Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Twelve)
Ciel tried to take shallow breaths once the alarm stopped. Her eardrums thrummed, and she hoped Melinda Jeffries was suffering the same effects. There was nowhere to run, and her hiding place would be discovered soon enough. Ciel slid her cell phone out of her pocket, tucked it between two of the crates, then raised her hands in the air.
“D-Don't shoot. Please . . .” Ciel stood in a half-crouch, unsure of what to do. Tears spilled over, wetting her cheeks.
“Why, you're just a baby.” Melinda Jeffries moved forward slowly, the shotgun cradled against her body. She wore jeans and a baggy sweatshirt with a hood that concealed her face. “What are you doing in here?”
“I—I . . . didn't know anyone was here. I was looking for a place to sleep for the night.”
“Really? How did you get in?”
“The door over there.” Ciel waved a hand at the door in the side wall.
“No, no.” Melinda shook her head. “That door's been jammed for years. Try again.” A certain hardness entered her tone.
Ciel's heart flip-flopped, and she shook uncontrollably. The tears fell faster, and when she tried to speak, her words tried to escape all at once, causing a pile-up. As Melinda drew closer, Ciel backed into the corner and curled into a ball. She screamed when a cold hand touched her arm and Ciel pressed herself harder against the rough wood, sucking in the pungent scent of damp earth and mold.
“It's okay, sweetheart. I put the gun down over there. Why don't you come in the house, and I'll make you some hot cocoa?”
Ciel swiped at her nose with the back of her hand and chanced a look at Melinda Jeffries, who was crouched in front of her. Melinda had one hand on Ciel's arm; the fingers of the other were curled around the edge of the black hood, using it to shield the side of her face. True to her word, Melinda no longer held the shotgun, and Ciel was anxious to get out of the corner.
Ciel waited until Melinda was a few feet away before standing cautiously and following her across the garage, up the steps, and into the house. The door led to a long, narrow mudroom at the opposite end of which was a pantry. At one time, the shelves were probably stocked with jams, jellies, and canned vegetables to last a family through harsh winter months. There was little there now other than some cans of soup and boxes of cereal and some large pots and roasting pans high up.
The pantry let out into a large farmhouse kitchen with ample cabinets and counter space, a wood burning stove, and a large round table that could seat six to eight.
Melinda pointed to a chair. “Have a seat. I already have some hot water on the stove—I was making myself tea when the alarm went off.”
Ciel sat down and watched Melinda, who now had her back to Ciel, move about the kitchen, pulling a canister of Hershey's cocoa out of one cabinet and a mug from another. Even beneath the baggy hoodie, it was obvious she had a shapely figure. She hummed as she worked and a few minutes later placed a steaming mug of cocoa in front of Ciel. She carefully guarded the right side of her face, and the top of the hood came down low enough to make shadows of her eyes.
Ciel was creeped out by Melinda's grim-reaperish appearance, though her awareness that Melinda's face was disfigured lessened the effect.
“Thank you.” Ciel could only manage a raspy whisper.
“You can tell me what this is all about after you warm up.” Melinda grabbed her own mug from the counter and returned to the table. She sat at an angle that offered Ciel a view of the left side of her hood and a slice of unblemished, creamy skin.
They drank in silence for a few minutes. The house was silent except for a clock tick-tick-ticking nearby and the hum of the refrigerator cycling on and off.
“Are you one of my husband's groupies?” Melinda asked softly.
“No!” Ciel's reaction was instinctive. “Sorry . . . I mean, he's very handsome, but I have a boyfriend . . .” Her words drifted off, and she wanted to take them all back. Now Melinda knew she was a student at the school.
Melinda snorted. “Yes, you mean a boyfriend your own age. As it should be . . . as it should be.” She sighed and sipped more of her tea. “Are you in one of his classes?”
“Ma'am? God, you make me feel so old.” Melinda laughed, a beautiful if not ironic sound. “You must tell me how you came to be in my husband's car. That is how you got here, right?” Her tone sharpened.
“I want my mom,” Ciel whispered.
“Do you have a phone with you?”
“I'll call her for you.” Melinda walked over to the counter and grabbed a pad and pen. “What's the number?”
Ciel gave it to her and Melinda excused herself to fetch the phone. While Melinda was gone, Ciel's gaze swept around the room. The teabags and cocoa container were still out on the counter along with a stoppered glass bottle with clear liquid in it.
Melinda strolled into the room, already on her cell phone. “. . . yes, I'm sure you were! She's welcome to stay until you can get here to pick her up. No problem at all . . . okay . . . bye then.” She turned the phone off and slipped it into the pocket of her hoodie. “Seems you gave your mother quite a scare, Ciel! Your parents will be along to pick you up soon.”
“Thank you. I really am sorry.”
“No harm done.”
Ciel relaxed a little, although she knew she'd be grounded in the near future. A strange sensation spread over her, a numbing, sleepy feeling. “I feel weird.” She gripped the edge of the table, afraid of tumbling from her chair.
“Are you all right, Ciel?” Melinda jumped up and rushed to her side.
“I feel dizzy . . . and kind of drowsy.” Ciel's speech was slurred, and the room started to spin slowly. She closed her eyes.
“Why don't I help you into the living room, and you can lie down until your parents get here?”
Ciel never made it that far. The world around her slowed to a crawl, colors and sounds melding together in a sickening swirl. She reached out, opened her mouth to speak, but her lips no longer formed coherent words. Then darkness descended, sucking her into its shadowy vortex.
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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