Read an Excerpt
I awakened to the sound of my own scream. Breathless, heart pounding, pajamas drenched in sweat, I was desperate, clawing at the tangle of sheets wrapped around me.
"Nooo," I whimpered. "No, please ... no!"
I stared, with wide eyes, at the ceiling, concentrating on the shimmery patterns cast by the outside lights around the pool, and gulped deep breaths in an effort to calm down, all while my heart and mind raced.
The nightmare was back. It had plagued me almost every night since I was nine, but two years ago it stopped, and I thought I'd finally outgrown it. Looked like I was wrong, and begging wouldn't change anything. Disappointment left a bitter taste in my mouth. Why now? What made it return? What could've triggered it?
The letter. That had to be it. Everything had been going fine ... well, as fine as I could expect things to go in my dysfunctional life, and then I'd gotten yesterday's mail. There had to be a connection. Maybe —
No! If I allowed my mind to start thinking about it, picking apart every sentence, mulling over what every little thing could mean, I'd never get back to sleep. Tomorrow would be — I glanced at the clock — correction ... today was going to be a big day. I needed all the rest I could get if I expected to be able to face it. "Go back to sleep, Kate."
I flipped my pillow over to the "good dream" side, and twisting my long hair up away from my neck, I sank back into the pillow's cool softness. It might be silly to still practice such a childish ritual, but it reminded me of my mom and right now, I needed that. The familiarity brought a measure of comfort, which in turn, calmed me. If clinging to the fairytale helped me go back to sleep, then so be it.
I'd face the rest later.
* * *
The next afternoon found me sitting in a rental car, AC cranked up to full blast, and every vent aimed in my direction. Even so, sweat beaded my forehead, trickled between my shoulder blades and breasts, causing my thin, cotton blouse to cling to me like a second skin.
How on earth did the locals live like this without turning into a puddle? The difference between eighty-three degrees in the southwest and eighty-three degrees southeast became painfully clear, prompting a mental apology for ever calling Easterners, "wimps."
"Why is it that I'm here, again?" I muttered as I typed the address into the GPS. "Oh ... that's right ... the letter." If it weren't for that, I'd be back in Tucson, Arizona where I belonged, where everything was familiar, not here in the North Carolina mountains, where apparently a person couldn't breathe without worrying about drowning.
Digging through my bag, I located a tissue and pressed it against my sweaty forehead, then stared at the words on the screen, fear and doubts blossoming in my chest.
Half-Moon Lake, North Carolina.
Pushing those feelings toward the back of my mind, I concentrated on leaving the airport, and was soon heading east on I-26. I caught my image in the rear-view mirror. Anxious brown eyes stared back at me, and I forced a smile. "Ready for this, Kate?"
"No," my reflection was quick to answer.
"Oh, c'mon, you big baby. Think of it as an adventure."
"Adventure?" I snorted. "Who are you trying to kid?"
"Okay, have it your way, but stop freaking yourself out with all this worrying. Concentrate on something else ... how about the scenery?"
Maybe I should be concerned that I was having a conversation with my reflection, but frankly, compared to some of the other stuff in my life, talking to myself was the least of my worries.
"It's about a million shades of green. End of story."
"Good grief! I meant enjoy the scenery, not give a one sentence commentary."
"All right, all right."
The landscape whizzing past both sides of the car seemed freshly painted with every conceivable shade of that color. Coming from the desert where the tonal palette ranged from oranges to various shades of browns and tans, this was a sharp contrast. Though beautiful, the difference was unsettling. I functioned better within a framework of familiarity. I was more comfortable that way, more in control. Right now, I felt anything, but in control.
Thoughts of the letter elbowed their way to the front of my mind. How could something so small and unassuming have the ability to turn my world completely upside down?
Up until yesterday, I'd lived a pretty normal life. Raised by a very free-spirited, borderline eccentric mother, who was so "antiestablishment," even calling her Mom wasn't allowed. She was Pat. "Just call me Pat," she'd say. "It's the name on my birth certificate, and if it's good enough for that, it's good enough." I remember thinking it strange that my friends didn't call their moms by their first names until I realized I was the exception. When they asked me why, I repeated the same, flower-power, "retro" malarkey Pat always gave me. Really a bunch of non-answers, but it got them off my case. I had never pressed Pat for anything more, and now I wondered why? Had I been subconsciously frightened of what I might find out?
A car horn blared behind me, and I jumped, yanking my wandering mind back to the present. A glance in my rearview mirror showed a lot of fist-shaking and angry gestures by the driver just behind me. The intended recipient was oblivious; a teenager in a sporty Mustang, now zipping past. With a cigarette in one hand and cell phone in the other, the girl kept drifting over the center line, then the rumble strip on the left. The teen was either texting or drunk. Since it was a little early for the latter, she was probably texting. For the millionth time I wished that car and cell phone manufacturers would put their heads together and come up with some sort of technology that would turn off any phone's texting function inside a moving vehicle.
I reset my cruise control a little slower, allowing the erratic driver to get a safer distance away before slipping back into my reminiscing. Somehow it seemed less risky reliving the past than it did wondering about the future. I'd face that soon enough.
When asked, Pat had always told me we'd come from "back East," whatever that meant. There was a lot of real estate east of Tucson, but that's all I'd ever gotten. I'd stopped asking after a while; just like I'd stopped asking about my father. It was a waste of time, a lesson in futility. I'd never gotten any answers. In hindsight, I wished I hadn't given in without a fight.
Pat seemed to be able to do anything, a real "Renaissance woman." Everything about her was extreme: her self-sufficiency, her strength, her confidence and her privacy — which is why her death last year from cancer had been such a surprise. Not only because I'd known nothing about it until it was too late, but also that cancer would have the audacity to attack such a tower of strength. I missed Pat, not because we'd been close — she wasn't that type of mom — but because ... well, Pat was the only family I had. Now, I was alone and it was scary sometimes. There was absolutely nothing "renaissance" about me. I was the epitome of "wimp."
From the outside, looking in, people probably think I have a perfect life, living the American dream. I'm a graphic artist for Hallmark, doing what I love. I have my own card line and I get to work from home. What more could a person ask for? My answer to that? You know that saying, "If it sounds too good to be true ...?" Well, that adage could have been coined for me.
I'm proud of Jammy-Pie, the character I created for my card line. It hadn't been easy creating a cuddly porcupine, but the line had taken off on the West coast and was growing in popularity countrywide. In addition to my cards, one could be the proud owner of a Jammy-Pie coffee mug, mouse-pad, keychain, stuffed animal and other semi-useful paraphernalia.
"When you care enough to send the very best." The classic motto tripped off my tongue, and my eyes met those in the mirror again. "You know, you really need to start watching something other than the Hallmark channel all the time."
My crooked smile faded. Though I'd landed the job of my dreams, there'd been some pretty rough sailing throughout my twenty-four years of life — well, actually only the last fifteen. Between the money Pat shelled out for counseling over the years and what I'd spent since being out on my own, it amounted to a small fortune. I've talked to every psychiatrist, psychologist, medical doctor, spiritual guru, and pastor within a hundred mile radius of my home. I've gone through every mental test known to mankind, tried acupuncture in spite of absolutely hating needles and had submitted myself to being hypnotized. Shoot, I've even considered exorcism! But I baffled them all. They'd never encountered phobias like the ones that had plagued me since I was nine. I can't remember anything prior to that.
Crazy phobias! Who ever heard of someone being afraid of butterflies? They're butterflies, for crying out loud! How scary can they be? And ivy? I'm not over-fond of plants in general, but anything in the "vine-y" category freaked me out, and that included the silk variety. But the clincher ... the strangest one of them all? School buses! I dreaded it when school started back each fall. Summer was the only time I felt reasonably safe going out in public. The rest of the year I'm almost a hermit, too afraid that I'll see a bus if I venture from my apartment. Maybe that was one reason why Pat chose to home school me.
Why, oh why couldn't I have a normal phobia like the fear of heights or elevators, snakes or spiders? Nooo, I had to be stuck with fears that didn't even have names — truly irrational ones — and no one could figure out why. It's a good thing I work from home.
"So, I have a few quirks." I tried to shrug it off. I preferred calling them "quirks." It made me feel not quite so weird. "Everybody does, right?" My attempt at a laugh fell flat. No matter what name I gave them, no matter how I tried to minimize the issue, my phobias made it difficult, if not impossible, to have any sort of a romantic relationship.
"You're not hard to look at," I told my reflection. "Five feet, seven inches is a good height. You're trim. Your hair's a nice color; long, thick, dark brown, same shade as your eyes. Great smile, too. It ought to be! It probably paid for that silver Corvette Dr. Eisenhower zooms around town in!"
"You used to go on plenty of dates, so what happened?" I asked my mirrored self. "I'll tell you what happened. Word has spread, my dear. You've been black-listed. They all know better than to go out with Kathryn Dorne. You're just too darn odd. That much 'strangeness' trumps any extra points you get in the 'looks' department. You might as well give up. There might be a man out there somewhere who could love you in spite of your oddities and maybe even help you get past all the nonsense, but you shouldn't hold your breath."
Ugh! How depressing! Maybe if I knew the reason for my fears, I'd be able to feel better about myself. Then again ... maybe not, but at least I'd know! I'm pretty sure Pat had known something, but whatever it was, she'd kept it hidden, all wrapped up in a veil of secrecy, always spouting her standard answer of "let sleeping dogs lie;" which was her way of saying, "Leave it alone." Now it was too late. Whatever she'd known had gone with her to the grave.
I'd often wondered if my dad was locked up in a mental hospital somewhere. That would explain some of the craziness in my life, as well as why I'd never met him, but that was another mystery. As far as Pat was concerned, I'd had no father.
How could I not have a father? A father was sort of necessary, right? It was a package deal ... taking both a mom and a dad. Well, except for the Virgin Mary. I'd learned about her at church. Pat always refused to go with me, but I had attended church with friends as much as I was allowed. It was there I'd heard about the only virgin birth that had ever happened. There was no way Pat's claim and the preacher's sermon could both be right, and I'd chosen to believe the preacher. It just seemed unlikely that God would make an exception with me and allow a second immaculate conception.
But then the letter had showed up, proving Pat's claim false. With its arrival, everything I had known about my life — about myself — had become a huge mystery, ominous, filled with inexplicable dread and doubt. If only I could have known the letter's contents and the repercussions it carried. If only I could jump back in time and not open it, but — wait! This was my exit.
Half-Moon Lake — next right.
* * *
What in the world was that?
I gazed in horror at the hillside to my right, fighting the urge to whip the car around in a tight U-turn and head back to the airport. A jungle-like carpet of thick green vines completely covered everything ... trees, power lines ... everything. The trees stooped under the weight, fighting in vain to escape. I could almost hear them screaming ... I was hyperventilating, gasping for more oxygen. I needed to pull over, but I didn't dare for fear the monstrous vine would swallow me too.
Tearing my eyes away and focusing directly in front of me, I stomped the gas, exceeding the posted speed limit by quite a bit. I didn't care. I had to put as much distance between me and the horrific scene as possible.
* * *
By the time I reached town, my breathing was almost back to normal. I hadn't encountered the local law enforcement during my escape, of which I was thankful, and I was now able to concentrate on my surroundings.
Wow! I was amazed. Bumper to bumper traffic inched forward at a pace that made a herd of turtles look speedy. Most of these folks must be from somewhere else; the town wasn't big enough for this many cars.
Turning off the air conditioner, I powered down my window, and regretted the decision immediately. Heavy air whapped me in the face like a soggy blanket. The humidity was profound. A wet suffocation. An occasional puff of breeze rearranged the sticky air without making a noticeable improvement. I swiped the back of my hand across my forehead and grimaced. I had no desire to be drenched with sweat again after I'd finally dried out, so I flipped the AC back on, but kept the window down. I didn't want to miss anything.
Touristy gift shops spilled a variety of folks out onto overflowing sidewalks. As much as I wanted to study the shops, I had to keep my attention on my driving. Though crosswalks were marked, little notice was paid to those painted white lines.
I enjoyed people-watching. I liked to pick out individual folks, then try to figure out what they were thinking by reading their expressions. While most faces amid the throngs packing Half-Moon Lake's sidewalks appeared happy and carefree, there were a few who looked a little grumpy. And no wonder! As far as I knew, humans didn't come equipped with gills, so breathing water like this was sure to shorten tempers. It was having a similar effect on me and prompted an echo of my complaint from the airport ... how did the locals stand it? It was obvious that someone forgot to tell the temperature it was supposed to cool down, now that the sun had moved behind the mountains that crowded around the little town in every direction.
If possible, traffic got worse once I got to the lake itself. Families were calling it a day. Frazzled parents lugged sandy beach paraphernalia and herded their sunburnt offspring wrapped in soggy towels back to their waiting minivans and SUVs. The daytimers' empty parking slots didn't stay that way long, but were snatched up as soon as they exited by the evening crowd. I tapped my brakes when a sporty Lexus backed out in front of me, leaving an empty space facing a place called El Tango. A Mexican restaurant? I sniffed appreciatively. Mmmm. Didn't smell very Mexican, but with a name like that, what else could it be? A silver Volvo coming from the opposite direction turned on his signal and attempted to zip in front of me, but slammed on his brakes, glaring as I inched forward. Striving to avoid eye-contact, I glanced in my rear view mirror and glimpsed a cat-who-ate-the-canary smile light the face of a black BMW's driver as he wheeled into the vacated spot. Music poured from the restaurant's door each time it opened to admit another patron, which was often. Apparently, El Tango was a favorite in these parts. If it wasn't too far, maybe I'd come back later and check it out. I sniffed again. Yum! If the smell was any indication, I was in for a treat.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Half-Moon Lake"
Copyright © 2017 Leanna Sain.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.