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“You must reconsider, Beatrice! Your brother’s beside himself! We’ve all made sacrifices for you. I’ve made sacrifices for you, and I expect you to do the same for us. Don’t you think your own mother knows what’s best for you? Your marriage will bring our two families together. You want the family business to be secure, don’t you? You can’t let your brother down and your poor dead grandfather who built up this business for you and your brother. This is what he’d want. They’ve worked so hard. The match will be advantageous for you too. Surely you can see that? You owe it to us and to yourself!”
“I can’t talk now, Mother. I have a headache.” Bea hung up in disgust and frustration. Within seconds the phone rang once more. Bea hesitated for a moment before she picked up. Alexine sounded slightly calmer but no less condescending.
“Beatrice, you’re just nervous. All young brides are nervous. You’ll marry John in October. A month after that you’ll think back at your foolishness and laugh. You must see how important your marriage to John is to Henry and me.”
Bea closed her eyes and squeezed her temples with one hand.
“John had an affair, Mother. He doesn’t love me, Mother. He only thinks of himself, Mother.”
“Foolish girl! All love begins with self interest. He’s a young man. His affairs are of no consequence, as long as he is discrete and I’m sure they’ll stop once you’re married. His connections are of importance to you and to us. Consider the wealth and opportunities that will come with this union.”
Bea suffered through this second tirade for a few minutes and then hung up again, a blinding, throbbing headache starting behind her eyes in earnest. She rubbed her temples and thought of how frightening her mother’s behavior had become of late. Alexine’s obdurate obsession with her marrying John was unusual in the extreme, even for her.
Bea bit her lower lip and stared in frustration as the phone rang on her office desk once more. Bea shifted her gaze out the office window at the canyons of humanity that made up Manhattan and willed the ringing to stop. Bea reluctantly looked at the call display, which showed Grandmother Lizzie’s and Aunt Shelagh’s number. Ah, friendly voices from far away. Bea felt the relief wash over her. They would lend a sympathetic ear. Bea snatched up the phone.
“Hello?” Bea said.
“Oh, aunt Shelagh! I’m so glad to hear your voice!”
“You sound funny, sweetie. What’s wrong?”
Bea leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. “Mother is driving me crazy. I’ve had two hysterical phone calls in a row from her.”
“What’s Alexine tormenting you about this time?”
“I told John that the marriage is off.”
“Let me guess: John called my sister and she called you?”
“And has tried to talk me back into the marriage ever since. Aunt Shelagh, something’s happened to her. Lately mother has been worse than usual.”
Her mother’s voice still ringing in her ears, Bea sighed and summarized the conversation for Aunt Shelagh.
“I don’t understand, what on earth has your dad’s real estate investment empire got to do with your marriage to John?”
“John is heir to his family’s business,” Bea sighed, “Mother figured that our marriage would bring the two businesses together.”
“That figures,” Shelagh sighed, “How on earth did you meet him?”
“Mother invited him to one of her parties a few months ago. She introduced us.”
Shelagh paused. “You’re right. That’s extreme even for her. Arranging marriages? My sister is a piece of work.”
Caught up in her own distress, it was only then that Bea noticed the uncharacteristic shakiness in her aunt’s voice. Shelagh seemed on the verge of tears. Her mother had affected Bea more than usual if she had overlooked Shelagh’s obvious distress. “What is it, Aunt Shelagh? What’s wrong?”
I’m sorry, Bea,” Shelagh continued, her voice breaking, “I have awful news.”
“My dad was killed.”
“What? No! When?”
“This morning. The RCMP came to the store to give us the news a few hours ago.”
“Sorry, lapsing into Canadian. Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
“Why the police? Was Keith in an accident?”
“He stopped at a gas station in Vancouver on his way to the university. The police told us a panhandler at the entrance to the store suddenly pulled out a knife and stabbed dad as he passed by. The ambulance came right away, but… but he died soon after they got him to the hospital.” Shelagh’s voice caught and she started to weep.
“Oh, aunt Shelagh. That’s horrible!” Bea gave her aunt and herself a moment to recover. She knew how much her aunt loved her step father. “Did they catch the pan handler?”
“Yes. He’s in custody,” Shelagh sniffed, getting some control back in her voice, “He was still there at the gas station as if nothing had happened when police arrived.”
“I can’t believe this! Did…did Keith know him?”
“Apparently the man was often there. For all we know dad was used to seeing him there since he regularly stopped at that gas station. Some homeless, faceless drug addict that nobody knew.”
“But why? Did Keith refuse him when he asked for money or something?”
“The store clerk told the Mounties that the guy never said a word. As dad passed him, he just suddenly lunged.”
“Did Keith fight with him? He had a black belt in karate, didn’t he?”
“Dad was apparently taken by surprise, sweetie,” Shelagh said with another heartfelt sigh. “We can tell you all the details later. Your grandmother and I would like you to come to the funeral. Can you get away?”
“Yes, of course I’ll come! How is Grandmother? Oh, my poor, poor Lizzie!”
“She’s…well…it’s been a terrible blow. She’s coping as best as she can. We’ve planned the funeral for Friday but we hoped you’d come sooner.”
“I’ll get the next available flight. You can tell me more about what happened when I get there. Listen, I’ll call you right back with details of my flight when I’ve got one. I love you. And give my love to Grandma Lizzie. Bye.”
Bea hung up the phone and immediately buzzed her assistant to cancel all her appointments and arrange for the flight. Bea raced home to pack, her mind on Keith and all those who loved him.
Keith had been the only grandfather she had known, although he really wasn’t a blood relation. Bea had only been four years old when her grandfather George died. Even at that age Bea had developed a strong connection and affection for her grandmother Lizzie. She also formed a bond with her Aunt Shelagh who was only ten years older than Bea.
A year after George’s death, Lizzie and Shelagh had taken the trip on which her grandmother had met Keith, which ultimately led to their move to Crescent Beach. Alexine never initiated contact, never made the effort to visit her mother and sister in Crescent Beach, and never picked up the phone to call them. Lizzie tried to keep the lines of communication open with Bea. For the first few years Lizzie, Keith and Shelagh had made frequent efforts to visit Alexine’s Manhattan brownstone in an effort to patch up relations with her mother. Alexine had never permitted them to enter, forcing them to stay in a hotel nearby. A number of frosty and unproductive meetings in neutral venues culminated in a particularly edgy visit that ended in a major row. No one had ever revealed all of the details of the fracas to Bea. After this row Lizzie had finally given up on visiting her oldest daughter and Lizzie and Shelagh’s visits to New York had ceased altogether. Bea had always enjoyed spending time with them during these infrequent visits, even though tensions between her mother and grandmother had gradually escalated.
Lizzie had continued to send Bea gifts for birthdays and holidays, though Bea later discovered that some of these had been intercepted by her mother who’d made them ‘disappear’. Enmeshed in school and hemmed in by the demands of her family under the disapproving eye of her mother, Bea had stayed in touch but never was allowed to go to Crescent Beach to visit them. What little she knew of their life there came from the occasional letter, e-mail or phone call from them. Alexine had berated Bea with stories of what she suspected they did out there, despite having even less to go on, given that she eschewed all contact with them.
“Freaks! All of them.” Alexine ranted, “A disgrace to our family. They’re the family curse in our generation. Witches! I won’t have you associating with people like that, Beatrice.”
When she got old enough to make her own decisions, life became too busy for her to afford any time to travel so far for a visit. Now that she worked in the family business, time off was something that other people had. Despite her mother’s displeasure, Bea quietly maintained cordial relations with her grandmother and aunt, occasionally calling them to vent her frustrations at home.
Bea raced into her condo and began assembling things to pack into her suitcase. Poor Keith’s funeral was a terrible reason for a visit to Crescent Beach, but she was grateful for any excuse to escape both her mother and John right now. Taking time off work to attend the funeral wouldn’t please Alexine, but Bea figured that her mother could hardly find fault in her decision. Hadn’t Alexine lectured her about family obligations? Attending a funeral surely qualified. Alexine no longer considered them family, but Bea wasn’t going to let that stop her. It was a long overdue visit with the only family members she actually loved. She wished now she’d gone before this tragedy struck. Now she’d never be able to see Keith again. Bea stopped packing to weep.
A few minutes later she pulled herself together, finished packing, set her suitcase by the front door, and hopped into the shower. Under the warm spray Bea caught herself in a familiar day dream of abandoning her job and life in New York, packing up everything and leaving town for good. Freedom! Bea smiled wryly and shook her head. No she wasn’t running off like her grandmother did. She was just going to a funeral. She had obligations. At least John was no longer one of those obligations. She couldn’t believe the lengths her mother had gone to with John. Did her mother not realize that arranged marriages were an anachronism? Bea was appalled that she’d actually gone along with her mother’s schemes at first. What was I thinking?
Bea didn’t need another strident confrontation. Afraid her mother would bully her into cancelling, she put off phoning her mother about the trip. She’d be upset if Bea even sent flowers Shelagh wouldn’t phone her sister to ask her to come to the funeral, surely. Hopefully by the time her mother’s lackeys at the office told her about Bea’s trip she’d be airborne.
She changed into travel clothes, gathered her things together, went downstairs, and had the doorman summon a taxi. On the drive to JFK, Bea thought about this ludicrous scheme of her mother’s. She’d begun to notice odd little things in her mother’s behavior over a year ago. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say odder than usual? Certainly the changes in Alexine’s behavior became more pronounced shortly before Bea had become engaged to John. The society that her mother pushed her into was rife with rumors about her intended. Bea had discounted these rumors at first as her mother had scoffed at them. However, eventually Bea had found these rumors hard to ignore. Ultimately Bea had found evidence of John’s habitual infidelity with a good friend, no less. His polite manners and suave exterior masked his real self, a real bastard. Bea’s serious second thoughts about agreeing to the marriage turned to a conviction that the union was not to be. Her announcement ending the engagement made her mother crazy. Or should she say, crazier?
Kat pondered stopping for something to eat. She wouldn’t reach her goal for hours yet and she and her son could use a short break. The problem with that was that her ancient, ornery station wagon had a bad habit of not starting back up again. The local garage back in San Diego had quoted an exorbitant price to fix her beater, so she’d put off the repairs, needing every cent that she had for the long journey. She’d had to rock the stupid heap back and forth until the infernal thing consented to start again twice so far, not an easy task at the best of times, near impossible with everything that they owned packed in the station wagon. Kat had scrimped and saved for her beat up used car to commute to her jobs, but in the back of her mind, Kat had known that someday she’d use the car to escape to a new life. This trip was that escape.
Please let this heap start a few more times, Kat prayed, absently brushing neon red strands of hair out of her eyes, A few more starts and we’re there and I can get it fixed or buy a used car to replace it.
She hoped that she could find a cheap motel that wasn’t a dive, or maybe a campground not too far from civilization. Hopefully only one more night to go. Gods willing and with an early start, they’d arrive in Crescent Beach tomorrow. She glanced at her nine year old son Arthur, quietly looking out the window, a road atlas in his hands. She wanted to make a new start for the two of them.
A U2 song pealed from her purse. Kat reached for her cell phone.
“Kat? It’s Shelagh. I wanted to see how far you’d come.”
Kat’s heart sank into her Danners. Had Lizzie changed her mind?
“Kat? Are you there?”
“Yes… yes. Is everything alright?”
“As well as can be expected, under the circumstances. When will you get here, do you think?”
Relief washed over Kat. They hadn’t changed their minds. Thank the Gods.
“Let me check,” Kat turned to her son. “What’s our current position, Lieutenant?”
Arthur bent over the maps in his lap.
“Our current position is 12 miles south of Salem, Captain,” he reported to his mom, “ETA 9 minutes at current warp speed.”
Kat gave her son a big grin. “I’m on I-5 outside Salem,” Kat told Shelagh.
“Let’s see. You should arrive in Portland soon then.”
“Yes. My navigator and I hope to make Portland tonight and then push on in the morning to your place. Is that okay?”
“Yes. That’s wonderful. The drive to the border from Portland should take you only about six hours. Why don’t you give us a call when you’re at the border?”
“Okay, I will. Thank you, I… hello? Shelagh?” The cell phone had lost the signal. Kat cursed the phone and tossed it into her bag.
Shelagh hung up the kitchen phone and turned to her mother. Lizzie stood at the kitchen window staring west across the garden wall at the sea. Coming up beside her, Shelagh gently put her hand on her mother’s shoulder. Lizzie gently laid a hand on top of her daughter’s and sighed.
“Where’s Kat?” Lizzie asked.
“Salem. She’ll stop in Portland for the night, then drive through to get here late tomorrow afternoon.”
“When is Bea’s flight?”
“She gets in tonight at eight thirty.”
“You didn’t tell her about the writing on the wall at the gas station?” Lizzie asked.
“No. Don’t worry. We can tell both of them about that and the prophecy when they arrive.”
“Thank the Gods Bea agreed to come.”
“I never doubted that she would. The cards were right. You said an upheaval would bring Bea here. Bea told me that she broke up with John and that Alexine is hounding her about it. Alexine seems to have fallen completely under his sway,” said Shelagh.
“You mean John?”
“You know who I mean. You saw that an upheaval would bring out your great, great niece Kat. You saw what was going to happen to Kat and her mother too.”
“Yes, the Tower card again. But I didn’t see everything, dear. Neither of us expected the situation we’ve found ourselves in. He made attempts on Keith before, but we always survived them. Why couldn’t I see this?”
“You of all people know how that is. And even if you had seen something, could you have stopped it? Look what happened to Kat’s mother Marcia.”
Lizzie closed her eyes. “Maybe not, my dear. Our plan wasn’t supposed to unfold this way. I never wanted this meeting to happen this way. We wanted a way to get them both to come but… not like this.”
“You know what they say about magic, mom.”
Lizzie nodded. “Careful what you ask for, because you’ll get it.” She rubbed her temples as she turned to face her daughter. “We’re not ready. This isn’t what I expected at all. This isn’t the timing that I envisioned. We haven’t had enough time to prepare.”
“Then we must work with what we have. We can’t let this opportunity slip by.”
She didn’t voice the rest of her concerns. Neither of them knew for sure if Kat or Bea really had the gift, or if they did, how much, or that they’d accept their gift even if they did. It seemed that circumstances were bringing Kat out to stay and become part of the prophecy, but Bea had a career in New York. Could they expect Bea to stay? Bea was a vice president of her mother’s company. What could they offer her here?
“Even if you’ve only seen glimpses of the future,” Shelagh said, “the pieces that you have seen tell us that the prophecy may really be coming together.”
The phone rang.
“Kat and I got cut off. It might be her calling back.” Shelagh picked up the phone. “Hello? Hello Alexine,” Shelagh said, surprise on her face darkening into anger. Trading an intense look with her mother, Shelagh put the phone on speaker.
“What a pleasant surprise. I don’t recall you ever calling us before.”
“Why did you call my daughter?”
“My father was killed. I asked if she would come to the funeral.”
“Keith was not your father.”
“As far as I’m concerned he was. Bea said she would come gave us her condolences.”
“You’ll get none from me.”
“I’ve never wished you ill, Alexine. Why do you do this?”
“You persist in communicating with my daughter.”
“What harm is there in that? She’s my niece.”
“I have told you before that I do not approve. She has no business running off to participate in your indecorous family affairs while she is needed at work.”
“Indecorous family affairs? We are discussing a family funeral, Alexine. My father just died…”
“George was your father.”
“George was an abusive idiot who hated both of us because we weren’t sons. You know that better than anyone, sister.”
“He was your father.”
“He was an animal. My real father is Keith.”
“I caught the news. Killed by some drug dealer, I understand. Lovely companions your ‘real’ father had.”
“You bitch! Companion? He didn’t know the man.”
“Alexine?” Lizzie said, stepping closer to the phone’s microphone.
“Will you come to the funeral?”
“Why would I do that? You should have stayed here. If you had, this would never have happened.”
“So you could keep an eye on me? Spy on me like you did for George? Arrange a marriage for me like you’re trying to do for my granddaughter? You clearly didn’t call to offer condolences. What do you want?”
“I’d like you to meet my daughter at the airport and put her on the next plane back.”
“Bea’s brother Henry relies on her to set up the new accounts system. Your interference will not be tolerated. Her father’s doctors don’t want him to work any longer. We must rely on both Henry and Beatrice to run the business. Her absence is intolerable.”
“Is money all you can think about? If you had any compassion at all you’d be on a flight to Crescent Beach yourself. What’s happened to you?”
“I’ve no desire to associate with the likes of you. I’ve no desire for my daughter to associate with you either, as you well know. Her spending time with people like you will not look good to our business associates. It will cause talk. Ugly talk. Put her on the plane and we’ll forget about this unfortunate business. I’m willing to offer you compensation for your time.”
“Agree to my simple request and I will transfer $50,000 into your bank account immediately.”
“Feeling guilty after all, Alexine? Think that you can buy my love?”
“Not at all. I’m sure that you’d find the money useful for the upgrade to your… quaint little shop.”
Shelagh glanced aside and saw Lizzie’s shoulders stiffen. Neither of them had told Alexine about their plans for the shop. Neither of them had spoken to her in years. Had Bea told her of their plans?
“I intend to meet Bea at the airport,” Lizzie answered after a short pause, “What she does when she arrives is entirely up to her. She’s an adult and can make her own decisions. I don’t need or want your money, daughter. Love is all I ever wanted from you, and you don’t seem inclined to give it to me.”
“If you go against my wishes I will do everything in my power to ruin you.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Call it a promise. I will not make this offer again.”
“You haven’t the power to ruin me, daughter. You shouldn’t even try.”
“I’m not afraid of your so called ‘gift’.”
“My gift is not what you need to be concerned about. Karma is catching up to you. What happens to you, you bring upon yourself,” Lizzie said.
“I’m not afraid of so called karma either, Mother. Or your prophecy. Send her back! You’ve been warned.”