Iris hated the way her thoughts were consumed by Vivien lately. And the worst part was that she couldn’t even pinpoint her feelings about the other woman. Vivien was frustrating. She was arrogant. And she was so immature with her magic work that she couldn’t even form a proper salt circle without Iris coming in behind her to fix it.
But at the same time, the power she had. That raw power that literally sparked from her fingertips. Iris figured they should be thankful that Vivien was on their side. If she decided to use that power for evil, who could possibly stand up to her?
Iris rolled her eyes at herself as she shut off the shower and stepped out into her chilly bathroom. Vivien wasn’t a god, she wasn’t all powerful. She had abilities beyond most people, but there had to be others who were more powerful than she was. It wasn’t like she was a superhero. She was a spoiled woman from New England with unique abilities. And she might be able to break the curse without getting them onto Charles Baxter’s radar anymore than they already were, so Iris needed to find a way to work with her.
Iris pulled on her clothes slowly. She and Vivien were meeting over in Petersham in about an hour to discuss the curse and as much as the idea of spending more than five minutes with Vivien made Iris want to scream after the disastrous seance, it was worth it. Vivien had more power than anybody she’d ever met, and was willing to use that power to help her and her friends. It was worth an awkward lunch in a fancy farm-to-table restaurant.
The bell of Forest Charms rang cheerfully as Olivia walked into the shop. As she walked in, Andrew waved from where he was restocking a shelf of crystals nearby.
“Hey, is Iris here?” Olivia asked as she walked over to join him.
“Yeah, but she’s on a call,” he replied, shifting a large purple rock to make room for another large purple rock. “Are you here to talk about protection?”
She kept her immature joke to herself. “Yeah,” she said. “I put it off with everything that happened with Cleo and then Noah. But there were a couple last night and I need her help.”
He paused and looked at her. “Last night?” he said.
“Yeah, I was hearing footsteps on the stairs all night.”
“I went up at one point, maybe you heard me?”
“No, it was after you went to bed. And it sounded…weird. Soft, but heavy at the same time. And what were you doing up in Noah’s house?”
He busily put more rocks on the shelf, a slight blush starting on his cheeks. “Just checking if Noah needed anything,” he said. “Not like my phone works in this town.”
She kept another comment to herself and just nodded. “Right.”
Before he could explain himself further, Iris walked out of the back room. “Andrew, I need to get going. I’ll be back later, don’t worry about-oh, hi Olivia.”
“How’s Cleo’s mother doing?”
“Better,” Olivia replied. “She’s home from the hospital now. Cleo’s staying with her for a few days.”
“Good. And Noah’s doing well.”
That wasn’t a question, but she supposed the town psychic had to flex occasionally. “Yeah, he’s recovering.”
“I’m glad. I have to go, but-”
“Actually, could I talk to you for a second?” Olivia asked. “It’ll be quick.”
“Oh, um, yeah.”
Iris paused and looked at Olivia. “What’s up?”
“I need something to help me keep ghosts away.”
“What about the onyx Andrew bought?” Iris asked. “Do you still have it?”
“That should work. Maybe charge it in the moonlight if you want to.”
“But last night I heard-”
“It’ll work, Olivia,” Iris said, her voice tinged slightly with impatience at this point. “You just need to give it some time.”
She was already moving toward the door as she spoke. Olivia’s face was hot, but she kept going.
“Will it prevent possession?”
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” Iris said. “Alright, I have to go. Bye!”
She ducked out the door, the bright bells now sounding extra loud to Olivia as she stood there, mortified. Andrew was frowning as he looked at her.
“Hey,” he said softly. “You alright then?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“No, it’s fine,” Olivia said, waving him off. “She’s right. I have the solution, I just need to stop being impatient.”
Andrew looked like he wanted to say something else, but she shook her head. “It’s fine,” she said. “I have to go anyway. Mom’s got plans tonight and I don’t want to leave Noah alone with Mia.”
Andrew looked at her and she realized she’d stepped in it yet again. “Because of his wrist,” she added hurriedly. “Not because, like, I don’t trust him or something.”
He nodded. “Understood,” he said. “Yeah, maybe we can try charging it tonight. Full moon and all.”
“Yeah. See you tonight.”
He turned back to the inventory he was stocking as she walked back out, that damn bell ringing out behind her.
Vivien waved her over to a small table by the cheerful fireplace. Bracing herself, Iris walked over and plastered on a smile. “Hello, Vivien.”
“Sit, sit,” Vivien said, motioning to the rustic wooden chair in front of Iris. “What do you want to drink? The wine list here is fantastic, lots of local little wineries.”
She motioned for the server, who came over before Iris had a chance to look at the list. “Um, sorry,” she said, scanning the laminated wine list quickly.
She chose a wine at random and the young server nodded, then left. “I ordered us a bread plate,” Vivien continued. “I know you like what’s on the plate, so I took the liberty.”
Iris glanced at the appetizer menu, saw that the bread plate was all breads she liked, and nodded. “Thank you,” she said politely, not wanting to give Vivien the awe she was clearly looking for.
“So this curse,” Vivien began, taking a sip of her wine.
Iris didn’t know why she would have possibly expected anything close to an apology for what happened at The Countess. Vivien had barely acknowledged what a disaster it had been on the night it actually happened. By now, she’d had plenty of time to convince herself that things had gone exactly to plan.
Iris tamped down the irritation stewing inside of her. This is for New Winslow, she thought. If this gets Roman and Andrew out, it’s worth it.
“I think I know what I’ll need to do,” Vivien continued. “I’ll need to come to the town, of course. Don’t worry though, I won’t get trapped. I’ll make sure to prepare myself so that it doesn’t happen. But it’s all about cleansing the energy that’s built up there. Something that I’m able to do for you.”
What would Roman say right now? Iris could almost hear him as she listened to Vivien casually describe her approach.
“You saw it back at The Countess,” Vivien continued. “When we cleared up the spirits that came through. Cleansing the spiritual energy from the room sent them back through to the other side.”
No, what had sent them back was Iris doing her own job. Unless she was mistaken, all Vivien had done was push them through the portal, then leave the portal wide open with vague promises of closing it.
“It’s no wonder the curse has lingered as long as it has,” Vivien continued, oblivious to Iris’s growing apprehension. “If nobody has tried to actually cleanse it, it isn’t going to go anywhere.”
Nobody had tried to cleanse it? This was a curse, not a spilled drink. And besides, Iris had tried to cleanse it. And according to Roman, so had Celine. Multiple times. And Iris sincerely doubted that, even as powerful as Vivien appeared to be, another attempt at cleansing would be the solution they were looking for.
This was a mistake. Yet again, Iris had stepped in it with the curse. Vivien couldn’t help, could she? Missy and Anna had been right, and she’d been so caught up in this idea of using brute strength to get through it. But as Iris listened to Vivien detail her plans, her stomach sank. None of it made any sense. Vivien was certain she could just scrub away the negative energy that was apparently causing the curse, and it wasn’t going to work.
But how was she going to get out of this now? Vivien was already invested and Iris couldn’t see her leaving without taking it personally. So she could either let Vivien do whatever she planned on doing and clean up the consequences or she could make herself a scattered, but powerful enemy.
Now she had both Vivien and Baxter to deal with. Great.
The waiter came back with her wine and the bread plate. Iris took a piece of bread and nibbled on it, trying to be polite as Vivien explained that it likely wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to clear out the spiritual residue causing the curse. Those poor trapped souls would be on their way out of town before they knew it.