If Andrew was going to keep eating at Olivia’s house, he was at least going to buy groceries this time. The only thing close to a grocery store in New Winslow, unfortunately, was the general store. They sold some of what he needed, though he imagined the produce wasn’t great and everything was marked up to hell and back. But it wasn’t like he could get in the car and pop over to the next town – he’d checked again this morning – so he was going to have to make the most of it.
The general store was cramped, but cheery enough. The heat was cranked as he stepped in from the cold winter air, wooden door slamming shut behind him.
Andrew picked up a grocery basket and made his way toward the small produce section a little way into the store. The tomatoes were rank, so he skipped them. But everything else seemed to be in fairly good shape as he loaded up the basket.
He really should have gotten a trolley, he realized as he made his way over to the dairy case. No matter, he was nearly done. Just a few more things and he’d head out.
Fifteen minutes later he had caved and was now pushing a loaded trolley toward the deli counter. Two women were seated at a small table beside the counter, eating sandwiches and chatting as he passed.
“It was absolutely ruined,” one of the women said, brushing her hair behind her shoulder. “I couldn’t believe it. This was all so unlike Iris. I know she’s researching and trying to solve it, but to have so little disregard for anyone else…”
The other woman scoffed, rolling her dark eyes. “This is exactly like Iris,” she said. “‘Oh, it’s me, the town psychic. I’m smarter than everyone here. I’m the only one who can break the curse.’”
The other woman responded, but Andrew didn’t hear it over the roaring in his ears. Break the curse. Iris…psychic.
They must be talking about Iris Davies at Forest Charms. What did she know? Could she maybe be the solution he’d been looking for?
Andrew felt slightly foolish as he stepped into Forest Charm. The shop was empty and something loud, staticky, and obnoxious was blaring over the speakers. Not quite the music he’d expected for a shop like this, a cozy little place with greenery everywhere and shelves full of crystals and oils. But it wasn’t like he was an expert in this stuff, so who was he to judge the music?
“Dammit, Roland,” Iris snapped from behind the register, causing Andrew to jump. “Can you leave the speakers alone for like one minute?”
The speakers turned up even louder and Iris stormed out from behind the register. She saw Andrew and backed up, startled. “Oh, sorry!” she called over. “I’ll be right back.”
She disappeared into a back room and seconds later, the music snapped off. Then she came back out, shaking her head.
“Sorry,” she said again. “I’m having some problems with…just some problems. Can I help you?”
“Yes, actually,” Andrew said. “I’m Andrew Harris, I believe we went to high school together?”
Iris smiled. “Andrew! Yes, I do remember you. Hi!”
“What can I do for you?”
“Actually, I heard you’re, er, researching the curse? And trying to solve it?”
Iris grimaced and his heart sank. “I mean, I am,” Iris said. “But it’s been a little rough going. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve been stuck for nearly a month.”
Just saying the words made his stomach turn. That was true. He’d been trapped in New Winslow for a month now with no sign of it letting up.
Iris looked at him, wide-eyed. “What?”
“I’ve been…trapped. In town. For a few weeks now.”
“That’s…wow, I’m so sorry.”
Andrew nodded, unsure how exactly to respond to that.
“So I was wondering if you might have any ideas,” he said. “Or perhaps if you know anything that might get me out?”
Iris sighed. “I…I’m sorry, I don’t. I wish I could help you, but I really don’t even know where to go with this now.”
The music slammed back on, causing Iris to jump and Andrew to let out a small scream.
“Fuck, I’m sorry!” Iris said. “I’ll be right back.”
Again, she went out back and the music stopped.
“What is that?” Andrew asked as she returned.
“That’s what happened when I got a little too eager to solve this,” Iris said. “I wish I could tell you I have a solution, but all I ended up doing was conjuring that mess and burning bridges with people I respect.”
“Are you still looking?” Andrew said, not liking the way his voice was tinged with desperation.
“I think so?” Iris said with a grimace. “I mean, I fucked up hard but I still feel like I should. I just don’t really know where to go with it from here.”
“Let me help you,” Andrew said.
“Are you sure? I mean, I can’t guarantee anything.”
“I know,” Andrew said quickly. “But I just need to…I just need to know there’s a chance. And I need to do something other than sitting at home worrying.”
“Do you have a place to stay?” Iris asked.
“Oh yeah, don’t worry,” Andrew reassured her. “I’ve been staying with Olivia.”
“Oh, good,” Iris said. “She’s the manager at Keegan’s right? I like her.”
“Yeah, I was there last month. Or the month before? I had a vision of a man starting trouble there and when I walked in, I saw him immediately. I let Noah know and apparently they must’ve taken care of it.”
Andrew flinched a little at the mention of Noah and hoped Iris didn’t catch him. But she smiled sadly.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to say anything, but I picked up on it.”
Andrew blushed and tried to feign interest in the display of succulents beside him.
“Plus I went to high school with you,” Iris added.
Those succulents actually were rather pretty. Maybe he should get one for Olivia.
“I mean, if you want to, I’ll gladly take the help,” Iris said. “I just don’t really know where to start, so we might end up hitting some dead ends.”
She flinched. “Sorry, bad choice of words. But as long as you’re good with that, I guess. Um, I’ll call you and we can figure out a time to meet. We can kind of see where we stand and go from there.”
She held out a hand, and he shook it. A strange look came over her face, which she quickly shoved back down.
“What?” Andrew asked.
“Nothing,” Iris said too quickly.
He didn’t believe that for a second. “Come on, what did you see?”
“Nothing clearly,” she said with some reluctance. “Just some paperwork and an air of frustration.”
Paperwork and an air of frustration. How simultaneously mundane and ominous.
“Anyway, I need to close up,” Iris said. “But I’ll see you soon?”
“I’ll be here with bells on.”
She smiled and with that, he turned and walked back into the winter air.