Authors: Rett MacPherson
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the girls I've danced with, sang with, cried with
and slew dragons with. As the song says,
“We are family.”
The author wishes to thank the following people who helped bring this book to publication:
My agent, Michele Rubin. My editor, Kelley Ragland, whose editorial suggestions made this a much better book. The usual suspects: Tom Drennan, Laurell K. Hamilton, Deborah Millitello, Marella Sands, Sharon Shinn and Mark Sumner for endless support, friendship, and, last but not least, delicious food; and my husband, Joe, and the kids for their patience.
A special thank you to Janie Pecarina, Lee Estep, Donna Burgee, and the people at the Booksource for promotion beyond the call of duty.
“The Gaheimer House is one of the oldest houses in New Kassel, dating back to the mid-1860s,” I said. I was back to giving tours of the house, and I could finally fit into all seven of the reproduction dresses that my boss, Sylvia, had made for me several years ago when I started this job. I wish I could say that having a baby last year had added the extra pounds to my rather short frame, but it really hadn't. It wasn't my son's fault that I had eaten too much and reduced my exercising to chasing my chickens around the backyard. No, it was mine. All mine.
But a year later and about thirty pounds lighter, I could fit into the reproduction dresses and was giving tours twice a day. I wore my favorite, the 1870s deep blue polonaise gown with an open front that revealed an underskirt of the same color. It was trimmed with chenille-ball fringe in a deeper, almost navy blue.
I moved the tour of about eleven people into the dining room, my stiff and itchy crinolette swishing as I went. “For those of you who aren't from the eastern Missouri area, New Kassel was founded by a group of German immigrants in the 1830s. The Mississippi River was an excellent way of importing and exporting, and the town was located not too far from the Missouri River junction. The Missouri River is important because before the great railroads were built west of the Mississippi, the Missouri was the main route west. Unless you went by wagon.”
On this particular tour, I had a young couple with twin girls, an elderly couple, a threesome of mid-forties women, an ancient-looking man who could have passed for a midwestern version of Rasputin, and a solitary female about thirty.
“I want to remind everybody as we enter this lovely room filled with delicate china and silver that all of the items in the Gaheimer House are antiques, so we ask that you refrain from touching them,” I said, more for the couple with the twin girls than for anybody else. I'm the mother of three kids; I know how things accidentally get broken. Kids are great. I had been thoroughly amazed at how much I could love a little creature when Rachel was first born, but that didn't change the fact that kids live to touch things expensive, old, or irreplaceable. And if the twins on this tour were anything like my middle child, Mary, something would get broken.
“The wainscoting that you see here is made of sycamore. Mr. Gaheimer went to Connecticut on business in the late 1880s and brought back this dining table, which seats twelve. If you'll notice, the chandelier matches the gilt convex mirror.â¦”
I could say this stuff in my sleep. I've been doing this for almost ten years. I'm also the archivist for the town, compiling things like marriage and land records for Granite County. Sometimes I even write biographies, and I'm usually the one in charge of any displays we put up, as well. I know this town inside and out, and I know the job inside and out. Every now and then, though, if something distracts me, I forget my monologue and end up staring out at the tourists, stammering and stuttering. Just like today.
The solitary female, whom I mentioned before, was staring back at me. Not staring at me like you'd expect someone might when listening to a tour guide, but
staring at me. She was about my height, maybe an inch taller, and had brown hair and hazel eyes. Something about those hazel eyes disturbed me, beyond the fact that they were boring through me as if she were trying to read my soul. There was aÂ â¦ familiarity, but I couldn't place it. Dark lashes and eyebrows stood out against her rather pale face. She hung on my every word, my every gesture. And soon it became very difficult for me to speak.
“And uhÂ â¦ um, this punch bowl at the end of the room was a gift fromÂ â¦ fromâ¦” Who was it a gift from? I couldn't remember.
“Torie,” somebody said.
“No, not Torie. Susan B. Anthony, that's it!”
“Torie,” the voice said, more persistent now. I snapped out of my stupor and realized that
name was Torie and somebody was calling me.
“What?” I looked over to the entrance, where I saw my boss, Sylvia Pershing, standing there. Sylvia must be close to a hundred by now. Of course, I've been saying that for the last twenty years. I just knew that she was old when I was a kid, and now she seems immortal. She's thin, frail, bony, and full of piss and vinegar. She has never cut her silver hair in her life, and she braids it into twin braids every morning and wraps them around her head. She is the president of the Historical Society, where I am employed, and she owns half of the town, including the Gaheimer House. Her sister Wilma died last year, and Sylvia has not been quite the same since. She can still do more than half of the people in the town, and she can still cut you with her razor-sharp tongue, but it's as if she doesn't enjoy it anymore.
“Yes, SylviaÂ â¦ what is it?”
“I hate to interrupt the tour, but when you're finished, you need to call the school,” she said with a slight tremor caused by age.
“Oh, all right,” I said. I resumed the tour, wondering just what Mary had done that would require me to go and bail her out. The rest of the tour went much like the first part had, with me stumbling over words and finding myself stealing glances at the woman staring at me. I found myself doing things like wiping at my nose to make sure there were no errant boogers, and cleaning my teeth with my tongue. I mean, was there something gross about me? What was her problem?
Finally, the tour was over. I headed down to my office as fast as I could. I put sixty cents in the soda machine, got a Dr Pepper, and went to my office. I shut the door and took a long, fizzy sip of my soda. Then I dialed the school, whose number I've had memorized since Mary started kindergarten.
Of course, New Kassel is a tiny town. There's one school for kindergarten and all twelve grades, and the graduating classes have about forty students each. And so when Francine answered the phone and I said, “Hi, it's Torie,” she knew exactly who was calling.
“Yeah, Torie,” Francine said. “We got a problem with Rachel.”
“Rachel?” I asked. My oldest. This, I hadn't expected. “Are you sure?”
She laughed a little. “Of course I'm sure.”
Rachel. Hmmm. “W-what's the problem?” I asked. I would have sat down, but you can't sit down in a dress like the one I was wearing. Potty breaks are an event that take as much organization as the invasion of Normandy. And nearly as much time.
“She got into a fight,” Francine said.
“A fight?” I asked. “Francine, this is Torie O'Shea. Are you sure you got the right kid? Rachel O'Shea. You're sure?”
“Yeah, I'm sure. She gave Davie Roberts a bloody nose because he flicked her bra strap.”
“Oh jeez,” I said. Yes, it had been one of the great emotional moments of my life when my prepubescent daughter became pubescent and had to go out and buy her first training bra. She was still a kid, for crying out loud, but boobs are boobs. She was humiliated beyond belief, no matter how many of her friends I could name who were wearing training bras already. It also didn't matter when I pointed out that usually she couldn't wait to wear what everybody else wore, so why was this one item of clothing any different? But it was, and she didn't see my logic at all.
“It's pretty bad,” Francine said.
“What do you mean, âpretty bad'?” I asked.
“I mean, I think she broke his nose. His eyes turned purple within twenty minutes.”
My first reaction was to say, “Well, then Davie should keep his hands to himself,” but that didn't make what Rachel did right. I don't know how many times I've told my kids, “I don't care who throws the first punch, it's the kid who throws the last oneâthe one who retaliatesâwhom I will punish.” Yes, Davie should have kept his little twelve-year-old perverted hands to himself, but Rachel should not have broken his nose. “I'll be right there,” I said to her.
“Okay,” Francine said.
“But, heyÂ â¦ are you guys going to do anything to Mr. Frisky Hands?”
“Yes, he's getting detention. That is, as soon as he returns to school.”
“Oh jeez,” I said again, wondering just what Davie's mother was going to say to me at the next PTA meeting. There was a knock at my office door just as I said good-bye and hung up the phone.
“Come in,” I said.
The door opened and in walked the woman from the tour. The one who had kept staring at me. I was a little surprised, but yetÂ â¦ was I really? “Can I help you?” I asked. I sounded a little defensive, maybe even hateful. The woman flinched.
“Um, I was wondering if I couldÂ â¦ I can come back at another time,” she said.
“No,” I said. “I'm sorry. It's just that I have to go to the school to get my daughter. There's been aÂ â¦ disagreement with one of her classmates.”
“Could youÂ â¦ I'll listen to you, if you'll help me out of this stupid dress,” I said, turning my back to her and exposing the buttons.
“Oh, sure,” she said, and began undoing the buttons. There was an underslip, chemise, and crinolette, so I knew she wouldn't actually see any flesh. Women in the nineteenth century were packaged in layer after layer, so the only person who could ever glimpse their bare skin was the person who was supposed to. A satin and lace prison, if you will.
“What can I do for you?” I asked as I unbuttoned the sleeves.
“I understand that you trace family trees? You are Torie O'Shea, correct?”