Excerpt: Herbal Remedy

Jordan opened the front door, annoyed that Jayden had clearly forgotten or lost his key again—and promptly wanted to slam it shut at the look on his brother’s face. “Just say it.”

“What in the hell happened to your hair?”

Unable to stomach repeating the story, feeling stupid and ugly, he stomped off back to the kitchen running a hand over the soft fuzz that was all that remained of his hair. He still kind of wanted to cry, which was stupid because it was just hair, but whatever, he did. In the kitchen he picked up the cigarette he’d just been about to light when he heard the knocking. Lighting it, he let the scent and flavor of fairy grass and mint soothe him. Screw coffee, fairy grass all the way.

He heaved a sigh when Jayden slipped into the kitchen. “Seriously, what happened to your hair?”

“What happened to your brain? How did you forget your keys again?”

“Stop avoiding the question.”

Jordan took a pull on his cigarette, breathed the smoke in deep, closing his eyes and enjoying the way it warmed his blood and opened up his magic, dulled the sharp edges of his bad mood. Finally dragging his eyes open, he said, “It was Ms. Harley. I was over there renewing her bug wards and picking up some fresh coriander and stuff. She wanted me to look at this nasty smelling concoction she had bubbling in a cauldron—an honest to goddess cauldron!—only instead of holding the pitcher out for me to smell it, she tripped or something and I wound up wearing. Healing potion she called it. Does my hair look healed to you!”

“Shh,” Jayden said, grasping him firmly by the biceps. “That woman is crazy. Someone needs to take her ‘book of spells’ away from her and burn it.”

“It was gross,” Jordan said with a sniff. “Almost too hot, and it smelled like rotted herbs and meat. It was thick and oily and sticky and I tried to get it out, but I finally—” he gulped and shoved Jayden away so he could take another drag.

Jayden scowled. “Want me to set her on fire? I don’t need magic for that, just gasoline and matches.”

Jordon managed a laugh. “It’s not nice to set people on fire, especially not old ladies who don’t really mean any harm. It’s just hair, it’ll grow back.” He ran his fingers over the stupid fuzz, startled and confused and miserable at the way there was nothing there. It was always a surprise, even though he’d done it a hundred times since getting it cut the evening before. He somehow kept expecting his dreads to return, to feel the weight of them, wrap his fingers around them when he was twitchy.

He grunted as Jayden gave him a hug, and shoved him away. “Go away, you smell like boyfriend.”

Jayden smirked. “You—”

“If you finish that sentence, I will end your life.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jayden said. “What are you doing up? If you were replenishing stock you must have been up until like, six this morning preparing and storing it all.”

Taking another long drag, nervous all over again, Jordan admitted, “Job interview.”

“What? Mr. I like to work in the sketchy shed in the backyard is getting ajob? Where?”

Jordon went over to the table and picked up the packet of papers lying there—some of which he’d gathered, some had been sent to him when he’d first put in an application. “Nowhere you’d care about. It’s called Cumberly & Pass …”

He trailed off as Jayden took the packet and immediately laughed. “Are you going to be a lawyer or something?”

Snatching it back, Jordan held the papers close and said, “It’s not a law firm! Cumberly & Pass is one of the best magic firms in the state—on the east coast, in fact—and they never have public job listings! More important, they’re explicitly hiring for hedge witches, which they’ve never done. It’s a one in a million shot, do you know what this could do for my magic, for my reputation? It—” He stopped when he saw the look on Jayden’s face that said he was happy for Jordan, and trying hard to appreciate the details, but Jayden had never been big on magic, was happy just messing with token spells and charms for his own use, occasionally helping when Jordan got overwhelmed. “Anyway, it’s cool.”

“I’m sure. I’m just still boggling over you giving up your hermit ways—”

“I’m not a hermit! Just because I don’t socialize myself to death like you—” He broke off when Jayden grinned. “Go away before I go see if there’s some leftover healing potion to dump on your head.”

Jayden laughed, sneaked in close to give him a quick hug, then darted away out of their faded, cluttered kitchen and down the creaky hallway into his bedroom.

Sighing, Jordan finished his cigarette and threw the stub in the ashtray by the trashcan. He headed down the hallway to his own room, directly across from Jayden’s, and stripped off his clothes as he headed into the bathroom. He turned on the shower and waited for the water to heat up, staring in the mirror mournfully at his shaved head, running fingers over his tattoos and nipple rings.

When the water was as warm as it was going to get, he climbed in and started cleaning up, using his favorite mint and cilantro soap. It made him a little better, to the point he was almost smiling as he climbed out and toweled off.

Jordan dropped the towel in his hamper as he returned to the bedroom, tugging on boxers and socks before he wandered over to the bed where he’d laid out a suit. His favorite, in fact, old-school looking and made of worn-soft dark maroon wool. Three piece, the vest threaded with gold flowers, and a tie that matched perfectly. His friends mocked him relentlessly for ‘shopping in the 1920s’, nevermind the suit was only loosely inspired—but explaining that only got him more heckling. Friends.

He pulled the suit on, fussing with the gold rose-shaped cufflinks for a minute. After conquering those, he got his pocket watch in place, then tucked away his wallet and cigarette case. He shoved his gold-rimmed spectacle-style glasses into place and wandered over to his dresser, opening his jewelry case and considering his options. Finally he picked out gold hoops and his lucky ring, a gold band wrapped with silver vines and tiny, emerald-chip leaves. Most of his jewelry had come from his mother, inherited when their parents had died. He could still remember the last time she’d worn the ring, going to dinner the day before they’d left on that last, horrible hiking trip.

Last of all he dabbed on a bit of cologne, mint and rosemary and gnome dust, and finally declared himself ready. He stepped out into the hall and knocked on Jayden’s door. When no answer came, he slowly opened the door and peeked inside—snorting softly when he saw Jayden had fallen asleep and was currently drooling all over his magazine.

He jotted a quick note for Jayden and affixed it to the fridge with a pineapple magnet, then shoved his papers, resume, business cards, and a few examples of his work into his leather satchel. Ready as he was ever going to be, he headed down the street to catch the bus into the city.

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