During the reception for Graham’s memorial service, Fa had fallen into a reverie in the corner of the garden. For the first time in many years, she let memories that she had pushed to the bottom of her heart bubble to the surface. She faded into the background, not noticing the events passing before her eyes.
Meanwhile, Morgan, Marie, and Mina had huddled in corner on the other side of the garden. They were discussing the recent turn in Ms. Hunter’s attitude in whispers. At first, Morgan and Marie had communicated to each other through their minds, but Mina, sensing from their long silence that they must be discussing something, tugged on their sleeves and begged them to share with her.
“What a weirdo,” Morgan said. “Can’t she make up her mind?”
“Well she is under extreme duress,” Marie said. “Think about it–her son just died. That’s got to mess with your head.”
“Maybe Mr. Hunter finally convinced her that we’re not so bad,” Mina suggested. She pouted and wiped a tear from the edge of her eye. “I feel so badly for her.”
The girls looked around, eyeing the families that milled about the garden, who looked back haltingly at them. Ambrose was such a small town that they had grown up seeing all those same faces, altered slowly by the passing of time (though they aged much more rapidly than their mother seemed to do). It was strange to know that they were still children, yet see in those lined, adult eyes, a tinge of fear. It was a feeling at once empowering and insulting. Whenever Morgan saw this fear, a fire would burn up in her, a rage that would push her to action. For Marie, the experience was cold and calculated: she weighed coolly the advantages and disadvantages that came with fear–power, and isolation–seeing clearly, as always, her position in the midst of it all. Mina, though she was too young to be thinking of such things, found herself unconsciously thinking of the other person, imagining what they were feeling. Whenever Mina did this, she found herself feeling a soft pity for those people who couldn’t understand her family.
The garden was in actuality the backyard of the Mayor’s house, a white two story building constructed of wooden slats. It was a beautiful and historic building, with green ivy climbing up the walls and old trees shading the windows. Most of the curtains on the windows were closed. As long as the girls had been in Ambrose, they had never heard of anyone but the Hunter family going inside. The one time they had gone, during Mara and Graham’s engagement, they had only seen one room, and had been quickly shuffled out. Even though it was white and gleaming new, sparkling like a clean and transparent thing, the house seemed to be just as filled with secrets as the rickety Switches’ house on Tamany Lane.
Mina noticed Ms. Hunter and her husband easing down the lane that led back into the house, moving swiftly and quietly, their heads bowed as if crying into their hands.
“Look!” she said. “They’re leaving now. I wonder if anything’s wrong.”
The sisters watched as the couple disappeared around to the other side of the house. Morgan tossed her head impatiently, and then jumped to her feet. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go exploring.”
“Absolutely not!” Marie grabbed out for Morgan’s elbow before she could take a step. “Are you insane?”
“I’m bored. Don’t you want to see what the inside of that house is like? What they’re doing in there? If anyone sees us, we can just say we saw that Ms. Hunter looked really upset, and wanted to personally console her.”
Mina’s eyes were bright. She pulled Marie’s fingers from around Morgan’s arm. “Yeah, let’s go Marie. I think we have an okay excuse. Plus no one is going to notice if we just slip away.”
Marie relented, her own curiosity also tapped. Strangely, It comforted her to know that they were wearing the bracelet. At least, Morgan wouldn’t do something stupid accidentally. For the first time in her life, she felt the urge to take a risk. Because the bracelet had made them “normal,” the dangers seemed to deescalate to normal dangers as well. If they got caught, they were just like any other stupid kids getting in trouble.
The girls slipped quietly down the path that the Hunter couple had taken. Morgan tried the handle on a side door. Without any magic, it clicked open.
The hallway was lit. A warm light exuded from the house, even though there were no visible light fixtures in sight. The air was drowsy, and soft classical music was playing in a room far away. Immediately the adventure felt less risky. The house felt welcoming, like a home. It felt secure.
They walked down the hall, looking around. The walls were a light cream yellow, and small framed portraits hung on the walls. Inside the frames, the beautiful oiled faces of what must have been the Hunter family ancestors–all were high cheeked, blue-eyed, and blond haired–smiled at the sisters, seeming to greet them. There were many white doors along the hall, with golden and glass handles. The doors were all closed.
As they walked down the hall, the sound of piano became louder. At the end of the hallway, a door was open, a warm orange light spilling from its frame. Inside the door was a stairway leading down into what looked like another hall. The sisters looked at each other, and took the stairs down.
At the bottom of the stairs were two doors, one of which was slightly ajar and the clear source of the music. Morgan stepped forward and knocked on the door, pushing it forward.
The door flung open. It was Ms. Hunter.
“Oh!” she said. “What a surprise!” Her eyes were red from crying. Inside the room, which looked like a library and sitting room, a record player was spinning out the classical piano. Mr. Hunter was sitting on a chair, drinking a glass of whiskey.
“We…” Marie stumbled on her words.
“We saw you leaving the garden looking upset,” Mina chimed in, her voice sweet and gentle. “And we wanted to see if you were okay.”
“Girls, come in,” Ms. Hunter said. “It’s so kind of you to worry. Of course, for a mother…”
She looked at the sisters with beaming eyes, sweeping them into the room and onto a plump upholstered couch.
“The truth is, I’ve always wanted daughters.” She jumped up. “Would you like anything? Tea?”
Morgan and Marie exchanged confused glances. Ms. Hunter’s behavior was strangely friendly and hyper. Mr. Hunter, on the other hand, was completely silent, as if lost in his own thoughts.
Ms. Hunter brought over teacups. As she handed the first cup to Marie, she suddenly stopped and clutched her wrist, so tight that Marie almost screamed out in pain. Immediately, the grip softened. Now Ms. Hunter caressed it softly, looking with interest at the bracelet.
“What a beautiful bracelet,” she said. “It must be from China, am I right?” Marie nodded. Ms. Hunter handed out the rest of the the cups to the girls and stood again. “In fact, they make me think of some bracelets I have upstairs that I got long ago, before I had Graham…when I thought I might have daughters. Let me get them…wait here.” She rushed out of the room in a flurry, disappearing behind the click of the door.
This feels weird, Morgan thought to Marie. Marie squeezed Mina’s hand and put down her tea cup.
“Well,” Marie said, addressing the silent Mr. Hunter. “I actually think we might need to go, now that we’ve seen…um…that everything’s okay.”
“Our mom is probably looking for us,” Mina said. The girls walked quickly to the door. Morgan grasped the handle and turned.
The door wouldn’t budge. Confused for a moment, Morgan tried again, pulling harder this time. It’s locked. Marie turned toward’s Mr. Hunter and opened her mouth, but then the lights dimmed, and the music went out. Mr. Hunter put his glass on the table and stood up. In the dim light, his tall figure loomed over them like a long black shadow.