To Catch a Falling Star (fairy tale two)დ Promises are meant to be broken. They are also; however, experts at love. Cadence and Chlöe Promise knew about true love from the earliest moments of their lives because their father told them fairy tales each night accompanied by an unusual postscript, conjured sometime after they were born, yet before they were too old to stop taking him seriously. “When you find a man who kisses the palm of your hand, not the top as men in the old black and white movies do, but the palm—you will know you’ve found your true love.” The eight-year-old twins stood knee deep in wild mallow in the marshy field next to their home. They stretched out a worn fishing net between them and waited in the night, with the full moon illuminating a field of daffodils recently sprung up. Disembodied yellow teacups and saucers bleached white in the moonlight, seemed to float interspersed behind them on the lawn, separating Ambergris from the thicket of sycamores where they had laid out their star-catching net. The Spring constellations of Leo, Virgo, and Böotes the Herdsman glittered above them. The first froglets peeped and shrilled in the dark at nearby Amber Pond. A warm spell had forced the apple and plum trees to bloom early; and as they held their star-catching net in the dark, they could smell something rare and wonderful, a delicate fragrance wrapping around them as they shivered with excitement. What they inhaled was the scent of memories, and childhood dreams coming true; its source, or so they thought, was their mother’s favorite trees, bending close and whispering to one another all the secrets they had been witness to over the centuries. Ambergris, however, housed nightmares as well as dreams; for each room could be opened with equal amounts of trepidation as expectation—it was impossible to predict what was behind any door. At Ambergris the cracks and shifts in time could let in things best locked away. Sorrow or Hope, Danger or Opportunity—there was no way to predict. And it was not possible to foresee which image, scent, or essence would insist on springing to life in the dark; or enchanting its way into reality with the opening of a single, small door. Worse yet, while doors of thick mahogany and silver oak hid such things from view, there were doors into the minds of those living at Ambergris, which concealed terrifying images; danger held back by the thinnest, most brittle barrier. The hinges on these doors were untrustworthy, and served as only the frailest obstacle against that which had already been stuffed to overflowing. These doors had only a remote chance of containing memories so unsettling . . . well, they were almost too disturbing to withstand. These were treacherous doors, and always would be, even if the so-afflicted were to wander far, far from home. On this night, however, as the young Promises stood patiently under the full Chaste Moon of March, they knew only happiness and contentment. They were at that tender, lovely age when children who are loved and cherished dream only in crystalline images; clear and brightly colored, wistful, and pure. As the sisters gazed into the sky, shivering with anticipation as much as with the cold, they knew only delight. They could sense the tendrils of dreams they would have that night swirling about their ankles like mist; dreams that were waiting for them beneath their down pillows and comforters upstairs—a wisp of thought coaxing them even now. Go to bed! And sure enough, their little heads began to nod, postures sagging, bodies yearning to be tucked beneath soft chenille and heavy damask. It was divine, to be a child at this age on a starlit night, when fairy tales and magic were the only currency in which to trade. “How long do you suppose we’ll have to wait?” Chlöe asked, impatient as usual, brushing back the blonde curtain of hair from her cheek. Cadence glanced at the sky and as she did so, one star winked. But she didn’t register its impertinence any more than she paid any attention to her sister’s lack of stick-to-itiveness. Cadence could wait forever, would wait forever. Any wait was worth it— she thought to herself—to catch a falling star. The girls knew there were rules about catching stars, but where those rules came from they didn’t know. You couldn’t catch stars from Orion, or Ursa Major. And in a few months when school was out and they spent long hours at night looking into the sky, the summer constellations of Lyra, Aquilla, and Cygnus the Swan would appear on the eastern horizon; and the stars from those constellations would be off limits as well. In the summer, the nights at Ambergris would be enchanted; mirror deep, and dark, and blue, and clear. Gentle on their faces, and soft to the touch, but ever, just ever so chill. But on this New England night, as nights in March were prone to be, a shivery dampness had set in—soggy, misty droplets formed on their fingertips, and fell off through the weave of their star-catching net. Cadence and Chlöe took turns setting down the net to rub their hands together for warmth, and despite their flannel night gowns with Bo Peep Sheep, and a layer of down jacketing, they had forgotten something to protect their little-girl hands. A red fox, living in a hole under the rowan in the family cemetery, poked her head from under the blackberry brambles, and watched the still figure of Cadence, waiting in the dark. Such patience in a wild thing, the fox thought to herself, scurrying back to her burrow, nestling her kits close to keep them warm.Just then their father called for them. “Girls—it’s time for bed!” They could just make out his figure against the brightly lit dormer window. They knew as long as they held the net; they were invisible, even to their father. As if on cue, the velvety-black sky opened for them; and a smattering of stars rained down in a brilliant storm of fiery light. The twins had known for years—since kindergarten at least—that this hail of sapphires, emeralds, topazes and carnelians tumbling into their net was not jewels, but stars. And once they gathered their treasures, it was clear to even the night-flying mockingbirds; the little girls were plum worn out. Cadence and Chlöe trudged through the wet grass in their yellow rubber boots toward the house. The scent of magnolia and oranges drifted from the stars they had wrangled. At least this new collection of sparkling lights, those glittering stars, pleased them; they were even pleased with each other in a way that would be almost non-existent to them later in their adult lives. They exchanged grins, and lugged the net between them, carting their treasure carefully, but hurrying. It was time for bed, after all. As they stumbled up the stairs and placed their new-found stars in a fishbowl kept in their room for just such expeditions, their parents turned down their beds to tuck them in. By the time they woke up the next morning, the glow from the stars would be gone; but their treasures would remain with them forever. ¥ ¤ £ ð ∞ π € ◊ ∂ ≈ ◊ I.Cadence grabs the bright green scarf Chlöe had sent for her birthday from Milan, heading down the hall of the carriage house, tying the swath of Pucci silk around her ponytail as she goes. Chlöe has always said there’s nothing like designer luxury to make you sit up and take notice of yourself, and this morning Cadence needs all the help she can get. In less than an hour she’s meeting with Med Pharma’s general counsel. And as she rushes to complete her outfit, she’s forced to scavenge through a box of dress boots left unpacked since her move-in four years ago. Cadence is aiming for a “look” she can imagine Chlöe would give her stamp of approval. For though Chlöe has spent the better part of her existence paying homage to herself, she is the perfect guide when you’re negotiating the rough terrain—at least to Cadence—of fashion. Chlöe had always been the mastermind of their childhood pranks, the instigator of their adolescent dramas. The problem is that sometimes she has used her power for evil instead of good. When they were teenagers, Chlöe even acted on an impulse to steal Cady’s high school crush right out from underneath her—well, not literally underneath her—with seemingly little or no remorse. If Chlöe felt even the slightest regret, Cadence is certain; she let herself off the hook when she and Tyler pawned Cadence off on Tyler’s best friend Seth. What a foursome. What a cliché. The situation eventually broke the teen romance mold, and their relationship didn’t develop into the high-toned disaster she thought it would. Yes, there is no doubt about it; Chlöe is always indulging herself and leads with her self-absorption although she was forced to dial it back a notch after the events which occurred during their junior year on the night of Bonfire. The stakes rose so high that night, that if they were made of flesh and bones rather than the potential of a teenager’s life or mental stability, a towering pile thirteen stories high would have resurrected itself from the dirt and creek. Cadence was fortunate to find a place in the city worth calling home, which isn’t easy when you enjoy living out in the country where her mom still lives in Defiance, but it wasn’t feasible given their clientele’s limited access to them. And their clients are loyal. The entire business has been built almost entirely by word-of-mouth. Don’t ever underestimate the power to solve someone’s problems as an excellent replacement for advertising! Lily announced, as she hoisted the last of the business files into the back of the battered Country Squire station wagon when they made the last trip to set up the Houston office—as if anyone was listening. The one thing about Lily’s daughters is that absolutamente, finalamente neither of them listen; to anyone. One of their clients, Campbell Packard, has been so thrilled with the results of Ambergis’ natural estrogen replacement—much to the chagrin of her expensive River Oaks gynecologist—that she quickly offered Cadence and Megan a deal that Cadence, at least, couldn’t refuse. Campbell lives in a sprawling estate in Memorial, although Megan moved into a garage apartment in The Heights, Cadence moved into the carriage house set on the back quarter-acre of Campbell’s estate. Campbell allows Cadence to supplement the gardens which has benefits. Just that morning Cadence harvested Lady’s Mantle, a perennial with pale-green leaves and tiny, lacy green-yellow flowers. In the case of Campbell’s yard, it provides an attractive, hardy ground cover and breaks up the swampy, clay-like Houston soil. If anyone doubts Houston is resurrected from a drained swamp sold to northeasterners as far north as Albany on the strength that it would be, “a port to rival New Orleans,” all they have to do is dig about one foot down—if they can, that is. Mucky, caked clay soil leads quickly to water, a saturated water table means flood-prone property, and plants that thrive on perverse growing conditions—if ever there is land that make Cadence miss New York, it is Texas. Cadence knows there are just things you can’t worry about; some things you can’t prevent, for example. And the pharmaceutical company will likely win; crushing her in the upcoming litigation. They have what seems to be unlimited amounts of money, and money meant power. There is a lot of money in drugs, especially the legal ones. Poverty, drugs, greed. Cadence doesn’t know everything about business, but she knows about suffering, that is her business—she deals with it first-hand, everyday, and she sees legal drugs cause almost as many problems as they fix, not to mention the so-called wonder drugs which rarely make it into the hands of the patients who are in the worse shape and need them the most. One of their clients had been so desperate before she brought her son to see them, that she had enrolled him a clinical trial for a potentially successful drug shown in initial trials to help his illness. They landed in the control group—the group that received a placebo rather than the drug. Their son died. The drug ended up on the FDA’s list of “approved for”. Cadence and Megan went with his mother to the little boy’s grave each year on the anniversary of his death to remind them of why they were doing what they did, and how far they had go. They saw it every day in their office when someone couldn’t afford the drugs their doctor had prescribed. There had been many times she didn’t think she could take much more of it; treating an endless stream of people who were ready to try anything to stop the pain, get their energy back so they could work. Either Megan or Cadence would take down an entire profile and then, often together, they would develop a treatment plan of action. Their clients tell them they are angels; the attorneys are treating them like hags. Cadence heads back into the house to leave the Lady’s Mantle, hurrying since she is already late. As she set the baskets on the counter she snags the reference book she was reading that morning. A ramshackle manuscript passed down from mother to daughter over dozens of generations. And just as medieval alchemists, Cadence is preparing a decoction using the plant as an internal astringent and an anti-inflammatory remedy for painful or heavy periods, the reduction of fibroids and pelvic inflammation as well as a diuretic. She enters the house, shouting to her two assistants, instructing them to put the herbs in muslin bags before Megan shows up to collect them. რ Angels. Witches. Maybe it’s the same thing. Cadence thinks as she runs through the summer down pour to get to her Jeep. Magic. She grumbles and climbs in. Where’s my fucking wand? Most people don’t realize they are experiencing supernatural events even when they are, won’t recognize a miracle with a road map. Don’t people look around? Don’t they read? God is magic for crying out loud. The nature of the universe is so much different than the universe we see. Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it. That is how Niehls Bohr described the seeming miraculous natural world. The biggest and smallest things in nature are the same. This is not an obscure metaphor or a Zen koan, but an observable, scientific fact. Magic isn’t confined to the world of fiction, it can be found every day in the natural phenomena in the sun and the moon and the stars, in the striating pattern of a leaf. And even though more people are familiar with the concept of string theory—the idea that everything in the universe is connected with everything else—such a literal connection between the quantum world and the cosmic world still surprises most. When we are looking at large things—anything you can see without a microscope—they seem continuous. There’s no overt evidence they’re made of discrete, microscopic, elementary particles. So, it’s remarkable that when we look at the very largest things, we start seeing the quanta again, the universe expanding functioning as a giant microscope. That’s magic. That’s science. That’s God the Master Scientist. Of course, it would be hard to maintain obscurity on a broomstick. She has to admit. And since obscurity is the goal, success and obscurity—what is she complaining about? Why is she so wound up? It’s the task of having to go to that appointment at MedPharma to meet with their head counsel, presumably to discuss the case. What a nasty task—an attorney in a high-rise—a huge, wicked, corporate attorney for a big, bad wolf. რCadence had entered the glass doors, announcing her presence to the receptionist behind a very authentic and very expensive desk. Really, Louis XIV in a reception area? I can’t believe I’m seeing this. She thought to herself exchanging what should have been pleasantries with the man about to grill her. The air is toxic. “Why don’t you tell me your side of this?” “Should I have an attorney with me if we’re going to talk about something that might . . .” Cadence grasps for the right word, a ten-dollar word she is certain she has heard on one of the lawyer shows. “Incriminate?” He offers? “Right, might incriminate me?” She responds. “This is off-the-record. And I should know . . . I get paid very well to know. I don’t see much monetary value in working over someone who’s basically broke—if you’ll excuse my forthrightness. So, let’s dispense with formalities and see if we can get down to what’s going on here. Maybe I can help soften my client if you agree to back down, quit practicing medicine without a license.” Cadence sits bolt-upright, eyes blazing. “Practicing medicine without a license?” She barks. “Is that what you just said?”“Well, yes. You’re dispensing medical advice, courses of treatment. You’re unqualified to do that. You don’t have a medical degree.” “I would think since you’re so well paid you’d consider checking your sources before throwing accusations around—if for no other reason than having a flawless track record for accuracy,” Cadence responds. “I checked. You don’t have a medical license. Your degree is in biomedical engineering. Hardly credentials for medicine-making.” His tone takes on a somewhat snide edge. “Actually, those are exactly the credentials. Especially when you’re looking for natural cures,” she smirks back now thoroughly aggravated.“We’re getting off track. The point is that you can’t simply go around telling people to quit taking their medication,” he shifts slightly in the leather chair. “My point is that I’ve never, and I mean never instructed, suggested or even mildly hinted that anyone stop taking their prescriptions. NEVER!” Cadence’s voice rises.“Please.” He tries to soften his tone before she begins a more offensive posture. “Nothing will come of assuming I’m out to intentionally take you down . . . preserve my clients’ best interest? Yes. You’re simply caught in the middle. But tell me, why? Why herbs? Why dole them out to ill people in lieu of an cure?”“Don’t you think using the term ‘cure’ in relation to anything your clients do is just a smidge misleading?” The sarcasm now palpable in her voice. “The people that come to me come because they aren’t cured by your clients’ prescription drug. They find mild relief, but that’s no cure, and they eventually need higher dosages, and on top of it all they have to be monitored monthly for liver and kidney failure. That sounds like a cure to no one except your self-serving Big Pharma Goliath, their associates and I assume you.” Cadence takes a deep breath. “Alright, tell me this then—how about Karen Sumter? The woman whose family is now suing my client—don’t you feel as if you’ll be implicated at least partially if not entirely by the time we go to trial on this?” He asks. “Actually, no, I don’t. Doesn’t your client feel responsible for forcing people like Ms. Sumter to look for affordable alternatives to their expensive-ass drugs?” The attorney is now developing a look of exasperation, if not outright fury. “Assuming we go to trial, and let me point out that my client, if you weren’t in the picture at all, might settle this case and be done with it.”Cadence centers herself, calmly. “Well, here’s the way I see it . . . and by the way, how Karen Sumter saw it. Your client’s drug gave her very little relief, and being unemployed and pay for the original dosage she was given came to see my partner and myself three years ago in tears, desperate. Not only could she not afford the monthly dosage, her doctor had just informed her she should be doubling or even, yes, amazingly enough, tripling the dosage for her crippling arthritic pain.” “Her ability to pay or not pay for the drug has nothing to do with her symptoms, or her heart condition, Cadence. I may call you Cadence?” He asks, voice now combative in timbre and tone.Cadence nods, but she’s preoccupied now with figuring out how to end this meeting and escape. Try really pissing him off. Do it! She hears the voice in her mind instructing. “It has everything to do with it! Had it not been for her using ginger, which is a natural-form COX-II inhibitor—the active ingredient in your company’s drug she may have been forced to live in pain because she couldn’t afford your client’s drug or, worse yet, might have found some way to pay for the doubled or trebled amount and become desperately damaged sooner—or perhaps dead because she put a gun to her head to stop the pain and the expense of living. How would your client have enjoyed that? I imagine your client would prefer anyone dead if they’re too broke to pay for the medicines your client puts on the market each year.” That ought to do it.“Okay, Cadence. Here’s what I’m going to do,” he responds through thinning lips, teeth all but grinding. “I’m going to ask you to forward, through your attorney—I’m guessing you’ll be retaining one after you leave my office today—any treatment notes you have on Ms. Sumter and any anecdotal information or studies you have that can back up your claim and, or, proof that trials for efficacy and cautions for the ginger —I can’t believe we’re even having a conversation about a root, the sooner those notes get to me the better. After I’ve reviewed the information, I’ll talk to my client and we’ll come up with a plan. I’ll keep an open mind, but you have to remember this is more than serious, and my clients are set to lose hundreds of millions if a class-action suit gets kicked off by this. In that case, I don’t see them settling. I see them driving you into the ground along with your family’s business, and I’ll be the one whipping the horses into a frenzy. The trial’s been set for Mississippi, by the way, where trial juries are more apt to award big dollar awards, just FYI.” He stands and Cadence follows but when they arrive in the waiting room Cadence catches her breath at the sight of Chlöe. “What in the hell are you doing in his office?” Chlöe spits out the words as if they’re hot. Chlöe embraces her embattled sister and squeezes. “When did you get here?” Cadence asks. “I arrived hot off Continental’s flight from Milan around ten last night but I decided to get a nap before flying in from Dallas. Guess I got her just in time. Chlöe directs her next comment to the attorney, “Tyler Gardner, so, you’re married now, Gardner? Kids?” Chlöe asks as if the words are meant to accuse him of a felony. “Why not go home to your babies and leave our baby,” nodding toward Cadence, “alone?”“Afraid I can’t do that Chlöe, and no, I never did it—the marriage thing, that is.”“Big asshole, I mean bad ass like yourself with no wife and kids? Hm, something’s wrong with that picture, Gardner.” Chlöe challenges. Cadence realizes at once that Chlöe’s tone is an indication of how she will torment Tyler in upcoming weeks, but then Tyler always had that affect on Chlöe, pissing her off, that is. “When I kissed you in high school I knew I would never get married.” Tyler says, allowing himself an antagonistic smile. “I thought you were in love with my sister?” Chlöe replies. “And you didn’t kiss me . . . I kissed you. Practical joke. Guess the joke’s on us this time. That won’t last, Tyler, have fun while you can.” Tyler shifts uncomfortably, “I was in love with your sister. I adored your sister,” he replies, his tone becoming more defensive. “And now you want to destroy her life?” Chlöe challenges. “She made a mistake, Chlöe, she shouldn’t be acting like she’s a physician, prescribing cures for people, it’s wrong. You know it is.”“What about your client?” Chlöe asks. “My client has licenses, and regulations to adhere to— they’re qualified to make drugs.” He replies.“That drug is an unnatural derivative of the natural alternative my sister suggested her clients take, and it’s one they could afford. You know what? I’m not having this conversation.”“Chlöe, I’m not arguing with you. Hell, I can’t even take you to dinner without compromising my ethics. However, if you agree not to talk about this particular case, I’ll take you to dinner and you can explain your viewpoint until after the coffee and brandy. How ‘bout eight o’clock?” He asks. “Eight? How about you call our attorney and make a date with him?” Chlöe’s voice is laced with poison. If the receptionist were to look up now she would be amazed to see a noxious green mist floating above their heads. Chlöe turns to her sister and begins hauling her out the doorway toward the elevator. “Oh, and Tyler? P.S. You need to file a brief with the court recusing yourself from this case due to conflict of interest.” Chlöe is flushing and furious.“And you two? Make sure you stay out of the limelight for the time being.” Tyler finishes having managed to clear the creeping hysteria from his voice and managing a more unctuous tone, which though calmer makes Cady’s stomach lurch. He is grinning to himself. There is nothing quite as gratifying as pissing Chlöe off. “Limelight.” Chlöe whispers to Cadence. “Why didn’t I think of that? She continues under her breath, ushering Cadence into the elevator with a mischievous grin. “Limelight?” Cadence looks quizzically at her sister, leaning in more closely and sniffing her breathe. “Are you drunk, Chlöe?” Cady asks. “Neither. I’m brilliant. I’m surprised you never noticed!” II.Chlöe remembers when they were young, her sister had always dreamed of animals: chervils, marmots, platypus, lynx—not horses and cows, not your farm or household variety. She dreamed of animals she had forgotten she even knew. Animals are Cady’s talismans, and she needs all the help she can get, but it still doesn’t seem like a particularly solid plan for keeping her sister level-headed. Maybe Xanax. They are having her followed according to Lily, whoever ‘they’ are supposed to be. It’s ludicrous—Cadence, a threat? She’s at her best fighting battles for others, not herself. Shit. Chlöe remembers a time when her sister stood up to a teacher in ninth grade, but no for herself. While the World History teacher, Mr. Dunkin finished handing back papers, having given Chlöe’s essay on Rasputin a “D” because the paper was crumpled—forget worn clichés about dogs eating homework, he would never have bought the truth—that their ferret, Longbottom, had tried converting the essay into a bed. “You can’t grade a paper on how it looks.” Cady insisted. “It appears, young lady that I can.” Mr. Dunkin replied. “Now, please be so kind as to sit down in your seat or remove yourself to the principal’s office for further debate.” Which of course, she did. Joined within the hour by Lily, Margeaux, and their grandmother, all of whom tended to agree with Cady, exasperating their teacher and principle. Their mother had taken them home where they made all their favorite foods, stuffing themselves sick, dancing on the back porch late into the night. She called them in sick the next day. Sick of school. They heard Lily say when asked what the ailment was. And I’m not at all certain how long that takes to run its course. Their mother believed in encouraging acts of courage, camaraderie, or civil disobedience. Margeaux believed in encouraging them to always have a hell of a good time whenever possible in order to hedge your bets. Their grandmother Elizabeth held on for dear life and always prayed there would be no need to post bail.Cadence has stomped on the wrong toes this time, and it is going to take considerably more than a family consortium to avert disaster. It’s not every day a little girl from Texas, born on the East Coast and raised in relative seclusion, gets the chance to make enemies with some of the most powerful brokers of capitalism in the world, people who if the Promises have the information right, are deciding how to keep that torment fresh and alive—in legally acceptable ways, of course. You can call it due legal process if you want but Margeaux is convinced it’s about as legal as the Salem Witch Hunts, and remarking on it with increasing frequency to anyone who will listen, including KPRC-Channel 12 news crew that left only twenty minutes before Chlöe herself left for her meeting.რChlöe has been busy for weeks setting up protests in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Houston harbors with the help of some old friends and a couple new ones. A Boston Tea Party-esque reenactment. Only they are going to stage it with prescription drug bottles. A viral internet marketer volunteered to launch a call for involvement and a warehouse to store the incoming plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes.On the afternoon Seth introduces Chlöe to the man who they are hoping will help mastermind their random acts of civil disobedience, the rain has finally stopped. The skies have cleared, dripping from leaves, gutters, anything which absorbs or is a conduit for moisture has finally ceased. October can either be gorgeous, dry, cool, and invigorating—or muggy, miserable, and as unfall-like as conceivable. The past three weeks rain has been falling, the end of hurricane season and most of outlying Houston flooded. The area hasn’t had rainfall like this in almost thirty years. The storms have been peeling off from their usual route due north, veering northeast, and pummeling Dallas as well instead of driving straight north to Austin as they generally do. Flash floods have been washing out fields, bridges, roads, and, homes in 100-year flood plains. Chlöe knows her family thinks that by living in Italy she doesn’t care about her family, doesn’t want to be part of it all. In their eyes she has run away from home. They still see her as selfish beyond compare with a predilection for deceit, the same young girl who would shoplift from every store she went into as a kid, given half the chance. What they don’t seem to realize is that her choice to live far away, especially in Italy, is the sign they need to interpret her behavior. Rather than interpret her infrequent interaction as subterfuge they should have figured out by now that that she’s not a joiner, not a follower, not prone to cooperation. If any family should understand it should be this one. She has given up hoping they will come to understand. When she has nothing important to share she doesn’t fill the space with endless details of nothing. It’s something they will never get about her.Chlöe and the man she’s to be introduced to enter the café from opposite directions. Onion Creek is one of the few places in Houston that remains charming in its dilapidated state. The redwood deck enclosing the building on three sides has been unusable during the recent deluge, but a border of Red Storm lilies and Fire astilbe have revived the entryway; barrels and pots and hanging baskets are filled to bursting with bright blooming plants and blossoming bushes of scarlet and orange and fuchsia. Topiaries of hibiscus and lantana, form the focal points of modified English knot gardens. Chlöe smiles to herself at her ability to identify such a thing, followed by the immediate horror at realizing what a frivolous thing it is to know. There are crimson-pink lobelia and scabiosa, lemon-colored bee balm, and bleeding heart the hue of pomegranate climbing the trunk mounds beneath the redbud and pin oaks. As verdant and tropical as the exterior is, the interior is dark and cool, a welcome respite during the boiling hot, steamy months. Seth hasn’t seen Chlöe or Cadence since the summer following high school. Their last parting, that quick, see ya later guys stretching into fifteen years. In the years since college Seth has launched a string of adventure-wilderness stores catering to adrenaline junkies, a front for his own adrenaline addiction. The first, place opened in Connecticut where he graduated from college, quickly followed by Colorado, California, and Arizona. He had had no desire to return home to Texas, which only reminded him of everything he’d lost by that point; his parents and his grandfather all deceased, Cadence too, gone, at least gone from his life. His college roommate Jason came from a family with a considerable software fortune. It was this money which gave them the seed capital they needed to set up shop. You could actually call it an inadvertent business. Jason’s father had put up the capital for their venture, after putting up their bail for the fifth time in four years. Following what turned out to be their last illegal adventure—the midnight sabotage of the Kennebunkport Country Club golf course—their partnership papers were filed with the state attorney general’s office. If you’re so interested in danger, at least make money doing it. Jason’s father told them as they left the city jail, sounding more like a threat than an encouragement. They channeled their considerable energy into the enterprise, saving their angel investor—in Seth and Jason’s case, demon investor might have been more accurate—from future legal fees. Two years later, Seth bought out his partner Jason two years later, and three years after that he purchased the remaining outstanding interest held by the father. Seth renamed the company, began staging death-defying stunts to generate publicity, while fulfilling his obsession for the adrenaline rush. His current holdings included a twenty-two store chain spanning the U.S. with stores opening for operation internationally in Sidney, London, Lisbon, Munich, and Rome within the next fiscal year. Each stunt was a baptism. Every time Seth completed a jump, or dive, whatever he had recently dreamed up, he was reborn. Washed clean. The tension gripping his brain and muscles, coursing through his blood like liquid fire, could be released, tamped down with only two things. One was out of his reach, the other was attempting to kill himself.Seth became political by accident. Literally. A journalist and camera man covering one of his more dangerous stunts had been seriously injured in a helicopter crash. As freelancers working on dangerous projects, they were ineligible for medical coverage they could afford, and so had gone without buying any, hedging their bets with their youth and health. Their hospital bills shot quickly to seven figures. When Seth found out, he had gotten involved. In disgust at the system, he eventually paid for their hospital and rehabilitation costs himself, then set up an investment fund to underwrite an insurance pool for coverage for independent media contractors including freelance journalists. The fund was how Seth met Kincaid Griffin. Kincaid contacted Seth requesting an interview for an article for his website, writingrxwrongs.com. When Chlöe had looked up Seth, contacting him in the hope of getting some good advice on Cadence’s behalf, maybe even some useful contacts or information that might be helpful, Seth had suggested Kincaid.You couldn’t call Kincaid bitter or blindly defiant although he originally had started the website, writingrxwrongs.com as an act of moral defiance aimed rather directly at his father. Kincaid is the kind of man who is almost constitutionally incapable of hypocrisy. Money or not, game or not, he is that rare person on a quest—a mythical journey of staggering proportions. Yet he sees himself written into any epic tale in an illegible, tiny scrawl, the precise opposite of the bold capitalized font to which the self-important feel they are entitled. Men like Kincaid’s father. Kincaid is unaware, almost naively so, of the impact he has on women and men alike. The straightforward charm he displays allows him to rally volunteer after volunteer for one cause after another, but he fails to harness his appeal to score with the opposite sex.And on this early evening in October as Chlöe walks into Onion Creek, cutting a direct path through the room toward Seth whom she barely recognizes, she remains unaware of the man across the room set on the same course, Kincaid Griffin, his Justin Ropers allowing him to outdistance her Prada’s. Prada. Italy I can’t wait until this is over so I can go hoooooome. Chlöe thinks.“You’ve met.” Seth remarks as Chlöe and Kincaid reach the table almost simultaneously, then rescinds his statement as their confusion clarify his mistake.“My apology. Chlöe. Kincaid Griffin. Kincaid, Chlöe Promise.” Settling in, they order various caffeinated beverages—all but the young woman with Seth who orders a beer, Abigail Strackmore, who as it turns out is to be their first major media contact. As they talk, and wait for their drinks to arrive thereby securing their privacy, at least until one for them need a refill— Chlöe has the chance to study Kincaid more closely. Who, by the way, is killer hot despite the cowboy boots, which the Italian in her simply won’t allow her to sanction as fashion. The point-of-disintegration jeans and vintage tee clinging to his muscular shoulders and broad, defined chest give her the impression he wears vintage by default ala garage sale. There is something special about Kincaid. When she looks directly into his eyes she can swear she hears laughter. When he sits close she seems to get the impression all her problems are disappearing, which she knows is not accurate or likely, and yet, as she watches as he lifts the cracked ceramic coffee mug to his lips, she swears she can hear his voice whispering in her ear. Everything is going to be fine. She blushes—what the hell? He smiles. Can he tell? And if she’s hones with herself she’ll admit that the icy band that has been cinching her heart since Cady’s call is melting away right then and there. Could she get by with taking a picture of Seth with her phone for Cadence? Her asexual sister will never be able to conjure the image of Kincaid’s bronze eyes, or the shaggy appeal of his longish hair, which required repeated raking from his eyes, not without an actual photograph or face-to-face meeting. How can I find out his age? “Mr. Griffin . . .”“Please, no, call me Caide.”“Well, that might be confusing since my sister’s a Cady, Cadence, actually.”“May I call you Kincaid?” (or stud?)“Sure.”“So, where did you go to school?” Chlöe asks.“Tulane”“No kidding, one of my best friends went to Tulane.” (bullshit) “Maybe you knew her?” Chlöe prods. “Jessica Eggers.” (Jessica my ass, who the fuck is Jessica?)“No, I’m afraid I didn’t. Was she in the class of ‘95?(Shit! ’95? He’s a baby!) “Uh, no. ’94.”“Well, I might have met her and not remembered. It’s a huge campus.”“You should meet her mother and grandmother, they’re—really something.” Seth remarks, trying to get Chlöe off Seth’s track and back on task. “I’m not sure ‘something’ encompasses the insanity that defines my family, Seth, but thank you for laying the groundwork. I’m certain Kincaid will find it helpful in dealing with them.” Chlöe responds. “You know that you have the best family, quit acting like you don’t think so . . . or that I don’t think so.” Seth mumbles. “They have to be the only women in Texas with recipe books devoid of recipes for anything remotely edible.” He continues in a louder tone, but Chlöe heard his comment. She clears her throat. She knows, even if Cadence and Seth want to pretend otherwise, that doors into the past are going to be swung open and fresh air and sunshine let in through the windows even if dragonflies setup housekeeping in the toilets and larks begin nesting on the shelves. The conversation then shifts to prescription drugs, pharmaceutical companies, and the natural cures and components of the remedies prepared by Chlöe’s family’s business, as well as the problems they face in the upcoming weeks. “Let me think it over, make a couple calls.” Kincaid concludes. “I’ll see what I can do.” “So, it’s settled? We’ll meet out the Promise’s place and explain the game plan to Cadence.” Seth’s nervous energy is getting the better of him. If he is going to face Cadence for the first time in years, and under these circumstances, he is going to need a good, long run through Memorial Park. Chlöe glances in his direction and gives him an encouraging wink. No problem.III. Jenna Sizemore is manning the makeshift bar they have set up—the same one they set up for every occasion out at Ambergris Farms. The next scheduled occasion will coincide with the last harvest from Ambergris’ Fall suite: Ornamentals, heirloom vegetables, florals and herbs that will go to the premium outlets in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. The bulk will be processed into products and pharmaceutical-grade essential oils then shipped to U.S. spas and retail outlets world-wide, homeopaths and eastern-philosophy practitioners who integrate more western homeopathy into their existing practices each year. Cadence and Margeaux along with Lily, Elizabeth and several client-friends gather in the side yard. Chlöe is expected at any moment, and they have set up citronella and lemongrass torches to keep back the mosquitoes, a connect-the-dot outline of lights illuminating the travertine patio adjacent to the southeast side of the house. The night is a moonless October and inky black. Locusts and peepers chirp and shrill, periodically interrupted by a whip-o-will or mockingbird’s serenade. It seems the hazy shimmery stars, are visible through a watery atmosphere, the sweet melody of the birds sinking in the heavy night air. The rain has finally ceased the temperature in Defiance almost ten degrees cooler than Houston. As Chlöe turns up the drive, her sister is ordering obscure drinks from Jenna at the makeshift bar—even going so far as to make a few up—while Jenna’s husband Matthew hauls ice from the deep freeze in the storage shed, and her teenage son Joshua works bar back sneaking sips when he is pretty sure his mom is too busy with her friends to take notice. “Strawberry Pindrop” Cadence calls out. “You’re high if you think I don’t know you made that up, Cady!” Josh cracks a grin His mom’s friends may be strange, but they are funny, and if he is lucky, or if they drink enough he may be able to talk Margeaux into reading tarot cards so he can find out if Michelle, his latest crush, is ever going to let him kiss her. “Ruby Rash!” Cadence hollers at Jenna from across the patio as she adjusts one of the torches. “That’s it! You are high!” Jenna yells back. “Who’s high?” Chlöe hollers, trying to be heard over the noise. “Chlöe! Man. I thought you’d never get here.” Cady laughs, weaving her way to Chlöe’s side. It is then that she notices Seth with Chlöe. “Seth!” She gives him a ferocious hug. “And who’s this?” Cadence asks suspiciously. “Another process server piggy-backing to get by Charlie?” “Well, just FYI, Cady, but there’s no one at the gatehouse, Charlie or anyone else—does he know he’s supposed to be out there? Kincaid asks. “It seems he’s gone AWOL.” Chlöe remarks while continuing to introduce Abigail Strackmore to the group, then Kincaid. “Seth was kind enough to introduce me to your sister, who shared your situation with me. I think we can help get the word out if you’ll agree to let someone in our group shadow you and keep a real-time web log for our readers—an exclusive.” Kinkaid says, directing his statement at Cadence, she feels a flutter as she looks at first Seth, then this Kincaid. Wow. If she hadn’t been up to her earlobes in issues this might have turned into a night to remember. “I guess Kincaid’s managed to bottom-line what took the three of us all afternoon to formulate.” Seth adds. “So, the only polite thing to do at this point is offer our parched guests a drink.” “Jenna! How ‘bout another round of Ambergris’ house specialty?” Chlöe yells. “Four Red Rashes coming up, Chlöe.” Jenna bellows in their direction. Cadence turning a shade of red to rival their drinks. He’s hot, huh? Chlöe mouths the words to Cady so Seth and Kincaid can’t hear or see her. Cadence doesn’t know which man her sister is referring to since the ‘hot’ guy could be her ex-high school sweetheart. The gorgeous, the studly, Seth, who is in rocking athletic shape from training and adorable in a dangerous, sexy way—if she didn’t know what a doll Seth was from their cumulative experience, she would have been intimidated by his raw sexual energy and toned, almost steely physique, but it was Seth, same cool brilliant green eyes, and wavy, dark hair. They had gotten past that a long time ago time ago. Now she is free to adore him. Seth reaches into his pocket, but Margeaux comes up from behind with Bebe in tow and they accost him simultaneously. “Money Bags, if you’re reaching for a business card you’re out on your ass, got it? Out! No business tonight. At least not your business.” Margeaux growls as the two women take turns hugging him and making more introductions. “Kincaid Griffin, publicity… Abigail Strackmore, press.” Margeaux smiles. “Ah, I see. You’re not fresh meat brought in for our entertainment.” “You’ll have to ignore Margeaux, she’s amoral and has no filter.” Chlöe points out. “Bebe’s married to Max—where is Max anyway?” “More importantly, where’re our drinks? This amoral, no-filter bitch is thirsty.” Margeaux whines. “Jenna’s an actual bartender at an actual bar in Jebreaux called Slow Motion. Embrace the irony.” Cadence laughs, finding her real voice, not the frightened-rabbit version, for the first time since the quartet’s arrival. Chlöe takes Abigail by the arm and steers her toward the central group. “Allow me to introduce you around, Ms. Strackmore.” She begins. “Please, Chlöe, call me Abigail.” Chlöe winks over her shoulder at Bebe, Margeaux, and Kincaid, but Kincaid is preoccupied watching Seth and Cadence drift away from their little cluster. Kincaid uses the time to explore and to take his mind off Cadence and Seth. What he would have given to be brought up on a place like this, unpretentious, quiet, unlike his father—Dr. Cochran’s—River Oaks mansion, or the Tanglewood home the good doctor settled on his mother shortly after their broken engagement. His father’s self-absorption is the single thing that puts him on edge and both of them at cross purposes. Greed and selfishness, cruelty even are standard practice for the man. Kincaid can’t imagine a scenario in which he would forfeit his integrity for a man whose own honesty was for sale. He could love his father, but he doesn’t have to like him, in fact, he has no happy memory of him. There are those who think Kincaid is bitter, or lying, but unfortunately he is accurate in his assessment of his father’s actions over the years they have been acquainted—college graduation onward. He despises the business ethics his father justifies in order to double company’s profits (then triple, and quadruple ). And yet, he will never try to change the man—it is hypocritical to expect his father to respect his life and his interpretation of happiness unless he does likewise. It doesn’t’ bother him that his parents never married, or that his father remained absent for the first twenty years of his life—actually, that isn’t precisely true—he had felt that way until they were introduced for first time by his mother at Kincaid’s college graduation. Once Kincaid understood his father, he understood any other decision would have fucked up his life more than it already was. Kincaid used to tell his mother how lucky he was that she had raised him alone, and that his father had only been involved by default. For that he shows respect, but not cooperation.რA person can’t know whether the acquaintance of today might be the true love of tomorrow; can’t know if turtle doves will land on the branch in the garden and encourage a young woman to take his opportunities where he can. Can’t know if a fountain, which has stopped coursing for years will spontaneously begin to flow—a metaphysical parallel to the surging hormones which need tending—but you can be certain there will always be the promise of love. It isn’t wise to take a chance when it comes to love, anyhow, which hurts much more often than it heals. In fact, it’s best to pray. Best to keep those you love close to you. Best to deal gently with those who have roots tendriled deep into your heart, for uprooting them only tears you both unalterably. Promise women know this; and they also know that to keep from breaking a Promise doesn’t always seem worth the effort, but those who manage to keep from doing so are transformed in ways thought previously unimaginable.რ Kincaid Griffin could have fallen in love with any girl he’d ever dated. Because half the work was already been done for him; each and every one professed her love at some point in their affections for one another. If polled, each of them would insist that their relationship with him was proof positive she was the one. While it is true that Kincaid has been deeply in love when he is dating each lovely woman in his long dating history, he wasn’t in love with any of them. He was deeply in love with whichever new ideal or philosophical concept caught his attention that week; or for that matter, any recently discovered book or art installation. He isn’t a connoisseur but an aesthete, the kind of man Dante Alighieri described as an unbending prophet of justice, and although Kincaid is a mythical quester, searching each day of his life for the divine, unlike most, he manages to find it. When others are depressed by a problem Kincaide is invigorated, sees only the opportunity. While others are despondent and quick to throw in the towel, Kincaid believes he can always make a difference. Life inspires him. Love enraptures him; beauty of every kind holds him in thrall. His passions run pure and true. And now there is Cadence. “Do you mind a brief interrogation, Cadence?” Kincaid asks, turning to face her, looking into her eyes to gauge her reaction to his request. “I assure you, I’ll return her safe and sound.” Kincaid says, now clearly addressing Seth. “Perhaps Cady is willing to give you a tour—we’ll get the full enchilada in the morning, but I’m sure you can find some good background material before then.” Seth replies. How can he blame Kincaid? Who wouldn’t want to take a long walk in the dark fall night with Cady? Seth has given Kinkaid an abbreviated rundown of the sisters, the family, and Cadence’s circumstances—he shared the fact of Seth and Cady’s high school romance. Seth, with Chlöe’s permission has also shared the truth about the financial strain the attorney’s fees are taking on an otherwise profitable business. The company hasn’t suffered, not yet. If anything, the media coverage has brought an influx of inquiries, but that’s likely to turn on them at any minute. If Cady ends up in jail for criminal negligence they will be hard pressed to run the business as it was run before. Too much rests on Cadence presence since she helped evolve the business into a therapy and treatment center. There is no single person that can shoulder that same responsibility, and this has the entire family, extended friends and community included, worried. Her poise, the outer fragility and inner strength and courage, a capacity to steer the business into waters which roil with looting pharmaceutical pirates has caused them much anxiety. Nothing has prepared Kincaid for Cady’s fragility. Watching her he can’t look away, at least not for long. He is struck by the notion that should he look away for long she will splinter into pieces of the finest crystal, millions of brittle shards, all due to his failure. His gaze seems to unsettle her, yet he can’t seem to stop. As he holds her remains looking into her eyes, he finds what he believes must be the only irregularity in her, the asymmetry of a brown speck within the aqua blue iris of one eye, only one, the right side. Twice he has tried to speak to her, a problem he’s never encountered no matter how large the audience, rally, or auditorium. When he finally succeeds, he explains to her in a way which can only be mastered by a true geek, how she lacks sufficient clothing to protect her from mosquitoes. Really, you should change into something more protective. He suggests she change into jeans from the denim shorts she is wearing. Jeans? Are you baked? This gorgeous blonde with legs reaching practically to your waist should cover them up? You don’t deserve her, man. Now you’re not just an astrophysicist, you’re ACTING like an astrophysicist. Kincaid tries to keep his eyes to the area between her shorts and flip flops and from drifting to her gauzy peasant blouse which did little to tamp down thoughts of the rest of her body—Hell, why do women have to torture men like this? He can see the little fuchsia and orange ribbons threaded through the lace of her bra and he can’t help but wonder if her panties match. Shit. He’s now completely inebriated by his proximity to her; he is a goner.Kincaid is immune to intoxication, incapable of drunkenness; on the occasions he has tried to test his limits he’s discovered, to his surprise, that his most vigorous attempts are a failure. Drunken debauchery, apparently, is not to be his gift. When his college sweetheart broke up with him before she left to get her MBA at Arizona State, he knew she had saved him a mountain of suffering—it didn’t take a rocket scientist—which in fact, he was—to realize that when your girlfriend’s new college mascot is a devil, you might be screwed sooner rather than later. He has discovered, however, that the same sensations experienced by those friends who described their drunken escapades to him, are the same, or at least very similar to what he feels when he falls in love each and every time. The problem is that up until now, it’s never been with a woman. So, when his head begins reeling after one sip of whatever wild concoction they hand him to drink on this October night, he is fairly certain it is Cadence affecting him. That or one of their damn herbs. “Let’s sit here for a rest, and watch the moon.” Cadence says. Kincaid gives her a questioning glance after searching the sky unsuccessfully. “Is that supposed to be a joke?” He asks. “New Moon.” She smiles raising an eye brow and dropping into one of the Adirondack chairs, painted white, which appear eerie and ghostlike, a throne for a spectral queen. Cadence’s blonde hair falls around her shoulders in loose curls, a halo? a crown perhaps? He thinks. Kincaid is getting woozy again and sits down a little too fast. “Are you alright?” Cadence asks. “What are those?” He tries changing the subject, pointing to an area at the fortice along the pergola. “I don’t think I’ve seen flowers blooming at night before.” He says. “Moonflowers. They open in the late afternoon, and bloom all night, close up again to nap until after lunch . . . my kind of life.” She replies. The saucer-sized blooms are snow white, the effect is ethereal, ghostly, spectral blossoms that appear suspended in the night air, especially on moonless nights, foliage disappearing into the dark background of the temperate October. “They’re beautiful.” Even Cadence can tell he isn’t referring to the flowers and she is grateful for the darkness which conceals the attraction she is certain must be evident on their faces. Cadence leans over almost upending her chair, and snaps off pieces from several herbs. “Here.” She says, handing him a handful of cuttings. “Smell these, what do you think?” “Strong. Basil? And sage?” “It’ll help your nausea.” “I’m not . . . how did you know I’m . . .?” Kincaid asks. “That’s kind of my job . . . I can tell by the way you keep swallowing and lowering your head. When a person’s claustrophobic or panicky they tend to back up dizzy or nauseous forward, ho . . . or heave . . . if you’ll pardon the pun. And you’re pupils keep dilating. Unless of course you’re high?” The sharp fragrance of lemons and ginger and freshly turned dirt help him maintain his senses. They continue talking and while he explains in detail how they will cover her story, and create an online presence that buzzes the issue, the new viral approach to message dissemination; she shares her greatest concerns, the current lack of a contingency should she somehow be unable to avoid jail. He consoles her by promising his group along with others they work with will create an industrial-strength stink, still. Cadence leads the way through the clusters of revelers gathered in knots beneath the blank, invisible new moon, down the honeysuckle-covered walkway, picking their way carefully back through the pergola, and through the house. “This is where it began. When we moved this house was the only building and even it needed a major renovation, which my mom couldn’t afford the first few years. It could still use a lot of work.” The entire place was a dream to Kincaid, but the sign of short cuts is evident. He guesses everything beside their products will begin to really suffer if they are stretched too far financially with the litigation. Seth found them with their heads bent close together; speaking quietly but with a seriousness that can mean only one topic is under discussion, he hopes. There has been no other love for Seth since Cady. He has wondered if fortune provided a similar fate for her as well. He has dated plenty of women but that magic which only exists when you feel the same thrill in your lover’s absence as you do in their presence has not materialized for him with any other woman since Cady. They seem relieved to see him, and he takes this as much as a sign of hope as that the palpable bond between is just camaraderie. He’s relieved in a way Kincaid is standing between Cady and himself figuratively and literally, or he might be tempted to scoop her off her feet, or whatever it is that heroes are supposed to do these days with heroines. “Did you two improve on our game plan, or are you just avoiding the crowd?” He asks as Cady unwinds a silk scarf the color of lemons, and the two men take stock of each other’s intentions. At another place in time Cady would have realized what was buzzing around her, would have been thrilled by the attentiveness from two men like Seth and Kincaid, but no matter how much she pushes down the fear, it resurfaces to haunt her and washes out all other perception. She leads the two men down the main drive past the fountain to the line of guest houses. The night is so black that the towering pin oaks lining up along each side of the driveway are all but invisible. It’s even darker beneath the bower created by the oaks’ great branches meeting overhead in a twisted net, which is capable of trapping resentment or desire. The flap of bats seeking insects can be heard even over the rushing crash of the wind through the loblolly pines; the only proof of their furry black-brown bodies and leathery wings blending into the dark sky is the periodic swooshing against the trio as they walk in silence. They can feel the temperature beginning to drop on the other side of what is for the moment a refreshing breeze. After showing the men their quarters, and how to locate cold beer, leftover barbeque and fixings, Cady starts to leave realizing the absence of one small creature comfort she would like to leave them with—especially since the chill wind will arrive in the next hour, by midnight at least. She scrabbles in a cupboard until she finds it, double malt whiskey, splashing three glasses, offering the mossy-scented liquid to the men, both of whom sniff deeply before toasting her and throwing it back. “You hoodlums have fun. No. Don’t even try and walk me back—your good manners are on record, and not in question. Breakfast starts at six for the field hands and stops at ten or whenever Charlie gets sick of listening to us women in his kitchen.” Cadence tells them. “If you’re sure you’ll be alright.” Kincaid insists, looking uncomfortable at the thought of her walking back the half mile alone in the dark. “Tell Charlie to double up on the pancakes, I haven’t had a pancake in years.” Seth says, hiding his discomfort much better than his partner in chaos, but then he’s probably had more experience giving people their space since he demands it for himself and of course, he’s had loads more experience with Cady. He knows that sometimes you can help, but usually the best you’re gonna get is a ringside seat.On her way back toward the main house, Cadence takes a detour, walking through the garden by the pond directly in back of the guest houses and in front of the party on the patio, the smell of sandalwood and dried hanks of lemon sage drifting over the lush grounds. Her grandmother’s touch is identifiable in several details here, and also in the smaller individual gardens set in pockets or borders around what the family refers to as The Waterway. Developed and built when they first started turning a decent profit, the five-acre area is set toward the front of the property toward the main county road, the first step in creating a guest area for women and children to ‘disappear’ in safety until they can get on their feet. A pond, a swimming pool, lotus shaped fountain, a water walkway with waterfalls fed by a local spring and a hot tub built to blend with natural rock elements are all part of the plan. This is the most tranquilizing spot she knows. Cadence reclines on one of the Adirondack lounge chairs, threading her hair in two Indian braids and tying them off with a strip of reed, she feels less like an Indian maiden and more like a warrior, or needs to at least. The others think she is going to break apart, but perhaps even foolishly, the closer she gets to her confrontation, the more combatant-like is becoming. She remembers every species of bird she has ever seen in on their land: Ravens, cowbirds, Incan doves, mourning doves, blue jays, pilleated woodpeckers, Texas mockingbirds, chick-a-dees, sage sparrows, too many types of finch to name, owls, even scarlet Tangiers after she installed mulberry, cherry and peach trees, the fruit drawing song birds in droves. The most impressive of all time was a Peregrine Falcon; she hadn’t been able to stop talking about it for days, robins, hawks, nightingales. The ravens followed her spoken commands after only one week, their cadmium-colored eyes blinking with intelligence and humor. And she knows this one thing is true, absolutely true: Not one bird has ever seemed afraid. She has watched as they have taken each day and what they are given with it, trusting only with time and discernment of who to trust by observation and experience. She might appear fragile, but she will be the feather-light bird who soars out of sight, the reed which withstands the ferocity of hurricane-force gales, fiercer winds than the oaks or pecans can survive, winds which would splinter even the rock-hard cypress; and she knows this is possible because she has discovered the secret, one these corporate lawyers and the executives they kow-tow to, stiff-backed, neck ramrod straight. She will bend. When others stand tall assured of their place in the universe, secure in their strength, all the money and power on their side. She will do the one thing they would never dare to dream of—acquiesce—they will see it as a weakness, her unwillingness to fight and claw at their faces, but she knows it will take every ounce of restraint she has in her to bend so she will not break. Cadence will surprise them all. Afterall, she can afford to show humility, what she does each day is grounded in it, the bending, kneeling, listening, attending; these are not power-based, but they are powerful.Bending, Cadence scoops mud from the slicky edge of the pond and swipes it under each eye as a froglet jumps to her knee, taking one look at her war-paint he flies back into the pond with a plop, making Cadence laugh out loud, which is how Chlöe finds her and is almost frightened to death, slapping Cadence fitfully on the arm. “Shit!” She cries. “You wanna give me a fucking heart attack, Cady?” But the look on Chlöe’s face sends Cadence into hysterical fits of laughter. Unable to produce anything more stable than hiccups and arm-waving by way of communication, before long Cady’s laughter in the face of almost certain disaster catches hold of Chlöe as well, and that’s how they reenter the circle of light on the patio amid a smattering of those friends and family still in attendance. “What’s so damn funny?” Bebe demands, but Max slips his arm around his high-school sweetheart and draws her down the path toward their accommodations for the night. No one needs to drive home on this moonless night, a clean slate on which they can begin receiving and drawing their futures. “Abigail—why don’t you come along with us?” Bebe offers. “We’ll kick those assholes out of the best room—which I’m sure Seth has claimed since his manners are for shit.” “It’s alright Bebe. I thought Abigail might like to stay in the downstairs bedroom at the front of the main house.” Lily says, smiling one of her most inviting smiles. “We almost never get real company anymore and those boys . . . well, they’ll just be up to being boys!” Bebe has to admit that sounds about right, but adds, “At least tell her the story about the governor living here forever ago, Lily, and Eisenhower staying here as his guest—make us look more civilized than we look out here in the sticks and all.” Max can’t help himself: “Don’t tell her about the ghosts, though she’ll never get to sleep.” He teases. “Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that . . . Bebe, I guess you better get me to bed.” He winks over his wife’s shoulder. “I think I’ve had too many Red Rashes.” Max concludes. “I’ll give you a Red Rash, get going.” Bebe instructs. “Fine, but once I’m asleep better no one be getting’ me up spectin’ me to go grublin’ through those bushes looking for the noises we all know are just ghosts.” He finishes, now yelling, almost ten yards further down the gravel path. “I appreciate that Ms. Promise, but Mr. Ewing already delivered my luggage to the guest house.” Abigail says settling the matter for good. Lily, Elizabeth, Cady and Chlöe exchange glances. “Suit yourself. It’s our hospitality and your pleasure . . . we’ll see you at breakfast then. The boys can bring you up with them if they get up in time. If not, just head on up.” Cadence invites, with a grin. “Then we’ll start the real tour.” Which bed will she really end up in? They’re already elbowing each other and whispering with good humor, adoring love in all its various and lovely forms—hot sex, romantic hand holding, dreamy glances, promising sidelong looks—there is a time and place for all of it, and as Promises they are honor-bound to propagate and encourage it. Just then Charlie begins trailing slowly twenty paces behind Abigail, trying his best to avoid notice, having prayed for a good, clean getaway and he’s almost made it completely into the dark when he hears Margeaux call out, “Where ya offta, Charlie?” Whereupon the five women break out laughing. “Why ma’am, you know where my bunk . . . I mean, I’m just heading to my bunk in the gatehouse, ma’am.” He replies. It’s almost possible to see a dark flush spreading up his neck from his white work shirt collar, a sight they’ve seen numerous times they’ve made him blush as the gaggle of them sat at the table talking girl’s bullshit while he tried to drown them out humming to himself as he cooked. “’K’ then, Charlie. Night!” Chlöe hollers after him, the chorus of women teasing, “Don’t let the bed bugs bit!” Which is followed by ten more minutes of female yowling.რIt is well past midnight, and the darkness outside is porous, and ready to soak up just about anything including indiscretion, including the syrupy remnants of love. The inky night is slippery; the rising wind coming in from the Panhandle, elusive, and developing a sharp edge. The women are watching from the porch as Sally and Laura, the wives of two of their year-round field hands gather up the remnants of the festivities and discreetly slip home through the crepe myrtle and azaleas marking the boundary of the bunk housing for the foreman and two of his supervisors. Under any other circumstances, the Promises would not allowed anything so undemocratic as having these ladies serve, but there is great competition for the leftovers from any of their parties thanks to Charlie’s cooking. So, it wasn’t surprising when he had just begun to appear every day to cook for them without ever having been asked; a post which eventually extended into a sometime body guard, sentry, and general maintenance guru. And it’s a good thing for the women can’t stomach their own cooking. Give them dandelions and burdock root and they will concoct a cleansing tonic which detoxifies the liver and lymph of even the most decrepit alcoholic. Deliver a bushel basket of wild flag and narcissus in the dead of night and within twenty-four hours you can return to find an opiate replacement for weaning a teenager off crystal meth, Ritlin, crack cocaine or the purest Peruvian blow. But none of them can cook, or bake. If Charlie or Bebe or Margeaux don’t cook, they will scrounge for leftovers or eat cold cereal form a bowl and daydream about Charlie’s grits, gravy, and sausage links, his homemade hash browns, and buttermilk biscuits. Not one of the Promises has ever gained a pound, they can eat until they throw up, but not food prepared by their own hands, which is poison. It made sense in an odd and twisted way since it’s often said that the way to a lover’s heart is through their stomach and the one thing Promises will always be denied is true love. Darkness doesn’t always presage danger. In the deepest night all things are cloaked, the innocent are hidden as well as the sinners; stalkers fail to find their prey, victims are reprieved; and so it is on this night that the women are protected as they gather around Cadence and offer her their protection. It is tomorrow’s bright autumn sunshine which exposes Cadence. She will be accused of a crime not only that she didn’t commit, but that no one else has either: Second-degree murder. Murder by mischance, by accident, killing by lack of courage. There is a voice on the wind which is still rising, but she can’t be certain if the voice is warning her against danger or urging her toward it. Her grandmother Elizabeth emerges from the house with a soft grey shawl, long enough to wrap Cady once from head to toe in order to keep the falling dew from collecting on her; although in the morning her mother Lily will be searching for this very dew, visiting each clump of Lady’s Mantle to collect it because when cradled in the soft-cupped, feathery leaves, dew is transformed into maiden’s tears, and Lily will take the notes used since the Middle Ages and passed down through generations of Promise women, and she will decoct an oil which everyone for miles around knows is the only real preventative for crow’s feet. The women will stay close to Cady all night, they are sisters, in spirit, in love, in danger, in hatred; they are sworn to care for each other above all else. They glance at each other from time to time. What is that? The will ask each other. Angels whisper, but they can hear as well, and they know a curse has been broken ever since Cadence and Chloe’s father died. But believing you’re cursed is the same as being cursed, maybe worse, and so the girls still remain unaware of their lives’ possibility—they settle for another Red Rash, which they have now begun serving in martini glasses without the food coloring which produced the ghastly scarlet. Chlöe has now taken over as her sister’s lady-in-waiting cum bartender, and she brings her another cocktail o white peach juice, pomegranate liquor, and crushed ice—a southern staple, a Texas requirement for any drink except coffee, which in Texas can be served burnt, thick, amended with chicory and copper-tasting but at all times must not be polluted with any additive other than more coffee, which is what the women will be drinking in about an hour when the sun begins to tinge the sky.
Causes Deborah Monahan Supports
American Autoimmune Related Disorders, American Myositis Association, The City of Hope, ASPCA