The next day was cloudy and overcast but there was no rain. The forecast said the clouds would pass by afternoon, although the humidity and warmth would take longer to pass. Zoe liked the warmth, truth be told. The chillier days were not something she missed about Portland. It was too bad she also had to live with the humidity. She felt like the air was rebelling against her use of it by trying to compress her lungs so she couldn’t breathe.
Zoe hadn’t slept well, waking to odd dreams, though nothing like the one about her mother. These had been more normal nightmares of the sort where you were running from something that was out to get you. In Zoe’s case it was usually a dwarf-like creature with knives for fingers. Once she’d dreamed it was actually Taran who was out to get her and he’d stabbed her in the heart with a dart that he’d made for his homemade dartboard. Where she got that idea, she didn’t know, but the specifics of the dart made her cringe.
She woke up to the smell of coffee brewing and bacon frying, which soothed her somewhat.
Her father had come home around dinnertime, carrying in a salad and chicken from the store. He’d noticed that she seemed out of sorts, had heard about the thing she thought she saw in the backyard. It was what had made him leave the coffee shop, though the rain had started up again in earnest, the last hurrah from the side swipe of the hurricane. Zoe was thankful he’d figured they wouldn’t want to go out again. Further, she was glad that there was only gossip that she’d seen something and had been certain enough to call the police. Even then her father had thought she was likely safe in the house.
Zoe had to admit that she’d been a little embarrassed when he’d pointed out the smell of vodka on her breath when he’d wakened her from another restless nap on the sofa.
This morning he was banging pans around on the stove, not meanly but with precision, probably to let her know she shouldn’t go drinking in the middle of the day, no matter what she thought she’d seen.
Eventually they were seated around the rectangular table in the dining room, all the lights on, chasing shadows to the corners, the table the same old scarred one they’d had when Zoe was a child. They sat in their usual places, her mother’s place with its back to the kitchen starkly empty.
“Thanks for making breakfast,” Zoe said. They normally ate on their own. Her dad had a penchant for bacon sandwiches, and she preferred to have just some toast and coffee. Today he’d made bacon, eggs sunny-side-up, and toast.
Ed grunted at her. “You didn’t say much about why Rees was here or why you and he thought Kay could be of help.”
Zoe sighed. How and what to tell her dad? “I just thought she might have remembered something about Momma.”
“He was digging around about her death with me, too,” Ed said, looking up, eyebrows furrowed so deeply they nearly met in the center of his forehead.
“No one saw anything with Elaine, so I guess he was hoping to find some connections with the deaths from two years ago,” Zoe said. “And then I saw that thing in the yard. It was more than a shadow, but not a person. It was really creepy.”
Fortunately she’d had practice lying to her father about things like alcohol use and the times she’d gotten home from a date late so she’d sneak through the house trying not to wake her parents. Zoe knew how to act so that he’d believe her, knew just how far to push him. There were some things you didn’t outgrow.
Ed nodded. “And now everyone thinks you’re next on the list.”
“I thought I was, too,” Zoe said, hating to have to use the past tense. She still thought she was on the list, but she wasn’t going out in the backyard—any backyard. In fact, if she could help it, she wouldn’t go outside at all. Who knew what could happen? You always saw women in horror movies going and doing the exact thing they shouldn’t because they wanted to save everyone. Well she was selfish enough that she wouldn’t do that. She’d save herself, unless, of course, her daddy was directly threatened and then she’d consider what to do. She’d talk to him about how they could both potentially survive.
Ed sipped at his coffee, silent for the moment. The ice maker in the refrigerator dropped a cube. Zoe crunched a piece of bacon, cooked to within a second of being burnt to a crisp. It was, in fact, slightly burnt, but that was how she and her father liked it. Bacon well done. Eggs sunny and runny.
“I’m wondering if you shouldn’t go back to Portland for a while, until they catch this guy,” Ed said, not looking at her. “If it’s money, I can float you some cash for the plane fare. You’ll need to face Tyler sooner or later.”
Zoe hadn’t told him she’d faced Tyler for the last time, moving her stuff out and boxing it up, sharing a storage unit with her friend LeAnne while she decided what she wanted to do. She sighed.
“My stuff is in storage already. LeAnne and a couple of other friends helped me before I left,” Zoe said quietly.
“So it’s a done deal then? Really going through with leaving him?”
Zoe didn’t look at her father.
He nodded. “Always was kind of a sketchy kid. Didn’t like his manners. Course you never know how someone is going to be raised when they live half way across the country. You coming home for good then?”
“I was thinking about it,” Zoe said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here or maybe go live in Winston-Salem or Raleigh. May not have a choice when it comes to jobs.”
Her father pushed more egg onto his toast, the runny yellow insides dripping off the now soggy bread, and put that in his mouth. He didn’t respond right away.
Zoe sipped at her coffee, knowing she would miss the fancy coffees she’d taken for granted in Portland. There she could find something on nearly every corner. Here the coffee shop didn’t do anything real fancy, just an espresso that left much to be desired and something called a cappuccino that tasted nothing like the ones Zoe had had in the west. There were Starbucks around, just not in Corbin Meadow.
“I wonder if Raleigh would be far enough away? Maybe a good time to go back and get your things. Drive across country. It’s not too late to beat the weather in the Rockies,” Ed said.
“I haven’t completely decided,” Zoe hedged, suddenly afraid of losing her link to her old life in the west. Just yesterday she’d been making plans to remake the town. Now she wasn’t sure she wanted her things. She didn’t want to make a decision that permanent.
Her father nodded again. “Maybe a good thing. Give folks a few years to get used to you being Zoe Mason-Hyer again without that Parker on the end.”
“Be less of a mouthful,” Zoe said, smiling.
Her father grunted in the way that said he found her amusing, and they went back to eating.
“You mother saw shadows, too, in those last days. She didn’t call the police because she didn’t think they were people,” Ed finally said.
“Really? You never told me.” Zoe lowered her fork, leaning forward on the table.
Ed shrugged. “Never thought about it. Didn’t really recall. She wasn’t worried about them too much. They were shadows. Could have been the wind, if there’d been wind.”
Zoe nodded. Had her mother had a warning, too? Was that why she’d called Zoe?
“I just wish we knew why,” Zoe whispered.
“Me, too,” Ed said quietly, choking on the words.
Chapter 25 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.