Too Hexy For Her Hat by Susan Hayes
Luna watchedher last pair of customers walk away. The two of them almost glowed with happiness and the rush of new love. The reading she’d done for them had been full of promise, and she hoped things worked out for them.
“Lucky guys. Lucky. Lucky. Fucky,” her raven familiar croaked.
He gave her a cheeky look and added. “Flucky.”
She checked to make sure no one was in earshot before replying. “Behave, birdbrain, or you’ll be living the rest of your life as a flamingo. They don’t talk at all.”
“No pink! No pink. You stink.” Beak Badda-Boom thought annoying outbursts made him sound like a normal pet. No matter how many times she explained that the best thing he could do to appear normal was to keep his beak shut, he insisted his way was more believable.
She suspected it was his passive-aggressive way of protesting her choice to live and work around humans. Even in a place as quirky and liberal as Victoria, normal mortals were easily startled by magical matters and could rapidly reach mob-and-pitchfork levels of panic if an animal suddenly started talking in full sentences.
Fortunately the square was relatively empty right now. Most folks were enjoying dinner at this hour, a fact she could verify just by inhaling. The air was thick with delicious scents that wafted out from the various restaurants surrounding the square.
Her own dinner was waiting for her in the staff room of the Cackling Cauldron, the kitschy little occult bookstore where she worked. She’d take her break soon and get Sasha to take over the tarot table. The readings were a way to make some extra money and bring in foot traffic to the store.
“Dinner?” Beaker asked. He wasn’t psychic, but he knew her so well it was like he could read her mind.
“Soon.” She wasn’t ready to leave just yet. It was one of those perfect late-summer days with a blue sky and warm weather, but the breeze had just a hint of chill to it—a prelude to the end of the season.
Laughter and conversations drifted out from the patios and open doors of nearby restaurants. It was all peaceful and perfect until someone started singing that damned song.
“Happy birthday to…”
She groaned and grabbed her phone, hitting buttons until music erupted from the speaker and drowned out the warbling voices.
“Still in denial?” Beaker asked, his voice low enough the music masked it.
“It’s not denial. It’s defiance. I’m not doing it.”
“Aging is not a choice. It’s a function of reality. You don’t get to decide not to get older.” Beaker managed the avian version of a snort, which was more of an adorable sneeze. “If it was a choice, every actor in Hollywood would still be twenty-four.”
She shot her familiar a look so dirty it should have come with warning labels. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Beaker fluffed his feathers. “I know. But you don’t get a choice about that, either. Fate has decreed…”
“Fate can hop a hand cart to hell for all I care.”
Beaker uttered a horrified croak. “Are you nucking futz, witch-o-mine? You don’t say shit like that out loud. If Fate takes offence, she will flatten this square and everyone in it with her perfectly polished combat boots.”
“If she shows her face, I can ask her what in the name of the Goddess’s G-string makes her think I’m going to play along with this destiny crap?”
“And now you’re insulting Destiny, too? Do you have a death wish?”
“You know I don’t. I have a life wish. I want everyone to leave me alone and let me live my life in peace. No destiny. No fated battles against evil forces. I want to be boring.”
“Says the witch with hair that changes colour on a weekly basis.”
“Flamingo,” she said, dropping one hand beneath the edge of the table and summoning enough magic to engulf her fingers in a swirl of red and orange sparks.
Once the off-key singing stopped, she turned off the music. Instead of putting her phone down, though, she opened another app. Online dating was an exercise in ego-bruising masochism, but she did it anyway. How else was she going to meet someone from the supernatural world when she spent most of her time surrounded by ordinary humans?
After a few seconds of aimless scrolling through pictures of guys smiling, guys drinking beer, guys fishing, and guys with their shirts off, she had summoned the courage to open her new messages.
“Nice hare, you wanna hook up?”
“I wnt2 tap/zap that.”
“I know your profile says monogamoose, but my wife and I…”
“Ugh. Ew. Spelling counts, losers. So does respecting boundaries,” she muttered as she read and deleted each message.
Beaker hopped from his perch on the little wooden sign that read: “Luna Fortuna sees all. Learn your fortune today” to her shoulder so he could speak without being overheard. “You are never going to find love on Magical Mates 4U. That app is the laughingstock of the supernatural world. Magical beings do not need software to find each other. Fate takes care of that.”
“Fate. Hand cart. Hell. Remember? Why would I let a being who messed up my entire childhood have any say in who I fall in love with?”
“Because that’s the way it works. Those cards you use are just another way of tapping into Fate’s plans, and you don’t seem to mind them.”
She tapped the deck on the table. “These are a way of seeing what Fate is planning without calling attention to myself. Plus, you know I rarely do readings for myself anymore. They always say the same thing. Your destiny awaits. Big things. Blah blah blah. And if I ask about my love life, I get told I’m emotionally distant and out of touch with my heart. Apparently there will be no love for me until I learn to trust people.”
“If that’s what the cards say, then why in the six-and-a-half hells are you on that stupid app?”
Luna set down her phone and sighed. “Because hope springs eternal? I’m lonely, Beaker. You’re an amazing familiar, but I miss…” She cut herself off. No way she was putting the rest of that thought into words. Words had power, and she didn’t need those particular words to start thinking they had a chance of becoming a reality. She didn’t miss anything—especially not her parents, her friends, or her home. Not. At. All.
“Do another reading. Change is coming. I can feel it in the air. Maybe things will be different enough the cards will show you something new.” Beaker hopped from her shoulder to the table, scattering the cards she used to do readings for customers. It was a friendly deck that didn’t give her problematic readings and had a nice, cheerful looking death card that stopped most of her clients from panicking when it came up.
“You’re making a mess.”
“I’m shuffling the deck for you. See how helpful I am? A flamingo couldn’t do that.”
She shooed him to one side and then gathered up the cards. “If I do this, do you promise to behave like a normal raven for the rest of the week?”
“It’s only Tuesday. That’s a long time.” Beaker hopped from foot to foot. “Shiny rocks, too?”
“Always. You know this.”
The Cauldron had a section dedicated to crystals and gemstones. It was behind glass because of Beaker, the only raven in the world who really did like shiny rocks. “You’re reinforcing an inaccurate folktale about your kind. You know that. Right?”
“Shiny!” he croaked at full volume.
“Kleptomaniac familiars are a pain in the ass.” She considered herself an expert on the subject since she knew her childhood friend, Breeze, had a familiar with a similar issue. At least Beaker only liked rocks. Snuffy Wuffles the Turd would steal anything that caught his eye and wasn’t nailed down.
She shook her head to dislodge the memory. Snuffy and Breeze were part of her past. They’d forgotten about her just like everyone else in Wyrding Way. They’d let her be taken away by Baba Yaga and never thought about her again. Not a card, letter, or email.
No one had cared enough to even look for her.
Sensing her shift in mood, Beaker scuttled across the table and into her arms. “I know. I miss them, too.”
“I don’t miss anyone,” she lied. “Why would I? I have the best part of that place right here. You.”
“You’re my witch. Nothing would keep me away from you. Not even Baba Yak-breath.”
Luna snickered and scratched Beaker under his beak. “Damn right. Okay. So, I do these cards and let you pick out a new crystal, and you behave for the rest of the week.”
“Until Friday,” Beaker agreed.
“Until Sunday. And no more mentions of what happens in a couple of weeks. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“No birthday talk,” Beaker said. “Are your feet cold?”
“What? No. Why?”
“Because you are standing knee deep in de Nile.”
“Think pink.” She flicked a single spark of her magic at her raven’s foot.
He shot her a disgruntled look and fluttered back to his perch to sulk. But since he didn’t say anything, she assumed he would keep his word.
She set aside the deck she’d been using and took her personal deck of tarot out of her bag. These cards had nothing friendly about them. Their imagery was as dark and broody as a vampire in an emo phase and their messages usually came with attitude.
She shuffled them slowly, concentrating on the question she wanted answered. Would she ever find someone to love?
The simple three-card spread produced a different answer this time, and she stared down at the cards in shock.
“Well, that’s new.”
The past was the same as always. No passion. No trust. She moved on to the present. Competition. Conflict. That didn’t make any sense. She didn’t have any conflicts in her life, and the only competition was making sure that Beaker didn’t eat more than his share of her meals.
The last card was the one that made her want to head to the nearest candy shop and inhale everything made of chocolate. The Fool—herald of new adventures, surprises, and the prospect of finding love in unlikely places.
“Fucking flocks of flying squirrels on acid.”
“Vivid, yet confusing and alarming,” Beaker said quietly. “Please tell me your future doesn’t include some kind of polyamorous pack of drug-using rodent Shifters with a nut fetish.”
“Ugh. No. You know my dating rules. No Shifters or vampires.”
“You forgot gargoyles. Remember Rocky Balbiceps?”
“Right. No gargoyles either. Pretty, but literally as dumb as a box of rocks.”
She put away her cards and took one last look around Market Square. No likely customers. Just a few well-fed tourists and a group of street musicians who had set up shop in the square of late, playing some of the worst covers of eighties bands she’d ever heard. More than one passerby had paid them to stop playing.
They were lean, lanky guys with terrible wardrobes and even worse hairstyles. They all wore their hair swept up at the sides and long at the front. It was like a mullet in reverse… and the only look she’d ever seen that made the mullet look attractive by comparison.
She’d stayed away from them at first. But eventually one of them had wandered over to check out her table, and she’d realized what they were. Not just a talentless musical group, a talentless group of seagull Shifter musicians.
Even more reason to keep her distance.
“You ready for your break?” Sasha asked from the doorway to the shop.
“Perfect timing. I need to eat and I bet you’d like to get some fresh air.” Their manager was easygoing and fair, but her love of incense was a local legend.
“Air. Yes. I need to clear my lungs. Tricia’s trying something new, and this one is the worst yet.”
“Worse than Honeydew Dawn?” That one had smelled like someone had set fire to a cart of moldy melons and then distilled the ashes.
“So much worse. Think scorched skunk and Old Spice.”
“Thanks for the warning. Back in thirty.” She rose and tapped her shoulder. Beaker hopped from his perch to his preferred spot on her shoulder and they headed inside. It only took a twitch of her fingers to create a bubble of purified air around her head, protecting them from whatever Tricia was burning by the cash register.
Beaker nibbled at a strand of her hair. Today it was purple with streaks of black, but she was already planning on changing it soon. Blue maybe, or teal. She’d decide tonight. It would be easier to think about hair colours than to ponder what the cards had warned her was coming.
She didn’t want adventure or surprises. She’d already had her share of both, and they’d made her into the witch she was today—orphaned, friendless, and hiding from a destiny she wanted no part of.
Just the thought of another adventure had her conjuring up a feast of fudge brownies, gelato, and beaver tails with extra chocolate sauce instead of her intended meal.
Beaker chortled and flung himself into the middle of the table. “I love it when you comfort conjure. Hello, carbs!”