Don't Hex with Texas
They all looked blank, so I could only assume that either the parking-lot dance Mom had talked about hadn’t really happened, or if it had, it had been a good enough spell that nobody remembered it enough to be able to talk about it. That was the way those things tended to work. Since I’d found no other absolute evidence of magic thus far, I was leaning toward the former.
“I guess the big, bad city chewed you up and spit you out, huh?” Steve said, giving me a pitying look.
I nearly choked on a chunk of brownie. “What?”
“I mean, well, you came home awful quick. What was it, a year you spent up there?” He reached over and patted me on the thigh. “But don’t worry, nobody thinks badly of you. Some people just aren’t meant to go off like that. You’re a hometown girl. You belong back here with us.”
“I—no—not—what?” I was too stunned to form a coherent sentence, which was probably for the best. If I’d said something, it would have been to give him a tongue-lashing for the ages. By the time I formulated an appropriate response, I’d calmed down to the point I no longer wanted to scratch his eyes out. “Actually,” I said coldly, “the company I work for is doing some restructuring, which meant my position was put on hold temporarily. My dad needed a little help at the store, so instead of temping in New York until the company needs me again, I thought I’d come back here and help out.”
I’d told the cover story often enough that I almost believed it, though it was getting harder and harder to convince myself or anyone else about the “temporary” part.
“Whoa, hey, didn’t mean to get you all riled up. I’m just glad to have you back. We should get together sometime.”
“Sorry, I really don’t think I can fit it into my schedule.”
“What, you have a boyfriend or something?” The guys all laughed.
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Well, technically I didn’t, as I’d broken things off with him for the greater good, but I was still hung up on him, which sort of counted.
“And I guess he’s still in New York, huh? Well, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
I gave him a smile with my teeth bared. “But it could hurt you.”
“Big, tough guy, huh?”
I gave Steve an enigmatic smile and finished my Blizzard quickly enough to give myself an ice cream headache, said a hasty good-bye to the guys, and headed home.
Things settled back to normal after a few days. The following Tuesday morning, Sherri was late, as usual, so I worked the front of the store for the first hour, before I even had a chance to check e-mail and get my office work started. When she finally showed up, I took the opportunity to sit down at the computer. I handled the work stuff first, checking the status of my supply orders and notifying customers who’d have deliveries.
A sudden commotion from the front of the store jolted me away from my work. I hurried out to see Mom leaning heavily on the front counter, shouting for help. Sherri, of course, was nowhere to be seen.
“Mom, what is it?” I asked, rushing to her side. She was deathly pale, and her face was beaded with sweat. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but then her eyes rolled back in her head and she went limp. I barely caught her as she fainted dead away.
I lowered Mom to the floor as gently as I could, shouting, “Teddy? Sherri? Anyone? I need some help here!” Trying to remember everything I’d learned in the first-aid class I’d taken during Girl Scouts, I checked her pulse and her breathing. Both seemed to be fine, if a little rapid. I leaned over her and tried gently touching her face. “Mom? Mom, can you hear me?”
Sherri chose that moment to wander back in. She took one look at Mom lying there on the floor and screamed her head off. I thought for a moment she might faint, herself, and waited for her to hit the ground, but, unfortunately, she didn’t oblige me. Teddy then came running in. “What happened?” he asked, sinking immediately to his knees next to Mom.
“I’m not sure. She looked like she’d seen a ghost, then she keeled over on me.”
“You think it has anything to do with all that stuff she was saying yesterday?”
“I have no idea.”
“She’s never been entirely normal, but this is odd, even for her.”
I started to agree, but then I noticed Mom’s eyelids twitching. Little wonder—Teddy must have been unloading fertilizer, and the chemical smell on him was strong enough to work as smelling salts. Her eyes fluttered open, and she whispered, “What happened?”