Wit’s World: Never Was, Chapter Four
“Em, Pip, look who’s here; it’s Wit,” their mom said as Shade smiled beside her.
“It’s Shade, Mrs. Daring,” he said.
“Shade,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “decided he was in the mood for waffles. Your dad is upstairs but we have extra food made. Do you mind if Shade joins you girls?”
Pip strolled primly to the family table. Em shook her head. She did not look at either Shade or her mother. She took her seat, Pip already eating. Their dad had made Em’s favorite waffle shapes for her: bat wings.
June set a plate in front of Shade as he sat down. He didn’t know what to say about the odd waffle shapes.
“Those are mistakes,” Pip said.
“So, Shade, you’ve been in Europe all this time?” June asked as she sat at a smaller table in the back where she was counting the register. “How’s your mom?”
Em sat still as a statue across from Shade and did not touch her plate.
“She’s good,” Shade said while eating. Em wished, not for the first time, that the news of Shade’s twin sister had been formally announced. Wila had never been in the public eye; for the most part, no one even knew of her existence. Em only found out because Shade had come to her in grief before he left abruptly for Europe. Sometimes she wondered if all her attempts to contact him had been ignored because of that confidence.
“That’s good to hear. But you’re not here just for waffles and chitchat, are you?” their mother asked.
Em stared at her, appalled, but her winking mother was already leaving the kitchen for the rooms above, cash bag in hand.
“No,” Shade admitted, glancing at Em. “I was thinking … want to go to the Tragedy in Death show this Saturday night?”
Em loved Tragedy in Death. The lead singer was an idol of hers, with her long dresses and soprano voice. She would have gone if it hadn’t sold out.
“I have to do this publicity stunt at Amazing World,” Pip said. “But if you give us the tickets I’ll be happy to go with Em.”
“I was asking Em,” Shade said.
“Oh, I know.”
“How about it?” he said. “I could probably swing a backstage pass, too.”
Em closed her eyes.
“I think it’s nice that you want to go with her to this show,” Pip said. “Beats going to clubs in France with that other girl.”
“What girl?” Shade snapped, fed up with Pip’s interference. Pip only pointed to Em with her fork.
“We saw you in the magazines,” Em said. “She was with you in every photo.”
“The gossip rags, Em?” Shade said, laughing. “Doesn’t seem your style.”
“I showed them to her,” Pip said. “So, are you still seeing that girl?”
“It was just parties. You start to see the same people all the time. It didn’t mean anything,” he said, looking directly in Em’s solemn eyes. She looked away. Parties and girls might be the way Shade escaped his loss but Em still couldn’t forgive how he chose to tell her. She rose from the table.
“Telling the truth is smarter,” she told him in a low voice. She left by the stairs.
Em climbed the steps quickly, not wanting her mother to see her upset. The tears were already coming. She knew the magazine stories linking him romantically with other girls were true; the rumors were constant when he was with her, and this had been before what happened to Wila. He never even argued for an open relationship. Shade just cheated.
Once, he had shown her an antique lighter; a craftsman’s piece, long and slender with delicate scroll work and a goddess in relief on its surface. It was unlike the beat-up silver one he usually carried, the one he liked to say best represented him. He handled the antique with care.
“This one’s you,” he had said.
“Really?” Em had said. The piece was beautiful, but if it represented her and the silver lighter was Shade, she wondered about the others in his collection.
“What about the red plastic one? Or the black one?” she had asked.
Shade hadn’t answered, though a dark smile Em had come to dread came to his lips as he lit a cigarette with the goddess lighter.
She wished she had never fallen for a boy who liked to collect girls just like his lighters. Em could not make it to the attic soon enough.
* * *
Shade stood up when Em abruptly left, exasperated that she had eluded him. Pip watched him and when she realized he wasn’t returning to his meal she ate his peas and carrots.
“You’re really serious?” Pip asked.
“Would I be here if I wasn’t?” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair.
“Hmm. I’m thinking about how you never wrote her all that time you were away.”
“Write? Kind of old-fashioned, don’t you think?”
Pip laughed in agreement. “But you know Em. You did get her letter, didn’t you?” By the look on Shade’s face, she knew the answer. She moved for the stairs, carrying Em’s plate. “And never mind that you didn’t call, either. We know you were busy. Going out with teen models.”
* * *
When Pip entered their bedroom, Em was at the dresser table, quietly weeping. She went to Em immediately and put her arms around her.
“I thought I was over this,” Em whispered.
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Pip said. “Auntie would say that a broken heart put back together was still kind of broken, remember?” She wiped Em’s eyes with a tissue, gently dabbing the make-up away. She hugged her again. “I know it hurts.” Em rested her head on her shoulder.
“With him, I feel stupid,” Em said.
“It wasn’t that serious to him. You thought it could be, but who knows with those Wallys! The Carny Man was a trickster. His son Junior was a womanizer. Shade’s mom Winifred had a few scandals herself. Remember that Danish princess?” Pip paused. She took a moment to enjoy that memory. “Anyway, I shouldn’t have encouraged you to go out with him,” she said. “Those Wallys are blue-eyed rakes.
“And what probably hurt the most are all those girls Shade won’t apologize for. Hmm. I wonder if the boys ever cry about me.” Mischievously, she looked at her twin’s tearful reflection in the dresser mirror. Em couldn’t help herself; Pip’s attempt to cheer her up worked, and she made a soft, sad laugh.
When Pip thought Em was feeling better she showed her the plate of waffles and greens.
“Here. Eat your bat wings. Dad even made you a clown,” she said, pushing the plate closer.
“I hate clowns,” Em said, wiping her eyes a final time. She sniffed, but picked up her fork and knife anyway.
“A customer decided he hated clowns, too.”
Em hugged her again.
“About boys, and you,” she said as she ate the clown, “when I saw Ted he was still mad at you, but he apologized.”
“It was my arm he grabbed,” Pip said. “Why did he apologize to you?”
“I help his grades. He needs to be in my good graces if he wants to stay on the football team,” Em said. “As the mayor’s son he needs to do well.”
“Maybe you should have maced him. Then he would be in as much trouble as Todd,” Pip recalled smugly.
“You shouldn’t have gone out with him. Todd hit you.”
“I’d heard he was like that, but I didn’t know for sure. It’s a good thing that when he decided to smack me he did it in front of everybody at the party.”
Em finished what was left on her plate and was just about to ask Pip about Kate when she glanced at her sister in the mirror. She saw something in Pip’s reflection that she had not seen before. She turned quickly.
“You made him do that on purpose,” she softly exclaimed. Pip stared back innocently. “He could have hurt you badly!”
“Could he?” Pip said. “We were at a party. And you were there.” She picked up Em’s empty plate. “You always save me.” She kissed her twin.
Em smiled at Pip’s affection. “Not all the time,” she said. “There was Kate.”
“Ah. Leave it to you to not forget.”
“She looked really hurt.”
“I’m surprised you care. Your circle and hers don’t mix.”
“The way she left this morning,” Em said quietly. “I think I’ve seen that look on my own face.”
Pip sighed. She put down Em’s plate and picked up Aunt Dawn’s silver throwing daggers. They were a gift from the Magnificent Margie, and one had Dawn’s name inscribed on the handle. Several target boards were set up around the room but Pip chose the most direct one to her far right. She threw with her left hand. The knife hit.
“Girls often flirt. Especially from Kate’s circle. It means nothing, really,” Pip explained. She threw again with her left. “And sometimes some of them are curious. We kiss and have fun. That’s about it.”
“I knew that slumber party wasn’t innocent.”
Pip grinned and threw two more daggers. Her aim improved; she hit the bullseye twice. She went to the board, pulled the knives out, and returned to Em. She handed her the daggers.
“But Kate was serious,” Em said.
“I had no idea. Not until you said what you said. So it looks like I have something to talk to Kate about after all. But admit it; aren’t you glad I don’t feel the same about her?”
“I want you to be happy but I am very relieved you’re not serious about Kate,” Em said. She could imagine Thorn, who delighted in baiting the popular crowd, gleefully engaging Kate about dating someone whose sister was a Dark Girl. Em hated social drama. She turned to the dresser.
Using the mirror, Em marked a target board behind her. She turned slightly while still watching the mirror and snapped her arm. The dagger struck the board right on the bullseye.
“Show off,” Pip said, picking up Em’s plate.
When she passed the closet where her Tomorrow Maiden costume hung on the door, Pip touched it fondly. Then she remembered something.
“What’s in here?” she asked, playfully knocking on the darkroom door.
Em stood up, a small smile on her lips. She opened the door and retrieved a paper hung on a clothesline within. She brought it out for Pip to see.
The pinhole image she had developed was of the spot where the Venus Grotto once stood. The long exposure captured the empty space and the partly demolished building. The Grotto appeared as a ghost in the spot it had occupied in life.
“Haunting,” Pip said.
While Em carefully stowed the photo away Pip descended the stairs. The creak of the steps was both familiar and comforting. Her hand passed along worn wood walls with its drawings and framed family photographs. The scents of kitchen, Mom, and even Dad’s soap suddenly became starkly clear. Pip made a resolution: Whatever it took, their home would not end up a ghost in an empty lot.
* * *
When Pip returned to their bedroom, all dishes washed downstairs and no Shade to be seen, Em was at their worktable, her face clear of makeup. She was carefully applying ink to a hand-drawn model sheet of the Waffle Wizard. She delicately delineated the tiny gears of the machine in the window.
“It’s absolutely beautiful!” Pip said over her shoulder. “I can’t wait to build it in the morning.”
“You have to finish your homework in the morning.” Em dipped her pen again. “Much of this shoot can’t make it into the final version of our documentary anyway. There’s too much of Amazing in it and they’re not going to give permission.” She looked at the paper models they had already built of the park. She had intended this project to be a short film of the Waffle Wizard and their family which they would show in the restaurant and even submit for festivals and broadcast. Additional storytelling would cover the illusionist heritage and novelty architecture of Silver City. Em realized too late that though the fantasy park was intertwined with their past, Amazing would never want to be shown as a part of it.
Em looked at the other projects stacked on her table and sighed. Their parents stretched their budgets so that the twins could continue to take classes in the disciplines they loved. Em gave up fencing so that she could have singing lessons. Pip gave up stunt horseback riding so that she could continue with swordplay. It was up to Em to earn enough from tutoring to buy frames for her photographs and watercolors or else she’d never get to hang her work in a show. She decided to let Pip know later that their film would be postponed until she could afford the software to edit it. And then there were Aunt Dawn’s storybooks, the ones Em was illustrating and hoping she could get published.
“But it’s our story. We should tell it how we want,” Pip said, breaking into Em’s musings. “At least let us shoot two versions.”
“If we have time. Homework,” Em reminded.
“I at least want to cut us out,” Pip said, picking up the sheet of finished paper models of her and Em. She admired the contrast of their light and dark figures. When Em didn’t answer, she sighed in resignation and dutifully went to find her school books.
While Pip was studying some science notes she glanced over at her twin, calm and serene in her work, and had an idea. A thoughtful tap to her lip helped her recall lyrics to one of Em’s favorite Tragedy in Death songs.
“Find me,” Pip sang. “Break free, release, and find me.”
Em’s soprano voice smoothly carried the rest of the lyrics, the sound rising sweetly though she did not look up from her work. At any other time, Pip would have harmonized with her, but that night she was content just to hear her twin sing. Pip, satisfied, returned her attention to her books.
* * *
A motorcycle rumbled in the alleyway beside the Waffle Wizard. Shade quickly shut off the engine and marched up to the locked side gate. He easily scaled the wall. He was still irritated with Em. It made him not think properly. He walked up to the locked patio door and reached into his back pocket. He pulled out the Tragedy in Death tickets he should have left behind in the first place. He stuck them into the door frame and then heard Em’s voice in song, drifting down from the twins’ bright attic windows. She sounded unselfconscious and free.
Shade laughed, exasperated. Since he was alone and no one could see him he decided to remain on the stoop and pulled out his battered silver lighter. He lit a cigarette. He finished it after Em sang another song.
Just after midnight, the lights finally went out in the attic of the Waffle Wizard.
(end Chapter Four)
Wit’s World: Never Was ©Elizabeth Watasin 2011
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