fairytalewitch: (Stories)
[personal profile] fairytalewitch
Milieu: Blacktree
POV Character: Sophrosyne "Sophie" Knight
Wordcount: 3,569 words

The middle of the week during standard working hours, business is slower than a snail crawling through wet cement. I've done inventory. I've dusted and swept. I've done an impromptu Cleansing and tweaked the Wards. I'm now five minutes from grabing a spell book without looking, opening it to a random page, and casting whatever spell it lands on just to relieve the monotony. Trust me, a bored witch is a bad witch, no matter what our affiliations are.

I'm mulling over the pros and cons of unleashing a hoard of Chaos Beasts when the bell over the shop door jangles. Simultaneously, something twangs my Wards just a tiny bit. Whoever has just walked in must be plagued by some kind of negative energy. The average person is. It's as natural as the air and as toxic as cigarette smoke.

The young woman who enters looks normal enough. Not, mind you, that I'm a good judge of normalcy. But she isn't bedecked in 'witchy' jewelry and she's not dressed head-to-toe in black. She's very pretty though. Homecoming Queen beautiful. She looks nervous, glancing around, careful not to brush up against anything that's on display more like she's afraid that it will bite her than that she'll break it and have to buy it. I give her a quick, reassuring smile to keep her from bolting. I don't need the business as much as I need the novelty. Opening up a Hellmouth was starting to sound alarmingly like a reasonable idea.

"Good afternoon. Welcome to Mr. E's. May I help you with anything?"

She relaxeds when I don't start cackling and rubbing my hands together, and steps up to the counter. We're about at eye-level, putting her at 5'6" or so. Her dark hair is pulled up into a sleek knot and she's wearing expertly-applied makeup, emphasizing my impression of her as some kind of beauty queen. When she smiles back her teeth are unnaturally straight and white.

"Well. This is embarrassing and it might sound a little crazy..." She hesitates, fidgeting with the hem of her cashmere sweater. "I think my ex boyfriend put some kind of curse on me. I was hoping you can help me figure out if I'm being paranoid or I need to go skinny dipping in a pool of holy water, or something." The slight, amused smile is self-depreciating but the anxiety in her brown eyes is very real.

If I had a doller for every time somebody's come to me thinking they're cursed I could retire to my own castle in Scotland. Ninety-nine point umpity times it's a run-in with Murphey's Law mixed with anxiety and superstition. Something tells me this girl knows that. I tilt my head to study her. Something about her does seem out of whack. Even if she isn't cursed she needs to figure out what really is wrong and fix it.

Okay, I'm up for that.

"All right. We can start there. Have you ever had a tarot reading?"

She nods. "My yaya used to do that. She didn't speak English though so I never learned from her and I don't know what Dad did with her cards."

That's a good start. She doesn't seem to have a head filled with fluff. "Then we can jump right in. Would you like a cup of tea before we get started?"

She accepts a cup of mint tea from the single-serving beverage maker that my sister got me for Solstice last year. I grab a cup of the same. Mint is good for clearing and sharpening the mind and besides, if we're drinking the same beverage and focusing on the same thing during the reading it can help strengthen the connection. I know that sounds silly but I know other Readers who swear by it and I've had it work in my own practices.

The Reading Room, as the sign above the door says, is actually fairly spacious. There's a window that can be opened a crack for the claustrophobic. The room has been soundproofed. The candles are in sconces set in the wall well away from the danger of clients who talk with their hands. I aired it out as part of my cleaning spree so the lingering scent of incense isn't as thick as it usually is. The chairs are sturdy, fresh-painted a pale china blue, and have Walmart seat cushions on them. The table is covered in unadorned purple cloth. The area is deliberately unintimidating, but disappointing to those who come in expecting the whole 'mystic fortune teller' schtick.

She doesn't seem disappointed. She sits across from me and crosses her legs, folding her hands over her knee. I can see her going through a simple relaxation exercise. Very, very good. This girl is certainly interesting. I take my seat across from her and lean forward just enough to show interest.

"Tell me about your ex. Why do you think he cursed you?"

"The reason? I broke up with him. We were supposed to get married, but he was acting like I was already his property, prying into my business, telling me who I could hang out with, freaking out if I went to the movies with friends and he wasn't invited. So I told him to get a blow-up doll and leave me alone."

It's a good thing I'm not drinking the tea in front of me as she says this last bit. I'd have sprayed it. I wasn't expecting that to come out of her perfectly-painted little mouth. I manage to keep a straight face and nod. "That sounds like a very good decision. I take it he wasn't okay with that?"

She shakes her head, takes a sip of tea, puts the cup back down. "Not even a little bit. He tried to persuade me to stay at first, promised to treat me better while at the same time denying that he was even treating me badly in the first place. When I kept telling him no he went from begging to cussing me out and calling me names that don't bare repeating."

She doesn't have to. I know the type and they're fairly unoriginal. Nasty, but lacking in imagination.

"Does anyone else know about this?" Basic safety. Don't keep things like this a secret. Unfortunately most people do, because they're embarrassed or don't want to come across as a bitch. But this girl nods. "Yes. My friends have all seen how he's been behaving. And when he confronted me last time I recorded it on my phone. He was pretty drunk."

Oh, good girl! Somebody raised her with common sense as well as beauty. "Hang onto that. Send a copy to a friend just in case."

"I already did," she flashes that smile. "But you're probably wondering why I think he's actually capable of cursing me and actually did it."

"That's something I was going to ask, yes."

She pulls her cell phone out of her designer purse, bringing up the voice recorder app. The young man's words are definitely slurred enough to peg him as being sloshed.

"You'll regret this, bitch! Nobody tells me no and gets away with it! I kept stuff that belongs to you, and I'll use it to make your life hell. Boils will be just the beginning."

Well. That sounds like a plausible threat. But that doesn't mean he's capable of pulling it off. I have two dozen spell books in the bookstore section of the shop that talks about using somebody's belongings or 'personal concerns' to do magic on them. Very few work in any real kind of way.

"And you think he followed through on his threat?"

She nods, just a little jerk of her chin. "I do. Um, I hope you'll excuse me but I have to show you..."

I motion for her to procede and she gingerly lifts up her sweater. She's wearing a sport bra underneath, which isn't the usual kind of thing one wears with a cashmere sweater. But the reason for the sport bra - and for that matter, the chasmere - is immediately obvious. The seeping blisters start right between her breasts and spread outward, up almost to her collarbone and down to her floating ribs. With her sweater up she smells like some kind of cream, probably Cortazone, with a tinge of infection beneath.

"That certainly looks like boils to me," I say, trying to sound off-hand and professional. Inwardly I'm wincing. "You went to a doctor?"

She nods. "Our family practitioner, a dermatologist, and an allergist. They all had different opinions about what's causing it. The dermatologist gave me a cream that's helping with the burning itch but it won't make it go away."

When she pulls her sweater down I select a deck of cards from the boxes on the shelf behind me. I've used all of them. She shuffles a little clumsily, probably used to handling playing cards which are about a third of the size of the deck I handed her. She cuts the deck the way I tell her to and hands it back to me.

"To start with, we'll do a basic yes or no. So, is your rash the result of your ex boyfriend cursing you?" I draw one card at random. Most Readers, including my Mom, draw from the top of the deck but I prefer the 'pick a card, any card' approach. The card I lay down in the middle of the table is the Devil.

Well, crap. I lean back in my chair, staring at the card and tapping my foot slightly under the table. In this particular context the answer is pretty damn clear. He is. I draw another card to confirm, and again in the context of the situation it's a yes. One more, just to be really sure. Another affirmative. Each card is a warning. A brash, entitled man with at least some real power is pissed at her and means to keep hurting her.

She looks a little shaken as I walk her through the reading. I don't blame her. The little pissant is already making her miserable and he did warn that this was just the beginning. Gods know how he'll escalate.

"Do you have anything of his? A picture? Something with his handwriting?" Sympathetic linkage goes both ways, and odds are I'm better at taking advantage of it than some ill-raised fratboy.

"I have pictures on my phone, and some at my house," she says. "I may also have something he wrote on. Then there's this."

She takes a ring box out of her purse and I fight the urge to whistle when she opens it. The center diamond is easily one of the largest I've ever seen, and the smaller diamonds that surround it are exquisite. The workmanship of the band is breathtaking.

"Holy damn. Who did you break up with? A Bellamy?"

The Bellamy family is hands down the richest family in Blacktree. Hell, they founded Blacktree. And I've never met a Bellamy that isn't an arrogant jackass at best, evil demonolater at worst.

"Yes, actually." She removes the ring from its box and turns it so I can see the inscription on the inside of the band: MB heart JC forever. "Marcus Belamy. His father and my father came to some kind of agreement. My dad told me that Marc was going to propose and I'd better say yes."

Eff. Em. Ell. Well, I was looking for something interesting to do. I of all people should know to be careful what I wish for.

"So. Marc can and did curse you for breaking the engagement. How are the fathers taking it?"

She puts the ring away. "My father's trying to talk me into sticking it out. He says that Marc is just 'old fashioned.' In this case, old-fashioned means 'misogynist snotwad.' Marc's father isn't making a fuss, yet. He' says he's sure Marc and I will make up and things will continue according to plan."

I like this girl. Why she's mixed up with the Bellamy family I don't quite know, but arranging marriages is still a thriving practice for families like that. Actually, ours too but the people involved are free to say no thank you and look elsewhere for a suitable partner. I take a deep breath.

"Okay. What faith do you profess?"

"My yaya was Catholic, but my parents go to the (Church). I guess I..." She bites her lip. I want to know what the hell kind of lipstick she's wearing because when she removes her lower lip from between her teeth it's pristine and there's no red stain on her teeth. "I have my yaya's rosary and some other things of hers.."

"That's perfect," I nod, trying to look encouraging. "Pray the rosary before bed, when you wake up in the morning, and any time you feel the need. Think of your grandmother. Talk to her if you feel like it. I'll whip up something that should take care of that rash, and I'll get back to you when I've figured out how to keep him from hurting you further,"

And maybe a little payback. The kid deserves it, and any day I get to thump a Bellamy brat is a good day.

I put the cards aside to cleanse when she's gone. She waits for me by the counter while I step into the workroom. I've got a piece of paper that she's written his full name and birthday as well as her own. Jacqueline Cardona is a pretty name, and there's no way I'm going to let her have to change it to Jacqueline Bellamy.

I mix up a bottle of what will pass as just pure water, charge it with the energy needed to cleanse and heal the site of the rash and keep it from spreading further, and write the instructions for its use on an index card.

"How much do I owe you?" She reaches into her purse for her wallet.

I shake my head. "Keep your money until we get rid of this creep. And from now on try to never be alone anywhere. When his magic starts to fail he may try more mundane means of coercion."

"If he hits me I'll have his huevos for golf balls," she says with a slight jut of her chin.

OOooh she's a fiesty one. Way more than a Bellamy deserves let alone can handle. Which doesn't track with one thing that I know about Bellamy men. They marry women who are raised and socialized to be meek and obedient. This girl is anything but.

Grandad and Gran are keeping dinner waiting for me. I'd left the shop at closing time and driven straight into the city. When I get to the loft the table is set for three. A girl in a maid uniform takes my jacket but I hang onto my bag. Grandad enfulfs me in a big, tight hug almost as soon as I've shrugged out of my jacket. He smells like the peppermint drops he's always eating, his aftershave, and some kind of antisceptic. I hang on just a moment longer, kissing his cheek before stepping away.

Gran's greeting is more formal, kisses to both cheeks, no actual hug. Very European. But that's been her way for as long as I can remember. I don't take her impersonal nature personally, the way my mom does. She smells like expensive perfume and a lingering whiff of really good coffee. I make a mental note to snag some for mom on the way out.

Dinner before business. We make polite small talk. Well, Gran and I do. Grandad asks more earnestly about my cousin Brenna's twins, how the shop is going, how has my cousin Sammy really been, and on in that vein. Gran listens, attentive but only making occasional effort to contribute to the conversation. That's okay. The meal itself is excellent. Gran and Grandad don't cook. Gran has an arrangement with a restaurant that she likes. She orders dinner and a bottle of wine to go with it, and the guy who drives them around and does their errands picks it up. Gran just plates it. I don't even want to think about how much that probably costs.

As the maid clears the table we withdraw into the sitting room with our final glasses of wine. This room is even more soundproof than the shop's Reading Room - and a lot bigger and cozier. I annoy Gran by kicking off my shoes and sitting cross-legged on my end of the sofa, She sits more primmly across from me. Grandad sits leaning forward doing that head-tilt thing that most of his kids and grandkids either inherited or unconsciously copy, incuding me.

Normally I wouldn't discuss a Reading with anyone other than the client. This time, I have to. The Bellamy family is involved and that's one of the topics I've been ordered to bring straight to the Grand Dame. Who currently is also my maternal grandmother.

"Well," she says, studying the photo of Jacqueline and Marcus that Jacqueline had texted to my phone. "If the choice was based purely upon aesthetics I can see why the Bellamy family would be interested in her. But, pretty is as pretty does."

She hands me back the phone. I forward the picture to her then lay out the other things that Jacqueline gave me on the coffee table. A sample of Marcus' handwriting. His and her full names and birthdays written out in her handwriting. One of his school neckties. No surprise he and Jacqueline go to the Academy. It's an invitation only private college funded entirely by the uppity-ups like the Bellamys. I'm not sure who Jacqueline's family is, but I bet she's only studying there because of her would-be future father-in-law.

"They don't base their choice on looks, though," Grandad points out. "They're certainly a bonus but beauty can be bought. And you say she isn't the usual personality type?"

"Not by a country mile."

Silence for a moment while my grandparents think, looking sidelong at each other over their wine glasses. They've been partners for so long they don't need to share what they're thinking with each other out loud. And unfortunately, they're thinking what I'm thinking.

"So. Her grandmother was a Reader, you say? She must have been chosen in the hopes of adding some kind of Talent or natural inclination to the gene pool." Gran says it matter-of-factly, but I want to gag.

Grandad doesn't help my digestion. "And if she's unsuitable personality-wise, it's likely she'll be isolated until she provides an heir or two, then she'll meet some kind of accident. And Marcus Bellamy will mourn for a while then go on to marry a woman more suited to their needs and taste."

Gran nods, setting her glass aside. "This is much bigger than a rash. In fact I'm glad he did curse her. If he hadn't we would have never found out about this, she'd wind up dead within a handful of years, and the Bellamy family would be stronger in the forthcoming generation."

"So what do we do about it?" I demand more sharply than I intend. It doesn't do to raise ones voice to the Grand Dame, grandmother or not.

She lets it slide, running her finger around the rim of her glass to produce a low, sweet sound. "Give me some time to think about it and consult some others. Can you get the curse off of her and prevent him from doing her further harm of that nature?"

I nod. "I can. It'll take more than one session and I'll have to sever any psychic bonds between her and him."

"Won't that tip him off?" Grandad asks, frowning slightly.

"It will," Gran says with a small sigh. "You won't be able to do it all at once. Weakening it gradually will help and buy us time to come up with a plan for how to get this girl away from the Bellamy family altogether. I do like your rash water."

Praise from the Grand Dame, even slight praise, is so rare it took me a moment to register it. I bow my head slightly in acknowledgement. "I'll forward you the recipe."

"Why is it always boils?" Grandad pretends to grump. "Can't you people come up with something more original?"

"Would you like all of your ball hair to become ingrown, Grandad?" I ask politely.

Gran actually splorfs her wine.

I spend the night in the guest room, eat breakfast with Grandad, and drive home. Angela has opened the shop by the time I get in. She's sitting slumped over the counter reading one of the newer books on Wicca, guffawing now and then. She glances up from it and raises an eyebrow at me as I come in.

"I got a message from the Grand Dame. Good catch."

I grin at her a bit, making a beeline for the tea pot. Traffic between Blacktree and Chicago was hellish even though I was going in the opposite direction of the main flow of it. I shouldn't have let Grandad talk me into waiting until it was daylight to leave. But it's hard to say no to Grandad.
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fairytalewitch: (Default)
Rosalyn Kelly

September 2017

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