Karl was especially worried and would insist I needed to go to a doctor. I told him I was fine, that it was just stress and being an older mother instead of a younger one. Ingrid, on the other hand, used my relapses as an excuse to further push me away.
At fifteen she had started modeling for local catalogs and magazines and began to pull in some money. She was gorgeous and she knew it and so did everyone else. Eventually her career picked up speed and she was soon offered a contract with a big modeling agency in New York City. At sixteen she decided to drop out of school and do it.
Now, I say she decided because although Karl and I were her parents and in legal control, we had a hard time saying no to her. We agreed to her following her dream, provided she only went for a year and that I would go along.
Naturally Ingrid balked at the idea. She was adamant that I not be there, convinced I would further embarrass her with my “kooky” ways and that I’d ruin her “best chance at happiness.”
That was the way it was though and Karl had a business to run. He was getting much older too and had hip problems and wasn’t one for long distance traveling.
So despite Ingrid’s protests, I made up my mind to go with her to New York.
She wasn’t the only one who protested, however.
A week before we were set to fly over, I was sitting in the back garden enjoying my last days there in the evening sun with a cup of tea. I felt a familiar chill brush across my skin and knew that I wasn’t alone. Jakob came up behind me and took a seat at the table.
As usual, he hadn’t changed. But I sure had.
“Do you only come every sixteen years or so?” I asked, my hand shaking slightly as it grasped the porcelain cup. I was nervous and excited to see him.
His smile was quick. “I only come when you’re about to embark on something you shouldn’t.”
“Oh really?” I asked wryly and leaned back in my chair. My bones ached a little and I was reminded of how much older I was now, almost 51. “No dropping by just to say hello.”
“You could have said hello to me,” he said, leaning forward on his elbows, the same old white shirt he always wore.
“You told me to not visit, to wait for you first.”
“I said that so you wouldn’t start going into the Thin Veil and attracting attention to yourself. You saw what happened when you came back out. The abilities.”
“Yes,” I said, taking a sip of tea. It had cooled rapidly in his company. “How wonderful it is to make the room shake when I’m angry, how gratifying it is to be harassed by ghosts all day long.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You didn’t warn me!” I hissed at him and a bit of the tea spilled over the side of the cup. The saucer on the table rattled by itself ever so slightly.
I placed the cup down and composed myself. “You didn’t warn me. You brought me to that side knowing that things would get worse for me.”
“You wanted to know the truth and that’s the only way I could tell it to you.”
“I don’t know,” I mused angrily. “I think maybe you were testing me, to see what I was capable of.”
“Perhaps I was curious,” he said fidgeting with this shirt. “But that’s not why I’m here.”
“No, you’re here to warn me about something else, I’m sure. What is it this time, boogie man is coming after me? Perhaps there are some trolls who are going to pay me a visit.”
“Don’t go to New York, Pippa,” he said in a grave voice.
I studied his face, his sincerity. It rankled me to know that whatever he was about to tell me would end up being true.
“And why not?” I asked, too tired to protest.
“Because it will not end well for you. Because Ingrid needs to stay here. And you need someone who loves you, Karl, you need him to protect you from her.”
His words iced my veins. “Protect me from her? What do you know about Ingrid? What is she?”
He raised his red brows. “What is she?”
“She’s not right,” I said awkwardly.
“You’re not right either. Neither of you are. And if you go to New York, she will turn against you and fall in love with a man. She will leave you to your own devices, cast you aside like a sick dog and you will have no one.”
I looked down into the tea and managed a smile. “Oh, but I’ll have you still, won’t I boy. In spirit, of course, till another event threatens my life so.”
“I am being serious here.”
I glanced at him and saw that he was. Still, I shrugged. “I’ve made up my mind and I’m going. I’m doing this for Ingrid you know.”
“Not to see Ludie?”
I gasped even though it was partly acting on my behalf. I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t thought about tracking down Ludie while I was there. “No, not Ludie. This is for my daughter, not for me. I want her to be happy and it sounds like she will be.”
“This is about more than Ingrid. She may not have your abilities but it doesn’t mean her children won’t.”
“Children?” I asked with reluctant interest.
When he didn’t say anything, I continued, feeling more annoyed by his presence by the second. “So now this is about Ingrid marrying some man and bearing me grandchildren that will be cursed with this as I am. What am I supposed to do about that?”
I stood up in a fury, knocking my chair back onto the lawn. “You are giving me too much credit. Too much…power! This is ridiculous, to put this responsibility into my hands. This is Ingrid’s life too and I am not about to ruin it because some guide for the dead thinks my future grandchildren are in danger. This is too much, can’t you see?”
I shook my head and walked away from him, my arms waving at my sides, not caring if anyone in the house was watching. “No, I won’t do it. I won’t manipulate lives around for something that should be beyond my control. If she wants to fall in love let her. Fate has a way of finding people anyway, doesn’t it?”
“You’re right about that one, Pippa,” he said, getting to his feet. “Fate will always find you.”
He walked himself over to the garden gate and disappeared into a faint shimmer that appeared and disappeared in a blink.
He didn’t even say good-bye.
My meeting with Jakob, the uncomfortable predictions he presented me, had me in a funk until my feet touched American soil. Suddenly that was all swept under the rug as I drank in the new country, the hot dog stands, the smell of butter and sweat, the sound of a million cars honking and jackhammers firing away.
New York City was like a tonic to me, and to Ingrid as well. Her face was constantly lit up by the vibrant pulse and life that the streets offered her. I could see the possibilities sink into her brain and I lived through that, that something I had only once, when I was young and Stockholm had been my oyster. My, that felt so very long ago.
Karl was constantly wiring over money into my bank account, so we were able to get Ingrid a small apartment on 53rd street next to a smelly Chinese food restaurant. We spent the first few weeks with me on the pull-out couch, living out of my suitcase, eating Chinese food until we burst. At the time, Ingrid was still very thin and didn’t give too much thought to what she ate, providing she remained the same size. That would soon change however, as the industry got a hold of her. Soon, everything changed.
It started with the modeling. I went with her on a few bookings, just to get the feel for things, but I knew I was making Ingrid uncomfortable and I stopped. It didn’t help that the ghosts were back in large numbers. The city had so many of them, it was overwhelming at times and I had to do everything I could to keep them at bay.
Ingrid got a lot of work and soon she was hanging out with the wrong crowd. They were on drugs, no doubt, skinny little trainwrecks. She began to party, she stopped eating, her weight dropped off and she began to change. Her ability to tolerate me disappeared and one day I came home to find all of my belongings packed. Her boyfriend, Stew or Drew or something, was moving in and I was moving out. I had no say in the matter, either. She was making money now and the rent was pretty much being covered by her earnings.
I knew better than to argue. She was seventeen and unstoppable. I had no power over her, I never really had.
So with an extremely heavy, helpless heart, I let Stew or Drew move in with his ripped jeans and scaly leather jacket and I put myself up into a roach-covered motel until I figured out what to do with myself.
The answer came in the form of a Help Wanted ad in the paper. A family on the upper west side was looking for a nanny to look after their two young boys, aged six and nine, and in exchange the nanny would receive room and board.
I had a fluttery feeling in my stomach about this, like it was a good idea. Being in another family would make me feel safe when I felt very much forgotten and alone. I knew I could have gone back to Sweden, to Karl and perhaps I should have. But even though I couldn’t live with Ingrid, I couldn’t leave her either. I would stay in the city and try and keep an eye on her when I could, be there for her if she should ever need me, as unlikely as it was.
The next day I took a cab from the hotel to the posh surroundings of a neighborhood on the rise and found myself in front of a narrow but tastefully decorated brownstone duplex. This was the home of the O’Shea’s.
It had been a long time since I had a job interview and being in my fifties with a heap of unwanted life experience did nothing to squelch my nerves. I watched the cab drive off with butterflies in my heart and took a deep breath before I climbed the steps of the brownstone.
I rang the doorbell and waited, admiring the good shape of the small porch area they had outside, the relative calm and ease that the eloquent but tightly packed neighborhood gave off.
At first I heard nothing but the echo of the bell, then silence. No children laughing or crying, no stampede of feet. I checked my watch to ensure it was the right time and the right date and just before I pushed the bell again, the door swung open.
On the other side stood a man well over six feet, with the darkest brown eyes I’d ever seen and though he was around my age, his hair was remarkably thick and free from grey hairs. His posture was straight, his clothes neatly pressed and immaculate, and even though he gave me a very winning smile, there was something closed-off and strained about him.
“You must be Pippa,” he said and offered his hand. “I’m Curtis O’Shea.”
His accent was 100% Irish though he worked hard to make it more Americanized. I shook his hand in return and found it firm and quick.
I greeted him and he ushered me inside.
The house was very bare and tidy at the area around the door. There weren’t any signs of children, no shoes or toys scattered about. Even the walls had pastoral scenes of Ireland mixed with modern art, but there were no pictures of the family or a child’s art work proudly displayed.
“Thank you for agreeing to see me so quickly, we only put the ad out yesterday,” he said, walking past me and down the hall. He looked over his shoulder to make sure I was following.
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