a motor.

“Pull over,” the woman on the bike yelled. Or something like that. It seemed like there had been a few extra syllables in that sentence, like pull the heck over?

The Uncle wouldn’t have sent someone on a bike, right? That didn’t make sense. Or maybe it was a bicycle cop?

“I’m your Aunt Fabulous,” the woman yelled.

Could that have been right? Bandit Scandalous?

“As in the opposite of Uncle Divine, I’m not kidding,” she yelled again. “Pull over.”

Another red light loomed ahead. Mag didn’t want to slow down for it.

She stomped on the accelerator. Not pulling over for you, strange bike person. I’m getting away. 

The bike lady sped up, now totally tailgating—bike wheel to bumper like a saw blade.

Mag bit her lip. Just a little breach of Mom’s Statutes again wouldn’t hurt. 

She flexed her palms, took one hand off the steering wheel, and levitated the hurling car six feet off the ground. The Ford shot through the red light like an asteroid. 

Sherman levitated off the seat, just as he had finally pulled the shirt off his head, eyes wide as saucers. Mag pushed him back down, glancing quickly while in midair, her wet, shoulder-length hair slapping her cheeks as she turned to look both ways. Mag saw no other set of headlights. Safety first and safety second. 

See Mom? No one was even coming.

Mag dropped the Ford back onto its wheels on the other side of the intersection with a ker-thunk! The rusty shocks bottomed out, bounced once, and the Ford groaned like it might need emergency trauma surgery immediately.

Sherman groaned, too.

Mag turned a corner, sped down the hill, and felt her cheeks flush and her heart pound with exhilaration.

Working with magic again made her feel alive.

Why had she wasted an entire month being afraid of the Uncle? He should be afraid of her. It wasn’t that she was a wannabe badass, it was that she was too much of a badass. All these years of training in the strictest of secrecy with Mom in Chicago, and the rules and the honor and then Mom went and died and Mag thought her magic had died, too.

Or not that her magic had died. 

Rather that she could never use it again, for any reason, without disrespecting Mom’s life somehow. But hell yeah, Mag could use her magic. That’s what it was for, wasn’t it?

Forget running away.

“Hang on, Sherman. Slight detour coming up. Please feel free to pass out and forget everything.”

Mag swung at the first left. She would go back to the Uncle’s house, demanding he book a flight back to Chicago tomorrow. Back to her friends and the life she used to know. Russ and Ruby had offered her a room in their brick bungalow—an open invitation. Mag could get a job after school to pay her expenses. It would work.

Mag felt lighter, the night air flowing in through the open Ford window smelled fresher. A slim smile lifted her cheeks.

Mag swung left one more time, the dark Queen Anne looming up ahead on the residential hill. Wow, she’d run away in a complete circle. 

A car approached in the opposite lane, headlight getting brighter, only the third car of the night and then it passed and was gone. Mag pulled up to the curb in front of the Uncle’s abode and killed the engine.

Sherman’s feet slid off the backrest and clubbed Mag’s shoulder. His sneaker scuffed her ear and a humid stink reminiscent of tuna fish washed up her nose. A muffled snore vibrated out of his throat. 

Mag wiggled away from his legs, opened the driver’s door and pocketed his keys, and looked back at the drunk high school junior. “In the morning when you wake up we’re going to have a serious talk. Right now, these keys are mine.” 

She stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the Queen Anne as it brooded over her head in elegant darkness, the porch light all but swallowed by layers of shadow. The front door swung open and the Uncle stood in the frame, sans top hat, brown hair combed carefully back and wearing professional attire. As in—a going off to work at seven in the morning suit—not a half-past midnight pair of pajamas.

Weird.

“I want to go back to Chicago,” Mag said loudly, so her voice would carry up the stairs from the sidewalk, carry across the little lawn where the crabapple grew, carry over the wooden-railed porch.

She stepped forward, splashing in and out of a little water puddle. Stood on the first step going up. Wow, he seemed really tall up there. “I don’t know why you did what you did, but I’m not going to let you get away with it. I won’t stay with you. You obviously don’t even like me.” Maybe she shouldn’t approach any closer, she didn’t want to see his stone-cold eyes.

“On the contrary, Magnificent, I’ve paid oh, such very close attention to you.” His voice quietly trickled off the porch. Mag could barely hear his carefully enunciated words. “When you first arrived, you told me to leave you alone. To never speak to you. I’m mindful of the delicacy of your current state of mind, of your tragic loss and the need to grieve privately. I even hired a psychiatrist to discuss your behavior, and followed her recommendations. It’s all documented. Of course, tonight you stepped over the line with your theft and destruction of my cello.”

Oh shit the cello. She’d forgotten about the cello for a second. How could she forget about the cello?

Suddenly Mag didn’t have anything to say. She’d never bashed a wooden instrument into a bus shelter before, or stuffed it naked into the trunk of a car she would later levitate and then drop from midair.

“Uh, sorry about that,” she said, not as loudly as before. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

What angle was he playing here, some kind of entrapment? Because Mag couldn’t remember ever telling the Uncle not to talk to her. Had she said that to him? And what psychiatrist? 

She felt too hot.

In fact, a thin layer of sweat broke out along her hairline.

“Please come on home, Magnificent. Juvenile runaways are law breakers.” The Uncle placed his hand on the ornate silver doorknob and pushed the door open a bit wider. The bowels of the Queen Anne were lit with soft yellow light from the high foyer ceiling. “It’s a school night, too.”

A bell chimed in the distance and then chimed again, closer. A breathless voice called out, “Wait for me, I’m almost there.” The ape-hanger bicycle lady wearing the brown aviator’s cap came pedaling up the sidewalk at breakneck speed. In the dim streetlight, she skidded to a halt and jumped off her bike, kicking the stand down in one a fluid motion. 

“I didn’t expect such a long trip around the block,” she confessed after a few massive breaths. “And all just to catch up to my niece and hug her. I’m your Aunt Fabulous.”

Mag felt her jaw drop a little. This woman really had bicycled all the way around a gigantic block. And she said Aunt Fabulous?

And then Fabulous’s arms swooped Mag up into the biggest, most welcome hug of her life. Her aunt’s soft leather flight jacket radiated warmth (except for all the cold zippers), her hair smelled like an exotic cinnamon bun, and she giggled with such a delightful belly laugh that Mag felt in that moment she’d known Aunt Fabulous her whole life.

“You’re skinny as a stick,” Fabulous said, pushing Mag away and looking her up and down like a mother hen.

“You look a lot like my mom.”

Fabulous’s pained expression conveyed a mixture of deep, unreadable emotions. She opened her mouth, started to say something. Cut herself off, started again.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to find you. It was a hard journey from Australia.” Fabulous spoke without a hint of an accent. And then, when she saw the tears pool in Mag’s eyes—“There, you brave girl. It’s okay. I’m here now. I’m here to protect you.”

Mag’s knees weakened, and the same tears she had bit back earlier in the evening now washed over her face in tsunami force. She sobbed into Aunt Fabulous’s shoulder, this woman who had whispers of Mom in her face—and Mag only vaguely heard the Uncle’s footsteps descending, his subdued voice speaking. And slowly Mag stopped crying, and she discovered her hands fisted into Fabulous’s leather jacket like her last hold on a perilous cliff, and she unfisted them and returned to the reality of the night.

Uncle Daniel stood on the sidewalk now.

Aunt Fabulous pulled a wrinkled envelope out of her inside coat pocket. “This is the original will. I’m contesting custody of our niece.” She slapped it once against her open palm and then tucked the envelope back in its safe pouch.

The tension writhed between them like an ancient feud awakened and breathing itself back to life. 

Then Daniel broke out in a smile. Fabulous did not.

“Come on, Mag,” Aunt Fabulous said, turning her back on Daniel and pointing across the street to another Victorian home with a For Sale sign. “Just bought it. I’ve the keys in a pocket somewhere here.” Fabulous patted the myriad of zippers on her flight jacket until she extracted a single key. “Ta-da.”

Mag felt like she’d won some kind of crazy lottery. “You can’t be serious?”

“I couldn’t be more serious. We have so much to catch up on.” Aunt Fabulous slung an arm around Mag’s shoulders and they stepped off the curb and crossed the water-glistened street. “Including minding the Statutes,” Aunt Fabulous whispered.

Mag’s stomach muscles clenched for a second as she flashed back to the public levitation of a rather rusty Ford—but then she felt relieved. A talk about magic and Statutes would open the door to ask so many other questions that burned in Mag’s mind. 

Then Aunt Fabulous called over her shoulder to Daniel, “I know you can’t legally deny your niece a visit with her favorite aunt. See you in court, brother.”

Things were definitely looking up right now. 

Mag might have run away only to return in a circle—but she’d got some of her badass back. If she could gather up the rest of her broken self-esteem, and put a little more weight on her bones, maybe this new life would be okay.

Copyright © 2016 Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

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