Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Eleven)
Ciel's phone vibrated against her hip, sending her heart into overdrive. She thanked God her cell was still on vibrate—school rules. Shifting carefully beneath the scratchy old blanket in the cargo hold of Professor Jeffries' Explorer, she tugged the phone from the pocket of her jeans and looked at the display.
MISSED CALL FROM JASON
Scrolling through the settings, Ciel set her phone on “silent” and slipped it back in her pocket. A sudden jostle caused her to bump her head into something hard. She bit her lip, fighting not to cry out and alert Professor Jeffries he had a stowaway.
It was uncomfortable riding in the trunk of the SUV. The ridged mat dug into Ciel's hip, and every bump in the road rattled her teeth. Turns were precarious, since there was nothing to keep her from sliding from side to side. A mustiness redolent of turpentine clung to the fibers of the blanket, making breathing unpleasant.
Up front Professor Jeffries sang along to a rock station. He had a surprisingly nice singing voice, and Ciel's racing heart calmed a bit. The Explorer entered a smooth road with rolling hills, which led her to believe they were heading away from town.
Ciel had no idea what she'd hoped to accomplish when she jumped into the SUV. It was an impulsive move that she now regretted. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How are you going to get yourself out of this one, Ci?
Tears stung Ciel's eyes. She wanted her mom.
The car slowed, tires crunching over gravel, and came to a stop. The passenger door opened allowing a gust of cool air to whoosh through the car, rippling the edges of Ciel's blanket.
“Hi. I need your car.” The woman's voice was soft and sultry.
“Hello to you, too, hon. My day was great, thanks, how about yours?” Professor Jeffries' tone was acerbic as he threw the SUV in park.
Melinda Jeffries sighed softly. “I'm sorry, Paul. I've had a shitful day. My car won't start, and I really need . . . I'm going out to the farmhouse.”
“Do you want some company?”
“C'mon, Mel. It's been a while. We could open a bottle of wine . . .” Professor Jeffries' tone turned soft and seductive.
“Why couldn't you have offered this a few months ago?” Melinda Jeffries' voice was tight with frustration. “Do you know how many nights I lay next to you praying you'd touch me? See me? Give a fuck about me?”
Professor Jeffries slammed his hand on the steering wheel. “Damn it, Mel! You always manage to turn this around on me. I tried to coax you out of your depression. You turned me down so many times—I didn't feel like a man anymore.”
“You still have a pretty face, Paul! You still have teenagers creaming their panties over you!” Pain and betrayal saturated her words.
“Did I ever give you a reason to feel I didn't love you?” His tone was low and hurt.
“I don't feel loved.” A sob hiccuped out of Melinda Jeffries. “Please, I just need to be alone, okay? Give me some time.”
“All right.” He hesitated. “Will you think about us while you're gone?”
“It's all I think about. Maybe soon . . . maybe we can try again.”
“I do love you, Mel.”
“I love you, too. You'll never know how much.”
“Do you have your things packed?”
“I left some clothes there. I've got my cosmetic bag and some groceries on the front porch.”
Ciel feared her heart would explode when the hatchback opened and Professor Jeffries put his wife's bags in the cargo area with her. She held her breath, afraid of being discovered. Their voices rose and fell just outside the car for a few more minutes and then Melinda Jeffries got behind the wheel and backed out of the drive.
Ciel felt trapped. Who knew how far away this farmhouse was? “Farm” suggested rural, and that meant no buses or taxis.
The ride turned out to be just over an hour. By the time they arrived, Ciel's arms and legs were numb from being cramped in the same position so long. She held her breath when Melinda Jeffries removed her things from the trunk.
Nearby, a door creaked open and then slammed shut. Ciel poked her head out from under the blanket and peeked out the side window. The dim form of a dilapidated red and white barn loomed in the growing darkness. A split rail fence enclosed part of the property, opening up to an expanse of rolling hills of grass edged by trees. From this vantage point, no neighbors were visible.
The driver's door opened abruptly, and Ciel dove for cover under the blanket. The SUV moved a short distance then stopped. This time when Melinda Jeffries exited the car, the sounds of the outdoors were muffled. A prolonged creak was followed by a dull slam then silence.
It took Ciel twenty minutes to muster up the courage to peek out the window again. To her dismay, the SUV was parked in a garage. This new development would make a stealthy escape difficult. First, the Explorer had an alarm that would surely go off when Ciel opened the door, and second, she now had to find her way out of a dark garage.
Ciel decided to get a look at her surroundings. To the front right, a few steps led to a beat-up white door that most likely led inside the house. Behind the SUV were two wide doors. A glance around the rest of the garage showed a packed dirt floor, shelves and peg boards with old, rusted tools, and a door in the middle of the left side wall. Ciel decided this door was her best bet.
She climbed into the back seat and prepared to make a run for it. Once she was away from the house and into the trees, she'd use her cell phone to call for help. The cool metal handle felt slippery in her sweaty palm.
“One, two, three!”
Ciel pulled the door handle. The bleating of the alarm was deafening in the close space, but Ciel ignored it and made a run for the door. The knob stuck, and her palm kept sliding off it. Panic welled inside her. Any moment, Melinda Jeffries would come to investigate.
Footsteps drew close to the door coming from the house, and Ciel looked around wildly, praying desperately for something to save her. She spied a pile of crates in the corner and crouched behind them. Her plan was to wait until Melinda Jeffries returned to the house and then she'd get that door open.
Yellow light spilled into the garage as the wooden steps creaked under Melinda Jeffries' feet.
“Come on out.”
A metallic shick-shick reverberated around the small space.
“I said, come on out!”
Ciel slapped a hand over her mouth to hold back a scream.
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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