“Dad, you don’t understand.”
Carrie Weston hurried through the lobby of her apartment complex. “Hold the elevator,” she called, making a dash for the open doors. Her arms were loaded with mail, groceries and decorations for her Christmas tree. It probably wasn’t a good idea to rush, since the two occupants appeared to be at odds—which could make for an awkward elevator ride—but her arms ached and she didn’t want to wait. Lack of patience had always been one of her weaknesses; equally lacking were several other notable virtues.
The man kept the doors from closing. Carrie had noticed him earlier, and so had various other residents. There’d been plenty of speculation about the two latest additions to the apartment complex.
“Thanks,” she said breathlessly. Her eyes met those of the teenager. The girl was around thirteen, Carrie guessed. They’d moved in a couple of weeks earlier, and from the scuttlebutt Carrie had heard, they’d only be staying until construction on their new home was complete.
The elevator doors glided shut, as slowly as ever, but then the people who lived in the brick three-story building off Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill weren’t the type to rush. Carrie was the exception.
“What floor?” the man asked.
Carrie shifted her burdens and managed to slip her mail inside her grocery bag. “Second. Thanks.”
The thirtysomething man sent her a benign smile as he pushed the button. He stared pointedly away from her and the teenager.
“I’m Mackenzie Lark,” the girl said, smiling broadly. The surly tone was gone. “This is my dad, Philip.”
“I’m Carrie Weston.” By balancing the groceries on one knee she was able to offer Mackenzie her hand. “Welcome.”
Philip shook her hand next, his grip firm and solid, his clasp brief. He glared at his daughter as though to say this wasn’t the time for social pleasantries.
“I’ve been wanting to meet you,” Mackenzie continued, ignoring her father. “You look like the only normal person in the entire building.”
Carrie smiled despite her effort not to. “I take it you met Madame Frederick.”
“Is that a real crystal ball?”
“So she claims.” Carrie remembered the first time she’d seen Madame Frederick, who’d stepped into the hallway carrying her crystal ball, predicting everything from the weather to a Nordstrom shoe sale. Carrie hadn’t known what to think. She’d plastered herself against the wall and waited for Madame Frederick to pass. The crystal ball hadn’t unnerved her as much as the green emeralds glued over each eyebrow. She wore a sort of caftan, with billowing yards of colorful material about her arms and hips; it hugged her legs from the knees down. Her long, silver-white hair was arranged in an updo like that of a prom queen straight out of the sixties.
“She’s nice,” Mackenzie remarked. “Even if she’s weird.”
“Have you met Arnold yet?” Carrie asked. He was another of the more eccentric occupants, and one of her favorites.
“Is he the one with all the cats?”
“Arnold’s the weight lifter.”
“The guy who used to work for the circus?”
Carrie nodded, and was about to say more when the elevator came to a bumpy halt and sighed loudly as the doors opened. “It was a pleasure to meet you both,” she said on her way out the door.
“Same here,” Philip muttered, and although he glanced in her direction, Carrie had the impression that he wasn’t really seeing her. She had the distinct notion that if she’d been standing there nude he wouldn’t have noticed or, for that matter, cared.
The doors started to shut when Mackenzie yelled, “Can I come over and talk to you sometime?”
“Sure.” The elevator closed, but not before Carrie heard the girl’s father voice his disapproval. She didn’t know if the two of them were continuing their disagreement, or if this had to do with Mackenzie inviting herself over to visit.
Holding her bags, Carrie had some difficulty unlocking and opening her apartment door without dropping everything. She slammed it closed with one foot and dumped the Christmas ornaments on the sofa, then hauled everything else into her small kitchen.
“You’d been wanting to meet him,” she said aloud. “Now you have.” She hated to admit it, but Philip Lark had been a disappointment. He showed about as much interest in her as he would a loaf of bread in the bakery window. Well, what did she expect? The fact that she expected anything was because she’d listened to Madame Frederick one too many times. The older woman claimed to see Carrie’s future and predicted that, before the end of the year, she’d meet the man of her dreams when he moved into this very building. Yeah, right. She refused to put any credence into that prophecy. Madame Frederick was a sweet, rather strange old lady with a romantic heart.
Carrie pulled out the mail, scanned the envelopes and, except for two Christmas cards and a bill, threw the rest in the garbage. She’d just started to unpack her groceries when there was a knock at the door.
“Hello again,” Mackenzie Lark said cheerfully when Carrie opened the door. The quickness of her return took Carrie by surprise.
“You said I could come see you,” the teenager reminded her.
“Sure, come on in.” Mackenzie walked into the apartment, glanced around admiringly and then collapsed onto the sofa.
“Are you still fighting with your dad?” Carrie asked. She’d had some real go-rounds with her mother before Charlotte married Jason Manning ten years earlier. At the time, Carrie and her mother had been constantly at odds. Carrie knew she was to blame, in part, but she was also aware that her mother had been lonely and unhappy.
Hindsight told her that the root of their problem had been her parents’ divorce. Carrie didn’t remember a lot about her father—her parents had separated when she was four or five. As she grew older, she came to resent that she didn’t have a father, and for reasons that were never clear, she’d blamed her mother.
“Dad doesn’t understand.” Mackenzie lowered her eyes, her mouth turned down.