"With this offering of extra crispy I officially call this Friday night meeting of the Beecher Falls witch babies to order," Annie said as she set the bucket of fried chicken on the floor where her friends were sitting. "And for our vegetarian member we have a lovely carton of hot and spicy tofu," she added as she handed Cooper the bag she had just retrieved from the Dragon Dragon delivery guy.
Kate and Annie reached into the bucket of chicken and pulled out a leg and a breast, respectively, while Cooper rummaged in the bag.
"I don't know how you two can eat that stuff" Cooper commented as she opened the chopsticks that came with her order and dipped them into the carton of tofu. "It's death food."
"Yes,. said Kate as she peeled a length of golden batter-covered skin from her chicken and popped it into her mouth. 'But it's really good, and I'm sure the chickens will forgive us. After all, it is sort of their jobs, isn't it?"
Cooper opened her mouth to begin her usual diatribe against her perceived cruelties of the meat industry.
"I thought we agreed to not discuss our dietary philosophies on Friday nights," Annie said before Cooper could start, eyeing both Cooper and Kate sternly.
I'm just saying," Cooper said innocently.
"Well, don't, Annie told her. "Just sit there and eat your bean curd."
Cooper gave her a mock wounded look and continued to eat. Annie wiped her mouth with her napkin and said, 'Now that order has been restored, let's talk business. This is the first meeting we've had since class recessed. What is it we're supposed to do exactly?"
She tried to remember what Sophia had told them at their last class. Sophia and many of the other members of her coven and the Coven of the Green Wood were going to a Wiccan retreat for a couple of weeks, and several other people were going on vacation, so they had decided to cancel classes for two weeks. During that time the students had been instructed to continue their individual studies and, if possible, to meet with one another to discuss their progress.
"The big thing is our projects," Kate said, licking her fingers.
That was the other thing. Now that they were a third of the way through their year and a day of study, they were each supposed to come up with an artistic way to express what they had experienced and learned. They were going to use their first Tuesday night class back as a kind of talent show for everyone to present their projects to the rest of the class. Annie had been dreading it ever since Sophia had told them about it, and she had blocked it out of her mind.
"Right," she said unenthusiastically. "That, too."
"You don't sound real thrilled about the whole project thing," Cooper commented as she fished a chunk of tofu out of her carton.
"No," Annie said, trying to sound excited. "I'm looking forward to it. I just don't know what I'm going to do. What about you guys? What are you doing?"
Secretly, she was hoping that she would get some ideas for her own project by finding out what Kate and Cooper were going to do. The truth was that she really had no idea what she could do that might be interesting. She wasn't particularly artistic, and she was having trouble coming up with anything at all.
"You know we're not supposed to talk about it," Kate reminded her. "it's supposed to be a surprise."
"I know," Annie replied. "But, you two have actual talent. I don't. I could use a little help here."
"You'll be fine. And you are talented. You're better at science and Tarot than either one of us," Cooper told her. "Don't worry about it.'
"This isn't like science or Tarot," Annie responded. "I can't just do an experiment or look at some cards. I have to do something artsy, and I am not artsy. Kate sews. You play the guitar and write lyrics. What do I do? I think. That's not exactly going to hold an audience spellbound."
"You made that hedgehog head for the Midsummer ritual," Kate reminded her. Then she looked at Cooper. "Sorry for bringing it up," she said.
"It's okay," replied Cooper. "I've moved on." Cooper's experiences that Midsummer night in the woods had been very disturbing, and she had briefly left the study group because of what had happened. Only recently had she returned, and Kate and Annie were still a little hesitant to mention the events for fear of upsetting her again.
"One papier-mâché hedgehog head does not an artist make," Annie said. "But I have time. Let's talk about something else. How about progress reports?"
"What is this, parent-teacher conferences?" joked Cooper.
"Sophia told us to talk about how we're doing," Annie said. "So let's talk. We don't see a whole lot of each other these days. What have you guys been up to? Kate?"
Kate put down the bone from her chicken leg and sighed. "Let's see," she began. " Well, Aunt Netty went home this week from the hospital and she's doing better. Dr. Pedersen says her cancer has stopped spreading and now they can concentrate on getting rid of what's left."
"Have your parents mentioned anything about the ritual?" Cooper asked, referring to the healing circle the girls and their Wiccan friends had participated in a few weeks earlier in an attempt to help Kate's aunt in her battle against cancer.
"No," Kate answered. "They haven't said a word It's like this big topic that we're all dancing around I'm not bringing it up and they're not asking."