Skye Morgan stares around the empty classroom. Gone were the students and the excited laughs of friends gossiping about their Break plans. Paper balls pile out of a beaten gray trashcan and eraser shavings litter the desks and crusty linoleum floors. Skye straightens her messy desk as much as she could; papers filled with story ideas and prompts, forgotten doodles, and the occasional swear word create large piles on every inch of the hand-me-down desk. With a sigh, Skye grabs her things and starts the trek to her car sitting lonely in the faculty parking lot. It was late, the sun was getting ready to set as she made her way to her vehicle. She would enjoy a week away at home grading papers rather than at her messy desk and maybe some time reading one of the new fantasy books she had ordered online.
“Miss Morgan, how are you?” Skye is shaken from her daydream and sees Charlotte “Lottie” Davis staring snootily at the young teacher.
As President of the PTA, head of the school field trip volunteer program, and overall former high school queen bee of the small town, Lottie Davis was all together what some might call a drama queen. Filled with a pretentious air and boasting more hairspray than a drag show, Lottie was not a favorite of Skye’s. The feeling was mutual.
Having to deal with Lottie was probably the lowlight of Skye’s week, but as the new fish in a very small pond, she had to become acquainted with the local ‘personalities,’ according to her principal. Apparently, anyone wanting to do anything fun and educational, had to be done through Lottie Davis so Skye had to put up with the substantial dramatics of the pastel-coated woman.
“I’m well, Ms. Davis. Are you here for the PTA meet—”
“Why of COURSE! I can’t believe I had to miss last week’s meeting; it seems that things have gone to ABSOLUTE shambles in my absence. Honestly, I can’t believe that Sheriff John Thomson convinced me to go out with him and miss being an INTEGRAL part of the meeting last week.” Lottie sighed dramatically, throwing an eye Skye’s way to see if she was impressed at her new ‘beau.’
“How are you settling in to your first semester here in little ole’ Woodchester?” she asks.
“I’m doing well. I hope you managed to catch up on last week’s meeting,” Skye answers coolly, looking down at her watch and eyeing the time. “Well, Ms. Davis, have a lovely week with your kids. Spring Break is one of my favorite times.” Skye smiles.
Lottie freezes, “This is Spring Break coming next week...? I completely forgot that the kids would be home the entire time...” she pales at the thought.
“Well, goodbye, I will see you around town Ms. Davis.” Skye hides her eye roll at the woman’s response and makes a beeline for the orange compact car. She pulls the door open quickly and makes a mental note inside the safety of her car to wash the gravel dust off at some point. Skye starts the car and escapes the now stuffy parking lot before driving through the small town of Woodchester to her house. With Lottie in her dust, she considers the slight joy she would have by telling the prickly woman off for once. But Skye Morgan’s temper didn’t extend to preppy, small town beauty queens. She considered herself quite pulled together on pretty much anything. Well, except maybe her family of course.
Skye takes the familiar roads, speeding through the sharp turns and curves until she catches the sight of red and blue flashing in her mirror.
Skye pulls over, knowing exactly what was about to happen. A knock comes at the window and Skye turns to see a handsome man at her window, a baton tapping against the dusty glass. Smart, suave, strong, and filled with a thick level of attitude, Sheriff Thomson smirks at the woman before him. Rolling her window down, Skye’s face turns into a frown as the man opens his mouth to make a snide remark, showing off his annoyingly perfect teeth.
“Now, Miss Morgan, I know you’re new to the area, but this is the second time this year I’ve had to pull you over in little ole’ Woodchester.”
“I’m sorry, Sherriff,” her voice filling with a level of acid unexpected from a woman of her size, “I’m just in a hurry to get home, it’s Spring Break and all.”
“That’s no reason to go breaking the law, Miss. In fact, I might have to have you come down to the office to retake your driving test to guarantee that the citizens of our town are safe from your reckless driving...”
With a twitch beginning in her left eye, Skye bites her tongue, staring into the man’s crocodile eyes unwavering.
“Or better yet,” he says, leaning into the vehicle, his fake chastising face turning into a smirk. “Instead of heading to the office, you could join me and some of my friends for a drink.”
She looks at him, appalled, as he flashes his signature cocky grin and winks. Skye scoffs and rolls her eyes at him, releasing enough snark and annoyance for both him and Lottie Davis.
“No thank you, Sherriff. I already have plans.” Through gritted teeth, she sneers at the annoying man, hoping he would get hit by the next driver speeding through the sleepy streets of Woodchester.
“Maybe next time then, Miss.” With that he tips his hat and walks away, heading back towards the SUV with its lights still flashing behind her, only adding to her annoyance. He drives off, speeding away much faster than she had been going.
Skye grumbles at the misfortune of having run into him yet again. She drives for another mile before turning into a small neighborhood filled with aging houses with clean yards and the occasional garden gnome greeting her. She rounds a smooth corner before a familiar vehicle collides with the nose of her vehicle, spinning her car around in a 180. Lurching forward, Skye lets out a yelp as her head hits the steering wheel seconds before she comes to a crushing stop.
She looks around, dazed and confused as something warm slides down her forehead and into her eyebrow and then her eye. Skye waits for the dust to settle and tries to escape her car’s confinement. Unbuckling herself, she stumbles out of the car and onto the roadside. Neighbors begin to exit their houses to look at the commotion and Skye is greeted by shocked looks of dismay and disgust. Skye looks over at the vehicle and verbally growls.
Sheriff Thomson’s SUV had obviously sped through the stop sign without checking to see if there was crossing traffic and now her head was bleeding, her car mangled and her reputation in the small town as a quiet and drama-free nobody tarnished. Skye stomps over to the man climbing out of the SUV.
“Sherriff. What do you have to say about yourself? You give me a lecture about safe driving when I was only three miles over the speed limit which apparently warrants you to pull me over and then you what, forget the laws and rules of a simple stop sign?” Skye whisper yells, throwing her hands in the air. Trying to remain calm was becoming increasingly difficult for the woman, and while she valued her usual calm demeanor, she was starting to enjoy the thought of ripping the man a new one.
Skye glares at the man, waiting for him to open his mouth.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you coming, your car is difficult to see I guess.”
“Yes, my bright orange car is difficult to see. I understand.” Skye says dryly. Sherriff Thomson shrugs before looking at the damage on both of their cars.
“I will fill out an incident report tomorrow morning.” He concedes.
“Fine.” She stomps back to her damaged vehicle and begins to access the damage to her car. She groans as she sees the front headlight hanging by a string and thinks about the cost of that nuisance. She opens her car door and begins to clean up the spilled papers and empty pop bottles filling her front seat.
In the midst of her clean-up process Sherriff Thomson begins to assist, not a word coming from his lips. As she nears the end of her new task, she receives a call. Dashing for the phone, she answers it with a breathless voice.
“Hello?” She asks.
“Mommy? When will you be home?” Sarah asks her, Skye hears shuffling in the background and a slur of Spanish berating her dog.
Skye lets out a sigh and looks at the state of her car.
“Just a few more minutes, Sweetie, why aren’t you in bed? And where’s Maria?” She sighs, referring to her amazing babysitter. “It’s late.”
“I was waiting for you.” Sarah says, yawning into the phone.
“Go to bed Sweetie, I’ll be home soon.” She tells her daughter as she lets out a tired yawn as well.
“Ok. Love you, Mommy.”
“Love you too.” Skye hangs up, pressing her earpiece and lets out an expressive sigh as she looks at the mess before her. She feels eyes on her and turns to see Sherriff Thomson staring at her with his wide blue eyes; he continues to clean, snapping his eyes away from her. He hands her a wad of Kleenex to put on her forehead.
She lets out a snort, accepting the small peace offering to wipe up the cut that had been his fault in the first place. “I thought the small-town gossip would have told you everything about me by the end of the first day I moved here. Thank you for your help in cleaning yourmess up.” She nods at him stiffly.
“Playing nice, are we?” He smiles at her, but it doesn’t quite reach his crocodile eyes.
“I just really want to get home.” Looking pointedly at John. He rolls his eyes and smirks.
“There’s the straightforward girl everyone knows and loves.” Sherriff Thomson sighs, “Well now that my SUV is wrecked, would you mind dropping me off? It’s on the way to your place.” He winks.
She looks at him appalled before thinking about the benefits of the Sherriff owing her a favor. She looks around at her neighbors. A mixture of looks of praise are directed at him and disgust at her and her vehicle.
“How do you know where I live?” she asks suspiciously.
“Small town. Ms. Jackson loves her neighborhood gossip. I always know when we have new move ins.”
Skye nods and motions for him to climb in the trash filled passenger seat and he happily obliges, “I live at the corner of A and 3rd street, the little yellow house with the green roof.”
Skye drives the Sherriff to his house slowly to make sure there wasn’t any more serious damage to her vehicle. He phones in the accident, calling in his vehicle to be towed away during the drive. He hops out, offers a wink, a thank you and another offer for drinks.
“It’s a small town, you need all of the friends you can get,” Sherriff Thomson reminds her. He hands her his card before stepping away from the car. She shoves the card onto the dash and Skye shoots him a parting glare before driving off and leaving the irritating man in her dust.
John Thomson stared after the green-eyed woman driving down the quiet streets of Woodchester. He had to admit she had fire and was the most interesting person to move to Woodchester since he had lived there. He walks up the stairs of the little yellow house and opens the door. He doesn’t bother with a key. Even as the Sherriff, he doesn’t have much crime to deal with in the small town. More often than not, it was the Davis boys getting into trouble or a local drunk causing havoc in the shops.
John was excited to have a different type of trouble roll into his small-town world. Potentially trouble caused by a dark-haired beauty with enough hidden sass to send even his snarky ass falling to the ground in surprise.
“I’ve been wanting to do that all day.” Skye groans.
Minutes later she pulls into the gravel drive next to a small white house. Skye leaves the papers and mess in her car, sighing as she thinks about having to call her parents tomorrow about the accident. She walks to the back door, pushing aside a small purple bike and various dog toys and softballs. She opens the door to her house and walks to the kitchen. Maria, her babysitter, gives her a smile as she looks up from her phone.
“Hey Miss Morgan, Sarah insisted on sitting on the couch until you got home; naturally she fell asleep. I left her there for you to move her in case she woke up like last time.”
“Thanks Maria, also thanks for working so much this week while I caught up on grading, it’s been a huge help.” Skye hands the girl a check and smiles. “Here’s a little extra for the college fund.”
“Thanks, Miss Morgan! Have a good week off!”
“You too.” Skye nods appreciatively at the young woman before she slides on her sneakers and leaves out the front door to go to her rusting green Camaro.
Skye goes to the living room to find her daughter stretched out, her dog acting as a faithful pillow, drool dripping down the side of the overstuffed couch. She smiled at the two before picking up her sleeping daughter and carrying her up the stairs to her room. Aggie lifts her head and peeks up at her master before following the pair up the wooden stairs to act as Sarah’s protector and Skye’s body pillow.
Sarah smiles in her sleep as Skye slowly puts her on the comfortable bed and tucks her in. Placing her Rapunzel doll next to her, Skye brushes the little girl’s long blonde hair from her face and watches her sleep for a few tender moments. Finally, she kisses her forehead and leaves, gently closing the door behind her. She goes to her own bedroom and throws herself on the welcoming bed and feels the bed shift as Aggie jumps up on the bed to join her.
“Aggie, not tonight.” Skye groans into her pillows, pointing a stern finger at Aggie’s unused dog bed on the floor. Aggie doesn’t listen as she scoots her way under the blankets and snuggles up beside Skye. Knowing that she’d climb up here later in a panic if the storm forecast was true, Skye let her stay. Aggie whines loudly in protest when Skye forcefully tugs her favorite pillows away from the dog’s head where she’s made herself comfortable. Aggie gives a pouting look towards her but closes her doe eyes in forfeit. Skye’s eyes fall closed after winning the pillow battle and she allows the faithful dog to sleep beside her, Aggie’s warmth comforting her as she slips into a familiar dream world.
The walls are gray and bleary, closing in around him. All he can see is black and white lines with blurs of people walking by. Crying out for help in there is like making a deal with Satan, except the pain and suffering endured would be much worse than dealing with the Devil. He won’t see home for a long time at this point. And why? What for?
He had paid his time for a crime he did commit. But it was far past the standard sentencing that was allowed. Every time his parole hearing came up, it was suddenly gone for one reason or another.
It wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t right.
He would make them pay for keeping him locked up and trapped like an animal.
She would die for doing this to him.
“As always, your midterm projects will be cumulative of what we have covered in this class so far. Just because this is a Friday night class, make no mistake that I will grade these projects easily.” As Professor Morris continued covering the class’s assignments, Elizabeth and most of the class continued to admire the teacher’s rugged physique and handsome face. The class was mostly made up with women with the occasional male. While some of the class was taking the class for their core requirements, most of the women in the class took it solely based on the fact that the professor definitely wasn’t hard to look at.
While Elizabeth was required to take Undergraduate Drawing, a redundant name if she had ever heard of one, she definitely didn’t mind watching the handsome professor lead the class.
“You will be required to create a scenery piece that reflects your inner expressionism as an artist. Don’t draw the Quad or your sad excuse for an apartment. Draw something fresh, something new. Travel, drive, visit the world. After you return from break, I expect this project to be fresh on your mind and in my hands by no later than—”
Most of the class let out a unanimous groan at the thought of working on a project over Spring Break, but Elizabeth just smiled, tucked her dirty blonde hair behind her ear and started listing off places she might visit to create her vision.
She paused and thought of a place she had long wanted to visit; a place from a postcard with the world’s cutest town square that would perfectly capture her essence, her very soul.
“It’s time to go home,” she muses with a soft smile.
“Mommy, wake up!” Two hands push on Skye’s chest and she nudges them away to ignore the movement. A man was in her dreams again. His dark brown, almost black, eyes piercing her soul as he watched her squirm in protest, hitting him and trying to get his death grip off of her thin, willow-like arms. Hitting his tattoo covered arms and pulling on his blonde hair were her only defenses as he managed to restrain her and pin her to the ice-cold ground that felt distant and isolated from the rest of the world.
“MOMMY!” The voice calls to her even louder.
“Let me sleep.” Skye mumbles.
“MOMMY!!!!” the voice yells finally. Skye Morgan’s eyes shoot open and she looks over to see Sarah standing next to the bed looking frightened as she clasps on to her doll and a square hairbrush for dear life. Her green eyes that mirror Skye’s are wide as she nervously fidgets and tugs on the mass of blonde tangles hanging below her shoulders.
“Yes, baby?” Skye asks drowsily, rubbing tears from her eyes and sitting up to look down on her daughter.
“It’s time for breakfast.” She says, scrunching her nose in confusion. “Are you ok? You were talking again.”
“Mommy’s fine. Would you like me to comb and braid your hair?” Skye lets out a fake smile towards her, changing the subject quickly. The little girl’s darkened face brightens, and she hands her mother the comb happily. Skye helps her climb onto the bed, and she sits with perfect posture as she combs her long blonde hair. She takes her sweet time braiding the thick hair as Sarah talks animatedly about what she learned in school the day before.
“Mrs. Hogan told us about the letter S. She told me that my name starts with S, but I already knew that!” Sarah smiles at her mother, turning around as Skye makes the finishing touches on the long braid.
“You are very, very smart!” Skye giggles, tickling Sarah’s sides. She squeals in laughter and makes a move to run, but Skye squeezes her tightly to her chest forcing Sarah’s warm body close to her in a tight embrace. “Come on Sweetie. Let’s make some pancakes for breakfast, how does that sound?”
“Yes Mommy!” she squeals. She turns around before she leaves the room and hugs her mom.
“I love you.” Sarah whispers in Skye’s ear.
“I love you too.” Skye smiles. She runs off and Skye climbs out of her warm comfortable bed and drags herself to the kitchen to make pancakes for the first day of break. She takes a moment to look through a paper from the city. The front page shows an article covering a horrible car accident and why updating the city’s roads and travel patterns was vital for the safety of residents. Skye sighs and says a silent prayer for the family members of the couple who died and looked through for a cheerier article to focus on, so she didn’t feel so... depressed on her first day of break.
Fortunately, Sarah acts as a welcome distraction. Sarah sits on a stool, a messy apron emblazoned with a large S dons her chest and her blonde hair glints in the soft morning light. Skye looks at the clock with a sigh. 7 a.m. on a weekend was practically sleeping in for the tired teacher. Most weekends, Sarah woke her mother at 6 a.m. or earlier, the curse of having a morning person as a child.
“Can you cut them into flowers? We were talking about flowers at school, Mrs. Hogan says that our flower garden is super pretty. She said you had put in rows of p-puh-ponies in the front!”
“Peonies.” Skye corrected, smiling at Sarah. Skye placed the mostly mixed bowl of batter in front of her with a purple whisk inside. Sarah happily went to work on her new project, yammering on about flowers and school and her new best friend, Hannah.
A sudden yowl is let out by Aggie upstairs. Skye snorts, knowing full well the dog had been scared to find both her masters gone. Claws hit the stairs and soon Skye hears the large dog tumbling down the stairs like she did every weekend when she refused to get up with Skye.
Aggie must have made a quick return to her feet as she slid into the kitchen 30 seconds later. With a chuckle, Skye fills the purple dog bowl Sarah had picked out for the animal and returns to preparing a pan for bacon.
“Mommy, can we—” Sarah stops talking and looks to her mother. “Mommy, someone’s at the front door.”
Like she had predicted it, a ring came from the doorbell and Skye groaned. She went to the door, Aggie hot on her heels. Skye looked through the glass panes and saw nothing. She opened the door and stepped out onto the peeling porch. A small envelope sat on the crooked porch swing, but no one had lingered. She looked around for the mysterious deliveryman before grabbing the envelope and heading back into the house.
She read the front of the envelope, looking for a return address or hint at who had left the strange piece of paper. Nothing was there, not a single drop of ink to clue her in to who had been her visitor. Skye opened the envelope and pulled out a thick piece of paper. Red ink written in a thin, perfect font glared up at her. Like a postcard, it had a photo on one side, and a message on the other. She read the message quickly.
“I will come for her.” Skye read aloud.
Skye flipped over the card and froze, ice filling her blood as she looked at the gruesome photo. A young woman sat in a chair, her hands and feet tied to the legs and arms. She didn’t look much younger than Skye, but she looked like she was tortured beyond what Skye could even imagine. Caught in the snapshot, the woman’s pain made up most of the picture. Trails of red dripped down from her arms and legs and pooled on the floor. Skye’s heart ached as she looked at the woman’s gruesome features. Her light-colored hair was matted down with a dark liquid and she had scratches and bruises covering all of her exposed skin. Her clothes, however, weren’t tattered or dirty, they were bright and colorful and looked slightly too young to be on a 20-something year old. They looked oddly familiar.
Skye flinched as she looked down into a pile of laundry gathered in a basket and made the realization that the clothes were just a larger copy of what Sarah had worn earlier this week. The clothes were clean, with the exception of a couple of splashes of what Skye knew was apple juice on her shorts. Thrown together in a bunch was Sarah’s outfit from the other day, apple juice stain and all. Sarah let out a startled shriek and with a gasp, Skye ran to the kitchen to find Sarah coughing, trying to escape the smoke coming from a burnt pan of bacon. Skye hurried and moved the pan, removing the ruined bacon from the heat and turning to her daughter who was safe and sound in her kitchen.
Skye took a deep breath, trying not to panic as she grabbed her daughter and apologized for the burnt bacon. Sarah nodded and smiled at her mother. Sarah didn’t sense her mother’s distress, she didn’t sense Skye’s fear, she didn’t sense that anything other than the burnt bacon was wrong, and Skye was grateful.
“I just remembered that I have to go and take a friend to work, why don’t we go and get dressed and we can go visit Sherriff Thomson’s house and take him to the station.” Skye smiles grimly.
“Sherriff Thomson? He came into our class last week to talk about catching bad guys!”
Skye was startled at her daughter’s knowledge of the man, but she pushed it off, knowing that she had more important things to focus on at the moment. Sarah hurries off and Skye quickly changes out of her pajamas and into jeans, warm socks and a white cable knit sweater. She pulls on her rain boots and helps Sarah finish getting ready before going straight to the car.
Skye straps her daughter in, checking over her shoulder in case the mysterious deliveryman was watching before climbing into the front seat and picking up the bent business card of one Sherriff Thomson.
She quickly punches in the man’s number before dialing. The tone rang in her ear before a familiar voice answers.
“What is it? It’s 7:30 on a Saturday, what do you want?” He groans.
“Sherriff, it’s Miss Morgan.” She whispers, keeping her voice low as she looks in the rear mirror at her daughter who was occupying herself with a forgotten book.
“Miss Morgan, it’s a bit early for drinks, isn’t it?” John chuckles.
“Sir, I have an issue,” Skye hisses, her voice almost breaking.
“Did the Davis Boys give you trouble and TP your house?”
“I’m coming your way to take you to the station, it’s a bit more serious than that, Sherriff.” Skye’s voice wavers and she almost loses control.
“Come on over, as you know my car—”
Skye hangs up the phone before leaving the driveway. Gravel is thrown in all directions, stones hitting her fence and rain spout, causing a roar unknown to the neighborhood on a sleepy Saturday morning. Skye notes her cranky, older neighbor Linda peering out the window. Curlers in her hair, the woman casually sips on her coffee, her glass eye keeping an unsettling steady gaze on Skye as she drives away. Skye shudders at the thought that the woman could be the one who had been able to disappear so quickly this morning. She grabs her phone from her pocket and calls her #1 confidant with the goal of finding some peace and mind.