Authors: Emilie Richards
needed to see
Janine fell silent.
“Dad hasn’t traced me here yet,” Harmony said. “And I’ve been gone for years.”
“Your dad never had as much motivation as he does now. Now he’s going to be looking for both of us, and looking hard.”
“That’s part of why you didn’t leave before, isn’t it? Because you were afraid he would double his efforts to search for
as a way to find
Janine didn’t deny it. “He will. Which is why I have to leave in the morning.” She seemed to hesitate; then, as she handed Lottie to Harmony, her voice grew softer.
“He’ll think I’ve traveled west.”
“That was part of the plan. Things were in place.”
“You mean that’s what you planned? To go west?”
“No, but he’ll think that’s what I did.”
Harmony settled Lottie in her high chair and pulled a chair up beside her. She gave the baby a plastic spoon to play with as she fed her because she was in no mood to let Lottie fling food all over the living room.
The details of Janine’s escape niggled at her, but compared to her mother’s future, the past seemed unimportant.
“If he has good reason to think you’ve gone west, then you can stay here. Has he ever said anything to make you think he knows I’m in North Carolina?”
“It’s no good, honey. I can’t risk it. If he does find you, God forbid, I don’t think he’ll hurt you if I’m not with you. You’re settled here. He knows you have friends who could come forward to protect you. If he shows up you can even tell him the truth, that I was here but I wouldn’t tell you where I was headed. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it—”
“It’s not going to come to that, because you’re going to stay with me in Asheville. Or if you absolutely refuse, then I’m going with you. Wherever you go.”
“You can’t. The only good thing about you leaving home was that I didn’t have to be afraid for both of us anymore. I can’t live that way again, being afraid all the time that he’ll show up one day and harm us both, and maybe the baby, too.”
“Does he know about the baby?”
“He’s never said anything.”
Harmony thought that answer was as good as a no, because when her father was angry, everything came out. If he’d learned about Lottie, he would have flung the baby’s birth at her mother and blamed her for not raising Harmony to be chaste.
“This is North Carolina. Rex Stoddard has no friends here, no link to the community. We’ll talk to the sheriff and ask how we can best protect ourselves.”
“We might as well call your dad and give him our address. We can’t involve the authorities. They keep records. Records can be located.” Janine came to stand beside her daughter. “That’s what I mean, honey. Those kinds of slipups are too common when more than one person is involved.”
Harmony fed Lottie another spoonful of cereal, then swiveled to face her mother. “Hasn’t he run your life long enough? Are we going to spend the rest of our days letting Rex Stoddard make all our decisions? I’m kind of out of the habit, and frankly, I’m a lot happier. Even if I know he’s still a threat, I’m willing to take my chances.”
Janine’s exhaustion was showing, her mouth drooping, her eyes puffy. “I would give almost anything to change things, but not your safety.”
Harmony could feel her mother slipping away again, and she wasn’t willing to let her. “Then you and Lottie and I will take new names, get new documents. Somebody will help with that. We’ll move to a big city where everybody’s anonymous. You can take care of her while I work.”
“No, you aren’t going to give this up.” Janine lifted a hand to indicate everything around them. “I won’t allow that. There are ways we can stay in touch. Then, after time passes, maybe if things have improved or changed significantly, we can see each other again. Find a place to meet and plan carefully.”
“You’re just going to disappear, aren’t you? Like that.” Harmony snapped her fingers. “And you think that will make things okay? That now I won’t be worried every minute? That I won’t lose sleep at night picturing you just a step ahead of him? Or dead by his hand and me not knowing?”
“No! You didn’t think this through. You’re back in my life, and no matter what you do or where you go, you can’t change what you’ve already done.” She handed a piece of whole wheat toast to Lottie and stood. “I knew what you were facing before. Do you think I ever forgot for one moment what you were going through every day back in Topeka? But I thought it was your choice, that you just didn’t have the strength to get out or maybe even the desire. Now I know you do.”
“I can’t stay here. You don’t have enough room. I know you don’t make enough money to support us both, and what hope do I have of finding a job way out here? You don’t need me for child care. I think you’ve managed that just fine. I have no place here, and it’s dangerous.”
“We’ll find a way.” Harmony nodded as she spoke. “Just tell me you’re willing to stop running. That we can stand together now, the way we used to. Tell me the mother I love, the one who raised me to be strong despite everything going on around me, is still in there. The mother who accidentally set our house on fire and still managed to escape. The one who traced me here and came to make sure I knew she was okay.”
Harmony wouldn’t let her finish. She rested her arms on her mother’s shoulders. “Tell me
mother’s going to stay here and start a whole new life. You can change your name and the color of your hair, but please don’t let that mother escape again. Promise me you won’t.”
Taylor Martin braked in the driveway of the Reynolds Farm and wished she could turn the car around and take Maddie home, where her daughter could pout and complain out of earshot. She was fairly certain that not having an audience wouldn’t actually stop Maddie—there was always a girlfriend at the end of the phone line to sympathize—but better a prepubescent peer than Taylor herself.
Instead, because Harmony was waiting for them, she came to a stop and waited for the girl to fall silent. She reminded herself that for most of Maddie’s existence, Taylor had only hoped for a normal life for her child, a life in which every move, every decision, wasn’t factored through the reality of epileptic seizures.
Now, following surgery that had transformed Maddie’s future, she had her wish. These days every move, every decision was instead factored through the normal reality of approaching adolescence. And at eleven, this was just the beginning.
“Are we finished?” she asked when the only remaining sound was the twilight serenade of crickets in the woods nearby and, from closer to the house, the grouchy bleating of a goat.
was talking, and
“You’re wrong. I heard every word you said. I am not going to leave you at home alone in the evenings when your grandfather can’t stay with you. You are only eleven, and now that we’ve moved, we don’t know our neighbors well enough to ask them to intervene in an emergency. For now, you’re going to have to buck up and go to meetings and classes with me.”
“You don’t trust me.”
Taylor turned to face her daughter’s profile. “Are you going to spoil our fun tonight? Harmony doesn’t get many chances to get away without Lottie. I think she’s looking forward to having dinner together and watching a movie. I hope she won’t regret going with us.”
Maddie said something that wasn’t audible, which was probably a good thing. Then she muttered louder, “Can I have a hamburger? I eat them in Tennessee.”
Taylor tried not to smile. She had raised her daughter to be a vegetarian. Harmony was a vegetarian. Of course eating meat in front of them would be Maddie’s revenge.
“You can have anything you want. You know that. As long as you have vegetables with it.”
“French fries are a vegetable.”
“Healthy vegetables,” Taylor amended. “I know you eat meat when you’re at your father’s house, but he tells me he’s also big on salads and cooked veggies, and he limits fried foods to special treats.”
“I liked it better when the two of you weren’t speaking.”
Actually Maddie hadn’t liked that at all, since the discord between Jeremy Larsen and Taylor had been tough on everybody. But now that her parents were on better terms, it was easier for them to present a united front, along with Jeremy’s wife, Willow, who was an excellent stepmother and followed their lead.
“You could probably stay here and help Rilla with Lottie and the boys,” Taylor said. “I could pick you up again when I drop off Harmony tonight.”
“It’s kind of weird that you two are friends now.”
“Why? We’re both goddesses. We see each other a lot.”
Taylor and Harmony were both trustees of a house in the mountains near Asheville that had been left to a small group of women by Charlotte Hale, Taylor’s mother. Because Charlotte had particularly loved the story of Kuan Yin, a Buddhist goddess who had remained on earth anonymously after death to continue helping those who suffered, they had taken the name Goddesses Anonymous for their little group. Together they tried in whatever ways they could to follow the example of Kuan Yin and help other women who might need them.
Not that any of them really thought they lived up to Kuan Yin’s standard.
think it’s weird because Harmony was friends with Grandma when you weren’t even speaking to her. You’re like...rivals.”
Taylor wondered why this had never come up before. She wondered if Maddie and her close friend Edna, daughter of Samantha, another of the goddesses, had been discussing it.
“Life is complicated,” Taylor said, and without looking she could imagine Maddie’s eyes rolling. “Here’s what you need to learn from everything that happened with Mom and me. We loved each other, but we let our differences get in the way. I held a grudge for years, almost to the end of her life, and I was wrong to do that. Very wrong. Your grandmother wanted badly for us to be close again, and when she couldn’t make that happen she kind of adopted Harmony, who needed her.”
“And you don’t feel jealous?”
Taylor did look at Maddie now and saw that she was actually engaged in the conversation, interested. Her brown hair fell around her earnest little face. “I don’t. I feel humbled.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I wish I could do something for Harmony to pay her back for what she did for Mom, Maddie. Because she really helped your grandmother feel like she had a reason to live and a place in the world, something I didn’t do until it was almost too late.”
“But she died, anyway.”
“Yeah, she did. But she died knowing she’d made a difference. And thanks to Harmony, who helped me see what a mistake I was making, your grandmother died knowing how much I loved her, despite everything. And she got to spend time with
which meant everything to her.”
“Tell me about it.” Taylor started the car again and shifted into drive. “So no, I’m not jealous. Harmony was like a bridge where your grandmother and I could meet after too many years apart. She probably doesn’t realize how much she did for us both.”
“Why did Harmony need Grandma? Doesn’t she have family?”
Taylor knew that was Harmony’s story to tell and not hers. “She couldn’t be with them. I think there are problems there.”
“The kind you had with Grandma?”
“I don’t know the whole story.”
“And now that Grandma’s gone, Harmony’s all alone?” Maddie paused and thought that through. “No, I guess she has lots of people. All the goddesses, for sure.”
“So let’s go feed her and take her to a movie. What do you say?”
“That’s pretty lame after all she did for us.” Now Maddie sounded bored.
Taylor knew their moment of communication had ended. These days her daughter was as difficult to predict as the autumn weather, and often as stormy.
“It’s a start,” she said as she drove toward the house.
Taylor had expected to meet Harmony at the Reynoldses’ house, since that was where Lottie was supposed to spend the evening, but when they pulled into the farmyard she saw that all the lights were on in the garage apartment where Harmony lived.
“I guess she’s at her own place,” she said, and parked near the base of the stairs. “She’s probably getting Lottie’s things for Rilla.”
Outside the car Taylor took a moment to stretch. She was physically active, too active sometimes, and late this afternoon before enticing Maddie into the car she had taught a ninety-minute hot yoga class in a 105-degree studio. While she had carefully hydrated before and after, she realized she was still thirsty. On top of a full morning of consulting with the contractors who were turning an old building in the River Arts District into Evolution, a brand-new health and wellness studio, she was dragging.
“I would like living in the country,” Maddie said. “Daddy and Willow do. It’s so peaceful there, and nobody bothers you.”
Taylor lifted her hair off the back of her neck and wondered if she ought to cut it boy-short again if she was going to work this hard. “Nobody bothers us at home in Asheville, either.”
“But you could leave me alone in the country and not worry.”
“Get over it, kiddo. I wouldn’t leave you alone anywhere. Let’s go get Harmony.” Taylor started toward the steps, but the grumbling Maddie didn’t follow. Velvet, Harmony’s golden retriever and the mother of their own dog, Vanilla, came around the corner, and Maddie squatted to pet her.
“We’ll be down in a few minutes,” Taylor told her, and escaped.
Upstairs on the tiny porch she heard women’s voices from inside the apartment. Assuming that Rilla was helping Harmony get Lottie ready, she waited, but when Harmony opened the door and Taylor saw an older woman who strongly resembled her friend, she wondered if she had been wrong about their plans for the night.
“Taylor...” Harmony looked surprised, too; then she shook her head. “It’s later than I thought. I lost track of the time.” She hesitated, then stepped aside and let Taylor in.