Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Exclusive Excerpt from SMOLDER

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* * * *
"Here you go, a package from your dead cousin." The bespectacled letter carrier leered at Susan as he talked to her breasts.
Her stomach knotted. This better not be a trick. The wind whooshed in as Susan reached outside the glass storm door and snatched the battered brown box. "I've never believed she's dead, Oliver, and here's proof." Please let Melody be alive and happy.
"Well, you see, the thing is, the postmark and return address are smudged, so this one's probably been around quite awhile, at the dead letter office."
She glared at him. "Are those letters for me, too?"
He handed his former schoolmate her junk mail. "So, what are your plans for Christmas? You know, it really is time you started dating again."
She couldn't believe he would suggest such a thing. She would never date again. No way.
He launched into his baritone version of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"
Susan let go of the storm door. It slammed in Oliver's pock-marked face. After dropping the letters onto the foyer bench, Susan attempted to peel the clear tape off of the box as she carried the package down the hallway and into the kitchen.
Her pulse raced as she rifled through her junk drawer, settling on a pen to pry the tape loose. She inhaled deeply while plopping down in a chair at the table. Staring at the box, Susan remembered…
In July, she mailed her cousin Melody a birthday card. It came back at the end of August. Someone had scribbled on the envelope Deceased: Return To Sender. She called Melody's home in Nevada, right away.
Melody's husband Zander answered, "Yellow."
"Zander, it's Susan Cervini. I just got Melody's birthday card returned to me. Someone wrote on the envelope that Melody was deceased!"
"What? She's not dead!"
"Ah jeeze, I'm sorry, hon. I thought the police contacted you. They said they would. I gave them your address. Jeeze, it was terrible, they made me take a lie detector test, two of 'em. Always suspect the poor grieving husband. I should sue 'em. Um…uh…I didn't have a memorial service 'cause there's no body yet. I can't even collect on her insurance policy. I tried calling you, but I just got your answering machine, for about four days in a row."
"When?" Susan demanded.
"Let's see now…Melody disappeared on the fourth of July, so it must have been on the eighth that I started calling you. She went out to pick up some Chinese food and never came back. Vanished without a trace."
"What do you mean by Melody 'vanished without a trace'?"
"I called the police and reported her missing. They found nothing. I went down to the daycare center and they said she hadn't come in to work. Her car was in the parking lot at the strip mall where the Chinese restaurant is. I'm a young widower, Susan—hey, I have another call. Good to hear from ya." Zander had hung up on her.
After quite a bit of work with the pen, the box popped open. Susan scooped and brushed a layer of peanut shaped foam packing material out, dropping it into the chrome trashcan. She gingerly removed an asymmetric object. Peeling back the bubble wrap encircling it, she smiled, marveling at the charming penguins made from black seashells and delicate white eggs, perched on a granite rock. Susan gently ran her finger along the diminutive work of art. Strolling into the living room, she walked over to the curio cabinet and added the exquisite piece to the center of her collection.
Her cousin Melody had always spoiled Susan with her beloved feathered creatures, penguins. She still had the stuffed penguin pillow that Melody had sewn for her in seventh grade home economics class. She slept with it every night.
Tucking her hair behind her ears, Susan walked back into the kitchen and removed the remaining bubble wrap from the box. Nestled in the bottom was a compact disc. Susan peeled the shrink wrap off the CD, huffing as she picked at the stubborn tape sealing the top edge. Returning to the living room, she pulled her lite jazz CD out of the stereo system and inserted the one from Melody. She glanced over the track listing. It was the latest release from Mister Wright.
God, this brings back memories, Susan thought. Melody had posters of him all over the bedroom they shared as teenagers. He was so cute…well, if you like the tall, muscular type with better hair than most women and a killer grin. She wondered what ever happened to good old Mister Wright? But more importantly, what had happened to Melody?
Susan had prayed every night, that wherever Melody was and whomever she was with, that she was at peace and happy. And now, this package was proof, Melody was alive and reaching out to her.
Unsettled but comforted, Susan commenced tidying her kitchen. Her yellow Labrador retriever, Bob, whimpered. Wiping her fresh teardrops away, she let the seventy-pound puppy out through the sliding glass door in the kitchen that led to the fenced back yard. The fence that she and Brandon had built. It was a four foot tall, Mount Vernon style picket fence. Susan had loved watching him drape a chain between the posts and mark it with a pencil. Then he cut off the top of the boards, making a scalloped pattern. He could do anything.
Broom in hand, sweeping the crumbs and golden-white fur from the black and white checkerboard vinyl floor, Susan found herself swaying to the infectious melodies. She'd always loved listening to someone who could really play guitar—someone who could make love with it. Mister Wright's voice was so sexy. Her whole mood was lifted. So Melody never did get over her teenaged infatuation with good old Mister Wright. His new songs are excellent, right on par with the finest of today's pop.
She let Bob in, then sat at her desk in the kitchen and checked her e-mail. There were only two posts. The first one was an offer for mortgage refinancing. It made her think about the local charity for fallen police officers and firefighters. Those benevolent folks had insisted on paying off Susan's mortgage and car loan. They also gave her carte blanche for tuition, if she wanted to go back to college for her Master's degree. They were so generous, offering anything money could buy. For a while, they telephoned or stopped by every week asking, "Just tell us what we can do for you, Mrs. Cervini. What do you need?"
The worst was the day before Thanksgiving last year, when two uniformed police officers showed up with a turkey and all the trimmings. As if she had anyone to cook it for, let alone eat with.
With a knot in her stomach, Susan deleted the spam.
The second post was an advertisement for penile enlargement. Well, the virtual meanies just had to rub it in today. As if she'd ever see another one of those. She deleted the e-mail and emptied her e-garbage. The last song on the CD ended.
Susan clicked on the search box and typed in Mister Wright. Surfing through some fan webpages, she was surprised to learn that he was still writing and recording. Wow, he actually wrote all of his own songs. She was impressed. And the gorgeous photos, the guy didn't have a bad side. She ogled one picture in particular: he was screaming into a microphone, red guitar in the air, moisture on his tanned, shirtless skin. Oh, look at those arms. Perfectly developed. His chest was covered in dark hair, just the right amount. And those leather pants.
Holding her face in her hands, feeling the heat, she shook her head and scrolled down the page. His wife was the most gorgeously glamorous woman she'd ever seen. A living, breathing, thinking Malibu Barbie doll. The kids all took after her. She focused on the lovely doctor, Mrs. Wright. Susan lamented she wasn't even half as pretty. She laughed at herself for feeling jealous pangs at the wife of a fallen superstar she didn't even know.
She surfed through a few more sites, hoping to find a concert schedule. No such luck, so she subscribed to his fan e-mailing list at Gobbledygroups.com. Maybe she'd find Melody at a concert. It was certainly worth trying.

The doorbell rang. Her eyes grew large as she jumped up and yanked the belt tight on her pink and powder blue chenille robe. She finger combed her hair as she passed by the foyer mirror. She peeked through the peephole. Johnny Newman. Good old Johnny. Susan opened the front door and the storm door.

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