NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.
March 16, 2018 ~ Tulsa, Oklahoma
One day, Holly thought, rereading the note she’d found on the counter, one day I will stop falling for screwed-up straight women who are just experimenting while they rebound from bad breakups.
She rummaged through the cabinet under the sink, frowning as she noticed several bottles of cleaning supplies were missing. Really? Leaving me for an abusive ex-boyfriend isn’t enough? What kind of petty bitch steals Windex on the way out? She tossed aside a box of trash-can liners – At least she left those, she thought – and half a pack of off-brand scouring pads to get to the ashtray she’d stuck under the sink when Melissa moved in, bringing her self-righteous distaste for cigarette smoke with her. Holly pulled a menthol 100 from the pack in her purse and lit it, taking a long, satisfying drag as she set the dusty ashtray on the counter.
She probably should have seen it coming, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. A round of budget cuts, the busybody non-custodial parent who lived in the apartment below hers, and a pissed-off first-year teacher she’d fired for flunking a drug test had conspired to convince the assistant superintendent she wasn’t worth keeping another year, so last week, he’d recommended the board consolidate two neighborhood schools and eliminate her position – a recommendation they’d been all too happy to accept.
She took the cigarette out of her mouth and scrubbed a hand down her face. Her contract would carry her through June 30, but after that, she had no idea what she was doing next. She suspected that uncertainty had hastened the demise of a relationship that was already floundering. Melissa had been increasingly distant lately, and she’d gotten awfully enthusiastic about going to the gym. Even if she’d figured out she wasn’t gay after all, Holly was at a loss to understand why she’d want to go back to a controlling, trailer-trash jackass, but she didn’t spend much time contemplating the matter. She had more pressing concerns to worry about – like how she was going to keep paying rent on this overpriced apartment with its beautiful picture window overlooking the river and its convenient proximity to a dozen other amenities she rarely had time to enjoy.
Part of her wanted to stay in the area, but a much bigger part of her was tired of fighting. Tulsa itself wasn’t bad, but Oklahoma politicians and their nonsensical proposals were a near-constant reminder that she lived in a state full of people who would prefer her kind didn’t exist.
She chuckled to herself. Her kind. If they only knew what her kind really was.
Holly opened up her laptop and clicked on the search bar. Where would she go if she left Oklahoma? Where would she be safe? Where could someone like her hope to live a relatively peaceful life among people who would tolerate – if not accept – her gift and its frequently disturbing manifestations?
A picture of a red mesa took shape in her mind, and a name popped into her thought: Coldwater, New Mexico. She had a vague sense that she’d heard the name before, but she couldn’t place it. She typed it into the search bar and tried to muster some kind of surprise when the top result was an Albuquerque Journal article from two hours ago about the murder of the town’s high-school principal in an apparent convenience-store robbery gone bad. A Google search turned up the name of the superintendent, a few images from Route 66 travelers who’d found the local motel and the nearby mesa charming enough to photograph, and the motel’s website, which included a selfie of the owners – the recently deceased principal, his wife, and their young daughter.
Had she bothered clicking the “history” link on the site, Holly would have found another picture – this one of a Scottish-Irish woman with long, white hair and pale, moonstone-blue eyes – that would have explained why the name had insinuated itself into her mind and why she felt this irresistible compulsion to start drafting a cover letter to the superintendent.