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Chapter one of Sunflower in the Shadows

Chapter One








The thick musk of salt and sea mingled with the midsummer air, making for a beautiful Monday morning. Most people don’t find joy in Mondays, being the start of the work week and all. But my friends and I kicked off the week with brunch before work to brighten the day, a ritual we have done for the last few years to spread positive energy amongst ourselves for the draining task that is work and life.

I pushed the button at the light across from the café and waited with the few early tourists, some of which had no understanding of personal space as the heat of someone’s breath blew against the nape of my neck. I took a large step forward, stepping off the curb in hopes that was a polite way of indicating for them to back the fuck up off me.

But clearly common sense was lacking from this individual. The heat returned to my neck, burning my irritation to the surface.

I spun around with a curled lip already carved on my face. “Do you mind?”

Without waiting for an answer from the red-faced man, I turned back to find the light giving us the right of way and stormed off.

“May he always step in gum,” I whispered, flicking the air behind me in his direction.

A senseless jinx, but we were just breaking out of a pandemic, and it was shit like that that caused it to spread as it had. I personally did not care to fall sick due to someone else’s stupidity.

I stepped onto the sidewalk and hurried in the direction of the café, spotting Meklit already occupying a table in the balcony area. She waved happily as I caught sight of her, and I gave a wave back.

“Hey, Mickey!” I called. The smell of freshly cooked pancakes and sweet syrup hit my nose as I pulled open the entrance door.

The bright and cheery waitress, Amy, stood with her welcoming smile as she always did every Monday, our usual server and honestly, brunch wasn’t as fun when we got someone else.

Her cheery smile and strawberry blonde hair always brought a sort of bright comfort that Monday mimosa called for.

“Good morning, Mina. Welcome to Martha’s. Come with me and I’ll get you seated with Meklit.” She grabbed a menu and led me through the main dining lobby and out to the front balcony where Mickey waited.

“Hey! How was your walk?” Mickey greeted me with a teasing grin. Her dark complexion held a sard glow under the light of the sun.

“It was almost perfect,” I said with a laugh as I took a seat across from her. “Some beast of a human was mouth breathing down my neck at the light.”

She attempted to hide her laugh in her glass of water as she took a small sip. “Yeah, I noticed! When is your car supposed to be done again?”

“It should be finished this week.” I shrugged doubtfully, seeing how they’re screwing me around at every turn.

“I thought it was supposed to be done last week?”

“Yeah.  That’s what I thought, too,” I admitted. I didn’t know anything about cars, so when they told me they found something here or there that needs to be fixed, I told them to fix it. Everything was within walking distance anyway, and I still had my van to get around I just preferred not to drive it short distances.

I didn’t want to ask anyone to come with me, not that that would even help. None of us were too well-versed in cars despite the fact Jasmine and I remodeled the van. We did so with a lot of help from my uncle, and I no longer had him to advise me.

I looked around the empty table with slight confusion, hoping to change the subject with our lack of drinks.

“I already ordered our first round. Amy said she’d bring them out as we all arrived. I figured she could bring mine out when one of you got here,” Mickey explained.

“I always arrive first,” I joked. Well, sort of. If she wasn’t first, it was me. And still, I was generally the first to arrive after her in that case.

“There is nothing wrong with being punctual.” She shrugged as her gaze drifted past me. “Speaking of!”

“Alright, ladies. First round. I will be back once the others arrive.” Amy popped up from behind me to set our glasses down before parting with a close-lipped smile, leaving Mickey and me to our weekend catch-up.

“How was Angeles?” Mickey asked immediately. She always had a big interest in my camping trips and had joined me on a few of them, as with the rest. But recently, their other day jobs had most of their attention and weekends, leaving our only other time to catch up during the week on our small shifts at the shop.

“Peaceful, as always. You know nobody ever goes up that far.”

She swirled her glass, studying the golden liquid as it spun around. “I need to get back up there. The getaway and fresh air would be nice.”

“You are always more than welcome to join. It’s been somewhat boring.” Before I could finish, Amber’s voice filled my ears as Amy ushered her to the table.

Amber and Mickey were both dressed for the summer weather but in two different styles. Where Mickey wore a pair of powder brown overall shorts with a cute light pink crop top, Amber wore a solid white top with a black maxi skirt, her dark curls piled on top of her head and wrapped in a burgundy scarf.

“Hello,” she greeted in her thick accent as she took the seat beside Mickey. She flew down from London three years ago to study cooking, then COVID hit, and she found herself in need of herbs from the apothecary, and we had all been friends since. She even started working part-time at the shop.

“Hey!” Mickey and I greeted.

“Jaz is in her car. Crying,” Amber added with an exasperated sigh.

“That bad?” Mickey asked. Jasmine spent the weekend with her boyfriend, who was coincidentally our coworker as well.

“I didn’t hear from her all weekend. Hopefully it wasn’t too bad,” Mickey voiced. We all wished it was ok, but knowing Antonio and Jaz, it was anything but.

Their faces fell and eyes, focused on those entering in behind me.

“Now, now. I’m sure you guys will work it out,” Amy attempted to console, but the sobbing overpowered it all.

“Worse than bad,” I whispered before taking a big sip from my glass.

Amy sat Jasmine beside me and gave her a sympathetic pat on her shoulder. “I’ll be back with the last two drinks,” she informed.

“Wonderful! It’s been a week,” Jaz blubbered into her hands. Amy gave a faint smile before taking off again, leaving us to soothe our devastated friend.

“Jaz, it’s only Monday,” Meklit said innocently.

“And that’s just the point, Mickey! It’s already shit!” Jaz sobbed again. I wouldn’t say this was common for her, especially since she focused on energies and attraction in her craft – physical attraction, I should add. It was ironic she tended to catch on to other’s relationships or attractions better than her own self, but that is usually the case for those that give great advice.

“What happened?” Amber pressed kindly. Before Jaz could finish, Amy popped by with the two mimosas before darting away again. Another great thing about her: she knew when not to stick around.

“Antonio and I ended things this morning. Well, he ended it,” Jaz sniffled. “He didn’t want Andrew down his neck about coworker relations. But it’s not even corporate, it’s a small family-owned business!” Tears worked their way out and she wiped them away. “I told him it was none of Andrew’s business, but he was dead set on the breakup.”

“Oh, Jaz. I’m sorry,” I said softly to pacify her without causing a bigger breakdown. In truth, Andrew didn’t care who was screwing who in the shop. He was only a fill-in manager.

“What are you waffling on about? He was a plum of a boy. Not even a man,” Amber interjected.

Though her words were harsh, her tone was as kind as she could gather for the situation. She wasn’t all that patient with Jasmine’s choices in men. Well, none of us were. They were all quite toxic for her. And I would say if it made her happy, then I wouldn’t say a thing. But she was not happy, and she never was.

“Amber!” Mickey shot as Jasmine’s eyes glossed over with more tears and she finished off her mimosa. Amber’s words weren’t so much harsh as they were true. Antonio had a lot of growing to do mentally and honestly, he was a pain to be around when they were together. For some reason he was more bearable during the one shift I had with him.

I rubbed Jaz’s back to soothe her and looked for Amy to bring another round. When I finally met her eyes through the disfiguring glass, I could faintly make out a nod as she rushed back to the kitchen.

“Maybe if you do a cord cutting,” Mickey suggested in a soft voice.

“A whole banishing ritual would be better,” Amber mumbled into her drink.

“Or a poppet,” Jasmine said with a sigh as she placed her fingers on either side of her temple. “I have several and a few clippings of his hair.”

“Be fucking for real right now,” I said, struggling to hold back a laugh.

“He gave it to me willingly. There was a spell he wanted me to do. But I guess he forgot.”

“Well, if the poppet and cord cutting don’t work, we can always just have a break-up bonfire and burn all the shit that reminds you of him. Less invasive for him,” Amber suggested. She was not one to interfere with another’s free will whereas Mickey and Jasmine dabbled in that sort of thing.

“There you go! The spot I stay at Angeles’s forest would be perfect. We can listen to the music as loud as we want and no one will bother us. Dance around the fire naked sort of shit!” I added. The first half was a serious statement, the second was all in good fun. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time I had, but that was more of a drunken rage than a ritual.

Amy stopped by and passed the second round of mimosas. “Will it be the usual today, ladies?”

We always ordered the same for brunch often enough they made a party size for us to order.

“Yes, Amy. That would be great,” I informed.

She nodded as she wrote down on her pad “Grilled shrimp and arugula.” With a faint smile, she left for the kitchen to drop off the order.

“I think a getaway this weekend would be helpful. If it’s not your studio, it’s he-who-will-not-be-named. Hang out with us for a bit,” I said. Amber and Meklit nodded in agreement with their attention in their drinks.

“Yeah, you’re right. It would be nice. I don’t have any commissions this month.” Jaz sniffled and wiped her tears away.

“It’s settled then. We should head up Friday after work,” Amber cheered.

More sniffles erupted from beside me as Jaz struggled to hold back tears.

“What am I going to do Wednesday at work?” she questioned.

“Stay upstairs with me. You know he never comes up. Just ignore him,” I began. “I know it sounds cheesy, but there really are better men out there. It’s going to hurt for a bit, but we are still young, and crying over little boys who aren’t yet men is not it,” I attempted to console but it came out a bit harsher than intended.

“We’re almost thirty, Meems,” she said with a chuckle.

“Thirty year olds who won’t settle for shit stain boys,” Amber added with a confident grin.

It was enough to pull a bigger smile out of Jaz as she pulled the glass to her lips.

“There, see? Already in a better mood,” Mickey tossed in as she, too, raised her glass. Jaz and I followed suit and with an echoing clink, we changed the topic to something lighter.

Our drinks and food came out as we discussed our new weekend plans—debating the choice of alcohol and what foods to bring, how they would need to bring tents as the van wasn’t built for company in mind. Luckily it wasn’t any of their first trips with me and all had camping gear at the ready.

With the weekend set, the mimosa bottoms found, and our grilled shrimp gone, we paid our tab and left our tip before walking to the parking lot.

“You guys ok calling the Uber?” I asked. With a nod from each, we split ways with a goodbye.

I wouldn’t say I was drunk or buzzed, but I was feeling pretty good, and the walk back in the crowd of tourists wasn’t as draining as normal, making them much easier to ignore. It was the surfers on their way to the beach that provided the irritations with their whistles and ill-thought-out pickup lines.

Thankfully, it was a quick cross to my van—or home on wheels as I prefer to call it, remodeled delivery van Jaz and I picked up the summer after graduation to escape our small town. It was fun to travel in for the time and then COVID hit and we got stuck in L.A. which wasn’t too bad; we found jobs, and she found an apartment while I kept the van. With the pandemic and low-paying job, I figured it would be better than living with my mother.

Not that there is anything wrong with someone my age living with their parents. The economy was trash. There was, however, something wrong with my mother, and I preferred living in my little van.

I slid open the door to the angry yowling of my cat, Prometheus, a little black fur ball with big green eyes that showed up outside the van just before lockdown a few years back. I wasn’t much of a cat person, but he had been my partner in crime ever since.

He zoomed over my feet in a crisscross pattern, making it near impossible for me to get in.

“Would you excuse me!” I shot to him. The sudden noise sent him flying onto my bed, flicking his whiskers in irritation.

“Yeah, I know. It’s coming,” I droned as I pulled out one of his canned meals. “I have to get ready for work. Hopefully you can manage on this can for the evening.” I plopped the mush into his bowl on the mat before turning to start my shower and prepare for my night readings.

The apothecary I worked at also had a connecting spiritual shop. I didn’t do particularly well with herbs, so I spent most of my time with the occult merchandise. I was mostly hired to run divination readings—tarot decks, bone tossing, pendulums —all of that was work I took pride in and was one of the best readers in L.A. I tried to stay humbled, but when A-list celebrities came for readings, that was a bit of an accomplishment for not only me but the shop as well.

After I had finished my shower and twisted out my hair, I found a comfortable spot on my bed to begin my meditations.

I took a deep breath, focusing on the thoughts that passed by, silencing out the world around me until my body and head felt light. The temperature dropped slightly, lifting the hairs along my arm and creating goosebumps along my skin. It was never an extremely comforting feeling, but this time it seemed a bit gloomier than normal, colder and not willing to present itself as it swirled around me. I stayed quiet, allowing the spirit to study me as they often did.

My van was my sanctuary, protected with sigils and amulets—hung satchels of protective herbs, a salt lined threshold, along with weekly smoke cleanses. I felt safe, and any spirit that passed through, no matter how cold, was not malevolent enough to be blocked.

After several long moments of the icy chill against my skin, the space around me warmed, signaling the spirit’s quick departure. Most were only curious, some stuck around, and even fewer actually made contact in a way for me to understand—obscure tarot readings and odd pendulum responses that did not seem to fit the questions.

My eyes opened slowly to adjust to the bright light that spilled in from the windows. I focused on the furry creature in front of me, his tail flicking from one side to the next. His pupils were thin slits as he glared at me, a usual stance he took during my indoor meditations.

“Will you be a good boy while I’m gone? I don’t want to come back to those filthy little hairballs on my pillow again or you’ll be sleeping with the seagulls tonight,” I warned as I slid from the bed.

The green in his eyes nearly vanished while his pupils rounded, as if recognizing it was only me. He released a soft purr as he jumped down and sauntered to the front to take his place in the passenger’s seat.

The sun sat low in the sky, gradually making its way towards the moving waves. My heart sank as I jerked my head to the small digital clock over my single burner.


4:45 PM


“Fuck!” I spat, racing to grab my deck and bones to shove into my bag. There was no time to think about what time I had lost. It was a twenty minute walk to work. If I had my car this wouldn’t be an issue, but the stupid piece of shit had always been unreliable. Now it was just unreliable and costly.

The bike it is.

I raced out to the back of the van where my bike sat, locking the van door with a click of a button, and headed off. I tugged the beach cruiser over the curb in a rush, ignoring the whistles and hoots from the passing surfers who usually hung around the lot. They were easy to ignore as I jumped on and kicked off in a hurry, tucking my skirt under the thigh harnesses I decided on wearing.

I crossed at the light, riding past the tourists with ease as I headed to the next corner. The Green Coven was hard to miss with the dark green paint and old-fashioned look in the center of a very modern looking L.A. When I hit the corner, I turned down a narrow alley that led to the back of the shop where the bike rack was kept.

Without bothering to lock it up, I ran to the front and pulled open the door. The heavy scent of herbs and spice filled my nose instantly as I entered the cozy-styled shop. Dimly lit planted light fixtures hung from the rafter beams of the open apothecary lobby. Potted herbs lined the three windowsills with more potted plants scattered around and tucked into any corner and slot available. Poster-sized monographs of various herbs hung along the walls, and herb-filled jars lined the countertop. Along the back wall sat a large, antique styled apothecary cabinet with a dozen tiny drawers.

I turned the corner in a rush, nearly running into Jordan, one of my other coworkers.

“Slow down there, what’s the rush?” He laughed, pulling a white stick from his mouth. Jordan was also a part-time worker, as he did graphic design and was the one who designed the herb posters around and all the shop's advertisements. Mondays were his one and only shift. Being a graphic designer and all, his days are usually spent hunched over his iPad, sketching out his designs. He was also still in school and was an intern for a big company.

Which sucked because the shop only paid about ten bucks an hour and was basically part-time if you didn’t work from open to close all five days. Not much for a college student in L.A., if you asked me, but who was I to comment on his job choices?

“I have clients today,” I panted, my eyes falling to Andrew as he entered from his back office. He held a tray lined with honey-pops as he greeted me.

“Hey Mina, you ok?” he asked with an overly enthused smile. Rather than stopping to stock the pops, he met me at the counter.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured with breathy words.

“I’m not going to fire you if you are a few minutes late, Mina,” he reminded. Truthfully, I didn’t think there was much I could do that would make Andrew even consider firing me. I was the only one free to work the shift I do, which was every weekday and more than him. Besides, I was the only one who provides readings, and that was the biggest customer draw.

“I know, but I have clients today,” I reminded him.

“Oh, just one. Ms. Lee called and said she would be unable to make today’s reading,” Jordan interjected.

“She’s working late.” A usual case for Brenda as her work seemed to be very demanding, from what I could gather. Jordan nodded and continued leaning.

“Oh, well. I guess I could have walked.”

Andrew pulled one of the honey-pops from the tray and handed it to me. “My mom and Lily want your review specifically,” he informed.

I took the pop and looked it over for a moment. “What flavor is it this time?” I inquired. Mrs. Williams and her daughter crafted all the blends and candies the apothecary carried and I was their favored taste tester. Not a problem with me. It gave me a reason to snack on sweets.

“Calendula and chamomile.”

I tilted my head and looked past Andrew to Jordan. “Is that what you have?”

He nodded, not removing the stick from his mouth to muffle the words, “It’s good.”

Pointless. Jordan couldn’t tell the difference between the flavors of lavender and mugwort. I popped the sucker into my mouth, enjoying the sweet blended honey and herbs.

“Much better than the last ones. The lavender ones weren’t it,” I muffled.

“That’s what I said!” Jordan pipped from his spot.

“Well, these ones will do well.” I smiled to Andrew and nabbed another pop before heading upstairs to my reading space. I hardly spent my shifts in the first floor apothecary as I have a horrible habit of scorching the tea.

The second floor was the spiritual shop where I spent the majority of my time. Being that I was no green witch, Andrew placed me up on the second floor with all the occult like shit, saying that my style generally matched the aesthetic he was aiming for: a gothic cottage core vibe to match the downstairs theme while also giving off a “witchy” vibe.

Because I conducted my readings, I had my own personal “office” space which was very much a second room for me. I kept an altar, and most all of my books and crystals there since there wasn’t much room for them in my van.

I walked in, flipping the switch for the dim light. Skulls, bones, and statues lined the shelves along with a multitude of mini jars of powders and herbs. Pillar and taper candles sat wherever I could safely place them without catching shit on fire.

It took about five minutes to light each candle and start the incense, giving the room a spicy, bitter smell. The space filled with smoke, slowly escaping through the thin slit under the door, a very simple way to cleanse and provide the sort of ambiance my clients felt most relaxed in.

Once the mood was set, I began setting up the reading space. I didn’t have any tables or chairs, aside from a simple pullout for some elderly clients who were unable to sit on the floor. Today wasn’t necessarily a day for the chair. It all depended on Mrs. Halbert and how she was feeling for the day.

Mildred Halbert was one of my widowed clients, and she came in every third Monday of the month. During our first reading together she had informed me it was a significant day, as her and her late husband would spend it as date night. Understandably, she held that date near and chose to visit me the moment he had passed back in early 2020.

She also bought a ton of the sleep tea blend from the apothecary to help her sleep through the night. We took the liberty of pre-pouching it for her so she didn’t have to worry about measuring it and possibly messing up the dosage. From what she said, her nights have never been better.

I set to work arranging the throw pillows around my reading mat and placed all the tools I usually used for her readings in the center of it all. When everything was to my liking, I sat in my spot and took the time before the meeting to center myself.

Readings were draining themselves and my readings with Mrs. Halbert usually ran over an hour. She had mentioned it would be a special night during her last reading.

I sat on the floor with a few of the pillows tucked behind me and flipped to my playlist of song bowls on my phone. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and began my meditation.

Thoughts passed my mind’s eye in disconnecting ways, showing me memories and wishes and random things that made no sense. After a few more deep breaths, my mind settled on faint images, —shapes, and colors, flashing sparks of pure nonsense.

Then, a shadowy figure stood before me in a dark room. The only light flickered directly above me and the enormous shape. Glowing, white eyes crept open to peer down at me. They were hard to read, but I sensed a certain curiousness about them.

The shadow creature leaned down, tilting its head to the side as if to examine me. In doing so, it gave me the opportunity to examine it back.

Its massive body faded into the darkness that surrounded us, so there wasn’t much to be seen there, but its head was long like a horse—maybe a goat. The ears and whatever growths that came from the top of its head faded as its body did.

Suddenly, the creature was at my back, circling me as it studied me. I moved with it, not wanting to have my eyes off this strange thing but just as curious in it as it was in me. It wasn’t strange for odd entities to visit me this way; it was just rare.

“Hello…” I greeted.

Its head tilted again as three knocks rang through. The lights flashed, returning to the dimly lit room I began in.

“Good evening. Sorry I’m late,” Mildred greeted from the doorway.

“Late?” I repeated as I grabbed my phone, realizing the song bowls had ended at some point. An hour-long track. I hopped up to greet her properly, stumbling slightly from the cramping in my legs and back.

Mildred stood in a bright red dress with a beautiful black fur covering her shoulders. Pearl earrings with a matching necklace and ring added a nice little pop. Some would call it all costume jewelry, but if they knew Mis. Halbert, they would know nothing about her was fake. She was dripping with high class and money.

“I lost track of time, dear,” she informed me, stepping to the pile of pillows positioned across from me.

“It would seem I had as well,” I admitted. “Would you like the chair for this evening’s reading?”

“No, no. I can sit perfectly fine. Thank you.” Her box dyed red curls caught the light of the candle behind her as she took her seat, creating a sort of raging flame look on top of her head.

“You said today was a special Monday?” I reminded. If I hadn’t known already, it would have been an easy guess.

“It is our anniversary,” she informed with a soft smile.

“Awe, how lovely,” I cooed, holding my hands out to her, pendulum in my right palm. “Well, happy anniversary to you.” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, ready to channel Mr. Halbert into our space. She took my hands and, after several deep breaths, I pulled from her grasp and held the pendulum over the mat between us. A cool chill wrapped around the room as a spirit found its place.

“Hello, Richard. How are you?” I greeted, holding the pendulum over the mat and allowing it to sway with the energy. It swung quickly to the letter H before moving to the letter I, his usual greeting.

Using pendulums wasn’t the best way to hold full conversations, leaving his responses to a minimum of one word. Some days were more emotionally paining than others. There was an intimacy about divination readings between myself and my clients. Very personal and life-changing events were often shared as if I weren’t there, a line in the conversation rather than an actual person. But that was ok I didn’t find insult in it. If they felt comfortable enough with me, that only meant they were gaining something from the readings.

They spoke for over an hour before Mrs. Halbert grew weepy-eyed and tired, rightfully so. I helped her to her feet, and she thanked me sweetly before leaving with her back hunched from the position she had sat in. I watched as she slowly made her way to the steps, and once she was out of view, I began my cleaning ritual, snuffing out the candles and cleaning with a rosemary bundle.

“That was a long one, huh?” Andrew’s voice came from the doorway. I turned to find him with his usual smirk that he held on Mondays after my readings. He jerked his head toward the office across the hall and headed off before waiting for a reply.

There was one thing I forgot to mention about my boss, Andrew. We hooked up. Quite a bit, actually. It wasn’t something either of us intended. That’s usually how it starts, right? Fucking my manager in the upstairs office of his ill mother’s business wasn’t something I like to go around bragging about.

I would love to say it was some big romantic story, but really, we were just closing late one night, and one thing led to another. Now it was a bit more often than either of us expected, and I was not looking for anything too serious. But Andrew was not shy about wanting to move this past the office setting—dates and family introductions. Though I already knew his mom and sister due to work, he had a much different introduction in mind.

He didn’t have bad dick. Quite the opposite, actually. And it was not as if he looked like a troll. He was decently attractive with blond hair and green eyes and his personality wasn’t horrible. I just didn’t plan on sharing my space with anyone anytime soon. Besides, why fuck up what we had now? It was consistent dick without the worry or hassle.

I jumped up and followed behind him without a word, staying quiet to avoid suspicion from the downstairs peanut gallery. Andrew never seemed to care all that much, but again, it wasn’t something I wanted to brag about. It was more than juvenile. But so was sneaking around his mother’s apartment since he lived with her to help out, and the van didn’t provide much in the way of space. So the office it had been.

I stepped through and the door shut with a soft click. His hands slipped around my arm and tugged me until my back pressed against the smoothness of the door. He held my face as his lips took mine in a swift movement, kissing me roughly. When he pulled back, his face was already flushed. “I thought she’d never leave.”

“You’ve been waiting, have you?” I teased.

His hands left my cheeks and slid down to my legs where his fingers tangled in my fishnets. “You know how I am with your lace and nets.”

The snapping sound of strings tearing echoed in the quiet space. Our lips collided as he struggled to remove his belt and push his pants down. He pulled away once more to dig through one of his pockets for a condom. I wasn’t sure when he found it or put it on, being too focused on his neck and removing his shirt.

I only knew he had accomplished putting it on when he shoved my thong to the side and thrust into me without warning. I cupped my hand over my mouth to muffle the moan that begged to break free. He let out a relieved sigh as if he truly had been waiting all day. After a moment of adjustment, he began grinding into me, slowly at first to not cause noise from the door or from either of us.

The heated room grew hotter, and every silent moan seemed to echo louder as we went.

Andrew held me up with one hand while his other worked at figuring out which direction to pull my top. Each failed attempt inspired deep thrusts as he grew frustrated at the constricting shirt. With an agitated grunt, he gave up on the shirt and buried his face in my neck.

The silence in the room soon filled with the breathless moans, squeaking wood, and the slap of sticky skin.

“God damn!” he grunted out, pausing his movements in attempt to hold his finish. Like a gentleman, he made sure I finished first. He took my mouth again, his movements slow and deep. The building friction and fire began in my low belly and spread down my thighs. I rolled my hips against him, aiding in the sensation, blinded by the building tension, a delicate and thin line that could be just as easily shattered. He sucked in through his teeth as he began pounding into me.

Fff-fuck.” The one word that snapped that thin line, pulling me from my body for a moment. I gripped his shoulders, his shirt, and whatever else my hands met as I rode the waves through. Andrew’s hands slipped over my mouth again as he pumped into me, chasing his own finish as his hips bucked wildly.

A quick fuck in the office wasn’t the most romantic of places, but I never said there was anything romantic about what we did. He was to me what I was to him, a quick and easy lay, and with the way the world was going, that was really all I had that gave me a sense of control.

“What are you doing after work?” he asked. I wasn’t surprised, but I hadn’t expected it either. I thought after our last conversation he would understand.

“Drew,” I whispered, “we talked about this.”

He pulled free with a deep groan. Pure disappointment pinched his brows as he backed away from me. I stepped down to adjust myself, fixing my skirt to hide the ripped fishnets.

“You head out first. I have to grab some paperwork anyway.” He buttoned his pants and walked around the desk. He didn’t have to be so upset about it, but as long as it ended the conversation. I was sexually satisfied and happy, so I didn’t see any problems.

What we had was perfect how it was.

I headed out of the office and back to my room to collect my things and leave for the night. Since I only had to worry about readings, and the little after affair, I didn’t have to stick around Mondays to help lock up.

“Oh, Mina! I forgot to mention. We have a shipment drop-off coming in tomorrow at two. Just a heads up,” Andrew called from the office.

I paused at the door of my room, turning back to see Andrew popping his head out from the open door. “Ok, is there anything special I need to do?”

“Just stock everything. It isn’t much, just a few more things for up here.”

Anything to do with upstairs was usually left to me, and since Andrew only worked on Mondays, it was up to me to sign and stock inventory.

“Will do, boss man.” I stepped into the room and for a split second, in the far corner near my collection of animal skulls, was the faint outline of a figure. Just a second for my eyes to adjust and it was gone.

I sucked in a breath, fighting the shiver brought on by the cool chill that ran over my skin. Again, a common occurrence I had learned to ignore, though my body still senses something off and reacted appropriately. Despite my constant, subtle run-ins with the spirits that visited this plane, my body continued to react with a flight or fight response.

I spun the ring on my finger with my thumb three times, my special charm of protection, as well as a habit to ensure it was still there. It was a quick cross over the floor to the back shelf where I kept my bag. After snuffing out the candles, I headed out through the lobby.

“Bye, Andrew. Later, Jorden,” I called, heading out the door and around to the back to grab my bike. But when I turned the corner, my heart sank to my stomach as I stared at an empty rack, my last means of quick transportation gone.

“Fucking wonderful,” I huffed, stomping from the alleyway. I couldn’t say I was surprised. I didn’t bother locking it up. It was a broken-down piece of shit that needed replacing anyways, so it wasn’t all bad.

The smell of freshly fried funnel cakes grew stronger as I crossed the street, a much-needed treat after the evening I had. Pair it with some wine and the bike wouldn’t even be a concern anymore.

I tracked down the funnel cake stand and slipped right in line. Was it the healthiest of dinners? No. but I am a twenty-eight-year-old woman, and I want a funnel cake, damn it.

The sweet scent taunted me the whole wait, burning my stomach with a hunger I wasn’t aware of until presented with the sweet treat. When it was finally my turn, I stepped up to the cart with a large grin. “Hello,” I greeted. The small menu on the table had very few options, but I didn’t what anything special. The same thing as always.

“Just a powdered cake please,” I ordered. The boy couldn’t have been any older than sixteen running a funnel cake stand. But then again, usually it was an older gentleman named Burt, so maybe it was a family business.

“$1.99,” he said with a sigh, pulling the tongs and wax paper out. He wrapped up the delicious snack and handed it to me as I handed him a five.

“You can keep the change,” I offered with a smile.

“Wow, thanks,” he said dryly before tossing it into the drawer.

I shrugged it off. I wasn’t going to let him ruin the evening anymore than it was. Me and my funnel cake would enjoy the waves over on the bench that faced out into the water.

Before I could take my seat, my ass buzzed with the ringing of my phone. I put the cake in my mouth and pulled my phone out with a grumble.


Parasite #3


I tried to shrug off the message, but the heat filled my chest and face as I took a bite of the cake a bit too aggressively. First my bike, now my younger sister texting me when I thought I had made it excruciatingly clear I did not want them contacting me.

I took a deep breath in through my nose, forcing my shoulders down to relax as I counted to five. I had much more to be thankful for. I did not need these small things interfering with the peace and happiness I had constructed over the last few years.

When the heat washed away from my cheeks and my breathing was less harsh, I sat back to look over the ocean as planned, allowing the wave of peace to flood over me.

I had the cake, the amazing sex, and the tranquil feeling of the calm waves of the ocean to melt my senses back into bliss.

A simple job, low debt, a free life, and the freedom to eat what I want, when I want. What more could I ask for?


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