Gabby wished Hamilton were with her. Not only because his smooth voice made her all squishy inside, but because he’d know how much weight aluminum beams on the top of a screened-in pool could handle.
The one thing with which Gabby never concerned herself was her weight. Until today. She had above-average height with above-average looks and could play adorable when necessary. She wasn’t fat. She wasn’t chunky either. She was just, well, normal.
The older she got, the more she looked like her mother. She didn’t have her thin bone structure, thanks to a genetic gift from her father, but she had her face, her eyes, and her smile. As her straight lines grew into an hourglass and her bra size began increasing with disturbing frequency, she felt the tinge of living in a motherless world. There was no one to guide her through the inevitable evolution of her body. She was left to fight against the unrealistic social expectations of female beauty on her own. More times than she’d like to admit, she could have used the soothing reassurance of her mother’s voice telling her God made her beautiful just the way she was.
She rolled her eyes. No wonder Logan found so many willing targets. The world had set before him a bevy of young women in desperate need of affirmation about their looks. Even Gabby, who considered makeup a curse inflicted on humanity from the time of the Egyptians, sometimes fell victim to doubts instilled in her as a child when she realized she didn’t resemble any of the dolls with which she played.
But, she couldn’t focus on that right now. Right now, she wished she were tall and thin, like Melanie. Or shorter and thin, like Hamilton. Or small and light, like Emma.
Or not peering out of Logan’s bedroom window at all.
She should be home, whipping up a cake for her father’s surprise birthday party. It wasn’t a big event. Just the two of them. The store didn’t close until nine at night, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to have dinner after ten. Today was a momentous occasion in her dad’s life. He turned fifty. She guessed that was a big deal. All birthdays ending in zero seemed to be. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be fifty. Seemed like a billion years from now. Considering all the mayhem she had endured in her short life, she wasn’t sure another zero-ending number was in her future.
For the past few weeks, Gabby had been bartering her services in order to get her father’s present done in time. When they were cleaning out the garage from damage the hurricane had inflicted, she found an old pocket watch in a box of her mother’s things. On the back was etched something in flourished Italian script and to it was tied a small label, stating it belonged to Gabby’s great-grandfather.
Gabby thought, with her father entering a new decade, time may be on his mind more than when he was in his forties. Plus, it could reconnect him to his wife, her mom. That seemed cool. It also fed a growing obsession in Gabby. Her multiple near-death experiences made her realize how tenuous time was in her life, and only God knew when her personal second hand would stop ticking.
Fortunately, Hamilton’s uncle, Maurice, or Uncle MoMo as they called him, owned an antique shop. He bartered Gabby’s investigative skills to help him find a new location for his store. She scoured Safety Harbor and neighboring towns to find one that better suited his clientele, settling on an old bank near a members-only golf course. The large safe could be used to store his most precious items and its proximity to high-income retirees with money to spare seemed to be the perfect fit. Following her suggestion, his grand opening was scheduled in three weeks, when a major golf tournament graced the local course.
Uncle MoMo tweaked or replaced the delicate gears within the old watch and got it running again. Gabby loved to place it against her ear so she could hear the simple, constant soft ticking inside its brass shell. Growing up in a digital world, she found herself gravitating to older technology, when things were made to last and simple items, like a pocket watch, had its own mechanical heartbeat.
She wished she could pull it from her pocket now and press it against her ear, to help soothe her, but both of her hands were occupied, spread out on either side of her like the tips of wings, helping her balance as she tight roped down the high aluminum structure.
Don’t look down. Just focus on the beam in front of you.
She was still a good twenty steps away from the section where the phones were. The beams farthest away from the connecting grid precariously dipped as she inched forward.
“He’s starting to move,” Missy said from Logan’s window overlooking the pool.
“Then kick him again,” Gabby said.
“Do you think that’s fair?”
“He sent naked pictures of you to his friends. What do you think?”
Missy scowled and huffed back into the room. A second later, Gabby heard a thump and a quiet squeal.
“That should hold him for a while,” Missy said as she returned to the window. “Hurry up and get the phone. I can’t wait to tell all of my friends what a scumbag Logan is.”
Gabby paused, recovering her tentative balance. “Patience is a virtue. Or so I hear.”
She took a few more cautious steps and looked to her right, where both Gabby and Logan’s phones sat in the middle of a square section of sagging screen.
“You should lie down,” Missy said.
“I don’t think so,” Gabby said.
“It will spread out your weight, so it’s not all focused on your feet.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh,” Gabby said. “Is that what those classes are for?”
She looked down past her feet and through the screen to find she was standing above the middle of the pool. “Lie down, huh?”
Gabby asked. “Any idea how to do that from here?”
“I’m guessing you should start by bending your knees,” Missy replied.
“It was a rhetorical question.”
Gabby tried to fight her vertigo as she started to bend her knees, holding her arms out on either side, flapping them up and down like a teeter-totter, trying to maintain balance.
“Bend down a little more,” Missy said.
“I don’t need a play-by-play. “Gabby was all the way down, her knees bent, her butt resting against her right calf, but she wasn’t lying down and she didn’t know how to get there.
“Lean forward,” Missy said. “Reach for the next beam in front of you.”
“I know!” Gabby said.
“Then do it.”
“You’re so irritating. What did Logan see in you?”
“Knowing him, he never made it past my boobs. Now hurry.”
Gabby’s legs wobbled as she moved her head forward, her arms stretching out in front of her like she were diving off a high dive. Her motion was painfully slow, like a collapsing wet clay statue.
“How long is this going to take?” Missy said. “It’s almost ten and I have to be home soon.”
Gabby tumbled and fell forward, her chest slamming into the aluminum beam, her arms snagging a connecting cross bar, the entire porch structure shaking around her.
“Did you say ten?” Gabby asked. “My dad gets home by ten.”
“Exactly. It’s a school night,” Missy said. “My parents are bad asses. They don’t play around, so can you move it along?”
“Your gratitude is inspiring,” Gabby said.
“Yeah, yeah. Can you reach the phones or not?”
Gabby looked to her right, her hand outstretched. She wasn’t even close.
C’mon, I can’t be late…
Gabby’s options were limited. She was lying on a flexible aluminum frame not intended to be laid upon. She felt like she was facedown on a frozen lake in early spring, the thinning ice cracking under her, except the water was chlorinated and fifteen feet below.
“Don’t just lay there,” Missy said. “Do something.”
“I did. I stopped Logan from forcing himself on you. Now, shut up, I’m thinking.”
Gabby was thinking, all right. She was thinking about the cake she didn’t yet make and the icing she hadn’t spread on it afterward. She was thinking about the disappointment and worry that would appear on her father’s face when he came home from a long day at the hardware store to find his troublesome daughter missing from the house once again. She was wondering how to save this one and only day her dad turned fifty from becoming just another in a series of hours with his daughter he’d rather forget.
And she was wondering why the hell the cell phones couldn’t be closer.
She wasn’t going to solve any of her problems by remaining motionless on top of the screened-in pool. She’d have to do something. At least that would shut Missy up for a few minutes.
She looked to her feet and realized her body lay across three crossbeams. One at her toes, one at her chest and one across her outstretched arms. If she could keep her body extended, pressing down on those crossbeams, she just may be able to roll over once and be within snagging distance.
Just like rolling out of bed.
Gabby looked down at the pool below, its dark water shimmering from the crescent moon, its depth indistinguishable without its pool light showing its curves and slopes.
Gabby held her breath and tightened her arms and legs. Pushing her weight down on the crossbeams, she rolled into the middle of the sagging screen. When she opened her eyes again, the pool still flickered hints of the moon and the interior of the house was equally tranquil.
“You did it!” Missy said. “Toss me the phones and let’s get out of here!”
Logan’s phone was just below her hip on her right side. Gabby eased one of her hands from the top crossbeam and slid it across the rough grid of the screen until it found the edge of Logan’s portable porn stash.
“I got it,” Gabby said, holding it up.
Then there was a creak. A crack. A rip. And Gabby plummeted through the screen.
Tomorrow – Chapter Four
This novel follows up almost immediately after the events which unfolded in Kneel & Prey and Lost & Found. If you haven’t read the first novel, download it for free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this free sample and let me know what you think in the comments.