Read A Tangle of Knots Online

Authors: Lisa Graff

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes

A Tangle of Knots (6 page)

BOOK: A Tangle of Knots
11.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



—the seventh and final day of her trial period with a new family. But here she was, one week in with Toby. And everything was going swimmingly. Well, maybe not
but . . . fine. Far from grand, but not horrible, either.

Truth be told, Toby didn’t talk much. Reserved, Miss Mallory would have called him—like a table at a fancy restaurant where only a select few could sit and chat. And that made it difficult to get to know him, to figure out what might make their new little family go from
But Cady had a secret weapon. That very morning, while Toby was off on his airport run, Cady had baked him a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. She wasn’t entirely sure if it was Toby’s
cake, but it was worth a try. She could smell it now, sweet and luscious and minutes from ready, as she searched for wildflowers between the Emporium’s cracked porch slats.

The good news was that Miss Mallory had not yet come to retrieve Cady from her new home, as she’d done with all of Cady’s previous trial families. And if Cady could hang on just a few hours more, then that very night, at the Fifty-Third Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff, Miss Mallory would officially declare whether or not Cady and Toby were a perfect match for each other. Whether Cady could finally have her own Adoption Day party and bake her own cake.

It was a big day indeed, and not just because it was the first time Cady had ever managed to use both of her guest tickets for the bakeoff. Cady tried to soothe the ache she felt in her chest, dull and worrying, whenever she thought too hard about leaving Miss Mallory and the orphanage for good. A worrying ache seemed a small price to pay for a perfect family.

As Cady plucked a yellow dandelion from a mess of weeds outside the Emporium’s front door, Mrs. Asher’s dusty red hatchback pulled to a stop in the driveway (the only car there beside the Owner’s). Cady raced to greet her.

“Hello, there, sweetie,” Mrs. Asher said, tucking the red whatever-it-was that she’d been knitting under one arm. She gave Cady a quick hug and hurried to the other side of the car to open the passenger’s door. “Cady, this is V.” Cady took a long look at the woman sitting in the passenger’s seat, staring through the windshield at the Emporium. She was a mystery fudge cake, Cady was sure of it—a circular chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center hidden inside it. “She doesn’t talk. Take this bag, will you? Thanks.”

“Do you need help getting her settled?” Cady asked, taking the bag of groceries Mrs. Asher handed her.

“I think we’ll be okay,” Mrs. Asher said. “You wouldn’t happen to know where my children are, would you?”

“Marigold’s practicing oboe”—Cady flicked an elbow toward an upstairs window, from which faint, stilted notes of music had been puttering for the last several minutes—“but I don’t know about Zane and Will.”

“Well, at least I can count on
of my children to do what she’s supposed to.” Mrs. Asher tugged a duffel bag out of the backseat. “You haven’t seen my hairpin, by any chance?”

“Your hairpin?” Cady asked, finally realizing what it was about Mrs. Asher that seemed so different this morning. With her brown curls strewn wildly about her face, instead of tightly up in a bun the way they’d been all week, Mrs. Asher somehow looked a decade older. (Although perhaps, Cady thought, that had more to do with the whole moving-to-a-lost-luggage-store-with-three-children-while-her-husband-found-a-summer-job-in-New-Jersey-to-pay-for-the-repairs-to-their-apartment-from-a-rogue-hot-air-balloon-attack situation.) “I haven’t seen it,” Cady told her. “Sorry.”

“I’ve never misplaced the thing. Not once in eleven years. But I guess with all the commotion this week I must’ve . . .” She sniffed the air. “Are you baking a cake?” Cady nodded. “It smells delicious. Marigold loved the one you made her, you know.”

Cady smiled. She’d baked Marigold a lime pound cake the day the Ashers had moved in last week, and the girls had been fast friends ever since.

In the passenger’s seat, V finally seemed to snap out of her trance. She held the duffel bag while Mrs. Asher helped her with her seat belt.

“What kind of cake are you making today?” Mrs. Asher asked.

Cady shifted the groceries to her hip and twirled the small bunch of yellow wildflowers in her left hand, watching the petals spin in dizzy circles. They were nothing like the dazzling purple petunias and multicolored pansies Miss Mallory cared for at the Home for Lost Girls, but they made Cady ache just the slightest for the place all the same. She looked up at Mrs. Asher. “Did you know you’re a honey cake?” she said. “Rich with dark sweetness, and a surprising kick of spices.”

Mrs. Asher helped V to her feet. “That is just
” she said, shaking her head. “You’re right, that does sound like exactly the perfect cake.”

Cady looked down at her feet. “I’ll have to make it for you sometime.”

She felt the warm hand on her shoulder before she saw it. “Sweetheart?” Mrs. Asher said. “Everything okay?”

Cady bit her bottom lip. “I just want Toby to be happy with me, is all.” What if the
he was so reserved was that Cady wasn’t the daughter he’d always dreamed of? What if, tonight at the bakeoff, he told Miss Mallory to go ahead and take Cady back?

Mrs. Asher opened her mouth to reply, but just at that moment, the wordless woman—V—made a noise like a startled horse. She dropped her duffel bag, right in the dirt, and when Cady looked up, she saw that the woman was staring at her.

V bolted for the Emporium door.

“Oh dear,” Mrs. Asher said, rescuing the duffel. Her gaze followed V to the door.
went the wood against the frame. “She’s had a difficult week,” she told Cady.

Cady nodded.

“Before I forget . . .” Mrs. Asher hoisted the duffel to her shoulder and drew the red whatever-it-might-be from underneath her arm. With quick fingers she worked the needles through the yarn, finishing off the last row of loops, then snipped the loose end with a pair of scissors she pulled from who knew where. She traded the object to Cady for the bag of groceries. “This is for you.”

It was a knitted red apron, perfect for cake-baking. Cady ran her fingers over the knotty red flowers stitched into it. It was the first piece of clothing that anyone had ever made her. “Thank you,” she said.

Mrs. Asher squeezed her hand. “Of course. And Cady?” Cady looked up from the apron. “All a parent really wants from his child is her happiness. So if you’re happy, Toby will be, too.”

* * * 

Cady was bending down to pick a particularly beautiful wildflower when she saw the plume of dirt curling down Argyle Road. At the far end of the drive, Cady could just make out a man on a bicycle, kicking up more and more dust as he headed ever closer. The man was huge, towering, even on a bicycle (although he rode it well). He was wearing a gray suit. And no matter how hard Cady squinted, she couldn’t determine the man’s age. He might have been forty, he might have been older.

There was a single powder blue suitcase strapped to the back of his bicycle.

The man rode right up to the front door. He swung a leg easily over the center bar of his bike and leaned the contraption against a dying hedge. “Good morning,” he greeted Cady, unhooking the suitcase from the back.

“Morning,” Cady replied.

The man bent down and picked up the flowers Cady hadn’t realized she’d dropped. He handed them to her, a sideways sort of grin on his face. It was a grin that suggested he knew more about the world than he was letting on.

From the bottom of his suit jacket, she could make out several bits of knotted rope.

“Thanks,” Cady said, taking the flowers.

“It’s a funny thing, Fate.”

Cady looked up from her flowers.

“There’s no controlling what Fate hands you,” the man went on, pulling the suitcase to his side. It was a very old suitcase, boxy and large as a small child, with worn corners and three small dimples near the left clasp. “And in my experience, it rarely seems to give you exactly what you need at the exact moment that you need it.”

Cady wrinkled her eyebrows. “Sir?” she said. Maybe he thought she was someone else.

“Just remember this,” he said. “It’s the way we deal with what Fate hands us that defines who we are.”

“Uh, sure,” Cady said, turning her attention back to her wildflowers. Maybe she’d find some more blossoms in the backyard. “I’ll keep that in mi—”

But when she looked up again, the man in the gray suit was no longer there.



Caroline. It was a common phenomenon, she’d been told, among parents who had lost their children. A photo in a magazine might remind her of Caroline’s high school graduation, the way she’d mugged for the camera like she just
this was the beginning of a fabulous adventure. A woman she passed in the grocery store might make V recall the last night she ever saw her—the way Caroline’s secret smile should have hinted that she was about to run off to elope with a man her mother had never met (a “real charmer,” that’s about as much as Caroline would ever divulge about him). But no matter how many times it happened, the sting never lessened. When V had set eyes on the crow-haired girl with the flowers . . . it was too much.

The door slammed shut against its frame as V stepped inside what she had surmised would be her new home. She took a slow look around. Racks of clothes, shelves of books, shoes, tennis rackets. This certainly wasn’t a peanut butter factory anymore.

V had recognized the property immediately, as soon as it had appeared through the trees at the end of the long dirt road. The large white two-story building with the turrets on either side was a little worse for wear, maybe, but it was, without a doubt, the very same building from the old pictures on the jars. The Darlington Peanut Butter Factory. The roof of V’s mouth watered even now with the memories.

There had never been anything like a jar of Darlington peanut butter. As soon as a dollop hit your tongue, your entire body melted into happiness. As a young girl, V hadn’t been able to get enough of the stuff. Her parents hadn’t, either. The whole town was nuts for it. The whole state. The factory could hardly churn out jars quickly enough, people bought so many. But the most amazing part of the whole operation—V remembered the stories distinctly—was that the factory’s owner, the maker of every jar of peanut butter the place produced, had been Fair. She had not even a wisp of Talent, that’s what they said, and yet somehow she had managed to stumble upon the world’s most perfect peanut butter recipe. Thousands had tried to replicate it, but no one ever could. The Darlingtons kept the secret carefully guarded.

And then, suddenly, when V had been just a little girl, the factory had shut down. There was outrage throughout the town. Schoolchildren went on hunger strikes, refusing to eat their lunches. But it didn’t make any difference.

There was no more peanut butter.

Rumor had it that the peanut butter maker’s husband—a stodgy, surly type—shut down the factory after his wife’s death, purely out of spite. Others swore that the woman’s good-for-nothing son had gambled away the family’s entire fortune.

V sighed, touching two fingers to her locket. Whatever the reason the factory had shut down all those years ago, it was a shame. She could very much use a taste of happiness at the moment.

The smell of vanilla and butter (a cake, perhaps?) guided V past the front door, and a soft melody, broken and stilted but beautiful all the same (an oboe?), led her farther into the room. There was a man not much older than she was, with salt-and-pepper hair, floating behind the large circular countertop in the center of the room. V might have supposed he was the owner of the establishment, except that he didn’t seem to care at all about her presence. He was picking at his teeth with an enormous toothpick, and his nose was deep in a book V was quite familiar with. She recognized it by the color and contours of the words traipsing down the spine. But the words themselves? They might as well have been Spanish. Greek. Smashed ants on the page.

V sighed and drifted aimlessly up the stairs.

BOOK: A Tangle of Knots
11.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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