Your intractable independence is a state of heart and mind, I fear, Addie. Not something to be cured, but something to be endured. --Lady Margaret to Miss Adelaide Putnam, Manor of Dark Dreams, p. 3
I learned a long time ago that the most insignificant-seeming thing may cause big change. The butterfly effect, it's called, according to Mr. Heck, who taught ninth-grade social studies like he knew every butterfly that ever broke out of a chrysalis, but only liked the really pretty ones (i.e., the brightly colored ones).
Me? I asked if there's any such thing as an all-black butterfly. He said, "Butterflies don't do goth." Naturally, the rest of the class laughed. I wanted to prove him wrong. But when I searched the Internet, I only found a few "black" butterflies with lots of yellow, green, and white. Oh, and a rock band and a movie. I guess I wasn't the only one who wished there were some solid-black butterflies in the world.
Whenever anyone asks me why I like to wear black, or calls me "goth girl" (I'm not), or asks if I'm auditioning to be a stagehand or a mime (yeah, right), or tells me to get pierced (no extra holes needed, thankyouverymuch), I just shrug and say, "I like to be prepared. Black covers everything from prom night to the end of the world." Most people are wise enough to blink twice and move on.
"Be prepared for the butterfly crap of life to drop on you at any moment" is my motto, which was why I was able to watch without drama, as my dad and stepmother (thirty minutes and counting) danced their first dance as a married couple. Almost.
I condensed my feelings into a single snarky comment to my best friend, Sarah. "If this was a horror movie, now comes the moment when she kills him and inherits it all. Whatever all is."
Sarah, looking as comfortable in her frilly emerald and pomegranate dress as I felt uncomfortable in my shiny pink bridesmaid gown, happily took up the game. "If it was a romantic movie, this would be the moment when they walk off into the sunset and she makes him as happy as your mom did."
"Not a chance. Mom and Dad were perfect for each other." I watched Krystal (who names their kid Krystal?) laugh and blush as my dad dipped her and kissed her nose. "If this was a science fiction movie, she'd be an alien or a mannequin."
"As stepmothers go, she seems pretty much human." Sarah was highly influenced by her do-gooder parents to think positive thoughts. It was a wonder we'd become friends.
"Wait until they come back from their honeymoon cruise extravaganza. I'll never be able to eat another apple without wondering if she's poisoned it."
"Poisoning apples is so last millennium," Sarah teased. "If you're that worried about the insurance money, you should have gone on the cruise with them instead of taking that weirdo nanny-to-the-spoiled-rich-kids summer job."
"Right. I already feel like the third wheel from nine to five, do I need to make it twenty-four/seven?"
"Don't let it bother you," Sarah said.
"I'm not." I turned away from the sight of the happy couple; the image of my dad's bright smile lingered a little against my eyelids as I blinked. "It's his life."
"You only have to deal until you finish high school." Sarah always liked to point out the silver lining to the garbage heap of life.
"Hey, I'm free of the lovebirds for the summer. Maybe by the time they come back, they'll be done with the kissing and cuddling, and life can get back to normal."
"Maybe you'll like her living in the house?"
"Doesn't matter whether I like it or not, she'll be there, just like a cockroach, a spider, and a fly-all rolled up together."
Sarah waved her hand and laughed. "Even if she pulls two ugly daughters out of the closet after she gets back from the honeymoon, at least you know you have only one year left before you head to college."
It stung that my best friend on the planet didn't understand how terrible my life had become. "Thanks for the cheer-up. You almost match my dress for nauseatingly bright and-"Again with the hand flap. "You look pretty in pink."
"Don't ever say that again." I had known this day was going to be bad, but I'd thought Sarah would be in my corner. Instead, she kept piling on the sun and light. "When I get married, my matron of honor will wear black." I grinned as I said it, knowing that the very thought would make her hyperventilate.
She grinned back, her gotcha grin. "Don't you mean maid of honor? And I thought you weren't getting married."
"I never said I wasn't getting married. Just that it isn't my raison d'être like it is for some people." I nodded toward the happy couple on the dance floor. "And I meant matron of honor. You'll be married way before I am. You're not nearly as discriminating."
"True." Sarah didn't even blink at the dis. She takes the seesaw approach to what people think. If it matters to her, she cares; if not, she doesn't. That's why I put up with a girl who likes pink and thinks happy rainbow thoughts 99.9 percent of the time. "But I hope by that time you'll have stopped hating all the colors of the rainbow."
Sigh. Rainbow thoughts again. "Spare me. Rainbows are for people who don't know the dark side of life."
"On the contrary, rainbows are for people who do know the dark side of life. Rainbows come after the storm, remember? At some point you have to live your life and let go of your grief."
Easy for her to say. "Thanks. I thought you were supposed to be the sensitive one. Word of advice: Don't tell the folks you're building the house for this summer that you think they ought to get over being poor and dance around the empty lot."
She frowned. One thing Sarah cares about is doing positive things in the world. "They'll be working hard to build their home along with us, you know. It's part of the deal. You should come. Ditch the nanny gig and learn some useful skills. Do a little good for real people instead of spoiled brats."
Trust Sarah to point out the potential flaw in my summer plans. "You really think they'll be spoiled brats?"
"Count on it." She ticked off on her fingers: "One, nanny; two, mansion on the coast of Maine; three, nanny."
I shrugged. "It's only for the summer. And who knows, maybe Krystal will come back with her wicked stepmother badge shining and that little summer job nest egg will keep me from having to smile and play nice with mice and birds."
"Hey! Show the 'Rella some respect."
"Never. Girls who voluntarily wear pink and blue should have to dance on top of birthday cakes forever."
"You really are cranky, aren't you?" Sarah gave up trying to cheer me up as suddenly as she'd given up eating meat in the eighth grade, and with the same solemn frown. "I'm sorry for you. But your dad does look happy. I hope someday we'll both find guys who make us feel that special."
I rolled my eyes. "Says the girl who has a new crush every Tuesday."
"You have to kiss a lot of frogs." As usual, she was unashamed of her fickle heart. "I don't need a guy. Guys make everything complicated. I like simple."
"Sure you do. Two spoiled brats and a posh spa business run by a rich family that will treat you like a slave. Sounds like a perfectly simple summer to me."
"Money," I countered.
"Mercenary." In Sarah's eyes there was nothing worse than doing something for money. She did, however, make an exception for raising money for a worthy cause.
"Practical." I hadn't been raised by starry-eyed do-gooder parents. I knew I'd have to support myself in this world. Couldn't count on anyone else in life. Money trumped pretty fairy tales any day of the week.
My aunt Faith interrupted our debate, holding a glass of champagne. She had her pity-poor-Philippa look in her eye. "Your mother would be glad he's found a good woman, honey." Aunt Faith always knew what to say to make me want to go hide in a closet. She ruffled my hair. "You know she wouldn't wish him to be lonely forever, right?"
There was only one way to deal with Aunt Faith when she'd had too much champagne and got soppy: run. I stood up and hugged her quickly. "You're right. Thanks. I have to go to the ladies' room."
I didn't even turn to see if Sarah was following me as I made my escape from the tables of laughing guests that circled the dance floor. I knew that she would.
"You can't hide in the bathroom forever," she said as we reached the foyer.
Fortunately, I didn't have to find out whether Sarah was right. Just at that moment, a guy wearing a chauffeur's uniform walked into the reception hall. "Hey, my ride is here." "Cute." Sarah's standard reaction to any guy under twenty-five. "I thought he was going to pick you up at your dad's house later."
"That's what Dad wanted. I changed the plans." I looked down at the pink scallops of my skirt and panicked a little. "I don't want him to see me like this."
"Why not? You look nice." Sarah couldn't take her eyes off the guy. "And he looks hot, even in the monkey suit."
"Go tell him so while I turn myself back into a pumpkin. And tell him I'll be right out." I headed for the bathroom to change out of my wedding gear and back into my normal clothes.
Sarah barged in while I was balling up the pink monstrosity and stuffing it into the dinky little garbage can. Her eyes were a little starry from the onset of crush number 10,003 as she said, "Wow. Maybe you have a better deal going on than I thought. Can you ask if they need another nanny?"
"What happened to doing good in the world?"
"I could do some good with him." She wiggled her eyebrows at me suggestively.
Her man-killer act might have worked if I didn't know that she'd only been out on five real dates. Ever. And two of those were pity dates that she'd agreed to because she believed in rooting for the underdog, even if he had acne and the social skills of a seagull. "One day you're going to have to stop talking and start doing, you know," I said.
"Careful, he's not even yours and you're acting all possessive."
I threw a few paper towels on top of the dress to hide it-nothing would be worse than someone seeing it and rescuing it. I'm sure Krystal and my dad would be annoyed that I'd thrown it away. I was gambling that by the time they came home from the honeymoon, the dress would be a distant memory and I could get away with a vague excuse like "I haven't seen it all summer." I had to risk it -- no way I was going to keep a reminder of this day hanging in my closet. "He isn't mine. He isn't going to be. You know he has a girlfriend. Guys like that are always taken -- even if they're complete jerks." Back in black, I felt like myself. Just because the guy was a hottie didn't mean I had to melt.
"He didn't seem like a jerk," Sarah argued.
"Of course not. He's just doing his job." "I'm just relieved that he seems seminormal. That 'must love black' thing in the nanny ad creeps me out. It's like you're working for the Addams Family or something. Anyone who loves black as much as you -- or who'd make it a job requirement -- is weird. Even you can't argue with that."
"I like weird. Why do you think you're my best friend?" Fortunately, we'd left the privacy of the bathroom and were approaching the hottie, so she was too preoccupied with staring at him to answer me. I was surprised by how much I agreed with Sarah. This guy didn't even look dorky in his uniform. The hat was a bit much, but it made his serious expression seem sexy rather than stuck-up. I smiled at him. "Hi. I'm Philippa."
He nodded. "Geoff."
Man of few words, was he? Good. I picked up my duffel bag from the corner where I'd stashed it when Dad wasn't looking, pointed to my suitcase, and said, "I'm ready if you are."
He looked surprised, and so did Sarah. They both said, at the same time, "Don't you want to say good-bye to your dad?" I didn't even look behind me. "He's busy."
Sarah protested. "It looks like they're about to cut the cake."
"My cue to cut out, then." I looked at Sarah, trying to will her to understand why I didn't want all the hugs and fatherly admonishments that would no doubt accompany saying good-bye to my dad. "Tell him bye for me, okay?"
Sarah followed me out, looking for a second like she would argue, but then she stopped and stared. Geoff was holding open the back door of a sleek black limo. Her mouth dropped open. "Double whoa! Did you think you were picking up a celebrity?" She flirted a little with Geoff, who smiled back a tiny bit. I think. Impressive. Most guys can't resist the patented Sarah Flirty Smile. The good girl with a hint of mischief.
I smirked and made sure not to look the least bit impressed by the ride. "Still think my summer is going to be worse than yours?"
"You haven't met the kids yet," she reminded me with a grin as she came in for a hug. She was a real hugger, and I tolerated it because I wasn't going to see her for the summer. She took the opportunity to whisper in my ear, "I expect a full update every chance you get." And then she pinched my shoulder. "Go give your dad a hug."
I climbed into the limo instead and was met by the pleasant smell of leather and something spalike: lavender or jasmine or sage or something. I waved as Geoff closed the door. We both ignored Sarah's slight frown. I don't think she'd believed I would go without saying good-bye. She was wrong. I kind of hoped Dad would run out and catch me before we pulled away. But he didn't.
In the limo I stretched out, trying to pretend I was used to such luxury. I didn't want Geoff to think I was a dork, but I couldn't help doing a double take on reality. I pulled out my job-offer letter, just to make sure I wasn't stuck in a half nightmare, half dream. Never hurts to double-check -- and Sarah wasn't around to make fun of me.
"Miss Philippa Munson." Fancy crisp paper, my address in neat calligraphy. I remembered when it came, back when I wasn't sure how I was going to escape the fate of being third wheel on an around-the-world honeymoon, how I'd run my finger around the stiff edge of the envelope, wanting to know what the letter said before I actually ripped open the envelope and read it. My stomach had been in knots and I'd hoped really hard that things would work out. I felt the same way now as the limo hummed along the roads and I stared out the tinted windows as I left the familiar behind. What would my summer be like? The ad I'd answered to get the nanny gig hadn't given much away: NANNY FOR 10-YR-OLD TWINS. MAINE COAST. OWN ROOM & GENEROUS SALARY. SEND HANDWRITTEN LETTER & REFERENCES TO CHRYSALIS CLIFF, BOX 781. MUST LOVE BLACK.
My cell rang and I fished it out of my pocket. Dad. I thought about not answering, but even I couldn't be that cold. "What's up?"
"Sarah said you've left with the chauffeur from Chrysalis Cliff." He sounded tired, like I'd managed to steal the happiness from his day. I tried not to be glad about that.
"I didn't want to bother you. You and Krystal were busy doing the married couple thing, you know?"
"I would have liked to say good-bye to you. To meet this young man-"I cut him off, knowing he could lecture like this for a long time. "You already talked to everyone at Chrysalis Cliff, plus the Johnsons and the Benfords as references. You know I'll be fine."
"It isn't every day that my daughter starts her first job." He sounded so unhappy that I felt guilty for being glad he cared. "I would have liked to hug you one more time before I go on my honeymoon."
"We'll hug when you get back. You have fun, I'll work hard, and we'll have lots to tell each other at the end of the summer, right?" He'd like that, the idea that I'd actually tell him things about my life.
He sighed. "I love you, honey. If this doesn't turn out well, you have the ship's emergency number to reach me, right?"
"Sure thing." I patted my duffel, as if he could see me. "Have fun on the honeymoon. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Philippa-"I ended the call and switched off the phone. If he remembered to ask about our call being cut off next time we talked, I'd just say I lost the signal. What could he say to that? It happened a lot around here.
I looked around. The limo was great, but there wasn't a TV or a fridge or anything. Impatience clawed at me as I tried to picture Chrysalis Cliff. Sarah's always on my case about my major personality flaw . . . well, second to the "flaw" of preferring black. I always want to be where I'm going without actually having to "get" there. When we drove to Disneyland on my sixth birthday -- a twenty-eight hour drive -- I wanted to be there after the first ten minutes in the car. My memory of that trip is a surreal blend of Mom endlessly promising that McDonald's was only a few miles away, and a marathon search for South of the Border signs as we slogged from Maine through North Carolina, the longest state ever. And the teacups. I loved the teacups, whirling, spinning, my head snapping and my hair flying.
Mom used to try to help me with the "problem" of my impatience with this sage advice: "Use your waiting time to enjoy the people show." She was a pretty patient person. She was a history teacher who wanted to be a writer, and I'd watched as she wrote a few pages a day for a year, stacking the paper up, making me wash my hands free of lollipop or peanut butter residue before I could pat and flip and sniff the freshly printed pages in fascination as the stack grew fatter in very slow motion.
After she died I got good at watching the people show. In the first days after the accident it was all I did, sit in my living room and watch the strangers who called themselves friends and family cry, laugh, cart dishes in and out. Most of them glanced at me, frowned, and then left me in my corner with my book. Some brought me food-chicken fingers from KFC or homemade macaroni and cheese. I learned there are as many ways to make macaroni and cheese as there are people in the world. I like the baked kind, with sharp cheese and fat soft noodles.
I found that the great thing about people-watching is if you just look at people when they talk to you, absorbing the scent of their nervous sweat, watching the way their lipstick gets bitten off in interesting patterns, they eventually stop talking and move away. Dad didn't push me to put on a happy face or talk about my feelings or cry it all out. I think he understood. When the whirling teacups come to a stop, you have to stay where you are while the world rights itself. Disney staff didn't let us do that on the teacup ride -- there were other kids waiting -- but life isn't as well organized as Disney, so my dad and I, we stayed still a long time after the crash.
Maybe that was why it hurt that he'd gotten back to "normal"-whatever normal is-with Krystal. How could he forget Mom like that? I never would. After a quick look to make sure I was out of the line of sight of Geoff's rearview mirror, I took out the battered copy of Mom's book, Manor of Dark Dreams, and looked into the green eyes of the woman on the cover. They stood out against the shades of gray of the fog that reached for her, the stone manor house brooding in the distance. It was almost as if Mom were with me. Except that Mom would have been laughing at me for being so impatient when I was living the high life in the back of a limo for the first time ever.
There was only one problem: You can't see a lot from the back of a limo. I leaned forward and tapped on the glass between Geoff and me. "Yes?" His voice came from a speaker by my ear and I almost squealed.
"Stop the car. I want to sit up front."
There was a second of silence during which I wondered if he would do as I asked. I didn't like the idea of being forced to sit back here without being asked. So I was relieved when he said, "Okay," and pulled over so I could get into the front seat beside him. Much better. Sarah would have given me a thumbs-up for sure.