Lily climbed the stairs to the second floor of the house, their living quarters. She peeked into her mother's bedroom—bright with bold splashes of southwest colors. Sombreros dotted the far wall. The room was lively and vivacious, like her mom. Lily glanced in the bathroom with its black and white tiles and glistening white walls that separated her room from her mother's, and then her own bedroom. Quilts covered her bed and decorated one wall. Lace curtains hung at her windows. A flowered, chintz chair nestled in the far corner. Nothing amiss.
She turned to study the living room/kitchen combination with its small, galley kitchen and huge sitting area. Its cluttered, worn furniture and rag rugs comforted her. This space felt warm and inviting. No strange vibes here. She went down the old set of servants' stairs to the work room at the back of the house. No servants these days, only her mom and herself. The room's slanted ceiling was lined with modern lighting, spotlights that reflected off the long, wooden table in the center of the room. Lily frowned. That table was never clean. Fabric usually draped off its ends and patterns covered its center. Stuffing was normally bunched here and there, ready to use. Her mother must have moved everything possible off its surface. What in the world for? They both thrived on clutter.
She glanced at the shelves that lined three walls. Hat boxes and brown, wrapping paper to make patterns sat neatly in their assigned places. Fabrics of all types were stacked on bolts. It was too neat. Too organized. On the third set of shelves, Lily saw several doll heads painted a bronze color with eyes painted a dark brown. Like bark? More Indian dolls in the making. A few of the heads had black yarn hair attached.
She walked to the two stools nestled under the table top. What had her mother been working on? At one corner of the table, there was a pattern for a nurse's uniform next to a photo of a young woman with her cap and pin. Her mother had completed the doll's head and body, but its outfit needed cut out and sewn. Lily glanced from the picture to the replica and once again marveled at her mother's work. This couldn't be the doll that bothered her. It was nearly finished.
In the center of the table was an order form for a "Grandma" doll—not started yet. The picture attached showed a woman with a dandelion fuzz of white hair, glasses perched on an upturned nose, and lips crooked up at the corners. She was holding a bowl in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. Lily looked at the picture more closely. What was the woman stirring? A batch of cookies? Not very scary.
At the opposite corner, there was a photo of a girl in her early twenties. She had long, blond hair that fell to the middle of her back, cornflower blue eyes, and lush lips. Her mother had shaped cold-water putty over crumpled newspapers to form the doll's heart-shaped face, its neck and shoulders. She'd begun to paint the girl's features, but for some reason, had stopped. Unusual. Her mother liked to do all of her painting at one time since it took oil paints a few days to dry. The picture showed a willowy girl in jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt. Her mother had traced a pattern for a lean body with long arms and legs for the doll, but that's as far as she got. Both pairs of her work scissors were on the table—the ones for the paper pattern and the ones for fabric. But nothing was finished. This had to be the one, the doll her mother couldn't work on.
Lily stood still for a moment, trying to absorb the room's atmosphere. Cold. She went to the heating vent and put her hands in front of it. The furnace was pumping out heat, but it wasn't warming this room. There was a row of windows along the back wall. Great for natural light, but maybe not so good after the furnace had been turned on low for close to two weeks.
Lily shrugged and went to the stairs that led to the basement. This was a utilitarian space with cement block walls and a cement floor. The washing machine and dryer were down here, along with the furnace and water heater. Old chairs and worn out suitcases, bushel baskets and seldom used lanterns jostled together with every other item her mother refused to throw away. Nothing. Not even the scurry of a mouse. The house was quiet, too quiet. "I just don't get it," Lily said out loud, more to hear her own voice than for any other reason.
She climbed the steps back to their second-floor apartment and decided to give up the search. Maybe she'd only felt a strange vibe because she was alone and her mother had planted a seed of doubt in her mind. Suddenly tired and hungry after her trip, she went to the cupboards to make herself a quick sandwich and flipped on the stove for a cup of hot tea. She was being silly. She carried her snack into the sitting room and sank onto the overstuffed sofa. As she ate, she looked around the room at the paintings on the wall—all by local artists due to a friendly bartering system that traded one person's art for another's. Then she looked at the few dolls that she and her mother kept for themselves. One of them was a replica of her when she was a young girl. Anyone who looked at it commented on how much it looked like Princess Tiger Lily from the old Peter Pan movie. Lily sighed. She had the same dark hair and mocha coloring as a damned animated movie character, so her mother had named her after her. How lucky could a girl get!
The burst of aggravation drained her last reserve of energy. She rinsed her dishes and left them in the sink, then padded to her bedroom. She flipped open her cell phone and called her mom. She was sent directly to voice mail. Her poor mom must be wiped out and asleep by now. "Mom, I'm safe and sound at home. Just wanted to let you know. Hang in there, and I love ya." Her mom might be too tired to worry about her now, but she'd worry about her when she woke up in the morning. This should put her mind at ease.
Looking out her room's north window, she saw that Woodrow and Jackson's house was dark except for the window opposite hers. Woodrow's bedroom. He was still awake. Was he carving quietly in his room? Reading? Feeling like a voyeur, she moved closer for a better peek. It wouldn't be the first time. And some peeks were better than others. She pulled back the lace curtain and electricity raced through her when she saw Woodrow framed behind the glass of his window, staring back at her. Feeling stupid, she gave a weak wave. His dark brows furrowed together, and he turned his back. Soon, his lights went out.
Lily dropped her curtain and stripped out of her clothes and pulled on her pajamas. The bed was cold. She tried not to move until the sheets and blankets warmed her. Then she turned onto her side, brooding into the darkness. Why couldn't Woodrow have smiled when he saw her? Why couldn't he have blown her a kiss?
The answer was obvious. He didn't want to. She gave a sad sigh. Woodrow's Romeo would run from her Juliet. Why wasn't she born blond and petite like Caroline Litton? Not that Caroline's good looks had done her any good. Two years ahead of her at school, Caroline had scared every man she met away. The furnace gushed on again. The air swept away her thoughts and the warmth enveloped her, lulling her to sleep.