Leaves crackle beneath their feet. A breeze hinting of a cold night ahead rifles through Aidan’s ponytail and lifts the ends of Celia’s raven hair. Walking behind her, Aidan watches the strands dance with each other. Occasionally a gust tosses Celia’s hair across Jason’s broad back. Of course, they walk together like honeymooners, close, in time, hands clasped.
Aidan and Corey can let a whole other person walk between them the space is so wide. Aidan shoves her hands in the depths of her pockets, fingers playing with the keychain her mother is no longer using. Her fingertips slide over and around the silver symbol warmed by her touch.
(To Aidan, Celia and Jason leading the way seem to meander. A few nudges from me here and there take them to the two-mile strip filled with quaint little shops overlooking the river. I personally love this street, have watched it grow and change over the years…but lately my little town council has placed rules…)
They turn onto the street overlooking the river. It is quaint, filled with shops in refurbished buildings built at the turn of the 20th century. The city even springs for the landscapers that keep the flowers blooming, the trees healthy and the cobblestones neat. It is one of Aidan’s favorite places, mainly because the stores may look ancient on the outside and the real wood floors may creak beneath her feet, but they have free wifi and the best of everything.
She looks at the back of Celia’s head, hears the low voices between her cousin and Jason, waits for the giggle, and wonders what she should say to Corey. They have been silent since they left the house. Walking through the strip is a very good date for couples who have been together long enough to have things to talk about. Aidan would have preferred a dark movie theater for a first date. No topic pressure. Dinner afterwards filled with critique.
Now, doubts dribble through her.
(I flit into Corey’s head.
Interesting. I’ll have to examine the boy closer later. Have I checked him out? Is he good for her? Nope, been a little busy. He’s just a kid. I’m not in his head long enough to peruse.
I just place a suggestion or two.)
“Did you get to the books?” he asks.
“A couple of them. I thought I’d check out the jewelry store here this weekend. See what I can remember about stones.”
“They probably only have high end stuff.”
“Actually, no.” She looks at him. His hair flicks over his face. “You haven’t ever been down here have you?”
Jason and Celia walk as if they have a purpose, making plans for getting something to eat and maybe hitting the coffee shop for desert. Aidan and Corey stroll behind letting them get a bit further ahead.
He takes a breath. “Honestly? Nope. Never come to this part of town.”
“Even during the Festivals?” Her voice went higher than she intended.
“How long have you lived in Port Azil?”
“Not long enough to know that there are festivals…”
This starts a conversation about being the son of an Air Force Captain and moving every few years, the only stability being summers in South Dakota with his mother’s family.
Aidan almost runs into Jason and Celia stopped at the only empty shop on the strip. At first, she thinks they are reading the advertisement for tonight’s performance at the tiny open-air theater further down. But Celia’s eyes peer through the window into the store.
Aidan’s stomach twists.
“Let’s go ask,” Celia says in response to whatever Jason said before Aidan and Cory caught up.
Celia pulls Jason to the door, twists the knob and smiles to find it opens smoothly despite having been closed all summer. She glances at Aidan and Corey.
“Why do I get the feeling we’re stepping through Hell’s Gate?” Aidan whispers more to herself than anyone else.
Corey tosses a quizzical look in her direction, but follows the couple through the door.
Inside, only the sun beginning its descent on the other side of the river breaks the darkness. Soon, blinding rays of gold will pour through the bare windows as the sun sets.
Sunsets used to be beautiful here. Last year it was a shop that sold trinkets made of glass and when the sun set, crystals came to life filling the store with rainbows. Amber, the owner of the Glass Slipper, sold out her shop and left last spring. Now the shop’s layer of dust made everyone sneeze at least once as they stepped inside.
“What are you going to ask who?” Aidan questions her cousin already making her way to the back of the store where the counter stood before another door.
“Going to ask the new owner what he plans to sell here,” she says.
“Um, can’t you wait til it’s open?”
Jason looks at Aidan and shrugs with a smirk, not even trying to stop her.
“Oh, it’s one of those moments,” Aidan says. “We’ll just wait out here,” she calls to Celia’s back already through the door that leads to the back of the building.
“Those moments?” Corey’s head twists as he looks at Jason and then back to Aidan.
Aidan shakes her head. “She gets these moments where nothing will stop her from what she wants. Like…” Aidan stops. She cannot use any of the examples that springs to her head.
“Like when we met,” Jason saves her unknowingly. “She hunted me down after the first game of the season. She had this look in her eye and she kept elbowing people out of her way. When I saw her coming, I thought she was planning a murder.”
“Why did you go out with her?” Aidan asks.
“Wasn’t my first impression of her. I’d seen her around. Just never had the nerve to talk to her.”
Celia’s laugh echoes through the empty building. She steps through the back door arm in arm with…
“What the hell?” Her voice is so soft, only Corey hears it. All the color drains from her face. She puts out a hand to steady herself on something, anything. Corey steps close enough for her to find his arm. Her entire body is shaking. Instinctively, Corey wraps an arm around her. His warmth surrounds her. She hadn’t realized she was cold.
Celia’s mouth, open to say something, closes the moment she sees Aidan’s face. She stops. “Aidan?”
“Are you ok?” Corey whispers in her ear.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Mr. Morgan says from Celia’s arm. He moves quickly to her other side.
She flinches from his touch.
He pretends not to notice, takes her arm and leads her to a folding chair next to the counter.
“I am fine. Must be low blood sugar. We should be going.” She stands. He places a hand on the small of her back. Her knees buckle again. The chair creaks with her heavy thump.
“Nonsense. The restaurant down the street just delivered. I had no idea the portions were so large. There’s enough for everyone.”
(Of course there is. I told him they were coming.)
He steps to the door, pauses and says, “Would you boys be kind enough to help me with a few stools? We can put them around the counter.”
Corey and Jason follow the teacher.
“What’s wrong with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she pauses, reflecting. “That seems to be happening a lot lately.” Celia kneels in front of Aidan’s chair to look up at her.
“Maybe I have.”
“There are no ghosts in Port Azil.”
“Maybe they found a way to cross the river.”
“Stop it, Aidan.” Celia stands, steps away and then back.
“Do you not like Mr. Morgan?”
(Really, Celia’s not stupid. I wonder how long Aidan can keep this to herself.)
“He’s fine. It’s just low blood sugar. I forgot to eat lunch again.”
“You’re a liar. But because I know you’ll eventually tell me anyway, I’ll wait.” She paces, staring down at her footsteps on the dusty floor. Aidan watches poofs of dirt spin through the sunlight at Celia’s every step. They are silent.
(Did I ever mention the stubbornness in our family? These two may be my distant…very distant relatives, but they do this characteristic very well. It’s not time for Celia to be a part of this. I leave them alone.)
Wood bumps on wood as Corey and Jason, unbalanced by their loads, stumble their way back to the front. Behind them, Victor Morgan brings an armload of paper bags. The scent of fresh lasagna, parmesan cheese and bread fills the shop.
“We can’t stay.” Aidan stands.
“What are you talking about? Of course we can.” Celia counters. Her brow wrinkles and her eyebrows dive together as she looks at Aidan. Then, she turns to Mr. Morgan. “Did you bring something to wipe this counter?”
Jason whips out a wet cloth and tosses it to her, at the same time, depositing a few stools around the counter.
Corey unfolds a few more chairs. They are short. The counter is tall. He folds them back again and leans them against the wall. Without asking, he takes Aidan’s hand and guides her to the nearest stool. He stands next to her, close enough to share warmth, while helping to arrange the food on the now clean countertop. Its dark wood gleams in the first rays of sunset.
Jason passes around plastic-wrapped cutlery and napkins. Mr. Morgan moves aside paper bags.
Celia distributes scoops of lasagna on paper plates. “Eat, Aidan. If that is your problem.” She passes the first plate to her cousin. Celia then turns her brilliant smile to their teacher. “So why did you buy this place?”
“I needed a place to live.”
“I thought you already have a house,” Aidan says softly.
“Ah, it’s a rental.”
(Not exactly a lie, I smirk.)
“You can’t live in a shop. Especially not one on this street. It’s not coded for that.”
“Actually, Miss Kimball, you can live on this street, if you sell something from the storefront. I believe the bartender down the street has a living space above the bar.”
“What are you going to sell?” Jason asks slicing at the bread with a plastic knife.
“That is the question. It seems like this street has a little of everything.”
“How about coffee?” Celia offers.
“Sugar and Spice has that covered.”
“Oh, yeah, Aidan’s hidey hole.”
Aidan shoves a fork filled with pasta in her mouth.
“There’s already a dress shop, a record store, an antique place…” Jason says.
“What about herbs?” Corey says. “I bet there’s not one of those.”
“You’d be wrong. For Every Evil is a beautiful place. Smells almost as good as the bakery.”
“For Every Evil?”
Aidan says, “For every evil under the sun…”
“There is a remedy or there is none,” Celia follows.
“If there be one, seek til you find it,” Jason adds.
“If there be none, nevermind it,” Mr. Morgan concludes.
Corey looks baffled.
“You’re really not from here, are you?” Celia says.
“Well, you both are going to love it here,” she nods to Corey and then to Mr. Morgan.
“If I can figure out what to sell…”
“This is a beautiful space,” says Corey, “if a bit too small.”
“Ah, well, I’m planning on taking this wall down,” he motions to the wall behind them. “It serves no purpose other than to separate the front from the back storage area. It will be much bigger after that.”
Celia, lost in her own head starts mumbling around a bite of bread.
“What?” asks Jason.
“Oh, I am just kind of mentally listing the kinds of shops on the strip. You don’t want too much competition and there have to be some kind of rules. I mean, it’s like stepping into a weird fairy tale down here. Grandmother’s is the place we go to for formal wear and the best costumes at Halloween. Jack Horner’s is the bakery.”
Jason pitches in. “Nicked in Time sells antiques. Apples and Mushrooms is the weirdest restaurant, but the best food. Thumbalina’s sells kids clothes.”
“McGuffin’s bar,” says Aidan.
“Is that a from a fairy tale or a children’s rhyme?” Celia asks.
“It’s the object of motivation,” Mr. Morgan chuckles.
“It’s a bar,” Celia responds.
“Thus the irony,” Aidan snickers.
She looks up at Mr. Morgan standing on the other side of the counter, for a moment forgetting the weirdness that is him and thinking of him just as a literature teacher. The moment their eyes meet, she drops her lashes and refocuses on the food in front of her.
“I know what you can sell here,” Corey says in the silence. He steps away from the counter, spreads his arms and spins as if presenting something brilliant. The sun behind him sparkles off the dark waters of the river and adds a soft glow to his silhouette. “Can’t you see it?” Aidan sees his aura sparkle with excitement.
“Um…no? What are we supposed to be seeing?” she asks.
“Big overstuffed chairs and ottomans and small tables here at the front. Shelves all around. If you do knock down that wall, the space behind the counter can have more shelves.”
“But what is on all those shelves?”
“Why, books, of course.” Mr. Morgan says.