CORDELIA’S RULES FOR HER DAUGHTERS
Choose Your Associates Carefully. Your Friends Are a Reflection of You.
THE STAR BRIGHT BAKERY
DEL MAR, CALIFORNIA
FAIRY GODMOTHER DEEMED UNSTABLE
The huge, bold headline demanded Reggie’s attention. She bent closer to the Quid Novi to read the subtitle:
Eminent wizard sought for questioning. Caution urged in dealing with the pair.
Reggie lifted one eyebrow. Really? The Arcani newspapers had reported little else for the past week and a half. The fairy godmother candidate and her arbiter had evaded the Council and their Guards, and disappeared without a leaving a trace. Ten days later, the best trackers had found no hint of them. Reggie could understand why the Council was growing panicky, but she wasn’t nervous. Why would two fugitives come to her bakery?
Regina Scott straightened up. She didn’t have time to read the Quid Novi. She didn’t even have time to read the San Diego Union. Besides, the news of the Arcani world didn’t concern her. She wasn’t Arcani. She was a Groundling.
It happened on occasion: two Arcani gave birth to someone without magic. Like her. It was rare, but it happened. Her parents had despaired over it, but she had come to terms with her lack of power many years ago.
To a Groundling, the Quid Novi would look like a cheesy free rag. Only an Arcani could read the magical newspaper. Reggie herself could read both only because her parents had long ago cast a spell allowing her to see the magical words.
She tidied the two separate stacks. The headline of the Union dealt with the latest stock market upset. The Groundlings would never hear of the two renegade Arcani.
For a moment she envied the pair. If she were on the run, then she wouldn’t have to attend her sister’s engagement party this evening. It promised to be a nightmare. She would be the object of pitying glances, and she’d have to endure people talking to her as if she were stupid instead of just non-Arcani. Not to mention the pity they’d feel because her younger sister was engaged, whereas she had no prospects.
With a sigh she tucked a strand of her unruly dark hair behind her ear and returned to the task of wiping down the tables in preparation for the day’s customers. With magic these mundane jobs might take less time, but there was no point in wishing for something she didn’t have.
Heavenly smells wafted from the kitchen where Tommy and Joy were creating their special treats. She inhaled deeply. As soon as she finished cleaning the tables, she’d go check on them, pour herself a cup of coffee, and then open the bakery promptly at seven.
Four sharp raps at the front door jerked her attention from her thoughts. She glanced at her watch. Six fifteen A.M. That was early even for Nate. She peered through the glass of the front window and saw three figures standing on the stoop. Leaving the cleaning rag on the table, she reached to unlock the door. It swung open before she touched it.
“Good morning, Reggie,” said an elderly woman with iron-gray hair. She was tall despite her age, and she embraced Reggie without waiting for Reggie’s response.
“Aunt Lily,” Reggie said in surprise. She looked at the other two women. Why were the godmothers here? She hugged the second one, then the third. “Good morning, Aunt Rose, Aunt Hyacinth. Isn’t it a little early to come visiting?”
“Not at all,” Rose said with her customary smile. “You keep baker’s hours. We knew you’d be up. If you don’t mind, I’ll go say hello to Tommy and Joy before we start.” Her white hair swishing in its stylish bob, Rose strode to the kitchen.
“Good morning, Reggie,” Hyacinth said. Of the three women, she looked the least happy with the hour. Her short-cropped silver hair stuck up in many directions. “You wouldn’t have a cup of coffee to spare, would you?”
As Reggie grabbed a mug and turned to the coffeemaker, she heard Aunt Lily say, “We are not here to socialize, Hyacinth. This is not a coffee klatch.”
“Who said I wanted to socialize? If you want me to function at such ungodly hours, I need coffee.” Hyacinth grimaced and sat at one of the tables that occupied the room.
Reggie gave the filled mug to Hyacinth. “Cream and sugar?”
“No, thank you. I need the jolt from the undiluted brew.” Hyacinth lifted the mug and sipped.
“Coffee, Aunt Lily?” Reggie asked.
“No, thank you, dear. Some of us enjoy these early hours.” Lily gave a pointed look to Hyacinth, who merely growled in return.
Rose reappeared from the kitchen followed by two plump bakers dressed in jeans and T-shirts with long white aprons over their clothes. A smile split Tommy’s wide, flat face, but Joy’s face crinkled in concentration. She carried a plate covered in turnovers. Reggie felt a rush of pride as she looked at them. Too many people wouldn’t see past the slightly off features to the talent that lay beneath. The two bakers weren’t related, but they were best of friends. Tommy had Down syndrome and Joy had_… well, Joy was just Joy.
“Good morning, Aunt Lily,” Tommy said and threw his arms around the taller woman.
“You’re looking wonderful, Tommy,” Lily said with pleasure sparkling in her voice.
“I am. I have a good job. But Aunt Hyacinth doesn’t look happy.” Tommy leaned into Hyacinth’s face. “Try one of Joy’s turnovers. They’re apple. You will smile.”
Tommy’s words coaxed a curve to Hyacinth’s lips. “Then give me one of those magic turnovers. I could use some help to smile this morning.”
Tommy became earnest. He wagged his finger at Hyacinth. “You can’t say that. Reggie told us we can’t use the word ‘magic’ in the bakery. The Groundlings can’t know.”
“It’s okay, Tommy. Aunt Hyacinth didn’t mean it that way,” Reggie said quickly. “Besides no Groundlings are here now.”
“Except you,” said Joy, as she placed her plate on the table.
Except me, she thought. A brief twinge of self-pity struck her, but she dismissed it as easily as it arrived. She had long since ceased to worry about the unfairness of life. Joy and Tommy were Arcani, but had special needs. She was, well, normal, but she wasn’t Arcani.
“These look delicious.” Rose took a chair at the table, lifted a turnover, and sniffed it. “And smell even better.”
“I’m baking more for breakfast.” Joy turned to Reggie. “Don’t worry. I checked the oven. It’s at three-seven-five degrees and the timer still has six-one-three on it. I won’t burn them.”
“You never do. You’re very careful.” Reggie wished Joy wouldn’t worry so much about every detail, but she also knew that the strict adherence to routine allowed Joy to bake her amazing creations.
Rose bit into a turnover. “This is terrific.”
“Yes, it is. I have to make more now, so I’m going back to the kitchen now.” With a little wave, Joy returned to the back room of the bakery.
Tommy sighed. “I suppose I should go too. Joy needs my help. We work together. We are a good team.” He followed Joy.
Hyacinth wiped a little apple filling from her lips, popped it back into her mouth, and closed her eyes in enjoyment. “No wonder everyone raves about this place. Do you think Tommy and Joy know they’re using magic to bake these?”
“No,” Reggie said. “It’s just automatic with them. I watch them carefully so they don’t drain themselves.”
“You’ve done a fine thing here, Reggie,” Lily said and took a seat at the table.
“I haven’t done much really. Tommy and Joy have a real gift for baking. I’m just helping them make a success of it.”
“It will be hard to give it up, won’t it?” Rose said.
“Give it up?” Reggie drew her brows together. “I’m not giving it up.”
“You need to hire someone to help with Tommy and Joy,” Lily said.
“Well, yes. The bakery is doing really well, and I was considering expanding, but I can’t hire just anyone.” They had made a success of the bakery, and the logical step was growing the business, but how had the godmothers known that?
“Of course not,” Hyacinth said. “You need someone you can tell everything to.”
“Everything? That Tommy and Joy are Arcani and use magic to bake? That some of our customers are Arcani as well?” Reggie shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Lily waved her wand and a slim box appeared on the table. “You need to hire someone because you have a new job.” Lily opened the box.
Two wands, one of yellow wood and one of black, lay in the case. Gold encased the handle of the yellow wood. Cabochon rubies, emeralds, and sapphires dotted the filigree work. Silver entwined the ebony wand. Stark geometric designs complemented the glittering, round diamonds in the handle.
Reggie stared at the two wands. “I can’t use a wand. I don’t have magic.”
Lily smiled patiently. “Who opened the door this morning?”
“I assumed you did. I didn’t have the chance to turn the key.”
“That’s because you had already unlocked it,” Lily said.
“No, I didn’t. I hadn’t even pulled the key out yet. Or I forgot to lock it again. I’ve been forgetting all week.”
“No, Reggie, you haven’t forgotten. You unlocked it with magic.” Aunt Rose’s eyes glittered in excitement.
“I couldn’t have.” Reggie gazed at them in confusion.
“Fairy godmothers don’t receive their powers until they turn twenty-seven. Merlin wanted us to understand how Groundlings live,” Rose said.
Reggie’s heart started to pound and a flow of excitement washed through her. Was it possible? Could she have magic? After all this time?
In a gentle tone, Lily said, “Three times three times three. It’s a magical number, dear.”
“Your birthday was last week,” Hyacinth added. She sipped her coffee.
“And you turned twenty-seven. Come on, girl. Put it together.” Hyacinth eyed her.
Lily sent Hyacinth a chiding look.
“What? It’s still early,” Hyacinth muttered.
“Are you saying I’m getting magic?” Reggie whispered.
“No, we’re saying you have magic,” Lily said.
Reggie’s heartbeat kicked a notch higher. “It’s not possible.”
“Of course it’s possible.” Rose giggled. “You’re the next fairy godmother.”
As her knees grew weak, Reggie plopped into a chair. “You’re joking, right?”
“No, dear. You’re one of the new three,” Rose said.
“For this region,” Hyacinth said.
They sounded serious.
“So you must choose.” Lily pushed the case with the two wands toward her.
The aunts couldn’t be serious. Was this their birthday present? Couldn’t they have just given her a rabbit or something? She stared at the three godmothers. Anticipation and eagerness glowed on each face.
She glanced at the case. The two wands lay as if waiting for her. She reached out and paused. Her hand hovered above the box. A definite warmth emanated from one of the slender rods. Hesitant, almost shyly, she picked up the golden wand. Her fingers closed around the handle, and she could imagine it snuggling into her palm. It rested within her grip securely and comfortably.
“I knew it,” Rose said. “I just knew you would pick that one.”
Then Reggie noticed the empty spot in the case meant for a third wand. “Where is the third one?”
“With its owner,” Lily said. A hint of misgiving appeared in her expression.
The rogue godmother. Reggie remembered the headline from this morning.
Even Rose lost her smile. “We can’t tell you everything right now. We just don’t have the time.”
A sense of unease skittered through Reggie. Something was wrong. They were hiding something.
“Speaking of time, we should get going,” Hyacinth said. She stood. “We’ve been here too long. They’re bound to have heard by now.”
“Who’s bound to have heard? And heard what?” Reggie asked, still gripping the wand.
“The Council. Your name should have appeared on the wall right after you picked your wand,” Lily said. “They’ll be sending your arbiter shortly.”
Hyacinth frowned. “And probably a contingent of Guards to see if they can catch us.”
As if proving Hyacinth’s words true, the bell on the door jangled as the door swung open. All four women gasped and whirled to face the intruder.
A man stopped in the doorway, and Reggie breathed a sigh of relief. “Good morning, Nate. You’re not the first one here today.”
Nate still hadn’t stepped in. He filled the doorway and had to stoop slightly. Despite the promise of a warm summer’s day, he wore his customary attire. Today a long black leather duster, clearly expensive, reached his calves. Black leather gloves encased his hands. A gray knit hat covered his head and forehead down to his brows. A white muffler, silk if she guessed right, wrapped the lower half of his face so that only his eyes were visible. And what eyes. Ice blue and intense, those eyes were more expressive than many people’s entire faces.
Despite six months of daily visits, Reggie didn’t know much about Nate. They had only exchanged a few words in these past months. He was a fiercely private person, and she respected that desire. Through observation, she had learned he was uncomfortable around people, so she opened the bakery early for him. She glanced at her watch. Six thirty, his usual time. He generally ordered coffee and an egg croissant. Sometimes he took a few of Tommy and Joy’s special creations home with him, but he never stayed longer than half an hour and was always gone before the breakfast rush started. She knew that he was Arcani because he read the Quid Novi.
Nate’s gaze darted from one woman to another. “You’re the fairy godmothers.” His voice was gravelly and rough, as if he wasn’t used to talking.
“Guilty,” Rose said. Her smile had returned.
Nate glanced at Reggie and noticed the wand in her hand. “I thought you couldn’t do magic.”
“Surprise,” she said. “Looks like I’m a fairy godmother. I guess.”
“No guessing needed. You are, dear.” Lily stood. “We have to go.”
Hyacinth downed her coffee and grabbed another turnover. When Lily gave her yet another chiding look, she shrugged. “Hey, if you’re going to wake me, I need sustenance.”
Rose crossed to Reggie and kissed her cheek. “Take care, dear.”
“We know you have questions, but we can’t stay,” Hyacinth added, standing beside Rose. “Leave us a message.”
“You won’t be able to call us directly. We don’t carry our cell phones around anymore. Did you know they can track you with one of those?” Rose clicked her tongue.
“We’ll be able to tell you more the next time we see you,” Lily said, giving her a hug. “I promise. Try not to worry.”
About what? Reggie wondered.
“Good-bye, dear.” Lily joined her companions. “Are we ready, ladies?”
The three women shimmered briefly, and then they vanished.
Reggie stared at the spot for a moment.
“So you’re the new fairy godmother, huh?” Nate said.
She shook herself and examined the wand she still clutched in her hand. “That’s what they said.”
Nate moved to his regular table. “Have you tried any magic yet?”
“No. I’ve only had this thing for three minutes.” She tucked the wand into the pocket of her apron. “Coffee?”
His eyes crinkled. “Yes, but it can wait until you test your skills.”
Reggie opened her mouth to protest, then changed her mind. She retrieved the wand and felt the warmth in her palm again. She looked at the now empty plate on the table the godmothers had occupied. She focused. “Veni;.”
The advantage was that she had been raised in an Arcani household. She knew the words and what to expect. The reality was that she had never done magic before. Except for unlocking the door apparently, but she hadn’t been aware of that. Her nose wrinkled, and she gritted her teeth as she concentrated.
The plate rattled on the tabletop. She held her breath. The plate levitated a fraction of an inch above the wood, hovered, then edged off the table. It floated toward her.
She expelled her breath, and with the rush of air, the plate wobbled and crashed to the floor.
Tommy burst from the back room. “I heard something break. Oh, hi, Mr. Nate. Did you break something?”
“No, Tommy. I dropped a plate.” Reggie quickly stowed her wand in the pocket again, and then grabbed a dustpan and brush from a closet in the corner.
“Well, don’t worry. I drop things all the time.”
“Thanks, Tommy.” Reggie swept up the shards from the ground.
“I’ve got to go back to the kitchen now.”
“Everything good back there?” Reggie asked.
“Under control, boss.” Tommy made the okay sign with his thumb and forefinger and left.
Reggie dropped the broken plate pieces in a wastebasket and returned the brush, dustpan, and the abandoned cleaning rag to the closet. She washed her hands at the sink behind the counter, then grabbed a mug and poured a coffee for her customer.
“A little bit underwhelming, wouldn’t you say?” she said as she placed the coffee in front of Nate.
“Nah, not for a first try.” Nate hesitated. “You don’t seem excited.”
She looked at him. “I suppose the idea will really hit me later, and then I can freak out.”
He shook his head. “You did read the paper this morning.”
“No, just the headline.” She glanced at the stack of Quid Novi. That headline blared at her again. Oh. She was the second of the new fairy godmothers, wasn’t she? The first one was making headlines. “Right. The other one is missing.”
“It’s more than that.” Nate pointed at the papers. “The Council wants to question the fairy godmothers. The ones who just left.”
“Apparently they’ve been avoiding the Council’s questions.” His gravelly voice held no comfort. “They’ll probably want to talk to you too.”
“Well, I can’t tell them much.” Her family wouldn’t like it if she upset the Council. Maybe she didn’t have to tell her family right away.
Crap. The party. She had forgotten about it. If the Council made her late for the party, her mother would never forgive her. Reggie shut her eyes. Today was not the best day for becoming a new godmother.
“Are you okay?” Nate’s voice broke through her thoughts.
“I may not be later.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m fine. Can I get you an egg croissant today?”
He nodded, then grabbed a Quid Novi and buried himself behind the paper.
Retreating behind the counter, she selected a fresh croissant and carried it into the kitchen. Tommy stood by the stove where he was already scrambling two eggs. A wave of guilt struck her. How could she leave Tommy and Joy to become a fairy godmother? They needed her. She knew how capable they were. They had been her classmates. They were her friends.
Her mother had insisted she attend an Arcani school. No Groundling school was good enough for her daughter, and despite the advice from the teachers and counselors, despite her lack of magic, despite her own pleading, Reggie remained at an Arcani school. In special education. The teachers taught her everything they could, but she couldn’t participate in most of the regular classes without magic. Only when she was old enough did she drop out and enroll in a local community college and get her first real education. Her parents had not been happy. They had been even less happy when she started the bakery.
Reggie sliced the fresh croissant in half, and Tommy laid a neat crescent of scrambled eggs with melted cheese on the bread. Reggie placed the sandwich on a plate. Tommy had already moved to help Joy dust her latest pastries with powdered sugar. They were a team here.
“Those look beautiful, Joy.” Reggie placed her arm around Joy. Joy giggled and continued to work. Reggie took Nate’s breakfast out to him.
“Do you want anything with that?” She asked the question every morning and then waited for the same answer.
“No, this is good.” Nate pulled the croissant behind the paper and disappeared from view again.
So she was a fairy godmother, huh? Too bad she had other duties this morning. Reggie glanced around the bakery. The display cases were filled and ready for the day, several pots of freshly brewed coffee awaited the first customers, and the eating area was tidy. She glanced at her watch again. Nearly seven. Time to open.
Before she could flip the sign, the door opened again. Reggie had to consciously tell herself not to let her jaw drop. Sophronia Petros swept into the bakery trailed by a muscular man who looked like he belonged on a battlefield, not in a bakery. Sophronia wore a flowing cream dress with a large pashmina thrown with artistic casualness around her shoulders. Every hair on her expensive blond head fell neatly into place in an elegant coiffure. What was her mother’s greatest rival doing here?
Sophronia took in the atmosphere of the room and wrinkled her nose delicately as if she didn’t like the smell. Reggie’s dander rose.
“How_… quaint.” Sophronia said the word as if it were an insult.
Reggie pasted a fake smile on her face. “Good morning, Mrs. Petros. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, you must call me Sophie. We’re going to spend so much time together.” Sophronia rearranged her shawl. “I’m your arbiter.”
Copyright © 2011 by Gabriella Anderson