When Juliet was two and Lauren thirteen, Kathleen remarried, but their stepfather was killed in a mugging a couple of years later. From then on, Kathleen remained a staunch, strict, outspoken single mother, always on the edge of bitter. Juliet always felt like Kathleen blamed her, somehow.
Juliet didn’t remember either father figure, and her mother told her time and again that she hadn’t missed anything. Juliet didn’t fully believe that. Having a father would have been nice.
Lauren, though, had always been their mother’s favorite. The two were thick as thieves, and Juliet had always felt left out. It was Lauren who complied with their mother’s wishes, kept her heart tethered to home. Juliet, the outsider, always dreamed of more and got out the first chance she had.
When a stroke took Kathleen, Juliet was filled with grief, but a part of her, the dark part she didn’t like to acknowledge, was relieved. She would never live down to her mother’s expectations. Her mom wanted her to have a small life. Like hers ended up being.
No reason to share all that with Mindy, though.
Besides, the CBI has been good to her. She is a star in her field. She’s been developing new DNA sequencing methods that are changing how the CBI investigates crimes and increasing their success rates, and that is good enough for her, for the time being. Not that she doesn’t stand on her deck at night with a glass of wine and her telescope, staring at what might have been… But on the bright side, she has the forever bonus of being able to cut her own hair, saving her money in the lean times.
And she’s just whacked off a foot of her niece’s hair on a whim. Mindy is sliding her hands over her head, utterly delighted. Even Juliet has to admit, it looks cute. She pulls one last strand into place, then hands Mindy the mirror from her purse.
“Oh, Aunt J, it’s perfect!”
And of course, at that moment, Lauren comes back to the room.
“What in the name of God are you doing?”
Juliet tries not to tuck her imaginary tail between her legs at Lauren’s disapproving voice. It’s hard, the shock and outrage have slipped past her sister’s perfectly cool veneer, making her sound almost exactly like their mother.
Instead, Juliet squares her shoulders. “Styling your daughter’s new haircut.”
Lauren looks exactly like hell. She hasn’t properly bathed, her eyeliner is smudged and her lipstick chewed off. Her clothes are rumpled and her cheekbones stand out like she’s been starving herself. Juliet hasn’t seen her in a few months, but she’s lost weight before the events of the past day. Lauren is as focused on Mindy winning as Mindy is, to the detriment of all those around her. Juliet almost feels sorry for her. She pushes herself to smile, to open her arms for a hug.
Lauren casts her one last vicious glance and makes a beeline for the bed. “Melinda Eliza Wright. What on earth have you let her do to you?”
Mindy is grinning, puts a hand behind her head to show it off. “Don’t you like it, Mom?”
“No, I do not like it one bit. What in the world were you thinking?” She rounds on Juliet. “What were you thinking? You’re the adult here. Or so we’re supposed to believe. I leave you alone for five minutes and—”
“Relax, sis. This is what aunties are for, totally corrupting our nieces.”
Mindy sputters out a laugh. The sound makes Lauren whirl back to the bed, a finger raised, getting ready to scold. But the sight of her newly shorn daughter giggling her head off is enough to defuse things.
“What’s so damn funny?”
“I told Aunt J you’d be furious.” She holds out a hand, the smile on her wan face warm. “Thank you for losing it.”
“What? What do you mean?”
But Juliet knows exactly what is going on. Mindy, clever girl, didn’t give a hang about her hair. She’d wanted to get her mother to treat her like a human being again, like her little girl, instead of like a possibly dying patient.
Mindy offers an olive branch. She swipes the hair off her face.
“Aunt J could cut the bangs so it isn’t so punk rock.”
Lauren brushes the hair back down over Mindy’s right eye. “No. It’s cute. You look cute.”
The my daughter is about to die tone is back, and Mindy pulls away.
Juliet winks at her niece. “Hey, Lauren, let’s get some coffee. I haven’t seen you forever, and I think Miss MEW here needs a nap.”
“I do not.” But her eyes are drooping. While they argued, the morphine pump gave her a shot, and she isn’t long for the world.
Lauren fluffs her pillows and kisses her on the forehead. “We’re going to have a talk about your wild ways, young lady, but for now, take a little snooze while I go beat up your aunt.”
“Give it to her good, Mom,” Mindy says as she drifts off, one hand in her short hair, a smile still on her face.
Lauren crooks her finger in a follow me gesture. It’s time for Juliet to take her lumps. Hazel isn’t at her desk, so Juliet puts the scissors in her top drawer as they walk past.
Lauren leads her to a small room at the end of the hall. Juliet looks around and realizes it’s soundproofed. A place for parents to scream their agonies to the universe, perhaps?
When the door closes with a meaty click, Lauren rounds on Juliet.
“I disappear for five minutes and you’re already causing trouble.” But there is no heat in the recrimination. Instead, she sags against the wall, puts her face in her hands, and grinds her fists into her eyes.
Juliet touches her on the shoulder, but Lauren hunches and brushes her off.
“I’m so sorry.”
“For messing up her hair or for the fact that she’s dying?”
“She’s not dying. Not yet, anyway. They’ve just diagnosed her. You have to give it some time. The advances they’ve made are incredible. The—”
“All well and good for you to say. She’s not your daughter.”
Juliet flinches. “No need to attack me, Lauren. I’m here to offer support. Mindy needs you to be a human being now, not an overbearing mother. You’re going to drown her in your sorrow.”