CHAPTER 29: SUPERSEDURE
“Don’t you get tired of plummeting through life face first?”
I couldn’t tell if Sam was annoyed or genuinely curious: he sat across from me in the back seat of a service car as we glided through the city toward the Big House. I’d gone to his office to complete the paperwork that would sign my fate over to Judge and arrived just as he was preparing to ferry a stack of documents over to Dearie for review. He had suggested that I accompany him, but his tone made it clear it wasn’t really optional.
“Is there any other way?” I asked, not sure if I was being a smartass or if I actually expected him to answer.
“Most individuals can make it through a day without getting a black eye.”
“There are worse things than boredom.”
“What’s worse than watching the minutes of your life go by, knowing you’ll never get them back, helpless to make them meaningful, only to die knowing years of your life were wasted on boredom?”
Sam raised an eyebrow and a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. “What indeed,” he said in an arch tone as if this were a private joke.
The service car pulled to a halt in front of the house and I climbed out to find Evelyn standing in Dearie’s garden wearing a bee-suit. As I watched she gently waved smoke over the hive before lifting out one of the combs, dripping with golden honey to inspect it.
“Since when did you become an apiarist?” I asked from the relative safety of the sidewalk. Evelyn’s head snapped up in surprise. I couldn’t see her expression behind the gauze of her veil, but surprise/recognition/pleasure played out in her body language.
“Dearie’s been trying to teach me. She wants me to take over the hive. The Gardens is looking for one. Our last hive absconded and died off in a cold snap.” Evelyn slid the comb back into the hive and approached the fence brushing a cluster of sluggish drones off her bee-suit. She raised the veil on her hat to reveal an expression of concern. “What happened to your face?”
“Tombstone punched me.”
“And your hands?”
My hands were red and blistered with burns. They looked gnarly and hurt like a motherfucker, but I shrugged it off and said: “Playing with fire. As usual.”
“Mom’s gonna freak out.”
“Mom doesn’t have to know.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.” Evelyn tossed her head toward the house. “You know she’s been living here, right?”
“No one tells me shit,” I said, but suddenly Sam’s insistence on my presence made sense.
Evelyn nodded. “Ever since she and Dad split. All she does is clean. She’s got some bug up her ass about getting the house in order. The wedding isn’t for nine months!” Evelyn threw up her hands helplessly and sighed. “If it’s a choice between being trapped in the house with Mom or covered in bees, I’d rather be covered in bees.”
Behind me, Sam cleared his throat.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” I said. I gave Evelyn a wave and climbed the steps into the house to head inside.
Sam and I entered the front door to find the first floor in a frenzy of activity. The airy tranquility of benign neglect was gone. Rooms that were normally dim and cool now buzzed with swarms of women on stepladders pulling curtains down from the windows and wiping a decade’s worth of grime off the glass. Mom stood in the living room in a flood of morning sunlight, supervising the upholstery service as they tagged and bundled the draperies into plastic bags for cleaning.
“I never took you for the domestic type,” I said by way of greeting. Mom finished her signature on a work order before looking up. She took in my face at a glance, passed judgment, and kept it to herself.
“I am not a type,” she said, then stopped short as she saw Sam standing on the threshold behind me.
Mom’s expression darkened as the sun went behind a cloud, casting the room into sudden darkness. She smoothed her hair, self-consciously. “Sam.”
“You’re looking luminous, as always,” Sam told her. His tone was light, but I could sense something underneath: was Sam actually nervous?
If he was, I couldn’t blame him: Mom crossed her arms over her chest, radiating defensiveness. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m here to see Sophia. She’s expecting me.”
Mom grimaced and took his elbow. “A word, please?” she commanded, dragging him toward a quiet alcove in the dining room to have her say. Sam followed her willingly, leaving me alone in the entryway. I skulked off in search of someplace where Mom’s enthusiastic reformation had not yet reached.
The kitchen turned out to be the only place where the world was still comfortably dim: lit by a watery light filtering through a Tiffany window over the sink. The colored glass depicted the archangel Michael preparing to drive a spear through a demon’s skull. Because, of course.
The room had once been some kind of uppity drawing room for entertaining the Palmers and the Fields and the Adlers and Stevensons and other social elite who wanted the Adomnans to manage the brick-and-mortar details of their stately pleasure domes. The window had been a way of masking off the service alley behind the house. Times changed and the room was retrofitted with water and gas lines to turn it into a kitchen, but the alley was still a view no one wanted to look at so the window stayed. I glared up at Saint Michael’s placid face and flipped it the bird.
“Hello, Blue.” Dearie’s voice startled me from my bitter thoughts. I turned to find her sitting at the kitchen table behind me.
“Oh, hey, Dearie.” In the dimness of the room, I wondered if she could tell I was blushing. I couldn’t tell if she had even noticed: she was staring into the bottom of her cup where a few dregs of some bitter liquid sloshed against the china.
“You must have come with Sam.”
“Yeah, he got waylaid by Mom,” I said. “Is it true she’s living here?”
Dearie sighed. “Yes. I invited her to stay with me. Me wanting to keep the family close, I suppose. I’ve more than enough room. She means well, but she can be very…” Overbearing. Domineering. Imperious. “…efficient.” With an effort, she shook off her trance and looked up at me. “Will you sit with me awhile?” she asked, patting the seat of the chair beside her, hopefully. I sank into it and she seemed to notice my eye for the first time.
“Oh, your poor eye!”
“It’s nothing,” I said quickly. “Me fighting with my guitarist. You know, burning off some aggression.”
“Oh, Blue!” Dearie grabbed my hands and I gasped aloud as her fingers pressed on my burns. I tried to hide them under the table, but it was too late: Dearie had already seen the blistering weals. “Oh, Blue!” she said again.
Dearie just fixed me with a look. “Please, let me look at them?”
She held out her own hands and I reluctantly rested my own on top of them. She tsked over the blisters, then took out a first aid kit from a kitchen drawer and began to smear some kind of clear gel on them. The salve burned with cold and then eased into numbness. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’ve watched you wandering in the wilderness for a long time, Blue,” she said as she began to wind gauze around my fingers. “All these bruises. All these burns. I feel them like they’re my own, you know. All this time believing that you don’t belong anywhere, but it isn’t true: you always have a place here. You don’t have to be an apostate forever.” She wrapped a final length of gauze around my palm and stuck it down with a tab of medical tape.
“That’s…heavy, Dearie,” I said clenching my hands into fists. My fingers still hurt beneath the gauze, but at least the blisters weren’t rubbing against one another anymore. I wiggled my fingers experimentally and breathed a sigh of relief. “Where’s all this coming from?”
Dearie sighed. The corners of her mouth twitched upward, which somehow made her look sad. “I’m afraid I’ve had some bad news,” she said.
In a sudden, shadowy premonition, I knew what was going to come next.
“I have stage four cancer.” Dearie’s tone was soothing and solemn, but the words exploded across my brain like artillery shells. “And I’m choosing not to pursue treatment.”
The time has come for judgment to begin in the house of God.
It all made sense now: why Sam was making a house call; why he’d dragged me along with him; why Dearie kept pushing me to reconcile with Michael. The pieces that had been floating in my head clicked into place and the bottom dropped out of reality. I felt the plunging sense of vertigo as if the thought alone was heavy enough to bend gravity.
“You’re—” Dying. I felt myself shaking. I could hear it in my voice. The edges of my vision wavered and I put my head between my knees waiting for the room to stop spinning. “How soon?”
“Not today,” Grandma Dearie said firmly. She laid a hand on my back and rubbed it soothingly, but there was no soothing this away with a gentle touch. “Not tomorrow either. It could be weeks or even a year.”
“The doctor thinks it will be about six months.”
I couldn’t concentrate. Six months. Maybe less. Why hadn’t anyone told me? Were they even planning to?
“Does Edward know?” I demanded. “Stupid, of course Edward knows. He’s the fat fucking favorite… When were you planning on telling me, huh? And, where is he? The fucking coward! Why isn’t he here for you?!” I wanted to get to my feet, wanted to pace the room in agitation, but the world was still spinning around me.
“Damen, please, I haven’t told anybody yet,” Dearie said. “I wanted to get my affairs in order first.”
“How do they not know?” I said when I found my voice again.
“Not everybody is as astute as you.” Dearie looked away, tracing a crooked finger over the polished granite of the countertop. “You always did have an eye for detail.”
Only Dearie would think to call me astute.
My mind was reeling: free-falling through empty space. I gazed blankly up at the now dim Tiffany window: a world on the verge of losing all meaning.
Dearie laid a delicate hand on mine—her fingertips cold against my skin. I wrapped my fingers around them to warm them.
“Please,” I begged, “it’s too soon, you can’t leave—” I realized I was about to say leave me and I stopped.
Grandma Dearie pressed her lips to my bandaged hands and smiled. “I’m only human, Blue. We all die. Even me. Even you, someday. But not today. And not tomorrow. Let us make the most of the time we have left.”
Mom opened the kitchen door and a beam of light cut a wide path across the tile floor. The brightness of it clipped the toe of my boot and I pulled myself back into the shadows without thinking about it.
“Sam is here,” she said. “He says you’re expecting him.”
“Yes, I am. Thank you, Gloria.” Dearie struggled to her feet and I leaped up to help her. She squeezed my arm gently in thanks, then shuffled along the path of light to where Mom and Sam were waiting. Then the kitchen door swung shut and they disappeared from view.
“Going so soon?” Evelyn asked when she saw me emerge from the house. She once again raised her veil to read my face and seemed to see something there that worried her. “Everything okay?”
“You should go in,” I told her. “Dearie’s…got something to say.”
“You’re not staying?”
I shook my head. “I already know.”
Evelyn peeled off her bee-suit like she was shedding an old skin, emerging clean and new in leggings and a sundress printed with apples and apple blossoms. She climbed the steps to the kitchen door and cast an anxious backward glance in my direction before going inside. For a minute, I just stood alone in the garden feeling the world collapse around me.
What shall the end be for those who did not obey? When the sinner plunges into the darkness, who can call him back from Damnation?
I felt the wind pick up off the lake and I shivered. The first chill of fall was beginning to turn the leaves yellow on the trees. The sun was gone; hidden behind a thick haze of clouds. There would be rain later, but for now the city was shadowless and empty: as if it occupied a gray area along the margins of reality.
The bees around the hive were subdued too, as if they were dreading the loss of their queen. But bees could grow virgin queens out of wax and honey. There was no replacing Dearie and once she was gone, there would be no one left who would think I was worth saving.