I almost spun and went back into the staff room.
But Evie spotted Gram waving, Mom’s attention to me, and rushed forward, eyes alight.
“You must be Sydlynn’s mother.” Okay, I knew we looked a little alike. “She is your absolute clone, my dear. Are you sure you’re not her sister?”
Mom laughed, her deep, surprised but delighted laugh, one hand rising to her gorgeous black hair.
“Quite sure,” she said, a new sparkle in her gaze.
“Tell me you’re here to let me do something with this amazing hair!” Evie’s gushing would get old fast, but Mom didn’t seem to mind.
Until Gram poked her and grinned at my boss.
“Mine!” She danced her jig, around and around while Evie smiled and nodded.
“Of course, darling,” she said, patting Gram’s shoulder when my grandmother fell still. “And you’re Syd’s aunt, yes? Or young cousin?”
Gram giggled behind her hands, wicked joy in her faded blue eyes.
My stomach a knot of anxiety already, the ball of stress grew until I had trouble moving my legs. Mom pulled me aside as Evie led Gram toward the sink even as her last client climbed under a hood dryer with a nasty look on her face.
Aimed at Gram.
No time to be protective, not while Mom looked around and sighed.
“She begged,” Mom said. “And, I have to admit, the owner seems lovely.” Because she complimented you, Mom? Classy. “So take care of your grandmother and I’ll be back shortly.”
“Mom.” I grabbed her arm. “You’re going to leave her hear? Unwarded?” The last word escaped in a hiss.
“She’s carefully shielded,” Mom said. “I’ve seen to that. And you’re here.” Her eyebrows came together. “Consider this one of your first opportunities to prove to me you can take responsibility.”
She had to be freaking kidding me. Gram was a whack job. So messed up she could barely function at times. Didn’t mean she wasn’t powerful. Nope nope. Her magic wasn’t affected by her diminished mental capacity was it?
“Right,” I said through my aching jaw as I forced the words through clenched teeth. “Because leaving your powerful, crackpot mother in your magically crippled daughter’s care when we both know how volatile she can be is clearly the smartest choice here.”
Not even a flicker of concern crossed her face. Or a jolt of anger, for that matter. Not like Mom at all.
Yikes. She’d lost her mind.
Mom left in a waft of lilac, abandoning me with Gram and my job and the task at hand.
About which Alex chose right then to prod me.
“I’m trying,” I whispered at my wrist even as Blue looked at me funny.
The day from hell could surely only end one way.
I scurried to Gram, grateful the salon wasn’t nearly as busy today as it had been yesterday so my duties were caught up and I had time to babysit. I reached her just as Evie guided her out of the sink, white hair wrapped in a towel.
Just as Evie’s previous client, still clearly pissed to be supplanted by my grandmother, opened her puckered mouth and put her foot in more trouble than she knew existed.
“I thought this was a quality establishment,” the nasty old lady sniffed. “Since when did you let in street people, Eve?”
Now, mind you, Gram did look a little like she’d dumpster dove for her wardrobe, worn flower dress frayed at the hem, fuzzy pink socks sagging down her skinny calves and not a shoe in sight. The pale yellow sweater she wore had three holes, where she’d picked the yarn until it separated into tiny threads.
For the first time in my life, I felt embarrassed by my grandmother’s appearance before instantly feeling guilty and angry at myself for being so shallow. But before I could snap at the woman for being such a bitch, Gram turned and stuck her tongue out, wiggling her fingers.
Panic rose in my chest at the feeling of magic, but when I looked, nothing had changed. The grumpy old lady just harrumphed at Gram and tucked her nose into a magazine.
That was close.
Gram sat in Evie’s chair, giggling and wriggling in excitement, her pale blue eyes locking on mine through the mirror. I almost choked on my surprise when she looked down at the bracelet on my wrist and grinned.
“It’s time,” she said.
More power, building this time. Humming around her. I tried to smother it, feeling her magic ease around my attempts, as though my power had no control over hers.
Panic almost drove me after Mom.
I had bigger things to worry about a moment later when Alex appeared in the mirror.
There was nothing I could do then, not when Evie looked up and shrieked at the sight of her grandson staring at her, holding his arms out to her while she reached back, one large hand pressed to her mouth. I barely had time to register what Gram had done before I felt a tug at my wrist and the bracelet, wrapped in my grandmother’s power, flew from my hand and landed with a tinkle on the counter.
Right in front of Evie.
She leaped in shock, a cry of surprise escaping her.
We all stared, the ladies under the hood dryers gaping, Blue’s gum falling out of her mouth to hit the floor with a wet smack. Even Madge’s flat expression turned to shock as Alex drifted out of the mirror to hover in the center of the salon.
Smiling at Evie.
The big woman collapsed on her knees, sobbing, hands clutched to her heart as the bracelet left the counter top and floated to her. She took it out of the air, holding it to her cheek as Alex’s smile widened and he said, “Happy Birthday, Nanny.”
An impossibly bright light formed behind him, back-lighting his echo until, with a small wave and a kiss blown to his grandmother, he drifted backward, engulfed in it, color returning to his cheeks, his hair, his blue eyes just before the light winked out and he was gone.
With a whispered, “Thank you,” in my ear just before he vanished.
Evie wept as everything inside me collapsed in despair.
I glared at Gram who giggled again, poking me hard with one of her sharp nails.
“There,” she whispered. “You’re welcome.”
Um, hello, crazy lady.
I was ruined.
Until Evie staggered to her feet, face wreathed in absolute joy, the bracelet held out in her trembling hand.
“It’s a miracle,” she said. Glared around at all the staring faces. “Now do you believe?”
She kissed the charms one at a time. “I knew it. I always knew I was a witch.” The clasp barely fit her wide wrist. “Now I have proof.”
Gram’s wink made me wonder just how much of her still lived inside her prison of whacko.
And feel sad for her when she dissolved into bubble blowing baby talk a moment later.
Now to explain this all to Mom.
Family Magic by Patti Larsen is the 2014 winner of World’s Best Story launching August 6th 2015.
Stay tuned for Chapter ten of our exclusive prequel to Family Magic.