Toxic #31: No Shoes, No Shirt, No ServiceSep 10, 2014
The Commons was an outdoor mall, blocked off to cars by chipping concrete bollards. Shops and bars filled closet-sized spaces in old-timey buildings, and screaming, laughing kids blew across the cobblestones like confetti.
I dodged a group of the racing toddlers, wincing as my Chuck slipped on a tilted paver. Vincent had wanted me to stay hidden because the fairies were hazardous to my health, but at this rate the pavement was more of a threat. After almost a week I hadn’t seen a single glittery wing. If it hadn’t been for Scott’s incessant bitching I’d have wondered if they were still in town.
Still. I was being good and laying low. I just couldn’t stay trapped in my mom’s house one more day. Window-shopping wouldn’t kill me, so Vincent would have to deal. I’d mix with the college kids and spend my blog money and have a little freedom. At least until my dad picked me up.
Which reminded me—I really needed to pick up some Tums. It was soup night at Casa de Padre, and given his love of garlic and onions, said soup would include a side of heartburn.
After picking up my new stomach-lining in a bottle, I wandered into a New Age bookshop that was slightly bigger than my closet. There was a woman wedged behind the counter giving an older guy a card reading, both of whom ignored me and the jangling bells above the door.
I browsed a display case full of crystals and rune stones, wondering who, except old hippies, bought the stuff. Someone had to, since I doubted tarot reading paid the rent. Or maybe they bought the incense sticks itching my nose.
Another case, set so close to the first that anyone over a hundred pounds would have trouble squeezing through, was filled with tiny paintings and geodes of every size and color. There were herbs and amulets strewn among the geodes, along with decks of tarot cards and stacks of fliers for a new age workshop. About the only thing missing from making the store a cliché was a bust of Edgar Cayce and a stack of Yanni CDs.
I squeezed my way over to the book section, three overstuffed towers that looked ready to tip. Most of the selection was junk, your typical “angels among us” and Twilight-knock-off “Find Your Lupine Soul Mate” crap. There were a few books on astronomy, tucked in among the garbage, along with—oddly—two books on constellations that had been written by someone with a real degree.
I fingered one of the books, chewing my lip. I’d never been particularly interested in looking at the stars. New York City didn’t give you a very good view of them, so why would I want to? But my dad had a telescope, and God knew there was nothing else for me to do out there. My cell barely got a signal and the man was adamantly opposed to TV. And tonight was my first sleepover. Yay, me.
Sighing, I tucked one of the books under my arm and then wandered to the next case. This one held more traditional mythological creature books, along with fairy tales from every country that ever was. I fingered the spine of one with a sparkly red cover. Vincent had told me to stop reading crap and focus on the encyclopedia, but could one book really hurt? What if it was interesting?
I pulled it out, and felt a shiver go down my spine: “Down in the Barrows—Human and Fairy Interactions throughout Time.” I had no idea if the real name for the fairy world was the Barrows, or if the author was full of crap like most of the others who’d filled the shelves of this store, but the book grabbed my attention. Or the oddly specific title did. It was probably more interesting than stars, and if it wasn’t trash it could be more helpful. What with the fairies being mad at me and all, I could use help on fairy interactions.
I slipped the book underneath the one on stars, ready to head to the cash register. Too bad my way was blocked by a blonde with a tan. A familiar blonde, her Boho skirt taking up the width of the stacks.
Kim. AKA Julia’s quiet minion. “Why are you in my mom’s store?”
I tried to hide the title of the fairy book with my arm, my face heating like I’d been caught smuggling porn. “I needed a book on constellations.”
She flopped into one of the beanbags shoved near the end of the aisle. “There’s a Barnes and Noble at the mall. You could have gone there.”
“Does your mom know you’re trying to drive away customers?”
“Chill. I could give a crap where you shop.” She examined her manicure. “Why are you looking for a book about stars, anyway?”
“My dad has a telescope. I figure I need something to do when I’m there.”
She sniffed, picking at a chip in her polish. “Divorced parents, huh? Me too. My dad couldn’t stand my mom’s hippie shit anymore.”
I glanced at the woman behind the counter. She had finished reading the older guy’s cards and was polishing crystals. “Is she seriously into all this stuff?”
Kim stopped picking at her nails and pulled out her phone. “There’s a lot of weirdness in this town. She says it’s ley lines. Who am I to say it’s not?” She swiped her phone, frowning at whatever she saw on-screen. “There’s this huge coven of witches who practice just outside of town, you know. A vampire cult, too. Too bad their fangs are so fake they glow in the dark.”
I’d never heard her say more than three words around Julie. It was more than odd to hear her so chatty. And non-hostile. “Don’t tell me you think this stuff is real. Like the witches and all the tarot stuff.”
She pocketed her phone. “What if I do?”
“Just curious.” No way I was ‘fessing up that it would shock the hell out of me. Also no way I’d tell her I believed it, too.
She sat forward, her eyes actually making contact with mine for once. They were a shocking blue. “Julia thinks it’s all B.S., so what I say here? It stays here. Like Vegas, got it?” At my nod, she kicked back in the beanbag and stretched out her legs. “I’ve seen stuff. Ghosts, and witches doing real magic. Hell, my mom knew I was going to flunk my calc test the other day. And that was off a simple three-card read.”
Her mom could have known about flunking the calc test just because she never seemed to do any homework, but I didn’t point that out. “You’ve seen witches. Doing spells. Are you sure?”
She shrugged. “Okay. So I’m still trying to decide if I was just drunk or what. But the tarot thing is totally real.” She sniffed. “So. You have a boyfriend?”
“What? Why?” And where had that come from?
“Damian’s a good kisser, isn’t he? I swear he could bring the dead back to life with those lips of his.” She gave me a cat-eating-a-bird smile. “You have no idea how much that pissed off Julia. I’m almost tempted to try to set you up with him again just to see her head explode.”
My own head wanted to explode from the conversation. It was way too bizarre to have her talking to me about this. “Not discussing my love life with you. And I definitely am not looking for your help with it.”
“Whatevs,” she sighed. “It’s your loss. Are you going to buy those?”
I glanced at the books. “Probably.”
“Then give.” She scooped them up and sauntered over to the cash register. “If you ever need help with this star stuff, I’m pretty good with astronomy. I’ve found most of the major constellations. A comet, too.”
She snorted, handing me the books in a paper bag. “Don’t act all appreciative or anything. And don’t think this means you can act friendly and stuff in school. In the store it’s cool, but Julia really hates you.”
“Got it. I’m still scum.”
“And I have a sense of social self-preservation. Something you might have more of it you ditched the t-shirts and got some style.”
© A.M. Schilling 2014. All Rights Reserved.