Chapter 25: Hestia’s revenge
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Saturday morning I wake up with a smile on my face. Aunt Tara and Uncle Jeff are supposed to leave today. Which will end the ordeal of seeing Aunt Tara in this house every evening. If I have one consolation it’s that Aunt Tara, or Hestia Desroules (to use her real name), has been even less comfortable with the situation than I have. She’s had to keep suggesting alternatives every time my mother or Stan suggest taking a trip into town, because that would put her within the prohibited mile of Miranda. I’ve permitted myself a private grin every time Aunt Tara’s had to deal with the situation. Oh, and I’ve let her see a few of those grins, too. Hope I’ve driven her blood pressure up.
So I duck into the shower, get dressed, and head into the kitchen to get myself some breakfast. There’s a note on the kitchen table. It’s in Stan’s handwriting. What’s he been doing, up even earlier than me?
Tara and I have fallen in love. I think we’re meant to be together. It would be impossible for either of us to go on living with you and your brother Jeff. That would be a lie. So we left the house and Netherfield this morning, and won’t be coming back. Once we get settled someplace, we’ll get in touch with Jeff’s lawyer to put through the divorces. You won’t have to do a thing, and I won’t make any claim on our property. It’s the least I can do after the heartbreak I’m causing you.
You’re still a sex machine, Roberta, even at your age.
Son of a bitch. I can feel my loathing of Stan revive as I read this. It’s not just what he’s doing to my mother. It’s that he’s going to be having sex with Aunt Tara. Yuck. And somehow, even in a letter meant to make my mother feel better, Stan still manages to say the wrong thing. Does he really think calling my mother a sex machine at her age that way is a compliment?
I’m puzzled, though. Why is this letter sitting out here, out in the open? Is Stan so oblivious that he didn’t think to stick it into an envelope and put my mother’s name on it? And then it comes to me. I am meant to read this message. This is Aunt Tara striking back at me the only way she can.
But how can she do this? She was spelled not to hurt my family. And this sure as hell is going to hurt my mother and Uncle Jeff. I can’t see how she could do this. I turn it over and over in my head, and still can’t make any sense of it. Finally, I admit to myself that I don’t understand magic that well. Maybe I can ask Honoria or Miranda later. So I dismiss the problem for now.
I’ve got a bigger problem: what to do about this letter. I can’t just leave it here. It’ll kill Mom to come across it when there are other people in the kitchen watching her. And I don’t think I want to know what will happen if Uncle Jeff or Freddie sees it first.
I think, and think, and then do the only right thing, even though I suspect it may have been part of Aunt Tara’s plan. I take the letter, fold it up, and walk it back to my mother’s room. I open the door. I can hear my mother lightly snoring. In the morning light coming through the blinds, I can see her lying on her back, only a sheet covering her up. I don’t want to do this, so I stand there for I don’t know how long. And then I hear my mother say, “Jane?” She’s awake and sitting up, holding the sheet to the front of her body. I know she sleeps in the nude, but I guess letting even her daughters see her that way just isn’t right in her eyes. I kind of wonder if that’s due to modesty or embarrassment about getting older.
My mother’s questioning look brings me back to the business at hand. “Hi, mom,” I say. “I’ve got bad news.” I am the soul of diplomacy. I close the door behind me, walk around, and sit down on the bed beside her.
She sits up all the way, and lets the sheet drop to give me a hug. (So much for my theories.) “What’s the matter, darling? I’m sure it’s something we can handle.”
She thinks it’s about me. Damn. I can’t say a word. There goes my career as a diplomat. I just hand her the letter.
My mother gives me a quizzical look, takes the letter, and opens it. In the dim light, and nearsighted as she is, she has to hold it near her face. She reads in silence. She puts the letter down in her lap. “That little bitch,” she says. She turns to me, and asks, “Where did you find this?” I can’t answer immediately, and then I don’t have to. My mother’s face crumples, she begins to sob, and then I’m holding her as she cries on my shoulder.
I’m walking across the fields into the woods with Miranda because everyone else is too stressed out or gone elsewhere. Pluto’s with us, being a dog. Glad someone is happy. Miranda’s been listening to my description of what happened so far this morning.
Now she interrupts. “I could tell Hestia was gone when I woke up. So I figured I’d better come over and see what had happened. Funny thing, that spell you had put on both of us meant that I had to pick up Honoria along the way.”
It was an odd sight, seeing the two of them at the door about 45 minutes ago, Pluto following behind Honoria. Honoria wearing an air cast and carrying the walking stick. Guess Asenath didn’t fully heal her leg. Now Honoria’s helping Donna comfort my mother. I smile at the thought, and then say to Miranda, “Well, I’m glad that spell is still working. But how is it then that Aunt . . . oh, hell, guess I can call her Hestia, too, how is it that Hestia was able to run off with Stan like that?”
We’re at the edge of the woods. Miranda stops and turns back to look over the fields towards the house. She shrugs. “Those kind of spells sort of work on the basis of the best alternative at any moment. Which means your family’s probably best rid of both Hestia and Stan. How’d your Uncle Jeff take it?”
I give Miranda a sidelong glance, then reach down and pet Pluto, who’s happy at the gesture. “He didn’t seem too upset. In fact, he seemed more concerned about my mom than himself.”
Miranda chuckles. “Probably Hestia had put a spell on him to make him fall in love with her. And now she’s removed it. Removing it probably counts as helping your family, not harming it. And while I’d tell you your family’s probably better off without Stan, I bet I know what actually did the trick there.” She turns and faces me, so I stand up. With a smirk on her face, Miranda asks, “How’s your crush on your ex-stepfather?”
I think about it. “Gone.”
“Hard to imagine him sleeping with Hestia, isn’t it?”
“Shut up, Miranda.”
If anything, her smirk gains in confidence. She points at me and in a sing-song voice says, “Jane’s lost her crush on Stan, Jane’s lost her crush on Stan.”
I say “Shut up,” again, but it works no better than the first time. So instead I hold up my hand. That gives Miranda pause. “Enough,” I tell her. “You’ve made your point. And telling anyone else about that will constitute harm to me, so shut your mouth about this from now on.”
Miranda appears unmoved. “You really ought to watch the porn movie with Hestia in it. It’ll give your imagination tons of material to work with.”
“Shut up, Miranda.”
“You know, now’s the time to go downtown and hang out in the coffee shops. You ought to be ready to develop a crush on some guy nearer your own age now.”
Pluto is now barking, though whether he’s upset or just being playful, I can’t tell. But I know which one I am. In exasperation, I yell at Miranda, “Are you just going to make me miserable as a matter of principle from now on?”
The smile drops from her face. Miranda shakes her head. “Just getting you used to the truth. Figure I’m doing you a service. I’ve looked some more into that ‘beloved by nature’ status of yours. Oh, nature really, really loves you, and wants you to enjoy all it has to offer, so it’s going to show it by sending your sex drive into overdrive for the rest of your adolescence. Better get used to falling in and out of love, kid, ’cause you’re going to be doing a lot of it.”
Honoria’s sitting out alone at the picnic table behind the house when we return. Pluto rushes ahead, doing what I guess is his happy bark. Miranda takes one look at Honoria, mutters something under her breath, and tells me she has to go. So I go over and sit down beside Honoria myself.
Honoria raises her head up from petting Pluto to look at me. She looks tired, worn out, even. She has a drink in front of her. It looks like whiskey. She seems to be pondering what to say to me for a bit, before finally coming out with, “I take it your mother is the emotional type.”
Well, yeah. So I reply, “She give you much trouble?”
Honoria shakes her head, takes a sip from her drink, and stares out into the distance. Her voice seems almost emotionless. “No, not really. Just . . . tiring.” She gives a small laugh. “Risking my neck against Hestia seemed easier. I suppose that’s why I do it, look into magic and my family’s history.” She taps the walking stick with her hand. “It’s relief from the cure of souls.” She turns to me, gives me a half-hearted smile. “Your sister took her off to do some shopping.” And then her look turns to one of concern, and she places one of her hands on the one of mine that’s resting on the table. “And how is your soul?”
I try to put some lightness in my tone. “Oh, I think after deciding not to kill Miranda for the way she was just tormenting me, I must be well on my way to salvation.”
Honoria looks puzzled. “She can’t harm you, Jane.”
“Sure,” I say, and I can feel tears emerging. “Hestia couldn’t hurt us, either. And look what she did. Look what . . .” I just lose it, and the next thing I know, I’m crying on Honoria’s shoulder. I can’t stop myself crying at first, and then even when I can I just let myself go.
Finally I sit up, wipe the tears from my eyes, and try to wipe my nose with the back of my hand without being too obvious. I offer Honoria a barely passable grin. And then I remember something I wrote down in a letter I retrieved before Donna could ever read it. It sums up how I feel, at least as well as I can make out. I tell Honoria, “I’m a normal freak.”
Honoria curls her lip in humorous disbelief, lifts up the walking stick, and says to me, “Well, I’ve got a walking stick that summons dragons and,” she glances down at Pluto, resting at her feet, “a dog that used to talk. So I guess I’m an abnormal freak. Not that I want to compete with you, Jane. In fact,” and she smiles, “I think you’re going to have to explain what you meant by calling yourself a ‘normal freak.’ Else I’m not going to know what I am, either.”
End of chapter twenty-five
(See, what did I tell you would be in this chapter? Nailed it. Do I know my story teller or do I know my story teller? Well, actually, I don’t really know what Jane is going to put in the next chapter. But I do know it will be the last.)