Scarlett hadn't been in Hok'ee Creek since Christmas, and even they'd only spent a week there before jetting off back to Arizona. It had been her parents idea, of course. Her moving to Arizona and living with her brother. They thought Jakob was an accountant, which he was when he wasn't doing gigs with his band. Hok'ee Creek had a population of about one thousand, and one hundred people. Where the norm was carrying on family business, or working for families with businesses. Although they had their ups and downs, Scarlett didn't want to leave her close to retirement parents alone in Hok'ee Creek. With her eldest brother living a two hour drive away in the city, and her second older brother stopping by whenever he passed the place for business, she agreed.
"Home at last," she muttered, stopping her silver Hyundai on the curb beside their driveway. Her father's truck was sitting in the driveway, as usual, filled with fishing gear, random tools and in need of a good wash.
Climbing out, she made her way to the front door. All the lights in the house seemed to be on, highlighting shadows on other side of the homemade curtains. A blue light flickered in the living room where the TV was - no doubt, her father was watching a football game.
Unlocking the front door she stepped into the house, to be greeted be the familiar scent of homemade ginger snaps.
"Mom," Scarlett called, dropping her bags by the stairs. She didn't even have time to open her mouth again. Her mother was in front of her within seconds, squeezing her like she hadn't seen her in years. "Mommy… can't … breathe…"
"We were expecting you home hours ago," her mother said. "Mary and Jhon got here before you."
Mary was my best friend, who went by Tens, short for Tensleep. She hated her given name and only their parents and Kai's grandfather called her Mary, much to her chagrin.
"There was traffic," Scarlett replied. "They're here already?"
She walked into the living room, where the smell of ginger snaps was the strongest. Sure enough, a big plate of them sat on Jhon's lap as he watched the TV from the loveseat. Beside him sat Tens, looking like she hadn't slept in a while. Opposite them, sat her father on the three seat couch with paper in hand.
"Hi Daddy," she greeted, giving him a quick hug. He patted her back, before she slumped down beside him.
"You're home late," he commented.
"She got stuck in traffic," her mother said, sitting down on the couch. Scarlett had never realized how small her mother was until she glanced at her that night. The armchair towered her small frame as she watched the TV. Her long black hair was highlighted by grey, showing signs of her parents true age. If they were getting, then she was too. She blanched.
"Where's your brother?" Her father asked.
"He's got work deadlines to meet," Scarlett replied, wondering how he ever did it with most of focus on the band and Phoebe.
"Samuel, you know accountants get busy at the beginning of every year," her mother said, settling back into the armchair.
"How's college?" Scarlett asked Tens, ignoring her parents, whilst reaching over to grab a ginger snap from Jhon's plate. He growled and muttered a profanity, which she ignored.
"It's college," she shrugged. "Parties and classes. High school in a big city?"
"The usual. Kids in need of serious mental help and pop quizzes," Scarlett replied, taking a bite of the ginger snap. They'd gossip later.
"Did you remember your report card, this time?" Her father asked.
"Yes, all you'll see is A's and B's," Scarlett replied.
"That's my girl," he said, squeezing her shoulder.
They all talked into the night - the kind of talk that's not really important, but because you're tired and are avoiding the main subject at hand. Although neither of them spoke of it, the death of Kai LittleBear was on everybody's mind.
"I think that's tough enough," Tens said, pressing down on the inflatable mattress on her bedroom floor, later that night.
They were in her old room. On one side of the room was her small, wooden framed bed with a homemade quilt cover and a bedside table with a Novelty Harley Davidson lamp sitting on it. Dozens of dream catchers hung from the wall behind her bed, differing in size, colour and design. Every time she'd have a terrible nightmare as a child, and get back to sleep, her father would get or make her a dream catcher. She had about fifty hanging on the wall.
On the other side of the room was a wooden desk, with a giant corkboard hung on top of it with poetry, old appointment cards, photos and other bits pinned to it. In one corner was a a stack of books, she'd missed but dared not take to Jakob's for the fear of them being damaged from one of his numerous parties. On the far wall was a window, with homemade curtains falling to the floor in a array of colours and next to her bedroom door, was a built in closet. It wasn't a fancy room, but it was hers, and she loved it.
"So, do you really think it was a car crash?" Tens asked.
"What?" Scarlett said, snapping out of her daydream. The thought of Kai LittleBear's death made her stomach churn. For a brief moment, it had felt like everything was back to normal. She sighed, she had purposely distracted herself from not thinking of his death, but even then doubts had crept into her mind… "No, I guess not."
"Ditto," Tens replied. Ho'Kee Creek was the home of good fishing spots, odd locals and a place where folklore wasn't just fables.
"So," Scarlett said, wanting to change the subject and talk about the death of one of oldest friends. "You got a picture of your cowboy yet?"
"We're just friends," she said.
"Uh huh," Scarlett said, climbing under her covers and tossing her friend a pillow. "And my and Eric's study date's actually involve studying."
"Are you going to share a picture of your Eric?" Tens countered.
"Yes!" Scarlett said, reaching into her handbag and pulling out a Polaroid that she took during New Year's, and handing it to her friend.
"He's half naked…"
"He's camera shy, so I took it while he was sleeping."
"Dude, I asked for a photo not porn."
"Oh, it's not that bad," Scarlett said, taking the picture back. "I don't share my men that way."
"In what way do you share them, then?"
"Oh, shut up!" Scarlett said, glaring at her friend who had a way off twisting words around.
Scarlett closed her eyes and stared at the ceiling, talking until they finally drifted off to sleep. That night she dreamt of Kai and glowing, animal eyes in the darkness. She woke up feeling achy and sick. Rolling over to her side, she took in a breath ready to scream awake Tens. She frowned, when she found the inflatable mattress empty. The smell of freshly made pancakes and muffins, sounds of her mother and Tens talking wafted upstairs and into her room. Groaning she rolled on to her back and covered her face with her quilt.
"I don't like eggs."
"You'll like these."
"No, I won't."
"Stop being stubborn and trust me."
"If they suck-"
"I know, I know, you'll bite me."
Eventually she got out of bed and made her way downstairs. Both Jhon and her father were sat at the kitchen table eating, whilst her mother and Tens stood by the stove talking about something. Scarlett was still too tired to eavesdrop on their conversation. Yawning, she slumped down at the table.
"You look like shit," Jhon commented.
"Thanks for stating the obvious," Scarlett mumbled.
"Your welcome," he quipped.
"So, what are you three going to do today?" Her father asked. The funeral wasn't until next week, which left seven days of agitated mourning.
"Probably go see Smokey," Jhon replied, after a loud belch.
"Oh, you should," her mother said. "Poor man. Losing his child, now his grandchild. I don't how I'd cope with that."
The thought of one of her brothers or niece dying made her sick. Pushing away the pancakes from her she leaned back in the chair.
"How is he doing?" Tens asked.
"You know him," her mother said. "He's a strong man and good at hiding his emotions."
Scarlett sighed and rubbed her eyes, she had a bad feeling, that things were only going to get worse.