Authors: Brea Brown
By Brea Brown
rights reserved. Copyright © July 2012 by Brea Brown
part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted without the express
written consent of the author, who can be reached at
is a work of fiction. All similarities to real people and events are
art © 2012 by Laura Sellars
Also by Brea Brown, available exclusively
The Secret Keeper
The Secret Keeper Confined
The Secret Keeper Up All Night
Permanent pause. That’s what’s become of the moment I first
saw the burned-down ruins. I’ll forever be standing there on that
roughly-asphalted and pot-holed road, clutching the slick polyester of my
graduation robe, feeling and seeing my hair tremble in time with my knocking
heart and ragged breath.
Up there is where my window used to be. The night before, my
hot pink polka-dotted curtains probably reached through the broken glass, as if
trying to get away from the flames devouring them. I’m sure the aluminum siding
framing the window burned white-hot, warping and melting. And black smoke
competed with the orange flames, as both desperately sought oxygen.
There’s a poem in there somewhere, or at the very least, a
haiku. If it hadn’t been my gutted house, my dead family, I probably would have
sat in the grass verge next to the road and scrawled some words to add to the
bulging accordion file that served as my writing portfolio. Maybe I’d have run
home and eagerly shared the new scrap with my mom. Or, if she was too busy, I
would have pestered one of my sisters, neither one of whom understood my zeal
for the written word but both of whom humored me, nonetheless, when I was
bursting with inspiration.
my family. It
my house. Gone.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t eventually write about it. My
family, however, will never read it.
Exactly twelve years after my high school graduation and the
fire that killed my entire immediate family in their sleep, I nervously fidget
outside the office of my brand-new editor at Thornfield Publishing in Boston. If
someone wrote this detail into a book I was reading, I’d laugh and put the
thing down. Twelve years to the day? Really? The coincidence is too hokey, too
, as the English say… to be believed by someone with even
the most willing suspension of disbelief. And if I were to write another book based
on my life (continuing where I left off in the book currently being published),
I’d change this detail to make it more believable. I’m pretty sure any editor
worth his or her salt would force me to change it, anyway.
What is it about May 23 that brings about such massive
change in my life? Is it fate? Is it destiny? Is it the result of a curse? Or
is it merely what it seems to be: an eerie coincidence? Anyway, maybe I’m
being too dramatic or putting too much stock into today’s meeting.
Or maybe my friend, Gus, is rubbing off on me, even though
last night was the first time I’ve seen him since graduate school. As much as I
love him, I’d hate to think I was turning into him. He gets all a-twitter and
sees signs and omens at the slightest provocation and flaps his hands and
croons, “Oooooh, creepy!” about 50 times a day, for occurrences as mundane as
his Burger King order ringing up as an even dollar amount. He has a regular
tarot card reader and psychic, despite the fact that he sometimes has trouble
paying the rent on his postage stamp-sized studio “apartment” in a trendy part
of Beantown. Let’s just say that staying with Gus is bringing back many of the
reasons that graduate school was such a stressful time in my life.
Back then, I thought it was simply the nature of the beast,
but having been long-distance friends with Gus for the better part of the past five
years, I’ve had an epiphany since reuniting with him last night: he’s one
high-maintenance drama queen. It makes for some hilarious Facebook status
updates, but it can wear a girl down to be in the presence of the real Dupuis.
We parted ways for the day at Starbucks a few minutes ago,
and I’m still shaking. I have a feeling it’s not from the half-caff latte I
drank, either. I knew from earlier research that the publisher’s offices were
less than a mile from Gus’s apartment. All I needed was a verbal refresher and
maybe some landmarks so I’d know I was on the right streets. But he turned it
into a recitation that ended up resembling something close to a game of Twister
with an auctioneer.
“So… You’re gonna go out there and then you’re going to make
a right at the light… right at the light, right at the light, right at the
light…. Going straight, going straight, going straight… past the fruit stand, which
a fruit stand in the winter, but it is right now…straight for a
while, straight for a while…”
So far, it sounded a lot like his love life in college.
Then he startled me with a loud, “STOP! At the butcher’s
that looks like a bakery—I totally thought it was a bakery for, like, the first
three years I lived here, until this one day, there was a hog-pig-thing hanging
in the front window, and I was like, ‘Huh? What does that have to do with
cupcakes?’ Anyway, you’re gonna cross the street there, because… well, trust
me, this is the easiest place for you to cross, because they’ve got all these shrubs
they’re growing in the middle of the street, in the median-like—probably some
environmental effort, which I’m all for, but sheesh! Sometimes it makes it hard
to get around. Then when you get to the other side, you’re going to
walkwalkwalkwalkwalk, past the shoe repair place—the nice one, not the crappy
place—past a ton of law offices, a church, a church, and another church…”
At this point, he paused to suck in a huge breath, and I
almost told him that I’d look it up on my phone, but then I noticed he was actually
sweating, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was going to all this
effort for nothing. Plus, I had to admit it was impressive how he had such a
vivid recall of all the places in his neighborhood.
“Now you’re almost there; you just have to wait at two more
crosswalks, and don’t be confused when there’s a Starbucks at one of the
intersections—you’re not walking in circles; it’s a different one; this one’s
much better, though, or I would have taken you there this morning, because
then all you’da had to do was walk next door and voila! Thornfield Publishing!
Where your future awaits!”
I smiled weakly at his enthusiasm, feeling gray and
lackluster next to him. “Okay. Got it,” I fibbed, giving him the thumbs-up.
Grabbing his messenger bag from the back of his chair, he
stood, giant coffee in hand, and said, “Now, I gotta scoot. My new boss is
about to flip her lid at what she calls my ‘little tardiness problem,’ and when
I joked, ‘No one’s complained ’til now, little missy,’ she said she did
my familiar tone, so I guess I’m on some sort of probation and
want to test this girl’s temper. You can tell she’s one of
those people who keeps such a tight rein on her emotions that someday she may
surprise the heck out of us all and poop a diamond during one of our story idea
meetings! And if that’s the case, I wanna be on her good side, if you know what
I mean.” Suddenly, he tilts his head and smiles, “She kinda reminds me of you,
come to think of it.” That makes him laugh so hard that he rocks forward at the
waist and almost spills his coffee. “Oh, shit. Now I really gotta go. Good
luck! I’ll call you on my lunch break—if I get one—to see how things went.
And he was gone, leaving a residual shaking in my hands and
the faint scent of cologne probably inspired by David Beckham or someone
equally sporty-yet-metrosexual and costing about $100 an ounce.
As soon as he was out of sight, and I was sure he wasn’t
coming back, I plugged in my current location and the publishing house’s
address into Google maps and got some straightforward walking directions. It
told me that my walk would take less than fifteen minutes, but I left the
Starbucks with thirty to spare, not wanting to be rushed and panicked if
something kept me from getting there that quickly.
Big mistake. I would have rather rushed than sit out here
with too much time to think about what might happen behind that huge wooden
door with the brass nameplate pronouncing the room beyond to be the
professional domain of:
Lucas A. Edwards, Ph.D.
I talked to my agent, Tullah, this morning, before my
hair-raising coffee shop tête-à-tête with Gus. She was extremely supportive and
encouraging, although something she let slip has been nagging me ever since: “And
so what if he’s not
about this new assignment?”
When I’d questioned the statement, she’d laughed nervously
and played dumb. “What? Oh! Nothing. Sorry… I have you confused with another
client. My bad. Listen, Jayne, I have to go. Big… meeting.” Never mind that it
was four a.m. in her west coast time zone and hardly prime time for “big
Now only a wall and a door separate me from someone who’s
pissed off at me before we’ve even met, for reasons I’m not even clear about.
And this someone is most likely a person who’s used to getting his way. And
despises anyone who prevents that from happening. Crotchety old crone who farts
dust, probably set in his ways, always on the verge of retirement but never
leaving, much to the chagrin of his colleagues.
Yeah, I can tell by the nervous look of his administrative
assistant that he’s a real piece of work. Her face looks frozen in
apprehension, like she spends so much time wearing that expression, it’s taken
up permanent residency on her face, at least when she’s in this building,
behind that desk, waiting for His Nibs to outline his latest demands. He
probably shouts them at her, too, standing uncomfortably close, breathing his
halitosis into her face, daring her to make even the slightest grimace, even
when the spittle starts to fly.
I’m wincing sympathetically for the young woman—who
introduced herself earlier as Sally—when the door swings open as if by remote
control. Nobody comes forward, but Sally glances at the open door and then says
pleasantly to me, “You can go in now, Ms. Greer.” As I pass her desk, she asks,
“Are you sure I can’t get you a glass of water, a can of soda, anything…?”
I stop and look down at her, trying to interpret the
motivation for this repeated offer. Is it my imagination or does she look like
she’s pitying me? Like she’s mercifully offering me what could be my last
Well. There’s absolutely no need for that. I’m a strong
woman who can take care of herself. I’ve done nothing but that since I was
eighteen years old. Buried my parents and my little sisters. Worked my way
through college and graduate school. Beat out sixteen other applicants for a
special fellowship in London as part of my post-graduate work. Waited tables
and delivered pizzas. Scrubbed toilets, picked up trash, and schlepped popcorn
at a movie theater so that I wouldn’t have to touch the money my parents left
me, money that I want nothing to do with, anyway.
So if this Mr. Edwards (or Dr. Edwards, I suppose) thinks
he’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever faced, he’s sorely mistaken. Maybe. And
his intimidation tactics are wasted on me. Mostly.
As I enter the office, which I notice right away is
surprisingly devoid of the expected dusty books, autographed author photos, and
ostentatious, cut-crystal awards, he turns slowly from the window, where he’s
been standing with his back to the door, looking intently at something outside
on the street way below.
“Ms. Greer,” he says flatly, giving me a half-hearted wave.
Okay, so I missed the mark on the “old and crotchety” bit.
He’s decidedly young-ish and… un-crotchety-looking. He’s quite the snazzy
dresser, too, in his gray three-piece suit, one piece of which (the jacket) is
draped over the back of his chair, therefore revealing what appear to be
solid-looking arms in a white dress shirt and a broad chest covered by a dapper
vest. If it weren’t for the scowl on his cleanly-shaven face, I’d say he was
quite handsome. If you like that brooding look. Which I don’t. Not really.
Now he sneers, and I see he has nice teeth, although they’re
wasted on someone who can’t even muster a smile when meeting someone new.
it for me, okay, Dr. Edwards? Just this once. And then at every meeting we have
after this, you can show your true colors.
A stickler for manners, I step forward and reach out my
hand, forcing him to either shake it or offend.