Jed spent a lot of time on the phone with his parents, asking questions, informing them of our discoveries. It took him a few days to grasp that there was no cure for his “condition,” because he wasn’t actually cursed. He was a genetic anomaly, like were-creatures or people who could curl their tongues. Understanding that potentially he could eventually control it, he seemed to be more accepting of it.
I was sure there was an object lesson in there somewhere, but I chose to ignore it.
At this point, it shouldn’t have surprised me when I found myself with Mr. Wainwright, floating down a canal in Venice in one of those old-fashioned gondolas. A man in a ridiculous straw hat and a red-and-white-striped shirt was guiding the boat along, singing a throaty song of lost love and heartbreak. The canal water smelled rusty and pungent, certainly not somewhere you’d want to swim. But it provided a beautiful backdrop for the tidy rows of aged, fading-pastel houses.
“Hi, Grandpa.” I sighed, easing against his side as the water lapped lazily at the hull of our boat. He patted my shoulder in a sort of half-hug made awkward by the fluffy red-and-yellow cushions of the gondola seat.
“We’re finally comfortable with calling me Grandpa?”
“Seems rude not to,” I said, shrugging.
“So it has nothing to do with any sort of fondness you may feel for me?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said, shaking my head while my lips twitched.
“So how goes the search?”
“Still no luck,” I told him. “I’m sorry.”
“You haven’t anything to be sorry for,” he admonished me, tapping a finger against the tip of my nose. “Unless you’ve given up. Have you given up?”
“No,” I muttered. “I am nothing if not obnoxiously persistent.”
“You get that from my side,” he said. “Along with a healthy dose of bravado. Now, tell me, how are you feeling, really?”
“Like I’m running out of time and ideas and places to look,” I told him. “Oh, and I’ve some inconvenient feelings for a man who can transform himself into various sorts of wildlife.”
“Feelings can’t be inconvenient,” he said. “They’re just feelings.”
“For someone I’m not entirely sure I should trust,” I added grumpily as the gondola bobbed in the currents of the canal.
“You don’t entirely trust him,” he said. “Give him a chance to prove you right or wrong. At least you’ll know you’re making an informed decision.”
“I can’t believe I’m taking dating advice from my dead grandfather.”
“Smart-ass,” he scoffed, elbowing my ribs. “You spend a lot of time trying to make things come to you, Nola. Maybe it would best to sit back and relax and let something come of its own accord.”
“Because it’s the opposite of everything I hold dear?’ ” I asked.
“When you tried to force finding the Elements, did it work?” he asked.
“No,” I admitted. “Are you sure you couldn’t just drop me a hint or two about where you left the bell?”
“I could, but where’s the fun in that?”
“Even the subconscious versions of my relatives mock me.” I sighed, resting my head back on the fluffy pillows.
“Keep your eyes up and open, Nola. You never know what you might find.”
Magic is a living, breathing cycle. In other words, everything you do will come back to bite you in the end.
—A Guide to Traversing the Supernatural Realm
Despite Mr. Wainwright’s assurances, in the wee hours of June 21, I’d lost nearly all hope. The shop was a mess. We’d overturned nearly every shelf and sorted through every box, just in case we’d missed something. Jane and Andrea and I were sprawled across the few chairs not covered in boxes and books. Dick and Jed had gone out to visit one of Dick’s less-than-reputable contacts.
“I can’t believe I actually fooled myself into believing I would find it.” I thumped my head against the chair. “I actually thought I’d be able to track down all four. How insane is that? I mean, how arrogant could I be?”
“Honey, you got three out of four,” Jed said, patting my arm.
“That’s a majority,” Jane added. “And hey, even if you can’t bind the evil ice skaters, at least they can’t bind you.”
“But the Kerrigans are going to have their powers returned to them for the first time in two hundred years. That’s like giving an angry toddler an espresso and a box full of matches. You don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out, but it’s probably going to end in flames and tears.”
“Also, I think Tonya Harding would be considered the evil ice skater,” Andrea said. “Nancy Kerrigan, no relation, was the victim.”
“I never liked her,” Jane said. “She reminded me a little of my sister. Big teeth, bigger ego.” She shrugged when Jed frowned at her. “Sorry, back to the point.”
“My family can’t leave Kilcairy.” I sighed. “The whole point of my coming here was to make sure we kept everyone safe so we could continue serving our neighbors. The McGavocks would never want to leave the farm, anyway. We’re going to have to get tougher, I guess, more aggressive.”
“You can have my Taser,” Jane offered. “And I’ll bet Iris knows where you can get them at a bulk discount. You could get one for every man, woman, and child in your village.”
“That might do it,” I said, chuckling. “Thank you both for all your help.”
“No problem,” Jane said. “But if you don’t mind, Andrea and I are going to retire for the morning.”
Andrea pushed to her feet and hugged me with a tenderness that had my eyes misting a bit. “We’re sorry to leave you, but if we stay out much longer, the sun will come up, and we’ll, you know, burst into flames. Which most people find very upsetting.”
“I’ll help her clean everything up,” Jed assured them. “You’ll be ready to open this evening.”
“Do you mind if I spend a little more time looking around?” I asked Jane. “If nothing else, I can pick up some of this mess. I don’t think I’m going to be sleeping anytime soon.”
“Sure,” Jane said, sifting through her purse and handing me her key ring. “Lock up when you’re done.”
“You’re giving me a key?” I laughed.
Jane’s lips twitched. “I think we’ve established that I can trust you. I’m sorry to run off on you, but again, spontaneous combustion.”
“Don’t be,” I told her. “You’re right. I’m just moping. If nothing else, I know the Kerrigans haven’t found the bell, either. Maybe I should just set fire to the other three and end this stupid feud.”
“Fire has been mentioned way too often in this conversation,” Andrea said, shoving Jane toward the door. “I’m switching you both to decaf.”
“Good night!” I called after them. I sighed and let Jed wind his arms around my waist.
“I don’t suppose you know of any magical tricks that would clean this room for us, huh?” he murmured into my neck.
I shook my head. “Does knowing the number for the Magic Maid Service count?”
“Probably not.” He sighed.
Jed and I slowly, but surely, set Jane’s shop back to rights. I put the knickknacks back in their little cubbies. I put the boxes of random stock back in the stockroom. Eventually, it began to look like the respectable establishment it was, and not a supernatural yard sale. I grabbed a bottle of juice from the fridge and plopped into a chair, propping my feet up on a table.
“Big. Fat. Failure.”
“Aw, baby, I still love you anyway,” Jed said, pushing my hair out of my face. “Or I can see myself in that particular predicament pretty soon.”
My eyes popped open. “Love me? Really?”
“Well, it’s not the confession I had in mind for this moment, but yeah, I do. You pulled me in with your wily, witchy ways. I don’t see any other woman kissin’ me after seein’ me turn into a giant alien Smurf.”
“You’re not the first man I’ve brought down.” I laughed, closing my eyes as he stroked a hand down my face.
“You just sit here a minute, OK? I’m gonna take these out to the garbage.” He hefted up two large bags of debris we’d cleaned out of the store. He winked at me and transformed into a sort of man-raccoon hybrid. “Just adjustin’ to my environment. Raccoons love garbage cans.”
“Showoff,” I muttered as I sat back in the chair.
A giant raccoon-man loved me. How many girls could say that?
Jane hadn’t bothered to close the sunproof shades before she left. Orange-gold sunlight flooded through the windows and the glass transom, giving the shop a cozy glow. I picked up Mr. Wainwright’s copy of A Guide to Traversing the Supernatural Realm, running my fingers over the embossed gold title. I opened the book and was surprised to find that the title page was signed by the author: “The point of any quest is not the prize but the lessons learned along the way. Keep your eyes up and open. You never know what you might find.—Warm regards, Jacques LeMoir.”
“And ambiguous messages prove unhelpful once again.” I sighed, remembering the last thing Mr. Wainwright said to me just the other night. “So the lesson is that failure is OK as long as I come out of it feeling like I’ve learned something. That’s a little condescending.”
I closed my eyes and yawned.
“I tried, Grandpa, Nana,” I whispered to the empty room. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t figure it out.”
I sat there a long time, trying to figure out what would be the best course of action from here. If I asked very nicely, I wondered if the flight attendant would let me drop the Elements out of some sort of hatch while flying over the ocean. It would be safer than leaving them out in the world where the Kerrigans could get hold of them and make trouble.
I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyelids, wishing I could make time go back so I could relive this whole journey over again without making any silly mistakes. I would have confronted Jed earlier and pulled him over to our side. I wouldn’t have reacted so badly when Dick paid attention to me and spent more time getting to know him. I might have brought Penny with me.
Keep your eyes up and open. A soft, warm voice whispered over my ear like a spring breeze. I jumped. You never know what you might find.
I blinked blearily around the room. The sun shifted through the window, bouncing off of a mirror on the wall and reflecting in a bright silver circle over the door. I wiped at my tired eyes and blinked a few times. That wasn’t a silver circle. It was a bell, the old Indian cowbell Jane said had been hanging there since before she worked at the store.
I pushed to my feet, studying the battered silver shape.
It couldn’t be that simple.
I grabbed a footstool and dragged it over to the door to get a better look. The designs I’d assumed were Indian were tiny rows of Celtic knots.
It was that feckin’ simple.
This was the bell. This was the Sea bell. I’d been searching this stupid shop all this time, and the bell had been hanging over the door the whole time.
“If there is a Goddess out there, you have a really mean sense of humor,” I griped.
I’d found it. Just in time. I’d found it. I could do the binding and go home.
Home to my family, but far away from Jed. I blew out a long breath. I would miss him so much. We were so new, so tentative, that we’d never even broached the subject of what would happen when I went home. We hadn’t made promises to each other, and now . . .