Cubicles, Blood, and Magic – Chapter 5: Spying on Jake

We’ve reached Chapter 5  from Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. This Tuesday we start with Dorelai beginning to spy on Jake. Here is the entire fifth chapter from this contemporary fantasy novel. (PG-13)

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Chapter 5:

Spying on Jake

Somehow I kept my rage hidden as I weaved on my feet from exhaustion down the cubicle aisle toward Jake. My fatigue was getting worse, messing with my movements, but that was a good thing since it might make Jake think the nightmare dust was finally working, and so he’d hold off on trying to give me another dose.

Jake’s brow furrowed in concern, but his eyes were alert, studying my body language. “Dorelai, you feeling okay?”

Stephanie rolled her chair over to pop her head out of her cubicle to look at me. “Hey, you don’t look so good.”

“I’m exhausted,” I said. “I wish we still had that couch to crash on.”

“You poor thing,” Stephanie said. “Maybe you’re coming down with whatever Tim and Monica had.” She leaned forward to whisper to me, “Go put your feet up in the second north conference room. No one is in there for the rest of the day.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “I’ll do that.” I turned to make my way toward my cubicle so I could leave a quick message for Tim on where I was.

Jake hurried up to walk beside me. I sneezed from the cologne he must’ve put on after lunch to get ready for the farewell dinner.

Once my sneezing stopped, some perverse urge made me say, “I had the most horrific dream last night.”

Jake twitched at that. He asked me, a little too eager, “What was it?”

“Most of it I can’t remember,” I said, “but in one I dreamed that all the laptops on this floor came alive, flapping around like bats, and grabbed hold of you. They clamped onto your limbs and yanked you apart like a wishbone. Blood gushed from your torn joints like water.” I enjoyed how Jake turned green at this. “It was the most awful thing I’d ever seen. I had to flip on my light and sit upright in bed for a while, and remind myself it was all in my head.”

“That’s horrible,” Jake said. “Were you able to get back to sleep?”

“I had to listen to soothing music for an hour, but I finally did drift off. Had more nightmares I can’t remember.”

“Sorry to hear it.” Jake still looked disturbed by my description of his bloody death. Good.


Someone shook my shoulder to wake me, making me jump, and I nearly rolled off the conference room chairs I was propped up on.

It was Tim looming over me. Up close I could see how the bruised dark circles once under his eyes were now faint purple smudges. Also, his face had filled out a little under his cheekbones.

“It’s time to go.” Tim held up his cell phone clock for me to see. “See, it’s quitting time. Mashed potatoes await.”

Yum, mashed potatoes,” Monica said from somewhere nearby. “I’m ravenous.”

I rubbed my eyes, trying to ignore how my mouth tasted like Xu’s examination room, and turned my head to see my coworkers (except for Jake) peering into the conference room. For an instant, I wondered if I’d dreamed the day’s events. But when I glanced toward the conference room windows, I saw that Knossos still burned bright.

Jake’s voice carried from outside the room. From his pleading tone he had to be talking to Veronica. “—and we’ll be there by five-thirty, I promise. If you get there first, tell the waitress you’re with Tim’s party.”

Why the hell was Jake bringing Veronica to our dinner for Tim?

Maybe for the same reason I’m bringing Rabbi Eli.

I wondered if she knew about Jake’s penchant for using nightmare dust to get ahead at work.

Tim held out a hand and helped yank me up off the chairs. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he said. “One of us could drive you home if you aren’t up for this.” (I didn’t own a car. Mather had a good public transportation system, and I’d been trying to build up my savings.)

My left hand ached where the catheter had been, but my head was clearing. And I was ravenous. I’d have the energy for The Silver Diner and my “accidental” meeting with Eli. “I’m feeling better,” I said. “Just need to get my things.” And Tim’s present.

They followed me back to our cubicle area, and we all listened to Jake’s part of his conversation with Veronica, which went like this: “Are you bringing the invitations? … (sounding disappointed) So you are. … It’s just that they don’t know Charles, and well, your brother is a little—of course I trust your judgment. … I love you, you know that. …” Jake sat down at his desk as his conversation turned into an argument about what he could get Charles for his birthday.

There was only one reason why my coworkers and I would be invited by Veronica to a birthday party for her brother: she needed a pretext to get close to those of us who had been poisoned by Jake.

I had to head off with the others for the elevators without Jake, but to my relief he raced after us, cell phone pressed against his ear, arguing with Veronica.

My eavesdropping soon told me that Dr. Charles Wilcox from Boston was a utter snob about what he would accept as a birthday gift. He preferred works of fine art. Jake kept trying to come up with something he could get Charles without going broke.

It made absolutely no sense for us to be invited to Charles’ birthday party. Why even bother with such a lame setup in the first place?

Unless, of course, Charles was somehow involved with the nightmare dust as well.

A coffee table book about Monet was shot down by Veronica (Jake grimaced at this) as well as a limited edition print by a well-known Mather artist. Also a firm “No” to a small painting from the Mather City Arts Collective on 5th Street.

While we were all crammed in the elevator, going down, Stuart said in a fake accent to Jake, “I say old chap, tell the lady you’ll acquire for dear Charles a ravishing poster of a Thomas Kinkade painting.”

We all sniggered despite ourselves.

Jake snorted in trying to hold back a laugh.

Veronica had overheard Stuart, and yelled so loud we could make out the words. “Who said that?” Jake held his cell phone away from his ear, wincing, making it even easier for everyone to hear her. “Are your moronic buddies making fun of Charles?”

Stuart plucked the cell phone out of Jake’s hand, and said into it (this time in the manner of a British butler), “Hullo, m’lady. I fear Master Jakeson is indisposed from an earache due to your dulcet tones. Perhaps he may call upon you presently?”

Jake had gotten his hearing back, and tried to grab his phone away, which Stuart evaded by twisting around.

The elevator dinged, the doors opening onto the lobby. I pressed the button to hold the doors open so that we could all get out at our leisure. No one wanted to miss the rest of Stuart’s mischief.

Stuart said (while fending off Jake’s attempts to grab his phone back), “Really, m’lady, there’s no need to be cross. I’ve served the young master for a right number of years. Oh, wait, I see Master Jakeson has his hearing back. Here you go, sir.” He held out the cell phone, which Jake snatched out of his hand.

We got off the elevator as Jake was saying, “No, I did not plan that prank. That was Stuart. He likes to pull gags like that on occasion.” Jake hunched over the phone. “No, I am not going to complain to Ed.” He barely ducked away from knocking into two secretaries.

That’s when I noticed glowing blonde guy lurking in the lobby, pretending he was waiting for someone.

He covertly watched Jake, and moved to pass near him as Jake approached the lobby doors.

I kept walking, but slowed so that I could observe Jake as he passed the glowing blonde guy. There was no sign on Jake’s part that he recognized the guy. But then, he was too busy arguing with Veronica on the phone to notice what was going on around him.

I made small talk with Monica as we passed the guy.

Louie had mentioned that the Magi would be after Jake.

Monica nudged me in the side. She whispered, “Did you see that blonde guy back there? He was gorgeous.”

“Speak softer, or he’ll hear you,” I whispered back as I shoved open the lobby door, letting in the racket of honking horns.

It was no surprise to me that both the street vendor and homeless woman were nowhere to be seen. Chances were I’d see them at some point trailing Jake, I was sure of it.

We were walking to The Silver Diner since it was only a couple blocks away. We’d only gone half a block through the heavy pedestrian traffic when Monica looked over her shoulder to say something to Vadin, then whipped around to nudge me in the side again.

“He’s following us,” she whispered.

I didn’t look. “The cute blonde guy?”

Yes.” Monica got excited. “In the sunlight he’s even more incredible to look at. I wonder where he’s going.”

I quickly checked our surroundings, and then glanced across the street. The glow around street vendor’s head gave him away on the sidewalk that paralleled ours. Now he was dressed as a geek with thick glasses and buzz-short hair.

Monica peered behind again to gawk at blonde guy. She would have run into a fire hydrant, but I yanked her away in time. Her interest got Vadin staring behind as well.

“What is it?” he said. “Someone famous?”

“Just a cute guy,” Monica said.

“Ah.” Vadin shrugged, bored.

Our behavior got Jake off his cell phone, and he stared behind as well. “So, women can be shallow too,” he said. No sign of concern or fear on his part.

The homeless woman was ahead, limping along under the shadow of a building, hauling an army knapsack on her shoulder. She was using the reflections of the glass windows to look back at us.

Stuart and Tim were deep in conversation, completely oblivious to what was going on around them. Talking code from the way their hands moved to point out invisible flow charts.

I wondered what would happen when Eli came into view. Would these Magi call the tail off?

Monica said to me, “Maybe he’s taken with you, Dorelai.” She assumed no one would be interested in her since she always wore her sapphire engagement ring.

He’s into Jake, I thought, but kept my mouth shut. But I did say, “Don’t assume he’s straight.”

“You’re right.” Monica took another glance back, and this time I joined her in looking. It had to be obvious that we were talking about him.

He grinned, and gave us a tiny wave.

The guy looked like a model in an advertisement for men’s business suits. Not one wrinkle in his grey suit, despite the muggy heat of an August afternoon.

His face was flawless, and his glow made his hair seem like molten gold in the sunlight. An excellent decoy. No one was paying any attention to the others who were tracking us.

Monica and I had to turn our heads around to look ahead to make sure we didn’t bump into anyone. At the next stoplight, I saw a man up ahead in the ugliest Hawaiian shirt I’d ever seen—bright pink flamingos on a purple background.

If it hadn’t been for the shirt, I wouldn’t have recognized Rabbi Eli. His hair and beard had been trimmed and dyed light brown, and he wore contacts instead of his glasses. And khaki shorts with sneakers. His skin must have been rubbed down with instant tan, because his arms and legs weren’t a scholarly pale white. And most shocking of all, he wore no hat, not even a kippah. He looked like a professor on a Florida vacation who’d taken a wrong turn to end up in Mather.

I glanced back at glowing blonde guy. He was staring at Eli with an expression that I could only describe as pure loathing.

The homeless woman ducked down an alley before Eli could pass her. And the street vendor had disappeared from view.

My footsteps sped up as we crossed the street, and when Eli lifted his head I waved to him. “Samuel!” I called out and jogged toward him.

Eli smiled and waved back.

When I reached him, I threw my arms about him in a quick hug, appreciating his strong scent of tanning lotion, then stepped back. “You look great. But what are you doing in Mather?”

“I never expected to run into you here.” Eli’s eyes flicked in the direction of blonde guy, then back to me. He was trying to warn me.

“Mather is my home now,” I said, and nodded to indicate I’d gotten his warning. “I work for Granite Hills Software.”

He turned around so that we walked next to each other in step. Comfortable as an old college friend, he asked, “And how is your mother?”

“She’s doing very well, though not happy about me living in Mather instead of New York.”

“It’s never easy to let children go,” Eli said.

I wondered about Eli’s family. Had they cast him out for the nightmare poisoning? And—

Monica poked me in the back, and I jumped. “Please excuse me for being rude,” I said. “Samuel, I should introduce you to my coworkers.” I introduced Eli to Vadin and Monica. We stopped walking so everyone could shake hands, and that caught the attention of Jake, Tim, and Stuart as they approached.

Jake showed no sign of recognition when introduced to Eli.

I invited Eli to our dinner, which was eagerly seconded by Monica and Vadin.

As we walked the rest of the way to The Silver Diner, Vadin said to Eli, “Would you mind if I sketched your shirt?”

“Go ahead,” Eli said.

Vadin got wrapped up in drawing Eli as he walked, while Monica peppered Eli with questions about what he did for a living and where he lived.

I noted that homeless woman and street vendor guy were lying low, but blonde guy still tracked us. I caught him staring with an indecent intensity at Eli—the way one would stare at an enemy when one couldn’t act because there were too many witnesses.

The guy became aware I was watching him, and gave me another smile and a wink.

I waggled my fingers while making a smirk. Let him think I was taken with him, and that that was why I kept staring.

Eli, I noted, was bemused by what was going on between me and blonde guy. He said to me, “Do you know him?”

“No,” I said. “We just ran into him in our office building, and he happens to be going in our direction. Monica’s been admiring his stunning profile for blocks now.”

Monica looked back. “Not just me. So were you.”

“What I want to know,” I said, “is why this guy isn’t in Los Angeles where he belongs. With a face like that, he could be starring in films. Or the perfect front man for a con game to steal millions.”

“Indeed,” Eli said.

Vents blowing out the scent of gravy and chicken fried steak clued us in that we’d arrived at the diner. Stuart held open the door for all of us, and we passed into A/C chilled air that smelled like fried heaven.

Veronica was already at the horseshoe-shaped booth reserved for us. She wore a tube dress, and was clearly uncomfortable with the laid-back ambiance of the diner. Her red nails were tapping the Formica tabletop in a constant tattoo of annoyance.

Tim sucked in a deep breath through his nose, and exhaled smiling. “At least for once I can eat without guilt. I need to gain a little weight.” He grinned at us as he patted his stomach. “You can watch me in envy.” He sat down to scoot to the center of the booth next to Veronica, tucking his napkin in.

Jake sat on the other side of Veronica, with Monica and Vadin on his side. On Tim’s side, Stuart slid toward him across the slick plastic padding, followed by me, then Eli on the end.

Maybe it was just me, but Veronica seemed to be watching me closely.

Vadin was deep into another sketch, this one of the diner itself. The rest of us looked at our menus. Peering over my menu, I noticed that in a far corner street vendor guy was sitting at a table with an Afro-American man dressed like an accountant. Both of them had the Magi golden glow.

Blonde guy came in, and exchanged loud and joyful greetings with a lovely blonde woman waiting for him in a narrow booth for two. The blonde woman also had the Magi glow around her. Two blonde Magi to draw all the attention to themselves.

Veronica gripped her menu too tight. She hunched down behind it, mouth thinned, trying to watch blonde guy without seeming to do so.

Jake picked up on her alarm, and stared at the blonde guy.

Veronica said, low, “Don’t stare like that. It’s rude.” She was upset.

There followed an awkward five minutes where Jake kept trying to find out what was wrong, but Veronica couldn’t tell him because we all were there.

Stuart asked Vadin, “Can I look at what you’re doing?” as Vadin kept doing sketch after sketch.

Vadin said, “Sure.”

We all (except for Jake and Veronica, who continued their round robin of trying to communicate without talking) leaned over.

It was amazing. Vadin had captured the seeming joy of blonde guy meeting his girlfriend, the way they were both so handsome and graceful.

Veronica whispered in Jake’s ear. He started, then paled, and his eyes involuntarily went to look in the direction of blonde guy—

—who had noticed Jake’s look, and held up his water glass in salute.

His gesture made Jake and Veronica squirm.

Eli was watching all of this, too. He whispered, “I have not yet been introduced.”

“Oh, Veronica,” I said, “I completely forgot. This is a friend of mine, Samuel Parisi.”

She gave Eli a smile that was all gums and no friendliness. “I’m Veronica Wilcox.”

Our Magi watchers—both sets—were avidly watching the interaction between Eli and Veronica.

The waitress came to take our orders. We insisted that Tim order first, and he insisted on buying us all the first round of coffee.

When it was Eli’s turn to order, not just I, but Monica as well noticed what Eli got—a vegetarian platter.

Monica said to Eli, “Are you vegetarian?”

“Yes.” Eli looked down to straighten his knife and fork. “I try to eat healthy, that’s all.”

I ordered a blackened chicken sandwich with a side order of mashed potatoes drowned in turkey gravy.

Monica got excited. “You’re actually going to try their mashed potatoes?”

“I already told you,” I said, “I’m finished with just eating salads. I’m going to diversify.”

“You know what we should do,” Stuart said, amused, “go on a fried food crawl through the best places downtown. Fried mushrooms, French fries, fried seafood platters…”

“I don’t need to gain that much weight,” I said.

I could feel Eli tense beside me, though his expression and body language didn’t change.

Veronica eyed me quite intently. She wriggled, thinking about something, then said, “So I heard you all have been having trouble with bad dreams and stress.”

Monica and Tim shuddered. I faked one.

Tim said, a hollowness around his eyes, “It’s been … difficult these last few months. Too much stress from too much work with too few people to do it.” He added, “They need to replace me and Monica as fast as they can.”

“I’m sure Dorelai can handle it,” Veronica said. She’d mispronounced my name like Jake did.

Typically I’d correct someone, but this time I just didn’t care.

Jake filled the silence with, “Dorelai had quite the, er, interesting dream.” He described my imaginary dream to Veronica.

Monica’s eyes got wide. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Dorelai, I know how bad stress dreams can be.”

“I’ve been lucky,” I said. “My dreams haven’t been nearly as bad as yours and Tim’s. You’d almost think we had bad dream germs running around the office that—”

Crash. Veronica had accidentally knocked over her glass of water, spilling ice and chilled water across the table. “Oh, I’m so clumsy,” she said as she wiped at it with a napkin. We all dove in with our own napkins, and between them all, and several more yanked out of the napkin dispenser, we got it cleaned up.

The waitress came over, and gave Veronica a fresh glass. The old glass, luckily, had not chipped. Jake had gotten a lapful of water, though, and had to go to the men’s room to dry off.

Blonde guy got up just a couple of seconds after Jake passed, and headed toward the restrooms.

Veronica began to breathe too fast. “Excuse me,” she said to Monica, “I need to get past you to go and dry myself off as well.” She nearly shoved Monica into Vadin in her urgency to get out of the booth to move toward the restrooms at a fast trot (which was impressive considering the high heels she was wearing).

Eli laid a restraining hand on my knee for a few seconds to signal we should not follow.

As Vadin settled back into the booth, Stuart said to him, “I think you need to put a portfolio together and get out of Mather. You’re wasted here.”

Both Eli and I watched the back of the diner where a hall door led to the restrooms, but there were no flashes of magical light or loud voices. Whatever was going on out of sight, it was quiet.

Vadin paused in finishing his sketch of the water spill. “You really think so?”

“This town is dead for what you want to do,” Stuart said. “Seriously, you need to go somewhere that has enough advertising and animation studios for you to get your foot in the door.”

Tim said, “They’re coming back.”

If Jake found out we were talking Vadin into quitting Granite Hills, he’d tell Ed.

Veronica was right behind Jake. They both looked spooked.

Eli whispered in my ear, “She got him away from Peter before the questioning could start from the looks of it.”

Monica and Vadin struggled back out of the booth so that Veronica and Jake could slide back in.

Peter (aka glowing blonde guy) came back into sight, and mock-shook a finger at Eli and me for watching him.

“Arrogant ass,” I muttered.

Eli whispered, “His girlfriend is Beth.”

Both Jake and Veronica picked up their water glasses with quivery fingers, and gulped the water down too fast.

Our dinner platters arrived, and we turned to eating our meals instead of making conversation. But Jake and Veronica kept whispering in each other’s ears. I found it hard to enjoy the roasted turkey flavor of the homemade gravy, my mind was so focused on watching them.

Veronica pulled out her cell phone, and I almost forgot not to stare. Her phone had an aura of burgundy. She angled it so that neither Tim nor Jake could see the screen, typed a message into it, hit SEND, and then her shoulders slipped downward slightly in relief.

She’d sent off a message for help to someone.

I finished chewing my mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy, then said, “I almost think there’s something in the water at work, we’ve been having so many bad dreams lately.”

“But then why haven’t the rest of the programmers been plagued with them,” Monica said. She wolfed down a couple of French fries. “Only our team has had this problem.”

Veronica shoved her plate of food away, her eyes flicking toward where Peter and Beth sat. Jake began stirring the pasta on his plate instead of eating it.

“Well,” I said, “maybe it’s something about the area where our cubicles are set up. We do sit under that main vent. Perhaps we’re getting dosed with pollutants from another part of the building.”

“It was caused by Ed and Stephanie rationing the coffee,” Stuart said. “Withdrawal symptoms messed with our minds.”

Eli looked confused. I said to him, “We got busted for excessive coffee guzzling during our all-nighters in May. Stephanie noticed how fast the coffee packets in the break room closet were disappearing, and finally put two and two together. Before that, we’d been able to frame all the programmers for our heavy usage.”

“Yeah, I remember those times.” Jake actually looked nostalgic. He held up two fingers. “We’d pour two packets of coffee into the coffee filter instead of one to make a pot, and get all three pots brewing fresh coffee all night long. I kinda wish Stephanie hadn’t ratted on us.”

Stuart said, “Even if Stephanie hadn’t done the packet count, we would’ve gotten busted since we all stank to high heaven of coffee in the morning. It was oozing out of our pores like a cologne made from the scrapings of a coffee urn.”

Eli seized his napkin to cover his mouth, and choked a laugh into it.

Veronica wrinkled her nose at Jake. “So that’s why you stank of old coffee on those dates.”

When Eli had recovered his breath, I told him, “When Ed found out we could drink programming teams three times our size under the table, he ordered us to cut back our coffee consumption rate or we’d find ourselves drinking only decaf.”

Stuart visibly shuddered at the mention of decaf. “It’s the forced caffeine withdrawal that did us in.”

“No,” Tim said, “I think it was the stress of being on an understaffed project.”

The argument went round and round, with other off-the-wall theories thrown in by Vadin, Monica, and me. Jake didn’t participate.

Eli and Veronica listened, not saying a word.

After a while I could tell Jake and Veronica wanted us to shut up about this dreams topic, but whenever there was a sign it might wind down, I spun it up again with a well-placed comment.

But I stayed away from talking about Jake making the coffee.

In the end, Veronica dragged us off the topic of dreams by digging her sealed party invitations out of her purse to hand round to each of us as she said, “I’m inviting you all to an impromptu birthday party for my brother, Charles.”

Everyone except Eli got one. We all just sat there staring at our envelopes.

Veronica could sense our confusion at being invited to a party for a stranger. “My brother has heard about all of you through Jake’s tales about his job.” She gave us a tremulous smile and blinked too fast, as if she would burst into tears if we refused to come. “He’s been wanting to meet Jake’s friends.”

We weren’t Jake’s friends, we were his coworkers, but it was clear no one was going to argue with Veronica about it. Out of politeness and pity my coworkers would accept this invitation.

As Tim used his thumb to tear the invitation envelope open, he said to her, “Would it be all right if we bought a joint gift for Charles?”

The outside of my envelope had my name written in calligraphy, and I tilted it so that Eli could get a good look at it. Then I picked up my butter knife to slit it open.

Veronica said, “I’m sure Charles wouldn’t mind if you pooled together for a gift.”

Jake perked up at this. If he combined his money with ours, there was a chance of getting something semi-decent without going broke.

As the others pulled their invitations out of the envelopes, I watched everyone for traces of magic. But no glows or specks appeared. Then I tugged my invite out of my envelope, and was relieved to find there were no hidden specks lying in wait for me. I hadn’t relished trying to fake an accident to get away from an attempted magical dose.

Veronica leaned forward, giving the guys full view of her cleavage, while saying, “I hope you all can come.”

Her party for Charles would be next Tuesday, at seven o’clock in the evening, in the most exclusive neighborhood of Mather. During the 1920s Mather had briefly been the city of choice for wealthy merchants who wanted to get out of Boston, but couldn’t afford a Rockefeller-level lifestyle.

I decided to accept despite the potential complications involved (like being offered a speck-laden drink), and added my voice to the chorus of yeses from the others. The opportunity to look deeper into Veronica’s or Charles’ involvement with nightmare dust was too valuable to ignore.

Checking on Eli from the corner of my eye, I saw that he approved.

That’s when inspiration hit me, and I asked her, “Can we bring a date?”

All eyes swung their gaze between Eli and me, speculating.

Veronica smirked as she looked us two over, and I could feel my cheeks getting red. “Of course,” she said. “Just RSVP me by Monday.”

“Thanks,” I said, and tucked the invite into my purse.

A cab pulled up to the curb outside, and honked three times.

“That’s our ride,” Veronica said. “Sorry to leave early, but I’ve got shopping to do to get ready for Charles’ birthday. I’m sure you all understand. See you next Tuesday.” She and Jake tossed down cash to pay for their half-eaten dinners, then stood up to get out of the booth. I noticed that Peter and Beth stayed at their booth pretending to be wrapped up in each other. But street vendor guy and the accountant had already paid their check and exited to the street.

The two Magi stopped on the sidewalk outside the diner to light cigarettes, giving them time to memorize the license plate number and markings of the cab. Then they walked off out of sight.

As soon as the diner’s exit closed behind Jake and Veronica, Stuart said, “I can’t believe I said yes to such an awful party. You know that woman is going to freeze up as soon as I bring Theo to the door.”

Theo was Stuart’s husband.

“Don’t worry,” Monica said, “surely Jake let her know about that.”

Stuart looked at Monica mournfully. “I wouldn’t bet on it. I get the feeling there’s a lot that Jake doesn’t tell her so that he’ll make the grade.”

Tim signaled the waitress to come over. “Can we have pot of coffee to share, please?”

Eli flipped his coffee cup upside down, indicating he didn’t want any more.

The rest of us hunched over our steaming coffee cups to talk about the party.

“I say we all chip in a ten,” Monica said. “Then we take the money and go to Louie’s Emporium for the gift.”

“Sounds good,” Tim said, pouring two spoonfuls of milk into his coffee, then stirring vigorously.

I preferred my coffee black with one sugar. Monica made a face as I took the first sip. She would often mix a packet of hot cocoa into her mug of coffee at work, swearing it was almost as good as chocolate. Here, she just poured in five packets of sugar, and cream.

Vadin said, “Even Louie’s Emporium isn’t going to have something Charles would like.”

“Too bad,” Stuart said, “it’s not our problem that Charles is such an art snob. It would serve him right if we bought a poster instead.”

I thought about the display cases at Louie’s. Surely there had to be something there that would almost meet Charles’ high standards. Plus, I had a hunch Louie would love to have the opportunity (if needed) to pass along something “special” to Veronica’s brother.

“Louie has a lot of unique pieces from the Navajo Nation and Pueblo Indians,” I said. “And I’m sure he’d dig up something special for us. Which reminds me!” I handed over my gift box to Tim. “This is from us to chase away bad dreams.”

Tim unwrapped the gift, and smiled at the dreamcatcher in the box. “Betsy will be thrilled when she sees it.” He lifted the dreamcatcher out and held it up for us all to admire, and as he did so he studied the feathers and stones closely. “These remind me of where I grew up—I’d dig pieces of quartz out of the ground, and I’m sure these are dove feathers.”

He gingerly placed the dreamcatcher back in the box. Then he said to Stuart, “If you think it’s going to be too unpleasant, just tell Veronica you have a prior commitment you forgot about.”

Peter and Beth had paid their check, and were headed for us. When close enough, Peter said to Eli, “Samuel Parisi, how are you?”

Eli hands turned into fists in his lap. “Fine.”

Peter placed both palms on our table and leaned forward. I mused over the fact his hands did not set the table on fire despite their golden glow. Beth watched from behind him, silent, staring at each of our faces in turn. Observing how we reacted to Peter’s words.

Peter said, “Be so kind, Samuel, as to introduce us to your friends.”

************** End of Chapter 5 *****************

Chapter 6 will go up next Tuesday.

Cheers, L. M.

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