“Don’t let a Great One get away . . .”
The once-whispered words lingered in Aoife’s mind like sea mist, evaporating only when present awareness crept in. She opened her eyes. Her head rested on her right arm, outstretched, cold and flat against the desk. Her hot-pink tablet, in power saver mode, was inches in front of her nose. She was still in the chair—and the man had long gone. But his scent remained—hints of green mandarin and ginger from his cologne with stronger notes of mildew. It seemed she just wouldn’t rid herself of Fergus so easily.
He’d only passed through the room twice, an extended round trip from her cabin’s door to the balcony. Odd that he should leave such a fusty mark. Though his intentions (she thought) were clear, it was even odder that not once in his short travels had he even glanced at the bed—unlike Aoife. Dry bubbly and drier conversation on the verandah had been enough to send her napping after she’d dismissed her latest would-be suitor. But she’d never made it to her pillows. She’d fallen asleep while filling her journal with her latest findings.
Now, she felt dehydrated—cotton mouth and all. That called for a quick fix. Hydration, after all, was a large part of how her magic worked.
She downed a quart of water then stripped off her tropical sundress as she made her way to the bathroom, tossing it on the tightly made bed and sliding off her flip-flops just outside the bathroom door.
Magic . . . She couldn’t help but grin, chuckle aloud at the thought followed by the sight in the mirror. Skin too pale, eyes too big, nose too hooked, and smile too crooked. She saw it every morning—had been seeing it for three decades. Age only emphasized the unpleasant features while sneakily adding a few new ones. Age spots competed with the freckles she’d endured since youth, gray-streaked auburn hair ever more resistant to fashionable styling, and extra padding in areas that made parts of her look like unbaked dough. She could count each imperfection that should have warded men off, and often did count them while showering. Presently, she did so with a smile on her face, rubbing herself down with her own special blend of body wash. While the creamy gel permeated her skin, the resulting fragrance would clear out the stubborn remnants of Fergus.
She left her sweet-smelling cabin dressed in an ash-green sleeveless jumpsuit, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and sandals. Thank heavens the day-and-night dress code was “resort casual.” She’d made no attempts during her journey on the high seas to look her best. That was part of the test—to see if her charms would really work. She did have limits to how low she’d go, however. After scratching herself and drawing blood twice while trying to comb her hair, she couldn’t hold off getting her nails done any longer.
The sky was clear, aqua-colored. Aoife took a deep breath, enjoying the sea smells, then stumbled. She dropped her bag but caught herself, instinctually examining the floor, ready to assign blame even though she knew it was her usual two left feet. There were no objects lying out of place, but there was something off about the wood flooring. Here and there among the normal brown were off-color patches, hand-sized, geometrical patterns reminiscent of mollusk shells. They were few and far between, but as she walked on, she noticed similar patches on the walls. She brushed her fingers against one as she passed. Texture, temperature—it felt no different from the non-patched areas. Probably just an effect of the light in the sky. Or maybe being who-knew-where-exactly in the Atlantic with nothing else around was finally getting to her, playing tricks on her, just as she, the incongruous beauty, had been playing tricks, focusing the bulk of her attention on the men. They happily reciprocated, as now, passing her in their golf shirts and shorts, a variety of hats and sunglasses, and wide toothy smiles.
Ah, the merry men . . . All unmarried (allegedly) and ranging from handsome to gorgeous. The women on board covered a much wider spectrum. Aoife didn’t even consider herself in the middle of the range. Others saw her much differently.
“. . . look at her . . . the dirty witch . . .”