Psy (Alien Castaways #3) - Cara Bristol

Chapter One

“Did you do anything exciting this weekend?” Verna peered over her shoulder as she flipped the window sign from CLOSED to OPEN.

For once she had. Cassie smiled and scribbled in her notebook. Picked huckleberries. Mom and I made jam. She showed the note to her boss when she returned to the counter.

“Huckleberry pie is the best. I always look forward to Huckleberry Days at Millie’s Diner. Huckleberry ice cream, cobbler…it’s all good. I never met a huckleberry I didn’t like.”

You could pick your own berries. Bake a pie yourself.

“Unfortunately, I eat ’em as fast as I pick ’em.” Her loud guffaw was open and honest, like Verna herself. Cassie had an ear for voices. She discerned a lot about a person’s character by their tonal variations. Verna’s raucous laugh had made quite an impression the day she and her mother had stopped into Timeless Treasures Antiques to window shop. A HELP WANTED sign had advertised for a clerk.

That laugh had bolstered Cassie’s courage to defy her protective mother’s wishes and submit an application.

“Honey, I don’t want you to be hurt,” her mother had argued. “The lady at the store can’t hire you. A clerk has to communicate with customers. You can’t speak.”

I can write!

“That works for you and me, but in a business setting…”

I’m 23. Not a child. I want to try, she’d insisted.

Her mother, her legal guardian, had veto power. Fortunately, although she disapproved, she hadn’t stopped Cassie from applying. And Verna had hired her! She had been over-the-moon thrilled, her mother less enthusiastic, still concerned she would lose the job and be crushed.

That hadn’t happened, and as of yesterday, she had been employed at Timeless Treasures for three months. The residents of Argent learned of her disability and waited patiently for her to scribble a greeting or write out an answer to their questions. For out-of-towners, she kept a preprinted message in her notebook. Hello, I’m Cassie. I can’t speak, but I can hear, and I can write. How can I help you today?

She loved her job and would be forever grateful to Verna for giving her a chance. On a fresh page in her notebook, she wrote, Find anything good at the estate auction?

“Yes! I picked up several furniture pieces, which will be delivered later in the week. I brought home the small items and priced them last night. They’re on carts—if you’d put them out and arrange them. You know—work your usual magic.”

It made Cassie feel good that her efforts were appreciated. She smiled, nodded, and headed for the storage area.

An astute businesswoman, Verna had a good eye for appealing furniture and collectibles, but Cassie had a flair for merchandising. She didn’t randomly shelve items but arranged them in vignettes and tablescapes. Little by little, she’d reconfigured the store to resemble a home so customers could envision the items in their house.

I’m creating what I’d like, she realized with a stab of guilt. She had a home—with her loving mother who’d devoted her life to caring for her and protecting her from anyone who might seek to take advantage of her naiveté and disability.

She’d attended regular public school—although she’d started a year late, her mother believing the added maturity would compensate for her handicap. Academically, it seemed to have worked—she’d earned As and Bs—although she’d felt awkward being so much taller than the other kids. By high school, they’d caught up in height, so she’d blended in better, and she’d even had a boyfriend for several blissful weeks until he unexpectedly dumped her.

She never, ever would wish to hurt her mother who had the best intentions, but the overprotectiveness smothered her sometimes. Getting the job represented one giant leap toward cutting the apron strings. She had cautioned herself to take it one step at a time—let her mother get comfortable with the idea of her working before attempting another bold move.

She couldn’t define her yearning exactly, although she was certain she’d recognize it when she saw it—like the job at Timeless Treasures. The instant she’d entered the store and heard Verna laugh, she’d wanted the job more than she’d ever desired anything.

Two utility carts were loaded with the weekend’s finds. Verna had taught her a lot in a few short months, the first lesson being the difference between antique and vintage. To be classified antique, an item had to be at least one hundred years old so the wooden rolling pins, the butter churn, a brass coal bucket, a pine table top desk, an old iron—literally