The night I said goodbye to my friend Myrtle, I wound up talking to a stick.
Now, hold on before you judge me. In my world, you can’t take a statement like that and assign it a face value of “crazy” without hearing the explanation first.
I’ll tell you more about Myrtle here in a bit. Right now, just concentrate on the fact that she was my friend and I had no way of knowing if I would ever see her again.
The rest of my family — the people I’m related to by blood and by choice — walked me home. When I announced I was going straight to bed, my mother and my bestie, Tori, exchanged worried looks, but they didn’t try to stop me.
Instead, they both hugged and held me, whispering in my ear that they loved me, and then they watched me start up the stairs alone.
My new “ex” boyfriend, Chase, wanted to say something. The expression on my face shut that down fast. He closed his mouth and looked at the floor instead. We had been officially “over” for less than six hours. In good Dixie Chick fashion, I was not ready to make nice yet.
Mom and Tori must have thought I was out of earshot when I disappeared into the darkness at the top of the stairs. I heard Tori say, “Are you sure we shouldn’t go after her?”
“I’m sure,” Mom said. “When she’s hurting like this, Jinx has to get off on her own. She’ll need us more in a few days.”
I hadn’t intended to engage in blatant eavesdropping, but then I heard Chase ask, “Is there anything you think I can do?”
If you’ve never had the chance to hear your mama take up for you when she thought you weren’t listening, you’ve missed one of life’s great experiences.
As I lingered quietly in the shadows above them, Mom answered him in a clipped tone. “I think you’ve done quite enough,” she said.
“Kelly,” Chase pleaded, “please try to understand.”
“Don’t you ‘please’ me, Chase McGregor,” Mom said, anger edging the words. “Breaking up with my girl would have been bad enough, but doing it today of all days is inexcusable. Frankly, I don’t want to be talking to you right now.”
After that, all I heard was the sound of Chase’s boots walking away. Smiling through my tears, I went upstairs to be with my cats — all four of them — and broke down completely.
At the end of that crying jag, they had wet fur, and my sinuses were so clogged up I could barely breathe. I knew if I didn’t get a handle on my emotions, I’d wake up to the worst post-cry hangover ever.
I wandered toward my bedroom, only to stop at the doorway. Dim light filled the room. Had I left a lamp on?
It took me several seconds to realize the glow came from the raw quartz embedded in the head of a walking staff called Dílestos.
I crossed to the bed, sat down, and reached for the polished piece of oak whose name means “steadfast and loyal.”
At my touch, the quartz brightened, and the pulsations thrummed with a slow rhythm I found comforting. As the vise grip holding my heart loosened a fraction, Dílestos began to hum softly.
I closed my eyes and drank in the low, soothing melody. When I opened them again, I discovered the cats were now with me on the bed, staring at the crystal with hypnotized, golden eyes. The combined rumble of their purring struck a warm undertone to the staff’s gentle melody.
My next door business neighbor and fellow witch, Amity Prescott, gave me the staff the first time I journeyed to a magical land called Shevington. She told me all the women in my line carried Dílestos. The Mother Tree that sits in the center of Shevington gave it to my Cherokee ancestor Knasgowa.
It suddenly occurred to me that I’d never thought to ask why the Tree share a part of herself with, an idea that instantly ignited a second realization. Myrtle had just merged her spirit into the Mother Tree. Could she be trying to speak to me through Dílestos?
“Is that you, Myrtle?” I asked hopefully.
Through the maelstrom in my mind, a lyrical voice answered, “The aos si now resides with the Mother Oak. Just as I can never be truly separated from my source, she whom you know as Myrtle is ever with you.”
That wasn’t the direct communication I wanted, but the words comforted me all the same. “Have I neglected you, Dílestos?” I asked.
After that first trip to Shevington, I leaned the staff against the wall beside my bed. The idea of interacting with it again literally never came to my mind until the moment, almost three months later, when the quartz began to glow. Now I understand the delay wasn’t my being neglectful; there was a larger plan afoot.
“Our time is as it should be,” Dílestos answered. “All comes in the appointed order.”
“How do you know what happened today?” I asked.
“I felt the spirit of the aos si flow into the blood of my mother,” Dílestos answered.
“Does that have anything to do with why you decided to talk to me tonight?”
Under my hand, the wood warmed. “Tonight you had need of my company,” Dílestos said. “You must rest. Your tears cannot undo what was done this day.”
Basically, an enchanted stick just told me to go to bed. Ask my mother. I was never good about the bedtime thing.
“I shouldn’t have been so selfish,” I said, ignoring the admonition to rest. “I’ve been pretty lazy riding my bike to the portal instead of walking with you so you could see your mother.”
To my surprise, Dílestos laughed. “All who journey seek to reduce their steps.”
No arguing with that.
Even though my eyes were starting to grow heavy, I stubbornly kept asking questions. “Why did your mother give you to Knasgowa?”
“For the One, I create the way to the many,” Dílestos replied.
“That makes absolutely no sense,” I yawned, dimly aware that the staff’s humming was responsible for my growing lethargy.
“Your time of joining nears,” Dílestos said, “then you will know.”
Still holding the staff, I stretched out on the bed. My cats instantly surrounded me, their purring sending me tumbling farther toward unconsciousness. “Can’t anyone just answer a simple question?” I mumbled.
“What is plain to the ear of one seems but gibberish to the ear of another,” Dílestos said softly.
“Did you just call me clueless?” I asked thickly.
“You are not without a clue,” Dílestos answered, “only lacking some. Tonight you are sad and tired. Sleep.”
I think I said something about that being the story of my life. I really don’t remember — but I do remember what Dílestos said right before my exhaustion claimed me.
“The story of your life is only now beginning to be told as long ago it was written.”