I was driving home from my writing retreat in August, listening to this song…
Bonfires and summertime
Back porch nights in South Carolina
“You gotta help me.”
Summer tilted her head at – she was pretty sure she knew his name. Brad? Chad?
“I have to help you? Really?”
“You gotta help me! Look.” He lowered his voice to a whisper that probably couldn’t be heard in the next county over. “I know you do the hoodoo.”
“Well, that’s an interesting rumor.” She was trying not to roll her eyes at him, but there was nothing she could do for the laughter in her voice. “Got another one? I don’t know, I heard a really fun one a couple weeks ago. They said that I came from a family of -” she made “oogy” hand gestures with both hands, wiggling all her fingers. “-what was it? Oh, yeah. A travelling circus.”
Probably-Tad had probably had a class with her two years ago, she thought, and might have been in that club she’d had a very short relationship with. Fishing Club? Something like that, which had turned out to be nothing like she’d expected. She’d also turned out to be nothing like they expected her to be, and so they’d parted ways more or less amicably. Or what passed for such with college kids anyway.
Which, technically, Summer still was.
Probably-Tad sulked. “You don’t got to be like that. I’m not having you on. I don’t think you’re some sort of witch doctor or anything. I’m not a tourist.”
The way he said tourist caught Summer’s attention more than his admittedly cute pout or his probably-runs-track physique – not that she the physique didn’t catch her attention, just not her capital-A attention like that one word had. .
“Well then.” She took him by the arm, noting as she did so that she had to reach up quite a bit to do so. He was definitely a tall drink of water.
She led him over to a corner of the Quad where a couple picnic tables sat in near-perfect shade and somehow, since Summer had started at this college, were almost always left alone by students and never covered in plant or animal detritus the way some of the other tables were.
She gestured him at one side of the table and sat down on the other side. Distance might be a good idea.
“All right. You’re not a tourist. You don’t think I’m a witch doctor. You need help. And you think I do the hoodoo.
Her mind was beginning to fill in memories of this guy. He was the sort that would probably get pegged as the class clown. He wasn’t great in school but he’d really enjoyed Fishing Club. And he turned puppy-dog eyes on you. Oh no – He was doing the puppy dog eyes now.
She also remembered a couple times when he’d done things, made jokes, that were a little meaner than was okay – sometimes a lot meaner. Once had been a teacher, another time a TA, a couple times older students.
The memories helped her ignore the puppy dog eyes.
“So I had an, a great-aunt sort, you know, and her brother, and they did, they did this thing – you know. The hoodoo.” He leaned forward across the table like he was trying to get every lanky inch of him into her personal space, giving her those so-sincere eyes.
If he was putting her on, she was going to hex him so badly he was going to have trouble holding onto anything without losing it. If he got mean about it, that was going to include his dinner.
“So my great-aunt’s brother, he, oh, he did this thing here he would paint things and they would come true. He could like, see the future coming, but only when he drew things, painted them.”
“I’m with you so far.”
For a doofus who still seemed a little confused about a lot of things, he’d given a pretty decent description of something similar to what Summer’s big sister Autumn did.
“But my aunt,” he continued, “if someone gave you trouble, if you got in a mess, she’d hex who ever bothered you.”
Summer cut him off there. “I don’t do hexes,” she lied. She’d been a theatre kid since before she started High School, so she liked like that lie was her entire truth.
“No, no, man, I swear! I swear, that’s not what I meant. The thing is Aunt Wynonna and her brother Frank – they’d talk about stuff they’d heard other people do, too. They did what they were doing, but there were other people they knew who didn’t call it hoodoo but were still doing that hoodoo that they do.. so well.
He gave her a crooked smile, like he was just hoping that she got the reference.
She rewarded him with a small but sincere smirk in appreciation. “So I – Remind you of the aunt,” she tried. “The aunt with the power?”
“What power?” He grinned through the straight line.
“The power of voodoo.” Oh, he could be fun. Did he get points for fun?
“Who do?” He finished before she could fill in the next line. “You do. Remind me of the Aunt. I mean…” He looked like he was thinking hard. “I don’t think anyone who didn’t grow up around it would know what you were doing, but you sort of have this circle of charmed life around you. People who get to know you, they just live better. I’ve seen you help people, maybe without even thinking about it, more times than I can count.” Now his smile went nervous and uncertain. “And I can count higher than twenty-one. You just,” he continued fast, even though Summer smirked again at the joke. “-you shed good luck around you like my cat sheds her fur. And I, I really kind of could use some of that good luck.”
He looked up at her, which was kind of a trick. He must’ve worked at it in the mirror, she thought. “Please?” he added sweetly.
Summer huffed. It kept her from thinking too much about how cute he was.
“I barely know you,” she pointed out. “And what I’ve seen, it’s not all good. Nothing you’ve told me so far has told me why I ought to do you a favor, just that you think you need one.”
Tad flopped back to his side of the table, not quite looking at her, chewing on his lip. Summer wondered if everything he did was as calculated as it seems.
“I gotta pass this semester,” he started, just when she thought he might not do anything but pout at her. “I can’t fail. I can’t. Last semester, that was all on me. I get that. But this one, this semester almost feels like somebody got in a hex on me. I don’t think it is,” he added hurriedly. “Like I said, almost. I mean, if it is, if you happened to hex me, can I bribe you to take it off a little early or just back off a bit?” He smiled, but it was a sad smile. “I know, I know, you said you don’t do that, but – okay. It seems like everyone is against me. I can’t do anything right. Man, I can barely get through the clouds in my head to manage to remember my homework – or, like, bringing a pencil to class. It’s nuts!”
“Okay, so you’re coming to me.” Summer steepled her fingers and thought hard. “That means that you’ve go to put up with some questions, okay.”
“Look, if it might get you to consider helping me out, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Okay.” It was Summer’s turn to lean forward. “So. I know you party. I’ve seen you out at the bars and clubs. Are you sure this is just not too much partying?”
“It could’ve been,” he muttered. “I mean, last semester, it definitely was. So I cut back. Like-” He shoved his hair away from his face. “Like I have not been to a club, to a room party, I have not had a drink, no booze at all, I shit you not, in over a month. And it got kinda scary how hard it was to stop. So I might, uh, I might not start again.”
“It’s not easy,” Summer agreed. She found she’d gained a little respect for him. “So it’s not the partying, it’s not a bad trip… but, I mean, that covers not being out. What about actually doing the reading, doing the homework?”
“I’ve been doing it! I mean, there’s only so much you can do around here, and if you’re not drinking and you’re not partying – I’ve been doing all the reading, even extra reading. But all that, and it’s like if anything, it got worse. Like one of the teachers that actually likes me, that I actually liked, called me by the wrong name three times in a row. Like on purpose, for laughs.”
“Kind of like you do in class?” Summer raised her eyebrows at him.
“Yeah.” He had the grace to look hangdog about it. But I mean, I mean, he’s mean. And besides, he’s a teacher, I’m a kid.”
“I mean, technically,” Summer couldn’t help but point out, “you’re old enough to be at the bars, you’re not really a kid anymore. But assuming I want to put that aside – so we will, for a moment -” She took a deep breath. “Doctor. When’s the last time you went to a doctor?
“Urm.” Tad considered that slowly. “I got the physical I needed for college? Oh, oh when I was running track and I sprained my elbow! That was – don’t ask.” He shook his head. “That was last year, and it was a mess.”
“I’m getting that feeling.” She was really doing this. She had a feeling both of her older sibs would look at her in disappointment if she didn’t help him. “Okay. I’m going to do two things for you, and you’re gonna do two for me. I mean.” She sighed long and slow and reminded herself that she was, after all, one of the good guys. “Technically, those two are for you, too, but they’re the price of what I’m doing.”
“Okay?” He blinked at her, worried and confused. “You’re going to help me?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” She was. “Right.” Damnit, she was really going to do it. “I’m going to do this spell.” She’d never done this quite like this, so she was hoping to heck that it worked right. “It’s spreading the luck around, like you said. But the twist is, you can’t be mean to people. If you are, if you’re nasty like I’ve seen you be, it’s going to fail. not just fail, but it’s going to come back on you threefold. Got it?”
Threefold, she had found in the past, was a good way of making people take her more seriously. It sounded just supernatural enough.
“I can’t be mean at all? Like, at all?” He winced.
“You can be mean if you’re doing it in the defense of someone who’s being hurt or bullied in some way. Someone’s hassling a freshman, you can get in the way and be mean to that jerk. Someone’s just in your way, no, you can’t bring the fire.”
He slumped a little bit, then nodded. “Okay. I can do that. Might even enjoy it.” He added a small smile as he looked back up at her.
“Good. The second thing I’m going to do is call in a friend. My sister, actually, my big sister. See if someone’s got some sort of – some sort of bad hoodo on you already. If it’s there, she and I together can probably unravel it. But finding it, that’s not my field of expertise.”
And thank the powers that be that Tad’s aunt had explained people having different areas of expertise to him. Summer had had more than enough of that discussion before she left high school.
“Okay! Okay. Thank you.” He let out a couple of breaths. He sounded, she thought, mostly relieved. “So what do you want me to do?”
Summer braced herself. She hadn’t been in college this long without learning a thing or two about college guys, as a rule.
“I want you to go to a doctor.” She kept on before he could complain. “Not the campus med center, a real doctor, I mean, preferably a neurologist, but you’ll need to see a general practitioner first. So I want you to go to them. Tell them you’re having trouble remembering basic things .And if you need me to, I will come with you. Doctors can kind of be assholes, and I can help a little with that. But you’ve got to go, because if this isn’t some sort of hoodoo, you’ve got to get it looked at.”
“You think it might be, like, something in my head?”
“I think it might be something in your head,” she confirmed. “There’s a good chance it’s hoodoo – you’ve kind of been an asshole for a couple years now, and let’s be honest, college kids are not the best at not doing mean things because they feel like it-“
“Ask someone how long I’ve been here some day.”
He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “Are you a fae?”
“As far as I know, fae don’t exist. But go to the doctor. It might be hoodoo. It might be what my great great grandma would have called it bad air. You might really just be having a bad time. Those that do happen, completely coincidentally, and they suck. All else fails, the doctor will have a good baseline, in case you sprain your elbow running again.”
Tad chuckled, though he was looking faint and worried. “So, what’s the other one?”
“Okay, this one is… kind of like doing you another favor,” she admitted. She was going to hear it from her partners when she explained this one.
He slumped a little bit. “Something else wrong with me?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I want to shadow you to all your classes for a week. I can manage to miss anything that overlaps for one week, won’t be the end of the world.”
“To check up on me? To make sure that I’m going to be nice?”
“Oh, no, the thing I do will do that.” Summer shook her head., ignoring the worried look that Tad almost managed to hide. “No, I want to go to your classes because I want to see how your professors are really treating you.”
“What, you don’t believe me?” She would have thought Tad was joking, except there was a little hitch in his voice; he was just a little too nervous.
Didn’t mean he was lying, though. It could just mean discussing “hoodoo” made him nervous.
“It’s not that,” she reassured him. “It’s more… well, look. If I’m trying to fix things, I need a baseline. And if something hinky is going on, I can see it better in context. Plus…” Summer aimed half of a smile at Tad’s worried face. “I wanna see if it’s all in your head, yeah. And I’m sort of a fixture around here, too. Maybe just me being there might help.”
“So. You’re gonna help me.” He was finally sitting up straight, studying her over the table, like he was trying to figure her out. “But only if I manage to not be a jerk, and only if I… Let you help me some more.
“Pretty much,” she agreed. “The not being a jerk part is really important though.”
Tad laughed, joyously and sincerely and loudly. He laughed a little bit more, almost like he couldn’t stop, but then he managed to settle back into something like a casual position, still grinning. You know, you know, you know – on the third try he managed to complete the sentence.
“I thought, no, I knew you were good. I knew you were just kinda – just one of those — what did Professor Garner say? The shining lights. I mean not just because your name is Summer, I mean with that you might as well be named after a shining ball of light, but just the way you leak happiness all over the place. But I know, I know I’m not, I’m not that sort of person. I’m um, kind of a jerk. I know I’ve been a fuckup. And I knew you were good, but I kind of worried that me being a fuckup might outweigh you being a shining ball of light. But you really are going to help me.” He let out a nervous laugh. “Well, if I can can get my shit together. You really are–“
“Okay,” Summer interrupted . “I’ve got one more qualification.” She charged ahead quickly, because she could see his smile drooping away. “Nothing big. I promise I’ll still help you. But you have got to promise not to call me a shining ball of light in front of my sister. I will never hear the end of it you do.”
Tad’s smile came back – the way that it did told Summer that there were lots of things she was never going to hear the end of. “I’ll see what I can do, sunshine.”
She plowed on. She’d deal with that later. “We’ll start the classes thing on Monday. You call a doctor today, as soon as you leave here.” She scribbled her email on an index card and slid it across the table to him. “Drop me a line; we’ll work out schedules. I’ll call my sister today, too. And you can start working on the not-being-a-jerk thing now; you’re gonna need the practice.”
“Ouch.” he smiled. “So… can I start by buying you a beer tonight?”
Summer didn’t even have to raise her eyebrows at Tad before he’d slapped both hands across this face. She didn’t even bother trying not to laugh. This was probably going to be a long few weeks,
But she thought it might have its rewards.
“…Maybe a soda?” he tried weakly.Want more?