Flash Fiction #1: Good Luck Charms

While I’m not diligently responding to writing prompts on Tumblr the way I used to, I still come across inspiration there, and since I didn’t have anything pressing planned for today, I thought it would be fun to whip something up from an AU post I found this morning.

Good Luck Charms

The door chimed and I fell off the step ladder.

“Are you okay?”

The voice was familiar, embarrassingly familiar.  Knowing who had prompted my fall from such great heights–a whole three feet above the floor–made me want to curl up in the space under the register and pretend I wasn’t there.

Which was ridiculous, because if the shop was open, where else would I be?  I had no employees.  If the door was unlocked, I was here.

I picked my scattered limbs off the polished hardwood and assembled myself back into a person, then brushed at the dust clinging to my jeans.  I hadn’t swept yet this morning.

“I’m fine,” I finally answered, turning to greet the customer.  Lissa.  I didn’t know her well enough yet to discover if that was short for Alyssa or Melissa or if that was just her name because her parents had been cool like that.  Probably.  Everything about her screamed cool, from the effortless way she wore her clothes, like she was a model always ready for a photo shoot, to the slouchy beanies she always wore over her ever-changing hair.

If I went without seeing her for a week or more, I knew her hair would be a different color when she came in next.  Today she was still sporting purple streaks through the pale blond, which I suspected was her natural color, since it complemented her gray eyes so well.  But I had no way of knowing without asking.

And that’s not the sort of thing you ask someone you don’t really know.  “How did that batch of good luck charms turn out?” I asked instead.  She’d mentioned them the last time she was in, earlier in the week, when she bought dove feathers and dried hyacinth florets and rosemary oil.  She must make the most beautiful charms, I’d thought.  Everything she bought was clearly destined for some kind of benevolent spell.

“Really well,” Lissa answered.  “Actually, Jade, that’s why I’m here.”

Hearing my name said in her voice was a thrill I always had to hide my reaction to.  I’d never liked my name, trendy names are the worst.  Now my name is an echo of the way things used to be, and I had more jade jewelry and trinkets, given by well-meaning but absolutely clueless family, than I could ever possibly wear or display.  But from her, it didn’t sound so awful.  Maybe because she took that extra heartbeat to say it, to stretch it out into something softer.

I stopped fussing with the leave-a-penny dish by the register and looked up at the odd note in her voice.  “You got a nose ring?” I blurted, then clapped a hand over my mouth.

Her smile broke the faint aura of tension that had haunted her eyes.  “No, it’s fake.  I’m testing it out, trying to see if I like the look before I commit to another hole punched in my body.”  She paused, her smile drying out.  “What do you think?”

“I like it,” I said, before I could chicken out.  I did, but that wasn’t the point.  “But it’s your opinion that matters, right?  Did you wear fake tattoos before you got those, too, to test them out?  All three times?”

“Oh, I’ve got more than that,” she said offhandedly.  Then, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been looking right at her face, then she blushed.

Of course I’d assumed the three tats I could see were the only ones she had.  Of course they’re not.

“Anyway,” she said, ducking her head as she rooted through her messenger bag for something.  “Getting your opinion on my nose ring is a bonus, but I’m really here because I wanted to give you this.”

She held out a tiny bag made of velvet the pale yellow color of early-morning sunlight.  The drawstring was gold ribbon, weighted at the ends with carnelian beads.  Tied up in the knot holding the bag closed was a single dove feather.

She does make beautiful charms.  And she’d made a good luck one for me.

While I marveled at the construction–the hand-stitching on the bag, the clever flower-shape of the knot–she spoke again, and she seemed nervous.  “Every time I come in here, I can’t believe you haven’t had anyone bless the shop at all.  I mean, you must know all the witches in the area, right, because there’s not another place as good as this for miles and miles, and even the Internet can only help so much.  So obviously someone had offered at some point, and I didn’t know why you’d have turned them down.”  She paused in her headlong rush through the words to take a breath.  “Then I realized everybody else probably thought that too, which is why no one ever has.”

I nodded, because she was right.  No one had ever offered. “I know just where it needs to go,” I said, turning it over in my hands, squeezing it just enough to release the scents within. There was the hyacinth, and the rosemary, and something else, something fresh and bright. I held the bag closer to my nose.  “Citron?”

“Bergamot,” she answered. “I thought you’d like it better.” When I cocked my head at her, trying to summon the question of how she’d know, she smiled again.  “When I’m here early, I can smell your Earl Grey.”

I nodded, irrationally pleased she knew my tea habits. The step ladder, that foul beast, was still in front of the shelf where I’d been stocking packets of incense, so I dragged it over to the open doorway between the shop and the glorified closet-cubby that passed for my office. There was a nail already centered in the upper frame, where I hung pine boughs in the winter, and lilac branches in the spring.  Now, in early fall, the nail was bare, so I plucked it loose and slipped it through the circle of ribbon at the top of the charm bag. “There,” I said, pressing the nail back into place and stepping down, instead of falling down, this time.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Then we just stared at each other for a moment. I was used to feeling unsure of what to say to her–everything I did say was shop talk, and even that came out stilted sometimes–but I had no road map to react to her feeling awkward, too.  When people feel awkward around me, it’s always because I make them that way.

“Oh!” I said suddenly. “I have something for you.”

As I half-dashed into my office, she protested. “No, I didn’t do this expecting something back…”

“I know,” I said after I’d found what I wanted and returned to the main room. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t return the favor.”

She took the shallow earthenware bowl from me, studying the loops and swirls in the glaze. “It’s beautiful.  Did you make this?”

A nervous giggle escaped me. “No, another customer. He had me over to his shop last month to bless his kiln. He let me choose a piece as payment, and I took this.  I’d meant to use it to collect rainwater here, so I didn’t have to keep bringing it from home, but when I took it up to the roof–well, it just didn’t feel right. Like it didn’t really belong to me. I thought maybe it had spent too long in his hands to respond to me, but even after I cleansed it, I couldn’t bring myself to use it.”

Lissa never looked away from the bowl as she turned it this way and that, but she was nodding the whole time I spoke. “It was meant for me,” she said in a quiet voice when I had finished.

Relief that she understood competed with a nagging sense of forwardness that I’d offered it to her. “It feels right to you?”

“Yeah,” she said, finally looking away from the pottery and at me. “Also, I dropped my bowl this morning.  Cracked it clean in half.”

“You don’t strike me as clumsy,” I said.

“I don’t usually fall off ladders, if that’s what you mean.  You sure you’re okay?  Because I feel awful about startling you.  You could have really gotten hurt.”

“I’m fine,” I repeated. “Besides, maybe with your charm I’ll have better balance.  At least here at the shop.”

“Need a charm for home, too? Because I’d make you another one.”

“No, no, my dad and I have my apartment pretty well covered. Nothing bad ever happens there.”

“Must be nice,” she said, tucking the bowl carefully into her bag.

“Do you…do you need something for your place? Because I’m pretty good with finding charms.  Never lose your keys again.”

“Nah, I’ve always been good at finding things. Keeping them is a different story.” The wry twist to her tone made her sound almost sad, and I almost reached out to her across the counter. “Listen, Jade, I know the shop keeps you busy, and you probably don’t have a lot of free time, so I don’t want to intrude. But I do want to get to know you better. There’s been some stuff going on, and…and I can’t lean on my old friends anymore. I always thought we might be friends if we ever set foot outside the shop together. And I’d like to be.”

Was there any air left in the room? I couldn’t find any to speak at first, and then my voice sounded thin and papery. “Yeah, me too.  I just–I just never know how to cross that line, you know, between acquaintance and friend. Especially when ‘acquaintance’ is code for ‘customer’. I don’t like to intrude, either.”

Her grin was wide and mesmerizing. “So that’s settled.” She grabbed for the pad of receipts I kept next to the register and tore off the top page, scribbling on it with a pen plucked from the glass on the counter. “My number,” she said happily.  “Don’t lose it.”

My phone was just in the office behind me, but I liked that she hadn’t asked for it to punch herself into my contacts list directly. I liked having a slip of paper with her handwriting on it. And I wondered if she kept her receipts, so that somewhere, she had mine, too. I tore off the next page and wrote down my number, willing myself not to betray the tingle of electricity that passed between us when I handed it to her and our fingers touched.

“I’ve got plans with my dad tonight after I close up, if that doesn’t make me sound like a complete dork, but call me soon and we’ll figure something out, okay?”

“Yes to the call, no to being a dork. Having plans with family is a good thing.  What are you doing?”

“Dinner and Scrabble. Once or twice a month I go over and try to defeat his towering intellect.”

Lissa laughed, and hearing it, I hoped I’d be hearing it again soon. Her laugh was nightingales and symphonies. “Okay, maybe a little dork.  But I mean that in the nicest way possible.”

“Not everyone’s as cool as you,” I muttered before I could stop myself.

“So you think I’m cool?” she asked as she backed towards the door.  I didn’t answer, and she gave me a cheeky smile and a mock-salute as she left the shop.

Settling into anything useful after she left was impossible, but I sat down at my desk and attempted to organize a stack of purchase invoices, listening for the chime to let me know when to go out and wait on someone. Instead, my phone buzzed with an incoming text about half an hour later.

I think you’re cool too.

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