Mom made living here in Maine sound exciting. When her brother died and left her next in line to be the medicine woman for the Veilleux clan, she was supposed to step in. But my dad, born and raised on the Florida coast, has no interest in ever moving, and my guess is that if Mom told him about werebear, it would have been a thunderous “hell no!”
I, however, am a dreamer. I have scrapbooks full of information about foreign countries I’d like to visit, but at twenty-six, I’d never ventured out of Florida. So when Mom complained about the situation to me and basically asked me to do it for her, I agreed. After she explained about werebear and how our Native American ancestors were medicine men and women for the clan, I was even more intrigued. I’ve always identified with my Native American side, and who wouldn’t be curious about a secret world happening all around us with only a select few humans having any idea? To help seal the deal, Mom told me stories of how blue the Maine sky is after a snowstorm. She told me about skating on a pond and warming up with hot chocolate and maple donuts, and what fun a snowball fight could be. She talked about sunny days with ice-covered trees that sparkle like crystals.
Slush from the road splatters beneath the wheels of my Jeep, and more rises up from the car in front of me. I spray more washer fluid to clear it off. My mother forgot to mention this part of winter. Or the fact that Maine starts to get cold in September with temperatures that keep dropping until the red needle hovers around zero in January. Zero! And people still go outside as if it’s normal.
Her stories were fairy tales for sure, because winter sucks. I was tricked into this gig, and I’m not sure how, but I plan to get out of it.
I pull into the parking lot of the town hall. I’ve come to register my car, and I let out a sigh. I waited as long as I could, but now that I have to turn in my Florida license plate for a Maine one, it feels as if I’m losing another piece of who I am.
In Florida, I worked in my family’s crab shack, serving tourists cocktails and fried fish. To keep up with my magic, I did tarot readings and made potions for a local witchcraft shop where very few people who came in believed what we did was real. My powers were wasted, and to be truthful, I was bored because of it. Here, not only do werebear believe in magic, they hold my position as the clan witch in high regard. Almost too high, because some of them are a little afraid of me. I’m constantly challenged with the need to create new spells, and amazingly, I don’t see much of the bear side of the clan. I’m okay with that.
I turn my car off and gaze out the windshield at the ice-covered world shimmering in the sun as if it really is draped in crystals. I should take a picture for my mother and tell her she was right about it being so beautiful so she won’t worry. When we talked a few days ago, a water pipe in my house had frozen because I didn’t know I was supposed to turn off the outside spigot. It wasn’t a good day, and I let loose on her. I pull out my phone and turn on the camera, but it occurs to me I should be outside for the picture.
I pull the zipper of my jacket up higher and shove the door open to brave the elements. The parking lot has been salted, and it crunches under my feet as I walk to the sidewalk. Here, I can take in my surroundings, and I spend a moment gazing up at the sky with my arms open wide to ground myself. I let my guiding spirit fill me. I see the deer that helps ground me like a touchstone before I stop and twirl slowly to figure out what view would make the best picture. When I find two trees that will frame my image perfectly, I step back—— “Whoa!” My boot slips on ice, and I kick out, but I manage to keep my other foot under me for a moment, making me think I’m going to be fine. That is until I lose my balance and begin to windmill my arms in an attempt to stay upright. My feet alternately touch down and slip out from under me a few times before I lose my battle. My phone skitters across the sidewalk as I land on my bottom on the snow-covered lawn.
Five or so feet of snow pack break my fall so that it doesn’t hurt. But it adds to the list of reasons I hate winter, and tears fills my eyes. I lie on my back and squeeze my eyes shut as I try to keep myself from sobbing with frustration.
“Are you okay?” asks a man.
I lift up onto my elbows, mortified that someone saw me fall. “I’m fine.” I gaze into vivid green eyes that many of my clan members have and notice the guy is very attractive. I groan. “Please tell me you didn’t see that.”
“Quick, make your snow angel,” he says.
“A snow angel?” I scowl at the guy as he holds up my phone as if he’s going to take a picture.
“Yeah, I’ll video it.” He winks at me. “That’s what you threw yourself on the ground for. Right?”
I know he’s trying to help me save face, but I’m not amused. “Are you kidding me?” I ask as I sit up with the intention of standing.
He reaches his hand out to help me up, and I let him hoist me back to my feet. His hand radiates heat through my mitten, and I have no doubt he’s a werebear, judging by the temperature alone. He holds on for longer than he should, but I let him because it feels good in a way I can’t describe. And his eyes. They’re like something I would dream about. Did I dream about them? Goodness, they’re mesmerizing, and I stare into them for a moment before he clears his throat and says, “Tell you what. You can video me making one.”
I shake off my trance. “And why would I want to do that?”
“Because I’m hot, and your girlfriends will be jealous. Clamoring to know more. And if you’re lucky, I’ll even give you my number to hand out.”
I laugh as I slap snow from my pants. “Wow. You’re rather impressed with yourself, aren’t you?”
“I made you laugh, didn’t I?” He hands me my phone.
I shake my head, because my desire to cry is gone. “Yeah. I suppose you did.”
“Okay, since you don’t agree with the super-hot-guy thing, let’s try a different approach. Video me making a snow angel, and you can tell all your friends about how you saw me wipe out, which you wished you could have recorded instead because it definitely got a ten from the Maine judge. And then you can tell them I swore that’s why I threw myself to the ground.”
I chuckle. “You are a trip.” I envision what my fall must have looked like, and heat rises to my cheeks. “I got a ten, huh?”
“Definitely. That thing you did with your arms? Clinched it.” His expression changes to concern, and a lock of dark hair falls over his forehead. “Did it hurt?”
“Just my ego. But thanks for making me feel better about it.”
“Anytime.” He tilts his head toward my Jeep. “You’re the new clan witch everyone’s talking about. You’re a long way from home. How do you like it here?”
I sigh. “I don’t like winter.”
“I do,” he says as he holds out his arm for me to take. I grab on thankfully to avoid falling again, and we begin to walk toward the town hall as he says, “It’s my favorite season.”
“Okay. Now I know something is seriously wrong with you.”
“There might be something wrong with me.” He flashes me a toothy smile that sends a shiver down my spine, and it’s not because he’s a bear. “Or you’re doing it wrong.” The guy releases my arm and pulls the door open to hold it for me.
I say, “I think I’ve got it covered. Frozen pipe. Check. Skidded through an intersection and almost caused a car accident. Check.” I give him a smirk and then say, “Had a spectacular fall on ice in front of an audience. Check. What am I missing?”
The guy is still holding the door open but not stepping inside after me. He lets go and says, “The fun part,” before the door shuts, separating us.
I blink in confusion, and it occurs to me I didn’t get his name. I’m tempted to go outside and call after him to find out, but I don’t. I have a feeling I’ll see that Veilleux werebear again.