Authors: Lindsay Payton
Copyright © 2013 by Lindsay Payton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Printed and distributed in the United States of America.
Book Design by Professional Publications
Morning was always the best time for me. I would get out of bed before anyone else, always with enough time for coffee with Rene. Even being the only motherly figure I had, she still retained a close friendship with me and all the rest of us who lived in the house. She was the only one kind enough to ever take in the likes of us for so long.
As usual, I was in the kitchen at seven watching Rene pour coffee into two mugs. Omar’s charcoal drawings were still strewn all over the table from the night before, so I cleared a space for the two of us as I sat down. I didn’t go to school like anyone else my age. Rene home-schooled us all, but it was hardly my focus for the day. I had other things to worry about, as well as work.
“How’d you sleep last night? That storm was awful,” Rene said as she sat next to me, putting the mug on the table in front of me. “Awful-beautiful.”
I sighed, warming my hands against the mug. “Not good. Storms always give me those headaches.”
Rene nodded knowingly, tracing a circle in the air over her mug with one finger. I watched the coffee begin to spin in the mug, then slowly turn a little whiter with cream.
“You’re too good,” I said, looking down at my own black coffee. The best I could do was stir it, but I had to add the cream and sugar by hand.
“And you’re getting better,” Rene replied, standing to get the cream from the refrigerator. I felt so worthless sometimes, but she insisted I was learning quickly. With my coming of age ceremony approaching, I needed to get better at everything.
“Mm, these are lovely,” Rene commented, looking at a few of Omar’s drawings. Some were of the front lawn, others rough sketches of Alysana. He was one of the oldest left in the house, and apparently he was trying to work out a portfolio for college. I was a little hesitant about the idea, but Rene was all for it. She encouraged all of us to thrust ourselves into the world, despite our differences.
“Has he already applied?” I asked, referring to Omar as I sipped my coffee.
“I think he sent off one application already,” Rene replied. She glanced up at me, smiling at my apprehensive look. “I think he’ll be fine. Omar’s grown up in the world more than you.”
True. I’d gone from being a bratty four-year old living with my aunt, to being ‘accidentally’ left at the local grocery store. It was a miracle Rene ever found me, and I sometimes wonder if she had been watching, waiting until I was let go. Either way, I was grateful to have grown up under her roof.
“So what’s in store for you today?” she asked after we sat in a few moments of silence. “Work?”
“Yeah, same old, same old,” I said, sighing as I stood to wash my mug. I worked at the organic grocery store in town, and it wasn’t exactly the most eventful job. But I maintained it for my own money, so Rene didn’t have to support my shopping habits, like vintage books and oil paints.
“Tell Meryl I said hi, okay?” she said while I washed.
“I will.” I put the clean mug on the rack and dried my hands. Meryl was a friend of Rene’s, and my boss. She knew what we all were, but she never mentioned anything. She helped out as much as she could with offering cheaply priced food, and Rene helped her with natural remedies and such in exchange.
I left the kitchen and trudged back up the staircase to the second floor. Passing by everyone’s closed door—except for Hank—I went to the second set of stairs leading to the shorter third floor. My room was the last of the three doors, tucked far to the right. It was a mess of clothes and my things, but I just picked through it all until I found something remotely clean to wear for the day.
I shook out the t-shirt I’d found, quickly stripping off my pajamas after I found a bra draped over the end of my bed frame. Meryl wasn’t really one to care about how her employees dressed, but I still avoided anything covered with paint.
I glanced out the window as I searched for my shoes, noting that the sky was still covered with dark clouds. My headache from the night before had died out earlier, but I had a feeling it could come back any second; any sign of rain, and I was doomed. Rene said it might just be some unique side effect of turning eighteen soon—I wasn’t really sure. The fact that it came with severe weather didn’t really make much sense to me, and this hadn’t always happened. It was a more recent nuisance.
Deciding I was ready, I left my room, closing the door silently behind me. Alysana slept in the room next to mine, and she wasn’t one for being woken before ten. Dodging past all four of Hank’s cats on the stairs, I made my way towards the door, not looking forward to the drive into town.
“Bye, Rene,” I called, grabbing a light coat at the door.
“Bye, hon,” she replied, poking her head around the corner of the kitchen wall. “Don’t work too hard.”
I just rolled my eyes and smiled. “Yeah, I won’t.”
The air outside was thick with moisture, going down smoothly into my lungs. Since I was working, it was my turn to use one of the five cars. Needless to say, none of them were really nice or lavish. I took the ancient Beetle with the flaking, faded yellow paint. Inside it constantly smelled like mildew, so I kept the drivers window down as I started the engine. Looking up at the house, I noticed Omar’s blinds were open as well as the window itself. He had probably just woken up, so I pulled out fast before he could notice. The Beetle was his favorite car to drive, and I knew he had work today, too. After my sleepless night, I wanted to avoid confrontation.
The dirt road was still wet from the night’s rain. Potholes were now deep puddles harboring water skippers and lone tadpoles. The car wobbled along, forcing me to drive it slowly unless I wanted a reason to call Hunter for car trouble. It would take about ten minutes to get to the store, and today that meant I’d be at least five minutes late.
Coming up to the first stop light at the bottom of the hill, I adjusted the rearview mirror down to look at myself. Even in the extreme moisture, my hair was straight. There were still bits of bleached strands amongst all the deep red—red like those dark roses, says Rene—but it was otherwise boring. I ruffled my bangs a little and carefully brushed them to the side, getting honked at by the person behind me; the light had turned green.
The parking lot of Swamp’s Market was already almost full. It was a small lot, but still, it meant there was a good amount of people inside. I parked at the first empty spot and hurried out, forgetting to lock the doors. I didn’t see the huge puddle right outside the car door, so half of my left calf was soaked. Hopefully Meryl wouldn’t notice; being late, I had no idea how she would react with so many customers.
The bells strung to the door jingled loudly as I ran in, glancing around for Meryl. She was in my place, standing behind the cash register. I took a deep breath as I carefully passed the customers, stepping behind the long wooden counter where the cashier usually stood.
“Hi—I’m sorry, I thought I was going to be on time,” I mumbled, grabbing a crumpled apron from under the counter.
“It’s okay, I’ve been enjoying myself,” Meryl replied, smiling. “The people that come in here, they’re
” She laughed quietly, stepping aside as I tied the green apron around my waist.
“Is there anything I need to do in the back?” I asked, feeling a little calmer now that I knew she wasn’t angry.
“No, Lisa’s taking care of it. I didn’t think she could handle it up here this morning.” She rolled her eyes. “I swear, if you can’t handle putting a vegetable in a paper bag, might as well stay in back.”
I laughed a little, grateful she was my boss.
“How’re you this morning? You look tired.” She jostled my shoulder a little, trying to get me to look her in the eye.
“Tired—really tired. That storm kept me awake last night,” I replied.
“It was great, I loved it,” Meryl said, tossing her long, silvery hair over her shoulder. “Lightning like that just gives me the chills. And we haven’t had storms like this in months. It’s refreshing.”
I nodded, not quite as thrilled to have the weather. It was kind of cold, even for me in jeans. Meryl didn’t seem to notice since she was wearing one of her beautiful sarongs and a waify shirt. I shivered a little, which she noticed.
“Want me to turn down the air? It shouldn’t even be on today, it still looks like it might rain.”
“Ugh, I hope not,” I groaned, leaning against the counter. Meryl left the front of the store, going past the beaded curtain into the back. A few minutes later, the vent above me shuddered and went quiet, signaling the lack of cold air. I was relieved, and stood up straight as a customer approached with a basket full of their items.
The first of the morning rush went by fast. I rang up everything and bagged it myself, giving back change and smiling at everyone. Meryl brought me a ricotta-peach croissant after the worst of the crowd, and I gratefully wolfed it down as I crouched behind the counter.
At 11:30, the door jingled again and Omar walked in, smiling briefly before disappearing behind the shelves. He always came in for his lunch break assuming I’d give him lunch for free. Sometimes Meryl did, but she said she tried not to spoil him. He appeared at the counter a few minutes later with a sandwich and a small container of juice.
“Having a busy day?” he asked while I punched in the prices.
“Sort of, but it’s not too bad,” I replied. “How’s work?”
“Slow,” he shrugged. He worked at the library, a job I didn’t think suited him very well. He was easy to pick out behind the books since he was the youngest employee there. He wasn’t the usual stuffy librarian, but a little taller than me with brown and blue hair, and a contagious smile. Apparently he liked the quiet and solitude of the library, so I wondered why he was even considering college in the first place.