Jezi shut out Liam's complaints as she made her way to the salon. With a deep breath, she entered to a flurry of activity, more than that room had seen in almost a year. She watched the three young men scramble in organized chaos that was almost poetic in its grace.
Feeling a shift in the room, they all turned to the door.
"We know you don't have a lot of time, and we want to thank you for giving us an hour to rehearse in the space..." The young man smiled. "... we'll try to be quick.”
Jezi stared at the three of them, feeling for their energy. She found no immediate threat, but one could not be too careful. Something was on the wind, something familiar, and frightening. She would have to be on her guard.
"Forgive me, I apologize," the sweet voice grabbed her attention once again. "We've come in, and haven't even introduced ourselves." He approached her with a friendly smile, extending his hand. "I'm Rivera," he said.
Jezi offered her hand in greeting. "Jezebel," she replied.
Rivera tilted his head slightly at the oddity of her name. “Jezebel...?"
Jezi waited for the expected comment, but he merely wrapped her hand in his and squeezed. "... a pleasure.”
Jezi flashed a crooked smile at his old world manners.
Rivera turned to his friends. "This is Tooch... and Waggy.”
No wonder he didn't pause, he was accustomed to unusual names. "Tooch... Waggy..." Jezi shook their hands, her tension abating. Perhaps she wouldn't have to kill Desi after all.
"Jezi, more company?”
Speak of the devil.
"Yes Desi... the er... entertainment for next weekend... that you arranged…"
Desi looked between Jezi and the band with an innocent smile. Only Jezi noticed the fleeting moment of doubt and confusion in her eyes.
And the uncertainty that flickered across Rivera's face.
Desi introduced herself with her usual flair and congeniality. "Desiray. Pleased to meet you all.”
Rivera took her hand with a nod. "Lovely name," he said. "I'm sorry for staring. I ... had been expecting a man.”
"I'll try not to take offense," Desi scoffed.
"No, no," Rivera laughed. "It was a man I spoke to on the phone... so I assumed…"
Desi didn't have to look at Jezi to feel the jolt that went through her. The both of them knew to keep their composure, no matter what.
"Well, we have so many people helping us out, making preparations..." Desi began. "The important thing is that you're here." She flashed a dazzling smile, and as always, her voice seemed to put the young men at ease.
Jezi moved to her side. "We know you're anxious to get started, so we will let you finish setting up." She wrapped hand around Desi's arm. "Come, Desi…"
They stood on the threshold afraid to voice their concerns out loud.
"I take it you didnt…"
"But obviously someone…"
"Yep. Who are they anyway?”
"The Great American Witch Hunt…"
"... are you serious?”
One look at Jezi's face, and she knew the answer. They both turned to the threesome that were somehow orchestrated to be here, and wondered what it all meant.
"What are we going to do, Jezi?”
Desi recognized that look in Jezi's eyes. It was a dangerous look that masqueraded as a smile, and it never failed to make her nervous.
"We're going to listen to them play…"
As the music washed over them, Desi stole glances at Jezi. She was standing against the door frame, deceptively casual, but Desi knew she watched everything. She was figuring out these Witch Hunters, and if she didn't like what she discovered, well, Liam would have some cleaning up to do.
It was three by three until All Hallows Eve, and Jezi would send the world to Hell before she let harm come to The Black Flower... or its inhabitants.
Without a word, Jezi turned and walked away, leaving Desi to look after their unexpected guests. She could still hear the music. The sound filled the building like tendrils of smoke and fire. It climbed up the walls and across the ceilings, as if looking for a witch to burn.
Jezi turned the corner, finding what she was looking for.
Liam sat on the floor, scrubbing the baseboards, rocking along to the music. When she called to him, he grumbled "I'm going as fast as I can, okay?”
"Did you call those young men in there?" she asked.
"Did I call them what?!" Liam snapped.
Irritated, Jezi lifted her finger, bringing Liam up off the floor. She clenched her fist and he was rushed to her side, suspended two feet off the ground.
"Now, consider your answer very carefully," she warned. "Did you ... call them?”
"Why would I call a band?!" Liam choked. "I should call a priest for you crazy..." his words ended on a sputter.
Jezi released him. Hearing him hit the floor made her realize the music had stopped. "If you're lying to me, I'll have Desi turn you into a tampon... with no string…"
Jezi returned to see Desi emerging arm in arm with Rivera. "You boys are very good," she complimented, "How much do we owe you?”
Rivera frowned. "You've... already paid…"
"I told him to go ahead and take care of everything, Desi," Jezi chimed in. "You can't be too careful on holidays.”
Tooch and Waggy came out, carrying the packed equipment.
"Ready to go?" Tooch asked.
"Well, at least let us buy you a drink," Desi blurted. "How about a glass of wine.”
"No, Desi..." Jezi smiled. "No wine…"
She turned to an antique armoire and threw open the doors. She plucked a large crystal decanter off of the top shelf. "How about some scotch?" she asked.
After a few skeptical glances, they assented, and Desi sent Jezi a look as she went to gather enough glasses.
Jezi wasn't sure why she offered it, didn't know why she stopped Desi from pouring them some of her special wine, but none of that was as disturbing as the realization that the scotch felt a little light, as if someone had been sneaking in a few shots.
She would have to ask Liam about that later.
Jezi unstopped the decanter, closing her eyes to inhale the familiar aroma. She poured a round, lifting her glass. "To the Witch Hunt..." she toasted.
"Yeah, I hope we find some on Halloween," Waggy replied.
Desi leaned across the bar with a smile. "I have no doubt," she said, "... witches are everywhere.”
Jezi kept her eyes on everyone as she drained her glass. The liquid burned a path down her chest, setting fire to the place where her heart should've been. Fire and smoke.
... Cigar smoke.
Jezi whipped her head around, but it dissipated just as quickly.
Desi watched her, concern growing. “Jezi...?"
"Whatever you will need for your performance, just be sure to leave a list with Desi. We'll see that it's waiting when you arrive on the 31st," she said distractedly.
Desi came around the bar. "I'll walk you gentlemen out…"
Jezi was lost in her own thoughts, so the tug on her hand startled her.
"I look forward to seeing you again, Miss Jezebel," Rivera said.
Jezi nodded. "Until then.”
As they departed, Jezi lifted her glass to her nose, trying to make the scent come back. Before she knew it, she felt Desi's hand on her shoulder.
"Jezi... what's going on?”
"I... I don't know... I keep feeling…"
A knock sounded at the door, interrupting them. Jezi sighed. "One of them must have forgotten something." Her heels rapped sharply against the floor in her agitation. She threw open the door and was immediately arrested by a cloud of smoke. Slowly, it began to clear, and something deep inside her clenched as two blue eyes pierced through the fog.
All of Jezi's breath left her body on one word. "... Christian..”
A smile was her only reply.
"H-Wh-What are you doing here?!" she asked.
"Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
The smooth voice seemed to physically touch her. He stepped forward, the thick smoke parting for him, and Jezi took a step back. Her mouth opened, but none of the words that came to mind made it to the light of day.
Christian entered without the slightest trepidation, smiling down at her. "My dear... you look as though you've seen a ghost…"
"Jezi... is everything okay...?" Desi called as she approached.
Christian looked up at her, his smile broadening. "... Raven?”
Desi stopped in her tracks, looking over the handsome stranger. "No...Desiray. And you are?”
Jezi's lips trembled as she finally found her voice. "... Christian Brandon."