Thursday, February 7, 2019

Irish Wishes, Chapter 1

Gillian lacked faith in numbers. Of course, since she was a librarian and not a math teacher, this was to be expected. Words were to be trusted; numbers, especially when it came to predicting the future, were far less reliable.
Floe felt differently and she slammed her hand on the table to emphasize her words. “It’s the power of three!” Some people called them twins from different mothers, because in looks—moderate height, fair skin and hair, green eyed—they were similar. Even their staunch Christian values were the same, but when it came to numerology, they differed dramatically.
Why three had any more power than five or ten, Gillian didn’t know, but rather than point this out to her friend, she sipped her tea and glanced around the crowded and noisy sidewalk cafĂ© willing for someone to come and rescue her. Typically, she couldn’t go anywhere without someone she knew from the school or choir stopping for a chat, but not today.
“The whole thing…it’s suspicious, isn’t?” Gillian picked off a morsel of her donut and put it in her mouth. She and Floe were supposed to be celebrating the end of the school year—not arguing. She almost regretted ever telling Floe about the mysterious safety deposit box. “I mean, why send did the attorney send the notification to the school and not the house? If it had gotten lost in the mail, there was a real chance I wouldn’t have even seen it until after the break.”
“It came at the perfect time,” Floe said.
“Well, it came on my twenty-fifth birthday, as my mom had arranged.”
“Probably because she didn’t want your gram to get a hold of it. Which is also why the letter was sent to the school instead of the house.”
Gillian frowned at her donut. It had turned her fingers sticky and somehow she’d managed to eat half of it without even noticing. “But my mom couldn’t know I would be working at the school.” Her voice cracked as it often did when she talked about her mom. In just five years, she’d be the same age as her mom had been when she’d died.
“But she might have known you’d be raised by your grandmother.”
Gillian held up her hand and twisted it so the emerald cut sapphire and surrounding diamonds caught the sun and sent shoots of light across the table.
“There were three things in the safety deposit box, right?” Floe asked.
“Yes, but I really don’t see—”
“Things come in threes! It’s a proven fact.”
“By who? As far as I know, only triplets come in threes.”
But Floe was on a roll and didn’t want to listen. “First, you got the letter about the safety deposit box—which contained three things. Second, the offer from Traverse Magazine. And third, they both arrived right as school ended for the summer.”
Gillian pulled a face. “The summer was going to come no matter what. It always does.”
“But don’t you see? If the offer from Traverse Magazine had come at any other time of the year, you wouldn’t be able to go. And since you discovered all that money in the safety deposit box, you can afford to go.”
“Leslie Tremaine, that’s the editor of Traverse Magazine, offered to pay all my expenses.” Even she heard the touch of wonder in her voice. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”
“Why? You’re a gifted photographer and writer.”
“But there are thousands, maybe even millions of blogs. How did she find mine? I mean, very few people actually do.”
“Did you ask her?”
“No, I didn’t want to look a gift-horse in the mouth.”
“I never understood what that even means,” Floe muttered.
“It means if someone gives you a horse, don’t inspect its teeth. It’s rude. But I don’t want to get to Ireland and find the whole thing is some sort of ruse.”
Floe shook her donut in Gillian’s face. “That is exactly something your gram would say. Along with that whole gift-horse saying. Did you tell her about the safety deposit box?”
Gillian fought back a wave of guilt. “No. I’m not sure I’m going to.” She’d never been very good at keeping secrets, especially from Gram. Her grandmother had an eerie sixth sense that had terrified Gillian for years.
“You shouldn’t,” Floe said, her disdain for Gram dripping in her voice. “Have you had the chance to read the diary, yet?”
“Of course. I stayed up all night.” She smiled at the memory. “Reading her writing was like being introduced to someone I thought I knew, but didn’t. Someone witty and charming.”
“And probably beautiful.”
“I already knew that about her.” Memories of her Marilyn Monroe-beautiful mom flashed in Gillian’s head.
“Did the diary mention your father at all?”
Gillian shook her head. “But it does mention some of my mom’s friends.” She took a bite of her donut, chewed and swallowed before adding, “I’d like to meet them.”
“Another reason to go to Ireland.”
“I know, but…”
“But what?” Floe asked.
Gillian scrunched her nose. “It’s all too neat and tidy. Contrived, even.”
“You like neat and tidy! You thrive on neat and tidy! You’re a librarian, for Pete’s sake.”
A sudden vision of her stepbrother, Pete, flashed in her mind. Tall, lanky, honey blond hair falling across his forehead, baby blue eyes framed by surprisingly dark lashes. She banished his memory to the back of her mind…where he belonged.
“What is it?” Floe asked, sitting up.
“What’s what?” Gillian asked, returning to the here and now. Wood River. A tiny town in near the Oregon coast, where she’d lived with her grandmother since her mother’s death ten years ago.
“That look!”
“What look?”
“You had a wistful sort of look on your face.”
Gillian schooled her expression and gave a half-hearted, I don’t know what you’re talking about sort of shrug. She had to be careful with Floe. They’d been friends since their senior year of high school. Both were new to Wood River—making them outsiders in the small, tight-knit community. Gillian and her gram frequently moved, for no reason that Gillian could point to, during the first five years after Gillian’s mother’s death while Floe had been a runaway taken in and nurtured by the Pastor’s wife. They’d banned together in choir, and after graduation, they’d both worked hard to put themselves through college.
It had surprised both of them when they ended up back in Wood River working at the middle school, but they were practically sisters now. Floe could read Gillian like a book from Gillian’s library.
Floe sighed. “You’re hopeless. I’m telling you, if you don’t go, I will.”
Gillian cocked her head. “Would you come with me?”
“Serious?” Floe brightened.
“Sure. If you’ll come with me, I’ll go. I’ll even pay for your flight.”
“When would we go?”
Gillian shrugged. Now that she’d made the offer, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it because there was still the matter of how in the world she’d explain it all to Gram.
As if bidden, Gillian’s phone buzzed with a text. She pulled it out of her cat shaped backpack and frowned at the text. “It’s from Gram. She needs me to pick up her hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy.”
“Your gram texts?” Surprise flickered across Floe’s face.
“No, she gets Harold to do it.” Gillian texted a yes before dropping the phone back into her bag. She zipped it up as if that could keep her gram’s interruptions to a minimum.
“Who’s Harold?”
“The man next door. He pretty much does everything Gram tells him to do. She pays him with baked goods.”
“Interesting…” Floe murmured. “Let’s get back to planning our trip! I can’t go until after Sue’s wedding.”
“That works,” Gillian said. She polished off her donut, and her mood lifted. “Are we really doing this?”
“Absolutely! Why wouldn’t we?”
“What if it’s a scam?”
Floe laughed. “It’s an all expense paid trip to Ireland! What could go wrong?”
Gillian walked the few blocks from Olympic Avenue, Wood River’s main street, to her gram’s house on the corner of Elm and Maple. Steam rose from the sidewalk, sending the scent of warm and wet cement into the air. Petrichor, the smell that lingers when rain falls after a prolonged dry spell, caused by a chemical reaction.
Where had she learned that word? From Pete. He had liked science and had majored in biology before getting his business degree. What was he doing now? Why would she care? He and her stepfather had abandoned her long ago. She didn’t need to spare either of them a thought.
Mrs. Pratchett, a gray-haired woman dressed in a floral housecoat and wearing fuzzy slippers on her feet, and her yappy Pekinese, Pansy, rounded the corner.
“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Pratchett called in her cultured British accent that always made Gillian think of a Master Piece theater production.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Pratchett.” She stooped to tickle Pansy between the ears. Pansy received the attention as if it was her due.
“Headed home, are you?”
Gillian stood and nodded.
Mrs. Pratchett leaned forward to whisper, “Well, I thought I’d give you a heads up. That Tod Bingham is parked in front of your grandmother’s house.” She winked conspiratorially. “Just in case you want to take another loop around the neighborhood.”
“Oh, thank you.” Gillian bit her lip. She didn’t mind Tod. They’d been friends in high school, but his over-eagerness wore on her. She knew that if she’d agree to it, he’d marry her in a second even though they’d never even been on a date.
“If you’d like,” Mrs. Pratchett said, “I could give you Pansy’s lead and you could take her to the park.”
“Oh, no. Thank you, though.” She’d rather face Tod than walk Pansy.
Mrs. Pratchett wilted with disappointment. “Well, maybe some other time.”
“Sure thing. Have a good day.”
When Gillian caught sight of the patrol car parked in front of her Gram’s bungalow, her steps faltered. What was Tod doing here? With her lips pressed into a straight line and feeling like she was walking before a firing squad, she passed through the front gate and climbed the steps up the porch. She listened to the murmured conversation for a moment, catching the words break-in and trespassers, before she pushed open the door.
The conversation halted as soon as she entered.
Her gram sat on the sofa holding a pair of knitting needles in her hands and a ball of yarn in her lap. Gram ordered her clothes from a catalog company that sold cardigans, floral blouses, and coordinating polyester pants in bright colors. Her sunny clothing usually sharply contrasted with her mood and facial expressions that ranged from distaste to dissatisfaction.
Tod stood in the center of the room, looking, as he always did, like a St. Bernard. He not only had the same build and fuzzy hair—albeit close-clipped—but he also always had a Dudley Do-Right, hopeful expression that Gillian found sweet but also annoying.
Chester, the cat, jumped off the sofa and came to rub himself against Gillian’s ankles.
“What’s going on?” Gillian asked, scooping up Chester and hugging him to her chest.
But then she spotted her mom’s diary on the coffee table and a terrible dread swept through her. She moved to snatch it up, but Gram dropped the needles, grabbed the book, and shook it in Gillian’s face.
“Do you want to tell me about this?” Gram’s face flushed an angry red and the whites of her eyes took on a yellow hue.
“It’s my mother’s diary,” Gillian said in a strangled voice.
Gram’s tight gray curls shook with fury. “How did it get in the house?”
“I brought it here.” Gillian skated Tod a curious glance. “Why did you call the police?”
“When I found it in your room,” Gram straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, “I thought for sure someone had broken in.”
Gillian edged closer, hoping to get her fingers on the diary. If she needed to, she could take on her gram. “What were you doing in my room?”
“Just tidying up.”
Tidying up? Her room was as clean and sterile as the library. “You don’t need to tidy up my room.”
“It’s my house, isn’t it? I can go in any room I like.”
Gillian blinked as a sudden thought rocked through her. With the money from the safety deposit box, she could afford to move out.
As if she could Gillian’s thoughts, Gram snorted, horse-like. “This is a lie! I knew your mother much better than you ever will and this did not belong to her. Where did it come from?”
“An attorney notified me of a safety deposit box.”
“An attorney?” Gram’s eyes narrowed with suspicions. “What attorney? Where’s his office?”
Doubts tickled in the back of Gillian’s mind. Of course, if her mom had taken out a safety deposit box, it would have been in a bank in New York—not Portland. But that diary…it had to belong to her mother, she was sure of it. “Give it back!”
Gram stood and moved to the fireplace where flames blazed.
Horror swept through Gillian. “Don’t you dare!” She darted in front of her Gram. “Tod! Do something!”
“Now, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod lumbered toward the crackling fire, “don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“I can’t have this trash in my home!” Gram announced.
Gillian darted forward and plucked the book from grandmother’s fingers.
Gram froze. “Where’d you get that ring?”
Gillian held out her hand, admiring once again the sparkling stone and intricate gold setting. “In the safety deposit box.”
Gram clutched her heart, staggered back to the sofa, and fell onto it. A puff of dust settled around her.
“Gram? Are you okay?” Gillian asked, worry replacing anger.
“Mrs. O’Hare? Would you like me to call an ambulance?” Tod asked.
Gram pinned Gillian with a steely gaze. “Get that book out of this house!”
“Gram,” Gillian began.
“Get out! Get out!” Gram shrieked. “This is my house and I can say who and what belongs here and what doesn’t.” She pointed a wavering finger at Gillian. “GET OUT!”
Gillian stared at her grandmother with an open mouth.
Tod took Gillian’s elbow and steered her from the room and out onto the porch.
“She doesn’t mean it,” Gillian said in a shocked whisper. “She can’t really mean it.”
Tod gave her a sympathetic glance and rubbed her back. She eased away from his touch.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” he asked.
She nodded. “Floe, Jessie, or Cynthia.” She had lots of friends who would probably be happy to share a sofa for a few nights.
Tod shuffled his feet. “I was going to say, you’re always welcome to stay with me. It’s not much, and I’d have to tidy up…bachelor, you know?”
“That’s sweet, Tod, but not necessary.”
Gram appeared in the doorway with a shotgun in her hand. She cocked it. “Are you still here? I want you off my property immediately!”
“Gram!” Gillian gasped. “She’s lost it!” she said to Tod.
“Give me the gun, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod said, looking, for once, officious. He tossed the words, “Get out of here, Gillian,” over his shoulder. “Go somewhere safe!”
Gillian sat on the edge of Floe’s bed with her hands between her knees. Floe sat beside her with a comforting arm around Gillian’s shoulder.
“You have to go,” Floe said.
“No, I can’t go,” Gillian insisted.
“It’s another sign.”
“This—according to your scorekeeping—makes four signs, and there’s nothing magical about four.”
Floe shook her head. “You were right before. Summer comes no matter what, so that wasn’t a sign. But this is.”
“I can’t leave her!”
“You don’t have a choice,” Floe insisted.
“She needs help!”
“Of course, she does. But you don’t have to be the one who provides it. Have you called her sisters?”
“Yes, but you know they’re all as crazy as she is.” Gillian sucked in a deep breath. Just thinking of her great aunts gave her a panic attack. The last time the three sisters had been together, they’d watched Fox news and gotten in a shouting matching over political issues that they all agreed with. It was craziness that they could scream at each other even when they all shared the same opinions. “Auntie Mae and Auntie Sarah said they would be here tomorrow.”
“Just another reason for you to leave.”
“I don’t have a suitcase. I don’t have any clothes.” Gillian bit her lip, immediately recognizing her mistake and wishing she could take back her words.
Floe grinned and bounced off the bed. “You, my sister, have come to the right place!” She disappeared out the door. “Come and see what I just found!” Floe called from the next room.
“I can’t pillage your stash!” Gillian said, not moving.
Floe returned with her arms full of clothes. “You can and you will!”
Floe ran an online clothes business where she found clothes at local thrift stores and garage sales, dollied them up and resold them at outrageous prices. Even though she’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, she’d chosen to get a degree in math because she considered it practical and she liked a teacher’s lifestyle and benefits. But her online business was quickly outperforming her teacher’s salary.
Gillian wasn’t about to take her inventory. “I can buy my own clothes,” Gillian said.
Floe, ever the savvy business-woman, rubbed her hands together in glee. “Did someone just say shopping?”

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