Iris walked into Forest Charms and her heart sank as she surveyed the damage. It had regularly been a mess since Roland found his way into her life. But right now it looked as though a hurricane had ripped its way through her store. Entire shelves were ripped off the walls and expensive merchandise was tossed dozens of feet away from where it had been stocked. Pages from various books were scattered throughout the store.
This was bad. This was potentially weeks of closure and hundreds of dollars in merchandise gone. Her business could survive it, she was confident of that. But she’d be taking a hit. And she wasn’t sure exactly how much of a hit she could afford to take at the moment when she had no outside clients.
“Roland?” Iris said hesitantly into the empty room.
She thought she saw something shimmer in the corner of the store again, like heat vapor. But it was gone as soon as she processed it.
But that didn’t mean Roland had left. She could still feel his presence in the room, the way she might feel an alarm screeching at a frequency just barely too high for her to hear.
Iris tried to keep her voice gentle. She didn’t want to provoke the spirit again, but she was also now deeply concerned. Roland was mischievous, sure. He’d done genuine harm to her shop on a regular basis. But his chaos had calmed down in the past weeks. Ever since the disastrous town hall meeting, he’d been almost affectionate. Terrible, but affectionate. Between the cookies and the almost teasing way he’d slowly move things around her presence, he was starting to grow on her. But last night had been terrifying.
It had been almost, well, demonic.
She suddenly remembered Roman’s words the night she’d planned to do the summoning ritual. This isn’t some townsperson with a grudge. This is demonic.
Could she have been wrong about Roland? Was he a demon? Icy fear slid into her stomach as the thought settled into her mind. How could she have fallen for this act?
She needed to get rid of him now. If she couldn’t send him back to where he came from, she could at least banish him from the premises until she found a stronger solution.
Trembling, Iris began digging through the mess to find the supplies she would need.
Olivia had promised to bring Noah some dinner. He hadn’t seemed too enthusiastic about the idea earlier today, but she had promised and she was going to fulfill that promise. Plus, she hadn’t seen him since he’d been acting weird at work earlier and she was worried.
His performance at work was starting to slip, and she didn’t know if he noticed or cared. But suddenly dishes were piling up and customers were receiving incorrect drinks or no drinks at all. She’d ended up comping orders for four different people last night and she had a sinking feeling that Noah might have been drinking at work when she wasn’t looking. Most of her didn’t want to catch him because then she’d have to fire him, and she wasn’t sure she had that in her.
Bret, however, absolutely had it in him. He didn’t know Noah from Adam and wouldn’t give a shit about anything except the major rules being broken. And she was seriously concerned that some of these declining services were going to end up being mentioned on social media. Bret’s company took social media and Yelp mentions very seriously. One mention of a possibly drunk bartender and both Noah and Olivia would be in the crosshairs.
She put some chicken, potatoes, and vegetables on a plate and covered it with another plate. Maybe he’d be willing to listen to her. Part of her wanted to go in and yell at him, to tell him that his bullshit could put her job in danger too and what the fuck was he thinking? But another part of her knew there was no way she’d get through to him that way. And besides, maybe he wasn’t actually drunk at Keegan’s. Maybe he was just constantly hungover. No law against that, right?
That didn’t make her feel any better.
She peeked in on Mia, who was asleep in her crib. She’d fallen asleep about forty minutes after Olivia got home, and while Olivia loved her daughter with her whole heart, she hoped this meant she’d actually stay asleep for the night.
Then she hooked the baby monitor to her belt loop and started heading upstairs, walking carefully in the dark stairwell.
Olivia got to Noah’s door and knocked softly. There was no answer. Maybe he was asleep? In that case, she would just put the food on his kitchen table.
She went to turn the knob and found it locked. Her stomach sank. Noah never locked this door. They’d lived here for over a year now, and she’d never once seen it locked.
She tried it again, just in case maybe it was sticking or something. But she knew what was going on. He was in there and he’d locked the rest of them out.
She knocked once more, harder this time. She could hear movement inside, a little shuffling. But the door stayed locked.
Her face was burning and she could feel tears gathering in her eyes. This was stupid, he was entitled to lock his apartment door if he wanted to. It didn’t mean anything. Maybe he’d done it absently as he walked in. Maybe it had absolutely nothing to do with her.
But as she turned and started walking carefully back down the stairs, she knew that wasn’t true.