It was funny how people thought a curtain, even if it was velvet, would give them privacy.
Two walk-ins, one passing the other.
She heard a deep male voice ask the exiting youth, unfortunately named Quint, "What did she tell you?"
"Something about fish and monks."
Okay, so it hadn't been her best reading, but who hit the bullseye every time?
Just what she needed, a skeptic. Their negative energy was yet another obstacle in reading. Sighing, she pulled off the Liberty's head scarf. No need for accessories with this one.
The curtain parted, revealing a gentleman in his early thirties. But not a complete stranger to her world. Interesting.
"Crystal ball, palm, tea, or cards?" She indicated the seat in front of her.
"Which is the least inaccurate? Have you had the crystal ball registered? Have you got your copy of the Seers' Contract nearby?"
Good lord, a Watcher, and an ill-tempered one at that. Didn't matter; rent was due and his money worked as well as anyone's. Definitely no point in the razzle dazzle.
"In that case, take the tea." Practicality appealed to this type. "Then at least you won't entirely be wasting your money."
"Right." He nodded as if that merely confirmed his own prejudice. "Tea it is."
She knew she shouldn't inquire, maintaining an enigmatic air was part of the program. But so was curiosity. And it wasn't like she'd be winning a convert.
"Why are you here? I heard you tell Quint he shouldn't expect the truth."
He was startled by her bluntness and his denial was immediate. "I said he shouldn't expect coherence. When one reads prophecies for a living, one knows that the future is never unambiguous."
While what she did was sell crumpets and tea.
She would allow that there was truth in his comment, no matter how condescending his tone. He didn't look aged enough to hold that much bitterness.
"Fair enough." At least this one wasn't expecting a Polaroid result. She poured the over-steeped tea.
He grabbed the pink floral tea cup and chugged it down; then thrust the cup back into her hands. It hadn't even taken a minute.
"My, we don't stand on niceties, do we?"
"This is a business transaction," he retorted. "And I'm almost positive you're a fraud. Why should I stand on niceties?"
Don't spare the charm. Maybe she'd assumed too much of Watcher training. "Rituals. They're important."
"You can See just as easily without them – if you can See at all."
She could hear the capital S in his taunt. She trusted her Gift. Hopefully this would be a strong reading. Comeuppance may not be a pretty thing, but she did enjoy deflating the pompous.
"Didn't say they were necessary. But they are important." She gave him a teacher-like glare. Really, a Watcher should have a basic grasp of ritual. They treated their own with such importance. "All right, ready for your reading?"
"Should I brace myself? Perhaps sit down even further?"
A sense of humour then, albeit one with brittle edges. If that's how he wanted to play it...
"Well, you aren't going to die in a boating accident." That got a laugh. Maybe he was human.
"Nor in South America – although someone you love will. San Paulo." She felt the power of a true reading beginning to course through her. "I see vampires—"
"Not a surprise. I'm a Watcher." As if she'd have mentioned vampires if he weren't.
"All right, fine. Then I should probably skip over the demons and forces of darkness as well, shall I? I see...a book, a cross..." She looked over at him. "Those'll be tools of the trade." She turned the cup, then turned it back. Really? Again?
"A key and a monk."
"All that in my tea?"
A rather full cup was her equally combative response. But the ache had begun behind her right eye. "Not all in the tea." That didn't mean it wasn't true. Her curiosity piqued again. "Any clue what the monk might mean? I've been seeing him everywhere." Here she arched an eyebrow. "I don't think he belonged in poor Quint's future at all."
"Monks aren't exactly in my line of work."
No help there. "You'll pay my girl?"
A brisk, "Of course," as if she'd maligned his character. Another pulse of pain. Fine, she'd tell him again.
"The key is important. The key and the monk." They were the images burning the back of her retinas. "Forget the rest."
She tossed his tone back at him. "How should I know what's important? I'm just a seer who runs a sham soothsaying business."
That tugged another curl from the corner of his mouth. He made a mocking bow, saying, "And I'm just a Watcher who hasn't got a Slayer."
And didn't that explain everything.
Her apprentice announced, "Rupert Giles". A name she hadn't heard in five years, since the reading about the key and the monk. Given his dismissal of her Gift, she wondered why he returned.
She nodded, indicating that he should be shown in.
Another movement at the curtain, then he entered, more like a breeze than the gale he'd been last time. He stood, as if uncertain, in front of her tapestry-covered table.
She suddenly realized that she'd felt proprietary about this man, to her he was the Watcher, not just a Watcher. Oh, she'd had others come through. Her advertising campaign involved writing her address in several books on prophecies before selling them in the occult bookstores. She has a specific clientele, one that didn't turn to the Yellow Pages.
Enough of that, she turned her attention to the Watcher in front of her.
"Crystal ball, palm, tea, or cards?" He'd previously appreciated her business-like manner.
"Actually, I've come to offer my sincere apologies. It seems that your reading was quite accurate."
The unexpected comment caused her to really look at him. Still stiff, but now it seemed to be as a shield, rather than the starch of a stuffed shirt. A little greyer, but who wasn't? A touch of a tan; it looked good on him. A little battle bruised; interesting.
Plus an apology from a Watcher? If she wasn't in the Seeing business, she'd joke about signs of the apocalypse.
"Another reading, then?"
He looked shocked, as if a reading hadn't occurred to him; that he'd only come to apologise.
His first reading had been complex; she wondered what it would be now. She wanted to know and there was only one way to find out. He didn't look like he'd accept, so she sweetened the pot. "On the house."
He started to bluster, then sagged into the client chair as if he hadn't the energy. That confirmed it. This was not the same man who'd demanded to view her Seers' Contract. That one hadn't started to test what he was made of; this one had been tested and thought he'd failed.
"It doesn't have to be a future reading." What was she doing?
"No, no. Future, please. I need..."
A reason to keep going. That was plain to see even without the tools. "Tea? Since you thought it worked the last time."
And there was that little smile. That and the brittle laugh had been one of the few signs of his humanity last time. This time though, maybe his problem was that he was so very human.
He merely nodded his acquiescence. "Is it any fresher than the last one?"
She hoped she held back the wince. At the time she'd been annoyed enough to give him the wood stain tea. A pot that had been sitting for hours. "Yes." There, economically worded.
He nodded. She poured a cup and handed it to him.
This time he didn't chug it. This time he wasn't in as much of a hurry, for anything.
"It is better," he agreed. He took another sip, then set the Wedgwood cup down. "You previously mentioned ritual. Would you be able to join me?"
Tea leaves only acted as a focus; there was no magic in and of themselves. Then why was she so wary about sharing a cup? Or maybe it was because she wanted to share a drink. Or maybe she was outthinking herself again.
She poured another cup.
A tentative sip –she well knew that "better than last time" was no real recommendation –
then they fell into the English default setting: when in doubt, drink tea.
She wondered what he'd been through in the last five years; if he'd ever thought of her as she'd thought of him.
Minutes passed; neither of them said anything.
He finished, swirled the cup and dumped it onto the saucer unprompted, almost without thought. This was not a new ritual then, but one whose familiarity came only through frequent repetition.
"Were you stepping out on me? Visiting other Seers?" A bit of a joke; it looked like he needed laughter. She wanted to make him laugh. Also, she was curiosity, or maybe jealous? And she found herself perturbed by those thoughts.
"I've been in America the last few years." Here he raised an eyebrow, going from dour to rakish. A handsome rake. "My expense account didn't allow for regular visits."
She straightened her back and said in her most imperious voice. "We will give you out-of-country dispensation." Then tilted her head in a slight bow.
"You are most gracious." He played along, settling back more comfortably into the chair. Then he suddenly seemed to recall something and the tone switched. "Do you see any more monks?"
"Funny you should ask. It was always just one, but the little bugger vanished last autumn. Haven't seen hide nor hair of him since. However, a knight took his place."
He shivered, despite the summer's warmth. His moods were as changeable as a weathercock in a windstorm.
"What do you see?" he almost hissed the last word, all flirtatious behaviour frosted out.
So she Looked.
The base of the cup, representing the past, was cluttered with images. "I see battles and suffering but much love and family. I see a dagger – are you prone to recklessness?" He really hadn't seemed the type. Although he'd come here in the first place.
"Go on." The man made Marcel Marceau sound effusive.
"The battles continue." Everything was crowded. Too many things were pushing into her. The man was a focal point, or near enough to one to make not a whit of difference.
"Still won't die in a boating accident." She had to relieve the pressure she was feeling. It hadn't hurt this much in a long time.
"You think it's over. But it's not. The world goes topsy-turvy first. It hasn't even begun." The words were flowing out of her; this had stopped being an interpretation.
"What about the key? Is it safe?"
"The key is where it belongs. The lock is severed. But another door will be ripped from its hinges – and soon."
She gripped the table. Why wasn't he the type whose future held job promotion and a messy love affair? Those people's lives only affected their own circle. The Watcher, capital W, was playing with Destiny, capital D.
And he'd beaten the odds so often.
She was hunched over the table now. Pain pulsing through her like a musical bass line. She realized that she was attracted to him, but right now she could be sitting across from the latest James Bond-hunk and she still would be focused on basics like breathing.
If she were a different type of Seer, she'd blame the pain on impure thoughts.
But right now, all she could dream of was aspirin.
"Are you in pain? Should I call your girl?"
She hazarded a small nod, then spat out, "Remember, it's not yet over."
There was a rustle of tweed – summer and tweed!—and then Julie came in, dimming the lights and offering to get the lavender water after she helped her to the cot in the back.
After settling her down, Julie asked, "Ms. Chatterley, there's another cup. Shall I pour it out?"
She thought about it. Then thought of all she'd seen. Besides, self readings were often wish fulfillment or worst case scenarios.
But sometimes they read true.