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Chapter 1: The Premonition
Chapter 2: The Lightning
Chapter 3: The Inheritance
Chapter 4: The Unexpected Divvy
Chapter 5: The Library
Chapter 6: The Jingle
Chapter 7: The Shed
Chapter 8: The Judge
Chapter 9: The Break-In
Chapter 10: The Plan
Chapter 11: The Cut & Run
Chapter 12: The Rescue
Chapter 13: Posted next Monday…or you can buy the book here or in a bookstore near you.
February 20, 1992 – 11:00 A.M. –Post Office – Benton, CA
Afternoon, Mrs. Bott…” the postman said flatly. He had about as much personality as white paint. Amber had never seen him smile once in all the years she had lived in Benton.
“Mr. Hail; you’re looking well today.”
“Hmm,” he grunted. “Got another one of them funny little packages fer me ta send do ya?”
“I do. How’d you guess?” Amber replied sweetly. She smiled and winked at the postman. Grouchy as he always was, she knew he liked her teasing nature and if he didn’t, she still enjoyed doing it anyway; it was part of who she was.
“Oh…I spoze after ten years, perty-near every week, one oughta catch on. I ain’t dumb, ya know?
“…course not Mr. Hail.”
“Used ta keep me up at nights fer the longest time thinkin’ bout’ them blinkin’ little brown boxes you mail!”
“But not anymore?” Amber asked politely as she opened her purse and started digging through it.
“Nah, finally figur’d it’s none of ma business anyways,” he grumbled. “Need a pen?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Amber pulled the package out of her pocket and wrote a different name and number as usual, but always the same address:
Amber Graham Bott – 022192
Box 53, Route 1
Seaport, California 93302
– FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE –
Mr. Hail noticed the package was different this time. “Yer sendin’ a package to yersef?”
Amber’s eyes wandered off to the side as though she were deep in thought. “Well, yeah. Today is the day!” she mumbled.
“What about today?” A ripple of puzzlement rolled across Mr. Hail’s face. “What’s gonna happen today?”
Amber didn’t respond. She began rummaging through her purse again as though she were looking for something else.
The postman could see that Amber didn’t want to talk about it. Finally he shook his head in dissatisfaction and said, “Yer one strange lady; Mrs. Bott. That’ll be 98 cents.”
“Yes…well…the price has gone up hasn’t it?” Amber said, further diverting the conversation.
Mr. Hail glared at Amber with a smug expression of satisfaction on his face. He tilted his head side to side and said, “Yip! Highway robbery id’n it? But, I don’t have no choice–I don’t set them r-r-rates now do I?”
“Oh, I know, Mr. Hail,” she said in a distracted tone. “Thank you!”
Amber turned and started walking towards the front door.
“Good day then, Mrs. Bott!”
“Yes yes…good day, Mr. Hail.”
Amber waved goodbye over her shoulder as she headed for the exit. “Strange little man,” she thought, pushing aside the squeaking post office door. The air was always stale inside and it was nice to get out. “I think I’m going to actually miss that old guy,” she muttered to herself and hurried on her way.
She walked towards the car automatically as her mind ran through a checklist for the picnic. Something bright flashed briefly on the ground in front of her that reminded her of a red footprint. It vanished almost instantly, before she could get a good look at it. She stopped abruptly, staring at the spot where the print had appeared, blinking her eyes several times.
“Red…just like Mattie said!” she said quietly to herself. She was deep in thought when she was rudely startled back to the present by the blast of a car horn.
“Why don’t you find a place to park that piece of junk that’s actually legal,” bellowed Fran Schnettle, the town gossip, shaking her finger at Amber out the window, “…instead of double parking every time you come to town?”
Hardly anyone came in to town on Friday morning and the streets were far from busy, but Fran could never resist an opportunity to pick at Amber. She had been the impatient, snoopy neighbor for most of Amber’s married life. Since the day Fran and her mumbling, recluse-of-a-husband had moved in she had been a pain to get along with. She had a nasty habit of driving people away from her. All, but one, of her friends had given up on her many years ago. But today, it didn’t even bother Amber because she had a lot more serious issues on her mind.
“Oh…sorry; I’m so sorry Mrs. Schnettle. I’ll get out of your way.”
Amber hurried over to her car and reached for the handle when she noticed the small, rectangular window on the passenger side of the old Chevy had been smashed out. There were several finger prints on the front window; mostly smeared, but one was exceptionally clear. She got in and checked around to see if anything was missing. Her sweater was still there and her hairbrush was lying on the seat where she had left it. However, the glove box was open. At first glance it didn’t appear as though anything had been taken. She immediately reached underneath the passenger seat and felt around. When her fingers touched the object she sought she let out a big sigh of relief.
“That’s odd, it smells like chocolate in here?” she thought.
Amber noticed the stick shift was kind of slippery. When she bent over to get a closer look, she could see a fine smattering of brown powder on it that smelled like chocolate. On the floor beneath it she saw a small crumpled piece of Scotch tape. She was experienced with taking fingerprints since she had done it herself almost every couple of weeks for the past 10 years. Who and why would anyone want to do that to her? Amber reached in the glove box and pulled out a roll of scotch tape and a small, plastic container of chocolate powder. She carefully lifted the only clear fingerprint from the front window and placed it in another small brown container she kept in the glove box. She scribbled the words ‘Possible Interloper’ on it and the numbers 022192 and slid it under the driver’s seat. A quick glance at the clock and she realized she was going to be late meeting her family for the picnic if she didn’t hurry. It was going to be a rare outing because she had finally committed Mattie to a date and time that worked with Kash’s schedule. It was exciting to think about all of them being together for a few hours and she was hoping that things would turn out different than she already knew they would. However, she couldn’t risk changing the course of events because of what she knew, so off she went, forgetting about the broken window for the moment. As she drove into the driveway, she saw Kash out on the lawn, sitting on the picnic basket, flipping the tablecloth at the gnats that were hovering in the shade.
“Is everything OK?” Amber asked as she turned off the car. “Where’s Mattie?
“She’s not coming.”
Amber knew all the answers to every question from this point forward, but had to carefully maintain the setting of what lay ahead to avoid altering the course of events that must take place. “What? After all we’ve done to coordinate this with her classes, work, dates and everything else under the sun that she does?”
Kash forced a smile, trying not to act disappointed. “It’s just us chickens, I guess. It’ll still be a rare pleasure to spend a leisurely afternoon with you; especially if it doesn’t involve breaking and entering or a high speed chase somewhere.”
Amber smiled at the description of their lives and said, “So, what’s the reason this time?”
“Mattie finally got asked out by her heartthrob, Trevor Karington, and she couldn’t see anything beyond his face. I’ve never seen her get ready that fast in her whole life.”
“Oh, of course,” Amber said sweetly. “She’s been dying to go out with that Karington boy for months. I hope she has a good time. Did you check the weather report?
“No, but there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“That’s kind of careless don’t you think?”
“Oh, we haven’t had a storm in weeks,” Kash said, shrugging his shoulders. “Don’t get paranoid on me now. Let’s go! We’re losing daylight. Hey, what happened to the window?”
“Someone broke in when I was in the Post Office.”
“Did you report it?” he asked.
“No. No time, no need.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Never mind…I’ll report it when we get back,” she reassured him. She caught herself staring at Kash in an effort to capture every detail of his face and each gesture he made before it was too late.
“What?” Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like you’re going to say goodbye forever!”
“Don’t be silly,” Amber replied, trying to put the inevitable out of her mind.
Kash strolled around to the other side of the car. “Scoot over, would you, and I’ll drive.”
Amber cleared her voice and made an extra effort to appear excited. “Where’re we going?”
“Just stick with me and you’ll see,” he said secretively.
Kash drove to a favorite picnic spot they had gone to several times when Mattie was a toddler. It was a secluded meadow near the edge of the forest, about a half hour drive from Benton. It was just as beautiful as it had been 15 years earlier. They spread the blanket beneath the only poplar tree that had grown out in the middle of the meadow, checked the skies again and settled down for a restful afternoon together. Short breaks were usually few and far between since Amber had Inherited. It was such a pleasant, balmy afternoon. They sat down and ate lunch; Kash eating double, not wanting anything to go to waste since Mattie hadn’t come along. He stretched out with a slightly painful, bulging stomach and Amber snuggled up close to him, laying her head on his chest. They reminisced about the old days before the Splitting had begun. It wasn’t long before the shade of the tree and the cool grass beneath the blanket lulled them both to sleep.
1:00 P.M. – Downtown, Benton
The sidewalk café was the perfect place for Trevor to take Mattie. She loved the feelings it stirred up in her of various outdoor cafés she’d been to all over the world. Her parents always took her with them during her summer breaks from school as they traveled to distant places. It felt magical sitting there next to him. She’d been dreaming about this day for months. He knew exactly what would impress her and he didn’t even know her yet. That alone was extraordinary to her.
“What would you like, Mattie?”
“Oh, surprise me,” Mattie replied with a hint of school girl jitters. Mattie was so distracted by his almond shaped eyes and handsome face that she could hardly concentrate.
“Are you sure?” Trevor asked, tilting his head and winking at her as his meticulously cut brown hair reluctantly released a single, small lock onto his forehead.
Mattie felt like her heart was going to jump right out of her mouth. It was already stuck in her throat. She had a funny sensation in her knees that she had never felt before and was becoming short of breath!
“Course of…” she hesitated, shook her head and said, “I-I mean…of course! Surprise me.” She smiled weakly. It was hard to act like she didn’t care that much while her head was swimming with the many possibilities of what their future children would look like and what their names might be.
Trevor smiled, which only added to the problem, because Mattie now felt like she was going to melt right off her chair into a puddle under the table. Mattie let out a quiet sigh of amazement at how ridiculous she must appear. “Gosh…get a grip!” she thought to herself.
“Waitress!” Trevor called out as he lifted his hand, beckoning her with his fingers, “we’re ready to order.”
Suddenly Mattie felt a sharp pain behind her eyes. She dropped her head into her hands and before she knew it Trevor had put his arm around her shoulder. He gripped her wrist gently with his other hand.
“Are you OK, Mattie?” His voice was soft and filled with a genuine concern. She felt a mix of love and appreciation for his kindness, yet she felt sick and dizzy. Something else was going on inside of her that she liked even less than her silly school girl symptoms. With the pain flashed a scene where two people were running desperately through some trees in the darkness. She felt their fear, yet she had no idea what she had just seen.
“Oh…my gosh, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t feel very good.”
“Do you want me to take you home?” Trevor asked. “We can go right now.”
“No…no, just give me a minute, I’ll feel better in a minute. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t think a thing of it,” Trevor replied thoughtfully. “Would you rather go somewhere else?”
“No, let’s go ahead and eat. Now I’m starving!” I’m fine though; really. It’s gone now.” Mattie was so embarrassed she could hardly look him in the eyes. “What a crazy bunch of sensations,” she thought.
Trevor raised his hand again and called out to the waitress, ready to place their order.