Brock wondered how long he would have to stay as dumb as he was. Pushing that cart all the way to Olivia’s shop was supposed to be a special delivery, a not often thing. Leave time to rest in between jobs. And he found himself, not two days later - still recovering from the soreness in his arms - pushing an unduly loaded wheelbarrow around the grounds of Summergrove Estate.
He’d done plenty of jobs around here before which is why he picked the contract. He had not foreseen the other problem though. Being a hard worker meant that other people left you all the hard work. And to perform it while the slackers who made as much as you get to do nothing but complain how above-it they all are. What was the alternative though? Become one of them? Morally unacceptable.
As he weeded he pondered the pouches Olivia gave him. Given his luck as of late, it was too much to hope that they would cure aching muscles. The concoctions were at best, experimental. One’s relationship with Olivia was part of a grander scheme than anyone could know by themselves. Meeting people like her and falling in with them was a surefire sign that the powers that govern things have different plans than you. So Brock kept the pouches in his work locker, just in case some possible use suggested itself.
He didn’t really know what went on at Summergrove Estate. Whether it was someone’s actual home or just some kind of country club. He worked off-the-books as a simple tradesman/laborer - mostly for rich people he would never know the names of - but isn’t that the bulk of everyone’s career?
In cities with connections that ran through wires there were laws concerning who could work for whom and when, but Brock didn’t give that much credence. He found it hard to imagine that in a large metropolis there wouldn’t be a job for every type of person.
At the local office he was able to pick through the contracts and chose ones that fit his schedule. There was never any lack of variety or opportunity. His involvement with Olivia had been a slightly different matter as the one who drew up the contract lived in the same village as Brock. He had never seen his village on a map, but maps he had been shown were so confusing anyways. He also heard that no one (in the cities!) used maps anymore, so there was that. Maybe people had learned the lay of the land and were passing it down the generations.
Anyways, a school-teacher from the village who kept up with her favorite pupils had learned that Olivia (shock!) was joining the others in the city. She was going to have her own store in a dingy crowded street and sell things that none of them had heard of. And where had Olivia gotten this knowledge of city commerce? No one knew.
Brock brought her first deliveries to her. Although knowing the way to the city, he was surprised when the dirt path he had always taken somehow ended him in the back of an alley, then a parking lot which smelled of smoke. No one gave him a second glance and Olivia had let him in still dressed as she would be in the village. James was in the front, setting up shelves. He hurriedly introduced himself, then went back to work. Methodically color-scheming. What Brock was bringing Olivia looked very different than what James was stocking. Powders and liquids, oils and extracts and such. But James didn’t seem to notice when he came downstairs to collect the mixtures. He spoke to both of them with a familiarity that implied lifetime acquaintance.
After unpacking and mixing a few things, Olivia asked Brock if he would continue to work with her. She knew he was contract only and could refuse if he wanted, but she offered to be flexible as to his scheduling needs. He agreed, having learned the route and he knew, as she did, that very few others in his line of work would take a city route and it would be a pain if everyone delivering to her was doing so for the first time. This wasn’t the village, where everyone learned how everything else worked.
Due to his association with Olivia, the Summergrove Estate contracts were made available. It didn’t really qualify as city or . . . whatever was outside, and Brock saw both kinds of people there. This seemed to be a special place for those like him who could cross over between the two modes of being.
The night before, he had gone out with Julie. Not on a date, but she had a friend who interested him, and no one hit on them when Brock was there. Before her friend showed up however, he and Julie speculated over what the potions might be. He had tried to get into Julie’s personal life a bit, but aside from her condition, he didn’t know much. They shared a fondness for Irish Americana which had a weekly showcase at a local music club. They tried to make it there at least once a month.
Julie could get through a crowd like a river snake and repulse anyone who came near if she wanted to. A few foolhardy men tried to hit on her each night and the moment she was tired of it she could stare into them. They would stop speaking and walk off muttering, “bitch . . . bitch.” Brock did not know what they saw in her eyes, but it was venomous.
She hadn’t seemed herself that night, and Brock talked to her friend. They got along nicely, but after awhile he realized that Julie wasn’t being merely polite. She was distracted by something. The friend had gone to the bathroom and Brock asked Julie if she was on the potions or anything.
“There are certain things I can get away from,” she had replied, “but not this.”
Brock realized then how impossible it would be to escape Olivia’s tangles. If they were even Olivia’s to begin with. “Are you . . . involved with what she . . . at all?”
“Follow your own advice Brock,” said Julie. “No one knows anything about the betrayal she’s referring to. It’s probably some kind of magical test, you know. Weed out people with a guilty conscience.”
“How about the professor?” asked Brock.
“No one knows . . . wait, how do you know what he does?”
“He just looks like one. Weren’t people calling him professor, or did I just imagine that?”
Julie’s friend returned. “I know a guy named Dr. Oboe. That’s actually not his name. But we teased him in high school about his college aspirations. Getting advanced academic degrees in specific instruments. He’s a woodwinds whizz. Anyways, he said he plays for a band which opens regularly in clubs around the city. We should see him sometime.”
They ended the night with Julie telling Brock that she had every intention of losing her stash. Although with Olivia’s wicked insight into intention on a nearly universal scale, Julie didn’t know how successful she could be.
“Everything you try and keep track of, the most vital things in your life, cell phone, wallet, keys, you lose all the time,” Julie said. “But the shit you want to get rid is the shit you somehow trip over in every single room. What kind of magic bullshit is that?”