The faeries had been visiting the bungalow again. Sprites, to be exact. These small ones crept up the porch with its big wood supports and – somehow – into the house. The big fae beings? They visited no one. Answered only to themselves.
He could tell the sprites had been around because the trinkets on his dresser looked disarranged. Cufflinks tumbled on the wood instead of resting in their velvet case. His watch had stopped. And… something was missing.
Damn it. His ticket to St. Louis was gone. He was supposed to be heading to a family reunion tomorrow and his ticket was just gone. He didn’t want to go, anyway. Louisa leaving had taken the wind from him, and he didn’t want to face the questions and concerned faces. And the whispers that he’d messed up somehow.
And something was burning. His scrambled eggs!
Jeremy ran into the kitchen, grabbed a dishtowel, and yanked the cast iron pan off the flames. The smell of burning eggs and pan filled the kitchen. He jabbed the button for the fan, starting the roaring noise that indicated fumes would soon be sucked up and outside.
Finding a proper potholder, he scraped the mess into the small green compost bin on the counter. At least it could become soil.
The sprites liked good soil, he imagined, because it grew good plants. Sometimes when he was setting out offerings on dew swept mornings, or under a full moon, he could feel them drawing closer. He could hear them. They chittered like small birds, or insects at the height of summer.
But he’d forgotten about them. The garden was running to seed, and full moon after full moon had come and gone.
Jeremy stopped in the midst of getting rock salt to scrub the burn out from the pan. When was the last time he’d made an offering? It was three full moons ago. Right before she left.
He just hadn’t seen it coming. How could he have not seen it coming? He’d thought Louisa was just going through some changes. Things at work. And maybe that was part of it. But it turned out that mostly it was him.
He was messed up. Too many old wounds. Too many unsaid words. And then there was love. Louisa’s love, to be exact.
Louisa’s love was like a storm over the ocean that lay at the foot of the cliffs five blocks from his home. It was powerful. Sudden. Wild. All encompassing.
The totality of her love had frightened him. It was too much. So he withdrew. Self-preservation, that was the only way he could explain it when people asked. Though what part of himself, exactly, he was trying to preserve, Jeremy couldn’t say.
Mostly, the rare times someone asked he just said, “I don’t know” because he knew what he wanted to say sounded too strange.
Part of him loved love. Loved being in love. Loved the way Louisa made him feel. Loved her laugh, and what it did to the very edges of his skin. Loved the sex that crashed and rolled and shouted.
Until it was too much.
He started to scrub the pan with the course salt, hoping he wouldn’t need to re-season the heavy black layers. The smoke had cleared, so he turned off the fan. He couldn’t really think with it on. He needed to think. Jeremy had a work deadline, but no plans for that evening. He could afford to take some time off from the studio this morning. Out to breakfast it was, then, right after he finished with the pan.
An hour later, he still hadn’t found his car keys. Which meant he hadn’t found his house keys. Which meant, even if he walked to breakfast, he still couldn’t leave the bungalow. He had searched under the rust-colored couch. Looked on the kitchen counters. Under the bed. Checked the pockets on all of his jackets.
“All right, guys! What do you want?” He looked around the living room. A pile of mail spread across the low coffee table in front of the over-stuffed couch. Some of the circulars and bills had already fanned out on the wood floor. Louisa had taken the rug. Something glinted on the floorboards, shining in the light from the mullioned glass living room windows. Jeremy squatted down, muscles complaining. His yoga practice had gone to shit, and at his age? If he didn’t stretch regularly, everything kind of seized up.
He grasped the object between his thumb and middle finger, holding it up to the light.
A pink plastic bead. Where the heck had that come from? It wasn’t her style, or his for that matter, and his niece and nephew hadn’t been over in six months. Something caught his eye to the right. He turned. A blue glass bead. And then a yellow. There was a trail of beads—glass, plastic, and ceramic—spaced around two or three feet apart.
They led back to the bedroom.
Jeremy followed the trail until he heard the flapping of the curtain pulls against the wall. Smelled the ocean. Had he left a window open? The queen size bed was rumpled, moss colored comforter scrunched up near the foot of the bed. He usually made the bed before breakfast but hadn’t bothered this morning.
The window was open. The forest green curtains billowed against the cream wall. He pulled them back. The window was open, and the screen was gone.
A red clay bead rested on the sill. Right next to his keys. He snatched up the jingling keys, and put them in his pants pocket. He left the bead there and ran out the front door. It locked behind him.
Around the side of the house, sneakers squelching on damp grass. The screen rested neatly against the white boards of the house, tucked behind a stand of daffodils.
And in the mouth of one of the flowers was a green bead.
“Where do you want me to go?”
He looked around, saw some twigs arranged in the shape of an arrow.
It was pointing toward Main Street. Well, he’d planned to head that way for breakfast, so why not?
As he walked through the tree lined neighborhood, he didn’t pause to admire the tall elm canopy, or listen to the finches. He barely remembered to raise a hand in greeting to Ms. Rosen, who was digging in her garden beds, as usual.
Instead, he focused on putting one sneaker in front of the other, eyes peeled for more beads.
Every half a block or so, he found one, bent, and placed it in his pockets. By the time he got to Main, his pockets were bulging.
Head swiveling, he took in the tidy street and its bright storefronts, gleaming in the sunshine. Tourists browsed, pausing at windows, or dragging sunburned children along.
There was Sarah’s bookshop, where he had an order in for the new JD Robb. There was the Angie’s bakery and cafe, scents of coffee and cinnamon wafting his way, causing his stomach to growl. And past the weird fossil shop, there was the relatively new Sunshine and Co, his favorite breakfast and lunch spot, and a place he hoped to be sitting, soon.
But first… where were the beads?
Half a block up, he spied something shining, and hurried forward, skirting a few slow walkers. Sure enough, there was a glass orb. A marble, this time. And more sticks, pointing down a quiet side street, just off Main.
“So, this direction?” he asked the air, and swore he heard giggling.
He headed toward what was clearly his destination.
Green Gardens. A large, mirrored ball reflected sunlight, bouncing light into a small water feature. And hanging from the white front porch, past a courtyard teeming with flowers and plants?
Hung six fishing floats. Jeremy looked from the marble, to the mirrored ball, to the floats.
“Seriously? All of this because I’ve been neglecting the garden?”
He heard buzzing. Something tweaked his ear.
He whipped his head around. More giggles.
And, next door to Green Gardens? A new sign, stuck into a small, freshly poured cement slab. And the slab was a wild mosaic of glass beads, marbles, and other shining objects, all forming a mesmerizing, swirling pattern.
Jeremy held his breath, then read the sign. Maxwell Copper, Licensed Therapist. I can help. And a website and phone number.
“Really? You think I need therapy? And gardening?”
He patted his pockets laden with faery treasure, then sighed. He pulled his phone from his rear pocket, snapped a photo of the sign.
“You win. I’ll get help. And I’ll get you some new flowers. Any kind you want. But first? I really need breakfast. Okay?”
A slight breeze rustled a wind chime, surrounding him with song.
He took that as a yes. Time to turn his life around.
Time to find out what the heck it was that made him so scared of love.
T. Thorn Coyle January, 2022
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