NaNoWriMo | Chapter 9

CHAPTER 9

Eli and I strolled down Main Street for about an hour before he drove me back to the farm. He had to get back to work…and so did I. I had been out of circulation and away from the fray for too long. I needed to get plugged in again just long enough to take the temperature of the water back home. Problem was, plugging anything in…my laptop, iPad, iPhone, anything with an Internet connection, would give away my location within seconds.

I needed to get to an Internet connection. One that was nowhere near where I was right now. Time for a road trip.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to the beach, but now was as good as any to take a trip across the state line to Panama City Beach. I could be there in less than two hours. Quick change of attire, some snacks for the trip, and I was ready to hit the road. On the way out of the house, I grabbed my overnight bag, just in case.

It was a beautiful day for a drive. Too bad I wasn’t actually going to enjoy my time at the beach. I had a plan, of sorts. It was a risk, but I needed to check in and find out what was going on back home. I hadn’t been 100 percent truthful with Eli, and I was sure he knew that, too. He would figure that out soon enough, but until then, I had to play the game on a closed court.

It was shortly after lunch when I reached Panama City Beach. It had been ages since I’d been to this town, and it’d changed so much that I knew if I didn’t keep focused, I’d get lost very quickly. I had a few choices. Coffee shops that doubled at Internet cafés or hotels with business centers. Both would have desktop computers that I could erase my browsing history. I was dressed casually in nice shorts and a blouse, so I could pass as a tourist for either venue.

I finally stopped at the first hotel I came to that looked liked it might have a business center. Leaving the overnight bag in the car, I grabbed my purse and walked in the front door like any other guest staying at the hotel. I walked to the elevator with purpose, and pressed the UP button. I left my sunglasses on when the elevator doors opened on the second floor, and I stepped out. I strolled down the hall until I came to what appeared to be my room door. Digging around inside my purse, purely for the surveillance cameras at the ends of the hallway, I feigned having lost my access key, and made my way back to the elevator. Room 243.

When I got back to the front desk, I explained that not only had I lost my key for Room 243, I really needed to use the business center. The kid working the desk didn’t bother to ask for my ID or even my name after I gave him my room number. Moron. I guess some things are all about attitude. I’ve never pretended to be so confident in my entire life. But, if it got me into the business center and in front of a computer, I’d be the most confident female on the planet for the next five minutes.

Voila! The kid whipped out a room key and pointed down the hall to a special room for business travelers before asking me if I’d be willing to have a drink with him when he got off work. I told him I’d love to meet him at Harpoon Harry’s, and I was the most sincere I’d ever been when I said it.

I made my way down the hall to the business center and keyed my way inside. The room was empty, and I was in luck…for now.

Swiping the key into the card reader at the terminal brought up the computer’s desktop and started the clock. The room would probably be billed by the minute, but most hotel’s didn’t get so specific as to track exactly what was done online other than time and pages printed. I opened the browser and navigated to the numbered web address given to me by a friend of mine before I left Montgomery. He was a paid hacker. Companies paid him to hack their security systems and then fix them. There wasn’t a cooler job on Earth than the one Gabe Hackett had. I was fortunate enough to call him a friend, but he was also a tutor. I learned enough from him only to be dangerous. I left the heavy lifting to the professional.

The address Gabe gave me was secure so we could chat while I was away. He taught me how to cover my tracks…to a point. When you’re online, there will always be tracks for those looking. And I was being looked for. I didn’t have much time, and he was online.

“Hi, friend!” I typed. “How’re things back home?”

“Busy,” Gabe replied. “It’s been very hot lately, so business has been booming.”

That was our code. Temperature. If things were “hot,” it definitely wasn’t time to come home. Things were either bad or worse, depending on your point of view.

“So, what’s the story these days?” I asked, meaning if the news was front page or buried somewhere in the second section.

“Oh, you know,” he replied. “We news junkies love the front page stuff. Sex and violence sells.”

Another bad sign. I left Montgomery as front page news. Apparently I still was.

“Sounds like you have your hands full,” I typed. “You take care. Time for me to run. Chat later.”

“TKY,” Gabe signed off, shorthand for “take care of yourself.

I was no better off now than when I left the city. I took a deep breath and pocketed the room key. I wiped the computer’s cache the way Gabe taught me, and then left the business center. I walked around until I found a side exit and took it to the parking lot. I was inside my car and back on the highway in a matter of minutes.

Sorry Registration Desk Kid. You’ll be drinking at Harpoon Harry’s alone tonight. I was heading back to my hideout.

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 8

CHAPTER 8

We finished breakfast, but our conversation became strained. I could tell Eli had a lot more questions he wanted to ask, but I was sure he could also tell I wasn’t ready to give any more ground at that moment than I already had…even to him. I was officially talked out.

We practically grew up together, spent nearly every summer together from grade school through college, and this was the first time the two of us were utterly speechless.

The silence was beyond awkward. It was like taking a beating when the first blow to the stomach knocks the breath right out of you. This was worse. I was sitting not three feet from a man I’d grown up with, and I couldn’t even look him in the eyes without wincing. Then I noticed that he was having the same problem.

We were 6 years old again and had just been scolded by our grandmothers for tracking mud into the kitchen. My nagging 6-year-old’s conscious was telling me to spill the beans while my brain was telling me to keep my mouth shut until I had more information.

We sat in that booth nursing our coffee until the cups were ice cold. Eli stared into the cup as though it was going to give him some sort of magical answer to fix my screwed up life. I turned my gaze to the window facing the only street in town and watched the traffic light change. Green…yellow…red.

I never saw the check hit the table, but I heard Eli tapping the two to-go coffee cups on the cheap laminate.

“How long has it been since you strolled down these streets, Bits?” he asked handing me one of the cups.

“Way too long,” I answered reaching out for the cup of what I was hoping to be better coffee than what we had for breakfast. “Don’t you have a job, Sheriff? Like official duties to go along with that shiny badge and oath you took swearing you into office when you won the election?”

“I was appointed,” he said as he slid out of the booth and sipped his coffee. The pinched look on his face answered my question about the quality of the contents. “Come on. I’ve got a little time before court.” He reached for my hand and slid me out of my side of the booth. “Let me give you the grand tour of this great Southern city.”

“This shouldn’t take too long,” I said falling lock-step in with Eli as he made his way to the door. “There are only two red lights and a caution light.”

And, that’s what I’ve always loved about this little town. It was literally Main Street, USA, with one main artery running the length of the town studded with two red lights and a flashing caution light. Smaller vessels split off from Main Street leading to other parts of the county. There once was a train that came through town once a week, but the railroad tracks had long since rusted and been paved over. The town was small, but it wasn’t THAT small with two grocery stores stocked with fresh produce and meats from local farmers.

We walked down the street making small talk when I noticed how many of the old stores I remembered from my childhood that were still open and how many had closed and empty. They were sad structures filled with dusty shelves, cobwebs and the memories of a young girl and her grandparents from long ago. When we came to the Farm Feed & Seed, I stopped in front of the large picture window and was staring inside the empty store.

When I was little, both of my grandfathers were regular customers at the Feed & Seed, and I easily remembered tagging along with them both on hot summer days when they came to town to purchase their supplies for the week. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath remembering the heady mix of gardening supplies, fertilizer and catfish feed that once filled the store. Maybe it was thinking of all the pleasant times I spent following my grandparents down this street and into this store, or maybe it was the weight of the stress of my own situation today, but when Eli placed his hand on my shoulder and brought me back to the present, I had to wipe the tears from my cheeks before turning to face him.

“I can’t count how many times Mr. Messer tossed me out of this place because I knocked over one of his barrels of feed,” Eli laughed. “I think he tossed me out once because YOU knocked over a barrel!”

“I never!” I laughed and spun around to face him. “Actually, I think I did once or twice!”

We turned and walked a little further down memory lane before heading back to the diner. After all, Eli had a job to do…and so did I. I only wish I had noticed the old white Ford pickup trailing behind us sooner. In a town filled with pickup trucks, one more didn’t exactly stand out.

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 7

CHAPTER 7

It wasn’t like I had killed anyone back in Montgomery. But, I was on the run, in a way. I reached down and picked up the cup of coffee I’d been nursing and took a sip then took a deep, cleansing breath. I’d told this story what seemed a million times. I wondered if Eli would believe me any more than the police back home.

“Well?” He sipped his coffee and sat back in the booth like he was getting comfortable with a good book welcoming a good story. He was just a little more smug than usual.

“You already know, don’t you?” I asked. I was being set up to tell my side of the story. Eli wouldn’t walk into any situation without having done his homework first. I couldn’t help but smirk at his smugness. I was busted long ago and never knew it. That was his SUV parked next to mine at the grocery store, I just didn’t see him.

“Why don’t you tell me your version,” he said just as our breakfast arrived. I suddenly found myself no longer hungry.

“You’re being the same little jerk you were when we were in school, you know that?” I asked him as I reached for the syrup for my French toast. It was difficult to look in those big blue eyes. If he already knew the story, he had to have read the police report. “Fine. All I did was take some pictures when I was taking a walk on my lunch break about a month ago.”

Nothing. We sat silently, munched on our breakfast, and sipped our coffee until Eli motioned for refills.

“That’s not all though, is it?” he asked.

“Not exactly. I take walks around downtown Montgomery during my lunch break sometimes, and sometimes I take my camera and iPod. It’s easy to get lost in the city for an hour. I had been working a lot of extra hours on different projects, and I was tired. I had my camera in my office from a press conference that morning, so I grabbed it and took off for a walk. I needed to decompress for a little while. I remember it was so hot and muggy. I could barely breathe when I walked outside the office. But, being outside right at that moment was better than being cooped up in my office for one more hour.

“I cut through the parking lot behind the State House and the Capital Building and made my way over to the train depot and down to the Amphitheatre down by the river where the river boat is docked. The city did a lot of restoration to that part of the downtown area, but there are still some great old-brick buildings that still have the original painted ads on the side. They’re old and faded, but they give the brick so much character, and on a beautiful blue sky day like that one, I couldn’t help but take some pictures.

“I was wandering around the old buildings and alleys snapping a few photos along the way when my camera froze. I was standing about three-quarters of the way down this alley between two abandoned buildings, and my stupid camera quit. I had a perfect shot of an antique lantern over an old faded red door at the end of the alley, and my camera froze. My Canon does that sometimes, so I walked back to the street where the light was better and took the battery out long enough so the camera would reset itself and put it back in. That’s when I heard two pops. Pop! Pop! Really fast like a car backfiring. I looked over toward the park overlooking the river where there were a couple of cars parked and some folks walking around. My camera reset, I walked back to the end of the alley, took the shot, and then made my way back to my office.

“Later that night I was looking through the shots I’d taken during the press conference and at lunch. I was especially looking for the shot from the alley of the antique lantern and faded door. I found two photos I didn’t know I had taken of the park at the river overlook. One looked a little fuzzy around the car window, which wasn’t surprising since I hadn’t focused it when I took it. Hell, I didn’t know I took either photo. So I opened it in Photoshop for a better look. It wasn’t fuzzy. It was smoky. It looked like there was a puff of smoke coming from the passenger window.” I stopped and finished my cup of coffee. I knew what Eli was going to say next. It was the same thing I had thought at the time, and the same thing the investigators said when I took the photos to them.

“Are you sure it wasn’t cigarette smoke?” Eli asked. “A hot day, you were out for a walk, it only stands to reason someone else was out enjoying lunch with a pack of smokes.”

As I figured.

“I thought that, too, until I saw the newspaper the next morning. Police were investigating the city’s 42nd homicide…a body was found below the lookout park late the night before with two .38 caliber holes in it. I wondered whether those were the two pops I had heard when I was in the alley. I don’t believe in coincidences, but I didn’t think too much about it.”

“So, what happened to make you run?”

“I started noticing things. Weird things. A couple of new guys showed up in my yoga classes at the Y, which isn’t unusual in itself, but they usually parked near me and would leave at the same time I did. They didn’t make any secret of following me to my neighborhood, either. I picked them up on the way to work a couple of mornings, then I got freaked out. I leave for work at the same time every morning, so I recognize just about all the vehicles heading into Montgomery that time of morning. They were easy to spot. They were parked up the street when I left for lunch, followed me around town, back to the Y and home. This went on for several days, but I was already spooked. So I took another look at those photos, but I asked for some help from a friend who’s an expert in digital restoration. He cleaned up some of the pixels around the vehicle in the photo with the puff of smoke coming out of the window. He took out the glare on the back window, and that’s when we saw the muzzle flash.

“I took the photo to the police detectives working on the homicide that was reported in the paper, and it was dismissed pretty quickly. That was until my expert friend had a car accident on the interstate and died on impact. I was run off the road that night, too, but I didn’t wrap my car around a light pole. I just landed in a ditch. I managed to get out of the car and into the woods before anyone came down the hill. I never saw their faces, but they searched my car. They were looking for the data card for my camera, I’m sure.”

“Where is it now?”

“Safe. Probably safer than I am.”

“Don’t be so sure,” he smiled. “You’re in a place where outsiders aren’t welcome, and news travels at the speed of light. Consider us your own personal security system. So, take a breath and finish your breakfast. We have a little work to do later.”

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

It didn’t take long to get to town, but I imagined that it wouldn’t take long to get anywhere riding shotgun with the sheriff. I kept waiting for the inquisition to begin, but Eli kept the conversation light and mostly reminiscing about the crazy, fun and stupid things we used to do when we were growing up. Chivalry was definitely alive and well and living in my new corner of the world.

After all these years, I was surprised to see that the Stop and Go was still open. This is the place my grandparents would come for “special occasions” or just when someone got a hankering for a greasy hamburger back in the day. “Greasy spoon” definitely didn’t do this place justice. For me, it had some of the best home cooking outside of my Granny’s kitchen that me or my mother didn’t cook.

And, the parking lot was already filled with nearly every truck in the county. That’s always the good sign of a great county restaurant.

We didn’t have too much trouble finding a parking place, though. It was pretty obvious that Eli and his deputies had a standing reserved table at the Stop and Go as well as reserved parking near the door. Made sense, I thought to myself, in case they got a call and had to zip out in a hurry.

He parked the SUV and then grinned. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“That you get to park by the door in case you get a call?” I peeked at him over the top of my sunglasses. I wondered what he thought I was thinking? He knew used to cover law enforcement when I was a beat reporter…back in the day.

“Damn. None of my lines are going to work on you, are they?” A little annoyed, he grabbed his cap and slipped out of the vehicle.

“You have lines? New lines? They never worked before. Why would they work now?” I knew he was listening even though he was strides ahead of me. This was our relationship. It was like we had never been apart in 10 years.

Inside, the diner hadn’t changed much since the last time I walked through those doors with my grandparents a decade ago. Maybe a coat of paint on the walls, or maybe the walls were just a little darker from the smoke billowing from the grill in the kitchen. Either way, the only real change I could see were that the customers were just a little older.

“Why hey there Eli! Make yourself at home, and I’ll be with you in just a sec!” shouted a voice from behind the register. It was a woman who sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place a face to the voice. I hoped I could figure it out by the time she made her way to our table so I didn’t embarrass myself.

I followed Eli as he weaved his way through the crowd shaking hands and patting backs of the patrons along the path until he came to a table that gave him a bird’s eye view of the room. He stopped at a booth in the back of the room and reached for me to sit facing the wall. He sat with his back against the wall facing the room. Cop logic.

“I can’t believe how much this place hasn’t changed after all these years,” I said reaching for the condiment tray in the corner of table. I spun the tray and caught myself smirking when the mirrored side of the napkin holder turned to face me.

“In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Bits, this town never changes,” Eli said. “That’s why I like it here. It’s easy to figure things out when everything moves at its own pace, you know?”

“I do. But, there’s something to be said for the faster pace of a big city, too. I think you and I understand both worlds pretty well, you better than me.”

“Not really,” he said. “Just because I deployed doesn’t mean I understand that world. I don’t think we’ll ever understand why there are so many people out there who hate us so much to do what they did. I’ll never understand that.”

“Good point,” I could hear my words trailing off. I could see the reflection of someone in the mirror hanging on the wall just above Eli’s head. It was our waitress walking toward our booth. She recognized my reflection immediately, and so did I.

“Oh. My. Goodness! Hey, Cuz!” I turned around and instinctively reached for my first cousin, Mary Stillwell. “How long ya been in town? Why didn’t ya call?” I dodged questions and a pot of hot coffee.

I could see Eli trying to hide his smirk behind his menu. Smart ass.

“Not long, I haven’t been in town long. How have you been? How are the girls?”

“Growin like little weeds, I tell ya. And, eatin me outta house and home. They’re around here somewhere. Lemme get y’all some breakfast, and I’ll find ‘em for ya. What would y’all like this mornin?” Mary quickly filled our coffee cups. She didn’t write down our orders, but I got the feeling she had been doing this long enough that she didn’t need to.

Eli ordered his “usual,” and I ordered French toast with turkey bacon. Mary and Eli stared at me. I wasn’t sure if it was what I ordered or if a fly had landed on the end of my nose that brought the stares.

“Seriously?” Eli asked. “TURKEY bacon? What the hell is that?”

“Is turkey sausage okay?” Mary asked.

I nodded and handed my cousin our menus. “Ordering turkey bacon makes me an alien?”

“No, it just makes you weird,” Eli joked. “So, let’s just cut to the chase, shall we.”

Here we go. I put my coffee cup down and gently folded my hands on the table. Straightened my back and stared Elijah dead in his big, blue eyes.

“Why am I here.”

“Why are you here?”

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5

I never heard the vehicle pull into the driveway much less the driver’s door close when the man got out. I eased myself back to the ground so I could stand up. I couldn’t tell much about the man, but I definitely recognized the vehicle. It was a white SUV with a row of red and blue lights on the roof and SHERIFF is block red letters across the side.

The man was leaning against the driver’s door with his foot propped against the running board. He wasn’t wearing a uniform exactly. It looked just like a simple pair of blue jeans and a khaki shirt. But with the glare of the sun, it could have been a woman with a very bad hair cut wearing hot pink pants and an orange polka dot blouse for all I could tell for sure.

“As much as you used to run around this place when we were growing up, I had you pegged more for jogging or flat out running…not yoga,” he said laughing and making his way toward me.

“Eli?” I asked. I barely recognized the voice, but it sounded so familiar. “Elijah, is that you?” I shaded my eyes with my hand as though the shade would help my poor distance vision.

Elijah Bridger and I practically grew up together the summers I spent running around my grandparents’ farm. He and his parents lived just a few miles away as the crow flies, but we spent most every Saturday afternoon sitting on the edge of the pond drowning worms and hoping for a few drops of rain to cool off the evening.

“Girl, it hasn’t been that long,” he laughed. He expertly navigated the armadillo holes in the front yard  and made his way to the shaded pecan tree where I was. “But, it has been a few years. So sorry about your grandfather. I wish I could have made it back for the funeral.”

“I think he would have understood considering you were off serving our country and all,” I said. “Somehow I think he knows you made it back in one piece.”

I didn’t care that I was sweaty and smelled like wet dog, but I reached up and grabbed Eli by the neck and nearly squeezed the life out of him. He almost snapped me in half with his hug. He smelled like crisp linen and fresh soap.

“Can’t breathe…” Eli whispered. “Survived Afghanistan to die in a hugging accident.” He raised up, lifted me off the ground, and swung me around in a huge circle. I didn’t get to see him off when he deployed because no one knew his unit was leaving until just hours before. Eli was Special Forces, received several accommodations while in service and came back a decorated hero…and we never knew the extent of his heroism. But, we could all imagine because we knew Eli.

“Have you had breakfast yet? I’m starved! Please put me down, by the way…I weigh a ton!”

“I haven’t. I am as well, and you’re a twig! Don’t you eat anymore since you work in the city? Did you forget how?”

“No, I didn’t forget how to eat, and I’m actually a very good cook. Come inside, and I’ll make us breakfast.” I finally broke free of Eli’s iron grip and started gathering my yoga gear.

“Actually, I saw what few supplies you bought at The Pig yesterday, and I don’t eat rabbit food,” he snickered. “Go make yourself presentable, and I’ll take you to get some decent breakfast. Looks like you could use some carbs.”

I stopped and slowly turned to face him. I wasn’t ready for another trip to town, but I also wasn’t ready to approach that subject with Eli. Looking at him, his hands propped on his hips and his square jaw set facing me head on, it was a sure bet that he wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer.

“You don’t hear “No” often, do you Sheriff Bridger?”

“Not often, ma’am. Let me check in with Martha on dispatch. Don’t dawdle. I haven’t even had my second cup of coffee this morning.”

I nodded and headed toward the back door of the house.

Even though it was rather pleasant outside, I didn’t want to keep Eli waiting too long. Mostly because, knowing him, it wouldn’t be outside his wheelhouse to barge in and order me to hurry up. Something told me that not only had Eli seen a lot in his years in the Army, he would put up with my nonsense much, either.

“You haven’t changed much, Bits!” he yelled out over the loudspeaker from his SUV. “You still take way too much time to get ready. HURRY UP! I’m hungry!”

“Good grief!” I thought to myself. Well, if the people in the next county needed to know I was in town…they knew. I grabbed my purse and ran out the door.

“I don’t remember you being this obnoxious when we were kids. Did the Army do that to you?” I asked while I buckled my seatbelt.

“No,” he said backing out of the driveway. “I just don’t think you noticed back then.”

Elijah Bridger was as disarming now as he was when we were growing up. I never pictured him in law enforcement, though, when I came back to do an internship at the newspaper. Little Elijah had grown up to be a bit of a law “bender,” as he called it. Bend them he did, just enough before they broke.

I’m not stupid, either. He knew the score, and he wanted me to dish it out to him my own way. That’s the only reason for this little charade this morning. Fine. I can play his games. I’ve worked around enough politicians in my career to understand how to play, so I can step up to this plate. But, being willing to play and wanting to play are two distinctly different frames of mind.

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

Morning came soon enough, and I felt like I hadn’t slept in weeks. Probably because I hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night in a very long time. But, lazing about in the bed when I knew I could make myself useful around the house was enough motivation to drag my bones from the comfort of my cozy covers and into a tee shirt and some yoga pants.

The sun was already screaming through the trees across the other side of the pond, and I couldn’t think of a more peaceful place to stretch out my yoga mat than under the pecan tree overlooking one of my most favorite spots on the planet.

I slung my mat over my shoulder, grabbed a bottle of water and headed for the back door. Oh! That screeching door! Definitely top of my list to fix that screen door if I had to take it off the hinges to do it. A sound that bad would scare the cows down the road.

There was a briskness to the morning air that was refreshing. Here in the south, we typically get hot summers, a week of autumn and spring, and then something the weathermen schizophrenically call “winter.” The leaves were already turning and beginning to drift to the ground, and the pecan tree just outside my grandparents’ master bedroom was always my favorite place on the farm.

When in full bloom, my Granny and I would sit under its shade and drown worms on the bank of the pond hoping to catch a few catfish, bream or trout for dinner that night. Granddaddy had his favorite spot just down the bank but still within earshot of us in case we hooked something. I was never allowed to touch anything I brought out of the pond. I finned myself once on a catfish, and that was the end of me trying to unhook anything I’d hooked.

When I was much, much younger, the sloping ground beneath the pecan tree was my launching pad for my Slip and Slide. It was way too far to slide into the pond from the tree, especially considering there was an incline and, well, a small road for my Granddaddy’s tractor and truck to pull around to the barn at the back of the house. But, those things never stopped me. Once Granny realized I was aiming for the corner of the pond, she’d soap up the slippery runway with dishwashing liquid and cheer me on yelling, “Go, Baby, go!”

I never made it to the pond. I mostly ended up picking broken pecan shells out of my bathing suit. But, I didn’t mind.

That was the perfect spot to begin my day. So, I stretched out my mat and went to work. I’ve been practicing yoga for many years, and I know several different routines. Today didn’t feel like a “routine” day. Today felt like a “new start” day. I took a deep, cleansing breath and reached for the leaves above my head, tilted back even further to arch my back, then to the left and right. I kept my eyes closed and focused on my breathing and the sound of the little sparrows in the tree singing to me.

After a while of focusing on nothing but the sounds of nature and my breathing, I decided to try some new poses. “Be adventurous,” I thought. “Why not? It’s not like I have an audience to see me if I fall over,” except for the turtles popping their heads up in the pond just a few feet away. I didn’t really care if they saw me fall over.

I don’t know how long I’d been under the pecan tree. The morning breeze had died down somewhat, and it was beginning to warm up nicely for an autumn day. As I moved from one pose to the next, I vaguely recalled the passing of a vehicle down the road in front of the house. It was nice to focus on the rhythmic movements instead of whether someone was focusing on me.

I decided to do one last movement, Crow, before relaxing with my bottle of water. I bent down at the waist with my feet close to my hands. Crouching lower, I carefully rested my knees on my forearms and tilted my body forward until my feet were off the ground. Breathe…breathe…breathe…and just don’t fall over…

“I know all those yoga poses have crazy names, so what do you call that one?”

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NaNoWriMo | Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

When I got back to the farm, I eased my car up to the back door. My grandfather’s little red Chevy pickup truck was still parked under the carport where my parents and I keep it when we aren’t staying at the house. Sort of a safety device to make passersby think there’s someone at home even though my grandparents have been dead for several years now. All the locals know, but anyone joyriding down these old dirt roads may not have a clue.

Even though I’d made my big debut in town that afternoon, I wasn’t ready for company just yet. In these parts, turning on the porch light or leaving a light on in a window in the front of the house is just as good as sitting on the porch in the swing with a glass of lemonade. Nothing says, “Welcome!” like a porch light on a country road, so I just turned on the small light over the stove instead. It lit the kitchen well enough for me to put away the groceries and make a grilled cheese sandwich.

I was exhausted. But it was nice running into Mrs. Banks again. Seeing her after so many years was almost like seeing my Granny again. They were the best of friends, and I’m sure the Judge wishes most every day his sweet wife had taken a few cooking lessons from my grandmother. Just the thought of all those poor folks at the church being subjected to her “lagniappe” made me smile. I’ve never been happier with a humble grilled cheese than I was that night.

I had not been in the house again but for a scant few hours, and I was going to have to resign myself to the fact that the ghost of my grandparents were still alive and well and living in these four walls. Just so long as they didn’t manifest themselves, I would be just fine.

But still, it was nice thinking they were still around watching over me. It was nice to think that someone on my side was watching over me. There was no telling who was really watching. I hoped never to find out…or that I was just being paranoid.

There’s something about this town. I knew I’d feel safe here, or as safe as I could right now. I could have gone anywhere to hide, but hiding in plain sight where everyone knew me seemed a better choice. Small Town, Alabama, is just like you’d think. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone’s business. But, everyone tends to be very protective, too. This is a very protective community. Harold Jenkins down at the filling station may know that Mae Sterling was wearing her Sunday best when she stopped by to get her oil checked, but he also knows that her “Sunday best” outfit is the same outfit she wears every time she goes out. She can’t afford anything new. Everyone knows, but no one tells.

Given that just about everyone in the county has known me since I was knee-high to a turnip, should anyone come to town looking for me, I’ll know about it rather quickly. That’s another thing about small towns. News travels faster than the speed of light. I was counting on it, just in case.

For now, I’d have to do my best to relax and fit in. I packed fairly light when I left my house in Montgomery, and I wasn’t in any mood to read any of the books I had stashed away for a rainy day. For all purposes, it was pouring. Even with the satellite service for the television, there was nothing on to watch except football. Normally, that would be fine, but watching football alone just isn’t the same. Football and infomercials. If it weren’t for the satellite, I’d be stuck with the infomercials and nothing else. I quickly made a mental note of adding reading material to my mental list of Things To Buy and Do.

Tonight, though, would just be me, some random football players, and my yoga mat. A few Downward Facing Dogs, some Warrior poses, some easy stretching, and I was fine calling it a night. Even if it was only a little after 9 p.m.

The morning would come quickly enough. Truth was, I just wasn’t sleeping well these days no matter how tired I was when my head hit the pillow at night. When I did sleep it wasn’t a restful sleep. Fitful is a better way to describe it. Tossing and turning all night not only makes for long nights but it certainly doesn’t help pass the time during the day.

As I snuggled under the covers and nestled with the light chill of an early autumn evening, I couldn’t shut off my brain. Running lists of things I could do when the morning broke. Fix that squealing back door. Call the bug guy, which quickly shot to the top of the list when I thought I could hear something brush against the back wall under the bed. Laundry. Vacuum. Some light housekeeping. Maybe wash Granddaddy’s truck. Anything to stay busy.

This was the part of the day I hated most.

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