I was up and out of the house as early as I could manage. Partly because I didn’t want to have to talk to Mom about the night before, and partly because I hadn’t slept and just needed to get away from home.
Sassafras caught me sneaking my way through the front door, his humming growl stopping me in my tracks. I turned to see him standing at the foot of the stairs, glaring his cat-glare at me.
“Have a nice day at work,” he said. Like he totally meant it.
I stuck my tongue out at him, turned to go again when he laughed wickedly.
“Don’t forget Ethpeal wants her hair done.”
I spun back on him, feeling the blood rush from my face, neck, chest to pool in my suddenly unhappy stomach.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Would he?
Syd. This was Sassafras we were talking about.
I bolted before he could say another word, shivering internally at the thought of Gram having a major—or even a minor—explosion at Evie’s. Everything would be my fault, naturally, and we’d be forced to move less than a week after we’d arrived.
If anything did happen, I was pointing the finger right at Sassafras.
I ran the few blocks to the salon, glancing at my watch as I came to a panting halt by the front entry. I was a whole hour early. Since when did I become a morning person?
Oh yeah. Ever since a cute ghost decided to wake up in my bedroom and torture me over the bracelet around my wrist. At least, that was my guess. There didn’t seem to be any other logical reason for his attacks, especially when he demanded I give it back.
Okay, so bracelet thief I was. I pushed aside the guilt I felt for still wearing it. He was dead, wasn’t he? Not like he had much use for it anymore.
But what if the person it was intended for was still alive? Shiver. And sigh. Okay then. I guess I had to find out. Which meant talking to him. And finding a way to deliver it to the intended owner without telling her—because this was totally a girl bracelet—that his ghost asked me to.
That would go over well. I managed to establish myself as a weirdo already without telling random strangers I could talk to dead people.
I was about to walk up the street to a small coffee shop and wait for Evie when the door behind me opened in a rush and the woman herself stepped out. Beamed at me through her purple lipstick, green eye shadow—same fake lashes only with a few feathers in the corners—her heaving bosom bouncing up from the biggest, shiniest black patent leather corset I’d ever seen.
Holy. She was a force of nature.
She grabbed me without a word and pulled me inside the salon, letting the door swing shut behind her.
“Sydlynn!” She hugged me, almost smothering me in naked chest.
Ew. Ew. Ew.
I lurched free as she released me, wiping at my cheek, trying to smile while fighting the urge to turn and run for the hills.
“You’re early.” She shook a finger at me in mock anger. Then smiled again. “I love early! And they say teenagers don’t know respect these days. Now,” she spun and walked deeper into the salon, “come along and we’ll show you what you’ll be doing for the day.”
We? The place was empty, and silent as a church, the air cooler now that the hood dryers weren’t blasting. I tip-toed over the black and white floor tiles, wincing as my sneakers squeaked. I’d taken a little effort to dress up-ish, at least. Okay, I’d made a messy bun instead of a ponytail and wore a button up shirt in place of my favorite tee.
I really hoped, now I was in her clutches, Evie wouldn’t try to give me a makeover.
She whipped open a door at the back of the salon, shooed me through first. I found myself in a small room, overly lit with fluorescents buzzing like a hive of pissed-off bees, a small table, fridge and sink rescued from another era, and three rickety chairs in one corner.
Evie turned to a row of beat-up lockers looking as if they’d been hijacked from a local high school junk yard and pulled one open. It rattled at first, the metal singing as she finally jerked it wide. One big hand, sparkling with so many rings I felt mesmerized looking at them, reached inside and pulled out a black shapeless something.
“Here you are, dear.” Her beaming smile would have been more attractive if it hadn’t been for the purple smear on her front teeth.
I reached out for the thin vinyl. “Thanks.” I think. Though when I shook it out, I realized it was a coat of some kind, like a doctor wore, only collarless.
“The smock will keep you from getting anything on your pretty clothes,” Evie said. “Until you get used to being around the chemicals.”
She swept past me, gestured at the room as though it were something grand and precious.
“This is our staff room,” she said. “Cleanliness in this space reflects everything we do out there.” She pointed to the salon floor.
I nodded. Got it.
“Now.” She left the back and reentered the main room. “Let’s do something with that hair, shall we?”
Fear pulsed through me, jerking my heart left and right even as she sat me firmly in the last chair and whipped a cape around my neck.
I didn’t often go to salons for haircuts. Mom was my stylist. And since I tended to ignore my hair most of the time, this was a very foreign experience.
Scary foreign. Like, holy heck what was she going to do to me?
To my absolute delight and happy surprise, Evie performed magic on my hair, half-way down my back and still damp from the shower, twisting it from the messy bun and up over my head. In the time it took me to make the mess I’d made, she pinned, teased and prodded my heavy, dark waves into an artful—but tasteful—pile of coolness.
She stepped back with a flourish and a quick mist of hairspray before clasping the can to her generous chest.
“Syd,” she gushed. “If only I had your hair.”
I grinned at her, touched it just as she slapped my fingers away with a wink.
“All right then,” she removed the cape like she was tempting a bull, folded it in a flash and set it aside. “Shall we move on?”
Over the next half hour she taught me to use the funny hose in the sink—I soaked the ceiling three times while she snorted her head off—learned a new sweeping technique—I had no idea sweeping was an art—how to clean mirrors with a lint free towel and a little water—and I thought cleaner was necessary—and how to take appointments in the very crowded and confusing book at the front of the salon.
“If in doubt,” she said, long nails clacking on the pencil she handed me, “shout it out. I’m happy to help.”
I took extensive notes on her booking times and those of the two other stylists who worked for her: Marjorie Temple, whom I’d seen yesterday. Old as dirt lady was busier than Evie. And Blue Water, the junior stylist. Evie just rolled her eyes at the girl’s name.
“Kids these days,” she said like she wasn’t talking about my generation.
She pulled out a form and had me sign it. I struggled with remembering my new address and phone number, pretty sure I accidentally wrote down the street of my last town as she swept the application out from under me. “Pay is minimum plus tips,” she said. “I need you five days a week, 9am to 6pm. And if you’re free, I’ll take you for four hours on Saturdays.”
Wow, she worked a lot.
“Making the bacon when the sun shines,” she said, mixing two really horrible metaphors in a way that made me laugh.
I’d have to try it myself.
By the time she flicked on the open sign at the front of the salon, I felt comfortable with what I had to do and was sure I’d have a great day.
“Syd!” Blue’s constant calling of my name over the popping of her gum was going to drive me around the bend. “Where are the towels?”
I grunted as I hauled the load of freshly folded terry out to the shampoo sink and handed her one.
She grinned at me, water flying everywhere as she shampooed her client. “Thanks, kiddo.” It came out “thankth” because her tongue ring got in the way of her gum.
“Syd!” Oh. My. Swearword. I was going to hate my own name by the end of the day and it was only 11am.
I mean, I expected it to be busy. Sure. But not knuckle cracking, hair pulling, shriek in frustration insane from the second the door opened and a horde of fussy ladies walked in demanding the moon.
One tossed her jacket on me—on me—before sinking into Evie’s chair.
“Make me look like Angeline Jolie,” the sixty-something with sagging jowls said.
Evie laughed. “I’m a hairdresser,” she said. “Not a plastic surgeon.”
I winced at the joke, but the woman just mewed her duck lips at Evie.
The first half hour was bad enough, but when Marjorie, “Call me Madge, muffin,” and Blue, “You’re cute. We’ll keep you until you keel over from exhaustion like the last girl,” arrived, all mayhem broke the crap loose.
I found myself wondering if Sassafras had been right. If I just wasn’t cut out for working, for the world of normals.
Until Evie took a second at the cash register to pull me aside and kiss my cheek.
“You’re doing so well,” she said. “So much better than the last girl. She didn’t make it an hour. And look at you!”
Well then. Maybe I could handle it after all.
And I was a Hayle, wasn’t I? As I blew on the stray hair that had fallen from Evie’s updo into my eyes, I looked around the salon and made a decision.
I would not quit.
In fact, things seemed to get better from then, not worse. I poured all of my attention into the job, accepting the happy smiles and random praise from Evie, the grins and shoulder punches from Blue. Even the half-grimaces from Madge—pretty much all she could manage around her thick dentures—made the job go more smoothly.
After my initial fear wore off and I fell into their rhythm, I actually found myself having fun. This was what life was supposed to be like, right? Praise from those around you for a job well done. Not accusations and derision.
Just wait until I told Sassafras I held my own.
It would drive him nuts.
“Now, darling,” Evie said in a heavy whisper as I swept near the back room. I glanced up to see one of her clients in the staff area with her, the big hair stylist handing the older woman a small, pink bag with drawstrings and a pentagram stitched on the front. “You be careful with this. It’s potent juju.”
I snorted out loud, covered it with a cough. The client hugged Evie before walking past me, hand tight around her prize.
Evie watched her go, slipping her arm around my shoulder.
“I hope it doesn’t frighten you, dear,” she said, serene and cheerful, “but you’re working for a witch.”
I stared up at her, lips twitching, doing my best not to laugh. Evie must have taken my expression for something else, because her face fell. She pulled me into the staff room and closed the door.
“I’m sorry, Syd,” she said. “I supposed I should have been more up front.” She gnawed on one of her colossal fingernails, painted a glaring orange. “But I’ve always known I had power. Ever since I was a little girl.”
I shivered at her terminology. After all, ever since I was a little girl, I’d known the same thing.
Just in case, I double checked. But nope. Evie was as normal as they came. Just deluded, I guessed, a little crackpot. But I adored her already, and I kind of liked crackpot.
I grew up with Gram, didn’t I?
“I know things,” Evie went on. “Like when I knew you’d walk through the door yesterday.” Because she hadn’t had a help wanted sign out or anything.
She turned, fished through her giant purse the size of a suitcase and pulled out a second bag. It smelled of cinnamon and mint, the tassels tied in an elaborate knot. She pressed it into my hands and squeezed them closed.
“I made this for you, dear,” she said. Laid a dramatic hand on her forehead. “To protect you. There are dark things in your life, darling Syd.” She leaned closer. “Dark days coming.”
Um, okay, crazy lady.
“Thanks for the warning.” Yup. Crackpot.
But she was my crackpot.
By the time the day was over, my body felt so exhausted I couldn’t imagine walking home. But I managed, after sweeping the place clean, folding the last of the endless laundry and hanging my smock dutifully in my locker. The ladies came to stand in the doorway to say goodbye, to offer murmurs of happiness at my performance.
But the best part as I trudged on aching feet up the street was looking back to see Evie blow me a jaunty kiss in farewell.
Happiness warred with weariness as I finally turned up my walk and to the front door.
Nothing could ruin this day. Not one thing.
Mom, her second, Erica Plower, and the chief coven busy body, Celeste Oberman, all sat at the kitchen table, glaring at me.
Yeah. Nothing could ruin my day.
Family Magic by Patti Larsen is the 2014 winner of World’s Best Story launching August 6th 2015.
Stay tuned for Chapter five of our exclusive prequel to Family Magic.