Shifting uncomfortably in the hard backed wood chair, I aerated my dry lemon chicken and ignored the scathing looks from my mother. Why I agreed to come to dinner a week after my drug addicted twin sister’s disappearance into downtown Cincinnati was beyond me. My husband, Dalton, nudged my knee under the table; at least he’d held to his promise of accompanying me.
“Beth.” My mother’s shrill voice pulled my attention away from the unfortunate chicken. Martina Malone was not one to beat around the bush. A slight woman, she seemed physically frail but appearances can be deceiving. When armed with a spatula, she could be quite vicious. “Have you spoken with your sister?”
“Yes, mother,” I replied, focusing on the flowered wallpaper just behind her head. Dad kept his eyes down, pretending not to hear the conversation while Dalton shifted uncomfortably. “She’s staying with a friend downtown.”
“With a friend.” Martina snorted. “Frank, did you hear that? Beth has fallen for Emily’s oldest trick.”
“Excuse me?” I interjected, stabbing the air with my fork. “Did I just hear you right? You think Emily has, what. Pulled the wool over my eyes?” Leaning back in my chair, I threw my napkin on the table. “Thanks for that vote of confidence, Mom.”
“Well, what else am I supposed to think? Huh? While you’re sitting here eating dinner with us, your twin is out there rotting in some crack house.” Martina stood, gathering her half eaten plate and shaking her head.
“You invited us to dinner,” I retorted, standing. Dalton grabbed my arm, but I yanked it away angrily, sparing him a seething glance. “How am I supposed to take care of Emily and work, too?”
Martina threw her plate, and mashed potatoes stuck to the wall like spackle as she burst into tears. “You should be taking care of her.” She fell to her knees, burying her face in her apron.
“I can’t take care of the whole world.” Desperate for help, I looked to my father. He shook his head, as usual. Dalton was looking between my mother and me, unsure of what to say.
“Your family should come before those worthless crack heads at your so-called job!” Stunned, I stared at my mother for a moment before storming out of the dining room and grabbing for my keys.
Dalton grabbed my arm before I reached the front door. “Beth, wait.”
Whirling on him, I broke his grip and stepped back. “What?” Hurt flowed through me; how could he just sit there and let me take that abuse?
“Where are you going?”
I swallowed back tears. “I don’t – I just need to clear my head.”
“I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know how to handle that kind of thing.” Dalton glanced towards his feet, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“You could have just said back off. That’s all.” I stepped towards him, laying a hand on his chest. “See you later.”
He didn’t stop me when I shut the front door, nor did he come after me when I sat in my truck with tears streaking down my cheeks. Wiping angrily at them, I fumbled to put the key in the ignition. Ding-a-bink-a-ding! Cursing under my breath, I pulled the phone out and opened the message. Just what I needed. My sister’s drug dealer.
Rough night, Beth?
A chill washed over my skin. Suddenly paranoid, I glanced around the dark neighborhood. “Why doesn’t Cincinnati believe in street lamps?” I managed to get the truck turned on before replying. Are you watching me?
That’s a nice truck you have.
My breath caught in my throat, tightening my chest. Gripping at the locket I wore under my shirt with a picture of Emily, I contemplated the best course of action. After a moment of debate, I turned off the truck. Where are you?
Wouldn’t you like to know?
Gritting my teeth, I gathered my thoughts. “He’s watching me. If I can just make it back to the house I’ll be safe.” Is Emily with you? I had to distract him.
I was opening the door when he replied. Nolan was lightning fast on his keyboard. No, she’s on a high running around somewhere. Kids these days.
“God damn it.” I already knew my night would be spent searching the streets for my sister. A muscle in my jaw popped. And you’re watching me? Are you high?
Hopping out of the truck, I shut the door softly and prepared to sprint. The phone vibrated in my hand. No, he wrote, I don’t use. That stuff rots your teeth.
Gathering my muscles to run, I about had a heart attack when a man stepped from the shadows in front of me. I dropped my phone and stumbled backwards, flattening myself against the truck. He was half cast in shadow, but I recognized him. Tall and lean, Nolan could glance over the top of my truck with ease. He leaned against the driver side door as though he belonged there, crossing his arms over his chest. His sleeves slid up, exposing intricate tattoos. “Running away from me?” he asked nonchalantly in a voice of liquid velvet. “Don’t go breaking my heart now, Beth.”
The other magnificent flashers:
Lily Sawyer (m/m)