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Authors: Jillian Peery

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BOOK: PINELIGHTforkindle
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English was an uncomfortable event. I sat the folded letter on my desk and stared at it until my overweight English teacher threatened to take it up. Apparently, the tragedy of Macbeth was much more important than my own personal tragedy. The bell rang after a painful hour and a half, saving me from the embarrassing task of reading the part of Lady Macbeth to the class. I was out the door in a flash. Good timing, yet again.

I charged through the entrance of my history class, took my usual seat in the back of the room, and frantically unfolded the note.

 

Lydia,

We need to talk. She knows. Meet me tomorrow,

the usual time and place.

-Erik

 

Those words pierced through my chest like a long, crooked blade and ached from within. The betrayal was far worse and went much deeper than I had imagined possible. Shakespeare couldn’t have written a better tragedy. Feeling like my heart had been sliced in two, I crumbled the note and slumped down in my desk.

I raised my head once class had officially started, but my mind was not there. It was far, far away in an unhappy place. Lydia had told the truth. Erik never wanted me. I was a fool to think he ever did. I couldn’t wait for this day to be over.

    

3:15 p.m.. I had made it through the day. I was beaten. I was broken. But I had made it through alive. Jean was sitting in her car, anxiously awaiting the talk I had promised her. I was met with an enthusiastic smile as soon as I opened the car door.

I wasn’t sure what needed to be said to explain my past. It was a touchy subject for me, one that was difficult for me to explain to myself.

It was clear that Jean was holding back, trying to avoid her bad habit of asking questions and speaking without thinking.

“You don’t have to do this—if you changed your mind, I totally understand.”

I sighed. “No, I want to. I’m trying to think of where to begin.”

“Just start from the beginnin’. Like, where are you from, and what’s the whole deal with your memory loss? You never would tell me.”

“Right. Okay. I’m not entirely sure how to answer that. I only know what I’ve been told by Alice.”

“Well, what did she tell you?”

“That my mom’s family, the Leblancs, they were born and raised here, in Louisiana. That’s why my aunt kept me here.”

“So your aunt is your mom’s sister?”

“Yeah. Alice was my mom’s baby sister. Alice Leblanc. My mom’s name was Marie. Well, their parents—my grandparents—died when they were both pretty young. It was a car wreck, I think. Alice moved to Coushatta shortly after that, and my mom left for Ireland.”

“Ireland? That’s awesome,” Jean said.

“Well, my mom fell in love with an Irishman, Brogan Calahan—my dad. So she stayed in Ireland with him and his family. They married, had me, and…well, that’s really all we know. The rest is kind of sketchy.” I paused long enough to push the hair out of my face, tucking it behind my ears. “Apparently we moved around a lot. From what Alice says, we spent most of our time in Ireland, but we came to Coushatta a few times. She said that we were planning on visiting her again, but never showed up. There was some kind of accident.”

She was quiet for a moment, readily waiting for me to continue. “Is that why you have trouble remembering your past—because of this accident?”

“We think so,” I muttered in response.

“You don’t remember anything?”

“Nothing at all. No memories. No faces. No images. I just woke up in the hospital in Coushatta, feeling like my head was going to split open. I didn’t know where I was—who I was. Alice was the first person I saw, and I had no memory of even knowing her.”

“That had to be hard—waking up to a world you didn’t know.”

“It was hard for me to take in. I was angry at the world for a long time, even at Alice.” We both sat quietly in the car for a few minutes, Jean focusing on the sparse traffic that was on the road while my eyes darted from one road sign to the next.

“So what happened to your folks?”

“Don’t know. Alice flew to Ireland, but she didn’t know where to look. She said my mom would never tell her where we lived. That it was safer that way.”

“Oh my goodness,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I wish you would have told me sooner so I could have been there for you.”

“You were there for me when I needed you, Jean. I should have told you instead of Erik.”

“What happened with him?”

“Well…” I hesitated for a moment, collecting my thoughts. “I like to write in a journal. It’s kind of my way of coping with everything. I write my thoughts down, my dreams. I describe images that I remember, and then I try to link them together.”

“What did he do?” Jean asked as if she already knew.

“I found one of the pages in his jacket pocket. Apparently, he’s been going through my things—stealing my entries.”

“Oh. My. Gosh.” Jean pulled off the highway and parked in her usual spot on the dirt road. “What did he say?”

“It’s hard to say—I think he threatened me.”

“What did Alice say about all of this?” Jean looked more and more worried with each question.

“I haven’t told her,” I said.

“What? Jeez, then promise me you’ll tell her.”

I sighed for a second, thinking about the reaction she would have after I explained to her that I was threatened. I knew that I should have told her about it, but I had hoped to avoid it altogether. Alice already had too much on her plate to worry about.

“Promise me,” Jean insisted again.

I shifted in my seat to unlock my seat belt—a little hint that I was ready to leave.

“All right. I’ll tell her.” I stepped out of the car. “Can I get a ride tomorrow morning?”

“Sure thing. I’ll be here. Just make sure you talk to your aunt.”

I gave her a smile and closed the door, mouthing good-bye from outside the passenger window.

 

-4-

 

UNUSUAL

 

 

 

Alice was placing two bowls of her famous four-hour gumbo on the table when I walked through the door. The house was filled with a seafood smell mixed with the spicy scent of simmering onions, celery, and bell pepper. You could almost taste the gumbo by sniffing the air.

Any other day I would have been excited about spending time with my aunt. I would have been excited about eating gumbo and catching up on the town’s scandalous gossip, possibly sharing a few laughs over the pecan pie—but tonight I was hoping to find a way out of talking. Hoping to share a meal in silence.

Aside from the usual hello, we went through the motions of setting the rest of the table without speaking. From what I could tell, something was weighing on Alice’s mind as much or more than what was on my own.

We finally sat down to eat. We talked about the weather mostly. Alice did ask a few more questions about Fergus and the Swamp Tour business—I asked about the hospital and when her next day off might be. That was pretty much it. It was a dinner filled with small talk. We finished the main course, and to my surprise, Alice still had not asked about Erik or school.

It was during dessert that things got awkward.

I had just swallowed my first bite of pie when Alice said something that completely caught me off guard.

“Anything unusual happen to you in the last few days?” She asked as if it were an assumption, as if she already knew the answer and was waiting for me to explain.

Unusual? It was an odd question, one that was very hard to answer considering the recent events that had transpired with Erik. That was unusual, indeed, but hardly something to pique an adult’s interest. And how did she even know? I had only told Jean, not even an hour ago. Guess there was no way out of telling her about Erik’s warning.

Alice asked again before I had time to reply. “Anything possibly out of the ordinary?”

I told her the story from the beginning. It was modified, leaving out the fact that Erik snuck into the house while I was in the shower, but it was still a pretty accurate version of what had happened. Threat and all.

At first I was stuck on figuring out the look she gave in response to my confession. Her expression wasn’t a disappointed one or an angry one. It was more of a frightened look. Surely she didn’t believe we were in any kind of immediate danger.

“I should have told you sooner, but I didn’t want you to worry over something like this,” I admitted. “How’d you even find out?”

As if her brain was still processing everything, she replied mechanically, “I didn’t. I received a call from your school today. You cheated on your Spanish test.”

“Oh.” I had been preparing for the wrong speech. I had completely forgotten about the Spanish test.

“Erik threatened you?” Her body tensed as she spoke.

I nodded. “Yeah, but I think he was only doing it to get to me.”

I was instantly bothered by her reaction. It seemed completely out of character. She seemed on edge and not the least bit interested that I cheated in Spanish.

“How would you like to get out of town this weekend? We could leave after you get home from school. Take a road trip. What do you think?”

Her on-call cell phone, the one that sounded every time the hospital needed her to fill another shift, rang. She almost jumped out of her chair.

“I better take this upstairs—I’ll talk to them about the time off. Can you pick up the kitchen?”

“Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll clean up.” I motioned for her take the call.

Little did I know—we would never make that trip.

 

-5-

 

SHADOW

 

 

 

Only in Red River Parish would a public library sandwiched between an antique mall and a fried boudin stand be considered a popular destination on any given afternoon. I sighed at the very thought and slowly marched up the steps of Coushatta’s historic library.

As I opened the heavy door to the library entrance, I inhaled the air that was trying hard to escape. I always enjoyed the smell that occupied the halls of the library. The smell was enchanting. Every book seemed to radiate this particular scent. It was the scent of adventure.

I walked to the very back of the library, passing all of the interesting sections, to the dreaded poetry aisle. There was a small one-person desk conveniently set up facing the wall at the end of the aisle. I almost sympathized with the desk—it sat trapped between the walls of old, forgotten poetry. At least by the end of the night, I would be escaping from this dungeon.

Now it was time to focus. I shook my head as I recalled the look of pure excitement when my English teacher announced our paper would be on our favorite poem. Any poem. Any century. I let my eyes wander up and down the dimly lit shelves, skimming the names of the greats.
Edgar Allan Poe. Langston Hughes. Charles Dickens.

Then I noticed something unusual. A small collection of books was wedged into the corner of the bookshelf, where the side of the desk met the shelves. Underneath was a bronze nameplate with the words:
For our sweet Clara, with love
.

For our sweet Clara, with love.
I immediately gave my full attention to those six words. I knelt down beside the desk and pulled out a thin leather-bound book. I smiled at my discovery as I placed it against the splintered desktop.

The book had a weathered appearance, but this didn’t surprise me, considering the amount of rain Coushatta received yearly. The cover was wrapped tightly with a thin piece of leather. My fingers danced over the leather cover, until they reached the bottom right corner. My ring and index finger were now resting on what appeared to be a burned marking of the letters
CC
.

“Clara Calahan,” I whispered to myself as I traced the letters with my fingers. I stared at the markings for a few moments, hearing only the slight tapping of rain rolling off the library roof.

After a few moments of hovering over the desk and gazing at this newfound treasure, I slowly sank down into the attached chair. As my back slid against the form of the chair, I began to remove the leather band from the book. After the strap was loosened, I picked up the small book and let the leather piece fall into my lap. I carefully pulled back the front cover—a beautiful sketch was revealed.

It was relaxing to gaze upon the image. The pages were a dark crème color freckled with light and dark spots—but the design was flawless. One thick line flowed down the center of the paper, while a smaller one ran horizontally to form a cross. On top of the bold cross were three interconnected triangles drawn in perfect proportion. A vine of words circled the triangles, reading:
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
. A Trinity. The entire design was sketched in a dark black ink, but the longer I gazed at this page, the more I doubted my initial observation. I lifted the book from the desk to catch a stray beam of light peeking through the shelves. I almost thought I saw the drawing sparkle in the light—as if the medallion was only pretending to be a drawing. I lightly touched the cross one more time before turning to the next page. On the back side of the first page, was a handwritten prayer.

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