Loving Marigold

Loving Marigold: A Fantasy Romance

Young Marigold Yarrow has a secret. She’s also in love with Jack Mahoney. In the middle of her ninth grade year, Jack's family up and moves to Port Fare, New York, leaving the small town of Sugar Maple, West Virginia - and Marigold - far behind. 
Nine years later Jack and Marigold meet again. They join forces to weed out the shady Abbott boys. The unscrupulous brothers are illegally selling moonshine near her home on Sugar Maple Ridge. And they'll do anything to get Marigold to leave the ridge. Anything. 
But this time it could be magic that tears Jack and Marigold apart. 

Chapter One

Nine Years Ago

 “Witch! Witch! Witch! Marigold Yarrow’s a witch!” 
I sunk to the cold linoleum floor in the hallway by my locker, hands clamped firmly over my ears. My hair fell like a curtain around my face. Don’t look at them, Marigold. Don’t listen. Breathe. I’d heard the accusations before, more times than I cared to remember, but this year, my first year of high school, it’d gotten worse. No matter where I went, the words scurried around me in the wind. First from my peers, but now even the some of the adults joined in the fray.
That was the problem with a small town like Sugar Maple, West Virginia. With only two schools—an elementary school and a high school, everyone seemed to be up in everyone else’s business.
“Shut up,” I whispered aloud, fighting my desire to hurt them. Nothing too severe, just a little kick, or a punch, or maybe . . . No. Not that, Marigold. Anything but that. But my battle to resist dwindled rapidly. I’d had enough. If the idiots wanted a witch, I’d give them one. Inhaling deeply, I shot to my feet.
“Knock it off.” Jack Mahoney, with his dark brown hair and tall, lanky frame, now stood next to me, still dressed his red and gold basketball uniform. “Leave her alone.” He shoved Tommy, a particularly mean blond boy, into the lockers. Jack drew his hand back to punch him, but dropped it back to his side instead.
“Seriously, you morons. If she were a witch, and for the record they don’t exist, but even if she were,” he continued, “don’t you think she would have turned you all into toads by now?”
Nobody moved. Jack turned to me, brushing a few strands of hair out of my face with his strong hands. “Are you okay, Marigold?”
“Yes.” My voice barely rose above a whisper. “Thank you.”
I had a secret crush on Jack ever since he moved to Sugar Maple when I was in fourth grade. And not because he was the only boy who’d ever noticed me. Most gave me a wide berth, as if touching me would somehow scar them for life. But not Jack—he never pulled away from me. A year older and at least eight inches taller than my five-six, he’d smile as he passed me in the halls with his dimpled grin and big chestnut brown eyes. He even held a door open for me one day as we entered math class together. But he’d never said a word to me. Until now. The sound of his deep voice did funny things to my belly. I curled my hands into fists to stop any reaction from spilling from my fingertips.
Jack scooped up the books I’d scattered moments ago. Some of the bantering students left now that the fun of harassing me had lost its thrill. Others milled about, no doubt waiting for another chance to pounce.
“Don’t listen to those losers.” Jack handed me the books.
Our hands connected for just a second. I felt it leave my body. Power, just a little, but enough. Jack jerked his hand back. As a young witch, sometimes uncontrolled energy filtered from me. I needed to learn to harness my magic if I hoped to become a stronger, more powerful witch.
“There. See? She’s a witch. I saw the spark,” belted out Pete, a red-faced kid from my second period English lit. “She did the same thing to me when I handed her back a test yesterday in class.”
Pete was correct about my giving him a small zap. As he handed me my test that day, he dropped it on the floor and stomped on it a few times, making it almost impossible to see the red ‘A’ I’d gotten. He called me a witch then, too.
“Dude, it’s called static electricity. Read your science homework once in a while.” Jack turned to me and added under his breath, “And turn off the video games.” He smiled, again showcasing the dimples I secretly adored.
“Yeah, well, when you can’t play basketball anymore and lose that scholarship you’ve been hoping for because she sucked out all your skills, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” Pete bit into a cream-filled sponge cake, a dietary staple for him.
“Yeah, and if the company that makes those cakes ever goes out of business you’re going to be a hungry guy,” Jack sneered.
“Ha. Fat chance. They’re not going anywhere.” Pete shoved the rest of the cake into his mouth, and waddled away, adding over his shoulder, “Hope she doesn’t put a curse on you and blow out your knee.”
Jack turned back to me. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your next class.”
I dipped my head, my cheeks flooding with color as we made our way through the crowded halls. Whisperings of witch still hung in the air when we passed by.
That was the first day of a wondrous week. Jack ate lunch with me for the next five days. He told me funny stories, and said that he liked the color of my strawberry blond hair. He even commented on my eyes, saying, “They are the prettiest cornflower blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”
By Friday, I, Marigold Yarrow had fallen deeply, madly in love with Jack Mahoney.
“My dad’s taking our family somewhere special for Christmas next week,” Jack said as we made our way to his beat up truck after school. “It’s a surprise. I don’t have a clue where we’re going. Wish I didn’t have to go. I’d rather spend it with you.” He nudged me with his shoulder.
“You’ll have fun.” I didn’t want him to go either. I missed him already.
“Yeah, I guess.” Jack looked into my eyes and I melted. He wore his black sweater. It was my favorite. I couldn’t resist touching the soft fibers. He leaned in to kiss me. My heart thumped wildly with anticipation. But before our lips met, an obnoxious scream startled us both, shattering the moment. Jack and I jumped and turned as Fiona and Felecia Farious ran toward us. The twins looked exactly alike from their long, pin-straight, black hair to their tiny feet with six toes on each foot.
“Oh, good, we stopped you,” Fiona said, breathlessly. Her twin elbowed her in the stomach.
“What my sister means is that coach called a last minute practice,” Felecia said. “Right now. And you’d better hurry. It started, like, five minutes ago.”
“First I’ll take Marigold home.” Jack turned for the truck.
“No, Jack, go ahead. I’ll take the bus.” I smiled, hoping to ease any guilt he may have felt.
“Are you sure?” I nodded to his question. “Alright. I’ll stop by your house tonight.” He stroked my cheek and took off at a reluctant slow jog, the Farious sisters on his tail. Why they followed him I had no clue since they didn’t play basketball.
I waited all evening for Jack to call. He never did. I didn’t hear from him the entire Christmas break. My heart ached. Why hadn’t he called me? Was he sick? Did something terrible happen to him? I didn’t see him at school the first day back, though I did see his truck in the parking lot when I arrived. While comforted to know nothing tragic had happened to him, it added a new layer of concern. What kept Jack from calling me?
All day I searched for him, but he wasn’t in any of the classes we had together, nor did I see him in the halls. On my way to the bus after school, I passed a classroom full of students. I peeked in and saw a table by the door with a large white and yellow sheet cake. The words Good Luck in Port Fare, New York, Jack were printed on it. I entered the room, confused. Had the basketball team made it into some kind of tournament and I’d not heard?
The familiar whisperings of witch began as I weaved through the thick crowd. I spotted Jack sitting on a desk, a can of Diet Pepsi in his hand.
“Marigold, I’m glad you came.” He greeted me with a tight grin as he stood and came toward me.
“I was passing by when I saw all of this.” I gestured to the Mylar balloons floating about the room and the blue streamers draped from the lights and across the chalkboard. “I came in to see what’s going on and saw the cake.”
“Really?” he questioned. “Fiona and Felecia said they invited you, but you had a date with some guy you’ve been seeing over in Grantsville.”
For a moment, I could have sworn sadness touched his eyes, but looking closer into the deep pools of brown, I saw nothing.
I let the comment pass, fearing I’d lose my temper over the lie the sisters told him and feed the witch rumors. “Where are you going? Is there a basketball tournament I didn’t know about?”
“No. I . . . Uh, I’m moving to Port Fare, New York.” His voice held a strange chill now.
Why is he acting so weird?
“Their high school,” he continued, “has an awesome basketball team and my parents think I’ll stand a better chance at getting a college scholarship there than I will at Podunk, West Virginia High.”
“Your dad’s giving up his job on the chance that you might get a scholarship?” The move seemed a bit impetuous. Jack had talent, but Dirk, the forward on the team, played better.
“My dad works from home so it doesn’t matter where we li—” Two of Jack’s teammates jumped him from behind and one poured a bottle of Gatorade down his back. Jack howled playfully as I jumped back.
“You’re dead, Cliff,” Jack shouted after the boy with the now empty bottle. “Sorry, Marigold. I have to get a little revenge. Maybe we can talk later.” Jack took off after his teammates and I turned to leave, not wanting to be there another moment. Was I the only one who imagined that the week we’d spent together was special? It also hurt that he so readily believed the twins about my having a boyfriend.
“Why the tears, witch?” Fiona asked. She appeared out of nowhere, blocking my escape route. She propped her hands on her hips, her short denim skirt rode up several inches. Felecia, wearing almost the exact same outfit, mimicked her sister’s pose.
“Excuse me. I don’t want to be late for my bus.” I dropped my gaze downward, too upset to try to deal with their games at the moment. I tried going around the obnoxious twins, only they were having none of it.
“You actually believed Jack liked you, didn’t you?” Felecia asked, flicking a strand of my frizzy hair.
I snapped my head up and glared into the girl’s watery gray eyes. “Is that why you lied and told him I had a boyfriend and couldn’t come to the party?” At least, I hoped that was what happened, because if Jack really didn’t care about me . . . I shivered at the thought.
“We know you’ve put a spell on him, witch. He wanders the halls searching for you between classes, and Fiona caught him doodling your name on his notebook,” Felecia bit out between her clamped teeth. “He’s clearly bewitched.”
“So you’re protecting him from me then?” I asked, stepping toward the twins.
“That’s right.” Fiona offered up a nasty sneer. “I saw him first, and since I can’t compete against your black magic voodoo, I invented a boyfriend for you. Now Jack thinks you’ve been playing both ends.”
I moved even closer as they each crept back. “Wh-what does it matter, witch?” Felicia said, her hands shaking. “He’s leaving in the morning for Port Fare. You would have lost him anyway.”
I stopped. They had a point. What did it matter? The boy I loved was leaving. The only person ever to have defended me against the witch taunts. I turned for the door, but stopped when I heard the twins’ snide laughter. It burned hot in my stomach. Before clearing the door, I casually flipped my hair over my shoulder, or at least I hoped it looked that way to my classmates. Only the gesture meant so much more. Through my strands of hair, I wiggled my index finger at the Farious twins. A stink rose from the girls so vile people actually tripped over themselves in an effort to escape. When the unmistakable noises started, laughter filled the room and fingers pointed at the girls who would forevermore be known as the Fartious twins.
I ran to the bus, near tears. The only boy I’d ever cared for was moving away and he never bothered to say a word to me about it. The growing feelings of love I thought we shared were, in reality, just an illusion. The wonderful week we’d spent getting to know each other meant nothing to him. If it had, he never would’ve listened to the lies.
Numb, I barely heard the accustomed taunts as I rode home on the bus. Well, almost. When the bus stopped in front of my house, I eased down the aisle, making sure to touch each person who’d insulted me. A prickle of pain accompanied each touch, not enough to harm, just enough to give them pause and make them wonder, Is Marigold really a witch?
As soon as I was free from the confines of the bus, I ran up the walk of the blue Cape Cod house my father built. A bleat stopped me in my tracks. The goats had escaped again. I leaned down to pet the smallest as she rushed me before leading them around the back and securing them behind the fence. I gave each a handful of hay. The chickens in a nearby pen squealed out in protest, demanding a treat. I scooped a handful of corn nuggets and tossed them on the ground, frowning as they pecked one another to get to the food first.
I went inside through the back door, not surprised to find it wide open. My cousin was in the kitchen. “Hello, Sera,” my voice heavy with melancholy. “Taking your true form today, I see. You know daddy hates cats.” The snow-white cat rolled her purple eyes. I knew what that meant. Daddy was out of commission . . .  again.
He lay stretched out in the living room, snoring away in his leather recliner, his arms enveloping a photo of my mother—my beautiful, dead mother. “Daddy,” I said softly, wiping away the tears that stained his cheeks. “You have to let her go. It’s been over a year now. She wouldn’t want you to keep suffering like this.” My father only offered a snort as he slept on.
Retreating toward my room, I stumbled over an empty mason jar of moonshine on the floor. He’d been drinking again, but I knew nothing would numb his broken heart. I glanced over at the kitchen table, also built by my father, and frowned at the stack of bills piled up. He hadn’t worked a full day since the funeral. We’d lose the house soon if he didn’t snap out of it. I picked up a soft blue blanket off the arm of the leather couch and tucked it around him, kissing his forehead.

My hand slid over the railing on the ornate red maple staircase, hand-carved by my father in better times. My bedroom was on the top floor and I couldn’t get inside fast enough. I closed my door briskly behind me, stopping dead before the collage of yearbook photos on my wall. They were all of Jack. Jack, the boy I loved. The boy I dreamed of. The boy who was not really my friend after all. I jabbed my finger at the collage and it exploded into flames. The ashes floated to the floor. In anger, I tossed open my bedroom window, the glass rattling as I blew the charred remains outside before collapsing onto my bedspread in tears.

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