Red hart magic, p.1
Red Hart Magic, p.1Andre Norton
Red Hart Magic
A Magic Book
WE’ RE NOT A FAMILY
THE RED HART
THE KING'S HUNTERS
“GET RID OF IT!”
HUE AND CRY
“YOUR WORLD AGAINST THEIRS”
We’re Not a Family
Chris Fitton's shoulders were against the wall, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his jeans. Behind his glasses, his eyes were half closed in a way he had been many times told was sullen.
The carpet was green and shaggy, like grass which needed a closer cutting. While it looked fine against the white-cream walls of the room, the color certainly did not match the furniture standing around on it, as if each chair, each table, and the divan would rather be in another place.
One of these chairs was just the wrong shade of green against the grass-green carpet. Another was orange, bright enough to make your eyes ache, while the divan was a mustard-yellow and along it were scattered a lot of fat cushions, each of a different pattern. After one quick glance in that direction, however, Chris turned his eyes resolutely to the two big windows, because she was sitting there.
Nan Mallory had planted her feet close together in a show of determination she did not in the least feel. Her hands were locked in her lap, her elbows nudged two stiff cushions which were never made to provide anyone any comfort, rather to show off Aunt Elizabeth's skill at needlework. “Aunt Elizabeth"—Nan's feeling of abandonment made her a little sick. It was not her aunt who lived here; this was not her kind of place. She hated the apartment so fiercely she longed to run as fast and as far as she could.
Though where could she run to? There was not any place or anybody—now. Inside she shivered. Nobody must know how she felt—especially not him. She would not look in his direction. Aunt Elizabeth with her talk of brothers! They were not family at all, nor were they ever going to be! She would write to Grandma Bergman, though already she was sadly certain, that would do no good at all.
Grandma could not take her, not since she had moved to Sunnyside ‘way down in Florida. She had explained it all to Nan, how you could only have grandchildren for visits there. So when Mother wrote and said—
Nan set her teeth hard together, lifted her chin a fraction— when Mother said she was going to get married again and was going to be away six months with Mr. Hawes (that is what Nan would always call him—just plain old Mr. Hawes; he certainly was not her father!) in Mexico and that Nan must stay with Aunt Elizabeth—Well, Grandma agreed just like that. As if Nan were a suitcase or something which could be sent around from one place to another! Well, they would find out! Somehow, somehow, she would go—where?
There was nowhere for her to go—no old house in Elmsport any more—nothing.
Maybe she could have stood being here—just maybe—if he had not been here, too. Just last night he had called her stupid right to her face and said she ought to shut up when she did not know what she was talking about. Stupid! He looked stupid—mean, too, with his squinty eyes and his mouth set to say something to make a person want to hit him back.
Chris moved one foot an inch or so forward, pressing down a bit of the carpet grass. This was about the worst yet. Even worse than staying at Brixton two years ago over the holidays, when he was the only kid left and the teachers had to be stuck with him. Of course, he ought to be used to it by now. Only he had thought that maybe this year—when he was old enough to show some sense—Dad might just consider taking him along. Then—Chris tried to close his mind. Her—her and this one across the room—they certainly made a mess of things for him. Aunt Elizabeth all the time talking about being a family! That was certainly dumb; there was no family! There was Dad and that woman—gone off together. And there was Aunt Elizabeth and her here. And none of them were his family. He did not have any family, and he was not going to be pushed into even saying he did either.
If he was sure Aunt Elizabeth would not come charging in and want to know what he was doing, he would go back to his room right now. He had brought the model kit he had saved up for; he had not even unpacked it yet. Trouble was that he could not find any place in his room to work on it. He might even lose some of the parts if he opened the box and Aunt Elizabeth made him move it around. He had a couple of books he could read. But he already knew what Aunt Elizabeth thought about sitting reading—
Chris scowled. He knew what he wanted to do; and it was not spending the morning in here with that dummy over there, nor was it being a “regular boy” as Aunt Elizabeth kept talking about. He was a boy, and he was as regular as he wanted to be right now.
Chris's shoulders twitched, and Nan's head jerked. Neither answered. Then Aunt Elizabeth was no longer in the hall but right there in the living room. Beaming as if she had invented them both, Chris thought.
She talked and she laughed all the time, as if that way she could make them do or want to be what she thought they should, Nan decided. Sometimes that flood of words poured over you until you got so tired you would say yes or no without really noticing what you were answering.
“Such luck"—the bright voice rasped on Chris's ears— “tickets!” Aunt Elizabeth was waving one hand in the air like a magician who had materialized something special. “Tickets to the Disney Festival at the Rockland! I can drop you there on my way to see Cousin Philip at the hospital and pick you up at four. You see, things work out splendidly if one just does a little planning—”
Her smile looks as if it were pasted on, Nan decided. I bet she does not want us here any more than I want to be in this old apartment. If she would just let me alone—not always be pushing me around—
At the moment she refused to see any attraction in Aunt Elizabeth's treat. Disney—probably a lot of silly cartoons for little kids. But there was no escape. She would have to go with him just as Aunt Elizabeth planned, a whole afternoon of having to sit beside somebody who acted as if she were not real at all.
For the first time she glanced quickly at and then away from Chris. He stared at Aunt Elizabeth, his face blank. Did he always look that way, Nan wondered, as if he did not want to know anyone? What did he really like to do?
Aunt Elizabeth had talked on and on last night, telling them about all the things ahead. She had planned out everything— school and friends—picked out what was “best” for them both. Now, for the first time, there came a small crack in Nan's shell of resentment as a new thought crossed her mind. Did he hate being here as much as she did?
He certainly was not much to look at—always slouching around in spite of Aunt Elizabeth's pleas to “straighten up.” His face was round, and his glasses somehow made his eyes look small; just as they always looked half closed, as if he were sleepy or so bored he could not bear to look clearly at anything. He wore that blue T-shirt which matched his jeans, and his hair was white-blond, so his brows and lashes hardly showed. He was short for his age, too, hardly any taller than she herself. There was a faded stain of paint or something down the front of his shirt, and his shoes looked as if he had been tramping through trash heaps for months.
Nan lifted her head a little more, allowing Aunt Elizabeth's words to flow over her, to face her own reflection in the mirror above the mantel. At least she looked neat. She had on the candy-striped shirt Grandma had made her and her red slacks.
Her hair was a little more than shoulder-length and dark brown, and her skin was rather brownish, too. A trace of summer tan always stayed with her through the whole year. Summer—she had about lived on the beach at Elmsport. But she was not going to allow herself to remember Elmsport— no, she was not.
“And a clean shirt, please Chris. You cannot go out looking so untidy.”
Nan smiled a little. That was telling him! And it was the truth, too. Even if she liked Chris, she would have not wanted to go to the show with someone who looked as if he had been burrowing into a dump.
“Yes, Aunt Elizabeth.” He was not scowling maybe, but his voice sounded. Nan decided, as if he would like to. It was polite, but the kind of polite one heard when a person was “mad clean through,” as Grandma used to say. She watched him with interest. Would that politeness crack, so he would tell Aunt Elizabeth just what he thought?
Nan was sure now that he did not care for this arrangement any more than she did. But Aunt Elizabeth was his Aunt Elizabeth, not hers, so if anybody talked back let it be him. She herself was going to keep her mouth shut, just the way Grandma had always told her: count ten and then ten again before you answer, no matter how mad you are. Grandma said keeping quiet got a person through a lot of hard places better than letting one's tongue wag free.
For a moment Nan felt sick again. Grandma! She wanted Grandma and Elmsport, and things to be the way they had always been, before Mother stirred everything up. Mother was hardly ever at home anyway, always going off somewhere to write about a new place for Travel Magazine. Mother never seemed as real as Grandma, just a person who flitted in and out, always in a hurry, thinking about something else when you tried to talk about things which mattered to you.
He had gone. Probably to change his shirt. That gave Aunt Elizabeth a chance to get at her. Nan stiffened warily.
“You look very nice, dear.”
Starting off soft, Nan believed. She looked all right, she guessed, but she was nothing spectacular.
“Perhaps there will be letters,” Aunt Elizabeth continued with that brightness which made Nan so uncomfortable. “You will be so glad to hear from your mother, I know.”
“Mother never writes much,” Nan said flatly. “Sometimes she sends postcards. But she's busy all the time writing things that sell. Letters don't.”
Aunt Elizabeth's smile appeared a little strained for a moment.
“Postcards are nice, too,” she asserted too quickly.
Nan stiffened again. Maybe Mother did not write many letters, and maybe sometimes Nan wished she did; but it was not Aunt Elizabeth's place to say so, or even to think it.
“Mother won the Cleaver Award for her Iranian article last year,” she said. “That's very important. She had to go to Washington, to a big party, and it was on TV. Grandma and I watched.”
“Yes, of course.” Aunt Elizabeth's smile was now firmly back in place. “You have every right to be proud of your mother, Nan.”
Nan looked down at her tightly folded hands. One could be proud of Mother, even if one did not know her. But she loved Grandma! If only Grandma had not decided that the house was too big and the doctor had not said she must live in a warmer place than Elmsport. Then, with Mother's getting married and all—Well, Nan was here, and she would have to make the best of it until she could figure out some way to make it better.
He had come back, and he did have on a clean T-shirt. At least it looked different, though it was the same faded blue, for there was no stain down the front. But Aunt Elizabeth did not seem too pleased.
“Chris, don't you have any other kind of shirt? I must go through your wardrobe and see just what you do need. Oh, well, at least it looks clean, and you'll have your jacket on over it. I thought we would leave early and have lunch at Magnim's on the way. This is Clara's day off, and I haven't got time to cook myself.” She glanced at her wristwatch. “Chris, you run down to Haines and tell him to call a taxi. We'll be down in a jiffy.”
Nan went for her own coat just as Chris, his jacket only half on, slipped out the apartment door. Aunt Elizabeth pushed at her hair in front of the hall mirror. She had on a hat which she could not seem to set at just the right angle and was frowning at her reflection.
With her navy-blue coat on and her patchwork purse in hand, Nan came back just as Aunt Elizabeth turned away from the mirror and slid into her own coat, grabbed up her shoulder bag.
“Come on!” she urged Nan. “Mustn't keep the taxi waiting, not with money as tight as it is.”
They went down in the self-service elevator, which Nan had hated from the first. It made her feel as if she were caught in a trap. She almost held her breath as she watched the light flicker along the numbers above the door until they stepped out into the lobby.
At home Nan had never become so upset over little things. But then there everything was familiar, and she felt safe. Here where everything was new and so different, she would rather stay in than go out.
Chris stood outside next to the big doorman. There was the taxi Aunt Elizabeth had sent him to order. He glanced right and left along the street. Why could they not walk? Aunt Elizabeth always took cabs; then the cabs got stuck in traffic. You would really save time by walking. Also there were the stores—
He wondered if there was a shop that sold model kits near here. Dad had sent him—he felt in his pocket, and his fingers crooked around the bill he had rolled up. It was more than Dad had ever given him before, as if he was—Was Dad trying to make up in that way for dumping him on Aunt Elizabeth?
Anyhow it was Chris's own money, and he would spend it just as he wanted to this time. He would pick out something really super; when he saw it, he would know. That is, if he ever got a chance to go shopping. So far Aunt Elizabeth had laid down the rules, and at first he would have to do what she said; at least until he learned more about this place.
“Here we are!”
Involuntarily Chris's shoulder hunched as Aunt Elizabeth's gloved hand tightened there.
“Thank you, Haines,” she said as she swept Chris after Nan to the waiting taxi.
Magnim's was very different from the hotel where Grandma had twice taken Nan for Sunday dinner. There were tables in a big room, and a lot of conversation—a roar of sound. Aunt Elizabeth did not let either of them look at the menu and make their own choices. As if they were babies, she did the ordering in a firm voice. Nan picked at salad with a dressing which smelled funny and tasted even queerer, turning with some relief to a chicken sandwich. Luckily there was ice cream afterward.
Chris ate slowly, chewing as if he were counting the number of times his jaw must move up and down. Aunt Elizabeth fidgeted and kept looking at her watch.
“Chris,” she said at last, a fraction more sharply. “You must finish. We shall be late. As it is, I have to drop you off at the theater and get on to the hospital. And, remember, you are to wait in the lobby when you come out, unless you see me there already. With traffic as it is, I might just be delayed.”
Deliberately Chris drank the rest of his milk. “Yes, Aunt Elizabeth,” he answered.
It was when the taxi drew into the other lane so they could pause in front of the theater that Chris saw the red sign which was too big to be missed. Salvation Army Store! One of those! Once more he fingered the bill in his pocket. Last year he had discovered the treasure house that sign meant. All kinds of things were sold there. Why, he had gotten five books—good ones—for a dollar, and a transistor radio, old but fixed up so it ran fine. Then there was the time he discovered a box of all kinds of shells. Somebody had mounted them on cards with their names printed under them.
He shot a glance at Aunt Elizabeth. She was looking at her watch again. They must be pretty late. If he could just—
The taxi pulled to a stop, though the meter still clicked busily. Aunt Elizabeth opened the door with one hand and shoved the tickets at Chris with the other.
“Sure,” he agreed. Then he was standing next to Nan, and the taxi had again swung from the curb.
Chris held out one of the tickets in her direction.
“Here,” he said shortly, “you go on in.”
“Aren't you coming?”
To Chris this was too good a chance to miss. There was no telling when he might be able to get out alone again.
“Not now,” he answered curtly. “You go in.”
Nan made no move to take the ticket though he tried to press it into her hand.
“What are you going to do?” she demanded.
“Don't be so stupid.” His temper flared for an instant. “You go in. It's none of your business. Now is it?”
Slowly she shook her head. “But Aunt Elizabeth—”
“Go on!” He wanted to push her through the door. Throwing Aunt Elizabeth at him that way—
“All right!” Nan took the ticket.
Chris waited only long enough to see her reach the outer door of the lobby; then he turned and was gone, back up the street. Nan opened the door and let it close again, with her still outside. Chris was up to something. She had no intention of meekly going in to watch Disney, not now. She was going to see where he went and learn why.
Luckily Chris did not look back, so Nan did not have to dodge into any shop doorways but could trail him openly. Then he did turn to look into a big window. She caught a glimpse of the sign up above: “Salvation Army.” What in the world was Chris doing going in there? She scuttled ahead, not really understanding why she must follow him, but knowing that somehow it was important.
As she, in turn, peered through the big window she could only see the mass of things on display: furniture, a baby crib, a lamp. What did Chris want with old things like these?
Nan's curiosity was so aroused that, in turn, she dared to go inside. It was rather like a discount store, only a lot more crowded. There were three women by one counter. One of them kept reaching down to measure dresses against a little girl with a runny nose, who whined she wanted to go home. Another woman was pushing and pulling apart coats hung along a big rack, fingering their material and looking at the tickets pinned to their sleeves.
Red Hart Magic by Andre Norton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes