Andrea found the nearest hotel and they checked into a room with two beds. It was Marko’s idea that they should stay together for protection. Andrea eyed him doubtfully. The strain of his health scare had taken a lot out of him. He looked much too weak to be any sort of help, if anything were to go down. Right now, he needed more looking after then they did.
The trio trooped up to the room and Marko sat on the bed closest to the door, while the sisters were inspecting the bathroom. They came out to find he had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep. Not wanting to wake him, they scribbled a quick note and left it by the phone on the nightstand, before venturing out in search of the nearest fast food joint. The hotel was in a sketchy part of town, but that couldn’t be helped. They had to be frugal with their dwindling cash reserves. Andrea was so intent on what she was saying to her sister that she had taken several steps before realizing that Janet was no longer beside her.
Andrea experienced a moment of panic, when she turned around on the busy sidewalk and didn’t see her sister. Had someone or something snatched her? Andrea retraced her steps, looking around wildly. She called out and no answer came. Normally, Andrea’s first reaction would be anger. The shadow cat had depleted her stores of pent-up rage. Instead, she felt anxiety prodding at her stomach.
People continued to walk around her, unconcerned about her frantic efforts to locate Janet. Frustration only intensified the growing sense of anxiousness that Andrea felt. In desperation, she began looking in storefront windows and was relieved to see her sister through the dusty window of a rundown palmistry shop. Andrea rushed inside.
“What is wrong with you Janet? One minute I was talking to you and the next thing I know, you’ve disappeared! Why didn’t you say something?”
“Huh? Oh, sorry Andrea. I saw this place and I just had to come in. I’m going to have my palm read. Don’t look at me like that Andrea. With all the craziness that we’ve been through recently, I just want a little reassurance.”
“You are not wasting any money on this nonsense. We’re barely scraping by as it is. Pretty soon, we’ll have to start doing odd jobs for cash.”
“Don’t worry, the first reading is free. You should get your palm read too.”
“You’re joking right? Janet, these phony baloney places just feed you a bunch of double talk so they can drain your pocketbook. They probably tell everybody the same thing. It’s like fortune cookies. Come on, let’s get something to eat and go back to the hotel.”
“No Andrea, I’m getting my palm read. I have a strong feeling about this place. Go on and order the food without me. By the time you get it, I will have gotten my palm read.”
Andrea fought the urge to continue arguing. She could tell by the determined look on her sister’s face that it would be pointless. Andrea let out a frustrated sigh and left, muttering under her breath. Janet made a face at her sister’s retreating back. Andrea always had a negative opinion about anything that wasn’t her idea. Janet closed her eyes and took a deep breath. They had grown up together. She had no idea why Andrea’s lack of consideration for her feelings was still so upsetting.
Logically, Janet knew that some palm reader in a hole in the wall shop wasn’t going to predict her future. In all likelihood, the reading would be completely bogus. That wasn’t the point. Janet felt unsettled and just wanted someone, anyone to tell her that nothing catastrophic was looming on the horizon. It didn’t matter if it was true or not. She just needed some reassurance. Marko had enough on his plate keeping them alive without her heaping on her worries. Andrea had never been good at talking about feelings. She tended to just roll her eyes and tell Janet to get over herself.
Andrea had decided to leave home as a teenager and brought hardships on herself. Yet, whenever Janet tried to discuss any personal problems, she got a lecture from her sister about choosing to be a victim. Andrea loved to grind on about having to survive on the streets with no one but herself to rely on, neglecting to mention the string of men off of whom she sponged. Just thinking about it made Janet angry. So, there she was waiting to talk to a stranger about her fears.
The trick here was figuring out how to get things off of her chest without sounding like a fruitcake. Then again, if you couldn’t talk about spirits and demons with a fortune-teller who could you discuss it with? The good thing about talking to a stranger about off-the-wall things was that Janet never had to see her again.
She had just managed to calm her nerves when the proprietor of the palmistry shop came sweeping out from behind the beaded curtain. Janet was surprised to see the woman was relatively young and quiet attractive with long black hair and smoldering, dark eyes. Suddenly, she felt shy and self-conscious. Maybe pouring her heart out to a stranger wasn’t such a good idea.
The woman appeared to sense Janet’s uneasiness. Her red lips parted into a smile and she placed an arm around Janet’s shoulders, gently urging her past the beaded curtains. The air back there was thick with the smell of incense. Janet sat down at the table and the woman moved to sit across from her.
“Come and talk to Esmeralda. Your sister has upset you yes?”
“I…yes, that’s right…”
“Because she does not believe in things like this. She is not very supportive.”
“No, how did you…Andrea has never been on my side. In the past, I had friends that I could turn to for support. But since this business with the talisman…”
Janet knew the moment she said it that she had volunteered too much information. Esmeralda’s eyes narrowed momentarily and then the solicitous expression returned. Janet did not like the calculating way the woman had looked at the mention of her talisman. Esmeralda smiled so engagingly that Janet began to think that she had imagined the appraising look. Before long, they were chatting like good friends.
The bell over the front door tinkled and in walked Andrea. How long had they been talking? Esmeralda hadn’t gotten around to reading her palm. Rather than keeping Andrea waiting, Esmeralda invited Janet to return alone for her free palm reading. Andrea rolled her eyes and unceremoniously dropped one of the bags of food in Janet’s lap.
“Come on, let’s get back to the hotel before our food gets cold.”
Esmeralda gave Janet a sympathetic look as she took her leave of the palmistry shop. Andrea had turned and left without waiting for her sister. She was several yards away, before Janet got outside. Being treated like a hardheaded child made her anger boil over. Janet caught up to her sister and shouted her displeasure.
“Hey, don’t you walk away from me like that! You embarrassed me back there!”
“And you’re embarrassing me now, shouting like a madwoman. Lower your voice Janet. People are staring at us.”
“If you want me to lower my voice, then stop walking away from me. I’m trying to talk to you.”
“About what Janet? Don’t tell me your feathers are still ruffled because I didn’t get all excited about you getting your palm read. Get over yourself.”
“And there it is ladies and gentleman.”
“There what is? Stop talking to these people. They’re already staring at us.”
“Would you shut up about these morons? They don’t know us and we don’t know them. Who cares if some of them are being nosy? Worry about me for a change. I don’t understand why you won’t support me.”
“About getting your palm read?”
“This is not about that, I’m talking in general terms. Whenever you don’t agree with the way I feel or something I want to do, you try to make me feel ridiculous.”
“That’s because I’m trying to get you to see how silly you’re being.”
“There it is again!”
“There what is?”
“You passing judgement on me. How would you like it if I did that to you? Lord knows, you’ve done more than your share of stupid things.”
“Like what Janet?”
“How about the lowlifes you associate with or the decisions you made that landed us in this mess? Look, I’m not going to stand here and give you an itemized list. The point is, I’m fed up with not being able to talk to you about things that are important to me.”
“Now, you’re being ridiculous again. You are such a drama queen Janet! I am always there for you. Having your back doesn’t mean I have to let you wallow in self-pity. As your older sister, it’s my job to…”
“I don’t believe this! You were gone for most of my teenage years and I’ve been bailing you out of jams for all of my adult years. Where do you get off trying to play the big sister card?”
Andrea shut down and they walked back to the hotel in stony silence. The tension was palpable in the hotel room. Marko sensed that something had gone down between the sisters and wisely decided to stay out of it. He wolfed down his burger and fries before jumping into the shower. The sisters each took their turn in the bathroom and then, it was lights out.
Marko immediately sank into a dreamless sleep. When the scream sounded, it jarred him into a confused state of wakefulness. He sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. Andrea lay motionless in the other bed. Marko sighed, thinking that it had been a dream, when his eyes fell on the empty space beside her. He eased out of bed and staggered over to the bathroom. It was empty. Marko went and shook Andrea awake.
“Where is Janet?”