Home > Portals and Puppy Dogs(8)

Portals and Puppy Dogs(8)
Author: Amy Lane

Alex looked fondly at his roommate. “Say goodbye?”

“Yeah. To the dog. She misses Dante and Cully. It just doesn’t seem fair to her to go kiting off without a good ear rub.”

Alex suppressed a smile. Bartholomew could be practical as a two-penny nail when it came to running his small catering business, but when it came to matters of the heart… well, he was exactly what his last name, Baker, promised. Butter, sugar, soft flour, and vanilla. Sweet and squishy and kind.

Alex had been so happy when Barty had hooked up with Lachlan. Lachlan was just as whimsical and certainly kind, but he was unfailingly protective, and Barty needed someone in his life who could keep him safe and warm.

“Go,” Alex shooed. “Give me a chance to put my bike in the garage, and then I’ll take her for a walk.”

“We’ll bring her out,” Bartholomew told him eagerly before trotting toward the house. Alex shivered a little and hefted his bike up, thinking he was glad there was a hooded jacket and tennis shoes in the garage for moments just like this one.

“It’s getting cold,” Kate said, picking up his helmet and carrying it for him. “Want Josh and me to come with you?”

“We’ll all go,” Jordan said definitively.

“To walk the dog?”

Jordan let out a sigh. “Neighborhood isn’t getting any safer,” he said, and they both watched as the garage door opened because Barty could read their minds. Alex hefted the bike into the tiny slice of space cordoned off by a tiled wall, and hung it up on the side of the garage that didn’t house shelves, extra refrigerators, and extra ovens. Neither one of them parked their cars inside the garage—Barty’s van and commuter car were side by side in the driveway, and Alex parked his car in the driveway of the witch’s cottage next door. Barty had paid to have the garage modified to health-inspected specifications, including the extra expense to give Alex the space he needed for his bike and a small workbench so he could repair it when needed.

Alex was grateful. He hadn’t asked for it. Had, indeed, expected to keep his bike in his room. He’d made the sacrifice willingly because Bartholomew’s dream was solid and true, and his gift with baked goods was extraordinary. That Bartholomew would think of him when he was building his dream—that’s what real friends did for one another.

Which was one of the reasons Alex had more than one fleece hoodie on the pegs in his little slice of the garage.

“Anyone cold?” he asked, and Jordan raised his hand sheepishly. He was dressed in baggy khakis and a T-shirt, which were probably what he wore under his lab coat. He worked for a forensics lab in Sacramento, right down the 50 Corridor, so his commute wasn’t too nightmarish. It was funny, because Jordan Bryne was one of the first people to characterize himself as an awkward lab nerd, but that’s not who he was to his friends.

To a one—from Barty to Dante to Cully to Kate and Josh and down to Alex himself—Jordan had snagged each one of them in college and said, “Hey, we can be friends! Let’s go on adventures together.”

And they had!

When Helen, the witch next door, had walked in literally out of the blue one day to give Jordan her little cottage and all of the witchcraft paraphernalia that filled it top-full, Jordan had said, “Hey, look at this! Spells for things we might need. Who’s with me?”

And the long-ingrained habit of following Jordan anywhere, from the ocean to the mountains to a cool new wine bar he’d just heard about, had kicked in.

For a year and a half they’d practiced—and enjoyed modest success. Their first spell had been cast to help Josh find a job. Within two days he’d chatted up someone in line at the liquor store, and she’d been so impressed by his knowledge of wines that she’d given him a job as a representative for her company. The story had been so unlikely that even Josh had been sold on the idea.

Since then, they’d cast truth spells and spells to make sure the play Cully was sewing costumes for would have a good opening night. They’d cast a spell for Jordan’s dads when they went on vacation so they could see whales, and one to help Kate get along with Josh’s parents. Once a week they’d meet and see what everybody needed, and sometimes, Alex thought, their success could be attributed to the fact that the members of the coven felt free to discuss their problems with their friends, and as a whole they put their mind to people living the best life they could.

But sometimes they’d summon an honest-to-god cone of power, and the candles would flare and the potion Bartholomew had assembled would transform and things that couldn’t be explained would absolutely happen.

The backlash over the heart’s-desire spell had been the biggest strange thing to happen, but not one of them could say they hadn’t been warned.

The forces they were messing around with were real, and even Alex, who was as dry and as skeptical as they came, respected the hell out of what they were doing.

And was as worried as the rest of them when Dante and Cully had… become incorporeal and lost in the time and space of the house they’d shared for nearly three years.

Walking Glinda together after dark was the group’s way of sticking together, really. When Bartholomew came out the front door carrying Glinda’s leash in one hand and his backpack for the next morning in the other, Alex wanted to throw his arms around his friend and cling.

“You’re sure it’s okay if we go?” Bartholomew asked for maybe the hundredth time.

“Yeah, Barty,” they all said together. “Go have a good night. We’ll see you in the morning.”

Bartholomew nodded and handed the leash to Alex. The leash handle had a little attachment on it filled with a roll of plastic bags as well as a dangling holder for hand sanitizer—the perfectly organized dog-potty station.

“Okay. Let me know if you need anything!” he called as Lachlan stood patiently behind Barty’s two cars, holding the passenger door to his battered truck open.

When Barty was secured inside, Lachlan walked around the front of the truck, drawing near to the remaining members of the coven.

“Thanks,” he said, looking at Alex and then at all of them. “He doesn’t want to tell you this, but this—” He made a little circling motion with his finger, indicating the deteriorating sense of reality in their immediate vicinity. “—has him worried sick. Let us know if we can take over for you guys anytime, okay?”

“Just help us all with Bartholomew’s baking tomorrow night,” Jordan said, shrugging because Lachlan would have done that anyway. “He usually does the shortbread or sugar cookies early if he can get to them.”

“’Course,” Lachlan said and then turned back toward the truck. They all waved goodbye as Lachlan pulled away and then heaved wretched sighs of relief.

“Well, I’m glad one of us can get the fuck out,” Josh muttered.

“Two,” Alex said loyally. Barty wanted so badly for them to accept Lachlan in their midst.

“Yeah, two,” Kate murmured. “You’re right. Maybe if we haven’t fixed this by next week, Josh and I can take a turn.”

Alex shooed them all out of the garage, including Glinda, the fluffy little white bichon frise that Dante and Cully doted on—when they were real. When they’d all cleared the garage door, Alex pulled the key fob out from a little pouch in his riding shorts and hit the button. The garage door came down, and they all took off trotting down the sidewalk.

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