Atlanta, Georgia Present day
“Wake up, Kate!”
And, exactly one year to the day that she fell asleep, Kate finally did.
She opened her eyes slowly and saw that a pale lavender moth had come to a rest on the back of her hand. She watched it from her pillow, wondering if it was real. It reminded her of her husband Matt’s favorite T-shirt, which she’d hidden in a bag of sewing, unable to throw it away. It had a large faded moth on the front, the logo of a cover band out of Athens called the Mothballs.
That T-shirt, that moth, always brought back a strange memory of when she was a child. She used to draw tattoos of butterflies on her arms with Magic Markers. She would give them names, talk to them, carefully fill in their colors when they started to fade. When the time came that they wanted to be set free, she would blow on them and they would come to life, peeling away from her skin and flying away.
She’d always been a little different as a child, that strange girl who kept her imaginary friends well past the age of most children, the child people called a free spirit in a way meant to console her parents, as if, like a lisp, she would hopefully outgrow it. Her parents hadn’t minded, though. As long as they’d had each other, they’d let Kate be as free as she wanted.
Kate thought about blowing on the lavender moth, to see what would happen, but before she could, her mother-in-law walked into her bedroom with a cup of coffee and a brisk, “Good morning!” When Kate looked again, the moth was gone. She sat up as Cricket threw open the curtains and said, “It’s the big day. The movers are coming.”
Kate felt vaguely panicked, like she was shaking off a nightmare she couldn’t fully remember. “Movers?”
Cricket snapped her fingers in front of Kate’s face as she handed Kate the cup of coffee. “Yes, movers. You’re moving into my house today. Did you take something to help you sleep last night?”
She hadn’t dreamed this. It was real. She looked to the left side of the mattress. Matt wasn’t there. She could have sworn she’d heard his voice, heard someone’s voice. “No. I don’t take anything. You know that.”
“You’re cranky this morning,” Cricket said. “It’s a good thing I got here early. I got Devin up and dressed and fixed her breakfast.”
“Devin’s up? This is the first day of summer vacation,” Kate said. “She’s never up this early on vacation.”
“I think it’s best to keep her on a schedule. It makes going back to school in the fall so much easier, don’t you think? She’s in the attic. You’ll keep an eye on her, won’t you?”
Kate could feel a strange heat along the back of her neck, something she hadn’t felt in a while. It was almost exotic, like tasting turmeric or saffron after a year of eating pudding. There was a bite to it.
She was annoyed.
She was finally awake and annoyed. Of course she would keep an eye on Devin. For the past year she’d made Devin dinner and attended school plays and chaperoned field trips and taken her to the eye doctor. She’d been sleepwalking, but still, she’d done it. Cricket had no reason to distrust Kate’s ability to mother her own child.
Except for that one time.
There would always be that one time.
“It’s such a mess up there,” Cricket said, clicking around the bedroom in her Louboutin shoes, her smart black suit, and big immovable southern hair. She checked the closet for leftover clothes, to make sure Kate had packed everything. “I thought I told you to go through the things in the attic and put what you wanted in the living room. Otherwise, it’s just going to be left behind for the new owners to deal with. It’s probably for the best not to let Devin take all those old clothes with her. We’ll never get her out of them in the fall. I found her school uniform in the trash can this morning!”
Kate put the cup of coffee on the floor beside the bed. Every day for a year Cricket had come by to take Devin to her new school, and she always made coffee while she was here, horrible, tar-black coffee that Kate hated. Kate didn’t want to drink it anymore. It was such a small thing, to put the cup aside and not drink it, but as she watched Cricket’s eyes take in the movement, Kate felt a small thrill from this first real act of rebellion since she’d gone to sleep a year ago. “I’ve always told her she could wear whatever she wanted in the summer.”
“We both know that’s not a good idea, especially now that she’s moving into my neighborhood.”
“Matt agreed with me,” Kate said, his name unfamiliar on her tongue now, and it felt like saying something unspeakable, a curse.
Cricket turned away at the mention of her son’s name. She didn’t like to talk of him. Ever. She was holding him inside, captive within her rib cage, not willing to share her grief with anyone else. Not even with Kate, who wanted so badly to find pieces of affection for Matt in his mother, to be consoled in some way. “You’ve let her get away with too much over the years. You’re getting up now, aren’t you? Because the movers will be here at noon. I can probably leave work around three. You know I’d be here to help if it weren’t for that big closing today. I’ll see you at my house later this afternoon. Everything should go smoothly. I left a list. You’re getting up now, aren’t you?” she asked again.
Kate slowly stood, as if testing her balance. It felt strange. Her muscles felt weak.
Cricket turned in the doorway and stared at Kate. Kate had no idea what she was thinking. She never did. She was as unreadable as a lost language. “Are you excited about coming to work in my office? We’ll get your hair trimmed tomorrow. Would you like that?”
Kate put her hand to her hair and felt a year’s worth of choppy growth framing her face.
It had been exactly one year since Kate had picked up those scissors in the bathroom, after locking herself in after Matt’s funeral. She’d stared at them, the stainless steel winking in the noon light, and she’d thought things she’d never known she was capable of thinking—dark, unforgivable things. But when she’d lifted the scissors, she instead took her grief and frustration out on her long brown hair. With every snip of the scissors, clumps of her hair had fallen, and she’d watched them turn into tiny birds that cawed and flew around her, swarming in a heavy circle.
Matt had loved her hair, and she’d worn it long just for him. Kate had lived for the times when, as she was doing the books at the shop, Matt would casually walk by and slide the pencil holding up her hair, just to watch it cascade down her back. When they’d made love, he’d liked her on top, with her hair falling down around him, sticking to his skin.
Hours later, Cricket had found her on the bathroom floor. Cricket had gone to her knees in surprise, and Kate had cried, holding on to Cricket so tightly she was sure she’d left bruises. Cricket had helped Kate clean up the places where she’d nicked her scalp, and trimmed what she could so Kate wouldn’t scare Devin. Cricket had made light of it for Devin, telling her that Kate just needed a hairstyle that was easier to take care of.
That had been the last day she’d been awake.
Cricket was waiting for her to answer.
“Yes,” Kate said. “Thank you, Cricket. For everything.”
“I’ll see you soon,” she said, then turned to go. “I have big plans to tell you about.”
Kate listened to the sound of Cricket’s heels as she walked down the hallway.
The opening and closing of the front door.
The sound of Cricket’s car pulling out of the driveway.
Kate then hurried out of her room, trying to blink away the sleep and disorientation. My God, she thought, this is really happening. She went to the closet down the hall, where the folding stairs had already been pulled from the ceiling.
She climbed the ladder and emerged into the light from the single window in the attic. Dust motes floated around her like ash. Her eight-year-old daughter was humming as she plowed through the detritus of a large black trunk whose hinges were red with rust and the faded word MARILEE was stamped in gold on the lid.
Devin had grown in the year Kate had been asleep, grown in ways Kate was just now seeing. Her face was fuller, her legs were longer. Kate wanted to run to her and hold her, but Devin would think she was crazy. Devin had seen Kate just last night, when Kate had tucked her into bed. It hadn’t been a year for her. Devin didn’t know Kate had been asleep all this time.
So Kate just stood there and drank in the sight of her. Devin was the most gorgeous, unique creature Kate had ever known. She’d come out of the womb an individual, refusing to be defined by anyone. She didn’t even look like anyone on either side of their families. Matt’s family was so proud of their dark hair, a blue-black that had been the envy of generations, the way it caught the sun like a spiderweb. From Kate’s own side of the family, there was a gene that made their eyes so green that they could trick people into thinking that even the most unattractive Morris woman was pretty. And yet here was Devin, with fine cotton-yellow hair and light blue eyes, the left of which was a lazy eye. She’d had to wear an eye patch when she was three. And she’d loved it. She loved her knotted yellow hair. She loved wearing stripes with polka dots, and tutus, and pink and green socks with orange patent-leather shoes. Devin could care less what other people thought about her.
And that drove Cricket crazy.
How had Kate let this happen? How had she gotten to the point where she was slowly turning over control to the one person who wanted to change her daughter from the glorious thing she was? The very thing Kate used to be, that she used to be so proud of being? Kate swallowed before she felt she had the voice to say, “Hey, kiddo. What are you doing?”
Devin looked over her shoulder with a smile. “Mom! Look. This one is my favorite,” Devin said, pulling out a faded pink dress with a red plaid sash. The crinoline petticoat underneath was so old and stiff it made snapping sounds, like beads or fire embers. She dropped the dress over her head, over her clothes. It brushed the floor. “When I’m old enough for it to fit me, I’m going to wear it with purple shoes,” she said.
“A bold choice,” Kate said as Devin dove back into the trunk. The attic in Kate’s mother’s house had always fascinated Devin with its promise of hidden treasures. When Kate’s mother had been alive, she had let Devin eat Baby Ruth candy bars and drink grape soda and play in this old trunk full of dresses that generations of Morris women had worn to try entice rich men to marry them. Most of the clothes had belonged to Kate’s grandmother Marilee, a renowned beauty who, like all the rest, had fallen in love with a poor man instead.
“Who is Eby Pim?” Devin suddenly asked.
“Eby?” Kate walked over Devin, measuring her steps, trying not to seem too eager. Devin had climbed inside the large trunk. The only part of her visible was the vintage green cap she was now wearing. It had a long dramatic feather pinned to it, and as she moved her head, the feather wrote invisible letters in the air. Kate sat on the floor beside the trunk, as close as she could. “Eby was Grandmother Marilee’s sister. My great-aunt. Your great-great-aunt. I only met her once, but I thought she was wonderful. Different. A little scandalous.”
“What did she do?”
“Eby married a man with money, and her family expected her to share all that money with them,” Kate said. “But when they came back from their honeymoon, Eby and her husband suddenly decided to give all their money away. They sold their home in Atlanta and bought some swamp property down south. No one saw them for years and years. I was twelve the only time I met her. My mom and dad and I went to visit Eby after her husband died. There was a magical lake there where they’d made a living renting out cabins. I think that was probably the last best summer I ever had.”
“Can we go there?”
Her voice was small as it came from the trunk. It made Kate close her eyes with emotion. “I don’t know if it’s still there. It was a long time ago. What made you ask about her?” Kate asked. “Is there something of hers in there?”
Devin’s hand appeared from the trunk, holding an old postcard. “Just this postcard. It’s addressed to you.”
Kate took it. On one side were the vintage bubble words LOST LAKE, each letter large enough for a lake image to fit inside it.
Kate turned the card over. It was postmarked fifteen years ago, the last time Kate had seen Eby.
Kate, I know you enjoyed yourself here and didn’t want to leave. You’re welcome to come back anytime you’d like. I just wanted you to know. Love, Eby Pim
It was the first time Kate had ever seen this. Her mother had never given it to her. She knew her mother and Eby had had a falling out that summer, but Kate never knew Eby had tried to contact her.
Devin got out of the trunk and started putting the dresses back in it. Some were so old that light shone through them, like ghost clothes. “Can we take this trunk when we move in with Grandma Cricket?” Devin asked, taking off the hat and dress she was wearing and putting them inside, then slowly closing and latching the lid.
Kate could tell that Cricket had already told Devin no. And that should have been that. Her mother-in-law was going to a great deal of trouble and expense to move Kate and Devin into her home in Buckhead. A year ago, after Matt had been hit and killed while cycling home from work, Cricket had swooped in and had suddenly become a part of their lives in a way she’d never been when Matt was alive. And, in her sleep, Kate had made it so easy for her. She was no match for Cricket’s money, even now, with the sale of this house and Matt’s bike shop in Kate’s bank account—sales overseen by Cricket, who had so smoothly negotiated the deals, it was like she’d put the buyers under a spell. In the back of Kate’s mind rested a very real and persistent fear that Cricket could take Devin, if she really wanted to. She would always have that incident with the scissors as leverage. Kate should consider herself lucky that Cricket was taking her along with Devin, that Cricket was giving her a job answering phones in her real estate office. She should be grateful Cricket was giving them the entire third floor of her house, where Cricket could walk in and check on them anytime she liked, instead of coming all the way here every day to do it.
“Of course we can take the trunk,” Kate said, tucking the postcard into the chest pocket of her wrinkled nightshirt. “We can take anything you want. Help me get it downstairs.”
It wasn’t heavy. But when it slid down the folding stairs, it nicked the floor a little.
They pulled the trunk into the living room, which was piled with boxes, suitcases, and some of their better furniture.
Kate saw Cricket’s list taped to the upright box with Kate’s clothes hung inside. Kate didn’t even glance at the note as they scooted the trunk to the middle of the room. Even if she’d still been asleep, she could have done this without consulting Cricket’s list. It was moving, not rocket science.
She didn’t know that it read:
1. The movers will be here at noon. Do not ride with them. Do not let Devin ride with them.
2. Wait exactly thirty minutes. Then drive to my house. Don’t wear anything fancy or put on makeup. It might help to look a little sad. I want Devin to wear exactly what she has on.
3. This is very important. There will be a film crew waiting at my house. They want to record your first day as you move in. Just act natural. They didn’t want me to tell you so it would look authentic, but I was afraid you might go off and do something and not stick to the schedule if you didn’t know. This is very important! I’ll explain everything when I get there.
Cricket Pheris micro-managed everything. As locally famous as she was, not many people knew that about her. She’d built her career on her supposed ability to go with the flow, to weather any storm. The truth was, Cricket didn’t weather anything. She controlled storms. And it had given her a reputation as a quiet kingmaker. She was the perfect combination of good taste and political ambition, but whenever she was approached to run for office, she always graciously demurred, happy behind the scenes. She’d been known to increase the numbers for any given candidate just by putting his or her campaign poster on the same lawn as her real estate sign. And all because, fifteen years ago, after Cricket’s husband died, she’d single-handedly turned her real estate agency into the biggest in the state with a series of extremely successful commercials that had even garnered national attention. The commercials had chronicled the selling of the house where Cricket and her husband and her son, Matt, had all once lived together, and the search for a new house for just Cricket and Matt. We know about moving on. That had been the phrase that had ended each commercial. Cricket had come across as likable and competent, but also sensitive and grieving. But it had been Matt who’d stolen the show. He’d been a beautiful child with a remarkable face that had been made for television—peachy skin and big sad brown eyes. There had been something about him that had made everyone who’d watched him root for him. Everyone had wanted him to find his home.
Matt had later told Kate that he had hated those commercials. Cricket had scripted them entirely. They had made them look close, but Cricket had worked fifteen-hour days, and Matt had essentially grown up without her.
When Kate had first met Matt, they’d both been freshman at Emory. She’d been close to flunking out. She hadn’t made friends easily, and she’d spent most of her class time staring out windows, imagining herself in some far-off place. She’d gotten so good at it that she could actually turn soft to the touch and wispy like a cloud as she sat there, and all it would have taken to send her away was one good gust of air.
She hadn’t known it at the time, but Matt had watched her daydream in class. It had been the first thing he’d noticed about her, the first thing that had attracted him to her. She’d wanted to disappear almost as much as he had. She’d known who he was, of course. But she’d never dreamed she would ever catch his attention. She’d grown up watching those commercials. She, like everyone else in the greater Atlanta area, had wanted this sweet, beautiful kid to find where he belonged.
Kate and Matt had been only nineteen when Kate had gotten pregnant, and Cricket had been so upset with her son for dropping out of college and marrying Kate, whom she believed came from a family of notorious gold diggers, that she’d refused to speak to him and withdrew all of her financial support. Cricket had had big plans for Matt. If she always backed a winner, imagine what she could have done if her own son had gotten into politics. That face. He had that perfect face.
But Matt had had no interest in running for public office. He’d been shy and uncomfortable around people. After they married, Kate and Matt had moved in with Kate’s mother, into this house, because Kate’s mother had been convinced that Cricket would forgive Matt in time, and then all that money would be Matt and Kate’s to share with her. Cricket had been wrong about a lot of things, but Kate’s mother’s obsession with money had not been one of them.
Kate’s mother had died of a sudden stroke two years later, never having seen her dreams of wealth for her daughter realized. That was when Cricket started making halfhearted attempts at reconciliation, but it was too late. Matt had cut ties with her and didn’t want them mended.
Kate and Matt had spent seven years here together in this small house, raising Devin, starting a bicycle shop called Pheris Wheels with the small trust from his father. This was the life Matt had chosen, the one that had brought him as close to content as he’d ever been, doing what he’d wanted in an anonymous existence that he considered bohemian. Plain old middle class to the rest of the world. But as Kate looked around at their belongings, there was nothing of Matt’s here. The furniture had all been her mother’s. He’d moved into her world, part and parcel, but added nothing of himself.
Kate sat on the trunk, and Devin pulled herself up and sat close to her.
“It’s going to be all right,” Kate said. “You know that, don’t you?”
Devin nodded as she took off her black glasses, the ones Cricket liked, and cleaned them on the J.Crew T-shirt Cricket had picked out for her to wear.
“I’ll talk to Cricket about your clothes. Your dad and I always said you could wear what you wanted on summer vacation. Cricket is just going to have to deal with it.”
“What about school?” Devin asked. This was a familiar argument. Devin hated her school uniform. The idea of being in uniform at all offended her. But in the year she’d been asleep, Kate had agreed to let Cricket enroll Devin in the same private school Matt had attended.
“The school requires a uniform, you know that.”
“Can’t I go back to my old school?”
Kate hesitated. “I’ll talk to Cricket. But it’s a good school. And your dad went there.” Kate put her arm around Devin, and the movement drew her attention to the postcard in her chest pocket.
Kate took out the postcard, and she and Devin both stared at it as if new words might form on it, telling their fortune. Kate’s mother had kept this from her for reasons Kate might never know. When she looked at the card, she experienced that same small sensation of rebellion she’d felt when she’d put aside Cricket’s coffee earlier. Her mother hadn’t wanted her to be in touch with Eby. Her mother hadn’t wanted her to go back to Lost Lake.
That in itself was reason enough to go.
The word came to her mind before she could stop it.
“You know,” Kate said, “Lost Lake is only three or four hours away. At least, it was.”
Devin looked up at her slowly, suspiciously, like there was trickery afoot. It almost made Kate laugh.
“It might be shut down. Eby might not be there. But we could go see. Just you and me.” Kate nudged her. “What do you say? We don’t have to be here when all this stuff is moved.”
“Like a vacation?”
“I don’t know what it will be,” Kate said honestly. “If there’s nothing there, well, we’ll just turn around and come back to our new place. But if it’s still there, maybe we can stay for the night. Maybe two. We won’t know until we get there.”
“Do we have to ask Grandma Cricket?”
“No. This is between you and me. Go change out of those clothes and into what you want to wear. We’ll throw some things into the car and head out.”
Devin tore off down the hall, but then stopped and ran back and hugged Kate.
“I’ve missed you,” she said, then ran away again, leaving Kate standing there, shocked.
Kate didn’t think anyone knew.
But Devin did.
She knew Kate had been asleep all this time.
Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Addison Allen