“Rose Petals, Lavender and Glitter”
by Sheila Crosby
Police Sergeant Colin Jones fought down a sigh. “Look, I can’t go burning young Sophie at the stake, you know. Not even if I caught her flying on a broomstick.” Chasing hooligans when he was off duty and out for a run was one thing. Disputes between neighbors could wait a few hours; they weren’t even his job.
“More’s the pity,” Veronica sniffed. “Oh, I know there’s no law against calling yourself a witch, but there should be. That Sophie wants watching, you have to admit.”
Colin said truthfully, “I’ll keep an eye on her.” Sophie was twenty-four and decidedly pleasant to look at. Veronica was more or less his own age, thirty eight.
Veronica fluttered her eyelashes. “I feel safer already. How’s the training going?”
This time the sigh escaped. “I’m not nearly fit enough. I’m going to get slaughtered.”
Veronica patted his arm and said, “But there’s skill too. I’m sure you’ll win.”
And then she trotted off to the village shop.
With another sigh, Colin started jogging again, hoping to be less slaughtered.
As luck would have it, Sophie was just coming out of the village hall as he passed, surrounded by half the women in the village, each carrying a yoga mat. Not a broomstick between them. Most of them didn’t look any slimmer yet, he noticed, although Mary Dunn looked a lot less frazzled.
In fact Mary made a beeline for him. “Thanks so much for bringing Father home on Wednesday. I was so worried.”
“Glad I could help,” he said honestly. “No harm done this time, but you do need to keep that door locked,” he added gently.
Mary sighed. “I know. And the doctor says that he’ll slowly get worse. It’s only yoga keeping me sane.”
Sophie asked him, “So are you all set for the match on Saturday?”
“No,” said Colin. “So I hope you’re all coming to watch me get trounced.”
All the women smiled and giggled.
“I’m sure you’ll do splendidly,” said Mary, patting his arm.
“Just as long as you all come,” he said. “It’s for a good cause.”
The crowd began to drift away, but Sophie stayed. As soon as the others were out of earshot, she said, “Do you need a little help for Saturday?”
He laughed. “I don’t think sacrificing a virgin under the full moon is going to save me, lass.”
Sophie said stiffly, “I don’t sacrifice virgins. Or even animals. I’m a vegetarian, didn’t you know?”
Oh lord, now he’d upset her. “I know you don’t. But you want to be careful. You’re upsetting people. Maybe you should keep the witch bit to yourself.”
“But then I couldn’t help people.” She spread her arms, palms upwards. “That’s the whole point, you know. Us Wiccans believe that whatever we do to other people returns to us threefold. If I turn Veronica into a frog for a week, then sooner or later, I get to spend three weeks as a frog myself.”
“And I know it’s just Veronica complaining. Maybe there’s a nice person in there somewhere, but she carries a big black cloud around her, and I can’t get through.”
“Well just ignore her then, lass.”
“And you’re sure you don’t want help for Saturday? It would only be a few herbs and candles, you know. No dancing naked on the green, I promise.”
Colin chuckled at the thought. “No, lass. I’m not fussed about winning. I just want to raise some money for a youth hall, and I want the folks that pay to feel they’ve had their money’s worth. I know I’m going to lose two sets to love. The other three are all miles younger than me, you know.”
“But they didn’t play at Wimbledon.”
“I got knocked out in round one. And they’re teenagers. I’m nearly forty. And from all I hear, they’re pretty darn good. Stop fretting, and go roast some nuts or whatever you’re having for tea.”
Sophie shook her head. “See you in court, Sergeant.”
Colin went down to the Green Man for dinner, because Linda could make healthy stuff taste good, and he couldn’t. He was tucking into his chicken and salad when Sophie came in.
“Ginger beer, please, Doug.”
Doug got her a bottle. “Here you are then. Don’t see you in here much?”
Sophie paid. “Well I’m not a great drinker, but I wanted to get out of the house. I can almost feel Veronica glaring at me though the wall.”
Doug said, “Jealous of you being young and pretty if you ask me. What that woman needs is a good—”
“Doug!” said Linda, coming though with Colin’s fruit salad.
Doug didn’t look in the least put out. “It’s true and you know it. She never used to be so sour. Right bubbly she was twenty years ago.”
“She was,” said Linda. “And then she married George.”
“George carried on with a different woman every month,” Doug explained to Sophie. “So Veronica got bitter. And then he left and she got worse. Now she’s bitter ‘cos she hasn’t got a man at all.”
“Catch 22,” said Sophie, thoughtfully. “If she was happy, she’d likely get a man.”
Doug started taking glasses out of the washer. “Likely she would, but I can’t see it happening. Desperation and vinegar aren’t sexy. What about you, then? You keeping a bloke under wraps?”
Sophie laughed. “Not many men my age around here.”
Which was true, reflected Colin, as Linda swapped his chicken for dessert. They’d all moved to the city to find jobs. People came back when they could afford it, and commuted into Leeds or Bradford, but by then they were usually married.
“You only need one, surely?” said Doug.
“Doug!” said Linda, warningly.
“Oh come on,” said Doug. “Can you imagine an unattached bloke not being interested in Sophie?”
“Not just the single ones either,” said Linda.
Doug put his hand over his heart and assumed a wounded expression. “Gorgeous though Sophie is, I only have eyes for you, my darling turtle dove. And she probably doesn’t go for a bald patch and a paunch anyway.”
Linda laughed and went through to the back. Doug followed her, and came back several minutes later, grinning.
Well, well. Colin grinned at Sophie, but she didn’t grin back, because she was clearly miles away. When young Andy got a look like that, Colin knew he was planning mischief. But presumably Sophie wasn’t getting ready to trash the bus stop.
He attacked his fruit salad. It was pretty good, but he was looking forward to treacle pudding and custard on Saturday night.
Colin’s eyebrows went into orbit. “Was she now? But the moor’s public, you know.”
Veronica sniffed. “Well I hope you catch her if she starts dancing naked under the moon.”
I should be so lucky! thought Colin. To change the subject he said, “Actually I’m hoping nobody breaks the law between now and Saturday. I haven’t got time for the paperwork.”
In spite of his brave words earlier in the week, Colin picked up his racquet with a sinking heart. He was going to get creamed. It’s about the youth club, not your ego, he reminded himself. Besides, giving the kids something positive to do might make his own life easier. But this Winston was eighteen, and still had a couple of spots. He wore a baseball cap backwards over his dreadlocks. Peter and Paul still had wispy beards. Colin felt ancient.
He followed Winston out onto the makeshift court on the village green.
The seats were packed. His humiliation was going to be very public. Oh well, every bum on a seat was another five pounds raised.
Sophie sat in the seat on the front row, right beside the players’ entrance. As he went past her, she called out, “Good luck, Sergeant!” and threw confetti at him.
What the blue blazes? It wasn’t confetti. It was rose petals, lavender and gold glitter.
Then the penny dropped. This had to be Sophie’s good luck magic. Well, this was harmless enough, but it would have been more fun to watch her dance naked in the moonlight. Chuckling, he went to the end of the court and served.
To Colin’s astonishment, Winston misjudged the return, sending the ball straight into the net. Fifteen – love! The applause was thunderous.
He was even more astonished when his second serve was an ace. My goodness, maybe Sophie really had done something.
Colin won the first game to love.
And then his troubles started. Once Winston was serving, Colin had to run, and he really wasn’t fit enough. By the time he lost the second game, he was red in the face.
But then he could serve again, and he won the third game.
And lost the fourth.
The set went to a tie-break, which he lost, but hey, 7-6 was far better than he’d expected.
Veronica trotted up to him with fresh water and a much-needed towel. “You’re doing ever so well, Colin.”
He looked at her and did a double-take. That was a really pretty dress, and she’d done something novel with her hair. Most astonishing of all, she was smiling. She looked like a honey instead of a lemon.
“You’re looking pretty good yourself,” he replied. And then cursed himself. It would be a bad idea to encourage her.
But she didn’t hit on him. She just looked delighted, and went off to give young Winston his towel and water.
Of course he was tired by the start of the second set, and he lost it 6-4. Still, he’d saved his dignity and given them a good show. Not bad at all.
It was even better to sit down. They’d saved him a front-row seat to watch Peter and Paul duke it out. The only catch was that Veronica was sitting beside him.
She produced sandwiches out of a basket, and offered them shyly. “I thought you’d probably be hungry after all that.”
He hadn’t been thinking of food, but as soon as the words were out of her mouth, he was starving, and he took the sandwiches gratefully. Then he found that they weren’t the plain ham and bread he’d expected, but ham with cherry tomatoes and basil, with a can of cold, dry cider. Delicious! She even produced fruit cake to follow.
And Veronica turned out to be great company. He’d never realized that she knew so much about tennis. Or that she was a fellow brass rubber. And he really should have known that she was a gardener just from looking at the front of the house.
Paul beat Peter. The crowd clapped, and the vicar made a short speech where he announced that between the entrance money and the refreshments, they’d raised ₤1,126.43. The forty-three pence got a laugh. And this meant that the fund now had enough to start building on the plot donated by Veronica.
Colin turned to her in surprise. “I never knew that land was yours!”
She blushed, which suited her. “I inherited it. And I haven’t done anything with it for twelve years, so I’m not giving up very much.”
There was definitely more to Veronica than met the eye, he decided.
But right now, he wanted a hot shower and a cold beer. Only when he got to his car, it wouldn’t start. Of all the rotten…!
As luck would have it, he’d parked quite close to Veronica’s house. He was on his phone when she came out, and said, “Oh dear. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea while you wait for the breakdown truck?”
Colin sighed and put his phone away. “They’re just telling me they can’t come until morning. But I could murder a cuppa while I’m waiting for the bus.” And he might get another piece of that fruit cake.
Afterwards, Colin was never quite sure how it happened, but he got a lot more than fruit cake. In fact, he found Veronica astonishingly inventive.
Next morning, Colin was trying to brush his teeth with toothpaste on a finger, when he saw two rose petals on the bathmat. He knelt down and looked closer. Lavender leaves and gold glitter nestled down in the pile.
Veronica came in. “I brought you up some tea.”
He lifted up a petal. “Rose petals in the bathroom?”
She giggled. He found the sound surprisingly attractive. “Would you believe it, I bumped into Sophie in the drive, and somehow I sent her potpourri flying all over me.”
Colin wondered what to say, but Veronica kissed him and they were very busy for a while. As he finally drunk his tea, Colin reflected that even if last night was all Sophie’s idea, it was a damn good idea, and tonight would be all his own and Veronica’s idea. But he still wanted a word with that young woman.
After breakfast, he told Veronica that he had to pop next door and ask Sophie something.
“Must you?” asked Veronica. “You know, I think I’ve been making a lot of fuss about nothing, really.”
Colin stood up. “It’s police business, so I can’t talk about it, but she’s not in trouble.”
Veronica bit her lip. “Are you coming back?”
He grabbed her and kissed her thoroughly. “What do you think?”
She grinned. “You’re a very naughty policeman, I’m happy to say.”
It was only about three steps from Veronica’s front door to Sophie’s. But Sophie didn’t answer his knock. It was young Winston, with a dirty great smirk on his face, exactly like the one Colin tried to wipe from his own face. Well, well, well.
Colin said, “I wanted a quick word with Sophie if she’s in.”
“Sure.” Winston stood aside and they went in.
Peter and Paul sat at the kitchen table, demolishing toast and honey. They were smirking too. What the blue blazes? All of them?
And there was Sophie, absolutely glowing, fetching a coffee pot from the stove. “Good morning Sergeant. You look shocked. House guests aren’t illegal, are they?”
“No lass, not that I’m aware. What I really wanted to talk to you about was rose petals, lavender, and glitter.”
Sophie blushed, but she looked him in the eye. “Aren’t you happy, Sergeant? You look happy.”
The young lads looked mystified.
“Well yes. But suppose I hadn’t been?”
Sophie gave a Mona Lisa smile and began pouring coffee. “I went to a lot of trouble to avoid that. As I told you, whatever I arrange for other people returns to me, threefold.”
Sheila Crosby lives on a small rock in the Atlantic. She’s a mother, writer, photographer, astronomical tour guide and translator. Consequently she rarely gets time for her hobbies, which are cooking, laundry, ironing and cleaning the house. Her website is http://sheilacrosby.com and you can buy an anthology of her SF formatted for Kindle, iPad, Mac and PCs at Amazon, or http://dragontree.sheilacrosby.com/blog/the-dodo-dragon-and-other-stories/ .