(This is from the rough draft of Light Magic. There may be — and probably are — misspellings, grammar issues and more that will be corrected in the editing phase. You can find Snippet 1 here and Snippet 2 here. Of course, the usual disclaimers apply.)
What the hell was she talking about?
“Someone had better start explaining or I’m out of here.” To put action to words, I dug out my wallet and tossed a twenty onto the table. That should more than cover the cost of my pancakes and coffee.
Surprisingly, it was Annie who spoke and not one of the others. As I turned to her, she struggled to her feet. Ignoring the others, she stepped around her father-in-law and moved to my side. For the first time, I realized she wore what could only be considered a power suit, albeit it one designed for a very pregnant woman, and heels that made my feet hurt. How in the world could she stand wearing them, much less wearing them when it looked like she could give birth at any moment?
“Give them the chance to explain.” I must have looked like I was about to bolt because she continued. “I know you have no reason to trust any of us, but I promise these are three of the best people I’ve ever known. I trust them with my life and with the life of my son. Even with the life of this little one.” She smiled and lightly rested a hand on her swollen belly. “If they say they knew your mother, they did.”
I ran a hand over my face. She asked a lot, especially since I knew her no more than I did those she urged me to trust. Still, Mom’s words echoed in the back of my mind. For whatever reason, she’d wanted me to come here. Two of the first people I’d met claimed to have known her. I saw no way they could have faked the picture in the yearbook, even if it was only a digital representation of a single page. They’d have had to know I was coming and they didn’t. They couldn’t have.
And yet Miss Peggy had, so maybe I as wrong. What in the world was going on?
I felt their eyes on me as I moved away from the table. I needed to pace but there wasn’t room in the café to do so. Instead, I walked behind the counter and poured myself a glass of water from the pitcher on the back counter. I wasn’t thirsty but it gave me something to do while I tried to figure out how to respond.
When I turned, the others had returned to their seats at the table. Serena Duchamp sat where I had not long ago. She appeared relaxed even though I caught a hint of concern in her eyes. Judge Caldwell glanced at his watch and I wondered if he had stopped in for breakfast with his family before court. When he pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to someone, I figured I had my answer. He might not have court, but he had something set that morning and it appeared he was postponing it. Whether that was good or not, I had no idea.
“Look, I don’t know any of you and I can’t figure out how you know who I am, how you knew my mother or how you knew I’d be coming to town.” I drained my glass and set it on the counter. “I’m tired and hungry and I want some answers. So, let’s start with this. How did you know to look for me?” I leaned against the counter and glanced from Miss Peggy to Miss Serena.
And when in the world did I start thinking of women older than me a “Miss” anything? Mom hadn’t raised me to address them in such a manner.
“Meg, it seems there is a great deal we need to discuss.” Miss Serena spoke with a soft drawl. “But I knew you would be coming because your mother contacted me a week before her death. She told me about her illness and why she hadn’t said anything to you about it. She knew you wouldn’t understand, but she didn’t want to be a burden to you. I offered to go to Maxon’s Mill but she refused. She reminded me she’d never had been one to ask for help and she wasn’t going to start now.”
I swallowed hard as tears once again burned my eyes. That sounded exactly like my mother. Damn her. Why hadn’t she said anything to me? I should have been there with her. I would have been with her. But she hadn’t let me. Why?
“Meg, your mother had one favor to ask of me. She said she was leaving you a letter telling you to come see me and she asked me to do whatever I could to help you.”
I gritted my teeth and fought the urge to curse long and loud. I had a feeling Miss Peggy might hit me up the side of the head with a skillet for being rude and I really did not want to think about what Miss Serena might do, not when I’d already seen how powerful she was. For all I knew, she’d turn me into a toad or something just to make the point that I needed to respect my elders. Since I had no love for toads and didn’t believe in the Frog Prince, I decided not to chance it.
“That doesn’t explain how she,” I nodded at Miss Peggy, “knew I’d be coming to town.” Much less how she knew it would be now.
Annie’s chuckle distracted me and I glanced at her in time to see her blue eyes dancing with amused understanding. Then she once again slowly stood, one hand cupping her swollen belly and the other reaching for her purse and briefcase. As she did, the judge climbed to his feet and angled his chair out of her way.
“Ladies, I have clients this morning, but my conference room is open if you’d prefer talking there.” Annie nodded to the group of people clustered around the front door and I could have sworn there were more there than there had been a few minutes earlier.
“I need to get to court. My bailiff has texted twice now to tell me the defense attorneys are getting restless.” Judge Caldwell smiled at his daughter-in-law, his eyes twinkling in mischief, and I wondered if she might not be one of those defense attorneys. “Meg, after you’ve talked with Miss Serena, you might want to stop by Annie’s office. Her grandfather practiced law here for years and I know for a fact he represented your mother on at least one occasion. Some of the answers you’re looking for might be in the files there.”
I swallowed hard and nodded. Before I could say anything, Annie slipped a business card into my hand and gave me directions to her office. Then, after welcoming me to town and saying she hoped to see me again soon, she left the café, the judge following close behind. Even as I considered leaving with them, the door closed and I heard the lock once more sliding into place. When I glanced back at Miss Serena, she smiled and motioned for me to sit down. I blew out a breath and nodded. Best to deal with this now, before anything else happened.
“Meg, I won’t ask you to trust me.” Miss Serena folded her hands on the tabletop. “I won’t even say I understand how you feel right now because I don’t. I can’t. But I can promise to answer your questions, at least those I know the answers to. However, Annie was right about one thing. This isn’t the best place to do so.”
The look she gave Miss Peggy spoke volumes. Whatever she had to say to me, she did not want it becoming fodder for the local grapevine. Well, that made two of us.
“Answer me one thing.” One very important thing. “How did you know my mother?”
I’m not sure what I expected. It was too much to hope that I’d wake and realize the last few weeks had never happened, that it had all been a bad dream. But that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t happen. Nothing could erase those terrible weeks, no matter how hard I prayed. All I could do was wait and hope whatever Serena Duchamp said answered at least some of the many questions currently running through my head.
“As Peggy said, your mother was a couple of years behind Bob Caldwell in school. Her family was one of the most conservative, for lack of a better word, ones in town. When your mother started showing signs of being an Other, they tried to cure her. When that didn’t work, they kicked her out of the house and told her not to come back. They weren’t going to have someone like that living under their roof and eating their food. I learned what happened when my daughter, who was in her class, came home and told me. I reached out and offered to let Faith stay with us and I offered to teach her, if she wanted. She stayed with me for four years before leaving Mossy Creek.”
I slid down the side of the counter to sit on the tile floor. Without realizing what I’d done, I drew my knees up and wrapped my arms around my legs. Then I lowered my head until my forehead rested on my knees. As I did, I remembered the one time I asked Mom about my grandparents. She seemed so sad as she told me they were dead. I’d never asked again because I didn’t want to upset her. I’d been maybe five or six at the time.
A gentle hand brushed over the top of my head. When I looked up, tears burned my eyes and emotion clogged my throat. How horrible it must have been for Mom to find herself cut off from her family simply because of what she was. The one thing I learned about Mossy Creek in the research I’d done before coming here was that it had been one of the first places in the country where the Others had officially come out. Even before then, most everyone in town knew about them and few seemed to have objected.
But that hadn’t helped Mom, here or in Maxon’s Mill.
I swallowed and pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes. When I looked up a moment later, Miss Serena knelt in front of me. Compassion filled her expression. Then, as if understanding I needed to know more, she gently helped me to my feet and guided me back to the table. Gone were the coffee mugs and my plate. Instead, a single glass of water and a second glass with what looked like a healthy jolt of bourbon in it had replaced them. Miss Serena pressed the bourbon into my hand and then reached for the glass of water. She waited, giving me time to gather my thoughts. The only problem was I wasn’t sure I wanted to gather them, much less ask any of the questions battering around in my head.
God, Mom, why didn’t you tell me?
“Her parents, are they still alive?”
And what would I do if they were?
“They are, but they don’t live here any longer.” She reached over and rested her hand on mine. A warmth seemed to spread from it, moving up my arm and then through the rest of me. As it did, some of my tension eased. “They moved back East ten years or so ago and rarely come back.”
One day, I might want to meet them but, for now, I felt empty. They had kicked their daughter out for being different. The woman sitting across from me supposedly gave her a home and training. Then, for whatever reason, Mom had left Mossy Creek and, not long after that, I’d been born. I had no idea if she had any other relatives still living in the area and I didn’t care. Not now and probably not ever. They, like my father’s family – whoever he might be – had made the choice not to be part of our lives. I wouldn’t betray my mother’s memory by reaching out to them now.
“So why, after all this time, did Mom want me to come here?”
“I have my suspicions but we can find out if you will come home with me.” Miss Serena shook her head before I could protest. “Meg, your mother did things her own way. She always did, just as she always kept her own counsel.”
That certainly described Mom.
“When we spoke, she told me about her letter to you. She also said I would receive a letter as well and she asked me not to open it until you arrived. I got that letter yesterday and I kept my word. I haven’t opened it. It is waiting for the two of us.”
I tossed back the bourbon, wincing slightly at the burn. Then I remembered I hadn’t eaten more than a few bites. It probably hadn’t been a very smart move on my part to drink the three fingers of very good liquor on an empty stomach. But, damn it, I needed the drink almost as much as I needed answers.
“All right.” I’d come this far. I might as well finish what I’d started. Something stopped me nonetheless. “If you don’t mind, I’ll meet you there. I think I’d better do as the judge suggested and stop by Annie’s office first.”
For a moment, Miss Serena didn’t say anything. Then she nodded. To my surprise, approval shone in her eyes as she looked at me. Interesting.
“Then I’ll be waiting for you.” She smiled and reached over to grasp my hand. “Annie will give you directions to my home. It’s not far. Did your mother give you my phone number?”
I shook my head. There were a number of things my mother hadn’t given me, or so I was learning. Miss Serena’s phone number was just one of them.
Before either of us could ask, Janny appeared and quickly scribbled something on a page from her order pad. Then she handed it to me. I couldn’t help but smile to see she’d made sure I had not only Miss Serena’s number but the café’s, her personal number as well as her mother’s.
“Thanks.” I folded the single sheet of paper and slipped it into my wallet. “Miss Serena, I shouldn’t be too long.”
“You take as long as you need, Meg.” She smiled, understanding reflected in her eyes.
“I’ll see you soon.”
Assuming I didn’t get on my bike and ride straight out of town.
Check in at Mad Genius Club for my post on reading, expanding genres and what writers should learn from what their readers say.