When her grandmother initially suggested that Willow stay with her aunt and help with the shop, Willow assumed it was just a way for her family to keep an eye on her without forcing her to swallow her pride and move back in with her parents. Now that she was settled in and had two nights of decent sleep behind her, she realized she was staying with her aunt to help with work at the shop.
For as long as Willow could remember business at the shop has been a reliable trickle. The income from the shop was never a significant portion of the family’s business but it was always a vital hub of information for the community as well as a way for her family to be a visible presence in everyone’s day to day lives rather than merely the people that came to their house when things had already gone catastrophically wrong. Now business was steady.
Even now people were not breaking down the door to get in, but the word steady could certainly apply to the number of customers that came and went every day. The change befuddled Willow at first. As far as she could tell, nothing much had changed other than the interest in the shop.
She was almost afraid to ask about it for fear that she would only make matters worse. Right now things were unusual but manageable, but talking about it might jinx them into a boom in business that they could not easily handle. She saw that sort of thing happen in retail jobs she had over the years. It taught her to avoid discussing the amount of business the store was doing while on the clock. Such discussions were like a homing beacon for customers.
As badly as she wanted to say something, she managed to resist the temptation until the sign on the door had been flipped around to “closed” for the day. She breathed a sigh of relief and headed for the back room to track down Aspen.
“What’s with all these people in the shop lately?” she demanded as soon as she crossed the threshold into the back room.
Aspen did not bother to look up at her from her place at the work table. Apparently weighing out parcels of loose tea was more important than making eye contact with Willow when she answered.
“There’s been a lot of activity in the area lately. People are trying to get a handle on the minor issues themselves and their friends and neighbors are coming in to try to take preventative measures.”
Willow groaned inwardly. She had a whole host of new reasons to be concerned with her family’s practices when it came to disturbances caused by beings crossing over from the other side. She had been to the other side herself and upon returning had technically filled the role of one of the creatures that her family and others like them were so often called upon to combat. Contrary to what she once believed, these beings were incredibly real, but they were not inherently malevolent. Banishing them or doing anything that might cause them harm was more than abhorrent to her now. The thought of causing further trauma to someone who would almost certainly already be disoriented and frightened made her feel sick to her stomach. Sending them away from this world might not even mean they would be able to find their way back home. The space between the worlds was confusing and labyrinthine. If she had been forced to come all the way across only to be forced to traverse it again immediately, she was not sure she would have the fortitude to withstand it.
“Should we really just let people try to take care of matters for themselves? Isn’t that dangerous?”
Aspen shrugged. “It might be dangerous, but these are people that don’t know or understand our local traditions. They’re still wary, but enough is happening that they feel they need to do something. It’s a way for them to get their toes wet when it comes to the facts of living here.”
She just barely kept her mouth shut. Arguing right now would do neither of them any good. That would certainly come later when her opinions built up to the point that they exploded out of her in upsetting, unexpected ways. Perhaps she would be better off saying something now, but she could not bring herself to do it. Years of conditioning had trained her to bottle it up and not rock the boat.
“We should be doing more to help,” she insisted finally.
Aspen gave a small nod in response. “We need to get these people to trust us and believe in what we do before we can offer our help.”
“I agree, but there’s a great deal of risk involved in letting people try to handle the problem themselves when they don’t understand what they’re dealing with. We don’t even really know what we’re dealing with.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re not all evil and I’m afraid we’re mistreating people that are just lost and possibly even doing real harm to them.” The words just started pouring out and once she started she could not seem to stop. She could feel that it was too soon and Aspen was not going to be receptive to her contradicting her right away like this, but she felt as though she would be the one responsible for anything awful that happened from this point forward if she did not speak her mind.
Speaking up was simultaneously easier and harder than she thought it would be. She had a habit of disagreeing with her family on their interpretation of the strange phenomena that happened in their area. She fought with them many times and now she was bracing herself to do it all over again, but this time she had to admit that she had been just as wrong as them. She wasted so much time trying to convince everyone that none of it was real. Now she seemed to be the only one who knew just how real all of it was. Now she saw that their view was far too black and white. She learned that both sides were more shades of gray than anything else.
The hardest part was getting everyone to see what she saw when she barely understood the situation well enough herself. Trying to find a way to convey her thoughts and feelings while she was still so unsure of the details only caused her to grow more frustrated. She had her convictions but did not have the knowledge to form what she instinctively knew into something that could be understood by others. It might be easier to explain to some of the nonbelievers and skeptics that were coming into the shop these days. There would be less for them to unlearn than for her family.
Shockingly, Aspen was not jumping in to argue with her. IN fact, she was watching Willow expectantly. Her time away from her family really had changed the way they thought about what she said. In a way it made sense. She went from being talented but by far the least experienced member of the family to the only one with knowledge of what the beings on the other side were really like. Suddenly her opinions carried weight and she was not prepared to be treated like she was on equal footing with members of the generation before her own.
She sighed and gathered her thoughts before she said anything else that she might later regret. It was easier said than done. Being quiet while a million thoughts swirled in her mind and her aunt was ready and willing to listen went against everything she learned growing up. It might not have applied much over the last few years, but as a teenager, in particular, she came to rely on Aspen as a sounding board for just about everything.
“We need to do more research. If more people are having problems in this area and the influx of new customers seems to suggest that’s the case, then we have to worry about harm coming to people from this world and the other world if we don’t handle things properly.”
“But there’s never been a problem with the way we did things before,” Aspen protested.
“Nothing about this is like how it was before,” insisted Willow with a bit of a shrill edge creeping into her voice. “We need to understand what we can do to help everyone because I think we’re the only ones who can.”
Aspen patted her arm in a conciliatory gesture before saying, “The two of us won’t be able to do it on our own, and I don’t think the lore books I have are quite up to the task of undoing generations of family tradition. Why don’t you take tomorrow afternoon and go through mom’s attic to see if you can find any old books that were forgotten up there? I’ll join you over there for dinner and we’ll see what information we can ferret out of mom and dad about the way their parents and grandparents used to handle things.”
“Do you really think we’ll find anything?”
“What? Do you really think you’re the first person to decide she knew better than her elders and completely turn the business on its head? Our family has been at this for a long time. We’ve changed with the times before.”
Willow smiled. She expected so much resistance that she held back until the words were just tumbling out of her mouth when apparently she had nothing at all to worry about. The arguments and debates she had with her aunt in the past did not seem to matter now. She had mostly argued to rebel, but now she was providing a dissenting voice to try to help. If she got the answers she needed she might be able to help a lot of people.