CH. 5: The Girls of Summer

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Much as Mac used to hop the stone wall to sneak out of Freehold, the Wyatt Family's compound outside of Sunshine Beach, she snuck back in the same way. When she used to have the invisibility ring, before she'd given to Gregg for a reason she could no longer fathom, she would just traipse across the vast lawn to her mother's mansion, climb up the drain pipe to her second story room and dip inside a window. But, like Gregg and her ring, those days were long gone.

She wasn't sure how she was gonna make it unnoticed over the fifty yards of perfectly cut grass, but the moment her shell tops the lawn, she knew it wasn't going to be an issue. After all, she heard the music. It started out with a familiar steady bassy EDM kick drum and Mac, knowing everyone in the Wyatt Family would be otherwise occupied, strolled leisurely toward the expansive, ranch-style house.

As she got closer, the kick drum was joined by a snare and high hats and an otherworldly, wobbly synth sound that Mac had always enjoyed about her mother's raves. It took her back. The dancing. The rituals. The communing. Her sister, Josephine used to call what they did, "Staring at the Sun, " cause when you looked into the portal in the worship circle behind the house, you'd see spots. Josie said a lot of fanciful things like that, but now Josie, her younger sister by only a year and her best friend in the whole wide world, was dead. Murdered by the Selfridges.

Mac passed the tall trees to the side of the house and began to see the flashing lights of the ritual that accompanied the music. Her skin popped gooseflesh. Her breath quickened. She felt her heart start to jackrabbit. Four years since you've seen the portal, she thought, and you want to see it again the same night you see your mom. I know, I know, timing is everything. She shook out her arms in her fresh tank top and put a finger to the lip that woman had busted in the bar. Finding neither fresh blood nor much of a bruise, she rolled her neck and exhaled hard. Just remember, you've got nowhere else to go.

She took the final few steps to the back of the mansion and watched the spectacle unfold before her. Large pulsing speakers. Opaque lights, blues and purples and pinks and reds danced from the portal in the ground and her family, naked and sweat-slicked, danced among them. The portal, a hole in the earth nearly twenty feet in diameter spiraled and swirled as they gyrated and shook and shimmed around it. Mac saw her Aunt Astrid, who'd put on thirty pounds since last Mac laid eyes on her, but Astrid could still move. They all could. Aunt Patience, pushing sixty, still moved like a go go dancer in some peep show swing club. Mac's younger cousin, Lucinda, Astrid's daughter, who was just a preteen when Mac got the heave ho, was blossoming at sixteen, her body sprouting in all the right places.

Mac looked from her seclusion and saw Uncle Dave and Uncle Bobby and her step-dad Derek, all swinging and flopping in the breeze. Near them were Derek's adult children, Terrell and Stephanie and Astrid's other kids, Maude and Fisher and Patience's kids, Ellis and Gracie and Clementine. All moved and grooved to the music, circling and spiraling through, in and around the swirling colors emanating from the portal and drawing their power from its depths. The Wyatt family, as Mac's sister Josie had called it, Staring at the Sun.

Mac was just starting to pine for the days when she would do the dance with her relatives when she saw into the center of the ritual and looked upon the ungodly perfect face and body of Tracy Wyatt. Hi, mom. Long time no see.

Tracy wasn't statuesque. Her face held no perfect symmetry. She wasn't devoid of body fat. But, she was perfect. Tracy Wyatt, who wore her age of fifty with the grace and poise of a woman just coming into her sexual prime, shook and rolled her hips and let her arms rise above her long blonde locks. Her feet stepped lithe and cat-like. Her head lolled on her neck. Her eyes were closed but clearly saw everything. God, that woman could dance. It was ethereal and magnetic as the moon is to the tide.

Derek, who wed Tracy ten years ago, and two years after the death of Mac's father, came up behind Tracy and slid a hand around her waist and inched down between her legs. He began to work her slowly, his black hand nestled in her white thighs. She gasped and threw an arm around his neck. The colors brightened and deepened led in intensity. The portal spun quicker, a whirlpool of cosmic energy. Astrid began to deep tongue kiss her husband, David. Patience did likewise with her husband, Bobby. Their kids took no notice. Only the colors mattered. Only the portal. Only the sun into which they stared.

This is a bad idea, Mac thought. Come back tomorrow. When energies aren't so high. When everyone wasn't so caught up. When everything wasn't so, enraptured. She took a step back and was about to disappear into the night when the choice was removed from her.

"Mac! Oh my God!"

She hadn't seen Gwenie amidst the thrall of dancing Wyatts, but her naked little sister was there all right. Now twenty-one, she'd grown into a knockout, not as leggy as Mac, or as tall, but, hippier and delightfully perky. Gwenie bolted across the yard to Mac in a wisp of excitement, her sun-bleached, strawberry blonde hair bouncing with every step. Mac instinctively took a step back but saw the look of open sweetness in her sister's eyes and her open arms and went with it. The two Wyatt sisters, long separated, embraced and pulled the other in close. Mac shut her eyes and exhaled. Gwenie squeezed and began to laugh.

"What're you doing here?" Gwenie asked, pulling herself back but not away.

"Hey, little sister," Mac said. "Missed you."

"But, you're back. How are you-?"

The music stopped. The colors paused midair. Mac looked over Gwenie's shoulder to see her family staring at her. Some held anger in their eyes. Some held fear. And a few, dare Mac think it, held love. As for what her mother thought, Mac couldn't begin to guess.

The Wyatts looked to the head of their family for guidance, but Tracy said nothing. She simply strolled gracefully across the ground until she stood before her eldest daughter.

"Hello, Charlotte."

"Hi, Mom."

"You're back in Sunshine Beach."

"I came home."

Tracy tilted her head back and laughed mirthlessly. Then, she began to walk back to her mansion.

Over her shoulder, without looking back, she said, "The ritual is over for tonight. Mac, go to your room. Come down when you've cleaned up."

Mac looked at Gwenie, searching her big eyes and button nose for reproach, but found only something she hadn't seen from another person in a long time: warm invitation.

"I think she's happy to see you," Gwenie said.

Mac nodded then looked from her sister to the only home she'd ever known.

"Yeah," she said. "That's what I'm afraid of."

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