Cassidy huffed for the third time as she rearranged the map spread across half her front seat. Her finger found the spot where she was several hours ago but just couldn’t find her current resting place. Why oh why did her phone battery die? Why oh why did she forget her charger in the bathroom of her apartment…the apartment she wasn’t going back to?? Why oh why did her friend live a thousand miles from said apartment?
Well, she could be thankful that her mother had always kept a map in the glove compartment…not that it was doing her much good…who could understand all these squiggle lines anyway? That’s why there was an app for that…not that an app was any good to anybody if your phone was dead…
“Holy crap, I am never going to get to Carol’s place before my job interview,” she spoke aloud to no one. She peered out her window to the darkening sky and knew she had to find someplace for the night…and soon…
She threw the offending paper into the passenger’s seat and got out of her car. She left the door ajar as she slowly walked the length of her beater, stretching muscles that had been cramped up way too long…a pain in her stomach caused her to wince. She held her breath, knowing it would pass within moments. Lately, that cramping was becoming a familiar part of her daily routine, basically showing up when it felt like it…
As it eased off, she let her breath escape, “Jeez, that was a good one.”
Upon straightening her body, her stomach rumbled ferociously. Her hand covered the roar, “Ok, ok, we will get something to eat…”
Good, we are both hungry…
The voice inside her that had been with her forever agreed. She laughed loudly, “Yeah, sorry about that Siska, almost forgot you were there.”
She felt a shifting, like someone stretching, deep inside her mind. She had long grown used to her imaginary friend riding shotgun inside her. When she was young, she had asked her mother why there was someone talking to her inside her head and her mother told her that it was her guardian angel there to protect her. When she grew older, she didn’t believe in guardian angels, and she didn’t mention her imaginary friend anymore either. She decided guardian angels weren’t looking out for her…not when they took her father away when she was eight…
Cassidy stared into the distance, listening to the dead silence, breathing deeply, as she thought about the changes in her life during the past year. Her life turned upside down, but these mountains remain unchanged, this road was unchanged…she didn’t like change…too unpredictable.
We have to go.
Her voice urged her to move as her stomach rumbled again, “I know, I know Sis. I just need a couple of moments.”
You cannot change what has happened.
Cassidy blew out another breath as tears formed in her eyes, “I know Sis, but I can’t help wishing…”
She felt her inner self rub against her heart, soothing, whining gently. She chuckled at the kind gesture, “What would I do without you, Sis? You always make everything all better, you know that?”
Everything will be better in a few days, Cassidy, I promise…
Cassidy looked down and kicked an errant stone, “I know it will be better, but it will probably take more than a few days…”
There was more caressing inside…No, just a couple of days and then we will both be free…
Cassidy looked up suddenly, the voice that had always been a comfort seemed almost alive, which was crazy…maybe she was crazy, finally giving in to all the stress she had been under for the last year since her mother had taken ill and upon her deathbed, told her about a past she never remembered. She wasn’t her daughter, biologically anyway. She was adopted when she was four, having been pulled from a car wreck that had killed both her parents. No family had been found and she was placed into care until she found a home a couple of months later with a wonderful couple who could not have children of their own.
She also found out that Cassidy Rose Thompson had been born Cassidy Rose MacTire. The small bracelet that had been found around her wrist had been saved and it now resided in the front pocket of her jeans. She made sure that was the one thing that would never get left behind.
Cass? Are you okay?
She shook her head and replied out loud, “Yes, I am okay Siska, just thinking.” Although she carried on long conversations with the voice inside her for years, today was the first day that she started to actually worry about it.
She was on her way to stay with her friend from high school, a thousand miles away on the east coast of the country…she had no family, no job, and her car had seen it’s better days…she could only hope it would make the trip since she did not want to abandon what little she had left on the side of the highway. Wow, not the way she had ever pictured her life at twenty-four…
Her stomach growled again and she sighed, one thing at a time…
Cassidy jumped back into her car and started it up. She mentally high fived her inner self every time it roared to life again, “Ok, let’s find someplace to eat, Sis, I am so starved too.”
An hour later she spied a small sign announcing she would be entering Terravane Valley in ten miles. She didn’t remember seeing that name on her map and she really didn’t care. She was overtired and hungry and just needed a place to lay her head.
Her car took that as a cue to cough. She jerked and glanced down at the dashboard, “No, no, no, please don’t die on me here, old girl.”
The car seemed to hear her and continued to roar towards her destination. Cassidy breathed a sigh of relief, it was way too dark to be stranded on the side of any highway. Although she wasn’t a religious person, she started to pray to anyone that wanted to listen, “Please, please get me to the next town, that’s all I ask, don’t leave me out here in the dark.”
We will make it, Cass…her voice held a note of excitement…
“Well, I hope so Sis, I don’t want us to be stuck out here alone,” she answered, hoping her little voice knew something she didn’t…which was crazy, really….
Another sign glowed in the headlights assuring her that Terravane Valley was only two miles down the road. Instinctively, she pressed harder on the accelerator, hoping to make it before the car gave her any more death wheezes.
Upon the extra charge of gas, the car coughed again and shuddered, but it still kept going, determined not to fail it’s owner.
Cassie breathed a sigh of relief when the edge of town rose up out of the dark. Lights brightened numerous houses as she slowed down to examine the small buildings. Her eyes scanned the front street, trying to find something that looked like a hotel.
She sighed as she spotted the word INN written on a large wooden sign on the lawn of a large white, non-descript house perched on the corner of an adjoining street. “Thank goodness, please say there is room at the inn…”
She parked outside the large building and turned off her beater, it coughed twice and died. Cassie didn’t want to know if it would ever start again so she didn’t bother to push her luck, at least not tonight. She got out, grabbed her purse and pulled a small overnight bag from her backseat. She glanced at the rest of her things still sitting within the car and whispered, “Well if they want it that bad, they can have it,” as she locked the doors and went up the front step of the well-kept building.
She opened the front door and quietly walked in. The décor was early 19th century, with not a lick of modern conveniences anywhere. Oh God, please let them have a bathroom…
“Hello there, just getting in?” a friendly voice piped up from a young girl coming out from a room behind a large desk.
Cassidy nodded, “Umm, yeah, I’m just parked outside, I don’t have a reservation…”
The girl grinned wider, “Well you are in luck, we just had a cancelation, probably the last room in town,” she was so friendly…
“Really?” Cassie couldn’t think why everything would be booked up out in the middle of nowhere…
“Uh-huh, is this your first time?”
First time for what??
“Um, yeah, sorry, I would have…”
The girl waved her hand, “No biggie, it happens, no problem, my name is Bethany,” she extended her hand.
Cassie shook it and realized how nice it was to see a friendly face, “Nice to meet you Bethany, My name is Cassidy.”
“Bethany! Can you help me with this?” a voice yelled through from the back of the desk.
The girl’s eyes widened, “Oops, duty calls,” she turned and grabbed a key off of a hook and placed it on the desk, “Just sign the registry and your room is next floor up on the right.” And with that, she disappeared back from whence she came.
Cassie felt perplexed, didn’t she want a credit card or something? She didn’t even know how long she would be staying…well she wasn’t going to dwell on it. She was too tired and too hungry and if it didn’t concern Bethany, it wasn’t going to concern her either.
She grabbed a pen lying next to the open registry, how quaint that was, and began to fill it out…NAME, Cassidy Th..no, MacTire, she was starting a new life so she might as well start it right…ADDRESS, hmmm tricky question, should she put in her previous address..or her new one..hmm Kansas or Georgia, she decided new life, new address, so Georgia it is…PACK…what? Cassie read it again, squinting closer in case she read it wrong…PACK…
Pack of what? What did that mean? She glanced up to the entry above, Ridgeback…hmmm…
Her overnight bag shifted on her shoulder and she swung it down to rest on the floor. She caught a glimpse of the name, Southern Oaks…oh, maybe that was the name of their luggage…why would they want the name of people’s luggage? Well I suppose it would help if they had to deliver luggage to the rooms…hmmm…strange custom….
So, she scribbled Southern Oaks down in the space under PACK and shrugged her shoulders. She scooped up the key to her room and grabbed her “pack” and climbed the stairs to the second floor. The number on her key was four and she found it at the end of the hallway.
“Please, please let there be a bathroom,” she whispered under her breath.
The door opened into a beautiful, clean bedroom dominated by a large antique four-poster bed. A coverlet in deep blue topped a huge mattress that just begged to be jumped on. Cassie couldn’t resist. She closed the door and ran for the bed, jumping and landing right in the middle, sighing at the softness swallowing her. She closed her eyes…
Cassidy, are we going to eat?
Cassie sighed, sometimes her inner self was such a pest, “Yes, yes, we are going to get something to eat, but first I am going to have a shower, if they have a bathroom…and then I need to call Carol to let her know what is going on and then we can go eat, okay?”
She felt her insides smile.
She jumped up and found the adjoining bathroom and to her delight, it had a full working bathtub with shower. Thank goodness! She quickly took the elastic from her strawberry gold hair and let it fall in a cascade down her back. She usually tied it up to keep it out of the way, but tonight, after she washed it, she was going to let it free. She grabbed her shampoo and conditioner out of her pack and jumped under the warm rain in the tub. She made quick work of washing her long hair and body and got out, putting on the housecoat that had been thoughtfully provided by the inn. Everything smelled so nice and clean!
She sat on the bed and combed out her hair and glanced at the clock beside her bed, 9:00pm, crap, it had been a long day…better call Carol…
She picked up the phone and dialed her friend. After several rings, a message let her know that Carol couldn’t come to the phone right now, damn….
“Carol, this is Cassie, listen, my phone died, I forgot my charger and I am stuck in some little town called Terra something. I am at an inn, don’t ask me the name, and I am staying the night. I have to get my car looked at tomorrow, I think she died…”
Damn, I hate answering machines…
Cassie quickly redialed and listed to the phone spiel again and left another message, “You really need a longer message time, Carol, anyways, I have to get the old girl checked out tomorrow, hopefully, something is open on Saturday and I can get a new charger for my phone so you can reach me…”
Damn, I hate answering machines…screw it, I will call her tomorrow, she’s probably out partying or something…woot, Friday night in a small town…
Well, I can at least get my stomach fed tonight…
She quickly dressed in her jeans and a tight t-shirt and bounced out of her room, hoping to catch the girl at the front desk to get a recommendation on a nice place to eat.
At the bottom of the stairs, she was out of luck, no one was manning the fort. How in the world did people expect to run a business that way?
Oh well, no sense in waiting around, time to go out and see what excitement there was in small town America on a Friday night…maybe all the people in town were as friendly as Bethany was…not that it made a difference…
Her stomach suddenly started to cramp again and she clutched it, waiting for it to pass. This time, a flush of heat swept over her from her head to her feet…whoa, that was new, maybe she would be taking a trip to the clinic tomorrow too before she got back on the road….
The episode passed and she blew out the breath she had been holding…
It won’t be much longer Cass….
There it was again, that change in her inner voice, almost like another person…crap, she hoped this wasn’t what it was like to have a split personality…although she thought they shouldn’t know each other if it was…should they?
Cassidy pushed the door open into the darkness and glanced up and down the street. There were a few people on the street, a nice normal town for a Friday night. She thought she saw a neon sign down to her right and started walking.
She was soon rewarded with bright lights declaring the best pie in town and she smiled as she entered. Inside it was toasty warm, with a lunch counter and several booths in front of the windows. She seated herself and grabbed a menu lying on the table in front of her.
Typical diner fare was listed and she quickly made her decision as an older woman with dark hair approached her, “Well hello, young miss. What can I get you to drink?”
“Umm, I think I’ll just have a Coke thanks,” Cassidy smiled, glad the person seemed very friendly, “and I will also have a BLT too.” She folded up the menu and handed it to her waitress.
The woman didn’t write anything down, “And that’s everything, hon? We have some very good pie for dessert.”
Cass didn’t want to disappoint such a friendly face, “Umm, yeah that sounds awesome, you can surprise me,” and she gave her best smile in return.
“Sure thing honey, won’t be a moment,” she took the menu and left.
Cassidy looked around the diner, admiring the décor, feeling like she just went back in time about fifty years. Very inviting and...friendly. Which actually struck her as kind of odd… She glanced out the window to people watch. She loved to sit and eat while watching the people go by outside, wondering where they were going, what they did for a living…
“Here is your drink and sandwich, hon and I will bring you your pie,” a large glass and plate was set before her and her stomach growled in anticipation.
MMMM…this looks yummy Cass…
She was about to reply when her waitress placed a huge slice of lemon meringue pie next to her sandwich, “The best pie in the east,” she declared.
Cassidy looked up and smiled, “It looks delicious, thank you very much.”
“You’re very welcome, is this your first time?” she inquired.
“Umm, yes, it is. I just got in,” Wow, these people were really taking friendly to a whole new level.
“What pack, hon?” the woman was still smiling.
Cassidy had been taking a drink of her Coke and almost spit it up as the odd question came out of her waitress’ mouth. What was with these people and luggage???
So, she said the first thing that came to mind, “Southern Oaks.”
The woman looked up as if thinking, “Hmmm, I don’t know that one sugar and I thought I knew them all.”
Cassidy threw in, “Well, I think it is fairly new.” Her stomach had started to cramp again and she struggled not to show the pain, not wanting to alarm the woman. All she had to do was breathe in deep and clench her muscles…
“Are you alright, honey?” a very concerned face was staring at her as she opened her clenched eyes.
“Uh, yeah, fine, I just haven’t eaten all day and my stomach is complaining,” she hoped the smile she gave was reassuring.
The woman nodded, “Of course, I am so sorry, you just go ahead and get that into you and you’ll feel a lot better. And you know what they say, gotta feed the beast…” she chuckled as she left Cassidy to her meal.
Who says ‘gotta feed the beast’? Maybe these people weren’t friendly, maybe they all were just shy of loco.
She felt her imaginary friend stretch and smile, she’s right, gotta feed the beast…so start eating…
Cassidy dug in, things would look better with a full stomach….