Authors: Cathrina Constantine
Becket appeared confident and cool behind the wheel while butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Nibbling my bottom lip, I brooded over the multitude of girls that had been passengers in his car; my so-called etiquette plunged into the pit. My nervous hands plowed into my hair, unsettling the layers.
Get a grip, stop being a wimp
Star Hallow was in full autumn regalia as we cruised along Terrace Circle. Haystacks, pumpkins, gourds, ghost, witches, goblins, and all sorts of paraphernalia bedecked homes and the main gazebo in the Circle. Prior to Mom’s murder the season had been my favorite, now it ranked lower than low.
He parked at Earl’s, the local, homespun eatery. “You’ve misplaced your tongue.” A smile lifted his cheeks. “I’ve never bored a girl to death in the first ten minutes. I think it’s a new record.” He climbed out of the car and I followed suit.
Ground water had evaporated from the previous storm, permeating the atmosphere with a sticky feeling. Unseasonably warm for the beginning of October, the bleachers would be packed on Saturday for the football game if the splendid weather remained.
I confined an errant piece of hair over my ear and hoped it didn’t resemble a thicket of chaos. As we moseyed into Earl’s I wondered if Becket was staring at my scraggly hair or my butt which looked decent in this outfit.
Earl’s is the hub for locals, and since Becket was widely known it felt like a procession. People heralded his name, he gestured hellos with a head nod. Countless eyes sized me up for their approval and I had to kill restless fingers from combing into my hair a second time. Nervous habit.
His hand pressed on my lower back, the feeling quite pleasant as he ushered me into a booth made for two. The waitress, Molly Schriven a classmate, was beside us before he had a chance to sit. A broken smile showed off her braces. “What can I get you, Becket?” Her gaze tacked on him, oozing fascination.
“Leo, what would you like?” He looked at me.
“Just coffee.” How polite, and I was falling faster than a shooting star.
“How about a doughnut or something to go with that?”
“Um…” My best method was political. “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
“Two cheeseburgers, fries, a coke and a coffee,” he said.
“Change that coffee into a coke too,” I said, and observed Molly’s blatant eye roll.
His set his arms on the table and sloped forward. “Leo, this isn’t an easy topic to broach.” He expressed with concern. “But I need to tell you something.”
Oh, no. I tensed. Whatever possessed me to think he’d been attracted to me? He’s giving me the friend talk like I gave Henry.
“I remember your mother. I had her for English as a sophomore, she was a cool teacher.” He gazed with serious eyes. “What I’m trying to say is—I’m sorry for your loss. Her murder devastated this village. She was beautiful. You look exactly like her.”
Not what I expected. “Thank you…” I squeaked. “I think.” It hit me like a wrecking ball—why I latched onto Henry. He hadn’t an inkling about my mom. In fact he never mentioned or even asked if I had a mother.
“I’ve been on a downer the past year.” I looked down at my fiddling fingers. “The anniversary of her death is coming up.”
“I noticed you’re getting your head together.” His large hand covered mine. “I didn’t know if I should’ve mentioned it.”
? When the heck did this happen? “No, that’s fine.” I forced a smile, striving for cool. I couldn’t look at him, and stared at his long fingers covering my hand.
He whispered, “She was very nice.” His gentle, sober tone drew my eyes to his face. Genuine and sincere, no joke, no sarcasm, his mouth curved just right.
Time lapsed, gazing into each other’s eyes. So perfect—like Mom was bringing us together. The magical ambiance interrupted with a sloshing coke colliding into our hands.
“Your burgers will be up in a minute,” Molly said, giving Becket goo-goo eyes.
He removed his warm hands and he pushed his spine into the booth. At the same time I wedged my fingers below my thighs and the cushioned seat.
“Would you like to talk about your mom?”
“I’ve kind of bottled things up and thrown away the bottle.”
“Understandable.” He hit the two straws on the table, shedding their wrappers, sticking one in my coke and one into his. “Have a sip.”
My throat felt dry, and like a child I sipped as told. He had reminded me of the prevalent dream from last night. In an instant it rushed my brain and a quiver chased through me. I wiped coke from my lips and started, “It happened October twenty-fifth, close to Halloween.” He angled forward crossing his arms on the table like what I had to say was beyond a doubt imperative. “I haven’t stepped foot in that house since…I slept at Nona’s until Dad rented the place we’re living in now.” I took another sip, wetting my tongue.
Becket’s features appeared taut as a wisp of pale hair fell, censoring his brow.
“I’m having a hard time living with the nightmares.” Chronicling the terror, I disconnected from reality around me. Every minute, facet of that day, even to the hearty odor, to the discovery of her torn body, the events unfolded. Opening up to him like a priest in a confessional, and didn’t know why or how, but suddenly I was in Becket’s arms. I blinked away the haze and felt scalding tears washing my face. “I really can’t remember”—hiccup—“what happened”—another hiccup—“after I found her.” ––breathe—“The doctors call it retrograde amnesia.”
I concluded by burying my wet face into his chest. He held me and stroked my hair. His palm cupped my shoulder until I stopped trembling. Sniffling, attempting to rein in my imploding emotions I reached for a napkin. He already had one in his hand offering it to me. Becket was now alerted to my lunacy.
My vision cleared to witness Molly gawking down her nose at me. Immediate and curt, Becket stood. He flipped open his wallet and thumbed dollar bills, letting them float to the table. “We’re leaving, hope this covers the check.”
“But…but…” she said, “want your burgers and fries to go?”
I slid from the booth. What surprised me, he nestled me beneath his arm like he was hiding me from the paparazzi with his hand over my face. Not blaming him for leaving without a bite to eat, I embarrassed the crap out of him. He hustled onto the sidewalk like his reputation depended on it, getting rid of the nut-job ASAP. I was crippled—in the head.
Becket settled in the driver’s seat, but didn’t start the engine. His arm came forward and with a bent finger caught a lone tear on my cheek, then he tucked the hair veiling my face behind my ear. Why so empathic? He didn’t really know me—he must hate me and my complex nature.
“I’m an ass.” His tone hushed.
Through my puffy eyelids, I peered at him.
“I hope you can forgive me?”
Like a fool I stared and scrubbed the damp napkin under my leaky nose.
Pretty much composed as he pulled into my driveway, I couldn’t wait to escape the car. When I opened the door, his fingers manacled my forearm holding me in place. “Do you feel better?” he asked.
“Yes.” I obliged him with a tragic grin. “I…I don’t know why…sorry…um…that was…
“My fault.” Liberating my arm, the pressure of his fingers remained. Toned with regret, he repeated, “Totally my fault.” He shouldered the driver’s door and crossed over to my side of the car. I didn’t move, wondering what he was doing. He snapped open the rear door and grabbed my messenger bag, slinging it over his shoulder. I’d completely forgotten about it. Together, we walked to the side entrance of my house.
My first and last date with Becket Kane.
What was strumming through his brain right now? Feeling humiliated and demure I sensed his nearness as my key slid into the lock. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what to say and turned, not meeting his eyes. “Thanks,” I muttered and chanced a peek into his face.
Guarded eyes stared down at me. Slow, like he was worried of frightening a frenzied rabbit, his hands came up. Generating a surge of stirrings, he smoothed his fingertips on the sides of my neck. Becket perched his thumbs under my chin and raised my head. My breath held as he browsed over my face like he was bearing to mind every angle and curve.
He leaned near. The coolness of his lips brushed my cheekbone. Every nerve ending in my body spluttered and sparked. The fullness of his mouth skimmed to the corner of my lips. He retreated a mere inch and our breaths mingled as he scrutinized my expression. He closed the short distance, molding his mouth perfectly to mine. An ambush of sensations detonated like the fourth of July.
I couldn’t speak even if I wanted to, though I reminded myself to breathe. Becket withdrew registering a muted throat hum. Then unhooking the messenger bag from his shoulder, he handed it off. I discerned a faint tug on the rim of his mouth as he turned away.
He accelerated down the driveway, never glancing back.
“Nona, guess what I’m calling you on?”
“Your father got you a new cell!” She guessed. “What’d you tell him?”
“The truth, I was making a call and tripped, it fell out of my hands and didn’t realize it was missing until it was too late.”
“And where did you trip and fall, hun? You’ve kind of left me out of the loop.”
I didn’t want to get Nona involved with the murder of Skipper Townsend and David Galbraith, but she’d badger me until I broke. “On the railroad tracks a few of nights ago.”
“The tracks? What were you doing over in that part of town? You usually don’t go there anymore.”
“Just went for a hike.”
“With who—not yourself.”
“I was with Henry.”
“Oh, Lord, you weren’t doing the naughty with that boy were you?”
“We were drinking beers…and stuff.”
“Leo, you’re just getting clean. Don’t let that boy drag you back to hell. See, that’s why I don’t trust him.”
“He’s not so…bad.” I’d been fooling myself and pretty sure Henry had a dark side.
“Hmmm…” She hesitated. “I’ve been waiting for some mouth-watering information. What happened with Becket? Was it so-so? C’mon girl I’m waiting here.”
“Are you going to let me speak?” I reflected on what to say. “The truth—it was dreadful.”
“Oh, no.” She groaned. “Was he arrogant or something? Did he treat you bad? If he did, I’m going to beat him to a pulp.”
A depressed chuckle rumbled in my chest. “No, Nona. It wasn’t him. It was me.” Ousting a breath into the phone, I rolled on the mattress from my stomach onto my back.
“Leo, you’re a sweet thing. How’d you mess it up?”
“You remember how everyone in the Hallow was freaked with…with Mom and all.”
“My God,” she cut in. “He threw that in your face? I’m going to kill him.”
“Please, Nona. Hear me out.” I paused until she stopped prattling. “He just said he was sorry about what happened a year ago, and he thought Mom was a cool. She was his English teacher.” I expounded on my bizarre desire to spill my guts at Earl’s, and how I developed into a blathering, weepy dope. “He probably thinks I’m insane.”
“You’re beating yourself up for nothing.” Nona reasoned. “Your crippled condition,
as you call it
, is understandable. The threat and incertitude of what transpired last year needs to be solved. It’s that cold case that needs a solution so you can get on with your life. Don’t you agree?”
“Ah-h…” I sounded unsure. “Yes, that’s it.” I sat up and glanced at my wrinkled jumper. “All I remember is waking up strapped to a gurney in the hospital. My throat was so swollen and sore from screaming. The killer was still in the house. What if I actually saw him?”
“Stop with the twenty-one questions, girl. Let’s get back to Becket.”
She flipped the conversation to get my mind off the murder. Sounding meek, I said into the cell, “He kissed me.”
“What’s that? I thought it went downhill at Earl’s? Now you’re saying Becket kissed you? You’re holding back on me.”
“I was as shocked as you are. He looked mad like my meltdown totally ruined his afternoon. He called himself an ass.” Nona yiked into the receiver. “He really did. I think he blamed himself for making me cry, bringing up Mom and all. He walked me to the door, and…and then…kissed me.”
“He kissed you. That’s all you’re giving me. No spicy details?”
“It was…it was sweet, gentle…perfect.”
“Oo-o-o-o…” she cooed. “I knew it. I knew it. He knows how to reel in the ladies.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better. And it won’t happen again.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He won’t ask me out after today’s debacle. Not after my nuclear meltdown. He felt sorry for the lunatic, that’s why he kissed me.”
“Leo, stop that nonsense. I’d come over there to straighten you out, but Reggie’s taking me for ice cream.” Then she said as an afterthought, “Hey, you can come with us.”
A pat sounded on my window. “Nona, someone’s knocking on my window.”
“Hey—do you think Becket’s come back? Check it out.”
I peeked through the levered blinds. “It’s Henry.”
“Shoot, why’s that boy coming to your window?”
“I don’t know.” Drawing open the blinds, I gave Henry the wait a minute signal. He nodded. “I got to go. Enjoy your ice cream.”
“Hey, don’t forget,” she spoke breathy like she was moving around. “Mrs. Zweigler wants us at the school an hour before the game starts tomorrow to practice that new routine. I’ll have Reggie pick you up at six o’clock, okay?”
“Sure, see you then.” Before scraping up the casement window, I tossed the cell on my bed. “Why don’t you come to the door and ring the bell like a normal person?”
“’Cause your father loathes me.”
“He does not.”
“Yes, he does. He practically told me.” Gripping the casement with two hands, he scrambled up and over the sill, tumbling onto the floor. Not as athletic as Becket and I tried not to snicker.
“Did my father say he didn’t like you?”
Henry brushed down his jeans and readjusted the cockeyed glasses on his nose. “He said it to my face over a week ago.”
“No—My father wouldn’t—”
“I’m not lying. Exact quote, ‘I don’t like you, kid. If you hurt my little girl, I’m gunning after you.’ End of quote.”
Pinching my lips, I squashed laughter. “He was being fatherly.”
“You call that fatherly?” His pockets bulged as he unzipped his gray hoodie. “I call it a threat.” He checked to ensure the door was locked before making himself comfortable on the chair. “Hey, it’s Friday night, let’s go out.”
“Your sneakers are filthy.” I scowled, spotting muddy tracks on the floorboards.
“What do you expect, your backyard is mucky.” He glimpsed his sneakers, and hitched up his shoulders.
After a significant tsk, I asked, “What’s up? Where do you want to go?”
“I have a couple of beers and some weed.” He buried his hands in his pockets and produced a goodie bag. “Let’s go to the Lucien place. We can discuss strategy for a Halloween blast.”
My brain couldn’t handle much more provoking the dead. Especially after the dream last night and then morphing into a raving berserko in front of Becket. I decided to go with my original plan. “Marcy and Blair invited me to Cheryl Ritter’s for a party.”
“Sounds decent. I’ll go with you.”
Not what I wanted to hear. Getting him off my tail without hurting his feelings could be detrimental. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” His whole body wilted looking disparaged and rejected.
“Why?” He sniffed, and wiped a finger under the frame of his glasses.
Henry needed someone to lean on, someone to love, and I wasn’t strong enough and, I didn’t love him.
He surmised on his own. “Because Kane will be there and see us together?” He stowed the goodie bag into his pocket. “I saw Kane’s car in the driveway. Your coffee date ended rather quickly.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it.” He was probing for info which was raw at the moment.
“Kane’s an egotistical jock.” He angled forward, looking scorned. “I know the type.”
“Sorry to burst your hopeful bubble, but he’s not like that.” I started piling up my books that had been strewn over my desk. “He doesn’t seem egotistical to me.”
“Damn.” He gave his head an efficient scratching like he was thinking something over. “The Homecoming Dance is next weekend and you’re going with me.”
My fingers had gripped my history textbook and I stopped in mid-air. “I haven’t made plans to go to the Homecoming Dance.”
“Now you have a date. Me.” His mouth moved, fretful like.
“I think a group of us are going together, no dates or anything like that.” A complete lie. Worst. Friend. Ever. I crossed my arms in front of my waist. “Maybe you could find someone else to go with.”
“No.” He sprang from the chair, glasses skid to the tip of his nose. He thrust them back in place. “You’re my date.”
“I don’t think so, Henry.” His fingers cinched my upper arms.
“I don’t have anybody else.” The lenses extenuated his round eyes. “You’re the only one in this whole effing world that gets me.” He squeezed my arms like a nutcracker.
“What’s wrong with you?” I cried. A mottling flush entered his face. “Stop, Henry, you’re hurting me.” He seemed to shrivel. “Maybe you can come with us,” I said, appeasing him. His fingers deceased in pressure.
Then throwing his arms in the air, they came down on his head. He paced my bedroom like a caged animal. “I need a fix.”
“Are you strung-out?” His face scrunched.
“I just need a little something to help with my nerves. I’m balled up so tight, I’m going to…”
“What have you been using?”
“Oh…whatever.” He distorted his face by scrubbing it with his hands. “Nobody will deal with me here. I’m so new.”
“Who were you getting it from?” I knew the answer before he opened his mouth.
“That Skip guy. Now the pecker is dead.”
“Did you deal with him the day he got killed?” I guessed.
He turned to stone and looked like he’d seen a ghost.