Mixing Up Magic, Books 1-3
Matchmaking, baking and ghosts... a recipe for disaster or a spell for success?
Two things have made me the center of the rumor mill in my quirky small town: cookies and love. Much like how I know what ingredients will make delectable treats, I also have a talent for recognizing when two souls are compatible.
The townspeople say I'm a witch. I'm not, I don't think, but I do see ghosts. And when those spirits start stirring up trouble between the couples I've connected, I need to figure out why to save my reputation and give my customers the happily-ever-afters they deserve.
Witch or no witch, one thing's for sure... ghosts, it's time to meet your baker.
This special collection contains the first three books in the Mixing Up Magic series: Cookies and Curses, Spells and Scones, and Weddings and Witchcraft. This witchy cozy mystery series features a culinary twist with a side of sweet romance. The books are a delicious read full of tasty treats, charming characters, meddling ghosts, one sassy calico cat, HEAs, and a smorgasbord of supernatural secrets to uncover.
Binge the first three books in this fun paranormal series today!
Release date: January 1, 2021
Publisher: Paisley Press Books
Print pages: 726
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Mixing Up Magic, Books 1-3
Elizabeth burst into Suncraft Bakery. “I got the job!
Joanie, I got the job!” she shouted, her brown curls bouncing against her shoulders as she came to a stop in front of the counter.
I glanced at the overhead lights. I would have sworn the room brightened as if in response to her mood. Actually, it was entirely possible. Things like that had a way of happening around here.
Her wide smile was infectious, and I easily returned it. “That’s wonderful news! I knew your interview would go well.”
She side-stepped down the row of pastry cases and poked the glass in front of her repeatedly. “And it’s all thanks to you and your spiced snickerdoodle cookie, Joanie.” Elizabeth had come in a half hour before her interview two weeks prior and bought the cookie upon my suggestion. I’d chosen that one to spice things up a bit. “They said they liked my spunk.”
“And that’s what will make you a great—what was it?— assistant activities coordinator at the nursing home?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll be working in the senior center too.”
“How wonderful! You’ll have them up and dancing in no time.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I don’t know about dancing, but I have some great ideas that I think they’re going to enjoy.” She pulled her hair up into a ponytail, securing it with a hair elastic she had been wearing around her wrist. “Hey, do you still have those cookies? I need to buy one to celebrate. It did help me get the job, after all.”
“Sure do.” I nodded at where her finger was on the glass. “You didn’t even realize you were pointing right to them. They’re one of the specials this month.”
I bent over and reached into the case, then pulled out one of the larger cookies for Elizabeth. I was genuinely happy for her landing her first real job after graduating college early in December. She’d been nervous about the interview. She had plenty of skill, passion, and experience. All she needed was a small confidence boost.
I had a reputation in town for being a witch. The good kind. I’d never agreed with the claim, laughed at it, really. I wasn’t a witch, but I knew how to read people and played up the rumors about me for the benefit of others. When I handed Elizabeth the snickerdoodle cookie the day of her interview, I’d winked. That’s all she’d needed.
I dropped the cookie into a bag and handed it to her. “Anything else I can do for you today?”
She pressed the bag to her chest and smiled. “You want to find me a guy? I have a job. Soon I’ll have an apartment. Then all I’ll need is a man. People talk. I know you got Beth and Carl together last month, and Chelsea and David are getting married soon. Everyone knows you had a hand in that.”
Smiling, I shook my head. Elizabeth wasn’t wrong. Matchmaking came easily to me. In my four years of living in Heartwood Hollow, I’d matched over a dozen couples. The skill was hereditary. I’d grown up in a small town, not unlike this one, and my mom was the town librarian. She spent her entire career in that one library and was responsible for at least a hundred matches during those nearly thirty years. When I asked Mom about it after I matched my first couple in high school, she’d told me how she did it: “You just know something about somebody when you see what books they bring up to check out.” I could only take her at her word— though I loved to read, I didn’t know books like I did baked goods—but I imagined there was a little more to it than that. I was a watcher. The way someone entered the bakery, viewed the treats in the case and picked something out, and said goodbye told me a lot about a person. Over time, I’d established friendly relationships with many of my customers. Like with Elizabeth.
“You don’t need a man to complete your life. There’s time. You’re young still.”
She sighed loudly and rolled her eyes. “And you’re too young to say that. You’re what, not even thirty? That’s what my mom said too. Doesn’t stop me from wanting one. Can’t you poof someone for me?”
I laughed, ignoring the age comment, although she wasn’t wrong with that either. I was only twenty-seven. “Poof?”
“Yeah, or whatever it is that you do. Please?” She handed me her money for the cookie.
I rang her out and gave her back her change. “It doesn’t work that way. I can’t pull someone from thin air. The perfect guy doesn’t magically appear in town just because I want him to.”
“I know, but—”
“There’s someone out there for you. It takes time. But if I find him, I’ll tell you. I promise.”
The smile that had gotten lost when she was talking about wanting a guy reappeared. She’d find someone eventually, with or without my help.
“Thanks. I gotta run—I haven’t even told my mom or brother yet—but I’ll see you soon.”
“Good to see you, and congratulations.”
Elizabeth spun on her heels, then walked toward the exit. She called over her shoulder, “And thanks for the cookie!” as she pulled the door open and stepped down onto the sidewalk.
At that moment, my assistant, Sarah, walked into the shop from the kitchen, the door swinging shut behind her. “What was all that about?”
“Elizabeth got the job she interviewed for.” “Oh, how wonderful!” Sarah clapped.
“She bought a cookie to celebrate.”
Sarah wiped her hands on her purple apron. “I wondered what was keeping you.”
“Keeping me?” I glanced in her direction with an eyebrow raised.
Sarah tapped at her wrist. “Yeah, don’t you realize what time it is?”
I looked at the clock on the register. “Ack! I need to get going! Can’t be late for teatime.”
I grabbed my small purse from under the counter and then slung it around my neck so it crossed over my body.
“Everything’s already boxed up,” Sarah said. “I’ll help you load it.”
She walked back into the kitchen, and I followed quickly behind her, untying my apron in the process and hanging it on the wall hook by the mixing station.
“Thanks.” I grabbed three packed and tied-shut yellow boxes and pushed the back door open with my hip.
“I got it.” Holding two boxes herself, Sarah held the door open, and I continued down the concrete steps to the parking lot. It was my second delivery of the day—I’d already dropped four dozen muffins off to the two town diners before the bakery even opened—so my bike was ready and waiting under the second-floor landing for the apartment above the bakery. I carefully placed my boxes into the bike trailer that reminded me of an old shopping cart, then Sarah handed me her boxes over the stair railing before dashing inside to get me one more. I held on to that one after she gave it to me. Its delivery didn’t require the bike.
“I’m going to take lunch after the deliveries, so you’re on your own for the next hour and a half. Call if you need me.”
“Sure thing. I’ll take mine when you get back. Enjoy your ride. It’s a great day for it.”
I looked up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. “It sure is.”
Pastry box in hand, I walked across the parking lot to another back door that sat kitty-corner to the bakery’s. I knocked gently with my foot. The heavy white door swung open, revealing a skinny blonde in black yoga pants and a hot-pink sports bra.
“Wonderful! You’re here. Ladies, Joanie’s here.” Kimmy, the owner of the yoga studio, ushered me inside to applause from a small class full of women in clothing similar to hers.
“Good to see everyone.” I placed the box on an empty side table and popped the tabs at the sides so it opened up completely. I slid the tray out of the box and began to unpack the five dozen cookies.
When I was done, Kimmy handed me a check. “Thanks
for these. The girls really love cheat day.”
As I slid the check into my purse, we said our goodbyes. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many of her clients stopped in after every class they took.
I exited the studio, then jogged over to my bike and hopped on, immediately taking off. Libby would have a fit if I was late for tea. First tea, anyway. The inn had two every other day and a high tea on Sundays.
At the end of the parking lot, I turned left on Founder Street toward Mill River. The road split into three at the intersection, and I headed straight toward the paved driveway of the Riverview Inn. The manicured lawn sprawled out on either side of me with large maples lining the driveway. In late winter, Libby and her husband, Billy, tapped the trees to make syrup and sugar. I regularly tried to incorporate the maple products into my baked goods. Most of my special flavors had been maple based last month to celebrate their latest harvest. They were always some of my favorite treats of the year, especially the maple cream whoopie pies.
Libby was waiting for me on the porch of the stately brick home. A mini-mansion, really. It had once been the home of Heartwood Hollow’s founder, Alfred Dunmore. He’d made his money in the logging industry, building a sawmill with waterwheel and dam downriver over a hundred and fifty years ago.
“You’re just in time,” she called as I pulled my bike to the side of the driveway closest to the path for the stairs.
I waved. “Sorry, I had a customer come in when I should have been leaving, and it’s cheat day at the yoga studio.” I still had a few minutes before I would consider myself late. She liked to have everything ready with plenty of time for her guests to arrive and see the elaborate spread. Teatime was open to members of the public, not just the guests of the ten-room inn.
“Isn’t every day cheat day?” Libby giggled as she hopped down the steps to wrap me in a motherly hug as she did every time I saw her, despite her being not much older than me.
I returned her hug and then reached into my trailer for two of the boxes. “It is for me.” I let out a slight chuckle.
“And look at you! Still so skinny! Too skinny if you ask me.” She took the top box from my hands and walked around the side of the inn toward the kitchen door.
I looked down at my frame as I followed her. I was petite, sure, but skinny wouldn’t be the word I’d use to describe myself. Perhaps she’d said that since I didn’t look like how she assumed someone who snacked on sweets all day would, even though I did. I was told once I started working with it day in and day out, I’d lose the taste for the yummy things I made. Four years into this business—plus culinary school and baking for any and every occasion when I was a kid—and
I still liked eating it all.
“So what do we have today?”
“Well, you have your typical variety of scones—ginger, blueberry, and cinnamon. We also have some spiced snickerdoodles, mini whoopie pies, and lemon drops.” I placed my box next to hers on the kitchen counter.
Libby busied herself with opening the first box. “I do so love your lemon drops. Are you staying for tea this time?”
When I first moved to town I’d been a frequent guest, but now I could rarely sneak away from the bakery. “Wish I could, but I still have to get to Town Hall and the real estate office.”
“Oh, new townspeople! I wonder which house they bought. There’s only a few for sale. Find out for me, will you? I love to know what’s going on, but the inn keeps me too busy most days. We’ve got a full house today.” She moved on to the second box and began to arrange the cookies on tiered tea trays she had already laid out.
“That’s great to hear. All the work you and Billy consistently put into this place really shows.” I turned for the door.
“Any requests for Friday?”
“Surprise me. I trust you. Have a good day, Joanie.”
“You too, Libby.”
After closing the door behind me, I pulled my bike back onto the driveway then climbed on. I still had two more deliveries to make, and my stomach was already rumbling.
My next stop was Town Hall, where I had to drop off twenty-four pieces of mocha almond biscotti for today’s meeting of the town’s selectmen. Several residents in town had told me that meetings were much more entertaining to watch before I came to Heartwood Hollow and started providing snacks. They claimed my food mellowed the selectmen out too much. I chalked it up to the best discussions and decisions happening on a full belly. Everyone got cranky when they were hungry.
I grabbed the box of biscotti and pulled a bag out of the remaining box in my trailer. Careful not to trip, I walked up the tall marble steps to the columned porch and waved at Courtney, my best friend, through the window looking into her office. She jumped up from her desk chair. Moments later, one of the large white doors opened, and Courtney held it for me as I stepped inside. She waved me toward the meeting room, and once there, I plopped the box down on the center of the table, where the selectmen would find it in a couple hours.
“Can’t stay today,” I said as I entered Courtney’s office a moment later. “I still have another delivery to make, but I brought you something.”
“You are a godsend,” she replied. “Jill called out today, so I can’t take much of a lunch break. This is just what I needed.” She took the white bag from my hand, opened it, and peered inside to see the hand-sized chocolate chip cookie. “My favorite! Oh, before you go. Drew and Megan had their baby, a little girl.”
“That’s wonderful! Congratulations to them.”
“Thought you’d like to know since you got them together.
That makes it—”
“Six now,” I answered for her. “Gotta run. Let’s catch up soon and do a girls’ night. It’s been too long.” I jogged out her door and then the building’s, waving toward her window before I carefully navigated the steps. I’d slipped on them once and never wanted to repeat that. It had hurt to sit for the next week.
I rode my bike down Main Street toward the real estate office at the end of the street. It was a quick delivery of two dozen cookies as a welcome to the neighborhood present to celebrate a closing. It was one of the first partnerships I had made when I moved to town. Give the new people free cookies and hope to gain a customer from it. So far, it had worked well. I’d have to remember to tell Libby during my Friday delivery that someone had purchased the red house by the hospital.
Circling back on Main Street, I turned left on Founder Street and pedaled over to Leafs and Grounds, the local coffee shop. I could see the corner of my bakery from its entrance. The proximity had proven dangerous over the years. I was addicted to the marshmallow rice treats there. Sure, I could easily make them myself, but something about these was so perfect, and who was I to try competing with perfection? I grabbed two of the plastic-wrapped treats off the counter as I placed my order. A creature of habit, I almost always chose the same thing. A pesto, tomato, and mozzarella panini with a bag of chips to go. Sometimes I got soup, but that was only when I could split a sandwich with Courtney.
I took my food back across Main Street to Founder’s Park, directly next to the bakery. It wasn’t much of a park at all, despite the name, because of its small size. There was little more than a few benches amongst the bushes and flower boxes. It had a tourist info booth sitting in it, a free little library box, and it was where the town placed Santa’s cottage soon after Thanksgiving each year for the holiday season. A man in a beige trench coat entered the little park with his dachshund and tipped his fedora in my direction, nodding slightly as he did. Quiet but always polite, he was another park regular. Came here every day at the same time, no matter the weather. I waved and smiled at him in return. He sat on one of the other benches and let the leash out a bit for his dog. Other than him, I rarely saw people using the park outside of the holiday season, but this was one of my favorite places in town. I loved sitting outside and watching the people come and go along Main Street while I ate.
After finishing my lunch, I rushed back to the bakery. Not only did Sarah still need to eat, but I had a feeling it was exactly where I needed to be.
The problem with that sort of feeling was it didn’t come with a timer. Alone up front a couple hours later, the sound of the door sliding open alerted me to someone entering the bakery. Four years of running the bakery and I still hadn’t invested in any sort of bell. I had yet to need one. I always managed to find myself exactly where I needed to be when a customer came in.
“Good afternoon, Joanie,” Ashley, one of my regulars, said slightly out of breath.
“How are you doing today? How was school?”
She gave me a half-hearted smile. It wasn’t like her at all. “You make me feel like I’m back in school when you ask that, and I don’t mean as staff. No one got sent to the principal’s office today, but I wrote out a ton of late passes this morning. I swear the nicer days lately have everyone stopping to smell the spring flowers.” She thumped her purse onto the counter.
“You okay? You seem a bit out of sorts.” Taking a better look at her, I noticed her blonde hair was hastily thrown into a ponytail, and she’d already wiped off her usually impeccable makeup, not that having no makeup made her any less pretty. Her bright-pink manicure had a few chips too.
“I feel out of sorts. And to top it off, I had to park down the street. I can’t parallel park, and the lot behind you is full of yogis. Actual yogis, not their cars. I jogged here. I need my afternoon pick-me-up wicked bad. What do you have?” she asked, not even looking at the case in front of her.
“I think I have what you need.” Ducking down, I reached into the cookie case. I stood back up holding a hand-sized black and white cookie. “Here you go.”
“That is massive. You’ve really outdone yourself with the size this time, Joanie. I love black and white cookies.” She took the cookie from me and immediately had a bite.
“My gram calls them half-moon cookies.” Doubting that she’d eat the whole thing while we chatted, I turned and grabbed a white wax paper bag for her. “The white part’s the moon, and the black part’s the sky.”
“I can totally see that.” She looked down at the cookie, a look of concern on her face. I handed her the bag, and she brightened. “Thanks. You always know just what I need.” She carefully placed the cookie inside and then licked the remaining frosting off her fingers. “What do I owe you?”
“Two seventy-five. Tax included.”
Ashley opened her purse, and her face dropped.
“Okay, I swear I didn’t put this in here. It magically showed up in there all by itself.” She pulled out an old hairbrush and placed it on the counter. “It just appeared on my nightstand last night and my dresser the night before. You want to know why I’m out of sorts?” She pointed to the brush. “That thing. It’s creeping me out.”
Hovering my hand over it, I asked, “May I?” Ashley nodded, and I picked up the silver-plated brush for an inspection. It was slightly tarnished but in otherwise good condition. The bristles, probably some type of synthetic material, were all intact. I flipped the brush over and studied the back’s intricate pink-painted rose design. It likely had a matching mirror at one point. My gram had a similar set when I was a kid. Probably still did.
“Is it yours?”
She shrugged. “Not really, but I guess so? It was mailed to me in a box with some other stuff. I didn’t recognize any of it. A lot of it was old. Older than I am, definitely.” She handed me exact change for the cookie and grabbed her purse off the counter.
I hadn’t been expecting that explanation. “How strange. Well, hang in there.”
“Thanks. I always feel better after coming to see you.” She held up the bag with the cookie in it. “I think you really put magic in these things.” Ashley turned to leave.
“Hey, you forgot your brush.” I held it out to her.
She spun around on her heels. “Keep it. That way it can’t follow me home. And if it somehow does, I’m burning it.”
“Um, okay. Thanks, I guess. Have a good rest of your day.” Sure I could find it a home somewhere, even if over at the antique store, I placed it next to my bag on the shelf beneath the counter where customers couldn’t see it.
Seeming lighter somehow, Ashley smiled and then walked out the door. She waved at me as she passed the storefront window. I considered her a friend. After four years of her coming into my bakery after work nearly every school day, I knew her pretty well. Plus, she was one half of my latest matchmaking endeavor.
On paper, Ashley and Rich were perfect for each other, but for whatever reason, they hadn’t made that ultimate connection. Something was standing in their way, and it was my mission to figure out what so they could be together. If I could put my finger on it, I knew I’d be able to fix whatever was coming between them.
Ashley’s departure heralded the after-school rush, as several more people came in, teachers and students alike. Ashley wasn’t the only person who liked an afternoon treat. But after the post-school rush, the bakery slowed down. It always did on Wednesdays. Like clockwork. We alternated who got to leave early as a result. It was nice to get an extra hour sometimes.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to stay?” Sarah asked as she put on her sweater and slung her bag over her shoulder. “You already let me take a longer lunch. I don’t mind if you’d rather go home early.”
“It’s okay. I have a feeling I might be needed here.”
“Why does that make me feel like I should stay too? Your witchy senses are rarely wrong.” I raised an eyebrow at her.
She gave me a sheepish grin. “What? They’re wicked accurate, even your matchmaking. What else would you call it?”
I sometimes forgot how much stock she put into the rumors. “Experience and a bit of luck. There’s nothing witchy about that.”
“If you say so. But thank you. That should give me time to make soup for Jill. She’s sick today.”
“Oh right, I didn’t see her at Town Hall. You’re going to make soup?” Sarah didn’t bake, and she certainly didn’t cook. If she could make soup, it was news to me.
She cracked a smile. “Okay, so I only need to heat it up. That totally counts.”
“Tell her I hope she feels better soon.”
“Oh, green tea with honey. That will help.”
“Thanks again. I’m covering for Lauren tomorrow, so I’ll see you in the morning.” With that, Sarah headed home, leaving me alone in the bakery.
The truth was, I looked forward to the last hour of the day on Wednesdays. With so few people coming in, I used the time to have a relaxed closing. Tomorrow would be busier as people geared up for the weekend.
I’d already consolidated and covered the remaining baked goods with covers that would keep them fresh until morning. Most of the till had been counted and placed into a bank envelope for deposit. The kitchen was swept, its counters clean. I still had a few minutes left before I could flip the sign from open to closed. I wouldn’t do it until the exact top of the hour to give anyone the last-minute chance to come in and buy something to satisfy a craving or buy the forgotten dessert for dinner.
Dusting a display shelf, I had my back turned to the checkout counter when a slight rattling against a nearby surface followed by a scuffling noise caught my attention. I glanced up, curious, but saw nothing so resumed dusting. The moment I did, it happened again. After finishing the shelf, I walked back around the counter and saw the brush Ashley had left with me three feet from where I had placed it.
I picked up the brush. It had moved, but how? Why? I placed it back on the counter where I had first put it and tried to slide it myself. It wasn’t difficult, but there was some resistance. It wouldn’t just slide on its own. I lifted the brush and gave it a slight shake. Nothing rattled.
The front door opened, and Rich walked in. I quickly plopped the brush back next to my bag on the shelf beneath the checkout counter.
“Hi, Rich, how are you today?”
He smiled politely. “I’m good, yourself?”
“Oh, the usual.” Just a brush that moves on its own. “What can I do for you?”
“I hope it’s not too late. Can I place an order for tomorrow?” Rich took off his glasses and then wiped them with a small cloth he’d pulled out of his pants pocket. He glanced up at me with his ebony eyes that were as dark as his skin. Such a handsome man, clean-cut. A good man too. I regularly heard positive things from students coming into the bakery after school. I had no doubt he was the perfect match for Ashley, and I was never wrong. He placed his glasses back on his face, then tucked the cloth into his pocket.
“Sure thing. What do you want?” I grabbed my order pad and a pen off the counter behind me.
“My AP history students have a big test in the morning, and everyone knows your muffins will give them a boost of luck.”
“Aww, that’s sweet of you. How many are in your class?”
“Eight. Last fall, Robbie got a near-perfect SAT score, and he had one of your muffins for breakfast that morning.”
I smiled. Like Elizabeth sharing her news about her job this morning, Robbie had come running in here to tell me his score, waving the envelope with the results in his hand. “I heard about that.”
“Word got around school, as it usually does. So it’s become ritual for me to give them something special, but it slipped my mind, which is why I’m here now. Did you know that there’s only one teacher in the school who will still give tests on Tuesdays? Everyone else makes sure you’re open, just in case.”
“Just in case?” I repeated.
He leaned in slightly as if to tell me a secret. “Yeah, you know, just in case the good luck is real.”
“Oh, I see. So eight muffins, or do you want one for yourself?”
“Just the eight.” He chuckled. “I don’t have a test to take.” He looked down and straightened his bowtie. Could this man get any more adorable? I could see he was toeing around something else. I had a good idea what. He didn’t have a test, but maybe he needed a bit of luck.
“I saw Ashley today. You missed her by an hour.”
Something shuffled and hit the floor near my foot with a slight clank, loud enough for only me to hear. Perhaps Ashley hadn’t been wrong about the brush showing up in her purse. I suspected that it had moved on its own. Again. I had placed it down in a spot where it couldn’t move accidentally. And if it wasn’t an accident, then something or someone had moved it.
“Oh yeah?” His eyes lit up a bit. “I had cross-country practice. They have a meet on Saturday in Snowhaven.”
Beyond the small flicker in his eyes, Rich didn’t take the bait. Rather than press him on it, I asked, “Do you need good luck muffins for that too?”
“How about some pastries for after? They might run faster knowing what’s waiting for them at the end on the bus ride home.”
“I can do that.” I wrote it down on the order form with the muffins.
“Thanks.” He sighed, long and hard, then scrubbed his face with his hand. “Fine. I came in here for more than the muffins. Ashley. How did she seem? Is she okay? Did she say anything about me?”
At the mention of Ashley’s name, the scuffling noise resumed. The brush was on the move, sliding across the floor. Such a curious thing. I’d need to study it further when I got home.
“Well, if you’re asking if she’s come in for a special treat to soothe an aching heart or spice up her love life, the answer is no. What’s up? I thought things were going well.”
“They were, and they are . . . sometimes.” I cocked my head to the side, urging him to continue. “I like her, and I think she likes me. She lights up when I visit the junior high and stop in to see her in the office. We’ve been out a few times, and the dates haven’t been bad, but—” He paused and shook his head rapidly as if chasing away a thought. “I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it.”
Perhaps their problem was that they were each too into their own heads. If they’d let go a little, they’d be perfect and wouldn’t be having a problem. “You should try talking to her about it. Clear the air.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I am. Haven’t you heard I have a knack for these things?” I winked at him and grinned broadly to play up the shtick.
He shrugged. Boy, he was a tough cookie today. His Ashley troubles were really getting to him.
“Hold on. I know just the thing.” I reached under one of the tray covers and pulled out a spiced snickerdoodle, the kind Elizabeth liked so much and claimed had given her the confidence and spark she’d needed for her interview.
“Here.” As I handed Rich the cookie, I spotted an old man standing silently in the back corner of the bakery. A thick silver-white mustache stood out against his dark skin, and his tightly curled hair was more white than gray. He was wearing an outdated small-checkered suit coat over a green button-up shirt and pleated brown trousers. His hands rested casually in his pants pockets, but he stared at Rich with an intensity I couldn’t decipher.
Rich dug out his wallet and tried to hand me a five-dollar bill, but I couldn’t stop looking at the older man. I had no doubt about it. This man, whoever he was and however he was connected to Rich, was a ghost. I’d been able to see them since I was a kid. Some I saw regularly, like the man walking his dachshund earlier. But this ghost was new to me. Added to the possibly possessed hairbrush, I had to wonder, what was going on?
“It’s on the house, Rich. You need it.”
He pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow at me. “You know I don’t believe in this, right? A cookie isn’t going to make me magically feel better.”
Trying to stay focused on my living customer, I crossed my arms and lifted an eyebrow of my own. “Says the man who bought good luck muffins for his students.”
He threw his arms up in surrender and laughed. “I don’t, truly. There’s no such thing as magic. But they believe it, which is what matters.”
“Fine. And for the record, I agree with you. It isn’t magic, but who’s never felt better after a cookie?”
Rich bit into the snickerdoodle, one hand under his chin to catch crumbs. “Mmm . . . this is good.” He took another bite, closing his eyes as he chewed. He licked his lips slightly, then thanked me.
“See? Feeling better already.”
“Gotta hand it to you. You’re right. I am. Maybe there is a bit of magic in your cookies.” He stole another bite as he looked at his watch. “Oh goodness, it’s getting late. I’m sorry to have kept you.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I still have a bit to do before I can officially call it a day.” I glanced at the corner of the bakery. The ghost was still there, still staring. Who was he to Rich?
“Well, I’ll let you get to it.” Rich tapped on the counter. “Have a good night.”
“You too.” I walked around the counter to follow Rich and his ghost toward the door. The ghost paid no attention to me even though I was hot on his heels. He hadn’t realized I could see him, which was fine by me. It wasn’t something I had wanted to draw attention to. One didn’t wave to a third person in the corner when there were only supposed to be two people in the room. I was already dealing with the rumors about my being a witch. Although those seemed to bring me more business, I didn’t need new rumors spread through town about my seeing ghosts, especially when those would be true.
Rich and his ghost exited the shop, and when the door shut, I locked it behind them and flipped the store sign to closed. Still eating his cookie, Rich walked down the sidewalk, the ghost following him. But when Rich reached the corner, the ghost blinked out of sight.
I knew he wasn’t gone for good, though. I’d be seeing him again, for sure.
Once Rich was out of view, I drew the shades and turned around, hands on my hips.
Now, where was that brush?
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