There are some days when life throws a curveball at you and it’s easy to hit out of the park. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly easy, but you still manage to connect your bat with the ball.
Then there are other days when not only does life send about a dozen curveballs your way, but it also manages to send a tsunami of rain in your direction as well.
This was one of those days.
I stood in Malene Frederick’s living room, staring at her. Only seconds before, Malene had pulled the bun off her head, taken off her glasses and yanked off her housecoat, revealing much younger-looking clothing beneath the billowy dress.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me that you were my grandmother?” I whispered.
Yep, that was the tsunami and curveball I was facing. I’d known Malene for years and never had an inkling that this was the case—that she was my grandma.
Malene exhaled in disappointment. I don’t know who she was disappointed in—me or her. “I should have told you. I know that. It wasn’t easy keeping this a secret from you. So many times I wanted to reveal it. But you needed to come to terms with some things first.”
Sounded like a lame excuse to me. “Because I needed time to deal with my powers, you used that as an excuse to keep this secret?”
“Let’s face it, Clem, that’s true.” Lady, my talking dog, padded over from a corner that she’d been sniffing. “You never did like your magic. You appreciate it more now, but only because John’s been helping you with it. Of course, you’ve got to figure out if you’re sweet on John or not. He is pretty cute, and he seems like he’d do just about anything for you. But he might be one of those guys that once you sleep with him, he doesn’t care about you anymore. Let me think about that for a minute.” My dog shook her head. “Nah. I think John would still want you even if you gave him a piece.”
Shame licked up my neck in the form of heat. “Can we take one problem at a time?” I snarled.
I could talk to Malene about being my grandmother, but I did not want to even think about John—or Rufus, as I knew him. And I certainly didn’t want to think about what Lady, my dog, was suggesting. What in the world? Talking dogs should be limited on what they can talk about—food and birds. They absolutely should not, under any condition, be allowed to discuss someone’s private life.
Maybe Lady needed a muzzle.
“Why do you think that you ended up here, in Peachwood?” Malene asked.
“Coincidence?” I said.
She sat on the couch and pointed to the cookies and tea she’d prepared. “Please eat.”
“I’d rather stand,” I said sharply.
All right, I get it. I should be rejoicing to find a grandmother that I never knew existed. But y’all, I had known Malene for years. Years. She’d had every chance to tell me this secret ages ago. But she’s chosen not to.
Let me just say that I was a little ticked off about the whole situation.
She nibbled on a shortbread cookie. “After your parents died, I thought that you might come here then. But you were determined to get your education, so you had focus. It was when something else happened to you, something that left a traumatic wound, that you found yourself here, in Peachwood. That was how the call of magic worked. You would arrive here when you were ready and not a moment before.”
Tears brimmed my eyes. “I needed you when Mama and Daddy died. I needed someone then. It was the perfect opportunity for you to come to me. You needed me, too. Weren’t you hurting when you discovered what had happened?”
Her eyes flared with surprise. “Of course I was. Your mother meant everything to me.”
“Then why did you have a feud with her to begin with? Why did you let your differences make such a wedge between the two of you?”
Anger and frustration burned through my veins like lava. Malene could have been part of my life years ago, but she chose not to be. When I was bruised and broken over both of my parents’ deaths, I could have used a grandmother to ease some of the pain.
She wrung her hands. “I should have told you. I’m sorry that I didn’t. But I was worried that meeting me would be too much. That it would have sent you into shock. I kept watch over you. I had people check in and tell me how you were doing.”
“So you kept tabs on me,” I said bitterly. “Wow. That makes me feel so much better.”
My attitude was disgusting even to me. It wasn’t right to be this angry and take it out on Malene. She’d never been anything but kind.
I exhaled a deep shot of air and knuckled a tear from my eyes. “I’m sorry that I’m acting like a child.”
“You ain’t acting like a child,” Lady quipped. “You’re acting like Clem.”
“Thank you, Lady.”
Wasn’t it best to have a grandmother? Before, I was alone in the world. But now I had family to share my life with. That was the lesson here, what I should be taking from this encounter.
But still a flicker of resentment flared in my belly. It told me that I should have known earlier, that it was unfair of Malene to have kept this from me. It also suggested that she might never have told me if I hadn’t found the picture of my mother on her shelf.
Of course, now that I thought about it, that might have been Malene’s way of telling me her identity. Maybe she was terrified to say the words and needed a mechanism to draw out the truth.
Maybe, just maybe, she was as broken and fragile as I was.
I forced my lips into a smile that started out tight as a rope. But after a few moments the muscles in my face and heart softened.
Was it worth it to be so angry at Malene? She’d kept the truth from me, yes. But in her mind, Malene had done what she needed to do. This woman had watched over me and made me a chocolate dessert darn near every few days just so I wouldn’t go hungry at breakfast. The least I could do was find it in my heart to forgive her and take a moment for both of us to grieve the loss of my mother.
I picked the picture I’d dropped off the floor and crossed to sit beside Malene. Her brow wrinkled in worry.
I clutched the frame to my chest. “Now, Grandma. It seems you’ve got a lot to tell me, don’t you?”
“She sure does,” Lady said, poking my leg with her nose. “Malene’s got a ton of dirt to dish, and I want to hear it all.”
I laughed and scooped Lady into my lap. “I want to know everything,” I said. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
Malene plated a cookie for me. “You know that your mother and I disagreed on a lot. Unfortunately it caused a fissure in our relationship.”
“A what?” Lady said. “A fisherman?”
“A fissure,” I explained. “A tear that’s like a seam.”
“Oh, got it.” Lady daintily took my cookie between her teeth and murmured, “Continue.”
“I didn’t know she had died until after.” Malene’s lower lip trembled. “That’s when I started keeping tabs on you. You would need guidance with your magical abilities. Since your mother hadn’t given it to you, you would have to get it from someone, so I put a little bug in your ear that if anything ever happened, you would come here, to Peachwood.”
Malene stopped. I stared at her. “Is that it?”
She nodded. “That’s it. Nothing more to say.”
“Oh, I thought the story would be longer. You know, I figured there might be a point when you tried to contact me, or maybe you dressed up in black robes and would occasionally show up for important events in my life. I’d never know who you were until now.”
She quirked a brow. “Do you remember someone like that?”
“No,” I admitted. “I don’t.”
“Good, because if you did, we might have a bigger problem on our hands.”
“How’s that?” Lady asked.
“Well, a hooded figure usually represents death,” Malene explained. “This town is just now starting to become magical again. If I have to figure out a way to beat death, we’ve got a real problem because I’m not up for the job. Clementine here would have to do it.”
I took a bite of shortbread cookie. The buttery confection crumbled in my mouth. A little moan of pleasure escaped my mouth. That was when I realized that Malene and Lady were staring at me.
“Sorry.” I brushed crumbs from my lips. “If death did show up, how exactly would I be the one to fight him?”
“With your spell-hunting abilities. That’s how.” Malene clapped my shoulder.
For an old lady she had a lot of strength. “Listen, you’ve got John for spell hunting. You don’t need me, too.”
“Nonsense. It’s in your blood.”
“Malene, I’ve got a business to run. Magical Renovations takes up all my time. I don’t have the wherewithal to add on a side gig.”
She fingered her surprisingly silky looking gray hair. “If that’s how you want be, then fine. But one day, spell hunting might save your life.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Malene took a pair of dark oval sunglasses from the table and put them on. “Suit yourself.”
“You okay? You look like you’re about to go get your eyes dilated.”
“For your information, this is my style. I’ve been keeping a low profile so that you wouldn’t find out my identity. But now that you know the truth, I can return to wearing my shades.”
“Inside?” This was baffling. “Can you even see?”
“I can see just fine. Now, finish your shortbread. I have to let the ladies know of this development—that you know who I am.”
By ladies, she meant Urleen and Norma Ray, her quilting bee buddies.
“Oh? Is our time here finished?”
Malene’s expression softened. “Of course not. Let’s have dinner tonight at the Country Buffet. But we’ve got to get there by five o’clock sharp. After six, all the old people start coming in and the place begins to smell like Depends.”
Oh, was that a thing?
“Okay. I’ll be here at—”
“Four fifty. That’ll give us time to get over there.”
I nodded. “See you then.”