Home > The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1)(7)

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1)(7)
Author: Melissa Albert


I avoided my eyes while brushing my teeth, then climbed into bed with a copy of The Blind Assassin, because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with. But I couldn’t focus on the words, and after a while I got up to retrieve the feather, the comb, and the bone from my dirty apron. I held them on my palm a moment before tipping them into a velvet pouch that used to hold Scrabble tiles and tucking it into my backpack.

I lay back down certain I wouldn’t drift off for hours but found myself waking from a sound sleep while it was still dark. Before my eyes were fully open, I sensed my mother’s presence in the room. She climbed noiselessly into bed beside me, and I loosened my grip on the covers so she could grab her share. I stayed still as she dropped a kiss on my cheek, dry-lipped and smelling of amber.

Her sigh was silvery; it tickled my ear. I held my breath till I couldn’t stand it, then rolled over to face her.

“Why him?”

She went tight, like she was tensing for a blow. I hadn’t hit her since I was ten, but seeing her brace made me press my hands between my knees. I expected her to beg off, to roll over, to tell me to wait till it was light and ask again. Not that she’d answer.

But she turned toward me, her eyes a faint, familiar shine. “I thought I was in love with him,” she whispered. “I promise I did.”

“And now?”

She settled onto her back, long fingers plucking at the comforter. “It feels good to rest. Doesn’t it? It feels so good to just rest.”

The roar in me, of everything that had happened—the man at the coffee shop, his book, the feather, the comb, the bone—turned down like a volume knob. Because Ella deserved this, didn’t she? Peace in a city so dense and bright its lights ate bad luck like they ate darkness.

Unspoken things bloomed at the back of my throat, then went cold. And I decided: I’d give her one more day. One more stretch of rest before telling her the same old curse had found us, in a form I didn’t fully understand.

We lay quiet in the dark a while longer, and fell asleep at the same time.

 

 

4


I was drawn to the surface of sleep by a longing for good coffee. When I opened my eyes, Ella was gone.

The best reason to wake up early at Harold’s was to get to the kitchen first. I still felt like a guest, so I preferred to slip around without being seen. A few minutes after I poured my coffee and added milk and honey to the cup, Harold walked into the kitchen in a three-piece suit all buttoned up tight, like he was making up for my having seen him so undone. Pointedly he grabbed the milk off the counter and put it back in the fridge.

“I was still using that,” I said, leaning against the kitchen island and drowning a pulse of rage with a swig of hot coffee.

He side-eyed me. “Coffee stunts your growth,” he said finally. “You want to look like a twelve-year-old your whole life?”

I slammed my cup down on the counter, but he was already leaving the kitchen. I felt like throwing the coffee at his retreating back, but gulped it down in one burning mouthful instead. I needed it. The redheaded man had come to me in dreams, his face looking out from steamed-over windows, his voice whispering stories over a payphone wire. The dreams mashed together with what I’d seen at Salty Dog until none of it felt real. Nothing but the feather, the comb, and the bone, solid in the bottom of my bag.

When Audrey’s dog-whistle voice alerted me to her approach, I grabbed a granola bar from my stash in Harold’s pantry and slipped out of the kitchen. I’d get my fill of her on the way to school—which Audrey she’d be was harder to predict. Maybe she’d ignore me; maybe she’d talk at me nonstop about some arcane statute of girl code one of her friends had broken. Or maybe she’d punish me for last night, for cutting our twisted bonding ritual short.

I hit the sidewalk early, an old smoker’s habit. Audrey stalked out in shades at 8:35, and we climbed into Harold’s black town car.

“Dad’s taking off work today,” she said to her cell phone, tapping away at a text the length of a Bible passage. “And you know what that means.”

“I do?”

“It means,” she said, then dropped her voice to a whisper, “it’s imminent. D-i-v-o-r-c-e.”

I let my head fall back against the car seat’s gamey leather, waiting for the high of victory to hit. It didn’t come. Instead, I had the perverse desire to argue.

“But they just got married. And what’s his staying home have to do with it? Are they getting a divorce right now?”

She exhaled hard and spitty, like having to deal with me was too much to bear. “Today’s the day he calls a marriage counselor. He always does that, so he can tell himself he tried. If history really wants to repeat itself, six months from now is when he leaves your mom for the counselor. But it doesn’t matter who it is. Either Ella jumps first or it ends with him meeting someone else because he’s an addict like that. He’s predictable as an effing book. So don’t act like I don’t know what I’m talking about.” She was breathing hard, staring at her phone like she wanted to kill it.

I paused, then held a hand out, pinkie up. “Don’t worry, Audrey. We’ll always be sisters. I pinkie-swear it.”

She laughed through her nose. “Oh, yeah, we’ll see each other all the time. I’ll come get bedbugs at your new apartment.”

“Can refrigerator boxes get bedbugs?”

“Cute.” Her phone chimed, and she got back to clacking away. I got back to bathing in the thin nausea that accompanied the idea of my mom’s divorce.

Ella’s marriage was doomed, I knew that. Harold was the last man she should have been with. His taste in books, his rigidity, his obsession with how things looked from the outside: all of it was antithetical to who she was.

But sometimes in their early days I’d come home to find them locked together on the couch, his tie off and her feet bare. When he kissed her on the forehead she’d turn her chin up toward him like a sunflower. Seeing it gave me a hot and cold feeling, like sweating in a winter coat. Now the air between them was fraught, but for a little while it had crackled with something quick-burning and private. Though they were never going to last, Harold was still something Ella had wanted. Not just for me: for her.

Guilt bit at me; I twitched it off my shoulders.

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