Authors: Debra Doxer
© 2013 by Debra Doxer
No part of this book may be
reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in
a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design by Cover
Edited by Janet
As always, this
book is dedicated to my family. Thank you for your love and support
In the darkness a flashlight
clicked on beneath the heavy winter quilt of thirteen-year-old Andrea Whitman.
She just couldn’t fall sleep until she finished her reading assignment. The
assignment wasn’t due for another week, but she had to know how
To Kill A
ended. She thought Atticus Finch was the most interesting
character she’d ever come across in a story. She would never admit this to
anyone, but maybe she had a little bit of a crush on him--even though his hair
was turning grey and he wore glasses. Her friends were all in love with Mr.
Darcy and Mr. Rochester. But she thought they were both so unlikeable at the
beginning of their stories that they couldn’t redeem themselves to her in the
end. Her friend Bethany even thought Heathcliff was sexy. But in her opinion,
Heathcliff was the worst of all.
From the very first, Atticus was
brave, honest, and forthright. He was just the way she thought a good man
should be. She admired that he always did the right thing, even if it wasn’t
the easy thing. That was what her parents had taught her and her sister Laura
to do. But she was only thirteen, so she hadn’t really had a chance to put that
into practice yet.
As Andrea continued to read, she
thought of her own father and of the boys she went to school with. Perhaps her
father had the qualities she admired in Atticus. He was honest, and she knew
that he loved her. But the boys in school were another story. They teased
her--a lot. They made fun of her dark curly hair and the fact that she always
did her homework. She saw them lying to the teachers and making up stories so
they wouldn’t get into trouble when they were caught doing something they
shouldn’t. They were loud and disrespectful to their elders. No, none of the
boys she knew were anything like Atticus. She decided that when she grew up,
she was going to find a man who possessed the admirable qualities of Atticus
Finch. She would settle for nothing less.
“I compost,” he tells me, even
though it’s a total non-sequitur. We’d been talking about work. “I give it away
for fertilizer,” he continues as his bushy, dark eyebrows move up and down with
each change in his expression.
This is our third date. It’s a warm
summer afternoon, and we’re eating ice cream cones on a park bench about a
block away from Derek’s apartment. Derek and I worked together before he left
to take a job elsewhere. All the women at my office used to lust after Derek
but he never seemed to notice. When we ran into each other about a month ago
and he asked me out, I could hardly believe it. But then we went out on a date,
and I realized very quickly that we have nothing in common. I’m not sure why
I’m even here today. That’s not true. I know why I’m here. He’s hot and he
“Do you recycle?” He waits for my
reply as he pops the last bite of ice cream cone into his mouth.
“Sure. I mean, I have to. My trash
collection service requires it.”
He nods at me. “But you would
anyway, right?” His eyes are intent on mine.
“Yeah.” I shrug before finishing
off my own ice cream. This isn’t the first time his views on the environment
and recycling have come up. By now, I understand very clearly how strongly he
feels about these issues.
“Come on,” he says. “I’ll show
you.” He stands and slips his sunglasses over his eyes.
I’m just coming to terms with the
fact that I don’t care to see his compost, or him, anymore. But I need to get
through this Sunday afternoon date. Just making an excuse and leaving would be
We quickly cover the block to his
apartment. Derek’s long legs eat up the sidewalk, and I have to practically
speed walk to keep up with him. He doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, he reaches
down and folds my hand in his.
He lives in one of many brick
brownstones that line the street. I follow him up the short stairway to the
main entrance. I’ve never been here before, and I can feel that he has
expectations of me today. I really hope this doesn’t get awkward.
After climbing three sets of stairs
inside the sweltering building, which obviously has no air-conditioning, Derek
pulls out his keys and opens the door to his place. He gestures for me to
precede him inside. As I step past him, I notice that despite the bright sun
out today, his apartment is dark and draped in shadows. I can only make out a
small kitchenette to the left of the doorway.
I feel Derek move behind me just
before a light clicks on. The walls of the apartment take shape, and I can see
a small living room with a loveseat and a wide-screen TV. Clutter in the form
of books, discarded dishware, and rumpled clothing covers every available
surface. A line is strung up across the length of the room, and what appear to
be wet clothes are hanging from it.
I turn around and watch as Derek
steps inside and goes into the kitchen area. “I use this composting bin in
here,” he tells me, pointing to a squat rectangular container sitting on the
I nod before turning back to look
at the wet laundry in the living room. “Do you always dry your clothes this
way?” I ask.
“Always. Do you know how much
energy dryers use?”
“I never thought about it.”
“You should,” he tells me. Then he
takes the lid off the composting container and the odor of rotting garbage
assaults my nose. “I put all my food scraps in here,” he explains.
I make a face and take a step back.
He laughs and replaces the lid.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he jokes as he waves the smell away
from his nose.
I smile politely in response just
as I hear a buzzing sound near my ear. I jerk back and swat away a black fly
that’s circling my head. I quickly realize that it’s not just one fly, it’s
several. “Derek, you’ve got bugs in here,” I say as I bat at another one
“I know. It’s a hazard of
composting. That’s what these strips of paper are for. They’re sticky flypaper
for catching the bugs. This is much safer than using insecticides of any kind.”
I glance around again, and this
time I notice the long narrow strips of off-white paper hanging down from the
kitchen cabinets and the doorframes throughout the apartment. They are all
completely covered with bug carcasses. My nose wrinkles in disgust.
“Um, Derek,” I begin, knowing I’ve
got to get out of here and not caring what kind of excuse I use.
“Hmm,” he answers softy. Suddenly
he is directly in front of me. Before I can register his intent, he bends down
and puts his lips on mine.
I sputter in surprise and quickly
break our connection.
His eyes pop open and he appears
confused by my reaction.
I shake my head at him. “I’m sorry. I can’t”
I know I have an incredulous
expression on my face and I don’t want to be rude, but I can’t stop the words
that come pouring out. “Derek, your apartment reeks of garbage, and it’s infested
with insects. You’ve got one of the ten plagues of Egypt happening in here.
This is not exactly putting me in the mood,” I inform him.
His eyebrows slam downward; his
mouth a straight, tight line. There is no mistaking the fact that he is
completely insulted and offended.
“I’m just going to go,” I say
quietly, taking a step back toward the door.
“That’s a probably good idea,” he
replies, crossing his arms over his chest and watching me with eyes that have
turned hard and cold.
I turn on my heels and pull the
door open. After I step out, I close the door behind me to ensure that no
insects can escape with me. Then I take the stairs down two at a time. Once I
burst outside, I gulp in the fresh air. As I head down the street in the
direction of my car, I’m processing what happened back there, and I’m not quite
sure how to feel about it yet. At least now I don’t need to have the “I’m sorry
but I’m not interested” conversation with him. I think that came across quite
clearly. A serious set of giggles are beginning to bubble up inside me, despite
the familiar disappointment that’s already settling in.
My last long-term relationship was
nearly five years ago. I’ve had several mini-relationships since then, but no
one special. Nearly all my friends, and my sister, are married or getting
married. I’m thirty. I should be worrying about finding someone at this point,
and I do. But a part of me refuses to dwell on the looming threat of being
perpetually single. Besides, there’s plenty of time to find
he even exists. That’s what I keep telling myself. Now I just have to believe
I’m early, as usual. The bar is
crowded, but there are plenty of empty tables. The after-work crowd is mainly
interested in alcohol. I can relate.
The newest hot spot, Café Blue, is
a long narrow rectangular space with soaring ceilings cut by a row of swirling
fans. The drinkers are packed together on one side of the room, and a small
group of diners is chewing together on the other side. Of course, the whole
place is painted in shades of blue. I’m here to meet my good friend Katie for
dinner. She has been dying to try Café Blue, and she made me promise not to go
without her. What she doesn’t know is that I have already been here. I came two
weeks ago with Bryn, so I now know that the food is overpriced and the service
is subpar. Bryn and I had tentative evening plans a couple of weeks ago, but in
the afternoon she left me a message asking me to meet her “at that new place
Café Blue at 8”, and then she never answered her phone again. I was stuck. I
actually met Bryn through Katie, but they’ve since had a falling out and are
mutually ignoring each other. I haven’t mentioned that I’m no longer a Café
Blue virgin to Katie.
As long as I’m here early, and in
an effort to make the best of it, I casually walk up to the bar and discreetly
angle my way in. From my last visit, I can recall several nice-looking,
suit-wearing, likely employed men hovering around. From what I can see, they
are back tonight.
Having just come from the office,
I’m wearing a pair of navy Bermuda shorts topped with a frilly white peasant
shirt. I have on a pair of uncomfortable, but flattering, strappy sandals. This
outfit is a step up from my usual Converse sneakers and T-shirts. I work in
marketing at a computer software company in Cambridge, just across the river
from Boston. The high-tech world has a very casual dress code.
I reach a hand up, checking that my
dark curly hair is still neatly contained in a clip. I’m fairly presentable, I
think, for having just walked a block to get here on a muggy August night. As
I’m attempting to make eye contact with the burly, nose-pierced bartender, I
feel someone move in beside me on the right. A deep voice with a smooth cadence
says, “I’ll get his attention for you.”
I look over and find myself
eye-level with a grey button-down shirt rolled up at the sleeves over tan
forearms, topped by a striped tie loosened at the neck. Glancing upward, I meet
a pair of smiling brown eyes shielded by trendy frameless glasses, and thick
sun-streaked hair that’s combed to the side and in perfect order. He doesn’t
have to worry about his locks springing out in all directions when the humid
summer air sneaks up on him. “Thanks.” I smile at him, astounded by how quickly
this has come about.