Home > The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1)(6)

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1)(6)
Author: Melissa Albert


“You didn’t embarrass me tonight, you embarrassed yourself.”

Harold’s voice ended in a hiss. I used the sounds behind the door to place them: Harold to my left, a soft shift that was Ella on the bed.

I pressed my back against the wall outside their bedroom door. If he moves any closer.

“You can look like trash on your own time, but tonight was about being my wife.” Wife burned even worse than trash, but I stayed still, biting back the cold metal taste of rage. Ella asked me again and again to trust her. That she could handle Harold. That she loved him. That this grab at stability wasn’t just for me.

Her silence was louder than Harold’s voice. It’s her greatest power, though she never used it on me. She’ll stare at you as you try to pull your thoughts together, to say something that’ll reach her, but she’ll never reach back. I’ve watched her pull things out of people—secrets, confessions, promises to let us stay an extra month—with her silence alone. She wields it like a weapon.

“Ella.” Harold’s voice was suddenly desperate. I was lanced by a pity I didn’t want to feel. “Ella, say something, goddammit!” I heard the rush of his clothing as he moved across the room, toward my mother on the bed.

I waited a beat and a breath, and tried to wrench open the door.

Locked.

“Mom! What’s going on?”

“Jesus Christ, is that your daughter again?”

“Mom.” I pounded the heel of my hand against the door. “Let me in.”

Quiet, a creak, then Ella’s voice was close. “I’m okay, baby. Go to bed.”

“Open the door.”

“Alice. I’m fine. We’re just talking. You can help me by going to bed.”

Rage was running through my blood. “He called you trash. Open the door!”

Harold threw it open, and I startled back. He was rumpled, partly undressed. His shaved head looked shadowy and his eyes were bloodshot. Harold had Captain Hook eyes—mournful and cornflower blue, with a phantom glaze of red when he was angry.

Next to him, in a dark strapless sheath and shock of wild hair, Ella looked like a black poppy. Her dress seemed designed to call attention to the tattoo climbing up her arm and almost to her throat: a psychedelic flower on a spiny stem that could’ve been a botanical illustration of a blossom found on Mars. I had its twin tattooed on me in mirror image—a misguided Mother’s Day gift Ella had blindsided me by hating.

In the half-light of the hallway, she looked like a predator, and Harold looked like prey. The anger ebbed away.

“I didn’t call her trash. I just said…” He ran a hand over his drooping head. “These dinners are important. They’re full of potential clients, they determine the course of— Oh, for Christ’s sake, why am I trying to talk to you?”

Ella leaned against the doorframe, watching him coolly. “I was wearing this the night you met me. Remember?”

“Yeah, when you were a cocktail waitress. Forget it, I’m not going to stand here defending myself to both of you.” Harold glared at me. “I’m not a monster, Alice. Why are you always looking at me like I’m some goddamned monster?” He turned heel and retreated to the master bathroom.

“Mom.”

Ella cocked her head at my tone, looked for a moment like she’d ask. Instead she sighed, long and heavy. “Go to bed, Alice. We’ll talk in the morning, okay?”

She touched her forehead to mine, gently, then closed the door between us.

A dense quiet settled around my ears. It was the sound of living in a place sealed off from the rest of the city, in a vacuum of wealth.

I walked into the kitchen feeling like a thief, and foraged through cabinets in the dark.

“Is that a squirrel I hear, rummaging for nuts?”

I looked at the bag of pecans in my hand and eased it back onto the shelf. Audrey kept tabs and a running commentary on what people ate, her voice hard-edged if it was less than what she did. She sat in the unlit living room, her spume of dark hair in a topknot just visible over the back of the couch. She didn’t turn as I walked closer, but she tensed.

My stepsister was a sexy, zaftig motormouth who made me feel like an awkward breadstick. She was sprawled out in cutoff sweats and a tank top, always a little under-covered even at home. I watched over her shoulder as she clicked, restlessly, on a long feed of women wearing expensive clothes, ordering things she’d barely recognize when they arrived. It made me think of someone sitting at a casino machine.

“You playing superhero again?” she asked, her voice too bright. “Did you save your mom from my evil dad?”

I dropped onto the armchair across from her. “Harold’s not interesting enough to be evil. He’s just not good enough.”

That made her look up, eyes washed to blankness by white computer light. “You think my dad’s not good enough for your mom?” She made the last two words sound like profanity. “You’d still be living out of your car if it wasn’t for him. Wearing Walmart jeans.”

I was impressed she’d heard of Walmart, and pissed at myself for telling her something true. “Hey, sometimes we lived in shacks,” I said. “Or trailers. Once a garage.”

She considered me. “Once I waited so long for my truffle burger it was cold when it got there,” she said. “So I totally get it.”

“Once our car window got broken out, and Ella replaced it with duct tape and a sled.”

Audrey smiled faintly, her hand going still on her laptop. “Once my dad bought a boat and named it The Audrey, but he forgot to put a ballroom in so I sunk it.”

“Once…” The image that came to me then was jagged and fast, a three-frame cut of the bad luck that chased us out of Chicago. I closed my eyes against it, then stood abruptly. “You win.”

Her expression slid shut, and she smirked down at her computer. “Good night, sis,” she muttered as I passed her.

“Good night, Audrey,” I replied, too quiet for her to hear.

Ella and Harold’s room was silent as I passed. I tried to read the silence, but it was hard through a carved oak door. I continued on to the guest room Harold had barely converted for me.

Every morning I left my eyeliner out on the sink of the bathroom attached to my room. I left books open on the bed, socks under the sheets, jeans accordion-scrunched on the floor. Every night they were gone, tucked back into the cabinet, the hamper, the bookshelf. Waking up at Harold’s felt like living in Groundhog Day. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make a mark.

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