Lauren Connolly crafts love stories set in the contemporary world. Some are grounded in reality, while others play with the mystical and magical. Her writing normally happens in the evening because she spends her days as an academic librarian helping students research all sorts of odd topics. Lauren lives in southern Colorado, outnumbered by animals. Luckily, they are all prone to napping and only rarely step on her keyboard while she’s writing.
The following is an excerpt from “Remembering a Witch.”
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
2020 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Romance
“What did you do to your leg?” Fenella’s glare somehow mixes both anger and concern. She directs it at the woman hobbling toward us from the front door of the house we just pulled up to.
Virginia Henwood smirks.
She shares her daughter’s lovely sculpted cheekbones and tilt-tipped nose. The wrinkles that scatter from the corner of her eyes draw the gaze to her warm expression. The small markers of her age deepen when she grins wide at her daughter’s scolding.
“I fell,” Virginia offers before pulling Fenella in close for a kiss on the cheek. She doesn’t bother to explain any further before turning to face me. “And this must be Graham.” She clasps the hand I offer in two of hers, making the handshake feel more like an embrace. “I don’t know why you’ve been hiding him. He’s handsome.”
A blush rises hot in my face, and I doubt she’ll continue to think I’m good-looking as my red cheeks clash with my hair.
“Yes, Graham is extremely attractive, and I’m lucky to have him in my life. Don’t change the subject. What do you mean by, you fell? Off of what? Why didn’t you call me?”
As Fenella interrogates her mother, all the warmth from my embarrassed face transfers to my chest with a content glow. Just because she sped through the compliments doesn’t mean the sincerity in them was any less.
Fenella is not much of a talker. She never fills comfortable silences with chatter. When she speaks, there’s normally an important point to her words. Once that point is conveyed, she is happy to settle back into silence.
I’ve learned not to expect affectionate words. My girlfriend is prone to long, meaningful gazes or a tender brush of her fingers along my lower back.
The fact that I was the first to say I love you was no surprise.
What hurt was her not speaking the words back.
But now, at least, I know she feels lucky to have me in her life.
My hopes about the point of this trip solidify.
Fenella is going to tell me she loves me.
Only I’m sure she just wants to make it special. Someone as intelligent as her is not going to blurt those important words out in the middle of sex like an extra bit of dirty talk. Fenella is going to take me out to the woods where we’ll set up a comfortable camp, and then under the expansive night sky, full of endless stars, she will tell me how she loves me too.
“I was just trying to reach some of the top branches.”
While I’ve been reeling from the first part of Fenella’s statement, her mother has been answering the second half. Virginia gestures to a tree in the middle of her front yard. The whole house is surrounded by towering oaks, the home existing within its own forest. However, the one Virginia indicates only grows as tall as the second story. Branches spread out far and thick before narrowing to round, waxy leaves.
“I don’t think the birds care how high you get the feeders, Mom.”
“It just looks so bottom heavy. And today is all about balance.” Virginia limps to her front porch, seemingly unbothered by the cast on her leg. “But you’re right. I should’ve called you. You’re much better at climbing than I am.” The woman turns back, a cardboard box in her arms and a hopeful smile on her lips.
Fenella lets out a sigh and then brushes my sleeve with her fingers. “Could you let Daisy out and grab the gifts?”
A moment later, the pit bull is galloping around the yard, snuffling in the few leaves that have started to fall, and I’m watching my girlfriend expertly scale a tree as I clutch a Tupperware container and a pumpkin. The sight of her mounting each branch, navigating the limbs with skill, is strangely erotic. Fenella is in complete control of every move she makes.
“A pumpkin! Is that for me?” Virginia sets her box down to hold out eager hands.
“I grow them,” I offer by way of explanation as I pass off the beautifully shaped gourd.
Delight sparkles in the woman’s gaze.
“I told you she’d love it,” Fenella calls out from her perch. “You should see his garden, Mom. Graham can grow anything.”
“Anything?” Virginia examines me, and I get the sense she sees right through my normal human act, straight to my magical core.
“Fenella made apple cider cupcakes.” I hold up the other gift, trying to take the attention off my exceptionally green thumb.
“Someone needs to hand me the bird feeders.”
“Here. You’re much taller than me.” Virginia sets down the pumpkin to take the cupcakes, freeing my hands to help.
When I grab the box and head toward the tree, I realize the bird feeders are all pinecones covered in peanut butter and bird seed. Little bits of twine wrap around the tips and form loops to hang them. I dangle one from my finger, admiring the quaint fall ornament.
“Graham?” Fenella stares down at me, a smile teasing at the corner of her lips.
“Sorry. Just looking.” I reach my long arm up, and our skin brushes as she hooks a finger around the twine.
As we repeat the process, I can’t help staring at Fenella. She looks like a regal wood nymph, surrounded by the leaves, effortlessly balancing on each branch, her fingers nimble as she hangs the pinecones from different twigs.
When the box is empty, I place it on the ground and reach up to help Fenella descend from her perch. The soft curves of her body press against mine as she lets herself fall into my arms. Instead of immediately letting go, I clutch her closer, pressing my nose into the dark mass of rose-scented hair and begging the universe that she won’t disappear into the forest like a mischievous sprite.
I don’t think my heart would survive the loss.
I scrub our dishes from breakfast and peer out the kitchen window, watching Graham trot down Mom’s front drive with Daisy beside him on a leash. A shuffle and clunk alert me to my mother’s approach.
“Are you sure you’re fine to watch Daisy?” I ask.
“Oh, stop. It’s just a sprain. I’m not bedridden. I’m perfectly capable of opening the back door to let her out. And she’s too smart to wander.”
One of the rickety wooden chairs at the table creaks, and I glance over my shoulder to watch her settle herself. When our eyes meet, a confused frown flickers over a mouth made for smiling.
“Why are you taking him out tonight, of all nights? Not that I’m saying you have to spend Mabon with me. But … we do have traditions.”
A tinge of dread mixing uncomfortably with excitement attempts to curdle the scrambled eggs in my stomach.
“He looks like Henry.”
My words are met with silence. I shut off the water, grab a towel, and turn to face my mother as I dry my hands. Her puzzled expression tells me she doesn’t remember the name.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. It never meant as much to her as it did to me.
“He looks exactly like Marbella’s Henry.”
Understanding flares in her eyes like a struck match. “You mean …”
I fiddle with the towel, weaving it through my fingers. Then, I tell her everything. She only knew I’d been dating a man named Graham who taught at the local university. Until this moment, I’ve kept all mentions of reincarnation to myself.
“I thought … well, I don’t know what I thought. That the universe was demanding I interact with him maybe? But he’s not … Graham is different than Henry. And I couldn’t help …” A sudden pressure pushes behind my eyes, and I bury my face in the dish towel, hating the idea of giving in to tears.
“Oh, baby girl.” The chair groans again, and a set of strong, familiar arms wraps me in a comforting embrace. She squeezes me tight before leaning back against the counter beside me.
Mom can always tell when I have more to say.
I suck in a deep, steadying breath and then let it out slow with my next words. “Graham told me he loves me.”
“And you don’t?” She keeps her voice free of any judgment.
“That’s the thing. I think I do love him.” My teeth dig into my bottom lip before I push on. “But I can’t tell him. Not when, every day, I feel like I’m lying to him.” When I’m not even sure these feelings are mine, I add silently.
Her warm palm rubs calming circles on my back, and I’m reminded of all the problems I’ve brought to my mother in the last thirty-four years. None have ever felt this important.
“You’re telling him tonight? About your powers? About Marbella and Henry?”
Nerves tighten my shoulders, and my mom lets her hand fall away.
“I have a plan to figure out if he even wants to know. And if he does, I’ll tell him.” I nod to myself, ignoring the tight knot in my stomach.
“And if he’s fine with it? Will you accept his love?” She can’t keep the hope out of her voice.
I twist the towel in my hands. “I need to know what happened. With Marbella and Henry.”
“Ah.” The understanding in her tone draws my gaze. “So, that’s why you asked for those.” She nods toward a bundle on the table, one I need to tuck into my backpack before we leave. “And why you’re taking him tonight. Why you’re going to the woods.”
I tilt my head in a combination of a nod and a shake. “Not just any woods. I’m taking him to where it all started.”