"I feel young again, jus' thinking o' the wee ones running about," Dora said to Sasha.
They were sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of Sister House, watching the clouds pull across the early evening sky. A few stars were already out, offering just enough light to see the checkerboard between them without having to light the porch lanterns. Sasha puffed on a hand-rolled cigarette as Dora sipped warm lemon tea while chewing on a wad of mint-flavored tobacco.
"It will be wonderful, won't it?" Sasha leaned back into her wicker rocking chair, a few tendrils of her loose bun grazing the top of her shoulders.
Dora watched her lifelong companion with fascination, as if she were studying a work of art. When Sasha rocked forward, and the starlight touched her cheeks, Dora saw the vibrancy and energy that bubbled beneath the surface--the face of someone who seemed capable of bending time to their will. But when Sasha tilted back, the years of hardship revealed themselves in her hardened features--wrinkles furrowed across her brow, and there was an almost distant look in her grey-blue eyes. All those years ago, when their journey first began, neither could have imagined how far they'd come together--yet here they were, finally making progress toward tangible dreams. It felt surreal.
"I just can't believe this is finally happening," Sasha said, a rare note of humility in her voice.
"Nor I." Dora spit the tobacco into her spittoon. "I'll teach 'em to make stew! An' ta garden! Ta read tea leaves and palms. Ta whip up potions an’ porridge an' pot pies!" Dora rubbed her hands together, imagining all the beautiful days ahead. "I ain't been this ruffled since I went ta the Rockafella Ball!"
"You did not go to the Rockefeller Ball, Dora." Sasha scoffed, leaning forward to blow smoke into Dora's face.
"Well, I got invited," Dora said with a huff, waving away the smoke and wishing Sasha didn't have to correct everything. "An' that was enough fer a village girl like me."
"It's been a long time since we were girls." Sasha paused to observe the detailed map of veins that laced her hands. With an amused cackle, she jumped three of Dora's red checkers, removing them from the board. "King me. And drink up."
Dora's cheeks flushed—a deep rosy hue that almost matched the color of her defeated checkers. Squinting one eye, she drank down the shot of whiskey. "Ya cheated!" she accused, with playful disbelief. Though truth be told, Sasha never actually 'cheated' at anything—she just had an uncanny ability to bend the rules and find loopholes when needed.
"Now, Dora…" Sasha resumed her rocking. "The only thing I cheated on today was my diet." She patted her perpetually slim belly. "And that's because of your delicious banana cream pie."
Dora grinned under her friend’s praise. It was a delicious pie. She would teach the recipe to the girls once they arrived and were old enough to roll out dough.
They sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The sound of croaking frogs and chirping crickets filled the evening air, while the stars twinkled ever brighter in the darkening sky. The moon made its grand entrance with a pale glow—as if to cheer them on. No matter what came, this moment was theirs to savor.
"There won't be many more nights where it's just the two of us, once the girls are here," Sasha said, smoothing her skirt.
"There's been too many nights like that already," Dora said gruffly. "I hope we don' make a mess o' this." The sour thought had plagued Dora's mind recently. This wasn't just some grand experiment--they were dealing with living, breathing people--children who had the potential to tip the balance between darkness and light.
"Oh, Dora!" Sasha flicked her ash over the porch rail. "Everything has fallen into place, exactly as predicted. Now cast away all doubt, my friend. All will be well! So it is spoken, so mote it be." With a wave of her hand, she cast away any lingering concern by wriggling her middle finger.
"So mote it be," Dora agreed, wriggling her own finger as she refilled her shot glass.
"I suppose we should go over a few things before we become parents," Sasha said with a dramatic sigh, signaling to Dora that this was not an impromptu conversation she was about to launch into. "So... which one of us should be their mother?"
"I, uh..." Dora's bushy eyebrows knit together. She'd never given it much thought.
"It occurs to me that being an aunt might be even better than being a mother," Sasha quickly continued. "An aunt gets all of the hugs and fun, and doesn't have to deal with the daily drudgeries, like laundry and bath time."
"I like hugs and fun, but I also like laundry and bath time," Dora said.
"An aunt doesn't have to dole out discipline when the wee ones are naughty," Sasha went on.
"I like dolin' out discipline." Dora squared her shoulders. "Spare the wand, spoil the witch, I say."
"Aunts are perceived as 'cool,' whereas moms are dowdy…boring…drab." Sasha took a long drag of her cigarette, exhaling out of the side of her mouth.
"If ya want ta be the mom, ya should just say so," Dora said, too tired for this game. Dora didn't care what her role was in raising the girls, so long as she had one. And truth be told, there was probably no one more suited to protecting the wee ones than Sasha Shantay. "Don' matter either way ta me."
"I'm so glad we are in agreement! Of course, we'll both need to be good role models. That means giving up some of our vices." Sasha gestured to the package next to the checkerboard. "Like your tobacco." She dragged what was left of her cigarette and chased it with a whiskey shot, expelling small rings from her mouth as she thought. "But we'll worry about that when the time comes. For now, I have a surprise for you."
"Oh?" Dora eyed her companion nervously. Sasha's surprises were a mixed bag—but true to her word, they were always surprising.
"I've located the book!" Sasha leaned forward with gleaming, glassy eyes.
"The book?" Dora leaned in, her eyes wide with shock and surprise.
"No way!" she breathed out in disbelief.
"Yes, way," Sasha replied, and they both began to giggle uncontrollably.
Dora fanned her face until she recovered enough to speak again. It seemed impossible that Sasha found this book--the seemingly mythical grimoire they'd read about in Juliana's journal, thought to be lost forever. "How? Where? We've searched e'ery corner o' the world."
"While neglecting the corner right at our feet. It was tucked away in the Harvest Home library, with a false cover that disguised its magick. I discovered it when I was looking for an ancient recipe book. How could we have been so blind?"
"Where is it now?" Dora asked, itching to touch the fabled spell book.
"I don't have it with me, Dora. One doesn't carry an artifact of that significance around willy-nilly. I've hidden it for now. Once the school is built, we'll hide it there."
"In the same building as the demon mirror?" Dora frowned. "That don't seem too safe."
"Hosh-posh, Dora. Why must you question everything?"
"Someone has ta!"
"Trust me," Sasha said reassuringly. "The book will be safe. The woods around the school are enchanted, protecting it from outsiders. As for the mirror--not even I can break the magickal seal that guards it."
"Were ya able ta read any of the book?" Dora asked, her curiosity piqued. The book was rumored to be written in an ancient language, but with enough time--and the Deciphering Stone, which Sasha had in her possession--they might be able to decode its secrets.
"A bit," Sasha admitted, her eyes darkening, "but I can't hold the stone for too long without feeling myself starting to go mad. But the girls might be able to, in time, if their bloodlines are pure enough."
“An’ what o’ Karma and Basilisk? Did ya find them as well?" They'd learned of these relics in Juliana's journals—powerful magickal weapons forged in the Netherworld. At some point in her life, Juliana had come into possession of them. Dora dreaded to think what would happen if they fell into the wrong hands—a sword that could fetch out demons and cut through stone, and a dagger that could bring down a hellhound.
"I have reason to believe that Joe might have found them first," Sasha said, pursing her lips.
Dora pushed a fresh wad of tobacco into the pocket between her gums and lower lip. "At least one of them is likely his birthright," Dora said.
The evening grew late, and Dora could barely make out Sasha's face across from her anymore. Soon, the game of checkers dissolved into shadow, along with everything else on the porch, as night crept across their world.
Dora knew she should be feeling triumphant. After all, they had accomplished so much—building the school, finding the girls, and locating the fabled grimoire. But despite this success, she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling in her gut that things were coming to a head. They were being watched from both sides of The Veil—through magick mirrors, scrying globes, and tea leaves.
"It's gettin' cold," Dora said, feeling a chill spreading from her neck to her toes. Her mind drifted towards thoughts of comfort--sipping hot tea and munching Lorna Doone cookies by the fireplace, while wrapped in a cozy blanket. Those were the things she needed right now--her comfies. She pulled herself up from the rocker, her knees creaking as she stood.
"But we aren't done with our game," Sasha objected.
"We don' always need ta play it out to the end," Dora said, stuffing the tobacco package into the pocket of her housedress as she shuffled for the door.
"I do." Sasha stamped her cigarette out on the porch rail and rose to her feet. "Why bother playing, if you aren't trying to win?"