“I was nine years old, down on the backside of Alice Lake, fishing with my dad one summer day,” Grandma Lybrook said to me in my pink and purple attic bedroom. “I never knew what happened until after I awoke in his arms. He was crying, and he nearly broke me in half when he hugged me.” Grandma tightened her embrace around my shoulders. “I still remember my confusion and the pain after I was struck. The lightning had burned my back where it hit me. I was numb and couldn’t walk, so my dad carried me to his truck and drove me home. For several weeks, I had strange dreams and I thought I saw ghosts. I even saw strange-looking dogs prowling the grounds.”
“Were they big and black with red eyes and bull horns on their heads?”
Grandma loosened her embrace. “You too, huh? Well, they’re not real. They’re visions caused by your brain healing from the lightning. You’ll stop seeing them after a while, just like I stopped seeing them.”
“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve both seen them?” I asked.
“It’s all part of the healing process.” Grandma took my right hand in her left one.
That’s when she and my bed and the bedroom vanished
I tried to be my quietest when I closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot. I held my breath as I leaned my forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken this very moment and find me gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that I had abandoned them?
What sort of mother abandons their baby?
I held the doorknob in my grip and willed myself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before I changed my mind.
All my young adult life had been spent running away from my past, searching for the real me. Trevor had been certain living a life of magic would be best for me. But when Balen levitated the lamp last night, I knew I would never be comfortable with that kind of life.
I released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. I turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. I buttoned my green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at me while I pressed on toward the bus station two blocks away. Once I made it to the bus station and had my ticket to Bakers View, I would call Sara and let her know I was on my way. Going home was out of the question. Would father ever forgive me for leaving our faith, falling in the traps of magic, becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock, and dropping out of the religion classes that he had paid for?
The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. My bus was scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Would Trevor know I was here?
I sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished I had brought some nickels and dimes with me. But I had put all my coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in my purse contained only a few bills left from my last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.
A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?
“You dropped something,” I said to him.
He looked at me with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.
I pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on me and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.
“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”
I flinched at the mention of my name. “Do I know you?”
“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church for a while when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”
I nodded as recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to my father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty I was.
“I go by Jack now,” he said. “You know, like JFK did.”
The clock above the loading doors told me that only five minutes had passed since my arrival. I looked again at the folded paper on the floor.
“You dropped that,” I said, pointing again.
“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and sat next to me. “Just got back from Ridgewood. I’m looking to buy some farm property there … maybe start a dairy farm.”
“Are you a student at New Cambridge?” I had never seen him there, but most of my time was spent with Trevor, and now Balen.
“I was,” Jack said. “Graduated last year … agriculture with a minor in business. I’m on my way to my parents’ place. My car’s in the garage.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”
I looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of us. I broke down and wept. I felt Jack’s arms around me. I welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed my sobs, wiped away my tears with a handkerchief, and held me until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus to Bakers View and points east of New Cambridge. Once aboard, I would forever leave behind the wizard and the thirteen-month-old son whose magic was stronger than mine and Trevor’s combined.
“That’s me,” I said, pointing at the loading doors.
Jack stood when I did. “You’re not a student?”
“I dropped out. I’m on my way to my sister’s. Her husband doesn’t like me much.”
I don’t know why I told him that.
“Wait,” he said. “Join me for a cup of coffee.”
I shook my head.
“Cash in your ticket,” he said, “have coffee with me, and I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go.”
“But you said your car’s in the garage.”
He checked his wristwatch. “For another hour. Come on. It’ll save you some cash and give us a chance to catch up on old times.”
There was honesty and safety with this man’s kindness. I took his hand and let him lead me to the ticket window. Then, with the refunded money in my purse, I went with him for coffee, vowing to myself to never involve myself with magic again.
“Vree?” Grandma released my hand. “Are you okay?” She waved her other hand in front of my eyes as the remnants of the vision faded. “I seemed to have lost your attention for a moment.” Her face bore a concerned look.
“Tired,” I said.
She left to finish cooking supper.
The vision left me startled and anxious. My grandmother had another child—a son named Balen.