This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Jolene Brock was a pessimist. She knew this about herself by the time she was fourteen and battling acne. It wasn’t everything about life that got her down; that would have been ridiculous at such a young age. However, she made her feelings known to everyone around her, how much she despised living in the coastal town of Benton Massachusetts. That wasn’t an exaggeration either. Thinking back on it, she wasn’t sure how she had spread the word so thoroughly, but everyone in her school, to the grocery clerks at the market, and all the way down to Father Tracey knew Jolene Brock hated Benton.
Being back in Benton today, the feeling was no different. Well it was a bit, blended with her hate was a good deal of awkwardness. Standing around many of those people, she could feel their questioning gazes, some of them judging. She supposed she would have felt the same if the situation was reversed. Anyway, it wasn’t like she had sought to be back in town. She did so out of respect and for the dire need of her friend Clarette. That’s where Jolene had found herself standing amongst the people of Benton, in the cemetery at the attendance of Mr. Porcher’s funeral, Clarette’s late husband.
“What an ordeal, with the cancer,” Jolene overheard one of Benton’s natives uttering to another. “He leaves that young wife of his alone in that big house, the poor dear.”
Jolene looked back over her shoulder and spotted the two blue hairs nattering back and forth, red mouths moving so fast it was like they were chewing and spitting their words. Something in her gaze must have attracted them to her then, because they stopped their conversation long enough to look back her way. And then scowl! There wasn’t much to be said about discretion, because they got right back at it again after, only then their words were hushed, and most definitely about her by the way they were pointing.
She turned away feeling hostile, but knowing and honoring her duty to her friend instead. Clarette was standing right beside her, veiled in black silk and lace that belonged in a Jane Austen novel, sobbing into a balled up tissue that was worn well beyond its use. Jolene didn’t have anything else to catch Clarette’s tears, but she pulled her tighter to her side and let her friend lie her head against her chest, her ruffled blouse soaking up the sad moisture.
Mr. Porcher, or rather Billy, was lowered into the six foot tilled hollow. His sleek black casket was welcomed into the soft, warm ground, and that was on top of the already blistering hot day that those dear to him had come to commend him. Jolene hadn’t known him well. They had met once on the day of his summer wedding to Clarette, and that had been eight years ago. Needless to say, the request to be at Clarette’s side had come as a shock. She felt guilty for being such a shitty friend.
After a respectable amount of time had passed, and the last pile of dirt was shoveled over the grave, spectators of the funeral began to depart. They stopped in pairs to pay a kind word or two to Clarette, some offering her a gentle touch, all while Jolene was tight at her side. The looks kept coming her way too, though the sorrowful event worked as a shield to keep whatever comments the others had about her at bay. That would come another day, Jolene was sure of it.
After the family and friends had gone, it was just them standing in front of Billy’s taupe granite headstone. Their other friend, Maeve, was standing a little ways off, waiting to pull the car around. Jolene wanted to ask Clarette if she was ready to leave, but she didn’t know how to prompt her without it coming across as indelicate. How do you take a widow away from her buried husband?
“Jo?” Clarette surprised her by being the first to speak, even though it was with a weak voice. The soft wind had blown the lace cover above her head, and Jolene could see all of the redness of her tear-damp face. Strands of her mousy hair were stuck to her cheeks, by the corners of her mouth, and under her nose. It was a sight that couldn’t help but evoke pity.
“Hmm, what is it?” Jolene asked quietly. She leaned forward and brushed some of the hair away from Clarette’s face, not caring if her hand trailed in tears or mucus.
“When we get home, you’re really going to stay?”
Jolene smiled shakily, feeling frustrated at herself that her friend had enough doubts to ask her such a thing. “Of course. All my stuff is here, and I already called dibs on a bedroom.”
“Alright,” Clarette mumbled. “I guess you have to take me home now?”
“If you’re ready. Take all the time you need.”
“No, it’ alright. I think it’s best if I go home and lie down. Maeve has been waiting at the car, and it’s only a short drive from here. I know where he’ll be, and I’ll come back,” she spoke through her nasally words, the most Jolene had heard from her all at once in the past week since she had arrived in Benton.
They started slowly to the car, Jolene immediately noticing Maeve’s tall height through the lush leaves of the trees until they were close enough to see her leaned up against the car. She gave them a closed mouth smile, a funeral smile that was meant to contain any perceived happiness. Jolene helped Clarette into the car, careful so she wouldn’t bump her head getting into the back. They were taking Maeve’s orange Dart, a car that was a tight fit for a woman of her stature. Jolene felt they were nearly elbow to elbow in the front seat.
“Maeve, when are you getting a new car?” Jolene asked after struggling to get the seatbelt to fasten.
“When I can afford one,” Maeve chuckled quietly. “It might be a while. How come you didn’t bring your car down here?”
Down here, as in down to Benton. The truth was she hadn’t wanted to make such a permeant commitment to the move. “It’s the summer, I can walk or bike anywhere if I need to.”
“And if it rains?”
“Then I’ll share Clarette’s car,” she replied, not liking the tone she heard in Maeve’s voice. “Or I’ll get an umbrella. I don’t mind the rain.”
Maeve snorted, shaking her head as she made a sharp right turn. “Since when?”
“I live up on the north shore now, it rains all the time,” Jolene sassed.
“You’re tip-toeing. You don’t need to, I know you still hate it here.”
Jolene looked through the mirror at the backseat with a curled up Clarette. Her eyes were pinched closed, but she was probably still listening. “I do, but I can put that aside for a while to help Clarette. Maybe I missed you too.”
“Sure you did…asshole,” Maeve remarked smirking.
Jolene smiled at her acerbic teasing. Maeve had always been that way since they had met her, and their group had grown from two to three in high school with her addition. She had moved up to Benton from Florida with her family, though the other Donohues had long since journeyed back a few years ago. Only Maeve had decided to stay in Benton, a choice Jolene couldn’t fathom.
“How’s your father doing?” Jolene asked, reminded of Mr. Donohue and his consistency to wear faded denim coveralls.
“Same as always. Just last week when I talked to him, he said he found a python in the yard, tried to do him in while he was tending to his hemp. He’s convinced his neighbor is the one doing it, and that she’s been sending him bad juju in the mail.”
“Your father grows hemp?” She inquired, for a moment forgetting the rest of the absurdity of that story. “Since when?”
“He says he needs it for medicinal purposes for his bad back. Another thing the juju woman caused apparently is his degenerative disk disease.” Maeve glanced over at her and laughed at the apparent face Jolene had pulled. “I get that same look! It’s eerie, almost like looking into a mirror, only daintier.”
Maeve was the tallest of the three of them, but she also had a bulky frame and a broken nose from her years in wrestling. Jolene wouldn’t be used to seeing her without it. It was a distinguishable feature on her round face, framed in by short, thick yellow hair, and eyes as blue as her southern waters in Florida. Maeve never felt shame or apologized for her hefty appearance, and she didn’t have room in her life for those who took up objection to it either.
“And we’re home,” Maeve announced, pulling up the long, winding driveway to Clarette’s two-story house.
The old bats at the funeral had been right about one thing. Clarette was left an enormous house to fill on her own. Two stone column pillars beckoned guests up the porch steps to the olive brown door with the small gold letter box. The white railed porch was protected by a curved overhang, with grey shingles a shade darker than the siding of the home. Every peering window was framed in white, with the thin bars that reminded Jolene of old English suburb dwellings. The landscaping was also done to perfection, with trimmed rose bushes, stonework, and a lawn with not a weed in sight. Jolene would be staying with Clarette for the summer, but even when it was the two of them inside, there was still the faint echo of loneliness.
Maeve stepped out from the car first, while Jolene went around to the side of the car to stir Clarette from her sleep. She was drowsy with grief, and she didn’t put up a fuss as Jolene helped her up the porch.
“You’re staying over Maeve?” Clarette mumbled as she took out here key from her small, black clutch.
“For a while. I figure you’ve been left enough food to even keep me from getting full.”
All of the neighbors, family, and friends of Billy’s had been dropping off baked pies and cakes, casseroles, frozen lasagnas, and enough food baskets to feed a small nation. It seemed every time Jolene had answered the door, she was again overwhelmed with an armful of delivered meals for her widowed friend. She herself had picked at a few of them, and had not been disappointed by the local cooks of Benton.
“There’s spare rooms if you decide to sleep over,” Clarette hinted.
“I’d better not,” Maeve politely refused, though not without wincing at the disappointed look on Clarette’s face. “I still have work tomorrow, and nothing to change into, at least nothing you could lend me that would fit.”
The small quip defused some of the blue mood, but Clarette still slunk into the house before them without a word. She toed off her black Mary-Janes onto the mudroom rug, threw her veiled hat on the bench that doubled as a storage cubby, and headed straight for the steps. Her hand was shaking on the wooden banister, but she made it upstairs without trouble, and the door to her room shut with an audible thud throughout the house.
Jolene and Maeve struggled watching their friend helplessly, neither of them knowing the knowledge of her loss, or how to help her. It seemed for the moment that the best strategy would be to let her rest in quiet. They moved like strangers through the house to the kitchen, unsure about what to do now that Clarette was out of their company. Jolene was sure she was leading, but it appeared that Maeve already knew her way around the home. And why should she not? Her and Clare lived in the same place, and probably had meals together often, a thought that bummed Jo out.
She and Maeve settled against the kitchen counter, both taking a seat on one of the tall leather stools. Most of the counter space in the kitchen was covered with flowers and baskets sent to Clarette from people around town. It was a large space to cover too, with the butcher-block island in the middle, and the white cabinetry that spanned three of the four walls. All of the appliances were modern stainless steel, and there was a frosted glass pantry tucked away in the corner that Jolene had recently restocked with groceries to feed her and Clarette for the week. That wouldn’t be a problem now.
“I’m glad that’s over with. I was sweating standing out in that heat in all black, let me tell you,” Maeve laughed awkwardly as she was first to break the silence.
Jolene looked at her funny, knowing she hadn’t meant it to be as offensive as it had come out. “That’s nice, you should put that on a card.”
“Shut up,” Maeve muttered, rubbing at her pale arms that had turned pink from sun exposure. She must have been the only person from Florida who never had a tan. In the black funeral dress she wore, which quite frankly looked like a long pillowcase with holes cut in for sleeve, she looked like a zebra. “So, did Clare hear from her parents?”
“They sent flowers,” said Jolene as she pointed to the small potted plant on the kitchen window ledge with the pink azaleas. “Can you imagine not being there for you daughter? I know they didn’t like Billy, but to not even come to the funeral.” She shook her head in frustration.
“Her parents were always dicks though. Well a dick and a cunt actually,” said Maeve as she casually grabbed a mini muffin from one of the baskets, and began to peel off the paper liner.
“Hmm, true. But all of Billy’s family wasn’t even from Benton, and even his distant cousins flew in from Boston to be here.”
“Guess we got lucky with our parents,” Maeve mumbled around a mouthful of chocolate muffin.
Jolene watched her, half amused and half disgusted. “You keep eating that fast, you’ll choke, and I don’t know if I’m up to performing the Heimlich maneuver.”
“I’m starving, I didn’t get to have breakfast. Besides, I’ve lived alone long enough to know how to perform a self-Heimlich.”
“Not sure if I’m impressed or sad to hear about that. Who are those from anyway?”
Maeve shrugged, and wiped away the crumbs from her mouth before helping herself to a second muffin. “Don’t know, but I’m thinking of staging a shower to get more.”
“Eating basket food without even reading the card, you have no shame,” Jolene tutted as she reached for the small envelope tucked away between a blueberry muffin and a lemon poppy seed. The sympathy card was unsealed, and was simply addressed to Clarette in blue ink. She slipped the paper between her fingers and pulled out the floral printed card, with a short and précised written message.
To Clarette Porcher,
My condolences. Deeply sorry for your loss. I hope this gift is received well in your tragic time.
Thinking of you,
Jolene’s eyes burned as she read over the last name, before she hastily reached over and smacked the muffin out from Maeve’s hand, just before she was about to take a bite. She shot Jolene a silent look of annoyance.
“What was that for?”
“Ick, don’t eat any more of those. Do you know who those are from?”
“In the last thirty seconds since you’ve asked me, no,” Maeve retorted. She took the card from Jolene, quickly reading over the message before looking up. “Sokolsky, Charles Sokolsky?”
“Guess he doesn’t go by that anymore, but this is a small town, and I’d say the odds of someone else having that last name are slim.”
Maeve didn’t react at all like Jolene thought she would. Instead of the shock and horror, she started to laugh. First a deep snicker in her throat, and then it bloomed into a full belly laugh. “God, you’re priceless! I thought they were laced with laxatives or something, but it’s just the senior from high-school who had a crush on you twelve years ago!”
“It’s not funny Maeve, he was creepy, you and Clare both agreed with me on that.”
She collected herself enough to take some breaths and wipe the tears from her eyes. “Yeah, but that was high-school, you can’t blame him. Who wouldn’t love your puppy brown eyes and honey hair?! Almost fell in love with you myself the first time we met.”
“You’re not helping,” Jolene deadpanned.
“Oh, lighten up. He’s changed a lot, and he probably doesn’t even know you're back.”
“But why would he send Clarette a sympathy gift?” Jolene wondered as she looked at the decorative woven muffin basket, tied in red ribbon and shiny plastic wrap.
“This might be a difficult concept, but I think he was being thoughtful.”
Charles Sokolsky wasn’t thoughtful, at least that wasn’t how Jolene remembered him or his family in her mind. “Did he know Billy…or was Clare keeping in touch with him…or—”
“Alright, I’m going to stop you right there,” interrupted Maeve as she held up one of her large hands. “You’re asking too many questions that I don’t have answers to. I rarely see anyone from high-school but for Clare, you’ve just been away too long to know that.”
“Sorry,” Jolene mumbled.
“Don’t be sorry, Jo. You’ve always taken the path that you’ve wanted for yourself, and I’m proud of you. You just don’t realize that Benton actually moved on without you, and a lot of the people have changed or left since you’ve been here.”
“I don’t know why I thought it’d be the same.”
“Well, in your defense, it is Benton. Most people who leave here probably expect the same as you. I mean they still haven’t finished repairs on the Rockdale Bridge, and that started five years ago.”
Jolene nodded and considered that idea. She then thought of something else Maeve had mentioned. “What did you mean about Charles Sokolsky has changed a lot?”
“Besides the apparent name change, he looks nearly completely different. Not that I ever talk to him, but I see him around from time to time.” Maeve got a silly look on her face, and she jabbed one of her thick elbows into Jolene’s side. “You going to go say hello to him now?”
“Bleh, no,” Jolene grunted as she rubbed at her sore ribs.
“Alright, but I wouldn’t blame you for being curious. People have that slight yearning to inflict curiosity on themselves, even if it’s weird or uncomfortable.”
“Why, is that what you do?” Jolene asked with a laugh.
Maeve looked embarrassed, but she didn’t take a chance to deny it either, and it got Jo curious. “I’m going to the bathroom.” She deflected, pushing up on the counter and leaping from her stool to leave the kitchen.
After hearing her booming steps disappear into the ground floor bathroom, Jolene swiveled on her stool to face the window. Clarette had kept the white curtain drawn that morning, but the glow of the sun was penetrating, and it created a warm, orange light that danced off the shine of the metal sink.
Jolene gave a small wave of her hand, and she saw the clear water flow out from the faucet without the tap turning. She let the water gather into a ball, letting it hover in midair a moment before allowing it to drop onto the potted azaleas. The liquid was quickly swallowed into the soil, to be absorbed by the plant.
She took a deep breath before smiling. It had been awhile since she had freely used her magic, of what little there was to behold of it. It certainly couldn’t fix all of her problems, though her mother would scold her for even thinking of abusing her powers for such a purpose.
There weren’t many people, other than her mother, that she could discuss these things with. Clarette and Maeve were also magic privileged, though Jolene liked to think that wasn’t the only reason they had initially gravitated towards being friends with one another.
Actually, Maeve hadn’t immediately told them the truth, and Jo and Clarette had made sure to keep their gifts a secret from her. It had not been easy. Unused magic was like a stiff muscle, it needed to be stretched and worked to its full potential, or otherwise a number of complications arose. And things had worked out for the better anyway, when Maeve’s father had accidently revealed the Donohues bizarre sorcery one night at dinner. The memory still made Jolene chuckle.
“What’s with the funny look?” Maeve asked as she returned to the kitchen.
“Just reminiscing to myself, about that dinner at your house years ago.”
“Yeah, that will do it,” She agreed, laughing a bit herself and shaking her head. “But anyway, I’d better get going. I need sleep before handling a room full of screaming toddlers.”
“I can’t believe you run a daycare.” When Jolene first heard of it, all she thought about was how adamant Maeve used to be about not having children. Today she ran a business that surrounded her with them.
“These rich parents have to pawn their kids off somewhere, and they don’t have a variety of options in Benton, unless they want to drive all the way into Plymouth.”
“You don’t put sleeping hexes on them, do you?”
“Don’t have the knack for that, Jo,” She said sniffing, her eyes widening at the confession. “Not that I would ever think of doing that.”
Jolene made a doubtful face. “Sure you wouldn’t.”
She then got up and walked Maeve to the door through the stifling home. Some of the windows would need to be cracked to allow in the cool ocean breeze. Jolene always appreciated the smell of the salt, even if swimming in the water always made her hair dry into frizzy curls.
“Look after Clarette,” Maeve spoke quietly. “I know she seems to be coping, but you never saw what it was like when Billy was sick. She’s hurting more than she lets on.”
“I know. It’s why I’m here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be too. This could be a real chance for us to catch up, and all of us being together seems to relax her.” She perched herself along the front doorjamb, hovering in the space as Maeve stood out on the porch, her blonde head almost going to the roof.
“Next thing, you’ll want to form a coven.”
“Well, we’d be one hell of a small and weak one.”
“Not if I read up on those sleeping hexes,” said Maeve with a wink. “See you later.”
She waited until Maeve was at her car before shutting the door. The home was quiet again, but if she listened hard enough, she could detect the little weeps of Clare upstairs. Jolene had never known a day of mourning in her life, having never lost anyone but her father, and she had only been one at the time. The feeling was not tangible to her, instead the tears brought out her own discomforts, and she silently crept back into the kitchen to make dinner, certain Clarette wouldn’t want to be disturbed.
Along her way she cleaned up the liners from the muffins Maeve had eaten, tossing them into the garbage while considering doing the same of the sympathy card from the person who sent them. She refrained, only because it was the decent thing, and she didn’t need to dredge up her past to Clare just because she was feeling uneasy. All because of Charles Sokolsky.
She scoffed, picking up the card and reading over it once more. There was no trickery in the writing, no hidden motive waiting to be revealed where she searched for it, yet she was certain Maeve couldn’t be right. People don’t change, a Sokolsky least of all. She set the card down and continued on her way to the refrigerator, resolved not to think about it for the rest of the night.
ga1984: I really enjoyed it! Characters were deep and plot was pretty complex. A bit on the violent side but it doesnt detract from the story. Very dark but situations make sense. Ends kinda abruptly and later chapters will need some editing work. I'm assuming there's more in the works?
Alice Liu: Whoa! I've been wondering how would the Maurauders react to Harry's life and here we go! YOU ARE THE BEST! All the characters are consistent with their personalities shown in the book! I love how you compare Lily with Molly and it's definitely true for her being a mother! I wish Peter comes have ...
Sandra Estrada: I loved every minute of it and I thank my lucky stars that brought me to the story, it's been a whirlwind of emotions, plot twist after plot twist but I never got tired of them. Abby and Kade's story is a hard one to understand but once you're submerged in their story and love, you can't help but...
Toria Danielle: I must congratulate Erin Swan on completing such a beautiful work. The Rising Sun is well rounded and leaves nothing to be wanted. ALL of the characters and their development are beautifully written. The plot is extremely well thought out. Creating a whole different type of universe is difficult ...
PaulSenkel: If you like Arthur C. Clarke's Odyssey, especially The Final Odyssey, then you will probably also enjoy this book. I definitely did.It does, however, address a more adolescent public than the above-mentioned book.I enjoyed the story and finished it in a few days. The overall situation on earth an...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."