Dead Over Heels
None of this is his fault, but here we sit in the police station. The cold, white walls are scuffed and dirty. Scrolling mug shots of wanted criminals flash by on a mounted monitor. My hand is clutching Sebastian’s, although I’m not sure he’s even aware of it after all we’ve been through.
His eyes are glazed over, his sandy-colored hair both matted and cowlick-y. He wears the circumstantial evidence: a scratched face and a split lower lip. Not to mention, his gray shirt is caked with blood and soaked in sweat.
It’s all rather fuzzy, but there’s dried blood under my fingernails. I’m pretty sure I’m to blame for everything.
My eyes are already swollen, but all I want to do is cry even more. I rest my head on Sebastian’s shoulder and pray he can forgive me. I’m here now. That should count for something.
I guess you could say he’s my boyfriend. Early on he told me he didn’t want to see anyone else. I didn’t either. Even though it’s been only about a month, I have to admit I’ve never felt this way. We’re in love. I’d like to think it’s even stronger now.
The problem is, I never knew that finding the one would be such a double-edged sword.
* * * *
“Make another candle,” my friend Liz, who worked at the Wiccan shop, advised.
“I’ve already made a shitload of them,” I complained.
“One more. Put your all into it.”
Maybe it was worth another shot. Magic isn’t really an exact science. So, that’s what I did. I had nothing to lose, except a few dollars.
I purchased yet another glass tower of wax, this time red, sprinkling a smattering of herbs and oils onto that bad boy. This time I didn’t use Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, but went on good old-fashioned instinct. The scents of dragon’s blood and sweet amber mixed with what smelled like dried grass. My hands encircled the concoction, and I offered up a pure intention for true love to finally find me. I’d tried dozens of strategies over the years, everything short of frolicking naked in the forest, raising supplication to the ancient gods.
After I ignited the wick, the thing flared up like a Roman candle. I’m no witch, but considered I might have gotten this one right as the flames jumped to heaven with my desires. It flickered and flamed in my bathtub until it wore itself out.
Sometimes things are out of our control or beyond our understanding. I just needed it to work once.
How could that have been too much to ask?
* * * *
A couple of weeks later, there I was, getting out of my car, feeling hopeful. I had no pretense that this date was my soulmate, but his profile and our chats had been promising.
The River House Restaurant, where I had agreed to meet Sebastian, was near the old Discovery Center: a former schoolhouse and inn renovated as an interactive natural history and science museum. My very first job had been working there in the gift store. I recalled the countless mornings I’d climbed the front porch steps of the large, colonial building—back before the Riverwalk became so built up and full of bars and restaurants—usually doing my best to shake off the effects of yet another all-night scream fest between my parents. I’d always pass the room with the tarantulas as fast as I could, praying they would never escape and find me down the hall while I was in the middle of struggling to make change. Funny how it all seemed so recent, even though it was over fifteen years ago.
After almost tripping up the creaky stairs to the front door of The River House, I took a second to catch my breath. I never could walk like a normal person in heels. If only my mother had given me lessons. Are there lessons for such things?
When I grasped the doorknob, it seemed to be opening at the hands of someone on the other side, but there wasn’t anyone there. The teenage hostess, wearing a black pullover and miniskirt, grinned at me as I sat in the waiting area.
Usually the guy arrived before me, wherever we met for the date. However, it was going on fifteen minutes after our scheduled meeting time. Any number of things could have delayed him, or maybe he’d spied my bumbling in heels and bailed. Some men want the natural vixen, after all. I banished the insecurities, feeling silly.
It felt strange that I was sitting there in the first place. The hours of online scrolling, skimming through awful profiles, then making small talk and wondering if there would be enough of a connection, had been torture. When the guy wasn’t a weirdo, it became a whole different problem. The anxiousness would set in: would he call or text? Would we go out again? It was almost better if I didn’t care.
Daring the powers that be to grant my prayers for love had become my mission, at least before Sebastian came along. After a frustrating bout of fruitless interactions, I had actually deleted all of my profiles when he sent me a message… or so I thought.
It seemed easy enough to deactivate both the free and paid subscription sites. I’ve never been a computer genius, but I could definitely navigate a few clicks. I suppose it could’ve been human error. My intuition told me no on that score. There must have been a bug in the system. I mean, computer programs have glitches all the time, right? It could have been the candle, but I doubted that. None of the other candles had worked. Why this one?
When I read what he wrote—something like “Hi, you seem like a woman of substance. Noticed you’re into spiritual things. This reiki master would like to get to know you.”—I was intrigued. Most guys had no idea what reiki was and, if I told them about it, they acted like they’d rather clean their toilets than hear about healing energy.
I mulled over his message. The fact that there wasn’t a pic of him in a dog collar or a lame line that said, “I’ll be your prince until you find your king” was so refreshing. I couldn’t pass Sebastian up, especially after checking out his mysterious, yet boyish online vibe. We agreed on many of the dating site’s personality or preference questions, but there were still some open for discussion, like why he wouldn’t choose to kill all the mosquitos on the planet. Was that because he’d never been bitten, or because he thought it would somehow destroy the world’s ecosystem?
Snapshots of him were sans an alcoholic drink in hand. He was with sober-looking friends at concerts or festivals. There were no ‘hilarious’ pics of him next to a blowup doll—actually, not even any shirtless pics—and no grammatical mistakes.
That really turned me on.
We messaged for a few days. It came up in passing that we had both lost parents. His dad had died many years ago, and both my parents were gone. I wasn’t ready to share that story yet, but I wondered what else we might have in common.
So, there I was, but Sebastian was now almost thirty minutes late. The insecurities poked at me once again.
Several couples had already been seated. I examined my phone for any messages. Nothing. The bottom felt as if it was falling out of my stomach. I was being stood up. My urge to take a break from dating had been justified.
I canvassed the premises, searching for The River House’s bar, but when I found the tiny area none of the stools were empty. Thankfully, I remembered I had wine at home. As I stood up and looped my purse over my arm, the door swung open, and I recognized Sebastian right away. He wasn’t as tall as I thought he’d be, but his angled features looked better in person. He wore crisp, pressed-looking blue jeans and a white button down shirt, rolled at the sleeves.
“You must be Veronica.”
He slipped his phone into his back pocket and offered his hand.
“That I am.”
Hmm, so he has a phone. Why didn’t he use it to call or text me?
I gave his hand a steady grip, but wished it was a crushing one. My anger and disappointment burned me up.
“Sorry I’m late.”
He gave me a wink; one that told me he wasn’t an expert winker. His slight awkwardness was endearing, although only a minor save in light of his tardiness.
I waited for some explanation, my eyebrows slightly raised.
“Crazy day. Got stuck at work. Then traffic. My phone’s almost dead.”
Sounds like bullshit if you have to lay it on that thick.
I wasn’t going to dignify his excuses with a response. He was lucky I hadn’t left yet, and those few extra seconds had apparently made all the difference in trapping me for the moment.
“Two?” The hostess already clutched two menus.
Sebastian’s light brown eyes were outlined by thick lashes and, as he turned to nod and smile at the girl, I found I missed his gaze. I sensed a kind heart in him; that was one of the reasons I decided to go through with the date. A kind heart is hard to find… and, if I’m honest, I’d say I sensed some chemistry, too.
We followed the hostess for only a few steps and were seated at a table in front of the window, overlooking the patrons on the porch, and with the Intracoastal Waterway in the distance. The musty perfume of worn wood paneling and antique furniture blended with the aroma of savory meat and spices escaping from the kitchen.
As soon as we settled into the chairs, the server came for our drink order. He had light eyes, a strong jaw line, and a serious expression. “For the lady?”
“Dirty martini, please.”
I’d heard my share of ‘dirty’ jokes and braced myself. However, Sebastian just scratched his chin. He was either repressing an innuendo, or had expected me to get a glass of wine.
“How dirty?” The waiter, still serious, put his hands behind his back.
I tried not to laugh. Regular dirty was fine, but that wasn’t fun to say. “Extra dirty, please.”
Sebastian looked to the server with an approving eye and a sly grin. The waiter kept a straight face, despite the probable fact that this wasn’t the first or last time he’d hear this line.
“Do you have Crystal Head vodka?” Sebastian asked.
That was the brand where the bottle was actually in the shape of a skull. I always thought it looked so cool, but had never tasted it. I’d never heard anyone ask for it, either.
“No, sir, I don’t believe so,” the waiter said.
“Have you had it?”
“Can’t say that I have.” The response was deadpan.
Sebastian’s expression went limp, probably because he’d expected to have better banter with the restaurant staff. “Then Ketel One on the rocks for me, please.”
While scanning through the menu and sipping our drinks upon their speedy delivery, we discussed the standard first meeting fare: what we did for a living, where we grew up, and a little bit of what we were looking for in life.
His gaze lowered to my cleavage.
If he’s really interested in just a hook up, he could at least be more discreet about it.
Then his eyes lifted, stopping near my neck.
“I also like your silver triquetra,” Sebastian said, closing the menu.
So you admit you were looking?
I bit the inside of my cheek to stifle a laugh at his ridiculousness. For the moment, he had saved himself by actually recognizing my pendant. Not only did he know what it was called, but he didn’t make some obvious reference to the television show Charmed, which had made the emblem famous, but somehow cheapened its profound significance.
“Thanks.” I grasped the Celtic trinity design with my left hand. “It’s my favorite symbol.”
“Mine, too. It’s ancient and represents so many things.”
My heartbeat quickened. “Like protection and magic.”
“Exactly. I have a version of it tattooed on my upper arm. Obviously, I can’t show it to you right now. You’ll just have to take my word for it.”
Sebastian’s cheeks had long indentations, like extended dimples, when he smiled. I found myself hoping that, if things went well, then one day I’d get a closer look at that tattoo… and the rest of him.
Now I’m the one with impure thoughts. I’m such a hypocrite sometimes.
“I don’t have any reason to doubt you,” I said.
Actually, I really didn’t believe that he had the tattoo he claimed to have, but I tried to focus more on flirting than on my cynicism.
The waiter approached, taking a pad from his waist, and got right to the point.
“What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have the lamb stew.” I pushed the menu to the edge of the table and stared at Sebastian while he ordered.
“Prime rib. Medium rare.”
“Will that be all?” The server picked up the leather bound folder from the table and from Sebastian’s hand.
“Yes, thank you,” Sebastian said, looking to me for confirmation. When we were alone again, he continued our conversation. “Your profile indicated something like ‘girl-next-door with an edge.’ I’m counting on that.”
An exact quote. Nice going.
I raised my glass, and batted my lashes at him. “Here’s to you having an edge as well. Weird is always more interesting.”
As long as you don’t expect me to go to swing clubs, like that guy with the dog collar. There are lines to be drawn.
We both took a drink.
“I was hoping you’d like to take the Fort Lauderdale ghost tour after dinner. This restaurant’s actually on it.”
Dead Over Heels
Veronica’s first date with Sebastian not only stirs up a powerful attraction, but also a series of supernatural events that will tear them apart.