Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
“I think the correct thing to do is to call a nurse,” Chuy said gravely. “She is supposed to remove the needle. What is going into you?”
“Just fluid, I think, so if they had to give me medicine they could administer it through the tube.” She had to dredge hard to come up with the word “administer.”
“You weren’t hurt?” Chuy said, as if he were pretty sure that was the case but had to check.
“I used all my magic,” she explained wearily.
“I understand. You need bed rest and soup and to keep warm.” Again, he sounded like he was reading from a manual on the care and feeding of witches. But Fiji didn’t mind.
“That sounds so good,” she said.
Chuy said, “I’ll do what I can to make that happen.” He turned to leave her room.
“Chuy,” she said. “When I killed the man, the demon laughed.”
His shoulders slumped. “I was afraid of that,” he said, and went to secure her release.
Evidently, Chuy was very good at greasing the hospital skids. Faster than she would have believed, she got her release papers and was in a wheelchair, riding out the door to the curb. With some hesitation and faltering, she maneuvered herself into Chuy’s car. She would have liked to see Olivia before she left the hospital, but apparently Olivia was still in surgery.
“Less than two days until Saturday,” Chuy said on the drive back to Midnight, and suddenly Fiji understood why he was so anxious to have her back in town. She had to be in Midnight to make her own personal sacrifice.
“I’m sorry you brought that up,” Fiji said. She’d been feeling fairly warm and cozy with Chuy, but not any longer. She rested her head against the cold glass of the window. She was far beyond caring if her hair got lopsided.
sorry,” Chuy said, sounding awkward. “I know you are thinking about what you have to do. But I am thinking about the next century, and longer.”
“I think it’s more like I’m thinking
and you’re thinking
,” she murmured. He didn’t respond; either he thought she was saying something stupid or he completely agreed. “Have you felt him moving?” she asked.
Chuy sighed. “I have,” he said.
Soon I will rise,
the demon told her.
She had not heard his voice in a day or two. She’d felt him, looming in the back of her mind, always present, but he’d been silent.
She hadn’t missed his voice a bit.
Her homecoming was oddly anticlimactic. Fiji had left in the middle of a tumult. She came back in the middle of nothing. There was no one on the street. The limo was gone, the body was gone, all the people who’d been in the street were gone. She didn’t even see Olivia’s blood in the pawnshop parking lot. Chuy pulled behind her house and ran around to open her door, helping her out of the car as solicitously as if she’d been an aged
. Her back door was unlocked, as she’d left it. Chuy offered his arm to help her manage the step up to the porch and the back-door sill. She was so weak; she hadn’t felt this way since she’d had mono as a teenager.
Chuy was seldom inside Fiji’s house, so she was ridiculously glad she’d made her bed first thing this morning. In fact, she’d been just about to take off her nightclothes and get in the shower when she’d heard the Rev shouting. Chuy folded back the covers neatly so Fiji could climb into bed. “Anything else I can get you?” he asked.
“Just some water, please,” she said, feeling almost shy about having him move around her house. Chuy returned from the kitchen with a glass of water, and a bowl of soup with crackers on a bed tray. Fiji had never seen the bed tray before, but the soup was Progresso minestrone. She sat propped up and consumed it all. She felt much better.
When Fiji was done, Chuy silently removed the tray. Fiji scooted down in the bed and turned on her side. Her comfort was complete when Mr. Snuggly padded into the room, jumped up beside her, and curled up beside her hand, nudging it and even giving it a raspy lick. Fiji scratched his head and he purred, the most soothing sound in the world. She heard the back door opening and closing; Chuy had left.
Glad you’re home,
the demon murmured.
“Fuck you,” she said. And she fell asleep.
When she woke up, it was dark outside.
Fiji felt almost normal. She started to get up, but then she realized someone else was in the room. “Lemuel?” she said, almost certain she could smell him.
“Fiji,” Lemuel said from the shadows. “I’m here to thank you.”
“I was glad to be able to do something,” she said. She wasn’t quite sure what to say next. “Thanks for being here,” she tried.
“And yet I wasn’t able to be there early today when you saved Olivia, my wife.”
“We wished you were awake,” Fiji said. “We were afraid we would lose her.”
“You protected her with your body and you killed the man responsible.”
“Yes,” Fiji said bleakly. “I killed him.”
“You’re not sorry you saved Olivia?”
“No, of course not. He was about to shoot again—me or her. I had to do it. But it doesn’t sit real well.”
“I can remember once I felt that way,” Lemuel said after a moment.
He came closer, perched on the edge of the bed. He took her hand. His was very cold.
“Fiji, you are a young woman. You haven’t seen a lot of life. I don’t want this for you, to have to kill. And I wish I could say this is the only time you’ll have to step up to defend this town and its people. But how can I know that?”
“How did Aunt Mildred handle it?”
“She was a pip,” Lemuel said unexpectedly. Fiji choked back a laugh.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Mildred was one of a kind,” he said. “She was sarcastic and downright, and she said what she thought. People were a little afraid of her, and they respected her.”
“I liked her a lot,” she said. “Aunt Mildred had a sense of humor.”
“She kept it well hidden,” Lemuel said dryly. “And she looked forward to seeing you every year, when your family would visit.”
“I don’t remember meeting you, those summers.”
“I wasn’t supposed to exist, when you were a child. When you were a teenager, Mildred was afeared meeting a vampire would be so exciting that you’d tell your parents. They wouldn’t have let you return.”
“You think I’ll get arrested?” she said. It didn’t seem likely to her, but she wanted another opinion.
“No. The medical examiner will say the old man had a heart attack or stroke or something. The coroner would never say, ‘I think a witch killed him with magic.’ Am I right?”
She nodded, smiling just a little.
“I am more worried about what will happen to Olivia. Surely her true name will be known now, and her father will try to make amends to her. She never wanted to see him again.”
Fiji thought of Teacher charging down the sidewalk with the shotgun. “At least now we know the Reeds weren’t on the side of the gunmen,” she said. “But when I feel a little better, I’m going to have to understand Olivia’s past.”
“We’ll tell you,” Lemuel said. “Sleep now, friend. I’m going to Olivia.”
And before too long, Fiji did fall asleep again.
fter a long internal debate, Manfred drove to a little bakery in Davy and bought two doughnuts and two muffins for Fiji. He did not try to pretend he’d made baked goods for her. He took the box to Fiji’s. The front door still had the Closed sign up, so he went around back and knocked quietly, as befitted the house of an invalid. “Come in,” Fiji called, and he opened the door to see her sitting at her kitchen table. There were big circles under her eyes and her skin looked as if someone had erased all her color.
“Feej, you look like something the cat dragged in,” Manfred said, and then cursed himself, especially when he heard a raspy laugh coming from under the table where Mr. Snuggly was sitting.
“I know,” she said. “I got all drained, Manfred. But I feel better today, and I know I’ll be up to the ceremony tomorrow. I hope I’ll be able to help prepare.”
“Tomorrow, Quinn and Diederik will go over the circle with salt and hawthorn ash. The Rev got the ash done.”
They both looked away, embarrassed. Neither of them wanted to talk about the public sex. What was there to say?
“Here,” said Manfred, putting the box down in front of her as though that would erase all awkwardness. “You’re always cooking for us. So I went and got you something.” He shrugged. “I thought about making them myself. You’re lucky there’s a bakery!”
“Please, have a seat,” she said. “Get a cup of coffee, if you want. Or I have tea.” Fiji had recently invested in a Keurig and was happy with its versatility.
“Thanks,” he said, and happily made himself a cup of tea and Fiji some coffee. He also accepted a croissant after Fiji had said firmly that she absolutely could not eat two croissants and two muffins. Somehow the butter dish appeared between them, with a knife, and two little plates, though Manfred did not notice how that had happened. After a moment, he realized Fiji had set the table, though he’d come over determined she would not have to stir a finger.
Guiltily, Manfred asked her if he could feed Mr. Snuggly for her. He was relieved when she nodded. He also went out to check her mailbox and to bring in her newspaper, and he put the dishes in the sink. He felt better about himself after that.
By the time Manfred left, he thought Fiji was looking a little healthier. She told him she was going to shower and dress and open the shop. He remembered to ask her if there was anything else he could help her with before he left, and she thanked him again for the breakfast.
Manfred left feeling pretty good about himself for helping Fiji, though he didn’t realize he’d left the pastry box in the middle of the table, the dishes undone, and the butter out of the refrigerator.
Fiji found it made her feel more like normal to do some cleaning up, though she was moving slowly. She still felt a bit weak, though not as much as the day before. Moving at a snail’s pace, but steadily, she pulled off her nightgown and got into the shower, which truly felt like heaven. It was crisply chill outdoors, and she turned the hot water on hotter. When she was very clean she turned it off and toweled herself with as much vigor as she could summon.
Fiji decided not to make any decisions this morning. She pulled on the first pair of jeans her hands encountered in the closet, the first sweater in the drawer. The first pair of sneakers she saw in her closet. The first pair of socks her hand lit on. Fiji was not terribly clothes-conscious, but selecting things at random according to convenience was a new level of carelessness. It was liberating.
To complete the pattern, she put on the first pair of earrings she touched (eyes shut) in her jewelry box.
As Fiji turned the sign to read Open, she was feeling pretty darn good about herself.
It would have lasted, too, if her first customer hadn’t been one of the few people Fiji truly disliked, one of the women who sometimes came to her Thursday night class of witch wannabes.
When she wasn’t behind the counter at the Walgreens in Davy, Willeen Elliott dressed in ensembles she imagined made her look authentically Wiccan and therefore interesting. Today, Willeen was wearing a peasant blouse, a voluminous skirt, and a dramatic shawl that encircled her and was tossed over one shoulder. Since she’d missed the last Thursday meeting, Willeen had come to tell Fiji her theory about the suicides.
“We got to get our little group together,” she said, as if no other conclusion was possible. “We got to stop them by working magic at the crossroad.” It was amazing to Fiji how close to the truth Willeen had gotten for entirely the wrong reasons. Willeen explained her plan at length and scolded Fiji for not stopping the suicides on the spot.
Amazingly, Willeen hadn’t heard of the shooting the day before, which was an unexpected ray of sunshine. Fiji certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.
“You just don’t have any get-up-and-go,” Willeen said, snorting. “Fiji, you live right here on the spot where all this hellish activity is going on, and you have yet to cast a spell or say an incantation.”
Fiji didn’t think she had to defend herself. Willeen was hardly entitled to know the whole story of what was happening in Midnight. But at the accusation that she had done nothing, Fiji had to respond.
“I live here, and I think I do know what’s going on,” she said with some heat. In fact, she stood up behind the counter, her chair almost bouncing with the suddenness of her shift. Willeen took a step back.
The woman actually bridled. Now Fiji knew exactly what writers meant when they said that. “When are you going to do something about it?” Willeen demanded.
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” Fiji said, exasperated. “For all you know, I could have a cauldron of wizard lips and bunny tails simmering on the stove.”
Willeen looked very startled and actually made a move toward the hall door, but Fiji said, “That’s private, Willeen.”
“Are you really doing something?”
“Are you facing the powers of evil?”
Willeen was incurably dramatic. She had rescripted her life to resemble a daytime drama.
“Yes,” Fiji said on impulse. “I am.”
Willeen gaped. “Really? Do you . . . need my help, at all?”
It was brave of Willeen to ask, really, but Fiji didn’t want to torment the woman. “It’s being taken care of,” she whispered with great significance.
Willeen was delighted and frightened, all at the same time. “Goddess be praised,” she breathed, though if Fiji was any judge Willeen didn’t have any conception of what goddess she meant.
Fiji rang up the tarot deck and the mystical greeting cards Willeen had picked out. At least Willeen always purchased something.
But she just buys things so she can carry around her purchases in an Inquiring Mind gift bag, so someone will ask her what kind of shop it is,
Fiji thought. She gave Willeen a courteous nod as she handed over the bag with the charge slip inside.
Willeen nodded back very seriously, as if they shared some great and portentous secret. She departed in a flutter of skirt and after a complete redraping of the shawl.
Fiji collapsed back into the rolling chair behind the counter. She wondered if it would be so very bad if she had
grilled cheese sandwiches with her soup at lunch.
If I’m thinking about food, I must be getting over being a killer,
Mr. Snuggly gathered himself and jumped up onto the low work area below the counter. “I have been over to see the Rev,” the cat said. “He has prayed for that man’s soul. So don’t worry any more about him.”
It was just weird how the cat often divined her moods and the subject of her thoughts. Of course, he was supposed to be her familiar, but Mr. Snuggly seemed more familiar with his own wants than with how to help her do witchcraft.
“How did my aunt get you to actually do some work?” Fiji asked.
“That is a . . . tactless way to put it,” the cat said stiffly.
“I was just wondering. I know you were her familiar, but how did that relationship work? That’s a more accurate question, right? Now you’re mine, but I haven’t seen you do anything that was familiar-like.”
“Mildred picked me out as a kitten,” he said. “I was adorable, of course, and she knew I was special.”
“Did she?” Fiji was far more interested that she would have been under other circumstances. “Were there any other kittens in your litter that could have been, ah, special cats like you?”
“I had an excellent mother and five siblings,” Mr. Snuggly said rather stiffly. “They were very striking, of course.”
“So when Mildred came to see us—we were born under the church, you know—”
“We were! The Rev was most kind. He put food and water out for my mother so she wouldn’t have to leave us for long periods of time, and he found us homes.”
“Ahhhhhh . . . I don’t suppose any of your siblings could talk?”
The cat glared at Fiji. “Of course not. Though they were all
“I’m sure they were. Could you always talk? From birth?”
“No,” Mr. Snuggly said, in a tone best described as “frosty.”
“I only discovered this ability when I was several months old and living here.”
“I wonder if you would have talked if you’d lived with someone other than Aunt Mildred?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He jumped down and walked away. She could hear his voice trailing away as he went down the hall, and she stood to look after him. “Come to give a little comfort, and she asks about my family. My family! As if they could help being good, honest, plain cats . . .”
Impulsively, Fiji called, “How come you were under the car?”
The cat looked at her over his shoulder. “I was there because you needed a focus point. You needed to give him the biggest dose of bad you could, and my proximity helped. And that is what a familiar does.”
“So how did he die?”
“You took his air,” Mr. Snuggly said. “You pulled it all out of him. Felt like a tiny storm in there.”
“I took his air,” she said, trying to really understand it. “I held out my hand at him, and I took his air.”
The cat nodded. “You did. And more power to you. He was a bad old bugger.”