Pointing out that she didn’t get any time with me because she’d left us to go “find herself” would have been pointless, so I just said, “I’m not moving to Florida.”
“But, Nola, there’s nothing to keep you here.” Mom sniffed. “Now, I already packed your bag while your father was at work. He’ll post the rest of your things to Florida.”
“Anna, this is ridiculous. No matter how you try to strong-arm me, I won’t allow you to take her.”
“Be quiet, Martin,” she said, without even looking at him.
“I’m not moving to Florida,” I said again, my voice louder this time, begging my mother to hear me just this once.
“Oh, sweetie,” Mom said, giving her patronizing little sneer as she pushed me toward the foyer. “Stop being silly and get in the car.”
I planted my feet, and for the first time, I defied my mother. “No.”
My mother leaned in close, her dark, glassy eyes threatening to draw me in as she hissed, “Now, you listen to me. I’ve put up with your spoiled little arse for years, and now it’s time for me to collect my due. Get out to the car right quick, before I give you something to fuss over. You’d think I was trying to bloody kidnap you, the way you’re carrying on. I’m only doing what’s best for you. Now move it.” And with that, she grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me toward the door, hard.
“No. No. NO. NO. NO!” I screamed, so loudly I felt something in my throat tear. An enormous pressure squeezed my temples, and all I could think was that I wanted that pressure out of my head. I felt a snap between my eyebrows. The lightbulbs in the fixtures above my mom’s head flickered and burst, pelting her with shards of glass.
Mom’s face went paper-white, and she scrambled back away from me, against the wall. I stared back at her—she looked like a little mouse cowering in front of a snake—wondering if I could make that pressure build back up somehow. And then an angry red flush crept up my mother’s neck. She grabbed at me, nearly closing her grasping, clawlike fingers around my wrists before my dad swept me behind him.
“Get away,” he growled. “Don’t touch her. Leave, and don’t ever come back. I’m not going to let you do this to us anymore, do you hear me, Anna? Don’t come back again.”
Mom snarled at us both, her face twisted and ugly like some awful Halloween mask, and shoved past him to the front door. She slammed it behind her, and both of us let loose breaths we hadn’t realized we were holding. With my mother gone, my brain could finally process the bits of broken glass scattered around our feet, the faint smell of ozone, the small cut on my father’s cheek, presumably from the bulbs exploding over his head.
“I’m so sorry, Daddy.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”
“But what about the lights? And your face?” I sniffled. “How did that happen?”
“It’s all right, honey,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders. “It’s all right.”
I never made it to Allie’s sleepover. We moved to a different neighborhood a few weeks later. My mother wasn’t able to find our home address, and it was years before I saw her again.
That summer, Dad made more of an effort to contact my mother’s family. We flew to Ireland to meet them just before my fourteenth birthday, and I formed a special bond with Nana Fee. We flew home, and two months later, my dad was dead, the victim of a heart attack at forty-four. Nana Fee took me in and raised me, which was fortunate, considering that the number of bizarre lightbulb explosions only increased, what with teen hormonal changes and my damaged emotional state.
I was grateful to be completely immersed in the McGavocks’ loud, loving madness. I’d wanted so badly just to disappear into the family, to blend in, so no one would see me as the Yank cousin brought home to foster. It seemed easier to forget that I had a life before Kilcairy. But Nana Fee had insisted on saving a few of my father’s things when she and Aunt Penny had flown over to help me settle his affairs. It hurt so much to see his Red Sox cap, the bottle of his aftershave, and his wallet. Nana Fee had hidden these things away for me in her hope chest, for when I was ready. I’d only found them after she died.
Nana did her best to teach me to control what I could do. And I loved her for it, but I wanted no part of it. I shut myself up in logic, what I could see and control. I only accepted my natural ability because I had no choice. After seeing what my mother had become after years of practicing witchcraft, desperate and bitter, greedy for what she couldn’t have—from money to youth to power—I could live without magic.
Negotiation is a very important process to some supernatural creatures, such as gnomes, trolls, fairies, and brownies. The intricacies of this process are likely beyond the capabilities of the average human and should not be attempted. Yes, this means you.
—From Fangs to Fairy Folk:
Unusual Creatures of Midwestern North America
I woke up with stiff, sticky eyes, which was fairly typical after nights spent thinking of dear old Mum. I walked into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I looked like hell, with dark circles under the aforementioned eyes and an unhappy slant to my mouth. It was a disturbingly familiar arrangement of features that I blotted out with some blush and wide “buying these after binge drinking seemed like a good idea” sunglasses.
My magic was bottled up and restless. Considering the timing—so close to a dream of my own blessed mother—I was beginning to suspect that the binding was less a result of Penny’s actions and increasingly because of my own emotional instability. I could feel the magic itching below the surface like a phantom limb. I was completely drained of energy, listless, practically hungover from the lack of magical spark. I couldn’t so much as stir the air at the moment. And I had no idea what sort of situation I was heading into and how long this magical constipation would last.
What a wonderful time for a road trip.
I pulled my dark hair into a sloppy twist. I threw on jeans and a red tank top with some cute sandals. I grabbed my mobile and overnight bag and trudged down the stairs. I had about two hours before I had to leave town, and I was extremely curious to know how Jane and Dick planned to get my depressive arse down to Georgia.
Just as I’d reached the landing, there was a loud pounding on my door. I opened it to find Jed, wearing faded jeans, a short-sleeved button-down plaid shirt, and a contrite expression, while holding out a travel cup of coffee as if it was a shield.
“I was told keeping you caffeinated would be an important part of my survival,” he said, pressing the cup into my hand and stepping away quickly. I knew I shouldn’t have told Jane that story about punching Uncle Seamus in the throat when he tried to wake me during a fire drill at the clinic.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, sipping the coffee and willing the caffeine to flood my brain with sense and energy.
“Andrea Cheney called me late last night and said you needed someone to drive to Georgia with you. And unlike your car, my truck has a good chance of makin’ it past the town limits without the engine fallin’ out.”
“Why would you agree to this?” I asked. “Don’t you have better things to do with your Saturday?
Jed shrugged. “Why not? I like to drive. I think Andrea liked the idea of you having someone around to keep Zeb’s family in line if things got rough. And when my landlord asks a favor of me, I hop to.”
“How rough could his family be?” I scoffed.
“I saw the video from the Lavelle twins’ christening. Don’t even joke about it.”
I was fairly average in height, and it still took a boost from Jed to crawl into the cab of his truck. There were moving vans in Ireland that weren’t this large. When had American vehicles become such an . . . overcompensation? Still, the interior smelled pleasantly of pine air freshener and the woodsy aftershave Jed used. The seats had been recently vacuumed, and the dashboard shone. Had he gone out and cleaned the truck because he knew I would be riding in it all day . . . or because Dick had threatened him when he made his “request” and told him to treat me with kid gloves? I wasn’t sure which was the preferable, less invasive alternative.
I slid my sunglasses up on my nose, sipped my coffee, and rested my head against the seat, willing the vague headache located just above my eyebrows to go away. Jed seemed to sense that I needed quiet, so he remained silent as we coasted smoothly out of town, over the Tennessee River, and into central Kentucky. He eventually switched on a country-western station playing old Loretta Lynn songs. He asked about working in Boston, and I had to scramble for an answer. From what I remembered, my dad worked a lot of night shifts, and the morning commutes were a bear.
I repeated stories Dad had told me about working in the hospital where he practiced emergency medicine. Unfortunately, most of these stories had been edited for younger audiences, so they weren’t terribly interesting. But the more I talked, the more I was able to focus on the world rolling past the truck windows. We rolled through towns that were barely towns at all, just a few buildings cobbled together on a street, usually situated around railroad tracks. And then we drove through Nashville, bustling and alive with traffic and noise. And as soon as you adjusted to the urban landscape, boom, back in farm country.
The landscape was so different from the hills and seascape surrounding Kilcairy. Instead of the relentless emerald I was used to, there were dozens of shades of textured green. Instead of rolling, gentle hills that eventually rose into peaks, mountains seemed to spring up from nowhere. There were sections of road that took my breath away, random patches of bright-red poppies growing between the lanes, rushing creeks, and the occasional random monument in the middle of a cow pasture. Throughout this landscape were little neighborhoods of house trailers, long metal boxes with windows.
“Haven’t you ever seen them before?” Jed asked as I stared at another configuration of trailers on a hill.
“On television, maybe, but never up close. They look so small from here.”
“It’s not so bad. I grew up in one.”
“What was that like?”
“Crowded,” he admitted. “I have this huge family: three brothers, a sister, and myself. We played outside just so we could breathe our own air.”
“Did you all get along?”
“For the most part. I’m closest with my oldest brother, Jim. Sometimes the extended family was a different story. We argue over the usual stuff, you know, who borrowed whose lawnmower, who pinched whose wife’s ass at Christmas.”
“Actually, I don’t believe ass pinching comes up in normal family discourse.”
“Well, you’re a Yankee. Who knows what y’all talk about,” he said. “We moved from Louisiana to Tennessee about three generations ago, and my grandpa never quite got over it. He’s still pissed about it, to be honest with you, says he misses the bayou. It’s funny, ’cause he was a baby when the family moved away. He never really lived on the bayou. We’re the only family in Hazeltine with semi-Cajun accents. Anyway, we all settled on this farm in the 1920s. There was a main house, where my great-grandparents lived, and then we built a sort of complex of trailers around it.”
“I can sympathize,” I told him. “My family lives close together, too. Do you miss them?”
“Sometimes,” he admitted. “But there are other times when I appreciate having all those rooms to myself in the Hollow. Not being able to see the inside of my house from one end to the other is a good thing.”
“Gets a little lonely, though,” I mused. “Do you have a young possum enthusiast waiting for you back home? I have noticed the distinct lack of Hollow girls doing the walk of shame from your front door.”