Andrew was sitting in Olivia’s car, putting off going inside. After the scare yesterday, he was exhausted and jittery at the idea of going back.
They’d been fine for a little while after Noah left. The pizza had arrived, and Andrew and Olivia had both eaten some. Even Mia had tried a little. She’d loved it so much that Olivia said she was actually considering getting another pizza tonight.
She’d brought some up to Noah later on, but he had already been in bed. So she left it on his kitchen table. When she got back downstairs, her good mood had faded and she let Andrew know that she’d seen multiple empty liquor bottles in his kitchen. And she hadn’t even gone any further into the apartment than that.
Now Andrew sat in the car, keys still in the ignition. He hadn’t heard from Iris yet and was starting to feel a little hesitant about how much hope he’d put into this plan. Maybe it wasn’t going to happen.
He was about to reluctantly open the door when his phone buzzed.
Andrew felt a smile spread across his face. “Cleo!” he exclaimed, settling back in his seat. “Hi! What’s up?”
“Just checking in,” Cleo said.
“At ten at night?”
“It’s nine here.”
Right. Time zones.
“I got your text a little while ago about last night. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, everything’s fine,” he replied. “Liv saw something in the house and we all reckoned we were better safe than sorry.”
“Was there actually anyone there?”
Andrew shrugged. “Damned if I know,” he said. “But it’s not like Liv regularly makes up things for attention so…”
Cleo didn’t say anything, but he could almost hear her nodding in agreement. “So what else is going on?” she asked. “Have I missed anything?”
Right, he hadn’t told her. “Actually, yeah,” Andrew said. “I, er, I didn’t get the flat.”
Cleo was silent. “He had a buyer arranged,” Andrew continued. “I could have walked into the office, cash in hand, and I still would have been turned down.”
Another beat of silence. “Cleo?”
“I’m so sorry,” Cleo whispered, and Andrew was horrified to hear tears in her voice.
“Fuck, Andrew, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. And there wasn’t even any point to it.”
Andrew sighed. “Cleo,” he said, “I told you before, and I meant it. I’m an adult and I made my own decision to come back. You didn’t force me to do anything.”
“No,” Andrew repeated, his voice firm this time. “Cleo, listen. It is not your fault. I made a decision, I live with the consequences of that decision. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last time. And if you spend all your time on the road worrying about me when you should focus on your music? I’m going to be angry. So please listen to me and believe me when I tell you that anything that happened here is not your fault.”
She was silent again. “You’re right,” she said finally.
She laughed. “Now,” Andrew said. “It’s cold outside and I’m putting off freezing my arse off on the walk back into the house. So please tell me every single detail of your trip so far.”
Andrew stood in the entrance of Forest Charms, snow dusting his pea coat.
“Yes?” He said, tone politely confused. “We did agree on tonight, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Iris said, hurriedly shoving some paperwork out of the way to clear the counter. “I just…I wasn’t sure if you’d actually come.”
Andrew held out his arms. “Here I am.”
“Great! Um, want a drink? I’ve got water, sodas, beer?”
“A beer would be terrific, thank you.”
Iris slipped into the back office, leaving Andrew alone in the shop. He walked over to a shelf of sparkling crystals tucked among the carefully arranged pots of succulents. He passed tiny shops like this regularly in Boston and Cambridge. Lifestyle shops tucked in lower levels of old buildings, the neon signs’ retro gleam softened by the green of the plants.
He picked up a crystal, turning it over in his hand. It was a lustrous black, reflecting the light from the lamp beside him.
It was beautiful, something he could see himself using as a decoration in his apartment.
“That’s tourmaline,” Iris said from beside him.
Andrew jumped, nearly dropping the stone. “It’s good for blocking out bad energy and curses,” Iris continued. “I can see why you’d be drawn to it.”
Andrew cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’m not sure how much I believe in that kind of thing,” he mumbled.
Iris quirked an eyebrow. “That’s fair,” she said. “Weird considering you’re trapped in a cursed town, but fair.”
Andrew opened his mouth to respond, but had nothing.
“If the bad stuff is real, it only makes sense that the good stuff is too,” Iris continued.
Andrew looked down at the stone in his hand. Could it or something like it possibly be the solution to something this big?
Iris handed him a beer, and he set the tourmaline back on the shelf. She started walking back to the counter, where she’d set up two stools.
“So I’m thinking a two-pronged approach is our best bet here,” she said, sitting down and pulling a worn notebook closer to her. “I think we should try the usual curse-breaking stuff. But I also think it’d be good to get to the actual root of it.”
“What are the usual curse-breaking things?” Andrew asked, sitting down next to her.
“Rituals, herbs, cleansing, wards,” Iris replied. “Standard stuff, but it can be powerful so there’s no point in ruling it out.”
“Iris, due respect,” Andrew said, his plan to keep his mouth shut immediately forgotten. “But don’t you think if something like this worked, we’d know it by now? I mean, my mother tried to leave for years. It’s not like she sat home listening to the radio for five years, you know? And Roman at the pizza shop?”
Iris flinched. “I know,” she said. “I know. And not to sound arrogant, but did they have any training in this? Or experience dealing with the supernatural? I have that training, Andrew. So even if others have tried similar things in the past, I think it’s worth trying again.”
Andrew took a sip of his beer, then nodded. “That’s reasonable,” he said.
“That’s also why I think we should dig into the history,” Iris said. “Whatever is happening, it’s deeply connected with this town in particular. So we need to know how and why. And the town leaders are no help. They either don’t know or don’t care about it. So I don’t know if there’s, like, a legitimate coverup happening or if they just can’t be bothered.”
She stepped behind the counter, ducked down, and came back up with a stack of books that she dropped on the counter with an echoing thud.
“Let’s start by taking a look through these,” she said. “We can see if any rituals look promising.”
Andrew’s heart sank a little, but he picked up a dusty book and began flipping through.