The police are still here when the staff comes in. I notice the beginnings of a line at the front door and I start to wonder if the cupcakes are going to make it in time when Cordelia comes bustling through the back burdened with several large pastry boxes.
I grab a box just as it starts to slide off the top and Cordelia grins. “How's it going?” she asks. “Any word on the incident?”
I shake my head and instantly my eyes tear up.
She gives me a quick appraising glance before she changes the subject. “I saw that the closing signs were up at that bookstore you like.”
“I was there,” I tell her.
“Really? Did you find anything good?”
I start to tell her about my expedition just as the phone begins to ring. Heather is already on a line so Cordelia slides the boxes onto the counter and reaches for the other phone. “Be a doll and cash this out for me,” she says as she hands me a receipt. “Those little gems were pricy.”
I nod but she's already turned to take the call. I stuff the receipt into my pocket then go to work setting up the cupcake table. We've found that offering something free just for showing up not only creates a festive environment; it promotes attendance and loyalty while boosting book sales. You see, when you give someone a gift, even if it’s just a little cupcake, it makes the recipient want to give you something in return, in this case their business.
The event is a success, the cupcakes a hit, the crowd appreciative. Apparently the vandals want to stay anonymous because the 120 people who turn out are all friendly. The author talks for forty-three minutes and the crowd receptively responds with lots of interest and good questions. We sell 105 of copies of the author's new hardcover and every copy we have of his paperback back stock. The remaining books are signed for inventory.
Did I say that we specialized in signed first editions and that mail order makes up a large chunk of our sales? That's how we've managed to stay afloat and keep our customers while others in the business are closing. Everyone needs a gimmick in this market.
When the last customer from the signing is gone, Cordelia and Heather start recovering the store and I go looking for Mom. I find her in the mailroom with the author. She gives me a hug then says, “I'm taking Christopher over to Grazie for a bite before I drop him at his hotel.”
I nodded. This is a dance we've done a thousand times and I know my steps. I shake Christopher's hand. Then I congratulate him on a fine event. Mom will wine and dine him and he will go away having had a good experience. All of this to ensure that he'll keep us on the list for his next tour, and the best part is, most of the extra expense is covered by the publisher’s co-op allowance. It is a crafty business and Mom still has a couple of hours to log.
The rest of the afternoon ticks slowly by. It’s busy but we have adequate coverage. So when Mom gets back, I ask her if I can go see Omar. I notice the appraising glance she casts me before she consents. Omar is the one teacher I found myself, and Mom doesn't wholly approve of him. But she does respect my intuition, so with the concession that I continue with my summer classes, she stays out of it.
I met Omar at Circle K and we just clicked like Namaste in action. You know 'the God in me acknowledges the God in you' only it was more like my psychic sense sees and acknowledges your psychic sense. Anyway we made a connection that day that's kept me hanging around, seeking him out for practical-spiritual advice.
As I start through the door, Mom calls out behind me, “Tell Cordelia you're going, so she knows she has the counter.”
I go back into the store. “I'm heading to the K. Want anything?”
Cordelia reaches for her purse. “Bring me back a hot dog with mustard and pickles,” she tells me as she hands me a five. Cordelia is the most direct person I have ever met. She and Mom have been friends since before I can remember and if I am Mom's right hand, as she likes to say, then Cordelia is her left. I stuff the bill into my pocket and as I'm walking out the door I snatch one of the wooden flutes from the display basket.
The sky is blue, the day is warm and my heart lifts as I try to play the instrument, blowing out odd notes as my fingers dance over the tiny holes. The K is only a block up and a block over from the bookshop and I am happy to find that I am the only customer.
Omar see me and smiles. “You have a gift, Rachel but it is not playing the flute.”
“Gee, thanks.” I tuck the flute into my back pocket and go to make Cordelia's hot dog. I choose a banana for myself. Then I go to the counter to pay for my items.
I hand Omar the five and I notice his brows knit together as he gives me a head to toe evaluation. “Something is bothering you?” he asks.
I frown at him. Gee, am I really that obvious?
He is still looking at me when he motions to his coworker and says, “I'm taking five.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the coworker replies without turning around.
“Come with me for a cup of tea.”
I know better than to say no, so I follow him into the storeroom, where I sit at a wobbly table and wait for him to pour.
“Tell me,” he commands, and while my tea is steeping, I tell him about the vandalism. He gives me a patient nod. “Do not be alarmed. I believe the vandals target was your author and now that he is gone. Your vandals are gone now too.”
His words, like always, are gently reassuring. I run his explanation through my head and find it makes total sense. I exhale a long breath knowing I don't have to think about the vandals anymore.
“Something else is on your mind.” He doesn't ask. It’s not a question.
My thoughts flit to the unsettling visitation of the sparkling woman, the incident in class, Babette’s warning, the disturbing walk to Starbucks, troubling things that may even be the creations of my own mind. I shove them all aside and tell him about my dreams. “Uh, well, I've been having the strangest dreams...”
“Go on, tell me.”
I begin to tell him in as much detail as I can remember about going to the lake, climbing up the dock and crossing the dark water. I tell him about the woman in the white coat and the hospital where I sit with patients. I can't help but notice as his eyes begin to twinkle.
He sets his cup down. “So you are telling me that you wake to find that you are standing on a dock then you cross over a body of dark water and you go into an office where you heal people?” He puts his finger to his lips. “Rachel, I believe you are crossing through the dimensions, heeding a call to heal those on the other side. You are not dreaming. You are traveling the astral, working in your sleep!”
I wrinkle my brow and echo, “Working in my sleep?”
“You are crossing over.”
I give it a moment’s thought before I ask, “Is it dangerous?”
He quirks his lips. “No, not really, although in your travels you might have occasions when you run into some not so nice things.” My thoughts go to the glowing eyes of the creature in the water but he continues before I can ask anymore. “I have had an experience similar to yours. When I was a child, two beautiful ladies would fly into my window at night and take me by the hand and we would go flying. This happened almost every night until my family moved to another city. After we moved, the ladies never came again.”
I don't say anything.
“What I'm telling you is that this is an experience to be treasured.”
Treasured? My thoughts flash on the image of me lying on my back on the floor of Science class while everyone stares. With a quick shake of my head I force my thoughts back to our conversation. “When you say 'those on the other side' do you mean, like, the dead?” His nod signals my forehead to wrinkle. “But why would I be going to heal the dead? I mean, why would the dead need healing?”
“Rachel, you yourself told me that you grant them peace. I believe you are answering a call, perhaps even fulfilling your life's purpose. As a medium, you have a natural affinity for the dead. Who better to heal them?”
I think about his explanation. “So I'm not really dreaming, I'm traveling the astral?”
“That is what it sounds like to me.”
I think about his explanation, testing it before I file it away. Then I go on to I tell him about my conversation with the cat.
He smiles. “You are merely growing in your abilities. You will have many such encounters. I myself had a long conversation with Ganesha just this morning.”
My misgivings must be written on my face because he goes on to say, “Developing our spirituality feeds the sacred flame we all carry within us. It’s our link with the Divine. I am always amazed by the stories of those who spend their lifetime looking for Deity when it is right inside the entire time.” He grins. “Do not worry Rachel, in my culture it is common to speak with the Gods.”
I give a deep sigh.
“To make you feel better, let us study up on this cat. Perhaps from studying the past, you will learn something to apply to the present.”
“What do you think about her warning?” I ask.
“Do not worry, only keep your eyes open and listen to the Universe.”
Our conversation is interrupted when his coworker pulls open the door to give Omar a signal.
“Well, thank you, Omar.”
He bows his head.
I hand him my cup and say, “And thank you for the tea.”
Omar turns away but I don't miss it when he pauses to study the leaves in the bottom of my cup. He sets it on the counter and something holds me to watch. I catch the funny look on his face when he looks back at me. It chills me. I have to ask, “What?” He doesn’t say anything but the set of his features causes me to worry. “Omar?”
He drops his eyes and turns away. “It is nothing.”
But it is enough to start Babette’s warning jumping again in my head. I pause in the doorway. “Omar, what does it mean if somebody says, ‘the wind carries your name’?”
His expression turns thoughtful as his eyes brush across my face. “To me it would mean that someone has spoken your name. They have called for you to come.”
“Called for me?” I echo.
“Or perhaps someone is looking for you...”
I want to ask more but he pushes by me and heads to the counter. I can only step from the room and watch him go.
Someone is looking for me? What does that mean? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I am disconnected from reality, my mind floating in the ether, feet moving on their own autopilot as I turn his words in my thoughts. I think about the sparkling woman and my travels through the astral. Might that be what this is about? It must be. I rationalize. For who else would be calling for me…My thoughts snap on Mahomet and what might have caused him to worry so and then I wonder why Babette never called me back…My head is down, feet retracing their steps, my mind far, far away when I round the corner and walk right into Sean Waverly.
He's wearing the same black t-shirt and dark skinny jeans with a white leather belt hitched low on his hips. He looks so good. My voice goes soft and breathy when the single word busts out, “Sean!”
His bored expression transforms. “Rachel, wow, fancy meeting you here.” He lifts his hand to run quick fingers through his dark hair, pushing its black, artful spikes to stand taller.
The sight of him fills me with both surprise and shame in equal measure as I wonder what he might think of me and my display in science class. An instant blush rises hot all the way to my ears. I almost don’t hear him when he says, “Wow, you look great.”
“I do?” The minute the words leave my mouth I want to smack myself.
“Class isn’t the same without you. When are you coming back?”
“Monday. That’s great.” He grins.
“Yeah, I’ll be back in class on Monday. Uh, and I’m fine. I’m fine. The nurse just made me stay home…” I’m shaking my head like one of those bobblehead dolls. I make it stop.
“Well that’s great.” Then to my surprise he says, “Michael and I are going over to see some friends in Tempe. You can come along, if you want and hang by the pool.”
I freeze. Did Sean Waverly just ask me out? Rumor has it that he and Grace are on the outs but not in a million years would I have ever thought he would even consider dating me...Well, I guess it’s not a date, really… He said 'go hang', but still! He's is sooo cool, and like the absolute last person in the world I would ever imagine to ask me to do anything. I mean look at him standing there…I’m gazing up at him with a daffy grin on my face, a barrage of thoughts large in my mind. I see that he’s waiting for an answer but my thoughts start to buzz again. Maybe it’s just an impulse invitation because I'm here and he's here...
My thoughts are still buzzing when I realize that he is talking to me. “Uh Rachel?”
The words tumble out in a rush. “Wow, Sean. I'd love to. I really would but I don't have a swimsuit with me, and I'm working right now. Not here.” I laugh and shake my head. “Oh God, no. Not here. At the bookstore. I'm on break, you see and they're expecting me back, at the bookshop, down the street, I’m supposed to be back any minute now...” I know I'm babbling so I snap my mouth shut and hope I don't look like the idiot I feel as I stand there grinning. But come on! It’s Sean Waverly and he just asked me out!
Michael Judson pushes open the door. Coal rings his eyes and his blond hair is glued up in spikes. Today he looks more like Sean than I've ever seen him, dressed in a tight white t-shirt that's a size or two too small and skinny girl-pants that fit like a second skin. “Dude, what's taking you so long?” His eyes narrow as they slide over me. “Oh hey, Rachel.”
Sean ignores him. “Well, maybe some other time,” he says before he walks over to Omar and tosses down a bill on the counter. “Can I get twenty on number four?”
“Certainly. Will there be anything else?”
“No, thanks.” Then as he turns to go, he looks up from under his long bangs to say, “Ah, see you in class?”
“Yeah, see ya,” I reply wondering if this day could get any weirder.
As the doors clang shut, Omar turns to me. “Friends of yours?”
I nod. But just then two guys walk in and head straight to the counter. Omar has to shift his attention from teacher to clerk. “Good afternoon,” he greets them, “is there anything I might help you with?”
“A pack of Cools, please,”
I interrupt. “Thanks, Omar. I’ve got to go.” He looks at me like there is something else he wants to say but I've already started out the door.
Back at the shop I am surprised to find Mom in the stockroom interviewing a girl I guess to be a couple years older than me.
“Wow, I mean who writes 'stop the forces of Satan'? Like real witches have anything to do with Satan.” she says as she makes a face. “Don't these people know anything? I'm proud to be pagan.”
And I wonder if by pagan she means witch. Oooh, if she is a practitioner it would make ordering all the magical supplies so much easier! I don't know anything about magical correspondences except that they supposedly exist, and while our magical section is one of our bestselling areas, I order based on applied supply and demand theory, that, and by simply guessing.
I draw closer and hear her say, “I mean the world I live in is a magical place full of signs, symbols and synchronicities. Each day I greet the morning with open eyes, open ears and an open heart seeking to hear the voice of my guides and see the magick at work in my daily life.”
“I can see you would be an asset for customer service. Your sales experience is solid but how long have you been doing readings?” Mom asks.
“For about seven years now. I started reading for myself and then began reading for friends and after a few months I found myself with a private practice. I also practice daily meditation to connect with my higher self, spirit guides and to open my heart to the sacred. I have led group meditations to meet spirit guides, heal auras, activate chakras, and heal through past life regressions.”
I am just making the decision to make a quiet retreat when Mom sees me and casts me a grin. “Anna, meet my daughter, Rachel.”
I smile when the girl looks at me but it’s like she has just now noticed that there's another person in the room and I realize that the whole time I'd been standing there she'd been concentrating solely on Mom. I mean really concentrating, like Mom is the only thing in the room.
She turns to give me a small smile and I notice how striking her large, brown eyes are as they fix on me. Mom switches back into interview mode and asks another question.
“I guess I first became aware of the magick of the natural world when I began my garden. My interest in herbs bloomed into an interest in herbal lore and soon I was hooked. That's when I started practicing house magick, dabbling with lotions and potions and making tinctures to do everything from clean my floor and countertops to setting wards for protection.
“From there I discovered the elementals, the devic kingdom and the power that lives and moves through all things and my world became a magical one,” she tells me because now, with her eyes locked on mine, it feels as though I have her full attention.
Mom asks about her applied theory of magick versus just going with the flow and the girl takes a breath and lets me go before she responds, “Indeed it’s nice to just 'go with the flow' but we all have the ability to control certain aspects of our lives, to manipulate the present and activate auspicious energy for our future. It is possible to activate magick in our homes, to create the life we each desire. And the very first step is to become aware of what it is you want to change in your life and know that you can attain your desires and in that simple action you take control of the situation.” She reaches into her bag as she gives Mom a dazzling smile. “How about I read for you right now? I have my cards. It would allow you to get a feel for my style. What do you say?”
Mom nods and by her softening expression I know she likes this girl and I'm pretty sure the girl knows it too because she grins when she draws the Empress as the significator and then the Ace of Pentacles. Mom is asking questions but I am no longer listening. My attention is fixed on the girl's inner forearm where her sleeve has just ridden up to reveal a tattoo of a black cat with tufted ears and gold lined eyes.
That night as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to pull me under, I remembered my chat with the cat, the girl's tattoo and Omar's suggestion that I do some research. I pull my laptop into bed with me and Google “Cat Goddess”. I get pages and pages on the Egyptian Goddess Bast…
I read, 'Bast or the great Egyptian Cat Goddess was known as the protector of women and children. She is associated with house and home, healing and protection. She can appear in the form of a cat, or fully human, as a beautiful woman, or as a combination of the two forms together: most often with a body of a woman and the head of a cat. Bast is not a goddess to be underestimated, while she is capable of great generosity to her devotees, she can be cruel and merciless to evildoers…'
An insistent noise pulls me from sleep and I wake roughly among scattered notes about the fierce cat-headed Goddess of the lower Nile who protects the Pharaoh and the Sun God. My hand goes to my neck which has acquired a crick from sleeping wrong and I'm wondering why I'm awake. I blink at the ceiling, feeling the results of my late night prowl on the internet, when the familiar ringtone of my cell begins to croon from across the room. I roll out of bed and stagger to my backpack. It takes a couple of seconds for me to wrestle the phone from its pocket. When it finally does come free, I collapse into the chair at my desk and press the button. “Hello?”
“Oh thank God, you answered!” Cordelia chides. “This is my third try. I fell down the stairs and I'm waiting for an x-ray. I know you aren't due in until later but I can't open. Lord knows I can't get a hold of your mom.”
I press my palm to my forehead. Crap it’s Sunday, Mom's time to unplug and climb the mountain. It was her ritual, all the staff knew she was unreachable until she plugged back in, usually after two. “I need you to do it for me.”
“That's fine,” I tell her as I knead my neck. “Are you okay?'
“No, didn't you hear me? I fell down the stairs,” she says again this time emphasizing the phrase with exasperation. “I think I broke my wrist.”
She brushes off my sympathy, and with a no-nonsense tone, fills me in on the day's schedule, “There's a yoga class at two and a guided meditation workshop at four but otherwise it’s just you and the readers.”
“I got it. Don't worry,” I tell her. “Let me know what the doctor says.”
“We can chat later. You're still in bed aren’t you?”
“Why? What time is it?”
“You've got thirty minutes.”
I groan. “I have to shower...” I start to say but she has already disconnected.
My hair is wet and my face naked when I unlock the door to the shop. I smile a greeting to all who are waiting and give Stephani a hug when she comes in a few moments later. When I slip from her arms, the story of Cordelia's call spills from me as Stephani studies my face.
“Well that doesn’t make for a very nice start. Does it, Deary?” she asked in her lovely singsong voice. “You look like you could use a moment to yourself.” Out of all the readers, Stephani is my favorite. I don't know what got her to leave her native Australia and settle here but I'm glad she did. A moment later I'm doubly thankful when she presses a pastry bag to my chest. “Why don't you take this, go put your feet up and have a nibble?” I start making noises about the store but she cuts me off. “Don't you worry. I can mind the front. My first client isn't due for a bit.”
Gratefully I accept and as I go into the back to put on some coffee, I peek into the pastry bag and am rewarded with a big, flaky, chocolate-filled croissant. I devour it before the coffee finishes brewing. I linger to pour myself a large cup which I top off with a generous amount of milk before I go into the bathroom to survey my general disarray.
I run a brush through my hair and apply a coat of lipstick and mascara. When I return to the front, I feel fortified and ready for the day which is good, because when I get to the counter I find it has started without me and I am needed to answer phones, book readings and ring up merchandise. I am kept busy supplying customer service long after the rest of the staff arrive and step in.
Later Cordelia calls to say that her wrist is not broken after all, just badly bruised. Still she is forced to take several days off to heal which puts the shifts at a skeleton-crew level. The news turns Mom stoic. I can tell she is flirting with the idea of adding to our number. Currently there are twelve of us between the store and the receiving room. Mom and I spend so much of our time here that the crew is more like family than staff and adding to it is not something she does lightly.