“So.” Milagros set down her tea cup. “Your ghost is missing?”
Milagros said nothing. I picked up the teacup and sipped delicately.
I like tea. I didn’t used to, until I spent a year in England as an exchange student. There, tea is practically a religion. I didn’t like beer, so I had to do what I could to assimilate. English tea, though, is milky and mild and served with a biscuit. Milagros’s tea was bush tea, brewed strong from an assortment of herbs. I swallowed and immediately wished I hadn’t.
“And you want what?”
I tried not to let my annoyance show on my face. “I want you to help me find him. I know you have tracking spells —”
Milagros started to laugh, huge deep bellylaughs that set her fat to trembling. “Now you want a spell? Run on home, Bell-child, and ask your mother for a spell. Mama’s aren’t good enough for the likes of you!”
The Bell family lorebooks wouldn’t help me find Henry. We were in the business of banishing ghosts, not summoning them. Mama knew how to call on them, though.
My other hand, resting in my lap, clenched into a fist. “I don’t know what your problem is with my parents, but I’m not —”
“Your brother said the same.”
“—what?” I stopped, dumbfounded.
Milagros regarded me thoughtfully for a moment. Around us were the sounds of an old building settling — quiet creaks and groans. In the background I thought I could hear a television. Finally she spoke. “Your brother said the same thing. He came to me a while back, asking questions about calling on spirits. I thought he really was different, more open-minded than the rest of the clan.”
Mama frowned. “You don’t know? He aired a ‘special episode’ of that trash TV show of his, and decried our beliefs as superstition in front of 2 million viewers.”
I gasped. Devon, you asshole, what have you done now? He would. He just would milk the best witch on the island for ratings without regard for her feelings or — I thought selfishly – her use as a resource.
“I apologize for my idiot of a brother. But —”
“No buts.” Milagros crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re all fruit of the same tree, and I have had enough of the Bells.”
I knew it was over.
She escorted me out, and flipped the sign on the door to “Closed” with a savage slap against the dirty glass. I started to make my way toward the subway, conscious of eyes on me. People milled around on the sidewalks, congregating outside the bodegas to drink sodas and chat, or setting up folding card tables with dominoes in front of the housing projects. All Hispanic, almost all Dominican. They watched me as I passed. A white girl in Washington Heights stands out.
I was nearly to the subway when I heard someone calling out behind me. “Wait! Wait!”
I turned. Milagros’ granddaughter Marisol was jogging down the street after me, her sneakers slapping against the pavement and braids bouncing behind her.
She stopped when she reached me, and put her hands on her knees to pant. “Oh my god, you walk fast.”
“What is it?” I asked. Did she want to berate me some more? Did Mama Milagros have some last admonition she needed delivered in person? “What do you want.”
The girl’s dark eyes narrowed. “Hey, easy.” She stuck her hand out, as if to shake. “I’m Marisol. I’m not just Mama’s granddaughter, I’m her apprentice. And I want to help.”