Gage spent long days and nights sleeping. He didn’t have to think or feel while sleeping. He did dream though. He dreamed of church bells and dancing in circles and little girls throwing flower petals. He wasn’t sure who the little girls were. They looked like twins. He had never seen them before. He didn’t know any little kids. He saw white tulle and purple lace and soft pink silk ties. He saw a blurred figure, a woman, the love of his life. He knew it. He knew it deep down in his heart. But he never saw her face. He would wake up every morning and the last thing he could remember was the back doors of the church opening and blinding him with the light of day as his bride walked in.
After several days, Aunt Missy practically dragged him out of bed and forced him out, saying she was going to wash his sheets on Rhoda’s “newfangled washing machine.” She told him to take a shower, go for a walk, go meet the neighbors, go run around the block. “Anything,” she said, throwing her hands up in the air.
He didn’t want to do any of those things. He had been dumped. He did take her advice and showered since he was starting to develop a putrid stench. He smelled like bad milk and old cheese and moth balls and bats dancing the flamenco in the attic. When he finished showering, Aunt Missy was busy cleaning his room. He had never had anyone clean his room before. Jennifer always made him clean his own stuff up, and Pablo reinforced this practice.
Gage stepped out on the outer porch and felt the emotions overwhelm him. He didn’t want Aunt Missy to clean his room. He wanted Lè. Better yet, he would clean with her. He deseperately wanted a wife. Instead he had an aging mother-like figure shooing him out of the house like an unwanted pup. Silent tears fell, their only witness, the stars of the late autumn Riverview sky.
After another few days, Rhoda kicked him out of the house. She was irked by his moping. She asked him to run an errand for her down at the The Cannery. He was supposed to meet some guy named Tom Shallow who owed her nineteen and a half crates of canned tomatoes. Gage wasn’t sure what she wanted with them, but he decided for the sake of everyone, he would get out of the house and quit moping.
Arriving at the Cannery, Gage noticed they weren’t open yet. The autumn festival had been going on all season on the upstairs floors. He proceeded around back to see if anything was going on around the riverfront.
“Whaddaya standin’ ’round fer!?”
He heard a man yelling harshly at what appeared to be his employee. The thick curly-haired young woman was dressed in purple gypsy attire standing next to a red caravan with colorful flags, green shutters, lacy white curtains, and detailed painted patterns. The young woman hung her head as Gage approached, her eyes fixated on the pavement as her employer continued to berate her over poor performance. Gage clenched his fists, ready to have some choice words with the angry man.
“Oh, are you a customer?” she said, her eyes brightening as she saw him. “Step right up and hear ya…Gage?”
He blinked rapidly, wondering if she knew him.
“It’s Heather from the Cherry Moon Collective,” she continued.
“Heather?” his eyes were deceiving him.
The rather bland mousy female from the Collective? Lè’s friend? She looked completely different with thick rich dark curls, plum lipstick, rouged cheeks, and the off-the shoulder, purple lace-trimmed gypsy get-up. In fact, she looked hot. He frowned, trying not to think about her petite frame and perky breasts.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know me?” she said, sounding slightly annoyed.
“Oh…umm…” his mouth watered. “Of course, Heather…”
“How do I look?” she asked, flirtatiously, lifting her black see-through fingerless gloved arms up to her chest, pointing to a tiny perfectly tied purple bow.
“Oh… great! I mean hot! I mean…” Gage blubbered.
“Is that a customer?” the angry man from around the corner of the caravan shouted.
“Yes, yes, it is,” Heather replied sweetly, flipping her hair over her creamy shoulders, and allowing other curls to fall over her right breast.
“Good, I’m taking my lunch break,” he snipped, stomping away down the riverwalk.
“Good riddance,” she whispered, and giggled.
“No kidding,” he agreed.
“So customer, come for your fortune?” she said, her voice syrupy sweet like honeyed liquid overflowing on waffle squares.
“Sure,” he shrugged. “I’m running an errand for my cousin and they aren’t open yet,” he nodded back to the cannery. “So how long have you been doing this?”
“The gypsy gig?” she replied. “Since the summer… I was bartending at the Watering Hole, but the pay wasn’t good… and I’m not that good of a dancer.”
She purposely sashayed her hips as she walked, the little bells on her ankles jingling, soothing his frayed nerves. He found himself smiling as he shoved his hands into his front jean pockets.
“Really? I’m not so sure,” he smirked.
“Oh that,” she lifted her foot and tinkled her ankle. “I am musically inclined… but guitar is my thing. Didn’t you hear me play at the Collective?”
Gage scratched his head. He couldn’t remember. He had been so focused on Lè, and barely noticed anyone else. Of course, there had been nights with music, but he didn’t recall Heather’s showcase. He didn’t know what he could say to make himself appear less lame and more interesting. Heather was a pretty woman, flirting with him. It was good for his ego.
“Of course, I remember,” he lied, licking the inside of his lower lip. “I wouldn’t mind hearing again.”
“Sure,” she said easily. “It’s all part of the service. The entertainment, that is…”
He caught a hint of pink beneath her dark rouge. Was she blushing? I guess, I’m not the only one who thinks someone’s hot, he thought smugly.
“What do your services entail?” he asked coyly.
“I can tell you your fortune. I play the guitar. I sing. Care for a love ballad?” she winked at him.
If he wasn’t annoyed about his recent breakup, he may have laughed. “Um. How about a song about a fierce battle?”
She giggled. “I know one about a fierce maiden who fights a horde of giants.”
“Okay,” Gage shrugged. “I guess.”
“First, I’ll read your palm,” Heather said, reaching for his hand.
She appeared to be concentrating as she firmly placed her hand beneath his. With one finger, she began to trace lines across his palm sending a tingling sensation up his arm. He closed his eyes, forcing his mind to quit wandering, allowing his body to relax. Her fingers brushed delicately across his skin like a soft blade of grass.
“I am gathering information,” she said. “…about your temperament… what kind of man you are, Gage…”
He liked the way she said his name, a hint of seduction in her tone.
“Shouldn’t we go inside?” he asked, confused.
“Patience,” she murmured. “I know what I’m doing.”
He closed his eyes again.
“…and your longevity… your projected length of life…” she drew out her words as she brushed her fingers up his arm, continuing to send pleasant chills through his veins like a ice cube droplets on a hot summer day.
“…and oh..” she grabbed his arm, squeezing his muscle playfully. “Someone’s been working out.”
“Yeah, with my cousin Sam,” he remarked, pleased with her approval. “We’ve been doing the president’s boot camp workout challenge.”
“Exercise…” she purred. “…ensures a long healthy life.”
He knew that, but he didn’t want her to stop her flattery.
“…and your romantic inclinations…” she said, a slight hitch in her tone. “I know you recently broke up with our den moeder…”
His eyes fluttered open, almost annoyed at her mention.
“Her loss,” Heather said, breaking contact. “…and shame on her… such a healthy, vibrant, handsome man would make a fine addition to our Collective.”
He felt the heat flush on his cheeks.
“Didn’t she tell you?” Heather said, tilting her head. “You can petition to join the Collective.”
Why hadn’t he thought of that? Maybe then Lè would have agreed to his proposal.
“But you have to be approved by a current member of the Collective,” she added, batting her eyelashes at him. “Of course, I would be happy to approve you… if you would agree to certain terms…”
Of course. Always a catch.
“And what terms would those be?” he inquired, trying to play things cool, but he could feel his palms begin to sweat.
“Why don’t we discuss this inside my caravan?” she remarked casually, but he could hear the additional invitation in her tone. “Especially if my boss comes back… he would want to know we’re doing business.”
“Do I have to pay you?” he asked.
“Heavens no,” she shook her head vigorously, her curls bobbing and darting. “Not for what I’m about to help you do.”
“And what is it that you’ll help me do?” he leaned in close, inhaling a whiff of her gardenia scented perfume.
He knew he was playing with fire. He didn’t care. If there was a chance to be accepted into the Cherry Moon Collective, he might have an opportunity to persuade Lè to change her mind. And if Lè wouldn’t, well…he smiled. Heather was practically throwing herself at him, albeit under a veil of sultry innuendos.
“Come inside, and you’ll see. Perhaps the stars will be in your favor today,” she said gently.
Gage walked through the double red doors with confidence. Needless to say, their “business” was not what he had been led to believe. He wasn’t complaining though. Heather had always flirted with him from the beginning. He had just never encouraged her behavior before. Within moments of walking inside, they began kissing with breathless fury. His lips trailed from her petite mouth to her silky neck and to her exposed shoulders while she moaned in his ear with delight. He had never had a vocal partner before.
Pretty soon, Heather’s dress slipped further off her shoulders, exposing her black lingerie, and then further releasing all of her womanhood to him in tauntingly slow bites. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen her naked before, given the Collective’s evening communal baths. However, this time, he noticed her every curve, drinking in her beauty. He shed his cloth barriers, and they embraced, falling in a mad heap on the chaise lounge. She giggled effervescently as he continued nibbling at her ears and neck. He didn’t even care when her curly wig fell from its place.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” she gasped as she lay shaking in his arms after the height of their heated passion.
He kissed her sweat-drenched hair. “I know.”
She punched his arm lightly. “I didn’t… I…wow… I mean… I haven’t had any for a long time.”
“Really?” he smirked. “You mean you don’t bring all your male customers in here to show them your crystal ball.”
“Ricardo would kill me,” she gasped and laughed. “No.”
“So did your cards predict this would happen today? Or reading my lines?” he teased.
“No,” she shook her head, grinning. “I am a witch. I should’ve seen this coming.”
“Why are witches clairvoyant?”
“No, but we have a sixth sense when it comes to lovers,” she smiled beautifully.
“Well,” he remarked. “I might visit the fortune teller more often. I am positively bewitched by you.”
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