A Jax and Gabe Story
“Swear to God, sometimes I think the angel of my best nature is a fool.”
That was the thought emerging in Jax’s head. It had been haunting her for days, and she wasn’t sure why. But there it was.
For example, sometimes Jax thought if she was a little more selfish, she’d be making a better living. She needed more clients, and could be frankly duping people for more cash. But even if Gran wouldn’t have given her hell for it, Jax just couldn’t do it.
So the thought had trailed her from the warm nest of a bed she shared with Gabe, down the cold late December streets of San Francisco, and up the ramp into this ancient Victorian office that was only hers three days a week.
The office had scarred wood floors. A ratty red flowered carpet that caught at her ’chair wheels. Jax would’ve gotten rid of the thing, but her office mate wanted it to stay.
At least Jax had won with the curtains. They were creamy velvet, with burgundy tiebacks. Gabe had hung them over the high windows that rose up the twelve-foot ceilings and caught every bit of low winter light.
She was grateful for the sun. And grateful they’d gotten a nice Solstice sunrise before the rain that threatened the rest of the holidays rolled in.
There’d be rain on Christmas. Day of Chinese food and the latest action flick. A pagan appropriation of time-honored Jewish tradition.
Jax’s phone was on her lap, slipping a little on the black jeans that matched her black hair. And her black VNV Nation T-shirt.
Gabe’s voice squawked through the black earbuds jammed in her head.
“Yeah, yeah. Look. No, Gabe. Gran insisted…” Jax said.
Jax sighed and pivoted her wheelchair toward the battered gray metal filing cabinet. She clicked on the electric kettle. The little switch glowed blue, the color that promised tea as quickly as possible.
Rattling the top cabinet drawer open, Jax grabbed a little pyramid bag of tea out of the green and red PG Tips box and dumped it in the plain white mug sitting next to the kettle on a tray. One teaspoon of raw sugar followed it.
Cream was in the dorm fridge to the right of the cabinet. She hoped it was still good.
“No. Gabe. Gran insisted that the wormhole wasn’t stable yet…”
She needed tea. Oh yes. Boy, oh boy, did she need tea.
The brass knob rattled on the black-five paneled wood door.
“Gabe. Babe. Someone’s here. I’ve gotta go.”
Jax pressed the phone off, and slid the earbuds out and onto the old wooden desk.
The door squeaked open. She really needed to oil the hinges again.
A bright red lace-up lug-soled boot emerged through the crack before the door opened all the way. Onto the most beautiful woman Jax had seen in a long time. Like, the kind of woman that made her mouth water. The kind of woman whose hair she could dig her fists into.
The kind of woman she’d explain to Gabe later that, you know, Jax might need to revisit their temporarily-in-place-because-our-relationship-is-fresh monogamy agreement.
Angel of her better nature be gone? Or welcome home.
Oh yeah. Half a shaved head with a generic “Celtic” knot-work tattoo snaking behind the woman’s ear. The rest of her head a fall of blue hair that swept around her brown eyes, ruddy cheeks, and on down to the wool peacoat that covered her shoulders.
Her large shoulders.
The peacoat was partially open; a red-and-blue scarf wrapped around the woman’s neck and fell into the coat opening down her chest.
And under the coat, black leggings emerged from a tiny stretch miniskirt, thick thighs curving down to muscled calves that ended in those glorious red boots.
“May I help you?” Jax hoped her voice hadn’t risen into its stupid nervous squeak. But she thought it had.
“Are you Jax?” the woman asked, voice rich, from deep in her throat. Like she was a singer or something.
Jax wheeled to the edge of the flowered rug and held out a hand.
“Yes. And you are?”
Jax coughed, then willed her facial muscles into stillness and choked back whatever-the-fuck stupid comment she really really wanted to make.
“Yeah. I’ve heard it all. Yes, I like mascara. And no, I can’t be true. So don’t ask me to be.”
“Right.” That was the only response Jax could make in the moment. She kind of wished for a wormhole right about now, sure that she was blushing.
“Would you like a cup of tea, Maybelline? I was just about to make some. All I have are bags though, so hopefully you’re not a purist.”
“Proper tea is theft,” Maybelline replied, with a tiny, red-lipsticked smirk.
Jax groaned out loud. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Maybelline grinned wide then, mouth a wicked, sexy slash of red opening onto straight white teeth.
“Hang around with enough anarchists, and the bad jokes just rub off.”
Jax couldn’t believe this gorgeous woman was maybe, kind of, flirting with her.
“Have a seat.” Jax nodded toward the two chairs grouped under the tall window. There was a small round table tucked between them.
“Do you need me to…?” Maybelline gestured to the second chair.
“Yeah. Just move it to the side. Thanks.”
Jax slid an antique tray out from between the file cabinet and the dorm fridge. A thrift store find, it was dark brown, edged in faded flowers and gold leaf under thick layers of lacquer.
The tray just balanced on her strapped-in legs. Jax dropped a tea bag into the second mug, poured the boiling water, and loaded up the tray with the mugs, cream, the bowl of raw sugar, and two teaspoons.
Wheeling herself toward the window, she was impressed that Maybelline had moved the chair, taken off her peacoat, and actually sat down in her own chair. Legs crossed. Red boot swinging.
She’d kept on the red-and-blue scarf. That, the boots, and her hair offered the only color to the otherwise black outfit.
And her brown eyes. And red lips.
Okay. Points to Maybelline for letting Jax negotiate her own way with the tea tray.
Jax carefully bumped her wheels up on the damn flowered carpet and got all the way to Maybelline’s knees.
“Can you grab the tray?”
When the woman leaned forward, her blue hair brushed Jax’s right hand. She smelled like amber.
Maybelline got the tray onto the wood table and Jax backed her ’chair into place.
Both women picked up steaming mugs of tea. Maybelline liked one sugar, splash of cream. Just like Jax.
Not that Jax was reading anything into it. Oh yeah. Tea. Just what the doctor ordered.
"So. What can I do for you?”
Maybelline tapped her fingers on the white mug. She wore three plain silver bands on each hand. All the fingers except pinkies and thumbs. The rings sounded like tiny woodpeckers on the thick mug.
“I heard you find things.”
“Sometimes. What’s missing?”
Jax practically aspirated the tea, setting the cup on the table before the coughing fit spilled the hot liquid all over her jeans.
Maybelline frowned a bit, red lips turning down at the corners. A tiny crease insinuated itself between her dark brown eyebrows.
“I’d been told you understood things like this. That you’d been trained by a witch.”
Okay. Jax took a breath.
“That’s my gran. And you’re right, I do have some training, though Gran was the expert. I just never thought…”
“Someone needing her soul back would show up in your private eye office three days before Christmas?”
Jax nodded. “Something like that.”
“Well, here I am. Can you help me or not?”
Maybelline was like a lot of other people. She hadn’t valued what she had. Treated her soul cavalierly. As if it didn’t matter much. As if it wasn’t the fuel for her art. Maybelline was a singer, as it happened. But once her soul was gone, so was the passion that drove her to write songs.
She could still sing her old material, it turned out, though without the verve needed to turn in a performance that was much above just good.
Her bandmates had all taken off, one by one, pleading work or the need to take on other projects to pay rent. Real reasons.
But Maybelline suspected the truth: the shine had left her and sucked all the juice out of her band. She still had a pick-up band to play the occasional gigs that hadn’t dried up. Like that standing gig on Christmas Eve.
But it wasn’t the same as before.
Jax peered into her white mug, wishing she’d made a pot of proper tea after all. She could use some tea leaves right about now, but milky brown dregs didn’t offer up much insight.
She really needed Gran. Which meant Jax really did need that wormhole.
“So, you’ve told me about what happened since your soul went missing, and I agree, it does sound like that’s the problem…but you still haven’t told me how or why it went away.”
“It was last Christmas…” Maybelline said.
The band had a Christmas Eve gig at a nightclub on the edges of the Mission, near Potrero Hill. The place was jammed, and the band was in great form.
Then he walked in. A muscular dude, maybe around thirty, with a prematurely white beard and a red suit. Like, a nice red suit, fitted perfectly for his body. White shirt and tie straining a little over his large gut.
And on his head, he wore a damn red stocking cap with white trim and a white poof ball on the tip.
Maybelline thought he was pretty cute. He bought her a hot toddy.
“For your voice,” he said.
She was charmed.
He told her his name was Nicholas. She just laughed at that, and said, “Whatever.” If he had a Santa complex, that was fine with her.
When she introduced herself as Maybelline, he said he knew.
Well, that was strange.
But because it was Christmas Eve, and because Maybelline hated Christmas because yadda yadda family bullshit, and because all her housemates were gone for the holidays, she jumped at the opportunity to not go back to her flat alone.
Three hot toddies and a final set later, the band packed up their gear. Maybelline and Mr. Nicholas Red Suit helped load it into the drummer’s van, then stomped their way back into the club, breath steaming in the air.
Nicholas picked up what looked like a white laundry bag that he’d tucked at the back corner of the tiny stage, and hoisted it on his shoulder. Then he offered Maybelline his arm.
The next morning, when Maybelline woke blinking at 10 a.m., in her forest-green bedroom, under her favorite silvery-gray comforter, sore throat coming on, he was gone.
No kiss goodbye. No stray white hairs on the extra pillow near her head. No trace at all.
Maybelline was sick for days, crawling to the kitchen to open tins of soup and heat water for tea. Then to the bathroom. Then back to bed.
Five days later, the strange illness broke. Her housemates came home. Things seemed normal.
She thought the strange, empty feeling was just an aftereffect from the illness.