A Different Witch - By Debora Geary

Beth stirred in her sheets, dreaming. The eyes had come again.

Her fingers reached for magic the way they always did, hoping for the light brush of other that would mean she'd found it. The touch didn't always come. Magic was fickle.

And he watched, the man with brown eyes.

Her circle stood in silent support, not trusting the stranger in their midst. A decade of study and work, building the magic together - invaded by a man who could make a fire globe in two breaths.

She'd made one. Ever. And it had taken three days of careful, laborious preparation.

Jealousy stirred in her veins, knowing where the dream went next.

The eyes were distracting her - she needed to pay attention. Circle work required focus. Mellie's rich alto called to earth, a steady beat in a circle of nerves. The stranger called on air, his deep voice an odd counterpoint to the female energies she'd always associated with magic. Beth felt the soft presence of Liriel behind her, friend and partner. Watching the circle, monitoring.

And then the stranger reached out his hand, air to fire, his energy to hers. Closing the circle.

Her circle.

Or it was hers - until their magics touched.

Ten years of hard work, and she almost dropped her circle on its head.

It wasn't the power he fed to her, although she knew, somewhere in her dreaming mind, that he kept it well throttled. It was like touching the whisker of a lion - soft, sturdy, and attached to something fearsome.

It wasn't the power that rocked her soul - it was the window that came with it. Three gently glowing lines of energy, undulating gently, one beside the next. She knew without asking what they were. Every time she worked a circle, she trusted that the elemental magics would come. She felt them rising, the murky, mysterious energies that witches sought to power their craft.

But she'd never seen them before.

With careful, reverent fingers, Beth reached for the glowing lines, barely breathing even in her dream. Mesmerized by the dancing light, she wove the delicate, finicky spell that would light a candle if done exactly right.

Felt victory flare in her veins as the first flame lit.

And then, fueled by joy, did it again.

Her circle rejoiced. And still the stranger watched with his distant, daring eyes.

Beth cuddled deeper into her blue silk sheets, waiting for the words that would shatter her world.

Her best moment as a witch - and they'd been doing it all wrong.
Chapter 1
Lauren opened the door to The Center for Families and oophed as a freight train hit her belly. Laughing, she squatted down to Jacob's level - his greetings usually came headfirst these days. "Hi, sweetheart. Can I give you a hug?"

He stared at something just past her head. Avoiding her eyes.

She waited, giving him time to process. It had been one of the very first lessons Tabitha had taught her. The Center had a reputation for unusual success reaching some of the most difficult kids on the autism spectrum. Some even called it magic.

Lauren had come to appreciate just how little magic and how much hard work was involved.

She held still, waiting. And smiled as Jacob's hands began to move, inching up her arms like little drunken spiders. He paused for a moment, admiring the shiny beads she'd worn just for him - and then dropped his forehead on her shoulder.

One hug, Jacob-style.

He took her hand, tugging her over to a giant mountain of pillows.

Lauren waved at Tabitha, half-hidden by the mountain. "Doing pillow rides, are we?"

The effervescent woman who was the heart-blood of the Center smiled. "Maybe today Jacob will give us a ride."

Lauren laughed - and then froze as Jacob's giggle drifted up beside her.

Tabitha's brain had gone on red alert, but her smile stayed easy. She crouched down to face the small boy, taking care that he could see her face, but keeping her eyes lightly focused elsewhere. "Will you give me a ride, Jacob?"

Lauren held her breath. Tabitha's tone was joking, her face full of mischief - and most kids with autism couldn't read those signals at all.

Jacob gazed for a while at some point off in the distance. And then he laughed again - and this time, it came all the way from his toes. "No! Jacob ride!" He tumbled over