Home > Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(3)

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(3)
Jennifer Jaynes

“Anyway, this other guy and me,” Tiffany continued, “we’ve been kind of flirting and I think that he likes me. I mean, of course, he likes—”

“Shhh,” Haley interrupted, her voice low. She lifted her chin in Charles’s direction. “He’s here.”

“Who?” Tiffany asked, and turned to see.

Charles stopped at their table, an overhead light in the hazy room casting a shadow across his dark face. “Thought you two were hanging at Haley’s tonight.”

He took a seat at the table, and crossing his arms across his chest, fixed his eyes on Tiffany. “Stopped by her house and was told you came here instead.”

“We changed our minds,” Tiffany said, irritation thickening her words. “Haley needed to talk and wanted to get out of the house. Her mother’s still in a bad way.”

Charles looked at Haley and his expression softened. “Your mother still having a tough time?”

She nodded. It was true. Her mother had been grieving ever since the accident, and it hadn't lessened. The woman, who was once brimming with life, an eternal optimist, was now silent and much too thin. She lay in her bed night and day, detached from the world.

The part that wasn’t true was the original plan to stay at her house. She wasn’t sure what lies Tiffany had told him and didn’t want to get involved. Her friend lied too much and Haley wasn’t in the business of keeping track.

“If there’s anything I can do to help out, let me know, okay?” Charles said.

“Thanks.”

Haley studied the crowd and saw Troy, an old family friend, standing in the distance. “Excuse me,” she said, relieved to have found an excuse to get up. Any excuse. “I see someone I should go and say hi to.”

A moment later she was across the room, and Troy was beaming down at her. “Look at you. Growin’ like a weed, mon cher!” His smiling lips gave way to tobacco-stained teeth. His face was ruddy and sagged with years of alcohol and too much Louisiana sun. “Ol’ Sudley sure did make one pretty youngster,” he gushed.

No, she wasn’t pretty, she thought. She was plain and hopelessly unmemorable. Tiffany. She was the pretty one.

Troy stood too close and had sour breath. He was one of her daddy’s childhood friends from Weston. Haley’s father had become a math professor at Cavelier de La Salle Community College; the college the kids from Chester, Truro, Weston, and Grand Trespass usually went to after high school, before they dropped out and started their own families. The four towns were in spitting distance of each other and were all so pathetically small one could set foot in all four within the span of twenty minutes. Troy had become a mechanic and moved to Truro.

Though a jovial and pleasant person, Troy was one of the last people she wanted to be around right now because he was just another painful reminder that her daddy was dead.

He took a long swig of his beer, and Haley glanced past him at her friends. Charles was leaning across the table. Tiffany’s face was drawn. She twirled the necklace over her thumb and shook her head.

“I never woulda thought I’d outlive ol’ Sudley,” Troy said, slurring his words. “No sir. He was always the responsible one. Level-headed. Always did what was safe. We used to make fun of him as kids, ‘cuz he never seemed like he was one, you know? An old soul that one was.” He wavered and held both hands in front of him to steady himself. “Whoa there.”

“You okay?” she asked.

“Depends on yore definition of it, I reckon,” Troy replied, and let out a big-chested laugh before taking another swig.

Haley looked up in time to see Tiffany march out the back door. Charles got up and followed her.

“Folks just don’t look right at their funerals.” Troy said, his eyes glazed from the alcohol. “Hardly look like themselves. Such a shame. It’s a good thing yore daddy had a closed casket. I’ve been to funerals where folks looked plain different than they had in—” He stopped abruptly and his ruddy cheeks grew red. “Sorry, cher. So, how’s yore mama? She doin’ all right these days?”

Haley took a step backward. “Excuse me,” she said. She hadn’t heard anyone say her father’s name in seven months, much less talk about him dead in his casket. She hurried to the bathroom.

After splashing cool water on her face, she locked herself in one of the stalls and leaned against the rusted out avocado-colored door. She knew she shouldn’t have gone out, but Tiffany begged her. Now she was fighting with Charles in the parking lot, and who knew how long they’d be? She took deep breaths through her mouth and focused on the wall in front of her, because if she closed her eyes she knew her mind would take her places she was too afraid to go.

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