Chapter Eight: The Girls Get Some Liquid Courage

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MJ knew the girls didn’t have the benefit of any foundational training from a shrouded school and that she’d be building their magical knowledge from scratch. Still, she knew instinctively that she couldn’t start with the kind of Day 1 material one would teach an elementary student, even though that was certainly where the girls were in skill—if not lower, because they hadn’t had the benefit of growing up with other witches. She’d spent the past couple of weeks thinking of a few potential lesson plans, only to abandon all of her tentative ideas as soon as she opened the door and saw the three girls there, Victoria already looking bored and as though she regretted getting out of bed. MJ could tell Abbie and Delali had already taken easily to the idea of having a witch mentor, but Victoria remained a persistent hold out, and MJ couldn't have that. She needed all three of the girls fully engaged with their roles as mentees.

“I’m glad you all decided to come,” MJ said in greeting, stepping aside to let the girls file into her apartment. She watched as they all dutifully took off their shoes in the foyer, thankful she didn’t have to ask. “I’d hoped you’d come last week,” she added, unable to resist.

“Oh, that was my fault,” Abbie said. “I had to finish editing a vid for my YouTube channel. I’d already pushed back the release date twice, so, you know.”

“Right, yes,” MJ said as she followed the girls into the living room. “I know. For the future, please know we can’t miss lessons.” The girls made to sit on the couch but stopped when MJ held out a hand to stop them. “Actually, girls, we’ll be working in the kitchen today.” The girls exchanged a look and followed MJ. Shiny stainless steel and copper cauldrons were set up on metal stands on the center island, brought out in advance for one of the plans that MJ was currently tweaking in her mind.

Ooooh,” Abbie said, and MJ triumphantly noted the expression of wonder on Delali’s face.

“Brewing potions is one of the oldest forms of magic in our world,” MJ began, walking around the counter so she could face the girls. “They can be tough to master—making an effective one requires extreme precision and diligence—but there are some essentials that every young witch should have in her arsenal, and I thought that we’d spend our first lesson working on some of those.”

“What are they?” Delali asked.
“Simple things.” MJ wrapped herself in her longline cardigan. “There’s a potion that cures aches and pains, which, when I was your age, I called the hangover potion,” MJ paused to give the girls a wry smile. “One for clear mind and focus before a difficult task, one for courage, one to help you get to sleep, another for foolproof contraception. Hopefully, mastering these potions will help you better understand the purpose of magic for your average witch.”

MJ looked at the girls each in turn, gauging their feelings. Delali had already pushed up the sleeves of her waffle knit sweater, and Abbie was on tiptoe, peering into her empty cauldron. Vic had perked up slightly, but only slightly.

“What’s point of a pain potion or whatever if I can just take an Advil?” Vic asked. She’d been hanging back, a few paces behind the other girls, but now she stepped forward to the counter. Even though she’d gotten pretty good at her bouncing back routine over the years, she couldn’t deny the allure of some kind of magical hangover cure.

“Immediacy,” said MJ. “No treatment from the typic world can be as effective as the Restoration Elixir in as short a span of time. Besides that, it’s a true panacea, assuming one doesn’t have a chronic issue. Headaches, nausea, dehydration, muscle soreness—a tablespoon of this and whatever’s ailing you is gone.”
“Even period cramps?” asked Abbie.

“Yes,” MJ said. “Even period cramps.”
“But how?” Vic asked. “Aren’t we just like, mixing things together?”

“Well, yes and no,” MJ said. She walked across the kitchen and opened the pantry, crouching to open the dark wood cabinet beneath the lowest shelf. She retrieved from it all the necessary materials for the Restoration Elixir, then began placing the ingredients on the counter. “A lot of what it takes to make an effective potion is dependent on adding the right amount of the right ingredients in the right order at the right time, just like any other recipe. But a typic couldn’t just mix together ground bark from the Cradle, a wisp of smoke from a crystal ball, and meringue powder and end up with a batch of Focus Draught. And truthfully, not every witch could.”

“What do you mean?” Delali asked. “Our powers aren’t enough?” She had wrapped her arms protectively around her middle, making herself look almost childlike. MJ hadn’t expected that Delali would be the one most drawn to magic. She didn’t know what to make of it yet, but she was intrigued by Delali’s warring curiosity and caution.

“In theory, yes, any witch can make an effective potion. But the real key to making magic work isn’t ability, skill, or even training—” MJ broke off, leaning against the sink. “It’s intent.”

“What does that mean?” asked Abbie.

MJ pushed off the countertop and clasped her hands, a new excitement rising up in her. The science of intention was among her favorite things to discuss. It had always fascinated her, the way some of the most highly trained witches struggled to master elementary enchantments, while others merely needed to think of a possibility before they made it happen. Intention was one of the least understood parts of magic, and MJ had spent her youth studying it in the days before The Shatter. Afterward, she’d kept up a more informal study of the subject, but without the resources of the WIH it was difficult to make any real progress. “The science of intention is complicated and it varies broadly from witch to witch. But, simply put, you can quite literally do anything you put your mind to, so long as you believe that you’re powerful enough. There are some limitations—for example, named powers like my Seeing or your mindreading, shapeshifting, and mood influencing. Those abilities cannot be learned. But broadly you can do anything as long as you make it your sole intent.”

The girls looked at her mutely before Victoria snorted. Abbie and Delali turned toward her sharply. “Come on,” Victoria said in response to Delali’s dirty look. “She basically just told us ‘if you can dream, you can do it.’” She threw handful of hair over her shoulder. “Like, are we about to play a rec basketball game?”
“I mean, you do miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take,” Abbie interjected, thinking of the poster that hung above her classroom desk.

MJ gave Victoria a measured smile. “I have to say, your disbelief is a little amusing to me.”

“Oh,” Vic said lightly. “Is it?”

“Yes,” said MJ. “Because I’m not sure I’ve seen a witch that has a more natural grasp of intention than you.”

Vic quickly masked her surprise with a scoff. “Please.”

“I’m being completely serious. Think of the first time your powers manifested. What did you think?”
“I just wanted to stop my phone from falling down the drain,” Victoria said. “We all did,” she added, looking to Abbie and Delali. “Didn’t we?”

“Okay,” MJ said. “Let’s say that’s the case. But then the next time, when you used your Imitation ability, when you turned into Diane. What were you thinking about then?”
“I…I don’t know,” Vic said. “I just thought that I’d love to look like her, to have my makeup done like her…”
MJ jumped in, knowing she was close to convincing her. “And fixing your eyeliner? And the changing the dress at your office? And refilling the drinks at the restaurant?” she listed. “Of course you didn’t know you could do those things—but at the same time, you did. Victoria, you’re a natural. With the proper training…” MJ paused, carefully choosing her next words. “It’s really impossible to tell how powerful you could be.” MJ held Vic’s gaze for a long moment before she finally looked away, turning her eyes to the stack of bracelets on her wrist.

MJ indulged herself with a small inward smile before she addressed Abbie and Delali. “Of course, the same is true of you both as well.”

“Yeah?” Abbie asked excitedly. Delali said nothing, eyeing Vic suspiciously.

“Absolutely,” MJ said. “Intention can’t be taught, per se, but a large part of a mentor’s role is to help you access yours as best you can, and to get you acquainted with the reach of your powers. As I hope you all know from our previous meeting, I’m prepared to take my role in your development journey very seriously.” She let the words sink in before clapping sharply, relishing how the girls jumped at the noise. “Now that that’s been said, I think it’s time for us to begin.” MJ positioned herself before the tallest cauldron, gripping the sides excitedly. “The first thing you need to know about potions is that each has a liquid base. That base is water, but not the sort you can get from a tap or a grocery store. It must come from hail.”

Hail?” Vic asked.

“Yes,” MJ said. “Hail. It may sound odd, but hail is the most sacred form of water in the Witch Sphere, and it’s been that way for as long as there has been magic. It’s unheard of to walk into a normal witch household and not find at least three packs of hail on hand. Without hail, brewing an effective potion is impossible.” MJ walked to her own freezer and pulled out three iridescent plastic bags, all filled to the brim with jagged, rocky balls of hail. She placed the bags on the counter, one in front of each girl.

Abbie touched one of them, wondering if she could keep the bag for her crafting projects. She had never seen such a delicate shimmer. “Whoa,” she said. MJ swatted her hand away.

“When brewing a potion, it’s extremely important that the hail is melted using the heat of a fire. You cannot use an electric stove or defrost your hail to room temperature in preparation for brewing. Going from freezer to fire is essential.”

The girls nodded intently.

“The Restoration Elixir calls for medium heat and four lumps of hail as the base.”

The girls didn’t move.

“Go ahead,” MJ urged. The girls looked to each other before Delali moved. She turned the knob of the burner beneath her cauldron, and after a moment, Abbie did the same. When Vic remained still, Delali turned to her to give her a prodding gaze, but Vic was looking away from her, staring at the bottom of her cauldron. A flame leapt up under the pot.

“Good,” MJ said, smiling at Vic. “When brewing potions, you must be extremely precise—relying on a typic interpretation of ‘medium heat’ won’t cut it. Measuring the flame through magic is the only way to go.”

Delali and Abbie straightened, Vic watching them smugly. They each willed a fire to life beneath their cauldrons, Delali grumbling as she did. She didn’t wait for instruction on the hail, instead pulling her bag open and removing a ball with her hands, pushing away her momentary fear that the ice would burn her. It didn’t, but when it touched the bottom of her cauldron, the hail began to hiss and crackle, releasing tortured wails that grew louder as the ice diminished and the water rose. “What the fuck?” Delali spat, stepping back from the counter.

“That’s normal,” MJ said, looking approvingly over Delali’s cauldron. “That’s exactly what you want to hear.”

At this, Delali placed three more lumps in her cauldron. She looked to MJ, hoping that four meant the same thing in both the typic world and the Witch Sphere. When MJ nodded, Abbie and Vic quickly followed, opening their bags and placing the hail tentatively in their cauldrons. The apartment filled with sickening sobs and moans, growing to a crescendo before quieting suddenly.

“Okay,” Vic said. “So, I guess I won’t be doing this when my roommates are home.”

“If you wait just one moment...” MJ held her finger in the air, and soon the pots started humming, a gorgeous melody in a sublime tone. Puffs of pastel colored smoke rose from the liquid. “Now you’ve reached ideal potion-brewing temperature.”

The girls looked at each other, unable to keep their smiles off their faces.

“What else do we need to put in?” Abbie asked eagerly.

“The next most important ingredient in the Restoration Elixir is a teaspoon of basil. Funny, I know, but not a step you can skip.” MJ unscrewed the cap on a jar marked “basil” and placed it in front of the girls. Each girl used her magic to level the spoon, remembering MJ’s instructions on the fire.

“Good,” MJ said, impressed that the girls picked the lesson up immediately. They added the basil and the volume of the humming increased, now a slightly different melody and pace.

The girls then added xanthan gum, distilled Cradle sap, and crushed poppy seeds into the mixture, delighted by each change in the potion’s sound and the color of its smoke. When the final ingredient had been added, they looked to MJ.

“The cooking time for a potion is variable—once all the ingredients have been added, there’s nothing you can do to bring the process to an end. Intent can only do so much—a potion is finished when it’s finished, and we have no real say in how long the brewing will take. Luckily, it’s exceedingly rare for a potion to take more than twenty-four hours to boil down.”

“A full day?” Vic coughed at the same time that Delali asked, “How do you know it’s finished?”

“Don’t worry,” MJ said, “Most potions are finished within ten minutes of the addition of the final ingredient. You will know when you know.”

They all waited anxiously for a few minutes, the girls not taking their eyes off the simmering liquids. Then the smoke began to rise at disorienting speed, hitting the ceiling before spreading over the apartment. A loud bang and a flash of light filled the kitchen, and when it disappeared, the smoke and fire were gone, and the potions no longer bubbled. Instead, they were still, thick pools of cobalt liquid collected at the bottom of their pots. The room smelled like burnt sugar. MJ looked into Abbie’s. “Gorgeous,” she said simply. “It looks store bought.”

“Can we try it?” Delali asked.

“Please,” MJ said.

The girls all tried it, one by one staining their fingers with the blue sludge. The effect was immediate, a surge of energy running through each of them as soon as they tasted the potion.

“Oh goodness,” Abbie gasped as she felt the rush. “Oh God.” She gripped the edge of the countertop. MJ, Delali, and Vic all turned to look at her curiously.

“Are you... okay?” Vic asked. She turned to MJ, accusing. “Are these dangerous?”

“I think I might be overdosing,” Abbie breathed.

“Is there a way to stop the effects?” Delali asked. She hadn’t considered this, but now it seemed obvious that you could overdose on a potion, especially when its purpose was medicinal.

“No,” MJ said dryly. She seemed completely unbothered by Abbie’s reaction. “Well, yes,” she amended. “But reversals are the hardest spells to master, even for a witch with advanced intention.” MJ explained. “It’s not worth it for something like this. Infants regularly ingest this potion in the Sphere,” she said to Abbie. “Give yourself a second to get used to it.

Abbie face grew warm. “Oh,” she said lightly, standing straight again. “I guess I’m just sensitive.”

Vic and Delali both laughed, energized by their taste of the Elixir, and turned to MJ expectantly. “Can we do more?” Vic asked, her eyes scanning the other ingredients MJ had left out for the lesson.

MJ smiled. “That’s the plan.”

The Cauldrons

A few hours later, and with MJ’s guidance, the girls had successfully brewed the six potions she’d mentioned as the must-haves for any witch. As they poured their batches of Slumber Serum into small glass vials, careful not to spill any of the dark amber liquid onto the jade countertop, MJ crossed her arms, savoring the feeling of accomplishment rising in her belly. She’d been right: Victoria was a natural. No matter how coarsely she chopped her garlic or how imprecise she was with her timing, it seemed she could do no wrong. Delali had the precision of a surgeon, and, as a result, produced the potions of a professional, and Abbie was, as MJ had expected, sure of herself in a quiet way, a fast learner who had neither Victoria’s natural grasp of intent nor Delali’s exactness, but still performed. She had been right that day in the restaurant as well. She had found them, but she wasn’t quite yet sure who they were.

MJ turned toward the sink to wash her hands. “Oh my god,” she heard Abbie whisper behind her. “That was amazing.” MJ smiled to herself, then felt her mouth slacken when she saw a string of disjointed images and sounds. A flash of dark, lustrous silk; high staccato laughter; twinkling lights suspended in mid-air; a low hiss, unlike any sound that could come from a human being. MJ grasped the counter to steady herself—she often lost her balance when she had a vision, but these days the phenomenon had become particularly forceful. She closed her eyes against the vertigo, opening them again when she heard Abbie talking to her.

“Sorry, dear,” MJ said. She grabbed a kitchen towel to dry her hands, taking the extra moment to get her bearings, and faced the girls. “I didn’t hear what you said. Come.” She gestured for the girls to follow her. “Let’s go to the living room so you all can get your things.” The vision had sapped her of her energy, and she needed to sit and rest, but she wanted the girls to leave first.
“I was just asking what kinds of things we’ll be doing in our other lessons,” Abbie repeated. She took her jacket from where it was hooked by the door. “Like, will we be learning more stuff about our specific powers—I think you said they were named?” MJ nodded before Abbie continued. “Or will it be more like spells and, like, jinxes, and stuff? I just wanted to ask, you know, one teacher to another.”

“A mixture of both,” MJ said, settling on the arm of the couch. “Learning about your powers—strengthening them, honing your abilities—certainly. But spells…” MJ’s vision had sent the gears in her head spinning, too quickly for her even to grasp what she was thinking about. “Perhaps just one or two.” She said carefully. “They’re not as common as they used to be—direct magic is just so much easier—but there are certain acts that still require incantations. Here,” MJ stood again, walking to her bookshelf and pulling out three slim pamphlets with navy covers. She handed one to each girl, and as they touched them, words bloomed across the covers in purple script just as they had with MJ’s calling card: Lesson 1. Once she’d distributed the packets, MJ moved toward the door. Her visions had planted an idea in her head, and it was currently taking root and flowering. She needed the time to think it through—alone. “So sorry to do this again.” She opened the door. “But I’m afraid our lesson ends here. I’ll see you ladies next week.”

In the elevator down from MJ’s apartment, Delali couldn’t stop looking at the little glass bottles in her bag. She kept watching the liquids swirl around inside them, some thick and opaque, others watery and transparent, others marbled with threads of white. Meeting MJ at the park had solidified things for her, but she realized that she hadn’t totally come to terms with what it meant to be a witch until she’d brewed a legit potion in a fucking cauldron.

“Ok,” Vic said as they exited the lobby of MJ’s building. “That was actually pretty dope.” While bottling her Soothing Solution, Vic had dipped her finger into the cauldron and tasted it, just to see what would happen. Now a bleary-eyed calm had settled over her, and she felt like she’d just taken a hit of the best indica she’d ever had.

“Yeah, totally,” Delali said, digging her phone out of her purse. Of course, Vic had become interested in their powers now that MJ had gassed her up beyond what Delali believed was ethical. She dashed off a quick message to Adrien, eager to be around someone who thought of her as a star in the night sky, or whatever. “Well, I gotta bounce.” Adrien had responded almost immediately, saying he’d send Isaac to pick her up wherever she was, and Delali had dropped a pin at a nearby Duane Reade, craving Adrien and peach rings pretty much equally.

Abbie glanced at her watch. “Same, actually. I have to FaceTime my mom so we can pick out what I’m wearing to CurlyCon next week.”

“Oh,” Vic said, fiddling with the fringe of her Alexander McQueen scarf. She clamped down on the weird swell of disappointment she felt. She’d been hoping for a more substantial debrief, maybe even a Tompkins sesh, and not just because it was close to her apartment. They all currently had six magic fucking potions in their possession. She thought that required some discussion, but she wasn’t going to push. “Well,” she said, turning toward the subway. “Bye then.” Abbie and Delali waved, and the three split, going their separate ways.

Delali sat up from where she was laying on Safiya’s bed, glancing up from her used bookstore copy of Sula. She shook her head. “Nah, I don’t think so,” she said, looking Safiya up and down.
“You don’t like this one?” Safiya asked incredulously. She strode down the length of her bedroom and struck a pose as she reached her bed, showing off the red satin slip dress she’d just shimmied into. “It fits me, like, perfectly.”

“It is a great dress,” Delali agreed, closing her book. “But,” she sniffed in disgust, “do you really want to waste it on a frat formal?”

“Ugh, true,” said Safiya. She pulled the dress over her head, tossing it on top of the pile of others she’d tried on and rejected. “All of my clothes are too nice for this,” she pouted.

Delali laughed. “Tragic.”

Safiya gave her an annoyed look before turning to face herself in the mirror. “Am I really going to have to buy something new for this?” After turning him down twice, Safiya had finally agreed to go to her friend-with-benefit’s formal next week. She absolutely refused to buy a new dress, so she’d texted Delali to come look through her stuff, asking her to bring anything in her closet that she thought might be an option. Safiya’s roommates had joined in on the impromptu Fashion Police session earlier, but they’d left for a club meeting and now it was just Delali and Safiya.

“Maybe,” Delali said. “But I maintain that you should skip and hang out with me instead...or just go with the black tank dress and a pair of metallic heels.”

“Let’s hang out tonight,” Safiya said, patting her bloated stomach. “I’m PMSing and want to eat cookie dough and rewatch Girlfriends.”

“Ugh, you know that’s my favorite kind of Saturday night, but I might be going out, actually.” Delali hesitated, then continued. “You know how I met those two random girls on my birthday?” She turned her book over.

“Yeah,” said Safiya. “And then you flaked on senior night to go to 2FERNS with them.” She gave Delali a diffusing smile, but it looked a little forced. The night of her birthday had become a touchy subject. Apparently Safiya and a few of her other friends had planned a small surprise party at a restaurant near campus, and Delali had totally missed it. Delali tried to explain, playing up her shock at meeting two girls with her birthday in the bathroom of a random bar, but she knew Safiya could sense the holes in her story, and she wasn’t exactly about to disclose that she was a witch.

“Yeah, well, one of them is having a housewarming tonight,” Delali said. “She invited me and the other girl but I don’t know if I wanna go. I’m pretty sure she was wasted when she texted us.” She showed Safiya the text Vic had sent in their group with Abbie, which was littered with misspellings and random punctuation.

Safiya gasped upon seeing Vic’s address. “She’s like, a block away from The Falafel Shop,” she said. “We have to go.”

Delali shrugged. “We go out on the Lower East all the time.”

Exactly,” said Safiya. “If the party’s wack, we have tons of places to escape to. Plus, it’s senior year. We should be getting off campus and expanding our network beyond the circle of our college friends.” Delali stared at her. “My mom sent me this book on how navigate postgrad life,” Safiya said, pulling on a pair of black overalls to wear over her blue sports bra. “It’s actually been super helpful.” She picked up a book from her desk and showed Delali the cover. Adulting 101: How to Breathe, Tie Your Shoes, and Crowdfund Startup Capital.

“I think I’ll manage,” she said sarcastically. “But I guess there’s no harm in going to the party.” As reluctant as she was to waste a weekend night on a civilian party, she did actually want to talk to Vic and Abbie in person. When MJ had mentioned shrouded universities during their first meeting Delali hadn’t thought much about it, but after seeing them referenced in the lesson booklet MJ gave them, she had become borderline obsessed with the idea and desperately wanted to take classes at one. It wouldn’t replace their work with MJ, not necessarily, but maybe she could become more of a tutor, supplementing their structured work at a school. There was a brief mention of a woman named Dr. Alison Diop, a supposed expert on magical heredity who taught at a place called 81, 22. Delali wanted to meet her, maybe study under her. Would Dr. Diop know why she and the others had gotten their powers so late? If they had any witch ancestry? What it meant if they didn’t?

The thought of attending a shrouded university filled Delali with the same excitement her decision to go to college had three years ago, and her mind was filled with all the possibilities that stretched endlessly before her. She kept imagining what it would be like to go to classes with other witches, wondering what they were like, how they talked, how they socialized… But Delali didn’t know how it all worked. She didn’t even know where the hell 81, 22 was, and she wanted to check in with Vic and Abbie before she brought the idea up to MJ. She knew Vic and Abbie thought she was too into the witch stuff, and she didn’t want be more extra than she already had been. Still, the chance to talk to them—and on Vic’s turf, where she was likely to be the most malleable—beckoned.

“There’s like, no risk and potentially a ton of reward,” Safiya said, probably quoting the book again.

“Fine, we can go,” Delai said, pretending Safiya had forced her hand. Then she frowned. “Damn, do I really have to take off these leggings?”

Safiya laughed. “Looks like it, sis.” She opened the door to her dresser again. “Take your pick.”

Delali started shuffling through the hangers. It took her two seconds to find what she wanted to wear: an oxblood mini dress she’d borrowed from Safiya many times before. She kept trying to steal it, but Safiya always remembered to ask for it back.

“So what’s the deal with these girls?” Safiya asked. “Do you have any idea what the guest list is like? I’m trying to decide if this party warrants a contour.”

“Nooooo idea about the guest list,” Delali said. “The girl who’s hosting it is Vic...the Clarke Stein one who’s super obsessed with her sorority. So I guess it’ll prob be a mix of fashion girls and her ‘sisters.’” Safiya made a face, and Delali laughed when she caught it in the mirror. “You’re the one who wanted us to go to this,” she reminded her. “Expanding the network and adulting and all that.”
“True,” Safiya said. “No contour it is.” Delali laughed again, pulling out her phone to call a Süper. Once the car had arrived, Delali and Safiya headed downstairs. In the elevator, Delali stole a glance at Safiya’s outfit, admiring the many pins she’d stuck to the lapel of her jacket. The elevator doors opened, and as they stepped into the lobby, Safiya turned to Delali and gave her a knowing look.

“Hi Darren,” Safiya said in a singsong as they approached the dorm’s security desk.
“Hey,” he said. He met Delali’s eyes. “Hey, Delali. Did you guys pick a dress?”

“Sadly, no.” Delali sighed dramatically. “The search continues.”
“What a shame,” he said, grinning. Delali returned his smile. Darren had a work-study job swiping students’ IDs to give them access to buildings on campus, and he and Delali had chatted earlier when he’d let her into Safiya’s building. He, like Delali, thought Safiya should bail on the formal and just go see that movie where half of black Hollywood meets up at a college reunion, and hijinks ensue. She’d been confused by Safiya’s look earlier before remembering: on that fateful night at The Bar, she’d drunkenly texted Safiya to see if she thought Darren was a viable prospect. Delali didn’t even remember what Safiya had said in response—Delali was pretty sure that by the time Safiya replied, she was yanking a phone out of the air with a gold beam of light. Now she was sure Safiya’s reply had been in the realm of “go for it,” though tonight she’d ignored all her allusions to the conversation, somewhat embarrassed for initiating it at all.

“What are you doing tonight?” Safiya asked Darren.

“Nothing, probably. Maybe finishing up this problem set for my Vector Analysis class.”
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” said Delali. She’d printed out the assignment after sleeping over at Adrien’s last week, but couldn’t even remember where she’d put it.

“Do you understand how to find the divergence and curl of a vector field?” Darren asked.

“Um, no,” said Delali. “Wasn’t that the week Linkletter literally put on a YouTube video because he didn’t feel like teaching a lecture?”

Darren laughed. “Yeah, but I went to his office hours and—”
Safiya cut in with fake snoring noises. Both Delali and Darren turned to look at her. “Dela and I are going to this housewarming on the Lower East. You should come with, if you’re not doing anything.”

“I…” Darren looked from Safiya to Delali. “Is that cool?”

“Yeah, why not,” Delali said lightly. She and Darren hadn’t really hung out outside of class or study group, with the exception of homecoming weekend last year, but she didn’t see the harm in him tagging along to Vic’s.

Darren broke into a grin. “Ok cool,” he said. They waited ten minutes before a security guard came to relieve Darren from his shift, then Darren gathered his things and followed Delali and Safiya out of the building. As she slid into the backseat between Darren and Safiya, Delali shot Vic a text: bringing some friends from school—is that cool? Vic had told her and Abbie to “come thru w whoever u want!!!,” but she still she wanted to make sure. Delali kept her messages app open as the car whipped downtown, but, as was to be expected from Vic, she didn’t respond. Delali shrugged, dropping her phone into her purse as a sharp left turn sent Darren pressing into her side.

When Vic suggested having a housewarming party to Diane and Elise back in June, she’d been young and fresh, still excited by the prospect of playing hostess in her new, grown-up New York City apartment. Now that she’d been working for a few months, the idea was much less appealing. She didn’t really want people tracking unidentified subway grime onto her hardwood floors, and the idea of having to clean everything up afterward was pretty discouraging. But around her birthday, after canceling the party about six times, she, Diane, and Elise had finally set a date. Back then, Vic hadn’t realized the majority of her free time leading up to the housewarming would be swallowed by being a fucking witch—and her job, which she was apparently really good at, with and without the help of her powers. Now, she stared at herself in her bathroom mirror, consumed by a sensation she’d never felt before: the feeling that she definitely did not want to go out tonight.

A series of knocks sounded on the bathroom door. “Vic!” Elise called. “All the CS girls are here.” Vic let out a sigh before opening the door.

“Viiiiiiiic!” Tina yelled from behind Elise, tackling Vic in a hug. “Your apartment is fucking amazing.”

“Thanks for coming,” Vic said, addressing the group. Outside of Tina, she’d invited her coworkers mostly as a courtesy, and she hadn’t really expected any of them to actually show. She scanned the group of girls in tailored jeans and crisp white sneakers, surprised to see that all the junior PR girls had come—barring, of course, Tatiana. When Vic had reluctantly added her to the Facebook event, knowing it would look petty if she didn’t, she’d figured that Tatiana wouldn’t come. Still, she wondered what Tatiana was doing instead tonight, and then immediately decided she didn’t care.

“No prob,” said Paige, one of the second-year assistants. “Thanks for having us.” Vic was about to reply when she abruptly grabbed Paige’s arm and ducked behind her. Paige gave her a look. “Um...are you okay?”
Vic straightened, smoothing her pink-and-white windowpane dress with a nervous laugh. “Yeah, totally, sorry about that,” she said. “Just got a little lightheaded.” She mimed taking a shot, even though she hadn’t had a drop of alcohol yet. The CS girls laughed, and Vic tried to angle her body behind Paige’s without making things too weird. Frankie had just walked in holding a bottle of the shitty peach Riesling she and Vic had guzzled on their first date. “Food and drinks are over there,” Vic said, pointing to a table by the kitchen. “I just need to talk to my roommate really quick— I’ll be over in a sec.” The CS girls moved toward the food and Vic walked through the party, head ducked, in search of Elise or Diane. She found Diane first.

“Di,” Vic hissed. She grabbed Diane’s arm and pulled her into her bedroom.

“Ow, what the fuck, Vic?” Diane rubbed at the tender dents Vic’s acrylics had left in her forearm. Vic closed the door behind them.

“What the fuck is Frankie doing here?” Vic asked. When making the guest list for the party, Vic had deliberately left Frankie off. She’d been casually dating a few other girls at the time and didn’t want to have to decide who made the cut and who didn’t. Now that she’d left her at Lovers of Today and stopped responding to her texts without any warning or explanation, Vic couldn’t think of anyone she wanted to see less than Frankie.

“Elise and I invited her,” Diane said simply. “We both think you need to get over your weird commitment thing, and Frankie is literally perfect. Why didn’t you tell us she bleached her hair? It looks soooo fucking good.” Diane took a sip of the fall sangria she’d made from the recipe on The Hood Contessa’s blog.

Why would you guys do that without consulting me?” Vic demanded. “Frankie and I broke up...ish. Not that we were ever really together.”

Diane gaped at her. “What the fuck? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Vic said, bristling at Diane’s accusation. “I’m just not...really looking for a relationship right now.”
Diane rolled her eyes so hard Vic thought they might fall out of her head. “God, you’re so…” she trailed off. “Well, whatever you did, it couldn’t have been that bad,” she said, changing the subject. “I mean, she’s here, right? Maybe you can fix things.” Diane finished her drink before stepping out of Vic’s room, leaving Vic behind in the sea of her dirty clothes.