Authors: Airicka Phoenix
©2013 by Airicka Phoenix
All rights reserved.
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover Design: Airicka Phoenix
Interior Design: Airicka Phoenix
Editor & Formatter: Kristy
Beta Reader: Krystal
Published by Airicka Phoenix
Also available in eBook and paperback publication
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Whispered Beginnings: A Clever Fiction Anthology
Midnight Surrender Anthology
Because you believed in me from the beginning.
Writing isn’t just a journey of the mind. It is an adventure of the heart and food for the soul and no author could ever do it alone. I have been blessed by an amazing group of friends who have stood by me every minute of every day, listened to me when I needed an ear and held my hand when the road became rough. I wish I could name them all, but the list would be a book in itself Just know that if you are reading this, you are included.
My Family—for overlooking my many odd moments. For not believing me utterly insane and hopeless. For standing by me even when the world around me slipped by without my notice. You are the reason I breathe every day.
—these words can never convey the depth of my joy for having you in my life. Every moment is a blessing I count nightly in my prayers. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for giving every word in my book your undivided attention. Thank you for never losing patience or faith in my abilities. Your friendship is the food I use to feed my muse. Thank you.
Derinda, Nanette, Jodie, Kimberly
—this more accurately should read: to my second family, because that is what you are. You are my sisters. Your friendship, support and unwavering faith is a constant reminder of why I write.
—every like on Facebook. Every retweet on Twitter. Every comment, every share and private message is the bread crumbs I need to find my way. Your support has more than once saved me from my own worst demons. It is because of you that I take such pleasure in every word I share. You are my blessing. Thank you.
Love all of you!
Grandma Valdez had a saying,
beware surprises that come with gloomy weather
. Sophia had never put much stock in the prediction. Grandma was a ninety year old woman who thought tux wearing mice were giving her winning lottery ticket numbers. But during that rainy January, Sophia Valdez became a believer and it all started with the enormous white truck parked next door.
“We’ve got new neighbors.” Dishtowel wringing between slender fingers, her mother joined her at the living room window. The
y peered out over the quaint, cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood with its neatly trimmed lawns, soft, pastel tones and nosy housewives.
Sophie folded her arms and propped a hip against the frame. Rain splattered against glass, running like teardrops down the smooth sheet. It was just a drizzle, but the movers didn’t seem to mind getting wet. They trudged down the metal ramp, making a world of noise while balancing a cream-colored sofa between them. Her gaze dropped to their scuffed, mud encrusted boots and she nearly smirked. If the
lady of the house was anything like her mother, she was no doubt having a heart attack at all the filth being dragged across her polished floors.
“We should go over,” her mother said decidedly. “I have a casserole in the freezer we can take. It
’ll be nice.”
What her mother really meant was
let’s make sure our new neighbors aren’t serial killers or worse, salesmen.
“I’m good,” Sophie replied.
Her mother smacked her lightly on the arm. “Don’t be silly. Go get dressed.”
Sophie frowned down at her faded jeans and Green Day t-shirt. “I am dressed
! Overdressed if you take half the girls in my school into account.”
But her mother was already walking away, back to the kitchen and the many casserole dishes stacked in the freezer.
No one pulled Suzy Homemaker off the way her mother did. Standing at the same height as Sophie in all her five foot five inch glory, with dirty blonde hair and green eyes, her mother was every Stepford Wife’s role model. The only thing missing was the '60s hairdo and the fondness for words such as gee and golly. The woman did her own upholstery for crying out loud. Sophie couldn’t imagine the number of valiums her mother had to take daily to maintain that level of perkiness, but it was certainly working.
“Sophia!” Casserole dish in hand, her mother appeared in the kitchen doorway, dishtowel tossed neatly over
one shoulder. “You’re not dressed.”
Sophie arched a brow. “I’m not naked, either.”
Her mother’s lips pursed, disapproval defining every line in her heart-shaped face. “I’m not taking you over there dressed like that. What will the new neighbors think?”
“That you have an average
teenage daughter whose best friend went to a Green Day concert and brought her back a t-shirt?”
Eyes the green of polished emeralds narrowed. “Please put something pretty on.”
Sophie pushed away from the frame and turned to face her mother fully. “But I don’t want to go.”
“Of course you do!” her mother insisted, stalking across the room to stand over the coffee table. She nimbly whipped the towel off her shoulder, draped it over the gleaming sheet of glass and set the casserole down on top. She straightened, dusting her blouse for invisible particles. “They
may have children your age and it might be nice if you could become friends. I’m sure moving isn’t easy for them and they might appreciate knowing at least one person when they go to school Monday.”
“I can just meet them Monday,” Sophie pointed out. “I even promise to wave to them in the hall
, just please don’t make me go over there with a tuna fish casserole! That’s so humiliating!”
“Sophia Marie Valdez, I have not raised you to be so impolite!” her mother huffed, outraged. “Now march upstairs
and put on a nice dress.”
Sophie did as she was told if for no other reason than to save herself a
very long, very repetitive lecture. She let her feet drag with her ascent up the stairs, falling like bowling balls on each step all the way to her room. The door slamming behind her wasn’t intentional, but it was satisfying all the same.
It wasn’t as if she had so many friends she couldn’t use anymore. Had her mother been normal, she probably would have gone over to introduce herself. But her mother wasn’t normal. There was nothing normal about
defrosted tuna fish casserole. Wasn’t it kind of bad manners to offer a dish that followed you around like one of Mary’s lambs for days?
Kissing goodbye to any potential friendships she may have built with the kid next door,
Sophie threw on one of the two dresses she owned, a crocheted number in soft, navy-blue that had forearm-length sleeves and a modest U-shaped collar. She added a pair of black leggings and flat black pumps to complete it and twisted her long blonde curls into a messy French braid over her left shoulder. In the gilded mirror above the vanity, she checked her reflection. Her heart-shaped face with its pale complexion and speckle of freckles across the nose and cheeks, looked as ordinary as ever. She thought about adding some color to her lips and cheeks, but decided against it. It was the most she was going to do under protest. Considering it a success, she joined her mother downstairs.
Her mother beamed. “You look lovely!”
She was passed the casserole dish
of doom while her mother grabbed an umbrella and together, they started out the door and down the sidewalk. The umbrella protected them from the light mist spraying from the heavens, but it did nothing to guard from the chilling blanket of air whipping around them. Sophie wished she’d thought to grab a jacket. Fingers of ice crept through the loosely knitted dress and nipped at the bare skin underneath.
“This is a bad idea,” Sophie muttered through clenched teeth.
“Don’t be silly!” her mother scolded, bright, toothpaste-commercial smile already plastered into place.
She smiled and greeted the movers and ignored their bewildered gawking as she turned into the neighbor’s walkway, past the picket fence and neatly trimmed lawn. They ascended the two steps onto a white porch and stopped
, facing the open doorway.
“Hello?” her mother called into the opening.
Sophie shifted anxiously from foot to foot. She turned her head to the side and peered longingly at her house, at the warmth and security of it. It was separated from her by a single white fence, but it could have been across the world. She exhaled wistfully.
“Yes?” A small, blonde woman with big blue eyes and skin as white as milk appeared in the doorway. She smiled at them prettily,
crumpling a wad of newspaper in her hands. She wore a white, silk blouse and gold around her throat and wrists. When she politely tilted her head to the side in question, gold glinted from her ears. “Can I help you?”
Sophie’s mother beamed, thrusting out a hand. “Hello! I’m Mary Valdez. This is my daughter, Sophia—”
“Sophie,” Sophie corrected quickly, and was ignored by both as her mother went on seamlessly.
We live next door and thought we’d stop by and introduce ourselves.”
The woman flashed straight white teeth in a blinding smile. “That was so thoughtful of you! I’m Jackie Rowth.” She extended her hand
, which Sophie’s mother accepted. “Won’t you come inside? The place is an absolute disaster, but I would love the company.”
Smiling as widely as the woman, her mother snapped the umbrella closed and hurried after her, saying, “We would love to!”
Sophie loitered a moment longer on the porch, weighing her choices. She could turn and run. Now would be her chance. Her mother may not even notice. Or she could stay and suffer through boring grownup bonding.
“Hey, girl, we gots to get through!”
Sophie jumped, whirling around. A hulking figure glowered at her from over a stack of boxes.
She leapt aside. “Sorry!”
The man grunted, ambling past her into the house. His two partners stomped after him, carting two lamps and an end table.
They moved quickly; massive, hulking figures choking the narrow hall with their wide shoulders. Bits of dirt dropped in clumps from their boots, marking their progress to the opening at the far end where the smooth laminate washed into soft carpet. The leader grunted what she assumed was orders, caveman style, but it seemed to work, because the two men at the end grumbled, pivoted with impressive finesse that Sophie couldn’t help marvel at and marched back towards her. She started to dodge out of the doorway, but they twisted at the last second and ascended the stairs instead.