Bakersville was Rupert’s hometown. He was the reigning quarterback that took them to the national championship - albeit several years ago. I was the interloper who stole their most eligible bachelor while he was away on a business trip.
Returning with me as his new bride was not what anyone expected - ’a Christmas gift to myself,’ he always responded when asked. Men would chuckle knowingly; women would scowl.
I found my new husband had become proficient at hiding things - his temper, his bruised knuckles, the checkbook. Each month he put just enough money in my outstretched hand for groceries and nothing else.
He came from a wealthy family and had done nothing to deserve any of it, other than being born. Instead of looking after the small empire his family had struggled to build, he tom-catted around the local bars buying drinks for his buddies and the occasional blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty that caught his eye. My hair was brunette. Sure, I knew he was messing around but discovered early in our marriage, I was incapable of stopping him. No one believed me when I told them, even showed them what he did to me. Everyone was protective of him.
I, on the other hand, had no one. My family was gone, killed in a head-on collision. I lost my mother, father, and brother. A drunk driver on a dark country road swerved across the line early one night while they were returning home from a Christmas play rehearsal. At my mother's insistence, I was spending the night at a friend's house. At the time, I didn't understand. Now I do. You see, Mother was a witch. A powerful legacy passed on to firstborn females. She was protecting me.
Thirteen at the time, my grandparents on my mother's side, took me in even though they were too old to be taking of a teenager. They raised me to the best of their ability. My grandfather died when I was fifteen, and grandmother two days after my eighteenth birthday. Before she died, though, she insisted we talk, although her pale face and trembling hands told just how weak she was.
”Do we need to do this now, Grandma? You should rest,” I insisted.
”You need to know what's coming, and since your mother isn't here to prepare you, it falls to me. As you know, your mother was a witch. An adept who passed her powers to you, her first-born daughter.”
”How do you know this? Are you a witch?”
”Yes, child. Not as powerful as your mother, though. What I am about to tell you is crucial, Cassie. Your powers will come upon you at age 21. How you nurture it will determine how powerful you will become. Your mother wanted you to be like her, but she's not here. It's all on you - you must practice. Figure out where your strengths lay. You have the potential to be the most powerful of us all.” It was the last thing she told me. She died peacefully in her sleep that night.
They left me their home, which I sold, adding to the funds from my parents I had stashed away in an account no one knew about, again at Mother’s insistence. It was a sad Christmas for me, and it wasn't the first time. I wondered then why horrible things always seemed to happen to me around the holidays. I loved Christmas, but it didn't love me.
Three years later, I met Rupert while having an after-work drink with friends at a local honky-tonk. Tall, dark, handsome, and money flowing like there was no tomorrow, I could see my luck changing through him. We married a week later, just before Christmas. He always told everyone I was his holiday gift to himself, but over the next few years, I realized that wasn't a good thing. Rupert wanted a punching bag, not a commitment.
I spent most of my time alone in an empty 2-story creaky, dank house, His numerous and often absences were welcome, knowing he would eventually come home stinking drunk, which he always took out on me. The contrasting shades of black, blue, and yellow bruises, hidden with well-placed scarves and makeup, made me somewhat presentable, should I need to go out.
What Rupert didn't know was that I was good at keeping secrets, too - my powers that manifested when I turned twenty-one, the bruises he gave me, and the money I squirreled away, hidden in a rusty, metal Folgers can. The can I tucked away in a round, pink box under an Easter bonnet of my mother's. He would never look there. Groceries were cheaper than Rupert realized, and my bank grew. Hidden in the back of an unused closet in an empty bedroom that should have been filled with the laughter of children, it stayed unnoticed from his distrusting eyes.
While I bided my time, I practiced my magic. After five years of a skin bruising, bone-cracking, hell-on-earth marriage, I had reached my breaking point. The powers passed on to me were now as strong as my mother’s when she died. Even with all that power at my fingertips, in the end, all it took was a mental shove.
My face blank, my eyes cold and dead, I stood and watched as he flew backward ass-over-teakettle, his head thumping every other step, breaking his miserable neck.
Of course, I called the police. Flowered hanky crumpled in my quivering hand, held to my watering eyes, I listened uncaring as the medical examiner deemed it an accidental death. After all, Rupert was stinking drunk - again. It seems they didn't care how it happened just that it did.
In one of his earlier drunken stupors, he signed a change I made to his will, adding me as the sole benefactor. I'm sure he never knew what he had done. Rupert was the only one left in his family, and he had left all the money and the family business to me. Did I mention it was almost Christmas?
After his death, I sold it - the house and the business. I kept the Bentley. A well-deserved Christmas gift to myself. My unborn daughter, another thing I hid from Rupert, would inherit everything - my powers, his money. Witches such as me and mother were rare as hens’ teeth in these modern times, but I would raise my daughter in the ways of magic, and she would pass these skills on to her daughter. Of this, I was confident.
For now, though, things were looking up. Glancing back at the house - his house - I closed the door one last time on my sad and sordid past. Laughing as I drove away, I snarled under my breath, ”Merry Christmas, Rupert,” and threw my silk scarf out the open window. I wouldn't need it anymore.
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