STAR FINDER

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Chapter 33: Que Sera, Sera…Or?

“And so we shall begin.” Zilla picked up Lilly’s teacup swirled the dregs and turned it upside-down on the saucer. Formally presenting the cup and saucer she said, “Take a look dear.” An eager grin encouraged Lilly. “Yes, yes, turn it over. Yours must be the first eyes to gaze at the signs.”

The inverted cup floated in a muddy purple-brown puddle of leaves and twigs. Grasping the delicate gold handle, Lilly returned it to a more traditional position. Doubt filled her eyes as she glimpsed over the rim at the remaining clumps and clusters of herbage. A spicy scent wafted up to her. “Cinnamon?”

Zilla nodded. “What do you see?” She did a little side-to-side shoulder shimmy, “Feel?” Her arms lifted, hands open and ready, expecting feedback.

“Nothing. No discernable patterns present themselves. But I am not the expert.”

“True. But to the trained eye…”

Lilly, like the annoying smart kid at a party, focused all of her attention on Zilla, eager to expose the magician’s tricks.

Madame Zilla hummed. Befitting entry into a mystical world, the gypsy’s eyes glazed over, then closed. Her hands suspended above the table they circled, her measured tone of voice started out soft and unhurried. As she traveled deeper into her true calling, the beat quickened, building to a booming crescendo on the last line. She intoned: “Let these leaves their shapes unite. Stars in their orbits, shone pale, thro’ the light. From celestial spaces to earth flows your sight. Allow no man your voice to strike.”

She gave a sharp clap as she sang the last word: “Strike.”

Lilly immediately recognized that Zilla had lifted the second line from Edger Allen Poe. The plagiarism enhanced her skepticism.

Zilla sighed. Age lines melted away from her face. When her lids flipped open, Lilly saw the crows’ feet around the woman’s eyes had softened. Her wide mouth was gentle.

Lilly’s breath stalled. Was the change just a demonstration of her acting abilities? Part of the con? If so, it was affective, visceral. She glanced at Bobby for his reaction. He sat behind Zilla to her right. His face was blank.

Lilly had read about charlatans. They swindled the gullible. After all, there was nothing logical about spiritualism. But Zilla had nothing to gain by duping her. Or did she?

“Now slide it over,” purred Zilla. “Good. The handle’s position is representative of the consultant—that would be you.” Careful not to touch the cup, Zilla turned the saucer until the handle pointed at Lilly. “Prepare yourself.”

Cocking her head Zilla inspected the leaf patterns stuck on the sides and bottom of the cup. Her eyes widened and then pinched. “Ah…um…interesting.” She beamed, began to speak but changed her mind, and was tight-lipped. “There is a lot to see. Many conflicting and complicated issues.”

I could have divined that. But Lilly had to give Zilla kudos for being a practiced performer. Her assortment of “spiritual” gestures was dizzying.

Zilla tapped her front teeth with her index finger. “Yes, you have a lot going on. But neither of us needed the leaves to tell us that after your alarming arrival.” She rubbed her chin, spied something in the cup, and pointed at a single cluster. “See this?”

Lilly inclined her head toward Zilla’s. The top of their heads brushed.

“That’s the snake symbol twisted around the stick. Situated over the image for Lubadsagush…that is very unusual.”

“What is a Lubadsagush?”

“It’s Saturn dear. Lubadsagush means ‘oldest of the old’ or an old soul. When my mother was in training she couldn’t pronounce Lubadsagush so she nicknamed Saturn, ‘the Dustman.’ The planet’s symbol reminded her of a bent man, cleaning the streets.”

“Does Saturn signify anything special?”

“It symbolizes lost wealth, poverty. Also, I am sad to say, it means you can expect further turmoil. Money influences all of your plans.”

Money? Like the cash hidden in her apartment that she so desperately needed?

“Where is that in the leaves? Show me.”

“Opposite the handle. See it?”

“It’s a caduceus. The symbol doctors use.”

“Yes, Lilly. But Hermes the Olympian god-patron of travelers and messenger between gods and mortals carried the winged staff with entwined snakes. You see you are a traveler. And in light of Saturn’s orbit…well, this is very significant. You were born to journey among the stars. You’re a risk-taker, with the soul of an adventurer. Very exciting, I would never have imagined.”

Zilla gave a little cough and continued. “Saturn and Virgo cohabiting the night sky, as they are now, emanate tremendous power. Saturn controls Virgo. Hold on—see that floating clump on the bottom right that looks like black worms? You will have a secret foe, a spy, living close by. The fall months are a dynamic period. Critical life-altering changes continue to occur.”

“September?” Pain flashed through her. Lilly shifted, played with the ends of her brittle hair. She had lost all track of time.

“Ah. You are a Virgo. I see it on your face. This month you will have a birthday. How old will you be?”

“Fourteen.”

“Day of the month is very important. The leaves tell me you were born near the cusp. Maybe the third? Or the seventh? That is an auspicious number. Very lucky.”

“What is today’s date Zilla?”

“September fourth. Aha! It is your birthday.” She beamed. “Did you…”

Zilla’s ramblings were lost to Lilly. Her mind had already taken her back to that last morning when father and daughter were together. She had lashed out and called Chichi a liar. Her words coiled around her like that snake on the stick. “Eighteen and four. Eighteen years old in four years. Remember those numbers. Because that’s all the time you have left to control me.”

Tears spilled from the corners of her eyes. She wiped at them with the back of her hand.

Zilla reached across the table and shook her shoulder. “Lilly. Dear. Are you okay? Is it the foot?”

“No. I am fine.” She wished she had never been reminded that this was her birthday.

“I was saying four is an inflexible number. People born at the beginning of the month often have problems conforming to society’s standards. They don’t fit in and play well with others. Sort of outcasts.”

Lilly rubbed her runny nose.

“Now, now.” Zilla pulled a hunk of crumpled tissues from her pocket and offered them to Lilly. “This year you are sad, but next year will be better. So you lose your money. There will be more money and other chances to celebrate.”

Not with her dad.

“I see a new venture in the leaves. A profitable opportunity is in your future. Then you can buy whatever you want. Lots of presents, new clothes, trips to the mall, and ice cream.”

“I don’t like ice cream…anymore.”

For a person who claimed to be a fortuneteller, she was way off base. Under the table, Lilly’s hands clamped together. Did Zilla think her so young and shallow that the day after her father had died she wanted to go shopping? All the rings, the nails—they were a farce. Zilla was a clown in a costume. For a minute, Lilly had let herself be sucked in. No longer.

“Well, what you do with your earnings will be up to you. Let’s move on. Blow your nose, dear.”

Lilly dabbed.

The black nail with a half-moon stenciled on the tip pointed into the cup. “This pattern worries me.”

“I am tired Zilla. Can we stop?”

“I understand. But I told you…we must finish. There are conflicting messages in this cup. You need to listen and plan. Bobby, water. Bring us both a glass.”

Until Zilla said his name, Lilly had forgotten Bobby was in the room, let alone seated at Zilla’s elbow.

He delivered the ice water and returned to his former position.

“Let us proceed. I see danger. You will walk a perilous path. Often at great risk. But it is a direction you choose.”

The scented candles and exhaustion were having a hypnotic effect on her. She drank more water. “Does it have to be so dark in here?”

“Yes. Darkness rules the psychic mind.” Zilla wiggled her brows. “I am being drawn in, deeper than ever before. You are an excellent conduit Lilly. Are you a stargazer?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Don’t be offended. That was a compliment. Smart people know the diamonds in the sky hold the answers.”

“What?”

“Diamonds, the stars, dear. Ancient mariners thought they were diamonds. You’ve never heard the term?”

“No. Can we finish, please?”

Zilla pointed at a new section of the cup. “You’ve been lonely your entire life. Your future is on your mind. Will you have friends? The leaves show me a new friend comes to the rescue. Helps you avoid difficulties; provides the security you seek. The key is this anchor,” she pointed into the cup. “See it?”

Lilly looked, agreed, but saw nothing.

“That’s your protector. It is shrouded, concealed in a dark mist but it will not abandon you. It will fight for you.” Her pinky indicated the clump stuck to the side of the cup on the same side as the handle.

“Now to the bottom of the cup.” Zilla stared, almost as if she had forgotten she wasn’t alone. She yelped as the cup wobbled and clanged on the saucer. Tea splashed. Zilla shoved the teacup away. She dropped back in her chair.

“What is it?” Lilly peeked into the terrifying teacup and shrugged. “Hypothetically, what am I supposed to see?”

“There.” Zilla covered her mouth, her eyes. She removed her hands and made the sign of the cross. She hesitated, took a breath, and peeked into the cup again. “It’s gone. I must have disturbed it when I startled. But it was there.”

“What did you see?”

“It was a single letter.” Zilla searched again. She pointed at the bottom. “It was the letter ‘F’. A bold ‘F’. Any letter positioned at the bottom, next to the alligator is dangerous. The belly crawlers are the bringers of death. Pain and fear walk with them. A place or person who begins with the letter F threatens you. Does that mean anything to you?”

A single drop of moisture snaked down Lilly’s spine. Her insides felt like Bobby’s oatmeal. Lying was easier without speaking. She shook her head—no. She sucked on an ice cube from her water glass. She refused to speak the name she knew began with ‘F’. That confession would give Fields power and substance. It had to be him—the man who killed her father. But hadn’t he perished in the fire? Was he a threat from the beyond?

“Now don’t fret child. Here’s good news.” Zilla looked into the cup. “I don’t think I have ever seen Saturn so dominant in the leaves. But here it is again, I see your new friend. The one I pointed out before, the anchor. The friend will come to your rescue.” She sat taller. “The two of you will join forces and form a lifelong bond. He or she will be your mentor.

Recovered, Lilly managed a shuddering breath.

“I see doubt in your eyes. But you will learn. The leaves do not lie, Lillian Randall. Our choices are not random. The stars influence us all. My readings bear that out. You and I are but a speck in the infinite cosmic cycle, part of a greater plan. This friend,” she pointed into the cup, “will be there to save you when you need it most.”

“Is this the end of the reading?” asked Lilly. She needed silence, time to think.

“There are other less noteworthy symbols. But essentially yes.” Zilla huffed. “Remember what I said about forming partnerships.”

Lilly snickered. “Are you that new partner?”

“Yes, I think the stars have brought us together for a purpose. You possess certain abilities. I have the knowledge to show you how to use them.”

Had Zilla figured out Lilly was a finder? Impossible. But if by chance she knew, could Zilla exploit her gift? Turn her into a real sideshow freak? She’d respect her dad’s advice and not trust the Baileys.

Zilla forged ahead. “I know you are nervous, uncomfortable around people. I can teach you how to act, fit in, and together we can help people. We both have gifts to share. I have no daughter, no one who will carry on with my arts after I die.”

“A partnership? I don’t understand what you think I can do, but the answer is no.”

“No?” Zilla repeated imitating Lilly’s youthful falsetto. She crumpled back in her chair. “You disappoint me. So ungrateful. I rescued you, hide you at my peril.” Zilla’s hand smacked her own chest. “You’ve plunged a knife into my heart, Miss Randall. Out of friendship I did all this…” her arms panned the kitchen, “…the soup, the reading just to be kind to a little girl who was mourning her father.”

Zilla took several breaths. She pushed onto her feet and the chair legs scraped the floor. Arms spread wide she leaned forward holding onto the table’s edge. “Very well. You need time to think. Maybe a day or two in the pantry will clear your head.” She folded her arms. “I must rest. If you need anything, Tem will take care of you in my absence.”

Real tears glistened in Zilla’s eyes. She took Lilly’s hand between hers. “Life is complicated dear. That’s where friends, advisors can help. You have none. You and your father lived like fugitives.”

Surprised, Lilly felt a small wave of hope.

“Yes, I saw how he hid you away. Never let you play with other children. But now you have me. Maybe you are as smart as you think you are and will take advantage of my offer. You need balancing elements during this time of earth’s extremes. I can give you that.” Zilla inhaled and exhaled. “Now you are facing danger. This F still seeks to destroy you. Who but Zilla is here to protect you?”

Picking up the moonstone, Zilla looked at Lilly. She rolled it in her hand and then gave it to Lilly. “A token of my friendship.”

She hesitated, before offering her open hand.

Zilla closed Lilly’s fingers over it. “Keep it close, always.”

“Thank you.” For some unknown reason, she wanted it. “My leg is stiff.” She let her leg drop off the chair and shifted her weight to one hip shoving the moonstone deep into her pocket.

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