Crescent Moon (Chapter 31)
What was it about the Ruelles that made me feel things I never had before and never expected to again? What was it about a silent man and a chatty boy that made a foolish, lonely cryptozoologist long for a life she'd never wanted?
This wasn't me. To ache for a child. To contemplate loving again with the same depth I'd once loved before. To consider a future so far gone from the one I'd planned as to be unfathomable.
I had to be under a spell.
The thought gave me pause. Was I behaving so oddly, thinking so strangely, longing so deeply because of… magic? The very idea should make me laugh, but after what I'd seen since coming to the Crescent City, laughing was the furthest thing from my mind.
There was only one person I trusted here, and conve-niently that person knew magic. I grabbed my bag and my keys and drove to town.
Bourbon Street was hopping. I heard the music, saw the lights, from several blocks away. I was tempted to take a detour and soothe my problems with a zombie. But I figured the way things were going, I'd actually run into a zombie.
Cassandra opened the door before I even knocked.
"How did you know I was here?"
She lifted a brow. "I peeked through the window."
"Lock the door. You need a drink."
Right again. Sometimes I thought she was more than a little psychic.
Within minutes I sat across from her at the kitchen table, sipping from a glass of something complete with a tiny umbrella.
I took a big swig. "Fruity."
Probably had twelve types of alcohol. Just what I needed. I took another glug. "What do you know about love potions? Maybe a charm or a spell?"
Cassandra took a ladylike sip and set down her glass. "More than you, I suspect. Why?"
I wasn't sure. Adam had insisted he couldn't love me, didn't want me to love him. What good would a love spell do?
But Luc was another matter. The child wanted a mother. If I fell hopelessly in love with him, wouldn't I take the job?
I couldn't bring myself to tell Cassandra about the boy. Adam didn't want anyone to know. And while I trusted Cassandra with my life – had on several occasions already – it wasn't right for me to trust her with Luc's. He wasn't mine to give.
"You're talking about Adam," she murmured. "You love him?"
'I something him," I muttered. "I don't like it."
"Just because you don't want to love the man doesn't mean you've been put under a spell. In truth, if you had been, you'd be thrilled about it That's part of the magic."
I took a huge slurp, and the end of the paper umbrella went up my nose. Sneezing, I tossed it aside.
"You better slow down," Cassandra said. "You're going to be smashed."
I'd been right about the twelve kinds of alcohol. Right now, every one of them zipped through my bloodstream, both relaxing and revving me. My cheeks felt on fire.
"I love my husband."
"Shouldn't you say loved?'
"I don't know how to stop," I whispered. "He still feels alive to me." I touched my chest. "Right here."
"Maybe that's why you saw him in your dream. In your heart he's still alive. You need to let him go."
The idea of letting Simon go, of giving up, giving in, going on, was too much for me. Maybe that was why I had come up with the notion that my feelings for Adam had been induced by voodoo. They couldn't be real, because if they were, I didn't love Simon anymore. And if my love for him died, then so did he.
I know, I know, he already had. But when was love ever rational?
I took another swig of courage before blurting what I'd been wondering since I'd seen Simon at the window. "Could you raise him?"
I stared at my fingers, clutched together in my lap. Cassandra took a quick, sharp breath and held it. Afraid she'd pass out if she didn't breathe, afraid I'd panic if she didn't speak, or maybe if she did, I glanced up, then right back down again. The sorrow, the pity, in her eyes made me want to crawl under the table and stay there.
"I'm not that powerful," she said softly. "Not yet."
Something in her voice made me tense – hope and fear at war. "But you might be soon?"
"Someday, perhaps. But even if I was, I couldn't raise Simon."
"How long has he been gone?"
She reached across the table and took my hand. "He wouldn't be the same, Diana."
"I don't care."
"You would care. Dead is dead; there's no going back."
"There is – you said so yourself. There are zombies. They're real."
"But they aren't alive. They aren't the same people. They aren't even people. You want to rip Simon out of the afterlife, reanimate his disintegrating body, have him look at you with hollow, lifeless eyes? Wonder why he's here? Ask who you are?"
"He'd know me."
"I miss him."
She squeezed my hand, and I met her gaze once more. "Simon didn't have to die. I could have saved him."
Cassandra stared at me for several seconds. "So that's what this is about? Guilt?"
Now that I'd started talking, I couldn't seem to stop. "I didn't believe him when he said he'd found a werewolf. Again. I was so sick of his wild-goose chases. We went here; we went there. He saw something and every single time, when I got there, there was nothing. Everyone thought he was crazy."
I took a deep breath and admitted my secret shame: "I started to think so, too. Then that last night, I lost my temper, shouted at him, and we fought. He stormed out alone. The next thing I knew, he was dead."
"I missed the part where your going with him could have saved him."
I shot her a glare. "I'd have saved him."
How I wasn't sure, but I'd have tried. And if I'd failed, I'd be dead, too. Sometimes – hell, most times until I came here – I wished that I was.
"He's gone now," she said, "and you need to move on. Quit sabotaging your chance at a new life by clinging to the old one."
"I have to find the loup-garou. Prove that Simon wasn't crazy. Clear his name."
"All right Then maybe you can move on."
I considered her words, which were an echo of my own earlier thoughts. Maybe I could. Except – "How do I know if what I feel is real?"
Cassandra sighed. "You really believe Ruelle put a hex on you to make you love him? I thought it was all sex, all the time."
"Not all the time," I muttered, though she did have a point.
"There might be a way to discover the truth."
She lifted a brow and didn't bother to answer.
"What do I have to dor
"Come to the temple. We'll ask the has if you're under a love spell."
"So far, whatever I've asked, they've answered."
I frowned. She was starting to scare me.
"If they say you're not being influenced by magic, will you quit fighting the feeling and tell the man you care?"
I wasn't sure. Adam had said he couldn't love me, that I shouldn't ask him to.
"Diana?" Cassandra pressed.
"Let's just do whatever voodoo that you do, and then we'll see."
"Promise you'll give him a chance."
"What difference does it make to you?"
She put her hands on her hips. "I'm not going to waste a perfectly good voodoo ceremony on someone who's too stubborn to reap the benefits."
"OK. Fine. Let's get it over with."
"Take a breath. Slow down. The temple is peaceful. You might enjoy your time there."
Instead of heading out the back door, Cassandra returned to the shop and picked up a wooden bowl. She proceeded to add items from her shelves, then turned toward the snake cage.
"Whoa," I said, my voice a bit slurred from the alcohol. "No snake."
"We need him for the ceremony."
"I hate snakes."
"Consider him Danballah."
"I know I'm going to be sorry I asked, but what's Danballah?"
"The Great Serpent. Father of the loos."
I recalled her earlier explanation. "A god."
"More of a spirit. In vodoun there was an original supreme being known as the Gran Met. When he finished his work and returned to the other worlds, he left the has behind to help the people."
I'd been raised Catholic, though I hadn't practiced since I'd left my parents' house. Nevertheless, all this talk about gods made me twitchy. "You don't really believe this, do you?"
Her sigh was aggrieved. "You can't ask me to perform a voodoo ceremony for truth, then wonder if I believe."
I very nearly pointed out that I hadn't asked her to do anything, but she was on a roll, so I let her go.
"If I don't believe, then what in hell am I doing here? For that matter, what are you?"
"All right. You believe."
"Gotta believe in something," Cassandra muttered, and shoved the bowl into my arms.
I didn't see it coming and bobbled the thing, nearly dropping it. "Hey!"
She shot me a glare. "You wanna hold the snake?"
"Nope." I waved my hand. "Carry on."
She pulled Lazarus out of the cage, murmuring softly. He took one look at me and hissed. The feeling was mutual.
"Think of the loas like saints." Cassandra led the way from the shop, through her living area, and out the back door. "They're a kind of bridge to the supreme being."
"I can see why the Catholic Church was so snarky about the whole voodoo thing. A snake spirit is a far cry from a saint"
"Didn't Saint Patrick charm the snakes out of Ireland?"
"Watch it when you talk about Saint Patrick and Ireland," I muttered.
Cassandra spared me a smile. "When the slaves arrived they were baptized Catholic right off the boat, and their religion was outlawed, so they secretly combined the two and got – "
Behind Cassandra's shop lay a partially enclosed courtyard filled with plants, flowers, and a fountain. The ground was hard-packed earth – no grass, no stones, no pavement. A door had been set in one wall; Cassandra opened it.
"No lock?" I asked.
"On a temple?" She flicked the light. "Besides, most people are too scared to come in here with me. They certainly wouldn't come without me."
"Terrific," I said, and followed.
I stopped just inside the door. The room was so full of stuff, I didn't know what to stare at first. Cassandra placed Lazarus in a cardboard box near a flat stone covered with candles and smaller, more colorful flat stones. She proceeded to light the wicks, and I continued to stare.
Surrounding the stone were flowers, pebbles, tiny flags, and charms. The walls were decorated with brightly colored symbols: a cross, a heart, a snake, a box of some sort.
"Is that a coffin?" I asked.
"Mmm," Cassandra said. "The drawings are veves. They act as magnets, to draw the loas to the earth. The coffin is the symbol of Baron Samedi. He is Saturday, the day of death."
"I'd think you would want to avoid that one instead of magnetically sucking him into your personal space."
"We've been over this." She gave me a look that I recalled from my third-grade teacher – extreme annoyance from a very patient woman. "Death is powerful, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing."
"Then why does everyone try so hard to escape it?"
"It's human nature to fear what we don't understand. I try to see death as a beginning."
"Who knows?" She finished the candles and joined me. "A new plane, a different world, an adventure."
She could be right, but I'd rather wait as long as possible to find out.
"The cross is for Legba," she continued, "god of the sun and the way of all spiritual communication."
I could see why that would be handy.
"The heart is Erzulie." Cassandra met my gaze. "Goddess of the moon."
A warm wind seemed to brush my skin. I'd have thought I was imagining it, except the candles fluttered.
"She likes you," Cassandra whispered.
"Will that help?"
"What about the snake?"
I glanced at the python on the wall, whose bright green eyes seemed to shine.
The snake god. Spirit. Saint Whatever. I should have known.
"Now what?" I asked.
"The ceremony brings the loas to earth; then we ask for guidance."
"How, exactly, do they come to earth?"
Her gaze slid from mine. "They inhabit another living being."
For a second my brain refused to accept the information my ears had heard. But only for a second.
"Possession? Are you nuts? That's dangerous!"
"Which is why I don't take the ceremony lightly. It's also why people are scared to come here. Word gets around."
"If you think I'm going to let some snake spirit possess me, you are off your rocker."
"I doubt Danballah would be interested in you. I was thinking more along the lines of – "
She traced a finger through the heart, her touch smudging whatever had been used to draw the symbol on the wall.
"Deesse de la lune," she said.
The candles fluttered again in a nonexistent wind. As I gazed into their wavering flame I murmured, "That just might work."