It wasn’t hard to ditch Rebecca the next day and go to Yanna Maria’s. Jolie left directly from her last class without going to her locker and hurried off campus.
“Yanna Maria, I need to ask you--”
“I will teach you nothing, foolish girl,” the fortune teller said petulantly as Jolie entered the shop. “You think you can do this all on your own. You know nothing.” She waved her hand in dismissal and flounced off into the back room.
Jolie stood in the shop uncertain what to do. Who else could she ask? No one. Swallowing her pride, she took the broom from the corner and began to sweep the floor.
“Wax on, wax off,” she muttered the classic line from Karate Kid.
A leggy business woman in a fitted gray suit jacket and skirt, her dark hair pulled into a professional chignon, came in. She did not wait to be invited or greeted, instead, she walked directly to the back room as if she knew the way and was expected.
There was an excited conversation between the two women, most of it in Spanish. Ten minutes later the woman emerged, sweeping past Jolie as if she did not exist. Jolie craned her neck to see out the shop’s big front window. The business woman got into a silver Spyder and drove away.
Yanna Maria came to the doorway of her reading room. Holding aside one drape, she watched Jolie sweep a pile of dirt into a dust pan and empty it into the garbage. No one told her to do it, but Jolie took a spray bottle out from under the counter, found a roll of paper towels, and began cleaning the fingerprints off the shop’s glass door.
“Humph.” The fortune teller dropped the drape behind her and retreated into the back room. As Jolie moved on to washing the big front window, she could hear Yanna Maria talking on the phone in Spanish accompanied by the soft click of cards being laid out on the table. She was giving readings to clients over the phone.
Who was this woman, really? Jolie recognized how little she knew.
The front door bells jingled and a young Latino man, in work clothes and heavy boots, entered the shop. His jeans were spattered with mud, and he smelled like freshly mown grass. Jolie looked out the window. The truck, now parked where the Spyder had been, was a recent model, clean and waxed with Guillermo’s Lawn and Garden Service on the doors in vinyl lettering. The trailer behind it held a lawn mower, wheel barrow, shovels, and rakes.
He, too, went into the back room, and Jolie could hear him and Yanna Maria talking, though she could not hear what they said. When the landscaper came back out, Jolie caught a glimpse of Yanna slipping a roll of paper money into her cleavage.
“So you are the new girl?” the landscaper, presumably Guillermo, studied Jolie. “Helping our Madrina out, eh?”
“It’s no big deal,” Jolie replied.
“Washing windows? No, it isn’t. Anyone can do that, but what the santara does; now that is special.”
“I guess.” Jolie shrugged, noncommittally.
“You guess? What are you doing here, little girl?”
“Nothing. Yanna Maria just asked me to help out a little is all.”
“And what favor did you ask of her?”
Red flags went up in Jolie’s head. “Nothing,” she lied.
He examined her again, more closely. “What are you, Gringa, Latino, Black?”
Jolie stopped wiping the glass. “What I am is none of your business.”
The lines of Guillermo’s face set like concrete. “We don’t like outsiders coming around our ways and making trouble for us,” he said, threateningly.
“I’m not here to take anything from you or Yanna Maria. I’m just helping clean up around the shop because she asked me to. There’s a toilet brush in the bathroom if you want to pitch in.” Jolie went back to polishing the window.
Yanna Maria opened the back room drape.
“Leave Jolie alone, Guillermo. She has work to do.”
“I’m not stopping her, Madrina. I’m just supervising, making sure she does a good job for you.” He leaned back against the display case and crossed his arms over his chest. Rick’s El Camino pulled up in front of the shop.
“This girl, she is full of fear, Madrina,” Guillermo informed the fortune teller. “Look at her. She is like a scared rabbit.”
Heat began to rise from the depths within Jolie where the demon lurked. The anger she felt was part her own, part something foreign and unnatural, but it made her feel powerful and much bigger than her own small self.
“Oh, she didn’t like that, did she?” Guillermo taunted. “Are you sure you want to teach this one, Madrina?”
“Who said I was teaching her?” Yanna Maria snapped, her eyes searching the room as if looking for something. “You know better than to make assumptions about me and my business, nephew.”
“I do.” Guillermo grinned.
Rick was sitting in his truck, talking on his cell phone, but any minute he could look up and see Jolie.
She could not be here.
“I have to go.” She set down the spray bottle and tossed the paper towel in the waste basket.
“What? Right now?” Yanna Maria’s eyes narrowed. “But we haven’t finished yet.”
“I think maybe we have,” Jolie looked from Yanna Maria to the truck outside. She didn’t know what the fortuneteller’s game was, but no matter how talented or knowledgeable she was, if she was connected to Rick, Jolie wanted no part of it.
“You haven’t even finished washing the window,” the heavy woman argued.
Jolie didn’t care. “Get your gardener to do it,” she said, flippantly.
Guillermo laughed. “I think you forgot to give this one the speech about obedience, Madrina.”
“Shut up, Guillermo!” She told him, impatiently, continuing to seek the source of the strange energy rising in the room.
Closer to the surface than Jolie had ever felt when awake, the pressure of the demon’s desire pulsated through her as it prowled just behind her eyes. It’s attention zeroed in on the mocking gardener.
A demonic growl escaped Jolie’s lips, issuing from deep in her belly. The demon was waking, ready to test its boundaries to find a place from which it could act.
“I have to go.” Jolie headed for the back door that opened onto the alley behind the mini-mall.
Yanna Maria blocked her way.
“There is no path for you this way.”
The El Camino’s door clicked open, then thudded closed. Fear, stress, and the demon all three pressed at Jolie’s mind, making it impossible for Jolie to think.
“No,” was all she could say.
Yanna Maria’s face became red. “What did you say?”
“I said, no,” Jolie repeated. It was a denial of everything and everyone trying to force her into action according to their wishes: demon and human alike.
The sound of Rick’s cowboy boots approaching on the sidewalk was like nails hammering into her skull. A moment more and she would lose it, screaming the world down around her. Her last thread of control was unraveling. The demon surged forward, pouring itself into the spaces inside her mind that it had long coveted.
Jolie’s eyes glowed with the reflection of an aberrant spirit.
Yanna Maria backed away as understanding finally came, frustration and greed turning her round childish face, ugly.
“What have you done, you foolish girl?”
“I think, with this one you may have bitten off more than you can chew, Madrina Yanna,” Guillermo warned the santara.
“Get out of my way,” Jolie warned with a voice not entirely her own. “Nobody is taking any bites out of me.” The demon’s focus shifted to the person about to enter the shop: Rick.
“This one is mine. He was promised to me,” it announced, gleefully. “A bargain was made.” It expanded, trying to force its will on Jolie’s mind.
“I had no part in that.” The stoic teenager shoved past Yanna Maria. The fortune teller caught Jolie’s arm, holding her with a surprisingly strong grip.
“You have no idea what you are doing,” the santara warned. “You cannot control this thing. You do not know how. It will devour you. I am the only one who understands it. I am the only one who can help you.”
“You’ve done a real good job of it so far,” Jolie countered.
The fortune teller released her with a flourish.
“When you come to your senses, you will be back.”
Jolie hurled herself at the back wall, tearing at the drapes covering the reading room’s wall, searching for the door she knew must be hidden there.
The shop bell jingled. Jolie’s hand found the round doorknob and she was out.
When Jolie got home, Remy was sitting on the steps waiting for her.
“I left practice early,” he explained.
Placing himself on the couch, he insisted Jolie lay down with her head on his lap. Within minutes she had drifted off to sleep.
Coiled up in a corner of Jolie’s parietal lobe, the demon glowered like a sullen kitten, jealous of the stranger’s unwanted intrusion.
“What is he doing here?” it demanded.
“Keeping me safe,” Jolie answered, curtly.
“I wouldn’t hurt you,” the demon scoffed. “We are one.”
“Your math sucks. We are not one. I am one, and you are another, and that equals two.”
“We don’t need him.” The demon continued to argue for Remy’s removal. “You only need us.”
Wriggling its way deeper into Jolie’s mind, the creature seemed to have tireless energy to focus on its goal of merging its will with hers, running a propaganda monologue to convince her that their purposes were aligned against the rest of the world, and if she just gave it more control, all her problems would be solved.
“With us, you will never have to be alone again,” the demon promised.
“I’m not the one who is afraid to be alone,” Jolie argued.
“Because you stay awake for hours and hours and leave us with nothing to do.” The demon pouted. “We get bored. We hate being bored.”
The longer the thing spent connected to Jolie, the more it sounded like a petulant teenager. “Let us help you in your world, then we won’t be bored anymore,” the demon whined. “We can help you solve your problems.”
“You mean problems like Rick? Oh no. I saw what happened to Rory after he bargained with you.”
“We could make the one you hate go away,” the demon tried to persuade her.
Jolie connected to the calm she recognized as Remy, found the kernel of her own will, and imagining it as a bright light, made it grow larger and larger.
“Stop!” the demon squealed. “You can’t just push me out.”
“I’ll test that theory for myself, thank you.” Jolie kept expanding the light, filling all the dark corners she could find until there was no place left for the demon to hide. With a victorious yelp, she pushed it out.
She was free again.
Jolie woke up on the couch in the apartment with her head in Remy’s lap. Her mom was just coming in.
“Well, hello there.” Jessie Lynn stopped just inside the door, surprised to see Remy. “You’re cute. Who are you?”
“Remy Bishop, ma’am.” he slipped Jolie’s head off of his lap and stood up.
“Mom, what are doing home?” Jolie rubbed the sleep from her eyes, squinting at the athletic middle-aged hunk who had followed her in.
“They let me go early,” Jessie dodged the question. “Oh, this is Brett. Brett, this is my daughter Jolie and her friend, uh, I’m sorry. I’m terrible with names.”
Everyone looked at each other awkwardly.
“It’s nice to finally meet you in person, Jolie,” Brett offered her his hand.
Jolie looked at it like it was a snake that was going to bite her, and turned away. All she needed was to know her mother’s new boyfriend’s dark little secrets before he’d gotten the chance to lie to her and tell her what a great guy he was.
Brett’s button down shirt was crisp if slightly worn. His blue jeans were broken in, but not thrashed. His hair was beginning to gray at the temples and he wasn’t trying to hide it, so he wasn’t vain, but his haircut was a good one, so he wasn’t entirely unaware of his genetic jackpot in the looks department. His split lip and the way he kept massaging his right hand told Jolie that he had recently been in a fight. Aside from that, he was not Jessie Lynn’s usual type.
Jessie came from the kitchen with a drink in her hand. As she walked into the dining room light, Jolie saw her mother’s black and purple cheek.
“My God, what happened to your face, Mom?”
Jessie touched the spot gingerly and glanced at Brett.
“Is this your work?” Jolie turned on Brett, her accusation fierce. “Did you hit her?”
“No. Oh God no, Jo.” Jessie jumped between them. “This wasn’t Brett’s doing.”
Jolie scowled, looking from one adult to the other.
“Well, I’d better be going.” Remy picked up his hoodie. “It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Figg.”
“Please, Jessie Lynn is fine.”
“Okay, Jessie Lynn. I was hoping to take Jolie out to my Aunt Rose’s in Red Rock on Saturday if that’s all right? I’d pick her up in the afternoon and I’d bring her back on Sunday after breakfast,” Remy promised. “I know that sounds a little strange, but my Aunt Rose invited Jo to a Morning Star ceremony. We go into the lodge in the middle of the night and come out at dawn. We’ll be totally chaperoned the whole time, I promise.”
“It’s fine.” Jessie shrugged dropping onto the couch. “Jolie knows better than to come home pregnant.”
“It’s a women’s lodge, ma’am,” Remy explained, politely. “Traditionally my people don’t mix genders in a sweat lodge, and never in a women’s lodge.”
“Hence the name,” Jolie added.
“Getting all hot and sweaty with a bunch of women? Where’s the fun in that?” Jessie Lynn gave Brett a suggestive smile.
“Right. Well, good night, ma’am, sir.” Remy nodded at the adults.
“Coward,” Jolie teased as he made his exit. “Thanks for standing guard while I napped. I think it did help.” Jolie turned on her mother as soon as Remy closed the door behind him. “So what really happened?” She indicated the bruise on her mom’s cheek.
“Don’t make a big deal out of it, Jo,” Jessie tried to sidestep the issue again.
“I think she should know, Jess.” Brett moved up behind Jessie and began to rub her shoulders. “What if he shows up here? She could be in danger.”
“He, who, Rick?” All Jolie’s alarms were clanging. “Did Rick do this?”
“He showed up at the bar,” Jessie admitted. “Brett threw him out.” She giggled. “You should have been there, Jo. Brett beat the shit out of Rick’s skinny ass. You would have loved it.”
Rick. Twice in the same day he had tried to get to them. Either there had never been a true warding spell or the magic was wearing off.
“So, he knows where you work, and he knows where I go to school, and now he’s decided to cause trouble. Perfect.” Jolie sighed.
“Tomorrow, I’ll get my lawyer to draw up a restraining order,” Brett offered. “It’s against the law for him to harass you like this.”
Jessie Lynn grinned. “Isn’t he great? I told you, didn’t I, Jo?”
Brett looked embarrassed. “The man is on retainer. He needs to do something to earn his money.” Jessie rolled over onto one hip, propping her forearms on the back of the couch, all coquettish and flirty.
“Are you sure that you won’t reconsider that nightcap I offered, Brett? I feel like I owe you.”
Brett shook his head. “I’m going to follow Jolie’s friend’s lead and say goodnight to you, ladies.” He put on his cowboy hat. “Get some rest.”
“You don’t have to go, you know. You could stay.” Jessie Lynn stretched her legs out on the couch like a cat settling in for some serious petting.
Jolie thought she might barf.
Brett glanced toward Jolie, clearly embarrassed by Jessie’s open expression of sexuality in front of her daughter.
“Thank you, but I’d better get going.
“’See you tomorrow?” Jessie Lynn persisted.
“I’ll check in.” He tipped his hat.
“You really are a gentleman cowboy, aren’t you?” Jolie said as she walked him to the door. “I thought they were only in the movies.”
“There are still a few of us around if you know where to look.”
“And I guess that would be Wyoming?”
“Montana.” Brett corrected her with a smile.
“Well, thanks for looking after my mom. In case you didn’t notice, she’s a bit of a trouble magnet.”
“But it didn’t scare you off?”
“She’s not a bad person. She’s just...”
“Damaged. Yeah, I know. But hey, ya gotta love her, right?” Jolie said, sarcastically.
Brett frowned. “Look, Jolie, just to set the record straight, I’m not looking for another ex-wife. I’ve got a set already.”
“Good, because I’m not looking for a dad. I’m glad we got that straightened out, but you might want to let Mom in on the plan.”
“I don’t think your mom has any illusions about our relationship.”
Jolie winced. “Then you don’t know her very well. My mom lives on illusions. She can get them about almost anything, and usually does, but she’s especially susceptible when it comes to men. Just so you know.”
Brett nodded. “I’ll try to keep her expectations low.”
Too late, she thought. “Thanks. Well, good night.” Jolie closed the door.
“You’re not trying to scare off my beau are you, Jo?” Jessie Lynn asked. She finished off her beer and leaned back on the couch, closing her eyes.
“No. You’re right. This one seems like a nice guy.” Maybe too nice, Jolie wanted to add. What would a guy like Brett want with a messed up piece of work like Jessie Lynn, aside from the cheap sex while he was out of town on business in Vegas?
“Get me some ice, will you, Jo? My face is killing me.”
“Sure.” Jolie went to the fridge and took an ice tray out of the freezer. Turning it upside down, she ran hot water over the back. Scooping up the fallen cubes, she dumped them into a plastic bag.
“Do you really think a restraining order will keep Rick away?” Jolie wrapped the bag of ice in a dishcloth and brought it to her mom, seating herself on the back of the couch.
“I don’t know, babe. I hope so.” Jessie Lynn took the ice bag. “Bring me another beer.”
Jolie got the beer. This was not the time to talk to her mom about her drinking.
“I’ve got five weeks of school left, Mom. I can’t leave now.” She set the beer on the coffee table. “You know what happened last time we changed districts in the middle of the term. I could lose credit for the whole semester. It could cost me a half a year to make it up.”
Jessie sighed as she put the bag to her cheek. “I can’t keep jumping from job to job, Jo. People won’t hire me if they think I’m not stable.”
“Vegas is a big town,” she argued. “There’s a ton of bars here.”
“It’s a lot smaller than you think, and people talk.”
“Like if you get a reputation for bringing in trouble?” Jolie suggested, cautiously. “Is that why they let you go early tonight? They blamed you for the fight?”
“He came in looking for me, and he wasn’t shy about announcing it,” Jessie Lynn admitted.
“Of course he wasn’t. Why should he be? He’s got nothing to lose,” Jolie complained. “What did they say?”
“They gave me a warning and said don’t let it happen again.” Jessie changed the subject. “You really liked Brett, didn’t you? I mean you really liked him?”
“I said he was nice.”
“Maybe when he goes back to Montana, he’ll take us with him. We could live in a house like a real family and not have any more problems.” Jessie’s voice drifted off.
We’d just have a whole new set of problems, Jolie thought, privately. But then, she knew that Gentleman Brett was not going to scoop them up and take them off to his oversized cabin under the big Montana sky to live happily ever after. Jessie Lynn Figg’s life story was not a Victorian romance, it was contemporary smut, dirty, and gritty, and uncomfortably real. In Jessie Lynn’s world, women got their hearts broken and their faces beat up, and when they fell into the gutter, no one cared. It was unfair, but that was the way it worked.
Jolie wished that for once in her life things would go smoothly and stay that way long enough that she could catch her breath, but that was the wishful thinking of a kid, not the understanding of a sixteen-year-old who knew better than to trust the magical thinking of an alcoholic.
“I’m going to bed.” Jolie went to her room and closed the door.
Jolie lay down and curled up in a fetal ball. When her cell buzzed, she almost didn’t answer it, but the ringtone was Sean’s.
“What do you want, Sean?” she asked, trying to make it clear that it was no big deal that he’d called.
“You weren’t at the reading of Faith’s will. Iris invited you, didn’t she?”
“I had school, and you know, that’s family stuff. It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“You know that grandma thought of you as family?”
Tears jumped to Jolie’s eyes. “Don’t be nice to me right now, Sean. It’s too confusing.”
“Look, Jo, I’m sorry I couldn’t talk to you at the memorial. There were a lot of people there, and a lot of expectations, and you know I’m not good at that stuff.”
“Maybe Adrianna can teach you, along with sit and stay,” Jolie quipped, sarcastically.
Sean chuckled. “You’re such a pain in the ass. Actually, Adrianna and I sort of broke up a few nights ago.”
Hence the call to me, Jolie realized.
“What’s the matter, did she tell you that you had to sell your bike?”
“Something like that. Anyway,” Sean continued. “I got this wedding invitation from Tru and Marty. What a thing, huh? I thought maybe since neither of us is attached that we could go together?”
Jolie thought about that. Sean might be free now, but was she? What would Remy think if she went to the wedding with Sean? But then, Sean wasn’t just a guy, he was an old family friend--not even an old boyfriend, really. It was perfectly natural that they should go to the wedding together.
“I guess that’d be okay,” Jolie decided “I’m a bridesmaid, though, so I can’t sit with you at the ceremony or anything.”
“That’s okay. We can hang out at the reception. I’ll tell Tru to put us at the same table.”
“And you should ask Iris about Faith’s will. It’s important.”
“On a scale of one to ten, you’ve got no clue what’s important in my life right now, Sean.” It was an effort to keep the tears out of her voice.
“I’m sorry, Jo.” He sounded genuinely contrite. “We’ll talk at the wedding.”
“That’d be good.” Jolie hung up and rolled back onto the bed in a ball. Waking or sleeping, she was still in deep shit.