Business consultant Taylor Blake has returned to Savannah, Georgia, to help her sister Allison turn her dream of running an old-fashioned candy store into a reality. Allison is also interested in dream interpretation and invites Taylor to her Friday night Dream Club, where members meet once a week to share and analyze their dreams.
When a local dance instructor, Chico Hernandez, is found dead in his studio, and the murder scene has an eerie resemblance to one of the dreams shared at their meeting, Taylor can’t help but be intrigued. And when her sister, who was briefly involved with the dance teacher, becomes the prime suspect, Taylor and their fellow club members can’t be caught napping. It’s up to them to dream up a solution to the murder before Allison faces a real-life nightmare.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Friday, June 2, 8:00 p.m.
“You know I don’t believe in dreams.” How can I? I’m one of the small percentage of people who never dream. I fall into bed and it’s total oblivion for the next eight hours. My brain powers down to sleep mode. No fragments of memories, no images, no dramatic storyline to analyze when I wake up. No dream content, period.
And I have to confess, I like it that way.
“I’m not trying to convert you, sis. You say you don’t dream, and you don’t believe in dreams. Okay, I get it. Some of us feel differently, you know. I think of a dream as a little window into my subconscious.”
Allison looked distracted as she scurried past me, putting the finishing touches on a platter of delectable-looking petit fours. The bite-sized cakes were calling to me with their sugary little voices, nestled in a checkerboard pattern on a hand-painted porcelain tray. Ali strategically placed dark chocolate truffles in between them and stepped back to admire her work.
Very Savannah, I decided. Elegant, sophisticated, with a cosmopolitan flair. I was dying to grab a tiny cake and pop it in my mouth, but I knew it would ruin the look of the platter. As Ali says, it’s all about presentation.
“I’m totally out of my element with this stuff,” I went on. “Dream interpretation. The paranormal. Psychic phenomena. Things that go bump in the night. Tarot readings. Voices from the beyond—”
“Okay, enough, Taylor! You’ve made it very clear how you feel.” A hint of a frown crossed her face, and she blew out a little sigh. I couldn’t tell if she was exasperated with me, or just a tad stressed out over playing hostess. We’ve had this conversation dozens of times and have never come to a meeting of the minds. “Here’s the deal. I won’t ask you to share your history of childhood night terrors, and you don’t have to be a believer to enjoy yourself tonight. Anyway, it’s not as woo-woo as you think. Scout’s honor.” Ali quirked an eyebrow and held up three fingers in the Girl Scout salute.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Just think of the Dream Club as an experience, an entertaining evening. It’s a fun way for me to socialize with my friends. Not everyone takes it seriously, but we do have a couple of die-hard psychics and intuitives in the group. Everybody has dreams, and all we do is try to make sense of them.”
“Okay, you win,” I said, pushing myself to sound positive. “You’ve certainly put out a nice spread. And the sitting room looks great.”
Ali had gone all out tonight. My sister seems to have inherited a Martha Stewart gene, and sadly, I didn’t. My Chicago condo is positively spartan compared to Ali’s place. I took a moment to appreciate the creamy taupe walls, the glossy white woodwork, the old brick fireplace with the white marble mantelpiece.
The whole room was bathed in a golden glow thanks to fat amber candles she’d placed on nearly every flat surface. Soft cello music was playing in the background, and the faint scent of lavender danced on the air.
“So tell me you won’t be grumpy and you’ll try to enjoy yourself.” Ali turned, flashing a smile that has melted my heart ever since we shared a crush on Bon Jovi, growing up in Muncie, Indiana. “Please? For me?” Her voice was warm, entreating, and she had little crinkles around her eyes.
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all I’m asking—just keep an open mind.” She gave me a friendly fist bump.
“You got it,” I agreed, giving in to temptation and snagging one of the petit fours. And then I took a second one, because the whole platter looked off-kilter with just one cake missing. Inudged the remaining cakes toward the middle and grabbed a third.
There, you can hardly see there’s a gap in the platter,I decided, chomping happily away. Melt in your mouth delicious. At least the food will be good,even if the rest of the evening turns out to be a snooze.
The petit fours were just the beginning. A crystal decanter of iced “sweet tea” flavored with fresh mint was the star attraction, along with two kinds of gourmet coffee, exotic Asian teas, and an assortment of French pastries heaped high on a silver platter.
Tiny triangles of chess pie were arranged on a hand-painted antique tray along with fragrant lemon bars and mini cupcakes frosted in Easter egg colors. And for die-hard vintage candy fans, there was a blue and white Limoges bowl filled with pastel Necco Wafers. It was enough to make a sugar junkie salivate with pleasure. I was getting a buzz just inhaling the heavenly aromas.
And then the doorbell rang, and the Dream Club was in full swing.
“Last night I dreamt I was walking stark naked down the produce aisle in Publix.” Lucinda Macavy folded her French-manicured fingernails demurely in her lap and let her gaze wander around the circle, waiting for a response. A long beat passed. “Anybody have any thoughts?” she added hopefully.
Nobody jumped in to offer an interpretation. Lucinda was so prim and uptight, I could hardly imagine her naked in her own shower. Plus, this was the third “naked” dream of the evening, so the shock value had lessened considerably. Persia Walker had regaled us with a hilarious story about finding herself in the altogether at choir practice, and Dorien Myers had confessed to being “au natural” on the Savannah Hills Golf Course.
Why do so many people dream of being naked in a public place? According to Ali, this is a fairly common dream theme, usually related to anxiety or a fear of being “exposed.” It’s a “worst-case scenario” type of dream and usually happens during a time of great stress or emotional upheaval.
I have to admit I was having trouble relating to the “buck naked” dream template.
I stifled a tiny yawn and pulled my attention back to the group. The Dream Club members were gathered around a white wicker coffee table in the cozy sitting room attached to Oldies but Goodies, my sister’s vintage candy store.
“Tell me more about the dream.” Sybil Powers leaned forward, her bright eyes keen as a ferret’s. “Were you shopping with anyone? Did you recognize any friends or relatives in the dream? Maybe someone significant in your life?” I’d met Sybil earlier in the week, and I knew she favors bold colors, flowing tops, and chunky handcrafted jewelry she buys from local artisans. Tonight she was wearing a caftan that looked like hand-printed batik in a sapphire blue and snowy white pattern.
“I’m pretty sure I was alone.” Lucinda shrugged. “I remember pushing my cart down the aisle, all by myself. It didn’t seem to bother me in the least that I was completely naked,” she said, flushing bright pink.
“You didn’t feel uncomfortable?” I asked.
Lucinda hesitated. “Uncomfortable? No, not really. I was chilly all over, though. I remember I had goose bumps when I turned into the frozen dinner aisle. They had the AC cranked up full blast.”
“I know what you mean, my dear,” an elderly woman in a bright floral dress offered.
She was wearing orthopedic shoes with little ankle socks, and her face was framed by a cloud of fluffy white hair. “It’s downright freezing in that aisle. It’s cold enough to lay out a body in there. I’ve complained to the manager several times, to no avail.” Her companion—who resembled her so much I wondered if they were twins—nodded in agreement.
I decided that they must be the Harper sisters. Ali had mentioned that her elderly neighbors, Minerva and Rose, would be attending the group tonight. The women were well into their eighties, longtime Savannah residents and history buffs.
Someone snickered and quickly covered it with a cough. “Well, I think we have to look at the subtext here,” Sybil went on. She gave me a quick glance. “You probably don’t know this, Taylor, but the subtext is the hidden emotional content in a dream.”
“Ah yes, the subtext.” I tried to look suitably impressed even though I’m pretty sure dream interpretation isn’t rocket science. In fact, I’m inclined to think it’s a bunch of hooey. A dream can mean anything you want it to, right? Like reading tea leaves or tarot cards. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
“Now Lucinda,” Sybil said, “I’m surprised that appearing naked in public didn’t bother you. In the majority of these cases, the dreamer experiences a certain degree of embarrassment and humiliation.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t want to have this sort of dream,” Lucinda said, looking chastised. “I’d rather dream about something sweet, like kittens or babies.”
“No one dreams about kittens,” Dorien cut in. “Unless they’re rescue dreams, and that’s another whole issue. Rescuing animals is a very common theme. I have those dreams all the time. It’s always late at night and—”
“Let’s not get sidetracked,” Sybil cut in swiftly. “We need to focus on Lucinda’s dream and her feelings about it. That’s the path to enlightenment.”
The path to enlightenment? Sybil and her fortune cookie platitudes were beginning to grate on my nerves. “But why do people have dreams like this?” I cut in. “Where do they come from?” I felt my BS register rising, and I suppose I may have sounded sharper than I’d intended.
Sybil turned to me. “Well, it can be related to the imposter syndrome, wouldn’t you agree, Ali?”
“Yes, I do. Being naked is a metaphor. Having no clothes means your smooth veneer is stripped away and people will see right through you. They might discover that you’re a fake, an imposter.” Ali paused, passing a plate of lemon squares.
“Yes, exactly.” Sybil waved her hand dramatically, and her bangle bracelets clanked together. “Lucinda, is there something you need to overcome in your personal life? Maybe you’re facing a dilemma, or something left unresolved?” She arched her eyebrows, and her voice spiraled upward in a question.
“I don’t think I’m struggling with anything,” Lucinda said doubtfully. “No more than usual, I mean.” Lucinda has so many phobias and neuroses, she makes Monk look like a model of sanity.
Lucinda is a quiet woman in her mid-forties who took early retirement from her headmistress position at a private school to become a patron of the arts. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight chignon, and she wore a beige linen sheath that was probably expensive but hung shapelessly on her bony frame. She’s pleasant but colorless, the kind of woman who could easily blend into the wallpaper.
I’d heard she’s well connected in Savannah, serves on the boards of several charities, and volunteers at a homeless shelter once a week. Ali told me that Lucinda was a trust fund baby before anyone had even invented the term, so she’s never had to worry about taking a paying job. Instead, she can devote herself to philanthropic work and live off her considerable assets.
The only sound was the lazy whirring of the Casablanca fan high above us, suspended from the tin ceiling with its distinctive fleur-de-lis-patterned squares. It had been a sunbaked June day, but the thick walls of the old building warded off the Georgia heat and the sitting room was cool and pleasant.
The contrast between the cream-colored walls and dark wood floors added a light, airy feeling to the room. Ali had covered the fussy antique furniture with white cotton slipcovers and had made her own throw pillows from scraps of blue and white gingham. A crystal water pitcher filled with blue hydrangeas, a few artfully arranged seashells on a steamer chest, and suddenly the once formal living space looked fresh and inviting.
Shabby chic, Savannah style.
I was torn between the mille-feuilles and the napoleons when I heard Samantha Stiles blow out a low sigh. Samantha, who was sitting right next to me on the settee, is a rookie detective in Savannah and new to the group. She’d been drumming her fingertips impatiently on the armrest for the past ten minutes, sneaking an occasional glance at her watch.
I figured she’d already decided Ali’s little Dream Club was sheer hocus-pocus and couldn’t wait to make her escape. I’d heard from Ali that Samantha had been dragged into the group by her close friend, Dorien Myers, a self-proclaimed psychic and tarot reader.
“Maybe this fear, or whatever it is, is buried deep in your subconscious,” my sister offered. “Outside your awareness. Your conscious awareness, I mean.”
There was Ali, back on her Freud kick again. Ali reads a lot of books on psychodynamic theory so her suggestion didn’t surprise me. According to Ali, the unconscious is a boiling cauldron of unexplored fears, wishes, and desires. We manage to keep a lid on the pot during waking hours, but at night, all bets are off and the repressed material comes bubbling to the surface in the form of dreams.
An interesting idea, even though I’m not sure I agree with her. Poor Ali, I think she’s a frustrated psychologist.
Lucinda nodded politely, but I could see my sister’s analysis didn’t strike a chord with her, either.
“You say it was the produce aisle? I’m not sure what that brings to mind, but I’d certainly like to hear more about it.” Persia Walker scored a tiny glazed fruit tart from the tray. Our eyes met and she gave me a sheepish grin before adding a cream puff and two double-chocolate brownies to her plate.
I knew Persia was doing Weight Watchers and idly wondered how many points those pastries would cost her. I squashed the thought and tried to focus on the discussion. Some things are better left unexamined.
Persia had told me before the meeting that she has the strong feeling there’s a mystery man buried somewhere in my past. She said it could be the remote past, going back several centuries. I raised my eyebrows and Persia looked disappointed when I told her that I don’t have any loves—lost, found, recent, or long ago. Persia promised to loan me the DVD of Somewhere in Time and said that it would all become clear to me. She predicted that true love was waiting right around the corner.
Wrong. At thirty-two years old, I’m happily single and I intend to stay that way for a long time.
“I just remembered something,” Lucinda piped up. “One of the workers in the produce aisle told me they were having a special on mangoes.” She frowned. “Or maybe it was the manager who told me. It’s probably not significant, but—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, of course it’s significant, Lucinda,” Dorien cut in. “You should have mentioned you spoke with someone in your dream.” She shook her head and blew out an exasperated sigh. “You have to be precise about these things. Every detail counts, you know. I’m not sure what mangoes represent, maybe the tropics, or exotic places. Perhaps something you’re striving for, that’s just out of reach.” She paused. “Does that strike a chord with you?”
Dorien has a thin, angular face, and her heavy dark brows knitted together as her chin jutted forward like a bulldog’s. Her sleek black hair was cut chin-length, on the diagonal, and one side fell forward, covering her cheek for a moment.
“I simply don’t know. I just have a vague sense of the big picture. It’s really hard to get every little detail straight.” A defensive note had crept into Lucinda’s voice, and I noticed she was twisting her hands together in her lap, probably regretting she had ever mentioned the Publix dream.
Dorien brushed her hair back from her face with a choppy gesture and tucked it behind her ear. “Details are important, Lucinda. Everything in a dream has meaning. I’ve said that a thousand times. Everything!”
Dorien has the reputation of being prickly, and from my brief acquaintance with her, I can see that she’s the kind of person who always has to be right. She glanced around the group, as if daring anyone to disagree with her. Our eyes met, and I did my best to look intrigued by her latest pronouncement. This was my first introduction to the Dream Club, and I wasn’t going to risk opening myself up to Dorien’s scathing tongue.
“I just remembered something else,” Lucinda said, brightening. “I noticed the floor was black-and-white tiles. An Art Deco pattern, like something you’d see in the foyer of a mansion.”
“That’s interesting.” My sister leaned forward, her expression rapt with interest. “Black-and-white tiles. Are we talking symbolism here?”
Symbolism. Again. Ali and I are polar opposites. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’re biologically related. She’s a soft-spoken, creative type, and I’m a high-level bean counter with an MBA from Wharton. I have to admit, Ali loses me when she prattles on about universal symbols and Jungian archetypes. I’m a bottom line kind of girl (“Show me the money”), and Allison has her head in the stars. As a freelance business consultant, I specialize in taking failing businesses and turning them into success stories.
I usually work with Fortune 500 companies, but I flew in to Savannah to help save my sister’s vintage candy shop. It might take a few weeks or a few months, it’s hard to tell. Ever since both our parents passed away, Ali is my only family and I feel like it’s the two of us against the world.
“Yes, I think you nailed it. It’s highly symbolic.” Sybil Powers nodded her head. Ali told me Sybil was one of the early members of the group and she likes to call herself a “dream-hopper.”
I’d never heard the term, but Sybil claims to be able to interject herself into other people’s dreams. It doesn’t seem to matter if the dreamer is dead or alive, and the dream can have taken place ages ago. Apparently time doesn’t have any relevance in dreamland.
According to Sybil, dreams go on forever. They continue to exist, somewhere in the cosmos, and astute dreamers can tap into them. I know it sounds crazy, because, after all, how can you tune into someone else’s dream?
I have a hard time wrapping my head around that idea, but as Sybil says, “If love is eternal and the universe is infinite, why shouldn’t dreams continue to exist as well?” The whole question is a little too metaphysical for me, but the other Dream Club members seem to eat it up.
Earlier in the evening, Sybil had treated us to a dream she’d “visited.” The dreamer was a Confederate soldier, sleeping in a field tent near Leesburg, Virginia, longing to see his beloved once more. He dreamt that the two of them were reunited and walking hand in hand down a lovely, magnolia-lined path that led to a mansion right out of Gone with the Wind. Sybil described the dream in great detail. She said she was simply a bystander; she observed the soldier’s dream and didn’t interject herself in any way.
“I’d look for the subtext in the dream about the supermarket,” Sybil said, pulling me back to the present. “Black and white, that’s an easy one. It clearly means good and evil.” She paused a moment to let that sink in. “The produce aisle is just incidental, it’s the opposing forces angle that interests me. Black and white, good and evil, yin and yang.”
She pushed her rimless glasses down on her nose and peered at Lucinda. “Is there anything you feel guilty about, Lucinda? Anything that’s troubling you? It could be you’re repressing something, and the material is coming out in dream form.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Lucinda said, shooting a nervous look at Dorien. “I can’t imagine what it could be.” She hesitated, as if she were tempted to say more, but like many people, she seemed a little intimidated by Dorien’s high-voltage personality.
I haven’t made up my mind about Dorien, but Allison swears she’s a softie under that hard shell. When Allison first arrived in Savannah, Dorien had gone out of her way to be kind and welcoming. She’d brought her a gift basket and taken her to a local merchants’ association dinner. She even brought organic fish treats for Barney and Scout, Ali’s adored cats, who were napping in the front window, oblivious to the discussion going on around them.
Of course, her motives might have had more to do with good business than friendship, I thought with a certain degree of cynicism. Dorien’s tarot-reading shop is right down the street from Ali’s candy shop, and I know that Dorien is also trying to launch a separate business as a personal chef. Many of the businesses in the district try to cross-promote each other, and she may have decided that she could target Ali’s customers for her new business ventures.
Samantha was growing restive beside me, and I hoped Ali was getting ready to conclude the meeting. “C’mon, let’s wrap this up, it’s time to go,” the young detective muttered under her breath.
Samantha grabbed a handful of Jordan almonds and inched over to the edge of the settee as if ready to bolt out of the room. She’d already mentioned that she was working the evening shift for the Savannah PD tonight and was reporting for duty at ten o’clock sharp.
“Anybody have any final thoughts?” Allison asked, glancing at the antique schoolhouse clock that graced the back wall. “It’s almost nine thirty.”
“I had a very strange dream,” Persia piped up. “More of a nightmare, actually. It was all about a murder right here in Savannah.”
Bingo! Now we’re getting to something interesting. I found myself coming out of my sugar rush and snapping to attention. A murder in Savannah! Finally, a dream that I could relate to. With my extensive knowledge of TV crime shows, I might actually be able to contribute something to the discussion.
Persia perched on the edge of the sofa, her eyes glowing with excitement. The room fell silent and she wriggled expectantly in her seat, thrilled to be the center of attention.
I noticed that Gina Santiago froze in her chair. Her hand was trembling so much, she had to put her cappuccino down on the glass-topped coffee table. Gina is a flamboyant young woman who works as an instructor in the Latin dance studio right across the street.
“A murder?” Samantha Stiles asked sharply, shifting into detective mode. “When did it take place? Was the perpetrator caught and convicted?”
Persia shook her head. “Oh, it hasn’t taken place yet, that’s what’s so confusing. It’s a vision from the future. I have a very strong image of the victim, but the details of his death are a little fuzzy. I’m sure there’s some evil force at work, though. There’s a dark presence in the dream, but I can’t get a handle on it.” She gave a little shudder. “I have the strange feeling the killer is someone I know, even though that makes no sense to me. I’m sure I’ve never met anyone who’s capable of murder.”
“Everyone’s capable of murder,” Gina said, her voice barely a whisper. I glanced at her to see if she was kidding, but she looked dead serious. Her expression was stony, impassive.
“Wait a minute, Persia, you said his death,” Samantha cut in. “So the victim is a man? You’re sure of that?” This was the most enthusiasm Samantha had shown all evening. I almost expected her to whip out her tiny tape recorder to capture Persia’s remarks, but I sensed an undercurrent of doubt in her tone.
Persia nodded. “Yes, it’s definitely a man. That’s the one thing I can say with complete confidence.”
“But you don’t have any idea of when it’s going to happen? Or where?” Now Samantha’s tone had turned skeptical, and I wondered if she was writing off Persia’s dream as pure fantasy.
“No idea at all, I’m afraid.” Persia spread her hands dramatically in front of her as if she were peering into an imaginary crystal ball. “I could see him quite clearly, but his back was turned to me. He was tall and well built; I’d say he was a man in his thirties or forties, in the prime of his life. I remember vivid colors and flashing lights. There was a pack of wolves circling him, they looked terrifying, menacing. I saw flashes of red everywhere, and there was loud music playing in the background.” She paused for a moment. “I’m positive about the music. I remember wishing someone would turn the volume down. The noise level was awful, and I was getting a splitting headache.”
“Someone was murdered, and you heard loud music. What kind of music?” Samantha’s tone had flattened to the verbal equivalent of an eye roll.
Persia flushed. “It was very loud Latin music. I wasn’t at all fond of it. I prefer classical music, you know. It helps me concentrate when I meditate and do my dream work.”
“What else do you remember about the dream?” I asked, intrigued in spite of my doubts.
“Not much,” Persia admitted. She squinted her eyes tightly shut for a moment as if she were trying to re-create the scene in her mind. “I did see a silver serving tray and a lovely dinner laid out on a snowy white tablecloth. It might have been in a restaurant or it might have been someone’s home. The lighting was soft and there were candles. First everything was fine, and then”—she gave a little shudder—“the dream turned into fragments. I saw the man eating dinner, and the very next moment, he just keeled over and collapsed on the floor.” She put a hand to her chest and made a fluttery gesture. “It gave me quite a start, and I sat straight up in bed, my heart beating like a rabbit’s.”
For a moment there was dead silence while we all absorbed this.
“What makes you think the man was murdered?” Ali asked. “He might have had a heart attack, or maybe had low blood sugar and blacked out. There are loads of possibilities besides murder.” She gave a little shrug. “He could have had a seizure or he could have fainted.”
“I’m not really sure how I know this,” Persia said vaguely. “But I absolutely am convinced he was murdered. I wish I could remember more details. I did notice something strange, though. There was a serpent in the dream—a black snake on a red background.”
“A serpent,” I said under my breath. “That could mean anything, right?” I happen to like snakes and think they’ve been given bad press. The majority of them are harmless and just want to sun themselves on a warm rock and live out their lives undisturbed by spade-wielding humans.
“I think it would indicate evil. There I go with more symbolism,” Persia added with a light laugh. “And I’m not sure what the red and black meant, maybe something Satanic? I’m not clear on that.”
Persia fell silent then and Allison looked at her watch. “Well, I guess we should stop for tonight,” she said. “That’s certainly a fascinating dream, Persia. Maybe we should pick up at that point next week. I think there’s a lot of material here for us to work on. So if that’s all . . .”
“Just one more thing . . .” Dorien began. She held up her index finger in a move that reminded me of Columbo, the television detective from years ago who always had one more question. “Before we go, I have some advice for Lucinda. I’d like you to try to dream about shopping in Publix again.”
Lucinda blinked. “How would I do that?”
“Just remind yourself to think about the supermarket as you drift off to sleep. See the produce aisle in your mind’s eye. It would be really helpful if you could have another dream so we can analyze it more carefully. And try to pay more attention this time,” she said, a snide tone creeping into her voice. “Notice the surroundings, the weather, the time of day, your emotions, everything you’re feeling and experiencing. Think of taking a mental snapshot of the image and then locking it in your memory banks.” She gave Lucinda a sharp look. “Do you think you can do that?”
“Oh, I see what you mean. Well, I can certainly give it a try,” Lucinda said quickly, grabbing her purse. Like Samantha, she seemed eager to make her getaway. “Thanks for the goodies, Ali,” she added, standing up. “Everything was delicious, as always.”
“My pleasure,” Ali said. Our eyes met and she gave a tiny frown and then an almost imperceptible nod toward Dorien. I knew we both were thinking the same thing: sometimes this woman is simply impossible!
Sybil was the last to leave, stopping for a moment to pet Barney, who’d roused from his slumber and gave her that slow blink that cats do when they’re fond of someone. “Such a handsome boy,” she murmured, running her hand over his glossy coat. She turned and touched my arm. “So nice to have you with us, Taylor. I expect you’ll be in town for a while?”
“Oh, I certainly hope so. I think it would be easy to fall in love with Savannah.”
“Indeed it is,” she agreed. “I’ve spent my whole life here and I’m still discovering beautiful places to visit and things to do.” She moved closer and I caught a whiff of her delicate lavender perfume. “Anytime you want a guide, I’ll be happy to give you a tour of the city.”
“Thanks, that’s really nice of you.”
“Have a good night’s rest and try to think pleasant, healing thoughts before you go to sleep,” she said in a low voice. “You don’t dream at all anymore, do you?”
She caught me by surprise. “Well, no, actually I don’t.” My mind zinged. How does she know this about me?
Sybil nodded. “I think I know why. I have the feeling that you don’t allow yourself to have dreams”—she paused—“because you had a bad experience sometime in your life. Maybe you had night terrors as a child. That would be my best guess, my dear. At some level, I think you’re afraid to dream so you’re blocking them. Your fear is holding you back, and that’s not healthy.”
I blinked in surprise. Her best guess? She was right on target. It’s true that I suffered from night terrors as a child, but there was no way in the world Sybil could have known this. I walked her to the front door, wondering if the woman really could be psychic.
“I know the night terrors were disturbing to you,” she said softly, giving me a keen look, “but it’s best not to read too much into them. Just try to put them out of your mind, if you can. Everyone has vivid, disturbing dreams from time to time, and I don’t recommend dwelling on them. By keeping yourself from dreaming, you’re not letting your subconscious mind do the work it needs to do. “
“Thank you, I’ll be sure to remember that.” I felt a little chill go through me, but I tried to keep my tone neutral and plastered a bland expression on my face.
“Bad dreams happen for a reason, Taylor,” she said carefully. Her voice was now barely a whisper, her eyes were full of shadows. “They have something to tell us, and the message becomes apparent soon enough. You know what they say, the truth always comes out in the end.” She paused. “Oh, and tell Barney he can find that little catnip mouse—the blue one with the orange tail—under the refrigerator. He lost it a week ago, and I finally had a dream about it last night.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him.” My eyes widened, and I caught myself wondering if this woman was for real. “I know he’ll appreciate it.” She dreams about cats and their lost toys?
On that very odd note, I said good night and decided to ask Allison if she’d said anything to Sybil about my nightmares. I felt uncomfortable thinking she might have discussed my personal life with her friends, and I vowed to get to the bottom of it.
And I decided to ask her about Barney and his missing catnip mouse. Just in case.
“Oh my gosh, you’ve must have gotten another shipment of Chunky bars and Mallo Cups, Allison. And what are these? Chocolate Ice Cubes! I haven’t seen these in years. I didn’t even know they still made them.”
“They came in yesterday, I just put them out this morning. Do you think the bins look too crowded?”
“No, they look perfect. Like something out of a magazine photo shoot.”
I ran my fingertips over a glass display case in the shop area of Oldies but Goodies. The shop was bright and appealing, with sunlight streaming in the front windows from Clark Street and zigzagging across the bleached oak floors. A pot of hazelnut coffee was brewing and a selection of fresh croissants was nestled on a serving tray along with a jar of Ali’s homemade blueberry jam and sweet cream butter.
Ali’s shop has neatly stocked rows of candies that were popular half a century ago. Red Hots, Scottie Dog licorice, hot dog bubble gum, jawbreakers, and candy buttons line the top shelf divided by colorful partitions. Circus Peanuts, Chuckles, Bit-O-Honey, and Juicy Fruits are arranged in neat compartments along the bottom.
I couldn’t resist reaching into an antique apothecary jar for a handful of French burnt peanuts. Munching away, I checked the rest of the inventory.
This was a trip down memory lane and Ali had been thorough. She hadn’t missed a thing. Swedish fish and Jujubes, sold by the pound, were there, along with Necco Wafers and Sen-Sen packets. I saw all my old childhood favorites. Clark Bars, Fifth Avenue Bars, and Mounds Bars were neatly arranged in wicker baskets on top of the counter.
The shop had a delightful, sugary aroma and reminded me of a real-life version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I wondered why business wasn’t booming. Why was Oldies but Goodies one of Savannah’s best-kept secrets?
The building is tucked away on a side street a few blocks from the Historic District, and as I looked out the front window, I could see the heat already rising off the sidewalk. The sun was climbing high in the sky, signaling another scorcher on the way. I had the wild thought that Ali would be more successful selling frozen treats—ice cream, sherbets, and sorbets—than vintage candy.
“Everything looks tempting, but think of the calories.” I read the fat count on a chocolate bar and nearly gasped aloud. In the old days, manufacturers didn’t print nutritional listings on wrappers, but now they’re required to by law.
I checked out a row of glossy wax lips nestled close to a little mesh bag filled with chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. I had a sudden flashback to my childhood home in Indiana when my parents were alive and we were still a family. Nostalgia time.
“I don’t think an occasional splurge hurts anyone. Candy is a feel-good food; it gives you a little boost when you’re feeling down. Necco Wafers and Mallo Cups are two of my biggest sellers.” Ali looked up from her laptop, a tiny frown creasing her face. The AC was cranked to the max but the outdoor temperature was already in the nineties and Ali glanced up at the Casablanca fan as if willing it to spin faster. “Does that surprise you?”
Oops. I gave myself a mental head slap. I’d been tactless and it was time for a little damage control. “I just figured that since everyone is so health-conscious these days, they might want to cut down on sweets. And especially white sugar,” I finished lamely.
“You’re not in Chicago anymore, sis. This is the South, remember? Home of sweet tea, lemon pie, and blueberry cobbler. Think of the spread I put out last night for the Dream Club. There was hardly a crumb left.”
“That’s true,” I agreed. Everyone had practically inhaled the pastries, and Persia Walker had even asked if she could bring home some chess pie in a plastic container.
Ali chewed on the end of a pencil and ducked her head back to the computer screen. After a quick breakfast, she’d spent the past hour going over last month’s receipts and tallying up the vendors’ bills. From time to time she gave a little sigh, and her forehead was wrinkled in concentration.
Or maybe it was quiet desperation.
Oldies but Goodies had been in operation for nearly a year, and I suspected she was barely breaking even. Allison had accepted my offer to stay with her for a while to get things in the black, but glancing around the shop, I wondered if I’d been fooling myself. Maybe this was a business that was doomed to fail. It needed a major infusion of something, but what? It doesn’t help to throw money into an operation unless you have a solid business plan. I wasn’t convinced that Ali did.
Ali continued, “When people come here for the evening, they expect a nice spread. It’s part of the enjoyment, you know. Sampling goodies and exchanging recipes.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said, aiming for a positive note. I poured myself a glass of lemonade from the crystal pitcher she kept on the counter for the customers. “Retro is in and Southerners certainly do love their sweets.”
Ali keeps a well-thumbed copy of Sandra Lee’s Bake Sale Cookbook on the counter, and I idly flipped through it. “Sandra always manages to come up with a modern twist on all the old favorites.”
“She certainly does. That book is my inspiration.” Allison nodded. “Nostalgia is the name of the game here in Savannah. Southerners have long memories and a passion for old-timey things. People remember all these candies from the good old days, and they buy them for their kids and grandbabies. Of course it wouldn’t hurt if I could figure out a way to draw in the younger crowd, as well. Maybe you can help me with that, since you’re going to be in town for a while.”
I bobbed my head up and down in a show of enthusiasm. “You know I’ll do my best.” I paused, glancing at the street as a middle-aged couple in plaid Bermuda shorts stopped in front of the shop. They took a quick peek at the window display and then moved on.
Not a good sign.
I made a mental note to talk to Ali about revamping the window display. We needed something eye-catching that would draw in the tourists. Maybe a selection of vintage candy advertisements, blown up poster-size and mounted in old-fashioned frames? I might be able to find some online, I decided. Or perhaps a display of antique candy presses? A collage of vintage candy bar wrappers was another possibility. Something fun and colorful that would make people take notice and step inside.
And then another idea hit me. We should be running a weekly special. Ideas started ricocheting back and forth, and I couldn’t wait to get started with a marketing plan.
We could offer bagged candy that people could eat on the go, perfect for tourists as they took in the sights. Nothing that would melt in the sultry summer weather, maybe Broadway Licorice Rolls or Red Hots, or even those crunchy Boston Baked Beans. We could give away free samples, offer two-for-one coupons, anything to draw in more traffic.
Or maybe we could run a contest? Kids could guess the number of gummy bears in a glass jar or jawbreakers in a bin?
We could even do something interactive, maybe have an old-fashioned taffy pull on the sidewalk in front of the shop? I grabbed a notepad and started scribbling before the ideas got away from me.
“You’re still not operating in the black, right?” I said, writing madly.
I had the feeling Ali was putting a good spin on things, as usual, and leaving out half the story. Ever since our parents died in a car crash ten years earlier, I’d stepped into the parental role with my headstrong younger sister. I wanted to know the details on Oldies but Goodies, because in the end, I’d be the one picking up the pieces and maybe even bankrolling Allison’s next venture.
Ali had pulled her streaky blond hair into a ponytail and was wearing a black apron over her burgundy tank top and skinny jeans. She was tall, slim with the kind of good looks that turn heads. With her golden hair, china blue eyes, and finely chiseled cheekbones, she could have stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret ad.
Ali hesitated, a little frown flitting across her perfect features. “Well, I guess you could say I’m in the black, but barely.”
Barely. That meant she wasn’t at all, just what I’d suspected. “So you’re just breaking even; you’re not turning a profit,” I said flatly.
She held up a finger for silence. “Okay, here we go. I’ve finally crunched the numbers, and here’s the deal.” She gestured to a spreadsheet she’d plucked out of the printer. “If I meet all my expenses by the end of the month, I’ll have enough to pay the rent till September, or possibly October. It’s cutting it close, but I think I can do it.”
“It sounds like you’re going to have to step up your marketing,” I said as gently as I could. The situation was worse than I’d expected. I don’t think Ali realized how dire things really were; her sunny personality seemed to protect her from some of life’s harsh realities.
“I’d like to do more promotion. I just never seem to have the time or the budget for it. What I really need is some national attention.”
“National attention?” That seemed like a stretch, but I didn’t want to burst her bubble.
“Yes,” she went on in a dreamy voice. “If I could just persuade the Daily News or one of the major metropolitan newspapers to do a feature on me, I’d have it made. Or if I could get on The Today Show, that would be incredibly cool.”
“I think it’s very hard to land those spots,” I said mildly.
“Who knows? Maybe Matt Lauer will visit the shop and bring along a camera crew. Now that would be sweet!” Ali pumped her fist triumphantly in the air like a boxer. She smiled but then her expression turned pensive. “I’ve sent out tons of press releases, but so far, no takers. I’m not sure what the problem is. No one’s beating a path to my door. The national media seems to be ignoring me.”
The Daily News. The Today Show. Always thinking big, that’s Allison.
I let my gaze wander around the shop, trying to be objective. Trying to look at it dispassionately, through an investor’s eyes. It’s a charming brick building dating back to 1895, with wide-planked wood floors, a tin ceiling, and wonderful architectural details like eight-inch crown molding and hand-carved chair rails. The candy shop and lounge area are on the first floor, along with a small kitchen and bathroom. A shaded patio area is in the back, housing a few tiny bistro tables and wrought iron chairs.
Upstairs, there’s a cozy two-bedroom apartment that’s been completely renovated. Ali plans on eventually buying the building and using the apartment for rental income. Her goal is to buy a small house for herself, but at the moment, she and I are both living in the apartment above the shop.
Ali told me that the building used to be a jam factory at the turn of the century, a neighborhood lending library in the fifties, and more recently, the office of a community newspaper that had folded. The upper floor needed some paint and refurbishing, which is why Allison got a very good deal on the rent.
But would she be able to keep the place going? It seemed as though people weren’t beating down the old-timey door with the hand-painted lettering and brass fittings, clamoring for sweets. She definitely needed a gimmick, and maybe she should expand her offerings. Old-timey candy is nice, but why not add desserts and beverages?
The patio area in the back was pleasant, and perhaps she could start serving tea and pastries? Or would that require a different sort of business license? That was something I needed to investigate right away. The shop was in a downward spiral, and only a new business model could save it.
Who eats “retro candy” anyway?
As far as I knew, this was Ali’s fifth career move since graduating from art school. A brief stint working for a graphic designer, a freelance marketing gig for a textile museum, an event planner for a couple of local galleries, and the proud owner of a glass-blowing shop that opened and closed within the same month.
And now a retro candy shop.
There was a pattern here—no doubt about it.
Part of it was the economy, of course, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Ali, with her spontaneity and her devil-may-care attitude, was partly to blame. Maybe she just didn’t have the soul of an entrepreneur—the confidence, the relentless drive, the unstoppable ambition.
I’d earned a business degree with a combination of scholarships, student loans, and two waitressing jobs. But Ali wasn’t like me; she didn’t have any specific career goals and always seemed to be searching for something just out of reach. The brass ring, maybe.
If only Ali knew what she wanted, maybe I could help her get it.
Later that evening, Ali and I decided to share a pizza at Luigi’s, a little bistro across the street from the shop. It was barely six thirty, and I wondered if Ali had closed up early in my honor. After all, it was a Saturday night and I figured the tourists would be out in full force, exploring the trendy shops and restaurants in the nearby Historic District.
So why are we sitting here instead of working? I finally broached the subject with my sister.
“Oh, I never stay open in the evening,” Ali explained, “even on a weekend. Most of the traffic comes during the morning and early afternoon hours.” She swirled her Pinot Grigio in her glass before raising it to her lips. “Plus I like to have the evenings to myself, you know? I’m working on a couple of art projects that might pay off down the road.”
“What sort of art projects?” My guard was up and little alarm bells were clanging in my brain. Ali always has trouble staying on task, and I worried she was veering off track once again, not focusing her energies on her business.
“I’ve been thinking about doing graphics and web designs as a sideline. I’m helping a few friends with their websites, just to see if I can get the hang of it. I don’t charge them for my services, because I’m new to this and there’s a pretty steep learning curve.” She gave a breezy wave of her hand. “I like to keep a lot of irons in the fire. That way if something doesn’t go well, I always have a plan B to fall back on.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling like my head was going to explode. This was just what I was afraid was going to happen. The candy shop would take a backseat to whatever new project had caught Allison’s fancy, and she’d have her head in the clouds once again.
“Really, Ali, it might be better to work on something that actually increases your revenue right now. You don’t have time for sidelines like web design. I think you should concentrate on the candy store. That should be your one and only goal at the moment.” I gritted my teeth, trying to keep the edge out ofmy voice and failing miserably.
“I suppose so,” she said, flushing. “You know me, I always go off in a dozen directions at once. I’ve always had trouble focusing on just one thing. Maybe that’s part of the problem.”
She blew out a little breath, and our eyes met across the table. She looked very young and vulnerable in her green and white boho top and skinny jeans. She’d pulled her silky blond hair back from her face with an embroidered headband that gave her an Alice in Wonderland look.
She looked so crushed, I felt my heart melting. The waiter placed an enormous veggie pizza on the table, but neither of us reached for a slice, and for a long moment, you could hear a pin drop.
I knew I’d hurt her feelings, and it was time to backpedal. Swiftly.
“Ali,” I said in a softer tone, “I didn’t mean to criticize you. Let’s put our heads together and come up with some really fun ideas to boost your business. See if we can target customers who are already visiting other merchants in the area. That would be a great place to start.”
Excerpted from "Nightmares Can Be Murder"
Copyright © 2014 Mary Kennedy.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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