Home > The Wish Collector(8)

The Wish Collector(8)
Author: Mia Sheridan

This was different.

But to agree with meeting her again? To sound so damned desperate for her to return? For what fucking purpose?

Am I really that lonely?

God. He straightened, swiping his fingers through his short sweat-drenched hair.

I am. Shit. I am. He was cracking from loneliness, and now he was so needy for company he was willing to talk to unknown women through the cracks in a wall. Pathetic.

Only . . . it wasn't just that he was lonely, though Jonah could admit that much was true, even if he did have Myrtle and Cecil to talk to.

No, it had been her wish.

Help me help you, Angelina.

A mild cramp took up in Jonah’s calf, and he began moving to walk it off, heading in the direction of the dilapidated structures that had once been the slave cabins.

He entered the copse of trees, meandering the pathways, reaching a hand out to touch the sun-warmed wood and turning his head so he could look through the window of the cabin he stood next to with his good eye.

The cooler air of this wooded space washed over him, the simple pleasure causing his shoulders to relax. The birds twittered in the trees and for a moment, a deep, inexplicable peace settled in Jonah’s chest. Leaning forward, he looked into the empty cabin, dried leaves piled in the corners.

Angelina Loreaux had lived here once. Help me help you, Angelina, the girl, Clara, had written.

As if that were actually possible. Still . . . it intrigued him. He’d spoken to her so briefly, and yet she intrigued him. Her kind of unselfish compassion was rare. I should know.

He’d been collecting between ten and twenty wishes a week for almost eight years now. Not as many wishes showed up on the lawn as in years past. Windisle and its legend were known only among the locals, and especially the old-timers. The ones who knew about it and passed it along were all dead or dying off now, and the legend with them.

The weeping wall was solely a local attraction—if it was even popular enough to be called an attraction—due to the fact that the property was private. It wasn’t as if it could be listed as a place of interest for tourists, or included on sites meant for visitors to New Orleans.

So the wishes that showed up were from people who’d heard the legend from someone or another and were desperate or curious enough to give it a try.

Jonah read them once in a while, but mostly not anymore, despite what he’d said to Clara.

"Clara," he murmured aloud, rolling her name over his tongue again, liking the way it sounded. Liking the slight shiver that moved across his skin as he repeated it once more.

The truth of the matter was, he’d become bored by people's wishes a long time ago. They were always one of three things: a wish for money or some material item, a wish for love, or a wish for the healing of either oneself or a loved one. He didn't judge the wishes; he'd just grown tired of them. And it wasn’t as if he could make them come true. He lived at Windisle—if anyone knew the legend was only that, it was him. So the wishes, those scattered slips of paper, they'd become nothing more than a cleanup chore.

But he'd never once read one for Angelina, never once read one cast for a stranger at all. It surprised him. And it had been a long damn time since he’d been surprised—him, the monster behind the wall. No, not the monster, the wish collector.

One half of his lips tipped. Talking to her, those brief moments, he’d been transformed from the former to the latter. And it’d been a heady feeling. As if by magic, for just a moment in time, he’d not been hideous and deformed, ruined, but something good and . . . mysteriously enchanting. At least that’s what the winsome tone in her voice had expressed as she’d uttered the title.

Her wish had made him feel curiously charmed by her, and their brief conversation had only strengthened that feeling. But it also made him yearn for things that were long out of his reach, and that was not welcome. That was decidedly dangerous. Unconsciously, he ran a hand over his ruined skin, feeling the repugnant grooves and ridges with the pads of his fingers. Yes, dangerous. And foolhardy.

So he’d spent the night before moving the encounter from his mind whenever it pricked at his thoughts, and this morning pushing himself so hard on his run that he’d practically passed out from exhaustion.

And still she lingered. This stranger. This wishful visitor with the soft, melodic voice, the unusually compassionate heart, and the deep interest in Windisle Plantation. He’d heard that in her expressive voice as well. He wondered what it would be like paired with the unknown features of her face, and it sent a strange little jolt through his system.

Yes, she’d wanted to know more about the plantation, the history. And there was that too. Her request had made him feel useful, as if he had something to offer when he’d thought himself worthless for so long. It wasn’t much but . . . well, it was something and it had seemingly lodged inside of him in a way he was having a difficult time digging out.

Moisture from the nearby Mississippi had formed a morning mist and it hadn’t yet burned away. It feathered into the trees, wrapping around his legs as he moved through it and toward the cabin his gaze was always drawn to as he ran past it on his jog. It was situated a bit farther from the others, under the shade of a moss-draped willow tree, its trunk twisted and bent as if it had decided to conform to the shape of the wind rather than try to fight against it.

Jonah rarely went inside of the cabins, but he did today, the ancient floorboards creaking under his weight as he entered. She’d love to see these, he’d bet. He made an exasperated grunt in his throat. She’d love to see these? He didn’t even know her. Still, who wouldn’t love to see these? They were a part of history. For all he knew, they held secrets in the walls . . . under the dusty boards. Although they’d been cleared out years ago, maybe they held relics in some hidden place. He knew the preservation society was chomping at the bit to get their hands on this place. And for the sake of history, he could appreciate that. But these grounds . . . the manor house . . . it was his home, his sanctuary . . . his hiding spot from the daylight. It was all he had. The only thing still important to him in an existence that otherwise held no importance at all.

He walked around the room, making his way back to the doorway quickly. The space was small even for one person, and from what he knew, entire families had occupied these tiny cabins. Unbelievable. A part of the Chamberlain family history he certainly wasn’t proud of.

And yet, there were stories here. Stories that deserved telling, he supposed, and for that reason, he should set up a will, leaving the plantation to the preservation society. He was the last of the Chamberlains. After him, there would be no more.

The depressing thought spurred him out of the cabin and back on the path toward the manor. It was another humid day, the heavy warmth of summer draping over him, sunshine caressing his skin, uncaring about the ruin. And normally, he would have enjoyed the sensation. But today, that old familiar feeling of keeping himself sequestered from the world pressed down upon him. It’d been years since he’d been leery of even allowing the sun to see him, but just then, the feeling returned, the one he thought he’d left behind as he’d grown accustomed to his scars, grown used to the way the light affected his injured eye.

No, suddenly, all he wanted to do was sink into some dark corner of the library and lose himself in a book.

"And just what is it you're frowning about?" Cecil asked.

Jonah looked up, so caught up in his own depressing thoughts that he hadn’t realized he was so close to the house. Cecil and Myrtle were sitting on the porch, drinking lemonade.

"Can't a man frown without it being about anything in particular?"

Myrtle looked at him suspiciously and made a hrrmph sound.

“And anyway, I’m always frowning.” He gestured to the side of his face that remained in a perpetual glower. “I don’t have much of a choice.”

Myrtle took an unaffected sip of her lemonade. “Yeah, but there are levels of your unpleasant expressions. And that one just on your face? It rates pretty high.”

Jonah turned his head to give her a better view and then, satisfied that she could see it clearly, narrowed his good eye at her. “Don’t you two ever work?”

Myrtle took another long sip of lemonade. “It’s a full-time job worrying about the likes of you. I’m plumb tuckered out. How about you, Cecil?”

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