Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Nine)
Ciel stared at her mother in disbelief. “You did what?”
Susan pursed her lips and propped a hand on one hip. “I don't see the problem, honey.”
Ciel hovered by her place at the kitchen table where a fragrant bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a tall glass of milk awaited. Her stomach rumbled at the sight, but she traced her fingers over the design carved into the oak chair, refusing to sit down yet.
Susan huffed in annoyance and turned back to attend to the eggs sizzling in the frying pan. Ciel knew that meant her dad hadn't left for work yet. He was the only one in the house that had to have eggs for breakfast every day. Brett Cavanaugh also had a “low tolerance for bullshit” as he liked to say, and Ciel knew there would be no arguing with her mom once he arrived at the breakfast table.
“Mom, I can't believe you invited the Strohms and the Greenes over to play cards without talking to me! For God's sake—Janice is still missing.” Ciel glared at the back of Susan's head.
“Young lady, sit down and eat your oatmeal.” Susan turned off the burner, grabbed the plate she had waiting on the counter, and transferred the eggs onto it. She placed the dish on the table and locked eyes with Ciel. “Brett! Your eggs are ready!”
It was Ciel's turn to huff. “You called him on purpose! You know he won't let me talk about it when he comes down.” She made a show of yanking her chair out, making a horrific noise as it scraped across the linoleum, and plopped down on it. She snatched up her spoon and started eating.
“I did no such thing. Would you like me to let your dad's eggs get cold while you throw a tantrum because we invited some people over? First, I know very well Janice is still missing, but her poor parents can't stop living altogether. And, second, you should be happy—you'll get to hang out with Jason.”
Ciel's eyes bugged out, and she choked on a glob of oatmeal. “What does Jason have to do with this?”
“He's coming over with his parents.” Susan grabbed the box of Shredded Wheat and poured a serving into her bowl. “See . . . I thought of you.”
Ciel's mouth gaped. Just as she was about to go ballistic, Brett Cavanaugh breezed into the kitchen, hair still damp from the shower, dressed for work in a sharp navy suit. “How are my two favorite girls this fine morning?” He smiled, unaware of the current tension between his wife and daughter.
“Morning, Dad.” Ciel smiled at her dad, then glowered at her mother. Worst Friday ever.
Saturday night arrived no matter how much Ciel wished it away. No amount of arguing swayed Susan even a little bit. Warnings that Ciel might die of shame simply caused Susan to chuckle and reminisce about her own childhood.
After an awkward hour at the dining room table eating pizza and salad with their parents and the Strohms, Ciel grabbed Jason's hand and led him up to her room.
“Door open, young lady!” Susan called after them.
“Oh my God.” Ciel rubbed at her forehead. “I'm so sorry, Jason.”
“For what?” He sat on the bed and grinned at her.
“For having to come here tonight and for my mother's stupid remarks—as if we're going to get busy up here with all of them down there!”
Jason grabbed her hand and tugged her over until she stood between his knees. “Don't stress, Ciel. I hate seeing you like that. You handled those bitches at the dance, but you're freaking out because your mom invited us over? I don't mind.”
“Nah. It means I get to see more of my girlfriend.” Jason smiled up at Ciel and gave her hip a squeeze.
“I'm also kinda freaked she invited Janice's parents. They seem so nice—I just don't know how they can smile and laugh when . . . you know.”
“C'mere.” Jason pulled Ciel sideways onto his lap. “They have to keep going somehow. Maybe your mom helped them put it aside for a few minutes.” He nuzzled his nose in the crook of her neck.
“She's dead, isn't she?” Ciel's voice trembled.
“I don't know. It's been like six weeks.”
Tears sprang to Ciel's eyes, and then she became angry about it. She didn't want to hide away in her room, but she didn't want to be down there with all of them either. Hopping off Jason's lap, she led him out of her room, putting a finger up to her lips. They crept along the thickly carpeted hall and crouched by the railing at the top of the stairs. Ciel sat with her back against the thick oak balusters and her arms wrapped around her knees. Jason sat beside her with an arm slung over her narrow shoulders.
The sounds of the adults laughing and talking drifted up from the dining room. They did seem to be having a great time—even Janice's parents. After their current game was over, Susan got up to put coffee on. Lara Strohm and Anita Greene joined her in the kitchen.
Once the ladies were gone, the conversation changed to more somber topics.
"Anything new?” Brett asked.
“Nothing,” Mark Strohm answered. “It's as if she just disappeared off the face of the earth. Do you believe the police asked if she could be a runaway?”
“Bastards,” Nate Greene muttered. “Is that the excuse they use for not doing their damn jobs?”
“Is that why you hired that Hoffstra guy?” Brett asked.
“Yeah. He's a little rough around the edges, but he used to be a cop. Shit, if we hadn't found one of Janice's poetry books lying on the path in Jacoby Park, it might have seemed as if she'd run off.” He lowered his voice. “Janice and Lara don't always see eye to eye. Guess it's a teenager versus stepmom thing. It's hard for a young girl to lose her mother.”
“How old was Janice when her mother died?” Nate asked.
“That sucks. Does she have other family on her mother's side?”
“Nope. Madeline had a sister, but MJ was being treated for some kind of mental disorder. She showed up to the funeral high as a kite and started a huge scene. I—it was a really bad time, and I threatened to get a restraining order if she didn't leave immediately. We never saw her again. Until fairly recently, she did send Christmas and birthday cards. It's a shame because Janice could have used some stability. Then again, MJ looked so much like Madeline . . . it might have been confusing for Janice.”
“Were they twins?” Brett asked.
“No, they just looked a lot alike. Hell—Janice, Madeline, and MJ even had the same oddball birthmark. Janice's is on her left arm. Madeline and her sister had it on the right.”
Jason and Ciel looked at each other with wide eyes. The picture in Janice's trinket box must be of her mother or aunt.
“Have you told MJ about Janice?”
“I don't even know where she's living. It's been about two years since she's contacted us. I thought when she saw it on the news she might call, but she hasn't.”
There was a short lull in the conversation.
“What kind of problems do Janice and Lara have?” Nate asked.
“Well, it's probably just the typical teenage—”
Laughter erupted from the direction of the kitchen, drawing closer, interrupting the conversation the men were having.
Ciel and Jason returned to her room and watched a movie on her laptop until it was time for him to leave. They didn't speak much, both of them feeling the strain of Janice's absence pressing down on them.
That night, Ciel dreamed of a dark-haired beauty traversing a stone bridge over churning water. The hulking, craggy stone appeared solid except in the center of the arch, where the bridge thinned precariously. Ciel's heart pounded hard in her chest as the girl turned to look at her. It was Janice, holding a hand out, her face begging for help . . . and then there were three versions of her, spinning, spinning, spinning until the trio tumbled over the edge, swallowed by the unrelenting waves.
Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor Website: www.sarahaisling.com