I wasn’t twenty feet in—just past where Rod could see me through the trees—and she appeared. Not a sound, mind you. Not a twig breaking to warn me. Stealth personified. She’s wild, too. I mean, like, really wild. Like she was born wild. Now she’s sniffing me like an animal. I’m too weirded out to do anything but wait in my soaking wet pants, trying not to pee them.
I look at the ground while she looks at me. What does that mean, that already I’m afraid? Or is it respect? I don’t know.
From the glimpse I did get of her face, she doesn’t look like Anna at all. Darker skinned, for one thing. And she’s much, much shorter. Shorter than me at 5-7. Her hair is a mess, matted down in places like there’s gum stuck in it, so that it is even more crazy than mine. To top it off, she smells like…what? Goat cheese, maybe. Yea. Old, moldy, just-throw-it-out-won’t-you-PLEASE goat cheese.
So why is it I’m finding myself feeling exactly what Anna said I would be out here—like I’ve found my true home? Like crossing the water washed away who I was, Julie Mayden, and I’m standing here as new, or more, or…something. I never knew what ‘home’ was supposed to feel like. Me and my dad have always lived in houses, not homes. Big houses. Nice ones. Places everyone else seem to envy me living in. I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. That the house is my father’s, and whatever wife he’s married to at the moment, and even though I get a fancy décor they think I should like, I never do. I guess I don’t say that because it would make me sound spoiled rotten. I don’t know, maybe I am.
I also haven’t pushed a personal agenda because I haven’t really cared. How can you know you miss home, if you don’t know what you’re missing?
Only now, maybe, I do. Now, maybe, I’d make a fuss. I’m sure Rod would say I’m crazy, but if he came for me now, I swear I’d fight him. I’d scream ‘you can’t take me’ and scratch and kick and be a total nutcase about it.
It almost feels like that is just what happened: Some alien being dragged me from here long ago, took me to a mansion with people who are not my people and behave like everything that does not matter does, and everything that does matter doesn’t, and now finally the aliens have let me come back where I belong.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic.
On the a slightly more realistic side (but only slightly), I really do think I know this Bea. I don’t have any idea how I would know her. But the connection is even stronger than the one that drew me to Anna. I’m not saying I like the goat-woman, mind you. Just that I think I might know her.
She’s still poking around, looking at me from every angle. It’s bizarre, but somehow I know it has to happen.
One thing I’ll say, that I know just by being looked over by her, is that she’s powerful. Seriously, like a blast of something you don’t EVER want to be in the crosswind of. Standing here is like standing in front of someone you never, ever want to disappoint, for a lot of reasons.
She prowls now, crouching low. Using all the effort I can muster, I turn out my hands, to wave her a bit of Anna’s scent, and drum up the courage to look at her face.
At first she looks confused, then shocked. But then she smiles. Practically toothless, but suddenly not so ugly.
“So, you’ve come,” she says matter-of-factly. Her voice seems to rickoche off me, like the kaleidoscope, or a multi-track echo in an empty room or a long hallway. I get that shiver up my spine, and for the first time, I want to turn and run. But I don’t.
“Yes,” I whisper, as if I know what I’m saying yes to.
“Good. Come on, then,” she says with a curt, satisfied nod, then turns to start walking further into the woods.
But I’m rooted where I stand, caught in the confusing rush of all that adrenalin surging, unable to make a decision. I also notice a bitter taste in my mouth. Like metal or something. For some reason, it reminds me of why I came.
“Mrs. Bayless?” I say, then clear my throat, because it came out a bit shaky.
She turns back in a flash. “How do you know that name?” she accuses, her smile completely gone.
“Uh, I know Anna,” I stumble, again putting out my hands for her to sniff, in case she didn’t get that part.
“How?” she demands.
“She lives at the nursing home my dad owns,” I say. Now I’m confused. Didn’t she recognize me because of Anna?
“And she spoke to you?” Bea seems to find the thought incredible. She looks me over again, up and down and to both sides, as if she is looking for something entirely new.
“I… yes… she said…. My cat is sick. She said you would help. She put her scent in my hands so you would help me, and my cat is…”
Instantly, the woman is laughing. It’s a really big, loud, belly laugh so her whole body—which has quite a few layers of roll to it—actually shakes. And then she goes into an all out hooting, bending over in her own delight. Finally, she looks up at me with tears in her eyes and shakes her head, like she just can’t believe it.
Okay, so she’s powerful. But she is also a bit off her rocker.
“Is that funny?” I ask, though it is totally stupid of me to do so. Obviously it’s hilarious, at least to her.
The woman I am certain is Bea clasps my hand, and a surge of something goes through us, like white hot lightning.
“Don’t be frightened, child. I’m just happy. I haven’t heard anything from Anna in so long—it’s been too dangerous. But she’s spoken to you, and gifted you, so maybe things are shifting. Oh, my, to hear that she is still speaking…you don’t know what that means to an old woman like me. Come, you have to tell me everything.”
“I would be happy to. But, could I go back and get my cat first? Her name is Scottie, and I love her so much, and she’s very sick, maybe close to…”
“Sure!” she says, like the whole town is welcome, though I really doubt that would be the case. “You go fetch her, and while I’m working on her healin’, you can tell me everything about my dear twin.”
I sigh the biggest sigh of relief I think I ever have in my whole life. I practically want to cry, and Bea hasn’t done a thing yet. But I think she can do this “healin’” thing, and I think she will. And she doesn’t know what THAT means to me.
“Go on,” she insists, waving me off, “I’ll clear things so you can walk right in. Don’t bring your friend, though, you understand.”
I don’t know what it means to have her clear things, because I walked right in before, but it doesn’t matter. Only Scottie matters. “No, I know. Anna said I couldn’t let Rod know anything.”
“She spoke that clearly?” Bea asks, misty eyed again.
I swear, Bea dances a jig right there in front of my eyes. She hoots her way into the woods, as I turn to make my way back through the woods, and then through the water.
It’s not five minutes before I’m back on Bea’s shore with Scottie. Walking into the woods, I reach the point where Bea met me before, and for the first time, I notice a trail. I can only assume I’m to take it.
Scottie, meows, which is really, really good. Not that she’s upset, but that she’s still alive and strong enough to do so. “It’s okay, baby, we’re going to get you well now. The goat
woman might be crazy, but she can help us. I’m sure of it.”
“Over here,” I hear Bea bellow from a distance, a little to my left. I step off to the side, and sure enough, she’s standing on the front porch of a house I would never have imagined was out there. Well, house is a strong word. Shack is more like it. It’s rundown, with a rusty metal roof. Dirty, too, like someone has lived here for a few hundred years and never really thought to clean up some of the bigger pieces of junk lying around. I guess that’s not surprising, given the woman who lives here is also a mess. Still, her place is seriously leaning to one side, and there are whole floorboards missing on the porch. You’d think someone would say something. Or do something. I mean, if she’s really eighty-eight, shouldn’t someone help out a bit?
Then again…..Woa, wait a minute…. Woa… Yea, that would be help.
Of all the things I expected to have come out of that shack, the last was a guy that looks like he just stepped out of an boy-babe underwear ad. But there he is.
“Who’s that?” he asks, pointing rudely, like I’m the one who is out of place.
“Our new friend,” Bea says, beaming at me. “What is your name, dear?”
Now Bea appears to be as sweet and kindly as any old woman ever was. The power seems to have dropped away, too, I notice. She could be anyone. She hands me a glass of what looks like lemonade, and takes Scottie from me. I accept, but there’s no way I’m gonna drink it. I can just imagine what the kitchen sink looks like.
“Mayden,” I say, using Anna’s name for me. For reasons I’m not sure of, I want to wait to divulge my full identity.
“Jake, this is Mayden. Mayden, this is Jake. He hasn’t seen a girl in many years, so forgive him if he’s a bit overwhelmed.”
I look at Jake, who is looking at me like he likes what he sees and isn’t afraid to show it. Which is so not what I’m used to from guys that look like that. Could this be the love that…
“Mayden has news of your Great Granny Anna,” Bea says.
Jake’s eyes fly wide. He circles a small area on the porch like a dog, sits, then looks up at me like I’m going to tell him a great story.
I look to Bea, who has taken Scottie onto her arm, putting her weak kitty heart in the palm of her hand. She moves to sit on a old rocking chair, so I pull up a rusted out lounger and make sure none of the legs are depending on any wobbly porch boards. My clothes are still soggy and more than a little uncomfortable, so I angle myself to the sun to dry out a bit.
“Do you know what’s wrong with Scottie?” I ask.
“Yes,” the old woman replies, “but it’s best for her healin’ if you don’t know about it just yet. It would only upset you, and that never helps anything.”
“Okay,” I say. Like throwing that out there is supposed to make me less upset? “Can you really help her, though?”
“Oh sure,” she says, like it’s nothing. “Now, tell me all about Anna. You said she told you she put her scent in your hands, but I’m afraid she’s taken you for a ride on that one.”
Suddenly I feel stupid. “You can’t really put your scent in someone’s hand, I guess?” Something in me drops, like I’m disappointed to find out there is no real Santa.
“Well, I suppose you could,” Bea says, “but that’s not what she did.”
“What did she do?” I ask.
“She marked you. She gave you her magic. That’s why I invited you through the veil, even before I knew where you got it from. I know who has the magic, and if they can find me, I’ve got to at least consider teaching them how to use it.”
My heart jumps, like the sense of home I feel here just jumped into me. Deep into me. “Anna’s magic, in me?”
“All of it, from what I can tell,” Bea says.
A shudder runs through me like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s like some part of me knows what this will bring, even though I really don’t have a clue.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
Jake sits straighter and leans in toward me. “Means you’re now one of the three most powerful women in the history of the Bayless Clan,” he says.
I look to Bea, whose got Scottie’s ears perking up for the first time in ages. The rocking chair stops as the woman smiles that nearly toothless grin. “The other two being me, someone who will help you, and Anna’s daughter, Helene, who most assuredly will not.”