NaNoWriMo 2014

Another incomplete fiction that I might return to now that my other books are on their way to publication. Fiction is difficult to write. I’m looking forward to the creative challenge again. If I have time anyway working and trying to tend to the kiddos. lol. I don’t know blog friends. Is it worth finishing, or something that I should leave in my archives? 

The annoying bedside alarm pierced the air, rousting her from the deep depression induced sleep Odessa had found herself in sprawled across a small twin bed in an empty forlorn dark grey room. She blindly reached over in the direction of the sound, her hand connecting with the practically ancient alarm clock and silencing it’s frantic electronic yelp. She rolled back from the edge of the bed and slowly opened her eyes. It was the same depressing sight she had seen a few hours before when she had first fallen asleep. She let out a sigh, and wriggled her way out from under the pile of blankets she had nested herself into the night before.

Her attic room wasn’t unkept but it was sparse, and the old Victorian house was beginning to show it’s age. He Aunt Babette had always kept her house in tip top shape, but much like the house itself, Aunt Babette was beginning to show her age. Odessa told herself that’s what really drove her to move back to her forlorn sea side village off the coast of Maine, to take care of her aging Aunt, but in reality she had nowhere left to turn. She had left behind a prosperous corporate job, a husband of twelve years, and two children in Colorado when she figuratively and literally lost her mind. Sitting in a board room listening to one more proposal for the same client, they had been pitching proposals to for the previous eight months, and something inside of her just snapped. She calmly and quietly packed up her attache, walked calmly to her office and packed her few personal belongings, clocked out for the day and never returned.

Trying to explain what happened to her husband didn’t go over well to say the least. It was a nasty, although relatively quick divorce. They split everything 50/50 aside from custody of the children. It’s not that Odessa didn’t love her children, but whatever wires had gotten crossed in her head has also severed the connection she felt to them. It wasn’t truly upsetting leaving any of it behind, which it what worried her. After the divorce was settled she sold her remaining possessions and bought a one way ticket back to her home town.   At first her plan had been to live with her parents, but to say they were less than thrilled with the divorce was a polite understatement. When Odessa arrived on their door step, they didn’t even answer her. It was hurtful to see the warm, previously welcoming glow of the soft living room lights turned against her. Watching her mother and father close the blinds and head upstairs hoping to not be seen. Wishing, hoping that their disappointment of a daughter would just go away instead of hovering around like a stray cat. Eventually she did, which is how she ended up living with Aunt Babette.

The alarm sounded again, bringing her out of the thoughts of her past and into the present. She had a job interview today. It was something she desperately needed, but she still lacked the motivation. Rolling over to silence the alarm once again, she continued to roll until her bare feet landed on the cold cedar wood floor with a loud snap and long creak as she shifted her weight out of the bed. She rose, stumbled across the floor into the small upstairs bathroom, knocking her forehead (as usual) on the angled ceiling.

“Ouch!” She yelped rubbing her head. “So much for old world charm.” She mumbled to herself as she slowly turned on the tap which let out a loud squeal and shutter before a small trickle of water spewed it’s way out of the spigot and splashed into the bottom of the antique claw foot tub.

She wasn’t accustomed to taking bathes, but considering how old the house itself actually was she was thankful to simply have indoor plumbing on the third floor at all. She wasn’t going to complain. Besides that it would be a nice change of pace, requiring so much more time and effort for herself. She wasn’t a fan of waking up nearly two hours before she had to leave for the day, but she did enjoy how it made her slow down a little bit. Her life had become cluttered in modern convenience, running from one assignment or errand to the next for herself, for work, for her husband, for her kids. Somewhere in the bustle of it all she had lost herself. Taking the time to slow down was something that she hoped would lead her back.

The water finally filled to a sufficient level and she shed the baggy tee shirt and sweatpants she had adopted as her pajamas, kicking them into the growing pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the bathroom and slowly slid into the tub. She took a moment to let the water seep into her pores and her dry skin become accustomed to the temperature of the water. It wasn’t so hot as to burn her, but it was far from cool. After several moments she pulled the hair tie out of her tangled mess of dark chestnut curly hair closed her eyes and dipped her head into the water completely submerging herself as long as she could hold her breath. Down at the bottom of the tub there was a moment when she considered instead of returning to the surface, that she wanted to quench the fire beginning to burn in her lungs not with the cool musty air of the attic space, but instead with the warm fragrant bubbly bath water. She opened her eyes watching everything distort around her beyond the water, and opened her mouth letting the water flow in, but before she could take that fatal breath she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. A shadowy billowing movement that startled her straight out of the tub and sent nearly all of the bath water sloshing over the tiles.

She gasped for breath, as her eyes darted back and forth from one corner of the room to the other searching for the mysterious shadowy billowing specter that had startled her. She saw nothing, aside from the mess she had made across the floor. Sitting there catching her breath she heard the door at the bottom of the stairs creak slowly shut.

“Aunt Babette!” She bellowed, practically loud enough to wake the dead., which was necessary since her aunt was nearly ninety years old and hovering on the edge of the death. “Where you in my room?”

“What?” A small voice called back from the first floor echoing up the stairwell. “Are you okay, Oddie?”

“Yes, Aunt Babette! I’m fine! I’ll be down in a moment for breakfast!” Odessa replied, still a bit flummoxed. Surely her aunt hadn’t been able to make her way down four flights of stairs so quickly, but the door had closed, and her Aunt was currently on the first floor. Perhaps she had?

Shaking off her curiosity and concern Odessa quickly finished her bath, cleaned up the mess she’d made in the bathroom and made her way down stairs. She didn’t bother getting dressed just yet as her bath had been rudely cut short. She would take her time and enjoy her breakfast instead. She bounced down all four flights of stairs and slid to stop in the pristine small kitchen where Aunt Babette was patiently waiting to enjoy her ritual of strong black tea and plain buttered toast with Odessa.

“Here, darling. I made some of that fancy coffee drink you enjoy, and I saved you a few silvers of butter for your toast.” Aunt Babette said gesturing to an empty place across the small dining table.

“You made me a latte?” Odessa asked just a hint of surprise in her voice.

“Why, of course dear! I may be as old as the sea, but I can still learn a new trick or two.” Aunt Babette laughed.

“But we don’t even have…” Odessa began, as she took a sip of her coffee. “Oh, my. Wow!”

It was all she could do to keep from gagging and spitting the coffee back into the cup, but she managed to keep it together and politely take another small sip. Whatever Aunt Babette had done thinking she had thrown together a latte, did NOT work out very well at all.

“Well, that’s certainly something Aunt Babette. I think I’ll just stick with regular coffee in the morning though. Trying to cut back on some calories and sugar. I do appreciate the thought.” Odessa smiled, before sitting down and desperately trying to drown out the taste of sour milk and burnt coffee from her mouth with a slice of buttered toast.

“No really, it’s no trouble at all dearest. I kind of enjoy trying new things from time to time, although I’m not sure why anyone would want steamed milk and coffee. It smells soured to me.” Aunt Babette replied, gracefully sipping on her tea.

Odessa only smiled, and continued to eat her toast.

“What did you need, a moment ago dear? You called my name, but I couldn’t hear you very well from all the way down here.” Aunt Babette asked.

“Oh, were you up in my room while I was in the bath?” Odessa asked. “I was washing my hair and thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It startled me and I splashed water all over the place. Took me quite a while to get it all cleaned up.”

“Oh good Lord, no!” Aunt Babette replied with a hearty laugh. “I haven’t been up to the attic in ages! Nearly twenty years I’d say. I have enough trouble climbing one flight of stairs to get into my own bed at night. It was probably just a figment of your imagination. Or it could be a bat. We had a bat infestation back in the 40’s. I thought we were never going to get them out of there! We sealed it up so tight you wouldn’t think anything could get in, but it’s been… however many years that’s been. It’s possible. I’ll give Richard a call this afternoon and he can come take a look for us.”

“Okay. It’s not super important. It just startled me is all.” Odessa said, while she shuddered a little bit about the attic being infested with bats. She wasn’t fond of the little creatures in general, and she certainly didn’t want to be living with them in close quarters.

They finished the rest of their breakfast in a comfortable silence. Odessa loved that about her Aunt Babette. She knew all of the appropriate times to be silent without making things awkward or uncomfortable. Conversations just seemed to follow their natural flow with her. It was refreshing compared to the facade put on by most others in society. The glitz, glamour and noise that others saw as friendliness or polite conversation which was really more of an annoying dance than productive connections with fellow human beings. With Aunt Babette everything was genuine, and it was refreshing.

“You best get going dear.” Aunt Babette said tapping the large gold watch that seemed to be permanently attached to her right wrist.

Odessa nodded, while she gulped down the last few swigs of her terrible coffee and trekked back upstairs to her small living quarters keeping an eye out for any signs of bats she darted from the top of the staircase into her small bedroom and quickly closed the door behind her. She relaxed a little bit after closing the door tightly behind her, certain that if there were bats living in the attic with her there were none in her tiny intimate space.

The majority of the attic was left unfinished for storage purposes, but the bathroom and small bedroom had been added who knows how many decades previously. The room was just big enough for a twin bed, small vanity with mirror which Odessa used as a desk more often than vanity, wardrobe and small window seat which accented the only small window in the room with a worn striped cushion and had a wonderful view outside looking into the cold Atlantic. The house wasn’t seated directly on the coast, but up above the town high enough where nothing obstructed it’s view of the mighty ocean.

This early in the year, the perpetually grey sky seemed to blend in with the rolling waves dotted with bubbling white foam. It hadn’t snowed much at all this year, but there was still a cold nip in the air and a few remaining icey patches, reminding everyone of winters cold icey grasp regardless of the lack of snow. Odessa wandered over to the window and took a seat, staring out into the icey abyss, before shedding her neon pink fluffy bathrobe with matching slippers and threw open her wardrobe staring at the clothes waiting patiently to be worn.

She only had one outfit suitable for a job interview and it was hanging neatly pressed on it’s hanger right in the front. A smart grey pantsuit, with tightly tailored jacket and burgandy fitted shirt. Just exactly as she had left it. She lifted the suit out of it’s rightful place on the rack and laid it gently on the bed. Before she could slip into her old familiar she needed to do something with her tangled mess of hair. Going to the salon seemed fruitless these days, and she had really let her appearance go. What was once a head full of beautifully kept loose curls had turned into a frizzy unkept mess. Taking a moment to look at herself in the mirror Odessa found it hard to believe this forlorn looking woman in her mid thirties had once been on track to become the next CEO of Wilhelm Paper Company, one of the leading paper manufactures in the Unites States. She certainly didn’t feel like a powerful corporate shark. In fact, even going to this job interview for a part time position at a local gift shop during the busy tourist season in her small home town she felt like completely like a fish out of water. Not even a minnow swimming with sharks, but a turtle or frog. Not exactly at home in the water, but desperate to get a foot in none the less.

As her thoughts continued to drift she quickly brushed her hair as best as she could and threw it up in a messy bun. Afterwards she quickly threw on some mascara, eye liner, and a pale shade of lipstick before jumping quickly into her clothes and heading down the stairs like a kid late for the first day of college.

“Thanks, for breakfast Aunt Babette! I’ll be home in about an hour or so!” Odessa called as she quickly slipped into her mid length, navy pea coat, threw a hand knitted beige scarf around her neck and made her way out into the blustery cold morning air. It wasn’t far to walk into town, and she couldn’t afford the gas in Aunt Babette’s monsterous old SUV, so Odessa would walk to her interview. She was glad she had traded in her sensible heels for sensible boots as she jogged down the perpetually muddy driving path and found herself on the side of the desolate high way. Even though she could see town from the house, it still seemed like the journey would take forever at a walking pace.

As she made her way down the low grade slope following the slight winding curves more and more light and life became visible. Homes began to light up with activity and people began to stir. The clock was just about to turn nine thirty as she passed by the first small business front and made her way from the side of the street onto the sidewalk. Shop owners were just arriving at their stores for the morning and Odessa was greeted with many warm smiles and hearty nods, which she gleefully returned. As she passed by the local diner, she took a glance at her watch. She had plenty of time before she was due to arrive at the souvenir shop, and she decided to pop in for a quick cup of coffee. Turning on her heels, she caught the door just as Mr. Bartholomew was making his way out of the diner.

“Oh! Why thank you, young lady. How are you this morning Odessa? I haven’t seen you since you moved back into town. You’ve been hiding up there with Babette! It’s almost enough to start some tasty gossip down here in town, don’t you know.”  He chuckled, giving Odessa a friendly punch on the shoulder.

“Good morning, Mr. Bartholomew. I’m doing well, just haven’t had much time to get out and visit with the weather is all.” Odessa answered with a smile. It was only partially a lie.

She hadn’t actually been hiding, but she wasn’t exactly enthused about coming down to town either. A small town like Scarborough thrived on gossip just as Mr. Bartholomew had said.  If she started making her appearance around town known, she would have to tell someone why she had moved back, and once she told one person it was over. There was nothing that could be said to change the cascade of rumors which would follow. In fact, Odessa was fairly certain the old childhood game of telephone originated in Scarborough. Getting a job at the souvenir shop would necessitate being in town much more, but it would also give her shelter and reprieve from most of the locals aside from Jericho Henderson who had inherited the business from his father. At least that’s what she was hoping.

“Oh yes. I imagine this weather takes a bit of getting used to after being away for so long. I better get going! Can’t be late getting the milk back to the Mrs for her pies. Tell Babette I said hello! I look forward to seeing more of your smiling face in town, young lady! Have a good day, dear.” Mr. Bartholomew said with a hearty guffaw as he hurried down the sidewalk and across the street before Odessa really had a chance to reply.

She only smiled and waved before quietly ducking into the diner and making her way to the counter.

“Hi there. I’d just like a coffee with sugar and two creams to go please.” She called to the busy waitress delivering several plates of food to her patrons at the bar.

“You sure you don’t want any grits or flapjacks with that coffee Odessa?” The waitress asked without missing a beat.

“Excuse me? I’m sorry. Do I know you?” Odessa asked, confused searching her memory for the face adorning this person, still coming up empty.

“Well we were only like best friends until you graduated, married that tourist man, and moved yourself to Colorado with a fancy corporate job. It’s me! Selena!” The waitress replied, grabbing a styrofoam cup and preparing Odessa’s coffee.

“Selena! Oh my, God it’s been a long time! I barely recognized you!” Odessa said with a squeal of recognition. “You look great! I’m still jealous of that figure! Look at you.”

“Nice try, Hon. You don’t have to be polite. Life hasn’t exactly been kind to me. Donnie left me with two kids and his mom who had a stroke and needs constant medical attention. This is my second job. I also work down at Pete’s in the afternoon and evenings. Yeah. PETE’S. That’s where life has taken me. What brings you back here to the death trap?” Selena answered honestly, with a hint of defeat in her voice and sadness in her eyes that Odessa hadn’t noticed previously as she handed Odessa her coffee and motioned for her to follow down to the small overworked cash register.

“Life hasn’t exactly been kind to me either. It’s a long story, and I’m running late for a job interview. We need to catch up though! When you have a free moment, or at least sometime off work. I can come help you with the kids and your mother in law one evening or something.” Odessa answered, still trying as desperately as she could to cling to the secret reason which brought her back to town.

“Maybe in a few years, when I find Donnie and start getting child support. That’ll be $2, Oddie.” Selena answered.

Odessa pulled out a few small bills from her coat pocket and handed them across the counter to Selena.

“Keep the change, Selena. I’ll see you around. We will catch up. I promise!” Odessa said, with a quick wave as she turned around to head out the door and down the street to her interview.

She pushed her way through the crowded diner and leaned into the heavy door just as it was pulled open from the other side sending her head over heels out onto the side walk and her cup full of hot coffee directly onto an unsuspecting gentleman who had opened the door.

“Holy shit!!” He yelped as the full cup of coffee hit him square in the chest and Odessa tumbled across his feet. “Goddamn that’s hot!” He yelped yet again, grabbing his now soaking wet and stained shirt and pulling it away from his chest in an effort to ease the burn. “What the fuck, lady?”

Odessa sat up, also dripping wet and coffee stained after landing in the cool puddle on the sidewalk. She recognized the man from somewhere but couldn’t quite place him.

“I’m so sorry!” She exclaimed jumping up to her feet, not exactly sure how she could help, but not wanting to sit there dumbfounded either. “What can I do to help you? Do you need a doctor, do you need a dry cleaner, do you need…” she babbled nervously until the man rudely interrupted her.

“I need you to shut the hell up for a second. Damn, that hurt.” He said bluntly, waving Odessa back several feet as he bent over and put his hands on his knees.

“I’m sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry.” Odessa tried again. “I wasn’t paying attention it was totally my fault.”

The stranger only grunted in reply as he stood up, and brushed himself off.

“If there’s nothing I can do to help you, I really have to get going. I’m about to be late for a job interview.” Odessa said, getting impatient and slightly annoyed with this guy. It had been her fault for spilling the coffee, but he also could have been at little more polite and less stubborn as she was trying to help him and make things right.

“Job interview?” The stranger said, taking a new and obvious interest in Odessa as he turned to face her. “For The Boutique?”

It was then that Odessa realized why she recognized this man. It was none other that Jericho Henderson, the man she was supposed to meet for her interview. She blushed with the realization, and threw her hands up with a laugh.

“Yes… It’s me. Odessa Rogers. I barely recognized you Jericho. You’ve filled in quite a lot since high school… but I mean not in a bad way. Just in a… you’re not as gangly and scrawny as you used to be…. I mean…” Odessa stammered sticking her foot firmly in her mouth the more she tried to catch herself. It hadn’t been that long since she’d been out of work, but it felt like all of her confidence and business finesse had been sucked out of her the moment she set foot onto the street this morning.

“Thanks… I guess?” Jericho said giving her a look of disapproval.

Odessa could only smile in awkward silence, completely unsure of what to do with herself.

“Come on back in I guess. You didn’t get to enjoy your coffee the first time around. We’ll have your interview in here. It won’t hurt anything if The Boutique opens a little late this early in the season.” Jericho said, softening just a little bit and once again opening the door.

Odessa graciously accepted and made her way back into the diner, this time finding a seat at the only empty booth in the place and waiting for Jericho to join her. He did after stopping to talk to a few of the regular patrons of his shop and make small talk with just about everyone else as he made his way through the dwindling breakfast crowd. He had always been a popular kid, blessed or cursed with the gift of gab that frequently got him in trouble. Just as much as it got him into trouble, he was also smart enough to get his way out of just about anything as well. Honestly that was probably the only reason The Boutique had survived since he took ownership. He was the only person in town who could sell souvenirs to residents consistently enough to turn a profit. He was intriguing just as much as he was dangerous. Odessa had avoided him in high school due to his womanizing reputation, but now here she sat face to face with him after lifetimes apart with her guard down, and she was mesmerized.

“What can I get for you, hon?” The waitress asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“Oh… just coffee, two creams and sugar please.” Odessa answered with a smile, carefully looking at the face of her server to make sure she didn’t know her.

“And for your friend?” She asked, following Odessa’s gaze in Jericho’s direction.

“My friend? Oh no. We’re not together… well I mean we are eating together, but we’re not TOGETHER. It’s a job interview. I don’t have any idea what he wants or would like. It’s Jericho Henderson. We went to high school together, but I… I don’t know.” Odessa rambled off, once again losing her normally sharp senses.

“It’s Jericho? Oh. I know what he likes. When he gets to the table tell him Judy’s bringing his usual. I’ll get those orders right in.” Judy said with a coy smile as she scribbled something down in her order notebook and headed back behind the counter.

Odessa thought it was a bit odd, but decided not to dwell on it. She wasn’t even really sure why she was still having an interview after spilling coffee all over her potential boss, but she wasn’t going to complain. She had exactly eight dollars and fifty two cents in her bank account, and she needed an income badly. Even if her part time position was less hours that she had hoped for, she would take anything at this point. Actually, the thought crossed her mind as everyone bustled back and forth in the diner to put in an application here as well, depending on how the interview with Jericho went. If this was the sort of place you even put in an application. The same few people had worked here as long as she could remember, and those who were new faces had family who had worked here before them. Even Selena’s mother had put in her time here at the diner before Selena found herself here. Odessa’s family had always been part of the upper class in Scarborough. She frequented the diner with her friends daily in the later part of her teen years, but they were always just hanging out. No one she knew had ever worked there, not even Selena until recently when life took a wrong turn. Maybe getting a job at the diner was something that you had to be born into and couldn’t be applied for.

“So… you’re Odessa Rogers.” Jericho said sitting down interrupting her thoughts. “Hi. I’m Jericho Henderson, owner of The Boutique here in town, what brings you in with your application?”

Odessa sat there, slightly taken aback and confused by Jericho’s obviously rehearsed speech.

“I… uh…” She began, before noticing the smile in Jericho’s eyes.

“No, I’m kidding. You didn’t run the other way screaming after you found out I was the one who was supposed to be doing your interview even after you spilled lava coffee on me. You’re hired. Can you start today?” Jericho said factually as the smile in his eyes spread across his face.

“Can I go home and change out of this coffee mess?” Odessa asked breathing a silent sigh of relief now that she was employed.

“Sure. After breakfast. Is Judy bringing my usual?” He answered, before turning his attention to scan the crowd for Judy.

“Oh, yeah. She said she knew what you liked.” Odessa answered, following Jericho’s gaze behind the counter, until she realized he wasn’t actually looking for Judy and was instead watching Selena sashay back and forth with a coy smile.

Startled by this realization she jumped, and immediately turned to face forward in her seat. It was good to know Jericho hadn’t changed his womanizing ways. She rolled her eyes, and began to fidget with the fringe of her now coffee stained scarf waiting for Judy to bring her fresh coffee.

“What? I’m a single dude. I can look. It’s slim pickings around here anyway, which brings me to my next question. I don’t see a ring on your finger, what happened to what’s his face? Is that why you’re back in town?” He asked with his glorious blunt flair.

The shock washed over Odessa like a punch in the face, followed by the cool sting of a frosty breeze. She had no idea what to say. This was the conversation she most wanted to avoid with anyone but especially her future employer. How do you tell your boss that the reason you left your high paying job, husband and kids, moved to the near opposite side of the country and had been hiding in your aunt’s attic was because you lost your marbles? It was true that even if she told him the truth since she had already been hired there wasn’t anything that she said which would affect her employment under the law, but it was still incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to just come right now with it and tell him.

“Oh, Aunt Babette just needed some help around  the house and Derrick and I… we just drifted apart.” Odessa answered trying her best to bluff her way around the truth.

“Bullshit. You went crazy and moved back here because you didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Jericho almost snapped in return, further ruffling Odessa’s feathers.

She sat in shocked silence not sure how to react, or how Jericho had such an insight into her personal life when she hadn’t set foot inside town since her arrival. Did she admit that she had a mental break down, or did she deny it? She wasn’t even sure how Jericho had found this piece of information. Maybe he was just being brash and inflammatory, taking the wildest possible guess a complete stab in the dark. Before she had made up her mind with what to say Judy returned with her coffee and Jericho’s full breakfast.

“Here you go Jericho. Just the way you like it.” Judy said, leaning over close to Jericho, practically brushing her chest up against his shoulder and scruffy bearded face.

“You do know just the way I like it, Judy. Always have. “  Jericho answered with a big smile from ear to ear as he leaned in to Judy’s chest and reached around giving her a quick smack on the behind.

“Oooooh, honey I get off at four tonight. Don’t have anything else going on, if you want to get together and take a look at my rusty old pipes.” Judy said with a laugh as she walked away from the table with a bit more spring in her step.

“Don’t tempt me, Judy! I’m trying to behave, remember?” Jericho called across the restaurant. “Besides that, I have this lovely lady sitting here who deserves my full attention as she tells me her tale of woe.” He bantered returning his attention to Odessa who was sitting with an annoyed expression on her face sipping her coffee.

“Right. My tale of woe.” Odessa huffed sarcastically. “You are shameless, Jericho. I’m remembering why I avoided you in high school.”

“I am shameless, but I’m also adorable, charming, and funny.” Jericho retorted smiling in between bites of eggs, pancakes and grits.

With that Odessa laughed out loud unable to keep her disgust hidden any longer.

“Seriously though, what brings you back to town? It doesn’t affect your chances of employment. You’re the only one who put in an application.” Jericho asked switching gears into a more serious genuinely interested tone. “Do you want anything to eat?”

“Oh, no thanks. Coffee is fine. I’m not really a breakfast eater.” Odessa answered, thankful to be back on a more serious note. “Plus, I don’t really have any money.”

“I didn’t ask if you had any money, I asked if you wanted something to eat. I’ll buy.” Jericho insisted.“Well… I guess I could eat some eggs or something.” Odessa consented, not exactly sure how she felt about accepting charity from her boss.

“Okay. I’ll get you some eggs or something.” Jericho answered, softening his brash exterior even further. “Judy! Can we get some eggs over here, for Dessi? How do you like them?”

“Over easy, salt and pepper.” Odessa answered.

“Over easy, salt and pepper, Judy!” Jericho called.

“Coming right up, Sweet heart!” Judy called back with out actually visiting the table.

“Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.” Odessa said, sincerely grateful for Jericho’s generosity.

“Well I can’t sit here and eat in front of you. I might be brash, but I’m not rude. At least I don’t try to be intentionally.”  He said, quietly finishing his breakfast. Patiently giving Odessa a turn to speak.

“It’s not that you’re rude, you’re just obviously trying to push the envelope. You don’t have to try so hard. You’re a good looking enough guy.” She replied honestly.

“Thanks, I think?” Jericho replied with an odd expression across his face.

“Well… I don’t know. I meant it as a compliment, but I’m a bit of out practice in the whole social interaction thing. Aunt Babette isn’t much company. I mean she’s not crazy or anything, but most of our conversations consist of the weather or how much fiber she’s eaten that day and what needs doing around the house. I’m a grown women and she still treats me like I’m fifteen. Which, I guess I kind of am fifteen in a way. Running off to live with my aunt because life got tough.” Odessa began to ramble before catching herself mid sentence.

“You ran away? Are you divorced, or are you in hiding?” Jericho asked, putting down his fork and sitting back in his chair. “Did Derrick beat you or something?”

She had fallen helplessly into Jericho’s trap. He was going to get the truth out of her one way or another there was no use in going back now. She smiled a little bit out of frustration and a little bit out of awe at Jericho’s style. It would be a lie if she didn’t say she was a little impressed at his ability to get catch her off guard. No one had been able to do that to her in years. It was exciting, refreshing, and scary all at the same time. She let out a small sigh, before beginning her tale.

“No, Derrick wasn’t abusive. Everything was going really great actually. I had just gotten a promotion, a raise, we just bought a new house, the kids were doing well in school… Everything was great. I just woke up one morning to head to the office and just kept on driving. I don’t know why, but I drove right past the office, and right out of town and kept driving until I ran out of gas. Once I ran out of gas I pulled over to the side of the road and started walking. It was like I was being pulled by an invisible force back home. Compelled to get there anyway I could. Eventually the police found me and brought me home. I spent several days in a psychiatric hospital and when they released me I left Derrick and moved back home. That’s it. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’m hiding at Aunt Babette’s house. That’s also why I fell for your coy little performance. I’ve completely lost my marbles and my corporate game. It’s gone, all gone and I have no idea where it went.” Odessa explained, fighting to hold back tears as she spilled her guts with the first person out side of Colorado since she had moved.

“Wow. I had no idea. Now I just feel like an asshole for making a joke like that. Are you okay? Did they diagnose you with something? Are you going to randomly not show up for work and end up in New York? I mean… wow that’s kind of a lot.” Jericho stated obviously surprised at Odessa’s honesty.

“No, I never got an official diagnosis. Someone tried to say it was untreated postpartum depression, but none of the assessments would match up with any diagnosis. I was crazy, and then I wasn’t. I’m still technically in therapy. I have to call my counselor every week to check in with any new changes, behavioral or mood fluxes, and all of that. It’s almost like being on probation but for my sanity.” She continued, too far committed to the story to go back now.

“So, Derrick just up and left you?” Jericho probed, as Judy returned to their table with refills and eggs for Odessa. He winked at her acknowledging her presence, but mostly kept his attention directed toward Odessa.

“Not immediately. I mean he tried to stick around and be supportive for a while, but it eventually just got to be too much for him to handle. A crazy wife, two young kids, and a full time job. He had to pick up as many extra projects and hours as he could to make up the difference in my lost income. I actually think he ended up losing the house not too long ago. I don’t make a habit of contacting them. We decided in the divorce it was best that he have full custody and that I have no visitation rights until I was deemed mentally sound again. Just to give the kids a relatively stable and sane environment to live in. Watching their mom go crazy was hard enough on them, there’s no reason for them to continue to endure it. I miss them so much. Jessa and Josh. Jessa just turned twelve in August and Josh will be ten next month. It all went by so fast. I wish I would have taken more time to spend with them and spent less time working. Maybe then I wouldn’t have lost my shit?” Odessa continued, more to herself than to Jericho.

It was refreshing having a chance to get all of her internal monologue out into the world. It felt like it gave it more validation, more depth, made it more real. It was also very encouraging that her boss hadn’t changed his mind about her employment even after all of her ranting and rambling. At least he gave no indication that he was going to change his mind, but time would tell. She still hadn’t made it in for her first shift yet. Anything was possible really. As she paused and Jericho absorbed everything that she had told him, she quickly ate the eggs which Judy had deposited in front of her. She still wasn’t very hungry, but they were there, they were free, and they weren’t made by a ninety year old woman who could barely see to operate the stove. It was the first actually GOOD meal she’d had since her arrival in Scarborough and she wished she had ordered something more substantial.

“You look like you haven’t eaten in years the way you’re scarfing those down. Do you want something else?” Jericho said with a slight chuckle.

“Oh, no. It’s not that. I just… isn’t the store supposed to open here soon? I just don’t want to be late.” Odessa replied, which wasn’t entirely a lie.

“The store was supposed to open thirty minutes ago, but who’s around to buy souvenirs in the middle of January? And you’re with your boss. I think it’ll be okay.” Jericho said as a matter of fact.

Odessa only smiled in reply. The moment had gone from comfortable to increasingly awkward. She no longer felt safe here with Jericho. It felt like she was being corralled or held against her will, even though she was free to stand up and leave anytime she chose. Every time she made a suggestion or attempt to get out of the conversation or the diner Jericho shot her down. This was the first time she felt uneasy around someone in a very long time. Everything had happened so fast she wasn’t even sure if anything notable had happened at all. One moment it was all smiles and sunshine and the next it was awkward and uncomfortable. Jericho managed to shake up her world not once, but several times in the course of an hour. It was then she began to feel like a piece of meat, or a mouse being stalked by a playful cat. She quickly did her best to silence those emotions and thoughts, dismissing them as her own unstable mind playing tricks on her. Jericho wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, but he wasn’t out to hurt anyone. At least not directly.

Seeing that Odessa was growing uncomfortable, Jericho motioned for Judy to bring the check.

“I guess we should get over to the store and get all the legal paper work  stuff out of the way so you can get a paycheck at some point, huh?” Jericho said trying to lighten the tension that had grown between them.

“Yes, a pay check would be nice. Kind of the point of working for you.” Odessa answered visibly relieved that she was free from the awkward prison she’d found herself in.

“You mean my charm and good looks aren’t enough?” Jericho teased handing Judy his credit card, but not taking his eyes off of Odessa.

“Not unless you can pay my bills with them.” She answered bluntly.

“All right, if you insist. Come on. We can walk over together.” Jericho said, sliding out of his seat and stretching as he stood.

Odessa obediently followed Jericho’s lead, as Judy caught them at the door returning Jericho’s card. There was a brief mumbled exchange between them and another quick pat on the bottom before Jericho leaned around Odessa and opened the door.

“I’ll get that. Don’t want a repeat of this morning on some poor unsuspecting passer by.” Jericho teased as his arm lightly brushed across Odessa’s chest.

She could feel the heat rising to her face and immediately pulled up her coat hood and rewrapped her scarf tightly around her face in a frenzied flutter. It had been months since she’d been with a man, and her sex life with her husband was nothing to brag about before that. She hadn’t been actually turned on by something so blatant, yet innocent at the same time in as long as she could remember. With Derrick she had always been the one to initiate things, this flirting with Jericho threw her for a loop. At least she assumed it was flirting. He hadn’t reacted to brushing against her chest, maybe he didn’t do it on purpose? It was cold out side and jacket sleeves were thick. She’d have to wait this out and see.

They walked in surprising silence down the sidewalk, past several other local shops that had already opened and eventually made their way to The Boutique. Jericho inserted the key and turned the rusty old lock with a sharp creak and snap. The door made an equal protest as he struggled to get it open. The Boutique was located in one of the oldest buildings in town and had been in the same spot since Richard Henderson had opened it back in the late sixties when the East Coast became the latest and greatest vacation destination and had tried to leave many of the original details of the shop intact as possible. At one point it used to be a tiny post office, which left behind a bank of post office boxes on the far wall leading to the storage area. Before Jericho took over his mother would take the time each season to fill each small box with some seasonal related trinket.

Odessa loved coming in with Aunt Babette during the Christmas season as she was growing up and peering through as many of those tiny post box windows as she could reach excited to see each small happy face painted on the cheery elves, snowmen, Santa’s, reindeer, angels, and nativity scene. The boxes were never in the same order, bringing a surprise to each Christmas season. Maybe she could continue the tradition if her employment lasted through out the holiday season.

As she followed Jericho through the maze of displays and merchandise into the back office a little bit of sadness stung her seeing how the post boxes had been covered up and hidden behind more modern displays.

“What happened to the post boxes? Why did you stop putting the seasonal trinkets on display that way?” Odessa asked as Jericho flipped on the lights.

“It wasn’t cost effective filling them with things people couldn’t buy. Plus, it was mom’s thing and after she died no one really wanted to do it.” Jericho answered honestly.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Odessa said, genuinely unaware that Jericho’s mother had passed away. That was odd, since in such a small town everyone knew everything even when they didn’t want to know.

“It’s okay. It’s been years, I’m over it.” Jericho said vaguely as he typed in the code to the safe and began to start the paper work for the day. “Here. This is the new hire paper work. It’s pretty self explanatory. Just read through this code of conduct book, sign and initial things and let me know when you’re done. I’ll show you how to run the register afterwards. I’ll be handling all the opening and closing procedures so you don’t have to worry about that. If you have to leave before I get here just lock the door on your way out and turn off the lights. I’ll get to it when I get to it. Same thing in the morning. If I’m not here, open the door turn on the lights and I’ll get here when I get here. In the off season we’re open from nine in the morning to six in the evening with an hour break from noon to one for lunch. You can lock up and leave for lunch, or you can bring lunch and eat here. During tourist season we’ll be open from nine to nine with no midday break period. I’ll have a few high school kids to help out during the busy season. You won’t be expected to work more than thirty hours a week unless you really feel the need to. Over time pretty much never happens, so don’t count on it. Even in the busy seasons our profit margins are too low to warrant any over time. Which actually reminds me we didn’t discuss wage at all. What were you looking for? I usually pay by the week and setting up a weekly salary has worked better for m in the past as opposed to the standard hourly wage.”

This was a side to Jericho Odessa had never seen before. For all his brash social antics, he was very smart and very well put together as far as his business was concerned. He really knew what he was doing.

“Well, how does two hundred fifty a week sound? That should average out about two hundred net, and is right at nine dollars an hour if I work thirty hours.” Odessa said, also flexing her business minded muscles.

“We’ll start at two hundred and if you do well, I’ll bump you up to two fifty. Deal?” Jericho fired back with out taking his eyes off of his paperwork which he was quickly entering into the practically ancient computer system.

“Two thirty, and you’ve got a deal.” Odessa responded, taking a seat at the small desk beside Jericho and finding a pen to begin her paperwork.

“Sure. Two thirty. We can do that.” Jericho replied with a smile as Odessa bumped her knee against his.

They sat in silence for the next thirty minutes, while Odessa filled out her new hire paper work and Jericho finished the opening process. It was a weird exchange considering the first half of their morning had been spent in awkward conversation, now in the heat of the moment business wise the witty banter had come to an end. It was all business now, and it felt good. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed parts of the corporate world. The predictions, projections, marketing research it was a thrill, a rush that she had grown accustomed to in her old life, but had forgotten in her recent jobless stint. Maybe that’s what did her in? All the chance and gambling of the corporate world. Even the so called fool proof philosophies were hit and miss these days, but her Aunt and this steadfast little town were always a constant. Nothing changed here, or at least very little. The pace of life was slow and steady. Even sitting here opening the store with Jericho the atmosphere was just plainly different. She couldn’t put her finger on it. It just wasn’t hustle and bustle, thrilling but not chaotic. The more she thought about it the more she began to lose focus on her task at hand and drift off lost in her own thoughts which were a dangerous battle field at the present moment.

“Are you done? I need to show you a few more things before I get out of here for the afternoon.” Jericho asked, bouncing around impatiently at the office door as if he had somewhere important to be.

“Oh, yeah. Where do you want me to put it?” Odessa answered snapping back to the present and quietly shuffling the rest of her thoughts back into her subconscious.

“Just leave it on the desk. Come on up here with me.” Jericho said making a quick motion with his wrist for Odessa to follow him to the front of the store.

She followed obediently behind as Jericho showed her how to turn on the various display cases, what merchandise went where and how to occupy her time when there weren’t any customers. He rattled everything off so quickly it was a bit difficult to keep track of, but Odessa assumed that if he wasn’t taking the time to actually show and tell her it wasn’t very important. That’s what she had gathered during her time with Jericho so far. If it was important he made sure to be clear and precise, if it was just something that needed to be done but wasn’t really vital to the success of the business he didn’t pay much attention to detail when explaining it. At least that’s what she hoped was the case or she would find herself in a lot of trouble this afternoon when Jericho left.

“This is the register. It’s the original from the dark ages so it’s pretty simple. Type in the amount of the items off the tag, hit the tax button at the end which gives you the total, take the money, make change. The debit card machine is over here. Just type it in the register as cash and keep the copy of the receipt with a signature on it. Got it?” Jericho asked, quickly waving his hand back and forth over the register keys. “Your cash drawer starts with one hundred dollars in it. At the end of your shift balance it back to one hundred. And put the extra in a deposit bag and put it in the safe. You don’t have to do anything else with it, I’ll take care of the rest. Sound good?”

“Sure, sounds easy enough.” Odessa answered, going over each step in her head.

“Great. I’ll be back later to close up shop. Welcome to The Boutique family of excellence Dessi.” Jericho said with a smile as he bounced around the counter and headed out the door leaving Odessa alone with her thoughts and nothing better to do except remove her coat and wait for a customer or two to show up.

She removed her coat, scarf and gloves then headed back through the maze of display shelves toward the office. Jericho hadn’t shown her any other place aside from the sales floor to put her things so she assumed the office was also the employee break room. She tossed her things over the back of the worn office chair and made her way back up to the front where she not so patiently waited behind the counter for nearly fifteen minutes before deciding to get a broom and sweep up some lingering dust in the aisle ways. She completed that task in five or so minutes and ended up right back where she started.

After a few more moments of standing around looking like a bored fool, she decided that she would wander around the store a bit and take stock of what things were and where things were incase she had a customer wander in and ask a question. She never thought that souvenirs were such a sustainable business through out the winter months, but clearly they were. She also never knew how many items one could print Scarborough Maine in different fonts onto and charge nearly three times the price of the same plain item anywhere else. There were the obvious coffee mugs, tee shirts, hats, pencils, refrigerator magnets and other things that people thought of as the classic souvenir, but then there were shelves of other things as well. Random trinkets, collectibles with no real attachment to Scarborough aside from being for sale at The Boutique, trendy designer hand bags, antiques, candy and snacks, popular toys, books, and a small section of hand crafted items made entirely by locals. That poor shelf looked like it hand’t been touched in several years as items were silently collecting dust patiently waiting for the summer crowd. It was also placed at the very back of the store for some reason instead of being the center piece or window display. Jericho hadn’t said she COULDN’T rearrange the displays, but he hadn’t actually said she COULD either.

As she continued to contemplate whether or not to move the display up front the old door chime sounded and the door creaked alerting her to the prospect of her first customer. She looked up from the display but couldn’t see anyone from where she was standing.

“Hello! Welcome to The Boutique. If there’s anything you need help with let me know. I’ll do my best to get you what you need.” She called out making her way to the register, still unable to see anyone who had entered the store.

She waited for a reply to her greeting and never received one. The only thing she did receive was a startling sense of unease. It was then that she realized she was completely alone in a public environment where she wasn’t able to keep her eye on the door at all times. Theft was a very rare crime to Scarborough during the winter months, but there was always a first time for everything. She desperately needed to find this mysterious customer to put her mind at ease before it ran away with her.

“Hello?” She called again, certain she had heard the door open and the bell ring.

After her second shout was met with the same silence she stopped dead in her tracks listening. The only reply was the old furnace kicking on causing the floor boards to creek and crack and a few loose pages next to the air vent to stir. It was then that a striking realization hit her. She was completely alone, in this unfamiliar building, with unfamiliar surroundings. Even in her small town it left her feeling very vulnerable. After several minutes standing poised and ready for anything, she cautiously made her way to the front register and noticed several parcels of mail on the interior door mat.

“Oh. Wow. Just the mail.” Odessa laughed picking up the mail and carrying it back behind the counter.

She would have to stop being so figetty if she was going to survive on her own. It was then that the thought occured to her, she hadn’t actually lived on her own ever. Even now she was living with Aunt Babette. As soon as she was out of high school she went straight to college and moved into a popular sorority house. There were always people everywhere. As soon as she graduated she moved in with Derrick, and they were married and had the kids soon after that. Her entire life she had been surrounded by people. Being alone, even for a few hours was disconcerting to say the least. Maybe that was her problem? Maybe she had been so overwhelmed by everything going on in her life she never had a chance to slow down and be who she really was? Maybe after thirty five years her brain just gave up? It was definitely something she would have to discuss with her therapist.

And then interrupting her train of muddled thoughts there it was again. The black shadow out of the corner of her eye, flitting in and out of the room.

“Who’s there?” She said as she let out a little yelp.

Once again she was met with silence, which led her to look at the clock. She had only been here for an hour, and things were already starting to go haywire. She thought about calling Jericho and making up some excuse for him to come back to the store if for no other reason than to have another body here with her, but then if Jericho was spending all of his time at the store there really wasn’t any reason to have her on the payroll at all.

“It’s okay.” She said aloud. “It’s just your nerves. There is no such thing as…”

“Excuse me?” An elderly gentleman said from Odessa’s left.

“What?!” Odessa yelled, more out of surprise than anything. “Oh… I’m sorry. You startled me. What can I help you with sir?” She asked trying to correct her tone and calm herself down.

“I was just wondering how much this pen set was? I have my grandson visiting from out of town this week and I thought he might need a new set of pens. He’s going to Harvard. I wanted him to have a little piece of home to take with him so he doesn’t get too big for his breeches and forget about good old Scarborogh going off to such a fancy school. He’s a smart one, my grandson.” The gentleman rambled on and on.

“Oh… uh… well honestly I’m new here. This is actually my first day. I’m not entirely sure how much the pen sets are. Let’s see if we can find one with a price tag, shall we?” Odessa said with a smile as she escorted the gentleman over to the stationary shelf. “Did you come in with the mail just a moment ago? I know it’s kind of a weird question, but I heard the door and didn’t see anyone until you came up to the counter to find me.”

“No, I just walked in a few moments ago while you were standing there at the counter. I knew what I was looking for, I just couldn’t find the price listed anywhere.” The man answered, with a puzzled expression on his face. “Are you new in town? I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here.”

“Oh, no. I grew up here, but I did move away quite a while ago. How long have you lived here?” Odessa answered, glad to have someone to fill the eerie silence in the shop with conversation.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. Born and raised here. What’s your family name maybe I know your parents or grandparents?” The man answered.

“Odessa Rogers now, but it was Penskii. Jacob and Roberta Penskii and Babette Arnold.” Odessa answered.

“Ah, yes. I’m familiar with the Penskii family. Can’t say I was ever close to them, but I’ve heard the name around town. They had the farming business didn’t they? And you have a brother that was a foot ball star if I’m not mistaken?” The man said, watching Odessa dig through the pen sets desperately looking for one marked with a price. Or something similar marked with a price.

“Yes…. Gene was quite a foot ball star back in the day. I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name, sir?”

“Ah yes, pardon me Ms. Rogers. I’m Zacceus Henderson.” The man said with the trade mark Henderson sly smile spreading across his face.

Odessa froze before turning around to face Zacceus and be greeted by his smile.

“Mr. Henderson… Oh. Is this some kind of test?” Odessa asked, rearranging the disheveled pen shelf.

“Not at all Dessi. Not at all. You’re doing a fine job. I was more checking up on Jericho than you. He never remembers to price these damn things, and generally leaves the store poorly attended. Not that the attendants are poor, but they are poorly trained. I don’t know what he does all day long when he’s not here working, but for some reason he always has an excuse to hire people and be elsewhere. Come on back up to the front and I’ll give you a proper lesson on how to take care of the store.” Zacceus answered making his way back up to the front register. “These pen sets cost sixteen dollars, by the way. Twenty four if you get matching stationary. Since none of them are marked it will give us an opportunity to learn how to use the label maker. Which should be somewhere in the office, but there’s no telling where it actually is. It looks like none of these prices have been attended to since the last time I was in town for a visit, or since his mother died.”

“It’s not really my place to say, sir, but maybe her death is the reason Jericho tries to spend the least amount possible here.” Odessa pointed out as politely as she could. It seemed fairly obvious to her, but she was just getting reaquainted with everyone and didn’t really know for certain.

“He’s the reason I didn’t sell out after his mother’s death. He wanted to keep the store, but the way he takes care of it I can’t think of any good reason why. We barely scrape by a profit each year, and I’m not even sure if those numbers are accurate since he took over. He’s a good boy, but he has trouble keeping his focus on important matters. He seems more interested in chasing women.” Zacceus answered bluntly. “Which reminds me, keep your head about you when he’s around. I think he’s involved with three different girls at the moment. At least that was my last count. You’re a good girl Dessi, always have been. I don’t want you to get wrapped up in his games.”

Odessa didn’t even know how to respond to that. She wasn’t exactly interested in Jericho as anything more than her employer, but he had been flirting with her and she had been lonely lately. It was a completely different thing to be sitting her talking to his father and being warned away from pursuing anything with his son. She was also rethinking her employment choice after being thrown into the middle of such obvious family drama. At this point she was thinking that she might just be better off with out a job applying for government assistance or something.

“He’s been flirting with you hasn’t he?” Zacceus asked reading the shock and confusion on Odessa’s face. “Not surprising. Do you know how many male employees the store has had since he took over? None. All of his employees end up in his bed eventually if they’re aware of what they’re getting into. I’m here to tell you first hand, don’t fall for it. Ah. Here’s the label maker. Come on over here so I can show you how it works.

Odessa wandered over to the opposite side of the counter and stood closely watching Zacceus as he showed her how to change the numbers on the label maker and then apply the labels to the products. She had lost track of time listening to Zacceus and his stories. Before she knew it the sun was beginning to set, the store was rearranged, things were properly priced, and Jericho came stumbling through the door on his phone. Flustered and not paying much attention, until he spotted Zacceus.

“Oh my God. Odessa! Please tell me you didn’t let this guy rearrange things and change prices. PLEASE tell me that he just walked in and hasn’t been here all day creeping around the store.” Jericho yelled across the room.  “Hey, I just got to the store. I need to call you back.” He said softly into his phone.

Odessa looked up from her current assignment at Jericho with an obvious look of confusion.

“Um… is that anyway to talk about your father, especially with him standing RIGHT THERE?” She replied, offended.

“Well it might be, if this guy was actually my father. Jebediah, you know I have a restraining order against you. I’m going to give you five minutes to get out of my store, or I’m calling the police.” Jericho said sternly to the man standing behind the counter.

“There was a time Son, when you treated me with respect. I guess much like your morals that time has gone out the window. Watch out for yourself Odessa. You’ve wandered into a real snakes nest with this one!” The old man replied as he made his way obediently toward the door.

“Yeah, I respected you before your lost your marbles and started coming in here impersonating my dad, crazy old man!” Jericho yelled as Jebediah slammed the door behind himself.

“Uh… what just happened?” Odessa asked her confusion turning slightly to concern, then to alarm.

“That, was Jebediah Reagan. Every time I hire a new employee he sneaks in here and tries to tell them he’s my dad and all sorts of crazy stories about how I’m a womanizing creep and only want female employees to fuck in the break room all because I fired his grandson last year for theft and slinging meth. His amazing grandson heading to Harvard is a low life creep. Ever since then he’s caused so much chaos around here I almost want to rehire his grandson just to keep his crazy ass out of my store!” Jericho yelled, obviously heated by the situation.

“I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have been able to keep an eye out for him, or not let him come in here and have his way with your store.”  Odessa asked, going from alarmed to offended all over again. “I mean if you knew he was going to come in here, that would have been something important to relay to your employees, don’t you think?”

“He hasn’t been in here the last two new hires I’ve had so I assumed he’d given up and moved on. I guess I was wrong. I need to call the police and get a report, and now I’m going to be stuck here all damn night putting everything back the way it was. What the hell, dude? What the hell?” Jericho spat, taking off his coat and throwing it behind the register.

Odessa stood silently for a moment watching him stew and mumble under his breath.

“Is there anything I can do to help? I mean I don’t exactly know how you want things so I can’t really start putting them back, but if you tell me I can help you. I’ll stay over tonight, off the clock. It’s my fault everything got messed up in the first place. I was here. I was supposed to be the one responsible.” She offered, beginning to peel price stickers off of each item in a box of stationary she had been pricing.

Jericho stopped mumbling to himself and let out a long sigh.

“No. You don’t have to. It’s not really your fault. I should have told you to watch out for him. I’ll fix it. You can go, just lock the door on your way out.” He said, carefully rearranging everything by the front cash register before opening the display case and removing each item with a new label on it and beginning to peel them off one by one.  “God, always with the labels too. He couldn’t just change prices on the shelves, or in the register he has an obsession with labeling every damn thing in the store. Sometimes twice.”

“Yeah… we did go through about three rolls of labels today. I feel really awful. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay and help?” Odessa offered genuinely sorry for not pausing to question the strange man who just seemed to make himself at home. Now that she stopped think about it she never even asked about Jericho’s family. She found out his mother had died when she insensitively asked about the post office boxes. Maybe something had happened to his father too, he seemed very offended by Jebediah coming in and changing everything around, but also strangely secretive about his problems to not inform her of creepy old men who wanted to sabatouge his business.

“I mean I guess if you really want to stay you can. You know you’re not going to get paid for it right?” Jericho said, somewhat relieved to have help cleaning.

“Yeah, I know. I don’t expect to get paid. What do I need to do?” She asked, glad to see a little bit of the depressing air lifted from Jericho’s manerisms.

“I don’t even know really. I guess just start removing the labels and putting everything back the way it was this morning when you came in. Do you remember where anything was?” Jericho said immediately starting to perk up and return to his bouncy jovial self.

“Uh…. Not really. I’m sorry.” Odessa answered honestly, picking up a basket of inspirational engraved stones and beginning to peel off the price stickers she so painstakingly put on them mere hours earlier.

“Okay… don’t worry about that then. Just get the labels off. What did you do all day? Label everything in creation?” Jericho asked, pulling out yet another basket of small trinkets now covered in price stickers.

“Sort of. There was one other customer that wandered in, but Za…er… I mean, Jebidiah took care of him. Do people in town know about Jebediah’s ruse? Even the customer seemed convinced that he was your father.” Odessa asked, studying Jericho for any sort of reaction that might give him away if he was being dishonest. It just didn’t make sense to Odessa how this one old man could fool an entire town into thinking he was Zacceus Henderson when he wasn’t. Although making up a fake name to call your own father and then coming up with an elaborate back story to support your lie is just about as insane as fooling the entire population of a town.

“Must have been someone from out of town, or someone who hasn’t seen my dad in a really long time. What did they buy?” Jericho answered with out missing a beat.

“Just a birthday card and some stamps to mail it.” Odessa answered.

“I don’t know. The police know about Jebediah, but I don’t really advertise it around town.” Jericho mumbled to himself as he too began to peel off labels. “Goddammit these are ruined.”

Odessa looked up from her own pile of merchandise to notice what Jericho had been working on. Felt bottomed figurines. In trying to remove the stickers he had also compromised the integrity of the felt. She had asked Jebediah about that when she set about labeling, but he said it was of no consequence. Of no consequence to him clearly.

Odessa and Jericho worked in silence the rest of the evening. There wasn’t much left to be said, and neither of them were really ones for small talk. The sun had set, and the rest of the town was shut up snuggly in their homes watching prime time sitcoms, or reading, or helping kids with homework, or any combination of those events. The things average middle Americans did on a blustery January evening. They left together and Jericho accompanied her to the edge of town before setting off  in the opposite direction to his apartment. He had offered to give Odessa a ride up the bluff, but she had politely declined.

After being cooped up in the stuffy old shop all day she was looking forward to getting some fresh air on the short walk home. Going up the winding road took significantly more time than wandering down it, and the calm sea breeze turned into a blustering nightmare before she reached the long stone driveway, but it was worth it. She felt alive, and invigorated. Renewed, and excited at the small start of her new life. Working with Jericho seemed easy enough, as long as she didn’t get on his bad side, and the job was fun and challenging but not extremely stressful, plus she would get a chance to get reaquainted with people in town.

She stumbled over some loose gravel as she continued her way up to the house, laughing at herself and her genuine clumsiness. As she neared the house she saw that all of the downstairs lights were brightly lit. It wasn’t extremely late, but she thought Aunt Babette would have been in bed hours ago. Perhaps Aunt Babette was waiting for her to return home? She hoped not, because that would just make her feel horrible for not calling to inform her of working late.

Odessa made her way around the house and up onto the small stoop leading to the kitchen door where she was greeted by Peppermint, a deep orange Tabby cat who wrapped himself between her legs and around her ankles.

“Hi Peppy.” She said as she leaned over to give him a few scratches behind the ears as she finally found her keys in her coat pocket and fumbled with them some more trying to get them into the small nearly antique key hole.

He only meowed a soft meow and began to purr loudly in reply.

Odessa finally managed to get the key into the keyhole and the door unlocked. She pressed her body against it as it stuck rigidly in the frame and stubbornly refused to open. As she pressed to no avail, she took a large step back and threw herself against the door again. This time the door opened with a monumental crash, sending her flying across the small entry way and stumbling directly into the eat in kitchen table.

“Goodness!” Aunt Babette who had been sitting at the table quietly enjoying her evening tea exclaimed as she quickly snatched her tea cup and saucer off of the table while Odessa and the table slid across the kitchen. “I guess I need to get that door looked at, now don’t I?”

“It might be a good idea, Aunt Babette.” Odessa answered, catching her balance and returning the table back to it’s rightful place in the kitchen before quickly closing the back door with a large and definite thump.

As soon as she turned the lock, she heard a faint: meow from behind her. Peppermint had made his way inside during the commotion.

“Oh, Peppy! Come here! You can’t stay inside!” Odessa said, leaning over in an attempt to capture the intruder as he scampered away out of the kitchen and into the living room.

“He won’t hurt anything for one night. Besides that, it’s a bit blustery and cold out there. He probably just needs to warm his bones. There is an old littler box in the attic and there should still be some cat food in the pantry from old Whiskers last days.” Aunt Babette said with a chuckle and Peppermint darted back into the living room and quickly up the stairs toward Odessa’s room. “How was your interview? Did you get the job?”

“The interview… was awkward to say the least.” Odessa answered honestly shedding her coat, scarf, and boots before joining Aunt Babette at the small table. “I stopped at The Diner to get some coffee this morning and ran into Jericho. Literally, ran into Jericho, and spilled my coffee all over him. Then he bought me breakfast and we talked a little bit. He said I was hired because I didn’t run away after spilling my coffee all over him. He took me back to the store and showed me around a little bit. Then left me there all by myself, which was scary and not extremely professional, but it worked out okay. I did have a run in with Jebediah who has apparently been impersonating Jericho’s dad for quite a while. That was interesting. He told me to rearrange the entire store and put prices on everything. So I did. He also knew my name which was really creepy considering that he isn’t quite right in the head. Do you know him?” She explained with a huff.

“Jebediah? Can’t say the name rings a bell, but I know Mr. Henderson moved out of town soon after Jericho took over the store. I think he headed South for warmer weather to heat up those old bones. Florida, maybe? I don’t get out enough to hear all of the really juicy gossip. How is Jericho doing? He took his divorce pretty hard, at least that was the word around town.” Aunt Babette said placing her tea gently back on the table.

“Divorce?” Odessa asked. She had been so disoriented with Jericho asking about her own life she hadn’t actually taken the time to ask him anything personal. Although being her boss she didn’t suppose it was appropriate to ask anything personal.

“Oh yes. He was married to a wonderful lady who owned the frame and art shop on the other side of the square. He loved her son like his own, but she ended up leaving him and moving out of state. He spent almost every night at Pete’s until he started finding his way into the beds of nearly every attractive young woman in town, single or not. He got himself into quite a bit of trouble with a few of them. Nearly had to change his name and skip town. It was pretty messy there for a bit, but that’s been about a year ago. He’s still in town so he must have pulled himself together.” Aunt Babette clarified.

Odessa sat in shocked silence. She was usually good at reading people, but she never would have guessed Jericho had gone through something so traumatic. It was just one more thing to add to the list of things that disturbed her about Jericho. He piqued her curiosity more than anything at this point, but she was also a little afraid and intimidated by him.

“He’s a sweet boy. Always has been, but the world hasn’t exactly been kind to him. He’s been through a lot. Goodnight dearest. I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t forget to set out the cat litter for Peppermint.” Aunt Babette said as she slowly stood from her seat and made her way through the house into her bedroom for the evening.

Odessa sat silently sort of in shock. What had happened in this quiet little corner of the world while she had been away? Jericho had gotten himself quite a reputation around town, and none of what people had to say was very positive. She was determined to give him a chance regardless. Small town gossip could be brutal after all, and mostly untrue. He was willing to give her a chance, and she would return the favor. After mulling over this for a moment she stood up and began to walk around the kitchen in search of a snack. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the lack of food was starting to catch up with her.

She quietly made a ham sandwich and poured herself a glass of lemonade before carefully trekking up the massive flights of stairs to her room remembering a can of cat food and the nearly empty bag of cat litter for Peppermint. When she opened the door to her bedroom she found the Tabby curled up quietly snoozing on her pillow as if he belonged there. She set her dinner down on the small vanity, and went over into the storage area in search of the litter box. Surprisingly she found it setting right inside the door. She decided to set it on the floor and leave it in the storage area. She would have to leave the door slightly cracked, but it was better than bringing cat litter into her already extremely small living space.

After getting the litter situated she wandered back into her room, closing the door as she stripped out of her clothes from the day, and let down her hair for the night. She picked up her plate and flopped onto the bed next to the cat in her underwear before quickly scarfing down her food and gulping down the lemonade. As she finished she lay there staring at the old sturdy beams holding up the roof. The beams that had weathered over one hundred years of sea storms, snow, and warm summer sun. As she was beginning to drift off from coherent thought into sleep her computer started sounding an alarm in protest. She had almost forgotten her daily journal entry. It was part of her ongoing therapy, and one of the many court ordered requirements in order to live on her own instead of returning to the mental hospital. She slowly crawled out of bed and over to the small chair which accompanied the vanity. She plopped down on it reluctantly, still completely unaware of what she should write about. She briefly skimmed what she had written the previous evening, and slowly the wheels began to turn. What she wrote didn’t make much sense, but then again she was writing things out for her psychiatrist. It didn’t always have to make sense, as long as it was completed and uploaded to the server on time.

She flipped open her computer and waited for the hard drive to buzz to life. It wasn’t an old computer by any means, but it did take it’s time getting started. No matter how many advances were made in technology they couldn’t seem to get the machines to start up any faster. It was a mystery only the computer manufactures knew the answer to. Eventually the screen illuminated and she was able to open her word processing program.

The cursor blinked at her with an annoying urgent blink. It was almost as if it was demanding that she write something, tapping it’s foot impatiently in a monotonous rhythm. She chuckled to herself at the thought of personifying her cursor, and then mentally shifted deep into her psyche.

“My husband loves me, I know he does with out a doubt, but he sincerely has no idea what to do with me during my triggered freak outs.” She began, not entirely sure why her mind went to Derrick. “He can’t calm me down, he can’t deal with it, and in his efforts to help he really just makes it worse. Which makes me sad. It goes beyond the fact that he doesn’t understand. It’s a deeper hurt than that, and it has nothing to do with Derrick. I feel terrible because he thinks I’m mad at him, and I’m not. He feels inadequate, helpless and keeps reaching out to me because he loves me, and all I can do is shut down and pull away. I could open up to him and express to him how I’m feeling. The hurt and loneliness, the emptiness, the void left in my heart that he will never be able to fill, but if I did that it would only hurt him more. Something else he wouldn’t be able to understand. 

It’s something I’m struggling to understand myself. This duality in my life, where I’m happy with Derrick, the kids, and my life in Colorado, but still missing a part of myself. The part of myself I’m missing is unhealthy, self destructive, and dangerous. I don’t need it in my life, but still especially in times like these where my crazy buttons are pushed I crave it. The safety and security that came with it. The feeling of completeness. The intensity. The high. In addition to those parts of myself, I miss the person who brought out all of them. Fire and Air, together we were both a figurative and often times literal explosion.

Which is PRECISELY why we need to be apart. I understand it, I agree with it, I know it’s best for myself, but the struggle is always there. Which makes me angry mostly at myself for craving something so self destructive and even flirting with the idea of throwing everything good I have with Derrick away for just one look, one glance, one moment with my Dark Side. It’s irrational, illogical, and generally a really dumb idea. But it creeps over me, slowly in the darkness of my weakest moments.” 

As she finished typing, leaving her impatient cursor blinking, her mind drifted to her Fire. The person she was speaking of, she had met in college. They had dated briefly, but it was more of a fling than anything. They were both fledglings out in the “real” world for the very first time. Experimenting with all sorts of forbidden pleasures, and experiences. She’d never felt more alive than those days she was with Rob, but it wasn’t meant to last. Their relationship ended much like it had began, in a flurry of heated passion giving her the final push she needed to completely buckle down and graduate at the top of her class. Then she met Derrick, and life was good again. Things became monotonous and predictable, and then she snapped.

With that she sighed, hit the submit button on her entry, waited for the small confirmation that her entry had posted and closed her computer for the night. After sitting hunched over at the vanity she had become chilled and quickly snatched up the pair of old sweat pants and baggy tee shirt which had become her go to pajamas in recent weeks quietly sliding into them like a comfortable second skin. She picked up Peppermint and gently set him outside her door before crawling into bed, and pulling the handmade quilt up under her chin and clicking the bedside lamp to the off position.

A quiet darkness settled over the room, and she gradually fell asleep listening to the soft sea breeze rattle the house and it’s old yet sturdy bones. Sleep didn’t stay with her that night. Her subconscious wild with a new fervor she hadn’t experienced in quite sometime. The most beautifully haunting dreams floated through her mind. Everything had a pale orange glow as she was looking out over the ocean, it seemed like the world was on fire, pulsing and in constant flux. Soon the firey colors shifted hues and became deep greens, blues, purples and eventually shifted back to reds and yellows. It was like she was standing in the middle of a kaleidoscope. As she stood there on the beach watching the colors shift and flow someone walked up behind her, silouetted in black and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face them. She cried out, and immediately bolted up out of her bed ready for anything, tripping over Peppermint who had been quietly curled up at her bedside, and crashing into the vanity spilling all of her pictures, computer and personal affects skittering across the floor.

For once she was thankful that there were nearly three floors between her room and Aunt Babette. As she stood up, clicked the bedside lamp on and began to take stock of the mess she picked up her phone and looked at the time. It was six thirty in the morning. There was just enough time to pick up this mess, take a bath and head to work. With a defeated sigh she continued picking up her belongings, tossed them haphazardly on to her bed, and made her way over to the wardrobe. Today she selected a beige sweater and jeans. There was no need to impress anyone, and Jericho usually showed up to work in a tee shirt and sweat pants according to the rest of the town. She assumed that her choice wouldn’t be an issue as far as dress code went. They hadn’t actually discussed dress code, but many of the local businesses were very relaxed.

She gave Peppermint a gentle pat on the head before heading once again into the small bathroom to draw her bath. The pipes let out their old familiar protest as the hot water began to steam as it rose up the sides of the cool porcelain. She glanced at herself briefly in the mirror and frowned at her tired desheveled appearance, her long matted dark hair falling gracefully around her bare shoulders just barely covering her average size, less than perky breasts. She had really let herself go since leaving Derrick. It wasn’t that she was so much interested in starting a new relationship at the moment, but she could at least put a little more effort into her appearance. You never knew what opportunities might arise when given the chance. At least that was her current life philosophy.

She quietly turned around and silenced the gurgling faucet before stepping quickly into the tub. Now that she had a job and somewhere to be baths seemed like an unnecesary waste of time, but there was no other option in the house. Even Aunt Babette had a walk in bath tub, and she certainly couldn’t go around town unbathed. Maybe she could save enough money to find her own apartment if her sanity lasted long enough to keep her job through out the busy season at The Boutique. She smiled to herself at another brief thought that crossed her mind. It was fleeting, hopeful, and more than likely a horrible idea, but her mind went there anyway and it sent a rush of hormones through her body that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

Maybe, she could move in with Jericho? In the back of her mind she knew he was a dangerous desire, especially the more she was learning about him, but the desire was there none the less. It was a weird sensation to feel, giddy about attraction and dating again. It was something that she felt had been lost to the sands of time when she settled into her relationship with Derrick and having that small part of her humanity revived was exciting. She felt herself getting more and more physically excited as she imagined the warm water surrounding her wasn’t just water but Jericho’s strong athletic arms, and the loofa she had filled with strawberry body wash and ran quickly over her arms and legs wasn’t just a loofa but Jericho’s rough masculine hands.

She caught her breath as she moved the loofa from her arms to the back of her neck. If only it was really Jericho, and not a strawberry scented loofa. Then another thought crossed her mind. She set the loofa on the side of the tub, and quickly stepped out of the bath to check her phone. She still had plenty of time to indulge herself in her fantasy a little bit longer, and that’s exactly what she did. She settled back into the now luke warm bathwater, which she refreshed while thouroly rinsing the soap out of her loofa. As her body heat began to rise with the temperature of the water she began to wash it over her shoulders her hand pausing a moment on each side of her neck before she once again picked up the loofa and began to run it lightly, playfully across her breasts. It had been such a long time since she had been geniunely aroused it didn’t take much before she was near climax. She paused for a moment placing the loofa back on the side of the tub, waiting in anticipation before closing her eyes and moving her hand slowly down between her thighs sending her thoughts to Jericho.

She imagined him, naked and exposed snatching her out of the tub and throwing her against the wall, before forcing himself passionately inside her. Repeatedly and urgently, she was so entrenched in her fantasy that she could almost feel him there breathing, pressed against her skin to skin until eventually it was too much and her eyes shot open as she let out a pleasurable squeak and felt the wave of endorphins course through her blood stream as she climaxed, not just once but twice before she had to grab both sides of the tub and catch her breath. She looked around the bathroom, immediately ashamed with herself. It wasn’t so much that masturbation was shameful, but that she had been fantasizing about her boss. That, was a bit shameful, not to mention how much it would complicate her working environment. He was just so perfect, and had honestly been the first person in town to continue to treat her like a human being after finding out her situation.

Her thoughts momentarily drifted back to him, and his infectious smile and deep brown eyes before she kicked the stopper with her foot, and stood as the tub began to drain reaching for her towel. She quickly dried herself off, pulled on the clothes she had laid out, bounced back into her bedroom to grab her coat then whisked downstairs to find something to eat.

As she rounded the corner on the last flight of stairs and slowly opened the kitchen door she was greeted by the smell of fresh hot breakfast tea, with toast and fresh blackberry jam. Her absolute favorite. Aunt Babette had been thinking about her this morning.

“Is that blackberry jam I smell, Aunt Babette?” Odessa called grabbing her boots and slipping into them before turning to sit at the small kitchen table.

“It most certainly is. Just for you on this fine February morning. You look refreshed this morning. Did you get a good night’s sleep, dear?” Aunt Babette answered, finishing up the few dishes in the sink and slowly toddling over to join Odessa at the table, bringing the steaming tea kettle along with her.

“It was okay I guess. I had a really weird dream, but it wasn’t anything disconcerting. Just odd. The ocean was on fire.” Odessa said, in between bites of toast and sips of tea.

“You know what they say about dreams with the ocean on fire, don’t you Oddi?” Aunt Babette said with a sly grin and a bit of a chuckle.

“No, what?” Odessa asked, genuinely curious.

“The ocean represents your emotions, and anything on fire represents intense sexual desire. I’d say you have a crush on someone, Dear Oddi.” Aunt Babette answered, her grin widening into more of a smirk.

Upon hearing that, Odessa inhaled deeply with surprise nearly choking on the small piece of toast she had popped into her mouth moments before. She could feel the heat rushing into her face as she fought to both regain her breath and maintain her composure.

With that Aunt Babette let out a hearty laugh.

“Oh, ho. The subconscious doesn’t lie my Dear. The subconscious doesn’t lie. That wouldn’t be why you were up so early, now would it? In such a good mood? Off to see your Jericho?” She asked, getting right to the point and cutting Odessa straight to the core.

There was no point to deny it. She’d been caught, but she did take some comfort in knowing that it was Aunt Babette who had caught her first giving her the opportunity to reign things in before she actually saw Jericho later that morning.

“Yes. I do kind of have a thing for Jericho. Is it really that obvious, or is it just because you’ve known me since I was little?” Odessa answered honestly still a little bit flustered by it all.

“Oh heavens dear. It’s as obvious as the nose on your face. Be careful Dear Oddi. Be careful.” Aunt Babette said, an air of deadly seriousness in her voice. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to sit by the fire and catch up on my reading. Have a good day at work, Oddi. Could you do me a favor and run into the market and pick up some beef broth? I’m planning a roast for dinner tomorrow night, but I can’t seem to find any beef broth around here. I was sure I had remembered to stock up for the winter but I must have forgotten.” She said, slowly rising from her chair and making her way out of the kitchen and into the living room where a large fire roared brightly in the fireplace.

“Sure thing, Aunt Babette. I’ll gladly stop at the store. What time does it open? I wasn’t planning on taking the car into town today but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time on my lunch break to bring it back up here otherwise.” Odessa asked, finishing her tea and following her Aunt into the living room where a large warm fire was roaring in the fireplace.

“They should be opening at eight. If you don’t have a chance to get it, we’ll just think of something else to eat. I appreciate it Oddi. Have a good day, Dear. I’ll see you when you get home.” Aunt Babette said with a gentle smile as she slowly lowered herself into her favorite chair and picked up her latest knitting project.

Odessa smiled in return and paused momentarily before heading out, thinking about all of the times she had come home with various problems, struggles and questions of life to find Aunt Babette sitting in her chair knitting in front of a roaring fire. It was as if though she aged physically, Aunt Babette was stuck in a rigid pattern of life and would not sway from it. Odessa found it comforting to have something so predictable and stable in her life. More than likely it was helping more with her recovery than anything else.