Tag Archives: secrets

Defining Moments: Remorse

Okay – we’re back to fiction. This one’s a stand-alone story from my dark side.

“Your girlfriend’s here.”

Miguel grinned over the counter as he passed Frank two lunch specials. Frank turned his head and saw Angie slide into her booth in the back corner of Oak Street Diner.

“She’s not my girlfriend, Miguel.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Keep it up and I’ll start letting people know you’re the owner.”

“You’re not that crazy,” Miguel quipped.

Miguel liked cooking. The first thing he did when he bought the place was hire Frank to run the front end of the restaurant. People assumed Frank was the new owner and they valued his personal attention. Miguel knew that service was as important as good food to build a solid customer base, so he gave Frank a percentage of the net on top of his salary and tips.

Miguel went back to the grill and Frank carried the specials to the lawyers at table five. They were embroiled in a discussion that didn’t stop as each in turn leaned back to let Frank put a plate in front of them. He could have mixed up the order and they wouldn’t have noticed. It wasn’t always about talking to people; sometimes it was about knowing how to serve without interrupting.

He picked up a menu out of habit as he walked back to Angie, but he knew she always ordered tea and a toasted cheese sandwich—the cheapest items they offered.

“How are you, Angie?” Frank asked as he handed her the plastic folder.

“It’s gone to the jury,” she replied tensely. “They’ll find him guilty, won’t they?”

Angie needed someone to listen to her. She’d appeared the first day of the trial and had eaten lunch at the diner every court day since.

He smiled. “You’re the expert, the one watching the proceedings.”

“Oh, no. I just hear them talking when they come out.” Her hushed tone was apologetic for the misunderstanding.

“I thought you said you were doing research for a writing class. Shouldn’t you be in the courtroom?”

“I can’t. That man is evil.” She seemed to shrink as she said it.

Frank had read the headline stories when it happened, before Angie ever set foot in the restaurant. Neighbors had called 911 because they heard the young mother screaming. The police response was slow. When they arrived the victim was alone in the house; she’d been bludgeoned to death. Her infant was nowhere to be found.

It was that missing baby that made a common fatality of domestic abuse become the focus of news for months. It was also what left some doubt in Frank’s mind about the boyfriend’s guilt.

“They still haven’t found the kid, have they?” he asked.

“No.” Angie was blinking back tears. “He killed that baby, too.”

“I’ll bet her ex- killed her and took off with his kid.” Frank knew from the papers that the defense was offering that explanation.

“You can’t believe that!” Angie glared at him in shock.

Frank held back his response – did she prefer believing the child was dead?  That was worse than her obsession with this drama that had nothing to do with her. Well, if the jury was out, this was probably her last day in the restaurant. He continued pleasantly professional.

“You having the usual?”

Angie nodded and politely handed him the unopened menu.

“I’ll go get your order started.”

Miguel already had the sandwich and tea ready.

“What if she’d chosen something different today?” Frank asked.

“You know she wouldn’t. I put extra cheese into it. I swear she’s skinnier than she was when we first saw her. You like a woman with some curves, don’t you?”

“She’s just a customer.”

“Why do you always talk with her so much, then?”

“That’s what she’s here for, not the food… It’s a good thing you like your kitchen. This place would fold in a month if you were out front.”

“You should show more respect for the man who signs your check.” Miguel grinned and shoved the plate and metal teapot across the counter.

Frank took them back to Angie.

“Here you go.”

He turned her cup right side up and poured some tea while she adjusted her plate in front of her.

“He is guilty,” she whispered. “It’s not the first time.”

“I didn’t know that,” Frank apologized. “With that kind of testimony, of course they’ll find him guilty.”

He saw a brief flash of terror cross her face before she looked down at her plate and mumbled a thank you. His skin prickled; he wondered if she had mental problems. There was probably a clinical term for getting so wrapped up in someone else’s tragedy, something more specific than obsession.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked.

She shook her head without looking up. He thought about sitting down for a few minutes, starting a chat about something innocuous to distract her, but the door chimed the presence of a new customer. Hopefully she wouldn’t have a major breakdown during the lunch rush.

Frank didn’t have a chance to talk to Angie again until he took her the check. She had cash ready.

“Here,” she said. “Keep the change. I need to get back in case they come in with a verdict quickly.”

“We’ll miss you.”

It was important to be polite to every customer, even one you’d gratefully never see again.

Angie headed to the restroom and Frank deposited the cash. His next customer was at the table by the door. Mike McCarthy, who covered the courthouse beat, had his computer out, ready to use their Wi-Fi. He waved away the menu Frank offered.

“What’s today’s soup?” he asked.

“Broccoli cheese.”

“I’ll have a bowl. No, make that a cup.”

“No sandwich?”

“Not today.” McCarthy grimaced. “My appetite’s off. The jury came in, not guilty.”

“You think they were wrong?” asked Frank.

“I interviewed the neighbors. There was another girlfriend with a baby before this one. That girl told them he got so angry when the baby cried that it scared her. They said she made it sound like it was her fault for letting the baby disturb him – typical abused spouse crap.”

“What did she tell the cops?”

“They couldn’t find her. A year before he killed this one, she disappeared with her kid and no one’s seen her since. So all they had was hearsay from the neighbors.”

Frank saw Angie coming from the restroom. He owed her an apology.

“Angie, this is Mike McCarthy, a reporter. He says you were probably right, that the guy’s previous girlfriend disappeared with her kid.”

“All the publicity this got, she’d have come forward, if she could,” McCarthy added. “Until someone else is lucky enough to get away from him alive, that prick’s free to go do it again.”

They both turned at Angie’s primal wail. “No! He got off?”

The men nodded. Tears flooded her terrified face as she sucked in a breath painfully.

“Did you know…” McCarthy started as Angie ran out the door.

McCarthy closed his computer and started after her. Frank was going to follow them, but a touch at his sleeve stopped him.

“Excuse me,” said the customer. “I need my check. I have a meeting…”

“Come back to the register and I’ll ring that up for you,” Frank said automatically.

He was reaching for the ticket when tires squealed, there was a heavy thud, then the blare of a horn stuck on.

The regular closest to the window stood with his cell phone in hand, shouting, “An ambulance! Send an ambulance! In front of the courthouse! Someone got hit by a car!”

His stomach in a knot, Frank took care of the customer’s ticket.

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The Incident – Chapter 1

A mountain lion could be out here, ready to pounce. They say you never know what hit you. But I’ve been out here plenty of starry nights and that never happened. It’s not likely to happen tonight, either. I won’t get off that easy.

My feet dangle over the edge, far above the tree tops. The stone is chilling my insides from the butt up. A wave of wind flows through the pines below and then above me as well. I sniff the pine, half disappointed there’s no salt in the air when it sounds so much like surf.

I wonder if he ever saw the ocean.

I saw it once, a year ago, but that was another life, before the incident. My parents were so disappointed in me for that. There’s no way I can ever tell them the rest, what happened after. They must never know. They won’t, of course. No one’s saying a word about what we did, and I don’t see my family enough to get stupid and tell them. If it weren’t for the incident, I’d never have been there.

I wouldn’t be wishing for that mountain lion to end it all. I can’t commit suicide. That would hurt my family even more than I already have. An accident, though. That would be tragic, but they’d be able to accept that and move on, instead of driving themselves crazy wondering what they did wrong. So it can’t be an accident like driving drunk into a tree, either, because they’d think it was their fault I was drunk. It has to be something where they can’t blame themselves for anything.

I think I used to be happy, but I can’t feel it anymore.

Chapter 1—Secrets

“Your mother will be here to pick you up in half an hour, Montina.”

Mary’s mother is the only person in our little Colorado town who calls me by the name on my birth certificate. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Tina, even my parents, and they do. A lot of kids don’t even know my real name is Montina. Mountain. Can you imagine if I’d been a fat kid? My parents didn’t think of that, though. It probably never occurred to them that they could have anything but an athletic child.

They started doing Colorado’s fourteeners when they were in high school. Fourteeners are mountains that are fourteen-thousand-something feet high. There are like fifty-four of them in Colorado. Some of the easy ones they did with Dad carrying me in a pack when I was a baby. The last few years they’ve slowed down some because a lot of weekends they’re driving us to soccer matches all over the state. My kid sister and I both play, and sometimes our games are in different directions. They named her Parry Primrose, for the pretty purple flowers that grow mainly above ten thousand feet. It’s a lot better than Montina, but she goes by Rose anyway. She’s only eight, but not too much of a pain. She’s been staying at one of her friend’s houses the last two weeks, while I’ve been staying with Mary. We’re both fifteen.

“Come on, Tina,” says Mary. “Let’s get your stuff.”

It only takes a minute to grab my bathroom things and throw them into my school bag. Mary’s mom insisted on washing all my stuff last night, so it’s already folded up in the pack I used for a suitcase. The only place I’ve ever gone this long before is camping with my family. That’s why I don’t have a proper suitcase. We don’t take that kind of vacation. My parents even had to buy luggage for their trip. They were very secretive about where they were going. When I asked Dad if it was an overdue honeymoon, he looked over my head and said it might be something like that, partially, anyway.

“My mom looks like she knows a secret,” Mary says.

“Yeah, I noticed,” I say, as I look around to make sure I’ve got all my stuff.

Our parents were all friends in school, so Mary and I have known each other forever. There are even photos of us together in a playpen, though our parents say neither of us could be contained in one for long. So whenever my folks wanted to climb a mountain, I stayed with Mary for the weekend. Her parents were still pretty outdoorsy, and we’d all gone camping together a lot of times, but they didn’t do the mountain climbing stuff anymore. Sometimes they’d go into Denver for the weekend, though, and Mary would stay with us.

“So what do you think the big secret is?” asked Mary. “It’s got to be something your mom said to her.”

“Beats me,” I say.

It bothers me a lot that my parents are suddenly having secrets. They’ve always been honest with us, and insisted we be honest with them. I even confessed when I was twelve and tried a puff of a cigarette. They didn’t get mad, either. They were just majorly relieved that I didn’t like it. Their having some big secret now feels like a betrayal, especially if they’re sharing it with Mary’s mom before me or Rose. Mary picks up on my feelings. It’s like that when you’ve known somebody your whole life.

“You’ll probably find out tonight,” she says.

“Yeah, I guess. It’s so weird, though. I mean, they went to Chicago. Hawaii, Mexico, even a city like San Francisco or New York, any of those would make sense if it was like a honeymoon. Why would they go to Chicago, though?”
When my parents got married, they spent their first week together climbing in the San Juan Mountain Range in southeast Colorado. That included Mount Wilson, which is one of the most difficult, dangerous climbs. That’s why I thought this trip might be a second honeymoon, or honeymoon never taken.

“They didn’t actually say it was a honeymoon,” Mary reminds me, “and Chicago does have a lot of art galleries and stuff and it’s not as far as New York.”

“San Francisco would be closer. Besides, their timing sucked.”

“I know,” said Mary.

My parents took this sudden trip right at the end of the school year. It was supposed to be just a few days. Mom and I had just gotten back from Grand Junction with my first formal dress, for the Freshman Spring Fling. Tim Withers actually asked me! The next morning, they told us they had to go to Chicago for a few days, but they’d be back by Friday. But they weren’t. Tim’s parents had to pick me up at Mary’s house. Then they ended up staying away all the next week, so they missed the high school awards ceremony, too. I got three—for soccer, Spanish, and good citizenship.

They were gone almost two full weeks.

They’d never been away for more than three days. Rose called me the first couple nights, kind of homesick, but then I guess she settled in at her friend’s house. It’s not that they disappeared. Mom called and asked me all about the dance, then again about awards night, but it wasn’t the same. She was excited about something that had nothing to do with me, and it was there even when she was trying to be sympathetic and sound sorry for missing my first real date and my first high school awards. The worst part was that she didn’t tell me what she was so happy about.

Mary is looking out her window.

“They’re here,” she said. “Call me as soon as you know what they’ve been doing!”

“I will.”

Mom comes to the door to say thank you to Mary’s mom. They exchange big smiles and a hug with lots of eye-widening and more smiles.

“We’ll be here by eight tomorrow morning,” says my mom.

“Great,” says Mary’s mom. “Oh, and I just emailed you photos from the dance and graduation.”

“Thank you so much,” says Mom.

Mary and I look at them, then each other.

“Call me tonight,” says Mary.

I nod.

On the way to the car, I ask Mom why we’re going to Mary’s the next morning.

“You’ll see,” she says. “We’ll tell you at dinner.”

Rose is in the car with Dad. It makes sense that they’d pick her up first. Her friend lives on the east side of town. Coming from Denver, their house comes first. Mom and Dad flew out of Denver to Chicago.

Mom starts quizzing me about awards night and the dance.

“I told you all that on the phone,” I remind her.

“It’s not the same,” she says.

“Yeah, I know,” I grumble.

Dad speaks up to defend her. “It’s not your mother’s fault we couldn’t get back in time for all that.”

“So whose fault is it?” I ask, trying not to sound like a total snot.

“Nobody’s,” he says. “We’ll explain more at dinner.”

I guess Rose already told them all her stuff before they picked me up, because no one asks her anything. Fortunately it’s a short trip home and almost time to eat.

“Put your stuff away, then we’ll go to Jack’s for pizza,” says Dad.

He doesn’t like Jack’s, but it’s a favorite of mine, so I know he means to make me feel better. I try to lighten up.

“Okay,” I say. “It’ll only take a couple minutes.”

“Take our suitcase to the laundry room,” Mom tells him. “I want to start a load before we leave for dinner. Do you girls have any dirty clothes?”

“Nope,” I say. “Mary’s mom insisted on washing everything last night.”

“Laurie’s mom, too,” says Rose.

“Great!” says Mom. “That’ll help a bunch.”

I start to ask what it will help, but she’s already on her way to the laundry. I go to my room and put my clean clothes away. Dad stops by my door.

“Mom said you don’t need to bother hanging everything up,” he says. “If it’s folded nicely, just leave it on your bed for now.”

That definitely doesn’t sound like Mom.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
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The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

 

 

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Sheri McGuinn

www.sherimcguinn.com

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