Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Don’t try to fool me. Something’s the matter with you

When Heather and I arrive at the sidewalk outside the Clear Sky Beachside Café, I recall that according to Pa, this is where he met her for the first time. Upon his late afternoon arrival at Sandpearl Resort, he was glad to find this restaurant a stone’s throw away from his hotel room. He went in for Happy Hour and was smitten not only by the good looks of the waitress but also by the ease of talking to her, which was in stark contrast to his conversations with Ma.
Heather picks up her pace, clearly eager to get to work on time. Leaving a thin plume of smoke behind her, she gives a casual nod to the regulars, already seated outside on the patio, and with the tip of her shoe, grinds the butt of her Marlboro into the sand-swept pavement. Then, with a sway of her hips, she knocks the door open. 
“Come in, Ash.” She casts a look at me over her shoulder, while tying the strings of her black waitress apron around her waist. “You don’t look so good. What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing.” 
“Ash, dear? What is it?”
Somewhat lightheaded, I wipe the cold sweat from my brow. “Have to get used to the climate, is all.”
With that, I stumble over to the closest table and plop down on the chair. My dog, Browny, raises his paw to my lap and ever so gently, licks my limp hand. He must sense how faint I feel. 
Heather sets a glass of water in front of me and whisks the ice cubes around with a long spoon. The clinks are downright irritating. “There, there,” she says, now in a tender tone.
I guzzle down the water. “Thank you,” I mutter, distracted by how light breaks, how it gets refracted at this angle and that through facets of ice mirroring each other. Staring into the glass, I think I see the bottom. Maybe it’s just an illusion of one. “I’m feeling better already.”
She refills my glass. “Don’t try to fool me,” she says. “Something’s the matter with you, I can tell, and it’s not just the heat.”
“You’re right.” I take another thirsty swallow. “Wish I knew what it is.”
I’m lying, of course. I know exactly what the problem is. It’s not just one but three, coming at me all at once. First, there’s the mystery of the blood in the place I’m renting, which begs the question who used to live in the boarded-up room directly above my bed. Second, there’s the all-too-real prospect of being pregnant, which I’m trying not to think about because what would I do with a child born of violence? And third, of course, is my stalker.

The last thing Ash expects when she lands in Clearwater, Florida is to be stalked by a troubled teenager. If that's not bad enough, she is caught in a shooting spree next to the nearby elementary school. The cops think it’s an attempt at mass killing, but Ash wonders if the only victim was specifically targeted by the killer. Will she manage to identify him and have him arrested before he comes after her?

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