A black cat in a green collar moves through the shadows down Franken Lane, his fur illuminated by the dim light of the crescent moon. There are no lamps on this street, nor anywhere else inside the gates of Eerie Estates. The supernatural creatures who call this neighborhood home much prefer the darkness.
At the end of the road, the cat makes a right onto Stein Street, then ducks behind a row of shrubs and disappears. It’s his piercing yellow eyes that give him away again a few minutes later, when he emerges two blocks westward, on the front lawn of the black house at 333 Quivering Court. He walks up the path to the porch and then hops onto the sill of an open window, where he can hear muffled voices and see the flickering blue glow of the living room TV. After pausing a moment to lick his paw, he slinks inside, and the window closes behind him.
On the other side of the wall, the young witch Bella Maleficent sits cross-legged on the couch in her bright green pajamas, with a bowl of popcorn in her lap. She leans forward, her eyes glued to the TV. To her left her sister, Dee Maleficent, slouches between two cushions, scrolling on her green eyephone while her feet rest on the black coffee table in front of her. The cat jumps down from the windowsill onto the back of the couch, and then crawls over Dee’s shoulder to rest in her lap.
“There you are, Corny boy.” Dee scratches behind Cornelius’s ears and kisses him on top of the head. “I thought Eugene might’ve kidnapped you.”
In the months since Cornelius came to live with them, he’s gotten quite comfortable venturing around their gated community on his own. Eugene even texted the twins an hour ago that the cat had shown up on his doorstep to say hello.
Bella reaches down absently and grabs a handful of popcorn, then shoves the whole thing into her mouth. “Ugh,” she groans between chews. On the screen a woman with hair as red as the crushed velvet couch she sits on is pleading her case. “Serafina’ll say anything to get a broom.”
Dee puts down her eyephone and focuses on the TV. The twins are watching Which Witch Is the One?, their favorite supernatural matchmaking show. On this episode Alistair must take two contestants on a single date and then eliminate the one he likes the least.
“I could really see myself falling in love with him,” says Serafina, one of the witches chosen for the date. She’s speaking to the camera in a confessional-style setting. “From day one I’ve trusted in this process, and I’ve been one hundred percent genuine. I think Alistair can feel that I’m here for the right reasons.”
From his place drying dishes in the kitchen, they hear their dad Ron snort. “Yeah, right. She’s there to become WitchStitch famous.”
“Totally, Pop,” Bella agrees. She reaches for more popcorn, but her hand hits the bottom of the bowl. She uses her pointer finger to zap it full of a fresh batch, and is pleased when every kernel is perfectly popped, no burnt pieces to be seen. Since their disastrous first day at YIKESSS, with practice the twins have been able to master simple spells with a much lower rate of chaos or destruction.
“So what?” Dee says. “That doesn’t mean she isn’t there to find love, too.”
“That’s right, honey,” says their dad Antony, appearing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. “We shouldn’t judge other creatures before we get to know them.”
“Come on, Dad. She wants us to judge her,” Bella argues. “Why else would she have gone on supernatural television to find love?”
The camera switches to the other contestant, Helena. “When I started this journey, my cauldron was empty. Then Alistair filled it up. I know it’s taken me a little longer than most of the other witches here to let down my walls, but now that I have…” She pauses to wipe a tear from her cheek and compose herself. “I don’t want to go home tonight. Alistair has my heart.”
“Why does everyone have to be so cheesy?” Dee says, checking her phone and then immediately putting it down again. “Nobody talks like this in real life.”
“Love makes people do strange things,” Ron says, joining Ant in the doorway. “Look at your dad and me. I moved to the suburbs for him.”
Ant smiles and shakes his head. “The Enchanted Forest was no place to raise a family.”
“You were right,” Ron says, putting an arm around his husband. Over time, ghosts naturally become more solid around people they love. In the comfort of his own home, Ant is so solid that he can almost pass for human. “What else is new?” They exchange a quick kiss, and Bella and Dee both groan.
“Right in front of us?” Bella says. “Unbelievable.”
“So embarrassing!” Dee adds.
Their dads look at each other and laugh, and the twins exchange a small smile. Bella and Dee would never admit it to Ant and Ron, but they know how lucky they are to have two parents so in love.
“Bed in ten minutes,” Ant says. He moves across the living room, toward the stairwell in the foyer.
Ron shuts off the lights in the kitchen. “Good night, girls,” he says, following Ant. “We love you.”
“Love you,” the girls both say at the same time.
Bella waits until their dads get all the way up the stairs before she smirks at Dee. She knows what her sister is looking for every time she checks her phone. Or rather, who.
“I’ll bet you’ll be just as in lurv as Dad and Pop after your movie date tomorrow.”
Dee feels her cheeks heat up. Over the weekend, Sebastian visited the pharmacy while Dee was stocking shelves and told her about the new Space Wars movie that just came out. He said he was seeing it with a couple of friends on Tuesday afternoon at the Manor Theater and asked if she would like to come along. In a bout of nerves Dee stammered that actually she and her friends were planning to see that movie on Tuesday too. What were the odds! They agreed to meet there and then exchanged phone numbers, just in case. So far she hasn’t received so much as a text, but that could change at any moment.
“It’s not a date,” Dee says, stroking Cornelius’s back and smiling to herself. “It’s a friendly gathering. That’s why you’re coming.”
“Right,” Bella says. “And I’ll be there for you, of course. But, Dee, you know you don’t need me. You never have trouble thinking of what to say when Sebastian comes to visit you at the pharmacy.”
“I know,” Dee says. “But that’s when it’s just the two of us. This time his human friends will be there. What if I say the wrong thing?”
“You won’t,” Bella assures her. “Charlie and Eugene, on the other hand—”
Hearing Eugene’s name, Cornelius lifts his head and meows. He gives Dee a meaningful look.
“What is it, buddy?” Dee looks at Bella. “I think he needs to tell us something about Eugene.”
“Wait, Alistair is about to give out his broom!” Bella squeals, returning her full attention to the TV, where the three witches are seated on a picnic blanket in the woods. “Cornelius can tell us during the commercial.”
“This was not an easy decision to make,” says Alistair in an accent veering toward Hungarian. “You’ve both sacrificed so much to come on this journey with me, and you’ve trusted the process even through times of uncertainty. Serafina, I love how easily we click. You make me laugh, and we have so much fun together, but there’s still a part of me that worries you’re not ready for commitment. And, Helena, it has been such an incredible experience getting to know you. I’ve seen how much you’ve tried to open up these last couple of weeks, and I’ve appreciated—”
“Jeepers creepers,” Bella groans. “Get on with it already!”
“But I do feel like there’s still a part of you that you’re holding back. You’ve lowered your walls, but you haven’t knocked them down completely. I need a witch who isn’t afraid to show me who they really are. That being said…” Alistair turns to Serafina. “Serafina, will you accept this broom?”
Bella and Dee gasp. A kernel of popcorn falls out of Bella’s mouth.
Serafina smiles wide. “I will.” She takes the red broom. Then Alistair picks up his own broom, and the two fly away together holding hands, leaving Helena behind as she bursts into tears. The show cuts to commercial.
“No, he didn’t!” Bella says, at the same time Dee says, “Big mistake, Alistair!”
“Meow!” Cornelius insists, looking from Dee to Bella.
“Okay, okay.” Dee holds up a finger and zaps a notebook and pen onto the coffee table. Cornelius jumps from the couch onto the table, picks up the pen with his tail, and starts writing.
“Wow,” Bella says, peering around the cat. “Your lessons with him are really starting to pay off.”
“That’s because he’s the smartest boy in the whole world, yes he is,” Dee coos. It’s normal for witches to find creative ways to communicate with their familiars, but not many can successfully teach them to write. Such a task requires great patience and trust from both parties.
Bella, still watching Cornelius, cocks her head. “Is that supposed to say ‘Eugene’?”
Dee sits up and takes the note, which looks like it was written by a small child. “He’s still getting the hang of it,” she reminds Bella, and then she reads the note out loud. “It says, ‘Youjeen grounded. No movy.’?”
Dee squints at the paper. “I think that means Eugene is grounded and can’t go to the movies tomorrow.”
Cornelius meows happily at his job well done.
Bella scratches him on the head and then pulls her pink eyephone out of her pajama pocket. When the eye at the top of the screen opens, she says, “Call Eugene. Speakerphone.”
Eugene picks up on the third ring. “Yes, I’m grounded,” he says instead of hello. “For a week. The TrashEater6000 sort of backfired. Two weeks’ worth of trash exploded all over the kitchen.” He lets out a heavy sigh. “Who’d have thought a machine could get indigestion?”
“So you can’t come with us to the movies?” Dee whines. “But I need moral support!”
“Sorry, Dee. Nobody’s more bummed than me. I love Space Wars.” Eugene is obsessed with anything involving flying and laser beams.
“What about the flyball game on Friday?” Bella says. “It’s my first game as scream team captain, and we’re debuting some routines that will really get the crowd roaring.”
“I’ll try my best to be there. Maybe Mom will lighten my sentence for good behavior,” Eugene says. “Speaking of which, I’ve gotta get back to cleaning up. Part of my punishment is that I have to get rid of the trash myself, instead of asking one of you to spell it away for me. Mom’s got one of her eyes on the table, watching me.”
Bella wrinkles her nose, grateful that neither of their dads is a zombie.
“Okay,” she says. “See you tomorrow at school.” She hangs up.
“What a bummer.” Dee slouches into the couch again as Which Witch Is the One? returns from commercial break. “At least you and Charlie will still be there.” She scoops a handful of popcorn from the bowl on Bella’s lap. “Maybe you’ll even hit it off with one of Sebastian’s friends.”
“His human friends?” Bella scoffs. “Not likely.”
“Come on, Bella,” Dee urges. “Remember what Dad said? Don’t judge a creature before you get to know them. Maybe they’ll surprise you.”
“I’m never surprised,” Bella says. “Especially not by humans.”
On the TV, Helena is crying in the back seat of a carriage. “I’ve never let down my walls like this before, and it was all for nothing. Will I ever love again?”
“Maybe you just need to let down your walls,” Dee teases. Both sisters laugh, but deep down Dee thinks there might be some truth to the idea. She wouldn’t admit that to Bella, though. When it comes to matters of the heart, Bella can be more tightly wound than a mummy.
“Girls,” they hear Ron calling out from his room upstairs. “You know what time it is.”
“Boo,” Bella calls out, and then points a finger at the TV and zaps it off. They don’t need to bother trying to be sneaky by lowering the volume. As a werewolf, Ron has excellent hearing.
From his place on the coffee table, Cornelius meows and pushes the notebook forward with his paw. Dee picks it up and sees that he’s written something else.
Giv catnip plees.