Welcome to October
A Judgement Jarring
All Evangeline Mortimer could remember about her parents was what she was told. That she favored her mother.
That her father always smelled of lemon and mint.
That her parents were always smiling and loved each other very much.
That they never raised their voices or made a fuss.
Evie tried, very hard, to be a Mortimer, based off of dreams and Leila’s stories. She tried so hard to remember what her mind led her to forget. Even Nyx remembered things that she simply could not. So Evie tried and sometimes pretended. To remember those people precious that she’d somehow forgot.
On the day that Mrs. Wutsitz’s heart failed finally, Leila sat in the kitchen with a scrapbook perched upon her knee. And there, in her lap, sat another memory Evie knew but could not see. Leila’d thought she was flying with her eyes closed and arms spread wide as she sat, free and laughing, on the shoulders of their father. Evie’d chased a three-year-old Nyx around his legs, to distract the younger Mortimer from begging for a turn of her own. And on that sunny day lying on a blanket farther off in the park was her mother, lifting baby Clara. In the picture, it was hard to see her mother’s face. In the kitchen, Evie turned toward the pots hanging hazardously above the stove and tried to catch a glimpse of her own.
“Do you know what day this was?” Leila asked her sister without looking up. Leila stroked the picture, smiling. Evie nodded at her reflection, not.
“Of course,” the younger answered. “It was the happiest day of our lives.”
Leila closed her eyes, probably picturing the moment. Evie closed her eyes, too. She wanted to hear the laughter. She wanted to see herself chasing Nyx all the way around Dad and up to Mom. She wanted to smell the basswood trees of that morning— the ones coated with lemon and mint.
So she conjured up a flickering smile. She willed it to stay still. When she met Leila’s eye, they shared something like understanding. But Evie had only been pretending. She didn’t understand— couldn’t. Not at all.
Then the doorbell rang and they were both compelled to look in the direction from which it sounded. Nyx flew down the staircase shouting “I’ll get it!” though Evie already expected her to do so.
And still sort of smiling, she watched the door open. She smiled as Mrs. Down led a sweating Mr. Mrs. Down inside. He was carrying loads of luggage and behind him was a strange man Evie had never seen before. She smiled as the adults trailed in, talking about things like dinner and the spare room. And trailing behind them all was a boy.
Stein bounded toward Ichabod Graves, panting happily. But Jinxie and Leila stood behind Evie who was trying to smile. And they did not.
Mr. Mind and Ichabod Graves were not just staying for dinner.
They were staying forever.
“Not forever, Nyxie,” Mrs. Down said sternly. But just as it used to be, hidden in her voice was the hint of a smile.
Evie couldn’t even appreciate this. The absence of the X. Nyx smiled because she said you never knew when it’d come back again, but Leila didn’t. She didn’t smile.
Did not care.
Leila, Evie noticed, was upset uncharacteristically. Again.
“Not forever,” Leila repeated, crossing her arms. She frowned at Mrs. Down like Mrs. Down ought to know better. “Not at all.”
“They’ve got no place to go—” Mrs. Down had tried explaining.
But Leila scoffed.
“That’s because nobody wants him around.”
Mrs. Down was shocked. Appalled, maybe. Evie, herself, left her jaw on the floor.
“Leila,” she scolded her sister, but there were no words that could change Leila’s unapologetic look.
Leila, who spoke often of their parents’ composure and kindness, who was the most diplomatic person Evie’d ever known— Leila, who’d checked Evie’s attitudes on more than one occasion, lashed out, unrelentingly, at Mrs. Down.
“Nobody wants him, not his family, not even the inn. And you didn’t even ask us if we wanted him, did you? There isn’t a spare room. That’s Clara’s room. And even if it weren’t he wouldn’t be welcome here. Not by me.”
Someone squeezed Evie’s right hand and Evie squeezed back. She couldn’t blame Nyxie for cowering behind her. She wished she could hide from this embarrassment, herself. Because when one Mortimer sister misbehaved it was as if they all had. If one spoke out of turn, they all felt the words spill out of their mouths. If one was mistreated, they all became indignant. And when one did something the others did not agree with, they all felt the pains of having to address what had happened.
They dealt with most things together.
That’s what made them whole.
So Nyx was giving Evie a signal. They’d let their sister embarrass them— they’d let her go too far. Though the Downs were not their parents, they were the Mortimer’s guardians. And the one thing Evie did know for sure about her parents was this.
They’d have wanted her and her sisters to respect their guardians, no matter what, when, or how.
Leila was on a tangent, attacking Mrs. Down where it hurt most. Clara.
“Do you even care that she’s left us?” Leila was shouting now. Mrs. Down watched wordlessly as the oldest Mortimer became a mess of noise and thoughts. “Do you even care that all we have left of her is there, in that bedroom— while you’re out auctioning it off?”
“Leila,” Evie said again, stronger this time. More firm. But Leila went on shouting and the kitchen was not big enough for Evie to hide from her sister’s rudeness. So she shouted, “Lei, stop.”
Evie knew that she wasn’t alone feeling embarrassed. She knew Leila had felt it too. Perhaps that was why she thought she ought to keep on going and going. So Evie used her free hand to touch her sister’s shoulder.
“It’s okay,” she said. “But you should stop.”
Leila jerked her arm away abruptly. She looked at Evie, annoyed, betrayed, and full of disgust.
“You don’t know anything!” Leila yelled, this time at her sister.
Hurt, Evie furrowed her brow. Evie thought about all of those things she really didn’t— couldn’t— understand, but thought this wasn’t one of them.
You’re just hurting, she reasoned from all of the pieces Leila had provided. Evie couldn’t see the full picture, but she thought she knew. You just miss Clara. We all do.
But maybe she didn’t actually know or understand. And that bothered her. A lot. If she didn’t understand her sister not wanting a stranger like Mr. Mind around, perhaps she didn’t understand anything. Perhaps she couldn’t. Even though she really wanted to.
Instead of showing this, though, she pretended. She pretended she didn’t hear Leila’s words. If she didn’t hear them, they couldn’t hurt her.
“They can take my room,” she offered as a sign of peace. She squeezed Nyx’s hand again for strength. “I can sleep on the floor beside Nyx.”
Mrs. Down had been silent, just watching. Just listening.
“I don’t mind,” Evie offered. “If it helps at all. Lei? What do you think?”
For a while there was no answer. But finally, Mrs. Down spoke. To all of the Mortimer Girls.
“I think,” she told them very seriously, “that we all need to have a talk.”
Leila’s eyes narrowed, but still she remained silent, except for the the steady sound of heavy breath.
“Leila?” Mrs. Down started, getting up from the kitchen table. She pointed toward the staircase. Evie felt that they all were in big trouble. “You first.”
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