Early June 1988
Carin jumped. Her bare feet slapped the floor in front of the wingback chair as she bolted up and then jerked backward, tethered to the wall by the phone cord. Mrs. White’s voice prattled into her ear from miles away with her motel gossip, oblivious to the yell piercing the air around her daughter.
“…must have fallen asleep from lack of oxygen, but when I opened the door it flew out at me like a tiger and I thought, Somebody’s rotten food finally came to life…”
Carin no longer heard as she watched, wide-eyed, through the bay window. Aunt Helen dashed out as quickly as her high heels and pencil skirt allowed. Her pale arms waved until she stopped at the back of the moving truck where Rafe struggled, both knees bent and shoulders straining under the heavy end of Aunt Helen’s antique desk. His weight shifted, wobbling, from one foot to another as he corrected his grasp.
“…guess they thought we never cleaned refrigerators…”
Carin held the receiver in front of her face, strangling it, but she still could not make out her aunt’s words through the home’s stone walls and heavy glass—only the fear and worry of her shrill tone. Carin could only see her aunt backing away as Rafe balanced himself with one step backward and lifted the desk straight off the end of the truck. Slowly, slowly his bare back bent as he lowered it onto its side on the heavy blankets spread out on the drive.
“…and threatened to sue because their cat got run over by the produce truck and then it hit the port-o-potties and…”
Aunt Helen really let loose on the boy then. Speaking of cats, what a shriek she made!
“Wait a minute–Mom, the cat hit what?”
“No, the produce truck that ran over the cat. It hit the port-o-potties across the street on the road job. Now everyone’s checking out because of the smell….”
In the driveway, Aunt Helen was so mad she bounced on her toes in those heels.
“…so Jed kept trying to explain how having a cat locked in the mini-fridge violates the no pet policy…”
“Mom…Mom! This jerk Aunt Helen hired to help with the move? Yeah, he almost smashed her desk just now.”
“What?” Her mother abandoned her story for Carin’s juicier one. “Oh, that Rafe boy?”
“Yeah, makes-my-life-a-living-hell Rafe. Why did Aunt Helen have to….” Carin never spoke the question on her mind all week once she watched Helen, mid-lecture, touch her fingertips to Rafe’s muscled, sunburned arm. Rafe, after Helen drew away, reached both arms up behind his head and stretched backward, showing off his broad chest. Trouble was, it also showed his copious pit hair. Ugh. Aunt Helen patted her bleach blond curls with one hand while she shook her finger at the boy.
“Oh my gosh, Mom. You will not believe this.”
“Aunt Helen has got a thing for the moving guy. For Rafe.”
“Hairy armpits and the ice queen?
“I couldn’t make this up.”
Carin watched Rafe bend forward from the hips now, resting his arms on the tailgate and pretending to stretch; was he wearing underwear? Her jaw dropped, Carin saw her aunt move even closer to the boy.
“Oh yuck! I can’t watch!” Carin plunked back into the wingback chair and pulled her feet up under her thighs.
“You’re not going to tell me what they’re doing?” Her mother’s baffled disappointment made Carin laugh.
“He’s so gross, Mom. You don’t want to know.”
“Hmmm, want to bet?” Her mom teased, and Carin knew the silly look that would be on her mother’s face now.
“Ugh, Mom. Anyway,” she glanced around to ensure Aunt Helen’s continued enthrallment, “there’s something I need to ask you.”
“Ok.” Her mom sighed.
Carin knew her mother resented Helen. She reluctantly allowed Carin to take the summer “job” of helping Helen move into Mallace Estate, her recently inherited home. Mrs. White would relish a scandal involving Aunt Helen and a moving boy, but that would have to wait.
“I found something in the attic this morning. Mom, what exactly is my relationship to Aunt Helen?” Moments later Carin wondered if their connection was still good. “Mom?”
“Yeah, honey,” her mother’s voice had changed, “I’m here. Well, you know,” the pauses between her words got long, as when Carin asked about why they only paid cash for things they needed or why they never lived in an apartment of their own, “It’s complicated. It’s easier if you just call her Aunt Helen.”
Her mother used the same line after Helen knocked at the door of their motel room last month and the two women spent an hour talking alone. Carin killed that time in the lobby watching “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” re-runs with Jed.
Now her mother’s voice changed to a low, wavering tone, almost a whisper. “Why, Baby? Tell me what you found.”
Carin noted that her question remained unanswered. She also had no idea how long Helen would be outside. Since both the prim, hawk-eyed woman and the big old house were new to her, Carin did not want to be overheard.
“Okay, Mom. While I was stacking the ice queen’s Christmas stuff in the attic I found some old pictures in an album.” Carin lied just a little: it was really just one picture. The rest of the book was much more interesting than a photo album.
“Carin,” her mother’s voice was serious, “did your Aunt Helen see the pictures?”
“No. She never came into the attic.” Carin waited through another long pause. She knew her mother needed more from her. She peeked over the edge of the chair’s high back to check on her aunt. “Look, Mom, it’s just that, well, one of those pictures looks a lot like me.” Carin grimaced. If she had said, “The only picture in the front of a book of handwritten recipes and journals looks exactly like me, but maybe a hundred years old,” that would have been closer to the truth. Why was she lying?
On the other end of the line, Mrs. White heaved the heaviest sigh Carin had ever heard. Then Carin could not believe her ears.
“Carin, can you take it? The picture book: can you get it and hide it somewhere?”
The screen door banged, and Carin jumped again.
“Car-IN! Get out here and help this boy!”
The receiver rattled to the floor, and Carin retrieved it as she rose, waving to her aunt who stood, arms folded, watching her through narrowed eyes. Something in the blue gleam from underneath those fake lashes gave Carin’s stomach a quiver.
“Mom, um, I’ve got to go.”
“Ok, Baby, I heard. But you listen to me. Don’t let her know about the picture album. Don’t you tell her you found it. Take it. Hide it. And Baby, there’s something you have to know. I’m sorry. I didn’t want it to be like this.”
Aunt Helen’s foot tapped the hardwood planks. Carin tried an innocent, apologetic smile and shrugged, gesturing to the phone. But her “aunt’s” lips pursed as she rolled her eyes. Then she whipped about, ready to stalk from the room in anger, but her too-tight skirt restricted her haughty strides to the stilted shuffle of a geisha. Carin felt under the chair with her feet for her sandals.
“Hey, Mom? I really gotta go.”
“Baby, please listen: whatever you found up there, don’t tell her about it. You understand me? This is important.” There was pain in her mother’s voice, like the time she sprained her ankle when Carin was five but refused to go to the doctor until they reached the next town. “Carin, I have to tell you. Our name’s not really White, honey. It’s Mallace.”
ENTRANCING OPPORTUNITIES BECKON A YOUNG GIRL…
It’s 1987, and 16-year-old Carin White desperately needs her first job. An elegant woman she’s never met appears at her door offering employment. “Aunt” Helen asks Carin to work for her on the family’s rambling, enigmatic estate in the tiny resort town of Eureka Springs.
IN A WORLD WHERE NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS…
Carin enjoys her work and falls in love with the beautiful Mallace Mansion. But a brutal assault forces Carin to confront her own capacity for violence. Carin learns her mother concealed her identity from her, and the mansion hides horrific secrets of its own.
AND ONLY LOVE CAN SAVE HER.
Carin exposes the true reason she was asked to summer on the estate. Will she be strong enough to recognize love and redeem her family legacy? Or will the temptations of power and control lure her to the same dark places where others lost themselves?
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Genre – Young Adult
Rating – PG/PG13
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