Read Four and Twenty Blackbirds Online

Authors: Cherie Priest

Tags: #Fantasy, #Horror, #Contemporary, #Dark Fantasy, #Fiction

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (29 page)

BOOK: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
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"You haven't got a mark on you," Lulu said, shifting to position herself more lazily in the big bed she and Dave share at home. "Rather miraculous, I'd say."

"No more so than your recovery." I squeezed her hand and she let me, then pried it away in pursuit of orange juice.

"Nothing to recover from."

"And there was nothing to mark me," I retorted, watching her down the juice and reclaiming her hand when she set it down again. I played with the wedding ring there, twisting the band in a groove around her finger. "I don't know why you were so worried, anyway."

She sighed and leaned her head back into the pillows, which aimed her eyes safely away from me and at the ceiling. "That old woman, you know. That's all. And that damned boy. They never did catch him, did they?"

"I don't think they did, no. Not last I heard."

Harry had argued about that one, at first. But in the end, I couldn't let them take Malachi. I'm not sure why—maybe because he'd tried to help me, or maybe because I was still so sorry for him, even after all this time. Maybe it was just as simple as that Malachi was the only link I had to my father, and though he hadn't wanted anything to do with me, I wanted some connection to him regardless.

Malachi made me feel less marooned. He made me feel like there was someone out there I didn't have to explain anything to. That's why I bullied Harry the way I did, and got him to take my brother back to the monastery. There he'll be cared for by the priests and the other penitents in their quiet, reflective world. I can't think of a better place for him. Lulu and Dave would probably freak out if they knew, and insist that I take him to the police, and let them handle him.

Maybe one day I will, and maybe I won't. He's family, after all.

And whether Lulu meant to or not, she's managed to teach me that there are times you should forgive family, even though you don't want to, and even though you wouldn't forgive anyone else on earth if they treated you that way. I felt a strange little ache when I thought about Lulu and her mother, and how they'd gone for fifteen years with a wall between them because of a misunderstanding. Sure, Grandma could have and likely
have handled things differently; she should have let Lulu and Michelle go and visit my mother. She should have told them what was really going on.

Then again, my mother could have told them too, and she didn't. It was hard to sort out, though it might have been easier if I'd known either of them at all.

"It's kind of your fault, you know," I complained gently at my aunt, who was posing there on the duvet. She was so beautiful that it made my chest hurt; and I was so happy that she was alive, and she was well enough to be pretty while weak. I was delighted that she was healthy enough to milk the hospital visit for every ounce, and I was overjoyed to see Dave bouncing from room to room, playing nursemaid.

"What do you mean, my fault?"

"I mean, if you'd been willing to talk about my mother once in a while, I wouldn't have wondered so hard that I went talking to other people."

"But I didn't know the answers to half of what you wanted."

"That seems to be true," I admitted, "but the answers wouldn't have been half so important if you'd been . . ." I dropped it. There wasn't a good way to finish the thought, so I didn't. "All I want to say is, I wish you'd been more willing to talk about her. If I'd known
, I wouldn't have been so desperate to know anything at all."

"You never asked much."


She was right, I hadn't. I didn't want her to think I didn't value the people who'd brought me up, and I didn't want her to think I loved her any less because I was curious. An image flashed through my head, of Dave, there in the hotel lobby in Macon. I hadn't wanted to talk to him about finding my father for the same stupid reason. Poor Dave. He has his questions, but he's so happy to have us both back that he doesn't ask them. I love that about him. I love him more than I think I could love him even if he
my biological father. Family is family, and I say he's part of mine.

I could have gone on—I could have said more, and said it pointedly. I could have told her that I finally understood. But what would be the point? She didn't talk about Leslie because it was hard and it hurt her. I love Lulu, and I'm glad I could save her, but things are different now. She's lost her secrets and I've lost my ignorance. And now there's a wall between me and her. It's not like the one she set up to keep her own mother at bay, but it's there all the same. I'm not sure what it's made of, and I don't know how to knock it down, but every day I seek some way to climb it.

I made my first move a few weeks later, when I invited her to join me at a coffee shop downtown. I showed up early.

Ms. Finley was waiting at one of the small round tables by the door. She smiled when I came in, and her smile turned puzzled when I handed her the bag. The grin went bright again when she looked inside.

"Where'd you pick this up?"

"Atlanta. Went there for a concert last week. I hope it's the right color."

"Can't go wrong with bone. Good shade for an old broad. Matches just about everything and dresses up nice. I think my old one had brass buttons, but I don't remember. This is nice, thank you. What's the occasion?"

"I just wanted you to talk."

"Why me? I gave you just about everything I could, though I'm happy to come out and be social. And of course, I thank you for the sweater."

"You're welcome, Rhonda. Thing is, this time, the talking isn't exactly for me."

Lulu's tall shape cast a shadow past our table as she breezed by the big window and reached for the coffee shop door. She nodded at me, then at my table-mate, though her forehead was wrinkled with curiosity.

"Have a seat," I told Lulu, offering up mine. "This is Rhonda Finley, but she used to go by Marion. Rhonda, this is—"

"I would have known her as surely as I knew you, even if I saw her on the street. I'll try not to dislike you on sight for looking that much like you did as a girl." The older woman rose and extended a hand. From polite habit, my aunt took the hand—though she was too surprised to speak. She recognized the name and it shocked her. When she looked my way for an explanation, I shrugged it off.

"What do you want? The regular? I'll get it at the bar." I ushered Lulu into the chair and dug a ten-dollar bill out of my front pocket. She always gets chai. She orders it cold in a glass all summer, and hot in a latte mug all winter.

By the time I returned with the beverage, the two were talking without me. That was fine. At least they were talking.

While we were out, I got my first phone call on the cell phone I'd broken down and gotten when I returned from Florida. It was Malachi. He didn't leave his name, but I knew the voice, and even though I left him with a solemn vow of no more attempted homicide, I cringed to hear him speak.

He left a number. I deleted the message without writing it down.

My feelings about him are too mixed to sort out properly quite yet.

But bless his heart, he learns fast. He didn't call again, but just the other day I received a letter that said what a phone call might, and I didn't have to pretend to any small talk.

He says that God still speaks to him, but then again God always did—now He just talks more, that's all. Now Malachi understands, and there is less confusion. He knows where he went wrong, and God has forgiven him for his mistakes. Each day he sends up a prayer for me, that I might find clarity and resolution.

I sure hope God listens better than Malachi does.


BOOK: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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