“I think I may expire from inhalation of dust,” Gee grumbled as she shifted another box off the piles of cardboard boxes my mother had placed up here over the years.
“Oh, stop being dramatic. What’s a little dust? You’ve been in burning buildings.”
“Yeah, well, I have to go into those. It’s my job. However, my job does not say I have to do manual labor in an attic with a human.”
Laughing to myself, I opened the box she’d just gotten down from the rather dangerously tall stack my mother had made. I mean, I get that she was trying to preserve space in here but a stack of boxes that almost touched the ceiling wasn’t exactly a smart move.
“Do you want me to look in this one?” Gee asked as she got the next box down.
“And it’s a white stuffed puppy right?”
“Yep... well, maybe not exactly white anymore. It was well loved so the fur may be a little discolored now.”
Gee grumbled to herself as she began rummaging through her box.
I shifted through the items I’d packed away only eight years ago because I’d been unable to haul them off to the local Goodwill. A small purse with sequined letters that said Las Vegas made me smile. My mother had taken me on a writer’s convention with her there once. It had been one of the last times she’d taken me with her. I always got bored but on the Las Vegas trip I’d found a friend... I think. Shaking my head I pushed it aside and found a Backstreet Boys t-shirt I’d gotten for Christmas one year. God, I’d been such a dork. A shoebox greeted me next that I knew without looking held all the letters I’d written back and forth with Miranda during school. They were full of insightful things such as “Do you think Kyle likes me?” or “Did you see the way Ashley’s butt looks in those jeans, she needs to go on a diet,” or my favorite, “Do you think Mrs. Nordman has a new chin hair today?” Yep, that shoebox was priceless. Unfortunately there was no stuffed puppy dog. Frustrated, I closed the box up and shoved it to the side.
“Well that one was a bust--” I slammed my hand over my mouth to keep from hooting with laughter. Gee was posing in front of the tall mirror that had once been in my ‘princess’ bedroom. But that wasn’t the funny part. Gee had found my dress up clothes I’d not wanted to part with back when I was ten but didn’t want in my room anymore either. She’d put on my Tinkerbell dress with a pair of Snow White plastic heels that her foot didn’t come anywhere near fitting into. On her head she was wearing the veil headpiece that had gone with my Jasmine costume.
“How do I look?” she asked twirling around faster than a human would be able to making the Tinkerbell skirt float out in front of her. I’d always twirled in that dress too trying my hardest to get it to stand out so perfectly.
“Fabulous, you should so wear it for work,” I chirped then let out a trill of giggles.
“Dank wouldn’t know what to think If I showed up looking like I was ready for a trip to Disney World. He’d be afraid to send the soul with me.”
I sank down on the box behind me unable to stop laughing at the ridiculous sight.
“You’d scare him... to death!” I began laughing harder at my own little pun.
Gee started to say something else when a woosh behind me turned my laughter into a small squeal.
“What the heck, Jaslyn? This isn’t a party,” Gee complained and I eased some realizing Gee knew the gorgeous pale redhead that had appeared in my attic. Her perfect translucent features were so similar to Gee’s when she was in “transporter” mode that I quickly put two and two together.
“I’m sorry, Gee,” she stopped and slowly took in Gee’s wardrobe with a confused frown on her face.
“Quit gawking Jas and tell me why you’re here,” Gee snapped. The dress-up clothes disappeared from her body and she was once again dressed in her jeans, hoodie and boots.
“Oh, um, yes... well, uh Dankmar needs you.”
Gee’s attention shifted from the transporter to me. “What about Pagan?”
“Oh, uh, he didn’t say. He just said he needed you.”
The frown on Gee’s face told me she wasn’t so sure about this. But if Dank had sent for her then it must be important.
“I’ll go spend the day with Miranda. We can look for the pu-- the thing later,” I piped up.
Gee nodded at me, “Okay, well go on down now before I leave. You don’t need to stay up here by yourself.”
I headed for the stairs then glanced back at Gee to ask her to please let me know if something was wrong but she was whispering with Jaslyn in a pretty intense conversation so I left them alone. Gee wouldn’t be gone long. Dank wouldn’t let her be. Besides, Dank was fine. He was Death. No need to worry.
“What’s going on Dankmar?” Gee demanded as she arrived with Jasyln at the graveyard outside the small funeral home in Pagan’s town. I’d been surveying Wyatt’s grave to see if there had been any traces of activity. His soul had not been left to roam the earth. The only other place it could be was with Ghede in the Vilokan. If so, it was completely off the radar. Finding him would be near impossible. No Deity or being created by the Creator had ever been to Vilokan. The island under the sea was for the Voodoo spirits and the souls they claimed while on earth.
“Wyatt. His soul wasn’t meant to be taken. He was never on the books.” It still sounded unbelievable when I said it. Even after speaking with the Creator. Choices had been made. With the power of restitution on Ghede’s side this could grow worse.
“What?” Her incredulous tone didn’t surprise me. I’d had the same reaction. This had never happened. And if I didn’t find a way to stop it the Creator expected me to hand over Pagan or her mother to Ghede. Neither of those were an option.
“Ghede, he took Wyatt’s soul as payment for the restitution. The Creator doesn’t believe he’s going to stop there. Wyatt was just to warn Pagan or warn me. It won’t be enough to make up for taking Pagan from his grasp.”
Gee sank down on the headstone behind her, “Oh, shit.”
“I don’t want to tell Pagan this yet. Not if we can fix this without her knowing. The implications of Wyatt’s death would be too much for her to deal with. She’d sacrifice herself without question. I won’t allow it. I will stop this.”
Gee nodded in complete agreement. I knew I’d be able to count on her. Jaslyn on the other hand was ready to offer Pagan up on a silver platter. She didn’t understand but still it made it hard to have her near me. I wanted to take my anger out on someone and her indifference was placing her in the way of my wrath.
“Where is Pagan now?” I asked, jerking my scowl from the cowering Jaslyn back to Gee.
“She’s with Miranda,” she assured me.
That was good. I needed Gee right now. We had to find a way to penetrate Vilokan. Hell would have been so much easier.
A day of shopping wasn’t easy to convince Miranda to agree to but she needed to get out. After forcing clothes on her body and shoving her into my car, we’d headed to the mall. Four hours later she was showing signs of life again. I was extremely grateful.
“I need a coffee,” I announced as we stepped out of our third shoe store in an hour. I’d managed to find two pairs of shoes I couldn’t live without. One was a pair of yellow backless sandals that had a little heel. The other were beige colored boots that would match perfectly with my beige leather jacket. Best part was they were on sale. Miranda, however, hadn’t bought a thing. We were slowly getting there. She’d actually tried on some shoes in the last store. I’d forced her to but at least she’d put them on.
“Me too,” Miranda responded, turning toward the Starbucks instead of going to the next wing of the mall where Wide Mouth, Wyatt’s favorite coffee shop, was located. I understood, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I could deal with going into Wide Mouth right now either.
“What ya want?” I asked reaching for my wallet.
“I don’t know, just get me whatever you’re ordering,” she said with a wave of her hand and walked over to find a table.
I couldn’t order her what I was getting. I always ordered a caramel latte with whipped cream and so did Wyatt. I moved out of the way so the people behind me could order and I studied the menu up on the board behind the counter. It had been years since I’d had anything other than a caramel latte. I wasn’t even sure if I knew something else to order.
“I hear the hot chocolate is incredible,” Leif whispered in my ear. I knew he was actually here instead of just talking in my ear from the warmth of his chest behind me. He was also in human form because my arms weren’t covered in goose bumps.
“I’m a big girl. I prefer coffee,” I snapped without looking back at him.
He laughed softly, “Yes I know. Caramel latte with whipped cream.”
Tensing I glanced over to where Miranda was sitting. She was watching us with an amused yet sad look in her face. I knew seeing me with Leif reminded her of Wyatt. Yet another reason to stay the heck away from him. If he’d only take the hint and leave me alone. I would never agree to give him my soul. Screw the stupid restitution or whatever it was.
“Nope,” I replied and stepped up to the counter to order and put space between the two of us.
The girl at the counter was ogling Leif and not paying me one iota of attention. She actually began twirling a strand of her brown hair around her finger and batting her eyelashes. If the foolish girl only knew. He wasn’t Mr. All-American.
I cleared my throat to get her attention and when that didn’t work I literally had to slap my palm down on the counter in front of her, “Hello, excuse me, but it’s my turn.”
She finally tore her intense ‘come and get me’ stare off Leif and glared at me. Great, now she was going to spit in my coffee.
“I know that. I was waiting on you to order,” the girl’s tone was snarly.
“Well, I didn’t realize that. You seemed preoccupied.”
Her cheeks reddened and I was ready for her to unleash some snappy retort when Leif coughed loudly. He sounded suspiciously like he was covering up a laugh.
“I believe we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot,” Leif’s voice had gone smooth and deep. Just as he’d intended the girl’s expression went all dreamy. Females really were weak when it came to attractive males. “We just need to order, I need a tall hot chocolate and you need a...” he was staring down at me as if we were here together. I started to open my mouth to correct this assumption when I decided I’d better go with it if I didn’t want the girl’s saliva in my latte.
“Oh, um, two tall... uh.... two tall.... um...” I could feel the impatient annoyed glare from the girl but I didn’t let that deter me. I was trying to find something on the menu I knew would be safe for us to order.
“She’d like two tall mocha lattes with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkled on the top, please,” Leif informed the girl.
What the heck? I hadn’t given him permission to order for me. Even if what he ordered sounded really good. He stepped around me and began paying the girl while flirting with her; I crossed my arms and waited until he was done.
When he turned around to smile at me I snarled.
“What? You couldn’t decide. I helped you out. You love chocolate. You’ll like the mocha latte.”
“I don’t recall asking for your help. I can order for myself just fine,” I hissed.
Leif shrugged and reached for my arm to pull me over to the side so the people I hadn’t noticed behind us could order. I went with him then jerked my arm away from him once we were out of the way.
“Why are you insistent on being so angry with me all the time?”
He did not just ask me that. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly how I felt about his claim on my soul when Miranda stood up and ran toward the door of the coffee shop out into the mall.
I pushed past Leif and took off after her.
She had turned left and was headed for the back entrance we’d come in. I picked up my pace and dodged people who were all stopping to watch as I chased Miranda. My first concern was Miranda had flipped her lid with all this trauma. My second concern was that a cop was going to arrest me for trying to harm her. And then there was the concern I would accidentally mow someone down in my pursuit.
Thankfully, she stopped at the doors leading out into the parking lot where I’d parked. Her shoulders were heaving as she held onto the handle trying to catch her breath. Both of my bags she’d been holding were at her feet.
“Miranda, what’s wrong?” I asked breathlessly as I finally caught up with her.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she stared outside. Devastation was so deeply etched in her face I wondered if the pain would ever go away. The girl I’d known my whole life had changed that day on the football field while we watched Wyatt’s lifeless body lay there unresponsively.
“I can’t,” she sobbed shaking her head, “I just can’t.”
I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and pulled her against my side. She crumpled beside me sobbing pitifully. I’d pushed her too far today. She hadn’t been ready for this. Guilt ate at me. I should have made this a shorter outing. Started her out a little at a time. Me and my big ideas.
“Come on, let’s go home,” I urged opening the door and leading her outside toward the car.
“Can we...” Miranda hiccuped, “can we just go visit his grave? I need to do that.”
I disagreed. She wasn’t ready for that just yet. I wasn’t ready for that. But I couldn’t tell her no either. I opened the passenger side door and Miranda slid inside.
Maybe, we could go. If that was what she wanted to do then I’d be tough and go with her. But first, we were going to stop by her house. She was going to need a little dose of courage and her mother had an entire cabinet with the liquid courage she would need.