Occult Suspense for Mothers Boxset: The Nostalgia Effect by EJ Valson and Mother's by Michelle Read (2 ebooks for one price)

BOOK: Occult Suspense for Mothers Boxset: The Nostalgia Effect by EJ Valson and Mother's by Michelle Read (2 ebooks for one price)
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Mothers

By Michelle Read

Copyright 2014 Michelle Read

Smashwords Edition

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

“M-o-o-o-o-o-m!!!”

It was Violet
, my five-year-old daughter, capable of hitting six different octaves in one word.  Without waiting for me to answer – as usual – she barreled around the corner.

“I simply can
not
find my princess slippers!”

“They’re on your feet, dear,” I muttered
.

I wiped a stray strand of hair out of my eyes with my wrist, nearly poking myself in the eye in the process.
  She had broken my train of thought and I dropped the potato I was peeling into the trash.  I snatched it up, gave it a quick rinse, and prayed that no one would mind my garbage digging.  Looking over to see if she was still there, I couldn’t contain a huge grin. 
Daddy’s missing out,
was all I could think as I watched her.  Spinning and humming to herself, eyes closed, she was
clearly enjoying her little fantasy world.  Clad in every piece of dress-up gear she could find and half of my good jewelry, she stopped mid-turn and raised one eyebrow. 

“These are
not
my princess slippers,” she scoffed.  “These are my sparkly, high-heeled house shoes that I
have
to wear until the ugly stepmother finds my
glass slippers!

I sighed, w
hy am I always the ugly stepmother?  Can’t I be the beautiful queen who glides around the castle all day cleaning and cooking for my grateful subjects?  Wrangling the potato and the peeler in one hand, I shuffled upstairs to find the “right” shoes.  I grabbed two pink ones that lit up, having no idea what pair she was actually looking for, and presented them to her highness.  

“My lady,” I bowed
.  “Here are your slippers.”

A giggle melody
(one that I could not recreate if I tried) escaped her lips as she grabbed them and ran upstairs.

Now.  Back to my thought.

I’d been wary of meeting the neighbors since we moved here.  For the last three months, though, my husband had been on my case to “be neighborly”.

“You know – bake some cookies
or something” he kept saying.  “Make some friends, take Violet with you.  She’s always a conversation starter.”

That was
very
true, and sometimes quite exhausting.

But when was I supposed to find time to bake
Hey I’m your new neighbor
baskets?  I’d been doing nothing but unpacking for months, trying to entertain a 5-year-old in a war-zone of a home, get her ready to be a kindergartener,
and
prepare for my new position at the school.  Even if it were in my nature to be neighborly, I didn’t have time.

I hadn’t made up my mind yet how excited I was about my new job
, and resigned myself to making it through the last stretch of summer first.

Trying to please my husband, John, I eventually
decided that if I tackled one neighbor at a time it wouldn’t be that bad. Yesterday was a test run.  Ready-to-bake cookies made this easier while Violet was on a play date with my sister-in-law.  I scooped the warm cookies onto a paper plate, threw some plastic wrap around the pile, and tied it with one of Violet’s hair ribbons. 
Pretty creative
, I thought proudly.

I grabbed my keys, tripped
over a packing box that I swear wasn’t there a moment ago, and headed across the street.  Violet was at the park with her Auntie, so I could make this quick and use the excuse that I had to pick her up when I wanted to make my exit.

Meeting new people.  Ugh.

I’ve never been a social person.  I’m more of a follower, and am very much okay with no one knowing my name. 
Downright shy
would probably be the right words.  I had to visit this particular home before school got started, though, because I’d heard that the lady of the house was a pretty important member of the school PTO.  Elizabeth
Asch,
I think.

How can a parent in the PTO be such an important part of my new job
? I wondered.  Better make friends with her now . . . or at least know what she’s like.

Just across the street, I strode up her fake cobblestone path and, for the first time, noticed what a great garden she had.  Perfectly pruned bushes, an unusually symmetrical array of flowers, and little details like handmade stones with children’s handprints in them.

Balancing my plate of cheater-cookies in one hand, I quickly realized I should’ve gone with homemade.  She’s head of the PTO for crying out loud.  When I reached up to ring the bronze doorbell, I nearly broke my ankle backing off the porch.  Something had moved, no,
flown
across the window, and startled me.

I must have been daydreaming and was caught off-guard; I hadn’t been that startled in a
while
and was pretty embarrassed that I’d almost fallen off the porch.  I slid my sunglasses up into my hair and rang the doorbell.  Before I had a chance to lower my hand, the door swung gently open. 

A tall, perfectly groomed brunette tucked a stray hair behind her ear and looked me over.  She gave a practiced smile and pronounced, “You must be the new neighbor.  So good to finally meet you!”  She was
annoyingly bubbly and beaming, but looked like she’d been caught kissing the mailman or something—her cheeks were spotted with embarrassment.

“Come in, come in.  I’ve just made some, eh, cookies.”  She smiled, noting my paper plate.  For some reason I was decidedly intimidated already.

“You can never have too many cookies,” I laughed, shoving the plate awkwardly in her direction.  I stepped past her and into the house, and as I looked around I couldn’t help sulking a little.  Her house was . . . I had trouble taking it all in . . . it was
immaculate
.  Good thing she hadn’t come to visit
me
first.

While my house was filled with boxes and clutter, everything here was in place.  Everything was clean.  Everything was tidy.  There wasn’t a speck of dust
any
where.  It was a picture of what my life wasn’t at the moment.  Chaos and clutter ruled my house now, but even when we got unpacked, I knew my house would never compare to this.

The whole
twenty minutes I was at Elizabeth Asch’s house was as deeply assaulting as the moment I’d walked in the door.  While I looked around feeling inadequate - as a mother, as a housekeeper - Elizabeth
chatted casually about the unpredictable weather in Oklahoma, and about some sort of museum I should take Violet to.

I forced laughs where required and sat out the neighborly visit.  And although I was uncomfortable being in a stranger’s home, I was at least intrigued by the charm of the place.  To say that the small home was beautiful would be an understatement, for sure.  Everything that wasn’t a calming neutral color was either earthy gold or deep burgundy.  Perfectly pleated, warm toned curtains framed every window.  There was a slew of rich wood furniture, caramel-colored throws on the chairs and sofa . . . it looked like fall threw up in here.

In every corner there was some organizational theme; children’s artwork perfectly displayed, magazines spread out just so, even the cookies she eventually pulled out of the oven were like a dozen little masterpieces.  When she opened her fridge to get the tea she had offered me, she pulled out an ornate glass pitcher filled to the brim with a pale, sweet-smelling drink.  In it were slices of orange and some sprigs of something green.  It looked like it came right out of
Southern Living Magazine
.

I sighed again.

Polite small talk lasted only twenty more minutes before I pulled out the
“I have to pick up my kid”
excuse.  I jingled my keys in my palm and glanced at my watch convincingly.  Elizabeth showed me to the door and, just before I stepped out onto her porch, she assured me that her children would likely devour the cookies I’d made as soon as they were back from camp.  Recalling her cookie masterpieces, I was pretty sure they’d be in the trash when I crossed the street.

After giving one more glance around her splendid home and flashing a neighborly smile, I sulked back toward my house. 
Wow. 
She was indeed very polite, but something about her irked me.  Maybe I was just having a pity party because I longed for my life to be that put-together.  A tidy home, goodies baking in the oven, warm and ready to serve to un-announced guests.  Heck, to not be living out of boxes would be great!

Something about her sprightly manner
and her picture-perfect home really bothered me though.  Bothered me
beyond
feeling jealous, like something wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Once I was back in my own driveway – back in the real world where people don’t organize their refrigerators – I
focused on picking Violet up at the park. She had likely worn her poor Auntie smooth out, and would be hungry by now as well.

I found my favorite CD in the changer and spun the volume higher than normal.  Normally, turning up the radio in the car and belting out edgy jazz tunes is something
I would thoroughly enjoy.  Filling awkward silence or a moment to think with music is usually what helped my brain tick. It seemed like my mind was always running with a zillion things, like every mother I’m sure.  But the solace that I find in music is like no other, I can concentrate on the words or turn it all the way up and think about nothing at all.

For some reason, though, even Tony Bennett
(my favorite) wasn’t helping me today.  As I drove the few minutes to the neighborhood park, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling to be nosy.  What
had
Elizabeth been doing just before she opened the door?  Had she rushed someone out the back before answering? 

I
tried for a few minutes to get an image of the person who’d run across the window, but it had happened too quickly.
And what about the tousled hair she had quickly put back into place just as she was opening the door?
  It was so far from being my business, but I kind of enjoyed the role of inquisitive neighbor.

I r
ounded the corner and saw Kate and Violet knee-deep in the sand pile.  If anyone could convince my prim and proper sister-in-law to sit in the dirt, it was my daughter.  It looked like she was trying to tell Kate how to
correctly
build the fortress of sand around them. 

I wonder how many cats have peed in that sand
, I thought as I pulled into a parking spot.

I climbed out of the air conditioning into the blazing Oklahoma heat and found the nearest bench. 

“Having fun?” I smiled.

“Loads,”
Kate sighed—waving her arm around the sand pit as if to say
Isn’t it obvious?

“Hey, Mommy!” squeaked Violet.

Hmmmmm.  This could go one of two ways.  Fit . . . or no fit. 

I must choose my words carefully.  Since she
was already having fun, I needed to make it seem like we were going to do something even
more
fun so we could leave peacefully.

“Hey, love
.  How about we stop by the fruit stand on our way home . . .”

Her lips pursed.  She was thinking about it.

“ . . . then we’ll get dinner ready for Daddy, because he’ll be home soon.”

That was the trick.  Daddy’s little girl.  “Okay,” she sang as she leapt out of the pit, or castle, or whatever it had become.  I helped Kate to her feet.  She dusted off her fancy pants (everything is “fancy” to Kate, it’s her favorite word, so my husband and I call her “fancypants”) and we chatted lightly as we walked back to our cars.

“So how are you settling in, Erin?”

“Great,” I lied.  I was exhausted all the time and felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to unpack.

“At least you’re close by now,” she said excitedly.  “I can see Vy all the time, babysit for you, come to all her programs – I can’t believe she’s starting Kindergarten!”  Her eyes were sparkling as she spoke.  “Oh, I’m so glad you moved back.”

“Me too,” was all I could say.

“Are you excited to start at the school next month?”  Kate looked at me with a worried expression.  I guess she’d caught the twinge of pain on my face.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully, ready to think about something else.  “I’m mos
t excited to be able to peek into Violet’s class once in a while.  And it will be my first ‘real job’ since she was born, so I’m eager to see if I can fit the bill as something other than stay-at-home-mom.”

“You’ll be terrific,” she mused cheerfully as we hugged goodbye.

I plopped into the front seat.

“I’ll call you later.”

Backing out of the gravel parking lot, I pulled down my shades and thought about how I had even gotten my new job in the first place. 

When Charlotte, my best friend from high school, heard that we were moving back to Tulsa, she offered me first crack at the open position at the local school.  She is their principal and one of the kindest people I know. 

BOOK: Occult Suspense for Mothers Boxset: The Nostalgia Effect by EJ Valson and Mother's by Michelle Read (2 ebooks for one price)
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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