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Tangerine Morning,
Jezzica's Story

Chapter One

Jezzica

       Jezzica pushed her red-polished toes into the grains and tilted her head back to allow the shimmering rays to bathe her face. She could almost allow herself to forget the horrors of the past and bask in the hope of better times, but not quite. 

       Revenge intercepted hope and flung it away as if nothing more than a Frisbee tossed among the waves. With a shake of her head, she pushed herself off the mat and refused to tolerate her thoughts taking her on another journey to the past.

       Her towel flapped in the breeze as she shook off the sand. At the sound of her name, she used her book to shield her eyes and spotted Detective Zack Johnston. She politely waved, wishing he’d go away.

       He trudged through the sand, smiling as he approached her. “Nice day to catch some sun.” It was apparent he appreciated more than the sun.

       She tied a sarong over her black one-piece that left little to the imagination. “I was heading back to the cottage. What brings you here today?” It sure wasn’t detective work. 

       A mischievous smile sparkled in his eyes. “Spent the day moving into Wilson’s cottage. We’re neighbors.”

       “Aren’t Audra and Steve Wheeler living there?” She cringed inside. There would be no avoiding him now.

       “They moved this past weekend.”

       “Welcome to the shore.” Her eyes held his longer than she’d intended. Without thinking, she placed her hand on her stomach to still the butterflies. The first time she’d reacted to the nearness of a man since her husband’s death. She stepped back, unwilling to betray her guarded memories.

       She glanced toward her cottage, surprised by the sight of Catylen kicking off her flip-flops and traipsing toward her. “If you’ll excuse me, my sister’s here.” Glad for a reason to end their conversation, relief replaced the dancing butterflies in her stomach.

       “See you around neighbor.” With a wave, he walked along the shore.

       “Take care.” Her eyes followed him as his pace grew to an easy jog along the water’s edge.

       “Wow. Now that’s one gorgeous male specimen.” Her sister had a penchant for declaring the obvious as though it were an obscure fact.

       “I’m not interested in dating anyone, definitely not a detective.” Her smirk revealed her irritation. “Suppose Mom sent you.” 

       “Who said anything about dating? And we’re all concerned about you.”

       “Where’s Mike and the kids?” She untwisted her sarong. 

       Catylen took a visible deep breath. Her grimaced expression filled with anxiety. “The girls are still at college. They’ll be on summer break soon. Mike…” She paused as though she’d thrown on the brakes and swerved to avoid a cat in the road. Jezzica knew her sister well and didn’t push.

       From a distance, the sisters could have been mistaken for twins, even though Catylen was older by eight years and three months. Their chocolate velvet hair pulled back in ponytails, and large sunglasses covered more than their brown eyes, the same rich brown as their hair. To most observers, it might have seemed the sisters were out enjoying a delicious summer day. The hurt well hidden, as they walked in silence toward the cottage.

       The seaside home held many magical memories of childhood summers. Set in a row of similar houses, it bore the telltale wrinkles of age. The blue that once gave it a presence as it overlooked the crashing waves had weathered to gray. The white trim bordering the window had aged to a softer gray. Curiously, the gray on gray gave the cottage a perfect ambiance, as though nature held an opinion about the way it should look—proven right by the passing of years.

       Jezzica climbed the wooden steps and removed her shoes before going inside the cottage. Catylen mimicked the habit learned early in their childhood, once again kicking off the sandals she had reclaimed before clambering up the stairs. 

       “There’s a jar of raspberry sun tea on the deck. I need to shower off this sunblock.” Jezzica didn’t linger for an answer. She needed the refuge of warm water to drown out the pain that longed for a place of solace. The spray mixed with her tears as she clutched her hands to the tiled wall to remain upright. Sobs escaped she never even knew existed, before cold steel in a stranger’s hand altered her destiny. “God, why? Why, Geoff? Why in such a brutal way?” The temperature of the water grew tepid. She wrapped a towel around her soaked, unwashed hair. Then grabbed her robe from the hook with intentions of going downstairs, of being polite. In the bedroom, she burrowed her way under the covers and succumbed to the sweet embrace of sleep.

       The whine of the door forced her awake. “Hey, lady, wake up.” Catylen moved near the bed.

       Jezzica rubbed her eyes and blinked at the shadows casting an amber glow on the bedroom walls. “Seriously? I slept all afternoon?” She covered her mouth to stifle a yawn.

       “Try all afternoon and night. It’s morning.” Catylen chuckled. “Get up. I’ll make breakfast.” She softly closed the door behind her. 

       Dressed, Jezzica pursued the aroma of fresh brew mixed with the sweetness of maple syrup. “I need caffeine.” She filled a mug and settled on a cushioned chair at the table. “I didn’t intend to desert you yesterday. It helped me rest, having you here.” No doubt Caty’s being there brought her comfort. But her ability to sleep came from pure exhaustion.

       Catylen served a plate of fluffy pancakes to her sister and barely put her bottom in the chair when she sprung back up and retrieved the mug she’d left on the counter. “It might help you to get out. I mean other than days on the shore, staring at the waves.”

       It was obvious their mother had sent Catylen to check on her. “I’m sure Mom’s worried. Serenity Cove is merely a summer place in her eyes.” She took a bite, and the sweetness of maple caressed her taste buds. “You inherited Mom’s cooking gene.”

       “You’re living here?” She filled her mouth and blotted a drop of stickiness off her chin. “Either I’m hungry, or these are delicious.” Catylen sipped the dark liquid over the rim of her mug.

       Jezzica plopped her plate in the sink and refilled her colorful Fiestaware mug. “I sold the house in April Springs.” She held her breath, waiting for her sister’s retort.

       Catylen sat up, wide-eyed, as though questioning her sister’s sanity. “You sold your home? You loved that place. You micromanaged every detail during its construction.” 

       “I tried to stay there. I wanted to keep Geoff close. It kept the wounds raw and painful.” She pulled the band from her hair and let it tumble down her back. “I hope the new owners fill the house with children and laughter. That’s what I had envisioned.” She had even designed a matching playhouse in the backyard. The house had represented her hopes and dreams for a family—before destiny intervened. For reasons unknown to her, God chose differently.

       Her sister began rinsing dishes. “I worry about you, here alone with only morbid thoughts for company.”

       “It’s not like that. Yesterday.” She closed her eyes, needing strength to share the truth with her sister. “There are days I descend into a dark abyss, and it’s difficult to climb out.” She scooted her chair back, handing the dirty mug to her sister. 

       “I’d like to show you something. I’ve been avoiding the guaranteed arguments once the family finds out.” Her parents liked to share their life experiences. They hadn’t understood people, even one’s children, had to find their own way.

       Catylen wiped the counter and dried her hands before leaving the towel folded next to the sink. “Sounds mysterious. What is it?”

       Jezzica slung her denim bag over her shoulder. “Let’s take your car. I’ll show you.”

       The sisters blinked, shading their eyes at the brightness of the spring day with summer stealthily moving in. 

       “Is it too far to walk?” Catylen looked around as though to figure out her sister’s secret.

       “You remember Main Street?” Jezzica slid on sunglasses.

       “We spent every summer here. Down the road and around the bend.” Catylen matched her stride to her sister’s. “Do you have many days like yesterday?” The concern in her voice said more than her words.

       “Fewer. Being in Serenity Cove helps.” She put on the hat she carried in her hands. “I’m uncertain what triggered it.” It was her reaction to Zack—the physical response to another man had felt like a betrayal.

       “I envy what you had with Geoff.” Catylen’s thoughts seemed to have drifted. 

       “There are days my total focus is on revenge. When will the detectives capture the killers? They haven’t even turned up any suspects. Why don’t they do their job?”

       “Vengeance is best left in God’s hands.” Catylen stopped and shook the sand out of her jeweled flip-flops.

       “God’s not a subject I’m good at these days. I give myself a pep talk about how life continues. Then I think about Geoff or see a reminder of him, and I can’t find a reason to breathe.”

       Catylen put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Let’s talk about something else. Where are we headed?”

       “To show you my attempt at moving forward.” Seeking change wasn’t going well. If only she could find life’s gear lever.