Home > Very Bad Things (Briarcrest Academy #1)(5)

Very Bad Things (Briarcrest Academy #1)(5)
Author: Ilsa Madden-Mills

I nodded, but I didn’t move. It felt wrong to leave her here.

“Yeah,” I said, finally tearing myself away from Nora’s eyes and starting the car. Yet, before I pulled away, something completely insane possessed me, and I kissed my first two fingers and sent the kiss to the lonely girl in the back of a Mercedes.

“My secret hobbies include people watching, composing lists, and knife throwing.”

–Nora Blakely

AUNT PORTIA’S HEAD popped up from behind the pastry case she was cleaning up front. “Nora, sweetie, you want a strawberry cupcake? Or a cinnamon roll? I got plenty left over,” she sang out, trying to tempt me as I sat at a booth inside her bakery, Portia’s Pastries.

“You trying to fatten me up?” I smiled, eyeing the distance between us, not wanting her to see what I’d written in my journal. She would be angry with me if she read my list.

She laughed, brushing her wispy gray hair out of her face. “Just wanna make you happy, that’s all,” she said.

I blinked at her words. Happiness. I believed few people ever achieved it.

But my Aunt Portia has, and if you watch her, like I love to do, you would see it. Right there on her content face when she smiles or hums a song as she works. She even has this peppy little walk, like she’s doing her own version of the jitterbug as she crosses the floor.

I asked her once when I was around fourteen why she was always happy. I mean, she’d never married and, for as long as I’d known her, she’d just been my dad’s sister, the chubby lady who ran the pastry shop where I loved to visit. She replied that happiness is simply collecting and remembering all the good moments in your life, kinda like beads on a necklace.

The analogy struck me. That day, I worked on picturing my own moments, trying to imagine them as these pretty glass beads I’d string onto a gold chain. Yet, here’s the thing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make those beads turn out right in my head. Because my beads were vile pieces of plastic shit that no one would want to wear around their neck.

Because I had no happy moments.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window and cringed at the young girl looking back at me, hating the deceit and secrets I saw on her face. Who was Nora Blakely?

Teachers and tests told me I was smart. My piano instructor said I had talent. Judges said I was pretty. I must be likeable since the students at BA had elected me their class president. And then there was the packaging, carefully designed by Mother so I’d fit in with all the other Parkie girls. She didn’t want people to know what a disappointment I was, so she controlled it by making all my decisions for me. She insisted on my hair being styled by Jerry Lamonte, owner of the top salon in Dallas; she demanded I wear two-hundred-dollar knit shirts from Neiman Marcus; she even chose my accessories and makeup. She dressed me up and paraded me around like a doll.

But no matter what she did, I was still ugly on the inside.

“Nora? Did you hear me?” Aunt Portia said, untying her flour-covered apron and tossing it on the counter. She turned down the soft rock radio station she’d been listening to. “I’ve been talking to you for five minutes, and you haven’t heard a word I said.”

“Sorry. What did you say?”

“That Mila called. She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” she said, laying her cleaning cloth next to the register and glancing around the empty shop.

Yes! Mila was coming. I hadn’t seen my best friend since the night of the incident at BA.

“Okay. I’m going to the back to clean up the dishes,” Aunt Portia sighed.

“Already did them while you were out here,” I said, feeling pleased at her relieved face. I guess, at fifty-three, running her own business was tough, especially when you kept bakery hours, opening at 6:00 a.m. and closing at 6:00 p.m. “And I took the trash out to the dumpster and laid out the pans for tomorrow’s muffins. You’re good to go home if you want. I’ll lock up and come by later.”

She picked out a giant cinnamon roll and came over to my table. “Pretty soon I’ll have to start paying you for all the work you do around here,” she mused, sitting the warm bun down in front of me.

“Just pay me with cupcakes,” I said, closing my journal. “Besides you know this place is my escape.”

She gave me a sympathetic look. “Things any better at home?”

“As well as can be expected. At least my grounding is over,” I said, picking at my fingernails, pushing the cuticles back until it hurt, remembering how I’d been locked in my room for five days straight, without anyone to talk to. “Dad left for a visit to Houston so who knows when he’ll be back. Mother is staying at the station apartment this week and probably next week—and the next.” I glanced up at her. “Looks like I might be staying with you for a while. Mother said it was okay, and you know I hate being alone in that monster of a house.”

She kissed the top of my head. “You can move in with me right now if you want.”

I smirked at her because she and I both knew Mother wanted me living at our fancy Highland Park address. Even if she was never there, I had to be. “If I moved out, people would talk. And then Mother would be angry at me.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I know how she is, but let me know if things get to be too much. Okay?” she said, giving me one last glance as she walked back up front. After a few minutes, she went into the kitchen area, and I knew she’d be there a while, counting down the cash register.

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