After a short chat with Cynthia, Neil finds out that everyone in his Circle will be coming over to practice for a ritual for him to officially take over from Dora. He accidentally offends his mother, making a joke about snake venom and eye of newt. She reminds him that they aren’t witches.
“This is no joking matter, boy.”
He nodded, taking a step back in case she changed her mind about smacking him. His phone beeped. It was a text from Cynthia.
Tell your mom I’m on my way. She left a message when we were talking.
Will do. Can’t wait to see you.
She sent back a picture of herself, making a kiss face at the phone. Okay, getting in the car. Be there shortly.
Cynthia arrived first, followed by the Barretts and Caseys. Several unfamiliar cars pulled up shortly after and people Neil didn’t remember seeing before, got out. They all had young people with them, in their late teens or early twenties. One younger couple arrived, a strikingly beautiful Latina and an aristocratic Creole man. A man and woman, who could only have been the Creole man’s parents, arrived moments later with another couple, who must be hers.
Neil felt overwhelmed. He wanted to hide from all these new people, but was aware he had to get to know them. Cynthia stood beside him, holding his hand, introducing him to everyone. The last to arrive were Marissa and her parents. Despite the fact her father had come around, for the most part, he still balked somewhat at these gatherings. He was very religious and didn’t like Jackie’s crystal gazing, as he called it. She was the most spiritual person Neil had ever met, so Mr. Pennybaker’s attitude rankled with him a little.
They gathered in the den, some of them sitting on the floor, others finding seats on the padded benches along the wall, under the tall windows. Neil stood behind his father’s chair, trying to hide from all the curious eyes. Cynthia stood next to him, giving him encouragement with her words and actions. It was somewhat distracting having her so close, because he could smell her scent. It excited him at a time when he really needed to think of something other than sex. Having a lot of perceptive people in the room, many of whom would know what he was thinking and feeling, was disconcerting at best.
“Don’t hide back there, son. Come on around where I can see you,” his father scolded.
Neil wandered around to lean against the bookshelves, arms folded over his chest, legs crossed at the ankle. He perched on the three inch ledge between bookcases and cabinets below. His paranoia spiked in large groups. Though he knew none of these people would hurt him, it grew increasingly difficult.
“Can we go outside?” Cynthia asked. “We could sit on the deck.”
“It’s so hard for Daddy,” Myra Braxton began.
“I can manage. Just get my wheels.” David motioned for his wheeled walker.
Neil supported him with the help of Claude Beachamps, a doctor from Louisiana.
“It does me good to sit outside,” David said. “Got more room to breathe.” He leaned over to murmur to Neil, “It was Mama’s idea to be inside, but it’s stuffy in that room with so many.”
“Daddy, my skin liked to crawl off my ass,” Neil confided. “Crowds….”
His father wheezed and chuckled. “Get the door, boy.”
“Yes, sir.” He helped his father through the sliding glass door and onto the deck.
Miles had brought up a padded lounge chair and he helped Neil seat David on it. There were more places to sit along the railings of the deck, as there were benches there. There were also two large picnic tables and heavy wooden lawn furniture.
“Now then,” Myra said when they were all settled. “This is our son, Neil. He’s graciously agreed to join the Center Circle, taking our Dora’s place. Some of you haven’t met Neil. He’s been away for twenty years, mostly overseas in the Marines. Newly retired.”
“Me too,” Emmett Sweet said. “But I imagine I salute you.”
“Master Sergeant,” Neil admitted shyly.
“Just a Sergeant here,” Emmett said, saluting Neil. “I didn’t hang in as long as you.”
He was introduced once more to everyone, knowing he wasn’t going to remember names or jobs. A mild panic set in and he closed off again. He wouldn’t sit, rather he stood at the corner of the house, arms and legs crossed as before. The penetrating amber eyes of Claude Beachamps rested on him, flickering away when Neil glared in his direction.
“This is a lot to fathom,” Jackie said, her calming voice easing some of the tension in Neil’s body. “What we’re asking of you seems like so little, but it’s really an awful lot. Normally, a replacement is given more time to acclimate. Our grandparents’ circle had to replace once when my grandfather died. His younger brother stepped in. Unlike with us, they had time to prepare, since Granddad was dying of cancer. We don’t have that luxury, Neil. I’m so sorry. I look at our Circle, and I see a gaping, black hole in our ranks. Our weakness puts our children and our parents at risk. The Center Circle strengthens the Inner one, drawing energy and support from the Outer.”
“It’s bad enough that I’m a wreck,” David said. “But I can still hold my own in a fight.”
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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