The candles were once more arranged in concentric circles within Julia’s pocket space. This time, however, she had arranged four couches within the candles. Rebecca sat on one of them between David and Marie – the latter was resting her head on Rebecca’s shoulder and seemed to be dozing. Sarah lounged on the couch across from them, her elbow propping up her body. Julia sat on a third, while Aisha rested her head in Julia’s lap. The fourth couch remained empty.
“So you and Jason spent every Winter Solstice like this?” David asked.
Sarah gave him a look of warning, but Julia shrugged it off. “I appreciate the concern, Sarah, but it’s been roughly eighteen years since Jason’s death. I know it’s more recent for all of you, but I have had lots of time to find some measure of peace.
“To answer your question, David, yes. He and I would stay up all night talking. I know a number of magical traditions make use of this night for special rites, but he and I used it as a time to step back from every day life and reconnect as friends.”
“So why did you decide to invite us?” David followed up.
“Jason wanted me to belong somewhere. Maybe that sounds silly, but it was one thing he always was on me about. This night used to be about us, but I figured he would want you all here. And I think over the last several years, I’ve begun to understand the importance each of you has had in my life.” Absently, Julia ran her fingertips up and down Aisha’s arm, and the other woman smiled up at her.
“It’s too bad Thomas can’t be here,” Rebecca said softly so as not to waken Marie.
“Yes, it is. But no business tonight. No worrying about current troubles. Tonight is just about friendship.” Julia was firm but not angry.
“So the fourth couch?” Sarah gestured at it.
“Well, I did want there to be plenty of room to sit and get comfortable, but I have to admit it’s also for Jason. The last time I was here, Jason showed up. I thought there might be a chance . . .”
After a brief lull, David changed the subject. “So you were stuck in the past for fifteen years? What did you do the entire time?”
“Mostly, she got in trouble that I had to bail her out of.” Aisha answered.
“Ignore her.” Julia playfully covered Aisha’s mouth.
“Actually,” she continued after moving Julia’s hand, “she was quite boring. Always inside doing research. I had to find ways to get her to leave the house.”
“Yes, wild goose chases after magical books. Threatening to reveal my existence to my past self. Life with you around was never boring.”
Aisha laughed. “That’s why you kept me around.”
“Hmmm.” Despite her attempt to seem put out, Julia couldn’t keep a smile from her lips.
Sarah looked at Rebecca. “Have you heard from Bailey?”
“No.” Rebecca seemed a bit melancholic at the mention of her friend.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
“It’s okay. You didn’t. Not really. I think about them now and again, but they are really good at not being found. I hope they’ll come back eventually, but we can’t control others.”
Marie murmured at shifted a bit without opening her eyes.
“Anyway, even ignoring all the major events of the past year, I’ve been busy helping Marie get set up. So I haven’t had much time to worry about Bailey.”
Another comfortable lull descended.
This time, Julia broke the silence. “How’s business at your store, David?”
“Slow, but I’m starting to develop a few regulars. I’m just happy to be in the community making connections.”
“It’s a good store. I’ve found a few items for my clients there,” Aisha volunteered. “I could probably funnel a few more customers your way.”
“That would be great, but I wouldn’t want to steal any of your business.”
Aisha waved away the concern. “There will always be more esoteric requests to keep me busy.”
Conversation continued to ebb and flow throughout the night. Julia look around at the group and couldn’t help but think that Jason would be pleased.