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Contemporary Friendship Happy

               Autumn precipitates change. Kaylie knew that. But the amount of change thrown at her in the few days leading up to the equinox left her head spinning. The change of seasons always meant a new menu, new stock, new ads; that was enough of a hassle already, but an expected one. What she hadn’t expected was Dina walking out on her.

               Here she was, first day of autumn, lugging out the street signs and posting the new menus all by herself at three in the morning. Dina’s handwriting still adorned the chalkboard sign and tugged at her heart. It had been stupid, she realized, to start a business with her girlfriend. But love blinds everyone and running the shop had been her dream. Now she floundered up on the ladder, doing her best to adhere the new menu to the panels on the wall. Dina had been the handier of the two. She had also made the coffee. Kaylie tried not to think about that.

               A few minutes before the shop opened, Kaylie took a breather to check the weather. Her heart sank. Severe thunderstorm warning for the entirety of the city. She stepped out of the shop’s door, the tiny bell ringing overhead, and looked up at the sky. None of the clouds seemed dark or threatening. The weather app said the storm would move in over the next few hours, which bought her time to at least serve the morning regulars. The afternoon, though-

               No. She shook her head and went back inside, flipping the sign in the door to read “Open”. Enough had gone wrong over the last few days. She wouldn’t close because of some rain.

               The bell tinkled and the first guest arrived into the warm embrace of “The Witch’s Brew”. Kaylie smiled, welcomed them, and set to work.

               A steady stream of customers, some familiar, some not, made their way through the line. All alone for the first time ever, Kaylie kept a brave face and asked for their patience. A whole new menu and down to half staff kept her on her toes. She worried the coffee wasn’t up to par, but the new seasonal flavors and spices masked her inexperience. The teas, her specialty, shined. Each drink was delivered with a smile and a “Happy Mabon!”. Time flew and it wasn’t until the last customer was out the door did she realize the sky had darkened.

               Kaylie looked around the empty shop. It was unusual not to see at least one person on a laptop or reading in a corner. She stepped outside again to look out on the street.

               The stormfront had moved in. Clouds, low and menacing, moved like smoke in the wind but the air was still. She checked her weather app and the radar’s red blob of storms inched closer. It was the calm before the storm.

               She shoved her phone in her pocket and began taking down the umbrellas. The air grew heavy and she sweat through her shirt, lugging the chairs and tables into the back room. A few people still roamed the streets but all of them looked down, their pace quick and focused. None of them even looked at the shop.

               The first drop of rain fell on her forehead as she grabbed the last table. The door closed behind her and she set the table down to look outside. It’d turned into a downpour in seconds. Her eye caught on the chalkboard sign, forgotten on the sidewalk. Dina’s flowery handwriting and beautiful leaf drawings streaked and pooled on the sidewalk below. Kaylie felt like crying.

               She hurried outside to grab it and nearly fell over from the gust of wind that attacked her out the door. Regaining her balance, she grabbed the sign and ran back inside, damp and disheartened. Looking out her shop’s windows at the torrential waters already flooding the gutters, she came to terms with the fact that she might not serve another cup of tea all day. She sighed, defeated.

               Kaylie moved the table and the chalkboard sign to the back and set to making herself some tea. Tea always calmed her down. Cup steaming, she sat on one of the couches to watch the rain and sulk.

               A shadow crossed the window and barreled towards the door. Kaylie’s cup froze halfway to her lips as the door to her shop opened, the bell ringing violently, and then slammed shut in the gale. A woman stood at the entry to her shop, drenched and dripping, a broken umbrella in her hand.

               It took a moment for Kaylie to register the person in her shop, but when she did, she let out an “Oh!” and set her tea and saucer down with a clatter. The woman looked over, as if noticing Kaylie for the first time. Kaylie stood and approached her.

               “Oh goodness, you’re soaked,” Kaylie said, her hands playing with her apron string, “Let me get you some towels or something.”

               The woman nodded, seemingly mute with shock. Kaylie shuffled to the supply room and grabbed every clean dishtowel she could find.

               When she re-entered the main shop, the woman had twisted her broken umbrella to fit in the umbrella stand. Her bag hung on the coat rack. Every inch of her was dripping. Kaylie handed her some of the towels.

               “Tell you what, you dry yourself off and I’ll take care of your things,” Kaylie said, placing some dishtowels under the woman’s bag.

               The woman nodded and uttered a “Thanks” and began to dry her face in the plaid dishrags.

               Kaylie set to drying the cloth bag on the coat rack, pulling water out of the fabric by squeezing it with a dishtowel. She hoped nothing inside had been ruined. As she turned her attention to the floor, the woman besider her trying to wring out her pant legs, the shop went dark.

               The steady hum of the fridge was gone. The lights were gone. Kaylie looked around to see all the digital clocks and the lights illuminating the pre-packaged snacks were all out. The shop had lost power.

               Kaylie covered her eyes with her hand and let out a laugh. She was surprised she hadn’t expected it, considering her luck this week. She stood, regaining herself, and reached around the woman to flip the sign on the door to “Closed”. The universe decided this for her. Or maybe Dina had cursed her before she left the apartment.

               The woman stopped drying herself and looked at the “Closed” sign and then at Kaylie. Kaylie smiled.

               “Don’t worry, I’m not kicking you out. Keep on drying off, I’ll go get some candles.”

               When Kaylie returned with the candles, she found the woman sitting at one of the wooden tables, head in her hands. Kaylie set candles down on a few tables around the shop, then one at the woman’s table. The woman sat up.

               “Hey, um, thank you,” the woman said again, “I’m sorry for barging in on you like that. I didn’t know what to do.”

               Kaylie leaned in to light the candle, flicking the lighter a few times before the spark caught. “It’s absolutely no problem. I’d much rather have company than sit alone in this anyway.” Candle lit, she straightened up, hands on her hips, and looked out at the pouring rain. Her tea sat on the coffee table near the window. She looked at her guest and asked, “Can I offer you some tea to warm you up? It’s on the house.”

               The woman squinted at the menu above the counter, the dim light dancing. “You don’t have just regular black coffee, do you?”

               Kaylie bit her lip. “Normally, yes. But I grind the beans for each cup and, well,” she said, gesturing at the darkened light fixtures.

               “I’ll be honest, I don’t drink much tea. I wouldn’t know what to get.”

               “Well, lucky for you, tea is my specialty,” Kaylie said, walking towards the back. “I’ll get something mild that should warm you up a bit.”

               Rain pounded the outer walls, and it was especially loud in the old kitchen. The window above the stove looked out into the back alley, and as she set water to boiling she watched the alley flood, dirt and refuse swirling above the clogged gutter. She turned her attention to the shelves of loose-leaf tea, kept in clear jars and labeled with her own hasty handwriting.

               She’d helped introduce people to tea before. They generally preferred herbals, something a little flowery but not too overpowering. Chamomile was a great place to start, and it would aid in the spell she planned on casting in the cup. She grabbed the cinnamon too, for a little extra help.

               The kettle whistled as she finished putting the chamomile into the infuser. As she poured the water into the cup and over the infuser, she set her intention: a stress-relief and protection spell.

               A timer set, she stood in front of the cup with her hands hovering over the rim. The steam tickled her palms. She thought about relaxation and protection, letting the cup become a salve for a rough day. When the timer beeped, she took out the infuser and sprinkled a little cinnamon on the top. A quick stir with the teaspoon dispersed it. One cup of magic.

               She re-entered the main shop and found her guest reading the Fall Specials menu from the table centerpiece. Kaylie set her guest’s tea down before grabbing her own and returning to sit with her. They chatted while the tea cooled, their hands around the cups to feel the radiant warmth. Rain roared outside, thunder and wind muffled by the thick glass. Her guest’s name was Swara. The storm had caught her walking back from a meeting.              

               While they talked Kaylie saw Swara’s eyes drifting along the walls of the shop. Occasionally she would glance at the centerpiece where the specials menu, a spell jar, and a pack of tarot cards sat. A lull in the conversation gave way to them sitting and watching the rain together.

               Swara broke the silence. “So, er. Are you a witch, then?”

               Kaylie laughed.  “You caught me. What gave me away? The coffee shop named the Witch’s Brew?”

               Her guest turned towards her with a smile and shrugged. “Could be a gimmick.” Then she went to sip her tea and stopped, looking down into the cup.

               “I did say a spell over your tea. A nice one, promise. Chamomile is for relaxation.”

               Swara nodded, hesitated a moment longer, then took a sip. As the cup came down, Kaylie watched Swara’s eyes gravitate back to the centerpiece. Kaylie leaned forward and began to point at each piece.

               “This is a spell jar. Meant to protect against bad vibes,” she said, grinning, “And these are communal tarot cards. I leave a pack at every table in case someone wants to do a reading.”

               A pregnant pause grew between them as Swara sipped her tea. She felt as if her guest had something to say but couldn’t find the words. Patience was a virtue- Kaylie waited and took a long drink from her own cup.

               “Not to be rude,” Swara finally blurted, “But do you actually believe in it?”

               “In what?”

               One of Swara’s hands began twirling in the air as she searched for the right word. “Uh. Um. Magic?”

               “No, not really,” Kaylie said.

               “But you’re a witch?”

               “Yep.”

               The sharp exhalation from Swara’s nose nearly made Kaylie laugh.

               “I’m not trying to mess with you, promise,” Kaylie said while picking up the tarot deck, “Can I show you what I mean?”

               Swara nodded.

               “Okay, let’s do a reading. You know how to shuffle?” she asked, handing Swara the deck.

               Her hands hesitated before touching the deck, but Swara nodded again and took the cards. She looked at the artwork on the cards briefly before doing a dovetail shuffle.

               “Play a lot of blackjack?” Kaylie ribbed.

               Swara only smiled, never stopping the shuffle.

               After about a minute of Swara handling the cards, Kaylie began instructing: “We’re going to do a three-card read for your day. The cards will represent the past, present, and future. Think about your day while you shuffle and, when you feel ready, lay out three cards in a line face down.”

               She watched as Swara contemplated this, then closed her eyes. She still didn’t stop shuffling, the cards slipping into neat piles beneath her thumbs and restacking in an instant. Swara opened her eyes and laid out the top three cards on the deck in front of her.

               “Alright, flip them left to right, past to future.”

               As Swara flipped each card over, Kaylie’s smile dampened. The universe seemed to be laughing at her.

               “From your face, I’d guess that I’m cursed or something?” Swara said, trying to laugh.

               Kaylie shook her head and tried to smile. “Sorry. It’s just, the cards you pulled might as well have been my day.” She shifted and sighed heavily, clearing her cluttered thoughts. She was assuming she’d accidentally influenced the cards, but that wasn’t fair. Swara had pulled them. They were Swara’s.

               “First up,” Kaylie said, tapping the card, “Is The Tower. The Tower represents a great and sometimes violent change. It’s upheaval and discomfort. Since it’s in your past, I’m guessing you’re still experiencing the fallout of some great change and it’s affecting your day-to-day.

               “Next you have the Eight of Swords. This card represents feeling stuck, feeling anxious, or feeling trapped. Since it’s in your present space, you’re probably feeling like you can’t escape a situation, that you don’t know how to get out of whatever predicament you’re in. It’s a tough card to have for the present.”

               Swara frowned and sipped her tea. “Geeze, maybe I am cursed.”

               “Not necessarily. Here’s your future,” Kaylie said, tapping the last card, “And it’s the Ace of Pentacles. Pentacles are usually tied with finances or the idea of prosperity, whatever that might mean to you. The Ace of that suit means opportunities, or new ventures. Some sort of opportunity may arise that will break you out of that cycle the Tower started, and the Eight of Swords was perpetuating.”

               Silence hung between them a moment before Swara inhaled sharply. “Um. Wow.”

               “Did they get close?” Kaylie asked.

               “Yeah. Well. Hm.” Swara scratched the back of her head and looked out into the storm. Tiny bits of hail tink-ed softly against the window. “Close enough to be a little scary.”

               “I’m happy to listen, if you want.”

               Her guest shifted in her seat, still not meeting Kaylie’s eyes. When she spoke, she looked out the window and into the rain instead.

               “Well, my boyfriend just left me. No warning. Just one day decided ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ and packed his shit. I can’t afford my apartment without him since I was working on selling my art. I don’t have a ‘real’ job. So my rents due, my electric got shut off because he didn’t pay the bill, and I had an interview today but my phone was dead and I didn’t have time to charge it at the library last night. They called to reschedule but I didn’t get it. Also didn’t see the weather forecast. Got caught in the storm after they practically laughed me out of the building.”

               The tired eyes staring out the window hurt Kaylie’s heart. She reached out an put one hand over Swara’s. Swara jumped at the touch but didn’t pull away. After a moment, her hand relaxed.

               “I’m so sorry. That all sounds awful.”

               “Well, I can think of one not-awful thing that happened today,” Swara said, turning back to face Kaylie, “I ended up in here.”

               Kaylie smiled and squeezed Swara’s hand once before pulling away.

               “So, uh,” Swara said, clearing her throat. Kaylie thought that, in the dim light, she saw her guest’s cheeks darken, “Anyway, this was supposed to prove to me magic wasn’t real right? ‘Cause it kinda did the opposite.”

               “Not exactly.”

               Swara looked up.

               Kaylie shrugged and gestured towards the cards. “This could just as well be my reading for the day.”

               “What? Really?”

               “Yep. I just lost my business partner and girlfriend all in one go. My cycle is blaming myself,” Kaylie said, shrugging again. “The cards aren’t magic. They’re just mirrors for our own feelings. I bet I could bring in anyone off the street, tell them the gist of what the cards mean and they would relate to them. And the Ace of Pentacles would give them hope that they could get out of it.”

               Swara picked up The Tower and looked at it. Lightning flashed outside.

               “All ‘magic’ is just self-reflection, hope, and setting intentions. I hoped you’d have a better day while making your tea. The tarot cards were a practice in self-reflection. The spell jar on the table is an intention for people to have a nice time here. Whether it works or not is up to how we view it.”

               “I think that’s really nice, Kaylie,” Swara said, setting down the cards.

               Thunder rumbled outside and, though Kaylie was done with the reading, her eye kept being drawn back to the Ace. Financial opportunity.

               “Say, you like coffee.” Kaylie said, letting impulse drive her.

               “Yeah,” Swara said, “This tea is good, though.”

               Kaylie shook her head. “You make it regularly?”

               “I mean, yeah, when there’s power.”

               “And you’re looking for a job?”

               Swara looked at Kaylie over her cup. “Are you asking-?”

               “I lost my coffee person. If not for this storm, I might be completely blowing it right now.”

               Kaylie watched as Swara picked up the Ace of Pentacles. “Maybe these are magic.”

               “Maybe,” Kaylie agreed, looking out into the softening rain. A glint of sunlight peaked through the clouds. “Maybe it had to rain for something to grow.”

               As they discussed the details, Kaylie’s heart grew warm. Autumn really was the season of change.

October 16, 2020 22:18

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