"Lorna! The damn smoke detector's going off again!"
Lorna wasn't home. She remembered this between 'off' and 'again' and finished the sentence anyway because once she'd started yelling she might as well go on. And the culprit might hear her. Ofelia was pretty damn sure she knew who the culprit was.
"Ainsley, will you put the damn candles out already?"
Ainsley would not put the damn candles out. Lorna, bless her miraculously still beating heart, had given her a couple of books for the winter season on seeing into the great beyond or something else with a pretentious title. Had given her a couple books to study on sight and perception, and all of them emphasized the full-on ritual with incense and mirrors that you had to look into by candlelight, since the ground was too unstable to set a bowl of water and expect it to remain perfectly flat. Not that Ainsley hadn't gone looking for a scry bowl.
She did find a nice toned Tibetan singing bowl on discount, though, so she'd give her that much.
The smells and chanting went on a good half hour before Ainsley stomped down from the attic, discouraged and grumpy. Three witches living together was supposed to make a harmony, but Ofelia had never found it to make anything but a lot of chaos and a couple arguments over who left the bathtub ring around again.
"Here," she smiled, syrupy sweet in the voice that would have had Lorna running for the door. "A nice hot bowl of grits and some of that stinky cheese will make you feel better."
"Goat cheese. Whatever." One of the soft cheeses Ainsley liked in her grits. She'd taken to country food all right, it was the magic she insisted on doing all fancy East Coast style. Lorna said they were still on the East Coast. Ofelia firmly pointed out that they were in the South and refused to hear any argument.
She'd admit to herself and to her contemporaries that her stubbornness was one of her greatest flaws, but not to the apprentice barely out of school.
Ainsley pulled up a chair and took several calming breaths, which were meant to work and which worked a lot better when you did the brain work to go with it. That, to tell the truth and shame the devil, was Ofelia's big problem with Ainsley. She had this modern idea that if you read the directions on the box and did everything according to the recipe you should get the same result every time. Witchery, the hedge and kitchen kind, didn't work like that. Hedge and kitchen witchery you had to feel in your bones, taste the salt on your lips, bite the wad of graveyard dirt and spit it back into the potion. You had to get your hands dirty until you knew what you were touching in the dark.
You also had to learn there were no good places and time to do witchcraft, that witches worked with what they were given, which was usually toasted shit on a stick to eat and a stack of plates to juggle. Magicians, whether they worked in blood or earth or dead bodies or so-called celestial energy, they could treat it like a nine-to-five job and pretend it worked that way. Witches got distressed children calling them up in the middle of the night so their parents didn't think they had demons in their laptops, or businesswomen needing a quick fix for a bad hex when they didn't quite believe themselves but didn't know what else to do. Ofelia didn't think the girl appreciated this.
So after Ainsley had taken a couple of bites she picked up the bowl and threw it against the wall.
The girl screamed outrage, not fear. Ofelia sucked her lip under her teeth in relief, though she'd had none of the markers of coming from a household where throwing dishes was a thing. "Now, what was that question you wanted answered?"
"... What?" Ainsley said it like Ofelia had lost her damn mind.
"That question. You were doing a full-on Alexander scrying ritual, you wanted to see something up there. Yes, I recognized it, I got the book education too even if you don't see me use it. You want that question answered, you read it on the wall."
She huffed. She stammered, made all the noises of a New England white professional woman who still wears high heels knowing she's going to be walking to the woods later. Ofelia gave her the stare that had silenced town halls.
"You sit at that table, and you read your answer in the wall, or you can pack your Gymkata'd butt back on up to Albany. You came here to learn witchcraft, and you'll learn it, not from books and pamphlets written by stuffy old men think they know what they're doing, but from witches. You see any books like that in this house before we came here?"
"No." Ainsley pouted.
"What books you see when you come in the house? I know you were looking, I saw you turn your nose up at our couch cushions."
To give the girl credit, she was sharp. Her head turned around, scanning the house, remembering her first days here. "The Joy of Cooking. Preserving the Harvest. Eastern American Bird Guide." She frowned. "Brer Rabbit and other folk tales?"
"Not the finest thing, and quite a history to it, but you gotta know where you come from to see clearly where you're going. So you think about that, and you think about that," she stabbed a finger at the wall with grits and blobby cheese dripping down minute by minute. "And you tell me what it is you see."
Ainsley turned and stared at the wall as though she'd been asked to clean it with her tongue. Ofelia moved around the kitchen, scrubbed the kettle and put it away, started up a meal in the crockpot for when Lorna came home. The young woman stayed sat on her chair out of stubbornness that the problem wouldn't beat her, which was a very witchy attitude and Ofelia approved. She had the bones of a good witch, but she had to get out of some ways of thinking that wouldn't serve her well. She'd never get anywhere thinking she already knew where to find all the answers.
"Why is the kitchen light the only--" Lorna came back with the groceries and a flat of plants to fill the patches in the garden, and another set of wooden spoons to replace the ones that had been buried with honors out the back. "Oh Offie, you're not doing it again."
"She needs to learn." She waved a hand at the crockpot. "Dinner's heating. I thought it better not to interrupt her."
"And so you're knitting by firelight. Because that shows witchly sense." Lorna sighed and flicked the switches. In the kitchen they both heard chair legs scrape the linoleum. "Go sit back down, I'll check the crockpot."
Ofelia pretended to knit while she listened to and for the voices in the kitchen. Lorna didn't give her any hints, not that she'd thought she would, but it was habit and vice to know everything that went on in the household. Not everything. But most things.
Lorna came out with dinner, handed Ofelia a bowl with a face that said she'd rather drop it on her knitting but was keeping the peace. Then chair legs moved over the floor again, followed by clinking ceramic and a splash of water. Ainsley came out of the kitchen a good twenty minutes later, drying her hands and polishing her ego at the same time.
"It says I should stay. It says I'm in the right place."
The old woman snorted, put aside bowl and yarn and went into the kitchen to see. She'd piled the pieces on the counter next to the bin, washed the wall and laid the cloth to dry on the rack. There was another pot of grits settling from its boil, and an empty wrapper from the cheese in the trash. She should have told Lorna to get more cheese. The wall was perfectly clean, in fact there was a clean swath where Ainsley had wiped away the layers of food char and dust.
She poked her head out again and looked at Ainsley sternly, long enough for the girl to relax into unease.
"It said I should stay. I should stay and learn?"
Lorna had picked up the knitting Ofelia abandoned. "Never ask, dear. They'll come to you for the answers, not the questions. It's your job to give it to them like a proper witch, and there was no witch ever born doubted what she was."
Ainsley nodded and looked over at Ofelia, who nodded also. "You'll do." She grinned, watching her cringe at the unevenness of her dentures. "Now get yourself some dinner, it's going to be a late night."
"Not if you keep talking like that," Ainsley muttered. "Fix your teeth!"
"Yep. She'll fit right in."