Authors: Rachael Craw
Then something flashes behind my eyes, a waking vision felt through someone else’s skin, a memory that isn’t my own. A sunlit room, a warm embrace. The same words but my mother’s voice, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you.” The brief moment disorientates me, vivid to the point of tangible and then gone. I’m back in the bathroom, in Miriam’s arms.
Now I’m hallucinating?
I can’t hold back my tears. I drop my face to her shoulder and sob.
“It’s okay.” She strokes my back. “You’re okay. Everything will be okay.”
It isn’t. I’m not. Nothing will be.
“Buffy!” I miss her collar, nearly ramming my head into the refrigerator. Black satanic fluff blurs between my bare feet, skidding before making the sharp turn to the laundry. “Feathers.” I groan, dabbing a single dun-coloured plume with the tip of my finger. “She’s got a bird.”
“A mouse and I would’ve thanked her.” Miriam puts her spatula down, a mound of yellow eggs left to sizzle on the grill. “Now, I have to go. Breakfast is ready. Please, for the love of sanity, eat.”
I look for the time on the microwave. “What about your leg?”
“I’m just going over proofs with clients. I’ll be sitting all morning.” She grabs her handbag from the table and shrugs her coat on. She looks too good for someone on less than four hours sleep. Hair. Face. High heels? That seems reckless after the night before.
“And don’t forget I’m shooting the Governor’s Ball tonight.” She pats her pockets. “I wish you’d come. I could use help lugging equipment. Besides, it would be good for you to get out, meet some people. The Gallaghers will be there.”
I give her my you-must-be-out-of-your-mind look.
She gives me her what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you look.
I turn to the laundry.
“You can’t reason with a cat in that state,” she says. “She may be one hundred and six but the little vampire slayer’s still got her edge.”
A reasonable person would leave it, but I go after the cat where she hides between the washer and dryer. I get down on my knees, peering through the fluff and darkness. Green eyes shine back at me. I imagine the frenetic heartbeat of the bird. “Buffy, come on, be good.”
A guttural growl rumbles back at me.
“Haven’t changed, have you?” Miriam sighs, jingling her keys. “You used to cry watching
“Not helping.” I love this stupid cat, and not just because it’s Mom’s, but the poor bird. I reach for the scruff of Buffy’s neck. “Ouch!” I yank my hand back; a thin red trench gleams on my knuckle. Frustration sits in my chest like a hot brick. I stand up, sucking on the wound, wincing at the sting, and glare at my aunt. “Could you at least help me shift the washer? There’s still time.”
“Let it go, kiddo. It’s too late. Cats eat birds. It’s nature.” She opens the back door and warm air swims in around my legs. “See you at one. We’ll go find you some clothes that fit. Maybe a dress.”
She slips out the door and I stand there like an idiot with my stinging hand and my stinging eyes, listening to her heels clip-clop down the steep back steps. “You are completely heartless!” But I can’t make out her reply. Soon comes the
of the car door and the consumptive hacking of the Volkswagen.
A feeble tweet echoes up from the floor, then Buffy’s feral hiss. “Nature sucks,” I mutter, hating the constriction in my throat and the twist of deeper feelings I can’t name. Suddenly furious, I grab the washing machine with a surge of energy and shove. There’s a loud crack against the wall then a bone-rattling thump on the floorboards. The light bulb above me makes a tinkling noise – a small explosion. Tiny glass shards fall about my head and shoulders, and Buffy bolts through the flap to the backyard, the bird still in her mouth. My pulse skips. My spine zip-zaps. Everything appears painfully bright. I squint against the sharpness of the light, shaking glass out of my hair. “Oh, crap.”
The hole in the wall, about a hand’s breadth in diameter, gapes easily a foot higher than the washer stands. Dry mouthed, I stare at the chipped paint where the corner of the washer has broken the plasterboard. How the hell did I lift it like it was nothing more than a cardboard box? And what about the light bulb? I must have damaged wiring in the wall, creating some kind of power surge, but I can’t spot any wires. I grab the jumbo tub of washing powder and position it to conceal the hole, wondering how I’ll explain it to Miriam.
Dizzy and rubbing my eyes, I step back into the kitchen. Everything pulses in high definition: the panelled ceiling, the jars of last season’s preserves, the cast-iron oven where it sits in the cavity of the old chimney, the wooden countertops, everything.
Am I having a stroke?
I go to the cupboard by the sink. The pewter knob snaps off in my trembling hand. I manage to work the cupboard open with my fingertips. I take a glass and turn the faucet. The glass cracks, collapsing inwards, grazing my thumb, clattering in the drain. I frown at the broken pieces, the cupboard, the laundry door. “What is this?”
I drink straight from the faucet and splash my face, trying to pull myself together. In the windowpane above the sink, I look paler than usual; the freckles on my nose stand out. My dark hair hangs lank past my shoulders. It desperately needs washing. I look gaunt and tired. All this is familiar, but my eyes, my messy eyes – blue, green, flecked with gold and black – aren’t the eyes that look back at me. I lean closer, a prickling feeling at the nape of my neck. They’re even darker than Miriam’s, as though the pupils have expanded, eclipsing the irises. Solid pools of black.
I close my eyes and rub my face.
Seizure, epilepsy, tumour, brain cancer?
The options grow wider and worse.
The phone rings and I shake myself. I blink once, twice, and the strange high definition effect recedes. I check my reflection in the window; my messy eyes are back. “You are losing your mind, Everton. Rein it in.”
I exhale and go to find the phone. It sits in the hall on a cramped table beneath Nan’s statue of the Virgin, one of the nostalgic fingerprints Miriam left untouched when she reclaimed her childhood home. I lift the handset. “Everton Images. Evangeline speaking.”
“It’s me. I’m home. Flight was a bloody nightmare. Six crying babies, I mean to say. Six!”
I lean my forehead on the bookcase and grin, gently wiping dust from the Virgin’s robe with my finger. “Sounds nasty.”
“It was.” Kitty’s accent, crisp and round from the first ten years of her life in England. “Honestly, I’m dead.”
She makes a strangled sound. “Evs. Hell. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” I turn and sit at the bottom of the stairs, let Kitty apologise a couple more times – get it out of her system – and throw myself in the first gap to ask about London. She’s been doing time with her famously abrasive Uncle Jeremy, getting a taste for the family textiles business, which Jeremy heads in the UK and Leonard heads in the States. It’s expected of the Gallagher children, like some high-powered work experience thing – supposed to help them decide on their focus for senior year and their majors for college, with the prospect of finding their niche in the business after graduation. I struggle to imagine such a well-planned life.
“Uncle Jeremy’s such a bloody schemer. He’s got me pegged for legal, but Dad’s always fancied me in trade.”
“I love how you say that like I have a clue what it means.”
She grumbles. “It means they’ll both be pissed off because I don’t want either.”
My eyebrows spring up. “Have you told them that?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I actually want to enjoy my summer.”
I snort and she launches into a wandering rant based on the trials of being a Gallagher heiress. I usually hear a version of it at least once a summer, or whatever holiday it is that we end up sharing. Kitty and I have been holiday buddies since she was eleven and I was ten. When they moved back to the States, Barb had been determined to throw us together. While Kitty’s vacation spots ranged through European capitals, mine was always New Hampshire, with the occasional summer camp at this lake or that. I can’t even imagine a summer that doesn’t involve Nan and Pop’s old house, the forest around it, the familiar mountains and the wild Border River that circles the small town of Burton. I can’t imagine a summer that doesn’t involve the Gallaghers, though I could happily erase one of them.
“Jamie’s taking the heat off me, thankfully,” Kitty says, as though she’s sensed my thoughts have strayed to her brother. “He’s told them outright he doesn’t want a bar of textiles. Dad’s on the warpath.”
“Really?” I wish I wasn’t interested.
“Says he wants to build boats and that doesn’t require an MBA.”
“Then what’s he been doing in Berlin for the last year?” I can’t keep up with the twins’ complicated education. Barb, a New England WASP, insisted her children have some time at her alma mater here in New Hampshire – Gainsborough Collegiate, where she and Mom had become the best of friends – but Leonard’s ties were in the UK, Eton, Oxford, land and titles. Apparently, Jamie’s year boarding with his uncle hadn’t gone well.
“Who knows? Uncle Jeremy sorted it out. Some uber-international school. Probably a bribe. Here are some mountains and lakes, lad. Ski. Sail. Get it out of your system, then when you’re all safely graduated come and be a good boy at Oxford.”
“You think he’ll cave?”
Kitty sighs. “Don’t know what his problem is. I guess he must have had a really miserable time at Eton for them to pull him out and pack him off to Germany. Bloody waste of time. He was perfectly happy at Gainsborough with me.”
I can’t imagine Jamie struggling anywhere. He’s naturally popular, looking like he does, with his family as it is. Athletic, easy going, funny – if you liked bastards. Aces any subject he looks at. On what basis would Jamie Gallagher, heir to a multi-billion dollar textiles empire, ever find himself miserable?
“Boats, then,” I say. “Guess it could be worse.”
Kitty snorts. “Listen to you, all magnanimous and whatnot.”
“I thought you’d be spitting.”
“What do I care if Jamie wants to build boats?”
“I meant about him coming home.”
My stomach flips and I press a hand to my eyes. “Ah, crap.”
“He gets in this afternoon. In time for the Governor’s Ball thing. Didn’t Barb say about Jamie?”
It always jars me to hear Kitty call her mother by her first name but it is Barb’s rule. It jars me more to imagine facing Jamie.
She chuckles. “Well, I suppose she wouldn’t want to put you off.”
I groan. The phone feels too hot against my ear and I swap sides.
“You will come to the ball though, won’t you?”
“Not even to see me?”
“You could meet my friends.”
“Right,” I choke. “Hey everybody, this is Evie. She has no money and has never been anywhere, but please be nice to her, her father doesn’t know she exists and her mom’s just died.” Kitty always loved the lurid mythology of my conception: April on a college bender waking up with a foreign exchange student in her dorm-room bed. He shipped out after the one-night stand. She didn’t even have a name to follow up when I appeared on the radar a few weeks later. All a bit hard to imagine, growing up with my pathologically sensible mother.
“Everybody loves a poor orphan.”
She heaves a colossal sigh. “You suck.”
Eventually she gives up bullying me and starts in on school and subject options. I pretend to listen but my brain churns:
. I finger the tiny scar in my hairline, the mark of our first encounter when he “slipped” and pushed me in the river. Head versus rock and the rock won – a blinding
then a watery blackout. He dragged me out – not that I remembered – but the sharp pain, coming round on the bank, the spitting up water, the abrupt end to our families’ picnic and the stitches afterwards were clear as day. It’s one of the only times I ever saw those grey eyes express fear, as he peered down at me, his dark gold hair dripping water into my eyes.
I let Kitty talk on, shaking my head. Was it really eight years ago? I had such sky-high expectations that summer with the Gallaghers moving from London; the prospect of ready-made holiday friends – glamorous, exotic friends, with accents and everything, whose family home may as well have been Disneyland. But I can’t smile at the memory, not when there’s a present-day threat. Jamie. Home. This afternoon. My chest feels all fluttery. I want to get back into bed and put my head under a pillow.
Kitty says something derogatory about Burton Central High School and I try to tune in.
“You should seriously consider it,” she says. “You’re the year-ahead-brainiac, you could easily get a scholarship.”
“Scholarship? BC’s a state school, Kit.”
“No, you numpty, Gainsborough Collegiate.”
Illustrious in name and notorious in price. Nan and Pop worked themselves to the bone to put Mom and Miriam through the school, but it’s well out of my price range. “As if. And I’m no brainiac. Being forced up a grade at seven was an optimistic failure by the state.”
“But it’s utterly ridiculous for us to be living in the same town, for once in our lives, and not be going to school together.”
“If you’re that worried about it, ditch Gainsborough and slum it with me.”
“Snob.” I chuckle. “Our whole relationship is based on seeing each other during school holidays. It would all fall apart if we were in each other’s pockets every day. We’d be sick to death of each other.”
“I suppose that’s true. We’ve only been on the phone half an hour and I’m already fed up.”
There are more hunting and fishing shops than fashion boutiques in Burton, but I keep my whining to a minimum and let Miriam lead me through the handful of clothing stores that dot Main Street. I’m not against shopping. I love to shop. I undoubtedly need new clothes. It just makes me uncomfortable to see Miriam hand over her credit card. When we come to the counter at a denim outlet, I cringe at the cash register’s tally.