Home > Chosen (House of Night #3)(8)

Chosen (House of Night #3)(8)
Author: P. C. Cast


 “I’m sorry,” she said. Then she held her hand out to me. “How about we try this birthday thing again?”

 I put my hand in hers, feeling cautiously hopeful. Maybe there was part of my old mom left inside her. I mean, she’d come alone, without the step-loser, which was pretty darn close to a miracle. I squeezed her hand and smiled. “Sounds good to me.”

 “Well, then, you should open your present and then we can eat cake,” Mom said, sliding over the box that sat next to the as yet untouched cake.

 “Okay!” I tried to keep the enthusiasm in my voice, even though the present was wrapped in paper covered with a grim nativity scene. My smile held until I recognized the white leather cover and gold-tipped pages. With my heart sinking down into my stomach, I turned the book over to read: The Holy Word, People of Faith Edition printed in expensive gold leaf cursive across the cover. Another glittering of excess gold caught my eye. Across the bottom of the cover it read, The Heffer Family. There was a red velvet bookmark with a gold tassel stuck inside the front pages of the book and, trying to buy time so I could think of something to say other than “this is a truly awful present,” I let the pages fall open there. Then I blinked, hoping what I was reading was just a trick of my eyes. No. It was really there. The book had opened to the family-tree page. In the weird back-slanted left-handed writing that I easily recognized as belonging to the step-loser, my mom’s name linda heffer had been penned in. A line had been drawn attaching it to john heffer, with the date of their marriage off to the side. Underneath their names, written in as if we had been born to them, were the names of my brother, my sister, and me.

 Okay, my bio dad, Paul Montgomery, had left us when I was just a kid and had promptly disappeared from the face of the earth. Once in a while a pathetically small child-support check would arrive from him with no return address, but other than those rare instances, he hadn’t been part of our lives in upward of ten years. Yes, he was a crappy dad. But he was my dad, and John Heffer, who seriously hated my guts, was not.

 I looked up from the bogus family tree and into my mom’s eyes. My voice sounded surprisingly steady, calm even, but inside I was a big mess of emotions. “What were you thinking when you decided on this for my birthday present?”

 Mom seemed annoyed at my question. “We were thinking that you’d like to know that you’re still part of this family.”

 “But I’m not. I haven’t been for a long time before I was Marked. You know that and I know that and John knows that.”

 “Your father most certainly does not—”

 I held up my hand to cut her off. “No! John Heffer is not my father. He’s your husband, and that’s all he is. Your choice—not mine. That’s all he’s ever been.” The wound that had been bleeding inside me from the time my mother had walked up broke open and hemorrhaged anger throughout my body. “Here’s the deal, Mom. When you bought my present you were supposed to be picking something you thought I might actually like, not something your husband wanted crammed down my throat.”

 “You don’t know what you’re talking about, young lady,” my mother said. Then she glared at Grandma. “She gets this attitude from you.”

 My grandma raised one silver brow at her daughter and said, “Thank you, Linda, that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

 “Where is he?” I asked my mom.

 “Who?”

 “John. Where is he? You didn’t come here for me. You came here because he wanted you to make me feel bad, and that’s not something he’d miss. So where is he?”

 “I don’t know what you mean.” Her eyes flicked around guiltily, and I knew I’d guessed right.

 I stood up and called down the sidewalk, “John! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

 Sure enough, a man detached himself from one of the stand-up tables that were situated at the opposite end of the sidewalk near the Starbucks entrance. I studied him as he walked up to us, trying to understand what my mother had ever seen in him. He was a totally unspectacular guy. Average height—dark, graying hair—weak chin—narrow shoulders—skinny legs. It wasn’t till you looked in his eyes that you saw anything unusual, and then what was reveled was an unusual absence of warmth. I’d always thought it was weird that such a cold, soulless guy would constantly spout religion.

 He reached our table and started to open his mouth, but before he could speak I tossed my “gift” at him.

 “Keep it. It’s not my family and it’s not my beliefs,” I said, looking him squarely in the eyes.

 “So you’re choosing evil and darkness,” he said.

 “No. I’m choosing a loving goddess who has Marked me as her own and gifted me with special powers. I choose a different way than you. That’s all there is to it.”

 “As I said, you choose evil.” He rested his hand on my mom’s shoulder, like she needed his support to be able to sit there. Mom covered his hand with hers and made sniffling sounds.

 I ignored him and focused on her.

 “Mom, please don’t do this again. If you can accept me, and if you really want to see me, then call and we’ll meet. But pretending you want to see me because John tells you what to do hurts my feelings and isn’t good for either of us.”

 “It is good for a wife to submit unto her husband,” John said.

 I thought about mentioning how chauvinistic and patronizing and just plain wrong that sounded, but instead I decided not to waste my breath and said, “John, go to hell.”

 “I wanted you to turn away from the evil,” Mom said, crying softly.

 My grandma spoke up. Her voice was sad but stern. “Linda, it is unfortunate that you found and then bought completely into a belief system that insists as one of its basic tenants that different means evil.”

 “What your daughter has found is God, no thanks to you,” John snapped.

 “No. My daughter has found you, and it is sad but true that she never liked to think for herself. Now you’re doing her thinking for her. But here’s a little independent thought that Zoey and I would like to leave with you,” Grandma continued speaking as she handed me my lavender plant and first edition of Dracula, and then grabbed my elbow and pulled me to my feet. “This is America, and that means you don’t have the right to think for the rest of us. Linda, I agree with Zoey. If you can find some sense in that head of yours and want to see us because you love us as we are, then give me a call. If not, I don’t want to hear from you again.” Grandma paused and shook her head in disgust at John. “And you, I don’t ever want to hear from again, no matter what.”

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