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My eyes drift to the ceiling as I ask for a higher power to grant me more patience.
“It’s going to burn the store down,” the homeware assistant’s voice wails. She attempts to say it calmly, but I can hear the pure panic lacing her voice. I pick up the pace and mentally go through the store’s fire procedures, including the nearest location of a fire suppressant spell.
“No, it’s not,” the whiny woman growls back.
“You have no control over it. You shouldn’t have brought it inside.” I move around a curtain display and see an orange-haired lady angrily poke a finger in Keeley’s face. I tut. I hate it when they do that.
“It’s my familiar,” the woman snarls. “The law says I can take it anywhere.” Great. A witch. My stomach cramps. It’s no big deal. She is just another customer, I think as I tamp down my nerves. I take a deep breath, roll my shoulders, and put my stern manager’s face back on. She is also lying. Liar, liar, broom on fire. The old nursery rhyme echoes around my head. If the creature in question was the witch’s familiar, I’m sure she wouldn’t disrespect the familiar bond by calling the creature an IT. Familiars are rare, to the point of being sacred to witches. Even in my coven, no one is strong enough to have one. There hasn’t been a new familiar bond in over a century. I might be out of the loop with the witch community, but I know that.
“That’s beside the point. You have no control. It seems like it doesn’t even like you.” Keeley points to a nasty-looking bite on the witch’s hand. “And don’t think I didn’t see you kick it.”
“You have no proof.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Every part of this store has cameras,” I say pleasantly as I step up behind her. I smile reassuringly at Keeley and the tiny brownie sags in relief. The witch spins around and squares up to me. “What seems to be the problem?” I say in the same pleasant tone.
“I wanted to speak to the general manager, not you. How old are you, twelve? I want the organ grinder, not the monkey.”
Keeley squeaks with distress and mumbles, “Rude cow,” underneath her breath. My face remains like granite as I pretend I didn’t hear the brownie’s comment.
I also don’t reply to witch’s nasty words. Instead, I tap my name badge, which clearly states my full name and position. It’s not the first time that a customer has picked on my youth, race, or gender, and it won’t be the last. The trick is not to engage.
The witch squints at my name badge and huffs. I could also point out that my photo is at the front of the building as a senior manager on duty and my name is on the plaque for our spells and alcohol licence above the main doors. But I must hurry this along as there is a frightened and abused fire creature hidden in the store.
“Your familiar?” I say with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s under the towel display. It’s frightened and it won’t come out,” Keeley helpfully says, pointing at an ornate towel display.
“Okay, if you excuse me for one second, I just need to see what I’m dealing with.” I drop to my knees as elegantly as possible and peek underneath the shelving unit. The witch above me huffs again and shuffles her feet.
Yellow eyes with vertical pupils glare at me. “Oh, hello.” The creature’s third eyelid tracks across the eye from side to side, and a low hiss comes from between a mouthful of razored teeth. A threatening puff of smoke also escapes from his nostrils. Ah, I see where the fire issue might come in.
I angle my head to look up at the witch. “A dragonette?” I say with the same raised eyebrow of disbelief I had used before. “You’re trying to say a dragonette is your familiar?” It’s probably the wrong thing to say, but I don’t care. I am pissed.
As if on cue, the witch puffs up with anger. “What do you know about familiars, girl—”
I spring to my feet and interrupt her with a hand. “Before you dig yourself any deeper into that hole you seem intent on digging, let me help you out. You neglected to read the name on my badge. Let me introduce myself, as we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting. Tuesday Larson.” I emphasise my surname and again tap the silver badge. I am not above using my coven’s name.
Immediately, the witch’s eyes zoom back in, and like magic, the colour drops from her face.
“Larson,” she whispers. Even her lips have gone sickly pale. Mum’s reputation is a doozy. “You’re the younger girl. The du—” She snaps her mouth closed and rubs a trembling hand across her face as if she’s holding in her words. I know what she was going to say, the dud. I don’t care.
With a determined nod, she opens her bag and franticly digs inside. “Look, the brownie was right. I have no control over the creature. It isn’t my familiar, just an exotic pet.” She painfully laughs into the bag. “Of course, the dragonette isn’t my familiar. Look,”—She lifts her eyes and drops her voice to an urgent whisper as she pulls out some official-looking forms—“I don’t want to get your coven involved. Can we just, you know… ignore this ever happened?” A pen appears and with a flourish, she signs her name. I don’t understand what’s happening until she shoves the signed papers into my hands.
“It’s yours. I don’t want any problems. Thank you for your time, Miss Larson.” And then I watch, with my mouth hanging open, as she scampers away.
What the heck just happened? I look at Keeley and when she’s no help, I shuffle the... ownership paperwork in my hands. Great. It has my name. I then look back down at the display. There’s a scratching sound and the towels wobble. The dragonette lets out another distressed hiss and a puff of smoke seeps between the towels.
I groan and draw my hand across my face. I stuff the papers in my pocket and go back down to the floor. “Come on, little dragon,” I say in a gentle, singsong voice.
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