Home > What She Found

What She Found
Author: Emerald O'Brien

Chapter One

 

 

“Bonnie is dead,” Cassy says, wind whipping through her curly blonde ringlets. She leans her hip against the railing of the creaky wooden front porch. “But her spirit lives on with us!”

She raises her wine glass, the red remnants from our long chat swirling at the bottom.

Liz raises her glass, and it’s full. She hasn’t taken a sip since we’ve been out here, Arland’s insensitive quip still likely on her mind. “To Bonnie.” She pushes her hair from her short, shiny bob out of her face and glances from Cassy to me. “May she rest in peace, and may we continue to be grateful for the gift she gave us before she passed.”

I push my thin, brown hair from my face and swallow hard. It’s never gotten easier to talk about Bonnie. Even mentioning her brings a lump to my throat.

“We should do this before it gets too bad out here,” Cassy says, her words lost in the wind.

Squinting out into the dark fields and forest surrounding our rental in the countryside, I try to feel your presence, Bonnie. Through the damp, cold winds, I ache to feel your warm hand on mine. To feel your presence standing with us just one more time.

But that’s a lie.

Once will never be enough.

“Tabbie?” Liz asks in a meek tone. Her eyes, long lashes, glossy with tears, stare into mine, and I swallow back the lump in my throat, struggling for breath against the grief and whistling winds.

Cassy rests her warm hand on my back, and Liz grabs my free hand as I raise my glass.

“To Bonnie,” I choke out.

It’s the best I can do. I’ve been trying my best to be here, present, with my dear friends, but with everything that’s happened to me—the people I’ve lost—it’s hard to escape my own thoughts.

We tap our glasses together as a banging comes from the door beside us, making us jump. Wine from Liz’s glass splatters against the porch, staining the wood a bright red.

Connor presses the side of his freckled face against the window. “Game’s about to start. You ladies in?”

 

 

I’m lost, alone amongst my closest friends.

They insisted I come on this trip—that I shouldn’t be alone—but fail to understand that loneliness can settle into every cell of one’s being despite surroundings or company.

Once four couples, our group now has only two. Liz and Arland. Cassy and Matt.

Connor and I are singles again, and his friend Wesley is the first outsider we’ve invited on one of our traditional getaways. Connor’s freckled arm brushes up against mine as he leans toward me once more, dealing out the cards. I never sit beside Connor. Derek always grabbed the spot beside the man he said made him laugh the hardest, and I’d always take his other side.

It’s a reminder Derek isn’t here—everything is.

A card from the new deck slides across the hand-crafted wooden table and off the edge. It matches the rest of the homemade furniture in the vacation house Liz and Arland rented this summer.

“Hey, buddy,” Matt chuckles from his seat across the table, bending at the side to pick up the card and waving it in front of Connor’s face. “You new to shuffling?” His round features and tight-lipped grin stand out against the harsh overhead lamp as light rain patters against the windows behind me.

A few of them chuckle as Cassy leans in toward Matt, her partner since high school. That was before any of us knew her. She whispers something in his ear, her curly blonde natural ringlets covering half his face, and his smile fades. He pulls away, leaning across the table and handing the card back to Connor. He holds on to the card as Connor tries to pull it away.

“One more of those,” Arland says, his deep voice filling the large kitchen, “and you’ll lose your dealing privileges.” He tucks one hand in his jean pocket and scans the table, towering over all of us at six-foot-four, before returning to the counter.

“Yeah, yeah.” Connor smirks and swipes the card away from Matt, adding it back to the pile and shuffling. Instead of dealing, he scratches his fingers through his red hair and leans in toward me. “So, Tabbie? Wes said he’ll bring your boxes of wine to the car for ya before we leave tomorrow, ‘kay?”

His friend Wesley gives me a small smile from Connor’s other side but avoids eye contact after that. My cheeks are hot, and now I’m sure they’re turning red. Great.

Does Connor think I don’t realize what he’s trying to do—or worse—think I need his help finding another man? Or maybe he sees right through me and knows I’m lonely. Knows it well because he is too. Losing Bonnie was hardest on him.

Cassy leans over from my other side and whispers, “He’s cute, right?”

I shrug and give her a small smile as she sits back, her lilac perfume still lingering, calming me. She’s worn the same one since college, and I can’t smell a lilac bush without thinking about her.

Matt pushes himself away from the table, and the wooden chair shrieks across the hardwood floor over the music. Cassy stares down at her cards until he steps away, and then her eyes are trained on him, following each step he takes toward the live-edge countertop.

He picks up one of the many bottles of liquor Arland and Liz provided for the group. Cassy rubs her fingers against her thin lips, considering something before turning away, focusing on her cards again.

Arland clears his throat and taps the table. “Anybody else like another one?” He never has to raise his voice; it can be heard over a large crowd—and turn one silent with one word, too.

Connor deals the remaining cards and glances at his empty pint glass. “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

“No, thanks,” Cassy mumbles, picking at her short nails.

Arland stares at Wesley until he lifts his head.

His light green eyes fix on Arland. “Uh, I don’t drink.” His voice is smooth and calm, and as he turns to me, I glance away.

He told us he didn’t drink for the first time when we arrived at our wine-tasting tour. I’d have thought it strange he came for our group’s annual winery weekend but for the fact that, once Connor arrived, he announced he’d invited a friend to come along this time, and no one else seemed surprised. For a moment, I thought it might be someone for him. That he might finally be moving on, until he scrolled through his phone and produced a picture of my blind date, and a surge of embarrassment rushed through me as I stared at a man in blue coveralls with dark hair, light eyes, and a wicked smile that spelled trouble. Why Connor thought a man like that would be interested in me, I can’t understand, except maybe Wesley is doing this as a favor for him. Maybe he owes him, and Connor—classic Connor—called in the favor for someone else.

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