I shared the prologue to a standalone I’m working on called “Their Secret” on Sunday. If you missed it, you can read it by clicking HERE.
I promised I’d share more and here it is. This is the first part of Chapter 1. I’ll have the second part for you, later this week!
Eight Months Prior . . .
Rushing down the stairs I nearly tripped over Hiccup as he dashed up the stairs like his tail was on fire or something. Crazy cat—or smart cat. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think even Hiccup sensed the unease of my dad’s impending arrival from work. We never knew what version of my dad would be walking through the door on any given night. Angry and verbally abusive or drunk and batshit angry and verbally abusive.
I’d gotten so caught up with my homework I lost track of the time and I was surprised my mom hadn’t called for me to come help her with supper. Only halfway down the stairs I could already smell the heavenly aroma of my mom’s cooking.
“There you are.” She turned to me as she pulled a casserole dish out of the oven. “I was just getting ready to call you down.”
“Yeah, sorry.” I opened the cupboard to pull out the plates and glasses. “I was doing my homework and lost track of time.”
Just as I turned toward the table our eyes met and she lifted a brow. “Homework?”
I smirked setting the dinnerware down on the table. “Well, I did finish my homework before I started with my web design stuff.”
She turned back to the counter where she lifted the crock pot open as I continued to set the table. I started to tell her about the latest technique I’d learned when she interrupted me. “We’ll need four settings tonight.”
I turned to look at her, but she was busy with the casserole dish she took out of the oven. It was only then that I noticed it wasn’t a casserole. The dish had four large twice baked potatoes in it. She slid another pan with rolls into the oven and set the timer.
Stopped completely in my tracks, I glanced around and spotted the other serving bowls on the counter. One had what looked like her bourbon glazed carrots—something she only ever made on Thanksgiving—and the other held a big fresh salad. There was also a crumb cake on the counter. It wasn’t homemade because it was in a box, but dinners were never this formal and we never had dessert unless it was a holiday. “Who’s coming over?”
“A friend of your dads.”
I walked back to the cupboard to retrieve the extra setting for the table and leaned over to glance at what was in the crock pot. It was a roast. Mom rarely made roast—especially one this size—because it was expensive. The fanciest dinners we ever got around here was spaghetti or some kind of casserole with lots of pasta, rice or potatoes and minimal protein, which dad got most of. But it used to be we’d dine on pizza bread, frozen corn dogs or something similar and we’d do so on our own. I’d take mine to my room where I preferred to eat—away from my ever petulant dad.
It wasn’t until just recently that he started insisting we all ate at the dinner table. “Like a real family, damn it.” So, his suddenly inviting dinner guests shouldn’t have surprised me. But I was still curious.
Dad had never been the most approachable person in town. Though he always tried very hard to put up a front. Only friends he ever had over never got this kind of treatment. In fact, they rarely got invited in. Instead they hung out back with him drinking beer while throwing horseshoes or playing cards spewing out obscenities along with loud drunken cackles.
Those were the only people he’d ever let anywhere into his world. People he didn’t care about impressing because they were worse off than he was. Anyone else looking in from the outside thought we were a happy little family, with a respectable head of household, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“He said it’s an old friend.” Mom glanced back at me, but quickly went back to what she was doing. “He used to work with him when he lived in California.”
Except for the few times I’d had to spend more than a few minutes at dad’s farm equipment repair shop, I’d rarely seen him be social and halfway pleasant while sober. But it’s his place of business and he had to be as pleasant as possible if he wanted his clients continued business.
“This should be interesting,” I mumbled as I set the extra setting down.
“What was that?” My mom turned to me, but I shook my head.
Just then we heard the car pull into the driveway and I started out the kitchen glancing curiously out the window. “I’ll go wash up.” I slowed for a moment to try and get a better look but couldn’t see anything from my angle.
Whatever. I shrugged continuing to the downstairs bathroom. Anyone who’s ever willingly wanted to hang out with my dad has never been anyone I want to be around. I’d enjoy the special dinner, then excuse myself as soon as it was possible. I was anxious to get back to what I was working on upstairs anyway.
As I turned off the sink water, I heard the most foreign sound in the world and I froze. My dad was laughing and talking in a gracious sober tone I hadn’t heard in years. I stared in the mirror for a moment and almost laughed. The unfamiliar voice wasn’t nearly as loud as my dad’s. I couldn’t even make out what he was saying but it sounded like polite responses to whatever my parents were saying to him.
I dried my hands off and headed back to the kitchen. There was a man sitting at the table facing the other way. My dad, who sat across him, was the first to spot me. “And this here is my baby girl, Camilla.”
The term of endearment caught me so off guard I didn’t even turn my attention to his friend because I was busy eyeing the man at the table who said it. Whoever you are, please tell me your replacing my real dad and he’s never coming back.
“Camilla, this is my good friend Dante.”
Finally, I turned to the man and the first thing I was struck with is how much younger he was than I’d expected. I was no good at guessing people’s ages, especially ones out of their teens but if I had to guess he looked to be in his early twenties.
I smiled politely. “Hello.”
Even as I nodded, I had to wonder why in the world this guy would want to hang out with an old guy like my dad. I could never remember my parents ages exactly, but I was pretty sure they were pushing forty.
“Nice to meet you, Camilla.” He stood reaching his hand out to mine.
I shook his hand making note of his slightly callused yet strangely soft hand. Saying the polite thing back, that it was nice to meet him too, I took the seat next to him at the table. But what I really wanted to say was I’m stunned to meet him. I expected someone around my dad’s age. Maybe not as obnoxious as the friends he’s had over in the past, given the spread my mom put out. But still, he was almost the opposite of what I’d imagined.
Aside from being much younger than expected, he was clean shaven, well groomed, dressed nicely in clean jeans and short sleeved buttoned shirt and even smelled nice. Not like the blend of whiskey, BO and cigarettes the men Dad’s had over in the past. Clearly, Dante went the extra mile to not only shower and appear presentable, he was even wearing cologne.
As much as my father was playing the part of a happy family man who came home to a dinner like this every night, I knew better than anyone that so was not the case. I honestly loathed when he got home drunk from work, which was often, I actually preferred it that way. It usually meant he wouldn’t be eating, which in turn meant I was free to take my food upstairs and eat in peace.
My mom had already set the serving platters on the table and I started to reach for it. “Not until I’ve said grace, Camilla.”
With my hand frozen in mid air, I stared at my dad in disbelief, and my jaw nearly dropped. He could not be serious. I brought my hand back slowly, turning to my mom who nodded holding her hands together in front of her. Grateful that she did, because otherwise I wouldn’t have even known what to do since we’ve never said grace before, I did the same.
Clearing his throat, my dad started, and I closed my eyes because this was as awkward as it was ridiculous. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.”
I opened one eye when he stopped and saw him reach for a roll. Just like that, his prayer was over, and I had to wonder if he didn’t just Google and memorize the three sentences on his way home from work.
Dante didn’t immediately reach for any of the food, even as my dad slopped food on his own plate like it might run out. “Help yourself,” my dad said when he noticed Dante not serving himself. “I’m probably biased but the little wifey here is a heck of a cook.”
I’d officially entered the Twilight Zone. My eyes met my dad’s as I tried to make out if someone really did take over his body. But then I saw it. His smiling eyes went from easy going and sweet to his usual hard demeanor. I could almost hear his silent warning. You keep your fucking mouth shut and just go along with this.
I had no clue what my dad was up to, but I knew him well enough. He was up to something. He started telling Dante about the shop. From the sound of the conversation this wasn’t the first time they’d talked about it. Dante asked about a tractor dad was working on; stuff even I didn’t know, nor did I care about.
I sat quietly eating not paying too much attention to what they were saying until my dad dropped the news on us. But he didn’t really tell us, so much as tell Dante like it was something we already knew about.
“So, the garage is all set up for you.” I glanced up, but dad was too busy stuffing his face he didn’t even look up from his plate. “There’s a bed out there and a chest of drawers for you. No bathroom but you’re welcome to use the one in here anytime you need to.”
When I glanced at Mom it was obvious this was news to her as well. She was staring at my dad who still hadn’t bothered looking her way and she appeared to have been caught mid chew. When she turned to me, she started to chew again as if this didn’t actually shock her as well.
This shouldn’t have surprise me. Not only had my dad’s drinking grown heavier over the years so had his lack of respect for either of us. Not that he’d ever actually respected a snot nosed kid like myself but at least he used to tell my mom in advance when he was having company—which in this case he did—just left out the part about him inviting his guest to move into the garage. I used to think he kept his foul-mouthed friends outside out of respect for my mom. But as I got older, I distinctly got the feeling they were discussing things out there he didn’t want my mom to hear.
“I have some money put away.” Dante turned to my mom as if addressing her. “As soon as I’m able to find a place I can afford in town, I’ll be out of your hair.”
“No worries,” my dad said without giving my mom a chance to respond. “You can stay here as long as you need to. That’s what friends are for, right?”
The Cheshire grin on my father’s face turned from Dante, to me and then my mother. As if we’d all been in on this and he didn’t just drop this news on us completely out of nowhere. Now his having been out in the garage for days doing what my mom called spring cleaning made sense. The man was a slob. The only reason this house wasn’t a pig sty was because of my mom and me. I should’ve known something was up. But I was just glad he was spending his time out there and not inside bullying me and my mom, so I hadn’t cared.
The conversation went back to the shop and fixing farm equipment and soon dinner was over. Dad took Dante out to see his knew place while mom and I cleaned up. The moment they were out of hearing range I turned to my mother. “What the heck was that about? Did he tell you he was gonna move his friend in?”
“Of course not,” she said quickly. “But he did say he’s wooing a new business partner. I guess this is his idea of wooing.” She shrugged as she loaded the dishwasher. “Dante seems nice enough. Could’ve been worse. At least it’s not one of his other friends.”
My mom moved about cleaning in a rush and I suspected she wanted to be done and in her bedroom by the time my dad returned. I helped her, and we were done quick enough. We headed to our bedrooms without anymore talk of our new houseguest or even the weirdness of my father’s demeanor around him.
Wooing a new business partner. It made even more sense now. I should’ve known money had everything to do with my father being such kiss ass. Just made me wonder how a man who’d be living in our garage could possibly help my dad financially.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Chapter 1 COMING SOON!!!