As with most good things, Cordelia found she couldn’t leave well enough alone when it came to her neighbor with the amazing squash.
More so when, over the short, decorative fence, she could see that her new neighbor Millie was having victors.
The first was an elderly woman who hmm’d and hawed over the squash as if she were judging a county fair.
The second was a man who looked old enough to be the elderly woman’s father, who seemed far more pleased with the gourds and whispered something into Mille’s ear that made her blush.
The third was the one that really caught her attention though – a woman not all that much older than either her or Millie, a woman with a broad, easy smile and a way about her as if she was used to being in charge, who tapped one specific gourd with confidence Cordelia only wished she had. “This one, for sure. Some of the other ones will probably be good, but this one, for absolutely sure.”
The gourds were barely egg-sized at this point; Cordelia – who was honestly working on her back yard, which, for all of Jack’s reputed complaining, was not in great shape; the peonies were taking over everything and the roses had nearly been choked out by goldenrod – couldn’t help but wonder, and wondering led to a little staring, and then Millie caught her staring and chuckled.
It wasn’t a mean chuckle, that was the thing about Millie. She hadn’t been mean once in the weeks that Cordelia had known her, even when her relatives seemed to be awful to her – that old lady! – even when the neighbors made a crappy comment about Millie and her partner Lane – who was the epitome of both lipstick lesbian and lipstick librarian, and made Cordelia feel a little underdressed – Millie wasn’t mean. She wasn’t always smiling, but she was patient even with that nasty neighbor and had said “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and sounded like she meant it.
Of course, she could literally grow jewelry. Maybe it made it easier for her to be nice?
No, it would make it easier for her to be generous, maybe, but not nice.
“Come on over, Cordelia,” Millie called. “Brett, this is my neighbor, Cordelia Heintz. Cordelia, this is my – my cousin, Brett. She’s just looking over my crop for next year.”
Brett smiled brightly. It was a smile like Millie’s and like Lane’s, but with a little bit of an edge to it, a little sharpness Cordelia’s neighbors didn’t have.
“Hi, Cordelia. You’re new here, right? You weren’t here when we did the house-warming.”
“Just moved in a few weeks – I guess a little over a month ago. Millie and Lane have been really welcoming.”
“Well, yeah. I mean.” Brett’s smile caught just a little. “I mean, we were raised by the same family, you know, and being welcoming is what we’re raised to do.”
“Yeah? That sounds really sweet – and old-fashioned. I mean – well, it does. Like being good neighbors.” Cordelia smiled. “That’s something my great-aunt Conseuala used to really talk about a lot. Being a good neighbor, being neighborly. I mean, yeah, it’s Mr. Rogers, too, but my Great-Aunt Conseula did it first, too. Just a little less musically.” She laughed, although it was more than half out of nerves. “Millie and Lane have really been neighborly, for sure, and Lock and I have tried to do the same. Great-Aunt Conseula might haunt me, otherwise.”
Brett and Millie both laughed, but it wasn’t the sort of laugh of people who hadn’t thought the same thing in their time.
“Cordelia, Brett and I were going to go through the few I have left from last year and see if any of the rest have something fun in them. Want to come in and help?”
Cordelia caught the look Brett shot Millie. She also caught the smug amusement on Millie’s face. “Does that mean I get to gawk at your kitchen again?”
“You know it. This time, I might pull down the fancy tea service Lane and I got for each other for Christmas.”
“All right, I am not turning down that offer. If I’m not intruding?” She looked at Millie, even though the question was half aimed at this cousin Brett.
Cordelia had a couple cousins like that. They weren’t first cousins, more like distant relatives, but she’d been sending out a couple emails and letters since she got her house-warming gift from Millie. And she’d sent out some more when she got answers from those back.
Brett cleared her throat. “I, well, no, of course not. I just didn’t realize Millie’d talked to you about – well.”
“I gave her one of the good ones as a house-warming present,” Millie cut in cheerfully. “And Lane and I showed her how to lacquer it. We’re starting her a tea set.”
Cordelia opened the fence gate. “It’s all right,” she told Brett cheerfully. “I’m pretty sure I’m your cousin, too. Well, I mean, there’s a lot of removeds and fifths and stuff in the way, I don’t have a tree yet. Sorry, Millie, I was going to mention it the next time we saw each other…”
“Oh, I knew already. Tea, come on in. There’s two I have a good feeling on-“
She didn’t ask how and she didn’t ask for how long and she didn’t ask anything else. She had a lot more questions than that, too, that she was considering, but she saved them. She stacked them up in a little pile in ehr head with how, exactly, do you get jewelry to grow in gourds and so why does your family dirt make the edge of my property smell like my Great-Aunt’s kitchen?
She’d ask them all eventually. For now, she breathed in the smells of very good tea brewed in a very nice kitchen while Millie and Brett perused the selection of dried gourds.
“This one, I think,” Brett decided. “I hope it’s something Enid will like. I have to get her to take it, and that’s sometimes harder than you’d believe.”
Before Cordelia could add one more question to her list, Brett turned to her. “This sort of jewelry is the best for, ah. For charms. Protection. I think you could probably figure out why.”
“Family ground,” Cordelia answered, still thinking about Great-Aunt Conseula’s kitchen.
Brett’s eyebrows went up. “Very good. Family ground indeed, and family magic. So let’s see what we’ve got.”
While they’d been talking, Milie had been working with her little saw. She shook the gourd twice, until a thin string of flat green-blue pearlescent beads spilled out, a very small pendant hanging from the center.
It looked – Cordelia giggled – almost exactly like the gourd Millie had poured it from.
Brett’s smile this time had far less edge to it. “Yep.” She said it to Millie, but she was talking just as much to Cordelia. “She’s family.”
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