The house is quiet when I get home. I peek into mom's room to find her in bed with piles of books heaped around her. “Rachel,” she greets me, “some ARCs came in today. Want to see if there are any you might like?”
I drop my stuff and climb up beside her. I can never resist looking through the new ARCs even though most turn out to be the feel-good new age types from Hay House or One Spirit. Not really my cup of tea. I choose one and read the back cover. Then I squeak when I spot a new Paulo Coelho. Mom grins when I claim it. Her approval infuses my interest and I begin to hunt with more enthusiasm. I find a stack from Llewellyn Worldwide and I claim a few that pique my interest, and when I leave her room, I have a half-dozen new titles to read and review.
The next morning Anna comes in acting completely normal and I'm instantly relieved which surprises me a bit because up until that moment I was unaware at how tense I'd been. It’s just the two of us for the first hour so I leave her to open the store and go into the backroom still pondering the night before.
It is just beginning to dawn on me that there is a palpable differences between the raw ragged energy raised when working a spell in comparison to the clean, clear, peaceful energy created in my meditations, when I run smack into a UPS guy, at least he looks like a UPS guy, with his short blond hair, tan skin, brown short-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts. I glance down at his supportive shoes thinking that something about him is off.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
He gazes at me with eyes that are large and bright before he replies, “Yes, I'd like to buy a book please.”
“Oh, well this is the stockroom. The store is over there.” The smile on his lips doesn’t waver. Instead of turning, he just stands there, glancing around at the shipping area, I pause to give him a long look before I say, “Here come with me.”
He follows me out of the stockroom, across the breezeway, and into the side of the store. “Wow, so this is a bookstore. Cool!”
His comment earns another glance from me but I stick to my spiel, “Okay, the front and middle section are mostly journals, cards and calendars, bells, wind chimes and knickknacks. Books are on the shelves against the walls in sections divided by religious practice. Everything yoga and meditation is over there. Islam, Hindu, and Tao are there with Buddhism just beyond. Then there's your Catholicism and Christian section, angels and spirit guides which runs into the natural healing arts and psychic studies. Across the way is everything magical,” I notice his expression is still blank so I emphasize, “like natural magic, Wiccan, Druidism. In the middle you'll find magical materials. Oh, and just past that is cryptozoology, aliens and other odd stuff.”
“Nice, nice,” he says as his smile widens. “I've never actually read a book before. Where should I start?”
His statement takes me by surprise and I can only stare back at the guy. Anna steps from behind the counter to my rescue. “Well, that depends on where your interests lie. Would you like to read a religious study or do you want a good story?”
He offers her two blinks before he says, “I think I'd like to try a good story.”
“Okay, our focus here is on all things metaphysical but we do have a fiction corner,” she tells him which is perfectly accurate. We are a spiritually focused bookstore but since we are in such a high tourist area and since I often trade with Larry, Mom has allowed me a new fiction corner. “Here I'll show you,” she says as she tries to direct him back to the fiction alcove.
He doesn't budge except to raise a finger and point. “What are these Egads?”
I notice that he is pointing to the list of Edgar Award Nominees, Cordelia's idea after reading an article in PW magazine. An idea I heartily supported and then ordered copies of when Mom agreed.
“Oh that is the new list of Edgar Nominees.” Anna tells him. “As in Edgar Allen Poe.” She smiles up into his face. “Best new mystery?” Her smile fades when there is no sign of recognition from him. And she shoots me a long big-eyed brows-lifted look before she says, “Here, come with me.”
Anna manages to herd the man to the fiction section where she helps him to choose a book. He seems happy with just the one so she ushers him back to the counter and she rings up the sale.
“May I have a receipt?” he asks pronouncing the word with a soft E and firm P and T.
Again we look at each other for a moment before Anna recovers. “Your receipt is in the bag,” she tells him pronouncing “receipt” correctly. The man is still grinning when he nods to us. Then he turns and goes through the door and we just gawk at each other.
“Wow, was that for real?” she asks.
I laugh. “I think we were just got punked.”
“Or he was foreign, really, really foreign.”
“No, really. We should look for a hidden camera.”
Anna laughs and replies, “Yet he didn't have an accent. Still, maybe he was journeying and we were his first stop?”
“You mean like from another planet?” Anna cocks one eyebrow and I add, “Well, if that's the case he should have come last Sunday. Our alien-encounter group would have loved to meet him. And wow does his disguise need some work? Even with the UPS getup he is definitely NOT fitting in.” I laugh.
Anna’s eyes narrow. “That's funny.” She gives a soft snort. “You saw UPS guy?” I nod and she sobers. “Now that is interesting because I thought ‘tourist’. For no reason, the label just popped in there.” She points to her forehead. “Like the guy wanted me to think that he was on safari or something…You know, now that I think about it, it was kind of like that when I...”
Her words trail away and I grab for them. “When you what? Travel the galaxy? Try to fit in with the natives? Use your Vulcan mindwarp?” Her lips twitch as she turns away but I catch the small smile that turns her mouth. “So you do think he was messing with our thoughts?” The idea blooms big in my mind. My eyes flash wide as I see it. “Like he was projecting an image that he wanted us to perceive?”
Anna casts me a grin over her shoulder. “Or, maybe he was on a safari... Safari Earth!” She laughs. “Oh, don't tell Cordelia. She'll do a themed table for it.”
The phone rings and Anna picks it up. I busy myself with straightening the things on the counter. Business is slow even for a Monday morning. The store has an empty feel. My eyes go through the glass to the door of the stockroom where tasks wait half-finished and when Anna hangs up the phone I ask, “Would you be okay out here if I went into the stockroom?”
She shrugs, sun-browned arms stretching wide. I sigh. “Then I'm going to give receiving another try.”
As I walk away, Anna calls, “Ooh, let me know if any of the books I ordered are in.” My thoughts return to the odd customer and Anna's reaction.
I'm pulling the last of the reserves when Cordelia comes in. I start to tell her about our odd experience with the UPS guy but she isn’t listening, her attention only for the books that came in. When she bows her head over the stack with her name and starts reading covers, I offer, “I guess you just had to be here.”
She only shrugs and then turns away cold. My expression is flat when I follow her with my eyes as she leaves the stock room, crosses the breezeway and disappears into the store. I give a loud sigh before I turn back to alphabetizing.
When the mail-order reserves are sorted, I collect the rest and carry them into the store. Cordelia makes a give-me motion and I dump the local reserves on the counter in front of her. Then I turn to look for Anna.
I spy her in the back of the store. She is talking to a tall handsome guy. Flirting, eyes bright, cheeks flushed, lips parted as her eyes focus intently on him and she leans in to do something I can’t quite see. Curiosity catches me. I can’t help but tune in, letting my vision go fuzzy, and I sense it, an incredible amount of energy moving from Anna to the guy, energy that spools in a steady flow to wrap him in shades of soft purples and pinks, and as I watch, the guy begins to react, projecting his growing interest. I witness the moment his energy shifts from bright and sharp to become a softer thing. The moment swells and my mouth falls open as I realized that the thing she is doing is the exact the same thing I witnessed her do when she was interviewing with my mother!
Cordelia clears her throat and I realize that I am staring. I turn away and start straightening the display I’m standing next to. I’m fuming. My movements are jerky and I can’t keep my eyes from darting to watch but I wait until Anna finishes with the customer. The instant the door shuts behind him, I confront her. “What were you doing with him?”
“Getting a number.” She waves a slip of paper. “Did you see him? He was a real cutie.”
My frown turns hard. “No, I mean what were you doing to him?”
She gives me a long look, those dark eyes brushing across my skin. “You could tell I was doing something, really?” I wait, my faced pinched. I don’t give when she offers me a grin. “I like to think of it as a small magick, like a small glamour…”
“I felt it. It wasn't so small. You were doing something with your energy.” My suspicions bloom and I realize I don't really know anything about this person in front of me except that she is a witch who can successfully work magic even if they are small magicks as she calls them. I'm wary and angry at her and my naiveté. “And it’s not the first time! I felt you doing the exact same thing to my mom when you were interviewing!”
I don't realize that my voice has risen until she shushes me and pulls me into the corner. “Really? You could feel it?” Her eyes flash. “Well that's totally cool! I mean, I wasn't sure I was actually doing anything. I just knew it worked. Like your thoughts are being transmitted by your body and then his body reads your body and soon his mind is thinking what your mind is thinking, like some kind of primitive body response thing.”
I frown. “No, he was not responding to your body language. You were manipulating his energy…Or at least influencing him with your energy.” I look her hard in the eye. “How did you learn to do that trick, if you don't even know how it works?”
“Influencing his energy? Now that is interesting…” Her eyes slide over me and my frown and she takes an audible breath. “Hey now, don't be mad. First of all it’s not a trick. Not really, and I don't know where I picked it up. It’s just something I've sort of always known how to do, something I kind of took for granted, like it was a physical law or something…you know, like the more attention you dump on someone, the more they respond to you? And so I used it when I thought it might help me do whatever it was I was trying to do.” Her tone turns conspiring as she tilts her head closer. “You do it by putting yourself, you know, your concentration, your focus and intent, into your eyes as you think the words you want the other person to think about you.” My expression must give away my doubts because her voice softens when she adds. “Let me just show you.”
She pulls herself up, to take a long breath and then she looks at me and this time I see it when she shifts her focus to her eyes because it’s like she is right there, one hundred percent, looking deep into my eyes. I gaze back at her and in moments my feelings toward her begin to shift from confrontational, to acceptance, to feelings of peace. I blink. “What are you sending?”
Her eyes are bright and smiling as she leaned close to share her secret. “Love me, trust me, love me,” she whispers. She grins brightly. “You send a whispered loop over and over. Just don't move your lips.”
I laugh. “God, it totally worked! You have to teach me how to do that!”
She gives me a wink. “No problem.” Then she slips her arm through mine as we walk back to the counter.
We name the trick “broadcasting” and we play with the technique throughout the rest of the day. I am incredibly impressed with how easy it is to pick up and how well it works. We try it on unsuspecting customers making them feel great about themselves, and the store, and the fact that they stopped in…but then the ego, being what it is, is pretty easy to manipulate.
Tuesday comes, I sleep in and wake up in an emotional funk to find that Mom has already gone and the house is silent. The stillness of the dim kitchen fills me with loneliness. I open the blinds before setting some tea to brew. My eyes dart out the window as I wait for the toast. It’s a gorgeous day. I decide to enjoy it and I load up a plate and carry it out to the back patio.
A sparrow chirps loudly as I settle into the cushy comfort of our old patio swing. I sip my tea watching the humming birds jousting around the feeder. A sense of wellbeing fills me as I sit surrounded by the trills of a mocking bird and coos of the doves. A sparrow lands on the ground near my feet to look up at me expectantly. I pinch off a corner of my toast and toss it to him and I can’t help but grin when he snatches it up and flies away.
Some stimuli induce specific reactions that vary from individual to individual. For example, Ian once told me that one of the reason he hates cinnamon is that the scent, no matter where or when he happens to catch it, invokes angry Christmas memories. For me when I am in nature, I am instantly filled with a sense of guardianship for all of the small creatures around me.
A movement at the fence catches my eye knocking me from my reverie and I look up expecting to see Creepy-Old Tom in his yard. I feel exposed and for the billionth time wish our fence was taller, not just the meager four feet. Tom is nowhere to be seen. The thing that's caught my eye is the movement of a tree near the fence. It trembles and shivers and shakes. As I watch the small tree bows as if a strong gale is sweeping by it, yet all of the other trees around it remain completely still. It puzzles me and I set my tea down and cross the small space, eyes fixed on the tree, watching as it pitches and trembles. There is no wind and nothing to see, but as I look, I notice that an area about shoulder's height seems to waver shimmering like the way a mirage of water on a hot road shimmers in the heat before you reach it only to see it disappear when you do. I stare at the spot and after a moment it’s as if my eyesight sharpens and I spy a troop of small insect-like creatures jostling as they fight. They are dressed in earth tones of browns, greens and yellows and even though butterfly-like wings sprout from their backs, they appear almost human-like, each dressed in a tiny outfit, some even wearing little hats as they wrestle and fight. I marvel as I watch them. Wondering how it can be and realizing that if I wasn't looking right at them, they would most certainly blend right in with the natural colors except for the shivering of the tree under their frenzy as they joust and parry.
I hold my breath as I watch in wonder. They are completely ignoring me so I'm free to inch a little closer completely in awe as I watch their tiny forms gather and flit away and gather again. At the center of their knot, a creature of a different shape falls to his knees under their blows. The group draws up into the air and one of the tiny figures with wings, bright and beautiful like a glittering butterfly, unsheathes a dangerous-looking blade before he swoops down and strikes at the one that's fallen.
In that instant my wonder turns to horror. I grab up a broken branch at my feet and thrust it up into the pack sweeping the majority of them right out of the tree with a single swipe of my stick. “Stop it!” I shout. “Leave him alone!”
They swoop away surprised. But seconds later, they buzz back to hover close surrounding me in the sound of a dozen tiny bells. “You heard me. This is my garden. I claim it. Now go away!” I wave my stick again and watch as they rise in a little storm cloud and take flight.
When they are out of sight, I turn my attention to the one that's fallen. I'm not sure, but I don't think he looks very well. His eyes are yellow and his tiny face is lumpy and long. He has a ridged forehead where two antenna sprout. His face is angular like a crescent moon, chin ending in a point. But for his tiny suit and his green jacket, he resembles a grasshopper more than a man. “Are you hurt? Can I do something, anything, to help?”
He tries to pull himself to his feet but can only lean back against the branch before he begins to speak. His voice is a whisper of hisses that sound a lot like a conversation I heard one night between a family of rats as they traversed the power line above my window, and though he hisses like the rats, in my mind, I understand his words. “I thank you, kind lady, for your brave intervention.” He bows, and two sets of wings unfold from his back. “Now go back to your swing.”
Instantly, my muscles move in jerks as they carry me backward. My eyes close when my rear hits the cushion. Then, what seems a mere second later, my eyes jerk open, but from the crick in my neck, I realize it must have been a dream. Just another weird-ass dream…I rise from the seat and walk to the tree. On the ground lies a discarded branch, I pick it up and wonder.
I'm scheduled to work the evening shift. Anna has the day off. Cordelia is working the desk and Will is giving a workshop on the spirituality of yoga when I get in. For a Tuesday the place is packed but then Will's workshops are always popular.
Will is in his early thirties and being that he is a yoga instructor, he has an admirable physique. That and his blond hair and winsome blue eyes don't hurt his popularity. I secretly think it’s his general hotness that draws in his fans, seeing as most of them are women from the ages of 25 to 70.
That evening I catch him alone in the break room. I'm surprised to see him sipping a Kombucha and I wonder if Anna introduced it to him. Instantly, I'm jealous though I don't know why. Will is a hottie, but I have never entertained any romantic notions about him. As I stand there looking at him, a general giddiness comes over me. It is a pleasant sensation so I decide to experiment with it. After all, we are alone in the break room. “Nice job.”
He smiles. “The workshop went well, don't you think?”
I give him my best smile. “It helps that you have a loyal fan base.”
He laughs and goes on about the regulars who show up again and again.
I breathe in his scent and let my eyes fill with adoration as I take in the height of him, his fine athletic build, the swell of his chest and shoulders, the lovely cut of his tousled hair, his strong, flawless jaw… Oh my god, he really is beautiful…
He gives me a curious glance as he continues talking about the workshop and I can't help but react to him. I let my eyes trace up his chest, over his neck, caress the perfect angle of his jaw, until they come to rest on his full, firm mouth. My chest tightens as my root chakra comes to life, sending waves of energy flowing up my spine to set my lower belly into sweet contractions. I think of how his lips might feel pressed to mine, opening against my mouth as our tongues entwine …
I draw a shuttered breath and I lean closer until my aura presses against his. Then I gather all my intent and reach out with all my focused concentration. See meeeee…love meeee…want meee, I send, focusing my desire with all the strength I can muster.
He gives me a long look, blue-blue eyes brushing across my skin, and I shiver…desire me…desire me…..desiiiiirrrrre meeeeeee.
My stomach clinches when his grin turns wicked. “Hey now, quit it,” his voice is firm and serious even as I see the amusement in his eyes. I let myself react. Let him see my body's reaction and I send again desiiiiirrrrre meeeeeee.
“I mean it, Rachel. Stop it. You are too young. You're still just a girl. Neither my career nor my reputation could stand against it.”
I gasp. I’d forgotten, he's supposed to be intuitive. I drop the intention as my face super-heats in a blush I feel all the way to the tops of my ears. “What?” I ask, faking my innocents even as my face flushes hotter. I can't believe he could tell what I was doing. I look down at my intention, there on the floor between us. I'm pretty sure now that he can feel it too.
“That's better,” he tells me but there is smile on his lips and his eyes are full of mirth. “Pressing your will on the will of another is not very smart or very kind.” He looks into my eyes. “Think about it. You are playing with me, trying to force a reaction that is not real and the consequences could turn nasty.”
Confusion muddles my thoughts and I turn from him only to gasp when he catches my wrist and pulls me firmly against him. Suddenly we are chest to chest with only my arm between us. “You should be more careful. Emotions are not petty things to be trifled with.”
“Who says I was trifling?” I retort lamely but my thoughts grow flustered as my awareness fills with him and only him: the delicious scent of his skin, the strength and height of him, the press of his firm, strong chest against my arm…I am keenly aware of the closeness of our bodies, the soft stir of his breath against my cheek, the nearness of his full, sumptuous mouth. My eyes snag on those lips and my confusion turns to fear when I see the way they turn in a cold, hard smile. I force my eyes up to his.
“How does it feel to have the tables turned?”
Tears spring to my eyes but I can’t pull my gaze from him. I take in the small nod as he drops my arm.
“I'm sorry,” I tell him. “I didn't mean—”
He interrupts me, “But you see Rachel, that's the problem. You did mean to, you meant it very much in fact. What would have happened if I had taken you up on your promise?”
“You are making unspoken promises, Rachel. Promises you have no intention of keeping. Did you stop to think what might have happened here between us? After all, it is just you and me, here in this small room. Did you consider the consequences?” I dropped my eyes to the floor. “Be smart, Rachel and be kind. Remember the world is full of injustice. There is no need to add to them.”
I turn and flee the break room too embarrassed to risk being chided again. I take shelter behind the desk next to Cordelia. I pretend to ignore Will when he leaves, but there is no need because he doesn’t even glance my way when he walks out the door.