On Fridays I’m going to share a chapter a week from one of my books. The first book is Souls Lost. If you wish to purchase it to read faster, you can find it at your favorite retailer. Find chapter 1 here.
Zoe sipped her iced coffee on the covered back patio. There were weeds encroaching on the bricks like tiny warriors ready for a confrontation. They’d been beaten back again and again when her mom was alive, but her daddy didn’t notice such things, hadn’t ever really noticed such things, fighting against the weeds only when asked.
It was raining a little, not a huge downpour, more a steady light shower, the drops a rhythmic staccato that tapped out the beat of a relaxed ballad song by a country singer. Zoe tried to picture who would do the singing, coming up with five or six names and rejecting all of them. The rain wasn’t making very good music after all.
The trees moved in a wind that Zoe couldn’t feel, not from her covered spot. You didn’t often feel a breeze there, cocooned as it was by the house. The rain smelled fresh and good, and there was a hint in the dark clouds that it would soon fall harder.
Despite the rain, it was warm and stuffy for an autumn day. The only reason it felt at all comfortable was because the rain seemed to be keeping the extraordinary humidity at bay. Zoe knew her dad could have probably told her exactly what the humidity was and the dew point and anything else she didn’t really want to know about the weather. She didn’t particularly care, though he found all that interesting. Fortunately, she knew better than to ask, and even if she’d been so foolish, he was out at the coffee shop with his buddies.
Given the blackness overhead, leaving the interior of the house too dark without the lights on, Zoe worried about him driving home and getting caught in a downpour. He was only a few blocks away, but when the clouds finally opened up, the storm could be climatic.
The doorbell sounded far away, though in fact it was less than twenty feet from where she sat. The sound had to travel through the house and out to the backyard, all the windows and doors closed.
Zoe stood, taking her coffee, wondering who would come calling so early in the morning. Everyone knew they’d find her father at the grocery store or chatting with his buddies at the coffee shop. It didn’t immediately occur to her that someone would want to talk with her. Donna would have called first or texted.
The door swung open easily, the wood feeling lighter in Zoe’s hand than she remembered from her childhood. Because of that, she’d opened it with far more force than she needed.
Taran Rees stood there in his uniform, an ugly gray color that bordered on brown, black tool belt at his waist carrying all the paraphernalia that police officers had to carry and which could, in theory, keep them safe. Zoe wondered how long it took them to learn to find everything quickly and easily. She’d be in the middle of a crisis looking for the one item she needed, feeling her belt here and there, knowing what she wanted but unable to find it.
“Zoe?” Taran said. His voice was lower than she’d remembered and held hardly any trace of an Appalachian drawl. If Zoe had had one, it was gone after years on the west coast. She didn’t hear her own voice, and people never commented on where she might be from when she was in Portland.
“Taran. What brings you here?” Zoe asked. She didn’t open the screen door. She just stood waiting, looking at him with interest. She was probably not being a very good hostess. Her mom would have been embarrassed by her, but Jodie was long past embarrassment now.
“I have some questions I’d like to ask you. Can I come in?” Taran was already reaching for the screen door.
His interest intrigued and annoyed her. Zoe got a feeling, not like the bad one from yesterday, but a different one, one that suggested things were going to change and she had no idea if the change was a good thing.
“What kinds of questions?” Zoe asked. She didn’t move. She didn’t reach to stop him from opening the door, but she placed herself so that he couldn’t easily walk in.
“I’d like to go over what you remember about your mother’s…” Taran trailed off searching for the least offensive word, but clearly one wasn’t coming to him as his mouth gaped open and closed several times like a dying fish.
“Why?” Zoe refused to make it easy on him. She didn’t want to go over her momma’s death. She didn’t want to relive that time frame. She’d been there, in Corbin Meadow, laughing with her momma that summer, enjoying the time away from the Portland rain. Her momma had talked about the planning they were doing on the council and making a name for the town. The deal with the tech firm was just the beginning. She’d gotten the zoning on the condos through which would allow more housing at affordable prices for newcomers to the area.
There had been real barbeque, not the sort you got on the west coast which could be anything thrown on a grill with a bit of sauce, but a real southern style barbeque where everyone had a favorite sauce and a secret recipe, corn on the cob, wine, and Zoe’s favorite—hush puppies. The day after, she and her momma had gone to the Outer Banks for a girls’ weekend and gotten sun and talked about life and whether or not Zoe really wanted to have a baby or if she and Tyler should wait.
Zoe had still been riding high on her visit, all smiles as she sat in her cramped airline seat on her way to O’Hare for the last leg of her flight into Portland. She’d checked her phone when she got to the gate, seeing an urgent message from her dad. The crashing sense of doom came rushing back, forcing her to acknowledge the tears that had started to burn behind her eyes as she remembered hearing her dad so choked up that he could hardly speak when she’d finally called back. Once again, Zoe heard the confusion in his voice, and knowing that her mom being “gone” was so much worse than those words could ever convey.
And Taran wanted her to live through that again.
“It could be important,” Taran said. “For Elaine.”
Zoe looked at him, her eyes still feeling watery, realizing that he did want to help and knowing that sometimes helping meant hurting. The set of his shoulders, the faint trace scent of sweat, and the worried look in his eyes told her he wasn’t any more comfortable with the conversation than she was.
Chapter 9 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.