Authors: Eliza Lentzski
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Lesbian, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Genre Fiction, #Lgbt, #Gay Fiction, #Lesbian Fiction
Copyright © 2015 Eliza Lentzski
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to events, locales, or real persons, living or dead, other than those in the public domain, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, re-sold, or transmitted electronically or otherwise, without written permission from the author.
Other works by Eliza Lentzski
Don’t Call Me Hero
Apophis: Love Story for the End of the World
Winter Jacket 2: New Beginnings
Love, Lust, & Other Mistakes
Diary of a Human
+ + +
Works as E.L. Blaisdell
Drained: The Lucid
(with Nica Curt)
If I had known what I know now, Memphis would have been in my rearview mirror the moment I learned how to drive.
Dinner was burning on the stove. The kitchen smoke alarm wasn’t going off yet, but, left unattended, the macaroni and cheese had coagulated at the bottom of the saucepan. There had been a time when I looked forward to family dinners as a moment to relax and discuss the events of the day. My mom would ask me how school had been and what I’d learned. That night was not one of those nights.
I hadn’t seen my brother Damien in weeks. It wasn’t unusual; he was ten years older than me, and now in his sophomore year at the University of Memphis, he’d lost himself to college life. But he was back that night, and he can’t come home alone.
The yelling was too loud, and it filled my head until I couldn’t think about anything else. I escaped to my bedroom and hid in the back of my closet. Among the jackets and shirts and hung up pants, I slinked down the closet wall and curled into a tight ball. I pressed my hands against my ears to muffle out the noise; I couldn’t completely shut them out, but it was better than before.
I was nine when they took my mother away. But she had been gone long before that.
“Sasha! Not too high!”
The little girl scrambled lower on the jungle gym and looked at me with a small smile. “Is this okay, Harper?”
I nodded from my seat at the park picnic table. “Much better, kiddo.” I returned my attention to the textbook in front of me while flicking my eyes in the direction of the playing children every few seconds. If given the chance, Sasha would have climbed a ladder to the moon. She was fearless in the way young children who didn’t know any better were.
“I thought school didn’t start for a few more days,” a male voice observed.
I finished the sentence I was currently reading and looked across the table to my friend Marco. We weren’t really close friends—more like nannies whose charges played together at the small inner-city playground—but there was camaraderie between us babysitters and
that I enjoyed.
“It doesn’t, but I like to be prepared.”
He grabbed my book and began flipping through its glossy pages. My protest died on my lips. It felt like the time Michelle Dobson had stolen my favorite lunchbox, and I’d given her a bloody nose to get it back. I’d learned to resolve conflict in a more civilized way since then.
“Reading the textbooks before the semester even starts.” Marco chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t know how you do it—how you make time for school
sitting for the Henderson’s.”
Balancing my course load and babysitting admittedly made for a full schedule. I generally had classes in the mornings, and this semester, one in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. At the end of my school day, I hustled to the L in order to pick up Sasha from school on time and entertained her until her father got off of work. Then it was back on the train and back to my apartment in Hyde Park to start my homework.
Squeezing in a social life was difficult, but I was determined to make it work. My tuition was paid for because of an academic scholarship, but babysitting for the Henderson’s helped me tackle my other bills. Plus, it was more flexible than a traditional part-time job, and Sasha, the five-year-old I’d been in charge of for a little over a year, was pretty charming as far as kids went.
“Really, Harper,” Marco continued in his light Mediterranean accent. “You should say something; they ask far too much of you. When’s the last time you went on a date?” His dark eyes stared deep into mine.
I felt a light blush color my cheeks, and I turned my stare away from Marco’s penetrating gaze and back over at my young charge, who was aggressively swinging on a tire swing as though her life depended on how high she could go. “I date,” I murmured, unconvincingly.
He smiled mischievously. “Well, if you go out so much, Miss Harper, how come you’ve never thrown a date in your boy Marco’s direction?”
Feeling myself becoming more and more flustered, my mouth opened and closed like a feeding fish, but no words came out. The Italian-born man had always flirted with me, but he’d never asked me out on a date before.
A flash of dark blue caught my eye, and I was relieved to see Sergeant Henderson, Sasha’s father, striding purposefully towards us.
“Mr. Henderson!” I chirped enthusiastically, relieved to have a reason to avoid Marco’s poorly veiled request. “Off of work early today? I can get Sasha ready to go home if you want; just give me a minute.”
“It was a little slow today,” he said, “but I have another reason for coming over early.” He frowned and looked disapprovingly at Marco. “Can I talk to you alone for a minute?”
I glanced at Marco, who shrugged. “Sure, Mr. H.” I forgot about the textbook Marco had commandeered and stood up from the picnic table to follow the uniformed man a few feet away from the playground.
“What’s up?” Mr. Henderson’s uniformed presence always made me a little nervous. I frantically racked my brain as to why he would need to talk to me in private. Did I have unpaid parking tickets? Had someone caught me speeding? Had I gone through a yellow light at one of those intersections with the sneaky, ninja cameras?
“We got a call this afternoon at the station to file a missing person’s report,” he started slowly. “That missing person was you.”
“What?” My voice cracked. “I-I don’t understand. I’m right here.”
Mr. Henderson smoothed his moustache with his fingers. “I can see that.” His tone was even and low. It was probably his official police voice that he used to keep people from freaking out. “The thing is, the call was from someone who claimed to be your mother.”
I put my hand over my mouth.
“I thought she was dead, Harper,” he noted with a small frown. “Isn’t that what you told us?”
I looked down at my feet and kicked a small rock with the tip of my shoe. I watched as it tumbled away. “She, uh, she’s not technically dead,” I struggled. I sucked in a sharp breath. “We aren’t on very good speaking terms, I guess. We haven’t been for a while.”
“I didn’t file a report; it’s a good thing that it was me who answered the phone though.” He sighed, looking too tired to be in his early thirties. “You really should call your mother to let her know you’re alright.”
I bit my lower lip and looked up at Sasha’s father. His dark eyes continued to gaze at me, but not unkindly. “I will,” I softly promised.
Mr. Henderson still looked troubled. “We’re not … we’re not expecting too much of you, are we?” He stuck his hands deep in the pockets of his police-issued jacket.
“No, no! You and Mrs. Henderson and Sasha are great,” I insisted. “And really, it’s no big deal. I can handle juggling school and watching Sash.”
“Life’s more than work and school though, Harper. I mean, do you have time to go out with friends? Do you date?” he probed. “You’ve got to have a balance.”
“Why is everyone so concerned about my social life today?” I muttered under my breath.
I didn’t intend for him to hear me, but he had, and he looked slightly flushed and uncomfortable by my reaction. “Listen, I’m sorry,” he rushed. “It’s not my business, I know. Just promise me that you’re taking care of yourself, okay?” His thick, bushy eyebrows rose on his forehead. “And don’t forget to call your mother.”
I flashed him a brief smile. “I’ll call. I promise.”
He nodded curtly. “Okay, good,” he said, returning to his usual stoical visage. “See you on Monday. Have a nice weekend.”
Mr. Henderson walked away to collect Sasha and bring her home. I watched them as they played together on the jungle gym. For being an imposing Chicago police officer, Mr. Henderson definitely had a soft side when it came to interactions with his young daughter. I hoped Sasha would remember these moments when she got older.
A hand on my hip pulled me away from the father-daughter bonding moment. “Ready to motor?”
I turned to look into the pale blue eyes of my girlfriend, Jenn.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Let’s go.”
+ + +
I fumbled with the key to my apartment before I used my shoulder to push open the door of my rented room. Summer was waning into fall, but seasonal humidity had caused the wooden doorjamb to swell. I tossed my keys on a small wooden table in the front foyer and removed my shoes, setting them in a straight row with the rest of my footwear. Jenn followed closely behind and closed the front door.
I bypassed the rest of the modest apartment—the small living room, the eat-in kitchen—and traveled the short distance to the bedroom, not really a separate room, eager to shed my clothes from the day and pour myself into pajamas. My apartment was basically one big room, but it suited me. I could have saved money if I had lived on campus, but I’d done dorm life for two years and I couldn’t wait to have a space of my own, away from nosy floormates and resident assistants.
Jenn kissed me briefly on the lips. “I missed you all day,” she murmured.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and smiled. “You too. I’m excited to spend some time together this weekend, just the two of us.”
Now that school would be starting with the new semester, I knew our time together would be curtailed. We were both full-time students—me a senior at the University of Chicago and she in her junior year at DePaul.
I went to embrace my girlfriend again, hoping for a longer, more lingering kiss, but Jenn wiggled out of my eager grasp.
“I need to brush my teeth,” she laughed, holding her hand in front of her mouth. “I had coffee this afternoon and my mouth tastes gross.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re ridiculous.”
She didn’t stick around to defend herself. “I’ll be right back.”
My eyes followed Jenn as she walked away and disappeared behind the bathroom door. I knew she would be gone for a while between brushing, flossing, and rinsing, but it still didn’t leave me much time to make the phone call I’d been dreading ever since Mr. Henderson had approached me earlier that afternoon.
I searched through the second drawer of my desk. I shoveled through a pile of unorganized papers, looking for the blue notebook where I vaguely remembered having written down a telephone number. When I found what I was looking for, I pulled it out of the drawer and quickly flipped through the college-ruled notebook. I hadn’t called the number enough to have it committed to memory, and I didn’t dare save it to my phone’s contacts.
I fished my cell phone out of my back pocket, dialed the ten-digit number, and held my breath.
“Riverside Estates,” a pleasant enough voice answered on the other line.
I cleared my throat. “Ah, yes. I’d like to talk to one of your patients?” I didn’t even know if this was allowed. “Uhm, her name is Bonnie Dawkins.”
“One moment please,” the female receptionist replied, putting the call on hold.
I chewed nervously on my bottom lip and glanced toward the closed bathroom door. I hoped I could get through this phone call without Jenn coming back.
I heard a perceptible click and the muffled sound of someone struggling with the telephone. “Hello?” came a cautious voice.
“Mama?” I stated with equal hesitation. “It’s me.”
“Harper!” she exclaimed. “I was so worried about you!”
“Mama,” I sighed, “ya know you shouldn’t do that.” I easily slipped back into the Southern drawl I had worked so hard to neutralize upon moving to the Midwest. It had set me apart from the other students—made me stick out—and all I had wanted to do was blend in. Be normal. It had taken me years to shake the lazy drawl that I had thought made me sound less intelligent than the other students my classes, but like all bad habits, it was easy to regress.
“What have you been up to?” she asked in an interested voice. “I haven’t heard from you in such a long time.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and flicked my eyes once more toward the bathroom door. I knew I had to make this quick. Jenn would be out any minute now.
“Nothing much, Mama. I just got back from Hawaii,” I said. “I won a gold medal in the Olympics for surfing.”
“Really? Well, isn’t that something.”
“Uh huh,” I noted absently. “So that’s why I haven’t called ya in a while. Been busy with that, ya know.”
“Oh, I understand how that is,” she murmured. “But I hadn’t heard from you in a while, so I wanted to check in.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mama,” I sighed again. “You know I always land on my feet.”
“I know you do, baby. But I still worry.”
I heard the faucet turn on and off in the bathroom. “I gotta go,” I abruptly cut the call short. “The Ambassador to Spain is coming over for dinner, and I need to do some grocery shopping.”
“Okay, darlin’. You take care, you.”
“I will,” I promised. “Bye, Mama.”
The bathroom door opened and Jenn walked out just as I ended the call. “Who was that?” she asked around her floss. She had a penchant for dental hygiene and took pride in her bright, perfect smile.
I felt mildly flustered by the phone call, but I was able to formulate another easy lie. “It was nothing. Just the Henderson’s.”
Jenn frowned. “Of course it would be them,” she muttered with annoyance. “Not like it would be anyone else. Not like you would actually have any friends calling you.”
Now it was my turn to be annoyed. “Everyone’s so worried today that I don’t have any friends,” I complained.
Jenn turned around to face me. She brushed her hair out of her piercing blue eyes. “Well,
you, Harper?” she pressed. “We’ve been dating for nearly four months now, and you haven’t brought any of them around.”
Jenn and I had started dating at the end of spring semester when all of my college friends were going home for the summer. They had yet to meet, but I wasn’t keeping her from them or anything. The opportunity for a group hangout just hadn’t happened yet.
I stuck out my bottom lip in a well-practiced pout. “
“I didn’t realize we were friends,” she grumbled, her features troubled.
of friends,” I replied with a sly grin.