I wanted to hate Alabama, and nothing about my arrival disappointed me.
To be fair, there aren't many places that are easy to fall in love with in ninety-degree heat and eighty-five percent humidity. The bumpy flight from my connection in Atlanta, on a minuscule plane with doll-sized seats, hadn't helped. And that was before some snafu at the gate forced us to deplane on the tarmac and ride a bus to the terminal.
I'd been out of my walking cast for two weeks. My leg throbbed like a sadistic metronome as I limped down the concourse, and the toes of my right foot were swollen like fat pink cocktail weenies. Gigi's carrier bag hung from my shoulder, my fingers white-knuckled on the strap. It's bad enough to dread something; it's even worse when the pain of moving forward is more than metaphorical.
I could rest a minute, sit down between the barbecue restaurant and the souvenir shop with the Confederate flag coffee mugs. For that matter, I was inside the security checkpoint. No one could come in and get me without buying a plane ticket. I could just live here until my mother and her new husband got back from their honeymoon and reported me missing.
Granted, that wouldn't really help convince them I no longer needed to see a psychiatrist.
Settling for a brief rather than indefinite delay, I ducked into the bathroom. It was empty, so I put Gigi's bag on the counter while I splashed water on my face and reapplied some lip gloss. Makeup has never been a priority with me--at least not offstage, which means all the time now. But whenever my mother was losing a fight, she always took a moment to freshen her lipstick. Eventually I figured out this was how she bought time to think up an irrefutable argument.
I was merely stalling the rest of my life.
Gigi gave a soft yip of discontent. I unzipped the top of her carrier so that she could stick her head out, then filled her travel bowl from the half-empty Evian bottle in my purse. The dog took a few indifferent laps, then blinked at me. Her subtext seemed pretty clear: What the hell is your problem?
Was it wrong to have a problem with being shipped off like an unwanted parcel to stay with a relative I'd met only once? I vaguely remembered Cousin Paula from Dad's funeral, pressing my mother's hand in gentle sympathy, even though Mother and Dad had been divorced for three years. But as she'd said on the phone, in her Scarlett O'Hara accent, "Kin is kin," and she was happy to have me visit.
Maybe I shouldn't be dreading this. These were my father's family. This was my chance to learn where he came from, because Dad had never spoken much about his background. Which raised the possibility that he might have left Alabama to get away from these people.
A thin blonde wheeled her carry-on into the restroom. Gigi pricked her ears forward adorably, but the woman just shot the dog carrier a dirty look before disappearing with a sniff into the handicapped stall. It was as though thinking about my mother had invoked her eviler twin.
I should correct that. My mother is not evil. She's merely self-absorbed. I can be, too.
For sixteen years, our self-interests coincided more often than not. I lived to dance, and she loved having a ballet prodigy for a daughter. So her lack of maternal instinct didn't really affect me until The Accident (it was hard not to think of it in capital letters) ended my skyrocketing career right as it left the atmosphere.
The Accident had also turned me into a child again. I'd been a professional dancer. I'd traveled to Europe and Asia with the company. Nine months of surgery, casts and titanium rods later, I was a seventeen-year-old "unaccompanied minor"--thanks a lot, Delta Air Lines--pawned off on distant relatives to be babysat.
The infuriating thing was, Mother knew very well how self-sufficient I was, because she'd taken full advantage of it while dating her new husband. I think if it had been up to her, she would have left me on my own while she went off on her two-week honeymoon.
But "Dr. Steve" hadn't considered it an option. I was emotionally fragile, at a crossroads, major cognitive realignment, blah blah blah. God, I hated shrinks.
He wasn't even my shrink, just my new stepfather.
So, I couldn't be left alone for two weeks in our Upper West Side apartment with only Gigi, the security staff, the doorman and all the take-out food in Manhattan for company.
It would do me good, he said, to get away from the City, the reminders of my old life, and have a change of scenery.
The unspoken thread in this pronounced sentence was that the godforsaken wilderness of the Deep South was the perfect place for me to dry out. A drastic measure, just because I drank myself unconscious at their wedding. Imagine what he would have suggested if he knew about the hallucinations.
* * *
If I hadn't broken my leg, Mother wouldn't have married Dr. Steven Blakely. She'd known him casually through one of her arts organizations, and since he was a premier child psychologist, she'd called him after The Accident. Dr. Steve had referred me to his colleague one floor down, and asked my mother out to dinner and a show.
They were married while I was still in a walking cast, but Mother insisted that I process down the aisle with the wedding party. That wouldn't have been a big deal if she had gotten married in an intimate little chapel like a normaldivorcee of . . . let's just say thirty-nine. But eighteen years ago, she and my dad had eloped; maybe she thought a big wedding would make marriage stick the second time around.
Excerpted from The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Copyright © 2009 by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.