They gave me a wicker basket holding my assistant, a company car, a corporate credit card, and a folder with my first assignment. I didn’t bother looking at the folder. Instead I went to see my mother.
My mother has gone through more husbands than Elizabeth Taylor. That sounds like I’m making a big joke of it all, but it’s the truth: she had nine, Taylor seven or eight, depending on how you counted Richard Burton.
A beautiful, fragile woman who looked like she’d walked off an advertisement. I didn’t know how I had never managed to see it before. A beautiful, fragile woman who’d been absolutely unable to step up to the bat and try to take care of me. Instead she’d bounced off to a psych ward and I went to my aunt’s to live.
And all this time, she’d actually been something powerful. Something more than human.
I might have been surprised by it all, but truth be told, the main emotion was not that.
I was seriously pissed off.
Villa Encantada lay on the shore of Lake Sammammish, near the motley of attractions comprising Marymoor Park. Her last husband had set up the trust that kept her there. At least I didn’t have to worry about supporting her in her old age.
I went through the graceful, hushed lobby, a cluster of blue-haired ladies fussing over a tiny dog with more hair than the three of them had between them. In the elevator up the the third floor I studied myself in the brass of the railing, a tiny, frowning Emma Amme.
I’d take it slow. I’d feel her out gently, try to find out how much of what Santa Claus said was true.
Had her supernatural powers helped her snare all those husbands, I wondered. Had the fragile act all been just a sham? It had to have been. And that was what really made me angry, that I’d gone through all those years of school being mocked for having a mom in the looney bin, as they used to say, and worse than that, facing the fear that someday I might meet the same fate.
Which is why all my good intentions fled the minute I saw her face and I blurted out, “When were you going to tell me?”
To do her credit, she didn’t even pretend not to know what I was talking about. She was sitting near the window, curled in an armchair. She looked charming and birdlike and enchanting. She always did. I was pretty sure she had the old codgers here lined up outside her door ready to squire her to the weekly bingo game.
“How did you find out?” she asked.
“Santa Claus,” I said briefly, taking the chair across from her.
An odd expression flitted across her face. A horrible thought entered my mind.
“Dad was my real dad, wasn’t he? I mean, you’re not going to tell me my father is Santa Claus.”
She flinched. “I can see where you’d ask a question like that,” she said, so softly I could barely hear her. “But it’s a mean way to hurt me, Emma.”
“Fair enough,” I said. I looked at her. “But why?”
“Why what? Why did I keep it from you?”
“No,” I said. “Why the mental act?”
She only looked at me. Her blue eyes were clear as violets and brimming with tears.
“I know,” she said in her soft voice, “how you must despise me. But you were raised among them, you understand them. Imagine what it was like, being born full-grown and yet knowing nothing. And to have your entire focus on one aspect of life… you don’t know what it’s like, worrying if everything is clean all the time. It’s a filthy, filthy, germ-ridden world. Can you really blame me from fleeing that? Here things are…antiseptic. Most of the time. It helps.”
I stared at her. “You abandoned me because you were afraid I might have germs?”
“Not might,” she said. “Did. You were crawling with them. Crawling!” She shuddered.
Okay, so my mother was a supernatural. And she was crazy.
“Why did they let you live, Mom? They said they killed off most of the commercial gods.”
She leaned forward, plucking at my sleeve.
“Be careful,” she said.
I caught her hand, light as a bird between my fingers. “Why? What happened, Mom, that they left you alone?”
“Thre were a lot of us,” she said. “Sister products. Lady Lemon for floors, Lady Jasmine for dishes…all the others. And me.”
Her eyes had been dropping as though sleep were tugging her to come away. Now they fluttered open, fastened on my face.
“Lady Sunshine,” she breathed. “And you, my little sunbeam.”
That might have touched me more if I’d ever heard her say it before. She studied her fingers, twisted them around each other as she spoke, like broken things crawling. The lucid light I’d seen in her face when I’d first come in, the one that had convinced me that she really had been faking it all this time, was fading before my eyes.
“Mom,” I said. “They say they’re going to kill you if I don’t work for them.”
I don’t know what I expected. She just stared back at me.
“Did you do one of them a favor?”
She smiled, slyly. “Nicholas,” she said. “I did him a favor, all right.”
“What was it?”
But she retreated again, wouldn’t say anything. My fists clenched in frustration but I forced myself to take a deep breath and stand.
“You’re not staying for lunch?” she said. “They have chicken cacciatore.”