When Tis Done – Part 88

When Tis Done cover smallBrian and Jordan have their Binding ceremony. Claude also says he will do the ceremony for anyone who wants to participate. Part of the ceremony is a kiss. A little shyly, Brian kisses Jordan.

Their kiss lasted longer than either of them had intended. The clapping and cheering of their friends finally penetrated their cloud and they stepped apart, smiling. Their parents hugged them and they were pounded on the back by so many hands, they felt slightly bruised.

The other couples all wanted the Binding ceremony, so Jackie and Claude split the group and each took half. Jackie stayed at the altar and Claude led his couples to the meditation circle on the other side of the property. Brian and Jordan wandered to the treehouse and climbed up.

“I feel like I actually said wedding vows,” Jordan said.

“Yeah, me too. I know this all came at us kind of fast, but if I’d known about this ceremony, I would have done it ages ago. I love you with all my heart. So much, sometimes, it aches.”

“Right down to your balls?” she teased.

“I’m being serious here.”

“I know. Believe me, I feel the same way. Even more than my parents, you’re the center of my world.”

They leaned toward each other to kiss, but someone called from below.

“Dude, we’re about to do our thing. I want you by my side, brother.” It was Chase.

“On our way down,” Jordan called.

They hurried down the tree and were greeted by Marissa and Chase. The four of them walked over to Jackie’s group and waited until it was their turn. Jordan stood up with Marissa and Brian stood behind Chase. Nervously, the young couple stood together and recited the vows Jackie read to them. Holding hands, they exchanged their senior class rings. Marissa had to put Chase’s on her thumb and he put hers on his pinky, but all that mattered was the exchange. When it came time for them to kiss, she didn’t hesitate. Stepping close, she took his face in her hands and kissed him.

The women sighed, the men cheered loudly and they all clapped excitedly as the troubled pair sealed their Binding. Afterward, Chase held her waist and Marissa cupped his cheeks as they gazed into one another’s eyes. The other couples disperesed quietly.

“I wish we’d done this a year ago,” Chase whispered. “I knew I loved you then. I’ve loved you my whole life, it feels like. You’re a part of me like no other. I’m sorry I’ve been such a complete tool about all this.”

Marissa put her finger on his lips, following it with a kiss. “I love you, too. And I’m sorry I’ve been so difficult. Let’s put all that aside now.”

They kissed again and hugged, content with one another for the first time in years. Brian and Jordan watched from a short distance, spying unrepentently on their friends. They were so happy to see them together, they didn’t care if it was rude or not.

“Y’all want a picture?” Chase asked, barely turning his head.

“Yes, I do,” Jordan said. “Of all four of us. This is a big occasion!” She lined them up and had Brian take pictures with each of their phones.

“Why do I always get that duty?” he teasingly complained.

“You’re the tallest and have arms like a selfie stick,” Chase said with a sneer.

“Oh, well….” Brian chuckled, rubbing his nails on his shirt. “If that’s the case, I’ll just grow a few more inches. I always wanted to be six foot eight.”

“You won’t!” Jordan squeaked, smacking him. “I won’t have you be a foot and four inches taller than me!”

“True. Six foot ten,” Brian said. “Then it’s a foot and a half.”

“You’re impossible,” Jordan said. “Such a putz.”

“But I’m your putz,” he said, nibbling her earlobe. “So be nice to me.”

Chase put his arm around Marissa, pulling her close. He chanced a kiss on her throat and she didn’t stiffen up and pull away. Instead, she tilted her head so he could do it again.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “It’s the little things….” He didn’t finish the remark, merely kissed her again.

Brian and Jordan kept walking, but Chase and Marissa stopped.

“You never made a committment before,” she murmured. “You said you loved me, but everything you did made it a lie. I still can’t give you—everything, Chase. I’m not wired like that. But now I know that it’s true. Thank you.” She sniffled, tears brimming in her eyes.

Chase wiped them gently away, kissing the tip of her nose. “I’ve been a selfish fool and I’m sorry. I’ll wait as long as you want. Even if it means I give myself carpel tunnel.”

Marissa burst out laughing, shoving against his chest. “You’re such a goof!”

“But I’m your goof—body and soul.”

Behind them, to the left, from the edge of the woods, Chase sensed movement. Before he could call out or react, something flew at them. He was able to register a small projectile, but not what it was or from where. Turning so his back was to it, he pushed Marissa to the ground. Too late, he realized whatever it was had struck him. The last thing he heard was Marissa screaming his name.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 87

When Tis Done cover smallAs they get things ready for the Circles to gather, Jackie set out a new crystal skull, which Jordan is immediately attracted to. Brian’s skull, Lester, is highly attracted too. A bolt of energy enters her skull, from Brian’s, giving them both quite a jolt.

They practiced on grapes, since these were small and plentiful. They also had a skin not dissimilar to human flesh in density and thickness. Their juicy interior was a good substitute for muscle. It took a few tries, but soon they grew more confident. With only a few mistakes, they all felt fairly confident that they could do the branding on everyone, including Elise and other small children. Overall, the women had a more delicate touch, but Derrick, Caleb and Neil had more control than anyone else. Brian was accurate, but his spell was a little too penetrating. He went completely through a few grapes and decided that he would bow out rather than risk it.

“Nothing to be ashamed of,” Neil said quietly as they picked up. “So, you aren’t perfect at everything.” He shrugged.

Brian laughed. “I guess I always expect to be, for some reason.”

“Boy, if you can put that same zowie into an offensive spell, remind me not to piss you off.”

Ducking his head, Brian blushed. “I’ve been practicing on rocks and dirt clods. Never anything living. I can vaporize a rock the size of that grape, or seriously damage one the size of your head.”

Neil shuddered, clapping Brian on the shoulder. “Holy hell, son. I’m glad you’re on my side.”

Brian chuckled. “Ditto.”

After an early lunch at Marissa’s home, they all made their way to Neil and Cynthia’s house. Miles met them there with Elise and the wooden box—one under each arm.

“I don’t know why my daughter likes hanging like a bag of potatoes,” Maribelle fussed, taking her baby from her husband.

“Can’t imagine,” Miles said, winking at Heath. Both men carried her that way.

When she wasn’t looking, they tapped knuckles.

They gathered around the fire pit in the back yard, with Jordan, Brian and their parents around the altar. Since Jackie wasn’t in a position to officiate, Claude Beauchamps took the place as spiritual guide.

“This is something we’ve never done in our group before,” he said, smiling. “And I’m honored to be the one to conduct this ceremony, because I think it’s pretty cool. I think we need to restart this tradition. Dear friends, we are gathered here, not for a wedding, but for a spiritual melding. The old texts call it Binding, but that’s a misnomer. What Brian and Jordan share today isn’t restraint, but combining of energy that will make them stronger and show their love to anyone who knows how to look. In fact, if any other couples here tonight want to do this, I will happily officiate over all of the Bindings. We don’t have rings for everyone, but there’s plenty of pine straw, the Binding rings can be made by braiding them together.”

The other couples exchanged a look and all of the men picked up a piece of pine straw.

“I knew there was a reason for that,” Cynthia whispered, pulling the straw ring from her pocket with a smile.

“Jordan and Brian, you’ve been called by The Powers That Be, to be husband and wife, mated for life. Do you accept this?”

“We do,” they chorused.

“Take hands.” He raised the rings, saying a quick prayer over them. “Brian, take Jordan’s ring and place it on her finger.”

He did so.

“Repeat these words. With this ring of promise, I declare that you are my one and only love. We will walk together, love each other and vanquish foes which come against us.”

Brian repeated them, as did Jordan.

Claude said further blessings over the necklace. He had Brian take it and put it over Jordan’s head.

“This necklace will keep you safe,” Brian told her. “It will protect you, even if I’m not around, and will work with mine to keep all of our Circle from harm. Do you accept this gift?”

“I do.” She giggled a little, blushing.

“Take hands and declare your intentions before the group,” Claude instructed.

“We promise to work together to strengthen our Circle, as well as the Outer and Center Circles. We declare our love for one another and our intention to marry. Let our rings show our devotion to one another, and to you all.”

Everyone clapped and cheered.

“You can kiss her now,” Claude murmured.

Brian blushed. Although he’d kissed Jordan in front of the others before, never with so much attention.

“You have to, Brian. It’s in the instructions,” Jackie murmured.

“Well, we have to, Babe,” he said, pulling Jordan close. He lowered his head, gazing into her eyes, until she closed them and their lips met.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 86

When Tis Done cover smallWeather the following day, isn’t normal. Worried about it, Heath decides that the fire wielders will have to take a very short time to practice. Brian and Jordan need their binding ceremony, and everything has to be rushed.

“Thanks. I need to make calls,” Heath said.

“I’ll do it. You help get things ready,” Miles countered.

“Thanks. See you later on.”

They hung up. Heath went to see what needed to be done to get ready for the group. Jackie had most of it set up the night before, but she was getting out crystals to help focus the power. Each member of the group had a stone that helped focus fire. Brian was bringing Lester. With Heath’s help, Jackie lined up several other skulls which had been helpful in the past. Most were clear quartz, but there was also one which was obsidian and another one of rutilated quartz. The clear stone was stirated with another mineral, that had a coppery look to it. It formed sort of a sunbeam pattern from the base of the skull, throughout the piece.

“I haven’t seen this one before,” Heath said, pointing to the rutilated quartz skull. He knew better than to touch it without being told.

“She’s new. I think she and Lester will do good things together.”

Jordan walked in with Brian and Maribelle in tow. “Oh, Mom, this is gorgeous!” She picked up the rutilated skull without hesitaition.

Heath’s head snapped around and he watched his wife. She didn’t reprimand their impulsive daughter, merely gave a secretive smile. He realized she’d gotten it for Jordan, no wonder she thought it would do good things with Lester.

“Isabelle,” Jordan pronounced as she held the skull, gazing into the eyes. “She’s beautiful!”

Brian came over to look and jumped, stifling a yelp of surprise. “He never did that before,” he said, digging into his bag for Lester. “He jumped and gave me a shock when I got close to you.”

“Oh, my God, what’s she doing?” Jordan’s eyes widened as the skull in her hands vibrated and shivered. “Mom?”

“Move Lester closer,” her mother suggested in a calm voice. “Slowly. Hold on and watch.”

Brian cupped the purple skull in his big hands, bringing it closer to Jordan’s. She held Isabelle in her right palm, propping the back with the fingertips of her left hand.

“Mother, this is freaky—Look!” she gasped.

Tendrils of energy leaped from Lester, caressing the surface of Isabelle before diving into her thourgh the top. They could see them scurry to the bottom, puddling near Jordan’s palm. Jordan trembled, moaning softly. She inhaled slowly, exhaling through pursed lips.

“Holy shit!” she squeaked, nearly dropping the skull.

Brian looked equally shaken. Setting Isabelle down, Jordan scurried from the room without excusing herself. Brian did the same, following her to the back porch. She stood in the doorway, gulping air.

“You okay?”

“You suppose that’s what an orgasm feels like? Cause—holy shit!”

Brian chuckled softly. “I can’t speak for the full monty, but when I—relax—it feels pretty similar. I imagine the real deal is a lot better.”

“I think our crystal skulls just had sex. Before you know it, there will be a bunch of pebbles rolling around.” She giggled nervously. “Do you think Mom knew that would happen?”

“No clue, but I think she was just as surprised as we were.”

“You felt that, right?”

Oh, yeah,” he growled softly, putting his arms around her, nibbling her throat. “Sucks that Lester’s getting action and I’m not.”

Jordan giggled, holding his hands. Tilting her head to the side, she allowed him greater access to her throat. “Not much longer,” she whispered. “I’d like us not to be jailbait.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” he murmured.

“Brian, based on how we are around one another, I think the entire state would know. Without us saying a word.”

He chuckled, his mouth against her skin. A warm tingle traveled down her spine. Jordan shivered with delight.

“They’re waiting for us,” she sighed, her voice catching in a little moan.

“They can wait a minute more. I want a kiss after that.”

Tilting her head, Jordan offered her lips. Brian captured her mouth with his, kissing her softly, but emphatically.

“I love you, Jordan. I hope one day to be able to show you just how much.”

Hand in hand, they walked back to the crystal room. Everyone had taken seats, leaving two places side by side for Jordan and Brian. The skulls were waiting for them, seeming to pulsate in harmony.

“Are we all comfortable with the incantation?” Maribelle asked.

Everyone agreed that they were.

“Good. I wish we had more time to prepare, but there’s a matter of some urgency. Let’s begin.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 85

When Tis Done cover smallAfter dinner, the Mississippi & Louisiana teens meet at Jordan’s for awhile. They talk about the Texas contingent, and review plans for the following day.

Jordan rabbit punched his ribs. “Don’t make me hurt you, Osric.”

He clutched his chest. “Ow, you slay me just by using that name.”

She repeated it several times and he yowled like a stepped on cat.

“Everything okay?” Jackie called.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sweet replied. “But they’re beating up on me, Miss Jackie.”

“Girls, stop that!”

“How do you know it wasn’t the boys?” Jordan called.

“Because he’d be unconscious.”

“Valid point.”

Brian and Jordan kissed goodnight quickly, not wanting to hold up Sweet and Ginny.

“See you tomorrow. You be safe.”

“You, too. I love you kind of a lot.”

“I love you kind of a lot, too.” He gave her another quick kiss and got in the car.

Jordan stood in the driveway with Andre and Louisa until they were out of sight. Louisa went downstairs, but Andre walked the house with Jordan, checking the doors and windows. He muttered wards as they made the rounds.

“Don’t you trust my dad’s wards?” Jordan chided.

“I do, very much. But my unborn baby is here. I’m giving it every extra bit I can.”

“Will that be a problem? If Louisa is pregnant, she shouldn’t be in a fight.”

“I thought about that. If she’s close by, in a protected location, she can still help by chanelling her energy.”

“How close?”

“We’ve been practicing. Even if she’s a mile away, we can work effectively.”

“I didn’t even know that was possible!”

“No one told us it wasn’t.” He smirked. “According to my mom, provisions are made by the Powers That Be, for pregnant women. So they won’t put the baby at risk, their powers are boosted. They stay that way until the child is two years old.”

“That’s so cool! I had no idea.”

“Neither did we. But then again, none of us were pregnant before. No need to tell us everything.”

“True. Thanks for making the rounds with me.”

“Not a problem, Short Stack.” He kissed the top of her head and earned himself a jab in the ribs.

Jordan got ready for bed, wondering what the following day would hold. She and Brian would be learning the fire spell with the others. Though she could wield all four elements, as could Brian, they both had a penchant for fire. Her other strong suit was air and his best was, of course, earth. Grateful she got to sleep in a little, she turned out her lamp and fell almost immediately asleep.

The morning came with a grumble and rumble of thunder. Jordan woke, feeling fingers of energy up and down her spine. Worried, she examined the sky, probing the clouds. There was something not quite right about this storm. Though it seemed natural on the surface, below was a churning fury born of malicious magic. When she got to the kitchen for breakfast, everyone seemed on edge, especially Andre. She hadn’t forgotten that he not only read auras, he sensed emotions. Those of everyone around him, were nearly as tumultuous as the weather.

“I don’t like this,” Heath said, examining the sky for the third time since joining them.

“Dad, stop it. You’re freaking me out. We all know this isn’t right.”

“We need to do that ritual today, before nightfall. We can give our fire wielders an hour or two, tops. And we didn’t do the binding with you and Brian. Why?”

“I guess we forgot,” Jordan said. “We should do that before we do the branding.”

“Why?” Andre asked.

Jordan shrugged. “I just know we should.”

“I bow to your expertise,” Andre said, bowing slightly.

Jordan swatted at him, but he ducked away, chuckling.

“We need to get the fire wielders together immediately,” Heath said, whipping out his phone. He called Miles.

Since Heath was by far more attuned to weather than any of the Center Circle, Miles listened.

“Can we gather at your place?”

“Yes. Jackie already gave the go order. She’ll have the crystal room set up with everything we’ll need.”

“Excellent. Brian and Maribelle will be over soon. They’re on their way out the door.”

“Thanks. I need to make calls.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 84

When Tis Done cover smallChase sees the other men around Marissa, and finally decides that he can’t live without her. He declares his love, giving her a big kiss. Brian is very happy that they worked out their issues. Neil greets everyone, and they hand out the necklaces. Marissa explains about the branding.

“Like an invisible tattoo,” Jordan added, seeing that they were somewhat confused by Marissa’s announcement.

“Yes, exactly. It doesn’t use any needles or anything, it’s put there by magic. We need all the fire wielders to do it and we will need at least a day to prepare, but we want to put this on all of us. In fact, once y’all have learned it, you can do it at home for the folks who aren’t here.”

“This sounds fascinating,” Caleb said. “I wield fire. How can I help?”

Of the Texas Inner Circle, two were fire wielders. Many of the Mississippi and Louisiana Circles handled fire. Of these, most were also Casters or Charmers. Although Marissa wasn’t a fire wielder, because it was her idea, she spoke to them about what needed to be done. While they were busy, the others cleaned up. Once that was accomplished, Claude Beauchamps took the doctors and nurses inside to talk about the infertility problems.

Left to their own devices, the others showed one another spells and skills they had learned. The Texas boys showed off for the Mississippi and Louisiana girls. Already paired off, and seeming to be happy about their choices, they were bonding. Parents watched anxiously, relaxing as the young people laughed and got to know one another.

“This could work,” John murmured to Neil. “I wish we’d thought of it before.”

“Our girls wouldn’t have been ready before. It came at the perfect time for Chase and Marissa, I must say. I didn’t think thay boy was going to get his shit together.”

“When will we make this formal?” Roy asked, sidling up to them. His wife was in the fire group.

“We’ll ask the parents,” Neil decided. “I don’t want to push this on anyone. When they feel their kids are ready, we’ll formalize it.”

“I really think we should do it this weekend,” John said.

Neil and Roy frowned.

“Why’s that?” Neil asked.

“Because I think whatever is coming will be coming soon. I think we need to fill the Circle and make it whole, or we might not survive. Caleb agrees with me. So does his grandfather, who is Voice for the Outer Circle.”

“I still say we need to consult the parents, but if you feel that strongly, John, we’ll pass that along.”

The brothers nodded.

Soon after, the fire wielders were finished. Neil and Roy took the parents aside and spoke to them. John joined them, voicing his urgency, and the parents all felt the agreement needed to be finalized as soon as possible. They decided on the following night for that, as well as the branding. When that had been decided, everyone went home.

Brian rode to Jordan’s house with her and her parents. The Inner Circle met there in Jordan’s finished basement, to talk about the Texas youth.

“Seem like nice guys,” Sweet said. “Polite, friendly.”

“Could all be an act to make us think so,” Louisa said.

“No, I think they’re genuinely nice,” Marissa countered. “At least Caleb and Derrick. I spoke to them in the fire group. I feel an urgency with this spell. I’m glad we’re doing it tomorrow.”

“You could do ours tonight,” Sweet suggested.

“No,” Andre cautioned. “It’s a complicated procedure. If it’s done wrong, it can damage, not protect. We’ll be practicing tomorrow.”

“On people?” Chase put his hand over his heart.

“No, silly. On vegetables and fruit. We won’t put our hands on anyone until we’re sure of what we’re doing. If anyone doesn’t feel they are up to snuff, they won’t do the spell.”

“Just so we’re clear. I don’t want you buring a hole in me by mistake,” Chase teased.

“I’ll protect you, honey,” Marissa said, touching his cheek.

“Thank you. I might get myself in trouble just so you can.” He gave her a soft kiss.

Louisa yawned, setting them all yawning in responce. “Where are we staying? I’m exhausted all the time, these days.”

“You’re here, where you were last time,” Jordan said. “Sweet and Ginny, you’re at Brian’s. I don’t know where your folks are staying. I was only given your room assignments.”

“Well, I’m for my bed,” Louisa said. “Night, y’all. See you in the morning.”

“What’s the plan for breakfast?” Brian asked.

“Everyone at their host’s house,” Marissa said. “Lunch will be at our house with practice after at Cynthia and Neil’s.”

“Got it. Goodnight, all,” Brian said, waving.

“I’ll walk you up,” Jordan offered. “Do you want a ride?”

“We’ll take him,” Sweet said.

“Thanks. I hate coming back in the dark alone.”

“I would never make a lady do that,” Sweet replied, giving her a hug. “Sleep well, Small Fry.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 83

When Tis Done cover smallThe Texas group arrives and the boys meet the girls. Caleb Verano, the Voice of the Texas Inner Circle, is very interested in Sweet’s sister. Playing the big brother role expected of him, Sweet introduces himself to Caleb, giving him a none-to-subtle threat.

Sweet nodded. “Seems he didn’t take the idea of having his balls frozen too kindly, but he assured me he’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

“You believe him?”

“Fuck, no. But he believed me, which is all that’s important.” He clapped Chase on the shoulder and guided him over to the food. “Lighten up, dude. Enjoy the party. No one is going to steal your woman away.”

“You don’t know that.”

Sweet spent several seconds scanning the group, looking at auras and body language. “Yeah, I do. I also know that you need to go over there right now, give that girl a kiss and tell her you love her.”

He shoved Chase toward Marissa, who was looking somewhat lost and afraid. Chase stumbled, but took Sweet’s advice. Lifting Marissa’s hand to his lips, he kissed it, then kissed her lips.

“I love you, Marissa. I don’t want anyone but you. I know I’m a total jerk and a complete tool, but the idea of seeing you with another man—makes me sick. You’re mine, heart and soul and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you with me.”

Stunned, Marissa’s mouth fell open. Bursting into tears, she flung her arms around Chase’s neck, planting a kiss on his surprised mouth. His hands clasped her waist, easing around her back. The kiss lasted well over a minute. Everyone looked on, somewhat startled. Jordan grabbed Louisa and Ginny’s hands. The three girls bounced happily, watching as their friends mended their relationship. They could tell by the shifts in their auras that they were getting along better than they ever had.

“I’m guessing that Marissa withdraws her eligibility,” Brian whispered to Caleb.

Chuckling, the Voice of the Texas Inner Circle tapped his knuckles.

The kiss ended and everyone cheered. Marissa blushed slightly and Chase’s ears turned red, but they looked happier than Brian had ever seen them. Holding hands, they accepted congratulations from everyone, even the Texas boys.

Jordan, Ginny and Louisa nearly killed Marissa with hugs. The boys almost knocked Chase flat, pounding him on the back. Brian was thrilled. He’d counted on something like that taking place, and was glad he hadn’t been disappointed. He had no idea what he would have done if he’d had to put them both out of the Circle. Relieved, he watched as Jordan congratulated Marissa. Feeling someone at his shoulder, he turned to see David.

“Worked out after all.”

“Yes, thank God. I was worried.”

“Me, too. You think they can pull it together now?”

“Yes, sir. I think so. It took seeing her with the other men, to make him grow up and realize what a good woman he’s got. He showed restraint. If that had been Jordan, I think I’d have flattened someone.”

David chuckled, slapping him on the back. “That’s the Earth wielder in you. I’d just smack him with a dust cloud and suffocate the bastard.”

“That works, too.”

Neil hugged his nephew and Marissa, putting an arm around each of them. “Now that we’ve settled this pairing, I hope we can be equally successful with the others. We have a gift for everyone, a token of our friendship.”

Miles and Heath brought out the trays of necklaces and circulated through the crowd of guests with them.

“These were made by our late member, Cliff Finley, and me. Chase and Marissa also helped with them. There are some special blessings on each of them, something that, we hope, will help fight the Dark. Please take one and wear it in good health.”

They had made enough for the absent members of the group, as well as family members. Once the necklaces had been accepted, Neil continued.

“Marissa had another idea. I’m going to let her tell you about it.” He clapped, indicating that she should step forward and speak.

“Thanks, Neil. My friends and I were talking the other night…. You know that scene in Temple of Doom where the man’s heart gets ripped out?”

Everyone who knew the movie put a protective hands over their hearts.

“We found a reference in the Encyclopedia Magicka which indicates that such a spell actually exisits.”

There were many shocked exclamations. It took a moment for everyone to stop talking.

“I didn’t mean to scare you. What I wanted to tell you is that we have found a way to protect ourselves from it. We’re going to place the charm on the necklaces tonight, but there is another procedure which would place the same charm on us—on our skin.”

“Like an invisible tattoo,” Jordan added, seeing that they were somewhat confused by Marissa’s announcement.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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When Tis Done – Part 82

When Tis Done cover smallWhile gathered in the yard, they are visited by Brian’s great-great grandfather, Theo. Maribelle is able to see him clearly, and can also hear him. He tells her there is a way for the fire wielders to brand the spell into their skin.

“Won’t that hurt?” Marissa asked, holding her hands over her heart.

“Possibly. But don’t you think having your heart ripped out of your chest would hurt a lot more?”

Marissa shrugged, tipping her head. “Put that way….”

“How do we do it?” Jordan asked.

“I’ll tell everyone when our friends arrive. In fact, some of them just pulled up.”

The members of the Circles arrived nearly all at once. They were missing a few of the Outer Circle as they were scattered across the country, but the other two Circles were complete. The teenagers greeted their friends from Louisiana, thrilled to find out that Louisa was, indeed, pregnant. A big fuss was made over that. Their child would be the first of the next generation. Each of the mothers gave them a special blessing before they found places to sit.

The Texas contingent arrived a few minutes later, led by Captain Curtis. His brother, Roy, and his wife, Danielle, greeted Neil and Cynthia first. They were introduced to each couple whose daughters were of age, then met the girls. The rest of the group were more or less ignored, but they understood the importance of this meeting. It was an alliance, of sorts, between the two Circle communities. The other Texas couples met the girls and their families.

When one couple approached Marissa, she smiled politely, her hand creeping over to hold Chase’s.

“We were told that you were up for consideration,” the father said sternly. “Isn’t that the case, John?”

“Oh, well…I am….” Pressing her lips together, Marissa tried not to cry.

“We’ve had some internal issues,” Brian said, drawing himself up to his full, and somewhat imposing, height, surprised to find he was taller than the rest of the men. “Marissa had agreed, but if she and Chase can work through their challenges, then her membership will be off the table.”

The other man nodded, accepting that. He didn’t seem to think it strange that a teenager answered him. In fact, they all seemed to be accepting of Brian and Jordan’s authority over their group. The adults were as deferential to them as they were to their parents.

Sweet’s sister was brought forward and she greeted the Voice of the Texas Inner Circle, Caleb Verano. He was a striking looking young man, just over average height with a swimmer’s broad shouldered, lithe build. His hair was jet black, his eyes a sparkling jasper—sharp contrast to Summer Sweet’s dazzling blonde hair and icy blue eyes.

Verano is Spanish for Summer,” he told her as he kissed her hand. “If we married, it would be endless Summer in our home.”

She giggled, liking the attention from the handsome young man. He was slightly older, nearly eighteen, but she was nearly sixteen herself, so the age difference wasn’t great. She and the other girls were introduced to the remaining boys, but the one most taken with her was Caleb. The other boys weren’t quite sure how to treat Marissa. She still held Chase’s hand, but was introduced as one of the abvailable women. Though they were polite, they weren’t as attentive as they might have been. It didn’t help that Chase stayed by her side, glaring at any man who looked her way.

“Would you lighten up?” Sweet said to Chase, nudging him with his elbow. “Those guys think you wanna kill ’em.”

Chase directed his angry stare at his friend. “Maybe I don’t like how they’re looking at my woman.”

Sweet stepped back a few inches, hands in the air. “Dude, just sayin’. We all know about the problems you two have had. Not trying to give you shit. If you want her, you need to square things. Meanwhile, what do you think of that guy, Caleb?”

Since he was the one man who hadn’t hit on Marissa, Chase liked him. “He seems like a nice guy. I think he and Summer would do well together.”

“Yeah, he seems pretty cool. However, since she’s my sister, I have to go play my part.”

Chase chuckled, knowing that Sweet would be politely intimidating. He’d come a long way in the last couple of years, from an awkward, geeky teen, to a confident, self-possessed man. He and Ginny were due to marry in about a year, but were already living together. They’d had their own relationship issues, but not nearly as extensive as Chase and Marissa.

Sweet sidled up to Caleb, hands in his pockets as he greeted the slightly taller young man. He was smiling, but there was a wariness in his eyes that increased as he spoke to Caleb. Then, something the other man said to him made him laugh. Nodding, he shook Caleb’s hand, hugged his sister and wandered back over to Chase.

“I told him if he didn’t behave himself this weekend, I’d kill him.”

“No, shit, really?”

Sweet nodded. “Seems he didn’t take the idea of having his balls frozen too kindly, but he assured me he’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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