A Rain Check on the Pizza
“Daaad! Ophelia’s on fire again!
She was and it was glorious.
Ophelia stood in the middle of the field, her back to Jake and Quinn, her face toward the sky. Her graying hair was loose and cascaded down her back. Her arms were spread wide, like a scarecrow. Or a crucifix. Billowing from the center of her chest up into the sky was thick black smoke, masking the sun. It danced around the hem of her long black dress, blurring it from view.
“Well, she’s done it again.” Quinn sighed, holding tight to his dad’s hand. He shifted his weight to one side and watched the woman burn. “She’s gone and ruined another perfectly good dress.”
Jake’s heart tripped a step out of rhythm. He glanced at his son. Quinn’s observation had sounded just like something Theo would have said.
A vice gripped Jake’s chest. For a second the earth dropped away beneath him.
He clutched his son’s small hand tighter. The boy didn’t seem to notice. Standing on tiptoes, he studied Ophelia over the field’s tall grass.
No matter how many times Quinn had seen Ophelia enthralled in a trance, he never seemed to grow tired of watching it.
A good twenty paces ahead of them, the smoke from Ophelia’s chest began to ebb as it trailed into the sky. Quinn was right; her dress would be ruined. She’d need something to cover herself with.
Jake handed the car keys to his son. “Run back and get that blanket from the trunk.”
Quinn raced across the field toward the parked car on the side of the road.
“Watch out for traffic!” Jake hollered.
“Duh, Dad!” With each step he took, the boy’s blonde hair caught the sunlight as his head bounced into view above the grass.
God, Jake loved that kid – more than anything. More than life itself. Just like Theo had. Obviously. If not, his husband would be the one standing here today, not his son.
Jake’s eyes burned and not from the smoke filling the air.
A throaty groan drew him back to Ophelia as she collapsed into the tall grass.
“Phil!” he called out, making his way toward the spot where she’d fallen. She was already sitting up by the time he reached her.
“Gods, that sucks!” she rasped between thick coughs.
The acrid stench of burned flesh filled his nose. Her dress’s charred remains were torn wide across her chest, revealing the black and cracked skin above her heart. But even as he watched, her skin began to heal. The flesh of her breasts was turning fiery red on its way back to pink.
“You OK, Phil?” Jake asked.
“Son of a bitch!” she exclaimed gripping the scorched fabric of her bodice. “This was my favorite dress!”
Yep, she was fine. Even the charred spot above her heart was already turning a fierce red.
Ophelia jiggled her breasts. She winked at him. “See something you like?”
Jake snorted. “Quinn’s getting you a blanket from the car. He’ll be back any second.”
“Oh, should I ask him instead?” She arched her back. Her breasts pressed forward. “Maybe find out just how far his apple fell from your tree?”
Chuckling, Jake shook his head. “He’s eight years old, Phil.”
Ophelia harrumphed and attempted to pull the tattered ends of her bodice across her chest. “In my day, boys his age were already betrothed to their future brides.”
“In your day, entertainment included watching lions maul Christians for fun.”
Ophelia swept her hair out of her face and smiled. “Good times!”
From a distance Quinn’s voice reached them. “Dad?”
“Over here.” Jake stood, catching the top of Quinn’s head and his green eyes hunting them over the tall grass. Jake waved to his son and Quinn raced their direction.
“There you are!” the boy said. “I couldn’t find you in the grass!” He handed Ophelia a wool blanket of red plaid.
“Thank you, kind sir.” She took the blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “You saved my honor. Your father was attempting unspeakable things on me before you showed up."
Quinn looked at his father. A cat catching a mouse couldn’t have looked more delighted. “What unspeakable things?”
“The kind we’ll discuss when you're older,” Jake answered him.
Jake turned back to Ophelia. “What did you see?”
She shrugged her shoulders and the plaid blanket slipped down her arms. She shifted the blanket higher and answered, “The usual.”
“Who’s dead!?” Quinn demanded, eyes like saucers.
Jake sighed. Just how messed up was this kid gonna be when he got older?
Rising from the ground, she extended her hand to Quinn, signaling it was time to leave.
He looked from Ophelia to his Dad. “But we just got here.”
Jake squatted down before his son. "Ophelia has to get back.”
Quinn’s lower lip grew three sizes. His eyes were thick with tears. “You said we’d go on a hike and then get pizza.
“I know I did,” replied Jake, “but we need to get Ophelia home now, buddy. You and I can go for pizza afterward.”
A single tear slid down Quinn’s cheek. Jake felt like shit. They'd been talking about the hike all week.
Ophelia smiled at the boy and tousled his blonde hair. “A young woman has died.”
Quinn considered her words for a moment and asked, “She needs your help?”
“She needs my help.” Ophelia agreed.
Resigned, Quinn took her hand and together they walked toward the car. Jake followed behind. Was he a jerk for hating that she could calm Quinn when he couldn’t? Probably not a question to ask.
“Her spirit needs guidance finding her path to the other side,” Ophelia continued. “She’s confused; her death was very…eventful.”
“I know what that means! She died extra yucky!” Quinn shouted. “Blood and guts!”
“Quinn—” Jake began but Ophelia intervened.
“And squishy brain parts too!”
Quinn laughed. Jake glared at the back of Ophelia’s head. They’d had more than one discussion about shielding Quinn from both her life and Jake’s abilities.
“And now she needs your help.
Quinn was silent a moment then looked up at Ophelia. “Was she pretty?”
“Spoken like a true male chauvinist,” Ophelia observed. “Congratulations, Jake. Well done.”
Quinn looked over his shoulder. “Dad, what’s a showvenice?”
“Something you’d better not grow up to be,” Jake said. “Phil, why don’t you tell Quinn what the young woman looked like?”
“Well, not very pretty, I must say, what with squishy brain parts splattered across her face –”
Quinn giggled. “Gross!”
“Oooh, you mean before she died?”
Bitch. “Yes. Before.”
Ophelia mused on the question. “Well, she really was rather beautiful, I must say. Very unique eyes. One blue and the other a deep, deep violet.”
One blue eye and one violet captured the light of a lit candle resting on the table’s surface. Lazy brown curls fell to her shoulders. A warm laugh shared with friends seated on either side of her. Those unique eyes looked back at Jake full of mocking disbelief, yet still...curious.
Ice froze his belly. He stopped in his tracks. Ophelia and Quinn reached the car, and his son clambered into his car seat.
‘What’s wrong?” Ophelia asked, noting Jake wasn’t with them.
“One blue and one violet, you’re sure?"
“Yes, I’m sure,” she replied, crossing back to him. “Why?”
It made no sense. “I met her yesterday. She came to my booth.”
Ophelia balked. “You read her flame?”
Jake nodded. “I did. But she wasn't supposed to die today.”
Ophelia looked doubtful. “How is that…? That’s not possible.”
Jake’s hands shook. His mouth was dry. “I saw her old and in bed, surrounded by family when she died. Peaceful.”
“There was nothing peaceful about this death.” Ophelia shook her head. “You’re certain it was her you read?”
Jake nodded. “I plucked the hair from her head myself.”
“Only one thing could fuck with her future so bad you wouldn’t see it in the flame before she died.”
Jake nodded his head. “Black magic.”
“Not just black magic. Pitch-black black magic.” Ophelia turned back toward the road. “We need to get you to that body before anyone finds it and calls the cops.”
From the backseat Quinn waved at them as they headed toward the car. Jake groaned.
“He’s gonna be so pissed when he finds out we have to postpone the pizza.”