Authors: Shannon Dermott
Picking up the faded moss green handset from the cradle, I pushed the buttons on the base. Knowing that our phones had non-registered numbers made this easier for me. Kalen’s phone would display UNKNOWN as the caller. Like the coward in me, I kind of hoped he wouldn’t answer.
“Jeremy Glenn,” a lilted voice announced.
It was weird to hear him give that name. He never answered his phone that way whenever I called. But then again, my name hadn’t come up as the caller. I guessed this was his formal greeting for business.
That may have been his name, but I couldn’t muster the phonics in my head to call him that. “Kalen.”
The tenor of his voice changed. “Bailey,” he breathed as if he’d longed to hear from me.
“I’ll keep this short,” I rushed. “I’ve left town. And there is no telling how long this investigation will last. I want you to be free to… you know.”
His words came clipped. It was like three different men were on the phone the way his demeanor changed each time he spoke. “No, I don’t know.”
“Kalen, please don’t make this harder than it is. You’ve made it very clear you are a man with needs. We aren’t allowed to see each other, and I’m not in town for the foreseeable future. I just want the record to be clear that you’re free to do whatever you want.” I didn’t add
whoever you want
because bile raced up my throat.
“And that’s what you want?” I couldn’t tell from his words if he was angry or resolved.
What I did notice was he hadn’t once called me
“It is what it is,” I hurried. I didn’t allow him time to speak. “I have to go. Goodbye.”
I hung up the phone feeling sick. It had been the right thing to do. Kalen was a virile man. And the last thing I wanted to do was to find out he’d been with someone other than me without us clearing the air. I wasn’t like I wanted him with anyone else. The thought of him buried inside me made my body clench in anticipation. It just wasn’t in our future.
Overcome with frustration by the events that led me here, I let a tear fall before I quickly wiped it way. I tucked memories of Kalen inside a closet in my heart. I wouldn’t name what I felt for him. That would be too much. Instead, I dug back into the financial books, relentlessly checking every transaction recorded to a source document like bank deposits and invoices.
My only knowledge of time change was the tiny darkened window above the desk. I’d lit a candle earlier when the light had begun to fade. The room felt smaller and cramped in the golden light. A desk, chair, and the only other telephone in the compound filled the room. The only other piece of furniture was a bookshelf that anchored one end of the room and held the weight of the community’s manual bookkeeping.
It seemed my arrival hadn’t been shared with my school bound siblings as they hadn’t come to see me. But then again, they were all teens, or nearly so, and my showing up was probably not the highlight of their day.
My skin nearly left my body when a voice broke through the silence. “I thought you’d be here.”
There was no need to see Turner standing behind me. His voice would always and forever be familiar to me.
“Hey,” I said, before a yawn escaped my lips. The candlelight flickered giving the room an ethereal glow.
“Burning the night away?” he asked. “Or are you just hiding from me or maybe your father.”
It was both. However, I kept that tidbit to myself. After he left earlier, I wasn’t sure if he’d want to talk to me. A smile found its way to dance across my lips when I turned to face his grin. He’d said his piece, and he was never one to hold a grudge. Ignoring part of his question, I said, “I’m hoping maybe he’ll be sleep before I make it home.”
He held a hand out to me. “You know your father. If he wants to talk to you tonight, he’ll wait up. You might as well get it over with.”
A groan left me before I took his hand and let him draw me to my feet. “I should go see Violet before it gets too late,” I said while I closed the paper ledgers and put them back on the shelf.
“You should wait until tomorrow. It’s late and it would be a long walk to her place,” he said. I faced Turner to see he hadn’t moved. The expression on his face was tight. The tension between us was back and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was no denying the attraction I felt to him or the love that swelled in my heart. I’d known him all my life. He’d been my best friend before we experimented with each other. At one time, I wanted to be his wife. But now… now I wasn’t sure. My feelings were still strong for Kalen. There was something about that man and the way he made me feel.
Warm hands wrapped around my arms bringing me back. I looked up into those fathomless warm brown eyes almost the color of amber. “Turner.”
He took my calling out his name as an invitation, because his mouth was on mine. His kiss was gentle, far different from the demanding Kalen. When he circled my waist with his arms, I pulled back, looking into his eyes. “We shouldn’t,” I said. My voice may have sounded small, but I was firm. His hands dropped from my waist.
“Sorry,” he said, his eye finding the ground.
His hurt, mixed with longing, tugged at my heart because I was the cause again.
“I’ll walk you home then,” he suggested.
“Maybe I should stop by Mary’s and see the baby.” Even to my own ears, I could hear the quaver in my words and the nervousness that prompted it.
Turner quirked a brow and gave me that
Are you serious
look. “You’re avoiding your Father.”
“I’m not,” I said adamantly with my hands folded over my chest. I moved out of the confining room and into the larger classroom. My hand lovingly ran across the top of the wooden desk I’d sat at so very long ago.
Stepping out into the night, I found the dark all encompassing. It was so very different than the city of lights that never slept. Tonight the stars and the moon were hidden by a blanket of clouds. I stood in place, looked up and breathed in deeply. The air was so very different here, free of smog and other pollutants.
“You miss it,” Turner said, breaking into my thoughts.
Slowly, I lowered my head, but not so much. Turner was far taller than me. “Maybe,” I confessed. “You?”
A tiny smile crept onto his face, reluctant and weary. “I missed you.”
A wave of emotion ran through me making it hard to ignore the gorgeous guy in front of me. Despite my protest a minute ago, I couldn’t help what happened next. As inadvisable as it was, I reached out a hand to touch his cheek. He leaned into it. In that moment, all the memories we shared together flashed in my mind in a nanosecond collage. But it was remembering the first time he kissed me that had me unconsciously on my toes leaning up to meet his mouth. It was a bad idea for many reasons. The main one, Kalen, was no longer in the picture. I’d effectively ended things. And Kalen would be better off without me, or so I told myself.
Turner felt like home and it was easy to lose myself in his touch, his embrace and his kiss. When he pulled back, his easy smile was on full bloom. He took my hand in his like a school boy and walked me home. Like many, many times before, he stayed just off the porch. He watched me as I gripped the door handle and looked back at him one more time before I entered my childhood home.
I didn’t have to look far to find my parents in our tiny four room house. They waited for me at the dining room table which was in what we called our great room. It was the main area which included our living room-kitchen combo. The other three rooms were my parents’, the boys’, and the girls’ bedrooms.
The only light came from the fire in the hearth and the candles on the table. I didn’t need the light to remember what this place looked like. Built by my father’s hand and other members of the community, it was still solid and functional. Everything had its place. As sparse as it was, it was homey and more inviting than Lizzy’s parents’ posh apartment.
The timber used to build this place was kept natural, free of paint inside and out. The floors and ceiling boasted the same. A wood burning oven was positioned on one side of the house, and the hearth on the other. We didn’t have a refrigerator because our house held no electricity. We did have an icebox, which literally meant that a block of ice kept it cold. A few cupboards and a small work table made up the rest of the tiny kitchen.
were fashioned from wood with handmade cushions that sat across from each other. The hearth created division between them. In the middle of the two
was the long table worn with loving nicks when as kids we played games and from accidental flicks of forks and knives. There at the end of the long table, perched like a king because he was head of the household, was my father.
His beard was long and fiery although I knew grey streaks blended into it. He sat with my mother whose dark locks were also muted by time. Even in the candle light, I could see my parents’ age, but time had been kind to them.
“Sit, Bailey,” my father commanded. I hadn’t expected a hug. My father wasn’t that type of guy. I just complied. His instruction was always to be followed no matter what.
I sat across from my mother, meeting her subdued smile.
“So tell me, daughter mine, what brings you home.” His voice held no amusement or his face a smile, but it wasn’t anger that fueled his words. My father, one of the leaders of our community, was tasked with the wellbeing of our sanctuary. My showing up without warning after I’d fled so long ago could only mean one thing to him. Trouble.
My parents deserved to know why I was here. So I told them the whole sordid tale. I hadn’t shared my failures with them. So I started at the beginning. I confessed that I’d left Scott because I found out he’d been cheating on me. I told them about the auditing job in New York and stumbling across some inaccuracies that I knew were only the surface of what appeared to be a well-orchestrated embezzling scheme. I told them of my administrative leave which led me here.
What I didn’t share with my father was Kalen. He would most certainly not approve of that relationship. It had been hard enough to have him approve of Scott. His warning that I shouldn’t get involved with
as he called Scott, wouldn’t go a long way with my choices in men. Plus, Kalen wasn’t in my life anymore, and he wasn’t a threat to our way of life. So I didn’t think it necessary to share everything.
My father blew out a breath as if he’d been holding it. “Well now, it’s late. I see you’ve taken to wearing some of your sister’s clothing. I think in the morning you’ll have a care and do their laundry so they don’t go without.”
“Yes, Father,” I said without hesitation. It didn’t matter that my two younger sisters who still lived at home weren’t big enough to fit the dresses left by me and my other two sisters. Violet had finally moved out and lived on the far end of the community with her husband.
My father pushed away from the table and stood. “And I think it is best you not stay here after tonight.”
Stunned, I couldn’t help my mouth from standing agape.
“Jacob,” my mother said, curling her hand around his forearm trying to stop his edict.
“Cate,” my father said. His voice was softer yet still firm with her. “She can stay with Mary.”
My mother sighed and nodded her head. She gave me a look of approval. Mary was my younger sister only by a year. “She has space. It’s just her, Thomas, and the baby.”
Then my father made his way back to the bedroom he and Mother shared. She stayed behind and came around the table where I stood now, and wrapped me in a hug.
“Bailey, how I’ve missed you.”
I wanted to sink in her embrace. It had been so long. I missed her so. We were eye to eye but she was still my mother.
“Me too,” I whispered. My voice cracked from emotion. After making my choice to leave, coming home and bringing tales of life on the outside wasn’t welcome, not like I would have done. Visits also weren’t encouraged.
“Cate,” my father called. It was a demand and she wouldn’t deny him.
With a whisper, my mother said, “Well talk some more soon.”
She left. Being home again was like that saying about riding a bike. Some things you never forgot. So I blew out the candle on the table before heading to the girls room where my sisters, Emma and Lora, nine and twelve, slept. It had been a long while since I’d been in such a small bed. I crawled in the empty one. My sisters slept in the other tiny bed, no doubt just used to doing so before Violet and Mary left home. I tried not to dream. That was impossible. Once my eyes were closed, Kalen invaded my mind like a Highland warrior.
Dreams of Kalen kept my brain active through the night. His touch may have been a memory but it was one reluctant to be forgotten.
, his voice called out to me. And I found myself in a hazy backdrop of my bedroom at Lizzy’s house. Kalen’s mouth kissed its way up the curve of my arm as I lay on my side. I watched him as he came ever closer to my mouth where I craved for his kiss more than I ever thought possible.
Never will I let you go, he commanded
. His lips changed directions just as he maneuvered me from my side to my back. With expert hands, he pushed my thighs apart and feasted on me as if I tasted of ambrosia.