All the next day, I couldn’t get Landon’s suggestion out of my head. Landon had always been a pretty sharp crayon, but this certainly was clever. Lincoln thought it was a marvelous idea, so I called Mathilda to run it past her. “Well, that’s a wonderful idea.” Hearing the smile in her voice made me smile.
“Landon will be thrilled you think so, and so am I,” I said. “Now, to find the perfect mirror.”
“I’ll pick you up later this week, and we can go on the hunt. Until then, I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Give Landon a big kiss from me.”
“Oh, I will,” I promised before we ended the call. I sat back in my chair and smiled as images of Mathilda talking with Gunther came to mind. My reaction had been much the same as Landon’s the first time Mathilda had shown me her most prized possession.
As it turned out, Mathihlda and I never took that shopping trip. Life became extremely harried for all of us over the next few weeks. Due to a nasty flu bug, Lincoln’s office was packed with patients, so he worked longer hours than usual. He came home exhausted after making his rounds at the hospital and went right to bed. The next morning, he was back at it. I worried for him, but I knew what it meant to be married to a doctor. I didn’t have much time to stew because my own work occupied much of my time. I was under the crunch of a deadline for my latest book but still had a lot to do before it was finished. .I worked day and night at the computer, stopping only long enough to pick Landon up from school and throw something together for dinner. Landon was in the middle of exams, so he and his best friend, Kyle, spent many an evening holed up in either Landon’s room or Kyle’s as they burned the proverbial midnight oil. Tempers ran short and sharp tongues lashed. Stupid arguments ensued, and for the first and last time in his life, my darling, sweet little boy called me a bitch. I’d been on his case about picking up his room, and it went South from there. “You’re such a cow. I hate you!” he shouted, adding insult to injury. All of us were so worn out that anything could set off an explosion.
For a moment, I just stared at him in shock. Then, I took him by the shoulders and gave him a blazing look. “Don’t you ever let me hear you say anything like that again. You know better. Landon Liam Atherton, you’re grounded for a week. You’re to come straight home after school and do your homework. No TV or video games either. Now, go to your room and think about what you just said.” Landon stalked off without another word, and a minute later, I heard his door slam. I groaned and banged my head against the wall in frustration. I closed my eyes and prayed this all would end soon before we all turned into mindless, jabbering idiots.
I found a little more breathing room after I cranked out the last chapter of my book and sent it to my agent. By then, I was completely spent and could barely put one foot in front of the other. After shutting down my computer, I flopped onto the floor where I started to bawl like an overly tired kid who didn’t want to take a nap.
That was how Landon found me when he came downstairs from finishing his homework. “Ma, what’s the matter?” he asked, his voice raised in alarm. He sat down beside me and stroked my hair. Then, my hand was in his as he bent over me. “Ma, what is it? Are you sick?” Tears traced their way over my temples and into my hair as I blubbered like some psycho woman being carted away in a straightjacket.
When I kept crying and didn’t answer, Landon curled up on the floor and put his arms around me. “Ma, don’t. It’s gonna be OK. I’m sorry I called you a bitch the other night. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry, Ma. I was just so friggin’ pissed.” By then, his head was on my shoulder and he was crying too, his tears wetting the front of my sweater. When I still didn’t answer, his arms tightened around me. “I’m gonna go call Dad and tell him you’re sick, OK?” I knew I scared the poor kid out of his gourd. After all, it’s not often he’d come downstairs to find a gibbering lunatic on the floor.
“No, don’t,” I croaked, circling my own arms around him. I hated the fact that Landon saw me like this and knew I had to pull it together. “I’m just tired. We’ve all been working too hard.” I took a few deep breaths to get myself under at least some control and then heaved myself to a sitting position, pulling Landon with me. I ran the back of my hand over my cheeks and then pulled Landon into my arms. “I’m not crazy, I promise. Well, maybe just a little.” I gave a crooked smile, which made him grin a little.
I cradled his head against my chest as I’d always loved to do when he was little. I sat and rocked with him for a long moment to comfort both him and myself. I’m sure we must have looked like two refugees in search of a place to camp.
“Ma,” he said hesitatingly after a long silence.
“What?” I asked as I leaned my cheek on his head.
“Do you forgive me? I really didn’t mean to call you a bitch. It just came out.” He choked on the last two words, and his shoulders shook with a sob under my hands.
“Of course I do,” I said without hesitation. “We all say things we don’t mean. It’s the people we love the most who we sometimes hurt the worst with nasty words and bad tempers. We have to try to learn from our mistakes and try not to let it happen again if we can help it.”
“I’m such an ass,” Landon said.
“No you’re not, and don’t say ass.”
“Can I say butthead?” he asked.
I snorted with amusement, looked into Landon’s face, laid my forehead against his, and then laughed until my sides ached. My befuddled son just sat there and took it like a trooper. When I was able to breathe properly, his eyes met mine, and he patted my back. “You’re wrong, Ma. You are crazy.”
This set both of us off, and we howled like a couple of beagles on the prowl. By the time we were done, we both lay flat on our backs on the floor and panting. I rubbed my hands over my face and turned my head to grin stupidly at him. “Well then, we’re quite the pair. You’re a butthead and I’m crazy.”
I pulled us both to a standing position, and Landon threw his arms around me in a tight hug. “I really am sorry, Ma.”
I gave him a big kiss and ruffled his hair. “I know you are. No permanent damage done.”
“I guess I’m still grounded,” he said resignedly.
For a brief moment, I considered letting him off but then thought better of it. “Yes, I’m afraid so. There are always consequences to our actions.”
I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t argue. “OK. I guess I deserve it.”
“Well, it’s only for two more days,” I said. “Now then, I guess I’d better get dinner started.”
“What are we having?” he asked.
I looked at my watch and frowned. I didn’t feel like cooking a very large meal. Lincoln usually grabbed a bite to eat at the hospital cafeteria when he had late rounds to do, so tonight it was just Landon and me. “Well, we could have breakfast for dinner like we sometimes do. How does that sound?”
“Only if it’s your French toast.”
“You got it,” I said. “While I’m cooking, you can tell me about your day and how you did on your exams. Whatever happens, I promise not to freak out again.”
Landon grinned as we walked arm in arm to the kitchen. “You won’t need to, but it’s OK if you want to again. Gosh Ma, you really lost it! I’ll have to tell Aunt Christie you beat her in the freak out department this time.”
I giggled as I got out the eggs and bread. “Yes, I’d say The Champ has been dethroned.” I knew all too well how dramatic Christie could be. She’d always get worked up over the slightest thing. “Remember the fiasco at the school cafeteria last year?”
“Oh, yeah!” Landon said. “Kyle found a fingernail in his mashed potatoes, and both you and Aunt Christie freaked. Well, you freaked right after you barfed all over the floor.”
“And I never lived it down” I said, heaving a mock dramatic sigh. “You and Kyle never let me forget.” Kyle was Landon’s best friend and Christie and Doug’s son. Both boys had been chums since they were little and were like Siamese twins most of the time. After Kyle had made his disgusting find, he and Landon wasted no time in letting Doug, Christie, Lincoln, and me know about it. The thought of my son and his best friend ingesting such a gross thing turned my stomach inside out, and up came lunch, breakfast, and the previous day’s dinner. Our two families then got together to discuss a plan of action. I’d seen Christie royally pissed before, but this time, she was ready to breathe fire. We lodged a complaint with both the school’s Superintendent and the Health Department. Then, I wrote a rather unflattering article for the paper. Since then, changes had been made, but Christie and I, as overprotective mothers, still wasn’t buying it. Since then, I made lunches for both Landon and Kyle every day. Landon and Kyle were the envy of their class because they didn’t get ordinary sack lunches. I gave them both hot, satisfying food and performed continuous warming charms on the containers to keep it fresh and hot.
Landon guffawed and then made pretend puking noises. I laughed and playfully brandished my wooden spoon at him. “Watch it, buster, or it’s bread and water for you tonight.”
“Not a chance,” he said, grinning. I fired a mild tickling spell at him, which made him hit the floor and roll around laughing while clutching his ribs. “OK, OK, I give. I give!” he crowed a minute later. Laughing, I released the spell and continued cooking.
After dinner, I tucked Landon into bed and read to him for an extra long time. When he started to get drowsy, I put the book down and kissed him goodnight. “G’night, Ma. I love you.”
“I love you more,” I said, stroking his hair. I sang him to sleep and kissed him before heading to my own room for a quiet read.
Life calmed down a lot after that. The worst of the flu bug had passed, and Lincoln’s work hours returned to a more normal schedule. My new book was in the process of being released, and Landon passed all his classes with all A’s. Summer was upon us and it promised to be a hot one this year.
I was often called to do book signings and speak at writers’ conferences. When they could, Lincoln and Landon accompanied me. Sometimes Mathilda and I would go, and other times all four of us would make a mini vacation of it. Lincoln, Landon, and I were frequently referred to as “The L Train” because of our names. My agent booked quite a few appearances for me, which, for the most part, I happily attended. I was quite famous in both the musical and writing worlds, which meant I had fans. When a person has fans, there are a few rather crazy ones. I’d get some very nice, pleasing fan letters but there was the occasional weird one. We installed a security system and I took a few self-defense classes. Linc and I wanted to make sure our little family remained safe.
Lincoln had a Black Belt in several forms of Martial Arts, so he started training me. I began carrying a can of mace, and Mathilda and I practiced some defensive magic.
Every summer, we’d take a big family vacation a few weeks before Landon began his new school year. Mathilda always came with us because as far as all of us were concerned, she was family. This year, we planned to go to Disneyworld as well as Universal Studios so we could visit the Harry Potter theme park. All of us were bubbling with excitement, especially Landon. It would be his first plane trip. In the past, Mathilda and I just teleported all of us to our destination, but this year, Landon begged me to let us travel like everyone else. Lincoln and I agreed, and Mathilda was a good sport about it. I didn’t’ care for airports nor the hullabaloo of going through security, so I always used teleportation when we needed to travel long distances. However, we didn’t want Landon to seemingly be the only kid to never have flown in a plane, so we sucked it up and got four First Class round trip tickets to Orlando and back to Hidden Springs. It would be a decision I would never forget.
We were to leave the following Tuesday, which didn’t leave us much time to pack. It was a total zoo for almost three days straight until I’d finally had enough and used magic to finish the job. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when everything was organized. All we’d need to do was grab our bags and go when our limo picked us up for the ride to the airport. Things were going according to plan until I got a call on Sunday morning that caused me to curse colorfully in Gaelic.
“No, Mike. We’re leaving for vacation Tuesday. I simply can’t do it” I said to my agent as I held the phone to my ear.
“Lenora, I’m begging you. The keynote speaker for the conference came down with appendicitis and can’t come. I can’t get anyone else. You’re the last resort. Lenora, I wouldn’t ask unless I absolutely had to.” I loved Mike, but at times like this, I loathed him. At any other time, I would have been thrilled to be a keynote speaker and guest lecturer at a writers’ conference, but this time, the timing was the absolute worst.
“Mike, I can’t. My family has been counting on this,” I said firmly. I hated hearing how desperate he sounded, but my family came first.
“What’s going on?” Lincoln mouthed.
“Just a minute, Mike.” I covered the mouthpiece and quickly explained the situation to Lincoln. “Under any other circumstances, I’d do it, but not now.”
Lincoln tapped a forefinger on the table thoughtfully before speaking. “How long is this conference and when would you have to speak?”
“It’s from Monday to Wednesday. I’d be doing a workshop on both Monday and Tuesday and be the keynote speaker at a banquet on Tuesday evening. I could leave after that or Wednesday morning at the latest. So, it’s out of the question.”
“Well, not necessarily,” he said.
“Linc!” I hissed his name. “I can’t be in two places at once.”
“Look. We don’t leave for Florida until Tuesday afternoon. You and Mathilda could…you know…” He mimicked waving a magic wand. “You can go this evening or early tomorrow morning and get settled at the hotel and then do your thing. Then, you both can join Landon and me afterwards. It’s not the way we planned, but we’ll still have plenty of time to spend together since our vacation lasts for ten days. The first day isn’t eventful anyway. It’s just traveling, landing, and heading to the hotel to check in.”
“I don’t know, Linc. It just doesn’t feel right. I’d feel like I was letting you both down,” I said.
“It’s OK, Ma. We know you and Auntie Mathilda don’t like airports anyway. You might as well have some fun and kick some butt. Dad and I will be OK until you and Auntie Mathilda get there.”
“But the hotel,” I replied.
“All taken care of,” Mike said in my ear, obviously overhearing at least part of our harried conversation. “You’d use the suite that was booked for the original speaker. Come on, Lenora. Put a poor guy out of his misery.”
“Aww hell,” I said, flopping into a chair. “Are you sure you guys don’t mind? I’d hate to see a grown agent cry.”
“Darling, we’re OK with it. I promise,” Lincoln said, touching my cheek.
“Sure, Ma. Don’t worry about us. Dad and I will just do guy things. We’ll pig out on pizza, swig down a few beers, belch, fart, puke, and then pass out.” Landon’s voice sounded so serious, and he kept a totally straight face. Only the wicked gleam in his eye gave the humor away.
I gave a squawk of indignation while Mike’s roar of laughter resonated in my ear. Lincoln’s own howl reverberated through the room as I gaped at the two of them. I smacked my forehead with my other hand and looked heavenward. “Linc, my love, what hath we wrought?”
The only answer I received was surround sound laughter from all three of them. “You all are completely insane,” I said before joining in the merriment. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
“OK, Mike, I’m in,” I said when the mirth died down. “You owe me big for this one.”
“You’re a gem, Lenora. Hell, I’ll give you anything you want, even my soul,” Mike said.
“For now, I’ll settle for a drink and a good view. We’ll negotiate terms of payment later. I guess you’d better fax over the itinerary and program schedule.”
When the call ended, I ran a hand through my hair and gave my husband and son a woebegone look. “What’ll we do about the plane tickets Mathilda and I won’t be using?”
“We got insurance, Lenora. Remember?” Lincoln said. “I’m sure we can get at least a partial refund. Don’t worry. Everything will be OK.”
“You’ll have a great time, Ma,” Landon said. “Give ’em hell and kick some ass like you always do.”
I didn’t have the heart to get on him for saying “hell” and “ass.” I figured I owed both Landon and Lincoln big time for being such good sports about the whole thing. I smiled tenderly at both of them and then felt my eyes fill. “You guys are terrific, you know that?”
“Aww, you’re not gonna get mushy, are you?” Landon asked.
“Yes I am. Now get over here and give your Ma a big hug.”
“Aww man!” Landon said. I knew it was just a token protest because, in truth, he loved my hugs. I gave him a huge hug, tickled his ribs, and covered his face with noisy, pecking kisses to make him giggle, then held him close for a long, long moment while indulging in a few mushy, sappy tears. “I love you so much, Landon, forever and ever.”
“I love you too, Ma,” he said, hugging me hard.
“Hey, what about me?” Lincoln asked.
I grinned and flung myself into his strong, loving arms and held on tight. “You’re my heart and soul, Linc. You’re every beat of my heart and my every breath. I love you beyond measure.”
Lincoln studied me as though he were analyzing a work of art, then ever so tenderly brushed the hair from my face. He gave me gentle kisses over my wet cheeks, on my brow, and over my closed eyes. Our lips met in a lingering, loving kiss that made my knees give way. He cradled me against his chest while supporting my weight. “My Lenora,” he whispered into my hair. In that instant, we were the only ones who existed. Everything else melted away as Lincoln’s love washed over me like a warm shower.
When we came back to our senses, we both laughed to see Landon sprawled on the floor pretending to have passed out from sheer disgust. Lincoln set him on his feet and then reached for the phone. “I’ll call Mathilda and let her know about the change of plans while you rustle up some grub,” he told me.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said, heading to the kitchen.
We had a leisurely brunch, which was something we always enjoyed on Sundays as a family. “Well troops, we might as well just enjoy the day before I have to take off later. Do you guys want to take in a movie?”
“Nah. Nothing good is playing right now,” Landon said. “We could just mess around outside.”
We did exactly that. We had fun in the pool, then moved on to the water slide. The water was so refreshing on such a hot day.
Then, Landon played on the swing set while Lincoln and I relaxed by the pool. I called Landon in for his bath when it started to grow dark.
Landon asked me to read him a bedtime story, and we spent an extra long time together. Before he drifted off to sleep, I hugged him close and told him how much I loved him. “I miss you already.”
“I guess you’ll be gone before I wake up in the morning,” he said on a yawn.
“Yep. Auntie Mathilda and I are going to head out very, very early in the morning, and we’ll see you in just a couple short days.”
“Glad I get to sleep in,” he said sleepily. “G’night, Ma. I love you.”
“I love you too, Landon, my angel,” I whispered. “Sweet dreams.”
A much loved thing Lincoln and I loved to do was slow dance. He moved with such grace and vitality, which made me feel as though I was dancing with a divine being. He led me effortlessly across the floor, and we shared some exquisite kisses. After that was some much needed lovemaking and then sleep.
I awoke some hours later to the sound of my alarm clock. I quietly slipped out of bed and headed to the shower. I didn’t want to wake Lincoln. However, when I came back to the bedroom, his side of the bed was empty. I found him in the kitchen making some coffee and scrambling some eggs. “Darling, I didn’t mean to wake you,” I said, going to his side to kiss him.
“I can always tell when you’re not beside me in bed,” he said, snuggling me against his side as he stirred the eggs. “I’m glad I’m awake though. I didn’t want you to leave while I was still asleep. I thought you could use a little breakfast before you and Mathilda hit the road.”
“You’re a wonderful human being and should be nominated for sainthood,” I said, pouring us both huge mugs of coffee.
“Well, I won’t argue with that,” he quipped.
I grinned and was about to make a jokingly snide comment but was interrupted by soft knocking at the door. “Looks like Mathilda’s here. I’ll let her in.”
“Hey, Mathilda,” Lincoln said as I brought her into the kitchen. “Want some coffee and breakfast?”
“Definitely,” Mathilda said. “I cannot believe we’re all up at this unholy hour.”
“Looks like that includes everyone,” Lincoln said as Landon padded down the stairs.
“Hey guys,” he said, yawing and rubbing his eyes.
“Hey yourself. What are you doing up?” I asked.
“I smelled eggs.” He pulled up a chair and smacked himself more awake. “Besides, I didn’t want to miss saying goodbye.”
“Where’s a hug for Auntie Mathilda?” Mathilda asked, opening her arms.
Landon came into them and gave her a big kiss. “Will you bring a present for me when you and Ma get to Florida?”
“You bet,” Mathilda said, ruffling his hair.
“You spoil him,” I laughed.
“Nothing’s too good for my nephy-pooh,” she smiled.
I chortled as I poured a cup of coffee for Mathilda. It still tickled me when she called Landon her nephy-pooh. Mathilda wasn’t what one would call an overly soft woman, but Landon turned her to goo every time. It was rather endearing, but of course, I’d never tell her that.
When breakfast was over, it was time for Mathilda and me to leave. “Now, you two stay out of trouble and no funny business,” I said, shaking my finger at Landon but softening the gesture with a grin.
“Gee, Ma, you’re such an old crone,” he teased me.
“Well, this old crone is your mother, and I always know what hijinks you get up to.” I grinned and pulled him into a tight hug. “Now, don’t be too much trouble for the flight attendants, and mind your manners.”
I smoothed his hair and then kissed and held Lincoln. “I love you both so much, and I’ll miss you madly.”
“We love you too, darling. Now, kick ass and give ’em hell,” Lincoln said, echoing Landon’s words from the day before.
“Oh, you!” I laughed and punched him playfully on the arm. “What would I ever do without you?”
“Well, you won’t have to find out. You’re stuck with us from now till Doomsday. I love you, Lenora.”
I feasted my eyes on them for another few moments before Mathihlda tapped my shoulder. “We’ve got to go, Lenora. Time is money, and Mike better remember that if he knows what’s good for him.”
“I’ll make his life a living hell if he doesn’t,” I said, picking up my purse. We linked arms and blew Lincoln and Landon kisses before snapping our fingers to teleport us to our destination. In that moment, I was completely unaware that my life would soon take a horrible turn I never, ever expected.