Home > The Wish Collector(9)

The Wish Collector(9)
Author: Mia Sheridan

Cecil nodded. “Tired doesn’t begin to cover it, Myrtle. Why, I might have to take me a nice long afternoon nap in the hammock out back after this.”

It was Jonah’s turn to hrrmph.

Myrtle patted Cecil’s knee. "You refresh yourself with a nap. I'm running to the grocery store for some items.” She turned her attention back to Jonah. “You want anything specific for dinner? You wanna come with me maybe, Mr. Sourpuss?" She raised her own brow.

"Whatever you make for dinner is fine by me, Myrtle. And no, I don't want to come with you. Stop asking."

She shook her head, the beads adorning a myriad of tiny braids in her hair making soft clinking sounds with the movement. "Nu-uh. You're gonna have to fire me to get me to stop asking. One of these days, you're gonna say, 'Why yes, Myrtle, you pretty thing. I'll come with you, because I'm done pretending to be a vampire who melts in the sun, and I'm ready to join the world again because I still have something to offer.' Your personal patronage at Winn-Dixie is as good a start as any."

Cecil chuckled, evidently apathetic to the particularly high-level glare Jonah turned his way.

Jonah moved past them both and into the house. "Don't hold your breath. I'm a lost cause, Myrtle," he muttered. And he had nothing to offer. Unless scaring small children was considered a worthy endeavor.

Myrtle and Cecil must have heard him because Cecil shouted, "If we believed that, we'd a hightailed it outta here a long time ago."

Jonah sighed, but gratitude filled him nonetheless, partially replacing the dismal emotions that had filled his chest as he’d stood in those cabins and then followed him back to the house like spirits who could reach inside of his chest and squeeze. Because the truth was, he loved Myrtle and Cecil and couldn't live without them, and they very well knew it. If not for them, Jonah Chamberlain would be utterly and completely alone.

He couldn’t hope for things he’d never have. He couldn’t. Yes, he had been charmed by the girl. By Clara. But he wouldn’t allow himself to be charmed any more. She might show up at the wall next week. She might not. He couldn’t care. Because either way, he promised himself, I won’t be there.

**********

Why the hell am I here?

Jonah sat at the base of the wall in the shade of a giant, ancient oak, the same spot he'd sat the week before. He brought one knee up, resting his arm on it as he waited. The day was turning to evening, that hush that came with the lowering sun descending upon Windisle. His heart beat anxiously, and he attempted to slow it by breathing deeply. "Idiot," he murmured.

You don't even know her. She might not even show up.

You promised yourself you wouldn’t either.

A few minutes later he heard the distant closing of a car door and then the soft footsteps of someone approaching. "You there, Jonah?" she asked, her voice moving from up high to the spot right beside where his cheek rested on the stone.

He tried not to answer. He really did. If he was silent long enough, she’d go away and take these unwanted feelings with her.

"Yeah," he finally said, attempting to sound bored, but not managing it. Instead, his tone was laced with excitement, and he shut his eyes as he chastised himself. But before he got too far, something sharp and tangy smelling came through the crack, hitting his nose and causing his expression to slip into a confused frown. "What's that smell?"

She smelled bad. This was . . . No, this was good, a positive discovery. He couldn’t possibly hope to get to know someone better who assaulted his nose. Not like he really had room to be picky. After all, he’d assault her view if she got a look at him, but still. It was a positive development . . . something to hang on to.

Clara laughed softly and the sound was musical. Sweet. "Liniment. Can you smell it from there? My neighbor, Mrs. Guillot, swears on it for sore muscles. I've been woozy all day from the odor. I think the way it works is it causes you to pass out so you don't move all day, resulting in zero muscle strain."

Jonah smiled, charmed yet again, despite the odor. "Why is your neighbor offering you liniment anyway?"

"Oh, I'm a ballet dancer. Sore muscles come with the job."

"You're a ballet dancer?"

"Yes. I'm an apprentice ballerina with the New Orleans Ballet. I just moved here a couple of months ago. I'm renting an apartment in The West Bank of Jefferson Parish from someone my teacher knows."

"Huh." He could honestly say he'd never known a ballerina before. "So no family here?"

"No, it's just me. My family—well, just my father now actually—lives in Ohio." Her words ended more quietly than they'd begun, a sort of defeat lying just beneath the surface. Jonah recognized that tone, knew it well. It was . . . sadness. Is Clara lonely too? he wondered, the small pinching in the region of his heart taking him by surprise.

"So, uh, any ideas on the whole wish discarding thing?"

She paused and he heard her moving as if she was adjusting the position she'd been sitting in, straightening perhaps due to the gravity of the subject.

He wondered what she looked like. A ballerina. He pictured someone slim with her hair pulled back in a tight bun. He’d already been able to tell by her voice that she was young, and now he was even more sure about that. From what he knew, ballerinas didn’t have very long careers. And from the sound of it, hers was just beginning.

"I do actually. I've been thinking about this all week, and I've come up with an idea."

"Okay, shoot. I'm all ears."

"Well," she started and her voice sounded so serious, so filled with resolve that he couldn't help smiling. It was tight and the muscles in his face hesitated awkwardly for a moment, but yeah, he remembered now what a smile felt like. "It's the wish that's important, but the paper it's written on must hold some sort of . . . oh, I don't know . . . power, too."

"Okay."

"Right. So the paper should be discarded in a way that's meaningful."

"Which is the case you made last week."

"Mm-hmm," she said, and he could see her nodding her head. She was a girl with a sweet laugh, a voice that was light and pleasant, a charm that captivated him, and a face he couldn't visualize. She sounded so pretty though. Is that possible? "So let's consider Angelina. You do know the whole story of Angelina Loreaux, right?"

"Of course. I've grown up hearing about the legend. My housekeepers, Myrtle and Cecil, swear they see her wandering in the garden."

"Oh." Her voice took on a breathy, almost dreamy tone.

Jonah felt like he should dispel the hope he heard in her voice. “Though Myrtle’s half-blind and Cecil, well, let’s just say Cecil pretty much goes along with whatever Myrtle says.”

Clara laughed and then was quiet for a moment. "Okay. In any case, you know that Angelina met and fell in love with John Whitfield in the rose garden, and that's also where she took her own life."

"In front of the fountain."

She paused. "Oh. I didn't know that." She sounded sad suddenly as if she were picturing the scene, Angelina's body lying prone in front of the fountain as the water cascaded and bubbled next to her, her blood soaking into the grass. At least, that's how Jonah had pictured it when he’d been told the story as a boy. And the image had stuck with him as childhood imaginings tended to do.

Clara cleared her throat. "Okay, so the rose garden was significant in Angelina's life as well as her death. What if you soaked the wishes in water and mixed them with the mulch for the flowers? Paper is biodegradable, after all."

Jonah frowned. "That's your idea?"

"Yes. What's wrong with it? It's meaningful. You'd be bringing the wishes to the place she's said to wander."

"It sounds like a lot of work."

She paused and then sighed. "I know. I'm sure you're busy—"

"I'm not busy. I actually . . . well, I'm the opposite of busy. Still, I don't do much in the way of gardening."

She was silent for a moment and just as he was about to call her name, she asked, "Why are you the opposite of busy? What do you mean?"

   
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