Forgotten Art: Norm – Newt 11

A reply to: A letter from Newt

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Newt:

Yes, I’m still writing you.

Yes, it’s a surprise to me. When you find out what I found out–oh, wait. You already know. I guess you’re surprised, too.

OK, I really don’t know what to say.

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Still don’t.

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Dammit, fool–just write the letter!

That’s me talking to me, not to you.

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Right. So here’s what happened. The other day, Ira and I stopped by Meadow’s place. There were all these kids there, and Ira stayed outside talking to them.

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I went in. I was happy. I love watching Ira with kids. She’s like a big kid herself, and seeing her with them just makes me smile.

I started painting at one of Meadow’s easels. She’s got the best light in the foyer of her place. And she has these casein paints I’ve always wanted to try.

While I was painting, she came and stood by me. She was wearing her sister look.

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If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean.

She started talking.

“I’ve got big news! Like–apocalypse-size news! I mean, get ready. Are you ready?” she said. She talks really fast when she’s excited.

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I set down my palette and brush.

“We gotta sit down for this,” she said.

I followed her into the living room, and while we sat there, once everyone else had cleared the room, she dropped the bomb.

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The bomb is this: Your soon-to-be ex-wife is my sister’s penpal.

Well, OK. It’s not a bomb to you. Or maybe it was and it already exploded. What I mean is, you know this.

But I didn’t know it. It was a big bomb.

If you had a sister, you’d know what I mean. All my life, I’ve made it my mission to keep my sister away from guys like… away from anyone who could hurt her. That has seriously been Objective Number One with me since the day Meadow was born. You’d know, if you were a big brother. Imagine how you feel about your daughter. It’s the same thing. You’d do anything to keep her safe.

So, the first thing I wanted to do was to beat you up. Or maybe shoot you. I know I shouldn’t tell you this–but it’s just that the feeling was strong. It was instinct. Yeah, that’s what it was. This huge protection instinct reared up, and I told Meadow she couldn’t write to your soon-to-be ex anymore. We were cutting the two of you off. Like that. But not before I wrote a letter filled with four-letters–the same four letters over and over, followed by “you.”

I know. I shouldn’t tell you all this. But look. We’re friends. Yes, we’re still friends. And I had to work through all these rages. If we were friends who met for a beer, rather than pen pals, you’d know how I was feeling. I wouldn’t be able to hide it. And I’d probably take a swing or five at you, and then kick you in the gut. That is, before I worked out my rage.

But I’m feeling better now.

I talked to Jasper. Jasper said this, “So, now you have a face to the other, and you see that the other is connected to you, through your sister. And now she becomes more than an other. She becomes a person, just like you. What was she before? Was she not someone’s friend? The friend of someone’s sister? What makes it different now that you trace her back to yourself? Does she become more valuable being now within your sphere?”

Yes, my uncle really talks like that. Like he’s some guru. But the thing is, he makes a lot of sense.

I thought out what he said. I realize that it’s no different–you’re no different. It doesn’t change things that there’s this other connection. You’re still Newt, even if your ex is someone close to my sister.

It doesn’t change that you’re my friend.

It doesn’t change that you’re the reason I’m with Ira, that you’re the reason I’m trying so hard to be a good “Primary Care-giver” to Aari.

It doesn’t change that we’re still penpals, and I’m still writing to you.

You can think of this letter as my punching you out–or trying to–and us getting over it and sitting down to share a beer.

Man. I thought Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was just a game. I didn’t realize it was true-to-life.

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Well, Normal Newt, it sounds like you’re doing well with your new girlfriend, setting up your new career, and moving to a new town. You’re doing a lot to set your life right, and I admire you for that.

Hope you forgive my outburst. I just needed to clear the air.

Your pal,

Neutronic Norm

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Septemus 20

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Dear Sept,

I’ve decided I’ll wait until you’re a young man to share these letters with you. You’re already reading, so, technically, I could share them with you now.

But I want to be able to write some of the difficult things that it could be useful for you to know later. Right now is not the time for you to be aware of certain challenges.

You have this idea that the world is safe. Maybe I’m wrong for wanting to nurture and protect that view. Maybe it would be better if you knew now about all the threats and dangers.

But you believe that everyone is as kind and loving as Miko and that the world is as safe as your playground.

I grew up in a different world. My dad was in a war. He came home, but he died from the wounds. They weren’t wounds you could see. They were inside, in the mind. My mom died from an overdose. As safe as Nonny and Poppy tried to keep me, I knew in my bones this was not a safe world.

It’s different for you, and I want to keep it that way as long as we can.  For you, peace is as common as cherry-blossom petals on the river walk.

You told me about meeting Salim.

“He’s got a good name,” you said, after he introduced himself. “You know what I told him my name was?”

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“Seventy-seven?” I guessed.

You laughed. “Nope! Sintuliyu!”

“Peace?” I asked.

“Sure! Because Salim, peace! So my name should be the same!”

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Right now, I’m working to protect you from being tested.

I found out about the testing program through a grad student. She was watching you playing in the park next door, and then she approached me.

She asked about your scores.

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When I asked what she meant, she explained that her professor had been telling her class about off-the-charts IQ scores of alien kids. “He asked for volunteers to help out with the testing project. They’re studying the DNA of the xeno-kids’ brain cells to see what accounts for the rapid learning. If you want, I could set up an appointment for your kid to be tested!”

I told her thanks, but no thanks.

I recalled a conversation I had with Geoffrey back when you were a little tyke. I don’t know if you know it, but Geoffrey’s the director of the department that oversees the agency.

He had stopped by to check on you.

“How’s the little guy getting on?” he asked.

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I wasn’t to keen on divulging any details. Up to this point, the agency had been anything but helpful. When I’d been searching for your siblings, they kept strict silence.

It didn’t build trust.

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Geoffrey chatted. He told me about his family, a wife, two sons, one of whom was estranged, and the other was trouble. But I could see how much he loved them.

He talked a lot about family.

“We respect kin,” he said. “Well, at least I do. And as long as I’m head of Family and Children Services, I aim to protect the rights of parents, guardians, and kids. That’s why we never give out the info about those in the program,” he said.

I felt better. I guess that’s when I started to trust him.

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“Your boy is your boy,” he said. “He’s your son, just as much as if he were born from you. And you’re the one with the parental rights. He belongs to you, not the agency. You’ve got my word on that. You remember that, if anybody tries to tell you any different.”

I felt a weight lift off. I know I’d signed all the papers of guardianship, and I kept my copies where I could access them any time. But it felt good to hear it from the man who was in charge of the department that oversaw the agency.

I remember Geoffrey’s chuckle and feeling a rush of warmth and gratitude.

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So when that grad student told me about the testing program, I took another look at those papers, reading the fine print to see how far my rights extended.

It was a good thing, for a few days later, the professor himself showed up.

“I’m looking for Number 77,” he said.

“Um, this is 542 E. Magnolia Park Boulevard,” I answered.

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“I’m referring to the young xeno-child playing in your front yard,” he said. “Isn’t that Number 77?”

I asked him to leave.

“I think I’ll talk to the child first,” he said.

“That’s my son,” I replied.

I followed him out to where you were playing at the dollhouse.

“How would you like to come and play some games in a big room full of them?” he asked. “Do you like puzzles?”

You looked at him without saying a word, but I could clearly see a big, empty room, with all the lights out, and Professor Goth sitting alone in a dark corner.

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“My son is staying here,” I said, walking Professor Goth to the corner. “He won’t be participating in any testing projects. You don’t have parental consent.”

“That’s not in his best interest,” Dr. Goth said.

“He and I will decide what his best interests are,” I answered.

“I’ll keep in touch,” he said, “in case you reconsider.” He pulled out a pamphlet from his jacket pocket and attempted to hand it to me. I took a glance at the lettering on the cover: WISC-V Rankings of Xeno-children: Discovering a Different Intelligence.

I called Geoffrey’s office the next day. He affirmed it was within my rights to refuse any testing, treatments, or research projects.

“Don’t worry about Mortimer,” he laughed. “We’re old buds! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

And he won’t. He won’t hurt even a fly, as long as I’m around. I’m keeping this world safe for you, as long as I can, Sept.

–Your pops.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 3

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

I’m sorry it’s taken me a little while to write back. You see, there was something in your last letter that I wasn’t sure how–or even if–to respond to.

Maybe it’s just coincidence and maybe there’s nothing to it.

You see, I appreciate you and our correspondence so much. And I don’t want to put it in jeopardy by bringing up something I shouldn’t. But even more, I don’t want to endanger it–or you–by not bringing up something if I should. So, I’ve decided to mention it, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

I remember reading in your profile that you were trying to stay “under the radar” so your husband can’t find you.

Please know that I keep everything you write confidential. I mean, I do that with all my pen pals. My uncle and my brother know I have pen pals, but I haven’t told them any of your names or anything that has been expressed in your letters. Believe me, I honor the confidentiality of the pen-pal relationship! No one in my life knows who I’m corresponding with except the person I write to.

I felt it was important to tell you that before I go on.

My brother Norman doesn’t hold the same respect for confidentiality. When he saw how much my uncle and I were enjoying the pen pal project, he decided to join. I try to discourage him from talking about the letters he gets and writes. But if you knew my brother, you’d know that trying to keep him from talking is like trying to dissuade the Santa Ana winds from blowing in September.

He’s a big talker.

The thing is. Well, the thing is this: you wrote that your husband’s name was Newt.

Newt is the name of one of my brother’s pen pals.

It’s not a very common name, is it?

Norman says that Newt is his “relationship coach.” He’s teaching him how to “make a move” on his best friend, Ira. (Ira’s a woman–a friend of mine, actually.)

I guess it’s not all bad for Norman, since Newt’s coaching gave him enough confidence to ask Ira and her daughter to move in with him. They were living at a shelter. I guess they had some hardship, and there’s no dad in the picture right now. Ira’s got a great attitude so I’m hoping now that she and her daughter have a save place to live, they’ll bounce back.

But for you! Isn’t it a weird coincidence that your husband would be writing to my brother? If it even is your husband. Do you think it is?

If so, will you still be able to write to me? I hope so!

I can understand if you have to stop. I mean, your safety comes first. And if you were trying to keep your husband from finding you and the kids, and then it turns out that he’s in touch with your pen pal’s brother…  I’ll do whatever you need to and respect your decision.

It’s just that I hope we can keep writing. Your letters–and you–mean so much to me! I keep your letters locked up in my desk and your emails in a password protected folder. Norm’s got his own account on my computer, so when he uses it, he logs in as him. He doesn’t know my passwords.

Since I’m not sure you’ll still feel like you can write, I’ll make this a long letter and tell you everything!

I’m enclosing some pictures of Jena, just like you asked. Isn’t she a little nut?

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Her face is so expressive. I can always tell just what she’s thinking and feeling. I hope she keeps that quality all her life. I love a face that reveals all! (You know I’m bad at secrets!)

We had family day at my uncle’s on Sunday.

When we got there, Jena was in such a mood.

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Even when she’s grumpy, she tries to be polite. We sat together in the living room, and she folded her little hands in her lap.

“What’s the matter, Cat?” I asked her.

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“Stupid noisy train!” she said. We had taken the Rapid Transit into the city.

She really dislikes loud noises, and I think she dislikes crowds. Kaitlin, do you think toddlers can have PTSD? Sometimes, she seems shook up after we’ve been around lots of people, and I don’t know if this is normal over-stimulation for a sensitive child or if the trauma she experienced in the camp gets triggered.

To help her calm down, I got her a snack, put a Haydn  string quartet on my uncle’s stereo system, and gave her a little time alone.

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Half an hour later, she was happy and laughing with Norman.

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I know I tease Norman a lot, and he probably doesn’t come off that well in all my letters. It’s not fair to him! He really is an awesome guy. He’s my big brother!

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And he’s Jena’s uncle. I feel so happy that she’ll get to grow up with a cool, funny, and smart uncle, just like I did.

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Oh, Kaitlin! Norman’s got such a good heart, if he can just find his way from his head so he can feel it!

Maybe, if he is writing Newt-your-husband, some of his goodness might possibly maybe rub off on Newt, just like Newt’s confidence has rubbed off on Norman. What if? What if something good comes from this for both of them?

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I know. You probably think I’m foolishly optimistic, like my uncle. Jasper thinks every painting is a masterpiece! And I think every person has a heart of gold, if only they can find their way to it.

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Oh, I got so carried away with my letter that I forgot I hadn’t answered all your questions!  About a significant other: Your guess is right. I’m single. I’ll share a secret: I’ve never had a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, either. I’m just not sure I think that way–or at least, not yet, anyway. I remind myself of a character in a Mary Wilkins Freeman story–very oriented towards family and home, but more content to take care of someone else’s child than to have my own, and much happier to have my rooms and my books and my thoughts to myself than to have to share them with someone who feels he’s due them, at the end of the day.

It’s not lonely for me. It’s my choice. It’s free.

Hailey’s father sounds wonderful–and I hear such love in your words when you write about him. I hope the complications in your situation find resolution. It can happen! Or at least, in novels it always does. Maybe in life, too?

I feel so bad when you write that I’m your support system because what if Norman’s Newt is your husband Newt and that comes between us? Oh, I hope nothing stops us! I hope you can still feel safe enough to keep writing! I want to be able to keep hearing about you and your beautiful children, and I want to be able to cheer when you write me that letter telling me that you and Hailey’s dad worked it all out and he’s moving in! Or whatever you decide to do. I’m sure it will be wonderful.

Oh, before I go, I just wanted to tell you to have hope. I guess that’s something I learned from Jena. I mean, to come from something as terrible as she experienced, and now to be a smart, thriving, opinionated little kid–that’s a miracle that fills me with hope. It’s love that did that. And you: your whole being is so full of love! I know only the best will happen for you and that you’ll make it through this challenge and you’ll be so strong that all the love in your heart will be super-charged with Super You Power!

I sound like my crazy brother when I write like that. He really is a good guy, even if he’s got a big mouth.

Take care, please! I hope you feel you can still write.

Be safe.

Lots and lots and lots of love,

Meadow

p.s. We don’t have any pets. We haven’t been able to find any! We tried adopting a pigeon that wandered through the field, but that didn’t work out. Maybe one day we’ll have a cat? We’re hoping!

p.p.s. Sorry I had to share that weird news. I hope you can still write! And maybe it’s not even the same Newt?

p.p.p.s. But of course I understand if you can’t keep writing.

p.p.p.p.s. Bye! Or… until next time! And thank you so much! Thinking good thoughts!

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Vampire Code : The Fissure

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A fissure ran through the block of oak standing on Jaclyn’s workbench. Around this crack, she’d carve faeries, elves, dwarves, dragonflies, and wood nymphs.

On the reverse, if one knew to look, one would see the peering eyes of a demon. Bringing in one type of magic always let in the other.

The creeping-in had already begun. Her young neighbor Florinda walked past home from school with her head hung down.

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“Why so glum, little Flor?” Jaclyn asked.

“My ada finished the rail line. Did you hear that? Well, not him, but the people he bosses. And now it’s done, and he took Sparkie to go over there, but not me, I had to stay home with Rocket and Ama, but when Spark came back, he was sad.”

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“He was none too happy about that dark place, then?” Jaclyn asked.

“No, siree,” replied Florinda. “He says it’s creeply.”

“But he’s home now, safe as beechnut and sound as rabbit, is he not?”

He was.

“And he has a brave sister with a cheerful heart, does he not?”

He did!

“Then all is right in the world, and don’t you worry about the creeplies in the shadows.”

Florinda’s smile returned and she skipped up the hill.

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Jaclyn headed upstairs to the computer.

Sugar Maple was online.

“It has started,” she typed.

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“The two-way connection?” Sugar typed back.

“Yes!” Jaclyn replied. “That blasted goat-footed man. He should have stayed in the Wishing Well.”

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“We knew this would come,” Sugar replied.

Sugar and Jaclyn been expecting something like this since Cathy’s ill-conceived wish had pulled Brennan Stuckey out of the well. They’d hoped binding the two through marriage would forestall the encroachment.

After their twins were born, each full of such goodness, a swing in the other direction became inevitable.

They’d discussed plans and strategies, but until the connection was actually established, it was impossible to know what exactly to do.

“Keep your hope up!” Sugar typed.

Jaclyn closed her eyes and whispered a quick protection spell.

Spider of
Buttercup, dew drop
Yarrow, bluebell,
Spin a web round
The wishing well.

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“Let’s talk” Sugar typed. “Can you make it to the city?”

They agreed to meet at the Spice Festival at sunset.

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Though Jaclyn had never been to the city, she easily found her way from the rapid transit station to the Spice District. Sugar played her violin, and Jaclyn simply followed the pull she always felt from Sugar’s tunes.

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“Might as well have second supper,” Jaclyn said when she spied the table laden with falafal, curried eggs, and dal.

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“I’ve seen it all before,” Jaclyn told Sugar. “It was like this in the old place. First the trolls. Then the boogeys. Then before you knew it, we were hardly safe outside the warrens.”

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“But you survived,” Sugar Maple said. “It didn’t wipe your peoples out. And you found a balance, right?”

“We adapted,” Jaclyn said. “Protection spells, blessings, wildcrafting. All the rituals of the old ways kept us from being destroyed, at least.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Sugar. “You developed rune. We don’t have to look at this as the end of something. We can think of it as the beginning.”

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“It’s a barrow-full of toil!” said Jaclyn.

“That it is,” replied Sugar. “But then, I’ve never been averse to hard work. Have you?”

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Jaclyn supposed not.

“What’s this?” asked Nathanael, Sugar’s nephew-in-law, who’d come along for the festival. “Are you talking about work at a time for feasting?”

“Simply stringing the loom,” said Jaclyn, “so the warp is set when we’re ready for the weft.”

“Right then!” said Sugar.

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Jaclyn caught the whiff of willow catkins on the grill. She knew of only one man in these parts who had a taste for grilled catkin. Sure enough, near the picnic tables, her sweet-heart Davion dished up a plate of fresh-spring river willow catkins for sampling.

“What brings you here, Davi?” she asked.

“Had an inkling you’d be here,” he said.

“Aren’t you the charmer?”

Sugar came to say good-bye. “I’ve got some research to do,” she said. “Don’t worry, Jaclyn. We’ll find a way to protect who and what we love.”

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New World Symphony: The Goat-Hoofed Man

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“We have the same hair!” Florinda said to Jaclyn.

“Of course we do,” replied Jaclyn.”We come from the same stock, sure as can be!”

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“How about me?” said Sparkroot, hopping up onto the stool next to his sister. “I come from the same stock, too!”

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“Not you!” said Jaclyn. “You come from wizardry!”

“Yeah!” replied Sparkroot. “Like magic, huh?”

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Just then Brennan stopped by. He’d called to check up on the babies, and Cathy invited him over. “You’ll be surprised,” she told him.

“Surprised by our little family? Why, nothing my loved ones could do would surprise me,” he answered with a laugh.

But when he entered the kitchen, he jumped.

“Whoa! What happened to my peanuts?” he said.

“Ada!” said Sparkroot. “It’s just me!”

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“What was your ada like?” Florinda asked Jaclyn. “Is he like my ada?”

Jaclyn laughed. “My ada was a funny little fellow. Not that much taller than you and Sparkroot, actually, with a long wooly brown beard and hands like a little bear’s!”

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“Tell us more about your ada!” said Sparkroot.

“One day, my ada took a walk in the woods. Usually, his trail led him through the woods and into the meadow. But one day, the woods kept going further and further, darker and darker, until my ada looked around and he was quite lost in the mist of the forest.

“He heard a rumble and a crack, like the sound of a great tree-trunk splitting open, and then, he heard a violin.

“‘I ain’t a feared a no wobbly music!’ my ada said. But this was no ordinary music. This was a tune that had the power to take ahold of a man and never let him go. This was music that could dance a man to bits!”

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Sparkroot hung on every word. How could a man get danced to bits? And who could play such powerful music?

“My ada stared, and this man in a long coat the color of wine began to walk right towards him, playing the violin the whole time. He had a dark beard, this man did, and eyes shone brighter than the sun itself.”

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“Oh, Jaclyn,” interrupted Brennan, “You look mighty cute when you tell that tale. Maybe sometime you could tell me a bed-time story.”

Florinda laughed. “Anybody would be the luckiest of all to have Jaclyn tell the goodnight story!”

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“Now, Brennan Stuckey,” said Jaclyn, “I’ll not have you interrupting my story just because it makes you nervous to hear about a mysterious man in a wine-colored coat with eyes brighter than the sun. And I’ll certainly not sit by quietly while you interrupt me with a lame old flirt, Mr. Tea. That’s quite enough from you, sir.”

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Florinda hopped down to see if her violin were in tune, and Sparkroot jumped right up into the empty stool, so he could hear the story all the better.

“Go on!” he said. “What happened next?”

“Why, next,” said Jaclyn, “that swarthy gypsy man, for that’s who he was, began to play the violin, faster and faster, and my ada began to get all turned around and snarly-brained.”

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“The gypsy man played into the dark, and my ada kept dancing, around and around that old cracked oak tree. And in the darkest part of the night, the bears came out, drawn by the music, circling and circling.”

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“All night long, the gypsy played, the bears circled, and my ada turned and danced and grew dizzier and dizzier, and the bears circled and circled.”

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“And what happened next?” Sparkroot asked.

“Next thing my ada knew, it was morning, and he was leaning against the old oak tree, but the oak tree wasn’t split. The only thing split was the empty jug of mead beside him on the forest floor.”

“Was it just a dream then?”

“That’s what my ada thought,” said Jaclyn. “For he searched the ground all around, and he didn’t see a single footprint from a single bear, and he would have for it was all damp and muddy around. The only footprints he did see were very strange, indeed. The right print was from a man’s riding boot. And the left print?”

Brennan began to clap loudly. “That’s the best folk tale I’ve ever heard!” he said.

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“I didn’t finish yet,” said Jaclyn.

“Yeah, Ada,” said Sparkroot. “We need to hear what the left footprint was!”

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“The left footprint was a goat hoof,” said Jaclyn.

“Folk tales and fairy tales!” chuckled Brennan nervously. “The stuff of foolish nonsense!”

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“And that’s the story’s ending sure as the beginning! I’ll be off then,” said Jaclyn. “Ta!”

After she left, Brennan tried to still the nervousness he felt. He couldn’t explain it. All he knew was that he really had no patience for such make-believe. Superstitions and nonsense!

“You know, Spark,” he said to his son, “these kinds of stories really aren’t to be taken seriously. They’re not like stories about Babe Ruth, for example. They’re make-believe.”

“OK, Ada,” Sparkroot replied. “If you say there’s no such thing as a goat-hoofed man, I’ll believe you. But bears are real, right?”

“Not in New Orleans,” Brennan replied. “And not even here in Windenburg, either. The bears were cleared out long ago.”

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Brennan couldn’t shake his feeling of unease. After the kids settled in for their afternoon nap, he paced the living room, feeling first his right foot on the ground, then his left foot. Such nonsense! Two feet, ten toes. He wiggled his toes. All there! Who could believe the nonsense that such a silly woman could tell in her idleness!

He went in to look at his son as he slept, with his two feet in his two sneakers, like an all-American kid. He glanced down at his own two loafers. Stuff and nonsense! He didn’t even like the violin!

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When Cathy came into the kitchen to dish up snack for them, Brennan lashed out.

“What was that woman even doing here? Why do you have her over? Are you going to let anyone tell any old nonsense to our children? I don’t want my boy growing up believing in fairy tales!”

This was the second time he had yelled at her. The first had happened shortly after their marriage, when they’d met Jaclyn, Davion, and Wade at a nightclub. Cathy began to suspect that Brennan really didn’t like her friends.

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“Oh, phooey,” he said. “I lost my temper.”

He looked at her with a sheepish grin, and she tried to smile back. The smile didn’t reach her eyes.

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He did the dishes out of contrition.

It didn’t take away the sting.

Cathy thought. She knew this about Brennan, that he was capable of this. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted them to live in separate houses, to minimize the occassions when this could happen.

This was likely the root of Sugar’s anger, Cathy realized. Sugar’s Aunt Poplar. What had Sugar told her about her aunt?

“My aunt Poplar, God-rest-her-soul, that was a lonely woman,” Sugar had said. “She meant well enough, and I truly believe that she loved my mother and even me. And she was the best friend of my sweet sister Salix. But I’ve got to tell you, our home was nearly ruined time and again by Poplar’s verbal abuse. Eventually, when I was old enough, I lay down the law. ‘I won’t have you yell at me, or anyone I love,’ I told her. But we’d already been stung.”

Knowing Brennan, and Sugar had made sure to get to know this man before Cathy married him, Sugar likely learned that he was prone to these types of outbursts, too. It’s not the type of thing that anyone would want to expose a child to, especially if they’d experienced it in their own childhood. No wonder Sugar felt upset that Cathy was making a dad out of Brennan.

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Cathy wasn’t sure what to do. She loved this man. She loved their kids more than love itself.

She wasn’t sure if she could protect them from sometimes getting lashed with harsh words. And she didn’t want to keep them away from their father.

Maybe they could learn, what? That love is enough? That sometimes those you love might say things that hurt? That there’s more in this world than harmony and peace? That somebody may have shortcomings and foibles, and might even hurt you, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love you, and it didn’t mean that you had to stop loving him?

She wasn’t sure what they could learn. She wasn’t really sure what she could do. She figured that sometimes, there might be harsh words and tears. And sometimes, they might be like every other happy family.

And no matter what, she’d be there, to hold a safe spot when the oak tree cracked.

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