In book four of my Poppy Blue series (not yet released) I'm introducing Meadow, Emily's niece. If you recall, Emily is a tall, sunny blonde who owns a café in town. Her niece has some physical resemblance to Emily, and some similar magical talents. She kind of came out of nowhere, and I really, really like her, and am looking forward to having her around from here on out. I hope you love her, too.
The night of the private cemetery tour was cold and windy, with flurries whipping past. At least there wasn’t any freezing rain in the forecast, so I considered that fortunate, despite the bite in the air.
Zelda had suggested we meet at Emily’s Eatery and pick up some hot cocoas to go. When I approached Emily’s café, I spotted Emily and Zelda were sitting at a table near the window, chatting amiably. I gave a rap on the glass door and waved as I let myself in.
“Well, lookee here,” my friend drawled. “Zelda’s got you checking out some of the town haunts.”
“Literally,” I smiled. I slipped out of my coat and sat with the duo. “Good to see you, Zelda,” I nodded. “Good to see you, too, Emily,” I smiled.
I was surprised to see the sunny blonde seated even though a few customers milled about, sipping hot drinks and tucking into sandwich-and-soup combos.
“You’re not behind the counter,” I noted.
“I’ve got a bit of help,” Emily said, tilting her head in the direction of the cash register.
There stood a younger version of Emily – a tall, lithe blonde, but instead of her pale hair being styled in a straight long bob, it was twisted in a knot and wild tendrils escaped around her head, giving her a fuzzy halo effect. The resemblance was near enough that had I not known Emily’s teenaged children, I would have guessed the girl was her daughter.
“I see a family resemblance,” I began.
Emily raised her hand and motioned for the girl to come over. She practically skipped to our table.
“Can I get you all anything,” she asked in a sing-song voice.
“In a moment, perhaps, hon,” Emily smiled. “You’ve already met Zelda here, but let me introduce you to a very good friend, Poppy. Poppy, meet my niece Meadow. She’ll be helping out at the café here.”
“Nice to meet you, Poppy,” the girl smiled, doing a small curtsying bob as she acknowledged me.
“Good to meet you,” I nodded. I wondered if she had some of the same abilities her aunt had.
She tilted her blonde head and looked me over. “I think you’d like an orange cocoa. Hold the whip.”
That answered that question. I looked to Emily and caught her beaming at me. “Yes, Meadow has some of the same abilities I do. I know that’s what you were wondering.”
“That is what I’d like,” I said, smiling at Meadow as she skipped off to make a drink. “So she’s a natural for your restaurant, eh?”
“She’s a good addition,” Emily agreed. “She’s better at sussing out people’s drink orders or what desserts they want. She’s not as intuitive with the savory orders.”
“Sounds like she’ll be good for the team nonetheless,” Zelda agreed. “Plus she’s a cutie. Customers can’t help but like that.”
Meadow placed my drink in front of me and I took a sip. I could see she was eager for me to render an opinion; she was wiggly and excitable as a puppy. “Mmmm. Good. It’s a bit different from what Emily will make for me, but I like it.”
“Do you? I added just the tiniest smidge of vanilla to the cocoa. I had a feeling you’d take to it.”
“It is good,” I agreed. “Thank you.” I fished a few dollars out of my pocket and handed them to the girl. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks!” she returned to the till and waved goodbye to the last group of customers as they left the store, following them to the door and flipping the sign to closed before returning to the register and counting down the drawer.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll be coming along with you two,” Emily said as she rose and started to head to the back of the cafe.
“I have no problem with that,” I said, standing to put on my coat and gloves.
“Since I have a bit of extra help – and good help,” Emily said, inclining her head in Meadow’s direction, “I figure I’ll let Meadow finish up while I tag along. I like a good ghost walk.”
The owner vanished into the back of her café.
Zelda excused herself to use the restroom and I was alone with Meadow. “So how long have you been working for your aunt? I haven’t seen you in the mornings when I normally come in.”
“A couple weeks,” she said. “I’ve mostly been helping in the afternoons when the rush slows down, until I get my bearings.”
“Do you like it?”
“Oh, I love it. I like all the people who come in and it’s fun when they’re surprised I can guess what they want. Well, I’m not good at choosing sandwiches and soups for them, but I’m good at the sweets part.”
“Have you met my stepfather Tom?” I asked. I envisioned the girl’s head imploding at his approach as he thought about ordering two of every treat on the menu.
“Um, I’m not sure. Oh, wait, he’s the guy who looks like a skinnier Santa Claus, right?”
“He wanted everything. When his wife – oh! That’s your mother, right? – caught on to what I could do, she told me to just bring him the first thing that came to mind going forward. He didn’t like that, but once he got a brownie – I put a bunch of whipped cream on the side just for him – he was happy.”
“That sounds like Tom,” I agreed. “So you have sweet, um, instincts, I guess?”
She smiled. “I guess that’s a way to put it. I happen to love sweets myself, so maybe that’s why.” She patted her shirt pocket and I saw a wrapped lollipop inside.
“Could be,” I nodded, smiling. “So what’s your favorite kind of sweet then?”
“Mainly chocolate, but I love all things sweet. And not just food.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t sure where she was going with this. “Do you mean, like pop? Wine? Like, you don’t like the taste of gin or beer?”
“Not quite,” she smiled. “Though I don’t like gin or beer, but I mean I like anything sweet. Sweet gestures. Sweet people.”
“Oh. Like people who are nice.”
“I guess that’s how you’d see it, but I like – I mean really like – sweet people. Like when your mom and stepdad came in they brought that boy who works for them along. He is super sweet.” Her smile grew beatific and she sighed. “His name’s Jordan, right?”
I nodded. “He’s, um, seeing someone though,” I said.
“I know. He has a boyfriend, who is nice, but he’s not sweet. He’s more like Fiona who is a bit more salty or something.”
“My mother has been referred to as salty more than once,” I laughed.
“But Jordan is sweet,” she cooed. “I just adore him.” She trained her gaze to me and looked me up and down in an assessing manner. “You. You’re sweet, too.” A smile bloomed across her face and that was sweet, but it also had a sultry edge to it. I felt a twinge of surprise, almost delight, but it was more a sense of feeling flattered than any true desire.
“Um, thank you,” I stammered.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You’re the kind of sweet I like, but Emily said you have a boyfriend. And I think you prefer men, too.”
I shrugged, hoping I wasn’t starting to blush. “I guess I do.”
“That’s okay,” she grinned. “Looking is free.” She gave a saucy wink and returned to her work when Emily and Zelda emerged from the back, bundling up.
“Ready to go?” Zelda asked.
I hoisted my cup in the air and gave a nod. “Let’s roll.”
We waved goodbye to Meadow as she let us out and locked the door behind us.
“Your niece is an interesting girl,” I said. “She’s … sweet.”
Emily let out a raucous laugh. “I can see she hit on you.”
I opened and closed my mouth in surprise. It wasn’t something I wanted to bring up especially in front of Zelda, and possibly not Emily either. That, “hey your 20-something niece just hit on me” line of conversation could not be anything but awkward.
“Um …” I struggled to respond.
“Don’t worry about it,” Emily said, patting my arm. “Meadow likes sweets and she likes sweet people. I knew she’d gravitate to you like a bee to honey.”
“She also likes Jordan,” I added.
“Oh, yes, she fluttered her lashes at him big time. I think he was flattered, but obviously that’s not going anywhere.”
“Has she always been like that?” Zelda asked.
“Yes. Ever since she was a young one, she gravitated toward people she deemed sweet. In a way it’s a good judge of character. If she senses a person is sweet, they’re good. If she picks up saltiness, they’re okay, but with an edge. Sours are acquired tastes. Bitters she keeps away from. I should add, since we all like to gossip, Wyatt came in the other day and promptly hit on her, but she showed zero interest even though he was laying on the charm. He walked away, defeated, and she just rolled her eyes at him. Said he was rotten.”
“That’s good to know that she’s not swayed by his good looks and fast car,” I said.
“Definitely not,” Emily agreed. “She likes pretty things, but there’d better be something good beneath the so-called frosting, too.”
Magenta Wilde is the author of the Poppy Blue paranormal fantasy series.