Her eyebrows shot up and she smoothed the fabric along the side pole of her tent. “Not a thing at all. How’s your mother?”
“Same as yesterday.”
“Surly as ever?”
“Yep.” I laughed as I picked up my duffel bag and looked through it. The crystal ball came out first. That thing was a sham if I ever saw one. It went in the same spot it always did—a little off to the side, closer to me than the guest. Same with the tarot cards, though they got to be a little closer to the customer. They were real, even if I couldn’t correctly interpret them.
“Eeny, meeny, miny…” Geraldine’s voice drifted off as she hefted up her portable table, something too flashy and sturdy to be called a card table.
“The placement of the ancient relics is a serious affair,” I said with a lofty voice as I debated what to bring out next.
Her laughter was strained by the wrestling match with the table. I didn’t offer to help her. We’d made a deal on my first day out here. She didn’t help me, and I didn’t help her. If the wind blew my tent to the other side of the medieval village and got stuck in the jousting match while the horses were running, it was my problem.
I would’ve been offended, thinking she was making that rule after seeing my shoddy setup, but all the other vendors had nodded in unison. Everyone was out for themselves. It was how things were done.
I placed a crystal at the right corner of the table before hesitating. It didn’t feel right there, not with the weather the way it was. On the other side, it felt more balanced, so I moved it there. The amethyst was next, placed just off to the side of center, right in the way. That was annoying, but it felt right, so what could I do? I hated fishing for information. The whole outgoing, chatty shtick went against my natural desire to hide in my sweater like a turtle. I’d rather just work around a rock.
All twelve of my stones were placed in this way. It was when I set down the last that I realized I hadn’t put down the hippie scarf that seemed to signify my trade.
“Dang it,” I muttered, grabbing it out and starting all over. You never knew with the rocks. Sometimes they didn’t like to be set in the same place twice.
And that, right there, was another little personality quirk that people made fun of me for. Thinking rocks had personalities. It was no wonder I only had one real friend (who had a very open mind), was still taunted by the school bully (who should’ve retired when we’d left high school), and an overprotective mother who thought I couldn’t tie my own shoes. I was not normal.
Speaking of not normal…
I finished setting everything up as my mind strayed to New Orleans. I’d felt so powerful when reading the zombie-creating spell. So confident. Then, with the mages and Reagan, I’d felt peaceful. Well…bullied, confused, exhausted, stubborn, and eventually drunk, but beyond that, peaceful. They didn’t think I was weird, and given the way we’d met, I could see why. My little peccadilloes probably didn’t seem like a big deal to them.
“Look alive, here we go,” Geraldine said, squeezing her girth between her table and the back of her tent. She’d misjudged the space in there again.
I laughed and stepped over to pull it out a little. “This doesn’t count as helping you,” I said as a table leg scuffed the ground and the items on her table jiggled. An old-fashioned though cheap-looking candleholder fell over. I smiled at the sound of plastic hitting wood.
“Oh good, then I don’t owe you one,” she said with a smile.
I straightened up and went to turn, but an interesting blue stone caught my eye. I bent to the area of her table reserved for items for sale. Half the size of my palm, it was translucent, with pinks, blues, and greens inside. Along the bottom, it looked like a brown fog was billowing up inside it.
“Lux Opal,” Geraldine said, following my gaze. “With the galaxy inside. Neat, right? My daughter gave it to me as a gift.”
“And you’re selling it?”
“Do you know how many gems, stones, and everything else people give me? They’d fill a truck. Besides, she’s in college now. She has other things to worry about than thoughtful gifts to her mother. She probably just grabbed this at a crystal shop.”
I frowned at it, feeling the tingle in my fingers to pick it up and add it to my collection. I, too, was given gems and rocks as gifts, and most of them were as useless as the crystal ball. Some of them I’d leave at the playground among the plain pebbles for the kids to find and marvel over. But every once in a while, I came across a rock with a voice. And those needed to be treasured.
I pointed at it as a gangly older man in a rumpled jerkin and obscene doublet walked by with his hands clasped behind his back and a small smile on his face. He came in almost every day, dressed in his Renaissance faire finery, to take in the grounds. He never stopped at the vendors’ tables.
“Just Rick,” Geraldine said, recognizing him.
“You should keep that,” I said. “That’s a good one.”
Her brow furrowed as she followed my pointing finger. “Really?” She took it up and surveyed it, then glanced at the others on the table. “It’s just an opal. They don’t have psychic powers.”
“Maybe not”—I glanced behind me to make sure no one could hear, a habit from youth that wouldn’t go away—“psychic powers, but there is power in that stone. I’d keep it if I were you.”
Her gaze came up and her brows lowered as she surveyed me. I couldn’t read her expression. “You take it, then. I have plenty.”
“No, really. That’s a good one. It was given to you. You should keep it.”
She pushed it across the table at me. “Take it. For helping me. And get your clothes on, or no one will want their fortunes read.” She tapped the opal. “Hurry. Someone is bound to come through soon.”
Normally I’d continue to refuse, because I didn’t like taking things like that, but in this instance, the allure of the gem was too much. I thanked her with a heated face and did as she said, hurrying over to my cart and stashing it in the bushes behind my stall. That done, I stood in front of my table one last time, reaching out with the gem to see where it would land.
In the middle, toward the top. It would be a little in the clients’ way.
Couldn’t be helped. That was where it wanted to be, so that was where it would go.
I really was weird. I’d probably make fun of me too.
My mother’s voice drifted into my head. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I snickered as I quickly donned a medieval-style gypsy dress (the costume store said that was a thing, so I’d gone with it), searched for my headscarf and realized I’d forgotten it, and slipped into the rear of the tent. My mother needed to switch out her clichés. That, or I needed to get laughed at a lot more often, because Callie was right about one thing: I was pretty sure tough girls didn’t hide in closets at the first sign of danger.
Families and couples came through in a steady stream—not too many people, since it wasn’t a holiday, but plenty enough with it being nearly summer and dry (for the moment). A few of them sat at my table, and I was relieved to find that I needed very little fishing to tell them things that awed them. One lady couldn’t believe I knew her daughter was about to have a baby. Clearly she’d forgotten that she and her husband had been speaking about it when they wandered by before doubling back and choosing to visit my booth and Geraldine’s. Another woman shook her head and stared at me with wide eyes when I revealed her poodle was doing just fine in doggy heaven, and didn’t want her to be sorry for its loss (I couldn’t tell from the picture keychain dangling off her purse if it was a boy or a girl, but the cross sticker was telling enough).
In the early afternoon, as the sky boiled and rolled above us, turning darker by the minute, the crowd thinned dramatically. It was Duval—residents here knew when it looked like rain.
I peeked out to look at the clouds when a strange knock sounded within my ribcage. A moment later it happened again, as though my heart were swelling to dramatic proportions, rolling over, and slamming against the bars holding it prisoner. The hairs on my arms and the backs of my neck lifted, giving me goosebumps.
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