Sunday, September 13, 2015
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Archer Revision 1
An Ugly Beauty
Dean Westford sat back and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking of Kali. His phone vibrated, the screen lighting up with a local news blurb. “Another Hiker Missing in the Northwest Woods.” His eyes scanned the meager details. A single female hiker missing since Thursday afternoon; moderately skilled in outdoor survival; the authorities are hopeful. Kali would be all over this.
A steaming cup of coffee and a high-rise of pancakes were set gracefully onto his table.
“You looked in desperate need of your usual, love,” Marjorie said.
Dean smiled despite his mood. “Perfect timing as always.” Marjorie was his favorite waitress at Brails, had been since he’d starting coming here when he was five.
She glanced at the paper, now half hidden by Dean’s breakfast. “Best to leave the worrying to the professionals, eh?” She smiled and turned to another table.
She was right, as usual, but he knew Kali would never leave this one alone. He thought back to all the other hikers who had gone missing over the past several years, all the ones that were never found, or worse, the ones whose bodies eventually showed up. Twelve deaths and seventeen missing hikers over the past ten years. Odds were that they were accidental, at least that’s what the park rangers and police said. Dean believed them, if not entirely, at least enough to let it go, but not Kali.
He leaned in, savoring the buttery aroma of fresh pancakes. He took a big bite of the fluffy wonder followed by a sip of coffee, then looked up as the bell over the door jingled. Kali walked towards him, today’s paper clutched in her hand.
“It’s a girl this time,” Kali said, and slapped the paper on the table.
“So I saw.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? The forest service is mounting up a search party and we’re going to be late.”
Since her brother Eric had died four years before, all Kali had thought about was finding the truth. Each missing hiker was a clue, a link to the brother who’d disappeared for six weeks before his body had been found. Cause of death a supposed heart attack, dead less than twenty-four hours–where had he been all that time? A mystery for sure, but Kali just couldn’t let it go, couldn’t move on with her life until justice had been served—or at least as much justice that could be had for a dead man.
Dean pushed his breakfast to the side, giving her room to sit down.
She sat, but she did not relax. He took the paper from her and turned it over so the headline was hidden. He took in her disheveled blonde hair, the dark circles rimming her green eyes, her frayed sweatshirt resting loosely on thin shoulders. He worried she hadn’t been taking care of herself, and wished, for the thousandth time, that she would let go of this mystery and come back to him.
“Seriously, Dean. Let’s go.”
He pulled his plate back and took another bite of his pancakes, his eyes never leaving her. “It’s , I have work, remember?.”
“Isn’t the search for a missing girl more important than doing inventory at the dive shop?”
Dean leaned back, putting distance between them. He resisted the urge to shake his head at her, knowing it would only start a fight.
“I work for a living, Kali. There’s no one else to pay my way, you know this. We can’t just put our lives on hold every time some hiker gets lost in the woods. They’re not Eric.”
Kali’s face flushed. “You think I don’t know that? Of course they’re not Eric, but they’re still missing and they still need our help.”
Dean’s gaze was drawn to the door as it swung open and a familiar figure stepped into the diner. Shit, he thought. This day was getting better and better.
Kali turned to follow his gaze. “Lucas,” she exclaimed, jumping up and pulling him into a hug.
The relief and happiness in her voice was like a dagger in Dean’s gut.
Lucas smiled and planted a kiss on her lips. “Hey good looking.”
Her resulting grin made Dean push the rest of his breakfast away, his appetite gone. “Lucas,” he said, nodding.
Lucas glanced up, his smile slipping. “Dean.” He pulled Kali onto his lap as he sat down, keeping eye contact with Dean.
Kali seemed oblivious to the pissing contest going on in front of her.
“So, Dean, are you going to help me find this woman or not?”
Dean looked down and leaned forward, bringing his eyes up to meet hers, his anger boiling over. “Let’s be honest here. You’re not going out into those woods to help find her, you’re going out there to find answers that you’re never going to find. It’s been four years, Kali. Four years of me watching you kill yourself and I can’t do it anymore.”
“Then don’t,” Kali said. “Lucas is more than capable of helping me.” She stood and practically bolted for the door.
Dean clenched his teeth so hard his jaw creaked. He couldn’t believe she was deploying the infamous guilt trip on him. He picked up his mug and threw back the rest of his rapidly cooling coffee.
Lucas slid his chair back and stood. “She’s not going to abandon her brother.”
“He’s dead, Lucas. There’s nothing left to abandon.”
“You and I might know that, Dean, but Kali’s never going to stop until she finds some answers. You of all people should know that.”
“Me of all people? What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“Let’s just say that Kali has been quite forthcoming about her childhood, especially the bits involving her father.” Lucas sneered and followed after Kali.
Dean’s mind seized up, panic threatening to overtake him. She wouldn’t have told him that, wouldn’t have told anyone that, least of all Lucas. He felt some small comfort in this thought. He took a deep breath, then another. It was only when he reached for his wallet that he realized his hands were shaking.
He exited the building half hoping Kali would still be there and half hoping she’d left with Lucas. She was leaning against the bumper of his SUV, arms crossed, head bowed. He walked up to her, and placed the toes of his boots against the toes of her shoes.
“You’re an ass,” she said.
Dean sighed. “I know. I’m sorry.”
She peeked out at him from beneath her eyelashes. “Does that mean you’re coming along?”
“Yeah, but you owe me.”
“Two cases of beer and a pizza coming up.”
“Make it three.” It was an old joke, and Dean felt relieved to see a genuine smile cross her face.
“Thank you,” she said, leaning up and placing a chaste kiss on his cheek. She pulled away and crossed the lot to her car.
Dean watched her pull a hiking pack out of the back, all the while his cheek burning like fire. He looked around for Lucas, finally spotting him on the South side of the building smoking a cigarette. He shook his head at the disgusting habit, glad that Lucas at least had the decency to do it away from Kali.
“You’re driving,” she said, walking toward Dean’s green Ford Bronco. “Lucas, let’s go.”
Lucas flicked the remaining ash from his cigarette onto the asphalt and grabbed a daypack off the ground. “I call shotgun,” he yelled.
Kali rolled her eyes and pushed the front seat up, ushering Lucas into the back with a wave of her hand. “In your dreams.”
Dean smiled as he climbed nimbly into the SUV and slammed the door.