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Authors: R.L. Naquin

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Unfinished Muse

BOOK: Unfinished Muse
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Unfinished Muse

R.L. Naquin

Bottle Cap Publishing

This book is a work of fiction. All names, places,
and characters are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is
coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or
distributed in any way whatsoever without the written permission of
the author, except as brief quotations.

Edited by Sara E. Lundberg

Cover design by Yocla Designs

Published by Bottle Cap Publishing

Copyright © 2015 R.L. Naquin

All rights reserved.

Distributed by Smashwords

Table of Contents

Chapter
1

Chapter
2

Chapter
3

Chapter
4

Chapter
5

Chapter
6

Chapter
7

Chapter
8

Chapter
9

Chapter
10

Chapter
11

Chapter
12

Chapter
13

Chapter
14

Chapter
15

Chapter
16

Chapter
17

Chapter
18

Chapter
19

Chapter
20

Chapter
21

Chapter
22

Chapter
23

Chapter
24

Bonus Short Story:
“Undercover Gorgon”

About R.L.
Naquin

Other Works
by R.L. Naquin

For Kevin, who is the heart of every new
project
and gets the first book in every series.
Without you, I'd be stranded in a cubicle,
dreaming of becoming a writer.

Chapter 1

I’d owned that potted philodendron for two years
without it ever uttering a word—so naturally, I ignored it when it
finally spoke up.

To be fair, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to
anybody, let alone a figment of my imagination. Over lunch, I’d
dumped my boyfriend, Freddy (it’s not you, it’s me, I hope we can
still be friends), then finished out the rest of the work day at my
crappy call-center job before packing up the stuff on my desk and
telling my boss that I quit (it’s not working out, I’m not a good
fit, you’d be better off finding someone more suitable for the
position).

I left the house that morning with a
boyfriend and a job, then returned home single and unemployed. I
supposed the last straw that changed everything came when I opened
the door to the coat closet and the partially finished quilt I’d
been working on for five years in short, fruitless spurts fell out
and attacked me. Half the pins had come loose over time, and some
of the blue satin squares flapped at me as I bundled it all up and
shoved it into a garbage bag to throw away.

Once I’d tied the bag shut in an act of
finality, something inside my gut shifted and flipped over. My ears
popped, and my arms broke out in goosebumps.

And that’s when the plant spoke up.

“Well, there you go,” she said in a
shushing, grandmotherly voice filled with disapproval. “Nowhere to
go from here but up.”

I saw the leaves rustle when the voice
spoke. I’d been looking right at it. If someone were playing a
practical joke, it beat the hell out of me who it could’ve been. I
didn’t actually have any friends in this town. I wasn’t very good
at friendship, frankly. I’d only been in Topeka for nine
months—plenty of time to go through three boyfriends, but not
nearly long enough to make a friend. Friends required more
effort.

That didn’t make me sound like a very nice
person, even to myself.

“I suppose we’re moving again,” the plant
said in an aggrieved tone. “I dry out on those long car rides,
especially when we go to the higher elevations. I didn’t think I’d
ever recover in Denver.”

I’m losing my freaking mind. Plants don’t
talk. I’ve had a hard day. Maybe my blood sugar is low. I should
eat something.

If I ignored Phyllis the philodendron, maybe
had some protein, she—
it
—would stop talking and everything
would go back to normal. A hot bath, maybe a glass of wine. Lots of
people imagined crazy shit after a terrible day.

Right?

Phyllis didn’t stop talking while I was in
the kitchen. But she did shout so I could hear her over the
sizzling of the grilled cheese sandwich frying in the skillet.

“Mark my words, Wynter. You’ll be glad you
finally hit rock bottom in the end. Now we can really get to
work.”

I flipped the sandwich and opened a bottle
of chardonnay I’d shoved in the back of the fridge behind the moldy
lunchmeat and the leftover spaghetti.

“Your whole life will open up to new
possibilities! Wait till you find out what’s ahead!”

I filled a bulbous glass and gulped down
half the liquid.

“I know you can hear me in there, Wynter.
Ignore me all you want, but you can’t hide from your destiny.”

I drained the glass and refilled.

“Honey, I know this is hard for you to
accept, but the sooner you do, the sooner we can get you started on
your way.”

The fire alarm went off, and I yanked my
smoking sandwich off the burner. After throwing open the door and
the kitchen window, I waved a potholder at the screaming alarm
until it stopped. Two neighbors popped their heads out their back
doors and gave me questioning looks across the inner courtyard.

“It’s okay!” I yelled at them. “Just burned
some toast. Sorry!”

My landlady, Mrs. Terwilliger, scowled,
shook her head, and slammed her door. Mark something-or-other, who
lived directly across the courtyard, gave a friendly smile and
shrugged before going inside.

Or was it Mick? No, maybe it was Mike. I was
terrible with names.

“See?” Phyllis said. “I knew you were
listening. Otherwise, how did you set your kitchen on fire? You
were standing right there.”

I refilled my wine glass and realized I’d
already emptied three quarters of the bottle. I stuck a pinot
grigio in the fridge. My bad day had progressed into a truly awful
night. I grabbed my glass, my bottle, and a granola bar and left
the charcoal-and-cheese sandwich to cool in the sink.

“Ah, you’re back,” Phyllis said. “That’s not
all you’re going to eat, is it? A bottle of wine and a granola bar?
Oh, honey, you really have given up, haven’t you?”

I charged through the living room and around
the corner without comment or pause. While I ran hot water in the
tub, I ate my granola bar and reveled in the fact that I could no
longer hear a voice yelling at me from the other room. Either
getting a little food in me had done the trick, or the sound of
running water drowned out the voice that had to be coming from my
own head and not from a potted plant someone at a farmers market
had given me for free two years ago.

When I shut off the tap, I discovered it
wasn’t the granola bar silencing the voice. It had definitely been
the sound of the water.

The voice was quieter, since it came from
the other end of the apartment, but still easy to hear. “You’re not
going to drink that entire bottle in the bathtub, are you? That’s
not going to solve your problems, you know.”

I refilled my glass, chose a mystery novel
I’d been meaning to read, and turned on the radio. Loud.

Once I sank into the hot water, the tension
melted, and I closed my eyes. The music covered the disconcerting
voice I still heard through the bathroom door, and my head buzzed
pretty hard from drinking so much so fast. Without the bossy voice
distracting me, pictures of Freddy’s sad, puppy face flashed behind
my closed eyelids.

I frowned. Dealing with a talking plant had
been less upsetting than thinking about the breakup.

Mind you, it wasn’t like I’d never had the
same exact breakup conversation several times before. That didn’t
make it any easier. But what’s the point of continuing to go out
with someone when you know it’s not going to last forever? Freddy
was really sweet, but we’d already had All the Conversations. Once
the initial giddiness burned off, we didn’t have a damn thing in
common.

Try explaining that to a guy, though. They
never understood. It was easier to try to convince them you were
broken in some way. Hell, maybe I
was
broken. Maybe it
really was me and not him. Still, I didn’t see the point in putting
all that effort into a relationship if I didn’t want the guy to
eventually move in with me or walk down an aisle or share babies.
Freddy was vanilla ice cream. I wanted mint chocolate chip. Was
that so much to ask?

Still, I’d done a crappy job of breaking it
to him, judging by his reaction. I felt like a total bitch. And
proving what a nice guy he was, he still picked up the tab at lunch
and offered to drive me back to work.

But honestly, he was a little too clingy,
calling several times a day, even when I was at work. He wanted
more of me than I was ready to give. Two months was too soon to
start having serious conversations about refrigerators.
Refrigerators
. Seriously. I didn’t have anything edible in
mine besides ice and a few slices of processed cheese. Asking me
what kind of refrigerator I wanted in my future house was like
asking which rocket ship I wanted for a hypothetical trip to Venus.
Or, you know, whether I wanted to breastfeed or bottle feed
someday. I figured we had maybe three more dates, tops, before he
asked that one.

His horse was so far ahead of my cart he was
about to lap me.

Plus, I never did quite understand what he
did for a living. He said he was an actor, but in the few months we
were together, he never talked about rehearsals or invited me to a
show he was in. He didn’t appear to be hurting for money, though.
It all seemed a little weird.

I wrung out a washcloth and folded it into a
rectangle to drape over my eyes. The radio DJ made some crack about
a local politician, then the air went dead for about fifteen
seconds before the new song started.

The brief silence was filled with what
sounded like a raunchy sea shanty being sung from my living room by
someone’s maiden aunt. I pretended not to hear it.

After an hour or so, the water was too cool
to be comfortable, the wine was gone, and my stomach was telling me
to get my ass into the kitchen and make it some pie. Or at least
order a pizza. I’d never even opened the novel I’d brought in with
me. Concentration was seriously lacking.

My head spun when I stepped from the tub. I
tucked a towel around my middle, shut off the radio, and stuck my
head out the door.

The singing had stopped, at least. Cautious,
I tiptoed down the hallway clutching the empty glass and
bottle.

Nope. No talking plants here. I’m not in
the least bit crazy.
I stepped into the living room.

“Oh, there you are!” Leaves shivered above
the plain terracotta pot. “I was worried you’d dozed off in the
tub.”

I froze for a second, then ducked into the
kitchen. The empty bottle made a loud clank when I dropped it in
the trash. Noise seemed like an excellent response to what was
going on in my head. The pan in the sink banged on the porcelain
with satisfying volume, though the charred sandwich made a
disappointing thud when I tossed it on top of the dead wine
bottle.

The knowing voice of my conscience, now in
the handy form of a talking plant, shouted an admonishment at me
from the next room. “You should really start recycling your bottles
if you’re going to drink that much, dear.”

I rolled my eyes and banged the pan around
the sink while I scrubbed black crusty stuff and melted cheese from
the cheap non-stick surface. Through the doorway behind me, the
voice cleared its non-existent throat and belted out an off-key
rendition of “I Am a Pirate King” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s
Pirates of Penzance
. Disturbing didn’t begin to describe the
sound of a grandmotherly voice singing about sinking ships and
doing dirty work. Especially when the voice couldn’t possibly
exist, so must be something my brain was regurgitating.

Because the plant couldn’t really be
talking, right?

I placed the pan upside down on the counter
to dry, wiped my hands on a moderately clean dishcloth, and turned
to face my own insanity.

The plant I’d been calling Phyllis since she
was a scrawny branch with a few dry offshoots went quiet. I moved
with slow deliberation into the living room and stood before the
perfectly normal plant. With tentative fingers, prepared to pull my
hand back at any sign of sharp teeth or suckered tendrils, I poked
at the dirt in the pot.

BOOK: Unfinished Muse
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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