Gates to Asphodel, Chapter 17

Recap: Corey’s parents had an argument about her and were found dead the next morning. Corey then meets Detective Skylar Adams. She is later adopted by Helen and Andy. Two years later, Corey is in school and meets a friend, Terese, and the class bully, Sandra. One day, two students are found dead and Corey meets Detective Adams again. Corey starts 2nd grade, which brings her face to face with a terrifying new teacher. As you can expect, her teacher does not last long. And then neither do her adopted parents, but things look up as Corey may have found a forever family. Corey moves in with Detective Adams and his wife and learns Terese lives across the street. One Friday night, Corey has a typical, happy evening with her mom, but seems out of sorts when Skyler comes home looking haggard. One night, Terese is sleeping over, but it doesn’t stop Skyler from working on the strange murder case. Corey and Terese get an interesting ski lesson and Corey provides some important information regarding the murders. Skyler and Dimitra go on an overnight trip, leaving Corey with a babysitter who does not meet with a happy end. School is back in session after winter break and the class gains two new students, twins Aiden and Cate. During recess, Corey is drawn to the twins and starts to get to know them. Then one snowy evening, Corey’s family has the Asphodels over for dinner.

 

“When’s your birthday?” Aiden asked.

Corey looked up at him sharply. They were walking to the office on an errand from their teacher. The halls were quiet and all they could hear were soft murmurs from behind the doors they passed by.

“Why?” Corey asked.

He shrugged. “Just curious. My sister and I just turned ten three months ago.”

“March seventh,” Corey answered.

Aiden was silent after that. He gave a distracted nod as they walked along and linked his hands behind his back. Like her, he was dressed in the school’s navy blue uniform, but, unlike her and her navy blue sweater, he only wore the thin white button down shirt.

“Aren’t you kind of chilly in that?” Corey asked.

Aiden shrugged. “Maybe a little, but I’m trying to get used to the cold. Who knows how long we’ll be here for?”

“Is your family planning on moving again?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? I hope not, but my parents go wherever they want.”

Corey was silent as they continued on to the office. They walked in and met the secretary. After confirming they were from Mrs. James’ class, the gray-haired woman handed Aiden a stack of papers and Corey a second stack.

“What are all of these?” Corey asked.

The secretary smiled at them. “Picture day is coming up. Order forms are going home today. We just got them in, so all the teachers are sending students to pick them up.” The woman nodded towards the door. “See?”

Corey and Aiden turned and saw two more students walk in, but they were a couple of years older than Corey and Aiden.

“But why are there so many?” Corey asked as she watched the secretary hand off two more stacks of paper. “Our class only has twenty-seven students.”

“There’s also our winter fundraiser. That’s what this young man is holding.” She gave them a smile. “Tell your parents we’re sorry. The scheduling is a little off this year. We’re using a new company for the pictures and they insisted it had to be done this month, so we got stuck having to send out picture order forms and cookie dough order forms.”

“Sounds good,” Aiden said, licking his lips. “I love cookie dough.”

Corey nudged him with her elbow. “I think the dough is supposed to be baked before you eat it. Come on, we should head back to class before Mrs. James starts to wonder what happened to us.”

Corey smiled at the secretary before leading the way out of the office. She heard Aiden say good-bye to the lady and she hoped he was following her back. Mrs. James wouldn’t be too thrilled if they took too long.

“So, these school pictures,” Aiden said, catching up to her.

“What about them?” Corey asked when he didn’t continue.

“I assume they take pictures of us?” He gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry. Cate and I have never done this thing before.”

Corey shrugged. “We’re supposed to dress our best that day and have our pictures taken. Then our parents can buy the pictures in different sizes.”

Aiden looked down at the navy blue uniform pants he was wearing. “Does that mean we don’t have to wear uniforms then? They start to itch after a while.”

Corey laughed and shifted the stack of papers in her arms. “I wish! No, we still have to wear them. But I guess the girls can put their hair up really nice.” She shrugged. “Helen always put my hair up with bows. I’m not sure what Dimitra’s going to do. I think the boys usually put on a tie,” she said with a small smile up at him.

“A tie,” Aiden said musingly.

“You do have one, don’t you?”

“I’ll have to ask my mother.”

They reached their classroom and Aiden opened the door for her, carefully balancing the stack of papers in the crook of one arm. As soon as they entered, Mrs. James asked them to hand out the papers and forms before taking their seats.

 

“Corey, come with us,” Cate said, extending her hand at the end of lunch. The two were sitting with Aiden, Stacy, and Terese, their desks pushed together. Cate was standing beside Corey’s desk and was staring down with her piercing eyes. “We’d like to talk to you during recess.”

Corey glanced at Terese and Stacy, who were still eating. Terese shrugged. Stacy was in the middle of taking a bite of her sandwich and stared up at her with large, questioning eyes. Aiden was getting up from his desk and brushing imaginary crumbs from his pants. Corey finished putting her lunch box away and then rose.

“Don’t worry,” Cate said, “we’ll catch up to Terese and Stacy afterwards. We just want to talk to you about something important. The weather’s nice out, so we’re just going to talk under the trees, okay?”

“Okay,” Corey said slowly. She turned to her other two friends. “We’ll meet you at the swings?”

“Sounds good!” Terese said brightly. “It’ll give Stacy a chance to finish her lunch this time.”

“I can’t help it if I’m a slow eater,” Stacy complained. “My whole family eats slowly.”

Terese reached out and patted the girl’s shoulder. “That’s okay. I wouldn’t want you to get a tummy ache anyways.” She turned to Corey. “Take your time. We probably will, too.”

“I don’t mean to be slow,” Stacy insisted.

“That’s okay,” Corey said emphatically. “We’ll see you a little later by the swings?”

Terese nodded with a bright smile. Cate took Corey’s hand and all but dragged her towards the coat rack. Aiden followed behind.

“Here you go,” Cate said, holding out Corey’s coat.

Corey gave her friend an odd look, but let Cate help her put her coat, scarf, and hat on. While she pulled her mittens on, Cate and Aiden likewise bundled up. They waved to Mrs. James and then headed out of the classroom. Pulling Corey along behind then, the three of them dashed down the quiet halls towards the doors to the playground. But they didn’t stop running; they ran across the yard to the large shade trees with bare branches and a couple of stone benches under them.

Aiden quickly brushed away some lingering piles of snow from one bench while his sister pulled a fleece blanket from under her coat. Together, they spread it over the bench. Corey stood awkwardly by them, watching them and toying with the drawstrings of her coat. She wanted to help, but wasn’t sure what she could do. They looked like they had everything under control and were moving with a silent speed and efficiency she hadn’t seen from them before.

Finally, Aiden gestured for her to sit. Slowly, she went over to the bench and sat in the middle so the twins could flank her. As she sat, they took their places and plopped down onto the bench.

“What’s going on?” Corey asked, turning from one to the other.

Cate gave her brother a nod while she repositioned herself to look at the two of them. She folded her gloved hands in her lap, looking every bit a lady with a straight posture. Her eyes were resting on Corey, concern flickering in their depths. Corey’s brow wrinkled and she turned to Aiden, waiting for some kind of explanation.

“It’s cold out here,” Corey said. “Is someone going to talk or not?”

“Aiden,” Cate said insistently.

The boy sighed. “I just don’t know how to start.”

He tried scratching his head with his gloved hand, but it didn’t work out too well. His hair was messed up and stuck out a bit. Corey giggled and covered her mouth while Aiden tried to fix his hair.

“You’re stalling, Aiden,” Cate said, disapproval in her voice. “The poor girl deserves to know.”

“Okay, okay. Corey,” Aiden said, his voice suddenly hushed. “You can’t tell anyone else about this, okay? They wouldn’t understand and would only get scared. Okay?”

Slowly, Corey nodded. She didn’t like where this was going, but she promised herself she’d tell her mother anyways. Her mother would know what to do with whatever Aiden was going to tell her.

“Magic is real,” Aiden whispered. Corey’s eyes widened. “It’s as real as you and me. It’s what brought Cate and me to you. We’ve been looking for you.”

“You’re a kindred soul to us,” Cate broke in, turning Corey’s wide eyed gaze to her. “We’ve been looking for someone like you, someone we can talk to about magic.”

“You have magic?” Corey squeaked out.

Cate nodded and looked over at her brother. “Show her.”

Corey turned back to Aiden. He held out a hand and a small flame appeared in it. Corey gasped, but leaned forward to examine it.

“Is that real?” she asked in a hushed tone.

“You can touch it,” Aiden said. “It won’t hurt you.”

Hesitantly, Corey reached out her mitten covered hand and gently touched the flame. It felt warm and danced around the edges of her mitten, but didn’t burn her.

“It’s a magical flame?” she asked.

“It’s just magic,” Aiden said, closing up his hand to extinguish the flame. “Magic is very real, Corey. We think you can learn it, too. But you can’t tell anyone.”

“Are you frightened, Corey?” Cate asked gently.

Corey turned bright eyes on her friend. “No. I’m not scared. This is really exciting.”

Cate smiled over at her brother. “She’s young enough, Aiden. She’s not truly old enough yet, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“What do you mean?” Corey asked, turning from one twin to the other.

Cate just put a hand on Corey’s shoulder and smiled. “Nothing, Corey. We do think we can teach you magic and, at some point, you can be inducted into it to learn, too.”

“Really?” Corey asked excitedly.

She turned to Aiden and saw him balancing a little flame on the point of each of his fingers. He grinned at Corey before putting them out and folding his hands together. A little bouquet grew out of it, blooming with red and violet flowers. He held the bouquet out and then it vanished.

“Really,” Aiden said. He smiled at her and dipped his head a little bit. “Don’t worry. You’ll find the flowers in a vase in your bedroom when you get home. They’ll last for as long as you want them to. Just a little token from me to you.”

Corey smiled up at him, thrilled to her heart. Oddly enough, she felt settled, like she had finally discovered her purpose. Each day she spent with the twins, she came a step closer to figuring out where she belonged in life. Knowing magic existed made her feel like she was in exactly the right place.

“Are you okay?” Cate asked, concern filling her voice.

Corey turned to her with a soft smile. “Yes. I feel like I’m going home,” she said, her voice dreamy.

Cate smiled at her brother over Corey’s head. It was almost time for Corey to go home. They still had to wait a little over a month, but the time was coming. Aiden nodded and beamed back.

Aiden nudged Corey, returning the girl to Earth. “Come on. Terese and Stacy are on the swings. And, don’t forget, not a word of magic.”

Corey mirrored his gesture of raising a finger to her lips, except her mittens made her raise her entire hand to her mouth. “Don’t worry,” she said, her voice equally hushed. “Not a word.”

The twins smiled and they got up. Cate sent her brother on to the swings while she gathered up the blanket. Aiden and Corey raced over to Terese and Stacy, but Aiden’s long legs got him there faster.

 

 

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