It’s close to October, so I thought about witches and Halloween. I like to put up a short story or two this time of year and hope you enjoy this one:
Zephyra bit her bottom lip. Jane came to her eatery every day for lunch. The old lady had come for years, always complimenting the soup/salad/sandwiches to choose from. Her favorite day was Thursday when Zephyra offered sliced turkey breast with cranberry sauce on homemade white bread, a choice of lentil soup with peas and ham or minestrone, and a chopped or Greek salad. She always ordered the sandwich, the lentil soup, and the chopped salad for lunch but also bought the minestrone and Greek salad to go for supper.
On Fridays, Zephyra offered two sandwiches—chicken burrito wraps and Italian beef hoagies—along with French onion soup or chili, and Cobb salad. She knew that many of her customers lived in the retirement community a block away—a sprawl of single-story apartments with attached garages. They ordered one of everything to eat over the weekend when her shop was closed. There was a wonderful restaurant across the street from where they lived, and most of them went there to have supper on Sunday night. Sometimes, they sat at one table to socialize, and sometimes, they staggered their times and sat alone.
Between her older regulars and the business people who came for lunch, the eatery was always busy. Still, Zephyra did her best to keep an eye on Jane. Lately, the old woman’s eyes sparkled a little less and her smile, though always at the ready, wobbled a bit. As customers made their way down the food line, making their choices, Zephyra kept glancing at Jane’s table.
“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Kaylee, one of Zephyra’s assistants, sidled beside her to refill a soup pot. Only twenty, the girl was attending culinary school. She had big dreams of becoming a celebrity chef and didn’t understand why Zephyra wasn’t more ambitious.
“You’re so talented. You could run one of the top restaurants in the city.”
“I’ve run big restaurants. It was fun, but now, I just want to enjoy my time in the kitchen.” She loved to cook. It was something she could do one lifetime after another and in any location. When she didn’t age and had to move somewhere new, maybe she’d work as a pastry chef to change things up.
Another reason she enjoyed cooking was that she liked people. Well, most of them. She really liked the old lady. So, she worried when Jane’s aura faded to muddy brown with flashes of neon colors off and on. A health problem was brewing, and soon, it would be serious.
“Have you seen your doctor recently?” she asked Jane. “You look more tired than usual.”
With a tsk, Jane patted her arm. “I’m old, dear. “If I don’t take an afternoon nap, I drag myself around like a toy whose battery is wearing down.”
Zephyra couldn’t make her get a check-up, but day after day, the neon colors flashed more often until there was hardly any pause between them. For that reason, when the last customer left the shop on a Friday, Zephyra asked Kaylee and Trent, her other assistant, if they’d clean and close the restaurant without her.
Trent looked surprised. “Sure, but what are you up to? I thought you lived and breathed this place. It would be nice to think you’ve met someone, and you’re going on a date.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not that lucky. I’m meeting a friend tonight, though, and I’d like a little time to relax first.”
“It’s about time you did something fun. You’re always working. Go.” Kaylee shooed her toward the door. “We’ll have this place shining when you walk in Monday morning.”
Smiling, Zephyra hurried away. She drove home and looked up Jane’s apartment number, then drove there. The apartments were arranged so that the garages separated them from each other. Great for privacy, but no one would hear if Jane fell and cried out for help. So, she had a plan.
Everything was too open here. If she shifted, someone could see. She drove to a church down the street and left her car parked in its back lot. Then she walked to the apartment complex, and when she entered an area with a lot of trees, she let her body shrink and change, sprouting white fur, then sat before Jane’s door, meowing pitifully.
The door opened, and Jane stared down at her. “Where did you come from?”
With another pitiful meow, Zephyra slipped past Jane into the apartment. The kitchen was small and looked unused, but the living room was cozy with lots of chintz and fresh flowers. Zephyra planted herself in the middle of the carpet and stretched out, licking her paws.
Jane smiled, amused. “You don’t mind making yourself at home, do you?”
Zephyra rose to weave around Jane’s ankles, purring loudly.
“You picked a good night to visit,” Jane told her. “I have a Cobb salad for supper with bits of ham and chicken on top. I’ll share with you.”
Jane went to the refrigerator and carried the salad to the living room to eat in front of the TV. She put a paper plate on the floor and dropped pieces of meat and cheese on it for Zephyra. Then they settled in for the night. Zephyra jumped on the couch and pressed herself against Jane’s thighs. The old lady chuckled and stroked her fur while they watched The Great British Baking Show together.
They didn’t reach the end to see who’d make star baker and who’d be sent home when Jane gasped and pressed a hand to her chest. Zephyra immediately jumped down and raced to Jane’s cell phone. She used her paws to press 911 and scooted the phone to Jane.
“Heart attack,” Jane breathed, then bit out her address. When she collapsed, Zephyra shifted back to her human form to press her hands against Jane’s chest. Her healing magic flowed into her, keeping her alive until the paramedics arrived. Staying out of sight, she opened the door for them, then quickly disappeared into the bedroom to change back into her cat form.
She watched them load Jane onto a stretcher and carry her to the ambulance. When everyone was gone, she shifted back to human, locked the door to the apartment, and pulled it shut. She’d done everything she could, so she walked back to her car to leave.
A large black dog was sitting by the door on the driver’s side. It cocked its head to study her. She crossed her arms and sniffed the air. “Where did you come from? I thought I was the only witch in the city.”
The dog’s body stretched, and soon a man with pitch black hair and sky-blue eyes stood before her. “I doubt we’re the only ones, but you just saved my ancestor’s life. She doesn’t have any magic, so I’ve been trying to keep an eye on her, but she never lets me in her apartment. She’s afraid of dogs.”
“Why didn’t you just stay with her in your human form?”
“Because she never came to my pizza parlor. I meant to schmooze with her if she stopped in, but she loves your restaurant more. When I tried to cozy up to her at her Sunday night supper spot, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Told me young men were only nice to old women when they were trying to bamboozle them.”
Zephyra laughed. “She’s sharp for her age.”
“Yeah, so was her tongue when she thought I was up to something.” He extended a hand. “I’m Conan. Thanks for being there for her.”
“I hope it helped. I hope she’ll be all right.”
“You did all you could. I saw you press your magic into her.” He gave a nod and started toward a car parked on the other side of the church. She started to her car, too, when he called to her. “Maybe we’ll bump into each other again. My pizza place is on Calhoun. If you stop in, I’ll make you a free pie.”
A tempting offer. She thought about Conan on her drive home. He was good-looking and seemed nice. But she was happy living a nice, quiet life, baking bread for sandwiches, simmering soups, and enjoying her customers. That was enough for this lifetime. Spending time with another witch would only complicate things. And she didn’t need any complications this time around. Things were purr-fect, as is.