Home > Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(4)

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(4)
Jennifer Jaynes

Chapter 2

HE WAS A liar. Lying was what kept him safe, alive, and relatively sane when he was little and his mother would crawl into his bed. . . when he became older and she continued to crawl in.

He lied about everything and to everyone: his wearisome, red-faced manager at the Winn Dixie, the employer at his second job, the filthy sister he’d been forced to care for. Anyone he encountered while he was outside the house, anyone he’d ever met. Sometimes, when he was lucky, he even managed to lie to himself.

He was sure that people liked him because of the person he pretended to be, and that if they knew who he really was, they’d be terrified. They’d fear for their lives. They’d hurt him. The thought unsettled him almost as much as the terror trapped inside his head.

Some people thought they were close to him. They weren’t. He made sure of it. If. . . they only knew.

It was dark now in the woods. Very still. A sharp contrast to what was transpiring inside his head. A slew of horrid, dangerous thoughts like fireworks exploding, overcrowding his skull.

He felt far from at peace and always had. But something about this summer in particular stirred him. His mind was a pressure cooker that desperately needed release. Screaming at the pond wasn’t enough anymore. They’d begun to scream back.

Brushing away a low-slung limb, he trudged forward. A pair of yellow eyes studied him from within the tall grass and his heart skipped a beat.

It was the sickly stray cat that he’d named Ian. It followed him everywhere these days: to the pond, through the woods. Its heinous face even peered through his tiny bedroom window at the worst of moments. Over the months, Ian’s eyes had turned evil and he wanted nothing to do with the revolting animal. “Leave me the fuck alone, Ian,” he seethed. But the cat didn’t budge. It just stood there, intimidating him. “Fuck off, I said!” He lunged at it. It shrieked and shot into the darkness.

He headed back to the small house he shared with his sister. But he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay there for long. He avoided it as much as possible. It’d been hers, his mother’s. Inside it, he was still a terrified, angry little boy.

Outside of it, he could usually fake who he was and become almost normal. The lies were his salvation. But not in the house, a place that would remain a cruel part of his life until his sister graduated high school. Either then, or until he was forced to destroy her.

But when he neared the house, he couldn’t bear to go in. The light in his sister’s room was switched off, which could only mean that she was out. But she wasn’t the only one he had to worry about. Some nights his dead mother’s presence just felt too strong.

He decided to take a drive.

Chapter 3

FIFTEEN, MAYBE TWENTY minutes passed before Haley left the bathroom at Provost’s. She glanced around the bar. Tiffany and Charles hadn’t returned. The cheese sticks and sodas were still on the table, untouched. She left a five dollar bill and headed to the back door.

She swung it open and stepped out into the warm, sticky night. The putrid odor of Trespass Bayou hung in the air. “Tiff?” she shouted into the parking lot. “Charles?” She waited. No one answered. She walked deeper into the lot and swatted at a cloud of gnats that darted toward her from a flickering light post.

Trucks of all sizes, and a few cars, including Tiffany’s black Ford Mustang, were parked in the gravel lot. There were so many trucks that resembled Charles’s, it was difficult to decide which was his. Wandering up and down the gravel rows, she peered into each large truck, thinking maybe she’d see them arguing inside one of the cabs. They were all empty.

Heat lightening rippled in the night sky. Glancing out at the line of woods on the east side of the lot, she thought she saw something move. “Tiffany?” she called. The night was still, silent. She shouted louder. “Tiffany! Charles!” She heard nothing, just the sound of her own voice and an owl screeching in the distance.

Chapter 4

SUNDAY MORNING, THE aroma of sautéed andouille sausage, garlic, and onions clung to the air as Haley chopped scallions in the kitchen, careful to make them fine, as fine as Nana used to chop them.

She was afraid. Afraid for her mother who looked more and more like death every day. Afraid for her sister who’d never openly mourned her father. Afraid for her life which had unraveled nearly a year ago, and might never get back on track.

She wished Nana was still around to tell her what to do. When her maternal grandmother was alive, she had been the centerpiece of the family. Daddy was the voice of reason, but Nana was the voice that spoke of reasons, deeds, and beliefs no one wanted to think about, much less believe. Haley’s mother always said to pay her no mind. That Nana was growing senile. But Nana didn’t seem senile. She was alert and full of life. More so than most of the kids Haley’s age. Haley knew if Nana was alive now, she’d know how to fix everything. How to whip her family back into shape. Make them happy and healthy again.

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