Pour a glass of wine first.
Fill the tub.
Maybe make one of those bath bombs I see the recipes for on the Facebook. That’s what my mom says “THE Facebook..”
That’s enough about her, though.
This is about you.
This is about introductions.
You see, I want you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open your heart and your mind to Sheriff’s Deputy Mallory Davis – hardened, flawed, perhaps. She is imperfect, as we all are imperfect. She has sharp edges, darkened corners. She has been hurt, broken, and she has begun to slowly, incrementally, give up hope. She has given up the hope that she will ever find love, she has begun to convince herself she did not deserve the love she found that first time, with Lauren.
But she is so wrong. She is so, so very wrong.
Just give her a chance, and you’ll see.
Watching the sun rise, seeing the gentle fingers of heavy, leaden gold and deep brush strokes of indigo all interspersed with whites and pale bright blues reflected upon the peaceful, sleeping waters of the Murrells Inlet Salt Marsh was, for someone as plain and humdrum as Mallory Denise Davis, the closest she figured she would ever get to a religious experience. Regimented, regulatory and predictable, she was not prone to flights of impish fancy or gusts of wanton wanderlust. But hearing the symphony of natural sounds—the croaking of bull frogs and the chirping of crickets, the easy splashes of flounder and shrimp and the quiet footfalls of the great, white heron? And smelling the distinctive bouquet of shellfish, pluff mud and bird shit that was incongruously and uniquely beautiful? Well, it was one of the more rainbow-toned moments of her life, one of those moments dashed with every color in the spectrum and touched by a little piece of heaven as it settled down in the open and spectacular south.
As the grey crayon, the downtrodden crayon, whose hopes and dreams and pursuits were always so close to home, and so safe, Mal (who never, ever went by Mallory because she never, ever felt like a Mallory) had begun to feel a bit like the life that was issued to her, upon birth, was the least adventurous life, the life that was always issued to only the four most basic crayons in the cheapest of containers. She was necessary but unremarkable shade of elephant hide and metal container. She was an amalgam of black and white, in the in-between, while the more outspoken shades of Burnt Sienna and Auburgine hogged all of the glory, with international trips and white, sandy beaches and Saturday nights out with friends from Supper Club.
Mal had no friends from Supper Club.
Mal had no Supper Club.
Mal had no friends.
Mal had no time-off, really, under the Kevlar and constant pressure of the Greentown County Sheriff’s Department.
Funny how she considered none of that, none of her old and boring and sad and withering life, as she took in the salt marsh sunrise. The salt marsh sunrise brought out the very best parts of her, the most beautiful parts. The parts no one else could ever witness.
Reclining on her beefy arms, leaning backward on a plain, navy Polo towel, swaying with the movement of the tide on the floating dock that was precariously attached to the spindly pier of some beach rental or another, she looked up to the sun and closed her eyes, letting the gentle motion of the morning and the sea calm her, still the tornado that writhed within her soul. Stretching her beefy legs, more muscle than fat, but certainly not fashioned after the customary shapes of most women, she wiggled her unvarnished toes and took in a great, deep breath of the mud that was native to only this one land, and the swarms of salt that mounted the rivulets of the ocean tide, and the dead heat that set in well before dawn along the coast. She took a great, deep breath and wondered, Is this my happiness?
Below her, knee deep in mud, and wearing only a plain, white bikini with coverall waders that swamped her figure, Lauren rummaged about with a seine net, pretending she was good at something she knew very little about. But that was her way, really, the pretending, masquerading, while secretly knowing she was good at almost anything. She laughed and licked her lips and threw the bulk of her long hair—plain, straight rows of corn gold that fell down her back in an elaborate braid—over her pastel shoulder, and wiped her nose on her arm, smearing gobs of sweat that broke out along her brow.
She was so beautiful. So…healthy? Skin rounded out over her bones, her hips were full and wide, her breasts hung heavy and her belly had only the beginnings of a swell that spoke to her love of pizza and craft beer. A solid size medium, she was absolutely perfect, and the tiny, butterfly tattoo on her hip was tantalizing as the sun’s rays began to reach their highest peak and bathe the fronds of grass that stretched up and out of the mud to greet the day.
Was it Monday? Tuesday?
Odd that the days, themselves, seemed not to matter anymore. Not after…
What mattered was being alive, and being present, and being with Lauren.
Being with Lauren…
It had been so different at the end, the whole scene had been so different at the end of her life, when her lush body and those lush curves disintegrated and all that was left was sallow skin, pocked from the tubes and the needles. She had been so small, so infinitesimal, just one drop in the cosmic bucket of humanity. Her hair had fallen by the wayside. Her mother had remarked, “You know, Mal, it’s just such a shame… Lauren was always so good at braids,” as if it had not wholly registered that her only daughter was in the slow and agonizing process of death, every breath labored and painful, every blink rimmed with the sting of tears that went unshed after the days and weeks and months of sobbing ended.
Lauren had been such a different person then, in those rare moments they were, at long last, alone together, free from the barrage of ‘loved ones’ who sought to cram a lifetime of memory in right at the finish line of her existence. She had been so bitter, like a viper, not at all like the Lauren she had been in the early stages of their relationship, before the rough patch, before she tried to initiate the arduous process of breaking up that cancer would inevitably stall and then stop altogether. After all, who wanted to die alone? And what did fidelity matter when death loomed ever-present in the bedroom they had shared?
Looking down at the tadpoles and minnows that swarmed about her knees, locked in the virile world of marshy survival, Lauren giggled. It was a lazy and free sound, the same sound Mal had fallen in love with, way back in the tenth grade, in Government and Economics with Mrs. Rhetta Brenner. It was a magnetic sound, a sound heard so fleetingly in the last two years they were together, so enmeshed they were first in the torrent of emotions that accompanied betrayal and then, later, in the fight for basic survival. It was a sound Mallory clung to, replayed over and over in her broken mind. It was a happy sound, a positive memory, and those had been so few and far between in the end.
“If you keep it up, we’ll have a feast tonight,” she said, even though she knew it was a lie, knew that they would pack it in and head to Sara Jay’s in Garden City, where Lauren would order crab cakes and drink too many bottles of thick, dark beer and then fall asleep in the truck on the way back to the house.
Her eyes drawn to the horizon—darkening only slightly—Lauren pointedly shook her head, strands of hair flying in all directions. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on. You’re not so bad,” Mal sat up and smiled, grasping at the ghostly vestiges of her reality. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. You can’t be fantastic at everything.” Valedictorian, full scholarship to technical college, head hygienist at the largest dental office in the Greentown area…
“There’s a storm coming,” Lauren sounded almost mechanical, dropping the seine net in the still of the surf.
“Lauren, the sky is clear,” Mal reassured her.
“No,” her partner said, shaking her head, eyes going wild and frantic. “There’s a storm coming, and I don’t want to leave. I’m not ready to leave, Mallory.”
How many times had she heard those words? I’m not ready to leave, Mallory. Mallory, I’m sorry. Mallory, don’t let me leave.
“Lauren, it’s nothing,” reaching out for her, fingers grasping, Mal closed her hand around-
She closed her hand around nothing because there was nothing there, nothing to hold anymore, nothing to lie in bed with and cradle.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Splaying her fingers wide, reaching farther through the sweaty tangle of thin sheets and a soft, grey duvet, she grabbed a hold of great, wiry gobs of short, coarse hair… Short, coarse, dog hair. Of course it was dog hair. What else would it have been? Lauren’s hair had fallen out eons ago, ages ago, ages before her faltering body gave up the fight against a strain of cancer that was so rare and so aggressive no one without the advent of an airplane ride had any inclination with what medications they would fight it.
Prying her deep, brown eyes open, Mal punched her extra firm pillow and groggily stared at the inky black and soft tan, Doberman/Rottweiler mix that stared blankly back at her, nearly as confused as she felt at their karmic connection. One big, black ear, all rimmed inside with caramel, stood up on end, while the other lay beseechingly on his head, just like it always did; just like it had since that fateful afternoon she had been out on patrol and rescued him, bloody and starving, off the side of a back road, a thin, wire lead chain cutting so deep into the skin of his neck she thought, for certain, he would die. That had been the day she had discovered Lauren’s affair, stumbled upon all of those text messages and flown out of the house in a heartbroken rage. Happening upon the dog had just seemed like a sign.
The Wrong Time is available on Amazon, SmashWords, directly through Dark Hollows Press and at All Romance, as are my debut novel, The Right Kind of Woman and my follow-up, The Wrong Kind of Woman. I am available on Twitter, Facebook and via firstname.lastname@example.org!