Unfortunately for Cat, Mom seemed to keep popping up every time she tried to talk to Gran alone. And Cat was pretty sure Gran was sneaking out of the house when she kept retiring to her bedroom for “naps.” She knew that Gran was just trying to avoid Mom and thus avoid talks of her going back home with them… but she couldn’t help but feel annoyed. She even tried sending Gran subtle messages that something was wrong, but Gran didn’t pick up any clues. After the third day, Cat decided to just slip her a note.
Mom was in the kitchen, scrambling some eggs for an omelet breakfast. Cat sat at the island, hiding a napkin under her palm as she pretended to sulk.
“Let’s see if we can get Gran out today, huh?” Mom said, shooting a sly smile at Cat. “Maybe we’ll tell her we’re going to the store together or something.”
It felt weird having Mom’s eyes on her, Cat thought. Seeing how they were slightly glazed over, she couldn’t help but feel someone else was watching her too.
Gran hobbled into the kitchen slowly, and Cat couldn’t help but sigh. That woman was so set on selling her batty old lady image that she didn’t even realize something was wrong with her own child?
“Good morning,” Gran began, easing herself into a chair. “Did you sleep alright?”
“Yup,” Cat said quickly. “Hey, Gran, you’ve got something on your face. Here.”
She handed Gran the napkin with wide-eyes.
Read it, read it, read it, she thought hard.
Gran tilted her head and wiped the corners of her mouth.
“Well, I could hardly sleep,” Mom said loudly. “It took, like, half the night, but I finally got the trash out to the curb and most of the rooms cleaned up.”
“It’s not trash day,” Gran replied with a chuckle. “Trash day is Tuesday and Thursday, dear.”
“So… today,” Mom replied slowly.
“Oh, is it?” Gran asked. “Oh dear, I already called Ms. Peregrine to move it back to the garage. She’s out there now.”
Mom turned off the stove.
“Ma!” she exclaimed. “Cat, watch the eggs.”
Cat wasn’t sure why she’d say that and turn off the heat, but she nodded as Mom rushed outside. Cat spun in her chair and glared at Gran.
“I was trying to send you a signal,” she said. “Read the napkin.”
“Yes, yes, Mare-Bear is being controlled,” Gran said. “I already knew that much, dear. And all the times you’ve used the word ‘controlled’ in a sentence the last few days have also tipped me off.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Cat demanded. “Were you gonna let her stay like this?”
“I was observing her,” Gran replied mildly. “And I wanted to see how long it’d take you to notice. A good teacher never turns down an opportunity for learning. What do you remember about mind control?”
Cat sighed. Of course, Mom would be back any moment and Gran just wanted to fit in a pop quiz.
“It takes a powerful magic,” she recalled. “And… the person… or thing… ummmm..”
“Being?” Gran offered.
“The being in control has to be in physical contact with the controlled in order to keep the spell strong,” Cat said.
“Occasional contact,” Gran corrected. “The more powerful magic-wielders can go for a few days without having to restrengthen the spell.”
Cat nodded slowly.
“So then the reason I didn’t immediately start force-feeding Mare-Bear potions is…” Gran continued with a raised brow.
“Because… the being in control can probably see and hear everything she does,” Cat said. “And then they’d know that you were on to them.”
“And then you wouldn’t know who did it?” Cat guessed.
“Exactly,” Gran said. “I had Jules follow Mare-Bear every time she left the house, too, to see if we can find the culprit.”
“Did you?” Cat asked.
“Last night,” Gran confirmed with a nod. “And, no surprise, it was an old friend of ours.”
Her expression soured at her last sentence, and Cat knew Gran was using her sarcastic tone.
Gran nodded, and Cat sighed. She glanced around to see if Mom was anywhere to be found, but she was probably still outside being delayed by Ms. Peregrine.
“At least I have her,” Gran said. “This is a clear violation, and I have another witness.”
“So what are we going to do?” Cat asked.
“First, get Mare-Bear to wear a protective emblem to get that fairy out of her head,” Gran said. “She’s going to be a little disoriented, so I’m trusting you to take care of her.” She sighed. “And then I’m calling the Queen and her Court to come answer some questions.”
Gran reached into the pocket of her fluffy robe and pulled out a necklace. It was a small pearl on a silver chain, and Cat was a little surprised it wasn’t the same as the one she and Gran had.
“Mare-Bear should still be kept in the dark about all of this,” Gran said, noticing Cat’s look. “But the pearl is enchanted to ward off the same spells.”
“Maybe we should tell her,” Cat suggested. “Since she’s kinda involved now.”
The front door slammed, and Gran thrust the necklace into Cat’s hand with a shake of her head. Mom walked in and gave the pair a curious look.
“Well, the trash is sorted out, again,” she said, returning her attention to the eggs in the now-cold pan.
“Oh, good,” Gran said, slowly rising to her feet. “Well, I think it’s time for bed, don’t you?”
“It’s ten. In the morning,” Mom replied slowly, looking from Cat to Gran.
“Ah, then a nap,” Gran said with a nod.
She patted Cat’s shoulder and hobbled out of the room. Mom shook her head as she left and let out a long sigh.
“Maybe we can carry her to the car while she’s sleeping,” she suggested.
Cat shrugged in response. Her fingers clasped around the necklace, and she tried to stand up casually.
“Oh, I found this in your old room,” she said, holding up the necklace. “Was this yours before?”
Mom gave the necklace a curious glance.
“I don’t think I’ve seen it before,” she said slowly.
Cat wondered if Rosaria could sense a power emanating from the necklace. She really hoped Mom wasn’t about to put up a fight.
“You should try it on,” she suggested. “Pearls look good on you.”
Mom laughed in response.
“When have I ever worn pearls?” she asked.
Cat gave her a curious look.
“What are you talking about?” She gave a puzzled frown. “You used to wear pearls all the time… remember?”
If Cat remembered the book right, the being in charge of mind control didn’t have full access to a person’s memories. And hopefully not on something as insignificant as jewelry preferences. She held her breath.
“Right,” Mom replied with a shake of her head and an obviously forced smile. “I mean that isn’t really my style.”
“I think it’d look good on you,” Cat replied. “Here, try it on.”
She lifted the necklace to Mom, who took a sudden step back. Cat resisted the urge to sigh and instead gave her mom a strange look.
“What’s wrong?” she asked innocently, lowering the necklace. “Are you… feeling ok?”
There was a long pause. Cat wondered if Rosaria was doing a costs/benefits analysis. Was she willing to risk being exposed (if she didn’t realize she already was)? Or was she willing to risk whatever power the necklace seemed to have?
Cat took another step towards Mom, who didn’t step back this time. She held it up again.
“I can help you put it on,” she offered.
Mom gave no protest, so Cat quickly slipped the necklace on her neck and fastened it. She held her breath.
Mom slowly blinked. And then looked around.
“Cat?” she began slowly. “Um… what am I doing here?”
“You don’t remember?” Cat asked.
Mom shook her head slowly.
“You were really tired,” Cat replied, trying to think of an excuse and realizing maybe she should have made up a story already. “And… I dunno, you never really told me why you came down.”
Mom swore and began patting herself down.
“My phone,” she said frantically. “I need my phone. Oh, I’m dead. I left in the middle of a project.”
She rushed out of the kitchen, saving Cat from having to talk more. She wandered into the hallway. Mom had probably found her phone in their room, Cat guessed, and she could hear her profusely apologizing. She knocked on Gran’s door.
“Mission complete,” she said through the door. “Mom’s Mom again… and really confused.”
The door swung open. Gran had changed into her denim overalls with a million different paint splatters on the legs. She had a red polka dot headband, too, and reminded Cat of a retired Rosie the Riveter.
“Well, that’s good at least,” Gran said. “Hopefully she’ll be out soon.”
She hobbled out of her room, leaning on her walker as she craned her neck to look around. Cat nodded to the bedroom, and Gran nodded.
“I’m heading over to meet the Fairies,” Gran said softly. “I’d offer to let you come, but I don’t expect this to be pleasant. And someone should look after Mare-Bear.”
“She’ll be fine in the house,” Cat said quickly. “You said the protective circle was working fine, right?”
“It’s too dangerous,” Gran replied.
“Then it’s too dangerous for you to go alone,” Cat said firmly. “So either I go with you, or I try to follow you. And last time I did that, a werewolf attacked us.”
“I’d criticize your stubbornness, but I’m pretty sure that’s hereditary. All right, go tell your mother we’re going for a walk.”
Cat nodded. She had to wait for Mom to get off of the phone, which took about five minutes of standing awkwardly in the doorway while her Mom apologized over and over again. She finally hung up with a sigh.
“Well, I’m not fired. Yet,” Mom said with a sigh as she fell onto the bed. “I’ll leave first thing in the morning and work nonstop for about three days.”
“You look tired,” Cat said. “Why don’t you take a nap?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Mom agreed wearily.
“I’m going on a walk with Gran,” Cat said. “So we’ll be gone for a little bit.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“Oh no, we do this, like, all the time,” Cat said quickly. “It, uh, actually helps prevent her from sleepwalking. You know, cause her body is too tired.”
Mom rubbed her temples with her hands and wrapped a blanket around her as she sank into a pillow.
“Okay,” she said, obviously lacking the energy to argue. “Just… make sure you have your phone in case something happens.”
“When am I without my phone?” Cat asked. “I’ll turn off the light for you.”
She hesitated as her hand touched the door handle.
“Oh, and Mom?”
“Don’t answer the door if someone comes,” Cat said. “There’s… been a string of home invasions in the area. So, like, don’t give anyone permission to come in or anything.”
“I don’t think burglars ask for permission, hon.”
“You know what I mean,” Cat said with another sigh. “Don’t let anyone in the house. Don’t even answer the door if anyone comes, okay?”
Mom hummed again in response. Her breath became slower and deeper. Cat sighed and flicked off the lights. She closed the door softly behind her.
Gran was waiting for her by the back door. Cat’s hand lightly tapped her headband, checking that she had her dagger on her. She nodded to Gran.
“No,” Gran said as soon as she opened the door. “Absolutely not.”
Cat followed her out and looked around. Just outside the protective circle were the Tennials—a vampire Cat had never met but assumed to be Nurse Carrol, along with Dr. Austen, Dr. Williams, and Anne— with Ms. Peregrine in the center.
“You can’t go alone,” Ms. Peregrine said firmly.
“And I took the day off anyway,” Dr. Williams added.
“Touching, really,” Gran said wryly. “But your presence alone would escalate this situation.”
“Told you she’d say that,” Anne noted.
Cat saw a few bills pass from Dr. Austen to Anne.
“Well, then, we’ll stay at the perimeter,” Ms. Peregrine replied. “They’ll hardly know we’re there.”
“You really think they wouldn’t sense you from a mile away?” Gran retorted.
“Then we’ll stay two miles away,” Ms. Peregrine said.
Gran straightened up and strode past the Tennials. Ms. Peregrine’s hand flew to Gran’s elbow.
“It’s too dangerous, Betty,” she said softly.
“Stand down.” Gran’s voice turned short and steely, sending a chill down Cat’s spine.
Gran shrugged the hand off and walked towards the woods. Cat hesitated, suddenly wishing she was under a blanket in the house like Mom. Ms. Peregrine’s face was a mixture of stormy and sorrowful, and Cat felt her own heart ache just seeing her. She followed Gran, mouthing a “sorry” to the others.
“Maybe having them around could be alright,” she suggested, jogging to catch up to Gran.
Gran shook her head and sighed.
“I’m already expecting a fight,” she admitted. “But bringing vampires with me is just announcing that I’m here to fight and not to talk.”
“Do they really hate each other that much?”
Gran didn’t reply and Cat looked over. Gran was quick to look ahead, but Cat could have sworn Gran was casting one last look at Ms. Peregrine watching her from near the house.