“I never realized how hard it must be for Big Bird to make out,” Alex said, and Gemma began to laugh.
The garage door leading inside the house suddenly opened, and Brian leaned in, probably summoned by the noise from her knocking things down.
“What’s going on?” Brian demanded.
Gemma had been lying on top of Alex, so she scrambled to get up before her dad decided to go retrieve his shotgun again. Alex hurried to do the same, smoothing out his shirt as Brian glared down at them.
“I was just trying out my wings, and I fell,” Gemma said sheepishly.
Brian looked at her wings, but he kept his expression hard, then glared back at Alex. “You may think that because my daughter has wings and all kinds of strange powers that I won’t kick your ass if you hurt her. But you’d be wrong.”
“Dad!” Gemma said, but she wasn’t really mad. She knew that a lot of things were out of his control now that Gemma was exposed to dangers he couldn’t fight. All he could really do was try to protect her from the things he still could, like teenage boys.
“I understand, Mr. Fisher,” Alex said respectfully.
“Good.” Brian nodded, and when he looked at Gemma’s wings again, he was a little awed. “Those are amazing. Good work.” He started to head back into the house, then he stopped. “Leave this door open. Okay?”
Her afternoon classes had ended twenty minutes ago, and Harper had just finished packing her bag when her cell phone rang. As soon as she saw the number on the screen, her heart sank. This was the last thing she wanted to deal with today.
“Hello?” she answered the phone, and hoped that she didn’t sound as unhappy as she felt.
“Hello, Harper, this is Becky from Briar Ridge. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“No, it’s okay,” she said, because what else could she say? Briar Ridge only ever called if it was important, and no matter what Harper might have planned for today, her family always came first.
“We tried calling your house, since we know you’re away at school, but nobody answered, and we just don’t know what to do anymore,” Becky said in one hurried breath.
“It’s fine,” Harper insisted. “Really. What’s going on? Is something wrong with my mom?”
“She’s been very anxious since you took her to the play on Saturday, and we’ve been trying to calm her down,” Becky said. “We didn’t want to bother you, but it’s been four days, and nothing’s worked.”
“Anxious?” Harper sat down on the bed, next to her book bag. “Like how? What is she doing?”
“She’s been repeating lines from plays on and off, and she’s more confused than normal,” Becky explained. “We can’t get her to sit still or eat or even take her meds. And she’s been talking about you and your sister a lot, too.”
Harper pushed her hair back off her forehead and exhaled. “You want me to come down and see what I can do?”
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. We’re really at our wits’ end here, and we need to get her to take her pills.”
“No, it’s no problem.” She forced a smile even though there was no one there to see it. “I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
One added advantage of being in Sundham is that it was only ten minutes away from Briar Ridge. She was farther from home, but it made for quicker trips to see her mom.
This wasn’t the first time that Harper had to drop what she was doing and rush out to take care of her mother, but it had been a long time. Nathalie had calmed some in recent years, but lately, everything seemed to be off-kilter with her.
Maybe it was Harper’s fault for taking Nathalie to the play. It had been a long time since she’d been back to Capri. But even before the play, Nathalie had been acting strangely. The visit with Brian two and a half weeks ago must’ve triggered something in her.
While she raced to Briar Ridge from Sundham, Harper blasted the radio and sang along with it, trying to calm herself since she’d already been nervous when Becky had called. This was definitely not the way she had envisioned her Wednesday going, but she had to do the right thing. Her mom needed her.
As soon as Becky opened the door, Harper could hear Nathalie, telling them that she needed to get going.
“You’ve all been very nice, but I need to get home. I have to make supper for my husband and kids,” Nathalie was saying firmly.
“She thinks she has to take care of her family?” Harper asked Becky in a low voice, careful so Nathalie wouldn’t hear her.
Becky smiled thinly at her. “She’s been going on about it all day. Maybe you can have a go at her.”
Harper went into the house and followed the sound of her mother’s voice. She discovered her in the living room, where Nathalie was talking to another woman who worked at the group home. Her long, shapeless dress billowed out behind her as she paced.
Nathalie’s hair was greasy and tangled, like it hadn’t been washed or brushed, which was unusual as she was normally a very clean person. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and her lips appeared dry and chapped. This was the worst Harper had seen her in ages.
“What’s going on here?” Harper asked with as much cheer as she could muster, and the staff member quietly excused herself, leaving Harper alone to calm her mother.
“I’ve been visiting with these nice girls, and they’ve been so kind, but I have to get going.” Nathalie stopped walking enough to look at Harper for help. “My husband will be expecting me soon, and my daughters will be home from school. I have to make supper.”
Harper smiled and tried to keep her words soothing. “Mom, I am your daughter.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Nathalie laughed, then returned to her pacing. “You’re much too old to be my daughter.”
“How old do you think your daughters are?” Harper asked.
“Harper turned nine this past January, and Gemma just turned seven.” Nathalie smiled when she talked about them, appearing genuinely happy for a few seconds, before fear flickered in her golden eyes.
“Mom.” She stepped in front of Nathalie, blocking her path and forcing her to stop and look at her. “I am Harper.”
“No, you’re not.” Nathalie shook her head and smiled uneasily. “You’re … a woman. My daughter is a child. And I’m starting to think this joke isn’t very funny. Now, I need to be going.” She tried to brush past her, but Harper gently put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her.