01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

I can’t believe the perp got away twice. I adjust the heat in the car to ward off the evening chill, and my stomach grumbles. It’s been a long day, and I’m too exhausted to cook. The Paco’s Loco Tacos sign on my right lures me in. Not for the first time, I wonder if the tacos are crazy, if Paco is crazy, or if we are crazy for buying them. Well, I personally think a touch of crazy is one of the spices of life.

My car seems to have a life of its own when I pull up to Maud’s house. I hadn’t consciously decided to come here, but today just royally sucked, and Maud is my touchstone. The neighborhood is pretty with its modest, well-kept homes and old-growth trees lining the street. A covered front porch sweeps across Maud’s small yellow Cape Cod, offering cool shade and ample breeze in the warm mountain afternoons. Her backyard is contained by a whitewash picket fence. I say contained because it is a tangled, wild land with flowering shrubs overhanging the fence, and wildflowers, grasses, and weeds peeking between the pickets. Snarled, riotous, and overtaken with native species, her backyard looks about to leap the fence and merge with the rest of the great outdoors.

It used to be a wonderland back there until Maud’s husband, William, died two years ago. A glow stone foot path twined around a turtle pond, a bulb garden, and a vegetable patch, all interspersed with beautiful flowering plants and culminating in a wooden bench hanging from an arbor shaded with flowering vines. William built the swing by hand for Maud for their last anniversary. I don’t think Maud has tended the back garden once in these last two years. But the front yard is neat as a pin with a bright bed of mixed zinnia lining the walk. I love the zinnia because they match Maud’s personality—and her hair.

Maud opens the door, true to form in all her wild colored glory. Her hair is bright fuchsia today, cut shoulder length and piled in a bouffant style. It lies around her tiny face like a fluffy, pink cotton candy cloud. She’s wearing a sage green linen tunic and pant set with three long necklaces in a medley of pink crystal. Maud has large, green eyes framed in smile lines and a wide, vivacious grin. She is petite, thin but wiry and full of energy. Today she has a little blush of pink in her cheeks giving her a healthy glow.

I smile and hug her with one arm while handing her the tacos with the other. Maud is my dearest friend. We are like family to each other, now more than ever since William passed. Maud used to visit the orphanage where I grew up to read to us children. The joy her arrival at the orphanage inspired in me knew no bounds. More memories, unbidden and unwanted, take hold of my mind. Painful memories: cruel taunts, violence, unending loneliness. I force these memories away and consider Maud instead. She has always been a bright spot in my days.

Once when I was little, in my naïveté, I asked Maud if she would be my mom. She said she would love to, but she couldn’t on account of William. He believed his job was too dangerous for him to be a father. I didn’t really understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. It seems a huge waste because Maud so wanted a child and I so wanted a mother, but I guess we sort of have each other anyway. I can’t really hate William much because it was his reference letter that helped me get my job just before he passed. I let those bitter feelings slip away. Maud was there every afternoon for me while I was growing up, and now I visit her as much as I can since William is gone. Maud and me, we are quite a pair.

“Blue, come on in.” Maud ushers me into the kitchen. “Do you want some iced tea?”

“I’d love some.” I swing my pack down onto the floor by the kitchen table. This spot gives the best view of the backyard jungle through the sliding glass doors.

As Maud pours a beverage out of her curvy glass pitcher, she informs me, “It has raspberries today with a touch of lemon.”

“Mmm,” I murmur when I taste it. “It’s delicious.” Maud never offers much to eat, thank goodness. Cooking is not in her wheelhouse, but she sure knows her southern beverages.

Maud sets the table and opens up the bag of Paco’s Loco Tacos. I could just refer to them as tacos, but the name is too fun. Maud finally settles down at the table across from me and asks, “So, how has your day been?”

Telling her about the shootout will only scare her. I blow out a deep sigh. “I got a new case today, and when I entered a bar to question someone, I was called an Aberrant. Then on my drive back this way, I passed a crowd of people downtown with signs protesting ‘Aberrations’ and ‘bloodsuckers.’ What do they expect us to do? Are they trying to rile the masses to burn us as Witches like they did before the Red Ages? Have humans always been this prejudiced against the Gifted?”

Wow, I had no idea I had all that bottled up in me. Maybe I need something stronger than tea.

Maud looks sad. “Maybe you need some liquor in that tea?”

I burst out laughing while in the middle of a sip, and it turns into a graceless coughing episode. Maud slaps my back until my throat clears. “I was just thinking that. But no, I’m fine.” Maybe one day I’ll tell her that slapping someone’s back while they cough actually makes it worse. Really, I’ll probably never tell her that.

Maud looks at me with a face dressed in sadness.

“When I was a young girl, it was pretty much as it is now, only not quite so bad. The Dilectus Deo are stirring the pot for a lot of folks. Some Norms have a lot of gall. They use firefly lanterns when they need to see in the dark, and herbal potions and charms, which have long proven superior to medication, but they somehow think they are better than the Gifted. They don’t hesitate to accept a Vampire into the army, but goodness knows one will never be promoted up the ranks. It’s fear, Blue. Even after the Gifted helped protect us during the worst of the Red Ages and the Daylight Vampires saved our butts, many of us Norms are just plain old afraid of any being who is stronger than we are.”

I take another careful sip of tea and ponder this while watching the beads of condensation roll down my glass. Maud is a Norm, but William had been Gifted. They had been a mixed breed couple, so she certainly understands prejudice. The eternal wave of hate never stops.

Finally I say what’s really bothering me, choosing my words carefully. “Maud, you would not believe this poor boy’s body we found. He was Gifted. I can’t give you details, but someone did terrible things to him. I’m hoping I don’t find out this was a hate crime.”

“Ugh,” Maud grunts, throwing her hands in the air. “You are just like William, spending your days mired in the horrors of man.” She shakes her finger at me. “Keep in mind that you see only the worst. There are many good, loving people moving about their lives peacefully who you never run into.”

“I know. Those are the people I’m protecting when I find these murderous idiots. I do it with them in mind.”

“Yes,” Maud says glancing at her patio door, “and speaking of idiots, I need to tell you about my neighbor Harry Pickets.”

“Harry? Isn’t he the widower who lives right across your backyard?”

“He sure is,” Maud confirms as she stands up and stares out her sliding glass doors again. She moves about the kitchen in an agitated manner. The color on her cheeks heightens, making it obvious this is the reason for her healthy glow.

Maud alternates between opening her mouth to talk and pinching it closed, while her eyes shine vibrantly. Finally, the words start spilling out. “Yesterday, out of nowhere, I hear a knock on the door. I had just come home from the salon, you know, and I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

I interject, “Your hair looks lovely today, by the way.”

Maud absently pats her hair as she paces. “Thank you, dear. Anyway, there is this man standing on the porch smiling at me with a wheelbarrow full of gardening tools behind him. I asked him if I could help him. I figured he was a neighbor needing to borrow a tool. He said he worked for Harry. He told me Harry sent him over to see if I wanted work done in my garden.” She throws her arms up in exasperation. “Can you believe that? How insulting. As if I couldn’t manage my own garden if I’d a mind to.”

Maud is nearly rustling up a whirlwind in the kitchen with the rate of her pacing, and I am enthralled by the drama.

“So what did you say?”

Maud stops and covers her mouth as though she’s afraid to say. “I was honestly speechless for a moment. Then I told him very sweetly that I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t need his help. I asked if he could give something to Harry for me to express my gratitude. I gave him my beautician’s card and my coupon for fifty percent off the next haircut.”

I puzzle on this for a minute. “But Maud, Harry is bald, isn’t he?”

Maud smiles her wide, mischievous smile. “Exactly.”

An image rises to my mind of Harry standing at his front door, scratching his bald head with one hand and staring uncertainly at the haircut coupon he holds in the other. “Hairless Harry Pickets,” I chuckle. Maud laughs with me. She laughs so hard she snorts. Then we both laugh until our faces hurt and I’m afraid I might pee my pants.

“Oh Maud,” I say. “You are a jewel, and you shine even brighter than your hair.”

Maud beams as she fluffs her hair. Then she pats my hand before finally opening one of Paco’s Loco Tacos.

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