Authors: Miller,Cassie-Ann L.
“Breathe in...hold hold hold...breathe out...Breathe in...hold hold hold...breathe out...Breathe in...hold hold hold...breathe out…”
I take long deep breaths, doing my best to synchronize my rhythm to the sound of Isla’s voice pouring into my ears. The cool morning breeze blowing over my face and the sun smiling down on my skin make it that much easier.
This is one of the few things that I absolutely adore about being back in Reyfield. It’s a quiet, serene town. Except for the occasional ruckus caused by the young children playing on the street and the yapping of the over-talkative Yorkshire terrier a few doors down, the place is a sanctuary. A slice of suburban perfection. The ideal place for soul-searching and self-reflection.
But Reyfield is just too slow-paced for me. Take Thornbush Lane, for example. The cul-de-sac is
for lack of a better word – the kind of place you’d go to raise a family or grow old, I guess. A cast of interesting characters occupy the lane. Nancy and Delores, the gray-haired duo who’ve appointed themselves as the two-woman neighborhood watch, the eccentric mailman who delivers my mail to the wrong house half the time, meddlesome neighbors who drop by unannounced when you least expect them. That all adds to the cozy feel of the place. But for an ambitious 25-year-old like me, Reyfield is nothing but a dead end.
Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the suburbs. And that’s what I did as soon as I could. I moved 15 miles south to Chicago for college and then took a job in the city. Everything was going relatively well until four months ago when I suddenly got laid off. Now, here I am, unemployed, single, broke and for the past six weeks, living in my parents’ house again.
Thank god mom and dad are staying in Florida with grams till next spring so at least I have the house to myself. I did
work my ass off for my certified internal auditor designation only to end up living with my parents forevermore. Basically, I need
to find a new job
so that I can move back to the city as soon as possible.
Anyway, Isla swore up and down that meditation would help with my job search. She says that I’m ‘scattered’ and that’s why I haven’t been able to find a new position since I got laid off. Her new meditation recording is supposed to help me find my ‘center’ and ‘recalibrate’ in order to attract a suitable employment opportunity.
Her words, not mine.
For weeks, I resisted. The old Sammie thought that Isla was delusional and maybe even slightly off her rocker. The new Sammie is so hopeless and desperate and sick of being unemployed that I’m pretty much willing to try anything to get a damn job. Sending out resumes, compulsively checking job-listing websites and waiting impatiently for the postman to show up with my mail every morning has proven to be an ineffective strategy.
So, it was time to try something new.
I’ve been using this meditation track for a few days now and if nothing else, it’s relaxing and distracts me from the ticker tape of worry, doubt and anxiety constantly running through my mind.
I shift my foot slightly, determined to ignore the itch prickling at my heel. I'm going to meditate the fuck out of it.
Forget you, stupid itch. It's time to turn ‘inwards’ because my money’s low and I need a miracle right about now.
I focus solely on my breathing.
Eventually, time and space slip away. I think I’m in that space that Isla’s always talking about. ‘The nothingness’ is what she calls it. I feel content. Satiated. That tiny, niggling voice in the back of my head gnawing at me to get off my butt and go search through the local classified ads again? I smother that bitch under fluffy pillows of bliss.
“Breathe in…hold hold hold…breathe out…”
What the fuck is that?
Is that a
? Who the hell on Thornbush Lane has a
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to channel my inner yogi in a futile attempt to drown out the hiccup-hiccup of the engine as it sputters to death nearby. It seems like the harder I try to ignore it, the louder it gets.
I grudgingly yank out my earbuds and ease out of my cross-legged position on my oversized cushion on the back patio. I peer around the side of the house and notice a shiny black Harley Davidson lying on its side in the driveway just as a tall, shirtless figure slinks across the front lawn next door.
What the fuck? Nobody’s supposed to be over there.
As far as I know, dad tried to get that place rented for months before he finally gave up in defeat at the end of July. Illinois’s economy is bad and nobody wants to pay a premium to rent that crumbling, two-story colonial with its unkempt lawn and weather-beaten clapboards. Still, my stubborn father refuses to lower the rental. He’d rather the house sit vacant. I guess he can afford to be picky about his tenants. He doesn’t have a mortgage to pay on it since he inherited the house when his uncle Kramer died back when I was a kid.
I bring my attention back to the very bold intruder next door.
I can’t see his face because the tall hedges now hide him from view. I should probably call the police but I decide to check it out myself. I grab a weapon – the rake leaning against the side of the house – as I inch cautiously towards the front yard.
I trek across the driveway separating the two houses, passing the beastly motorcycle and an open toolbox on the way. I stomp through the overgrown lawn and up the stairs to the front porch. The door is wide open and for some reason that puts me at ease. A burglar would probably be more discreet than that, right?
The knot in my stomach loosens a bit.
This is probably all some huge misunderstanding.
I stick my head into the doorway without stepping inside, just as a precaution. “Hello?”
A shadowy figure approaches, moving down the long, dimly-lit hallway that leads from the kitchen to the front door. Sunrays slice through the kitchen curtains, illuminating him from behind and revealing his silhouette bit by bit.
And what a sexy silhouette it is.
My eyes climb his frame in slow motion.
His large, sturdy feet.
His long, muscular legs and the gray basketball shorts hanging low on his hips.
The delicious V punctuating his washboard abs.
The colorful, intricate tattoos ornamenting his strong chest and those brawny arms.
His square, stubbly chin.
Those full lips slowly spreading into a wide smile.
My god — I can’t breathe…
His blue eyes, as pale and electric as a flash of lightening.
He shoves his large hand through his messy blond hair. “Hey…”
My heart stops cold in my chest and a shiver runs through my body. The rake slips from my fingers and lands at my feet with a metallic clang. I choke out his name.
8 years ago…
I am not a pervert…I am not a pervert…I am not a pervert…
…I’m totally a pervert.
I adjust my position on my floral-patterned comforter, shifting onto my knees and sitting my butt on my heels. I slide a finger between the slats of my blinds and peer into the bedroom across the way.
I didn’t come in here to spy, I swear.
I’ve been looking all over the house for my algebra notebook since I got home from study group and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. I had walked into my bedroom to search for it for a second time. But I had quickly gotten distracted when I saw a tawny-skinned blonde enter Keeland Masters’ bedroom.
An irrational wave of possessiveness had instantly flooded my stomach. “Who
Her face is obscured by the shadows. Without hesitation, she lifts her shirt over her head and flings it into the corner.
She reaches behind her back and unclasps her black and white satin bra and a second later, her huge breasts bounce free.
My jaw hangs unhinged and I cover my eyes with my fingers.
This can’t be happening. Not my Keeland.
I know that girls throw themselves at him. They swarm him like bees on honey whenever he hangs out at the football field after school and there are endless rumors about his many hookups. But that doesn’t mean I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to see it with my own eyes!
So, why the hell can’t I look away?
I spread my fingers, peeping into the space between them just as the blonde sits on the edge of the bed and her face comes into view.
Ugh. Brittany Delaney.
Why would you fool around with Brittany Delaney?
She’s the school slut. My Keeland can do so much better.
My 17-year-old heart cracks open in my chest as Brittany lies back on the bed and he climbs on top of her. His pale, white ass comes into view.
Hmmm. Not as round and muscular as I’d always imagined it in all of my daydreams...And his legs are super hairy…How come I never noticed that his legs are so hairy?
I should look away. I’m a total sicko for continuing to watch them go at it like animals…
Come on, Sammie. Look away…
…Still can’t look away…
He rolls over on the bed and Brittany climbs into his lap. They kiss sloppily as they hump all over each other. He sits up and she runs her hands through his shaggy, brown hair.
When Brittany dips her head and starts sucking on his neck, that’s when I realize that it’s not Keeland. Not at all.
A shrill scream escapes my lips. I clamp my hand over my mouth and duck away from the window, just as my brother, Daniel, peers over Brittany’s shoulder, looking for the source of the disturbance. I crouch down on the floor under the windowsill, pulling my knees to my chest.
Argh! For as long as I live, I will never un-see that!
I cringe all over as I collapse onto my back, staring straight up at the Twilight poster on my ceiling. I concentrate on Robert Pattinson’s handsome face in the hopes of erasing the image of my brother’s naked ass from my mind.
It’s not working
, I groan inwardly.
“Samantha,” I hear mom call from downstairs. “Dinner.”
It takes me a second to pull myself together and get the desire to puke under control. I really should have looked away sooner.
That’s what you get for being a pervert
, I chide myself as I pad down the hallway.
When I get to the bottom of the stairs, I see Keeland in the kitchen helping my mother set the table.
I instantly wish I’d known he’d be over for dinner. I would have brushed my hair and put on a clean shirt.
He looks up just as I walk through the doorway and our eyes catch. He gives me the widest grin. “Hey Sammie.”
I grab at the hem of the loose-fitting Fair Falls High Soccer t-shirt that I’m wearing and start fiddling with it. “Hey Keeland.”
Why do I always squirm when he looks at me like that?
He grabs something off of the edge of the dining room table and saunters over to me. My heart kicks harder against my chest the closer he gets. He hands a notebook to me. My algebra notebook. “I think this is yours.”
I try to steady my trembling hand as I take it from him. “Where’d you find this?”
A tiny smirk curves his lips. “It was right there sitting on the couch.” He cocks an eyebrow, leaning in towards me and lowering his voice. “Turn to the last page.”
My cheeks burn hot because I know that on the last page, I’d doodled in Math class. My name and his. Together. Mr. and Mrs. Keeland and Samantha Masters.
“I — I —”
“Come on. Open it,” he coaxes, a glint of mischief in his eyes.
My pulse throbs madly as I slowly open the book to the very last page.
And, yes. My embarrassing doodle is there. My name with his, scrawled in my best handwriting.
But now, an intricate drawing of a flaming heart encircles my scribbles. The sketch is so detailed with its vivid reds and oranges and yellows, it almost feels like it’s alive on the page. The initials ‘K.M.’ Are inscribed on the bottom right of the page.
My face must be as red as a lobster when I glance up into his eyes. I’ve held my breath for so long that I might be suffering from permanent brain damage by the time Keeland lets go of my gaze.
He grins down at me, his pale, metallic-blue eyes glimmering. “You like?” he asks facetiously. He always does this to me. He puts me on the spot just to see me squirm. Teasing me seems to be one of his favorite pastimes. In his eyes, I’m nothing but his best friend’s nerdy kid sister.
My mouth opens and closes a few times but nothing comes out. I’m mortified. I look over to my mother hoping she’ll supply a distraction. However, she’s completely oblivious to my plight as she moves busily at the stove, singing a Faith Hill tune under her breath.
I’m still struggling to formulate a sentence when I hear the front door open and the thump-thump of Daniel kicking off his sneakers. Keeland takes a quick step back just as my brother comes charging into the house, hair disheveled, shirt misbuttoned, reeking of sweat.
Before he can say a word, mom calls out to him from the stove. “Danny, you’re home just in time for dinner. Was Brittany able to help you with your Biology homework?”
My brother’s eyes go wide for a fraction of a second, but he recovers nicely. “Yeah, Brittany’s a great study buddy. She’s really
and she explains stuff in a very
way.” He and Keeland exchange conspiratory grins. I roll my eyes.
Those two have had a bromance of epic proportions ever since Keeland moved back to Reyfield last winter with his mom and younger brother, Maxwell. I’ve known the Masters’ my whole life but they’ve moved around a lot since Keeland’s dad ran out on the family a few years ago. Jane, Keeland’s mom, has a hard time keeping a decent job so she tends to follow opportunities as they pop up. And each time, she drags Keeland and Maxwell along with her. They always seem to end up back in Reyfield, though.
When they showed up again last Christmas, my mom, the high school guidance counselor, managed to convince my dad to let the Masters’ rent the house next door. It’s a decision my father has regretted ever since because Jane is having a hard time keeping up with the rent. She must be working the late shift at the diner tonight. I guess that’s why Keeland let Daniel use his bedroom to bone Brittany Delaney.
My mother sets the pot roast in the center of the dining room table. “Okay, Danny you go wash up and Sam, go find your father in his study. Tell him to come eat.”
After dinner, Keeland approaches my father as he sits in his recliner in the living room watching
Wheel of Fortune
. “Mr. Trotten?”
My father glances up with a gaze that does nothing to hide his distaste for Keeland. “Yes.”
Keeland looks nervous as he approaches. “I know my mom’s been late on the rent a few times. She’s really doing her best to pay but things have been a bit tough. I just started a job at grocery store. I wanted you to have this.” Keeland stretches out a hand to my father. From my perch on the stairs, I can’t see exactly how much money he’s holding.
My mother rushes into the room and intercepts Keeland’s hand. “Don’t be silly, sweetheart. You don’t have to do this. I’m sure that Jane just needs a little more time and she’ll square the rent away. Your prom is coming up soon. You could probably use your money for that.”
My father gives my mother the look of death. I heard him complaining the other day about Jane always being late on the rent and that he wants to evict her. My mother had come to Jane’s defense, reminding my father that the woman is a single mother doing her best to raise her two sons with the little money that she earns.
“Come get some pie to take home for Maxwell,” my mother says ushering Keeland into the kitchen before my father has the chance to get his hands on Keeland’s money.
Keeland thanks my mother profusely and says goodnight to my father on the way to the door. When he stops in the foyer to put on his shoes, he sees me sitting on the stairs. “Good night, Sammie,” he says in a singsong voice.
I try to play it cool. “Good night, Keeland.”
He comes right up to me and taps the tip of my nose. “Sleep tight, Mrs. Keeland Masters.” My whole body shivers.
He snickers softly as he turns and disappears out the door.