Authors: Robin Alexander
“Does Nadia really believe in voodoo?”
“Oh, yeah, and so do I, now that my hair is great,” Rene said as she fluffed it.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
“Nadia does.” Rene made a face. “But I don’t want to. I don’t like the idea of Grandma Tanner floating around my room when Nadia and I are having sex. It would be a total mood killer to open my eyes and find her hovering above me with that disapproving scowl she always had. Dad said it was gas, but I think she was perpetually pissed off.” Rene shrugged. “Anyway, that’s why I always keep my eyes closed when we do it.”
Jill pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes, astounded at the absurdity of her question. “I’m going crazy.”
“Why?” Rene asked with alarm. “Have you seen Grandma? Is she in here? Oh, man, don’t tell me. Sometimes, I feel like someone is watching me when I adjust my bra or scratch my butt. It itches, you know? Winter always makes my skin dry, and it’s not like I go down into my pants or skirt. She’d always slap my hand if I scratched something she didn’t approve of.”
“Grandma isn’t watching you, or any other dead person for that matter.” Jill gave her a dismissive wave. “I was just making…stupid conversation.”
“Well, what about Theo’s momma and aunt? Theo has to wear a chicken foot around her neck to keep the aunt away. Maybe we should get some talismans just to be on the safe side.”
wearing the foot of a dead animal around my neck, and if you do it, I’ll snip the cord that holds it. Theo is putting all sorts of weird and stupid ideas in our heads. It’s the power of suggestion. If she can make someone believe something, then her so-called voodoo magic works.”
“How do you explain my hair?” Rene asked as she tugged at a curl.
Jill made a face. “Do you really believe magic did that after you spent hours with olive oil on your head?”
“Hey, I’m having some really good hair days, call it what you will.” Rene slipped back into her shoes. “I’m going home now. Nadia and I are wrapping presents tonight. Want me to lock up?”
Jill nodded. “Please. Good night.”
Jill dragged herself up the stairs to her apartment. She was a tad jealous of Rene. Nadia was sweet and absolutely adored Rene. Jill wished she had someone waiting on her to wrap presents as tired as she was, but the only things she had to look forward to were a hot bath and a glass of wine.
She switched on the TV and caught Bing Crosby singing about a white Christmas. “Well, dream about something else, buddy,” she said as she changed channels. She wasn’t in the mood for holiday cheer. “Where’s the Scrooge or the Grinch when you need them? Show your green ass, Grinch.” But as she flipped through the channels, they were filled with the warm and fuzzy holiday shows.
She tossed the remote onto the couch and headed for the kitchen for a glass of wine and stopped in her tracks when she realized that the cuckoo clock Grandma Tanner had given her had stopped at exactly 12:07. The cuckoo was on his little perch and had not gone back into its window. Jill stared at the time and said, “Bah humbug, Theo.”
She poured a glass of cabernet, then decided to take the whole bottle into the bathroom. Her legs and feet ached from being on them all day. “I’m thirty-eight, and I feel like I’m ninety,” she complained as she turned on the water for her bath. “I’m talking to myself, and somewhere deep in the back of my mind, I’m afraid that Theo and her dead mother really are having conversations about me. That’s a sure sign of insanity.”
As the tub filled, Jill stripped out of her clothes and tossed them into the hamper, all the while worrying that she was becoming Grandma Tanner, who mumbled to herself and dressed her dog in ridiculous outfits. Jill felt the one thing she had going for her at the moment was that she didn’t have a dog. She was sure as hell chatting herself up, though.
“Ticket 1207 belongs to
heart’s desire, my ass. Well, yeah, Shawn’s smoking hot, but that doesn’t mean I’m what she wants.”
Jill climbed into the hot water with a groan and sank down to her chin as she recalled the day Shawn brought her watch in for another repair. She’d seemed more nervous than usual, but Jill reasoned that Shawn’s fidgeting may’ve been attributed to the fact that she was soaking wet and it was cold outside. She was probably fighting hypothermia. But she had the odd sensation that Shawn wanted something, and it had little to do with watch repair.
As she sipped the wine and the hot water eased the aches in her body, Jill allowed her mind to at least consider the possibility that Shawn really was interested in her. Every time she came in with a broken necklace, watch, or bracelet, she lingered longer than most customers did, but when Jill made direct eye contact with her, Shawn looked away.
“She’s got pretty eyes.” The statement echoed off the walls of the bathroom.
They reminded Jill of March’s birthstone, pale blue with just a hint of green. She leaned her head against the back of the tub and stared at the ceiling as she thought about Shawn’s butt in those tight-fitting running pants and how perfect it was. And her thighs. The fabric clung to them and showed off the definition of muscle. Shawn was a magnificent blend of femininity and strength, and sadly, Jill wondered why someone like that would be interested in her.
“I am a confident woman,” Shawn said repeatedly as she gazed at herself in the mirror. “Even when my hair is standing on end.”
She’d washed her hair with dishwashing liquid, and it had taken some of the stiffness out, but part of it still rose off her head on either side, making her look like she had a pair of dog ears. She wondered if this was the true cost for Theo’s spell. To gain something, one must give up something else, in addition to fifty bucks.
She’d called Theo and asked what was in the powder that she’d poured on her head, but Theo replied, “Fool, I don’t give out the ingredients to my most potent potions.” But she’d suggested that Shawn use dishwashing liquid on her hair, then olive oil. Shawn sighed, picked up the bottle of oil, and began working it into her scalp. Once her mane was slick, she wrapped it in a towel and plodded into the kitchen with an undeniable craving for salad.
“Tomorrow, I will call Jill and ask her out. If she says no…I will die confidently.”
Shawn shook her head as she opened the fridge and gathered the makings for a salad. No, she would not wallow in the rejection, she would come up with another plan, and another after that until Jill was hers. She was a confident woman after all. Then, she began to question her sanity.
Shawn had turned down a request for a date from a determined woman once, well, a half-dozen women, but one refused to give up. The persistent wannabe paramour sent flowers to Shawn’s office and her home. She left notes on the windshield of Shawn’s car and that of her work truck. She called so much that Shawn blocked her number. Shawn became paranoid and felt like she was being watched everywhere she went, and all the attention did nothing but grate her nerves. She didn’t want to make Jill feel that way, and she didn’t want to stoop to stalker behavior. Suddenly, Shawn didn’t feel so confident anymore.
Vera’s admonition had been haunting her, too. Shawn had constructed the perfect woman in her head, and Jill just happened to favor the imaginary lover that she spent so much of her time with. In reality, Jill was probably not Ms. Perfection, and Shawn knew on some level she was setting herself up for disappointment holding on to the hope that Jill really was all the things she wanted in a mate. Still, she was driven to find out.
After another sleepless night, Jill went down to the shop and worked on a few new designs. She started to sketch what she saw in her head—a fleur de
pendant wrapped in a ribbon with musical notes on it. But as she tried to put her imagination on paper, it came out looking more like Theo’s chicken foot. Jill growled, scribbled through the first draft, and began again, but with each try, foot, foot, foot.
“Damn it, Theo!”
Jill drew a heart, and it looked like a foot. She drew a riverboat, the stack was a foot. She was frantically working on a tiny version of the cathedral when Rene walked in.
“Good morning, it’s Christmas Eve’s Eve,” Rene announced joyfully and started to hum
“Stop that!” Jill snapped.
“You need coffee,” Rene said with a nod.
“I need sleep, and I need…” Jill shook her head and ran both hands through her hair as Rene moved in close and gazed at her sketches.
“Oh! You’re making a chicken foot, how cute.”
Jill’s face twisted in an ugly scowl. “It is
“No, it is,” Rene said with a reassuring pat on Jill’s shoulder. “You’re always too critical of your work. I see Theo all over the cathedral. That’s her face in the shadow. There’s her chicken foot on one of the spires. That’s her little turban on the clock face.”
Jill stared at the clock in horror, the time was 12:07. She jumped off her stool and took a few steps backward. “She did something to me!” Jill didn’t bother with her coat and walked straight out the front door.
Theo already had a customer. The woman wrung her hands nervously as she regarded a pile of things sitting next to the register while she listened to Theo’s instruction. Rudely, Jill pushed past the woman and stuck her finger in Theo’s face. “We need to talk right now!”
’ have to wait your turn, fool,” Theo said calmly.
“You aunt doesn’t wait in lines. What’s her name? Marie, was it?” Jill started to walk around the store, her gaze to the ceiling. “Oh, Marie, I need a favor. Come out.”
Theo stomped her foot. “Don’t you dare call that heifer!”
Undeterred, Jill continued. “I’d like to meet you, Marie. I hate Theo, too.”
Theo threw all the items her customer was waiting to pay for into a bag. “This is on the house. Merry Christmas, run for
“Wait,” the woman said. “Do I sprinkle the potion on my husband or do I make him drink it? How long do I have to wait for him to become nice to me?”
“Pour it in his food! Now get on outta here, that white fool in the corner is
’ up a demon.”
The customer’s eyes went wide as she grabbed the bag, and she made a dash for the door. “I already have one of those at home, I don’t need another.”
Theo pulled the chicken foot out of her dress and started waving it around. “Marie! Don’t you listen to her. You know you’re not welcome! Get the hell out.”
“Marie, I wouldn’t take that crap from her if I were you.” Jill planted her hands on her hips. “Come on out and whip her ass.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Ticket 1207 and feet—chicken feet. You’ve slipped me some hallucinogenic. I’m getting my blood tested when I leave here, then I’m taking whatever they find to the police.”
Theo covered her mouth with her hand and laughed hysterically.
“Oh, it’s so funny, but you’re not gonna think so when they slap the cuffs on you,” Jill said as her face flushed red.
“You done worked yourself up into a snit. Fool, I ain’t put anything on you. Go ahead, waste your money if you want to, but they ain’t gonna find nothing in
veins but a bunch of dumbass.” Theo held up a hand. “I swear, I ain’t put nothin’ on you, child.”
Jill’s shoulders dropped, and she covered her face with her hands. “Oh, God, what’s wrong with me?”
Theo waved a hand at the ceiling. “I got this one, Lord.” She started ticking off fingers as she said, “You hardheaded, you don’t want to look inside
, you scared of everything, you lonely—”
“Okay, thanks!” Jill wrapped her arms around herself. “I was fine before you came into my store.”
“No, you weren’t. You were the same then as you are now. You just tired of it, and you want to blame all the shit that’s going on inside of you on Theo. Child, you got some donkey in
family tree, I’m sure you got a auntie mule in there somewhere.”
Jill gazed at all the little bottles, bags of stuff, and roots sitting on Theo’s shelves. “I know this is bullshit, it’s the power of persuasion. I’ll pay you whatever you want to make me believe that I’m someone else.”
Theo walked over and put her hands on Jill’s shoulders. “You is good, you is—”
“Are you trying to quote lines from
? I saw that movie six times, you jackass!”
Theo shrugged. “It was a great movie.”
Jill shook her head slowly and sounded miserable when she said, “You can’t help me.”
“I can get you started, but the rest
’ be up to you. The most healing thing on this old earth is love, and, child, you don’t love
very much. Ol’ Theo knows how to read a person. Someone laid you low, and you believe what they said. Do you use women?”
Jill’s brow furrowed as she met Theo’s gaze. “No.”
“Have you ever hit one?”
“No, not anyone.”
“Have you ever cheated on a woman?”
“Do you take advantage of them for money or things they can provide?”
“I’m way too proud for that.”
Theo nodded as she held Jill’s gaze. “What’s your greatest sin when it comes to loving someone else?”
“I don’t…I don’t know. I can be impatient. I can be jealous, judgmental.” Jill sighed. “Sometimes when things make me angry, I don’t admit it. Over time, it builds, and I kinda…explode. I really hate clutter, there’s no excuse for it. Just put things back where you got them. Farting turns me off. You know those stickers on tomatoes? I really hate to find them on the counter. I don’t like shoes being left in the living room. I trip over them, and that makes me mad. I—”
“How long is this list?”
Jill shrugged. “I could go on for a while.”
“You’re human and good. The person or people that made you feel low are the ones with the problem.”
Jill looked away and nodded.
“Why can’t you believe that?” Theo asked gently.
“It’s taken me a while, but I do.” Jill shrugged. “Old habits, I guess. I think my issue is I’m afraid to hope. It’s safer not to believe in anything.”
“You change that today, fool. You the one mucking up all
blessings today by being afraid of yesterday.” Theo poked her on the shoulder. “You know you special, act on it. Now what you want?”
“I wanna fall in love,” Jill mumbled.
“I done told you that ticket—”
“You saw Shawn’s claim ticket, and you saw her in the store.”
Theo folded her arms. “You can think that if you want to, but wouldn’t you rather believe that she is
Jill snorted. “Have you seen her? Hell yeah, I’d like to believe that.”
“Then do it. Have a seat. Ol’ Theo’s gonna work on you.”
Jill sank down with a sigh and watched as Theo pulled a small tin from beneath the couch. “What is that?”
“Special powder to enhance the spell.”
“What’s in it?” Jill asked warily.
Theo sat back on her haunches. “To tell you the truth, I have no idea. It was here when I moved in. Power of suggestion, right?”
Jill’s brow shot up. “Do not put that on me.”
Theo blew out an explosive breath. “Give me a minute to mix up the real deal.”
Shawn waited until after the lunch hour, then dialed the number to the jewelry shop. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the wall of her office as she waited for an answer. “Searcy Jewelers, this is Rene, how may I help you?”
“Hi, Rene, this is Shawn, is Jill available?”
“Your watch isn’t ready. I know this because the part for it arrived this morning, and it wasn’t the right one. Jill called our supplier, and a vein stood out in her forehead while she talked to someone. It wasn’t pretty.”
Shawn licked her lips. “Thanks for the update, but if Jill is available, I’d like to speak to her for a moment.”
“She is, let me put you on hold for a sec.”
“I am a confident woman,” Shawn chanted while she waited for Jill to pick up. The more she said it, the stronger she felt it. She was practically yelling when Jill picked up the line. “I am a con—hey, Jill.”
“Hey, how’re you today?”
“Good. Real good.”
“Did Rene tell you what happened with the crystal I ordered?”
“She did. Jill, you know what?”
Jill sounded a tad hesitant when she asked, “What?”
“The Christmas lights in the Quarter are really pretty at night, even for someone who doesn’t like this holiday.” Shawn began to pace. “The carriages are the perfect way to see them. You should join me—tonight. I’ll bring a blanket, you’ll be warm. I can pick you up at seven.”
Shawn stopped in her tracks and had no clue what to say next. “All right then.”
“I’ll see you at seven.”
“Okay, bye.” Shawn hung up the phone and jumped when it immediately rang again. “Hello?”
“I didn’t tell you where I live, which is above the store. There’s parking and a private entrance around back. If you’ve got something to write with, I’ll give you the gate code.”
“I do.” Shawn jotted the numbers down as Jill gave them to her.
“Just ring the doorbell once you’re inside.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing you,” Jill said, sounding a bit nervous.
Shawn smiled. “I’m really glad to hear that. See you soon.”
Rene was on Jill the second she hung up the phone. “You’ve got a date. You’ve got a date with Shawn! Where are you going?”
“For a carriage ride to look at the Christmas lights,” Jill said with a silly smile.
Rene held up a hand like she was swearing an oath. “So romantic. A moonlight ride under the stars, it’s cold so you’ll have to sit close together, probably under a blanket.”
“She’s bringing one.”
Rene closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. “Your shoulders will brush, and that first contact will cause little pinpricks of excitement to flare up on your arm. Invariably, your hands will touch, and she’ll entwine her fingers with yours. The heat of her body will warm you while the cold nips at your face. In the darkness beyond the streetlights, you’ll have your first kiss.” Rene’s hands slowly rose up to clasp her face; her eyes remained closed as she spoke. “Then, you’ll get carried away to the point that the carriage driver has to threaten to report you to the police for public indecency, and he’ll let you off on a corner, well before the ride is supposed to end. Your bra will be up in your armpits, and you suddenly realize that you’re freezing to death.”
Jill cleared her throat. “Was that a fantasy?”
“No, it really happened. That’s the closet I’ve ever come to the four-foot club.”
Jill narrowed her eyes. “Is that like the mile-high club?”
Rene nodded as she patted her upper lip with a tissue. “The carriage is only like four feet off the ground…or do they call it that because the mule has four hooves?”
The bell on the door jingled and continued to do so until the end of the business day.