“Right, ladies—think that’s the last of the gear,” Taps said, patting a strong hand on the instrument cases in the back of the van.
“Oh, Taps—you’re the bats,” Gwen responded. Her stylised witch’s hat, draped in tulle and mock-spiderwebs fell off her head as she threw her arms around Taps’s middle. “What would we do without our favourite roadie?” Taps returned the hug in her warm, slightly awkward way. Gwen’s loose, tie-dye jade and black kaftan clashed with Taps’s short-sleeve flannel shirt, which showed off her powerful tattooed arms, and black jeans.
“I think we all performed really well,” Ada said. “I love playing gigs for Ordinaries. They appreciate us so much more.”
“As long as none of them find out that our stage effects are real magic, I believe we should not be in any danger of being discovered.”
“Don’t worry so much, HB,” Dimity laughed. “The Magic Council is never gonna find out. They have their heads stuck too far up their own arses to notice that we play at Ordinary venues as well.” She gestured around the dark empty car park as if to demonstrate that they were totally safe. It was after midnight on a Saturday, and practically dead in the rural Welsh town they had come to play for, now that all the audience had gone home, piling off to the bus stop or hailing cabs to take them back to their Ordinary lives. The Cacklers preferred booking mid-sized venues that weren’t too small that their audience would notice that the stage effects and lighting were all the work of magic, but not so large that they would attract an undue amount of attention. There was something of a revival of interest in all things ‘witchy’, thanks to several supernatural-themed television series that had just begun, so they had a moderate-sized following. Their genre was something between grunge and new age, which seemed to appeal to that demographic.
“Come on,” Gwen said with a yawn. “It’s a little way to drive to the B&B.”
Ada smiled at Hecate, tiredness showing in her eyes. Her light auburn chin-length hair was framing her face perfectly, even after the chaos of the gig. She had bobbed it just before their current tour, a few months ago. Hecate loved it—she had loved Ada’s long, thick plait, but as their relationship had deepened over the course of the tour from friendship to something more, this afforded new opportunities for kissing her on the back of the neck that more than made up for it. Her hand emerged from her purple bell-sleeved blouse and extended towards Hecate, who placed her own hand in Ada’s and returned the smile as warmth spread through her cold fingers.
They piled into the van—Hecate following Ada into their usual seat at the back. Dimity cast off her sleeveless studded black denim jacket, covered all over in patches, and slung it over the back of her seat. Out of the sight of any Ordinary CCTV cameras—though Dimity piped up that she doubted this rural town had much in the way of security cameras—they were free to magically change out of their sweaty stage outfits into something more comfortable.
The inside of the van was anything but Ordinary to those with magical powers. A small cauldron was in place beside the driver’s seat, where the motor had been hooked up to run on potion—or into which something could be quickly thrown to break in emergencies, for the van itself had some trouble in that area.
The walls were papered in a mixture of wallpaper leftover from the seventies, various witching band posters, crayon drawings from Taps’s niece, and scrawled ideas for song lyrics and notations of melodies. There were also stubs of candles in cupholders, protection charms dangling from multicoloured yarn from the ceiling, and a huge lace shawl covered the sliding door side, dripping with beads that all rapped against the door individually as the van turned corners.
Hecate had only just enough presence of mind to transfer out of her clothes—a black minidress with silver spiderweb patterns, sleeves made from torn red and black striped tights, and platform heels—exchanging them for flat shoes, a loose grey and black buffalo checked shirt, and some roomy jeans.
Ada and Hecate huddled together, Hecate planting a very sleepy kiss on Ada’s cheek as she settled. Ada’s voice told her to stretch out along the whole seat and put her head in her lap, and Hecate was useless to resist that kind but insistent tone.
Before Hecate’s eyes closed completely, she saw Gwen snoozing against Dimity’s shoulder in the seat in front, as the Welsh valleys rolled past the window. The van purred onward, and Hecate felt herself be lulled to sleep, her head resting against Ada’s soft tummy.
“Wake up, Hecate,” Ada said gently, brushing a hand against her cheek.
“Are we there already?” Hecate murmured groggily.
Hecate slowly righted herself, a heavy fog around her mind. Ada’s hand nestled in the small of her back as she guided her out of the sliding door of the van out into the chill night air.
“Taps, could you help us with our luggage?”
Taps obliged, setting about unloading various bags and cases from the boot of the van.
Above them, a sky full of bright stars glittered—they seemed to be far enough away from civilisation that it was unaffected by light pollution. Ada’s arm was still around her.
“Wait—why are the others not joining us?” Hecate said, startled out of her haze by the sound of the van door sliding shut, such that the spray-painted cat sitting on a moon—their band logo—was visible again.
“It was Gwen’s idea,” Ada said, cupping Hecate’s cheek and turning her head back to face her. “She booked us our own private cottage for a few days.”
Hecate’s mind raced as the van’s engine revved back into activity, and the magically-enhanced van started off down the narrow road, the lights disappearing under the dense cover of trees.
Ada’s brows firmed with concern. “Are you all right with this? Sorry, I realise now I sprang this on you when you were half-asleep without asking.”
“Yes—” Hecate replied quickly. “My apologies—I’m just barely awake at the moment.”
“Isn’t it?” Ada said, looking down the dark driveway. “Let’s get you inside before I have to carry you in.”
“You would find no complaints from me,” Hecate said, squeezing Ada’s hand in her own.
Ada charmed the luggage to float behind them, since neither was in the mood to lug them over the stony path in the dark—or let go of each other’s hand to do so—and there was not a soul for miles around to be witness to their magic.
The cottage’s outline came into view—it was a bungalow, but Hecate could not pick out many details in the darkness other than some glass windows that caught the starlight.
They stumbled slightly over the uneven cobblestones of the front path, before they stepped up to the porch. Ada took out a large key with a ribbon—and unlocked the painted door.
Ada muttered a spell, and flames leapt from her fingers and found the wicks of unlit candles. They were in a kitchen—Hecate could tell this was owned by a magical person, for there was a cauldron on the range cooker and a variety of herbs in jars on the shelves that would not be amiss in some common potions.
Heavy with sleep, Hecate bore herself along the hall in Ada’s wake, who was opening doors in search of the bedroom. The walls were adorned with Welsh love spoons and expressive oil paintings of landscapes, which Hecate acknowledged rather than appreciated at her current level of exhaustion, until Ada beckoned her to the correct door.
A large bed dominated the cosy room, laden with an intricate granny square blanket crocheted in white, green, and violet. It was not the first time that they had slept in the same bed—as bandmates, they often shared when accommodation was tight. This, however, would be the first time in a long while, since their success had meant they could usually afford separate rooms.
“You don’t mind sharing a bed?”
Their relationship was really only just in the early months—they had held back ‘for the sake of the band’—but evidently Gwen had noticed how serious things had been getting since this tour, and how much Ada’s attention had been bringing Hecate out of her awkward twenties with very little sense of current style, and into her almost-thirties and some of the flashier outfits more suitable for the stage, like the one she had worn earlier that night.
“Of course not,” Hecate replied, too tired to be bashful.
“Can you change yourself, or would you like me to help you?”
When the only response Ada could get out of Hecate was a vague “mmm,” she twirled her hand and transferred Hecate into some soft flannel pyjamas, before removing the two hair sticks holding her bun in place, allowing a cascade of dark chocolate tresses to tumble to her waist. Ada helped her under the duvet and drew the covers over her. Hecate felt Ada’s lips meet her forehead as she curled her hand around the sheets and brought them up to her collar bone. Consciousness slipped from her before she had a chance to form a “goodnight, Ada,” on her tongue.
Hecate’s eyelashes brushed against the crisp cotton of the pillow as she opened her eyes to the dark morning. The sheets smelled of Ada’s perfume—but she closed her hand around only empty space in the duvet next to her where Ada had slept next to her all night. Hecate’s heart twinged—she would have loved to have woken up just before Ada so she could kiss her awake.
Ada, however, must be making breakfast—for now she could detect the smell of pancakes—or was it more like brunch at this stage? A glance at the clock on the bedside told her that it was well past the hour she liked to be awake.
As she began shifting her limbs out of bed, a “mmrp” sounded from somewhere near her feet. Hecate lifted her head, startled, to see the fluffy form of a long-haired black cat staring back at her with eyes narrowed in contentment. She gave a gentle greeting stroke behind his ears, until he lifted his chin for her to scratch, and she obliged, enjoying the softness of his chin and the vibration in his throat as he purred.
Hecate heard some clattering of plates from the kitchen. Feeling guilty for oversleeping, she gathered a few necessaries from her suitcase, and headed for the bathroom—shadowed by the black cat, who padded along beside her on his enormous paws. Watched curiously by the cat’s amber eyes, she cast a quick cleansing spell, brushed her teeth, and put on a long shirt dress, which happened to be one of the first items of clothing she could find in her suitcase, but also looked nice enough to pass for something one might wear on a casual date. A second glance in the mirror at her dishevelled hair—and she swirled her hand over her head to redo her hair into a neat bun. A third look told her she definitely needed some makeup to appear less tired than she felt, and passed her hand across her face to apply a subtle lipstick and eyeliner. She wanted to look nice for Ada.
When she was ready, she scooped up the cat into her arms to carry through to the kitchen. He was quite content to see his domain from the higher vantage point, but inspected the additional luggage with some suspicion. Hecate noted the large rectangular case for her acoustic guitar was resting in the hallway as she passed by it to enter into the kitchen.
“Good morning, sleepy,” Ada smiled as she looked up from the frying pan. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the smell of my pancakes. I see you’ve found Mr Mistoffelees. He belongs to the owners.”
“I’m sorry—I must have been far more tired than I thought.” Hecate put Mr Mistoffelees down onto the floor, and came up behind Ada where she was stood by the range cooker, and put her hands around her middle.
Ada turned her head a little to kiss Hecate’s cheek, keeping most of her attention on the batter in the frying pan. “I’m not surprised. The gig was so much fun. You must have given a little too much of yourself. You look gorgeous, by the way. How do you manage it? And here I am in my pyjamas.”
Hecate blushed. “Thank you, Ada. But you are beautiful in whatever you wear. And you’ve been busy making breakfast.”
Ada beamed. “You flatterer. They’re nearly ready.”
“You brought my acoustic guitar,” Hecate commented, watching as Ada checked the edges of the pancake.
“I did,” Ada returned mysteriously over her shoulder. “I have a surprise for you later.”
Ada’s back was warm against her body, particularly in the hot pink cardigan she had put on over her pyjamas. “One that requires me to play my guitar for you?” Hecate quipped playfully.
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
Ada had already set out a variety of topping options that the kitchen could afford on short notice—which was apparently quite impressive, for there was lemon and sugar, chocolate hazelnut spread, strawberries, blueberries, sliced banana, maple syrup, and a bowl of freshly whipped cream. Hecate squeezed lemon juice over her first, sprinkled it generously with sugar, and rolled it—while Ada covered hers in a generous layer of chocolate hazelnut spread, before loading it with strawberries and banana as well, and a dollop of whipped cream.
They sat at the small kitchen table to eat, where Ada filled a large tea pot and located a tea cosy for it, which was knitted to look like a cat.
Ada’s eyes were warm over the top of her glasses as she looked at Hecate before her. “I hope the others are having a nice breakfast.”
“I doubt it is quite to this standard,” Hecate replied, with a shy smile. The way Ada could undo her with just a glance from those blue eyes was entirely unfair. “This is delicious. Thank you so much.”
“The pantry was well-stocked. And I’m more than happy to make you breakfast, any time you like,” Ada said softly.
Hecate glowed with pleasure to imagine waking up to Ada every morning—although she hoped that sometime she would have the chance to return the favour.
“Oh—it’s raining,” Ada said, her expression falling. “I had hoped that we would be able to go out for a broomstick ride or a walk.”
Hecate put her fork down and frowned in thought. “We could cast a weather spell.”
Ada reached across the table and took Hecate’s hand in her own. “Or we could find something else to do. What do you feel like?”
Hecate squeezed Ada’s hand. “Something quiet, perhaps. Maybe I’ll finally get to read that new Jeanette Winterson book I brought with me at the beginning of the tour.”
Ada lit the candles in the lounge—for the heavy rainclouds and the large tree outside the window made it quite dim even though it was nearing noon—and Hecate made herself comfortable on the sofa. Mr Mistoffelees, never too far away from the guests at his cottage, leapt up onto Hecate’s lap.
“Some background music, perhaps?” Ada asked Hecate.
“Mmm,” Hecate agreed, opening The Passion and shifting the candle next to her to allow its light to cast over the page, before resting her free hand on Mr Mistoffelees’s back.
Ada wandered over to the shelving to browse through the cassettes and CDs. One seemed to catch her eye, for she picked it out and brought it over to show Hecate. “Do you think this was deliberate?”
Hecate blinked in surprise. The cover was very recognisable—it bore the familiar cover art of their first album from a few years ago—an image of the four of them all in black witch robes and hats superimposed against a purple-tinted stormy sky, with a pentagram embossed in each corner. “I don’t think so. It’s quite dusty, so I think it must have been here a good while.”
“Not well played, then.” Ada chuckled. “Should we be flattered?”
“I suppose there’s no accounting for taste,” Hecate said, amused.
Ada picked out one of the new-age CDs. The owners of the cottage had provided a magically-enhanced CD player that did not require to be connected to the mains—by necessity, since there was no electricity in the cottage at all. Ada pressed on the lid to open it, and placed the disc within, and set it to play, before joining Hecate on the sofa with her own book.
“Lay your head in my lap,” Ada said gently to Hecate.
Mr Mistoffelees leapt onto the arm rest as Hecate followed Ada’s suggestion, and then crept back up her knee and onto her chest, where he settled and closed his eyes in contentment. Ada’s hand settled on Hecate’s chest beside the sleeping cat, and Hecate felt a twinge of pleasure as Ada’s fingers played across the buttons of her shirt dress as she stroked his fur.
“I might fall asleep,” Hecate warned her.
“I don’t mind,” Ada replied. “If you need to sleep more, you should. I love being the one you fall asleep on.”
Hecate could not stop a smile curving her lips, and soon found herself lulled into relaxation by Ada’s hands and warmth as she started reading properly. They had never had such freedom to be themselves around each other. The majority of their time was spent in practising, recording, or touring, and this had never before afforded them much in the way of private downtime. It was bliss just to be able to enjoy some quiet when their lives were often so full of noise.
“Would you like your surprise now?”
Hecate brightened at the excited look in Ada’s eyes. Her passion was infectious. “Yes, of course.”
Ada led Hecate by the hand into the spacious dining room—but what Hecate’s eyes fell on first was the piano by the window, and Hecate’s guitar case near it.
Ada seated herself on the piano stool. “I know this isn’t quite our usual setup, but I wondered if you’d like to hear a little something I’ve been working on.”
Hecate’s eyes widened as she realised what Ada meant.
Ada began to play—though Hecate could only get a sense of the melody—she was lost to desire as she watched Ada’s body move, as she in turn lost herself to the music. Seeing Ada play was like watching a painter create a masterpiece, and being witness to her in full flow was nothing short of spellbinding. Hecate had never actually seen her play a real piano—she usually played the keyboard—synths that suited The Cacklers’ sound. A few of their tracks allowed Ada’s skill to show, to be certain, but nothing as melodic as this.
Ada was a highly accomplished pianist, and Hecate felt like their next LP needed to take better advantage of that. Hecate knew that when Gwen was forming her previous band in the early 80s—Gwen and The Bats, which had a similar sound to the Eurythmics—she had scouted Ada specifically for her skills as a keyboard player.
Hecate felt her heart surrendering her self-consciousness as Ada began to sing—she would have suddenly got up to kiss Ada, were it not for the fact that that would end the music. Ada’s hands caressing across the keys, and the little glances she shot to Hecate beside her were colluding to make her fall completely in—
“What do you think?” Ada’s words cut her thought short as her hands lifted from the keys somewhat abruptly.
“I— love it,” Hecate said emphatically—too overcome to say what she really wanted to.
“Really?” Ada replied, her eyes sparkling. “I wrote it for you.”
At this confession, Hecate could no longer hold herself back—she stood, and bent to meet Ada’s sweet lips with her own—brushing her fingertips over Ada’s cheek before running through her hair and cupping the back of her head. Ada pulled her down onto the piano stool, and they kissed heatedly, until a trill of keys startled Hecate out of the moment as Mr Mistoffelees leapt up onto the piano.
Ada scooped him up so that his legs flailed gracelessly in the air, and put him on the top of the piano, out of reach of the keys. “Sorry, Mr Mistoffelees, but our duet really does not need to become a trio.” Ada turned back to Hecate. “Play along with me?” Ada whispered, her voice low with passion.
Hecate nodded wordlessly, and bent down to her guitar case and opened the clasps, her hands shaking a little from nerves.
Hecate dwelt in the moment Ada’s hands hovered over the keys as she prepared to resume playing. This time, Hecate had to listen closely to the music. The first notes rang out through the room as her fingertips flowed effortlessly down into the keys, more by intimate knowledge than from the sheet of handwritten music before her.
Hecate cradled the large body of her acoustic guitar in her lap as she followed the melody, eventually gaining confidence and tracing chord shapes along with Ada’s playing, her long fingers pressing the strings against the fretboard—but still without strumming.
The notes held Hecate like an embrace as she listened intently, sounding out how her accompaniment might go in her head—but she kept remembering the way that morning she had reached out for Ada in bed and found only empty space, or being distracted by Ada’s movements as she poured herself into the music. The melody and Ada’s words sang out—of longing, of seeing in different colours, of days on the road spent in wanting, in tenderness, in love. Hecate felt that this was the song that she had somehow heard the entire time she and Ada had started to become closer. It was like coming home—like the threads of all her yearning had been drawn into a tapestry where they finally found meaning.
The rain outside intensified. Hecate’s breath caught in her lungs with the need for Ada’s kiss again—instead she channelled the feeling into her fingers as they finally picked out riffs for each chord progression, matching Ada’s tempo perfectly. Her voice seemed to naturally find the harmonies under Ada’s, even without knowing the words—as she felt the familiar feeling of Ada’s magic reaching out for hers as they played and sang.
Ada turned to Hecate, and their eyes connected as they hit the high note together in the bridge. Hecate’s heart twisted to see that Ada’s eyes were glistening, and even more strikingly blue.
As the chorus returned, she felt moved to pluck out a counter-melody—and even after Ada sung the last words, both of them continued playing, keeping their song lasting for a few moments more—neither of them wanting to break the spell they were creating. But at last, the sound died away—and Hecate set her guitar down carefully beside her chair before they both stood, needing to be near each other.
Hecate’s hands grasped for Ada’s—craving the connection with her again. She kissed Ada’s cheek where a tear had spilled over.
“I’m so glad I recorded that,” Ada said, indicating the bulb of a glass bottle that she had placed in the room, now swirling with moving images—a magical record of their song perfectly distilled into a potion.
“It was such a beautiful surprise,” Hecate whispered, smiling through her own tears. “Thank you.”
“You’re so very welcome, Hecate.”
The following morning, Hecate awoke feeling rather well-rested—against the pillow before her lay the gentle sleep-tossed light auburn hair of her beloved Ada. She eased herself closer, kissing the back of Ada’s neck in her favourite place. Memories of last night were returning to her between breaths, as the haze of her dreams left her. She smiled against the sheets.
Hecate reluctantly eased herself out of bed—she was unwilling to leave Ada, but she was desperate for some tea.
“Where are you off to?” Ada murmured, half asleep. “Come back.”
“I’m going to make us a cup of tea,” Hecate replied, her heart warming to hear Ada’s voice. “I won’t be long.”
“Tea would be lovely. Thank you, Hecate.”
When Hecate returned with two steaming mugs of tea, Ada was only marginally more awake, and had sat up. She placed Ada’s mug next to her glasses and a stoneware candle holder on her bedside table, and leaned in for a quick kiss. Ada, however, drew her in for a deeper kiss, her hand insistent on the back of Hecate’s neck.
Hecate, anxious lest the remaining mug in her hand should spill, levitated it over to the other bedside table, before obliging to Ada’s desire, and slipping back under the covers with her.
Ada smiled irresistibly as her fingers traced across Hecate’s lips. “I think it should rain all day again today, too. What do you think?”
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Hecate murmured, and kissed Ada’s fingers.