“Are you sure you’ll be all right out here?” Linc raised his voice to be heard over the howling wind that was bending trees outside the house. I peered through the window, frowning at the darkening sky.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I answered. “You need to get home, dude. Not every day your daughter turns seventeen. And I want to finish the trim on the window seat upstairs in the master before I knock off for the day.”
A horn sounded close by, and Linc rolled his eyes. “Hollister needs to keep his pants on. He wants to get back to the shop before it rains—like he thinks he’ll melt.”
“But he’s giving you a lift, so let’s not keep him waiting.” I reached for the doorknob and tugged on it. The wind whipped it out of my hand, throwing it backward, and it might have banged into the wall if I hadn’t caught it.
“Note to self: let’s get those wall guards added sooner than later.” Linc pulled his hat down more securely. “Okay. I’m heading out then. Don’t forget—”
“—to lock up and make sure all the windows are closed and check the tarps on the questionable spots on the roof,” I finished for him. “Got it, boss. Get out of here. And tell your girl I said happy birthday.”
Linc nodded and jogged out to the waiting pickup. I closed the door behind him and then stood for a moment, glancing around the house. It wasn’t often that I had her all to myself. Patting the gleaming banister, I spoke aloud.
“Alone at last, huh, beautiful? Let’s see what I can do to make you even sexier than you already are.”
There was no answer as I climbed the steps, not unless you counted the creaks and groans of the trees. I’d been in plenty of houses where sometimes, I got the sense that I wasn’t quite . . . alone, even when I was. Like most of the guys who routinely worked historical rehabs, I’d had my share of experiences that bordered on the creepy. I didn’t scare easily, and I didn’t have a problem with former residents hanging around to see our work, even if they happened to be spectral. Still, I was vaguely relieved that Sabrina’s house didn’t seem to fall into the possibly haunted category.
Sabrina. I forced away a wince as I thought of her. Last weekend, I’d joined the rest of the crew at the Turner home where we’d all enjoyed a barbecue. Linc had introduced me to his wife Jenna and demanded that I repeat the same history I’d given him—to tell the story of why I’d ghosted on Sabrina back in high school. Apparently, Jenna was friends with Sabrina’s BFF in Burton, the one who owned some kind of store. Linc had slapped me on the back and assured me that he had everything covered—that with his help, Sabrina Hudson would shortly have full knowledge of the truth.
“Does it even matter?” I muttered to myself, taking out a tape measure to check on the length of a piece of trim. “We were kids. We weren’t dating. We weren’t in a relationship. Not even a teenage one.”
But even as I spoke those words aloud, I knew I was lying to myself. The night my mom and I had fled the only home I’d ever known, Sabrina had been the one person I’d mourned, the one regret I’d held. I’d missed her keenly for months. And even now, seeing her again reminded me of the deep feelings she’d stirred within me once upon a time.
Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed, throwing weird shadows on the opposite wall. It was getting darker and darker, and I paused for a moment, squinting out a nearby window, wondering if maybe I should call it a day. Storms like this weren’t uncommon in the late summer, but this time of year, with autumn in full swing, it was a little more unusual. There was a better than decent chance that the power would go out, and if it did, I wasn’t going to get anything done anyway.
Still, for now, I had electricity and decent light. I dropped to my haunches and laid the strip of trim, examining it with narrowed eyes. When I worked on houses like this, I had an image of what the result should be, and if reality didn’t match my vision, I kept at it until I was satisfied.
I’d just lifted the nail gun and filled it with the tiny finishing nails when I heard a loud bang downstairs. It sounded like the door again and swearing under my breath, I set down the tools and trotted toward the steps. I must not have closed the door all the way, and with gale-force winds like these, I probably should have turned the deadbolt, too.
But I came to a sudden halt when I saw a figure in a bright red slicker climbing up the steps. A wide hood obscured the person’s face, and out of instinct, I reached for the hammer hanging from my tool belt.
“Hey!” I hoped my voice sounded deep and threatening, with none of my trepidation noticeable. “What’re you doing here?”
And then the hood was thrown back, and it was Sabrina standing midway up the stairs. Her face was damp, with drops clinging to her long eyelashes. Blonde hair was plastered to her head. But none of that mattered when I looked in her eyes because for the first time in fourteen years, what I saw there wasn’t hurt or anger or accusation. Instead, I saw a soft eagerness that made my heart stutter.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, slipping her arms from the sleeves of the oversized raincoat. “I wasn’t sure . . . I saw your truck or at least a truck, but I hoped it was yours. Anyway . . .” Her voice trailed off. “I didn’t mean to spook you.”
I spread my hands. “I wasn’t spooked exactly. Just surprised. I thought I was here by myself.” Pointing to the large window downstairs, I added, “I figured no one was fool enough to go out in this crazy weather.”
“Only me.” She offered me a tentative smile, and it was suddenly hard to breathe.
“Can I . . . I mean, do you need to see something? Are you here for an update? Linc’s not here, but you can look around, of course. It’s your house.”
“I’m not here to see the house. And I knew Linc had left because I called him on my way over to see if you were working today.” The tip of her tongue darted out to trace the seam of her lips. “I came to see you, Wesley.”
“Me?” I echoed dumbly, frowning. “Why?”
“Because.” She took a deep breath. “I owe you a massive apology, and I didn’t want to wait another hour before I told you how sorry I am.”
I had a pretty good idea of where this was going, but I’ve never been the kind of man to assume thing. “Why are you sorry?”
“I didn’t listen to you. I didn’t give you a chance to explain what happened all those years ago back in Wisconsin. I jumped to some pretty shitty conclusions back then, and I never let you tell me the truth. I’m really sorry, Wesley. So deeply sorry.”
I gazed at her without speaking for a long moment. “You had no way of knowing. If you’d vanished on me back then, I’d probably have been a little bitter, too.”
“Probably not,” Sabrina argued. “You’ve always had that thing where you think the best of people. You used to give me more credit than I deserved. I bet if the situation had been reversed, you’d have been nicer to me when we met again, too.”
“Maybe, but—” I shook my head. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. I accept your apology, Brina girl, if even if I don’t need you to give it to me.”
“Thank you.” She climbed the last few steps until she stood only a couple of feet away from me. “I really missed you, Wesley. Every single day of the rest of high school. Nothing felt right after you were gone. You were my best friend.”
The sad note in her voice cracked me open. “It gutted me to leave you, Brina. But I didn’t have a choice, you know? Mom wouldn’t leave without me. If I’d kicked up a fuss, she’d have gone back to that house, to getting knocked around by the asshole who called himself my father, until he finally killed her—or until I killed him. Either way, it wasn’t going to be a pretty ending. As much as I—cared about you, I couldn’t do that to my mother.”
“I understand that now. Back then, I honestly had no idea.” Sabrina lifted her hand as though reaching toward me, then dropped it back to her side. “Why didn’t you tell me, Wesley? Before then, I mean. Why didn’t you let me know how bad things were at home?”
I rolled my shoulder. “I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want your pity, and there was nothing anyone could do—not until we had a way out. And I didn’t want you to look at me differently. You know how you hated being the girl whose mother died? I didn’t want to be the guy whose dad was abusive.”
“I guess I see.” She nodded, lowering her gaze to the floor. A silence stretched between us, and I wondered if Sabrina was thinking the same thing I was—what now?
“Well, I guess that’s all I came to say.” She straightened her spine. “I’ll just—”
A gust of wind rattled the house, making it groan and creak. Then all at once, it was dark, the power cut off abruptly. Sabrina shrieked, and I reached for her, my hands grasping. She leaped into my arms, wrapping herself around me.
“It’s okay.” I ran my hand down her back, offering what little comfort I could even as my body responded to her scent, her soft curves, her very nearness. “Probably the wind blew down a line, and it’ll be fine in just a little bit.”
But my last words were drowned out by a roar like I’d only heard once in my life, and my stomach dropped even before I pivoted to look through the rain-splattered window behind me where, in the black sky, I spotted the unmistakable sight of a funnel cloud.
“My God. It’s a tornado.”
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Seven is coming next Friday!
The tale of Coral’s movie premiere date
is coming in this month, too.
What about Celeste?
Her romance is revealed in
which is part of the holiday benefit anthology
Releasing this Tuesday!