Just a quick little announcement here. These next few stories are a little more… connected than normal for this series of shorts. So… for the summer… two stories a month.
See you on August 12th!
Hot wind rolled in with the thunder. In the shade of a huge oak tree, Chelsea fought to keep the pages of her sketchbook flat. Despite the heavy air, the heat felt good after the freezing winter. That chill still sat in her bones. She stretched her legs, setting her bare feet in the sun.
A man’s amused voice blew in on the humid breeze. “When was the last time those piggies went to market?”
Chelsea didn’t even try to fight the smile. “I had a pedicure last night.”
Alex flopped down beside her, dark hair flowing down his back. “Barely. You need an appointment with a pumice stone.”
She stuck out her tongue, blowing a raspberry in his direction. He’d been the one who had put the deep purple paint on her toes. “My feet are just fine.”
A crooked smile spread across his face, warming his long, narrow features. “They are more than just ‘fine’. Or they would be…” he paused before kissing her shoulder. “If you took care of them.” He rolled over, hands under his head, and dark eyes closed. “I have a three-point perspective to finish.”
Chelsea grimaced. Technical drawing gave her a headache. Alex’s cityscapes were easy to get lost in, though. But he had no natural feel for drawing people. Their mutual deficiencies had been part of their mutual attraction. Study buddies who had turned into something more over the last month.
“Well, if it isn’t my two favorite remedial students.” Sister Mary Clarence strode over to them, a smile on her lined, sun-darkened face. She settled in the grass at Chelsea’s feet. “You still owe me sketches.”
Chelsea gestured with her sketchbook. “Getting caught up as we speak, sister.”
The nun turned a baleful eye to Alex, who promptly scrambled towards his dorm. Nobody wanted Mary Clarence getting worked up about their grades. The glare faded into a chuckle as Mary Clarence relaxed. “You look good, Chelsea.”
“And here I thought you wanted me to get caught up.” Chelsea tossed the sketchbook to the side with a laugh.
“You know I do.” Mary Clarence sighed. “I also haven’t been able to get you alone since you came back.”
Chelsea fought a sigh and won. The old nun knew her too well. “Yes, I’m still depressed, but I’m just hanging out at the house, not drinking heavily.”
“I’m not going to run again, sister. It the stress of school after Dink died. I need some time away.”
After I got him killed.
“And there’s no shame in that.” The nun’s mouth firmed into a frown. “Which is why I wonder where you went. Especially since you won’t talk about it.”
Chelsea’s heart froze. She’d known Mary Clarence would only accept silence for so long, but she’d never come up with a story the nun would believe. She certainly couldn’t tell her the truth.
There was no way to say that aloud and still be thought sane. Especially when you already had a history of mental illness. Chelsea looked everywhere but at Mary Clarence. The human minion was murder. It would be hard to claim self-defense when she’d broken into the house.
Not for the first time, Chelsea wondered who had cleaned the house. Her blood had been everywhere, but then again, multiple people had died in there. Still, there had been no outcry, no murder investigation.
“What happened?” Mary Clarence gripped Chelsea’s knee.
Chelsea took a deep breath and then swallowed, hoping a subjective truth would be enough. “I needed the time and space to kill a rather personal demon.”
The one that killed Dink.
“Yes, and I’m glad.” Mary Clarence glared at her. “But that still doesn’t tell me what you did or where you went.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. The old nun was worse than an old hound with a bone. “Jackson had a place in town. We drank. I painted. I stayed up late and slept in.”
“So his name was Jackson?” A greedy note entered the nun’s voice. “And then what happened?”
“He left a note and took off.” Chelsea didn’t care how bitter she sounded.
Mary Clarence studied her. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. He seemed to care about you.”
Maybe. He wasn’t called Jackson ‘Man-whore’ Hawk for nothing.
Chelsea closed her eyes and leaned against the trunk of the oak tree. “What brought this on?”
From the darkness, the nun sighed. “I don’t think you and Alex are a good fit.”
Chelsea opened to her eyes to glare. “You introduced us!”
Mary Clarence shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I…” She took a deep breath. “You are so like your mother. When she and your father started dating, it was very obvious to everyone how good they were together. But your mother had plans, and those plans didn’t have room for your father.”
Despite her irritation, Chelsea held her questions and listened. The old nun rarely talked without a point to make.
“So she went on her tour of Europe. And when she came back at the end of the summer, he was dating someone else. She tried, very hard, to be good about it. To rationalize, and say that she had done the leaving.” Mary Clarence grinned. “Four shots of vodka later, she had that girl on the floor and fists were flying.”
Chelsea’s jaw dropped before she burst out laughing. Her mother had always been the kindest and gentlest of souls.
Mary Clarence chuckled with her. “It took them four months to work out their issues. But you— you are very much in the same mold. So intent on rationality that you forsake your emotions, until they get the better of you.” She patted Chelsea’s leg again. “Alex is a good boy. I wouldn’t have introduced the two of you otherwise, but… are you painting?”
Chelsea shook her head before she could think.
Mary Clarence flashed a pained smile. “You have a gift. Don’t let it go to waste.” She heaved herself to her feet. “I have a class to prep for.”
Chelsea watched the nun walk away, her mind swirling. After a few moments, she still couldn’t make sense of her many thoughts. She found herself walking to her dorm room. There sat her easel, and the portrait of Jackson she started that winter.
Started was all she had done. He’d been a particularly terrible subject, always moving. She’d barely been able to get the monster hunter to sit still for the reference photos that now covered the wall.
Months later, only a few splashes of paint had been put on the canvas. Chelsea stared into the blank eyes that she wanted to paint the most vibrant green….
Her ringing phone shocked her out of her fugue state. She grabbed it, and answered without thinking, “Sorry, Alex, I’ll be down in a minute.”
A raspy woman’s voice answered, “Who’s Alex? And is he hot?”
Despite the heat and humidity, an icy chill ran down Chelsea’s spine. “Amber…”
“Don’t be pissed.” Amber sighed. “I know that letting Jackson talk me into bailing on you was super shitty. Do you have time for coffee?”
Chelsea glared at her clock. Mary Clarence’s lecture didn’t start for another hour. “Is Jack with you?”
“No.” Simple and terse, Amber’s answer only added to the tension.
Once more, Chelsea stared at the outline of Jackson Hawk. “You’re buying.”
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