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By Alana Church
Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2018 Alana Church
~~ All characters in this book are over 18. ~~
“No, Carol. Absolutely not. I will not have her in my house.”
Carol Perry frowned at her husband. “Frank, she’s my sister. How can I tell her no?”
“That girl,” he said, “is nothing but trouble.”
“And are you talking about Moira? Or Morgan?”
“Moira,” he growled.
His wife shook her head, though she tried to hide a smile. “You’ve never liked her. I don’t get it.”
“Don’t get it? Carol, she nearly ruined our marriage!”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” she said. “It was an honest mistake. She apologized a dozen times. Besides,” she said. “Nothing happened anyway. You made sure of that.”
“Right,” he scoffed. “Your sister just happened to go into the wrong bedroom and climb into bed with me. To say nothing of what she tried to do once she got there.”
Carol sighed. She loved her husband to death. But Frank’s conservative upbringing colored every facet of his personality. Usually, that wasn’t a bad thing. Unlike many of her married friends, she had never worried about another woman tempting him away. When he took his marriage vows, he had meant them.
But when it came to her wild-spirited sister, Frank could become more than a little…unreasonable. He didn’t approve of her religion, her lifestyle, her choice of friends, or really much of anything that Moira did. He never had. And the fact that she had mistakenly slipped into their bedroom in the ski lodge on a family vacation a few years back had only cemented his low opinion of her.
“Hell,” her husband went on, his lips pinched tight in disapproval, “we don’t even know who Morgan’s father is. And that crazy religion of hers – it’s ridiculous. Half voodoo and half bullcrap, if you ask me.”
“Not everyone can be a Methodist, Frank,” she smiled.
Everyone should, his expression said.
“Her daughter,” he said disapprovingly, “was born out of wedlock.”
Which was, unfortunately, nothing more than the truth. Carol sighed. Moira Bertram, despite top-notch grades, had sneered at the idea of wasting four years of her life away at college, unlike her older sister, choosing instead to travel the country. After nearly a year, during which contact with her had been sporadic at best, she had returned home to Wisconsin, visibly pregnant, and declared to her stunned family that she had converted from her parents’ relaxed Lutheran religion to Wicca.
And all inquiries into her child’s parentage were rebuffed. If Moira was in a good mood, she would make up outrageous lies about who the father was, each one more unlikely than the last – from Elvis to Benedict Cumberbatch to a hobo she met outside a truck stop in Joplin, Missouri. But if she was in a bad mood, any prying got nothing more than a curt, “none of your damn business.”
The closest Carol thought she had ever come to getting the truth out of her headstrong sister was on the night Morgan had been born. Moira was lying in her bed at the hospital, nursing her baby, and Frank had gone out to get some water for the two women.
“Maybe my car was broken down late one night,” Moira said in response to her question, running a gentle finger over the fringe of strawberry-blond fuzz that peeked out from under the knit cap that rested on her daughter’s head. Her voice was soft. “And I made a deal with the devil at the crossroads. One night with him for a ride to town and enough cash to repair the car.”
A chill crept up Carol’s spine, and she crossed her arms over her belly, where her unborn twins were quietly sleeping, still a good three months away from term. “Really?”
Moira looked up, and a madcap twinkle entered her little sister’s eyes. “Well, if I did, it was the best bargain I ever made. I got a beautiful baby girl out of it, and he was the best lay I ever had.”
Carol had laughed, and the moment passed.
And now, nearly twenty years later, she crossed her arms across her chest and let a hint of steel, rarely used with her husband, enter her voice. “You listen to me, Franklin Jay Perry. I know you have issues with Moira. But I am not going to tell my only sister that my husband won’t allow my only niece to stay with us while she’s out of the country. Do you hear me?”
Frank took a deep breath, as if he were going to argue, but then obviously thought better of it. When he spoke, the peevish tone in his voice was much reduced. “How long?”
“It’s only for a few weeks.” She walked over to her husband, giving him a hug. She loved him, she truly did, and she breathed in his scent as he wrapped his arms around her. Even after two decades of marriage, the feel of his body against hers still made her feel warm and tingly inside. “It’s summer vacation. Morgan and John and Jasmine can spend some time together, and I would like to get to know my niece a little better. We don’t see her and Moira often enough.” She tactfully neglected to mention that it was Frank’s stiff-necked refusal to give her little sister the benefit of the doubt which had caused the rupture in their family to begin with, a rupture that was further exacerbated any time the two of them got within spitting distance of each other. Her husband could be counted on to rant on about sin, and her sister, to be perfectly honest about things, egged him on with her gleeful mockery of many of the more hypocritical facets of organized religion. The two got on like oil and water. Or, to be even more blunt, like gasoline and matches.
“All right.” His grudging acquiescence stirred the hair on her head as he took a deep breath. “Who knows? Maybe living around a pair of civilized teenagers will teach Morgan a thing or two. If,” he went on, “she doesn’t corrupt them with her godless ways.”
“I’m sure John and Jasmine will be fine,” she said firmly, though she was smiling like a squirrel with an acorn in each cheek.
Her niece was coming for a visit!
A few days later, Moira and Morgan arrived, driving up from Chicago, where they lived in an expensive home in one of the more well-to-do suburbs north of the city.
“John!” Jasmine said, bursting into her brother’s room. “They’re almost…” She looked around. “Hey. Where are you?”
“In here,” came her brother’s voice from the bathroom they grudgingly shared. In a few seconds, her brother emerged, wiping his hands dry on a towel. “Knock on the door next time, will you? I could have been doing anything in here.”
She rolled her eyes at her twin. “Eww, John. That’s just…gross. In the daytime?”
“What’s going on?” he asked, ignoring her scrunched-up face.
“Didn’t you hear me?” She bounced on her toes eagerly. “Morgan just called Mom. They just got off the highway. They should be here in a few minutes.” She grabbed his hand, tugging, for all the world as if they were seven years old again, and racing for the rides at the state fair. “Come on!”
“She’s going to be here for weeks,” John commented as he followed her down the front stairs. “What’s your hurry?”
Jasmine blew her breath out between her lips, making a rude noise. “Come on, John. When was the last time we saw Aunt Moira or Morgan?”
“Thanksgiving, two years ago, wasn’t it?”
“Exactly.” She pushed open the front door, her eyes scanning the street. “It’s been a year and a half.” She lowered her voice. “Just because Dad gets bent out of shape whenever Aunt Moira and Morgan are mentioned is no reason for the three of us to never see each other. Or talk. Good Lord, John, Moira and Morgan are almost the only family we have!”
“I suppose,” her brother said noncommittally. He leaned against one of the white-painted wooden columns that held up the roof over the front porch, his hands in the pockets of his shorts. He seemed nervous, his foot tapping in a staccato rhythm.
Jasmine squinted at her twin suspiciously. “You’re not coming around to his way of thinking, are you? That the worst problem with Aunt Moira and Morgan is that they haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?” Her voice took on a mocking, sing-song cadence.
“Me? No!” But he glanced over his shoulder, just in case his father should be lurking around nearby. He lowered his voice. “But I’m not saying it’s all wrong, either, Sis. I like a lot of what the church says about helping people out. But Dad is so obsessed with sex and sin. And it seems that the one is the same as the other. Sometimes I wonder how the two of us were ever conceived.”
“Ugh.” Her nose wrinkled. “Not a mental image I want right now.”
“Yeah. What is his problem?”
“If you ever figure it out, tell me. Then we’ll both know.” She frowned at her sibling as he fidgeted. “You okay? You’re twitching like a one-armed Albanian with poison ivy.”
“It’s nothing.” But his face turned red, and he avoided her eyes.
Jasmine was about to call him out on the obvious deception when a car turned a corner at the end of the block. “I think that’s them.” She ducked her head back inside the door. “Mom! Dad! They’re here!”
Her parents joined them on the porch, her father still dressed in the button-down shirt and tie he wore every day to his job at the accounting firm, as the ruby-red Tesla glided noiselessly up the driveway which he had re-sealed every fall, the tires whispering on the blacktop. The driver’s side door was flung open, and her Aunt Moira darted around the front of the car, bounced up the front steps, and caught up her older sister in a rib-cracking hug. “Carol! Look at you!” She held her sister at arm’s length. “Have you lost weight? And I love what you’ve done with your hair! I’m so glad you let it grow out again!”
“That’s the way Frank likes it,” her mother replied with a sly smile, fingering her chestnut hair, which had indeed lengthened past her shoulders in the past few months. “But you can give Jasmine credit for the fact that I’ve dropped a few dress sizes.” She heaved a mock sigh. “She bullied me into taking a long walk with her every day after she got back from school, come hell or high water. Rotten little girl. Even when it was ten below last winter, she still made me go.”
“Jasmine!” Her aunt turned to her, a fierce frown on her face, though her eyes bore a betraying twinkle of amusement. “For shame! Don’t you know to treat your mother with the proper respect?”