Phased & Confused

by Jessie Lovene

“So…things didn’t go as planned.”

Though I felt my little sister looming over my bed, I didn’t crack my eyes until the honk from her familiar echoed through my ears. I’d become too accustomed to that goose’s shattering of my eardrums, thankfully—or unfortunately, or both—for it to prompt further reaction.  “Shut up, Gary,” I muttered darkly.

“Aella, come on,” my sister begged. “You remember that thing we did last night?”

“Do I remember an event I was physically present for? Nope.”

“This isn’t a joke!”

I finally opened my eyes completely, assessing my sister. For someone in the middle of a crisis, she was exceptionally well-dressed. Her Aphrodite costume consisted of a simple white wrap dress, though she’d accented it thoroughly with delicate crystal jewelry and even shinier golden shoes. Instead of a golden crown, she’d placed a tiara crafted from the plant of her namesake atop her short, rosy hair. The holly berries added an earthy quality to her costume that I rather liked. I expected nothing less than extravagance for her outfit on Halloween—especially when it took place on a full moon.  

I stretched out a groan pointedly as I sat up. “You’re going to have to be more specific, Holl. What didn’t go as planned?”

“My date.” Holly reached forward and grabbed my oversized t-shirt, pulling me into a sitting position. “My date, Aella! Sadie was supposed to be into me tonight but…” Her lips wobbled; and at our forced proximity, I noticed the redness in her eyes for the first time.   “She’s been trying to ask out Morgan all night!

Oh. Oh, that was unfortunate. Grabbing Sadie’s attention was the sole reason we performed the spell last night.

“Did you do something after I left?” I ventured.

She immediately released my shirt, replacing it with the fabric of her dress. “What do you mean?”

“Did you mess with the powder after I left? You let it sit, right?”

When my sister slowly shifted her gaze, I knew the answer.

Witches are associated with the moon for a variety of reasons. The moon affects patterns throughout the world, and occasionally effects its subjects just as strongly. But the weird shit that happens during a full moon isn’t our fault. We aren’t responsible for the supposed insanity and insomnia that runs rampant when the moon is full, nor the hike in water bills due to an excess of cleansing baths.

Okay, we’re not to blame most of the time.

As experts in our field, we usually harness the power of the full moon with care and professionalism. But occasionally a few students of magic suffer cluelessness like any other mortal. Our teachers scold us mercilessly—or, with a hint of luck, they never find out.

And with a hint of that luck tonight, our mother will remain oblivious to our mistake.  

Last night had been the only occasion mother left Holly and I alone to practice. While I participated in spellcasting at her side every night before the full moon for the past few years, Holly had been deemed too young.  So, when Holly finally earned mother’s permission on her sixteenth birthday last month, she set her mind on a particular spell. Mother left early for a party last night, entrusting me to help my sister get acquainted with the routine. I’d felt generous at the time, so I obliged her ideas.

I seriously regretted that now.

With a groan, I rolled out of bed and threw on the first semi-decent outfit I could find: a pair of black pants and a blouse that might pass for costume adjacent. As I pulled on my boots and headed for the door, Holly dashed after me.  “You can’t go to a Halloween party dressed like that!”

I shot her a glare over my shoulder. “I wouldn’t be going to a Halloween party at all, but here we are.”

My sister grumbled the entire way to the shop building that adjoined our house. The family store functioned as the perfect excuse for hiding all witchy-related items. As an emporium of curiosities, customers expected to find the strange and unusual there. Even most wannabe “witches” on the hunt for sage or tarot cards didn’t expect the ingredients we carried to contain any real magic.

“So, what happened exactly?” I pressed again, unlocking the backdoor. Mother was out with friends for Halloween festivities, so I deemed it unnecessary to sneak around. “I told you not to touch the powder until it was ready.”

“It looked ready!” Holly still clutched the fabric of her dress, running it nervously between her fingers. “And I was excited. I mixed it in with one of those chocolates you made last night and gave it to Sadie this morning. But instead of noticing me like she was supposed to…” She sniffed. “She seems to have noticed someone else instead.”

I carefully combed through the ingredient list in my head, strolling towards the correct shelves. “And you’re sure Sadie doesn’t just…like this other person?”

 “Goddesses, no! Everyone hates Morgan, Aella, and I mean everyone. Sadie’s completely embarrassing herself.”

“Well…The spell is only supposed to work if they already have feelings for the person…”

Even without glancing in Holly’s direction, I knew her face burned bright red at my insinuation. “Morgan’s hot, okay? Everyone feels something for her, but no one likes it.”

“Point taken.”

 “What are you making?” She scrunched her nose at me, pulling a packet out of her pocket.  “I still have some of the powder.”

I snatched various herbs from the shelves: everything needed to create a reversing powder. “It clearly isn’t working properly, Holl, and I’m not risking any other mishaps. I’m reversing it.”

“No!” She grasped my wrist. “You said you would help me!”

 “And I am helping you.”

“But you also agreed to help me see if Sadie is really interested in me or not. I’m not going to know if we don’t use the powder on her!”

I groaned, already exhausted. “Can’t you just ask her if she likes you, like a normal person?”

“I mean I could, but…” The color of her cheeks suddenly matched her hair. “You can’t tell me that if you could avoid open rejection, you wouldn’t.”

How could I argue with that? I still disliked the idea, but I understood where she was coming from. And, unfortunately, I’d always possessed a soft spot for my baby sister. “Fine. We’ll try the powder one more time now that it’s aged properly. But I’m still bringing this,” I shook my newly-gathered ingredients in her face, “just in case.”

~

Witchy town or no, everyone came out for a good Halloween party. By the time we arrived, the festivities had dwindled to those lively enough to stay awake—or too far gone to sleep. While the adults, like mother, attended more sophisticated soirees, people closer to my sister’s and my age preferred good, old-fashioned, fancy drinking.

And by fancy, I referred to parties where the outfits cost ten times more than the alcohol served.

Our school’s party was still packed with drunks dressed in various Halloween costumes. I scanned the sea of Harley Quinns, Hole-Punch Jims, and various sequin-clad teens. “What’s she dressed as?”

Holly’s lip wobbled slightly as she gestured through the crowd. “She’s the adorable Pikachu over there.”

I followed her gaze to a blonde girl in a yellow dress. Sadie’s face was a mixture of reds, both from the circles painted on her cheeks that functioned as part of her costume to the flush of anger along her neck. My sister’s crush looked about ready to take out the man talking to a woman in a sad excuse for a witch costume—a painfully fake version of the genuine profession.  If I hadn’t already believed Holly’s opinion of the girl before, her costume would’ve convinced me; though, I supposed it wasn’t her fault for not realizing she was essentially insulting us. “I take it that’s Morgan?”

Holly’s eyes narrowed in response.

“Stay here,” I ordered. For good measure, I shot Gary a quick look; thankfully our classmates appeared too drunk to notice a goose dressed in a wizard’s hat and cape. “You, too.”

Ignoring the indigent leers I received for my lack of costume—or perhaps for the lack of a red solo cup in my hand—I pushed through the crowd of my drunk classmates. Sadie’s anger steadily grew more murderous by the second; if I didn’t reach her before she decided to approach Morgan and her special friend, she’d likely bite his head off. My gaze never faltered from her as I surreptitiously slid the baggie of the original powder from my pocket.

I barely managed to hold in a howl of rage as a man dressed like a cat cut in front of me. His face appeared familiar from one of my classes, but his name sat on the tip of my tongue. Something with a T. Todd, maybe? I quickly wrapped the baggie tightly within my fist, hiding it.  

His lips tilted upward into a disgustingly charming smile that I didn’t have time for. “Gonna stop Sadie from doing something stupid?”  

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Why would you think that?” 

“Because no one openly admits they have a crush on Morgan unless they’ve consumed all of the alcohol in the world.”

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed her unusual behavior. Great. “Wow. The alcohol budget for this party was a lot higher than I thought, then.” 

I started to move away; inconveniently, he fell into step beside me. He grasped my hand gently, stalling me. I reluctantly allowed him to twirl me around as he assessed my outfit.  “And what are you supposed to be?”

I glanced down at myself, recalling what I’d haphazardly thrown on. “Your mom, clearly.” I wasn’t proud of my response; I added embarrassment to the tally of crimes Holly owed me for.

Shockingly, he laughed. Releasing my hand, he shoved his into his pockets. “Nice.”

I smiled indulgently, attempting to act as naturally as possible as we started moving again. I slowly closed the distance between myself and Sadie further. Thankfully, she still waited to launch herself at Morgan’s friend. The boy continued to follow me, so I made one more attempt at conversation. “So… you’re a cat?”

“No.” He gestured to his costume. “I’m a tomcat.”

“Beg pardon?”

“You know, a ‘Tom’ cat. Because my name is—”

“Tom. Right.” Okay, not Todd. “Clever.”

The flash of a yellow tail drew my attention back to my task: one rapidly moving Pikachu. I picked up my pace, distancing myself from Tom while gesturing vaguely in her direction. “If you’ll excuse me…”

Leaving Tom behind, I managed to collide into Sadie’s path. Grasping her lightly around the wrist, I pulled her along with me in the opposite direction. “Hey girl! Your makeup is smearing a little bit. Lemme help you fix it quick!”

“Oh, uh—” Sadie glanced longingly over my shoulder, but she didn’t resist me. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Thanks.”

We stopped within a small group of trees just outside the main party. “I’m just going to fix your cheeks. That’s where you Pikachu get all your electricity, right?”

She giggled softly, and I understood why my sister liked the sound. “Yeah, right. Lord knows I need my spark tonight.”

“I bet.” I dug into my pocket again for the baggie.

And came up empty.

Panic raced through my veins as my eyes darted through the crowd, tracing the path I weaved through. How could I have dropped it? I remembered holding it in my palm when—

When Tom grabbed my hand.

“That son of a—” I paused, flashing Sadie a reassuring smile. “You know, my sister actually has my good lipstick. Let’s go grab it from her, yeah?”

Sadie shrugged and let me drag her around the party’s edge to where Holly sulked. She perked up as she spotted us, pushing loose hair behind her ears. “H-hey Sadie! You look electric!”

I resisted the urge to facepalm, choosing to focus on scanning for Tom instead. “I was just fixing up Sadie’s makeup when I realized you have my good lipstick.”

Holly’s brow furrowed momentarily before she recovered. “Oh, yup. I sure do!” She opened her purse, slipping out a bright red lipstick that I would never own from its depths. 

When I finally laid eyes on Tom amongst the crowd, he appeared…different. His eyes hazed over, swirling with emotion as he gazed in our direction.  The idiot clearly ingested the powder thinking it was some sort of drug. At first, I suspected he stared at Holly: the intended target of the spell. But as I followed the trail of his eyes further…

Okay, no, Tom could not be staring at Gary like that. For so many reasons. We obviously botched the spell completely if he found a goose attractive.

I groaned internally. This evening just kept getting more complicated.

 “Hey Holl,” I said, “Why don’t you help her with that while I go get my special powder?” I shoved Sadie vaguely in my sister’s direction before bolting off into the crowd.

I closed the distance between Tom and I quickly. His attention was so intently trained on Gary that he barely noticed as I grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked.

“I thought I was more your type.” I batted my eyelashes in a way I’d seen Holly do a hundred times, praying to whatever Goddess might be listening that it came across as flirty and not creepy.

“Not when you’re dressed as my mom,” Tom retorted.

Right. Ew, why had I said that? “What if I lied, and I’m really dressed as myself?”

“That’s significantly better but…” His gaze snapped back towards Gary. “You’re not dressed like that.”

“Like…a goose?”

“Like you’re magic.”

Oh, if he only knew.

Placing my hand on the side of his face, I turned him towards me; hopefully the gesture mimicked more of a gentle turn than a yank, but I’d never been gifted in the art of flirting. “What if I told you a secret, Tom?”

 His eyes perked up. “What sort of secret?”

I leaned in closer, stealthily reaching into my other pocket. “What if I told you…that I am magic?”

Interest sparked faintly in his eyes. “What kind of magic can you do?”

“Close your eyes, and I’ll show you.”

To my surprise, Tom’s attention remained wholly on me before he closed his eyes, never sparing Gary another glance.

And, as promised, I showed him what kind of magic I could do.

I ignored the little moan he emitted as I brushed the reversing powder over his eyelids. Simultaneously, I slid two fingers from my other hand into his pocket, grasping the baggie he stole from me. I closed it tightly in my fist before lowering my opposite fingers from his eyes.

 Biting my lip, I waited for the results. Despite my confidence in my reversing powder— I’d mixed it countless times—a part of me still waited for something to go wrong.

Thankfully when Tom’s eyes fluttered open, any trace of wild magic receded. I released a long breath in relief.

He blinked at me a few times. “That…certainly wasn’t the magic I was expecting.” When a slow smile tugged at his lips, I nearly panicked again. “But it certainly was enchanting.”

His words rendered me speechless; but since he no longer gazed at my sister’s familiar like he’d found the love of his life, I merely managed a nod before bolting away from him. I pretended not to hear the words call me as they echoed behind me, focusing on returning to my sister. His voice grew steadily closer until I could no longer ignore it. “Hey, Aella—”

As his fingers closed around my wrist, I whipped around. The momentum caused my arm to jerk to the side, zinging the baggie with Holly’s original concoction from my fingers. I no longer heard Tom’s words. My legs carried me unconsciously, following the baggie’s trajectory through the air. Dread twisted in my gut as my eyes trailed it to where it fell.

Straight into the punch bowl.

Apparently, I was the only one sober enough to notice, or care, what happened. The ladle dipped in steadily, delving out portions to waiting cups. I noticed the effects immediately; people tore away from the groups they’ve been hanging out in, darting towards others across the field. The scene blurred as voices grew louder, movement sped up. None of the activity could compete with the pounding panic of my heart in my ears.

The only sensation that managed to get through was my sister’s voice. I immediately turned towards the sound, spotting a flash of pink hair and a yellow tail bouncing towards the center of the crowd. Towards a certain fake witch.

My ears zeroed in on their conversation as Holly grasped Sadie’s arm, preventing her from scratching out the eyes of Morgan’s date. “You’ve been staring at me all night,” I heard Morgan sneer. “Finally get it out of your system?”

Tears pealed down Sadie’s face. “Why are you with him?”

“Come on, Sadie,” Holly begged. Sadie attempted to pull free from her grasp, but my sister held firm. “Let’s go.”

“No, I want an explanation!” Sadie demanded.

Morgan snorted. “Who even are you?”

My attention jumped, a cacophony of voices suddenly hitting my ears:

“Has anyone told you you’ve got the prettiest—”

“Will you be the Jim to my Pam?”

“Hey at least Harley Quinn and the Joker’s relationship is actually healthier than—”

I’d heard enough ridiculous, forced declarations of love. Seen enough. I knew what I needed to do. I slipped the other powder out of my pocket: the reversing spell Holly begged me not to use.

Thankfully, it made a great plan B—if I could figure out how to distribute it.

A strong gust of wind slammed into my back, whipping strands of my hair into my eyes. I watched as the wind thrashed through the crowd, birthing an idea.    

“Gary!”

A honk broke through the chaos as my sister’s familiar waddled for me. I never thought I’d be so happy to see the goose. I dove towards him, grasping the collar of his cape. “I need you to fly this over the party. Make sure it hits everyone.”

With a determined honk, Gary grasped the open jar from my hand.

I held my breath. As no ordinary goose, Gary easily balanced the open jar in his beak as he launched into the air. He circled the party, gauging the wind. As soon as he decided on the right moment, he tipped to the side, allowing the powder to be swept into the current. I could just make out the particles as they dispersed into the crowd, snowing down among my classmates and their solo cups.

The transformation was instantaneous. Voices toned down. Groups dispersed, returning to their usual friend groups. A heavy weight lifted from my shoulders. The mayhem was finally over.  The Jims returned to their original Pams. The Harley Quinns went back to flying solo, as they should.

My eyes sought out my sister. I watched as Sadie and Holly strolled away from Morgan and her boyfriend, their conversation hushed. Though I couldn’t decipher their words, when my sister caught sight of me, a smile played at her lips.

Turns out she never needed a spell after all.

“I told you so,” I muttered as Holly rushed over to me.

Her face flushed among her freshly tangled hair, but relief clearly softened her face. “You…you did it,” she breathed. “I should’ve listened to you. I will next time.”

“Damn right.” I huffed a laugh, watching Gary touch down clumsily at her side. The chaos around us transformed back into a normal, school party. I breathed out a long sigh. “You know, Holl, I have a great idea for the next full moon.”

Wary intrigue lit Holly’s eyes. “You do?”

“Yes.” Reaching towards her, I brushed a bit of remaining powder from her shoulder. “We’re going to do absolutely nothing.”

Her laughter trailed me as I turned, leaving the craziness of the party behind. I was anxious to get to a much more important engagement.

With my bed.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Spoiler-Free Review

I have many, many questions.

Overall: 3/5⭐️
Overall, I did enjoy this book. The concept is extremely clever, and I’m interested to see where the rest of the series takes it. Based on the back-of-book copy, I went into this book expecting to watch three sisters try to kill each other—this was not the case. At least not yet. Book 2, perhaps.

Plot & Characters: 3.5/5⭐️
For a book based around 3 queens, there are a lot of SHITTY MEN prominently featured. One of them had a particular purpose, which I liked, but the other was just…Joseph’s character arc almost made me DNF this book, I’m not going to lie. But because I had come to love sweet Katherine so much, I pushed through. Glad I did—but still. I’ll elaborate in a spoiler-y review later on. Just know that I hate Joseph and love Katherine, okay?

Seeing as this is a series, I expected some of the plot points to remain hidden. I didn’t expect them to remain THAT hidden. I feel as if I could have cut out half of this book and still have been into it. There was a lot of side-bar stuff that is so tied up later in the series that I didn’t understand it now, or it’s just unrelated and I could have done without it. If this is the case, I’ll come back and update this review later!

Romance: 3/5⭐️
A lot more making out in this book than I anticipated. Two of the romances/flirtations I really, really liked. The lower score is for the love triangle that I really, really didn’t need. And I love love triangles! This one has a bigger meaning, I’m sure, but it just felt SO forced.

Writing: 4/5⭐️
No complaints here! Lovely writing, great world-building, and creativity. I’m excited to see where the rest of the series takes me.