IT WASN’T LIKE I’d meant to send Rafe across the line and through the veil that separated our world from the spirit world. It’s just that, well, these things happened with me. On my best days, I’d only spill coffee on my dress. On my worst, well, I’d screw up a magick spell or two.
Some with worse consequences than others.
I wasn’t going to point out that it was my tendency to make mistakes in magick that had first gifted Miss Elva, our resident voodoo priestess and magickal goddess, with the annoyance we had come to know and love – well, tolerate – as Rafe. But as I looked at the stubborn set of her jaw, I was convinced that I should hold that little reminder in my back pocket while she worked herself down from a rage.
A silent Miss Elva was a terrifying thing, that’s for sure.
“We’ll get him back,” Luna, my best friend and business partner, stepped between the two of us like a referee ready for a cage match. “We can get him back. He can’t have gone all that far.”
“We can’t do another spirit summoning spell this close to the last one. It’s far too dangerous,” Miss Elva said. Her hands landed on her waist and I felt my shoulders hunch as I waited for her to berate me.
“We’ll figure it out. We always do,” Luna promised.
“Or, you know, maybe we live without him for a bit and see if we like it?” I said.
Oops. Miss Elva’s eyes widened and she sucked in her breath, sounding like a bull about to charge. Luna turned on me, her mouth rounded in shock.
I’m Althea Rose and today might just be my last day on Earth.
“How can you say that after all he’s done for you?” Miss Elva crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her neon trainers on the floor.
“Erm…what exactly has he done for me again?” I skirted the table on my back porch and eased toward the door that went into my house. We’d just dispatched an entire yard full of zombies, and if there was ever a time that called for a drink – it was now.
“Rafe has a mouth that doesn’t measure up for what he’s packing down there, if you get what I’m saying.” Rosita, a madam ghost that had known Rafe when they were both alive, shrugged one shoulder and flitted past me. “He’s been nothing but a jerk to Althea. Why should she care?”
“Because I like Rafe and Althea is my friend.” Miss Elva said this quietly. Again, a soft-spoken Miss Elva was far more terrifying than a loud one. My stomach instantly twisted in knots.
“You’re right, Miss Elva. I don’t particularly care for Rafe, but he’s grown on me in his own weird way. And I know he means something to you.” What that was, I couldn’t say, but I held that part back. “I’ll do my best to help you get him back. How soon can we do a spell?”
“If you actually care about me, you’ll take your damn magick seriously for once. We can’t do a spell until the next full moon.”
“But…why? You two are powerful enough. Can’t you bring him back?” I was decidedly close to whining, I realized, and bit my lip as I guiltily eyed Miss Elva.
“Your magick is attached to both his arrival here and his departure. It’s your signature we’ll need to pull him back through.” Luna gave me a serious look. I knew that look. It meant I was about to be subject to a long talk about responsibility and claiming my magick. How do I know? Well, I’d heard this talk a time or two before. The problem was that we’d been so busy lately that I’d barely had time to help my regular clientele, let alone attend magick university or whatever.
Okay, maybe I’d avoided studying up on it as well. I don’t know why, really. You’d think I’d be super enthused to know that I carried more power than just my psychic abilities. I think there was a part of me that resisted because I wasn’t ready for change. I liked my life as it was. Running the Luna Rose Tarot & Potions shop with Luna made me happy. My fear was, if I added more magick in, then more would be required of me. When, in all reality, sometimes less was more. I wanted balance in my life, not more responsibilities. Magick certainly felt like a pretty big responsibility to me. But it didn’t look like my life was going to slow down anytime soon, so perhaps not embracing my magick was doing my friends a disservice.
“Miss Elva.” I walked over to her and put my hands on her arms, meeting her warm brown eyes. “I promise I will do everything in my power to bring Rafe back.”
“I’ll hold you to that. I’m so stressed out now! I have to go shopping to calm down.” Miss Elva grabbed her tote bag.
“Um, where are you going shopping? Most of the stores are closed.” Luna pointed out as she picked up her bag.
“Didn’t I tell you my new thing? I follow these Instagram Live shows. My favorites are the vintage jewelry ones. They try all the pieces on and you can bid on them.”
“I wasn’t aware you were even on Instagram.” I arched a brow at Miss Elva in surprise.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve got fifty thousand followers on Instagram. I post several times a day. I have pre-orders for my Elva line that are pages long. I can’t believe you don’t follow me.” Miss Elva shot me another disapproving look. And here I’d thought we could move on from her low opinion of me…
“I…I don’t have an Instagram account,” I admitted.
“I swear…” Miss Elva clucked her tongue and shook her head. “It’s like…what are you doing with your time all day? You should be building up a social media presence for your business. Studying your magick. Leveling up, Althea. Don’t you agree?”
“Um, yes?” I asked. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Miss Elva that much of my free time was spent finding new things to season my popcorn with and obsessively reading celebrity gossip magazines.
“That’s what I thought. I expect more of you going forward, Althea.”
I was left at my front door with a serving full of disapproval and a backyard full of bodies that the coroner’s team was doing their best to dispose of. As days went, I’d score it pretty closely with either when I lost my virginity and learned that sex does not automatically come with a side of orgasms or the day that I peed my pants in third grade. It was a toss-up really.
AFTER DECIDING that the time for personal growth wasn’t when a team of government personnel were discretely disposing of dismembered body parts in my backyard, I holed up in my bedroom with Hank, my adorable Boston Terrier, and a two-pound bag of Gardetto’s to watch a television show about housewives who had too much time and money on their hands. I woke, groggy, with a pretzel stuck to my cheek and the doorbell ringing downstairs. Hank shot off the bed in a flurry of barks and raced downstairs to defend his territory.
“Shit.” I picked the pretzel off my face and briefly contemplated eating it, before shoving myself off the bed and standing up. I pulled a soft robe in a red tie-dye print from where I’d thrown it over my chair and wrapped it around my body before padding slowly downstairs. Hank danced by the front door, letting out intermittent yelps, and glanced over his shoulder at me as though to urge me to hurry up. Pausing at the door, I took a deep breath and reminded myself to only open it a crack. I had learned my lesson after my last foray into being gossip magazine fodder, and I could guarantee that I was not remotely camera ready. If there was a news truck on my doorstep, I would snap that door closed faster than a stripper tucking a dollar in her bra.
But when I saw who was on my doorstep, everything was forgotten as I flew out of the door.
Abigail Rose, psychic to the stars, posed on my front porch in leather pants, a glittering t-shirt, with a slouchy bag on her shoulder. Her flaming red hair was artfully arranged, her eyes shaded by Chanel, and her lipstick precisely applied. She pursed her lips briefly as she glanced down at my robe.
“I know. Don’t judge. I have a doozy of a story for you.” I threw my arms around my mom, tears pricking my eyes as her arms came around me and pulled me in for a tight hug where she swayed lightly back and forth like a metronome.
“I’ve missed you. And, while I was meant to be on my way to the Seychelles, my guides insisted I was needed here. We canceled our trip and turned right around. What’s wrong, darling?”
“We?” I asked. Pulling back, I peered around my mother to see my father, Mitchell Rose, pulling luggage from the trunk of a rental car. In a rumpled tie-dye t-shirt from Grateful Dead’s ’72 tour, loose cargo shorts, and white socks and tennis shoes, he was every aging hippie I’d ever seen. How my endlessly fashionable mother hadn’t managed to steamroll him into dressing differently was still a mystery to me – but I loved him the more for it.
“Hiya, pudding. Nice robe!” Dad waved to me while he cheerfully lugged bags onto my porch.
Then it hit me. Bags. On my porch.
“Are you staying with me?” I asked, trying not to imply that I wasn’t enthused about the idea.
“Naturally, honey. You know we don’t like that motel downtown. Particularly since the last murder there.” My mother sniffed and then bent down to pick up Hank. More points in her favor – Abigail Rose could be wearing thousands of dollars in Chanel and she wouldn’t blink an eye at picking up my dog and cuddling him close, like he was her grandson. I couldn’t resent someone who didn’t give two hoots about dog hair on her fancy clothes. “There’s my sweet angel baby. Have you been getting fed enough? He feels skinny to me, Althea.”
“He’s an active pup,” I said. Dad reached me and pulled me into his arms and I inhaled the comforting scent of cinnamon gum and…incense? I’ll call it incense. Just in case there were still a few police officers wandering my property.
“You look tired,” Dad said.
“I am. Come in, come in. Let’s get off the porch.” I peered down the street to make sure there weren’t any news vans before turning to go back inside. Walking across the living room, I paused at my sliding glass doors to survey the yard. Miraculously, it seemed like the team had done its job and aside from my destroyed tomato plants and trampled grass, there were no other indications of the turmoil from yesterday. Like stray body parts. “Hank has to go outside, Mom.”
“Of course, he does. Does my sweet baby need to make potty wotty?” Abigail crooned to Hank as she carried him through the house, leaving her bags to be brought in behind her. Hank licked her face in response and she laughed. “That’s a good boy then. Let’s take care of your business so we can all sit down with an espresso and have a chat about why your mama looks like she just rode out a hurricane.”
“I only have coffee, Mom,” I said cheerfully as I opened the door for Hank. Her little hiss of disapproval made me smile as I watched Hank race outside and run around the yard. He had to sniff all the scents and re-mark his territory, and I knew it would take him a while. Walking further outside, I doublechecked that the police had locked my gate and that Hank had a safe area to run around, before I returned to my kitchen and sized up my parents.
“I raised you better than this.” My mom turned to me, holding my coffee pot in her hand.
“You’ve been in Europe too long,” I said. “I just make a quick cup of coffee and then I’m out the door.”
My mother slid my father a look and he laughed.
“I’ll take care of it, love. But, you haven’t gotten so high and mighty that you can’t enjoy a simple cup of coffee with your daughter right now, have you?”
“No, of course not.” My mother looked at him as though he’d accused her of stealing handbags. “I am perfectly capable of drinking straight coffee.