Excerpt: Solstice Dance
Bright evening sun is still shining as Daniel parks his car in the parking lot on his friend’s private land, where he will be celebrating the summer solstice with the rest of his coven. There are already several cars in the lot. He’s far from the first to get here, but then work has kept him too busy to help set up this year. Being summer, it’s a busy time to be a veterinary nurse. It’s still kitten season, for one, and then there are all the animals that have been let out of the house to roam or go for runs. Summer brings a lot of accidents.
Daniel shakes that off, though. He loves his job, but the stress of it has no place here tonight: it’s a time to celebrate growth, new starts, life. He gets his bag out of the trunk, locks up his car, and follows the signs already taped and tied to trees along one of the paths off the lot.
The signs lead to a clearing where groups of people are all performing different tasks. Some are tending to a large fire pit; others are stringing lights all around the breaks in the trees. People are preparing food and decorations. The first person to spot his arrival is his friend Maria, who runs over to him to hug him in their usual greeting.
“Daniel, blessed be. How are you?” Maria asks, stepping back but taking his hand. They’ve been friends for a long time. Now in their thirties, they’d been teens at first meeting, and Maria married one of their original coven members from back then, a beautiful Greek woman named Grace.
“Blessed be. I’m well. Tired, but ready to celebrate with you all. You look amazing,” Daniel says honestly, and Maria does a little spin, holding his hand and twirling her long skirt.
Maria clicks her tongue and inspects his face with sisterly concern. Daniel knows she catches the dark circles under his eyes from missed sleep. “You do look a little tired. Working too hard?”
“My back’s been bad. Kept me up a few nights,” Daniel admits. He has scoliosis, not as bad as many cases he’s seen, but bad enough he’s had two surgeries to correct the unnatural curve and to help with pain. His back is mostly straight now, but he still deals with a lot of pain, especially with his work: long hours on his feet, heavy lifting, lots of bending.
Maria squeezes his hand. “I can brew something to help with sleep. You know that’s my specialty.”
“Thank you. I can take you up on that at the moment. I’m not fostering any animals right now, so don’t have to be up every two hours for feeds.” Daniel smiles, letting the energy of all the coven present wash over him, so many people he can hardly feel individuals. It’s just a nice energy, all happy people, welcoming and joyful.
“I don’t know how you do that. I need my sleep. I’ll work on something this week and get it to you soon,” Maria promises.
Daniel hugs her. “Thank you.”
“Here, take your shoes off, feel the earth, get grounded, let the outside wash off you,” Maria encourages, wiggling her bare feet in the grass, and it sounds like a wonderful idea.
Daniel bends carefully to not jar his back and manages to take his shoes off without causing himself too much pain. He puts his shoes with others under the makeshift coat check and returns to Maria, enjoying the energy that radiates up from the ground into the soles of his feet. He loves going barefoot, connecting with nature that way.
“You look nice. That’s good.” Maria smiles.
Daniel frowns. “Doesn’t matter, does it? No one here cares how I look.”
The coven members he’s close to and sees regularly have all seen him when he looks like hell, and not dressed as he is now, in a simple dark red shirt and black jeans, chosen because he knows the night will get chilly. The coven members he doesn’t see often, he’s not close to and doesn’t really care if they’re impressed with how he looks.
“Well…” Maria trails off.
Daniel looks at her face closely, trying to determine what’s going on. He’s here to celebrate the solstice, not for drama. “Well, what?”
“Some old friends are in town, and Richard invited them to join us for solstice.” Maria looks like she’s torn between excitement and nerves.
“Who? Why?” Daniel asks. Richard owns the land and leads the coven, so he can invite any witch he likes, but Daniel wonders who these friends could be that Maria is acting so anxious about them.
“The Davis family is in town.” Maria smiles.
Daniel feels like his heart has stopped, and he dares not hope.
“Oh?” Daniel says, trying to keep his face even. The Davis family were part of his first coven, when he was first learning about the magic in the world. They’d had three sons, one his age, Michael, who Daniel lost his virginity to at eighteen, a boy on verge of being a man when he moved away a few months later—and who Daniel had been, still was, hopelessly in love with. Not many people knew about what happened between them that summer, but Maria did.
“They’re helping Michael move back to town and didn’t want to miss doing a solstice blessing together.” Maria has an impish look. She’s talking as if this isn’t some huge bombshell, and maybe it shouldn’t be. It was all such a long time ago.
“Last I heard, he’d gotten his degree and was traveling.” Daniel tries to keep his voice casual, wanting it to seem like he knows but doesn’t really care.
“He’s got a position teaching at the high school.” Maria smiles again, but Daniel feels his childish hope fade. A high school teacher in a small town. It doesn’t seem likely Michael will have come out of the closet.
Daniel is out, at work, to his family, his coven, has been since he was twenty. He’s long past hidden relationships and being anybody’s dirty little secret. He only dates out men, despite the short supply in their small mountain town.
“That’s great. I’ll make sure to say hi. His mom made the best picnic food. Wonder if she brought anything,” Daniel says, trying to change the subject, even in his own head. He doesn’t want to mope on the summer solstice, a night meant for celebration, about the boy who broke his heart years ago.