Another morning, another Mom avoidance tactic. She almost caught me as I slipped out, much later this time than yesterday thanks to another sleepless night ending with a doze pushing me past 8am. Sassafras preceded her down the stairs by a fraction of a second. He hissed at me as I dodged out the door and trotted off up the street on my way to Evie’s.
Though I didn’t have Alex’s echo to worry about, at least not when it came to being woken in fright in the middle of the night, his situation and the pressure I was under to find a way to tell his grandmother about the bracelet didn’t make for an easy time, either. After a heavy day’s work yesterday and two nights with little rest, I was ready to fall over.
Only the stress of my predicament kept me upright and shaking like a caffeine addict on her tenth shot of espresso.
The bracelet weighed heavy, almost dragging me down the street toward the salon. I knew Alex’s need was feeding the burden on my shoulders, but my hissing admonishments at my wrist only garnered me odd stares from other pedestrians.
Totally incognito, Hayle. Nice job.
Early again, if only by minutes, I slipped inside the open door and headed for the back. I wanted to get this over with before customers started arriving, steeling myself for Evie’s reaction to my story.
Um, what story? I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to say when I gently eased open the door to the staff room and spotted my boss perched on the edge of a chair with a lace hanky pressed to her nose.
She glanced up at me, face sheathed in tears, heavy makeup a total mess. Evie cried out, waving her crocheted doily thing at me.
“Oh, dear,” she wailed. “I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.”
The drama in her voice, the way she lunged for me, pulled me down beside her—by my left hand, missing the bracelet entirely—made me think otherwise. Especially when Evie leaned close, still fluttering her kerchief.
“I’m always a bit of a wreck on my birthday,” she said. “Now that I’m alone.”
Yikes. She sobbed once into the mess she’d made of the little bit of cotton before fixing her gaze on me.
Mom could cry so beautifully she should have been in movies.
Evie’s attempt made a train wreck look like a minor incident. Her cheeks were mottled red under the layers of foundation, eyes bloodshot, black mascara and today’s bright pink eye shadow making tracks down her face. Her deep peach lipstick had smeared around her mouth, and all I could think of was her new career at the circus.
Hmm. Maybe a horror movie circus. Meant to scare the crap out of impressionable little kids.
Before I could say anything, murmur condolences, you name it, Evie hugged me. At least she was wearing a turtleneck this morning, the same color as her eye shadow, spandex stretched to its very shiny limit, so I didn’t have to endure her bare skin sandwiched against my cheek.
A slight improvement.
When she released me, she dabbed at her face, just as the staff room door opened again and Blue walked in. Rolled her eyes at Evie, snapped her gum at me, turned on her heel and left again.
Made me wonder just how common these emo outbursts really were.
Still, I could feel Alex twitching in the bracelet and knew Evie, no matter her issues and crazy notions, had a good heart. I adored her, despite herself. And I still had the promise to her grandson to fulfill.
She didn’t give me a chance, sweeping to her feet like an opera diva called to her cue. She patted my head, gave me a wavering smile.
“Thank you, dear,” she said. “So lovely of you to care.”
And then she was gone, out into the salon, the sounds of arriving customers sadly commiserating with her loss, ending my plan to have this over with.
It took me until lunch, anxiety building, before I could corner her again. She devoured a large plate of pasta while I struggled with what to say.
“Where is your family?” Holy. Who raised me, the inconsiderate blurter clan? But Evie smiled a little, as though grateful I asked.
“My beloved daughter was a poor, lost soul.” More tears, but these seemed genuine. Her voice shook, hand setting aside her fork as she cleared her throat. “She had a lovely boy, but couldn’t take care of him. Died from an overdose.” Ouch. “I took him in, raised him like my own. But my beloved Alex…”
The bracelet quivered in sympathy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, leaning forward to squeeze her hand.
Evie squeezed back. “He was riding home on his bicycle, three years ago today. A car went through a red light.” She shook her head, giant mound of red hair swaying. “My poor baby didn’t stand a chance.”
My eyes prickled with tears begging to be shed, my own throat thick with emotion.
“He was so sweet,” she gushed, smiling through her grief. “Just the loveliest boy. Always taking good care of his Nanny.” Pride rose on her face. “He was a fine athlete, top of his class. Had a scholarship to Harvard.” Wow. “But all of that was gone the moment he died.” She sank back into her chair, face now flat and emotionless. I had a feeling I saw the real Evie in that moment, and my heart went out to her completely.
Alex’s echo cried, the bracelet icy on my skin.
No matter the cost, no matter the risk, I had no choice, now.
I wouldn’t let either of them suffer any longer.
My mouth opened, my lungs filled.
And Madge poked her head in the room.
“Mrs. Tiller is here,” she grated in her chalky voice, dentures clacking as they loosened from her upper jaw. “And she’s in a tizzy over her color.”
Evie nodded, perking immediately. “Of course,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”
Would I never get a break?
She set her plate in the sink, smiling at me.
“You’re such a good girl,” she said. “My Alex would have adored you.”
And just like that, she was gone. Again.
Awesome. Another failed attempt. I was on a roll downhill to nowhere.
Until I had a brilliant thought as I stared at her giant purse. Her giant pink purse with the ribbon ties at the bottoms of the handles.
The box. The bracelet came in a box the same color, tied with a ribbon. I could go home and fetch the pictures of Alex, the gift box, put everything in Evie’s hands, claim I found them.
How to gloss over the fact I shouldn’t know my echo, Alex, was her grandson when there wasn’t a single picture of them in the stash?
I’d think of something. Besides, the relief washing over me, the out I’d come up with, was enough to drive me to my feet, mind churning for an excuse to escape for ten minutes. And then this would all be over, and I could go back to being normal.
Saved by the giant, ugly handbag.
I returned to the main salon, head down, struggling with a basket of towels, Alex’s prodding and my own need to find a way to make this work swirling in my head.
Until I heard the door open.
Felt a familiar touch of power.
Looked up with shock and horror on my face.
Mom met my eyes, standing at the entry, where Blue smiled and spoke to her.
But the worst part? Mom wasn’t alone.
Gram cackled and wiggled her fingers at me, bouncing in her fuzzy socks while I begged all that was good and holy to open a hole in the ground and swallow me alive.
Family Magic by Patti Larsen is the 2014 winner of World’s Best Story launching August 6th 2015.
Stay tuned for Chapter nine of our exclusive prequel to Family Magic.