I took out the sketch of the object Nana had called “Sea,” which was your typical silver bell, dotted with intricate Celtic designs that spiraled out like ripples on the surface of water. Nana described it as heavy and “flat,” meaning it never quite rang with the delicate, resonant note it was meant to have. The next sketch showed a circular clay altar plaque, “Earth,” which was vaguely shaped like an acorn. Then there was “Air,” the long, thin ritual knife used to direct energy flowing through the air. Ritual knives were also associated with fire, but I suppose my ancestors wanted to be as obvious as possible by using a magically preserved candle—“Flame”—to represent fire.
Jane joined us, poring over the sketches to see if she recognized anything. When her gaze landed on the rendering of Flame, she gasped. “Oh, no!” She clapped her hands over her face and began cursing vehemently.
“What?” I cried. “Please don’t tell me you threw it out, Jane.”
“No, nothing like that,” she promised, looking up at me with a distinct grimace. “I may have given that candle to my mama for Mother’s Day last year.”
Dick broke out of his near-catatonic staring-at-me state and let out a loud, barking laugh. “You regifted your mama something from the shop for Mother’s Day?”
“No one ever gave it to me as a gift; therefore, it is not a regift.”
“You didn’t pay for it!” Andrea protested.
“Did you see the storeroom before I got here?” Jane demanded. “Trust me, I paid for it.”
“Can we focus on the fact that Jane’s mother may be using my family’s magical heritage to decorate her guest bath? We need to get to your parents’ house before she decides to light it!”
There was a long pause, followed by Jane and Andrea laughing hysterically.
“I’m glad you two find this so amusing.”
“No, no.” Andrea giggled, wiping at her eyes. “Jane’s mama would never put something that Jane gave her as a gift in a public area of the house. Someone might see it!”
“Skeptical Nola is skeptical.” Jane snickered. She was very good at reading human facial expressions. “Trust me, I couldn’t have put it in a safer place.”
When we arrived at Jane’s parents’ perfect little brick house, a woman with a pert brown bob practically ran out the front door to greet us. I was introduced to Sherry Jameson and immediately smothered with hugs, which were only half as intrusive as the hugs Dick had showered on me when I attempted to leave the shop. Andrea threatened to “tranq-dart” him when he insisted that he would come with us, that he didn’t want to let me out of his sight just yet.
I thought she was kidding right until the moment Jane’s handsome husband, Gabriel, showed up at the shop and asked why Andrea had wanted their tranq gun. Personally, I was curious as to why Jane and Gabriel had their own tranq gun.
Mrs. Jameson was so pleased to meet a young person she could feed that she sat me down at the table and heated up a plateful of chicken pot pie. Mr. Jameson, a quiet, academic sort of man, sequestered himself against the counter, by the stove, and shared commiserating glances with his daughter. There was something off about the way he was standing. He seemed a bit pale, as if he wasn’t at his full strength.
“Is your father all right?” I whispered.
“He’s had that same pinched expression on his face ever since he retired. He spends a lot of time at home.” Jane sent a significant look at her mother.
“Come on, now, Nola, take a great big bite!” Mrs. Jameson chirped, sliding the plate in front me with near-maniacal glee.
“I actually had a really large lunch, Mrs. Jameson, and I don’t know if I’m hungry enough to eat again—”
“Oh, shush, you need some meat on your bones,” Mrs. Jameson said, nudging the plate toward me.
If you can hear me right now, Jane, I am going to smack you later, I thought while glaring at her. And despite a clear expression of discomfort on her face, she was still smirking. She could hear me.
Stop smiling like that, or I’ll do the Emergency Broadcast System beep again.
Jane’s lips twitched, but she said nothing. Still, it was very convenient having a mind-reader around. It was far more efficient than text-messaging.
“Would you like some sweet tea, Nola?”
I sighed in relief. “I’d love a good cup of tea, Mrs. Jameson, thank you.”
Mrs. Jameson fairly flitted to the refrigerator, pulled out a tall pitcher of brownish liquid, and poured a tall glass over ice. I tamped down the small flare of disappointment. I’d forgotten that hot tea wasn’t exactly the beverage of choice in Kentucky. It was no problem, really. My dad had enjoyed the odd iced tea now and then, so I accepted it graciously when Mrs. Jameson handed me the glass. I took a long sip, and a sickeningly sweet, near-syrup concoction flooded my mouth, making me choke and sputter.
Mrs. Jameson fussed and cooed, patting me on the back while I coughed.
“What is this?” I wheezed.
“Ah!” Jane said, pouring me a glass of water. “I forgot to warn you about sweet tea. It’s basically liquid cotton candy, equal parts sugar and tea. You’ll get used to it.”
I shook my head, wiping my mouth with my napkin. “No, I don’t think I will.”
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Mrs. Jameson fretted. “From now on, you should probably stick with unsweet.”
“I think I’ll stick with coffee,” I muttered.
My attention was drawn to Mr. Jameson, whose shoulders seemed hunched while he stirred a pan of sauce on the stove. I could sense a painful red buzzing somewhere in the vicinity of his head. A nagging, throbbing ache. It was almost powerful enough to distract me from the burgeoning tooth decay in my own mouth.
Can we ask your mother about the candle before she feeds me something that causes violent hives or vomiting? I thought to Jane.
Jane cleared her throat and seemed to compose the question carefully in her head before speaking. “Mama, do you remember the candle I gave you for Mother’s Day? It was a white candle with pretty symbols carved into the wax? Do you know where it is?”
Jane’s mother blanched but managed to cover it quickly. She chuckled, waving in an offhand manner. “Oh, well, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Why don’t you give me a few days to look around, and I’ll call you when I find it?”
“Actually, Mrs. Jameson, it’s really important for us to find it straightaway,” I said. “Would you mind if we looked for it?”
“Oh, honey, I can’t imagine where it is,” she protested.
“Mama, it’s important.”
Mr. Jameson cleared his throat. Mrs. Jameson snapped her head up to glare at him. “Sherry, you need to show them the closet,” Mr. Jameson told her.
“Sherry,” he said in a stern, warning tone.
Mrs. Jameson sighed. “Come with me, girls.” She pulled me gently from my chair and led us toward the stairs. “John, stir those peas,” she called over her shoulder.
Mrs. Jameson led us upstairs, past an impeccably decorated master bedroom done in mauves and creams, into a smaller guest bedroom. Jane informed me that this had been her room until she left for college. Her mother had only removed Jane’s boy-band posters and unicorn figurines the year before when Jane got married.
“Now, Jane, I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate the things that you give me,” her mother said, standing as a human shield between us and Jane’s old closet.
“Just open the door, Mama.”
Mrs. Jameson cringed as she turned the doorknob. The closet was packed floor to ceiling with various gift boxes. It was like that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark of the Covenant was packed away with rows and rows of other priceless treasures. Jane was looking at the preserved remains of every gift-giving occasion since her elementary-school days.
And given the way her mouth was hanging open, I don’t think that made her very happy.
“We just have different tastes in décor,” Mrs. Jameson offered weakly.
Instead of throwing a box-pitching tantrum, as I expected, Jane burst out laughing. She bent at the waist and guffawed like a deranged hyena. “When I think of all the time I spent in Pier One!” she exclaimed. “You’re on a strict diet of gift cards from now on.”
Mrs. Jameson bit her lip and nodded. “I think that would be best.”
“Why not just sell them at a garage sale? Or give them away?” Jane demanded.
“Well, that would be rude!” Mrs. Jameson cried.
“Bet you don’t put Jenny’s gifts in a closet,” Jane muttered.
“Don’t start that,” her mother warned her.
“OK, so are these in chronological order?” Jane sighed. “If I dig deep enough, will I find the clay handprint I made for you in kindergarten?”
Since Jane seemed to find the situation funny, Mrs. Jameson had relaxed a bit and stopped trying to wedge herself between us and her trove of rejected treasures. “No, there’s no order to it. It was sort of like playing Jenga with gift boxes. I just stacked it however it would fit.”
Jane shot an amused glance my way and rolled up her sleeves. “I hope you like tedious stacking games, Nola.”
I bloody hated Jenga.
We’d been through nearly every box in the closet, and so far, we’d found tea towels, sets of bath products in various smells, and a frightening number of angel figurines.
“I thought you collected these!” Jane exclaimed, chucking another reject over her shoulder.
“No, your grandmother used to give them to me every year, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I found them downright creepy,” Mrs. Jameson confessed with a shudder. “And then you girls got to the age when you started buying us gifts, and you sort of latched onto the angels. And by then, it was too late.”
“I need to take a break,” Jane muttered. “Mama, do you still keep the—”
“Faux Type O, red label, in the vegetable crisper,” Mrs. Jameson assured her. “Nola, can I get you something?”
“More water, please?” I asked, smiling despite the fact that my teeth still tingled a bit from the sucrose assault on my dental enamel.
I heard their voices fade as they descended the stairs. I flopped back onto the guest bed and closed my eyes. My head felt cloudy, and my nose itched from all the dust in the closet. How in the bloody hell did I get here? I wondered. Lying in some strangers’ guest room, rifling through their unwanted knickknacks. Just a few weeks ago, I’d had a normal life with a normal job. Well, seminormal. I was able to pretend well enough that Stephen hadn’t run for the hills.
Aw, hellfire, I’d forgotten to call Stephen again.
He was going to be furious with me! And rightly so. I’d been in town for days, and I had only called him once. Even after my shirtless Neanderthal neighbor mocked our relationship, I’d just sloughed off to bed and fallen asleep. This did not bode well. It boded . . . very badly.
I was starting to realize how little Stephen really fit into my life. I tried so hard to compartmentalize our time together so it wouldn’t overlap with my family life. That wasn’t healthy. I could imagine Jed sitting around with my uncles at the Black Sheep, sharing horrid, manly stories. I could see him charming my aunts in a way that didn’t make them feel condescended to. I shook off these thoughts, as they were neither likely nor productive. Nor were they fair to Stephen.
Squirming on the purple quilted bedspread, I dug my cell phone out of my jacket pocket and dialed Stephen’s number. It was ungodly early by Dublin time, but I thought perhaps I could blame exhaustion and time difference for my lack of communication. I sat up slowly as the call went to voice mail. I yawned loudly and tried to sound addled and sleepy. It wasn’t that much of a stretch.