Welcome to FROST HARROW, my new modern (1990s) gothic horror series! If you’d like to support this and my other work, go to www.CushingHorrors.com and become my patron! You may also enjoy the Scribe Award-Winning MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE – In print, for kindle, and for all e-book formats. And check out my retro-horror-comedy classic CANOE COPS VS. THE MUMMY as well as my other books. Now… On with the show!
TWELVE – SHADOWS IN THE TEA
Two days later, Ivy left her post at the reception desk of Frost Shipping for lunch.
Cassie Peters honked the horn of her car near the main gate and waved for Ivy to join her. Ivy hopped into Cassie’s Taurus and buckled her seatbelt.
“So,” said Cassie, “where are we meeting him?”
“The Green Leaf Tea Room,” replied Ivy.
Cassie arched her dark eyebrows up to her bangs. “Ooh. Nice place for a rendezvous.”
Ivy laughed. “Not with you around. I don’t like sharing.”
Cassie pulled into traffic and headed for the restaurant. “How’s your arm?”
Ivy flexed it in the cast and winced at the pain. “Getting better. I won’t be playing volleyball anytime soon, though.”
“Hey, you can always be on top.”
“Jesus, Cassie. Is sex all you think about?”
“Except when I’m at work.” A sly gleam flashed across Cassie’s blue eyes. “And sometimes even then. Why just this morning I helped a hunky executive book a flight to Jamaica.” She sighed. “But I couldn’t convince him to take me along.”
“Probably didn’t want to leave his girlfriend behind,” said Ivy.
“His wife,” corrected Cassie.
Seven minutes later, they pulled into the lot of a two-story triangular brownstone. The Green Leaf Tea Room had occupied both floors of the building since Ivy was a child. Her aunts and uncles never went there, which made it a perfect place to meet Grant Winslow. The women spotted him at a window booth when they walked in.
“Ooh! He’s cute,” whispered Cassie.
“Cassie!” Ivy whispered back as she elbowed her friend. “Behave yourself!”
Grant stood as they approached and extended his hand. “Hi, Ivy. Good to see you. You must be Cassie Peters. Ivy’s told me so much about you.”
Cassie took his hand and shook it. “Not too much, I hope.” She smiled at him.
Here we go, thought Ivy, hoping Cassie could keep her man-stealing instincts under control. She’d only lost boys to her friend twice, but she hoped it wouldn’t happen with Grant. At least not until she could figure out whether she wanted him or not.
The three of them chatted pleasantly through an organic lunch and the inevitable tea that followed afterwards. Cassie grilled Grant about himself, seeming to want to discover on her own many of the things Ivy had already told her.
Eventually, Grant rose. “Well, I’m sorry to eat and run,” he said, “but I’ve got a construction project to get back to. If I’m not there, the workers will fell every tree on the site. I don’t think my late uncle ever heard of green engineering.” He smiled to show he was exaggerating, but only a bit.
“Pleasure meeting you, Cassie,” he said, shaking her hand again. He kissed the top of Ivy’s head. “Take care, Ivy. See you soon.”
“Bye, Grant,” said Ivy.
As the door closed behind him, Cassie declared, “I like him. Why didn’t you kiss him back?”
“With what, my hair?”
“Well, you could have tilted your head back.”
“I’m not at that point yet. All right, Miss Pushy?”
“It’s your call, but I’d have made a play for him by now if I were you.”
“And dumped him next week in all probability.”
Cassie took a deep breath, put her hands behind her head, and let out a long sigh. “But what a week it would have been.”
Cassie’s eyes brightened. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s ask Madame Meg what the future holds for you.”
“I don’t believe in that shit.”
“Oh, come on. What could it hurt?” Cassie grabbed Ivy’s good hand and dragged her up out of the booth.
Ivy shook her head. “All right. All right. If it’ll keep you off my back about jumping into the sack with him.” They went up the spiral staircase to the second floor of the restaurant and found the proprietress in her usual spot.
Madame Meg sat in a rocking chair under a huge spider plant next to the building’s sole round window. Stained glass featuring a smiling sun framed by astrological signs and symbols filled the opening. A table in front of the proprietress lay strewn with cards, tea, and other fortune-telling devices.
Margaret Harker was an attractive woman in her late forties. She had tinted brown hair with red highlights and brown eyes framed by horn-rim glasses. She favored bohemian clothing in the gypsy tradition—lots of beads, scarves, and flower patterns. Whether she dressed for her business or just to her own taste, no one in Frosthaven knew. Ivy thought she wore just a bit too much makeup around her eyes. It did, however, give her a dark and mysterious look.
Meg glanced up from her cards as the younger women approached. “You have a question for me?”
“Yes,” said Cassie.
“Have you brought the tea leaves, or shall I read the cards?” Meg asked.
“I brought the leaves,” said Cassie, producing Ivy’s tea cup. Ivy hadn’t even noticed Cassie pick it up.
“And are these leaves yours, or your silent friend’s?” Meg said, taking the cup from Cassie and looking from one woman to the other.
Cassie elbowed her friend.
“Ow!” said Ivy. “Watch the ribs! They’re mine. I guess.”
“Take a seat.”
Ivy and Cassie sat at the table.
Madame Meg swirled the leaves in the bottom of the cup and gazed at the pattern they made.
“I see troubled waters before you,” said the fortune teller.
“Ooh. I don’t like the sound of that,” Cassie said. “Maybe you should concentrate on your other problems and leave Grant to me.”
“Shut up, Cassie.”
“What has come before is but a taste of things to come.”
Ivy reflexively put her hand to the bandage on her neck.
“I see a shadow falling over your life. It will engulf you unless you take care.”
Ivy rubbed the wound on her neck nervously. Why had she allowed Cassie to talk her into this? “I think that’s enough, now,” she said.
“There is more,” Madame Meg continued. “Beware a seductive stranger. He brings you only ill.”
“That’s it,” said Cassie. “Grant’s not the one for you. I guess I get him.”
“Cassie!” Ivy put some silver coins on the table. “Thank you, Madame Meg,” she said. “I’ll be careful.”
Ivy pulled Cassie up and headed toward the stairs.
Madam Meg crossed herself as they left. “Don’t forget to pay your bill,” she called after them.
TO BE CONTINUED…