by Erica Kiefer
Published by: CTP Pulse
Publication date: December 5th 2017
Genres: Romance, Suspense, Young Adult
As her senior year flies by on cruise control, seventeen-year-old Olivia Cole yearns for excitement—something her upscale private school no longer provides. Her job as a grocery store bagger isn’t much help…until the day she has a bizarre exchange with the cagey town recluse. When the woman abruptly surrenders to the police, Olivia feels compelled to dig deeper into her perplexing story. But the investigation stalls when Olivia receives another piece of news—Andre Steele, the golden boy of Westmont and her previous tormentor, has unexpectedly returned from his four-year stay in Brazil—and the whole school is buzzing! All at once, Olivia’s dull and predictable life is uprooted, and she wonders if “boring” was so bad after all.
I met her eyes again, which seemed to never leave mine, peering at me with an intense silence that I couldn’t explain. She didn’t frighten me, exactly. On the contrary, there was a meekness about her that suggested her gentle nature. While she hardly smiled, she didn’t have a mean face. It was more like the bland expression of a person who had little to smile about. Yet I wondered at her reservation, certain she had more to say than she ever allowed.
Jodie’s slender fingers pulled cash from her wallet and she handed over the bills. When she turned to me once more, her teary eyes alarmed me. She swallowed hard, like she was washing down emotions that rose against her will.
“Are… are you okay?” I asked, hesitating as I placed her grocery bags into the cart. Her hand fell swiftly on top of mine, squeezing my palm. Startled by the sudden physical contact, I jerked my hand away. I regretted my actions the moment her expression shifted.
Eyes wide, she shook her head, her mouth opening as though horrified by her behavior. A tear slid down her cheek, and she brushed it away in haste. “I’m sorry.” Sniffling, she snatched her three bags from the cart and scurried toward the exit. “Hey!” I called after her. I exchanged a look of confusion with Marlene before following Jodie to the automatic sliding doors. “Wait! It’s Jodie, right?” She paused, sniffing once more. She looked back at me over her shoulder, eyes red and sorrowful. “Um, can I help you to your car? I really should have double-bagged that one.” I pointed to the bulging bag containing the heavy soups, grasping for an excuse to stall her from leaving.
The tiniest smile crept along the corners of her mouth. Her green eyes brightened beneath the sheen of tears. Relieved, I smiled back. Her next words fell from her lips in a low, quiet tone. “You take care of yourself.” Then she walked out into the cool air.
I stood there perplexed, watching this strange woman escape to the parking lot. Jodie had been a consistent presence in my life for months now, a once-a-week visit in which she spoke no more than a murmured, Thank you. Why did I feel a sudden permanence to her goodbye?
A familiar female voice called out from behind me. “I need a bagger on lane three please!”
I rolled my eyes and flipped around to see my friend Jordyn standing at the other end of the store, hollering into her cupped hands. I glanced at Marlene. My grey-haired co-worker pushed out her lips with a frown, throwing a hand onto her plump hip. I cringed and held up my index finger. “One minute,” I mouthed, and hurried toward Jordyn before she could garner anymore unwanted attention from my employers.
“You know Marlene hates when you stop by, right?” I said to my best friend. She beamed confidence at me with her wide smile, her lips stained in a bright coral that I could never pull off. Though only one-eighth Native American, the tan skin she’d inherited helped her get away with wearing colorful makeup combinations that I would never attempt on my fair skin. Jordyn also relished in the theatrics that I shied away from.
“I’m a paying customer,” she said, grabbing a box of powdered donuts off the shelf. She held them up to make her point, waving wildly at Marlene’s scowling face. Jordyn raised her voice again, like she was hollering at the deaf elderly. “She’s just gonna bag these for me and I’ll be on my way!”
I shook my head at her. “You’re going to get me fired.”
“You’ve got other problems to worry about.” Jordyn put her hands on my shoulders, and spun me around.
“What am I looking at?” I asked, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Leave it to Jordyn to make me guess, rather than just tell me. She rotated me forty-five degrees.
“Not what. Who.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Past the cashiers. Aisle twelve.”
I loved her to death, but sometimes her games were a bit much. “Jordyn, come on—” I stopped, suddenly very aware of just who she was pointing out to me. I caught a glimpse of his smile first, gleaming brightly against his bronzed skin—a deeper brown than I remembered, and a compliment from his Brazilian mother. I’d almost missed him, hidden behind the cluster of kids clamoring for his attention. But then I heard his laugh, boisterous and infectious. Unique.
And stirring memories I resented.
I crossed my arms over my black apron. “What is Andre Steele doing back in Arizona?”
Jordyn inhaled noisily, letting out her breath as she spoke. “I don’t know, but Brazil sure did a nice number on him.”
I scowled and nudged her with my elbow.
“But we still hate him,” she corrected, giving a nod of solidarity.
“Of course we do.” We watched him disappear down aisle nine with his posse. Another burst of laughter trailed behind him, coupled with giggles from the girls hanging on him and the other guy slapping Andre’s back like they’d never heard someone so funny.
“Then again,” Jordyn added, “Four years can change a person. Maybe he’ll surprise you.”
I stepped away from her, returning to my position at the end of the register. I grabbed the boxes of toothpaste and floss sliding past Marlene and tossed them into a fresh bag. “I never liked his surprises.”
Erica Kiefer’s debut novel Lingering Echoes was published by Clean Teen Publishing in November 2013. She continued the series with Rumors (A Lingering Echoes Prequel) and her newest release Vanishing Act. All of her books can be read as stand-alone contemporary YA fiction, touched with romance, emotional drama and suspense. With a degree in Recreation Therapy from Brigham Young University, Erica’s experiences working with at-risk youth have influenced the realistic and relatable nature of her writing. Her first inspirational non-fiction entitled Borrowed Angel (published in April 2014 with Currawong Press) describes the loss of her infant son and her journey towards healing.
Married since 2005, Erica resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her four children and can often be found satisfying her sweet-tooth with chocolate-chip cookies and a glass of milk. Now and then, she dusts off her collegiate rugby skills and dives back into the game.
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