A Dose of Cold Reality

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The tinkling of a tiny bell attached to the door announced the arrival of a group of teenage girls. A cold burst of air entered with them, carrying with it the smell of freshly fallen snow. The girls pointed at the objects for sale in the store, giggling at the more bizarre items on display like the shrunken heads and voodoo dolls.

"Oh my god, check it out," one of the girls said. "They have love potions!"

Dru glanced up from the Nursing textbook she had propped up against the checkout counter and snorted as the girls crowded around the "Love" display her mother had set up near the window. Her mother may have been a witch, but she was also a smart business woman. Nothing drew in the customers like the promise of making your crush fall in love with you on Valentine's Day.

"Sarah, get this one," suggested the tallest of the girls, pointing a mittened hand at the bottles of love potion. "Maybe it will help get Matt to notice you!"

The girl named Sarah frowned. "I don't know-"

"Oh come on, it can't hurt," her other friend added, tossing her blue woolen scarf over her shoulder as she picked up the bottle of love potion and placed it in Sarah's palm. "We don't want you to be alone today. We feel bad that we've all got boyfriends and you don't."

That's great, Dru thought, make the girl feel like she's ruining your day by being single. Turning the page, she tried to focus on the graph. She sighed. Nothing said alone like studying for a test while working the late shift at your mother's magic store on Valentine's Day. Her mother had a big date planned with some lawyer she'd been seeing lately, which left Dru to cover her shift.

Sarah shuffled over to the register, the bottle of love potion clutched in her hand. Her face reddened as she placed it on the counter.

Dru gave her a kind smile. "It's okay to be alone, you know. You don't have to buy this if you don't want to."

Sarah glanced over her shoulder at the girls who stood waiting at the door. "It's okay," she said morosely. "I want to. It works, right?"

"Of course," Dru lied. She didn't have the heart to tell the girl that most of the items for sale in the shop were cleverly packaged fakes. They stored all of the real stuff in the back, out of the reach of the thrill seeking tourists and inept novices. Magic is not a power to play with her mother always said.

Dru rang up the transaction, slipped the bottle into a small brown paper bag, and handed it to Sarah. The girl hurried to rejoin her friends, and the group of girls exited the shop. Dru watched them leave, shaking her head. There had been a time when she'd been like Sarah, desperate not to feel lonely and eager to please. Now, at twenty-one, she embraced her independence.

She peered at the grandfather clock against the wall and saw that it was five minutes to six. In just a few more minutes, she'd be able to close shop and head home. Curling up with a steaming mug of chamomile tea and reviewing her medical drug uses and side effects flashcards were the only two items on her agenda once she left the store for her apartment a few blocks away.

At 5:59 PM, she grabbed the keys to lock up and shuffled to the door. Just as she reached it, a man appeared on the other side and entered. The man appeared to be near her age, and his dark brown hair was covered with a fine dusting of white snowflakes. He rubbed his hands together and blew on them, his entire body trembling. The man hadn't dressed for the weather as evidenced by his lack of a coat, hat, gloves, or snow boots. Dru felt cold just looking at him and found herself drawing the sleeves of her cable-knit sweater over her hands.

Annoyed to have a customer arrive just as she was closing up shop, she forced a retail smile. "Sorry, sir, but we're closing now."

The man didn't seem to hear her, his eyes quickly scanning the shelves. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, sending a shower of snowflakes floating to the ground. "What is all this junk?"

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