Sunday, September 13, 2015

Chapter 3.14- Painful Reflections

            Dust Ceiling More Often, Mariah made mental notes for herself. Buy Better Tape. Well over half of the balloons she’d taped to the ceiling, one by one, had fallen to the floor. She’d kicked the offending balloons off to the side and hoped the twins would think it was intentional when they looked back at pictures when they were older.
            Vivia could care less right now, at least. She’d spent the entire morning watching Mariah hang the decorations, squealing with delight whenever one of them dropped into her waiting hands. The bright chime of the doorbell claimed her attention now.

            “Da-da-da-da-da-da!” Panted Vivia as she sped to the door.
            Mariah wasn’t nearly as excited. She’d still not gotten used to how cool Roger’s visits were.
            As often as he could slip away he came to play with the kids. Tea parties with Dove and Vivia, cars and trucks with Ceeven, trips to the park or to the farm his mother still kept up were highlights of the kids’ lives the past two years.
            For her, however, these visits were no more than punctures in the idyllic bubble she surrounded her family with.
            But she had no time for such painful reflections now. Now is the time for a party.

SPARKLE SPAM!!! (You know I love you guys, right? :D)
            “Chill, bro. It’s not like I cake blocked you on purpose.”


            “My mom would be there, too,” Roger continued. “So it’s not just one adult with three kids in the wilderness.”
            Roger had followed Mariah into the kitchen for cake. Dove had invited a ‘friend’ from school over who was thoroughly annoying Mariah with his rudeness and she couldn’t sit at the dining table with him, watching him shovel cake then chew with his mouth open, belching loudly. Ugh. Not that she’d expected Roger to follow her in here either.
            “I know there is no formal custody arrangement, but a weekend with my own kids should be my right. You know I’ll take good care of them. I have good tents and sleeping bags. There will be plenty of food, we’re not foraging or anything.”

            Closing her eyes, Mariah tried to focus on his words instead of her rising panic.
            He wasn’t asking to see them every other day. He wasn’t even asking for every weekend. It’s camping. Roger was a great woodsman- In His Own Head! He had lots of experience with weekends outdoors- With His Dad in Charge! His Dad’s Dead! Sally would be there- Sally Was Scatterbrained! It was only a few miles out of town- With Limited Cell Service! Out of SCREAMING Distance Even! What if Someone Gets Hurt?!

            “Okay,” Mariah said, nodding once, sharply.
            Offended when he didn’t immediately answer, Mariah was ready to change her answer when he pushed his plate away from him and turned to beam at her.
            “Thanks, ‘Riah,” he grinned and her heart skipped.
            Stunned that he’d used his old familiar nickname for her, Mariah was glued to her chair trying to figure out what it might have meant as put his dishes into the sink.
            “I’ll pick them up bright and early Friday then,” he said before hugging the kids goodnight.
            At least she had three days to think about how wonderful it was to hear ‘Riah’ again before seeing him one more time.

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            “Mariah! What have you been feeding Ceeven? He’s almost as tall as Pat!” Tibi squealed, running in to hug her baby sister.
            “Where is Pat?” Mariah looked around on the floor, as if her nephew might be crawling around somewhere she couldn’t see.
            “Not there,” Tibi chuckled. “Vivia caught us as we came in and insisted he go play tag with them all.”
            “Aw, I wanted to see him.”
            “Well, he is here. You’ll see him soon I’m sure. So tell me,” Tibi got serious. “Have you gotten any letters from the grave from Abuella?”

            “Letters… From the grave… From Abuella Sabria…” Mariah repeated slowly, Tibi nodding.
            “Yeah, I know that sounds crazy but, we’ve found two now. Both of them about the house and something that’s needed attention. Since I inherited the house and you got the Institute I figured you must be finding letters about the Institute also.”
            The Institute Tibi referred to was the Appaloosa Plains Spiritualist Institute their grandmother had founded. It was originally just the building where her clients came for a reading, but she’d added a school for psychics and mediums, spiritualists and other fakers later on. The town wasn’t entirely sure if it was supposed to be proud of such a landmark place or ashamed that their current reputation in the West was for churning out a long line of quack tarot card readers. And Abuella Sabria had thought it fitting to leave it to Mariah in her will.

            “You’ve found?”
            Looking annoyed, Tibi punched Mariah in the shoulder.
            “Ow! What was that for?”
            “For acting like such an idiot, of course!” Tibi frowned. “You know Abuella was psychic! She might not have been the happiest person after Papi died, but that’s no reason to act like that.
            And of course, found. How could she have mailed them?
            Anyway, there was a loose floor board in the dining room. Pat tripped over it and it came up. There was a letter underneath telling us the floor was warping because the foundation had shifted and needed repair. Another one was on a shelf of one of the closets. That one told us there was a leak in the attic. They’ve each got two dates on them. One for when they were written and one for the month we found them. It’s so cool!”

            “Well, no,” Mariah felt a little ashamed. She’d had precious little to do with the Institute over the years. “I haven’t found any letters. But I don’t really go up to the Institute much. Or at all.”
            “Why Not?!?” Tibi punched her in the other shoulder.
            Not feeling a reply was necessary, Mariah contented herself with scowling at her sister while massaging what she was sure was a blooming bruise.
            “Your kids are about to be in school all the time,” Not that Tibi waited for an answer. “You don’t do anything with your time but clean. And trust me, your house is plenty clean.”

            Seeing Mariah still unconvinced, Tibi plowed on. “I don’t know how much Layla left you, but after all you’ve done to the house, I’m sure it’s not nearly as much as it once was. And with three growing kids? Pat and Lee cost us a fortune in food, clothes and shoes! I can’t imagine having another one to pay for! If Abuella’d left it to me I’d be up there every day making sure it’s making me a buttload!”
            Tibi had hit her secret sore point, and Mariah scrambled to put on a poker face. Of course funds were short. And all three kids would be in school next week so it wouldn’t be like she’d have to pay for daycare or a babysitter. All recent correspondence with the Directress had been a plea for money. Why couldn’t she go up there and make the Institute make ends meet for her? And if that didn’t work, might as well put on the old ‘act’ and pretend she was psychic too. A paycheck is a paycheck.
            Finally, she met Tibi’s eye again.
            “There it is,” smirked Tibi. “I knew you’d see it my way. And I want to hear about all the letters you find.”

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            The first Friday of fall had arrived. At seven A.M sharp Roger had arrived to whisk her kids away for a camping trip. His smile accompanied a jerk in her stomach. She’d not forgotten his recent thaw. Nor had she forgotten how wonderful he was.
            But the moment they’d left she’d raced inside to shower and dress before finding herself standing all too soon in front of the legacy her Abuella had left her. The Institute. An entirely different jerk in her stomach reminded her that standing out here did nothing for her dwindling savings and she stepped forward.

            “Finally. Ten minutes later and the entire place might have gone up in flames. Everyone panicking, thinking she might have been wrong about something... anything.” the woman behind the desk scoffed, though she was visibly relieved as she came around the desk to take Mariah’s hands. “It would have ruined our reputation if such a thing had happened... and gotten out. But no matter. You’re here, darling. You’re here. And you’re going to make us famous.”
            Mariah fixed a grin on her face, hoping her bemusement wasn’t showing as she tugged her hands out of the strangers grasp. “I’m sorry,” she said. “People don’t touch me. I don’t touch people. No- No offence. Prophecy? My grandmother made a prophecy about me? And you... you are... hang on.”
            Trying to shake off being so horribly wrong footed she pulled up mental note after mental note from the paper work about the Institute. This must be the lady who’d been managing... Del... Della? Daphne? Delphine.
            “You are Delphine.”
            “Yes, Mariah.” She leaned in conspiratorially, too close for Mariah’s tastes. “You really will be a wonderful asset.”

            Mariah chuckled, ducking her head, feigning a modesty she neither knew nor felt.
            It had been so long since she’d had pretended being psychic she’d almost forgotten how easy it was sometimes. People had short memories. Mariah might have mostly ignored her inheritance, but she’d usually attended the annual meetings. As Directress, Delphine’s name was always brought up. Especially in light of the shortage of funds lately.
            “Oh, there’s no need to be shy about it. You’ll love it here, darling. We all know the burden of the inner eye. Hold your head up. Be proud of it! In fact, I can show you so much more to be proud of. We’ve worked hard to uphold your grandmother’s traditions here. Safeguarding her papers and prophecies, carrying on her legacy. This building, even. Sabria had very strict standards for how it ought to look. We recently had the entire lobby redone to update and modernize. Come this way.”

            Stepping through a set of double doors, Mariah snorted.
            “I'm sorry, darling. Did you say something?” Delphine half turned .
            “No. No. I didn’t say anything,” Mariah said aloud. Just give me a wand and teach me Flagrante and I'll be Hermione for Halloween! HAHAHAHA!!

            This is the Camera. I know this room is a little daunting for first-timers, but you’ll soon know your way around it. Your grandmother designed it as a portal; a place to pass from coldness to warmth, to get your bearings and check your compass- quite literally, darling. Bathrooms are the South West and North Eastern doors. Classrooms are West, North West and South East. The Eastern door leads to the meditation garden. We’ll go North. The North doors lead us to reading rooms, as well as stairways to the offices.”
            Mouth open, Mariah shot her side-eye. Seriously? She needed a compass to navigate the building? She couldn’t wait to tell Ro- ... *ahem

            “Anyone wanting to work here as a psychic was required to take tarot lessons from your grandmother before they were granted a position. And then only the best were accepted here. We’ve continued that tradition and added extra tarot meditation classes to refine our skills and abilities. So despite our warning about the magnitude of your gift, we’d still like for you to attend tarot classes before we assign you a reading room, darling.”
            Mariah nodded sagely. Whatever they wanted. ‘Magnitude of her gift.’ *snort
            An open door ahead allowed the *rrrrrrrrripp *rrrrrrrrip sound of someone shuffling cards to filter to them.
            “Delphine?” The voice that floated toward them was low and melodic.
            She smiled and looked down as though embarrassed.
            “Ah. That will be Christie. You should meet her.”

            The woman behind the desk didn’t stop her endless shuffling of cards as they entered. Up and over, around and around. Mariah’s jaw dropped as she watched the show. This woman wasn’t just shuffling the cards. She made them dance and fly in her fingers.
            “As I’m sure you've noticed, Christie, darling,” Delphine began, “Mariah has arrived!”
            For several long moments, Christie didn’t move. Then, at last, the corners of her mouth inched upward fractionally. With a long, lazy blink she finally looked at Mariah.

            “My greetings to you.”
            The sneer behind the words made Mariah’s blood boil.
            “Would you indulge me?”
            Still the cards flashed and continued their endless rearranging.
            Bringing her chin up, Mariah curled her own lip with a brief nod.

            Before she could see how, the cards were laid in front of her, a perfect ribbon of eyes staring unfixed.
            Christie sat back in the chair, her gaze unwavering.
            “Choose your card,” she lilted, her hand lightly sweeping through the air.
            Her gesture was as elegant as her voice and Mariah had to fight back a frown. How could a woman so sloppily dressed have such a voice? Such grace?
            Barely had she formed her thoughts than Delphine’s muttered ‘Showoff’ gave a clearer picture.
            Carelessly glancing over the cards she chose one, placing a finger on it.
            “You can turn it over.”

            Mariah nearly lost the card trying to give a graceful flourish as she flipped it over. Blushing, she looked at it. The card was... weird looking. Not what she was expecting. Where was the stained glass looking picture? 

            “The priestess!” Delphine exclaimed.
            Mariah looked up to see Christie looking at her in puzzlement. At least she wasn’t the only one in the room confused.
            “Well! That’s certainly enlightening. We’ll leave you to your meditations, Christie, darling. I’ve got the letter set aside and I’m dying for her to read it. Come on, Mariah.”

            Delphine chattered contentedly, endlessly, as they passed by more reading rooms, up a flight of stairs and down more corridors with yet more doors.
            The farther in she was taken, the more Mariah felt lost. At this rate she really needed some of these rooms to have signs on them or she’d never know her way around.
            “This is my office,” Delphine explained as they neared the end of yet another hall of doors. “Inside, on the table by the window is a letter your grandmother left for you. She dated and timestamped the envelope even. We all joked that we had our very own Forward to the Past letter to deliver. It seemed too good to be true. But here you are. We have much to discuss, but I’d let you read the letter in private first. I’ll be down the hall whenever you’re ready.”

            The letter was right where Delphine said it would be. The decade old glue of the envelope was flaked and cracked, disclosing its contents with ease.
            Sighing at the thought of how much she hated Abuella Sabria, Mariah threw herself into the wicker chair thoroughly prepared to be insulted.

My Dearest Mariah,
            Don’t fool yourself. That heading is for those who will be seeing the top fold of this. However, I’m sure even you already knew that. If you’re reading this, you’ve followed your path to the letter haven’t you, my little liar? How many more people will you lie to before this finally ends? Too many. But you will make my Institute famous, no matter what happens to you in the end. And so I shall end this with a final warning you’ll ignore. Change. Now. Stop the lying. Stop the deceit. For the sorrow you sow now, your children will reap tenfold.
            And tell Del there’s a leak in the South West bathrooms.
            And listen to Ceeven about Poppy please. He doesn’t need more grief from you than you’re already going to give him.

            Liar. All she’d ever heard from Abuella Sabria was “Liar.” She didn’t lie as a child. Unless she wanted to scare people into leaving her alone. It never merited the antagonism she’d received at the hands of her grandmother. And now? What was she lying about now? Well... She was going to be lying if she intended to make up visions and predictions to earn a little bit of money.
            Who was Poppy? Ceeven was barely babbling. There was no Poppy. His creepy little doll was Poppet. Or Puppet. She wasn’t entirely sure. Baby babble was baby babble. Babble. Like the letter. Stupid letter.
            Mariah let it flutter to the floor with a sigh.

            The mention of her children reaping what she’d sown ate at her. Her children were her darlings. They were perfect! And she would make sure everything was smooth and easy for them. No bullies at school bothered her darling without Mariah making sure the child was punished. She helped Dove do her homework when Dove wanted to do it. She’d made Dove’s week last May by taking her Charles C. Cheddar’s kiddie casino instead of going to school when a substitute teacher was in class. Her children would take nothing from her but happy memories.
            And Charles C. Cheddar’s had eaten away the little bit she’d had squirreled away. If Sabria wanted happy great grandkids, she never would have left her that letter. She should know that money makes the world go round. And right now, Mariah needed to lie her way into a little more money.
            But wouldn’t she just be affirming Abuella Sabria if she did this?
            Glancing at the table she had a flash of inspiration.
            Grabbing the deck of tarot cards she clumsily shuffled them, finally pulling out a card from the middle.

            Great. Another picture she didn’t understand. But she’d learn it. She’d learn it and fool them all.

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            “And the fish went flopping around all over the ground and slapped up against Dove’s leg and got her socks all slimy and then she screamed, but I didn’t scream ‘cause I wasn’t scared. It’s just a fish. Fish aren’t scary. They’re kinda gross though. I mean, they really really stink. Even the water smelled like the fish and then they eat worms. EW! Worms! But Daddy made us each put a worm on a hook. Ceeven couldn’t do his and I hadda do it for him because he didn’t wanna hurt it, but it’s just a worm. It don’t feel nothin’. Dove did do her worm but she wouldn’t do the fish when it ate her worm. And we ate the fish for dinner one night and I wanted to know if that means I ate a worm. Daddy says-”
            Vivia danced around on the spot, talking a mile a minute. Obviously at least one of her kids had a grand time with their grandmother Sally and their dad camping.

            “Bye, Dovey! Love ya, honey!” Mariah heard Roger call before speeding off in his bug. Watching her oldest trudge past she wondered if she was going to miss Roger that much.
            “Dove?” Mariah called, and received no answer.
            “But the skunk stayed way far away which is good because I don’t like tomatoes and Gramma said I’d have to take a bath in tomato juice if I got too close and scared it. But the porcupine-”
            “-let us get way close to it which Daddy said was really rare because porcupines are super shy. But he didn’t wanna let me try to touch it. I tried to anyway but it did this thing where it sounded like it growled and then it puffed all up and all its fur went stickin’ up and Daddy grabbed-”
            “-me and made us run. Ceeven didn’t run though. He wanted to see if he-“

            “Do you know what’s wrong with Dove?”
            Vivia gaped at her.
            Almost missing it as it was so gentle, Ceeven tugged at her sash.
            “Kelly?” his question was almost as soft as his touch.
            “Kelly?” she repeated, looking from one twin to the other.
            Vivia closed her mouth and looked thoughtful.
            Sighing in frustration she rephrased her question louder.
            “Who is Kelly?”

            A cry rent the air making even Vivia jump.
            “Kelly is Dad’s new girlfriend and I HAAAAAATE HEEEEERRRR!!! AAAARRRRRGGGHHH!” Dove screamed, throwing her backpack aside and bolting into the house.
            Mariah felt as though shed been punched in the stomach. Roger had a girlfriend? Who went on camping trips with him? And his mom and his kids?? Without her knowing?!? Without… her??

            Another gentle tug on her waistband.
            “Kelly,” Ceeven repeated himself, nodding slowly.
            “Yeah, Dove really didn’t like Kelly. Kelly helped with the porcupine and was the one who got Ceeven out of the way since he just stood there when dad told him to back away before it charged. I didn’t know porcupine’s would charge. I thought that was supposed to be a bull when there’s a red flag. And Ceeven wasn’t wearing red so no bull would charge at-”
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Roll reveal!
Career is: Psychic- Con Artist Branch
Not like that’s a surprise.

The Charles C. Cheddar’s is a reference to Chuck E. Cheese’s. A place American over indulgent parents take their hyper children to teach them the joys of gambling and gluttony via pizza and coin gaming. I hate that place. lol.
For the young-uns and unenlightened? Forward to the Past is another joke, in particular referencing Part II and III. As for the priestess and the last drawn card? Well... I'll let you decide. ;)   FOR THE RECORD: The meanings of the cards aren't really important right now. If you don't know them, don't want to look them up, it's okay. I'll explain The High Priestess when it's time. The second is The Fool. Because Mariah is about to do something not entirely... wise.