For those who want to read the most up-to-date draft of The Mayden Chronicles—this is your link. Below are Chapters 1-15. To read Chapters 16+, click here. To see comments (and please leave comments–that is what makes this blog work!) and to watch written or editing videos, visit the link provided and right click to open a new window (so you don’t lose your place) after each chapter.
Chapter One, Second Draft
Today, the old lady is going to talk. I just know it. I woke up knowing it. It could be desperation on my part, given how Scottie, my tabby cat, is as weak as I’ve seen her. But I don’t think so. I think Mrs. Anna Bayless really is going to give me enough information to find…whatever it is she has been trying to tell me I have to find, if I want to save Scottie.
I’m nervous as I reach for the buzzer at the main door. I shouldn’t be. After all, I’ve spent a lot of my life in old folks homes. The internationally recognized Sun Heritage Village community was probably my first babysitter. Exactly when it was that I started babysitting the old folks, instead of the other way around, is hard to say. It was a gradual thing that nobody really noticed.
I wait to announce myself. Not that they don’t know me, but the rules are the rules. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even Dad has to ring the buzzer and remind whoever is behind the desk that he’s the guy who own the place. He doesn’t have to mention that on last count he owned forty-five such places across the US, with another few in Mexico and Europe. Everyone who works here learns that on training day.
I look up into the security camera, feeling the red dot blink at me like a warning, or accusation even. Nobody knows what I’m up to today. No one could know. But you get paranoid when you are about to bend some pretty important rules.
What’s taking them so long?
I know they are just sitting there, watching me. I could stare back, and often do. Not today. I’ll just bore an imaginary hole into them, keeping my darting eyes to myself.
There are always two at the desk. It doesn’t matter which two, given the same type of women always apply for the job: Middle aged, slow and a bit lazy. The desk is a relatively easy job with decent pay and great benefits. Even so, turnover is high because, I mean, you have to admit the place is pretty depressing, especially over time.
Whoever is at the desk, I can just imagine the conversation going on as they watch me from their pseudo power-giving perch.
“It’s the big boss’ daughter again. Third time this week,” I imagine one saying.
“Yea,” the other will reply. “With money like they’ve got, why does she dress in torn black rags and an army jacket—in summer no less? And that hair! It looks like a packrat’s nest.”
“It’s some kind of style,” the first will attempt to explain. “It’s all the rage for teenagers. Hideous, but not cheap. They pay a lot to look that bad.”
“Crazy,” the other will say.
I can’t help it. I throw a big, fat, fake smile into the camera. Just let me in.
“Can I help you?” the speaker finally blasts, a little too loud. It makes me jump, then curse myself for letting my nerves show. I’ve got to keep it cool, like it’s a day no different than any other day.
“Julie Mayden. I’ve come to see Mrs. Bayless.”
I jump at the even louder buzz that lets me in. Unfortunately, I still have to go to the desk for a nametag and to have them record my volunteer hours. Some grant matches those hours with funding dollars, which creates more paperwork, which creates more rules, and on and on it goes. Stuff like that really makes you wonder why you want to grow up at all.
The unmistakable scent of a nursing home rushes at me the moment the sliding doors open. It’s a combination of bad cafeteria food, old people’s drool, pressed face powder and harsh cleaning supplies—because you just can’t have people getting sick and dying in here, now can you? I both hate the smell, for obvious reasons, and love it, because these places feel far more like home than any of the four gated mansions I’ve lived in during my short sixteen years.
I smile at the folks lining the hallway, out for their daily—sit. A few recognize me, but most don’t. This is the building for the worst off; those who can’t begin to care for themselves. I remind myself I could go to buildings where the people sitting in front of the checkers boards can actually play the game. But I’ve always been a bit of an extremist. Give me the hard cases, the lost causes.
“This will be good for my community service hours,” I say to Jenny and Alice, the two women looking at me like I’ve come at an inconvenient time. Hardly—signing me in is one of the few things they will have to do before lunch gets underway. Then they will have the overwhelmingly strenuous task of getting on the loud speaker and announcing the menu to people who, quite frankly, even if they can understand, just don’t care.
“What did you do to have to complete community service?” Jenny asks, suddenly interested. Gossip is a rare commodity here, and highly prized. Even Alice lifts her eyes over her glasses to look directly into mine.
“Fifty hours a year are required to be in honor society,” I answer, deadpan, but smiling inside. I love to shock. That’s half of why I dress this way in the first place—just to put people off. I mean, I think I look great. But I’m well aware others don’t, and that suits me just fine. About the only person my attempts at shock value doesn’t work with is my father. He sees me as he has since I was probably three years old, when I came to live with him for the first time, as his beautiful fairy princess. “Just a little darker,” he jokes when I’m being really outrageous.
The two women’s faces deflate at my “honor society” remark. You can actually see the realization that I might be truly smart settle in on their faces. False smiles, dulled eyes. Not a morsel of decent gossip in that one, they seem to be saying as they say as they look at each other in disappointment.
I am given my nametag, freshly spit out from the computer with a bad photo of me at about age twelve (when I still dressed according to what some would deem normal) and sent on my way. They know I know my way around. If only they knew what I was going to do with that knowledge in just a few minutes. Talk about an opportunity for gossip.
I keep my head down as I make my way through the halls. I know too many people, and today is not a day for polite chit-chat. Everything has been planned to a tight schedule. Not that I really know what I’m doing, I remind myself. It’s probably just one big crap shot, if I’m honest about it. Anyone else would say I’m delusional, or even more likely, just wishing on a lucky star.
I lift my head only when I’ve arrived at Room 214. I don’t care if it is a crap shoot. You do what you can, with what you have. Right? And if all I have is a hunched over old lady forever confined to a wheelchair to help me, then that’s what I’ll work with.
I knock on Miss Bayless’ fake wood door, but don’t wait for a reply. It’d be a long wait. She babbles mostly, at least until she knows it’s me. Even then, it takes a while for real words to form. The woods that line the property help, which is why we are going out today, just as soon as I can get her ready.
Yes, I say to myself, gathering my courage. I’m actually going to do it. I’m going to wheel her off the paved path that goes through that patch of trees and hope we don’t get stuck as we follow the trail deeper into the swampy forest. We’ll go as far as we can, and then I’ll hoist her from the chair to the earth and put the strange native-looking leather bag I found hidden in her suitcase around her neck. I’ll conveniently keep her out to near the very end of her eight-hour medicine cycle, and then see what happens.
Yea, it’s risky, and maybe wrong. But I have to. Scottie is my life.
(NOTE: To read comments or view videos without losing your place, Right click to open a new window.)
Read Comments On Chapter One, First Draft
Read and Make Comments On This Draft At Chapters 1-4, Second Drafts
Not where I should be, out in the woods with Anna. But right here on the second floor, hallway B, of the Sun Heritage Village’s Pine Crest building. Dr. Garcia, who happens to be making a house call, stopped me on my way out the door. Since she also happens to have been a nurse here years ago, which is how her daughter came to be one of my two best friends, I kind of have to talk to her.
My hands are in a sweaty grip around Anna’s wheelchair handles. There’s a sick feeling in my stomach, and an urge to turn around. Dr. Garcia could be a witness, now. I get a flash image of Anna’s normally absent family yanking me into a courtroom for doing something terrible to their feeble old grandmother, with Dr. Garcia reluctantly standing up to testify against me.
Let it go. Just let it go.
“I’m so glad you still come to help here, Julie,” Dr Garcia says.
I nod and check out the wall clock. 11:32. I don’t want to talk to her now, but I can’t show it. She’s the type to guess something is up and even more the type to actually mention it to my dad. Anna shifts in her chair, as if she knows what’s going on, and is as impatient as I am.
“I sure wish Maria would volunteer here. I don’t know what keeps her so busy.”
Dr. Garcia is fishing for information, but I’m not going to be the one to tell her what Maria is busy with. Even I hardly ever see her, now that she’s got a boyfriend.
“I haven’t seen Rod in ages, either,” she says, still fishing.
Rod is the third in our trio. Or, what used to be our trio, when all our parents worked here. Rod’s dad is still the head administrator, but Rod’s hardly going to come to work with his dad on school vacation days. At seventeen, with a new car, nobody sees Rod much. I’m happy to get a text once or twice a week, and only then because he needs something.
“Me neither,” I say, then quickly add, “Well, I should get Mrs. Bayless to Bingo. It starts in just a few minutes.”
Actually, there isn’t Bingo today. Even if there were, it would not start just before lunch. But Dr. Garcia wouldn’t think about that, and she’s busy enough to appreciate the excuse to get on with her work. As she nods and walks by with the standard “it’s so good to see you” line, I try to keep my deep sigh of relief to myself.
I check my watch. 11:35. I have only a few more minutes to get out the door and beyond the part of the path you can see from the building, if this is going to work. I need enough time for anyone looking to take Anna to the main lunchroom to see my backpack on her bed, and assume I’ve already got her. This alone took weeks to arrange, given I had to set the stage for confusion at lunchtime repeatedly before they finally got past the panic of a missing patient. Now they all just assume that if Anna is missing, it’s because I have her and we were probably in the guest cafeteria, or maybe all the way down the block talking to some of the more coherent old folks at the Oak Ridge condo grill. If they catch me with her too close to time, though, they’ll ask me where I’ll be taking her today, and we’ll be done for.
You’d never guess a hallway could be so long. Or a sidewalk. Or even a well-manicured strolling path that takes you through a few small patches of woods.
“Don’t worry Anna,” I say aloud, though she probably has no idea what I’m saying, “we’re getting there.”
The clouds overhead, which were perfectly puffy and cheerful when I walked in the door today, are starting to loom thick. The sky is getting darker by the minute. I hope it’s not a sign. Not that I’m sure I believe in signs. But if signs are real, this would not be a good one.
I ask myself for the thousandth time why I’m doing this at all. I quickly feel for the piece of paper and pen I brought in the hope I’ll need to write down some truly useful information.
“Anna,” I say, “I want you to listen to me. I have written down what you’ve said to me so far, and it is starting to make sense. So I’m going to remind you, while we walk. And I’m going to talk to you like you know what I’m saying. Like anyone else, because I have a feeling you might be able to know, even if you can’t speak that well. Okay?”
Anna grunts, but it could be a total coincidence.
“So you said ‘Sister help Scottie’ about a hundred times one day. And when I asked if you meant Scottie, my cat, you said ‘Sister magic heals.’ The next week you kept saying ‘Forest not the governments’ and then ‘Clemmons’ Pier.’ Then you got on to saying ‘Potter Street and Poplar Leaf Drive’ again and again. So I checked on google earth. There is an old Clemmons’ Pier not too far from my house. It’s at the edge of a small forest. And on the other side, at the far opposite corner, is where Potter Street curves around into Poplar Leaf Drive.”
Again Anna grunts.
“But Anna, there’s nearly two hundred acres between the pier and Potter Street. I drove by the other day, and it actually is marked as government land. All kinds of no trespassing signs on it. You can’t even get to the pier without walking a few miles through the woods or crossing hip deep in water.”
Anna huffs, then coughs.
“So I really don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. Does your sister live near there? Are you saying she could help my cat? Because Scottie is really sick now. We’ve been to the vets a lot of times, but they don’t find anything. She’s only eight years old, so you know it’s not old age.”
I guess I’m just talking to myself. Besides, we are here. I look around, though hardly anyone from the Village comes out this way. Some joggers, sometimes, but that’s about it. No one in sight right now. I look to the soft, mushy ground. We could get seriously stuck, especially if it rains. But for now, it’s holding. And Scottie is not.
We’re only three feet in before the tires squish heavy into the mud. I tighten Anna’s belt and push on. I want to get her where she can, if nothing else, forget where she lives for a little while. She loves the woods, and has spoken more clearly out here than any day in the Village. Especially if she’s wearing that strange leather necklace bag I found hidden in her suitcase. The one with the bear on it, and lots of dangling beads.
I also hope it helps that her meds are running out. We have till 1 PM, when the after-lunch rounds are given. Being at the tail end of the cycle could be very helpful, especially because I googled the prescription names, and the stuff they have her on could knock out a horse. It might not help, but it couldn’t hurt.
The wheels get stuck again. Anna’s no lightweight. I swear, she must have been nearly six feet tall when standing. She’s not fat, but even hunched over those extra inches add pounds.
“Ethel Mai,” Anna suddenly says softly.
“What?” I stop to ask. I go around front and kneel down to see her face. Her normally glassy eyes seem clearer than usual.
“Lilian Luta, Martha Jane, Mary Kelly, Suzanne Mary, Sarah Ashlee…”
“Who are they? Anna, can you hear me?”
“Margaret, Rachel, sixteen hundred and ninety.”
“What are you trying to say, Anna?” I plead. Her voice is strange, and an even stranger chill goes up my spine.
“My medicine bag,” she says, lifting her eyes to my own. “I need my medicine bag.”
“A full sentence!” Chills run over me now, all around and up and down. She’s talking in full sentences!
“You have my bag,” she says, and I realize what she means. Her leather bag. “Yes, yes Anna, I have it. I hope you don’t mind me calling you Anna.”
“You always do,” she replies.
“Woa! You answered me.” I quickly find her leather bag and put it around her neck. I put it on her, and she sits straighter than I’ve ever seen her. It makes me all the more curious what’s inside the bag. I’ve never looked, because it felt sort of strange, and like it’s not the kind of thing you open without permission.
“Further in,” she says, and even lifts her hand and a long, bony finger to point us forward. She has never, ever, ever, lifted her hand and pointed toward something.
“Whatever you want, Anna,” I say, and go back to pushing. It’s not so hard now. In fact, I feel like I could lift a car if I had to.
“Ethel Mai, eighteen hundred and ninety five,” she says.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Quiet,” she says. “Lillian Luta, eighteen hundred and seventy six. Sarah June, eighteen hundred and fifty seven. Martha Jane, eighteen hundred and thirty eight. Mary Kelly, eighteen hundred and two. Suzanne Mary, seventeen hundred and seventy seven. Sarah Ashley, seventeen hundred and fifty two. Margaret Cole, seventeen hundred and twelve. Rachel, sixteen hundred and ninety.
Somewhere along her list of names and numbers, I realize what she’s doing. She listing people, and dates. Lillian Luta, 1876. Sarah June, 1857. She’s going backwards in time. Now we are at Rachel, 1690. She’s asked me to be quiet, so I just listen. But who are these women?
Her family, I suddenly realize. Though I don’t know how I could know that. I get more chills, the creepy kind.
“Yes,” Anna says.
“Yes what?” I dare ask.
“Yes, you understand. These are my ancestors. The women who begat me, and those who begatthem. My mother, Ethel Mai, born in eighteen hundred and ninety five. My grandmother, Lillian Luta, born eighteen hundred and seventy six. Repeating their names aloud gives me strength.”
“Okay, this is freaky, Anna. I don’t mean about your ancestors names. I mean because I didn’t say that I thought they were your ancestors names.”
“But you knew.”
“Well, I figured it out, but I didn’t say that.”
“When understanding is present, it can be felt. I felt that you understood.”
Now I am completely freaked.
“This is good,” she insists. “Stop here and put me down on the earth.”
“So I suppose you knew I was going to do that, too?” I ask. Truth is, while it is freaky, it’s also kind of exciting.
“You said so, last Monday.”
“Wait! You can…you can hear me, I mean understand me, and know what day it is, even back there at the Village?”
“Everything,” she says, almost sadly, “I understand everything.”
I set her brakes, put out a blanket, untie her belt, and use everything I’ve learned about lifting an invalid from a wheelchair into a bed. This, of course, is not a bed. There’s a significant difference. But the same general rules must apply.
It doesn’t go well, and I nearly let her fall the last foot of the way. Maybe she understands everything, as she says, but she’s had no practice in actually using her limbs, and they are not magically strong. She doesn’t complain; so I stretch out her stiff legs (now I’m thinking it is good the ground is not too hard) and put my jacket under hear head to use as a pillow.
She looks to the ground at her left, and then her right, and starts to cry big, round, sudden tears.
“What?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”
She laughs. “Wrong? What could possibly be wrong?”
“But you’re crying.”
“I’ve missed the earth more than anything,” she says. “And seeing things up close. They took my glasses when I arrived, so the only things I can see are those that are right in front of me. There’s so much beauty I’ve missed. The moss and the leaves, and the soil! Everything is so vivid, so luminous, I think I might die of joy.”
“You can’t die of anything out here, Anna,” I insist. “You’re on my watch.”
“Yes, yes, we have to remember that, don’t we? Critical to the plan.”
“The plan?” I ask, hoping desperately that it has something to do with Scottie.
“Sit down with me,” she insists, reaching to pull me by the hand. “Come close so that I can see your beautiful young face. I’ll tell you all about it.”
Read Comments On Chapter Two, First Draft
Read and Make Comments On This Draft At Chapters 1-4, Second Drafts
“You have a boyfriend,” Anna says, more a statement than a question, and as if she doesn’t really like the idea. Or maybe she’s just frowning at the small slug she’s got on her finger, pulled up close to her eyes so she can really see it.
Either way, I’m not thrilled to have her bring up the one topic I’ve been brooding about forever. No, I don’t have a boyfriend. In fact, I’ve never had a boyfriend. There, the cold hard truth. Not even a date at the mall. I realize this makes me a bit of a freak at age 16. But really, the vast majority of guys at school are idiots, and those that are decent like girls that are… well, not me. Not that I’m going to confess all this to an old lady.
“Not really,” I reply.
“But I’ve seen that brown boy around you,” she argues, her thin eyebrows squeezed as she squints at the slug and then peels him off of her finger.
“You mean Rod?” I ask. It would make sense, since he is part African-American and part Latino. But when would she have seen him with me?
“If that is his name,” she affirms, marveling as she brings up another handful of dirt and moss. “I don’t get names clearly. It’s amazing how much life is outdoors, isn’t it? Just lovely. Thank you, dear Mayden, for bringing me here.”
I could correct her about Mayden being my last name, not my first, but I want to stay on topic. “But Rod and I haven’t been together at the Village forever, I mean, a few years, at least. And you’ve only been here for 18 months.”
Anna smiles and turns her face to mine. “I didn’t mean I have seen him with you. I mean I have seen him around you.” She waves her hand in the air, like she means something more esoteric than literal.
“Oh,” I say, feeling another wave of creepy wash over me. It’s weird enough she’s talking. Now she wants me to believe she sees things around people?
“He’s a friend, not a boyfriend,” I correct
“I see,” she says, as if that changes things. In fact, she seems pretty happy about it. But why would she care? I mean, she’s pretty old. Eighty-eight years old, according to her chart. She could be prejudiced I guess. But that doesn’t seem right. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Scottie does.
“You said there was a plan?” I urge.
“Oh yes, very much so. Your friend Rod will be needed.”
“My dear your cat is ill, very ill,” she says, like it’s news to me.
News or not, I feel a thud land in my gut. It’s one thing to know it, and another to hear it spoken. Especially by someone who claims to ‘see’ things. “But the other day, you said your sister could help.”
“Oh indeed, Bea can help. She will, so long as I’m the one sending you. She’s my twin, and we were very close. You know the location already.”
“The woods by the pier? But that’s government land, despite what you said, and…”
Anna laughs outright. “It is not government land! That’s our trick, to get people to stay away. Even government people stay away, thinking it is all taken care of by someone else. Bea’s brilliant plan from years ago. I was so delighted you found it with my cryptic instructions. What is google earth, anyway?”
“Never mind…I mean, I’ll tell you later, but about Scottie. Is she a vet, or something?”
“Not exactly. But if anyone can help, she can. Be assured of that. So here is our little plan. You’ll go to the pier. Cross from the water. I know you could go through the woods, but she’ll find you right away, and I don’t want your encounter to happen too close to public roads. The water isn’t deep.”
“I don’t care about getting wet. So I should take Scottie with me?”
“No,” she says, sounding alarmed, “not at first. That is why you’ll need your friend. At first, he will need to keep Scottie. You’ll have to win over my sister. Once she understands, she’ll make it safe to have Scottie come near.”
“Safe? Why wouldn’t it be safe?” Suddenly that thud in my stomach is in my throat.
“Things are not what they seem, Mayden.”
“Um, it’s Julie, actually. Mayden is my last name.”
“No,” she says. I wait for her to explain, but she doesn’t. Again her attention wanders to a handful of leaves she’s brought up close to her face.
In the back of my mind, I’m already wondering how I’m going to get Rod to help on short notice. I mean, he owes me, but that may mean more to me than to him.
So how will I find your sister? Will she know I’m coming?”
“She’ll smell you,” Anna says matter-of-factly, like that’s as normal as everything else happening out here.
“Okay, this is getting a little too strange, even for me, and I like strange things. I mean, I can live with ‘things are not what they seem,’ and all that. And I don’t have to know how you can suddenly talk out here in the woods. But this is my cat, my very best friend in the world, and I have to know…”
“I’ve always been able to talk,” she interrupts. “At least on the days I don’t take the medicine they hand out. I’m aware enough to become fully aware when I need to. Like today. And smart enough to know not to give myself away.”
Ah! She’s bouncing around so many topics my head is starting to hurt. “Why would you do that—pretend you’re out of it, when you’re not?”
Anna sighs. “There are things going on you can’t imagine, and wouldn’t want to. If I told you what you would encounter at the water’s edge with my sister, you wouldn’t go. Already you’re thinking you might not. But you’re also thinking you have to, because what other option is there, for your Scottie?”
“How do you know that?” I plead to know. I like to think of not quite so easy to read. But she seems to see right through me.
“I’ve lived a life of magic,” she says, wistful, “and my time is nearing an end. But the magic will live on—must live on—and so we must both prepare and protect those who will come after us. I chose you because you have the markings of one the magic is fond of. The things you see at night? The voices you hear? That is the magic trying to reach you. You’ll go to see my sister today because you love your Scottie, and maybe because of me. But mostly you’ll go for reasons you don’t know. Reasons none of us know for sure. Reasons the magic has in mind.”
I don’t understand, even though somehow, I do. Not only does my pulse race so fast I can feel it surging in my veins, my heart starts to hurt. Like she’s talking about something really, really sad, only I don’t know what it is.
“To be honest,” she continues, “I don’t know if my sister will teach you. Probably not, since you are not in the family. But I promise you’ll feel more at home on that bit of land than you have ever felt anywhere. That may seem hard to believe, because I can see that you have made many long journeys in your short life. You have traveled this world, crossed the ocean many times, and you have not felt at home anywhere. But you will find a home, if my sister will let you onto the property. And for that, I must send my signature with you.”
I hardly know what to think, but already I’m fumbling for my pen and paper.
“No, Mayden,” she says, starting to struggle to sit up, “not that kind.”
I help her, bracing her from behind.
“I’m stable,” she says. “Now, come around and give me your hands.”
I move to kneel in front of her and put my hands up close, where she can see them well.
“Shhh!’ she says suddenly.
My heart surges yet again, beating what seems a thousand times a minute, as I hear a jogger coming near. We are far enough not to be seen, but we could still be heard. It’s an interminable minute as the jogger comes and goes.
Finally, Anna takes my hands in hers. She cups them, like I’m going to hold something, and brings them close to her face again. Slowly, she takes a deep breath, then blows into my hands.
I brace myself as it gets hot, nearly burning. Finally, I have to jerk back. A red color glows from within my hand, like a hot coal that has gotten a blast of oxygen.
“It’s alright,” she says, pulling my hands back and cupping them again. This time, she blows three short breaths. Each time, the fire in my hands glows bright. It’s so hot, I’m tempted to pull away again. Any hotter, and I would have to. But I can take it.
When she is done, she puts her forehead into my hands and immediately they cool to normal.
“I’ve put my scent into you,” she says, her words sounding like some kind of proclamation.
“What does that mean?”
“It means my sister will catch wind of you long before you see her. Be steady when she approaches, for she is not to be spooked. She won’t trust you at first, but hold out your hands. You must be still, and you must be unafraid. Once she has confirmed it is actually I who have sent you, she will help you.”
“Okay,” I say. I mean, what else is there to say?
“Now, you’ll need to return me to my room before you get into trouble.”
Again I feel that heavy sadness sit on my chest.
“I am sure you can understand that there can be no mention of this,” she says as I get things set in the right direction. “I’ve trusted you with sacred information. The magic will keep us both safe so long as we keep silent. I’ve chosen you because it is in your nature to be silent. I only speak this now to be sure we understand each other.”
“I understand. I can’t tell Rod. That’s fine. But does it mean I can’t talk to you, I mean really talk, back at the Village?”
“Absolutely not. Lives are at stake if you break this facade.”
I want to ask a thousand questions, a million questions, but I’m not really sure I want to know too much. Like she said, I might not go, and I know I have to. I help her back into her chair, this time a bit more gracefully, and shove her wheels through the mud. It kills me to think she’ll go back in there, pretending to be some old invalid, without her glasses, or anyone to really talk to. It kills me even more to think how long she’s been living like that. I’d go insane.
It starts to sprinkle and thunder rolls in the distance. There will be hell to pay if she comes in wet. I push as fast as I can, wondering about the magic. I can live with this being all mysterious, and not understanding all the things she has said. Still, there’s one thing I really want to know. Maybe it’s selfish, but maybe I’ll never have the chance to ask again.
“Anna?” I say, just before we reach the main path.
“With your magical abilities, um, do you ever see the future?”
She nods. “It happens.”
“You said you saw Rod around me, but he’s not my boyfriend. So…Do you think…? Do you see…?”
“Love?” she asks. “For you?”
“Yea, I mean, even a really strong ‘like’ would be awesome. I mean…someday.”
“Right around the corner,” she says, “if I have anything to do with it, which I intend to. Now, we must shush.”
Read Comments On Chapter Three, First Draft
Read and Make Comments On This Draft At Chapters 1-4, Second Drafts
Watch “Editing Chapters 1-3” Video
People probably think I don’t think much, because I don’t talk much. But they would be wrong. So very, very wrong. I think about everything, from every angle, over and over again until it’s like I’ve eaten three meals at once and would practically want to barf my brains out—if I could only get myself to move. I feel like that now, waiting for Rod, watching the rain through the screened in breezeway that attaches the main house to the six-car garage, wondering if the water will be too high to get across to the land Anna says her sister lives on.
Anna. That’s the big mind jam. Ever since leaving her in what now feels like an abysmally lifeless nursing home room, with her playing out her hidden identity (dulled eyes, slumped back, and mumbling nonsense like a pro), I’ve been Rubik’s-cubing my brain to try to make sense of each and every aspect of what she said, including what she didn’t say.
What could she have meant, I wonder for the billionth time, that if anyone could help Scottie, it was her sister? How, if she’s not a vet? She talked about magic, but does she really expect me to believe in that? I mean, hocus pocus is all well and good, and I’m al for learning it. With Scottie’s life is at stake. Don’t I need a little more than that? And anyway, how could the magic keep us safe? From what?
She said I have the markings of “one the magic is fond of” and she knew about the things I’ve been seeing at night, and the voices. Am I really going today because of “reasons the magic has in mind?” What could that mean?
And what does it mean her sister, Bea, will smell me coming? Why did Anna blow her scent into my hands—I mean, seriously? I look at my hands, still confused, still wondering if they really did turn red hot. I mean, I think they did.
More scary, what is too dangerous to take Scottie across the water when I go? And why would Bea care that I’m ‘not in the family?’ Is this some magical mafia? Does chanting out her ancestors names and birth years really give her power?
And how did she know about Rod? Or was it just a good guess? And her seeing me with a boyfriend, a real one, just another guess? Why would she want to have a say in the matter? Why should she care? Even so, that one gets my heart racing. A magical boyfriend, or even just a boyfriend that came by way of magic? That could be so very, very cool.
Best not think of that one right now.
Maybe the biggest why of all—why is she there, pretending to be sick, when she’s not? How does she stand it, how has she been able to stand it for more than a year? It must be important. Really, really important. I mean, for that, it must be life or death important. Right?
“Hey,” Rod says, out of nowhere, making me jump a mile.
“Where did you come from?” I ask, frowning, embarrassed, and spooked. I don’t normally think in terms of life or death.
He turns and points to his car just outside the garage, which I did not notice him drive up in even though we have a nearly half mile long driveway.
“Alabama,” he jokes, supposedly with an Alabama accent.
I give him a smirk. He’s not from Alabama. He was born right here in Annapolis, Maryland, same as me.
“What’s this about?” he asks. “Is it really a Code Lilly?”
Lilly was the code word we used back at the nursing home when we needed each other to do something truly important, usually a cover up, without asking questions. Named after Lilly, the woman who made us crazy with rules that were not important. We watched out for each other, like the time I stole my dad’s ID to get into his private office to see if he really was talking to a private school in Switzerland about my junior high school career, which his second wife threatened me with just before Dad booted her out the door. I didn’t want to ask him, but with the kinds of wives he chooses, I didn’t totally put it past him. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if someone hadn’t….
“Yo, Julie,” he insists, loudly, “what’s the Lilly?”
“Sorry,” I say. “Like I said, it’s a Lilly. Can’t tell you.”
“What’s wrong with Scottie?” he asks, poking a finger through the travel cage. It’s not good if someone can see the problem even through the mesh. Not that I don’t know it’s not good. I just don’t know how to face it not being good, so I keep pretending it can’t be that bad, even though it is. And then someone like Anna, and now Rod, remind me.
“She’s sick. That’s part of it. I need you to take care of her while I do something…and then I’ll come get her.”
“What? This is cat duty?” he protests.
“Hey—how long has it been since I’ve called a Lilly?” I ask, leaning in to him with attitude. “And how many times have you called me with a Lilly in the past six months alone?”
“Okay, okay, you’re right. That’s fair.”
“It’s more than fair.”
“Okay,” he agrees, this time more emphatically. “So where are we going?”
“Just drive, I’ll direct,” I say, covering Scottie’s cage with a towel.
“It’s going to be okay,” I whisper to her, even though I don’t know that. I just know it has to be, somehow. And if it does turn out all right, it will be a miracle—using magic or not. I’ll owe Anna everything.
Rod’s car is spotless, and I can tell the idea of a cat, even a caged one, riding in it is making him nervous. Too bad.
I point the way and he tells me all about his life. I don’t really listen. Nothing much I don’t already know, probably about a girl, and if you just substitute Linda with Lydia or Linnea or Lori. Probably that she’s wonderful, hot, totally into him. He’s cool, interested but not too much. Keeping it real, which is to say being the player. The kind of guy I would never go for, nor would ever go for me.
But friendship is like that, I think as he rattles on, and the rain begins to truly hammer down. If you get in when you’re young, you hang with all the crap that comes later, and just hope they outgrow it. After all, Rod outgrew putting his dirty socks in my face to make me mad. Which is very good, though I liked the part about the socks that made me think I had something close to a real brother.
It makes me wonder about Anna and Bea. Eighty-eight-year-old sisters. Twins, Anna said. They must have seen each other through a lot. And now, knowing they will probably die before too long—at least with what Anna said—and being okay with that? How could you be okay with that? What would it be like if one died before the other, which is most likely…
“So I was thinking,’ Rod says after making a sharp turn and putting his hand on my thigh, which he has never once done before, “maybe, you and I ought to go out sometime.”
His words jar me to the conversation, enough to also make my jaw drop and my tongue practically hang out of my mouth. There’s no way I heard that right. “What?”
“I was just thinking, we know each other. We like each other. You’re hot, I’m hot.”
I totally have to work to not laugh. First, I am not hot. Second, he is not hot. Well, he is, but not my kind of hot. Third, us, together? Suddenly, I can’t help it. I bust a gut. “You…” I can’t even finish the sentence.
“What?” he says, pulling away his hand. “I like you. You like me. And you know you want a boyfriend.”
“I…I…I can’t even begin to say why that would be so not workable.”
“Because you don’t date girls because you like them. You date them to say you’re dating them. And dating me would be nothing to tell anyone. Already your friends don’t get why you hang with me sometimes.”
He looks at me like I’ve insulted him. But he knows how whacked this idea is. He has to.
“Don’t give me that look,” I say. “I’ve got a Lilly and you are messing with my brain.”
“My mom and dad are getting a divorce,” he blurts out.
Suddenly, I feel like I’m pinned to the back of the seat. Like the air bag just smacked me back and I don’t really know what hit me. I look at Rod, really look, while he looks ahead, both his hands in a tight grip on the wheel. He’s not kidding. But his dad, his mom? I know them. They know me. They love me.
“They can’t do that,” I say with what little wind is left in me.
“Yea, I know. But they say they are.” You can see this is killing him. Really, really killing him.
“They love each other,” I insist. “It’s not like my Dad. You expect him to get married to bimbos and get divorced a few years later. Your parents are different. You’re a family.”
“I guess not anymore,” he says, soft but angry.
I don’t blame him. But I also don’t know what to say. I just want this pain in my chest to stop squeezing the life out of me. I just saw his dad yesterday, and now it’s like, it’s been going on all this time, it must have, because things like this don’t happen overnight, and I didn’t even know. I stare at Rod, who keeps staring at the road. It hits me he’s messed up, right now, like I’ve been even when it was just bimbos pulling the rug out from under me. But I know how to get through it. You learn.
“Look, you don’t want to date me. You just don’t want to be alone… or, I don’t know, something. But I’ll be here for you. Really, I will. This is it, turn here.”
“The pier?” he says, pulling into the small dirt parking lot.
I look out at the end of the pier, going straight out into the bay water, but also branching off with a side pier that reaches toward the land beyond and to the right. Then I look at the ten feet span of water I’ll have to cross. With the rain, I’m going to get wet either way. It makes me wonder if Bea will come out in the rain, and if she doesn’t, how far in I’m willing to go to look for her. Suddenly, it’s spooky. Hansel and Gretel spooky.
I’m torn between talking, actually being there for Rod like I just said, and doing what I have to do for Scottie.
Rod seems to get it, because he unlocks the doors for me. “Go ahead.”
“Okay, we’ll talk more later.”
“Sure,” he says, almost like he regrets saying anything. My brain wants to scramble, but it can’t. Not now.
“So I have to cross the water, and go into the woods. I’ll be back for Scottie as soon as…as soon as I can.”
“Why don’t you just go in from the other side?”
I can’t exactly say it’s because an old lady might catch my scent too close to the road, and that would be dangerous. But I can’t think of anything else to say.
“Code Lilly,” I remind him, still feeling that sinking, pinned back feeling, and all the worry about Scottie, too. Rod will make it through, that much I know for sure. But Scottie…
I look to the land, and see something. Just a flash of something dark that catches my eye. Through the trees, just a few feet into the woods. Someone is already watching me. They are low to the ground, hiding, I think. Or maybe it’s some wild animal… Could I possibly describe the chill going over my body?
“Any guidelines here,” Rod asks, “like ‘if I don’t come out in five minutes’ kind of thing?”
“No,” I reply flatly. “I’ll just be back for Scottie as soon as I can.”
I get out of the car, putting my jacket over my head. It is both to protect me from the rain and protect the jacket from the steadily flowing stream. I follow the pier out, feeling the water beneath me giving just a hint of sway to my footing, then take the offshoot to the end. I look down, feeling nothing but doom. No way to really know how deep it is, given the rain and mud. But I can swim, if I have to. If I had a handful of leaves, I’d toss them to see how fast the current is going. But really, how fast can it be?
I take off my shoes and start to make my way down the few steps at the side of the pier ladder, grateful I don’t have to jump, and comforted that people use this as a platform to swim from—which means it’s not like I’m going where no one has ever gone before.
The water is cold and no more clear up close. My jeans get heavy quick as I sink down. I feel for the bottom, and when I find it, I’m in up to my chest. Guess the tide is high. But the current isn’t bad. Nothing I can’t brace. No, really, this is fine.
It’s not long at all before the worries of the water disappear. In their place, all the worries of what will or won’t be found on land begin to come into far greater clarity. I put out my hands as best I can, to let Anna’s “scent” ride the rain-dampened breeze.
Maybe it’s total crap. But maybe it’s not.
Read Comments On Chapter Four, First Draft
Read and Make Comments On This Draft At Chapters 1-4, Second Drafts
I don’t know, maybe someone could look a woman like this in the eye right off the bat. But it would be a braver person than me.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.”
Read Comments On Chapter Five, First Draft
Read And Comment On This Draft At Chapter Five, Second Draft
Watch: So You Want To Write A Book Video (Mayden Used As Example in all videos.)
Chapter Six, Second Draft
Two things have happened that I’ll never be able to fully explain to anyone else.
One, Scottie is up and walking around, checking out the place like she hasn’t been sick a day in her life. The other is that I’m about to get my first lesson in real magic.
It all happened so fast. I just told Bea everything about Anna and how I came to find this place. I’ve never seen anyone listen the way that woman does. I swear, she was listening with her eyes, ears, fingers and toes. Maybe even the length of her spine. She got it all on the first take, no explanations needed. Even Jake seemed to need no further information than what I gave. It’s like they trust me, already. Or maybe would just know if I wasn’t telling the truth.
So when I was done talking, and Scottie was handed to me with a “That should do it,” Bea just stood up and said we should get on with seeing if I could learn magic. Since it was gifted to me, she said, it wasn’t a sure thing I would take to it, or even want it. Better find out sooner rather than later, she said. So here I am, ready and willing, even if my gut is swirling in fear. I mean, Anna’s little fire blowing into my palm was pretty intense, and she seems lot more refined than Bea.
“Start with your posture,” the bent woman says, looking me over once again. I’m not sure if she means for me to stand up straight, like one of my step-mothers always used to always say I should, or throw out my chest, like another of them nagged. I do a little of both, which only makes Jake laugh.
I shoot him a look that says “Oh thanks, you are SUCH a help.” He smiles back at me with an arresting set of perfect teeth.
“Pay attention!” she says, using some kind of twisted vine-like walking stick to move my left foot a little more left. “Feet shoulder width apart. Shoulders back. Knees slightly bent.”
I do as I’m told, but it’s more than a little weird having Jake watch. Or rather, gawk. He’s looking at me like I’m some sort of combination of a goddess and lunch. Couldn’t we do this in private?
“Now, tilt your pelvis forward. No, no. Tuck your butt in.” She puts one hand on the small of my back, and pushes forward, and the other on my belly to make sure it doesn’t move. The white lightning goes through me, making me shiver. “Now your spine is straight, so you’re in a grounded position.”
“For what?” I ask.
“To blow the tarnations out of anything you want,” she says, cackling.
It makes you wonder: Is Bea is a good witch or a bad witch?
“We’re not destroyers,” Bea says, as if reading my mind, which is more than a little spooky right there. “But we’re not to be pushed around, either. Say here Jake is bothering you, pestering you like a little brother.”
Jake growls, which makes Scottie perk up in concern.
“Or anyone else getting in your way. You want some power to get ‘em out of the way, right?”
“Sure,” I say, adding an “anyone else, I mean” to comfort Jake. You can tell he really wants to impress me. I want to tell him he doesn’t have to work that hard. He’s pretty impressive, just standing there without a shirt. Then again, it’s kind of nice to have a guy like that working for it.
“Now, start breathing up the earth,” Bea says, breathing deep to show me, “deep, from inside the soles of your feet. Just like if your arches were lungs, only the air you’re pulling in is energy. If you use your real breathing to keep the rhythm up at the same time, it’s easier to imagine. And you’ve got to imagine it, or it won’t work.”
I try to imagine breathing through my feet without feeling totally stupid. I look to Jake to see if Bea is just pulling one over on me, but he seems to think this is perfectly normal.
“Don’t get distracted or the energy will go all over the place,” my new teacher warns sternly, “and that is a true mess.You want it all to go directly into your belly.”
Without trying, I can almost see lines running from the center of my feet to my stomach, and the earth running up it. I swear, I’ve never in my life imagined such a thing. It’s strange, like I know this stuff. Only, of course, I don’t.
“That’s right,” she says, though I don’t know how she could know if I’m doing it right or not. “Now, pull the magic in.”
“What magic?” I dare ask.
“Same one that makes seeds sprout in the dark of the earth. What makes gardens grow and fruit pop out of a tree? Isn’t that magic?”
“I’ve never thought about it that way,” I say honestly.
“Well, think about it that way,” she sends back with a snort.
Again I do as I’m told. Though truthfully, I don’t feel an ounce of magic. But I do see the lines. That has to be something.
“Okay, that’s enough for today,” she says, thumping her twisted stick on the ground three times. Like that, the lines disappear from my imagination. I’m left with one part of me feeling like an utter fool for even attempting to carry magic around in my stomach, and another part more sure than ever these old ladies have some real game going on.
“That’s all?” I say.
Bea laughs, and Jake too. “Just see for yourself if ‘that’s all’ the next time you get mad at someone. Do that often enough, fill up that belly, and you’ll find you are a real force to reckon with.”
“Is that how you healed Scottie? With the earth through your feet?”
“My dear child, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The magic we carry takes years to learn and perfect. This is baby steps. We are just testing the waters, to see how much of what I teach you, combined with what Anna gave you, can do.”
“Yea, so I don’t get that part,” I say, feeling an ounce more bravery in my so-called belly. “What does it mean that Anna gave me her magic? I mean, she needs it herself, if she’s going to get out of there, right?”
Bea sighs, looking truly disheartened. “She won’t get out of there. Not so long as Helene is alive.”
“But why would her own daughter want her in a nursing home? I mean, that’s so cruel. So totally, utterly cruel.”
I feel my heart grow heavy, then angry. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the thing we just did with my feet, but it feels powerful. Sort of like Bea felt powerful out on the beach. Well, not nearly so strong, but still…
“Have you ever heard the term ‘dysfunctional family?’” Bea asks.
She’s kidding, right?
“I probably have the equivalent of a PhD in the topic,” I say, as dry as I possibly can.
“Then you understand how little things can become big things, even in normal situations, when a family isn’t right?”
“So think of that, then add magic. Add layers and levels and lifetimes of deceit, betrayal, jealousy and power. Add countries and continents, mythologies and cultures, religions and rebellions and fortunes won and lost. Add everything else you can imagine to complicate a family. Helene’s taken it upon herself to end it all in the name of what is right and proper. To set us all straight by ending the magic—as if that could happen! She thinks she is being heroic, virtuous, and crafty, all at once. She’s got help, too, because we were stupid enough to teach her how to generate gold from lead, and that buys anything money can buy, including unscrupulous people to help you.”
Her words hit me hard, like this isn’t a game and I was an idiot to think otherwise.
“Anna is where she is, and must stay where she is, to protect the only ones capable of continuing the succession of magic. Jake here, and in just a few years, Michael, too. Now, I’ll bet your friend is losing his patience waiting for you,” she says, nodding toward the beach.
I’d almost forgotten Rod is waiting. Even if he isn’t getting ticked off, which I’m sure he is, I get that this is my polite invitation to be heading out. Not only can I take a hint, I think I want to.
I’d ask about coming back, but I want to talk to Anna before I do. It would be good to know more about what I’m getting myself into here. A lot more.
“Well then, thank you,” I say, but Bea is already turned to walk into her house. She lifts a hand to wave without turning back and I remember she’s an old lady. Old ladies often do things like that, probably to say that time is too short to waste on the obvious.
I scoop up Scottie, still amazed and beyond grateful that she’s fine. And then I remember I don’t know what made her sick.
“Wait… Mrs. Bayless… Bea?” I call after her.
“Don’t bother,” Jake says, looking like he’s going to join me in my short walk back to the beach. “She can’t hear.”
“Why? It’s not like that house can be very well insulted.”
“She’s deaf,” he says.
“I don’t understand.”
“She doesn’t hear,” he says, mocking deafness with dramatic faux sign language.
“But we just had an hour of perfectly normal conversation.”
He shrugs. “That’s the magic. She can hear when she wants to. But she’s still deaf. Literally.”
“You do realize how entirely insane that sounds, right?”
He laughs. “I guess. I’m used to things like that here.”
I stop and turn to him. I can’t say I’m not aware of his strong scent, which is some kind of musty male wow. But I can attempt to pretend I’m not.
“What, exactly, are you used to Jake? I mean, what’s going on out here? What, in the context of the ‘Bayless Family’ is magic?”
“I wondered when you were going to get around to asking me that, instead of her.”
He steps nearer to me, like he’s the one I should get close to. I remember what Bea just said about family politics and step back.
“That doesn’t answer anything.” My step back is not far enough. I take another, but this only gives me a better look at his six-pack and strong chest gleaming in the sunlight. I wonder if he got those from that feet and belly thing? It would make it worth practicing.
“Anna’s my Great-Grandmother and Bea is my Great, Great Aunt. I’m here because I started learning magic when I was eleven, which everyone says is way too young, but what choice did we have? You heard her. I’m the last one to have a chance to learn it. Well, there’s Michael, but he can’t yet.”
“Who is Michael?”
“A long story,” he says, moving closer but offering no more detail. I get a weird feeling in my stomach about Michael. Even weirder than Jake.
“Okay. But what is the magic? I mean, what kind of magic? Are you like witches and warlocks, because I have to say, that would just be too weird.”
“It’s not like anything you think you know about. But are you sure you want to know more?” he asks. I swear his voice dropped, making him sound about ten years older. “Because just knowing does stuff to you. And once it starts, you really can’t stop.”
It sure does do something to you, I think, staring at him like I’m the hungry animal now.
How obvious of me.
Wait, no, I will not be suckered in just because he’s a hot guy and I’ve never had a boyfriend. This has to be more important than that. I have to go slow here. I have to consider. What was the question?
“See,” he says, “you’re not ready.”
“How do you know?” I defend. Who is he to tell me…?
“Because I live it, Mayden. I live the magic. You get power, sure. But that doesn’t make things easier. Not even close to easier.”
His words really hit me. I just stare at him, wondering what that could mean. What could it mean that you live magic and have since you were eleven, and you’re one of the last in line? I start walking again. I need some time to think about it, on my own. I need to get away.
“I will tell you this,” he says, touching my arm. Another white-hot jolt goes through me, just like Bea’s. My stomach stirs like galaxies disturbed by a foreign star. Again I get the sense I know this stuff, and these people, from sometime or some place, maybe a million years ago and a million miles away. It’s more than liking him because he’s so… whatever. I’m sure of that.
“Tell me,” I say.
“You can trust Bea completely, as far as good intentions go. But she’s not always herself, and when she’s not, she’s not reliable. Sometimes she’s even dangerous. And you never know when that will be.”
I nod, remembering Anna said coming here could be dangerous. “Good to know.”
“As far as Scottie goes? It’s the cook at your house.”
“Mrs. Hamilton? What about her?” Already I’m thinking how does he even know we have a cook? How many people have cooks these days?
“Whoever does your cooking is poisoning her. Intentionally.”
“What?” I nearly yell. No way. Then again, Mrs. Hamilton always has hated Scottie getting underfoot…
“The magic lets you see things,” Jake explains. “I saw that you wanted to ask Bea about it. And before that, when she was doing the work on Scottie, I saw the cook. You can test me on this. In fact, you should. If you’re going to learn magic, the most important lesson is to learn who and what you can trust…and who and what you can’t.”
Read Comments On Chapter Six, First Draft
Read Comments & Comment On This Draft At Chapter Six, Second Draft
Watch Getting Bood Ideas Video
I don’t know if Bea’s lesson actually put magic in my stomach. But I’m more than sure Jake put a fireball of furious loathing in my heart. I’ve been imagining Mrs. Hamilton poisoning Scottie ever since he planted the idea in my head.
I tried to be fair about it. I even asked Rod on the ride home (and yes, he was more than ticked off at waiting so long) if he thought the cook who has worked for us for the last two years could be capable of such a thing. He’s never met this one, but he said sure, and that people are always capable of stupid acts of grotesque horror when acting in their own selfish interests. That wasn’t really what I was looking for, but it told me his frame of mind was no more reliable than mine. So I just shut up, petted sweet Scottie, and let the fury grow.
Once home, it took all of three minutes for me to lock Scottie safely in the far back screened-in gazebo, change into the dry clothes I had with me, and make it to my own front door. Which is where I am standing, gathering even more steam.
It is pretty easy to make a grand entrance through the front door, and not only because of the echoing marble foyer. The door is hugely heavy—nearly double-wide and triple thick. So when you slam it, the whole freakin house shakes, including the chandelier that comes down from the center of the wide, spiraling staircase. It is impossible to slam the door on accident, so if it goes off, you know someone means business. Usually, it’s Dad making the display. I only get away with it when used exceedingly sparingly.
I take a whiff of myself, noting that even with clean clothes, I smell like seaweed and day-old clams. Good. I step inside and give the door the biggest shove I can. It slams so hard it makes even me jump, and I knew it was coming. I then follow it with my very best “DAAAAD!”
“Upstairs,” he yells down. The way he says it, like he’s already only half-listening, only makes me more determined to get what I want—now.
I can tell he’s in the sports room from the blare of the game. The upstairs room is smaller than the theatre downstairs, and has space for only one big screen and two plush chairs. Down stairs has three wide screens and seats 16, so you’d think it would be harder to deal with him in there. In actuality, the small room is worse, because it’s practically impossible to pull his attention from a screen that close to his face.
I storm the steps three at a time, and by the time I reach him, Sydney, a.k.a. Wife Four, has poked her head out of her “office” and started to pad her way down the hallway to see what is up.
Lovely. Just lovely.
“Dad, you have to fire Mrs. Hamilton!” I insist from the doorway. If that doesn’t get him, I can always step in front of his line of view. But that’s a drastic measure, to be used only in case of an emergency.
“Why?” he says, not looking up.
“Dad!” I stomp on the gleaming hardwood floors.
Now he looks. “What? Why?”
“Mrs. Hamilton is poisoning Scottie. That why she’s been so sick. I want her fired.”
“I hired her,” Sydney interjects, her eyes flown wide and her voice all whiny like it would be if she had said: “I called the front seat first!”
No mention of how terrible for Scottie, mind you.
“Wait, wait,” Dad says, standing as if he is only now realizing what—and who—he’s in the middle of. “That’s a strong accusation, sweetheart.”
It would be a really good time to be smart. To say; “Yes, father, I am your sweetheart, and I completely understand it is a strong accusation. But you see a witch-like hag across the river told me of this great horror, or rather her great-grandson who is the last in line to learn her magic did, and I feel such a kinship to them and the land they live on I’m sure they are right.”
Actually, that would be really dumb, now that I think it through. But it doesn’t matter. Because that magic that took root in my feet and traveled to my gut is has become some kind of raging wildfire, the kind that could do damage to a thousand acres in Colorado.
“Fire her!” I insist.
“Julie!” Dad insists back, his voice a perfect match to my own.
“I mean it. Fire her. She has been trying to kill Scottie. And I will not live in the same house with someone…”
“I want her to stay,” Sydney whines. “She’s the only cook who understands my dietary needs.”
I am speechless as I stare at this woman not even twice my age, but only half Dad’s. I mean…Diets? Hello? Mrs. Hamilton is killing my cat and all she can say is that she needs a cook that understands her?
“Julie,” Dad says in a calmer tone, the kind that means he’s taking a different tack, “I can sure understand how you’d feel like this IF something like that were true, but…”
“It’s. True.” I spit the words out like two rusty nails.
I can almost see Dad’s mind whirling, thinking that as teens go, I’m usually pretty reasonable to be around.
“Do you have any proof?” he finally asks.
My answer comes to me quickly, sort of just spilling out: “I can’t reveal my source. But it is a reliable source. And that source got Scottie well. She’s well, Dad. And I don’t want her sick again.”
I’d swear Sydney looks disappointed at the news of Scottie’s recovery. I’m telling you, if she has anything to do with….
And of course, as can always be expected in the most important moments of life, Dad’s cell rings. If he answers, I will know, surely, I am not a loved child. I am allotted only my portion of his extra-curricular time and a mistake he made sure to never make twice. My heels are nearly rocking in fury as I watch him contemplate.
He takes it. Of course he takes it.
“Dad!” I yell. I mean right at him. This is so not what he is expecting of me.
“Excuse me a moment, Helene,” he says into the phone.
“This is Helene Bayless, Julie, I have to take it,” he says
“Who?” I demand, shaking my head, because something won’t fully compute.
“My silent business partner?” he says, his hand over the mouthpiece. He looks at me like I should know this. But when have I ever paid attention to who he does silent business with?
Yet I can almost hear the dominoes clicking in my head as one nugget of understanding topples into another. “Won’t you please pay a little extra attention to Mrs. Bayless?” I recall him saying before I began to take Anna for walks. Something else, too, about her daughter being important to the business….
The next domino crashes as I recall Bea saying Helene can turn lead to gold and that she does so to buy people. I hate to think my dad could be bought, but honestly, I really don’t know.
“Dad!” I say one more time, though he has turned away. Sydney is just looking at me like I got what I deserve.
Without waiting for a reply that won’t not come, I bound down the stairs feeling like my legs are on fire. I go through the main kitchen, down another set of stairs into the pantry kitchen to come face to face with Mrs. Hamilton. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, or some kind of vision like Jake said, but I can see her spooning something from a strange box into Scottie’s canned food. I see it like a movie screen in the front of my forehead, like I saw those lines running up from my feet.
Again I get a metallic taste in my mouth, just like I did when I was contemplating what was wrong with Scottie on the beach, before I even heard Jake’s accusation. Can you taste things, as well as see them, with their magic?
I enter Mrs. Hamilton’s personal space so fast, she doesn’t know what to do with me. There’s a feeling between us, like I could shove her, just with the power in my stomach. I’m pretty sure she’s aware of it, and more than a little surprised. Thing is, I don’t know what to do now. I just stare, wishing the magic could do something. Anything.
Out of nowhere, I hear a kind of crack, then a crash.
We both turn to look at a glass bowl on the other side of the room that has—what? Spontaneously combusted? Large hunks of glass are broken off around the bread that had been rising. If not for the towel over it, it might have shot bread bowl daggers at us.
Now Mrs. Hamilton is scared. I am too, but I’m not going to waste this moment. I make my eyes big and lean in to sort of say “Yeah, I did that and you better watch out.”
What I actually say is a little more sly. “Do you know that we have hidden cameras throughout the house?” It’s a lie, at least for the kitchen areas. But she doesn’t know that. “I can see what you feed Scottie.”
Mrs. Hamilton is speechless, backing herself into a corner. Or maybe I’m the one backing her into it, because I will not let up. I look deep into her eyes. Well, there it is, the truth right there. She knows exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe I wasn’t sure before, but this is not my imagination.
“Julie!” Dad bellows from behind me. Well of course he’d show up now.
I turn to see Sydney has come along for the ride.
“I know what Mrs. Hamilton is doing,” I say to them both. “I know it.”
“Are you on drugs?” Dad asks, looking almost afraid himself, even though he was just a few seconds too late for the magic bowl trick.
My mouth drops open in disbelief, but it doesn’t take me long to get back on track. “No Dad, I’m not on drugs. I don’t even smoke cigarettes. I don’t drink, either, in case you were wondering. And while we are having this ever-so-private heart-to-heart, you will be glad to know I’ve never had sex. Not once. But I am not going to be a good girl and pretend I don’t know something I do when this woman has been hurting my cat!”
“Mrs. Hamilton,” Dad turns, ever the businessman, even though I can see he is getting pretty flustered, “is there anything you can imagine you have fed Scottie that might have led to this misunderstanding?”
I’d love to say Mrs. Hamilton turned to look at Sydney and their locked eyes confirmed a long planned and utterly devious plot. But they don’t. And with all that energy spent on the bowl and backing her up, not to mention all this standing up to Dad, I’m suddenly and quickly feeling whatever was in my stomach spiraling down and right back out of me.
“No Sir,” Mrs. Hamilton says, red in the face, “but if you have cameras on me, I’m not sure I want to work here.”
“We don’t have cameras in the kitchen,” Dad assures.
“Because I don’t like being spied on,” she says, glancing at the bowl, then me, then him. She’s trying to play it tough, but she knows I’ve got her in more ways than one.
“Of course not,” Dad says, looking at me like I’m the bad guy here.
So, well, there you have it. This is going to come down and land directly on me. It will be all my fault, and just wait, Dad will even want an apology. A few minutes ago, I could have handled it better. But now I feel an empty pit in my stomach right where the magic was before it started seeping out all over the floor. My head starts to bang.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I lay out, using the last watts of energy in me. “You are all going to make this my bad, so why don’t we just chalk it up to me being a hormonal teenager? Then everyone can go back to their business like nothing happened and I’ll just be the fool.”
“I think an apology is also in order,” Dad pushes.
“But,” I insist, “from here on out nobody feeds, nobody pets, nobody even looks at Scottie but me. Got it?” I look to each of them with hard eyes.
It seems like they are going to take the deal, if only to have the whole incident put behind us. Nobody says anything, but everyone nods just enough to be seen.
I take a deep breath, send a quick squinty glare toward the bowl and Mrs. Hamilton just to make sure she doesn’t forget who she is dealing with, and then leavewith a growl. Making my way up the stairs, my legs feel like they are nothing more than burnt charcoal, especially at the ankles.
Tomorrow, when I’ve had a good night sleep with Scottie purring happily next to me, I’ll gather my determination and my questions and go see Anna. If she knows all about dysfunctional families and magic that can break bread bowls with no one even touching them, she will surely know what I’m supposed to do next.
Read Comments On Chapter Seven, First Draft
Read Comments & Make Comments On This Draft At Chapter Seven, Second Draft
I close Anna’s door behind me. It’s too close to lunch to take her out and I can’t wait one more minute to tell her all that happened. I’m not supposed to shut the door, but it’s not a huge rule. I can’t risk talking to her with the door open, but with it closed, no one will hear a thing. They made the doors and walls soundproof, so that patients don’t hear each other at night.
“It’s me,” I say, kneeling in front of Anna’s chair. I must remember to get her a pair of glasses, even if she can only wear them around me. Her head is dropped and she has a slight pulse to upper body, repeatedly moving just an inch forward and back.
Her eyes are open, but she doesn’t make contact with mine, let alone answer. “Anna,” I say in a whisper. “I have to talk to you.”
Nothing. She doesn’t even look up. But I know she understands. Unless she took the pills today. Maybe with the pills, she can’t reply. “Anna,” I plead. “I found Bea. And Jake. And you were right, Bea helped Scottie!”
Again, nothing. I sigh. What can it be like to know what I’m saying, and not be able to respond? The idea tortures me. Seriously.
I turn to get her medicine bag, then put it on her lap. No response.
“Anna,” I plead, still softly, but with insistence. “I made a bowl break with my magic. Bea showed me how. But it was a huge mess with my Dad, and I have to…”
As if out of nowhere, I hear a toilet flush. Anna’s toilet. I look to the closed door, already ready to shoot myself for not checking. I hear the water faucet come on.
Oh, no. No, no, no. My gut takes a flying leap. You can hear through the bathroom door just fine. They want to be able to hear the patients though those doors. I should have looked.
Now Anna catches my eye with a stern look. I give her a look back that says Yeah, I get it now.
Immediately, I’m ready to lie. I just talk to Anna, I’ll say, like I talk to my cat Scottie. I’ve been looking for some friends and I found them and I wanted to tell my elderly confidant about it. They aren’t anyone important. Anna’s a great listener, even if she sometimes drools. Yes, I know she can’t understand me, but…
The door begins to open. My mind races through the options. A nurse? Dr. Garcia?
My gut drops at the next thought…Helene?
I watch to see the door open fully, revealing none of the above. It’s a guy. He’s about my age. Really, really cute. Dressed kind of strange, in all white, with a light blue scarf around his neck. Dark curls. Blue eyes. Impressive leather shoes, like the kind Dad wears on casual Fridays.
“Hi,” I say, flustered as I attempt to stand and back away from Anna at the same time.
“Hi,” he replies, looking at me, then at Anna, then back at me.
“I’m Julie, I help out here,” I say. “I take care of Anna…Mrs. Bayless sometimes. She listens to my problems, kind of lame I know, but…” My words taper off. I wasn’t expecting to lie to a guy my age. It’s harder.
“It’s nice of you,” he says. No introduction. No handshake. No smile. In fact, he looks nervous.
“Yeah, I like it. So, you know Mrs. Bayless?”
“I used to,” he says, uncommitted. He’s looking at me, but also around me. Sort of like Bea did when I first met her.
“Does she ever talk back?” he asks, looking at her medicine bag, then right into my eyes.
Now I’m really in it. I have to lie. Anna’s own eyes told me that.
“She babbles a lot,” I say, shrugging it off. “Sometimes there’s something that seems like words, but nobody really pays any attention. How did you know her?”
His eyes are really boring into mine now. “I’m wondering if we could talk somewhere? Go get lunch, maybe? Not here.”
“Sure,” I reply, shrugging again, like it’s no big dealthat the second gorgeous guy in two days has appeared out of nowhere, this one asking me out within our first five minutes. “I was going to take Mrs. Bayless to lunch, but the staff can do that. I can walk with her after. Not like she’s going anywhere, right?”
I give a slight laugh, but immediately feel like a total jerk. I mean, Anna knows what I’m saying, even if she can’t respond. It’s gotta land pretty hard when someone you just helped so much starts joking about your life plight right in front of you.
“I could walk with you both,” he suggests, “after lunch.”
Well, there goes my talk. But I can’t exactly say no, I want to talk to her alone, now can I?
“That would be great. I’m sure she’d like that.” I raise my voice, like everyone does when they are talking to the patients here, just to play the game. “Wouldn’t you Mrs. Bayless?”
Of course, she offers no reply. Not even a grunt. Later, I will apologize with every fiber of my being.
“We can go sign out and…”
“Actually,” the guy says, “I was going to stop and see someone else, so why don’t I meet you outside the front door in, say, five minutes?”
Okay, so now he is lying. You can just tell. But why?
“Sounds good,” I reply, and watch him slip out the door.
It isn’t until he’s gone that I realize who he is. Michael. I don’t know how I know that. The idea just landed on me, and I’m utterly certain.
I bend down once again to Anna. “Can you talk now?” I ask.
Again she does not speak, just pulses, her head hung.
“Anna?” I ask. “I know you can hear me. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t think about the bathroom. I’ll be more careful next time, I swear.”
Anna says nothing. She doesn’t even look me in the eye. Pure guilt floods every cell of my body.
“That was Michael, wasn’t it?” I ask, thinking she might at least confirm this. “Your great-grandson.”
“Look, I have to talk to you,” I plead. “I found Bea, and..”
Anna again shoots me a look of warning.
“Okay, I’ll just wait. I guess we’ll be back for a walk after lunch.”
“Walkalone walkalone walkalone walkalone,” she says in a sudden spurt, babbling along with her head, which has gone from a pulse to a full out bob.
I hear her, but don’t understand. Am I to walk alone, as in not talk to Michael? Or walk alone meaning walk with her alone after lunch?
I’d ask, but the door is opening again.
“Julie!” Edna the nurse scolds. “You know this door isn’t supposed to be closed in the daytime unless Mrs. Bayless is being cared for by the staff.”
“Oh, sorry,” I say, slipping Anna’s medicine bag into my pocket so the nurse won’t see. “It must have closed behind me.”
Edna looks at the door, knowing full well those doors do not close on their own, but finding no real reason to get bent out of shape. “Just watch it in the future, okay? We don’t want Mrs. Bayless to need us and not have a way for us to know that.”
She’s talking down to me, like most adults do. Like I couldn’t tell them if I was in the room with her? But now more than ever, I have to let things like that slide.
“Sure,” I say. “Sorry. Wow, look at the time, I gotta go. Back after lunch for her walk…” I let my voice trail off, do a quick sign out, and practically run down the stairs to meet Michael.
He’s waiting for me, just like he said.
“I have a car, if you don’t mind riding with a stranger,” he says, smiling.
Actually, that was probably flirting. I mean, it could have been. My stomach does a little flip-flop, which helps the guilt about Anna just a tiny bit.
“If you tell me your name, you won’t be a stranger anymore,” I say, smiling back. Not flirting. Just smiling.
“You know who I am,” he says.
The biggest freakin chill runs up my spine. Yea, I know. But how does HE know I know?
“Michael,” I say.
“Yes,” he says, getting my door. Only now do I realize I’m getting into a Porsche. I look at him with one eye cocked, and he gives me another smile. Whatever.
He doesn’t say anything as he drives, so I just look at him from the corner of my eye. It’s funny, me in black tattered rags and him in some kind of European white suit. I think I heard a bit of an accent in his voice, too. But from where?
I look ahead as that question starts the tumble of my usual thousand questions. How clearly could he hear me? Could he make out the words? Does he know about Bea and Jake? He must, if he is Michael. What did he think of Anna’s medicine bag? Why did he want to talk to me alone? Why lie about seeing someone else before meeting me at the door? What doesn’t Anna want him along on our walk, or maybe even for me to be talking to him? A thousand questions I cannot ask. Well, I suppose I could ask what he heard.
I clear my throat. “How much did you hear, when you were in the bathroom?”
He looks at me with absolutely arresting eyes. “I wouldn’t have come out if you hadn’t mentioned Bea and Jake.”
“You were hiding?”
He looks at me cautiously, like he wonders if he can trust me, and then like he has no choice. “I couldn’t sign in. My Aunt Helene doesn’t know I’m here, or even that I know where Anna is now. She can’t know I visited her.”
“I surely won’t tell her.”
“Thank you,” he says like he really means it.
“So you know about the family…dysfunction?”
He laughs. It’s a beautiful sound, like a river rolling over rocks. I kind of check myself, thinking that sounds pretty lame and gushy. But really, that’s how it sounds.
“I am the family dysfunction,” he says.
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“It means I’m the reason my Great Aunt Anna is in there,” he says, his voice dropping down.
“She’s protecting me, and Jake too, I think, from Aunt Helene.”
It sounds like he knows pretty much everything I do. Maybe more. But I have to be sure. I don’t want Anna or Bea saying I’m the one who messed things up.
“Protecting you from what?”
He soundlessly swerves into the drive of the Northwaters restaurant, which I’ve been to a few times with Dad, but only at dinner. I didn’t even know they had a lunch. Goes right along with the Porsche, though.
He puts the car in park, undoes his seat belt, but then turns to face me in his seat. “I don’t know,” he says. “But I have a feeling you do.”
My mind is running in twelve directions at once. There’s too many ways for this to go, and too many ways to screw it up. But I can see Michael is asking for help.
I hesitate, my eyes boring into his this time.
I want to help him. I really do. But I also owe something to Anna, not to mention Bea and Jake. No, there is just now way to play this. I have to go with the truth, even if it’s limited.
“I think it would be best if you talk first,” I say.
He takes his own moment to ponder. “And then you’ll go talk to Anna, alone, to see what it’s okay to tell me?”
“Something like that,” is all I can say. Anything else would give too much away.
He pauses, then nods his agreement, then gets out of the car. Before I’ve figured out how to get out of my seat belt, he’s come around and opened my door. He offers me his hand, like a date would. I mean, like a really awesome boyfriend who was totally into me would.
It makes me think something that even three days ago I could not have imagined: That this could actually end up being the best summer of my life.
Read Commnets & Make Comments On Chapter Eight, First Draft (Remember to please make comments–good or bad–it is what makes this process work!)
“There’s no one here,” I say to Michael, looking at a huge room full of empty tables.
“They aren’t open for lunch,” he replies matter-of-factly.
I stop in my tracks. “Then why are we here?”
Michael laughs in that rolling hills way again. “It’s okay. I own the place. Well, I will when I turn eighteen.”
I don’t move. Strike number two. Rich, cute boys are rarely fun to play with, and you surely wouldn’t want to actually date one. I’ve been forced to meet enough of his type through Dad’s social circles to know that much. They actually think they don’t have to be decent human beings, because, well, they’ve got what everyone wants. Only for me, they totally don’t.
“I wanted to talk in private,” he says, urging me to the back corner of the place. “Besides, we can get the most awesome organic food. I only eat organic.”
So, he’s playing the “Upscale Gorgeous Green” card as well? Please.
I remind myself he’s Helene’s nephew. I have to be careful, here. Very.
I move to the table without saying anything. If his phone rings and he…
His phone rings. Strike three buddy, if you take that call. I don’t care how important you are.
“I’m so sorry, Julie, but I have to take this call. I’ve been waiting all day for it.”
“No problem,” I say flatly. Give me adoring Jake, any day.
We find our seats and I don’t even pretend not to listen in on his conversation.
“Hello? Yes Sir, it is. Thank you for calling, Sir. Yes, Sir. That’s very kind of you, Sir.” He pauses to listen, giving me a dramatic “sooo sorry” look. “Yes Sir, I’ll look forward to meeting her. Six O’clock. Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
Three strikes with the phone, four for being a total brown nose.
“I’m really sorry, Julie,” he says to me after flipping the phone shut and making sure to show me it’s turned off. Seems he picked up on my attitude. At least he’s bright.
The waiter comes up in off-duty clothes. He’s glad to see Michael and is more than happy to whip up something great for us. Anything at all is on the menu, it seems. Michael orders a large plate of organic greens with sun-dried tomatoes and some “lightly toasted” goat’s cheese, plus a mini loaf of herbed bread. I can’t think without a menu in front of me so I say I’ll take the same, making sure to ask for butter with the bread. I’m all for organic greens, but I need my calories, too. The waiter looks at me like it would not matter what I asked for—if he didn’t have it, he’d go to the store to get it—and insists he’ll bring me a few flavors of butter to choose from.
“Okay, so on to my dysfunctional family,” Michael finally says. His voice is quiet, even if we are off in a far corner.
“Okay,” I say. I’m listening, not talking.
“I hardly know where to start. I don’t know how you know my great-aunt Anna, or Gran Bea and Jake.”
I don’t reply.
He considers me again, and sighs. “I’m sure it looks like I’m a spoiled little rich kid. But it’s a game and I’m playing for a reason.”
“What kind of game?”
“One the whole family plays. In my case, I’m not only my Aunt Helene’s legal charge, I’m her favorite. She’s “protecting” me, she says, from my other family members. She won’t say why, but I have a feeling I know. I play along with her, as her favorite, because it’s better than having her think I’m on their side, and make my life even more hellish. Not to mention theirs, I have a feeling.”
“Why do you think that?”
He looks at me very seriously, then clears the plate in front of him. He puts a spoon in the center of his plate, looks over his shoulder to make sure the lone waiter guy is not around, then puts his hand over the spoon. He sort of bounces his hand five inches above the spoon, then takes a finger and—I swear—without touching it, it starts to spin. Like, fast. Like, seriously…without him touching it.
I look up at him with eyes as wide as they go, I am sure. He looks back, his eyes more than hopeful that I understand.
“You have magic,” I say.
He nods and moves the spoon toward me—again without touching it. I can’t help but back up in my chair. This is bigger than breaking a bowl. This is controlled.
“Keep talking,” I say.
“From what I have been able to figure out—since no one will actually tell me—what you call “magic” runs in the family. All of us. Anna, Gran-Bea, and Jake. Even Aunt Helene. There was some huge blow up, and I think it was about them the twins teaching me something once I am of legal age. I’ve pieced together that much over the years.”
Those chills are running up and down my spine big time now.
He leans into me and lowers his voice even further. “Anna’s not really out of it, is she? I mean, it’s not an illness. That’s why you were talking to her about Jake and Bea—which, by the way, no one has seen anywhere for more than a year. It made Aunt Helene nuts, because Jake’s her grandson. Even his mom has not seen him, and he’s our age. There was talk that he ran away, but everyone whispers, and Gran-Bea is also gone. And then at the same time, Anna who was perfectly fine went into that nursing home?”
He sits back and looks at me dead on. “They are all gone, probably hiding, and Anna is paying such a huge price. It’s about the magic, I know. But why go into hiding? And what does it have to do with me? Because it has to have something to do with me, or Aunt Helene wouldn’t work so hard to make sure I’m turning into a rich snob like her.”
I can’t say anything. I just can’t.
“Julie,” he leans in again, “am I even warm on this?”
I think at this point I would tell him everything, if I could. But I can’t get my mouth to hook up with my brain. His pieces fit with my pieces, but I still don’t have a full picture, or permission to try to make sense of it with him.
The waiter brings the bread with three small cups of butter, explains my options, and then leaves. Michael thanks him, but his eyes never leave me.
“Okay, you don’t have to confirm or deny anything. But what I would like you to tell Anna, if there is any way for you to get through to her, is that I already have the magic. They don’t have to wait to teach me. She once told me we would spend time together when I was older—her, me and Gran-Bea and Jake—and she would teach me wonderful things. But I had to grow up first, she said. This was a long time ago, but I never forgot.”
“I wouldn’t forget something like that, either,” I say.
“I also know she made a commitment to my mother, right before she died, which was only a few days after I was born. I once overheard Anna and Aunt Helene arguing about it. I think that commitment was to keep me from learning the magic until I was an adult. But I already have it. That’s what you have to tell her. I have it! And I don’t know what to do with it. Or why I have it. Or what it means. And now, seeing Aunt Anna like that…”
His eyes show a near panic. The kind I have felt when I think about Anna trapped in there.
“If she’s there to keep Bea and Jake hidden,” he continues, “which is the best I’ve been able to gather, and they are trying to hold out until I’m old enough to honor my mother…. I don’t know. Anna’s just got to know I’m old enough now. I can play the game with Helene and learn, I swear I can. I can do it without anyone knowing. I already do. No one knows about what I can do—no one but you now.”
His eyes are begging. No kidding, this guy is desperate. As desperate as I am when it comes to the magic. It’s hard to hold anything against someone like that. So I guess four strikes and he’s still in.
I’d love to tell him he’s right, at least about the parts I know actually are right. I’d love to say that Jake is learning magic, and I am, and they totally plan to teach him someday, too. That they have said he’s in line for the magic to continue, but maybe it’s not good to learn it too young. But if what he is saying is true, maybe they don’t want him to know any more than he does. And yet if they knew he already has the magic…
My head is spinning. “I hear you, Michael. Really. But I’m not… You know, it would be best if I take your Aunt on a walk today. Alone.”
He nods his own understanding.
“So, why are you in town now? I mean, you don’t sound like you’re from here.”
“I’m from here. But I go to boarding school in Rome. Have since I was nine. Aunt Helene enrolled me in a month-long soccer camp this summer on the Naval Academy campus, so I got to come back. She’s handed me the car keys and a lot of money. She knows I like good food, so she’s promised me this place. Really, I think she wants to see if I’m totally enrolled in her world or not. So, I plan to show her I am.”
“Isn’t Europe a better place for Soccer?”
“Definitely. But she wants me to consider a career in the Navy. The Naval Academy is here, so it’s her way to entice me.”
“And watch over you for a month?”
“Well, that was the plan. But she’s been called away for the next few weeks, so I’ve been moved to be watched over by someone else. That was what the call was about. She asked her business partner to put me up in his guest house. He’s got a teenage daughter, so she thought it would be better than me alone in her house. It’s not my first choice, but I rarely ever get my first choice in anything where she’s concerned.”
I raise my eyebrows and get all tingly, I mean from head to toe tingly, but say nothing. Not yet. It could be another business partner and another teenage daughter. But Dad asked me to be home for a dinner guest tonight at six, so more than likely, Michael is staying in our guest house. I’ll get to watch him go off to soccer camp in cute shorts and come home with sore muscles and grass stains. Which throws this into the category of one of the most bizarre turn of events that can happen to a girl in any given two days.
“Anyway,” he continues, “I have to meet them for dinner tonight at six. But if you are done for your walk before then, I could meet up with you. Or after, I can slip out. Might be late, though.”
“You might like the girl,” I say.
“I’m not here for girls,” he says flatly, completely unaware he’s also flattened my tinglies. “How could I be, with Anna trapped like that? She’s my first priority. I have to get her out of there. Nothing is worse than that, especially if she is aware of what’s going on. It’s got to be a living hell, you know?”
I nod. Put like that, he’s totally right. How could you even think about falling in love with Anna suffering like that? I feel like a jerk just imagining it.
“So when could you meet me?” he asks, anxious.
Once again, there are too many variables in this to do anything but play it straight. “At six tonight.”
“I’m sorry, like I just said, I have a dinner…”
“With me. I’m Julie Mayden. Your Aunt’s business partner’s teenage daughter.”
Michael is as stunned as I expected him to be. For reasons I totally don’t understand, and despite everything with Anna, it makes me feel really, really happy.
Read Comments & Comment On Chapter Nine, First Draft
My heart feels permanently stuck in my gut. Anna looked even worse when I arrived to take her out after lunch and all she’s said since is “My bag, my bag, my bag, my bag” about a hundred thousand times. I’ve got it right here, but I can’t give it to her until we are out of sight. I’m pushing this wheelchair as fast as is remotely safe and inconspicuous.
Finally, we are at a safe enough distance. I gladly offer it to her. She clutches it to her chest with both hands, like it is life itself.
“My bag, my bag, my bag, my bag…” she continues to repeat, only this time it comes out like a whispered chanting prayer of some kind.
I guess I didn’t think about what it would mean to her if I took it with me. I just didn’t want Nurse Edna to see it. But of course it would be important. So I guess that’s about screw up number three thousand and ten for me today. I don’t know if she will forgive me. But showing up and taking her out has to count for something.
I head off the paved path and into the woods. I’ll explain all I can in the short twenty minutes we’ve got, but first I want to get her on the ground. It’s the least I can do with her sitting in her wheelchair in that building all day every day.
Once she’s settled—with no more elegant a drop those final inches to the ground this time than I accomplished the last time—I move to sit close to her and hand her the drug store glasses I picked up on my way. I have no idea what 1.25 prescription does, but hopefully it will help. She looks around at a wide range of distances, checking them out, but makes no comment on them.
“I’m sorry, Anna,” I say. “I couldn’t leave your medicine bag out, and I couldn’t put it back either. The nurse would have seen it…”
“There are two reasons you must not let this bag leave me,” Anna says, her voice now as clear as the blue sky peaking through the tree tops. “First, it holds the little connection to magic I have available to me here. Second, if you travel with it and go anywhere near Bea, the resonance it will create with Bea’s medicine bag will be enough to lead Helene straight to my sister’s hiding place. That cannot happen.”
“Okay,” I agree readily. I’ll agree to anything, so long as I don’t disappoint Anna.
“Now, I know you want to talk about Michael, but first I must know about your meeting with Bea. Everything. Every detail you can remember. It is all important.”
And so I tell her everything, from Scottie to Jake to my magic lesson to Mrs. Hamilton and my bowl breaking. I’m not sure why, but I’ve decided Anna is the one person in all of this I can trust, and the one person I shouldn’t hold anything back from. Even the bad stuff. Her responses as I speak include snorting, sighing, chuckling and outright laughter, but she doesn’t say a word.
“So then I came to see you this morning and found Michael here,” I say, waiting to go on until she says she is ready.
She ponders quite a while as I look at my watch. Already we don’t have a lot of time left and there is still so much to talk about.
“Mayden, we’ve come to a moment of truth,” she says abruptly.
“Okay,” I say, sitting up straighter to show her I’m on board.
“I invited you into our world and family life because I saw the potential for magic in you. Even so, you are an outsider. And while we desperately need an outsider, there are many risks to you and to us. Therefore, I’m afraid I will have to ask you to decide, here and now, if you are called to these risks. I realize it is a great leap to agree without knowing what you are agreeing to in specific. But I can’t go on to reveal more unless you do. It is classic to our ways, and the ways of magic, to take such leaps of faith. As an outsider, though, you wouldn’t know that, and so there is no way for you to find comfort in that knowledge. I can only ask you, therefore, to trust in your heart.”
She looks at me as if she is finished, then begins to speak with all the more sincerity. “If you are afraid, this is natural. Do not let it stop you. Fear is always with us and we can only learn when to listen, and when to move past it. What it comes to is this: If you are pulled, say yes. If you are repelled, say no. It is as simple and profound as that, and the best wisdom I can give you.”
It seems to be my turn to be quiet for a moment, because I can’t think of what to say. I know Anna will let me have a moment to consider and maybe even respect me more for it. But we are running out of time.
A thousand questions jam at my brain. What will it mean? What will they want? What shouldn’t I know and what will happen if I know things I shouldn’t? I guess it all boils down to one thing. “Are you asking me to sell my soul?” I question, surprised to hear my voice tremble. I mean, I never really thought you could sell your soul. But now, with magic, maybe…
“Never!” Anna says, her hand grasping mine. That electricity jolts through us. “Any kind of magic which asks you for that—and there are many forms that will—is not our magic. Your ultimate power is in your freedom. There will be sacrifices, many and great. That is as true as true gets. But we will never ask you to put the power of your life force in a cage or to hand it over to any of us. This should have been your first lesson in magic, and I would take it up with Bea that it was not—if I could.”
“I agree to go on,” I say, not really thinking about it, more just hearing the words roll out of my mouth. I guess you could call that a pulling. Sure wasn’t a repelling.
“Good then,” she replies, as though she knew the answer all along and was just waiting for it to be official, “now, on to Bea and Jake. Let me say first off that the idea that I would give you all of my magic and be left with none is ridiculous.”
I suddenly feel kind of jilted, but not really. I mean, I didn’t want it, right? Anna needs it, after all. She must.
“Seriously, dear, when you sneeze on someone and give them your cold, does that mean you lose it? Bea was being dramatic, and I assure you, that is just her style. I was the one in theatre as a young woman all those years ago, but she’s always outdone me just by being her own outrageous self.”
Anna says all this like she’s disgusted with Bea, but her distant smile gives her away. She misses her sister terribly. I imagine a young Anna in the theatre and realize another reason why I like her. It was probably a pretty risqué thing to do back then. It must have taken a lot of courage.
“As for your magic lessons, she should never have taught you to take in the earth energy without giving some guidance on control or protection. You’ll have to tell her I fully disapprove. Not that it will matter to her what I say—she has her own style of teaching and I’ve never been able to tell her anything she didn’t want to hear. So you’ll have to insist out of your own integrity. You must insist that she teach you protection before you break something more important than a covered bread bowl. Lucky your Mrs. Hamilton didn’t break an arm, as furious as you must have been with her.”
“I will insist,” I say, already liking the idea that there will be more magic lessons. In fact, a good kind of chill went up my spine when she talked about the next time I see Bea, like it is a done deal.
“So do you see that Mrs. Hamilton was poisoning Scottie, like Jake did?” I add.
“No,” she says flatly.
“No, you don’t see it, or yes, you see but no she didn’t do it?”
“No in that I am not going to let you cheat on your first test. The question is, did you see that Mrs. Hamilton poisoned her?”
I recall the vision I had, short but clear. “I think I did. But it might have been my imagination.”
“The imagination is the same portal used for a vision, but there is a distinctive and qualitative difference.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure which it was.”
“Well, then, you’ll be as sure as you are that you saw it and no more sure than that. You’ll have to test your magic again and again, and not trust it until you know exactly what you know. If I were to tell you, you’d still wonder, wouldn’t you?”
I smile sheepishly. “I guess so. I don’t usually take anyone else’s word for anything. Though I’d be more likely to take your word than Jake’s, that’s for sure.”
“Good for you. Relying on someone else’s truth is not a trait to admire. And yes, we must now speak of Jake.”
“And Michel?” I ask, looking again at my watch. Five minutes, at best.
“You are right. So right. They go together, hand in hand. One cannot explain Jake without explaining Michael. But now we enter the territory of what it is dangerous for you to know. You must agree to keep this between us and only us.”
“I agree,” I say again, already wondering how I’m going to keep things from a guy who is living at my house. But one thing I do know how to do, and have always known how to do, is shut up. Just part of my personality, I guess. So I’ll do that, even with Michael, if Anna says so. Again I look at my watch.
“Don’t worry about the time, dear. I’ll shapeshift it today. We can stay as long as we want. Our family began…”
What? She’s going to drop a bomb like that and just go on? If I don’t get her back on time, these walks will be totally nixed. But if she can “shapeshift” time, whatever that means, we have a whole new world of options out here.
“Don’t let your mind wander, Mayden,” Anna insists.
“Sorry,” I say, immediately wondering how she knew that it was wandering. However she knew, I can’t help it. This excites me, every bit of it, all the way down to my tingling toes. But I have to listen.
“My family began, for all intents and purposes, with my father. Of course, we had grandparents and great grandparents, and they serve us even today, especially our maternal line of ancestors, as you have heard me speak. But our father was the beginning of both the good and the trouble we now face, so I’ll begin there.”
I am completely and utterly sucked in to her words. Without knowing where it comes from, I have a realization. Anna’s magic is in her storytelling.
“Try not to let this offend you,” she begins, “but Bea and I are indeed twins. We were born on the same day, within minutes of each other, and neither of us knows who was first, though we both insist we are the elder, as sisters are likely to do.”
I find it pretty hard to imagine why her being Bea’s twin would offend me. “You don’t look anything alike,” I say. “Like you’re not even of the same nationality.”
“This is the crude truth,” she replies, nodding. “We shared the same father but we have different mothers.”
She eyes me for my reaction, and I remember she is old school. It’s practically normal to have things like that happen these days. At least the two mothers part. The same day is kind of strange.
“It is also possible,” she continues cautiously, “but not certain, that we have a third sister. A triplet, also born within minutes of the same day. We don’t know for sure, father always kept from positively confirming it. But we sensed it in the same way Bea and I sensed each other long before we met.”
They weren’t raised together? I guess I just assumed they would have been. “How old were you when you met?”
“Eighteen. We were not allowed to meet before then. The magic between us would have been too powerful. We would not have developed independently and we would have had too much power, too soon. Both, in the end, would have stunted our growth.”
“Your father must have been pretty powerful,” I say.
“Powerful, brilliant, and as good as he was bad. I inherited his goodness and Bea got a little of both. She’s channeled the dark well, though, to her credit. Mostly she’s mischievous, and there is no real harm in that. For example, her playing with you and the bread bowl.”
“No real harm done,” I offer.
“You understand, I hope” she says, trying to lean up on one elbow, but failing, “that this is not pride speaking, saying I’m good and she has both the good and the bad. It is far more a matter of the inheritance of traits, like the color of hair or being of a quiet or loud nature. I’m not proud to be good, I’m just good. Do you understand?”
“Not really. You mean if we are good or bad, that’s inherited? Like part of our biology?”
“Think of it more like a path of energy within you. Some people cling a little more to the positive, some a little more to the negative. If there is a great imbalance—and this is a challenge if you lean too far either way, good or bad—there will be much work to do to turn towards a clear path.”
“Am I good or bad?” I ask. “I mean, can you see that?”
“Oh dear, I see you so very clearly. But you know the answer already, don’t you?”
“I’m not sure. Others would say…”
“No. You cannot possibly go by what anyone else would judge. You know the pulse that is in you. You may try to fool yourself or cover your true nature up. But you know.”
I think for a moment. Not because I don’t know, but because it seems too real if I say it out loud. But this is Anna, and she is trusting me. Surely I can trust her.
“I’m good,” I finally say, “but I want to be bad, so I pretend I’m bad.”
“Do you know why?” she asks with a cocked eyebrow.
I shrug. “Good is kind of boring, I guess.”
“True enough,” she says with a light laugh, “and completely out of vogue in this day and age. But you have yet to see what good can do and the power it holds. Good is no small thing, I assure you. In any event, that is not the only reason, or even the most potent one, for your wanting to appear bad.”
I try to think of another, but can’t. “What is?”
“You are seeking balance. You are too positive, deep down, and in a world like this you will be hurt if you don’t develop some of the negative aspects to protect yourself. The ‘bad girl’ you pretend to be is your protective cover, isn’t it?”
Well, there it is…an 88-year-old lady nailed my whole persona in one swing. “Yes,” I admit. “But what does it mean to be good? I mean, by your terms?”
Anna smiles in a far-off kind of way. “Life is up and life is down. Life is left and life is right. Good defines bad, as sick defines well and hot defines cold. You can only be what you are. In this case, you are good. I’m sorry if that disappoints you.”
“You’re not going to tell anyone, right?” I ask, then realize after a split-second how unlikely that is.
“You are safe with me,” she says.
Yes, that’s just it. I am safe with her. And now I know why I’m feeling such an allegiance to her, even more than Bea. We are the same kind of good. I could never have figured that out without her saying it just that way, but it’s right on. Two on the side of good, like it or not.
But what about Michael? What side is he on, and how will I know?
“Now, on to Jake and Michael,” Anna says, smiling like she knew that’s just where I was going.
Read Comments and Comment On Chapter Eight, First Draft
I check my watch. If we are going to get back in time, we need to leave now, if not three minutes ago. I know Anna said she’d shapeshift time, but what does that mean? I don’t want to be kept from seeing her.
“Jake is my great-grandson,” Anna says. “I’m afraid I married bad, and my daughter, Helene, is like her father. Bad, through and through. You hate to say that about a child, and you love her no matter what. But it does you no good to pretend things are other than what they are.”
I nod, though I don’t really get it. How do still you love a child that does something like what Helene has done to Anna?
“Helene’s daughter, who is my grand-daughter and Jake’s mother, is neither good or bad. She is simply lost. Drugs, poor dear, the hard kind, and not one of us could help her. The magic doesn’t take well to drugs. I’ll warn you of that now.”
“What happens?” I ask.
“The magic passes you by because not enough “you” for it to work with. You are left to live the ordinary life. Any magic is accidental, and impossible to direct.”
Something in that idea really gets to me, like life without magic—especially in a magical family—would be a fate worse than death. “So is Jake good?” I have to know.
Anna smiles. “A little good and a little lost. He was heading in a direction that was far too dangerous for our comfort. We could not simply leave him to his fate. That’s why we started teaching him so young. It was a great risk, but the risk of withholding a taste of magic was far greater. He needed to know what he had to look forward to. He took to it quickly. I think he will be fine, given enough time and teaching.”
“And Michael?” I beg to know.
Anna sighs. “Yes, our Michael. You know I have not seen him in years, before today. His grandmother was Bea’s daughter, of course. She was a fine balance of good and bad. Just perfect for what you hope for. Married a good man and produced a very good daughter. A fine young lady, really. Like you. Wide eyed, open, and willing to learn. She started too young, though, which was our mistake. Michael’s mother was just so eager. The magic was too powerful, too soon. And she met a good man. That’s what took her life. Too much good, too concentrated, and then Michael.”
I don’t get it. Why would that take her life? But I’m just going to listen for now.
“I still do not know,” Anna says in an voice that is airy and sounds far away, “if she gave consent to have Michael grow up in Helene’s custody as a protection for him, so that he would not learn the magic too young, or if Helene forged her signature on the papers. In any event, they held up in court. Michael was Helene’s to raise.”
“But she wasn’t even fully related!” I insist, indignant. “Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you use your magic to get him back?”
Anna offers a sad smile. “It was best he was with her.”
“Why?” I demand. I mean, I know first hand what it’s like to be in the wrong family. It’s not best. There is no way it was best for him.
“Because Michael is too good,” she replies. “In fact, his goodness is greater than any I’ve seen in any clan. Helene has tempted him, I am sure, and in doing so, has tempered him. We cannot know how much. It would be hard to have been too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the magic is leaking through already.”
“It is!” I blurt out. “I saw it. He can spin spoons without touching them, and move them toward you, and…”
Anna laughs quietly. “Then it is as I have expected. You know, he was magical at birth. That is why Helene wanted him in the first place.”
The idea stops me short. I hadn’t though about why Helene might have wanted Michael.
“Does she want his magic?”
“No. She wants his magic to die so that Jake’s might live. As her great-grandson, she intends for Jake to be the lead male of the family. Jake, or no one.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. All this comes down to who will the rightful heir of the Bayless clan? “You’re kidding, right?”
Anna shakes her head. “As you yourself spoke, Michael is barely kin to her. Yet she saw what we all saw in Michael—a true prince of magic. He was born with a countenance that outshone every child in the nursery. Jake could be no match for that. Helene took custody with only two things in mind. First, to keep Michael from following the magical path, thus insuring Jake as the leading male. Second, to be in a position of such great power that if Michael ever began to take the lead, she could cause the family magic to die out altogether. In the mean time, she is holding us all hostage.”
“Then how can you possibly say it was good for him to be with her?” I nearly explode.
“As I have said,” she replies, all the more calm for my fury, “too much good is not good. That much goodness killed his mother, and we had to save him from that fate himself. That much magic—even Bea and I didn’t know how to manage it. It’s tempered now. At least, we hope it is.”
“But he’s been miserable! I know it. I can just tell. Couldn’t you tell?”
“For that we are so deeply sorry.”
Sorry? That’s all she has to say? Sorry?
For the first time, Anna looks at me like I’m young—too young to understand. I know the look well, and it hurts to see it coming from her.
“Do you imagine,” she asks, “that any child who was raised to be a king or queen of a tribe or country was happy in their tutelage? Do you believe they enjoyed being kept apart, enduring the constraints and burdens that other children were not required to? Of course not. Yet this is expected of someone like Michael, because in his case the role is greater than the man.”
“And it’s a man’s world, in your family? Staring with your father?”
“Not at all. We don’t really have kings or queens—that is simply a metaphor, you undersand. But we do have leadership within the clan. Both a male and a female serve equally together. That is the nature of our magic, and without it, we are too far out of balance to be effective. This is part of why we are having trouble now. Too many daughters with power, and not enough sons.”
“But you only have two great-grandsons,” I challenge. “What about great-granddaughters?”
“That is why we need an outsider,” she says quietly, looking me dead in the eye.
My head starts to buzz. She can’t mean what I think she means.
“Do you recall,” she asks, “that we spoke just yesterday about whether I saw a boyfriend for you?”
I’m sure the absolutely horror must show on my face. “You said there would be someone,” I say with a near gasp, “if you had anything to do with it.”
“I must admit, it was Jake I had in mind. But with Michael back, perhaps the magic itself is interested in having a say on who you are with.”
“Are you trying to say magic, itself, is interested in ME?” I nearly yell. I totally have to calm down. But how? This is… This is…
“You have free will, always, you remember I’ve told you that,” she says, ever so calm.
I don’t know what to say. I mean, I totally don’t know what to say.
Anna laughs me off. “We are getting so far ahead of ourselves here, Mayden. You are so young. You won’t be expected to choose for quite some time.”
“Choose? Between Michael and Jake?”
“Not today,” she assures.
This is so not happening. So not possible. Two days ago, I didn’t have a guy in sight. Now I have two awesome guys, both vying for leadership in a magical clan, who might want me? And the magic itself, whatever that is, is interested in that? No way. Just not possible. Beyond what the brain can manage even considering.
Anna laughs, and I realize I must look pretty stupid with my jaw dropped open this way. I close it, but really, what could there possibly be to say?
More and more, I’m thinking this can’t be real. Things like this don’t happen. The modern world doesn’t have clans or arranged relationships—does it? Can you really go zooming past dysfunctional family and take a flying leap into a dysfunctional dynasty?
And what is this idea that I could be some kind of queen of it? No, it can’t be real. It just can’t be. I’m sitting outside an old folks home, with a woman who lives in a wheelchair, and I’m totally, totally losing it.
“Perhaps we should get back now,” Anna suggests, trying again to lean up on one elbow.
I nearly leap up. What time must it be? I look at my watch. Way, way late. I’m amazed we haven’t heard sirens blaring and had a search team combing the place. “We have to go,” I say, really, really scared. Because while I don’t’ have any idea what this all is with Anna and Bea and Jake and Michael, I do know I don’t want to lose my chance to find out. And that is so very possible if I get caught beyond hours.
“It will be fine, Mayden dear, I assure you,” Anna says.
Even so, I hurry her into the chair and back through the woods, then into the building. I’m sweating like crazy and my heart is going a million miles an hour. First thing, I check the wall clock. Coming right up on it as we round this corner…
It can’t be. It can’t.
I look at my watch. We were gone…by the wall clock…five minutes?
“Itoldyou, Itoldyou, Itoldyou,” Anna mumbles, just loud enough for me to hear the words.
I roll her into her room and look at her personal clock. We have fifteen minutes to spare.
I look at my watch, which reads exactly the same as the one on her dresser. Only a minute ago, it didn’t. A minute ago it was…a lot more minutes ago.
Despite my earlier warning from Nurse Edna, I close the door to the outside and check the bathroom. Empty. I put away her medicine bag, tuck her new glasses back into my coat jacket, and kneel in front of her. Already she’s got that pulse thing going with her drooping head and that totally checked out look. Only now, I know for sure, it’s an act.
“I forget to ask you,” I whisper, “what can I tell Michael?”
“Welcomehome, welcomehome, welcomehome, welcomehome,” she says, smiling with her eyes.
Read Comments & Comment On Chapter Eleven, First Draft
It’s like they are not here. Like they never were here.
But they have to be. First, because they were here just yesterday. And second, because I still don’t know what to do with Michael and dinner at the house is an hour away.
I pry my wet pants from my leg. It’s no easy feat: they are nearly suctioned to me. The water line is lower than yesterday, but the creek itself is thick and murky. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are leaches under my jeans. But I can’t think about that right now. I need to find Bea, or Jake, and they have simply vanished. Along with the shack and all the junk that litters the property.
“Bea? Jake?” I whisper, as loud as a whispering voice can project. I want to show my respect for their hiding out, but I also want to talk to them. Need to talk to them. Now.
I’m kicking myself for not asking when I could return. And for not remembering the way to the shack. But really, it was right here yesterday.
I also recall Jake saying Bea is deaf, or has some kind of selective hearing. So what am I to do? Just wander around?
“What do you want?” a voice behind me says, making me jump clean out of my skin.
I turn to be face to face with the stealth queen herself.
“You scared me,” I say to Bea.
“You didn’t announce yourself,” she accuses. “When you come, do it the way you did yesterday. Slowly, with your palms out, so we can smell you.”
I want to ask why she can’t just smell me all over, but don’t dare. She doesn’t look like she is in the mood and I’m sure I’ve disrupted her day.
“I’m sorry to come again so soon. But I have to tell you something, and ask you something, because Anna didn’t really tell me what to do, and….”
“You saw her today?” Bea interrupts.
“I went in to tell her about meeting you.”
“How is she?” she says, seeming more concerned that I would expect.
“She’s good. I mean, about the same.”
“Her energy was low for several hours today around lunchtime.”
“Oh, that. I took her medicine bag when I went to lunch with…”
“You what?” Bea growls. I mean, really, truly growls. Like an animal.
“I didn’t know it was the wrong thing to do. A nurse was going to see it so I just put it in my pocket as I was leaving. But wait—how did you know?”
“We are in constant communication,” she says, turning to go deeper into the woods. She indicates that I follow her with a strong wave. Within ten seconds, we’re on her property again, standing next to a fire pit, with the shack just a stone’s throw away.
I’d swear I walked right here just a few minutes ago. But magic is magic, so…
I stop in my tracks. I’d scream, but my mouth won’t move.
Of all the things I’ve seen with these people so far, this is the most outrageous.
“What’s that?” I finally manage to ask, quiet so as not to disturb the…the…
“That’s Jake,” she says, pointing toward the spotted leopard.
It can’t be. But it is. A real, live, living, breathing leopard. Good sized one. Meaty.
I don’t dare get closer, so I laser focus my eyes to get a better look. I mean, this is the real thing. What it’s doing in Maryland, I have no idea. The biggest cats I know of here are bobcats, unless I’ve got my geography wrong.
On detailed look, I see it is sort of deformed. So maybe a pet? A kickback from the zoo?
“What’s wrong with it?” I ask.
“I told you. It’s not an ‘it.’ It’s Jake.”
“You turned Jake into a leopard?”
“Of course not. He did it himself. What good is it if I do it for him?”
She has to be kidding. I mean, she just has to be.
I slowly move toward the animal, close enough to see the breath laboring in and out of it, and smell it’s husky scent. Far more potent that me in my mud-caked pants. I look more closely at the animal’s deformed legs. The front right and the hind left are withered. On the right side, which I can see better with the way it is sitting, I see the bone is drawn up into the ribs and there is hardly a paw. More like a flipper.
“What’s wrong with it…him?” I ask again.
“He’s not very good at it yet,” the old lady explains, like that should be obvious to anyone.
I take another step, but “Jake” bares his teeth at me and growls—not unlike Bea was growling at me just moments ago.
This is their magic? Turning into animals? The spinning of spoons and the breaking of bowls was plenty miraculous enough for me. I take another step forward, thinking if I go slow it will let me approach.
“I wouldn’t get too close,” she warns. “He doesn’t know he’s Jake right now. He’ll do what leopards do, if he feels threatened.”
“Can you do this, too?” I ask, thinking things could get pretty wild, if not outright dangerous, if she can. Especially if she doesn’t know when she’s doing it. I recall Jake saying she was good intentioned, but not always herself. This would certainly qualify as not herself.
“Depends what you mean,” she says, starting to gather wood, like this is nothing special. Just what they were doing this afternoon. “Can I turn into a spotted leopard? Not at all.”
I feel a deep sigh of relief and start to gather wood along with her, but my hands are shaking so hard, it’s not easy to grasp even the larger sticks.
I try to make sense of it. It’s just so crazy. I mean, how can you take it seriously? But there is a spotted leopard in easy pouncing distance from me right this very moment. How can you not take it seriously?
“My true nature is akin to the black panther,” she goes on. “That’s what I shapeshift into.”
I look at her like she must be joking. Like she has to be pulling one over on me. But then I look into her eyes and see a flash of something. Something dark. It’s like she showing me a side of her that is so primal, so animal like, so that I will have no choice but to take her at her word.
“And Anna?” I have to ask.
Bea shrugs. “I don’t know if she can shapeshift at all anymore.”
“She shapeshifted time today,” I say. “That’s what she called it. She made more than half an hour be only five minutes. My own watch turned back.”
Bea raises her eyes and nods as if she is pleased to hear it.
“But I thought you said you were in constant communication, so wouldn’t you know that?”
“Our energy is connected,” she offers. “But I can’t get details. That’s where you come in, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know where I come in,” I say, honestly.
I want to ask if I’m going to be able to turn into something as well, if I learn the magic. But I’m afraid of the answer.
Suddenly, the great cat begins to move, standing shaky, then limping himself off into the woods.
“It’s not good to show how it’s done,” Bea offers in explanation, though it explains almost nothing.
“So, Anna, what is she. I mean, if she could shapeshift?”
“A mountain lion, through and through. I’d think you could see that about her.”
I can’t even begin to know what to say to that.
“It’s hard to know what you’ll become, once you learn,” she continues, turning toward her fire pit and dousing the pile with lighter fluid. I guess I expected her to use two sticks rubbed together. More and more I realize I’m not going to know what to expect from any of these people.
Within minutes, there is a great blaze. I wonder about others seeing it and finding her here. Then I remember I just spent a decent amount of time looking for this whole place, only to find it was right where I recall it having been.
“I know you are wondering,” she continues, feeding the fire and talking over her shoulder, “So I’ll tell you right off. Yes, you’re meant to learn to shapeshift. That doesn’t mean you can do it. But you are meant to be taught and to try. Don’t know what you’ll shapeshift into, either. That’s for magic to reveal, when the time comes.”
She turns toward me to look me over. “I would say you’re not likely from the cat family. You can sniff our your own kind even before the magic is learned. You don’t smell like a cat.”
I’m thinking I smell like dead fish, but don’t say so. “Is it hard to learn?”
“Sure,” she says. “And there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. You see the trouble Jake is having and he’s been at it quite a while. Now, tell me what you’re here for so I can get back to my own life. Hardly a moment’s peace, with a visitor two days in a row.”
A visitor. Which reminds me of Michael. We need to get to that now, so I can get back to him. I wait for her to turn back, so she can hear me, or read my lips, or whatever she does, but she doesn’t. So maybe she’s not deaf. Or, as Jake says, it is selective. Might as well try it out.
“I met Michael today. When I went in to see Anna.”
The old woman spins around toward me in a flash, yet as graceful as a dancer. The look of shock on her face tells me she heard me just fine.
“He’s in town. He was at the retirement village, hiding in her room. He heard me talking about you and Jake…”
“He heard you?” Again she growls, this one I now know to be the growl of a black panther. Amazing what you can grasp, once you know a thing or two. Knowing my own anger could break a bread bowl, I realize her anger could break me. If she wanted it to.
“I didn’t know he was there at first. But Anna played her role perfectly. He suspects, but doesn’t know anything for sure. That’s why I came to ask you what to do. He’s staying at my house for a month. He wants you to know he already has the magic.”
“I know all about his magic,” she says, now just grumbling. “What did Anna say?”
I decide not to tell her about the breaking bowl being the wrong thing to have taught me right off. Save that for next time. “She told me about your family history. About her being good, and Michael being really good, and how the family line…”
“Poppycock! She can’t be going on about that with you.”
I don’t know what she means, and so don’t know what to say.
“Child, you’re not to pay a wit of attention to those theories of hers. Makes me wish she was losing her mind right about now. It’s all we need, her teaching you that nonsense.”
“So you don’t agree with her? You don’t think we are good or bad, or that I’ll have to choose between Jake and Michel, to see who gets to be king and continue on as the head of the family line?”
Bea nearly doubles over laughing, as Jake—the real Jake—walks in from the woods. He’s rubbing his head and staggering just a bit.
“Mayden!” he says, like he didn’t just see me here. Because maybe he didn’t. Maybe he wasn’t just a spotted leopard. In fact, maybe both Bea and Anna are as loony as it gets. Maybe I’ve been suckered in. Totally snowed.
“What’s funny?” Jake asks Bea, who is still whooping and hopping from foot to foot, looking like it’s all she can do not to pee her pants right here.
“Tell her,” Bea says, because obviously she can’t stop laughing long enough to do it herself.
“Anna was telling me about how there were good and bad people, and how your family line needs to continue.”
Now Jake is laughing, though not nearly so hard as Bea.
“They differ in opinions on this,” he says.
“Clearly,” I say, feeling huffy. I mean really, what am I supposed to do if no one is giving me correct information?
“Don’t be upset,” Jake says. “There is some truth to it. In a round about way.”
“Truth? Not a wit of it, the way Anna tells it!” Now Bea settles down to speak. “Here’s the truth: This family will continue on if just one of you masters the art of shapeshifting. You, Michael, or even you Mayden, as an outsider. Anyway, who can reduce a person to mostly good or mostly bad?”
“You know that is not what she means,” Jake says in a cautious tone of disagreement.
“I know exactly what she means,” Bea insists, “and Anna is going off the deep end to try to teach a novice, an outsider novice, anything about good and bad. It’s master-level material and there’s now way Mayden here is going to take it right.”
“I’m confused,” I say.
“As well you would be, at the level you are thinking. With good being helping an old lady cross the street and bad being playing with matches, no doubt. That kind of thinking can only lead you in the wrong direction.”
“I can go deeper than that,” I say, a little offended. I mean, does Bea think I don’t have a brain? That I can’t consider the greater depths of good and evil?
“Let’s hope you can,” she says. “Now, tell me about Michael.”
“Michael?” Now it’s Jake’s turn to be shocked.
I don’t want this conversation to move on just yet, having absolutely no idea what to believe now. But I don’t think I have a choice.
“He’s returned and found Anna,” Bea explains.
“He is staying with my family for a month,” I add, to prove I do know something.
“What? How?” Jake asks.
“My dad and your grandmother are business partners. That’s why I met Anna, because Dad said to give her a little extra attention.”
Jake looks like he can’t process what I’m saying. He rubs his head, shaking it. Maybe it’s the animal thing, if that was really him. I’m not buying anything I’m told here anymore, without seeing things myself. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Right now I need to get home and I need to know what to do with Michael when I get there.
“Michael took me to lunch. He’s already doing magic. Helene doesn’t know, but he’s figured out a lot about what is going on, or at least he has his ideas about it. He asked me to tell Anna about his magic—things like spinning spoons and making them move…”
“Easy stuff,” Jake says, as if it is nothing.
So maybe there is something to the competition between them. Thankfully, I won’t have to choose, according to Bea.
Though I trust Anna more, I want to believe Bea more. A whole lot less pressure, Bea’s way. It occurs to me for the millionth time that this whole thing could make me crazy.
“Michael thinks you won’t teach him until he is 18, but he doesn’t want to wait. He’s here for a month and I think he wants to see you.”
“Well, he has it right about his coming of age. Not that we don’t want to teach him. It’s that we can’t. Sacred vow to my granddaughter.”
I’d tell her that’s what Anna said, when she went into the family history. But I don’t need to send her off in another fit of laughter. I just need to know what to do with Michael.
“So what do I do? Tell him no? Pretend I don’t know you?”
Bea stops playing with the fire and goes to sit on her front porch rocker.
“Hey!” I say, pointing toward a snake underneath one of the blades.
“Python,” Bea scolds, “get out from under there!”
“Python?” I should leave it, but I just have to ask.
“Just a simple black snake, but she has big dreams,” Bea says as the snake seems to obey, moving out of the way, but not far.
Watching, I have to wonder if this is like a really long, strange dream? Because things like this don’t happen in real life. Do they?
“I’ll have to ponder this,” Bea says. “Magic is surely on the move, if you have found us and Michael has found you. But what does it want? This, we can’t know without a more direct inquiry.”
She seems to ponder as she pulls out a pipe, stuffs it with tobacco, and lights up.
“Why is he saying with you,” she asks, talking around the pipe in her clamped jaw, “and not Helene?”
“She’s traveling out of the country unexpectedly, he said. She thought he’d be better supervised and have someone his age to hang out with. Of course, she doesn’t know I know Anna.”
“So, the magic is moving quite seamlessly, then.”
“I guess,” I say, shrugging.
“Alright then, find out when she’ll be traveling in the air. It’s the safest time. I’ll meet with him at your house. I want to see the place, anyway, and meet your Mrs. Hamilton myself.”
Bea looks up like it’s yet another question that ought to be obvious. “She tried to poison Scottie, a member of our cat family. That cannot go without retribution.”
She leans toward me, removes her pipe, and winks. “You see, I’m as bad as Anna says.”
Read Comments And Comment On Chapter Twelve, First Draft
I don’t know if Michael is “good” like Anna says. But he sure is smooth. He hooked Dad with sports talk and an intelligent argument on the worth of an MBA if you already have a business of your own. There are now plans for the two of them to pal around with some of Dad’s colleagues to help Michael explore his options, which Michael could not be more grateful for.
He got Sally with the organic food thing, even promising he’d try to find a visiting chef for the next two weeks, since starting Monday Mrs. Hamilton will be on vacation. Apparently he’s on the lookout for an entirely new menu, and there are a few “brilliant” organic chefs who have been clamoring to help him create it. Why not have one of them cook for us for the two weeks as a trial run? He would be sure they keep Sally’s nutritional needs a priority in the planning, of course. It’s the least he could do, crashing in on our guesthouse for a whole month. I could almost hear Sally’s heart fluttering her adoration.
And then there’s me. I wasn’t going to be taken by him. No way, no how. Not going to happen. And then he started petting Scottie after dinner. And he kept at it for a whole half an hour—no “nice little kitty now scoot” from this guy. And then he kept looking at me like we share something important, like we really know the score and the rest is just a game. So he got in. I’ve heard of girls melting with a look, and always assumed it was just a combination of ignorance, stupidity, and a low tolerance to flattery. But there I went, melting like an ignorant, stupid, flattered girl. My heart actually hurt a little when I heard his schedule—which is packed to the brim these next four weeks. I have no idea when he planned to actually spend time with Anna or Bea. Or me.
“You looked uncomfortable in there,” he says to me, slowly walking the gardens of the back yard like they did when courting in the old days. Just give me an idiotic parasol and the scene will be complete.
“You swept them off their feet,” I say, not afraid to show I both honest and annoyed. “That makes me uncomfortable.”
“I was authentic with them both, I thought,” he defends.
I have to think about that. Is that possible? Could he have been authentic with all three of us?
“I just really hate them sometimes,” I say. “It seems weird that anyone my age would like them. I mean, I love them, or at least Dad, in addition to hating him. But you seemed like you actually liked them. I just don’t get how that could be real.”
Michael shrugs. “I just like people in general. Always have. You can find something good in anyone, so I figure why not find that and connect through it? The world would be a better place.
I think about the world being a better place, and what kind of guy talks like that. Even thinks like that.
“So you really did like them?”
Again he shrugs. “I don’t know them well enough to like them or not like them. But I’m going to live here for a month and I want to get along with them well enough to have them trust me with you. As well as send good reports back to Aunt Helene. It would be suicide to dislike them right off the bat.”
“So you are snowing them for your own purposes?” I accuse.
“No. I’m just meeting them where they live and letting that be the starting point of the conversation. I didn’t suck up to your dad and say I wanted an MBA. And I could see by the way Sally was picking at her food that it was a pretty important part of her life. It’s smart, not manipulative. Why do you hate them?”
I sigh. “I don’t hate them. They are just so… I don’t know… superficial is the word, I guess. All they care about is the stuff they buy, or buy me. It is so over the top and they never seem to notice I don’t care about that. Like this watch. It was $3,800 and has like nearly a dozen diamonds. I got it as a gift for Valentine’s Day, sitting on my breakfast plate.”
“That’s really nice,” he says, sounding confused.
“I got it for Valentines Day! You can imagine what Christmas is like around here? Totally unwarranted. Besides, it was just Sally’s excuse to up her monthly shopping standard while making it look like she had me in mind. Pretty soon she’ll be taking her pre-nup money, and suing for her standard monthly retainer, then running like my mother and his other wives did. All the while Dad just sits there, fat dumb and happy, thinking it is a good deal because that way they stay young and skinny and pretty.”
Michael stops and puts a hand on my wrist to stop me, too. My pulse jumps. I look at him, which is a mistake, what with those amazing eyes. “Look,” he says quietly, “I grew up like you did. So I understand how money can hurt you. But I also know there is no such thing as a simple person. Everyone hurts. Everyone. Sometimes the rich more than any, because they are supposed to be happy with what they have, even if they are not. And all they know how to do is use more money to try to make it better, which it never does.”
I stare at him, thinking maybe he does understand. At least some of it.
“I know the way they are hurts you,” he continues, so it’s probably fair to hate them for it, in a way. But that hate will limit you, not them, if you hold on to that. You’ll become like them if you don’t figure out a way to deal with it.”
“You don’t want to get an MBA,” I say, uncomfortable, “you want to be a shrink.”
He doesn’t laugh. “No, I want magic. I won’t say any more about this, because I can see you don’t want me to. But think about it. They can only get to you if you let them. Now tell me about your visit with Anna. Will she see me?”
I’m enormously relieved to be off the topic of my family, but not so sure I’m ready to talk about his. “I don’t know,” I say, sorting out what to say for the hundredth time since I left Bea. “When I asked her what to say to you all she said was “welcome home” and she didn’t tell me what I could or couldn’t reveal to you.”
“Uh!” Michael looks to the sky in frustration.
“So I went to see your great-grandmother to ask her about it.”
Michael looks back, instantly excited. “And?”
“She said she’ll meet with you. At my house. It needs to be when your Aunt Helene is flying, like actually in the airplane.”
“Why?” he asks.
“Something about it being safest. Oh, and she wants to meet Mrs. Hamilton, our cook, so we better make it quick if she’s off for vacation next week.”
“This is amazing!” he says, spontaneously hugging me. “Thank you! Thank you!”
I pull away, afraid to be that close to his body. It’s like a live wire, I swear. “Do you know when your aunt is going to be on a plane?”
“No, but I can get onto her computer and find out. She has her whole itinerary there.”
“And you can just go look?”
He nods. “I saw her password. Well, sort of. I felt it, and I was right. That’s how I found out where Anna is. That’s how I find out a lot, actually.”
I have to think about that. Anna said Michael was such a good person. Like, inherently good. But that can’t include hacking into someone’s computer, can it? Of course, Bea said it wasn’t so simple as that. So who knows?
“Do you know what my email password is?” I ask, just in case.
He looks at me with a totally serious face. “I don’t want to spy on you, Julie.”
“Call me ‘Mayden.’ Anna and Bea call me that.”
“Mayden it is,” he says, smiling. “But what you really want to know is if I could feel your email password if I wanted to, right?”
“Could you?” I ask, not sure I want to know.
“Do you want me to try?” he says with a beautiful, mischievous grin. “Give me a test run?”
What the heck. “Sure. Why not? Try.”
Without warning, he turns me around and comes closer behind me. He puts his hands on my hips and moves in until his face is in my hair. I can feel his breath on my neck. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.
“Think of your password,” he whispers. I get shivers up and down my spine, and I think of it over and over. Scottiegirl. Scottiegirl. Scottiegirl.
“It’s Scottiegirl,” he says after several deep inhales and exhales.
I jump at the password spoken aloud, freaked out totally and completely. I turn to face him and step back to gain a little distance. True the what they say about these kinds of situations, my knees are actually feeling weak. “That’s all you have to do. Stand up close to someone and listen in?”
“I don’t have to stand close,” he says, smiling with his eyes.
“Then why did you?” I demand to know, pulling further away. I try to gauge if he is snowing me, too. Let him not be, that’s all I silently ask.
“Because I wanted to see what your hair smelled like. It’s so wild, all those colors, and the red streaks. I was thinking strawberries, but it’s not that. What is it?”
I ignore his question. “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with girls this summer?”
I’m frustrated, even angry, with the way he is confusing me.
“You’re not just a girl,” he says, oh so slick. Or maybe not.
“I’m not?” My voice sounds all sickeningly airy and breathless. Why does everything with him feel both good and bad?
“Now way,” he smiles. “You’re a girl who gets magic. Really gets it. And that is rarer than rare to find.” He reaches out for me, barely touches my fingers.
I pull back. “Don’t do that,” I insist. “And don’t mess with me, like with Dad and Sally. And everyone else, for all I know.”
“I’m not,” he says, now looking confused himself.
“I don’t want a boyfriend,” I blurt out. “In specific, I don’t want you for a boyfriend. Okay?”
He looks at me like he’s considering if I’m serious or not, and so I make the most serious face I could possibly make. I don’t want to get hurt by this guy. Not this guy.
“Okay,” he says, nodding like he gets it. “We will be friends, though, right?”
“Totally,” I say, feeling myself finally breathe.
‘Okay,” he repeats. He starts to talk, then stops, then finally starts again. “It’s not because you like Jake, is it?”
Anna’s words about the rivalry between the two great-grandsons jump back into my memory, as well as me having to choose. Bea said it was nonsense, but maybe it is not.
“No,” is all I say.
For a minute I think to say there’s a guy named Rod interested in me, which would be partly true. But with Michael’s magic, he would likely see right through it. Best leave it alone. All of it.
“Okay,” he says, one last time, but you can see his mind still clicking away, trying to figure things out.
Right about now, I can only hope I do before he does.
“So,” I say in an attempt to change the subject, “how do we get Helene’s schedule?”
“I can drive over now. She’s already left town, but she’ll be flying a lot this month. She always does. Has a hard time staying in one place. You want to go to the house with me?”
For some reason, the idea of going into the infamous Helene’s house seems risky. Not for Michael, but for me, and surely for us both. Not sure why. Just one of those things I know.
“No. From what I can gather, there’s something in the magic that is more powerful when people are together.”
We turn to walk back toward the car and I realize the night will be short. It makes me sad, but also glad that there will be more nights. A month’s worth.
“Can you tell me anything more about the magic?” he asks as we turn to walk to his car. “Like what it’s for? How they use it?”
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say, or not say yet,” I admit.
“But Anna said welcome home,” he says, “so she must be okay with me knowing she can talk. And Bea must be okay with me knowing she is close enough that you were able to go see her after Anna, and be back before dinner.”
“You know, it would be easier if you were not so smart,” I say, finally laughing a little. I realize it could be fun to be his friend. I mean, I’d still be cautious, at least until I hear word from Anna or Bea it’s okay to be open with him. But we could have a nice month. I think.
“It would be a whole lot easier if you were not so smart,” he returns in a good-natured tone.
I try to imagine if Anna would mind me talking about her, or Bea. I guess they’d want to speak for themselves. But if I could, I’d tell him about the shapeshifting, of time and also into animals. It would sound crazy, and maybe I shouldn’t even think about it near him. He could catch on. But I think it would comfort him, to know the way he shifts with Dad, and Sally, and me, is sort of like what they do. Like there are a thousand different worlds in this one, and they just tune into the one they want. That would be some kind of magic, wouldn’t it?
“What are you thinking?” he asks me.
“Nothing,” I say, only now realizing I’ve been smiling to myself.
“Yea, well, it’s a beautiful nothing then,” he says.
Read Comments and Comment On Chapter Thirteen, First Draft
“Michael,” I whisper as loudly as I can without drawing attention. I tap on his window, right over the bed.
“Michael!” I insist.
If he doesn’t respond, I’m going in. I can’t have Bea and Mrs. Hamilton alone inour kitchen for long. It can’t be too pretty in there right now. And if it’s ugly, I surely don’t want to miss a thing. Okay, so I am bad, right along with Bea.
I hear stirring, then see the door to the guest house open.
“Yeah?” he says, groggy, standing there looking insanely awesome in white cotton pajama bottoms.
“Come, now. She’s here.”
“Who?” he says, looking around with squinting eyes. “What time is it?”
I push past him, not wanting to be seen on his doorstep at seven in the morning. Dad might get the wrong idea.
Wow, he really is a teenager. Not here 24 hours and the place is a cyclone. It kind of surprises me about him, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t have time for that now.
“Bea is here,” I say. “In my kitchen. Get dressed and come now.”
“Where?” he says, but something must have sunk in because he immediately shifts into hurry mode, hopping around trying to get socks and a shirt on. I guess the pants could pass as tropical casual or something. He grabs a pair of hemp sandals, just to complete the look.
“I don’t know why she came already,” I muse aloud. “She said we needed to find out when your aunt Helene was going to be in the air, but then she just went ahead and showed up at the kitchen door at quarter to seven.”
He musses his hair, I’m supposing to make it look better, not worse. It looks the same to me, before or after.
“Wait? It’s seven?”
“So according to her schedule, Helene is in the air right now,” he says, not sounding nearly as surprised as I feel.
“Somehow Bea knew,” I say, stating the obvious.
“That’s Gran Bea.”
“She said to have you put this on,” I say, handing him a medicine bag at the end of a long piece of leather string. It’s not fancy like Anna’s. Just a plain brown, sort of heavy. “She said you had to wear it. And not come closer than eight feet to her. She didn’t say why.”
He starts to look inside it, but I stop him by grabbing it back.
“She said don’t look inside,” I insist.
“Lot of rules for seven in the morning,” he says, still sounding gruff in the throat. He takes the bag back and puts it on without much more thought.
I guess he doesn’t balk at rules the way I do. I’d have probably at least tried to steal a glance, or give it a good squeeze.
Actually, I did do both.
“I have to warn you about something,” I say as we head out across the lawn from the guest cottage to the main house, hoping beyond hope that Dad or Sally don’t look. It’s not like I can’t say we have someone in the kitchen waiting for Michael. But it would be better not to have doubts in their mind from the start. I want them to trust me with him. Let me hang out with him without needing to look over my shoulder. For the most part, they don’t notice what I do. But walking out of the guest house at seven in the morning with Michael looking like he just woke up? That’s a little over the top, even for them.
“Warn me about what?” he replies.
“There’s something going on already. You see, Mrs. Hamilton was poisoning Scottie, at least Jake said that is who he “saw” it was.”
“Like, psychically or something?” Michael asks.
“I guess. I think I saw what he saw, too. Bea wasn’t too happy about it either, so she said she wanted to meet Mrs. Hamilton when she met with you. Since I already did some magic with Mrs. Hamilton, I’m thinking it could get a little strange in there.”
“What did you do?” he asks. You can tell he wants to know really badly, but he’s playing it cool. Sort of like I do.
“I just had one lesson…” I caution.
“So they are teaching you!”
“I didn’t say that. Okay, I guess I did. But don’t tell anyone. Anyway, I’m not any good. I just broke a bowl. But Mrs. Hamilton got the drift I don’t want her messing with Scottie. Bea hinted that we might see her bad side.”
“Which, trust me, from what I recall, you don’t want to see.”
We approach the kitchen door and both reach for the handle at once. We laugh nervously and he steps back. He is the guest, after all.
We step inside and assess the situation. It’s a tough call. Bea is leaning over Mrs. Hamilton with both of their hunched over backs toward us. I walk towards then, while Michael hangs at the door. He’s a good twenty feet away, but I can see he’s not taking chances.
“I found him,” I say tentatively.
“Goodness, gracious,” Bea says, turning to me with a worried look, nearly ignoring her own great grandson behind me. “Did you know Mrs. Hamilton is allergic to cats?”
Now Mrs. Hamilton turns, her eyes red and practically pouring water, with her face all swollen.
It is all I can do not to laugh. Isn’t Bea supposed to turn into a black panther when she shapeshifts? That would be one big cat. But I don’t dare say anything. Mrs. Hamilton is all blotchy and red and I don’t want to give anything away by being glad about it.
“It’s neva behn thith bad,” Mrs. Hamilton says, looking bewildered.
“Poor dear, even her tongue is swelling,” Bea says the kind of fake tone of concern a bad actress would muster up.
“You might want to see a doctor… soon,” Bea says.
Mrs. Hamilton doesn’t have to be told twice. She reaches for her purse. “Tell yar dad I’m goin on vacathon early. I’ll be bac in tew weeks.”
“This kind of reaction could last even longer than that, I’m afraid,” Bea says with a dramatically furrowed brow and a solemn nod. “You might need a series of shots or something.”
Mrs. Hamilton looks about as worried as I can imagine.
“In fact,” Bea goes on, “you might not want to come back at all.”
With that, I swear on a hundred thousand graves of really good people, Bea’s head changes into a black panther. Just long enough to turn at the neck and look from Mrs. Hamilton to me, and then beyond me to Michael.
It’s unmistakable, then it’s over.
It happened so fast, you could almost think it was impossible to have happened, and so imagine that it really didn’t.
From the corner of the kitchen, I hear Michael gasp.
Oh yes, it happened.
Mrs. Hamilton is in a complete state of shock, do doubt wondering if her watery eyes are playing tricks on her. A perfectly straight-faced Bea helps usher her to the dining room door, which is opposite the door Michael is standing in, and tells her to hurry on.
“Do take care now,” I say, unable to help myself.
“Well now,” Bea says once Mrs. Hamilton is fully gone, turning back to look at Michael, “how is my great-grandson?”
“Hi Gran Bea,” he says, still shocked, but smiling this huge, adorable smile.
“I’m sorry you can’t come near,” she says, finally sounding like her genuine self, though maybe a little nicer than she speaks to me. I think there are even tears riming her lower eyes, but I can’t be sure. “I’d give you a great big Gran Bea hug.”
He nods without moving closer, though he’s got a good 12 feet leeway. I’d swear he had water in his eyes, too. “I understand.”
“Do you?” she asks, turning serious. “How much?”
“I have magic,” he says. “Not like what you just did. That was… unbelievable. But I can do some things.”
“Show me,” she says, and takes a seat at a small side table nearer to the dining room door.
“Could I have a spoon?” he asks me, and I move to give him one.
Just as he did with me, he puts the spoon in front of him. He lays it on the counter and begins to bob his hand over it, then begin to make circles with his finger.
Only this time, it doesn’t spin. Well, not much anyway. More, it wobbles in place.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he says, turning a bit red.
“I saw him do it yesterday,” I say in his defense.
She waits as he tries, but nothing much happens.
“I don’t get it,” he says, impatient with himself.
Bea stands. “I know you can do it. You were doing it as a toddler. You wouldn’t remember—and that is exactly how we wanted it. You were not supposed to have learned this again yet. Must be Anna and I being apart, or distracted from our blocking you.”
“Why block me?” he says, sounding not only confused, but downright hurt.
“You’re not ready to learn,” she says.
“I am ready!” he says, not exactly raising his voice, but definitely straining it.
“Even if you are, it doesn’t matter,” Bea says kind but firm. “We all promised your mother we would not teach you until you reached the legal age. A full 18, and not a day sooner.”
“But, and I say this respectfully Gran Bea, it’s already happening. Only I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even know what it is for.” He leans in, as if getting five inches closer could help. “I feel like I don’t even know who we are. As a family. And for sure not who I am. I have to wait until I am 18 to know that?”
You can see Bea doesn’t like this any more than Michael. But she’s not a woman to break her word, I feel certain of that. Nor Anna.
She considers long, looking him over much the way she looked me over that first time, only from a distance.
“It’s one thing to be able to spin spoons,” she finally says, “when there is nothing working against you. It’s another when someone, or something, is in the way. The smart magician seeks to discover what is blocking him and how to dissipate the interruption.”
There is a silence, and in it, I try to read between the lines. It seems Michael is doing the same.
Is she teaching us, or him, without saying so? Was that just a lesson she didn’t give? I think so.
“Who are you?” Sally demands to know from the dining room entrance.
We all look up, but Bea is the one instantly on her feet.
“I’ve come to cook for you, dearie. I’ll arrive daily at two to prepare and be gone by 8, after the dishes are dried.”
Michael and I look at each other as if to ask “Did you say something to her about the cooking job?” But it was brought up after I left her, and this is their first meeting. From the looks we both wear, it’s obvious we are witnessing another small feat of magic.
“Oh, right,” Sally says. “You’re the chef that Michael is going to audition while Mrs. Hamilton is away. That was fast, Michael.”
“Indeed,” Bea says, approaching her gregariously. “You may call me Fiona.”
Again, Michael and I offer each other quick glances.
Well, I guess she can’t say outright that her name is Bea. Word could get back to Helene pretty quick.
Sally looks her over, no doubt wondering how a nearly-ninety woman is going to handle a daily job at the house, let alone at a restaurant. But then a look comes over her that says “But that’s not my problem.”
So very, very Sally.
“Wonderful, Fiona,” she says. “I’d love to go over my dietary requirements with you before you start on Monday, if you have the chance.”
“Actually,” I chime in, “Mrs. Hamilton left for vacation already. She as having an allergic reaction to something. Maybe Fiona could start today?”
Everyone waits for “Fiona” to reply.
“I’d be thrilled!” she says in just that same voice she used with Mrs. Hamilton. “I’m sure we can all discover a great deal in two weeks worth of daily auditions.”
I feel a surge of glee rush through me and see it register on Michael’s face as well.
Bea, here, with us! There’s got to be some kind of learning going on in that!
“I must tell admit, though,” Bea says to Sally, feigning concern, “I’m deaf as a doornail. It makes things look odd every so often. And you’ll have to be right in front of me when you speak to me. I hope that is not what these young folks call a deal-breaker?”
Sally wavers, seeing her out.
“Not at all,” Michael says, jumping right in. “You mentioned that on your application and you come with amazing references. We can work around it without a problem, right Sally.”
“I suppose, if you want to, Michael. But what about payment? My husband will want to know about rates, get her social security number…”
A trace of concern goes over Bea’s face, but you wouldn’t notice it if you weren’t looking.
“I’ve got it covered through the restaurant. Fiona will be paid by me and listed as simply catering here. It’s only fair, since I want to try her out without our current chef getting wind of it. You won’t say anything to anyone about this, will you Sally? Even to my aunt Helene—I’m dying to show her the kind of chef I can find on my own. Of course, she’ll have to give her approval once Fiona has proven herself to us. Which she will, I promise you, Sally. She’s magnificent in the kitchen. And you’ll be able to say you helped discover her!”
You can tell he wants this nailed.
Sally hesitates again, but then agrees. It’s the bragging rights, for sure. “No, of course we won’t say anything. I’ll let my husband know not to say anything, either. He likes a young man with initiative.”
“Just one more thing,” Bea says, smiling wide.
Everyone seems to be holding their breath.
“Yes?” Sally and Michael say at the same time.
“I’ll need some help with finding my way around the local stores, plus some basic assistance in learning the house. All that. Mayd… Julie, is it dear? Would you be willing to help me out?”
Now Sally is looking at me like I’m supposed to be polite, at the least.
“Not a problem,” I say, smiling.
Sally’s jaw drops open. It makes me smile even more. My own magical teacher right in my house, every day, plus help in shocking the family? Really, what could be better?
Read Comments And Comment On Chapter Fourteen, First Draft
“She said that it was one thing to be able to spin spoons when there is nothing working against you,” Michael repeats, try again to bob and spin the spoon, “but another when someone or something is in the way.”
It’s not working.
“Do you think she can cook?” I ask him, now that Bea is gone and Sally has gone back upstairs.
Michael doesn’t look up. “She said that the smart magician learns what is blocking him and how to dissipate the interruption. You know what that means?”
“What?” I ask.
“It means she’s going to teach me. She’s not going to do it directly, but she gave me a clue. Since it’s still not working, it’s not her presence that is the interruption.”
Again and again he bobs and spins, but the spoon just won’t play along.
“Could it be your aunt Helene, picking up on something?” I suggest, starting to look around for something to eat. I’m always the most hungry at breakfast time, but Michael is into eating all organic. Hard to know what that means for the first meal of the day.
“Maybe. But I don’t think Bea would risk that. It’s not you, because it worked with you at the restaurant. It could be Gran Bea’s energy is still in the room.”
“She has a lot of that,” I agree. “But can she cook?”
“What?” he says, finally looking up at me, giving up on the spoon, at least for the moment.
“Can your Gran Bea cook? She’s going to be playing the part of a famed chef starting at two o’clock today. Remember?”
“Oh, well, she can cook alright, I guess. But I can get something made up at the restaurant if she’s not that great. That’s the least of our worries.”
“We have more worries?”
“Hello? Did you see what she did to your regular cook? And what she changed into? You did see that, right?”
“I saw it. That’s part of your magic,” I say, confident I’m not giving anything new away. I mean, he saw what I saw. “You’re shapeshifters. Part animal, sometimes. At least that’s what I’ve gathered so far.”
“So you’ve seen her do this before?”
“Not her. Anna did some shapeshifting with time, and Jake was kind of mangling it as he practiced.”
“They’re teaching him?” Michael nearly shouts.
“Don’t get mad at me. I don’t know why,” I say right upfront. “Maybe his mother didn’t say no. But they are worried about it being too soon. I know that. I think he was heading in a life direction that felt more risky than teaching him young.”
“I can imagine that. Even so, Jake shouldn’t be learning before me,” he insists.
“Is there some big rivalry between you guys?” I say, making my way towards getting out some peanut butter, banana, honey and rice cakes. “You want some of this?”
“Sure,” he says. “I mean to the breakfast. Not to the rivalry.”
“It seems like there’s something going on between you,” I say casually. I don’t want to give away Anna’s theories too soon. Not because Michael isn’t “in” now, but because I want to see what is going on from his perspective.
“Jake was always a kind of loose cannon, even as a kid. No real self-control. Kind of ADD, pretty immature. They wanted me to look after him a lot, and he hated that. But he also sort of looked up to me. It was strange. Karmic, I guess.”
“Karmic? Like as in karma? You believe in that?”
Michael shrugs. “Hard not to believe, when you’ve seen who you were in a past life. And who he was. I was seeing that stuff when we were just little.”
“Like what?” I say, feeling like this was really out in left field.
“We were soldiers together in a war. I was his superior. He lost a leg and an arm and I carried him off the field. He was grateful, but I think he went on to have a really bad life, so maybe he wasn’t grateful in the end. Maybe he wished I didn’t save him.”
Images of Jake’s mangled animal legs flash in my mind. But it has to be a coincidence.
“You really believe in past lives?” I ask casually. I’ve heard of it, but I can’t say I believe it. Or even understand it. Isn’t one life hard enough?
Michael nods, reaching over to add a little more peanut butter to his rice cake then I put there. “Many of the world’s religions have it as a central belief. I’m not saying it’s true. I mean, how can you know for sure? I’m just saying that I remembered that scene in my head really vividly, and repeatedly, when we were only in grade school. And it seemed to fit, how he was always looking up to me, but upset with me, too.”
I have to think on this, and what he said last night. If he is the superior to Jake, and there is no competition, why would he care if I liked Jake better than him? I’d ask, but I’m not sure I want to know. At least not yet.
“So now what?” I ask. “You start soccer camp today, right?”
He looks at his watch. “In about an hour. It’s 9-5 every day but Sunday. That gives us some time in the early mornings, then some with Gran Bea around dinner, but not too much because there will actually be dinner. And, I guess, there is after dinner, if you don’t have plans.”
The way he says that, about having plans, sounds a lot like the way he talked about meeting a girl who gets magic last night. His voice drops, and he speaks slower, and looks more intently into my eyes. But I have to look away.
“No plans tonight,” I say, wondering what this could mean. Will we have walks in the garden? Hang out in the guest house? Go for drives? It all sounds good. Just being around him feels good. And he seems to be filling his time with me and more me. Well, and his Gran Bea. That could be the real draw. Probably is the real draw.
“Okay,” he says, “we will take it day by day then. I can’t get too close to Gran Bea, so I don’t think I can help with dishes or that. Though I would love to. But I can hang out if you help her, from the other side of the kitchen. And I want to get back to see Anna, maybe this Sunday?”
“I’ll ask her,” I say.
“You know,” he says, reaching out to touch my hand, “you seem pretty wary of me. Have I done something?”
I pull away, and shudder from the touch. He’s still got some kind of magic, that’s for sure.
“No,” I say, “It’s just that I don’t normally talk to a lot of people. I’ve done more talking in the past three days than I probably did all last year at school.”
Saying this, it hits me that it was just three days ago that I was taking Anna for a walk, helping her come to life out in the woods, and taking Scottie to Bea and meeting her and Jake. It was just yesterday that I met Michael. Now today I’m in what feels like a whole new world. A big, bright open world.
“Michael! Julie!” Dad says in his booming morning sell-the-world-anything-you-can-cause-it’s-a-bright-and-shining-new-day voice. “I hear we have a new cook already!”
I offer a cheek as Dad comes to give me a good morning kiss. It’s one of the few father/daughter rituals we have left.
“Hmm,” he says, “breakfast looks a little lean for a soccer player. Maybe we need a morning cook as well.”
“I can make eggs,” Sally says, rounding the corner.
She can’t make eggs. Not even close.
Michael has already stood to shake Dad’s hand. “No sir, this is wonderful. I like to eat light before hitting the field. I stopped by the grocery last night to pick up some high protein drinks to add to my lunches, and you can bet with Fiona we will all eat magnificently at dinner.”
“Fiona,” Dad repeats. “Sally says she might be a nice surprise for your Aunt Helene when she returns. I like that. Shows entrepreneurial spirit. Speaking of which, I’ve invited a few friends for after dinner drinks, to meet with you. Naval academy grads from way back, but they have made stellar careers. I’m sure they can offer you excellent advice.”
I see Michael’s face drop the smile just a bit, but regain it again right away. “That would be wonderful, Sir. Very kind of you.” He shoots me a look like “we’ll find a way” and I shoot him back a small smile.
“Not at all, son,” Dad says, then notices Michael’s leather pouch. “What’s this?”
For once, Michael seems caught off guard. He hems and haws as he holds on to the pouch, trying to think.
What else can I do but jump in? “I gave it to him, Dad. It’s for good luck, with his soccer, you know.”
Michael smiles the exactly right smile, like it’s a weird gift, but what can he do? It was a gift.
“Where did you get it?” Dad queries me, frowning. Great, all I need is another ‘I just don’t know much about your life anymore’ lecture. Which can always be expected after just such an event, unless brushed off just right.
“Someone at the Village gave it to me,” I said, shrugging it off. “To thank me for helping out her mom.”
Dad laughs nervously. “Oh, well, for a moment there I thought you were getting strange on us while I was not looking.”
“When have I not been strange to you, Dad?” I challenge in good nature. Michael is not the only one who can play an adult.
“I think the most recent pictures are from grade school,” he jokes back. “Alright then, I’ll take some eggs, but let’s go out, Sally. I’m feeling like pancakes and bacon as well.”
And decent cooking. Sally looks hurt, but doesn’t say anything. She knows a bait and switch when she hears one. And she can’t argue that making bacon and pancakes are beyond the realm of possibility in her puny little world.
“As for tonight,” Dad turns to ask Michael, “you’re not going to go so fancy on us that we don’t get our fill, are you? I’m a hungry man come dinner time.”
“I’ll have Fiona go over the menu with Sally,” he says, giving Sally a look that blends compassion with her plight and supplication for her wisdom.
It works. She’s all smiles again. “Wonderful!”
And so it is settled. In three short days we’ve gone from a totally boring summer to a whole new life that has so much momentum it feels like we are all being shot out of a cannon. Michael and I will have breakfasts and dinner and evenings of dodging parents to steal away to the garden or the guest house, throwing in a few late night swims as well, I hope. In the mornings there will be walks with Anna and in the afternoons I’ll either learn to cook or dance around catering logistics with a shapeshifting woman of magic.
Again that surge of glee comes up from inside me. It swirls through me like a flashing wildfire, then gets even stronger, making me suddenly roaring hot.
And then, a flash of something else. An image, real as the table I’m sitting at.
It’s me and Michael in a fancy old hotel lobby. Only everyone is dressed like they did eighty or a hundred years ago. I’m wearing a big fancy skirt as I see myself hugging him. We are saying goodbye. It makes my heart hurt, right here and now, to see it. As he steps away, I see he is in uniform.
I look at Michael—the real one, standing in front of me—and he seems to get that something is going on. He smiles, like he knows something I am just beginning to try to comprehend.
Read Comments and Comment On Chapter Fifteen, First Draft