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Hers to Tell Chapters 1 - 3

CHAPTER 1 I needed coffee! I pushed the metal handle to let myself out of the bookstore.  Brrrr, it’s cold out here!  It was a coo...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hers to Tell Chapters 1 - 3



CHAPTER 1

I needed coffee!
I pushed the metal handle to let myself out of the bookstore. Brrrr, it’s cold out here! It was a cool bright morning with a promising sign of warmth from the risen sun. I’d spotted a coffee shop across the street from the bookstore as the store clerks and I were setting up my spot in the store for my book-signing later today. I was glad that I didn’t have to walk far or drive around to look for some coffee. My book-signing event will begin at 1 p.m. and our setup had been completed in no time because my manager, Kay, had brought in my banners, cardboard cut-outs, and other little giveaways the day before. The snacks and drinks would be brought in at twelve noon by a catering company. Everything looked ready to go and the bookstore was preparing to open up for the day.
Outside was already bustling with people walking, biking, and driving. It was rush hour and the chaotic sight of the street intimidated me and my decision to cross the road. The wisest thing was to walk a couple of blocks to the traffic lights and use the zebra crossing. I imagined walking that far in my high heels and that didn’t seem like a pleasant idea, so I looked across the street instead, hmmph. I decided not to take the long walk because my little toe had already started to throb, and my day, which promised to be a long one, hadn’t even begun. I would cross the road carefully. I looked to the left and saw the cars begin to pile up in their lanes. I noticed the light had turned red and it was a good time to cross the road. I crossed swiftly in between cars, half walking and half running. I exhaled loudly when I got on the sidewalk and then to the path right in front of the coffee shop. That wasn’t so bad.
To the left and the right of the entrance were tables and some of them were already occupied with people drinking coffee and eating pastries, and some reading the paper. A man dressed in a navy blue suit was reading the Miami Herald. We’ve still got it, I smiled.
I opened the door and entered the coffee shop, inhaling the strong smell of brewing coffee. I could already feel myself wake up due to the aroma, because I believe my subconscious links the smell of coffee to alertness. I got in line and looked for somewhere to focus my gaze. When I’m in a place with people closely packed, I typically find it hard to look at their faces. In fact, I had tried to work on that with a speaking coach in college. I knew that one day I would have to speak to people, and I needed to learn to engage them by looking in their faces. Today happens to be one of those days. I brushed the thought out of my mind; I’d tackle the situation in the afternoon when the time came.
“Can I get a medium vanilla latte with soy milk, please?” I asked the clerk.
“Sure. Would you like anything else?”
“No, that’ll be all, thank you.”
“Okay. What’s your name?” the girl asked as she got ready to write it on the cup.
“Cara.”
She scrawled it quickly and then passed the cup to another girl. “Okay, Cara, three ninety-nine.”
I gave her my credit card.  When she handed me back the card and my receipt, I took a quick glance around and found a seat in the middle of the room. I walked over there and sat down. I kept busy, reading some work articles on my phone. My name was called in a few minutes.
“Thank you,” I said as I took my coffee drink from the counter.
I took a sip of the hot delicious drink, momentarily going to coffee heaven and back, as I pushed open the door of the coffee shop and stepped outside. I stood there for a second, savoring the taste, as the cool breeze blew on my face. Then I realized where I was and regained my composure. I walked to the edge of the sidewalk, waiting for the cars to slow down so I could cross and go back to the bookstore.
There was a shrieking child coming from my right with his mother pulling him along; trying to make him walk faster. I could see the irritation on the faces of people sitting outside, especially those who were reading.
The woman entered the coffee shop with the crying boy and I thought I heard a collective sigh. I waited patiently for the cars to slow down and took another glorious sip of my coffee drink. Then I heard the child’s voice again. This time he seemed to be howling as though something were hurting him.
I turned slightly to look back to see what was going on and then someone pushed me and I staggered into the street, falling on both hands and knees. My cup of coffee spilled in front of me, splashing on my face, neck and shirt. My wallet fell slightly beyond my reach and I didn’t know where my cellphone was.
I was too panicked to think at the moment and I couldn’t seem to be able to move my limbs. The ground seemed blurry, not as a result of my contact lenses, but of shock, and even though I willed myself to get up and escape the oncoming vehicle, I just couldn’t.
I was frozen in place as I awaited my ill-fate.  I could hear the honking of the approaching vehicle and screams behind me. Weirdly enough, I could not hear the little boy anymore and then, suddenly, I was yanked back by the neck of my shirt into the arms of a stranger.  He smelled like citrus.
When he pulled me off the road, I turned around, eyes shut tightly, and held onto him for dear life as we both landed butt down on the sidewalk. I didn’t think about looking up to acknowledge the person who had just saved me from being road-kill. I just stuck to him like a parasite. I realized how lucky I was that he’d been near enough to pull me away from the road before I got hit by the oncoming vehicle.
I was shaking in his arms while he murmured, “You’re safe now, you’re safe now.”
He had a husky voice that somehow was soothing. He didn’t peel me away from my tight hold on his T-shirt. He didn’t complain as I left a large tear and makeup stains on his white T-shirt. He just rubbed my back gently, which helped my heart rate go down, as his also calmed down.
As I relaxed, my senses began to work again, and I could hear hushed voices of surprise and admiration. I could feel people surrounding us. Most of all, I heard the condemnation of the mother who was telling her child that he would have been responsible for killing “that lady,” and the cops would have taken him to jail. I rolled my eyes even though it stung, Jail, yeah right.
I slowly detached myself from the man, sniffling as I looked at him for the first time. I painstakingly kept my facial expression bland as I tried to control my thoughts. But then I said to myself that if I appeared flustered, no one would judge me, because they would blame it on the near-death experience and not on the drop-dead gorgeous face that I was looking at.
“You’re okay?” he asked.
I nodded, thinking, Oh, yes, I am.
He got up and took both of my hands and pulled me up. Something surged into my hands like vibrating pins were pricking them, so I shook my hands from his and put them behind my back and rubbed them. I was still slightly unsteady, but I was completely functional with my five senses alert. Gosh, my knees are killing me.
“I’m sorry,” I said to him, pointing at his T-shirt. It was a mess.
He looked down at it and shrugged. “I’m just glad you’re in one piece,” he said, smiling charmingly.
“Me, too,” I looked at the ground, hot-faced and shy. Then I remembered I didn’t have my wallet and cellphone, and started to search for them.
“What’s wrong?”
I looked up at him, almost tempted to wipe his perspiring face before I remembered that he had asked me a question. “I can’t find…”
“Looking for these?” A man, who had been watching wide-eyed, handed me the wallet and cellphone. Thank goodness the screen didn’t crack. I thanked him. Then took stock of my appearance and frowned. Coffee was spilled on my light blue shirt; I could tell my makeup was smeared and the knees of my cream colored pants were bloody and dirty. Great! I was trying to decide what to do next, when the woman, and her child who was now sobbing silently with a trembling mouth, came toward me.
“I am terribly sorry,” she said to me, red-faced. “I can’t explain the demon that got into him this morning,” she pointed to the boy, who looked like he was about six years old. “He has been acting out since I refused to give him cake for breakfast, and I don’t know what got into him to push you like that. I am very sorry.” Then she looked at her son with a frighteningly, angry face. “Brendan, come over here and apologize to this lady that you almost killed this morning?”
I looked at the little boy and felt sorry for him. He was pale, as though he had been ill and was just recently recovering. His eyes were red-rimmed and swollen from so much crying, and he couldn’t stop his sniffles.
“Does anyone have a paper napkin or tissue, please?” I asked.
A lady brought out a pack from her purse and gave me a couple. I gave one to the little boy and told him, “Blow your nose.”
He hesitated and then took it from me.
What do you say, Brendan?” his mom screamed, startling me as well as the boy.
I heard a tiny “thank you,” before he blew his nose with so much force that his eyes bulged. I couldn’t help smiling at him, and I could see his stance relax a little when he looked at me. He finished wiping his nose and looked me straight in the eyes. So bold for a little boy, I thought. 
“I am sorry for pushing you, Ma’am,” he said to me.
“Thank you, Brendan. Be a good boy, okay?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
       “It’s okay,” I said to his mother.
       “Do we have to wait for the police or something?” she asked.
       “No, no, no,” I said hurriedly. “I have an event and I have to get back to prepare. It’s not a problem, nobody died,” I said, smiling and trying to lighten the mood.
       Surprisingly, she smiled. Wow, she really has a beautiful face. I was inclined to tell her to smile more often, but I kept my mouth shut.
       I turned to the man who’d saved me. He was leaning on one of the tables and staring at me, then he walked toward me. I wanted to shake his hand, but mine was sticky, so I didn’t.
“Thank you so much. Umm, what’s your name?” I asked, “Just in case the police want a statement,” I explained slyly.
       He frowned, and then he got what I meant and smiled. “I’m Jet.”
“Umm, cool name.” He shrugged. “I’m Cara,” I said.
“It’s nice to meet you. So you said you have an event?”
I nodded.
“Where is the event – just in case the police ask?” he said, feigning seriousness.
I laughed and pointed to the bookstore. “Right there. I’ll be signing books. But first, I need another latte.”

-----

I walked out of the coffee shop with a fresh cup of vanilla soy latte, and sighed with relief when I noticed that the crowd had dispersed. It was bad enough when I entered the coffee shop and people were gawking at me. The server even asked me if I was okay at least three times.
Feeling self-conscious about my appearance and ignoring the glances, I looked forward to getting back to the bookstore. I was sure by now the store clerks had heard the story of the “almost-death” of their fast-selling author. I just wanted to go and get my purse and look for the nearest clothing store in order to do something about my appearance. Funny enough, my painful heels had survived the whole ordeal, leaving only a slight scratch on the pointed tip of the left shoe. I walked to the sidewalk planning to cross the road but feeling uneasy, and wondering if I should walk to the traffic lights instead and use the zebra crossing.
“Hey.”
I turned, and it was Jet.
“Hi,” I responded.  
“Would you like to cross the road with me?” he asked, taking my hand in his. “I’ll take those.” He took my cellphone and wallet with his free hand.
I smiled and as I held tight, my fingers began to feel funny. I loosened my grip a little bit, but that motion only sent a wave of something through my spine. I exhaled heavily. Jet shifted slightly, and I noticed a lengthy scrape on the side of his forearm, just below his elbow.
“Do you know you’ve been injured?”
He frowned at me and looked at his arm. “Oh, that, yes, I’ll take care of it later.”
“No, you should take care of it now,” I said, concerned, because the wound looked slightly ugly with dried crusted blood on it.
“Okay, I’ll take care of it after we cross the road,” he said as a smile played on his lips.
We walked to the edge of the sidewalk and waited for the cars to slow down. There were some frowns from people driving and I suspected that I looked like a drowned cat. I hadn’t freshened up my face after the incident or wiped myself down.
“And you have to make sure you take care of your knees.”
I looked at my knees and the blood stain wasn’t bad. Probably a small wound. But then any kind of wound, for me, is not small.
“Sure,” I responded.
I looked at Jet and was consoled that at least he made up for both of us in the looks department at the moment. Apart from his stained T-shirt, he still looked clean, and his disheveled hair only added to his charm. As we waited quietly, hands still linked, I carefully took a sip of my coffee. He didn’t say anything and I felt the need to make conversation.
“Is it a nickname?” I asked.
“What, my name?”
“Yes.”
“No, it’s my real name.”
“Oh.” I wondered if it was because his hair was so dark that it was almost blue.
“I was actually named that because of my hair color.”
“Ha!” I exclaimed.
He chuckled. “Here we go.”
He led the way as we quickly crossed the road to the sidewalk in front of the bookstore. I let out a deep breath that I hadn’t known I’d been holding.  He heard me and turned and looked at me. He dropped my hand and touched my face, wiping what I thought must be smudges left from my makeup.
“You’re okay. Today was not your day to leave the land of the living.”
Weird way to put it, but I smiled because it truly was the wrong time to leave. My book had just become extremely popular and was doing very well in sales. I looked at his face and really noticed his features for the first time. His eyes were dark; a dark brown maybe because they were so deep-set that the light couldn’t reach his irises to show his eye color. He had a long nose that was round on the tip, which almost gave him a boyish look, but the hardness of his chin transformed his face, making him look older. His fuller lower lip added to the softness of his face and I prayed silently that he wasn’t a “big baby.” These days the boys look so much older and I wasn’t ready to deal with a “robbing the cradle” situation.
No, he definitely falls in the late-twenties category, I tried to convince myself. Why not ask him? I thought. I decided I would ask him later, because I didn’t want to spoil my fun just in case he turned out to be very young. I cleared my throat.
“Umm, here we are,” I said, pointing to the bookstore. “I can’t thank you enough for saving my life.”
“My pleasure,” he said, gazing at my face. I marveled at how comfortable he seemed, just staring at my face. Of course I looked down.
“Oh, yeah, here,” he gave me back my wallet and cellphone.
“Thanks. Umm, do you mind coming in for a few minutes to get that cleaned?” I said, pointing at his arm. “They should have a first-aid kit.”
We walked into the store and one of the store clerks, I think her name was Jane, came running toward us.
“OMG, OMG, are you okay, Miss Smith?”
“I’m fine, thank you. Do you guys have a first-aid kit?”
“Yeah, I’ll get it.”
She dashed away, disappearing between bookshelves and then I heard a door close. I turned back to see Jet looking at me peculiarly. He changed his facial expression so quickly that I thought I might have imagined what I saw. But then, I ogled him and giggled inwardly, enjoying looking at his great physique. The first phrase that came to my mind was “neatly carved.” I couldn’t help subjecting him to my writer’s mind, and I just thought how perfectly proportioned he looked. I guessed that he was slightly over six feet tall, because I am five feet, seven and a half inches tall, and adding my heels, which were a little bit over four inches, I was level with his eyes. He was toned and had the build of someone who was strong, but not a gym rat. His skin was clear, and I had noticed a birthmark behind his left earlobe when we had stood side by side earlier. He was plainly dressed in white T-shirt, dark blue jeans, and black work boots, but I could tell he took his appearance seriously because of the fit of his clothing. His T-shirt was snug and his jeans perfectly sized, making his boots look unusually large but undeniably fitting him perfectly.  He stood there staring at me as I stared back.
“Here it is,” I jumped slightly, startled by Jane, who handed me a white metal box with ‘first-aid’ written on the top.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay, thanks.”
I opened the box and searched its contents, pushing away bandages and aspirin tablets.
I picked out antiseptic wipe packets, antibiotic ointments, and band-aids and turned to Jet to take his arm.
“I’ll do it,” he said, not looking at me. Okay. He took the contents from my hand but when our hands touched, we both flinched. It was like static, but it didn’t hurt, though it made us jolt and I dropped almost everything on the floor.
“Sorry,” I apologized.
“It’s fine,” he said, glancing quickly at me and then bending to pick up the packets.
What was that?
Jet acted as though nothing had happened, so I refrained from saying anything either, and just watched as he tore open the packet that contained the wipe. I suddenly remembered where I was as I saw the door of the bookstore open. People had started coming in.
“Umm, Jet,”
He looked at me.
“Thank you again. I have to go and do something about the way I look before it’s time for my event.”
“Yeah, okay. Do you need some of these for that?” he asked, pointing at my knees.
“No, I’ll take care of it when I change my outfit. Thanks.”
“Okay, well, it was nice saving you,” he smiled and his hand came up, which he then dropped back into the box before I could shake it. So I quickly dropped mine, too.
“Thanks,” I said. I’m not sure why I didn’t walk out immediately. I guess I was expecting something else; for him to ask for my number or give me his, probably. But, he didn’t do it. I gave him a nod and made my way toward the exit at the back of the bookstore that led to the parking lot.



CHAPTER 2

Before I jumped into the shower, I glanced at myself in the mirror again. I had looked at my face in my car mirror when I sat down and tried to latch my seatbelt, and had almost screamed out in horror. I looked like someone who had just been exorcised.
Here in my bathroom mirror, my hair was in every direction, and the sunlight that came in through the window enhanced the golden streaks, making it look shinier than it really was. My face looked like I had painted stripes on it, due to the faint lines that were left behind from my eyeliner and mascara. I proceeded to take out my contact lenses.
Before I’d looked at the car mirror, I’d planned on stopping at a store nearby to pick up new clothes. But I was hesitant because clothes shopping took me forever. My body structure is interesting; one of those who is smaller at the top and bigger at the bottom. My little B-cup boobs and large hips, made me shop at different stores most of the time just to put together an outfit. I knew I didn’t have time for shopping. Then, when I saw my face in the mirror, I knew I had to drive back home. Good thing my drive home from Downtown was only about eight minutes.
I welcomed the warm water on my face, ignoring the stings here and there on my body, especially my knees. As I recalled all that had happened this morning, I knew I’d been incredibly lucky. I will call my parents after my book-signing and tell them. I thought of Jet and I had a pang of disappointment that our encounter was so short-lived.
When I moved to Florida from Utah, I’d left behind the heartbroken girl who’d lived a cool and collected life in beautiful surroundings, with friends and family. Miami was a way to say bye, bye to a place I loved with a mix of great and horrible memories. I still had some love for Foothill in Salt Lake City, Utah, but Overtown in Miami was the change that I needed and the opportunity to grow up away from family.
The differences between the places enabled me to truly leave my old life behind. Now I lived in a city that couldn’t be compared in beauty to my former hometown, but was filled with bustling activities and a slightly acceptable rudeness from the people.
I had loved Miami the first time I’d visited when I was in college, and still loved it now, although, I wasn’t thrilled about what the weather did to my wild mane and my skin. I’ve lived in this city for almost three years now, and I have learned a few tricks about how to manage the hot and humid weather, which has to do with lots of sunscreen and anti-frizz hair products.
As a child, I was diagnosed with a mild form of albinism, which is lucky. I don’t burn as easily as a full albino since I have some pigment and my skin allows for a slight tan. My biggest issue is my sensitivity to bright light, and I’ve tried to manage it with dark glasses and contact lenses. I have hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes the color combination of blond and gold, with grey eyes. But I apply dark shades of eyebrow pencils and mascara to tame my unusual look. This helps in easing the stares that I usually get when I go natural, which means that my eyebrows almost match the color of my skin and therefore appear nonexistent on my face.
I am the middle child of five girls and they all have darker complexions with brown eyes, except our last sister, who has hazel eyes. What’s that saying about the middle kid being the odd one out? Yes, I always feel extremely odd in the midst of my family, and I notice that my father goes out of his way to make me fit in.
When we are out and about and people look at me oddly, he draws me into an embrace or holds my hand, to show that I belong in the family. As a kid, I didn’t notice the difference, until an uncle jokingly asked my mother who she had cheated with to bring forth an angel like me. I still did not get the joke until my first sister, Celeste, said I wasn’t an angel, only lighter and weird-looking. Jealous-much.
That was the first time I noticed that I looked different from everyone in my family and it bothered me. My father, Jeremy, is the next nearest light-skinned person in our family. Compared to me, he looks dark because he has sort of a caramel complexion, but I resemble him more than my other sisters do. I have his facial features and body structure, excluding his height of six feet. I have the slightly round face and full lips of my dad; the medium build and large calves, too. He has brown hair and the biggest nose in the family, which we all joke about. I have my mother’s small nose, though, which my dad said looks like a button. I stand at five feet seven and a half inches, and yes, the half means a lot to me.
My mother, Flora, is a coffee-skinned beauty with long bones and elegant posture, and I’ve always been jealous of her long legs. My first sister, Celeste; second sister, Bridget; and fifth sister, Hazel, all lean toward my mother’s body shape and complexion, but my fourth sister, Zoey, is shorter at five feet, five inches and slightly chubby.
In college, people never knew that I had two siblings who attended the same school with me, because my sisters didn’t act like they knew me, and I didn’t bother telling anyone that we were related. I kept to myself most of the time, a tomboy, hanging out with a few guys and reading the latest comic books.
Celeste, and Bridget aka Bebe, were ‘fashionistas’ and couldn’t hang out with a sister who preferred sneakers to platform sandals. They had always been very close to each other and were one year apart in age. They almost looked like twins with a slight difference. Celeste was an inch taller than Bebe, and had a higher forehead and scanter hair than Bebe.
When I was in my freshman year studying Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Celeste was already in her final year and Bebe was a junior. Zoey was in high school and always came back home crying from being bullied. This complaint stopped when Celeste went to her school and gave the bully a piece of her mind. I’ve always considered Celeste the big, strong, sister, even though she didn’t look like it physically. She had a weapon though, which was her mouth and she could use it well.
Hazel, our baby sister, seems to grow an inch every time I see her. She is gangly and was the same height as I was when she turned eleven. At birth her name was Dora, but my parents soon changed her name because of the color of her eyes. She doesn’t look like either of her names to me but I see her more as a Hazel than a Dora.
All five of us have come a long way since my freshman year in college. Celeste, now twenty-eight years old, got married last year and lives in San Antonio, Texas. Bebe, twenty-seven years old, is in fashion school in San Francisco, California. I just turned twenty-five years old and became a full time writer last year here in Miami, Florida. Zoey, twenty-two, and Hazel, eighteen, go to school in Salt Lake City, Utah, and live with mom and dad in Foothill.



CHAPTER 3

I took a deep breath as I parked behind the bookstore. I chose this parking spot because when I left the bookstore earlier, I’d seen a couple of vans across the street that looked like news vans. I didn’t want that kind of attention right now, and besides my workplace would appreciate the scoop first before other newspapers.
It was just a few minutes after twelve, giving me some time to calm my nerves. I don’t think I’m a bad public speaker, and I interact well enough with people, well, as long as they’re not directly in my face.  But the events of earlier this morning seemed to have left me a bit shaken. The shower helped a bit, but thinking about the close call of my near death made me shiver. I had to consciously try to forget it by chanting, “You are alive and well.” I got out of my car with determination, and slowly made my way to the bookstore to ease my hurting toes.
       “Oh, Yay! Welcome back, Miss Smith, you look lovely.” That was Jane.
       “Thanks. How is it going?” I asked, even though I could clearly see the crowd and the long line of people helping themselves to treats that were arranged on tables joined together on the far end of the bookstore. There was the beginnings of excited chatter as people noticed me.
       “It’s going great,” she smiled happily, showing shiny white teeth.
I still had time before the event was to begin, so I went to the restroom close to the office, which was only for employees, but I was a special guest so I could use it. I needed a few minutes of quiet time before going out to mingle.
The restroom had a single toilet and a sink and was moderately clean, ignoring the loose tissue paper on the floor. It smelled like the generic flowery chemical scent of public restrooms. I wasn’t there to use the toilet so I just stared at my reflection in the mirror. My appearance was clean and sharp. I had packed my curls into a bun as opposed to how I’d left it flowing earlier in the day. I had reapplied my makeup, but left out the dark eye-shadow I’d used this morning. I had changed my contact lenses to a brown color, which gave me a calm demeanor. This time my shirt was a dark green and I wore grey pants. The pants were loose enough not to rub on the band-aids I had on my knees. I was ready and had almost everything I was going to say memorized. I had already done this seven times before. This bookstore here in Downtown Miami was my eighth venue in Florida after my book became popular, and I had out-of-state book signings already lined up. There was a knock on the door.
       “Hi, Miss Smith, there are people here to see you,” Jane said.
       “Okay,    I’ll be right out.” My phone started to ring just as I reached for the door knob. It was my mom.
“Hey, Mom?”
“Cara, dear, how are you? Are you okay? I saw the news. Are you at home? I hope you have cancelled the event and you’re resting at home.”
“Mom, Mom, Mom!” I couldn’t tell if she could hear me through all her questions so I had to yell, “MOM!”
“Cara.”
“Mom, I’m okay. In fact, I don’t have any scratches on my skin, can you believe it?” Liar. “I’m great, Mom,” I said with all the conviction I could muster in my voice.
       “But, Cara? You just went through…”
       “Mom, I’m fine. I have to go, okay? I’ll call you after the event.” I didn’t wait for her to say anything more. “Bye, Mom, love you.” I hung up. I exhaled loudly and could picture her face, wide-eyed and worried.What did she mean about ‘the news?’ I guess I was right, they were news vans.
“Sorry,” I said as I came out of the restroom, seeing Jane leaning on the wall near the door.
“It’s fine. They’re waiting in the office.” She led the way.
“Who are they?” I asked, a bit confused.
“Cops, I think they’re here because of your near accident this morning.
“Oh.”
She pushed open the whinny door revealing two men in uniform sitting to our left. They both stood up as we entered.
       “Hi,” I said, shaking hands with both men, one after the other. The cop nearest to me, a thin man with a sleepy eye and a perfectly fitted uniform nodded and said, “Corporal Dex Haggar.” The other cop, the opposite in terms of stature with buttons threatening to pop from his shirt, said “Hi” back, with a soft voice, and introduced himself as Corporal Steve Hensen. I moved a chair from underneath the desk and placed it opposite them, and as we all sat down, Jane took her leave.
       “We’ll make this quick because we can see you’re busy around here,” Corporal Hensen said.
I nodded.
“There was an incident earlier today and we got a few calls from reporters talking about your falling on the road; another said you were pushed; and a few have started saying there was an attempt on your life.”
       Whoa. That shook me a little bit. “Um, um...” I stuttered.
       “Well, Ma’am, Cara Ella Smith, right?” Corporal Haggar addressed me.
“Just Cara is fine,” I said to him.
“Okay, Cara. This is why we’re here to take your statement, so we can put a stop to the rumors before they blow out of proportion. The police all over the city are in debt to you for your brilliant help. So if there is an attempt on your life, we have to be on alert.
       But I didn’t help the police, my book did.
       “Well, actually, I was pushed, mistakenly, by an upset kid, and he and his mother apologized.
       “Okay. Can you tell us how everything happened before your encounter with the kid and after?” Corporal Haggar asked.
       “Sure.” So I told the corporals everything I remembered, from the moment I bought my drink to when I spotted the crying kid as I was ready to cross the road. I told them about Jet, and could feel the pang of regret in the pit of my stomach, but I ignored it.
“Do you have any more information on this Jet person?” Corporal Hensen asked.
       You mean if he gave me his number, no, he didn’t! “No, I don’t,” I said, feeling slightly annoyed.
       “Okay, thank you, Cara,” Corporal Haggar said, and Corporal Hensen also said thanks.
       “Thank you,” I said to both of them as we all filed out of the office.
Jane found me and was told me that all my reading materials were set on the lectern. I looked worriedly at the window to see if the reporters were still out there, and Jane, sensing my concern, said, “Our manager is not going to let them bother you. They can only come in if they want to buy books or stay for the book signing,” she smiled.
I exhaled audibly.

-----

“I’m sure you all have heard of the fun and equally disturbing stories out there of how I got inspired to write my book, Unfolding His Darkness,” I said as I looked at the listening crowd.
“Some have gone as far as saying that I was an ex-girlfriend of Dylan Knifer. I have said and continue to say that I had never known Dylan Knifer or even heard of the murders he was responsible for, when I was writing Unfolding His Darkness. My book was based on a combination of television cases, historical serial cases, and storylines that I made up. I just did a lot of research to make sure it was authentic.
“Detective Abram Jonah had a lucky break when he read my book, and used it as a guide that aided in the capture of Dylan Knifer. I am not a detective. I don’t have any training in detective work. I’m just someone who is fascinated with solving mysteries, and I wrote this book with that passion. I know that as long as Detective Jonah’s story about using my book as reference is told, people will come up with their own tales of how I got inspired to write my book, even when it clearly states that it is fictional. I will keep correcting their notions as best I can.
“I’m glad you’re all here.  I will tell you a little about the day I decided to write Unfolding His Darkness and the particular event that triggered it. I will also read my favorite scene, take questions, and sign some books.
“I had moved to Miami just two months after graduating from college. I got an internship with Miami Herald, which was great for me because I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know the kind of writer I would be. I thought I’d start out as a contributor on the paper and then narrow down my interests, but I was hired for my editing skills and so that’s what I did on a daily basis.”
I looked around and noticed that everyone seemed to be engrossed in my tale. Customers that had come in for other books, seemed to have stopped nearby when I was talking about Detective Jonah. His name had become very popular on the Miami news stations for his discovery of the suspect in some cold cases that had troubled the Miami law enforcement agencies.
“One day, on my way back from work, I stopped at the fish market. The parking space I found was a few blocks from the shop and as I walked toward it, I saw a knife dropped carelessly near the entrance of a flower shop. It was past five in the evening but it was still bright out. I had passed the knife, but on a second thought, I walked back to look at it. I noticed something like blood on its blade.” There were murmurs from a few listeners.
       “If the knife was in front of the fish market, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But it was in front of a flower shop. So I stopped and looked at the entrance of the shop. I couldn’t see anyone close by, but I could hear some racket coming from within. I wasn’t sure if it was a life-threatening situation or just some people keeping busy.” The bookstore was very quiet at this point, and I noticed a lady seating cross-legged in front, her eyes wide and intent on what I was going to say next.
       “I contemplated calling the cops, but then I wondered if I was just being silly. My head was invoking different scenarios and none was good. I thought of robbery; I thought of stabbing; I even thought of the flower-shop owner owing the cartel and how they were there to take their money back.” People started to laugh at this, but you could see their hunger for me to get to the point.
       “So I decided to walk slowly into the flower shop as I punched 911 on my phone and placed my thumb ready on the call button. Oh, I was dripping in sweat, so much so that I paused to wipe my eyes before the salty drops got in them. When I lowered my hand, a man was right in front of me, staring.” I heard a collective inhale of breath from my listeners.
       “It took all I had in me not to scream, trust me. The man noticed he had startled me and apologized. Then he looked past me and said, ‘Oh, there it is.’ He was talking about the knife and he went to pick it up, and then reached out and picked up something else from a pot that I noticed had no flower in it. He made his way back to me with the knife in one hand and a pomegranate in the other.”
The laughter from the listeners was deafening. I saw the relief in a few peoples’ eyes, and I saw that a couple of people, especially a man who leaned on the wall by my right hand side, looked like I had cheated them. He wasn’t impressed, and I realized that he was hoping for blood. I ignored this; after all, the majority of the crowd preferred the comic relief of the situation.
       “What did you do then?” someone asked. The bookstore became quiet once more.
       “Well, the man asked me if I was interested in anything, so I quickly asked about a plant that I thought he probably wouldn’t have available, the calla lily, and I was right. When he said he didn’t have it, I thanked him and continued my walk to the fish market.” Some people continued to laugh at this.
       When the crowd had calmed down a bit, I proceeded with the program of the day. “Now that you all know what inspired me to write Unfolding His Darkness, which I started to write that night by the way, I’ll now read my favorite scene.” I cleared my throat and opened to the bookmarked page.
       “I’m reading from page one hundred and ninety-two,” I smiled a little as I heard myself. I sounded like I was about to read a Bible passage at a church service. I cleared my throat again.
      
…he heard sounds of someone grunting, coming from the first stall. How he pitied the poor bugger, food poisoning, he guessed. He shifted to a urinary farther from the stall because he didn’t want to be hit directly with the stench of shit.

“My apologies for saying that word, I said.” I heard someone hiss while a lady at the back prompted me to continue.
      
He sighed as he emptied his bladder which had been filled for more than an hour. He hadn’t been able to take a break from surveillance, not when he was tipped off that someone who matched the description of Folly had entered the Barber shop. But after waiting for almost thirty minutes with no sign of anyone who looked like Folly coming out from the Barber shop, he decided to check it out. The Barber shop was busy and only two barbers gave him a nod when he entered. He stood for a minute, looking around the whole shop and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. So he walked up to the closest barber that had acknowledged him when he came in.
“Hi, I’m Detective Sunni. I just have a quick question for you.” The barber nodded and paused from combing his customer’s hair.
“Do you recognize this man?” Detective Sunni unfolded the sheet with the sketch of the suspect and showed it to the barber. The barber bent to peer at the paper, squinting, and then raised his head and said no.
“No one resembling this man has been here today?” Detective Sunni asked.
       “No,” the barber responded.
       “Okay,” Detective Sunni said, and while he was inclined to ask the others, he needed to pee badly. He looked at a door at the end of the room, but it was labeled, ‘Employees only.’ He said thanks to the man and was on his way out of the Barber shop, his mind intent on looking for the closest public restroom. There was a Chinese restaurant next door and he walked in, striding in the direction toward which an arrow had indicated that the restrooms were located. It was in this restroom as he relieved himself, that he heard the man grunting in the first stall. When Detective Sunni zipped up his fly, he made his way to the sink. As he washed his hands, he saw the reflection of the man’s shoes through the mirror. They were battered black work boots that were stained with something sticky on them. But that wasn’t the thing that caught Detective Sunni’s attention. It was the brand of the boots. His father had the same ones and they didn’t make them anymore. While Detective Sunni was worried about the age of the person who was going through an obviously painful ordeal in the stall, he realized that the common factor in two murders out of five was the soles of the boots he had recognized. When the boot prints were discovered at both murder scenes, he’d been pleased. All five murdered victims shared a commonality and Detective Sunni had prayed that the suspect would still be wearing the same boots. These boots were very uncommon, as they were specially made for a battalion that had returned from the war, and were part of the welcome home packages that they’d gotten. His father was one of the recipients. He knew that the murderer wasn’t the original owner of those boots since the youngest recipient would be in his seventies. A seventy-year old would not have had the strength to commit such grisly murders. The research team had narrowed down the list to eighteen men that could possibly have inherited the boots from their parents or grandparents. The list had been narrowed further to five, and then an eye-witness account had helped narrow the list down to only one man, known as Folly. Folly had not been seen anywhere, unfortunately, and the police had sent out a sketch and description on television. A call came in about a possible identification, and Detective Sunni was dispatched to the area since he was already close by. He was ordered to only do surveillance and wait for reinforcement. As he washed his hands, he realized that he did not smell shit, but blood. This man might be Folly and he has killed again, only this time, he is wounded, thought Detective Sunni.
      
“Thank you,” I said, as some people sighed and they began to clap.
I opened the bottle of water on my lectern and drank two gulps. As I swallowed, my eyes rested on someone who was looking intently at me and I almost choked. After two hard coughs and wiping my mouth with the napkin that Jane handed to me, I looked at Jet again. I could have sworn he wasn’t there earlier, but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. He had changed his T-shirt to another clean white one. His hair looked wet, so he may have taken a shower, which meant he didn’t live too far away. Why I am I thinking of where he lives? I scolded myself silently.
I couldn’t see his wounded arm from where I stood, but he looked as good as new. After catching myself, I looked away from where he stood and didn’t stare in his direction again. There were a couple of people standing close to the entrance. The way they were dressed gave them away as from the media. I looked away from them, paying them no heed. After all, I didn’t have to answer any of their questions.
       “The floor is opened for questions now,” I said to the crowd. “I know we’re not in grade school, but please raise your hands so I can choose you and answer your questions in an orderly manner.”
I snuck a peek at Jet and this time he was looking at his phone. I’m not sure why I felt dismayed at that. Surely he couldn’t just keep looking at me forever. Get a grip, Cara.
       “Hi, yes, you in the bright green shirt.”
       “Hi,” the lady greeted cheerily. “My name is Monica and my question is about the clues that Detective Jonah said he used from your book.”
       Oh dear. “Go on,” I said to Monica.
       “Okay, so, in your book, Folly, that’s the serial killer if you’re not aware,” Monica said as she addressed everyone in the bookstore, “and I apologize for the spoiler but I have to ask this question.”
Then she looked at me and continued. “So every victim that Folly murdered shared common characteristics in appearance, which were runaway females with their hair dyed red, and the same pattern of murders had been happening for a long, long time. This situation threw off the police because that meant that the killer was a really old guy by now. So we later find out that the murders were studied again by Detective Sunni, when he discovered some slight changes in the newest three murders, and decided to start looking for clues that were different from the older murders. My question concerns the real life situation. Did Detective Jonah suspect from the beginning that there were slight differences between the earlier killings and the recent killings, or was it after he read your book?”
       Everyone was so quiet that one could hear a pin drop. “Thanks for your lengthy, yet awesome question, Monica.”
Monica looked down in embarrassment but smiled.
“When Detective Jonah made his public statement about his investigation, I remember he said he started from the beginning again, after realizing that he could expand his search for more clues and not dwell on the similarities of the killings. When he did that, he learned that even though the victims were all red-headed females, the earlier murders might have been done by someone with medical skills, because the guts from the victims were cut clean as opposed to the recent ones that were rougher. He also came to the conclusion that based on the cut patterns, the earlier killer was right-handed, while the recent killer was left-handed.”
I looked around the bookstore and watched how engaged everyone was. Some faces were blank, some had lost their coloring; the people I supposed were from the media were writing; and as I searched for Jet, I saw that he also had a blanched appearance. I’m sorry, but she asked.
“Anyway, in my book, Folly was caught because of his favorite boots that he’d inherited from his granddad. And according to Detective Jonah, Dylan Knifer was caught because of the DNA recovered from the hair strands found on two victims, which showed that they were hair strands from someone with a rare form of nerve disorder that makes the person’s eyes twitch for up to two minutes at a time. So we all know that Detective Jonah said that when he learned of this disease, he went around the places where the victims were last seen, asking if anyone had encountered any person who had twitchy eyes that lasted far more than normal. Then he caught a break, when a lady said she had been admiring a platinum blond guy with dark blue eyes, and noticed his eyes ‘did that stuff.’ When Dylan Knifer was picked up by the police, his DNA matched the hair strands found on the victims. The police recovered a van after he confessed, and the three female victims’ DNAs were in the van. The rest is history.”
There was a collective exhale from the attendees. I took another gulp of water as I noticed that people were either taking in all the information I had just given them, or trying to think of questions that could match up to the one I’d just answered. I saw another hand at the back of the room from a man who was leaning on a stick. I hadn’t noticed him before this moment.
“Yes?” I pointed to him. He started to ask his question and surprisingly his voice was clearer and stronger than I expected from a man as old as he looked.
“So we know that Dylan Knifer is the recent serial killer. I haven’t heard the police talk about the older serial killer. Is Dylan Knifer a copycat? Are they still searching for the older killer? Have they interrogated Dylan Knifer to find out if he was working with or for this person?
First, it was quiet, and then it was as if all of a sudden I’d entered a busy market. Everyone started to chatter; the old man had clearly made some people nervous. The mood in the bookstore became tense.
“Umm, what’s your name, sir?” I asked, and even as I did, fear started to creep up my back. Why was this old man interested in the identity of the older serial killer? To be honest, these questions had occurred to me. In my book, Folly had a mentor. I had always wondered if Dylan Knifer also did, but the police were mum about that detail. Even the usually chatty Detective Jonah had no answer but, ‘I’m afraid that’s classified.’
“My name is Rocky Joe,” he answered.
His name caused some people to chuckle.
“Nice name,” I said, trying to calm my nerves. “Well, Rocky, I believe I asked similar questions because I was curious, but they told me nothing. Apparently, when something is under investigation, they are not at liberty to disclose any information.”
Rocky nodded and started making his way out of the bookstore. I hope I didn’t make him mad. “I’ll take one more question,” I said as I prayed quietly for a straightforward simpler question. Then I looked up and saw that Jet was looking at me with his hand raised.
“Yes,” I said, pointing to him. I couldn’t pretend to keep a straight face and so I’m sure there was a sheepish smile on it.
“Can I get your number?” Jet asked.
There was whistling and whooping and laughter. I was taken aback in surprise and couldn’t find words. How bold! Of course I couldn’t say yes or no in front of everyone. He was still staring intently, a dark gaze with a smile playing on his lips. I tried to compose myself and spoke, but didn’t hear my voice. So I cleared my throat and said, “We’ll talk later,” as charmingly as I could, and people started to cheer. I saw a few guys pat Jet on his shoulder and some girls couldn’t hide their admiration of him. In fact, there was one girl who gawked so badly that I hoped she remembered where she was and didn’t start to drool.
“Okay, thanks for the questions. I’ll take a ten and see you all at that table for the signing.” I pointed at the corner to my left where a table was placed with some pens and markers on it.
       I went into the restroom, and this time I needed to use it. As I sat on the toilet and eased myself, I started to relax. My knees still throbbed and I checked them to see that the band-aids were still intact. My skin is notorious for retaining scars, and I didn’t want any more added to the many I have from childhood, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
Why did he wait for the event to ask for my number in front of everyone? Maybe he felt sorry for me after the pathetic way I’d stalled before I left the bookstore earlier, or maybe he just made up his mind recently.Either way, I’m happy, I sighed as I flushed the toilet. While I washed my hands, my mind wandered to the incident that happened this morning. It started to feel like it happened ages ago, but even before I took to the lectern I was still anxious. Not anymore, and I knew Jet had something to do with my new-found relaxed self. I blotted my oily nose with a paper towel, adjusted my bun, and pinched my cheeks to give my face some color. It’s go time, Cara. Let’s go and sign some books and talk to our fellow booklovers.
       I walked past a store clerk at the register and his smile told me that the bookstore was having a good day. I smiled back at him and said ‘hi’ as I headed to the table where I was going to be signing.  I tried not to look around for him but focused on my destination. The air was filled with chatters and murmurs, which started to subside as people began to notice that I had returned. The line formed like clockwork and the signing began.
       As I continued to sign, I made a mental note to test the table and chair next time. This chair and table were quite low, and I had to bend my neck far back or push my seat backward to be able to talk to my wonderful readers. I think Jane noticed it and gave me an ‘I’m so sorry’ look. Oh well, this should be the least of my worries after what happened this morning.
I scanned the bookstore again the best I could from the low chair, and I couldn’t find him. Some of the bookshelves in the store were high so it made sense that I couldn’t see him. I took a photo with a lady and her seven year old daughter, whom I made the book out to. I wrote a side note in her copy that she wasn’t allowed to read the book until six years from now.
After what seemed like an eternity, there was no one left to sign an autograph for and the majority of people left were cleaning up the snacks. I yawned quietly and stretched, tilting my seat backwards. Immediately, I sniffed the scent of citrus and turned in my seat. I pushed my chair backwards because my eyes were level with his lower parts. Jet was looking amusingly at me.
       “Excuse me,” I said. “And where did you go?
       He raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Nowhere, been here all along,” that cool, calm husky voice responded. He placed his copy of my book on the table and pushed it to me and I knew he didn’t want to risk touching my hand. I took the book.
       “I’m making it out to you?”
       He nodded, and said, “Jet Meyer.” Then I wrote, To Jet Meyer, I always pray for guidance from an angel and when I pray, I picture a cherub. I’ll take you over a cherub any day. And then I signed my name with three hearts around it. I smiled as I gave it to him and he took it but didn’t read it. He was turning to leave.
       “Can I have your book again for a second?” I asked.
       He looked puzzled, but he gave it to me. I opened the page that I had just signed and wrote my number. “Here,” I returned it to him. He nodded and was about to leave again.
       “Wait,” I said. He turned, gazing intently into my eyes.
       I willed myself to look back without glancing away, finding his stare too piercing for words. I cleared my throat. “The cops were asking about you.”
His facial expression changed, turning cold so fast that goosebumps rose on my flesh.
“Not for anything bad,” I clarified, stuttering.
       “Then what for?” He asked, his voice carrying a cold tone that didn’t sound like him.
       “They had questions about the incident this morning and were wondering if I had any information about you except your name,” I said, thinking that this explanation would have eased his attitude, but it didn’t. He stood where he was, looking at me, and I could see that he was measuring his next words. And just like that his calm boyish face returned. Umm, Okay. What a relief.
       “Did they want me to contact them?”
“They didn’t say. They just took my statement and that was all.”
       “Okay,” he nodded, but he was still standing there, looking at me. I couldn’t keep up the staring contest, and the sunrays from the windows weren’t helping, so I glanced away. I looked up at him a few seconds later and saw that he was reading what I’d written. He didn’t smile; in fact, he didn’t act as though I had written anything meaningful. He looked like someone reading a chemistry textbook. What’s wrong with him?
       “Dinner tomorrow night?” He asked, still reading whatever he was reading. I couldn’t find words because that was so unexpected. I cleared my throat, and he finally took his eyes off the book and looked at me.
I nodded.
“Okay. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
He took my hand, kissed it, dropped it gently, and walked away.
I watched his retreating body as I noticed that my hands were tingly. He is baffling. I rubbed my hands together to stop the tingling sensation, but it remained. What the hell? I could feel eyes on me and I turned to see Jane smiling at me, and a frown from a girl I didn’t know. I started to rearrange the pens on the table out of embarrassment, and couldn’t wait for the event to be over. People were trickling out, other people started to come into the bookstore, and the reporters were nowhere to be found.

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