Home > Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(10)

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(10)
Jennifer Jaynes

Erica had always been different from the other kids, which had, on its own, been social suicide. The other children didn’t like her, and she loathed them. She always felt awkward and uncomfortable in anyone’s presence. But that rarely bothered her anymore. She didn’t need anyone in her life except for her mother.

Now, spread across the living room floor were magazine clippings, a thesaurus, balled up scraps of paper and scribbled-on receipts. She sat on the leather couch staring into a notebook. For the last three days she hadn’t been able to string more than two sentences together. She was stuck between chapters five and six, and she wasn’t even sure the first five chapters were good enough. The short stories hadn’t been this difficult. In fact, they had come easily and her teachers had always marveled at them.

The trouble was, she had to write a novel. Not just any novel, but a great one. One her mother would be proud of. If she were proud, she wouldn’t be able to help but love her again, right?

She wondered if her mother had ever fought the demon of writer’s block. Every time Erica had watched her write, the writing seemed to come so naturally. She had her routines. In the mornings, she’d pace for a half hour or so in her satin pajamas with her favorite mug between her hands. An Ole Miss mug she carried everywhere. She called it her muse. She drank coffee or jasmine tea from that mug and tried to get the rhythm she needed for her writing by swaying to a Janis Joplin album—sometimes even Fleetwood Mac or Meatloaf, depending on her mood or the material she was writing.

She never listened to the Cajun music Erica’s father listened to, full of its whining accordions and muddy soul, the music that often blared when he was passed out drunk on the couch or the kitchen floor.

Her mother had despised that music and everything it stood for. She was a native of San Francisco, not a Podunk southerner from a town that barely existed on a U.S. map. She often told Erica that her greatest mistake had been following her father to Grand Trespass. She said she’d been blinded by love. A mistake she seemed to work night and day for over a year to fix.

After finishing her writing, her mother would dress and they’d make a snack together, usually pan-fried beignets. Then they’d sprawl on either end of the couch, eat, and watch old movies together.

But those days were over, at least for now.

Erica had been nine and her mother twenty-six the year she left. That was ten years ago, around the time her father began coming home late from work. For the long months leading up to her departure, the writing was all her mother could think about. She tackled it as though she was making up for ten years of wasted life.

Erica sighed and tossed her notebook aside. She flipped off the lamp and closed her eyes.


AN HOUR LATER, the front door swung open. Disoriented, Erica opened her eyes. The overhead light flooded the room, and she sat up. She blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust.

It was her father, and he was talking to someone.

A musky odor filled her nose and she sneezed. She watched her father scan the room.

“Oh, hi hon.”

He carried a paper bag in his left hand and held the hand of a busty, blonde woman with his right. The source of the atrocious smell.

Erica sized up the woman’s long red fingernails, a color her mother would never stoop to wearing. It sent men the wrong message. Or, maybe in this woman’s case with her father, the right one.

Erica scrambled to pick up her things on the floor. Her things were private. Not for her father to see, much less some blonde bimbo.

“Erica, this is Pamela.”

Pamela took a step toward Erica and extended her hand. The woman wasn’t much older than she was.

“Hi. It’s so nice to finally meet yooooh!” she squealed.

A mixture of anger and confusion washed over Erica. Finally? Erica shoved everything into her backpack and stood, not accepting the woman’s hand.

Her father cleared his throat. “Erica’s a writer,” he said, smiling. A fake smile. The type he used when he was selling used cars at the lot or when there were strange women in the house, though she’d never seen one quite this young. “She’s working on a book.”

“You are?” Pamela asked, apparently unaffected, her voice still annoyingly cheerful.

Erica groaned and marched across the living room, past the aquarium that was once full of her mother’s guppies. She had tried to keep them alive after her mother left, but one by one, they’d all bellied up. She’d mourned every one as though she were grieving her mother.

“Have you eaten dinner, honey?” her father asked.

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