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Ripped From the Pages

Excerpt

Ripped From the Pages

"Won't this be fun?" My mother squeezed me with painful enthusiasm. "Two whole months living right next door to each other. You and me. We'll be like best girlfriends."

"Or double homicide victims," my friend Robin muttered in my ear.

Naturally, my mother, who had the ultrasonic hearing ability of a fruit bat, overheard her. "Homicide? No, no. None of that talk." Leaning away from me, she whispered, "Robin, sweetie, we mustn't mock Brooklyn. She can't help finding, you know, dead people."

"Mom, I don't think Robin meant it that way."

"Of course she didn't," Mom said, and winked at Robin.

Robin grinned at me. "I love your mom."

"I do, too," I said, holding back a sigh. Mom had a point, since I did have a disturbing tendency to stumble over dead bodies. She was also right to say that I couldn't help it. It wasn't like I went out in search of them, for Pete's sake. That would be a sickness requiring immediate intervention and possibly a twelve-step program.

Hello, my name is Brooklyn, and I'm a dead-body magnet.

Robin's point was equally valid, too, though. My mother and I could come very close to destroying each other if Mom insisted on being my BFF for the next two months.

Even though she'd raised her children in an atmosphere of peace and love and kindness, there was a limit to how much of her craziness I could take. On the other hand, Mom was an excellent cook and I could barely boil water, so I could definitely see some benefit to hanging around her house. Still, good food couldn't make up for the horror of living in close proximity to a woman whose latest idea of a good time was a therapeutic purging and bloodletting at the new panchakarma clinic over in Glen Ellen.

I focused on that as I poured myself another cup of coffee and added a generous dollop of half and half.

A few months ago, my hunky British ex-MI6 security agent boyfriend, Derek Stone, had purchased the loft apartment next door to mine in San Francisco. We decided to blow out the walls and turn the two lofts into one big home with a spacious office for Derek and a separate living area for visiting relatives and friends. Our reliable builder had promised it would only take two months to get through the worst of the noise and mess, so Derek and I began to plan where we would stay during the renovation. I liked the idea of spending time in Dharma where I'd grown up, but live in my parents' house? For two months? Even though there was plenty of room for us? Never!

"It would be disastrous," I'd concluded.

Derek's look of relief had been profound. "We're in complete agreement as usual, darling."

"Am I being awful? My parents are wonderful people."

"Your parents are delightful," he assured me, "but we need our own space."

"Right. Space." I knew Derek was mainly concerned about me. He'd be spending most weeks in the city and commuting to Sonoma on the weekends. His Pacific Heights office building had two luxury guest apartments on the top floor, one of which would suit him just fine.

I could've stayed there with him, of course, but that would've meant renting studio space at the Covington Library up the hill for my work. This would entail packing up all my bookbinding equipment and supplies, including my various book presses and a few hundred other items of importance to my job. Those small studio spaces in the Covington Library basement, while cheap, were equipped with nothing but a drafting table and two chairs, plus some empty cupboards and counters.

I'm a bookbinder specializing in rare-book restoration, and I was currently working on several important projects that had to be delivered during the time we would be away from home. The original plan of staying with my parents, while less than ideal, would've allowed me access to my former mentor's fully stocked bookbinding studio just down the hill from my parents. Abraham Karastovsky had died more than a year ago, but his daughter, Annie, who lived in his house now, had kept his workshop intact. She'd also given me carte blanche to use it whenever I wanted to.

For weeks, Derek and I had tossed around various possibilities, including renting a place somewhere in the city. That seemed to be the best alternative, but at the last minute, we were given a reprieve that made everyone happy. My parents' next-door neighbors, the Quinlans, generously offered up their gorgeous French-style cottage for our use. They were off to Europe for three months, and we were welcome to live in their home while they were gone.

We offered to pay them rent, but all they required from us was that we take good care of their golden retriever, Maggie, and water their plants. When Mom offered to take care of the plants (knowing my tendency to kill them), it was too good a deal to pass up. I was hopeful that sweet old Maggie and my adorable kitten, Charlie (aka Charlemagne Cupcake Wainwright Stone, a weighty name for something so tiny and cute), would become new best friends.

So last weekend, Derek and little Charlie and I had moved out of our South of Market Street loft and turned it over to our builder, who promised to work his magic for us.

And suddenly we were living in Dharma, next door to my parents, in an adorable two-story, French-style cottage that was both elegant and comfortable. The floor of the wide foyer was paved in old, smooth brick, giving the space a natural, outdoor feeling. The spacious living room was more formal, with hardwood floors covered in thick area rugs and oversized plush furniture in browns and taupes. Rustic wrought-iron chandeliers hung from the rough-hewn beams that crisscrossed the vaulted ceiling. The sage-toned kitchen was spectacular, with a twelve-foot coffered ceiling, pizza oven, and a wide island that provided extra space for food preparation as well as seating for six. Off the kitchen was a small library with built-in bookshelves, a wood-burning fireplace, and two overstuffed leather chairs. I could already picture the two of us sitting there reading books each night by a cozy fire.

And in every room on the ground floor, dark-wood-panelled French doors opened onto an interior patio beautifully landscaped with lush plants and flowers.

Once we were unpacked and exploring the kitchen, Derek and I watched Maggie and Charlie sniff and circle each other for a few minutes. Finally, they seemed to agree that they could live in peace together. At least, I hoped so. Maggie ambled over to her bed and settled herself down on the fluffy surface. Charlie followed right behind her, clambered up and perched directly on Maggie's big paw. Maggie stared at the tiny creature for a long moment and I prepared myself to whisk the cat away. But then Maggie let out a heavy sigh and closed her eyes. Charlie snuggled up against the big dog's soft, warm fur and was asleep several seconds later.

Derek and I exchanged smiles. I had a feeling we would all be very happy here.

And now here I was, sitting in my mother's kitchen on a bright, Monday morning, drinking coffee with Robin and listening as my mother tried to brush past the fact that I did indeed have an alarming tendency to come upon dead bodies in the strangest places. Luckily, that wasn't likely to happen in Dharma anytime soon.

As I watched Mom bustle around her sunny kitchen, I wondered how I'd ever thought I could avoid seeing her every day simply because we weren't together in the same house. Not that I minded visiting with her on a regular basis. I joked about it, of course, but in truth, my mother was great, a true original and a sweet, funny woman with a good heart. All my friends loved her. She was smart and generous. But sometimes . . . well, I worried about her hobbies. She'd been heavily involved in Wicca for a while and recently had been anointed Grand Raven Mistress of her local druidic coven. Some of the spells she had cast had been alarmingly effective. She would try anything once. Lately she'd shown some interest in exorcisms. I didn't know what to expect.

I supposed I didn't have much room to criticize Mom's hobbies, given that my own seemed to revolve around crime scenes.

"Do you want some breakfast before we leave?" I asked Robin. We'd made plans to drive over to the winery this morning to watch them excavate the existing storage cave over by the cabernet vineyards. It would eventually become a large underground tasting room. Cave tastings were the hottest trend in Napa and Sonoma, and our popular Dharma winery was finally jumping on the bandwagon.

Robin pulled out a kitchen chair and sat. "I already had breakfast with Austin. He had to be on-site at seven."

"Derek left the house about that time, too. I thought he'd be driving into the city today, but he decided to hang around to watch the excavation."

"Austin was so excited, he could barely sleep last night." Robin lived with my brother Austin, with whom she had been in love since third grade. She and I had been best friends since then, too, and I loved her as much as any of my three sisters. I didn't get to see her as often as I used to when she was living in San Francisco, but I knew she was blissfully happy with Austin, who supported her sculpting work and was clearly as much in love with her as she was with him.

Austin ran the Dharma winery, and my brother Jackson managed the vineyards. My father did a great job of overseeing the entire operation, thanks to his early experience in the business world. Decades ago he'd turned his back on corporate hell and gone off to follow the Grateful Dead. Ironically, these days, Dad and four other commune members made up the winery's board of directors. He was also part of the town council, but this time around he loved all of that business stuff. It probably helped that Dad had always been remarkably laid back and still was. I sometimes wondered if Mom had cast a mellow spell on him.

I checked the kitchen clock. It was already seven thirty. The cave excavation was scheduled to begin at eight. "I'll just fix myself a quick bowl of cereal, and then we'll go."

Robin glanced at Mom. "Becky, are you coming with us?"

"You girls go on ahead," she said, pulling a large plastic bin of homemade granola down from the cupboard. "I want to put together a basket of herbs and goodies for the cave ceremony. I'll catch up with you later."

"What cave ceremony?" I asked as I poured granola into a bowl and returned the bin to the cupboard.

She looked at me as though I'd failed my third grade spelling test. "Sweetie, we have to bless the new space."

"Oh." I shot Robin a wary glance. "Of course we do."

Robin bumped my shoulder. "You haven't been away so long that you'd forget about the sacred cave ceremony."

"I've been busy," I mumbled. She was teasing me, but still, I should've known that my mother would want to cast a protection spell or a celebration spell to commemorate the groundbreaking of our winery's newest venture.

I could picture Mom doing a spritely interpretive dance to the wine goddess. She would chant bad haiku and sprinkle magic sparkles on the heavy tunneling machines and equipment. It would be amazing, and the heavy equipment would turn our dark storage cave into a large, magical wine tasting space where all would be welcome.

"Oh, sweetie," Mom said, hanging a dish towel on the small rack by the sink. "While you're here, you should go to lunch at the new vegan restaurant on the Lane. They serve a turnip burger that is to die for."

I swallowed cautiously, hoping I didn't lose my breakfast. "I'll be sure to check that out, Mom."

She glanced at me and laughed. "Oh, you should see your face. Do you really think I'd be caught dead eating something so vile?"

"I . . . Okay, you got me." I shook my head and chuckled as I carried my bowl to the sink. "I was trying to remember when you turned vegan."

"I tried it once for a day and a half and vowed, never again. And even then, did I ever serve my children turnips? No, never."

"You're right and I appreciate it. But I haven't seen you in a while. I was afraid maybe you'd turned into Savannah." My sister Savannah was a vegetarian now, but she'd gone through several austere phases to get there, including a few months when she would only eat fruit that had already fallen from the tree.

"No, I was just pulling your leg."

I smiled at her. "You still got it, Mom."

"I sure do." She grabbed me in another hug, and it felt good to hold on to her. "Oh, Brooklyn, I'm so happy you're here."

"So am I."

She gave me one last squeeze, then let me go. As I washed out my cereal bowl, she left the kitchen.

"Let's get going," Robin said after I put my bowl away in the cupboard. "I don't want to miss anything."

"Wait a second, girls," my mother called from her office alcove off the kitchen. She walked out, holding two tiny muslin bags tied with drawstrings, and handed one to each of us. "I want you both to carry one of these in your pocket," she said, her expression deadly serious. "It'll keep you safe."

© Kate Carlisle


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