As some of you know, I am dipping my toes into the paranormal women's fiction genre. While this book is similar in a lot of ways to what I'm currently writing, there are a few differences. Namely, these books don't have the same level of "filter" that you will find in my other books.
Because of this, I've opted to put the first two chapters up here so that you can take a look at this excerpt and determine if it's something of interest to you. If it is, you can find it HERE on AMAZON
A quick note: Please keep in mind that these are the first two chapters and they have not been cleaned up by a professional editor yet. It's completely possible you will see a typo or ten. The story, however, will not be changed. Thank you!
I had been working at The Rusty Cauldron Bar and Grill for exactly two days before I was ready to lock my brother in the walk-in freezer. He was holding up one of my order slips, squinting his eyes in a melodramatic fashion.
“So, table two wants two slicers and a side of friends?” He glanced up at me and raised his eyebrows. “I think we’re clean out! Do you want to break it to them or should I?” He teased.
I snatched the order slip from his hand and placed it back on the partition that separated us from the kitchen. “Bubba, you know perfectly well that says two orders of sliders and a side of fries. My handwriting’s not that bad! Right, Edgar?” I looked over at our cook, Edgar, for support. He was hunched over in front of the grill solemnly flipping burgers. Edgar always did everything solemnly. He could turn a salad into a dirge.
“Mm-hmm,” he grunted in reply. Not really sure if he was agreeing or disagreeing with me, I turned back to my brother, Dorian. He’d come into his nickname, Bubba, when he was still toddling around the house with a grubby face and even grubbier hands. It had been the natural choice for my parents once they realized that “Dorian” was too old-fashioned and too sophisticated for my giant goofball of a brother who was more interested in smashing things Bamm-Bamm style than taking an interest in literally anything else.
“See, Edgar can read my handwriting just fine. Maybe you just need glasses, or a knock to the head.”
He stuck out his tongue at me like he was three and not thirty. “You’re just jealous I’m better at you than something. Namely, restaurant-ing,” he boasted, placing his hands on his hips and puffing his chest out. He muscles strained against his tight t-shirt and he bounced his pecs for added effect.
“Well at least I’m better at word-ing,” I snarked back. “And I don’t know why you’re flexing at me. Muscles have literally nothing to do with either.”
No sooner had the words left my mouth than the kitchen doors swung open. It didn’t matter how old we were, the second Bubba and I were in a room together we could be back at it like we were kids again. I should probably be ashamed of that fact, given that I’m ten years older. A sixteen-year-old arguing with a six-year-old is a bad look. But what can I say? Brothers are brothers no matter the gap in age.
“Carrie, you know better than anyone that I’m glad to see a smile on your face again,” mom said as she swept out of the kitchen, “but if you two don’t stop arguing while we’ve got customers out there waiting —and listening” she hissed, “— I swear on your father’s life this won’t be a family business for much longer.”
“Sorry, Ma,” Dorian said, leaning over to give her a peck on the top of the head before swinging past her, his arms balancing food trays.
“Oh, Bubba,” she shook her head but smiled after him adoringly. Once he was out of sight, she turned back to me, “I hope you know I really am glad you’re smiling again, hun.”
“I know, Ma,” I said, desperately wanting to avoid the whole subject. “By the way, why would you swear on dad’s life? You’re supposed to swear on your own life.”
She waved a dismissive hand. “I always swear on dad’s life. That way, I’m off the hook if I have to back out of whatever I swore to.”
“Nice. Sometimes it’s a little too obvious you two have been married for forty-five years.” I snickered, turning to make my way back out onto the restaurant floor.
Before I could get out of arms-length, she reached out and placed a light hand on my elbow. “I mean, it’s just … of course your father and I still believe you can do whatever you want to. Whatever you set your mind to,” her smile was concerned, pitying, but there was some real hope in there. She was trying so hard to be a good mother to me right now, and I knew seeing me like this was killing her, but I couldn’t handle another second of it. All I wanted to do was not think about it. And not thinking about it meant not talking about it. Especially with my mother.
I forced a smile that I hoped was convincing enough to appease her. “I’ve got to get these orders out. I’m good, don’t worry about me, okay?” I grabbed the food for table two as Edgar dropped it onto the counter and decided I’d try to stay as busy as possible in whatever part of the restaurant mom and dad weren’t. They had been all concern and care, babying me like they had during those first few months after Child Protective Services had dropped me off on their doorstep. The fact that they’d been acting like this around me since I was forced back into town after that ass had ruined everything, almost made things worse. Like they were pitying me again—and I hated being pitied—but this time it wasn’t because I was a cute little orphan in need of love and a family. This time it was because I’d made a series of choices in my life that had led me to… this. First, being Todd I-hope-he-dies-a-terrible-death Meeks. The worst decision of my life, and not just because he had been a controlling, narcissistic, abusive son of a bitch.
I shook the thoughts from my head, smiling as I took some drink orders from a family with two hyperactive kids. That’s all behind me. I’m moving past it and there’s fuck all I can do about it now.
I made my way over to the bar to get their diet cokes and our special kids’ drink, Witches’ Brew, which was really just a blended drink made up of banana, pineapple, and mango with some green food coloring thrown in.
“Hey,” Violet leaned over the bar where she was serving a mix of regulars and tourists, including a bachelorette group who looked like they had no plans of leaving anytime soon. “What are we doing for your birthday tomorrow?”
I groaned at her. “Violet, that is literally the last thing on this Earth I want to think about right now.”
She drew back, slack-jawed, as if I’d slapped her. “Are you kidding me? You think we’re just going to ignore your big 4-0? Carrie, this is a huge deal. A turning point! We’ve got to mark the day with something really special.” She topped off a martini with a flourish and slid it over to a man who was too busy staring at his neighbor’s cleavage to pay any attention to our conversation. I should have known Violet would spring something on me. The only thing she loved celebrating more than herself were her friends.
I sucked in a deep breath and leaned onto the bar with my elbows. “No. I don’t want to be forty. I don’t even want to think about being forty. I’m not ready, Vi. Not yet. I haven’t … I mean, what do I have to …” I stopped myself before I said anything I’d regret. Shutting the hell up was not my strong suit and Violet was immediately suspicious.
She cocked a perfectly shaped eyebrow as if waiting for me to continue.
It was all well and good for me to mope about being single and childless with a failed dream career that ended both spectacularly and publicly and resulted in a move back home to lick my wounds and work in my parents’ bar. But it was another thing to moan about how my life was meaningless to someone who was in the same proverbial boat. Violet had gotten pulled back to Siren’s End just like I had, and, despite the fact that she was my best friend, I didn’t need to drag her into my ongoing pity party.
“You’re going to celebrate, and you’re going to like it.” She wagged a French-tipped finger at me. “And I’ll expect an equally exciting birthday for myself here in a few months. Understood? We are best friends and best friends don’t screw up each other’s birthdays.”
“I promise—I swear on Bubba’s life—that I will give you the best birthday ever if you just forget tomorrow is even happening.” I knew full-well she’d never go for it, but I had to give it one last shot.
She didn’t even dignify me with a response, instead rolling her eyes and turning her attention to the man still gawking at the triple-Ds next to him.
“Hey, buster,” she leaned in and snapped her fingers in front of his face. “You never seen a pair of tits before? Quit being a creep or I’ll have those bikers over there see you out.” She nodded in the direction of two of my dad’s large, leather-clad friends enjoying a pitcher of beer.
Violet’s comment garnered the attention of the woman and her girlfriends, and if looks could kill, ol’ Googly-eyed Gary would’ve been a goner.
He raised his hands in defeat and tossed a twenty down on the bar before scurrying toward the front door.
I laughed to myself and placed the drinks on a tray to carry back to two very frazzled parents and their kids who had disappeared under the table.
After coaxing them out with promises of a toy from the treasure chest we kept near the register, I went back to work, pushing thoughts of my impending birthday out of my mind and letting myself fall easily into old habits that had carried me through in between acting jobs, born from the early days of working at the Rusty Cauldron in High School.
Hi, how are you all today, can I get you anything? I asked, over and over. Oh, we’ve got a Catch of the Day Dish that I bet you’d just love. Customers were coming and going, a pleasantly bustling day for the business. But just another day for me, a billion ones like it stretching out in front of me forever.
Aren’t you supposed to be a waitress while you’re trying to become an actress, not once you’ve lost your chance? I thought to myself. Maybe I could try teaching a class or something. Acting 101. Better yet, How to Nuke Your Career in Five Seconds Flat: A Step-by-Step Course on How to Get Yourself Blacklisted From Hollywood After Twenty Long Years of Clawing Your Way There. Nah, that title was way too long. Completely accurate though.
I was back in the kitchen, grabbing some extra mayo for table six when a laugh from the front of the restaurant caused my stomach to drop. Even after all these years, I still recognized that shrill, drill-bit cackle. I leaned around the order window to see Katrina Tucker, and her crony, Samantha Sandoval, strut in. Bubba was playing host and led them to a table. It was immediately apparent that it was not to their liking and I watched Katrina’s pinched face as she said something to Bubba. He frowned but picked the menus back up and led them to a window seat. This one they must have approved off, because Katrina no longer looked like she had just discovered dog shit on her shoe. She slid into the booth, shooting Bubba a brief, tight-lipped smile, before turning her attention to Samantha.
I left the kitchen and stood outside the doors, my gaze fixed on Bubba as he made his way to me.
“I’m sorry, Carrie. There wasn’t another section open. Do you want me to take their table for you?” His brow was drawn in concern.
“And let them see they’re the only table in my zone I’m not waiting on?” I asked him, squaring my shoulders. “No way. We haven’t been high school for a long, long time. I can deal with them. And they can be adults, right?” Some naïve part of me hoped that the only thing Katrina had kept from our younger days was her hideous laugh. It had been ages since I’d seen her —twenty-two years, if I’m counting. I figured time would be enough to cool old animosity—though, to this day, I’m still not sure what I ever did to draw so much attention and ire from her.
“Whatever you think is best,” Bubba shrugged. “But let me know if they try to cause any trouble.” His tone was lighthearted but the way his jaw clenched betrayed him. He was worried. And that spoke of someone who thought that Katrina could still be trouble all these years later.
I offered him a brave smile and patted his shoulder as I passed.
I steadied myself, gripping my order pad like a shield as I walked to their table. They were gabbing about something or other and didn’t notice me until I got close. Samantha’s dark brown hair was tied back in a tight ponytail, Katrina’s strawberry blond was half-up. They each had on a full face of makeup —false lashes included— and both wore the newest finds from Lululemon. I knew because I liked to online shop while I watched TV, and I had a terrible habit of perusing stores and adding things to my cart even though I’d never be able to afford any of it anymore. It was a sort of punishment I inflicted on myself for crashing and burning so hard. Yes, I realize it’s masochistic—but surprise!—I can’t afford a therapist either.
I was a foot from their table before either of them looked up.
Katrina gave me a once-over and smirked. God, I still hated her stupid, ferret-face as much as I did when we were kids.
Yup, this was a bad idea.
“Oh, hey, Carrie. Long time no see. What has it been, like twenty-odd years now? That’s wild,” she gave me an oil-slick smile.
Just keep it professional. There would be time to bitch about her and Samantha to Violet later. If I kept my cool, maybe she could keep hers.
“Hi. Yeah, long time. I hope you’ve both been well. Can I get you started with some drinks?” I anxiously tapped my pen on the side of my notepad.
“A coffee for me,” Samantha piped up. She wore a smile on her face, but the way her gaze flickered between Katrina and I spoke volumes. The two of them had been joined at the hip for as long as Violet and I had. And if anyone could tell when Violet was planning to brew up a storm, it was me.
“Hmm, I’m not sure what I want.” Katrina made a show of looking over the menu. “I know! Why don’t you recommend something?”
“Uh … Sure –” I started.
“You know, Carrie,” she interrupted, furrowing her brow as if she were thinking. Well, I think she was furrowing her brow. Katrina had so much botox and filler in her face she looked like she’d bathed in wax. “I was wondering, what was the big drink out in Hollywood? Was there a favorite martini, a favorite way to do their coffee? What did people like on set? What drink would make you feel most at home right now?” Her stupid smile never left her face.
I could feel heat rising to my cheeks and tried to focus on my breathing. She’s just a mean girl who never grew out of it, I thought. She isn’t worth your energy. This isn’t worth getting worked up over. My brain knew that was the case, but I still felt my pulse increasing.
Katrina had always had a special skill for knowing exactly which buttons to push to make you feel like shit. It’s like she could sniff out your weakness. Even if you only had one insignificant thing that made you the tiniest bit self-conscious. She poked at it and poked at it until you loathed that part of yourself with a fiery passion.
“We’re having a special on the IPA,” I mumbled, “Pint and a half for the price of a pint. It’s brewed in—”
“No.” She clicked her tongue. “That’s not what I asked you for, now is it? Or is it too painful for you to think about sunny California? I have to say, everyone in town was just so heartbroken to hear about you getting kicked off that crime show. Siren’s End thought they finally had their siren, their star of the silver screen!” she laughed, picking up steam, “Plus, don’t those jobs usually last a lifetime? I feel like those things go on for seasons and seasons.” She titled her head to the side and grinned. “Though I can’t say I was too surprised. Samantha wasn’t either. Right, Sam?” She turned the full force of her smiling-daggers glare on the woman who was, for some unfathomable reason, still her best friend.
Samantha opened and closed her mouth a few times, closely resembling a fish, and looked like she regretted accepting this late-lunch invite. Eventually, she lowered her eyes and nodded reluctantly.
“Oh, come on, Sam, I remember when we both got the news. We were over at your place. And you said to me ‘That about figures. Takes her a hundred years to land a real gig, and she blows it in two seasons. That’s just like Carrie!’ and I reminded you that maybe if Carrie wasn’t so eager to hop on the nearest – well – ride that came her way and milk it for all it was worth, maybe she wouldn’t have ended up with some crazy man on set threatening to shoot everyone out of love for her, well, you know!”
My vision tunneled and I felt my lungs go slack as the air rushed out of me. Some petty jabs – sure, I had expected that. There had already been plenty of coded “friendly” comments from people around town who were more annoyed about losing the boasting rights of having a TV star from their town than showing any real concern about my life. But to bring Todd into this—to blame me for the actions of that nasty, unstable asshole, after I had been caught in his web of affection and retribution for so long?
I heaved in air and slammed the order pad down on the table, leaning over her and using every ounce of strength I had not to grab a handful of her hair and drag her out of the booth.
“You know what, Katrina? Fuck you. Fuck you and your petty life that is so vapid, so empty, that you have to try and fill it with other people’s misery. Yeah, I’m back. The show fell through. A sick bastard tried to ruin my life. But you know what? I went somewhere. I actually tried to do something. What have you done? Circled town, burning every bridge you crossed? People all over this country watched me act. People in this very town won’t even bother to come to your funeral. And you know why? Because they’d struggle to find something nice to say, even after you’re dead!”
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I recognized its weight. Bubba. His height was enough to loom over the table, and Samantha slouched further, trying to be as invisible as possible.
Katrina’s face hardened, her resolve becoming more set. More certain.
“Excuse me, Katrina, Samantha, I’m going to have to ask you to leave now. We don’t serve customers who cannot behave respectfully,” Bubba’s voice was endlessly polite, but we could all hear the edge in it. There was no way he was going to allow for any other response than the two of them getting up and leaving for good.
Katrina snarled, “We didn’t behave respectfully? Your sister just threatened my life!” She stood, motioning for Samantha to follow with a sharp wave of her hand. “Come on, Sam. We wouldn’t want to give these sad sacks our money, anyway. They’d just blow it on more nonsense failed attempts at getting famous.”
Bubba pulled me back, firmly but not unkindly, as the two climbed out of the booth. He followed them to the door that Violet was already holding open, her arm pointing out to the street and her face blank to keep herself from firing one of her sharp-tongued comments.
I followed, a step behind Bubba, both rage and embarrassment tearing through me.
I realized customers were staring and whispering, but I was too pissed off to care. I was, however, thankful Mom and Dad were in the back, because Mom would certainly have something to say about my outburst.
Samantha hurried through the door, avoiding eye contact and ducking her head as she passed by Violet. She was out the door like a shot and waiting by some car that would cost me a year’s salary, begging Katrina after her with her eyes. Samantha did have a bit of a mean streak, but she favored snide comments made while walking past each other in hallways, and the occasional compliment that you knew wasn’t genuine. She hated confrontation. Katrina never failed to be the yin to her yang though.
Just as Katrina passed through the door, she stopped and turned to Violet, her lips curving into a vicious smile. “Gosh, I didn’t know you were such a gentleman, Michael, holding the door open for us ladies,” her voice dripped with false sweetness.
Oh, hell no.
That was it. Katrina could come in here and try to shit on me for what my life had turned out to be. I couldn’t care less what someone like her thought. But Violet? Violet was the bravest, kindest, most authentic soul on this planet, and nobody was going to treat her like that. Not on my watch. I surged forward, shaking off Bubba’s half-hearted attempt to hold me back, and grabbed Katrina’s arm. Hard.
“Out,” I roared.
She yelped as I dragged her out onto the sidewalk.
“What are you doing! Let go of me!” she screeched and tried to yank her arm away. The genuine shock on her face proved just how unused she was to actually facing consequences for being a such a colossal bitch. It was like I was introducing a whole new world to her.
I let go of her but placed myself directly between her and Violet. “You’re banned from the Rusty Cauldron for life, Katrina Tucker.” I took a few steps closer and stuck my finger in her face. “And I swear to God, if you ever speak to me or my friend that way again—if you even so much at look cross-eyed at Violet—I will skin you alive and use your corpse as a Halloween decoration, you evil bitch.”
Her eyes widened in horror, but in usual Katrina fashion, she recovered quickly, forcing out a shrill, shaky laugh before spinning on her heel and stalking over to her car.
I realized Bubba was standing behind me and I couldn’t stop shaking as he ushered me back inside. The high shriek of her laughter followed me into the restaurant and while I couldn’t make out what she was saying, I could tell she was hollering something about how I’d regret threatening her life.
“You alright?” Bubba asked in a soft voice. His face was painted with a new concern. Not the careful, hesitant one I had so come to dread on my family’s faces these past few weeks, but the worry of someone who isn’t quite sure what you’re going to do next, whether it be cry or rage or burst into maniacal laughter.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I patted him on the shoulder. “I’m not the one we need to worry about right now.”
Violet had her back to the closed door and watched us intently.
I inched closer to her and lowered my voice, “Are you okay? I’m so, so sorry she said that to you.”
Violet gave me a small smile that conveyed more love than happiness. “Thanks, babe. But if I had listened to all the people like Katrina who thought they had the authority to tell people who they’re supposed to be, I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today in all of my fabulous, feminine glory.” She winked and let out a little laugh. “I will give her points for an almost Southern-level backhanded compliment, though. That was all kinds of bless your heart.”
I could still feel myself trembling and pulled Violet in for a tight hug. “God, the nerve of her. I can’t believe she has the audacity to treat people with such vitriol. Especially now. We’re forty goddamn years old. Grow the hell up.”
“She’s pretty miserable,” Bubba said, “Every time she comes in here, there’s some slight or jab against whoever is serving her … or really anyone in her general vicinity. Though I haven’t seen her go all-out like she did on you in a while.”
“Well, I’m back now and I won’t allow that shit,” I declared, feeling a little more control over the swerve my life had taken, “I might not know what I’m doing right now, but I do know I won’t tolerate assholes. No one is going to treat my family that way.”
“And friends,” Violet added.
“Family,” I reiterated firmly. Violet had literally been in my life since we were six years old. We’d moved way past the stage of friends. That girl was my sister.
I looked at Bubba, “And if mom or dad have a problem with it, they can talk to me.”
“I don’t think they will,” Bubba said, squeezing my shoulder, “Katrina is not well-liked and she tips like shit.” His eyes flickered around the restaurant. “But we’ve got customers to serve who aren’t her and might still tip well if we can get them their food before it gets cold.”
“I think they should. After all, Carrie here has just given them dinner and a show.” Violet winked.
I was still shaking from the adrenaline, but I could feel my pulse starting to return to normal. “I’m going to head to the kitchen,” I said, “Probably good to give me a minute to regroup before I have to be polite again.”
I was in the walk-in freezer trying to grab some more meat for Edgar at the grill, when mom found me. Or, more accurately, cornered me.
“Honey, are you okay? Bubba just told us about what happened. He’s going around from table to table to make sure all the other customers are all right,” I tried to sense if there was any accusation there, but it didn’t think so.
“I’m okay, Mom. And Violet is too. I didn’t mean to lose it like that, but if you would’ve heard the things she said—”
Before I could finish, she enveloped me in a strong hug, completely immune to the fact that we were standing in an icy freezer. Linda Spencer was a tiny little thing, but she was feisty and had a mouth on her that rivaled every single member of my dad’s biker gang. If anyone could understand my outburst, it was her.
“Oh, sweetie, don’t worry about it. The Rusty Cauldron is doing well enough these days that we can afford to lose a few customers here and there. Besides, I don’t want that kind of ilk in here anyway. She’s lucky I didn’t get ahold of her.” My mom’s cheeks matched her fiery red hair and I knew she was getting worked up thinking about someone treating Violet and me poorly. It was one of the things I loved most about my mom. While I’d been away in LA trying to make something of myself, I knew that Violet was safe in Siren’s End thanks to Linda and Cal Spencer. There’s nothing like an angry little redhead chasing you with a baseball bat and her big, burly biker husband following close behind. Then, of course, there was Bubba. He was the spitting image of Dad, minus the bald head. They were both large, imposing, and gruff, but big softies with those they cared about. Bubba had never known a day without Violet in it and I knew he saw her as a sister just as much as I did.
“I just want to forget about it and try to finish my shift.” I told mom, trying to squeeze around her before I froze off a limb.
“I’m so sorry. I was hoping this week would be really good for you.” Her face fell a bit.
“It’s not your fault, mom.” I squeezed her arm and shifted around her. The warmth of the restaurant was right at my back and I was yearning for it. “This week was going to be hard, anyway,” I said.
“How do you mean?” she asked, her brow knit together.
She had to understand what I meant, right? There was no big secret here. I had come back to Siren’s End with my tail between my legs and, to top it off, I was turning forty years old and working the same job I’d had at eighteen. I was back at square one minus the perky boobs and cellulite-free thighs. Did she expect me to be jumping for joy over it?
“I mean, I’m supposed to be in California,” I offered weakly, “I guess coming back here –and it’s so great to have a place to come back to– it’s just that it isn’t where I expected to be at this point in my life, you know?”
She patted me on the shoulder, a flash of sadness in her eyes. “I know things didn’t work out like you expected, but I don’t think it’s fair —to you or to us— to treat this place like a step down.” She crossed her arms over her chest and shrugged. “Sure, it’s not Hollywood, but I would think your dad and I’s pride and joy isn’t a slap in the face.”
“No, of course not, Mom. Any of my sadness or frustration isn’t about working here or being back home, okay? It’s about my life going off the rails when it was totally out of my control. I lost everything I worked so hard for. Not just that, but all the sacrifices I made too. I never got married or had kids because I thought it would be too hard to get my career off the ground.” I laughed at the irony. “Now look at me. I don’t have a family or a career. I’m just …” I felt my voice catch. Damnit, I was not going to cry in this god-forsaken walk-in-freezer.
“Starting over,” she said firmly. “You’re starting over. And that’s okay. You know how many people wish they could do that, but they’re stuck? You have to look at this as a positive thing. Think about it. You can do whatever you want! You have nothing holding you back anymore.”
I hadn’t actually looked at it that way, but to be fair, I’d been pretty deep into the pity party I was throwing for myself. I shook my head, trying to force the negativity out of it. Mom was right. This didn’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe this could turn into the best thing that had ever happened to me. I just had to be positive and have faith. Faith in what, I wasn’t exactly sure yet. Maybe it was just faith in me.
I gave mom a final squeeze and thanked her for the pep talk.
By the time I finally got the meat and seasonings out to Edgar, I was fairly certain I’d developed frostbite in at least two fingers. Edgar accepted my offerings with a nod and a grunt, which was par for the course with him.
I wasn’t quite ready to head back into the fray of demanding people that filled our restaurant, so I lingered next to him for a second.
He continued to work, prepping burgers for the grill, but he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.
“It was not that woman that upset you,” he said in his low baritone.
I was almost too stunned to respond. Edgar rarely spoke. It was kind of his thing.
“What?” I asked. “Of course she upset me. You might not have seen the show, but I know you at least heard it from here.”
“Wrong.” He placed two perfectly cooked cheeseburgers onto their respective buns and set the plates on the counter for Bubba to come collect.
“Wrong? What do you mean wrong?” I pressed.
“While I will grant you that perhaps it stings more coming from someone else —particularly a longstanding nemesis— the truth of it is that her words cut you because she verbalized the things you’ve said to yourself.” He was scraping down the grill, cleaning it for another round of food. He moved his almost lily-white hands – large and strong but still showing signs of age – rhythmically back and forth across it. “Except for the thing she said to Violet,” Edgar finished, “That was a punishable offense.”
I didn’t know how to respond, partially from the shock of hearing Edgar say more than two words and partially due to the fact that he was right. I knew Katrina liked to poke at wounds—that’s exactly how she hurt people—and it’s why her words had made me so angry. She’d found the injury and jabbed her bony little finger right inside of it.
I placed my hand on Edgar’s shoulder and gave a quick squeeze, “Thanks, Edgar.”
He grunted, back to his usual muteness, and started molding the meat into patties.
It had been a while since I’d spent any real time with him, but I remembered that Edgar could be like this sometimes. He’d throw some bit of wisdom or philosophy at you seemingly out of nowhere. It never seemed to make any sense what would or wouldn’t get him talking, and it always caught me off guard. It was like if every six months or so your dog launched into a soliloquy.
Thankfully, the rest of the evening passed normally. A mix of good and bad tips, some cute kids, even one who gave me their paper mat after he’d colored it. All that aside, I was ready for closing when it came. The dining area had been closed for a while, but the bar patrons had only just started trickling out around one a.m. Now that we had to shut the bar down, we’d have to kick out the still-present bachelorette party. I had to hand it to them, those ladies had been going nonstop for a solid twelve hours and they were properly sloshed. The first people celebrating my birthday, I joked to myself.
“Everyone else has gone home,” Bubba told me as he passed through the kitchen, “Do you want to take out the trash or the bachelorettes? I think they might need lifting into their cabs, but—”
“I can get the trash!” I hurried to respond before he’d even finished. Two problem patrons were more than enough today. Normally, he would have given me a hard time, or even made me flip for it, but I could tell that he was still worried about me after the way Katrina had treated me earlier. The rest of the evening he had routed me around possibly annoying guests, and had even managed to go a full four hours without giving me crap about one thing or another. Saint Bubba was here, ready to protect his big sis.
“You got it, boss,” he said, giving me a thumbs up as he headed back into the fray. I could hear the girls trying to start up some chant, not realizing—or caring—that the last few folks shuffling out at this hour weren’t really up for festivities.
It brought back memories of a different time, when Violet and I and some of the theatre gang would run amuck around town. We were just careless teenagers with an entire future in front of us. Now, it felt like that road was narrowing for me. I took what Mom had said to heart, but it didn’t change the fact that part of me really wanted to do… something. But what was there left to do? My career hadn’t worked out, I was back home, and somewhere along the way I had lost that hopefulness that had come so easy when I was young.
I gathered the trash bags, lugging them in front of me as I shoved my back up against the kitchen’s back door that led out into the alleyway. The late nights could be rough, but there was always some strange peace about taking the bags out back. It was quiet and the moonlight always carved out strange but interesting shapes against the buildings and dumpsters that framed the alleyway. Nobody else was ever out and about at this hour in a small town like Siren’s End. The streets were quiet, the buzz of insects and nearby streetlights were all you could usually hear. And I could pretend, even for just a few minutes, that the whole world existed just for me… and the trash bags, I guess.
The wind whipped against me as I made my way outside, threatening to tug the bags from my hands. The weather had been typical all day—sunny and warm with a slight breeze off the water, but I thought there must be a storm approaching. I looked up at the sky for storm clouds but couldn’t see any. The wind seemed to spin in from every direction and I could hear the waves crashing hard. We never heard them this far from the beach and it was frightening to think how terribly the ocean must be raging. Suddenly, a crack of lighting illuminated the sky, setting the moon in sharp light. It looked like a blood moon. Not the pale pink so talked up as the sign of the end times in news articles, but a bright, brilliant, vermillion red piercing the dark, clear sky. My stomach turned as I stared at it and noticed the large wall of water high enough to be seen from my spot in the alleyway. It was as if the ocean was reaching up to touch the moon. However, it didn’t roll and slope the way waves always do. It simply plunged straight back down. I’d never seen anything like it before and I was fighting both amazement and fear in the form of a lump in my throat. I looked back to the moon and it quickly dawned on me that there hadn’t been any thunder. Another branch of lightning jumped across the sky, and I realized that the moon didn’t look right. Even more not right than I’d previously thought. I suddenly felt pulled to it from somewhere deep inside, as if there was a string connecting us. The Man in the Moon had been replaced by some strange shape. Linear and crossing, clear lines connecting and then shifting out of focus, like some symbol had been carved in its surface.
I shook my head, trying to snap myself back to reality. It has to be the late hour. The stress of the day is literally making me see things. I closed my eyes tight and placed one hand on the cool brick of the building to steady myself. The noise of the ocean subsided and I cautiously opened one eye. The moon was still red with strange looking markings on it, but the lightning had stopped. I hurried to the dumpster, swinging the bags in one after another. There was going to be no peaceful reprieve in the alley tonight, that much was obvious. Out of the corner of my eye, something fluttered. Hair? It, or something like it, seemed to be sticking out over the edge. Did someone shove roadkill in the dumpster? Maybe one of the shops nearby dumped a mannequin? Why can’t people use their own dumpsters? I thought, leaning over the bags and pulling them back to find what was underneath.
She was splayed out, her legs and arms askew among the trash bags and old refuse. I recognized her blank face instantly. Katrina. She was still. Way too still. My heart thudded so hard I could hear it in my ears. Maybe she’s got a pulse, I thought, Maybe she’s just unconscious or drunk … or asleep? I shook my head at my own stupidity. Yeah, Carrie, that makes a lot of sense. You think she fell asleep in our dumpster, dumbass?
I reached out and took her wrist, trying to feel for a pulse. Come on, come on...
Suddenly, the world around me shifted. I was still in the alley, but it was earlier in the evening. Just around dusk. The blood-red moon was gone. The sun was setting and casting dark gold spires of light across the shadowy landscape. Katrina was standing near the back door, arguing with someone. I can’t see them though. They’re just out of sight behind the dumpster. I try to peer around the dumpster, try and see what’s going on, but it’s like my position is fixed and I’m frozen in both place and time.
“I can’t believe you!” she screams. I hear the other person make a noise—not words exactly, but a frustrated, angry, almost guttural sound.
Reality snapped back and I was standing in the dark again, Katrina’s lifeless wrist in my hand. I tripped over my own feet trying to move away and fell hard on my ass. My throat was dry and my head was spinning. Confused and terrified, I fumbled for my phone in my pocket. My hand was shaking so badly that I lost my grip and watched helplessly as it crashed to the ground next to me. The realization hit that I was incapable of using it anyway.
I swallowed hard and drew in a deep breath. And then, I forced myself to scream.