Unearthly Page 7

“Mom?” I call weakly. I look up into her wide blue eyes. Then she turns toward the lady, all perfectly composed.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” Mom says. “You know what they say: You don’t like the weather in Wyoming, wait ten minutes.”

The lady nods distractedly, still staring at my supernaturally radiant hair like she’s trying to figure out a magician’s trick. Mom crosses to me and briskly gathers the length of my hair into her hand like a piece of rope. She shoves it into the collar of my hoodie and pulls the hood up over my head.

“Just stay calm,” she whispers as she moves into place between Jeffrey and me. “All right. We’re ready now.”

The lady blinks a few times, shakes her head like she’s trying to clear it. Now that my hair is covered, it’s like everything returns to normal, like nothing unusual has happened. Like we imagined it all. The lady lifts the camera.

“Say cheese,” she instructs us.

I do my best to smile.

We end up at Mountain High Pizza Pie for dinner, because it’s the easiest, closest place. Jeffrey scarfs his pizza while Mom and I pick at ours. We don’t talk. I feel like I’ve been caught doing something terrible. Something shameful. I wear my hood over my hair the entire time, even in the car as we make our way slowly back to the house.

When we get home Mom goes straight into her office and closes the door. Jeffrey and I, for lack of anything better to do, start to hook up the TV. He keeps looking over at me like I’m about to burst into flames.

“Would you stop gawking?” I exclaim finally. “You’re freaking me out.”

“That was weird, back there. What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything. It just happened.”

Mom appears in the doorway with her coat on.

“I have to go out,” she says. “Please don’t leave the house until I get back.” Then, before we can question her, she’s gone.

“Perfect,” mutters Jeffrey.

I toss him the remote and retreat upstairs to my room. I still have a lot of unpacking to do, but my mind keeps flashing back to that moment under the archway when it felt like the whole world was trying to crawl inside my head. And my hair! Unearthly. The look on the lady’s face when she saw me that way: puzzled at first, confused, then a little frightened, like I was some kind of alien creature who belonged in a lab with scientists looking at my dazzling hair under a microscope. Like I was a freak.

I must have fallen asleep. The next thing I know Mom’s standing in the doorway to my bedroom. She tosses a box of Clairol hair dye on my bed. I pick it up.

“Sedona Sunset?” I read. “You’re kidding me, right? Red?”

“Auburn. Like mine.”

“But why?” I ask.

“Let’s fix your hair,” she says. “Then we’ll talk.”

“It’s going to be this color for school!” I whine as she works the dye into my hair in the bathroom, me sitting on the closed toilet with an old towel around my shoulders.

“I love your hair. I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t think it was important.” She steps back and examines my head for spots she might have missed. “There. All done. Now we have to wait for the color to set.”

“Okay, so you’re going to explain this to me now, right?”

For all of five seconds she looks nervous. Then she sits down on the edge of the bathtub and folds her hands into her lap.

“What happened today is normal,” she says. It reminds me of when she told me about my period, or how she approached the topic of sex, all clinical and rational and perfectly spelled out for me, like she’d been rehearsing the speech for years.

“Um, hello, how was today normal?”

“Okay, not normal,” she says quickly. “Normal for us. As your abilities begin to grow, your angelic side will start to manifest itself in more noticeable ways.”

“My angelic side. Great. Like I don’t have enough to deal with.”

“It’s not so bad,” Mom says. “You’ll learn to control it.”

“I’ll learn to control my hair?”

She laughs.

“Yes, eventually, you’ll learn how to hide it, to tone it down so that it can’t be perceived by the human eye. But for now, dyeing seems the easiest way.”

She always wears hats, I realize. At the beach. At the park. Almost any time we go out in public, she wears a hat. She owns dozens of hats and bandanas and scarves. I’d always assumed it was because she was old school.

“So it happens to you?” I ask.

She turns toward the door, smiling faintly.

“Come in, Jeffrey.”

Jeffrey slinks in from my room, where he’s been eavesdropping. The guilt on his face doesn’t last long. He shifts straight to rampant curiosity.

“Will I get it, too?” he asks. “The hair thing?”

“Yes,” she answers. “It happens to most of us. For me the first time was 1908, July, I believe. I was reading a book on a park bench. Then—” She lifts her fist up to the top of her head and opens her hand like a kind of explosion.

I lean toward her eagerly. “And was it like everything slowed down, like you could hear and see things that you shouldn’t have been able to?”

She turns to look at me. Her eyes are the deep indigo of the sky just after darkness falls, punctuated with tiny points of light as if she’s literally being lit up from within. I can see myself in them. I look worried.

“Was that what it was like for you?” she asks. “Time slowed down?”

I nod.

She makes a thoughtful little hmm noise and lays her warm hand over mine. “Poor kid. No wonder you’re so shaken up.”

“What did you do, when it happened with you?” Jeffrey asks.

“I put on my hat. In those days, proper young ladies wore hats out of doors. And luckily, by the time that wasn’t true anymore, hair dye had been invented. I was a brunette for almost twenty years.” She wrinkles up her nose. “It didn’t suit me.”

“But what is it?” I ask. “Why does it happen?”

She pauses like she’s considering her words carefully. “It’s a part of glory breaking through.” She looks slightly uncomfortable, as if we can’t quite be trusted with this information. “Now, that’s enough class for today. If this kind of thing happens again, in public I mean, I find it works best to just act normally. Most of the time, people will convince themselves that they didn’t really see anything, that it was a trick of the light, an illusion. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to wear a hat more often now, Jeffrey, to be safe.”

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