The love potion was her sister’s idea. Jean was into all those hippy, new age things: crystals for healing, wearing clothing made of hemp, spells, tarot cards. She’d commiserated with Bella about her marriage issues over a cup of herbal tea on her front porch and brought it up innocuously, as though it was completely typical suggestion. The jangle of the wind chimes in the background only served to complete the ethereal, nonsensical mood.
“Are you sure, Jean? That seems a little out there. I’d been thinking of something like couples therapy.” She tapped her pastel pink nails absently against the coffee cup, suppressing an eye roll.
“Those shrinks couldn’t tell your crown chakra from your heart chakra,” Jean snorted derisively. Bella chuckled along, not willing to admit she didn’t know what the hell her sister was talking about. “Trust me, this is your best way forward, short of catching a leprechaun and forcing him to grant you a wish.
“That was a joke, if you couldn’t tell. I’m not crazy.”
Bella chuckled along good-naturedly. Honestly, with Jean there were times she genuinely couldn’t distinguish the jokes from the sober-but-crazy-assertions, so she appreciated the clarification.
“Come on, I’ll bet I have everything you need in my pantry. Let’s do this!” Jean’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Bella felt the corners of her mouth tugging up into a smile. As they stood, Bella pulled her sister into a tight, quick hug. She was engulfed in the smell of hibiscus and sage.
“Thanks, Jeanie. I needed this.”
“Anytime little sis. Anytime.”
After a quick detour to Jean’s bedroom to get her spell book, they paged through it in the kitchen. Bella thought to herself that it looked oddly modern, not at all like the leather bound tome she had imagined something like that to be. “Where’d you find this anyway?”
“Amazon, duh. Where’d you think I’d get it from?” Jean elbowed Bella in the ribs with a wicked smile. “Troll under a bridge? Atlantis? The tooth fairy?”
Some of the pages were dog eared and had Jean’s crabbed, spidery handwriting filling up the margins. Health spells, family spells, spells to increase your wealth.
“Here we go,” Jean said, flattening the spine of the book open to the right page. Brushing a lock on wavy brown hair behind her ears, Bella noted the dirt encrusted under her nails. Jean practically lived in her garden, when she wasn't at her day job. Cracking her knuckles, Jean assumed what Bella had come to think of over the years as her ‘game face’. “One love potion, coming right up.”
The kitchen table soon bore the fruit of their labours: rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, mint leaves, honey, black tea, lemon leaves, a bottle of spring water. Turning over the mason jar of tea leaves, Bella thought to herself that this felt more like cooking than witchcraft. Ducking into the mud room, Jean came pack with some gardening shears.
“C’mon Bella, we still need to get the last ingredient. Rose petals.”
“You know this will never work, right?” Bella said, poking Jean teasingly. Jean took a swipe at her, wielding the shears like a sword.
“What’s the point of doing this then? You’ll ruin the positive energy, or set a bad intention! Then it won’t do anything.” Jean gestured dramatically at her herbs, as though they held the secrets of the universe. For all Bella knew, maybe it did. “You’ll never know if you don’t try.”
“But how will it work?” Bella sighed.
“Magic,” Jean winked. “Obviously.”
Jean would have helped her brew the actual potion, but it wasn’t the right time. The instructions had been ridiculously specific. Brew during a waxing moon, but it also had to be a Friday, and during the light of the moon. Preparing her potion, she realized she still wasn’t completely sure when Chad had fallen out of love with her. There were no talks of divorce, no hum of discontent. He still told her he loved her every day. But something had shifted. It was the little things.
Instead of kissing her goodnight, Chad would mutter an ‘I love you’ and be snoring within minutes. Occasionally, he’d drift before she had the chance to say ‘I love you’ back.
On their first date, they’d skipped dinner and let the chicken burn in the oven. The fire alarm had interrupted them, and they’d had to rush out half dressed to drag the ruins of their dinner out of a smoking oven, laughing and swearing. By contrast, now their meals were always ready at six. They ate dinners promptly, and quietly.
He’d stopped listening to her. Oh, he still pantomimed listening, and said his ‘hmms,’ and ‘oh really’s?’ at appropriate times. But his heart had gone out of it. She could sense his relief when she got to the end of a story about work, the lines of his face relaxing, his attention switching gratefully back to his phone. She ended up evading him when he asked how work was, replying with monosyllabic answers that did not invite additional queries. It was too exhausting to see his impatience, his boredom.
If he was going to be standoffish, she could be too. It didn’t make her feel better. There was no flush of victory in her pettiness, only a deepening gyre of miscommunication.
The whistling of the copper kettle brought her back, and she lifted it to swish around the contents. The smell was pleasant, sweet and floral. There was no glow, no sparkle, nothing at all to indicate this was anything more than a regular old cup of tea. Still, she went through the motions and poured the tea into a cup. The one with the roses. Adding a spoonful of honey to it, she wrapped her hands around it, absorbing the comforting warmth. The doubt came again. How were some herbs, tea, and flower petals supposed to make Chad fall back in love with her?
Sighing, she closed her eyes and took a slow breath.
“By light of moon waxing brew this tea to make Chad desire me.”
Raising the cup, she took a tentative sip. It wasn’t as bad as she’d thought. In fact, it tasted a lot like Jean's teas.
“Goddess of love, hear now my plea. Let Chad desire me.” Draining the cup, she set it down hard on the table, like a grizzled alcoholic after a stiff drink. “So mote it be.”
She waited a week, as the spell instructed, before brewing Chad’s batch of the love potion. The spell hadn’t specified whether it had to be during night or not, so she’d done it after dinner. Pouring twin cups of tea, she set Chad’s cup in front of him on the coffee table.
Once he’d taken a drink, she bit her lip and reached for the remote. Turning the television off, she swivelled in her seat to look at Chad. “Do you remember when we first met?’
“Of course,” he said, bemused. “It was in that little diner you used to work at, where you had to wear that red apron.” His eyes crinkled at the memory.
“You used to come, every day. But it wasn't like a regular situation though. You would try something new every day, like it was some cover story to explain the repeat visits.” She smiled at that. “Blueberry pie at first, then onion rings, then you got all the way down to those things on the menu that no one really likes. Couldn’t tell you even now why we sold them.”
“Like the green bean casserole,” Chad shuddered, in mock horror. “I still hate green beans to this day.”
‘Then one day, you ran out of new things to try.” By now, the back and forth had taken on a familiar rhythm. This was a story they’d told new acquaintances when asked how they’d met.
“I still remember you asking me what I’d do now,” Chad said. In the faint light, he seemed to transform back into that kid in his early twenties.
“You said the cheesiest line, about getting something off menu,” Bella giggled, slipping her hand into his.
“Well it worked, didn’t it?”
“I wish we could go back to those days,” Bella said. “Everything seemed so much easier.”
Chad leaned in to kiss her on the forehead. “Maybe it isn’t the same. But isn’t that okay? Sure, we don’t act like twenty year olds. But I love you so much more now. You’re my best friend. My soul mate. Every cheesy line in the book to describe a happy marriage? That’s us, babe.”
Shifting to rest her head on his shoulder, she frowned. “If that’s the case, why does it feel like we never talk anymore? I talk about work, and you glaze over.”
“Okay, you can’t blame me for that Bella. It isn’t like you work for NASA or something, you’re in data entry. It isn’t exactly front page news.”
“Hey!” Bella protested, punching Chad’s arm. “Data entry is such an interesting job. I’m serious!” Her voice raised over Chad’s laughter, indignant.
“Honestly babe, I thought we were doing okay. Better than okay. If you thought we were having problems, why didn’t you just tell me about it sooner?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe I thought that talking about it would make it real.”
Pulling Bella into a tight embrace, Chad kissed her. “I couldn’t love you more. I’m sorry if it didn’t show.”
Later, as she and Chad cleaned up their dinner dishes, she wondered if it had been the love potion that had prompted their reconciliation. Dumping the tea dregs into the garbage, the rose petals caught her eye, gleaming in comparison to the used coffee grounds and yogourt containers. Maybe it had been magic.