Raina jerked her head from the pages of the journal when the back door opened and the laughter and hubbub of conversations drifted out from the house. After a quick glance over her shoulder, she ducked underneath the staircase in the backyard. She clutched her deceased grandfather’s journal to her chest and hoped Uncle Martin would go back inside when he saw the empty yard.
She turned off the light on her cell phone and slipped it into her pocket. She’d waited two years to find this treasure, so a few more minutes would be a breeze. The damp fog rolling in from the San Francisco Bay made the recent injury on her knee ache.
The wind shifted, and acrid smoke and snippets of Uncle Martin’s conversation drifted downwards. “…New Year’s Eve dinner…liver…humane.” The discussion with the butcher became more technical and Raina’s attention drifted off.
Sometimes Chinese New Year could be just as annoying as Christmas with everyone wanting to appear outwardly benevolent. Who cared how the cow was slaughtered? Dead was dead. Absolution shouldn’t come in the form of loose change clanging against the collection box during holidays or how a cow was treated at his death.
Footsteps came down the stairs, drowning out the rest of the conversation. Dust showered on Raina with each thudding step. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear the grit from her eyes. She felt like a naughty child instead of the grown woman she was, but a retiree with too much free time was the worst kind of busybody.
The last thing she needed going into Chinese New Year were uncomfortable questions about Ah Gong’s secret family in China. As if she knew why or how her grandfather was able to keep this skeleton for fifty years. At the moment, she wanted to know how his journal ended up in her older sister’s house.
Raina shifted her cold bottom, but it only increased the pins and needles sensation. Geez, why didn’t the man get on with it? He must be sitting on the steps, just on the other side of where she huddled. She could imagine the cigarette dangling from his mouth and bobbing in time to his words.
Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and she saw the outline of the lawn furniture stacked in one corner with plastic covers over them. What she wouldn’t give to pull one of the chairs out.
Chinese superstition held that anything a person did during this critical period prior to the celebration for the New Year was an omen of things to come. If this superstition were true, then Raina had a year of skulking in cold, dark places to look forward to. Wonderful.
Another minute ticked by. Uncle Martin shifted, and dust rained down between the cracks again. Raina covered her mouth with one hand to muffle her sneeze. The silence stretched on. This was ridiculous. Were they trying to out wait each other?
She waited a few more minutes and crawled out from underneath the staircase—only to find Uncle Martin looking straight at her with an expectant smile. The single naked bulb at the stoop did little to illuminate the foot of the stairs. His face was half hidden by shadows. Throw in the swirling fog and cloying cigarette smoke, and this could be a spooky encounter if Raina hadn’t known the seventy-year-old man her entire life.
Uncle Martin wasn’t technically an uncle. He was married to her grandmother’s cousin at one point, but they were divorced by the time Raina was born. Strangely, it was the cousin who disappeared from their lives and the ex-husband that hung around the family.
“I thought you were behind the apple tree,” Uncle Martin said.
Raina hugged the journal across her chest as if the flimsy book were a shield. The hair on the back of her neck stood at attention. It sounded as if Uncle Martin was aware of her nefarious activity and sought her out.
“Should I be concerned we have another ninja in the family?” he asked, the laughter in his voice grating on her nerves.
“No, I wouldn’t think of intruding on Po Po's fantasy.” Her grandma was notorious for her inventive costumes.
He chuckled. “What do you have there? That looks like one of your grandfather’s old journals. I don’t understand why people want to record what happens in their lives.”
She gave him a noncommittal tight smile, the kind one gave to a talkative passenger on a bus to discourage further conversation without being outright rude. “I better go back upstairs. It’s almost time for Lila to open presents.”
“Where’s your Po Po? I’m surprised she’s not at her great-granddaughter’s birthday party.”
He flicked the cigarette butt into the darken yard, and slipped a new one in his mouth, his lips tightening around the cylinder. His hand screened the wind while the other hand clicked on the lighter.
She plucked the lighter from his hands and slipped it into her pocket. “One is plenty, Uncle Martin.”
He slipped the cigarette back into the pocket of his sweater. “You’re starting to act like your grandma.”
Raina smiled. There was no better compliment. “Po Po should be back for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Her best friend had an outpatient procedure.”
Bonnie Wong, or Po Po as Raina had always called her maternal grandmother, was popular among the local retirees and ate marriage proposals for breakfast. There weren’t too many seventy-five-year-olds with her energy or full set of teeth.
“Raina, I need your help. When is Bonnie coming back to San Francisco?” Uncle Martin asked again.
“I just told you. Po Po will be back before the end of the week.”
Uncle Martin tugged at the collar of his sweater, the wobbly loose skin on his throat spilling over the fabric. “Oh, right.” He took a deep breath. “I need you to convince your grandma to go out on a date with me.”
Raina’s eyes widened until she felt like a bug-eyed toad. She’d never been asked to play matchmaker before. If it were up to her, she would run a background check on each and every suitor. “How come you don’t ask her yourself?” she asked, stalling for time. Her grandma would never forgive Raina for her interference. “You, of all people, should know she is perfectly capable of making her own decisions.”
“Bonnie didn’t like the idea.” Uncle Martin frowned, staring over Raina’s shoulder as if remembering past rejections. “Look, she trusts you. You're the only one she asked to clear out her husband's stuff. You can convince her.”
His faith in her influence stood on quicksand. Things had been rocky between Raina and her grandmother since their Christmas blow-up on the interpretation of lying.
He didn't need to know cleaning out the attic was Po Po's passive-aggressive punishment because Raina “lied by omission.” How was she to know her promise to her dying grandfather would lead to the role of confessor for his infidelity? Then again, maybe Raina misunderstood the entire thing. After all, she wasn’t a mind reader.
“I am Switzerland. Totally neutral when it comes to my grandmother's love life,” Raina said. Rumor had it Uncle Martin had money of his own, but he didn’t have the vigor to match her grandma nor did he have the calming personality that could temper Po Po’s razzle-dazzle. “She doesn't comment on the men I date and I extend the same courtesy to her.”
“Fate can be such a shyster. I had to fall in love with the woman who was engaged to my best friend.” His mouth twisted into a grimace. “I cared for my ex-wife. And I tried to make our marriage work, but sometimes you only fall in love once in a lifetime and everyone else pales by comparison.”
Raina’s eyes softened. Was this the reason Uncle Martin stayed close to the Wong family all these years? How come she never felt like this about anyone? Well, she did have passion like this once, but Matthew didn’t want her. “I don’t know…”
“It’s now or never. I can’t spend the rest of my life waiting. My liver is failing. Who knows how many years I have left? And with what time I do have, I want to show your grandma a good time.”
Raina gave him a sideways glance. Yuck! There wasn't enough bleach in the world to scrub away the image of Uncle Martin doing the Hokey Pokey with Po Po.
“Just put in a good word for me. Get Bonnie and me in the same room. I will take it from there. Please, Raina, I could make your grandma happy,” Uncle Martin said, the words tumbling out now that he got over the difficult part.
Raina shook her head. No way was she getting involved. If she kept another secret from her grandma, it would be the end of their relationship. The truth always had a way of coming out.
“What can I do to get you to help me?” Uncle Martin asked.
“Sorry, there’s nothing I need so desperately that would make me want to interfere with my grandma’s love life.”
“I can tell you the truth about what happened in China in nineteen sixty-two.” He nodded at the journal in Raina’s hands. “Stuff that might not be in there.”
Raina froze, turning her head like a puppet to stare at the elderly man who had been a benign uncle to her until this evening. Her deceased grandfather had acquired a secret family in nineteen sixty-two. At his death, he had left three million dollars in Raina’s custody for their upkeep. This secret had dictated her life for two years.
“What do you know?” she said through numb lips.
He wagged his index finger. “Na-ah. Not until you get me a date with Bonnie.”
Before Raina could continue her conversation, the back door clicked opened. Her sister, Cassie, peered out into the backyard. “There you are, Rainy. It's time for the birthday cake.”
Uncle Martin got up, brushing dirt off his pants. “Just think about it. This could be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship.” He chuckled as if he made a world-class joke.
Raina slid a sideways glance at a laughing Uncle Martin by the grouping on her right. Next to him stood a tall distinguished man with a round gut that would make a potbelly pig jealous. Mom sailed in from the kitchen with a platter of goodies and the men immediately shifted to welcome her into the group.
All the designer furniture was pushed up against the walls, leaving a clear space in the middle of the great room. The younger children had been relegated to the den with the nanny hours ago. As the brigade of wine and beer exchanged hands, everyone spoke over the person next to them, so the room clamored like a broken bell. This was turning out to be some two-year-old birthday party.
Cassie snapped her fingers in front of Raina’s face to get her attention. “What are you looking at?” She turned around, and her sleek black hair fanned out behind her. The lights bounced off the gloss like liquid mercury. Raina would willingly give up a molar for a mane like that.
Mr. Potbelly reached over and squeezed their mother’s waist. Mom’s favorite dating advice to her daughters comprised of pumping men up with food to ensure they didn’t stray too far from home, which never made sense since their dad had been a health nut. Apparently she’d found someone who didn’t mind being pumped.
“Who is the man with Mom?” Raina asked.
“Do you remember Hudson Rice, Uncle Martin’s nephew? He moved back from L.A. last year to take over the family business. It was the only way Uncle Martin could retire,” Cassie said.
Raina did a double take, trying to reconcile the overweight man with the fit playboy in her memory. The thinning black hair held more streaks of gray. Time had blurred much of the Eurasian features, but the ice blue eyes still flashed with a wry humor she remembered from her childhood.
Cassie smirked. “He didn’t age well, huh? I heard it’s from partying too much.”
“Nobody really ages well. I'm surprised Hudson has gained so much weight. He used to be a marathon runner.” Was this Raina’s future staring at her? Maybe she should add weights to her routine. Rail-thin with a head of curly black hair like a dandelion puff, she didn’t need a daily run, but without the endorphins, she couldn’t guarantee her family’s safety within spitting distance.
Cassie’s mouth tightened as if she took personal offense. Their relationship was touch and go ever since Raina had refused to pay off her sister's credit cards last year. “I’m aging well and so is Mom.”
Raina averted her gaze, glancing down at the wineglass in her hands. At thirty, of course her sister was “aging well” compared to someone in his late forties. And their mother was a socialite, flitting around the City like a butterfly. This kind of living sure could age someone. “Is Mom dating him?”
“I hope so. He's Uncle Martin's heir. And besides, how cool is it that Mom is dating a younger man?”
Raina glanced at Hudson again. Just because he would inherit the family business didn’t mean he was financially solvent, especially since his living depended on Chinese faith and superstition. “I’m surprised Mom has taken up with a reformed player.”
“I think it’s cool she gets to tame the bad boy.”
Raina raised an eyebrow. How bad could Hudson Rice be when he couldn’t even see his toes?
Cassie continued, “Changing topics. Why did Po Po want you to clear out Ah Gong’s stuff from the house? “
Raina licked her lips. She had to tread carefully so her sister wouldn’t stalk off in a huff before she had time to ask about the journal. “I don't think Po Po can handle going through his stuff. Even though he has been dead for two years, it's painful to close the door on fifty years of marriage.” More so when he was a cheating rat. “If you’re feeling left out, you’re more than welcome to come help me.”
“Is she planning to sell the Victorian? Why did she buy a condo in Gold Springs?”
“I don't know.”
“Come on, you must know something. She moved into the dinky little town you call home. I don’t understand why anyone would want to leave the City.”
“I really don't know,” Raina said, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. Gold Springs wasn't dinky. “Po Po is a grown woman. Why would I question what she does?”
“I can't afford to have Mom and Win move in with us. It's not fair for grandma to sell the house from underneath them. Why don’t you buy the house for Mom with the money Ah Gong left you? It’ll be the perfect solution for your ill-gotten gains.”
Raina took a deep breath to keep from exploding. Why did everyone assume she had done something underhanded because she inherited three million dollars while all the grandchildren had gotten one dollar each, including her sister? “It's Po Po's house. She can do whatever she wants with it. A Victorian with a garage in Pacific Heights costs over three million dollars.”
“Po Po can give you a discount. You wouldn't be so laissez-faire if you were still living in the family home.”
“Which is kind of the point. Mom is in her fifties and she never held a job. She ignores all her responsibilities, and we both know she’s more of a teen than our brother. Don’t you find shopping and lunch dates to be a frivolous existence?”
Cassie stiffened. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Raina groaned inwardly. Talk about open mouth and insert foot. Her sister had followed in their mom's footsteps—marrying right out of college to an older man, forgoing the chance at a career to be a housewife.
“Nothing. That's what I'll end up with at the rate I'm going. No career. No husband. No house. No kids.”
“Oh, honey.” Cassie was all smiles now. “Can't you get another engineering job? You don't need a man if you can support yourself.”
Raina suppressed her snort at the irony. “I like grad school, and I still have hopes of being Indiana Jones someday.”
“He was an archaeologist. Even I know there’s a difference between an archaeology and history degree.”
Raina ignored the barb. So what if she wasn’t a particularly enthusiastic grad student, but the college provided full health benefits which she couldn’t afford otherwise. “Talking about history”—she pulled the battered book from her back pocket—”this journal documents Ah Gong’s time in China during the Great Leap Forward.” The gold leaf-embossed Chinese character for longevity on the cover gleamed in the light.
“Where did you find it?”
“Taped behind the vanity mirror in the master's bathroom.”
Her sister raised an eyebrow. “What were you doing in my bedroom?”
“The hall bathroom had a line. I didn’t think you would want me to pee on your carpet.” Raina shook the journal to re-focus their conversation. “Do you have any idea how this got there? Can I keep this?”
“I don't see why you're so excited. You probably don't even know anyone he mentions in it. And no, I have no idea how it got in my bedroom.”
Raina slipped the journal back into her pocket. She was used to her sister’s lack of interest in anything outside her restrictive world. “This is history. Our history.”
“If you say so.” Cassie looked over Raina's shoulder, stretching out her hands. “Come to Mommy.”
Raina turned to see her brother-in-law approaching with her niece. Mom and her friends watched the birthday girl with beaming smiles.
Lila clapped her hands and leapt out of her dad's arms. “New Rain. New Rain.”
Raina caught the two-year-old before she could tumble to the ground. Her niece always called her by the literal translation of her Chinese name. Lila wiggled in her arms.
“Careful, Raina.” Cassie held out her hands. “Come to Mommy, sweetie.”
Lila ducked her head and clung to her aunt.
“Why don't you visit with the rest of the family? I can watch her,” Raina said, hoping to soften the blow. It wasn't her fault her stay-at-home sister needed a nanny to watch her only child.
Cassie opened her mouth to argue, but before she could say anything, Blue appeared. He leaned in and kissed Raina on the top of her head.
Raina supposed Blue, whose real name was Sebastian Luc, was her boyfriend. Her uncle had introduced them two months ago. He was also a good friend of Cassie’s husband, which was strange since Benson usually didn’t have time for someone who didn’t help him get ahead.
“Today is my lucky day. I get to have three beautiful ladies all to myself,” Blue said.
Cassie rolled her eyes.
Blue tickled the child’s chin. “And what kind of birthday cake did you get, little pony?”
Lila let out a loud neigh, causing other people in the room to look in their direction. The child ducked her head onto her aunt's shoulder at the unexpected attention. Raina rubbed her small back, smiling.
Blue laughed. “I see someone has been practicing.”
“Now, Lila, we need to use our words,” Cassie said. “You shouldn't be encouraging her.” She grabbed Lila and stalked over to join their mom.
The smiled slipped off Raina's face. So much for their sisterly relationship. Rocky would be a nice way to describe it, but arctic might be more accurate. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Her life was fine without her big sister's approval.
CHAPTER TWO – A FRENCH K-I-S-S
After Lila opened her gift, Raina drifted away from the crowd to gather her purse and jacket from the hall closet. Her head pounded and her shoulders were tight. Being around her large extended family was normally stressful enough, but now that she was also the black sheep, she would rather have kidney stones. At least with the medical condition she would have an excuse to get snappish instead of biting her tongue at every other conversation. But the squeal from Lila when she opened Raina’s gift had made it all worth it.
“Taking off already? Can I give you a ride home?” Blue said from behind her. “I don’t really want to stay without you.”
Raina spun around. “No, thank you. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt your conversation with Benson.” She clutched the jacket in front of her, much to her chagrin at being caught sneaking off rather than leaving him behind. Her boyfriend had been her brother-in-law’s friend long before they started dating.
His gold-flecked eyes searched hers, softening at whatever he found. He pulled her close for a hug, resting his chin on the top of her head. “I’ll walk out with you. I’m done here, too.”
Raina's body melted at his touch. She closed her eyes to breathe in the male scent—an odd mix of Downy laundry detergent and sawdust. His large hands rubbed her shoulders until the tension disappeared.
“Call or text me when you get home so I know you're safe,” Blue whispered.
Raina pulled back to study his face. No argument about how dangerous it was for a woman to walk around in the dark by herself? Her last boyfriend would have argued with her until the sun came up, and then flung her on his shoulder to make sure she got home safe.
She leaned forward and gave him a kiss on his cheek. “Good night,” she whispered. Should they move to the next level or make a clean break? They enjoyed each other's company, but living two hundred miles apart complicated things. And moving back to San Francisco wasn't on her radar.
They left the house together and parted ways. The short walk was cold and foggy, and after a year of living in Gold Springs, she was no longer used to the bay area weather. By the time she entered the BART station, Raina regretted declining the ride. She knew all about lying in beds she made, which included frozen toes at the moment and being the black sheep.
The platform for the BART station was crowded. A school of sardines had more breathing room. No one made eye contact, preferring to stare at their noses or their phones. Who knew what crazies one would attract by showing a flash of humanity?
Raina inched forward until she stood in front of the painted yellow square on the floor, indicating where the train doors would slide open upon arrival. While the doors had never closed on her, she secretly feared they would, just like the elevator when one was half a second too slow.
She bounced on the balls of her feet for something to do. The journal tucked in her purse burned her imagination. She wanted nothing more than to whip it out to devour the pages. But one didn’t tune out in a crowded subway station.
The bright headlights of the approaching train could be seen in the dark tunnel. The noise increased on the platform—the train rattling the rail, passengers gathering their belongings, and the air vibrating as it was pushed forward by pounds of speeding steel.
The strap of Raina’s purse jumped on her shoulder. She snatched at it instinctively and turned to see someone yanking at it from behind her. The tug-of-war lasted half a heartbeat, and the mugger jerked the strap out of her hands, leaving her palms stinging. As he turned away from her, his sharp elbow rammed into her side, bumping her off balance.
Raina stumbled backwards and her hands grasped air. She fell onto the train tracks, the impact knocking the breath out of her, and she lay on the rail—stunned.
The mugger must have heard her distress. He paused in his escape to stare at her and his mouth opened, causing the scar on the edge to grow longer. Whatever he said was lost in the hubbub. As if from the end of a long tube, Raina caught a muffled “sorry.” The crowd closed in and he disappeared from view.
The rail vibrated against her back. As Raina scrambled to her feet, a wave of dizziness washed over her and she swayed. She bit her tongue and focused on the pain. She could play the swooning princess once she got out of here.
A woman on the platform screamed, pointing at the approaching train in the tunnel. What a genius.
A man in a pinstripe suit dropped to his stomach on the platform, reaching for her. “Grab my hands.”
Raina’s fingers brushed the man’s outstretched hands. She jumped, and he grabbed onto her hands. Her legs scrabbled against the vertical wall, moving up inches at a time.
Time slowed, and everything sharpened as if her brain decided to take a snapshot. There was the pinstripe man’s cologne, a woodsy scent with a hint of mint, and the damp on her hands—she didn’t know if it came from her or the man—and the chill of the air rushing toward them.
“The train is coming.” The woman fanned her flushed face. “Oh, I feel faint.”
Another man grabbed the woman and moved her away from the edge of the platform. She collapsed onto her fellow passengers like she was the star of a show.
The woman sat up and pointed. “What is he doing? He’ll get killed!”
The squeal of brakes on metal grated like the screaming woman's high-pitched voice. Another man reached across the pinstripes man to grab Raina’s armpits. Both men heaved and, for a split second, Raina hung in the air, then bellyflopped onto the platform.
Cold air rushed past her. The train glided to a stop six inches from where she lay. She could kiss the dirty floor with the blackened bubblegum patches…once she stopped wanting to throw up.
After thanking the pinstripes man profusely, Raina waved off the need to call for EMT. While the medical technicians would be welcomed, the ambulance bill would give her heartburn months later. There wasn’t much EMT could do for her bruises that she couldn’t do herself. Nope—ice and Tylenol had worked well enough in the past.
It took another hour and a half to answer questions from the BART police and SFPD about the mugging. They promised to call if they recovered her purse or nabbed the mugger, but Raina wasn’t holding her breath.
Raina called her brother for a ride, and Win showed up in twenty minutes. She followed him to his car, the adrenaline from playing chicken with the train rushed out of her. A deflated balloon probably had more air than she did, but she still had to hold it together until she could crawl into bed.
The fog swirled around them, dimming the streetlights and reducing visibility to only a few feet. Whoever thought the thick clouds were romantic hadn’t walked in the damp chill in the middle of the night, bone weary with an ache on the backside. Win drove completely focused on the road.
Why did she put up a fight? It was a cheap purse. Her grandfather’s journal was the only thing of value. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Nothing she could do about it at the moment.
Raina must have dozed off because the next thing she knew, Win was nudging her awake. The windows were dark, so Mom hadn’t left the party yet.
“Sorry for making you leave early,” she mumbled, unbuckling her seat belt.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” her seventeen-year-old brother asked, concern written all over his face.
“Nope. It’s no big deal.”
“Your jeans are filthy, your jacket sleeve is torn, and you’re walking with a limp. I say it’s a big deal.”
Raina focused on keeping her voice steady. “Don’t worry about it. I’m okay.” She got out of the car, not wishing to continue the conversation.
Win opened the front door for her, and they went inside. She was on her way to the guest room when her brother called out.
“Rainy, he…he didn’t rape you, did he?” His voice squeaked in the end, reminding her how young he was.
The gears shifted through the molasses in her brain, and it took Raina a heartbeat to process what her brother was asking. “No, it’s not like that. I got mugged.” She blinked rapidly but wasn't able to stop the tears.
Win enclosed her in a warm embrace. “Shh…it’s okay. You’re home now.”
Raina tried to stop, but soon his sweater dampened beneath her cheek. In what felt like hours later, she regained a semblance of control. She pushed away from him. “Don’t tell Mom. I don’t want her to freak out.”
“How did you get mugged? Wasn’t Blue with you?”
“No, I didn’t want him to drive across town to drop me off. He has to work tomorrow, and his day starts at five in the morning,” Raina said, filling in the story so Blue didn’t look as if he ditched her when it was she who wanted to get rid of him.
Win’s mouth tightened. “Well, that’s a boyfriend’s job. If he can’t see you home, he shouldn’t be taking you out in the first place.”
“Winter Theodore Sun, when did you become my dad?”
“When he told me I was the man of the house at seven. Good night, sis.”
As her baby brother headed up the stairs, Raina blinked at another round of tears threatening to spill out. Win had been seven when their dad died of cancer.
Raina peeled back her eyelids with a groan. The digital display on the alarm clock in the guest room said it was five after seven. She stumbled out of bed and into the hall to grab the ringing phone on the narrow table. “Hello?”
“This is Mom. How come you’re not picking up your cell?”
“Dead battery,” Raina lied. She’d almost forgotten about the mugging incident.
“Is Po Po coming home today? I promised to pick up her favorite dan tat from the Golden Gate Bakery, but I’m busy this morning.”
Raina closed her eyes against the weak light coming in from the window. She didn’t want to talk about her grandma’s favorite egg tart. “Mom? Are you calling me from your room?”
She glanced at her mother’s bedroom door. “I’m coming in.”
“I’m not home right now. Hudson and I are having breakfast.”
Mom’s new boyfriend must be something else to get her out of the house before eleven o'clock. “Can’t you get the dan tats afterward?”
“I’m clear across town. Can you do this teensy little favor for your mom? This will give you a break from hauling those dusty boxes out of the attic.”
Raina grunted. Some break. It would take her longer to drive the three miles than it did to make dinner. Public transportation wasn’t that much faster. Was the Golden Gate Bakery the one with the line out the door that wrapped around the corner? Or was that the Golden Dragon Bakery?
“You're a gem, hon. You saved me two hours.”
Raina hung up and got ready for the day. Now wasn’t the time to examine her mommy issues. She was here to help her grandma clean out her grandfather’s things so Po Po could start the Year of the Monkey off right. Any other family issues would have to take a number.
At first, she had thought the sudden appearance of her grandfather’s journal was a sign to reveal his secret to the rest of the family. She’d carried the burden on her own long enough. But now, she didn't know what to think. If only the mugger had picked another mark.
It took two and a half hours to finish her errands. With Mom’s car in the garage and a driveway too short to fit another, Raina ended up parking two blocks away from the house and making three trips to bring the groceries in. Then she unloaded the food. Not only did the county-wide ban on plastic bags mean toting reusable bags before any shopping expedition, it also meant inspecting them to make sure they were clean afterwards.
Of course, Mom wasn’t home to help. Little things like keeping her family fed were beyond her limited abilities. Raina knew she was wasting too much emotional energy on a situation she couldn’t change. Unlike her brother, she had her cozy apartment in Gold Springs. In the meantime, she’d just have to get through the next few days.
The doorbell rang as Raina folded the last of the reusable shopping bags. She hurried to the front door and peered through the peephole. A man in a bicycle helmet held a clipboard. His messenger bag bulged with packages and letters.
She opened the door. “Can I help you?”
The courier glanced at his clipboard. “Raina Sun?”
Her eyes widened. Was she being served? Who did she piss off recently? “I am she.”
He pointed to a blank spot on the form. “Sign here, please.”
She signed and was rewarded with a small cardboard box. “Who is this from?”
The courier bounced down the stairs and unlocked his bike. “Check the return address,” he called over his shoulder and took off.
Raina glanced at the smudged return address. She couldn't make out anything other than it was from someone in the city. A sense of déjà vu settled over her and her stomach flipped with unease. The last time she'd encountered a package from an unknown sender, it had exploded, covering her from head to toe in pink slime.
She closed the door and returned to the kitchen, gingerly placing the package on the island. The lucky cat clock ticked, its little plastic eyes and tail swaying back and forth to the seconds. She took a deep breath. This was not a repeat of the last time. No one was trying to curse her. With a package knife in her hand, she reached for the box.
The phone rang. A loud piercing cha-ling-a-ling.
Raina jumped and dropped the knife. She abandoned the task and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
All she got was a dial tone. If this was a B-rated horror movie, she was determined not to end up playing the dead bimbo. She returned the phone to the cradle. The silence in the kitchen was deafening. No creaking floorboards. No TV in the background. Her stomach churned at the realization that she was in the old Victorian by herself.
Raina snatched the phone. “Hello,” she barked into the receiver. “Hello.”
It had to be one of the teenage girls who had a crush on her younger brother prank calling. Her hands shook when she returned the phone to the cradle.
Raina swiveled her head, glancing at the hallway that led to the front door. The doorknob rattled. Someone was determined to get into the house.