A shriek from the back yard usually was bad news. Not this time.
Instead of her neighbors stealing oranges, Garnet found a beautiful girl stuck in the highest branches of her tree.
Getting her down set off a chain of coincidences that were anything but as Garnet and her orange thief found themselves drawn together by ancient magic more powerful than the biggest coven on the west coast.
By Meyari McFarland
Something shrieked outside.
Garnet froze, one hand on the cutting board, the other on her chef’s knife. The onion sat between her hands, rocking gently side to side. Her little kitchen was silent for a moment, stew pot sizzling with chunks of beef and sliced mushrooms covered with the first onion she’d diced. The tomatoes had already been chopped, as had her green chilies and three nice fat jalapeños to up the heat.
She turned and stared out the back window towards her orange tree. It better not be those neighbor twins stealing her oranges again. Every single time they started getting ripe the twins snuck over her fence and stole the good ones before Garnet could get a single one.
Something rustled in the treetop. Garnet heard cursing and a yelp of pain. She glared, slapped the knife down and then jerked the sash on her red-checked gingham apron, the one that matched her most comfortable apron tichel with the absurdly delicate lace on the straps. Damn those kids! It’d be one thing if they stole the oranges to eat but no, they used them in their duct tape and plumbing supply potato cannon. Instead of actual potatoes because apparently ripe oranges made a better ‘splat’.
“Get out of my tree, you brats!” Garnet shouted as she threw open the back screen door. “I told you I’d call the cops on you and I will!”
Instead of teenage boy hooting laughter and the scramble of running feet, Garnet got a woman’s voice. She carefully walked closer, spotting woman in frilly layers of lace and linen with a tumble of beautiful natural black afro draped over one of the top branches. Her skin was as dark as the bark of the orange tree, all except her cheeks which were bright red.
“Oh-kay,” Garnet said. “Let me get my stew off the burner and then I’ll be right out with a ladder. How the heck did you end up way up there?”
“Don’t ask,” the woman groaned.
She sagged over the branch like a cat picked up in the middle who wanted to stay in their spot of sunshine. Garnet blinked, turned around and hurried back into the kitchen to get the stew safely off the stove. It could wait. Had to.
It took ten minutes to get the ladder, set it up and then help Alinnafe (which she carefully pronounced as Ah-lee-NAY-fay when Garnet asked her name while struggling to get her shawl free from the branches) down the ladder. There was a broom, just a standard kitchen broom with green and white straw bristles, in the tree as well. Garnet stared at it, shrugged, and then tossed it down to Alinnafe who groaned as she caught the thing.
“So really,” Garnet said while collapsing her ladder back down, “how did you end up in my tree?”
“Um, I needed an orange,” Alinnafe admitted. Her hands twisted around the handle of her broom, knuckles going pale when Garnet stared at her. “Specifically, I needed the highest orange on the tree.”
“And you decided to climb a tree while wearing that?” Garnet asked. She jerked her chin at the fluffy lace, many layers of flowing clothes and soft heelless boots Alinnafe wore. “You should have just asked. I’d have pulled one down for you.”
It was easier to go ahead and push the ladder back up so that Garnet had access to the top of the tree. Alinnafe seemed to have a particular orange in mind because she did the ‘no, not that one, right, right, up, yes there!’ thing while Garnet clung to the trunk and stuck one leg out to hook her toes under a different branch for stabilization. Caught the thing without any problems when Garnet tossed it down. And then laughed when Garnet picked six others on her way down though she did keep her top-of-the-tree orange separate from Garnet’s juicers.
Alinnafe followed Garnet to the shed, followed her into the house, followed her into the kitchen where she plopped on a stool, still clutching her kitchen broom. Odd but hey, this was a stranger’s house. Garnet understood very well that she was intimidating. Most everyone eyed her biceps and backed away when Garnet wore sleeveless shirts. Which she was. Chopping onions and peppers demanded frequent washing if she wasn’t going to end up with red eyes and a running nose.
“So what do you need the orange for?” Garnet asked.
Stew meat was just the right level of browned so she pulled that before swiftly chopping the last onion into big chunks that went in with the mushrooms and peppers. Tomatoes could wait a bit. She didn’t want them to cook down to paste before the stew was done.
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” Alinnafe muttered, rubbing the orange between her hands as if polishing it.
“Doubtful,” Garnet replied. “Or at least I won’t think you’re any crazier than I already do. I mean, lace, orange trees? Come on now.”
Alinnafe giggled, hiding behind her orange though her beautiful brown eyes sparkled with amusement. She really was lovely, full lips, round face, and hair that made Garnet want to play with it, as inappropriate as that was. Garnet wondered if Alinnafe would purr like the little black kitten she resembled.
“So?” Garnet asked.
“I’m working on a spell,” Alinnafe admitted. All the happiness drained out of her eyes. “It’s for a bet with some ah, friends of mine.”
Garnet stared at her, frowned, and then dumped the meat back into the stew. Whatever sort of spell it was, clearly it wasn’t one Alinnafe wanted to be casting. She wouldn’t look so sad and upset if it was something good. Or at least something she wanted to cast.
“Who’re your friends?” Garnet asked. “Anyone I know?”
“How am I supposed to know if you know them?” Alinnafe asked just acidly enough to get a grin out of Garnet. Better.
“Sashi and Hikaru and Ravinder,” Alinnafe said. “We’re all from the other side of town.”
“I know Ravinder,” Garnet said. “Is Sashi the one who always wears pink leopard print? Or is that Hikaru? The other’s the Goth, right?”
Alinnafe’s eyes went wide and she nodded. She looked astonished that anyone would know her friends but it would be odd for Garnet not to know them. Ravinder Lapointe came from one of the richest families in town, one of the ones who’d come through the Convergence with money and power and home intact. Who’d kept their power through all the upheavals that followed and then quite happily moved into the new magical world with every intent of mastering that, too.
Sashi Raines and Hikaru Coeman were hangers-on, the type who agreed with whatever Ravinder said, even when it was questionable. Or outright illegal. They had power, a good bit of power given that Sashi was half Elf and Hikaru was a dragon. Garnet had no doubt whatsoever that Ravinder was using them for their power. Only question she had was whether or not Sashi and Hikaru realized it. They were both young and gullible enough to miss the obvious as long as Ravinder complimented them.
Looked like at least Ravinder had some magic if he was casting spells now, maybe just pixie dust spells but still spells. Or maybe convincing easily led young people to cast them for him. Garnet wouldn’t put it past him. She’d thought he was as powerless as she was but she could be wrong about that. It wasn’t as though Garnet had any way to tell. Pure humans had no magic at all.
“What’s the spell supposed to do?” Garnet asked. She stirred her stew so that she didn’t frown at Alinnafe. Time for beef stock.
“Um, I’m really not supposed to say,” Alinnafe murmured. She was staring at the orange when Garnet glanced her way but she still flinched away from Garnet’s eyes.
“He’s up to trouble again, then,” Garnet sighed. “I can’t give you the orange then. I won’t be party to Ravinder’s mean little tricks. The guy’s a shmuck. A really pathetic shmuck at that.”
That got Alinnafe giggling again though she looked utterly horrified that anyone would refer to Ravinder that way. A little delighted, as well, so maybe Alinnafe wasn’t quite in Ravinder’s metaphorical clutches yet. Garnet came over and ran a finger over the curve of the orange while staring into Alinnafe’s eyes. Blood flushed her cheeks, then her ears, and then went right down her chest under the ruffles of her top.
“Tell me?” Garnet asked, flirted, smiling knowingly because yeah, she really would do that and it was obvious Alinnafe realized it.
“I shouldn’t,” Alinnafe whispered. She swallowed convulsively at a second finger joining the first, the two of them flexing and caressing the surface of the orange. “Oh Goddess! Stop that!”
“Still my orange,” Garnet said. She grinned. “I can molest it if I want to.”
Alinnafe thrust it into Garnet’s hands, jumping up and seizing her kitchen broom as if she intended to run right out the door and fly away. Took a quick grab for Garnet to catch her sleeve. The instant she had it Alinnafe froze, eyes wide.
“Seriously, Ravinder’s not the sort you want to hang out with, Alinnafe,” Garnet said. “He’s a user. And an abuser. You’re cute and sweet and I’d hate to see him eat you up and spit you out.”
Alinnafe stilled, curled inwards, nodded sadly. “I know. I really do. But I have to. It’s… important.”
Magic sparked along her sleeve, jolting Garnet’s fingers free from the fabric. Then Alinnafe ran out of the house, jumped onto her kitchen broom and flew away as if the thing was a traditional broom with a carved wooden handle and sticks for straw. Garnet watched her go, turning the orange over in her hands.
She set it on the counter and then set to work cutting open the other oranges. Juice was good. One of the best things about Garnet’s house and the pool of heat magic that dwelled in her backyard was having fresh orange juice when she wanted it. That was part of why the twins annoyed her with their thievery, denying her the juice.
The highest orange that Alinnafe had chosen stayed on her counter, untouched.
Three days later and the orange was still firm, ripe but not heading towards spoiled when it should have been going bad. Outside the grocery store, she spotted Alinnafe trailing along behind Ravinder as he lectured on something. Who knew what? It was probably all bullshit given that Sashi (definitely the goth) and Hikaru (Why? Why would a dragon insist on wearing pink leopard print vests? Why?) were pushing each other and snickering.
Ravinder was wearing pure black, head to toe, but it was silk and satin and he’d carefully draped black silk cords from his fake horn headdress to make them more prominent. As if his resin horns would ever measure up to what they should be if he actually had non-human blood. Pure ego on his part and as stupid as it could be. Which was about the norm for Ravinder.
To Garnet’s surprise, Ravinder froze mid-step when he spotted her. He waved to Alinnafe who flinched and cowered behind him as he pointed towards Garnet and her bag of groceries. She protested, it looked like a mild protest, but Ravinder scowled at her as if she’d mortally insulted him.
Alinnafe gasped apologies, hands extended as if she was afraid she’d be smacked, before she ran over to Garnet’s side. Today her layers of linen and lace were shades of blue that were a perfect match for Garnet’s simple blue-jean-blue jersey tichel. And the jean jacket that Garnet had tossed on over the sweater her mother had knit last winter during the cold snap and snow in January.
“You really can do better than him,” Garnet said before Alinnafe could open her mouth.
“Uh!” Alinnafe huffed. “Are you absolutely sure you won’t let me have the orange?”
“Nope, no oranges for Ravinder,” Garnet said. She shoved her bags of groceries into the back of her ancient little Beatle. “Pass me that last bag, will you? It’s eggs.”
Alinnafe stared at her, shoulders hunched and then slumping as she passed the bag over. Her bottom lip stuck out when Garnet straightened up and looked at her. The kicked puppy eyes were spectacular but they only lasted as long as it took for Garnet to reach out and run a thumb over her chin. Wanted to caress that lip but it seemed entirely too personal with Ravinder glaring holes in the back of Alinnafe’s head. Or maybe he was glaring them in Garnet’s chest. Equal odds given Ravinder.
“Stop that,” Alinnafe whispered. Her cheeks went violently red again but she didn’t look over her shoulder at Ravinder. Made him glower at them both so good on Alinnafe.
“Better than kissing the pout away,” Garnet replied with her best cheesy grin. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
“Oh Goddess, you are impossible!” Alinnafe shouted. “Do you ever stop flirting?”
“Mmm, sometimes,” Garnet said. She laughed at Alinnafe’s glare. “But never when I’m faced with such a pretty girl.”
The laughter got louder as Alinnafe huffed and stomped away to snap something at Ravinder that rocked him back on his heels. Both Sashi and Hikaru started and backed off as if afraid they were about to be struck. Then Alinnafe stomped away, visibly pissed off if only her cheeks weren’t so red.
Sashi and Hikaru followed Alinnafe. They edged around Ravinder then ran after her, Hikaru’s tail tucked tight to his body. Ravinder stared at Alinnafe’s back. Then he turned to glare death at Garnet. She snorted, tapped a finger to her cheekbone underneath her right eye and then pointed straight at him.
Ravinder’s chin went up. His cheeks went pale. Then he slowly and deliberately strolled away. The further he went the faster he strolled until he was power walking in Alinnafe’s wake. Garnet shook her head. She really should call Ravinder’s mother, see what the shmuck was up to. Couldn’t be anything good.
But not now. She had groceries to get home and her ice cream would melt if she didn’t hurry.
It took a full seventeen days before Garnet spotted Alinnafe again. The special orange from the top of the tree still looked as fresh as the day she’d picked it for Alinnafe. That was creepy. Seriously creepy. She’d gone out to dinner after her attempt at making wienerschnitzel had gone utterly and completely wrong, certainly not because she was twitchy about the never-rotting orange. She was pretty sure that she knew where she’d gone wrong. The coating had fallen off the veal and burnt in the pan but with a few tweaks to her methodology, next time it should turn out well.
So, coming out of her favorite Fairy restaurant, stomach full of really excellent tofu stir fry with seasonal blossoms and the best honey sauce this side of the Rockies, Garnet had damn near run straight into Alinnafe. They matched again, Garnet in teal and tan tichel with the ties twisted into a crown effect around her head, a flowing tan dress over comfy black jeans. Alinnafe had three colors faded teal dresses over a tan pair of billowing pants and a black hand-crocheted cardigan that looked like it was made of flowers.
“Sorry,” Garnet said as she grabbed Alinnafe’s arms to keep her from landing on her ass. “Didn’t see you there.”
She looked around but nope, no Ravinder, no Sashi and no Hikaru. That was good. Alinnafe glared at her and jerked free, cheeks flushed and eyes hard with a fury that made little sense to Garnet. Unless, of course, it was the magically still perfect orange.
“Hello?” Garnet said hesitantly as the silence stretched.
“Are you going to give me the damned orange or not?” Alinnafe demanded.
“I won’t contribute to Ravinder’s trouble-making,” Garnet replied. “If you’re helping him then no. I won’t give it to you.”
She stepped out of the way so the local werewolf pack could head inside the restaurant, their dozen or so kids all babbling at once as they begged for their favorites to be added to the stir fry. Matriarch of the pack frowned at the way Alinnafe grumbled at her but headed inside without intervening. Thankfully. Garnet was big and strong but not strong enough to take on a mama werewolf with her kids right there.
“Right,” Garnet said. She met Alinnafe’s eyes. “It’s still good, nice and firm and perfect when it should be rotten. Freaking me out, frankly. But I mean it. If you’re helping Ravinder, I won’t give it to you. If you’re not helping him, being sneaky or something to trip the little schmuck up, then fine. You can have it. That’s my only criteria though I would like to have a date or four or twenty, too.”
Alinnafe threw up her hands and shouted, just a noise, angry and frustrated and embarrassed. Maybe pleased though it was hard to tell. She whirled and stomped off, kitchen broom nowhere to be seen. Odd, that. It was very, very rare to see a witch without her broom even if that broom was a thoroughly non-typical choice. Pixies hovered at roof level and then dove at Alinnafe while laughing. The laughs turned into screams as magic crackled around Alinnafe, driving them away.
Garnet thought about it on her way home. Usually witches and pixies got along like peanut butter and jelly. Odd that Alinnafe had driven them away like that. But it hadn’t looked to Garnet as though the magic had been fully under Alinnafe’s control. It’d been random, lightning and rain drops falling through cedar bows to snake down the back of your neck when you thought you were safe.
The orange might just be a bigger deal than Garnet had thought. She drove slow, careful, hands shaking a little on the steering wheel. Normally she wouldn’t have considered it a big deal, something significant, but as time went on their clothes were closer and closer. Garnet’s temper had gotten significantly better over the last couple of weeks to the point where her boss as work had asked, quietly and privately with wide eyes and hands held up to ward off a punch before it could happen, if she’d gone on one of the new mood relaxers the Elves had cooked up.
And instead of hitting, Garnet had laughed, shaken her head and walked away. Her boss had stared at her the rest of the day, only relaxing when Garnet headed home. For that matter, the rabbi had asked whether she was in a new relationship, humming and smirking when she said that no, not at all though there was someone she was flirting with.
“So,” Garnet murmured to the orange once she was home in her kitchen again, “you’re more than an orange. You tying us together, little magic orange from the top of the tree? That’s not a nice thing to do. Seriously. You don’t take a person’s ability to consent away. It’s wrong.”
The orange sat there being an orange. No answers there.
Next day, Garnet woke to a house that smelled of orange. It was like she’d bathed in orange juice, had someone put orange scented patches over the vents, filled her house with an entire truck load of oranges. When she went into the kitchen the orange sat there, gleaming, as perfect as it could be. She could have sworn that it was even more perfect than it had been before.
Tracking down which coven Alinnafe belonged to took about an hour. Garnet ended up calling Deidre, matriarch of the local wolf pack, who knew absolutely everyone and what they were up to. Which, as always, meant listening to a series of kids babbling the exciting news that their little brother had just lost a tooth and the pixie nest out back had brand new baby pixies that bit really, really hard and that they were having pancakes for breakfast and did Garnet think syrup or jam was better on pancakes.
“Sorry about that,” Deidre said once she reclaimed the probably sticky phone from her kids. “This is Garnet, right?”
“Yup, that’s me,” Garnet said. “I need some help. I have to track down Alinnafe Wyndham’s coven. I’ve got a problem that involves her and well, it’s a big one.”
“Oh, the orange thing,” Deidre said. She chuckled as though she’d just heard the best dirty joke ever. “Yeah, I guess you do have a problem. Don’t know why you’re stringing her on.”
“Ah, I’m not?” Garnet said even though yeah, she must be for the smell of orange to increase that much. “She said she needed it for ever-so-lovely Ravinder Lapointe and I won’t give it to him.”
“I wouldn’t either, marrying a man like that,” Deidre agreed. “Seriously, that’d be horrific for both of you.”
Garnet sat abruptly, legs giving way so that she smacked to the floor of her kitchen with her legs sprawled underneath her. Marriage? What? Marriage!
“Wait,” Garnet snapped as Deidre chuckled something about epic mismatches of personality. “What do you mean ‘marriage’?”
“She didn’t tell you?” Deidre asked. Kids shouted around her, the sound a din that made Garnet’s ears ring even when she held the phone away from her head. A moment later the kids ran away again, leaving Deidre and Garnet with a moment of quiet. “Huh. Yeah, it’s an old spell. You pick the fruit of a magical tree, the highest one, and then give it to the one you love. Magic of the tree binds the two of you together.”
Garnet managed not to explain any further. She did get the alarming news that Alinnafe’s coven was apparently in talks with Ravinder’s family for some sort of arranged marriage so they were very likely over at the Lapointe mansion at this time of the morning. Still took her another ten minutes to get off the phone with Deidre. Then another twenty for her to get properly dressed for a visit to important people, most of that spent on tying her tichel so it didn’t look completely haphazard. But then she was in her car, orange safely cradled in a spare knit cap on the passenger’s seat.
The front gate opened before Garnet could press the intercom. She stared at it, stared at the huge heavy iron gate as it slid open. It was decorated with iron books embossed with nonsense poetry that was supposed to be Hebrew but pretty clearly was some idiot designer’s idea of what traditional Hebrew poetry was supposed to be.
Damn mansion was easily a hundred times the size of Garnet’s little house. Huge drafty thing with more window than brick wall, covered in expensive glamor that made it look as though it was marble until you looked closely. The butler opened the door as Garnet got out of her car, bowed to her and then silently led her through more glamor-enhanced hallways to a library that actually was as big as it looked. She wouldn’t have bet that all the books actually had writing in them–spines were too new and unbroken for that–but it was a nice enough space, if overly full of annoyed looking witches and Ravinder’s relatives.
“Hmph, I see you decided to return my orange,” Ravinder said, sauntering towards her.
He was still wearing all black but today it was a tweedy black suit with a black silk shirt and a black lace-covered cravat that was nearly as big as his head. Still had the stupid horn headdress on, bells jingling at the tips of the horns.
“Yours?” Garnet said as she held the orange behind her back. “You never showed up at my house. Never asked to get an orange. Never even tried to climb the damned tree to get it. That was all Alinnafe.”
“What?” Vivian Lapointe shot to her feet.
She was as impressive as Ravinder wasn’t. Her perfect white pantsuit was the height of fashion with all the right bits of embroidery and silk ribbon on the lapels. Slim, pale skinned and blond haired, she was rather like staring into the sun as she glared first at Garnet and then at Ravinder who curled in on himself. The bells rang constantly as he trembled in front of her. “You were to collect the orange yourself, Ravinder. That is the key to the magic. You were told this.”
“Didn’t,” Garnet said over Ravinder’s spluttering protests and weak gestures of apology at his mother. “Alinnafe tried to get to get it by flying over the top of the tree. She fell off her broom and I kind of rescued her.”
“Who picked it?” Meredith Thorsen asked. “That’s the important question. Who actually picked the orange? That’s the person who holds the magic.”
Where Vivian was style and power incarnate, Meredith was as comfortable as a worn out sweater that snuggled around you and perfectly matched your every curve. She wore as many layers as Alinnafe who edged out from behind the other witches with cheeks so red that she might as well have been painted with blood, but her layers were vivid reds, greens and blues while Alinnafe matched Garnet’s clothes exactly.
They both had green head scarves, Alinnafe’s wrapped in a headband around her beautiful poof of curly hair. Each of them had emerald jackets, sage shirts, brown pants, black boots. They’d even chosen the exact same color of tan belt though Alinnafe’s was a sash and Garnet’s was a proper leather belt holding her too-loose pants up.
“That’d be me,” Garnet said with a little sigh because the anger she should be feeling at this entire mess was missing. Seemed to be inside of Alinnafe’s blazing eyes. “Knew it was for a spell. Didn’t know what sort of spell and well, she’d already gotten stuck in the tree once. I didn’t see a reason for her to get stuck again when I had a ladder and could pick the damn thing myself.”
Every one of the witches groaned. Vivian hissed and gestured sharply for Ravinder to take his place behind her chair next to her husband who just shook his head and silently frowned at Ravinder.
“Then the marriage cannot proceed,” Meredith sighed. She shrugged as if it couldn’t be helped. “The magic has already gone to Garnet. She is the one who gets to choose who receives it. She is the only one who can give it.”
“Hell, I already said I’d give it to Alinnafe,” Garnet said because she just couldn’t handle the sheer humiliation in Alinnafe’s eyes. “Just wouldn’t give it to her when I thought it’d go to Ravinder.” She turned to Vivian, bobbed her head somewhat politely even though she didn’t really mean it. All around her the smell of oranges curled and swirled, filling her nose and her mind with something that she really shouldn’t be able to detect, magic-blind as she was. “Sorry, Ms. Lapointe. I just don’t agree with your boy’s behavior and I won’t do anything that enables him to get away with bad behavior. If he’d shown up at my house, asked politely and explained that it was for a marriage gift, well, I’d have given him the ladder to climb myself. He didn’t. Apparently he sent Alinnafe to do it and then spent the last few weeks berating her for not having stolen it from me.”
Vivian shut her eyes as her jaw worked with enough rage that Garnet fidgeted and backed off a step. “Noted. And understood. He was to do exactly that. Apparently he didn’t understand what was needed.”
“You don’t mean it,” Alinnafe said in the murmuring quiet that overrode Ravinder’s weak-voiced protests that he hadn’t thought it was that necessary. “About me. You don’t mean it.”
“Sure do,” Garnet said.
The witches all turned towards her, disappointment turning into something much more hopeful, sort of wary but still watchful and clear. Even Vivian’s scowl turned into an indrawn breath and a bright look between Alinnafe and Garnet. Alinnafe swallowed, hands in fists.
“We’re already partially bound, Alinnafe,” Garnet said as gently as she could and that was much more gently than it normally would be. “You’ve gained my temper. I’ve gained your patience. We’re dressing more and more alike every single day. I swear that my entire house smells of oranges and I know it can’t. It’s the magic of the tree, isn’t it? I’m seeing, smelling, the magic as the tree binds us together.”
Alinnafe stared at her. She shook and then stared down at her clothes wildly for a moment before gulping and whirling to Meredith who laughed and laughed and laughed, one hand smacking her thigh as if this was the best joke she’d ever heard.
“Well, I suppose that will do, too,” Meredith said. “Rather like the idea of binding our coven to a woman more than a man. And I certainly do approve that you’re observant instead of atheist, Garnet. It should work, I think.”
“Bind the coven?” Garnet asked. She got nothing but cheerful nods from the witches, even Alinnafe, so she turned to Vivian who sighed and rubbed the space between her eyebrows as if fighting a headache.
“Covens need to be bound to specific locations,” Vivian explained, mouth twisted as if she’d bitten into one of the sour, unripe oranges from Garnet’s tree. “To families, generally. They had a link to a family near the coast but their home was destroyed during the winter, landslide, so they needed a new link. We had planned on centering them here, through Ravinder. This… could work, I suppose.”
Which made sense of the whole damned thing. Garnet nodded, turning the orange over in her hands as she stared at Alinnafe who went pale and then red and then pale again. When Garnet held the orange out to her, Alinnafe made another of those little squeaks that made Garnet grin so widely. She laughed and stepped close to pull one of Alinnafe’s hands up. Didn’t quite put the orange in her hands because damn it, magic tree and covens being grounded or not, consent mattered.
“I meant it,” Garnet whispered just to Alinnafe and everyone else could just go jump in the Sound. “I do want to date you. You’re beautiful and sweet and I’ve been looking for you through every window and door I pass. But only if you want it, too. I can give it to someone else if you don’t want me?”
“You’re such an idiot!” Alinnafe gasped as she snatched the orange out of Garnet’s hand. “Of course I want it! I’ve wanted it ever since you came out of your kitchen ready to beat me up for stealing the silly thing.”
She stood on her toes as the room erupted in orange light, the smell of oranges so thick it nearly made Garnet gag. Then her lips were on Garnet’s and there wasn’t anything other than the smell and taste of Alinnafe’s citrus lip balm. The magic hummed around them, warm and loving and just like home, Garnet’s home.
Garnet laughed as she hugged Alinnafe, laughed as she scooped her up and whirled her around, laughed as Vivian smiled, cold and sure. Meredith cheered. The other witches made magic shower around them while Ravinder protested and then snapped his mouth shut when his father put a hand on his shoulder.
“So,” Garnet said once Alinnafe started giggling more like her old self, “what do you think of old-fashioned Jewish weddings? My rabbi is going to insist on one, you know. Magic oranges don’t quite work for us.”
Alinnafe grinned, waved the orange which she tossed to Meredith, and then nodded. “I think that will be lovely. Especially if you cook something for us. I’ve been smelling your cooking ever since you picked that orange and I don’t think I can wait another day to actually get to eat some of it.”
That made Garnet laugh. “Deal. Come on. Let’s start planning, little orange thief.”
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