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Jolted - Nancy-Gail Burns

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77

Jolted

by

Nancy-Gail Burns

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Nancy-Gail Burns

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-833-5

Cover Artist: Nancy Donahue

Editor: Tricia Isham

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

To thoughts birthed when the lights go off.

Chapter 1

Discontent, the melancholy sky dumps buckets of rain, and sighs deeply. Pedestrians scurry, slickers flap, and umbrellas invert. The door swings open and close with a squeal. Patrons fill seats. The overflow leans against walls, as the aroma of raw fish zips by, as quick as their lunch hour.

A bald man, in a gray business suit, salivates over a tall redhead dressed in tight fitting black Simon Chang jeans, a Nirvana tee, and a scarlet red leather jacket. The bulging black man accompanying her makes him wary, but he cannot help himself. Roving eyes travel down the long legs, linger on the small rounded breasts, to settle on the subtle bottom in barely contained glee. His neck cricks as they turn the corner.

Melina wears her moods. Somber attire cautions of dark clouds. A woman approaches their table, menu tucked tight under her arm. She whispers in his ear, red ringlets tickling his cheek. Why don’t you order? We like the same dishes.

Ready to argue, Mark takes one look at her puffy eyes, and makes their selections.

Delicate, the server’s glance is bold. Thank you sir. A wiggle hints of suggestions as she sashays away.

Plump tears stream down prominent cheeks. He pulls a tissue from his shirt pocket. Wipe your eyes or you’ll look like a raccoon.

I’m sorry, you must be so embarrassed. It wasn’t my intention to break down. I… Her words drift, as she looks away.

His muscular body seeks a comfortable position, and the chair groans in annoyance. Globular biceps strain against his aubergine Scotch and Soda Royale shirt as he reaches to grasp her hands. Curious glances grind to a stop when they encounter a hard stare. It’s a sushi bar, who gives a damn?

You do. You despise scenes. I wanted to share a pleasant lunch. Such sniveling makes leaving the country seem like a marvelous idea. Everyone will think the big bad man is making the poor woman cry, when the opposite is true. You always dry my tears.

Fingers run across a shaven head, as if unruly hair needs a pat. I don’t care what strangers think. I wish I wasn’t going. You were there for me when Brad broke my heart. I haven’t forgotten.

All I did was buy buckets of Häagen-Dazs and get fat with you.

It was enough.

She pulls out her compact to dab the wandering mascara. Fingers run through red ringlets, You were there for me more times than I can count. The compact closes with a stiff snap. Don’t feel guilty. I am always in the middle of some mess. If you wait for me to get my life together, you will never travel. Be thankful for the escape route.

I’m anything but thankful. I hate leaving when you’re like this. It’s rotten timing.

The conversation teeters when the server lugs a large silver tray to the table. Futo Maki and Hawaiian rolls add color to the black lacquered table with seaweed bindings, diced red peppers, avocadoes, and chunks of salmon. Raw fish drapes across a white rectangular plate. The Tuna Tataki resembles a freshly opened flower blossom.

Enjoy your meal, the young woman says. Her dark eyes loiter on Mark. Melina looks off in the distance. Women often flirt with him, to no avail.

Thank you, they both reply, but the woman’s brilliant smile falls only on Mark. When she leaves, Melina fills her plate. Quit watching me. I’ll be fine. Besides, it’s a business trip. You don’t have a choice. She waves her chopsticks in the air. Don’t let me ruin it for you. International recognition doesn’t come around every day. Be proud and revel in the glory of architectural greatness.

He spins his diamond stud earring around and around with his thumb and index finger. I’m proud of my accomplishments, but you should be, too. A successful bookstore in today’s economy is a feat.

True, romance, not business, gets me every time. Her patrician features tighten. I’d like to rip Rob’s throat out for cheating on me. I can’t believe I never suspected. What plumber does that much overtime?

I gather it’s too early for jokes about snakes and drains?

Wait until next week. She seizes a thick rolled sushi with her chopsticks and gobbles it in one bite. I’m done with romance and the stupidity that comes with it.

His melodious laugh fills the table. Don’t be silly. You’re not done with romance. He grabs hold of her chin. But be done with him. Don’t forgive him. You deserve better than Robert Tucker. You’re gorgeous, clever, and sweet.

Then why do I feel like an overused rag, balled in a corner? She lifts the jasmine tea. The cup warms her hand. Why does it hurt so much?

It’s the price you pay for trusting the wrong person. But...

Seriously a but, really?

It has to be said. You are a wonderful person...but learn to be honest. When a relationship hits a snag, talk it out before it unravels.

I prefer to throw blame when it is in tatters.

Her crooked smile tells him she’s joking, nonetheless he doesn’t drop his gaze.

What do you want me to say? I’m a coward. I realize that. But love is a shallow dish, emptied quickly. Hardly worth the effort of confrontation.

It is worth the effort. Relationships are Pyrrhic victories if you hide who you are. Don’t agree to be agreeable. You lose more than you can possibly gain.

Her two colored eyes glare menacingly. The green one resembles a chunk of emerald; the brown one darkens to a shade of onyx. Don’t give me advice. I’ll never fall in love again.

Sure you will. But next time, choose wisely. His lips purse as he blows on his tea. I sometimes think you intentionally choose the wrong person.

Why would I do that?"

So you won’t get hurt.

That’s ridiculous, she decides, as she grabs a salmon roll, and rips it to shreds with her sharp teeth.

Perhaps, but is it true? Rob’s cheating hurt you, but did you really love him?

The chewing stops. I loved certain things about him.

But, did you love him?

Wavering, the glance falls to the table. I’m not sure. How do you know when you’re in love?

I’m no expert, but if you have to ask yourself if you love the person, you probably don’t. Love is difficult to describe. It seizes you, makes you feel truly alive. The bond is like no other. Its grip takes your breath away.

Her head cocks. How could you bear him leaving?

It wasn’t easy. I resented Brad for a long time. Hands open, fingers splay. He didn’t love me back. Honesty hurts, but deceit hurts more. No one should live a lie. He did what had to be done.

How do you get over something like that?

You do what you have to, and take what you can from the wreckage.

I wish I was more like you.

Appreciate who you are. We all have our faults and good points. You’ll find the right person. He wags his finger. Keep looking, and learn from past relationships.

Her sigh rustles the napkin. Certainty sits in my stomach. It gurgles with acidic truth.

And what truth would that be?

I will not be one of the lucky ones. Love’s hold will never intimately grasp me.

That’s not truth talking, that’s fear gnawing away at you.

I don’t think so. But since we’re talking about fear, how many dates have you been on since Brad left you?

Eyes look off in the distance. Not many. I can’t find a man who holds my interest. But I am looking. He plops a dab of wasabi onto his smoked salmon sushi roll, and pops it in his mouth. Fire engulfs his chest. Both water glasses empty. When the fire abates, he glances at his Cartier watch, I hate to rush you, but I have to be at the airport in an hour.

She plucks the last Boston roll off his plate, and grabs her black leather Gigi bag. We better leave. The rain has let up, but traffic is probably still heavy.

I really appreciate you driving me.

He peels two twenties from his wallet, and places it under his plate. They scootch out of the booth and dash to the car. Slick roads cause the highway traffic to tangle into a solid knot, even before they make it off the ramp. Mark’s square jaw tightens. This calls for the swear game. I’ll start with asshole.

A fine choice. Bastard, she says with a smile.

When the traffic begins to move, she admits, I can’t think of a swear word that starts with K.

Kooch, he supplies.

I’ll have to remember that for next time. The road forks. A large green and white sign indicates departures. She turns left. The airport comes into view. A row of cars hold happy, and not so happy travellers. A red van pulls away from the curb, giving her plenty of space to pull in. Mark checks his watch. You made it with ten minutes to spare. Signs denoting five minute parking, line the drop-off area. Bold lettering makes them appear anal retentive and persistent.

A click kills the motor. Enjoy Moscow, wow them with your designs, and text, e-mail, and tweet me. His thickly muscled arms swing around to grip her in a protective hug. Lips brush her cheek. Be happy. He grabs his brown leather suitcase and an armload of cardboard cylinders. She misses him as soon as the glass door closes, and he mixes with the throng of people rushing to counters.

About to head home, thoughts of an empty refrigerator leads her to Kroger’s. The store is nearly vacant. She whizzes down the aisles. Hungry for sweetness, she tosses a box of Little Debbie brownies into the cart. She passes the Ripples, backtracks, and snatches them, too. The fruit and vegetable aisles leave her cold. Bunches of green health line the shelf. She reaches for a broccoli. Two bags of baby carrots are tossed, to keep it company. Honey dew melons perfume the fruit aisle. She grabs for the biggest one, and a hand touches her own.

Deep laughter erupts. Sorry, I guess we had our eyes on the same one.

She looks up and meets a crooked smile. He has dark brown hair, equally dark brown eyes, and a looming stature. A small white scar above his right eye prevents his face from being perfect, but the cleft on his chin adds a devilish allure. A current of heat rushes from her head to her toes. It’s okay, you can have it.

He shakes his head. The only fair thing to do is share it.

Glances lock. She tosses her hair back. Or you could take it, and treat me to a coffee at the diner across the street. As the words spill from her mouth, she wonders why she is uncharacteristically bold.

His smile is quick and brilliant. I’m done shopping, and dying for a coffee.

But you don’t have anything in your cart.

He plonks the melon in the empty cart. I’ll walk you to the check-outs.

They exit and the sneaky sun strikes. Eyes squint in displeasure, as hands shade faces. I can’t believe it’s sunny, she remarks, as she digs in her purse. The clouds were so heavy. I thought it would rain for forty days. I left my sun glasses at home.

Weather, like everything else, is unpredictable.

They pack her bags into the trunk and saunter across the street. Stealing a glance, she wonders what happened to her natural shyness.

The Shiny Spoon lives up to its name. Counters, floors, and cutlery do indeed shine. Regrettably, the menu does not. She slides into the booth, aware that barely an hour passed, since she told Mark she was done with love. What’s with the backpack, she asks.

I’m camping at Twin Oaks.

Oh.

Yeah, I’m not from around here.

Disappointment strikes. Chastisement follows. Where he lives is irrelevant. Passing through is a good thing. Two coffees, she says when Iris walks towards them. Iris stops mid-step and heads for the pot. You didn’t want anything else, did you?

No, coffee is fine. By the way, I’m Jake Winslow.

Melina Winchester.

Nice to meet you Melina.

Nice to meet you Jake.

So tell me what makes you tick?

Tick, as a bomb ready to explode, or as an alarm clock, waiting to ring, or perhaps as a drip striking wood, not doing much at all?

His laughter is rich and sonorous. Tick as a device attached to a bomb.

Insides seize into a heavy knot. The bulging backpack whispers he is only passing through. Okay, I’ll play. I hate cruelty to children and animals, whether it be real or fictional. My blood boils when innocence is attacked or hurt.

"Do you have a child?

No.

A pet?

I have a black and white tuxedo cat named Bella.

What is she like?

Everything bothers her. She hisses a lot.

Why do you keep her?

I found her at the pound. I could never bring her back. She looked broken when she looked at me though the bars. Besides, our relationship is a work in progress. Cats, unlike dogs, do not automatically value their owner. It takes time to win them over.

How long have you had her?

Two years.

Do you have an exceptionally mean cat, or are you unlovable?

Melina laughs. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

I find that hard to believe.

Totally believable, cats are often cross.

The huge grin highlights white, even teeth. What makes you tick like an alarm clock?

Her finger wags. No, you must tell me what makes you tick like a bomb ready to explode.

Injustice. Bad people should lose. Good people should win. Simple logic flawed by reality. Back to the alarm clock. What are you waiting for?

My trite answer will bore you.

I can’t imagine anything you say being trite.

Fine, I am waiting to find a comfortable, reliable love, where passion flares at the most unexpected of times.

Like when you are sixty years old, and have been together forever?

Exactly. So what are you waiting for Jake Winslow?

Peace.

As in world peace?

No, nothing so grand. I want to wake up, and know with absolute certainty I am where I should be. Now explain how you tick like water dripping against wood?

Whenever I’m sick I eat bowls of macaroni with tomato juice, cheddar cheese and Vidalia onions. The tomato juice drips down my chin and stains my clothes. The cheese becomes a blobby mess, but eating it assures me all will soon be well. When I am sad and weary I watch funny chick flicks where everything goes wrong, and then suddenly, everything changes and the heroine’s world becomes perfect.

What else do you like?

I like shiny objects.

Diamonds?

No, anything that shines. I especially like red and orange glass that holds fire and warms with a glance. I have a button collection. Pink circles dot her cheeks. I know it’s unfashionable and dorky, but I love old buttons. I appreciate the detailed workmanship, especially when the button is miniscule. It tells me whoever designed it sees beauty on a small scale. I buy sweaters and cut off the new buttons and sew on my own. Enough about me, tell me about you.

I’m a people person. I like everything sweet. My passion is painting.

Oils or acrylics?

I prefer oils, but I work with acrylics, too.

What do you paint?

Only what touches my heart.

Your face lights up when you talk about painting. I wish I had a passion.

You do, you just haven’t found it yet.

I love books.

Are they your passion?

Yes and no. I own a bookstore. As a result, books sometimes become more of job than a passion. Yet ever so often, when I read something that touches me, I remember why I opened the store. Tell me more about your painting. Are you formally trained?

When she glances at the clock, two hours passed. I can’t believe I told you about Rob.

I’m glad you did. He’s an idiot. If I had you as my girlfriend, I wouldn’t look at another woman.

She smiles and wonders what is it about this man that makes talking to him so easy. I have to get going, she says, for the third time. Thank you for the pleasant afternoon. I can’t remember ever laughing so much.

He leans into her. His lemony smell revitalizes. I’ll let you go, but can I see you again?

Three hours ago, I said I was done with romance. It was a silly assertion, but I do think I need a break.

I’m only in town for a week. Don’t worry about involvement.

Why do I feel such a pull towards you?

I’m a nice guy, smart, funny. Eyebrows raise. Handsome? Besides, declarations always bite you in the ass. It’s the universe’s way of laughing at you. A plot was concocted as soon as you said you were done with love.

You are so silly.

He leans across the table. You can’t be afraid of silly?

She writes her number on a napkin.

Not a night goes by without seeing one another. When his vacation ends, they cling to one another as they say their goodbyes.

I don’t want to leave, he moans.

She closes her eyes. Her brainless heart pounds so hard, blood rushes with an intensity that sets her body afire. I don’t want you to go.

They stare into one another’s eyes. I could stay.

Words burst from her, without thought. You could move in with me.

His grip tightens. I can breathe again. It sounds so stupid, but I can’t imagine life without you.

She leans into his chest. His pounding heart secures her. It is ridiculous. We barely know one another.

Are we romantic fools?

Or just your run of the mill idiots?

Time will tell, he whispers, as he pulls her closer.

That night the phone rings. Mark’s number lights the screen. She hesitates before snatching the receiver. Howdy stranger, she chirps as an ebb of guilt stabs her.

Howdy yourself. How are you doing?

Great, book sales are phenomenal. It’s my best quarter in a long time.

Excellent.

What about your plans?

They asked for a few minor changes, but overall, they love them.

Did they like the central courtyard?

That’s what sold them on the design.

It will be the best hotel in the Russia.

Not the world?

Mustn’t get cocky, she warns.

They talk for ten minutes. Not once does she mention Jake.

Chapter 2

Punky cocks his furry head, listens intently, growls ominously, and runs so fast the hall carpet rolls into a tangled mess. Barb’s heavy tread makes its way up wide, wooden steps. Justin opens the door before his mother has a chance to ring the bell. Let me help you with that, he says as he reaches for the three bulging bags.

Big boned and muscular, Barb stands six feet tall. Her son is four inches taller, and outweighs her by twenty-five pounds. She shoves him aside and forces her way into the house. He trails behind, as she heads for the kitchen. Bags thump loudly, as she heaves them on the counter with one swoop. She takes out apples, pears, plums and a broccoli from a reusable sack.

You don’t have to buy my groceries Ma.

Brushing her damp blonde hair from her square freckled face, she squawks, Since you’re not smart enough to find yourself a good woman, I’m stuck with the job of taking care of you. Thin lips widen into a smile. That alone should be incentive to find someone.

I can take care of myself.

Roll your eyes at me all you like. You take care of yourself so well, you had a heart attack.

Three years ago, Ma. He grabs the bag of apples, rips open the plastic, and places the fruit in a black wire fruit stand.

You were only twenty-six.

The kitchen clock ticks loudly. It didn’t happen because I refused to eat my fruits and vegetables.

She removes a casserole from her CURVES bag and holds it up. Your favorite, chicken with broad egg noodles. Have it with the broccoli. It went bad last week and I had to throw it out.

He leans on the cement countertop he designed. His arm covers the glass inlay of an eagle fashioned from stained glass. That’s because I don’t like broccoli.

She roots through the last bag. No one likes broccoli. Everyone eats it because it’s healthy. Pulling out  a red Tupperware container, she smiles. I made your favorite muffins.

Blueberry?

Of course not, carrot nut is your favorite.

Psychic, he does not need his powers to know nothing can change Barb Maxwell’s mind when she makes a decision.

I have to use your little girl’s room. Put water on for our tea, and place my bags by the door so I don’t forget them. She rushes from the room. He hears the bathroom door slam shut. Her purse opens with a snap. He slips two twenties into her wallet.

She returns to find him sitting at the round kitchen table. Two yellow cups and plates rest on the old oak table. Sunshine strikes his black hair. It glistens like the feathers of a crow. I love what you did with the bathroom, she says as she takes a seat. For the life of me, I don’t know how you are so creative. Both your father and I could barely put a room together, let alone create something fresh and exciting. The sink looks like the bottom of the sea. It must have taken forever to paint it.

I did it in an afternoon. He spreads his long legs before him. So how’s Stan?

Stan’s doing well, considering...

He does not ask for details. Hemorrhoids, the importance of warm underwear, and the dangers of cold seats, is a conversation he does not have to hear, again.

The kettle whistles sharply. Barb bounds from the hard oak chair. She brings the pot and two muffins to the table. Cream cheese icing runs down a finger in a velvety blob. She licks it, without thought. Are you having a show any time soon?

Not for awhile, I’m taking a break. I want to focus on my work.

Good idea, I don’t like the strain those shows put on you. Art shouldn’t be strenuous.

Art is a competitive, difficult field. If you don’t produce, you fade into obscurity.

Your first priority should be taking care of yourself. She bites into the muffin. A sizeable chunk falls to the floor. Where’s Punky? she asks, hoping the dog will save her the trouble of bending.

Justin’s Welsh corgi snarls when he shows him her picture. He cannot stand being in the same room with her. It’s funny, but his mother won’t appreciate the humor. I’m sure he’s around. He often keeps to himself.

He’s an odd little dog. She pours the tea into the deep mugs. Enough about him, what’s new with you? Eyes light up with expectancy, as she leans into him.

His back presses into the chair. Not much.

Have you seen Eddy O’Shea lately?

A hidden agenda, camouflaged as daily chitchat. Barb does not like Eddy, but his six sisters are good prospects. Any one of them will do. Eddy’s been busy. What’s Stan up to? Is he playing hockey tonight?

Disregarding the question, her blue eyes fill with puzzlement. You’re almost thirty. You need a wife. I can’t understand why you haven’t found one. A sizable hand smacks the table. You’re handsome, financially stable, you have a good personality, what is the problem?

The yellow kitchen dulls as a cloud covers the sun. You’re the only one who sees my life as a problem. I’m happy, isn’t that what’s important?

Steam fogs her black-framed glasses as she blows on her tea. I ran into Darlene Becker yesterday.

Darlene Becker is a woman every mother loves, and every man hates. Hardworking, an impeccable housekeeper, a wonderful cook, and as appealing as boiled potatoes. I find it odd no one married her.

I don’t, he growls through clenched teeth.

That’s not a very nice thing to say.

I don’t care. He gets up, and yanks open the dishwasher. The cup clatters as it hits a glass. The door slams, dirty dishes become agitated and rattle. I have to get back to work Ma, there’s a piece I want to finish by tonight.

I thought you didn’t have a show.

I don’t, but I promised Russell I’d show him what I am working on tomorrow.

She holds up her cup. I haven’t even finished my tea.

Drink up. Don’t forget your bags. I left them by the door.

Ten minutes later, guilt marches down the steps alongside of her. The door shuts firmly. She shouldn’t question his life choices. Part of him wishes he could get married, if only to transform their relationship to what it once was. Problem is he never met anyone who made him feel...different. No one stands out, or makes him feel separate from the masses. Shouldn’t true love revel in a sense of individualism, allowing each to believe they matter?

Punky joins him as soon as the door closes.

Her intentions are in the right place, he whispers to the dog. She worries. She sees death as the predator. Death being an escape route is beyond her comprehension. Better that way. Let her think that things that go bump in the night are nothing more than the creak of an old house, or a snap of a dried branch. Let her believe a good woman can save me.

Punky growls and marches to the living room, to sit in his favorite armchair. Justin, too, marches on heavy feet. Actions originating from love are infuriating when you despise the action, but love the person. Secrets, too, are difficult to live with. But sometimes sharing is selfish.

Chapter 3

Jake’s long legs dangle over the edge of the couch. Soft snores slice silence. Inches from his head, Bella sleeps in a rolled up ball. Melina grabs the red and black plaid blanket from the chair, and covers them. She kisses his lips, grabs her purse, and dashes from the house.

It takes a moment to spot Charlie in the crowded diner. Barely five feet, a hundred and five pounds, larger people conceal her. Over here, she yells. Melina follows the voice and waving fingertips.

I only have an hour, so I ordered for us.

Slipping into the booth, she asks, Grilled cheese sandwiches?

Of course.

Hotel California wafts from the jukebox. When Melina hums along, Charlie raises a penciled eyebrow. I gather it is still going well?

I feel like the hero in a romance novel.

You shouldn’t read those silly books. Life isn’t like that.