Home > Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(6)

Never Smile at Strangers (Strangers Series #1)(6)
Jennifer Jaynes

“No ma’am, I wouldn’t think so,” Haley said, cradling the phone between her shoulder and ear and folding a blanket her sister, Becky, had left in the middle of the floor.

After hanging up with Tiffany’s mother, Haley tried Tiffany’s cell phone, but got her voice mail. After leaving a message, she walked to the kitchen. Mac had already awoken and was placing a new bottle on the Culligan cooler.

“Sounds like Tiffany’s going to be in hot water the rest of the summer,” she sighed. “That’s if she’s not disowned.”

“She stay out last night?” Mac mumbled.

“Yeah, guess so. And her mother’s pissed.”

Mac grabbed a dish towel and wiped his hands. “She with Charles?”

“I guess. I can’t think of anyone else she’d be with.”

But she could, she thought. Tiffany could be with the guy she’d begun to tell her about.

Chapter 5

MAC EASED THE truck to the side of Main Street and killed the ignition. The Ford shook for a few seconds, then became quiet. Wondering if Tiffany had made it home yet, Haley pushed open the passenger side door and climbed out into the oppressive sun.

Her bare feet burned against the sun-beaten asphalt. She took slow, deliberate steps, because while she concentrated on the blistering heat, she couldn’t think of anything else. Her father, her mother, the insomnia, her future. . . The asphalt was agonizing but also therapeutic in a way. A Southern antidepressant.

Dead, dried up worms, some in L-shapes, some in the shape of C’s, were glued to the blacktop. She slowly made her way across the road, trying to avoid stepping on their mangled bodies.

“The tar’s gotta be blazin’. Shit, I can feel the heat clear up to my ankles,” Mac said, waiting on the other side of the road. “Why you walkin’ so slow?”

“It’s not that hot,” she said, and tried not to wince. “Really.”

As they stood in front of Bob’s sno cone stand, an old run down trailer that had been parked on the side of Main Street for as long as she could remember, Haley noticed a girl her age standing on the side of the road several yards away. Erica Duvall. She was staring into the woods, a backpack hanging low on her back.

“What do you reckon she’s doin’?” Mac asked, squinting against the sunlight. He handed a blue sno cone to Haley.

“Don’t know.”

“She hangs out in the woods an awful lot,” he said, taking another cone from the pimply-faced kid who was working the counter. “You’d figure a girl our age would’ve grown out of that type of play. Moved on and become a young lady.”

“She doesn’t have any friends,” Haley muttered, watching Erica disappear into the woods. Haley found Erica beautiful and mysterious. Tiffany only found the girl creepy.

“You two get along okay at Luke’s?”

Haley bit into the ice, barely tasting the sweet syrup on the tip of her tongue. She nodded. “Yeah, she’s quiet, but nice enough.”

Haley had taken a job as a waitress at Luke’s Diner a few weeks earlier to help her family with the bills. Since taking it, she found herself mesmerized with the quiet, petite girl who was also a waitress there. She was much different than the others, always reading, always writing, always in a different world than everyone else. Tiffany, who also worked at Luke’s, had a much different impression of Erica. She only found her weird and a bit freaky and like she did with so many other people, looked down on her.

Erica’s family moved to Grand Trespass from San Francisco when she was in the first grade. Haley remembered when she first saw her at school. She was small and skinny and had the same long, brunette hair framing her tiny face. Her clothes and eyes had both looked way too big for her.

Sadly, she had the same number of friends walking into the classroom that day as she’d had the day she graduated from high school. None.

***

FOUR O’CLOCK that afternoon, Haley carefully skimmed the greasy scum that had settled at the top of the gumbo pot. Setting the big wooden spoon back on the stove, she went to her mother’s bedroom and quietly opened the door. The woman appeared to still be sleeping. The only part of her body Haley could make out in the bedcovers was the crown of her head. She hadn’t come out all day. It was as though she was attempting to sleep away the reality of her husband’s death.

Haley closed the door and walked to the recliner. Mac’s six-foot-one frame was sprawled out on the large couch against the wall. His empty sno cone cup was on the floor by his side, next to two crumpled cans of Coors Light.

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