New Winslow S7E35
When Iris got back to her shop the next afternoon, Andrew was already there waiting for her. The store wasn’t open, of course, but he had a key. So he was waiting as she stepped cautiously inside, sitting on a scuffed wooden stool beside a shelf full of crystals.
Iris wasn’t much of a hugger, she never had been. But when he stood, arms slightly spread just enough to indicate, she fell into his embrace. “I should have told you you didn’t have to work today,” she said, her face pressed against his shoulder. “Sorry, I was so distracted.”
“My shift was supposed to start in two hours,” he said. “I’m here to help you.”
He held her at arm’s length, assessing her face. She knew she looked bad. The cuts from Vivien’s initial attack stood out on her face and the swelling around her eye was more prominent than it had been when she fell asleep the night before. “You’re okay?” he asked, as though he might actually believe her.
“Yeah,” she lied.
“Then come on, what do we need to do?”
It was a simple ritual, a purification practice that Iris could do without thinking on a normal day. She tended to save this one for when a property was particularly bad, but it was still easy. Salt-based and focused on intent. As she gathered her supplies, she felt fairly confident in it. This was going to work fine. She wasn’t going to think of Vivien, so confidently pulling materials off Iris’s shelves in order to perform the ritual that would kill her.
But then they opened the back door and Iris saw the charred surface of the grass, that perfect circle of death in the small yard. And she froze just as she felt Andrew’s hand on her back.
“Want me to do it?” he asked her.
Iris shook her head, her hair feeling lank around her ears. “I’ll do it,” she said. “I need to.”
She moved through the ritual, thinking as little as possible about what she was doing. By the time she was done, she was more drained than she’d been the first time she ever did it sixteen years ago. She needed to shower. All of these purifying baths were helping her spiritually, but she needed to wash her hair and exfoliate her physical body before she’d feel like herself again.
She looked over the tiny patch of grass, the charred circle taking up more than half the space.
“I feel like I should do more,” she said softly, watching as the light breeze moved through the trees beside the old fence.
“Like more cleansing?” Andrew asked, stepping up beside her.
“No, for Vivien,” Iris said around the lump that was back in her throat. “She was awful, but nothing about this is right.”
She looked over at Andrew, expecting a fight. And she could tell he was keeping himself from saying anything. Not that she blamed him, not after what happened with Noah. But he just continued to watch the deep green of the swaying leaves.
“You’ve done what you can,” he said. “And she hurt you. Now we just do our best from here.”
They stayed where they were for a long moment, the only sounds coming from the wind and an old car driving past, the motor grumbling to the point she was surprised it was running. Then, without discussing it, they both turned to go back inside.
“I had a thought,” Andrew said a moment later as they went into the shop. “You don’t suppose Rosalind would attack outside of that summoning spell, do you?”
Iris shivered at the implications of that. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “But it doesn’t seem likely. After all, the only times she’s made herself truly clear have been in these circles. Maybe that’s where she’s drawing her strength from.”
Andrew looked a little relieved, but not fully. “Still, I’d adjust your wards,” she said. “I’m going to do the same thing.”
After the shop was as cleansed as it was going to get, it was time for the hardest part. Iris was tempted to just call The Countess, but this was the kind of news that needed to be delivered in person, if they didn’t know already. So she reluctantly left as Andrew went back to the Limerick.
The drive was too quiet, the radio crackling and going out altogether at points as she made her way down long, empty roads. Iris couldn’t help thinking of Noah after that last session, the one where they’d finally solved the mystery of what Billy was saying to him. Was that little patch right there where he’d pulled over? He said he walked from wherever he’d left his truck to the Countess, but that didn’t mean it had been a reasonable walk. It could have been anywhere along this route.
She should have known not to keep going. Even when he insisted, she could have said no. Told him they’d do it again later. Iris knew what she was doing, sure. And if he had stayed in the shop afterward, she and Andrew together probably could have talked him down before anything terrible happened. But she had to admit to herself that she could have handled that situation a lot better.
As she pulled into the Countess’s gravel lot, she spotted Missy outside, weeding one of the beautiful gardens. There were some kids playing nearby and she recognized the oldest as Roman’s teenage son. The babies he was gently tossing a ball back and forth with must have been Roman’s too. But he and Celine weren’t anywhere to be seen.
She’d have to thank Celine when she saw her. How had Celine known to come? Iris knew the answer to that, even if she couldn’t fully explain. And probably, neither could Celine. But if Celine hadn’t been there, things would have been so much worse.
Missy stood up and shielded her eyes from the sun as she watched Iris walking across the grass toward her. “I know,” she said, setting down her small trowel.
Of course she did. Celine would have told Roman, who would have told them. Or maybe Celine would have told them directly. Regardless, Anna and Missy had probably known since just after it happened.
Missy wiped her dirty hands on her overalls, then looked at Iris, her gaze piercing. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Iris lied.
“Vivien made her decisions.”
That wasn’t quite where Iris had expected the conversation to go. “She didn’t deserve that.”
“I never said she did,” Missy replied mildly. “But she wasn’t an innocent victim of circumstance, Iris. It was her decisions and her arrogance that did this to her. Don’t blame yourself for what happened, but take the warning for what it is.”