For a while, all is quiet at that dilapidated beach house.
They must have soundproofed the place well. A fitting choice to go with covering every window and glass door with curtains. However, it doesn’t bode well for me stewing in my thoughts over watching that poor woman get choked. I have nothing else to focus on!
As usual, Clara comes to save the day.
“Do you think Elizabeth will be there? Will she…remember me?”
“I guess we’ll just have to see.”
Clara and Bridget step outside, dressed in their vintage…not quite best. It looks like appropriate day-to-day wear for a bygone era. A long coat and skirt for Clara, and a ruffled long-sleeved dress and T-bar shoes for Bridget.
Meanwhile, I’ve switched to watching from closer, behind the tall fence. And I get a splinter in my hand from the rough wood.
“Aunt Eileen said that she’d take me on that new roller coaster there!”
“Can’t believe that they razed the place in 2007. You guys better take me too!”
“I wish mum could ride it.”
“You shouldn’t worry about your mum. I know how to entertain her. Pretty sure that everyone who can help her will be stuck in 1928 with us too.”
“Uncle Arthur said that he wishes she would just die!”
Clara’s face tenses up. “Well, we just have to tell him that he’s being a…a cheese weasel.”
Now I wonder about the other awful people in their life.
So, following Clara on foot is easy, even in heels. If I’m an ex-marathoner in proper shoes, I still have some speed and stamina in four-inch stilettos.
However, a dingy brown van pulls up to the curb. It silently prompts Shaun and his human (or not) package out of the house. I assume it’s Farida, but does that even matter? She is as featureless in the golden yard lights as she was on the dark balcony. From my vantage point, a pile of clothes and curly hair obscures whatever person they’re attached to.
Since she was lifted by her neck for a moment, her being dead wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe it would feel different if she was in my arms, but Farida looks so floppy in his. But she moans and mumbles a bit while resting against Shaun.
“You can sleep on my lap, honey.”
Clara interjects. “Maybe we should have fed her before leaving.”
“It’s impossible to starve her. And you’re the one who keeps telling me to listen to her. If she wanted a soggy bruised pear, she’d ask for one.”
The van honks at them once.
“Shut it, Sarah!”
To my surprise, Shaun handles Farida with a lot of care and grace. He takes a seat and places her across his lap before closing the door. It also means that Clara gets to ride shotgun! I’m just happy that she gets the upper-hand somewhere in this city.
What it didn’t mean was getting any look at Farida’s face. I swear I saw a nose poking through, but it was just more of her wild hair.
Eh, I think a lot of Waverlys have been there. We whined about our hair woes no matter who we were. We’re all mixed up and vaguely brown underneath our rainbow exteriors. Our hair textures are across the spectrum. Annette, long-haired Samira, Dad, me before I cut my hair, Mum, Sarah…Sarah.
Okay, as if the world is lacking for Sarahs that aren’t my grandmother. There has yet to be a time in American history where Sarah wasn’t a top-50 name for girls. I know better than anyone that it stops only after 2243. But Clara and Shaun kept harping on about “the green one”. While I’d describe my grandma as pale lime or yellow instead, green is a common and understandable adjective.
I need to chase them. But if only I could beat a van to Julia Drive.
I’m surprised they get cell reception down here.
“Hello, I’m at the end of Alvarez Road. Can someone pick me up?”
Let’s not disclose what it costs to take a Magic City cab to the other end of town. Julia Drive is in a similarly secluded place, perhaps even more so. It’s miles up a road and not quite in a forest, though there are plenty of oaks around. The city is just a twinkling distant object from there.
I tell the cabbie to stop as soon as I see the only house on the street, way in the distance.
I walk the rest of the distance, darting from behind an oak tree to behind another oak tree. I find a suitable one, giving me a distant-but-clear view of the little house. It’s hardly bigger than a trailer, and has its own orchard of citrus trees in the yard. A glass pyramid and spire, about a story high combined, sit at the end of the path in the backyard.
A crowd gathers. Four of them I know already: Clara, Bridget, Shaun, and a still-hidden Farida. Her head is turned away from me, resting on Shaun’s left arm.
The fifth is a little lime-and-blue dot, but for sure the only lime-and-blue dot I know. Sarah Waverly Baker, or substitute any of her two married names.
Nothing good was ever going to come of this, Sarah or no Sarah. So I try to make a dash for the time portal, as I see Clara activating it with her necklace. Which I guess is like Annette’s ring, but much easier to steal.
Curse me, curse these heels! I miss by the length of the garden. The flash of light dissipates, and I’m just left in a strange city with my normal, normal grandmother.
She’s youthful-looking, like me, and wears her hair in long dreadlocks, unlike many grandmothers. But I still think that’s a little normal. At least for us.
It’s hard to find how to react. I just point. “What are you doing here?” I ask her, with horror in my voice. The sound of my voice causes her to shiver for a second. “What do you know about them?!”
“Well, I could ask you the same things,” she says, in a low voice.
Sarah turns around, with an anger on her face that was just so rare for her. “I could ask you lot of questions. You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Look, it’s a long story…I wasn’t out to find you! I remember what Mel said about that.”
“I get that it must be lonely in Riverview,” Sarah says. “But why here? I’m messing with time, but I know mum isn’t! It’d be safe, and I bet she’d love to see you. She decided to settle in Tourmaline City after all-”
“I don’t care about Lydia!”
“Joanna, please. Knock it off.”
“I’m sorry, but I keep getting more questions than answers here. What’s going on?”
Sarah raises an eyebrow at me. “How did you find this, anyways?”
I wring my hands, already feeling the embarrassment of my answer. “I…I met Clara back in Riverview, and she had to leave abruptly. But…grandma, she really made an impact on me.”
“That’s…that’s about what I’d expect from the Joanna I love,” she says. “Did you guys…you know?”
I bite my lip. “Yeeeah. We did.”
Sarah’s voice sweetens, to a tone that I know much better from her. She joins me at my side, instead of sulking on her garden path. “I get it, jellybean. You’re young again, and not everyone has enough of that the first time around.”
“I just thought I’d end up on top once,” I mumble, looking at the cool autumn grass. Or maybe just at a felled, rotting lemon. “I got to hear about you guys getting resolution and all I got was…you know. Failure.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. It’s not my fault we had to keep this from you guys.”
I turn towards her and scowl, with a hand on my hip.
“What do you mean by that?” I say, snarling at her.
“Honey, I didn’t mean-”
“I thought we were all told that! Now you’re just…you guys were hiding this from me? Other space demons like us? Whatever sort of shenanigans I just saw today-”
Sarah snaps her head back, averting her baby-blue eyes from me. “We hid this from you and Phil.”
“I understand him, but why me?” I ask her.
“Because you cause nothing but trouble.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes! You discovered a time machine in San Severo and you wanted to kill us! And you didn’t even let up with it.” Her voice has edged into an angry, cracking falsetto. “And maybe I had my issues with Simon, or Pearl, or Kath, or Troy, but you know? No one deserves that.”
“Troy did,” I mumbled.
“And none of us would be here without him.”
“But I’m here now,” I say, choking on my words. “What is this all about?”
“It’s messed up…I guess you’ve seen that today,” Sarah says. She starts to walk off towards the house, with a slouching posture. “All I can say is that they probably have the power to kill either of us if they wanted to, so…I’m just gonna shut my big mouth now.”
“Can you open the portal again?” I ask her.
“No activating gem, sorry.”
“So I’m stuck here.”
“If you can hold out for a few days, I can get you a plane back to Monk River City and pretend this never happened.” She gives me a slight smile. “I have a couch!”
She has a telly too. I turn it on and, for the first time today, relax. Considering that Sarah used to be a kind old grandmother who changed my diapers, I don’t feel quite as bad undressing in her living room. To my underwear, of course. She has the heat cranked to a warm and toasty level. It was also a good excuse to unload my Cicadas volumes from the big pockets of my dress. Annette said that she was a teen in the thick of the “no pockets” trend for women’s clothes. Thank god it’s over.
All she gets is basic channels and local TV. Magic City TV loves to run Captain Uno’s Farm re-runs at ungodly hours when no kids are watching.
At least there are better things in Sarah’s humble abode to observe.
She has a bookcase near the door. It’s full of technical texts, and on top is the robot lamp that she and Ewan built as kids. I’m more interested in the pictures above it, though. She showed me many photos of herself as a kid, and of daddy Bronson, and little brother Ewan. But she must have kept those framed ones to herself for all these years.
But closer to me is a picture that I had a copy of for Cicadas. It was from her wedding. Well, her first one. The one she never voiced regret over, save for how abruptly it ended.
The first I heard about Taylor was when I asked about my beady little eyes. I could blame Taylor’s dad for them, so therefore, I could blame Taylor too. Of course, I got to learn a lot about him while writing Cicadas. The desperate circumstances that drew his bio-parents together. His inventions and struggles with paranoid schizophrenia, and being a fantastic uncle-figure to Sarah and Ewan.
Of course, there was the ease and joy in Sarah’s face with each photo of the two I got my hands on.
“Hey, you want some tea?” she asks me, holding a white mug.
“I forgot how nice you looked at your wedding,” I say. “You had locs back then too, right?”
“Yeah, I just had to go back to that these days.”
“Did Taylor keep you sane?”
She pouts, as she looks down at the frame with me. “Of course he did…things could have been so much better for us if he was there for a little bit more.”
“I’m just looking for my sanity too,” I say. “That’s why I’m here.”
“I’m still gonna ship you back home and pretend this never happened. I hope this couch is easy for you to sleep on.”
She goes off into her small bedroom, and I hope she sleeps well, regardless of me. But I have Eight Cicadas, Vol. I open at Chapter 59. It’s the one where Franco takes a prisoner in his burning, compassionate heart.
I wish I could say I’m sleepless just because of a cliffhanger.
But alas, it’s more than that.