Roxanne’s Ghost Saga, a new mystery series from internationally acclaimed author Maggie Tideswell, is set against the stunningly beautiful backdrop of modern day South Africa. It is a compelling ghost story of identical twin sisters’ love for the same man, and the magical connection the women share.
And the theme? Nothing is what it seems.
Here, we move into the realms of the mists of time that could either reveal or conceal.
Book 1, Goodbye, My Love, sets the scene. It introduces country vet, Ben, his four-year-old autistic daughter and the would-be nanny, Jessica James. Jess’ interview with Ben for the nanny position takes place on Friday the 13th. An attraction between the two is immediate, which by all accounts isn’t entirely normal.
Ben’s three oddball sisters-in-law descend on him for the anniversary of his wife Roxanne’s death. They try to convince Ben that Roxanne isn’t dead, more than likely to put an end to whatever might develop between Ben and Jessica. But Ben knows that no one could have survived what led to Roxanne’s death.
His daughter, diagnosed as autistic, only sometimes does she display the symptoms that led to her diagnosis. Autism is not a disease, it’s a condition. A condition with symptoms that can’t be turned on and off at will. So…what is the child really suffering from?
Ben’s wife’s twin sister, Millicent, is accompanied by an over-board caricature of a psychic to Ben’s home in order to help them find Roxanne. Of course, Millicent isn’t happy to find Jess already in Ben’s house—trouble is imminent. But only as far as Ben’s ancient housekeeper, will allow her to. What does the housekeeper know that will keep Millicent’s ruffled feathers under control?
Where is Roxanne?
Does anyone live here?
The house looked deserted, kind of spooky. Jess couldn’t see any other houses nearby. Sally had not been kidding—this was a rather isolated place.
Dilapidated outbuildings behind the sprawling house looked as unused as the house itself. Some sort of creeper covered most of the buildings except the house—it looked far too fragile to bear the added weight.
There were what looked like turrets on each end of the house, and a domed one in between. That might be a skylight. Jess worried her bottom lip. What century was this place built?
Lightning played over the majestic mountains behind the house, silhouetting it against the darkening sky, but down here in the valley, the late sun cast long shadows over the overgrown garden.
It all fit so well with Friday the thirteenth, because this was creepy. What had she been thinking? She should have postponed the interview until Monday. One weekend surely wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.
Jess studied the map on her tablet, which she held propped up against the steering wheel. This could be the right place, but she had thought that about both the previous two places, and neither had turned out to be Weltevreden. Neither had been as eerie as this place, either.
No, this couldn’t be it. Tapping her finger against the edge of the tablet, she studied the house again. This whole thing smacked of a Friday the thirteenth Sally-prank.
Sally, her bestie since high school, ran a very successful employment agency. The professional image notwithstanding, she still loved pranks of any kind—she would never outgrow them.
Her eyes had lit up that morning when Jess sat in front of her desk, mugs of coffee steaming on the polished wood between them. The platter of doughnuts had been for Jess’ benefit. Sally and her perpetual dieting.
“Something different,” Sally mused, tapping her pen against her front teeth, then pressed a button on her laptop, and reached for the sheet of paper the printer spewed out. “This might be just the thing. It came in just now.” She’d tossed her platinum curls over her shoulder, grinning at Jess.
Another thing Sally would never outgrow, her Barbie-doll looks.
“It has my name on it, then.” Jess leaned her forearms on Sally’s desk. “Tell me, tell me, tell me.” She grinned back, barely able to contain her excitement. “Does it involve a man?”
Neither Sally nor Jess had found their Mr. Full Potential yet, although both had been ready for wedded bliss, the kids and the house in the suburbs thing, a long time ago.
“As a matter of fact it does, but he doesn’t seem to be in the market. It says here that a nanny is required for a four-year-old autistic girl. Dr. Arnold specifically requested that only older women be put forward for the position.”
“How old-fashioned. Where is this job?”
“In the Wellington area.” Sally frowned at the monitor.
“There you go. He won’t find anybody qualified to work that far from Cape Town. It is his child, I presume?”
“It is, but do you seriously want to give this a go?” Sally looked worried as only she could. It went with the Barbie look. “I’m intrigued. What kind of doctor is he?”
“A veterinary surgeon. And a widower, it says here. That is all the information I have for you, I’m afraid.” Sally sat back in her chair. “I shouldn’t disregard so specific an instruction, Jess, but just this once, I’ll make an exception. Then it’s up to you to change his mind for him. It’ll be in his own best interest in the end.” She passed an information sheet across the desk. “I’ll tell Dr. Arnold to expect you at four. I’d pack an overnight bag if I were you. Call me, okay?”
Now, sitting in front of the house that might or might not belong to Dr. Ben Arnold, Jess didn’t feel all that confident anymore. And it didn’t really sound like a prank, unless Sally had kept some information to herself.
There was only one way to find out, and that was to knock on the door and ask.
If there was anybody in the house to ask.
Switching the engine off, she consulted the rear-view mirror to apply some color to her lips and pat her shoulder length bob into place. She took a moment to admire the rich auburn color in the late afternoon sunshine and sighed.
I don’t know about this. It was a long way from Cape Town.
What did people do around here for fun?
Trying her best to ignore the goose bumps on her forearms, she opened the car door and stepped out. Her heels sank into the gravel, her shadow stretching all the way back to the gate.
Only when she turned toward the house did she see the man sitting on the top step in the shadows, his shoulder against the railing, one knee pulled up with his arm resting on top of it. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and it looked as if his feet were bare, too.
Was he there a moment ago? Why didn’t I see him?
Smoothing her palms down her red pencil skirt, she started toward the house and the man on the steps. If he wasn’t Dr. Arnold, maybe he could give her directions.
Taking a deep breath, Jess reminded herself that she wasn’t superstitious about this Friday the thirteenth nonsense. People liked to scare themselves with the silliest things. What was supposed to happen on this day? It was a day like any other.
That certainly looked like a real man on the steps. He wasn’t going to bite her. Today being a Friday and the thirteenth meant nothing, but now that she’d thought of it, the idea would stick with her like the taste of garlic.
Leaving the car door open for a quick escape should she need it, she’d gone no more than a few steps when she heard something other than the crunch of her shoes on the gravel. It sounded suspiciously like a dog whining.
She slowly turned her head, curling her fingers into the fabric of her skirt. It couldn’t be a dog. She hadn’t seen any dogs when she drove through the gate.
I don’t do dogs!
Her breath hitched in her throat when she saw them. They were right next to her car, beside the door she’d deliberately left open, a whole pack of them. Their lips curled away from their teeth, their tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, dripping saliva onto the gravel. Yellowish eyes watched every move she made.
Where did they come from?
How many were there?
They cut her off from the safety of the Fiesta!
Now she had only one way to go—into that house. Why hadn’t that man called them off? Why wasn’t he helping her?
Slowly, making no sudden moves, she took another step toward the porch. The dogs followed her. Her heart hammered against her ribs. Another couple of quick steps toward the house. The dogs did the same. She broke into a trot, her scream shattered the still of the afternoon.
Missing the first step, she stumbled, recovered her balance, and took the rest of the stairs two at a time. The dogs were on her heels, whining and yelping, their breaths hot on the backs of her legs.
Just as a sharp whistle rent the air, but looking at the dogs, she careened into the man before the noise had even died down. Her momentum sent them both crashing to the floorboard. She landed on top of him, but with the dogs all around them, she hid her face in his neck. Another whistle— right in her ear—made her cringe, but the dogs were gone.
He lifted his head off the floorboards to glare at her, his hands at her waist, as if he was about to lift her off him. Stubble covered his jaw, his lips pressed into a tight line. A muscle jumped in his cheek. He dragged his eyes out of her gaping blouse to meet her stare.
They had to be the greenest pair of eyes she’d ever seen, and he was clearly not amused.
Then she noticed how much leg was exposed by her skirt bunched around her hips and she quickly scrambled to her feet, pushing her skirt back down her legs.
“Sorry,” she muttered, her face on fire. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him, but from the corner of her eye, she saw the stranger slowly unfold himself from the floor. Up and up he went, until she felt him looking down at her. Even in her heels, the top of her head barely reached his nose.
With fists on his hips, he glared at her. Tucking her hair behind her ears, she lifted her chin and stared back.
Despite her bravado, she was intimidated and she had no idea if she had reason to be. She didn’t have a clue who he was. For all she knew, he was a vagrant taking advantage of an abandoned house.
She quickly looked him up and down, hoping he wouldn’t notice. A vagrant—looking like that? This man looked too strong, too well-fed, and clean, to be homeless. He smelled good too, of soap and sunshine. Wide shoulders tapered to a flat stomach and slim hips in a pair of well-washed denim cutoffs. The button was undone and the zipped half down. And he had a hard-on!
Jess swallowed with difficulty, forcing her eyes to the garden. Maybe he was the gardener or something.
If he was the gardener, he wasn’t very good at it, judging by the state of the place. The flowerbeds were overgrown with weeds, and grass seeds reached for the sky. With a bit of care, it could be a rather pleasant garden.
Her attention whipped back to the man when he spoke. “What’s wrong with you, woman? Those are lap dogs.” His voice was deep, the timbre vibrating on her skin. “They thought you were playing with them.”
She’d forgotten about the dogs. Erections did that to her, they made her forget everything else. She took another look at the animals. There were only four of them, and now that they were at a safe distance and there was a man on hand whom they seemed to obey, they didn’t look all that fierce, or even very big. By panicking, she’d unnecessarily gotten them both in a rather embarrassing situation.
The veranda was shadowed, despite the lightning dancing over the mountains, yet the peeling paint was clearly visible. She should ask this man for directions so that she could be on her way, but at that moment her nose itched and she sneezed instead. She just barely managed to get her hand across her nose. The dust from the floorboards, and she most likely had it all over her face now. She needed to freshen up before she met with Dr. Arnold. Rubbing her hands over her face was probably making matters worse.
“Bless you,” the man said, his jaw clenched. “Explain yourself.” Fists planted on his hips, his bare chest rose and fell. Jess’ fingers itched to test the contours more fully before she realized that the man was actually angry.
Who was he? And what was he so angry about? Knocking him over had been an accident, which he could have avoided it if he’d controlled the animals sooner. His annoyance didn’t stop him from giving her a thorough inspection, though.
Barely suppressing the urge to stamp her foot, Jess snapped, “Those animals should be locked up.” The hand she pointed at the dogs was streaked with dust. Dropping it, she rubbed at the smudge with her other hand.
“They were, until a few minutes ago. When the visitor I expected didn’t show up, I let them out again. Who are you and what do you want?”
“How rude!” Jess gasped. “Do you welcome all visitors half naked?” His arousal was disturbing her.
“Uninvited visitors never come into the yard,” he growled. He knew she knew about his condition. “That’s what the clinic entrance is for. And I’m not half naked, I’m shirtless because I took it off when my visitor failed to show up for her four o’clock appointment. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s hot. If you’re Jessica James, you’re way too late—”
“The directions weren’t very clear,” she interrupted. “I got lost.” Hesitating only a moment, she stuck her hand out to him. “You’re Dr. Arnold?”
He ignored her hand and question, reaching instead for the shirt draped over the railing behind him and shrugged it on. Doctor or not, the man has no manners.
Buttoning the shirt, he leaned in closer. “So, it’s my fault you can’t follow a set of simple instructions? Look, miss, you might as well go back to wherever you came from. The position has been filled. Good day.” He started to turn away.
“What? When? I had an interview for this afternoon!”
He glanced at his wristwatch. “You missed the appointment. You wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. Sorry for the inconvenience. It was nice meeting you. Goodbye, Ms. James.”
She noticed his eyes on her lips as he dismissed her. “Just a minute. You’re going to disregard my application because I’m a few minutes late? I have excellent credentials, and the agency—”
“Had been told that only older women need to apply.”
“So you’re dismissing my application because of my age, is that it?”
“Yes. And you’re more than a few minutes late. The appointment was for four o’clock sharp, and it’s nearly six now. Take your gripes up with your agent, Ms. James. Your timekeeping actually has very little to do with it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, you’re wasting my time.”
Jess narrowed her eyes. “I pity the person you’ve employed, if that is in fact the truth. You are a very rude man,
He wasn’t exactly what she’d expected—in his early to mid-thirties and attractive, in a wildly blond caveman kind of way. And hot.
If only he had some manners.
It had sounded quite romantic when Sally first told her about this position, but the reality was far from romantic. She didn’t need this man or his job, and especially not his erection. There had to be other positions available in Cape Town. Sally would find her a good job, with interesting work. She would get into her car and drive away without a backward glance.
Not being given a fair interview had nothing to do with Friday the thirteenth. A damp gust of wind blew her hair into her eyes as she turned toward the stairs. It had everything to do with him being turned on by her.
Jess remembered the dogs when they jumped to their feet, tails wagging.
She froze, clutching her skirt. They might be small, but they were dogs. They had teeth. Damn it, she was going to need his help to get back to her car. Gnawing the corner of her mouth, she glanced at him. Would he help her, or would he cross his arms and enjoy the spectacle from the veranda?
Before she could do anything, the door behind them creaked open and pale, gnarled fingers curled around the edge of the wood. Jess took an involuntary step closer to the doctor, goosebumps covering her entire body, her hand to her throat. Oh, God.
About the Author
Maggie lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with hubby Gareth. Over the years she’s worked in everything from nursing to catering, and then she started writing love stories. With three kids, a girl and two boys, and eleven cats at that time, life could become quite interesting.
The paranormal, things that happen for which there are no logical explanations and ghosts, are of particular interest to Maggie. What events in a person’s life would prevent that person from ‘resting’ after death? The ‘Old Religion’ is another special interest.
And love, of course. Why do people fall in love? What keeps them together for a lifetime when so many relationships fail?
For more on Goodbye, My Love: http://tinyurl.com/n2ko8u4
Please welcome MAGGIE TIDESWELL, author of DARK MOON and MORAGH, HOLLY’S GHOST
What genre(s) do you write in?
I write paranormal romance. Love is everywhere you care to look, but nothing is as it seems. I love ghosts and things that go bump in the night. A reviewer classed my writing as neo-Gothic a while ago, and he was quite correct. I love atmospherics, you know, thunder rumbling in the distance, rain pattering against the window, the candle dancing in the draught, shadows cast against the wall. Don’t just you get goose bumps? And love is the perfect antidote. You know Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.’
And the last line ‘I shall but love thee better after death’
sums up my thoughts perfectly.
What sets you apart from other authors in your genre?
Well, I’m South African and proud of it. All my work is set in South Africa, specifically Cape Town and the surrounding areas. I use the settings well without being descriptive. I want the reader to be part of it, to see the beauty of my country. Because of the unusual setting, my ‘voice’ is quite unique. My stories are also not quite what one would expect, even for paranormal romance. I want the readers to be involved, second guessing me all the time from the edge of their seat.
Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?
No, no agent and not self-published. My first two books were published by All Things That Matter Press in Maine, USA, Dark Moon in 2011 and Moragh, Holly’s Ghost in 2013.
How many revisions do you make to something before it sees the light of day?
Many, many, many. It takes me a number of years to write a book. The main reason for this is because I get bored and when I am bored, I get bogged down. I normally have two of three stories going at the same time. It I get fed-up with one, I switch to the other. The benefit of this is that every so often you get to look at what you already have with fresh eyes. I don’t write to be a commercial success (although that would be nice). My purpose is to tell my story in the best way I am able. That is why, when I hear somebody say, ‘I wrote my book in a month and published it in a day,’ I develop a serious case of the bends. A story cannot possible develop in a month so that it is worth anybody’s time reading. Sure, you could write the first draft in a month, but any published book is month more than the sum of a first draft.
As I said, I revise and rewrite and do it all again many, many times before I am satisfied that my story is told.
Do you have a set of writing goals that you try to accomplish each day?
Oh no, I cannot write on command. It is a 24/7 thing with me. Part of me is always busy with the story I am telling. But I cannot schedule myself writing time between ten and twelve, and again between two and four, and so on. What I need to write comes to me when it is ready, and it just won’t fit in with a schedule. I have been known to hop out of bed in the middle of the night and suffering the next day at work with a writer’s hang-over, or telling the boss that I have to leave a meeting immediately as I have something of the utmost urgency to take care of. Can you put a harness on creativity? So how can you write to a schedule? A writing schedule seems like painting by numbers to me.
Do you outline your stories or are you a non-outline person?
No, again, painting by numbers. I normally start from the back end. I know how the story will end, although that might change in time. But I have the final scene in my mind and then I will start with who the characters are and how they impact the ending. I never sit down to plot all of this before I start writing. It happens automatically as each character elbows themselves into the story. But that’s just me. I think we have already established that I am odd.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on the sequel to my second published novel, Moragh, Holly’s Ghost. I don’t normally do sequels, because when I finish a book, the characters in it are finished, their story told. In this case, Joshua and Holly’s story might be done, but Nicole was sort of left hanging. I have to give her a moment in the sun with a book all to herself. Make no mistake, Joshua and Holly have a whole set of new obstacles to face and master, but this is Nicole’s story.
If you could have a conversation with one person living or dead who would it be?
My grandfather. He died unexpectedly in 1977, when I was in high school. I loved him dearly. He was a simple man, he worked in road construction all his life, not earning a fortune, but provided well for his family. There was a storyteller compared to none. I remember the ghost stories he told after dinner at night, so vivid in description that I was too scared to sleep when the kids were sent to bed. Of course in those days we didn’t have TV in South Africa and the radio was usually only turned on for the news. But who needed that distraction when a story unfolded right in front of your eyes? Technology might have dragged the human race forward in knowledge and accessibility and communication, but an art has been lost in the process, the art of storytelling.
Is there a theme/message underlying your book(s) that you hope comes across?
Yes, two actually. Love conquers all and nothing is as it seems, the paranormal romance in a nutshell. And South Africa, of course. It is a beautiful country with a diverse, if at times an unstable, population with a rich culture. The wackier the better, as long as it is in Africa, that is what I always say.
How do you keep sane as a writer?
Sane, who said writers are sane?
But seriously, writers have to deal with a lot of frustration. Fortunately for me, one of those frustrations has never been the story drying up, the dreaded writer’s block. My biggest frustration is time. There is always a dinner to be made first, having to go to work when I actually rather want to do some writing, shopping to be done, somebody to be fetched from somewhere. In short, life gets in the way too often. How I deal with that is to play the scene I want to get down on paper over and over in my head, while I get on with what has to be done. That way it is improved and edited too, before I finally get to my keyboard.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Persevere and grow a thick skin. You are going to encounter people who do not understand your work, you are going to be reviewed by people who should not be reading your genre. Do not take critique to heart, but try to use it to improve your writing.
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Thank you MAGGIE TIDESWELL for sharing your time with us. I wish you all the best with your writing. Please keep us posted on the latest developments.
Excerpt from DARK MOON
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
The sand had been swept smooth by wind and weather; it was unmarred by a single footprint, the sound of the ocean a distant memory. Coastal fauna grew in a natural circle around it, punctuated by taller trees, gnarled and twisted from a difficult life. At midnight, when the moon was at its zenith, their shadows didn’t touch the ring of flickering candles that sometimes lit the clearing.
Now ten wispy, white figures crouched inside the circle, palms buried in the sand. Smoke of jasmine—for love and prosperity, and lemon verbena−−to attract a mate−rose from the cauldron on the altar, straight up into the ebony dome. Not a breath of wind would dare to carry it away. The two white candles were engraved simply with the words man and woman. A low musical hum accompanied the ritual.
This spell is cast within the heart,
that love will come and not depart.
Evil, driven beyond the circle, watched from the shadows.
It was a handfasting—a wedding to come—like scrying to foretell the future. Knowing changed behavior and altered expectation. That was why this handfasting was being performed in secret, the parties not physically present, as they did not even know about each other yet. The two green wax dolls on the altar represented the pair. Nobody knew who they were. The fates would bring them together when the time was right. Knowledge might keep them away. And it was imperative that they come.
Friday Night, November 7
Moon in Aquarius
Rebellion and stubbornness
Elle’s boot squelched when she declutched, throwing her weight into the effort of turning the wheel. The rear swayed back and forth, trying to find grip as she brought the Landrover around and floored the accelerator. Muddy clots flew up behind the heavy vehicle. Slipping on the vinyl seat, her head bumped painfully against the roof of the cabin as she bounced over the rough terrain, but she didn’t slow down. She had to get away, as fast as possible, just in case …
Her teeth chattered, her dripping hair leaving runnels on her skin, but she kept going. No time now to scratch in the gym bag that was still on the passenger seat beside her. Her forlorn little tent had long since disappeared from the rear-view mirror. It’d been a wonderful place, so peaceful and secluded, and that had been her biggest mistake. She shouldn’t have come alone. But how else could she make him notice her again, if not by making herself conspicuous by her very absence?
Lightning snaked across the ebon sky. She made it to the road just as the rain clattered on the roof of the car. Only then did she reach for the bag and pulled the first thing her fingers found over her head. It took a bit longer to locate a pair of shorts and get them on while driving at high speed. The heater was pumping hot air into the cab, making her feel drowsy, so she turned it down and opened the window a crack. Rain splattered her face.
It was just as well that the roads were deserted, for she was in a daze from a combination of shock and the warmth inside the Rover. Once she pressed her fingers against the throbbing bite on her thigh. When they came away wet and sticky, she giggled, on the verge of hysteria, tears pouring down her face. The wind buffeted the big car, but she stubbornly drove with one hand. At the first set of traffic lights, she wiped her face on the bottom of her T-shirt.
In her driveway, reaction set in. Her limbs shook violently, and it was an effort to stumble out of the car, leaving the door wide open behind her. She double-bolted the front door, and only then dragged herself to the bathroom.
Steam condensed on the tiles and the mirror when she eased her aching body into the hot water. Every scratch and bruise objected, but the water couldn’t be hot enough to cleanse her sufficiently. Thunder rumbled in the sky.
He’d pay for what he’d done to her.
Storm started when the door banged. The TV was blaring and her hands were numb under her, but she managed to roll into a sitting position, rubbing her wrists. Donna watched her for a moment, colors from the screen playing across her sallow features before she turned the TV off and the corner light on.
“For shame, girl,” she scolded. “Why are you sleeping on the couch? It’s barely ten and it a Friday night. This is unhealthy, Storm, I’m telling you. Friday nights were made for fun, to celebrate the end of the week.”
“Give over, Donna.” Storm rubbed her eyes and stretched. “Every girl to her own. If you enjoy nursing your head every weekend, who am I to try and stop you? But don’t expect me to join you.” She started for the bathroom. “What went wrong?” she asked over her shoulder.
“What do you mean?” Donna yelled after her, but the door had already closed.
Storm picked up the conversation moments later from the kitchen. “Why are you home so early? It’s unheard of for you to be in before one, two o’clock Saturday morning. Is Cape Town losing its appeal?” Cups rattled. “Coffee?”
“No, thanks, I’d rather have a glass of wine.” Donna lifted a brow as she took a glass out of the cupboard. “You?”
“If it would make you feel better, go on.” The wind rattled the windows. Donna pulled the curtains in the kitchen closed.
Back in the front room, Donna toed her shoes off and curled her feet under her in the deep recliner, balancing her glass on her thigh. “I’m serious, Storm,” she said after a healthy swallow. “Why is it that you only see Trevor on Wednesdays and Saturdays, without variation? It’s too structured. A relationship should be flexible and spontaneous. What does Trevor do on the other nights of the week? I bet he doesn’t hibernate like you do.”
“How should I know? I haven’t asked. It’s none of my business.”
“And this is the man you want to marry? What’ll you do when he’s under foot all the time?” Donna sipped and put her glass down. “You might just find that you don’t really like him all that much.”
“Donna, please leave it alone. He hasn’t asked me, and maybe he never will. We don’t have that kind of relationship.”
“You’ve fallen for him, based on Wednesdays and Saturdays.” Donna leaned to turn the radio up. Music filled the gap left by Storm’s contemplation of the liquid in her glass. “And the rest of the week you behave like an old maid. Your life is passing you by, love.”
“Don’t exaggerate. I like Trevor, very much, and I’d like to see more of him, but he doesn’t seem to feel the same way.”
“Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”
Storm pulled a face. “You haven’t told me why you’re home so early on a precious Friday night.”
“I suppose I was just tired of Barry behaving like a prat. I must be getting old.”
“Oooh,” Storm mocked. “Maybe it’s time to settle down and have a couple of kids.”
Donna ignored her. “And I decided to cut the evening short in favor of that new book I bought the other day.”
“You and a book. If Barry only knew,” Storm teased. “Seriously, girl, he’s too weak for you. You walk all over him. Maybe I should whisper a few ideas in his ear.”
“Yes, Ms. Psychologist, you do that. Meanwhile, I think I’m going to cool it with dear old Barry, do a bit of field research, if you get my drift. You should whisper a few home truths in your Trevor’s ear. He’s wasting your best years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of Trevor and he is rather easy on the eye, but you’ve been seeing him for, what, a year now? He should’ve indicated by now where he’s going with this relationship, don’t you think? Maybe he just needs a kick up the kazoo.”
“Great minds think alike, sister. I intend to give him that kick. Today, exactly one year ago, we had our first date.” Storm jiggled her brows. “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.”
Donna sat forward, rubbing her palms together. “Oh, yes? What are you going to do? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”
Storm grinned. “I’m not going to jinx my plans. You’ll have to wait until Sunday. Now I’m going to bed. Sleep well, my friend.” Storm walked to her bedroom, her coppery hair swinging in an arc as she smiled over her shoulder.
Donna laughed, slapping her thigh. “You’re up to no good, girl, and it’s high time.” Her honey-brown eyes shone with approval. “Do you realize how long it is ’til Sunday? You’re cruel, Storm.”
Storm’s door had already closed, but her airy laughter floated through the apartment. Donna went into the kitchen to refill her glass, unfolding the newspaper as she made herself comfortable at the table. “Why that girl wastes her money on the news is beyond me. She never reads it,” she muttered. Then she forgot all about Storm’s financial profligacy when the drawing on the front page caught her eye.
Jarred closed the door quietly, yet the sound echoed through the apartment. It sounded like his life: empty. Dumping his duffle bag at the foot of the stairs, he flicked lights on as he went, darkness still lingering in the corners. Again, like his life. For the past year, he’d dreaded the nights. That was when the pain, pushed to the edges of his being, flared until he had to grind his teeth against it.
Mrs. B. had left the usual casserole in the oven. He turned the stove on low to reheat the food for later, after the numbness set in, and opened a bottle of red wine to breathe while he showered. When he returned to the kitchen fifteen minutes later in a pair of shorts and wet hair, he reached for a glass. Enough breathing, he thought as he poured.
In the living room, he turned the music center on and surveyed his life from the middle of the room. Between his mother and Mrs. B., they’d equipped his apartment with every convenience and the most luxurious furnishings money could buy, but it wasn’t home. Home was Marian, and she was dead.
On board ship he managed by filling every waking moment with frantic activity, but the moment his boots hit the dock, loneliness crowded in. She wouldn’t have wanted him to mourn her forever; she’d loved life too much herself. He owed it to her to get up out of the ashes and start living again – if only he knew how.
Staring unseeing at the lightning dancing over the city in the distance, he saw only the laughing, sun-kissed face of the woman he loved. She shouldn’t have died. And along with her image came the question to which he would never know the answer.
Why had she not told him?
Sybil wandered around her house. She was very disturbed and it was rubbing off on Dirk, who flicked through the channels without pause. The air was charged with energy and the rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning didn’t help. She’d prepared as best she could, but not knowing warped her nerves.
She was wearing her long-sleeved white dress, her bare feet kicking the hem as she walked; the ring on the third toe of her left foot sparkled. Her hair, lately more salt than pepper, flowed to her waist. It was hot, even with the storm raging outside, and she’d left the top buttons undone.
In the spotless kitchen, she flicked the lights on and off, on and off until Dirk appeared in the door. “What’s with you tonight?” His voice was irritatingly gentle. Sybil continued wandering into the dining room. Dirk had gone back to the front room; she could hear him skipping through the TV channels again.
Eventually her circuit brought her back to the front room. The news was on and she paused behind Dirk, her hand resting on his shoulder. A woman, surrounded by a TV crew and a crowd in the city center, was commenting on murders and the police’s inability to find the killer. Sybil barely heard the words as she stared at the woman. The woman being interviewed was attractive with shining black hair cut into a bob that brushed her shoulders, but it was her blue eyes that held Sybil’s attention. When the image flickered, Sybil’s fingers clenched in Dirk’s shirt, catching the hairs on his chest, but the signal wasn’t completely lost.
He took her hand and pulled her around and down on the couch beside him, her eyes never leaving the TV screen. She knew that woman. Elle Brunswick, she’d called herself, but she was Girla. Girla’s hair was blond. Why did she color it black? Was she in hiding?
Up in her attic moments later, the storm was much more intrusive. Rain drummed on the roof above her head and lightning flashed through the uncurtained window. Sybil blessed the athame before she cast the circle and raised her arms above her head to call in the Guardians. Trevor was Dark; Girla was Light. Together, balance. And they were connected by more than blood.
Trevor paced. The flames of twenty candles danced wildly as he passed. He threw the contents of his glass down his throat and poured again. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning flashing sporadically through the room.
When the clock announced midnight, he picked up the tarot deck that waited on the mantle. He turned the cards over, one by one laying them out in the nine card astrological spread. She was a powerful distraction, but the wait was over. Tonight’s work hadn’t been necessary – he was prepared – but the opportunity had been too good to pass up and, black hair aside, he’d been irresistibly drawn to the woman, something that had never happened to him before.
The leather chair creaked when he sat down to study the cards. They told him clearly that the time was ripe. The astrological chart covered most of the table. Then he pulled the almanac closer, his finger running down the numbers and sigils, before turning to the dark window. His calculations were quite correct; it was time. It would all come together the next day, when the moon moved into Pisces.
The moon in Pisces scrambled the thinking, making everything seem unreal. People were more impressionable than usual. Storm would be like putty in his hands. She would believe in him and obey him. With the aid of the stars, she wouldn’t know what was happening until it was too late. Trevor’s lips curled away from his teeth.
He should never have agreed to her making the arrangements for such an important date.
Saturday, November 8
Moon in Pisces
Veil of Illusion & fuzzy thinking
I don’t want to go, Donna,” Storm muttered. She looked good; she could see that for herself in the mirror. That wasn’t the issue. She didn’t want to go out with him. The man she loved would be arriving at any moment, yet the prospect of an evening in his company left a hollow feeling in her stomach.
“Don’t be silly, of course you want to go.” Donna shook two cigarettes out of the pack. “Here, this will soothe your nerves.” She passed one to Storm.
“I doubt it,” Storm mumbled at her image, taking a deep drag anyway. It tasted awful.
“What’s the matter with you, Storm?” Donna studied her in the mirror.
“I don’t know, Donna. I just feel out of sorts.” Dirty and cheap and second-hand was more like it, but she couldn’t say that. Donna knew her too well. There wasn’t time now for an explanation. “Can’t a girl just want a quiet evening in now and then?”
Donna sprawled on the bed and rested her chin on her linked hands, her ankles crossed in the air. “You have more quiet evenings in than you have a right to. What about the plan you were hatching only last night? I had such high hopes for you. Don’t disappoint me now, sweetie,” she said, blowing smoke rings at the carpet.
Storm glanced at her sharply, but Donna only shrugged. “Life’s too short, Storm. You’ve made up your mind that Trevor’s the one for you. The only way to know what he’s thinking is to ask him.” She dragged deeply on her cigarette, formulating her thoughts. “You know I’m not a racist, but only this once will I point out a difference between you and me that could only be lodged in our roots. White girls think too much and they expect the man to do all the work in a relationship. In the Malay culture, we believe in giving him a bit of a hand.”
“Oh, Donna, you don’t understand,” Storm complained, nearly losing the cigarette dangling from her mouth while she hooked earrings through her lobes.
Donna pushed herself upright and crossed her legs. “What’s there to understand? You could be an old woman before Trevor plucks up the courage, left to his own devices. Men follow the path of least resistance.”
Selecting an atomizer, Storm puffed a cloud of perfume into the air around her. “I’m postponing my plan.”
“Don’t you dare. Your time is now, girl. Grab what you want, with both hands. Trevor’s a hunk.”
Storm nearly dropped the perfume when the doorbell shrilled through the apartment. Donna hopped off the bed, stubbing her cigarette out. “There’s Trevor now. I’ll let him in, shall I?” She paused behind Storm and their eyes met in the mirror. “You look wonderful, love. Just relax and enjoy the evening. It’ll all work out as it’s meant to.” She kissed Storm’s cheek lightly. “Don’t make him wait too long.”
Storm was left staring at the closed door, wondering how she was going to get through the evening? It was too soon. What if she lost her nerve and blurted everything out all wrong? Trevor would never understand. Hell, she didn’t half understand it herself.
She took a deep breath and a last look in the mirror, patting the swept-up hair that left her neck bare and vulnerable.
Assaulted by an onslaught of shame, Storm shuddered. She had nobody to blame but herself. If she hadn’t been planning to trick Trevor into some sort of a declaration, she wouldn’t have put herself in a compromising position, and none of the rest would’ve happened.
Voices reached her from the next room. Storm bit her lip. She’d better show herself, she supposed. Deliberately schooling her features around a soft smile, she opened the bedroom door.
Trevor looked just as she’d thought he would: open-necked yellowish shirt, matching sports jacket, crisply pressed black pants, boyish grin. Habit guided her into his arms. “You look good enough to eat,” he murmured in her ear. Storm gritted her teeth. That was the root of their problem. She wasn’t his damn kid sister. Donna was wrong. She wanted to help Trevor in the right direction. She needed to know where she stood with him, if they had a future together or not. This light embrace told her absolutely nothing.
“You kids have fun tonight,” Donna sang, squeezing Storm’s arm with a wink. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m running late. Take something warm, honey; they’re predicting the weather to come in later.”
“What’s the matter, my angel?” Trevor asked as they headed for the door.
Angel? That’s a new one. Storm breathed deep and slow, telling herself that Donna was right, she had to live the moment and forget about everything else. She had to banish him from her mind, for tonight at least. She’d think about him another day. And she would never compare Trevor to him, ever. Trevor deserved better.
She finally lifted her eyes to Trevor’s face and found him studying her closely. Her mouth opened and closed, the tip of her tongue darted over her lips. “What makes you think anything’s wrong, Trevor?” she managed with a quick smile.
“Donna mentioned that you were a bit grumpy, and I must say you seem a little nervous.”
Storm reached for her wrap on the hook behind the door, missing the strange little smile on Trevor’s mouth. Lord, a bit grumpy. Was that Donna’s or Trevor’s understatement? But Donna couldn’t have elaborated.
“You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”
Storm felt tears pricking. “There’s nothing to tell, Trevor,” Storm said, turning for the door. “Don’t mind me. I’m just a bit off. Shall we go?”
Trevor took her elbow and steered her out of the apartment. “Don’t worry, sweetie, a glass of good wine, a nice meal, and my wonderful company,” he grinned down at her, “will soon have you feeling yourself again. You work too hard, that’s your problem.”
Storm bit her lip. Oh, Trevor, if you only knew how wrong you were. Food and wine will definitely not make this go away. You might make it better, though, if you knew how.
How was she going to get through the night? The conversation in her head was going to drive her dotty.
Trevor was suitably impressed with her choice of venue. “How very romantic,” he exclaimed when they were seated in the open-air restaurant. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to tell me something, sweetness,” he said, glancing about. Soft tunes were drifting across the lawn, and when Trevor eventually turned back to her, his eyes were unreadable. “What a clever girl you are. I didn’t know this place even existed.” He wrapped her hand in both of his. “Maybe I should let you make arrangements for us more often. It’s refreshingly unique.”
Storm flushed. This had been her idea of a perfect setting from the moment she’d seen a picture of it in a brochure. Aptly called the Band Stand, the restaurant was set right on the beach, a lovers’ paradise. But having Trevor actually here, smiling his funny little smile, her choice suddenly seemed too extravagant. She bit the lip that was threatening to start trembling.
“I wanted us to have a good time,” she mumbled.
Trevor squeezed her hand. “It’s lovely, Storm. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we’re on the same page.”
There was something in his eyes, in his voice, that grated on Storm’s nerves. This was what she’d schemed for, wasn’t it? Then why did it feel so wrong?
Trevor didn’t notice her silence throughout the meal. She ate mechanically, barely tasting the food. When the table had been cleared, Trevor took her hand and led her to the dance floor. They were the only couple dancing. Storm felt every pair of eyes in the restaurant like a separate brand on her bare back. With his arms draped loosely about her waist, Trevor shuffled her slowly around. She felt like kicking his shins.
The tangy sea breeze blew a loose strand of hair into her face and she tucked it behind her ear. The comparison popped into her head as if it had a will of its own: another pair of arms holding her tight, muscles bulging around her body, leaving her with no doubt that he wanted her and that he meant to get as close to her as nature would let him. By contrast, here was the love of her life, holding her as if she might come apart in his hands.
Dammit, I’m not a porcelain doll.
With an effort, Storm pushed her thoughts away. She’d promised herself never to compare Trevor with the barbarian on the beach. She rested her cheek against Trevor’s chest, wriggling closer, and closed her eyes, allowing the music, the gentle breeze, and the lapping of the waves on the sand to soothe her quivering insides.
Trevor’s heart beat steadily against her cheek. She felt his eyes on the top of her head, and she lifted her chin to meet them. He wore that smile again, his lips moments from hers. Storm’s breath caught somewhere south of her mouth. A proper kiss would validate the night.
Instead, Trevor glanced at his watch behind her back and released her in the middle of the band’s soulful rendition of Extreme’s More that Words. “What do you know,” he declared, dislodging Storm from his chest. “Just look at the time. We’d better be moving.”
Storm stood in the middle of the dance floor, struggling to get Trevor into focus. What in hell had just happened? Were they going to turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight? It was barely ten o’clock. This place was magical. It was Saturday night. He could sleep in tomorrow if he needed to. Was this how it was going to end? Not even one passionate kiss? Not even a token grope?
Had Trevor ever listened to the words of that song? What he was doing wasn’t telling her that he felt anything for her; on the contrary, it was saying that he didn’t.
Storm made a big show of collecting her things and defiantly poured the last drop of wine down her throat before she got up. Tears were very close. All she could do now was to face facts: there was no future here. She wanted her bed, where she could give in to her overwhelming sadness, with nobody there to witness it.
They were both quiet in the car. Storm stared listlessly out the window. The predicted storm was building far out to sea. Lightning danced on the horizon. The breeze had also strengthened and was gently rocking the vehicle. It was very dark.
Storm stirred herself out of her depression and glanced about. There were no street lights; in fact, they weren’t in the city anymore. Her heart twisted. “Where are you taking me, Trevor?” she asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.
Trevor flashed a wide smile. The only light came from the dashboard, staining his teeth green. Storm’s hand leapt to her throat. Trevor looked frightening.
He touched her arm. “I thought we could take the scenic road home. As you said, it’s still early.” His eyes reflected the green light.
Storm shivered. Lightning flashed much closer, followed almost immediately by crashing thunder. In the moment of brilliance, Storm saw where they were. Cliffs soared on one side of the road and dropped sharply on the other.
Panic rose in her throat, threatening to choke her. Her fingers closed compulsively on the door handle. “Trevor, it’s too dark to see anything, and there’s a storm coming. Please, I want to go home.”
“You’re safe with me, Storm. Or don’t you trust me?”
“Trevor, you’re scaring me.”
He stared at her for several seconds, the twisting road unattended. The tires squealed as he pulled the car around a particularly tight curve. Storm screamed. They seemed to be going faster and faster.
Storm’s heart hammered against her ribs. “Trevor, I’m really scared. Please take me home.”
She felt his eyes on her, but she was too frantic to turn and look back at him. To her relief, she felt their speed diminishing.
“Not much of a romantic, are you Storm?” Trevor drawled.
“That wasn’t romantic, Trevor. It was petrifying.” It was an effort to get the words past her numb lips.
“You can relax now. You’ll see the city lights as soon as we round the next bend.” He sounded sulky, but his prediction was accurate enough; as they cornered, lights twinkled in the distance. The sheer drop on the side of the road was more visible.
“Better?” He squeezed her hand.
Storm felt like slapping the silly little smile off his face, and didn’t trust herself to respond. He’d scared her on purpose. Not the ending she’d envisioned for their special date.
Her head throbbed. All she wanted was to be home, in bed—alone.
Trevor took her hand to help her out the car. “You’re shaking,” he said. “Come, let’s get you inside before this storm gets worse.”
As soon as they were inside, Trevor slammed the door against the howling wind. Storm stared at him, as if she was seeing him for the first time.
“That was not fun, Trevor. You ruined the evening.” Her voice was high, her breath shallow. She wanted nothing more than for him to leave.
Trevor came towards her, arms outstretched. “Storm, I’m so sorry. It was a bad idea. I should at least have told you what I intended to do.” He pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips to her forehead. Storm wished he wouldn’t. “I know this cute little beach along that road. I thought it would be romantic.”
“With a storm coming?”
“Storm, I wanted to, um, I wanted to ask you something.” He did not meet her eyes.
He met her eyes. “Storm, I wanted to ask you to marry me. Will you?”
Right after scaring her to death, finally the words she’d most wanted to hear. Why didn’t he ask on Wednesday? On Wednesday she wouldn’t have hesitated for a second. She’d have married him and her life would have been complete: little house in the suburbs, white picket fence, two-point-two children, the family dog…
Lightning flashed, followed instantly by crashing thunder. Everything in the apartment rattled.
Storm’s world crumpled around her. This day had been a disaster, from beginning to end. How could she accept Trevor now?
Trevor stood in the middle of the girlish front room, staring at the pink carpet—for fuck sake, the carpet was actually pink—between his shoes. He didn’t have time for this. He consulted his watch. Ten forty-five. If she hadn’t gone to pieces on the way, he wouldn’t have bothered to come back to her apartment first. Asking her to marry him, had been a stroke of genius. How long was she going to keep up the waterworks? Midnight was upon him, and he still had to get her ready.
What was her problem, anyway? He’d asked her to marry him, not to jump off Table Mountain. Interesting idea, but not what he had in mind for tonight. She should’ve thrown herself into his arms. She should’ve been grateful. It had been a rhetorical question, anyway.
Maybe he’d misread her, or maybe the moon phases were stronger with her than he’d anticipated. Not only her thinking was fuzzy, her behavior was, too. Did this mean that she wasn’t sweet on him? He’d counted on that, not that it was necessary, but he would’ve handled things differently if he’d known. She couldn’t escape her destiny.
He was going to have to rescue the plan with drastic measures. He touched the little vial in his pocket. He should have done it at the restaurant, but there had been no opportunity. In the kitchen, he poured two glasses of wine. He had just emptied the contents of the little bottle into one of the glasses when Donna burst into the apartment on a gust of wind and bumped the door closed with her hip. Trevor quickly slipped the vial into his pocket. Donna’s yellow skin glowed in the dim light, stretched tight over her high cheekbones.
Why was she looking at him like that? Storm’s crying cast an accusation around the apartment. He shrugged. “I’m as blind as you, Donna.”
Donna took a few steps towards the closed bedroom door. “What have you done to her, Trevor? She sounds completely hysterical.”
Trevor flung his arms wide. “Nothing.” Stupid cow. Time was wasting; he had to get Storm out of here, and Donna was asking him irrelevant questions. He raked his fingers through his blond hair, making it stand up in all directions. “Please, could you go and find out what’s going on? She hasn’t been herself all night.”
Donna looked at him closely before she said, “Sit down, Trevor. How long has this been going on? Did you argue?”
Trevor sank into the nearest chair, elbows on his knees, face in his hands to hide his gritting teeth. “No, we didn’t have an argument. We just got here and now this.” Something was happening that he couldn’t control and it made him uneasy. “I poured us wine in the hope that it would calm her, but she locked herself in her room.”
Their eyes met. She had nice eyes, though they saw too much. He’d do well to watch his step around Donna. She was an old soul.
“Don’t worry, Trevor, we’ll get to the bottom of this. I’ll go and see if I can find out what’s wrong, okay?”
Trevor turned to watch Donna tap on Storm’s door. Though he craned his neck when she slipped inside, all he got was a glimpse of Storm in the middle of her crumpled bed before the door closed.
Rain pattered against the windows as the storm moved directly overhead. Trevor glanced at his watch again. Eleven ten. There was still time. He picked up his glass. All he could do was wait.
Storm was lying on her bed, her face buried in the pillows, her hair spread in glorious disarray. Donna sat on the edge of the bed, lightly stroking Storm’s arm. Eventually Storm lifted herself to sit cross legged, her face swollen and blotchy.
“What’s the matter with you today, hon? What’s with all this crying? I don’t know you like this.”
Reaching for a Kleenex, Storm croaked, “He proposed,” then blew her nose. “Right after scaring me out of my wits, Donna,” she said, an edge of hysteria in her voice.
Donna waited for the rumbling of thunder to die down before she said, “Scaring you?”
“I was being silly. I wasn’t paying attention and then found us on the Cape Point road. It was dark and the storm was coming in and … I got a bit spooked.”
“And that’s why you’re crying so hard? It’s wonderful, Storm.” Donna threw her arms around her friend. “Poor Trevor. He’s beside himself. He thinks he’s done something wrong. What did you say?”
Storm swung her feet to the floor, combing her fingers through her tangled hair as she got unsteadily to her feet. She blew her nose again and threw the crumpled tissue at the basket. It missed. “I didn’t say anything. I can’t give him an answer now. You see, I’ve done something terrible.” She sighed.
“What are you talking about? What have you done? When? Was Trevor involved?”
“No, Donna,” Storm said, heading for the bathroom. “Is he still here?”
A frown creased Donna’s yellow brow, but she said, “Yes, nursing a glass of wine. Tell me—” The sound of running water cut her off.
Moments later, Storm came out, drying her face on a fluffy white towel. “Not now. I have to see Trevor off first. Please, tell him I’ll be right there.”
Storm broke the silence just as Trevor started to feel the need to squirm under Donna’s stare. If he had time, he’d love to teach the bitch some manners.
“I’m sorry I went to pieces like that, Trev,” Storm said softly.
Trevor took her hand. “I never meant to upset you.” She needed to drink the wine. There was still time, just. Eleven twenty-five.
Storm wrapped her other hand around his. “Trevor, believe me, this has nothing to do with anything you’ve done. It was silly to get such a fright because we were where I didn’t expect us to be. I’m sorry.”
“Are you sure that’s all it was?” At Storm’s nod, he squeezed her hand and pulled her down next to him. From the corner of his eye he saw Donna’s door closing quietly.
Storm pressed her fingers to her brow. “Trevor, I didn’t have a good day, that’s all. I’m honored that you want to marry me. Please, just give me a bit of time. I can’t think clearly right now. You see, something happened this afternoon. I have to sort it out for myself before I can tell you. Please, be patient with me.”
He’d underestimated Storm; she was fighting the planetary influence. He lifted both wine glasses and pushed one into her hand. “Drink.” he commanded. He could still make it, if they left immediately. He glanced at his watch again.
Storm took a tiny sip and put her glass down. “I don’t feel like drinking now.”
Trevor’s lips pulled away from his teeth as he consulted his watch again. “It’s too late now anyway.” A muscle jumped in his cheek. He got to his feet. “I’m leaving.”
“It’s not that late, Trev. It’s not even quarter to twelve.”
“Precisely,” he replied before slamming the door behind him as he left.
“Shall I water you?” Donna asked around her bedroom door.
“What?” Storm looked up, frowning.
Donna grinned. “You look as if you’ve been planted there and I was just wondering if you needed watering.”
“Cut the crap, Donna.” Storm said, brushing both hands down her face.
Donna laughed. “That’s better. You looked so pensive. You know what they say, too much thinking makes your feet go flat.” Her eyes twinkled.
“You know, Donna, of all the people I know, you are by far the best at rolling shit.” Try as she might, Storm couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from twitching. She picked up her cell phone and turned it on. When it rang immediately, she cut the call off.
“I’ve been told that before, love, by other grumps,” Donna laughed. “It must be my Malay heritage, but it always works to lighten the mood.”
Storm managed a chuckle before her phone rang again.
“You know, if you have no intention of taking a call, you should turn the thing off. That way, people could at least leave a message.”
Sighing heavily, Storm pressed a few buttons and dropped the phone onto the table.
“You’re right. I’m in no fit state. Oh, what am I going to do?” she wailed.
“Okay, we have some serious talking to do. Come on, ducky, you get the kettle on and I’ll organize the ciggies and the ashtray.”
“I don’t smoke.” Storm picked up Trevor’s half empty glass and her own barely tasted one and dumped the contents down the drain. It hissed and frothed, but Storm had already turned away.
Minutes later, they were settled on Storm’s bed, armed with coffee, smokes, biscuits, and a box of Kleenex, anything that might come in handy.
“Right, hon, I’m ready when you are. Fire at will,” Donna said, passing a lit cigarette to Storm.
Both of them studied the glowing tips of their cigarettes. “Trevor was really weird tonight. I can’t put my finger on it, but he gave me the creeps. Could it be because he was planning to ask me to marry him? From the moment we left the restaurant, he was different. And he was obsessed with the time.”
“He’s just shy, Storm, and it might have been the anticipation. He managed to ask, though. It’s a start.” Donna puffed her cigarette and stubbed it out. “Now, can we get down to this awful thing you’ve done?”
Storm finished her cigarette and immediately lit another one before she said, “How much do you think … ah, let me rephrase that. What I meant to ask was do you think there could be secrets in a relationship?”
“I don’t know. I suppose it depends on the secret. Storm, don’t you think you could just tell me what’s going on before we analyze the philosophical implications?”
“I planned on getting an answer out of Trevor tonight, one way or another.” Storm sighed, waiting for a lull in the noise from outside, before she said, “I’m more confused than ever.”
“Let’s leave Trevor for the moment. I want to know what happened this afternoon.”
“I made a terrible mistake, Donna. You see, I needed a suntan to offset this dress.” The corners of her mouth turned down.
“Gee, you really did think of everything,” Donna said. “And the problem was?”
Storm dragged deeply. “I, uh, went to the beach for one. I know of a secluded clearing near Bloubergstrand.”
“The beach. You went to the beach for a suntan.” Donna crossed her arms and leaned towards Storm. “Haven’t you heard of sun-beds?”
“I know, I know. I shouldn’t have done that. I just wanted everything to be perfect.” Storm’s eyes dropped to her hands clasped in her lap.
“Don’t tell me you did a nudie one! Storm, what were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t, obviously.” Storm took a deep breath. “I thought I was alone, but I wasn’t. There was a man. He … I … uh, I don’t know how long he watched me. He was very persuasive.”
Donna bolted upright. “What are you talking about? He didn’t talk you into buying a pair of
socks. You were naked and there was a man who persuaded you to… oh, my God, no. Please, tell me I misunderstand you.”
“No, Donna, it is what you’re thinking.” Storm’s head went down. “I was so sleepy and relaxed. I thought he was part of my dream, that he was Trevor.”
Donna wrapped her arms around the shaking girl. “Oh, Storm, I’m so sorry. Did you go to the police?”
Storm shook her head, fighting for control. Finally she said, “Of course not. What would I tell them? ‘Oh officer, it was terrible,’” she flung an arm across her forehead. “‘There I was, innocently naked on the beach, when this beast of a man came along and made wild, passionate love to me.’”
“Made love? Storm, have you lost your mind? Have you ever heard the word ‘rape’? Don’t talk crazy, girl. You should’ve reported that man to the police. For all you know, he’s the one who’s been killing all those girls around here. You’re lucky to be alive. Oh, this doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Storm wiped her face on a Kleenex and squared her shoulders. “No, Donna, he didn’t look anything like that picture in the paper. And I could never accuse him of rape. I brought this on myself, remember? And there was no violence. He was so gentle; he never hurt me.”
“Storm, are you listening to yourself? You’re trying to convince both of us that this man didn’t do anything wrong.” Donna’s red curls bobbed indignantly. “Listen to me, Storm. A man can’t just help himself because he surprises a girl in an interesting situation.”
Storm groaned, both hands over her ears. Her hands dropped and she met Donna’s eyes. “Dare I keep this to myself?”
“The way you’ve been defending that guy?”
“I haven’t defended him, Donna. I’ve only been trying to explain why I couldn’t go to the police.” Storm sighed deeply. “I love Trevor and I don’t want to hurt him if I can help it.”
“I think this is a secret you should keep to yourself. It happened before Trevor’s proposal. The way I see it, until he proposed, Trevor and you were no more than good friends. As such, he doesn’t need to know. Put it behind you, forget it ever happened.” Donna hesitated. “I take it you won’t be seeing that man again?”
“Hell, no.” Storm shook her head. “But I don’t like to lie and withholding information is the same as a blatant lie.”
“You know, Storm, sometimes you’re just too damn honorable for your own good. What Trevor doesn’t know can’t hurt him. The decision is yours. All I ask is that you don’t do anything in haste. Now, my dearest friend, I’m going to take these old and weary bones to bed. Get some sleep. In the morning, it will all look a lot different, I promise.”
“I doubt it.”