to run back into the store, the crowd of salivating shoppers hot on his trail.
“I’m not going in there,” I stated firmly, as an old woman elbowed another old woman who had tried to slip in through the doors ahead of her.
“We could always go to the mall,” Jesse said after a moment.
“The mall?” I raised my eyebrows at her incredulously. “You want to go to the mall?” There are a herd of strip malls in the Tri-Cities as well as a factory outlet mall, but when one speaks of “the Mall,” they mean the big one in Kennewick. The one that everyone shopping on Black Friday was planning to hit first.
Jesse laughed. “Seriously, though, Mercy. Five-quart kitchen mixers are on sale, a hundred dollars off. Darryl’s broke when my friends and I made brownies with it. With babysitting money, I have just enough to replace it for Christmas if I can find it for a hundred dollars off. If we get the mixer, I’m okay with calling this experiment finished.” She gave me a rueful look. “I really am okay, Mercy. I know my mother; I was expecting her to cancel. Anyway, it’ll be more fun spending Christmas with Dad and you.”
“Well, if that’s the case,” I said, “why don’t I give you a hundred dollars, and we can skip the mall?”
She shook her head. “Nope. I know you haven’t been part of this family long, so you don’t know all the rules. When you break someone else’s toy, you have to pay for it yourself. To the mall.”
I sighed loudly and pulled out of the frying pan of the Target parking lot and headed toward the fire of the Columbia Center Mall. “Into the breach, then. Against mobs of middle-aged moms and frightening harridans we shall prevail.”
She nodded sharply, raising an invisible sword. “And damned be he—she—who cries, ‘Hold, enough!’ ”
“Misquote Shakespeare in front of Samuel, I dare you,” I told her, and she laughed.
I was new at being a stepmother. It was like walking a tightrope sometimes—a greased tightrope. As much as Jesse and I liked each other, we’d had our moments. Hearing her laugh with genuine cheer made me optimistic about our chances.
The car in front of me stopped suddenly, and I locked up the Rabbit’s brakes. The Rabbit was a relic from my teenage years (long past) that I kept running because I loved it—and because I was a mechanic, and keeping an old, cheap car like the Rabbit running was the best form of advertisement. The brakes worked just fine, and she stopped with room to spare—about four inches of room.
“I’m not the first person to misuse
,” Jesse said, sounding a bit breathless—but then, she didn’t know I’d just redone the brakes last week when I had some time.
I blew out air between my teeth to make a chiding sound as we waited for some cowardly driver a few cars ahead to take the left turn onto the interstate. “The Scottish Play. It’s ‘the Scottish Play.’ You should know better. There are some things you never name out loud, like
, the IRS, and Voldemort. Not if you want to make it to the mall tonight.”
“Oh,” she said, smirking at me. “I only think about that when I’m looking into a mirror and not saying ‘Candyman’ or ‘Bloody Mary.’ ”
“Does your father know what kind of movies you watch?” I asked.
“My father bought me
for my thirteenth birthday. I notice you didn’t ask me who the Candyman was. What kind of movies are
watching, Mercy?” Her voice was a little smug, so I stuck my tongue out at her. I’m a mature stepmom like that.
Traffic near the Kennewick Mall actually wasn’t too bad. All the lanes were bumper-to-bumper, but the speed was pretty normal. I knew from experience that once the silly season got fully under way, a snail would make better time than a car anywhere near the mall.
“Mercy?” Jesse asked.
“Uhm?” I answered, swerving into the next lane over to avoid being hit by a minivan.
“When are you and Dad going to have a baby?”
Chills broke out all over my body. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move—and I hit the SUV in front of me at about thirty miles an hour. I’m pretty sure that the Scottish Play had nothing to do with it.
“It’s my fault,” Jesse said, sitting beside me on the sidewalk next to the mall parking lot shortly thereafter. The flashing lights of various emergency vehicles did interesting things to her canary yellow and orange hair. She was bumping her feet up and down
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