Authors: Suzanne Palmieri
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For Rosy, born a Cooper, just like me. My sailing, mermaid beauty with eyes the color of the Gulf of Mexico. You're magnificent and your mother loves you.
“I'm a Lost Witch. Are you a Lost Witch Too?”
Belladonna: (deadly nightshade): A plant to be honored and feared. It grows up to six feet tall, has green leaves, violet flowers, and shiny black berries. Use perparations to dull pain and to assist with sleep. When prepared in conjunction with the poppy it induces astral projection, flying, and the easing of childbirth. An oxymoron herb.
âNaomi Green's Book of Shadows
Seems to me, you're gonna get yourself lost, BitsyWyn. And then I'll probably be the one to have to haul your sorry ass back home.
âPatrick Whalen, sixteen years old
My mother, Naomi, always told me not to worry about trouble, that it came up behind you like a thief in the night. “Nothing you ever worry over actually happens,” she'd say. “It's the trouble you aren't expecting that gets you. And it's all around you, Bronwyn, it's all around you like the air.”
She was right.
I found out my brother Patrick was going to prison for murder while sipping my morning coffee. And if you'd asked me a second before the phone rang what I was most worried about in my life, I'd have had a list of a million things before I even thought about sweet Paddy with blood on his hands.
I was so estranged from my family in Alabama that no one saw fit to tell me he was in trouble, much less on trial. And it wasn't just any murder. He was sentenced to life for killing Charlotte, my closest friend growing up in Magnolia Creek. Worse, the state was gearing up to try him for the murder of her son, Jamie, tooÂ â¦ though his body still hadn't been found.
Such trouble. And no notice whatsoever. Not even a second of sibling sixth sense. Naomi was right, this whole mess came straight up from behind out of nowhere.
My daddy, Jackson Whalen, used to say, “Sugar, the things we hold closest to our hearts are the things we just can't seem to see.”
That man must hold everything close to his heart because he's as blind as a bat when it comes to basic human understanding. The way he ignored my mother's condition, supporting her addiction. It was madness.
And part of why I left.
My mother was a strange woman, who I'd learnedâearly onânot to trust. But I loved her. OnlyÂ â¦ love lies. It doesn't mean much when it stands alone. You need trust. Respect. And those are the things Naomi's addiction robbed her ofâthe ability for her children, Paddy and me, to trust and respect her. Family can be such a foul business.
But it wasn't all lies.
Like when she told us she'd die before we were ready to lose her. That Jackson would slip from heavy drinker to functional alcoholic. And that we couldn't stop him and didn't need to try. She sure was right about those truths.
Late at night, Paddy and I would climb into our Yankee mother's great big four-poster bed, pretending we were prince and princess in one of those fantastical Hindu epics Naomi loved to read, while the sheer canopy curtains flowed around us. And we'd snuggle up next to her feeling safe, if only for a moment.
She'd weave stories about the strange northeastern town where she grew up, and about her family, the Greens. A lonesomeness rang in her voice as she explained her magical ways, and why she tried to shut them off, like a faucet turning from hot to cold.
She told us about how some people just had magic built into them. That her family firmly believed somehow, somewhere, at the very moment when the stars first erupted with a bang, stardust settled on only a few specks of life already forming in the sea. And how those few specks evolved into people who hold all sorts of unexplainable talents. When I was little I thought it was terribly romantic, being half stardust, half Southern magnolia.
Somewhere along the way I forgot anything that reminded me of that particular romance. It was only after the phone call that I began to remember things I'd hidden deep inside the recesses of my heart.
Like, each night, after Naomi's tales of adventure and magic, when she thought surely we
be asleep, our mother would hold us close, kissing us on our foreheads and whispering softly.
She didn't whisper, “Don't leave me,” like most. No. Naomi sang us a very different lullaby. She whispered, “Run.”
Later, when we were too old for bedtime stories, I wondered about that same secret, because she never gave us the chance to run at all. She'd held us so tight, so severely, that it suffocated and sometimes scared us.
“Why does she do that, Wyn? Want us close and then push us away?” asked Paddy, who was maybe five at the time. I'm only a year older, but was determined to be a grown-up. He'd come into my room after having another one of his nightmares and I'd make a fort for the two of us by securing a blanket from a window hinge, and letting it drape down over the grand old window seat next to my bed. Then we'd hold a flashlight between us, so I could read to him.
“Paddy,” I said, “it's time for you to be a big boy and realize our mama isn't right in the head. Okay?”
He'd cry as he snuggled up next to me, letting the flashlight fall dark, leaving silvery moonlight to trace the shadows of our fear.
“I don't want to âreeleyth' that,” he said, with that baby lisp he didn't lose until he was seven. “If I do that, then who'll be my mama?”
“I will,” I'd promised. And I tried. I really did. But at the end of it all I'd run, just like she told me to. Leaving my whole life behind, even my beautiful little brother.
I ran fast and far as soon as we put Naomi in the ground. I was seventeen and never looked back. Jackson was drinking too much to keep me home, and Paddy was only sixteen. I asked him to come with me.
“Patrick Simon Whalen, you best come with me. I made a promise to you, and I can't keep up my end of the bargain if we aren't together,” I demanded, arms crossed defiantly.
Sweet Paddy just kicked at the dirt, right there at Mother's grave. “Mama
a loon. You were right, Wyn. But I'm over it now. So you go across the universe. Go'n find what you're lookin' for and then come on back. I'll be right here. Where we both belong.”
“I don't belong here anymore, Paddy. I don't know that I ever did.”
“Seems to me, you're gonna get yourself lost, BitsyWyn. And then I'll probably be the one to have to haul your sorry ass back home,” he said, with a classic Paddy glint in his eye. I still haven't figured out how he could be so irritating and so damn charming at the same time.
“First of all, I'm Bronwyn from now on, you call me BitsyWyn one more time and I'll scream. Second, my bags are already packed, Paddy. Last chance for a grand brother and sister adventure.â¦” I tried to keep my voice steady, but the pleading came right through.
He hugged me tight and wished me well, both of us being the crazy, stubborn asses we knew we were.
I didn't mean to stay away. I figured I'd get homesick and then just come crawling back to the Big House. To my handsome, laughing father, to my best friend Lottie and her brother Grant, the first true love of my life. I figured, once I'd been in the great wild world, I'd see the error of my ways and embrace Magnolia Creek with all its oddness, giving me a chance to grieve for Naomi properly.
I figured I'd miss the great Southern magnolias that grew reckless all over town. Hundreds of feet high, forty feet at their base, and older than time. Magnificent.
Now, fourteen years later, I still hadn't returned to the red dirt of Alabama. Still hadn't laid eyes on the Big House with its Doric columns and wide porches. Still hadn't walked back up the long driveway lined with live oaks dripping with moss, and a majesty that spoke of the old money my family inherited from a long line of successful lumbering.
Lumber had been good to the Whalens. Yellow pine, in particular. By the time Paddy and I were born, our father didn't have to work. He just lived off all the earnings. He was mayor and the big man around town. I've often wondered what would have been different if we hadn't been privileged. Maybe my mother wouldn't have died. At least not overdosing on an old-fashioned drug that no one could even get anymore. Opium. It wasn't a problem for Jackson, though. He could find anything.
But we can't rewrite our past. Especially if we're running away from it. And running I was.
As it turned out, Paddy's been right all those years ago. He
been the one to “haul my sorry ass” home. Just not the way either of us had intended.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
That morning, before the trouble came sneaking up behind me just like Naomi said it would, I was safely cocooned in my stable northeast life.
Ben looked calm and beautiful as he brewed yet another pot of gourmet coffee and with a large, generous smile set the mug down in front of me. His skin was smooth and dark, just like that coffee. I wanted to wrap my pale, freckled limbs around his, to let my blond curls fall down softly against his strong shoulders. Our contrasts always made my heart sing just like Coltrane's saxophone, the music we listened to every morning. The music that was playing the first time we made love. And if there's a word that truly means the opposite of awkward, something
than graceful, I'd use it to describe the day we met.
I'd been searching for a lot of things when I got to Manhattan, and I'd torn through my fair share of men on the way there, trying to find what I was looking for. The day I met Ben, I'd set my sights set on a different man altogether. A jazz musician who had a jagged scar running down his face, brow to chin. He showed up at my apartment that scorching July day, but hadn't come alone; he'd brought his bandmates. There were four or five of them, but the only one I remember is Ben. He stood out, not just because the color of his skin was different but because of that glimmer in his eyes. Some people just shine. And he seemed so at home in the heat. He reminded me of myself. Heat never wilts me. Instead, I flourish.