Mira’s mother hadn’t finished setting the table yet, but the box covered with yellow paper and a gauzy white and bold pink ribbon was all the proof she needed. It wouldn’t be long before the table would be filled with cucumber sandwiches, fancy cakes, and a tall glass pitcher of pink lemonade.
“Mom,” Mira called, gripping the strap of her backpack. “I think I’m going to stop at the library on the way home. There’s, uh, a thing I want to—” She glared at the lacy white tablecloth. No matter how hard she tried to lie, she could never stretch the truth beyond trailing off vaguely and hoping the other person followed what she couldn’t say.
“Is it due soon?” her mother asked, polishing a teacup as she entered the dining room. “Because I’m going to need you home right after school otherwise.”
Mira rubbed the back of her leg with her foot, then shifted her weight from side to side as she tried to come up with a plausible excuse that didn’t fall under lying. Even if she’d had the constitutional ability to speak a lie, her mother’s intense gray stare would burn anything but the complete truth to smoldering ash. There was a reason the sales people at the kiosks in the mall gave them a wide berth.
“The leaves are turning and I want to add to my collection.” She gave her mother a wan smile, promising herself that she’d scour the entire forest behind their house if it got her out of meeting with the Pink Lemonade Brigade this year.
Her mother placed the teacup—another oddity out of the plethora of weird the Pink Lemonade Brigade always inspired—she’d been polishing on the table and pulled another out of her pocket.
“You can gather leaves later. I expect you to be on time.” The look on her face squelched all the excuses rushing up to Mira’s lips. “You like Auntie Flora, and she’s been looking forward to seeing you again.” As if to underscore her meaning, Mira’s mother gave the box a pointed look.
“Yes, but don’t you think I’m getting a little old for presents every year?” Mira asked, hoping to appeal to her mother’s better, more rational side. The presents had been okay when she’d been younger, but she was going to be eleven-years-old this year. She was far too old for—
“Think of it as an early birthday present,” her mother said with a half smile. “You’ve never been too old for birthday presents.”
Her mother gave her another look, and her protests withered on her tongue. How could she explain that the “presents” were just as odd as the Pink Lemonade Brigade itself? The yellow paper and pink ribbons looked like something out of a fairy tale. Like something wonderful. Except, they never held anything wonderful or interesting. Just dried petals, twigs, bits of ribbon, leaves, and one time, a live mouse.
Even her mother hadn’t been thrilled about the mouse.
“These ladies have no one of their own to love,” her mother said, beginning the yearly speech they’d been having since Mira had been old enough to realize there was something decidedly different about the old ladies who visited every year. “What they give you comes from their hearts, and a true lady always accepts gifts graciously. I expect you to be clean, prompt, and polite this afternoon. Are we clear?”
Mira bit on the insides of her cheeks and gave a miserable nod. For reasons she couldn’t fathom, her mother hosted the yearly visits of the little old ladies—the Pink Lemonade Brigade—and had always been slightly defensive whenever Mira had questions or concerns about them.
This was the same mother who had pounded stranger danger into her head when she was younger, and so far as Mira knew, none of the Pink Lemonade Brigade was related to her, nor were they old family friends. Unless, of course, being a family friend meant stopping by for a week once a year to deliver odd presents and sip pink lemonade out of teacups.
Her mother gave her a satisfied nod. “Good. I’ll see you after school then.”
She set another polished teacup down on the table before she pulled Mira into a hug. “I know you don’t understand things yet, but trust me. Please?”
“I love you too, Mom.” Mira pulled away. What was there to understand? The Pink Lemonade Brigade was made up of crazy old ladies her mom felt duty bound to offer high tea and lemonade to once a year. Sometimes life was a lot less complicated than adults liked to believe.
Her mother’s face softened, and for a moment, Mira thought she was going to let her out of the visit. Then she shook her head and pasted on one of those smiles grownups always used when they wanted everyone else to believe that Everything Was Going to Be All Right.
“Come straight home.”
With that final admonition, Mira left for school, determined to find a way to get out of the visit as early as possible. If only she had a magic wand she could use to wish all of this away. But sadly, as much as she wanted it to be otherwise, magic was only real in the pages of a storybook.
Reality was something else altogether, and far more unpleasant. Reality looked like teachers who couldn’t see the magic in the mundane, people who laughed at you for carrying around a leather bound tome crammed full of mermaids and fairies and princesses in beautiful dresses and shining castles. Reality looked like a father who always had his mouth crooked with disapproval, who lived five hours away, and never called unless it was Christmas.
If Reality hadn’t been so persistent, she would have chosen magic hands down.
With those happy thoughts, Mira counted down the minutes before she could forget about math and geography and spelling in favor of losing herself in a fairy tale.
And she knew just the one that could make even a Pink Lemonade Day a little better.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Pink Lemonade days are never fun. Fortunately for Mira, they only come around once a year.
Join me next Wednesday to learn a little more about this Pink Lemonade Brigade. Like the fairy tales Mira loves so much, not everything is as it seems.