I don’t even start at her comment. I just nod and pull my wallet out of my pocket. I lay enough money on the table to cover our bill and then I stand up. “I agree,” I tell her, reaching out for her hand.
I actually don’t agree, but I feel bad. These last two days have been exhausting and I know she’s tired. The least I can do is make this easier for her, despite knowing this hocus pocus bullshit isn’t going to enlighten us in any way.
We pass a few tarot shops during our search, but Charlie shakes her head each time I point one out. I’m not sure what she’s looking for, but I actually like walking the streets with her, so I’m not complaining. She’s holding my hand, and sometimes I put my arm around her and pull her against me when the paths become too narrow. I don’t know if she’s noticed, but I’ve been leading us through a lot of these narrow paths unnecessarily. Any time I see a big crowd, I aim for it. After all, she’s still my back-up plan.
After about half an hour longer of walking, it looks like we’re reaching the end of the French quarter. The crowds are dwindling, giving me fewer excuses to pull her to me. Some of the shops we’re passing have already closed. We make it to St. Philip Street when she pauses in front of an art gallery window.
I stand next to her and stare at the displays illuminated inside the building. There are plastic body parts suspended from the ceiling, and giant, metal sea life clinging to the walls. The main display, which is directly in front of us, just happens to be a small corpse—wearing a strand of pearls.
She taps her finger against the glass, pointing at the corpse. “Look,” she says. “It’s me.” She laughs and moves her attention to somewhere else inside the store.
I’m not looking at the corpse anymore. I’m not looking inside the store anymore.
I’m looking at her.
The lights from inside the gallery are illuminating her skin, giving her a glow that really does make her look like an angel. I want to run my hand across her back and feel for actual wings.
Her eyes move from one object to another as she studies everything beyond the window. She’s looking at each piece with bewilderment. I make a mental note to bring her back here when they’re actually open. I can’t imagine what she’d look like actually being able to touch one of the pieces.
She stares into the window a few minutes longer and I continue to stare at her, only now I’ve taken two steps and I’m standing directly behind her. I want to see her tattoo again, now that I know what it means. I wrap my hand around her hair and brush it forward, over her shoulder. I half expect her to reach behind her and slap my hand away, but instead, she sucks in a quick rush of air and looks down at her feet.
I smile, remembering what it felt like when she ran her fingers over my tattoo. I don’t know if I make her feel the same, but she’s standing still, allowing my fingers to slip inside the collar of her shirt again.
I swallow what feels like three entire heartbeats. I wonder if she’s always had this effect on me.
I pull her shirt down, revealing her tattoo. A pang shoots through my stomach, because I hate that we don’t have this memory. I want to remember the discussion we had when we decided to make such a permanent decision. I want to remember who brought the idea up first. I want to remember what she looked like as the needle pierced her skin for the first time. I want to remember how we felt when it was over.
I run my thumb over the silhouette of trees while curving the rest of my hand over her shoulder—over skin covered in chills again. She tilts her head to the side and the tiniest of whimpers escapes her throat.
I squeeze my eyes shut. “Charlie?” My voice is like sandpaper. I clear my throat to smooth it out. “I changed my mind,” I say quietly. “I don’t want to give you a new name. I kind of love your old one now.”
I wait for her snarky response. For her laughter.
I wait for her to push my hand away from the nape of her neck.
I get no reaction from her. Nothing. Which means I get everything.
I keep my hand on her back as I slowly step around her. I’m standing between her and the window now, but she keeps her eyes focused on the ground. She doesn’t look up at me, because I know she doesn’t like to feel weak. And right now, I’m making her weak. I bring my free hand to her chin and graze my fingers up her jaw, tilting her face to mine.
When we lock eyes, I feel like I’m meeting a brand new side of her. A side of her without resolve. A vulnerable side. A side that’s allowing herself to feel something. I want to grin and ask her how it feels to be in love, but I know teasing her in this moment would piss her off and she’d walk away and I can’t let that happen. Not right now. Not when I finally get to catalog an actual memory with all the numerous fantasies I’ve had about her mouth.
Her tongue slides across her bottom lip, causing jealousy to flutter through me, because I really wanted to be the one to do that to her lip.
In fact…I think I will.
I begin to dip my head, just as she presses her hands against my forearms. “Look,” she says, pointing at the building next door. The flickering light has stolen her attention and I want to curse the universe for the simple fact that a light bulb just interfered with what was about to become my absolute favorite of very few memories.
I follow her gaze to a sign that doesn’t look any different from all of the other Tarot signs we’ve passed. The only thing different about this one is it just completely ruined my moment. And dammit, it was a good moment. A great one. One I know Charlie was also feeling, and I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get back to that.
She’s walking in the direction of the shop now. I follow behind her like a lovesick puppy.
The building is unmarked and it makes me wonder what it was about the unreliable, asshole-lighting that drew her away from my mouth. The only words indicating this is even a store are the “No Cameras” signs plastered on every blackened window.
Charlie puts her hands on the door and pushes it open. I follow her inside and we’re soon standing in what looks like the center of a touristy voodoo gift shop. There’s a man standing behind a register and a few people browsing the aisles.
I try to take everything in as I follow Charlie through the store. She fingers everything, touching the stones, the bones, the jars of miniature voodoo dolls. We silently make our way down each aisle until we reach the back wall. Charlie stops short, grabs my hand and points at a picture on the wall. “That gate,” she says. “You took a picture of that gate. It’s the one hanging on my wall.”
“Can I help you?”
We both spin around and a large—really large—man with gauged ears and a lip ring is staring down at us.
I kind of want to apologize to him and leave as fast as we can, but Charlie has other plans. “Do you know what this gate is guarding? The one in the picture?” Charlie asks him, pointing over her shoulder. The man’s eyes lift to the picture frame. He shrugs.
“Must be new,” he says. “I’ve never noticed it before.” He looks at me, arching an eyebrow adorned with multiple piercings. One being a small…bone? Is that a bone sticking through his eyebrow? “You two looking for anything in particular?”
I shake my head and begin to respond, but my words are cut off by someone else’s.