Here Among Us by Maggie Harryman (Excerpt)

Chapter Two

Flynn rang the bell and then waited while snow tumbled down through the glaring beam of the overhead light. Footsteps started and stopped on the other side of the imposing mahogany doors and she imagined her sister primping one last time before the hall mirror until Maeve opened the door and the light from the hall’s extravagant crystal chandelier spilled over them. When their eyes met, Flynn was sure she saw her sister’s mouth twitch the way it had when they were children and she was forced to do something she dreaded, then her lips parted to reveal a brilliant, artificially-whitened smile.

“Welcome,” she said, encircling Didi in her arms. “You must be exhausted. Come in.”

Didi let out a howl of delight, forgetting her grief and exhaustion. “Aunt Maeve you look wonderful,” she said, leaving her duffel on the step for Flynn to drag in.

Although Flynn had been hoping Maeve had let herself go in the ensuing three years, become lumpy and misshapen, finally suffering the relentless tug of gravity that would have savaged the perfect tip of her nose into a droopy ball, puffed her hollowed cheeks, caved and circled her wide set eyes with dark shadows, even she had to admit her daughter was right. Maeve hadn’t changed one iota, not aged a day, in years.

Standing in the soft hall light, she was more beautiful, more regal at forty-seven then she had been at thirty. Certainly, she was more self-possessed. No, Maeve’s looks hadn’t faltered with time, appeared concrete and intractable in fact, and once again Flynn was forced to recognize one of life’s most annoying truths—by some freak accident of birth, Maeve had inherited every possible genetic marker for beauty available to the human race and been stunning since just about the day she was born. Reaching 5’9” sometime in her mid-teens and never weighing more than 130 pounds, she had thick honey blonde hair, streaked with shades of red and brown, lime green eyes, their mother’s high cheekbones and perfect aquiline nose and their father’s strong jaw. Maeve’s beauty had eclipsed any woman she ever stood next to and as her plainer sister, Flynn had disappeared into her shadow. The way families do, roles were divinely parsed out; Maeve was the beauty and Osheen, the athlete. With few choices left and a natural affinity, Flynn had carved her own niche in their family as the smart one, even while absorbing two of life’s most facile lessons early on; the sort of exquisite beauty with which Maeve had been blessed was the ultimate prize and gifts allotted at birth were in no way fair. By the time Flynn had reached high school, she’d given up wondering how it was that her parents had created the most talked about beauty for miles around and only four years later produced another daughter who was described by those same Maeve admirers as “pleasant to look at.” Long before high school Flynn had already learned the valuable lesson that in life, fair was rarely part of the equation.

While the entire world bowed to Queen Maeve, there were only two people Flynn had ever known who were unimpressed—Osheen and their mother. Osheen never noticed his older sister was any different from any other girl. As to Oona, whenever someone commented about Maeve’s looks she either remained stubbornly mute, denied them altogether or said, “I suppose God gives us the gifts we need most to get through this awful life.” What the hell did she mean, Flynn often wondered, that Maeve needed her beauty because, God help her, a life of comfort and leisure awaited her?

But then, she’d done the same thing to Flynn, downplaying how easy is was for her to excel in school. Even when Flynn had gotten a near perfect score on her SATs, Oona had asked her high school guidance counselor how a test offered to anyone who could pay the fee to take it could be all that difficult. It wasn’t until years later when Flynn realized this reshaping of reality was Oona’s way of never playing favorites, ensuring, she thought, neither girl would suffer the jealousy that tore sisters apart. It hadn’t worked. For most of their lives, there had been something solid and razor sharp wedged between them that had nothing to do with beauty or intellect. If Maeve had been as plain as a doorknob and Flynn as dumb as a post, they still wouldn’t have gotten along.

But Maeve adored Didi.

“Deirdre, you’ve grown a foot since I saw you last. You’re gorgeous!” Maeve turned her around to face the hall mirror and stood behind her, gently pulling back her shoulders just as their mother had. Flynn wondered if Maeve dared comment on the pierced brow.

“I think…no I know, you’re going to be far prettier than I ever was.”

Flynn watched as Didi tried to smooth the thick mane she generally refused to brush. “Really Aunt Maeve?” she said, still gazing ahead.

“Yes, really. And look at your figure. Do you work out? Tell me you do or I’ll die of jealousy. I have to see you in clothes.”

Flynn watched the smile on her daughter’s face fade. No mention of the nose piercing but a dig at her clothes? This could get interesting. One wrong word about her clothes and enlightened Deirdre would hand Maeve her head.

“Clothes? What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“Absolutely nothing. I love your look. In fact there’s a shop in the Village called Zap that has the most delightful…”

“You know ZAP?” she said. And then, looking to her aunt with a degree of admiration Flynn didn’t think her daughter capable of she asked, “Do you shop there?”

Flynn almost laughed aloud. ZAP sold a mixture of new and used clothing, the more ripped, frayed and generally trashed the better. They didn’t carry cashmere sweater sets.

“I think it’s a little young for me but I can’t wait to take you there. It’s the least I can do to reward you for your brilliance. Your grandmother tells me you’re at the top of your class.”

Didi smiled sweetly, “Oh yeah, I am. In fact, I’m ahead so this year I’m doing independent study. Gives me options,” she said.

Maeve smiled into the mirror. “One can never have enough of those.”

Flynn had finally had enough and interrupted. “We may not have time,” she said, and Didi shot her a look as though surprised she had been followed from the airport.

“Really, mom? We have five days.”

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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – R (Strong language, adult themes)

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