I Dream of Twila, page 3
“If she’s happy, make sure she’s crying before leaving the house … even if you have to kick her or smack her around with a baseball bat to do it,” Thistle supplied, grinning as the moonlight poked through the clouds.
Wait a second … . Something occurred to me. “When did you take them to Mrs. Little’s house to spy on her?” I asked, racking my brain for a night when Aunt Tillie voluntarily spent time with the girls. “I don’t remember you taking them anywhere.”
“That’s because we sneak out of the house sometimes when you’re drinking your wine and pretending you don’t have sisters or a daughter,” Thistle said. “Don’t worry about it. We rarely get in real trouble.”
Oh, well, in that case … . “Clove, do you see anything that reminds you of the face you saw staring into the window?”
Clove is usually the most congenial of the girls, but that wasn’t on display tonight. “Yeah. You see that tree over there? It was that tree I saw. My bad.”
“No one needs your snark, young lady,” I chided. “It was a simple question.”
“It was a stupid question.” Aunt Tillie was seemingly unbothered by the fact that we were wandering around in the dark looking for a potential window peeper. “First, if we saw anyone out here it would obviously be the man we were looking for. We don’t have an overabundance of men running around on our property after dark.”
“Mostly because they’re afraid you’ll shrink their junk,” Bay interjected.
“Do you even know what you’re saying?” I challenged.
Bay nodded. “Men think with their penises, and if their penises are too small they go crazy.”
I shook my head and glared at Aunt Tillie. “Did you tell her that?”
Aunt Tillie ignored the question. “Where was I?”
“Second,” Clove prodded.
“Right.” Aunt Tillie bobbed her head. “Second, if Clove saw someone out on this property while we were walking around she’d start screaming and annoy the living crap out of all of us.”
Thistle snickered as Clove scalded Aunt Tillie with a dark look. “She’d definitely be annoying the crap out of us.”
“I hate everyone in this family,” Clove muttered.
“You’ll have to get in line with that one,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I hate everyone more than you do.”
“That’s not even possible. I … hey, what is that?” Clove lost interest in her familial hate and pointed toward a bevy of lights flickering in the field at the end of the driveway. They weren’t electrical lights, but the warm illumination of multiple lanterns. “Is that a … party?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. It seemed ludicrous that anyone would be partying at the edge of our property without me knowing it. Of course, when I was younger we used to party in this field all of the time. We also had picnics here … and picked flowers in the summer … and did cartwheels as our mother looked on and applauded. That was long before she died, of course.
“It does kind of look like a party, doesn’t it?” I flicked my gaze from face to face as several sets of expectant eyes moved in my direction. The people in the field were dressed in flowing clothing and looked as if they’d run away from a renaissance festival. They even had a gypsy caravan wagon. It was … surreal. “This isn’t a dream, right?”
“Yeah, like we would dream about trespassers having a bonfire party on our property,” Aunt Tillie muttered, tilting her head to the side as she locked gazes with an older woman sitting next to the bonfire. The woman, long silver hair pulled back in a loose bun, regarded us with unveiled interest. She didn’t say anything or ask the people flitting around the field to stop dancing (or whatever it was they were doing). Instead she merely stared … and waved.
“What is she doing?” Bay asked, confused. “Is she smiling at us?”
“What did I tell you about trusting people who smile before they even meet you?” Aunt Tillie queried.
“They’re hiding something and will probably try to steal your wallet or your virtue,” Bay answered automatically.
“Don’t tell her things like that,” I snapped, my eyebrows flying into my hairline. “You’ll make her suspicious of people, and that’s no way to live her life.”
“She needs to be suspicious of people,” Aunt Tillie countered. “She’s gifted. People will try to use that gift at some point, and she needs to be wary of users.”
“Yes, but if she’s too wary she’ll close herself off to people,” I argued. “She doesn’t want that.”
“Don’t worry about that.” Aunt Tillie’s lips curved as she spared a glance for Bay. “She’ll find her place … and person … eventually. I don’t want her becoming a doormat before it happens.”
I never know what to think about Aunt Tillie when it comes to the girls. Most of the time she acts agitated and annoyed when spending time with them, but she also enjoys warping their minds to her way of thinking. The girls are eager to do it because Aunt Tillie seems fun and magical when you’re thirteen and fourteen and believe the world revolves around you. Aunt Tillie is in her late sixties and believes the world indeed does revolve around them, so the girls think she’s on their side.
The true problem is that Aunt Tillie is on their side more often than not. Even when she’s agitated and wants the girls to shut their mouths and stay out of her stuff, she’s still their biggest fan. It’s … odd. She yells and screams and teaches them horrible things, but she loves them beyond reason. There’s no other way of looking at it. She wants them to succeed no matter what … even when she wants them to fail because they’re working against her.
Wait … what were we talking about again?
“Welcome.” The elderly woman sitting in the central spot next to the fire slowly got to her feet, her eyes busy as they bounced between faces. “Can I help you? Are you lost?”
“That’s weird,” Aunt Tillie said, planting her hands on her hips. “I was just about to ask you the same question.”
“Oh, I’m not lost,” the woman said. “I always know where I am.”
Aunt Tillie narrowed her eyes, her stance defiant. I wasn’t sure if it was meeting someone close to her age who appeared to have the same attitude or the fact that she really didn’t like trespassers that bothered her. She was clearly agitated, though. “I know where you are, too. You’re on my property.”
“Your property? I thought this property belonged to the Goddess.”
Oh, well, that was interesting. Of course, she looked to be a true believer given the caravan wagon. “You believe in the Goddess?”
I nodded without hesitation. “My name is Twila Winchester. This is our property. It looks as if you’re just passing through, so you’re welcome to stay.”
“I didn’t agree to that,” Aunt Tillie said dryly. “In fact … were you just looking through our living room window?”
I’d forgotten all about that. We were only out here because Clove thought she saw someone staring at her from the other side of the glass. If the campers decided to take a look around their surroundings and ended up at the house, that could explain a few things. “Did you come up to the house?”
The woman nodded, seemingly unbothered about being caught. “We wanted to see if we were alone. I felt a presence I couldn’t explain. Jonathan here went to see if he could find something. He found you … which explained everything.”
I shifted from one foot to the other, uncertain. “I see.” I really didn’t see.
“I’m Cherry Brucker,” the woman announced. “I’m the greatest fortune teller in the world.”
The tightening in my chest eased as a few things slipped into place. “Oh, well, that sounds fun. Doesn’t that sound fun, Aunt Tillie?”
“Fun?” Aunt Tillie apparently had the exact opposite reaction. “That doesn’t sound fun at all. And what kind of name is Cherry?”
“What kind of a name is Tillie?” Cherry challenged.
“It’s a family name,” Aunt Tillie b
“I like cherries,” Thistle said, shifting closer, her eyes keen as she looked Cherry over. “You read fortunes?”
Cherry smiled and nodded. “I do.”
“I hate cherries, but I think Cherry is a fine name,” Bay offered. “It’s better to be named after fruit than herbs.”
“That’s definitely true,” Thistle agreed.
“Your names are perfect for your personalities,” Aunt Tillie argued. “For example, thistles are prickly. I don’t know a pricklier person than you.”
“I do,” Thistle muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear. “You.”
“I can’t hear you, mouth.” Aunt Tillie held up her hand to silence Thistle as she focused on Cherry. “So … what? You guys are a fortune telling crew?”
“We’re part of the Moon Lake Renaissance Troupe,” the man Cherry identified as Jonathan volunteered. “We do more than tell fortunes. That’s Cherry’s main job.”
“And what are you doing here?” I asked.
“We broke off from the rest of the group because we had a short side job,” Jonathan replied. “We’re supposed to meet up with everyone else in St. Ignace in about a week, but we’re heading to Traverse City first. We were traveling through the area when Cherry insisted on stopping. She said this place had special energy.”
“Oh, well, it does.” I felt more relaxed after hearing that the ten people camping in my backyard really were with a renaissance festival. I happen to love renaissance festivals. I think they’re tons of fun … and who doesn’t like grog? I’m a witch. Grog is right up my alley. “So you’re here just for the night?”
“Probably,” Cherry hedged. “We have two days before we have to be in Traverse City, so we might stay more than one night. If that’s okay.”
“Wait a second.” Aunt Tillie wrinkled her nose, her displeasure evident. “This is my property. I didn’t say they could stay. I’m the one who makes the final decision.”
“Why can’t they stay?” Bay asked, sitting in the chair across from Cherry and smiling when the woman grabbed her hand and flipped it over to study the palm. “I think they’re neat.”
“And they have a really cool wagon,” Thistle added. She wasn’t nearly as interested in the people as she was in the ornate green wagon. “Do you live in here?”
“Not generally,” Cherry answered, running her index finger over Bay’s lifeline and causing Aunt Tillie to scowl. “We do when we’re traveling, but we often stay in hotels. The weather right now is wonderful, so everyone is fine camping for a few nights.”
“Especially here,” Jonathan enthused. “This is a great piece of land. And the house … well … from what I could see, the house is beautiful. It’s a Victorian, right?”
“It is,” I confirmed, smiling. “We had a simple homestead at one time, but over the years it was enhanced until it became what you see today.”
“Well, it’s beautiful.”
“Uh-huh. Were you looking through the window in the living room?” I could hardly let that slide. I had three young teenagers (one was technically still a tween) under my care. I couldn’t let a potential pervert just wander around without at least questioning him.
“I saw the house,” Jonathan replied. “I took a closer look and stepped on the front porch. I was going to knock and then I heard some raised voices – I identified a few of them as children – so I didn’t want to interrupt. I was going to come back up and introduce myself, but I wanted to wait until you were done … um … yelling.”
“We weren’t yelling,” Clove said, her interest pointed toward one of the women dancing in the field. “That’s just the way we talk to each other.”
Well, she wasn’t wrong. “It’s fine if you want to stay for the night – even if you want to stay for another night or two after that – but don’t sneak around the house. It makes everyone nervous.”
“I assure you that wasn’t my intention,” Jonathan promised, holding up his hands. “I simply didn’t want to interrupt a family moment.”
“We’re always having family moments, so don’t let that be a concern.” I smiled as Jonathan laughed. “It’s fine.”
“I didn’t agree to that.” Aunt Tillie’s anger was palpable, but I refused to play her game.
“You’ll live.” I smiled as Cherry pointed to a spot on Bay’s palm. “Do you see something?”
“I do,” Cherry said, bobbing her head. “This child is going to have a very interesting life.”
“We already knew that,” Aunt Tillie muttered, folding her arms and pursing her lips. “She’s a Winchester. All Winchesters have interesting lives.”
“Yes, but this child is unique even for your bloodline,” Cherry said, her finger busy as it moved across Bay’s palm. “Do you see this? Your lifeline has a hitch here. That’s a point in your life where you’ll have a choice to make. It will be a big one.”
Bay leaned forward, intrigued. “Will I make the right choice?”
“It’s not that kind of choice,” Cherry replied. “It won’t be a case of what’s right or wrong. It will be a case of what’s right for you at the time. You have greatness in you, child, but when this decision comes the option will be for safety or adventure. You won’t have a bad life either way, but one choice could mean terrible things for those around you.”
Wherever I thought the fortune talk was going, that wasn’t it. “I … what are you telling her?”
“Do you mean I’ll kill my family?” Bay furrowed her brow. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“Of course not,” I automatically answered. “That’s not what she’s saying.”
“That is what I’m saying,” Cherry argued. “You have a mark on you, Bay. You could bring greatness to those you love or sadness. It’s not your fault. It’s the mark.”
“So I’m … cursed?” Bay looked horrified at the prospect.
“You’re not cursed,” Aunt Tillie argued, grabbing Bay’s arm and dragging her away from Cherry. “Sometimes I feel cursed when I’m with you, but that’s hardly the same thing.”
Bay didn’t look convinced. “But she said … .”
“Ignore what she said.” Aunt Tillie’s gaze was unfathomably dark as it landed on Cherry, the warning emanating from her obvious. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Come on. I’ve got the stuff to make s’mores up at the house. Let’s see how much sugar we can eat tonight. How does that sound?”
Thistle quickly lost interest in the wagon. “Awesome. Are we going to stalk Mrs. Little when we’re done?”
Aunt Tillie shrugged as she pointed Bay toward the house. “The night is young and so are we. The possibilities are endless.”
“It was nice meeting you all,” I said, falling into step behind my aunt and nieces. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to come up to the house.”
“Yes, well, thank you.” Jonathan bobbed his head. “Your hospitality means a great deal to us.”
My eyes briefly landed on Bay, and I couldn’t help worrying about the way she stared at her hand and refused to smile. “Don’t mention it.”
“ O kay, I have blueberry pancakes and bacon. Is everyone okay with that this morning or should I start taking orders and pretend I’m running a restaurant?”
I was still mildly irritated the next morning that no one ate the vegetable pasta from the night before. In general, I’m a happy person. I like being a happy person. My sisters are not bright and shiny people. They’re crabby people … and they blame the kids and Aunt Tillie. My entire goal this weekend is to make sure that I remain an upbeat person despite having to monitor the four immature Winchesters.
“Who doesn’t like pancakes?” Clove enthused, digging into her mountainous breakfast.
“No one who I want to spend any time with,” Thistle replied, drowning her pancakes in butter and syrup. “Panc
My cheeks colored with pleasure. Thistle wasn’t one for doling out compliments. “Oh, well, thank you.”
“That was very good,” Aunt Tillie said, nursing her mug of coffee as the girls inhaled their pancakes and bacon. “She didn’t see it coming, and you totally distracted her, Thistle. This is one of the few times your mouth is a gift.”
“My mouth is always a gift,” Thistle shot back, breaking a slice of bacon in half as she cast a sidelong look in Bay’s direction. Unlike everyone else at the table, my blonde niece looked morose. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Bay replied hurriedly, shaking her head as she dragged her attention to the plate in front of her. “I love pancakes and bacon, and I think Aunt Twila makes the best pancakes of everyone – and I’m not just saying that to be a suck-up like you, Thistle.”
Aunt Tillie snorted. “She did sound like a bit of a suck-up, didn’t she? The problem is that you’re an unlikable person, Thistle. It’s not a bad thing. You make it work for you. I make it work for me, too, which is why I recognize it in you. The older you get, the more you’ll have to watch yourself, because people won’t believe it when you say nice things.”
“Don’t tell her that,” I scolded, lightly cuffing the back of Aunt Tillie’s head as I moved around the table to get a better look at Bay. She appeared pale, shadows under her eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was ill. “Sweetie, is something wrong?”
I didn’t wait for an answer, instead pressing my hand to her forehead and earning a pronounced eye roll.
“I’m not sick,” Bay muttered, slapping at my hand. “I’m just … tired.”
“Didn’t you sleep?”
“She was up all night,” Clove answered, her expression thoughtful as she stared at her cousin. “I think she’s upset about what the gypsy lady said.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to say ‘gypsy,’” I corrected. “I think that’s a slur – like if you say the N-word or the S-word.”
“What’s the S-word?” Thistle asked, her gaze bouncing between Aunt Tillie and me. “I can only think of one S-word, and I didn’t know that was a slur.”
AMANDA M. LEE SERIES:
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