Price of a Kiss(9)

By: Linda Kage



Not an intruder. It had only been the stupid, bleeping air conditioner. And, of course, the A/C hadn’t been running this morning when I’d left—it hadn’t been warm enough to kick on yet—so I wouldn’t have known it would blow the newspaper onto the floor.

Whew.

But seriously, talk about cardiac city.

Limp from the sudden surge of blood through my veins and then the just-as-sudden liberation, I staggered into the apartment. After slamming the door, I locked and bolted it. Then I collapsed onto the couch in a drained, hot mess.

I lay there ten seconds, trying to fight off the overdose of adrenaline in my system. But I felt eyes watching me from every corner, so I leapt to my feet and decided it wouldn’t hurt to run a quick check around the apartment to make sure no one was lurking about.

After what I had survived, it was smart to stay paranoid.

The newspaper scare left me rattled. Trying to do homework was an impossibility, so I spent some time writing in my notebook and signing my new name on a sheet of paper.

Mom had instructed me to do this in an attempt to help me get used to it. “When I was newly married, I used my maiden name more than I didn’t for those first five years. It wasn’t until I had to start signing it all the time that I finally adjusted.”

Well, I hadn’t gotten married as she had in order to get a new name, and I didn’t have five years to acclimate myself to being Reese Randall. Since I’d legally changed it to escape a psycho stalker ex-boyfriend, I needed to have my shit together a bit more immediately.

I filled two pages and tried about fifty different signature styles. I’d just decided I could have heaps more fun signing the R in Reese than the boring ol’ T I’d had before, when my cell phone rang.

The number that appeared on the screen wasn’t programmed into my address book. I was instantly cautious. But I’d applied for a few job openings on Saturday, so—keeping my voice low and hard to distinguish—I answered in the hopes someone was getting back to me about employment.

And what do you know, someone was!

My work-study at the college library only covered ten hours a week. That was barely latte money. With Mom and Dad paying my car payment and insurance, plus sending me a monthly gas allowance, I was okay there. It was food and everything else I had to worry about. And honestly, after my first grocery-shopping venture with E. this summer, I was scandalized by how much food actually cost. I was so never going to whine again over how my mom had never bought my favorite brand of cereal and OJ. Name brands were utterly overrated. Except when it came to clothes. Or shoes. Or bacon.

Okay, okay, I loved all my name brands. Why, oh, why did they have to be so stinking expensive?

To say the least, a ten-hour-a-week job at minimum wage didn’t sound as if it would cover my lavish preferences, especially like an emergency shopping spree or trip to a hair stylist, both of which Eva and I had done just last week. Hey, I couldn’t help it if my cousin was a spoiled rich girl who needed to part with her cash frequently or she might become physically ill, and she felt the need to drag me along to every boutique and shopping mall she patronized.

I had to be a good, supportive friend and go with her, didn’t I?

Well, I went with her anyway.

So, yeah, I was thrilled to hear from Dawn Arnosta. A single mother with a twelve-year-old daughter, she had one full-time day job at a glass factory. But she also worked every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening as a waitress at an all-night café. With her last evening babysitter leaving for Gainesville to attend the University of Florida, that left a big fat opening…for me, I hoped.

I got some good vibes off Mrs. Arnosta, and I know I impressed her with my credentials.

“I know CPR and have first aid training, plus I used to babysit a special needs boy with autism when I was in high school. I also worked as a lifeguard back home at our city pool for one summer, so if you have a pool, I could totally handle that.”

Oh, how I could handle that.

Please, please, have a pool.

She didn’t have a pool, but that was okay, because she said, “Well, you certainly sound more qualified than any of the other applicants we’ve had. Can you start Wednesday?”

My heart thumped hard and happy in my chest. Fisting my hand, I mouthed the word, “Score!” while aloud, I remained much more professional. “Sure. Whenever you need me.”

And so I had a second job for the semester. I was super psyched about it…until I actually arrived at the Arnosta house.





CHAPTER THREE





I showed up thirty-five minutes early on Wednesday. Dawn, as Mrs. Arnosta insisted I call her, asked me to arrive half an hour before my usual time because she needed to give me instructions before she left for work. I wasn’t sure how many instructions I needed for a twelve-year-old, but I guess I was about to find out.

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