Authors: Sandra Miller
Sandra L. Miller
This book is a work of nonfiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual incidents or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2013 by Sandra L Miller
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
The dusty, Volkswagen hatchback with random spots of gray primer pulled into the parking lot of a small hotel just outside of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was past midnight. Most of the lights on the neon sign that was to read,
, had burned out, leaving the words
pulsating provocatively in the darkness—a flickering hot pink beacon of hope to all the lonely truckers and morally challenged who happened to pass.
Though physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from her sixteen hour drive, Tessa Maguire still managed to find the humor in it and grinned. The entire trip had been spent searching for some divine message from the universe in every golden oldie tune and sermon she listened to on the radio. She had even gone so far as to try and make out the face of God in the storm clouds
she drove through along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the best she got was a pretty good resemblance to Buddy Hackett.
For all her efforts to remain open to a Fatima experience of her own, the only sign that moved her to react was this obscene fluorescent invitation to promiscuity. A more heavenly inspired affirmation sure would have been nice; some reassurance that somehow she had stumbled onto the right path. But this one would do. It reminded her to loosen up and just enjoy living in the moment.
Truthfully, an epiphany was not really needed, not at this stage in the game. Her mind had been made up for months. This move was necessary. Of course, she told herself the same thing the last six times she moved in as many years, but at least this time she wasn’t ruining anyone else’s life with her impulsiveness and lack of focus.
Land shark—that’s what her family called her—constantly in motion, as if even a single moment of stillness would result in suffocation and ultimately death. Maybe that’s why she chose to make the trip from Charlotte, North Carolina to Massachusetts without stopping for the night. Even an eight hour rest could have been life threatening for someone with her genetic make-up.
Now that she had reached her destination and could allow herself a few seconds to take in a deep breath, Tessa did just that, and then released it slowly, trying to clear her mind. The exhaustion was getting to her, leaving her slap happy and silly. There was only one reason that pushed her to continue driving even though her eyes had grown heavy some three hours before; Tess was anxious to jump feet first into the murky and exciting next chapter of her life. There was that chance she was trying to run away from her past again, as she always did when life grew too comfortable and forced her to face the memories she had been struggling for six years to forget.
Well, whatever the reason, she was here now and would have to face the consequences. Even if she had nothing else going for her, she was blessed with self-awareness, and it was telling her that she had very few, if any, fresh starts left in her. Forty had crept up on her, and now it was time to commit to something, or end up with nothing.
The road to her self-destruction was being paved by good intentions and lack of focus. One needed courage to follow their dreams, and she wasn’t afraid of anything, truly, but one also needed a sense of dedication to accomplish those dreams. In that area, she was greatly lacking. From one day to the next her plans could change. She had been like that her entire life. What seemed like an excellent idea on a Monday, could completely fall to the way side by Wednesday after considering all the pros and cons. So on second thought, maybe she wasn’t fearless at all, maybe the cons scared the hell out of her. What she needed was a goal that was con-free—and that was simply never going to happen, life was too messy for that.
Okay, enough time had been spent beating
herself up. It was time to get out of the car and do this thing. Once her feet hit foreign soil it meant there was no turning back, no second guesses. It was time to stand her ground against her own doubt and make things happen, things that would make her children proud of her for once.
Burying herself deep into her sweater against the chilled New England night air, Tessa hurried into the hotel’s office to the
front desk auditor who was awaiting her. The poor man was cursed with gold bulging eyes, made even more prominent by the thick, horned-rimmed glasses he wore.
, she could hear her youngest daughter, Lynn, say. Her critical observations of the public as a whole were sometimes cruel, but usually dead on.
When his fleshy tongue darted out from between his heavy lips and licked away the spittle that had accumulated in the corners, Tessa shuttered inwardly and tried to look away without seeming rude.
“Welcome to the Hotel Amherst,” he greeted with crooked grin and a wink, acting as if there was already some sort of secret between them.
The mere sound of his effeminate lisp immediately caused goose bumps to appear up her arms and down the length of her spine. Tessa shivered and drawled the sweater tighter around her torso, feeling suddenly exposed and violated.
“I called two weeks ago to reserve a room. I realize I’m a day early, but I was hoping you might have something available,” she stated, keeping her eyes focused on the credit card clutched in her hands that were resting atop the counter.
“What’s the name?”
Every fiber in her body shouted out for her not to divulge any intimate details to this man, but it had to be done, unless, of course, she wanted to sleep in her car.
“Maguire, Tessa Maguire.”
Another creepy grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I have an ear for accents. I’d say you’re from the south.”
Forcing herself to offer some sort of friendly gesture to help improve her chances of procuring a room, Tessa returned his smile and nodded.
“When I saw you walk through that door, I knew you weren’t from around here. You have a sweetness about you. Cold winters produce cold women.”
shiver assaulted her. Without bothering to respond, she flipped the credit card over to check the expiration. If she was lucky, it would be invalid and forced to go back to the rest stop some twenty miles up the interstate and take refuge in a bathroom stall for the night.
“Are you going to be with me long?” he queried, searching the screen on the computer for an available room, which shouldn’t have been too difficult since the parking lot was practically empty.
“Just passing through then? What a shame, I was hoping…”
Deciding enough was enough, Tessa abruptly interrupted him. “Do you have anything available? If not, I’ll try the Econo Lodge.”
The night auditor glanced at her over the top of his monitor, his yellow eyes narrowing, denoting some irritation in the fact that she refused to join him any flirtatious banter.
“Yeah, we have a room. I’m going to need a credit card and a driver’s license.”
Already in hand, Tessa shoved them across the counter, but not before she could avoid having his sweaty hand touch her wrist. Drawing back quickly, she watched uneasily as he looked over the information on her license before swiping her Visa. When she refused to extend her hand once more to retrieve them, he tossed them down in front her.
“Charlotte, huh? It’s not safe for a woman to travel so far alone.”
Yeah well, you should know
, Tessa mumbled beneath her breath, wondering just how many bodies were buried in his basement.
“Would you like some help with your bags
?” he offered, totally ignoring the cold shoulder he was being given.
“No, no…I’m good. Thank you.”
With that, Tessa practically ran out of the office to escape him. Continually glancing over her shoulder, she removed her overnight bag from the front seat of her car that was packed tight with the material sum of her life shoved into garbage bags and boxes. She didn’t allow herself to relax until she was safely inside her room with the door locked, the chain in place, and the dead bolt engaged.
After fumbling around for the light, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the room actually wasn’t that bad, considering the lascivious sign out front and the creepy creeper at the front desk. The colonial décor was cozy and warm, and the queen size poster bed looked like paradise after sleeping on a pullout sofa for over a year. But the one thing she was most thankful for was the spotless bathroom that was well-stocked with clean towels and plenty of complimentary toiletries, because the only thing she wanted—needed—besides hearing the
voices of her children, was a nice hot, long shower to ease her sore muscles and frayed nerves.
An hour later, as Tessa stepped out of the shower, she heard her cell phone ringing. Quickly, she wrapped her hair up in a towel and pulled the bathrobe around her wet, and now chilled body. Which one of her four children had forgotten to tell her something, she wondered? Probably Ann, she was the consummate story teller out of the four, who always thought of a post script to add after their conversation had ended. With a weary smile, she thought of her daughter, and how unfortunate she was to be the only child to take after her mother.
Just as she lifted the phone from the bedside table, it stopped ringing. A quick glance at the caller ID told her it had been a local number, and realized immediately it had had to have been Mr. Richards, her soon to be employer. Glancing at the time she saw that it was almost one thirty. Why would he be calling so late? It could only mean one thing, something terrible had happened to change her well-made plans. Why in the world did she ever let herself believe this time would be different than the others?
In premature defeat, Tessa fell back against the pillows and pushed redial with a great amount of hesitation. After only one ring, a man’s deep rather stern voice silenced her inner self-deprecating dialogue. In the past that amount of irritation in a man’s voice meant only one thing; it was time for her and the children to quickly disperse to the safety of their rooms.
Feeling panic rise up to her mouth like bile, Tess stammered briefly, trying to regain her bearings. She cleared her throat and began slowly, softly; in a pleasing voice that in no way bespoke of the gambit of fear and emotions that was welling up in her chest. It had been years since she had had a cause to react this way—or perhaps, over react. In fact, she had spent the past twelve months without once feeling threatened. But there was a certain quality to this man’s tone that was disturbingly familiar.
“Hello, Mr. Richards?”
“This is Tessa Maguire. I believe you just tried to reach me? I’m sorry I didn’t answer in time. I was getting out of the shower.”
“You’re the girl my mother hired?”
What an odd question. Wasn’t he the one who had just called to speak with her?
“Yes sir. I’m here in Amherst already. I can be
there first thing in the morning if you want?”
“Not so fast,” he snarled. “I was told you were forty.”
“Yes sir, I am.”
“You sound like a child.”
Yes she did. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Did that automatically disqualify her from scrubbing toilets? Since when was a 1-900 voice a prerequisite for menial housework?
“Is there a problem, Mr. Richards? I mean, is that why you called?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, Ms. Maguire, there is. You accepted the job offer over two months ago, and I haven’t heard from you since. Don’t you think it would have been prudent on your part to call and at least confirm our meeting tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir, I suppose so.”
“Well, because of your lack of interest and or maturity, I was forced to look over some of the other resumes and start making calls, assuming you had changed your mind.”
As her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach, Tessa tried to steady her breathing. What was she going to do now? How was she going to find other employment and a place to live before the money ran out in her savings?