Karina, 2015

I had hit the job jackpot. I didn't have to open the shop until ten, so most mornings I could sleep in. And being able to walk to the parlor from my house at the end of the street—bonus! I loved this street: the mattress shop, the ice-cream place, the nail salon, and the old-fashioned candy store. I saved up my money and here I am, twenty, on my own street in my own tiny house. My house. Not my dad's. Mine.

The walk to work was only five minutes—not long enough to be interesting. Mostly I just tried to stay out the way of the cars. The alley was wide enough for one pedestrian and one car at a time. Well, a Prius or some kind of small car would be an easy fit; unfortunately, people around here go for big trucks, so most of the time I pinned myself up against the trees lining the alleyway until they passed.

Sometimes I'd create stories in my head, a little bit of excitement before my shift started. That day's story featured Bradley, the bearded man who owned the mattress store on the corner. Bradley was a nice guy, and he wore what I came to think of as his nice guy uniform: plaid shirt and khakis. He drove a white Ford something or other, and he worked even more than I did. I passed him every morning, already at his shop before I started at ten. Even when I worked a double or a night shift I'd see that white truck parked in the back of the alley.

Bradley had to be single. Not because he wasn't sweet or cute, but because he was always alone. If he had a wife or children, surely I'd have seen them at least once in the six months since I'd moved to this side of town, but no. It didn't matter if it was during the day, at night, or on the weekends—Bradley was always alone.

The sun was shining, but not a single bird was chirping. No garbage truck grumbling. Not one person starting their car. It was eerily silent. Maybe that's why Bradley seemed a little more sinister that morning. I looked at him anew and wondered why he combed his white blond hair down the middle, why he thought it was a good idea to expose such a harsh line of scalp. Really, what I wanted to know was where he was going with that rolled up rug in the back of his truck. Maybe I'd seen one too many episodes of CSI but doesn't everyone know that's how you dispose of a body—roll it up in some old carpet and dump it on the edge of town? Just as my imagination was turning Bradley into a serial killer, he gave me the friendliest wave and a smile, a real one. Or maybe he was just that good at being charming and was actually going to—

I nearly peed myself when he called out to me.

"Hey, Karina! Water's out in the whole strip!"

His thin lips turned into a heavy frown as he waved his arms around to show how upset he was. I stopped walking and lifted my hand to cover my eyes from the sun. It was harsh, shining its brightest, even though the air had a little bite to it. Georgia was just so hot. I thought I'd be used to it after a year, but nope. I longed for the cold of those northern California nights. "I've been tryin' to get the water company out here, but no luck so far." He shrugged his shoulders and held up his cell phone as proof.

"Oh no." I tried to mimic his tone of frustration over the water, but honestly, I kind of hoped Mali would shut down for the day. I had barely slept last night, so I could have used another hour, or twenty, of sleep.

"I'll keep tryin' to call them," he offered.

His fingers reached down and touched his longhorn belt buckle. He looked like he was already sweating and when he grabbed the massive rug from the bed of his truck I almost wanted to help him.

"Thanks," I said. "I'll let Mali know."


The Brightest StarsRead this story for FREE!