The Forgettable Miss French – Kristen Painter

Ginny French sipped her iced coffee and stared out the window of Deja Brew, watching people, almost all of whom she recognized, and thinking about her life. She’d been doing that a lot lately, and she knew it was a sign that she was sinking into a dark place. It happened periodically, but this time…it felt darker than usual. During times like this, the idea of turning to a life of crime held a certain appeal. Not really bad crimes. A little bank robbing, maybe. Or an art heist. That might be fun. Although those kinds of shenanigans probably needed a whole crew of people to pull off, and that was where she got stuck. Becoming a criminal wasn’t what interested her. It was the thrill of such acts and everything that she guessed went into pulling off such a stunt. But not just the preparation, the execution, and the exhilaration of a job like that, but the successful getaway. All of that would go a long way toward taking her mind off how very alone she was. The whole life-of-crime thing was definitely one of the crazier thoughts she’d had, but lately, her wild ideas were getting, well, wilder. Being forgettable could do that to you.

It could also wear you down. A life of crime would at least be exciting. At least, it seemed like it might be exciting. Real jail, on the other hand, would be a nightmare. And considering that she never so much as jaywalked intentionally, she couldn’t really be sure a big crime would thrill her as much as she imagined. Still, it had to be more exciting than the life she was leading now. Jaywalking was probably where she should start, though. But in this town, there wasn’t much in the way of law. Sure, there was Deacon Evermore, peacekeeper, but she wasn’t positive he’d ever actually arrested anyone. Not in the ten years she’d lived in Shadowvale anyway.

Unless events like that were kept secret. That could be, too. The town had a way of protecting itself from all sorts of things, which was what made it such a haven for the odd, unusual, and downright cursed. That’s why she lived here. She was the latter. And had been since she’d had the sad misfortune of touching a haunted mirror on the wall of the Myrtles Plantation during a vacation to Louisiana. She picked up her drink, the heavy, silver ID bracelet on her wrist clanking against the table when she moved. To the best of her deduction abilities, that was the incident that had caused her to become an invisible woman. Not really invisible, because invisibility didn’t truly define her problem. It was close, a symptom perhaps, but it didn’t capture the true depth of what had become of her.

Ever since touching that mirror, no one could remember her. Not even for as long as it took to make her coffee order, or ring up her items at the drugstore, or do her hair, or bring her food order. Nothing she’d done so far had changed that fact either. Not even a return trip to Louisiana to touch the mirror a second time. Wasted time and money were the only results of that trip. She gave her cup a little swirl, rattling the ice. It was something, really, to live in a place for ten years and have everyone treat you like a stranger. Everyone. The mailman. The dentist.

The butcher at the Green Grocer market where she bought her meat every week, something a werewolf like her needed to satisfy her protein requirements. She’d learned to deal with being a perpetual stranger. Mostly. But one of the parts she still struggled with was the reaction from her fellow wolves, the shifters who made up the pack in this town. The pack she couldn’t join because she was a permanent outsider. Without the approval of the pack’s alpha, Rico Martinez, there was no joining the pack. She’d tried talking to Rico in person and, finally, approaching him in her wolf form. Getting his approval was the easy part. Getting him to remember her…that’s where things went sideways. She hadn’t expected that seeing him in person would secure her in his memory, but as a wolf? She’d had hope for that.

Until that had failed, too, and she’d figured that even her scent was forgettable. That’s how she knew the curse she was under was serious. Never a quitter, she’d tried to join the pack on a group run on two occasions, hoping to slip into the crowd unnoticed. The first time, they’d snarled at her, but the second and last time, she’d gotten nipped on the flank, an injury that had hurt not only physically but mentally and emotionally. After that, she’d stopped trying. Being a lone wolf wasn’t the daring existence books and movies made it out to be. In truth, it was depressing. She had no real support system. No wolves to run with. No core group who understood what being a shifter meant.

Having a pack was like having a family. And she’d involuntarily become an orphan. For a second time. Her gaze fell to the ID bracelet again. The first time had happened when she was three, too young to remember the car accident that had claimed her parents’ lives. The ID bracelet, a gift from her mother to her father, was the only personal item that survived the wreck. Even now, as she stared at her father’s name engraved into the silver, she found comfort in the connection. Thankfully, her aunt Gwen had stepped in all those years ago, becoming Ginny’s guardian and a phenomenal parent. She was the only one who sometimes remembered Ginny, an ability Ginny attributed to their blood connection. And when Aunt Gwen didn’t remember Ginny, that wasn’t because of Ginny’s curse.

Aunt Gwen’s memory troubles came on after her stroke, but thankfully, the retirement community in Shadowvale, Emerald Manor, had an assisted-living wing where they knew how to care for supernatural patients with such issues. Unlike the assisted-living home Aunt Gwen had been in the first time. They’d called animal control upon finding a wolf in Aunt Gwen’s room. What a mess that had been. At least here in Shadowvale, inappropriate shifting wasn’t a deal breaker. Not in the care home anyway. The move to this town had benefitted both of them. Well. Mostly Aunt Gwen. Ginny wasn’t getting a whole lot out of it.

No matter where she was, she’d be forgotten. But this way, Aunt Gwen was safe. Ginny just wished her aunt could remember her all the time. On the days when Aunt Gwen looked at her with that blank stare…that’s when Ginny’s world really went dark. Aunt Gwen was her safe place. Always had been, but these last ten years, more than ever. So when she couldn’t remember Ginny, the loneliness was almost suffocating. Ginny swallowed against the lump forming in her throat and took a few deep cleansing breaths. This line of thinking was going to turn her into a weepy mess, and that wasn’t something she wanted, not in the middle of her favorite coffee shop. Not that making a scene was such a big deal when it would be forgotten in minutes.

All she’d have to do was slip into the bathroom for a couple moments, and when she came back out, she’d be brand new to everyone who saw her. How crazy was it, that despite coming here almost every morning, she couldn’t even order her usual, because no one who worked here had any idea what her usual was. Nor would they ever. Not unless she could find the legendary curse-lifting book in the town’s enchanted forest. But there was as much chance of her finding that book as there was of being remembered. She’d been looking for ten years and hadn’t even come close. Not that Aunt Gwen could ever know that. Ginny had told her all about the book and the forest when she’d first found out about them, and Aunt Gwen had almost had a second stroke. She was sure that their family was cursed as a whole and was convinced that Ginny would only come to further misfortune if she dared enter the enchanted forest. From that day on, Ginny kept her searches for the book to herself.

She finished her iced coffee and thought about going home. Her job as a graphic designer was her only real solace, because online seemed to be the one place she wasn’t forgotten. At least in emails. But she wasn’t ready to disappear into her work just yet. There was one other…creature who was always happy to see her, one other being who seemed to remember her. First, she had to get pie. More like pies, actually. Seymour was a big eater. She left Deja Brew behind and walked a couple blocks up to the Black Horse Bakery, another place she’d probably be considered a regular if anyone remembered her. She got into the short line at the counter and checked her phone while she waited, mostly to see if there were any business emails that needed dealing with.

Someone was looking for a logo. That was good. Usually easy work. Another client wanted some new graphics for a product launch. Awfully short notice, but Ginny still wasn’t rushing home. It could wait. “Next.” Ginny approached the counter. “Hi, I’d like six of the blackberry pies.” Blackberry had been the Pie of the Day for as long as she could remember, which was since she’d lived here.

Touching the mirror hadn’t affected her memory, only the memories of those around her. Nasha, the woman who owned the place, nodded. “You must have a houseful of blackberry pie lovers.” Since it didn’t really matter what Ginny said, she sometimes told the truth instead of falling back on comfortable small talk. This was one of those moments. “Nope. I live alone. Except for my three goldfish, but they’re not much on pie.” Nasha’s brows lifted a little, but to the woman’s credit, she didn’t comment further. Being the daughter of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had probably given her the ability to stay cool in any situation, no matter how odd.

“Coming right up.” Of course, Ginny wasn’t going to eat any of the pies. They were all for Seymour. Nasha presented her with two shopping bags, each holding three boxed pies. “Here you go. Hope you enjoy them.” “Thank you. What do I owe you?” Ginny knew they were free. All the baked goods were. But Nasha thought she was new here, and Ginny was so used to the routine, she played along without thinking about it.

“Nothing.” Nasha nodded knowingly. “I thought you were new to town. Everything at Black Horse is free, except the coffee. Come back and see us.” “I will for sure.” Ginny headed out, smiling, but the smile faded as she hit the sidewalk. Why had she gone along with all that? She hated the fakery, the pretending, the—she sighed. She didn’t really hate it, but it did wear thin. And she didn’t do it for herself.

She did it for the people she interacted with. To make their lives easier. What good would it do to explain her problem to everyone who asked her if she was new in town? None, that’s what. And it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. She got to her car, a navy blue Jeep that was currently topless and would be until the weather turned cool again, put the pies on the floor behind the driver’s seat, and climbed in. She took the ponytail holder off the shifter stick and knotted up her hair on top of her head. Then she dug her sunglasses out of her purse and popped them on. Lastly, she started up the Jeep and cranked on the tunes. Today she was going to play her music louder than was polite. She liked it that way, and since no one could remember that she was the one doing it, why not? She pulled out of her parking space and onto Main Street.

If she’d been in any other town in the Carolinas, she was pretty sure the sun would have been shining down on her. She tipped her head toward the sky while still keeping her eyes on the road. She swore she could feel the warmth on her skin, but in Shadowvale, there wasn’t ever any sun. Sometimes, like today, there was a hint of a golden glow. But never any visible sun. It was the town’s big curse. Or blessing, depending on what kind of supernatural you were. For some, like the vampires, it was a major draw. But no matter what kind of overcast skies the day had, the evenings were almost always clear. Which meant the moon was almost always visible.

Something the shifters in town enjoyed. She turned off Main Street, drove through one of the residential sections, past Emerald Manor where Aunt Gwen was. She’d been to see Aunt Gwen the day before and taken her a box of cupcakes from the bakery. Aunt Gwen loved sweets—who didn’t? But especially the cupcakes. Beyond Emerald Manor, she entered a more rural area, then turned again onto the road that led to Miller’s Lake. Once she got there, she took a mostly dirt road that led around the lake to the old fishing pier and boardwalk that wrapped around the shore. Since they’d built a new public park area on the other side of the lake, the old boardwalk wasn’t used nearly as much anymore. Ginny’s Jeep bumped over the uneven road. She dodged some of the bigger ruts for the sake of the pies, slowing as she neared the water. No one was out here today, which was perfect.

On a warm weekend, the lake was a popular place, but during the week, people had other things to do. Not everyone, but today no one had shown up at the old pier. That definitely increased the chances of Seymour making an appearance. He often didn’t when a lot of people were around. She took a deep inhale of the air and smiled. The lake was beautiful. The water was crystal clear until it got deep, and then it turned the loveliest shade of blue-green. She imagined with sun on it, the color would be spectacular. That would never happen, of course, but she could picture it all the same. Most times, she came to the lake with her swimsuit on under her clothes, but not today.

Not for the past few visits, really. Not since her next-door neighbors had moved, leaving their house empty and their pool rather available. Sometimes, when the wolf inside her needed the release, she’d come out to the lake at night to run one of the many trails that followed the shoreline. It was a safe place for the most part, as the local pack preferred the enchanted forest or the mountainsides. Nightingale Park, above the twilight line, was another of her favorite places to run, especially when she was in the mood for sun, although the pack liked the park, too. But that was easy to avoid. If the parking lot was full, she went elsewhere. As often as she could, she took Aunt Gwen out with her. Sometimes here to swim as well. Ginny parked, got the pies out, and walked toward the pier.

The little boardwalk followed the shoreline for a good bit, bending around behind the trees where it jutted into the lake for fishing. She went out to the end, sat down with the shopping bags next to her and her legs crisscrossed, then got one of the pies out. It did smell good. And that smell was usually enough to bring Seymour out. She opened the box and held it up, letting the breeze travel over the golden crust and pick up the scent of the juicy berries inside. Smiling, she called out for him in a singsong voice, “Seymour…I have pie…” A second passed, then two. The water near the deep center of the lake rippled. Her smile widened. “Pie,” she repeated. “Blackberry.

Your favorite.” The ripples moved toward her, picking up speed as they approached. He surfaced a few feet away, his gorgeous head breaking the water’s tension like a submarine rising. The thin spines that ran in v-shaped ridges from his brow all the way down his back to the tip of his tail glistened with beads of water, but lay flat to his skin. His dark, luminous eyes blinked at her, then focused on the pie. A little trilling sound left his throat, and he smiled eagerly. “Nice to see you, too, Seymour.” She felt like he remembered her, but there was a chance it was just the pie. She rarely came to the lake without bringing him some, unless she’d come for an evening run, and then she didn’t always see him. Hmm.

She hoped it wasn’t just the pies. He lifted his front right flipper, barking at her and pawing the water. “I didn’t come to swim today. I should have, though.” The neighbor’s pool was just a lot more convenient than driving to the lake every time she wanted to swim. She liked swimming with Seymour, though. He was like a giant dog, eager for attention. Although, she’d learned that he could give off little electrical shocks, like an eel, when there was contact. Since the first time that had happened, he hadn’t done it again, though. “I just came to see you and bring you pie.

You still like pie, don’t you?” He nodded, sending droplets flying. She laughed. “Just a second.” She worked her fingers gently between the crust and the tin on either side, her thumbs braced on the bottom of the plate. “Ready?” His tongue lolled out, a sure sign of his affection for all things pie. “Here goes.” With a much-practiced forward motion, she flipped the pie out of the tin and into the air. Seymour craned his neck, mouth open in a display of teeth that were more accustomed to shredding fish, and caught the pie. He swallowed it down in one gulp, then looked at her expectantly. She shook her head in amusement.

“You really need to learn to chew.”

.

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