The solution turned out to both simple and excellent.
Remember Feather Dog? My beloved, gigantic Feathered Dog Friend? Remember how we’re like barely keeping that poor angel from starving to death because there’s simply not enough ingestible magic in this world to sustain him?
As you might remember, my home town is just absolutely swimming in magic because that freaky ass cult was trying to stir up the old coven magic there. Remember that? That’s why we were always haunted and covered in monsters?
GUESS what can survive off that magic in the woods.
And GUESS what Feather Dog can eat to get his necessary magic vitamins.
THATS RIGHT. BLIGHT RATS.
It’s the best case scenario. Two birds one stone.
So Neal called Celeste. You remember Celeste. Cool bad-ass witch, used to date Neal. (Date doesn’t seem like the right word. Like did they go down to the diner and share a milkshake with two straws? Did he take her to the drive in? Lmao did they go bowling? I just like can’t imagine them going to a movie together)
ANYWAYS so Neal called Celeste and she said, “what you think I have nothing better to do than drive all over the country?”
And he said, “Don’t think of it being for me, think of it being for Feather Dog.”
And she said, “Oh please, I never think of doing anything for you. I’ve never done a single thing for you in my life. I would rather murder and barbecue those Blight Rats than do anything for you.” She went on like that, but then she ended the rant with, “Okay, Flora said I can borrow the truck, I’ll see you in a few days.”
I thought we were gonna spend those few days trapping Blight Rats but according to the boys it’ll be much easier when Celeste gets here.
“Magic speaks to magic,” Julian explained. “They’ll be friendly with her. They will definitely not be friendly with us.”
So we spent a couple days just hanging out at the Crossroads with the Oshmars.
It’s different here than at the Red Rock. For starters, everyone here is human. For another thing, they have a pretty strict no magic policy here. According to Val, “at the Crossroads we like to be able to trust what our senses are telling us.”
We play pool, which I am profoundly terrible at, which sucks because everyone else is like very good. The jukebox has great music on it. Today we spent the better part of the afternoon skating around the dusty parking lot on a couple beat up old skateboards. I’m also very bad at that it turns out, but so is Julian so it’s less annoying. Actually I might be better than Julian hahahaha he skates like he’s about to break a hip.
Val and Bev have been putting us up at their place and in return we’ve been doing chores around the house. Changing light bulbs, tinkering with the pipes that sort of thing. Wednesday night I helped behind the bar! Just filling beers, idk how to make drinks but still it was fun.
Last night Val ran out of ice and shouted out to where we were sitting on the deck that someone should drive out and get more. Beverly and Julian put their fingers on their noses so fast, and Neal groaned.
“That’s alright,” he said, getting up and stretching. “Shiloh and I will go.”
I protested, but half-heartedly. Like he didn’t need me to come with him to get ice obviously. But see, I was sorta drunk and when he stretched a strip of belly appeared between his shirt and his jeans and facts are my ass is WEAK.
The sun was down, but it wasn’t quite dark yet and the pavement was still hot. I put my feet on the dash.
“No Julian,” Neal said, grinning conspiratorially at me and turned the music all the way up. We rolled down the windows and I put my arm out to feel the cool night air. I’ve even gotten used to his maniac fucking driving. I haven’t felt this good in months.
On the way home Neal said, “so how much you wanna bet we can’t find Bev and Jude when we get back?”
“Why wouldn’t we?” I said, like an idiot.
Neal looked sideways at me, amused. “Why do you think?” he said and suddenly I realized that maybe all those lingering looks, and the teasing, and the long hours they spent talking on the deck, wasn’t platonic. Hahahahahahahahhahaahaha duh. “But they’re both damn cowards. They need lots of alone time before either of them will make a move.”
And then I said, before I could stop myself, “That’s why you wanted me to come get ice with you?”
“Duh,” Neal said. “Why else?” This with such casual ease and girl… my stomach sank. A wave of melancholy washed over me. All of a sudden I wanted to go lay down on the high way and wait for a car to come. And I realized, with a swelling horror I cannot entirely communicate to you:
I have a crush on Neal Hawthorne.
Oh goddddd that’s probably not a surprise to anyone but me is it. I am the girl of ten thousand face palms.
I thought I just thought he was super attractive!!!! Not like a full-blown little-girl crush!!!!!! He’s an asshole!!!!!!! He’s OLD!!!!!! How did this happen?!?!?1?1?1?!?!?!??!??! OH my god have I ALWAYS had a crush on Neal??????? This is a NIGHTMARE
So I had that disaster realization and then THE NEXT DAY Neal’s perfect, stunning, witch ex girlfriend came to help us get the rest of those Blight Rats out of the house.
I came down to breakfast to find Julian and Bev sitting next to each other very intentionally not looking at each other. They had not been on the deck when we got home with ice. From my vantage point coming into the room I could see that their feet were touching.
Neal was ignoring them, brainstorming how they were going to get the surviving Blight Rats into crates so Celeste could bring them north. Valerie got the door when someone knocked on it, but I saw Neal go all rigid, listening for Celeste.
She’s even more beautiful than I remembered. I swear she has like an aura of shimmer that follows her around. I loathe her and also I might be a little bit in love with her. But see!!! I knew that!!! I’m generally pretty aware of my embarrassing crushes!!!!! This is a nightmare.
“Hello boys,” she said disdainfully, coming into the kitchen. “Shiloh. Beverly, was it?”
Beverly had this arch expression, a pricked eyebrow, pursed lips. “Yep, still Beverly same as last time. Can I get you anything? Something to drink?” Her tone was ice cold.
I glanced at Julian and he made a YIKES EMOJI face at me. Clash of the titans ahahahaha.
Celeste sniffed. She turned to speak to Neal. “Can we just get this done, I have a long drive ahead of me.”
Neal got up. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
Neal rode in the big truck with Celeste. I rode with Julian and Beverly.
“I swear that bitch is so fucking smug,” Beverly said once we were in the car. Beverly made her voice all high and bitchy. “Ooo I’m a witch I can do anything I want —”
“She’s not so bad,” Julian said, soothingly.
“I hate her,” I said and Beverly reached back a hand to high-five me.
Celeste was disgusted but unsurprised when she saw the carnage at the house. “Hunters,” she said. “Hate monsters so much they do everything they can to become them!” She gave Beverly a smug, combative smile as she said it and Beverly bristled.
I was on Celeste’s side though. The hot days since we’d been here had done nothing for the smell of the place. It was just awful inside, smelled like death. The surviving Blight Rats crept around all timid and frightened. They were honestly cute, if somewhat creepy with their big infinite eyes.
They came to Celeste with just the slightest bit of encouragement. She was much sweeter with them, pulling the terrified little creatures out of couches with her bare hands, than she was with people and I caught Neal watching her work, eyes all soft and warm.
I was sort of worried about the you know blight issue. Like, these things spread magic plague or something and now they want me to go in with my bare hands???
“Just don’t look them in the eye,” Julian said. “As long as you don’t make extended eye contact you’ll be okay.”
But hey easier said then done. Their eyes are just like so huge and it’s so tempting to look into them. It’s like there’s galaxies in there and all I want to do is study them. Can’t do that! I’ll go magic crazy!
It was actually pretty easy to bring them out once Celeste was there. Pretty soon they were coming out for us too, as long as we were calm and moved slowly. One of them reached out and put his hand in mine.
“That’s right,” Celeste cooed. “We’re gonna bring you somewhere safe. Nothing will ever trap you again.”
“Except potentially Feather Dog,” Neal said, imitating her soothing voice and Celeste shot him a look, half annoyed, half amused.
Beverly looked on coolly.
It only took us a few hours to get them all into crates and loaded back into Celeste’s truck.
“Alright,” she said, closing the back of the truck and dusting off her hands. “That’s that, then.” She squared up on Neal. “You owe me one.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Stay for lunch?”
She glanced at Beverly, who was scowling, and smirked. “I gotta get moving. Long drive.” She stood on tiptoes to kiss Julian’s cheek, then winked at Beverly. “You’re welcome.”
Beverly fumed. I sorta loved it.
“She hates me,” Beverly observed as Celeste drove off.
“She hates hunters,” Neal corrected.
“She doesn’t hate you,” Beverly said.
Neal smiled. “Yeah she does,” he said, all dreamy and far away. “Me especially.”
Beverly rolled her eyes.
We’re heading out tomorrow morning. Beverly hasn’t entirely recovered from Celeste being around for a single morning hahahaha. She’s still sort of sulky and touchy. Earlier she and Neal got into a little spat because he called the Walthers barbarians.
“They were just trying to help!” she snapped.
“You call the Jackson Polluck they did in there helping?” Neal snapped back.
“Look, I’m not the problem here, I didn’t ask them to do anything, I called you, remember?” And on like that.
“Trouble with people being like family?” Julian said when I slipped out onto the deck to hide from their argument. “You fight with them like family. We grew up together. Neal and Bev have always gotten into it. Give them half an hour and they’ll come around.”
They did, like clockwork. They set up the karaoke machine and they’re singing their way through what feels like the entire Talking Heads discography. Oh god I gotta go, they want me to sing.