IT WAS a sunny Saturday afternoon in the Westcroft neighborhood. A mild autumn breeze stirred Tyler Ward’s dark curls as he strolled along, crunching the dry fallen leaves underfoot. The trendy end of the city was a cross between an artist’s village and boys’ town, a close-knit community that often felt like one big family. Most every storefront on charming yet chic Aspen Avenue was a small, locally owned business that proudly sported a rainbow flag on the premises, and everyone knew their neighbors.
Tyler rolled his eyes as a particularly flaming couple across the street circumvented a ladder leaning against a building, despite having to walk into the street to do so. Some people were so gullible about that sort of thing. Wasn’t it more dangerous to walk into the road and risk being hit than to walk under an empty ladder and risk some vague, mystical punishment of “bad luck”?
The smell of fresh roasted coffee from the Celestial Café, a block down the street, was a perfect complement to the scent of turning leaves in the cool, crisp air. Tyler’s stomach rumbled slightly; it was definitely time for his Saturday afternoon snack. Tyler knew most everybody in their little “gayborhood”—many of the shop owners were good friends of his, and Saturday was usually his day to visit and shop with friends.
“Hey, Ty.” Lukas Zamora, the owner of the café, smiled from behind the counter. Tyler could always be trusted to show up on a Saturday afternoon while business was slow. Lukas put down the local indie paper and automatically poured a cup of hot water, knowing exactly what British expatriate Tyler would be having.
“No extra business from the fair on Chestnut?” Tyler asked, sitting down at the bar.
“Yeah, we were pretty busy earlier. Probably pick up again when they all come back to their cars this evening. Oh, Ty, if you’re shopping, this isn’t a good day for you to… um…. Wait a minute,” Lukas said, pulling up the astrology website on his ever-present laptop. “Here: ‘not a good day to bring home anything impish’.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to hit the sex shop, but now you’ve mentioned it….” Tyler grinned at Lukas.
“Hey, it’s serious, man. Says here it could have ‘disastrous and far-reaching consequences’. See, Mars and Saturn are conjunct right now with Uranus, during a freakin’ Jupiter retrograde. And I think Mercury is also square Saturn, which just reinforces the whole point. You being a Capricorn and all….”
Tyler quirked his brow and smirked at his friend. “Just give me my cuppa, yeah, mate?”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Lukas said, handing Tyler his usual cup of Earl Grey with vanilla syrup mixed in.
“I consider myself duly warned.” Tyler nodded gravely, handing over a five, taking a peanut-butter brownie, and telling his friend to keep the change.
“You and Kevin coming over for dinner tomorrow?” Lukas asked, putting Tyler’s change in the tip jar, where he knew it would end up even if he’d forced Tyler to take it. Tyler and his partner, Kevin Strabane, had been joining Lukas and his partner, Daniel, for Sunday evening dinners for the last few years. Daniel worked in Kevin’s art gallery and was also a former Briton who had been one of Tyler’s first friends in the US.
“Yeah, of course,” Tyler said, munching on his snack at the counter. “What are you cooking?”
Lukas shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll probably figure that out when I’m in the store at one in the morning.”
“You need to let other people close up shop once in a while, mate. Well, I’m off. See you guys tomorrow,” Tyler said, finishing his brownie. He headed across the street, sipping on his tea and leisurely window-shopping the avenue. He was tempted to try on a new pair of shoes, the red-brown alligator oxfords in the shoe boutique window really catching his eye, but his shoes already outnumbered Kevin’s by about five to one.
Instead, Tyler continued on to the vintage clothes shop a block up. Stefan, the shop owner, couldn’t wait to show him the collections of Levi’s he’d just gotten in, and Tyler ended up gleefully taking two pairs of the jeans, along with a dark brown corduroy jacket, a belt, and a couple of autumn-toned scarves.
Tyler and Stefan chatted for a bit about news in the neighborhood and around their little circle of friends. Tyler couldn’t help snickering and grinning at the aging drag queen that passed by the shop, waggling fuchsia fingernails at Stefan through the window. Stefan just smiled back politely before shooting Tyler a glare.
“Aw, c’mon, don’t you like Tierra?” Tyler cackled. “I guess I oughta get outta here, though. I think she wants to stop in while you’re not with a ‘customer’.”
“Sometimes I really hate you, Ty,” Stefan muttered.
“Yeah, of course you do, Steffers. You won’t be saying that when I’ve brought you some of Kev’s pumpkin bread.” Stefan was an absolute addict for Kevin’s sweet autumn breads, as were most people who’d ever tried them. “Okay, I’m gonna go poke around in the antiques for a bit. I’ll ring you sometime this week,” Tyler said.
“Alright. No, wait, don’t call me till like Thursday. Lukas told me this morning that there’s something bad about communication for people born too close to each other’s signs or something.”
“Bloody hell. You two are too susceptible to that shite. He told me not to bring home anything impish, for fuck’s sake. What’s that even supposed to mean?”
“I dunno. Don’t pick up any flavored condoms?” Stefan grinned.
“Yeah, well, Kev and I don’t need those anyway. I’m leaving now. I promise I won’t ring till Thursday.”
Tyler just shook his head at all these silly ideas as he crossed the street again to the antiques shop. The prices were a little high-end for him, but he hadn’t been in there in ages, and he really enjoyed just looking at the old and odd things acquired there. He quietly wandered about the three levels of the old house-turned-shop for a little while, looking at hand-painted fireplace screens and paintings of people’s grumpy-looking grans, barley-legged tables and cut-glass wine sets, old porcelain dolls and heavily embroidered ottomans. The soft hum and vibration against his thigh told him Kevin was calling, and Tyler started back down to the main level of the shop as he answered and told his boyfriend he’d be home in about ten minutes.
Just as Tyler hung up, though, something caught his eye. In front of the shop’s downstairs fireplace, amongst several sets of fireplace tools, was a painted cast-iron figure of the mischievous puppet Mr. Punch, in cameo. The prominent chin and drooping jester’s hat made the form of a crescent moon, with a hooked nose, hunched back, and evil grin. The words DON’T YOU TELL were painted along the base of the figure.
It was a rather grotesque thing and patently creepy, but it made Tyler chuckle. Out of pure curiosity, Tyler moved closer to look at the tag, which simply said, “19th Century English Punch doorstop: $50.00+.” It was an incredibly low price for anything in that shop, and Tyler felt like he really couldn’t resist. Sure, it was ugly and disturbing, but Punch and Judy shows were so nostalgically British that Tyler just had to have it as a little reminder of home.
As he signed the check and handed it to the old woman who ran the shop, he couldn’t help grinning as he thought of that horoscope’s warning. It didn’t get much more impish than Mr. Punch. Maybe this would show Lukas and Stefan to see reason when nothing bad happened just because he brought something “impish” home. Because, of course, nothing would happen….