“Megan’s Way…beautiful and tender portrayals…very enjoyable read on the order of a Jodi Picoult novel.” —The Bookish Dame
“This is a deep and moving book that speaks to men as well as women, and I urge you all to put it on your reading list.” —Thomas Elliott, Book Review Editor, Mensa Bulletin
“Megan’s Way is a fine and fascinating read that many will find hope in.” —Midwest Book Review
Megan and Holly ran, weaving their way through the crowds of the carnival and hollering to hear over the thick cheer that permeated the festive evening. Two teenage boys looked them up and down as they passed. Megan yanked Holly by her arm and pulled her into a long shadow cast by the colorful lights that illuminated a rickety roller coaster. They huddled together, giggling. A moment later, the roller coaster whooshed by, sending them scampering through the mass of carnival-goers, engulfed in uncontrollable shrieks of laughter.
A small red tent with a psychedelic sign that read “Psychic Readings! See Your Future! $3!” caught Megan’s attention. She dragged Holly to the entrance, and they peered into the smoky gloom as they parted the curtain of stringed glass beads, which clinked and jingled as they were pushed to the side.
Holly pulled at Megan’s sleeve, “Let’s get out of here.”
Megan distractedly shrugged off Holly’s hand. She was mesmerized by the rush of the unknown, spellbound by the eccentric woman sitting within the darkened tent. A chill ran up Megan’s spine. The woman looked into her eyes and beckoned her forward. Megan reached behind her and grasped Holly’s hand, pulling her into the tent against her will. She reached into her pocket and, barely able to take her eyes from the old woman’s, fumbled to count her money and then shoved six crumpled dollar bills into a glass jar that sat on a pedestal by the entrance.
The cacophony of the rides and the crowds seemed to fall away as a hushed stillness closed in around them, save for the crackle of the flickering flames dancing on their wicks. The girls’ hands trembled. They were equally scared and excited by the mystical old woman shrouded in veils. Several bracelets clanked and dangled from her thick wrist as she motioned for them to sit around the small round table. They startled when the old woman grabbed their hands with her rough, plump fingers, then she slowly and dramatically closed her eyes.
Her hands tightened around theirs. The woman gasped a deep breath, and her body rose up and back, as if she were being pushed against the back of her chair. She held her breath, then let it out in a rush of air. Her hands fell open, releasing theirs. Her shoulders slumped forward, and her head followed.
Holly snapped her head in Megan’s direction and mouthed, “What the hell?”
The woman opened her heavily-painted eyes, which grew wide and laden with concern, and stared into Megan’s eyes. Megan felt riveted to her chair. The woman reached across the table and touched her hand, sending a jolt of energy up Megan’s arm. Megan pulled her hand away, frightened. The woman whispered to her, “Ah, High Priestess, my teen querent. She will need you, and you will know.”
Megan’s legs trembled, her heart pounded in her chest. Her breaths came in short, clipped bursts. She and Holly turned wide, scared eyes toward each other. The woman moved her vision to the space between Megan and Holly. “Three of Swords pierce a heart. Against the background of a storm, it bleeds.” She closed her eyes again, and whispered, “I see death.” Her eyes slowly opened and she squinted, as if she were watching a scene unfold of a different time and place, her eyes darting without focus. Then seeming to recite, she intoned, “Blood or poison will come: Transformation—passage—truth.”
The girls reached for each other’s shaking hands. Holly’s eyes welled with tears, her head visibly shook. Megan remained focused on each word the old woman said, unable to turn away.
The psychic turned those same concerned eyes to Holly. They glazed over with a look the girls could not read. Fear? Hatred? Understanding? She pointed a long, painted fingernail at Holly and hissed, “Judgment asks for the resurrection to summon the past, forgive it, and let it go.” She lowered her hand and said, “One will be released,” then quietly, under her breath, “and returned after death.”
After a moment of panicked silence, the girls stood, sending their chairs flying askew. Then they fled, running fast and hard into the chaos of the carnival, caught in a frenzy of fear and hysterical laughter.
The psychic screamed into the night behind them. Her words trailed in their wake and echoed in Megan’s ears for days, “With this spell, I empower thee. I empower thee!”
Megan steadied herself against the cold porcelain sink, hoping the morning’s nausea would subside and trying to strengthen herself for the tough decision that had been wreaking havoc with her mind lately, and the choice that lay ahead. The familiar Tink, pause, Tink, pause on her bedroom window drew her attention. A confused cardinal had repeatedly gone beak to glass in recent weeks, as though trying to rouse her. As she tried to calculate the number of times she’d also awakened to nausea, the familiar surge of bile rose in her throat.
She clung to the toilet as if it were a security blanket. The smell of last night’s dinner still wafted in the air, sending her body into convulsions of dry heaves. Great, Megan thought as she grasped her stomach. She looked up at the ceiling, What the hell am I going to do now?
“Mom?” Olivia’s voice carried down the hall. “Mo-om!” The single word stretched into two perfect teenage syllables.
Megan heard the drama in her voice and closed her eyes against her growing frustration. She knew that particular scream, the self-centered, in-a-hurry, where’s-my-stuff scream. She did not have the patience to deal with Olivia’s drama on this particular morning. She grabbed hold of the sink and pulled herself up. Her stomach lurched again, causing her whole body to clench. She prayed for some relief as Olivia’s voice came screaming at her again.
“What!” she snapped back. She wished she could have been more patient with Olivia, but at that moment, she was overtaken by exhaustion, confusion, and anger. She wanted to kick something, to cry, to scream until she no longer had a voice—but her body was too tired to do any of those things. She had to pull herself together and get through the day.
Megan rinsed out her mouth and averted her eyes from the sheet-white face that reflected back at her.
“Never mind!” Olivia yelled from the hall. Her voice carried lightly, the tension from a moment ago gone.
Thank God, Megan said to herself. She made her way back to her bed and lay down, pulling the blanket over her head to shut out the light—and maybe life—for a moment.
Olivia bounded into the room and jumped onto Megan’s bed a few minutes later. “Come on. We’re going to be late!”
The flea market! Megan stretched her small frame and lowered the covers, revealing her mass of dark hair and a feigned wide smile. “Okay, chill, I’m up. I can’t believe you are, though.”
Olivia laughed and made a beeline to her mother’s closet. “C’mon. What are you going to wear? Can I wear one of your scarves?” She wrapped a silk turquoise scarf around her slim neck, and turned to see the effect in the mirror. A smile grew across her face. “Please? I promise I won’t ruin it.”
“It does look pretty on you,” Megan managed, pleased that Olivia’s earlier exasperation had faded.
“Oh, thank you!” Olivia wrapped her arms around Megan. She withdrew and scrunched her face, “Geez, Mom, you’d better get ready. You look awful.”
Megan felt a pang in her heart. She had liked it better when Olivia had been ten years old and had believed that even at her worst she was still the most beautiful mom in the world—but Olivia was right, she did look like hell. She felt like hell, too, and was in no mood to be told how awful she looked. She pointed to the door, silently ordering Olivia out of her bedroom so she could shower. Olivia rolled her eyes and flounced out of the room. Megan turned and sighed, relieved to have a moment’s peace. She walked past the piles of books she was considering reading, past the wicker hamper overflowing with dirty clothes, and across the thickly-piled shag rug that covered only the center of the hardwood floor. The changing of hardwood to cold ceramic sent a shiver through Megan. She closed the bathroom door and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Fine lines defined the edges of her mouth, drawing the ends downward, making her cheeks appear dull and drawn. She raised her eyebrows, and deep creases streamed across her forehead. Her exhaustion was evident. The face that stared back at her looked closer to fifty than thirty-eight. She wondered where the supple skin of her youth had gone, and how it had changed so fast. She turned away in disgust, summoning energy for the day ahead.
The radio played lightly in the background as Megan and Olivia worked around each other to prepare their breakfasts. Olivia hummed.
“What are you having?” Olivia asked.
“The usual, probably,” Megan smiled. “What are you having?”
“Cereal, same as always.”
Megan picked up on the flat tone of Olivia’s normally perky voice.
“Hm, I think I’ll have toast, actually, with jelly.”
Olivia stood with her back against the counter, bowl in hand, and watched her mother.
“Toast? That’s it?” Olivia said accusingly.
“Yes, that’s it,” she paused, turning to look at her. “Olivia, is something wrong?”
Olivia stared into her bowl, her lips pursed.
Megan sighed and chalked up Olivia’s attitude to being fourteen. “Sit with me,” she said.
Olivia sat and desultorily pushed her cereal around with her spoon. The silence hung in the air, uncomfortable.
Megan tried to lighten the mood. “What are you looking forward to most at the flea market?” she asked.
Olivia’s eyes lit up, but her voice remained flat. “Everything, I guess. I hope Joe is there with the wind chimes, and I want to get another pair of wraparound pants.” Olivia’s voice began to carry a happier tone, “Oh, and the jewelry! I guess all of it, really. How about you?”
Megan smiled. She knew the thought of shopping would lift Olivia’s spirits. Megan longed to be one of the flea market vendors once again, and realized that in her current condition, that was not likely to happen. “I’m just looking forward to everything, you know, being with you and Holly, and seeing everyone from last year.”
“When are you going to sell again, Mom?”
“I don’t know, Liv,” Megan’s response was short. Her bowels rumbled with urgency. She went to the sink, turning her back to Olivia. What am I going to do? “Are you ready? We don’t want to be late.”
Olivia left her unfinished bowl of cereal on the table and flew upstairs in search of her shoes. Megan made her way to the bathroom, grabbing the bottle of Pepto-Bismol along the way. The pink, peppermint liquid had become like an old friend, soothing away her daily discomfort.