“Excuse me.” The woman said after bumping into Megan. The woman was walking backward with her phone up, trying to catch a shot.
“No worries.” Though Megan meant it, she only meant it a bit. She, too, was ogling the scenery. She’d moved here in the middle of August. A heat wave in Hansen, Georgia translated to a merely warm August here. Much drier than back home, though people liked to complain about the humidity here, they really had no clue.
September was starting to bring in cooler temperatures, though they weren’t quite ‘cool’ yet. Within the first week, Megan had made up for the missed work and found an apartment where she could see the ocean through the sliding doors of her living room. She could sit on the balcony and look out over the waves until they just disappeared. There was often no horizon here, everything just faded into the atmosphere. Though she was sure it had something to do with the pollution, Megan found it a bit poetic.
She’d found a grocery store with decent prices and one with exotic foods for exotic prices. She’d joined a gym and then canceled her membership within the first week, realizing she preferred to run on the beach. She’d never lived near a beach before. And today, she’d found the weather and the break in her work to be just right, and she’d come up to see Hollywood and act like the tourist she was at heart.
She went to movies and restaurants by herself. Smiled politely at strangers who tried to befriend her. She always brushed them off. Megan reveled in her anonymity. So she smiled at the woman who had accidentally bumped her and was actually sorry about it.
Megan walked Hollywood Boulevard, checking out the Chinese Theater and all the hand prints in the cement. When she was hungry, she found a local and touched his arm. “Excuse me, are any of these little food shops good?”
“Well . . .” He started. Not by my standards.
She’d learned a long time ago, not to admit what she heard, but with strangers—people she would never see again—she was willing to act like she was just smart about things. “These are just for the tourists, huh?”
He nodded, glad she understood. “So, there’s a Thai fusion place that’s great, but it’s on Sunset. About eight blocks that way.” He pointed back toward where she’d parked. She was at least headed that way. “Or you can go about four blocks behind you.”
She turned with him as he pointed.
“Turn right at that light. Go down two blocks and there’s a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that has the best pizza in Hollywood.” He was telling the truth.
“Thank you.” She smiled at him and headed for pizza, making a mental note about the Thai fusion place for later.
She enjoyed the walk, looking around like she had no clue what she was doing. Then took the right at the light. She was almost shocked. Despite the big intersection, the street changed dramatically here. Almost as though four different sections of town met up at this point. The theater, up and on her left, seemed very ‘Hollywood,’ then the road headed up into the canyons. Across the street, the city became more city-like and less touristy. The glitter embedded in the street dropped off dramatically. Then down Vine, where she was, there was a row of shops and businesses, but this was clearly more where the locals went. Congratulating herself on a good call, she headed down the street for the pizza joint as the sun began setting beyond the buildings and her stomach growled.
Five minutes later, she had a massive slice of gooey pizza on a flimsy paper plate and a coke big enough to bathe in. She took it out to the tiny metal table chained to the sidewalk and was grateful she didn’t have a companion, they wouldn’t have fit at the table. Pulling out her e-reader, Megan settled in to enjoy the food, but found herself people watching.
While she ate, she watched in the low light, then the street lights, as a variety of people went in and out of the shop next door. Or at least they tried to. The door was stuck periodically, and she had to admit she enjoyed watching them struggle with it. At one point a shop girl came out and tugged on it, even smacked at the frame, though Megan had no idea what that would do.
When she finished eating, she wadded up both her napkin and the plate, and threw all her trash into the small can nearby and checked out the store next door. Standing in front of the door, she could finally read the gold lettering. Blessed Be—Magicks, Charms, and everything for the Practitioner.
Hells bells, she almost had to go inside, that was so strange.
Grabbing the door firmly, she yanked it hard, overpowering whatever was sticking and headed into the cool air inside. The bell over the door rang as though it had been smacked hard rather than jostled, but when she turned to look at it, there was nothing there. Cool trick, she thought.
“Hi, I’m Yasmin. I’ll let you wander then help you when you’re ready.” The other woman smiled at her and waited just a beat before turning away.
No, I’m just looking, almost rolled off her tongue before Megan realized she’d been beaten to the punch. Instead, she strolled the aisles looking at the “magicks.”
They had herbs, incense, crystal balls, and velvet pouches for anything you might buy. But while she was admiring the small labels with incredibly high-end prices, another woman entered the shop, then a man.
Who were these people? L.A. was wonderful, allowing her to be herself as much as she’d ever been in her life. So Megan looked at the people who thought they were witches or satanists or whatever and mentally thanked them for finally not making her the biggest freak in town.
“Your door is sticking.” The man told the woman who’d greeted her.
“Yeah, we got cast on, Frank. One of the beginners.” Yasmin answered him with exasperation in her voice. He must be a regular. Megan enjoyed eavesdropping; she wasn’t much into her own conversations.
“You haven’t cleaned that up by now?” A new voice entered the scene, but Megan couldn’t see him from her position in the center aisle. She stayed still.
“Why haven’t you cleaned it up?” Yasmin shot back.
“She’s your student.” He replied. “You’re the one who taught her how to do all this.”
Megan could almost hear his hands perching at his hips. Instead of looking up, she picked up a little felt doll with no face. It was listed as “poppet—$500.00”
Holy shit. She put it back down in the bin. She didn’t think it would break, but that would hurt her budget if she had to buy it.
“You know, Tristan,” Yasmin started talking again. “I may have taught her how to do this, but I’m not the one that slept with her and dumped her, and gave her a reason to get revenge on your store!”
Megan actually laughed out loud at that, her hands flying to her mouth to mute the sound. As additional cover, she squatted down and admired the herbs and their price tags. What herb cost $7,000 an ounce!?
“I’m working on it.” The voice—Tristan—was angry. Megan heard him walk away then, and heard the other man, the customer, talk to Yasmin.
“That’s not your fault.” He consoled.
“Don’t I know it.”
Megan lingered, enjoying the air conditioning and the argument. It was getting dark outside, but the foot traffic was plentiful out on the sidewalk. She wasn’t really interested in walking back the length of Hollywood Boulevard at night. And it was easier to hang in here with people who believed an amateur witch had hexed their store because of an ill-fated romance. Megan loved L.A.
“Your basket’s empty.”
Megan looked up as Yasmin came around the corner. At least the witch had a smile on her face.
“Yeah, well . . .” Probably her lingering time was over. Since she wasn’t buying any of this overpriced crap.
“If you’re uncertain where to start—” Yasmin picked up the exorbitantly priced bundle of leaves and tiny flowers in one hand as though she didn’t hold the equivalent of a bank stack of twenties, “—you might start with lavender. It’s good for general well-being, but it smells good, too.”
She held it up to Megan.
“It does smell great,” she admitted. “About how many ounces is that?”
Yasmin shrugged. “About five to ten? I don’t know.” She was looking at Megan oddly.
“So I should spend thirty five to seventy thousand dollars to make my house smell good? Hollywood prices are way higher than Santa Monica.” Megan just shrugged.
But Yasmin was looking at her like she was nuts, then she was looking at the tag. “Oh Shit!” Then she looked up in the air. “Tristan! Your little one-night-stand screwed with the price tags, too!”