The temperature in the hallway rose abruptly just before the wall crumbled. Flames flicked through the hole and smoke billowed out of the room. Immediately, David extinguished the fire and used air currents to carry the smoke away. With his attention focused on getting the crisis under control, he was caught completely unaware by the bolt of electricity that struck him in the chest and knocked him out. A few seconds later, Matthew crawled through the wall.

He bent over David and began searching his pockets. After pulling out a badge, he paused to check David. His breathing was shallow and his pulse thready, but if he received attention soon, he should be okay.

“Sorry about this,” he muttered to the unconscious mage. “It isn’t personal.”

Matthew stood and began to hurry to the front door. Even with the badge, it was easy to get turned around in the House. The floor plan had almost entirely changed since he had lived here. Before Sarah finally locked him up, he had tried to familiarize himself with the layout, but it was still confusing.

Several wrong turns later he found the hallway leading to the front door. He hurried forward but stopped when he heard Sarah call out his name.


He turned around. “I’m sorry. I need to leave. I hope you understand.”

“I don’t. You should stay. Help put all this right.”

“Can’t do that. Thomas needs to be stopped, and you’re not going to let me do that.”

“We can . . .”

“You should check on the person you left outside my cell.”


“Yes. He was alive when . . .”


Matthew looked over his shoulder to see a person in between him and the front door.

“Stop him!”

The woman cocked her head to the right as though she were uncertain of what to do. Her eyes were dark, unfocused. She raised her left hand and pointed at Matthew, who immediately disintegrated where he stood. Without saying anything, Julia disappeared.

Horrified and too stunned to move, Sarah just stood there until Rebecca came down the stairs.

“Sarah? What’s going on?”

“I . . . I’m not sure. Julia . . . She did something . . .”

Rebecca walked over to her and began to lead her toward the living room. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me.”

At first, Sarah allowed herself to be pulled along, but she stopped suddenly. “David. He’s hurt.” She broke out of Rebecca’s grasp and ran back to the room where Matthew had been locked up. David was still on the floor.

“Okay. Let me get in and check him out.” Rebecca gently moved Sarah to one side and began to look him over.

Sarah stepped back to give Rebecca room to work. What had Julia done? That wasn’t spatial magic. And was something wrong with her eyes?

Her musings were interrupted when Aisha came around the corner out of breath. “Have you seen Julia?”

“Yes. A little bit ago, she . . .”


“The front hallway. What is going . . . ?”

“Later. I need to find her.”

Aisha turned and began running toward the front of the house.

“Rebecca . . .”

“Go. I’ve got this.”

Needing answers, Sarah followed Aisha.

Sleep Casting

The first thing Aisha noticed when she opened her eyes was that Julia wasn’t next to her. Getting out of bed, she threw on an oversized t-shirt and checked the main room. Sure enough, Julia was bent over her workbench.

“You must be feeling better if you’re already back at it.” She chuckled, but Julia didn’t respond. Whatever she was working on had her full attention.

“Seriously, though, don’t over do it. You need to give your body a chance to recover from that ordeal.” Still, Julia didn’t react.

Apprehension grew in her chest as she approached the work bench. “Julia?” When she looked over her partner’s shoulder, he blood ran cold.

Julia’s hands were busy crushing colored crystals and mixing the resulting powder.

“Julia!” Aisha grabbed Julia’s shoulders and shook her.

Julia turned to face her, but there was a blank look in her eyes. Aisha shook her again, and Julia blinked a few times.

“Oh, Aisha. What’s going on?”

“You tell me.” She gestured at the workbench.

Julia jumped back several steps, knocking over the stool she’d been sitting on. “What? I didn’t do that.”

Aisha moved to stand between Julia and the workbench. “You don’t remember doing this?”

“No. Last thing I recall was falling asleep next to you.”

She had never seen Julia show any fear before now, but now she seemed terrified.

“Back. Get back to bed.” Aisha began gently pushing her to the bedroom. Julia didn’t resist.

Once Julia was again in bed, Aisha gave her a worried look. “Do I have to tie you down?”

“I honestly don’t know what happened.”

“You have no idea why you tried to create another chaos crystal?”

“None whatsoever.”

“Okay. Get some rest. We’ll figure this out after.”

Julia nodded and closed her eyes.

Aisha sat in a chair to watch her. Sleep would be impossible right now anyway. Last night, Julia had told her what she could about her experience with the chaos crystal, but very little of it made any sense. And what she did understand didn’t seem to contain any clues as to why Julia would try to repeat it all.

She thought about trying to find someone who might be able to help, but leaving Julia alone right now could be disastrous. Aisha nervously chewed on the inside of her lip while trying to decide what she should do.

A Moment of Peace

Aisha wasn’t sure exactly when she fell in love with Julia. When they first met, the spatial mage was guarded and aloof. She had interesting requests and paid well, so Aisha didn’t question it much. Besides, she reasoned, if she could learn something about this secretive mage who seemed to have no past, maybe the information would be worth something to someone.

Early on, however, she abandoned that idea. Julia was obviously very capable and independent, but something was broken in her, as if a piece of her was missing. Whatever it was, it drew Aisha in and made her want to befriend the other mage. As she spent more time with Julia, she slowly came to realize that her feelings ran deeper than friendship.

As far as she could tell, Julia seemed completely uninterested in relationships, and Aisha began to suspect that what Julia was missing was a former lover. She decided not to risk the friendship and keep her deeper feelings to herself.

Then the big secret of Julia’s presence came to light. It had been coincidence that Aisha ran into Julia’s earlier self. She had been working on a new client’s request when it happened. When Julia explained her situation, it was obvious that the information about time travel was worth a fortune. Yet, Aisha never considered revealing it to anyone; it just made her want to help Julia even more. She was already smitten.

It was Matthew’s unexpected visit that changed everything. When Julia said she was going to move the cabin, and invited Aisha to come with her, it became clear that Julia also felt something more than friendship. They had been together ever since.

Now Aisha was laying next to Julia and hoping that she would wake up soon. The experience of repeatedly being ripped apart and put back together by the chaos crystal had to have been traumatic. However, until Julia regained consciousness, it was impossible to know the extent of the damage.

Softly putting her hand on Julia’s cheek to caress it, Aisha whispered, “I’m here, love. Please come back to me.” Aisha thought she noticed Julia’s breathing slow and deepened, but maybe it was just wishful thinking.

At some point, she must have dozed off herself and then awoke suddenly. Julia hadn’t moved, but she wanted to be alert for any changes. Quietly, she rose from the bed and went into the little kitchen. After setting up the coffee maker, she stood in the doorway in order to keep an eye on the bed. When the coffee finished, she brought her cup back into the bedroom and placed it on the nightstand on her side. With her back against the headboard, she sipped her coffee and waited.

The cabin was in one of Julia’s private spaces, so it was impossible to know how much time had passed without looking at a clock. Aisha had finished her second cup, so at least an hour had gone by. Julia stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and focused on Aisha.

“Is it you? Really you?”

Aisha smiled. “It’s me. How are you feeling?”

“Confused. Upset.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I smell coffee, but I don’t have coffee.”

Aisha gave her the gentlest of shoves. “You must be okay if you can make jokes.” She got up and headed into the kitchen.

“How long have I been out?” Julia called after her.

“You passed out a couple of days ago.”

“And before that?”

Instead of answering right away, Aisha returned with another mug and carefully handed it to Julia. Then she crawled back into the bed.

“A couple of weeks,” she sighed. “You’d appear and then disappear. Sarah noticed you holding a crystal, so we kept waiting for a chance to get you to let it go.”

“I see.” Julia sipped her coffee.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not yet. I’m still sort it out.” Suddenly, Julia sat up straighter. “Where is the crystal?”

“Sarah has it.”

“We have to . . .”

Aisha put a hand on Julia’s arm. “No. We don’t. Everything is fine for now. Sarah is being careful. You need to take it easy.”

Julia relaxed slightly. “Is that why we’re here? In the cabin?”

“Sarah wanted to talk to you right away. I wanted you to have some peace.”

“Thank you. We should probably go back.”

“Tomorrow. Let me be selfish today and keep you to myself.”

Julia smiled. “How can I say no to you?” She embraced Aisha, and the two stayed in bed, quietly enjoying each other’s presence.


“How is she?”

Aisha quietly closed the door to the bedroom before answering Sarah.

“She’s resting. Physically, she seems whole.”

“I think we should have Rebecca look her over.”

“Later. After she’s recovered her strength a little.”

“Very well,” Sarah reluctantly agreed. “Did you secure the crystal?”

Aisha pointed at the coffee table in the middle of the living room. “In the box, just like you asked. What is it?”

“If my guess is correct, it’s a chaos crystal. I noticed it in her hands the second time she appeared in front of me.”

“Chaos crystal?”

“Physical concentration of chaos magic. Highly unstable. I’ve only heard of them, never seen one.”

“But you’re not a chaos mage, are you? How did you know what it was?”

“No,” Sarah chuckled. “But Julia’s old mentor was.”


“Jason. And my teacher made certain I learned about other types of magic.”

“So what does it do?”

“It’s chaos magic, so it can do almost anything. However, without proper training, it’s nearly impossible to control. Do you know where she got it?”

Aisha was taken aback by the question. “I’m not certain. I know I didn’t give it to her.”

“I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I simply want to learn as much about this as possible.”

Aisha wasn’t feeling defensive but surprise. She recognized Julia’s handiwork in the crystal, but either Sarah didn’t, or she wasn’t sure. Either way, she didn’t know if Julia would want that information to be shared, so Aisha remained silent.

“Well, let’s go talk to her.” Sarah took a step towards the bedroom door, but Aisha quickly blocked her way.

“Absolutely not.”

“Aisha, I know you’re worried about her, but I need her. The House needs her.”

Aisha didn’t move. “This is your House, and I respect that. But she has been through something I can only imagine was incredibly traumatic. Your priority is the House. My priority is Julia. She needs rest.”

“But . . .”

“No. There will be time for other things later.”

“Aisha . . .” Sarah studied her, looking for any opening in the other woman’s resolve. “Alright, alright. I’ll wait. I’m going to take the crystal, though. For safekeeping.”

“That’s fine.”

Sarah took several steps towards the door to the hallway, then stopped and turned back to Aisha. “I hope you’re right, that there’s still time. I don’t know how much we actually have.”

“I’ll let you know when she wakes.”


After Sarah left, Aisha sat with her feet up on the couch and her knees below her chin. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. It was relief, mostly. Relief that she had Julia back. Relief that she could take care of her.

After a few minutes, she got off the couch and went into the bedroom. Walking over to the door on the far side, she took a green crystal out of her pocket and inserted it into the handle. The door opened into the cabin they shared.

Aisha gently lifted Julia, still sleeping, off the bed and carried her into the cabin. It was the only place she could be certain they would be safe. At least until Julia woke up. She placed Julia on the bed and then laid down next to her to wait for her to open her eyes.

Everything Is Nothing

Everything was black. Time was both stopped and speeding forward somehow. There was nothing around and no way to mark any changes. Nothing existed, not even a sense of self. Everything was chaos and void. Everything was empty.

Mind began to coalesce and form a coherent self. A name emerged: Julia.

She found herself standing in Thomas’s room. Sarah and Matthew were there. “What th-” But the self dissolved and void reasserted itself.

Time is change. Nothingness cannot change, so time ceases to have meaning. The number one both does and does not equal zero. When nothing is the only thing, unity is empty.

Now Julia was in the downstairs hallway, and Sarah and Matthew were still there. The words continued to flow. “-e fu-”

The self is isolated, separate from others. Separation is loneliness, is pain. Losing the self in the void removes the pain, rejects loneliness. There is no separation. There is no other. Chaos is peace.

The infirmary took shape around her, and the words continued. “-ck is happ-”

It takes insanity to carve off a piece of nothing/everything and identify only with that. The formation of the self is the original violence, the beginning of madness. Madness that makes it impossible to remember reality.

“-ening?” The infirmary again.

Before she dissolved, she heard Sarah yell. “Drop -”

In reality, everything is one, so there is nothing. ‘Thing’ requires distinction. This is not that. When all is one, there is no thing at all. There just is.

What? Drop what? Even when her existence resumed, in the kitchen this time, it was hard to understand how anything could be dropped. Could even be separate from her.

Again, Sarah yelled “Drop -” and again her existence was erased before Sarah could say anything more.

The perfect coherence of chaos was disturbed. A seed of madness had been planted, and a piece of the void was trying to break itself off, to create itself apart from the rest of everything/nothing. The impetus to stay whole fought against the agitation to separate. Even the idea of two opposing impulses gave power to the drive toward separation, for a unity cannot contain contradiction.

The next time Julia came to exist was both less and more disorienting. The innermost part of her soul clung to the blissful union of the void. Yet her conscious mind insisted on its own identity. The conflict nearly tore her apart and threatened to leave her in the illusory world she belonged to.

The living room. “The crystal!” Instead of Sarah, it was Aisha’s voice. She remembered Aisha. Why was she in the living room? Aisha was love, was yearning.

The pull of the void was strong, and her existence was once more unwritten. A single memory disturbed the void. It was not a self, not even a conflict. A single memory. That anomaly was sufficient to break the peace, to end the unity. A memory of another.

Chaos violently ejected the memory to preserve itself, and Julia came to exist inside her own lab. Immediately, she opened her hands and the black crystal fell to the floor. Instead of ceasing to exist, her legs collapsed. She would have fallen on the crystal, but someone reached her and held her close to keep her upright.

A Matter of Trust

Inside the room, the three statues were still in place, Thomas and the other two mages frozen in time. Coming to Thomas’s room felt increasingly futile; like many mages, Thomas didn’t keep many notes, and the ones Sarah could find were indecipherable. Still, he was a member of the house, and she was determined to free him. His rooms were the best chance to find a way to do that.

“What is going on?”

Sarah spun around to find Matthew standing in the doorway. “You should still be resting.”

“I’m feeling better. I have been for days. And you’ve been hiding things from me.” Matthew walked over to Thomas. “For instance, you said he was fine. I thought he wasn’t coming to see me out of anger.”

“I didn’t want you to worry. You need to focus on recovering.”

“Has he been like this since the attack?” He bent down to try to touch Thomas. “Frozen in time?”

“Yes, and yes. I assume Solomon did it, though not before he managed to stop those two.”

Matthew looked at the other two mages. “I recognize them, though I don’t know their names.”

“Too bad. That information would be useful.”

“Sarah, do you not trust me?”

“Why would you ask that?” In several other conversations, they had danced around this issue. It was unsettling for him to ask about it so bluntly.

“Not telling me about Thomas. Keeping me isolated and bed-ridden. I just can’t help but feel like you regard me with suspicion.”

“I didn’t want you to worry, that’s all. Too many pieces are in motion, and I’m trying to keep everyone safe.”


“Yes. I’m concerned for you. I don’t want you in harm’s way. That’s true for everyone in this house.” Deception was part of the illusionist’s training, but Sarah still felt a twinge of guilt for bending the truth.

“Sarah . . . Oh.” Rebecca, breathing heavy, stopped in the doorway upon seeing Matthew.

With a wry smile, Sarah admonished him, “Look, you’ve worried your caretaker.”

“Sorry, Rebecca. I just needed to get out of that room for a bit.”

“It’s fine. I just don’t want you over-exerting yourself.”

A loud cracking noise caused all three to turn and look. Further into the room, behind Sarah, Julia materialized.

“What th-”

As quickly as she had appeared, she vanished.

“Julia!” Rebecca yelled after her, but there was no response.

“What was that?” Matthew asked.

“I have no idea.” There was no need for Sarah to feign confusion. “But I think we should find out.”

The Color of Black

So far, every attempt at creating a red crystal had failed. Julia knew that she was missing something, some insight. After her talk with Aisha, she had gone back over all of Jason’s notes, looking for some clue. Every read through, however, turned up nothing. The temporal powder Aisha had brought her was purple. The temporal magic she had siphoned off of Thomas had been a bluish green. Nothing she had experienced suggested temporal magic would have a red crystal.

The blue crystals interfered with magic. Green crystals operated spatial magic. And purple revealed hidden knowledge. All of the colors she had seen temporal magic take on already had crystals associated with them. But if temporal magic wasn’t red, what was? Or had Jason left out red altogether? If so, what was the missing color?

Julia had been going around this particular circle for weeks, making no progress. Indeed, it felt as though the answer was moving further and further away. Was there even a puzzle to solve? Maybe there was never supposed to be another crystal; maybe Jason just put an extra space in the box. That would certainly fit with his chaotic nature.

Julia paused. Jason had two talents. The white crystals always kept his skill with raw magical energy at the front of everyone’s mind. But he also had a gift for chaos magic. Could that be the missing crystal?

She cleared off her workbench and laid out the colored crystals she had. Chaos magic was even more esoteric than temporal magic, and it was unlikely there were any resources she might draw on. Jason had left no notes on the subject. A wildness rose up from within, and moving quickly, she crushed all of the crystals into powder and blended them together. Then she added the last of the purple temporal powder.

The threads of the different magical energies were mixed together through the powder. Coaxing each one into a weave with the others, she could feel something important happening. As she worked, a new crystal slowly took shape. It was black, deeper than even the darkest part of the night sky. Staring into it, she could make out tiny dots of every color she had ever seen, and even some she had no names for.

When she finished, the wildness fled from her, and she felt completely drained. The crystal on the table seemed to shimmer and warp as though she were looking at it reflected in a funhouse mirror. Whatever had driven her to create it was gone now. Why had she created it? It seemed unlikely to help them in their current predicament. What was its use? She had solved the puzzle, but to what end?

Picking up the crystal in order to study it better, Julia felt a warmth extend from her hand up her arm. The warmth intensified to the point where it should have burned her, but the feeling went beyond pain. After a moment, she felt herself being pulled apart at the subatomic level. It still didn’t hurt, and an instant later, she felt nothing. Julia and the crystal had vanished, vaporizing into nothing.

The Missing Crystal

Why wasn’t it working? The principles should be same as the crystal she had made to knock down spatial barriers. Yet, no matter what she tried, Julia couldn’t get this version to cohere. The reverse white crystal drained magic power, but she couldn’t make it mix with temporal magic.

The jar in front of her contained the last of the purple powder that had been exposed to temporal magic. Aisha had gotten it for her years ago, while she was still stuck in the past. There was only enough left for one, maybe two, attempts. Aisha still had had no success in tracking down another temporal mage, so she wasn’t likely to get anymore.

Looking at the clock on her wall, she realized she’d been sitting, hunched over, for almost six hours. Exhaustion hit her. Despite her desire to keep going, she needed a break. Maybe she should go back to Thomas’s rooms and look once more for anything that might provide a clue. First, she needed some food. And maybe a nap. She pushed back from her work bench, stood, and stretched.

Out in the living room, she found Aisha sitting cross-legged on the couch and reading. Aisha looked up from her book. “She emerges.”

“Yeah. I needed to step away for a bit. So what did Sarah want?”

“If I had to guess, she has some doubts about Matthew.”


“She didn’t say anything directly, but she asked me several questions about that incident we had with him a few years back.”

“Hmm.” Julia didn’t know much about the third founding member of the house, but she always had the impression that he and Sarah had been close. “I was going to go get some food. Care to join me?”

“Sure. Where?”

“Do we have anything in the cabin?”

Aisha shook her head. “We need to restock. How about Mediterranean?”

“Greece it is.” Julia opened a portal. “After you.”

Sitting outside a small cafe in the outskirts of Athens, they sipped their frappes.

“I don’t know how you can drink it plain. Isn’t it bitter?” Julia asked. She always ordered hers sweet.

“This is how I had it the first time. Never felt the need to add sugar.”

“Don’t you drink your tea sweet?”

“Chai and Greek frappe are not the same thing. Stop that.” Julia had been mouthing the words as Aisha spoke. After a moment, both women chuckled. “Okay. We’re here. We have good coffee. The prospect of good food is imminent. What are you stuck on?”

Julia sighed a little. “Am I that obvious?”

“Let’s just say I’ve known you for a little while.”

“It’s the crystals again. The missing one, it has to be temporal magic. That’s the most glaring omission. But no matter what I do, I can’t put it together. I prep a red crystal, tap into the temporal essence, but it won’t fit.”

“And you’re sure it’s temporal magic?”

“Thomas was a friend of Jason’s for a long time. Jason got spatial magic from me; it stands to reason he would have picked up temporal magic from Thomas.”

“And it’s a red crystal?”

“That’s the only primary color that’s missing from his set. It has to be.”

“All of that seems reasonable. So let me ask you, with how well you know him, how reasonable – no, how predictable – is Jason?”

“Are you saying . . .”

“I’m not saying anything. I don’t have any answers. You know him. What do you think?”

Julia stopped to consider Jason and what she knew of the crystals. “If I toss my assumptions, I’m back to square one.”

“If your assumptions were wrong, square one is further than you were.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

The food they had ordered arrived. Leaving magical puzzles behind for the moment, they turned their attention to eating and enjoying the pleasant afternoon.

Educated Guess

“You know there’s a color missing from the box you left me.” Julia could feel Jason’s presence across from her, but she didn’t look up from her workbench.

“Of course. I’m the one that left it out.”

“You going to tell me what it is?” Her hands were busy carving a crystal into the proper shape to store mana.

“That depends.”

“On what?” She gritted her teeth as she hit a particularly stubborn spot.

“On whether you think I’m real. If I’m real, then I know the answer. If I’m not, then any answer I give is really just you guessing.”

“Lovely. How should I know if you’re real? You didn’t appear at all while I was trapped in the past. If you’re a figment of my imagination, wouldn’t you still have come around? Or maybe, since my subconscious knew you hadn’t died yet, it kept me from imagining you?”

“Excellent points.”

“So are you real?”

“How should I know?”

Julia slammed the tool in her hand onto the bench. “Jason!”

“What? I feel real, but maybe you just have a vivid imagination.”

“I think you have to be real,” she said while trying to suppress a smile, “I don’t think I hate myself enough to irritate me this much.”

“As far as I know, you don’t hate yourself at all.” Jason returned her smile. “You know, I didn’t give you all of my research so that you would ignore your own work.”

“What can I say? This fascinates me. So are you going to tell me about this missing color or not?”

“Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet. Maybe you’re not ready.”


“Fine, fine. If you really want me to tell you instead of discovering it for yourself, I will.”

Loud knocking from the front room interrupted him. She heard Sarah call her name. “Julia!”

Julia glared at Jason. “Don’t go anywhere.”

The knocking finally woke her up, and she lifted her head off the workbench while cursing dreams.

She opened the door. “Is something wrong?”

Sarah shook her head. “I was just hoping to talk to Aisha. Is she here?”

“Oh? What about?”

“I just wanted to ask her about Matthew. Something is bothering me, and I thought she might able to shed some light on it.”

“Now I’m curious. Unfortunately, she’s not here right now. Last I knew, she was tracking down a lead on another temporal mage. I can try to get in touch with her.”

“Thanks, Julia. That would help a lot.” Sarah already seemed to be thinking about something else as she walked away.

Once the door was closed, Julia was tempted to try to find her way back into the dream, but Sarah’s request had piqued her interest. As she was deciding to track down Aisha, another thought occurred to her. Jason had been right: she should have already figured it out. Getting in touch with Aisha might need to wait.

New Tradition

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.