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Excerpt

Excerpt

Garden Spells

Chapter One

Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood. She always tried to stay awake those nights when the stars winked and the moon was just a cresting sliver smiling provocatively down at the world, the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade. On those nights in the summer, Claire would garden by the light of the solar-powered footpath lamps, weeding and trimming the night bloomers-the moon vine and the angel's trumpet, the night jasmine and the flowering tobacco. These weren't a part of the Waverley legacy of edible flowers, but sleepless as she often was, Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.

What she dreamed of was always the same. Long roads like snakes with no tails. Sleeping in the car at night while her mother met men in bars and honky-tonks. Being a lookout while her mother stole shampoo and deodorant and lipstick and sometimes a candy bar for Claire at Shop-and-Gos around the Midwest. Then, just before she woke up, her sister, Sydney, always appeared in a halo of light. Lorelei held Sydney and ran to the Waverley home in Bascom, and the only reason Claire was able to go with them was because she was holding tight to her mother's leg and wouldn't let go.

That morning, when Claire woke up in the backyard garden, she tasted regret in her mouth. With a frown, she spit it out. She was sorry for the way she'd treated her sister as a child. But the six years of Claire's life before Sydney's arrival had been fraught with the constant fear of being caught, of being hurt, of not having enough food or gas or warm clothes for the winter. Her mother always came through but always at the last minute. Ultimately, they were never caught and Claire was never hurt and, when the first cold snap signaled the changing colors of the leaves, her mother magically produced blue mittens with white snowflakes on them and pink thermal underwear to wear under jeans and a cap with a droopy ball on top. That life on the run had been good enough for Claire, but Lorelei obviously thought Sydney deserved better, that Sydney deserved to be born with roots. And the small scared child in Claire hadn't been able to forgive her.

Picking up the clippers and the trowel from the ground beside her, she stood stiffly and walked in the dawning fog toward the shed. She suddenly stopped. She turned and looked around. The garden was quiet and damp, the temperamental apple tree at the back of the lot shivering slightly as if dreaming. Generations of Waverleys had tended this garden. Their history was in the soil, but so was their future. Something was about to happen, something the garden wasn't ready to tell her yet. She would have to keep a sharp eye out.

She went to the shed and carefully wiped the dew off the old tools and hung them on their places on the wall. She closed and locked the heavy gate door to the garden, then crossed the driveway at the back of the ostentatious Queen Anne-style home she'd inherited from her grandmother.

Claire entered the house through the back, stopping in the sunroom that had been turned into a drying and cleaning room for herbs and flowers. It smelled strongly of lavender and peppermint, like walking into a Christmas memory that didn't belong to her. She drew her dirty white nightgown over her head, balled it up, and walked naked into the house. It was going to be a busy day. She had a dinner party to cater that night, and it was the last Tuesday in May, so she had to deliver her end-of-the-month shipment of lilac and mint and rose-petal jellies and nasturtium and chive-blossom vinegars to the farmers' market and to the gourmet grocery store on the square, where the college kids from Orion College would hang out after classes.

There was a knock at the door as Claire was pulling her hair back with combs. She went downstairs in a white eyelet sundress, still barefooted. When she opened the door, she smiled at the fireplug of an old lady standing on the porch.

Evanelle Franklin was seventy-nine years old, looked like she was one hundred and twenty, yet still managed to walk a mile around the track at Orion five days a week. Evanelle was a distant relation, a second or third or fourteenth cousin, and she was the only other Waverley still living in Bascom. Claire stuck to her like static, needing to feel a connection to family after Sydney took off when she was eighteen and their grandmother died the same year.

When Claire was young, Evanelle would stop by to give her a Band-Aid hours before she scraped her knee, quarters for her and Sydney long before the ice cream truck arrived, and a flashlight to put under her pillow a full two weeks before lightning struck a tree down the street and the entire neighborhood was without power all night. When Evanelle brought you something, you were usually going to need it sooner or later, though that cat bed she gave Claire five years ago had yet to find its use. Most people in town treated Evanelle kindly but with amusement, and even Evanelle didn't take herself too seriously. But Claire knew there was always something behind the strange gifts Evanelle brought.

"Well, don't you look eye-talian with your dark hair and Sophia Loren dress. Your picture should be on a bottle of olive oil," Evanelle said. She was in her green velour running suit, and slung over her shoulder was a rather large tote bag full of quarters and stamps and egg timers and soap, all things she might feel the need to give someone at some point.

"I was just about to make some coffee," Claire said, stepping back. "Come in."

"Don't mind if I do." Evanelle entered and followed Claire to the kitchen, where she sat at the kitchen table while Claire made the coffee. "You know what I hate?"

Claire looked over her shoulder as steam carrying the smell of coffee curled around the kitchen. "What do you hate?"

"I hate summer."Claire laughed. She loved having Evanelle around. Claire had tried for years to get the old lady to move into the Waverley house so she could take care of her, so the house wouldn't feel as if the walls were moving out of her way as she walked, making the hallways longer and rooms bigger. "Why on earth would you hate summer? Summer is wonderful. Fresh air, open windows, picking tomatoes and eating them while they're still warm from the sun."

"I hate summer because most of them college kids leave town, so there aren't as many runners and I don't have any nice male backsides to look at when I walk the track."

"You're a dirty old lady, Evanelle."

"I'm just sayin'."

"Here you go," Claire said, setting a coffee cup on the table in front of Evanelle.

Evanelle peered into the cup. "You didn't put anything in it, did you?"

"You know I didn't."

"Because your side of the Waverleys always wants to put something in everything. Bay leaves in bread, cinnamon in coffee. I like things plain and simple. Which reminds me, I brought you something." Evanelle grabbed her tote bag and brought out a yellow Bic lighter.

"Thank you, Evanelle," Claire said as she took the lighter and put it in her pocket. "I'm sure this will come in handy."

"Or maybe it won't. I just knew I had to give it to you." Evanelle, who had twenty-eight sweet teeth, all of them false, picked up her coffee and looked over at the covered cake plate on the stainless-steel island. "What have you made over there?"

"White cake. I stirred violet petals into the batter. And I crystallized some violets to put on top. It's for a dinner party I'm catering tonight." Claire picked up a Tupperware container beside it. "This white cake, I made for you. Nothing weird in it, I promise." She set it on the table next to Evanelle."

You are the sweetest girl. When are you going to get married? When I'm gone, who will take care of you?"

"You're not going anywhere. And this is a perfect house for a spinster to live in. I'll grow old in this house, and neighborhood children will vex me by trying to get to the apple tree in the backyard and I'll chase them away with a broom. And I'll have lots of cats. That's probably why you gave me that cat bed."

Evanelle shook her head. "Your problem is routine. You like your routine too much. You get that from your grandmother. You're too attached to this place, just like her."

Claire smiled because she liked being compared to her grandmother. She had no idea about the security of having a name until her mother brought her here, to this house where her grandmother lived. They'd been in Bascom maybe three weeks, Sydney had just been born, and Claire had been sitting outside under the tullip tree in the front yard while people in town came to see Lorelei and her new baby. Claire wasn't new, so she didn't think anyone would want to see her. A couple came out of the house after visiting, and they watched Claire quietly build tiny log cabins with twigs. "She's a Waverley, all right," the woman said. "In her own world."

Claire didn't look up, didn't say a word, but she grabbed the grass before her body floated up. She was a Waverley. She didn't tell anyone, not a soul, for fear of someone taking her happiness away, but from that day on she would follow her grandmother out into the garden every morning, studying her, wanting to be like her, wanting to do all the things a true Waverley did to prove that, even though she wasn't born here, she was a Waverley too."

I have to pack some boxes of jelly and vinegar to deliver," she said to Evanelle. "If you'll wait here for a minute, I'll drive you home."

"Are you making a delivery to Fred's?" Evanelle asked.

"Yes."

"Then I'll just go with you. I need Cokecola. And some Goo Goo Clusters. And maybe I'll pick up some tomatoes. You made me crave tomatoes."

While Evanelle debated the merits of yellow tomatoes versus red, Claire took four corrugated boxes out of the storeroom and packed up the jelly and the vinegar. When she was done, Evanelle followed her outside to her white minivan with Waverley's Catering written on the side.

Evanelle got in the passenger seat while Claire put her boxes in the back, then Claire handed Evanelle the container with her plain white cake in it and a brown paper bag to hold.

"What's this?" Evanelle said, looking in the brown bag as Claire got behind the wheel.

"A special order."

"It's for Fred," Evanelle said knowingly.

"Do you think he'd ever do business with me again if I told you that?"

"It's for Fred."

"I didn't say that."

"It's for Fred."

"I don't think I heard you. Who is it for?"

Evanelle sniffed. "Now you're being Miss Smarty Pants."

Claire laughed and pulled out of the drive.

Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful. Honeysuckle wine served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark. The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not.

The dinner Claire was catering that night was being hosted by Anna Chapel, the head of the art department at Orion College, who gave a dinner party at the end of every spring semester for her department. Claire had catered these parties for her for the past five years. It was good exposure to get her name out among the university crowd, because they only expected good food with a splash of originality, whereas the people in town who had lived there all their lives came to her to cater affairs with a specific agenda-to get something off your chest and be assured the other person wouldn't speak of it again, to secure a promotion, or to mend a friendship.

First Claire took the jelly and vinegar to the farmers' market on the highway, where she'd rented shelf space at a booth, then she went into town and parked in front of Fred's Gourmet Grocery, formerly Fred's Foods, as it had been called for two generations, before a posher college and touristy crowd started shopping there.

She and Evanelle walked into the market with its creaking hardwood floors. Evanelle headed for the tomatoes, while Claire went to the back to Fred's office.

She knocked once, then opened the door. "Hello, Fred."

Sitting at his father's old desk, he had invoices in front of him, but judging by the way he jumped when Claire opened the door, his mind had been on other things. He immediately stood. "Claire. Good to see you."

"I have those two boxes you ordered."

"Good, good." He grabbed the white blazer hanging on the back of his chair and put it on over his short-sleeved black shirt. He walked out to her van with her and helped her bring the boxes in. "Did, um, did you bring that other thing we talked about?" he asked as they walked to the stockroom.

She smiled slightly and went back outside. A minute later she came back in and handed him the paper bag with a bottle of rose geranium wine in it.

Fred took it, looking embarrassed, then he handed her an envelope with a check in it. The act was completely innocuous, because he always gave her a check when she delivered her jelly and vinegar, but this check was a full ten times what his normal check to her was. And the envelope was brighter, as if filled with lightning bugs, lit by his hope.

"Thank you, Fred. I'll see you next month."

"Right. Bye, Claire." 

Fred Walker watched Claire wait by the door for Evanelle to pay the cashier. Claire was a pretty woman, all dark hair and eyes and olive complexion. She didn’t look anything like her mother, whom Fred had known in school, but then, neither did Sydney. They obviously took after their fathers, whoever their fathers were. People treated Claire politely, but they thought of her as standoffish and they never stopped her to talk about the weather or the new interstate connector or how sweet this year’s crop of strawberries was. She was a Waverley, and Waverleys were an odd bunch, each in his or her own way. Claire’s mother had been a troublemaker who left her children to be raised by their grandmother and then died in a car pileup in Chattanooga a few years later, her grandmother rarely left the house, her distant cousin Evanelle was forever giving 

people strange gifts. But that was just how the Waverleys were. Just like Runions were talkers, and Plemmons were shifty, and Hopkins men always married older women. But Claire kept the Waverley house in good shape, and it was one of the oldest homes around and tourists liked to drive by it, which was good for the town. And most importantly, Claire was there when someone in town needed a solution to a problem that could be solved only by the flowers grown around that apple tree in the Waverleys’ backyard. She was the first in three generations to openly share that particular gift. That made her okay. 

Evanelle walked over to Claire, and they left together. 

Fred clutched the bag containing the bottle and walked back into his office. 

He took off his blazer and sat back at the desk, staring again at the small framed photo of a handsome man wearing a tux. The photo had been taken at Fred’s fiftieth birthday party a couple of years ago. 

Fred and his partner, James, had been together for over thirty years, and if people knew the true nature of their relationship, it had gone on so long now that no one cared. But he and James had grown apart lately, and little seeds of anxiousness were starting to take root. Over the past few months, James had been staying overnight in Hickory, where he worked, a few nights a week, saying he was working so late that commuting back to Bascom didn’t make sense. This left Fred at home alone far too often, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. James was the one who always said, “You make wonderful pot stickers, let’s have that for dinner tonight.” Or, “There’s a movie I want us to see on television.” James was always right, and Fred questioned every little thing when he wasn’t there. What should he have for dinner? Should he set the things he needed to take to the dry cleaner out at night or wait for the morning? 

All his life Fred had heard things about the Waverleys’ rose geranium wine. It signaled in the drinker a return to happiness, remembering the good, and Fred wanted back the good thing he and James had. Claire made only one bottle a year, and it was damn expensive, but it was a sure thing, because Waverleys, for all their blindness to their own way of living, were extremely accurate in helping other people see. 

He reached for the phone and dialed James’s work number. He needed to ask him what he should make for dinner. 

And what meat did you serve with magic wine? 

Claire arrived at Anna Chapel’s home late that afternoon. Anna lived in a cul-de-sac neighborhood just outside Orion College, and the only way to get to it was through the campus. The neighborhood had been for the instructors at the college, the houses built at the same time the campus was constructed a hundred years ago. The intention was to keep the academic community as insular as possible. A wise move, considering the opposition to a college for women at the time. Today, the chancellor still made his home there, and a few professors, including Anna, lived in the original houses. But the neighborhood was dominated now by young families who had no association with the college. They simply liked the privacy and security of the place. 

“Claire, welcome,” Anna said when she opened the front door to find Claire on her porch, carrying a cooler of things that needed to be refrigerated immediately. 

She stepped aside and let Claire enter. “You know the way. Do you need help?” 

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” Claire said, though late spring and summer were her busiest seasons and the time when she had the least help. She usually hired first-year culinary students at Orion to help her during the school year. They, after all, were not from Bascom and the only questions they asked were culinary ones. She’d learned the hard way to avoid hiring anyone local if she could help it. Most of them expected to learn something magic or, at the very least, get to the apple tree in the backyard, hoping to find out if the local legend was true, that its apples would tell them what the biggest event in their lives would be. 

Claire went to the kitchen, put away the things in the cooler, then opened the kitchen door and broughtin the rest of the things through the back entrance. Soon the farmhouse-style kitchen was alive with the steamy warmth and crafty scent that eventually flowed through the house. It welcomed Anna’s guests like a kiss on the cheek from their mothers, like coming home. 

Anna always wanted to use her own dishes—heavy pottery ones that she’d made herself—so Claire arranged the salad on the salad plates first and was ready to serve when Anna told her everyone was seated. The menu tonight was salad, yucca soup, pork tenderloins stuffed with nasturtiums and chives and goat cheese, lemon-verbena sorbet between dishes, and the violet white cake for dessert. Claire was kept busy, monitoring the food at the stove, arranging the food on the plates, serving and then deftly and quietly taking plates away when the guests had finished a course. This was as formal as any affair she catered, but these were art professors and their spouses, casual and intelligent people who poured their own wine and water and appreciated the creativity of the meal. When she had to work alone, she didn’t focus on the people, just what she had to do, which was painfully exhausting that evening considering she had slept the night before on the hard ground of her garden. But it had its positive side. She was never very good with people. 

She was aware of him, though. He was seated two places down from Anna, who was at the head of the table. Everyone else watched the food as it entered the room, as it was placed in front of them. But he watched her. His dark hair almost touched his shoulders, his arms and fingers were long, and his lips were fuller than she’d ever seen on a man. He was . . . trouble. 

As she was serving dessert, she felt something almost like anticipation the closer she got to sliding his plate in front of him. She wasn’t quite sure if it was his anticipation or hers. 

“Have we met?” he asked when she finally made it to his place. He was smiling such a nice, open smile that she almost smiled back. 

She put his plate in front of him, the piece of cake so perfect and moist, the crystallized violets spilling over it like frosted jewels. It screamed, Look at me! But his eyes were on her. “I don’t think so,” she replied. 

“This is Claire Waverley, the caterer,” Anna said, happy with wine, her cheeks pink. “I hire her for every department gathering. Claire, this is Tyler Hughes. This is his first year with us.” 

Claire nodded, extremely uncomfortable that all eyes were on her now. 

“Waverley,” Tyler said thoughtfully. She started to move away, but his long fingers wrapped gently around her arm, not letting her move. “Of course!” he said, laughing. 

“You’re my neighbor! I live beside you. Pendland Street, right? You live in that large Queen Anne?” 

She was so surprised he’d actually touched her that all she could do was give a jerky nod. 

As if aware that she’d gone stiff or of the slight shiver along her skin, he immediately let go of her. “I just bought that blue house next to you,” he said. “I moved in a few weeks ago.” 

Claire just looked at him. 

“Well, it’s nice to finally meet you,” he said. 

She nodded again and left the room. She washed up and packed away her things, leaving the last of the salad and cake in the refrigerator for Anna. She was moody and distracted now and she didn’t know why. But as she worked, she kept running her fingers unconsciously along her arm where Tyler had touched her, as if trying to brush something off her skin. 

Before Claire took her last box out to her van, Anna came to the kitchen to rave about the food and to tell Claire what a good job she’d done, either too drunk or too polite to mention Claire’s odd behavior with one of her guests. 

Claire smiled and took the check from Anna. She said good-bye, picked up the box, and left by the back entrance. She slowly walked down the short driveway to her van. Fatigue was settling low in her body like sand, and her steps were slow. It was a nice night, though. The air was warm and dry, and she decided she was going to sleep with her bedroom windows open. When she reached the curb, she felt a strange gust of wind. She turned to see a figure standing under the oak tree in Anna’s front yard. She couldn’t make him out clearly, but there were tiny pinpricks of purple light hovering around him, like electrical snaps. 

He pushed himself away from the tree, and she could feel him stare at her. She turned and took a step to her van. 

“Wait,” Tyler called. 

She should have kept walking; instead, she turned to him again. 

“Do you have a light?” he asked. 

Claire closed her eyes. It would be much easier to blame Evanelle if the old woman actually knew what she was doing. 

She set the box down and reached into her dress pocket and brought out the yellow Bic lighter Evanelle had given her earlier that day. This was what she was meant to do with it? 

She felt like she had water against her back, pushing her toward the deep end, as she walked toward him and extended the lighter. She stopped a few feet away, trying to keep as much distance as possible, digging her heels in as whatever force it was tried to take her closer. 

He was smiling, easygoing, and interested. He had an unlit cigarette between his lips, and he took it from his mouth. “Do you smoke?” 

“No.” She still had the lighter in her outstretched hand. He didn’t take it. 

“I shouldn’t. I know. I’m down to two a day. It’s not a very social habit anymore.” When she didn’t respond, he shifted from one foot to the other. “I’ve seen you around. You have a wonderful yard. I mowed my yard for the first time a couple of days ago. You don’t talk much, do you? Or have I done something to offend the neighborhood already? Was I out in my yard in my underwear at any point?” 

Claire gave a start. She felt so protected in her home that she frequently forgot that she had neighbors, neighbors who could, from their second stories, see down into her sunroom, where she’d taken off her nightgown that morning. 

“It was a wonderful meal,” Tyler said, still trying. 

“Thank you.” 

“Maybe I’ll see you again?” 

Her heart started to race. She didn’t need anything more than she already had. The moment she let something else into her life, she would get hurt. Sure as sugar. Sure as rain. She had Evanelle, her house, and her business. That was all she needed. “Keep the lighter,” Claire said, handing it to him and walking away. 

When Claire pulled into her driveway, she stopped by the front yard instead of pulling around back. There was someone sitting on the top step of the porch. 

Claire got out, leaving her headlights on and the car door open. She jogged across the yard, all her earlier fatigue gone in a panic. “Evanelle, what’s wrong?” 

Evanelle stood stiffly, the glow from the streetlights causing her to look frail and ghostly. She was holding two packages of new bed linens and a box of strawberry Pop-Tarts. “I couldn’t sleep until I brought you this. Here, take them and let me sleep.” 

Claire hurried up the steps and took the things, then she wrapped an arm around Evanelle. 

“How long have you been waiting?” 

“About an hour. I was in bed when it hit me. You needed fresh sheets and Pop-Tarts.” 

“Why didn’t you call me on my cell phone? I could have picked these things up.” 

“It doesn’t work like that. I don’t know why.” 

“Stay the night. Let me make you some warm sugar milk.” 

“No,” Evanelle said curtly. “I want to go home.” After those feelings Tyler had stirred in her, Claire wanted to fight even more for the things she had, the only things she wanted in her heart. “Maybe these sheets mean I’m supposed to make up a bed for you,” she said hopefully as she tried to turn Evanelle toward the door. “Stay with me. Please.” 

“No! They’re not for me! I don’t know what they’re for! I never know what they’re for!” Evanelle said, her voice rising. She took a deep breath, then said in a whisper, “I just want to go home.” 

Despising herself for feeling so needy, Claire patted Evanelle gently, reassuringly. “It’s okay. I’ll take you home.” She set the sheets and the Pop-Tarts on the wicker rocker by the front door. “Come on, honey,” she said, leading the sleepy old lady down the stairs and to the van. 

When Tyler Hughes got home, Claire’s house was dark. He parked his Jeep on the street and got out, but then he stopped on the walkway to his house. He didn’t want to go in yet. 

He turned when he heard the clicking of small dog feet on the sidewalk. Soon, a tiny black terrier skittered past, hot on the trail of a moth that was popping from one streetlight to the next.

Tyler waited for what was coming next. 

Sure enough, Mrs. Kranowski, a spindly old woman with a hairdo that looked like vanilla soft-serve ice cream, appeared. She was chasing after the dog, calling,

“Edward! Edward! Come back to Mama. Edward! Come back here now!”

“Need help, Mrs. Kranowski?” Tyler asked as she passed.

“No, thank you, Tyler,” she said as she disappeared down the street.

This neighborhood spectacle, he’d quickly discovered, happened at least four times a day.

Hey, it was good to have a routine.

Tyler appreciated that better than most. He would be teaching classes that summer, but there were a couple of weeks between the spring and summer semesters, and he always got restless when he didn’t have a routine. Structure had never been his strong suit, though he took a lot of comfort in it. Sometimes he wondered if he was made that way or simply taught. His parents were potters and potheads, and they had encouraged his artistic streak. It wasn’t until he started elementary school that he realized it was wrong to draw on walls. It had been such a relief. School gave him structure, rules, direction. Summer vacations had him forgetting to eat because he spent hours and hours drawing and dreaming, never moderated by his parents. They had loved that about him. His had been a good childhood but one where ambition ranked right up there with Ronald Reagan as taboo subjects. He’d always assumed that, like his parents, he could make a meager living from his artwork and be happy with that. But school was nice, college even better, and he didn’t like the thought of leaving it.

So he decided to teach.

His parents never understood. Making good money was almost as bad as becoming a Republican. He was still standing there on his walkway when Mrs. Kranowski came back down the sidewalk with Edward now wiggling in her arms. “That’s a good Edward,” she was saying to him. “That’s Mama’s good boy.”

“Good night, Mrs. Kranowski,” he said when she passed him again.

“Good night, Tyler.”

He liked this crazy place.

His first position after getting his master’s was at a high school in Florida, where they were so desperate for teachers that they were paying premium salaries, living expenses, plus moving expenses from his home in Connecticut. After a year or so, he also started teaching night art classes at the local university.

It was serendipity that eventually led him to Bascom. He met a woman at a conference in Orlando, an art professor at Orion College in Bascom. There was wine, there was flirtation, there was a wild night of sex in her hotel room. A few years later, during a restless summer break, he found out about an opening in the art department at Orion College, and that night came back to him in beautiful and vivid images. He interviewed for and got the position. He didn’t even remember the woman’s name, it was simply the romance of the thing.

By the time he arrived, she had moved on, and he never found her.

The older he got, the more he thought about how he hadn’t married, about how what brought him to this town in the first place was another restless summer and a dream of a life with a woman with whom he’d had a one-night stand.

Okay, was that really romantic or just pitiful? He heard a thud come from around the side of his house, so he took his hands out of his pockets and headed to the backyard. When he’d mowed a couple of days ago, the grass had been high, so there were big wet clumps of grass clippings all over the yard.

He should probably rake it all up. But then what would he do with all that grass? He couldn’t just leave it in a big clump in the middle of his yard. What if all the cut grass dried and killed the live grass under it?
One day out of school and he was already obsessively preoccupied with his lawn. And it would probably get worse.

What was he going to do with himself until the summer session started?

He had to remember to make notes to himself to eat. He’d do it tonight, so he wouldn’t forget. He’d stick them to the refrigerator, the couch, the bed, the commode.The light from the back porch illuminated the backyard—a small yard, not nearly as large as the one next door. The Waverleys’ metal fence, covered with honeysuckle,separated the two yards. Twice since he’d moved in, Tyler had pulled kids off the fence. They were trying to get to the apple tree, they said, which he thought was stupid because there were at least six mature apple trees on Orion’s campus. Why try to go over a nine-foot fence with pointy finials when they could walk to Orion? He told the kids this, but they just looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talking about. That apple tree, they said, was special.

He walked along the fence, taking deep breaths of sweet honeysuckle. His foot hit something and he looked down to see he had kicked an apple. His eyes then followed a trail of apples to a small pile of them close to the fence. Another one hit the ground with a thud. This was the first time he’d ever had apples fall on his side of the fence. Hell, he couldn’t even see the tree from his yard.

He picked up a small pink apple, rubbed it to a shine on his shirt, then took a bite.

He slowly walked back to his house, deciding that he would put the apples in a box tomorrow and take them to Claire, tell her what happened. It would be a good excuse to see her again.

It was probably just another instance of following a woman to a dead end.

But what the hell.

Do the things you do best.

The last thing he remembered was putting his foot on the bottom step of the back porch.

Then he had the most amazing dream.

Chapter Two

Ten days earlier

Seattle,Washington

Sydney walked over to her daughter’s bed. “Wake up, honey.”

When Bay opened her eyes, Sydney put her finger to the little girl’s lips.

“We’re going to leave, and we don’t want Susan to hear, so let’s be quiet. Remember?

Like we planned.”

Bay got up without a word and went to the bathroom and remembered not to flush the commode, because the two town houses shared a wall and Susan would be able to hear. Bay then put on her shoes with the soft, quiet soles and dressed in the layers Sydney had set out for her because it was colder that morning than it would be later, but there wouldn’t be time to stop and change.

Sydney paced while Bay dressed. David had gone to L.A. on business, and he always had the older lady in the town house next door keep an eye on Sydney and Bay. For the past week, Sydney had been taking clothes and food and other items out of the house in her tote bag, not deviating from the routine David held her to, the one Susan kept watch over. She was allowed to take Bay to the park on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and to go to the grocery store on Fridays. Two months ago she met a mother at the park who’d had the nerve to ask what the other mothers couldn’t. Why so many bruises? Why so jumpy? She helped Sydney buy an old Subaru for three hundred dollars, a good chunk of the money Sydney had managed to save in the past two years by taking one-dollar bills out of David’s wallet every so often, collecting the change in the couch cushions, and taking back items for cash that she’d bought with a check, the account for which David kept a sharp eye on. She’d been taking the food and clothes to the lady in the park, to be put in the car. Sydney hoped to God that the lady, Greta, hadn’t forgotten to park the car where they’d agreed. The last she’d talked to her was Thursday, and it was Sunday. David would be back that night.

Every two or three months, David would fly to L.A. to check in person how the restaurant he’d bought into was running. He always stayed to party with his partners, old college buddies from his UCLA days. He’d come home happy, still a little buzzed, and that would last until he wanted sex and she wouldn’t compare with the girls he’d been with in L.A. She used to be like those girls, long ago.

And dangerous men had been her specialty, just as she always imagined it had been for her mother—one of the many reasons she left Bascom with nothing but a backpack and a few photos of her mother as a traveling companion. 

“I’m ready,” Bay whispered as she walked into the hallway where Sydney was pacing.

Sydney went to her knees and hugged her daughter. She was five already, old enough to realize what was going on in her house. Sydney tried to keep David from having any sort of influence on Bay, and by unspoken agreement he didn’t hurt Bay as long as Sydney did what he said. But it was a terrible example Sydney was setting. Bascom, for all its faults, was safe, and going back to a place she espised was worth Bay finally knowing what security felt like.

Sydney pulled back before she started crying again. “Come on, honey.”

She used to be good at leaving. She used to do it all the time before she met David. Now the fear of it was making it hard to breathe.

When she first left North Carolina, Sydney had gone straight to New York, where she could blend and no one thought she was strange, where the name Waverley meant nothing. She moved in with some actors, who used her to perfect their Southern accents while she worked on getting rid of hers. After a year she went to Chicago with a man who stole cars for a living, a good living. When he was caught, she took his money and moved to San Francisco and lived on it for another year. She changed her name then, so he wouldn’t find her, and she became Cindy Watkins, the name of one of her old friends from New York. After the money was gone, she went to Vegas and served drinks. The girl she’d traveled from Vegas to Seattle with had a friend who worked at a restaurant called David’s on the Bay, and she got jobs for them both. Sydney had been wildly attracted to David, the owner. He wasn’t handsome, but he was powerful and she liked that. Powerful men were thrilling, until the point that they turned frightening, and that was when she always left. She became so good at touching fire and not getting burned. Things with David started to get scary about six months after she started seeing him. He would bruise her sometimes, tie her up in bed and tell her how much he loved her. Then he started following her to the grocery store and to friends’ houses. Shemade plans to leave him, to steal some money from his restaurant and go to Mexico with a girl she’d met at the Laundromat, but then she found out she was pregnant. Bay arrived seven months later, named by David after his restaurant. The first year of Bay’s life, Sydney resented the quiet baby for everything that had gone wrong. David disgusted her now, frightened her well beyond the limit she thought there was to being scared. And he sensed it and hit her more. This hadn’t been part of her plan. She didn’t want a family. She’d never counted on staying with any of the men she met. Now she had to stay because of Bay.

Excerpted from GARDEN SPELLS © Copyright 2011 by Sarah Addison Allen. Reprinted with permission by Bantam Discovery. All rights reserved.

Garden Spells
by by Sarah Addison Allen

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Discovery
  • ISBN-10: 0553590324
  • ISBN-13: 9780553590326