From: A Solitary Path
by Evelyn Vaughn
"I am so sorry it didn't work out with you and Joe," said Judy. Which might have been sweet if this weren't the fifth time she'd said so.
Tobi looked up from half-heartedly tracing a maze on a fast-food placemat. "Ya' know, Jude, I think you're sorrier than I am."
Judy nodded, blonde and solemn. "You're probably right."
"Really! It's just... I hate to see you so alone."
Now Tobi groaned loudly. They were in a mall food court; she couldn't spread her arms out for fear of hitting another person.
Judy just raised her voice. "You know what I mean. I'm so happy with Bill--what's wrong with wanting the same thing for you? Couldn't you do a love spell or something? You're a witch, for heaven's sake!"
Then she said, "Oops," because an elderly couple to their right started clearing their trays. Of course, they might have simply finished eating.
"One," clarified Tobi, pointing her ball-point like a tiny wand, "some witches might disagree with you there--rumor has it I don't take the Craft seriously enough. Two, if I were still in the broom closet, I wouldn't be wearing my pent. And three, the best part about dating Joe was it did make you happy. And Mom. And some folks from work, several of whom apparently thought I was a lesbian."
They added in unison, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"Which, by the way, doesn't make sense," added Tobi, snitching one of Judy's fries. "If I were a lesbian I wouldn't be dating nobody--I'd be dating women. Still, though I love you all, I need a better reason than that. Making you happy, I mean. Not dating women."
Judy shook her head. "Better reason? How long were you dateless before you went out with Joe?"
"Six years," Tobi admitted easily; it wasn't like she hadn't had offers. A gaggle of teenage girls, one table back, blatantly stared. They hadn't been surprised by a witch at the mall, but they were shocked by celibacy? And yet from the leftover buns on their trays--and the look of their bony arms--they were all on that no-carbs diet. To each her own. "And I was perfectly happy," Tobi added. "I'm still happy--more than when I was dating the wrong guy."
"Maybe it just takes practice," insisted Judy. As if dating, like sushi, were an acquired taste.
"Or maybe we both deserve something more clearly special."
"But how will you find special if you aren't even trying?"
Simply shaking her head wasn't enough--Tobi buried her beringed fingers and her pen in her curly brown hair to keep her head from exploding. "What I meant was, if I end up with anybody, it should feel special. Special enough that we'll find each other without stressing about it. I'd rather not bother with anything less in the meantime. It's not like there's a hurry. If we don't catch each other this time around, there'll be other lifetimes."
Judy stared. "That kind of reasoning may be why the Church ditched the idea of reincarnation in the 6th century." Judy said "Church" with a capital "C" because she was Catholic. But a liberal Catholic. Clearly.
"I'm not wasting this life! I have my work, and my writing. I have Habitat for Humanity once a month--and my religion."
"Which you practice alone."
"I attend some open circles." But she'd observed Beltane, aka May Day, alone. And Spring Equinox. And Imbolc. She'd had fun, too. Punxatawny Phil had featured significantly in her February celebrations.
She'd attended an open circle for Yule, anyway.
Unable to comment on open rituals, Judy took another bite of her burger. Tobi returned to the place-mat puzzle. Mazes were always most difficult when you tried working from the outside in. "The right guy has plenty of opportunities to come along," she insisted. "Until then, why dwell on his absence--why empower it--by giving up what I do enjoy?"
"Like television?" Judy knew her too well.
"My favorite magic," agreed Tobi, trying a different entrance on the paper maze. "Why do that, just to seek something that may be premature anyway?"
"TV's not real."
"Tell that to Ted Turner."
Judy widened her eyes in pseudo-patience. "What if this perfect guy isn't real, either?"
"What if he is?" Some things she just knew--the same way she knew that words and stories had power and that worlds existed beyond their own. But Tobi knew she could never wholly explain it to Judy.
She wasn't sure she could even convince another witch!
Tobi's brand of Wicca was eclectic, urban, and so firmly anchored to pop-culture that some of the more traditional pagans she knew, locally and online, dismissed her as a fair-weather witch...even after eight years. Personally, though she understood the pagans' concern about image, Tobi didn't get how a magic user could laud the power of the moment--the Now--and yet scoff at fads. How could someone worship at the altar of ancient myths--literally, even!--while dismissing a mass-media that wove new mythology every day?
Very few people, pagan or mundane, could hear Tobi's theories about TV and Dreamtime without questioning her sanity. Lacking substantiality, the astral world was too often mistaken as lacking substance as well. Most magic didn't just work by natural means--sometimes it hid behind them, easily dismissed against more obvious "realities."
Busy with everyday life, Tobi rarely thought about him--whoever he was--Mr. Special. But when she focused into herself, she felt their connection as powerfully as she felt the pull of Mother Earth right here in the splashing fountains and ficus trees of the food court. She knew him as surely as she knew the presence of Father Sky through the airy skylights, tinted against the worst of the mid-western sun. Her someone might not exist in this world, but worlds overlapped. She didn't need to find a wooded grove to commune with nature, and she didn't need a Friday-night date to feel loved.
By whoever he was.
"I sense him," she said finally. "What if I settled for someone else, and wasn't available if he shows up?"
"And if you end up alone?" There Judy went with her one-path-to-happiness paradigm.
"One, there are worse fates than staying single. Two, I'm not alone. I have friends, family... my cat. I'm not cutting into my life for anything less than magic. And yes" Tobi raised a flat hand to fend off more concerned protests. "I realize that a relationship isn't all magic. But doesn't the magic have to be there at some point, at least early on? Just a little toe curling, just a little 'yay I'm going to see him tonight' shivers?" Just a little swelling background music as their eyes met? "If not, why bother?"
Now it was Judy who groaned. "I reserve the right to worry. Especially with you coming and going at night all the time, and that mugger running around loose."
"Two attacks in four weeks hardly constitutes a crime wave."
"If you were still dating Joe, you could call him if you heard someone breaking in."
Tobi doubted anybody would break into her home, as many wards as she'd placed around it. She also had good, solid, mundane locks. "Or here's a thought. If I hear someone breaking in at night, I could call the police."
"I just worry, is all," insisted Judy. Again. "Promise me you'll be extra careful until this guy is caught, okay?"
Tobi felt so relieved that the issue had moved off her love life, she was happy to comply. "I promise."
And as their conversation turned to Judy's new position at work, Tobi smoothly completed the paper maze--by starting at the center and tracing her way out.
Not every path had to be fumbled down by trial and error, did it?
But she should have had better sense than to watch the news the next night....