Secrets Whispered from the Sea - Emma St. Clair
No one who knew me well—which was a pretty limited circle—would call me a superstitious person. But not believing in bad luck didn’t stop bad things from happening to me in threes. At least, not today.
As I stumbled to the elevator, precariously balancing the box of things I just cleared off my desk and the cardboard trifold I had used for my last-ever presentation here, I heard my sister’s ringtone. That could not be good. Because I’d lost my job, and my boyfriend broke up with me that morning. Before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee, which made it particularly rude.
I ignored the phone. Mostly because I had no free hands. But I also didn’t want to know why Ann was calling. I really, really didn’t.
So, I shoved my way into the crowded elevator, pretending I didn’t hear “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz, Ann’s personalized ringtone. I usually let my voicemail run interference when she called, which was, on average, three times a year.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” asked a silver-haired man wearing a suit and Stetson.
Though I had moved to Texas for my now-former job two years ago, I still hadn’t gotten used to this look, which I thought of as Business Cowboy. There were a few variations, but most included a suit paired with a cowboy hat and boots. Sometimes one of those bolos instead of a tie, and a belt with a big buckle. This guy had the full look going on, from bolo to boots.
He probably also had a concealed handgun under his jacket. Because: Texas.
I half-heartedly lifted my box and presentation board, almost dropping both in the process. “Kinda got my hands full.”
“Aw, I’m glad to help.” And just like that, Mr. Business Cowboy plucked the things out of my hands like they were nothing.
That’s another thing that still surprised me about Texas. I grew up in North Carolina, which was definitely southern. There were manners. People were friendly. But they had nothing on Texas hospitality. Just like everything else in this state, it truly was bigger.
“Uh, thanks.” The ringing stopped, and for a moment, I thought I was saved. Before I could grab my things, it started again.
Mr. Business Cowboy cleared his throat and nodded to my purse. “Your phone?”
Could this elevator move any faster? It seemed to be stopping on every floor.
I managed to locate my phone and saw the picture of Ann’s twin girls on the screen. I took it the last time I’d visited them, almost a year ago. I bet they were so much bigger now.
“Hello?” I tried to keep my voice low, not like I could keep the whole elevator from overhearing.
“I’ve been calling you,” Ann said in that shrill voice that always made me want to cover my ears.
“I had a presentation.” I didn’t mention the fired part.
Ann was on a need-to-know basis with the details of my life. And she did not need to know that. She didn’t understand digital marketing and thought that I spent all day scrolling through Twitter, not helping create ad campaigns for big brands.
“Nana died, Clementine.”
She said it like an accusation, not a statement. As though my not answering the phone on the first ring somehow contributed to the situation. Maybe because of her tone, it took another two floors for her words to really hit me.
The elevator dinged. We had reached the lobby. Everyone filed off around me, while I stood there, holding the phone up to my ear.
I did not move. Not when new people got on and started pressing buttons. Not when Mr. Business Cowboy realized I hadn’t gotten off and shouted “Hey!” just before the doors slid closed.
Ann continued on about the details, which I half heard: a stroke, no warning, no suffering. I gripped the phone like a lifeline, though what I really wanted to do was throw it against the wall. People got on and off at different floors as silent tears streamed down my face.
When I had ridden the elevator all the way up and then back down to the lobby again, I hung up on Ann, who was saying something about the reading of the will and the viewing.
One, two, three. Whether I believed in bad luck or not, in one morning I had lost my boyfriend, my job, and the only member of the family who ever made me feel loved.
Mr. Business Cowboy had my things near the revolving door in the lobby. Picking