The sound of the brush running through my hair becomes monotonous as I stare at myself in the mirror. I feel it pull at each strand and look up at my mother standing behind me. Her face wears a grim expression as she studies each stroke, making sure to pull it back into two perfect ponytails, just like hers. Her small frame adorns a velvet blue dress that falls just below her knees. She wears a black, silk ribbon around her neck and white, sheer stockings on her legs. Her makeup is powdery white with a small freckle painted onto her cheekbone, right under her eye. Eventually, she ties off my ponytails with a black ribbon like the one around her neck. She says nothing as she turns and walks away. I assume I'm meant to stay put.
I turn my gaze to the long window in the room that peers over the valley. It's cloudy, gray, and wet outside—mirroring the state of my own attitude. I am absolutely dreading The Tea Party, though my mother would say this is the perfect weather for it. My eyes follow a single drop of rain as it trickles all the way down the window. I would argue that it seems as if the world itself is mourning the occasion.
My eyes glance at the outfit my mother has laid out on the bed for me. Approaching it slowly, I listen to hear if my mother is coming back up the stairs. I'm met with a silence that invites me to continue. It's a dress very similar to my moms, though mine is green velvet rather than blue. If all goes well today, then I'll have a blue dress too...just like mom. I dare to reach out my hand toward it. I have been staring at this dress hanging in the closet for as long as I can remember. Mother was very strict about not touching it until I turn thirteen years old. It's taunted me for so long, signifying this day, a day that I've known my whole life I wouldn't be able to avoid. My hand is so close to it now, I can almost feel a warmth radiating off of it. Almost like...it's alive. I wonder what would happen if I just—
"Don't touch that." A stern voice calls flatly behind me.
I gasp and turn to see my mother has materialized in the doorway. How is it she always appears without making a sound?
She flicks her head towards the mirror and I make my way back over to it, staring down at the ground in defeat. I was so close.
My mother grabs a small, round plate full of powder and pats it with a cotton pad. I close my eyes as she begins patting it all over my face. My head naturally moves and turns away from the incessant pounding my face is taking. She doesn't scold me. She simply grabs my chin firmly and turns my head back towards her so she can continue. Once she's done, she grabs a black pencil and draws a small freckle under my eye just like her. She turns me to face the mirror again and nods in approval. Finally, she grabs the dress off the bed. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in and out before walking over to me with it.
"You know how important today is, don't you Serena?" She says in a tone that's almost threatening. "The Tea Party is a highly revered tradition The Trinity Coven. I expect you to excel. Fail to do so and..." Her voice trails off and she looks down placidly at her hands, tracing her thumb over where her right index finger used to be, but is now an empty space and painful reminder of her failure at The Tea Party when she was thirteen. She shakes her head of the thought. "Who have you chosen?"
I walk up to her and she leans down as I whisper something in her ear, knowing better than to speak aloud to my mother. To do this would be absurdly disrespectful. She pulls away from me and raises her eyebrows and I figure I must be seeing things. My mother seldom has a reaction to anything. Raising her eyebrows is roughly equivalent to someone jumping up and down, screaming with excitement. To further my surprise, a ghost of a smile even tugs at the corner of her lips. I widen my own eyes at her unabashed display of emotions. I take it she is happy with my choice, perhaps even proud.
"Quite ambitious." She smirks.
I feel a blush rise to my cheeks knowing I've made my mother proud. I've trembled at the thought of this day since I was a little girl, but looking into my mother's dull, gray eyes, I feel how much it means to her. I decide in this moment to set aside my apprehensions and do this for her. I think she might need it more than I do.
She holds the dress up to me and I raise my arms, closing my eyes in anticipation as she drops it over my head. I've always expected something amazing would happen when I finally got to put it on, and I was not disappointed. Just as the cold velvet reaches my shoulders, lighting flashes right outside the window and thunder follows with in a rolling, deafening CLAP. Instinctively, I reach for my mom's hand. She squeezes it reassuringly and nods to me. I guess the thunder and lightning is a good sign.
My mother aids me in putting on my stockings and leans down to help as I struggle with the brass buckles on my shoes. When she's finished, she walks me over to mirror one last time, resting her hands on my shoulders and looking down at me with approval.
"You're ready." She nods.
I stand with my mom under a black umbrella as the rain falls relentlessly upon us. We stand before an old-looking mansion that appears to have been pink, once upon a time, but now seems it's barely holding itself together. There are holes in the rotting wood, saturated and covered in black mold as if it hasn't stopped raining since the house was built. Fragments of chipped, white paint cling to the metal fencing on the porch like they don't expect to make it another day. I look on at the house in confusion. I suppose I assumed such an esteemed coven of witches would have a nicer mansion.
My mom ushers me up the stairs and takes a deep breath. Her shaky hands reach out to ring the doorbell and long, deep chime bellows, feeling as though it's ringing right inside my chest. The door creaks open, though there is no one behind it. I look up to my mom and she offers me a nod, placing a hand on my shoulder and squeezing it. I know she can't come in with me. I don't know if she would even want to. It's been so long since she was here last for her own Tea Party.
I remember my mission to set aside my apprehensions and do this for her, though that becomes increasingly difficult now that I'm standing here. Cautiously, I close my eyes and take a small step inside, hearing my shoes click against the tile floor of the foyer. Once I'm in all the way, I open my eyes, but my mom is already gone. I know from this point forward, I'm on my own.
The foyer before me looks as though it belongs in another house. This can't possibly be a part of the same building I was just looking at outside. The walls are pastel pink and even smell vaguely of cotton candy. The white tile floor is so clean I can see my reflection in it. To my left is a dining room table, set for twelve. Twelve porcelain plates next to twelve cloth napkins. Towers of tiny sandwiches cover the middle, and at both ends sit two bowls of fruit.
I take a deep breath and run my fingers over something in my dress sleeve. I can do this.
The staircase before me seems to hum with life, inviting me up. I place my hand on the cool metal of the guard rail and begin making my way up the stairs. My shoes click against the dark mahogany and echo through the house, making each step much more intense than it needs to be.
When I finally reach the top, I see a white door to my right that's slightly ajar. The rain falling on the roof is the only sound to be heard aside from my heart pounding in my ears. The closer I get, the louder my hearts drums inside my chest. I have to remind myself to take deep breaths as I approach. I place my palm on the door to push it open. It's ice cold. It opens with a creeeeak so loud it causes me to wince.
The silence of ten heads collectively turning to look at me in unison is almost too overwhelming to bear, but I remind myself to stay confident as I approach the table where all my sisters are already seated. Each of them adorns a dress like mine, except theirs are a deep purple—hopefully mine will be too by the time this is all over. I pull out my chair and it screeches across the floor, but no one reacts. Not a wince or a gasp between the ten of them. I take my seat and we sit in complete silence, save the sound of the rain and a gust of wind outside.
An eternity passes as each of us sit and stare straight ahead of us. The chair at the head of the table remains vacant. I don't dare to say anything, knowing it's not my place. The air in the room seems to grow heavier with each second that passes and my breathing becomes ragged as we wait for our final guest. Eventually, a girl at the end of the table near the vacant seat stands from her chair. Her honey-blonde hair is pulled into pigtails like mine, and she wears a black ribbon around her neck.
"Sisters, it appears our Hostess is running late. She insisted that in lieu of her presence, I should be the one to host The Tea Party until her arrival, seeing as how I am the eldest among us.” She says and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to roll my eyes. "It is an honor to uphold this tradition which we hold most sacred. We shall commence The Tea Party as planned, starting with the oldest," she says and bows. Her eyes scan across the room and everyone's gaze follows until all eyes are on me, "and conclude with the newest to embrace our custom. Pray she does not follow in her mother's footsteps." She says snidely and my knuckles turn white as my fist clamps around the fabric of my dress in rage. The other girls around the table giggle quietly and I clench my teeth.
Patience, I hear my mother's voice in my head and cease the assault on my poor dress, the fabric now wrinkled where I was holding it.
"Let us begin," the blonde continues, "I, Emily Barret, present my token." Emily reaches in the sleeve of her dress and pulls out something wrapped in a silk handkerchief, scattered with red splotches. She unwraps it delicately and holds it up for all of us to see. The other girls hum in appreciation as we behold a well-manicured, primped and polished, human finger. "The index of Sahara DuPriest, Supreme of The Phoenix Coven." Emily states and places the finger into her cup of tea, stirring it three times as the other girls chant:
Your sacrifice is our salvation.
The few become many.
The many become one.
And Emily takes a seat.
Each girl has their turn, presenting their finger, stirring their tea, and repeating the mantra of the ritual. Indexes of witches from various covens are presented, some more high profile than others. So the saying of The Tea Party goes, The higher the price, the higher the glory. Emily Barret certainly had the most impressive presentation of The Party. Taking the life of a Supreme is ambitious, though I suppose I have quite an ambitious presentation myself.
I look down at the table, a finger now in each girl's cup of tea, and a silence falls over the room.
"Serena, your presentation please." Emily says.
I stand from my chair and reach into the sleeve of my dress. I feel everyone lean in, eager to see who I've brought. The pressure of the silence is all-consuming, my mind can't help but wander to how my mother felt when she was in this position all those years ago. She was so confident in her choice, but is still noted as the most egregious insult to The Tea Party that The Trinity Coven had ever seen. She was exiled, marked by the blue dress, never to return or engage with our coven again.
I've feared The Party my entire life for this reason. The finger my mother chose to present...was her own. She was unwilling to take a human life, unwilling to spill even a drop of magical blood—and for that, she's my hero. Where the Coven saw failure, I saw fearless. Fierce commitment to morals. Forthright attack of the conventional. And most of all, freedom from the shackles of what everyone in this room is calling a "family." That's why this day is so important. Many might assume I'm here to correct my mother's mistake, to redeem our name in The Coven. To that, I would say, I have a little more up my sleeve...literally.
I take one last deep breath. "I, Serena Blanche, present my token." I retrieve the cloth from my dress and unwrap it carefully. "The index of Marjory Holland, Hostess and Supreme of The Trinity Coven." I state, and a collective gasp fills the room. Girls begin to talk over each other and Emily Barret, ever the teachers pet, looks like she's going to faint.
I drop the finger into my tea and the clink of Marjory Holland's Supreme ring against the porcelain commands everyone's silence. I begin stirring it as all the other girls did, though no one seems eager to join me in the chant this time around. I smirk and say it proudly on my own. The girls all grimace and sink further into their chairs, stunned and intimidated as the ring continues to clink on the edges of the cup.
"Your sacrifice is our salvation." Clink.
"The few become many." Clink.
"The many..." I pause and take the finger out of my cup, pulling the Supreme ring off of it and sliding it onto my own index finger, "....become one."