Fall To Pieces, August 8, 2011
Joan resisted the urge to cover her ears as her nephew emitted another whine for his pancakes. She poured a cup of coffee and sat as far from her sister-in-law and the kids as was politely possible.
Propping her chin in her hand, she stared out the window and tried to muster the mental faculties needed to write something coherent. She followed the progress of a cardinal diligently building its nest and the kernel of an idea began to form.
The familiar excitement of character discovery ran through her blood. Perhaps she should change her heroine’s occupation. Maybe make her an ornithologist. She could have her trespass onto private property in search of a rare bird and the hero could be— She blinked as her sister-in-law waved a hand in front of her face.
“Earth to Joanie …”
She shook off her musings and quirked an eyebrow. “Sorry Cyndi, I was thinking of a plot twist—never mind …”
The petite blond laughed. “Guess you were lost in one of those little books you write, huh?”
Joan cringed at her sister-in-law’s choice of words but let it slide. “Yes, I suppose so. Did you ask me something?”
“Uh huh. I was wondering where you went last night.”
Joan frowned. “Went? To bed, same as you.”
Cyndi cocked her head to one side. “Huh, I could have sworn I saw you slipping out the garden door when I got up to use the bathroom …” she shrugged. “No matter, I was half asleep.” She shoveled another bite of pancake into her son’s mouth and then turned her attention back to Joan. “So, what should we do while the boys play golf?”
“Do?” Joan’s mouth went dry at the thought of entertaining her airheaded sister-in-law and her passel of brats.
“Yeah, we’re supposed to meet Hank and Mark for dinner at six but I thought we could do something fun until then.” She giggled. “This is the first vacation we’ve had since the baby was born. I so need girl time, ya know?”
Joan bit her lip to keep from pointing out the obvious. If Cyndi continued to pop out a kid a year, her girl time days were going to be few and far between for the foreseeable future.
“Um, that sounds great but I actually had planned to work until –“she stopped short as Cyndi’s smile faded. Feeling like she’d just kicked a puppy, Joan sighed and shoved her newly found plot points to the back of her mind.
A sudden, sharp pain shot through her head, followed by a shrill ringing in her ears. She shivered and tried to shake off the noise that was rapidly rising to a scream.
Great. Not only would she be ignoring the first appearance of her muse in over a month in order to play tour guide but she’d be doing it with a migraine!
She gulped and forced the words to form on her tongue. “There’s a new playground at Forysth Park and I seem to recall the Jepson Center’s third floor is an interactive children’s museum. Would that work?”
Cyndi clapped her hands and squealed. “Oh that would be marvelous!” She looked at her squawking brood. “Won’t that be fun, angels? Auntie Joanie is going to take you on an outing! We’ll play in the park, and Mama will buy you all ice cream, and …”
The ringing in her ears subsided but the pain moved to a steady throb. Joan rose and backed away from the table. “Uh, I’ll just go grab a shower …”
Cyndi nodded and continued her mindless chatter as Joan made her escape.
An earth shattering wail filled the quiet restaurant. All eyes turned toward the table causing, Joan to slink down into her chair. She glared at her husband who quickly averted his gaze.
She rolled her eyes and took another gulp of wine. What the hell had Mark been thinking? The Olde Pink House was no place to take a bunch of toddlers; tired toddlers at that!
She turned in her chair and discreetly studied the other diners, wishing she could trade places with them. The day would undoubtedly go down in the record books as one of the most miserable experiences of her life and by the looks of things it was going to get far worse before it ended.
Joan pushed her glass away as a wave of dizziness rolled over her. The migraine she’d anticipated never materialized but she’d felt queer all day; an ever present throb at her temples along with chills and outbreaks of gooseflesh despite the humid Savannah weather. She’d of liked to blame it all on a virus contracted by one of the shrieking urchins occupying her house but that wouldn’t explain the growing paranoia.
She took a sip of water and casually looked over her shoulder. Her breath left in a rush of relief as her gaze took in the elegant diners; not one woman with long black hair. Thank God for one small favor!
She turned back toward the table and tried to follow the conversation bravely being continued around and over the voices of the fussy children. Uninterested in the latest tech gadget Hank’s company was developing, Joan let her mind drift. Instead of wandering through the fantasy world of her bird watching heroine, however, her wayward thoughts kept returning to the odd events of the day and the strange woman she’d kept encountering.
From the moment they’d left the townhouse, Joan had been on high alert. Her instincts and the hair standing up at the base of her skull, suggested someone was following them. She’d escorted her charges down the city streets, all the while scanning their surroundings, but she’d seen no one; apart from a woman with jet black hair and over-sized sunglasses strolling about a block behind them and, when their gazes had crossed, she’d waved and entered an art gallery; hardly suspicious.
The strange feeling dissipated and Joan had thought no more about it until they reached the park. She and Cyndi were watching the children play when a woman’s rich laughter drew her eye. A chill ran up her spine as she saw the same dark haired woman a few yards from the playground. She was lying on a blanket catching some rays while a cluster of young men sat flirting with her. The woman sat up, tipped her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose and met Joan’s gaze. The piercing pain behind her eyes returned as the woman wiggled her fingers in a half-hearted wave.
Common sense said the meetings were mere coincidence but the tightening in Joan’s gut, as well as the sudden headache, made her suggest they take the kids for ice cream.
The walk to Leopold’s was uneventful, if the constant herding of rambunctious children were discounted, and Cyndi’s constant prattle soon lulled Joan into a semi attentive state. She was sitting at the table, trying to avoid looking at the ice cream smeared faces of Cyndi’s clan, when the black haired woman came into view. She stopped to chat with a group of young men seated at the sidewalk tables. Joan frowned. There was something vaguely familiar about the woman; something about the way she stood, the cut of her hair …
“Cyndi,” Joan reached over and tapped her sister-in-law’s arm. “Does that woman look familiar to you?”
Cyndi turned and followed Joan’s gaze. She studied the woman for a minute and then shrugged and went back to wiping her children’s sticky hands. “Kind of reminds me of you when we first met, when you wore your hair long.”
Joan snorted and rolled her eyes. Her sister-in-law was nuts. She shared hair color with the woman but so did a million others. Never, not even in her twenties, had Joan been so …, so sexy or so hip.
She said as much to Cyndi and was shocked at her reply.
“What? You, not sexy?” Cyndi laughed. “I don’t know what mirror you look into but I’ve always thought, I mean, God Joan, men love you! Hank said his brother was in a constant state of jealousy when you two first got married. He said ya’ll were party animals and Mark had to beat the men off with a club.”
Shocked, Joan stared at Cyndi. “But that’s, that’s crazy! I’m … I have never given Mark a reason to be jealous. And as for partying, hell, we’re old sticks in the mud. I can’t tell you the last time we went out and I can assure you I never had a crowd of men sniffing around me!”
Cyndi shrugged. “I wasn’t around much then but I know what I saw when I was.” She grinned. “In fact, I always figured you’d poured all of that sexiness into your romances.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “Don’t tell Hank, but I bought one of your books a few months ago. It nearly burned my hands it was so hot. That whole ménage thing—wow Joan, some imagination!” She smirked. “Or is it?”
Joan’s face grew hot. This was why she hated people knowing what she wrote and probably why Mark did too. “Purely fiction Cyndi, I swear.”
She chuckled. “If you say so.”
“I do.” Joan looked at her watch and rose. “It’s close to four. We’d better go home and dress for dinner.”
Cyndi’s words stayed with Joan. Between the innuendo of her sexual experiences and the woman who seemed to be following her, Joan’s thoughts were a tangled mess. She’d tried to talk to Mark while they walked to the restaurant but he’d dismissed her concerns as nonsense; even when she’d pointed out the dark haired woman standing on the opposite side of Reynolds Square.
Perhaps it was nonsense. Savannah was a big city but the historic district wasn’t that large. It was conceivable that she’d run into the same person several times over the course of a day and, contrary to Cyndi’s opinion, the woman looked nothing like Joan; present day self or past.
She propped her chin in her palm and conceded all the day’s weirdness could be attributed to stress; she needed to get in touch with her muse and finish the damn books, then life would go back to normal, whatever that was--
“More wine, ma’am?”
Joan blinked and looked up at the waiter. “Uh …,” what had he asked her?
She shook herself and reeled in her twisted thoughts. “Umm, no, I think I’ve had enou—“
Joan’s mouth went dry as her gaze fell on the glass enclosed patio bar not fifty feet from her table. There could be no dismissing it this time. The black haired woman was following her. One, two, three, even four encounters she could ignore but five? No way was it coincidence. She shoved back her chair and stalked across the dining room, ignoring Mark’s questions.
A gang of male admirers obstructed Joan’s view but as she drew nearer the crowd parted for an instant, allowing Joan to see more of her stalker’s features. The hair on her arms rose as the woman tucked a long strand of thick hair behind her ear, revealing a finely carved profile and creamy white skin.
The straight nose, ending in a slightly tilted tip, the high cheekbone and delicately rounded chin – Joan caught a wavy glimpse of herself reflected in the patio’s glass door. Her lip trembled and shivers began to rack her body.
Feeling like the theme to the Twilight Zone would start at any moment; Joan shoved through the door and rushed toward her apparent doppelganger. Who was she? Better yet, why the hell was she—within feet of her quarry, fear slowed her pace.
Joan sidled toward the animated group, eavesdropping on their conversation.
A tall, handsome blond offered his hand. “I’m Chas Tarlmont and this is my brother Wills. What might you’re name be, gorgeous?”
The woman’s throaty laugh washed over Joan as she slipped closer, coming to stand directly behind the woman.
“How charmin’ ya’ll are, darlin’.” The somnolent drawl was as enticing as the woman herself.
“Excuse me a moment, won’t you?”
Caught off guard, Joan gasped as the woman spun around on her stiletto heels.
“Hello Joan. Finally come out to play with me?” She laughed and stuck out her hand. “I’m Lola Banks.”
I hope you enjoyed What Lola Wants. I'll be back with another twisted tale October 31st and, if you missed any of our previous posts and would like to catch up, you can purchase the Digital Digest Volumes I and II or subscribe to Digital Digest via Kindle and never miss a thing!
Suspense … Southern Style!Copyright © 2011 Rachel Lynne
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.