Andrew wasn’t sure that they should have so many candles burning while the store was open. Sure, the ornate glass barriers Iris had set up protected them enough. But it still seems unsafe to have fire all over the store with the number of Christmas shoppers they had today.
He’d decided to stay at his job, after all. As mad as he was at Iris, he needed to keep working. Both to earn money and to keep his sanity as the curse continued to keep him in New Winslow. He’d been hesitant at first, but then Olivia had sat him down and told him flat-out that she wasn’t going to tell him not to work with Iris. She knew how important getting out and breaking the curse was. So while Olivia might never speak to Iris again, that was between the two of them.
The burden that had lifted off of Andrew’s chest when she said that was something he hadn’t even realized was there. But he also knew that, if she’d asked him to stop, he would have been done. No question.
A woman came up to the register with a small plant and a book about astrology. Andrew rang her up quickly. She was on her phone and barely glanced at him as she paid and took the bag. Next up came a thin, jittery-looking man holding a piece of tourmaline. He looked nervous as Andrew rang it in, his eyes darting back and forth as he scanned it. Andrew’s first thought was he was shoplifting, or he was the distraction as someone else shoplifted. And, if that was happening, Andrew was just going to murder them. He didn’t have the patience for it and there was nothing in this shop that was going to keep someone from starving to death.
He handed the stone back to the man, whose grip was so tight that his fingers were white. Something was off here and Andrew didn’t have to be psychic to see it. The man was pale and the dark circles under his eyes stood out against his sallow skin. Someone laughed in one of the small aisles and he flinched, nearly dropping the crystal.
This wasn’t shoplifting, this was something far more metaphysical.
“Mate,” Andrew said softly, knowing he might regret it. “You alright?”
The man nodded rapidly, but his eyes didn’t meet Andrew’s. “You’re sure then?” Andrew asked.
“You know there are wards up all over this shop, right?”
He felt like he’d cracked the code as the man relaxed, just slightly. “Listen,” Andrew said. “Want me to go get the owner? She might be able to help you with whatever is going on?”
“I reckon it depends on the situation. But she’s the real deal. Stay here.”
Andrew assumed the man was going to slip out the door the second he turned around. But for once, he decided to trust his intuition and get Iris. This wasn’t a shoplifter. And if it was, they had him on security cameras.
Iris was standing in her tiny back room, looking for something on one of the storage racks. Her long, blonde hair was untied and it looked like a waterfall, flowing down her back as she tilted her head up to look on a high shelf.
Iris jumped and whirled around. “Sorry!” Andrew said, holding up his hands in surrender. “Sorry! I just have a customer who needs some help.”
After everything that had happened with Olivia, he was still hesitant to trust Iris with his own health and safety. But this was a customer and, even with her poor judgment calls of the fall, she was probably his best bet. Plus, she was actually at work and focused on what she was doing, not halfway out the door for a mysterious meeting that ultimately proved useless. He saw that flash of hesitation in her eyes that showed she was clearly thinking along the same lines. But then she nodded.
“What do they need?” she asked, turning and walking back out with him.
“I’m not sure,” Andrew admitted. “He’s got some kind of a situation and the tourmaline isn’t going to cut it.”
This wasn’t the same scenario, and he knew that getting it right this time wasn’t going to redeem Iris in the eyes of everyone she’d disappointed. And he wasn’t doing this intentionally in hopes that maybe he could stop being so disappointed in her. No, this was purely professional. It was exactly the same thing he’d do if the man needed to know the difference between two essential oils.
Iris walked out and took the man off to the side. Their conversation was too quiet for Andrew to hear, so he busied himself by putting back stock that had been left at the counter. They planned to do a ritual tonight after they closed, some kind of astral projection nonsense that wasn’t going to get Andrew any closer to leaving New Winslow than he had been when he woke up this morning. And he was so tired that even if it somehow did release him, he was going to curl up and sleep on the other side of the boundary before doing anything else.
It was just going to be the two of them again. Even though it had started out that way, Andrew had gotten used to the team of Iris, him, Roman, and Dr. Degas. But Roman was out. He hadn’t spoken to Iris since before Andrew had driven the possessed Olivia over to his and Celine’s home for help. Andrew had to give him credit because he knew that in the past, Roman would have gone over and blasted Iris. He wasn’t proud of the fact that he’d done that exact thing himself, but he wasn’t sorry either.
Dr. Degas was more level-headed about the situation, but she was also stepping aside for a little while, with the promise that she was here if they needed her. But she had no interest in setting foot in Iris’s shop again after the string of irresponsible behavior that culminated in Olivia’s possession.
The bamboo were crooked in their cute porcelain cups. Why did she sell bamboo? Was there some kind of magical property to it that Andrew was unaware of? He’d have to look into that. The duplex was currently covered in sigils and protective wards, but he couldn’t help trying to think of all the other ways that he could keep them safe. Olivia was still scared. Even if she didn’t say it, he could see it in the way that she avoided leaving the house and kept checking the doors.
Not that he blamed her. That had been the scariest night of his life and he hadn’t even been the one possessed by an angry spirit.
If he couldn’t do anything else, he could at least use his apparently not useless new knowledge to protect their home. It was his home too, at least as long as he was here.