It’s Still Complicated

Fiona flinched as her phone pinged with another text message notification.

“Just block him.” Adele said.

Fiona finished serving the interested looking woman who hovered for a moment before leaving with her neatly wrapped indoor fountain with scented essences.  “I do.” Fiona said hopelessly as she checked her phone.  Dean had got another number and was not letting up.  ‘Babe, u hve gotta give me a chance’ it read.  She put the phone down and neatened the counter.

Adele looked at her thoughtfully.  “How is Steve taking this?”

“He’s not happy,” Fiona said with magnificent understatement.  “And what with him getting stressed and Kadogan threatening to hunt Dean down, it’s getting a bit much for me.”  Fiona took a breath.  “How are you doing?  Did you tell your mum?”

“She took it okay.” Adele said.  She took a quick glance around the shop to make sure no-one was looking and once again generated an iridescent blue glow around her hand.  “And it’s a saving on lights.  She says it’s a shame that none of the rest of the family have caught it.”

“And how is Pearl?” Fiona asked.

Adele launched into another convoluted tale from her extended family.  She was one of seven, most married or with a partner and with children, and both her mother and father came from big families that all kept in touch so there was always some drama.  As Adele’s story wandered among the latest problem with Pearl’s youngest and the postman, Fiona’s mind wandered to the problem of Dean.  He wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.  She wondered what she had ever seen in Dean.  He was okay, and they had had some good times, but he was nothing compared to Steve, just a shadow to the real thing.

“And then they decided just to make a bulk order of toilet paper and see how it goes.  So what sort of ring are you getting?” Adele asked.

“We’ve already got it.” Fiona pulled out her phone again and flicked through her pictures.  “It’s being re-sized.”

It was a delicate ring, perfect for Fiona’s slim hands.  Steve had taken her on a romantic day out and one of the stops had included visiting some gnomes who specialised in bespoke jewellery.  “Here it is.” Fiona found the pictures of the ring.  “It was just a little too large so they are altering it.  Steve said he would enchant it so that I could never lose it and it will never break.”

“That is so romantic.” Adele sighed.  “Our Casey had all sorts of trouble with her ring.  They had to get the stone reset twice.”

“It’s so beautiful, I can’t imagine it going wrong anyway.” Fiona said.  The ring had been hideously expensive.  It was a black opal set in an intricate yellow gold setting and Fiona had loved it at first sight.  It just showed how much Steve understood her, getting her the perfect ring, and it had been cheaper than a diamond.  Fiona had still flinched at the cost.

“Aren’t opals supposed to be unlucky?” Adele asked.

Fiona shook her head.  “Not if you’re born in October.” She paused and then asked the question she had been dying to ask all week.  “What’s it like, knowing that you are part blue cap, that part of you is a creature that helped the miners and worked underground?”

Adele wasn’t offended but thought for a moment.  “It’s good,” she said.  “I feel like I was meant to be useful.” She sighed.  “I just need to get myself a boyfriend now.  I’ve got a job, I know why I glow blue and things are looking good.” She paused and savoured the feeling.  “I just need a boyfriend to make it all perfect.  Hang on, the coach party is here.”

Fiona was glad to have the coach party to keep her busy.  She and Steve had talked it over and decided that with all the pressure that they might as well get married.  She felt a cold, sinking feeling as she thought about it.  It wasn’t that she didn’t like Steve.  She liked him a lot, and it was growing into love.  It’s just the feeling of being trapped and not having any say, of worrying that Steve was only marrying her because of the long line of interested and expectant faces.  Who wanted to be married because their husband-to-be was under more pressure than the bottom of the Mariana Trench?  She kept a professional smile on and rang up an order of books.

Her mother had not taken the news well. Fiona suspected that Dean had been in touch with her and had sold her some sort of story.  Fiona’s mum had adored Dean and had been devastated when they broke up.  She had been pleasantly but coolly distant when she had spoken to Steve over the internet and declared that they couldn’t possibly get back for Fiona’s wedding.  Fiona wondered if her mum would have been able to make it back if she had been marrying Dean.  She stamped the loyalty card of one of their regulars who had come in during the ruck and neatly wrapped the small pack of tealights and the suspicious amount of mullein.

As Fiona worked her way through the rush on autopilot, she felt bitter that perhaps she and Steve would have married if they had been left alone but now all the wonderful courtship had been stolen from her.  The phone beeped again.  ‘Babe, pls anser.  I miss u.  we can work this out.’

Dave opened the front door and ushered Darren inside.  “Hi,” he said awkwardly.

Darren gave him a long, appraising look and stepped into the freshly painted hall.  He nodded in approval.  “You’ve redecorated.”

“I used to work as a painter and decorator.” Dave led Darren into the freshly painted meeting room.  “I don’t mind doing it now and again but it’s not something I could stick at.”

“And how are you finding things?” Darren pulled his laptop out of his case and set it on the table.

“Okay I suppose.  Drink?”

“Tea, please.” Darren said absently as he logged in.

Dave wandered into the kitchen.  He’d given it a lick of paint but it really needed doing properly.  He didn’t have time to do it now.  If he wasn’t doing Tarot readings then he was either in the gym or out walking the streets of York or driving around the North Yorkshire countryside, trying to learn every shortcut and hidden corner and desperately keeping his eyes out for trouble.  He’d picked up a few instances of boggarts acting up which he had sorted out without any bother.  They were only kids, or kitlings, and all he needed to do was threaten to tell Mrs Tuesday.  According to Kadogan, however, a lot more stuff was happening away from the normal world.  Several non normal had gone missing and no-one was sure whether they had been killed or defected to what looked like a rebellion against Lord Ragnar led by Rey.

Dave brought the tea back into the meeting room and put it next to Darren with a packet of biscuits.  “So you’re an exorcist.”

“Yes.” Darren clicked and a page came up.  “What’s your email address?”

“Which one?” Dave had some more or less okay contacts, some extremely iffy ones and a couple that were probably being watched by Trading Standards.

“Whichever.” Darren said irritably.  “I’m sending you a list of contacts for paladins and Templars in the UK and you need to let them know your contact details as well, just in case.”

“Just in case of what.” Dave pulled out his phone.  “Try this one.”

“You could always set up a dedicated email.” Darren said.  “Some paladins have done that.  I’m also sending you over a list of contacts with police and solicitors who may get involved in non normal matters and a list of government departments who sometimes interfere.” Darren navigated around his own account.  “And I’m including a list of allowances, holiday leave entitlement and contacts where to claim them, although that changes as soon as a department can think of a good reason to move us on.  We’re currently with the Department of Culture, we were last with local government but it’s only a matter of time before we get back to the Home Office.”

“Mmm.” Dave said, watching the neighbours walking past the window.  The lace curtains were remarkably effective and almost impossible to see through into the room but he could see the shapes outside.  They were pushing a pushchair and seemed to be happy.

“I would normally stay with you,” Darren looked up and grinned and then went back to logging out of all his accounts.  “But it’s probably best if I’m based in the White Hart for a while.  I can keep an eye on things.  Normally you would not get involved in a dispute between non normals but as we have had at least one murder and three kidnappings of normal then I suggest that we support the side that doesn’t pose an active threat.”

“Mmm.” Dave wondered about the sound proofing in the paladin’s house.  He hadn’t heard any noise from next door but they looked like normal kids.

“Dave, are you paying attention?” Darren looked at him closely.

“What was that place, where we found Fiona?”

Darren shut his laptop and sat back.  “I’ve only heard bits from Sir Ewan, but it sounds like you got caught up in a faerie realm.  They’re tough to deal with.  What feels like solid ground can switch to swamp in a second, nothing is as it seems and it messes with your mind.  From the sound of it, Freydis gave her lover a little corner of the faerie realm to call his own.  However the realm is never entirely under the control of anyone.  Lord Ragnar shut down Rey’s little corner and the traps, but he can’t make it entirely behave.  It’s the nature of elfen, fairies, fae, whatever you like to call them.  They’re difficult.”

Dave thought back to the unstable paths before they got to Fiona, the strange howls and calls in the distance, the flickering lights and shifting mists.  Difficult was an understatement.  “So you’re staying at the White Hart?  For how long?”

“Not too long, I hope.” Dave sighed.  “It’s not too bad, and Mrs Tuesday can be good company.  I just like to get home when I can.” He took a sip of his dark brown brew.  “I need to be home anyway to take the Sunday Services, unless it’s a crisis, so I’ll normally be here Tuesday to Thursday.  However they’ve stirred up a lot of ghosts and I know I’m going to be busy.”

“Ghosts?”

“Vampires are dead.” Darren said flatly.  “They may still be walking and talking, but they’re dead.” He looked uncomfortable.  “I never feel entirely comfortable around them.  I mean, I’ve bunked down with a few of them at a pinch and I’ve met some real heroes, but they’re dead.” He sighed.  “I’m working on it.  Regardless, while Rey is stirring up a lot of vampiric stuff, a lot of death gets stirred up which means a lot more ghosts and hauntings.  There will probably be a few calls.  I’ve teamed up with a werewolf from London, Dr Phipps, who will be coming up when necessary.” Darren smiled sadly.  “It’s practically never a possession.  It’s almost always something broken in their mind, for whatever reason.  Sometimes it would be easier to do a straightforward exorcism rather than deal with the mental illness, often the result of horrific abuse.” For a moment Darren seemed to be staring at the past.  Then he pulled himself together and took another sip of tea.

“Will Dr Phipps be staying at the White Hart?”

Darren shook his head.  “She’ll be staying with the Latimers, of course.  Werewolves always stay with a pack if it’s possible.  That reminds me.  How are Ian and Callum doing?”

“They seem fine.” Dave thought back to the last week.  “Ian got very focussed on rescuing Fiona – really crazy.  Like he could snap.  He was insane during the fight with Rey.  When I think about it, he was insane with the fight with the stray pack – I mean, really insane.  He scared the hell out of me.”

“Hmm.” Darren tapped his fingers on the desk.  “How is he in the shop?”

“He’s restless, like he doesn’t want to be still.”  Dave thought about the relentless drive Ian had been showing to just do.  “But he’s fine when we go out for a drink.  He has a few drinks, barely gets tipsy, play a few games of darts or have a go at a pub quiz, there’s no trouble.”

“He’ll need to be watched.” Darren said.  “A werewolf without a pack is…” He sought for a good description.  “They have no anchor, no purpose.  Some of them manage to have a life, many can’t cope with the loneliness and turn to drink and drugs.  Some go darker and get angry at the world – and they are the really scary ones.”

“I’ll watch out.” Dave said.

Mrs Tuesday laid out some bridal magazines on the counter.  “I can copy almost anything,” she said as she flicked through.  “But some styles take longer than others.  What about that?”

Fiona looked at the magazine but found it hard to take in.  Choosing a wedding dress should take months, not a quick flick through some pictures for something that would do.  She tried to focus.  It looked beautiful, very slim and elegant with long sleeves and a sweetheart neckline.  “It looks nice,” she managed.

“I suppose it could get hot over summer.” Mrs Tuesday muttered.  “How do you feel about this?  I can build in a strapless bra.” She looked at Fiona who was watching Adele trying to flirt with an oblivious Ian.  “Louise, what do you think?”

Louise was also watching Adele with narrowed eyes but pulled herself away to look at the picture.  “Why don’t you go for something less traditional?  You could wear red.”

“I don’t suit red.” Fiona looked down at her plain blue top and skirt.  “And I know enough not to wear green.”

“You definitely can’t wear green.” Mrs Tuesday agreed.  “How about ivory?”

“You could get married in a gorgeous evening dress,” Louise said, “And you’d have it to wear later.”

“That’s a thought,” Mrs Tuesday said, “But Kadogan will be expecting the full works.”

“I’m not sure I want the full works.” Fiona said quietly.

“I’m not sure I’d want an elfen planning my wedding.  Not that I’m likely to have one.” Louise watched Ian jog back to the store rooms.

“Never give up hope.” Mrs Tuesday said.

Fiona’s phone beeped again.  Fiona glanced down and flinched.  It was still Dean.  “Babe, I luv u can’t do without u.”

“Have you told him about Steve?” Louise asked.

Fiona nodded.  “He said it didn’t matter, that we were even now and I couldn’t hold trollqueen against him.”

Adele wandered back to join them.  “Who’s trollqueen?”

Fiona felt herself blush.  “It’s what I called the girl he was dating after me,” she admitted.

“You could call her worse.” Adele said.  “When our Leanne found her husband with next door’s au pair she called her…”

Callum jogged out.  “We’re just nipping out to the wholesalers.  Do you need anything for the café?”

“I’ve got a list on my phone,” Louise took off her overall.  “I’ll come along.”

Mrs Tuesday watched Louise pick up her phone and shook her head.  “Really she should be looking for another job.”

What?!” Fiona’s head snapped around.

Mrs Tuesday held up her hand.  “I don’t want to see her leave, and I don’t suppose anyone else does, but Ian has nowhere else to go, so he’s stuck here.  Louise is still eating her heart out over him and it’s doing her no good.  There are plenty of places around York that would take her in like a shot.”

Adele looked incredibly uncomfortable.  “I wouldn’t have talked to Ian like that if I’d known.  Not that it did me much good,” she added with a sigh.

“Ian is still missing his ex-wife.” Mrs Tuesday watched the van pull out of the parking lot.  “I don’t think he’ll ever look anywhere else.  You may have a chance with Callum, though.  Louise couldn’t be with Ian anyway as she’s part elfen.  It’s not possible.”  Mrs Tuesday shook her head sadly.  “I’m off to sort out those herbs.”

The phone pinged again.  “Pls babe just meet up once and let me explain and I’ll never ask u to meet up agn.”

“Maybe you should give him this last chance.” Adele looked over Fiona’s shoulder.  “See what he has to say and then be really clear that you’ve found someone else and that you wish him all the best, it’s not him it’s you and goodbye for good.  Perhaps he’ll get the message then.”

“I suppose so.” Fiona said bleakly.  “But what if he doesn’t.”

Dean was waiting in the corner of the coffee shop.  “You look nice, babe.”

Fiona had been torn.  On one hand he had dumped her and she wanted him to see what he was missing.  On the other hand she really didn’t want him to find her attractive.  She wanted him to leave her alone.  But she didn’t want him to think she had gone downhill because he left.  In the end she had gone for amazing hair and makeup, but just a nice, high necked top and jeans.  “Thanks.  You look well.”

Dean did look good.  Fiona had forgotten how handsome he was.  He looked lightly tanned and relaxed, though his eyes were watchful.

“I bought you your favourite coffee.” Dean pushed the hazelnut latte over to her.  “So, how come you’re working in a shop?”

Fiona wondered how to explain the crazy set up.  She went for the basic explanation.  “I saved Kadogan’s life.  I pushed him out of the way of a lorry.  In return he put up capital and I started selling cards and gift wrap. He does the other side of stuff.  It’s doing well.”

“Seriously?  My girlfriend the entrepreneur?  Wow!”

“I’m not your girlfriend.” Fiona said quietly.  “I’m engaged to someone else.”

Dean sipped his americano.  “Is he good to you?”

Fiona nodded.  “He’s also become part of the business.  He brought a lot of contacts and some capital.  He’s a nice guy.”  What could she say to an ex about Steve?  That he’d helped to save her life?  That he’d helped her keep her sanity when Kadogan was getting crazier?  That he had an imp?”

“I’m glad.  I’d hate to see you hurt.” Dean glanced across the coffee shop and out of the window.  It had started to rain.

“How about you?  What are you doing?” Fiona asked, clutching her latte with both hands.

Dean shook his head slowly.  “It’s hard to believe.  You know I broke up with Jessica a few weeks ago?”

“I didn’t.  I’m sorry.  What happened?” Fiona tried not to feel a little satisfaction.

Dean shrugged.  “It just didn’t work out.  Anyway, I went to drown my sorrows and a guy in the bar offered me a job.”

“No, Dean, not drugs.” Fiona whispered.

Dean waved his hand dismissively.  “Nothing like that.  He just wanted me to bring some incense back for him.  I got an all expenses trip to Dubai, picked up some packages – all labelled, all legit – and after a few days I came home.  I had an amazing time, the beaches there are incredible.”  He saw Fiona’s face.  “It’s legal, Fi, honest.  I looked it up.  It’s called Dragon’s Blood, completely legal but he said he didn’t trust the quality if it came by air and that it was too small to come by sea so he wanted a courier.  I’m still at the call centre, but I only do four days, then I have a long weekend over to Dubai, nice break in the sun and a little commission.  I use it to play the slots over there.  It’s great.”

“Dragon’s Blood?” Fiona whispered.

“You don’t carry it in your shop.” Dean said.  “You should.  It smells great.” He looked down into his coffee.  “I’m sorry I made a mess of things.  I wish I could turn back the clock.  But this guy might have other stuff for me and I can make a good wage and look after you, just like I should have done.”

“We don’t stock Dragon’s Blood.” Fiona remembered the awful warnings from Kadogan.  “We stock all sorts of other stuff.  I don’t understand it.”

Dean leaned forward and gently pulled Fiona’s hands away from the latte and held them.  His touch had always been wonderfully gentle.  “Babe, you’re not going to believe it, but that stuff in the shop – it’s all real.  They do exist.  There’s vampires and werewolves and these things called boggarts.” He glanced around, making sure that they were not being overheard.  “You need to stay away from boggarts.  They are so psycho it’s not funny.  But there’s money for us there, and if we’re in with the big man then we are safe.  I can’t guarantee to keep you safe if you’re not with me.  And that fiancé of yours – do you really think he could fight off a werewolf?”

Fiona felt the colour draining from her face.  Steve had done exactly that, but how did she explain that to Dean.  “I’m sure he’d be okay…”

“Babe, you need to watch yourself.  There are real fairies out there.  They get into your head and twist stuff around.  You can’t trust them with everything.  Mr Baxter has a corner of a fairy realm but even with all his power he can’t keep it one hundred percent safe.  He says it could leak out any day.  You’ve got to be careful.  Don’t trust any fairy, or, thingy…” Dean waved a hand.  “They call themselves elfen, but their really just crazy, mind sucking bastards that will shred you for fun.  Do you really think your boyfriend can keep you safe from that?”

Fiona stared at him.  She felt like her face was made of ice and she could be sick at any time.  She slowly shook her head, not at Steve’s ability to protect her but at the horror of what Dean was saying.  “I can’t listen to any more.” She stumbled to her feet.

“Listen, babe, I’ll meet you here on Wednesday.  Trust me.  It will be okay.”

Fiona stumbled out of the shop and into the rain, heading blindly back to her flat.  What was she going to do?  She had really loved Dean once.  He could be kind, gentle, loving and generous.  He remembered her favourite food and drink, gave her back rubs if she was tired and never forgot her birthday.  Her mind was flooded with memories of them watching films together, cosied up, the illicit kissing on the top of the bus when they were teenagers, the time they had nearly been locked in overnight at the Castle Museum because they had been getting passionate in a corner.  She was wearing a necklace he had bought for her three years ago.  He had got a bonus from work and he treated her, because he could.  She couldn’t remember ever feeling this sick.  It took her three goes to find her keys in her bag.

The stairs had never looked steeper as she held grimly onto the handrail as she went up to her flat.  Half way up she paused.  She really did love Steve.  She knew it deep down despite all the nonsense from Kadogan.  So why did she feel so confused about Dean.  He had left her.  But he had bought her favourite coffee for her.  Fiona held onto the handrail with both hands.

“Hello, neighbour.” Freydis appeared at the top of the stairs.  “I thought I might as well get the use out of the flat.  How on earth do you get the shower to a decent pressure?” She stopped a looked closer at Fiona.

Fiona’s face had lost any trace of colour and strands of her hair were sticking to her damp face.  Her eyes were wide and she was holding onto the handrail like a lifeline.  “Hi, Freydis,” she managed.  “I’m not feeling very well.”

To Fiona’s bewilderment, Freydis took charge.  “Come here,” she said firmly, lifting Fiona up the last few steps without any apparent effort and taking the keys from Fiona’s hand.  She opened the door to Fiona’s flat and gently pushed Fiona into the flat.  “What on earth has happened to you?”

Fiona burst into tears.

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