by Venus Reising
After failing her college classes, Fernanda Beaumont returns to her childhood home in Louisiana to live with her grandmother. Knowing her aversion to the town she grew up in, and now used to her current Manhattan lifestyle, Fern doesn’t believe for one minute that she’ll survive the summer.
The one bright spot may be Shae Williams, the best friend she had to leave when her family moved to the Big Apple back in the third grade. But a lot has changed in ten years. While Fern is studying aquatic biology and gallivanting around Southampton with her friends, Shae is happy serving gator bites to tourists at the local watering hole.
Despite their differences, the two develop a close friendship. Soon they find themselves teaming up to discover if the strange dreams Shae has been having have anything to do with the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl from a neighboring town.
Maybe the sleepy little town Fern grew up in won’t be so bad after all…
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I’ve always loved kaleidoscopes and how, with just one turn, they can create something entirely new—something beautiful. Kaleidoscope is the story of two young women who, after being apart for many years, find something new—something beautiful—in each other."
Lex Kent’s Reviews - If you are a New Adult fan or are looking for a mystery with a different twist, this book may be for you. I was definitely entertained enough that I would read the next book without hesitation.
His voice rose above the cacophony of the distant airboat motors. “You better run little piggy!” A single gunshot punctuated the sentence. She ducked out of instinct or fear, she wasn’t sure which. Judging by the sound, though, he’d shot straight up into the sky from back where he’d started the counting.
Weeds slashed her ankles and shins as she raced for the river. The tall grasses that blended into the canopy of low-hanging tree moss obscured everything beyond just a few feet. Tiny diamonds of sunlight shone intermittently through the thick blades. Her heart leapt into a panic as she mistook each glint for the gold bill of his New Orleans Saints ball cap.
She stopped to catch her breath and strained to hear past the hum of the motors and the blood pounding in her own ears. Sweat stung her eyes. She fought the urge to close them. The fields were silent. Nothing. Had she lost him? Just before relief could take hold, his voice cracked through the still calm like lightning.
“She goes, ‘wee wee, wee,’” he said, “all the way home!”
He was close now. She could hear the barking of the dogs. She pushed harder through the wiry grasses, her hands and knees slipping like eels in the dark, wet dirt.
And then she saw it—a clearing up ahead. Almost there. The mud grew softer and deeper the closer she got. She was slipping. Sliding. Struggling to keep her momentum.
She reached her arm toward her reflection in the water, as if the watery image could grab hold of the real her and swim them both to safety. But the watery her wasn’t her at all. It was a girl in pigtails, less than half her age. The girl stared back at her from the surface—eyes wild, hair a tangle. Before Shae could even process what she was seeing, her dress collar was yanked and she was choking. Coughing. Her fingers helplessly, futilely struggled to free her throat from the fabric tourniquet.
“Gotcha!” His voice sounded giddy and childish, as if it belonged in a game of tag at recess—its inappropriateness both monstrous and disturbing.
With one hand still gripping her collar, he used the other to yank her pigtails, sending the pink, beaded ponytail holder flying like one of those little rubber bands the kids flick from their braces in gym class. Her body crashed against his tree-trunk-size, blue-jeaned thigh. The stench of moonshine, motor oil, and sweat assaulted her nostrils. As she strained to free herself, her hair follicles cried out, and her mind filled with those terrible cinematic images of leathery Indian scalps dangling from saddles like animal pelt trophies—the scalp’s dark hair horrifically animated by the gallop of the horses. One of the dogs snarled at her, its muscular body a tight coil, its teeth menacingly bared. She instinctively squeezed her eyes shut and flinched away from its hot breath and intimidating growl.
“You got it wrong, little piggy,” the man said. “I’m the one to be scared of.” The red handkerchief tied around his nose and mouth jerked up and down with his sardonic laughter.
A woman’s voice spiraled toward her from somewhere else—somewhere above or outside of this place.
“Shae. Wake up, Shae. Wake up.”
She blinked and the grasslands transformed into a quilt of green, yellow, and white-patterned squares. She was in bed—her bed. She drew the cool air-conditioned air in through her nostrils and let it fill her throat, which was, only moments before, too constricted to allow the escape of even the hint of a scream. She surveyed the outline of her sheeted body. She was taller…older.
“You cried out,” her mother said.
Shae reached up and felt her short natural curls with her palms. “I had pigtails.”
“You? No.” Her mother laughed. “Braids maybe, never pigtails.” She was right of course. Shae had never worn her hair in pigtails—too easily caught by the branches of trees she was climbing or yanked by the fingers of boys with whom she was sparring. She’d never been one for dresses either. And definitely never pink. That girl wasn’t her. And yet somehow she was.
“You must’ve had a nightmare.”
“A nightmare,” Shae repeated with the man’s voice still echoing in her ears and the smell of his rank sweat stubbornly clinging to her nostrils. She stretched her right leg out of the sheet to inspect the stinging cuts and scrapes on her ankles and calves. It was pristine. Unmarked. “Must’ve been,” she said.
“I thought for sure you’d be up by now.” Her mother squinted at the absurdly large watch on her wrist.
The night of her father’s funeral two years earlier, Shae had found her mother struggling to use an old pair of gardening sheers to cut an extra hole in the leather strap, her eyes swimming in tears, her fingers trembling. “I just want to…feel him. Near me,” her mother had said, the strength of her voice choking and sputtering like an engine with a clogged carburetor. Shae had felt it too, the gaping hole that had opened in his absence—a hole so large that she expected it to consume the farmhouse like those black holes on the Science Channel that swallowed the stars.
Shae watched the corners of her mother’s lips lift into a half-smile, her gaze still fixed to the compass-size timepiece. She wasn’t reading the time; she was traveling through time, turning its pages back to a chapter before the hole had taken up residence in their home and in their hearts. Shae could almost see her father in his blue overalls with the worn knees, his square chin darkened with scruff and dirt from the fields, laughing his belly laugh that finished in a wheezing cough. Her throat swelled at the memory.
“Isn’t today the day that Fernanda comes home?” her mother asked.
Shae shrugged, as if to say, “Yeah, so?” or, “Oh, yeah? Is today that day? I’d forgotten.”
Of course she hadn’t forgotten. In fact, she’d been counting down the days ever since her mother had shared the news at dinner as nonchalantly as if remarking on the weather. It was right in between asking Shae if she could pass the potatoes and instructing her to bring the old Chrysler Imperial in for a tune-up. “Oh, and that old girlfriend of yours,” she’d said, “She’s coming to spend the summer at Ruby’s.” That old girlfriend of yours.
Shae’s cheeks had immediately heated, her mind filling with the image of a seven-year-old Fern preparing to blow the seeds off a dandelion, her pink lips plumped into a pout and her pretty blue eyes squeezed shut in concentration.
“What’re you wishing for?” she had asked Fern all those years ago.
“I wished I could stay here forever,” Fern had said and leaned into Shae’s arms. Shae remembered how the seeds had caught the light like fairy dust in the perfectly blue and still sky, more perfect than she could ever remember it being since.
But Fern couldn’t stay there forever. The future Fern’s parents had in mind for her was in Manhattan, with its elite private schools and its streets paved with opportunity and promise.
While the Beaumonts and the Williamses had lived close enough for the girls to bike back and forth between each other’s houses, when it came to money, they might as well have been on different continents. Of course, like any third grader, Shae was as oblivious to class barriers as she was to heartbreak. So as she had watched the Beaumonts’ car disappear into the horizon for a final time, she understood none of that. All she knew was that she felt as though she might suffocate under the weight of her own sadness.
“I’ll write,” Fern had promised as she’d tied the friendship bracelet around Shae’s wrist. “Real letters and they’ll go on a great adventure, traveling from state to state until they find their way to you.”
For several weeks, Shae had checked the mailbox religiously, practically mauling the postman before he’d even made it to the neighbor’s property. But there were never any letters—real or otherwise—from Fern.
And now it had been ten years since they’d seen each other, ten years since they’d lain on their backs in the grass tracing pictures in the clouds, ten years since they’d pricked their fingers with safety pins and sworn an oath of friendship in their makeshift fort of scavenged construction site scraps. A lot had changed in ten years. Fern was in college now.
“Studying aquatic biology at Syracuse,” Ruby had told her.
And Shae? Shae was working at the local watering hole and serving a Louisiana delicacy, gator bites, to tourists. She and Fern probably had nothing in common now. It’d be a miracle if Fern even remembered her. But she sure remembered Fern.
“But Grandma doesn’t even have cable!” Fern used her index finger to trace a frown in the misted glass of the car window.
“It’ll be good for you to… Oh, what do they call that?” her mother asked as she rummaged through her purse. Fern knew what she was looking for. If there was such a thing as a gum addiction, her mother had it. A fresh pack opened in the morning was sure to be empty by noon.
“Going off the grid?” her father offered.
“Unplugging, I think,” her mother continued, seeming not to hear him. Fern could hear the crinkling of a gum wrapper. “This is a good opportunity for you to get serious and focus on your studies, Fernanda. You need to get your head back in the game.”
Fern rolled her eyes. Sure she’d partied, but that’s what people do in college. The best years of her life, right? And she would have had a B if that jackass Dr. Summers hadn’t docked her two letter grades for attendance.
“College isn’t cheap, you know,” her mother said. “And there’s almost nothing you can do these days without a college degree. Isn’t that right, Harry?” Without even waiting for a nod of his head, she continued. “It’s about maturity, responsibility, character…”
Fern wasn’t listening anymore. She’d heard the “education is important” speech enough times to recite it by rote. She turned her attention instead to the scenery. An old rusted Chevy truck propped on cinder blocks. The hand-painted sign attached to its windshield read: Hot boiled pee-nuts. Fish. Bait. Pee-nuts? How was she ever going to survive the summer in this Deliverance place?
But she had actually survived there—for nine years. Before Manhattan they’d lived in St. Charles Parish on the banks of the Mississippi, less than twenty miles from the Chevy on the cinder blocks. Her father, a member of a large, residential energy company’s board of directors, had a salary comparable to most university operating budgets. So saying that they lived comfortably was an understatement.
Like the rest of the country, the parish of her childhood was not immune to inequities. The antebellum architecture of the historic mansions, like theirs, was a huge tourist attraction, but a third of parish inhabitants struggled to make do with incomes barely above the poverty line. The filthy rich and the downtrodden were practically neighbors.
When Fern was young, she hadn’t noticed the differences, never once considering why some of her schoolmates had reduced-price lunch tokens and had to borrow clothes for phys ed. She wished that she could not notice now as they passed the fifth abandoned farm, its windows boarded up, and its arid fields the color of decay. An old rusty tractor sat in the center of it all, the headlamps covered by a thick layer of grime, as if it had long ago closed its lids to the wasted potential all around. On the other side of the property’s wire fence, the grass was greener—literally. The neighboring farm was lush and vibrant with rows upon rows of sugarcane plants softly bending in the breeze. And the dormer windows of the large French colonial were positioned such that they seemed to be critically appraising the much less fortunate neighbors with an aloof condescension.
Fern already hated it there and not just because the poverty made her feel guilty for being born into a family that could afford such conveniences as a cleaning service and private chef. Everything was slow here, including the people. When they’d stopped at the general store for a bathroom break, she’d had trouble navigating through the throngs of locals chatting it up with the owner about some new pickled beets recipe. What is it with pickling things in the South anyway? Fern made a face.
“…And the one thing that no one can take away from you,” her mother continued, “is knowledge.” She snapped her gum for effect.
“I know,” Fern mumbled, adding a goatee to the frowning face in the window glass. This was not the summer she had in mind. She’d still packed the cute La Perla bikini she’d bought for the beach parties in the Hamptons. She could at least look good sunbathing. Then again, if there’s no one there but her grandmother to notice, why bother?
Fern hadn’t actually seen her grandmother since they’d left Louisiana. Her father had tried to get Ruby to come to New York for Thanksgiving, but she’d declined, noting what she called, “an allergy to subways, tall buildings and corporate greed.” To be honest, Fern wasn’t looking forward to the reunion.
Her grandmother’s one-story farmhouse looked just like she remembered with the open-ended central hall flanked by two cabins under the same roof, two brick chimneys on either side poking up into the sky like bug antennae.
“What do they call these houses again?” Fern asked.
“Dogtrot,” her dad said as he pulled the car to a stop in the gravel driveway. “Because of the breezeway in the center.”
Her mother deposited her barely chewed gum in a balled-up tissue, dropped it in the console side pocket, and then went looking for another piece. “I think they were called dog run houses,” she said as if she hadn’t heard him.
“That so?” her dad asked, winking at Fern.
As her father maneuvered Fern’s designer Cartier suitcases out of the trunk, the farmhouse’s screen door elicited an angry creak that pulled her gaze to the house and her grandmother. Ruby Beaumont was in her mid-to-late sixties now, which to Fern meant liver spots, Meals on Wheels, and walkers with tennis ball feet. But this woman practically danced down the walkway, the strings of glass beads and shells around her neck noisily clacking against each other with every step.
Before Fern knew what was happening, she was suffocated in her grandmother’s ample bosom, which, to her surprise, smelled more like patchouli than mothballs. The woman had apparently bathed in the stuff, the scent so pungent that it made Fern’s eyes water.
“Little Fernanda,” her grandmother cooed.
“Not so little anymore,” her father said.
“Let me have a look at you,” her grandmother said, taking a step back. “My goddess! You’re stunning.” Goddess?“I bet you’re breaking hearts all over the place!”
Fern shrugged with what she hoped was enough disinterest to warrant a change of subject. To be honest, she wished that were true, not that she wanted to break people’s hearts, but she wished there was someone into her enough to feel heartbroken if she wasn’t interested back.
“Why, the last time I saw you,” Ruby continued, “you were just a little thing, all knees and elbows.” Turning to Fern’s father now, she said, “I’ll never forgive you, Harry, for keeping her away this long.”
He planted a kiss on her cheek. “I missed you too, Momma.”
While her mother and father disappeared down a hallway with the suitcases, Fern was ushered into the kitchen.
“How about some iced tea, dear? It’s a real scorcher today.” Ruby’s head vanished behind the refrigerator door.
Fern glanced at the open windows. The sheer lace curtains lay flat in the oppressive and stagnant heat. “You don’t have air conditioning?”
Her grandmother emerged, pitcher in hand. “The fossil fuels,” she said, her forehead crinkled like an accordion. “With your environmental science studies, I’m sure you—”
“Aquatic biology,” Fern corrected. She didn’t want to be mixed up with those dread-headed, granola crunchers who bragged about their nano-size ecological footprints and made offensive art out of Keurig K-cups. The environuts.
It wasn’t that Fern didn’t care about the environment. She felt the normal twinges of guilt when drinking from plastic water bottles or slipping one of those cardboard sleeves onto her morning Starbucks latte. But she definitely wasn’t fanatical enough to chain herself to a redwood or spend her trust fund on ghee from pasture-raised cows.
It was neither a love of nature nor science that led her to aquatic biology. Ironically enough, she’d chosen her major because it reminded her of the bayou of her childhood. The summer days that she and her best friend had spent in the marshy lakes and wetlands, trying to catch bream, perch, and carp with just their hands, racing turtles on the trails, and swinging like monkeys from tree vines. Those times were special to her because they were filled with a joy and wonder unlike any she’d experienced since. And while she quickly grew to prefer the fast paced, rich culture, and beauty of New York’s graffitied cityscape, a piece of her heart had remained in the Louisiana bayou of her youth.
“Yes, yes, aquatic biology, of course. That’s what I meant,” Ruby said.
“So no central air then?”
Ruby frowned and set a glass in front of her. “Not to worry, dear. I put one of those window units in your bedroom so you’re comfortable.” She poured the tea from the pitcher into Fern’s glass. “And we have plenty of fans.”
Fern glanced at the stovetop percolator that looked like some kind of archeological relic. She’d go into Nespresso withdrawal for sure! She clicked on the Starbucks locator app on her iPhone and waited for the spinning circle to disappear. It didn’t. No Service. Crap.“Are you still offline?”
“You know, do you have Wi-Fi?” Seeing her grandmother’s puzzled look, she added, “For the Internet. I can plug in if it’s an Ethernet connection and—”
“I’m sorry, dear, but I’ve never had a need for all that AOL ‘you’ve got mail’ stuff. Regular mail works just fine.”
AOL?“There’s got to be a Starbucks that has Wi-Fi, though, right? There’s one on every corner.”
“We have Joe’s Newsstand and Coffee.”
No Netflix streaming, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no YouTube, no central air, and no lattes? Could it be any worse? Fern tasted her iced tea and gagged. “Is there sugar?”
“Oh, no, I don’t keep refined white sugar in the house. That stuff will kill you. But I’ll pick up some date sugar next time I’m at the farmer’s market.”
Yep, it can be worse.
Shae could feel the heat of the pavement through the soles of her sneakers as she half-sat and half-stood on the scooter’s seat and watched the Beaumont house from what she hoped was a safe enough distance away to not be seen. What made her stop was the unfamiliar car in the driveway, one of those crossover SUVs that was far too much of a gas-guzzler for Ruby’s conscience. No sign of Fern, though.
When her phone vibrated in her pocket, she knew exactly who it was. Practically everyone she knew preferred texting to calling, everyone except her boss, Desi. The man was so behind the times that they still used handwritten carbon-backed guest checks. She was late for her shift and it was just about the time for their weekly beer delivery. Des was no doubt irritated to be talking to her voice mail while struggling to seat guests, cook the food, serve the dishes, and see to the delivery, all at the same time. Her guilt got the better of her and she pushed the kill switch into the run position. A commotion at the farmhouse stopped her from hitting the start button.
She saw Ruby first and then a middle-age couple with a young blonde in tow. “I know, I know,” the blonde said. “Don’t waste the opportunity. Focus on my studies. Got it.”
She was beautiful, her porcelain skin sun-kissed and dusted with freckles, her blond hair resting in layers on her sexy bare shoulders.
“Mind your grandmother,” Mr. Beaumont said.
“If you promise to bring me a trenta mocha latte on your next visit, I will.”
Shae waited for the car to pull out of the driveway and for the women to disappear into the house before starting the scooter’s engine. Desi was already pissed. Another five minutes wouldn’t change anything, she reasoned, as she turned her scooter into the Beaumont driveway.
“Shae!” A smiling Ruby held the door open with her palm. “What a nice surprise! Come in!”
“I just thought I’d stop and say hi on my way to work.”
“I’m so glad you did! Fernanda is visiting for the summer and she just arrived this afternoon.”
“Oh, yeah? That’s nice.”
“Yes, yes, it is.” Ruby motioned her in. “You two were close when you were kids. I’m sure she’d love to see you.”
“We were really little. She probably doesn’t—” The sight of Fern walking into the living room on those legs that seemed to stretch on forever stopped her mouth and made her heart thrum so fast and hard that she feared Ruby would hear it.
“Hi Fern,” Shae managed through a suddenly dry mouth. “I don’t know if you remember me, but when we were kids…” The words seemed to get lost somewhere in the distance between them. Shae had the inexplicable desire to move closer to find them again.
Fern stared, eyes wide, lips slightly parted. After a beat, she whispered, “Shae?”
Shae nodded dumbly into the silence, which grew more awkward with each passing second.
“Well,” Ruby said, startling Shae. Somehow she’d forgotten that there was anyone there besides Fern and her. “I see you two have some catching up to do. I’ll just get us all some iced tea.”
“Oh, thank you, Ruby, but I can’t stay. I have…” Shae tried to be polite and look at Ruby, but her gaze wouldn’t leave Fern. “…work.”
“It’s really you?” Fern asked.
“It’s been a while, right? How’ve you been, Fern?”
“Good. I’m good.” She smiled, her cheeks noticeably pinker than before. “I’m going to Syracuse, but I’m doing the summer school thing at the community college here.” She rolled her eyes. “What a joke, right?”
Shae nodded even though she didn’t think the community college was a joke at all. In fact, she’d been saving what money she could to enroll there.
“What about you?” Fern asked.
Not knowing what to do with her hands, Shae slid them into the pockets of her jeans. “I skipped college…for now anyway.” She stared at her shoes, embarrassment heating her neck and cheeks.
Confused, Shae looked up.
“You don’t have to waste your summer making up a class you failed because you knew enough to pass it without going,” Fern laughed. “Apparently what matters isn’t what you learn. It’s whether you show up to listen to the professor drone on and on about his cat.”
Shae’s cheeks were beginning to ache from smiling so much. Her pocket vibrated with what she imagined to be an angrier and more insistent message than before. How long have I been here? She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes already?“It’s great to catch up, Fern, but I really have to get going.”
“Where do you work?”
“A hole in the wall actually named Hole in the Wall.” She laughed nervously, trying to hide her embarrassment.
“Does this Hole in the Wall have Wi-Fi?”
“’Fraid not, but we do have darts.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound half bad given that my dream of binge-watching Orange Is the New Black is obviously not going to be realized.” She held up her iPhone. “This might as well be a paperweight.”
“Haven’t met Ruby Rose yet then?”
She shook her head.
“You’re in for a treat.” The confused expression on Fern’s face made her want to reel the words back in. Of course Ruby Rose wouldn’t be a treat for a straight girl like Fern—the girl who, in the photograph attached to Ruby’s refrigerator, was dressed in that sexy, strapless ivory gown. She looked elated to be enclosed in the tuxedoed arms of a tall, handsome surfer-looking boy. “I mean,” she said, “it’s an interesting plot twist.” Interesting plot twist? Do you write for TV Guide, Shae?
“Well, I hope so. I’m getting really bored with Alex. I was hoping Piper would get a new love interest this season…”
Shae barely heard her. She couldn’t help but dwell on the photo—Fern in her prom dress with her handsome boyfriend and his unkempt bangs.
“So, maybe I’ll come by Hole in the Wall later.”
Something like sadness or jealousy bubbled up inside Shae. And before she could stop it, a caustic, “Yeah, whatever,” fell off her tongue.
Fern’s smile dissolved and Shae felt terrible for having been the cause. They hadn’t seen each other since third grade and here she was acting like some kind of jilted lover. And for no reason. Fern didn’t know she’d harbored these feelings for her all these years. How could she? She’d never told her. She didn’t even know she was gay. “I mean, of course I’d love for you to come,” she said and forced a smile.
Fern hesitated and studied her. Shae felt distinctly uncomfortable under her steady gaze and couldn’t help but look away. She focused on the curtains instead.
“Okay then. I’ll bring my dart face.”
“Poker face. No such thing as a dart face.”
“How can you say that when you haven’t seen mine yet?”
Shae laughed. “As cute as ever.” She hadn’t meant to say it aloud. In fact, she didn’t know that she had until she saw Fern’s eyebrows raise in question.
A trickle of sweat slid down Shae’s spine. Her face felt like it was on fire. In fact, her whole body was an inferno. She wiped her damp palms on her jeans. “Well, I really have to run,” she said and turned toward the door.
As she slung her leg over the scooter seat and fumbled with her keys, she heard Fern’s voice from behind her. She wasn’t sure but she thought she heard her say, “I’ve missed you.” When she turned, the door was already closed and Fern was nowhere in sight. Probably imagined it.
Fern was bored and she hadn’t even been there two full hours. Now that she’d finished unpacking her suitcase, hanging her blouses in the closet, and stacking the rest of her clothes in the empty dresser drawers, she wasn’t sure what to do. She was starting to feel claustrophobic. The little room had barely enough space for the twin bed, the dresser, and the single nightstand—let alone her suitcases and books. There was nothing else in the room except for a solitary lamp, an alarm clock that repeatedly flashed twelve o’clock despite it being close to four, and a box of tissues. One window was obscured by an air conditioner unit that seemed incapable of blowing a stream of cool air wider than a popsicle stick. She leaned toward it and felt what little relief she could as the tiny air stream attempted unsuccessfully to lift her bangs off her forehead.
The wood floor creaked under her bare feet, drawing her attention to the silence. So unlike what she was used to. Her dorm was alive with the almost electric hum of voices all speaking at once, the meditative sounds of the hairdryers in the background, the occasional explosive car crashes and gunshots from the lounge’s television speakers, and the slap of ping-pong balls in the rec room. And before college, there had been Manhattan—the car horns, screeching tires, the loud drunken shouts after the bars let out, and the dance music that, from a distance, dissolved into a thrumming bass that pulsed inside her bones. The constant noise was comforting.
She checked her Apple Watch. Four o’clock. The girls would have arrived in Southampton hours ago. Instead of sipping a cappuccino at Sant Ambroeus or trying on cute outfits at Saks, she was stuck in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. Date sugar. Fans. Percolators. She wouldn’t be surprised if her grandmother took their clothes to the river to beat them with wooden sticks and rocks.
She left the claustrophobic little room in search of…anything to do. Framed photographs decorated the hallway. She recognized her father’s chin in a black and white photo of a little boy in a firefighter’s helmet. He was pedaling a tricycle, his face tight with concentration. And then there was her father in a tuxedo, his smiling lips smeared with icing. Her mother, looking beautiful and young, stood at his side, her delicate hands shielding her laughter from his view. Fern couldn’t help but marvel at the joy and love housed in that five-by-seven frame. Her parents had married at nineteen, her age now. The thought made her chest heavy. She wanted the happily ever after. She wanted her very own icing-smeared Prince Charming. While she’d been out on lots of dates, she’d never felt what her mother described as, “the world falling away until there’s nothing but you and him and an unmistakable electricity.” Unless of course electricity meant boredom. She’d definitely felt that. The creak of the floor must have announced her presence because Ruby poked her head out of one of the rooms.
“All unpacked?” she asked, the soft skin around her eyes and lips creasing into deep half-moons.
“Yeah.” Fern forced a smile. “What are you up to?”
“Come and see.”
The room was some sort of studio. A jungle of shelves were filled with old jelly jars and plastic containers of paint tubes and brushes, what looked to be PVC piping of different lengths, and clear bins filled with colorful and shiny things, like pipe cleaners, sequins and rolled felt. Centered below the only window was a worktable covered in strips of mirrored glass and more piping.
“What’s all this?” she asked motioning to the glass.
“I’ve been making kaleidoscopes.” Ruby wiped her hands on a towel. She opened a wooden cupboard and reached inside for one of several shoeboxes stacked on the shelves. She handed the box to her.
Packed inside a foam insert was a tube painted in swirling oranges, yellows, purples, and greens that reminded her of the images of Woodstock she’d seen in her school textbooks. A large metal ornament of colored glass pieces was affixed to its end.
She ran her finger along the ornate copper wiring wound around the piece like ivy. “It’s beautiful.”
“Much more beautiful through the eyepiece.” Ruby pointed to its end.
She pressed the tube to her eye and the world came to life in a pinwheel of colored diamond shapes, an intricate pattern that reminded her of those beautiful bidjar rugs she’d seen in the Indian marketplace bazaar on the Travel Channel. She turned the tube clockwise and watched the diamonds transform into softer, rounder shapes like flower petals—a lotus of sparkling turquoise, emerald, and sapphire gems.
“Just a slight move and the whole world changes,” Ruby said.
With another turn, the flower petals changed into what looked like musical scales.
“It’s magical.” Fern said.
“Oh yes, it is. I think you’ll find that when you change the way you look at something, the thing itself changes.”