First Meetings

*This story takes place before Thomas established his own house.*

Before there was anything else, there was pain. The air around him was warm and acrid. At first, Thomas was only aware of the pain in his head, but when he tried to move, he discovered that it was everywhere.

“You’re still alive?”

He didn’t recognize the voice. Thomas opened his eyes but blood flowing from his forehead obscured his vision. Wiping it away with his sleeve, he could make out the man standing over him, but he was a stranger. He was in his lab, but it was almost unrecognizable because of the destruction that had taken place. Trying to cast a spell to stop time nearly caused him to pass out.

“Who are you?” he asked, weakly.

“Don’t worry about it. You won’t be alive long enough for it to matter.”

How did anyone get into his master’s house? And this much destruction should have triggered the failsafes. None of this should be possible. Now this intruder was going to kill him? Everything was too chaotic, Thomas couldn’t make any of it make sense.

Six men appeared, all of them facing the intruder and ignoring Thomas. He hadn’t seen them come in, and they weren’t from the house, either. There was something else off about them… They were identical, Thomas realized after a few moments.

“I don’t know who you are.” The first intruder didn’t seem to be talking to anyone Thomas could see. “But if you are going to use an illusion to try to scare me, don’t make it so obviously an illusion. All six of these guys look alike.”

A female voice came from somewhere nearby. “Illusions work best when they let you hide something in plain sight.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“In this case, there are only five illusions.”

“What . . .?”

Electricity arced from the hands of one of the men and struck the intruder. He flew back, hit the wall, and slumped to the floor. The other five men faded from existence.

The remaining man bent down next to Thomas. “Are you okay?”

“I seem to be alive. Beyond that, I’m not sure.”

“Can you move?”

“I . . . I think so.” With the other man’s help, Thomas managed to get on his feet.

“Matthew? What are you doing? We shouldn’t be moving him.” The person behind the other voice was now visible. Appearing next to them was a young woman whose hair was constantly shifting colors.

“Sarah, we need to get him out of here. We don’t know what other dangers might be nearby.”

Sarah glanced around the room. “Fine. Help him. I’ll go first in case there is anyone else around.” She vanished as Matthew supported Thomas to help him walk.

Slowly, they made their way out of the lab. The destruction was everywhere; not a single room had been spared. The power required to cause all of this had to have been immense.

“Where is everyone else?”

Matthew ignored his question.

After several long minutes, they stood outside the ruined house, and Sarah reappeared.

“There is no way only one person did this,” she said.

“That sounds like an excellent reason not to be here any longer,” Matthew replied.

“Shouldn’t we figure out what happened?”

“I expect your Mistress would want you to get Thomas to safety and have his injuries looked after.”

“You know, Matthew, you’re a bit of a suck up.”

“And you’re mad that I’m right.”

Sarah looked at Thomas. “Can you hang on? We’ve got a car nearby, and we can get you to some help.”

Thomas managed to nod before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Resolution

“I thought you had let this go?” Sarah was practically pleading.

Remaining defiant, Julia shook her head. “For the sake of Rebecca, I had put it to one side. Now that that’s been settled, we need to deal with him.”

“It’s his house, Julia.”

“I don’t care. He put everyone and everything at risk. Not telling me? Trying to set David up? And in the end, Jason paid the price. Jason who was an ‘old friend.’” Sarah could almost see the sarcasm drip from Julia’s mouth. “We should harbor no misconceptions. He would let any of us suffer the same fate, considering we mean even less to him.”

“You can’t believe that. He didn’t want Jason to die. Or even you. Maybe he went about it poorly, but he was trying to keep everyone safe.”

“So? What follows from that? Am I just supposed to forget it all? Pretend he isn’t responsible for Jason’s death? He gets off without any consequences?”

“Julia. What would you have me do?”

“I don’t know. You say we can’t kick him out. But how can you expect me to stay here, in this house, while he remains?”

“Julia is right.”

Both women turned in surprise to see Thomas standing just inside the door of the living room.

“Thomas?” Sarah didn’t want to try to infer the meaning of his statement.

“I said, Julia is right. It is unreasonable to expect her to stay in my house.”

“So you’re kicking me out?”

“You misunderstand. Julia, I have thought about this a lot. Especially since yesterday, but even before our last exchange. I thought I was doing the right thing. As you have repeatedly asserted, I was wrong. I apologize to you, and everyone else in the house. I need to do better.

Julia seemed to deflate a bit. Thomas’s admission had taken some of the edge off of her anger, but she wasn’t going to be pacified so easily. “That’s all well and good, but . . .”

Thomas interrupted her. “There is more. Your hesitation in staying is understandable. So I will relinquish this house and give it over to Sarah. I merely ask that I be allowed to stay, at least on a probationary basis. If I again act so as to violate your trust, or anyone else’s, I will accept Sarah’s judgment. You would be part of Sarah’s house, not mine. Is this satisfactory?”

Julia was taken aback. Before she could recover, Sarah spoke up.

“Do I get a say in this? You’re handing everything over to me?”

“Sarah, we both know you’re more suited to this than I ever was. You take care of nearly everything already. I am merely proposing we make it official. Truly, this is already your house.”

She could think of no objection. Truthfully, she didn’t really want to object.

“Very well. Julia, does this arrangement work for you?”

Julia looked as though she still wanted an argument, but she relented. “Yeah. This will do.” Without waiting for any further discussion, she opened a portal and left the room.

“Are you sure about this, Thomas?”

“The house needs her. This seemed like the best way to keep her. Besides, the paperwork has already been filed. This has been your house since the morning.”

There was nothing she could think of to say, so she just nodded her head. After Thomas left, she sat there for a long time, wondering what this change would lead to.

Morning Ritual

Every line on her face meant something, represented some experience. Sarah wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. In the mirror, she studied them all, committing every detail to memory. This was her ritual nearly every morning. As much as she loved changing her looks, playing with form, it was important to her that she never forget what she looked like without magic. Some illusionists couldn’t pick the face they were born with out of a line-up. Looks were flood, even with magic, but she never wanted to lose the connection with her unmodified self.

Once she was certain she could remember herself, she began to play. First, the right eye changed from green to blue. Her shoulder-length brown hair grew halfway down her back and lightened to silver. Checking her profile, she decided to lengthen her nose just a bit and then added a few freckles to either cheek.

She stood and walked over to the full-length mirror. After trying several outfits, she settled on a simple green dress. She finalized the look by taking a couple of inches off of her height. Studying herself in the mirror, she silently approved of the final result. This was as representative of her as her appearance without magic was.

This morning ritual was about her practicing her craft as well as creative expression. It was for her, and her alone. The rest of the day might bring headaches and work, but for a few minutes each morning, she could enjoy her gift and use it to create herself anew. Magic could be used for many things; Sarah wanted to use hers to bring more beauty into the world.

Aftermath

“Is David with you?” Sarah asked Julia through the portal.

“Did Rebecca just . . .”

“Yes. Is David there?”

“No, but . . .”

“Get him and send him here. I don’t know what sort of hell is about to break loose, but I want some firepower nearby just in case.”

“Why don’t you just get out of there?”

“I doubt Bailey would leave. And I want to figure out what just happened.”

“I’ll get him. Just . . . be careful.”

Julia’s tone of voice drove home how precarious everything was. She had been so standoffish as recently as a few months ago. Now she sounded genuinely worried about others.

Both Bailey and Marie were kneeling on the floor on either side of Rebecca’s body. The knife was still in her chest, and the two of them were trying to stop the bleeding. Sarah could tell that it was pointless: the bleeding had already slowed to a trickle. Rebecca’s heart was no longer beating. Leaving Bailey and Marie to their grief, Sarah’s mind turned to the question of why Rebecca killed herself.

David stepped through the portal and took in the scene. “What the . . .”

“David, I need you to be ready to defend us.” Sarah spoke calmly in the hope of keeping him calm.

He nodded while continuing to stare at Rebecca’s body. As he knelt down near Bailey, Sarah at first thought he was sharing in the grief, but then she noticed him picking up something off the floor. Before she could ask him about it, the door opened, and a man she didn’t recognize walked in.

“Mistress? What is going on?”

Marie turned around. “Phillip! We need your help. You have to heal her.”

“The Elder is dead?”

“No! You can save her! Please!” Marie’s voice cracked repeatedly with desperation.

“The Elder is dead. Finally.”

“Phillip!”

“I’m sorry, Marie. I have lived under his boot for too long.”

“Her! This is Rebecca!”

Phillip grabbed Marie’s shoulders. “Marie, listen. It hasn’t been Rebecca for months. The Elder took her over. You know this. She’s free, and he’s gone. I’m not going to lift a finger to bring him back. I am sorry about Rebecca, but this is better for everyone.”

Despite Marie’s pleading, Phillip turned and left. When she looked back, Bailey was right there.

“Is that it? Do you have anyone else who can help?”

Marie shook her head. “Phillip is our only healer.”

“Then you have to release me.”

Marie’s confusion was obvious. “What do you mean?”

“Release me!” Bailey was getting angrier.

“But it was the Elder. I can’t do anything.”

“Bullshit. It was your magic the Elder used. You can release me.”

“I don’t know how.”

Sarah watched the two going back and forth. The source of the charm Bailey was under had become clear.

“You have to do it. If you want to save Rebecca, you need to free me. If you can’t, Rebecca is gone for good.” Bailey glared at Marie, who averted her eyes and shifted nervously.

To End A War

Sarah studied Rebecca, looking for some indication that her friend was free of whatever influence had had a hold of her. However, there was no change in her demeanor. She was turning the crystal over in her hand and examining it with mild interest.

“What is this supposed to do?”

Sarah wanted to ask Julia if it might still work, but that would give away her escape route.

“I am sorry, Elder,” Marie said from behind her. “She got past me.”

With a wave, Rebecca dismissed the apology. “Is this crystal is supposed to ‘free’ me from whatever control you think I’m under? I assume that’s why you’re here; you believe I’m not really me.”

“I . . .”

“And you, or someone with you, started the fires?”

Deciding that anything she might say could worsen the situation, Sarah remained silent.

“Let’s talk, just you and I. Marie, wait outside my door in case I need you.”

Rebecca turned and led Sarah into the room from which she had recently come. Once inside, she closed the door. Nothing about the room suggested it belonged to Rebecca. It was sparsely furnished, and there were no personal belongings.

“You know, I think I was rather forgiving after the last time, when David destroyed one of our buildings. Now you return, bringing even more destruction. What was your intention? Kidnap me? Take me away from my family? Don’t you have better things to do?”

“Rebecca, you have not been acting like yourself. And whatever was done to Bailey – by Marie or someone else here – has not worn off. I can’t believe you would just abandon a friend.”

“No. I would never abandon my family. That’s why I am here. And why I will stay here. Bailey – and you for that matter – are not my family and thus not my concern.”

This was definitely not the Rebecca Sarah knew. Rebecca’s words confirmed that. She still had the blue crystal, which had worked on Bailey, so why did it seem to have no effect now?

“Now what can I do to keep you from ever returning? Perhaps it was a mistake to let David go last time. Maybe I should take a hostage to keep you out? Would that work, Sarah?”

“You want a prisoner?”

“Do you expect to walk out of here without paying a price?”

Staring into Rebecca’s eyes, Sarah looked for some sign that her friend was still in there. How long should she wait before giving up? This verbal sparring match could only delay things for so long. Julia could pull her and David out, but at what cost? Was starting a war the only thing she had accomplished?

“Is there anything of Rebecca left?”

The slight smile that twisted Rebecca’s lips crushed the last shred of hope Sarah still harbored. “I don’t know what you mean. It’s me, Sarah. I just can’t have you continue to break in here and disrupt my family.”

Sarah ignored her. “It’s over.”

At that signal, Julia expanded the portal at Sarah’s side so that Sarah could step through. Before Julia could close it, however, Bailey, who had been observing alongside Julia, rushed through the still open portal.

“Rebecca!”

“Bailey?” There was genuine surprise in Rebecca’s voice. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but Sarah thought she heard a hint of her friend. At the very least, Bailey needed some protection, so she stepped back through the portal. Grabbing Bailey’s arm to keep them from rushing forward, Sarah watched Rebecca walk over to the desk and open a drawer, from which she retrieved a knife. Before anyone could react, she plunged it into her own chest.

“No!” Bailey and Marie – who had opened the door – screamed in unison. As Rebecca fell to the floor, both of them rushed to her side.

One Chance

Pulling up to the gate of the compound involved a heavy dose of both anxiety and deja vu. Sarah had decided trying a straight-forward approach was most likely to succeed. However, walking into this place once more was not without risk. Rebecca needed help, though, and she wasn’t going to abandon her.

The guard approached her window.

“I’m here to see Rebecca.”

“The Elder is not receiving visitors.” His voice was wooden and his face was expressionless. Sarah wondered if everyone here was under a charm.

“It’s important that I speak with her.”

“Important to you, perhaps. Not to the Elder.”

The guard turned around and walked back to his post.

“Plan B?” Julia’s voice came from a small portal next to her.

“I really don’t like that idea.”

“Do you have another one?”

“You can’t open a portal inside the area?”

“I have tried, but I don’t know the area well enough. I can only open this one because of your badge.”

“Okay, fine. You’re right; I don’t have any other ideas. Is David ready?”

“Yes. Get ready to move.”

Sarah turned the car around and drove away, stopping down the road and out of sight. It was only a few minutes – but it seemed like hours – before Julia signaled her.

“It’s lit. You should be clear.”

The problem with this plan, Sarah knew, was that it was a must succeed situation. After this, she would not be able to come back. If they didn’t get Rebecca now, she might be lost forever.

She drove back to the gate. The guard was indeed gone, but the gate was still closed and locked. Sarah left the car and began jogging up to the compound. As she got closer, she could hear the chaos of many people trying to put out several fires. She spent a moment hoping that no one was trapped.

Inside the main house was very quiet. Sarah began to worry that Rebecca might have left to help with the fires.

“How did you get inside?”

Sarah turned around to find Marie glaring at her from the bottom of a stairwell.

“I came to see Rebecca.”

“You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, Marie. I will see my friend.” Perhaps Marie had orchestrated this situation, but she wasn’t the reason Sarah was here.

“You’re behind the fires, aren’t you?”

“Where is Rebecca?”

“You need to leave.”

Sarah pushed past the shorter woman and climbed the stairs.

“Rebecca? Where are you?”

Having followed her up, Marie grabbed her left wrist. “Leave.” The strength in her grip surprised Sarah.

“Rebecca!”

Marie began to drag her back to the stairs when a door opened. Rebecca appeared.

“Sarah? What is going on?”

Immediately, Marie let go of her, and Sarah quickly closed the distance to Rebecca. “I wanted to give you this.” Pulling out the blue crystal Julia had given her, she pressed it into Rebecca’s hand.

“What is this?”

“Rebecca? Do you feel any different?” Julia had said the effect should be almost immediate.

“Why? What is this? Marie, why is she here?”

Nothing. There was no change in Rebecca’s demeanor.

Alternative Treatment

“Julia . . .” Sarah didn’t want to point out the obvious. Bailey always became agitated whenever the charm spell was mentioned.

As if she was reading Sarah’s mind, Julia smiled. “Just listen to them. Go ahead, Bailey.”

Bailey hesitated for a few moments before beginning to speak. “I have been under a charm spell for a couple of months. I’m sorry I deceived you . . .”

“We’ve already talked about this. It isn’t your fault,” Julia interrupted.

“Still, I want to apologize. I put you all through so much.”

Julia shrugged and stayed silent.

“I am sorry. Though I didn’t want to, I used you to get to Rebecca. Now she’s in danger.”

“But how . . .?” Sarah’s mind was racing through the implications of this turn of events. “Madeline was unable to break the spell.”

“Yeah, when she failed, I tried a different approach. Unfortunately, the charm is still there. But it’s suppressed for now,” Julia said.

“How did you manage that?” Did Julia have a hidden talent? Nothing about this seemed related to spatial magic.

Flashing another smile, Julia placed a white crystal on the kitchen island.

“One of Jason’s crystals?”

“No. One of mine.”

Sarah picked it up. “You made this?”

“Yes. Jason taught me. He left me some notes.”

“But how is this connected to the charm spell?”

“Some of the principles involved in making these… I was able to depower the charm spell. It’s still there, but it doesn’t have any magical energy to operate. A temporary solution, but effective for now.”

Sarah put down the crystal. Julia could make these? And use them to do other things? What did this mean for the house? For Julia? This felt too big of a development to deal with, and there were other issues more pressing.

“Bailey, what happened to Rebecca?” David’s voice startled Sarah. She had nearly forgotten he was in the room.

“I was forced to give Rebecca a letter. It apparently had some sort of trigger on it. After she read it, she vanished. I don’t really know where. The letter was signed by someone named Marie. Rebecca seemed frightened by it all, before she disappeared. By the time Sarah came back inside, I couldn’t remember what had happened. It’s not that I was unable to tell you; rather, it was hidden from me. Even now, even with the charm suppressed, I cannot remember who put it on me. Or when. Marie is the only name I have because it was on the letter.”

“If someone put that strong of a charm on Bailey,” David said, “they probably put a charm on Rebecca. That’s why she didn’t ask for our help.”

Bailey stared at him. “What do you mean? Have you spoken with her?”

He nodded. “She’s back with the cult she used to be in.”

“She used to be in a cult? She never told me about that.”

“She doesn’t think it’s a cult,” Sarah explained. “And she doesn’t talk about it much. She only told us because someone came looking for her.”

“We need to go get her.” David and Bailey spoke in unison.

“If she is under a charm, it won’t be easy.” Sarah tried to keep everyone from rushing into something.

“Julia?” David turned to her. “Do you think whatever you did for Bailey can help?”

Julia nodded. “If it’s a charm, yes. It will take me at least a couple of days, though.”

“Okay. That will give David and I time to come up with a plan.” Sarah was grateful for the time to approach this situation with some degree of caution.

“What about me?” Bailey asked.

“Let us take care of this. There’s still too much we don’t know about . . . all of this.” Sarah wasn’t sure how far Bailey could be trusted. Until she and Julia could talk privately, involving them was too much of a risk. “It’s safer for you to stay here.”

“I’m the one who got her into this. I’m the one who betrayed her trust, whether I wanted to or not. I need to help get her out.”

“Your feelings are completely understandable, but we’re mages. Let us take care of this. You’ll get your chance to make it up to her.”

Bailey opened her mouth and then closed it again without saying anything. Having them free of the charm was certainly a positive step, but Sarah knew there had to be more to the story.

Surprise

“How are you feeling?” Sarah asked David when he entered the kitchen.

“Better. A little stiff.”

“Being buried in rubble will do that.”

“I suppose.” David opened one of the cupboards and pulled out a box of crackers. He sat down at the island across from her and began mindlessly nibbling.

“Is there anything else bothering you?” She could tell he was distracted. Being unable to help Bailey had frustrated her, so she was looking for some other way to be useful.

“Just anxious to go back for Rebecca. I don’t like leaving her there.”

“David. We’ve been over this.”

“She has to be terrified. You remember the story she told us.”

“Yes, but now she’s chosen to be there. It’s not our place to take her from her home.”

“That’s not her home. She can’t really want to be there.”

“I know it’s not easy to accept, but we have to respect her wishes.”

“How do we know that is her wish? You fell under some sort of compulsion the first time you went there. Bailey is still under some sort of spell. Maybe Rebecca is, too?”

“Maybe. But we have no evidence of that. She says she wants to stay. And she let both of us leave. If we try to force her to leave, we risk a fight we could lose. And we might push Rebecca further away. I don’t like the thought of her being there either, but right now, we don’t have a choice.”

David fell silent. It was obvious he wanted to keep arguing but knew he wasn’t going to win. The man’s loyalty was admirable, but he was too eager to rush in blindly. That was an aspect of his youth Sarah hoped he would grow out of.

A door appeared in the kitchen. Sarah was surprised when Bailey followed Julia through it.

“What . . . ?”

“David. Sarah. I’d like you both to meet Bailey. They have an interesting story to tell.”

Diagnosis

It took a couple of minutes for Bailey to answer the door. Sarah had just begun to worry that they had escaped again when the door finally opened.

“Are you finally letting me out?”

Instead of answering the question, Sarah indicated the woman standing next to her. “Bailey, this is Madeline. She’s a friend of mine,” Sarah ignored the chuckle, “And she’s agreed to try to help us.”

“Help us with what?”

Sarah ignored the look Madeline gave her. “Can we come in?”

“It’s not like I have much of a choice.” The door opened, and Bailey stood aside to let in the two visitors.

Once inside, Sarah noticed that the room seemed very well lived in. After tracking Bailey down, Julia had put them in here and limited their movement even more. Without knowing the details of the charm or compulsion they were under, it seemed like the only safe option.

Bailey was clearly unhappy with this arrangement. “So what is this about?”

“Sarah tells me you might be under a spell,” Madeline blurted out before Sarah could stop her.

“Oh not this again. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not under any spell? I don’t know what happened to Rebecca!”

“What Madeline means is that she’s here to make sure that you are okay.” She glared at the other mage to prevent any contradiction.

“You’re lying. Leave me alone!”

“Good grief.” Madeline shoved Bailey down onto the couch. She so often cultivated a demure image, it was easy for Sarah to forget how imposing Madeline could be. “Now sit quietly for a few minutes.”

Bailey tried to get up. “You can’t do . . .”

“I said stop.”

Sarah could feel the power in Madeline’s voice. “I think they’ve been traumatized enough . . .”

“If you want to know what’s going on, I need to examine them. They clearly are under some sort of compulsion if they are are so insistent on not being analyzed. They probably can’t consent right now. Do you want me to do this or not?”

Sarah looked at Bailey sitting rigidly. “Fine. But . . .”

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt them.”

Madeline focused all her attention on Bailey. Sarah could do little more than watch. She knew much of the basics; charms were her mistress’s specialty after all. Yet she had never had the aptitude for them that Madeline did. Whatever had a hold over Bailey was beyond her abilities.

Madeline continued to concentrate as the minutes dragged on. Over half an hour passed before she finally broke away. Bailey seemed to have relaxed a bit but had slipped into unconsciousness. Madeline stumbled over to a chair and slumped into it, her face falling into her hands.

“Do you have some water?” she finally asked without looking up.

Sarah knew where there were cups and filled one from the sink in the bathroom. She went back to the living room and handed it to Madeline who had by now sat up.

“Thanks.”

Sarah waited until she drained the cup before asking, “So?”

“If you told me the Mistress had done this, I might believe you.”

“What do you . . .”

“It’s that intricate. This thing is so thoroughly wrapped around Bailey, I’m not sure anyone can get it out. Every time I tugged on one part, the rest tightened its grip, threatening to crush them. Maybe the person who did this could undo it. Maybe. But I can’t. No wonder Bailey doesn’t want this messed with. They might not even be aware of it. Actually, I hope they aren’t; it’s terrifying.”

“So there’s nothing we can do?”

“If I had massive amounts of raw power, I could maybe rip it out. However, even if I did, it would leave Bailey an empty husk. There would be nothing of them left.”

“Do you think the Mistress could do it?”

Madeline thought for a moment. “Perhaps. But it would be dangerous. For both. That’s the other thing. Every time I probed it, there was a bit of psychic feedback. I don’t know what it would do if it were seriously threatened.”

Sarah felt despair lapping at her feet.

“There’s another issue.”

“More?”

“Sarah, think about it. Whoever did this is powerful. Maybe more powerful than anyone I’ve known. If this was just about your former housemate, maybe leave it alone. I know we’ve never been the best of friends, but I don’t want to see you hurt. Whoever is behind this is dangerous. I think it would be best if you let it go.”

“Madeline . . .”

“I’m very serious. This scares me.”

“But what about Bailey?”

“Is that really your problem?”

“Yes,” Sarah answered without thinking.

Madeline gave her a long look. “Okay. I’ll try to do some digging; maybe I can find some sort of solution.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t. I think this is a mistake. Just . . . please don’t do anything foolish.”

Sarah gave her a weak smile. “I’ll try.”

Catching Up

Sarah was sitting in the living area sipping on a glass of wine when a door appeared in the middle of the room. Julia stepped through, took a glass off the table, and sat down in another chair.

“So where did you go?”

“We found Rebecca.”

“Really? Did you bring her back?”

“No. She says she wants to be there.”

“Are you serious? After all that effort to find her? Are you sure she’s not being held against her will?”

“I’m not. But they did catch David sneaking around and let him go, which suggests they aren’t trying to antagonize us. She also spoke with each of us alone. I suppose someone might have been observing us, but she seemed to be free to do as she pleased.”

“So that’s it?”

“Maybe. For now. What about Bailey?”

“I tracked them down and brought them back. They came willingly, but we’re going to need some help. They are under some sort of charm or compulsion. That’s why I don’t trust the situation with Rebecca.”

“She did say there was some sort of misunderstanding with Bailey. We should get to the bottom of that.”

“You know anyone who can break a charm?”

“I might.”

“I’ll leave that to you, then. Go easy on Bailey, though. Something tells me this has been an ordeal for them.”

“I will, but I’m a little surprised to hear you plead on their behalf.”

Julia shrugged. “I have a compassionate side. Sometimes.”

“Julia . . .”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for your help. I want you to know that this is your home. As long as you want it to be.”

“Thanks, Sarah. Jason wanted me to find a place. I am trying.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Let me know when you’re going to deal with Bailey. I think I should be there.”

“I will.”

Julia finished her glass and left. Sarah continued to nurse hers while she mulled over the events of the last few days.