Something was amiss.
She felt it as soon as she sat down to breakfast.
The aunts had something up their sleeves.
From over the rim of her coffee mug,
Talia’s gaze made its way around the table, starting with the eldest and stopping on the youngest of the three. Whatever was going on, Eva would be the first to break. And if she was the instigator…
Lord, please don’t let it be another setup attempt. You know her track record. The woman’s been through more men than Taylor Swift.
It was true. Eva seemed to attract the worst losers on the planet, but she still hadn’t given up on a happily ever after—for herself or for Talia.
Eva glanced nervously at her and then back to her breakfast. If a setup was in the works, she’d be giving her a moon-eyed look right now.
A little of Talia’s tension eased away. She could handle anything else the aunts cooked up better than a setup. The thought of having to make awkward small talk with a blind date ranked somewhere between stubbing five toes at once and having all the hair plucked from her head one at a time.
Aunt Gloria slid a plate stacked with blueberry pancakes across the table. “Aren’t you going to eat, dear? I made your favorite this morning.”
And why is that?
Talia eyed the middle of the three sisters as she slid two of the pancakes onto her plate. Aunt Gloria smiled back at her with that guileless, wide-eyed look of hers. Nothing to read there. She was the only one of the siblings to have found true love, but her husband had passed away before the ink had time to dry on her marriage license. Bless her heart.
According to the rest of the family, Gloria hadn’t been quite right ever since. The fact that she made what she considered to be Talia’s favorite this morning was the only tell that something wasn’t right.
“Thanks, Aunt Gloria. What did I do to earn blueberry pancakes?”
Talia took her first bite and tried not to grimace. She’d ordered blueberry pancakes at a restaurant once and had mentioned how good they were, and that’s what put the idea in Gloria’s head that they were her favorite. Only this aunt’s idea of cooking was to ‘doctor up’ prepackaged food. She liked to experiment, so you never knew what to expect. This morning, the pancakes tasted—lemony. Not necessarily horrible, but unexpected.
She turned her attention to Aunt Carol, who stared right back at her. Nothing phased this woman. Being the eldest, Aunt Carol was in charge of everything—or maybe it was her iron-will personality that made her the boss. Whatever they were up to this time, she was the one behind it. Maybe it had something to do with the theater.
The sisters owned the Grand Rose Theatre. Their grandfather had built the theater in 1906 and had passed it down to them when he died almost thirty years ago. Carol ran it, of course. Eva did hair and makeup for all the actors, and Gloria… well, she helped in her own way, but mostly she handled things around the house.
Talia worked there too. She did the behind the scenes grunt work, like digging props out of storage—which was on her agenda for the day. She and her assistant spent Monday clearing out all vestiges of Oklahoma. Today they would be getting ready for a production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Unless…
“We are still setting up for The Grinch today, right?”
Aunt Carol set her coffee cup down on the table and looked at Talia. “About that…” She glanced at the other two as if seeking moral support. Uh oh. This hardly ever happened. Usually Carol was the one everyone else leaned on.
The two bites of pancakes turned to stone in Talia’s stomach. “What is it? What’s going on?”
Carol’s lips formed a thin line and her brow puckered. “You know I was never really sold on The Grinch. A young man contacted me a couple of weeks ago with a different play in mind.”
Two weeks? She’d known plans had changed two weeks ago and she was just now bringing it up?
“He wants to be a director, and this will be his first play put on solely by himself. You know I always give precedence to those with the initiative and the desire to get into the business.”
No doubt about whom that last remark was aimed at. Aunt Carol had been trying to get her to take over as director for years now since she would eventually inherit the business. When the time came, Talia planned to hire someone. She had no desire to be in the position where she had to tell people what to do.
“If this is his first time, how do you know he’ll be any good at it?”
“Talia, you know the answer to that. I won’t allow him to do anything to jeopardize our reputation. It’s in his contract.”
Right. Having grown up in the theater, Talia knew how everything worked. She had hoped that once Carol started talking, she’d spill whatever it was they dreaded her finding out. Talia closed her eyes and massaged her forehead. It hit her that there could only be one reason behind their hesitation. “What play are we putting on?”
“I know it isn’t a Christmas play, but we’re doing Sleeping Beauty. The director—his name is Mr. Downing—has decided to do the traditional arrangement, but I have asked that there be some Christmas elements added since it will be put on in December. We don’t want to disappoint our patrons.”
What about me?
Tension knotted her stomach. She looked around the table at her aunts’ faces. Aunt Carol’s eyes held compassion but there was a firmness around her mouth. Talia could almost hear what she’d say to a protest. I’m sorry you feel the way you do, but we’re doing this.
Talia looked across the table at Aunt Gloria.
“You haven’t had a spell in almost a year.” She pushed the plate of pancakes toward her. “Have another pancake, dear.”
More pancakes were not going to help. Besides, she’d only taken a couple of bites from the ones on her plate. Talia felt a squeeze on her hand and turned to look at Eva.
“Sweetie, you’re twenty-six years old, and Gloria’s right. It has been a long while since the last episode. I’m sure you’ve outgrown the family curse by now.”
The Family Curse. Kleine-Levin Syndrome—or more commonly, Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. But it was nowhere near as glamorous as the fairy tale name suggested. Sleeping up to twenty hours a day for weeks, sometimes months, on end. Having no memory of anything during that time. No friends. No boyfriends. She wouldn’t even be able to hold down a job if not for the family theater. KLS was her own version of a living nightmare.
It was so rare that only one in a million ended up with the disorder. Because of its rarity, some suffered with it for years before being diagnosed. But she had been fortunate, or so she’d been told. One of her ancestors had been plagued with it before they even knew what it was. Family lore had it that the original Sleeping Beauty was part of the line. That’s why the aunts referred to it as the family curse. When Aunt Gloria had mentioned it to the doctor in that witless way of hers, he had been able to diagnose Talia more quickly.
“Talia, it’s been nine years since the last time we did Sleeping Beauty. This used to be your favorite play. Don’t you think it’s time to enjoy it again?”
She glared at Aunt Carol. “The last time we did Sleeping Beauty, I had the worst episode ever. Over three months of my life that I can never get back.”
Carol huffed. “We don’t know that those two things are related.”
Talia pushed her chair away from the table and took in a cleansing breath. “It doesn’t matter. The decision has already been made and I have no choice but to go along with it. It isn’t like I can go out and get a job somewhere else.” She stood. “Speaking of which, I need to go get ready.”
“Talia, don’t be like that.”
She ignored Aunt Carol and headed through the living room to her private sanctuary. Her bedroom had been added on to the sprawling craftsman-style house the year she was diagnosed with KLS. It was complete with a sitting area, a kitchenette, and her own private patio. She never had to enter the main part of the house unless she wanted to, and about now, she was tempted to keep to herself for the next little while.
Her two African grey-headed lovebirds, Dunkin and Frita, chirped a happy greeting when she entered. She opened the door to their cage and fed each one a dried fig treat. “I hope your morning so far has turned out better than mine. The aunts are making me prep for Sleeping Beauty today. Can you believe it?”
Dunkin answered with birdy noises and bobbed his head, as if he commiserated with her plight. It did make her feel better.
Three years ago, she had awakened from a five-week episode to their happy chirps. The aunts had brought them in while she slept, hoping they would bring her out of her slumber earlier. It hadn’t worked but the two lovebirds had been the sweetest gifts she’d ever received. Most days they were her only companions outside of the aunts.
Moping around wasn’t going to change anything. As much as she dreaded what was to come, she needed to get to work. After going through her routine to get ready, Talia headed out to her own private garage. It was built to look like part of the house and only big enough to hold her Honda Clarity—another gift from the eco-minded aunts.
She stopped short at the sight of the car. My aunts have been so good to me and I’m acting like a little snot all because of some stupid play that has nothing to do with me. Lord, please forgive me.
She still didn’t want to do the play, but she would change her attitude. The aunts deserved better.
Upon A Dream is part of the Once Upon A Christmas Collection.
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