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Authors: Robin Alexander

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BOOK: Ticket 1207
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Jill turned on her light and slipped her magnifier into place. The pearl’s mount looked as though it had been fashioned with wire. It had broken free when one of the bones in the foot had snapped. “I’m going to have to do a modification to the foot to make this work.”

“Like what?” Theo asked, narrowing her eyes.

“It has a broken bone, so I’m going to have to make a little splint so I can reattach the wire.”


Gimme
me a minute, I have to ask my momma.”

“Do you need to use our phone?” Rene asked.

“Child, my momma’s deader than a doornail. I gotta go to the other side, now hush.” Theo closed her eyes as her head lolled back; the action dragged the foot off Jill’s pad.

Rene and Jill exchanged glances. Rene took another sip of the coffee and shuddered as she swallowed.

“Momma, you cool with a splint?” Theo whispered, then opened her eyes. “She says yes, but make it pretty.”

Jill pointed at the garish thing that hung almost to Theo’s waist. “She wants me to make that pretty? You need a better jeweler than me.”

Theo slapped the foot on the pad. “Fix it.”

Jill used a small metal bar to splint the bone and secured it with wire. She was so focused on the task she didn’t realize how close Theo was until their heads bumped together.

“What did you eat for lunch? Your breath smells like carcass,” Theo said.

Jill frowned at her. “I haven’t eaten yet, but I can guarantee you it won’t be chicken. I’m certain I’m going to regret asking, but I have to know why you think your dead aunt is out to get you.”

“She don’t like that I opened a shop, says it sullies the craft.”

Rene took another drink of coffee and gagged. “She’s dead, and she still talks to you?”

“Child, put the cup down and back away from it,” Theo said.

“I can’t, I’m almost finished with it.” Rene shrugged. “I hate to waste.”

“Just because you can’t see the dead don’t mean they ain’t around. Marie makes her presence known.”

Rene’s jaw sagged. “Marie
Laveau
is your aunt?”

“No, fool, Marie Brasseaux-
Sillman
is. I see her the most at night.” Theo’s eyes widened as she said, “She stands by my bed whispering her old curses, but the talisman keeps me safe.” Theo pursed her lips. “My momma had a sense of humor. She gave my brothers talismans made of medallions. My sisters all got seashells, but to Theo, she gave a foot. I guess it’s because I ate a lot of chicken when I was a kid.”

Jill chuckled. “Or you were a brat.”

“Child, you
tryin
’ me. Go on and make fun, but there’s a
lotta
power in this ol’ foot.
Yo
problem is you don’t believe.”

Jill shook her head. “No, I’d have a problem if I
did
believe.”

“I believe.” Rene winced. “Could you help me with my hair? My stylist must’ve been smoking crack when she gave me this perm.”

“Olive oil, baby. You go home, pour half a bottle into
yo
hair, and work it in good, wrap it in a towel, and leave it like that for a few hours. Wash it before you go to bed, and it’ll be fine by morning.”

Rene flashed a relieved smile. “Thank you, Theo.”

“Now what’s
yo
problem?” Theo asked as she gazed at Jill.

“I don’t have any.”

“You
fulla
shit. I can tell that by
yo
dark imposition. You lonely, I can feel it coming off of you.”

“I’m finished,” Jill said as she released the foot. “This thing is old, so you’d better take care of it.”

“Okay, thank you.” Theo smiled and headed for the door.

“This is a jewelry shop, not a house of favors, there’s a charge for that,” Jill said.

Theo spun on one heel. “A service for a service. You fixed my foot, and I fixed her hair.”

Jill inhaled sharply when the bell on the door jingled and Theo rushed out.

“She’s amazing,” Rene said with a sigh.

“She’s a con artist.” Jill shook her head. “I’m going to wash my hands, they smell like hundred-year-old chicken.”

Chapter 2

“Why don’t you just call the shop and ask her out? That way, you’ll have the privacy you want.”

Shawn gazed at her best friend. “I…I will.”

Vera shook her head as she picked up her drink. “No, you won’t. I’ve never met anyone as pretty as you are that is so devastatingly shy. What do you see when you look in the mirror?”

Shawn shrugged. “Me. I can’t help the shy thing. I’ve been this way all my life. It’s my nature.”

Vera motioned for the server, and when he approached the table, she smiled up at him and waved her glass. “May I have another one of these, please?” When the server walked away, she looked at Shawn. “Did you see that? It’s called flirting. All you have to do is make eye contact and smile. Shit, Shawn, you don’t even have to flirt, and women grovel at your feet.”

“Not the one I want.” Shawn toyed with what was left of her dinner and set her fork aside. “If they grovel, then why hasn’t Jill shown any interest?”

“Obviously, she’s blind, or shy, too, or maybe she’s—”

“Taken,” Shawn said dejectedly.

“You’ve been doing recon for a year like a stalker. She doesn’t wear any rings, you know she lives in the apartment above the store, and you’ve never seen anyone but her on the balcony.” Vera shook the ice in her glass. “I was going to get you a coat for Christmas, but I’ve decided on something better. Tomorrow, I’m going into that jewelry store, and I’m going to get the lowdown.”

“Don’t,” Shawn said nervously. “Please, Vera, I know what you’ll do.”

“Damn straight…or damn gay, whatever y’all say,” Vera said with a dismissive wave of her hand. She smiled sweetly at the server when he returned with her drink.

“May I get you ladies anything else?” he asked.

“Your phone number if you’re single,” Vera said brazenly.

“I’m not,” he said with what sounded like disappointment.

“My loss.” Vera sighed as he walked away. “Did you see how easy that was?”

“Yes, and aren’t you embarrassed?”

“Not a bit. Hey, he was cute, but the world isn’t going to end.”

Shawn placed her chin in her hand. “Because you didn’t really like him. I’m crazy about Jill, and if she rejects me…it’s gonna be sad.”

“You don’t even know her. You’ve had a couple of casual conversations. Have you ever considered that you might be totally let down if you do get to really know who she is?” Vera put her hand on Shawn’s. “I’m saying this because I love you. For all you know, Jill could be a self-centered asshole. You live in your head way too much, and you’ve made this stranger into the woman you want because you like the way she looks. You’re infatuated with a fantasy.” Vera patted Shawn’s hand when her phone rang, then she answered. “Hey, you…”

Shawn stared at the flame flickering on the candle in the middle of the table where they sat. Everything that Vera had said was true. She was tired of relationships that were unsatisfying and hoping that the right woman would come along. For years, she dreamed about the one who would be perfect, and over time, she’d constructed that woman in her mind. Ms. Perfection had a sense of humor and liked all the same things that Shawn did. She was gregarious and outgoing, the one who would do all the talking on social occasions but would only have eyes for Shawn. She’d be a homebody, someone who liked to curl up next to the fire with a book or lie on the couch and watch movies. This perfect woman would always say the right things and be awesome in bed because they would connect on an emotional and physical level.

Vera ended her call and motioned for the server again. “I have to go. Dustin’s back in town, and he’s very anxious to see me. Don’t worry about me going to the shop, I may not see daylight for days.”

*******

Theo didn’t need a bell on her shop door. Every time it opened, a gust of wind blew in and knocked things off a shelf nearby. She could hear shoes shuffling along one of the aisles, and in her mirror, she could see Jill as she picked up a candle and sniffed at it. “Welcome, nonbeliever.”

“Do people really buy this shit? Do I even want to know what amorous root is?”

“If you can’t figure that out on your own, then you need more help than I thought you did,” Theo said as she straightened a few items near her register. “Amorous is pretty straightforward.”

Jill stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket as she approached Theo. “How do you live with yourself?”

“Just fine when I bathe.” Theo grinned when Jill frowned at her. “You think it’s a sham that I sell things like love potions and healing elixirs. You see it all as worthless, but if you were to go down to Bourbon Street and look in some of those shops, you wouldn’t think a thing about a penis hat. Sure, they fun when you’re drunk out of your skull, but what value does it hold?”

“Nobody puts their hope in a hat with a pecker on it, especially not me.”

Theo nodded with a smile. “I
shoulda
said vagina hat.”

“You’re putting price tags on lies.”

Theo jutted her chin. “When folks leave my shop, they hopes are fulfilled. You afraid to hope, that’s
yo
problem.”

“I don’t have a problem.”

Theo noted the defiance on Jill’s face. “So you say. Tell me why you here.”

“I just wanted to see what Theo Brasseaux’s Shop of Voodoo was all about.” Jill picked up a small cloth pouch. “What is this?”

“Ground-up goat nuts, it goes into a restraining potion.”

Jill immediately dropped it back into its spot. “Monkey paw,” she read on another label. “All of this stuff appears to be ground up, so one doesn’t know what it really is.”

“How does it feel to be so faithless?”

“Pretty good, my money is still in my pocket,” Jill said with a smile.

“Keep it there and let ol’ Theo give you a gift.”

“No, we’re square, you—” Jill’s face fell slack when something wet hit her in the face. “That had better not be ground-up goat nut potion.”

Theo poured more of the liquid in her hand and tossed it at Jill. “Now tell me what you want.”

“Nothing.”

“Liar.” Theo didn’t bother with pouring the liquid in her hand and began shaking the contents out of the bottle onto Jill’s face.

“Stop that! It smells, what’s in it? If it’s the testicles off of anything, I will beat your ass!”

Theo stabbed a finger at Jill. “Don’t you threaten me in my shop. I was sprinkling a little joy juice on you since you don’t seem happy.”

“Don’t you judge me,” Jill snapped. “Just because I’m not wetting my pants over the creepy shit you have in your shop doesn’t mean I’m not a happy person.”

“Enough,” Theo said calmly as she set her bottle of joy juice down. She pointed her finger at Jill’s forehead. “There you shall grow a horn.”

“Stuff your horn,” Jill said as she turned around and stormed out.

*******

Jill washed her body twice while she showered to rid herself of the foul-smelling so-called joy juice. Theo’s elixir had caused the opposite effect—the more she thought about their conversation, the angrier she became. As hot water sprayed on top of her head, Jill reluctantly acknowledged that she wasn’t ticked off at Theo, but at her own stupidity. The truth was, she really did want something, and she had gone in search of it in Theo’s store, even though she knew it was futile.

Theo had nailed it earlier that day. Jill was lonely. The holidays made it worse. The Christmas Eve celebration at her mother’s house would be filled with her siblings and their spouses and children. Jill’s aunt would ask yet again, “Why haven’t you found anyone yet, what’s wrong with you?” Christmas morning was the worst; Jill would awake alone with no one to open the gifts under her tree—if she had one.

“This will pass,” she reminded herself as she stepped out of the shower and dried off. “Everything will go back to normal until freaking Valentine’s Day.” Jill raked a comb through her hair and narrowed her eyes as she moved closer to the mirror. In the center of her forehead was a circular red mark.

*******

“Good morning,” Rene sang out as she entered the jewelry shop the next day, her hair shiny and full of loose curls. “Theo is a—jumping jingle bells, what is that?”

“My face has decided to break out for the holidays,” Jill said grumpily.

Rene moved closer, unable to tear her gaze from the burgeoning pimple. “That’s an eye, you should draw a brow over it.”

“Go ahead, get it out of your system.”

“No, I won’t make fun,” Rene said as she removed her coat. “But it did just wink at me. You should put something on that.”

Jill grabbed a pair of sunglasses, the frames of which covered the blemish on her forehead. “I finished work on half a dozen tickets. You can go ahead and call the customers.”

“Wow, you must’ve worked late last night.”

“I couldn’t sleep, so I came in early.”

“You need to see a doctor about that insomnia. Hey! Ask Theo if she’s got anything that will knock you out.”

“I’m not asking that crazy old woman for anything,” Jill snapped just as the door flew open and the bell clanked against the wall again.

“I didn’t sleep a wink last night, and you know why?” Theo yelled as she snatched the chicken foot from her dress. “One of the wires on this thing poked me and tore my pillowcase.” She shook a finger at Jill. “You
tryin
’ to kill ol’ Theo?”

“Darn, it didn’t work,” Jill deadpanned.

“Theo, look at my hair.” Rene twirled around. “It’s beautiful.”

“You
gon
’ be bald before noon if she don’t fix my foot.”

Rene looked panic-stricken. “Fix her foot.”

“I’m not touching that thing again.” Jill folded her arms and set her jaw.

“Why you got them glasses on—you
hungover
?” Theo asked as she strode over to the counter.

“She has a huge pimple,” Rene explained. “It looks like a bee stung her right between the eyes.”

Theo set her hands on her hips as a smug grin spread across her face. “Like the beginnings of a horn? I told you—”

“Give me the damn foot.” Jill switched on her light and pulled the magnifier in front of her face.

The bell tinkled, and a woman walked in. “Good morning, how may I help you?” Rene said brightly.

“Rene doesn’t need to know that I came to your shop,” Jill whispered.


Yo
woman wouldn’t approve?”

“She’s my cousin.”

“Fix this
fo
my silence,” Theo said just as softly, “and take them damn glasses off so you can see what you
doin
’.”

“I see fine, and you can stop gloating. The stuff you threw on me last night is probably what caused my face to break out.”

“Either way, ol’ Theo put one on you. Do you believe now?”

“No.”

*******

Across the room, Vera tapped a pink glossy fingernail on the top of the glass display case. “I’d like to see that charm bracelet.”

As Rene unlocked the case, Vera gazed over her shoulder at Jill. Half of her face was covered by sunglasses, which Vera found odd since the morning was overcast. She and the other customer seemed to be working on something, their heads pressed closely together.

“Quit breathing on me, Theo. You’re fogging up the magnifier. Your foot stinks. Do you ever wash it?”

Charming personality, Vera thought as she turned and found the bracelet on the counter in front of her. “I see you have a lot of Pride jewelry.”

“We’re lesbian-owned and operated,” Rene said proudly. “Jill designs just about everything we sell.”

“Is she your partner?”

“Business only, she’s my cousin. This is truly a family business,” Rene said with a chuckle, then shrugged when Vera looked at her in question. “That was a bit of queer humor.”

“I should’ve caught that, my best friend is a lesbian. She’s the one that actually told me about your store. Her name is Shawn Masterson.”

“Oh, I know Shawn, she’s in here all the time. We’ll give her a discount on her next repair for the referral.”

Vera smiled and lowered her voice. “Is Jill single?”

Rene appeared delighted by the question for a split second, then her smile vanished. “She is, but she got out of a terrible relationship a couple of years ago, and she hasn’t dated since. She tells me all the time she isn’t ready to get back out there, but she should.” Rene gazed at Jill for a moment. “Is Shawn single?”

Vera nodded. “And interested.”

Rene’s eyelids fluttered as she put a hand to her chest. “I’m so flattered, but I have a girlfriend.”

Vera’s brow shot skyward. “She’s interested in Jill, honey.”

“Oh…right.” Rene’s face colored as she released a silly laugh. “Well, Shawn should ask her out and see what happens.”

“She’s shy. Shawn’s been tearing up her jewelry so she has an excuse to come in here. Maybe you could play Cupid and help them get together?”

“Oh, no, I don’t look good in tights. This skirt is hiding some serious thunder thighs.”

BOOK: Ticket 1207
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