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Olivia has to throw Drew a birthday party with the help of the magical menagerie.
And it all goes wrong.
Despite her best intentions, Olivia can’t make things happen today. Winston, Ava’s semi-aware house, doesn’t like the fact that Olivia is there baking while Ava isn’t home.
Hey, at least Ava can be sure she doesn’t need a security system.
“Oh, no, darn it.” I lurched as the grocery sack ripped, catching the corner so it ripped even further. The big eight-thousand-pound bag of flour hit my foot, making the top of my foot explode with f-bomb worthy pain. But at least my foot, now throbbing, kept the flour from hitting the ground, busting open, and going everywhere. “Darn it, darn it.”
Limping, I left the flour, which wasn’t really eight thousand pounds, even though it had felt like it at the time, sitting on the walkway and headed for the door. I had Ava’s spare key in my pocket, which didn’t do me much good, considering my hands were still too full. I should’ve grabbed a tote or something to carry all this crap in, but it was a little too late for that now.
Usually, I was a little more organized than at this moment. But being alone in Ava’s house with a skeleton, a ghoul, and well…the house itself left me feeling a little out of sorts. I wasn’t used to dealing with all the magical things that went on in there, though I did enjoy them. Most of the time.
Of course, I stumbled up the stairs, but at least I caught myself. No major injuries; I didn’t even skin my knee or shin or anything. That’s good, right?
Dumping the other bags on the porch in front of the door, I pulled the key from my pocket and slid it in the lock with a sigh.
But then it wouldn’t turn. “Seriously?” I bent and squinted at the lock. Was this the wrong key?
I pulled it out to check. No. Ava had painted the side of it with purple nail polish, so I’d always know which key was hers. Not that I would forget, but she insisted because I had a million keys on my ring. Her words.
Not the wrong key. I gripped the handle tighter and jiggled it as I inserted the key. Still not working. “What is wrong with this lock?” I said through gritted teeth. I’d used it before and it had worked fine.
Maybe the door was just stuck. Holding the knob with one hand, I bumped my butt against it as hard as I could, but it didn’t budge. Instead, I cried out when a sharp pain shot through the side of my hip.
“Damn it. Open up, you psychotic house!” I stepped back and glared at the house before picking my jaw up off the ground when the door opened all on its own. Okay, that wasn’t creepy at all.
Alfred stuck his face around the door and grunted. His clouded eyes searched me for a few moments before he opened the door wider. He nodded, or at least I think he did. His pale, gray skin didn’t move much. When he grunted, I understood it as a welcome. He couldn’t speak due to a string that sewed his lips together.
At least the door hadn’t opened on its own. Although I believed it could if it really wanted to. My adorably insane husband, Sam, who was also Ava’s childhood BFF, claimed the house talked to him, and his name is Winston. Ava and I were skeptical about that.
“Hey, Alfie!” The cheeriness in my voice was fake, but I’d get back to excited soon. Now that Winston’s door was open, nothing was stopping me. “I’ve got a bunch more stuff to unload. Can you grab these bags?”
I’d ask the ghoul to help unload, but despite Ava living on the edge of town, her street was pretty busy, especially now that spring was coming. Tourists would flock to the area soon enough. There was too much risk that someone would see a stiff, zombie-like man carrying groceries in. Too bad it wasn’t near Halloween, then he could help me.
He grunted again, which was Alfred-speak for a long, drawn-out sentence of welcome.
“Thanks, Alfie,” I chirped as I bounced down the stairs, nearly tripping again. Damn, did I wear the wrong shoes? Was the sole loose or something? I stopped for a second and balanced on one foot while I checked my shoes.
Nope. Run of the mill sneakers. No holes or flappy pieces. With a sigh, I hurried back to my car and grabbed another load of bags.
“Decorations, check.” Peering into the bags, I tried to think of whatever it was I’d forgotten. It’d been bugging me since I left the party store. I poked through and triple-checked my inventory. Streamers, a happy birthday banner, cheap paper tablecloths. What was I missing?
It would come to me. Eventually.
Gathering another couple of armloads, I grunted as I heaved them up. Good grief. How were streamers this heavy?
I made it to the stairs in one piece, then tripped again, on the same stair I was pretty sure. “Damn it!” I yelled as my bags went flying.
Larry stuck his head… skull… out the door. “Need a hand?” He couldn’t come out either, unfortunately.
I sighed and rolled over on the porch before sitting up. “Please. Could you and Alfred possibly start the decorations? We were going to do the living room only since it’s going to be a small affair.”
The late morning sunshine illuminated the front porch far too well. I could nearly see through the back of Larry’s eye sockets and into the back of the inside of his skull. If that was even possible. I shuddered at the thought, though I wouldn’t trade a moment of how crazy things had been since Ava came back to Shipton. It kept life interesting. Lord knew we all needed interesting at our age.
Climbing to my feet, I looked away from Larry’s shiny skull and started gathering up the far-flung streamers and packs of plates and napkins.
“Thanks, Larry,” I called as he went in with a few of the bags.
Hurrying back to the car, I stepped carefully down the stairs, watching exactly where I was going for each footfall.
Somehow, somehow, my clumsy ass still stumbled on the last one. And I would’ve sworn I saw the board move. Winston.
“Okay, I’m climbing up the side of the porch next time,” I muttered as I glanced back toward the house, suspicion growing in my gut.
Last trip. I got all of the rest of the bags and balanced three rolls of wrapping paper under my chin as I bumped the door closed with my butt. That was when my car alarm went off, blaring the god-awful noise that echoed off the cliff Winston sat on.
I left it blaring and continued toward the house. One crisis at a time. It would go off in a minute.
“Okay, stairs. Leave me alone this time.” Glaring at them, I stepped one at a time, slowly, one foot, then the other foot, until I made it up to the porch. The front door stood wide open, thanks to Larry, so I strode forward with my armload.
And promptly dropped it all when I tripped over the door jamb. The latest and last round of bags slid into the house and halfway down the foyer toward the kitchen.
“Son of a b—”