"I'm sorry," the big man's black mustache twitched as he shook his head, the motion setting his large belly into a slow-motion wobble. "No experience, no job."
I was getting very sick of hearing that. Had spent an entire day being told the same thing over and over in various wordings. "Oh, you've never waitressed before? I'm sorry, this job requires someone who has." "Our spring training for summer students is already over. Unless you've done this before?" "Our customers expect our staff to be knowledgeable and confident."
"How," I said, trying to keep my voice down, my temper in check, knowing it brought out occasional sparks of magic and absolutely needing to keep a lid on my power if I was ever going to make Mom trust me, "am I supposed to get experience if no one will give me a job?"
He didn't seem to care. Turned his back on me. The line of sweat down the middle of his white t- shirt made me gag. I left the bakery, thinking maybe this rejection was for the best.
Still. I stood there on the corner of Jobless and Loserville and did my best not to sag in defeat.
Sable's main boardwalk bustled with activity, families, tourists, making their way to and fro from shop to shop. Some of which were hiring.
None of which wanted me.
Hard not to feel sorry for myself. Really, really hard.
How goes the job hunt? Sassafras's snarky tone did nothing to improve my mood.
Shut it, I snarled, cutting him off. I didn't need him to remind me that, like in everything else, I was an abject failure.
Head down, shoulders slumped, I stomped my way from the boardwalk and up the street toward home, heart as heavy as it had ever been. Maybe Sass was right. Maybe I just wasn't cut out to live in the normal world. If it was this hard to get a job at sixteen, what would I do when I was older?
No. I refused to quit. After all, once I turned eighteen and Mom and Dad removed my magic, I'd be normal. Well, probably latent. But at least I wouldn't be putting off all those witchy vibes that drove people away, vibes I tried so carefully to hide behind woven shielding so thick I felt muffled most of the time.
My demon father didn't understand my hate for magic, but he was much more understanding about the whole thing than Mom. Haralthazar, Demon Lord of the Seventh Plane, was a softy and a pushover. I just wished he could talk Mom into backing off.
Who knew? Maybe she'd be ten times worse without Dad's influence. That thought made me miserable.
I was almost home when I turned and headed down a side street. I just couldn't take going back yet. The warm day beckoned me to explore and, fighting off the gloom hovering around me, I accepted the invitation.
I only made it three blocks before the neighborhood changed from historic old construction- Mom's favorite-to more 80's rundown. Now on the edge of the main shopping district, this part of Sable seemed to have been caught in a time warp, windows barred, paint peeling.
But, up ahead, like a little beacon of joy in a storm, sat a neon-pink storefront. The sign read
"Evie's", with a massively coiffed woman in pinup pose reclining against the name.
As I drew closer, I noticed the sign. Another help wanted, but this one hand-drawn with a pair of lips in one corner and, to my surprise, a cute little pentagram in the other.
Could a witch own this place? No way. Mom would know if another coven lived in this region.
Would never have settled us here if it meant infringing on a foreign family. Still, I found the pentagram as intriguing as the garish paint job.
I looked up at the swinging pinup girl again before drawing a breath and pushing open the glass door.
The scent of chemicals mixed with sweetness wafted over me, humid air humming with chattering voices, blowing air and the strains of the latest pop tune to hit the charts. A counter sat on the right, pink with the same "Evie's" painted on the front, the black counter top worn in spots, but shining clean. On the left I saw three chairs, a wall of mirrors, and, just past the counter, a row of hood dryers.
Sinks at the back.
Women in various states of hair undo staring.
A salon. I'd walked into a salon. Made me feel instantly self-conscious. My usual morning routine consisted of a pony tail, mascara and lip gloss. Jeans, t-shirt. End of story. This place made me feel like I'd failed as a teenaged girl.
I was about to turn tail and run when a tall, large woman with hair styled in a startlingly similar version of the shop's mascot, left the far chair, a lady in a black cape turning her head to see who'd stolen her stylist, and came hurrying toward me. I tried not to stare at her round, melon breasts attempting to escape the tight, leopard print tank top she wore, or the vibrant red of her hair. The thick layer of pale blue eye shadow over her false lashes. The pink lipstick. Short black skirt. Heavy layers of silver and gold jewelry clanking as she moved.
Too late, held in t****l by her incredible presence, I stayed put as she came to a beaming halt in front of me, clasping her hands to her impressive chest. One held a pair of scissors, the other a bright blue comb.
"You're here to apply for the job." Her voice reached about the level of ear rupture as she swept forward and grasped my arm, pulling me further into the room, her comb digging into my skin. "Aren't you?"
Um. Was I? I looked around at the waiting, watching women, and made my choice. "Yes, thanks," I said, my voice sounding small compared to hers.
She released me to raise her hands above her head. "I knew it." She spun on the room, meeting
other eyes. "Did I not tell you she would come in today? The perfect choice." The woman turned back, towering over me, vibrating with excitement. "And you, my dear, are perfect." She twirled me around, nodding as she did, while the ladies all murmured and nodded in approval. The only one who didn't seem interested was one of the other stylists, but I wasn't sure from the look of her if she was ever excited about anything.
It seemed amazing, at her apparent age, she was even standing.
"How delicious." The large woman tried to clap her hands, the plastic of her comb tinking against the metal scissors. "I just love being right."
Holy. What was I getting myself into?
"I've been waiting for you, my dear," she said with a wink and an eye twinkle. "Asked the spirits to bring you to me." Um, okay. She was clearly a normal, not even a latent. So no way the "spirits" would listen. That I knew of, anyway. "Now," she said, "my name is Evie Downs."
"Sydlynn Hayle," I said, shaking her large hand as she transferred her scissors to sit with her comb. Her grip was firm, but warm, and her smile so kind I found myself smiling back despite my unease at the weirdness of the situation.
"Well then, Sydlynn Hayle," she said, spinning and going back to her client. "I will see you here, tomorrow morning, 9 am." She met my eyes. "Sharp!" Held up her scissors, opening and closing them a few times like an alligator's jaws. Then cackled like a crazy person.
I bobbed a nod before running like a rabbit.
The street outside felt flat and dull as evening approached, the air whooshing out of my lungs. I glanced back over my shoulder at the storefront and caught myself grinning.
Weird? Totally. My kind of place? Oh, yeah.
What better job than working for a woman who was so off-the-wall even if I did slip up she'd probably love it?
I ran home, excitement rising, bursting through the front door, calling for Mom.
Not home. Meira was out, too, though Gram sat at the kitchen table, Sassafras watching her as she put a jigsaw puzzle together. She cheated, using magic to make the pieces fit, but it wasn't like it really mattered. I watched her shift the picture, forcing one piece to match, cackling. When she looked up and met my eyes, her faded blue gaze sparkled with mischief.
"I win," she giggled. "I always win."
"That's great, Gram." I bent and kissed her cheek, feeling her soft skin give under my lips even as her claw-like nails bit into my arm. I winced, knowing what was coming, hating the fact she wouldn't
just let go of her crazy fantasy and leave me out of it.
"Girl," she said, voice so plaintive it always made me sad, "do you have something for me?"
Sigh. "No, Gram." I gently detached my arm from her grip, sinking into the seat beside her. "I'm sorry." It really bothered me to have to break her heart so many times. But I had no idea what she was looking for and, lost inside her insanity thanks to an attack by a rival coven, neither did my grandmother.
Ethpeal Hayle's life had been one big spiral of nutjob ever since I was a baby. And as much as I loved her, not even Mom was able to mend my grandmother's broken mind. I knew even if I did try something, I'd screw up so badly she'd likely end up a carrot stick short of a full veggie tray.
I helped her with her puzzle as she went back to it. She'd forgotten she'd asked, like always. "Well?" Sassafras batted at me with one paw. "How did it go?"
The little furball. I glared at him, knowing now, from the tone of his voice, he expected me to fail all along. Had sent me out there to look for a job, thinking I'd probably fall on my butt.
"As it happens," I said sweetly, jabbing his ribs with one finger, "I found the perfect place to work."
His eyes widened, pupils flaring a moment before he flattened his ears and growled. "Really." His tail twitched. "Do tell."
"It's a hair salon," I said, raising my nose, sniffing in fake arrogance. "I start tomorrow."
Sassy's irritation had nothing on Gram's sudden excitement. She squealed like a little girl, clapping her hands and stomping her fuzzy-socked feet with so much enthusiasm the puzzle went flying from the table, her white hair floating around her like a halo.
"Want my hairs done!" She giggled, bobbing back and forth with her hands over her mouth. "Want!"
Yikes. The thought of setting Gram loose at a salon was the very last thing on my mind. I patted her hand as she dropped them into her lap.
"Ask Mom," I said with a little smile. Passed the buck. Sure did.
I left Gram in Sassy's tender care and went upstairs, tossing my head at him when he glared at my exit like I'd offended him. Made me laugh at the thought I'd beaten the smartass cat at his own manipulative game.
I stared at the mess of my room as I closed the door and leaned back against it. I still had enough boxes of stuff to clothe the population of Sable to put away. Yes, the rest of the family used magic for such mundane tasks.
But I wasn't the rest of the family.
I wove my way through the maze of cardboard, heading for the walk-in closet. At least Mom knew better than to take a house with small storage in the bedrooms. Meira and I both had so much junk it would have been impossible to fit it all into a regular closet.
My new space had lovely built-ins for hanging, and a double row of built-in dressers for foldables. I loved the size and took my time fitting in everything.
Next up were my shoes. I usually wore sneakers or flip flops, but I had a few pair of really nice boots I loved for winters. I did my best to dress stylishly, at least at school, in the hope I would fit in.
Okay, rather, that I wouldn't stand out. Fitting in was way too much to ask for.
As I lifted one of my brown leather riding boots in one hand, it slipped, landing with a thud inside the drawer of the open dresser. The bottom rang hollow, the corner lifting, tilting, revealing a false bottom. Fascinated, I crouched and lifted the panel away, peeking inside.
A collection of photos lay scattered, pictures of a blonde boy, growing over time to a really handsome young man, maybe my age. He stood with a tall, attractive man in some, and a pretty woman in others. But those family pictures ended as he grew older, only a small number of school pictures showing after about age ten.
A cigar box full of clippings about baseball and wrestling, yellowed around the edges, revealed he was an athlete, but the writing was so faded I couldn't read anything. Finally, tucked in one corner, I found a small pink box, tied with a bow. Feeling a little guilty about opening it despite the fact someone had clearly left it behind when the family moved, I pulled the ribbon and let the sparkly strip fall into my lap. My fingers shook a bit as I popped the lid and looked inside.
A lovely charm bracelet winked back at me. A few stars, some blue stones, one amber and, to my delight, a pentagram, hung from the silver chain. Mom gave me a pentagram necklace ages ago, but it contained a bit of family magic-her power-and made me feel uncomfortable when I wore it.
This one was empty of magic. And adorable. I felt instantly drawn to it and slid it on my wrist to see how it looked.
The moment I did, I heard someone sigh behind me. I freaked out, falling on my butt, gasping for breath as I looked around. But I saw no one, nothing, just felt the pounding of my heart and the piles of stuff around me.
Shaking my head, giggling a little at my own nervous reaction, I stood, fingering the bracelet. Made a mental note to ask Mom if she knew who the former family was and where they had moved.
Hoped she didn't know, but promised myself I'd find a way to get these personal items to the young man if I could find him.
Guilt over wearing the bracelet appeased, I went back to work.