Georgia in the fall was a glorious blend of orange, red, and yellow hues with comfortable daytime temperatures and crisp, cooler evenings. I guided Ruby through Savannah’s picturesque countryside as I headed for my destination. Upon reaching the historic downtown district, I swung my car into a vacant parking spot and walked up the cobblestone street to the small shop on the corner. Pausing on the front stoop, I glanced up to read the sun-shaped sign: Madame Lagos’ Mystical Impressions.
I turned the antique door handle and entered the store as the door squeaked in protest. The interior of the shop was dimly lit but deco‐ rated with colorful tapestries that adorned the walls. The inviting aroma of patchouli-scented incense greeted me as I surveyed my surroundings. A long glass case stood off to my left while the entire back wall was covered in bookshelves. An attractive, middle-aged woman was perusing the books, but otherwise, the store was empty.
I wandered over to the glass case and was studying some of the price tags for various crystals when a hand forcefully slammed down on the top of the case, startling me. I looked up and met the unwavering gaze of the medium from the séance. Bandages covered most of the old woman’s face, but her eyes were warm and inviting.
“Oh Jesus,” I breathed, clutching at my chest. “I didn’t see you.”
“What brings you here?” Madame Lagos asked.
“Okay, well first, I wanted to see how you are? I’m so sorry about what happened last night.”
She cackled. “Oh, my dear, think no more of it. As you can see, I’m perfectly well.”
I raised my eyebrow. Having my entire face bandaged didn’t qualify as being ‘perfectly well’ in my book, but I wasn’t there to debate the issue. “O-kay,” I said slowly, drawing out the syllables of the word. “Anyway, I just wanted to apologize for involving you in that situation. If I had known how dangerous-”
“I was hoping you might show up here.”
“Really? Well, I just wanted to check on you.”
“No, I am referring to your purpose. I am surprised that you have not yet been awakened.”
I stared, bewildered by her statement. “Huh?”
“Your séance,” she said, coming around the counter. “You seek to discover the purpose of others when you do not yet know your own.”
“I don’t think any of us do really. Isn’t that something we figure out as we go through life?”
Madam Lagos gave a coy smile. “Perhaps. But yours, my dear, is quite unique.”
“Riigghht. Anyway, I wanted to ask about something you said during the séance.”
“I said many things,” she said with a smile.
“Okayyy. Well, how did you know that spirit that you encountered was evil?”
The smile on her face quickly faded. “I would strongly urge you not to make further contact.”
“I don’t think I’m the one calling the shots here. That spirit is my friend’s brother-”
The store’s other patron let out an audible gasp, her mouth hanging open.
“I’m sorry dear, can I help you find something?” Madame Lagos asked her.
The woman shook her head slowly. “No, no thanks,” she stammered, turning back to the bookshelf.
“If that spirit is indeed his brother, I believe he wishes to be left alone,” the medium said solemnly, her eyes fixed upon me.
“No, I don’t think that’s it. See, he and his girlfriend died last year in a car accident and-”
The middle-aged woman coughed, then quickly turned her back to us.
I took a step closer to Madam Lagos. “How do I help them?” I asked quietly.
“Leave them be,” the medium urged. “If they want your help, they will seek you out.”
“But they have already sought me out,” I said dryly. “I need to figure out how to help them.”
The old woman sighed heavily and walked over to the bookshelf. “Here,” she snapped. “But I must warn you that I advise against this.”
I read the cover of the book, then looked up at her doubtfully. “How to Contact the Dead-- for Dummies. Seriously?”
Madam Lagos gestured towards the door. Obviously, we were done.
“Thanks,” I muttered, reaching into my purse for my wallet. I paid for the book, then opened the squeaky door and headed outside. I had just crossed the cobblestone street when I heard footsteps approaching quickly from behind. I spun around to see the woman from the store.
“Can I help you with something?” I snapped.
“You’re a friend of Abel’s?” she asked earnestly.
“Yeah. You know him?” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned against the trunk of my car.
She gave a small smile. “I should certainly hope so. I’m his mother.”
NEVER HAD I wanted to crawl under a rock than at that very moment. My standoffish demeanor vanished, leaving only awkward embarrassment in its wake. My cheeks flushed and I quickly untangled my arms to extend my palm for a handshake. “Sorry, I’m Colette,” I said meekly.
She shook my hand, then smiled. “Victoria Campbell.” Nodding at the row of small stores, she said “There’s this quaint café about a block up the road here. Would you care to join me?”
I flashed a smile. “Sure.” We walked in stride up the street to the café. “I’m so sorry, really. That was quite rude of me. I just...well, I could tell that you were listening in on my conversation back there.”
Victoria glanced over at me. “Ah yes, so I wasn’t as nonchalant as I had hoped?” she asked with a laugh.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “Did I say something that bothered you? You appeared somewhat...uncomfortable with the questions that I was asking.”
She grimaced, then bit her lip. ’That’s sorta what I was hoping to talk to you about.”
We reached the café and Victoria held the door open as we proceeded inside. We selected a booth in the far corner of the quaint bistro, and on cue, a waitress scurried over to take our order.
“What can I get for you ladies?”
I glanced down at the brief menu, then back up at the waitress. “I’ll just have a warm apple cider, please.”
“No coffee?” Victoria asked me, raising her eyebrows.
I wrinkled my nose. “I’m not a fan.”
She gave a small smile, then looked up at our waitress. “I’ll take a large coffee, lots of cream please, and a croissant.”
The waitress scribbled our order on her pad, then left.
“Able hates coffee too. Can’t even stand the smell of it. Sebastian was the same way. They used to make me sit outside on the balcony whenever I’d drink it at home.”
I looked down at my hands uncomfortably. Just the mention of his name cut me to the bone. “You must miss him terribly,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Did you know him from school?”
I shook my head. “No, um, I’ve never met him.”
The waitress returned with our order. “Anything else I can get for either of you?”
“No thank you,” Victoria said politely as the waitress dropped off our check, then headed to the back. “So, then Abel told you about the accident?” she pressed, stirring her coffee.
I nodded. “Sorta. I was confused about the picture of him and Genesis at the school.”
She rolled her eyes. “Ah, yes. The one Kinsley advocated so strongly for.”
I stared at her, my curiosity mounting. “You don’t approve?”
She scoffed. “Of the picture? Of course. Of Kinsley? What was it that you said earlier? I’m not a fan.”
I couldn’t suppress the grin that turned up the corners of my mouth. Colette-1, Kinsley-0. I sipped my apple cider before responding. “Can I ask what you were doing in the shop back there?”
Victoria hesitated, her green eyes studying me. “Searching for answers, I suppose.” She gave a weak smile before continuing. “I um...have a hard time accepting Sebastian’s death.”
I swallowed hard, uncertain I wanted to participate further in this conversation.
She took a sip of her coffee. “I heard you mention back there that you had some sort of encounter with his spirit?”
Yep, this wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, especially not with Sebastian’s mother.
“I-I don’t know how to answer that.” I shifted my weight in the booth and pulled at the collar of my shirt, suddenly uncomfortable with the temperature of the room.
“Is that not an accurate statement?”
Why was she asking me about this? What was she hoping for?
“I um...well I see them sometimes.” I looked down at the floor, then up at the wall décor—anywhere that was safe from Victoria Campbell’s penetrating stare.
“Sebastian and Genesis,” I said softly, staring at the floor.
I felt her hand on mine as she reached across the table, trying to stifle my uneasiness. “It’s okay, Colette. I believe you.” Her voice was soothing, like sunshine after a turbulent storm.
“I’m not sure what to say. I guess I just didn’t expect to wake up and be having this conversation with you today,” I said with a laugh.
Victoria smiled, dimples appearing against her flawless complexion. “Yes, I suppose it is a shock for both of us.” She took another sip of her coffee, then set it down gently on the table before meeting my gaze. “When did your family move here?”
“A few months back. We’re originally from Chicago.”
She raised her eyebrows. “So, is this what you did in Chicago?Hunt ghosts?”
I laughed. “No. I was a cheerleader and on the yearbook committee.”
“Ahh, so how does one go from doing those activities to tracking down ghosts?”
“Would you believe me if I said it just sorta happened?”
She laughed. “Care to explain?”
“I saw Genesis first, just standing outside the cemetery...staring at me with those lifeless blue eyes. Then it became more frequent— almost as if she’s trying to tell me something.”
She nodded at my book. “So, I guess that explains the book then.”
“I know it might seem crazy- ”
Victoria held her palm up to me. “Nope, no judgment from me. I’d imagine if I were in your shoes, I’d do something similar.”
I smiled, comforted by her answer. Before I could respond, my cell phone started ringing. I checked the caller ID, then looked up at Victoria. “Excuse me. Your son beckons.” I accepted the call and hit the speaker button. “Hello there.
“What are you doing?” Abel asked.
“Um, actually, I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you,” I replied, snickering.
“Hello honey,” Victoria called out.
“You’re with my mom? How are you with my mom, Colette?”
“I ran into her...downtown.”
“At her practice?”
Practice? Was she a lawyer?
“No, I went to that metaphysical store that the medium from the séance owns. Kinda ran into your mom there.”
The phone was silent as Abel processed what I had just told him. Finally, he spoke—his tone urgent. “Colette, I need to tell you something. Where are you?”
I glanced down at my napkin. “We’re at the Rainy-Day Café.”
“Yes, darling. We’d love for you to join us,” Victoria chimed in.
“I’m five minutes away. Don’t move.” He hung up and I tossed my phone back into my purse.
“He seems quite enamored with you,” Victoria remarked with a smirk.
“You think so?” I asked, finishing my cider.
She chuckled. “It’s a first for me too! In relationships, he’s usually distant and moody, unwilling to compromise or admit fault. That stubbornness comes from his father, I swear!”
We shared a quick laugh before she continued.
“But when he speaks of you, his face lights up and there’s a softness to him that I haven’t seen...” her voice faltered and she had to regain her composure before continuing, “since Sebastian died.”
Seconds later, Abel walked into the café. The mere sight of him caused me to have shortness of breath and chest palpitations. His black hair was slicked back, emphasizing his green eyes even more than usual. He wore a plain black T-shirt with matching jeans and carried a motorcycle helmet under his arm. Sweet Jesus, he had a motorcycle? My lady bits couldn’t take much more! He was oozing sex appeal and I... well I was sweating buckets and silently cursing at the lack of PH protection my deodorant offered. Regardless, I was sheer seconds away from throwing myself at him and having him fuck me good and hard against the fabricated wood table of the Rainy-Day Café.
“So, Mom this is Colette,” he said with a grin.
Oh yeah...his mom! Suddenly, that sexual fantasy lost its luster.
Victoria beamed. “She’s a lovely young lady. Much different than the last one you dated.”
Thank God she wasn’t privy to the naughty thoughts about her son that were still swirling through my head!
“Oh, we’re not dating,” I interjected.
Abel raised his eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. “She means not yet. But we’re entertaining the option.”
Cockiness wasn’t typically a trait I’d consider desirable, yet somehow it suited him.
“Well, since it’s an option, perhaps she’d like to join us for dinner tonight?” Victoria asked, her hands folded under her chin as she waited expectantly for the answer she sought.
I opened my mouth to respond, but Abel quickly intercepted. “We can’t,” he replied without a glance in my direction. “Colette and I made other plans.”
We had? This was news to me!
Victoria frowned, not bothering to hide her disappointment. “Oh.”
Abel leaned forward and squeezed his mother’s shoulder. “Some other time, Mom.” He grabbed my hand and led me towards the door. “Come. Our reservation will soon expire.”