I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
- Song of Solomon 2:1-2
Mackenzie put out her cigarette, the warm July air sticking to her skin. The smell of fresh rain and honeysuckle filled the air. She liked doing this with a bit of a buzz. Made it easier to not overthink. Kate was hanging back, only halfway out the door to the balcony. Mackenzie could tell she was nervous.
“What do you Foundation people call it?” Mackenzie pulled the dried flower out of its cloth bag, one of the many supplies laid out on the wicker table.
“I-double-E. Intentional Extranormal Effort,” Kate said. She took a few tentative steps forward.
“You guys are adorable, you know that? It’s just magic. It’s been around longer than your group or mine, and it’ll be around long after both of ‘em are gone.” She tossed the box of long matches, underhand, to Kate, who caught them with both hands. “Light one.”
Kate, hands shaking a bit, ran the matchhead futilely along the side of the box a couple of times. Mackenzie turned away. She closed one eye and spun the flower in her fingers in front of her face, aligning the stamens just right with the breeze, like her grandmother taught her. With her bright lipstick, natural hair close-cropped, and black boots, Mackenzie-Lee Crook was the opposite of the straight-laced Kate McTiriss, who even on her rare off days wore button-ups, blazers and slacks in the Florida summer heat.
The first night she’d stayed over at Kate’s apartment, Mackenzie was unable to stop herself from storming out of the bathroom to chastise Kate for keeping her meager makeup collection in there. The humidity ruins the eyeshadow, has nobody ever told you that? Six months since that night, they were the picture of the uneasy détente the Foundation and Marshall, Carter and Dark had achieved in the American South.
The two groups were figuring out how to coexist in a strange world. So were the two women standing in the humid air, facing the thick and tangled woods. The new Press Coordinator for the Foundation in North Florida handed the Tallahassee Governor’s Club’s top auctioneer of anomalous objects a spluttering match. Mackenzie gave Kate a slight smile and a small nod, trying to reassure her. They both took a moment to breathe. She brought the match to the dried bluebell, and it caught in an instant.
“So what are you doing now?” Kate bit one of the nails on her left hand, or what was left of a nail. All nerves, that girl.
Mackenzie held the flower stem as steady as possible as the smoke rose from it. “Finding the leyline.” Kate opened her mouth to ask what exactly that was, but was interrupted by the air above Mackenzie catching fire. From nothing, a narrow line of blazing flame, suspended in the air, sweet smoke pouring upwards into the night sky. Mackenzie jumped a bit with excitement. “Got it!” She turned to the table and put out the flower in the bowl of salted water. She made a quick sign of the cross and muttered a thankful prayer under her breath, and picked up her favorite knife, sliding out the blade. During all of this, Kate was staring up, awestruck, as the flames in the air settled into glowing lights, like a line of fireflies, shifting and pulsing.
Mackenzie studied the shifting lights. “I knew your place was special. Look at this, it’s uninterrupted! Beautiful.”
“Yeah…” They both stared. Kate tore her gaze from the leyline and fixed her eyes on her partner. “What’s with the knife?”
She smiled at the directness of the question. “There’s magic — bits and pieces of cracked reality. The things you contain, the things we sell. Those are concentrated. But the magic is everywhere in this part of the world. It’s like…blood. And these are the veins, running through everything. And you don’t harness it by waving a wand and saying some words. You make a cut to get at blood.” Mackenzie raised the point of the blade to the string of floating lights and, with one decisive motion, sliced downward and dropped the blade. Kate heard a sound like deep wind chimes echoing in the back of her mind. Her heart raced as — stardust, that’s the only way she could describe it, stardust poured from the wounded sky into Mackenzie’s cupped hand, thick like honey.
The girl in the boots turned to the girl in the blazer, pure unreality shimmering in her hands. “Are you ready?” Mackenzie stepped up to her. “You can say no, it’s okay.”
Kate’s heart was beating so loud she could hear it. The wind chimes were louder, too. But she wanted to see what the other side — the Everything Under Everything – what it looked like. What Mackenzie saw in her nightly prayers outside. Kate, wide-eyed, nodded.
Mackenzie dipped two fingers into the pooled magic, letting the rest spill to the ground. She slid her fingers across her lips and they gleamed and crackled with power. They closed their eyes and leaned in.
They kissed under the Florida moonlight, and Kate felt the world catch flame around her.