CHAPTER one: PLENTY OF TROUBLE
Note: Here is an excerpt from my second Poppy Blue paranormal fantasy series, Plenty of Trouble. It is available on Amazon.com, in both ebook and paperback versions. I hope you enjoy!
“DAMN! DAMN it all to hell!”
I whipped my head in the direction of the loud exclamations. My mother stood in the side entrance of my magick shop. She squeezed her eyes shut as if she was trying to erase some ugly image from her memory, then shook her bottle-blonde head and fluttered her eyes open and shut. I had a thought that maybe she’d hoped her false eyelashes would sweep away whatever she was distressed about. Instead she grimaced and stamped a high-heeled foot on the ground as she looked around my store.
“Bad news, Fiona?” The question came from my employee Vanessa Morgan, a smile playing at her lips.
My mother rolled her eyes at the shapely blonde.
“Perhaps you need some retail therapy to cheer you up,” Vanessa continued, giving me a playful wink. “What do you think, Poppy?”
“Yes,” I agreed, latching onto the suggestion. My mother did like to buy herself shiny trinkets when she was annoyed. I waved my hand around my store. “I know you tend not to go so much for the cauldrons, mother dearest, but we did just put out some new jewelry and some lovely Halloween candles.”
“Don’t start with me, Poppy,” Mom seethed.
“I wasn’t starting with you,” I soothed. “I was merely trying to calm you down, and I know you love sparkly things.”
Vanessa, as if on cue, went to the jewelry display by the cash register and held up a pair of glittery earrings adorned with crescent moons and silvery stars.
“Don’t try and distract me,” Mom groused. She froze, then squinted her eyes. “Wait? Are those opals?”
Vanessa and I nodded in unison.
“Poppy Blue, damn you!” Mom said, as she strode over to the items Vanessa held out to her. She snatched them away and looked them over with keen interest. “I’ll take them! And give me a good discount for having given birth to you. I was in labor for twenty-three hours, after all.”
Vanessa and I smiled at one another as my mother put on the earrings.
“Stop smirking at me, you two,” Mom ordered. “I’d forgotten to put on earrings today is all.”
“Yes, and you live and work right across the parking lot, so it was such an inconvenience,” I drawled.
“Never joke with customers in a way that might sway them from a sale,” Mom instructed.
“Good point, but I sensed you might need a distraction from your awful news. Now, share with the class what it is that has you all worked up.”
“Oh, I’m going to tell you, but how about you brew some coffee for me first?”
Vanessa went to the back of the store as I pulled an extra chair over to the small table I had set up in a back corner. It looked like a part of the Halloween décor, with a violet tablecloth adorned with shimmery silver stars and a crystal ball and candles atop that, but I kept the area pretty much intact year-round because I read cards and palms for people in that location.
Vanessa brought a trio of steaming mugs of coffee, and the three of us sat facing one another.
“So, what is this news?” I began. “Can I expect a little brother or sister soon?”
“What?” My mother’s expression was blank.
“I was referring to your marriage last month.” In September she’d taken a trip to Las Vegas with her longtime love Tom Wheeler, and they returned as man and wife. She’d taken a lot of joy in announcing the news to our small northern town during an autumn celebration event. Mom had pranced around that evening whilst wearing a beaded white dress and enough bling to choke a drag queen. “I hope it’s at least nine months after the wedding, so you don’t cause a scandal.”
My mother scowled at me. “Please. I do look good for my age, but even I am aware that I’m too old to poop out an infant.” She sighed dramatically and then continued. “We will be having company.” She was practically vibrating, she was so riled up.
Mom took a long sip of her coffee and nodded at Vanessa in approval.
“Who’s coming?” I asked.
Mom raised an index finger to still me. She pulled a flask out of her pocket and topped off her coffee with a long stream of amber fluid.
“That bad, huh?” Vanessa said.
My mother offered the flask to us. We both shook our heads. “It’s Drambuie. It’s good with coffee.”
“Then leave the flask here,” I said. “We’ll have a closing time nightcap.”
“Like hell. I’m going to need a lot of this to get me through what’s coming.” She jammed the flask back into her pocket before taking another drink from her mug.
Vanessa and I looked at one another. Who could be getting my mother this worked into a tizzy? I knew she was wondering it as much as I was. Mom had divorced my father many years back, but he’d also died when I was fifteen, so we knew that wasn’t it, though the anxiety she was radiating seemed geared toward a visit from an ex-husband with a much-younger wife.
“Your Aunt Lindy is coming to visit.” My mother sighed again for dramatic effect.
“That’s not so bad,” I started. They were a bit competitive like sisters can be, but they usually got along well despite the occasional drama.
“I’m not finished,” she said, giving me a dark look. “She’s bringing your cousin Plenty.”
I groaned. There was the rub.
Vanessa frowned. “Wait? Your cousin’s name is Plenty?”
“Yes,” I replied. “My aunt thought she should be named something more unusual than Michelle or Heather.”
“Your family does seem to go for some more unusual names, considering you’re named Poppy and Fiona is, well, Fiona. But Plenty? That sounds like something a puritan woman would be named. Goody Plenty. Plenty Mercy or something like that,” Vanessa said.
“My sister named her Plenty because she wanted her to have plenty of blessings, plenty of riches, plenty of opportunities, plenty of good looks, plenty of love. And so on.”
“Well, that’s actually a really nice sentiment,” Vanessa said. “The name’s a bit corny, but still.”
My mother and I exchanged looks. I went on to explain. “We always say she’s plenty of trouble.”
My mother and I shook our heads in unison.
“No,” I said. “But you will.”
“Remind me to run to the drugstore and pick up a huge box of earplugs,” Mom said, her gaze pinned on me.
“Earplugs?” Vanessa looked confused. “Does she play violin or something badly?”
“No. But when they get here Plenty will find, um, plenty of things to complain about,” I explained.
Mom bobbed her head in vigorous agreement.
“Why? Are they coming from Florida or something so your cousin won’t like the cold?”
It’s true that it was chilly up here. It was early October, but we were in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so for a lot of people who lived in an area with four seasons, our Octobers were easily someone else’s Novembers or even their Decembers. And, true to our calendar, it was already pretty brisk and nippy outside. Just the other day we’d spotted some snow flurries.
“They’re coming from Detroit,” Mom said. “So, it’ll be a bit colder up here in good old Sault Ste. Marie, but not too much.”
“Yeah, she won’t complain about that part much,” I agreed. “She’ll complain about other things.”
“Like what?” Vanessa asked as she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
“For starters she’ll whine that it’s a boring small town,” I began.
“It is small, but we still have about fifteen thousand people in the area, and that’s not including the Canadian side, which has like four or five times the population. And we have the college. That at least adds a youthful vibe to the bar scene.”
“And we do have plenty of bars,” Mom nodded.
Our town sure did. In recent years a city committee had officially named the downtown area the BAR-muda Triangle as part of an effort to promote our nightlife scene. We didn’t have quite the same offerings a huge metropolitan area would have, but we had places to go dancing, spots to drink craft beers, a couple Irish bars, a few dives, plus your run-of-the-mill watering holes. Tucked in among the bars and pubs were a fair number of eateries to satisfy most cravings, and then in between and along the edges of the restaurants and bars you could find souvenir shops and tourist attractions.
“True, we do have a lot of bars,” I agreed, “but she’ll complain: We’re not sophisticated enough. People are too casual or too outdoorsy. There aren’t a bunch of fancy restaurants or exclusive nightclubs to visit.”
“She’ll also flirt with every man she sees,” Mom added. “She tends to base her worth on how many men notice her.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “She will flirt with just about any guy she thinks is cute or rich, and if she thinks a guy is cute and rich, then watch out.”
“Cute and rich isn’t a bad combo,” Vanessa said, “but I hope you’d want more than that.”
“One would hope,” I agreed.
“I’d also think if you’d complain about something up here it’d be about the endless winters, which she won’t have to endure, unless they’re planning a really long visit,” Vanessa offered.
“I agree,” I said. “She won’t land on the weather unless it’s too icy or wet to wear high heels.”
“That won’t stop her from wearing them,” Mom said. “It rarely stops me. Although in the winter I prefer to wear high-heeled boots with fringe or fur trim. It’s stylish and practical.”
“Yes, three-inch heels are always practical,” I drawled, before focusing again on my cousin’s impending visit. “Then, Plenty will also make little digs about people’s hairstyles or clothing choices.”
“Mostly she’ll pick on you,” Mom cut in.
“Why pick on Poppy?” Vanessa trained her cornflower blue eyes on me. “Poppy’s pretty, and that bright red hair looks good against her pale skin.”
“It’s too red,” Mom said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“For you it is too red,” I said as I ran my hands over my maraschino cherry-hued locks. I happened to like the shocking color.
“You should be blonde,” Mom said.
“You always say that,” I grumbled. “I was blonde as a child and part of my teen years. I prefer it bright red or hot pink.”
Mom shook her head in disapproval. “At least it’s not that dreadful shade of pink anymore.”
“Oh, I liked it,” Vanessa offered. “It was so cheerful and bright. Especially when February rolled around.”
“See,” I inclined my head in Mom’s direction. “Not everyone thinks it’s awful.”
“And Roger likes it,” Vanessa added, referring to the man I’d begun dating recently.
“You’re lucky. But I bet he’d like it more if it was blonde. Men prefer blondes, Poppy. That’s a fact. Look at Vanessa here. Men fall all over her.”
She was right. They did. It wasn’t just because of her long blonde hair, however. It was also her heart-shaped face, full lips, and her hourglass figure. She had a personality as attractive as her exterior, too, which only fueled men’s – and some women’s – ardor.
“Men would fall all over Vanessa no matter her hair color,” I scoffed.
“Probably,” Mom agreed. “We’ll have to hit that little Halloween costume shop in front of the Haunted Hideaway and try on some wigs. Maybe we’ll get Vanessa a gray wig and granny glasses and see if she can reel men in as an old lady.”
“Hmmm,” Vanessa mused. “I wonder how people would treat me if I looked differently. The other day I had a guy following me around the market while I shopped for groceries. He kept leering. Moments like that, I wonder what it would be like to be less, um, visible,” she said as she gazed down at her ample bosom.
“And I’m wondering if I should get some of those chicken cutlet inserts and stuff them in my bra,” Mom said as she looked at Vanessa’s chest. “I wonder how I’d be treated if I were a D cup.”
“Probably the same,” I said, “but you’d enjoy less eye contact from men.”
“Yeah,” Vanessa agreed. “I don’t think too many men know what color my eyes are, to be honest.” She stood up, spotting some tourists milling around the front of my store, looking at my window display.
I rose myself as a quartet of potential customers entered my store. “Hi,” I smiled. “Welcome to my shop, Blue’s Boutique. I’m Poppy. Let me know if you have any questions about the merchandise.”
“THIS VISIT couldn’t come at a worse time,” my mother resumed complaining later. The shoppers had left, arms heavy with purchases. They had taken a liking to some handmade soaps, lotions and candles Vanessa and I had shown them.
The shop empty once again, my favorite (and yes, only, but still …) employee had topped off our coffees (Mom had doctored hers with more Drambuie), then gone to the stock room to fulfill some online orders. My mother fidgeted and grumbled while I dusted and priced items.
“Why? What’s so bad about the timing?”
“It just is. Tom and I are settling in as newlyweds.”
“You may have just gotten married last month,” I began, “but you’ve been living together for many years.”
“It’s still an adjustment, psychologically.”
I had my doubts, but I held my tongue.
“Plus, the house isn’t ready for company,” she added, “and our shop is in, um, flux.”
Ah, there was the rub. Mom and Tom ran a rather informal antiques and collectibles shop, though it really was more a resale store, dubbed Thingamajigs. It occupied the front part of their two-story red vinyl-sided house across the gravel parking lot our stores and their home shared. Right now, their home and Thingamajigs looked like the love child of Sanford and Son and three seasons of Hoarders. I was exaggerating, but not by much.
“Maybe you could hire a maid service to tidy things up a bit,” I offered. “They can probably do a bang-up job in a day or two.”
“It’s not just that,” Mom began. “I want the place to reflect me. You know, all fancy and expensive and stylish. I want Lindy to see that I’m doing well.”
“You’re happily married and have a cozy – albeit messy – home, and want for nothing. You are doing well.”
“Well, I want to make it look better than that.”
“You mean you want Aunt Lindy to think you’re better off than she is.”
Mom shrugged, then nodded. “I suppose you could put it that way.”
“I think the house and shop will look fancier and more stylish if you clear the dirty dishes off the coffee and end tables, and you throw out all the old magazines and newspapers,” I offered. “That’d make a world of difference.”
Mom rolled her eyes at me again. “You know, Poppy. You’re a bit piggy yourself.”
“Yes, I know I let things pile up a bit, but I do vacuum and mop and dust regularly. I also have been known to throw things away. I think when people visit my house they think I have interesting books and nice odds and ends on my shelves. I don’t think they wonder what’s inside or behind the forty-seven office boxes that are lined along the walls.”
“Okay, daughter dearest, you’ve made your point.” I knew Mom didn’t want to hear any more.
“And think of it, if you clear away some of those boxes and stacked papers, you’d have room for a really nice cabinet or maybe even a home bar. You could even paint and redecorate.”
Mom’s ears pricked up at that suggestion. “Hmm. I like the sound of that.”
“In the meantime,” I began, “maybe now would be a good time to bring on some additional help.”
“How do you mean? The tourist season is dying down.”
“Yes, but I’m going to be selling a lot online leading up to Christmas, and then hopefully shortly after, as I’m selling gift cards this year, too. I’ve been thinking I’d like to up Vanessa’s hours –”
Mom cut me off right there. “I’m sure she’d like that, but I need her, too.”
“I realize that. That’s why I was bringing up the idea of adding another person.”
“Oh.” My mother’s face screwed up in concentration. “That’s not a bad idea. Someone to do some grunt work and man the registers would free up Vanessa, so she could get more involved in the business. I’d like her to help more in Thingamajigs, too.”
I didn’t bother to add that most of the time Vanessa was the one running her shop. My mother wasn’t one for adhering to regular hours behind a counter. Instead she preferred to hunt for collectibles and antiques to resell, and drum up connections along the way. Everyone in town knew Fiona and Tom Wheeler owned their store, but, more often than not, Vanessa’s was the face people saw most often when they walked into Thingamajigs.
“Did you have anyone in mind?” Mom asked.
I shook my head. “I was hoping you knew someone. You did such a good job finding Vanessa.”
My mother smiled serenely at the compliment. “I don’t have anyone in mind, but let’s keep an eye out. I’d love to find someone good, and soon. If we had the right person that would free up more time for me to fancy up the house.”
“I don’t think you’re going to manage any home décor miracles in the next few days,” I cautioned.
“It’s unlikely, but not impossible,” Mom said. “I think we should send out a few magical feelers once you close out for the day, and let’s get Vanessa involved in the spell.”
Vanessa wasn’t a hedge witch like my mother and me. She wasn’t really a practitioner at all, in fact, but she knew of our abilities and had zero issue with them. Most women have at least a little bit of magic in them, so her input could lend an extra charge to the enchantment. That she was happy to get more hours and be more involved in the work could only help things along.
WHEN IT was closing time, I turned off the lights and corralled Vanessa to the fortune-telling corner for our magic session.
Earlier, I’d told my mom to lay off the Drambuie to clear her head, so she’d switched to black coffee. When I was certain she was okay to proceed – we didn’t want the whiskey to influence decision-making too much – we three sat down and linked hands.
“I’m not sure what to do here exactly,” Vanessa admitted. “I know you have your herbs and draw symbols and tie knots to do magic, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to do more than suggest products to customers.”
“We don’t need to do anything specific,” Mom explained. “We simply want to throw it out there that we’re seeking the right one to add to our little family of businesses. Poppy and I will dig deep into our magical reserves and focus on the traits we’d like in a new hire. In your case, Vanessa, just think about the kind of person you’d like to bring to the fold.”
“Do I need to speak out loud?” Vanessa asked.
“It can work either way,” I said, “but since it’s the three of us, and this is your first time, we’ll give voice to what we want.”
“I’ll start,” Mom began. “I would like someone who is handsome.”
“That’s not important,” I snapped.
“It also sounds like you’re hoping to hire a male,” Vanessa offered.
“Having an attractive employee never hurts. Would you rather linger around a store with a good-looking clerk or an ugly old hag to help you?”
“It’s a fair point,” I admitted. “Let’s amend that to someone who has a nice appearance, who is clean and tidy and perhaps has a bit of artistic flair.”
“I like the sound of that,” Vanessa nodded. “I also think if it’s a guy he should have a nice butt. And broad shoulders wouldn’t hurt.”
“Oh, yes, those are good points,” Mom agreed.
“I can’t complain about that,” I cut in, “but they’re hardly the most important details. I want someone who is honest, hard-working, creative, open-minded since I run a magic store and you are your own special bag of tricks, Mom.”
“Someone who learns quickly would be good, too,” Vanessa added. “And since you mention the magic and Fiona’s, um, quirky ways, a sense of humor would be a good thing.”
“Definitely,” I agreed.
“I want an animal lover, too,” Mom added. Vanessa and I looked at her. “What? Tom and I have the beagles running about, and you have cats, Poppy.”
“The cats aren’t in my store,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, but the beagles are all over the place,” Vanessa said. “You definitely don’t want someone who hates dogs or who is scared of them.”
“Okay, we agree we want someone who loves animals. People who do like cats and dogs tend to be kind, also, which is never a bad quality.”
“Someone who is responsible, who shows up for work on time would be good, too,” Vanessa added.
“That’s a very good start,” Mom said. “Now close your eyes and focus on those qualities.”
We did as instructed.
A moment later a faint form began to take shape in my mind. It was more a feeling than a vision, but I put as much energy as I could into it.
Suddenly my mother released my hand and the image evaporated.
“I was seeing something,” I complained, sure she’d unraveled our magical tapestry before it even had a chance to develop a pattern.
“I think I was, too,” Vanessa offered. “It wasn’t much, but I saw what I think was a tall guy.”
My mother shook her head. “We don’t want our imaginations to fill in the gaps too much and invite the wrong sort. We don’t necessarily need all our boxes ticked. We want certain traits and qualities. If you overthink it, you risk some superficial things overriding the essentials.”
“Like a guy with a great ass who can’t count to ten?” I asked.
I pondered what she said for a moment. “That makes sense.”
Mom stood up and then patted my arm and gave Vanessa a quick half-hug of encouragement. “That was a good exercise. I’ll keep an ear to the ground, and you two do the same. Someone will come our way and we’ll know it when – or not long after – he arrives.”
“He?” I asked. “Now you’re certain it’ll be a guy?”
“I have a hunch we’ll be hiring someone with a penis.”
“Was that part of your vision?” Vanessa asked.
“Nope. Just an intuition.” Mom stood and stretched languidly. “Now I’m going to head home. I’ve accomplished a lot today, so I think Tom should take me out to dinner to celebrate.”
A few seconds later she was out the door.
AS WE locked up my shop and made our way to our cars, Tom and Mom emerged from their house. Tom waved in our direction.
“Where are you two headed?” Vanessa called out as she raised a hand back to him.
“I’m taking Fiona out to dinner at the casino,” Tom answered as he held the door of his SUV open for Mom. “She’s exhausted from all the work she’s done today.”
“Oh, well, then have fun!” Vanessa chirped. Then she turned to me, amused, and lowered her voice. “Do you think he believes that?”
“I think he knows better than to question Mom too hard about what she’s been up to. He probably also wants to play blackjack.”
“And she’ll no doubt be on the lookout for dealers with nice butts or bartenders who make pretty and potent cocktails.”
“Without a doubt.”
If you enjoyed this excerpt, I invite you to download the rest of the book, available for free on Kindle Unlimited.
CHAPTER ONE: GIVING UP THE GHOST
This is the first chapter of my debut book in the Poppy Blue paranormal fantasy series. It is available as an eBook and in paperback on Amazon.com. I hope you enjoy!
A SMALL WOMAN bearing a big burden walked into my shop on the first night of Autumn Daze.
She wanted her palm read. No problem there. That’s what I was there to do.
Usually when I looked at a person’s hands, I saw more mundane, as in nonmagical, matters. Most folks – not all, but most – sought insights on money matters, love and health. Typical everyday concerns.
What her hands showed me was something else entirely.
Now, as I stand on some godforsaken country road after driving a tow truck into a ditch and hoping I don’t run into a certain sulky ghost – I realize, I never saw any of this coming.
EVERY THURSDAY after the Labor Day holiday through the week before Thanksgiving, a few blocks in Sault Sainte Marie’s tourist district are blocked from traffic.
Being located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, our summers are incredibly short, so our city’s philosophy is to pretty much throw on a sweatshirt – and later a parka and snowboots – and keep on keeping on with our lives. We may already have frosty mornings and trees that are turning red, orange and gold – soon to be scandalously naked – but that was no reason to end the festivities, even though the majority of the tourists we’d see this year had already packed up and gone home.
Our city’s population would soon wane for the next few months, as some locals would head south, to winter in warmer climes. I was one of those who stayed all year.
Now we had Autumn Daze to look forward to. The downtown area of our small northern city was decked out with seasonal decorations, with the chamber of commerce organizing activities to attract both young and old alike.
Pubs and eateries offered specials, primarily of the fried food and boozy varieties. I like to say we’re storing up body fat – like some great black bear – for the long winter ahead. That’s my excuse, anyways.
A band or a deejay frequently played songs. Occasionally folks would cut a rug. More often they shuffled around once they were tipsy enough, or they broke out a few line dancing moves or tried to see if they could still do a passable Running Man. Often I wasn’t sure who they were entertaining more – themselves or the spectators – but who can argue with someone dusting off an eighties or nineties dance move?
Many businesses stayed open late and held raffles and drawings. These were mostly for gift cards to buy more of the aforementioned fried foods and cocktails, but there’s a reason why every bar serves burgers and chicken fingers, so why interfere with success?
Children could have their faces painted or vie for prizes. That would give them happy, innocent memories before they turned into line-dancing adults, or whatever dance craze they’d be slightly nostalgic for once they had a few beers and several years in their rearview mirrors – the Nae Nae or the Whip, maybe?
I participated in the weekly event by extending my magick shop’s hours and conducting palm readings.
The lines in people’s hands appeared far from random to me. When I concentrated, they became maps of their psyches or sometimes morphed into snapshots of their lives. I could tell what was worrying them – though to be honest, no one ever sought a reading when they were truly happy – and offer some soothing words or a bit of guidance. Sometimes people just wanted someone to whom they could vent their concerns. Plus, what I offered was cheaper than therapy.
Since many viewed what I did as some parlor trick, you’d be surprised what people were willing to divulge. Let’s just say if I wanted to get into the blackmail business, I could rake in some serious dough. But I’m nice – or I try to be, and professional – so I keep my lips zipped.
Not long after this year’s Autumn Daze festivities began, a woman came into the shop. She was petite – a few inches shorter than me – and her frame was delicate.
My employee Vanessa Morgan, a shapely blonde with doe eyes, greeted her as I watched from a quiet corner. I had sparkly velvet curtains partially pinned back – which I would later close to ensure privacy while doing readings – and stood partly concealed while I observed.
The woman had wavy dark blonde hair with a few highlights. It was cut into an angled bob that just skimmed her shoulders. Something about her carriage made me certain she was old enough to be my mother, but the freckles dotting the bridge of her nose made her appear younger.
She had an air of confidence. Her clothing fit her well and her handbag was name brand, but it wasn’t ostentatious – just good quality.
I picked up a bit of nervous energy about her. My guess was she’d never visited a palm reader before.
I inhaled deeply and could scent a question hanging. I also could smell two perfumes.
The dominant one was clearly hers, as it was more grownup and redolent of salt water, coconut milk and ylang-ylang – maybe even a hint of bergamot. I liked her taste.
The second fragrance I was sure was tied to whatever question or concern she would pose. It was a girly brand I remembered from my days in junior high, and it drifted in my direction in small, infrequent waves.
Vanessa spoke with the woman, making polite small talk and answering a few questions. I heard the request for a reading and emerged to greet her, ushering her to the table I had set up.
She sat and bounced her gaze on the candle that burned off center while I pulled the curtains shut so I could concentrate on her and she could question me in peace and with a veneer of privacy.
“Hello. Welcome. My name is Poppy. Poppy Blue,” I told her, reaching out to shake her hand.
“Ah, so that’s why this place is called Blue’s Boutique. I’m Marie.” Her voice wavered slightly.
I smiled to try and set her at ease.
“Um, is there anything you want or need to know before we start?”
“Let me just look at your palms first. We’ll see what they have to say and go from there.”
She was quiet as I put a few drops of an oil I’d blended on my palms and rubbed them together in front of the candle burning on the little round table. I then held them out, palms up, and instructed her to place her hands on mine.
I closed my eyes and concentrated for a moment. Something felt familiar about her. Or maybe not her. I wasn’t sure, but suspected I’d heard something of what was disturbing her, but it wasn’t yet clear.
“Have we met before?” I asked. “I feel like I should know you – or something about you – already.”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I have seen you around town, however. Your hair is very striking.”
That’s how people usually described my cherry red locks when they were trying to be nice and not make a joke about it – the usual witticisms, such as asking when I’d left the circus or joshing that the color was so loud that they could hear it.
I looked at her face. Her eyes were a pale sage green, which looked more gray when the light hit them just so. Her smile was genuine, and I could tell her compliment was, too.
“Thank you. Calling it striking, that’s one way to put it,” I smiled.
“I think my son would like it. He likes red-haired women.”
“Even this red?” My goal was to keep it ruby red or brighter. I always leaned toward being a redhead, and the last couple years I’d decided I wanted my locks to match my first name. Not everyone – my mother included – was a fan of the bright red color.
“Then I like him already, based purely on his good taste,” I joked.
She smiled warmly in reply, but I noticed a hint of sadness lived in her eyes.
“I’m going to turn your palms up and look at your lines. Think of the question you’d like answered or what it is that you’d like some clarity on.”
Her face grew serious and I could see she was focusing. I thought I could use a bit of marigold for this reading. It’s an innocuous and common flower, but also uncommonly good for enhancing communication with the beyond. I let her hands go, telling her to continue concentrating as I pulled a flower from a small vase I had on the side of the table and rubbed a few petals in between my palms, until they turned saffron orange. Then I ran my fingers over her palms, clasped her hands and waited.
A moment later the secondary perfume I’d first picked up – I was certain it was Love’s Baby Soft – began to dance around us, growing stronger. I looked around and saw the green velvet curtains begin to shiver. Small leaves of ivy emerged from the fabric and slowly marched across the material. I’d never seen anything like that before. I blinked and the leaves vanished.
“Excuse me,” Marie interrupted. “Are you wearing perfume?”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s 4711.”
The corners of her mouth turned down. “That’s kind of a citrusy-floral, isn’t it?”
She smiled. “That’s odd. That’s not what I’m smelling. Maybe it’s your chemistry.”
“You’re smelling Love’s Baby Soft, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes. You can smell it, too?”
I nodded. “I think this is tied to why you’re here this evening, correct?”
She bobbed her head up and down.
“You’re worried about someone.” I closed my eyes for a moment and saw a flicker of two shapes, one male and one female. It was more like an afterimage one gets after looking at a bright light, but I could catch flashes of someone who seemed young and impulsive trying to get a rise out of someone who seemed more sedate and focused. The image flickered away and I trained my eyes on Marie. “Actually, you’re worried about two people.”
I looked down into her palms. The lines told me she was married and had two children. I looked closer. There were actually three lines for the children, but the most recent one was faded and cut off. She’d lost a child, I realized. I gulped, choking back the uncomfortable feeling. That’s probably why I felt I should be familiar somehow with her story. I’d probably read something about it in the paper. I couldn’t remember any recent stories, however.
“You lost someone very dear to you – a child – some years ago.” I paused as I felt a wave of the sadness she carried with her tumble over me. “I’m sorry.” I inhaled through my nose to collect myself. “And you’re still very sad about that loss. You always will feel that loss, too, but time is healing the wound, though it will never erase the scar.”
Her eyes watered a bit. She glanced away to collect herself, focusing on the marigolds by the candle.
I looked down at her palms again. The first child line was strong but forked. That was odd. Usually a person’s own life line might be forked if they were facing some significant life event – a move far away, a health crisis, a career change – but that much detail rarely appeared for one’s offspring.
“Right now you’re more concerned about someone else. Another loved one who is very sad, and you fear that they’re … how can I put it … they’re stuck.” From the length of the split, this issue was not a recent development.
She gave a quick nod.
“And this makes you fear,” I paused, struggling to phrase it correctly, “that you in reality have lost two people instead of the one.”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m worried about. Is there anything I can do?”
“Well, normally I’d say time will take care of things, but this sounds … extreme. Have you experienced some things that you can’t easily explain?”
“I have. My daughter died in a car crash many years ago, and while I miss her every day, my oldest son, he’s never really let it go.”
“He’s trapped in his grief.” I spoke more to myself than to Marie.
“Yes. And sometimes I’ll smell the perfume my daughter wore, but lately I’m noticing other things.”
“Oh, you’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Marie, look at what I do for a living. I’ve been called crazy – and seen crazy stuff – more times than I care to count. You came here with a problem, so why not fire away. I don’t ‘palm’ and tell. If I was a gossip – and this town is full of them – you’d know. I don’t want to spread stories about people either. Especially since my family has been the subject of talk.”
Marie was quiet for a moment. “You’re Fiona’s daughter, and Tom Wheeler is kind of your stepdad, right?”
“I do know about your family being the subject of gossip,” she agreed.
“You’ve no doubt heard about a certain St. Patrick’s Day incident. For starters?”
“So go on.”
She fidgeted with the rings on her fingers as she collected her thoughts. “Lately I’ve been noticing the perfume my daughter loved to wear. And there has been no reason for it be around.
“I’ve been on walks out in the woods and will smell it,” she explained. “Sometimes, especially around my oldest son, the one who took Ivy’s death the hardest, I notice a fragrance that smells like the flowers from Ivy’s funeral, hanging so heavy around him that I could choke.
“I also notice the air gets icy cold around him sometimes, or there’s an off smell, like burning hair or plastic. For some reason it makes me think that’s what anger smells like. That sounds insane, doesn’t it?”
I shook my head. “Not at all. Anyone with certain sensitivities can pick up on emotions through their eyes, ears, nose, fingers or even taste buds. You might see flashes of unexplained color, or notice odors that have no logical origin, or hear things – like a low, persistent hum or a sharp whine – when something outside the realm of our five senses is present,” I explained. “I’ve come to believe that we commonly think of as our sixth sense is actually some sort of extension of one of the classic quintet, though often supercharged.”
Marie’s shoulders relaxed, and she continued. “I got to thinking after I saw a show about hauntings on cable, and they mentioned strange smells and cold drafts of air, and it got me wondering…” she paused. “Well, I guess I don’t know what to say or think.”
I mulled her comments.
She exhaled, running her fingers through her hair. “My husband says I should just get on some Zoloft or Paxil. Maybe he’s right.”
I shook my head. “I can see where he’s coming from, but it sounds like your son hasn’t let Ivy go, so to speak. For most people, when someone they love has died, they are sad for a while and then they cross some kind of emotional bridge. Occasionally there are reminders of that loved one that live on. One woman I know who lost her son when he was a toddler, she notices the scent of roses every year on his birthday, and it’s kind of a ‘hi from beyond’ thing. These kinds of things happen more than we realize. But what you’re experiencing, it’s prolonged. Can you tell me, what do you feel or sense when you notice these smells or feel the chill around you?”
“Usually it’s just utter despair. For a moment I feel completely hopeless, like I’m sinking into a cold, damp pit.”
I started feeling a bit unmanageable myself. A restless energy nipped at nerves and the urge to start touching my ear grew strong.
“Do either of your sons notice or do anything odd?”
“Well, Wyatt seems fine,” she said. “He moved on. He’s kind of in a bubble, where he’ll just not dwell on things – which is both to his benefit and detriment, I think. But life is just a party to him. Roger, however, when I bring it up to him he actually shuts down more.”
“He was closest to his sister,” I murmured.
“He doesn’t want to let things go. I think he wants to,” Marie corrected. “I think he just feels he shouldn’t.”
“Like he’s punishing himself for surviving?”
“I think that could be it. What bothers me is he seems to be putting his life on hold over this. Sure, he has a job and friends, but …” she struggled to find the right words. “It’s like after the power goes out, and it returns, but only halfway, and everything is sort of dimmed. That’s what his life looks like to me.”
“A brownout life.”
“Is there anything that could be done?”
“There’s almost always something that can be done. How long ago did Ivy die?”
“Eight years ago.”
Oh, boy. Now I really wasn’t sure what I was up against. “That’s an awful long time to grieve. No immediate solution comes to me.”
“Do you do spells or anything? I’m not sure if I believe in that sort of thing, but at this point, what can it hurt,” she said.
“Not formally,” I admitted. “I’m more instinctive.”
“What do your instincts tell you to do?” She leaned forward, her eyes hungry for answers.
I thought for a moment. “Honestly, they tell me there has to be more to this than meets the eye. More than even you are aware of. They also tell me to keep my eyes and ears open. Usually if I throw it out there that I’m in need of something, answers will come my way.”
Marie nodded. She suddenly gave me a strange look.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“You’re fiddling with your ear. Just like my daughter used to do.”
I knew I’d felt the urge to follow through with the tic, but didn’t realize I was doing it. I promptly stopped and gave Marie a polite smile. She gazed around the room and back at me.
“I know I told you I didn’t believe in witchcraft and ghosts and things like that, but there is something … other … about you. I’m confused by it, but I like it. I also like you.”
“I like you, too,” I confessed.
I stood up and shook her hand. As I led her out of my shop, I gave her one of my business cards and wrote down her number. That way I could reach her should any potential resolution or questions occur to me.
I waved goodbye and watched her walk down the street. The question now was, how did I get someone to forgive himself and rejoin the living? And if there was more to it than that, how would I uncover those truths?
Fortunately, I knew someone who had shuffled off this mortal coil and who had opted to linger around. Hopefully he’d have answers.
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Magenta Wilde is the author of the Poppy Blue paranormal fantasy series.