“And I told you not to do anything elaborate,” says Olivia the minute she walks into the house, and smells the fifty-one roses in all shades from vermilion to coral to cream that are artfully arranged in the living room amidst the fifty-one white candles.
“You’re a dear, you know that?” She grabs me in a fierce hug, and for a single moment, I wonder if there’s ANY possibility she might be less than happy about what I have planned, and then I dismiss the thought.
I know how she’s been struggling. A reprise of the dinner scene from Don Juan de Marco with Olivia as his leading lady, and Johnny Depp will be free to go on his way. It doesn’t seem to be asking too much to ask an actor to act, right? And in the glimpse of him I’d had as Don Juan, he’d struck me as a reasonable sort with a fine sense of the absurd. A kindred spirit, even.
I’m sure there are a lot of actors who might be completely blown away by suddenly finding himself in the middle of a stranger’s living room. But Johnny appears to have depth. I know he can handle it, which only, in my opinion, increases our chances of success.
Then the doorbell rings and Olivia gives me a little squeeze before she gently pushes me in the direction of the door. “Are you all right?”
I feel the blood rise to my face. “Hot flashes,” I say, escaping.
The rest of the coven is right on time. They know I’ve got something special planned, and since most of them have found an excuse to either phone or stop by Clarice’s shop, all of them have heard about my purchases.
Even Leslie, a lawyer who gave up her career as a prosecutor to represent abused children, arrives on time, tearing off her threadbare power suit as she heads into the bathroom to change. She’s the only one who ALWAYS wears comfy sweats. The rest of us tend to dress according to whatever mood and weather seem to dictate, and tonight, all of us are in black, with touches of scarlet and gold, fuschia and orange, as if by prearrangement.
Marnie and her sister Karen come together; Jasmina, our wise-woman herbalist, who teaches belly-dancing at the JCC and Clarice nearly trip over each other when the porch light inexplicably bursts over Karen’s head just as she crosses the threshold. “The energy’s jumping right out the door,” says Jasmina. “What exactly do you have planned?”
“Just a little birthday present,” I say, as I retrieve a new bulb. I swirl it in salt and rub a little honeysuckle oil on it, whispering my intention that only beings of love and light should pass beneath its gleam. A sudden gust of wind sets russet leaves swirling at my ankles and the candles in the jack-o-lantern flare and spit. Jasmina’s right, I think. The energy is jumping.
Leslie comes back from the bathroom in black sweats and pale pink socks. “Are we doing gifts before or after?”
“After, right?” says Marnie. “With the cake.” I used to think that Marnie was just a control freak, and then I realized that structure gives her security and she just feels better when she knows what’s coming next.
“Well,” I hesitate. I know I have to tell them sooner or later and it seems better to explain things before we begin, rather than during. Incredulity can stop a ritual cold. “I think we better do gifts first.”
“Then I’ll be right back,” says Leslie. She dashes off into the night in her stocking feet and I know she’s probably forgotten shoes and can’t stand the thought of shoving her swollen feet into her work pumps. I remember there’re sneakers in the closet she can wear home but Marnie is demanding to know why custom should be breached, and Olivia is looking at me even more closely than before.
“Come on in, everyone.” I lead the way into the living room, where I’ve arranged lavender and pale pink satin and velvet pillows inside a carefully chalked pentacle. Between the candles and the flowers and the fire in the fireplace, the whole scene elicits oohs and aahs. “I’d just prefer to do gifts first, if you don’t mind. The ceremony itself - that’s my gift. I wrote it just for you, Olivia. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish with it.”