A fell wind blew down the concrete canyons of Greenwich village, stirring Blair’s hair as she stood with mouth gaping, staring at something which simply could not be.
For months, someone had left flowers outside of the apartment Blair shared with her sister and familiar—not to mention a ghost. No card, no flower company information, absolutely nothing to go on. At last, she’d caught the person responsible—or had she?
The young woman before her seemed more confused than Blair herself. Her long, wavy dark hair and piercing gray eyes bore an uncanny resemblance to Blair’s grandmother. Too uncanny.
“Who are you?” Blair’s voice came out as a croak.
“I’m just a delivery drone,” she said, shaking her head and backing away. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Wait!” Blair said as the woman turned to leave. Blair struggled through a dense clot of pedestrians, thicker even than normal for New York City. When she made it past them, she looked about in dismay. The woman had vanished. Blair considered using magic to help locate her, but there were mundanes all about.
“Hey! Blair, what the heck?”
She turned on her heel and found a white puffball cat with rather annoyed blue eyes trotting along the top of a fence.
“In the fur. Where did you get off to?”
“I was chasing her. It was her, Felix. It had to be her.”
“Who?” Felix sat down on his haunches and cocked his head to the side. “I really need some context here. How much champagne did you have to drink?”
“The woman who’s been dropping off the flowers, she was Beulah Harker. My grandmother.”
“Let me get this straight,” Felix said. “Your grandmother—who is dead, the grandmother you have never met—was delivering flowers to your apartment for…reasons, I guess?”
“But…it looked so much like her.” Blair turned to gaze up the sidewalk, feeling lost and unsure.
“I’m sure it did. There’s only so many faces in the world. Sooner or later, you’re bound to find someone who looks the same as somebody else.”
“It looked just like her, Felix! I’m not making it up.”
“I didn’t say that you were,” Felix twitched his ears. “Look, you’re a witch, one of nearly half a million supernatural beings in the New York area alone. I will admit it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the flower delivery person was your grandmother. Time travel, age regression magic, you name it. But…is that nearly as likely as you just thinking she looks like your grandmother? You have been under a lot of stress lately.”
Blair deflated a bit, leaning her back against the smooth brick of the fence. She ran a hand down her face and sighed.
“Maybe it is just a coincidence, but…I can’t shake the feeling it’s not.”
She looked up at the city skyline, tens of thousands of yellow rectangles shining as night descended on the city. If she calmed herself, looking with senses beyond the mundane, Blair could feel the pulsing of electrical current moving all around her. It traveled in wires beneath her feet, through the cables extending overhead, and even pulsed through the combustion engines rumbling down the avenue. If she concentrated harder, she could sense the electricity in human bodies, generated by the iron moving about their bloodstream and throbbing inside their brains.
It was her Witch’s Talent, Electromancy. Useful for banishing demons to the netherworld and deep-frying enemy warlocks. Not so useful for unraveling the mysteries of her own mind.
“I’ll grant you, it’s a bit weird there’s been no card with the flowers. Not even ‘from your secret admirer’ or any such drivel.”
“Exactly. In cases of anonymous delivery, there’s usually at least a company card or logo.”
Felix crawled onto her shoulder and wrapped himself around her neck. “C’mon, let’s get back to the party.”
“I don’t know if I can just go back to the party while this is banging around in my head. I need to do something.”
“I don’t know. Just something.”
Felix started purring. “I’ve just figured it out. Go, back to the party. Mush.”
“Mush? Are you kidding me?”
“Mush please? Look, our solution is back at the party. Trust me.”
Blair cocked an eyebrow at her familiar. “A solution? What kind of solution are drunk witches, a drunken seer, and a disco-dancing ghost going to have to offer?”
“You’re forgetting that the drunken seer also has a drunken boyfriend who’s a drunken private investigator.”
Blair gasped. “Adam! He’s the one who tracked down all the information on my parents and grandmother in the first place.”
“Right. Who’d have thought a guy with a nose ring would be so adept at computers?”
Ember chuckled and turned back toward her apartment building. “Sometimes, I think a nose ring is required for a tech degree these days. Come on, let’s go see what Das Wunderkind can come up with this time.”
“You realize there’s a good chance she’s just a random stranger who happens to resemble your grandmother, right?”
Ember paused on the concrete stairway and looked back up the street, toward the last place she’d seen the delivery woman before she vanished. People clustered at the corner until the light changed. Then they surged in a clot across the avenue. Bored motorists either stared blankly ahead or toyed with cell phones while they waited for the light to change for them.
No sign of the mysterious delivery woman. Now that the woman no longer stood right in front of Ember, she began to doubt her memory. Maybe Felix was right.
Her words carried even less conviction that she felt.
Adam proved not only willing to do the job, but downright eager. Unlike Maeve and Felix, he never questioned whether Blair was losing her mind or not.
When Blair slept that night, her dreams were troubled with visions of chasing a familiar face through the New York subways. Every other pedestrian she encountered had no face, just a pulsating mass of tumorous flesh.
She awoke in a feverish sweat in the small hours, looking about in confusion until she grew certain it had only been a dream. Careful not to wake Felix, she sat up in bed and opened her Grimoire. She felt back asleep with it open on her chest.
Blair’s slumber proved blessedly dreamless after that. When she awoke again, the sun cheerfully beaming in the window seemed off. Blair realized it came in at an angle which suggested late morning on the cusp of noon.
She flung off her covers in a huff, causing Felix to shriek.
“Oh god, why didn’t my alarm go off?” She gasped. “I’m going to be so late?”
“Late for what?” Felix asked.
“For work! It’s almost noon.”
“Yes, it’s almost noon. On a Saturday.”
Blair paused her furious search for garments in her closet and turned back to Felix. “You’re kidding.”
“Not this time.” Felix yawned and stretched. “So, calm down. Everything’s fine…although, since you’re already up, my water bowl is only at seven- tenths maximum capacity, and I can see porcelain at the bottom of my food dish.”
Blair dealt with her cat familiar’s ‘needs’ and her own ablutions. She heard Maeve stirring in her room and rapped on the door.
“Are you awake?”
“More or less.”
“Want some breakfast.”
“Yes, but I don’t want you to cook.”
The door flung open and Maeve stood there, her long hair draped over her pale torso. “Let’s eat at the food court of Manhattan Mall.”
“A shopping mall?” Blair cocked her head to the side. “They still have those?”
“As of last week, they did. Manhattan Mall is, at any rate. Anyway, they have a pizzeria in the food court that features international pizzas. It’s really something.”
Blair’s eyes narrowed. “You know pizza is my one, true weakness. Why are you trying to get me out of the house?”
Maeve sighed. “It was Aileen’s suggestion. No one wants you moping around thinking about that woman you thought looked like Beulah Harker.”
“She looked just like my grandmother; I swear—”
“See?” Maeve shook her head. “You’re already all caught up in it, and you’re barely awake. Look, Adam’s going to be busy looking into this for you today, you’re off work, there are no unsolved murders requiring your attention…what else do you have to do today other than stroll around a mall, try on clothes we can’t afford, and eat overpriced pizza?”
“Nothing, I guess.” Blair frowned. “Shouldn’t we stay home, though, in case Adam finds something?”
“He’ll text us, duh. Stop looking for excuses and let’s go.” Maeve cocked an eyebrow. “You can pick out a fancy dress for your next date with Skips.”
Blair’s cheeks flushed with heat, and Maeve chuckled. “That got your motor running. Get dressed. We’re going shopping.”
Blair found herself too distracted to put much effort into her appearance. She wore no makeup, put her hair in a ponytail, and put on yoga pants and a simple top. Maeve, by contrast, had put on a cute floral-print dress which showed off enough of her legs to be on the flirty side. Her hair hung down in a perfect fountain, and even her chunky bracelets coordinated with her heels and earrings.
Blair had always felt somewhat self-conscious around Maeve in public, because her sister was simply gorgeous. On that day, she felt like a sparkler walking next to the sun. She managed not to feel an ounce of resentment toward Maeve, though it was difficult.
The Manhattan Mall’s black and white checkered floors clacked under Maeve’s heels as they strolled toward the food court. Blair’s belly rumbled, and she realized how long it had really been since she’d last eaten.
They ensconced themselves with slices of pizza—Hawaiian for Blair, Vietnamese for Maeve—and stared out from the third floor over the courtyard of the mall. The people moved below them in a slow, cyclic dance. Blair couldn’t help looking over the faces on the off chance she would see the flower delivery woman.
She couldn’t help seeing the tumorous faces from her dreams, either. Blair turned her gaze back to Maeve, suppressing a shudder.
“What’s wrong?” Maeve asked, her pretty face wrinkling in a worried frown.
“Doesn’t look like nothing. Is everything going okay with Vinnie?”
Blair couldn’t suppress a smile at the thought of the handsome Vinnie, whom she usually referred to by his nickname, Skips.
“So, that’s not what’s bothering you,” Maeve said. “Things are going gooood…look at that blush.”
“I’m not blushing.”
“You totally are, and it’s adorable.” Maeve’s smile faded. “Where does that leave you and Chris, though?”
“We’re still friends,” Blair said quickly, trying not to think of the way they’d locked lips the night before.
“Just friends. Seriously.”
Maeve leaned back and regarded her for a long time. “Okay, if you say so. I don’t have to tell you to be careful, right? I mean, his family are in the mob.”
“Allegedly, and Skips isn’t like that. He borrowed money to start his own business rather than get involved in…whatever the Monsantos are involved in.”
“Excuse me, but might I have a word with you?”
Blair turned toward the female voice, discovering the woman was not looking at her, but at Maeve.
“Um, sure?” Maeve said, looking back and forth between Blair and the strange woman. Blair took in the sight of the stranger. Tall, fine-featured. The tailored Versace skirt suit she wore probably cost more than their rent for an entire year. Her blonde, cornsilk hair seemed almost too perfect, as did her ruby red lips and large, expressive eyes.
“Forgive me, I’m being rude. My name is Sylvia Sparrows. My card.”
The woman handed Maeve a crisp business card. High end, aesthetically pleasing fonts and graphics made it seem more like a work of art than a simple card. Maeve squinted at it, then glanced up at Sylvia. “This says you’re a talent agent?”
“One of the many hats I wear,” Sylvia said in a lilting tone. She looked Maeve up and down. “I’m sorry, I know you probably get this all the time, but have you ever considered being a model?”
“Me? A model?” Maeve flushed. “Why, no, no one’s ever said that…except drunk guys and I think they say that to everyone with a pulse.”
Sylvia tittered laughter. Blair didn’t like her but couldn’t say why. The fact Sylvia only spoke to Maeve and didn’t even seem to acknowledge her didn’t help any.
“Well, I know the right talent when I see it. Clothes hang beautifully off of you, my darling.”
“I don’t know,” Maeve said. “I’m so busy with University already…”
“We’ll work around your school, my dear. Tell you what. You don’t have to make a snap decision right this minute. Think it over.”
Sylvia turned to Blair at last and smiled. “Are you her sister?”
“Yes,” Blair said. “Her older, overprotective sister.”
“Indeed.” Blair noticed a micro-expression, a brief snarl which flashed over Sylvia’s eyes. “If you really care about your sister, you should encourage her to call me. There’s a whole new world waiting for her.”
Before Blair could answer, Sylvia moved off. She glanced at Maeve, who sat there grinning at the business card.
I don’t know why, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.