A small cut. Minor burns. Two hours spent waiting for the doctor to appease the hordes of angry peasants (or, rather, scared victims of a freak fireworks accident) before we can get our three stitches and skin treatment and be on our merry way.
Elizabeth, always such a brave little trooper, sits patiently as her slender little arm is sewn back up with a needle that probably would have made me sick with anxiety.
“I wish it had happened on my forehead,” she tells me on the drive home.
I furrow my brow at her in the rearview mirror. “Why, honey? Wouldn’t that have hurt more?”
“Maybe,” she admits, “but then I’d look like Harry Potter.”
I giggle. How cute is that? The things kids say.
After a brief pause, I giggle a little more.
And more. And more. Until suddenly I’m laughing so hard that I have to press my chest against the steering wheel to keep it steady because my hands are shaking with each gasp that racks my body. Elizabeth smiles tentatively before joining in, not realizing what is so hysterical but wanting more than anything to join in. I really don’t know why I’m laughing. There’s probably something wrong with me. Maybe I sprained my frontal lobe while I was banging my head against the tile last night.
In any case, I guess that after crying so much I need to laugh a while to balance everything out. The sun might start rising at one p.m. and the teenagers at dawn if I don’t get my universe back in order.
I find it amazing that I can be so free-spirited when I spent the last two days of my life choking on melancholy over Eloise’s death, but as I lead my little witch—who is, in fact, waiting for her letter from Hogwarts to arrive in four years and preparing by impersonating Hermione for Halloween—into the house and lock the door and set the alarm behind me, I feel like things are at least slightly closer to being back to normal.
Normal, of course, does not apply to my son curled up on the living room couch rather than gluing his eyes to Mario Kart in the basement, nor does it aptly describe my eldest daughter without a phone in her hand to text her friends about how unfair it is that her mother isn’t letting her out of the house this week.
My face falling instantly, I put a gentle grip on Elizabeth’s uninjured arm and ask, voice wavering, “What’ s going on?”
“There’s been another murder,” Hannah announces tearfully. On second thought, maybe she won’t be so eager to go into town after all.
Caleb frowns at the floor. “He went to our school.”
I feel my shoulders slump limply at my sides, losing the fight against gravity, and when I glance down to assure myself that Elizabeth is still alive and well beside my hip, I’m surprised to find them still stuck in their sockets.
A teenager this time. A child. A boy who never had the chance to graduate from high school, fall in love, get married, raise a family of his own—a boy who never truly lived. The thought of it nearly breaks my heart, but to my incredible guilt, I feel only relief that my own kids are safe and sound, right here in this room.
No sooner do I slide into the cushions between Hannah and Caleb than the garage door soars open, propelled into the wall with the force of forty jet engines. This means, of course, that the Ares himself has arrived on the premises.
Warwick stomps into the room in a huff, takes one look at our pity party on the couch, and exits in even more of a huff.
Caleb raises an eyebrow at me, and Hannah sighs heavily.
“All right, I’ve got it.”
The rubber band connecting me to my children is stretched almost to its breaking point as I follow my husband into his study, where, somehow, he has already managed to pop open a bottle of expensive scotch.
“This whole town’s going to Hell,” he growls without even turning to look at me.
Scrunching my nose at the stuffy aroma of alcohol, I propose, “Maybe we should go away for a while. At least, until they catch…whoever’s doing this. Whoever is awful enough to…to…”
“Are you crazy?” he snaps. I bight sharply into my cheek to remind myself that this is not the time to get soppy, not when he’s in a mood. “I’m the one keeping this inferno together! Without me, everyone’d be doomed! Doomed, hear me? I can’t go out of town now, not in this crisis. I’d never get elected as senator, governor—even reelected as mayor—acting like a burrowing rabbit!”
Clenching my fists, I argue, “Then let me go! I’ll take the kids to New York. We can stay with my sister.”
“Oh, your sister! Now that’s a great idea,” he snorts.
“Don’t you start with that! There is absolutely nothing wrong with my sister. Just because she’s going through a divorce—”
“She never could keep a relationship going for more than a month.”
“That’s not true, and even if it were, it’s certainly no business of yours.” I’m so livid that crimson smoke is billowing out my ears like I’m Mount Etna, and as I ride out the door on my chariot of lava, I threaten, “Maybe I should follow her lead.”
Seconds before the door closes, he finishes the conversation with a low hiss, if only to get the last word. “We’re not leaving Wildewood.”