I know it’s been a long time, but I have some things to share…

First, for those of you reading this, because you’re still checking out my blog even though I haven’t posted in almost 2 years, you are amazing! Thank you for being faithful to this woman who let life get in the way and keep her from posting like she should have. It is beyond appreciated. My hope is that if you’ve stuck around, (or your blog wanderings have newly led you to stumble and land here), that you stay because you love this story as much as I do…and now, for a moment of truth.

If you’ve read the original postings you’ll know that I started And Then There Was One to blog a found story and share it with you guys. Now the truth. It was not a found story, it is my story – actually it’s the very first book I ever wrote. I hope I don’t lose you guys here, my intent was never truly to deceive, it was just after staring at the story for 3 years, after re-writes and revisions, and not knowing if I hated it one day or loved it the next, I was searching for a way to engage with it differently, to approach it as more spectator instead of creator, with the hopes that doing so would make it fun and exciting again, would take away the sort of strain and angst of ‘is it good enough?’ and replace it with the ease and acceptance of ‘Sam (that’s me), just tell the story.’

I hope that you guys as readers can understand that and not hold it against me :), especially since it actually worked. Each of you taking the time to read it, and leave comments with your input and feedback bred life back into something in such an amazing way, that I’m probably more excited about the book now then I was when I first wrote it; even in the face of so many rejection letters all condensed to say the story wasn’t right for them. And that segues to my lead in for the big announcement, (not sure if it’s really big, but when there’s a lead-in I feel like it should always have the word ‘big’ in front of it), I’ve decided to take the leap and attempt to self-publish this book! I’m working through the intricacies of that now, but have also started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the process.

If you’re willing to check it out and lend any level of support it would make my day, especially coming from you guys, who believed in it first. I’m really excited about this! I have no idea what will happen, if I’ll be able to raise the money, if I’m not going to bumbling my way thru this thing from start to finish, but right now all of that seems okay because I’m taking some control back, and I’m believing in myself and my writing again. This is the year that this gets done, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near this place if it wasn’t for you guys reading my little ‘found’ story. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder? Oh and The Promised Next Pages

Okay so first things first, this post is way overdue! I owed it to you guys back in July and it’s now the middle of October. I have no great excuse though I’m sure I could come up with something fantastically entertaining, (or not, since the first thing that came to mind was being abducted by aliens and that’s not at all original). In all honesty I have just been busy, but I’ve spent time with the pages and the reward for those of you sticking with me is a nice long post this time with some enlightening background bits. I hope that you guys enjoy it, and as always thank you for your patience and for sticking in there with me :). 

 

Total training to bear your name only takes three years but when I think of it, it seems as if it was my whole life. As if everything I had ever done was training for what I would chose to become. It makes it seem as if there is some mystical something controlling the process, the changing from normal to traced to cloaked, and that is true and not true all at the same time.

Training is intense but not extra-ordinary. We are not a supernatural order. Persuasion involves no mystical abilities beyond tracing an assignment and the second of marking. Training is simply learning to fight. The strength gained there is a human one. We get better with practice. We can be injured, bleed, even die though once cloaked that is a little more difficult. If anything, without our heightened awareness of persuasion and our work in it, we’d most closely resemble something like a rigorous book club with an intense affinity for physical training. Large group of people with similar interests and a lot to say about them. Guilty of being curious and slightly self indulgent more than anything else.

Still during my training stories of the Taram and Eirum seemed almost romantic. The idea of this thing existing all around us with no one aware and me a part of it. Sara told me the romance would grow old. Told me to train. It’s the same advice I would give now if I could.

 

On the first day of training I was illuminated. The history of the balance was shared. The telling spoke of the true end. Of the Kachina – one Taram and one Eirum born to carry the burden of souls and at the appointed time fight for the last one. The one deciding the ruling balance. The one deciding the fate of the world.

The Kachina would be the only ones with the ability to be laced by the charges they persuaded. At the moment of marking souls release what we call Ahali. The Kachina would be able to absorb this gaining increased power. Power that would tip the scales of balance until the day they were called to fight each other.  It is a win or lose thing. A life or death thing.

From the first time I’d heard it the story scared the hell out of me.

But it was all mostly legend, our version of bedtime stories, still trainers looked for fabled signs in the newly cloaked. Intuitiveness during fighting, an ability for stillness and an innate aptitude for the teachings. Most assumed if there was truth to the story the Kachina would be a birthright and not a circumstancer. That could be the reason for surprise when it was expected I would be the one.

There really isn’t much difference between a birthright and a circumstancer. Yes being cloaked is most normally a birthright but either way you still have to choose. Taram or Eirum. Once you’ve chosen you’re cloaked, one cloaked you train, make it through training you’re named. Or you can choose nothing. You can choose to be normal and walk away. In the end everything comes down to choice. The main difference with circumstancers, we stumble into this thing. We get caught in the middle before being offered a way out.

Once a soul is marked, claimed for either the Taram or Eirum it is set in stone. That person’s fate is sealed. Cloaks are the only ones who can ever switch the soul mark. It rarely happens but when it does, when a Taram or Eirum disrupts the flow of persuasion by switching their allegiance a riot is called. Riots are the only time we fight face-to-face. Not for the cloaked, but for the soul hanging in the balance. We fight for the person the cloaked once persuaded for one side of the balance and now, in switching their mark, attempts to claim for the other.

During a riot, if the charge in the middle of the fight becomes aware, sees what shouldn’t be seen, Persuasion is no longer effective. That person has new knowledge of the truth and as a consequence is presented with a choice. To fight for one side of the balance or be cleansed. I chose to fight. Without much time to think it had seemed a viable option. I’d chosen a side and like a silly school girl never looked back.

Sara had been convinced from the start that I was Kachina. Her hands are the first things I remember about her. Slender and narrow, pink and perfect they make her appear docile and young. It’d been my own misperception when she’d nonchalantly knocked me to the floor during our first training session. I don’t even think her smile broke during that initial training. I’d barely been able to breathe leaving sweat puddles on the hard packed floor. She’d hummed nursey rhymes gracefully stretching her neck waiting patiently for my next attack. Still at the end of the day she’d said that my skills were surprising, especially for one so newly introduced into the Taram. Circumstancers are expected to lag behind. It isn’t frowned upon just expected. I’d done well in both combat and persuasion attributing it to a life full of what is not good in the world and the need to keep the scales tipped heavily in the Taram direction.

            Maybe more than ability it was interest. I’d wanted to learn. Wanted to fight. During class I’d taken notes in a slim spiral notebook fitting easily in my back pocket. I’d stayed late, arrived early, pushed past soreness and fatigue. I was completely unaware of the other students. I wasn’t motivated to be the best. I was motivated to be motivated. To know everything. I was all the way in. A Taram star pupil.

Sara was remarkably convincing. So much so others started looking at me like I was the one. I’d known it couldn’t be true. There are rules guiding the Kachina the most important being they must love each other. It is a matter of true sacrifice. Not important for ever-after reasons. It is important because love supersedes ever-after. It perseveres, changing, remaining in spite of circumstance. It is all consuming and motivating. Moving in opposition to that motivation, knowing you will have to and choosing to do so anyway perhaps is the real magic, though I hate that word. Magic is either top hats and white rabbits or midnight and caldrons and melodic chants. Love is not magic. It is the opposite of magic. It seems only fitting that at the end love would be smack dab in the center.

I’d met Eirum fighting in battles. I’d loved none. My life before being marked left little room for that. Probably why my decision when the time had come had been so clear. Since training I’d only loved two people. Sara and Josh. Both Taram. My Taram. Making the idea of me being Kachina completely impossible.

 

            The stories of the Kachina were always the most requested because Essex is much like a regimented boarding school without them. They’d reminded us that what we’d trained to do was no small thing. That we’d signed on as weapons against the apocalypse. A fact surprisingly easy to disregard between combat classes and lunch breaks. We were as I mentioned, not supernatural, devoid of ritual, save for two exceptions: quarantine training and the day of your naming. The naming is like a Taram Christmas day. There is child-like anticipation, a perceptible change in everyone the months before. More laughter. More late nights spent sparring or begging elders to share their stories. When it’s your turn you get to choose your place. Anywhere you would like to be given your name.

            I couldn’t wait for my naming. I’d wanted to be outside. When my life irrevocably changed I’d wanted as many living things as possible to bear witness. I’d wanted sunshine and a perfectly un-cloudy day. Josh said the same plus he wanted to be barefoot in the grass, even better if it’d recently rained so the smell hung in the air. We’d joked it would be the opening scene of the Sound of Music. That we’d play the movie’s song silently in our heads, a little secret during a ritual binding us all we’d manage in the middle to also be permanently bound to each other. I’d been happy to hum the soundtrack from the Sound of Music in my head. I’d been happy to do anything allowing me to be in synch with him.

            The night before the ceremony we’d hung out in Josh’s room. The trainers had been adamant that we each have our own room, though they were small, just barely over 300 square feet. Ironically his had always seemed massive. He’d laid carpet squares on top of the hardwood, a random mix of grey and purple floor tiles extending symmetrically from corner to corner. He’d removed the bed frame resting his full size mattress and box spring directly against the floor. The bed was always perfectly made, grey sheets, grey comforter, 4 large soft purple pillows with 2 smaller grey square ones like punctuation marks in front. A shiny black bean bag slumped in the corner next to a stack of folding dinner trays leaning against the wall. Next to that a small stack of leather bound journals, the only part of himself he’d kept hidden.

            Sometimes he’d written in them while I’d napped in his bed or read a book I’d grab from the bookcases lining his dark grey walls. I’d liked his privacy. Liked that he was comfortable enough to seek it out even with me in the room. Often while he wrote I would lean back arms behind my head staring at the ceiling. On it he’d written in long black brush strokes quotes that challenged him, motivated him. Made him laugh. I’d memorized my favorites;

           

After all, my erstwhile dear, my no longer cherished, need we say it was no love, just because it perished – Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

            Poetry is the sacred incarnation of spirits – Khalil Gibran

 

            Enjoy life, think of everyone who passed up dessert on the Titanic – Anonymous 

 

That night I’d stretched out on his bed propped against his stack of pillows. He’d pulled his bean bag over leaning the chair against the side of the mattress before settling his back against it. I’d thought for a second he would play some music, or maybe throw on a movie but he’d sat quietly so I’d done the same. Minutes passed before he spoke. “Tomorrow changes everything.”

            I’d turned on my side staring at the back of his head. “You’re so dramatic. Tomorrow changes our name. We already are what we will be.”

            He’d smirked. “Faker. You know you’re excited. Stop trying to sound like Sara.”

            “Yeah,” I’d rolled onto my back eyes focused on his graffiti ceiling, “I’m excited, aren’t you excited?” I’d watched his locs shake softly as he nodded while I tucked my hands behind my head. “Tell me what happens.”

            “Again?” he’d laughed.

            “Yes please,” I’d said, “again.”

            He’d cleared his throat and I’d closed my eyes in anticipation of the sound of his voice.

            “When it happens they’ll surround you. Starting with the elders they’ll fan out in circles with you in the center. They’ll raise hands, not touching you or each other but still connected. Filling the space. Sometimes there are songs if you like, or silence. After, there’s a pause until every breath is one breath. They say you can feel the change. The air slightly shifts when every person gives into the collective.”

            I’d smiled the familiar story lining up in my head repeating the next words out loud with him in unison. “One breath. One thought. One purpose.”

            He’d winked at me over his shoulder before continuing. “You know the rest. Sara will step forward a hand on your heart, the other circling your wrist. She’ll look into your eyes and recite the words making it official.”

            I’d closed my eyes trying to imagine how it would be. “I can’t believe it’s tomorrow. Three years went by so fast.”

            He’d been silent and then spoken so softly I almost didn’t hear. “I’m nervous. I…” he’d hesitated, “don’t you ever wonder how to know what’s right?”

            “I’ve wondered that my whole life, think most people do.”

            “I think we’ll have to wonder more than most.”

            I’d extended my arm, my hand squeezing his shoulder. “I think we’ll have to do everything more than most.”

            He’d reached up to his shoulder his fingers casually intertwining with mine. “Do you think we’ll always be who we are?”

            “Of course we will. Tomorrow seals the deal but even now we will always be Taram.”

            “Not Taram who we are,” he’d said, “me and you who we are. We always say no matter what. We always say forever…forever is a long time.”

            I’d rubbed my thumb across the top of his hand. “I don’t know about forever Josh. I’ve just gotten used to thinking past one day at a time, but for now, right now seems pretty certain.”

            In one fluid motion he’d rolled his body onto the bed resting his head against my stomach. I’d felt the movement of his lips through my shirt yet still his voice had sounded far away.

            “Right now sounds good. Right now gives us something to remember tomorrow.”

            I’d reached for his hair curling the soft locs around my fingers. “Are you sad? You sound sad.”

            “Not sad. Just silent. Reflective, before everything changes.”

            “We can be silent.” I’d leaned to the side flicking off the bedside lamp. “Go to sleep Josh, tomorrow will be a celebration. You’ll feel better then.” I had no idea as I stared into the darkness, his weight solid against my stomach that tomorrow would mean nothing would ever be better, ever again. But I could leave all that behind. Tonight I could go to sleep and when I woke up decide to make the town of Fairhope my life, get a job, find a place to live, make new friends and convince my body that the fighting was over, convice my heart that I didn’t love Josh or push it all down far enough that it wouldn’t matter if it was true as long as I could keep it hidden beneath every new thing I was determined to build.

Finally the Next Pages!

I know I’m late in posting, I’m sorry but here are the new pages! It’s not quite where it left off, it’s starting from where I can decipher what’s on the pages. It’s a short post but I’m hoping to have more coming soon. Thanks for reading and for hanging in there with me!

I was back at Essex. The sun was setting, I sat on the west side of the rolling lawn. Garden roses bloomed near the house, their heady scent traveling eagerly on the slight breeze. In my lap a basket of deep red raspberries freshly picked their nearness to the earth still pungent on my tongue. The setting sun was lazy, the sky flung with slowly moving waves of purple, orange and rust. I could hear the sounds of training leaking from the house, muffled blunt echoes of kicks, punches, the muted thump of bodies hitting the ground. I readjusted lying on the sloped hill, my back against the green grass. A buzzard flew overhead. Large and black it drew lazy circles against the sky, every third breath blocking the sun casting me in shadow. I popped raspberries into my mouth the ripe fruit staining my lips, tongue, the tips of my fingers bright blood red.

            It began to scare me suddenly. I sat up quickly rubbing my hands against my white sundress leaving behind moist red streaks. The buzzard circled lower, the scent of roses twisted my stomach, the raspberries spilled against the ground, crumbling under my knees, absurdly full of juice leaking raspberry trails down the pristine green.

            I sat on my heels frantically rubbing my hands against my dress. I was crying, tears I wiped with raspberry hands staining my face shades of red. The sun was content to watch resting its elbows on the horizon slowly blinking back the oncoming night. It was cold. Unbearably so, my breath crystallized against the air, visible sobs wafting past my face.

            The sounds from Essex grew amplified, the buzzard flying closer its wings growing near enough to fan my face. The sounds from the house morphed echoing the whisper of my name, the chanting of it filling the air, pushing against my ear drums, squeezing moisture from my eyes. My hands would not be clean, I abandoned my dress rubbing them against grass tinted with raspberry juice flooding the ground like rain. It stained my knees, snuck under my fingernails.

            Sobs shook my body fighting off breath. I brought my hands to my face, blood red juice dripping from my palms, off the tip of my nose, finding its way into my hair. The buzzard landed in the grass, its shiny black claws thick in the earth. It eyed me. Its pointy beak picking plump raspberries from the ground, the juice flowing onto its shiny black feathers. It inched closer, closer, its feet squeezing squishy sounds from the saturated grass.

            I was afraid, fear spreading with each of its steps, fear stretching and moving against the whispers of my name and a sun refusing to set. Fear pushing sobs from me with screams hurting my ears, acting as a beacon drawing the buzzard closer and closer. I covered my eyes with red stained hands, tears flowing through my fingers. I heard the buzzard’s steps, closer, closer, closer, my eyes closed against my hands I was completely stone still with terror. I knew he was there, seconds from me, a raspberry sweet beak against my icy skin. I sat cold, afraid, waiting, waiting.

            And then my mother’s song, softly at first then clear and pure, one she used to sing in the kitchen tying an old apron around her waist;

           

            Flour goes in the kitchen

            Butter in the pan

            Pickles are good for snacking

            Maybe we’ll have a ham

           

            Then we’ll have dessert

            A party just for two

            Chocolate and lemon

            One for me and one for you

 

            I hummed along with the last lines smiling and opening my eyes just as the buzzard flew into my lap.

            Its black face, black eyes even with mine, its beak opening, breath raspberry sweet and something making its way up its throat, shaking the birds body with hacking sounds, something working its way up its throat, pain shading the bird’s eyes, the song started again, my mom’s song. I looked over the shivering bird’s shoulder and she was there, bathed in golden sunset, singing her kitchen song, reaching her arms to me.

            I reached for her, the buzzard tightened its claws into my thighs, my blood mixing with raspberry stains, the bird’s mouth growing larger making room for the thing fighting past its throat.

            “Mom-Mommy!” I called out the words scratchy and tight, “Mommy please!”

            “Shhhhh baby.” She stepped forward one foot in front of the other, “I’m here sweetheart, I’ve always been here.” She stepped forward again and then stopped, hands flat in the air pushing against an invisible wall.

            She pushed as I called out, the bird quivering in my lap straining against what was inside, its eyes closing as the beginning of the thing inched past the narrow opening of its throat. I screamed my voice echoing across the green,

            “MOMMA!”

            She pushed against air straining to reach me tears falling from her face, then she was free, free falling towards me, the thing inside the bird breaking loose. A primal scream wrenched from my mouth,

            “MOMMA PLEASE!”

            She fell forward, arms outstretched eyes locked on mine, the thing inside the bird pushing itself forward, birthing sounds escaping its throat, its claws digging deeper into my flesh ripping my raspberry stained dress to even shreds.

            My mom continued to fall as if through quicksand, I strained my arms towards her, our hands almost touching, the thing inside the bird reached a raw fleshy hand around the side of its beak open the bird’s mouth even larger, I screamed – I screamed,

            “MOMMA, MOMMA PLEASE, PLEASE!”

            She reached for me falling through thick air but she was falling short, not gonna reach, not gonna reach, not reach. Panic clouded her face, her eyes met mine,

            “WAKE UP BABY! WAKE! UP! WAKE! UP!”

            I sat straight up in bed, the sheet damp and twisted around me, the echo of my own screams holding in the air. I reached out, seconds passing before I could shake the feeling of my mom reaching for me through the shadows. I ran my hand over my face and it came away slick with tears. My breathing was ragged. I concentrated to pull air slowly through my nose.

            Staring into the dark I felt the grip of the nightmare gradually loosen around me. My back was damp against the cool sheets and pale yellow pillow. I adjusted against the mattress blinking against the nighttime inkiness rolling the details of the dream around my mind like dice in my hand. Nothing to be afraid of, just a dream – and my mom. Even with the edges of the nightmare still quickening my heart the memory of her, sound of her voice, remembering her face brought immediate comfort.

            Willing my mind to shake off the parts lingering with fear I held onto the nearness of my mom, clearer in that dream than she’d been in years. Turning on my side I coaxed my eyes closed snuggling deeper under the covers humming my mom’s kitchen song until I finally fell back asleep.

 

Maybe the final pages….?

So these might be the last pages. I was rushing to get as much transcribed before I left for vacation tomorrow and suddenly the pages became more of a mash of crumbled paper, smears and illegible scratchings then anything else. I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I’m ready to give up on teasing out the whole of this story but I only thought it fair, (for those of you still reading along), to let you know that the end might be near…

“Thank you.” The words were so lazy escaping me mouth I wasn’t even sure she heard. I contemplated saying them again but exhaustion leached from me the energy to do anything besides find my bed and close my eyes.

I stopped in front of the third door on the right, a shiny brass 6 positioned solidly in the middle. The key slide easily into the lock clicking softly and with a gentle push the thick wood door opened smoothly. The room was a comfortable mix of modern and classic details, almond walls, traditional deep wood furniture, a giant mahogany sleigh bed molded with clean lines, fresh blue hydrangea leaned elegantly inside a milk jar pitcher by the bed. The TV was large and flat framed on the wall like artwork. The bathroom small but crisp; shiny white and ivory tiles, pedestal sink, claw foot tub with a tilted back and thick white towel draped over the edge.

I stepped into the bathroom dropping my nearly empty bag by the door. Splashing cool water on my face I stared at my reflection in the streamlined mirror. I looked worn. My eyes dry and hooded, my skin dull and ashy but for once it felt like something a good night’s sleep might be able to shake off. I smiled watching it travel past my awakened cheekbones and tease the corners of my eyes.

It was almost believable.

I striped out of my clothes leaving a trail from the bathroom to the edge of the massive bed before climbing under the soft covers. Laying down in darkness I smiled one more time wondering if it was believable, hoping by morning it would be.

I slept late. A mid-day day sun fought its way past the dark curtains casting slim rays against the hardwood floor. I picked at my matted hair, rolled over and managed to talk myself beyond the comfort of the firm mattress. The bathroom floor was cold beneath my feet. I looked for my socks, grabbing my jeans and giving them a shake when the note from Susan fluttered out the front pocket landing face up on the shiny floor. Bending I held the piece of paper between my fingers before laying it on the sink and jumping into a quick shower. Drying off I dressed quickly in my standard uniform of jeans and tank top before tucking the slip of paper in my back pocket, grabbing my wallet and car keys and heading towards the main desk.

A man was there. He was casual in a navy blue t-shirt, light khaki pants and running shoes so pristine it was obvious they’d never been used for running. His olive skin was evenly muscled; the top of his slightly large head capped with hair the color of freshly ground coffee beans. An inky black tattoo of a ginkgo leaf  was visible on his collar bone inching halfway up his neck. In just standing there he was old school smooth, Fred Estaire, Maxwell and Marvin Gaye wrapped in a Barry White bow. I imagined him the quarterback on football teams, homecoming king, lucky bastard lottery winner.

Hearing me approach he looked up, a soft smile impossibly bettering his face. “You must be Velma. Sleep well?”

“I did thanks. It’s David right?” I reached into my wallet pulling out almost all the cash I had left frowning to myself at the thinness of the stack. “Is this enough? I’m sorry I should have asked before I stayed for the night.”

He looked at me and taking the money in his hands pulled two twenties from the top before handing back the rest. “Seems like that should cover it.” He walked behind the desk pushing buttons on the computer and then stepped back slightly as the money drawer opened stopping just short of his waistline.

“Are you sure forty dollars is enough uh, uh,” I started, ‘ I could, I mean if there’s any work around here, ya know to uh, to help cover wha…” but he only held up his hand and shook his head. Then placing the money on the desk he straightened each twenty against its edge, three concentrated swipes until the wrinkles bred from crumpling them in my pockets and wallet were almost gone. Satisfied with the progress on the first bill he laid it into the money drawer, beginning to talk as he started on the second.

“Knowing my Liz she did a fair job trying to nose her way around your when-where-and-why last night. If she didn’t she sure soon will be so I’ll save all the question and answer stuff for her. Far as I’m concerned if Sue sent you our way she had good reason to. Everybody here knows everybody else, the blessing and the curse of a small town. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, any questions just ask. Liz and I can point you in the right direction.” He dropped the second straightened twenty into the drawer and pushed it closed with a manicured hand.

“You guys sure are nice to strangers around here.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Yes we are nice but we’re not naive. And our Sue isn’t quick to wake us from our sleep in order to let just anybody in. Her instincts are solid. If she says you’re okay, most likely you are. On the off chance you end up being a problem well, we’ll deal with it then. Like I said blessing and curse of a small town. Everyone knows everything. Good or bad we tend to tackle what needs to be handled with a group effort.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make you think, to insinuate that you don’t know what you’re doing or that you shouldn’t trust me, I’m just – I’m not used to –“

“Don’t work yourself up everything’s fine.” He walked back around the counter standing in front of me, his face easily carrying his sunshine of a smile. “So you planning on breakfast? You already know about the diner but there’s also a coffee shop bout three blocks east. I’d have the sweet potato muffin and their house blend, best coffee you’ll ever have.”

“As good as that sounds I was actually thinking of stopping by the cabinet shop. Uh Sue, I mean Susan said they might be hiring so…”

One side of his mouth tilted mischievously. “So you do plan on staying a while. The cabinet shop is easy to find, only red building on Main Street. You’re good getting back there right?” I nodded before he finished. “I won’t keep you then. Shop should be open. Good luck with your search.”

He turned moving fluidly down the opposite hallway. I thought to call after him. Thank him. But the simple words stayed tangled on my tongue. I was becoming increasingly aware of how I was completely socially awkward. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d dealt with someone who wasn’t an assignment or at Essex. This inability at small talk was making me look like a stumbling idiot. I would work on it. Find a way to get it together in the ten minutes it would take to get to the cabinet shop. Hopefully I’d be able to get a handle on my first impression by then.

Driving towards Main Street it settled on me exactly how new this experience would be. I’d never had a job. Not a legitimate one. Hustling in foster care didn’t really count. When I’d gotten out I’d had money my mom had left me though I’d done a miraculous job burning through it before I was cloaked. Thanks to Sara there was still some left but it certainly wasn’t enough to live without having to worry about paying bills or buying gas and food.

At Essex I’d forgotten the importance of money, financial things were simply handled. Living there, accepting that as my life I never thought to consider the possibility of that security being lost. I was making myself nervous. I was 18 years old and I’d never been employed. I just ran away from a life no one would ever believe. Now I was driving down main street in Fairhope hoping that I’d be hired at a cabinet shop? A cabinet shop! I still had no idea what I would say when walking up to the brick colored building I put my hand on the glass door knob and walked inside.

The shop suited me right away. It was straight forward and unassuming. Rows of unfinished pine bookcases in ascending heights lined the walls. A simple birch desk, also unfinished sat far against the left wall. The remaining interior floor space was spotted with smaller furniture. Bedside tables, TV stands, bars, a twin platform bed, small round tables and narrow lean console tables.

A large board was mounted on the wall neatly divided into 3 inch squares each displaying wood staining options. An old fashioned boom–box, black with a tape deck rested on top of the desk that was otherwise clear. R&B filtered softly through the speakers. The man behind the counter acknowledged me with a nod as I entered, only moving to stand once I stepped in front of the desk. His voice was Russian accented and loud. “Hello can I help you find something today? Our 6ft bookcases are 20% off.”

He was large as if commanding his own centrifugal force. I imagined in hugging him my arms would find themselves lacking just past his second belt loop. His beard was thick and barely beginning to pepper with grey. It was a roving mass of hair, purposefully meandering into curly untamed sideburns in complete contrast to the straight sleekness of his shoulder length hair. His eyes were small and dark centered perfectly on his round face so in spite of obvious years he seemed boyish, innocent. I stared hesitating longer than I meant to. He cleared his throat politely prompting me to find my voice.

“Um no thank you on the bookcase. I was hoping to speak with uh Niko or,” I glanced quickly at the paper wadded in my hand, “Stephanie?”

His smile broadened. “I am Niko”

“I’m sorry, I should have guessed.” I crammed the paper into my pocket rubbing clammy hands against the front of my jeans. “My name is Velma.”

“Velma!” He smiled with teeth tiny, delicate and perfectly white. Flattened lined up tic tacs. He took my hand in both of his shaking it decidedly three times. “Pleasure to meet you. What can I do for you?”

I took a deep breath determined not to insult, offend or instantly seem unsure. “I was hoping to discuss the possibility of employment. Last night I met Susan from the diner, she mentioned you might be hiring?”

He laughed a high melodious sound that was surprising and contagious before speaking. “Ah don’t you love the way women talk! So quickly you share information, it is so efficient! I’m sure my Stephanie let Sue know we’d be looking for help but I haven’t even posted the ad!”

I paused quickly reviewing the words in my head before saying them out loud. “If you’re not quite ready to speak with me I can come back at a later time.”

“Nonsense, you’re here now, we’ll discuss now. Just one second, one second.” He walked to the right of the desk past an open doorway returning with a chair. Pulling it to the desk he motioned for me to take a seat. He sat across from me, legs crossed at the ankles, hands resting on the apex of his stomach. “So,” he said, “it’s a simple job. Very small store. You’ll basically man it yourself. Sell what you can. Keep the furniture clean. Sand out nicks or stains on the floor models and – you can draw, yes?”

I nodded yes though absolutely sure the opposite was true.

“Good. So every now and then you’ll have to draw custom pieces. Take measurements. Set up deliveries. We have many regulars, our neighborhood friends who always want many of the same things and then there are the tourists. They require much patience, they ask questions and touch things and then ask the same questions again, but they do have plenty of money and so we answer their questions and then sand out their fingerprints from our samples once they leave. Okay sounding to you?”

“Yeah,” I cleared my throat measuring my words, “I mean yes. It sounds perfect actually. I would love to be considered.”

He smiled again tic tac teeth flashing as he sat upright resting his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. “Why don’t we set up a time tomorrow. You can come and work a shift with Stephanie, see what you think. Then we go from there?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “That sounds great. What time should I be here?”

“10:00 a.m. and be prompt. Stephanie won’t even let you try if you are late.”

“I will. I promise.”

We stood simultaneously walking towards the front door. Niko ran a hand over a nearby bookcase inspecting the surface with his fingers.

“Pleasure to meet you Velma,” I swallowed a smile. He drew my name out when he said it coaxing the letters into three rounded syllables, “you should explore our small town today if you plan on staying for a while. Get the staring over with. People here are fond of anything new and you certainly fit the bill.”

“I will thank you, and thank you for the opportunity Niko.”

He opened the door laughing as I stepped out into the sunshine. “Don’t thank me ValyUsha,” the Russian word flowed pleasantly over his tongue, “ you have yet to go through a shift with my Stephanie.” He was still chuckling as he closed the door behind me leaving me standing on the sidewalk.

I raised a hand shielding my eyes from the sun and looked from one end of the street to the other. Now what? I could do anything and the freedom had me frozen in place. After the longest minute clicked by, I found myself walking in search of the café. I’d have a sweet potato muffin like David suggested and maybe later an ice cream cone, mint chocolate chip like the ones Josh and I used to share.

No.

Strawberry this time because it was my favorite even though Josh hated it, but he wouldn’t be here to make me change my mind. I’d go see a movie, take a nap in the middle of the day for no reason.

The street was full, kids on skateboards, families pushing strollers, couples holding hands and sneaking kisses. I soaked it in, each little bit of normalcy building it up as a reason to believe I could be normal too.

The café like everything else was easy to find and, as I was coming to anticipate in this town, the exact opposite of what I’d expected. It was all shiny black and white. A mix of checkerboard floor and mismatched tables and chairs all painted the same glossy white. Multiple milky ceiling fans turned lazily against the midday heat rustling newspapers and book pages. Almost every table was full, the line at the counter more than ten people deep. I took my place at the end hungrily eying the rows of visible pastries and closed my eyes against the warm smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Opening my eyes I took notice of the whitewashed walls. Each one was decorated with names and quotes written with black Sharpie markers hanging from strings secured with pushpins at varying heights. Without thinking I grabbed a marker finding an open expanse of white wall and wrote in rounded capital letters;  Poetry is the sacred incarnation of spirits. Running my fingers over the words I remembered the first time I’d ever seen them. Then shaking that memory free I capped the marker leaving it to hang from its string and stepped up moving forward in line.

Soon I was sliding my way between the haphazard arrangement of tables to set my sweet potato muffin and black ceramic mug of coffee on a small table next to the window. Taking my first bite I felt eyes watching me. Stares tickling down my back. Window shopper double takes as they passed on the street. I pretended not to notice. Sipping my coffee and chewing another bite of huge muffin I was content to rest chin in hand doing some people watching of my own. I was so preoccupied looking out the window that I didn’t notice Susan until she stopped at my table, pulled out a chair and simultaneously sat down reaching for a small piece of my muffin popping it in her mouth.

“You look well rested.”

“Do you always steal food from other people’s plates?”

She shrugged reaching for another piece. “Not always.”

I acquiesced pushing the plate so it rested between us. She spoke between bites. “Niko said you stopped by about the job.”

“Um hum”

“So that means you plan on staying around for awhile?”

I smiled before responding swallowing a sip of coffee. “I thought you were done with your meddling last night.”

“Was that meddling?” she responded innocently, “I wasn’t aware.”

“I think there is very little of which you are unaware.”

She grinned guiding the last of my muffin to her mouth. “So,” her voice muffled as she chewed, “the rest of my day is free. You should let me be your tour guide. Our little 15 mile stretch can be awfully intimidating.”

“Fifteen miles! Jeez this is a small town!”

“You have no idea.”

“And you want to be my tour guide?”

“Well you could choose from the folks who keep staring while we sit here but I don’t think they’d be as nice as me.”

“And you would know. They’re your people.”

“Not all of them are my people but you’re right, I would know.”

I ran a hand through my hair staring at my empty plate. “Might as well do a bit of walking. Looks like my breakfast is done.”

“A walk sounds like a great idea.” She stood carrying the dirty plates back to the counter. I weaved through the increasingly crowded café waiting for her outside under the black and white awning. I was getting used to the stares of people walking by, their curiosity, my impulse to princess wave as if I were riding a parade float. Susan walked outside to stand beside me pulling sunglasses down from the top of her head pushing them up the center of her nose. “Where to?”

I pulled the sunglasses off her face repositioning them on my own. Her smirk was visible from the corner of my eye. “You tell me,” I said, “it’s your town.”

She rolled her eyes pulling me by the arm onto the sidewalk.

We walked for the better part of the day, taking our time against the steady summer heat to  stop in air conditioned doorways or pause to appreciate a thick full breeze. She introduced me to shop owners and those bold enough to speak on the street. We stopped for an ice cream cone and I was just finishing my strawberry swirl when I realized she was veering towards the stationary store I’d admired the night before. Popping the last of the cone in my mouth I stepped past the threshold to the sound of three chiming bells. It was a jewel box inside, everything presented as if precious and rare. Jeweled card stands, clear acrylic display cases, hanging chandeliers delineating the narrow showroom ending at a small sitting area. Upholstered Louis IV arm chairs, cherry oak display table and organized stacks of leather bound sample books.

The young woman behind the desk recognized Susan immediately and called out as we walked through the door. “Susan,” the woman moved from behind the counter cornering Susan with a bear hug, “we have your samples. They came in today! They are super fantastic so perfectly weddingy!”

Sue delicately but firmly extracted herself from the hug pushing away to create some distance. “Sounds great Kamille can I see them?”

Kamille nudged Sue’s shoulder, an overworked gesture of solidarity. “Of course you can silly, they’re your samples! Go quick to the display table I’ll bring them over.”

I followed as Susan walked to the table trying unsuccessfully to hide the surprise in my voice. “You’re getting married?

She sat motioning me to sit next to her. “Don’t sound so surprised. Many people find me extremely marriable.”

“Marriable?”

“Don’t pick at my words either.”

“Ok marriable but um…how old are you cause my guess is around 18…”

“You’re 18.”

“I’m not getting married.”

“I’m almost 19, will be 20 by the time we get married. It works. I’ve never been good with the patience and he finds me marriable enough to do the whole happily ever after thing right now.”

I laughed. “I think you can retire the word marriable now.”

She poked my rib. “You only wish you were marriable.”

I smirked surprised at the small dig of sadness unfolding in my chest. Blinking quickly I watched Kamille walk towards us, a shiny pink binder nestled in her manicured hands, her Brady Bunch ponytail swinging behind her. Sue watched her too rolling her eyes involuntarily. I elbowed her pushing my voice up two octaves. “Oh yes! I so want to be marriable! It sounds super super fantastic!”

“Shut up,” she said unsuccessfully muffling a laugh, “she’ll hear you.”

“Oh so now you’re scared of Kamille?

So I think I had this dream last night…

Different kind of post this time. I will be traveling the 16th  – 23rd so I’ve been spending time with these handwritten pages getting together a chunk to post for those who are still reading along in this story while I am away. But with that said last night I think I dreamed myself into this world I’ve been sharing with each of you. Remembering it is easiest done when I’m not trying to remember it, an attempt to focus on what I think might be a recollection only makes it shrink away, still I’m left with the feeling that I met these characters last night in my dream. That I saw their faces and they saw mine and gave me permission to share as much of their story as I can. Or maybe the entire process is just haunting me, finding a means to sneak further in past simply holding the pages and typing the words…putting them here in full view of anyone willing to follow along. I think the most I can say is that I am in this story, invested and reflected and affected. It has claimed a part of me and so I will continue to write and post until it is done. Maybe then it will release me and I can walk away.

Pages 37 – 40

Just when I thought the pages were getting easier to read…sorry this post isn’t longer. It took me forever to make out the handwriting on these pages.

She smiled and produced a damp rag from her back pocket methodically wiping the slick counter. “I’ve done some running too,” she looked at me her eyes blinking once for confirmation, I met her gaze, willing myself not to look down as she continued, “and finally some settling down. I know what it looks like.” She folded the rag placing it behind her back. “You’ve stumbled into a good place, good people. Don’t bring your troubles – whatever they are, and you’ll be ok here.”

            I wondered when I’d become so transparent. If it would be a lingering side effect of trying not to constantly look as if I should be being chased. I wanted to say something, anything in response but words wouldn’t come. Instead I tucked the slip of paper into the pocket of my jeans. Susan patted the top of my hand squeezing it gently.

            “You’re going to be just fine. We always are.”

            “Thank you Susan.” The words escaped rounded and full. She smiled so easily it seemed impossible to imagine her having to run from anything. She reached into the top of her shirt pulling free another piece of paper dangling it from her fingertips. She gave her wrist a slight twist resting the note in the center of her palm.

            “Last bit of meddling I promise,” she extended her hand closer, the back of her palm hovering over my empty plate, “Niko and Stephanie own the cabinet shop a few doors down. They’re looking for some help, I wrote down their number. Go by there tomorrow if you plan on staying awhile. They’re honest, salt of the earth folks.”

            I closed the paper in my palm laughing softly under my breath. “What are you an angel?”

            She smirked, a look I couldn’t quite pin down running over her face. “No hon far from it, far from it.” She cleared her throat again one hand running over her cropped curls. “Now that’s done. How bout I clear your plate, bring you some cobbler. Eddie always says one bowl of his cobbler promises sweet dreams.”

            “Can’t argue with that, plus I feel like if I say thank you one more time I’ll sound like a broken record.”

            She laughed. “I don’t need your thank yous hon but tips are always appreciated.” Winking a dark brown eye she disappeared into the back of the restaurant my empty plate in hand.

            I looked around at the handful of folks still biding their time at stainless diner tables and cherry red booths. It seemed possible to settle down here. To imagine eating at this diner, sharing local gossip with Susan, hosting spades games at a postcard house with, I glanced at the paper to refresh my memory, Niko and Stephanie and whoever worked at the auto shop and the stationary store down the street. I liked the thought.

Finishing the tea, ice cubes clinking against the glass I imagined sipping a full glass on a porch swing. Imagined being happy without feeling indebted for it.

            In the time I’d been sitting at this shiny bar I hadn’t thought about Josh once, not about Essex or the balance. My mind flashed again to Doc with his kaleidoscope eyes and Sara who used to leave Sleepytime tea by my bed at night. I missed them. People who knew me. But I was also excited at the prospect of carving out space in this town, of becoming whoever I might be outside of shouldering responsibilities I never expected to have.

Susan silently reappeared with the cobbler kind enough to leave me with my thoughts. The dessert was perfect, buttery crust soft against ripe fruit slightly firm and satisfyingly sweet. All of it soothingly cooled by an ample scoop of rich vanilla ice cream melting on its side. I scraped the small bowl clean before throwing crumpled bills on the table and standing to stretch, rubbing hands over my full and slightly extended belly.

            Susan was nowhere to be found as I got ready to leave. It wasn’t until I was almost at the door that she materialized, leaning on the wall to the left of the doorframe. I opened my mouth. She instantly held up her hand. “No thank you’s remember?”

            Grinning I bowed my head shaking it slightly shaking from side to side and took her hand when she offered returning the firm grasp. She leaned back against the door frame again folding her arms easily over her chest. “I’ll see you around. Drop by anytime.”

            I looked up at her beautiful face. “I will. Please tell Eddie the food was amazing.”

            She rolled her eyes playfully easing me out the door. “He knows girl, he knows. Now go see Liz at the hotel. Get some sleep. Looks like you could use it.”

           

            The hotel was easy to find. The parking lot was small and mostly empty. Inside the walls were washed in beachy blues and sandy beiges more modern than expected from the Victorian-like exterior. Liz sat behind a shiny white Eames claw-foot desk, a tabloid magazine in her hand, bright shiny red hair braided loosely down her back. Hearing me approach she dropped the open magazine against her chest the pages ruffling softly. “So you’re why Susan called in the welcome party.”

            I fought a yawn escaping my mouth not sure I had the energy to banter back and forth. Reaching into the desk she dangled from her hand an old fashioned key suspended from a large blue sea glass key chain shaped like a horseshoe.

            “Of course. You’re exhausted,” she further extended the key, “you’re in room number 6. Up the stairs third door on your right. I’ll get the other info I need from you tomorrow. Go on, head up. Get some rest.”

            I let her drop the key in my hand straightening my meager duffel bag on my shoulder. She noticed her mouth lifting lightly at the corners.

            “I’d offer to help with your bag but it looks like you should manage just fine.” She looked me up and down, fingers fiddling with the end of the braid draped over her shoulder. “You’re pretty,” she said as if I should be ashamed to be, “clean”, she continued, “do I even want to know what brings you to our neck of the woods?  What would make Sue grease the skids?”

            She was excited. I felt she regarded me the same way she did the tabloid stories in her magazine. Curious. Hopeful for a juicy tidbit at the core of the story. I was quiet, key dangling expectantly from my hand. She stared at me for loaded seconds then shook her head as if waking up. “Of course I don’t want to know, not my business to know,” she walked from behind the counter her hand on the back of my neck propelling me towards the steps, “go. Go right up stairs. I promise to try and keep my nose to myself.”

            I yawned again sleep becoming harder and harder to carry. She patted my back as I lunged onto the stairs, her voice carrying as I was halfway up. “Remember, third door on the right, call down if you need anything. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

Pages 31- 36

No real preamble here, these pages were pretty easy to make out. Enjoy!

Thinking of Josh and the Taram and the start of what I’d thought would be my new life tumbled in and through my aching head like the itch of a freshly growing scab. I wished to scrape it out, to wipe my memories as clean as the bleaching of my signal but memories were always stickier, especially the ones you wanted more than anything to be rid of.

My first thought of finding a hotel and getting some sleep was forgotten once I took a good look through my windshield and realized where my wandering mind had led. I pulled my car to a stop at the clearing of grass and trees where everything had started, where my life had changed. I would take a quick walk through the park, my own Taram memorial service, the closure I would need to truly lay my old life down. Dropping the car keys in my pants pocket I took a wide slow lap around the mature oaks and weeping willows, the park bench where I’d sat tipsy and unaware of what was to come.

            I saw the girl I’d been then and the one who’d taken her place. I thought of my life on that bench, before Sara, before being cloaked, before Josh and Doc and destiny and all the things in between. My circling thoughts adding impetuous to my nomadic impulses I got back in my car driving until it seemed right to stop then getting out to walk again.

I was alone in the dark walking down one street, turning then down another. Past postcard houses, gingerbread shutters and impossibly green lawns luminescent against the night. I pictured pools in the backyards, giant Labrador retrievers and toddlers with curly hair and plump legs pumping side-to-side to run across the grass. It was a perfect neighborhood. Like the one I drew in my head as a kid. The one I promised to search out once I was free.

Free.

Now I was.

            I wandered to the end of a cul-de-sac before turning around then left opposite the way I’d came. I wanted to live a boringly normal life. I wanted to forget Josh and Essex, Persuasion, the balance. I wanted to forget my father, my childhood. I wanted to see my Mom. If I was a birthright then she would have known, would have answered my questions, been able to tell me what to do. I hoped she wasn’t disappointed in me. I hoped she understood why I had no fight left.

            Looking around I realized I’d wandered onto some sort of main street, ‘Welcome to Fairhope!’ a small burgundy sign read, ‘Population 742’. I smiled, the 2 in 742 was written in what looked like magic marker on top of a rectangle of white paint, that, when I looked closer, was covering up what used to be a number 1. I walked past the sign running my fingers over the raised brush strokes of the white paint and stood at the top of the street. Funky store fronts and cozy cafes dotted the tiny strip of asphalt. A travel bookstore, vinyl records shop, boho chic boutiques, a jewel box of a stationary store compelling even through darkened windows. I stared past the store’s closed sign at the wedding invitations on display and imagined a life allowing for the planning of such things. I imagined living in the middle of that life, away from every shouldn’t be that had taken over, that I’d offered myself to as a sacrifice.

            I was crying again. I was becoming such a sap. I never used to cry now it was the only thing I seemed consistently able to do. Tracing my finger down the glass of the display window I took a deep breath then turned away eager to take in the rest of the street.

            There was an ice cream shop vibrant in primary colors instantly making me remember Doc’s flashing eyes. Next to it what looked like an auto body shop though I couldn’t see inside, next to that a bakery with poundcake specials written on a wall mounted chalkboard.

It was Mayberry for the 21st century, Gilmore Girls’ Star’s Hollow, the hip evolution of the quiet southern town. I pictured people walking down the street knowing their neighbors, saying hello, inviting them over for backyard BBQ’s.

My life had been on autopilot before Essex, breathe and survive, breathe and survive. Essex had been a trade off for my life – sacrifice myself, save somebody else. Now I just wanted to live and walking down this storybook street I realized living was the best plan I ever had.

            Rounding the small curve at the end of the block I noticed the illuminated windows of a building just visible past the hanging limbs of a massive tree. Walking closer, the smells of fried chicken and warm pie wrapped around me like the answer to prayer.

Inside most of the tables were empty. An older man with brilliant silver grey hair sat exposed in the middle of the restaurant, reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, newspaper rustling as he folded and refolded pages. He smiled when our eyes met then returned to his creased paper and sipped his coffee.

            Two women sat at a table in the corner. Obviously old friends they laughed easily orchestrating the sharing of food with the ease of those who’ve been doing so for years. I envied them, found my gaze lingering just past the beat of uncomfortable before I turned to saddle up to the empty bar. Walking in I hadn’t noticed anyone working but as my behind settled on the seat a waitress appeared.

She was not at all Mayberry. She was the most stunning girl I’d ever seen, brown butter skin, full even lips, hair curly and cropped like a halo framing her face, young, maybe just a few years older than me, but definitely not older than 20, even though her clear even eyes made it difficult to know for sure. She soundlessly dropped a coffee cup and saucer in front of me pouring coffee from a steaming pot as she spoke. “Assume you’ll be needing some coffee. Sitting at the bar at 2:00 a.m. usually requires coffee.”

            “Thank you.” I said pulling the cup towards me as she produced a small silver pitcher of cream and a white porcelain bowl of sugar. She stood casually. One hand rested on the counter, the other hung easily at her side.

            “Want some food too hon? Kitchen stays open.” I formed my mouth to respond but she continued before I could. “We don’t really have a menu right now,” she paused leaning back in the direction of the kitchen yelling over her shoulder. “Eddie we still got that chili?”

            I heard nothing in response but she nodded as if she’d gotten the information she needed. “Right now we’re out of chili but we’ve got some fried chicken with or without waffles, mac and cheese, Eddie can always grill up a burger and I think there’s some pasta and meat sauce if that’ll suit ya. I’m not sure what he’s working with sides right now but he’ll be sure to fix your plate up nice.”

            I’d already drained half my coffee happy for the caffeine buzz. She topped off my cup while continuing. “Sorry things are so haphazard hon, when it’s late like this Eddie tends to do his own thing.”

            I spooned a small bit of sugar into the coffee stirring before taking another sip. “That’s fine. In fact, I’m perfectly cool with um…Eddie sending me out whatever he wants, everything smells so delicious I’m sure anything coming from the kitchen will be good.”

            “Oh girl,” she tapped her knuckles lightly on the counter, “he’s going to love you.”

            She walked away backwards blindly navigating the landscape of the diner. “I’ll go put your order in. I’m Susan, just give a yell if you need anything.” She disappeared around the corner. I took another comforting sip of coffee.

            It was only a few minutes before she returned with a full plate. Mac and cheese still bubbling from the oven, fried chicken golden and crispy, asparagus steamed bright and glossy topped with still melting butter. I popped a crisp spear in my mouth unfolding the napkin Susan offered in my lap. She placed a knife and fork along the right side of my plate.

            “That okay hon? Anything you don’t like I can let Eddie know.”

            “It’s perfect,” I managed between bites, “Really delicious.”

            She stood silently while I ate. I waited to see if she would voice the questions fighting behind her eyes. Halfway through my second chicken leg, a bite of mac and cheese aimed for my parted lips she finally did. “So,” she said, her arms crossing smoothly in front of her chest, “I know the face of everyone in this stretch of land and air and yours hon is a new face. If you need a place to stay for the night I can give you the number for the hotel down the street.”

            I swallowed my last bite looking up appreciatively. “I’d be grateful, thanks.”

            “Sure, sure. I’ll go get that for you, maybe bring some sweet tea on my way back?”

            “Sweet tea sounds perfect.”

            She nodded disappearing again around the corner returning quickly with a slip of paper in one hand, a tall tumbler of iced tea in the other. “Liz and David run the hotel,” she passed the slip of paper across the counter, “they’re usually down for the night after 10:00 but I gave them a call, let them know you’d be on the way. They’ll make sure you get set up for the night.”

            I put my fork down trying to swallow suspicion rising in my chest. My hand slid against the cool surface of the tumbler rubbing the condensation between my fingers. My voice was caution coated. “Why are you being so nice to me? You don’t know me. You don’t know me at all.”