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Part One: the Poet’s Vendetta
Be careful what you wish for
Swear now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house.
—1 Samuel 24:22
The dim lights reflected the caramel colouring in his brown eyes and added a soft mystery to the air around me. Everything about the room was dark. My black lacy dress, my black gloves, my black hat. Under the poker table I was wearing black boots and black fishnets. The only splashes of colour were my bright red lips and my long, white blond ponytail tossed forward over my shoulder. I gazed up from under my long black eyelashes and brought the fan of cards up to my face.
“Hit me,” I said to the dealer without looking at him. Keeping my eyes locked on my opponent, not giving him a chance to do much of anything. The dealer gave me a card. I counted them. A slow, sweet smile spread across my face. I laid my cards on the table.
“Game over,” I said. “Twenty-one.”
Caleb’s eyes widened. I left him to ponder his misfortune and walked toward the camera. Slow, sexy, like Joe had taught me to. I put a hand on my hip and tilted my chin up. Trying to ignore the light now shining right in my eyes. “Looking for a good time and a couple bucks in your britches? We got it at Theodore’s Bar&Casino.” I flashed my award-winning smile and twirled my hair. “So come on. We’re waiting.”
“And, cut.” The director placed his bullhorn on his knee, praising my work.
Joe come up to me, arms outstretched, looking like he was about to cry. “That was beautiful, Hanuara, pure magic.” He kissed both my cheeks. I pulled away, disgusted with myself. And him.
“That’s terrible, Joe, and you know it. Why do you want me to advertise that junk?” Usually I would never be caught dead back talking my manager, but this time he had gone too far. “I got two words for you: Never. Again.” I tossed my jacket to the girl waiting in the hall and stalked to the bathroom, where my change of clothes was. the door banged shut in the biggest stall.
“Hanuara, I’m sorry, but this was something I promised I’d do for my friend, you know that. And they really wanted to meet you.” I ripped off my stupid leggings and in an act of pure rebellion, tossed them in the garbage. Joe went on, “Hanuara, I don’t like this either, you know. I’m not one of those Christian do-gooders like you and your family, but even I don’t agree with betting and stuff. Especially not at your age.” flinching, I crossed my arms over my bear chest. I had given up the right to be called a Christian do-gooder years ago, but the comment still had a personal sting. I so did not want this right now. It was one of those times when I just wanted to quit the whole thing and do what I wanted. Not what Joe wants, not what the press wants. What I, Hanuara Fei-Ling, want. And what I wanted to do right now was to go and never look back.
Be careful what you wish for.
Joe looked like he was going to start in on me again when I swung the door open. I towered over him by at least five inches. I stared down into his eyes with enough venom to kill a dinosaur. “Whatever, Joe. It’s over, okay? Just remember: never again. Ever.”
Joe relaxed his position. “I feel you. I get it. Now, about this next show. You ever heard of Juanita June?”
“Yeah. Who hasn’t? What about it?”
“I think you know what about it. You interested or not?”
My eyes closed as I leaned my head against the wall. “I don’t know, Joe. Probably.”
“You don’t know? Probably? Are you crazy? This is Juanita June! She’s an ‘Oh, yes, I love you, Joe!’ not a probability!”
“Oh. Yes, I love you.” I pushed open the door to the parking lot. “Joe.”
“Thursday. Santa Anita, in the USA, right? Jet leaves at seven on Wednesday.”
My mom was waiting stonily in the jet. I crawled into the opposite seat and peeked at her. She met my tentative gaze with cold admonishment.
“Hanna, you know how I felt about this. You went ahead anyway. I don’t want to control you, because this is your career, but I hope you realize how utterly disappointed I am.” She couldn’t seem to look at me.
my head fell on the window and closed my eyes. There was more she wanted to say, I knew, but right then we were both too tired to deal with any of it. “I know Mom. I talked to Joe. He said he wasn’t going to let it happen again.”
My mother’s sigh caught halfway in her throat. “Hon, that’s not the point. God loves you; he doesn’t want you to be caught up in that crap! When will you understand that?”
I just shook my head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me, Hanna. Apologize to God. He’s the one you’re hurting.”
Tears pricked the back of my eyes. Why did she do that? I was certain she knew what she was doing to me, every time she said His name. She may as well have been slapping me in the face. I had never prayed once since the accident; it had hurt too much. And soon I got out of the habit.
We were airborne, with Theodore’s becoming no more than a speck in the patchwork of the wide, empty ground.
Sunday, June 1st, day 1
In Dan Cae, the weather is so out-of-whack it should have driven the weatherman out of business. I think this was about the first time it has actually been in season. For the three years I had lived here, anyway. In other words, it was summertime, and it was hot.
I was vegging out on the front porch after a particularly gruelling shoot in Copenhagen, reading one of my father’s best sellers to pass the time. My hands got too sweaty, so I dropped the book on my lap and reached for the glass of lukewarm lemonade on the table. My clothes were damp and plastered to my body, and my hair plastered to my face. I lolled my head back against the wall. I was about to explode with frustration. Summer was so boring. Last year it had been too rainy, and the year before that there was hail everyday, and the year before that we had been living in the basement hiding from tornadoes. None of them ever came near our house, but my mother’s motto was “Better safe than sorry.”
If Jerry had filled the pool… I moaned with longing. Normalcy in our country is overrated. They wanted normal weather for once, they got normal weather. The irony was cutting.
The only reason I was sitting outside in the first place, if you were wondering, is because your hair grows better when it’s hot out. I have to sit outside for at least an hour everyday that the weather’s nice. Or at least that’s what Joe says. My hair is my most appealing feature, according to him. I can understand why I have to look after it, but I don’t know why I have to keep growing it. Right now I can sit on it, and I’m more than six feet tall. If I cut it, he wouldn’t be pleased.
A watch check told me there were still ten minutes to go.
I imagined the world catching on fire. If I closed my eyes and concentrated really hard, I thought I could feel the flames burning my face. Oh, but wait. It’s just the sun and this blasted weather. Over the porch railing, the trees and lawn were well kept, and the blue sky went on forever, uninterrupted by anything. I don’t know why Monica loved it so much in the city.
My mom and dad had worked hard to buy this beautiful estate, and all the workers. I didn’t have to do anything, unless I wanted to. But I remembered Alberta with its beautiful summer dusks, and Christopher and I would go for walks under the summer stars. That was summer. This was endless.
Christopher. My heart twisted. I couldn’t bring myself to go back there, or even call. If he were here, though, he would think of something fun for us to do. With my money and his brains, we would have a blast, I thought with grim humour.
I picked up the book. This was his fifth one, out of sixty-four. It was called Teardrop and it was a love story. Inspired by my mom, actually. This made me a little queasy, but as long as I didn’t think about it too much I actually enjoyed it.
Zac, my sister’s Newfoundland and retired service dog, trotted up the stairs to sit by my feet, panting. I felt sorry for him, just a little. He had thick fur meant to protect him from icy water; if I was hot, he was burning. Monica shaved him, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I put my feet up on the railing.
The dog barked and put his front paws on my knees. Growling under my breath, I shoved him off. The lug fell on my bamboo table and my lemonade went flying; lemonade and ice slivers dripped down my neck. The shock of cold left red marks after my former boiled potato state.
“You stupid dog!” I screamed. He wagged his tail and barked. “AARGH!”
I stomped into the house, cursing loudly.
Monica was at the kitchen table, painting her nails cherry red. She glanced up as I stormed in. Her pale lips shaped into a little O of surprise and then she started to titter. “What happened to you?”
I tried to melt her with my glare. “I have about had it with your damn dog!” I stomped my foot for emphasis.
This, apparently, was the funniest thing she had ever heard. How sad. Her hysterical laughter followed me up the stairs.
I bumped around my room, tossing my soaked clothes on the floor. The framed photograph I kept on my headboard caught my eye, as it always did at least once a day. I don’t know why I didn’t get rid of it; I had thrown out most of his other pictures and things. This photo was of Monica, Adam and I at the park. Monica lounged on the bench and Adam and I sat on the ground in front of her, the leaves were changing colour in the background. The picture represented a time when everything was right, and our lives weren’t complicated. Looking at it, I felt myself calm down a little, but then I was overcome by an overwhelming grief for Adam, and the accompanying guilt and terror that always followed. I sat down on the bed, holding the picture close to my heart. I closed my eyes and imagined that everything was okay, just as I had imagined the world burning to cinders.
After my shower, I wandered down to the library with Teardrop under my arm. My dad was there, as usual, on the big couch with his laptop. When dad is working, the house could be burning and he wouldn’t notice. This bugs my mother sometimes, but for the most part she thinks it’s romantic. Then again, she thinks everything is romantic.
I cleared my throat and waited. “Dad?” I said loudly.
He jumped. Almost losing his reading glasses. “Yes?”
“I finished Teardrop,” I told him, holding it up.
He nodded at me to have a seat in the chair next to the sofa, my usual spot. “What did you think of it?” He folded his hands together and placed them on his knees, looking at me intently.
“Well, the fact that you wrote it sort of creeped me out. But the overall storyline was great. I like the part when Teardrop finally finds Tiegan and saves him. But I don’t get the part when they’re in the supermarket? Is Meriane trying to be nice or what?” My father’s radical imagination often got him in trouble with his editors, but loose ends were usually tied up at the end of the story.
Dad reached for the book and I handed it to him. He flipped to the page I was talking about and read it over quickly. “Ah, Meriane. She’s quite a character, isn’t she? I had intended to make her a confusing person, but I guess I over did it. No, she was not trying to be nice. She told Teardrop that Tiegan had a girlfriend so that she would stop trying to get his attention. Not because she wanted her to move along and get on with her life.” Dad smiled and shook his head.
“Okay.” I put the book on its respectful place in its shelf. The library was our entire basement, and all four walls were lined with shelves that reached to the ceiling, the reincarnation of the library we had in Alberta. There was an heirloom wooden writing desk, two chairs, and a sofa. There was a shelf for his favourite authors, a shelf for authors who wrote series, one for his books. And then you had your dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopaedias, the self-help and the get rich quick shelves. There was a shelf for almost everything you could imagine, and my father knew exactly where every single book was. When we were young the servants practically ripped out their hair trying to keep the books in order after we played in there. I liked to come here to do my homework or just stare at the endless rows of books that my father had collected. Whenever I finished one of his books we discussed it. He claimed that it was better if “normal” people gave him feedback on his books, because that is who he writes them for. He has me look over his manuscripts too, sometimes, before he sends them to his editor. I don’t especially like reading, but there was just something about my dad’s writing that appealed to me.
Monica simultaneously talked on her phone and shovelled creamed broccoli into her mouth, so she couldn’t hear Mom telling her to put it away. She was looking over a case file while she ate. Dad was on the laptop, of course. My friend Jane Wells had come over and we were paging through an old Elle magazine, seeing how many pictures of us there were. It was the familiar family supper scene, the rare times when we actually were together.
My mom says I should try and take more interest in my sister. Yeah, right. She goes to law school. She does homework for fun, when she’s not having an affair with her scotch bottle. Her idea of family time is being in the same city together.
To everyone’s surprise, she detached herself from her phone long enough to speak. “Mom?”
Our mother looked at Miss Monica in surprise. “Yes?”
“Well, Kendra and I were thinking that if you don’t need Mary tomorrow, we could all go to the beach to see the Festival of Shells?” By last day off, she means her last day before she goes tanning with her stuck-up friends.
And BTW? My name isn’t Mary, it’s Hanuara Maria. She calls me Mary because she’s a dork from the big city. The name stuck and now my name was Mary to most people, though my mother called me Hanna and some people called me Maria. Only the media and very close friends called me Hanuara.
Mom looked at me. I looked at my sister. “Show in Germany for Hans Bleint tomorrow. Sorry,” I said blandly.
“How about the next day?”
I pretended to think about it. this time Jane answered. “Oooh, no. doing some charity thing in Pakistan. Joe wants us to go because he thinks its good publicity.” she rolled her eyes.
“Look, I’ll call you, okay? Its summer, and everybody wants me to do these ‘Summer’s Here’ or ‘Fall Fashion’ and even ‘Back to School’ gigs. It gets crazy.”
“What about me, Hanuara?” Jane asked.
“We’re not talking about you, Jane.” I gritted my teeth. She could be a strange one. “Soon as I’m free, I’ll call you.” I hoped that would close the subject.
But Mom had to open it again. “Hanna, I’m sure you’re not that busy. Its summer break! I’m sure Joe wouldn’t mind if you took a few hours to go to the beach with your sister.” she smiled. “You could just go tonight. you know how they light up all the shell things at night. Don’t.” she held up a finger. “I know you would stay up all night any other time, so don’t tell me that you’ll be too tired.”
“But I will,” I muttered.
“Oh, and by the way, it’s Grandma Rea’s birthday on Saturday. Don’t forget. We’re going up for the day.”
I looked at my plate guiltily. “But, mom, I’m double booked on Saturday. I need to do a commercial for Satin Butterfly and then go next door for that Harrison Ford For Her thing, and, oh yeah—”
“Hanuara, that’s enough. You can miss that. It’s your great-grandmother’s birthday, for heaven’s sake, and if you think—”
That’s when Dad broke in. “Just let it go, Reese. Rea will understand. Amber was a model, remember?” he gave her a significant look. Finally, she let it go. I went back to eating, trying not to feel too bad.
Our mother, Teresa, is a strange woman. At home, she was often flustered and couldn’t concentrate on one thing for too long. She thought a lot. She often forgets things, even her cell-phone number sometimes. She says Dad turned her into a romantic mush-head. I can believe it. Dad is always giving Mom flowers and foot-messages and taking her out to dinner at random moments of the day. Once they even went to Rome “Just because”. Monica thinks its sweet but I think it’s disturbing. They’re fifty, for goodness sake.
Romantic mush-head or not, in the courtroom Mom is a force to be reckoned with. She could take down the toughest criminal or save someone with all the evidence stacked against them from jail. Whether she thinks you’re innocent or guilty, she’ll give you justice. She says that God helps her with every case. I believe her, now anyway. How else would she have gotten to be such a well-known, wealthy, just lawyer?
But she hadn’t been able to catch Adam’s killer. She had never quite forgiven herself for that. Sometimes I thought I hadn’t, either.
The media was all over the mysterious murder of my brother. To them we were just another good story, something to use to bring in money. I stopped modeling for a year and the only thing they had to say was “supermodel-on-the-rise Hanuara Fei-Ling falls flat after murder of brother.”
Mom could hardly focus anymore. Her reputation took a hard hit. She couldn’t believe Adam was dead, but what baffled her the most was that someone had killed him. Adam was such a basically good person. Evidently, it was a meticulously planned murder. We tried to be strong, for the others, but in the end, it was Helen Mere who made all the difference.
When the little woman knocked on our door two winters ago, we never would have guessed how she would affect our lives. She told us that she had seen Adam and some man walking along the riverbank that night. She looked a little sick when she told us she thought it made such a pleasant scene that she decided to take a picture. But at least she still had the picture. She said she hoped it would help. And it did, but not in the way she had meant.
It was like Helen had turned a light switch on in our hearts. The picture reminded Mom that there was still something that she could do. And so the search for Adam’s killer picked up in earnest again. The picture wasn’t a very clear one, and only Adam was in great detail, but we could see that the man he was with was taller than he was and had bright red hair. It was safe to assume that he was the man who had killed him, Mom said. She sent the picture to the lab to be studied in high resolution. Every day she thanks God for that little woman named Helen Mere.
I sat up from lying in the splits for bedtime stretches when there was a tap on my door. ”Monica?”
“Don’t sound so surprised.” She entered my room and closed the door. She was wearing a blue silk nightgown that swished as she moved and looked silvery in the lamplight. If I had still been in a bad mood, I would have been jealous.
“What do you want?”
“Could you please come to the Shell Festival with Kendra and me tomorrow?” This again? I told her I didn’t want to go to the beach, in a nonnegotiable (as Mom would say) tone. “We don’t have to go to the beach,” she said. “We could go somewhere else. Wherever you want.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Why not?” She put a hand on her hip. “Why are you avoiding me? what have I done to you, Mary?”
She thought I was avoiding her? well, I was, but not on the grand scale that she avoided us. That was rich, coming from her. “I told you. I have a job to do. I’m not going to take a break just to go to the beach.” With you. I went back into my splits.
finally, she stood up and backed toward the door. “Fine.” Out in the hall, I heard her verbalizing to Mom and Dad. Of course they would put her up to this. Disgusted, I crawled into bed and pulled my sheets up to cover my head. The door to her room roughly shut.
It wasn’t long after that Flora knocked on my door. I knew it was Flora because she had a very distinct knock: rap rap rap, rap. “Come in,” I called.
Flora came in every night to lay out my clothes for me and put new towels on the rack and basically make sure everything was okay. You would think I would grow out of wanting someone to pick my clothes for me, but I hadn’t. Sometimes she asks me how my day went. Sometimes I ask her about hers. But mostly we just ignore each other. Flora’s okay, but we’re both more comfortable not to speak.
She closed the blinds on the window, then put a bookmark in my book and dropped it on the desk. She turned off my computer. Usually I watched her with unspoken admiration. Flora was very pretty for her age, with a slender, curvy body and a small neat face. She had brown hair and violet coloured eyes. She only went up to my chin. She was cute in a way, but she could also pack a punch, I was sure. Not that I knew her personally, of course. She was just a servant.
But my mind was on other things. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the beach; it was that I didn’t want to go to the beach with her. Last year I caved she got stone drunk and had woken up naked with some guy on a dune. That was the second time she had gotten unexpectedly—or inevitably, depending how you choose to look at it—pregnant. Her second abortion.
Monica was ruining her life with her stupid drinking habit. Nobody seemed to care that she was addicted except me. My mom says it was her way of dealing with the pain of losing Adam. Excuses, excuses. The way Monica had looked on the beach that day, completely out of control, gave me chills. There was no way I was going to sleep now. So I picked up my book again and started to read.
Monday, June 2nd, day 2
Someone was knocking on my door. it was seven pm. It couldn’t be time to get up already.
“Go away,” I muttered as I closed my eyes. The door flew open. I was too sleepy to pay much attention. A very loud voice in my ear told me to get up, in a right now voice. my mom was over my bed, hands on her hips. “Why?” I stifled a yawn. uncharacteristically fired-up Mom strode over to the curtains and threw them open. Sudden light filled the room.
“I am tired of you always trying to avoid spending time with your sister. I told you once that you could only do your modeling if you could keep your balance in life!” she almost screamed. She sounded on the verge of hysterics. Or maybe she was already there.
“What?” I slurred.
“Mom, what are you talking about?”
“You know perfectly well what I am talking about, Hanuara.”
I froze. She never called me Hanuara. Unless I do something really, really wrong. “Mom! What is going on?” Mom pointed a shaking finger to something out in the hall. I peered around her to get a better look. A brown leather suitcase??? “You’re going to Tianam with your sister.”
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~ Romans 15:13