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Let's get started! Doni's story is below. Georgie's story is at: http://annertan.com/readers-choice-georgie/
P.S. These are rough drafts, so please excuse the typos, grammatical errors, and other rough draft mistakes.
If my mother hadn’t been found shot in the stomach in her private investigation office, I wouldn't have come home.
It was another seventy-degree day when I drove from my little apartment in San Francisco up the coast to my hometown of Cape Mendocino. My last visit was at my step-father's funeral. More at my self-appointed godmother's urging than a sense of familial longing. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, casting a sick gray pallor over the hospital room despite the pale yellow walls. The only sounds in the room were the beeping and whirling machines that kept my mother alive.
As I stood mesmerized by my mother’s still form on the hospital bed, my hands tightened around the foot board. The mother of my memory was a vibrant woman, towering over my five-foot self, and willowy with thick blonde hair. Whereas I had inherited my Chinese father’s black hair and had been on the pudgy side in my childhood. Even now, no matter how much I worked out now, my body liked its padding.
Or at least my mother did twenty years ago. The elderly woman in front of me had a permanent frown in her rail yard of a face. Her body was more shrunken than lush, and the blonde had become a mane of white. The years since my stepfather's death have been hard on her and it showed.
I willed myself to feel something, but there was nothing. There was no sadness, no pain. The anger had disappeared when my stepfather died. Sure, she'd chosen him and my half-sister over me, but that was a long time ago. Water under the bridge according to my therapist. I just felt tired…and numb. The drive had come after a long day in the office, and my manager had screamed at me for a data entry typo from a co-worker. Granted, as an accountant, a single digit could change the course of someone's life, but it wasn't like a gunshot wound.
“Donella?” asked the tentative voice next to me. “Do you feel faint, hon?”
I glanced over at Mom's neighbor. Her name escaped me, so I shook my head.
“Here's your mother's spare keys.” The neighbor held out her hand nervously. “I can't find your sister, and there wasn't anyone else…Do you want me to call a cleaning service for the office?”
I stiffened, stopping the shiver down my spine at the mention of my mom's office. How much blood… I slammed a lid on the thought. “Thank you, Mrs…”
“Beasley. Lotta Beasley,” said Mrs. Beasley. “My son is the town's sheriff. You might want to talk to Max…after you settle in.”
I nodded woodenly and stumbled out of the hospital room. Settle in? I wasn't staying.
In my haste, I didn't see the man on the other side of the threshold. I stepped on his toe and my head rammed into his chest. I would have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed onto my forearms. When I straightened, I suppressed a sigh. Could this day get any worse?
“Max,” Mrs. Beasley said, “This is Donella Lin, Evelyn Marsh's ba…uh…daughter.”
I ground my teeth. Mrs. Beasley was about to say bastard daughter. I couldn't believe the citizens of this town still remembered—and cared—that I was born out of wedlock thirty-six years ago. “Doni,” I mumbled. “I go by Doni.”
I shouldn't have come back. There wasn't anything I could do for my mother. I would only get insulted and shunned like I did in my childhood for being different. For having black hair among those with blonde or brown hair. For having slightly slanted eyes—
“Ms. Lin, can I get you some coffee or tea?” Miles Beasley asked, his face concerned. “You seem to be in shock.”
I shook off his hands and held my hands in front of me. “I'm fine. I just need to go.” Edging around the Beasleys, I backed away from the room. Neither of them moved, but I turned and ran for my car.
The drive to my mother's two-bedroom Cape Cod house was a blur. One moment, I was backing out of the parking spot, and the next I stood in the driveway breathing in the salt air. I couldn't remember if I blew through stop signs or sped. I had no idea which shops were still in business in the small historical downtown.
My hands shook, jiggling the keys, when I opened the front door to let myself in. It had to be from hunger. I refused to believe a woman I haven't seen for over a decade would have this kind of impact on me. After all, I hadn't eaten since lunch. There was a granola bar at the bottom of my purse, but I needed to check on the attic first.
As I made my way up the stairs, I caught glimpses of the ocean through the windows. The steel blue water was tranquil from this angle, but I knew it crashed against the rocks below the cliff.
My steps thudded loudly in the silent house. For a moment, as the door to my attic bedroom swung open, I held my breath as if waiting for my baby sister to pop out from the closet. Of course, there was no chubby cheeked preschooler. The room was just as I’d left it twenty years ago—a twin bed against one wall, a desk next to a dormer window, and a small trunk against the remaining wall. On the walls were the posters of my teen idols. Mom hadn’t even cared enough to come up here to dust.
I jerked up from the bed, my heart pounding, and clutching the sheets. The room was dark with unfamiliar shadows from the dormers of the roof line. I glanced at the digital display on my cell phone. Two in the morning. I’d fallen asleep less than two hours ago.
My head felt thick and groggy from emotion and exhaustion. It took me several heartbeats to realize there was a shuffling noise in another part of the house. No one had mentioned someone else living in my mother’s house. My half-sister had an apartment of her own in the downtown area.
I sprung out of bed and crouched next to it. What if the intruder was the person who shot my mother? I reached underneath the bed for the baseball bat I’d left there when I’d lived here. My fingers connected with the smooth wood, and I exhaled in relief. I might not do too much damage to a big burly man, but he wouldn’t find me easy picking either.
I tiptoed barefoot down the attic stairs, careful to skip the squeaky last step. At the second story landing next to the stairs, I peered over the balusters and squinted at the dark shapes of the furniture in the living room. I held my breath, afraid to alert the intruder.
Something scraped and shuffled but I couldn't tell where the sound was coming from. I would have to go downstairs to investigate further. My hands shook and I tightened my grip on the baseball bat. I wanted nothing more than to race upstairs and throw the covers over my head. This wasn't an option. If I stayed in this position any longer, I would become immobilized. My imagination would increase the size and monstrosity of this intruder. It wasn't courage which made me crept down the stairs, but fear and maybe stupidity.
At the bottom of the stairs, I cocked my head, listening for the sound again. There! A thin squeal from my mother's bay window above the kitchen sink. I followed the sound and gasped at the sight of a man trying to pull himself in. His hands were braced on either side window, and one leg was already in the kitchen sink. My mother's potted herbs were scattered across the counter. With the moonlight behind the intruder and his ski mask, I couldn't see his face, but he could see me.
He froze, and for a fraction of a section, we stared at each other, waiting for the other to disappear. Or at least I did until I remembered the bat and this was my home. I screamed like I was an extra in a battle scene in Braveheart, and ran swung my bat at the intruder.
“Get out! Get out!”
I swung at him with everything I got. With all the anger and frustration from the day before. With all the fear I've kept hidden since the moment I laid eyes on my mother in the hospital bed. With all the resentment and regret. I might not have a chance to make things right between me and my mother.
He must've seen the madness in my eyes. He jerked back and barely got his leg out in time. My bat cracked against the sink. I swung again and got a yelp from the intruder. I must have gotten his fingers holding onto the frame. Bam! Bam! Glass shattered. The bat bounced against the countertop. Herbs went flying. The intruder disappeared from my view. As he ran, his footsteps crunched on the gravel outside on the side yard.
I stared at the battered window and broken glass, willing for him to come back so I could get one more swing at him. The kitchen clock ticked, and as the adrenaline rushed out, my legs collapsed underneath me. I sank to the floor, clutching the bat, and tears blurred my vision.
It took another ten minutes before I could get up to call the police. The dispatcher said someone would be over in the morning now that the intruder was no longer in the house. Apparently, there was only one officer on duty at night and he had to man the station in case a more urgent call came in.
I ground my teeth and hung up. It made sense for a sleepy little town to have one cop on duty during the swing shift but didn't help with the current situation. There was no way I could get back in bed, and I couldn't clean up the kitchen until the police got here to take prints or whatever else they did for a break-in. I doubted the intruder would return tonight, so I wasn't worried about my safety.
I glanced at the kitchen clock. 4 AM. This would give me some time to go through my mother's things in her home office to see if I could figure out what was going on. After all, a shooting and a break-in within twenty-four hours weren’t a coincidence. Someone wanted something from my mother, and he wasn’t afraid to kill for it.
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