I hesitated outside Grandma Elsie’s new-age shop, Karma Moon, with one hand hovering over the doorknob and dread twisting in my gut.
How had I ended up here?
Simple. I’d lost my job, boyfriend, and home all on the same day. My career as a copyeditor came to an abrupt halt when I’d kneed my horny, boob-grabbing boss in the groin. Then, when I met my boyfriend at Starbucks to calm down, a text popped up on his phone. He tried to shield a pic of my roommate in racy lingerie, but the image seared my eyes like a branding iron.
I know, it couldn’t get more clichéd than that.
We fought, and since my job and the coffee shop were near my residence, I stomped home to find my belongings loaded into my car. When I went to confront my roommate in the condo she owned and we shared, the locks had been changed.
I didn’t even get an eviction notice. Don’t worry, I didn’t key her car or sneak into my ex’s apartment to swap his shampoo with hair removal, although the thought did occur to me.
With no other job prospects or places to live, I didn’t have much choice in moving here. Who else would take in an unemployed, homeless thirty-three-year-old?
A sympathetic grandma, that’s who.
The overcast sky darkened, the scent of pine wafting on the autumn breeze. A light rain sprinkled my red Mini-Cooper snugged up to the curb, which could use a wash. I’d just driven two hours in traffic from Modesto and bug guts and bird poop had splattered the windshield.
I jiggled the shop’s doorknob, but it remained shut tight. My knuckles rapped on the door, then I peered through the stained-glass window into the dark building. A neon sign—a psychic hand with stars around it—affixed to the window pitched a pink glow into the main store area.
Huh. I tugged my cell phone from my purse and dialed Grandma Elsie’s house number. The call went straight to an antiquated answering machine, and I hung up, dropping the cell into my bag.
Main Street appeared deserted. The other businesses, antique shops, galleries, and cafes, closed and silent. Historical towns like Mystique, California shut down by nine o’clock. A touristy, mountain town so small there wasn’t even a mall or movie theater. Surrounding the area were gold mines, wineries, and the Sierra Foothills, a national forest that seemed to guard Mystique like a treasured secret.
I went around the corner and down a dimly lit alley. The brick building beside Karma Moon had grimy barred windows. A security light over the partially open backdoor illuminated the entrance and shone on a planter-box with thriving greenery.
The shadows shifted and the rusty dumpster leaking unidentifiable fluid at the end of the alley banged into the wall. Startled, I yelped.
A Hispanic woman stepped into the light. Not much makeup, nor style to her smooth black hair. Her wrinkled blouse matched the color of her violet lipstick, and she had on plaid flannel pants that resembled a picnic table, with…tie-dye clogs. Yup, I kid you not, the woman wore Crocs.
“You scared me,” I said, placing a hand over my thudding heart.
The woman snickered, the sound making the little hairs on my skin raise. She clutched a purse in both hands, as if at any moment it would sprout legs and run off.
I dragged in a deep, steadying breath. “The shop’s closed for the night—”
“I know that, dingleberry.” Her voice was unnaturally loud in the stillness. “Sorry if I frightened you. Honest. Cross my heart and hope to die.”
An icy pressure on my neck grew colder the longer I stared at the woman. She was lying. The Crocs-wearer wasn’t remorseful at all.
My mouth felt dry. I licked my lips. “What’re you doing back here?”
She pointed a finger at me. “You must be Danika Dreary, the flaky granddaughter that Elsie’s always talking about.”
“Who are you? How do you know my grandma?”
The woman harrumphed. “I’m Angela, her best client. The person who’s been here for her. Unlike you.”
My face burned at the accusation. I opened my mouth and closed it again. How dare this woman try to shame me. If my grandma needed me, I was only a phone call away. Grandma Elsie and I talked every Sunday night, and it was one of the few things I looked forward to every week. I even had her on speed dial. I called it Insta-Gram.
Angela curled her lip. “It’s late and you didn’t bring any stick pins. So now I know you’re not taking this seriously.” She darted out of the alley, the darkness swallowing her up like a frog gulping down a fly.
Stick pins? I stood there, flabbergasted. That woman was a few cards short of a tarot deck.
Shaking my head, I stepped through the open door into the familiar storeroom, and flicked the switch to turn on the overhead light. Dusty shelves adorned one gray wall stocked with an assortment of kitschy merchandise and self-help books. The original hardwood flooring showed signs of wear and warping. The room held the musty odor of an unused attic. A desktop computer, printer, and accounting ledger lay on a desk in the corner.
I shut the backdoor. “Nana? It’s Danika.”
Moving further into the room, I stood beside a gurgling water cooler near a bench backed up against the wall. Footfalls creaked from overhead. I swiveled toward the wrought-iron spiral staircase that led to a two-bedroom apartment above Karma Moon, taking up the whole second floor.
“Hello, sweetheart.” An affectionate smile graced Grandma Elsie’s lips as she descended the stairs. In one fist, she clutched a rabbit’s foot, her good luck talisman.
“You shouldn’t leave the backdoor open,” I said.
She glanced at the entrance and rubbed her thumb over the furry foot. “I thought I’d locked it after my last client left.”
I had to ask. “Matchmaking or tarot card reading?”
Grandma Elsie smirked. “A mixture of both.”
While she examined the locks on the door, I looked her over. Elsie Dreary was in her late sixties, yet appeared much younger. She had short, sunflower-blonde hair with soft bangs that swooped over cornflower-blue eyes and flaunted the striking symmetry of her face. I grinned at her purple fleece pajamas with a cupcake print under a plush robe and fluffy slippers. Wearing oddball PJs was one of her adorable quirks.
My own outfit wasn’t quite as charming: an oversized sweater paired with black leggings and scuffed UGG boots.
Grandma Elsie faced me and we hugged. Her fragrance of gardenias and talcum powder crowded my nose and made me smile. I held her tight, feeling that sense of dread ebb away.
“I’ve missed you so much.” She slipped the rabbit foot into her robe pocket.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
Grandma Elsie pushed back, holding onto my upper arms and giving me a critical once-over. “Let me take a look at you.” She tilted her head and squinted. “What’s with the pink hair?”
I fingered the long strands. Wavy pink strands fell over my shoulders and starkly contrasted my darker brows, blue eyes, and red lipstick. “It’s breakup therapy. Some women go on shopping sprees, others binge on ice cream—I color my hair.”
A therapist was expensive. A box of hair dye was only ten bucks.
Her grin faltered. “I knew you were wasting your life in Modesto with that jerk.”
Ah, the comfort and support of loved ones. I knew coming here I was in for a lecture, I just thought I’d be able to unpack first.
Grandma Elsie huffed. “I gave you that tarot reading on your last visit and warned you the jerk was not to be trusted, but you never listen.”
My shoulders sagged. “What do you want me to say? That you were right? Fine. I guess douchey men are my kryptonite.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” She gave me another hug before stepping back. “You okay?”
My head drooped. “Fair to partly cloudy. But seriously, I’m fine. Really,” I said and meant it. My ex and I had only dated for six weeks so it wasn’t serious, and it was the betrayal that hurt more. “What I’m unhappy about is the way the two of them handled it. Although, it was considerate to pack my car for me.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out,” she said. “But it’s time to take responsibility for your life choices.”
My skin flushed and I raised my head. “I know. I just need to figure things out.”
“Like what?” Grandma Elsie grunted. “You quit every job you get within a year. You live a nomad existence. And you date unworthy men. I just wish you’d make a commitment to something—anything—and stick with it. I want you to be happy.”
“Me too.” I bit my lower lip.
My inability to keep a job was not a trait I was entirely proud of. I might not have been happy, but I was attempting to carve out my own niche in the world. And those other jobs hadn’t been challenging enough. I was still searching for my true calling whatever that might be.
I swallowed hard. “Losing my job wasn’t my fault. My boss was Mr. Gropey Hands and I had to introduce his groin to my knee. I quit the next day, and I would’ve filed a formal complaint, but small-scale papers like that don’t have an HR department.”
Grandma Elsie sat on the bench and patted the spot beside her. I plopped down and a flash of my boss’s chubby hand on my breast made my stomach heave. Every time I thought about it, I wanted to shower.
“Then I think it’s for the best—quitting the job and that cheating loser.” Grandma Elsie laid a hand on my arm with a twinkle in her eye. “I told you several years ago that your soulmate was out there. In fact, you’re going to meet him very soon.”
While I wasn’t heartbroken over my recent breakup, I’d sworn not to date for at least six months. Or maybe never, ever again, you get the point.
I rolled my eyes. “No fixing me up while I’m here, okay?”
She puckered her lips. “Love is one of the greatest gifts you can receive, and I take immense pride in finding it for others.”
“You would believe that.” I laughed. “That’s how you make your living.”
Her expression softened, along with her voice. “True, and your grandfather—rest his soul—was the love of my life. None of my other three husbands ever measured up. But it’s high time you settled down.”
“Yeah, right. I’m flat broke and living with my grandma. I’m quite the catch for some eligible bachelor.” My shoulders slumped. “Maybe the jerk was justified in dumping me. I’m a thirty-three year old flake who can’t hold down a job or figure out what to do with her life.”
“Nonsense!” Grandma Elsie gave a derisive snort. “Danika Elizabeth Dreary, you are a smart, capable, sensitive woman. And you’ve always had a job at Karma Moon.” She patted my knee. “Deep down, you must realize that this is where you truly belong, what you were destined to do—”
“Time out.” I held up one hand. “While I’m grateful to you for taking me in, I have zero matchmaking skills, if that wasn’t already apparent by my dismal love life, and selling retail is not my life’s ambition. But while I’m here, I’ll help out.”
To me, romance and relationships were like houseplants, and if they were mine, they most likely died a slow and painful death.
Grandma Elsie curtly nodded. “Good. I would expect no less, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find that you like working at Karma Moon.”
My heart squeezed. I wasn’t being very appreciative of her goodwill. No reason to tell her that I only intended to stick around long enough for my bad karma to get its head out of its butt and remedy itself. And I just needed to save up enough money to live on my own and find another job. I had no plans to stay and work in retail.
My grandma got to her feet. “Let’s get you settled into your old room…” Her voice faded and she froze. Her gaze narrowed as it roamed over the inventory lining the shelves. “Oh, no. No!”
“Nana? What’s wrong?”
“This is bad. Very, very bad.” Her forehead creased. “A love potion and voodoo doll are missing. There’s an empty space on the shelf.”
Grandma Elsie went to the storeroom shelves, frantically moving around bottles, candles, and sticks of incense. A plume of dust rose and tickled my nose.
I fought a sneeze. “I thought those things were harmless.”
“The potions are to some extent.” She kept rummaging through the items. “More of the placebo effect, but anyone who steals a voodoo doll has nefarious intentions. The dolls are reserved for select clients only. “
“Any idea who might’ve taken them?”
Grandma Elsie paused. “Possibly a patron of mine, Angela Hernández. She left just before you arrived. The poor woman is infatuated with a gentleman in town, and she refuses to believe that her soulmate is not the man she’s in love with.”
My lips twitched. “And you know this how?”
She tapped the side of her temple with a smirk. “My magical intuition, of course.”
“Of course,” I teased. “I saw Miss Sticky-Fingers outside in the alley.” I briefly described the woman and our peculiar exchange, along with Angela saying the weirdness about stick pins.
Grandma Elsie pulled the robe tighter around her slender frame. “I gave Angela an afterhours tarot reading tonight because she said it was an emergency, but she wasn’t happy with the outcome.”
“Why would Angela take a love potion and voodoo doll?”
She raked a hand through her hair, the blonde strands standing up wildly. “I’m afraid by stealing the voodoo doll, she intends to hex the man’s girlfriend. And use the love potion on him.”
“Do you want to call the police?”
Grandma Elsie shook her head. “Over two missing items? It’s not worth the trouble. I’ll contact Angela in the morning to sort this all out. But bad things do happen in threes.”
“That’s just superstitious nonsense.” I placed an arm around her. “I’m sure everything will be fine.”
But I was dead wrong.