Chapter Four

Cc drove quickly to the Base Exchange, glad it was situated between the Personnel Building and the base's north exit. She could run in, grab what she needed and get right out—and then she could hurry back to her apartment. She needed to be alone to sit and think about what had just happened.

She hadn't imagined the woman; she was certain of that. But that was all she was certain of.

She pulled into the crowded Base Exchange parking lot, and as she drove by the main entrance she noticed an empty parking spot—the closest spot to the front doors that wasn't reserved for high-ranking officers. CC parked with a growing sense of wonder.

"I am having some seriously good parking luck today," she murmured.

The Base Exchange, known by military personnel as the BX, reminded CC of a weird cross between an upscale department store and a flea market. Tinker's BX was no exception. Just inside the front doors, but before she entered the body of the Exchange itself, was scattered booth after booth of sales people hawking everything from deli sandwiches to "designer" handbags and jewelry. CC hurried past the colorful area and impatiently let the BX worker check her ID. She almost sprinted to the section of the store that sold toiletries and haphazardly chose the necessary travel items. Then she had to stop herself from screaming in impatience as the cashier seemed to take forever to ring up her purchases.

Rushing back out the door, the scent of food and the insistent growling in her stomach made her pause. Why not get something for dinner right there? That meant she wouldn't have to stop again on the way home. She followed her nose down the row of kiosks until she located the deli sandwich stand and ordered a hot Italian sub.

While she was waiting for her order to be filled, the back of her neck began to itch. Like someone was staring a hole into it. Brow wrinkled in irritation, CC turned to find the woman at the jewelry stand directly across from the sandwich booth smiling graciously at her. She was wearing a flowing dress made of sapphire velvet. She raised a well-manicured, bejeweled hand and gestured for CC to join her.

"Come!" she said.

CC opened her mouth to decline the odd invitation, but the woman spoke again.

"No. Do not think. Just come." Her thick accent rolled the words.

"That'll be five dollars," the sandwich man said.

CC paid him, and then she did something unusual, something outside her mold. Without thinking, she let her feet carry her across the aisle to the jewelry stand.

"Ah," the woman said, taking CC's right hand in both of hers and turning it over so she could study her palm. "I knew it. She has touched you."

"She?" CC asked.

"The Great Mother." The woman didn't look up from CC's palm, but kept speaking matter-of-factly in her richly accented voice. "Yes, I saw it in your aura, and I see it clearly here. You are beloved by her."

"How—" CC started to ask, but the woman wasn't finished.

"But your journey will be long and arduous." She squinted at CC's palm like she saw something disturbing there.

"Well, I am leaving for a ninety-day TDY to Saudi Arabia tomorrow," CC said.

The woman's gaze lifted from CC's palm.

"No, little daughter, I do not mean a journey of distance. I mean a journey of spirit." CC was struck by a sense of familiarity as their eyes met. Then the woman abruptly dropped her hand and turned.

"Where is it?" The woman muttered to herself as she searched through a nest of hanging necklaces. "Ah, here you are." Triumphantly she held the necklace out to CC.

It was lovely. The silver chain was long and delicate, and suspended from it by a latticework of silver ivy was a glistening cinnamon-colored stone. It was about the size of CC's thumb and shaped like a perfect teardrop.

"Amber," the woman said. "It was formed by resin fossilized in the bosom of the earth."

"I've never had any amber," CC said. "But I've always thought it beautiful."

"This piece is the same color as your eyes." The woman smiled.

CC thought she was doing one heck of a sales job. "How much is it?" CC asked, returning the exotic woman's smile.

"This necklace is not for sale."

CC frowned. Was the woman trying to get her to look at a more expensive piece?

"This necklace is a gift." In one motion the woman placed it over CC's head.

"But, I can't accept this!" CC sputtered.

"You must. It is meant to be yours," she said simply. "And I sense that there has been a recent event for which a gift is appropriate. No?"

"Well, it was my birthday yesterday," CC admitted.

"Ah, a Samhain child. How appropriate. So you see, it is already yours. Take it with you on your journey. Wear it always. Amber is an earth stone. Know that it has the power to absorb negative energy and turn it to positive." The woman's eyes were dark and serious. "You may have need of it, little daughter." Then her eyes lightened and she hugged CC. "Now go home and prepare." She cocked her head like she was listening to something and added, "Your plants are calling you."

"Thank you," CC said. Blinking in surprise she let the woman turn her and give her a gentle push toward the front doors. The amber drop nestled heavy and warm between her breasts. CC touched the stone and her face broke into an amazed grin.

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