“This press conference is over,” Priscilla shouted. “No further questions.”

Nellie tried to resume her normal life, but she was distracted by strangers on the street who stopped to stare as if she were a landmark. Some whispered to one another conspiratorially. Some asked if they could touch her hand or snap a picture. “It’s like they march into my house without knocking on the front door,” Nelly said to Peg. “Who gives them the right?”

“You’re a public figure now,” Peg said. “It’s not like you can adjust your privacy settings.”

Despite her jangled nerves, Nelly never wondered Why me? Instead she wondered Why anybody? Why should anyone be made to feel like a pariah, a lonely outsider not only in their home town but in the entire human family?

Thankfully, Nelly’s regular clients at Beauty Oasis remained faithful. Even Evelyn Estes, a piano teacher who lost motor capability in her right arm due to a six-car collision on Sonata Drive, continued to see Nelly for her biweekly mani/pedi. But some of Cookie’s colleagues at the brewery began relating to her in a peculiar manner. “Can your girl give me some of what she’s got?” Moe Lyons asked.

“What the dickens are you talking about?” Cookie asked.

“How does she cheat death? She got some kind of power? Can she bless me or something?”

“She’s not a priest, genius. But if she decides to start blessing folks, you’ll be first on her list. That is, if you promise to stop falling asleep on the job.

“I only nodded off once,” he said defensively.

“Twice, Moe.”

“OK, twice,” he admitted. “But that’s because I worked a double, babe.”

“We’re all working doubles lately but we don’t fall asleep. Babe.” Cookie marched away, annoyed.

In the dead of night on the first of November, a fist-size rock blasted through the Hagen living room window. Nelly and Cookie jumped out of their beds and bolted outside, but they were too late to catch or even catch a glimpse of the culprit. “Those miserable kids,” Cookie barked.

“Maybe it wasn’t a kid,” Nelly offered. “There are plenty of adults who think I’m possessed by an evil spirit.”

They’re the evil ones,” Cookie assured her daughter. “I’m going to call the police.” While waiting for the authorities to arrive, Nelly gave her mother a perfect French manicure.

Celeste Lutterman, the slim, russet-haired owner of Beauty Oasis, realized Nelly’s newfound fame was a boon for business. Never had a manicurist’s schedule been booked so far in advance. “I’m giving you a ten per cent salary increase,” she told Nelly in private.

“Thank you,” Nelly responded. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” When she returned to her station, a phone call was waiting. On the other end of the line was Evelyn Estes.

“Listen to this, Nelly honey,” Evelyn said with awe. “About an hour after yesterday’s manicure, I was able to move my fingers for the very first time since the accident. And later in the day, I could rotate my entire right arm.”

“I’m thrilled,” Nelly said, guarded. “But I hope you don’t think it had anything to do with our manicure.”

“You were the only human being who touched my hand,” she gushed, voice trembling.

“Well,” Nelly quietly said, “maybe one of your medications decided to kick in.” She hung up the phone and decided to keep the gist of this conversation to herself.

A blaze of white sun awakened Nelly on her day off. After a breakfast of coffee, eggs and coffee cake, she insisted on driving her mother to a fashionable boutique at the Folding Shopping Mall. “I’m buying you a new outfit,” she announced. “To celebrate my raise. So don’t even think about looking at the price tag.”