"Don't pose too much," Eva said. "Yeah, like that." Eva grinned.

Cora tried not to shiver too much, even though she hadn't opened her coat the wind blew right through it. "Is this okay?" she asked.

"Perfect," Eva said. She took a few more snaps of Cora, sometimes calling to her as Cora's mother would to turn this way or that way.

Soon it got too cold for both of them. Cora found it was always colder around this area, probably because of the trees. She flipped through the pictures as fast as she could. "These are great," she said. "You really caught the light in this one."

"Thanks," said Eva. "Now let's get out of here before my fingers fall off."

Minutes later, they were on the train, rattling home.

***

It surprised Cora to find her great-grandmother home. Mariam didn't care if it rained or shined, nothing kept her from being out and about. But today she was in their living room, sitting perfectly still on the couch, with a steamy cup in her hands.

She appeared to be mediating. At least that's what Cora thought at first. The TV hadn't been turned on and there was no jazz music. Cora had heard the crooning of Billie Holiday coming from her room the past few nights. She put her hand on her granny's shoulder and the older woman startled, almost dropping her cup.

"Sorry." Cora took her hand away. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

Mariam smiled. "You didn't frighten me," she said. "I knew you were there."

Cora sat beside her. "What were you thinking about?"

Mariam took a sip of her tea. "Nothing that should concern someone your age," she said. "Trust me."

Cora curled and uncurled her toes. She'd worn flats today and they were still chilled, even with the heat on in the house. Cora pulled a throw pillow onto her lap. Tracing the stitching on it she said, "Granny, can I ask you something?"

"You may," Mariam said. She put her tea down on the coffee table so Cora would have all of her attention.

Cora continued to trace the pattern on the pillow. "Is it normal to feel guilty?"

Mariam laughed, not a cackle, but a laugh in the exact same way she would cackle, tossing back her silver hair. Her laugh was as low and sultry as her voice. "Even the worst of them feels guilty," she said.

Cora picked at thread on the pillow. "Is it normal then to not feel guilty?" She hadn't felt so guilty about Nola and she'd had fun toying with Beau. Would the guilt come crashing in later when she least expected it. Cora hoped not.

Mariam didn't laugh this time. She said, "This is a part of who you are. It's always been. If there's anyone to blame it's your mother. I told her not to get involved with that man. But would she listen to me? No, she wouldn't. She was in love." When she said love she put her hand over her heart.

"My father," Cora said. She stood, the pillow sliding off her lap to the floor. "Is my mother home?"

"She should be in her room." Mariam picked up her tea, blew on it, and took a sip.

Cora gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and left the room. It had become an unspoken rule in the Emerson house not to talk about Cora's father with Stella, unless Stella brought him up herself. Cora had made that mistake once at seven and was about to again.

She knocked on her mother's door. "Can I come in?"

Her mother opened for her, and Cora wafted past her for her bed. She sat, not wanting to waste any time. Her mother, sensing this, started to open and close her dresser drawers as if she might have forgotten Cora's father in one of them. Really, it was her way of prolonging their conversation. It was going to happen whether she liked it or not. Whether she liked it or not, Stella had raised a determined daughter.

"You don't talk about him anymore," Cora said.

"Who?" Stella asked. She didn't face Cora. She kept opening and closing her drawers, as if she were searching for a lost thing.

"My dad," Cora said.

Her mother sighed. Cora saw it in her shoulders. Cora sighed. "Listen, Mom. I'm not here to interrogate you about him. I'm sure you had a good reason for keeping him away. I just want to know something." She began to pick at her nails, worrying away at them.

Stella closed her dresser drawer and sat beside her. "What do you want to know?" she asked with another small sigh. "At the time, I thought I told you all I could."

"I want to know," Cora said. "Was he the one for you?"

Like Beau is for me.

Her mother wrapped her arms around her shoulders, pulling her closer. "I'll tell you now he wasn't. He was just some guy I fell for when I was really young. It's nothing like what's going on with you. You don't have to worry that this guy-Beau-might be like your dad was for me." Stella laughed then. "These days, I wonder if I was actually in love. Either way, there will be others for you. But we will always be here. At least, Mariam will."

Cora relaxed into her mother. "I wish I didn't have such a soft heart," she said.

"You like this guy, don't you?" her mother asked, rubbing her arm.

"He won me a pony," Cora said.

"I'm sure there will be more ponies in your future if you can't have this one," Stella said.

"Why can't I have both?" Cora asked.

"Because you will break his heart," Stella said.

The words "you will break his heart" played back in Cora's head that night and wouldn't stop as she tried to concentrate on her homework. Could he forgive her if she did? Would she be able to forgive herself? And how exactly did you break a heart? Cora knew the answer to that one. Not even the best person came without baggage, and Beau had been distant so many times. She'd have to find his weak spot and...

Use it against him.

She dropped her pen, pushed her chair across the room for her bed, and took up the book he'd given her. She imagined his hands holding them where her hands were.

She needed a new heart and quick.



Hey guys! I know I always say this, but thank you so much for reading this chapter. Your comments and votes mean so much to me. They are inspiring. I do hope you liked this chapter. I know my posting for this story has been sporadic. For that I apologize. I'd love to know what you think so far.

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