Don't Hex with Texas

Page 9


Once dinner was over and all the guests were gone, I announced that I was going out and hoped that the fact that I was an adult who had lived for more than a year in Manhattan would mean nobody felt the need to ask where I was going or why. At any rate, I was out the door before anyone had a chance to ask. I drove into town, parked at the courthouse square, and got out of the truck to walk around.
As far as I could tell, everything was where it should be. All the antique lampposts and replacement antique-looking lampposts were in place, as were all the statues and monuments to various wars and local heroes. The gargoyles on the courthouse roof stayed still. Not one of them winked at me.
Looking at these lifeless carvings made me miss Sam, my gargoyle friend from New York. Even one of his less-capable colleagues would have been a welcome sight.
I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to open my other senses, straining to feel the tingle that told me magic was in use. That wasn’t any special power I had. Anyone could feel the charge in the air that meant someone was using magic nearby, but since most people don’t know magic is real, they write off that feeling as a shiver up the spine. Nothing here gave me shivers other than the thought that Mom might really be losing it this time.
The grocery store across from the courthouse had closed for the night, so the parking spaces in front were empty. Owen would have been able to detect traces of residual magic, but I couldn’t sense anything. I decided it was time for the next-best weirdness detector in a small town: the Dairy Queen.
On a warm night like this one, odds were that a fair number of people would have gone out for a banana split or a malt, and if anything even slightly out of the ordinary had happened, they’d certainly be talking about it. Sure enough, the parking lot was nearly full, and there were people crowded around all the outdoor tables. I went inside and ordered a brownie Blizzard, then looked around for a place I could sit and overhear as many conversations as possible.
“Hey, Katie, over here!” a deep voice called out. I turned to see Steve Grant sitting with a couple of his buddies. For a second, I had a high school flashback. There’d been many a time I saw the same group of guys sitting at the same table in the Dairy Queen. Of course, back then they weren’t calling me over to join them. I’d have probably died on the spot if they had. In high school, guys like that didn’t talk to girls like me, unless they wanted help with their English homework.
The group looked a little different these days. We hadn’t been out of high school for ten years, but already the hairlines were starting to recede and the waistlines were starting to expand. I didn’t want to give Steve any false hopes, but their table was centrally located, and if anyone in town would have the scoop on anything going on, it would be these guys.
I wandered over to the table, pausing to take a bite of my Blizzard every few steps, so I’d look properly casual. “Hey,” I said. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“What are you up to?” he asked.
“Escaping from my parents. And eating ice cream.”
Steve patted the space next to him in the booth. “Care to join us? I saved you a seat.”
“That was sweet of you.” I perched on the end of the booth, as far from him as I could get, which wasn’t very far, as he made no effort to scoot over and give me room. I had a feeling that was more deliberate than inconsiderate of him. I took a bite of ice cream to stifle the giggle that threatened to come out. The last time I had men like him all over me like that, I’d been wearing enchanted shoes.
Somehow, I doubted my raggedy old tennis shoes had any kind of attraction spell on them. “So, guys, what’s the news in town tonight?” I asked.
“Nothin’,” the guy across the table from me grunted. I couldn’t remember his real name. In school, he’d been called Tank, and it looked like as an adult he was making every effort to live up to his nickname. His nearly monosyllabic response reminded me why I hadn’t been that impressed with the football studs in school.
“Wow, exciting,” I quipped, unable to hold back the sarcasm.
“Not really,” the third guy said. I wasn’t sure I’d figured out who he’d been in school—probably one of the interchangeable second-string jocks who’d flocked around Steve. Clearly, he didn’t quite grasp the concept of sarcasm.
“So I guess nothing much has changed while I’ve been away,” I said.
“Very, very little,” Steve said, stretching his arm along the back of the booth. “But you sure changed.”
I was fairly certain he was flirting with me, but I wasn’t sure how to respond. Part of me wanted to hear how he thought I’d changed, and part of me knew for sure that I’d changed in ways he’d never be able to see. “That does tend to happen as you grow up,” I said. Before he could come back with another attempt at flirtation, I added, “I suppose they still roll up the sidewalks pretty early around here. No dancing in the streets, or anything like that.”