Madame Celeste had sent Garth to the supermarket, claiming the errand should be his because he had a knack for picking out the best produce and she wanted the salad to be perfect that night. Angela and Theo were coming to dinner, and, of course, Evan Fiske was coming, too. Garth's opinion of Angela was plummeting. From a high of Madame Celeste's best friend from childhood, she had sunk to the level of opportunist, marrying men for their money. Now he was beginning to fear she might be clearing a path to swindle money from Theo, a move that would jeopardize Garth's relationship with Sara. While he still had some doubt about the veracity of his opinions of Angela, he was certain Fiske was up to no good. He stopped in front of the organic vegetable section, thinking that Fiske's negative energy would probably wilt the lettuce and turn it brown when the man sat down at the table. He considered buying a couple of bags of mixed salad greens, but knowing what Madame Celeste's reaction would be to salad ingredients that were less than the best, he thought better of it.
He selected romaine and pulled a plastic bag from a roll overhead. As he did so, the skin on his neck tingled as though someone had invaded his aura. He glanced in the mirror that lined the back of the vegetable bins and saw two people, a man and a woman clad in black, standing about a dozen feet away. The woman's face was down, intent on selecting perfect oranges, picking one up and turning it as though looking for flaws in the peel, putting it down and inspecting another. The man, Junior Lawson, was staring at him. Their eyes met in the mirror. Anger rolled across the distance between them. The last time Garth had been in a fight, he'd been a teenager. He'd like to think he had grown spiritually since then, but he wanted to take a swing at this man who was stalking Sara. Junior Lawson had to be stopped.
He turned to face Junior, and they moved cautiously toward each other. They stopped in the apple aisle, both with fists clenched.
They uttered the same words at the same time. "Stay away from Sara."
Surprised by their duet, it took Garth a moment to recover from the odd occurrence.
Junior took a menacing step forward, bringing him within striking distance. "Sara is my intended bride. I won't let a devil worshipper sully her purity."
"She may be your 'intended,' but you aren't hers. She sent your uncle to tell you to back off. I'm going to make sure you do."
The woman stepped up behind Junior. Garth recognized her as Millie, the woman who had fainted at the psychic fair. Gathering customers were clogging the aisles.
Millie placed a shaking hand on Junior's arm. "Please, don't cause a scene."
Junior pulled away from Millie. "Stay out of this."
She turned sunken eyes on Garth. She seemed frail, and he couldn't get past the memory of her collapsing on the hot pavement the day of the fair.
Millie reached for Junior's arm again, tugged it. "I'm not feeling well. Please, Junior, take me home."
Garth took a step back and looked at Millie. "We're upsetting your mother."
"She's not my mother," Junior said.
Millie turned tear-filled eyes on Garth. The pain emanating from her hit him with such psychic force that it might as well be Junior's fist punching him in the stomach.
He took a deep breath. "Mother or not, she's with you, and she doesn't look well. I'd rather she didn't collapse at my feet again. If you don't take her home, I will."
Junior grabbed Millie's free hand and spun her around so her back was to Garth. "Don't look at him, Millie. He's using his eyes to put a hex on you." His free hand rested on Millie's upper back as though to hold her in place. "In the name of Jesus, take your demons and be gone."
Garth opened his mouth, but he couldn't think of an answer to Junior's charge. He heard a whimper from Millie and saw shoppers moving back, seeking a safe distance from which to watch the unfolding conflict.
A uniformed police officer and a man in a shirt and tie edged their way through the curious shoppers and advanced on the trio. The employee came to a halt on the far side of the low apple counter. "I'm the day manager," he announced. "Whatever is going on here, take it out of my store."
The officer continued past the counter and halted beside Millie. "Are you all right, Ma'am? Not feeling faint, are you?"
Garth recognized the young officer who had responded to the psychic fair confrontation. Elm Grove really was a small town.
"I just need to get home," Millie said, keeping her face turned from Garth's as Junior had directed. "Please, Junior."
"Yeah, we're going." He shot a disgusted look at the store employee. "I don't care to buy from a business that caters to the children of Satan."
The officer took a step toward Junior. "Get a move on, Lawson."
Junior clamped his had around Millie's arm and guided her toward the entrance.
Garth breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry," he said to the manager.
"That's okay," the man responded. "The ministers of the Church of Light are well known in this town. They usually aren't much trouble to most businesses, but if they get it in their heads you represent Satan, you'll be seeing them and their picket signs everywhere you go."
"I guess so," Garth replied.
"Did you want to press harassment charges?" the officer asked.
"No. I'd like to finish my shopping if that's okay."
"Of course," the manager replied.
The two men left Garth to his lettuce selection, and the curious shoppers dispersed. He tossed lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, and tomatoes into the cart without inspecting any of them. His thoughts were on Junior and the woman he had thought was Junior's mother. Obviously, he would have more encounters with Junior, and he needed to know what made the man tick. Considering his options, he pushed the cart toward the checkout. Sara, having been Junior's unwilling "intended," would be a great source of information, but given tonight's guest list, inviting her to dinner didn't seem wise.
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