Next week begins my magical rom-com adventure It's Whimsy! Enjoy this sneak preview of the first chapter! Want more? Look for the rest of Whimsy's first complete adventure next week, on my Patreon!
"Good morning, Miss. This is Christopher Rothschilde, with Seawright, Seawright, and Balagopian Attorneys at Law. I'm looking for a, um..."
The voice on the other end of the phone hesitated. I gave him a second, sighing as I shifted the cell from one shoulder to another, continuing to stir the contents of the cauldron in my hands. I was used to this.
"Whimsy?" I suggested when he stammered for the third time.
He paused before seizing on it. "Yes, Whimsy. Miss Whimsy..."
I rolled my eyes and trade a knowing glance with my best friend and roommate, Carissa, who sat across the kitchen island. "Whimsy Widdershins Woadstone. Yes, I know. This is she, what can I do for you?"
Christopher Rothschilde of Seawright, Seawright, and Balagopian cleared his throat. "Yes, well... Miss Wolston—"
"Woadstone," I corrected.
"Woadstone. I'm very sorry to tell you that your great-great granduncle Lawrence Lefevre has passed away."
"Oh." I paused in my mixing and shot Carissa another significant look. "Uncle Lawrence? Geez, I haven't heard from him in... twenty years."
"Yes." Christopher Rothschilde seemed uninterested in my lapsed familial relationships. "Well, Mr. Lefevre's last will and testament has named you as a beneficiary, to inherit a modest investment portfolio as well as his real estate property at 777 Oleander Circle, in—"
I lost my grip on the cauldron and it clattered loudly to the counter, startling Carissa's tabby cat Percival, who leapt with an offended cry to her shoulder. The cell phone slipped from my shoulder and fell toward the floor as I snatched clumsily for it, missing by a mile. With a soft whoosh of air, though, Carissa saved it, arresting it mid-plummet with the wave of one hand.
"Hello?" Christopher Rothschilde's tinny voice echoed quizzically from the floating phone. "Miss Woolfson?"
I grabbed it up again. "Yes, I'm here! I mean—it's Woadstone—did you say Uncle Lawrence left me his house?"
My eyes widened. I stared at Carissa, who stared expectantly back at me. Percival glared daggers at me as he wound around her shoulders seeking comfort. Her other cat, a tuxedo named Charlotte, looked up lazily from her spot on Rissa's lap, as though expecting whatever was in the cauldron would soon be offered to her.
Christopher Rothschilde read out the formal statement in my uncle's will specifying the details of my inheritance. The investments would be tied up for a little while in a whole lot of legal claptrap while other details of the estate were settled with myriad members of the family, but the house, apparently, was already taken care of. Mine, free and clear.
"Is that normal?" I asked. "All the money and other things are still being worked out, but the house is no problem? What if some random third cousin somewhere thinks they should have it?"
"Well, normally we'd expect all assets to be held in probate while the decedent's will is fully administered," Christopher Rothschilde agreed. "But in this case, Mr. Lefevre was exceptionally thorough and unequivocal. All the paperwork's been completed and filed, every T crossed, every I dotted. You could move in tonight, if you like, Miss Wolcroft. In fact, your uncle's directions seem somewhat predicated on the fact you do. There is the matter of, ah... a cat."
A cat? I let my gaze rest on the felines gathering around my roommate. Two more had sauntered in from places unknown, and doubtless even more would find their way into her presence eventually. She was a master when it came to attracting and colluding with familiar, especially the feline kind. I, on the other hand...
Did Lofty Uncle Lawrence have a cat for a familiar? I thought I might recall one. A twitchy, luxuriously long-tailed Himalayan perhaps. That would suit perfectly, with Lofty Lawrence's gangly, nervous manner and long, long, long white hair, mismatched with his red, Viking-like beard.
Wait, no, that wasn't Uncle Lofty! That's Great-great-great-step-grandfather Balzac. I furrowed my brow. Then who was Lawrence?
"Er, Miss Windham?"
I let out an exasperated sigh and didn't bother correcting him this time. "Yes?"
"I can have all the necessary documents sent to you by overnight mail. Once you've signed them we can arrange to meet at the house—"
"That could take a few days." I pushed back a sheaf of wild blonde tangles that had come loose from my hasty bun. "I'm halfway across the country. I live in eastern Colorado, you know."
The sound of shuffling papers came from the other end of the line. "I see. Well that's not a problem... besides I'll have to keep feeding that fat little furball myself... I can send the documents and if you like you can look them over with your lawyer, and once that's all in order our firm can arrange transportation for you here."
"What if I don't want the house?" I blurted it out without thinking.
Another sudden rap on the counter made me jump. I whipped around to see Carissa had slapped her hand down on it so hard all of her feline familiars had scattered. She pointed a finger at the phone and shook her head wildly, making a gesture with her other hand to cut the call short.
"Um, sorry, Mr. Ratatouille, I have to go," I said. "Go ahead and send those documents. I'll be in touch as soon as I've... as soon as I've decided what to do."
Ignoring his protests, I hung up, then planted both hands on the counter and leaned forward, meeting my friend eye-to-eye.
"What? What is it?"
"Did you literally just get a phone call from some guy who wants to give you a house?"she exclaimed.
"Yeah, I guess." I picked up my cauldron and resumed stirring. "My uncle's house. He left it to me in his will."
"And what stroke of utter insanity made you say you didn't want it?"
I frowned at her. "What do I need a house for? I live here. And last I heard, Uncle Lofty just packed up and moved out into some mundane, mortal, picket-fence suburbia. A witch with my kind of luck will stick out there like a porcupine at a dog show."
"People love porcupines!" She extended both her hands, cajoling. "Whims, it's your own house! Have you even looked at real estate prices these days? You've got to take it!"
With a grim sense there was another shoe about to drop, I set the cauldron down again. "Riss... what's really going on here?"
"Well, apparently my best friend doesn't know a good thing when it drops red-hot into her lap!"
She looked away when she said it. Definitely another shoe in the mix somewhere here.
I'm not the wickedest witch in the west. Or the east. Or at any point on a traditional compass rose. Some days I barely qualify as a basic bedazzler. But I can give one hell of an evil eye. Carissa was no match for its power.
"All right!" She threw up her hands in surrender. "I wasn't sure how to tell you this, Whims, but... well... you have to move out."
It hit me like a slap. "But... why? We've lived together nearly all our adult lives, Riss! Did I do something wrong?"
A pang of hurt struck me in the stomach as my deepest insecurity leapt to the forefront of my mind. Carissa and her whole family were good at magic. Some of the best. There weren't many witches out there who could so naturally command a horde of nearly twenty familiars and wield mastery over the elements and thaumaturgical arts. She'd aced all her studies with relative ease—well, except clairvoyancy, but most witches struggle with that. She wasn't the best on a broomstick, either, but flying broomsticks has been going out of style for nearly a century and very few of our generation bother to practice outside of our formal training, anyway. Like mortals and cursive handwriting.
I, on the other hand, am a goddamn mess. I barely scraped by with passing marks in any of my magical courses, and to this day I might find myself setting fire to kitchen counter I meant to scrub clean or being attacked by a swarm of bees I tried to command. Carissa never held my total ineptitude against me before, but maybe she'd finally gotten tired of having such a magical klutz around.
"No, no, of course not!" she protested. "It's not you at all, Whimsy, it's just... well, I've been accepted to study with Itrixi Astrea! I'll be overseas at least for a year, maybe longer."
Itrixi Astrea was one of the great masters of summoning magic. Her archives in the witches' library in Merz, Germany were world-renowned.
I sank against the counter, all the air seeming to go out of the room. Carissa—my best friend and one of the only people in the world who didn't treat me like a cosmic catastrophe—was leaving the country. For a year. At least. What would I do without her?
"Well, what about the cats?" I said. "Somebody's got to stay here with them, right?"
She looked sympathetic. "Oh, honey. The cats are coming with me. I'll be researching advanced methodology in the binding of animal companions and synergy of magic through their senses."
"But all twenty of them?" Desperation made my voice crack. "You're taking all twenty cats to Germany?"
Carissa nodded. "All twenty. I'm really sorry, sweetie. I was trying to find a way to break it to you without leaving you out on the street on your own. But now you have your uncle's house! You won't have to move back in with your parents!"
I clenched my jaw as a heated flush rose to my collar. "It's not like I'm some sort of shiftless bum. I can find another roommate. I can pay rent."
Except we both knew I couldn't, not really. I had a lousy track record with magic and no self-respecting witch or wizard would take me on as an apprentice, let alone pay me, and my grasp of power was so chaotic I couldn't see myself succeeding in any sort of mundane career without blowing something up in a spectacular and expensive way. Christopher Rothschilde of Seawright, Seawright, and Balagopian did say my uncle had left me a monetary inheritance as well, but it sounded like that might be a long time in coming.
The house, on the other hand, could be ready tonight.
"I can't move out into the middle of suburbia by myself!" I quailed. "Surrounded by normies? You know my track record! I can't be trusted to even keep sea monkeys alive! I'll probably cause all the HOA-approved housepaint to start singing opera, or turn my uncle's hydrangeas into man-eating thorn vines!"
Carissa wrinkled her nose. "Your uncle has hydrangeas?"
"It's the suburbs, everybody has hydrangeas!"
I slumped onto a stool with a groan.
"Oh, come on, Whimsy!" Carissa tried to sound chipper. "You're not that bad. I mean, look at this!" She gestured to my cauldron. "This looks promising, and it hasn't exploded or turned to acid or anything. What are you making, anyway?"
I gave her a helpless look. "Brownies."
"Oh!" She straightened, eyes brightening. "Double fudge?"
I groaned again and buried my face in my hands. It looked like I had no choice.
I was moving to suburbia.2