Of Fate and Angels Chapter 7

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Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

(Full Release Coming Soon)

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Chapter 7

Friday has arrived. I peep through my eyelashes as the morning sunlight filters into my room through the pale, yellow curtains that hang over the window. One more day at school and it’ll be the weekend. I roll over to look at my alarm clock. Darn.

It’s nine thirty, I’m very late. I hear the phone ring downstairs and Bobby picks up. I strain to listen.

“I know Mrs Whitehaven. But you have to understand-“

Double darn.

“Yes but she’s been to hell and back these last months, can’t you cut her a bit o’ slack?”

He pauses whilst Mrs Whitehaven speaks.

I jump out of bed and start to dress. I choose a fitted navy skirt and a black vest top. I sling my satchel over my body, hastily make my bed then fling the curtains open.

I gasp.

Mason is standing opposite my house, leaning on the neighbours wall. He looks up at me with a grin and I just gape at him. How long has he been waiting there for me?

I turn, run out of my room and jog down the stairs.

I see Bobby in the hallway, holding the phone to his ear. He mimes banging his head against the wall as he sees me.

“Yes, she’s just leaving now, Mrs Whitehaven. Okay, alright. G’day.” He hangs up. “That woman. She’s an evil old bat.”

I laugh. “Sorry Bobby.” I feel guilty. Oh, guilt’s back. That’s good, I might stop being such a bitch at school.

“Don’t be. You ain’t done nothin’ wrong, Reilly.”

I nod slowly. “See ya later, Bobby.”

“I can drive ya to school,” he says, reaching for his keys that are hanging from a hook on the wall.

I shake my head. “Mason’s walkin’ me.”

He raises his eyebrows then shrugs.

“See ya,” I say.

“Wait. Lunch.” He runs to the kitchen and returns with a brown paper bag.

“Thanks.” I smile and tuck it into my satchel.

“No meat,” he says as I’m walking out of the door.

I glance back and give him a half-smile as I shut the door.

Mason rushes up to me. “You okay?

“I’m good.” I say brightly. I actually do feel pretty good this morning.

I reach up and lace my fingers together behind his neck then lean back and look up at him. Oh no. I feel guilty because I don’t like him that way. No guilt, don’t do this to me. I need him.

He reaches up and back around his own neck to rest his hands on mine. He gazes down at me like I’m a puzzle to be solved. Solve me Mason because I don’t think I can.

He unclasps my hands gently but keeps one of them in his own, lacing his fingers with it. It’s so nice. I feel something, what is it? Happy. I’m happy. My favourite emotion, and the one that defines the old me, is back. Hello, happy. Please stay. You’re keeping guilt at bay. I could do a backflip if I were a gymnast but sadly I’m not.

I squeeze his fingers and we start walking. We aren’t in any particular hurry but I’m sure we should be considering Mrs Whitehaven’s angry phonecall. By the time we casually arrive at school we’re over an hour late. We head to our second class which is music, slipping through reception before we’re seen.

***

I listen to people clanging instruments together as we’re set assignments by the teacher, Mr Patience. He lives up to his name but I certainly don’t. I want them all to shut the hell up. He works quietly at his desk while mayhem ensues around him, smiling contentedly to himself. Each to their own I guess.

Eliza Beth thrusts a triangle at me and I force a smile.

“Not today, Liza,” I say. Damn triangles.

She frowns then runs off to join Mattie who’s playing on a keyboard. He hasn’t spoken to me since the incident in the courtyard. Maybe it’s better that way for now. I can make amends when I’m feeling right again.

We’re supposed to be coming up with a short radio jingle in groups. It’s the last thing I want to be doing.

“Miss Montiel. Do you have a group?” Mr Patience calls across the room.

I go to shake my head but Mason drops into the seat beside me, placing a xylophone down on the desk in front of us.

Mr Patience smiles and nods then returns to his work.

“Kill me now,” I mutter to Mason.

“What? You don’t wanna play the xylophone?” he asks sarcastically, making me smile.

“I’m just more of a trombone kinda gal,” I say.

He laughs then taps out a melodic tune on the instrument. He writes down the notes on a sheet of music paper and I watch him do it. He takes my empty music sheet and fills it in for me.

“Thanks,” I say.

I listen as Mason works on the tune. I start to feel a little shaky. I shuffle my chair closer to him like his presence will right me. Our shoulders rub together as he plays on the xylophone.

Everything’s starting to weigh down on me again. Happy is well and truly gone. Pain is back. I hate pain, go away. Pain, pain go away, come back another day. Or never. Could that work as our radio jingle?

“You wanna go,” Mason states and it’s true.

I nod, chewing my lip as it begins to shake.

“You did well today,” he says.

I think he’s talking about my mood this morning not my abysmal attempt at staying in school. I’ve barely made it through one lesson. I feel tears coming. After three months you’d think I’d have gotten control of myself by now. I drop my hands into my lap and look down at them. I don’t wanna let the tears fall. I’ve got to keep it together.

Mason takes my hand out of sight under the desk. His hand is large and mine fits inside it perfectly like it was made for me.

“You can go as soon as the bell rings. Just five minutes left,” he says.

I nod and squeeze his hand. He becomes a lifeline in that moment as if holding his hand is the only thing stopping me from running and screaming out of the room like a toddler.

“Four minutes,” he says, close to my ear.

Then the pain begins to recede and suddenly I’m starting to keep it together again.

“Three minutes,” he says.

He runs circles on the back of my hand with his thumb and my body relaxes. I look up into his large, brown eyes and something else stirs inside me. Something long since forgotten has broken free of the locked box buried inside me.

I want to kiss him.

I’m in the middle of a class full of people and I want to kiss a guy I don’t even really know. What’s that emotion? Lust mixed with a hint of crazy.

“Two minutes,” he mouths, his eyes not even looking at the clock.

I gaze at him and everything around me fades slightly, like I’m standing somewhere alone and safe.

I’m so close to him. I tilt my chin up. His expression is calm.

“One min-” before he can finish I kiss him. I don’t know what’s possessed me. But that’s what I am, possessed.

He pulls away in shock and then everything comes flooding back like a tidal wave. Oh no.

I’m on my feet in an instant and I start running. The school bell sounds just as I reach the door. I have my bag but my notebook is left behind. I don’t care. I need to escape. What the hell did I just do?

Goodbye school, I say in my mind as I exit the reception. Miss Hardy calls after me but I’m gone.

The sun beats down on me as I travel the roads alone. Alone is good. I must remember that.

***

I run around the lake and I’m free. I feel so embarrassed. It’s a new emotion though which part of me is happy about. Hello, embarrassment. Perhaps that’s why I did it! To shock myself into feeling some new emotion. I wish.

Well done, Reilly Montiel. You’ve scared off the only person that was making you feel better. And you scared off happy for Christ’s sake.

Half way around the lake, I drop down to the ground. I’m far away from the world once more. I don’t think I can face going back to school today. No, I won’t go. I’m safe here and in my home where Bobby wonders if I’ll ever be okay again. That’s the norm now.

I recall Mason’s face when I kissed him. He looked shocked. Maybe horrified? No it wasn’t that bad. Maybe he was just surprised? He held my hand after all. Twice in fact. And there was that hug in the restroom. That was pretty intimate.

I mean, sure, he probably didn’t expect me to kiss him in the middle of a crowded classroom but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like me in that way. Does it? He said he doesn’t. I said I didn’t though. Maybe his feelings have changed? I hope they have though I shouldn’t.

I lie back on the dusty ground and focus on the free feeling I get this far away from everything. I consider the new emotions that have awakened in me. They’re dissolving now and numbness is taking their place. Hello old friend. It’s interesting all the same. I actually wanted to kiss somebody. This feels like a small victory to me, despite how shamefully I acted.

I’d never felt that way before. I remember fancying Mattie back when I was normal. But we’d been friends. It wasn’t the same. Mattie was a school hottie and he was into me. I wanted to kiss him because I felt privileged that he wanted to kiss me. It wasn’t like that with Mason. I felt powerfully drawn to him back in the classroom, it was almost instinctual to be with him that way. The problem is, Mason doesn’t seem to want me like that at all.

***

I shower back at home. The house is empty and the room at the end of the hall scares me as I exit my room. My parents room. Normally, I don’t dare to even look at the wooden door. It leers at me. Part of me wants to go inside but I don’t.

I go downstairs and find myself in the kitchen. I sit at the wide oak table and cry for a while. I grew up here. Mom always insisted we eat as a family but now I’ll never eat with them again. I lay with my cheek against the cool surface and run a finger through the cracks in the wood. There’s scratches in it where I dug my fork in as a grumpy kid. It made Daddy so mad. He’d built this table himself.

“I’m sorry,” I apologise to the table.

I know I should eat so I get up and open the fridge. It looks so different since Bobby moved in. There’s no fresh food. Just processed, packaged stuff and a rack of beer.

I want salad.

I return to my room and dress. I choose denim cut-offs, a black t-shirt and sandals. I pull my satchel over my shoulder and rummage in my bedside table for my purse. I find it and drop it into my bag.

I walk to the small high street where there’s a few local shops, including Daddy’s. Mom was an estate agent on the other side of town so I don’t have to be haunted by her workplace where I’d been brought as a kid.

I enter the small supermarket and head straight to the fresh produce. I choose the best looking veg and some fruit to stock the fridge with. I pay and leave the shop, carrying the shopping bag in one hand. I spot Daddy’s hardware store across the road, Montiel Hardware, and decide to say hello to Bobby. I enter and a bell rings as I open the door, bringing back a hundred memories. I freeze in the doorway, pushing the thoughts away.

My heartbeat slows and I approach the desk. Bobby is busy stacking the shelves so I clear my throat and he turns to look at me.

“Reilly, aren’t you supposed to be at school?” he says but there’s no edge to his words.

I retrieve a banana from my shopping bag and lay it on the counter.

“Thought you could use some fruit in your diet of beer and meat,” I say with a smile.

He grins and takes the banana. “Thanks. What are you gonna do with yourself today then?”

I shrug.

“Run?” He raises an eyebrow as he peels the banana.

“Already did,” I say. I look around the shop and decide I want to stay. “Can I help out here today?”

Bobby frowns in surprise. “Sure. If that’s what you want.”

“I do. I’ll put these out back.” I rush past the counter and through the back door to the small kitchen Daddy had installed there. He was so handy.

I shove the food inside it then return to the front of the shop.

“You can help me stack shelves if you want?” Bobby suggests.

I nod eagerly and grab a box of bagged up products for sale.

“You know what you’re doin’?” Bobby asks as I carry the box towards the back of the shop.

“Yeah,” I say. “I used to help out here sometimes.”

I hang the bags of nails, screws, washers, bolts, and various other bits and bobs in their rightful places on the walls, putting them on small rails.

“I’ve got a guy comin’ in later to interview for a job here,” Bobby says.

“Oh? Did Mr Tully finally leave then?”

“Yeah, he’s movin’ to Indiana tomorrow.”

I liked Mr Tully. He used to buy me sweets from the grocery store when I spent time here as a kid.

I enjoy the work, it takes my mind away from everything else. Part of me wishes I could take the job and work here full time but I know Bobby would never let me quit school.

Bobby tells me to take a lunch break while he mans the shop. I reluctantly go into the kitchen. I use the veg I bought to make a salad, trying to imitate Mason’s one as best I can. I make one for Bobby but put a sandwich on the side of his because I know he’ll complain otherwise. I place his plate in the fridge and take my food out the back of the shop where there’s a small courtyard with a bench. I sit and eat, enjoying the crisp freshness of the salad.

After a while Bobby comes outside.

“The guy’s here to interview, are you alright to take over the shop for a bit?”

I nod and bring my empty plate into the kitchen. “I made you lunch. It’s in the fridge.”

“Wow, I might have to let you come work here more often,” Bobby says.

“Don’t tempt me,” I say with a smile.

I put my plate in the sink, grab an apple from the fridge then return to the shop. The guy standing there can only be a few years older than me. He has dark blonde hair and the same in stubble around his jaw. He‘s tall and muscular and, although he doesn’t look like him, somehow reminds me of Mason. I think it’s the way he immediately commands presence when he enters the room. His skin is tanned and his eyes are grey and light.

Bobby shakes his hand and I jump into the seat behind the till.

The guy’s eyes slide over me. He moves like a predator. I feel a little unsettled. I take a deep bite out of my apple and start going through the accounts to keep my eyes off of him. I glance up and his eyebrows are furrowed as he glares at me.

Jesus, what crawled up his ass and died? I chomp down on the apple and swivel my chair so I’m looking away from him.

Bobby leads him to a table he‘s set up in one corner of the shop for the interview. I hear the guy talking to Bobby and his tone is light, casual and friendly. Maybe he just has resting bitch face syndrome...

I chance a glance at him and his eyes are burning into mine. I let go of the apple in surprise then have to drop to the floor to pick it up like an idiot.

Please don’t hire this guy, Bobby. I need this place as one of my sanctuaries.

I set the apple core down and get off of the stool. I wet my lips and walk boldly up to their table.

“Coffee?” I offer in my sweetest voice.

“Yes, thanks,” Bobby says. “Earley this is Aurelia, my niece.

“Reilly,” I correct, meeting the icy gaze of Earley.

I wonder if Bobby can see the hatred in this man’s eyes as clear as I do. He doesn’t seem to, that’s for sure.

I stalk off into the kitchen and start up the coffee machine. I linger in the doorway, listening to their conversation.

“-just flew in from Dallas. Now I’m lookin’ for a job. I’ve worked with all kinds of tools on my pa’s farm so thought this would suit me,” Earley says.

Dallas…maybe he does know Mason.

“And are you plannin’ on stayin’ in Angel’s Rest for long?” Bobby asks.

“I was thinkin’ of settlin’ here for a year or so,” Earley replies.

Darn-it. I don’t want this guy working in my Daddy’s shop. I grit my teeth and fill up two cups of coffee. I love the smell but hate the drink. I bring it out to them. I know Bobby likes his black. I look at Earley and raise an eyebrow. “Milk? Sugar?”

“Milk but don’t call me sugar,” Earley says charmingly.

I know what you’re up to, sweet cheeks. You don’t fool me.

Bobby laughs and I pull a fake smile and take his cup back to the kitchen. I put a drop of milk in and return to the table. Earley reaches out to take it but I place the cup in front of him. Ha.

I walk back to the front desk.

I serve a couple of customers whilst the interview continues, occasionally throwing a glance over to them. Eventually, Earley gets up and shakes Bobby’s hand. Bobby stands and they walk towards the door.

“Well, Mr Black, I say you’ll fit in real nicely here. When can you start?” Bobby asks.

I grip the edge of the counter, digging my nails in. No. No. No!

Earley smiles. “Tomorrow too soon?” He throws a look at me like he’s angry that I’m listening.

I stare back evenly, not giving him the satisfaction of looking away this time.

“Tomorrow’s great. Start at nine and I’ll show you the ropes,” Bobby says.

“See you,” Earley says, touching his hat to Bobby. He exits the shop and struts off down the road.

“You kiddin’ me Bobby?” I snap. “Did you see the way that guy was lookin’ at me?”

“What are you talkin’ about? He was all kinds of nice.”

“He glared at me,” I say, placing my hands on my hips and mimicking the way he looked at me.

Bobby laughs. “Nonsense.”

“Well, what if I wanna work here?” I jump down off the stool and lean over the counter.

“You can’t quit school,” Bobby states.

“I know, I know. How about two days a week and some shifts after school?”

Bobby folds his arms and assesses me. I give him my biggest eyes, adopting the lost kitten look he works so well himself.

“Just after school shifts,” he offers.

“Na ah. One day a week. Come on, Bobby. I can’t be in that school all week. You can talk to Mrs Whitehaven. Tell her it’s extra-curricular,” I plead.

“Reilly-“

Please, Bobby. I’m dyin’ in there. Did you know I had to listen to a whole lesson of Mrs Pickhurst tellin’ me all about how there’s life after death. In front of all my friends, Bobby. Like she was talkin’ directly to me and all.”

Bobby softens. “That Mrs Pickhurt is still teachin’? She taught me religion for heaven’s sake.”

“Well, you’re not that old,” I say, trying to sweeten him. “The women in town still have quite a soft spot for you.”

Bobby grins. “That I can’t deny. Alright, alright. You win, you can do two after school shifts and one day a week. I won’t work you any harder than that or they’ll be accusin’ me of reinstatin’ slavery.”

I rush around the counter and hug Bobby. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

He hugs me back tightly. I realise it’s the first genuine hug I’ve given him since everything happened. I’m not the only one it happened to. I shouldn’t forget that. When I release him I’m startled by the person walking in the door.

“Mason? What are you doin’ here?” I ask.

The memory of me kissing him comes rushing back and I feel my cheeks heat up. I touch one in wonder, horrified but a little happy to feel the reaction.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he says to me, nodding his head to Bobby in greeting.

Bobby smiles and walks behind the counter. “You can go if you want now, Reilly.”

I nod. “See ya later.”

I walk outside with Mason and follow him in silence down the road.

“You kissed me,” he states as casually as if he were commenting on the weather.

I don’t cringe because I expected him to bring it up.

I nod. “I’m sorry.” That’s the right thing to say I think.

We turn down a narrow street with rows of acacias on either side. He stops me half way down it.

I wonder if I should tell him I don’t like him that way? Or do I like him that way? I’m so confused.

“Look, we can’t be a couple, okay?” he says.

Damn he got there first.

His eyes burn into mine. He looks stoic and brooding and there’s those little flecks of gold catching my eye again.

I nod dumbly. “It was a spur of the moment thing. It won’t happen again. I don’t know what I was thinkin’. You’re takin’ Maylene to the rodeo for god’s sake.”

I fold my arms and gaze down the street.

“I am,” he agrees.

I feel a little irritated. Then angry. I am suddenly so angry. What has gotten into me? I want nothing more than to scream and shout at him but he hasn’t done anything wrong. I wish he had so I could yell at him without guilt.

“I hooked up with Maylene last night,” he says.

The words hit me like a punch to the gut. Now I’m furious. And darn-it if I have reason to be. “What! How could you?!” I shove him in the chest.

“You and I aren’t together, Reilly.”

I shove him again. “Then why are you actin’ like this around me?! Why are you doin’ this to me, Mason!?” Apparently I do have feelings.

“Because you need me to,” he says. His eyebrows furrow and a little v forms between his eyes.

I shove him with every word I say next. “What. Does. That. Even. Mean?!”

I’m too angry to wait for a reply. I storm off down the street. Since the first time I met him, I don’t want him anywhere near me. Why did I okay his stupid relationship with Maylene? I curse my own idiocy. Why didn’t I see it before? The way I feel is so obvious now.

As my anger fades, darkness rushes back in. Oh no. Pain is coming. I run flat out back to my home. I charge upstairs and slam my bedroom door shut behind me. I turn and punch it as hard as I can then a scream rips from my lungs.

I collapse onto the bed. I’m alone again. Alone is always best. Why do I keep forgetting that? I let my guard down, now look what’s happened? It’s my own fault. I’ll never do it again.

I scream into my pillow and the last of the anger leaves my body. I sob until I fall asleep but only more pain awaits me in my dreams.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 6

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Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

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Chapter 6

I wake up with a sharp intake of breath. Mason’s hand runs soothingly over my hair. How long was I fall asleep for? His grip tightens around me. It’s so nice. I feel so safe. Nothing can hurt me here in his embrace. I feel completely relaxed and content. I haven’t slept that well since the accident. My sleep is usually broken and full of pain. Perhaps he’ll be my plutonic sleeping partner. I almost laugh at the thought. Now that would be weird.

“What time is it?” I whisper.

“Just past five,” he murmurs back.

I wonder if he slept as well or if he just sat here silently for two hours.

“Wanna stay for dinner?” Or forever? I add in my head.

“That’d be nice.”

“Only if you want to,” I say quietly.

He nods and I feel his chin rub against my hair. I turn my head so I’m looking up at him. He really is incredibly attractive. He looks like a model. But not a skinny one, he’s all muscles and a strong jaw. Why don’t I fancy him? That part of me is buried so deeply I can almost feel it there, rattling away in a locked box. At least it’s still in there.

He smiles. He doesn’t want me that way either. Good. That’d be way too messy.

I take a deep breath in through my nose and push the blanket away from me. I start to get up and he pushes the small of my back to help me.

I stretch then turn and grab his hand and he lets me struggle to pull him up, hanging all his weight on my arm. He tugs effortlessly and I fall back down into his lap. He wraps me up again, pulling the blanket over both of our heads so we’re in a cocoon. It’d be nice to emerge from this blanket as something else, like a caterpillar does when it turns into a butterfly. I’m not sure what I’d choose to be though.

Our breath quickly heats up the small space. I rest my head on his shoulder.

“So what do you really see when you look at me? And don’t you dare say I’m perdy again or I’ll punch you.”

He laughs and I feel the vibration of it through my shoulder.

“Hmm,” he says. “I think you’re lost.”

Lost. Maybe I am. But that would imply I can be found. “Will you find me?”

“I’m trying to,” he says softly, setting the tone more serious than I intended.

I gaze up into his eyes trying to figure out his motives. Am I leading this guy on? I should check. “You don’tfancy me do you?” I cringe a little at the brazenness of my words.

His eyes widen and then he laughs again. “No, Reilly.” He tightens his grip on me.

Good. Or is that bad? Did part of me want him to? I don’t feel rejected so I shrug and guiltlessly nuzzle up into his shoulder.

The front door bangs and I quickly pull the blanket down. I don’t want Bobby to get the wrong idea about us though I think he already has.

“Pizza, sleepy heads,” Bobby calls.

Oh, I guess he saw us sleeping then. That means Mason slept too. I hope he was as relaxed as I was.

We stand and walk out to the kitchen. Bobby has bought one large, pepperoni pizza and one Margherita.

“Plain or meat?” he says, getting three plates from the cupboard and serving out slices.

“Plain,” I say, knowing I should tell him about my recent conversion to vegetarianism. How do you tell your T-rex uncle you’ve decided to become a Diplodocus?

“She’s not eatin’ meat right now,” Mason says, taking all the pressure away from me.

Bobby frowns at me. “But my sandwiches,” he says through a mouthful of pepperoni pizza.

“I’ve been eatin’ them,” Mason lies.

I thank him internally. I don’t want Bobby to think I’m ungrateful.

Bobby shrugs. “I’ll make you ones without meat then.”

I smile and nod. He didn’t care after all.

We sit at the oak table and I make it through four slices. Its the most I’ve eaten at one time in months.

After eating we watch a movie in the living room. Mason chooses it off of the shelf. It’s an action movie with lots of death and zero emotions. Perfect.

Bobby sits in the armchair and Mason and I sit side by side on the sofa. He doesn’t put his arm around me which I’m glad for because I want Bobby to get the hint that we aren’t together.

Perhaps Bobby seeing us curled up on the sofa together is too damaging an image though.

I feel anxiety rising in my chest as it gets later because I know Mason will be leaving soon. He makes everything easier for a while. When I look down, my hands are shaking.

I excuse myself and go to the restroom. The downstairs restroom is small and fits snugly under the staircase. I look into the oval mirror on the wall. It has tiny, mirrored pieces of green glass around the rim. It’s my Momma’s style. I grip the edge of the sink and squeeze my eyes shut. I need numbness to come but it’s a difficult feeling to wrangle, like lassoing a shrew.

There’s a light tap on the door. I open it half an inch and one of Mason’s dark eyes becomes visible, looking in at me intently. I slide it open further and he steps inside and shuts it behind him. The bathroom is very small so he presses up against me right away.

He hugs me and I cling to him. I imagine us fitting together like those friendship necklaces you can buy, two halves making one whole.

My back digs into the sink but I don’t care. I tighten my grip on him.

“I’m supposed to be gettin’ Bobby a beer,” Mason mumbles right beside my ear. Tingles run up and down my spine. He’s awakened something unfamiliar in me.

My hands move up to his neck and I hold his head so our cheeks are pressed together. I don’t know why I’m behaving this way but I can’t stop. I notice the shaking has ceased. This is why I hug him, because it makes the pain go away. There’s no other reason.

He seems to understand me so well. But maybe he doesn’t really. Maybe I’m imagining it because I need someone to be there for me. Or maybe this is all some ploy of his. I hope not.

He releases me, silently exits the restroom and slides the door shut. I feel balanced again like a tightrope walker who had a stumble but found their feet before it was too late.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 5

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Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

(Full Release Coming Soon)

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Chapter 5

Mattie corners me as I enter the cafeteria with Mason and Maylene.

Darn-it.

“Can we talk a sec?” he asks eagerly.

I nod and force a lump down in my throat. Mason can’t save me from this one.

Mattie leads me out into the courtyard. I see Eliza and CJ eyeing us curiously from the lunch queue. Sorry Eliza.

My anxiety levels are rising dangerously. Does he have any idea how much I don’t need this right now?

Mattie takes my hands and looks at me expectantly. “Well? Take me back, Reilly. We’re good together.”

The thought of saying yes is repellant. It’s not that Mattie’s not good looking or whatever but there’s no way I could be with him like that anymore. I feel like an alien standing in front of him. He has no idea how different I am now.

“Mattie you’re with Eliza,” I say, tugging my hands out of his grip. He doesn’t release them.

“Screw Eliza,” he says.

Mattie, don’t,” I say firmly, pulling at my hands again.

“You’re just goin’ through some stuff. You don’t know what you want. I get it, Reilly. I can help you. Let me be here for you,” he implores.

No he can’t. No one can. No one but Mason.

“It’s more than that Mattie. I’ve changed. I’m not the girl you liked before.”

He shakes his head. “You are. You just need time to learn who you are again.”

“No, Mattie. You don’t understand. This is irreversible.”

He grips my hands tighter. “You just need to be reminded of what we had,” he says softly.

He let’s go of my hands at last and in one, swift movement cups my head in his palms and presses his lips to mine.

Panic rises inside me and I shove his chest hard but he doesn’t let go.

He’s yanked away from me seconds later and I see Mason standing there gripping his shoulders. “That’s enough,” he growls at Mattie.

I wipe my lips with the back of my hand angrily.

“Who do you think you are? You don’t even know Reilly,” Mattie snaps.

“Trust me. I know her better than you do,” Mason says calmly.

Mattie shoulder barges past Mason and reenters the cafeteria. I run to Mason and he folds me into his arms.

“Oh, Mason, I can’t be here anymore,” I mumble into his chest. This is too much.

His embrace soothes me. He strokes my hair softly and my heartbeat returns to normal.

“You can make it to the end of the day,” he tells me and I believe him.

I step away and nod. We’re standing behind a pillar, out of sight of the cafeteria.

“You can have my salad?” he offers temptingly.

I laugh. “I suppose I can’t say no to that.”

***

I make it to the end of the day. Thankfully, Eliza didn’t find out what happened between me and Mattie. I saw them cuddling later in the day so I guess he’s decided to stay with her for now. Poor Eliza.

I sigh with relief as I leave school. I skipped the end of day registration, but that doesn’t count. I don’t wanna mingle with people on the walk home.

As I reach the end of the road I spot Mason leaning against the trunk of the acacia. His arms are folded and he’s eyeing me with interest. I wonder what he sees when he looks at me. Eliza sees someone mature, Mattie sees the girl I used to be, I reckon Maylene sees a guy stealing ho but what does Mason see?

He walks out from under the shade of the tree to meet me. I didn’t plan to meet him after school yet here he is like he knows where I’ll be before I do.

When he’s a few feet away I expect him to stop walking but he doesn’t. He approaches me and pulls me into a hug. My arms slip around his back instinctively. I can feel the muscles there through the light grey t-shirt he’s wearing. I make a sound of contentment in my throat. I think I could actually fall asleep here. The thought makes me smile and I step away before I’m literally lulled into sleep, standing in the middle of the street wrapped around Mason Gold.

“You made it,” he says.

I pump my fist sarcastically and he laughs.

He drapes his arm over my shoulder as we start walking. I was planning on going home but now I let Mason guide my feet. If he wants to take me home, great. If he wants to take me somewhere else, also great. I’m at ease.

“What do you see when you look at me?’ I ask curiously, gazing up at his dark eyes and focusing on the golden flecks in their sea of hazelnut.

His fingers tickle the bare skin on my arm.

He puts on a strong, southern accent when he speaks. “I see a perdy gurl all dressed up wid nowhere ta go.”

I laugh and it comes right from my chest. He smiles down at me, a glint of satisfaction in his eye.

“Well maybe you’ll take me two-steppin’, cowboy,” I say, envisioning the stetson on him once more.

“Maybe at the rodeo,” he says.

“If Maylene lets me borrow you again,” I say, looking away to conceal the smile on my lips.

“Borrow me? Is that what you think you’re doin’?”

I nod. “She likes you.”

“Baby, I’m all yours.”

He’s putting on the accent again but I don’t laugh this time. I grin though. It’s the darnedest grin because I can’t wipe it off of my face.

Mason walks me home. I want to be there but I don’t want him to leave. I wonder if Bobby’s home. I’d like Mason to meet Bobby, I think they’d get along.

“Come inside for a drink?” I offer.

“Just you try and stop me,” he says, smiling down at me. I like this side of Mason.

His arm is still on my shoulders and I’m turned into him. We’re very close.

I shrug out of his hold and walk up the porch steps. I hear him following as I open the door and enter. Mason closes the door behind him as he follows.

“Bobby?” I call out.

“Yes, sweetie pie?” he answers jokingly.

I giggle. “Bobby I brought home company. You’d better be decent.”

“Oh, did you now?” He appears out of the living room, topless, wearing his stetson and sipping on a beer. I guess he’s half decent.

“Nice to meet you, sir. I’m Mason Gold.” He walks toward Bobby and shakes his beer-free hand.

“Well nice to meet you too, Mason. And call me Bobby, none of that sir business.”

Mason nods.

“Beer?” Bobby offers.

We’re seventeen. Bobby still hasn’t quite learnt the rights and wrongs of parenthood.

“Sure,” Mason says with a shrug.

Bobby leads us out back to the small yard. A table and chairs are set up under an umbrella with Bobby’s beers stuck in a bucket of ice on the floor beside it.

“No work today Bobby?” I ask, eyeing the bucket.

“Mr Tully is mannin’ the store today. I suspect he’ll be handin’ in his notice soon. He’s movin’ to Indiana so I’m gettin’ the time off while I still can,” Bobby says, sitting in one of the chairs.

Mason and I join him and Bobby passes us each a beer. It’s shinerbock, good beer. I twist the cap off and chuck it onto the table. I take a sip, it’s cool and refreshing.

I remember Bobby giving me my first beer when I was fifteen. He’d bribed me with it for my silence after I saw him kissing the mailman’s wife. I’ll take that secret to the grave.

“So are you new in town?” Bobby asks. “I don’t recognise your name.”

Everyone knows everyone in Angel’s Rest.

“Yes, sir – er Bobby. I moved here from Dallas last week.”

Bobby places his bare feet on the table and I swat his legs with the back of my hand. “Don’t go actin’ like a hillbilly in front o’ guests.” I sound like my momma for a moment. I grin at him and he smiles back. I think he was reminded of her too.

“I hope your intentions are honourable towards my niece, Mason,” Bobby says, sipping on his beer again.

Mason takes a swig of his. “Nothin’ but.”

I know he means it. He doesn’t have eyes for me. He’s helping me.

“You goin’ to the rodeo on Saturday, Bobby?” I ask.

“Yes, ma’am. And guess who I’m takin’?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Cara Quentin?” I’d really like him to get with Miss Quentin.

“No, you kiddin’ me? Cara Quentin don’t have a soft spot for me. I’m takin’ Daisy Dwight.”

“Dizzy Daisy? Oh, Bobby you can do better than her,” I say disapprovingly. I don’t like to judge but Daisy’s been round the block more than once. But then I guess Bobby has too.

“Dizzy Daisy?” Mason asks, amused.

“If dumb was dirt, she’d cover an acre,” I say, swigging my beer.

“I don’t mind ’em dumb,” Bobby says, laughing loudly.

Mason grins at me and I roll my eyes. “Bobby Briar, you ain’t never gonna get married with that attitude,” I say.

“Married? Darlin’ I ain’t ever gettin’ married. How about you Mason, you see yourself settlin’ down some day?”

I narrow my eyes at Bobby.

“I highly doubt it,” Mason says as if he knows something we don’t.

“And why-ever not?” I ask, more sternly than I intend.

Bobby steps in before he can answer. “You said your intentions were honourable to my Reilly. I want her to have a husband someday. She deserves that.”

He’s talking like I’m not here. “Bobby, we ain’t together.”

Bobby raises his eyebrows and looks between the two of us. His reactions seem slow. I wonder how much he’s had to drink. “But you’re so-” he waves his hand at us like it’s self-explanatory.

I finish my beer and put it down on the table then look at Mason. He gazes back at me evenly. What are we so?

Bobby goes to fish another beer from the bucket but I lean over and pull it out of his reach.

“I think you’ve had enough, don’t you?” I give him a mock-stern look.

He shrugs then places his hat over his eyes. That’s the signal he’s out for the count. Night night, Bobby.

The cicadas are screaming as they wake to the dusk. I gesture for Mason to get up and we return to the house.

We sit side by side on the sofa in the lounge. The room is cool, Bobby has left the air conditioning on. I shiver. Mason gets up, turns it off then returns to the seat beside me. He drapes a cosy, knitted rug over me from the back of the sofa. He lifts his arm and I snuggle up under his wing. I’m a little bird once more.

Daddy would never have left me unattended with a boy in the house but Mason isn’t like other boys. He’s just Mason. He’s whatever I need him to be and, right now, he’s my blanket.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 4

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Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

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Chapter 4

I arrive at school the next day wearing a black dress. It has a vest-style top and falls to the knee. My satchel hangs across me, seatbelt secure. I straightened my hair today for a change. It’s the first time I’ve done it since the accident but it feels good. It’s somehow softer on my skin after being heated.

Today the weather is warm to the extreme. Dry heat wafts around me as I walk up to the school entrance. I’m late again but I like arriving when no one else is around. I feel stronger today maybe even strong enough to make it through an entire day. Maybe.

I open the front door and air conditioning cools my skin. The hairs stand up on my arms. Mrs Whitehaven is there chatting to the receptionist.

She stands up straight as I enter. I would once have felt nervous at being caught out but I feel nothing.

Mrs Whitehaven raises an eyebrow at me. “Miss Hardy has been tellin’ me about your leavin’ school early the last couple o’ days. And I see you’re late again.”

Miss Hardy must be the receptionist as she blushes a little as she looks at me.

I nod and wrap my hands across my cold arms. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“I am of course sensitive to your, situation, Miss Montiel but I can’t have you breakin’ school rules.”

I nod. Who cares about school rules? My parents are gone. The person I was is gone. “Okay.”

“Is that all you have to say?” Her tone is dangerous.

I feel numb. “School rules aren’t exactly on my mind right now, Mrs Whitehaven.” I probably shouldn’t have said it but I can’t help myself.

Despite the heat of the day, her face turns ice cold. “I’ll be ringin’ Mr Briar this mornin’. But I don’t expect he’s capable of settin’ the right example to a teenager.”

I bristle at her words and anger rises in my chest. “Bobby Briar’s more than capable, ma’am.’ I emphasise the final word.

She gazes at me evenly, assessing her next move.

Mason appears from the corridor to the right.

Mrs Whitehaven raises her eyebrows at him as he joins me. “Ah, you’ve met Mr Gold?” she says to me.

I nod as he bumps shoulders with me. Why is he here?

“I just came to use the photocopier for Mr Cardoso,” he says, waving some pages in the air.

Mrs Whitehaven nods and Miss Hardy stands.

“Go ahead,” she says, gesturing to the copier.

He moves around the desk and starts copying the pages.

“I think you and I better have a chat in my office,” Mrs Whitehaven says to me.

“Mr Cardoso was askin’ after Reilly. Somethin’ about homework” Mason says, trailing off.

Mrs Whitehaven’s head snaps to him then back to me. I stand, awaiting her decision.

“Very well. Go ahead, Miss Montiel.” She gestures toward the corridor Mason appeared from. “Don’t be late again or I’ll be forced to punish you.”

I don’t respond but glance at Mason in thanks then hurry off down the corridor, praising my luck. I rush towards Mr Cardoso’s classroom and open the door. He’s mid-way through talking.

“Sorry, sir,” I say then move to the back of the class where Maylene is saving my seat. Mason must’ve made up that Mr Cardoso wanted to see me. Once again, he’s my saviour.

I slip into my seat and sigh with relief.

“Hey,” Maylene whispers, passing me a worksheet.

“Hi,” I reply, smiling at her as I take it.

My eyes roam across it, trying to catch up. Today we’re learning Pythagorus’ theorem. Mr Cardoso is drawing a triangle on the whiteboard. Mason returns and places the photocopies on Mr Cardoso’s desk. The teacher nods his appreciation.

I want to sit next to Mason but last time we were in math he sat near the front. There’s a seat free next to Maylene. Maybe he’ll sit there.

He does.

Maylene is bent over her page scribbling notes. I smile at Mason over her head. He winks at me and I blush. I touch my cheeks in shock and turn away. What just happened? Is blushing an emotion? No, it’s a sign of one though. It’s instantly gone whatever it was, maybe it was just an instinctual reaction, like muscle memory or something. That’s how you’re supposed to react to a hot guy winking at you, so I did.

I return to reality and the words on the page in front of me come back into focus.

The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of the triangle.

Hypotenuse. I like that word.

I should probably be filling in this worksheet.

Focus.

I do half of it before I get distracted. I’m next to the window that overlooks the courtyard. I remember Mattie asking me out by the stone bench and how happy I was. It’s like remembering a dream. I know it was me but it’s like I wasn’t really awake. I search for Mattie and spot him on the other side of the room next to Eliza and CJ. He’s writing something down, cupping his hand around the paper so the girls can’t see. Odd, he’s not one for keeping his work hidden. He wouldn’t care about that sorta thing.

I return to the worksheet.

I wish Mason was sitting beside me. I can feel myself slipping. My hand shakes and I draw a sharp line across the paper as I force it to stop. Maylene is chatting animatedly to Mason about the rodeo.

I work my way through the rest of the worksheet.

Maylene gets up to use the restroom. She exits the classroom and Mason slides over into her seat. He swaps their work so the change is permanent. I smile and feel my lip trembling.

“Do you wanna go for a walk after class?” he asks quietly.

“Yes.” That’s exactly what I want. I have to make it through the whole day, especially as Mrs Whitehaven has it in for me. A brief escape might help.

Maylene returns. She spots what Mason’s done and slows her walk as she approaches the table. She’s smiling but I can tell it’s fake. I’m an expert on fake smiles, Maylene, you can’t fool me.

I should feel bad but I need Mason. He’s become my safety blanket. She can date him to her heart’s content but I just need to borrow him sometimes. Is that so wrong? Maybe not wrongbut it sure is creepy.

Maylene takes the empty seat then looks down at her lap. I guess she’s texting someone. I see CJ take her phone out of her shorts’ pocket and check it. Mason’s noticed too. He looks at me and I smile. Maylene doesn’t own Mason. He can sit next to me if he wants to.

I’m a bitch. I’ve evolved from Dixie Chick to Bitchie Chick. That’s what my parents’ death has done to me. I don’t even feel bad about being bitch because I am a bitch.

I spot Mattie folding up whatever it is he’s written down and put it in his jeans pocket. I frown curiously then return to listening to Mr Cardoso as he begins to draw another triangle. I put my pen down on the table in defeat. To hell with you, you three sided fiends.

***

We exit the classroom and wander along. Maylene clings to Mason’s side. I wanna be alone with Mason on our walk but I don’t wanna be rude.

Mattie, Eliza and CJ are in front of us. Mattie says something to them, turns back and makes a beeline for me.

Oh no. Something in his expression worries me.

Mason touches my back lightly and I take a sharp breath in surprise. I relax under his touch. It’s just the tips of his fingers, grazing my spine.

“Can I talk to you a sec?” Mattie asks, winding his fingers around my wrist.

I nod as he leads me away, back the way we came.

Mason’s touch disappears but I can feel the lasting imprint of it. It’s like he’s still with me as Mattie leads me down the corridor a few paces.

I spot Mason frowning at us. Maylene links her arm with his and they continue walking away.

Mattie lets go of my arm and reaches into his jeanspocket. He retrieves the folded piece of paper I saw him write in class.

“Here,” he says, holding it out to me.

My eyes narrow suspiciously as I take it. “What is it?”

“Just read it, okay?” His blue eyes blaze at me. Mattie has never been one for emotions but I can see feelings burning out of his eyes like someone set a small fire there.

I nod and he walks away.

I stare down at the folded piece of paper, sitting in the middle of my palm like a tiny time bomb waiting to go off. What am I about to read?

“You okay?” Mason asks.

I snap my head up and find him alone at the end of the corridor. Somehow he’s managed to shirk Maylene. I relax.

“Yeah, let’s go,” I say, curling my fingers around the piece of paper.

We slip out of a fire exit to avoid the receptionist – why didn’t I think of this before? We walk along the road. It’s so hot that I’m sweating but Mason hasn’t even got a sheen on his skin. He must be even more tolerant to the heat than I am and I’m practically part camel.

We walk on to take shelter under the shade of an acacia. We sit on the dusty ground beneath it and are immediately relieved from the scorching sunlight. Buds are beginning to grow on the tree as the first sign of spring. The county fair will take place in a few weeks and we’ll eat fruit and be merry. Though I’m not sure about the merry part just yet.

I uncurl my fingers at last and the piece of paper sits there harmlessly. But will it remain harmless? What could Mattie possibly want to say to me?

“What’s that?” Mason asks.

“Mattie wrote it for me,” I say.

I don’t know why, but I want Mason to be here when I read it. He may have to catch me if I fall again. I don’t need to keep any secrets from him.

I unfold the paper and hold it between my index fingers and thumbs.

I read it silently.

Reilly,

I want you to know I’m sorry about me and Eliza getting together. I hope you aren’t too hurt. But the thing isI still have feelings for you. Eliza’s great but seeing you has reminded me of how much I care bout you. In fact. I love you, Reilly.

Take me back?

Mattie.

I drop the letter and it floats to the ground to lie in the dust. Oh no. No, no, no. I don’t wanna deal with this.

“Mason,” I say. “Read it.”

He wordlessly picks it up and scans the page.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” he says, folding the letter up carefully and passing it back to me.

“What do you mean?” I ask, stuffing the letter into my bag.

“There’s a lot to love about you.

I look up at him. What a nice thing to say.

“So are you gonna take him back?” Mason prompts when I don’t respond.

“No,” I say instantly.

“Why not?” he asks with a frown.

Does he want me to get back with Mattie?

“I just can’t like anyone like that anymore.” I clutch at my chest where I used to feel those emotions. Are they still in there? Or did they die the day my parents did?

“What have you got for lunch today?” Mason asks to change the subject, squinting at me through the brightness of the day.

He’s mocking me. I smile. “A Bobby Briar special.”

“Is that your uncle?”

I nod. “Do you live with your parents?”

“No, I’m rentin’ a loft space above a barn. Do you know Bertha Quentin?”

“I do,” I say. “She’s Miss Quentin’s aunt. Her husband passed away a year or so ago. I’d guess she’s lonely if she’s letting strangers move onto her farm.”

“Stranger am I?”

“Strangest guy I ever met. You get stranger every day,” I say.

He laughs and I fight a smile. How have I only known Mason for three days? It feels like a lifetime. I feel so relaxed around him. Part of me still yearns to go home though. I glance over the street as if readying to dash across it like an alley cat.

Mason puts his hand on my ankle. It’s an odd place to touch a person, their ankle. It works though. I no longer want to run.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 3

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Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

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Chapter 3

The next day I dress for school. I must go back. Must, must, must.

I dress in a similar fashion to yesterday, choosing a red vest top and black shorts. I sling my satchel across my body and let out a deep, calming breath. I can do this.

I walk downstairs and enter the lounge. I take my purse out and pour all the change into my hand. I drop it into the piggy bank, hearing the chink of metal as each one falls inside. The knot in my stomach eases a bit. I take out the only bill I have which is a ten and push it through the slit into the piggy bank. There, that should make up for some lost time.

I return to the hall and find Bobby standing there, holding out a brown paper bag.

I smile and take it like I should.

I’ll go running today. After school. Or perhaps I won’t make a whole day. I’ll run as soon as I am done with school. I make the deal with myself.

“Perhaps you can try for two classes today?” Bobby suggests, smiling at me.

I smile back.

“I’m serious. One day at a time Reilly. You’re tryin’ and that’s all that matters. Don’t go listenin’ to that Mrs Whitehaven.”

“You’re a bad influence,” I say, pouting at him.

He grins at me and opens the door. I like the routine he’s started.

I make my way to school. I take my time. If I’m late, I’m late. They can’t be mad at the grieving girl who lost her parents.

I arrive ten minutes late and check my timetable as I enter through the front door. The receptionist smiles at me as I walk in. I nod to her and hurry down the corridor to the right.

Morning registration is taking place but I decide to miss it and get to class early. I have a science class first so I head towards the labs. The door’s locked so I can’t enter early.

I think of Mason. How does he read me so well? I blink in surprise as he appears around the corner.

“Missing registration? Tut tut,” I say. It’s more like my old self.

He grins as he approaches. Today he’s wearing jeans with a white, open-collar shirt. His tanned arms stand out against it and his dark hair contrasts starkly. He’s everything I used to find attractive in a guy but that part of me has long since shut off. It’s alien to me to feel that way about someone now.

“You’re a bad influence,” he says. I eye him curiously. That’s what I said to Bobby this morning.

“How can I influence you to miss registration before I’ve even seen you today?”

He grins. “You have your ways.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Is he stalking me? I should feel anything but what I do which is comforted.

He smiles like he knows a secret. I like it. Keep your secrets, mister, and I’ll keep mine.

“Did you go running yesterday?” he asks.

I did. I went after I stopped crying in front of Bobby. Poor Bobby. He’s taken on more than he can handle with me.

I nod. “Around the lake.” I feel like I’ve revealed something very personal about myself. But telling him is like telling myself. I know it won’t go beyond his ears.

“I haven’t been out to the lake yet. Perhaps you’ll show me sometime?”

“If you’d like.” I shrug.

“Will you go today?”

He’s not asking to come with me. If he wanted to come I think he’d just say so. “I’m gonna go when I’m done with school.”

“How long will you stay today do you think?”

He knows I don’t mean to stay. “As long as I can.”

He nods and leans against the wall. I lean beside him. He lifts his arm and puts it around my shoulders. I move into him and we stay that way in silence like we have a private understanding. But we don’t so why’s this okay? I should be running a mile from this guy who so boldly touches me. I want to ask him but the school bell rings loudly.

He removes his arm from my shoulders. I’m grateful because the last thing I need right now is people gossiping about Mason and me. I don’t even know him.

“What’s your surname?” I ask.

“Gold,” he replies.

Like the flecks in his eyes.

He doesn’t ask for mine. Perhaps he knows it. Perhaps he really is a stalker.

Mason doesn’t sit with me in class. My friends cluster around me and I don’t even attempt to join in with their mindless conversation about the school dance at the end of the year. I can’t think of anything less I’d like to attend. Perhaps my parents funeral again. I sadden after that thought.

“Who do you wanna go with CJ?” Maylene asks.

CJ bites her lip. “Jerry’s doin’ the rodeo this weekend. I thought I’d go and dress up real nice. Maybe he’ll ask me.”

I start listing golden things in my mind.

“Jerry sure is cute,” Eliza says. “We should all go to the rodeo together. We can try hook you up Maylene.”

Sunrises. Sunsets. Coins. Bullets. Rings.

Maylene blushes. “I’m kinda already crushin’.”

Sand. Autumn leaves. Wheat, barley, hay.

Maylene,” CJ says, giggling. “Do tell.”

“I’m kinda into Mason.”

My head snaps up. Do I care? Does that bother me? No, I don’t think so. He’d be lucky to have Maylene as his girl, any boy would.

Eliza Beth is eyeing me suspiciously.

“Why don’t you ask him out?” I say to Maylene to stop Eliza from looking at me that way.

She nods eagerly. “Maybe he’ll come to the rodeo with me.”

I smile and nod. I want both of them to be happy. But some part of me doesn’t want Mason’s friendship taken away from me. I’m sure it won’t be.

I return to my work.

“You comin’ to the rodeo, Reilly?” Mattie asks.

I hesitate. I certainly wasn’t planning on going but maybe I should make more of an effort. I shrug.

“That’s a yes,” Eliza Beth says, patting the table in front of me excitedly.

I guess it is.

The next class is English. Miss Quentin is the teacher. She has long blonde hair and wears jeans and a white vest top. Bobby’s had a thing for her forever. She smiles kindly at me as I enter and I give her a slight nod. She was always my favourite teacher.

I head to the back of the room and Mason takes the seat beside me before anyone else can. The rest of my friends sit along from him. He’s a barrier between them and me. I can relax. I don’t have to pretend to be anything around him.

“Today we’ll be startin’ Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, of course,” Miss Quentin says. “I need a volunteer to hand out the scripts please.”

No one raises their hands so she glances around the room. “Er, Mason? Is it?”

He nods.

“Be a darlin’ would you?” she asks.

He stands and my heartbeat quickens. No, wait. He can’t leave me.

What’s happened to me? I’ve formed some sort of attachment to Mason. I grip the edge of the table and watch him go.

Eliza Beth is in the next seat down. She turns to me and smiles. She’s so sweet and kind why can’t I fall back into who I was, her closest friend. Has she lost something in me? How much did I mean to her?

“You okay?” she asks with a concerned expression.

The dreaded question. I could be honest, tell her no I’m tempted to get up, sprint from the room and never return to school again. But I can’t do that so I have to sit here, holding onto this table like it might float away if I let go. And apparently the only thing that doesn’t make me feel like that is a boy I just met yesterday.

“I’m fine.” I force a smile and she relaxes.

“How’s things at home?” she asks.

Why must she asks these probing questions? I know she’s just being polite but I can’t give her real answers. I can’t bear to talk about it. The fact that my home is broken. Or that Bobby sold his own place to come live with me, so his home is broken too. Or that we’re muddling along together trying to figure out how to move forward. He’s healing, I think. But I’m not. We’ve hit a t-junction where he went left and I went right.

“It’s alright, Liza. Bobby’s settled in real well,” I say.

She smiles. “Maybe I could pop over some time? Say hey to Bobby. We could have a girl’s night like old times?”

Girl’s night. The memories are so distant. Eliza would come over, we’d get the latest chick flick and watch it in my room while we painted our nails and talked about boys. It used to be so comforting. So normal. Now I can’t think of anything more unnatural. How can I sit there painting my nails when Momma and Daddy lie six feet under?

I grip the table tighter. I nod briefly to Eliza and turn away. I make a meal out of retrieving my notebook from my bag and when I glance back at her she’s talking to Mattie. I let out a slow breath through my lips as a script lands on the table in front of me. Mason returns to his seat beside me.

He looks at me and it’s like he’s looking straight through the wall I have up against everyone else. He can see that I’m hurting, crumbling, struggling and I don’t have to say a word.

Miss Quentin starts reading the story aloud and I turn to the first page to follow the words with my eyes.

I’ve never read the story before but I know the end, as most people do. I don’t like knowing that the characters are doomed before I’ve even begun reading it.

I feel calmed by Mason’s presence. I let the words wash over me and focus on his sturdy form in my periphery.

Miss Quentin reads for a while before writing quotes on the whiteboard for us to discuss. “Okay, choose one of these quotes and write down what you think Shakespeare was tryin’ to say with these words.”

I choose one that grabs my interest:

I fear, too early: for my mind misgives

Some consequence yet hanging in the stars

Shall bitterly begin his fearful date

With this night’s revels and expire the term

Of a despised life closed in my breast

By some vile forfeit of untimely death.’

Mason chooses the same quote, I see him jot it down in his notebook.

“What do you think it means?” Mason asks me, glancing at my own notes.

“I think Romeo had a bad feelin’ about Juliet from the start,” I say with a frown.

He smiles lightly. “Me too. I guess he loved her too much to stay away though.”

“He loves her before he’s even met her. Is that possible?” I wonder aloud. Do people see someone and just know they’re the one, whether they’ve spoken to them or not? Or is that just what romance stories tell us so we’re forever waiting whilst missing chances for something real?

“I think anything’s possible. Just maybe not probable,” Mason says thoughtfully.

“It implies destiny,” I say sadly. Were my parents destined to be together? And, if so, does that mean they were doomed to die from the start like Romeo and Juliet?

I squeeze my eyes shut. Too many unanswerable questions.

“It’s just a story,” Mason says in a soft voice. His hand slides over an inch to rest beside mine and his little finger grazes my own. The almost non-existent touch is surprisingly comforting. I glance up into his dark eyes and get the sudden urge to hug him. I almost laugh at the thought, me wrapping my arms around Mason Gold in the middle of our english class.

A smile tugs at one corner of his mouth almost like he knows what I’m thinking.

I turn back to the quote. “I guess it’s basically about fate and foreshadowing their death.”

“Uh huh,” he agrees.

I jot that down then chew the end of my pen. One more class and then lunchtime. As long as Mason’s beside me I can do this. He’s like my muse. I smile at the thought.

“What’s so funny?” he asks quietly.

“Nothin’.” I shrug. If only he knew just how much his presence heals me. He’d probably run a mile. Maybe I’m the stalker…

I hang back as everyone exits the class. Mattie throws a look at me and I force a smile at him. I’m getting better at pretending I think, because he beams brightly at me in response. Mason waits beside me.

“I know what you’re doin’,” he says as I put my notebook away as slow as a snail riding a tortoise.

“And what’s that?” I play dumb, placing my satchel across my body as the final student exits the classroom.

“Hangin’ back,” he says.

I smile. “Then why are you waitin’ for me?”

“‘Cause you don’t mind me being around you.”

I more than don’t mind, Mason Gold. God only knows why.

“Maybe you’re right,” I say as we move towards the exit.

We walk slowly along the corridor until it’s just us left in it. We’ll probably be late for class now. I retrieve my timetable and check what’s next.

“Biology,” Mason says, taking the timetable out of my hands.

I look up at him questioningly but, before I meet his gaze, he wraps his arms around me. My breath quickens in surprise. His hands clutch my shoulder blades firmly, drawing me to him. I go slack in his arms and slide my hands around his shoulders. He presses his chin to the side of my neck, holding me to him in every possible way. I feel like I’m being held together by his strong form. I completely relax and let my cheek rest against his warm shoulder.

I’m filled with that glorious feeling I get when I wake early on a Saturday and realise I can lay in as long as I like, burying myself in the bed covers.

He releases me and I feel a little shaky.

“What was that for?” I ask.

“Thought you needed a hug,” he says with a shrug.

I look away then we start walking to class once more. I could’ve stayed in his arms all day. I wish I could. Is that strange? Yes, I think it’s very strange. But I don’t care.

Biology goes smoothly. I sit between Mason and Eliza. Eliza is happy and chatty as usual. I let her words wash over me and respond at the right moments, though I’m more focused on Mason’s presence on the other side of me.

We learn about the composition of the heart in biology. People always talk about heartache and broken hearts but it’s just a muscle that pumps blood around your body. Those terms are referring to something else. I don’t know what though.

Our teacher says we’ll be dissecting hearts next week. I can’t say I’m looking forward to that at all.

Lunchtime comes around and we all sit in the same places as the previous day. It seems that Mason is well and truly part of our group now. He looks at me across the table and I get momentarily lost in his eyes. It’s like his presence heals me a little. It’s addictive.

Okay, brown paper bag round two. I pull it out of my satchel. Why didn’t I mention the no meat thing to Bobby? Oh yeah, because he’s the biggest carnivore in town, that’s why. I open my sandwich. Hey, corned beef. What a surprise. I don’t like to waste food. I decide to throw it to the ducks at the lake. Bobby Briar’s Beefy Bread. They ain’t gonna complain about that.

Mason’s salad comes sailing towards me.

“Why do you keep givin’ her your salads?” Maylene asks him with a pout. I notice that she’s recently applied lipgloss.

“Because she won’t eat anythin’ else,” Mason states like it’s obvious.

This is true.

“How do you know? You didn’t ask her,” Maylene says. I can see she’s trying to hide her irritation. I think she might be jealous. I want to tell her there’s nothing romantic between us. Maybe I will later.

I open Mason’s salad and tuck in.

I can sense Mattie frowning at me and look up at him, sucking in a lettuce leaf that is caught on my lip.

“You okay, Mattie?” I ask.

“You’re behavin’ all crazy since you got back,” he says quietly whilst the others talk about the rodeo again.

I can feel Mason’s eyes on me and hear Maylene dropping loud hints about wanting a date to the rodeo.

“It’s just a salad,” I say through a mouthful.

“It’s his salad.” He nods his head towards Mason and looks at me with a furrowed brow. Is he angry?

I shrug. Maybe I should feel bad. Mason’s gone without lunch twice now. Na, he’ll get over it. I take another mouthful.

When I’m finished the salad pot Eliza jumps up and grabs my arm. “Come to the restroom with me?”

It’s not a request.

I get up and follow her to the restroom. She puts her bag down beside the sandstone sink and retrieves a strawberry-coloured lipstick from her bag. She leans over, looking in the mirror, and starts to apply it.

“You’re totally diggin’ on Mason,” she says.

This is the Eliza Beth I know well. She loves a good gossip.

“I’m really not,” I say, looking at myself in the mirror. I don’t look like I used to in this mirror. I was all makeup and hairspray now I’m all cheekbones and freckles. I prefer this look.

Eliza holds out her lipstick to me when she’s done. I shy away from it.

She frowns at me. “You really have changed Reilly. Not in a bad way, you’re maturer or somethin’.”

I shrug. I dunno about mature. Is that how people see me now? I would have thought the word broken was more fitting.

“You can tell me if you like him, you know. I am your best friend after all.”

She is. Or was. I used to tell her everything.

I smile as realistically as I can. “I’m really not crushin’ on him, Liza. He just gets me or somethin’.”

“So you’re okay with Maylene askin’ him to the rodeo?”

I nod. “I really am.” And I mean it. Rodeo away Maylene. Ride Mason like a mustang at the rodeo for all I care. It’s funny that I see him as a mustang. He does have a certain freedom about him that I like. It reminds me of the halfway point at the lake.

Eliza Beth flashes a perfect, white-toothed smile at me. She’s really pretty. Her hair is pulled into pigtails today like a proper, small-town gal. She hugs me.

“Oh, thanks Liza,” I say, taken by surprise. Human contact is something I’ve gone without for some time now. I don’t mind when Mason touches me though. I wonder why?

She pulls away and gives me a you’ve-been-through-so-much look. I know it well.

“Reilly” she trails off.

I realise she is about to give me the same talk as Mattie did. I’ll save her the guilt. “You and Mattie are great together.”

She looks like she might cry. Please don’t cry. I might cry. Then we’ll both be crying. I think she can sense my fear because she blinks repeatedly to keep the tears from falling.

I give her a half smile then she leads the way out of the restroom. We sit back at the table to find everyone still talking about the Rodeo.

“So, do you wanna go with me Mason?” Maylene asks, fluttering her eyelashes at him.

He looks surprised. He turns and raises an eyebrow at me. Is he asking my permission? He’s so strange. I shrug slightly and he turns back to Maylene.

“Sure,” Mason says with a smile.

Maylene smiles brightly.

I’m definitely okay with this. My feelings are locked away somewhere inside of me. I’m still switching between numb and pain. Numb is my favourite. Numb is present right now.

Eliza is looking over at Mattie keenly. Her gaze flicks to mine briefly then back to his. Must I okay everyone’s relationships today? I nod at her and lean back slightly so she can talk to Mattie more easily.

“Rodeo?” is all she says.

Mattie glances at me then nods.

Thank the lord that’s dealt with. Oh, was I feeling awkward? Hello awkward you’ve returned to me, did you bring my friend happy? No, awkward didn’t bring happy. But it’s a start.

The lunch bell rings and we all get up. I put the salad pot in the bin and turn back to my friends. Mattie is walking out of the room with Eliza, holding her hand. CJ and Maylene are walking away but Maylene is looking back. At what? Oh, Mason. He’s waiting for me. He’s smiling. He has a nice smile, he has tiny dimples.

I don’t feel bad about Maylene, though I probably ought to. Mason knows what I need, that’s all. Salad and hugs.

I walk beside Mason and retrieve the timetable from my bag.

“What’ve you got?” Mason asks.

I scan down the list. “Religious Studies.”

“Me too. We should sit together.”

Yes we should. This is becoming a routine now. I nod and a little smile pulls at my lips. An actual, natural smile, those are rare. Only he and Bobby have managed them so far.

We enter the classroom a while later and sit together at the back. The tables are paired in twos so no one can join us. CJ and Maylene sit in front of us and Mattie and Eliza in front of them.

Mrs Pickhurst is an ancient women. Her face has enough spare skin to cover three other faces at least.

She writes on the chalkboard at the head of the room. The other teachers have whiteboards but Mrs Pickhurst is stuck in her ways. She writes the words life after death on the board.

My entire body tenses. This is not a subject I want to be thinking about right now.

Mrs Pickhurst surveys the room and her eyes find mine. “Ah, Miss Montiel. Welcome back. I was so sad to hear of your parents passin’.”

All eyes in the room turn to me. “Thank you Mrs Pickhurst,” I mumble as I sink lower in my seat. Thank you very much for making me the class freak.

Mason stands and walks up to Mrs Pickhurst. I frown in confusion. The rest of the class follow him with their eyes, leaving me free from their stares. I sigh with relief.

Mason holds out his hand to her. “I’m Mason Gold. I just joined Willow High, thought I’d introduce myself, ma’am.”

She shakes it politely. “Well aren’t you an angel’? I’m sure you’ll settle in very well here.” He turns and walks back towards me with a grin on his face.

She returns to her blackboard, picking up a bible and leafing through it. Mason sinks into his seat beside me.

“You did that on purpose,” I state.

“Did I?” he says airily.

I shake my head slowly at him, bemused. Bemused – is that an emotion?

Despite Mason taking the attention off of me, it doesn’t stop Mrs Pickhurst from quickly getting onto the subject of life after death.

She reads a passage aloud in a dramatic voice that makes the excess skin on her chin wobble as she speaks. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlastin life, but the others to disgrace and everlastin contempt.” She pauses for effect.

Would my parents be worthy of everlasting life or are they cursed with everlasting contempt? Life surely. They were good people. Am I a good person? Who decides that? What may be seen as good by one person may not by another. I suppose God’s the judge of that.

“Please start by writin’ down what you imagine the afterlife to be. You can focus on the good, the bad or both. Then I’ll ask some of you to read out your answers,” Mrs Pickhurst says.

Oh, great. An exercise I have to participate in about death. Thanks again Mrs Pickhurst.

The class breaks out into hushed chatter as they begin the task.

“You don’t have to do it,” Mason says, glancing over at me.

I shrug at him then retrieve the notepad and pen from my bag. I know I don’t have to do it. But I will.

His pen hovers above his own page. I wonder what Mason thinks about an afterlife? Maybe he doesn’t believe there is one. I’m not sure I do.

Mason scribbles something down. I’m curious and can’t help leaning towards his page.

He pushes it in front of me so I can read it.

It says quit cheating. I laugh, caught off guard.

He grins and pulls the page away.

I spot Mattie throwing a glance back at us. Have I upset him? I’m not sure what to do about it if I have. I can barely keep myself together at the moment. I wouldn’t know how to reach out to him right now.

I return to the task at hand.

“Do you believe in God, Mason? Or in an afterlife? Does one imply the other?” I feel lost. Beliefs are hard enough as it is without having my parents deaths hovering on the edge of my mind. All the questions I’ve asked myself over the past months about this very thing flood back to me.

“I dunno. I don’t think there’s one right answer. But I think, maybe, we’re all here for a reason.”

“You believe in fate?” I ask, intrigued, thinking of Romeo and Juliet again.

“I do,” he says with conviction.

I wish I had that much conviction in a belief. I shake my head. “Why?”

He fiddles with his pen then peers up at me under his dark eyelashes. “I believe that it’s fate I met you, just when you need me most.”

His words make my skin tingle strangely. “How do you know I need you?” I whisper.

“Time’s up,” Mrs Pickhurst calls out, clapping her hands together. She has several gold rings on her fingers that tap together as her palms meet. “Who wants to go first?”

Crap, I’ve written nothing. I see Mrs Pickhurst eyeing me eagerly.

“I will,” Mason says. My saviour again.

I can see his page is still empty apart from the two words he wrote for me.

“Very well, Mr Gold. Stand up,” she says.

Mason stands and lifts the paper, pretending to read words from it. All eyes turn to him once more. Maylene looks like she might melt just from looking at him.

“I think, whether there’s an afterlife or not, our loved ones never truly leave us when they die.” He clears his throat and gazes down at me. “They’ll always be a part of every thought, every choice and every special moment you’ll ever participate in for the rest of your life. We’re forever touched by the time we spent with them and the things they taught us and I think that is, in a way, an afterlife.”

Mason returns to his seat.

My cheeks are wet. Oh no. Pain is back. Mason’s eyes widen as he looks at me then moves his hand towards mine, pushing his pen off of the table as he does so. I take the opportunity to retrieve it, giving me time to hide my face.

When I return upright Maylene is gazing at Mason like she might marry him here in the classroom.

Mrs Pickhurst exhales slowly through her nose. “Very good, Mr Gold. Who would like to go next?”

No one wants to follow Mason. His words have changed the tone of the room.

Mrs Pickhurst picks on Eliza who stands and mumbles something about hell and bad people. I’m not really listening. I’m looking at Mason and he’s looking at me. It’s like he’s spoken the words for my ears only. They’re so comforting it hurts. And although I feel in pain again it’s more of letting something go rather than holding on. I can’t quite describe but I know letting go is the answer, even if it does hurt like hell.

I sigh and let the pain leave my body. If anyone else had spoken perhaps I would’ve felt they were out of line but it’s Mason. He’s different. He’s helped me discard all the confusion about my beliefs and made me understand. It doesn’t matter if there’s an afterlife or not, I can’t know either way until I die. But I can know that my parents will live on through me whilst I’m alive and that’s something.

“Thanks,” I mouth to Mason.

He nods and smiles. How does he know what I’m thanking him for? Does he know how much he’s helped me with his words? I think he does.

Mrs Pickhurst chooses a few more people to read out their work. Nothing is so touching as Mason’s. He’s outshone them all and he didn’t even have it written down.

“Now I’d like to share with you all a short video about a woman who found her faith after her husband was killed in a car accident.”

She pulls a sorrowful face then walks over to a television screen. Mattie jumps up to move it into the centre of the room. Mrs Pickhurst turns off the lights so my vision is filled solely by the glaring static on the rectangular screen.

I don’t wanna watch this film. I know that with every fibre of my being. This is too close to home. Is Mrs Pickhurst doing this to me on purpose?

I fidget wildly in my seat. Mason lays a hand on my arm and I still. I don’t look at him but take a deep inhale through my nose and hold it in.

The video starts and a woman talks about the accident. My lungs ache as I hold the breath. There are photos of the mangled car wreckage. This is too much. I think of my parents, hurtling towards their deaths in the airplane. Their bodies were crushed on impact just like this man’s was in the car. My heartbeat begins to quicken and my palms sweat. I let out the breath at last and my lips shake as I expel it.

The woman on the television is crying now. I want to leave the room but I don’t want to cause a scene, they’ll all pity the orphan girl her weakness.

Mason puts his hand lightly on my back and I let him pull me under his arm so my face is pressed against his shirt. This is what a baby bird must feel like under its mother’s wing. The darkness is instantly comforting. He smells like soap and fresh linen.

I forget about the film. I’m safe here, no matter how strange this is. And this is truly strange, I don’t know this guy but I refuse to care. Is not caring an emotion? No, I think that’s a lack of emotion.

Mason releases me and I spring back upright just before Mrs Pickhurst turns the lights back on. Maylene swings around like she’s trying to catch us at something. I gaze innocently back at her and she smiles warmly.

I breath slowly in and out. I glance at Mason and notice our chests are rising and falling in unison.

Mrs Pickhurst reads more passages from the bible and discusses why the woman in the film found comfort in God. I only half-listen. I find myself glancing at Mason repeatedly. He’s looking attentively at the teacher so I have a chance to study his face. His jaw is square and the dark stubble on it runs down it in straight lines. His brow juts out slightly over his eyes, shadowing them. His hair shines in the stark light of the room. It’s pushed back the way most of the guys wear theirs in Angel’s Rest but it’s not overly long. The style is such so a stetson can sit atop their heads. I haven’t seen Mason wear one. I think it would suit him though.

I’m staring. He turns and grins at me like he knows what I’m up to. He probably does. Maybe he’s a mind reader. Maybe the next time I see him he’ll be wearing a stetson and he’ll say How do you do? like the guys at the rodeo.

I smile at the thought.

“What are you smilin’ about?” he whispers out of one side of his mouth.

Perhaps he isn’t a mind reader.

I mime zipping my lip. The image of him in a cowboy hat will remain firmly locked inside my head.

He rolls his eyes but continues to smile.

The lesson ends and I’ve survived. I’ve made it past lunch but that last class has taken its toll on me, I want to go for a run. I check my timetable as I walk beside Mason down the corridor.

Maylene is waiting for us at the corner. She links an arm through mine and falls in to step with us.

I have double gym next. No thanks. I’ll do my own exercise by the lake.

“What are you guys talkin’ ’bout?” Maylene asks.

We hadn’t been talking so I shrug.

“Reilly is gonna go home,” Mason tells her.

How does he know this?

I nod.

Maylene can’t hide her delight.

“See you tomorrow,” I say to them both as I unlink my arm from Maylene’s and take the route towards reception.

She seizes the opportunity to link her free arm with Mason’s. He smiles at me and Maylene waves as I leave.

The receptionist calls to me but her voice fades away as I exit the building. And I’m free once more.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 2

Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

(Full Release Coming Soon)

angel's rest cover book1

Missed the first chapter? Read it here

Blurb:

An unwritten fate, beings of the supernatural, and a forbidden love. Welcome to Angel’s Rest, West Texas…

When a mysterious guy moves to the middle-of-nowhere town of Angel’s Rest, Reilly Montiel is sucked into an unknown world of the supernatural. How does Mason Gold know exactly what Reilly needs before she does? And what is his connection to the obnoxious newcomer Earley Black who is determined to keep Reilly and Mason apart?

Saved by the alluring Mason Gold again and again, Reilly starts to wonder what secrets he’s hiding behind those gold-flecked eyes. But when the truth is revealed, there’s no going back.
Mason is her guardian angel, sworn to protect her. And though it is told that an angel cannot fall in love with a human, Reilly’s feelings for him are too strong to ignore.

Threatened to be ripped apart, Reilly must choose whether to fight for love or lose everything she has ever wanted. But the True Angels will stop at nothing to return Reilly to her fated path. Can she accept the future that has been chosen for her? Or will she attempt the impossible and fight for a fate that hasn’t been written?

Chapter 2

I arrive outside Willow High and walk into the shade of the sandstone porch that leads to the entrance. It’s mid-morning. The school’s quiet because everyone’s in class. I open the glass door and enter the lobby.

Despite the world becoming instantly darker I keep my sunglasses firmly in place. It feels like I’m looking at everything from a distance through them. I like the sensation.

I approach the receptionist at the front desk and she smiles warmly at me. She has a bob of blonde hair and a kindly face. I’d never had much reason to talk to her before so she probably doesn’t recognise me.

“Aurelia Montiel?” she enunciates each syllable of my name in her deep accent.

My daddy was english and made sure I never learnt the deep drawl growing up. Though I used to put it on sometimes to wind him up.

“Yes?” I say.

“Would you kindly take those glasses off, Miss Montiel. There’s no need to shade yourself from the sunlight when you’re indoors now, is there?”

I push the glasses up onto my head and immediately feel exposed. I wrap my arms across myself, hooking a thumb around my satchel strap.

“The headmistress has asked to see you before you attend class. Here’s your timetable for the semester.” She retrieves a piece of paper as it finishes printing behind her. I can’t shake the feeling that this woman’s been waiting for me.

I take the timetable, eyeing the coloured blocks on the page distastefully then stow it in my bag.

“Just through there, sugar,” the receptionist says, gesturing to a door behind her desk.

I nod, move around the desk and push through the door. I emerge in a short corridor with doors leading to various offices. I recall being reprimanded in one of them for not adhering to the dress code. The memory flashes through my mind like it’s a movie I saw years ago, one with which I had no attachment to the characters.

I knock on the door signed Headmistress and wait for a reply.

“Come in,” she calls from the other side.

I enter and find the headmistress sat at her desk; Mrs Whitehaven, Bobby’s arch-nemesis of late. She‘s in her fifties with a perm of short grey hair. She has a pair of spectacles on her nose that are tethered to her neck by a chain. She lets them drop to hang over her large bosom as she meets my gaze.

“Aurelia, you poor soul. Please take a seat.”

I feel instantly tense. I don’t want her sympathy. I want to be left alone. I feel that I’m precariously balancing on a beam, keeping my emotions in check. If I fall off, I’ll lose it.

I sit hesitantly and dig my heals into the floor.

“How are you copin’?” Mrs Whitehaven asks.

“I’m fine,” I lie, pressing my nails into my palms.

“Of course you’re not. It must be immeasurably hard for you to return to us so soon after such a terrible tragedy. I held an assembly this mornin’ about you returnin’ to us today.”

Oh great, just what I need.

“And everyone is gonna be truly understandin’ of your needs Miss Montiel, don’t you worry.”

I nod stiffly.

“But when you weren’t there at registration I was quite concerned. I called that uncle o’ yours – is he takin’ good care o’ you? ‘Cause I do tend to worry.”

“Bobby’s just what I need in a guardian,” I reply, because it’s true. He might not be a parent but I don’t want any parent but my own. Bobby gets that.

“Well good. And always know that you can come to me with any feminine problems you might be havin’.” She cups her mouth with her hand as she says the word as if it’s dirty.

I cringe. “Thank you kindly, Mrs Whitehaven.” I stand. “I’d like to get to class now.”

“Yes, o’ course. You must be truly dyin’ to see those friends o’ yours.”

I’m not but anything’s gotta be better than sitting here talking about my feminine problems with Mrs Whitehaven.

I nod and hurry to exit the room. In the quiet of the corridor I look at my timetable. I check a clock on the wall to find I have ten minutes before classes change. I’m missing social studies. Math is next so I head towards that classroom.

I dart past the receptionist before she can pull me into a conversation and head along a corridor, passing through the outdoor courtyard that sits centrally inside the square building. I reenter the building on the other side and take the stairs to the first floor.

I locate the room and stand outside. I feel nervous. I don’t wanna be found here by my classmates. I glance through a small window in the door and push it to check if the room is unlocked. It swings in and I hurry inside.

“Miss Montiel?” a voice startles me and I press my hand to my heart.

I swing around to see my math teacher, Mr Cardoso, at his desk.

“Sorry, sir,” I say, moving to exit the room.

He stands. “Don’t worry. You can stay.” He’s of native american descent and still has inflections of his family’s accent.

I nod and force a smile at him. “Where can I sit?”

“At the back, perhaps? I imagine you’d like to stay out of sight as much as possible today.”

I relax, relieved that he understands. I move to the back of the room and take a seat by the window in the far corner. It means only one person can sit next to me and anyone else would have to physically turn if they wanted to look at me.

Mr Cardoso looks down at his desk and starts writing quietly as if I’m not there. It’s suit me just fine.

I gaze out of the window and look down at the empty courtyard. A high-pitched, shrill noise sounds through the building and my whole body tenses. The school bell, I realise. I only have moments before the class appears.

I stand up, feeling panicked. Maybe I shouldn’t have come in today. “Mr Cardoso-” I start but he interrupts me.

“Miss Montiel would you give me a hand with something?” he asks kindly.

I gulp and nod. I leave my bag on the table to save my place then walk up to his desk. I want to run. The muscles in my legs tighten, telling me that’s the answer. That’s been the answer for three months.

“Could you place one of these worksheets in each space on the desks please?” He hands me the pile and I nod.

I work systematically around the room back towards my seat. The rhythm helps, just like the running and I can momentarily forget my panic. I wonder if Mr Cardoso knows this.

I place the final worksheet on my desk and return to my seat. As I turn back to face the front, people start to enter the classroom.

I slide the sunglasses off my head and back onto my nose. That’s better.

I’m afraid of seeing my boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend as the case may be. And what about my best friend, Eliza Beth? They’re just words best friend, boyfriend. Why do I feel so distant from them now?

Mattie enters first. His hair’s got longer. It’s dirty blonde and hangs about him in that way girls like. Eliza Beth appears behind him. She’s all long blonde hair, perfect figure and pink lipstick. She’s laughing at something Mattie is saying, then she slips her hand inside his. I’m not sure how to feel about it. I know how I should feel: betrayed, angry, jealous. But I just feel numb. Maybe even a little relieved. They have each other. That’s nice.

They glance my way but clearly don’t recognise me.

“Who’s the new girl?” Mattie asks Mr Cardoso.

He just smiles.

I turn my face back to the window.

“Sunglasses, Miss Montiel,” Mr Cardoso warns.

I hate him for a moment but I know it’s his job. I push them onto my head moodily and look back out of the window. I hear Eliza Beth gasp and feel compelled to look back. She gazes at me in shock then her and Mattie jump apart as if an electric shock has passed between them.

CJ and Maylene arrive behind them. They were all my friends. Are my friends.

CJ is tall and willowy with straight dark hair and a fringe. She’s super skinny which I remember the old me envying. Her top rides up a little above her skirt, exposing a tattoo of an eagle on her midriff. I see Mr Cardoso eyeing it with disapproval but he doesn’t say anything.

Maylene is petite and her skin is blessed with the caramel colour of her Latino mother. She’s wearing a black playsuit and her hair is pulled to one side.

I push my heels into the floor as they approach me. I’m like a frightened lamb about to bolt.

I grit my teeth and let them come, placing my elbows firmly on the table. Don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run.

They speed towards me. In moments I’m overwhelmed. Mattie takes the seat in front of me, spinning it around so he can look directly at me. He doesn’t try to touch me which I’m grateful for. Eliza Beth sits on the table beside him, drawing her feet up onto the chair. Maylene slides over my table and slips into the seat beside me and CJ hovers beside Eliza Beth, leaning both hands behind her on the table.

“You look...different,” Eliza says, eyeing my clothes with interest.

I nod, unsure how to respond. I pray they don’t ask me if I’m okay.

“Are you okay?” Mattie asks. His forehead creases with sympathy.

I inwardly grimace then nod at him with a forced smile. “Better.”

They all relax at hearing me speak. Perhaps they thought I’d gone mute from shock. Perhaps I should’ve pretended I had, that’d save all this forced conversation.

Mattie’s hand slithers across the table towards mine. I lean back in my chair as subtly as I can and fold my arms across my chest. I don’t like people touching me anymore.

“We missed you,” Maylene says from beside me.

I bite my lip. I have to respond nicely, even if it is a lie. “Yeah, I missed you guys too.” I force another smile but I know it doesn’t reach my eyes. All this fake smiling is already making my mouth ache. I wonder if that’s because the muscles have’t been used much lately. But don’t they say it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown? If so, then my mouth should be well trained for smiling.

“Have you been workin’ out?” CJ asks, her gaze wandering over my body.

I nod. “Yeah. Just been runnin’ a bit.” More like a lot. Every chance I get. I wanna run now.

The rest of the class take their seats around us and I avoid the many glances coming in my direction. I spot people whispering in groups and some are openly talking about me. The old me would’ve cared. But something inside me is dead or sleeping. Where all those emotions you’re supposed to feel are. Now all that’s left is numbness and pain and I switch between the two unpredictably.

Quiet down now. Take your seats. Mathew sit properly please,” Mr Cardoso says.

Mattie twists his seat around so I’m facing the back of his head. Eliza Beth and CJ sit along from him. Maylene retrieves a notebook from her bag beside me and I copy her.

“Can I have a volunteer to read out the worksheet please?” Mr Cardoso asks.

I don’t even bother to sink down in my seat like the rest of the class. Mr Cardoso wouldn’t pick me.

“I think Aurelia should read it out, sir. She must be outta practice from all her time off,” one of the popular girls, Maddison, says from the from the front of the class, raising an eyebrow at me as if in challenge.

My heart starts pounding and my gaze flicks to Mr Cardoso. Surely he wouldn’t make me?

Someone stands up at the front of the class. He’s tall with dark hair and broad shoulders. He’s wearing a black t-shirt that accentuates his muscular frame. He turns to face the class, revealing a perfectly symmetrical face with deep-set eyes. He looks older than our year group or maybe it’s just the shade of stubble across his jaw that makes me think that. It isn’t allowed in school and yet here he is with it. I don’t recognise him. He must be new.

The girls have all drawn their attention to him. Mr tall, dark and handsome has saved me my embarrassment. I sigh and lean back in my seat.

Tears suddenly spring to my eyes. What? Not now.

I force them away. I often find myself overcome by emotion but I’ve never had to deal with it in a public place before. Normally I run somewhere quiet and let the tears fall until there aren’t any more.

I return my attention to the new guy and make myself listen to the words he’s reading from the page. It’s a math exercise, something about algebra. I’ve never been great at math, and I’ve fallen well behind now, but the exercise suddenly seems like the perfect distraction.

I lift my pen and start attempting it on my notepad. I’m sure I’m doing it all wrong but keep going to ease the pain that’s rising in my chest and threatening to overwhelm me in front of all my classmates.

I grit my teeth. Not here. Not now.

I feel Maylene watching me and look up. She smiles softly and I struggle to find something to say.

“Who’s the new guy?” I ask as the rest of the class sets to work around us, talking in hushed voices.

“That’s Mason. He so hot,” she says, chewing the end of her pen as she gazes over at him. He returns to his seat.

“How long’s he been here?”

“Only since last week. He’s not made any friends yet so I think we need to claim dibs on him.”

I nod vaguely. The last thing I need is more friends but if it distracts them from me then I’m all for it.

“Yeah. Why don’t you ask him to eat with us at lunch?” I suggest, concocting my evil plan. He can take all the attention away from me. Perfect.

“Do you think I should?” she asks excitedly.

“Why not?” I shrug.

She nods eagerly and leans forward, pressing the tip of her pen into CJ’s back. She turns and Eliza spins around too.

“Reilly thinks we should ask Mason to eat with us at lunch,” Maylene says, grinning.

“Mmm, mmm. Yeah we need some more man meat in our group,” CJ says, licking her lips.

Maylene laughs wildly.

“We can ask him after class,” Eliza says, joining in.

“Leave the poor guy alone,” Mattie says, running his hand along Eliza’s shoulders.

I watch blankly as the pain recedes inside me and blissful numbness returns.

Mattie drops his hand, glancing at me. I gaze back at him evenly, not sure how he expects me to respond.

After class I hold back as the others get up. The girls hurry to catch Mason and Mattie waits to walk with me.

“I need to talk to you,” he says.

I don’t really wanna hear it. He’s with Eliza. I get it. I don’t care. Be free Mattie.

“What about?” I ask to be polite.

“Me and Eliza” he trails off.

“You’re together. It’s fine,” I say truthfully. It’s actually a massive relief though I don’t share that feeling with him.

“Oh,” he says, sounding sad.

I look at him with a confused expression. “Isn’t that what you were gonna say?”

“Well, yeah. But you and me. We were together.”

“It’s okay, Mattie. Really. I’m different now. I can’t explain it but, well, I’m happy for you two. You don’t need to feel guilty.”

He stops and takes my arm just outside the classroom. The corridor is emptying out. I gaze at him expectantly.

“Seein’ you’s brought it all back. How I felt about you,” Mattie says. I can see pain in his eyes.

I shudder, like my body is physically rejecting his touch. Poor Mattie, why am I so cold?

“I’m sorry,” I say, unsure what else I can offer.

He drops his arm and nods. We walk in silence towards the lunch hall. The girls have managed to wrangle Mason and he’s sat between Maylene and CJ at a circular table in the cafeteria. I sit down so I’m opposite Mason and Eliza and Mattie sit either side of me.

I sit quietly, gazing across the table at Mason. I study his black top, letting the colour fill up my eyes. The others chat happily around me as if I’m not here. They probably feel awkward around me. Oh well.

I used to sit so comfortably amongst these people. How can things have changed so much? It’s like I’m a broken puzzle piece. I don’t fit anywhere anymore.

Mason’s chest rises and falls rhythmically.

Eliza nudges me and I blink out of my stupor.

“You okay?” she asks me quietly.

I nod halfheartedly.

The brown paper bag in my satchel doesn’t appeal to my appetite but I’m curious to see what Bobby has made me.

The others take out sandwiches apart from Mason who has a pot of salad. It looks nice, the sort of thing I fancy eating. He doesn’t open it, just twists it so it spins on the table.

I reach into the bag and find a sandwich wrapped in tinfoil with a note on top. I curl the note in my hand and drop it into my lap so only I can read it.

Hungry people can’t run

– Uncle Bobby

I make a noise of amusement in my throat and screw the paper up in my hand.

“What’s so funny?” Mattie asks.

I shake my head. “Just a note from my uncle.”

He frowns but doesn’t push me any further.

I look up to find Mason watching me. I force a smile. “I’m Reilly.”

“Mason,” he says. He doesn’t smile. His eyes search mine like he can tell I’m sad.

I look away and peel open the tinfoil revealing a ham and cheese sandwich. I glare at it for a while, listening to Maylene and CJ trying to chat up Mason. He doesn’t seem very responsive to them which is unusual because they sure are pretty. I once witnessed CJ getting a guy to buy her a whole tank of gas for her car because she bent over in a mini skirt whilst filling it up.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” Maylene asks Mason.

I gaze at the tinfoil around my sandwich. My eyes slip out of focus so the light catching the foil turns to stars.

“No,” he says.

“Do you want one?” CJ asks then giggles.

“I like my alone time,” he says but not unkindly.

You and me both mister. A smile pulls at the corner of my mouth.

I peel open my sandwich to reveal the ham inside. My stomach churns. I haven’t eaten meat since the accident. All I can see before me is skin. Like mine or anyone else’s. Like my Momma or Daddy’s. I close the sandwich and put it back inside the paper bag.

Mason’s salad comes sailing towards me across the table and I look up at him in surprise.

“You can have it,” he says casually.

Something in his tone doesn’t make me question him. I shrug and open the pot. A small, plastic fork is taped to the inside of the lid. I peel it off then look up at him to double check he doesn’t mind. He smiles and nods. I dig in and the food is delicious. It’s the first meal I’ve enjoyed since the accident. I want to eat this every day.

My friends are all giving me strange looks.

“He said he didn’t want it,” I defend myself, bursting a cherry tomato with my teeth without guilt.

Maylene giggles and CJ shrugs then they return their attention to the new guy.

I finish the pot and look up at Mason, aware that he has nothing to eat. I hold my sandwich bag up to him and he shakes his head with a grin.

He proceeds to answer the girls’ questions but somehow pays more attention to me. I’m not sure how he does it. They don’t seem to notice.

I stand and take the sandwich and pot to the bin then return to the table. I glance outside to the courtyard and crave to be out there.

“I’m gonna take some air,” Mason says and I raise my eyebrows at him longingly, like a dog that wants to be taken for a walk.

If I go, the others will come. And I want to be alone. Or even with Mason. Somehow that would be acceptable.

Mason walks around the table and rests a hand lightly on my shoulder. It’s the first contact I haven’t recoiled from in weeks. “Coming?” he asks.

I nod and get up. The others move to follow and Mason shakes his head. They frown but stay seated. I’m eternally grateful to him for it. I don’t even know this guy and he seems to know what I need better than my friends do. What’s that about? Maybe he’s lost a loved one too. That would make sense.

I feel Maylene’s gaze burning a hole in my back as I follow his tall frame towards the door and we exit into the blistering heat of the courtyard. The sun reflects on the stone, trapping the warmth. I don’t mind the heat. I never have. I can tolerate unseemly amounts of it that would make other people melt.

Mason doesn’t seem to mind either. He sits on a stone bench and I sit beside him. I feel alone and at peace even though he’s there beside me. How’s that possible? I feel that I can be blunt with him so I ask what I’m wondering without hesitation. “Have you lost someone you love?”

He rests his elbows on his knees and clasps his hands together.

“No,” he answers. “Why do you ask?”

I thought, maybe you know how this feels” I trail off, my chest tightening.

He shakes his head.

I feel the need to be on the floor. I drop from the bench and shuffle around to face him. I sit cross-legged so I’m looking up into his large brown eyes. There’s gold in them. He regards me with interest.

“Where are you from?” I ask. His accent is Texan but not so strong as it is here. I suspect a city.

“Dallas,” he says.

I’m spot on. “Why did you move here?”

He shrugs. “It’s as good a place as any.”

It’s not much of an answer but I don’t give great answers these days either so I can hardly complain.

I soon begin to feel overwhelmed again. I want to go home. No, not home. To the lake. I want to run. I stand up.

He stands too. He reaches out and takes my hand. I don’t know why, but I let him take it. I’m bearly surprised by the gesture and a small voice somewhere deep inside informs me that this is strange.

“You’re in so much pain,” Mason says quietly.

I am. I am in so much pain. How does he know this? Is it so obvious?

I nod, feeling the keen sting of tears in my eyes once more.

“I want to run,” I whisper.

“I know,” he says. “If you need to run, then run.”

I nod and pull away from him. I exit the courtyard on the opposite side, away from the cafeteria. I follow the corridor towards the exit. I’m grateful to see that the receptionist isn’t present and dart out of the door. I run down the road, letting my bag bounce against my back as I go.

I’m home in under ten minutes. I breath heavily, standing outside my house. I look up at the dress swaying in the wind on the flagpole and fall to my knees. The tears come. I can’t stop them.

At some point Bobby finds me. He wraps me up in his arms, scooping me off of the ground. He takes me to the lounge where he’s set up an air conditioning unit. He lays me on the sofa and sits quietly, stroking my hair until the last sob shudders its way out of my body.

When I was little I asked Daddy why people ever had to be sad, that it’d be better if everybody could just be happy and enjoy life. But he told me that if you weren’t sad sometimes you would never know what happiness was, that you needed to have both to appreciate the good times.

But sometimes when I felt happy I’d think about all the people in the world that weren’t, all the suffering and pain and those who could never have what I had and I felt guilty. I told Daddy about the guilt for my happiness and he said he was proud of me. He was proud because he’d raised a child that empathised with the world and that, though we can’t always help the less fortunate, being aware of our own good fortune is a blessing. It’s a blessing because we’ll never be selfish with it and we’ll always give to those in need at every opportunity.

I asked him what I could do with the guilt. I wanted to do something useful with it. So, one day, he came home with a bright blue piggy bank and placed it on the mantelpiece. He sat me and Momma on the couch and said that whenever we felt guilty, or generous, or more fortunate than others we could put some money in the pot. Then at the end of the year we’d all decide what charity to give the money to. It became a Christmas tradition. One year we had two hundred dollars which we gave to the local animal shelter. I chose it. Animals have troubles too, I’d told Daddy.

I haven’t put anything in the piggy bank since they died. What happens now? Now that I’m sad and broken and truly misfortunate? Yet I’m still better off than so many people in the world. I have Bobby, I have a roof over my head, an inheritance, a school. I should probably put some money in the pot...

I peep up at Bobby through my eyelashes, and the tears that hang there cloud my vision. I can see the piggy bank on the mantelpiece behind him.

“Bobby,” I whisper through the excessive saliva filling my mouth. “Will it ever feel okay again?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.” It’s not the right thing to say but Bobby never has the right thing to say. He continues to stroke my hair and I close my eyes, pretending it’s my Daddy doing it the way he used to when I was little girl. I’d cry and cry when I fell over but Daddy would wrap me up in his arms until I stopped. And Momma would sing to me when I was sad or read me a story and I’d lay in the comfort of her voice. I’ll never have that again. I am so alone.

Of Fate and Angels Chapter 1

Angel’s Rest: Of Fate and Angels

(Full Release Coming Soon)

angel's rest cover book1

Blurb:

An unwritten fate, beings of the supernatural, and a forbidden love. Welcome to Angel’s Rest, West Texas…

When a mysterious guy moves to the middle-of-nowhere town of Angel’s Rest, Reilly Montiel is sucked into an unknown world of the supernatural. How does Mason Gold know exactly what Reilly needs before she does? And what is his connection to the obnoxious newcomer Earley Black who is determined to keep Reilly and Mason apart?

Saved by the alluring Mason Gold again and again, Reilly starts to wonder what secrets he’s hiding behind those gold-flecked eyes. But when the truth is revealed, there’s no going back.
Mason is her guardian angel, sworn to protect her. And though it is told that an angel cannot fall in love with a human, Reilly’s feelings for him are too strong to ignore.

Threatened to be ripped apart, Reilly must choose whether to fight for love or lose everything she has ever wanted. But the True Angels will stop at nothing to return Reilly to her fated path. Can she accept the future that has been chosen for her? Or will she attempt the impossible and fight for a fate that hasn’t been written?

Chapter 1

I run and run until the wrenching, twisting pain inside me is dulled. When I can’t run any longer I double over, pressing my hands to my knees. I feel tears coming again and throw my head back to look at the sun. Momma had once taught me the trick to stop tears. Or was that to stop sneezing? Either way the tears come anyway.

I collapse to the ground and draw my legs up to my chest. The tighter I squeeze, the more it feels like I’m physically holding my body together. If I let go, I might split into a million pieces and float away across the lake in front of me. The thought is welcoming and terrifying in equal measures.

My body trembles but not from cold, it’s rarely ever less than boiling in Angel’s Rest, West Texas.

It’s been three months. Three months. Since my parents died in an airplane crash with their friends, Judy and Paul. Paul had come into some money and decided to learn to fly. Thanks Paul. My Momma was afraid of heights for christ’s sake.

I’d stopped seeing people the day after their funeral. I’d worn black as you’re supposed to but, even though I’d attended, I wasn’t really there. It was like watching a black and white film play out in front of my eyes. Those huge, wooden boxes didn’t represent my parents. How could they? My Momma was light and life and my Daddy was all softness and kind words. They weren’t in those boxes, not really.

Uncle Bobby moved in as my guardian: Bobby Briar, a drunk and a womaniser. Not the kind of role model a seventeen year old girl needs just after her parents die. But what do I know?

I guess that’s a little harsh. Bobby loves me and I him, he just doesn’t always know what to do with that love. There’s no one else to fill the role anyways. But despite his flaws, Bobby said yes and that’s more than I could‘ve ever asked for.

I started running in the first week. It was hard and I got shaky real fast. That’s because I’d stopped eating properly. Bobby gave me his third piece of advice that week: “You can’t run if you don’t eat.

I ignored it for another day but that was when running became almost impossible and running was the only thing that made it any less painful. So I started eating properly (you won that round Bobby Briar). The first piece of advice, as I recall, was, “Cryin‘ only makes your eyes red and your heart ache, so dry ’em out and join me for breakfast.”

I’d refused the breakfast but now I reserve my tears for private moments. I know it ain’t nice to see someone you love in pain, so no one really sees me at all. The second piece of advice had been to wash, he’d said, “Angels will start droppin’ outta heaven at the smell o’ you.”

I hadn’t washed for four days after the funeral and, considering I’d been running every day, I couldn’t argue with that one.

This morning I was supposed to return to school. I’d dressed how I used to in a bright, coral-coloured summer dress, down to the knee as required by school. Then I’d taken it off and thrown it outta the window. Part of me wishes I could see Bobby’s reaction when he spots my dress caught on the roof of the porch, blowin in the wind.

I replaced the dress with shorts, t-shirt and trainers and here I am. Where I should be. Where I feel safe and free, looking over the lake far away from anywhere. It’s got a track that runs all the way around the edge. It took me an hour and thirty minutes to run it the first time, now I can do it in forty if I don’t stop.

I stopped today. Half way around where I’m the furthest point I can be from town without walking straight off into the desert to become a vulture’s dinner. I can’t say I haven’t thought about it. Whatever happened to that poor girl who lost her parents?”, they’d say. Sure can be tempting at times.

Here at this junction I’m in limbo. Safe from the world but still secured to it by the dirt pathway. The dusty track curves away from me and I follow it with my eyes around the edge of the lake. If only life were so easily mapped out. If you could see the path ahead of you, maybe you could be more prepared? Maybe it wouldn’t be so damn frightening.

Or maybe it’d be worse. If I’d known my parents were gonna die, I would only ever’ve dreaded the day it came. Unless you can change the course of time? I wonder if people are fated or if your choices or really your own. I’m not sure what’s better.

Father Eamon had come to the house a few times but I wouldn’t see him. I’d always gone to church with my parents outta tradition. I’m not sure if I believe any of it but I know I’m supposed to, especially in this town.

Either way it’s nice to think my Momma and Daddy are still out there somewhere, whether in heaven or some other place. You gotta have faith,” Father Eamon used to say in his sermons. How can I? How can you believe something without proof? I can’t voice those words in this town. I used to to Daddy and he’d tell me, it didn’t matter if I believed or not, but just to keep an open mind. So that’s what I’m doing. My mind is wide open, Daddy.

Bobby knows what I’m going through but he deals with things differently. Bobby’s not someone I could talk to about emotions, or lack-thereof as the case may be at times.

My school friends did the proper thing of sending me cards and flowers. But I could never talk to them about this. I’m sure they’d be all kinds of understanding but sometimes that’s not enough. There’s no doubt I could force a smile or two, but inside I’d be screaming. Being the only one hurting sure is isolating at times. I’ve never felt so alone. It’s not that they aren’t there for me, it’s that I can’t bear to be around them. Continuing their happy little lives as if my whole world hasn’t just collapsed. I’m a caterpillar turned into a butterfly, irrevocably altered.

I hug my knees tighter and gaze out across the lake. Fish touch the surface and ripples disturb the smooth water. The surface reminds me of myself when I’m acting like everything is okay. But beneath the facade is chaos: a whole other world, hidden beneath the calm.

I stand and my legs tremble a little under my weight. It feels as if the earth is shifting, but I know I’m the one who’s no longer steady. The Earth still turns, the sun still shines but I’m drifting away like gravity no longer affects me.

I continue along the track, picking up speed to test the sureness of my calves. They seem stronger now, so I start running again. The rhythmic pounding of my feet comforts me. The warm wind brushes loose strands of hair out of my face and I’m free once more.

Life’s like water cupped in your hands. You can only hold on so long before it slips away through your fingers.

***

I walk through town, running draws attention round here. It’s much too hot for runnin,” called old Martha to me one time from the shade of her porch.

I turn away from the road that leads towards school and take the route home. It’s an old house, large and painted a faded pale blue. I climb the steps up to the porch. My dress has blown from the porch roof to hang from the flag pole as if I’m that defiant about not wearing it. Perhaps the dress is being defiant on my behalf.

I enter and listen intently for a moment. It’s quiet, perhaps Bobby’s still in bed. The first step creaks so I place a hesitant foot on the second.

“Shouldn’t ya be at school, Aurelia?”

I snap around to spot Bobby emerging from the shadows. He has a mop of dark hair that hangs around his face. He often pushes it back when he puts his stetson on. He must have seen me coming and laid this trap.

I frown at him. “Don’t call me that.”

He softens and folds his hairy arms across his chest, watching me intently. “Reilly, you can’t put it off any longer. Mrs Whitehaven has rung me four times askin’ when you’ll be comin’ back to school. You’re gonna fall behind.”

I bend down and sit on the first stair. It creaks loudly. “I know, Bobby. I just can’t face it yet.”

Bobby moves into the light cast from the small, frosted window above the door, illuminating the back of his head to make a halo. It’s almost funny because Bobby ain’t no angel.

He’s awkward and not used to looking after anyone. He has no kids, no commitments and no cares. Well, he had none of those things. Now he has all of them. Sorry Bobby.

“You gotta face it, darlin’,” Bobby says, trying out a stern face.

I raise an eyebrow at him and he breaks a smile.

“Look, I’m just sayin’, it ain’t gonna get easier. You ain’t gonna wake up one day and wanna go to school. But you gotta get Mrs Whitehaven off my back. Do me this kindness.”

A small laugh escapes my throat.

He points at me like a child that just saw a dog do a trick. “You laughed. Not sure I’ve heard that sound since I moved in.”

He means since my parents died. Since his sister’s body, my Momma’s, was mangled beyond recognition in a plane crash. The smile drops from my face and my chest tightens.

Bobby frowns. “For me?”

I meet his big, brown eyes; their wide like an abandoned kitten’s. This is the look he uses on women in the local bar to make them fawn over him.

I roll my eyes and get to my feet. “Fine. But if it sucks, I’m not goin’ tomorrow.”

“Deal.”

I start up the stairs, planning to get changed.

“Where you goin’?” Bobby asks airily.

I glance back at him with a frown.

“I thought you’d started hangin’ your clothes outside now?”

I fight the smile on my lips but it wins. “What? Don’t you like the new flag, Bobby Briar?” I ask innocently.

He laughs and I jog away up the stairs.

I shower quickly and towel dry my dark hair, letting it fall over my shoulders. I decide to try out a new look. After all, as much as I’d like to be, I’m not the girl I once was and a happy sundress is not the impression I want to be giving my school friends. That’d be an invitation for people to treat me the way they used to. I’m not that girl anymore. No way, not happening.

I look through my inbuilt wardrobe in the wall, wondering what outfit would best say “Please ignore me. I choose a black vest top and denim shorts then pull on a pair of sandals. I eye myself in the mirror fitted on to the sliding door of my wardrobe.

I haven’t looked at myself properly since it happened, I can’t face the resemblance I bear to my mother. I’m lean but with slight muscle definition from the running. My body’s tanned from the time spent outdoors and my cheekbones are more prominent where I’ve lost weight. My hair is curling slightly as it drys. My eyelids look heavy and my lips are pale. They used to be full and red and my eyes seem to have dimmed from their once-bright green. I’m relieved by the change, I look slightly less like Momma than I used to. I should feel guilty about that, I’m all that’s left of her after all.

I pull out the makeup box that’s tucked at the bottom of my wardrobe and try to hide the way my face has changed. When I’m finished, I look less like the undead. That’ll have to do, I guess.

I pull out the handbag I used to use. It’s bright yellow and seems much too happy. I push it firmly to the back of my wardrobe and rifle through my other bags. I find a black satchel that can hang across my body. I stand and move around the double bed that inhabits most of the space in my room. I go to the desk and open a drawer to find my school books. I don’t know what we’re studying at school so I just take a notepad and pen, stuffing it inside my bag. What else did I used to carry in it? It seems like another life: handbags and all the practical little things you use daily without sparing a thought for them. Now I feel like everything is a struggle, trying to remember how the old me did tasks with such ease.

I notice the phone plugged in to charge on my bedside table. I turned it off the day of the funeral and haven’t had it on since. I hesitate, then approach it slowly and sit down on the edge of the bed. I pick up the rectangular object and press the on button. It comes to life with a light jingle and I wait as it searches for signal.

Message after message pours in. Parts of the messages are shown so I can read phrases like hope ur okay and feel better soon. It’s like I’ve had an illness. I suppose I have in a way. I see another message flash up: Miss u. It’s from Mattie, my boyfriend. Well, he was my boyfriend. He’s not now. Even if he doesn’t know it. I’m not who I was and this girl ain’t dating anyone anymore.

I should feel guilty but I don’t, just more alone than ever. But it’s my choice. It’s what I need to be. Alone is good.

I stow the phone in the drawer, unwilling to have it on me.

I get up and put my bag across my body so it hangs on my right hip. I like the comfort of it, like a seatbelt. Just before I leave I think of one more thing that I want. I return to my wardrobe and open the inbuilt drawers that hold my jewellery, scarves, belts, and sunglasses. I choose a large, black pair of shades and put them on. I eye myself in the mirror. I look closed off and unapproachable. Perfect.

I return downstairs and find Bobby waiting for me. I notice a brown paper bag in his hand. He holds it up and I physically recoil from it.

“Lunch,” he says firmly, waving it at me.

I nod sullenly and take the bag, stowing it in my satchel. I don’t say thanks because I know he’s doing it to annoy me, playing the father figure.

He grins and opens the door for me. “Have a g’day, darlin’,” he calls as I descend the stairs.

I thrust one hand into the air with my middle finger raised and continue on down the street, hearing his booming laughter following me.



Upcoming Releases

angel's rest cover book1

 

An unwritten fate, beings of the supernatural, and a forbidden love. Welcome to Angel’s Rest, West Texas…

When a mysterious guy moves to the middle-of-nowhere town of Angel’s Rest, Reilly Montiel is sucked into an unknown world of the supernatural. How does Mason Gold know exactly what Reilly needs before she does? And what is his connection to the obnoxious newcomer Earley Black who is determined to keep Reilly and Mason apart?

Saved by the alluring Mason Gold again and again, Reilly starts to wonder what secrets he’s hiding behind those gold-flecked eyes. But when the truth is revealed, there’s no going back.
Mason is her guardian angel, sworn to protect her. And though it is told that an angel cannot fall in love with a human, Reilly’s feelings for him are too strong to ignore.

Threatened to be ripped apart, Reilly must choose whether to fight for love or lose everything she has ever wanted. But the True Angels will stop at nothing to return Reilly to her fated path. Can she accept the future that has been chosen for her? Or will she attempt the impossible and fight for a fate that hasn’t been written?