Morgan tossed her short red hair on the dance floor. She had cut and dyed it at the start of high school, sick of the constant confusion between her and Marie. “You’d think they’d notice that I have blue eyes and you have brown,” Marie had said as she dunked her sister’s head in the sink and smeared the red dye into her hair. Morgan was looking for a change in image anyhow, she knew. When she lifted her head up her hair was a mop of bright red flames. Later, only her sisters noticed that her hair continued to grow out red.
The ceremony had passed without incident, but Morgan knew that Fa was still keeping one eye fixed on her. She had her eyes fixed on the Lane boy, Tony, who was a year above her in school. The candles flickered, and Morgan caught Tony looking at her and then quickly skit his eyes away. She grabbed a drink and started to make her way across the lawn.
Mara and Graham had slipped away. After being under public scrutiny for hours, from the minute Mara stepped out of the car to the first dance, Mara’s sisters and mother could imagine why she would want to spend a moment alone with her husband. The wedding ceremony had been held in the old town church. It was a beautiful summer day, and Mara had requested that the windows and doors be opened to let in the sun. People spilled out of the front doors of the church, lining up on the steps. When the Switch car arrived, a silent, nervous stillness fell over the crowd as mothers hushed their children and friends tapped friends’ shoulders to notify them of the bride’s arrival. Mara put on her warmest smile and stepped out, her silk gown taken up by the wind and swirled around her. Her sisters, dressed in gold, followed her out. Finally, Fa Switch, who had forgone her long black coat for the occasion and put on a gray dress, lifted her elbow and offered it to Mara. With no father in the family, it was assumed that Fa would be giving her eldest daughter away.
After Mara had been taken to the altar, the heads of the town moving synchronously to follow her long black hair and floating steps, Fa disappeared into the crowd. During the walk up, Fa had not smiled once. As the couple exchanged their vows, little Mina started to sniffle in the first pew and tugged on the bottom of Marie’s dress. Marie shushed her, wiping her little sister’s face instantly dry, and turned her attention back to Mara. In the pew across the aisle, Mayor Hunter and his wife stood in their immaculate suit and dress with perfectly appropriate smiles drawn across their faces. The town was rapt; an air of excitement, tinged with fear, vibrated through the room.
When husband and wife were proclaimed, the air lightened as if the windows had just been opened. Everyone heaved a breath of relief and streamed out of the front doors of the church after the newlyweds, pouring out like water.
The reception was in the garden next to town hall. Guests entered to rose bushes and lilies and a patch of lawn that, though small, miraculously held the entire party with ease. In the center was a large tent with the cake and bar in one corner. A fountain sparkled with champagne, and when Mara and Graham cut into the cake, everyone could see that underneath the cloud-white frosting was a fluffy interior that seemed to shine like gold, and dissolved like flakes of fluffed sugar on the tongue. Fa had staked out a spot in the opposite corner where she could see everything at the start of the reception and didn’t move from it. She scanned the garden for Mara. She saw only Marie dancing with Mina, and Morgan fingering the Lane boy’s tie, a sideways smile on her face. Fa wondered if her daughter was, at this moment, telling her newlywed husband the truth about his in-laws.
Fa supposed she must be supportive of her daughter. But she could not help wondering about the mayor and his family, how they truly felt about the match. When the engagement was announced, they had been as surprised as herself, and in the moment between surprise and delight, Fa had thought she saw a flicker of something strange in the mayor’s eyes.
Afterwards the family was nothing but smiles. They visited the Switch house with presents and invited the girls to the mayor’s residence for dinner. Fa, refusing to touch anything related to the wedding, was glad to see Graham’s mother offer to plan the entire event. At the end of the dinner, having warmed up to the family a bit, she said that she could provide the food.
She thought on the issue more, and then realized that though the Hunter wife (what was her name? Fa had not bothered to learn it, the woman was so devoid of personality) was dancing her way through the city council members, the mayor was nowhere to be seen. Perhpas he, too, was tired of being in the public eye, resting somewhere in the shadows. Fa tried to open her mind to her new in-laws. For a moment, she felt a sigh of empathy. It was generous, she supposed, for the mayor to not prohibit the match outright. Perhaps Mara was right, perhaps this would mark the start of a new era for the Switch family.
On the far side of the tent, Morgan had started to swirl and step with Tony Lane. The candles flickered. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his ear to her mouth.
“Doesn’t this feel…” she said, “magical?”
Tony put his hands on her waist.
“Show me,” he said.
“Show me some magic.”
Morgan pushed him away. Her chest heaved in anger, and her cheeks flared the red of her hair. Tony fell to the ground, and in the moment that his body hit the floor, the garden went as pitch black as if a giant candle had been pinched out.
A collective clamor sounded in the air as guests stumbled over each other and grabbed for something to hold onto. Then, a woman’s sharp scream broke the air into pieces, a wail that shook everyone to the spine.
The lights flickered back on. Fa had moved soundlessly over to Morgan and was grabbing her by the arm, looking around for the source of the scream. The Lane boy scrambled to his feet. The guests looked at each other in silence. Then, a second scream pierced the garden, louder and more terrifying than the first: