Chapter 21: It’s time I ended this
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
“You’ve got a crush on your stepfather.”
I know I set this up, but my face turns red and I can’t speak. So I just nod.
Miranda treats this as if it’s normal. “Well, he is cute.”
I groan. “Not the point, Miranda.” I actually manage to look up. “I don’t think girls are supposed to fall in love with their stepfathers.”
Miranda rolls her eyes. “Who said anything about love? If you’re this ashamed to admit it, it’s just lust, not love. Nice eye, by the way.”
I keep my voice level. “You’re not helping.”
Miranda stares at me a bit, and then throws up her hands. “What do you want from me, kid? You’re having your first crush. It is your first crush, right?”
“About time.” Miranda lets out a sound of exasperation. “Stan’s a handsome guy, so it’s not too surprising. Okay, so he’s your stepfather and you don’t like him and you probably don’t want to take him away from your mother . . .”
I cut her off. “Damn straight. Like I could.”
Miranda snorts. “It wouldn’t take much for that one to stray, kid. But that’s beside the point. Having a crush is normal at your age. It’ll make you miserable, but you’ll get over it.” She gets a sly look on her face. “Just ask your sister. She got over her crush on Stan.”
“She never had one. She told me so.” The very notion really bothers me.
Miranda shrugs. “Okay, she told you so. You come to me for advice, and then you don’t believe me. Cripes, you’re as bad as Cindy, that ungrateful two-timing bitch.”
I bristle at that. Miranda notices. She shakes her head. And then she gets to looking thoughtful, as if she’s staring through me. (Maybe she is.) “You brought this to me, but not to Honoria.” She focuses on me again. “You want me to do something to you or Stan to get rid of this crush, is that it?”
“Bingo. I figured if you could make me terrified of you, you might be able to affect how I feel about Stan.”
“I could, but I won’t.” She sees me getting annoyed and continues. “Look, I had no problem with making you afraid of me, because that was just me, Jane. But I tamper with this, and I’m going to change the way you think and feel about sex for the rest of your life. This is your first crush, kid, first time you and your hormones are getting it on together. I shunt those feelings away from Stan, and they will find some other way out, some other person to have a crush on, and that will shape you forever, kid. And I don’t find you annoying enough to want to screw you up that badly. So just get used to the idea that you’re going to be miserable for a while. If it’s any help, while it wouldn’t take much to trip Stan, you’re not going to be able to do it.”
Eh, what? “Why not?”
Miranda starts giggling. “You don’t have enough of an ass, Jane.” Her giggles get louder.
I’m so annoyed that I slam the DVD case down on her desk. It’s a wonder I don’t break it.
Miranda stops giggling and frowns at me. “Hey, gentle on the desk, there. And save that case. It may become a collector’s item once I hunt down the lead in that flick and kill her.”
My turn to annoy Miranda. “Friend of yours?”
She blows a raspberry. “Me, friends with that scheming sneaky slut? She ever crosses my path again, she’s dead, no two ways about it.”
After the way she’s been treating me, I’m enjoying goading Miranda. Time for another twist of the knife. “Then why isn’t she dead already?”
I can see Miranda getting furious. “I said she was sneaky. And this proves it. She must have changed her name when she left the business.” And then it’s as if all her anger leaves her at once, and Miranda laughs. “Of course, if you’ve been calling yourself Viola Vulva, I’d hope you’d change your name.”
Thursday evening there’s a knock on my door. I shove the magic book under my covers, sprawl on my bed, and say, “Who’s there?”
Donna peeks in. “Got a moment?”
Donna comes in, closes the door, and takes the seat at my desk. She gives me a quizzical look. “You okay?”
I try to keep a poker face. Probably fail. “What’s behind this query?”
Donna looks away. “Oh, nothing.” She turns to face me again. “Just you’re disappearing for several days last week. And Maureen tells me you’ve been avoiding Cindy. And, while I shouldn’t complain, you’ve been acting kind of nice to Stan lately. Mom’s delighted, but I just wondered . . .”
I can feel the warmth in my face when she mentions Stan. Damn, I thought I was behaving normally. Guess not. And Donna can see it in my face. Still, I just pretend. “I’m okay. Just a bit preoccupied with something I’m doing. No big deal.”
Donna is dissatisfied. “And you’re not going to tell me what this something is?”
I shake my head and then look down at the floor. I hate doing this to Donna. Especially now that we’re on good terms again.
Donna waits a bit before asking, “Ever, or do I hear about it eventually?”
Hmmm . . . thank you, Donna. You’ve just given me an escape hatch. I look her straight in the eye. “You’ll be the first one in the family to know, guaranteed. Sooner, not later. Okay, sister?”
Donna bites her lip, thinks about it a bit before replying. “Hey, you gave me over half a year over my love life. I guess I can do the same.” And then a thought comes to her. “This isn’t about sex, is it? Are you seeing some guy?”
Yes, Donna, every day, and I hate it. But I’m not going to tell you that, yet. “No. And it’s not drugs, either. I can’t explain just now, but as soon as I can, I will, Donna. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” Well, not actually.
Donna thinks a bit more and nods, then gets up, She glances at my desk and asks, “What’s this?”
Relieved to change the topic, I tell her. “It’s the siren Cindy brought to school one day. The principal, Ms. Duncan, gave it to me on Tuesday, said she was entrusting me with it to give back to Cindy when I think Cindy won’t misuse it again.”
That causes Donna to laugh. “Oh, you mean never? Okay, I’ll leave you be, Jane. Just remember, you can always talk to me.” And she leaves.
If you get this letter, then something’s gone wrong, and I’ve either disappeared or been found dead. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you about this before, but it’s dangerous. You’ve been my best friend as well as my sister most of my life, and I didn’t want to get you involved. So forgive me for keeping this secret. And whatever you do, stay away from Aunt Tara!
Somehow or other, I got sucked up into a magic quarrel between Aunt Tara and Miranda Milan. I’ve seen way too much magic since we arrived in Netherfield to disbelieve in its reality. Remember how Maureen Van Schacht had that drink spill on her dress when she made fun of Miranda? That’s only a taste of what Miranda can do. And Aunt Tara must have similar abilities. She put a death curse on me that’s supposed to kill Miranda somehow, and under the curse, my life is expendable. I’d say what a lousy aunt this makes her, but that’s kind of besides the point.
These witches, Miranda and Aunt Tara, can read people’s minds and alter them. Despite this, after a lot of thought and some help, I’ve hatched a plan to get the curse removed. It’s a good plan, but I don’t know everything about magic by any means, so it may fail. If it does fail, I suspect I’ll end up dead
I know this sounds unbelievable. But there are three people who will be able to confirm at least part of what I’m saying that you can go talk to. First, there’s Rev. Honoria Blood. Second, there’s a ghost named Asenath Shattuck. Really. I’ve enclosed a map showing you how to find where she hangs out. And last, there is Cindy Van Schacht. I’m putting her last because she’s gotten tangled up in this magic business as well, and I’m not entirely sure where her loyalties lie. She’s my friend, and she even saved my life once, but she’s in love with a dragon (yes, it IS screwy), and I worry that she may be forced to choose between us at some point.
DON’T go to Miranda if she’s still around. If she means well, she’ll come to you; otherwise treat her as an enemy, just to be safe. And if she’s also around, give Aunt Tara as wide a berth as you can. If I’m dead, she’s at least partly responsible, but you don’t have the power to take her on, sis. Trust me on this.
One other thing, different subject altogether. You told me one evening that I’d been unusually nice to Stan. As of this moment, I’ve got a crush on him, had it for several days. Yeah, I know. Not what I wanted. I like it even less than what I thought about you and Stan.
Weird thing, though. I told Miranda, hoping she’d put a spell on me to kill the crush. (She could do it, but she wouldn’t.) It was a strangely liberating experience. There must be something to telling someone something so shameful you’d never normally confess it. It makes you realize who you are, what you stand for. I’ve always had trouble grappling with whether I was normal or some sort of freak, and coming to Netherfield, even without the magic, made this worse. You know what I am, Donna? I’m a normal freak. Normal teenage girls get crushes. Freaks get them on their stepfather. Just like normal teenagers go through puberty. Freaks get going later than the rest.
But here’s the payoff. Normal people don’t do magic. Freaks do. For once, I’m normal, but I’m going head-to-head with some freaks. And you know, it’s not really about being normal or being a freak. It’s about being me, and trying to do what’s right while trying to get what I want, too.
I’ll put this letter someplace you’ll get it if my plan doesn’t work. But I hope I’m wasting my time writing it, and that you’ll never read it. What I’d like to see happen instead is that we sneak a bottle of wine out of the house, go out into the woods, and that I tell you all about this while we’re sharing that bottle and watching the sun set.
Take care, Donna. I love you.
Saturday morning, bright and early, I get up and head out to see Miranda. Time to get my battle plan lined up. Miranda doesn’t look exactly happy to see me at 6:45 AM. Guess she’s not a morning person. Tough. There’s a new sheriff in town: me.
“Hi, Miranda! Got news for you.”
Miranda gives me a frown. “Go away before I put a curse on you myself.”
“Oh, you’ll like this one, Miranda. It’s about Viola Vulva.”
Miranda practically hauls me in and almost carries me into her consultation room before dropping me into the client’s seat. She sits down in her own throne-like chair and says, “Talk.”
“Viola Vulva is my Aunt Tara.”
Miranda’s sitting up, all attention. “Go on.”
“My Uncle Jeff is my mother’s brother. He’s been married twice before. He doesn’t particularly like Stan. But he’d just gotten married to Tara when my mom and Stan decided to tie the knot, and he gave them the house here in Netherfield and arranged for them to get jobs here.”
Miranda picks up the one point I haven’t mentioned. “And you didn’t tell me this before because?”
I look her straight in the eye. “Who are you? My mother? Aunt Tara may have put a death curse on me, but it’s not like you haven’t got me tangled up in some magical fun and games, either. Anyhow, I was going to tell you when I showed you the movie, but you stormed off with the DVD case before I could.”
Miranda’s voice is edged with tension as she asks, “And what about the other day?”
I don’t flinch from the accusation. “I needed time to think and to come up with a plan to get this death curse off me, short of getting us both killed.”
That causes Miranda to laugh. “Good luck with that, kid. So that would be Jeff and Tara Harris? I want to look them up on the Internet.”
“No, Harris was my father’s name. It’s Jeff and Tara Butler.”
Miranda starts, and then gnaws on her lips for a bit. “That wouldn’t be Jeff Butler from Charlestown, about 50-some-odd years old, red hair, dimple in his chin when he smiles, went to Boston College, would it?”
Hmph. “Yeah, except his hair’s turning gray.”
Miranda laughs again. “Yep, your Aunt Tara set it up, and now I know why, when and how. She must have looked through his memories and found out about my one-night-stand with your Uncle Jeff.”
Miranda and Uncle Jeff??? Oh. My. God. But it’s of a piece with everything else. And Miranda’s right: it explains why me, why here. Tara must have found out where Miranda was living, and manipulated Uncle Jeff into setting up Mom and Stan in Netherfield. And, let me not forget, putting a death curse on me. Wonder when she did it. Wonder how she did it.
“Ah, Jane,” Miranda’s voice brings me back to the present situation. I must have looked miles away, thinking about Uncle Jeff.
So I tell her, “That explains why my ploy worked.” She looks skeptical, so I drop my surprise in her lap. “I texted Tara to tell her you and I are buddies. Next day, my mom tells me Uncle Jeff and Aunt Tara are coming by to visit on Tuesday.”
I’m really enjoying seeing how surprised Miranda looks. Just wait until she hears my plan.
End of chapter twenty-one
(Way to get backbone, kid . . . oops, I mean Jane. Was channeling my inner Miranda there for a moment. My “inner Miranda:” now there’s a concept I really don’t want to consider. So, instead, I’ve got to warn you, Jane: don’t you think Miranda has plans of her own? Hope this gets through to you somehow before the next chapter.)
“Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” You’ve been watching that Sledge Hammer show again, haven’t you?
I’d like to see a bit of body language from Jane when Miranda drops the bombshell about her one-night stand. Like both hands over her mouth or something.
Yes, that’s Sledge’s tag line. Curiously enough, sometimes he actually does, sometimes he certainly does not, but either way will usually involve excessive force.
I have put in a line to put a little more context into Jane’s reaction to Miranda’s bombshell, though not quite what you suggest.
I do love the way the author is becoming so intimately entangled with the action . . . or at least he seems to think he is. How many coffees is it now? (But the humour is brilliantly done.)
Thanks for the compliment.
And, indeed, the author is getting entangled in the action. I’ve always known how this story would end, but some of the steps in the middle have been a surprise. And that Jane seems to be turning her life around in part by dealing with an unwanted crush on her stepfather threw even me.
I’ve often found that non-writers are baffled by the author’s response to the antics of our characters. Have we no control of them? No, frequently not. I remember my surprise when Neve fell for that biker-type Rat! And Kerrid has pulled some unexpected tricks too. As for Olun, when did he become so murderous? But my usual problem is to stop a bit-player from stealing the scene—and the story.
Note Judy’s post, below.
I have always wondered how characters don’t just overrun the story, must take a lot of writerly discipline to keep everything under control or at least allow for surprises in development which forward the story rather than muddle it up!!! I admire you guys!!!!
Your sister seems to do well enough with this; her characters tend to fit with their stories quite cleanly. So ask her about it, too!
Sounds like a blog post I need to do sometime: what to do when a major character runs off the rails, or a minor character horns in on the action.
That said, most of the time a minor character acquires a larger role, it’s because I’ve taken a second look at the character, and found ways to develop it that help or even improve on the story. Of the stories here, Nora O’Donnell from “Martha’s Children” actually acquired a larger role after a reader reacted positively to the character; that she wasn’t as fully integrated into the story as she should have been was my fault. If I ever get around to the rewrite of the “Martha’s Children” sequel, another minor character, Irene Ducas, will have her role enlarged, and Sherlock Kammen will take a bow (which he couldn’t in the original because I hadn’t thought of him then).
Major characters running off the rails? Martha Fokker has always been a pain to write. She’s warped every story she’s been in. On the other hand, Alex Bancroft had his role reduced while I was writing “Prophecies and Penalties.” Why? Because I would have frustrated and bored all my readers. Emily was never to have ANY powers, but her acquisition of them and Stacia’s taking over part of Alex’s role went hand in hand.
So, some examples. Hope they give you a better idea of the trade-offs and issues!