Night Shift Page 60

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“Um,” said Fiji.

All eyes went to the witch.

“I appreciate your assumption that I couldn’t possibly be, ah, untapped. But actually, technically, I am. A virgin.” She couldn’t have been more embarrassed if she’d said she was a shoplifter or an embezzler.

Sylvester nodded happily, but everyone else was clearly flabbergasted.

“Unbreached,” Lemuel said, as if he could not quite believe she understood what ‘virgin’ meant.

Fiji nodded, her lips pressed in a grim line and her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Well, damn,” said Quinn as if he were having a very pleasant fantasy.

Bobo stared at her, but she did not see him.

“Sooooo . . . what does this mean she has to do?” Manfred asked his father.

Lemuel said, “The moon is waning, and Saturday is in three days. It is also very close to Halloween, Samhain. So it’s even more powerful a day. But since Fiji has her annual party, we have to think of a way to seal off the town so no bystanders will become involved. Also, we have to draw a magic circle of large dimensions that includes the crossroad, and that circle must be reinforced with . . .” He bent to look at the translation again.

“Salt and ash. Hawthorn, probably. We can find it here,” Fiji said. She still avoided looking at anyone else. “I’ve got bulk salt from Sam’s Club.”

“Thank you, Fiji.”

“Yay, a modern twist,” Olivia muttered.

“Once the magic circle is drawn, one of us—not you, Olivia—must enter it with Fiji before it’s activated. The rest of us must focus our own power and magic and will on the circle. The one inside it with Fiji must join with her just as the demon emerges, so Fiji’s virgin blood will reinforce the spell.”

“The suicides will stop,” Chuy said with some relief.

“Yes,” said Lemuel. “Maybe some of you didn’t know this, but the Rev and I have been disposing of animal bodies every morning. Since the humans haven’t been coming, the animals have. They simply die on top of him. He’s getting their essence, and it’s strengthening him.”

“As much as people?” Bobo asked.

“I think Fiji has been turning all her will to keeping people away,” Lemuel said. “Is it not so?”

Fiji nodded. A tear ran down her face. “When I realized that most of the people he was pulling in were people who hadn’t thought good thoughts about me, or who’d actively tried to do me harm, in Price’s case, I cleansed myself of bad intent over and over. Especially after I punished Teacher for searching my house. I was scared he’d be next. Then the animals started. But that was better than the people.”

Lemuel had a hard time looking compassionate, but he did his best. “The demon fears you and he hates you, but he must not have you. If he does, it’s the end of Midnight.”

“We would all be honored,” Sylvester said abruptly. Fiji looked directly at him, surprised. “To be chosen to enter the circle with you,” he explained.

Fiji appeared to be completely flustered by all this attention and Sylvester’s obviously sincere compliment. “How will you pick?” she asked in a choked voice. “I mean, is it a magic thing, or can I . . . ?”

And then they all fell self-consciously silent as every man in the room wondered if he would be the one in the circle with Fiji.

“You can, my dear,” Lemuel said. “But I am out of the running, as wonderful as I’m sure the experience would be. The Rev and Fiji already know that Olivia and I are hitched.”

This was another stunning piece of news.

“And the hits just keep on coming,” Quinn muttered.

Joe said, “Blessings on your union.”

“This is turning out to be a completely amazing evening,” Manfred said, and no one contradicted him.

“So, how will you pick?” Diederik asked Fiji. The boy was wideeyed and smiling, delighted to be a man in the running for Fiji’s big evening.

Quinn said, “Son, tone it down. This is not a date to the prom.”

Suddenly, Fiji turned her back on all of them, and from the way her shoulders were shaking, Lemuel was sure she was crying.

“We’ll talk about that later,” Joe said. “And for the record, either Chuy or I can perform this act for you, Fiji, and it would be an honor and a privilege—though one that would be appreciated more by another man.”

“Thanks,” Fiji said, her voice muffled. “Can we talk about this later? I’ve had as much as I can stand. I know there isn’t much time. But a little later.”

Everyone trailed out, except for Lemuel. Olivia went downstairs to her apartment, Bobo went upstairs to his after a long hesitation, and Fiji finally uncovered her face and turned to face Lemuel.

She was laughing. “Lemuel, my heart is broken,” she said, trying to sound serious. “You alone will not have sex with me? Even the gay guys would do the deed. But not you.”

Lemuel said, “Well, darn, Fiji, if you really want me . . .” But he was smiling, too.

“You know, friend, I really don’t,” she said, and laughed even harder. She sat on the nearest chair and fanned her face with the apron. “And I thought the most exciting thing that might happen this evening was finally getting the truth-and-candor spell to work. I certainly didn’t need it tonight.” She wheezed for a second more, and then sobered up.

“I am sure the prospect is daunting,” Lemuel said, feeling his way. He was not sure what to say to a woman who’d just gotten the news that the first sex she was to have would be public. And if the ritual didn’t work (for any reason), a demon would rape her and eat her. A woman who still had dried tear tracks on her face, and yet had laughed until she bent over with it. Lemuel was proud to know her.

“No shit,” she said. “‘Daunting’ is the word. And you know what my first thought was? I wondered if I could lose twenty pounds in three days.”

“You look very nice,” Lemuel said, puzzled. “You are a fine figure of a woman, Fiji.” He was quite sincere, and he was at a loss when he saw that she raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“Of course I am, that’s why so many men are knocking at my door,” she said.

Lemuel had no trouble understanding her this time. That voice was bitter.

“What do you expect in a town the size of Midnight? There is only one man you want at your door, Fiji, and I think he realizes that he should have been there months ago.”

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